The New Left in China wants socialism
With a dramatic change in Chinese intellectual life since the 1980’s, Chinese political economist Minqi Li states that the majority of Chinese intellectuals are critical of market oriented reform, neo-liberalism and have a more positive view of the Maoist period
ZAA NKWETA: Beijing Olympics mark China’s debut onto the international stage, illustrating the dramatic change that China has undergone since the 1980s. In a series of interviews, The Real News senior editor Paul Jay spoke to professor, former political prisoner, and political economist Minqi Li about the current situation in China.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li on the current situation in China. Minqi, in the last segment of our interview, you were talking about the left trend that makes a somewhat positive comparison about the Maoist period to the current period. But certainly we’re being told, in terms of popular opinion polls and such, that at least in the urban centers, people’s standard of living is much higher now than then. The Olympics and other indicators seems to show there’s been a tremendous leap in technology in China. Most people would kind of shake their heads at such a comparison. Can you speak to that?
MINQI LI, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL ECONOMY: In terms of the rising income for the urban sector, and certainly some among urban sector has benefited a lot from the market-oriented reform, from the capitalist development. Recently it has been reported that now China has something like 100 new billionaires. So that’s very dramatic change. But on the other hand, of course, social and economic inequality has also increased a lot. And in one of the earlier segments we talked about between 1 to 5 percent of population controlled about 70 percent of China’s financial wealth—that’s in term of wealth. And there’s another set of data suggesting that the richest 10 percent of the Chinese population earn about 50 percent, half, of China’s total national income, while the poorest 10 percent only has access to about 1 percent. So despite China’s dramatic economic growth, you still have about 200 million people living on a daily income less than one purchasing-power-parity dollar a day. And if you take into account other aspects of social change, if we do not measure and adjust by material consumption, you have to also take into account access to health care, access to education, general social condition, personal safety, environmental conditions, I would say you could have the bottom 10, 20, or even 30 percent of the population, their quality of life has actually deteriorated since the beginning of the market-oriented reform.
JAY: And is this left trend pushing for a kind of European social democracy, or a return to a full-on state socialism?
LI: Well, that varies. And there are some of them who are in favor of social democracy, more or less in line with the official slogan of the current Chinese administration, the Harmonious Society, and there are some others who argue that for China to further develop, China must manage to upgrade China’s technology, must pursue high-tech development, and for that purpose you need a greater role of the state. And so you need to develop something like state capitalism. There are also some people who are in favor of the return to socialism. And so, in addition to intellectual development, another new development that is interesting is that in addition to the New Left intellectual trend I just talked about, you also have, outside of intellectuals, various Maoist activists, who are in favor of a kind of return to Maoist-style socialism.
JAY: I remember about ten years ago there was a small rural village that had refused to give up its Maoist economics, and it was telling the market reformers to stay out of the village. Is that a real trend that’s existing?
LI: Well, I would not say that’s a real trend right now in the countryside, although it’s not just one; in fact, you have several thousands of village that refused to privatize at the beginning of the reform period and continue to maintain some kind of collective form of organization or community ownership. And some of them continue to be prosperous until today. But I’m talking about separate trend. I’m talking about some Maoist activists who have been active in workers movement, who have been active in workers resistance to privatization. And that’s another quite challenging trend for China’s current regime.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s discuss another rising trend, Chinese nationalism. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.