Chinese Capitalism


Many writers and historians have written about Chinese economy since the 30’s of the 20th Century, but none has done it with great passion and perspicacity than Maurice Meisner, Professor of history at University of Wisconsin in Madison, who attempted to follow China’s political and social process with great efforts, as it was a very harsh political problem and there was a long physical and linguistic distance to study the process in depth. Hence, I will attempt to summarize briefly about Meisner works who had a passion about his subjects that his scientific studies were written in almost poetic prose.

According to Meisner, in 1978, when the Prime Minister of China, Deng Xiaoping, made his marketing reform programs, he was not intended to create a capitalist economy, because he was communist since he was 20 years old when he was a student in France. He joined the CCP (Chine Communist Party) since 1924, so that in 1978 he still believed that China would be Socialist sooner or later, but he did not oppose to use the capitalist market means to achieve the socialist objectives. But, he was quite clear about his main purpose was to generate rapid economic development by using available means and thus build the material basis for socialism. If China’s political power was kept in the hands of the CCP, Deng assumed that socialism would emerge from the same development of existing productive forces. Nevertheless, story was not as Deng foreseen, but it happened the capitalist development process more massive of the contemporary history. By the mid 90’s the mains aspects of capitalist economy had already established and profit was considered as the main criterion for judging the success of all economic companies. Secondly, Chine joined the global capitalist economy and it was subject to the existing regulations. Then, he built a big labor market, mainly by the proletarianzation of hundred millions of farmers who were forced to leave their lands by the privatization and finally post-maoists reformers came creating “de facto” a private property system for means of production, first in the field and then in the urban companies and real estate properties.

In the 1940’s, Mao Zedong said, the main objectives of the Communist Revolution were to destroy feudal landlords, who controlled the field, and then bureaucratic bourgeoisie in the cities. He did not seek to eradicate capitalism, according to him, it would last for long serving the needs of the national economic development. Thirty years later, the Communist State would create a bureaucratic bourgeoisie beside capitalism.

High post-maoists Chinese leaders agreed from the beginning that a market economy anticipated a bourgeoisie of “socialist entrepreneurs.” But the bourgeoisie of modern China was always a small and weak class which had been destroyed by the end of the 1950’s, and the vast majority had left China in 1949, they left their companies which were nationalized by the new regime. Then, industries and other bourgeois businesses remained in China were expropriated or bought by the new Communist State. So that at the end of the maoist period in 1976, only a small group of older and retirees who received modest dividends of Government Bonds remained.

A functional middle class was created in the 80’s and the basic social and institutional requirements were covered to create a capitalist economy. At the same time, that capitalism was ideologically strengthened by emerging “neoliberalism” and a belief –almost mystic- began on the “magic” of the market. Chinese economists who had studied at the business schools in the Western industrialized countries began to imitate their counterparts. So much so that Neoliberalism in China that Milton Friedman, free market guru in United States, visited China and gave successful and large audience neoliberal conferences between 1980 and 1988.

During the three decades since 1978 and on the basis of an important industrial structure which had been built in the last 25 years of the 20th century. China’s GDP grew at an annual average of 9%, a record level in modern history. Meisner said, that remained Marx’s astonishment with England in 19th century when he said that the bourgeoisie had created “productive forces more massive and colossal than all preceding generations together because the “nature force is subject to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industries, agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraph, preparation for planting of entire continents, river channeling, whole populations relocated from their lands.” But no one from the previous century had sensed that similar productive forces slept in the lap of social work.

Although Marx the enormous capacity of the capitalism, at the same time condemned its social destructiveness and huge human costs that caused the ungovernable economic forces of capitalism. In the case of China the “underground” powers of the CCP market informers are evident now. Since hundred of millions of farmers have been expelled from the lands they farmed, turning into a big “floating population” of workers who are seeking temporary jobs in construction or as servants in towns and villages. The workers remain in the field are exploited by local officials who are corrupt, while in the big cities the new rich boast about their riches and imitate their Western counterparts. At the same time, the urban working class suffers the erosion of its traditional security of employment and social benefits. 

Therefore, there are foreign observers who sympathized with China State function and its “socialist market economy” is considered the midway between capitalism and socialism. But there is a large majority doubt of Chinese capitalism and focus on Communist State function to try to understand the real dimension and its likely trend in the near future.