The new Chinese capitalism

21 September 2008 by Esther Vivas , Josep Maria Antentas

The recent Olympic Games have been a great showcase for the new ascendant Chinese capitalism. China has today been through a long process of capitalist restoration initiated three decades ago. The reforms began in 1978, and extended and deepened, progressively debilitating the mechanisms of the planned economy and received a decisive push from 1992 onwards.

In the 1990s an unrestrained process of privatization of state companies and liberalization of public services took place. Nowadays, two thirds of wage-earners work already for private capital. At the beginning of the 21st century, China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization in 2001 culminated its process of reintegration into global capitalism.

They are few on the left, luckily, who have illusions in the Chinese model. But it should be clear that agree that thirty years of reform have created a wildcat capitalism without restraint. And this it is the horizon towards which the country is heading, in spite of the rhetoric about a “harmonious society” from President Hu Jintao. The increasing evidence of the social and environmental disasters caused by the present model of accumulation has caused changes in the official rhetoric and adjustments in the policies to contain imbalances, but not a modification of the general course.

The capitalist restoration has been piloted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) whose ideology and nature have been transformed. Nationalism has become the main element of the discourse and identity of the CCP and is used as a cohesive and legitimating factor in its political project. Hence the strategic importance of the Games.

China is traversed by great social and regional imbalances. The reforms have caused concentration of incomes, social polarization and increased inequalities. The Gini coefficient (which measures inequality) went from 0.30 in 1980 to 0.48 now and according to the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

there are 300 million poor people in the country. The bulk of economic activity is concentrated in the coastal regions (receiving 85% of foreign investment last year) which contrast with the impoverished regions of the interior. The present model of development also has a high environmental cost, in particular in terms of air pollution in the big cities and water contamination.

The social base of the Chinese regime is the new emergent bourgeoisie, related to the apparatus of the State and the Party, and a significant urban middle-class, which also includes the most qualified sectors of the wage-earners, and many civil servants and members of the state apparatus.

The working-class has experienced deep transformations. And workers in the public sector, 20% of the active population, have been hard hit by the big wave of privatizations, that have eliminated 40% of public sector jobs. This fraction of the working class has seen the social guarantees Guarantees Acts that provide a creditor with security in complement to the debtor’s commitment. A distinction is made between real guarantees (lien, pledge, mortgage, prior charge) and personal guarantees (surety, aval, letter of intent, independent guarantee). of the Maoist period eroded. In parallel, a new fraction of the working-class has emerged, formed by rural migrants to the city and concentrated in the export oriented industries of the east coast and the Pearl River delta, and also in poorly paid sectors like construction and services in the big cities. Internal emigration from the country to the city is fed FED
Federal Reserve
Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank :
by a crisis in rural resources and the collapse in spending power of the peasants, around a third of that of urban dwellers. Comprised of about 150 million people, this new working-class occupies the lowest rosters of the labour market.

Their living and working conditions form the bitterest face of the new Chinese capitalism. Low wages, interminable working hours, lack of health and safety at work and violation of the labour laws on the part of many companies and their subcontractors comprise their daily reality. The official union federation, the only legal one, lacks autonomy in relation to the state, is subordinate to the enterprise interests and is not a real instrument of defence for workers.

Against this background, it is no wonder that social struggles have increased from the end of the 1990s. Nevertheless, these are still very fragmented and isolated and due to the iron repression they do not leave any organizational consequences behind them. Convergences between the mobilizations of the workers of the state sector with those of the immigrant working class do not exist. The same is true of the numerous protests in the rural world and the urban areas.

To support these emergent struggles in China against the present model of accumulation, given the importance of the country and the position that it occupies in the architecture of global capitalism, is a central strategic task for movements opposed to neoliberal globalization. Without, obviously, playing the game of the Western governments when they hypocritically denounce abuses of human rights in China or the repression of the Tibetan people. The form the world will take in the future will depend to a good extent on present and future popular struggles in China.

* Josep Maria Antentas is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Viento Sur, and teaches sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Esther Vivas is the author of the books in Spanish “Stand up against the external debt” and co-coordinator of “Supermarkets, no thanks” and “Where is fair trade headed?”. She is a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur (

** This article first appeared in Spanish in the newspaper “Publico” on September 7th 2008 and was published in English at InternationalViewPoint.

Esther Vivas

est née en 1975 à Sabadell (Etat espagnol). Elle est auteure de plusieurs livres et de publications sur les mouvements sociaux, la consommation responsable et le développement durable. Elle a publié en français En campagne contre la dette (Syllepse, 2008) et est coauteure des livres en espagnol Planeta indignado. Ocupando el futuro (2012), Resistencias globales. De Seattle a la crisis de Wall Street (2009) est coordinatrice des livres Supermarchés, non merci et Où va le commerce équitable ?, entre autres.
Elle a activement participé au mouvement anti-globalisation et anti-guerre à Barcelone, de même qu’elle a contribué à plusieurs éditions du Forum Social Mondial, du Forum Social Européen et du Forum Social Catalan. Elle travaille actuellement sur des questions comme la souveraineté alimentaire et le commerce équitable.
Elle est membre de la rédaction de la revue Viento Sur et elle collabore fréquemment avec des médias conventionnels tels que Público et avec des médias alternatifs comme El Viejo Topo, The Ecologist, Ecología Política, Diagonal, La Directa, entre autres.
Elle est également membre du Centre d’Études sur les Mouvements Sociaux (CEMS) à l’Université Pompeu Fabra.
@esthervivas | |

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