Posted in China, misc., UK politics, World Politics

Covid-19, Conspiracy Theories and Cold Wars

Everyone knows a good conspiracy theory, some of them even turn out to be true. But for every true one there are dozens of those that make you think, “How could anyone believe that?” Yet some people really do appear to believe that the Royals are an alien lizard race, or that the planes we saw hitting the World Trade Centre were computer generated graphics. What makes people prone to believing some conspiracy theories while outright rejecting others?

I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons for this, and a psychologist will be much better able to answer than myself. But I have been noticing a trend recently, and I feel the need to say something. Its clear that many people are willing to believe accusations against, and conspiracy theories regarding, foreign governments that they would never believe to be true of their own government.

As China rises in economic, political and military strength they are upsetting the current status quo – US global hegemony. This has led to them being labelled a “threat” by the American political establishment, an accusation picked up and repeated by many in the UK. Not so coincidentally, many stories and articles have been circulating widely, detailing this or that supposed wrongdoing by the “evil” and “corrupt” Chinese government. Similar stories have been doing the rounds about Russia for a while longer. To me these stories look like part of a propaganda war, designed to turn us against these countries and thereby more likely to accept American and British aggression towards them. The same has happened to Yugoslavia, Libya, Iraq, and many more. Why do we keep falling for it?

I’m not the thought police, and I have no interest in filling that role, but I do question why people will believe a story about Russia or China (or any other country) that they would never believe about their own country. Nobody is denying that bad things have happened in Russia or China, so does their prior behaviour explain this apparent bias in what we are prepared to believe? I don’t think so. After all, very bad things have also happened in the USA (the genocide of the indigenous population, for example) and the British Empire was responsible for bloodshed and starvation all over the globe. Yet by and large our population will give the Americans and the Brits the benefit of the doubt.

Where we mentally place the burden of proof tells us a lot about our pre-existing biases. The majority of our population take an “innocent until proven guilty” attitude towards the USA and the UK, but will simultaneously take the opposite “guilty until proven innocent” attitude towards China. We see this in how the media will report on the same issue in different countries.

Take the official numbers of those infected with the Covid virus as an example. We are told that the official numbers in the USA are lower than the actual numbers infected because they’ve been “under-estimated”, but we are told that in China the official numbers are lower than the actual numbers because the Chinese government has been involved in a cover up. When China put Wuhan on lock down to try and contain the virus the move was called “draconian” by the New York Times. When the Italians put large parts of their country on lock down for the same reason, the New York Times called it a “brave” move.

This blatant hypocrisy in how the media reports on issues, as well as the shameless politicising of crises such as the one we are facing, is surely a big part of the explanation of why many will believe any accusation or conspiracy theory levelled against countries such as China. They are involved in a cover up, they are deliberately trying to hurt us, they only send us dodgy medical equipment, they developed the virus as a weapon. Conspiracy theories from the mundane to the outlandish, all believed by otherwise reasonable people.

The virus that causes Covid-19 is a naturally occurring pathogen and a common enemy of humanity, it is not a weapon of any country targeting another. Instead, it is those politicising the pandemic who are weaponizing the virus as part of their information war against China. With the nature of the internet, these smears and accusations quickly take on a life of their own and evolve into crazy conspiracy theories. The powers that be are aware of this and are happy to encourage the spread of these theories and fake news. Collectively we need to be smarter than this.

Details of a telephone conversation between Mike Pompeo (US Secretary of State) and Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General) reveal that the two emphasised the “importance of countering the spread of disinformation” from China related to the virus. Given that they have both been trying to convince anyone who will listen of a threat from China by making all kinds of false accusations, it is unsurprising that they should seek to exploit the pandemic this way. Unfortunately, given their respective backgrounds, too many people will excuse their attempts to manipulate people’s fears and suffering.

Others will see it for what it is – insensitive and insulting. A callous and cowardly attempt to create threats to justify their own political existence. In being the ones who are actually spreading disinformation they not only underline their own hypocrisy, they also jeopardise the concerted efforts needed to neutralise the threat of the pandemic, and are quite happy to do so at the cost of people’s lives.

Unfortunately, too many people who should know better are all too happy to help spread fake news and conspiracy theories. When it comes to bashing your perceived enemies, the truth and facts can take a hike. Again, we need to be better than this. We need to be smarter than this.

So let me deal with just some of the fake news I’ve seen people who should really know better repeating. Think of the accusation made by Pompeo and Stoltenberg that China is spreading disinformation about the virus. What did the Chinese state say that was untrue? Some would answer this by claiming that China “covered up” the extent of the epidemic in Wuhan in particular.

This fake news story uses the following logic – the numbers of infected people in Wuhan was actually much higher than the official numbers released by the Chinese government. Therefore the Chinese government has been involved in some sort of cover up.

Now there is a sliver of truth to this one. The numbers of infected people in Wuhan is indeed much higher than the official numbers released by the Chinese government. How do I know this? Because the Chinese government told us so. They’re not covering it up!

Remember that Wuhan was extremely hard hit by the virus. The hospitals there simply couldn’t cope. They (famously) very quickly built three new hospitals just to help with the situation, but even that wasn’t enough. There just wasn’t enough room in the hospitals for everyone. So the authorities had to ask people who didn’t have severe symptoms not to come to the hospital, so that only those most in need could get a place in the hospitals. The result of this was that many infected people simply stayed home, suffered through the illness as best they could until they recovered naturally, and were never captured by the official figures because they were never known to the authorities.

This was not a great situation for China to be in, but they had to make tough decisions at the time and this was how they proceeded. Importantly, they were always open and transparent about the situation in Wuhan. Anyone who had actually bothered to listen would know that China was telling us the situation was actually worse than the official figures suggested. Just because the West didn’t care to listen does not make China guilty of a cover up.

There is another angle to the “Chinese cover up story” that has also been doing the rounds. This one centres on the fact that some researchers and doctors were punished for trying to alert people to the existence of the virus back in December. This one certainly doesn’t look good for China, but we should still be careful to be factual in our critiques here. As the Chinese say, we should seek truth from facts.

So what are the facts here, as opposed to the fake news elements? First of all we should bear in mind that China, unlike the West but like other countries in Asia, has very strict “fake news” laws. In other words, deliberately spreading fake news is actually illegal here. Now usually this works quite well, and so the media here can generally be trusted even if you don’t care for their editorial position. This was an example of the law going wrong, but lets try to understand why and where it went wrong.

Chronologically we are still in December 2019. The existence of the virus is not yet known outside of a small number of doctors and researchers in Wuhan. When reports of stories about a scary new virus are reported to a local police station in Wuhan, how is the police officer assigned to the case to ascertain if the fake news laws have been broken? The police officer determined that the doctors and researchers were spreading rumours designed to incite panic, and so punished accordingly. The punishment was that they were ordered to write letters of self criticism and their employers were notified. Some of their employers also dished out their own punishments. Clearly what the officer did was wrong, he did not follow proper procedures, and the investigation into how he handled the matter concludes exactly that.

Does any of this mean the Chinese government was guilty of a cover up? No. The punishments were handed out by a local police station, not by the central government. In fact, when the case became known to the Chinese government they despatched the nation’s top anti-corruption agency to Wuhan to investigate. The central agency concluded that the local police were wrong, ordered that all punishments be removed from the records of the accused, ordered that the police officer and his superiors be reprimanded accordingly, ordered that training on the correct procedures be given to the local police and ordered that the public be fully informed about all details on the matter. Certainly there is room for factual criticism here, but again, lets stick to the facts and avoid the fake news. This is not a cover up.

There is worse fake news out there, being passed off as reliable information. Political figures in both the US and China have accused the other side of developing the virus in a lab as some sort of weapon, and then either deliberately or accidentally releasing it. Certainly comments from Trump claiming that the virus is a biological weapon, and that if China has it then he wants it for America, helps fuel this particular theory. So does the fact that there is a virus lab only 400 meters from the wet market in Wuhan (where the virus spread like wildfire but probably didn’t originate). Likewise so does the fact that the USA had to shut down one of its own virus facilities at Fort Detrick after it emerged that on over 1000 occasions in the last ten years pathogens had gone missing. I could go on, but I won’t.

The virus isn’t a weapon, it wasn’t made in a lab. A team of international researchers (including some from Scotland based at Edinburgh University) have studied the origin of the virus, and been able to show that it evolved naturally. This should really kill the conspiracy theories, but I have a feeling it won’t. (If you want to know how they arrived at this conclusion —– > clicky )

So why do these conspiracy theories and fake news stories persist? Why are they not recognised for what they are and simply ignored? I noted above that much blame lies with how these stories are created by the media and how they are reported depending on the country being reported on. Individually, we also have to take some blame. Too many people seem to have a psychological aversion to facts when looking for a stick to beat their perceived enemies with. Standards of truth and honesty come second to scoring points in never ending online debates. Cognitive biases are certainly at play here. People are naturally inclined to to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs. So when they run across a theory that supports those beliefs they often unquestioningly just accept it as true. Those who believe that China is some sort of corrupt totalitarian state will be inclined to believe fake news about China without bothering to check the facts. We have to be better than that.

Those who are putting political and ideological differences above saving lives, by not cooperating to combat the pandemic are being inhuman and immoral. We should be careful that we don’t unwittingly help them by spreading their fake news for them. A lie repeated often enough has a way of gaining credibility. As mistrust and tensions between China and the West continue to grow, we are creeping towards a second Cold War. Pompeo and Stoltenberg will be fine with that, it would justify their political existence. Would it really be so great for the rest of us?

Posted in China, misc.

Tomb Sweeping with Covid-19

Tomb Sweeping Festival was a rather different affair this year. While China is officially an atheist country, and the major organised religions only have relatively small numbers of followers here, the majority of the population belong to a patchwork of local folk religions with a strong emphasis on ancestor worship. As such, Qingming (Tomb Sweeping Festival in English) is an important part of their calendar, it is a time for the living to honour the dead.

They honour their ancestors, but it is also a time for families to commemorate the lives of their departed relatives. They visit them in the cemetery, clean their tombs or gravestones, and offer food and symbolic money in a solemn ceremony of remembrance. While there are folk religious elements to this, like lighting a changming lamp or burning paper money to ensure the dead can travel safely to the next world, the way these rituals help the living break free from the shadow of the deceased and come to terms with the reality of death are important, even for the non-religious.

This year, however, many were not able to observe this tradition, even as the country was collectively grieving for all those killed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Out of fear of further outbreaks many cities still have bans on mass gatherings, which includes the crowds normally found in cemeteries during this particular festival.

For many this was the first Qingming since the passing of a relative, Covid-19 related or not. It must have been particularly heartbreaking for them to not be able to take part in their traditional rituals. Even more so for those who lost loved ones to the virus, who due to the infectious nature of the disease didn’t get to say goodbye – no last kisses or clasped hands during the final hours.

All over the country relatives could be seen trying to view their loved ones final resting place from a distance. Many funeral parlours have turned to online services, including virtual reality visits to cemeteries and digital flowers and candles. Many offered to clean tombs and leave flowers for the deceased, free of charge. We can only hope that the cancelling of these rituals and internment services will not leave family members of the deceased unable to come to terms with their loss. Funerals and memorial services are, after all, important for ensuring the mental health of surviving family members.

This year, timed to coincide with Qingming, the government announced a national day of mourning for those lost to the pandemic. At 10:00 on Saturday, Chinese people all over the country observed three minutes of silence, while car horns and air raid sirens wailed in grief. The previous day, the Hubei government had honoured 14 victims of the virus, front line medical workers including the previously reprimanded Li Wenliang, as martyrs.

In China, and all over the world, this loss is being felt collectively. Burials, funerals and other rituals after major disasters are a way to say farewell to the dead, console the living, and heal the wounds of personal and collective pain. They shape our memory of the event into a shared social legacy; they can be a lesson, a warning, and a source of emotional encouragement or spiritual motivation.

These rituals are usually one of two kinds: the personal (things like funerals and tomb sweeping activities) or the public (top down orchestrated public services). Both are needed at times like this. Of course, the Western media propaganda machine never misses an opportunity to spread fake news about China, even during times like this they are up to their usual tricks. I’ve seen the public mourning services being reported as something sinister, designed to further control how the people are able express themselves.

Now in the past the Chinese government might well have put too much emphasis on public mourning at the expense of personal mourning. I have a difficult time believing they did this for sinister or ulterior motives and, regardless, modern China is markedly different from its past. The Communist Party learns and evolves.

Take the Tangshan earthquake as example, which in 1976 killed at least 240,000 people. Immediately after the quake, state media focussed on residents’ “anti-earthquake spirit”. At the time the party viewed traditional rituals and burial services as part of the nation’s feudal past. The dead were buried quickly, often in unmarked graves. Those who lost loved ones in the disaster quietly burned offerings of paper money on silent streets.

Over the years these individual expressions of mourning and memory persisted in the city, especially around Tomb Sweeping Festival and the anniversary of the quake. A business man, sniffing out a way to cash in on the massive loss of life, unveiled a memorial wall on which relatives could carve the names of their deceased – for a price of course. Despite the crassness of the project, and its blatant commercialism, thousands of orders were placed by people looking for a place where they could visit their loved ones, touch their name, or simply cry. Eventually the government ordered the wall torn down and unveiled a free one of its own, a move indicative of the authorities changing attitudes towards personal grief and mourning.

Holding a national day of mourning or building a statue to Li Wenliang (as one Hubei politician has called for) can be a powerful way to remember a disaster. It is also vital to allow traumatised individuals a means to vent their emotions, find hope and preserve personal memories. I want you to know that contrary to what is suggested by Western media, in China these means do exist and are allowed. Take Li Wenliang’s final Weibo post (Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter). Netizens have turned it into a sort of shrine, a place where they can spill their thoughts. Some thank him, some say they miss him, some tell him Wuhan has finally contained the virus, some talk of bewilderment and some talk of courage.

In the coming months other countries around the globe will be having their own public mourning services, and countless individuals will be processing their own personal grief. Our emotions and memories that we take forward with us from this period are all a part of the collective legacy of this disaster.

Posted in China

China to strengthen socialist education in schools

Highlighting socialist education, new guidelines to improve the quality of compulsory education have been widely hailed as a milestone in China’s education reform. The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and State Council published the guidelines earlier this month, aiming to develop an education system that will foster citizens with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical, and hard-working spirit.

Background

China implemented a law for a free nine-year compulsory education – six years primary, three years secondary – on July 1, 1986.

The law established the requirements for attaining a universal education and guarantees school-age children the right to receive at least nine years. It is a crime for parents to deprive their children of this right, according to the law.

The New Guidelines

The new guidelines require moral education and all-round development of students to be priorities – and efforts should be made to foster students’ quality with firm faith, patriotism, integrity, broad knowledge and striving spirit.

Compulsory education should emphasise the cultivation of students’ core socialist values, traditional Chinese culture and mental health. Schools are now required to strengthen education in patriotism, collectivism and socialism, plus guide children and teenagers to listen to the CPC and follow the Party.

Education experts noted it is the first time such a document raises the concept of political enlightenment education, which indicates that compulsory education shoulders the responsibility of enhancing students’ national and ethnic identity (in other words, socialism with Chinese characteristics).

“It can help the students form sound socialist core values from an early age. When they grow up, they will become a supporter of the motherland and the new generation who takes on the responsibility of national rejuvenation,” according to Yu Fayou, director of the Beijing-based National Institute of Education Sciences.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised to fulfil the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation and realise the goals set for the centenaries of the CPC in 2021 and the People’s Republic of China in 2049.

Speaking at a national education conference on September 10, 2018 which marked China’s 34th Teachers’ Day, Xi hailed education as the fundamental task of the country and the Party, saying the goal of the educational cause is to cultivate socialist builders and successors with all-around moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding with a hardworking spirit.

“The main force to realise this goal is either receiving or about to receive compulsory education, so the reform will contribute greatly in fostering the successors of the construction of socialism”, said Chu Zhaohui, another research fellow at the institute.

Hard slogs

Education insiders also pointed out that the guidelines have not only made the future direction for education reform clearer, but more importantly address the long-term hard slogs in compulsory education.

For example, there are requirements for strengthening physical education, enhancing aesthetic training with more art curriculum and activities, and encouraging students to participate in more physical exercise to boost their hard-working spirit.

“Comprehensive development” is not a new phrase. Although first raised years ago, parents and schools tend to care more about test scores and less about PE classes amid the pressures of schoolwork. Many observers have noted that the pledge “Labour is the most glorious thing” has turned out more of a slogan than a practical call to action.

Chu noted that schools are now expected “to arrange more courses featuring arts, sports and other subjects beneficial for students’ overall qualities in future and invest heavily in cultivating teachers in those fields.”

The guideline proposes more specific measures requiring joint efforts from family, school and society to promote students’ labour spirit, such as organising students to participate in community service.

It also stipulates that except for those who are necessarily exempted from physical exercise, students cannot obtain graduation certificates unless they attain certain standards of physical health and fitness. Physical health performance will be included in high school enrolment standards and each student must master one or two sports skills.

Educators have noted that although the central government has many times vowed to reduce the burden of school work on students in compulsory education, the results have been mixed at best. According to the new guidelines, schools cannot arbitrarily increase or decrease class time, change difficulty or adjust study progress. They are also banned from publicising scores and ranks, organising excessive examinations and requesting parents to check schoolwork.

The guideline forbids schools from using examinations, competitions or training certificates as the basis for enrolment, requesting them to include comprehensive quality into the evaluation system, a move which analysts believe will help root out Chinese society’s obsessions with test scores.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, noted that although many measures in the guidelines have been mentioned in many other documents issued by education bureaus, “the guidelines have systematically concluded previous policies and upgraded education polices to a national level, which will help carry out the policy more effectively.”

Posted in China, World Politics

China and the “End of History”

In the summer of 1989 we were told that “anti-communist protests” were sweeping across the Soviet Union. This was of course a bare faced lie, typical right wing propaganda. The vast majority of Soviet citizens wanted to preserve the Soviet Union (depending on the region that number was in the high 90% of the populace in the referendum). The people, as usual, were betrayed by the rich and powerful who not only totally ignored the wishes of the vast majority of the working people but then lied to the world and claimed to speak for the majority. (As a side note, another lie they told us was that the Soviet Union was broke because of communism. Yeah, well where did all these Russian oligarchs get their money from then? By stealing public resources and funds. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by corruption on an industrial scale which created the Russian oligarchy, not by any communist policies).

So the people were told that communism had failed. Liberal democracy had apparently triumphed against all other ideologies. Fukuyama famously called it “the end of history”, borrowing a phrase that had been used many times before by the likes of Thomas More (Utopia) and even Hegel and Marx.

That we have just lived through a uni-polar ideological age is probably true. Neo-liberalism has been pretty hegemonic for the last 25 years. So the right wing claiming victory is unsurprising. What needs further thought and scrutiny is why the left have bought into this “end of history” type of thinking.

When I was a kid the working class were fighting a ferocious battle against Thatcher and her ilk (mine is the generation that Thatcher stole the milk from). But then Thatcher gave way to Major and a supposedly new way of doing things; Major’s ‘back to basics” when he ordered the Tories to concentrate less on ideology and more on things that actually mattered to people in their daily lives. This was of course just a sham. Ideology never went away. Neo-liberalism just learned to disguise itself as a sort of pragmatism, but it kept doing what neo-liberalism is ideologically driven to do – privatise, privatise and privatise.

After Major came Blair who was supposedly “beyond left and right”, and more recently we’ve had Obama who called for a “declaration of independence from ideology”. And of course, neo-liberalism survived during these two all the while doing what neo-liberalism does – stealing our resources and our wealth. And as that is what the right want they’ve only been to happy to repeat this “end of history” and “end of ideology” nonsense.

While declaring that the old polarities no longer pertain, all the main parties have shifted to the right. In such a political environment it is the left that loses – which is why “left wing” groups like RISE are so dangerous, with their candidates who proudly announce that they’ve never read any political theory “ ‘cos politics is just old men “ (an actual quote from one of their candidates at the last Holyrood election). When parties like RISE reduce politics to single issue campaigns and internet petitions (not that I’m suggesting there isn’t any room for these) it greatly harms the potential for a genuine organised opposition to the status quo.

I’m not advocating getting angry with RISE types, they are just the result of a wider problem of the Western left – its current intellectual bankruptcy. With the exception of perhaps some French Marxists there has been no real attempt recently by the Western left to produce a unified alternative theory to neo-liberalism. They’ve not done this in part because that would be an ideology, or ideologically informed, and they’ve bought into this “end of ideology” rubbish.

Its worth remembering that Fukuyama, unlike say Daniel Bell before him, didn’t actually mean that there was to be no more ideology. For Fukuyama “the end of history” meant the victory of one particular ideology – Western liberal democracy. (For Marx the “end of history” meant the victory of communism). While the likes of Blair and Major may have used the “end of ideology” type rhetoric of Bell, examining their policies highlights that they were more in the Fukuyama camp – that the one true ideology forevermore was to be Western liberal democracy, which to these people is synonymous with free markets and capitalism. And while Western lefties continue to use “end of ideology” or “end of history” type rhetoric the right will continue to dominate – because that type of rhetoric only solidifies the right wing myth that the current neo-liberal inspired policies such as austerity are somehow beyond ideology, as if they are just prudent responses to “natural economic and market conditions”.

While all this has been going on in the West, on the other side of the world an alternative has gradually been gathering strength. Western lefties tend to dismiss China – but that’s just because they’ve unthinkingly swallowed another piece of right wing propaganda, namely that China is just capitalist now. This piece of propaganda relies on Western left wing ignorance of what is actually happening in China, as well on the Western lefties ignorance of their own ideologies, which results in them failing to appreciate that China is still a very Marxist country. Indeed, within in the last few months the Chinese leadership have vowed to continue Mao Zedong’s revolution until the end. But that is sadly a message that is lost on Western “lefties” who lack any understanding of Marxism, economics or ideology.

Is China still Marxist? The answer is an unequivocal yes. They have famously allowed limited capitalism within their borders, but it is very highly regulated and government directed. Make no mistake about it, in China business is subservient to the people via the CPC. Businesses of course have the right to operate, but they have very strict social and environmental responsibilities. Neglect those responsibilities and they lose their right to operate. Attempts by the rich to buy political influence is punishable by jail terms – unlike in the West where that kind of interference in the political process is encouraged by politicians trying to line their own pockets.

We should also remember that the Chinese intellectuals who initially sought Westernisation gave up on this idea a long time ago in favour of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Wang Meng is just one example, an author and former Culture Minister who was once labelled a “rightist” because at the beginning of the opening up period he couldn’t wait to see radical change and Westernisation. “In the 1990s, most of us abandoned the illusion of total Westernisation as we saw the social system was moving forward smoothly,” explained Wang. “We began to think about how we could benefit society and people under the current system. In other words, we became reconciled, at least partly, with the social system. Most intellectuals didn’t stand in opposition to socialism with Chinese characteristics.” So in the words of one of China’s most famous “rightists”, most Chinese intellectuals are not in opposition to socialism – contrary to what you’ll hear in Western propaganda mindlessly repeated by Western “lefties”.

But does this “limited capitalism” mean that technically China is no longer Marxist despite the government, people and intellectuals identifying as Marxist? That’s a firm no, but this one’s a little trickier to explain as it requires some knowledge of Marxist theory.

Let’s start with Hegel and dialectics. Hegel, when putting forward an alternative to Aristotelian logic (analytics), gave us the triad of thesis – antithesis – synthesis (dialectics). In admittedly over-simplistic terms we can explain dialectics like this: the thesis is the original idea, the antithesis is an alternative idea and the synthesis is a sort of compromise between the two – we can say it takes the best of both.

While Hegel used dialectics to explain ideas or arguments (i.e. logic), Marx and Engels took the basics of Hegelian dialectics and applied it to the real physical conditions of the world. This is what we call dialectical materialism and it is used to explain the evolution of societies. Lenin stated that “development is the “struggle” of opposites”. In other words, development and progress is the struggle between the thesis and the antithesis. The thesis represents the way the society currently is, the antithesis represents the way we want it to be, and the synthesis (the new condition of the society that we progress to) is a combination of the two – it contains elements of both the thesis and the antithesis. The synthesis now becomes the new thesis, a new antithesis emerges and the conflict between thesis and antithesis begins again. Those who benefit from the status quo will defend the thesis while those who do not will struggle for the antithesis.

We can see now what China has consciously chosen to do. They were a very hard line Marxist state. But the international community of which they wished to take part in was predominately capitalist. This created a conflict in China between the thesis (those who defended a sort of dogmatic adherence to Marxism) and the antithesis (those who wished to Westernise the country).

If Fukuyama was correct about the “end of history”, China should have become simply another liberal democracy. On the other hand, if the dogmatic Marxists were correct in their understanding of “the end of history” China should have remained as a sort of copy of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Instead, something else has happened. China has found a different way of doing things – a Marxist path to the end of the revolution, but one which has found room for the less insidious aspects of Western capitalism. What they have also shown is that there is no “end of history”. Every new synthesis becomes a thesis, which in turn comes into conflict with its antithesis. Understanding this is, in my humble opinion, key to understanding both Marxism and also why there can be no “end of history”.

Posted in China, World Politics

China puts “People First”

The first official meeting between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida reconfirmed the long-standing normal relationship between the world’s two largest economies, thus dispelling the previous concerns about the possible confrontation of the two powers.

As Xi put it, “There are a thousand reasons to make the China-U.S. relationship a success, and not a single reason to break it.”

China and the U.S. must cooperate, but the cooperation will never be easy, as the two countries have different ideas about governance and development.

China adheres to the principle of People First while Trump advocates America First. The two slogans sound similar, but they are different in essence.

To the rest of the world, America First means America Only.

At the annual meeting of G20 finance ministers that ended March 13 in Germany, no concrete agreement on free trade and climate change was reached after the U.S. blocked any language that encouraged past commitments on the open flow of goods and services.

Trump  has vulgarised his America First policy as “buy American and hire Americans,” typical ideas of parochialism and protectionism.

But within the USA, America First does not necessarily mean benefits for the majority of the people. Trump proposed repealing ObamaCare. If successful, this would leave millions of Americans without health care again. He has increased military spending dramatically while slashing expenditures on education and scientific research. He even drastically cut down on food stamps for children.

As for China’s People First, in a nutshell, the Communist Party of China represents and serves the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, rather than that of certain groups.

In a recent speech, a chief Party official warned against some businesspersons’ attempts to acquire political influence and power. The involvement of businesspersons in politics is a global phenomenon except in China.

The CPC is a genuine party of the people, born out of the people, consisting of the people, and working for the people. The nature of the CPC partly explains why China can achieve sustainable development.

Before the founding of the CPC, there had been a number of political parties or forces that attempted to change the miserable fate of China, but none succeeded, because they did not represent the fundamental interests of the majority. Nor did they have the political will or abilities to carry through the arduous task of seeking the liberation and independence of the nation and the people.

A basic knowledge of China’s modern history displays the truth that without the extraordinary leadership of the CPC, China could not have won independence from the grips of foreign invaders and control of foreign powers, not to mention the building of a strong nation.

It was with the support of the people, especially the grass-roots masses, that the CPC, with a will of steel, and solidarity of rock, achieved seemingly impossible feats one after another. It was under the leadership of the CPC that the Chinese people have acquired an unprecedented national sense of cohesion and pride.

The people are to the CPC what water is to fish. That’s the secret of China’s success and that’s a unique political advantage that China possesses over the West.

With the top leadership’s policies and popular will in unison, China is the only country in the world able to implement long-term and short-term plans with high efficiency and little interference and opposition.

That’s why China has lifted the largest population out of poverty within a mere three decades. That’s also why China has morphed from an agricultural society into an industrial one with the best high-speed railways, super highways and mobile payment systems.

Western doctrines define popular election to be the only way to legitimise a government. But the “universal value” has failed to explain what has happened in China. China’s epic achievements in economic and social development have endowed the CPC with indisputable legitimacy.

China’s People First is also an inclusive policy internationally; China seeks shared development and prosperity with other countries.

Posted in China

China is committed to Marxism

(I’m now in China! Being on the other side of the Great Firewall means that Facebook and Twitter are now not an option for me, so I’ll be making more regular use of this blog. I’ve decided to use it to share stories (mostly political) that I come across in China. Happy reading.)

I felt compelled to share this story, mostly because of the lazy lie that we hear in the West that “China is a capitalist country now”. Explaining the differences between capitalism and communism would be a lengthy, and boring, rant. So I’ve decided to tell you all about a speech made by the Chinese President recently. The content of his speech makes it clear that they intend on pursuing a Marxist agenda.

I came across this in an article published by Outlook Weekly. The article recounts an important speech delivered by CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping at a recent seminar for provincial and ministerial officials. Outlook Weekly is regarded as the most authoritative political periodical in China and is dubbed “China’s Time Magazine.”

The article starts with a quote from Xi’s speech: “History indicates that, as a Marxist political party, our Party must have a clear-cut political stance, and conduct intraparty political activities seriously. A clear-cut political stance is the fundamental guarantee for our Party to stay strong. It is also the fundamental way for our Party to improve itself and enhance the Party’s immunity.” Xi Jinping has given the first lecture for the annual seminar for ministerial and provincial officials at the Central Party School at the beginning of each year since the 18th National Congress of the CPC. At this year’s seminar opening ceremony, Xi Jinping expounded on the importance of implementing the spirits of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, and answered important questions on standardizing intraparty political life and strengthening intraparty supervision. The article revealed that Xi Jinping pointed out prominent problems existing in the Party, gave in-depth analysis of the essence of the problems and their harms, and put forward solutions to the problems.

Every political party has set its political stance since the inception of modern political parties, whether in the West or in the East, the article says. Marxist parties make their political stance most prominently. As a Marxist party, the CPC certainly must have a clear-cut political stance and conduct intraparty political life seriously. The article points out that the history of the CPC has shown that whenever the whole Party sticks to its political stance and has a normal and healthy intraparty political life, the Party will be clean, united and full of vitality; otherwise, it will be plagued by prevalent maladies and low morale.

The article stresses that the “Four Consciousnesses” — “consciousnesses of the ideology, the whole, the core and the line” — hold the key to our political stance, in other words, resolutely upholding and safeguarding General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core leadership of the Party is paramount in our political stance. The article further points out that “Four Consciousnesses” should be put into action, and political disciplines and political rules should be strictly abided by. Every Party member should be absolutely loyal to the Party and the Party’s core at any time and under any circumstances. The leadership core is of vital importance to a state and a party. General Secretary Xi Jinping is the core of the Party’s central leadership, and the core of the whole Party. This reflects the common will of the whole Party and the common aspirations of the Party, the armed forces and people of all ethnic groups in the country. The article requires every Party member to take action to uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core leadership, and stay absolutely loyal to the Party’s core. Resolutely upholding the core is the fundamental test of our political stance.

The article especially points out that the whole Party should be loyal only to the central leadership and no other individuals can have unchecked power. It is politically wrong or even harmful for Party cadres at different levels to call for upholding their own authority and demand loyalty to themselves.

The article explains that the “Four Consciousnesses” and advocation of Xi Jinping’s core leadership are essential now given the current complicated, changing international environment and more difficult tasks for reform and development. This is an inevitable choice for the country to realize the Chinese Dream and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. This is also an essential prerequisite for the Party to solve outstanding problems and strengthen the central leadership. The article points out that as the Party and the country are now at a crucial stage of development, the Party’s unity and advocation of the authority of the central leadership and the party’s core are more necessary than at any time before. Therefore, party organizations at all levels should unswervingly implement the decisions by the party’s central leadership, uphold its authority and keep in line with the central leadership with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core.

The article unequivocally points out that the advocation of a clear-cut political stance is pointedly relevant to reality. The article says that some cadres still regard a political stance as “outdated.” Party members and cadres in some places pay lip service to or play tricks on the implementation of Party disciplines and political rules, using “special circumstances” as an excuse. Some take no action when a few cadres talk irresponsibly about or even smear the central leadership, sowing the seeds of grave incidents. The article states that the essence of the problem lies in the fact that a murky political stance will lead to political mistakes being committed knowingly or unknowingly. The fundamental reason for the corruption of some senior officials lies in the absence of a correct political stance, the article revealed.

The article states that political ability refers to the ability to grasp the direction, learn the trend and overall situation, stay politically committed, and prevent political risks. It urges cadres at all levels to study Xi Jinping’s new ideas and strategies in governing the country, gain more knowledge in economic and social management, and pay special attention to the training of political ability. They should conduct self-reflection to see if they have grasped the correct political direction and if they are strictly abiding by political rules. Leaders should enhance self-discipline, and stay loyal, clean and devoted.

At the end of the article, the author quoted what Xi Jinping said at the CPPCC New Year party: “Vigorously carry forward the spirit of carrying on the revolution to the end.” This inspiring sentence is reminiscent of Chairman Mao Zedong’s New Year address titled “Carry on the revolution to the end.” The article points out that General Secretary Xi’s call requires us to strengthen our belief to carry on the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics. And it requires every Party organization and every Party member at all levels everywhere to be united around the central leadership with Xi Jinping as the core, to follow the instructions of the central leadership with Xi as the core, and “roll up our sleeves” to take actions to carry on the CPC-led revolution to the end.

 

Posted in Scottish Politics, World Politics

Some thoughts on Xmas in Kazakhstan

(To fill you all in on what’s happening here: I’ve recently began contributing to Scotland’s most listened to lefty podcast – Ungagged! This is the script from my first input to the pod (which was broadcast December 2016), some scattered thoughts that I tried to put together in a coherent way – all relevant to my time in Kazakhstan where I happened to be living and working. I’d been eager to keep myself involved politically in the Scottish left, just doing my bit to help things in whatever way I could. I had been repeatedly offering my services to the Scottish Socialist Party of whom I’d remained supportive even after the RISE debacle. Unfortunately the SSP didn’t seem to have any need or use of the ramblings of an itchy footed international socialist. Luckily for me, Ungagged made contact and were genuinely interested in allowing me to ramble on their time. So here it is, the first of hopefully many contributions.)

Seasons Greetings comrades.

This episode I have the pleasure of conveying to you a message from Kazakhstan.

I’m aware that many of you might not know much about this place. Before being seconded here by my work, I was the same. My only knowledge of Kazakhstan was Borat and that time Celtic played Shakter Karagandy in Europe.

The Kazakhs, I’ve found out, are painfully aware that for many foreigners Borat is the only thing that comes to mind when they hear the name Kazakhstan. The wounded looks on their faces at the very mention of the “B word” are impossible to miss. A big proportion of the conversations I’ve had here have been locals eager to explain to me that Borat in no way what so ever resembles this country.

So the first part of my message from Kazakhstan is to confirm that the locals are correct. This is not a nation of backward simpletons. It might not have many touristy must see attractions, but if you get the chance you won’t regret coming here. Kazakhstan sits on the boundary between Europe and Asia, not only geographically but also culturally and politically. The population is roughly 70/30, between Central Asians and Whites, and between Muslims and Christians.

But far from the “rivers of blood” that many right wingers will try to convince you is the inevitable result of cultures colliding, Kazakhstan is actually one of the friendliest and safest countries I’ve ever experienced. The European and Asian cultures thrive side by side, and it makes living here a wonderful experience.

And don’t think that they only thrive despite each other. The cultures here are incredibly intertwined and supportive of each other. The national identity isn’t one or the other, but an understanding of all the people that call Kazakhstan home.

I witnessed a small but powerful reminder of this while walking through the city recently. One of the mosques has erected, just outside the entrance to its grounds, a small Christmas tree and a sign which simply wishes all Christians a happy Christmas.

I’m trying to not let the Daily Mail hear about this Christmas tree, or no doubt we’ll wake up to headlines screaming at us that Muslims are stealing Christmas. Nevertheless I thought it was a nice message to convey back to you on behalf of these Kazakhs. And also to say that I think there is a nice lesson to learn here. Of course, mosques and churches back in Britain who build bridges between their respective communities should be applauded, there are some unnecessary tensions being created between Muslim and Christian communities and anything done to counter that is commendable. But what is so powerful about this instance is that there are no tensions like that here. This mosque isn’t trying to show itself in a different light to its neighbours, rather it is simply saying, “I value you as a neighbour and I wish the best for you”. There is no need for them to say anything, no problematic media representation of them that needs challenging. They just wanted to be neighbourly. A lesson that especially at this time of year goes well with our supposed Christian values that the right wing harp on about constantly; but also a lesson that if we’re honest we could all do with being reminded of from time to time.

So Kazakhstan is not a country of Borats. Instead, its a modern welcoming country that we could probably learn a thing or two from if we’re prepared to open our minds to the possibility that other countries might do things better than the British.

Here is another example of something we could learn from Kazakhstan, and which is particularly relevant at this time of year. In Britain this winter how many people, especially pensioners, will die of preventable cold related illnesses? In an energy rich country, how many people will die because they couldn’t afford to keep the energy on during the winter? The answer is staggering. Tens of thousands. They will either have turned their own power off from fear of the costs, or if they are behind on their payments the big energy companies simply cut off their power, condemning these people to a cold dark miserable and often deadly winter.

Many people who campaign against fuel poverty will tell you to refuse to let the power companies in to your house to turn the power off. I don’t disagree with that, by all means have a crowd of activists waiting for them when they turn up to cut you off. Lets see how eager they are to turn of your grannies leccy when there is a team of anti-fuel poverty activists there to greet them.

But do you know what happens in Kazakhstan? Nothing, because the power companies here simply aren’t allowed to cut off your power. In this country, as well as most of the former Soviet nations, that ability to heat your home and cook hot meals is viewed as a human right – one which you don’t lose just cos you got into debt.

So lets take that fight to the politicians. Lets make them understand that staying warm during winter is a human right – one which we refuse to let the big energy companies take away from us. And as I always say, don’t let that fight seem too daunting for you. You don’t have to do it all yourself. There are established networks out there for these sorts of things. Get involved and help them. Or sign a petition or write to your MP. Someone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. So please do your bit, whatever and however much that is.

I’m Beinn Irbhinn, until next time comrades, stay safe. ungagged-portrait

Posted in Scottish Politics

Immigration and the Left

For me, a depressing aspect of the immigration “debate” is that it shows just how impotent the left currently is in the UK. This is obvious when we see the debate being framed by the right, and the “leftie” spokespeople being naive enough to be sucked into talking about immigration on the right wing’s terms. This reduces talk about immigration to talk of who can and can’t come to our country.
The left wing microphone grabbers have lost sight of what distinguishes us from the right. It’s not that we would let more immigrants in (although I guess most of us would).
This losing sight of things is evident across all political discourse. Take crime for example. The talk from the right was always about rules and laws, about who can we send to jail. They said they were tough on crime. The left, on the other hand, would talk about the causes of crime and how we could remedy them. We wanted to be tough on the causes of crime, to stop people becoming criminals in the first place and so not need to send them to jail.
Then along came New Labour. One of Tony Blair’s famous campaign promises was to be “tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime”. This brought the left into the kinds of discussions that were previously the preserve of the right. Unfortunately, as things transpired, New Labour became quite keen on the “tough on crime” part of their promise and never had much to do with the “tough on the causes of crime” bit. The result being the left on the whole, with the only exceptions being small disjointed movements, have lost sight of their role in eliminating the social conditions (such as poverty and lack of economic opportunities) that lead to crime.
Something similar has happened on the topic of immigration, although we lack a famous slogan such as Tony Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” with which to explain it. The right have always been obsessed with rules and laws. With regards to immigration this manifests itself as a debate about who should and who shouldn’t have the right to live and work here. The left, with a focus on social conditions and internationalism, should really be talking about the forces driving immigration and how to remedy them. 
Let’s be clear, this isn’t an anti-immigration stance. I want to live in a world where every single person has an equal right to immigrate. I just also want to live in a world where immigration is a free choice rather than an economic necessity. Can we genuinely say that we can have a sensible debate on immigration when there exists such pronounced inequality between nations? Let’s work to eliminate poverty and then watch the immigration debate quickly change; from talk of how to keep people away from our country to talk of how to attract people here! 

Posted in Book Reviews

Marxism and Feminism, by Shahrzad Mojab (ed)

As a man I usually get uncomfortable with asking myself the question, “Am I a feminist?”. Certainly in relation to my political activism I have no real right to call myself one – I simply haven’t done enough to earn that title. On the other hand, I do try to be as supportive as I possibly can of comrades who are pushing to further feminist goals, and I do take part in many discussions on the subject where I try to support and spread feminist ideas. So I guess it really depends on how the question is interpreted.

A related issue, one which arises when I take part in these discussions, is which feminist ideas should I try to support and spread? Feminism after all is not some sort of hive mind, there are many different schools of thought represented under the umbrella term “feminism”. I attended a feminist convention in Russia recently, for example, where there were speakers representing liberal feminism, anarchist feminism, socialist feminism, eco-feminism, radical feminism and so on. With such a diverse range of views within the subject, and often mutually exclusive views, which views should I take away with me as the ones to spread within my community of peers? And how do I, as a man, avoid simply picking and choosing the bits that sit most comfortably with me?

Marxism with its emphasis on the scientific method, and therefore objectivity, allows for those of us who are epistemically barred from the relevant lived experience to nevertheless gain insight. Putting any problem under a Marxists microscope will always illuminate more than it will hide. Now of course Marxism and Feminism have had a somewhat rocky relationship. Marxists haven’t always given enough focus to issues of sex or gender within the class struggle – but likewise feminists have often failed to acknowledge the class dimension to instances of oppression based on sex or gender. It is primarily for this reason that Mojab’s Marxism and Feminism is such an important addition to the literature of both Marxists and Feminists; Mojab is here offering a point of departure from the current way of doing Marxism and Feminism (separately) in favour of a unified Marxist Feminism or Feminist Marxism.

This will no doubt sound like blasphemy to many of today’s activists who promote a very middle class version of feminism – one more concerned with the balance of female CEOs to male CEOs and how much each is paid. But such a feminism fails to represent the vast majority of women, it only cares for the few women who are complicit with their male counterparts in the oppression of the vast majority of other women. Mojab is not afraid to say that today’s feminism is inadequate, and critiques Women’s and Gender Studies programmes in academia for failing to see the patriarchy as a political system that is firmly connected to capitalist social relations by seeing gender-inequality as only a ‘cultural’ issue.

The book itself is a step towards a revolution, a form of resistance written and practiced by Shahrzad Mojab and her allies, and a sound example of dialectical-materialism in action. It is split into three parts, the first of which serves as both an introduction to Marxism and Feminism and a sort of autobiography-cum-history of revolutionary leftism. It tracks Mojab’s own history through social and political movements in her native Iran through to her academic career in the USA. This introduction sets a challenge for the remainder of the book: to explain how and why Marxism and Feminism as two emancipatory projects and two political affinities should be converged despite all political and ideological projects that are committed to diverge them.

The book is ultimately successful in this endeavor, not least because in the second part of the book (which comprises three chapters) Mojab’s co-authors, in particular Bannerji in the third of these chapters, take some time to respond to these “political and ideological projects”. Being critiqued here are the likes of identity politics and intersectionality. Intersectional approaches to issues such as race or gender seem to be largely unquestioned outside of academia (where they are far from universally accepted). In a sense this is understandable, as intersectional approaches are very attractive to those who want to explain the oppression of white homosexual males or rich African-American females, for example. Intersectional approaches, by explaining people in terms of the social identities or where these identities “intersect” (their race “identity”, their gender “identity” etc) is able to make sense of homosexual white men or rich African-American women being oppressed: they are oppressed in some ways while being privileged in others. This just looks intuitively correct to most people.

After reading this section of Marxism and Feminism (especially the chapter by Himani Bannerji) I couldn’t help but feel that a convincing argument had been made against intersectional theories. They didn’t reject the conclusion that people can be privileged in one way but oppressed in others; they demonstrated that we don’t need to invoke intersectionality to arrive at that conclusion, a properly understood marxist feminism / feminist marxism can also account for this intuitively correct observation. Moreover, a feminist marxism avoids some of the problems that intersectional theory is plagued by, such as its almost “Lego” or “Mechano” explanation of human psychology as a mere construction of different social identities. It’s not that we shouldn’t de-construct into separate “social identities”, it’s that we can’t. An individual’s component social “identities” do not exist independently of each other, they are intertwined within that individual’s lived experience. To treat them as separable simply paints a false  and misleading picture.

The final section of the book applies a marxist feminism / feminist marxism to a range of issues which are normally discussed by feminists. Readers will decide for themselves which of these discussions of feminists key words resonates most strongly with themselves; I particularly enjoyed reading Sara Carpenter’s chapter on democracy. Other keywords which receive attention in this section include patriarchy, reproduction and revolution.

Overall, this is a book that deserves to be read. It strikes a good balance between established respected experts and exciting new voices. Shortly the Scottish Socialist Party will seek to put into place conference’s decision to create a political education for the party. I encourage those who will take responsibility for actualising this conference’s decision to consider this book as part of that political education. The ideas advanced in this book have the potential to lead both Feminism and Marxism into a (in this reader’s humble opinion) much needed revival; a revival that I hope the SSP can play a part in.