China, India and class

China and India are often equated. Both have populations in excess of one billion, both graduate large numbers of scientists and engineers. A recent survey by the Economist depicted India and China as “two tigers.”

The equation is superficial. Politically, and consequently socially and economically, the Chinese and Indian states are species of a different class. The first was created by a socialist revolution. The latter is still capitalist. India’s workers, unions and workers’ parties, however, have the same class interests as China’s workers and unions, and the Chinese state itself.

Economic differences between China and India are startling. Buried between paragraphs, for instance, without comment, the Economist reported that income per person in India was $619 in1950 less than $410 in 2003 (all in 1990 dollars) — a drop of one-third!

The 1995 U.S. Army area handbook on India reported that the number below the official poverty line had leaped from 26 percent to 38 percent in the prior six years, afflicting 130 million additional people. The Indian government’s response was to lower its poverty standards! Now “only” 25 percent of the current population, or 260 million people, ostensibly live below the new poverty line. But the World Bank contradicts this assessment. It places 35 percent of India’s current population below “absolute poverty” standards.

By contrast, income per person more than doubled in China since 1950. And 400 million people have emerged out of extreme poverty in China, with less than 10 percent now below the line.

And there is more to life than income. There is public health, nutrition, conditions of employment, housing, education, environment, transport infrastructure, electric grid, general conditions in the countryside, and so on. Experts in these fields are in broad agreement that these are generally declining in India, indeed in most of the capitalist world, the U.S. included. In China, however, they are generally although not uniformly rising. (The Economist rejected a letter pointing out these differences.)

The difference is that China had a socialist revolution in 1949. Socialist revolution remains in India’s future, as it does in the U.S.’s. The difference is that the Chinese state is a product of this historic revolution, for all of the enormous changes it has undergone. The difference is that China can overcome challenges — from poverty, unemployment and inequality to public health and ecological problems — that world capitalism can only try to hide.

It also means that to protect their power and profits, capitalists and their states have a class antagonism towards China, as they did towards the Soviet Union, as they do towards unions and workers’ parties everywhere.

With Wall Street/Washington’s problems mounting, this antagonism towards China grows. The extortionate oil prices set by Wall Street monopolies and speculators not only plunder China, but also throw its planning into disarray and spread uncertainty and social instability. (China became a significant oil importer in 1993.) The same applies to speculation in other commodities China needs, from soybeans to nickel.

Imperialism’s unrelenting challenges of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), also created by a socialist revolution, are ultimately directed against the Chinese state. So are Washington’s arming of Taiwan, its establishment of military bases across central Asia, its growing military treaties with Japan, its efforts to build similar ties with India, all directed against China as against workers and their organizations everywhere. The Soviet Union faced similar challenges prior to and in World War II, a war impelled by capitalist crisis.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a new wave of capitalist problems led to ever more comprehensive economic, political and military challenges against the USSR and its allies, including Cuba. Analogous challenges aimed to weaken and cheapen labor inside capitalist countries, such as drives against PATCO and other unions in the U.S., the coal miners’ and other unions in Britain, and so on. One profound lesson from the Cuban state’s survival of this capitalist “hurricane” is the importance of a strong, class-conscious party and union movement and leadership, deeply united with and ultimately controlled by its worker base.

China is increasingly facing a similar comprehensive challenge from world capitalism. It is capable of overcoming this challenge, with the support of the workers of China, India and the world.