The following essay by Aufheben appeared in Aufheben #16 (2008). We are reposting it as a long, but important contribution to thinking about the central position of the Chinese working classes not only in global capitalism. Today, for the American working classes as a whole, there is no longer any place to hide from global capitalism. Now national conditions can be nothing but a reflection of international problems pressing in at all sides. The fate of Chinese and American workers are tied together.
Class conflicts in the transformation of China
As we previously argued in issue 14,1 the immense economic transformation that is occurring in China has not been driven by China’s move to a market economy, as neo-liberal ideologues insist, but by the success of the Chinese state in attracting and tying down international capital on its own terms. When Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in the early 1990s, after four decades of autarchic development, foreign capital was permitted entry only to the extent that it assumed the form of real productive capital. In joint ventures with the Chinese state, foreign capital was required to provide both the plant, machinery and technology necessary to raise the productivity of Chinese labour and access to Western markets. In return the Chinese state provided investment in infrastructure (i.e. transport, communications, electric power and other utilities) necessary for the accumulation of capital, social peace and, most importantly, an almost inexhaustible supply of cheap and compliant labour-power.
China’s integration into the world economy over the past decade or so has not only led to rapid and sustained economic growth in China, but to a rejuvenation of both world capitalism and American economic hegemony. Firstly, as we have previously pointed out, China’s integration into the world economy has been based on specialising in the mass production of cheap manufactured commodities, which the West, and the US in particular, either gave up producing during the restructuring of the 1970s and ’80s, such as clothes and toys, or which was were not produced before, such as DVDs and mobile phones. As a consequence, China has been able to establish a complementary dynamic of accumulation with the USA. As such, the vast and increasing flood of cheap Chinese commodities into the US economy has, for the most part, not had the effect of displacing American-based capital, and thereby creating unemployment, but has served to reduce inflationary pressures. At the same time, the Chinese state has recycled the growing inflow of US Dollars earnt by its exports by buying up American financial securities, thereby helping to financing America’s trade and government deficits. This has given the US authorities much greater freedom to use monetary and fiscal policy to ensure a more rapid and continuous capital accumulation and growth in the American economy.
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