Thursday, 21 August 2008

On October 1, 1949, Mao stood in Tiananmen Square in the capital city of Beijing to announce the formation of the People’s Republic of China. He spoke to a crowd of millions and declared: “The Chinese people have stood up!”

Mao had led the Chinese people in 20 years of armed struggle to overthrow their oppressors and drive out foreign imperialism. Now the people had the power to build socialism—as a transitional society with the goal of a communist world free of classes, and all the oppressive relations and ideas that go along with class society.

On this historic day, Mao shared in the people’s joy and celebration, but he also understood, as he had pointed out, that: “The Chinese revolution is great, but the road after revolution will be longer, the work greater and more arduous...”

A New Socialist China

The masses of Chinese people, especially in the countryside, had been subjected to so many horrible things—unending poverty and hunger, tyrannical landlords, women degraded and oppressed in every corner of life, drug addiction, illiteracy, and lack of health care. There had been no way for the masses of people to change any of this. They had been at the mercy of an oppressive economic and social system—and a ruling class that enforced all this.

The new socialist China inherited all the scars from this old society. But now, state power was in the hands of the masses. Now, the people’s efforts to get rid of all the remnants of the old oppressive society would be backed by the state apparatus and the party. And now the people could approach problems in a completely different way.

The new government took immediate measures to confiscate and take over businesses that had been owned by foreign imperialists and big Chinese capitalists and the property of big landowners was seized and divided up among peasants.

New laws were passed outlawing arranged marriages and giving women, as well as men, the right to divorce. Selling children, which had been a common practice because of poverty, was banned, along with child labor. The workday was reduced from 12-16 hours to 8 hours.

Many things were done that immediately and dramatically improved people’s lives—and at the same time, drew them into the whole process of solving societal problems. For example, drugs, gambling and prostitution had been a huge problem. Big-time gangsters, pimps and opium peddlers, many of them connected with the secret police of the old reactionary government, were arrested. Meanwhile opium addicts, former prostitutes and petty criminals were given education, housing, health care and jobs—and the opportunity to become part of the whole process of remaking society.

People’s social and political life was transformed and millions joined peasant associations, workers’ unions, women’s organizations, youth groups, and cultural, scientific, educational and other professional intellectual associations. Such mass organizations gave people a way to make and carry out important decisions in order to transform different spheres of society. In the cities, for example, “urban resident committees” representing hundreds of households helped settle family and neighborhood disputes, dealt with criminal activities and took care of public sanitation, fire prevention, relief for needy families and neighborhood cultural and recreational programs. Mass literacy campaigns were organized in villages, factories and poor neighborhoods.

Peasant associations based on poor and landless peasants were given the responsibility to carry out land reform. This was a radical economic as well as social change—for example women, for the first time, got land. By 1952, almost half of China’s farmable land had been redistributed and 300 million poor and landless peasants had gotten land.

Breakthroughs in Socialist Economics

When the revolution came to power, it immediately faced the question of how to transform society. Some party leaders—people who had marched right alongside Mao in the revolution against feudal landlords, capitalists tied to imperialist interests and foreign domination—now insisted that capitalism should be promoted without restriction. They said agriculture could not move forward until heavy industry was developed. They argued for relying on foreign technology and foreign loans, and maintaining private farming in the countryside. They went along with the dominant view of socialist economic development in the international communist movement, especially with regard to formerly dependent and backward countries, which was that you had to first build up modern productive forces—large factories, heavy machinery, new technology, etc.—and only then could you transform the relationships between people.

But Mao argued they should focus on revolutionizing forms of ownership and distribution and all the ways in which people work with each other to produce things—and on that basis spur the development of more advanced productive forces. In this way, carrying forward revolutionary changes and transformations among the people—starting with redistribution of land, but also efforts to promote collective ways of working together, as well as breaking down backward ideas from centuries of feudalism—could stimulate things like scientific farming techniques, opening up new farm lands, and improving water conservation.

This is an example of Mao’s developing understanding that revolutionizing how people think is critical to the whole process of changing society.

Putting the development of modern industry before the transformation of economic and social relations between people would lead to greater inequality because it would mean concentrating on developing the factories that were already the most advanced—in other words, the ones in the biggest cities. And this would only widen differences and inequalities between the countryside and cities and between poor and better-off areas, instead of restricting them. Instead, Mao argued for a much more dynamic back and forth between leaps in consciousness and leaps in production—what he later concentrated in his famous slogan, “Grasp Revolution, Promote Production.” And, crucially, Mao was able to win the struggle in the party at that time over what line, what approach to take to these fundamental issues.

Mao’s Leadership

The whole way Mao tackled and solved this problem gives a picture of what he was like and how he led. This path-breaking approach to building a new socialist economy came from a thorough studying and recasting of the positive and negative experience in building socialism in the Soviet Union, up until that time; investigation, and deep discussion with the masses of people; applying communist principles and method to the concrete situation in China; and on that basis coming up with a new understanding for how to go forward.

In 1951 Mao toured the countryside, talking with peasants and getting a first-hand look at what was going on. The revolution had confiscated land owned by the biggest landowners and distributed it to the poorest farmers with little or no land. But only by developing collective forms of working the land could the peasants not only increase production, but radically transform the ways in which people related to each other.

Mutual aid teams were formed where peasants shared their animals and tools and helped each other work individual plots of land. By 1952, over 40% of the peasants were in such teams. But these were still not large enough to deal with droughts or floods, they couldn’t carry out major technical improvements, and many were dominated by wealthier peasants.

Peasants were experimenting and coming up with creative ways to revolutionize production. And this involved a revolution in ideas and real transformations among the people—like taking on backward Confucian ideas about the subservient role of women, and replacing “me-first thinking” with a “serve the people” attitude.

On their own, some peasants started to form larger cooperatives and Mao keenly followed this, and encouraged it and led the party to mobilize the People’s Liberation Army soldiers to help lead this. By mid-1956, over 90% of peasant households were in such cooperatives.

This was Mao—leading and waging the class struggle in the context of developing a new socialist economy. This was the dynamic between the creative energy of the people under socialism and the role of communist leadership.

Great Leap Forward

Mao’s vision of socialism went beyond just giving people food, clothing and basic rights. He aimed for a revolution that would get rid of the old oppressive economic and social relations. A revolution that would challenge backward ideas and values that rested on and kept oppressive relations going. A revolution in how people think and act.

In 1958, Mao launched a bold new plan for socialist economic development with these goals in mind: The Great Leap Forward. A key element was the unleashing of a nationwide movement to form peasant communes—large collectives of people in the countryside that combined economic, social, cultural, militia and administrative activities.

Today, the Great Leap Forward is vilified as an irrational utopian experiment. But the truth is this was a real advance from the standpoint of developing more liberating economic and social relations.

The communes, which involved 15,000 to 25,000 people, made it possible to carry out big flood control and reforestation projects, build countywide roads or small-scale power plants, set up high schools, etc. Research centers were set up to develop new breeds of wheat, rice and other crops with greater yields. Hillsides were terraced to open up new farming land.

The communes provided people with a new and liberating political, social and cultural life. Finding collective solutions to social needs—instead of leaving each household to fend for itself—made it possible for women to more fully participate in the common cause of creating a new society. Communes organized cooperative home repair, community dining rooms, nurseries, and amateur theater groups.

In the course of these big economic and social transformations, old habits and values, superstition, prejudice and feudal customs were challenged. And the gaps between the city and countryside, and between workers and peasants, were narrowed.

Today people hear that the Great Leap Forward was a disaster—that people starved because of Mao’s policies, that the communes were really a form of slave labor. But this too is a lie.

There was famine during this time and many people died. But the difficulties of these years were a complex phenomenon: In 1959 China suffered extremely adverse climatic conditions of drought and flooding, some of the worst of the century in China. This greatly impacted food production. And the Soviet Union, which had restored capitalism in the mid-1950s, withdrew technical advisors and aid from China.

In addition, the leadership made mistakes. For example, too much time was spent in the rural areas on non-agricultural projects, which hurt food production. Local officials exaggerated reports on output, making it hard to know how much grain there really was and to plan accurately. But Mao, along with the revolutionary leadership of the party, did try to address these problems with new policies. For example, the amount of grain delivered to the state was lowered, some nonagricultural projects were scaled back in order to produce more food, grain was rationed and emergency grain was sent to regions in distress.

The fact is, and it is historically the case that, truly radical, transformative changes in society may cause initial dislocations and difficulties, but in the long run prove to be real breakthroughs. Such change involves breaking with old ways and experimenting with new ones and challenging custom and convention. This was the case with the Great Leap Forward. And the real truth is that by 1970, for the first time in its history, China was able to provide its population of 600 million people with a minimal diet and food security—which had everything to do with the economic, social and political accomplishments during the Great Leap Forward.

Getting Clearer on the Nature of Socialism

When socialism was overturned in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, this was a heartbreaking loss for everyone who dreamed of a better world. This had been the first place to establish a new socialist society and many great things had been accomplished in this first substantial and pathbreaking experience of socialism. (See the website of Set the Record Straight at for documentation of these accomplishments.) So what did it mean that the revolution could be reversed—that capitalism could be restored?

Mao undertook a very deep study of the experience of Soviet society, learning from the positive achievements but also identifying and sharply criticizing mistakes in conception and practice that had maintained or even reinforced inequalities in society and led away from the goal of a classless, communist world. And Mao also took a critical look at the experience of socialist China up to that point.

Clearly, building socialism involved working to get rid of all the “scars” left over from the old oppressive society—a process that couldn’t happen overnight. Building socialism meant continually digging away at and transforming the old economic and social ways of doing things, as well as the old and oppressive ways of thinking that went along with all this.

But Mao was wrestling with and coming to understand something even beyond this. He was struggling to get a new and deeper analysis of the very nature of the socialist transition to communism. And what he was increasingly coming to understand—which up to this point, had not been really understood in the international communist movement—is that the victory of the revolution and the beginning development of socialism does not mean the end of classes and class struggle. As Mao would later put it:

“Socialist society covers a considerably long historical period. In the historical period of socialism, there are still classes, class contradictions and class struggle, there is the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and there is the danger of capitalist restoration. We must recognize the protracted and complex nature of this struggle.”

Mao looked at the fact that the people who organized and led the overthrow of socialism in the Soviet Union came from right within the top ranks of the communist party. And he looked around him and saw echoes of the same problem. He saw leaders within the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party who wanted to restore capitalism, just as had been done in the Soviet Union.

Mao restlessly searched for a way to deal with this problem. From looking at the Soviet Union, he saw that just purging such party leaders would not solve the problem. Even if certain individuals didn’t make a comeback, others would come forward representing similar lines, so long as the underlying problems were not correctly identified and struggled against. Mao searched for ways to mobilize the broad masses of people to much more deeply and consciously take up the struggle over the whole direction of society, drawing the distinction between the capitalist road and the socialist road, to criticize party leaders who were taking the capitalist road and try to bring them back to the revolutionary road. He tried many things to unleash the people’s questioning and rebellious spirit, but as he later summed up, up to this point, he and the revolutionary leadership had not yet found the way to mobilize the masses “to criticize our dark side, in an all-around way and from below.”

Sharpening Class Struggle in China

Conservative forces in the party wanted profit measures to decide investment priorities. They promoted an educational system that turned out privileged professional and party elites. They pushed cultural works still dominated by old feudal themes and characters. Their approach towards the workers and peasants was basically “keep your nose to the grindstone, forget about engaging the big questions of how to run and transform all of society and contribute to revolution throughout the world.”

In the context of all this, Mao made what is his greatest contribution: the theory and practice of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In socialist society you need the dictatorship of the proletariat to wage struggle against and defeat bourgeois class forces. Even as socialist society is constantly being revolutionized, remaining inequalities and differences in society will continue to provide the basis for bourgeois, capitalist relations and thinking—and the basis for the capitalist system to make a comeback. And what Mao came to understand is that the bigger danger here was not exploiters and oppressors from the old society—but a new bourgeois class, generated from the very contradictions of socialist society itself and concentrated right in the top levels of the party.

Party leaders, because of their positions of power, controlled resources and made decisions and developed policies that determined the direction of society. So how they exercised power—and with what aims—made all the difference in terms of whether or not society as a whole was going to move forward toward communism or back to capitalism. For example, were party leaders supporting policies that would break down inequalities or strengthen them? Were they working to unleash the conscious initiative of the people in the fight to transform society? This concentrated the class struggle under socialism. And the superstructure of socialist society—laws, art, culture, sports, science, and political institutions—not only reflected these class contradictions, but could and would greatly influence them in one way or the other.

Mao needed to find a way to shake up all of society; a way to revolutionize the party and all the institutions in society; a way to transform people’s thinking and understanding—and fully draw the broad masses of people into the class struggle to keep China on the socialist road.

The Fight to Stay on the Socialist Road

In the summer of 1965, Mao made a journey to the Chingkang Mountains, where in 1927 he had led 800 Red Army soldiers to form the first red base area and initiate the people’s war. This was a dangerous time. The enemies of the revolution who wanted to restore capitalism were gathering their strength and preparing for an all-out fight to seize power. In a poem, “Reascending Chingkangshan,” Mao wrote:

I have long aspired to reach for the clouds
And I again ascend Chingkangshan,
Coming from afar to view our old haunt,
I find new scenes replacing the old...

We can clasp the moon in the Ninth Heaven
And seize turtles deep down in the Five Seas:
We’ll return amid triumphant song and laughter.
Nothing is hard in this world
If you dare to scale the heights.

In May of 1966, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, calling on people to “bombard the headquarters.” He called on the people in their hundreds of millions to rise up and overthrow top party and government officials who were trying to bring capitalism back. This was a revolution within the revolution.

Mao was unleashing hundreds of millions of people to wrangle and debate over the direction of society, and to take responsibility for the fate of society. Mao and the revolutionary leadership in the party fought to help broad ranks of people to identify, criticize, and where necessary overthrow the top capitalist roaders—and seize back portions of state power where capitalist roaders were implementing lines and policies leading away from the goal of communism. This was a process of further revolutionizing society and empowering the masses of people.

The Cultural Revolution and Mao’s leadership of it are probably the most widely distorted and misunderstood period of Chinese history. For decades now, the defenders of capitalism have promoted a whole narrative of lies that vilify Mao and paint the Cultural Revolution as a nightmare.

“Socialist New Things” and the Further Transformation of Society

As Mao later explained, the target of the Cultural Revolution was “those persons in authority taking the capitalist road.” But the strategic aim of the struggle was to help the masses transform their world outlook, and through that, to transform the society around them in the further direction of a communist world.

Look at health care. In 1949, China only had 12,000 Western-trained doctors for a country of 500 million. By 1965, there were 200,000. But most of the medical care was still concentrated in the cities. New doctors were encouraged to work at elite urban hospitals, and to focus on making a career for themselves. Meanwhile, most peasants—the vast majority of China’s population—had little or no access to modern medical care. Such an approach to health care could only help to widen inequalities in society and strengthen the influence of capitalist tendencies.

Mao and those who rallied to his line sharply criticized the direction being taken by the Health Ministry, calling for radical transformations. Under his leadership, the focus of health care shifted to the countryside, even as overall health care improved in the cities. One of the most exciting developments of the Cultural Revolution was the “barefoot doctor” movement. Young peasants and urban youth were sent to the countryside and trained in basic health care and medicine geared to meet local needs and treat the most common illnesses. And doctors went to rural areas—at any given time, a third of the urban doctors were in the countryside. Life expectancy during the period of Mao’s leadership doubled from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976.

In education, leading capitalist roaders were arguing that China needed to focus primary attention on the “best” schools and the “brightest” students in order to build China into a modern country. They argued for ending the practices from the Great Leap Forward period when students spent part of their time growing crops at school for the cafeteria or working in small factories attached to the schools. The revolutionaries sharply criticized this, pointing out that it was impossible to keep moving forward toward communism unless they increasingly broke down the differences between intellectual and physical labor, between experts and the masses of common people.

One result of Mao’s call to transform education was that millions of students waged struggle against elitism in higher education. Before the Cultural Revolution, the universities were the province of the sons and daughters of party members and other privileged forces. Children competed in exams to enter a hierarchy of increasingly selective college-prep schools. For centuries, China’s feudal-Confucian educational system had created a small privileged elite, divorced from the common people and productive labor in society. The Cultural Revolution abolished this system of elite tracking and competitive exams. After completing high school, students went to live and work in rural areas or take up work in factories. After two or three years, students of any background could then apply to go college. And part of the college admission process involved evaluations from co-workers and communities of the applicants.

Similar “socialist new things” were brought into being in every section of society as people answered Mao’s call to revolutionize society and revolutionize themselves in the process.

As a crucial part of this, the Party itself began to be revolutionized. A whole section of the party took up this revolutionary line, deepening their understanding of the communist goal and the socialist transition period, and leading transformations in every sphere. New revolutionary leaders came forward from among the masses during this upheaval and ferment, and many joined the Party. And the relations among party cadre and the masses went through waves of revitalization and transformation, raising the consciousness and unleashing the initiative of the masses and fostering a spirit of openness to criticism and self-interrogation among the cadre.

The Loss of Socialist China and Lessons for the Future

Despite these transformations, Mao warned that final victory was far from settled. He pointed out that “it would be quite easy to rig up a capitalist system”—due to the pressures of imperialism, the still remaining “birthmarks” of capitalism (for example, inequalities between city and countryside, the still-remaining differences between mental and manual labor, etc.), and the fact that some powerful forces still in the leadership of the party had not been fully won to the line embodied in the Cultural Revolution and indeed in many cases harbored deep opposition to it.

When Mao died in 1976, the capitalist roaders in the Chinese Communist Party, led by Deng Xiaoping, seized the moment to stage a coup. Hundreds of thousands were arrested, including Mao’s closest comrades, the so-called “gang of four,” which included his wife, Jiang Qing. Thousands more were murdered. Where Mao had said “serve the people,” Deng crowed that “to get rich is glorious.” The coup and the destruction of socialism made China the hell it is today for the vast majority—once again dominated by imperialism, capitalist exploitation and backward feudal oppression, with the attendant extreme economic and social polarization.

The reasons why the capitalist roaders succeeded are complex—involving big international factors and developments—and how these interpenetrated with the class struggle in China. And within this, there were certain mistakes made by Mao and the revolutionaries grouped around him that weakened their ability to fend off the assaults from the capitalist roaders—especially after Mao died.

But the lesson to draw from this is not that socialism is impossible. The revolution did not fail, it was defeated. The fact that capitalist roaders had seized power was not so obvious at the time—not the least because they draped themselves in the words of socialism and Maoism. At this momentous juncture in the international communist movement, Bob Avakian deeply summed up the contributions Mao Tsetung had made to the science and practice of communist revolution. And he analyzed the class character of the new leadership in China and showed in great detail that a counter-revolution against Mao and socialism had taken place. At the same time he pointed to the tasks and challenges before genuine communists throughout the world to correctly sum up the world-historic and unprecedented experience of the Chinese revolution, and the theory Mao developed through the course of leading it, to learn as much as could be learned from that, and to advance further in the world revolutionary process.

Today there are no socialist countries in the world. The loss of socialist China in 1976 marked the end of a stage, of the first wave of proletarian revolution in the world.

Mao Tsetung was a great revolutionary communist who led a quarter of the planet’s people to liberate China out from under the thumb of imperialist oppressors—and then move on to build a liberating, socialist society for over 25 years. Mao led the Chinese people to “spring society into the air,” to radically change the conditions of their lives and change themselves in the process. He searched relentlessly for a way to prevent a new capitalist class from seizing power, and led the people in this fight down to his last breath. Under his leadership, this was the most advanced revolutionary experience in transforming society and transforming the people—the farthest humanity has gone in bringing into being a world free of exploitation and oppression.

Understanding the truth about Mao is important for everyone—the revolution he led was a major milestone in human history and everyone should know the truth about such a revolution and such a figure. And for those who truly want to change the world, there is even more at stake—for Mao’s revolutionary thinking and practice form a critical part of the foundation and a point of departure for rebuilding a revolutionary movement today.

Red Tory

A deeper shade of blueTories are now drawing on a radical conservative past that foretold flaws in Thatcher's market dogmaAll comments () Phillip Blond The Guardian, Thursday August 21 2008 Article historyWhen economic paradigms shift, ideology follows. Just as the Keynesian model broke down in the 1970s and ushered in the rise of Thatcherism, so the present crisis of neoliberal economics is precipitating a philosophical change in the Conservative party. The Tories are now speaking of sharing the benefits of growth and wealth, and the need for markets to generate fair outcomes. Moreover, they are distancing themselves from the current socioeconomic settlement because they recognise that it produces inequality and reinforces class barriers. They know that the community culture they want to resurrect was not only destroyed by the socialist state, but by the capitalist market. Say it softly, but the Tories could be poised to finally break with Thatcherism and its winner-takes-all monopoly capitalism.

The small governing elite of the party feels that this is the right way to go, but they lack a final intellectual synthesis and they also fear antagonising Thatcherites, who still constitute a sizeable slice of the party and a majority of the branch activists. But the unprecedented crisis of the world economy precipitated by the debt-leveraged collapse of free-market extremism has given the Tories a real opportunity to develop. They should worry less and carry the logic of their own civic philosophy through to its conclusion, for it could produce a genuinely critical account of the crisis and an alternative to the left/right neoliberal fundamentalism of the last 30 years.

For instance, the crisis of contemporary capitalism results from the congruence and culmination of three dominant trends: centralisation, monopolisation and speculation. Despite rightwing ideological claims, unregulated capital does not diffuse equitably among all market participants. The centralisation of money and power is the foundation of monopoly, and the precondition for unrestrained speculation. Thus the Conservative critique of centralisation means an end of cartel domination and a limit to inappropriate speculation.

Accordingly, the much-derided new civic philosophy of conservatism is actually key to reversing all the malign consequences of the Thatcher-Blair years. A genuinely local economy requires not just freedom from the target-driven, ethos-destroying logic of the state, but also liberation from the corporate business model. Corporate norms have obliterated owner-occupiers of small businesses and have created clone towns where every high street is the same, or ghost towns where the economies of scale kill off local enterprises. A revived localism inspires a diverse ecology of agriculture, industry and innovation, and a renewed sense of regional identity, reversing an economic monoculture predicated on finance and the City.

There are signs, therefore, that this localism is becoming the fulcrum around which conservatism could change. One example is Cameron's frustration at Policy Exchange's recent report that, in a disturbing echo of the rightwing "mobility of labour" argument, called for the abandonment of northern cities for the job-rich south. Likewise, the Conservative campaign against post office closures and the "disappearing Britain" campaign to save local shops all suggest a new distaste for the homogenising consequences of neoliberalism. So much so that the Conservative research department is trying to develop new central metrics of social value for a future government that would bypass mere short-term economic calculation. The agenda can go further: Boris Johnson's endorsement of a living wage for Londoners, rather than a minimum one, should be universal. Cameron's espousal of a work-life balance and the support of personal, rather than state, childcare is an echo of an electorally popular value system.

However, the final articulation of a post-Thatcherite economics would require elements from the radical conservative past - where figures such as William Cobbett, Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin argued for a working class self-sufficiency, or English Catholic writers such as GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc argued that only widely distributed ownership could resist the dispossession and destruction of rabid capitalism. George Osborne's recognition in these pages yesterday that the flawed nature of unfettered markets suggests that the Tories have made the distinction between the current monopoly settlement and genuinely free markets. With a new view of competition that ensures markets support a genuine plurality by upholding social consensus and an extension of assets and ownership for all, modern conservatism could finally turn its back on Margaret Thatcher.

· Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in theology and philosophy at the University of Cumbria. He is currently writing Red Tory, a book on radical Conservatism

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Beijing Olympics Celebrate The Capitalist Market And Nationalism



By John Chan

08 August, 2008

Tonight's Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing has been carefully prepared by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime over the past seven years to showcase China's rise as a new economic power. Like previous Olympics, but only on a grander scale, the event is a lavish $US43 billion party, this time for China's new capitalist elite to celebrate their arrival on the world stage.

The ceremony has been timed to include as many "8s" as possible—8.08 p.m. on August 8, 2008—shamelessly reflecting the slogan of Chinese capitalism: "Get rich, get rich and get rich!" Not long after Deng Xiaoping initiated market reforms in 1978, the number "8" (pronounced "ba" in Chinese) became the lucky number for attaining wealth, due to its similar pronunciation to the Chinese word for prosperity ("fa"). The aim is not just to send a clear signal to the local capitalist elite but also to global corporate leaders: if you want to be rich, come to China—it is the place for investment and business opportunities.

Choosing the hot month of August, however, rather than moderate autumn months of September and October, means that authorities have to deal with heavy smog, which is particularly severe in summer. Despite draconian measures to stop the use of millions of cars, and the shutdown of factories in Beijing, blue sky can barely be seen. Rather than promoting China's international image, this simply reminds the world that China already has the title of the world's No. 1 emitter of carbon dioxides thanks to the unfettered operation of the capitalist market.

Amid the global economic fallout from the collapse of US subprime mortgage loans a year ago, the Beijing Olympics also provides a distracting event for the leaders of global capitalism to temporarily divert attention from economic slowdown, inflation and growing social discontent. No less than 80 world leaders, including US President George Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will attend the opening ceremony.

Their arrival has reportedly caused nightmares for Beijing air traffic authorities as many private jets carrying the chief executives of the world's most powerful corporations land at the same time. Like their political servants, the global CEOs are keen to share in China's economic success.

Indeed, China seems to be the only place where capitalism is still thriving. A massive fireworks show and spectacular opening ceremony, directed by well-known filmmaker Zhang Yimou, seek to showcase not just China's traditional culture, but the country's growing economic prowess. As shown on South Korean television, which leaked a rehearsal, one of the scenes showed many buildings springing up from scratch, demonstrating China's rapid expansion. From 1978 to 2007, China has grown 40-fold—taking it from a miserably poor country to the world's fourth largest economy.

The ultra-modern Olympic architecture, from the main "Bird Nest" stadium and the oval Grand State Theatre to the twisted CCTV headquarters in Beijing, all designed by leading international architects, aims to impress foreigners with China's striving for modernity and progress. The expansion of Beijing international airport is colossal. Its Terminal 3 alone is larger than the five terminals of London Heathrow combined.

Twelve multinational corporations have paid up to $US200 million each to become Olympic global sponsors in order to advertise their products to the 4 billion people around the world who are expected to watch the events. All up, the sponsorship totals $866 million, one third more than the 2004 Athens Games. This does not include the estimated advertising revenue of $1.5 billion by the global sponsors or the costs for partnerships paid by dozens of other multinational and Chinese corporations. Adidas alone has reportedly paid $80 million for using the Olympic logo for its products selling in China.

"One World, One Dream" is the slogan of the Beijing Olympics. But the feelings in Washington, Tokyo and the European capitals toward the rise of China are rather more complex. On the one hand, major corporations around the world now depend on the super-exploitation of the Chinese working class, the largest in the world. On the other, there is unease about China's rapid emergence as a new rival to the established powers in the struggle for raw materials, markets and geopolitical influence.

Despite Chinese President Hu Jintao's appeal not to politicise the Olympics, some Western leaders have raised Beijing's human rights record or its repressive rule in Tibet. Last week, President Bush received exiled leaders of the Chinese "democracy" movement in the White House. The US House of Representatives then passed a resolution almost unanimously demanding that China improve human rights.

Before his departure for the Olympics, Bush told Asian reporters in Washington that the US was committed to its allies in Asia, amid criticisms that the Iraq war had allowed China to increase its influence at the expense of the US. Warning Asian countries not to get too close to Beijing, Bush declared: "A lot of times, if you're friends with one, you make it hard to be friends with another." Before going to Beijing, Bush stopped at Bangkok and delivered a speech urging the Beijing regime to provide "freedom" to Chinese citizens.

A Chinese government spokesman, Liu Jianchao, branded the US Congress resolution an attempt to "sabotage" the Olympics, and said Bush "rudely interfered with China's internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to anti-China hostile forces." Behind this nationalist rhetoric, which is largely for domestic consumption, Beijing is well aware that Bush resisted calls to boycott the Games.

In fact, Bush is the first US president to attend an overseas Olympics. Even more cynical is French president Sarkozy, who had earlier threatened to boycott the ceremony over Beijing's crackdown in Tibet. Sarkozy then announced he would not meet the Dalai Lama. Now he has declared that the Chinese government "deserves a gold medal" for preparing the Games. "My presence in Beijing will confirm it once more: the friendship between France and China is a fundamental axis of France's foreign policy," he told Xinhua news agency.

"Harmonious society"

Beijing is exploiting the opportunity to promote Chinese nationalism. After openly embracing the capitalist market over the past 30 years, the CCP's claim to be socialist is absurd. Increasingly the regime rests on its record in promoting China's growth and prestige, appealing to a layer of the middle class who have benefited as a result. The lavish spending on the Olympics—1.5 times more than the five previous Olympics combined—is to underscore the point to a domestic audience as well as advertise the benefits of China to the foreign corporate elite. At the same time, nationalism is used to divert attention from the deepening social chasm between rich and poor in China.

In order to hide China's staggering social inequality, some four million people, mainly poorly-paid migrant workers, including those who built the Olympic facilities, have been driven out of the city. Thousands of petitioners, who came to fight for their grievances to be heard by top government officials, have been dragged away by the police. Many have been locked up in detention centres. Some of the urban poor used to live in cheap motels and basement apartments where rooms could be rented for less than $1 per day but these facilities have been shut.

Wang Lijun, a petitioner demanding a pension for his father, told the Los Angeles Times: "They say we create a negative image. They treat us like refugees and criminals." Another woman, Li Li from Shanxi province, who has been petitioning for seven years over her husband's sacking from a steel factory, explained: "They are cracking down on us more than ever before. They regard us as enemies who will disrupt the stability of the country." Then she added: "They ask us to embrace the Olympic Games, to love the country, love the party. But they don't love us."

In the name of preventing terrorism, the police-state apparatus has been fully mobilised to protect the world leaders and the Olympic venues. There is a 100,000-strong anti-terror force made up of paramilitary police, troops and special force units, plus several hundred thousand ordinary police officers, security guards and volunteer patrols.

Among the security forces are 34,000 troops from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), including the Sixth Armored Division, now stationed outside Beijing. The division commander told the mass media that the heavily armed units would move quickly into the capital in an event of "sudden incident". The last time that tank columns rolled into the streets of Beijing was in 1989, to crush the protesting workers and students in Tiananmen Square.

The military has also deployed 74 fighter jets, 48 helicopters and 33 naval ships, as well as anti-aircraft missiles and biochemical units. TV footage has shown military training exercises, including pilots firing missiles at aircraft intruding into the no-fly zones above Beijing.

According to Tian Yixiang, the director of the Armed Forces Work Department of the Olympic Security Command Center, the security forces will target "Eastern Turkistan" militants from Xinjiang, Tibetan separatists, banned Falun Gong religious practitioners and the "democracy" movement. In Tibet, the police force has been doubled to ensure "absolute security" during the Olympics. The People's Armed Police News declared in July that "hostile forces" and terrorists "are sharpening their blades and itching to act" in order to create an "international impact".

Behind the regime's belligerent statements is its immense fear of any disruption to the Games, which could damage China's image as a reliable venue for business and investment. Rising inflation and unemployment, and signs of economic slowdown, have exacerbated the enormous social tensions in China. The oppressed national minorities such as Muslim Uighur in Xinjiang and the masses in Tibet have staged protests. Any of this discontent could erupt during the Games, as protestors seek to use the world media to draw attention to their grievances.

An East Turkistan Islamic group released videos, last month and yesterday, threatening to attack the Games, and it has also claimed responsibility for a series of recent bus bombings in China. On Monday, in another purported "terror" attack, a police station in Kashgar, Xinjiang was reportedly attacked with grenades, killing 16 policemen.

In order to downplay criticism of its heavy-handed measures, Beijing has released some well known dissidents. The authorities have set up three "protest zones" in the capital, well away from Games venues, but demonstrations must be approved well in advance. Chinese citizens who dare to seek approval will leave their identification records with the regime. After the world's attention has shifted away at the end of the Olympics, they are likely to face harsh punishment. Foreign critics will also be silenced. At least seven British and American tourists have been detained after attempting to protest over Tibet or lack of religious freedom in China.

The massive police and military dragnet for the Beijing Olympics is a glimpse into the political conditions that enforce the brutal capitalist exploitation of the working class in China. The presence of Bush and other world leaders at the opening ceremony demonstrates the completely hypocritical character of their talk of human rights and the plight of national minorities. They are all well aware that without the police-state regime in Beijing, the world capitalist economy would be far worse off than it is now.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Solar Power Breakthrough




05 August,2008
Environmental News Service (ENS)

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts - Within 10 years, homeowners could power their homes in daylight with solar photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen from water to power a household fuel cell. If the new process developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds acceptance in the marketplace, electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past.

"This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, senior author of a paper describing the simple, inexpensive, and efficient process for storing solar energy in the July 31 issue of the journal "Science."

"Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon," Nocera said.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is expensive and inefficient. But Nocera and his team of researchers have hit upon an elegant solution.

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed a new process that will allow the Sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen can be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power buildings, homes or electric cars - day or night.

The key component in the new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water - another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas.

The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water.

When electricity from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs in plants during photosynthesis.

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and is easy to set up, Nocera said. "That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said.

Sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world's energy problems, said Nocera. In one hour, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet's energy needs for one year.

James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.

"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem."

Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require an environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates.

More engineering work needs to be done to integrate the new scientific discovery into existing photovoltaic systems, but Nocera said he is confident that such systems will become a reality.

"This is just the beginning," said Nocera, principal investigator for the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation and co-Director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center. "The scientific community is really going to run with this."

The project is part of the MIT Energy Initiative, a program designed to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today's energy systems.

MITEI Director Ernest Moniz said, "This discovery in the Nocera lab demonstrates that moving up the transformation of our energy supply system to one based on renewables will depend heavily on frontier basic science."

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.

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Monday, 4 August 2008

'I became a Zen Buddhist nun'

From childhood, Miranda Hodgson had been a staunch atheist, but when she began to practise yoga and meditation, her life took an unexpected turn
Miranda Hodgson The Guardian, Monday August 4 2008 Eleven years ago, I was living in New York, and working as an arts administrator for Carnegie Hall.

I was ambitious and driven, but I felt as if something was missing in my life, and I couldn't explain what it was. My family was from London, but had moved to the US when my two elder brothers and I were very young, so that my father could pursue his career as a surgeon. We were comfortably middle-class, and it was expected that we, too, would develop highly successful careers, get married and, in turn, have successful children of our own.

My father was an atheist of the Richard Dawkins or Karl Marx ilk, for whom religion was simply a mechanism of political and social oppression. Although my mother never said much to contradict this, she would seem mildly upset when I would occasionally deny the existence of God. I, too, was an atheist. As a teenager, I refused to be confirmed.

I was passionate about writing, literature, and languages, and I was also good at sports and music - a classic high-achieving all-rounder. However, the competitive attitude I was encouraged to have, coupled with my rather introverted personality, did not win me many close friendships. Also, being English did not make it easy for me to integrate into American culture.

Finally, when I was 18, I was able to escape the limitations of suburbia by going to Harvard to read English. I loved it there - studying, writing, and running a modern dance company. I began to discover who I was, and even though I lacked the social confidence that so many of my classmates seemed to have, I started to emerge from my shell bit by bit. I even had a boyfriend - a genuine, lovely guy in the year above me who was heavily into drama. He was a committed Christian, but this didn't cause too many problems, as long as we didn't talk about how we thought each other's beliefs were completely deluded and wrong.

Eventually, the relationship ran its course but, after graduating and landing a job at Carnegie Hall, I began to acknowledge to myself that I no longer found my aggressively atheist take on life adequate. Although I still found it impossible to believe in a god, I gradually became aware that there were other, non-theistic approaches to experiencing the spiritual side of life. I started to do hatha yoga, and was then introduced to Zen meditation by a colleague.

Something clicked, I left my job and returned to England to do postgraduate studies at Oxford. I continued to practise with a local group affiliated to the International Zen Association, which is based in France. Having previously lived such a goal- and achievement-oriented life, sitting in meditation and simply observing my state of being was a new experience. As I examined my ideals, particularly the validation I sought through unrelenting hard work, I found that they were empty; one by one, they dropped away. I realised there were more important things than climbing the career ladder at any cost.

Although it was a liberating experience, it was incredibly frightening at times. I had to reassess my approach to life, and in doing so, acknowledge that, by my previous standards, I felt like a failure. Instead of getting a highly paid job, followed by marriage, a house and children, I was struggling to make ends meet as I cobbled together an existence from undergraduate teaching while trying to finish my doctorate. Then, just as five years of hard work were coming to an end, my supervisors decided that they didn't want to help me with the revisions recommended by my examiners, and I had to move on. Without a doctorate, the academic career I had worked for was impossible. After going through every emotion, and becoming physically ill, I decided to use the teaching experience I'd had at university to go into secondary-school teaching.

I continued to meditate with the Zen group and attend sesshins (retreats) both in the UK and in France. In France, I met a Zen master (a practitioner who has received permission to teach), and under him, I made a formal commitment to follow the Zen path. Unlike in Japan, where Zen monks and nuns are supported by the state, Europeans who make this commitment continue to live and work in society as they did before. For me, the decision to ask for nun ordination came easily. It simply felt like the right thing to do; it made sense. Life was beginning to unfold naturally.

The ceremony took place at my Master's little dojo (meditation hall) near Tours, France, on a beautiful summer morning last year. I received a black kolomo (a kimono with extra-long sleeves) to wear over my white kimono, as well as the black kesa (a rectangular garment that is worn wrapped around the body and over the left shoulder during meditation) and the rakusu (a miniature kesa that is shaped like a short apron) that I had sewn myself. I was given a document that traces my lineage back to Shakyamuni Buddha, a bowl for my meals, and a nun name that will be used only after my death. I cried throughout the ceremony, but the look on my face in the official photograph says it all: sitting next to my Master I look emotional, almost overwhelmed, but relieved and happy.

Nearly a year has passed since then and people's reactions to my ordination have been varied. My mother has been curious and supportive, while my father does not mention it; I have no idea of his opinion, other than that he does not disapprove. I think he sees that I am happier now, which is good enough for him. Because I am now a teacher, I don't shave my head and, as I wear the kolomo and kesa only for meditation, I look no different from anyone else you would see in the street.

When most people hear the word nun, they think of Catholic nuns. Often, their first question is why would I want to give up having sex for ever. Stated in this way, it puts sex on a par with things such as smoking or drinking: self-gratifying acts of pleasurable consumption. If one understands sex according to such a selfish, loveless definition, then I suppose that yes, I have "given it up". One of the vows I made when I was ordained pertains to sex, and it states that you should not use your sexuality in a way that harms. It is not what you do, therefore, but how you do it: using someone as a commodity for one's own satisfaction is definitely harmful if considered in that light. Shortly after my ordination, I met a man with whom I now share a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Most of my teenage students know I am a nun, and their reactions fascinate me. They are openly curious about what it means to be a Buddhist as well as a nun and, of course, asking me questions about it is a great time-waster in lessons. One question that comes up fairly frequently is whether I believe in God, but I'm not sure if they understand when I tell them that the idea of the Abrahamic God has no place in Buddhism. At other times, they ask me how I meditate. They put their hands into what they think is a suitably yogic position, shut their eyes, and say: "Ohmmm."

I find their preconceptions entertaining, and they don't want to believe me when I tell them the truth: that we sit still and don't move or make a sound for up to six hours a day. I think it must be fairly strange for them to be faced with someone who has made such a strong religious commitment. Some of them assume I live like a puritan, and are surprised when I tell them that I do drink alcohol and I will eat meat.

While my status as a nun usually fosters a dialogue between me and my students, I sometimes feel it separates us. Nowadays, students think that, to be successful in life, they must strive for high scores, regardless of whether academic learning is right for them. I feel sad at how stressed my students get and, during exams, I remember words from a Zen teacher that to "be adequate" is enough in life.

After I was ordained, my Master told me that in the following year, my karma would move more quickly, and I have found myself making quite a few changes to my life, particularly in terms of my career trajectory. I'm finding the balance, bit by bit. There is a saying that following the Zen Buddhist path is simple, but it is not easy. It takes effort that needs to be renewed daily. When things start to get overwhelming, I just remember the poem that is written in black ink on the white silk that lines my rakusu: "With my kesa and shaved head, I am free." The simple truth of these words will, I hope, always inspire me.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Why it's rubbish being single - There’s a myth that being single is great

Stefanie Marsh
Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed something that happens to newspaper columns come this time of year. Every August your favourite columnist goes away and is replaced by someone paler and more morose. Who are these people, you might have wondered? Why do they only appear in August? Shouldn’t they be on holiday like everybody else? Perhaps they’re the canteen staff, filing the odd column between stuffing vol-au-vents because the journalists are away. But interesting that they never write about children or dogs or organic gardens or husbands or wives or dinner parties or the complexities of village fĂȘte status anxiety, as normal columnists do. A normal columnist will happily spend 800 words musing breezily on compost heaps. A stand-in holiday season columnist, by contrast, favours other topics. Death, the plague, that’s our bag.

Want to know why? Because we’re single. We’re spouse-free zones. And usually garden, children and pet-free zones, too. I’m not on holiday because there’s no one I want to go with, ever since my best friend and I inexplicably chose to travel to Gujarat last October and fell out over a difference in opinion about a woman’s amputated arm. And, being single, I’m wary of holidays anyway. They remind me of that realisation I always seem to have abroad, that I can’t spend the rest of my life with this person. Because single people spend most of their time inside their heads, we tend to exaggerate bad past experiences. So maybe my holidays were good, but how would I know? The inside of my brain resembles the combined plots of The Poseidon Adventure and Saw III played on loop with all the uplifting parts edited out.

That’s the truth about being single; it can be horrendous, only I’m not allowed to admit it. For a few months I have been leading what most anthropologists would describe as a highly unusual existence in my one-person flat, and yet prevailing 21st-century thought – the publishing industry, marketing bods keen to get their grubby paws on what’s left of my disposable income – are trying to convince me that being single is the best thing in the world that can happen to a person. It reminds me of what Phill Gramm, John McCain’s economic adviser, said last month about the recession. It’s not a recession; it’s a “mental recession”. It’s all in your mind.

Likewise, there’s a myth being perpetuated that being single is great! The loneliness, the effort, that musty smell in your flat because you spend far too much time in it, the fact that children think you’re weird – that’s all in your mind. A fabrication. You’re not bored, you just think you’re bored because being single is fabulous! There are more than 3 million single people living in Britain today – everyone’s at it, why not join in the fun? You can drink cocktails like they did in Sex and the City! You can play Nintendo into the dead of night! Absolutely nobody in the world gives a toss about you, but, never mind, you’ve won the lottery of life.

Connected to this syndrome is another unacknowledged truth: that a lot of single people are mad. Some of them are single because they are mad. They tack uplifting quotes to their bedroom walls; they try to lure the attached away from their beloved with promises of a fabulous new life in which no one ever need share a tube of toothpaste again. They begin to excel in those activities that are traditionally dominated by the singleton culture, stalking and conspiracy theorising. But most of them are mad because they’re being driven insane by the pressure to be ecstatic about being single. Under the cover of normality they’re sectionable, trying to justify why they want to be alone so much. To this end they forensically inspect the relationships of their friends. “A lot of people are with the wrong people for the wrong reasons,” is their mantra and sincere hope. They gullibly fall for the claims of their friends with children who tell them how lucky they are to have nothing to do at the weekends. “How I envy you!” new mothers will tell their single friends. It’s an exercise in self-pity, of course. If in doubt, ask them to swap your life with theirs and watch them clutch their children.

If only there was some service that would reliably predict when any period of non-voluntary solitude would end, it would cut out the anxiety and allow single people to enjoy the good things about their lives: increased lucidity, productivity, creativity and self-awareness. More time. Not being welded together in some smug symbiotic ticking relationship time-bomb. Having your own personality. Less risk of divorce. But drinking cocktails whenever you like with three single and neurotic friends for company is for most people a definition of hell.