Beijing and the myopia of the left in the West

US Capitol Building

A few years ago, the economist and historian Giovanni Arrighi published a curious text entitled “Adam Smith in Beijing”, which attracted the interest of geo-political enthusiasts.

Arrighi, who left us in 2009, had a truly unique career path. At his death he had held a chair of sociology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, he had trained at Bocconi in Milan and he had taught in Africa before moving to the United States in the seventies.

Arrighi was a Marxist tied to the precepts of orthodoxy. We could call him an organic intellectual, capable of being contaminated by other thinkers such as Immanuel Wallerstein, the American philosopher who was an expert on Africa in turn and indebted to the thought of Marx and the concept of inescapable conflict inside a company.

In the last years of his life, Arrighi reiterated that the West was in crisis, at least since it had replaced production for a growing financialization of the economy, to guarantee greater profit margins, leaving the physical production chains of value to the new emerging countries.

Arrighi’s thought found the crowning glory of his career in the book “Adam Smith in Beijing”, where he stated that a socialist market economy was developing in China in accordance with what was declared in the statute of the Chinese Communist Party in 1998.

Arrighi, an extremely cultured man, like the Marxists who live on the east coast of the United States, made Adam Smith and Beijing flirt in a truly original way.

The Scottish philosopher had written of China “In the research on the nature and cause of the wealth of nations” in 1776, the treatise on how nations should behave to increase their wealth and well-being.

As much as the diarists and time travelers described China as a miserable country and the Chinese willing to feed on “the most lousy waste thrown overboard by European ships”, Smith was convinced otherwise, stating that the prices of cereals were low, like the cost of labor, but high land rent, such as to justify a certain static nature of the model, little industry and the search for new markets.

What fascinated Smith was that China was a world unto itself, ruled by an emperor who did not recognize political freedoms and who did not grant privileges to companies, which acted for the accumulation of money and privileges in a disorderly and wild way as in the West.

A churchman like Smith, tied to the idea of ​​authority and the harmonic balance of the system, liked China very much, as did Arrighi, who as a Marxist was faithful to another creed, made of in an “ethical state”, endowed with a superior morality and capable of keeping man’s greed at bay.

Arrighi despised capitalism, but not the market, and had Smith tell it even though he had been dead for centuries, arguing that the Chinese model sedated the economic pressures that lead to unemployment and undermine social peace by becoming a regulator of the excesses of the economy.

Arrighi’s China, let’s call it this way, puts the capitalists in competition, cancels the pressure between labor and capital, sets the limit of profit to increase its central power.

Arrighi did not announce a twenty-first century Chinese, even if a new model, which defines the Beijing Consensus could support and then replace the American reference, but makes it clear that it would have the strength through the purchase of US public debt, the supply of consumer goods, a pragmatic approach to economic growth and the creation of new forms of cooperation with the countries of the southern hemisphere.

Finally, the economist argued that after the Tiananmen Square incidents there would be a synthesis between bourgeois liberalism and communism for universal social justice.

More than ten years after Arrighi’s book came out, we can say that things went differently, in China.

There are still pockets of poverty made up of hundreds of millions of people, and despite the formation of a middle class of consumers, please note consumers and non-citizens, the exploitation of labor does not appear so different from the worst capitalist models, think of the reduction of near-slavery of workers destined to die because they were locked up in prison factories during a fire, often the same western partners of joint ventures, are committed to ensuring compliance with the minimum legal standards in the workplace.

The harassment of Tibetan, Mongolian and Iugur ethnic minorities under the eyes of the world and the recent declaration by Xi Jinping for the definitive approval of a han model (the dominant ethnic group) promise years of new violence, in addition to neo-colonial aspirations in Africa in clothes different from those of the West, such as the Silk Roads and the debt noose project, but equally abject.

Arrighi’s analyzes describe a world that no longer exists, the latest modernity demands increasing investments in research and development – Schumpeter ipse dixit – but the Chinese state by draining the profits, which would be investments, sterilizes innovation.

The solution was the construction of an economy based on the predation of the ingenuity of others and the failure to respect the ownership of intellectual rights and trademarks, making the Chinese model intimately parasitic, but consistent with the traditional view of Confucianism, which does not blame the subtraction of the creativity of others and does not encourage the ingenuity of an individual or a private company (dichotomy number – individual).

Another critical element of the system is the affirmation of “corporate patriotism” before profit. The news of these days tells of the presence of President Xi Jinping at the inauguration of a museum dedicated to Zhang Jiang, an entrepreneur who from 1895 to 1925 was the champion of entrepreneurship Guandu Shangban, that is, supervised by the state.

The Economist dedicated a nice article to us “Patriotism before profit”, in which we remember the true story of the entrepreneur loved by Mao Zedong and Xi jinping, the opaque management of the administration, the distraction for personal use of business capital, until the bailout in 1922 from the bankruptcy of a consortium of banks.

If you still find someone who is not satisfied with the criticisms of Arrighi’s thought, read them what he declared in a last interview with David Harvey and published posthumously and ask yourself where China is: “Identifying socialism with the state creates big problems.

Consequently, if such a world system were to be called socialist, it would be appropriate to redefine it in terms of mutual respect between human beings and collective respect for nature. But perhaps it should be organized, though, through state-regulated market exchanges in such a way as to strengthen workers and weaken capital in Smithian terms.

The historian Valerio Romitelli observes, from the web pages of the Left on the net, “Since, in the early 1980s, Deng Xiaoping began to theorize an entirely Chinese way to an unprecedented” market socialism “, the party’s rhetoric has in fact, it has become more and more decisively qualified as a national-communist. In the sense that the goal of communism is not conceived otherwise than as a consequence of national successes.

As if to say, a sort of “China first!” as a counterpoint to the Trumpian “America first!” Arrighi’s mistake was to think of China with Western categories, like all of Hegel’s sons, who saw the end of history and a happy ending.

The article was originally published on the Italian language site www.altriorienti.com

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  1. Beijing and the myopia of the left in the West - The Washington County Auditor lol

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