By A. P. Winslow
Upon the outbreak of WW1, the socialist parties of Europe were swept up in a patriotic fervor; national chauvinist tendencies broke out into the open and their factions were victorious in all established political parties of the belligerent countries with the exception of the Russian Bolsheviks.
I’m reminded of this history while mulling over an article the DSA blog published Feb. 12, which asserts plainly that “China and the US will compete more directly” in the near future, and it is taken to be our role “to compete with [the Chinese’s] mercantilism.” The author goes on to argue that democratic socialism correlates with competitiveness on the world market.
Morally, this attitude is concerning, especially considering what it might mean for a rising India or Mozambique, who, like China, have pretensions to the same scarce portions of the world market. But for now we can set aside these moral concerns; he reassures us, after saying that the nation is “to compete with mercantilism,” that he means a competition “whose goal is to empower all of its people, not just the 1%.”
This I like. Like, a lot. But consider, if you will, what correlation actually exists between an empowered citizenry and competitiveness in the world market.
China, for example, rose to its current stature more by the impoverishment and expropriation of the rural peasantry than through democracy and living wages. In this it has common ground with the earlier industrial development of England, or most any sizable industrialized country. “Newly industrialized countries” like Taiwan and South Korea, reliant as they’ve been on exports to the US, became competitive and industrial under conspicuously dictatorial conditions.
The competitiveness of China should not be seen without reference to the some 287 million citizens living outside of their ‘hukuo’ registered area, effectively disqualifying them from the upper echelons of the job market, as well as social services — underclasses are competitive — but Chinese wages tripled in the decade between 2005-2016, and now go for several times those of Indian workers. We shouldn’t be surprised to see that India recently began receiving more foreign investment than China. It would seem, then, that Chinese workers themselves demanding an increasing share of their production have done more to undermine Chinese national competitiveness than the sinophobic speech of all the neoliberal pundits and Donald Trump.
There are admittedly components to national competitiveness besides underclasses and shit wages. Certain skill sets can matter, the fact that the machinery and infrastructure exists, whether a state apparatus can assuage investors’ anxieties of expropriation, industrial sabotage, or unionization.
So, if democratic socialism is to somehow bypass a compromise between competitiveness and a high standard of living (i.e., only in shit wages can we compete with shit wages), I can at least say that it would be a certain stripped-down sort of socialism. Redistributing the already extant share of income paid to labor through social programs while leaving capital gains relatively unfettered probably does make the Nordic countries nicer places. Perhaps we can, like Germany, siphon off children not yet 10 years old from a path open to the humanities into vocational training, and position ourselves generally towards the lucrative pinnacle of the labor market, but that would not change the fact that competition for jobs in a limited market is a zero-sum game and mass unemployment is a consistent feature of the world system, even if it can be concentrated in, say, Greece and Spain and not in Germany.
Here perhaps we are led to return to moral concerns. Although we may be conscious that we are exploited workers and not, as it were, temporarily embarrassed millionaires, we work of necessity on the local and national scales and on the world scale might still see ourselves as Americans, against a rising China, at threat of being deposed from our rightful place as the #1 and only global superpower.
To this all I can say is that I disdain such narrow chauvinism, that if we are to build a social democracy free of the realm of necessity and not an exclusively affluent society supported by socialized imperialism, we must take a bolder, more ambitious view and broaden our pretensions beyond the presumed antagonisms of nation-states.
We must fight for a socialism not hemmed in by borders, for a peace not staked to guns behind walls; we in our organization represent the coming end of racism and xenophobia,so we do not succumb to petty social chauvinism and we are not sided in a preemptive conflict between superpowers.
In the United States, our side is with the workers. In Germany, our side is with the workers. In Qatar and Kuwait, Mexico and Chile and India and Bangladesh our side is with the workers. In the case of the People’s Republic of China, a particularly centralized, expansive, and repressive state apparatus ruling over nearly a fifth of the world population, we should be cautious and scrutinizing, but not for a second should we position ourselves as adversaries to the common people of China, or as allies to the multinational corporations draining off to our markets the value of their effort.
In China our side is with the workers, and here in the U.S. we will not stoop to competitive exploitation, and ought not cherish the fruits of socialized imperialism without a unified mind to undermine their basis.
A.P. Winslow is a member of Austin, Texas DSA.
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