An attempt to become masters : the oral history of Jiangnan Shipyard workers in the 1950s

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An attempt to become masters : the oral history of Jiangnan Shipyard workers in the 1950s

 

Author: Liang, Jingting
Title: An attempt to become masters : the oral history of Jiangnan Shipyard workers in the 1950s
Degree: M.Phil.
Year: 2016
Subject: Working class -- China.
Communism -- China.
Jiang nan zao chuan chang -- History.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: 125 pages
Language: English
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b2929104
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/8784
Abstract: China had witnessed sea changes since the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949. In the urban industrial sector, the state organized workplaces into the socialist factory regime, especially in terms of the work unit system throughout the Mao era. Under public ownership, working-age urban residents would be employed in corresponding work units, enjoying permanent job tenure and comprehensive welfare provisions from the enterprise. This means that both the production and reproduction spheres of industrial enterprises underwent drastic transformation in the 1950s China. Socialism is about constructing alternative production relations as well as social relations in the new society. Examining the factory regime in Communist China could be an interesting angle to rethink Chinese socialism in the Mao era.
This thesis reinterprets the factory regime and the formation of the socialist working class in Communist China. The story is told through a case study of Jiangnan Shipyard, which, as one of the premier heavy industrial enterprises in modern China, was at the epicenter of socialist industrialization in the 1950s. I argue that although the Jiangnan Shipyard factory regime in the 1950s' largely adopted the Soviet industrialization model, laborers' narratives demonstrated that the work unit system and Communist ideological emphasis on manual labor provided the workers with great autonomy in the labor process. Meanwhile, workers' reminiscences depicted the Party's grassroots mobilization mechanism at the shop-floor level, challenging the conventional binary conceptual framework that juxtaposes the state versus the working class in the context of socialism. The process of workers' subjectivity formation in Jiangnan Shipyard in the 1950s also challenged the communist neo-traditionalism and socialist working class moral economy paradigms in explaining the socialist factory regime. The case study reflected that the socialist work unit system and political mobilization at the shop-floor level realized a potential of empowerment as it transformed workers from exploited manual laborers to the masters of the state, glorifying the dignity of labor in socialist industrialization. However, my examination also illustrated that despite Jiangnan Shipyard workers in the 1950s enjoying full membership and considerable autonomy in the factory, real workplace democracy including self-managed labor processes and elections at the shop-floor level was absent. Lacking workplace democracy eventually led to the workers' factionalized rebellion during the Cultural Revolution as well as the dismantling of the socialist work unit system and working class in the post-Mao era. The story of Jiangnan Shipyard in the 1950s opens up our imagination of the socialist factory regime and allows us to rethink the way of building workers' self-managed production and reproduction structures in order to achieve full development of human capacities in the Mao era.

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