A communist party, in the traditional Marxist mode, will normally celebrate a futuristic vision of One International – a world without boundaries and borders. Not the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
On July 1, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CCP and President of the People’s Republic of China, opened the world’s most powerful party’s centenary celebrations with a strong ‘nationalist’ message. “China will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us,” Xi thundered from Gate of the Heavenly Peace on Tiananmen Square, in Beijing.
“Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” Strong words indeed!The Chinese Communist Party, today 95 million strong, has come a long way from the rag-tag group that launched it in Shanghai in 1921. It grew rapidly as a unifying force against first a Japanese occupation army, and later waged a bitter civil war against General Chiang Kai-shek’s government forces. Leading the Red Army, the Party consolidated itself with the Long March, retreating to Shaanxi Province after a grueling 6,000-kilometer trek in 1934 to escape encirclement; and then finally took power in 1949, pushing out the Kuomintang to Taiwan.
Unlike many a Communist Party that withered away, the CCP has grown on the back of a nationalist agenda. Even after taking power, the Party continued to redefine its country’s borders, citing the wrongs of colonial maps and western ‘imperialism’. The taking back of Hong Kong from the British, the uncompromising claims over Taiwan, and aggressive border tactics with India and in the South China Sea, have isolated China on the world stage; but it has drummed up unifying passions at home.
Many don’t understand it, but Mao Zedong’s ‘nationalist’ ideology flowered in China’s peasant, pre-industrial society because it stood for fierce opposition to both Japanese and Western aggression, and unified a deeply divided society, steeped in Confucian fatalism. “We are at once internationalists and patriots, and our slogan is: Fight to defend the motherland against the aggressors,” said Mao in 1938.
The CCP’s ‘nationalist’ programme also translated into real progress. China is today the second largest economy in the world, after the US. The World Bank calls it an “upper middle-income country”. Since China began to reform its economy in 1978, GDP growth has averaged 10% a year, and more than 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty. It’s widely acknowledged that the vast masses have easy access to health, education, and other services.
Yet China is in the throes of a serious crisis, as growth moderates to about 6.5%. It has an ageing population, and the country’s increasing isolation and its trade disputes with other countries, has created shortages. Repression is endemic to the system: the stamping out of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, and the imprisonment of thousands of Muslim minority communities – the Uyghurs, Kazaks and other Turkic groups – in reeducation camps is routine statecraft.
Communist or Capitalist?
Finally, what sort of party is the CCP today? Marxist idealogues – Lenin and Mao – both predicted that keeping the Communist ideal alive after taking power is far more difficult than seizing power from decadent feudal and monarchist forces. The living proof is the demise of the Soviet Communist Party, which collapsed soon after the Cold War.
In the case of the Communist Party of China, the historical mistakes of the Soviet Party taught Mao to lay down a line of a continuing revolution. Classes and class struggle are not abolished with the stroke of a pen and will continue well after a socialist state is established. In fact, pro-Capitalist groups seek to recapture power imbedding themselves in the communist party, he predicted.
This line gave birth to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the Chinese party’s shot at cleansing the ‘capitalist roaders’ from the party in 1966. Mao called the party faithful to “bombard the headquarters” or to remove those ‘revisionists’ in leadership positions who had given up the cause of communism. His slogan “it is right to rebel” moved millions to a new wave of class struggle in China.
With Mao’s passing away in 1976, died China’s vision of Permanent Revolution. In his place came Deng Xiaoping who ushered in reforms that coupled China with the international capitalist system, and drew a path of rapid, export led growth. Class struggle and revolution were posted to the back burner, and the worship of Mammon was officially legitimized. Deng summed it up in his famous words: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.” China changed colour and course and reorganised its economy on the lines of state capitalism.
Today, under the tutelage of the Chinese Party, China is ruled by a new elite; and it exercises class oppression of a new, sophisticated kind. Technology, developed to dizzying heights, is used for command and control. China has the most complex and successful digital firewalls to control the internet and the access to content by its citizens. Artificial intelligence is used by security services to identify and neutralise dissidents via facial recognition techniques. On the international front, the Chinese state is a partner to oppressive regimes like the Myanmar junta.The Chinese Communist Party is an instrument of authoritarian rule today. The original idealism and the passion for a classless society has evaporated. Only the shell remains.