Academic journal article Capital & Class

Labour and the State in China's Passive Revolution

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Labour and the State in China's Passive Revolution

Article excerpt

Introduction

The ongoing capitalist restoration in China has drawn millions of Chinese workers into the networks of global production. Few scholars would deny in principle that the emergence of a working-class movement in China would have a profound impact on the nature of the contemporary global division of labour. In general, however, workers, their organisations and their spheres of action have historically been for the most part overwhelmingly nationally bounded. Their actions are only considered to be 'internationally significant' when they somehow succeed in transgressing national boundaries: when, for example, national unions engage with international institutions, or when workers succeed in forging solidaristic relationships with workers in other countries. Certainly, much valuable research has been carried out along these lines of inquiry, and this has greatly contributed to our understanding of the dynamic relationship between labour as an active social agent and the potential for transformations within the global political economy. Yet the examination of the strategies of the highest echelons of labour bureaucracies, or of those elements of organised labour best positioned to transcend national boundaries, risks neglecting the wider transformative role of labour movements. There has been little progress in terms of empirical examination and theorisation of the actual role workers' struggles have played in the ongoing transformation of the global capitalist system. The challenges are all the greater when it comes to examining labour in China, where it is quite difficult to empirically identify an independent labour movement so to speak, and where the barriers to the emergence of a working-class consciousness are manifold. Beyond academia also, China's official corporatist union structure is largely shunned by the international labour community as a tool of the state. From this perspective, we can quite understand the neglect of the potential transformative agency of China's working class. To some extent, this is an outcome of an analytical approach that seeks evidence of a 'class-in-itself' with an identifiable organisational labour movement structure.

This article seeks to offer an alternative approach to analysing the dynamics between labour and global capitalism by adopting Antonio Gramsci's concept of 'passive revolution'. The utility of the concept of passive revolution is demonstrated first by a critical examination of recent attempts to analyse the world-historical relationship between workers' struggles and global capitalist development. In particular, Beverly Silver's theorisation of the relationship between labour and the spatial and temporal dimensions of global capitalist restructuring is critiqued for its failure to systematically analyse the role of the state in mediating between global capital and global labour. It thereby charts an overly deterministic relationship between the objective processes of global capitalist industrialisation and the responses of workers. It is necessary, therefore, to focus on the dynamic nature of state-society relations, and specifically, on the role of labour within those relations. Analysis of the Chinese case shows that whilst in recent years China has witnessed a significant degree of spontaneous and unorganised labour unrest, the state has been highly active in seeking to forestall the emergence of a politically conscious organised labour movement. However, in carrying out a 'revolution from above', the state has also facilitated developments that may potentially undermine Chinas present mode of insertion into global production networks as 'workshop of the world', and the role of China as a 'spatial fix' for global capital. However, the point here is not simply that the state plays an important role in intervening between global capital and global labour. Rather, this 'revolution from above', as an attempt to forestall the disruptive emergence of new labour subjectivities, should be understood within the framework and the specificity of the international states system. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.