China: Apologia with racist characteristics

Once again, laments Eddie Ford, the Morning Star prostrates itself before the corrupt Chinese bureaucracy

The Communist Party of China’s week-long 18th congress concludes on November 14. Held every five years, the congress brings together well over 2,000 voting delegates, and this time 460 non-voting delegates and assorted guests were also invited to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Unlike the last congress, this one will have seen a significant change to the leadership. China’s present rulers have been in power since 2002 and are known as the ‘fourth generation’. Hu Jintao had been the paramount leader, to use the dreadful official jargon, and occupied the positions of CPC general secretary, president of the People’s Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission - he must have been a busy man. But, due to term and age limit restrictions, seven of the nine members of the politburo standing committee (PSC) had to be replaced, including Hu and his prime minister, Wen Jiabao. Overall, about two-thirds of all positions on the central committee and other key leadership bodies were expected to have changed hands.

Rubber stamp

In reality the politburo, as expressed in pristine form through its standing committee, is a self-perpetuating bureaucratic elite that makes all the major decisions - and many of the not so major decisions as well. Almost the ultimate in control-freakery. In keeping with Stalinist norms, the role of the CC is to rubber-stamp the decisions taken by the politburo.

As for the actual congress, it is - obviously - a carefully choreographed affair, everything having been decided in advance. Nothing is left to chance, a bit like a Labour Party or Socialist Workers Party annual conference. Voting and debating, insofar as they happen at all, are purely tokenistic - they can change nothing. God forbid. The real patriotic duty of the delegates, naturally, is to deliver eulogies praising the all-wise leadership - which is what they obediently do. Typically, though the congress opened with a (doubtlessly gripping) televised work report from Hu, after that everything else essentially took place behind closed doors.

Analysts say there were divisions at the very top of the leadership in the run-up to the congress, with two rival factions jostling for position and influence - members loyal to former CPC general secretary Jiang Zemin (1989-2002) are said to be fighting a desperate rearguard battle against the plans by the new leadership for more “competitive elections”, fearful they might lose their privileged positions.

Of course, recent months have also been dominated by the scandal involving former Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai - a former pretender to the leadership. His wife, Gu Kailai, has been jailed for murdering the British businessman, Neil Heywood (the Wall Street Journal claiming that since 2009 Heywood had been “regularly supplying information” to MI6), and Xilai looks set to face trial on a raft of corruption-related charges. Across China, meanwhile, recent cases of official corruption have stoked public anger and there have been a series of high-profile mass protests focusing on land grabs and various environmental issues.

Theoretically, and according to official mythology, the CPC is the “vanguard of the Chinese working class” and the “faithful representative of the interests of the Chinese people of all ethnic groups and the core of leadership over the socialist cause of China”. The CPC’s “minimum programme”, we read, is to “build socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the “maximum programme” is to “realise the communist social system”.

Naturally, the CPC holds “Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory” to be the “guidance of its actions” - not forgetting Hu’s “scientific development concept”, it goes without saying. Furthermore, the party adheres to the “cardinal principles” of the “socialist road”: the “people’s democratic dictatorship”, the “leadership of the Communist Party” and “upholding Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Thought”.

Going by 2011 statistics, the CPC has 83 million members, of whom 6.8 million work full-time for the party or for state agencies. Private businesspeople have been allowed to join since 2001, though they had exerted a powerful influence for many years before that. In fact, seven of the country’s richest men attended the congress - keeping an eye on their investment, you could say.

Joining the party, of course, brings significant privileges. Members get access to “better information”, as the BBC puts it, and many jobs are open only to them. Most significantly, members get to network with decision-makers influencing their careers, lives or businesses. So if you want to get ahead, the place to be is the Communist Party.

Here is the reality of CPC power and the Chinese socio-economic system in general. The bureaucratic party-state machine is run by a bloated, corrupt elite that is developing kleptocratic - and capitalistic - ambitions. To get rich is indeed glorious. In a move that would be highly symbolic at the very least, Liang Wengen - often described as mainland China’s richest man - has been touted as the first private businessman to join the CPC’s central committee. The founder and main shareholder of the Sany Group (a heavy industry manufacturer based in the Hunan sweatshop belt), his personal wealth is variously estimated at somewhere between $8 billion and $11 billion. He told inquisitive western journalists, who wanted to know more about China’s sixth wealthiest man: “My property, even my life, belongs to the party”.

Meanwhile the huge gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. China is now home to both a million dollar millionaires and 150 million people living on $1 a day. Rather than building “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the CPC seems to building instead capitalism with Stalinist characteristics. Or if not that - the law of value and abstract labour do not yet predominate - a Stalinism with very peculiar characteristics.


But none of this bothers the Communist Party of Britain and the Morning Star. Everything is more or less rosy in the Stalinist garden, it transpires. Just a few difficulties that need to be ironed out, as nothing is ever perfect - then job done. Or so we can only deduce from a November 7 article entitled, ‘The other superpower’s elections’, by comrade John Wight. Presumably the same John Wight who is a member of Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity organisation. Doesn’t Solidarity still have some sort of residual allegiance to the cardinal principles of Trotskyist thought?

Anyhow, we discover that the “key difference” between the United States presidential election and the leadership reorganisation in China is the “difference between the political and economic crisis engulfing a declining power” - the US - and the “growing political and economic strength of its emergent rival to the east”. Comrade Wight would have us believe that China is crisis-free and will remain that way in perpetuity. He refers to its “staggering” economic growth, averaging around 10% year on year - a veritable miracle. Though its “growth has dipped” and is predicted to end the year at around 7.7%, the comrade writes, the “success” of the People’s Republic in “weathering the global recession to the extent it has” continues to “confound” western economists. In which case, comrade Wight must be reading different financial journals to this journalist.

Singing further paeans of praise to the Chinese economy, he informs us that due to mass migration from the countryside to the cities the “increased need for jobs” has presented the current leadership with one of the “biggest challenges” any Chinese government has faced “since it opened up its economy in the late 1970s” - ie, allowed private capital to encroach on the state sector, something the CPB (and Solidarity) is keen to denounce anywhere else. But, if the Chinese are doing it, then it must be good.

Thankfully, the comrade tells us, Beijing has gone “some way to meeting this challenge”, as well as “stimulating its economy,” with a “raft of major infrastructure projects” - cleverly “taking advantage” of its “unique position” within the global economy of being deposit-rich, a consequence he thinks of as an economic model that has placed a “priority on saving over consumption”. Meaning that strict controls over the convertibility of the renminbi have “lent further stability” to China’s economy, “acting as a firewall against the sudden and often sharp fluctuations suffered by convertible currencies”. It just sounds too good to be true.

Comrade Wight goes on to note China’s role as the world’s major creditor to the US (something to the tune of $1.2 trillion in 2011), which is “in effect funding” US domestic consumption, and then in a glorious understatement points to this as one of the reasons why the relationship between both countries will “remain mutually dependent” at least in the short term “despite them being adversaries”. In other words, love it or loath it, China is now an integral part of the world capitalist system. US imperialism needs a ‘successful’ China, whilst at the same making strategic moves to contain it. China’s “main priority”, comrade Wight blithely adds, lies in continuing to “ensure the viability of US domestic consumption in order to maintain the US as its largest export market”.

Cheeks flushing, the future dawning, the comrade informs about another prediction - that China’s GDP will have “caught up” with the US by 2018, though US per capita GDP will still remain considerably higher. However, he confidently writes, “based on current projections” - those magic words - China’s per capita GDP will “outstrip” that of the US by 2030. Yet this is idle speculation of the worst sort. A lot can happen between now and 2030.

Most damning of all - for comrade Wight, that is - is the following passage: “Western critics of China have long pointed to the lack of democratic and political rights enjoyed by its citizens. But this reflects the paucity of understanding in the west when it comes to the distinct development of Chinese culture and its fractured history. The relationship between the state and society in China is much different from its western counterpart. In China the state is seen as sacrosanct, with a premium placed on unity over the ability to change course through the election of a new government every few years and thus risk instability.”

Why did we not grasp this before? Chinese workers do not need or want democracy - an imperialist construct that we can safely treat with contempt. In fact, as comrade Wight so helpfully explains, democracy is somehow inherently ‘unChinese’ - just not part of the country’s psyche. Let’s face it, they will never understand this democracy business. Frankly, such comments are almost racist. In the last century these sorts of ideas were used to justify South African apartheid, British colonialism and the Nazi dictatorship.

Although comrade Wight is nowadays a regular fixture at the paper, he is not, as far as I know, a member of the CPB, from whom you might expect a more nuanced approach - for example, the November 9 editorial comments that “many in China resent the widening gap between rich and poor as a result of its market-socialist policies”. Yet comrade Wight’s has so far been the only feature article on the CPC congress. And, despite reservations about so-called ‘market socialism’ (the encroachment of capitalism, in other words) in the last analysis Star writers will always speak positively about China.

Sadly, prostrating itself before the corrupt bureaucracy comes with the job description. One of the paper’s central duties, after all, is to support all the ‘socialist countries’ - even one where economic growth is driven by capital and where state and private capital closely interweave. But no guessing, from reading the Star, that China has embraced the capitalist market with a vengeance and that the working class - far from collectively running society - are in a worse position than workers in most capitalist countries.

The CPB’s programme, Britain’s road to socialism, excuses ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ in this way: “Determined not to suffer the same fate” as the Soviet Union, “China’s communists have placed greatest emphasis on economic and social development”. So “state power is being used to combine economic planning and public ownership with private capital and market mechanisms, with the aim of building a socialist society in its primary stage”.

None so blind as ‘official communists’.