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Mainstream, VOL LV No 46 New Delhi November 4, 2017

China: Xi’s Hegemony sealed at 19th CPC Congress but Questions Remain

Monday 6 November 2017


by Sankar Ray

The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China ended its six-day jamboree adding “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to its Constitution as an ideological addendum to the already lengthy verbiage of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development. Insertion of Xi’s thought into the Party rulebook connotes a leap forward along the ongoing Sinicisation of Marxism, asserted by Xi at the last plenum of the 18th Central Committee.

The 32,000-word report, delivered by the CPC top boss in a marathon three-and-a half hour speech, did not deviate by an inch from the nearly-four decades long capitulationist post-Mao line of silence about anti-imperialism, proletarian internationalism, class struggle and solidarity with revolutionary struggles in other countries.

The amendment, endorsed unanimously through voice vote—nai yo ( no objection)— on the day-before the concluding session, October 24, stated (it) “systematically addressed the major question of our times—what kind of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era requires us to uphold and develop and how we should uphold and develop it.” Stressing that Xi’s thought is a must on a long-term basis for constant development, it noted “the CPC has led the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in a concerted effort to carry out a great struggle, develop a great project, advance a great cause, and realise a great dream” and that the party would write the culture of socialism with “Chinese characteristics into the Party Consti-tution, along with its path, theory and system”.

The “principal contradiction” facing the Chinese society, the resolution formulated, is between ”unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life” symbiotically with the imperative for “the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production”. Xi claimed that 55 million people were rid of living under the poverty line and vowed that by 2020 poverty would be a thing of the past in the ‘middle kingdom’.

But some Sinologists have already made no bones about their scepticism regarding Xi-thought. Kerry Brown, a Professor at King’s College in London, for instance, questioned the essence: ”Mao thought stressed that it was a tool to make people not only think differently but live differently. Will Xi thought enter the lifeblood of the Chinese people, or is it just a part of an elite political game utterly remote from Chinese people’s lives? Everyone knows what Mao Zedong thought is.” He slapped his doubts bluntly: “What exactly is Xi thought? The Four Comprehensives, the Chinese dream or the modernisation of Chinese socialism?” Jude Blanchette, Associate Engagement Director at the the Conference Board’s China Center for Economics and Business, warned of “the ultra-conservative political moment China is now in”, and linked it to Wang Huning’s theory of ‘neo-authoritarianism’.

The decision to confer the title “Lingxiù” on Xi was a fait accompli. It was reported about a fortnight before the kick-off of the Congress (October 18) in Digital Times of China. It was hinted in early second week of October by Professor Rana Mitter, Director of the University of Oxford’s China Centre. The “Lingxiu” title would mean “centralisation of authority and charisma” under one person, he told the South China Morning Post.

However, the tradition of personality cult is not new to Chinese Communists. It was introduced at the CPC’s Seventh Congress (1945) with the unabashed backing of Mao. Liu Shao Chi introduced a resolution proposing inclusion of ‘Mao Tse-tung’s Thought’ through an amend-ment to the Party Constitution. In a sycophantic tone, Liu said, Comrade Mao Tse-tung “is a creative Marxist of genius”. He went on eulogising Mao: “The important task now is to mobilise the entire Party to study and dissemi-nate Mao Tse-tung’s thought and to arm our membership and the revolutionary people with it, so that it becomes an irresistible force in practice.”

Interestingly, at the Eighth Congress (1956), when the CPC General Secretary was Teng Hsiao-ping, a constitutional amendment was through deleting Mao Tse-tung’s Thought from the party statute. The same Teng submitted to the factional triumph of Mao in 1966, staging a volte-face: “Our Party’s greatest merit is that it has the guiding ideology represented by Mao Tse-tung’s thought. Mao Tse-tung’s thought has stood the test of history.” The ‘Mao ideology’ was back into the party rulebook at the Ninth Congress (1969), through a resolution by Lin Piao, whom Mao infamously declared as his ‘heir apparent’. Queerly, the CPC brass virtually blacked out the entire deliberations of the Congress. The highlights, published in Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), made no mention of the Ninth and Tenth Congresses. (The main report was placed by Premier Chou En-lai, following the mysterious death of Lin in an airplane crash, days after he was unceremoniously thrown out of the CPC.)

However, Xi has edged out Mao and Deng Xiaoping in competitive and unbridled personality cult. Xi-thought will be a separate discipline to study in Chinese universities. To start with, Renmin or People’s University will be the first to introduce Xi-philosophy in the curricula, while “study groups” are being promoted across the country as officials have already begun scrambling to follow the zeitgeist of Xi’s “new era”.

 Another confirmation of heightened authori-tarianism is a blatant gender bias in the organi-sational restructure. There is no female member in the replacement of five of seven-member Polit-Bureau Standing Committee (PBSC) The members are, apart from re-elected President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng. In the 25 -member Polit-Bureau, there is a female member — Sun Chunlan. The others, apart from the seven member PBSC top-notches, are Wang Chen, Li Qiang, Li Hongzhong, Yang Jiechi, Yang Xiaodu, Zhang Youxia, Chen Xi, Chen Quanguo, Chen Min’er, Li Xi, Hu Chunhua, Li Zhanshu, Guo Shengkun, Huang Kunming and Cai Qi.

However, there was no dearth of showbiz revolutionism in Xi’s presentation. Clarifying the two centenary goals, the Xi-report notes that the year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s magnum opus Das Kapital, reminding also the 2300-plus delegates that 2018 will be the 170th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto and the 40th anniversary of socialist China’s launch of the reform and opening-up drive. In Xi’s words, the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics means “scientific socialism is full of vitality in 21st century China, and that the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see”.

Xi’s thought put forward a two-step pro-gramme for China: “a great modern socialist country. prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful by the middle of the century”, under the construct of 14 fundamental principles, ranging from establishing party leadership in every sphere of life to build a community with a shared future for mankind. Xi mentioned the word “people” 203 times. He urged Party members to “always breathe the same breath as the people, share the same future and stay truly connected to them”. “We must devote great energy to addressing development’s imbalances and inadequacies, and push hard to improve the quality and effect of development,” said the report, which pointed out that the “principal contradiction facing the Chinese society has evolved into one between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing need for a better life”. The report distances itself from ‘the neoliberal model’, dished out by the Washington Consensus.

 Xi has injected a militaristic temper in his report in sync with his authoritarian resolve. He wants China, having the world’s biggest military force, to become the most powerful in all respects. The People’s Liberation Army, his report assured, is set to full modernisation by 2035, and become a top-ranked military by 2050. ”A military force is built to fight. Our military must regard combat readiness as the goal for all its work and focus on how to win when it is called upon,” Xi said. He depends on his men there. The process began even earlier.

During the last two months, General Fang Fenghui, former head of the CMC’s Joint Staff Department, has been replaced by General Li Zuocheng, a decorated veteran of the Sino-Vietnamese war. General Zhang Yang, ex-head of the commission’s Political Work Department, has been sacked and Admiral Miao Hua, formerly the PLA Navy’s political commissar, moved into Zhang’s shoes. All the Army biggies are Xi’s own men. While he retains the chairma-nship of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the two Vice-Chairmen, Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia, are his sidekicks.

 The drastic purge (mostly unceremonious removals) includes anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan (replaced by sixty-three year-old Shanghai Party Chief Han Zheng), former head of the CMC’s Joint Staff Department General Fang Fenghui (replaced by General Li Zuocheng), General Zhang Yang, former head of CMC’s Political Work Department is sacked and replaced by Admiral Miao Hua, formerly the PLA Navy’s Political Commissar.

Factionalism is believed to have been a factor for these purges. Take the Chinese Vice-President, Li Yuanchao. He failed to retain a seat even in the 204-member Central Committee. The reason was his closeness to Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Two years ago, his former associate, Zhao Shaolin was expelled from the party for forming political factions and “courting and corrupting other senior cadres”. This year, another Li associate, Jiangsu Vice-Governor Li Yunfeng, was stripped of party membership for violating discipline. He was the Director of the Provincial Party Committee’s General Office between 2003 and 2006.

The University of Oxford’s China Centre chief Rana Mitter, in an e-mail reply to this scribe, stated three things. One, ‘Xi Jinping will continue to centralise control and the use of language such as lingxiu shows that’. Two, the reshuffle at the top indicates ‘quite a wide range of ideological views (for example, Wang Yang is more economically liberal) but overall Xi is definitely in charge’. Three, over the last years, “Wang Yang is number three in the PBSC. All this means, for Xi now, the Party is first, more than China. One has to wait to see whether this suggests hardening of ‘totalitarianism’ in the frame of one-party dictatorship. Steve Tsang, director of SOAS China Institute in London, too, thinks that the revised party charter has catapulted Xi in ‘an almost unassailable position, as no one would dare to openly challenge his authority, as it would be seen as ‘counter-revolutionary or even sabotage’.”

But why has the Xi-hukumat been hyper-sensitive towards corruption, particularly from early 2015? Is corruption alone causing night-mares for Xi and his closest comrades-in-arms? In March 2015, David Shambaugh wrote a biting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, captioned ‘The Coming Chinese Crackup’, apprehending beginning of the endgame of communist rule in China that forced Xi to embark on a programme of ruthless measures. In a statement at the Hebei Provincial Party Standing Committee’s ‘small-group meeting’ on democratic life, he stated : “Several cadre leaders have been punished for breaking the law, and nearly all of them have said: ‘There isn’t enough internal supervision and no one warned me; if there’d been someone there whispering in my ear, I wouldn’t have committed such grave crimes.’”

The lesser problem is that there is no one there to warn people. The greater problem, which no one seems to be discussing and which causes even worse mistakes, is the old saying that ‘a thousand yes-men cannot equal one honest advisor’ (quoted from ”The Biography of Lord Shang” in Sima Qian’s Historical Records, on the Warring States). It was posted in the website of China Discipline Inspection Supervision, to which over 95 per cent of 89 million members have no access. But it was scooped by China File.

The spectre of Mao haunts the headquarters of the CPC. Financial Times carried a revealing report about a movement against the growing inegalitarianism in China (vouchsafed by an IMF report a year ago, describing the Chinese economy as ‘the most unequal’):Chinese Maoist Communists from 13 provinces and cities held a two-day secret meeting in Luoyang City in central China’s Henan province. The manifesto they published afterwards online was nothing less than a call for revolution to overthrow the current system, which they claimed had evolved into a “bourgeois fascist dictatorship led by bureaucrat monopolist capitalists,” the Financial Times reported.

Lashing out at the CPC bureaucracy, the meeting resolved that China witnessed “exactly the worst kind of capitalism that Mao warned would result from revisionism”. The intrepid Chinese protesters in their manifesto stated, ”a new socialist revolution is the only method to reverse the restoration of capitalism” and pledged to mobilise the masses to foment a rebellion among workers and peasants in China’s large cities.

The policy of supra-militarisation is an essence of Xi’s retaliatory strategy. If Deng has ruthlessly suppressed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement to preserve the CPC rule, Xi has subtly turned the screws on political dissent using the more discriminating but perhaps more effective tools of online surveillance and selective imprisonment.. But it is history which will say whether he will succeed or not. (Hegel famously called history a slaughter house.)


None other than US President Donald Trump hailed Xi’s feat as an ”extraordinary elevation” and compared the mega-supremo of Beijing as a ‘king’. Trump said this less than a fortnight before his coming first visit to China.

Xinhua News Agency also prominently carried the message of greetings from the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah, who said: “Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, decisions made and directions set by the 19th National Congress of the CPC will bring further development and prosperity to China, further promote China-India cooperation, and bring peace, stability and development to the world.”

However, while revolutionary-worded messages from the CPI-M and CPI were prominently carried in the CPC party organs, China’s official news agency ignored them.

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, specialises in Left politics and history.

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