The following article is a guest translation by Alec Ash. You may remember him as the man behind the excellent (and wholly unique) blog thinksix.net; these days he’d prefer you check out his new writer’s colony, the Anthill.
This is a translation of this article by Wu Yun.
Translation: Let’s “Occupy Chang’an Avenue”!
by Wu Yun
Wall Street used to be full of cash, stocks and bonds; now it is full of tents and banners. America clearly has a problem, but that problem is far from simple. Weak financial supervision, inequitable distribution of wealth, inhibited class communication and the failure of democratic coordination are all the nation’s blight. There are some who look at this and point to America’s decline, but that isn’t my concern. I want to address those who think the turmoil on Wall Street shows up the failures of democracy. I think that’s over the top.
Democracy clearly has its flaws, but OWS shows not the defects of democracy but its advantages. That protestors do not “go missing” is thanks to the benefits of democracy, and the lack of violent conflict or loss of social order is an example of its accomplishments. The US government has not condemned, suppressed or sympathised with the movement, nor have the crowds challenged the legitimacy of the government or the democratic system itself. Rather, OWS is happening precisely within that democratic framework.
In other words: we must change our perspective and see this demonstration as a rational expression of democracy, and the normal activity of a healthy society rather than the upheaval of it.
Anyone with a little knowledge of American history knows that mass demonstrations have been occurring for a long time, and American democracy has never died, only progressed. The women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century allowed women to vote. The black civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s paved the way for Obama to become president. And marches against the Vietnam war, the Iraq war, abortion, anti-gay prejudice and so on are too many to count. So the Occupy movement is certainly no big deal.
When people feel their votes, petitions and appeals are so useless that they can only make their point with demonstrations, it’s clear that democracy is far from perfect. But experience shows that if you oppose democracy from a utopian or excessively moralistic perspective – treating demonstrations as the enemy of society rather than as giving society a much-needed shock – it is all too easy to become a dictator and create social disaster.
Just because China has no demonstrations like this, it doesn’t mean it has no problems. After the subprime mortgage crisis, the US government had no choice but to bail out the banks – if they hadn’t, the consequences would have been even more disastrous. Some say the bailout was in collusion with financial oligarchs, but we have no cause for complacency because the Chinese economic stimulus cost us just as dear. The difference is: how much money we paid out and where and how it was used was not approved by Congress, let alone made accountable to the Chinese taxpayer.
If you look at the data, of the CCP’s four trillion RMB stimulus, two trillion was invested in northwest rail, roads and airports, more than a trillion in high-speed rail, and another sizable chunk in state-owned enterprises. This is not to say that, considering the economic situation of the northwest, large-scale investment into infrastructure is a waste of money. But even if national strategy is difficult to decide democratically, the people should have the right to express their opinion when it comes to how their own money is spent. Yet we do not.
On Wall Street, angry young men protest the market monopoly of a few capitalist bigwigs, condemning these oligarchical as predators of the economy. Unfortunately, China’s oligarchical establishment far outdoes America’s. The state-owned enterprises that monopolise the Chinese market are for the most part controlled by so-called “princelings” and their relatives. Publicly-owned enterprises nominally belong to the people but in reality, besides raising consumer prices as they like, they have no connection with the people whatsoever.
State-owned banks lent fourteen trillion RMB for the rescue package, which was in turn injected into state-owned companies or private companies with government backgrounds. Some of the US stimulus money was recalled after the economy improved, but the Chinese equivalent is unrecoverable. If it didn’t fall into the hands of the bigwigs – through the well-known efficiency of bonus distribution in state-owned enterprises – it returned to the coffers of government profits.
Financial supervision may be weak in America, but at least the public can protest and Obama can do something about it. In China, the bad debts of banks and levels of corruption among regulators and executives are so dreadful that we daren’t make them public. The inequality gap may be large in America but it pales in comparison to China’s. America may have scant social security but China has virtually no social security at all.
Many Chinese, when they heard of their government’s stimulus package, waxed lyrical about China’s abundant financial resources and strong sense of responsibility – but didn’t call into question its rules of financial regulation or the end results of that stimulus. And now they mock American protests against just such injustices. I find that baffling.
It was American democracy which enabled their problems to be recognised, taken seriously and have the potential to be solved. In China things are murkier. In reality, China faces more serious problems of financial oligarchism, corruption and inequality than America. But “Occupy Chang’an Jie” is no more than a fairy tale – in China a jobless, homeless protester would not reach Beijing before disappearing mysteriously.
The freedom to assemble and demonstrate exists in almost every country’s constitution, but it’s only a few countries where the people can genuinely protest against the government without being quashed. If the OWS movement is a sign of a flawed democracy, I hope China can have some of that flawed democracy too. Because China’s calm is by no means fortunate.
At the time when the American civil rights movement was sweeping the nation, the Soviet Union was calm too, emphasising the disorder of capitalism and democracy in their propaganda, and saying that America was in deep distress. But not long afterwards, American democracy reached a new level and the country is a superpower, while Soviet citizens erupted against the suppression of their voices, to the USSR’s ruin.