Tuesday, June 21, 2016

China's democratic future

The SOYMB blog posts articles or extracts from articles of non-members when there appears to be an overlap of ideas or if the observations appear to be relevant to the socialist case. The following article represents the view shared by the Socialist Party that capitalism will create not only the economic pre-conditions for socialism but often the means for the political transmission of socialist ideas – a basic democracy.

Ordinary people in China are increasingly free to pursue their own destinies ... but for millions of industrial workers that destiny may be poverty and unemployment.

Twenty-seven years after Tiananmen, China is no longer quite the totalitarian police state it once was.  Is China democratic?  No.  Is China free?  No.  China still relentlessly harasses and imprisons human rights lawyers and other dissidents.  But for most people, most of the time China is a country of individual choice and even (it must be admitted) a country where (some) protest is allowed.  It's nowhere near ideal but it's better than it was and better than many peer countries are today.  Such progress should be recognized, and occasionally applauded:

Unfortunately "individual choice" also has its problems.  Just ask any American or European who has been downsized out of a job.  One of the most rapidly increasing freedoms in China is the freedom to be unemployed.  The industrial workers of northeast China's Dongbei region encompassing the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang have been beset by downsizing and unemployment for more than a decade.  The privatization, asset-stripping and plant closures they have experienced are now set to be rolled out nationally as what might be called the "Dongbei Model" goes national:

In the end, it's all about profits.

 When an economy grows at 12% per year, even incompetent businesses can turn a profit.  Now that China's economy is slowing, the easy profits are gone and China's working class is going to feel the squeeze.  The days of double-digit increases in minimum wages are over.  Chinese businesses used to seek rising profits from revenue growth.  Now they're going to have to look for it in cost control.  That's a much tougher game to play -- for workers most of all.

Most protests in China are sparked by one of two causes - labour disputes or land disputes. Labour disputes often pit workers against business owners who have not paid wages or are accused of embezzling workers' social security contributions. Land disputes arise when developers harass homeowners to force them to sell cheaply or move out.

In a country where the government has a hand in everything, both land and labour protests can take on anti-government dimensions. By the government's own reckoning, 44 percent of public protests involve complaints about government officials. All this suggests that one of the most fulfilling everyday freedoms, the freedom to complain, is coming to be accepted as a basic human right in China. The government has even started to integrate the freedom to complain into its system of governance. It increasingly uses public protests as a tool for identifying corruption and other problems. When people complain, higher-ups take notice: A good official is one who has no complaints. It may not be an ideal way to govern, but it does give ordinary people a voice - however small - in an otherwise alienating political system.

 One should not sugar-coat the Chinese regime. The fact is that China relentlessly harasses and even imprisons human rights lawyers and others who inconvenience the party and the government. But at the same time one should applaud the fact that everyday freedoms are increasing every day in China. From the standpoint of freedom, the past may look dark and the present dim in China, but the future looks promising and, with a little polishing, maybe even bright.

Salvatore Babones


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