Workers Vanguard No. 1157
21 June 2019
Trump, Dems Push Anti-China Scare Campaign
U.S. Imperialists Ramp Up Trade/Tech War
Defend, Extend Gains of 1949 Chinese Revolution!
What began in January 2018 with U.S. tariffs against Chinese-made solar panels has since become a wide-ranging campaign to thwart China’s economic and technological rise. In a major escalation, on May 10 President Trump declared a further 25 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of imports from China. Five days later, he issued an executive order effectively banning the Chinese company Huawei, the world’s leader in next-generation 5G telecommunications hardware and second-largest smartphone maker, from the U.S. on the grounds of “national security.” The Commerce Department then barred American companies from selling chips and other goods to Huawei.
Capitalist financiers warn that Trump’s broad use of the tariff weapon—against purported friends as well as declared foes—threatens the supply chains that are crucial in modern manufacturing and might bring on a world recession. For the Republicans and also the Democrats, who have enthusiastically backed the White House against Beijing, this is a small price to pay for squeezing China, the most powerful of the countries in the world today where capitalist rule was overthrown. U.S. companies like shoe manufacturer Steve Madden and camera maker GoPro are shifting production away from China in order to evade import duties. Longshoremen at the Port of Los Angeles, where China represents 60 percent of trade volume, are already handling less cargo.
Chinese negotiators in the last round of trade talks refused to humiliate themselves by meeting Washington’s demands, which included that China’s laws be rewritten to American satisfaction. Trump vows to impose tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods if Beijing does not buckle under. Throughout the trade war, the U.S. has pushed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime to relinquish state control of the economy. That would mean total surrender to the imperialists. As revolutionary Marxists, we say that the working class in the U.S. and internationally has a side in this conflict: with China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, against imperialism. Down with the anti-China tariffs!
Washington’s diktat against Huawei was prepared by a propaganda blitz claiming that China was capable of spying on all and sundry through “backdoors” in its telecommunications equipment. Such surveillance, of course, is something the U.S. specializes in, from National Security Agency monitoring of personal communications to its hacking of Huawei’s internal network. The “Chinese spying” scare was jacked up after the arrest in December of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, Canada, on the grounds that the company had evaded U.S. sanctions against Iran. She is currently fighting extradition to the U.S., which has issued indictments against Huawei for “theft of intellectual property” and other cooked-up charges. The drive against Huawei is just one part of a plot to stop China’s technological advance, which is crucial to its military defense. The Spartacist League/U.S. joins the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada in demanding: Free Meng Wanzhou! No extradition!
The boundless American arrogance toward China has touched off a fierce reaction on the mainland, where there are deeply entrenched memories of the “Century of Humiliation.” This was the period beginning with the 1839-42 Opium War when foreign powers carved the country into their own spheres of exploitation, which ended only with the 1949 Revolution. Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that China needs to treat the trade war as a real war. As trade talks collapsed, the state CCTV network dropped Hollywood films from prime time and played movies about China’s intervention in the 1950-53 Korean War—known to Chinese as the War Resisting America and Aiding Korea. “China already knows what it’s like to suffer under the yoke of a colonial master. No matter what the US or anyone else tries, it won’t do so again,” declared a column in the official China Daily (24 May).
Beijing has hit back with tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. products, although the impact of such tit-for-tat measures is limited because China imports far less from the U.S. than it exports there. China, which mines and processes a vast majority of the world’s rare earth metals, is threatening to withhold exports of these commodities, which are crucial for any number of high-tech items, from electric car motors and smartphones to missile guidance systems.
China has also reacted sharply to escalating military provocations by the U.S. and its allies. These include recent incursions into the Taiwan Strait by destroyers, as well as increased naval exercises and flyovers by B-52 bombers in the South China Sea, China’s maritime trade hub. At a military conference in Singapore this month, Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe warned Washington: “A talk? Welcome. A fight? Ready. Bully us? No way” (Asia Times, 5 June).
It is crucial that the working class internationally stand for the defense of China in any military conflict with the imperialists or forces acting on their behalf. Our military defense of the Chinese deformed workers state is unconditional. Just as workers must always defend their unions, despite their pro-capitalist misleaders, against the bosses, we defend China against the capitalist enemy despite our political opposition to its Stalinist regime and no matter what the immediate cause of the conflict.
the Chinese Revolution
Bourgeois ideologues falsely describe the U.S.-China clash as a fight between rivals for economic and military supremacy. A commonly used catchphrase is the so-called Thucydides Trap, a term popularized by Harvard academic Graham Allison. Harking back to the war between Sparta and Athens in ancient Greece, which the historian Thucydides explained was based on the latter’s rise as a new power, Allison et al. project an inevitable clash between today’s rising power (China) and the declining hegemon (the United States).
Allison’s dime-store analysis is adopted wholesale by the ostensible socialists of Left Voice, a U.S. publication associated with the Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International. Describing the trade war as “a competition between two capitalist powers,” these reformists opine that “China’s explosive growth and technological development puts it on a collision course with the United States for economic, political and military hegemony” (“The U.S.-China Trade War and the Race for Global Hegemony,” 12 June). For their part, the Committee for a Workers’ International (Socialist Alternative in the U.S.) has for years labeled China as not only capitalist but a rising imperialist force. The bourgeois ideologues and their chorus on the left provide cover for the U.S. rulers’ brazen aggression and obscure the class conflict driving the imperialists’ economic and military campaign against China.
The strategic goal of the U.S. and other capitalist powers is to overturn the 1949 Revolution that smashed capitalist rule and liberated China from their bloody claws. After years of peasant-based guerrilla war, the CCP under Mao Zedong came to power as Chiang Kai-shek’s reactionary, U.S.-backed Guomindang forces fell apart and fled to Taiwan. The new regime distributed landlords’ holdings to peasants and went on to expropriate the capitalists and build a collectivized economy with central planning. Although marked by bureaucratic caprice, the socialization of the economy led to enormous advances for the workers and peasants in what had been a miserably poor country. Some 40 years of “market reforms” have brought substantial foreign capitalist investment, galloping official corruption and a nascent indigenous bourgeoisie, along with significant economic growth. Nevertheless, China’s economy remains centrally based on nationalized industry and banking.
The 1949 Revolution was a historic gain for the world proletariat. But the workers state that issued out of it was deformed by the rule of the parasitic CCP bureaucracy, which from the beginning has politically suppressed the working class. Modeled on Stalin’s bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union, the CCP regime from Mao’s time on has sown the illusion that China on its own can achieve socialism—a society of material abundance—if only given the time. The necessary corollary to this dogma of “socialism in one country” is “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist world, especially the imperialist powers. The Stalinist program, a nationalist perversion of Marxism, is both utopian and reactionary, opposing the fight for workers revolution internationally in order to accommodate imperialism.
We Trotskyists of the International Communist League call for workers political revolution to oust the CCP bureaucracy and install a regime of proletarian democracy: the rule of workers and peasants councils. To defend and extend the gains of the 1949 Revolution, such a regime would strengthen central economic planning and re-establish a state monopoly of foreign trade while renegotiating the terms of foreign investment to benefit the workers. We also call to reunify China through socialist revolution in Taiwan and political revolution on the mainland, and to expropriate the tycoons in Hong Kong, which is an integral part of China. Our perspective hinges on the struggle for workers revolution in the U.S. and other capitalist countries, which would end imperialist domination once and for all and lay the basis for a world socialist order.
The CCP Regime and the
World Capitalist Market
The trade/tech war against China illuminates the contradictions of a Stalinist-ruled workers state operating in a world dominated by a handful of advanced capitalist (imperialist) countries. Take, for example, the CCP’s “Made in China 2025” program. It aims for China, which currently relies on foreign manufacturers for 90 percent of the high-speed microchips it uses in its factories, to fabricate such items itself. A good part of this development would come through foreign acquisitions as well as trade. But as the campaign against Huawei shows, the U.S. is dead set on blocking that path. In response, Beijing is reportedly strengthening state control over its tech industry, and Huawei has plans to create its own smartphone operating system to replace Google’s Android.
The imperialists have their own contradictions in dealing with China. Unlike last century’s Cold War against the Soviet Union, a degenerated workers state, what has been widely dubbed a “new cold war” is aimed at a major trading partner of the capitalist countries. This gives Beijing room to maneuver, to a point. While some U.S. allies have joined in banning Huawei, Germany as of now continues to look to the company to build out its 5G network upgrade. At the same time, as a leading producer of precision machine tools, Germany howled when in 2016 a Chinese firm purchased the German Kuka robotics company, which outfits auto plants worldwide. Meanwhile, Germany and France have moved to stop China from buying more ports and other infrastructure in Europe as part of its One Belt, One Road program, an effort to massively expand trade avenues.
More to the point is the “Chinese Dream” announced by Xi Jinping when he took office in 2012: the goal of China becoming a xiaokang (moderately prosperous) society in the short term and eventually reaching parity with the advanced capitalist economies, hopefully by the 100th anniversary of the 1949 Revolution. There has been enormous development in the People’s Republic of China, as seen today in everything from steel and electric car manufacturing to its extensive high-speed rail system and even medical and space technology. This progress speaks to the superiority of a collectivized economy over the capitalist boom-bust system of production for profit.
Yet there remains a qualitative gap between the advanced capitalist economies and China’s. As of last December, China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 57 percent of that of the U.S., a massive rise over 20 years ago, when it barely topped 10 percent. But with four times the American population, China has a current per capita GDP that is only one-seventh of that of the U.S. That statistic is a true measure of the huge difference in labor productivity between the two countries. This disparity has much to do with the fact that despite recent rapid urbanization, a bit under half of China’s population still lives in the countryside, with its relatively backward farming methods.
From Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, communists have understood that achieving socialism requires surpassing the highest productivity of labor possible under capitalism in order to eliminate scarcity and thereby all class divisions. The prerequisite to such a leap forward is to sweep away the capitalist ruling classes through workers revolutions and to harness the most modern technology in a world planned economy.
Opposed to this perspective, the CCP bureaucratic caste plays a delicate balancing act, parasitically resting atop the workers state, from which it derives its privileges, while transmitting the pressures of the capitalist world market onto China. Thus, if the Xi regime caves in to the imperialists, this could cause an eruption of anger at home. Already, the CCP faces thousands of strikes and protests annually, due mainly to the effects of “market reforms.” The bureaucracy dreads the specter of the 1989 “Beijing Spring,” when student protests in Tiananmen Square developed into a broad working-class upsurge. The key missing factor in this incipient political revolution was a Leninist-Trotskyist party that could lead the workers to power (see "The Truth About the Tiananmen Uprising" in this issue).
Chinese in U.S. Face
With the winds of economic war rising, Beijing warned Chinese citizens this month that U.S. law enforcement has been harassing Chinese nationals “through border interrogations, drop-in visits and various other means.” Chinese in the U.S. are indeed facing virulent racism stoked by the government. In February 2018, FBI director Christopher Wray lashed out at Chinese scientists, professors and students in the U.S. as potential spies for Beijing. As the White House tightened restrictions on their visas, Chinese students on American campuses have been victimized for just speaking their native tongue. A report on the harassment of Chinese speakers at Duke University posted on a website in China got millions of hits. We say: U.S. government hands off Chinese students, researchers, tourists!
The Committee of 100, an elite organization of Chinese Americans in business, government and academia, cogently compared Wray’s fearmongering to past racist campaigns, such as the World War II internment of Japanese Americans and the 1990s frame-up of Taiwanese-born scientist Wen Ho Lee. (On the latter, see “‘Chinese Spy’ Hysteria Whips Up Anti-Asian Racism,” WV No. 719, 17 September 1999.) Those atrocities were carried out under the Democratic Party administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.
This time around, the Democrats are eagerly helping Trump’s Republicans foment anti-Chinese hysteria. One specific target is the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), a state-owned company that is producing rail cars for Boston, Chicago and other cities. CRRC is the world’s largest manufacturer of passenger rail cars, which the U.S. stopped making decades ago. After work began last year at a CRRC plant in Springfield, Massachusetts, making subway cars for Boston’s MBTA, Sheet Metal Workers Local 63 business agent John Scavotto worried that Trump’s China-bashing would lead to the plant being closed. “There’s over 120 union workers from Springfield,” he told WGBH radio in October. “You’re going to possibly put them out of work.”
Right. But it’s not just Trump. In March, a bipartisan Senate group introduced a bill that would restrict transit agencies from using federal funds to buy rail cars or buses made by companies linked to the Chinese government. CRRC has also won a design contest for upgrading New York City subway cars. Anyone who works on or rides that decrepit system, which the capitalists have starved of funds for decades, knows it desperately needs the company’s expertise. But up jumps Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer to demand a “top-to-bottom review” so that CRRC doesn’t implant any espionage devices! The old Cold Warriors screamed about “reds under the beds.” Now it’s spycams on the A train.
However laughable, Schumer’s tirades have a purpose. Tales of Chinese spying are part of an ideological offensive aimed at getting American workers and the population as a whole behind the drive for capitalist counterrevolution in China. Leading that campaign is the same U.S. capitalist class that has waged decades of war against workers at home, driven by the same purpose of increasing their obscene profits and solidifying their rule. Schumer’s fellow Democratic Senator, Chris Coons of Delaware, chortled that being hawkish on China today is “comparable to the 1950s when there was no downside, politically, to being anti-Soviet” (Economist, 18 May).
The anti-China crusade is backed by the labor traitors at the top of the trade-union bureaucracy, such as the United Steelworkers leadership, which early on cheered the tariffs imposed on Chinese steel. Loyal to the capitalist system and to U.S. imperialism, the American labor officialdom sees a threat in the massive expansion of industrial production in China in recent decades. The labor movement needs a leadership based on a program of class struggle, opposition to the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties and militant solidarity with workers abroad. Such a leadership would welcome the growth of Chinese industry as enhancing the potential for a planned global economy with a rational division of labor under workers rule.
Marx and Engels closed the 1848 Communist Manifesto with the call, “Working men of all countries, unite!” This was not some pious wish but a statement that capitalism, in extending its reach globally, was creating an international proletariat with a common interest in replacing the system of production for profit with a collectivized economy. The October 1917 Russian Revolution led by the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky was the opening shot in the fight to realize that goal, which today requires socialist revolution in the U.S. and other capitalist countries and proletarian political revolution in China and the rest of the deformed workers states. The ICL dedicates itself to reforging Trotsky’s Fourth International to carry that struggle forward.