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Editor’s Memo

Poverty is not socialism

By Vincent Kahiya

THERE are traits of the Chinese system of governance which that

country would like to be labelled socialist. In fact, the Chinese government would be very happy to be described as socialist to distinguish it from Western capitalism.

This is a country that has embraced open market economic principles, but stands accused of totalitarian governance and human rights abuses. The rights of freedom of expression and association of workers’ representatives continue to be severely curtailed and independent trade unions remain illegal. Political and religious activists have been suppressed and imprisoned while there is no open and direct voting of national leaders.

Last year Chinese premier Wen Jiabao pledged to introduce direct elections at the township level, at least “within a couple of years”.

“China will press for democratic progress, unswervingly reestablish democracy, including direct elections,” he told a news conference prior to the 8th EU-China summit on September 5. “If we Chinese people can manage a village, I believe they can manage a town in several years. This system will be realised step by step.”

Amidst apparent state obduracy and repression, politicians in China have managed to steer their country towards market-driven economic policies practised in Western capitals. They do not make any apologies about this because it is working and it has created wealth.

“Whether a cat is black or white makes no difference. As long as it catches mice, it is a good cat,” Deng Xiaoping said.

Deng ridiculed the Cultural Revolution slogan that held it was “better to be poor under socialism than rich under capitalism”. The blunt, practical Deng offered instead: “Poverty is not socialism.”

This is their own blend of a socialist market economy. The current mode of socialism in China is therefore different from the archaic Maoist collectivisation and state capitalism which failed so dismally in the 1950s. It is deeply rooted in the government creating an environment for individuals and organisations to create wealth.

In its co-operation with Africa today China is happy to advertise the socialist tag to the continent’s crocodilian dictators as a way of winning their outright support.

Our leaders just love being called socialists or even communists. Vice-President Joice Mujuru during her trip to China was given a dose of this version of Chinese socialism. But then her hosts were also quick to advise her that they were learning from the West. The statement by Chinese Development Bank boss Chen Yuan is as revealing as it was confusing to Mai Mujuru.

“We basically combine the socialist stance of our government with the advanced financial market principles we learnt in Washington and London,” he told the VP. What a dichotomy!

The Zimbabwean government is gang-pressing the nation to march East where the inhabitants of that land are looking West for education. Yuan, in his willingness to help, advised Mujuru that his bank was prepared to teach our authorities. I hope this includes monetary authorities — on how to run successful banks!

Mujuru, while in China said 25 years after Independence, Zimbabwe was developing its own brand of a socialist market economy, borrowing concepts from China.

My major fear is that our politicians are likely to adapt the negatives from the Chinese socialist concepts. The major worry here is government justifying repression in the name of promoting economic reform. Other than enacting repressive legislation to silence dissent, our government has over the past six years developed a penchant to control the economy by laying claim to ownership of resources and controlling industrial and commercial processes.

Government is taking us back to the Maoist state capitalism which China dumped in the 1980s under Deng. But Zimbabwe is far from its quest to achieve the basics of a modern socialist market economy because the state has failed to provide an environment which would enable economic players to generate wealth.

It is only a properly structured economy which would enable government to work out a proper system of social safety nets like subsidised health and education, adequate living allowances for the disabled and the aged and to provide affordable services among the poor.

We have however seen a systemic withdrawal of safety nets by a government which has for years claimed to be socialist. Fees at schools and universities are no longer subsidised. Those who cannot afford to pay the high fees charged by state hospitals will die at home. Pensioners have been reduced to paupers. What socialism nhai motherz?

We hope that Mai Mujuru learnt something on her trip to China which we can implement here. But she has to demonstrate a level of aptitude that should enable her to understand that governments have never been known to run businesses properly.

In fact, when government tries to run businesses as is the case in Zimbabwe government debt shoots through the roof and the private sector cannot borrow as it is muscled out by the state.

In China, a big part of state-owned capital was in time turned into private capital which has quickened economic transformation.

We request Mr Yuan to take our rulers through this lesson, especially those who believe our salvation is in printing money! Poverty is not socialism.

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