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Uneven and Combined Development: Modernity, Modernism, Revolution (5): China: Where All Roads Meet

by Neil Davidson on August 8, 2017
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China in the Neoliberal World Order

My argument in the preceding posts has been that uneven and combined development is not only a universal phenomenon under conditions of capitalist modernity, but an ongoing one which will only cease when the last peasant has been pushed or pulled off their land into wage labour and city life. Nuclear holocaust, environmental collapse or even the socialist revolution are likely to have occurred long before humanity ever reaches that point: it is a process which will never conclude while capitalism subsists. In this final part, I conclude my discussion by returning to a country which has appeared at several points in the discussion so far, notably in Parts 1 and 4, and which is currently experiencing uneven and combined development in its most intense form.

China was the first country outside of Russia for which Trotsky argued that a strategy of permanent revolution was possible. As in the Russian case, this was because the process of uneven and combined development had produced – among other things – a working class which was small relative to the overall population, but possessed of an exceptional degree of revolutionary militancy. Even the dramatic changes which occurred in China during the first three decades of the Twentieth century have, however, been overshadowed by the contemporary impact of uneven and combined development, which resumed late in 1978, when the party-state began to reinsert China into the world economy.

The subsequent transformation of China has been interpreted in several different ways. For some bourgeois commentators, such as Ian Bremmer, it represents perhaps the most advanced form of a transition to what he calls state capitalism, which he defines as ‘not the reemergence of socialist central planning in a twentieth-century package’ but rather ‘a form of bureaucratically engineered capitalism particular to each government that practices it’ and one ‘in which the state dominates markets primarily for political gain’.[1] Most commentators, however, have taken quite the opposite view. For Christian Caryl, the date at which the Chinese ‘reform era’ began means that it must be regarded as one of five founding moments of a new historical era:

The forces unleashed in 1979 marked the beginning of the end of the great socialist utopias that had dominated so much of the twentieth century. These five stories – the Iranian Revolution, the start of the Afghan jihad, Thatcher’s election victory, the pope’s first Polish pilgrimage, and the launch of China’s economic reforms – deflected the course of history in a radically new direction. It was in 1979 that the twin forces of markets and religion, discounted for so long, came back with a vengeance.[2]

For David Harvey, the ‘force of markets’ is the more significant, to the point where he sees the Chinese reforms as a key component of the global neoliberal turn.[3]  I agree that China is currently part of the neoliberal world order, but this was scarcely the intention of the Party leadership when it initiated the reform programme, which preceded not only the consolidation of neoliberalism, but the elections of Thatcher and Reagan which signalled, in their respective ‘isms’, its initial forms. The individual components of the neoliberal order were first assembled into a coherent package in the UK and USA, in both vanguard neoliberal form during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and social neoliberal form during that of Tony Blair.[4] These forms were the most advanced, but precisely for that reason were not necessarily the most typical of the phenomenon, nor did they necessarily reveal the future pattern of development elsewhere in the world, since neoliberalism has reinforced rather than undermined the inherent unevenness of capitalism. But the era of neoliberalism, like the era of state capitalism (in the Marxist rather than Bremmerian sense) which preceded it, contains a spectrum of different positions, some more extreme than others.

In fact, as Bob Jessop has pointed out, neoliberalism has always been characterised by spatial differentiation in which several varieties operated simultaneously. His typology involves four geographically demarcated moments, each reflecting the structured inequality of the global capitalist system. Two of these forms can be found in the developed capitalisms of the West. The first involved neoliberal regime shifts, above all in the English-speaking world, where the institutional characteristics of the Great Boom – Social or Liberal Democracy in politics, Keynesianism in economic management, and Fordism in industrial organisation – were replaced during the dominance of parties belonging to the New Right. The second involved neoliberal policy adjustments, for example in the Scandinavian and Rhenish countries, where partial adaptations to neoliberalism were made while retaining some elements from the former period. The third involve neoliberal system transformation in the former Stalinist states of Russia and Easter Europe, and to a lesser extent in South-East Asia, where the existing state capitalist economies (although Jessop prefers the terms ‘state socialist’) were transformed with varying degrees of abruptness into particularly extreme versions of the Western multinational capitalist model. The fourth involves neoliberal structural adjustment programmes in the Global South, which are essentially an aspect of contemporary imperialism as exercised by Western-dominated transnational institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.[5] In a sense, the Chinese experience is closest to the second type, even though as a state and a society it had more in common with it those which experienced the third.

As this suggests, the initial adoption of market solutions was slower and more cautious than appears in retrospect. As Claudio Katz points out:

From 1978 to 1992, this path [i.e. ‘its transition to capitalism’ – ND] was limited by the preeminence of a model of commercial reforms which were subordinated to central planning. Under this scheme, rural communes were converted into agro-industrial units guided by the profit principle, but without opening to widespread privatisations. Managers appeared with the power to reorganize industrial plants, but they did not have the power to enforce mass layoffs or to sell enterprises… The turn to capitalism was consummated at the beginning of the 1990s, starting with the privatisations carried out by the old directors of the state enterprises with the intention of forging a capitalist class.  The members of this group were transformed into the main investors in the new companies. Private accumulation was also accelerated through exploitation of the agricultural producers.[6]

Now, it is important not to ‘bend the stick’ too far in response to an exaggerated accounts of the extent of the immediate post-1978 transformation. Nigel Harris identified as early as 1986 the direction of travel: ‘The changes in the People’s Republic of China – selling public companies to private shareholders, privatizing housing and medicine, opening sectors to competitive joint ventures with foreign companies – were not only remarkable in the speed with which the changes were introduced and the contrast with past Chinese history; the Chinese were part of an apparently universal move back to a private capitalist world’[7] What one can say is that while neoliberalism led to deindustrialisation in large parts of the West, it led in China to previously unimaginable levels of industrialisation, to which we now turn.

Three Aspects of Uneven and Combined Development in Contemporary China

As I noted in a previous survey, originally published in the mid-2000s, almost anything one says about China is out of date before it appears in print, but it is possible to discern continuities with earlier manifestations of uneven and combined development.[8] Here, I want to briefly discuss three: the instabilities caused by migrant flows into the cities; the actuality of working-class resistance and self-organisation; and the capacities of the state to ‘contain’ these instabilities.

Internal Migration

As in the aftermath of the First World War, there is currently a massive influx of workers into the cities, but now on a much greater scale. Many of these cities did not pre-exist the migration but, as we saw in Part 4, are being constructed solely for the purposes of containing new factories and distributions hubs. Previously, the household registration or hukou system was designed to ‘to limit rural-to-urban migration’ as part of the process by which ‘the growth of cities was curtailed’: ‘Within the Maoist city, the economic and social landscape was carved into repetitive, cellular units made up of danwei compounds.’[9] Is it too much to assume that at some unconscious level Mao understood that the growth of the cities would threaten precisely the kind of social upheaval that might endanger the Party’s rule?[10]

There have, however, been changes since 1991 in particular in both the composition of the migrant population and the relationship new migrants have to their point of origin. The three great areas of neoliberal industrialisation are the Pearl River delta, the Yangtze River delta and what might be called the Beijing-Tianjin corridor. Richard Walker and Daniel Buck note: ‘There are three major routes to proletarianization in China: from the farming countryside, out of collapsing state companies in the cities, and through the dissolution of former village enterprises.’[11] The new workforce has certainly been formed from these three groups, but these had different relationships to the working class. The second group listed by Walker and Buck, employees in state-owned enterprises (SOEs), were surely already ‘proletarians’ in their former jobs, unless one subscribes to the curious view that wage labourers employed by the state do not count as ‘workers’. In fact, their fate resembles that of workers in the privatised industries in the West, although workers in SOEs had better social protections and employment guarantees until they were dismantled in the 1980s and 1990s.

The third group, workers in the rural township and village enterprises (TVES) which both supported the rural infrastructure and subcontracted to the SOEs, occupied a more ambivalent position. These were of course located in ‘the farming countryside’ but, as Walker and Buck suggest, their employees occupied a transitional position, being former peasants ‘nominally protected by the obligations of local government’. However, as many SOEs were dismantled and the survivors looked for cheaper subcontractors, the TVES themselves went into crisis, shedding the majority of workers who were now reduced ‘to proletarians subject to the full force of the market’, an experience which the authors rightly describe as ‘Marx’s shift from “formal” to “real” subsumption of labour’.

Finally, the first group, the peasantry proper, have undergone the classic process of proletarianization: ‘rural displacement to the cities is vast, numbering [by 2007] roughly 120 billion since 1980 – the largest migration in world history’.[12]

In the 1920s, migrants intended to move on a permanent basis, but this was not necessarily so in the 1980s and 1990s, as Kevin Lin explains:

The first generation [of migrant workers] were rural peasants who, pushed by rural poverty and pulled by the burgeoning urban economy, migrated to China’s urban centres in the 1980s. Their city wages were meagre but still higher than their rural incomes. For young women, factory work and urban life also brought a new sense of freedom. But the household registration system and their own rural roots meant that the first-generation migrant workers have been predisposed to eventually returning to their villages.[13]

This ‘dual’ identity was possible because the state maintains a landholding system that allows members of a family to work in urban industry while retaining links to the small holding. One factor which helped slacken the tensions which would otherwise have built up uncontrollably in the cities was therefore the link many workers continued to have with the countryside, both as a place of refuge in periods of unemployment or non-payment of wages, and as a source of subsistence through farming:

It is the family farm that lends the migrant worker away from home a substitute for the benefits he or she is not getting from urban work, as well as security in the event of dis-employment or unemployment or in old age, while this same worker helps supplement the otherwise unsustainably low incomes of the auxiliary family members engaged in underemployed farming of small plots for low returns. So long as substantial surplus labour remains in the countryside, the key structural conditions for this new half-worker half-cultivator family economic unit will prevail.[14]

By contrast, the second generation of migrant workers, who were mainly born in the 1980s and 1990s, and who might amount to as many as 58% of the total, have weaker links to the countryside:

Most of them, like the first-generation, have come directly from farms and small cities, but a small percentage were born or raised by their first-generation migrant parents. In general this group’s link to the countryside is weaker, and they are more accustomed to urban living.

This does not mean, however, that they have completely ceased to identify themselves as peasants or inhabitants of their rural hometowns:

These migrant workers are living in a societal limbo seeing themselves as neither urban or rural; their urban residency and youthful aspirations clash with social and institutional barriers to permanent settlement.[15]

There is of course a gendered aspect to the situation in which migrants find themselves. Julia Chuang’s fieldwork among women migrants working in the export-processing zones suggests that they are far more likely than men to return to their villages of origin, in part because of pressure from female family members: ‘Some older women in Fa-Ming expect young migrant women to adhere to traditional values and practices even as they are exposed to modern, urban values in destinations.’[16]

The pressures are not simply about upholding traditions, but are a means of dealing with a practical issue: the effective absence – after nearly 70 years of ‘communism’ – of a welfare state in the countryside and the consequent reliance on women to provide or at least pay for support:

In the sending community, women face a double bind: they are expected to support husbands who engage in precarious and high-risk migrations; and they are expected to negotiate with those husbands to channel a portion of remittance income to their aging parents, who lack access to welfare or social support.[17]

One of Chuang’s interviewees (‘Golden Flower’) from Fa-Ming village in Sichuan province had been a temporary migrant to the city before her marriage:

But Golden Flower chafed at the uneven bargain that marriage represented. She saw domestic work as a form of bondage, intolerable specifically in comparison to the life she had known during migration. She envisaged her near future: ‘In the end I’ll be alone raising pigs in the village while he is out in the city working. At least he can go out and work, have some space for a real life out in the city’.[18]

What kind of situation do the migrants face in the workplaces that await them in the cities?  Ching Kwan Lee argues that what prevails across the board are forms of ‘disorganised despotism’ involving ‘workers’ institutional dependence on management for livelihood, managerial power to impose coercive modes of labour control, and workers’ collective apprehension of such control as violations of their interests and rights’, and that ‘varying degrees’ of such despotism can be found ‘across industrial firms of different ownership types’ on a contingent basis:

For example, the generally long working hours and more intensive labour processes in private firms than in state firms are due more to the volume and nature of orders they respectively receive, not due to any difference in management’s institutional power and its imperative to impose discipline in these two types of firm.[19]

Additionally, migrant workers, who are referred to as ‘peasant workers’ (nongmingong) in Chinese, tend to be looked down on as uneducated and generally lacking in culture by urban resident workers, and naturally are resentful of this condescension: clearly, this is a barrier to class unity. The official union federation, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), only proclaimed that it had a responsibility to ‘represent’ migrant workers in 2003. Given that the ACFTU is primarily an instrument of state and management control, this is something of a mixed blessing, but is at least partly a response to the reality of migrant worker militancy.[20]

Worker Resistance

The fact that migrant workers tend to be employed in the private sector and are consequently subjected to the harsher conditions prevailing there, together with the declining availability of the countryside as a means of escape, however temporary, may have contributed to their being more militant than workers in the older state-owned sector, where closures and lay-offs have tended to be the central problems. The relative difference in degrees of militancy is not necessarily reflected in the explanatory framework within which Chinese workers seek to understand their own situation. If anything, Lee’s research found that those still employed by the state indict their oppressors within ‘a cognitive framework of “class” and he refers to one worker’s ‘spirited critique of the degeneration of the official union into a “yellow union” and the transformation of enterprise cadres into a capitalist class’, while others ‘deploy Marxist concepts to understand and evaluate market socialism’, reporting one who ‘condemns as unfair the unequal distribution of income by appealing to Marx’s labour theory of value’.

Migrant workers, however, tend to express their opposition in different terms:

Migrant peasant workers’ encounter with market and capitalist forces bring about a critique alluding to ‘alienation’, grounded more in terms of denial of human dignity, loss of personal autonomy, and dishonesty, not in terms of exploitation.[21]

This is not as surprising as it might seem. Marxism was available to newly radicalized workers in the 1920s as a new and unsullied doctrine, filtered through the Bolshevik experience, which helped them make sense of their own exploitation and oppression; but, as in Stalinist Russia itself, where the ideology of the bureaucratic ruling class has supposedly been ‘Marxism-Leninism’ for nearly 70 years, it cannot play the same role. At best, workers in the state sector can draw attention to the inconsistencies of neoliberal ‘socialism’, while those in the private sector, for whom Maoist rhetoric has been less significant, express their opposition through a form of moral economy. ‘The two groups of workers, traditional and new, are merging in a common search for class subjectivity.’[22]

Much therefore depends on whether a genuine Marxism capable of explaining the trajectory of ‘Marxist’ China becomes available to large numbers of Chinese workers. If it ever does, it should find as ready an audience as in the 1920s.

In their introduction to Hao Ren’s important collection of interviews with migrant workers involved in industrial struggle across the Pearl River Delta, Zhongjin Li and Eli Friedman note that:

nominally ‘socialist’ China presents in hyperbolic form many of the problems that those of us in the capitalist world experience: low wages, no benefits, lawlessness in the workplace, anti-union employers and governments, a broken system of political representation.[23]

Fortunately, the response of Chinese workers has also been ‘hyperbolic’, at least episodically. The absence of what might be termed formal or institutionalised class struggle through worker’s parties, free trade unions, or legal social movements has not precluded the existence of class struggle, as has been so clearly demonstrated by rapidly growing industrial struggle and what Lee calls ‘the staggering increase’ in Chinese workers turning to existing legal mechanisms to seek redress.[24]

The level of ‘mass incidents’ increased after 2003 and particularly after 2008, as Chinese workers and peasants responded to the downturn and the introduction of the new Labour Contract Law and Labour Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Law with an acceleration of struggle.

Contrary to the impression that the lack of formal freedoms precludes any changes from above precipitated by struggle from below, Chinese workers, through their quasi-legal and illegal actions, usually without formal organisation, had forced a nervous ruling class to concede major legal changes which have had a real impact and, at a local state level, forced a turn from a sole reliance on repression to a more mixed approach involving both repression and conciliation.

The implementation of new labour laws led to a huge increase in disputes submitted to official labour dispute mechanisms and to the courts. At the same time far from damping down militant labour struggle these concessions seem to have encouraged them as instanced by the rise in labour protests. Ironically it seems that information on the new legislation has acted as catalyst for struggle especially as employers have tried to circumvent the new laws. One observer described the situation in the Longgang division of Shenzhen:

At the end of 2007, strikes broke out almost every day. And the participants came from all kinds of industries and jobs. They did not go to work, gathering around the gate or wandering in the square. The strikes were all in large factories with at least two hundred or three hundred workers. Such factories as Yunchang, Dahua, and Jingchang employed thousands of workers. At that time, the new Labour Contract law had just been implemented. Workers lost their seniority after the bosses terminated their existing labour contracts, so workers went on strike.[25]

The actions taken involve more than strikes (whose status is currently in a legal limbo in China), but also blockades of streets, demos and sit-ins. The pressure from below has had an impact just as it did during rapid periods of industrialisation and urbanisation in other states.

The level of struggle is all the more extraordinary given that it is expressed outside of official trade union structures, although the ACFTU may now be becoming more responsive to workers’ demands at a local level.[26]

The most spectacular recent example has been the March-April 2014 strike at footwear manufacturer Yue Yuen in Dongguan over non-payment of social security contributions, perhaps the biggest to date in the Chinese private sector. It climaxed in production being completely shut down across three factories for 11 days, with around 30,000 workers or about 80% of the workforce on strike and 10,000 of them taking part in street protests and demonstrations. In the end, the strike was only ended by the intervention of Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security ordering the company to pay up.[27]

State Transformations

In the face of facts like these, Mike Davis is surely correct to say: ‘Two hundred million Chinese factory workers, miners and construction labourers are the most dangerous class in the planet.’[28]

What the outcome also suggests, however, is that the state has developed the adaptability to absorb or ‘contain’ the effects of uneven and combined development, just as earlier capitalist states had done. Ironically – given the persistence of Western leftist fantasies about the socialist nature of the regime – one reason for this ability is that it continues to perform what has historically been one of the main functions of the capitalist state, but one which has been weakened in the West by both decades of neoliberalism and more recently by experiments in right-wing populism: representing and managing the interests of national capital as a whole.[29]

Why the CCP? Slavoj Zizek writes that,

arguably the reason why (ex-) Communists are re-emerging as the most efficient managers of capitalism: their historical enmity towards the bourgeoisie as a class fits perfectly with the progress of contemporary capitalism towards a managerial system without the bourgeoisie.[30]

There is an element of truth in this, but even so, the adaptability of the state  involved what Charlie Hore refers to ‘a fundamental shift in power inside the ruling class’ following the neoliberal turn:

The government deliberately decentralised economic power, allowing lower levels of the state to keep a greater proportion of profits and taxes. The expectation was that this would lead to greater efficiency, but what local officials actually did was follow their own interests. This is why Chinese economic development has been both so dynamic and so unstable: economic growth has been state-led, but by the lower levels of the state, leading to enormous duplication of investment and assets. … Although China remains a repressive police state, it is far less so than 25 years ago. The government deliberately scrapped many of the controls on everyday life to make economic reforms work. Freedom of movement had to be allowed if markets were to flourish; some freedom of speech was necessary if officials were to tell the truth about the economy and debate policy options…[31]

Walker and Buck note how neoliberal developments since 1978 (or ‘the transition’ as they describe it) ‘has reconfigured the form of the state in a way that has unleashed the powers of capitalism’. One aspect of this has been the devolution of power to the metropolitan and prefectural levels, giving local governments the ability to annex territory and existing urban areas, and to raise revenue through local taxes and rents. The authors draw an audacious parallel:

Altogether, the Chinese situation reminds one of the American federal system and its urban growth politics, from which an array of public and private players profit handsomely. Backroom payoffs are far from unknown in the US, but the exchange of favours and rewards is done to the mutual advantage of many. What the Chinese call guanxi is very like what Americans call horse-trading. Regional government competition in China is also reminiscent of American federalism. It is pointless to complain, in this context, about the duplication and inefficiency of local boosterism. The evidence in both the US and China is that this kind of wide-open alliance between state and capital for regional development works very well indeed. … One would not expect the State Council to play midwife to the birth of capitalism in the same way as local governments. China’s ‘developmental dictatorship’ is more in line with continental European experience in this regard.

The entirely correct view that China has followed a path not so distant from those of Europe and North America’ leaves Walker and Buck with ‘a final question’ which is why China’s polity has not liberalised in line with the neoliberalisation of its economy.[32]

The obvious answer is that there is no necessary connection between capitalism – certainly not the neoliberal variant – and democracy. In China what David Goodman calls the ‘intermediate middle classes’ are not yet demanding reform, let alone overthrow of the state:

On the contrary…[they] are fundamental supporters of the contemporary Party-state, even if at times some are also the most articulate critics of specific actions and policy settings of the Party-state, particularly wanting it to be more efficient and just.[33]

If an insurgent working class is one central problem facing the Chinese party-state then the other is precisely whether the devolution of power to individual capitalists and bureaucrats has begun to undermine its ability to perform its role as central authority for the system as a whole. In one sense President Xi Jinping’s current campaign against corruption is an attempt to force actors to perform their roles with an eye to the overall interests of national capital rather than their particular section of it, and behave accordingly:

One of Xi’s most pressing concerns since becoming president of the largest one-party state in the world has been re-establishing the CCP’s authority over its nearly 90 million members. The central government can issue laws and formulate policy, but given factionalism and competition for power among officials at all levels, it has struggled to get the rank and file to implement those policies or uphold those laws. Local governments, for example, often collude with businesses to enrich themselves at the expense of the people, soliciting backlash in the form of mass protest and social unrest, and threatening the party’s power.

And, as these authors note: ‘These problems are made more urgent by a slowing economy.’[34]

In Place of a Conclusion

In a sense this brings us back to our starting point, for the situation does resemble that of Russia with which I began this series of articles – not because a bourgeois revolution is still to be accomplished, but because fundamental social change can only come at the hands of the working class.

Our end, however, is not entirely in our beginning. Paul Mason has written that: ‘Shenzhen’s workers are to global capitalism what Manchester’s workers were 200 years ago.’[35] Mason’s desire to establish the continuities within the global history of the working class is commendable, but there are limits to the parallels which can be drawn.

The Marxist science-fiction author, Kim Stanley Robinson, has one of his characters say that ‘historical analogy is the last refuge of people who can’t grasp the current situation’.[36] That seems to be appropriate here. The Mancunian workers who marched to Saint Peter’s Fields in 1819 and the Glaswegian workers who struck for the vote the following year had available to them neither socialism as a goal nor Marxism as a theory.

It is a great, if bleak historical irony that, after the material and ideological devastation wrought by Stalinism, the same is true for most workers today, and not only in China. There are therefore no analogies entirely adequate to describe our current situation and we should therefore not expect to find strategic or organisational models ready-made for use. What we can predict from our experience until now is that uneven and combined development will continue to play a role in throwing up revolutionary conjunctures, the outcomes of which, as always, cannot be predicted in advance.


[1] Ian Bremmer, The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (New York: Portfolio Books, 2010), p. 23; for his substantive discussion of China, see ibid, pp. 128-145.

[2] Christian Caryl, Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p. xiii.

[3] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 120-135.

[4] Which is why Perry Anderson’s decision to omit Britain (‘whose history since the fall of Thatcher has been of little moment’) from his study of the European Union is mistaken. Blair’s ‘social’ variant on the neoliberal regime has been far more insidiously influential than that of Thatcher. See ‘Foreword’, The New Old World (London: Verso, 2009), pp. xii-xiii.

[5] Bob Jessop, ‘From Hegemony to Crisis? The Continuing Ecological Dominance of Neoliberalism’, in The Rise and Fall of Neoliberalism: the Collapse of an Economic Order?, edited by Kean Birch and Vlad Mykhnenko (London: Zed Books, 2010), pp. 172-174.

[6] Claudio Katz, ‘Capitalist Mutations in Emerging, Intermediate and Peripheral Neoliberalism’, in BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique, edited by Patrick Bond and Ana Garcia (London: Pluto Press, 2015), p. 72.

[7] Nigel Harris, The End of the Third World: Newly Industrializing Countries and the End of an Ideology (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 167.

[8] Neil Davidson [2006], ‘China: Unevenness, Combination, Revolution?’, in We Cannot Escape History: States and Revolutions (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), p. 175.

[9] Richard Walker and Daniel Buck, ‘The Chinese Road’, New Left Review II/46 (July/August 2007), pp. 42, 59.

[10] Davidson, ‘China’, p. 178.

[11] Walker and Buck, ‘The Chinese Road’, p. 42.

[12] Ibid, pp. 42-44.

[13] Kevin Lin, ‘Recomposing Chinese Migrant and State-Sector Workers’, in Chinese Workers in Comparative Perspective, edited by Anna Chan (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015), p. 71.

[14] Phillip C. C. Huang, Gao Yuan and Yusheng Peng, ‘Capitalization without Proletarianization in China’s Agricultural Development’, Modern China, vol. 38, no. 2 (2012), p. 164; see also, Ching Kwan Lee, Against the Law: Labour Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), chapter 6.

[15] Lin, ‘Recomposing Chinese Migrant and State-Sector Workers’, pp. 71-72.

[16] Julie Chuang, ‘Factory Girls after the Factory: Female Return Migrations in Rural China’, Gender and Society, vol. 30, no. 3 (June 2016), p. 479.

[17] Ibid, 2016, p. 484.

[18] Ibid, p, 481. This is of course not unique to China or indeed the Global South. J. D. Vance writes of the Appalachian grandparents, relocated to Ohio: ‘The sense that they had abandoned their families was acute, and it was expected that, whatever their responsibilities, they would return home regularly.’ See Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York: HarperCollins, 2016), p. 30.

[19] Ching Kwan Lee, ‘From the Spectre of Mao to the Spirit of the Law: Labour Insurgency in China’, Theory and Society, vol. 31, no. 2 (2002), pp. 197-198 and pp. 197-206 more generally.

[20] David S. G. Goodman, Class in Contemporary China (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014), 183; Eli Friedman, Insurgency Trap: Labour Politics in Postsocialist China (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 51.

[21] Lee, ‘From the Spectre of Mao to the Spirit of the Law’, p. 204. See also Lin Chun, ‘The Language of Class in China’, in Socialist Register 2015: Transforming Classes, edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo (London: Merlin Press, 2014), pp. 41-42

[22] Chun, ‘The Language of Class in China’, p. 42.

[23] Zhongjin Li and Eli Friedman, ‘Introduction to the English Edition’, in China on Strike: Narratives of Worker’s Resistance, edited by Hao Ren (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), p. xiv.

[24] Lee, Against the Law, p. 43

[25] Quoted in Li and Friedman, ‘Introduction to the English Edition’, p. 16.

[26] China Labour Bulletin, Going it Alone: the Workers’ Movement in China (2007-2008) (Hong Kong: China Labour Bulletin, 2009), pp. 5-7, 14, 21-22, 23-24, 36.

[27] Immanuel Ness, Southern Insurgency: The Making of the Global Working Class (London: Pluto Press, 2016), pp. 135-144.

[28] Mike Davis, ‘Spring Confronts Winter’, New Left Review II/72 (November/December 2011), p. 15.

[29] Neil Davidson, ‘Crisis Neoliberalism and Regimes of Permanent Exception’, Critical Sociology, published on-line 4 August 2016 at:

http://crs.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/08/03/0896920516655386.full.pdf+html)

[30] Slavoj Zizek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (London: Verso, 2012), 11.

[31] Charlie Hore, ‘China’s Century?’, International Socialism, second series, 103 (Summer 2003, pp. 8, 25.

[32] Walker and Buck, ‘The Chinese Road’, p. 65.

[33] Goodman, Class in Contemporary China, 155.

[34] Macabe Keliher and Hsinchao Wu, ‘What China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign is Really About’, The Atlantic (7 April 2015):

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/xi-jinping-china-corruption-political-culture/389787/

[35] Paul Mason, Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global (London: Harvil Secker, 2007), p. 7 and chapter 1 more generally.

[36] Kim Stanley Robinson [1993], Red Mars (London: Harper Voyager, 2009), p. 543. But for those who need to have the point established by Authority, see this warning, in Trotsky’s first iteration of the strategy of permanent revolution: ‘Historical analogies, by which liberalism lives and is nurtured, cannot take the place of social analysis.’ Leon D. Trotsky [1906], Results and Prospects, in The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects (Third edition, New York: Pathfinder Books, 1969), p. 36; see also [1908–1909/1922], 1905 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), p6.

This post originally appeared on Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century

Neil Davidson

Neil Davidson was for over two decades a career civil servant with the Scottish Government and its predecessors; he now lectures in Sociology with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (2000); Discovering the Scottish Revolution (2003), for which he received the Deutscher Memorial Prize and the Fletcher of Saltoun Award; How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (2012); Holding Fast to an Image of the Past (2014); and We Cannot Escape History (2015). Neil is a supporter of the Radical Independence Campaign and a signatory to the Scottish Left Project.

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