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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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LA Times and Xi Jinping: A Lesson in Imperialist Rhetoric

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In an article in LA Times, 18th of October this year, titled "China is again slowly turning in on itself" by Carl Minzner, we are given this ominous message: China is going backwards, but not to the Deng era, of "openness and economic development", but to the chaotic, "unstable" Mao era. The article is systematically a character assassination on Xi Jinping, China's new General Secretary since 2012. It provides us with some... interesting lessons. It is more than just an article, but a brief caricature of the age-old game of Western narratives surrounding anti-imperialist Great Leaders. While the verdict is still not clear on whether or not Xi Jinping represents the return to the Maoist era of the Mass Line, criticism and self-criticism and the socialist road, we do know that he represents a real threat to the US imperial establishment. The economy in China has surpassed the US, and the US has been more heavily involved with promoting dissident movements in China than before, including Falun Gong, a religiously extremist group that calls for the public execution of homosexuals and views the advanced position of women in China as a sign of the end times. With Russia and China trying to surpass the US dollar, the entire US global dominance of finances and resources is seriously threatened. It is far from surprising that China is once again having their leader targeted, as in the Mao days. While China, since the end of the Deng era, was previously critiqued for merely being corrupt and undemocratic, with the leaders being more or less pawns in the game, the development toward the attack on a leader is a specific tactic that the US media establishment has used whenever it wants to militarily, economically or politically target an undesirable regime. 

The first critique that Minzner levels against Xi is the return to the fabled, totalitarian "isolationism". He praises Deng (hardly a democrat, and hardly someone who didn't construct a personality cult) for his praxis of openness:

Ideologically, Deng decisively broke with Maoist isolationism in the late 1970s. China opened up. Students flowed out; outside influences flowed in. When other party leaders criticized such policies for allowing dangerous foreign influences to circulate, Deng famously responded, “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.”
It is not mentioned at all what the economic nature of this openness is, it is merely outlined as a form of "cultural" openness. Not mentioned, of course, is the influx of Western investment and industry, which hardly has a good reputation globally. And of course, "outside influences" is codeword for "Western influences" - China has always had cultural influences from all around the world, from, Africa, to Latin America, to Albania and Romania. The big sin of the Chinese restriction of culture was exclusively the fact that that Western culture was restricted.

This is of course, also presented as if China didn't have significant reasons to isolate themselves. The threat of invasion, subversion and infiltration is presented as mere paranoia and not something that they had real reasons to worry about. Imperialism, cultural and economic, is seen as something completely harmless - in fact - opening ones country up to it is seen as synonymous to democratic influences, even if the political structure and state control didn't change qualitatively over the Chinese population. The mere allowing  of "Westerness" into ones cultural sphere is seen as a democratic victory in and of itself.

But dark clouds loom over China, at least according to Carl Minzner.

Now, China is again slowly turning in on itself. New party slogans stress “traditional” culture and values. The language of Confucianism is increasingly being invoked to legitimize a new dynasty of red emperors. Windows are being shut. State researchers are being warned against foreign collaboration. Archives previously open to Western scholars are being closed off. And Beijing is reaching for a fly swatter — or a hammer — to deal with influences it perceives as threats. Liberal public interest lawyers are being subjected to a chilling crackdown; Christian churches in Zhejiang province to a selective demolition campaign; Hong Kong pro-democracy media to increasing intimidation.
There is much to discuss here. First of, if China is returning to Confuscianism, then what is all this fuzz about returning to Maoism? If anything, Deng was more Confuscian than Mao, During the Maoist led Cultural Revolution, Confuscianism was explicitly targeted.

Furthmore, the mention of "Red Emperors" is traditional anti-communist speak: Stalin was a "Red Tsar", Mao was a "Red Emperor". Liberalism, developing as a bourgeois revolutionary tradition against absolutist monarchism, has since then been completely unable to criticize anything outside of the anti-monarchist framework. The leaders of communist, or generally anti-imperialist countries, are viewed as monarchs, despite their social structure deviating significantly from any known monarchist society. Liberal discourse removes these leaders completely from their social structure, to vulgarly twist and turn the leader of any specific anti-imperialist country into a Louis XVI of France, gross unhygienic men who feast on banquets and rule the country to their own subjective whims and wants, and execute anyone who opposes them, or merely annoys them. This, of course, has no basis in reality - it is just a tired old narrative lazily applied to a new threat to bourgeois dominance and rule. It tells us nothing about the actuality of the power-structures in China, or anywhere else.

Of course, this notion that China is turning against collaboration, and against outside influence goes directly against the facts. China is opening up - to Russia, to Africa, to India and to other parts of Asia. Since this "opening up" has more to do with going against US interests than supporting them, it is obviously not valid as a process of "opening up"- a truly open society allows US corporations and the "culture" they bring to normalize their hegemony and superiority.

A paragraph later we find this gem:

Economically, the decades of double-digit growth rates that marked the reform period have ended. The infrastructure and real estate booms driving China's economy since the 1990s have peaked. Even the state media now speaks of adjusting to the “new normal.”
Attitudes to foreign investors are shifting as well. Since the early 2000s, the rise of state industrial policies has favored the growth of domestic “national champions.” The announcement in August that China plans to launch a homegrown operating system to replace Windows and Android is simply the latest reflection of these trends. And a spate of state actions — jailing of corporate investigators, aggressive antitrust raids on firms that included Mercedes and Microsoft — have left expat managers nervously seeking transfers.
The "market reform" is of course, uncritically spoken of as positive, even though it has brought an increase of economic inequality and quite frankly, horrid working conditions. That the State-Owned Enterprises in China, and therefore China's national economic independence, has strengthened it's role since the end of the pro-neoliberal Jian Zemin era, is spoken of as if it was synonymous with crackdowns on "pro-democracy" groups. We are led to believe that China's obviously monstrous infringement on the moral and economically superior monopoly control Windows, Apple and Google hold on the software industry is some sort of negative, as if the building of national alternatives to imperialist corporate business models is a crime. And anti-trust laws, such totalitarian things - oh the horror! Here is a quick glance into the mind of a neo-liberal: the idea that China is passing laws that are way beyond the very tiny comfort zones of large mega-corporations like Mercedes and Microsoft is synonymous with Chinas downward spiral!

After this odd comment, Minzner turns his eyes to Xi.
Since 2012, Xi has concentrated an astounding array of power in his hands. Special leadership groups on economic reform, on domestic security, on media propaganda now report to him. A whiff of a personality cult has emerged.
Ah, the cult of personality, that pinnacle of anti-communist critique! Now, while he only senses a "whiff" of a cult of personality, look at this paragraph:

At a deep level, China is experiencing a backlash against many of the economic, ideological and political winners of the reform era. The last three decades saw the world's most rapid accumulation of economic wealth fuse with an unreformed authoritarian political system. The result: a generation of well-heeled “red capitalists,” furiously texting on their iPhones as chauffeur-driven Audis sped their children past migrant shantytowns to English cram schools in preparation for studies overseas. Such things might have seemed the very epitome of success to an earlier generation of Chinese leaders ruling over a country just emerging from crushing poverty and Maoist isolation. But they look very different now.
To a new leader worried about maintaining one-party rule in a nation with a history of revolution, and where just 1% of the population controls one-third of the wealth, this is not just an image problem. It is a latent threat to the stability of his regime. In Xi's eyes, the legacy of the reform era poses other challenges too. Entrenched political and economic interests built up since the 1990s hamper his efforts to solidify personal control over the apparatus of governance. Decades of dependence on foreign software expose China to cyber threats from abroad. Cultural imports — Hollywood films or “The Big Bang Theory” — challenge his dream of nationalist revival. This is precisely why these are all under attack. And it resonates with ordinary citizens, particularly those who feel they missed out on China's go-go years. For them, the sight of cadres who once sped past them in limos being humbled by Xi's disciplinary teams is no small source of pleasure. Unsurprisingly, Xi's popularity has soared.
Can you imagine! That dictator, Xi, is actually promoting policies and reforms that please the ordinary citizens of China! The worst crime of any anti-American leader is never the repression of democracy, the killings of innocents or failed economic policies. The absolute worst crime a dictator can commit is actually having popular support. Promoting a political line that is actually supported by the vast majority of the public - no Western, enlightened, democratic leader would never resort to such cheap tricks as actually implementing politics that people actually like. See, in these totalitarian communist societies, the leaders (often at great cost to themselves), commit the heinous crime of actually conforming to the will of the majority, in contrast to our fair Western system, where we like none of our leaders.

Xi Jinpings "personal power" is discussed, but never defined. We never see any definition of what Jinpings "personal power" is meant to be. He cracks down on corrupted politicians and corporations, but it is just assumed by Minzner that this signifies a strengthening of his own power and influence. Obviously, kicking out politicians means precisely that the Party will have a less corrupt political line. The entrenched economic and political interests can't possibly be targeted because these interests run contrary to the general, poor population of Chinas interest, as Minzner himself indicates, but instead, on Xi Jinpings petty attempts at gaining personal power and legitimacy. Of course, that 85% of China's population still like Mao Zedong, and does not share Minzners view of Maoist China as one of poverty and isolation, despite both Western powers and China's own government denouncing and distancing themselves from Mao, is ignored, and would probably be attributed to a "Egyptian pots of Meat" theory. Srećko Horvat and Igor Štiks describe that theory like this in Monthly Review, March 2012:

The politically aseptic Goodbye, Lenin nostalgia is often seen with general sympathy, whereas one opinion poll showing that almost 61 percent of Romanians think that life was better under Ceauşescu is met with strong disapproval and even disappointment by observers. Fervent liberals might point out that it is the “Egyptian pots of meat” story: the “slaves” are always nostalgic about their tyrants instead of being happy to be “free,” even when they are within close reach of the “promised land.” Reading “nostalgia” as the expressed “wish” to return by magic to the state socialist regime—as if anyone offered that alternative—means avoiding the questions that simmer behind these feelings: Why do people feel politically disempowered and economically robbed and enslaved today? Why and when did liberal democracy and the free market economy turn wrong? Was there any other possibility? Why is it not getting any better? - Welcome To The Desert of Transition.



(Another quick note: if Xi Jinping means to crack down on "Big Bang Theory", China deserves our overwhelming support.)

Now, Minzner does not completely trash the efforts of Xi to combat corruption. Not even a blathering neoliberal propagandist such as Minzner can deny that corruption and negative social attitudes are prevalent in China. But:
... in the years since 1989, party leaders have systematically stymied the gradual evolution of positive local experiments with the kinds of institutions — an independent judiciary, meaningful legislatures, bottom-up electoral participation — that might help seriously curtail these problems.
Minzner wants China to combat it's corrupt political leadership, as the democrat that he is, but only if they institute a political system that might seriously threaten China's socioeconomic independence. On paper, Minzners cry for the "rule of law" might seem like the rational, democratic response, but it forgets the real issue facing China: that a foreign government seems more than willing to destroy it's entire political apparatus and replace it with their own. The US seeks to make China into a haven for foreign investors, for Mercedes, Microsoft, Apple and Google. It seeks to put in it's place an obedient, but unmistakably just as corrupt system, under this very banner of "rule of law". The Chinese system, which is overwhelmingly state controlled, where land-grabbing is illegalized for foreign investors through a system of nationalized land, banks and finances are state owned, where a centrally planned poverty alleviation program brought 23 million people out of poverty in 2012, is extremely unfit for US imperial dominance. It is not the "rule of law" which the US wants to get at, it's all these things. As it has done with all it's imperial endeavors, it means to crush nationally sovereign economic systems and infrastructure in order conduct mass privatizations, sell of their lands to foreign investors, introduce US-friendly private banking systems and destroy all the efforts of the Chinese people from destroying poverty. The nihilism of asserting that "China needs the rule of law" in this context, where imperialism is entirely removed from the debate, and any mention of it is painted as the paranoia of totalitarian leaders, is extremely dangerous. Political systems don't exist in an idealized vacuum, removed from all geo-political debates.  Democracy in China will only be a possibility if the very un-democratic threat of foreign subversion is completely removed.

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