‘It is in moments of celebrating revolutions where the past and future revolutions can be reflected upon,’ writes Horace Campbell on the anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China in 1911. ‘Pan-Africanists today will learn the positive and negative lessons of Pan-Asianism, as those struggling for unity in Africa and in China recognise that prosperity for one part of humanity cannot be built on the exploitation on the other part of humanity.’
From 1-7 October, the people of China celebrated Golden Week. October 1, 1949 is the day when the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) was founded with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. Since 1949, China has grown to be the second largest economy in the world, with a population of more than 1.3 billion. It is a new global player both within the international community and in the formation called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The new shopping malls across the grand urban conurbations, the gleaming airports, together with high-speed trains, the Beijing Olympics and major nuclear-power expansion, serves as a marker for the China’s emergence as a new contending force. In every part of China the bursting of energy and work to change is everywhere and also manifest in the National Day celebrations. There was a great outpouring of pride for a week as millions of citizens were on the , going home to see family and visiting historical sites to celebrate the history and culture of China and Chinese revolutions. This is the celebration of the revolution that brought the unity of the society and brought Communist Party of China (CPC) to power in 1949.
October 1, 2011 marked 62 years since the victory of the revolution that had been led by Chairman Mao Ze Dong and the Communist Party. This communist party survived the zigs and zags of great leaps, cultural upsurges and the period of the fall of the socialism that was practised in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. During this Golden Week, there were over 300 million people on the move, putting the transportation system of a planned economy to the test. The management and protection of national heritage sites was also put to the test as millions and millions of citizens who were proud of their country thronged to shrines, temples, and geoparks at the more than 119 designated scenic and historic spots. The national media reported that there were more than 24.3 million visitors to the spots that kept records. We do not know of the millions more who were on the move going to meetings and other forms of social connecting.
On 1 October 2011, hundreds of thousands of proud Chinese converged on Tiananmen Square to celebrate on a square that was decked with floral decorations and pay tribute to the revolution. When I looked at the pictures of the millions streaming past the Mao picture to go to the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square, I wondered how the people viewed the events on the same square in 1989. In these 62 years the Chinese people have transformed their society and the challenges of the future consolidation of a socialist revolution are everyday manifest in this moment when the traditions of the 1911 and 1949 revolutions point to differing paths possible for revolutionary processes.
On October 10, 2011, there was another major celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. This was the revolution that overthrew the last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Out of this revolt and uprisings of 1911 emerged the great nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen, and the establishment of the Republic of China.
For nationalists all over the world, Sun Yat-sen. was a visionary leader who worked for the ideas of national unity and an internationalism that was based on Pan Asianism. However, this Pan Asianism foundered on the principles of western modernisation that found its ultimate glory in Japanese imperial military aggression across Asia.
Among Chinese people at home and abroad, the ideas of Sun Yat-sen and the traditions of the 1911 revolution morphed into a long struggle between different ideas about social development in China. On one side were those forces that called themselves nationalists and formed the Kuomintang. On the other side were the forces that subscribed to socialism led by Mao. The nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek, claimed to be the true heirs of Sun Yat-sen and this branch of the 1911 revolution aligned itself with western forces and viewed communists as a greater danger than imperialists. Chiang Kai-shek represented the kind of nationalist leader, who will speak of national pride in order to keep power, but the organisation of the Chinese poor by a disciplined communist party united the people and the cultural nationalist branch of the 1911 revolution was ultimately defeated in 1949 by the socialist forces.
Today the People’s Republic of China celebrates the victory of socialism at a moment when revolutionary ruptures from Tunis, Tahrir Square (Cairo), Athens, Madison (Wisconsin), and New York point to the fact that we have passed the tipping point for new revolutions in the 21st century. China is celebrating 90 years of the founding of the Communist Party of China and it is clear from the hot-house of accumulation and construction that there will be efforts to clarify the meaning of communism in this century. The Chinese workers and peasants are the numerical force in the society and are yearning for the full manifestations of worker power.
I had the opportunity to travel during Golden Week and spent my time in Henan Province, a province of over 100 million people. It was an experience to get into the villages and towns, where one could see the continued struggles for social transformation beyond the glitz of Shanghai and Beijing. In this week’s article, I reflect on Golden Week and the reality that revolutions never follow a straight line. As I celebrated with the Chinese people, I followed the news of the fall-out of the banking crisis in Europe and the new revolutionary energy that is now flowing into international politics through the Occupy Wall Street movement.
CELEBRATING OCTOBER 1 IN CHINA AND THE SOCIAL DIVIDE
This semester I am teaching at Tsinghua University. The premier University in China, it has produced great engineers and scientists; this year it celebrates 100 years since its founding. I was invited by my colleagues to travel with them to Henan province in central China. This is an agricultural province with more than 100 million people and it was difficult to think of the social challenges of dealing with 100 million people at the provincial level.
During this visit it was vividly clear that the task of transforming the quality of the lives of the Chinese workers and peasants is still work in progress. More than 80 per cent of society still lives from agriculture and while there may be a new crop of billionaires in China, (along with a new class of millionaires) there are over 800 million people in rural China who want a better quality of life.
One of the pictures on television that struck me was the interview of a migrant worker who was coming off the train in Beijing with his bundle being carried on his back. This migrant, one of the more than 200 million migrant workers in China, told the interviewer that he was a construction worker in Beijing but had used Golden Week to go home to work on the farm to help his family with the harvest. Such is the life of citizens who continue to work on the land and in sites of accumulation in a society that is teetering between socialism and an uncertain future. This worker represented a new mobile force that is in touch with both his rural community and the hustle and bustle of the challenges of urban life and at the same time being exposed to what is going on in the wider world.
Having lived on four continents, I have been witness to many national holidays when people celebrate their independence. When I lived in Africa, the political leadership had cheapened independence to the point where there was no way to instill pride in children over national holidays. Even today, in one of the most recent countries to consolidate power in the name of the majority, the political leadership cannot point to real achievements on national days.
This year, I had the opportunity to travel and commune in China with a cross section of people from Henan. The journey out of Beijing was itself instructive because of the millions of Chinese who were on the move. From the reports in the media, there were millions on the roads with the rail and bus services tested to the limits. In Zhengzhou city, my first stop in this province, I could see the social divide between those who could afford to pay the fees to shrines such as the Shaolin Temple or the more humble families who took their families on walks and rides at the park on the Yellow River. In China, where under the law it is only permissible to have one child, one could see that the most precious thing in the lives of the Chinese was their children. In parks and public places it is common to see three generations enjoying their family life together.
It is at places like the Shaolin Temple where one sees the influence of Buddhism across society and how the aspiring classes turn to higher powers to guide them to prosperity. In an area such as Sheqi County, one of the central points of the old great Silk Road trade of the pre-capitalist era, I could discern (despite my language limitations) the relationship between trade and religion. At the Shanxi-Shaanxi Commercial Guild Hall the contributions of the old style bankers and traders to Chinese history and culture are on display with important messages about how pre-capitalist societies were able to contain the influence of bankers.
In reflecting on the role of bankers in the contemporary society, it is very instructive to learn how previous societies confined the bankers and traders to certain limits. The Guild Hall and theatre of Shanxi Shanxi that was built by the bankers and those in the long distance trade is also another monument that demonstrates that in previous societies, citizens did not hide their money in far offshore sites, but contributed to society.
It was in Shanxi-Shaanxi where I saw people dancing on the square late in the evening. This was itself a treat for the people were creating their own entertainment with equipment that did not have the power of the boom boxes of the Bronx. In every city where I travelled, the parks and places of public intercourse are of special importance and the safety of the population in these spaces is assured. It is in these spaces where one sees hundreds of elderly pensioners gathering every morning for Tai Chi exercises.
It was also in Shanxi Shanxi where I visited the family of my colleague and saw the reality that the people were eking out an existence and that life for the ordinary Chinese was still hard. Many foreigners believe that Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou , Hangzhou, Shanghai and other major political and commercial behemoths represent the totality of China but going through the rural counties brought one face to face with another China beyond the known accomplishments of the government of China since 1949.
PANGU HOLDING UP THE SKY
In the Chinese understanding of the world, Pangu is the first human being. During Golden Week there was a festival to celebrate Pangu in Tong Bai County. The monument to Pangu is built in the Tongbai Mountains. Travelling through the rural countryside on the road to Tong Bai, I saw that the peasants used the same means to winnow and thresh their harvest as the poor peasants in Africa. It is the Tongbai Mountain what there is a large sculptural depiction of Pangu who divided heaven from earth and held up the sky. To reach the monument dedicated to Pangu, one traverses through very beautiful scenery with steep peaks, deep woods, and numerous waterfalls. One of the waterfalls in these mountains claim to be the most picturesque in the world and it is in these mountains where one met the secular and the spiritual. I did not say anything about Mosi-oa-Tunya (which the Europeans call Victoria Falls).
While there is great reverence for Pangu who holds up the sky, it is also to these mountains that lie between Henan and Anhui provinces where the forces of communist party had to develop great skills in guerilla war in the fight against the Japanese and the nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai Chek. The Revolution of 1911 had broken the power of Qing dynasty but had not broken the deep-seated patriarchy and war-lordism of the society. The socialist forces of revolution worked hard to break all forms of patriarchy and this was best expressed when Mao proclaimed that women hold up half the sky. In societies, there is a difference between proclamation and actual change of social relations; so after the 62 years of socialist revolution in China, society is still locked between Pangu holding up or women holding up half the sky.
Three of the ancient capitals of China are located in Henan and in the city of Kaifeng. In Kaifeng and all over the region of the Yellow River one was confronted by the reality of the contradictions between humans and nature. Kaifeng is located on the Yellow River and in this ‘small’ city of 5 million; one is reminded that half of the old city is buried by floods. The Chinese state structure had been heavily influenced by the need to control flooding and the engineering and control of water resources continue to be a priority for China. The President of China received his degree and graduated in hydraulic engineering in 1965 from Tsinghua University.
WHAT IS A THOROUGHLY MODERN, NATIONAL AND DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?
Travelling back to Beijing, we passed through Hebei province and saw the fields of cotton with the workers harvesting the cotton. In our collective history, the role of cotton and revolution has been stark, especially in the USA with both the Civil War and the Civil Rights revolution as turning points. I reflected on the future of these cotton pickers and the future of cotton and agriculture in the further construction of socialism. Yet, as I cycled around the University campus, I wanted to understand the long-term vision of the society as it related to the poor in Tongbai country and Sheqi. Tsinghua University is at the centre of what is called Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Stem) education. Many of the top leaders of the communist party are engineers and as China embarks on another great engineering South-North Water Transfer Project, I am reminded of the Grand Canal of ancient China and how the work of engineers remains central to the construction of a society that fulfils the needs of the peoples. The South-North Water Transfer Project is a massive multiyear and multibillion infrastructure projects to divert water from the Yangtze River to the Yellow River and North to the regions around Beijing where there will be great water shortages as the urban areas grow.
The ideological and political paths that inspire engineering for future transformation remain in balance as there is great affection in the society for what is called ‘modernisation’ and working for ‘prosperity.’ The full environmental consequences of this ‘modernisation’ and prosperity are not always factored into the grand schemes. The themes of nation building – unity, people’s livelihood and democracy had been the clarion call of Sun Yat-sen in the revolutionary period of 1911. At that time in 1911, the environmental consequences of massive industrialisation had not been clear to humanity, so it would be expected that in the planning for ’modernisation’ today, the environment would be at the top of the agenda.
On the evening of Sunday 9 October, there was a grand banquet at the great hall of the people in Beijing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution. In the midst of thousands of party luminaries, the president and leader of the party President Hu Jintao was flanked by the former President Jiang Zemin. The ideas of Sun Yat-sen were remembered and some of the ideas of modernisation were given a Marxist bent when President Hu Jintao declared in his speech that the 1911 revolution was a thoroughly modern, national and democratic revolution.
In the past, some Marxists had put forward the formulation of stages of human development from feudalism, capitalism to socialism and had theorised the necessity of a phase of acceptable capitalism that is called the national democratic stage of the revolution. In this national democratic stage, the patriotic capitalist work for the building of a national economy and provide the conditions for the rise of the working class. In the absence of a rigorous Marxist debate, it is not clear what happened to this national democratic revolution. Prior to 1949 the Chinese national capitalists were subservient to foreign capital and the independence and unity of China was guaranteed by the victory of the socialist forces in 1949. Today, the theme of modernisation and development appear in the official literature and the boom in the economy is sharpening the divide between social classes.
The linearity and predictability of the national democratic path to socialism fit the new role as a global power that some sections of the leadership have assigned to China in the current international political economy. While there is news of the banking crisis and the contagion across the world that is precipitating peoples response, in China one sees a boom in real estate, construction and mega projects. There is no doubt about the positive efforts of the stimulus programmes that had been embarked on in China since 2008 to escape the worst of the capitalist crisis.
But in the rush to invest in big projects, there are great dangers and this came to the fore in the society when shoddy workmanship led to the collapse of buildings after mild earthquakes or in the Hangzhou-Wenzhou high-speed train accident of July of this year. This crash of the bullet train was like a metaphor to the society that the hot-house of accumulation and changing property relations must be reconsidered. As the property boom throughout the country displaces millions, one hears of actions by the poor to defend their spaces and their homes, but the growth and strength of the modernisers is making itself felt, with their growing political and economic force. It is the China with more than two trillion dollars in reserve where a new class has grown by leaps and bounds.
The impact of the modernisers is not only felt in the countryside, it is being reproduced at the ideological level where the idea of development is carrying forward its own logic. Communists of another era will remember when there was another communist party that worked under the mantra of catching up and surpassing the West. This discourse of catching up is now presented as peaceful development. In September 2011, one month before the celebrations the Office of the State Council produced a White paper on China’s Peaceful Development.
The language of this White paper on China working for harmonious development ignores the current serious crisis of international capitalism. I wondered how harmony could be achieved with great inequality. In my discussion with my Chinese colleagues, I recommended to them that they should read Ernest Mandel’s ‘The Meaning of the Second World War’ to see how another society ignored the warnings of a depression and the lack of harmony that came from the financial oligarchs. In 1938 and 1939 when Joseph Stalin had t that socialism in one country could protect the then Soviet Union from the capitalist depression, the full impact of the crisis and fascism engulfed all of Europe and the Soviet Union was not spared. Today, the day-to-day news of the growth of the most right wing forces in Europe is increasing, as every day there are emissaries from Western Europe travelling to China, calling on it to bail out the European banks.
In September, I was particularly intrigued by the statement of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who, in speaking at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, stated that China is willing to help European nations, but wanted them to recognise the mainland as a ‘full market economy’ at the WTO. Wen Jiabao also told Europe and the United States ‘to get their house in order.’ These words were issued in the midst of a rush of European courtiers to China seeking assistance from China to buy European debt. Is China caught in a trap of its so called ‘modernisation process’ where today China became the EU’s largest single trade partner, notably the largest destination for Chinese exported goods. What does it mean to shape Chinese/ European cooperation in the 21st century, especially in the light of ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’?
BEYOND CATCHING UP WITH THE WEST
In their speeches, the political leaders have been celebrating revolution at the moment when they were negotiating to be accepted as a market economy when the market was plunging. What the forces of the 99 per cent around the world are now calling for is a regulation of those who want a market to control power.
At the 1911 celebration, the Chinese President said the masses of the people were emancipated from thousands of years of oppression and fear. Chinese President Hu Jintao said the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation must be achieved by adhering to socialism with Chinese characteristics. This vague formulation of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the kind of formulation that can find resonance with even the political leaders in Singapore. I am reminded within the University of the Role of overseas Chinese in the 1911 revolution and continue to see how those who believe in modernisation are enamored by the political system in Singapore.
Lew Kuan Yew represents one branch of Chinese nationalism that is proud of the traditions of Sun Yat-sen and there is unity between a new class of Chinese in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and certain parts of the mainland on the future role of China as a super power in the 21st century. One of the code words for this new status is prosperity with Chinese values and ethics. It is not clear whether these values are the values of Pangu as the supreme patriarch of China or the values of women holding up half the sky.
The rush to the sky and catching up with the West was in full display two days before the celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the socialist revolution. China launched its first space laboratory module. This was a step toward a manned station orbiting Earth. All of the top leaders of the society were mobilised to celebrate this major accomplishment of the Chinese revolution. I watched on my English language CCTV station as President Hu Jintao was shown watching the launch from the control centre in Beijing. Premier Wen Jiabao was at the launch site in Jiuquan, Gansu province. The lift-off of this space laboratory module was a great achievement and represented part of a programme that aims to put a man on the moon by 2020. This achievement will be followed very closely by all, especially by those from the poorer countries of the world who want to see space used for peaceful development. After decades of working to develop their capabilities in space, the US military has now outsourced their space programme as the military planners there move to new capabilities consistent with the physics of the 21st century.
The massive expenditure of the US military on resources for war along with the current depression point to the growing contradiction in international politics where the military capability of the United States is bankrolled by China, which holds part of the US debt.
It is in moments of celebrating revolutions where the past and future revolutions can be reflected upon. One of the clear lessons of the revolutionary traditions in China over the past 100 years has been the resilience of the poor who rose up against the Kuomintang and against the Japanese imperial overlords. Pan-Africanists today will learn the positive and negative lessons of Pan-Asianism as those struggling for unity in Africa and in China recognise that prosperity for one part of humanity cannot be built on the exploitation on the other part of humanity.
The Chinese people learnt this lesson painfully from the Opium wars and the new opium of financialisation is putting the 100 years of revolutionary traditions to a new test.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See horacecampbell.net.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.