Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Globalization and the International Working Class

The Chinese “workers state”

Spartacist today demands the defense, by “unconditional military” means, of the People’s Republic of China. It asserts that this regime “...remains a bureaucratically deformed workers state,” and therefore constitutes a great conquest of the working class.

The International Committee categorically rejects this contention. The term “deformed workers state” was developed by the Trotskyist movement in the 1940s to define the new regimes that had been established by Stalinism in both China and Eastern Europe. It was used to describe states that were crippled from birth by the parasitic and totalitarian bureaucracy, and that would inevitably destroy the limited gains won by the working class unless it was overthrown.

This highly conditional and somewhat makeshift definition was seized upon by organizations like Spartacist as some sort of stamp of approval. The emergence of these new state forms served to bolster their belief that socialism could be brought about without the mobilization of the working class in a conscious revolutionary struggle.

In the case of China, the Maoist regime was brought to power not by the working class, but by a peasant army, led by the Stalinist Communist Party, which took control of the cities and suppressed all independent organizations of the workers. For more than a quarter of a century the Stalinist regime has pursued an openly pro-imperialist policy on the world arena. From the late 1970s on, the Beijing regime has moved steadily to reintegrate China into the capitalist world market by throwing open the doors to foreign capitalist investment and privatizing state-owned industries.

An article that appeared recently in Foreign Affairs gives a fairly graphic description of the state of the working class in this “bureaucratically deformed workers state.” It cites a newspaper in Beijing, called Workers Daily, which reported on conditions in a capitalist joint venture called Zhao Zhi footwear in Guangdong province:

“The company beats, abuses and humiliates workers at will. Everyday punishments include forcing workers to stand facing the wall or on a stool or outdoors in the sun. Contrary to law the employees are sometimes made to work all through the night to finish a rush order. They work under 24-hour watch of a hundred security guards.” This is Spartacist’s workers’ state.

The article reports that “some 17 million Chinese people work in coastal factories funded by foreign investors, largely from Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. The workers, the great majority of them women from rural areas, make shoes, toys, garments and other products for export, all under sweatshop conditions. Low wages are not the worst of the workers’ problems. The most repugnant abuse is physical punishment, including beatings inflicted by supervisors or private guards. Some carry electric batons. As a result even verbal threats are intimidating. In some cases the coercive regulations that management imposes on workers during and after working hours are unbelievably detailed: prohibitions on talking, even while eating; marked routes for walking within the factory-dormitory compound; bans on leaving the compound at any time without special permission; prohibitions against getting pregnant, married or even engaged. In one factory anyone using the toilet more than twice in a work day forfeits nearly a fifth of her monthly wages. There was a fire in November 1993 at a factory in Guangdong which killed 87 workers and injured more than 60. Once again, this tragedy was made even worse by the fact that escape was blocked by barred windows and locked doors.”

The article asks, “why does the Chinese government allow foreign companies to abuse its citizens so outrageously?” and they quote a Hong Kong executive who describes his discussions with the government. He said, “We told them this is toy biz. If you don’t allow us to do things our way we will close down our Chinese factories and move to Thailand. Taiwanese businessmen there whom we recently interviewed talked about relocating to Vietnam where labor costs are even lower.” [1]

Since Spartacist published its polemic against the International Committee, events have further exposed its claims that the Peoples Republic of China constitutes a “workers state” which must be defended “unconditionally.” Less than two months after Workers Vanguard concluded its four-part attack on the International Committee, President Jiang Zemin announced that the ruling bureaucracy would carry out a massive privatization program, ending state ownership in all areas of the economy with the exception of strategic sectors like weapons production, chemicals and grain distribution. In the first half of 1997 alone, ten million workers lost their jobs at state-run enterprises. Mass demonstrations, strikes and clashes between security forces and workers protesting layoffs have become increasingly common in China.

Meanwhile, the Beijing “workers state” has demonstrated its commitment to capitalism by intervening in the recent turmoil on the Asian financial markets, both to stabilize the Hong Kong stock exchange and to bail out the crisis-ridden economy overseen by the Indonesian military dictatorship.


Foreign Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 2, March-April 1997, pp. 106-7