The crisis in China: Behind the expulsion of Bo Xilai

The leadership of the Communist Party of China has expelled former Politburo member Bo Xilai from the party, removed him from his position in the National Assembly and is preparing criminal charges against him.

This is another major step in what has all the earmarks of an authoritarian, bureaucratic frameup by a fearful party establishment trying to silence and suppress the leader of a left current in the party, a current that seeks to slow down China’s march along the capitalist road. This explusion has grave consequences for China.

Bo was the party secretary for the municipal province of Chongqing in central China and was known for his progressive politics. He led a campaign to revive Maoist culture, including texting Maoist sayings to state employees, organizing the singing of Maoist songs dating to the Cultural Revolution and openly trying to revive the socialist spirit.

Chongqing province has 32 million people, including 10 million workers. As head of the province, Bo emphasized state enterprises in the economy and built massive low-income, high-quality housing for workers. He made it easier for peasants and rural residents to get urban status. He was in a polemic against party leaders who said that development should come before social and economic justice. He cracked down on corrupt local and party officials and businesses. He threw businesspeople in jail for corruption.

And, above all, he invited the masses to participate in unmasking corruption.

While he invited transnational corporations into Chongqing to develop industry, Bo antagonized local capitalists, the so-called small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs), with his policy to restrict state bank loans to SMEs in favor of loans to state enterprises. He further antagonized both the central authorities and the local bourgeoisie by banning commercial advertising on Chongqing television. He replaced commercial programming with “Red culture.”

In short, the rise of Bo was the first pronounced expression to surface inside the Chinese party leadership of opposition to rampant inequality and the seemingly unrestrained growth of capitalist development in China, which has been carried out under the false banner of so-called “market socialism” or “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The monumental campaign of demonization of Bo and his spouse Gu Kailai (see WW, Aug. 23) is aimed at concealing the profound political and ideological rift in the country. Two factors have converged to deepen this rift: The world capitalist crisis is flooding into China at the same time that the CPC is expected to install new leaders in line with its usual 10-year transition.

Why the political crisis?

It is a tenet of Marxism that beneath any great political struggle lies the class struggle.

Insofar as Bo and his program of reviving the socialist spirit, fighting inequality and combatting the untrammeled rule of the market represents the general interests of the workers and the peasants, within the framework of the present Chinese model, his persecution is a reflection of the class struggle in China.

In justifying Bo’s expulsion, the CPC leadership has conjured up charges of corruption and other unspecified “serious violations,” including ”massive bribery,” “sexual misconduct” and unspecified “other crimes.”

The one charge not leveled against Bo — the one that all China and the entire world bourgeoisie know to be true on the basis not of hearsay but of incontestable, publicly known facts — is that he developed the “Chongqing model.” This was done in opposition to the capitalist-road leaders in Beijing, from gradualists of the Hu Jintao variety (the outgoing party secretary and president) to more aggressive capitalist reformers like Wen Jiabao (the outgoing premier). Bo’s politics were popular among the workers and peasants of Chongqing, and his reputation for fighting inequality and corruption was spreading throughout China.

Bo’s case has been referred to as China’s greatest political crisis since the 1989 counterrevolutionary rebellion at Tiananmen Square. But if Bo’s case is merely a matter of corruption and misdeeds alone, then why should it cause a political crisis that has thrown the leadership into a panic? Corruption is a straightforward issue. If corruption, bribery and misdeeds have been uncovered on the magnitude alleged in Bo’s case, that should hardly be a matter of venomous dispute or take many months to resolve.

If in the year 2012 Bo has been unmasked as corrupt beyond measure, an outright rogue, then how to explain that from 1990 on he became mayor of the important city of Dalian (capital of Liaoning province), was then promoted to provincial governor, soon took on the nationally and internationally important post of China’s Minister of Commerce, was appointed to the 25-member Politburo of the party, and became party secretary of the key province of Chongqing?

How was it that Bo managed to escape detection by the party’s extensive investigative apparatus until the moment when the leadership struggle in China was about to come to a head and the issues involved in the future course of China’s economic regime had become a matter of bitter contention?

The public should take into account a statement by Bo Guagua, Bo’s son, a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School with a masters in public administration. The Wall Street Journal wrote about it on Sept. 30:

“‘Personally, it is hard for me to believe the allegations that were announced against my father, because they contradict everything I have come to know about him throughout my life,’ Bo Guagua, who is 24 years old, said in a statement on a Tumblr microblog account dated Saturday.

“‘Although the policies my father enacted are open to debate, the father I know is upright in his beliefs and devoted to duty,’ he said in an apparent reference to Mr. Bo’s controversial policies as party chief of the city of Chongqing, which included a Maoist revival movement. …

“The statement continued: ‘He has always taught me to be my own person and to have concern for causes greater than ourselves. I have tried to follow his advice.’”

Gu Kailai evidence questioned

As the frameup of Bo proceeds, questions are being raised in China about the frameup of his spouse, Gu Kailai, who was sentenced to a commuted death sentence in August for the alleged murder of British businessperson Neil Heywood.

The Wall Street Journal wrote on Sept. 29 that one of China’s top forensic experts, Wang Xuemei, cast doubt on Beijing’s “carefully scripted version of events.” She said that the prosecution did not produce any evidence showing that Heywood was killed by cyanide poisoning, the basis for Gu’s murder conviction.

Wang is a forensic expert in the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the country’s top body for investigation and prosecution. Wang posted an essay on the matter on her blog. The essay was removed; she doesn’t know by whom or how. She has been praised nationally for her work.

Wang said, according to the Journal, that information at the trial “didn’t include a description of what she said should have been an immediate and extreme health reaction” after being poisoned by cyanide. “After cyanide was poured into Heywood’s mouth,” she said, “he didn’t suffer any corresponding reaction from cyanide poisoning.”

The Journal also wrote that the “growing skepticism by prominent Chinese figures and Mr. Heywood’s friends over inconsistencies, ambiguities and omissions in the prosecution’s official narrative could undermine authorities’ credibility in handling the case ahead of the country’s sensitive once-a-decade leadership transition … legal experts and political analysts say.”

The authorities cremated Heywood’s body after three days without performing an autopsy, claiming at the time that Heywood died of excessive consumption of alcohol. But prosecutors at the trial alleged that Gu had lured Heywood to a hotel room in Chongqing and killed him because she was afraid he would harm her son, Guagua, who they said owed Heywood money. Her fears, they said, were partly based on the claim that Heywood had forcibly “detained” her son.

There are several problems with the government’s version. First, Heywood’s close friends reportedly say he did not drink. They were so disturbed by this version that they raised it with the British Embassy. (Wall Street Journal, March 27) Why would Heywood go into a room with a powerful person with whom he has an antagonistic business relationship and get drunk when he did not drink? Furthermore, “several friends of Mr. Heywood have disputed that, saying that Mr. Heywood’s relations with Bo Guagua ­appeared to be good right up until his death, and pointing out that at the time of the alleged detention, Mr. Heywood was in China and Bo Guagua was studying in the U.S.” (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30)

More could be said about the frameup of Gu. Heywood himself worked with the firm Haklyut, Inc., an industrial spy agency in China formed by former British spies working for MI6. The “evidence” against Gu was handed over to the U.S. Consulate (CIA station) in Chengdu by a top Chongqing police official, Wang Lijun, who was under investigation for corruption by the central authorities. Corruption can carry a death sentence. During the events the U.S. was working closely with British diplomats on the case.

Clearly, U.S. and British imperialism had a common interest with the Chinese leadership in stopping the political rise of Bo Xilai. The case against Gu was the opening shot in the struggle to undermine Bo politically.

‘Rule of law’ and persecution of Bo

After Bo’s expulsion Xinhua carried a widely circulated release entitled “Cadre, citizens uphold CPC’s Bo decision.” In the release they cite the praise and testimony of various individuals — a student, a party cadre, a model worker, the Standing Committee of the Chongqing Municipal Committee, etc. All are said to have praised the “rule of law” and the “farsightedness of the CPC Central Committee as well as its superb handling ability to deal with complicated situations.”

But bear in mind that Bo has been in custody, held incommunicado since April. He has not been allowed to issue one word in public. The nature of any proceedings against him have not been divulged. Have the requisite party procedures been followed? Has he had an internal trial? What was his testimony? Who acted in his defense?

None of these questions has been answered in public. And none of the individuals and groups who were cited by Xinhua and the party has any objective knowledge whatsoever about the so-called “ability” or “farsightedness” of the Central Committee. Bo’s political enemies at the top of the party are in complete control of every shred of public information about the case. They are free to manufacture whatever charges they want to hurl without any contradiction or opposition. They have shut down every website that defends Bo. Where are the champions of the “rule of law” now?

This crude frameup is taking place when the stakes are extremely high. There is a struggle about whether or not to deepen the capitalist measures in China in response to the economic crisis. The capitalist crisis has magnified the crisis of China’s leadership and of the working class as the growth of production slows, inventories pile up, unemployment threatens — and the bitter fruit of opening up wide to capitalism is harvested.

Goldstein is author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End.” More information is available at The author can be reached at [email protected].

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