[Marxism] John Gulick on Insurgent Chinese Workers and Peasants

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Wed Mar 24 15:26:53 MST 2004

*****   This essay is from Confronting Capitalism, a new collection 
from Softskull edited by Eddie Yuen, George Katsiafikas and Daniel 
Burton Rose and to be published in the coming months.

"Insurgent Chinese Workers and Peasants:
The 'Weak Link' in Capitalist Globalization and U.S. Imperialism" (1)
John Gulick

. . . When the worldwide mobilization against capitalist 
globalization hit its pre-September 11 stride, some of its partisans 
characterized it "a movement of movements," arguing quite cogently 
that one of its virtues and trademarks is its decentralized, 
networked, and pluralistic character.8 According to this formulation, 
the movement as a whole consists of parallel initiatives and 
struggles within and across the Global South and Global North. While 
these parallel campaigns are animated by the same, or at least 
similar, principles (i.e., against the depredations of global 
neo-liberalism), they are also unshackled by a concentrated, top-down 
structure of command and control. Curiously, however, one of the most 
pivotal movements in objective opposition to the imperatives of 
capitalist globalization was not and is still not conventionally 
regarded as part of the broader movement: the movement (informal, 
localized, and episodic though it may be at present) of insurgent 
Chinese workers and peasants resisting the assorted hardships imposed 
on them by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s accelerated 
implementation of its "economic reform" and "opening up" policies, 
epitomized by China's November 2001 accession to the World Trade 

Scattered outbursts of worker and peasant protest have been on the 
dramatic upswing in China since 1998.9 Demonstrating workers are 
aggrieved by the downsizing, closure, and privatization of SOE's and 
by brutal exploitation in subcontractor sweatshops while 
demonstrating peasants are aggrieved by plunging crop prices. Both 
workers and peasants are absolutely exasperated by and fed up with 
the venality of local party-state officials. Consequently the number 
of reported worker and peasant protests has metastasized at a 
dizzying pace. According to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security 
(a state entity usually inclined to downplaying the extent of social 
unrest), the year 2002 constituted a high-water mark for worker and 
peasant demonstrations.10 Whereas an average of 80 daily "incidents" 
occurred in 2001, by December 2002 this figure had swelled to 700.11 
The CCP's experiment with "socialist market economy with Chinese 
characteristics" has entered some kind of watershed crisis, one that 
its newly installed "Fourth Generation" leadership is trying to 
address with short-term palliative measures.12

This momentous development of the past five years seems to have 
eluded the attention of many activist-theoreticians close to the 
movement against capitalist globalization. Whatever their tactical 
and programmatic differences concerning the how and the where of the 
movement, French socialist intellectuals and Italian 
anarcho-communist militants, U.S. environmental radicals and Chiapan 
Zapatistas, Brazilian landless laborers and South African municipal 
activists alike share at least one thing in common: theorizers of and 
spokespeople for the movement against capitalist globalization 
recognize each and every one of them as participants in this 
amorphous but definable movement. Generally speaking, the same 
recognition has not been extended to Chinese workers and peasants 
courageously fighting the multiple and intertwined evils associated 
with CCP-engineered neo-liberalism and global capitalist integration. 
This failure to characterize current-day Chinese worker and peasant 
protest (and, in some cases, outright insurrection) as part of the 
worldwide refusal against capitalist globalization stems partially 
from the reality that neither rebellious Chinese workers and 
peasants, nor representatives democratically elected by them, have 
actively taken part in those events customarily associated with the 
broader global movement - the successive street demonstrations staged 
alongside the summit meetings of the WTO/IMF/World Bank/G7, or the 
respective World Social Forums in Porto Alegre and Florence, and so 
on. A salient cause of this absence is that the CCP remains dead-set 
against the licensing of independent popular organizations that could 
potentially contest the prerogatives of the party-state, and 
coercively suppresses their very existence.

One irony of overlooking the historic Daqing and Liaoyang protests, 
and thousands of comparable protests, is that the trajectory of 
capitalist globalization and of the U.S. imperialist quest for 
planetary dominance rests largely upon the disposition and the action 
of ordinary Chinese workers, peasants and rural-to-urban migrants. 
Although the claims they make upon party-state officials may deal 
mostly with hand-to-mouth issues, the Chinese demonstrators 
unwittingly endanger the smooth functioning of a Pacific Rim 
accumulation regime critical to the prolongation of U.S. imperial 

Despite a host of imagined and genuine geopolitical frictions between 
nominally "communist" China and the U.S., the mutual destinies of the 
CCP elite and U.S. ruling groups are becoming inextricably wedded to 
one another. U.S. big business direly needs China as an outlet for 
exports, as a theater for financial speculation, and as a supply 
platform for the production of cheap parts and components. As long as 
China continues to hold the lion's share of its voluminous currency 
reserves in dollars, stabilizing the privileged status of the U.S. 
currency as "world money," the hawks and neo-cons in Washington can 
live with China's emergence as the "workshop of the world."13 The 
CCP's acquiescence to this arrangement is virtually guaranteed by the 
staking of its legitimacy and sheer survival on an economic model 
dependent upon huge flows of U.S.- led foreign direct investment and 
parity access to U.S. markets.14 And by decisively tying its 
political future to an emergent mainland Chinese capitalist class 
whose fortunes are entwined in the trans-Pacific commodity chain, the 
CCP all but confirmed this dependence at its 16th National Congress 
held in November 2002.15 To the extent that the CCP tries to waver 
from the implied terms of this marriage, the U.S. Departments of War 
and State have various tools at their disposal - arms transfers to 
Taiwan, leverage over the oceanic conduits of oil transport, coy 
complaints about human rights abuses, all buttressed by post-911 
encirclement - to force China back into line, overblown proclamations 
about its high-tech military buildup notwithstanding.16

At the risk of oversimplifying, U.S. ruling groups need a "socially 
stable" China as much as the CCP does. The structural between a 
deepening of neo-liberal reform in China and the putative 
reinvigoration of U.S. hegemony thus frames the backdrop in which the 
gathering storm of Chinese worker and peasant resistance is taking 
place. Besides the fact that the segment of the Chinese populace 
suffering from the CCP's latest concessions to capitalist 
globalization makes up roughly one-eighth of humanity, this equation 
is precisely why partisans of a recomposed "global justice" movement 
should train their sights on increasingly agitated and unruly Chinese 
workers and peasants. Bearing this in mind, myriad aspects of the 
recent worker and peasant mobilizations warrant closer inspection. . 
. .

<http://info.interactivist.net/print.pl?sid=04/02/27/1522245>   *****

* Bring Them Home Now! <http://www.bringthemhomenow.org/>
* Calendars of Events in Columbus: 
<http://www.freepress.org/calendar.php>, & <http://www.cpanews.org/>
* Student International Forum: <http://sif.org.ohio-state.edu/>
* Committee for Justice in Palestine: <http://www.osudivest.org/>
* Al-Awda-Ohio: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Al-Awda-Ohio>
* Solidarity: <http://www.solidarity-us.org/>

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