Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rule By Thieves

Law & Order

There is little doubt that China has embraced a form of capitalism, Marxist in nature, which shows that capitalism is an economic system and not a political one. What China has not embraced or considered yet is democracy, which it might consider one day. Here is an older article from 1995 that is instructive in that it shows how China had problems with corruption then, and it continues today, if you have followed recent stories about China. It is a nation that has become more prosperous but no less corrupt. Prof George Jochnowitz writes: "Only democracy can bring stability. Corruption and instability go together. Dictatorships resort to severe punishments because they have to."


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by George Jochnowitz
Capital punishment has been imposed—at various times and places—for the offenses of murder, treason, or heresy, whether political or religious. What about cigarette smuggling? There are lots of smokers in China, and the manufacture and sale of cigarettes is a major source of revenue. Let us consider the following headline on page 1 of the May 30, 1994, issue of China Daily, an official English-language newspaper published in Beijing:
4 cigarette smugglers executed
Corruption and crime have been major issues in China for the past decade or so. On May 26, 1994, China Daily printed a related front-page story: "Government cracks down on financial corruption." Crackdowns will not work; not even capital punishment can stop corruption in China.

A year later, on June 26, 1995, cigarette smuggling had not yet been stamped out, according to a story in the Business Weekly Supplement of China Daily.Under the headline, "State raises checkpoints on the tobacco road," we read "Violators will face severe punishments." The nature of the punishments is not specified. Let us not think, however, that China may be getting soft. Another headline, the same day, announces, "34 drug traffickers executed."

After Communism comes kleptocracy—rule by thieves. China's wealth is increasing rapidly. The adjective most frequently used to describe the Chinese economy is "overheated." Yet China's booming surge toward prosperity is being threatened by corruption, which increases and increases despite draconian punishments.

Chairman Mao could not be corrupted. The greatest monsters in human history have been incorruptible. Hitler, in 1944, when faced with the choice between supplying his beleaguered soldiers or transporting Jews to death camps, chose to give priority to the Final Solution. Not even the possibility of victory could tempt him from doing what he thought right. Similarly, Chairman Mao was so committed to the insane policies of the Great Leap Forward that he allowed between 20 and 60 million people, most of them peasants, to die during the years 1959-61. Mao closed the universities during the Cultural Revolution despite the fact that he knew he needed scientists to build his atomic weapons. Mao's loyalty to the Marxist dream of equality, where people would "raise cattle in the morning [and] criticize after dinner," outweighed China's need to defend itself.

When Mao died, however, corruption took over. This always happens when the crazy, wicked leaders who create totalitarian states are followed by the sane, wicked leaders who inevitably succeed them. The Communist Party, which Mao had created, was in a position to monopolize corruption.

But what good is corruption in a world of poverty? China's leaders wanted to have a rich country to exploit, one that was worth exploiting. Deng Xiaoping therefore invented Marxist capitalism - a system where one worships Marx's teachings while ignoring them. The advantage of Marxist capitalism is that it provides a rationale for the continuing absolute power of the Communist Party while at the same time letting the country get rich.

As the economy becomes more capitalist, however, outsiders - those not in the Party - move into positions where they may participate in the corruption of the state. An honest society, unfortunately, is not available as an alternative. Chairman Mao destroyed traditional values, and there is no legal system apart from the Communist Party. There is no democracy, which could create a legitimate system that spoke with the authority of the people. There are no human rights, so there need be no human responsibilities. There is no liberty, so there can be no room for moral choices. Societies emerging from Communism are always corrupt because they have to be. The framework for a system based on law does not exist. Russia is no longer Communist; China is. Both, however, are kleptocracies.

China might have become an exception to this rule. During Beijing Spring, between April 15 and June 4, 1989, China became an honest and a responsible state. Trucks carrying food and beverages to Tiananmen Square kept passing by. Feeding the million demonstrators in Beijing was a task that required organization and a great deal of effort. A city-wide drop in crime, accidents and fires was reported. Had the Democracy Movement not been crushed, China would not have become a kleptocracy.

In a country with no politics there is no way for ordinary people to make their views known and no avenue for change from the bottom. There is no possible connection between talking about politics and doing something about it. All innovations come from the top and are transmitted and enforced through the hierarchical structure of the Party. New directives coming from the Party leaders can change life quite abruptly, which makes Chinese society extremely unstable.

After World War II, victorious Americans forced democracy down the throats of West Germany and Japan. That was a very undemocratic thing to do, but Germany and Japan now enjoy the stability and prosperity that only democracy can bring. The world is a safer place because they are democratic.

Stalin and Mao brought nothing but instability to their people. No one knew when the laws would change retroactively, since the law in a totalitarian state is unknowable. No one knew when a new campaign would be launched against some unsuspecting and harmless group, like land-owning peasants or teachers. No one knew when violent fighting would break out, as happened during Mao's Cultural Revolution, when rival groups of Red Guards killed each other for the greater glory of Chairman Mao.

Stability means that governments can change legally and in an orderly fashion. It means that disagreement is viewed as a constructive way to exchange ideas. Only democracy can bring stability. Corruption and instability go together. Dictatorships resort to severe punishments because they have to. Sooner or later, the dictator falls, and chaos surfaces. There is no legal process to choose a new leader.

Perhaps trade, wealth and openness will lead China to create an orderly, stable society after the death of Deng Xiaoping. Perhaps. But the execution of four cigarette smugglers is not a sign of order.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This essay appeared in The Weekly Standard, Volume 1, Number 1, September 18, 1995. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the permission of the author.