Last summer I witnessed the symptoms of the slowdown in the Chinese economy: huge building projects in the city of Chongqing with few working on site; the subway system in Lijiang, which also seemed to have been mothballed.
So I jumped at the chance to review this book, even though I expected to have political disagreements with the author because he is a Maoist.
There is no doubt that the speed of economic growth has benefited the ruling elite and widened the gap between rich and poor. It has gone from one of the most equal (but poorest) countries in the world to one with the biggest income gap.
So Li’s reaction to the effect of privatisation on workers’ pay and conditions, plus the effect this has had on climate change, is understandable. However, he looks back to a non-existent golden age.
Unfortunately his rose-tinted glasses ignore the effects of the Great Famine, the Cultural Revolution and the lack of democracy and control that peasant and urban workers had over their lives.
This book makes some important points about the long term damaging effects of climate change but other points often get lost within endless graphs.
Li states that the only way human civilisation can be preserved is by replacing the existing global capitalist system with a new social system based on social equality and ecological sustainability.
He also recognises that there is a growing gap between rising expectations and the ability of Chinese capitalism to deliver.
He describes the increase in the number of “mass incidents” — a term used by the Chinese government to describe strikes, sit-ins, marches, rallies and riots — which has risen from 8,700 in 1993 to over 100,000 in recent years.
Li concludes that it is unlikely that the coming crisis can be resolved within the existing system.
He closes the book by considering three possible scenarios. The first is a popular uprising which would force the Communist Party (CP) leadership to abandon its neoliberal policies.
Li believes this is unlikely. As the recent removal of reformer Bo Xilai shows, the present CP leadership will not give up its power and wealth without a major fight.
The second recognises that the lack of a unified left party in China means challenging national state power is more difficult.
However, as he acknowledges, China is so large that in certain regions, where the local political ruling capitalist class is weak enough, it could be possible for power to fall into the hands of the progressive reformist left.
Li’s third scenario is that the crisis of Chinese capitalism could lead to political and social collapse.
Because Li equates socialism with state capitalism, he believes that China could delink itself from global capitalism by introducing strong protectionism and reducing foreign trade and the need for fossil fuels.
Readers who have read about or visited China will find some little gems within this book, but it is not one I would recommend as an introduction to the problems with the Chinese economy.