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Issue #1910      April 6, 2020

OP-ED: COVID-19 AND CHINA

AN OPPORTUNITY TO THINK MORE, ACT LESS!

Recent political statements regarding COVID-19 in connection with China have been relentless across the Australian political sphere; small and large political parties, media personalities, institutions, ordinary citizens, and multinational corporations have all contributed.

Diplomat Wang Xining on Q&A gives China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the way democracy operates in China.

An instructive example of this phenomena was the recent Q&A episode where China’s diplomat Wang Xining gave China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the way democracy operates in China. Subjected to questions and statements such as “But democracy involves voting!,” “The suppression of information, that’s true isn’t it?,” “That delayed things, that is a problem of a centralised power,” reveals an opportunity.

It is against this context that the axiom “seek truth from facts” is given actual meaning and consistency in a collective manner against the Australian political system that rewards individualist political expediency against collective benefit as a rule.

This opportunity was given expression in Wang Xining’s final statement, which drew audible silence from the panel and audience alike: “The whole population was advised to stay home. It’s an unprecedented challenge in human history. It’s an unprecedented campaign. Organised by the Chinese government against an epidemic which is a common enemy of mankind. The sacrifice China has done is for the benefit of the world!” With this statement, you could almost sense the subconscious reference to Australia’s recent mismanaged and chaotic bushfires, and a very blatant reference to a proletarian internationalism that is now completely alien to the triumphant, capitalist Western world.

CHINA AND THE WEST

It is necessary to develop Wang Xining’s concept of Chinese sacrifice here in recognition of China’s own revolutionary history of itself. National myth or not, self-characterisation is always important. This is especially important when interpreting Chinese thought, where the best advice to foreigners is to approach with “big ears, small mouth.”

The Chinese self-narrative of class struggle concentrates on the semi-colonialism and humiliation of Europe against China. It also focuses on the national liberation struggle of 1949, which transformed an economically backwards country, where ninety-seven per cent of the population lived in absolute poverty, into an economic superpower. Fundamental to this narrative is the seventy years long sustained effort by the US to use its dominant place in the global financial system to keep China economically backwards and impoverished.

With an understanding of China’s history and their perception of their history, we can understand Xining answers (“Again, you are picking one piece out of a big jigsaw”, “I don’t think there was a cover-up”) more holistically – they are made against a narrative driven to undermine China’s success.

Xining’s appearance on Q&A should serve as an example among many of Western spin, so should we be surprised, given their history, that China sees the way the West is acting as arrogant and irrational? Western “socialists,” typically namely Trotskyists and democratic socialists, weirdly assemble with conservatives in their thought on China, without actually studying the Chinese themselves.

SEEKING TRUTH FROM FACTS

How then, to “seek truth from facts” in China’s response to COVID-19? The first admission is an admission that China’s response to COVID-19 was extraordinary effective through the state-directed use of social distancing. Take what happened on 14th March as a microcosmic and materialist example, where there were only eighteen new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in China, of which four cases occurred in the province of Hubei where the pandemic began. Meanwhile, there were 2,547 new cases reported in Italy on the same day. The NSW State Health Officer has predicted that 1.5 million people will be infected with COVID-19 in NSW alone as a best-case scenario. With only 1,000 intensive care unit beds in the state, and 2,000 nationwide, our health system is woefully unprepared, and parliamentary democracy is more interested in using the crisis for individual benefit rather than for the collective good. Assuming that only five per cent of the 1.5 million will require intensive care paints a truly horrific picture given the contrast in the non-existent willingness of the Australian government in officially endorsing strict social distancing. Imagine the mismanagement of the recent bushfires, only much, much worse.

Why no strict social distancing in Australia? Because the only doctrine of the ruling political class is managing irrational capitalist surplus and deficits in an unplanned economy and in keeping power from the “opposition” at the next election; Life and death of the people mean nothing to those who worship economic graphs and parliamentary elections.

To complicate the matter further, “opposition” in the parliamentary sphere represents a strange convergence of capitalist logic where the basic parameters of the game are already set. If there is one point of similarity between the average Australian and the average Chinese person, it would be that in my experience they agree on this point regarding about COVID-19 – a Liberal or Labor government would make little difference.

We live in a world where it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine an end to capitalism. Parliamentary elections, which encourage us to release our political energies every four years, eternally result in the return of the same, with small administrative changes here and there thrown to the public as if they are dogs who want scraps.

In other words, do something all the time to ensure nothing will ever fundamentally change! Therefore, when confronted with these spectacular forces of unreason in political parties and the media, our naturalised response is to regard figures like Wang Xining in contempt, entirely divorced from seeking truth from facts.

How then, should we seek truth from facts? Unreservedly, an investigation into Socialism with Chinese Characteristics should be encouraged. Attitudes against this simple assertion risk presenting themselves as Western idealists divorcing themselves from Marxist historical materialism. Consider the historical irony that the practical expressions of socialism in the form of the state have come from the relatively undeveloped Asiatic, subverting Marx’s predictions of revolutions.

The great advantage of the study of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in connection with COVID-19 is that it is not a dry academic exercise – it is a living and topical phenomena where the people make history highly relevant to Australia. It is an exercise in historical materialism. This brings us to our greatest task of all in the Australian context; we must shift the parameters of the debate around COVID-19 from small administrative changes ensuring the eternal return of the same to an actual rupture within capitalism with a creative potentiality.

This rupture has great positive potentiality at the level of the communist idea. As argued by Plato onward in the words of Slavoj Žižek, “communism is the only political idea worthy of a philosopher”. As Marxists, we must remember that actual political debate revolves around socialism against barbarism. If the debate occurs outside these parameters, it is ultimately apolitical and revolves around small administrative changes.

The conflation of politics with administration is a disaster, representing a form of linguistic terrorism whose main injunction is to “act more, think less” as opposed to “think more, act less!” In a time of social distancing, we need the slogan “think more, act less!” more than ever.

This debate must go beyond the level of the idea and be fully supported with mass work, especially in an international setting where there are more workers than ever in what Alain Badiou calls the “nomadic proletariat.” The basic paradox of today is that there has never been better objective conditions for communist revolutions. Twenty-six people have as much wealth and income as the poorest 4 billion people combined.

This is an unprecedented divide in wealth in history, and can only be addressed with internationalism. Yet everywhere in the West, communists are regarded as ridiculous and criminal while we nihilistically embrace the contradictions of capitalism in our condemnation of Wang Xining.

We must be bold enough to live with an idea. All that is really required of you in capitalism is to live without an idea and go through the motions of protesting on single issues with the unsaid admission that nothing will ever fundamentally change. We must be bold enough to proclaim: all that moves ahead is red, and all that is true is rare and difficult. We can, so we must, and we will!

Next article – DISEASE AND CAPITALIST CLASS SOCIETY

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