The truth behind China’s Charter 08 manifesto

Feb 10, 2009

From education to health care, China has experienced great social development since the 1949 revolution. The imperialists could not care less about those gains.

U.S. imperialism has begun another effort to overthrow the government of the People’s Republic of China. As it did during the decades-long struggle to overthrow the governments of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the main instruments in the imperialist media apparatus are seeking to discredit or delegitimize the government of China while elevating minuscule counterrevolutionary groups assembled under the banner of “human rights” and “democracy.”

These groups may have little support inside of China, but they are given a global platform and credibility by mass coverage in the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and other capitalist media outlets.

The Washington Post’s prominent coverage of China’s Charter 08 is a case in point. A mortal enemy of socialism, this group received a few thousand signatures on its Internet petition calling for a return to full capitalism and the removal of the Chinese Communist Party.

In spite of their negligible support inside of China, the Washington Post’s lead editorial of January 30 was entitled “Virtual Groundswell: Why China’s leadership should talk to the Charter 08 movement.”

This same newspaper refused to print a single article about the tens of thousands of people who poured into the streets of Washington, D.C., in January to protest U.S. support for the Israeli military assault against Gaza. This bastion of “media objectivity” never called on the U.S. government to “talk to those organizing mass protests” within a few feet of the doorstep of the Washington Post’s headquarters. On the contrary, the Post pretended that the protests were not happening.

The reason for the difference in the Post’s coverage between the Charter 08 in Beijing and the demonstrations in Washington, D.C., is clear: one protest movement serves imperialism, while the other stands in solidarity with those who resist it.

The Post editorial states: “Thanks to that technology, the new democracy movement has been able to amass a virtual crowd of supporters. As Ariana Eunjung Cha reported in The Post, more than 8,100 Chinese from all walks of life have signed the manifesto first issued by 300 artists and intellectuals last month. That makes Charter 08 the largest pro-democracy movement Beijing has known since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests—and it demonstrates that the Communist Party’s creaking totalitarianism has become intolerable for many people—teachers, engineers, businessmen, farmers, construction workers.”

This is nothing but anti-communist propaganda masquerading as professional journalism.

The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) has collected hundreds of thousands (not 8,100) of signers on to letters calling for a lifting of the U.S. blockade of Cuba. They included teachers, engineers, workers—and probably even a few “businessmen.” The Washington Post never suggested those signatures offered proof that Washington was guilty of “creaking” colonialism toward Cuba or anything of the kind. In fact, the “free press” refused to cover this genuine groundswell of grassroots activity.

Examining the politics of Charter 08

Signatories to Charter 08 represent a right-wing movement shrouded in progressive phraseology and allusions to the ideas of the French and American revolutions. In fact, these forces offer a program that can only lead to greater misery among the vast majority of Chinese people.

The charter starts out with a brief history of China. It reads in part, “Victory over Japan in 1945 offered one more chance for China to move toward modern government, but the Communist defeat of the Nationalists in the civil war thrust the nation into the abyss of totalitarianism.”

This version of history is a lie and the vast majority in China reject it. The “Nationalist” government— run by Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang—completely prostrated China to outside imperialist powers.

Under the pro-imperialist nationalist government, over 1 million people died each year of starvation. Women suffered tremendous oppression. Opium addiction was at epidemic levels. The vast majority of people were organized into the most brutal labor conditions. There was no health care or education except for a few elites. A mere 10 percent of the population owned 70 percent of the land prior to the 1949 revolution.

The Charter goes on to say: “The ‘new China’ that emerged in 1949… has produced a long trail of human rights disasters, including, among many others, the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward (19581960), the Cultural Revolution (19661969).”

This is their summation of the most revolutionary period in Chinese history. The Charter’s authors erase from history the progressive role of the post-1949 Chinese communist government, which, in the words of economist Arthur G. Ashbrook Jr., “gets full marks for drawing all China together into one national economic unit … [It] began an extensive program of public health and sanitation, suppressed banditry, provided a tolerably even distribution of available food and clothing, and repaired and extended the badly neglected system of dikes.”

The public health system implemented by the revolutionary Chinese government eliminated typhoid and cholera in three short years. The Chinese communists rebuilt the country under the most trying of circumstances from what the Charter’s own authors concede to have been a “national crisis.” By 1955, opium addiction and prostitution had been wiped out.

The history of the Chinese revolution is lengthy and complex. But the charter presents the entire revolutionary period of China’s history as the darkest of nights. Its authors willingly reject the most basic and well-known gains of the Chinese revolution. Their attitude toward the advances made by the Chinese peasantry and working class speaks volumes about their real aims and motivations.

Friends and enemies

The New York Review of Books approvingly connects the dots between Charter 08 and Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77. Though hardly worthy of praise, the similarities indeed are there.

The Charter 08 authors share the tradition of reactionary currents within the socialist bloc—the likes of the Czech dissident movement and Poland’s “Solidarity” movement. These counterrevolutionary currents were also championed and supported by imperialism and even some deeply misguided leftists and progressives.

These movements have all raised abstract slogans of “democracy” and “human rights” whose concrete form has invariably been a return to capitalism and the rollback of socialist gains. They politically exploit the grievances of workers—real or fabricated—to advance their counterrevolutionary agenda. They reveal their true class character by embracing right-wing forces and abetting the predations of U.S. imperialism.

One must only recall Solidarity’s Lech Walesa and his welcoming of the election of Ronald Reagan. Equally telling was his embrace of Pope John Paul II, who had just launched a crusade against Liberation Theology—a progressive Christian current with particularly strong influence in Latin American liberation struggles.

Likewise, one should remember the economic breakup and integration of Czechoslovakia into the Western sphere of influence. The overthrow of socialist Czechoslovakia was in fact the very bulwark of the pro-imperialist reaction that would eventually culminate in the overthrow of the Soviet Union itself—a historic defeat from which the working class has yet to recover.

Imperialism knows very well its friends from its enemies. Despite their progressive-sounding protestations, capitalist powers and their media trumpet only those political forces that will advance their interests.

Capitalist reforms versus counterrevolution

With the coming anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident—a counterrevolutionary effort painted in the West as a “struggle for democracy”— Charter 08 is a conscious attempt by a section of the Chinese capitalist class and its allies to foment support for a total capitalist restoration in China. As the Soviet example unequivocally demonstrates, such a restoration would be an unmitigated tragedy for the people of China, Asia and the rest of the world.

The recent economic boom that further concentrated wealth in the hands of U.S. billionaires and led to the subsequent worldwide economic crisis involved, as a central component, the super-exploitation of Chinese workers. Still, foreign capitalists frequently complain about the onerous “regulations, laws, red tape” in China that make it impossible for them to make even more profit.

Capitalist reforms have made substantial inroads and reached dangerous levels in China in the past three decades. At the same time, the Chinese capitalist class as well as imperialist forces abroad still lack control over the commanding heights of the country’s economy and have limited political power. Though Chinese socialism has suffered severe setbacks, these setbacks fall short of the capitalist counterrevolution sought by Washington. This is not merely a quantitative observation, but a qualitative one.

There is divided opinion within the U.S. foreign policy establishment and among Wall Street executives over what stance to take toward China. To the extent that China has opened the door to foreign direct investment, many of the top U.S. bankers are content to make huge profits in China and seek a stable relationship with the current Chinese government.

However, other powerful forces—including the Washington Post—are aggressively promoting an anti-communist takeover that would displace the Chinese Communist Party. There are forces within the Obama administration that may also, for a variety of reasons, promote a harder line against the People’s Republic of China.

Due to China’s integration into the world capitalist economy, millions of Chinese workers have lost their jobs in the last year as the global demand for Chinese products slows. This is seen as a new political opening for counterrevolution.

The Washington Post reflects the opinion held by some of the same western capitalist bankers and governments that created the global depression; namely, that the new economic crisis will lead to political instability inside China and create the conditions for the overthrow of the current government. Charter 08 is a political creation by these outside powers. As such, it is an enemy of the aspirations of the Chinese people to determine the destiny of their country.

The CCP government, in spite all of its contradictions, remains the most important obstacle to the return of China to its previous state of semi-colonial slavery. The government first introduced capitalist reforms as a means to overcome the severe economic underdevelopment that was the legacy of colonialism and imperialist domination. These reforms marked a sharp departure from the path followed by the Communist Party during the Mao era.

The “opening up” of China to foreign investment and private capitalism has spurred economic development, but also led to gross inequalities and class divisions. China is now also more vulnerable to full-scale counterrevolution. At the same time, the pro- capitalist reforms have been limited and not wholesale. Faced with an intensified imperialist offensive, the CCP leadership could change course, turning to the working class for support and reinstituting socialist measures.

However unlikely, the path to a renewal or strengthening of socialist methods is possible as long as the CCP retains its hold on state power. No other revolutionary communist movement exists in China outside of the CCP that could replace the current government with a more socialist perspective. Under the current political conditions, the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party would hurl China backwards into the arms of imperialist enslavement.

Progressives and revolutionaries in the United States should see this Charter for what it really is: a U.S.-backed Trojan horse aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government and replacing it with a free-market capitalist government.