Part 12: Specter of Mao haunts Beijing
In this series of articles, which began in March, it has been our contention that the vilification, slander, character assassination and criminal charges against Bo Xilai and his spouse, Gu Kailai, have been a smokescreen put up by the current leadership of the Communist Party of China to conceal an intense political struggle and suppress an emerging left force within the party.
Joining in this campaign, even leading it at times, have been the imperialist media. They have worked in concert with the CPC leadership to circulate every rumor, every unsubstantiated accusation against Bo and Gu to a global audience and back to China. This so-called “free press” without hesitation gave its verdict of “guilty as charged,” despite the fact that neither Bo nor Gu has had any opportunity to state their cases to China and the world, nor has the government produced any credible evidence subject to open, adversarial examination.
It is therefore ironic that the Oct. 16 issue of Time magazine unintentionally gave weighty evidence about the true political character of the struggle. In a scurrilous, gloating anti-China article, it points out that in “the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship magazine,” called Seeking Truth, “an article appeared entitled ‘Sparing No Effort to Push Forward Reform and Opening Up.’ This is the last issue before the Nov. 8 conference of the Party Congress.”
The title of this key article confirms the theme pounded for months now by the right wing in China and by the imperialist media. Of course, a document title does not mean the program can be carried out. There may be strong resistance, from above and below, to opening up further to imperialism and to promoting capitalist political forms that would give a greater opening to both China’s capitalist class and the world bourgeoisie.
Significant omission of Mao
But, even more important, Time cheerfully points out the conspicuous omission of Mao Zedong from an enumeration of the theoretical leadership of the party. This is the first time that the architect of the Chinese Revolution has been omitted in this manner. It is so scandalous that the leadership may have to pull back in the future.
According to Time’s translation, the relevant part of the Chinese article reads: “We should adjust ourselves to the recent domestic and overseas changes, satisfy the expectations of the masses, strengthen our confidence, uphold the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory and Three Represents, implement the scientific development outlook, further deepen our understanding of the regular patterns of socialism, the rule of the Communist Party and human society’s development.”
Deng Xiaoping Theory pronounced that “to get rich is glorious” and “development is ironclad truth.” It gave pragmatic justification for the rightist line: “Whether a cat is a white cat or a black cat, if it catches mice it is a good cat.” In other words, if capitalism can develop the productive forces, then that is all that counts.
The Three Represents is a line developed by Jiang Zemin, who followed Deng. It put serving “the development of the productive forces” above everything and called for the party to serve “all the people,” meaning not just the workers and peasants but the capitalists, too. Jiang took the dangerous leap of opening the doors of the Communist Party to capitalists.
The theory of “scientificdevelopment” is associated with outgoing President Hu Jintao. It is supposed to deal with the growing class and social antagonisms and mass outbursts that exploded at the end of the Jiang period. It is aimed at curbing inequalities and creating a so-called “harmonious society” in which the antagonisms between capital and labor will be balanced and reconciled.
However, capitalism cannot exist without generating class and social antagonisms, inequality and corruption. At last count, China had 180,000 “mass incidents” in 2011, according to official statistics. These were protests against low wages, harsh conditions, land seizures and other oppressive inequities flowing from the expanding inroads of capitalism and the dramatic erosion of socialist institutions, along with assaults on the socialist spirit accompanying the torrent of pro-market ideology.
If the Time translation is accurate, it speaks volumes about the nature of the struggle. Previous enumerations of the ideological foundations of Chinese socialism have always begun with “Marxism-Leninism ideology” and “Mao Zedong thought.”
On March 14, the day before Bo Xilai was suspended as Chongqing party leader, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao called for reform and denounced the Cultural Revolution.
Business Week of April 4 reported on Wen’s “remarkable and likely last press conference, at the closing of the National People’s Congress last month. With an intensity of bearing suggesting he meant business, Wen launched into a spirited defense of the necessity of China’s continued economic reform, hearkening back to the Third Plenum of the 11th CPC Committee, a crucial meeting that launched the country on its modern-day path toward opening. More surprisingly, the 69-year-old premier also touted the need for political reforms, saying they must go hand in hand with economic ones — although he did not specify what those political reforms should entail.
“But what really caught observers’ attention: Wen raised the topic of the decade-long tragedy of China’s Cultural Revolution, long a taboo subject, and warned its excesses could return.
“‘Reforms have reached a critical stage,’ said Wen. ‘Without the success of political reforms, economic reforms cannot be carried out. The results of what we have achieved may be lost. A historical tragedy like the Cultural Revolution may occur again. Each party member and cadre should feel a sense of urgency,’ said the premier.”
Issue of socialism in China
A detailed exposition of Bo Xilai’s record that further reveals the true character of the struggle has appeared in an essay entitled “The Struggle for Socialism in China: The Bo Xilai Saga and Beyond.” Written by Yuezhi Zhao, Canada Research Chair in Political Economy of Global Communications at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, this contribution, so valuable for an English-speaking audience, was published in the October 2012 issue of Monthly Review.
The author opens by showing that the struggle has been framed by many as between the “Chongqing Model” and the “Guangdong Model.” In Chongqing, Bo had fostered state enterprise, fought inequality and promoted “red culture,” while in Guangdong intense exploitation, deep inequality and the ideology of the capitalist market have become dominant.
Zhao then broadens the discussion: “On the one hand, an extraordinary alliance of Anglo-American capitalist media and right-wing Chinese language media and bloggers have portrayed Bo as being corrupt, dangerous, opportunistic, and cynical. On the other hand, some on the left would question the very notion of socialism in China to begin with. The struggle for socialism in China has been virtually absent from the great mélange of news coverage and commentaries on the case so far.
“Nevertheless, this struggle constitutes the most crucial part of the story. The intriguing and complex communicative politics around the Bo saga is highly symptomatic of ongoing domestic and international battles over the future of China. The underlying drama, therefore, is larger than Bo, and larger even than the Chongqing Model.”
Zhao shines light on what’s behind the struggle against Bo, citing a speech he gave in 2011 on “common prosperity” in which he said: “The polarization of rich and poor is the backward culture of slave owners, feudal lords and capitalists, while common prosperity is the people’s just and advanced culture. The Western culture from the British bourgeois revolution in 1640 has had a history of more than 370 years. They often championed the slogans of ‘freedom, democracy, equality, and fraternity.’ However, they have never mentioned ‘common prosperity’ — a topic that concerns the fundamental interests of the vast majority of humanity.
“Only the communists, with their down-to-earth materialist courage and selfless spirit, write ‘common prosperity’ on their own flag. As comrade Hu Jintao proclaimed at the CCP’s 90th anniversary conference, we must steadfastly pursue the path of common prosperity! We firmly believe, sooner or later, the whole humanity will take on the road of common prosperity.”
According to Zhao, Bo built up state enterprises in Chongqing after he took over in 2007 and used them to improve the lives of the masses. He “took aggressive steps in bridging the urban-rural gap, enabling as many as 3.22 million rural migrants to settle in the city with urban citizenship entitlements in employment, retirement pensions, public rental housing, children’s education and health care. Beginning in 2009, under a program known as 10 Points on People’s Livelihood, Chongqing spent more than half of all government expenditures on improving public welfare, particularly the livelihoods of workers and farmers.”
Where Deng Xiaoping said, “Development is ironclad truth,” Bo said, “People’s livelihood is ironclad truth.”
Specter of Mao haunts Beijing
Zhao says that Bo launched a genuine campaign against corruption “aimed at the intertwined forces of party-state officials, private businesses and criminals,” which “decidedly manifested left-leaning class politics.” The campaign solicited reports of criminal activity from the masses and contained a “Maoist ‘mass participation’ and revolutionary justice dimension.”
In 2008 Bo initiated the “three institutions,” which Zhao describes as follows: “First, the head of a village or urban community CCP Committee must receive public visits for half a day each week to hear public concerns. Second, members of the village or urban community CCP Committee must make two visits to rural or urban households to solicit opinions on government policies and address issues and concerns; third, open lines of communication between the Party Secretary and the public must be established through opinion boxes, emails, and telephone hotlines; feedback must be provided within a given time frame.”
In 2009 Bo followed this up with “three going intos and the three togethernesses,’’ which compelled officials to “eat together, live together, and work together with the peasants for extended periods.”
In 2008, Bo launched the Singing Red campaign — shorthand for a variety of communications practices “aimed at promoting socialist values and uplifting public morality.” In addition to singing revolutionary songs, the campaign included reading revolutionary tales, classics, emails and other communications. Zhao points out that the practice among the masses of singing revolutionary songs existed as a means of spiritually combating capitalist ideology even before Bo adopted it.
A key element in the struggle was the nationally televised satellite channel CQTV. Bo stopped commercial broadcasting on the channel, turned it into a public-interest channel, used it to broadcast “red culture” and established a news program entitled “People’s Livelihoods” and a weekly “Public Forum on Common Prosperity,” devoted to reducing the “three divides” between rich and poor, urban and rural, and coastal and regional. The channel gave a platform to anti-neoliberal academics and others around the country to challenge the dominant market-oriented television.
One of the first acts after Bo’s ouster was to restore commercial programming on CQTV.
Zhao’s essay has no illusions about Bo and his politics. She shows that he promoted investment by transnational corporations in Chongqing. She points out that there were many left critics of the Chongqing model. And she states flatly: “Bo is certainly no resurrected Mao. But this has certainly not prevented the New York Times, along with its oligopolistic Anglo-American media competitors, from aggressively joining the transnational feeding frenzy that hastened Bo’s downfall.”
On the other hand, Zhao shows that the possibility of promoting the Chongqing model on a national level was a “key step toward a left turn of the CCP.”
“Bo posed a challenge to the ideological legitimacy of the CCP central leadership and its succession plan. He threatened to split the CCP by exposing the profound contradictions of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ Moreover, what he did in Chongqing undermined vested interests in China’s transnationalized bureaucratic capitalist social formation — even though he had been an integral part of it.”
Zhao ends on a hopeful note: “Instead of tarnishing and even burying the cause of socialism once more in China, the ending of the Bo saga may open up other new avenues to the Chinese struggle for socialism, for which popular control of the Chinese political economy will be a defining feature.” Of course, such a perspective looks forward to a revival of the struggle to restore revolutionary socialism in China.
Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End.” More information is available at www.lowwagecapitalism.com. The author can be reached at [email protected]