Posted: 30 April 2010 Updated: whenever:
This is my opinion. If you wish to communicate your opinion regarding this topic, you can contact me at cdoswell at earthlink.net - either use the email hyperlink or cut and paste after replacing _at_ with @). However, if you're not willing to have your comments posted here, along with my response, don't waste my time or yours.
I began writing this essay while in China on a business trip, for which I’m being reasonably well paid by the Chinese. I enjoy coming to China and meeting with some of its weather forecasters. I love the Chinese people for many reasons, including their hospitality and their hard work, trying to understand what I’m trying to convey despite their unfamiliarity with my viewpoint and the considerable language barrier. This is my sixth year of coming to Beijing at the request of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and my friends at the CMA Training Centre.
But I can’t post this essay and in fact can’t see any blogs at all, including my own via the Internet at my hotel in Beijing. Free expression of opinion is blocked, apparently at the "request" of the Communist Party that rules China. Even Facebook is blocked! I believe the reason for this "management" of Internet access by the Chinese government is because that government is afraid of the subversive nature of free expression and access to information. Censorship always is implicitly a statement of fear on the part of the censor - fear of the consequences of letting people make up their own minds. China today enjoys more freedom than they have in many decades of Communist rule. The Communist government finds it profitable for the Communist hierarchy to allow capitalism considerable freedom, but at the same time they find free access to information by their citizens to be dangerous. Presumably, they fear to lose their position of power and privilege if they let all their people have free access to information and to draw conclusions based on that information. I find this situation very distasteful - distasteful enough to write this essay.
Chinese laborers have taken over the manufacturing for many companies around the world because they are still being paid artificially low wages. I say artificially low because market forces are not being given free rein to modify wages as the economy of China expands. The government actually has admitted to this, in an editorial (entitled "Benefit of Higher Wages") published in the government-controlled English language newspaper China Daily on 29 April 2010. In that editorial, it was noted that
... the country's remarkable economic expansion over the past three decades has generated a steady increase in workers' incomes. But the rise of their wages is too slow compared with the expansion of national wealth. As a result, consumption has actually fallen as a percent of GDP in recent years.
The rich Chinese oligarchy has benefitted the most from the influx of foreign currency and the outsourcing of the manufacturing for foreign companies into Chinese facilities. Common laborers are being cheated of most of the value of their labor. For peasants flocking to the cities to get jobs, they're earning more than they ever dreamed about, even at these low wages. For those born in the desperately poor rural areas in China, the cities look like paradise, especially to the young and ambitious (certainly a perspective not unique to China!). China remains a haven for international corporations to "outsource" their manufacturing for the simple reason that wages for common unskilled Chinese laborers have remained low. If those laborers were to be paid wages commensurate with their contributions to the Chinese economy, those wages could rise to rival those of their counterparts around the world. China would no longer be such an attractive place for reducing corporate payrolls. Thus, we have an apparent paradox, whereby unrestricted corporate greed and the needs of an authoritarian governing Communist elite coincide. In this case, it is both politics and economics that have caused the marriage of seemingly irreconcilable bedfellows.
Capitalism never has been about freedom, of course – except for the freedom of the corporate masters to get rich. Over and over again, corporations have sought to increase profits by any means possible. If we can get away with paying our workers a slave wage, let it be done! If we can keep costs low by avoiding serious investments in safety from workplace hazards, let the workers die - there always are more where they came from. If we can receive our enormous management salaries even as the companies that are our personal responsibility go broke and survive only by government bailouts, let the millions continue to pour into our personal pockets! If we can drive out locally-owned business by rapacious undercutting of prices and then jacking up the prices when the competition is gone and we’ve become the only choice in town, make it happen! They pay lip service to free markets and capitalism, but what they want is government welfare for the rich – subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts, freedom from any regulation, and so on. And the Communists in China are willing to give them that!
In the case of China, it seems that the fundamental principles of socialism and Marxism have been swept into the dustbin of history. The government of China is a ruling capitalist elite, not socialists operating for the good of the working classes. The bankruptcy of socialism in any form is that it really never has worked for the benefit of the masses. It never has fulfilled its empty promises, but rather always degenerates into a ruling elite and a great mass of the subjugated. Socialism has claimed to be for the benefit of the downtrodden, but like capitalism, it always has wound up seeking primarily what benefits the ruling elite. Whatever thin veneer of socialism clings to the Chinese government from its roots in Maoist Communism, the reality is that they've become just another authoritarian ruling oligarchy, indistinguishable from others around the world and in history (Nazis, Bolsheviks, South American dictators, white apartheid in South Africa, etc.). Mao's death signaled the end of his personality cult and no replacement was able to begin a new one, but the iron control of the Communist party continues. And Mao is still a revered figure, despite the grotesque excesses of his term as China's dictator, including sending intellectuals into the rice paddies. Creativity in China continues to be hampered by an anti-intellectual undercurrent.
The same issue of China Daily referred to above contains an article about sexual freedom - "Sex Liberation Stymied by Law" in which a certain Xue Fulin (a "sexologist" and professor of Economics at Peking University!) says,
As the theoretical basis of the Communist Party of China, Marxism is able to guide us through everything. Sexology is no exception.
The very notion that Marxism would have anything relevant to contribute about sexuality is so absurd, only a totalitarian regime would promote such nonsense. The puritanical "war on porn" in China is just another manifestation of paternalistic censorship by the old men who run the government.
Such governments find it easy to sustain their hold on power over the nation with tanks and troops if the need arises, and are more than willing to bed down with greedy international corporations. The corporations and the ruling elite both benefit by exploiting Chinese workers. International corporations have figured out how to avoid having their laborers share in the wealth the corporations are making. It’s too late for America, and Europe, and even Japan – there are no longer cheap Toyotas rolling off Japanese assembly lines. Japanese workers have demanded, and gotten, a piece of the action, so Toyotas are no longer an inexpensive alternative. The Japanese now have the same problem we in the US have – their corporations are seeking cheap labor elsewhere. You want a cheap alternative? Manufacture it in, and buy it from, China!! Greedy corporations are given a hero’s welcome.
And by all means - it’s a matter of State Security (shades of the KGB!) to maintain a firewall against subversive thought that might cause workers to be dissatisfied with their lot in life. Any mechanism by which Chinese laborers might discover how the outside world works must be blocked. Social networks are subversive, it seems! And here I thought Facebook was little more than a way to waste time …
I can't prove it, but I believe that one of the reasons for the collapse of the Russian Soviet regime was that they too were heavily engaged in censorship. Even with the help of KGB espionage, they couldn't steal new technology fast enough to keep up with the western capitalist countries. China has figured out a different path. They impose censorship but create a favorable situation for corporations to come and manufacture technology in China! It's a brilliant solution to the problem of how to keep up with the west. But the Chinese government continues to engage in corporate espionage, trying to steal even more new technology. They can't fathom how important freedom is for creativity - it's the reason they have to steal it, rather than create it in China. Such regimes simply aren't compatible with freedom of information but government censorship eventually will cause their downfall.