Many of my American readers will cringe at the mention of communism. Between the end of World War II (1945) and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), the term became a dirty word evoking fear, confusion and hatred in many first world citizens (ask Sen. Joe McCarthy). Students of philosophy think differently of course, as they’ve studied theoretical socialism and communism – myself included; however, suffice it to say even today as the USSR is no more and most nations remain staunchly entrenched in the free market, capitalist, global economy the term still holds a very negative connotation.

Mao's Portrait on the North side of Tiananmen Square
Mao’s Portrait on the North side of Tiananmen Square

Living in the longest running, most successful, and recent world superpower communist country, the People’s Republic of China, has opened my eyes to much of what is good and bad about communism. Largely absent from day to day routines, it’s often out of sight, out of mind. During a recent trip to Beijing (the nation’s capital), especially Tiananmen Square, the visibility of Red China’s strict government increased dramatically.

I’m not going to take too much time discussing the history of China and China’s Communist Party as I’m more concerned with explaining what Chinese communism is like today. The economy here operates quite differently than that of its European predecessors and that in and of itself sparks a lot of head scratching across America. The free trade agreements of the 90s-00s have forever altered the once rural and agricultural based country into what amounts to the largest hub of the entire world’s manufacturing. China boasts more factories per square kilometer than any other nation on Earth.

The May Fourth Movement

Chinese Civil War

Chinese Revolution

Tiananmen Square Protests (the square still remains under martial law)

I believe the first elements that bewilder people most are the basic definitions of words like communism and socialism. People tend to misinterpret them as the antithesis to democracy. That isn’t truly the case. Communism isn’t a political system as much as an economic system, so if one felt the need to set them both up on two halves of a scale, democracy wouldn’t be on the opposing side. Capitalism would be. Once that much is understood, we can move onto the second element.

communism [kom-yuh-niz-uh m] noun – A theory or system of social and economic organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state

capitalism [kap-i-tl-iz-uh m] noun – An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth

Great Hall of the People - meeting place of the National People's Congress
Great Hall of the People – meeting place of the National People’s Congress

Much more confusing is China’s economy. The popular misconception is that China, as the USSR had been, is completely, 100% undeniably communist. Not so. After Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), the country needed desperately to revitalize their economy and speed up growth. The Party leaders devised a way to do just that while still maintaining commitment to Leninism, centralized control, and the one-party state. They developed what is known as a socialistmarket economy.

Think of it as a blending of socialism and capitalism for the purpose of China’s survival in a global economy. How could one single, stand-alone communist nation thrive surrounded by capitalists? Simple. Allow privately owned enterprises to enter into China alongside central state-owned enterprises and utilize the fastest growing work force on Earth (pretty obvious plan when you consider China’s population has surpassed the 2 billion mark). Multinationals like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Honda, and others have established hundreds of factories and hired millions of workers so that all of us first worlders can have our smart phones, tablets, and cars.

Workers Monument at Tianamen Square, Beijing
Workers Sculpture at Tianamen Square, Beijing

This system isn’t the end of the road for China by any stretch of the imagination. It is merely a stepping stone. Despite the official designation of socialism, analysts often describe the economy of China as a form of state run capitalism. This is much more accurate, from my perspective, as I live amid Chinese people who all own their cars (and choose which makes and models to purchase), smart phones, clothes, and other manufactured goods. The government here refers to this current phase as the Primary Stage of Socialism, or socialism with Chinese characteristics.

What the hell does that mean?

China's Gross Domestic Product
China’s Gross Domestic Product

The primary stage of socialism was introduced by Mao Zedong and attempts to explain the reasons for including capitalist tendencies within the Chinese socialist economy (as explained above).  Essentially, China is considered to be an immature socialist system and at which point their GDP grows enough to be considered mature, the nation will abandon this intermediary phase and jump into the final phase of Advanced Socialism.

Xue Muquio stated that the guiding principle to be upheld during the initial stage, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work,” would be replaced (upon entry into the secondary stage) with, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” but only when general abundance of goods and assets existed. Notice that only a single word was changed.

Red Army Soldiers Patrolling near Chairman Mao's Mausoleum
Red Army Soldiers Patrolling near Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum

The word ‘work’ was replaced with the word ‘need’. During the primary stage, the individual gets out of the system what he puts in. However, communism and socialism were not economic systems designed to support impoverished people. This was the major problem in the USSR. Marx intended for his system to eventually eliminate poverty and as such, once all poor people (as well as the bourgeois) had been eradicated, then the individual would put everything they could into the system and get out what they need, regardless of their level or ability to work. That is the sole purpose for the inception and design of communism and socialism to begin with! A truly classless society, free from prejudice and exploitation.

Eventually in China, the term ‘ownership’ will be replaced by ‘usership’. Nobody will own anything, they will simple lease and use it for however long was needed. In theory, it’s a beautiful concept; in practice, time will tell if the Party can sustain and continue to grow. Perhaps within the next couple generations, the vibrant hues of Red China will gradually fade to blues and greens.

Until Next Time…

-Justin

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2 thoughts on “Seeing Red

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