Generation Gains

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Review of 'China's New Rulers', eds. Andrew J Nathan and Bruce Gilley, Granta £14.99

In November 2002, the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elected China's new 'fourth generation' of leaders. Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin represented the first, second, and third generations of China's leaders respectively. The fourth generation is headed by Hu Jintao as general secretary (nominally the most powerful position in the CCP). This book is a translation of leaked confidential party documents on the history and political viewpoints of China's new leaders, which have been published as 'Disidai' (The Fourth Generation) and serialised in Hong Kong newspapers.

Hu Jintao was the first party secretary to quell unrest in Tibet by declaring martial law in March 1989. This was a foretaste of the methods employed by China's ruling class at Tiananmen, in June 1989.

Zeng Xinghong is a private capitalist who explains why China's increased inequality is good.

'Privatisation...allowed entrepreneurs, many of them ex-officials, to get rich. China's Gini coefficient--a measure of income inequality in which 0 represents perfect equality--rose from 0.15 in 1978 to about 0.43 (in 2000), according to both Chinese and World Bank figures,' write the authors. The private capitalists are now referred to as 'advanced elements' and are welcomed to join the party. Zeng comes from a longstanding class of capitalists whose wealth and power derive from their control of Chinese public and private global corporations.

Wu Bangguo oversaw the Three Gorges dam project that forcibly removed millions of Chinese from their homes. Luo Gan, who heads the security apparatus, is proud that the police and courts executed more than 60,000 criminals from 1998 to 2001. He is also directly responsible for the suppression of the Falun Gong. Li Changchun presided over the cover-up of a government-caused Aids epidemic in Henan province where unscreened contaminated blood products spread the virus. The official figure was 1,500 Aids/HIV patients while unofficial estimates put the number at close to a million. So far, none of this was confidential, so why, on 2 November 2002, did the Chinese authorities detain a senior Communist Party elder statesman suspected of being the source leaking this information?

The files as detailed in this book reveal a CCP obsessed with secrecy. This obsession stems from the nature of the decisions it makes, which are on behalf of a dominant class in the pursuit of accumulating wealth and power. This is in conflict with the interests of China's peasants and workers. It is not aberrant behaviour--it conforms to the norms of western corporations and governments (think Enron or the Official Secrets Act).

The Chinese capitalist class is united in its exploitation of ordinary Chinese workers and repression of the consequent conflict that arises. But they are also in competition with each other over dividing the fruits of that exploitation. For example, the liberal and conservative wings may differ over the pace and the areas of the Chinese economy that should be integrated into the global markets, but neither is prepared to countenance freedom for the Tibetans or the Muslim people of Xinjiang.

The CCP is the party of the Chinese ruling class, equivalent to the Conservative Party in Britain or the Republican and Democratic Parties in the US. Hence, it calls upon the army in times of crisis to restore 'order', as during the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen protest, but subsequently reins in the army's power because the generals form only a small section of China's capitalists. This explains the machinations within the CCP to retire leading generals such as Yang Shankun after 1989.

If today we have a Chinese Communist Party running a capitalist market economy, could it not have been running a state capitalist economy in the past? Working out the answer to this helps us explain how ex-officials transformed themselves into entrepreneurs. It also helps us dispel the myths about the Cultural Revolution, as well as work out what a future socialist society should be like.