Capitalism’s greatest triumph over the past three decades has been its plantation and flourishing in the post-Moa reforms of the People’s Republic of China. Under Deng Xiaoping Chinese pressure on Great Britain and Portugal led to the return of Hong Kong and Macau to Beijing control and the realisation of Deng’s “one country, two systems” policy in which capitalism and communism would coexist. Mao Zedong’s 1966 Cultural Revolution was partly a product of his fears that Deng and Liu Shaoqi – who was ultimately branded a traitor by Mao – were “capitalist-roaders” who would eventually lead China back to capitalism.

After Mao reformist policies seeking a hybrid state-economic system were pursued under Deng, as Chinese head of state, through the early 1980s, and carried forward by his successors Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping. Through this period (1981 – present), especially during Jintao leadership tenure, the Chinese economy – following Deng’s model of a “socialism with Chinese characteristics” – underwent staggering economic growth, reinvigorating China’s international reputation and carrying the country through a world economic crisis relatively unscathed.

China’s capitalist experiment, what Jiang Zemin had labelled the “socialist market economy,” coupled with the winds of change in the Soviet Union, brought with it hopes of democratic reform. Pro-democracy students and other protesters broadly identifying under the banner of the Democracy Movement occupied Tiananmen Square during the spring of 1989 and gained a great deal of support from the people of Beijing. Declaring martial law, the Central Committee cracked down on the protests, sending tanks and soldiers onto the streets. The Tiananmen Square massacre that ensued led to the killing of what some estimates put in the thousands of protesters and civilians. This and the anti-democratic repression since has been China’s emphatic declaration that capitalism and democracy will not go hand-in-hand in the People’s Republic.


In the post-Cold War West China’s economic success has been seen as capitalism’s coming of age – the old paradigm of ideological fusion/cooperation with democracy against communist economic rigidity has passed away. The architects of global capitalism have learned that democracy is not a necessary ingredient in the capitalist recipe for economic hegemony. Indeed capitalism does not require a democratic system of state governance, and in fact it has often shown itself to be a hindrance to the will of the free market. What this has produced, with greater international trade cooperation with the PRC and the formation of more radical corporatist global trade agreements, is a fundamental shift in the locus of power. Increasingly in Western liberal democracies what we are seeing is the subjugation of the democratic will of nation states to the demands of globalised market forces.

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3 thoughts on “Democracy and the Global Power Shift

  1. That’s been true for a long time. America rushed to Nazi Germany to do business and Texaco provided Hitler’s government with formulas and techniques that greatly enhanced their war effort while IBM’s subsidiary provided the card reading machines that made rapid German deployments (and the Holocaust) possible. jp

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    1. True. I suppose one difference is that the capitalist industries here were external to the Reich, but the Nazis were very much in favour of German industry and indigenous capitalism. As the story of Oskar Schindler reminds us, the capitalists of the new Germany had the benefit of slave labour.


  2. Your showing the tank man picture – at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, I was sitting in front of the television with Ming, our exchange student who came to Tahlequah, Oklahoma straight from Beijing, the year before. He would read the tank insignias for me. The tank that stopped for the gentleman was a local unit from the city. All the shooting was done by units from North China, their spoken form of the Chinese language is not understandable to the citizens of the city and vice versa.

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