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RECENTLY at the Richard Nixon Library, Mike Pompeo spoke calling for the United States to condemn China and its Communist Party (CCP).
In his evaluation, he was right about some things but wrong about others.
He was correct in labelling President Xi Jinping a Marxist. Indeed, Xi has always been outspoken about his respect for Karl Marx’s writings and attaining socialism.
Where Pompeo was entirely off the mark was his assessment of splitting the CCP from the Chinese people’s support.
This is a common misunderstanding about China that I too had when I first went there in 2004.
Armed with a simple reading of Chinese history, I imagined that I was an “enlightened” Westerner.
Upon coming up against strong support for the CCP, I originally brushed this away as brainwashing.
This was an effective enough way to deny others their point of view while preventing cognitive dissonance creep into my own consciousness.
When my fluency in Mandarin grew, I was exposed to people from all walks of life.
Putting cognitive dissonance to the side, I had to acknowledge that the CCP enjoys broad support throughout China.
This even came from most students coming back from studies abroad who, although exposed to Western media, rejected the diagnosis and prescription they heard.
The simple fact is that the oft-repeated message that there is a volcano of social unrest ready to rise and overthrow the CCP just does not hold true on the ground.
Of course, broad support does not mean blanket support. Those who are not enamoured of the political-economic system are only too willing to speak out even if they are not willing to publish their discontent.
However, such voices are starkly in the minority as independent PEW studies show.
A recent Harvard University study described by the authors as “the longest-running independent attempt to track citizens’ approval” revealed that the CCP received a favourable approval rating of 86.1 per cent in 2003, increasing to 93.1 per cent in 2016.
Maybe China’s strict reporting controls lead to popular support for the CCP?
Inevitably, this must be a factor. After all, we can see in Britain, too, where large corporations monopolise our media, voices that go against neoliberal hegemony are drowned out and, despite the woes of the working class, voting in a Labour Party committed to its founding ideals has become challenging, to say the least.
Power, then, naturally reinforces itself through disseminating its ideology to create a “common-sense” view of the world.
However, ideology must nevertheless reflect reality, otherwise it becomes naked propaganda.
For example, the lived experience of communist eastern Europe did not reflect the utopian socialist ideology – which can account, in part, for its collapse.
In contrast “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is more pragmatic.
Examining the overwhelming power of global capital, it works closely with this force without being trumped by it.
Indeed, the development of market and capital is seen as a necessary foundation for future socialism.
The trick, then, is not letting these same market forces disseminate their “common-sense” view or corrupt political forces.
Likewise, the CCP in a pragmatic non-utopian way continues to deliver real material progress to China’s citizens.
On my initial evaluation of China in 2004, Deng Xiaoping’s pledge to first develop the cities on the east coast of China and then the countryside along with the west of China appeared a cover for implementing neoliberal hegemony.
Indeed, this was also the prognosis of prominent Western Marxists such as David Harvey and Robert Cox.
While much remains to be done, the change in the west and the countryside, as I have witnessed, has been remarkable.
The 2020 pledge to eliminate extreme poverty in China, despite Covid-19, will probably be fulfilled.
Had this notion been put to me in 2004 as I sat in my friend’s grandmother’s hut, in the Hebei countryside, I would have said, “impossible.”
For in this dwelling there was no furniture except for a brick bed which doubled up as seating. The floor was hardened mud and there was a large hole in the roof.
Of course, the improvement in China’s living standards has much to do with its opening up and Western capital has been important in this transformation.
However, China’s success was not predestined. There have been other countries that followed the dictates of the Washington consensus, by liberalising not only their markets but their political systems too, who floundered.
Mexico and Russia are just two examples of states that saw plummeting living standards as their democracies were easily compromised by the lobbying power of capital.
Added to this are the tragedies of states such as Iraq and Afghanistan which have had democracy bombed onto them.
These two fundamental facts of international relations are only too obvious to the Chinese people who see liberal democracies outside of the Western core states acting undemocratically against the mass line of their own peoples.
At the same time, they see core Western states as acting undemocratically in the international realm too.
Consequently, the CCP’s historical legitimacy beyond its unprecedented development achievements has arisen from its resistance to these external liberal forces which colonised Africa, which eradicated the civilisations of the Americas, which Anglicised India, which settled Australia and which continue to this day to surround China with military bases.
At times, the influence of capital has begun to disrupt China and even corrupted influential members of the CCP.
This has led to Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption which has been described as a fight for people’s hearts and minds.
Continuing to this day “tigers and flies” have been brought down and the success of this anti-corruption drive has contributed to further tangible support for the CCP.
In a sense then, Pompeo is right then when he says the CCP is afraid of its own people.
It fears losing mass support — this much is true.
However, this is axiomatic as all governments that claim to work for their people should be afraid of losing mass support and they should be afraid that not working for the masses will inevitably lead to ruin.
The irony of our typical two-party system, both supported by the same corporate interests, is that, for all their advantages and resources, they do not seem to be afraid of the people and as such are unwilling or unable to enact policies that last any longer than a Chinese five-year plan.
Captured by market forces, they go against the mass line of their citizens while conducting belligerent foreign policies that harm others.
As discontent builds, the pressure valve of procedural elections takes place and the game continues. This is precisely the system Pompeo would like to enforce on China.
If liberal democracy is to be spread abroad, it must work more than just sometimes for the few developed states.
It must be able to deal with long-term global problems such as poverty, war, and environmental catastrophe which require thinking outside the box of the demands of our business civilisation.
Importantly, liberal democracy cannot be forced onto others, as Pompeo would like, for all states have their own unique historical conditions to deal with.
If Winston Churchill’s aphorism “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” holds true, then states will naturally select this system without the need for gunboats to impose elections.
I have pondered whether Pompeo honestly believes his words when he says the CCP does not enjoy mass support.
It may be genuine due to taking advice from liberal or conservative academics who wish this reality to be true.
The problem is that it matters not whether you call yourself a Marxist, a liberal or a conservative — proceeding with policy based on fallacy will lead to folly.
It was Voltaire who wrote: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
We in the West have time and time again been duped into supporting violent regime change in the name of liberal democracy and to “liberate” citizens through gunboat diplomacy.
In China’s case, the belief that a billion of its citizens are overwhelmingly suppressed by the CCP serves as a pretext to extend the belligerent arms of foreign “help.”
When the dust of war settles, and the crimes of our political frontmen for imperial policy become known, responsibility is dispersed in the fog of democracy propagandised as misjudgement due to poor intelligence.
Discontent rises, the pressure valve opens, elections take place and the great game continues.
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