‘Socialism’ in China: Mammon’s new apostles

Beijing was host last week to the 15th congress of the Chinese Communist Party - and all the talk was of “downsizing” and “merging”, not revolution and socialism. Eddie Ford examines the true nature of Chinese communism

There are those who like to present China as the last refuge of Marxist orthodoxy. Some - mainly in the bourgeois press - emphasise how this supposed ‘orthodoxy’ is under serious threat from market-based reforms and the inexorable march of capital-driven globalisation.

Others insist that the Communist Party of China remains true to socialist principles. Thus in the latest issue of Socialist News, the paper of the Socialist Labour Party, ‘Don Hoskins’ (aka Roy Bull of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review and Stockport SLP) happily informs us of Beijing’s “clever use of some capitalist trade and production methods”, and how the CPC tops are “out-trading capitalism by its own methods” (September/October).

Whatever interpretation you opt for, the regime in Beijing is associated by these pundits with Marxism and Leninism - treating it either as a model for communism, or a dire warning of what you will get if you tamper with the ‘natural order’ of things.

We need to unceremoniously dump all such slanders. Communists who are inspired by the philosophy and methodology of Marx and Lenin, as opposed to JV Stalin, know that the ‘communism’ served up by the corrupt and bloated elite in China is thoroughly anti-working class, anti-internationalist, and therefore objectively anti-communist.

Last week’s 15th Party Congress was a living affirmation of decaying ‘official communism’, even if Andrew Higgins of The Guardian did insist on describing it as manifesting a “lockstep obedience to Leninism” and of“clinging to a Leninist political model that brooks no public criticism” (September 19 and September 20). In reality, this five-yearly, proposterously stage-managed, immaculately choreographed ‘official communist’ back-slapping session was a grotesque living negation of Leninism. In its inexplicable rituals, its personality cultism, its holy pantheons, its secret language and secret ceremonies, its repressive Stalinite precision, its strict hierarchies, it is far closer to a religion - or to a North Korean party congress - than to scientific Leninism, which stresses the necessity of an open clash of contending and opposing views.

The 2,000 delegates, who were - supposedly - democratically elected by the CPC’s 58 million members, behaved more like the replicants from Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner than conscious, critical human beings - except that the replicants were more lifelike than your average CPC bureaucrat. If ‘speak your weight’ communism is what turns you on, then you would have been at home in Beijing last week.

Not that this is a new ‘official communist’ phenomenon, of course. The outstanding Bolshevik revolutionary, Christian Rakovsky, commented in 1928 about the burgeoning Soviet bureaucracy:

“By means of demoralising methods, which convert thinking communists into machines, destroying will, character and human dignity, the ruling circles have succeeded in converting themselves into an unremovable and inviolate oligarchy” (quoted in L Trotsky The revolution betrayed New York 1989, p100).

The ‘climax’ of the congress came on the Friday, with president Jiang Zemin’s 61-page, two and a half hours-long speech. The contents of his deadening propagandist oratory had been kept an official state secret - along with much else of the proceedings. During the previous congress a brave but suicidal journalist leaked some of the contents of Jiang’s speech and promptly got life imprisonment. Such ‘anarchy’ was not permitted to occur this time round.

Naturally, Jiang Zemin, who is officially labelled as one of the “core of the third generation”, praised what had been a “unified” and “victorious” congress - not such an achievement when no democracy or dissent is tolerated. Sounding eerily like Tony Blair at the TUC’s conference in Brighton the other week, Jiang Zemin told the passive delegates that China “must live in the real world” - for all of the fact that Marx had “invented a fine philosophy”.

We all know what the “real world” is - the market and the introduction of capitalistic social relations. Indeed, the air was filled with buzzwords like “mergers”, “shareholding”, “down-sizing”, etc, which gave the congress more of the air of a business management school than a communist congress.

Jiang Zemin, and the congress, gave affirmation to what bourgeois pundits are already calling the ‘sale of the century’ - ie, the introduction of a massive privatisation programme, the scale of which has never been seen before. Some 10,000 of the 13,000 large and medium-sized industries are to sold off to shareholders. Servicing the $96 billion debt generated by the fossilising 118,000 state-owned industrial firms - referred to as huang le (‘turned yellow like falling leaves’) - is the first priority for the apparatchiks assembled in Beijing.

It is estimated that seven percent of the urban workforce has been made redundant already, though in parts of Manchuria official internal reports estimate the figure to be as high as 60%. The state sell-off will immediately effect two-thirds of the 170 million urban workers who work in these state firms, who - to use the official Party euphenism - will be xiagang (‘stepped down from their post’). It is likely that state dormitories and other facilities that provide some security to xiagang workers will be sold off as well, which could lead to severe homelessness and hardship. This is in addition to the 40-50 million rural workers who have flooded into the inadequately serviced cities in recent year, and will continue to do so.

But, as the saying goes, if it ‘ain’t hurting, it ain’t working’. As Jiang Zemin put it, “It will cause temporary difficulties for workers. But, fundamentally speaking, it is conducive to economic development, thus conforming to the long-term interests of the working class.” He also argued that ‘public ownership’ through shares is in itself a form of state ownership, a theme repeated by the delegate-drones. The Party apparatchiks have grown fat on these state firms, which have degenerated into personal fiefdoms that enrich officials. As one xiangang former textile worker grumbled, “They eat breakfast on the state, ride the state’s bus, smoke the state’s cigarettes and then eat lunch on the state. This is our communism” (quoted in The Guardian September 19).

Whatever the exact nature of the property/social relations in China, the World Bank is extremely impressed by the developments. In a new report, China 2020: development challenges in the new century, it lavishes praise upon China’s “remarkably high savings rate, a strong record of pragmatic reforms, relative stability, a disciplined and literate labour force, a supportive diaspora and a growing administrative capacity”. It also recommends a “shake-out of labour” and a “clarity of ownership structure” - essential if the remaining 187,000 non-industrial state enterprises are to be ‘sorted’ (The Guardian September 19).

No doubt heartened by such authoritative approval, the congress happily announced that Deng Xiaoping Theory is to be enshrined in the party constitution, alongside Mao Zedong Thought.

This follows in the best Stalinite tradition - the promotion of infallible leadership. As long ago as 1964, the Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher remarked on how Maoism has to “vindicate its own record, its past commitments, and its rigidly ritualistic canon which, like every such canon, requires that formalistic continuity be unalterably upheld. The infallible leader could not have been in error on any of those past occassions on which he extolled the Stalinist orthodoxy.” Deutscher referred to “this need to uphold established cults and magic rituals designed to impress primitive and illiterate minds” (Marxism, wars and revolutions London 1984, p211).

It would take a great leap of imagination to say that the ‘elections’ to the 193-member central committee and the politburo were a close run thing. The ‘elections’ to the new central committee were from the prepared party list - ie, the number of candidates equalled the number of seats. This year, admittedly, there was a tokenistic gesture to these ‘elections’, in the shape of an “exceed-quota election”, to use the official jargon. This meant you could indicate a preference for alternative central committee members - but the drawback to this magnificant democratic mechanism was that these votes counted for nothing.

In the best ‘official communist’ traditions, the new politburo was elected by the central committee from behind closed doors. This election further secured Jiang Zemin’s grip over power. His most serious rival, Qiao Shi, aged 72 - secret police commissar and ‘number three’ in the ageing regime - was dumped from the politburo. Another contender, Liu Huaqing, aged 82 - a veteran of the revolutionary war and ‘number six’ in the pecking order - was also booted out. The prime minister, Li Peng, prime architect of the Tiananmen Square repression, remained as ‘number two’. Significantly and for the very first time, no members of the Peoples Liberation Army were elected to the politburo.

Frankly, for genuine communists the CPC congress is a repugnantoccasion - even a bourgeois journalist could hardly fail to note that the Internationale, sung at the end of the congress, was“now entirely purged of subversive intent”. In fact, the Party congress had more of the characteristics of a crude, anti-communist parody of what communism is meant to be like. Remember all those paranoid-filled American sci-fi B movies from the 1950s ...?

The events at Tiananmen Square resurfaced at one point though, and threatened to disturb the “police-manufactured monolithism” (Trotsky) on display - the nightmare scenario for every good Party bureaucrat. Faxed copies of a three-page letter, purportedly signed by Zhao Ziyang, had been circulated in Beijing, and one of these copies had found its way into the congress. The 77-year old former president was sacked in 1989 for “splitting the Party” - ie, he was shown in the media making a tearful address to the students in the square. His samizdat letter stated, “Everone knows that at the time most of the students wanted punishment of the corrupt and to promote political reform and not overthrow the Communist Party.” This contravenes the official Party view - and the line peddled by comrade ‘Hoskins’ in Socialist News - that the events in Tiananmen Square were a “counterrevolutionary rebellion”.

The Party responded in the only manner it knows how - by upping the levels of Stalinite repression. The police and army literally barricaded inthe congress, in order to prevent any outside infiltration of ‘subversive’ material. They also brutally hauled away all petitioners - no matter how mild or moderate the complaints were. ‘Lock ’em up and ask questions later’ is the reflex Stalinite ethos favoured by the bureaucracy.

Predictably, sycophants of the Beijing elite - and even some comrades - have compared the ‘reforms’ in China to that of Lenin’s NEP. Such a comparison is not only spurious, but contemptible. Lenin’s NEP was openly acknowledged at the time to be a retreat from socialism. A retreat by a regime which - while suffering clearly from bureaucratic deformations and general backwardness - represented the interests of the working class and was guided, no matter how imperfectly, by Marxist internationalism. It was also responding, in a sense, to pressure from below - ie, the suffering peasantry - which, if ignored, would have destroyed the regime and unleashed bloody counterrevolution.

 China’s ‘NEP’, on the other hand, is mindlessly praised as a glorious step forward - as was made abundantly clear by a 100-foot banner above a Pizza Hut in downturn Beijing, which proclaims: “Victoriously Advance Along the Road of Constructing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics!” A ‘victorious advance’ introduced by a thoroughly corrupt and exploitative regime, whose interests are organically antithetical to those of the working class, of genuine socialism and communism. The Party elite’s ‘encouragement’ of capitalistic social relations from above is motivated both by a desire for self-enrichment and by the necessity of full integration with the capitalist global economy, not to provide a ‘breathing space’ for socialism. Anybody who says otherwise has taken leave of their senses - or is after ‘Beijing gold’ (in which case they will almost certainly be very disappointed).

We are obliged to point out that Jiang Zemin’s enthusiasm for privatisation and ‘monetarist’ fiscal prudence is an inevitable consequence of the CPC’s long-standing commitment to national socialism. This commitment can be traced back to the 1949 revolution itself, which took the form of a military takeover of the cities by an anti-imperialist peasant army rather than an expression of workers’ self-activity from below. The working class was silent and passive. From there it was a relatively short step to the madness of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which sent society - and ‘socialism’ - shuddering backwards into primitivism.

The course taken by China since 1949 serves to underline the fundamental truth that real socialism depends on revolution “‘all at once’ and simultaneously” (Marx and Engels) in the advanced capitalist countries.

National socialism has been exposed by 20th century history itself.