aufheben & walker on class conflict in urban & rural China

The 2008 issue of Aufheben (#16) is out in its print edition.

Apparently they wait about a year before posting new issues on, so you’ll have to get it from your local distributor or order it from them or AK Press. Their first article on China, “Welcome to the Chinese century?” from issue #14, is up on libcom in case you haven’t seen that already.

I highly recommend this new issue in general, which also contains critiques of Virno’s Grammar of the Multitude and De Angelis’ Beginning of History, and a review of Forces of Labor by Beverly Silver. The China article brings together a fair amount of recent material into an original analysis of the major class conflicts and the prospects for going beyond their present limits. There are a few minor errors that we must forgive the author(s?) due to the difficulty of penetrating the somewhat provincial world of China studies, and to the poor quality of a lot of journalistic writing on Chinese labor and peasant struggles, in particular.

From their conclusion:

[C]ontrary to what it may appear at first sight, the immense economic transformation of China has resulted in widespread, and at times quite intense, resistance from both workers and peasants. However, [...t]hrough the combination of making timely minor concessions and the ever present threat of repression, the Chinese state has, for the most part, succeeded in restricting social protests to narrow and parochial issues and focussed on the malfeasance and corruption of local party-state cadre.[...] However [...] there are signs that China will find it increasingly difficult to provide world capital with a plentiful supply of cheap and compliant labour-power.[...]

Due to the limitations of our sources, the emphasis of this article has been on the struggles of _danwei_ workers that occurred several years ago. Important as they are [...] they are, what may temred conflicts of class de-composition, or what Beverly Silver has called Polanyi-type struggle.[... C]apital may take flight from class conflict and find a new home but it cannot escape its nemesis forever. Having alighted in China, capital is in the process of summoning into being anew working class, as the peasant migrant workers turn into a fully fledged proletariat. No doubt the struggles of this new working class will become increasingly important in the future.

One thing they mentioned that was new to me was that some of the peasant land struggles, anti-tax protests, etc., developed into full on insurrections and incipient counter-hegemonic organizations in the late 1990s, before the state managed to stem this tide through a combination of repression and concessions (and I would add, ideological moves, such as the new campaign to “construct a new socialist countryside”). Aufheben directs us to a particularly insightful overview and analysis of these peasant struggles by Kathy Le Mons Walker: “‘Gangster Capitalism’ and Peasant Protest in China: The Last Twenty Years,” Journal of Peasant Studies, vol 33, no. 1 (2006):1-33. I’ve just read that article as well and also highly recommend it (she’s also got a new article on “Everyday Peasant Politics in China and the Implications for Transnational Agrarian Movements” in a special issue of the Journal of Agrarian Change on “transnational agrarian movements” - vol. 8, nos. 2 & 3, 2008). There she notes:

[A]lthough mostly ignored in both Western scholarship and the Western press, [...] since the mid-1980s protest, resistance, and outright insurgency have gathered momentum in the countryside. The movement has involved hundreds of thousands of incidents and millions of peasant participants. It reached new levels of intensity in 1993 when, according to the Hong Kong press, there were uprisings in nearly a dozen of China’s 21 provinces and several thousand casualties [Bernstein, 1994: 8; Ngo, 1999: 471–2].[...]

By the late 1990s there was also evidence of greater militarization and an openly insurgent politics, including the formation of dissident organizations and paramilitary forces. In some localities protesters established ‘peasants’ revolutionary committees,’ ‘peasant rebellion command committees,’ or armed self-defense units to replace the party and government [Perry, 1999: 315; Thornton, 2004: 93, 98]. The obscure and secretive ‘Anti-Corruption Army of the People, Workers and Peasants’ is also a case in point. In late 1998 Yang Jiahua, a 52-year-old peasant, organized the ‘Southwestern Yangzi Column’ of the Anti-Corruption Army in western Sichuan. This peasant-based force apparently viewed itself as a new communist organization and patterned its structure on China’s ruling party, from a politburo down to a propaganda department. The Column surfaced publicly in early June 1999, when it led a series of rallies in three counties and 13 townships in the Chongqing region where, according to news reports, it appeared to have wide appeal. At these rallies several hundred Column members distributed leaflets condemning the Chinese Communist Party as no longer authentic, totally corrupt, and unfit to rule [Holland, 1999a: 10].[...]

Paralleling the above developments, in the late 1990s rural protests snowballed with some locales being hit by weekly, if not more frequent,actions. According to internal government statistics, the number of demonstrations, protests, and risings in 1998 alone rose to 60,000; in 1999the figure was even higher, reaching 100,000 [‘Dissidents Warn’, 1999; ‘Five Thousand PRC Farmers’, 1999; ‘One Thousand Protest’, 1999; ‘Police Clash With 1,000’, 2001: 1–2].

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