[OPE] Class structure: China

From: Michael Webber <michaeljwebber@gmail.com>
Date: Fri Apr 29 2011 - 10:21:02 EDT

dear colleagues:

i am seeking some help. the problem is this.

first observation: by all measures, state-owned corporations in china are
growing, and they command some of the big sectors of the economy. they show
no signs of going away, even if their share of total output has been falling
since the transformation of chinese society started 30-odd years ago. these
corporations are profit-making (in intention, anyway) and at least some of
those profits are invested in expansion of the corporations. they hire
workers in a market, workers whose only asset is their labour power. the
implication is that these firms are capitalist. another implication is that
the chinese state is a capitalist.

second observation: the chinese state also has all the other functions of a
state to perform -- generalised defence of the society's ability to
reproduce itself, including mediation of capital - labour disputes. the
implication is that the chinese state may find itself with conflicting
roles, when it acts as capitalist and as state.

third observation: almost all the analyses of state policies towards the
economy follow orthodox lines, and assume that the state is acting only in
traditional roles, rather than having also the role of being a capitalist.
these analyses typically regard the state as a party-state, either acting as
an independent agent seeking, within the limits of politics, to advance the
cause of 'development' or 'welfare', or acting in response to the CCP's
desire to remain in power (so trying to make policies that will reduce /
control potential sources of protest). surrounding the state in these
analyses are the activities of individual cadres, some of whom are corrupt.
apart from their general conservative orthodoxy, the implication is that
these analyses ignore the state as capitalist. the implication also is that
analyses of class and its role in shaping politics is downplayed or ignored.

fourth observation: the changes wrought to the chinese economy over the past
30-odd years and the developments that have accompanied them have caused the
structure of classes to change. this seems obvious to me. the implication
is that the class pressures on politics therefore have changed. the further
implication is that the directions of 'reform' therefore have changed over
the course of the reform period.

now all that is brief (the alternative is a large book), and some of it is
obvious or unsurprising to marxists, if not to the more orthodox among us.
however, given all this background, i am trying to develop an argument about
some of the places in which the effects of those changing class structures
can be identified. one such is the privatisation of collective enterprises
in suzhou municipality in the late 1990s: i argue that a group of local
state officials and managers of collective enterprises essentially colluded
to privatise them. this group of officials and managers had become a class,
identified by common interests and by the recognition of those interests;
created and mobilised by the growth (and form of growth) of the period
1978-1995. i have in evidence of this: data on rates of surplus value
(rising during that period, and since); some biographies of key individuals
in the process.

the problem i have and the help i seek is: what do we know about class
structures in places where the state is also a capitalist? what do we know
about the conflicts between the roles of the state in such places? what do
we know about class formation and politics in such places? by 'know' here
is suppose that i mean theory; and i mean empirical work in other societies,
such as e europe and the former ussr. i am really looking for some help in
thinking about how to theorise what is going on, how to compare the
specifics of china to other cases, how to develop theories that have been
developed in other literatures than the ones i know, which are really

any help would be much appreciated; and, of course, acknowledged. thanks in
advance: michael

Michael Webber
Professorial Fellow
Department of Resource Management and Geography
The University of Melbourne
Mail address: 221 Bouverie Street, Carlton, VIC 3010
Phone: 0402 421 283
Email: mjwebber@unimelb.edu.au

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Received on Fri Apr 29 10:22:33 2011

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