After decades of capitalist austerity and attacks on every front against the oppressed around the world, a wave of protest broke out in the U.S., rippling outwards from the “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement in New York City. Originally just a small protest group like many others, the movement cascaded from one American city to another, defying police repression and media censorship. Soon, broad numbers of people were demonstrating in financial centers and city squares to protest the injustices perpetrated by financial profiteers.
Resistance had already been growing through powerful but isolated strikes in Europe, the continuing revolt against dictatorships throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and youth revolts in Spain and Chile. But the sudden outbreak of protest in the US, the belly of the beast, marks an important new development: a protest in one rich imperialist country has almost immediately taken on an international character, inspiring fighters in every corner of the globe to organize their own rallies and solidarity demonstrations.
As is usually the case when there is serious social unrest in the West, the Chinese state media had originally given this extensive media coverage, and some outlets even criticized the Western media for its scarce coverage and outright censorship in the early stage of the “Occupy” movement. And though there was certainly a lot of truth in such a criticism, it didn’t take long for them to reverse gears. In fact, once the “Occupy” movement began to take on an international dimension, with demonstrations of solidarity taking place both in Hong Kong and on the mainland even before the internationally coordinated action of October 15, the Chinese rulers began to get very nervous, censoring any domestic media coverage or microblogs in support of the “Occupy” protest movement.
On October 6 the leftist neo-Maoists based in Zhengzhou (Henan province), linked to the Utopia website and bookstore, brought out hundreds to a demonstration unfurling banners in support of the “Occupy” movement, while the Socialist Action group, linked to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), held a solidarity demonstration in Hong Kong Central. Whatever differences we have with these two organizations, we salute their initiative and courage in organizing public marches in solidarity with American workers and youth.
In an article published in the October 17 issue of the nationalist Global Times, which serves as the Chinese-language international mouthpiece for China’s state capitalist rulers, the authors felt compelled to address the fact that the “Occupy” movement that swept the globe on October 15 found expression in Taipei and Hong Kong, while omitting any reference to the demonstrations on the mainland. Entitled “Taiwan and Hong Kong’s Complicated and Controversial ‘Occupy’ Incident,” the article did its best to downplay and even mock the demonstrations, citing negative comments by the local press or by passers-by.
The article rehashes comments made in the Hong Kong Sun to the effect that the “Occupy” action drew only a few hundred people, which is “not surprising at all because the root of the suffering lies on Wall Street in America, not in Hong Kong Central.” The article argued that the American people’s biggest dissatisfaction with Wall Street after the financial crisis broke out in 2008 was that the government took taxpayer’s money to bail out the financial institutions and that their overseers served as accomplices. It then continued:
“But in Hong Kong, the government never spent money to rescue the market, and this means that nobody got rich off the disaster of the financial tsunami. The financial institutions and citizens are similarly victims. The so-called “Occupy Hong Kong Central” has basically mobilized its troops without a just cause. Every injustice has its perpetrator, and every debt its debtor. If you want to overthrow financial hegemony, you should buy a plane ticket and go to America.”
We doubt that the people of Hong Kong were pleased to find out that the local financial institutions are “similarly victims” of the financial crisis. These “victims” have been enforcing the same austerity as their capitalist peers everywhere else in the world, including the slashing of tens of thousands of jobs (HSBC recently cut three thousand Hong Kong jobs) and the privatization of health care services. The property tycoons of Hong Kong are notorious for their contempt for civil law and their collective efforts to drive up real estate prices. They openly flout local zoning laws in pursuit of juicy profits while poorer residents living in sub-divided housing face expedited evictions and police raids. Hong Kong currently has the third-highest rent rates in the world.
It is not at all surprising that the Chinese state capitalists on the mainland feel such affinity with their class brothers in Hong Kong. They have long used their political and economic pressure over the island to help the local capitalist class roll back many democratic and social rights of working people. Most recently they have been involved behind the scenes through their front organizations in trying to thwart the struggle of Filipina and Indonesian migrant domestic workers fighting for the right to live in Hong Kong, just as earlier they had campaigned against the minimum wage law.
But the attempt to belittle or warn demonstrators who dare to hold “Occupy” protests in China didn’t stop there. In the very next issue of Global Times we were treated to an American history lesson on the supposedly dark origins of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement (“90 years ago, The Bloody First Act in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Play”):
“In fact, a similar movement broke out not for the first time about 90 years ago. A group of anarchists similarly fought against poverty, unemployment and the financiers’ monopoly of wealth as their demands, promoting an “Occupy Wall Street” movement. But ultimately this movement ended up in bloody terrorist attacks, and their goal of seeking “justice” not only wasn’t realized but also provoked the most extremist movement in American history to resist the anarchists.”
As Marxist revolutionaries, we naturally have serious differences with anarchism and the tactic of individual terrorism, not because we are pacifists or because we worship bourgeois democracy, but because such tactics present no fundamental challenge to the capitalist system and often play into the hands of reaction. But this isn’t really the issue here, as the real intent of the article is to make a false amalgam with the anti-Wall Street protests: “Occupy Wall Street” equals anarchism, and anarchism equals terrorism. With such a bold declaration, the state capitalist rulers place themselves squarely in the camp of the most right-wing elements of American society, who are screaming about “mob rule” in the streets.
Recalling the demonstrations organized by anarchists and socialists at Wall Street beginning in 1920, the author claims that such demonstrations didn’t attract the widespread attention of society: “The scattered protests ultimately provoked the largest terrorist attack on American soil at the time, the 1920 bombing outside the JP Morgan company ...” It is a strange kind of reactionary logic that places the blame for terrorist attacks on left-wing anti-capitalist protesters. In their mad rush to smear the “Occupy” movement, the author not only falsifies American history but also that of China’s Communist Party.
In fact, the persecution of leftists in America began long before the 1920 bombing. The US at the time was in the midst of an anti-communist red scare, when leftists and militant labor activists were being persecuted and imprisoned following the post-war surge in class struggle around the world. The Bolshevik power in the Soviet Union was still only three years old, and the capitalist powers instinctively feared any protests led by communists, socialists or anarchists. Despite arrests and various press campaigns to blame “foreign radicals” and “communists” for the attacks, nobody was ever brought to trial. The whole incident became an excuse to expand the police powers of the federal authorities.
It was during this same period that many future leading members of the Chinese Ccommunist Party (CCP), including Chen Duxiu, were serving time in Chinese prisons for organizing their own “scattered protests” against the Beiyang regime’s concession of Shandong province to the Japanese, which soon exploded into the national May Fourth Movement of 1919. This emerging movement, like the “Occupy Wall Street” movement of today, encompassed a wide range of anti-capitalist and leftist currents, including communists, socialists and anarchists.
The attempt to make a dark link between today’s “Occupy” protests and “scattered protests” that were organized by “a group of anarchists” in 1920 is indeed deeply ironic, and clearly ignorant, because the fact is that the early CCP itself was strongly influenced by anarchism. In a historical article commemorating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CCP, the June 2011 issue of China Newsweek comments:
“Not only was the initiator of ‘The Young China Study Group,’ Wang Guangqi, a devoted anarchist, but even many later communist Party members such as Xian Qu, Li Dazhao, Li Da, etc., were all once followers of anarchism. Even Mao himself was once a fan of anarchism. Researchers say at the time of the first Congress of the Communist Party , of the more than 50 Party members in the whole country, at least 22 had believed in anarchism.”
At that time in China those who were screaming about leftist demonstrations leading to “mob rule” and “terrorism” were the foreign imperialists, the Beiyang warlords and their local capitalist flunkeys. Today it is the ruling Stalinist CCP bureaucrats, rushing to join the international right-wing chorus.
This historical falsification of Global Times is all the more absurd, if not comical, because in their haste they didn’t even bother to bury the traces of their gutter journalism : the basis of their entire historical “research” is cropped entirely from an English-language Wikipedia page (see Wikipedia: Wall Street bombing), with the same accompanying photo included in their article. But, curiously enough, all references in the original Wikipedia page to the context of the anti-communist atmosphere of the period, to the Soviet Union, to communism and to the Bolsheviks were conveniently erased from their plagiarized copy, obviously to help bolster their attempt to slander anti-Wall Street demonstrations as “anarchist terrorism.”
The most blatant example of this historical falsification came at the end of the article, when the author mentions that then-president Warren Harding “adopted a fairly objective attitude towards the anarchists’ extremist activities.” This is immediately followed by a quote from President Harding:
“It is quite true that there are enemies of Government within our borders. However, I believe their number has been greatly magnified.”
Now let’s have a look at the original quotation from Harding in Wikipedia:
“too much has been said about Bolshevism in America. It is quite true that there are enemies of Government within our borders. However, I believe their number has been greatly magnified. The American workman is not a Bolshevik; neither is the American employer an autocrat.” (emphasis added)
Whereas Stalin and Mao eliminated Bolsheviks with the gun, the Global Times eliminated them with a computer keyboard’s delete key, praising a capitalist President’s “fairly objective attitude” towards the “extremist activities” of their own literary phantoms.
The neo-Maoist demonstration held in Zhengzhou supporting the Occupy Wall Street protests has generated international attention as this organization is clearly independent of the Communist Party leadership and is as a magnet for disaffected Party members and Mao supporters. They have been the target of systematic harassment and police repression for many years. Many of their supporters have been imprisoned for the “crimes” of handing out leaflets or defending striking workers not only against the state but also against its puppet union, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). We defend this organization against state repression, and call for the release of their imprisoned supporters, but we insist on our right to voice our differences with them now and in the future. We believe their political views will only serve to confuse or mislead workers and youth, and their recent political statement on the “Occupy” protests is a good example this political disorientation:
“The ‘Wall Street revolution’ has met with repression from US police, but also suffers from a media blackout organized by the Chinese elite. The same fate, the same pain, the same problems, the same conflict. Faced with a common enemy in an elite global class that has already linked-up, the people of the world have only one option: to unite and in a unified and shared struggle overturn the rule of the capitalist elite, to ensure that everyone enjoys the basic human rights of work, housing, health care, education, and a secure old-age.” (emphasis added)
The reference here to “an elite global class that has already linked up” is at odds with reality and with the entire political thought of Marx and Lenin (not to mention Mao). It is true that in every country the workers and poor people are ruled by an elite class of capitalist profiteers, but that does not mean that those capitalists are united. Marx explained that by denying workers any means of survival other than working for wages, and by bringing them together in factories and workplaces in order to produce commodities for the market, the capitalist system laid the basis for the working class uniting in struggle against their exploitation. He added that with nothing to lose but their chains, workers had no fundamental interest in remaining loyal to their nation at the expense of workers of other nations, and that they would have to unite across borders in internationalist unity against the system if they were to be able to liberate themselves.
The capitalists, on the other hand, far from being united, are inherently divided and set against one another in cut-throat competition. Individual capitalists’ profit-making is tied to their control of particular enterprises and each competes in the market against others, with the more profitable driving the least into bankruptcy: “One capitalist always kills many,” Marx summed up in Capital.
On another level, the capitalists rely on the powers of their nation state to not only repress their workers but also to advance their interests against those of rival capitalist states. Furthermore, not only is the capitalist world divided into competing nation states, but those states are in turn divided between the handful of great imperialist powers and the many neo-colonies and colonies they oppress and exploit. The competition between capitalist nation states has led to trade wars and world wars in the past and will do so again unless capitalism is overthrown.
Today, China occupies a contradictory place in this hierarchy of capitalist states. Ruling a nation long victimized by imperialism, China’s fake-Communist (really capitalist) rulers have been able to offer “their” people to the imperialist nations’ corporations as a massive pool of super-exploitable labor in return for a subordinate share of the profits. Thanks to its centralized control of the economy, the Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy has been able to accumulate tremendous wealth and with it global influence and military that make it appear like an imperialist rival to superpowers like the United States. In its relations with poor countries whose natural resources it exploits, China even acts imperialistically.
However China has not overcome its history as a victim of imperialism. The backwardness and poverty of rural areas is a necessary background for its prime advantage in the international market: cheap labor. And China’s industrial base, while vast and growing, still fundamentally exists as a repository for relatively backward industry and as an assembly stage for more technically advanced enterprises in imperialist countries. All this means that overall, despite the gains in industrial development that China has made, industrial production there still serves to transfer value from China to the imperialist economies – a typical characteristic of a national economy still exploited by the imperialist powers.
Not only have the world’s capitalist classes not transcended their national divisions and “linked up” into a single enemy, it is important to recognize that the worsening capitalist crisis intensifies the competition between the major powers.
If the American and Chinese elites were linking up in any consistent way, then how can we explain the rise of protectionism and the recent attempts to push through a bill branding China as a “currency manipulator”? How can we explain the tensions in both North America and Europe to Chinese acquisitions of local assets? How can we explain the tensions within Europe around the financial bailout of Greece decades after the formation of a monetary union? What about the growing tensions between various states in the South China Sea?
Marx noted in the 19th Century that one of the most fundamental contradictions of capitalism was between the expanding (globalizing) productive forces and the frontiers of the nation state. In the 20th century, Lenin waged intense struggle against the “elite global class” theories of his time, including the theory of “ultraimperialism” of Karl Kautsky. These great revolutionists recognized that such contradictions could only be resolved through international workers’ revolution, and over a long period of time.
But this does not mean that we have no preferences for the forms this development takes or are blind to the opportunities that they present. We see advantages in the process of globalization, even as we are obliged to point out the terrible illusions that this process has provoked among the system’s subjective opponents. For the globalization of capitalism, while leaving so many victims in its wake, has also objectively laid the material basis for a further internationalization of the class struggle. Most importantly, it has spawned the creation of a concentrated proletariat in developing countries in the world, most notably China.
In similar fashion, the transition to imperialist capitalism in the late 19th and early 20th century ushered in a period of globalization that resulted in the growth of a concentrated working class in Russia and to an important extent in China and elsewhere. The Russian revolution and later revolts in colonial countries led the imperialists to scale back their industrial investments outside of imperialist countries. They were more concerned about pillaging the “third world” for raw materials. But the end of the post-World War II boom, and the declining profit rates that contributed to it, was the most important of a number of factors that set off a new wave of globalization beginning in the 1980s. A “race to the bottom” was imposed by imperialist capital through the reopening of developing economies to super-exploitation through productive investment. The result is the growth of new sections of the world working class that is growing more confident and militant, and keenly aware of its critical role in capitalist production. Unlike petty-bourgeois radicals who resist this globalization in defense of the sanctity of nation states, Marxists welcome this development.
Raving against a mythical “global elite” may strike a popular chord among youth in China who in their own way have come to understand that the struggle against capitalism is in fact a global struggle. But such populist rhetoric by supposed revolutionaries or Marxists objectively serves to disarm the most advanced sections of the working class and youth who look to them for leadership. Under the suffocating conditions of censorship and the lack of any active working-class alternative many Chinese youth have only the (censored) internet or books promoted by the state publishing houses. Many of these works revel in financial conspiracy theories centered on “international bankers” and a “global elite,” where anti-Semitism lies just below the surface. Revolutionaries mustn’t pander to this state-sanctioned pulp fiction, but denounce it for what it is: false coin for the disenfranchised. If such a worldview is so “revolutionary,” then why are such books available by the hundreds in the local bookstores?
The same neo-Maoists who see a “global elite” as a new capitalist class have also discovered that the middle classes in imperialist nations are a new proletariat:
“Both the white-collar middle classes in developed countries – owners of fictitious property, and the blue-collar workers in developing countries who cannot afford housing or health care, belong in point of fact to the same class: modern proletariat.”
While it may be true, in the most general sense, that Occupy Wall Street’s “99%” (or the middle and working classes combined) are victims of the financial crisis, this does not mean that “the white-collar middle classes” belong to the modern proletariat. For Marxists such terms have a precise scientific content. Classes are defined by their relationship to the means of production, and the modern proletariat is concentrated at the point of production. Those belonging to the middle classes (state bureaucrats, managers, etc.) or the petty bourgeoisie (small business owners, artisans, artists) may individually become victims of capitalist crises, but they have no collective class interest, and thus they are torn between the two major contending classes in society, the capitalist class and the proletariat.
Historically we saw in the twentieth century that if the proletariat and its vanguard party cannot rise to the challenge of seizing political power during a revolutionary crisis, the petty-bourgeoisie will abandon them and swing over to supporting fascism or military dictatorship. The 1927 April coup by Chiang Kai-Shek against the 1925-27 Great revolution is a classic example of this, when the CCP leadership, under the orders of Stalin, refused to fight for workers’ Soviet power so as not to “provoke” the bourgeois Guomindang and the middle classes. The rise of Mussolini and Hitler was similarly based on such a failure of revolutionary leadership. Confusing the middle class with the proletariat is not a terminological issue but a life or death question of revolutionary strategy.
The natural allies of the proletariat in the developing countries are not the “white-collar middle classes,” but obviously the hundreds of millions of wageworkers who toil in the factories, plants, mines, fields, railways and offices, as well as the oppressed who languish on the margins of society throughout the developed world. It is this social power that can ultimately challenge the foundations of capitalist rule, and thus offer a way out of the crisis for the desperate, shrinking middle classes.
While progressive movements for social change may include various social classes and a wide variety of political ideologies, revolutionary socialists must never adapt the Marxist program to middle-class conceptions of cross-class harmony. While participating in these movements, we must raise our own proposals for action and our own slogans to advance the class struggle, just as the early fighters for Marxism did in China in the wake of the May Fourth Movement. We stand in this heroic tradition of the early international communist movement.