[Marxism] China's relationship with Cuba is progressive, not "sinister"
rfidler at cyberus.ca
Fri Mar 4 19:01:51 MST 2005
Fred Feldman came upon an exchange over on the Green Left Weekly list
and got a bit befuddled as to who was saying what, and where. That, I
think, is where he got the quote he mistakenly attributed to me on this
It began with a post in late February by Walter Lippmann referring to a
U.S. media columnist’s expression of unease about China’s growing trade
links with Cuba. After noting the positive assistance such links give to
Cuba, Walter added the comment: "China is not going to meddle in Cuba's
internal affairs as some of the European embassies did."
A few days later, however, Walter found the same columnist (Oppenheimer)
citing a report by a Chinese think-tank that was advising the Cubans to
abandon its "theoretical foundation" and embrace and accelerate market
reforms, to allow some people to get rich and to privatize state-owned
companies. As those familiar with Walter’s posts will know, Walter
basically divides the world between those governments that maintain
friendly relations with Cuba and those that don’t. He tends to be quite
defensive about the first group. Predictably, Walter expressed some
scepticism about this Chinese report, saying he had no reason to trust
Oppenheimer’s summary of it.
I then posted a URL to the Chinese report,
http://makeashorterlink.com/?I2971299A, noted that its contents tended
to bear out the journalist’s summary, and then offered a few comments of
my own, basically summarizing some of the key ideas in the report that
underscored not only the advice to the Cubans but how that advice
indicated the profound differences between "reforms" in China and Cuba:
>>Although peppered with ritual references to China and Cuba as both
>>being "socialist countries", it underscores very vividly the sharp
>>contrasts in the nature and thrust of the "economic reforms" under way
>>in each country.
The report provides a useful summary description of the major components
of Cuba's reforms since the collapse of the USSR and "socialist bloc".
It shows how successfully Cuba has overcome this terrible setback,
restoring production levels while "Health spending remained almost
constant in peso terms, education spending declined marginally, and
social security payments increased between 1989 and 1998." (The report
is dated 2002.)
It notes that while the Cuban state's monopoly on foreign trade has been
breached in significant ways, there is still no free market in labour.
The second part of the report, on "What Can Cuba Learn from China?",
states its guiding assumption up front: "the nature of the two reform
processes should be the same." It then goes on to sing the praises of
"socialism with Chinese characteristics" (why Cuba should want that is
not explained), while in fact making perfectly clear that China's mode
of production is capitalist....
[I then cited figures showing a decline in "public ownership" in China
from 78% 1978 to 40% in 1999, and an increase in "non-public ownership"
during the same period from 22% to 60%. These figures likely understate
the level of private ownership, as the Chinese classify the state's
share of joint-stock, predominantly privately owned corporations as
The meaning of these figures is partially disguised by vague terminology
referring to public ownership as "dominant" and the continuing
"foundation" of China's "socialism".
The report criticizes the Cubans for thinking "socialism and market
economy are not compatible". But at the same time it notes what it terms
"alarming" figures on "unequal income distribution" in China, especially
between rural and urban areas. In contrast, "Those Chinese who have
visited Cuba are surprised to see that Cuban officials at different
levels do not enjoy much more privileges than the common people."
The report deplores the massive corruption in today's China, citing a
study that such practices cost the economy "13.2 - 16.8% of the nation's
total GDP". It adds: "It is believed that this rough estimation was
quite conservative...." And it goes on to warn the Cubans that if and
when they follow the Chinese road they too will experience high levels
And oh yes, the report warns the Cubans they should also be prepared for
massive unemployment "as SEOs [state-owned enterprises] reforms tend to
turn a large number of workers out of their post". That is, labour power
once again becomes a market-traded commodity, with all that entails.
Somehow, I suspect the Cubans, while reading this Chinese report with
interest, will also take it with more than a grain of salt. And they
might just be inclined to stick to their own road, leaving the
"capitalist road" to the followers of "Deng Xiaoping Theory".<<
Michael Karadjis, in a post to the GLW list from Hanoi, then pointed to
a "sinister" side of China’s advice to Cuba, while making clear that he
was in favour of increased trade ties between the two countries. He
noted the likelihood that China’s views might "drive a wedge into the
Cuban CP among those impressed from a distance with China's rapid
growth", a point I had failed to mention. I don’t think Michael will
mind my quoting his observations, which reflect as well his own
experiences recently in Vietnam:
>> The Chinese report on their 'fraternal' advice to Cuba to massively
>> privatise its economy is important evidence of how sinister the
>> growing Chinese relationship is. Not in the sense that Cuba or
>> Venezuela should not be trying to get as many trade and investment
>> deals as they can from non-US governments (eg Spain, Canada, China,
>> Russia etc), obviously this is essential, but let's not fall into the
>> trap of thinking the Chinese deals have a similar social character to
>> the Cuba-Venezuela integration agreement, or that they have a
>> different social character to the Spanish and Canadian investment in
>> Cuba's oil industry.
If anything it is more dangerous precisely because the bullshit about
being 'fraternal' and all that can more easily drive a wedge into the
Cuban CP among those impressed from a distance with China's rapid
growth. Certainly most young VCP cadres in Vietnam look to China as some
kind of model because it has "taken far more risks", "not been as
conservative" etc etc as the Vietnamese leaders. All these things are
said in massive ignorance.
Richard is very right to point out that the alleged 40 percent of the
Chinese economy still in "public" hands is not at all the same thing as
being in state or in any sense social hands, as it includes the large
category of semi-privatised via 'joint-stock' (shareholding) firms where
the state remains one of the shareholders. These are not only the small
For example, while the CCP claimed it would sell off the small state
firms but maintain the 520 largest strategic firms in "public" hands, we
read that by late 2001, "of the he 520 key enterprises owned by the
State * or with the State as the controlling shareholder *, 430 were
transformed into companies, accounting for 82.7 percent of the total.
With state-owned enterprises being transformed into companies, the
company stock listing was constantly expanding" (Market Oriented Reforms
of Chinas Enterprises in Retrospect, China Internet Information Centre,
China.org.cn, November 7, 2003). Thus it is among these key firms that
"the stock lisitng" is expanding even if the state "remains the
controlling shareholder". These are * not * state firms. Moreover, by
late 2001, "over 90 percent of newly established enterprises were joint
stock enterprises" (Development of the Non State Owned Sector, China
Internet Information Centre, China.org.cn November 7, 2003). Further,
even this 40 percent figure is old - the report quotes the "public"
sector of the economy in 1999. Yet only in the late 1990s did the
massive privatisation drive start, since when 40-50 million Chinese
workers have been laid off from former state firms. Zhou Fang from
China's Finance Ministry puts the public share at only 20-25 percent of
GDP, this being "not a matter of concern" ('China shares its experiences
of State companies reform', Vietnam Investment Review, July 1-7, 2003).
This is consistent with US estimates, eg, 'Private enterprise produces
75 percent of GNP', CNN website, January 30, 1999, and Tanner, T,
'Private Property in the Middle Kingdom', Nixon Center, In the National
In particular, the role of Chinese state firms in industry crashed from
77.6 percent in 1978, to 54.6 percent in 1990 and * 20.3 percent * in
1999 ('Chinas Private Sector', K.C. Kwok, TDC Trade, Economic Forum, 21
The Miami herald report posted by Walter is positively laughable. "China
has more than 10,000 tycoons who have amassed more than $10 million
each, and has lifted 250 million people out of poverty over the past two
decades. Meantime, Cuba has made all of its 11 million people uniformly
poor, and they have gotten progressively poorer."
Never mind that these 10,000 tycoons continue to amass amazing wealth
while China's poor have to pay massive fees to get into a hospital or
got to school, that China's female literacy rate is 78 percent, the
lowest in the region, while Cuba's allegedly poor people have world
class health and education systems.
What the Chinese report meant when it advised the Cubans that "some
people must be allowed to get rich first" was just this - some people
should be allowed to be billionaires running multi-national companies
(and still be in the CCP at leadership levels) while 150 million people
are left as "floating populations" with neither viable land nor stable
jobs, who can die if they can't afford health care.
What the Vietnamese mean about following China, according to a
discussion I had a few days ago, was not merely privatising "furniture
shops", as he disdainfully put the record to date, but privatising the
mines, the steelworks, cement, fertiliser, chemical industry, oil etc
etc, the state keeping "a few public services". Then maybe Vietnam will
be able to achieve an industrial accident rate similar to China's, which
I believe is probably the highest in the world, probably rivalling South
Korea at a per capita rate during the height of that country's "miracle"
The Vietnamese cadres’ attraction to the Chinese reforms is
understandable, as is the likelihood (noted by Michael Karadjis) that
some Cubans would feel a similar attraction. As we know, the Soviet
officials most involved in negotiating massive trade deals with the West
were some of the strongest proponents of perestroika and the market
reforms that contributed to the collapse of the workers state. Not
because of trade per se, but because their own "theoretical foundations"
had little if anything in common with revolutionary internationalism,
and the naive infatuation of these bureaucrats with capitalist
prosperity was fostered by a lifestyle that increasingly merged with or
emulated that of their Western counterparts.
No one in that GLW discussion was arguing that China’s trade with Cuba
is "sinister", contrary to what Fred Feldman alleges. Still less were
they arguing that China is "some kind of fearsome enemy power", Fred’s
allegations notwithstanding. But it would be a mistake to ignore the
pro-capitalist nature of such Chinese advice to the Cubans — and more
importantly, the likelihood that some Cuban officials may harbour
similar views, as Michael Karadjis noted.
Most of Fred’s post (ostensibly and mistakenly directed at me) is an
attempt to present China’s trade ties with Cuba as proof of its
"solidarity" with that country; as he puts it, "They are governmental
expressions of the solidarity that is growing deeper across the
oppressed nations." Well, there is no doubt that Beijing trades on the
prestige of the Chinese revolution and exploits it to advantage in its
relations with third world countries and the few remaining workers
states like Cuba. But I think it is wrong to portray China’s
international relations, trade and diplomatic alike, as motivated
primarily by "solidarity" with anti-imperialist movements and
governments. In fact, as Fred knows, there are many instances throughout
China’s post-1949 history when it sided with counter-revolutionary
governments, and even with imperialist powers, in the interests of
Beijing’s narrow diplomatic interests. China today has some perfectly
valid, non-revolutionary reasons to trade with as many countries as it
Fred says he thinks the Chinese revolution "has not been ended or
definitively rolled back". But his evidence for this proposition is very
sparse, to say the least. (I’ll leave aside the article he cited from
the U.S. SWP’s The Militant, which simply proves that Washington fears
China as a potential rival, irrespective of its social system.) He cites
"the progressive character of China’s fight for Taiwan" as an example,
saying it represents a "course toward completing the national
unification of China". Although I profess no particular knowledge of the
Taiwanese question, I find this reasoning highly dubious. Taiwan was
long a part of China, and torn from it by the counter-revolutionary
Kuomintang forces in 1949. Capitalist Taiwan’s "independence" has long
been used by the imperialist powers as a battering ram against China and
its revolution. But Taiwan is not a colony of any foreign power, as Hong
Kong was. It has been a state in its own right for more than 50 years.
Do the Taiwanese, as they have evolved, as they exist today, want to
rejoin China? I honestly don’t know. But I know there is a lot of
evidence that they don’t want to do so, even if China is now capitalist.
Isn’t the "fight for Taiwan" just possibly an expression of great Han
chauvinism in today’s world?
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