Oct 1, 2018
On Monday, September 24, the Trump administration appeared to take a step toward a trade war with China. It began to impose a 10% tariff on 200 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods coming into the United States, spanning thousands of products, including food seasonings, baseball gloves, network routers and industrial machinery parts. These tariffs are on top of tariffs that the Trump administration imposed earlier this year on 50 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods. Taken together, it means roughly half of the products that China sells to the United States each year are now being hit by American tariffs.
What is behind this escalation in trade tensions is hard to know. Is Trump simply upping the ante in his usual spectacular fashion in ongoing negotiations with the Chinese government, on behalf of the American bourgeoisie? And how much are these tariffs part of a xenophobic appeal by Trump and the Republicans, aimed at voters in the upcoming mid-term elections?
What is clear is that these tariffs aimed at China carry all kinds of dangers. As history has shown over and over again, what starts as a seemingly small trade war could develop into a real shooting war. Capitalists around the world are in a never-ending fight over not just terms of trade, but control of resources, markets, territories and wealth.
Trump, who repeats the same kinds of lies as other politicians, often says that China is taking advantage of the U.S. But the reality is that the U.S. capitalist class has been able to extract enormous amounts of wealth from investment, production and trade from the growing Chinese manufacturing sector. The U.S. capitalist class even takes advantage of the trade deficit with China that Trump always talks about, since the Chinese government and bourgeoisie put many of the dollars that they gain in trade back into the U.S. financial system, helping to boost the profits of U.S. banks and other financial companies.
But U.S. capitalists don’t like the fact that they cannot impose their terms on the Chinese bourgeoisie in the same way that they can impose on other big countries with comparable levels of development, such as India or Brazil.
What makes China different is not just its enormous size, but the fact that in 1949, there was a successful revolution. It was a revolution that served the interests of the Chinese capitalist class, but it was a revolution nonetheless. And because the Chinese revolution was able to resist the pressures of the U.S. and other imperial powers, the Chinese economy developed somewhat independently for several decades.
So when the big imperialist powers, with the U.S. at the head, decided to begin to slowly reintegrate the Chinese economy back into the world economy, starting in the late 1970s, the Chinese bourgeoisie kept some small level of that independence.
The business press in the U.S. is filled with complaints of “conditions” that the Chinese government and businesses put on U.S. business, starting with the transfer of some technology and the sharing of profits in joint ventures.
In the future, a worsening economic crisis that shrinks markets and profits for the capitalist class could very well bring the U.S. imperialists to take a bigger share of the profits produced in China, and to re-divide the world by force, by igniting a big new war. The potential exists for a war that could plunge the peoples of the world into new depths of barbarism and terror, absent an intervention by the working class to take power away from the imperialists.