China Rising: humanity’s best hope?

11 Jul

Snow is falling on the wide sidewalks of the historic city of Xi’an, but people don’t seem to be troubled by the bitter cold.

One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an is now vibrant, optimistic and stunningly beautiful. Sidewalks are paved with expensive stones and have more than enough space for pedestrians, electric bicycles, plants, trees and bus shelters.

Attempts by the Communist Party to turn China into an ‘Ecological Civilization’ are visible at every step: trees are revered and protected, comfortable walking is encouraged, while heavy duty, efficient and super modern public transportation is extremely cheap and ecological: the metro, and electric buses. All scooters are also electric, and so are the tricycles that are intended to transport passengers between the metro stations.

Compared to most Asian cities, but even to those in the United States and Europe, Chinese metropolises, including Xi’an, look like sort of urban areas of the future. But they are not ‘impersonal’, nor atomized. They are built for the people, not against them …

Andre Vltchek, February 2019

Taking Stock

My political posts, hundreds of them, are overwhelmingly negative. This one is different but first I must summarise the predicament in which humanity finds itself. That, alas, necessitates further negativity but I can at least promise to be brief since evidence of the truth of what I say exists in spades – within and without this site.

  • Our world is capitalist in its advanced stage of imperialism – the export of monopoly capital from global north to south, and the south to north repatriation of profits.
  • The prime beneficiaries of this world order are rentier elites in the most successful imperialisms: i.e. most of the former colonial powers (including the USA) but also the Antipodes, Canada, Scandinavia and an EU led by Germany.
  • In its initial progressive phase capitalism freed humanity, albeit at terrible cost, from feudal ties and slavery while hugely advancing human productivity. Now it poses an existential threat. Its structures (the means of wealth creation in ever fewer hands) and laws of motion (the prioritising above all else of private profits and insatiable accumulation) demand unsustainable levels of narrowly defined and grossly distorted ‘growth’, condemning the world to:
    • environmental degradation;
    • ceaseless wars, normalised and monetised, and sold to us in tissues of lies;
    • levels of global and national inequality as dysfunctional as they are obscene, and a mortal threat to meaningful democracy;
    • other life negations too numerous to list save for the spiritual impoverishment attendant on a Borg-like drive to monetise every arena of human experience, while recognising no value but exchange value.

Having spent ten years writing about the above – in the face of periodic and acute doubt as to whether it does any good (spoiler alert: it does, but not nearly enough) – I’ve presented no way forward because, other than puncturing the silence and calling out the lies, I could not see one. The three broad strands of resistance in the West – social democracy .. ‘vanguard’ revolutionary sects .. grass roots activism pace Occupy, XR etc – all have useful features but, each for its own reasons, zero chance of success of the kind and magnitude needed.

While I’ve long welcomed the rise of China, I’ve done so not because of its intrinsic features – of which my knowledge could have been written on a postage stamp – but because I saw as A Good Thing any check to US Exceptionalism’s pursuit, blood-soaked and truly terrifying, of full spectrum dominance.

… the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. Its official declared policy is now defined as “full spectrum dominance”. That is not my term, it is theirs. “Full spectrum dominance” means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech 2005

Lately though I’ve been taking a closer look at China – and I like what I see. 1

My cue to hand over to the late Andre Vltchek, and a 2019 essay – from his collection, China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries Saving Millions of Lives – reproduced here in full with the kind permission of its publisher, Badak Merah.

Profiles of both Mr Vltchek and Badak Merah (Indonesian for “red rhino”) are given at the end.

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City of Xi’an and Why the New Chinese Silk Road Terrifies the West?

1600 words

Snow is falling on the wide sidewalks of the historic city of Xi’an, but people don’t seem to be troubled by the bitter cold.

One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an, is now vibrant, optimistic and stunningly beautiful. Sidewalks are paved with expensive stones and have more than enough space for pedestrians, electric bicycles, plants, trees and bus shelters.

Attempts by the Communist Party to turn China into an ‘Ecological Civilization’ are visible at every step: trees are revered and protected, comfortable walking is encouraged, while heavy duty, efficient and super modern public transportation is extremely cheap and ecological: the metro, and electric buses. All scooters are also electric, and so are the tricycles that are intended to transport passengers between the metro stations.

Compared to most Asian cities, but even to those in the United States and Europe, Chinese metropolises, including Xi’an, look like sort of urban areas of the future. But they are not ‘impersonal’, nor atomized. They are built for the people, not against them.

Xi’an is where the old Silk Road used to begin, connecting China to India, Central Asia and the Middle East. It has a special significance and deep symbolism in Chinese history, and it is essential for China’s present and future.

Xi’an is the oldest of the four ancient capitals, and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. This tremendous world heritage site is a titanic symbol of loyalty, endurance and optimism. According to the legend, the entire tremendous army followed its commander to the other life, ready to defend him, to fight for him and if necessary, to offer the ultimate sacrifice.

What does it all really mean? Is it just an emperor that these brave warriors are ready to sacrifice their lives for, with smiles on their faces? Or is it the nation, or perhaps even the entire humanity they are determined to defend?

Whatever it is, it is enormous, and seeing the sheer size of the monument sends shivers all over my body.

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Some fifty kilometers away, at the North Station of Xi’an City, an army of the fastest trains on earth is lined up at countless platforms. These beautiful bullet trains connect Xi’an with Beijing, Shanghai and soon, Hong Kong. Some of them are already speeding towards the city of Zhangye, which is the first step on the new rail Silk Road that will soon continue all the way towards the north-western tip of China, at Kashgar. And Kashgar is only 100 kilometers from the border with Kyrgyzstan, and 150 kilometers from Tajikistan.

If someone thinks that China is simply a north Asian country, far away from the rest of the world, they should think twice. In the center of Xi’an, there is a bustling neighborhood, similar to those found in any energetic cities of the Middle East. There is a Grand Mosque, a bazaar, and endless lanes of colorful stalls, jewelry workshops, restaurants and halal eateries. Many women here wear colorful clothes and headscarves, while men cover their heads with skullcaps.

The western part of China is a vibrant mix of cultures from the north, as well as Central Asia. And the ancient capital of China – Xi’an – is well known and admired for its multi-cultural identity. Like the former Soviet Union, Communist China is an enormous and diverse country.

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And the West doesn’t like what it sees.

It hates those super high-speed trains, which, at tremendous speed, as well as cheaply and comfortably, cover distances of thousands of kilometers. It hates where they are going: towards the former Soviet Central Asian republics, and soon, hopefully, towards Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and one day, maybe even India.

It hates the optimistic spirit of the people of Xi’an, as well as the wise and at the same time, avant-garde environmental policies of China.

It hates that in cities like Xi’an, there are no slums, no homeless people, and almost no beggars: that instead of advertisements, there are beautiful paintings with messages highlighting socialist virtues, including equality, patriotism, respect for each other, democracy and freedom.  It hates that most of the people here look determined, healthy, in good spirits, and optimistic.

The West passionately hates the fact that China is essentially Communist, with a centrally planned economy and tremendously successful social policies (by 2020, China will eliminate the last pockets of extreme poverty), while striving for the ecological civilization.

China defies Western propaganda, which hammers into the brains of the people that any socialist society has to be drab, uniform and infinitely boring. Compared to such a city as Xi’an, even the European capitals look dull, depressing, dirty and in decline.

Yet China is not rich, not yet. At least on paper, (read: using statistics produced and controlled predominantly by the countries and by the organizations controlled by Washington, London and Paris), its HDI (Human Development Index, compiled by UNDP), is the same as Thailand’s. While the contrast between two countries is striking. Thailand, a feudal society glorified by the West, because of its staunch support during the Vietnam War and because of its anti-Communist drive, is suffering from collapsed infrastructure (no public transportation outside Bangkok, awful airports and train system), monstrous, almost ‘Indonesian-style’ city planning (or lack of it), urban slums, endless traffic jams and basically no control of the government over business. Thailand has the most unequal wealth distribution on earth. In Thailand, frustration is everywhere, and the murder rate is consequently even higher than in the United States (per capita, according to INTERPOL data), while in China it is one of the lowest on the planet.

But above all, the West hates China’s growing influence on the world, particularly among the countries that have been for centuries brutalized and plundered by European and North American corporations and governments. And it is scared that they will, eventually, fully understand that China is determined to stop all forms of imperialism, and to eradicate poverty in all corners of the world.

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Xi’an is where the old and new Silk Roads have their starting points. The new one is called the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), and very soon it will account for tens of thousands of kilometers of railroads and roads connecting and crisscrossing Asia, Africa and Europe, pulling out of misery billions of men, women and children. Once completed, everybody will benefit.

There will also be countless new cultural institutions, film studios, concert halls, hospitals, schools, community learning centers, 5G internet networks and many other innovations.

That is not how the West likes it. ‘Everyone benefiting’ is a totally foreign, even hostile concept, at least in the Western capitals. Only the West, plus those few ‘chosen’ and highly obedient countries (including Japan, South Korea and Singapore) have been, until now, allowed to prosper, forming a strictly ‘by appointment only’ club of nations.

China wants everyone to be rich, or at least not poor.

Most Asians love the idea. Africans love it even more. The new elegant train station in Nairobi, Kenya, is a new symbol, a promise of a better future. Tram lines in Addis Ababa, the construction of a high-speed train line that will go through Laos, all these are marvels unimaginable only a few years ago.

The world is changing, mainly thanks to the determined efforts of China and Russia to finally destroy Western colonialism (the ‘project’ that began so well right after WWII, but, except on paper, was never fully completed).

◆◆◆

In our book “China and Ecological Civilization” a dialogue between leading philosopher John B. Cobb Jr. and me, John, who has been working very closely with the Chinese government on issues of environment and education, explained:

As I compare China’s success in giving serious attention to the well-being of its natural environment and needy citizens with that of European countries, my reason for betting on China is that I have some confidence that it will maintain governmental control of finance and of corporations generally.  If it does this, it can also control the media.  Thus, it has a chance of making financial and industrial corporations serve the national good as perceived by people not in their service.  Less centralized governments are less able to control the financial and other corporations whose short-term interests may conflict with the common good.  2

That may be the main reason why the West is horrified, and trying to antagonize China by all means: If China succeeds, colonialism will collapse, but also corporatism, which, like a fairy-tale monster devours everything in its sight.

◆◆◆

Facing thousands of determined Terracotta soldiers, I felt the enormity of China.

I imagined hundreds of millions of men and women building the nation; millions of construction sites, not only in China itself, but also abroad. I recalled my neighbors in Nairobi, when I used to live in Africa – optimistic, well-natured but tough Chinese engineers, who used to power-walk, together, every night. I liked, I admired their spirit.

To me, they were like present-day Terracotta soldiers: brave, determined and loyal. Loyal not to the emperor, but to humanity. Not military men, but people who are constructing, building a much better world in all corners of the globe, often with their own hands. Despite the vitriolic spite and nihilism unleased against them by the West.

In Xi’an, I stood in front of the old gate, where everything began, many centuries ago; the old Silk Road. Now, everything was returning here, in a grand circle. The new beginning.

It was cold. It was beginning to snow. But I was immensely happy to be here, and I felt alive and full of optimism for the future of humanity.

I made a few symbolic steps. Millions did before me. Millions will, again, soon.

February 20, 2019

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Andre Vltchek was a philosopher, novelist, film maker, investigative journalist, poet, playwright, and photographer.

Having covered dozens of war zones and conflicts from Bosnia and Peru to Sri Lanka, DR Congo, Timor Leste, Syria and Afghanistan, he was a revolutionary, an internationalist and a globetrotter. In all his work, he confronted Western imperialism and the Western regime imposed on the world.

His latest books were: “Message for Humanity: Selection of Essays and Writings by Andre Vltchek” … New Capital of Indonesia: Abandoning Destitute Jakarta, Moving to Plundered Borneo … China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries Saving Millions of Lives  …  China and Ecological Civilization (with John B. Cobb, Jr.) … Revolutionary Optimism, Western NihilismThe Great October Socialist Revolution: Impact on the World and the Birth of Internationalism … Exposing Lies of the Empire … Fighting Against Western Imperialism … On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare (with Noam Chomsky).

Aurora and Point of No Return were his major works of fiction written in English. Nalezeny is his novel in Czech. His other book was Plays: ‘Ghosts of Valparaiso’ and ‘Conversations with James’.

Other works include: Western Terror: From Potosi to BaghdadIndonesia – a book of political non-fiction … Archipelago of Fear … Exile (with Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Rossie Indira) … Oceania *.

He was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Bertrand Russell’s Tribunal.

The investigative work of Andre Vltchek appears in countless publications worldwide. Andre Vltchek produced and directed several documentary films for the left-wing South American television network teleSUR. They deal with diverse topics, from Turkey/Syria to Okinawa, Kenya, Egypt and Indonesia, but all expose the effects of Western imperialism on the planet.

His feature documentary film “Rwanda Gambit” has been broadcasted by PressTV, and aims at reversing the official narrative on the 1994 genocide, as well as exposing the Rwandan and Ugandan plunder of DR Congo on behalf of Western imperialism.

He produced a feature length documentary film “DOWNFALL!” that challenge the official narrative and show to the world precisely what happens to a country when fully abandoned to market and religious fundamentalism, and to the imperialist diktat. He also produced One Flew Over Dadaab – a film about the brutal Somali refugee camp, Dadaab, in Kenya.

His documentary film “On Western Terrorism” is his lengthy debate with Noam Chomsky on the state of the world. He frequently spoke at revolutionary meetings, as well as at the principal universities worldwide.

His website is Vltchek’s World in Words and Images and he tweeted here

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BADAK MERAH (“Red Rhino”) is a revolutionary, independent publishing house. Writers, journalists, philosophers and researchers are printing their work here, addressing issues that are essential for the survival of our Planet. They write about history, politics and their struggle against imperialism. Promoting internationalist ideals and social justice all over the world, they are relentlessly confronting the system which breeds oppression, intellectual spinelessness and nihilism, but also exploitation, servility and misery. They are fighting against all new forms of colonialism. Readers learn from their victories, but also defeats and mistakes, this way becoming more effecting in their struggle to build a much better and just world.

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Rossie Indira co-founded Badak Merah with Andre Vltchek. A Jakarta-based writer and publisher, she co-wrote Exile (with Andre Vltchek and Pramoedya Ananta Toer) and helped Andre’s research for Indonesia: Archipelago of Fear, and for essays on South East Asia. Rossie kindly allowed me to reproduce her late husband’s beautiful essay on the city of Xi’an. You can read more about her here.

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Here again is the link to Andre’s book, highly recommended and only a few dollars in e-book form, from which that essay is taken: China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries Saving Millions of Lives

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  1. But isn’t China itself capitalist? Yes but … here’s something I wrote a few days ago in a FB exchange. “China isn’t communist for the good reason that at this stage [that’s] impossible … First the means of wealth creation must be socialised. Is that [fully] the case in China? Of course not – how could it be? The failure of the Western left to make revolutions obliged China to adapt to globally entrenched neo-liberalism. [A] wealth of empirical data shows that China’s capitalists – for now needed, as proven by the hundreds of millions lifted from extreme poverty in China, as even UN bodies like WHO acknowledge – are subordinate to China’s rational planning. Unlike in the West, those wealthy entrepreneurs are not in the driving seat of deep state rule. The fight against capitalism continues on economic grounds. Through BRI and AIIB China is forging ties with Africa, South America, Europe, and other parts of Asia based on mutual development. Socialism is beating capitalism at its own game via markets with rational planning, and via peaceful trade. Meanwhile the infantile purism of ultra-leftism sits back and carps!”
  2. Andre’s citing of this part of his conversation with John B. Cobb is interesting because it speaks in positive terms of a government able to “control finance and corporations generally” – in the West it’s the other way round – both as a result and a cause of its ability to control the media. Reining in the media is anathema not just to big money in the West, but to consumers deceived into believing “media independence” a matter of freedom from state control but not, perplexingly, from said big money. For reasons I give in this post, the West’s “media independence” is illusory. As long as mainstream media need advertisers and/or wealthy sponsors then – regardless of whether or not owned by oligarchs – they are in thrall, beneath a show of speaking truth to power on lesser issues, to unaccountable elites on all matters vital to class rule.

6 Replies to “China Rising: humanity’s best hope?

  1. Apologies for taking off on what might be a tangent (and possibly an affluent bourgeois one at that) but it seems to me that one of the many drawbacks of capitalism is that it operates in a chaotic, ad-hoc way which ends up being totally counterproductive – at least as far as the vast majority are concerned. Capitalism thrives on constant change which is optimistically (and propagandistically) described as “progress” – but these changes are always fuelled by the drive for profits which necessarily accompany an impoverishment of lives at the bottom. And this drive creates the aforementioned chaos.

    What I have in mind here is the “virtualisation” of the last two decades where it seems that as much as possible of our interactions are being transferred over to the internet and computer programs now determine so much of the form of that interaction. I have lost count of the number of times when I have been reduced to screaming at the computer screen because I couldn’t get through to a site, the password didn’t work, a device I was trying to use wasn’t behaving as it should etc. And I have flashbacks to that lovely time when you could actually speak to an actual person directly about what your problem was. Now it’s all “help screens” which are of no help.

    (Indeed, one approach which is scarcely believable is that customers with problems are directed to forums in which other customers can act as technical assistants – obviously on an unpaid voluntary basis. Imagine you went into a high street shop with a complaint and were met with a sign saying, “The next customer will help you”!)

    The internet shopping site Amazon has cut back on its facilities so that e.g. it permits customer reviews but no longer permits feedback on these reviews. Vast reams of very helpful discussion have now been trashed. And even the reviews are not as easy to access. I have had horrendous problems with eBay recently. (Ironically, it’s the “Prove you’re a real human” bit that I can’t get by!)

    Thus innovations arrive like dazzling showpieces, everyone gets excited, everyone gets roped in … and then when the vast majority of the population have made the transfer, the base seems to be pulled away and the most basic functions that were taken for granted before are no longer available.

    The very push to glamorously advertise ends up with an insane result: a device that can sing and dance but with no indication as to where the “on” switch is!

    The constant injunction to “get ahead of everyone else”, to provide novelties that catch an increasingly infantilised attention (“bendy smart phones”?), the resulting focus on the irrelevant, the elevation of the absurd etc. And in the mad scramble, a tiny number getting wealthy – or possibly not even as much anymore. One central plan with the essentials in mind would have avoided all this.

    • one of the many drawbacks of capitalism is that it operates in a chaotic, ad-hoc way which ends up being totally counterproductive – at least as far as the vast majority are concerned. Capitalism thrives on constant change which is optimistically (and propagandistically) described as “progress” – but these changes are always fuelled by the drive for profits which necessarily accompany an impoverishment of lives at the bottom. And this drive creates the aforementioned chaos

      You nailed it!

      Good analogy, btw – “ask the next customer” – on the replacement of reliable after-sales support by user chat forums!

      More generally, ICT has uniquely sinister features – like citizen surveillance beyond the dreams of 20th century totalitarianisms – but as you know shares with all technologies that (a) gains in productivity accrue to profits and not to human happiness, ergo: (b) for the vast majority of humanity, obliged to sell our labour-power on markets we have no control over, those gains are to be feared; and (c) we have no say in how and where technology is to be applied for the common good.

      Because we have experienced capitalism in a place (the West) and at a time (shortly after WW2) to see it in atypically benign form, most baby boomers – even the ones who don’t much like capitalism – remain blithely unaware of the true extent of its totalitarian and life-negating logic. But, hey, here I go again with my negativity …

      I really do like what I’m beginning to find out about China.

      • And then there is the atomisation of humanity. Sometimes science fiction books and movies can give an insight into the tendencies of capitalism. Those Matrix movies show up an ideal goal of the ruling class: to have the entire population ensnared in an ersatz reality subject entirely to the control of the rulers and with no connection between the general populace other than the synthetic network provided by the elite.

        • Yanis Varoufakis recently put out a useful and jargon free book using the device of letters to a 14 year old daughter on the other side of the world. A snip at £2.99 in Kindle format, Talking to My Daughter: A Brief History of Capitalism, showcases the man’s wit, erudition, rare command of English and ability to write simply on its subject.

          He uses many examples from Hellenic, Jacobean and popular culture, and drives home several points by referencing The Matrix.

  2. ** Posted for bevin, who has fallen undeservedly foul of the WordPress Spam filter **

    I’m inclined to agree, Philip, with your optimistic view of China. The imperial alternative is so rotten and incapable of reform – essentially a criminal enterprise ruled by parasites of crime – that any system challenging it is worthy of consideration.

    Looking back on 70 years of history was not the USSR almost always right (yes Virgnia, even about Hungary) and the other side dominated by imperialists?

    • Looking back on 70 years of history was not the USSR almost always right (yes Virgnia, even about Hungary) and the other side dominated by imperialists?

      To your general point, yes unconditionally. To the specific example of Hungary 1956 – the year Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt over Suez – I’ve long condemned the Kremlin’s move. In boyhood and youth that was on liberal-humanist grounds; from mid thirties to recent years, a legacy of my Trotskyite introduction to revolutionary politics.

      And now? Now, three decades on from the ‘fall of the wall’, nothing should be closed off to re-evaluation. I can’t put images into a comment, else I’d insert the map I keep rolling out, showing in graphic starkness NATO’s growing threat to Russia’s western borderlands – before and after Bill Clinton’s cynical promise to Gorbachev that NATO would advance “not an inch” eastwards.

      (That map is the third image in this post.)

      I speak as one convinced Hungary ’56 was a genuine workers’ uprising – but, my, what a prize that would have been for imperialism had it succeeded! And look what became of Yugoslavia forty years on …

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