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Ripe for a revolution

By John Passant - posted Thursday, 21 February 2008

Objectively China is ripe for revolution. And like Russia in 1917 the coming Chinese political revolution has the potential to spill over into an economic revolution.

Three hundred million urban workers and 500 million rural workers cannot be kept in servitude for ever. But once the working class in the cities start to move, they will establish their own organs of democratic rule and push the revolution into a socialist one.

In 1989 the democracy movement arose out of the very success of the Communist Party's economic reforms. To paraphrase Marx, the Chinese Communist Party is creating its own gravedigger - the Chinese working class.


The changes to Chinese society have been monumental. When Mao won power in 1949, China was a peasant country. The working class was small, and played no part as a class in the Chinese Communist Party's victory. Indeed Mao ordered workers who occupied their factories shot.

The essence of Mao's economic policies was to replicate Stalin and use the state in an attempt to industrialise the country. Under this state capitalism the state is the collective embodiment of capital, extracting surplus from the working class, and dragging the country up by its bootlaces from a peasant economy to an industrialised one through the crude accumulation of capital.

State capitalism can be quite successful - for a while. Stalin's version turned peasant Russia into a military superpower. But state capitalism outgrows itself, and the ruling "communist" elite, recognising the economic stagnation their model eventually produces, begin to look for new ways of growing.

In the USSR and Eastern Europe the dictators were too late. Political revolutions there swept away the Aegean stables of Stalinism.

China took a different route. Under Deng Xiaoping the Chinese Government moved away from Mao's Stalinist state capitalism to a guided market economy.

For the last 25 years China's growth has averaged more than 10 per cent. In 2007 the rate was 11.4 per cent, while this year the impact of the US economic crisis is likely to see growth fall to a little less than 10 per cent.


The consequence has been a massive restructuring of Chinese society. There are 800 hundred million workers, with 300 million concentrated in the major cities.

While the US produces about 20 per cent of world GDP, China now contributes 10 per cent and some estimates are that in 20 years China will overtake the US. China has become the manufacturer of the world.

Part of the process of economic reform has involved a shift away from uneconomic state owned enterprises (SOEs). This has resulted in massive lay-offs. The Government acknowledges that between 1995 and 2003 27 million workers in SOEs lost their jobs. That figure is almost certainly a large underestimate. Another study puts the figure at 45 million.

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About the Author

John Passant is a Canberra writer ( and member of Socialist Alternative.

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