China and Asia – A New Capitalist Centre or A New Capitalism?

The following are notes only, giving some kind of direction to a presentation in La Habana, Cuba, not the presentation as such.

Western societies under serious threat

The future will not be ‘capitalism as we know it’ – and it may be added that we probably even fail when utilising the traditional ‘concepts’ and categories as neo-liberalism, nation state and the like as analytical tools;

The future faces the challenges of a new and fundamental threat from the side of environmental hazards

With this we have to challenge and overcome following the roots of today’s capitalism, namely the individualism as a major source of mal-development.

NB: In this light socialism has to think also about what today’s challenges are. Industrialisation is now a matter that is intrinsically interwoven with processes of globalisation and going much beyond the traditional patterns. The understanding of what is ‘industry’ changed – they are very much beyond the development of the means of production. It is also about the means of consumption. And it is also about the changed meaning of production: services, transactions etc. play an increasing and seemingly independent role. We can see this from the meaning of the financial sector in the capitalist world and globally. And we can see this by the fact that already in 1994, Douglass C. North, with reference to John J. Wallis and North from 1986 makes us known of

an empirical study that 45 percent of U.S. GNP was devoted to the transaction sector in 1970

(North, Douglass C., 1994: Economic Performance Through Time; in: The American Economic Review. Vol 84.3: 359-368; here: 360)

Second, globalisation is not so much and not primarily about the power of multinationals. Rather, it is about a structure of complex interdependencies. This means not least that any strategy of economic success has to focus increasingly on issues of quality. And as such it has to deal with complex issues of a highly integrated systems of “work” and “life”.

It is about what is produced and in which way it is produced and finally about the way production and reproduction is immediately integrated in the overall life span.

China as part of Asia as new Centre?

All this is traditionally also a challenge for capitalist societies and all this found already answers in traditional patterns of globalisation, namely the global division of labour. We find fundamentally the three “sites”:

  • The socialist countries
  • The countries of the capitalist centre
  • The countries of the capitalist periphery

Looking at China and other Asian countries the situation is a bit tricky: independent of how we assess “socialism in China”, we can say that all the countries, including the PRC had been peripheral in two ways: peripheral to the capitalist formation in terms of the character of their formation, and peripheral in terms of the development of their industrial stage.

Today, the situation is again different in the relevant countries; but globally they can nevertheless be seen as one group in several respects. Their industrialisation is very much based on traditional systems of social integration; and this means that this industrialisation is also very much linked to the traditional concept of industrialisation: it is about the central role of mass production especially of means of production; however, it is at the same time about a promoting role that this production plays: we can see this very much as matter of ancillary industries. Taken together, it is as matter of a certain social structuration, or a specific way of “social integrity”: it is best accounted for by the reference to “social harmony”. Rather than being based on individualism it is the idea of a specific kind of collectivity. The traditional principles still have some meaning.

The principal tension is between only two poles – the good and the evil – and the ideal is actually not something that is principally outside of this tension but it is the solution of the tension. It is the dialectical Aufhebung in the form supersession and sublation. 石頭希遷 (Ts’an-t’ung-ch’i) expresses this pronouncedly in the Zen Buddhist tradition in the poem Harmony of Difference and Sameness, writing for instance:

In the light there is darkness,
but don’t take it as darkness;
In the dark there is light,
but don’t see it as light.
Light and dark oppose one another
like the front and back foot in walking.
Each of the myriad things has its merit,
expressed according to function and place.

(Ts’an-t’ung-ch’i: Harmony of Difference and Sameness; – 15/07/2009 8:13 p.m.)

It is not least a foundation for the role-definitions as we find them in the words of Mencius:

[l]ove between father and son, duty between ruler and subject,
distinction between husband and wife, precedence of the old over
the young, and faith between friends. Fang Hsü said.!
Encourage them in their toil,
Put them on the right path,
Aid them and help them,
Make them happy in their station,
And by bountiful acts further relieve them of hardship.

(Mencius, 300 BC [appr,]: 60 – Mencius. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by D.C. Lau: London et altera: 2003)

One point of special interest is the fact that we find even up to now a strong orientation of Asian cultures along these lines – be it in Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism or other strands of development. This is important to note as it opens the way towards another interpretation of the differences between the Eastern and the Western understanding of the welfare systems. Whereas in Western societies there is barely any doubt about the welfare state serving as point of reference, this is different in Asian societies where the concept of harmonious welfare society is central.

According to Confucius, social harmony, that is a state of cooperation and the absence of social conflict, can be theoretically achieved primarily by two methods. First, it is the self-cultivation of individual moral character; the second is that both leaders and subject behave with propriety and conduct their relationships in conformity with the social rules without coercion (King & Bond, 1985, pp.30-32; Sung & Hahn, 1985, pp.22-23). In other words, the traditional state of social harmony for good governance is the reliance on people, both leader and subject, in the self-realisation of the best of their moral character and in the exercise of propriety in role performance, even in a hierarchical social and economic order. In practice, as reminded by a Western Chinese expert on the current official discourse of social harmony, that in Imperial China, the “self-serving dynastic rulers adopted social harmony as their official ideologie d´etat, using it to impose a paternalistic, ritualistic ethos of political consensus and conformity upon a voiceless, powerless peasantry” (Bauum, 2005).

(Wong, Chack-Kie: Comparing Social Quality and Social Harmony by a Governance Perspective; Paper presented during the International Conference ‘Social Quality in Asia and Europe: Searching for the Ways to Promote Social Cohesion and Social Empowerment’. University of Nanjing, 24-26 October 2008: 3)

This is hugely important as it

includes a rectification of the earlier development bias towards economic development by the global concept of ‘Five Co-ordinations’ – the coordination of rural and urban development, the coordination of regional development, the coordination of economic development and social development, the coordination of human and nature, and the coordination of internal national development and the need of open door to outside. In other words, the earlier ‘growth-first’ model by the slogan of ‘Get-rich-first’ set by the late Patriarch, Deng Xiaoping, is replaced by the present slogan of ‘Both-rich’ (Central Committee, CPC, 2005).

(ibid.: 7)

Still, as far as we are concerned with an inherent tension of the Asian countries, we have to see the conflictual line: as much as the concept of social harmony is ideologically maintained and modernised, as important is to acknowledge that we face a two-layered structure: the traditional mode of production clashes with the patterns that re typical for the NICs, the Newly Industrialising Countries. It is important to emphasise that we are talking about industrialising rather than industrialised countries. This implies that we are facing a two layered shift of the development.

On the one hand Asia is emerging as a new centre of global capitalism. Sure, it is not about a complete shift – although there are good reasons to see this development as equally serious as the shifts that characterise earlier stages of development – Giovanni Arrighi developed this already in detail: the victory of the Dutch mercantile system over the Northern-Italian city states at the end of the Renaissance; the victory of the new heavy-industrialising England over the mercantile system; later the mass-productive systems of the “New World” of the American Dream, dominating the new global order.

With reference to Bob Jessop (Jessop, Bob, 2000: From the KWNS to the SWPR; in: Gail Lewis/Sharon Gewirtz/John Clarke (eds.): Rethinking Social Policy; London et al.: Sage publications; 2000: 171-184) we can look at this in a different way, at least with view on the “developed national capitalisms”. He provided from a different perspective the following two systematic outlines, each reflecting a different developmental stage of capitalism.

1 Keynesian


Full employmentClosed economyDemand management


2 Welfare


Generalized norms of mass consumptionWelfare rights
3 National


Relative primacy of national scale
4 State


Market and state from mixed economyState corrects ‘market failures’

Keynesian Welfare National State

(from ibid.: 173)

For the latter stage he outlines as follows:

1 Schumpeterian


Innovation and competitivenessOpen economySupply-side policies
2 Workfare


Subordinates social to economic policyPuts downward pressure on ‘social wage’Attacks welfare rights
3 Post-national


Relativization of scale
4 Regime


Increased role of governance mechanisms to correct market and state failures

Schumpeterian Workfare Post-National Regime

(from ibid: 175)

There is a good bit of analysis in Jessop’s work which I want to take up and push further, looking at the process of socialisation and its conditions. In other words, it is about exploring the opportunities and needs for a new socio-economic system, thus exploring the potentials of new steps of socialisation.

Taking up Jessop’s references I propose a new perspective as Gates-Jobsian Patchwork Global Spacetime.

1 Gates-Jobsian = Defining Access to “Employment” but also Defining EmploymentOpen EconomyBlurring Demand
2 Patchwork = Individualised Mass ConsumptionIndividual Rights— Opening frm Law to Rights
3 Global = New Belongings and Identities
4 Spacetimes = “Arbitrary” Social Spaces for Individual Self-Realisation

Gates-Jobsian Patchwork Global Spacetime.

On another occasion I stated on the first element that there is some reason for thinking about a Gates-Jobsian shift emerging from the undefined polyphonic post-Fordism? The new computer-technology and with this the era of information-technology as it is frequently attributed to Gates’ Microsoft and Jobs’ Apple emporium has much deeper implications as we usually see: the digitalisation of everything, the increased accessibility of manything and the potential of anything are visible, lurk around every corner. But we do not see immediately the depletion of substance in algebraic formulae, the unattainability of understanding and the reality of the potential as potentiality of factuality, immersing as something that could be but that is not. A new kind of absolute idea – it is not irrationality but a new rationality and perhaps even a new categorical imperative.

This suggests that we actually reached a developmental stage of the productive forces that are now at a stage which are fundamentally reaching into new patterns of life.

On the other hand it is about the power relations within the Asian region. Japan is highly developed in the traditional mass production industries. However, the other countries of the region are more open – not least as they start from a relatively low level of development. The latter can be seen by the fact that their share in international trade decreased enormously for a long time, however massively catching up since recently. Thus we witness the possible emergence of a new centre-periphery structure: China, with its regional satellites as new centre of the global economy; leaving in the long, or even only medium run Europe and the USNA behind. The recent global crisis shows already that global is somewhat reduced: it is primarily about the “global west”, though surely pulling the old satellites in consequence down.

In China the current main challenge is the development of a reasonable own social force. I mean with this, that export orientation can only be a temporary stronghold – allowing some form of economic sustainability only if it manages to develop a sound indigenous economic performance.

Doomed to Fail? The need for a sustainability orientation

However, personally I see the following major difficulties in this respect: Maintaining the concept of a global economy principally based on division of labour fails to see the true challenge of globalisation. It is about emphasising ‘joint existence’ and its sustainability rather than competitive advantage. This accentuates the need to search for a new concept of development that is indeed geared to an understanding of the “we”. For this we may have to learn from each other – and talking about “we” I mean at this moment the work I am involved in as senior advisor to the European Foundation of Social Quality. There is a string collaboration with colleagues in Asian countries. The challenge is to develop an understanding of the social,

conceived as the result of the dialectic (constitutive dependency/c.i.) between processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities.

(Gaspers, Des et altera, 2013: Connecting ‘Human’ and ‘Social’ Discourses …: 24)

From my personal point of view we have to drive this further. Taking this definition as point of departure we have to look for a way to thoroughly found this definition in its economic meaning, linking it to matters of the development of the productive forces. And we have to found it more serious in terms of a “we” that is not based in traditional values it in real peoples movements.

In particular the latter is, I hope, a point for developing a sound cooperation between colleagues from Cuba and colleagues from other part of the world.

Some Questions: Challenges we Face

It is striking hat we are in many cases dealing with paradigms, concepts and terms that remain unquestioned. This is for instance about the ‘natural character of barter’ (for instance problematised by Karl Poalnyi), the validity of the nation state (even in its modern form) as point of reference, competition as human condition and rational choice as guiding decision making. Issues as reciprocity, altruism, solidarity frequently show up, however remain outside of consideration as constitutive factors. The actual widespread and fundamental meaning of cooperation and the social as

as the result of the dialectic (constitutive dependency/c.i.) between processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities.

(Gaspers, Des et altera, 2013: Connecting ‘Human’ and ‘Social’ Discourses …: 24)

remain marginalised although they have a prevailing meaning.

It is surely important to discuss the meaning of the accumulation by dispossession. However, we have to look also at developments of accumulation by repossession. Fact is that capitalism inherently destroys its own foundation, competition leading to a process of a ‘clandestine socialisation’.

Un pensiero riguardo “China and Asia – A New Capitalist Centre or A New Capitalism?


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