The nature of Mao’s China : unfinished business

KIM YONG WOOK
  ohotonge@yahoo.co.kr
  

Abstract

The nature of Mao’s China : unfinished business
KIM YONG WOOK(from Worker’s Solidarity in South Korea, and Dankook University East Asian history graduate school, ohotonge@yahoo.co.kr)

In today’s China, Maoism has found new audience. Some prominent western intellectuals has mentioned Mao’s China favorably. But there have been people in and outside China arguing that Mao’s China was not a version of socialism, but “a country ruled by red capitalists”, or “state capitalism”. But most of the left criticized them harshly. Some of them used Marxist tools saying that in Mao’s China, workers were practically embedded to means of production and their mobility was heavily restricted, so they are not ‘capitalistic wage labors’. They also pointed out that most of production was not for exchange values but for use values. This article will tries to demonstrate that Mao’s China was a state capitalism by focusing on the nature of workers existence in Mao’s China. Contrary to near commonsensical argument, the employment insecurity and even mass lay-offs were a part of workers experience in Mao’s China. Long before Deng’s reform, high communist party officials argued that workers ‘can be hired and fired’ from the early 1950s. Mass deportation of workers from the cities after the catastrophic Great Leap Forward was not just about relieving the burden of food supply. It was also about increasing labor productivity by eliminating ‘surplus labors’. And even lucky ones who didn’t lose their jobs faced the constant cutback on their wage and benefits, so they had to bargain for higher value of labor power all the time, like ‘normal’ market capitalism. These huge chasm between workers’ privilege and their actual insecurity was caused by the communist bureaucracy’s active particitpation into the world capitalist competition. Because of their lack of capital, their historical experience of total war, and on-going geo-political competition forced them to concentrate almost all their capital to military and related heavy industries. But this ‘production for use value’ was radically different from one that usually finds in ‘non capitalist societies’. The central planners consistently compared themselves with competing capitalist countries. They compared not just with the quantities of mass of use values but also with exchange values of their products converted into major currencies trying to measure whether did they reached the level of their competitor, unconsciously trying to match theirs with international socially necessary labor. So they asked the managers for making ‘ratio between machinery and workers’ higher, they practically asked more constant capitals for a variable capital. This couldn’t be possible without some form of lay-offs. But even though they succeeded in accumulating huge amount of capitals and constructed major production facilities, not only did they fail to succeed in reaching the level of advanced countries, but also experienced the great famine and destructive political mobilizations that left millions of people’s lives painful. But this ‘unique’ Chinese experience was reflection of the contradiction that backward countries usually face, when China had to invest their scarce capitals to arms economy that only produces products which can’t be productively consumed. The bureaucracy tried to minimize the instability by strictly controlling workers’ movement, but they periodically faced the situation that required flexibility in employment. These contradictory dynamics made workers’ labor power in Mao’s China ‘partially commodified’ ones which correspond to ones in war time economies in capitalist countries, but they were under underlying dynamics that makes them ‘free wage labor in the process of formation’. Deng’s reform was initially an just another attempt to solve that contradiction by increasing the flexibility. But this time the geopolitical circumstances were radically changed, allowing decreased military spending and more diversified production. By refusing the existence of the historic rupture between Mao and Deng, and realizing the strong continuity with workers in Mao’s China, workers in today’s China can have a radically different strategic orientation from pro-Maoist one.