Virtual Polibureau Debate

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at
Tue Dec 1 07:47:33 PST 1998


I apologize for the delay, with daily limits of 3 posts and other distractions, it took a while before I could get to you post.

"Rosser Jr, John Barkley" wrote:

> Henry,
> Well, you didn't comment on my remarks on this thread,
> either, but then they were rather brief. So, let me
> reiterate and add a question:
> 1) The truly distinctive element of the current
> Chinese economic system, as I think you have yourself noted
> with little elaboration, is the town and village enterprise
> (TVE) system. This is now undergoing a major evolution
> with new forms of cooperative ownership emerging. This has
> been the most dynamic part of the Chinese economy also.

Henry: TVE is still an experimental program. Like the Urban Renewal Program is the US between 1950-70 which was supported by a mixed coalition strange bedfellows that included social reformers, big city mayors, commercial banks, slum property owners (mostly big insurance companies), real estate developers, construction industry and unions, liberal academics, federal governemnt bureaucrats and everybody else who saw a way for easy money, China's TVE program is now implemented with an equally fragile coalition in which the individual components have only one thing in common: free money. There is a real danger, as with the Urban Renewal Program, that social reform would be the first item to get pushed aside because its objectives are least quantifiable and its effects are less immediate. The Chinese leadership is hoping that TVEs will provide the Chinese economy with the rapid flexibility and local responsiveness that central planning cannot. Notwithstanding American ideological enthusiasm for "democratic institutions" in China, there are enough historical data to show that such institutions are not only ineffective organizationally in Chinese culture, they often dilute the one social glue that binds Chinese ethics as a unifying element in social matters. Moral leadership has always been and will continue to be an indispensable ingrediant in chinese politics. Majority rule in the Jeffersonian mode has always been an enigma for the Chinese mind.

> 2) You made a remark that the Chinese are aware of "what
> has happened with United Airlines", with the apparent
> implication that whatever it was is bad and the Chinese are
> not going to adopt any sort of workers' ownership. What's
> so bad about "what has happened to United Airlines"? Last
> I heard they were doing pretty well and will not be laying
> off any workers if there is a slowdown.

Henry: Its true Chinese airline workers do not have the benefit of a sophisticate economics analysis of US style employee ownership. But they come into daily conact with UA workers in Shanghai and Beijing and they exchange personal comparisons. What the Chinese workers heard from their US counterparts do not impress them: cuts in employee benefits, voluntary pay cuts, loss of job security and seniority, etc., all bad news that do not seem the be justifiable by the minimal dividend payments. The new labor-run management is forced to be even tougher mule-drivers in the name of industry wide competition. Now this attitude may not represent sophisticated economics in the Western free market sense, but if that is free market socialism, Chinese workers have a lot of reservation about it.

> 3) You should understand that there is an old history on
> this and several other lists of debates between Louis
> Proyect and myself with several other parties involved
> about market socialism. I don't think either Louis or I
> (or most of those others) are up for a repetition.
> Archives of pen-l will have quite a bit of that. Try a few years ago.

Henry: China is different every 3 months, so old debates have very little meaning. China will go on whether Western debate on it continues or not. Beside, I did not want to inject the China topic on the list. As you may remember, it started as a response on Buddhism out of Louis' post on the New York chic. I have no desire to sell China on the Western Left. But as the Western Right undederstands well, no one can afford to dismiss China. The Left should reflect on this.

> But the bottom line remains that both what is
> good and what is bad (and there is a lot of that) about the
> Chinese economy is centered in the TVEs.

You may be right and its a very perceptive observation. It is misleading to focus too much of central capital planning. The real struggle in China remains in the rural grassroots. That was Mao's point. My personal view is that China will return to Maoism or the CCP will fall because in its quest for big power status, the CCP is actually working against itself. That makes Mao a Leninist. The Soviet example is very pertinent. But even if he CCP succeeds with its market socialism approach in term of economic producivity, it will fail precise because that very success. The issue has not been settled within the Chinese leadership. Note what Li Peng said yesterday about Western democracy and further market liberation for China:- No, thanks. In order to have relevance about China, one needs to see the problem from a Chinese perspective. I try to point that out in My Buddhism and Hybrid Marxism posts. I learn that through my own error in my quest to understand America. It took many years of living in America before I could rid myself ( and still not totally) of the tendancy to dismiss American poltics as not Chinese (meaning culturlly understandable for me as a Chinese). The result was, instead of being a useful anaylst on America, I merely only made myself irrelevant in America affairs. Those who dismiss China because they think it betrayed its reveolution ideology (true or not) will only make themselve irelevant. The mountain will still be there after generations of Mohameds

> Barkley Rosser
> On Thu, 26 Nov 1998 13:59:30 -0500 "Henry C.K. Liu"
> <hliu at> wrote:
> > Stephen:
> >
> > You make a compelling point, although I would like to focus on the term
> > "marginalized" in your argument.
> > Leftist views are indeed "marginalized" in China now if that means that they
> > are no longer in charge of government media.
> > On the level of theoretical debate, particularly internal debate where policy
> > decisions are affected, leftist views continue to keep the government on the
> > defensive constantly and effectively. The latest evidence is the effect such
> > views have on Zhu Rongji's boast of a solution to the SOE problem within 3
> > years, made almost 2 years ago. The SOE problem has not even been fully
> > defined, let along solved at this writing. Much of the delay is due to
> > leftist sentiments that permeate the Chinese consciousness. In that sense,
> > leftists ideas have not been "marginalized". In Chinese politics, appearance
> > is frequently misleading, as you know. If you followed the official press
> > before the re-emergence of Deng Xiaoping, you would not have predicted that he
> > would be rehabilitated, until on that fateful day when many party members were
> > astonished to find him standing alone awkwardly in the Great Hall of the
> > People after decades of political exile.
> >
> > I joined this list only recently, so quite possibly I missed many earlier
> > postings, such as the ones you mentioned.
> > But I think I answered Louis Proyect's two postings consisting reprints from
> > the WSJ and an article by Sweeny from the Heritage Foundation (that bastion of
> > progressive thought!), at least to the extend such dated and biased material
> > deserved an answer.
> > What is the message? A coalition between the New Left and the New Right
> > against the center?
> > I have yet to hear from Proyect about his personal views which from time to
> > time I find interesting on other subjects on which I do not considered myself
> > well informed. Perhaps I am either not academic enough or informed enough to
> > deserve a direct response (which I must say is not a very Marxist attitude),
> > or perhaps he has better fish to fry.
> >
> > As for Greenfield, Leung and Lau, I am not familiar with their views (my
> > fault), and I would appreciate if your would be kind enough to either
> > summarize them for me and point me towards accessing them electronically.
> > Unfortunately, I do not have ready physical access to an academic library,
> > having left an academic career some years ago to play the game of market
> > capitalism in NY. And I am grateful to be allowed to post on a Marxist list,
> > really I am, and I ask forbearance in judging my postings on general
> > intelligence rather than academic sophistication.
> > I am not a self professed Marxist (that is why I always spell the word with a
> > small m), but I am aware that my views have been fundamentally affected of
> > marxist concepts. As such I do not feel any need to be exegetically authentic
> > or doctrinally correct. It is my limitation, but I need to fry my own fish.
> > I am not defending China's current policies as socialistically pure, nor do I
> > wish to.
> > Two facts I am heartened to observe:
> > 1) A socialist/communist government is in power in China, imperfect and
> > misguided as some may accuse it of being, and
> > 2) A socialist vision is still the professed official view.
> >
> > It is also necessary to remember that developmental issues are highly complex
> > and the insistence of theory purity only separates the theory from the problem
> > rather than clarify either.
> > As a materialist in the marxist vein rather than a Hegelian ideologist, I tend
> > to take the situation in China as a given and adjust theoretical concepts to
> > fit its needs, rather than demanding a change in reality to conform to
> > theoretical purity, a task I have neither the power nor the inclination to
> > perform.
> > As with Buddhism, I am afraid Marxism would have to develop Chinese
> > characteristics to flourish in China.
> > (I think my recent postings on Buddhism and Hybrid Marxism commented on this
> > point.)
> > China is not perfect, but its the only one we have, and I am afraid all the
> > Mohammeds would have to come to the mountain.
> >
> > Happy Thanksgiving!
> >
> > Henry C.K. Liu
> >
> > Stephen E Philion wrote:
> >
> > > Henry,
> > >
> > > Ironically, this post that you sent off confirms what I have written,
> > > namely that the left is very marginalized in China. I should say even
> > > more clearly, *Marxism* is very marginalized in Chihna, save for the
> > > Dengist version of it.
> > >
> > > This is very clear from reading the Chinese press, whether it is the
> > > People's Daily, Workers' Daily, or the Economic Daily. There is no sense
> > > that criticisms of markets or capitalism carry much water in China.
> > > New reports from TV carry the same kind of liberal ideology about markets.
> > > There are expose's occasionally of th e'maleffects' of markets,
> > > scandals,...but, as in the United States they are not accompanied by
> > > anything that even borders on a Marxist criticism of cpitalist markets.
> > >
> > > What would be more intersting for a Marxist list would be for you to
> > > respond to the article that Louis and others have put forth as a careful
> > > critique of Chinese economic policies and thier effect on workers, written
> > > by Gerard Greenfield and Apo Leong (the latter is from Hong Kong btw..).
> > > Or to Raymomnd Lau's recent two articles in Capital and Class on the
> > > effects of Chinese econmic policies and the fate of China's working class
> > > (Lau is from Hong Kong).
> > >
> > > Steve
> >
> --
> Rosser Jr, John Barkley
> rosserjb at

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