06-09-2021: The dramatic imposition of lockdown tyranny across much of the Western world since early 2020 by governments plying their liberal credentials has thrown politics upside down. In direct contrast to the 20th century, we now find that it is the “left” which appears to uphold minority rule, governmental authority and the power of the corporate elite – while the “right” defends basic civil and democratic rights and freedom from despotic and arbitrary use of state power. In reality, the “left” drifted to the right over the two decades prior to the “Covid” lockdowns and was unable to reverse course once fascistic terror became a reality – while the “right” more or less stayed put and found themselves taking up the mantle of liberty from capitalist suppression, despite themselves.
“Left” and “Right” against “China”
Regardless of lockdowns mixing left and right like a kitchen blender, there are important exceptions to the rule. There are leftists which oppose lockdowns, in amongst what might appear on the surface to be a “right-wing” anti-lockdown movement. These groups are crucial, for without a working-class fightback against lockdown fascism, a future too horrible to contemplate beckons. Yet it is also vital that left-wing opponents of lockdown regimes have a correct understanding of the class nature of “China” – specifically, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The anti-lockdown movement will scarcely achieve its goals of freedom if it maintains a similar narrative of the PRC as the very forces it is railing against. Similarly, anti-lockdown leftists must make a complete break from the anti-PRC invective both of the majority of the anti-lockdown movement AND imperialism itself.
For example, the Left Lockdown Skeptics (LLS) in the United Kingdom (UK) are breaking important ground by providing a basis for the building of left-wing opposition to lockdown enslavement. However, they sometimes fall into the trap of castigating the PRC in the same manner as their right-wing pro-lockdown opponents – both the lockdown fake left and pro-lockdown state and non-state forces. On the issue of social credit, some who write for LLS make the error of reiterating the essentially false claims that the PRC uses a “social credit” system to monitor every political and non-political move of Chinese workers. Hence, LLS distributes articles which claim that citizens in the West under lockdown dictates now “know what it feels like” to be living in the PRC under “Chinese Communist Party” (in reality, the Communist Party of China or CPC) rule. Another LLS writer complains that onerous vaccine passports could be easily adapted into a CPC style social credit system.
Such plaintive cries display a misunderstanding of the very partial implementation of a social credit system in the PRC, as well as the overlooking of virtually identical systems which have long been in place in the West – albeit often maintained by privately owned corporations. From the off, the very term “social credit” is arguably lost in translation. Social credit, translated as shehui xinyong, carries a different meaning in the Chinese context. Shehui in the PRC does necessarily mean social in terms of individual interpersonal connections. Shehui is also used to refer to “society” or the “public”. Thus a more accurate translation of “social credit” could be “the credit of society/the public”. Indeed, the PRC’s “social credit” system – which is years away from implementation over the entire country – applies not just to individuals but also to companies and government entities. The notion that social credit in the PRC is where the central government checks and monitors every movement and interaction of the 1.4 billion residents of what is effectively the continent of China – is an illusion. The Western corporate media, at the height of the New Cold War against the PRC, obviously has an interest in pumping out wild and fraudulent stories about “repression” in China. Both the anti-lockdown movement and left lockdown opponents make an error if they replicate parts of the New Cold War anti-China propaganda barrage which emanates from the very same forces they seek to counter.
Bogus Black Mirror comparisons
Many critics, from the “left” and right, make allegorical comparisons of the PRC’s social credit system to the Netflix series Black Mirror, which portrays human unease about the ever-increasing use of technology and how it might be used for control. This specious argumentation is well wide of the mark. Only a few dozen towns and cities across the entirety of mainland China have a social credit system, so there is no such thing as a national social credit score. The government does assign social credit codes – not scores – to companies and organisations, for registration and tax purposes. Individuals have a national ID number, for tax purposes. The existing social credit blacklists use these numbers, like almost every other institution in the PRC. What is the difference between this and a tax file number in the West? Moreover, where they exist, the social credit systems DO NOT give a comprehensive ranking or score to each individual, and DO NOT give a score for “good” and “bad” credit. Companies, institutions and individuals are only blacklisted for serious offences such as fraud or pollution. That is, blacklisting only occurs for actions which are serious crimes – the equivalents of which would certainly be viewed as such in any Western nation.
The PRC’s social credit system, which is only in its first stages, is intended to give an overview of the trustworthiness of firms, organisations, governmental bodies and individuals. In its essence it is about whether organisations or individuals comply with legally prescribed social, economic and contractual commitments. It is NOT designed for political monitoring and control – though it is possible it could be used for this down the track. Importantly, there is little evidence that the PRC’s social credit system – in the small minority of locations where it exists – is opposed by Chinese workers. In the PRC, anxiety about pianzi, or swindlers, runs deep. “How do I know you are not a pianzi?” is a question which many Chinese ask if they are called on the phone by a telemarketer, or receive a knock on the front door from a salesperson. In fact, contrary to the knee-jerk (false) alarm over social credit displayed by some in the West, there are strong indications that Chinese workers firmly support the social credit systems – at least for now. Believe it or not, the social credit system in the PRC is generally NOT viewed as a system of surveillance. Rather, in the main, it is seen as a way to promote a more honest and law-abiding society. In a society where fraud and corruption was widespread – possibly due to the expansion of pro-market and “free enterprise” reforms from 1978 onwards – social credit is currently seen as a method to protect consumers and hold firms accountable.
Is social credit linked to social security?
The PRC’s fledgling social credit system must not be confused with its social security system. While the PRC’s social security system is not fully comprehensive, in recent decades it has vastly expanded to cover the overwhelming majority of working people – at a time when the West’s social security systems have been gutted by years of funding cuts, leaving the unemployed and the disabled with bare pittances on which to survive. The PRC’s social security system is totally disconnected from the social credit system, so there is no overlap at all. One cannot be excluded from social security even if they end up on a social credit blacklist. The PRC’s social security system is comprised of six streams, to which both employers and employees make contributions. These are: Pension insurance, housing fund, medical insurance, maternity insurance, work related injury insurance and unemployment insurance. Maternity insurance and work-related injury insurance is paid into by employers only.
The rate of contribution is variable, depending on the location of the scheme throughout the PRC. Generally employers pay a higher rate of contribution compared to employees, and pay five times as much into medical insurance, and roughly double the amount into both pension and unemployment insurance. While in the 20th century public retirement pensions were won and awarded at a reasonable age, in recent decades the age of eligibility is pushed higher and higher. In some cases, aged pensions do not apply until the age of 70, with a life expectancy of around 79 years! In contrast, working women in the PRC are able to access pension payments from the age of 50 if they work in blue-collar industries, 55 in white-collar industries, while it is age 60 for men. While there are some moves to slowly and gradually increase these ages due to increasing life expectancies, it still tracks in a different direction to the stagnating capitalist economies of Europe, the USA and Australia.
The West’s de facto social credit system
Largely unbeknownst to Western critics of the PRC’s social credit system is the fact that a form of “social credit” has been in existence there for decades – albeit under the aegis of private corporations rather than governments. In the USA, nine out of ten money lending institutions use the FICO Score to make a risk assessment of the credit history of each individual they consider engaging. On the popular market site Ebay, each seller has a rating ranging from a yellow star (how ironic), up 12 levels to a silver shooting star. These stars indicate how honest the seller was, how communicative they were, and how fast they delivered the item. This certainly sounds like a “trustworthiness indicator” – which is one aim of social credit in the PRC. Moreover, there is a prominent US corporation which sells equipment that maintains lists of “objectionable customers” who can then be excluded from bars and restaurants.
Blacklists are by no means the preserve of only partial aspects of the PRC’s social credit system either. The Hollywood blacklist was notorious for denying employment to anyone suspected of having communist or even left-wing sympathies. Top construction firms in the United Kingdom (UK) kept blacklists for years on building workers who were also Trade Union activists. In Australia, tenants of rental properties can easily end up on the tenancy database, which functions as a blacklist for those who miss rental payments – which can directly lead to homelessness. In New York, insurance firms can legally set their premiums based on the social media feeds (!) of applicants. The monopolistic Airbnb now has six million listings, so a ban from their app may mean people end up sleeping on the streets. What is more, Airbnb can ban anyone at any time, for any reason. Arguably, young people in the US cannot take part in society if they are banned from Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, PayPal, Uber, Amazon and so on.
All of this can be actioned by Western Big Tech, which can claim that it is not part of the government until the cows come home. By default, however, these giant corporations are simply the arms of the capitalist state – and this is becoming more and more apparent to the millions of workers struggling against lockdown tyranny. Italian fascist leader in the 1920s Benito Mussolini aptly noted that fascism, brought down to its bare bones, is a merging of capitalist corporations with the state. When Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Retail and others are the most enthusiastic enforces of lockdown and vaccine mandates, they have far eclipsed the role the state had during “liberal democracy” in the 20th Century.
For a permanent end to state surveillance
To be sure, the social credit system in the PRC could potentially be used for political surveillance. Even if so, this will be not that far from what already occurs via private ownership of monopoly corporate megaliths in the West. Working people have the right to be free from state/corporate surveillance at all times. The prerequisite for this is the removal of the system of commodity production for private profit in the West, along with the replacement of the conservative and nationalist bureaucracies which lead deformed workers’ states such as the PRC. That is to say, given the exigencies stemming from the imposition of Covid repression, socialist revolutions in the West and proletarian political revolutions in the East are now critical. Workers in the West need to urgently bring down both the states and governments which inflict lockdowns, while workers in the PRC need to maintain the state which emerged out of 1949 while injecting it with the guidance of genuine Leninism.
The conservative Stalinist caste which rules the PRC can be criticised for many things, but not for social credit – or at least not yet. If they were bona fide Marxists, the PRC’s political rulers would be seeking to march alongside the workers of the world in a pitch battle to supersede class society. The extension of workers’ republics internationally would deliver a death blow to the tottering imperialist regimes, which are devolving into lockdown fascism in order to save their own hides. This is a future which working people can prevent, if they are prepared to collectively defend themselves against Covid repression – by Western politicians or by CPC bureaucrats. Indispensable for locating the path to freedom is the political leadership of a vanguard party upholding Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. Covidian terror can be vanquished by workers fighting for a new socialist order.
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