Andy Newman of the Socialist Unity blog has done a post celebrating sixty years of the People’s Republic of China. You will know what to expect if you’ve seen his earlier piece outlining the anti-imperialist case for the suppression of the Uyghurs. But still, it is astonishing. It could have been cut and pasted from a Chinese government press release, complete with photos of state-approved celebrators with strained, manic smiles. There’s no way to parody or satirise it. Harry’s Place and my comrades at Shiraz have simply crossposted the article but changed the photos to reflect a truer picture of life in that glorious nation.
I don’t want to make sweeping generalisations about the UK left or even the SU blog on the basis of this – there is a challenging post on the blog and a great discussion in Andy’s comment thread. I think this is more about human psychology. I remember an argument I had with a student, five years ago, who had spent his gap year in China and come back raving about the people, the business ethics, the organisation. My nitpicking liberal concerns about human rights issues were dismissed: democracy wasn’t suited to every culture and he’d been there, you see, and I hadn’t.
I’m not sure of this guy’s exact itinerary. I doubt that it included visits to the factories and fields where children perform hazardous construction and agricultural work on eleven-hour shifts. I will also assume that he did not get time to tour China’s extensive range of prisons and labour camps, where people can languish for years for reading an article on the wrong website or signing the wrong petition. In these places dissidents, beggars and religious minorities are subject to torture methods including ‘electric shock, burning, use of electric needles, beating and hanging, sleep deprivation, forced chemical injection causing nerve damage, and piercing the fingers with needles.’ I will take another long shot and propose that my old friend never spoke to friends and relatives of the disappeared and the dead.
Still, these are surely just abstract concerns when China’s economy piles success on success. Murdoch has been trading with China for decades, Brown welcomes its leaders to Downing Street. Does it really matter that the government evicted around 1.5 million people from Beijing and kept migrant workers in states of indentured slavery in the runup to the Olympics. As a power China is heading into growth and prosperity while the Western economies go smash in the setting sun.
Capitalists and leftists alike can support a country that combines the worst of capitalism with the worst of socialism. As well as corporations and governments trading with Beijing there has been a rash of books in praise of the glorious republic and progressive pundits – Martin Jacques is probably the best known – playing down its human rights atrocities. Tibet is just so last millennium. The point is to be on the winning side – at whatever cost.
(Image via Gene)