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Challenges to the Chinese Communist Party

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Jintao’s speech (June 30) to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Party raises some questions and begs answers to where the Party is going. The General Secretary appeared to be very cautious, and there seemed to be very little to take the Party forward in step with not only the global changes but even changes that an increasing number of the Chinese people want. It was significant that a group of relatives of retired and serving PLA personnel held a demonstration in June in Guangzhou against corruption in the PLA. This, notwithstanding the fact that a political party formed with 50 members 90 years ago has come a long way with many successes including the creation of this People’s Republic of China.

In recounting the Party’s history, Hu Jintao revealed the first signs of ideological tightening when he started with China’s anti-imperialist struggle since the 1840 opium war and foreign aggression against China. Such sentiments like anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggle were politically used to gather the Party cadres and people into a strong nationalist emotion. It worked well to humiliate the Japanese to shame and extract substantial aid for a long time. This line was gradually discarded as Beijing enmeshed with the global community where such politics would only be detrimental. At the same time, Hu said all these revolutions ended in failure till Sun Yetsen’s 1911 democratic revolution ended autocratic rule, and the CPC’s advent and the communist revolution saved the country.

Hu Jintao blamed the failure of the earlier revolutions because they were led by the bourgeoisie. This puts a question when later in the speech he seeks to get the intellectuals and successful business people into the Party. There is an obvious contradiction.

In recounting the history of the Party, Hu Jintao omitted all the negatives from the inner-Party struggles in the 1930s and 1940s, Mao Zedong’s 1957 anti-rightist campaign, the massive failure of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution excesses and even the 1989 Tienanmen Square incident. The wrong policies and excesses of Mao were totally sanitized, and omission of the 1989 students uprisings was to project that the Party never had any people’s opposition. This is hardly going to convince the people who are suffering by daring the Party’s efforts to stifle their voice for greater freedom of expression and a real rule of law.

With liberal activists administered harsh treatment including beating and incarcerated in jail and occasionally thrown into mental asylums, there was total abdication of even written laws. Hu Jintao’s expression that all people are equal before law and no exception should be made in enforcing institutional safeguards, falls flat. There will be no buyers even inside the Party. There remains a huge difference between words and law on the one side, and actions on the ground on the other.

With Premier Wen Jiabao tirelessly expounding his political views on democracy and the right of the people to voice their opinions, for without which China’s economic development could roll back, Hu Jintao could not but touch on the subject especially when the Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily also started reflecting Wen’s views recently.

Hu Jintao, however, twisted Wen Jiabao’s position saying that “without democracy there can be no socialism and socialist modernization, and that the essence of socialist democracy is that people determine their own destiny”. By saying this Hu made it clear that “democracy” must remain within the corrals “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”, that is, the democracy bird will have to remain in the cage of Deng Xiaoping defined socialism. Basically, Wen Jiabao and his supporters stand alone. But will they remain to fight another day after the 18th Party Congress scheduled for October, 2012.

What came out clearly from Hu Jintao’s speech was the return to the primacy of Mao Zedong Thought and Sinicization of Marxism-Leninism. This was a reflection of the revival of Mao’s thought of ultra-nationalism and absolute subjugation to the Party and combating corruption and Westernization, spearheaded Bo Xilai, Party Secretary of Chongqing Municipality. Bo Xilai, son of veteran revolutionary leader Bo Yibo, one of seven immortals of post 1978 China along with Deng Xiaoping and others, is known as one of the “Princelings”, appears to be carving out a new Maoist and Marxist-Leninist ideology joined by other “Princelings” including Vice President Xi Jinping, putative successor to Hu Jintao in 2012.

Party construction came out as a very important aspect of Hu Jintao’s speech, reflecting that the Party is finding it difficult to recruit members who are made in the revolutionary mode and highly educated and specialists in their own fields. According to recent reports the new, young and educated Party members see their membership as a stepping stone to career progression. This is something that worries the Party conservatives as it signals individual priorities over takes ideological priorities.

Reflecting on cold realities, Hu Jintao said “China is going through social changes of unparalleled scope ……… and these changes have inevitably given rise to conflicts and problems”. Hu admitted that China suffers from a serious lack of balance, coordination, sustainability in development and institutional obstacles to scientific development. Eradication of corruption was the only way to regain people’s trust and support. This was the center point of his speech – that preventing corruption was crucial to the Party’s survival”.

The role of the army had to be touched upon, but it appeared Hu dealt with it rather gingerly. He emphasized the Party’s absolute leadership of the army, and called for a modern, standardized and yet revolutionary people’s army. Given the recent independent signals from the PLA forcing themselves on critical decisions, Hu wisely decided to skirt the topic as far as possible. Yet, the PLA could not be ignored from the Party 90th anniversary celebrations.

Hu Jintao’s speech reflected that there will be very cautious deliberations on the Party’s modernizations. Reversion to Mao’s Thought and Marxism-Leninism, howsoever scientific development of Marxism may mean. Hu is not a theoretical giant.

The speech does not reflect Hu Jintao’s strength and unquestionable authority. Others, especially the Princelings and the Communist Youth League (YCL) factions are in the forefront. Song Ping, the 94 year old leader of the leftists was prominent with his presence at the ceremony, while Jiang Zemin the leader of the Shanghai faction was absent amidst rumours that he may have died or was very ill.

Return to aspects of Marxism and ultra-nationalism may be the consequences of the power struggle for power grabbing at the 18th Party Congress. But aspects would also reflect in foreign policy of no compromise. No faction can afford to be seen as weak against old imperialists, colonialists and those who covet China’s territories.

To conclude, the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has lost touch with the people. They understand that it is the people, the masses, which keep the Party in power. At the same time, Beijing has failed to control the lower level Party officials, bureaucrats, law enforcement personnel, businessmen and the land mafia who are all together to exploit the people and share the loot. The people have little scope for redress. When nearly one hundred thousand officially recorded public protests take place in a year in a supposed to be egalitarian command system in China, the top leadership has serious worries on their plate. That Hu Jintao could not clearly address how to contain social instability only suggests he has lost control.

Following Hu Jintao’s address, Zhou Ruijin, a former editor-in-chief of the People’s Daily, wrote in liberal Party journal Yanhuang Chunqiu: if tension between the people and the government continue to rise due to unaddressed grievances and popular disgust at corruption and other injustices, the outcome could be catastrophic.

Is China looking at an internal tsunami?

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:

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