Re: [OPE] Class structure: China

From: Dave Zachariah <>
Date: Sat Apr 30 2011 - 18:30:00 EDT

Hi Michael,

On 2011-04-29 16:21, you wrote:
> 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 china-centric.
> any help would be much appreciated; and, of course, acknowledged.
> thanks in advance:

In my view these are some of the most interesting questions in political
economy because the balance of class forces in China is likely to be a
key factor in the trajectory of the global capitalist economy during
this century.

In theorizing present-day Chinese state apparatus I think it would help
to break down the problem into these subproblems:

   1. The specific revolutionary context in which it was formed.
   2. The structure of states which Soviet-influenced constitutional forms.
   3. The role of state apparatuses in the emergence of capitalist
   4. The structural dependence between the state and the capitalist sector.

First point:
The modern Chinese state belongs to a class of states formed through
social revolutions which arose through a combination of political
crisis/paralysis and widespread peasant rebellion. This must have left a
particular legacy in the way the state apparatus operates today,
especially since there is still a massive rural peasantry and it played
a significant role in the formation of the state for a longer time than,
say, post-revolutionary France or Russia. Here I think Skocpol classic
book could be useful:

    Theda Skocpol (1979), "States and Social Revolutions", Cambridge
    University Press.

Second point:
Since the political force that won state power in the revolutionary
process was a CP, it imposed a particular constitutional form of rule
derived, in part, from Comintern. Hence it would be relevant to consider
how representatives and non-representatives of the state apparatus are
drawn and what is the role of the state in the extraction of the surplus
product produced by peasants and wage labourers; how much does it
differ/resemble the capitalist and Soviet-socialist state forms? Here
Therborn's comparative analysis could be useful:

    Göran Therborn (1789), "What Does The Ruling Class Do When It
    Rules?", Verso.

Third point:
Since there can be little doubt that capitalist expansion is being
promoted in China, one should consider another aspect of the global
political economy; a system of surplus-appropriating states which
pre-dates the existence of capitalism. In the context of inter-state
rivalry or conflict with an advanced capitalist state, pre-capitalist
states are likely to to adopt a path of capitalist modernization for the
development of the productive forces and hence their abilities to act in
the inter-state system. Mooers wrote a nice comparative study of this
competitive process and its unintended outcomes:

    Colin Mooers (1991), "The Making of Bourgeois Europe: Absolutism,
    Revolution, and the Rise of Capitalism in England, France and
    Germany", Verso.

Fourth point:
Having pushed capitalist development sufficiently far, as for instance
in the German case, there appears to be a phase transition in which the
weight of the capitalist sector becomes a key priority of the state. At
that point I can think of no better text than

    Fred Block (1980), "Beyond Relative Autonomy: State Managers as
    Historical Subjects", Socialist Register, vol. 17.

which gives a concise and parsimonious theory of the structural
mechanism which induce states to remain 'capitalist'. Of course, the
central question is the phase transition itself; whether the Chinese
state has crossed 'the tipping point' towards being subordinate to these
structural mechanisms? You point to the emergence of a class coalition
of state officials/managers and capitalists, pushing for privatization.
On the other hand there appears to be factional struggle within the CP,
which remains the dominant political force. Could other class coalitions
break through? Therborn, for instance, asserted in his latest book (if I
recall him correctly) that should the capitalist path of modernization
no longer yield extremely rapid growth but only produce social conflict
then the Chinese state apparatus is powerful enough and strategically
inclined to change path.

//Dave Z
ope mailing list
Received on Sat Apr 30 18:31:04 2011

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