Jasic Workers’ Struggle
This summer, workers at the Jasic welding-equipment factory in China’s manufacturing hub of Shenzhen were brutally repressed during their efforts to form a union. Their campaign drew support from university students and labor activists across the country, who flocked to Shenzhen to support the struggle. But the Chinese state cracked down on both the workers and the students with firings, detentions, surveillance, and the threat of jail sentences. The following is composed of links to various aspects of this struggle (from 31st July to 5th November) followed by an email discussion about some of its contradictions, in particular the uncritical leftist stance of many of its supporters. Unfortunately this included those who would not consider themselves leftists, a symptom of a growing evasion of critical consciousness, usually in the name of “unity”, that is by no means exclusive to those directly supporting this struggle. Of course, such struggles should be supported but not by keeping our mouths shut about their weaknesses and ideological evasions.
The development of trade unions invariably tends towards the development of a bureaucracy from within (as opposed to bureaucracy imposed from outside), with all the attendant roles involving representing other people. Nevertheless it’s important to distinguish between how these unions develop in formally democratic countries like the UK or France and those that develop in far more overtly autocratic countries like China. In the former they tend towards a repetition of something close to 200 years of labour struggles with all their contradictions yet this time quickly arriving at banality: absolute collaboration with the ruling society. However in countries where non-statist unions are illegal, things are more complex and not as predictable. Which is not to ignore how such organisations could develop; after all, trade unions were originally forbidden in dictatorial countries like South Africa under apartheid. The current president started as a union organiser for the miners in the early 1980s and yet later lead to him ordering the massacre of miners at Marikana in August 2012, and is now one of Africa’s richest men, worth over half a billion dollars. Not saying that the same trajectory will play out in China at all, just that it’s naive to not be cautious about even independent trade unions as a vehicle for independent struggle. Just because the nuances of such developments are complex is no reason to avoid unraveling them.
But there’s no point in elaborating on this here, and in over-general terms, in the introduction: see the discussion following this list of links to various pertinent aspects of this struggle.
China, Shenzhen: report on factory struggles and repression of independent trade unions More here and here.For twitter updates on labour conflict there, see the following Chinese twitter accounts:
https://twitter.com/2b0bKXcWuXpoNbb (Support Group Twitter);https://twitter.com/yuexinmutian (Support Group Organizer Yue Xin’s Twitter). And this: https://twitter.com/olRbaEHNMNWLwWj
China: report on increased state repression of strikes “The harsh police response to the ongoing Jasic Technology workers’ campaign in Shenzhen seems to coincide with a recent surge in swift police intervention to dissolve workers’ collective actions in the past month, and this new phenomenon is not geographically confined to Shenzhen or Guangdong province. Between July and August 2018, CLB’s Strike Map recorded 12 cases of police intervention out of 279 workers’ collective actions; meanwhile, between January and June, police intervened in a total of 17 cases out of 907. Arrests quickly spiked from 1.8% in six months -or at an average of 0.3% per month- to 4.3% in just one month.”
Report on Maoist participation in Jasic workers’ support groups For a better idea of where the people who run this site are coming from, see this. Note the citation of Leys and the orientation quote of Lu Xun. X writes: “Time also to drag out the old Maoist rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution regarding the demands for improved working conditions and pay coming from bureaucrats sympathetic to (and relying for their power bases on) the industrial workers: “sugar-coated bullets,” which must be denounced along with their putative source – revisionists within the Party! Now these “worker support groups” are calling themselves Marxists (and where are the indignant Marxists saying that Maoist monarchism is not Marxism?), by which they mean Maoists, while spouting a revisionist line against what, were Mao alive, would have been the “revisionist line” of Liu Shaoqi, or worse, the “syndicalism” of groups like the Hundred Million Heroes of Wuhan, who held one of Chairman Mao’s top cops prisoner and paraded him through the streets in a dunce cap. History, its head in the mud, frantically kicking its feet in the air…” (added 27/12/18).
More students “disappear” It’s a continuation of the crackdown from before. They’ve made repeated efforts to shut down the student societies in multiple ways, but were made to look really bad when they straight up tried to shut down the student societies and just riled up the students more. This time they’re using the disappearance method again. The students are disappeared, no news of their whereabouts, same as Yue Xin and Gu Jiayue, which is really more scary than them being simply in jail.
Discussion on the Jasic workers struggles and its supporters (from an email list, dating from late August to late September 2018)
You may have heard that there has been a major strike and then supporting protest in Shenzhen in the last month. …
There are 14 workers still in detention and two students who have been disappeared.
The strike that launched all of this occurred at Jasic Technology, a machine parts factory, where workers were trying to organize a union and were fired and beaten by thugs for it. When later workers were arrested for just trying to go to work as usual, a bunch of local worker and student activists came out to support, and were also arrested for demanding folks’ release at the police station. They were released once and then re-arrested when they tried to go to the factory for a second protest against unfair firings. A total of 30 (29 workers and one student supporter) were arrested. After over half a month of protest 16 have now been released, but 14, including a nursing mother with a five month old baby and her husband, are still being held in detention. Two student activists have also been disappeared by police, their whereabouts unknown.
I’m linking a couple of reports on the issue here, but they mostly frame this as a Maoist thing whereas really it was worker and student activists with different lefty leanings in the beginning. The old Utopia Maoist research ones came out later in response to calls for support. They’ve been important to preventing the whole thing from being cracked down on more brutally because they lend a certain degree of legitimacy. It looks pretty awful to lock up your own retired cadre while they’re on the street holding portraits of Mao.
Labournet.tv published a video (with subtitles) about this a few days ago:
For those of you who read Chinese, a lot of material can be found here:
…The organizers are now calling for international support against the abuse workers and activists have faced at the hands of police, and of course also the ridiculous treatment of the workers trying to legitimately form a union at the hands of the company and the official trade union. Petitions are useful, and have already been issued by global professors and global trade unions in support… Another, smaller type of support was launch by labournet.de in Germany. They are regularly reporting about this case and wrote a draft email inviting people to use their draft and send it to the Ch. Embassy….
Me (SF) :
…. I’ve put the following, with the 3 links given in the emails below, in the entry for 15/8/18 on this page:
China, Shenzhen: report on factory struggles and repression of independent trade unions
Today over 50 support group students and workers had their rooms broken into by SWAT police and were dragged away, location still unknown. …The short video the arrested managed to send out this morning is attached so people can spread the word about the incident. Labournet.tv’s video about the struggle can be viewed here: https://en.labournet.tv/jasic-factory-workers-imprisoned-china
On July 27, 2018, thirty people, including current and former Jasic Technology employees and workers from other workplaces who came to support them as well as one young student supporter, were arrested and detained by the Pingshan police in Shenzhen. Fourteen remain in detention. On August 24th, over 50 more supporters who had been peacefully protesting the workers’ arrests and calling for their release were arrested by police. We would like to express our deep concern about these worker and students current conditions and question the legitimacy of their respective arrests. By establishing their own trade union to defend their labour rights in a lawful manner, the arrested workers are merely exercising their rights to freedom of association as guaranteed by Article 3 of the 1992 China Trade Union Law. Thus, such arbitrary arrests and detentions are blatant violations of their basic labour and civil rights.
The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, as a titular member of the Workers Group, International Labour Organization, should defend the ILO fundamental labour rights including workers’ rights to freedom of association and rights to collective bargaining, as entrenched in the ILO Convention 87 and 98. ..
Please also share these twitter accounts with people following the issue. They are in Chinese, but they have the latest updates:
https://twitter.com/2b0bKXcWuXpoNbb (Support Group Twitter)
https://twitter.com/yuexinmutian (Support Group Organizer Yue Xin’s Twitter)
Me (SF) :
I know people tend to feel that doing anything is better than doing nothing when things like this happen, but what happens with such petitions? Surely all it does is alert those authorities receiving the petitions as to who are potentially their enemies (of course, they possibly know most of them already). These people then go on a blacklist and are at the very least prevented from entering the country (in this case, China) in the future. Has anybody heard of a petition that had even a bit of success? Demonstrations might be different, though it mostly depends on what happens on the demo…
It depends on the scale of the ruckus. If its just a few people yeah it doesn’t make much of a dent. If it’s on a large scale, and really I think a protest would be much better than a petition, it does escalate pressure on them. If it weren’t for the support group’s actions the workers may have been treated much more brutally. And now the support group locally have all been taken in, the country needs to know this is something that people are paying attention to and they can’t brutalize people without further killing their international reputation. It affects their whole soft power thing.
It may not make the deciding difference, but it will make clear to them they are leaving another black mark on their international as well as domestic reputation. Sometimes they seem to not care about one thing or another, but this stuff adds up. The fact that a bunch of old cadres came out and protested them already looks pretty bad internally and pretty clearly marks that for this shit crackdown they’ve further antagonized people who were on the breach. Internationally if this thing gets big its most likely they will be lighter on the final sentences.
And about the old guard Maoists (see this: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2158991/chinese-maoists-join-students-fight-workers-rights ) who support this struggle, a contact (X) just wrote to me the following:
“The militant reformist wing of the bureaucratic class. The avant-garde of recuperation, a faction of which let itself be used by Xi Jinping himself, not so very long ago. Flagrantly opportunistic.”
Your friend only knows part of the story, that faction split years ago. yes they belonged to a general scene with an ugly nationalist tendency but this isn’t the part of that faction that supported Xi, clearly. plus, i think i already clarified these guys weren’t the core of the action, they just get portrayed that way in some of the not so good western reporting. they went for a total of one day for gods sake. they served their purpose on the ground and i think they have provided useful support for the students who are the main organizers. note that none of this faction were arrested because they weren’t there!
Very glad to hear it. I’m sure the Maoists exist in many different factions these days. As far as “useful support” allow me to register some doubt. I know how ‘flying the red flag to fight the red flag’ is an oft-employed way to avoid going to prison camp, and can recall the demonstrators in the rustbelt city of Shenyang some decades ago using posters of Chairman Mao to head up their demo (possibly in the same spirit that Bakunin suggested using the paintings of the Dresdener Museum in 1849) against the deconstruction of the social safety net, but it is also rather self-limiting as far as what one can then convincingly advocate.
And I did say a faction. The larger problem of the Maoists and their pretentions (or those of this or that faction) to some kind of patronage over the manifestations of self-organized proletarian radicalism that occur still exists, and it is a big one in China. It does not sound like your respondent wants to address that question right now, but if not now, I wonder when.
In any event, it doesn’t prevent us from supporting the workers or those putting themselves at risk to help them, insofar as we know their politics and the nature of the action.”
I note from this document two things in particular:
1. that this report includes an excerpt from China Labor Bulletin – a source not usually considered “badly informed (or however exactly your Chinese correspondent put it)” about Chinese affairs which talks about the students being “part of a growing informal group of labor activists, leftists and Maoist groups in China and labor groups overseas who had found a common cause in the Jasic workers’ struggle.”
2. the now famous “No one can resist the tides of history” public letter of Beijing University student activist Yue Xin, after a sycophantic obeisance to General Secretary Xi (“He sets a great example of research for today’s young people”), uses the following language to describe the political practice of the coalition of which she is part: “in some places, dark elements have infiltrated the solidarity group and started making anti-Party and anti-socialist remarks in a vain and yet still despicable attempt to criminalize the solidarity group. These spies have already been identified and cleared out of the group. Any who slander us as backed by foreign sources, accuse us of engaging in student revolution [interesting to know the criteria by which this is considered a crime], or accuse us of holding anti-Party or anti-socialist views, it’s all in an attempt to frame us. It’s all intentional smearing of the solidarity group and the Party’s guiding ideology.”
Just how much scope for proletarian autonomy does this language allow? The point here is that within these kinds of ‘opposition to the Red Flag by waving the Red Flag’ formulations, the attempt to establish an autonomous theoretical space is, to put it mildly, extremely circumscribed. We can be happy that some individuals are brave enough to support striking workers, but as to the implications of this latest historical rehabilitation of the Confucian practice of petitioning the Emperor for the ostensible purpose of advancing a pro-proletarian practice, they hardly bode well for anything but restraint and repetition of past stupidities. Backing the strike up with a united front swamp of leftists doesn’t mean a whole lot either for anything new, or liable to supercede reformist struggles, either. Muddled politics with a predictably muddled message. These people are stuck in a spectacularly failed past. And, crap as it all is, they are still going to get into trouble for it.
Compare this with the dissident song writer who was put on trial a few months ago for having publicized with his songs the events at Tiananmen and a number of other things that were very far from the arse-kissing loyalty dance to the Leader that Yue Xin engages in. Instead of protesting his loyalty to the regime like some supplicant to the largess of the bureaucratic-capitalist class, he spoke of destroying the system and of his pride in doing so through his subversive work; that is where the bar is set.
People who think they can use the words and style of the…20th-century counter-revolutions for the purpose of a workers’ movement now, are, consciously or unconsciously, leading the workers into a trap to be sprung now or much later. They are the provocateurs; the regime needs no others, save perhaps their colleagues abroad egging them on.
First of all, I see what this might look like to some people in the west, but for people who haven’t spent time living under the subtle watch of the administration here (much more complete and pervasive than in some other places people might imagine), maybe its hard to understand that to survive and create more political space to maneuver its useful to say different things in public than in private, and its useful to arse-kiss if it means it will make the authorities who want to lock you up look awful if they do.
Honestly, no one who read this bought the stuff about Xi. Other than the most politically ignorant folks out there (and there are some but not many, most regular workers I know could tell the difference) everyone here who reads this reads it as irony. No one buys the arse-kissing and everyone knows she’s just doing it to maneuver political room. In fact, its a pretty funny way to give Xi a backhand blow and point out his hypocrisy. He made a bunch of cheesy videos earlier in his reign that were the laughing stock of the web that used such phrases as “returning to our original beliefs”. She plays on that language, and makes it even more ironic because its clear that everything the students are doing now line up with what the administration says it stands for but in reality is cracking down on. The calling of the Internationale a reactionary song by the local police was another one of the laughing points of this whole movement. Because the party still sings that song at the end of every major meeting. So your local police just called one of the party’s anthems a reactionary tune and the students blew it up all over the web. What’s the party supposed to do when one of their local pigs insults the party’s anthem? It’s hilarious to think about the dilemma the police chief in charge of dealing with that was in. It just goes to show the irony of the state that this country is in. In my opinion Yue Xin’s letter is pretty amazingly written, and really funny if you understand the context here. It’s a great piece of satirical literature and one of the best pieces produced by the JS movement so far. Seriously, no one takes the arse-kissing seriously. Anyone remotely political, including a lot of average workers, knows how to read that.
This is also why this group is more dangerous to the Party than the Tiananmen style activists, who the party can totally beat back with their reigning ideology in tact. You can’t beat on these lefty students without endangering your hegemonic ideology and making yourself look hypocritical. So they use that. Compared with the dissident song writer who can just be smashed before his message gets out (don’t think a lot of people heard that here), the student’s message is more powerful because it makes the authorities hesitant to lock them up (most students have already been released but are just under house arrest) and thus reveals political space for future activists that doesn’t mean straight-away arrest. In a space where the administration will crush you for free speech, you gotta be crafty about how you speak if you wanna keep speaking. That song writer will be locked up and not able to speak for a long time, but it looks like these students are still able to speak up, and will be allowed to return to school, and basically be able to continue their politics to some degree. Better than being in jail for years before most of the population has heard your message. That’s because these students were politically savvy, even if that meant arse-kissing. But honestly I wouldn’t call it arse-kissing because its clearly satire that no one who knows anything about the chinese political context can misread.
Me (SF) :
I’d like to ask a couple of questions: if no one who read this bought the stuff about Xi then surely also the authorities, the party, the state , Xi himself also don’t buy it, ie they recognise the “arse-kissing” merely as a strategical manoeuvre. So although I can see it makes it slightly easier to manoeuvre, I’d have thought it just slightly delays the time when there’ll be heavy prosecutions and almost inevitable jail-time, no? I recognise that the state will have to work out a subtler way of cracking down and justifying the repression, selling it to whoever buys it (who amongst the working class or peasantry does buy it?), and I can see the need to delay such things. But do they need to justify it other than for the Party faithful who, I imagine, already don’t really care about how the repression is carried out? Surely the repression will be increasingly applied in order to terrify any potential opposition and they will inevitably need to repress any such development before it gets too big, no?. Also, is anyone anticipating how they might do this (ie the state’s strategy and methods of ideological justification)?
You’re right they’re probably taking this as a serious threat and not going to stop repression at this. How far or what form after the fact repression will take I don’t know, but I think to the organizers that’s a line that they are testing. I think it’s clear that right now the administration’s priority is to calm the issue and shut it up rather than scaring a swathe of people out of action like their actions against the feminist 5 were clearly aimed at doing. Given the rhetorical consequences of direct and brutal crackdown in this case, the administration choosing the less brutal method of monitoring in the short term. Doesn’t look like they’re going to arrest as widely or with as low standards as they have in other cases.
One method they may choose is to try to break down networks and monitor any organizing out of existence, choose disruptive methods rather than directly brutal methods is my guess. There will be more subtle repression. People are of course taking a risk whenever they engage in any kind of protest. Of course the government won’t just let them get away with it. But the admin is also trying to do a balancing act between maintaining their legitimizing narrative and keeping rebellion under control. So overall, my guess is that whatever methods of repression they choose, they will be less brutal. Which itself opens space. It may take the targeted objects of repression out of action through monitoring, but its not the kind of thing that will scare a wide swathe of activists out of action.
And maybe that kind of terror repression will happen too, but we don’t know yet. It’s at least been delayed, and made much harder for the gov’t to implement without digging out some of the ground of its own political playing field.
Me (SF) re. X’s comments :
I wouldn’t only critique people on the basis of their overt shitty political perspectives. Maybe you know this, but it seems worth repeating it: during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s there were some youths, I think in Shanghai, who took Mao’s exhortation to create a society based on the model of the Paris Commune at face value and tried to do just that; they were, of course, repressed and those who managed to escape then formed the Minus group in Hong Kong. This is not to to make a simple equivalence, particulary 50 years later, but there are situations in China where confused ideologies are expressed and, despite these attitudes, because of the reality of class power in China which has to stifle any initiative independent of the party, can lead to unexpected results (or at least unexpected by those who struggle but are naive).
For those who don’t know about the Minus group – see, for example, this – https://libcom.org/history/some-editions-minus-magazine-hong-kong-1970s-0
I am glad to see that you are to some degree familiar with the Minus people, with whom I was in touch for some time after 1977. It was to this same group some years later (1991-2) that I sent the “No More Emperors” poster and who then got a satirical magazine, Fan Dou, to reprint it on the inside back page of an issue of their publication. They also took a dozen or so of the posters put them on a great banner a full street-width wide and used that in a march and demo one time, kindly sending me a picture of it after the fact.
Moreover, knowing that arguably the most important revolutionary oppositionists in modern (1949 on) Chinese history, the Hunan-based Shengwulian, used the evanescent moment the Maoist Center promulgated the model of the Paris Commune to fly the flag of a “Peoples’ Commune of China” with revocable delegates and and remuneration of no more than an ordinary worker, you can already anticipate where my argument is going to lead: to the fact that in 1968, the Shengwulian was able to pose something truly radical and qualitatively different in political substance from what the officially Maoist organizations were promoting while using the hyperbolic language of the Cultural Revolution Group to insinuate it into the general discussion. The fact that the Maoists then reprinted the essay in which the Hunan revolutionaries had set forth their ideas (“Whither China”) and sent it out to all the Red Guard units as an example of “anarchism” to be combatted, multiplied its scandalous effect. This is not the only example that comes to mind of someone using the language of bureaucrats to attack the bureaucratic system, not just some of its excesses. The Li-Yi-Che group in Guangdong (whose most well-known member Chen Erjin wrote Crossroads Socialism, an unofficial manifesto for Proletarian Democracy ) during the Pi-Lin Pi-Kung campaign following the demise of Lin Biao was one such group. When their manifesto caused them to be detained by the authorities and Chen Erjin placed as the target of a public criticism session, he defeated every argument put up against his groups’ reading of the political situation with a quote from Mao. Throughout the whole meeting, this tactic rendered him unassailable. He didn’t just parrot the line in order to say he was a loyal Maoist. The line of argumentation presented by the present group in Guangdong leads where? To the idea that the Party is hypocritical and doesn’t follow its own stated principles? That’s really fuckin’ news to people in China, don’t yo think?.
Thus, what I will be saying to the condescending person who thinks I will buy his/her version of the “China Difference” (infamously advanced by the China scholar Ross Terrill in a book by that title excusing China from the same kind of critique that one would level at a similarly behaving Western capitalist state), is first: there is nothing new or terribly clever in just standing for the Party’s alleged values, and its actual leadership, in the Party’s words, ironically or otherwise. The only threat to the Party and the only justification of the Party in repressing such individuals is that they are not of the Party itself and are carrying on their essentially loyalist propaganda without a franchise. Even if there is a transparent element of irony in doing this in a country where these values supposedly reign supreme, so what? Does it consitute a challenge to any of the props of bureaucratic capitalist authority? No. Do the appropriations, dare I say detournments, of the language of bureaucratic power by the Shengwulian or the Li-YI-Che group do so? Yes. In comparison, the purveyors of a modern day ironic neo-orthodoxy as purported supporters of the Chinese working class (as the working class, moreover) would be at best capable only of ameliorating the effects of “socialist accumulation.”
Secondly, the way that your correspondent tries to place him/herself as decoding ‘the inscrutable political culture of the Chinese’ as a device for deflecting criticism of the politics of the Jasic workers’ support coalition is an ancient trick, and frankly offensive for someone who has been following Chinese events closely since 1974. Does this person really think that the modalities of life under Chinese totalitarianism are that different from the kinds of behaviors obliged from those who have lived and live today under similar (national and even corporate) regimes? The way the labor movement under Hitler, or the resistance to speed-ups in the days of Stalin, had to cloak themselves in the language of the dominant politcal culture is not so dissimilar as your correspondent seems to want us to think. The fact that people seem impressed among the China Change and CDT crowds, as well as with the person with whom you are communicating, by this relatively empty use of a mere technique, shows, more than anything else, how very far critical standards have fallen since the late sixties and seventies.
One additional litmus test might be “what kind of action does this ironic usage by the Jasic workers’ support group suggest we, as opponents of the regime living in China, engage in?” Creating a nation-wide organization of “revolutionary committees” composed of revocable delegates like the Pariresearch ons Commune? The establishment of Proletarian Democracy? Is, in fact any kind of action beyond the highly circumscribed social-imaginary of Xi Jinping Thought advocated at all? I certainly don’t see it. More than anything else, this line of shallow irony seems to lead only the reinvention of bureaucratic power as the embodiment of transubstantiated workers’ interests. A thoroughly useless endeavor for anyone who isn’t already a bureaucrat.
Fuel for the fire: here in this article, the people behind the workers’ support groups “identify as Maoists,” just not violent ones, who also identifiy with the stated goals of the CCP and claim they support Xi Jinping. This is at variance with the picture of the Maoists being a marginal element to these protests. It is also clear from this article that the protestors they describe are not in any way “revolutionaries.” They are at best bureaucratic restorationists, with what can only be called _conservative politics, a consequence of the general atrophy of Chinese political development under the stifling umbrella of Party domination, especially in that all they seem to espouse are what they believe are the values (and the slogans) of the original bureaucratic class that established the present Chinese State. They wish to reform the system the same way the left Democrats in this country would like to bring back something like the political economics of the New Deal.
I see nothing in this further article explaining the nature of this “new” archaism of Marxist and Maoist youth groups – a proliferation one could liken to those of the GPCR [ Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution], which did eventually give rise to groups that both espoused aims that transcended the straightjacket of statist “socialism” and a practice that established an autonomous political subject opposed to class society – to oblige me to amend my views. It is only in what this may trigger, that it has any value. What is at least as difficult to imagine is an equivalent inventiveness of even this kind on the side of Xi Jinping and his coalition. Will they be able to set up a Cultural Revolution Group at the center of new and old power that can recuperate and take control of the youth movement, should it start to proliferate at a more rapid clip than it so far has?
Difficult too, to imagine, is how these people are going to re-politicise a society that knows Maoism is shit and that “Marxism” is a cover for all sorts of nasty opportunism, and “socialism” another name for the accumulation of capital and power by the state. Just because the Party has worked day and night for forty-odd years trying to suppress the memory of the GPCR doesn’t mean that the popular memory of what it meant to ordinary people has been eradicated. Not all the memories of “the little generals” were happy ones. The success of this nascent movement, such as it is, will be directly proportional to the degree to which it is able to leave the ideologies of the past behind. Certainly “Marxism” is not the most sterile terrain for the early formulation of a modern radical social critique, but it must retrace the path of its most radical accomplishments (i.e. the break with political parties exemplified in the work of Ruehle, Pannekeok, etc., its break with Marxism, starting with Marx himself, and leading through Castoriadis to the present, and ideology in general, as pioneered by the S.I., so very long ago) and achieve escape velocity from the old world, quickly, if it’s to become a truly revolutionary current.
When I look a contemporary Chinese politics I am not hopeful. When I look at Chinese popular and marginal culture and society, I am.
A further brief exchange over Mao and Xi (extracts):
The current analysis is that the trade war has made it a precarious time for Xi because the other party internal factions have different ideas about what should be done in the face of this, and its a time of internal party conflict. A comment that I saw the other day that I liked was by a Chinese author whose books are mostly banned in the mainland, that Mao was a god-like figure with lots of personal charisma, living in an era where there was not the technology for the few to control the many, and where Mao therefore could use his personal charisma to incite rebellion against the bureaucratic apparatus, whereas Xi is someone attempting to become a god-like figure without personal charisma, but who in this era has the technology for the few to control the many, and quite the opposite of Mao relies on the bureaucratic apparatus to maintain control. I don’t know anything about this author or what thoughts he has about Chinese politics in general, other than I know his newest book is about a cyberdystopia, but anyway I like the quote, and it has more nuance about how power in maintained here than the general western take on china gives.
…As for “charisma” it’s generally seen as an individual personal quality, whereas in fact it comes mainly from a set of specific social relations that rely on the person’s listeners to keep quiet, not contradict and admire (also having several hundred million people read your thoughts and have pictures of you everywhere and being constantly referred to every day helps to boost yourself as being a “god-like figure”). Of course, there are other elements to “charisma” – usually coming from a past of risks both individual and social – that gives the person confidence and an aura of confidence. Certainly, inaugurating policies that killed 38 million people without anyone finding out or taking you to task about it may give you a sense of omnipotence (see this: https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2018/01/translation-party-history-people-cant-told/). But I don’t think Mao really took any serious risks with his life after he came to power in 1949 ( his power battle in the cultural “revolution” was a political risk but it wasn’t a directly personal risk: although he inadvertently endangered his own and the state’s power in certain parts of the country, he survived, though with his political power vastly reduced).
I find your correspondent in China to have a completely leftist approach to “understanding” Mao. The only reason Mao was obliged to “use his personal charisma” to “incite rebellion against the bureaucratic apparatus” is because the bureaucratic apparatus prevented him from driving his mass-murderous program of capital accumulation even further than he did – and that was because they, especially the ones in the countryside, could see peasant rebellions taking shape against the background of the unprecedented suffering of the peasantry and other members of the producing classes, about which Mao’s own personal doctor said he didn’t give a rat’s ass. Your correspondent’s statements suggest she is one of the deluded ones who want to believe that Mao was somehow opposed to bureaucracy on principle. I am remeinded of the well-known pic of Mao in his study with a number of books on his desk, one of which Simon Leys points out (in Chinese Shadows) is a Ming treatise on the correct running of the bureaucracy. That situates Mao’s attitude toward bureaucracy as well as any wishful thinking of latter-day admirers, and quite a bit more.
That Mao was “living an an era where there was not the technology for the few to control the many…” – what kind of drivel is this? Is someone going to tell me that Mao’s control through ideology and police terror of the world’s most populous country wasn’t the most extreme example of “control by few of the many” in history, tell me what was. And his example is hardly unique for the era. One could just as easily cite Stalin or Hitler. The fact that through his ferocious campaign of capital accumulation (and political concentration of power to facilitate it) he almost blew the machinery of oppression, up hardly negates the fact that he was in undisputed control in the first place.
Your correspondent also seems only to want to see Mao “inciting rebellion against the bureaucracy” – actually for the sole purpose of having his own personal power even more undiluted – not Chairman Mao and his gang having to cut a deal with the army and regional bureaucratic power-holders to crush all the faux-rebellions that were turning into real rebellions and impose the “stability” – i.e. crushing repression – of the “triple Allliances” on a China he’d thrown into a tailspin. There was a consensus of a large section of the bureaucracy anyway that Mao’s dictatorship was the essential precondition for the continuation of bureaucratic captalist power. Does your correspondent think Mao’s apotheosis was the necessary precondition for a proletarian revolution instead? What kind of “revolution” would this be then, contrary in form to every other proletarian revolution in history?
I am assuming that you and I are in the category of “people who know things” and are therefore being admonished to wait until these vanguard bureaucrats just beginning their careers are more safely ensconced with their protectors higher up in the official bureaucracy, whose factionalized nature your correspondent has already alluded to. I cannot say I am persuaded by her logic. The enemies of my enemies, being my enemies irregardless on their own account, are unsurprisingly, still my enemies whatever the immediate circumstances. Moreover, in their own words, the Jasic leftists have already denounced people with our politics in their opening statements against “anti-Party” elements. Do you think they would withhold criticism on our accounts, if the situations were reversed? Wouldn’t it redound to the benefit of these reformers of the vanguard party ethos in the eyes of the Party authorities that their true enemies in the movement against bureaucratic power, political parties, leftism, Maoism, etc., have attacked them? They’d look like good little M-L robots in comparison, no?
The forces of Xi Jinping are in any event missing a rather easy coup for them in recuperating this movement for “workers’ rights” within the context of Chinese class society; it’s something that with only a little finesse, they could bring off at the drop of a hat. Is your correspondent trying to make that more difficult? Would such a thing be a credible aim of revolutionaries?