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February 9, 2024 29 mins

To celebrate Lunar New Years, Mia investigates how the Chinese state actually mobilizes its resources to do campaigns and how the process differs from the Mao period state's approach.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Also media.

Speaker 2 (00:05):
Welcome to the very special lunar New Year's episode of
vik kadapp Here. I'm your host, Mia Wong, and today
we're talking about China, and more specifically, we are talking
about the Chinese state and the persistent question that haunts
American national security experts and leftists on social media alike,
is China maoist? Now, if you, gentle listener, are not

embroiled in a kind of running turf war with American
China watchers like I am, you may rightly be asking, wait,
what people actually believe this? And the answer, unfortunately is yes,
yes they do. And those people get to write in
major media outlets. Here's the New York Times how she
returned China to one man rule. For decades, China has

built guyard rails to prevent another Mao. Here's how Shi
Jimping has dismantled them and created his own machinery of power.
Here's also the New York Times. This one, I guess
technically is from the opinion section, but h Xi Jiping
is the second coming of Maosee Dung. Here's the Wall
Street Journal. China wants to move ahead, but Shijimping is
looking to the past. As China's leader embraces more elements

of Maosee Dung's rule, its people are confronting a more
uncertain future. Lest you think this is purely an American phenomena,
here's Al Jazeera, which was funded by the government of
catter is hijimping China's new Maosee Dung, which she casting
himself as a twenty first century Mao. China risks arbitrary rule.

Here's foreign policy, the Maoist roots of She's economic dilemma.
In contrast with Dang, she has embraced a distinctly Maoist
socialism that emphasizes personal sacrifice for the collective good, HARKing
back to the Cultural Revolution of the nineteen sixties and seventies.
The British, of course, are also not immune to this

Mao derangement syndrome. I guess I would call it Chi
Jimping's pilgrimage to Red Meha brings back the Mao factor.
So you know this is this is a very very
common sentiment. It's been a very common sentiment for most
of the last decade. I I haven't even done some

of the most common ones, like if you if you
expand a little bit out from just Xi Jimping is
the new Mao ones, you get a lot of like
Xi Jimping is the most powerful leader since Mao, which
is kind of true. And I think this is part
of why this sort of strategy works, because people do

not want to actually differentiate between different kinds of authoritarian systems.
There are many, many different kind sentatorships and people people
are just loath to actually look at the differences. And
you see this. This is not just the sort of
American media class thing. You see this in political science
literature all the time. Political science literature, especially in the US,

has this tendency to divide the entire world into this
sort of neat classification of dictatorships and democracies. And as
a product of this, I have had to read some
truly truly appalling articles that were published in peer reviewed
journals on my my absolute I don't know if favorite
is the right term, or the most cursed one that

I ever saw was it was an article about like
the read the quote unquote resource curse and this argument
about whether like having a bunch of oil means that
you were inherently going to have an authoritarian government or whatever.
So they have this chart that's supposed to be tracking
like the quote unquote time to a democratic transition of

a bunch of non democratic societies by like just how
much how much natural resources they have. Now this this
chart has in the same category Saudi Arabia, a theocratic monarchy,
and also Hoaxayest's Albania, a country whose political line was
that Mao did it, Mao hard enough. And these are

just being treated neutraally as the same type of governments
because it's not a representative democracy. North Korea is another
good example of this. You see people in the US
calling North Korea hereditary monarchy like all the time, and
it just isn't. Leadership of the party state passes between
members of a family. But that's not actually enough to

make something a monarchy unless you're prepared to argue that,
like the US is a monarchy because we had two
Bushes as president. Now on the grounds that that's extremely funny,
I'm not wholly unsympathetic to that argument, but it's not.
Calling the US a monarchy because of the two Bushes
is not a very serious academic argument. It is just
a joke. And that's I think how we should be

treating people like people calling North Korea a monarchy because
it's not. A monarchy is not just there's a guy
who's in charge and as to another person who's related
to them. It's not just that there's someone who you
could call a king. There is a whole political system
beneath it, right, there's a whole network of like princes
and courts and land titles and inheritances and who and

who doesn't have royal blood, and there's there's you know,
there's a whole you know, and the economic system of
a monarchy as has changed over time. Right, monarchies are
very old, you know. We now have like capitalist monarchies
like the Saudis. You know, we've had feudal monarchies, we've
had sort of pre feudal monarchies. But you can't simply

reduce monarchy to one guy in charge. That is absolutely absurd.
But people just do this all the time. Now, North
Korea is organized along the lines of a party state,
where this is you know, a sort of shortening of
one party state. Technically speaking, there are actually other parties
in North Korea, and this is true of China as well,

but they don't really do anything. And this is not
the episode where I'm going to have to try to
and the difference between the United Front and the United
Front Works Department, that's another time. But they are functionally
one party states. There is one party that actually does
the ruling, and then there's a couple of other parties
that keep around for appearances, who might do consultative stuff.

But even in terms, even knowing that something is a
party state doesn't actually tell you a huge amount about
how that system actually functions. And this is where we
come to the core elements of today's episode. How does
the modern Chinese state operate and how is it different
from previous iterations of the Chinese state. So to answer

this question, we need to start. We need to start
with the origins of the party state itself. And the
party state really in the sense that we're dealing with,
is born with the Soviet Union. Well, I mean, I
guess it technically creates the Soviet Union a little bit,
but it's born it's bored of the October Revolution and
the Bolshevik taking and consolidation of power. On the other hand,

you know, party states are not built in the image
of Lenin. They're built in the image of Stalin. And
the thing that makes you know, a sort of like
what the party stays that come after it, what makes
them function is the way that sort of Stalin consolidates power,
and Stalin consolidates power by using the rules of the
Bolshevik Party to maintain control over members of the state apparatus,

even though technically speaking he doesn't he doesn't have like
you know, he keep be doing. He doesn't technically have
the formal authority to do as a member of the government,
but he has the authority to do as a member
of the party. And this is how Stalin consolidates his power,
and soad of walls out trotsky Eta et cetera, et cetera. However, Comma,
this is where people make mistakes when that when they're

trying to sort of understand what Stalinism was, which is
that they make this mistake of looking, you know of
kind of projecting back the later Soviet Union onto you know,
onto sort of like nineteen thirty's Stalinism. And the mistake
they make is the assumption that Stalinism is purely a

bureaucratic doctrine, right, It's purely about seizing control of the
bureaucracy and using a bureaucracy to consolidate power, and that
is just not true. Part of Stalin's success and you know,
as bleak as that like success is. Part of what
Stalin does is mobilize masses of people against parts of
the party and in parts of the state bureaucracy that

oppose him, that you know, to do things like denunciations
to like you know, and to weaken their bureaucratic power.
And this means that Stalinism is not a pure politics
of state bureaucracy the way that sort of later Soviet
governments are. It's a combination of bureaucratic power and also
the direction of mass mobilization, of the mobilization of large

numbers of people to go do a thing towards the
end of consolidating power. This interplay, the control of bureaucratic
power checked by mass popular and mobilizations, is the characteristic
element of Stalinism. Both of these tools, both the bureaucratic
apparatus and mass mobilization, are used to maintain Stalin's personal power. Now, Maoism,

for all of its claims to be the direct ideological
air of Stalinism, Maoism is Stallanism are not the same thing.
In sort of like Mao era China, And you know,
you can trace this towards from sort of like Mao's
insurgency era through the time he's in power to the
end of the seventies. During that period, China is if anything,

even more prone to mass popular and mobilization as a strategy.
Some of this is ideological. Maoism is to a large
extent a kind of internal critique of Stalinism that you know,
I mean, like so people in like you could argue about,
you know, how good were the intentions of the people
who are in charge of the Chinese Communist Party in

like the twenties and thirties, right, But they're not They're
not stupid, right, These people are smart. These people understand
that there are a lot of problems with the Soviet system.
These are people who watched a bunch of their comrades
get murdered because the Soviet's fucked up. So these are
people who understand the threat of bureaucratization to a revolutionary

movements and the formation the potential formation of a new
ruling class composed of sort of like management and bureaucratic cadres.
But on the other hand, because it's an internal critique
of Stalinism, and not like an external critique of Stalinism,
Baoism is utterly unwilling to try to solve these problems
by actually giving like workers or peasants, like any kind

of autonomy or democratic control over anything, except for like
the most trivial minutia of like shop floor bullshit. And
the result of this is that, you know, you can't
defeat the bureaucracy with democracy, so how do you actually
deal with it? And the result is what's called campaign

style mobilization. These are mass mobilizations of extraordinary large numbers
of people to do it, you know, to to do
a task right. There's a lot of different sort of
things they try to do with this. Sometimes they're tried,
they're used for economic ends. This is like the Great
Leap forward, which is this mass mobilization of people to
increase productive capacity is a fiasco. Now, part of this

also was political, right, Partly this is now trying to
use mass mobilization against the bureaucracy in a way reminiscent
of stalin but any much much larger scale. And the
other you know, part part of what's going on here
is that the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union is much
stronger than the bureaucracy of China, right because you know,
the Bolsheviks kind of have a state like bureaucracy sort

of intact that they're able to sort of graft themselves onto.
China like doesn't have like a functioning government at all,
Like there's no functioning central state in China when the
Maoist eventually like knock off the Nationalists, So you know this,
this this always means that the level of bureaucracy station
is lower in China, but you know, it's still it's

it's still that's still like the state building process is
still one of the things that Maoists are trying to do.
And this is you know, this is sort of what
Mao is tending to check. But this doesn't work. The
Culture Revolution ultimately fails, and part of its failure is that,
you know, Okay, so in order in order to like
stop the dread specter of like democratic election of factory

councils and shit, Mao like cobbles together this coalition of
soldiers like loyalist Red Guard factions and some of the
pre existing bureaucracy. And these people are these are people
who end up running the country through the seventies, and
that is just another bureaucracy. And through this whole period,
Trya continues to get more and more bureaucratic. Now, this
is the most cliche thing that you can possibly say,

but unfortunately I do have to say it. The Culture
Revolution had a massive impact on subsequent Chinese policy. Every
Chinese leader from Dan Jouping on, including Xijianping, and this
is something that is not very well covered in the
American press, but every single one of these people agrees
that the Culture Revolution was a mistake. And you can
see the results of this analysis in how the modern

Chinese state mobilizes resources. Now, do you know how you
can mobilize resources. It's by buying the products and services
contained in these ads.

Speaker 1 (13:34):
We are back.

Speaker 2 (13:36):
I don't know why I'm saying we. It is kind
of just me and you the listener, But I guess,
I guess, I guess that's technically plural. So let's get
into how the modern Chinese state is very, very different
from the previous kind of Chinese state, right, because you know,
like the Mao era, for everything that goes wrong with it, right,

for all of the reality that is an absolute disaster
is based on in a lot of ways, what we
would call grassroots style organizing. Right, It's based on getting
a bunch of people to go out and do a thing. Now,
the modern Chinese date doesn't do this in the same way.

The closest thing that they have to sort of like
Maoist mobilizations are you know, there is still a thing
that's called a campaign stylen mobilization, but it's not the
same thing at all as the Maoist system. So let's
ask the question, what the fuck is campaign style mobilization?
So I'm going to go to the academic literature on this.

A group of professors writing for the journal Public Administration Review,
in a very colorfully named article called Campaign Style Enforcement
and Regulatory Compliance, describe it thus, following the literature, we
define campaign style enforcement as a type of policy implementation
involving extraordinary mobilezation of administrative resources under political sponsorship. Now

this definition is very interesting because if you look at
what is being mobilized here, right, it is not masses
of people. You're not trying to do mass popular mobilizations.
You're mobilizing administrative resources. And this is something that becomes
very clear the more you look into the sort of
literature here, I'm going to quote from a piece called

Revised Blue Sky Fabrication in China by Yongdongshen and Anna
l Ahlers during the Mao era, this is campaigns down
mobilizations aimed at nothing less than mobilizing society as a whole.
While when they occur today, political campaigns are usually foremostly

addressed at the state apparatus i e. Especially party and
government organizations, at all levels of the political hierarchy, and
ultimately at cadres in other words, the implementers of the
policy goals at stake. According to Elizabeth Perry has called
this transformation quote from mass campaigns to managed campaigns. Moreover,

contemporary campaigns, or better campaign style politics mainly take the
form of a disciplinary, supervisory and sanctioning campaigns such as
anti crime campaigns or the recently reinforced corruption campaign or
b regulatory enforcement or policy goal attainment acceleration campaigns. So, Okay,

that's kind of a lot, but I think I think
it's worth actually, you know, taking this in a little
bit of detail. That same article defines up like the
characteristics of what campaign style. A campaign style mobilization is
so they have a defined goal, they have political sponsorship,
there's a high degree of urgency, there's a defined period

of time, tightly coordinated operation, the pooling of extraordinary resources,
and public involvement. So that article of the one about
blue sky fabrication is studying the twenty sixteen G twenty
meeting in Hangzhou where the government sets out to make
sure that there is actually like a blue sky for

the event. Now, this is a massive undertaking because Chinese
air pollution is fucking atrocious. This is something that I
might do you another fall episode about this at some point.
Chinese air pollution is unbelievably bad. It kills unfathomable numbers
of people every year. It's gotten a little bit better
since I was last there. But like when I was

last in Beijing, like I didn't fucking I only saw
the sky one time in the time I was there,
because and that was only because it rained, and so
after it rain, the sky was blue for like a
few hours in the small just like consumed it again.
So in order to make sure that there was like
a blue sky for pr purposes for this G twenty meeting,
because China wanted to sort of show off. There was

a massive, massive deployment of resources, and this becomes one
of the sort of campaigns mobilizations. And these mobilizations, you know,
they may not be sort of mauise style mass mobilizations
of like getting people to go do the thing, but
they are massively intrusive. They include things like shuttering factories,

moving millions of people, restricting like who can drive them
what days, like, restricting whether or not you can like
use like cooking stuff in your house. But Comma, we
need to look at how these things actually happen. So
the way that these campaigns start basically is for for

the large scale ones, you have mobilization that flows basically
down the lines of the state. Right, they start from
the federal governments and they go to local governments and
regional governments and implementation you know, for sort of scientific stuff. Right,
So if you if you look for you know, going
back to the sort of example of the G twenty
for you know, in order to do the scientific core

coordination for it, you get a very very broad, sort
of broadreaching like coalition or coordination between scientists at universities
as well as at research institutes and government agencies and
you're pulling them all together in order to produce like
I don't know, you're like air quality measures, right, And
these efforts also can very rapidly fold in the governments

of other provinces. So what does it actually mean in
terms of how these mobilizations work. What it means is
that mobilization is a way of moving around different state
and sometimes just kind of pseudo nonstate actors like universities
and research institutes. It's a way of moving those resources
around in such a way that you can accomplish a thing. Now.

One of the kind of defining characteristics of a lot
of these campaigns, and not all of them, like the
anti corruption campaigns obviously are sort of different, but a
lot of these campaigns rely on scientific and technical mobilization,
both in the sense of what resources they're moving, right,
moving you moving scientists around, but also in terms of
public justification. And this is also something that's very different,

Like there is ideological justification going on, but like in
like a Maoist sort of like like a high culture
revolution like period or even greatly forward period, you're mostly
using sort of ideological like direct ideological motivation to get
people to go do a thing. Here. It's very technical,
it's very scientific, it's very technocratic. And one of the

products of this, one of the products of sort of
how technocratic everything is, is that And this is something
Shen and Ahlers are very clear about. There is like
there's no public comment here, right Like the way these
campaign mobilizations work is the state tells you what you
are doing, and you are not telling them back like anything.
Like you are not negotiating with them, you are not

in a dialogue, you are not submitting comments. They are
just telling you what to do. And this goes from
like regular people all the way up to like corporations,
right like even large corporations. A lot of times with
these like campaign style things don't get a like negotiate
a deal or whatever the fuck, It just it just
sort of happens. Now, you may have noticed in the

original one of the original descriptions, I was talking about
one of the things they have as part of the
definition is public mobiles mobilization of like the public. But
we need to be clear about what that means so
that it doesn't get confused with like maoism. So when
we say there's mobilization of the public, it's stuff likely

so during the G twenty campaign, they were like they
would the CCP would like have old people volunteer to
like walk around their neighborhoods and like snatch on anyone
who was like using their cooking stove. So like that's
the kind of mobilization we're talking like. These are not
like these are not like Red Guard tribunals, like dragging
people out of their houses. This is like a seventy

year old's person incredibly nosy seventy year old going like, ha,
this person using their cooking stove. You know how you
can get a cooking stove that you can actually use? Uh,
maybe these products and services. I don't know if we're
sponsors by cooking stoves, but you know we could be
there could there could be a cooking stove product and
service out there waiting for you and we're back. Now

we should also look more at some of the methods
of how this stuff happens. Right. So one of the
things that's happening as part of this campaign is part
of the part of the plan to reduce pollution, is
they need Chinese government wants to move a bunch of
people out of out of the city. Right now, a
Maui style thing would just tell the people to fucking leave.
The way that the way that the modern Chinese government

does this is to send people like basically free travel vouchers.
Shennon Ayler's report, the value of these vouchers is more
than one point five billion dollars, So like that's dollars, right,
that's that's like, you know, this is this is these
are very expensive campaigns. But but you know, this is
the way that the Chinese state moves in a lot

of these cases, right when they're trying to move, when
they need to move a bunch of people, they deploy vouchers.
So some of these campaigns are using even more like
technocratic means to get things done. So looking back at
the article of campaign style enforcement and regulatory compliance, we
find examples of what is technically campaign style mobilization. Okay quote.

For instance, the central government either waived the loan interest
for corporate spending on basically these like desulfurization things to
make industrial like exhaust not have sulfur in it, or
cover these expenses using central environmental cential environmental funds. In addition,

an innovative green electricity policy offered that point Zhoo two
three sent price premium per kilowatt hour to power plants
that installed one of these systems. So this is like
exactly the opposite of how a booist campaign would do this, right,
Like they are these factory people are getting like price subsidies,

and like they're waiving the interest on loans. Now, we've
been focusing on campaign stylen mobilization because those are the
most sort of extraordinary kinds of mobilization. But most policy
isn't even implemented by campaign. It's implemented by normal bureaucratic processes.
And this is even less booist than the sort of
campaign stylen mobilizations. Now, most people, a lot of people

who describe China as Baoist are describing their oppressive apparatus,
But here they have things exactly backwards. Right, Contrary to
the government of the socialist period, which was sort of
governed by mass mobilization, the modern Chinese government is almost
pathologically adverse to anything that even smells like mass popular mobilization.

And this isn't to say that China doesn't have protests
like it does. There are protests in China, but Comma,
like a lot of these you know, there there are
protests like there are like ecological like nimbi protests. There
are like real estate there's a lot of real estate protests,
and some of those, some of these are allowed. There

there are protests that one of the very common forms
of protests against not getting paid by your boss, but
even attempting like and most of these protests aren't like
so just aren't really anti government, right, Like they're not
sort of like they're not calling for the downfall of
the regime or whatever. They're like pissed off about a
corrupt local government. But even attempting to documents. All of

the protests that happened in China in a given year
canon has landed people in prison. So you know, the
state is not super happy about this. And if we
look at what happened to mass protests in twenty twenty two,
they were brutally suppressed and you know, the sort of
anti like the even even things that weren't even really
that big but we're kind of antecedent service that attempted

to use sort of maoist politics were also unbelievably quickly
like stamped out. Right. There was the oppression of the
student workers movement in late twenty tens on the student
sort of worker like Maoist movements. The Chinese state does
some sort of like limited mobilization online, you know, in
terms of sort of like they have this like pr

strategy thing overseas of like wolf warrior diplomacy or whatever.
It's unbelievably cringe. But even then, these are not even
close to the kinds of mobilization the state and the
party could like nationalists mobilizations they could unleash if they
wanted to. And this is because instead of working through
mass popular mobilization, the state isn't maoist, and because it's

not maoist, it works through their bureaucracy. Policy implementation works
by going from the top and then if they go
down to local government's local government respond it goes back
up to the top again, it comes back down and
the policy gets it implemented. Right like you know, when
when there are mask like you know, mass campaign style things,
they're not they're not mass mobilizing people. They're mobilizing research institutes.

They're mobilizing like government bureaus. They're they're they're they're shifting
bureaucrats and technocrats around. Now I think I think there's
a lot of reasons for why the Chinese governments is
sort of like pathologically adverse to anything that even sort
of smelled like kind of smells like male style politics. Right.

One of them is that, you know, these are we
talked about this before, but like these are people who
a lot of these people lived through parts of the
Cultural Revolution, like they saw really fiascos emerge out of
this stuff. But you know, the other thing that they're
that these people are afraid of is that so you know,

when I say these people were around for the Culture Revolution,
like these people saw the Chinese working class take the
city of Shanghai nineteen sixty seven. Right, this is all
and this is part of the reason why Tiana then
rattles them so much, because they you know, they nearly
watch the working class take another Chinese city. And these people,

these are people who have a you know, and I
think understand this on a more visceral level than most
other political leaders understand that if they if they don't
correctly manage situations and like stamp up populamobilization like they could,
you know, there there are worlds where they fucking wake up.
They dragged out of their houses and the Chinese working

class hangs them from lamp posts. Right, that's a real threat.
And this is part of why you know, they're using
something that's something that's called neoliberalism, right, the disenchantment of politics.
They this is, this is why the state, even when
it's doing repression, operates through sort of technocratic and bureaucratic means. Now,
journalists resort to calling this maoism because they're lazy hacks

who are also racist. But you know, now we can
see pretty clearly by actually looking at how the state
functions that this is not maoism. Maoism is built on
mass popular mobilization. The modern CCP is built on stamping
out mass popular mobilization. This has been nickeld happen here, Yeah,

happy lean your New Year's everyone.

Speaker 1 (29:26):
It could happen here as a production of cool Zone Media.
For more podcasts and cool Zone Media, visit our website
cool zonemedia dot com or check us out on the
iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
You can find sources for it could Happen Here, updated
monthly at cool zonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening,

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