Liu’s Nobel Prize for Capitalism

By Stephen Gowans

Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has been hailed as a champion of human rights and democracy. His jailing by Chinese authorities for inciting subversion of the state is widely regarded as an unjust stifling of advocacy rights by a Chinese state intolerant of dissent and hostile to ”universal values”. But what Western accounts have failed to mention is that Charter 08, the manifesto Liu had a hand in writing and whose signing led to his arrest, is more than a demand for political and civil liberties. It is a blueprint for making over China into a replica of US society and eliminating the last vestiges of the country’s socialism. If Liu had his druthers, China would: become a free market, free enterprise paradise; welcome domination by foreign banks; hold taxes to a minimum; and allow the Chinese version of the Democrats and Republicans to keep the country safe for corporations, bankers and wealthy investors. Liu’s problem with the Communist Party isn’t that it has travelled the capitalist road, but that it hasn’t traveled it far enough, and has failed to put in place a politically pluralist republican system to facilitate the smooth and efficient operation of an unrestrained capitalist economy.

Liu taught literature at Columbia University as a visiting scholar, but decamped for his homeland in 1989 to participate in the Tiananmen Square protests, bringing with him the pro-imperialist values he imbibed in the United States. For his role in the protests—which ultimately aimed at toppling Communist Party-rule and promoting a US-style economic and political system–he served two years in prison.

Liu is committed to a pluralist political model and untrammelled capitalist system of the kind he witnessed firsthand in the United States. Charter 08, the Nobel committee, the US government, and the Western media have all anointed free markets, free enterprise, and multi-party representative democracy as “universal values”. The aim is to discredit any system that is at variance with capitalist democracy as being against universal values and therefore doomed to failure.

Liu served more jail time in the 1990s for advocating an end to Communist Party-rule and conciliation of the CIA-backed Dalai Lama, the once head of a feudal aristocracy who owned slaves and lived a sumptuous life on the backs of Tibetan serfs, before the People’s Army put an end to his oppressive rule.

Liu’s latest run-in with Chinese authorities happened in December, 2008 after he signed Charter 08, a manifesto he helped draft. The charter was published on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms (UDHRF) and is a reference to Charter 77, an anti-communist manifesto issued by dissidents in Czechoslovakia. While the UDHRF endorses economic rights (the right to work and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control), the only economic rights Charter 08 endorses are bourgeois privileges. In that respect, it is hardly in the same class as the UDHRF and, significantly, is emblematic of the kind of truncated human rights protocol favored in the United States.

On June 24 of last year Liu was charged with agitation aimed at subversion of the Chinese government and overthrowing the socialist system. He was convicted and is now serving an 11-year sentence.

The Western press describes Charter 08 as a “manifesto calling for political reform, human rights and an end to one-party rule”, but it is more than that. It is a manifesto for the untrammelled operation of capitalism in China.

The charter calls for a free and open market economy, protection of the freedom of entrepreneurship, land privatization, and the protection of property rights. Property rights, under the charter’s terms, refer not to the right to own a house or a car of a toothbrush for personal use but to the freedom of individuals to legally claim the economic surplus produced by farmers and wage laborers—that is, the right, through the private ownership of capital, to exploit the labor of others through profits, interest and rents.

While capitalism thrives in China, it does not thrive unchecked and without some oversight and direction by the Communist Party. Nor is China’s economy entirely privately owned. Many enterprises remain in state hands. The drafters of Charter 08 have in mind the elimination of all state ownership and industrial planning–in other words, the purging of the remaining socialist elements of the Chinese economy. At the same time, the Communist Party as the one mass organization with a programmatic commitment to socialism (if only to be realized in full in a distant future) and which zealously preserves China’s freedom to operate outside the US imperialist orbit, would be required to surrender its lead role in Chinese society. Political power would pass to parties that would inevitably come to be dominated by the Chinese bourgeoisie through its money power. (1) Rather than being a country with a mix of socialist and capitalist characteristics presided over by the Communist Party, it would become a thoroughly capitalist society with bankers and captains of industry firmly in control, their rule governed by the need to enrich their class, not make progress toward a distant socialism by raising standards of living and expanding the country’s productive base.

The charter also calls for the implementation of “major reforms in the tax system to reduce the tax rate”, and to “create conditions for the development of privately-owned banking.”

The US State Department itself could have written a manifesto no more congenial to corporate and financial interests.

Charter 08’s champions gathered 10,000 signatures before Beijing blocked its circulation on the Internet. While the Western media cite this as evidence of a groundswell of support for the charter’s demands (though 10,000 represents an infinitesimally small fraction of a population of one billion), the ANSWER Coalition in the United States has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to letters calling for the lifting of the US blockade on Cuba, a level of opposition to US policy that dwarfs Charter 08’s support. Yet ANSWER’s collection of signatures in opposition to a policy aimed at promoting the interests of US capital is virtually ignored in the Western media, while a smaller movement that would benefit US capital is presented as having widespread backing. This, of course, is not unexpected. The Western media quite naturally represent the interests of the class of hereditary capitalist families and financiers from whose ranks its owners come. The class nature of capitalist society and patterns of ownership within it mean that the mass media construct a reality congruent with their owners’ interests.

Likewise, the Nobel Prize, founded by a Swedish chemist and engineer who amassed a fortune as an armaments manufacturer, is not free from politics. The Nobel committee, a five-person committee selected by the Norwegian parliament, has strayed quite a distance from Alfred Nobel’s original intentions. In his will, Nobel set out conditions for establishing and awarding the prize. “The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” While arguments may be made on either side of the question of whether Liu’s actions are praiseworthy, there is no question that trying to organize the transformation of People’s China into a replica of the United States of America, and getting arrested for it, amounts in no way to working for fraternity between nations, abolishing standing armies, or the holding of peace congresses.

A further double standard is evident in the condemnation of China’s crackdown on anti-communist dissent—one of the goals of awarding Liu the Nobel Prize (the others: to legitimize Charter 08 and demonize Communist Party-rule in China.) The reality is that any revolutionary society, if it is to successfully defend itself against counter-revolution, must limit the rights that would be used to organize the revolution’s reversal. To place political and civil liberties ahead of the preservation of the revolution, where the revolution is aimed at improving the economic condition of Chinese peasants and workers, would be to declare political rights to be senior to economic rights. Liu has clearly worked toward a counter-revolution that would push economic rights to the margins and bring the rights of the owners of capital to organize society exclusively in their interests to the fore. Allowing Liu to freely organize the overthrow of the current system and to replace it with one modelled on the US political and economic system would be to set political liberties above goals of achieving independence from imperialist domination and building the material basis of a communist society.

Other societies—including those which trumpet their credentials as liberal democracy’s champions—have freely violated their own pluralist and liberal principles to counter individuals, movements and parties which have threatened the capitalist mode of property ownership. The history of Western capitalist democracy is replete with instances of states running roughshod over their own supposedly cherished liberal democratic values, from the persecution, harassment and jailing of labor, socialist and communist militants to the banning of strikes and left political parties to open fascist dictatorship. Whenever militant leftists have seriously threatened to disrupt the tranquil digestion of big business profits, their freedom to openly advocate, organize and act has been abridged. Think of the Palmer raids in the United States, jailing of anti-WWI activists, the purge of communists from the civil service and Hollywood, the banning of the Socialist Workers Party, and the suppression of the Black Panthers. Similar practices were replicated in many other capitalist countries. In Italy and Germany, strong workers’ movements were suppressed by fascist dictatorship.

This is a pattern of behaviour so recurrent as to have the status of a social scientific law. The state, whether in capitalist or revolutionary societies, almost invariably violates rights of advocacy, free association, and the press, in order to preserve the dominant mode of property ownership wherever it is seriously under threat.

As a matter of politics, restrictions on the rights of individuals, movements and parties to openly advocate and organize the overthrow of the current economic system are good or bad depending on what one’s politics are. Nationalists in liberated countries will approve restrictions on the rights of foreigners and colonial settlers to own productive property unchecked; measures to prevent movements from encroaching on capitalist interests will be deemed warranted restrictions by capitalists; and communists will oppose the right of individuals and groups to openly organize a capitalist restoration within socialist societies, just as republicans opposed the right of individuals and groups to openly organize the restoration of monarchies within republican societies.

While Liu is cleverly portrayed by the Western media as a fighter for human rights and democracy, his organizing for low taxes, call for the jettisoning of the remaining elements of China’s socialism, and promotion of a robust capitalism, have received virtually no Western media attention. It is difficult to persuade people that capitalism is “a universal value”, and Liu’s commitment to making over China into a replica of the United States—with its economic crises, bail-outs for wealthy financiers and mass unemployment for the rest—is hardly the kind of thing that is going to marshal much popular support. Hence, the Western media have wisely (from their point of view) dwelled on Beijing’s seemingly unjustified crackdown on dissent and failed to elaborate on Charter 08’s implications for China, while playing up Liu’s advocacy of the pleasant sounding terms, democracy and human rights, pushing his commitment to free markets, free enterprise and low taxes into the shadows. Carrying out all the charter demands would almost certainly result in China being sucked into the US imperialist orbit, and whatever chances the country has of achieving socialism, would be forever dashed.

For anyone concerned with the promotion of economic rights, or the weakening of US imperialism, or with the chances that socialism might one day flourish in the world’s most populous country, the Nobel committee’s attempt to lend credibility to Charter 08 by conferring its peace prize on Liu Xiaobo is hardly to be welcome. It is as inimical to the interests of peace and the welfare of humanity as was last year’s awarding of the prize to US President Barack Obama, who has expanded the number of countries in which the US is waging war, and has tried to create the illusion that the continuing US combat mission in Iraq has ended by renaming it. Likewise, Liu has done nothing to advance the welfare of humanity. His remit, as that of last year’s peace prize winner, is to expand the interests of the owners of capital, particularly those based in the United States. He deserves no support, except from the tiny fraction of the world’s population that would reap the benefits of Charter 08’s demands. Instead, it is Beijing’s action to preserve its freedom and independence from outside domination, and to maintain elements of a socialist economy, that deserve our support.

1. The Chinese Communist Party has, with justification, rejected “Western-style elections …(as)a game for the rich.” As a party representative explained: “They are affected by the resources and funding that a candidate can utilize. Those who manage to win elections are easily in the shoes of their parties or sponsors and become spokespeople for the minority.”

Edward Wong, “Official in China says Western-style democracy won’t take root there,” The New York Times, March 20, 2010

See also Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, “Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for?” The Guardian (UK), December 15, 2010.

9 thoughts on “Liu’s Nobel Prize for Capitalism

  1. It’s hard not to see the Urumqi and Tibetan uprisings as well as calls for the so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ as an attempt by Western agitators to destabilize China at its core. They seek to undo China’s progress and put in place a puppet leader that is at Washington’s beck and call. All because of fear of China’s rising power!

    It is my hope that Chinese citizens stand up against these CIA funded agitators. China must never go back to being that subservient nation that was stepped on by foreign powers!

  2. Yes! China is a revolutionary state! Im so sick of hearing people like Chomsky assert that China is now just another exploiting capitalist beast. Such utopian views of development need to confronted to protect the incredible process that China has only JUST BEGUN. Everyone is not going to get raised out of poverty immediately, but 600 million so far is nothing to sneeze at.

  3. Liu served more jail time in the 1990s for advocating an end to Communist Party-rule and conciliation of the CIA-backed Dalai Lama, the once head of a feudal aristocracy who owned slaves and lived a sumptuous life on the backs of Tibetan serfs, before the People’s Army put an end to his oppressive rule.. I really didnt know that.Thanks

  4. More articles that support the analyses above concerning the cynical geopolitical machinations of the West’s (or should I say, America’s) decision to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu.

    The Geopolitical Agenda behind the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

    What the Nobel Prize jury didn’t tell us
    Who is Liu Xiabobo?

    The Nobel Peace Prize at the service of imperialism

    A Military Mentality: Nobel’s Pro-Military Agenda and the Future World Order

  5. This certainly reminds me of the 22 Senior party members in the CPC who called for “freedom of speech”, and were called ‘heroic dissidents’ by the Western Media. These were the same people who were in the GPCR(Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution) so I am not throughly suprised that they would side with the right wing, if not throughly apart of the, of the party. This calling for ‘freedom of speech’ is pratically what the beaucrats called the people to do agaisnt school teachers (The Red Guards were sometimes children of the beuacrats, this led to many factional conflicts frm ultra left, to rightist, to those in the party to try and survive.)

    But its mainly the same, calling for ‘freedom of speech’ might be a way to call out agaisnt the jailing of Liu, since he’ll have his ‘right of speech’ and spread counter-revolutionary virus as the CIA did with the Student movement in China. We must’nt forget how the “Hundred Flowers” Campaign went, how liberalization crept in. Or how the “Democracy wall” was first a way to honor those who died in the GPCR to Anti-Mao,Anti-Socialist, and Anti-party propaganda used by the liberals of China. (From “Continuning the Revolution is not a Dinner party,

    But anyways, nice article. Though I’d like an article on how we can view the Chinese state as a mix between capitalist and socialist relations, since althought 58% of ownership type is state owned/co-operative/joint work there’s still 28% that is privately owned (the other 14% is self employed). That and I do not know of much how Deng Xiaopeng allowed this to happen, or how he did really.

  6. Good article.

    The American and Western agenda is to destabilize and balkanize any nation that stands in the way of their New World Order (i.e. Western capitalist exploitation and imperial dominance).

    As noted above, the oh-so-helpful advice promoted by the West’s new darling Liu Xiaobo (with some help from the CIA perhaps) would be disastrous for China.

    This is of course by design.

    And “federalism” in particular is a favorite American political weapon that it imposes on other nations to subjugate them. The case of Iraq is a good example, where an America-designed federalism has been implanted there.

    How’s “federalism” working out for the Iraqi people–where sectarian conflict, bombings, and killings are a defining feature of everyday life?

    As for American/Western sponsored “Dissident Darlings,” these people are middle-class elites who are opportunists to the core. They are funded, sponsored, supported, or even indoctrinated… I mean educated, by American agencies (like the NED), universities, and media.

    Indeed, what is also revealing about Liu’s Nobel Propaganda Prize is the fawning reaction not only of the Western Free Press but also the “alternative” media like Pacifica Radio’s _Democracy Now_ or _The Nation_.

    But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    The same American agencies that most likely sponsor Mr. Liu are also sponsoring “progressive” media in the USA.

    They are called the Left Gatekeeper media.

    What Purpose Does the Nobel Prize Serve?

    Nobel Politics


  7. I am very wary of these so-called “dissidents” in China or anywhere else that the US supports and sympathizes with.
    Taking into consideration the nefarious activities of the US in the world, such dissidents are most likely fakes anyway. No true dissident would ever want to sell his country out to the US considering what the US has done. Hasn’t Mr. Liu Xiaobo been paying attention to what is going on in the world? To what the US has been up to?
    His desire to see a US-style system in China is a testament that he does not have China’s best interests at heart. He should be ashamed of himself!
    The fact alone that the US supports him says enough about the man’s true intentions.

  8. You only need to look at two demands of Charter 08 to see how putting it in practice would be disastrous for China.

    First, it calls for the establishment of a “federal republic”. Local-level corruption is already out of control in China. At least Hu Jintao and the left wing of the CCP has been earnestly fighting these corrupt officials by outlawing excessive rural taxes, requiring mine bosses to go underground with workers, and even executions for extreme crimes (as in the case of the corrupt head of the state food safety administration). Breaking down the central government is only going to give more power to corrupt officials and the millionaires behind them. The danger of civil war is very real too. Guangdong and Hunan provinces already came very close to border skirmishes a few years ago over access to eastern ports. There is already too much tension between ethnic groups too, as shown by the riots in Tibet and Xinjiang (not to mention the neo-Nazi movement across the border in outer Mongolia, as unbelievable as that sounds). A “Federal Republic of China” is only going to create more openings for exploitation and conflict between different regions.

    Second, it calls for abolition of the Hukou system of urban/rural citizenship registration. The policy as it is now makes it hard for migrant workers to get full urban benefits and leaves openings for super-exploitation in the urban labor market, but getting rid of the policy overnight is not a better solution. You only need to look at the overcrowded, hellish slums of other developing countries to see that the result would be worse than what exists now. The real alternative is more investment in China’s rural areas and rebuild the social safety net, which is exactly the the New Socialist Countryside program implemented in 2006 is meant to do. China Study Group had a good piece on the topic a while ago:

  9. Of interest:
    On the website of the National Endowment for Democracy, there is this information in relation to 2009 activities: “in China, Endowment programming supported further strides in civil society development while countering the political constriction generated in response to these advances. Several NED grantees participated in the drafting and promotion of Charter 08…”
    So, NED financed several individuals and organizations involved in writing and promoting Charter 08. Did NED also, perhaps, also help direct the writing or the promotion that document? What part did U.S. interests play beyond financing? One wonders. Usually, when one pays out money – and quite significant sums of money, if one persuses how much each Chinese grantee received – one expects something in return.

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