Ayn Rand in Red China

 Posted by on 22 April 2004 at 8:14 am  Uncategorized
Apr 222004

A newspaper in Shanghai reports that a theater group is performing Victor Hugo’s Ninty-Three… and the article quotes Ayn Rand more neutrally and accurately than most American papers can manage:

“The theme — which is played in brilliantly unexpected variations in all the key incidents of the story, and which motivates all the characters and events, integrating them into an inevitable progression toward a magnificent climax — is man’s loyalty to values,” said Ayn Rand, the well known 20th century American writer.

Speaking of China, I’m presently reading Steven Mosher’s fascinating book on the modern rural Chinese, Broken Earth. His characterizations of the workings of the Chinese bureaucracy, in which personal connections and private interests rule, were quite fascinating.

Also noteworthy was his characterization of the better-off communist peasants, i.e. those working within the “responsibility system” introduced in 1979 rather than the genuinely collective farm. Under that system…

the land is no longer worked in common, but is cultivated by individual households. Each year the team parcels out its land to member families and, following state guidelines, sets production quota for each tract. But it is the family, not the team, that is responsible for turning over the amount of its produce to state purchasing stations. More importantly, it is the family, not any larger group, that owns all production in excess of this quota, free to consume, sell, or store the fruits of its labor as it sees fit. (p. 42)

Given the strong causal connection between work done and food on the table, this system is far more productive than the collective farm, where working at little as possible is the norm. Mosher continues:

County officials, mimicking their Beijing superiors, rather disingenuously denied to me that this means the abandonment of collectivism, pointing out that the land is still owned by the state rather than the households that till it. In fact, the responsibility system is neither collective agriculture nor rural private enterprise, but a return to a form of tenant farming. Thirty years after dispossessing China’s landlords, the state has itself become an absentee superlandlord, with the emasculated collective serving as its local representative, each year contracting out its land to hundreds of millions of tenant farmers in return for a share of their crops.

Along somewhat similar lines, albeit far worse, is Robert Conquest’s observations about the status of the Soviet peasants in the 1930s in his excellent book Harvest of Sorrow. To prevent Ukrainians peasants from escaping the famine, the Soviet government introduced an “internal passport” in 1932. It established that “a peasant could not leave a collective farm without a contract from his future employers, ratified by the collective farm authorities” (170). This amounted to a rather significant restriction upon the peasant, who was “long accustomed to work in the cities, or to migrate annually… to different areas of work” (170). Then he observes:

The introduction of internal passports, with the tying of the peasant to the land, was thus a major break with the old practice, and implied a serfdom more constrained by law than that of the pre-Emancipation peasant.

The slaves of the Soviet Union were thus substantially worse off than the slaves of the Tsarist times. Ah, but remember, such slavery was the genuine freedom that only Communism can offer! It would be funny if so many millions hadn’t died.

More generally, Conquest’s stories of peasants who understood that collectivization meant starvation and death are utterly heartbreaking. Peasants slaughtered their beasts and burned down their houses rather than turn them over to the Soviet government. The beasts thus-slaughtered were far better off than those turned over to the collective farms, for there they starved and died just like the peasants.

Although my readings on communism are depressing, they do certainly contain a wealth of inductive data for a philosopher to chew on!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha