Monday, August 08, 2011 • 12:05 PM Comments (1)

Is China's Political Economy Fascist?

posted by Patrick Vitalone

With a series of reforms that began in 1978, China discarded its staunchly Communist economy. These reforms allowed for the privatization of certain areas of the Chinese economy, and for China to enter into the Western world. China’s move away from Communism proved to be of considerable foresight, as the USSR and Eastern bloc nations collapsed under similar economic modalities a mere decade later.

However, despite more than 30 years passing since economic reform began, the West’s acceptance, and predictions that China will become the number one economy by 2016, the Middle Kingdom has not emerged as a kind of democratic, free-market nation. Rather, China’s economic and political position is a complex, translucent combination of absolute state power, repressions of speech and thought, propaganda, and private enterprise. Tendencies to brand this nationalistic, quasi-state run system as a kind of socialism are inaccurate; rather, China would be more properly classified as a modern model of a historic, twentieth-century Fascist economy.

The Fascist “Third Way”

Concerning the original Italian movement under Benito Mussolini, the Fascist economy in the twentieth century was a system that placed utmost importance on the state as an organic institution. The Fascists decried both Capitalism and Communism as economic systems that placed other interests above the needs of the state; Capitalism was unhealthy for the state because of its focus on the individual, and Communism unhealthy for its priorities with the working classes. Mussolini and other Fascist theorists rejected both systems and instituted what they labelled a “third way.”

Although mainly focused on the militarization of Italy, forcing propaganda upon the public, and the obsessive attempts to define “Italianism,” Fascism did claim to possess a coherent economic system. Mussolini, at least in his co-authored Doctrine of Fascism, purported that “the Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others . . .” Mussolini supported “Corporatism,” which was a system defined by small-but-powerful groups resembling medieval guilds of industry. These government-controlled groups were to regularly meet and make industrial decisions in accordance with the state’s domestic and international interests. This system of guild-like entities was to create a utopian harmony between classes in Italy—industrialists and the workers—that were commonly hostile.

Corporatism’s applicability was simpler in theory than in reality. Defining the state’s interests was difficult because Fascist membership—at least prior to the Pact of Steel with Nazi Germany—included Italians from all economic, political, and cultural spectrums: be they industrialists, socialists, Catholics, atheists, Futurists, and so on. Although Mussolini was dictator—the self-proclaimed Duce—his position did not exempt him from compromise, lest he jeopardize that position and become estranged from large sections of the Fascist intelligentsia.

Ever the ambitious opportunist, in his rise to power Mussolini routinely readjusted his position on a host of issues in order to garner widespread support. Once a revolutionary and international socialist, he quickly went through a self-metamorphosis and became a staunch enforcer of the industrial status quo. Once a philosophical pacifist who possessed an admiration for other cultures, he later became a brutish and xenophobic warmonger. Once a virulent anti-Catholic atheist who wrote on the historic atrocities conducted by the Church, he later created granted the Catholic church its own Vatican State. A fair portion of Fascism’s political and economic murkiness can be attributed to Mussolini’s personal comprises and ambition for power.

Fascist China

Despite Fascism’s complexities, there are a few factors which, when combined, make the Fascist economy stand out from other models. In Fascism, one finds the existence private business. This does not make Fascism unique per se, but it is a requisite not found in the Maoist regime. The second is that the government must direct the actions of the private sector and larger organizations. A close look at some of the largest corporations in China will show that they are state run. At first glance, this could very well be mistaken for a kind of Socialism. However, one cannot label China a Socialist nation in that Socialism concerns itself with the rights and wellbeing of the working classes. China betrays Socialism in that regard; the quality of life among China’s working class is poor, given the long hours, low wages, low air quality, and numerous incidents involving hazardous materials finding their way into food and health products.

The Chinese working classes do not have the freedom to complain, for much like Fascist Italy, China routinely quashes political dissent. Chinese secret police are able to make arrests for criticizing the government: a mere mention of sensitive subjects as Tiananmen Square, Tibetan or Taiwanese independence can mean jail. However, this kind of imposed subservience to the nation does not fall solely upon the workers. As stated, a Fascist economy demands obedience from all classes—both elite and poor. Recently, the High Court of China found China Mobile executive Shi Wanzhong guilty of accepting a bribe from Siemens, an international company. China decided on the death penalty. There is to be no dissent in modern China.

Although it has reformed its Maoist economy, China’s government remains exuberant in its economic practices. Whatever Mao’s vision may have been for instituting communism in China in the past, the modern regime is now concerned with economic prowess and regional—if not global—superiority. To achieve these goals, the regime has been resolute in crushing dissent, both in the political and economic arenas. These desires and actions present a striking resemblance to the Fascist movement in Italy under Benito Mussolini.

Much as the Fascist Party stood alone in Italy to do as it pleased, one must remember that in China there is only its Communist Party. Perhaps most alarming about China is its ethnic policy, which promotes the marginalization of the Tibetan and Falun Gong peoples. While this may not have been a central tenet in early Fascism, Mussolini certainly developed a racial doctrine after his pact with Hitler and Nazi Germany. In many ways, China is the Fascist regime that had never lost World War II: the regime that never committed war crimes in Ethiopia and drew the ire of the West, the regime that was allowed to continue its militant march towards achieving state absolutism.

For a more in-depth analysis on the similarities between modern China and Fascist Italy, see Michael A. Ledeen’s article, Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism.”

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Mr. Vitalone presents us with a well-written but naive precis of Chinese Fascism, aka "State Capitalism."

It is claimed - in remarkable contradiction to the copious factual record - that "This kind of imposed subservience to the nation does not fall solely upon the workers. As stated, a Fascist economy demands obedience from all classes—both elite and poor."

In fact, the Shi Wanzhong trial cited as an example of this purported equality is simply a SHOW TRIAL - an example of the government's so-called war on corruption, which is in fact shallow appeasement rhetoric without a shred of substance. This is evinced well enough by the fact that the June 22, 2009 24-hour national Corruption Hotline was swamped with over 11,000 calls in the 1st week and had to temporarily shut down due to over volume (similar results for the web version). It seems that at every plenary congress and press briefing he could get to, Wen Jiabao and (less sincerely) Hu Jintao have spewed empty and unenforced promises about "ridding corruption from the commisars and cadres." But this is unadulterated lip service, as evidenced by:

- Land: the 100s of Millions of acres of siezed land from Chinese farmers by officials who sell it to speculators and developers. The Factory system anywhere and everywhere - as in England - is preceded by land siezure. Reference the recent Wukan village uprising for a dramatic showdown over an unspeakable tragedy that has defined Chinese development since the 1980s. So many peasants bitterly recount being kicked off their family farms and forced into migrant labor, where they and their children end up as chattel slaves in sweatshops. In urban areas, such as Beijing, the government simply marked vast square mile stretches of traditional hukou housing with a black "X"s on each doorway, with a 2 day eviction notice - or else - with scant or no compensation, even though the property value had risen to millions in the central areas. Then the land is sold to local agents who partner with Western developers like Wal-Mart and Hilton.

The central governemnt does not equally enforce its statist hegemony but rather creates an ultra-corrupt system where kick-backs, buy offs, bribes, payouts, insider trading, no bid contracts and nepotism are the name of the game. It is crony Fascism to the extreme. The fact that the southern chinese real estate market - say in places like ChongQing - is run by the mafia is hardly a newsflash to a Chinese insider. There is BY NO MEANS equal stricture or equal enforcement of the police state on the Chinese elite party bureacrat, property lord, or business elite as there is on the vast urban proletarian or rural peasantry. To suggest anthing even remotely to the contrary borders on an unethical negligence of the plight and history of the majority's exploitation. Giant ghost cities with capacity to house 12 million - this is not an underestimate - such as Ordos near Mongolia, which is almost completely uninhabited, despite grand museums, shopping malls, manicured avenues and the like, sit in stark contrast to the jam packed dormitories and 15 to a room apartments of the working poor in the Eastern cities. Why this anomaly? Because a collosal property bubble is getting inside speculators very rich: in China, residential property is more valuable if it is uninhabited, rather than in inhabited. This is in part fueled by the 4 Bank monopoly of the PRC's savings and loans market, which uses workers' deposits to underlie its crony capitalist development deals which in turn provide the fodder for the speculative bubble. Vast corruption as the world has never seen the likes of elsewhere.

- Labor: the enormous wave of labor strikes that have swept the PRC since 2008, particularly the FoxConn strike & suicide string, the recent solar plant pollution strike in the north, the 2010 GM, Toyota and Honda strikes. There are too many to mention, but for a recent brief and selective mentioning see the CNN article "China labor unrest flares and orders fall" (Nov. 24, 2011). This is despite severe, brutal crackdowns from the police apparatus, which rules the East with an iron fist, and spits in the face of due process. China Labour Watch, and Hong Kong Students and Teachers against Corporate Misbehavior are two of the many advocacy groups which monitor such developments.

- Justice: watch Zhao Liang's "The Petition" - or, for a much more wattered down version, Zhang Yimo's "Qiu Jiu files a lawsuit". These films document the supreme injustice shown to citizens who attempt to file suits at redress offices placed in major provincial cities. Police have long used the sites to identify, round up and torture anyone bold enough to file a grievance. Imagine showing up at small claims court and getting thrown into a van just for walking in the door. You are then dropped off with black eyes, broken ribs and charred skin (from electric prodders) on a street side. A widely reported ironic reckoning of this practice occured in July 2010, when "a 58-year-old woman thought to be a petitioners was beaten so severely for more than 15 minutes by plain clothes policemen outside a government office in Hubei Province she suffered a concussion and nerve damage, In turned out she was not a petitioner but the wife of senior civil servant who had gone to the office to meet her husband" ( "Petitions, retreivers and black jails in China").

This year saw the case of Chen Guangcheng and his wife's 2011 brutal beating in the NYT & the Guardian. They are but one of millions of examples of activists being brutally - sometimes shockingly - tortured or imprisoned simply for following the official legal procedure for filing a claim (charing the flesh - sometimes severely - via the use of an electric prodguns is a favorite method).

To claim that the ruling elite of the PRC use the degree of religious, mass-fervour style nationalism to solidify their power as did Mussolini or Hitler is simply inacurrate. The Maoist fiasco - so highly dependent on aggressive propaganda -- is too darkly remembered during the post-Deng era for that technique to be deployed again. The half-hearted attempt of late at preaching Confucian principles of filial deference alongside a new Nationalist line - though typical Fascist traditional values schemes - largely toned down during the Jiang Zemin era, pales in comparison to the fiery histrionics of the Italian dictator. Today's PRC is more electrocution than elocution.

However, to set the record straight, Mussolini's Fascist rule - which, by the way was championed and adored by countless Tory politicans in England throughout the 20s & 30s, such as Neville & Austen Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, Samuel Hoare and Winston Churchill - was also a war on workers, peasants, the poor, the Communists and Socialists (think the massacre of Abyssinians and the destruction of the peasants' cooperatives). To quote George Orwell:

"The list of charges is an impressive one and the main facts - from the murder of Matteotti to the invasion of Greece, & from the destruction of the peasant's cooperatives to the bombing of Addis Ababa - are not denied. Concentration camps, broken treaties, rubber truncheons, castor oil - everything is admitted. The only troublesome quesiton is [speaking from the vantage of his British Tory supporters]: How can something that was praiseworthy at the time when you did it - ten years ago, say - suddenly become reprehensible now?"

- Goerge Orwell, "Who are the War Criminals?" Tribune, 22 Oct. 1943

If anything, what characterizes Fascism is not a subservience of private corporations to the State (as Mussolini proposed in later public speeches), but rather a warped crony capitalist network of conglomerates - & their executives & chief shareholders - and property moguls that fully shape state policy, which policy parades as national interest legislation via a bloated military sector and policing apparatus dressed in traditionalist gestures and nationalist grandstanding. Fascism is nothing more than what Nikolai Lenin aptly dubbed it: "Capitalism in Decline." It is absolutely an extreme and hypertrophied form of Capitalism on life support and not at all a genuine "third way" that beats all classes with an equally thick stick.

To sum up my chief complaint against what I see as Vitalone's overly-derived, not enough arrived descriptions of the Fascism of the PRC (and, for that matter, of Italy), I leave you with a quote of consumate, humorous critic of entrenched power, Anatole France:

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (Le Lys Rouge)

Caleb King

Jamaica Plain, MA

Posted by Caleb King on 1.7.12 at 3:25



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