Monday, April 11, 2016

Larry Catá Backer on Wang Hui: "Contradiction, Systemic Crisis and the Direction for Change: An Interview"

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016) 

It has been a long time, almost a generation, since the basic line of the Chinese Communist Party refocused the insights of class struggle away from its more primitive manifestation in a rough calculus of status to its current manifestation in the communal struggle to bring prosperity to the nation through the development of productive forces. Central to that evolution has been the evolution of the notion of class struggle from a central element of the organization of state, politics, society and economics to its embedding within the more complex notions of socialist modernization. It has been even longer since the discourse of autonomous state development has given way to the markets oriented language of economic globalization and its establishments of regimes of fracture, porosity, permeability, and polycentricity in the reorganization of power beyond the state.

Yet the old discourse retains a strong and alluring power over even the most sophisticated intellectuals of contemporary times. The best of them seek to bend old insights to new situations. They seek to reinterpret and apply old learning--still powerful--to the tensions and contradictions of the contemporary age. This is an important exercise of intellectual discourse in the West. It is refreshing, then, to see it emerge, as well in Chinese discourse.

It is with this in mind that Flora SapioShaoming Zhou, and I thought it would be useful to consider these issues through the lens of a recently published interview that nicely raises some of these themes: Contradiction, Systemic Crisis and the Direction for Change: An Interview with Wang Hui.

Our thought may be accessed here.

Flora Sapio
Larry Catá Backer

Shaoming Zhu

This post includes Larry Catá Backer's essay, From Dictatorship of the Proletariat to People’s Democratic Dictatorship and Back Again: Wang Hui and the Revival of Class Struggle and the Communist International:

From Dictatorship of the Proletariat to People’s Democratic Dictatorship and Back Again: Wang Hui and the Revival of Class Struggle and the Communist International.
Larry Catá Backer

Fidel Castro was fond of saying, “las ideas no se matan” (ideas cannot be killed).

Castro's use of the event, and the quote, "las ideas no se matan," is narrowly pointed --to the defense of the founding ideology of the Cuban Revolution against that of the United States and its global ideology. But there is irony here as well. Freed of its peculiarly Cuban context, the insight cuts in all sorts of directions. The larger truths embedded in this quote serve to complicate the simple elegance of its exposition by any advocate of a system of ideas. Ideas do not disappear. Ideas cannot be defeated. Ideas do not cease to exist. Ideas, principles, norms, values, appear and reappear. Ideas cannot be defeated. They cannot be erased. No level of human consensus can eradicate, transform or suppress ideas for any appreciable length of time. To seek a complete and eternal victory of one idea over others is to engage in a fool’s game. Or perhaps, is the stuff of Messianism--the forward thinking of hope for the advocates of particular idea systems. (Larry Catá Backer, “Las ideas no se matan!,”  Law at the End of the Day Dec. 1, 2006). 

These insights came back to me as I read through the marvelous, and quite revealing interview given by that great Chinese thinker, Wang Hui and published in the journal Foreign Theoretical Trends (国外理). This journal is sponsored by the The Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (中共中央编译) which is itself under the jurisdiction of and is directly subordinate to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (The work of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau). The interview, published originally in Chinese, has now appeared  in English as an appendix to the recently published China's Twentieth Century.

And its publication could appear as symbolic of what may be a lingering nostalgia—now clothed in the discourse of globalization and its discontents—for traditional European Marxist Leninist frameworks.  And it suggests an instrumental use of this nostalgia, as a prism through which to see and understand current events and to chart the course for the future. This is a profoundly important stance, and one that mirrors a rising nostalgia among intelligentsia globally—each for an invented re-creation of a past shorn of its ugliness and failures and reconstituted as a way forward through the performance of the past. It haunts the right as it consumes the left, this global embrace, not of its history, but of the performance of its past. That is as much a rhetorical and ideological force moving developing states toward a comprehensive treaty of business and human rights (see here), as it is the force pushing elites back into old forms and older thinking as people of good will seek to move forward the great project of socialist modernization and to deepen the leadership authority of a vanguard party. That is the most powerful insight that Wang Hui provides us, and in a masterful way. It is from that perspective that I offer some preliminary reflections on the profoundly engaging insights that are developed in the interview.

Wang starts with an ancient idea—that of class struggle.  The issue arises in the context of a first set of questions that sought to elicit some response to the notion—common among certain elites in the West—of a “current severe crisis in global capitalism” (real, imagined, dreaded or desired)—and with it of capitalism, of liberal democracy, of transnational economic globalization, of markets and the like. Wang quite correctly notes that the question requires both disaggregation—speaking to the distinct regions and classes in China, and also super-aggregation, speaking to its global effects. He indicates a need to rethink China’s economic development model—not by way of reform, but by radical restructuring of socialist modernization and the model ushered in during the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.  “The problem does not lie at the intellectual level, but rather the entanglement of interests is such that there is no way to turn this rethinking into public policy. . . . In my view, the critical question today is whether there can be a reform in a socialist direction, and whether it is possible to move in this direction.” (Wang). 

And yet, such a discussion might also benefit form a further disaggregation, that is, among capitalism and markets and political order.  Is the crisis of capitalism, or is capitalism merely performing as it was meant to and that what one mis-interprets as crisis is no more than the growing pains of communities moving from one historical stage to another? If crisis masks the pain of transformation, then what moves Wang to consider class struggle as its antidote might also suggest the avoidance of pain through the performance of the past, and the re-creation of its forms. One can avoid movement (in any direction) by entering into a hyper cycle of repetitive patterns grounded in an ideology that suggests the sort of closure that makes class struggle an autonomous ideological act (cf. here at 218). It might then follow that the critical question is whether class struggle can be used to avoid reform in a socialist direction by defining socialist reform in a way to avoids reform except to the extent it preserves the possibilities of class struggle as a permanent feature of systemic operation within a Marxist system.

It was that pattern that the CCP sought to break with reform and opening up in the late 1970s. It was the determination that emancipation of the mind and reform and opening up requires that the CCP move from revolutionary party to party the vanguard party of a stable state committed to the long term project of building a communist society in China. And it was that realization that permitted the sophisticated insight that capitalism as ideology could be separated from markets as instruments (something European Marxists were never able to accomplish), and that markets could be separated from the political ideology on which a political community was established.  It is only in this sense, in the sense that the CCP is serving a vanguard not a revolutionary role that one can understand the movement from class struggle to socialist modernization at the heart f the CCP Basic Line:

“Owing to both domestic circumstances and foreign influences, class struggle will continue to exist within a certain scope for a long time and may possibly grow acute under certain conditions, but it is no longer the principal contradiction. In building socialism, our basic task is to further release and develop the productive forces and achieve socialist modernisation step by step by carrying out reform in those aspects and links of the production relations and the superstructure that do not conform to the development of the productive forces.” (CCP Constitution, Preamble).

This puts Wang’s powerful question in perspective—the focus on inequality must either serve to focus analysis on the persons affected and their condition or it might focus on the development of the productive forces of a society and their deployment. Ideology, and the interpretive power, Wang suggests correctly, is produced globally but felt locally. 

These powerful questions and insights, those asked as well as those unasked, however, for Wang are also careful to contextualize it within the broad patterns of economic stratification produced under conditions of economic globalization. Wang draws out the issues of class struggle indirectly, not by focusing on its emergence as a side effect of socialist modernization, reform and opening up, in China, but rather in its global context as manifested in the United States—and more specifically the Occupy Wall Street movement. One has the uneasy sensation that just as Montesquieu often spoke through Persians when he meant to speak about France (e.g., the Persian Letters (1721), Wang speaks about China through what he paints as a class issue in the United States—a United States at the center of a global economic order in which China itself will be taking a superior place.  “All in all I believe that the process of industrialization will not cease. I also think that China is in the process of ascending within the capitalist world system, not only in the immediate present, but for the next twenty years. Crises, setbacks and the intensification of social contradictions have not changed this trajectory within the system, but are, rather, its by-products.” (Wang). This echoes, in a sort of modernized though nostalgic ways, the criticisms of Deng  Xiaoping and his vision around the time of the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Party Congress, a time when the CCP emancipated its collective mind, revivified its Leninist vanguard role and embarked on the process of socialist modernization through the embrace of Socialist market economy in the service of the long term project of producing the conditions necessary to build a communist society. One forgets that context in the reaching back for a time that, clouded by the mists of history, could produce erroneous interpretation of both the trajectories of China’s development and the nature of the leadership obligations of the vanguard party.

And in that context Wang speaks to the revolutionary determinism of global class struggle embodied in the Occupy movement:

The movement recognizes that the problems of today are systemic, not individual problems that can be solved by technical adjustments. The movement states that we are now the 99 percent struggling against the 1 percent. It has brought forth the question of the relation between ourselves and our adversaries, posited a united front and outlined a political strategy. This is surely not to say that the movement can quickly achieve results, because first, if a society has created a system in which it is 99 percent against 1 percent, changing the system would necessarily imply a revolution; second, even if one does consider revolution, after the transformations that took place at the end of the twentieth century, the conditions, forms and premises of revolution have all completely changed. Absent a long period of buildup and the emergence of a new situation, achieving fundamental change will be extremely difficult. (Wang)

Those ideas then serve as a baseline for the contradictions of China in its current stage of development.
First, the fact that China is vast and regions are unevenly developed has ironically acted as a buffer in the context of the financial crisis. Regional disparity, rural–urban disparity, disparity between the rich and poor and so forth have all provided room for adjustment in China. Second, China has actually been in a constant process of adjustment during the past ten years. This adjustment results from a range of social practices, including internal jockeying, social struggle, public discussion, policy changes, local experiments and so forth.

In the face of the expectations of the peoples of developing states for economic prosperity, Wang suggests that what has been received are externalities of economic development similar to the one experienced in the United States. Distinct political philosophies, applied to economic systems that work according to value-free laws of economics cannot produce the same effect. Does that suggest a corruption of economic agents  or a need for rectification? And if rectification, on the basis of what set of principles?  Rectification is a strong word and one with very powerful connotation of sweeping away. Flora Sapio reminds one of the power of “gai”—gaige/reform; gaizheng/rectification; gaishan/improve—to shed or leave behind what had come befre.  This in contrast to the evolutive process of perfecting a thing—“wanshan.”  It was rectification that came to mind when Wang suggests the expression of crisis in political terms: “Resolute actions are necessary, but without a clear sociopolitical vision, the question of what direction macroadjustments should take will become increasingly pressing. The debates surrounding the “Chongqing model” and the “Guangdong model” have gone beyond these specific experiments and their technical details. Even debates about technical adjustment have risen to the political level.” (Wang).

Certainly even at this point one is wandering far from even a generous interpretation of the Chinese Communist Party Basic Line.  And one is suggesting a form of Leninist leadership somewhat at odds with the guiding ideology from its liberation of the cult of personality driven Sino-Euro Stalinism of the period before 1978. Yet, what ever the form of reform, or of something more radical as Wang suggests is possible, it must remain internal to, or internalized within Chinese realities. Perfecting the system and its agents cannot come raw and from the outside!: “introducing something resembling a “color revolution” from the outside, it seems to me, can only induce turmoil and can hardly produce a positive result.” (Wang).

What is clear, though, Wang suggests, is that structural adjustments, technical reforms, and small advances are not what is needed.  China faces structural contradictions that require change that is more fundamental.  And that change must reflect some set of core values—and values other than those reflected in the principles that produced the system now in need of radical reform. Wang speaks to Socialist values, but he appears to have something distinct in mind. “Resolute actions are necessary, but without a clear sociopolitical vision, the question of what direction macro-adjustments should take will become increasingly pressing. The debates surrounding the “Chongqing model” and the “Guangdong model” have gone beyond these specific experiments and their technical details. Even debates about technical adjustment have risen to the political level.” (Wang).  Wang makes clear that even the mild form of leftism, intellectual leftism and leftist concepts are no longer up to the task now facing those who seek reform. Rather the old mechanics of class struggle are the necessary catalyst for the sort of structural changes that are called for by the times.  “If we want to analyze China’s options for the future, we need to analyze the primary and the secondary contradictions China faces today, the primary and secondary aspects of these contradictions, how these contradictions figure differently in domestic settings and internationally and the dynamics and possibilities for their transformation.” (Wang).  And those contradictions are not just national—they do not have uniquely Chinese characteristics—rather they are part of an international crisis that might require the sort of transnational workers and peasants movements of the 20th century, now adjusted for the complexities of a global order that is organized not by Empires but through imperial production chains.  

Thus Wang reverts back to the early 20th century notions of economic determinism, and of the insights of Rosa Luxembourg, a witness to the collapse of the imperial-colonial system and its transformation into what would eventually emerge as liberal markets based globalization, in which China contributes a uniquely Marxist Leninist perspective. But Wang does not revert back to the European sources of his view.  Rather he returns to the theorizing before the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Part Congress:

Mao Zedong grasped the characteristics of twentieth-century imperialism—the contradiction between the First and Third World had risen to become the main contradiction, and the international division of labor brought about a change in the nature of class in the international field. With the international division of labor, disparity between classes and within the society as a whole has worsened in China. But these disparities are products of the international division of labor and, as such, aspects of larger systemic contradictions. Uneven development on both the international and domestic scales requires that we carefully analyze the main contradictions and their transformation.

Wang, correctly, does not fall into the error of classical leftist or rightist camps.  He does not succumb to the notion that China will collapse, the way the early 20th century European Empire collapse of the weight of their own multi level contradictions and unsustainable socio-political-legal models.  And yet he hints in that direction:
In fact, the integral relationship between economic growth and the accumulation of social contradictions has continually been a feature of capitalism. The period of rapid development of capitalism in the nineteenth and earlier half of the twentieth century was precisely a time of fierce class struggle in Europe, and a time of the worst international conflicts. (Wang).

Wang, then, considers the contradictions of Chinese socialist modernization from the perspective of the contradiction of imperial capitalism of the early 20th century—as a baseline.  That is a curious position.  It is also a position, ironically enough, that echoes the criticisms of Chinese Socialist modernization from the Capitalist right.  Perhaps there is a point of convergence in which socialist left and capitalist right become indistinguishable in their critique of efforts to produce social movements through a variety of stages of development. It is hard to tell at this point. For all that, Wang is absolutely correct to point out the need to be aware of and to avoid the deleterious effects of what might appear to be societal contradictions in the shaping of Socialist modernization.  But that vigilance does not necessarily require a reversion to the language of an earlier and time, one in which the vanguard party itself was not yet sufficiently well formed that it might resist the temptation of both cults of personality and a self critical embrace of formalist restrictions of reform whose only real value was its surface compatibility with the most extreme of ideological positions.

     It is not clear that the solution to the contradictions of Socialist modernization, of Socialist Market theory, is the revivification of classical class struggle notions—of the invigoration of an invitation for a society to consume itself as it seeks to purge itself of elements that are deemed threatening. That social and economic inequality produces stratification does not necessarily mean that it produces classical stratification of class—as understood by Marx, Mao and Deng. Indeed, the opposite conclusion is as easy to embrace.  Classical class stratification, and the class struggle that inevitably follows, must be understood as a product of a system that is indifferent to the production of class and that can be used to institutionalize class within its economic normative order.  But it is hard to say that this is the case in China—the obligations of the vanguard party are quite pointedly directed in the opposition to the construction of class as a mechanism of social organization, and indeed, the construction of Chinese Socialist society is grounded on the notion that the permanent structural markers of class must be avoided—and where they appear must be overturned.  There is a difference between difference in economic wealth and the construction of class. If that insight is correct, and the CCP remains true to its vanguard obligations—to the operationalization of its basic line—then, indeed, criticism and self criticism are certainly necessary, and reform moving toward systemic improvement must be attempted.  But these are precisely the sort of technical corrections that Wang suggests produce no good effect at this stage in China’s historical development.

            And thus the question is firmly presented: To what extent is the problem Wang describes a systemic problem or to what extent is it a problem of the effectiveness of the leadership by the CCP? One cannot imagine that Wang is suggesting the second question.  If that is the case, then the issue is the extent to which political policy today still reflects truth from the facts of the reality of China in its current stage of development—and to what extent ought the CCP to emancipate its (collective) mind and seek reform and opening up (note again the internationalism of Wang’s vision) in a different direction?  

But that different direction does not move the CCP and its Basic Line forward.  Instead, it appears to move the CCP back—and back to the imperial internationalist system before the Second World War—and back to a more ancient conceptual universe in which class struggle is centered as the principle internal mode of performing national contradictions within internationalized contradictions of imperial production chains.  He thus seeks to update the early 20th century analysis of Mao Zedong to suit the post national yet equally imperially epoch of transnational legal orders, one in which China, under the leadership of its CCP, will take a leading role.  Wang concedes that Mao Zedong’s class struggle within internationalist contradictions insights can no longer be applied without adjustment.  But Wang firmly appears to advance the view that such adjustments provides a better view of the realities of the contradictions in which China finds itself now than anything else.  “It is not this strategic analysis per se but this methodology that is still useful for explaining the rise of the Chinese economy.” (Wang).  And it is this methodology that Wang suggests may produce the useful insights that have so far eluded Chinese scholars of the left or right camps.

          And the question has to be answered because, Wang believes, China will not be allowed to enter the club of advanced industrial states until it abandons its Marxist Leninist political system and embraces Western liberal democracy. “Furthermore, the club of developed capitalist countries is an economic club, but also a political club. To enter this club, there is a “political test.”” (Wang). Wang is not incorrect, but not entirely correct either.  Market economies respect power—and success usually measured by wealth and profit. It is the use of that power that marks the distinction among political systems. It is in this sense that Wang correctly notes the commonality of market economies---their global character—even as they are felt quite differently at the local level. Political distinctions do not undermine the operation of markets, even as they touch on its objects, methods and scope of operation. Thus though market economies might appear to seek to undermine competitive political systems, they tend to accommodate them as well—otherwise the theocratic states that form a large and powerful block would have been undermined long ago.

Yet it is also true that China will continue to engage at a disadvantage because of its political difference.  I have written often of the ways in which Western states and their intellectual champions continue to question the legitimacy of the Chinese path. It is here that Wang confronts the issue of the legitimacy of the Chinese path (one considers the importance of the Four Cardinal Principles here, and may wonder how it plays in the analysis) in answer to questions about the legitimacy of China’s system.  “Many observers have discussed the issue of China’s state capacity. The real question is why, despite China’s strong state capacity, the state is unable to overcome its crisis of legitimacy.” (Wang). For Wang the question is a delicate one.  On the one hand he agrees, and quite correctly, that China’s state capacity is quite well developed in the material sense.  Yet he also suggests that China’s legitimacy is also caught up in the global crisis of government legitimacy, a crisis he speaks to as a global crisis of legitimacy.  That crisis has a specific character in the West.  Wang describes it as a crisis of “representation in party politics.” (Wang). I have suggested the problem and representation is broader, especially within emerging international institutions (see, e.g., HERE).  But for Wang the problem seeps into China as well. 
The essential requirement is re-politicization. This is a very acute and complex challenge. I think it is urgent that we articulate this problem theoretically, because many still do not understand how broadly and deeply the crisis of representation reaches and may believe that this problem does not exist in the West. To forge a space for real public discussion and to open up real political and theoretical debate is very important for China’s political transformation. It is very difficult to have serious political discussions in the mass media. This situation is dangerous. The key is to let people understand the true nature and characteristics of the political crisis in global capitalism through discussions of autonomy. (Wang).
This certainly represents a position that seems to move the CCP out of the center of political discourse. One moves the political from the vanguard to the people.  Yet to do that requires a serious consideration of the fundamental bedrock of Chinese political organization—the deployment of all productive forces, of all state and popular energies, to the establishment of a communist society in China.  To that end, Leninism suggests the need for a vanguard party to led the nation toward that goal. But Wang sidesteps the Leninist question and suggests the need to re-engage popular participation. And for the purpose of political transformation.  We move here from wanshan (perfecting) to gaizheng (rectification).  But to speak to these issue without speaking to the central rile of the CCP in Chinese political life is to leave a large hole in the discussion.

            That hole is made more curious by the invocation of and the suggestion of the need to re-center one of the great figures of a Leninist constitution of a Chinese state—Mao Zedong. Wang suggests “The legacy of Mao Zedong’s thought is both the object of our thinking and also a method we can use to reflect on his own political practices. It ought to be from this perspective that we revive his legacy.” (Wang) And thus to the larger issue:  It is not clear that a purely Maoist vision, even one appropriately “updated”, provides the cluster of insight necessary both to understand the current system and its contradictions.  Neither is this revivified Maoism adequate to the task of moving China forward on its path toward modernization of its economic, social, political, and environmental orders. I have suggested a different reading of the legacy f Mao from a consideration of the contextualization of Mao Zedong Thought in the CCP Constitution:
Mao Zedong Thought is perhaps most import for its role as bridge. Mao Zedong Thought provides a necessary bridge between European theory and its transposition within the Chinese context (“by integrating the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution”). It also provides a bridge from the revolutionary struggle of the 1930s-40s and the establishment of the People’s Republic (“led the people of all ethnic groups in the country in their prolonged revolutionary struggle. . . . winning victory in the new-democratic revolution and founding the People's Republic of China, a people's democratic dictatorship”). Lastly Mao Zedong Thought provides a bridge between the roles of the Chinese Communist Party from revolutionary party to party in power (“it led them in carrying out socialist transformation successfully, completing the transition from New Democracy to socialism”).

The bridge theme is crucial for understanding the place of Mao Zedong Thought within evolving and maturing Chinese political and constitutional theory. It both helps bring Marxism-Leninism forward from out of Europe into Asia, and places that forward evolution within the historical constraints of its time. That contextualization, in turn, cabins the class struggle elements of earlier iterations of Chinese political theory. (Larry Catá Backer, Part 6 (Mao Zedong Thought)--On a Constitutional Theory for China--From the General Program of the Chinese Communist Party to Political Theory).
Wang appears to suggest that pruning Chinese political thought to its Maoist roots is in order—yet is is likely that having produced that pruning what emerges will not be the Maoist vines of an earlier era but something quite different. The failure to engage with the substantial theoretical contributions of Deng Xiaoping and the collective successor advancements already nicely memorialized in the CCP state reduces the power of the analysis. Mao Zedong Thought "represents the lessons and wisdom of a formative stage of development, but not wisdom projected forward for the ages. It is foundational, the way Marxism-Leninism, is foundational, but capable of understanding o only within the historical context from out of which it arose."  (Backer) Further consideration, indeed, might lead to the possibility that the “crisis” suggests no more than the recognition that China is about to move from one historical stage of development to another—as it did at the time of the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Party Congress.  It might also suggest that this movement forward in its development requires an equally vigorous movement foreword in its ideological development—not a movement backwards toward a nostalgic reading of historical determinism that has played out a century ago. Thus Wang’s criticism is correct, in the sense that it is time to push Marxist Leninist theory forward to suit the times—and indeed that is a current obligation already embedded in the CCP Basic Line. But that forward movement does not suggest a reversion to old forms and the re-purification of old ideas.  That is fundamental error at odds with the thrust of the development of Chinese Marxist Leninism for the last half century.  That error is as much a problem under Wang’s conceptualization of the problem as it might be for others who also seek to use the forms of earlier times to solve the emerging problems for a future society.

         And indeed, Wang’s solution to the problem of  the contradictions in China’s path to development suggests the consequences of a backwards looking approach. The primary consequence is that it cannot work without rejecting the logic of internationalization at the heart of contemporary economic globalization.  Wang describes this conundrum for his approach quite honestly:

What kind of international strategy should China adopt in the context of the international financial crisis? My own view is that we should search for an autonomous development strategy and break away from the division of labor imposed by capitalist hegemony. Without autonomy, there can be no strategy. But what constitutes “autonomy” under conditions of globalization has become a complicated question. Production, consumption, labor are all being internationalized. The type of autonomy nation-states could carve out under conditions associated with the Cold War is no longer possible. Therefore, there is a need to explore new forms of autonomy. (Wang).

Wang rejects the efficacy of most mid 20th century approaches advanced by the so-called third world and non-aligned faction of states—including Mao Zedong’s Three World theory. “But we should not ignore the inspiration that this theory can give us today.” (Wang).  Yet the only inspiration such theories provide is a rejection of the current framework without anything other than a hypothetical instrumentalist alternative as solace.  And yet there are examples of a new “middle way”.  And they offer little hope for a future in which China can overcome its own contradictions—for example the ALBA Socialist Regional Trade alignment and its theories (e.g., here)—more compatible with the orientation of pre-Deng Mao Zedong, but unable to provide material advances for its people. (Discussed here, here and here).  But again, Wang is correct to suggest that it is an important element of CCP leadership to ensure the autonomy and protection of the nation.  At the same time he can offer us little that is new other than the hope that repacking partial ideological insights form the past will produce a better alternative to the current CCP Basic Line. And he does this without specifically engaging that Basic Line.  That is the sort of exercise that might have been more useful.

          On the other hand, Wang is precisely correct in his assessment of the contradictions of representation in both China and the West.  He is quite right to point out that this crisis in representation presents a significant danger for the integrity of both systems, and that both systems have the capacity to revisit and overcome the contradictions.

A lack of representation is now a common feature in the political sphere. On November 18, 2011, I participated in a public dialogue and debate with the chairman of the German Social Democratic Party, Sigmar Gabriel, at the party’s main office. I pointed out that, in spite of the great difference between China and the countries of Europe in terms of political systems, all of these countries not only face the same economic crisis, they also face a similar political crisis due to a breakdown in their political parties’ capacity to represent the people. My basic viewpoint is that we must change the way in which we examine crises experienced by political institutions today.

For the West, the issue of representation goes both to the organization of political power and its migration from elected to administrative bodies.  It suggests a difficulty of representation through elections and the problems of representation in the forms of accountability (see (here, here, here, here here, and here for example). For China, the problems of representation are bound up in democratic centralism and the mass line. 

Though Wang’s insight about the crisis of representation in the West and China is quite powerful, I do not share his views on its causes.  These, too, suggests a backwards looking (capitalism focused) ideological framework that, while powerful and useful in certain respects, fails to satisfy in the face of the new creature that is contemporary economic globalization. Wang suggests:

At its root, the crisis in representation is a product of neoliberalism in the political sphere, in that it is a consequence of depoliticization. It has to do with the fundamental change in the structure of politics within the context of capitalism as a whole. (Wang).

I have suggested a different set of causes for the crisis of representation.  The problem of political transformation does not follow economics.  And indeed, both economics and politics in this case follow the logic of great societal transformations that have produced fracture and reorganization of the basic units of social economic and political organization in the wake of revolutions in technology and taste—for objects and ideas that have made the sort of national autonomy to which Wang looks back to nostalgically—now impossible.  Fracture, fluidity, permeability and polycentricity mark an age in which the traditional barriers of race, ethnicity, language, religion, politics and travel no longer hamper interactions and recombinations of the social order. (See eg HERE). It is in that context, not the 20th century, one to which many people cling, that the modern realities of challenge and change must be considered.  That is not done here.

          Wang argues that “We need to form an objective but dynamic analysis concerning China’s internal and external situation and draw theoretical and strategic lessons from this.” (Wang) But is it possible to engage in this quite worthy exercise in the face of nostalgia? And indeed, that sense of nostalgia for the 1960s and 1970s—a nostalgia that is both horrific to some and as impossible to reproduce as early Han dynasty culture, that marks the set of questions. And it provides a quite odd lens through which to understand the transnationalism and post modernism that is represented in the anti-globalization movements of this century—including the Occupy Movement. These cannot be understood as merely anti-capitalist—a tern that has lost and reconstituted its meaning to such an extent that it almost makes it useless to discuss capitalism except as a historical artifact. Capitalism has now morphed into the discourse of markets and market management.  There are factions within that ideological camp—from those who expound virtually no management to those who suggest substantial management of markets and market behaviors.  But none of this touches on the genius of capitalism—a genius that died with the end of the Second World War and the inauguration of a managed markets oriented global order.  Wang both understands this: “This round of globalization, particularly the transnationalization of production, has made the possibility of reverting to the logic of the older state very small.” (Wang) But he also fails to see its consequences: “The state is a space in which struggles unfold, and the issue of autonomy is manifested at the state level. If one observes the situation of countries in North Africa and the Middle East suffering from external interference, one can understand that the state issue is not at all inconsequential, contrary to what many have claimed.” (Wang). 

And yet Wang does understand that “we need to explore the issue of autonomy under the conditions of globalization.” (Wang).  But he understands this only to the extent necessary to escape from its orbit.  And that is the weakness and limit of the power of his otherwise powerful analysis. For all of his recognition of the powerful transformative effects of globalization he still seeks to work for that return to an earlier state of nature, one that is now essentially impossible to recreate precisely because of the advances of globalization and its destruction of the system in which his ideological foundations are grounded. He insists on asking the one question whose very articulation suggests the tragedy of the analysis that follows: “How can one forge an independent development strategy within a globalized system?” The answer is that one cannot—nor should one want to.

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