Spartacist Canada No. 166
For Class-Struggle Leadership!
Militant Strike Wave in China
Defend the Chinese Bureaucratically Deformed Workers State! For Proletarian Political Revolution!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 961 (2 July), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
The wave of strikes for higher wages and better working conditions that has swept through China in recent weeks must be supported by class-conscious workers around the world. The strikes began on May 17 at a Honda transmission plant in Foshan in the southern province of Guangdong, which workers shut down for nearly three weeks. With the flow of parts from the factory choked off, production was halted at all the company’s assembly plants in China.
After the Foshan workers won wage increases of about 30 percent, strikes spread to other factories in the booming Guangdong industrial area and beyond. Most have been at plants owned by foreign corporations, notably the Japanese auto companies. Workers have also struck several Taiwanese-owned factories, including a rubber products plant near Shanghai where around 50 were injured in clashes with police, as well as facilities owned by mainland Chinese capitalists.
The foreign and domestic capitalists operating in China have amassed huge profits by exploiting a workforce largely composed of migrant workers from the countryside. Many workers are forced to work 60 to 70 hours a week at wages barely above subsistence levels. The conditions they face were made vivid in the widely reported wave of suicides at Foxconn’s massive electronics facility in Shenzhen, also in Guangdong. At least ten workers have killed themselves this year at this Taiwanese-owned factory complex, where more than 300,000 workers toil long hours under harsh discipline assembling computers and phones for Apple, Dell, Sony and other major American and Japanese corporations. At the same time, the enormous concentration of workers at Foxconn points to the immense potential power of the Chinese working class.
With its vast economic development over the last several decades, China now has by far the largest industrial working class in the world. Thus the struggles waged by workers there are of major significance. As a result of the 1949 Revolution, capitalism was overthrown in China and a collectivized economy was established. Although deformed from its inception by the rule of the Stalinist Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bureaucracy, the revolutionary overturn was a huge victory for working people everywhere. Despite the capitalist inroads created by the CCP regime’s “market reforms,” China’s core economy is still based on nationalized property (see “China’s ‘Market Reforms’—A Trotskyist Analysis,” WV Nos. 874 and 875, 4 August and 1 September 2006).
In contrast to the major capitalist countries, which have been mired in deep recessions with tens of millions of job cuts, China’s economy has continued to expand over the last two years, even though the export-oriented sector of its economy was buffeted somewhat by the global downturn. It was the ability to marshal resources in the core collectivized sector that prevented China from being dragged into the kind of deep economic crisis that is intrinsic to the capitalist system of production for profit. China’s economy is now again growing rapidly, producing significant labor shortages. State investment in cities in China’s interior has absorbed much of the labor that had been migrating to the factories of the eastern coastal areas.
The big imperialist powers—the U.S., Japan, Germany et al.—remain determined to restore capitalist rule and fully open up China to capitalist exploitation. Just as workers in capitalist countries must defend their unions against the bosses despite the present sellout labor leadership, so they must defend China against capitalist counterrevolution despite the Stalinist bureaucracy’s repressive rule and its many accommodations to capitalism.
In offering up low-wage migrant workers for exploitation by foreign corporations, the CCP bureaucracy effectively acts as a labor contractor for the imperialists and offshore Chinese capitalists. The bureaucracy itself now includes substantial elements with family or other ties to capitalist entrepreneurs, and several years ago the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress enacted a law strengthening private property rights. Nonetheless, the CCP bureaucratic caste still rests on the material base of the collectivized economy, from which its power and privileges are derived.
The Chinese working class must sweep away the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy, which has gravely weakened the system of nationalized property internally while conciliating imperialism at the international level. A proletarian political revolution is needed to defend and extend the gains of the workers state and place power directly in the hands of elected workers and peasants councils. This could inspire proletarian socialist revolution throughout capitalist Asia, including in the industrial powerhouse of Japan, and elsewhere. The emergence of a China ruled by workers and peasants councils would also help spur the workers of Taiwan to overthrow their capitalist ruling class, leading to the revolutionary reunification of China.
The Chinese Tinderbox
Faced with growing discontent at the base of society, Hu Jintao’s CCP regime has been slowing down some “free market” measures in the name of building a “harmonious society.” The CCP bureaucrats have increased their “pro-worker” rhetoric, while authorities in many provinces and major cities have felt compelled to substantially raise the minimum wage. The bureaucratic CCP regime defends the gains embodied in the Chinese deformed workers state only to the extent that it fears the working class.
Unusually, the CCP rulers initially allowed extensive domestic media coverage of the strikes, especially those at Japanese-owned factories. This was accompanied by an equally unusual candor about China’s increasing social inequalities. Citing a leader of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), China Daily (13 May) reported that the portion of the country’s gross domestic product going to workers’ wages fell from 57 percent to 37 percent from 1983 to 2005. An editorial in Global Times (2 June), a China Daily spin-off, stated:
“Admittedly, in the three decades of opening-up, ordinary workers are among those who have received the smallest share of economic prosperity…. The temporary stoppage of production lines in the four Honda plants, at a time of increasing market demand for Japanese-brand cars, highlights the necessity of organized labor protection in Chinese factories.”
Doubtless concerned by the spread of the strikes, the bureaucracy has since sharply curtailed such media coverage.
Most of the strike leaders appear to be young migrant workers, notably including women workers. They have shown impressive militancy and organizational skills, including the use of the internet and text messaging to rally the workers and follow developments elsewhere. Significantly, workers in Foshan and at another Honda plant in Zhongshan decided to elect their own strike leaders and negotiating committees independent of the ACFTU, the official union federation tied to the ruling CCP. In a number of cases, ACFTU bureaucrats have openly colluded with management to try and force a return to work. Thugs organized by the union bureaucracy physically attacked Foshan Honda strikers on May 31, causing several injuries. The next day the same ACFTU bureaucrats issued a public apology, while trying to play down their role in the assault.
Among the demands raised by the Foshan strikers was “a reorganization of the local trade union; re-elections should be held for union chairman and other representatives.” Strikers in Zhongshan held a protest march on June 11 that similarly demanded the right to choose their own union leaders. While the Stalinist rulers removed the right to strike from China’s constitution in 1982, various reforms to labor laws in 2008 have made it easier for workers to organize to defend their interests. Many strikers have made clear to reporters that they believe they have the right to take strike action, citing the legal reforms.
An open letter issued on behalf of the Foshan strikers’ negotiating committee by Li Xiaojuan, a young woman worker, declared:
“We must maintain a high degree of unity and not let the representatives of Capital divide us…. This factory’s profits are the fruits of our bitter toil…. This struggle is not just about the interests of our 1,800 workers. We also care about the rights and interests of all Chinese workers.”
—quoted in Financial Times (London),
Chinese workers need a class-struggle leadership to advance their struggle to wrest as much as possible from the capitalist companies that are exploiting them, fight the ravages of inflation and improve their working and living conditions. Workers in state-owned industry also need such a leadership to protect and advance their living standards and to fight against bureaucratic abuse. Integral to the fight to replace the parasitic CCP regime with the rule of workers and peasants councils is building trade unions free from bureaucratic control. Even in a workers state ruled by genuine workers democracy, unions are necessary to protect against possible encroachments and abuses, and to help plan production and work methods. Addressing the question of trade unions in the early Soviet workers state, V.I. Lenin insisted that communists should fight for leadership of the unions based on their program and practice on behalf of the workers state. They must be selected by the workers and not appointed by the state.
The fight for unions free of bureaucratic control must take as its starting point defense of the social gains of the 1949 Revolution against imperialism and capitalist restoration. This is especially important given the maneuvers of pro-capitalist forces like the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB), which promotes Western-style “democracy,” i.e., the rule of the capitalist exploiters with a parliamentary facade. Formerly a partisan of so-called “independent unions,” the CLB now calls to work inside the ACFTU in order to break it from CCP control. While masquerading as a workers organization, the CLB is a counterrevolutionary group with direct ties to U.S. imperialism. Its leader, Han Dongfang, is also vice-chair of the World Movement for Democracy, an outfit founded and run by the National Endowment for Democracy, a notorious CIA front.
In covering the Chinese strikes, the Western bourgeois media raise the spectre of Polish Solidarność, the anti-Communist “trade union” that spearheaded the drive for capitalist counterrevolution in East Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The media’s line, stated or otherwise, is that Chinese workers must strike out against the Communist Party regime and embrace the “free market.” For its part, the CCP regime also raises the spectre of Solidarność, falsely claiming that any organized opposition to its rule must be pro-capitalist and counterrevolutionary. An article by Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in the Wall Street Journal (14 June) reported: “In unpublicized, closed-door talks on the labor situation, Mr. Hu and other Politburo members have cited late patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s warnings about how Poland’s Solidarity Movement undermined Communist Parties throughout the former Eastern Bloc.”
Unlike the bulk of the world’s ostensible socialists, the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) opposed Solidarność and fought to the end against capitalist counterrevolution in East Europe and the Soviet Union. But a Solidarność-type development is not what is happening in China today. The growth of Solidarność as a counterrevolutionary movement was shaped by factors that have no parallel in China, including the deep roots of the Catholic church in Poland and the role of Polish nationalism, which was wielded against the Soviet Union. Moreover, the strikes in China today are protesting brutal exploitation in large, privately owned capitalist enterprises, which did not exist in Poland circa 1980. Any illusions in capitalist “democracy” among Chinese workers must be vigorously fought. But there is no reason to think that what is developing in China today is a mass pro-capitalist workers movement.
For a Government of Workers and
The strikes led by migrant workers, which are in the interest of all Chinese working people, underline the need to abolish the CCP rulers’ discriminatory hukou household registration system. Legal urban residency, education and health care for migrants from the countryside and their children are severely restricted under this system, making their tenure in the city transitory and insecure. Jobs in state-owned industry, with their associated benefits, have largely remained the preserve of workers with an urban hukou.
The migrant workers’ insecure status has been a boon to the capitalist exploiters in the foreign-owned sector, who have had a ready labor pool to exploit at very low wages. While many young workers who now toil in the factories grew up in the cities with migrant parents, they too are not considered urban residents under the bureaucracy’s outrageous hukou restrictions. Migrant workers must have the same rights and access to benefits as legally recognized urban residents!
A government of elected workers and peasants councils would represent all sectors of the proletariat and the rural toilers. Crucial questions facing the workers state can be resolved effectively only when those who labor decide. As the Marxist leader Leon Trotsky explained in his searing indictment of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy, The Revolution Betrayed (1936): “It is not a question of substituting one ruling clique for another, but of changing the very methods of administering the economy and guiding the culture of the country. Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to Soviet democracy.”
The CCP bureaucracy’s pro-market policies have strengthened the forces of counterrevolution inside China. At the same time, the social power of the industrial working class has been greatly augmented by economic development. The inclusion of at least 150 million rural migrant workers in China’s urban economy is a factor of enormous potential significance. A Leninist-Trotskyist party is needed to provide a revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist road forward. As we wrote in “Women Workers and the Contradictions of China Today” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009):
“At some point, likely when bourgeois elements in and around the bureaucracy move to eliminate CCP political power, the explosive social tensions building up in Chinese society will shatter the political structure of the ruling bureaucratic caste. When that happens, China’s fate will be starkly posed. Either the workers will sweep away the parasitic ruling elite through a proletarian political revolution that defends and extends the gains of the 1949 Revolution and makes China a bastion of the struggle for world socialism, or capitalist counterrevolution will triumph, bringing back devastating imperialist subjugation and exploitation.”
A revolutionary workers and peasants government would put an end to bureaucratic arbitrariness and corruption. It would expropriate the new class of domestic capitalist entrepreneurs and renegotiate the terms of foreign investment in the interests of the working people. It would create a centrally planned and managed economy under conditions of workers democracy—not the autarkic, bureaucratic commandism of the Mao years. While struggling to provide at least a basic level of economic security for the whole population, a genuine communist leadership would understand that achieving material prosperity for all hinges on the struggle for socialist revolution in the centers of world capitalism. This perspective is vehemently opposed by the nationalist CCP regime, whose policies derive from the Stalinist dogma of “building socialism in one country.” The fact that workers in China’s capitalist zones are being exploited by some of the same corporations that exploit workers in Japan, the U.S. and elsewhere creates the potential for international solidarity and points to workers’ common interest in the fight for a socialist world.
The survival and advancement of China’s revolutionary gains and the all-round modernization of society in the interest of the toiling masses requires an internationally planned socialist economy, which will open the road to a global communist future. That is the goal of the International Communist League, which fights to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International as the world party of proletarian revolution.