I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE AND IT WORKS
This is an impressionistic account of a recent trip to the Far East by a member of Wildcat. It was not published
It was interesting to see how deeply rooted my Euro-centric view of the world was. Although I knew that the center of capital accumulation has long been transferred from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it was a shock to see it.
There is no capitalist crisis in the Far East. Here is the biggest boom in capitalism's history. The 15 countries in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation produce more than half the world's GNP and about 40% of world trade.
Even countries with relatively modest growth rates, like Korea, are developing faster than Britain ever did. New freeways are being built everywhere; files of identical workers' apartment blocks stretch to the horizon in all directions.
China recently achieved 25% growth in industrial output in one year. The human meaning of this dry statistic was made clear when I arrived in the city of Guangzhou, in the Guangdong Special Economic Zone. Here development knows no bounds. Armies of disposessed sleep on newspapers on the pavement, waiting for work. All along the 150-mile road from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, new factories are being built, Chinese and foreign investors taking advantage of China's built-in Third World colonies. By making small adjustments to the status quo in the countryside, the government can release just the right number of peasants onto the labor market at minimal wage levels. It has become axiomatic in the West that Stalinism failed. China is a helluvun argument against this.
Here they have perestroika without glasnost. The right-wing students who were crushed in Tiananmen Square in 1989 were wrong - Chinese capital needs the former without the latter. It has just the right mix of development and underdevelopment, a one-party police state, social democracy (nobody actually starves), and naked, brutal market capitalism. If a new bloc of capitalist states emerges in the Far East to challenge the USA, China will be its leader.
The most depressing thing about the Far East is not the development, the pollution, the lemming-race toward ecological disaster, the ugliness of the buildings, it is the lack of resistance to all this. Billions of people work from dawn to dusk for peanuts with scarcely a whinge. The workers at the Hanbee Shoe Company went on strike for three days in late February. Several hundred went on strike again in June. They were among the largest labour protests in a country where strikes are almost unheard of (Guardian, 17.Nov.93). This refers to China, where people work 12 hours a day for about $30 a month.
Sure, there are occasional strikes in Korea, but its a drop in the ocean compared with capital's triumphal death-march. Given the economic boom, you might expect at least a wave of money-militancy - strikes for higher wages and benefits which capital can afford to concede, as in Britain in the sixties. But as yet, virtually nothing. The Far East is the bosses' dream, and our nightmare, and there is no sign yet of the working class waking up.
This is not to say there is no struggle at all. The most encouraging sign in China is the emergence of large bands of expropriated peasants who rob trucks and trains, kill cops, and burn down police stations. They are fighting against proletarianization and progress. Viva!
I could be speaking too soon while the wheel's still in spin. But I wouldn't get too excited about a strike here, or a riot there. The working class of most of East Asia is further from being conscious of itself than at any time in history.