New Left in China
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The New Left (Chinese: 新左派) in the People's Republic of China is a school of political thought that is critical of capitalism and aspects of the Chinese economic reforms, and in favour of certain elements of Maoist-style socialism, which includes a significant role for state planning, the preservation of state-owned enterprises, and a renewed spirit of collectivism. The ambiguity of the term New Left in China arises from its broad spectrum. Generally speaking, New Left can be applied to describe anyone who embraces leftist theories, ideals and traditions, ranging from Marxism to socialism to post-modernism and other schools critical of liberalism. Its relationship with Maoism and capitalism is complicated. Some schools of thought suggest that the New Left wants to return to the mass political movements of the Mao Zedong era and an abandonment of capitalist practices, while others believe that it blends the open markets of capitalism while still maintaining socialist aspects of the community, particularly in rural China. Overall, New Left supporters, such as Cui Zhiyuan and Wang Hui, are skeptical towards neoliberalism and democratic capitalism.
The concept of New Left merged in the late 1990s. After failures of liberal movements in 1980s, Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 trip to Shenzhen and the 14th Party Congress in 1992, scholars and commentators began to adopt a more critical standpoint on marketization and its following consequences, including but not limited to social and economic inequality between the coast and the hinterlands, the urban and the rural, as well as between the rich and the poor. The profound challenges of New Left market economy stems from the fact that under Chinese economic reform, the market economy has increasingly become the dominant economic formation, and China's socialist economic reforms have already brought China completely into the global capitalist mode and relations of productions.
The development of New Left is also correlated with increased Chinese nationalism after a period of 'low-profile' presence on the world stage during Deng Xiaoping's era. It is seen as a response to problems faced by China during its modernization drive since the 1980s, which has led to mounting social inequality between the coast and the hinterlands, as well as between the rich and the poor. Some scholars believe that based on China’s unique and drastic historical, economical and political changes in 20th-century, China cannot simply adopt a social democratic capitalistic model as many Western countries do. Looking at modern Chinese history, critics argued that the New Culture movement (1915–1922), in its embracing of “enlightenment,” had gone too far by identifying “the West” with “modernization.” China needs to find its own path to modernity.
As new left movements usually target on social inequality issues in China, some scholars believe that although New Left in China has not yet matured, New Left movements are likely to embed themselves as a deep structural feature of Chinese society in the next century if the tendency towards polarization continues in China. Strikes, sit-ins, and slow-downs, coupled with peasant risings, though sporadic due to government suppression, are on the rise and may probably become more organized with the development of New Left.
While being skeptical and critical to capitalism, New Leftists recognize its major and necessary influences on China and have studied and discussed on the strengths and weakness of capitalistic models. Cui Zhiyuan, a leading New Leftist intellectual, believes that it is imperative that socialism and capitalism are not viewed as opposing one another. Zhang Xudong has said that "an advocate for New Deal-style economic and social policies in China was considered to be a liberal in the 1980s, but 'New Left' by the century's end." Such overlap suggests that the ideals set forth by New Leftism most strongly resemble the "democratic socialism" and "humanistic Marxism" of the 1980s.
Economics plays a significant role in the discussion about Chinese New Left, the development of which is, in the first place, closely associated with the Chinese economic reform. In general, many supporters of New Left believe that a new left economical model should be found in order to tackle China's dependence on exports and savings, reduce the growing economic divide between rural and urban areas as well as stimulate private business by way of public ownership and state planning. The capitalistic free market model applied in most social-democratic programs are not desired because instead of challenging and reforming the institutions of the existing forms of market economy and representative democracy, they merely seeks to moderate the social consequences of structural divisions and hierarchies. Therefore, a suitable and sustainable market model is vital for leftist movement in China.
Cui Zhiyuan, one well-known New Leftist economist, believes that a labor-capital partnership, designed based on the ideas of James Meade and John Maynard Keynes, can be used to introduce a degree of flexibility into the labour market. Outside shareholders own capital share certificates and inside workers own labor share certificates, which replace a fixed-wage arrangement and thus reduce the areas of conflict of interest between workers and capitalists, since any decision that will improve the situation of one group by raising the rate of dividend on its share will automatically raise the rate of dividend on the shares of the other group.
Meanwhile, many New Left intellectuals hold confidence and expectations in outcomes of current ongoing collective economic development planning, anticipating the rural industry development in many regions would indicate a transitional avenue to modernization or whether they constitute a new model of modernization.
Although many New Left intellectuals are against certain Maoist approaches, the term New Left still constantly imply certain extent of agreement with Mao's interpretation of Marxism. As the term "New Left" has been irreparably tarnished by ‘ultra-leftism’ of the Cultural Revolution, many scholars and intellectuals who are pro to socialist approaches and reforms but against the radical and brutal approaches during Maoist period, are not fully accepting to the label of New Left. Some also hold the concern that adopting the concept of leftism implies that China, though historically and contextually different from the West, is still using a western model to strategize its reform, and would be inevitably limited by how the West defines "Left". Wang Hui, one of the school's most well-known public intellectuals, explains the origin as well as his own skepticism of this term:
The first stirring of a more critical view of official marketization goes back to 1993... But it wasn't until 1997-98 that the label New Left became widely used, to indicate positions outside the consensus. Liberals adopted the term, relying on the negative identification of the 'Left' with late Maoism, to imply that these must be a throw-back to the Cultural Revolution. Up until then, they had more frequently attacked anyone who criticised the rush to marketization as a 'conservative' - this is how Cui Zhiyuan was initially described, for example. From 1997 onwards, this altered. The standard accusatory term became 'New Left'...
Actually, people like myself have always been reluctant to accept this label, pinned on us by our adversaries. Partly this is because we have no wish to be associated with the Cultural Revolution, or for that matter with what might be called the 'Old Left' of the reform-era CCP. But it is also because the term New Left is a Western one, with a very distinct set of connotations – generational and political – in Europe and America. Our historical context is Chinese, not Western, and it is doubtful whether a category imported so explicitly from the West could be helpful in today's China.
Intellectuals reacted against 'leftism' in the 80s, blaming it for all of China's problems, and right-wing radicals use the words 'New Left' to discredit us, make us look like remnants from the Maoist days.
A sub-group of this strand of New Leftists are more radical, adhering to Marxism as originally interpreted by Mao and as executed during approximately the first twenty years of the PRC's existence. They believe firmly that China is, and has been for some time, moving away from the communist path, which has resulted and will continue to result in the rise of capitalists who will further exploit peasants and workers, as they did in China before 1949. Similarly to the worldwide Maoist movement, this strain of New Leftists are against the Chinese government's policy of "openness" and economic reforms; correspondingly, they do not consider Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward to have been wrong-headed in an ideological sense, even if they do oppose the actual outcomes and on-the-ground policies of those early experiments.
These New Leftists are also against capitalist "so-called" democracy and look favorably on the "revolutionary Maoism" of a generation ago, in contrast to the corruption and money-centeredness they see in current Chinese society. Many of these New Leftists also regret the erosion of guaranteed employment, education, health care, and other former gains of the Chinese Revolution that have been largely lost in the new profit-driven economy. The New Left collection of Chinese tend to look at themselves, like most socialists, as defenders of the people against a dehumanizing and inherently corrupt capitalist system.
A critical value of New Leftists is the belief in the universality of human rights. Hu Ping argues that the most important of all human rights is that of freedom of speech. During the Great Leap Forward production of grain decreased and it became evident that many people began to starve. Simultaneously, as reported by the newspapers, the next harvest would present an ample yield. Hu wrote:
At that time, people on the verge of starvation were not allowed to call out that they were starving. Many people who publicly did this were labeled counterrevolutionaries. It was not permitted to mention that the many millions of people who died had died from starvation. Many officials who reported to higher levels that people were dying from starvation were labeled rightist opportunists. Today when one mentions freedom of speech some people believe that this is just something of special value to intellectuals, especially those intellectuals who are not content with their lot. The tragic example of the three-year-long famine is the most forceful rebuttal of such a view.
On December 24, 2004, four Chinese protesters were sentenced to three-year prison terms for distributing leaflets entitled "Mao Forever Our Leader" at a gathering in Zhengzhou honoring Mao Zedong on the anniversary of his birth. Attacking the current leadership as "imperialist revisionists," the leaflets called on lower-level cadre to "change (The Party's) current line and to revert to the socialist road." The Zhengzhou incident is one of the first manifestations of public nostalgia for the Mao era to make it to the international press, although it is far from clear whether these feelings are widespread. In any case, it is an example of Marxist Chinese New Leftism in action.
Chinese New Leftists are often criticised by liberal intellectuals, such as Liu Junning, who consider China not to be liberal enough, both economically and politically. These liberals tend to think that inequality and the widening gap between rich and the poor are serious problems, but that these problems exist in every developing country. Democracy and personal freedoms are seen by these liberals to be important for China, although perhaps not attainable in the near future. These liberals largely consider themselves to be classical, not modern, liberals. The liberal critics and Chinese New Leftists have fiercely debated throughout the mid-1990s and early 2000s. At the heart of this debate is the conflict between liberal representative democracy, based on the Anglo-American political tradition, the English Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution, and the Scottish enlightenment, which is favoured by the Liberals; and conceptions of direct democracy, based on the Jacobin traditions of the French Revolution, the French enlightenment, in particular Rousseau and the Maoist socialist-democratic concept of the mass line.
The phrase "Beijing Consensus" was coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo to frame China's economic development model as an alternative—especially for developing countries—to the Washington Consensus of market-friendly policies promoted by the IMF, World Bank, and U.S. Treasury.
The debate at that time revolved around management buyouts (MBOs) and the protection of private property, but was really over the issues of “privatization” and “socialism.” Discussion was so heated that both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao went out of their way at the NPC meeting in 2006 to reiterate their support for reform and opening. The debates over MBOs and property rights were themselves extensions of the highly ideological debate about “socialism” versus “capitalism” that emerged following the Tiananmen crackdown and was only quieted in the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 trip to Shenzhen and the subsequent 14th Party Congress in 1992. Deng’s call for returning to economic reform led to an unleashing of market forces but also an orgy of often wasteful and duplicative investment as everyone, whether private citizen or government entity, tried to cash in. It was in the wake of this upsurge of market activity that the “new left,” a loosely knit group of young intellectuals, emerged and began developing a new critique of China’s developmental path.
The Chongqing ModelEdit
In October 2007, Chinese politician Bo Xilai was promoted to party chief of Chongqing, a troubled province in China with high levels of pollution, poor public health, and unemployment. Bo Xilai began a policy of expanding state-owned industries in contrast to the rest of China which was undergoing which had been becoming more capitalistic. Labelled "The Chongqing Model", Bo underwent an economic reform of the area that focused on expanding state influence in the economy, anti-corruption campaigns, and the promotion of "Red Culture". The policy also supported strong public welfare programs for the poor, unemployed, and elderly.
In 2008, Bo Xilai enacted the Red Culture Movement which promoted Maoist culture in opposition to the capitalist culture that characterized Chinese reformist. During this period in Bo governance radio and television would play Maoist propaganda, students were organized to "return to the countryside", and promoting the singing of "red songs".
From 2009 to 2011, Chongqing began the prosecution of alleged Triad members referred to as Chongqing gang trials. It is estimated the 4,781 individuals were arrested during the crackdown. The prosecution was extremely controversial, regarding the use of torture, forced confessions, and inhumane treatment of witnesses.
In 2013, Bo was found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is incarcerated at Qincheng Prison. Bo was removed as the party chief of Chongqing and lost his seat on the Politburo.
The Maoist Communist Party of ChinaEdit
In 2008, a group of workers and students formed the political party Maoist Communist Party of China, a underground, non-recognized political party that opposed the government of The Communist Party of China The Party's alleged platform was released on the internet titled, The Ten Declarations of the Maoist Communist Party of China, in which the party questions the legitimacy of the CPC and advocates a reversal of the Deng Xiaoping reforms and a return to socialism.
Nanjie Village and Land ReformEdit
On Friday 13 May 2011, National Public Radio's website published a story about Nanjie Village, saying that it is a prime example of recent "re-collectivizations" inspired by Mao's original ideas and paying active tribute to him. "The furniture and appliances in each home are identical, including the big red clocks with Chairman Mao's head, radiating psychedelic colors to the tune "The East Is Red." [Villager] Huang Zunxian owns virtually nothing in his apartment. The possessions are owned by the collective, right down to the couch cushions." The report also says that "Some villages around the country have followed Nanjie's example and re-collectivized," but doesn't give any examples of other such villages.
In the 1990s, rural industry began to stagnate and China's immense peasant population became viewed as a hindrance to China's development. Popular demand for further modernization, urbanization, and marketization, began to outweigh the successes seen by the previous instated Township and Village Enterprises. Cui Zhiyuan and Gan Yang began to instate small rural industries and collective not only to mediate the increasing socioeconomic gap, but also as an alternative to the model of large scale capitalism.
Since 1996, Hegang city has had the most laid-off workers, yet has registered the highest rate of economic growth in China. Cui Zhiyuan suggests that the cause of this phenomenon is due to its utilization of "combining public land ownership and the market." In this way, Hegang city has focused on stimulating its real estate market as a means to stimulate the development of related industries.
Amongst the established Chinese Communist Party's current ideology, it is significant that the idea of privatising China's countryside land outright has not so far been accepted, instead keeping it in public hands. Currently, most Chinese non-urban land is used privately but cannot be sold, unlike Chinese urban property.
In 2008, the Third Session of the Seventeenth Central Committee of the Party (Chinese: 中国共产党第十七届中央委员会第三次全体会议) initiated a new round of land privatization reforms, but these measures were ultimately quite limited, for the transfer and trading of land remains ambiguous and not "officially endorsed and encouraged".
The JASIC ProtestsEdit
A number of Maoist and Marxist leaning students participated in The Jasic Incident in 2018, protesting in favor of the workers of the factory and advocated for workers rights. The students formed JASIC Workers Solidarity Group which included #metoo advocate Yue Xin. On October 11, fifty student advocates were arrested, their whereabouts are unknown. Political suppression has expanded to universities, factories and the wider public. The leading students of the JASIC protests have also been detained and received punishment and forced education by CCP.
Maoism and Neo-Maoism have been increasingly popular after the rise of Xi Jinping, among millennials and the poor of China and more frequently reported by foreign media. Due to the oppression from CCP on movements and protests in favor of proletariats, political tension between CCP and New-Leftist groups increases.
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