Hayek as read by Chinese communists
By Alberto Mingardi
I’ve just run into a very curious document. You can now download to your Kindle “The Introduction to the Communist Party of China’s Translation of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom“, conveniently translated into English by Matt Dale.
The Road to Serfdom was translated into Chinese in 1962–perhaps not by chance–right after the disasters of land collectivization and the Great Leap Forward became apparent. The book wasn’t meant to circulate. As Dale clarifies, “it was considered an ‘internal document’ and was not allowed to leave book collections of high-level institutions”.
This short introduction is however a very interesting read. Here are some highlights.
The Chinese had already translated Prices and Production, and wanted to have available “another book like this that is full of poison to provide a reference for academic circles when reading and criticizing modern bourgeois reactionary economic theory.”
Hayek is presented as “an influential bourgeoisie thinker in the capitalist world,” whose aim in writing “The Road to Serfdom” was “to suppress the influence of socialism on the laboring masses that was growing by the day.” “The Road to Serfdom” is thus presented as an attempt to curb the growing sympathy for the Soviet system in the West, after the joint victory in WWII. The success of “The Road to Serfdom,” and its enormously popular Reader Digest condensed version, came by and large as a surprise to Hayek himself; I seriously doubt he wrote a book with the aim of having mechanics and steel-workers read it avidly (and he won’t have been the right man for such an endeavor).
Interestingly enough, little attention is paid to what is often caricatured as “the slippery slope” argument in Hayek. Of course, with his belief that liberty could not endure under economic planning, Hayek exposed “his identity as a defender of capitalism.”
The Chinese resented the equation of Nazi and Communist “planning,” but also took exception to “some nationalization proposals” (i.e., those promoted by social-democrats in the West) that were “merely swindles attempting to confuse the labour masses.” They considered Hayek’s arguments “fabricated” and “completely disproved by the entire process of historical development and the experiences of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in implementing planned economies” (oh, well…).
What is perhaps most notable is how the Chinese translator described Hayek’s “neo-liberal viewpoints.” “Neo-liberals”, he writes, “conditionally defend the system of free competition and attempt to integrate free competition and government intervention. On the one hand, they still want to maintain free competition and the market price mechanism, on the other hand, when difficulties occur, they seek assistance from government intervention.” Wait a minute, wasn’t Hayek a “liquidationist”? (For a serious answer, see this excellent post by Don Boudreaux here)
It has to be said, however, that the introduction ends with a marvelously Hayekian point: “Our proficiency is limited, and translation mistakes are inevitable, so we respectfully hope readers will make a comment.”