Beijing Reflections

The Cold War Hoax and Non-Paradox of McMaoism

Nineteen years and two months ago, hundreds of peasant soldiers in Red China’s "People’s Liberation Army" (PLA) bivouacked in the world’s largest McDonald’s in downtown Beijing.  Followed by the vapid gaze of Ronald McDonald, the troops marched out to join a larger force assembled to attack students conducting mass protests against the Chinese dictatorship in Beijing’s historic Tiananmen Square. The 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations received considerable support from Beijing workers, who were concerned about increased inequality, insecurity and corruption resulting from "capitalist road’ economic "reforms" introduced by China’s "Marxist" masters. Many of the students sang the socialist "International" as PLA tanks lined up to crush the rebellion. Thousands of Chinese civilians died in the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre – an event that has been officially deleted from Chinese collective memory with assistance from the U.S.-based Internet company Google [1].

Nearly two decades after the blood was cleaned off the Tiananmen killing grounds, "Communist" China stands in a long-established relationship of political-economic symbiosis with the corporate-captive United States.  A large number of leading U.S. multinational firms invest directly in coal-fired, smog-choked (around industrial centers) China to exploit its cheap, state-repressed labor and its willingness to subordinate environmental concerns to the holy imperatives of "economic growth" (capitalist throughout). This investment feeds global warming and China’s massive trade surplus with the U.S, which skyrocketed from $83 billion to $252 billion between 2000 and 2007 [2].


This trade deficit is a critical factor in the ongoing decline of livable-wage employment for working-class Americans. As the Economic Policy Institute recently reported, "The growth of U.S. trade with China since China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 has had a devastating effect on U.S. workers and the domestic economy. Between 2001 and 2007 2.3 million jobs were lost or displaced, including 366,000 in 2007 alone. New demographic research shows that, even when re-employed in non-traded industries, the 2.3 million workers displaced by the increase in China trade deficits in this period have lost an average $8,146 per worker/year. In 2007, these losses totaled $19.4 billion" [3].

At the same time, the internal Chinese market is a source of no small interest to American corporations. General Motors (GM) made most of its profit out of China sales in 2001-2002.  It reports that China is its single biggest market outside the US.  GM (which built a $750 million factory in Shanghai in 1998) invested $3 billion in China between 2004 and 2007 "in hopes," the Associated Press reported last year, "it will drive a revival for the company, which is cutting production and closing factories in its home North American market"[4].

This hardly means that Chinese conditions are anything to envy or uphold. China is home to 17 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. And China’s march down the "capitalist road" has left its working classes "in an increasingly precarious position." As the American labor and civil rights activist and researcher Robert Weil noted in Monthly Review two years ago, "a  rapidly widening polarization-in a society [China] that was among the most egalitarian-is occurring between extremes of wealth at the top and growing ranks of workers and peasants at the bottom whose conditions of life are daily worsening. Exemplifying this, the 2006 Fortune list of global billionaires includes seven in mainland China [who]…represent the emergence of a full-blown Chinese capitalism. Rampant corruption unites party and state authorities and enterprise managers with the new private entrepreneurs in a web of alliances that are enriching a burgeoning capitalist class, while the working classes are exploited in ways that have not been seen for over half a century."

On a visit to examine to the Dickensian underside of the spectacular outward Chinese prosperity currently being celebrated on NBC, Weil learned that "tens of millions" of Chinese workers had been "thrown out of their former jobs in the state-owned enterprises, once the pillars of the economy, with the loss of virtually all of the related forms of social security that were part of their work units: housing, education, health care, and pensions, among others. As these state-owned enterprises have been converted into profit-driven corporations, whether by being sold outright to private investors or semi-privatized by managers and state and party authorities, corruption has been common."

Weil met and interviewed peasants who were "struggling to deal with the long-term effects of the enforced dissolution of the rural communes and the introduction of the family responsibility system, in which each household contracts with the village for a portion of land to farm. With the throwing open of the country to the global marketplace, the sale of lands by local officials to developers without adequate compensation to the villagers, and rampant environmental devastation of the rural areas," Weil found, "this policy has left hundreds of millions struggling to find a viable way to earn a living, while stripping them of the collective social supports that they had previously enjoyed. Over 100 million of them have become part of the massive migration to the cities, seeking work in construction, the new export oriented factories, or the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, where they lack even the most basic rights. For many migrants, conditions are deteriorating rapidly as they settle semi-permanently in the urban communities and as they age and health problems mount."

Worker and peasant resistance to these conditions is regularly met with state repression, with soldiers and police sweating allegiance to the legacy of Mao enlisted to enforce wage-slavery on the model of what is portrayed in the first volume of Marx’s Capital [5].


Meanwhile, surplus Chinese capital flows into the purchase of U.S. government securities, helping keep the ever more cash-poor American Empire afloat. Chinese profits wrung from the backs and lungs of the Chinese proletariat subsidize the deficit-generating arch-plutocratic tax cuts and messianic militarism of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush’s America, owner of two illegally invaded colonies in Southwest Asia (Afghanistan and Iraq) and more than 720 military bases located in nearly every country on Earth.  This has nothing to do with a Chinese desire to help Bush.  It’s about China’s wish to sustain the exchange value of their currency against the dollar and thus the competitiveness of their goods in the giant U.S. consumer market – a critical lynchpin of China’s state-orchestrated capitalist expansion over the last twenty-plus years.


Along with the massive profits multinational corporations plan to make directly off the Olympics, these underlying economic relationships are why U.S. corporate media is  helping the Chinese regime use the Olympic Games to sell a softer global image of "Brand China." It’s why Joshua Cooper Ramos – a managing director and partner of the Beijing Office of (Henry) Kissinger Associates (a leading agent of Western investment in China) – is providing "expert" commentary on China’s supposedly forward-looking culture of "harmony" for General Electric Television’s (NBC’s) Olympic coverage [6]. It’s why two leading U.S. war criminals named George Bush have been cavorting gaily with Chinese hosts and touting the glorious wonders of "engagement" (whatever the younger Bush’s obligatory rhetoric about Tibet, Taiwan, Darfur, and smog). It’s why Google (Barack Obama’s sixth leading campaign contributor at $373,000 [7]) helps China keep the Tiananmen Square Massacre "down the memory hole" (George Orwell’s term for the erasure of inconvenient history by state totalitarians) and why Yahoo helps China identify and imprison dissenters [8].  It’s why U.S. corporate media is keeping Americans’ focus on "the games" and off the terrible conditions experienced by ordinary Chinese working people beneath Chinese Olympic spectacles and "capitalist miracles" [9].


Some "liberal" Americans are shocked at the extent to which America’s "capitalist democracy" goes to uphold "socialist" China’s entrance to the so-called "community of nations."  I find these liberals’ dismay and terminology extremely naïve.  The Cold War was always a great and mutually reinforcing ruse on both sides.  The totalitarian labor-exploiting and elite-dominated Soviet Union and Red China got to call themselves "socialist" even while they abolished and prohibited workers’ control and popular democracy – two critical characteristics of any worthwhile and genuinely socialist peoples’ project. Meanwhile, the totalitarian labor-exploiting and elite-dominated U.S. got to claim the mantles of "democracy" and "liberty" even while its homeland politics and society to the plutocratic rule of the wealthy and corporate Few. Political and cultural authorities in the capitalist West played along with the Soviet and Chinese state’s claim to embody "socialism" since it helped them denigrate radical ideals by linking them to Stalinist and Maoist dungeons [10].

Never mind that their underlying "free enterprise" system was and remains fundamentally opposed to egalitarian and democratic ideals. "Capitalist democracy" has always been a self-negating oxymoron providing cover for what Karl Marx once aptly termed "the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie." You cannot meaningfully combine the concentration of wealth – an inherent characteristic and tendency of modern capitalism – with true democracy: one person one vote and equal policy making influence for all.


I see nothing paradoxical or shocking about the Sino-American love-fest currently being marketed by mass-cultural thought-coordinators on both totalitarian [11] sides of the U.S.-China divide. The dominant political classes of both state-capitalist Superpowers have more in common with each other than with the subject populations living under their respective domestic regimes.  Their interests and ideals converge along numerous dark and authoritarian lines as the Olympics extravaganza helps the expanding Chinese capitalist elite deepen its power by supplementing hard Orwellian controls with the softer Aldous Huxlean medicine that Western authorities have long pioneered: cultural hegemony through hypnotizing and infantilizing mass entertainment [12]. Welcome to the totalitarian cross-national logic and class alliances of the world capitalist system, wherein "socialist revolutions" assembled proletariats beyond the Western core to be ruthlessly exploited by both domestic masters and global capital. The Red Army and Ronald McDonald are not so far apart or inconsistently co-joined. The merging of the legacy of Mao with the profit calculations of General Electric and General Motors makes perfect sense.  There’s no paradox, as any serious left-Marxist or left-anarchist knows. 

Paul Street (
[email protected]) is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, order at:  www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987).



1. "Google Censors Itself for China," BBC News, January 25, 2006

2. U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics, read at http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html#2007).

3 Robert E. Scott, "The China Trade Toll," EPI Briefing Paper # 219, July 30, 2008, read at http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/bp219.

4. Joe McDonald, "General Motors Says China Sales Jumped," FOX News, January 8, 2007, read at http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_wires/2007Jan08/0,4675,ChinaGeneralMotors,00.html

5. Robert Weil, "Chinese Working Conditions," Monthly Review, June 2006, read at http://www.monthlyreview.org/0606weil.htm.

6. Ken Silverstein, "NBC’s Olympics, Brought to You By Henry Kissinger," Harper’s (August 2008), read at http://harpers.org/archive/2008/08/hbc-90003378.

7. Center for Responsive Politics, "Barack Obama: Top Contributors," read at http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cycle=2008&cid=N00009638

8. Zachary Coile, "Lawmakers Blast Yahoo for Helping China Jail Dissident," San Francisco Chronicle, November 7, 2007, read at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/11/07/MN2NT7C99.DTL

9. Tellingly enough, NBC’s "Today Show" this morning (I am writing on Tuesday, August 12th) glowingly featured fancy new fashion trends favored by China’s new capitalist and managerial class.

10. See the interesting reflections of Noam Chomsky in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants [Berkeley, CA: Odonian, 1994], pp. 78-82, 91-93.

11. For a chilling and I think significantly accurate description of the United States’ corporate-"managed democracy" as a new variant of "totalitarianism," see liberal political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s recent book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

12. See Paul Street, "Killing Us Softly," ZNet (April 21, 2004), read at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/8691.

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