December 10, 2022
By Stephen Gowans
It has been a tough week for the star-gazers who run a platform called Friends of Socialist China, a motley collection of Sinophiles and pretend-Marxists who support “the People’s Republic of China” and aim to “spread understanding of” what they call “Chinese socialism.”
With Beijing lifting Covid restrictions in response to pressure from capitalists at home and abroad— a move expected to sacrifice up to 2 million Chinese or more to the Moloch of profit—it will be difficult to continue to “spread understanding” that “Chinese socialism” elevates people above capital accumulation.
On 7 December, The Wall Street Journal reported that while Beijing has “repeatedly emphasized the need to maintain the zero-Covid policy,” the “official tune began to change after Covid-related disruptions at the world’s biggest iPhone assembly plant led Apple Inc. to question whether it can still rely on China as its biggest manufacturing base.”
The next day the newspaper reported that:
- “A letter from the founder of the world’s largest iPhone assembler played a major role in persuading China’s Communist Party leadership to accelerate plans to dismantle the country’s zero-tolerance Covid-19 policies.”
- “In the letter to Chinese leaders, Foxconn Technology Group founder Terry Gou warned that strict Covid controls would threaten China’s central position in global supply chains.”
- “Chinese health officials and government advisers seized on Mr. Gou’s letter to bolster the case that the government needed to speed up its efforts to ease its tough Covid-19 controls.”
The lifting of the infection control measures is expected to “put unprecedented strain on the Chinese health system.”
“Using Hong Kong as a proxy, London-based health analytics firm Airfinity estimated in late November that a lifting of zero-Covid measures in China could lead to anywhere between 1.3 million and 2.1 million deaths,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
China-supporters have long pointed to China’s very low pandemic mortality rate to argue that, unlike other states, Beijing puts people’s lives before profits. The argument no longer holds.
But if Beijing puts profits ahead of people, what accounts for China’s superior pandemic performance? The answer, paradoxically, is its poorly-resourced health care system.
It’s often forgotten, if ever understood, that while China has the world’s second largest, if not the world’s largest, economy, that in per capita terms, China is poor. A country that is wealthy in aggregate is not necessarily wealthy on a per person basis, and this is true of China, a country with a large economy, but whose aggregate wealth is divided over an extraordinarily large population.
GDP per capita, 2021 (Current US dollars, Source: World Bank)
- China, $12,556
- USA, $69,287
Because China has little wealth per person, its has few health care resources to allot to each person.
Health care expenditures per capita, 2019 (Current US dollars, Source: World Bank)
- China, $535
- USA, $10,921
According to The World Population Review, the United States has 34.7 critical care beds per 100,000 people. China has a mere 3.6.
Clearly, as a relatively poor country on a per capita basis, China does not have the resources to adequately deal with a viral outbreak. This is especially true in rural areas, where medical resources are stretched thin.
With a feeble health care infrastructure, China has had no option but to implement stringent infection control measures to prevent outbreaks, otherwise its hospitals would have been overwhelmed.
This means that while China’s approach to pandemic control has always looked different from the West’s, it’s actually the same.
The Western approach, called hospital-based surveillance, calibrates public heath restrictions to hospital capacity. China has followed the same strategy. The only difference is, that because the country has so few critical care beds, it has had to rein in infection levels to keep people out of the hospital.
China’s superior pandemic performance hasn’t, then, reflected a stronger orientation to people over profits, but limited options. China is just another capitalist country prioritizing capital accumulation, but owing to its poorly-resource medical system, it has had to work extremely diligently to keep people out of the hospital. The calculus, however, has shifted, and countless Chinese citizens will be whisked to early graves to save China’s central position in global supply chains, to the greater glory and benefit of Terry Gou, Tim Cook, and Apple shareholders.
Equally troubling for the Friends is reporting from The Wall Street Journal this week that China is transferring drones and ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, the tyranny that is waging a war of aggression on Yemen.
The Friends did little to put themselves in good stead when they defended the transfer of Chinese weapons to Riyadh on the grounds that arming the Saudis benefits the global working class!
Here is how the Friends replied to my Tweet criticizing them for failing to call out Chinese arms transfers to Saudi tyrants. Some of the Friends had earlier led campaigns to denounce Western arms sales to the same despots, but couldn’t find the courage and integrity to condemn Beijing for doing the same.
Hypocrites to be sure, the Friends are also bold. After all, to claim China is socialist, when it so obviously is not, takes a fair amount of chutzpah. “Socialist China” strikes a jarring note, like “Flat Earth” and “Square Circle.” Imagine a group called Friends of Peace-Loving USA, self-described peace-activists who support the United States with the aim of spreading understanding of America’s rich devotion to a world without war. This is what the Friends are all about: propaganda—and, as it turns out, they’re unabashedly avowed spreaders of Beijing’s manure.
They claim to be Marxists, and while they may think they are, their knowledge of Marxism is wafer-thin. At worst, they’re frauds. Carlos Martinez, one of the group’s principals, criticized a view of imperialism based on the writings of Rudolph Hilferding, Nicolai Bukharin, and V.I. Lenin—what’s known as the classical Marxist theory—as non-Marxist. Martinez labors under the mistaken impression that Marxists understand imperialism to be what the G7, and only the G7, does. Chinese chauvinists may hold this view, but Marxists? No.
On their website the Friends ask Why China? To support “all states building or aspiring to socialism.” What they mean is that China is not socialist, but says it aspires to be someday. For the moment, it’s capitalist, and thoroughly so. Hence, the lifting of pandemic restrictions under pressure from capitalists at home and abroad. Hence, throwing Yemen under the bus by selling arms to the Saudis. Profits take priority over lives and principal as much in Beijing as Washington.
As to the deceit embedded in the term “socialist China,” I may aspire to be a Nobel Prize winner, but calling myself Nobel Prize winning Steve, would be more than a little deceptive; so too, referring to China as socialist, when China says only that it aspires to be socialist someday, is sheer mendacity.
But, then, deception is the name of the game where the Friends are concerned. No sooner does the Friends’ website acknowledge indirectly that Chinese socialism is aspirational, that is, for the future, does it resume talking about Chinese socialism in the present, as if it’s a real thing.
And then there’s the Friends’ devotion to the backward concept of multipolarity. “China,” the Friends intone, “is the most prominent force pushing for the establishment of a multipolar system of international relations.” Multipolarity is important to the Friends, because it’s important to Beijing, though it’s hardly a Marxist aspiration, or has much to do with Marxism. Marxism aspires to a nonpolar world free from the division of humanity into classes and nations. Martinez and crew wouldn’t know this, because, well, they don’t know much about Marxism. But they do know something about what the Chinese tell them Marxism is.
Multipolarity—the idea that a few large powers should divide the world, so long as one of them is China—is an idea of significance to Chinese nationalists; they’re keen on engineering China’s rebirth as a great power so their profit-making enterprises can claim a greater share of the world market. In practice, multipolarity means that, rather than relying on the United States alone to get arms to wage a war of aggression on Yemen, the Saudi tyranny can also buy weapons from China. One might understand why the leader of a rising power, or a Saudi tyrant, might value multipolarity, but it’s hard to see why a genuine Marxist would.
The Friends of China, of course, are not Marxists, any more than people who would call themselves Friends of Peace-Loving USA would be peace-activists. The Friends are little more than automata who march to the drumbeat of that most capitalist of states, the People’s Republic of China.
The group’s mission, unabashedly acknowledged on its website, is to provide a platform for pro-China propaganda. When you say you support the People’s Republic of China and that your mission is to spread understanding of it, you acknowledge that your aim is to promote information supportive of Beijing; that is, that your role is one of propaganda.
In the Friends’ view, spreading pro-China propaganda equals anti-imperialism. Anti-imperialism, thus, becomes a project of objecting to criticism of China and promoting pro-China narratives; that is, of pro-China propaganda. Behind this absurd conception of imperialism lies an article of faith: that China does not seek to integrate foreign territory into its national economy in competition with other capitalist powers. In other words, China alone, among large capitalist powers, is not compelled by the competition inherent in capitalism to project power abroad, through economic, political, diplomatic, and military means. That Beijing obviously vies with the United States, Europe, and even Russia, for markets, raw materials, investment opportunities, and strategic territory, escapes the notice of the Friends, who prefer to think of Beijing projecting influence abroad on behalf of its billionaires as China selflessly promoting development and fostering socialism around the world. One can find the Friends’ equivalent on the other side of the inter-imperialist aisle, who will swear up and down that Washington’s engagement with the world is inspired by lofty ideals of promoting stability, development, human rights, and democracy.
Martinez’s Twitter handle, @agent_of_change is more honestly rendered @agent_of_Beijing. That’s demonstrated by his reaction to my challenging the theory that China puts people ahead of profits. The avowed propagandist complained that I was spraying “anti-Chinese propaganda around the Internet.” When criticism is peremptorily dismissed as propaganda, and propaganda is presented as unalloyed truth, it becomes clear that it’s not information the Friends are spreading, but disinformation. Sadly for avowed propagandists, but happily for scientific socialism, reality is challenging so many of the myths Beijing’s agent of change seeks to propagate under the guise of a phony anti-imperialism.