New Left Movement Emerging in China Could Challenge United States
by Manuel L. Quezon III
In the 1990s, I was confident that the “ism” to watch would be the rise of a new anarchism. Anarchists had been prominent at the end of the 19th and during the beginning of the 20th centuries, particularly after taking credit for spectacular assassinations such as those of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary and presidents William McKinley of the United States and Marie François Sadi Carnot of France. During the Spanish Civil War, anarchists battled with Soviet communists even as both were targeted by Spanish fascists, the Falange. The result was the extinction of anarchism as a political force: Fascism and communism, then communism and democracy, would be the leading contenders for the rest of the 20th century.
But by the 1990s, communism was collapsing, and while generally considered triumphant, democracy was saddled with the baggage of a free market liberalism that was in turn leading many developing nations to the brink of economic collapse. Was there any other “-ism” that could challenge democracy-slash-capitalism as an ideal? This is when anarchism re-entered the world-historical picture after a hiatus of sixty years.
Anarchy was, to be sure, something of a fetish for some punk rockers, the Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols with their posters that adorned Western collegiate dorm rooms in the 1970s and 1980s; but it would become once more a political force to contend with as a result of the rise of radical environmentalism and those that renamed the Third World the Global South, demanding that democracy, as practiced, anyway, by the supreme superpower known as the USA and its Western on again, off again allies, to the extreme disadvantage of developing nations.
The extreme disadvantage, of course, was manifested by Western governments that supported tyrannical dictators and rapacious elites subservient to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank — a sort of economic Gestapo of Western world.
Skeptical of communism, with its Stalinist and Maoist traditions of genocide and repression, people opposed to Western policies couldn’t very well turn to a system that had collapsed. But neither could they make peace with Western governments, their materialism, and lifestyle-oriented commercialism. So the only alternative, really, was anarchy. Anarchists did not believe in fiercely disciplined, regimentally-organized cadres of brainwashed masses, they were, in a sense, instead, profoundly here and now in their stubborn individualism. They were lean, mean, small fighting cells, armed, at long last, with the instruments that made it possible for them to outfox the authorities.
This is why, during rallies turned violent in Seattle, in Washington, D.C., and so many other places, anarchists gleefully turned to battling the police. They kept one step ahead of the authorities by using cellphones and the Internet. Governments began to be worried; but just when it seemed that anarchists were here to stay, 9/11 happened, and the dominant “-ism” to capitalize on global disaffection with the West would be “fundamentalism,” of the Islamic kind. As all the nations of the world girded for a War Against Terror, the syndicates of the anarchists were rolled up, and attention shifted away from them.
For five years, the dominant “isms” have been Western liberal democracy, itself divided along American and European lines, and Islamic fundamentalism. A new “ism,” however, is rearing its head, and it is one that has to be paid attention to. To understand what it is, one has to look at the People’s Republic of China.
Prior to 9/11, American strategists were looking at China as the nation to watch as a potential rival to the United States. Maoism had been dumped; a pragmatic approach to capitalism had become Chinese state policy. By the late 1990s and certainly, in the beginning of the 21st Century, it was obvious that the pragmatic solution was a resounding success, sucking in enormous quantities of foreign investments, while churning out vast quantities of consumer goods. Still nominally communist, China continued its pragmatic policies by signing on to the World Trade Organization, that global web of free trade so hated by the anarchists of the 1990s.
With economic muscle came political and diplomatic muscle; I’ve written this in a previous column concerning China’s clever policies aimed at neutralizing Taiwan. And with all this influence came a renewal of American cries of alarm over how a unipolar world may yet become a bipolar one again in a few decades time.
Which now brings us to the “ism” that has reared its head. It is called the “New Left,” and may have the support of China’s present leadership. As Jehangir S. Pocha reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New Left is “a loose coalition of academics who challenge China’s market reforms with a simple message: China’s failed 20th century experiment with communism cannot be undone in the 21st century by embracing 19th century-style laissez-faire capitalism.” Pocha quotes Wang Hui, a professor of literature at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, as saying “this is the great mission of our generation.”
What’s wrong with fighting cronyism, and bridging the divide between the have-nots left in the wake of the junking of Maoism, and the rise of a new elite of haves enjoying the spectacular growth of China? Nothing, really, since China is still, after all, officially communist. But it is in this basic nugget of truth — that a new generation of Chinese thinkers are trying to restore the idealism and social engineering characteristics of revolutionary China to capitalist China, that the threat lies to observers in the West. Imagine how much bolder, and formidable, a China armed not only with a colossal economy, but a new generation of ideologically-driven leaders and managers, would be. Perhaps enough to move ahead by ten years, the day of a China-US bipolar world.