Monday, December 11, 2006

Luxemburg in China?

From the November-December 2006 issue of The People, official journal of the Socialist Labor Party. (Hat tip to the World in Common MySpace page).

Against a backdrop of fabulous wealth and privilege on the one hand, and dire poverty and superexploitation on the other, an extraordinary event took place in the Chinese city of Wuhan last March. That event was an international conference on Rosa Luxemburg's Thought and Contemporary Value.

The conference, which attracted delegates from the United States, Europe, Japan and South Africa, as well as from China, was "extraordinary" because the ideas and life's work of Rosa Luxemburg were completely antithetical to the theory and practice of the Chinese government and the ruling Communist Party.

Luxemburg - a Polish Marxist who was active in the Polish, Russian and particularly German socialist movements a hundred years ago - stood for the self-emancipation of the working class and the building of a genuine democratic socialist society. She would have been appalled and repelled by the "cult of personality" that surrounded Mao Zedong, by his disastrous "Great Leap Forward" and by the so-called "Cultural Revolution" that he engineered towards the end of his life. The poverty and exploitation in today's China, coupled with a complete lack of democratic and union rights for China's workers, would have enraged her.

Yet such an international conference could not have taken place without at least a tacit go-ahead from the Chinese government. Why Beijing gave its consent is not immediately apparent, but it might be part of an attempt to convince some gullible supporters outside China, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that somehow the Chinese government and Communist Party are interested in the creation of a socialist society.

It is especially ironic that a conference on Rosa Luxemburg should have taken place in present-day China because Luxemburg was a passionate opponent of the death penalty. Indeed, one of the first articles she penned upon her release from a German prison in 1918 (she had been imprisoned because of her antiwar activity) was a call for the abolition of the death penalty. "Communist" China leads the world in the number of people executed. Amnesty International estimates that in 2005 at least 1,770 people were executed, but it also states that the real figure could be as many as 8,000.

Until recently, the most common method of execution in China was a bullet in the back of the head. Now it is becoming less messy and more "hi tech" with the introduction of smart "mobile execution chambers," in which prisoners are given a lethal injection. Reportedly, 40 such mobile execution vehicles have been put into service so far.

These ghoulish vehicles put one in mind of the "gas vans" used by the Nazi EINSATZGRUPPEN (mobile killing units) to murder Jews, Gypsies, Communists and Socialists in Poland and Russia during World War II. They are much more sophisticated, however, and are fitted with closed circuit television. That particular innovation permitted local members of the National People's Congress to witness one recent execution.

The designer of the execution vehicle, Kang Zhongwen, states that the switch from gunshots to injections is a sign that China "promotes human rights now."

George Orwell would have appreciated that remark; it could have come straight from the pages of 1984.
Jim Plant