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Workers Vanguard No. 917

4 July 2008

The Sichuan Quake and the Contradictions of the Chinese Bureaucratically Deformed Workers State

For Unconditional Military Defense! For Workers Political Revolution!

The earthquake that hit China’s Sichuan Province on May 12 was a huge natural disaster, leaving some 80,000 dead or missing, including up to 10,000 children killed by collapsing schools, and up to five million people homeless. The quake occurred in the fault region where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide, forcing up the Himalaya Mountains and causing periodic earthquakes from Afghanistan to China. It was an “extreme earthquake,” as one seismologist put it, registering 8.0 on the Richter scale according to the Chinese Seismological Bureau. This is over 32 times stronger in terms of energy released and ten times stronger in terms of ground-shaking than the 1989 San Francisco-Oakland earthquake. The Sichuan quake’s shallow epicenter caused severe side-to-side shaking, the worst kind of quake impact for even well-built structures.

The massive relief efforts by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the gigantic amounts of rebuilding aid by the state-owned economic sector have impressed the entire world, showing the power of the collectivized economy. At the same time, the agony and fury of parents over the shoddily built schools that collapsed and crushed thousands of children expose the deep contradictions of China today, a workers state bureaucratically deformed by the rule of a Stalinist caste. Its neglect and indifference to well-known construction standards in Sichuan, a mountainous region in southwestern China, are responsible for the deaths of many poor workers and peasants. The situation cries out for centralized planning under workers democracy, a government of workers and peasants councils. This requires sweeping away the Stalinist bureaucracy through working-class political revolution, which must be based on the unconditional military defense of the Chinese workers state against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution.

China’s Disaster Relief: Power of Collectivized Economy

Attempts by the reactionary Falun Gong to claim the earthquake was punishment to the Chinese Communist Party backfired. The CIA-inspired “Free Tibet” crowd, too, lost momentum as it was clear that the rescue efforts of the PLA in Aba Prefecture, which governs 13 counties including Wenchuan, the quake’s epicenter, were devoted to everyone, including Tibetans and members of the Qiang ethnic group. We oppose the “Free Tibet” movement and its recent protests as reactionary, anti-Communist and counterrevolutionary. While opposing the Chinese bureaucracy’s Han chauvinism, we recognize that Tibet has qualitatively benefited from the technological progress made possible by its inclusion in the Chinese workers state.

Speaking of the Chinese government’s response to the quake, the London Financial Times (6 June) admitted: “With its centralized power structure and ability to mobilise resources, the autocratic government excels at disaster relief operations.” In fact, this is because China is a workers state with a collectivized economy, not because it’s “autocratic.” A comparison to the devastating Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar (Burma) early in May, leaving some 84,500 dead, proves this. Today, some 55,000 are still missing, as Myanmar’s military dictatorship left bodies to rot for weeks.

In China, the quake region is known as “the front,” and the whole country is mobilized to participate in relief efforts. The Financial Times outlined China’s rebuilding plans: over one million prefabricated houses will be built in three months for the earthquake survivors. Food and shelter will be provided for five million homeless people, and whole flattened towns and cities will be rebuilt or relocated. Hundreds of state-owned factories have been commandeered to produce the houses, and big state companies like Baosteel have been ordered to increase output of materials needed.

Contrast this to the U.S. capitalist rulers’ racist, anti-working-class treatment of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Almost three years ago in New Orleans, water from broken levees poured into the city for two days before any significant action was taken to stem the tide, while tens of thousands of poor and black people were trapped. The government—including the city and state Democratic Party administrations as well as the Republicans in the White House—blamed the victims, demonizing an entire population, brought in the National Guard to intimidate people trying to help themselves, and dispersed the city’s occupants to the four winds. As much as a third of New Orleans’ population is still gone, while hard-hit St. Bernard Parish has less than half its people back. To this day, the levees have not been adequately rebuilt.

Across the U.S., systematic deindustrialization and lack of investment have resulted in a rotting infrastructure: bridges collapse in the Midwest, cranes topple in New York City, and again levees are bursting all along the Mississippi and its swollen tributaries. Meanwhile, FEMA shrugs and admits that there’s no federal oversight plan for levees. In the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 damage was largely man-made—the collapse of the upper deck of the Nimitz Freeway’s Cypress Viaduct, for example, which crushed dozens of people, was due to unreinforced columns popping out at poorly designed joints. And they knew in advance that such designs were unsafe. The first reaction of government authorities and cops was racist assaults on those trying to help the victims. Blacks and skilled workers were shoved aside, and in Oakland the cops pulled guns on rescuers and accused them of looting!

The Stalinist Bureaucracy and the Collapsed Schools

Writing for Hong Kong’s English-language South China Morning Post (26 May), one author noted the contrast between the money lavished on grooming Beijing for the Olympics with the situation in the countryside: “On the one hand, the hugely expensive and strange-looking National Theatre and the CCTV building represent the ultimate examples of the government’s extravagance and wasteful spending. On the other, the rubble of the collapsed schools should serve as the most damning indictment of the government’s inadequate spending on education.” Fashionable architect Rem Koolhaus’s soaring CCTV building is certainly a marvel of steel and glass engineering, and in a nation which today produces more steel and cement than any other country, those who commission such a work know how to build a simple country schoolhouse to safety standards. But they didn’t.

The Chinese workers state emerged from the 1949 Revolution, which was led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a party based predominantly on the peasantry. Since 1949, China has been ruled by a parasitic and nationalist bureaucratic caste committed to “peaceful co-existence” with world imperialism and the Stalinist dogma of building “socialism in one country”—i.e., opposition to international socialist revolution. Hostile to proletarian political power and acting as a transmission belt for bourgeois ideology into the workers state, this bureaucracy nonetheless derives its privileges from the collectivized economy of the workers state. As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky stated of the Stalinist bureaucracy that usurped political power from the proletariat in the USSR: “It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat” (The Revolution Betrayed, 1937).

The contradictions of Chinese society are shown by the very existence of those schools that collapsed. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the central government ordered that all children be provided with nine years of compulsory education—a good thing, especially in the poor and peasant areas of China. One of the gains of the 1949 Revolution was massive advances in literacy, which today stands at nearly 91 percent, compared to 61 percent in India. However, the building of the schools in the 1980s and ’90s was in part to enable children to support their aged parents, as the old guarantee of the “iron rice bowl,” or a job for life for workers, was being shattered. And in Stalinist bureaucratic fashion, the orders went down with no regard as to how they would be carried out, with many rotten buildings the result. And so, many parents lost their children.

“This is not a natural disaster,” said a father whose nine-year-old son died at Xinjian Primary School in Dujiangyan. His son’s school was reduced to rubble while another school, for the children of the elite, was in such good condition it was being used as a refugee center. Crumbling bricks, the lack of reinforcing steel rods (rebar), unsupported hollow concrete slab flooring, concrete with too much sand—all well-known safety issues—were pointed to by many as causes of the collapse of buildings. That many children’s lives could have been saved was demonstrated by the exceptional case of Sangzao Middle School, whose principal ran regular earthquake drills and, more importantly, successfully lobbied local officials to get enough money to widen and insert iron rods into the pillars of his school, to improve balconies and fix pipes. When the earthquake hit, all 2,323 students at his school got out alive.

On June 1, Children’s Day in China, parents at a Xinjian protest wore T-shirts demanding, “Severely punish the corrupted elements in the ‘tofu dregs’ buildings” (made of useless materials like the dregs left after making tofu). While the central government in Beijing has tried to place responsibility on local officials because of its policy of “decentralization,” the Sichuan government denies any responsibility for the collapse of shoddy school buildings, laying all the blame on the natural disaster. But from the top down, government officials knew the dangers; China is laced with fault lines and this particular area has a history of major catastrophic quakes. While poor schools collapsed, many elite schools survived the quake, and the military and nuclear installations in the region appear to have been undamaged.

Police attempts to intimidate grieving parents are reprehensible. The parents’ demands for full and honest answers as to why their children died are just. But the underlying problems will not be solved by punishing individual corrupt elements, especially via the government’s policy of regularly executing a few scapegoats for various disasters. We oppose the barbaric death penalty on principle, in China as in capitalist societies. What is necessary is a whole new kind of government to replace the privileged Stalinist bureaucratic caste. As Trotsky put it in The Revolution Betrayed, “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.” Everything from military questions to international aid, including to revolutionary struggles abroad, and domestic economic policies can only be resolved effectively when those who labor decide.

Following the massive earthquake that hit then-Soviet Armenia in December 1988, we cited the power of the Soviet collectivized economy, while also noting that shoddy construction and corruption, due to the Stalinist bureaucracy, contributed to building failures. We wrote in “Bureaucratic Mismanagement Undermines Soviet Planning: Armenian Earthquake Disaster” (WV No. 471, 17 February 1989) on the broad question of how to manage society for human needs:

“To reach an intelligent resolution requires drawing technical specialists, residents of the region, the fishermen, the agricultural workers, into a wide-ranging debate resulting in a democratic decision. And if the decision doesn’t work, constant monitoring by the producers themselves will spot imminent dangers and contribute to modifications before a disaster occurs. That is the essence of soviet democracy—and it will take a proletarian political revolution, ousting the bureaucracy, to get it.”

Only through the overthrow of capitalist class rule internationally, particularly in the imperialist centers of North America, West Europe and Japan, can the all-round modernization of China be achieved as part of a socialist Asia. To go forward to a society in which everyone is well-housed, in which food lines disappear, in which a socialist future is genuinely assured, requires an international division of labor based on worldwide socialist planning. It is to provide the necessary leadership for the proletariat in these struggles that the International Communist League seeks to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International—the world party of socialist revolution.

U.S. Reformists Oppose Proletarian Dictatorship

The reaction of the reformist left in the U.S. to the Chinese earthquake reveals their hostility to the need for world socialist revolution to create a communist society based on material plenty for all. Whether anti-Communist or pro-Stalinist, they are all deeply committed to sucking up to the bourgeois Democratic Party—which is in the forefront of China-bashing—either directly or through the capitalist Green Party.

The newspaper of the reformist, pro-Stalinist Workers World Party focused almost exclusively on the rescue efforts, as did its split-off, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and both of them completely disappeared the protests by the grieving parents. Workers World (15 June) whitewashed any central governmental responsibility for the collapsed buildings, claiming “building codes in effect did not anticipate a quake of this enormous magnitude” and soothingly saying, “a government commission has been set up” to investigate.

Weighing in from another reformist direction, the eccentric, Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) wrote in “The Capitalist Ground Shaken by the Earthquake in China” (Revolution, 1 June) that “since the reactionary coup led by Deng Xiaoping after Mao Tsetung’s death in 1976, China has been a capitalist country, dependent on and subordinate to global imperialism. And some stark things about the exploitative and oppressive nature of capitalist China have been revealed in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.” This false line is a justification for their opposition to defending China against counterrevolutionaries who want to overthrow the workers state—as their references to China’s “reactionary regime” and “brutal repression in Tibet” and the Olympic torch protests make clear.

It also hides the fact that when an even more devastating earthquake occurred in Tangshan in July 1976, while Mao was still alive, the bureaucracy’s response was so bad that it is still recalled with great bitterness in China today: international aid was refused and attempts were made to cover up the scale of the disaster, in which at least 240,000 died, in a country then far more backward and still suffering from the disruptions of the Maoist bureaucratic faction’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”

Contrary to the RCP’s myths, the world’s most populous country did not turn capitalist overnight with the death of one man. The economic autarky of Mao and the “market reforms” of Deng are in fact two sides of the same coin. While economic penetration by the imperialists has enormously strengthened the forces for internal counterrevolution, capitalists in China are still prevented from organizing themselves politically and vying for power. The core sectors of the industrial economy remain collectivized and the banking system remains effectively state-owned. Meanwhile, economic development has created a new, huge proletariat, drawing in many former peasants to the cities. There have been widespread worker protests against layoffs from state-owned enterprises, unpaid wages, pensions and benefits, and similar abuses, while the countryside is rife with angry protests by peasants, frequently involving violent clashes with the police. The multiple explosive social tensions of Chinese society will at some point shatter the political structure of the ruling bureaucratic caste. And when that happens, China’s fate will be starkly posed: either proletarian political revolution to open the road to socialism, or a return to capitalist enslavement and imperialist subjugation.

China and the other bureaucratically deformed workers states of Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba wrenched their societies out of the grip of capitalism. As part of our struggle to defend and extend the gains of these societies, we fight for workers political revolution in the deformed workers states and for international socialist revolution to sweep away the bloody capitalist-imperialist system, putting control of the earth’s resources in the hands of the international proletariat. For Unconditional Military Defense of China! For Workers Political Revolution!


Workers Vanguard No. 917

WV 917

4 July 2008


Democrats, Republicans, Greens: Class Enemies of Workers, Oppressed

For a Workers Party to Fight for a Workers Government!

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!


The Sichuan Quake and the Contradictions of the Chinese Bureaucratically Deformed Workers State

For Unconditional Military Defense! For Workers Political Revolution!


Drop Charges Against Rebel Diaz Hip-Hop Artists!


Economic Planning and Workers Democracy

(Quote of the Week)


Corrections on Tibet


Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!

New Legal Papers Filed


Women’s Oppression and Racist Reaction

Canada: The “Honor” Killing of Aqsa Parvez

(Women and Revolution pages)


ICL’s Trotskyism vs. Socialist Action Reformism


Che Guevara and Repression of Cuban Trotskyists