CAMBRIDGE, England — Chinese President Jiang Zemin has made another speech — another important speech — adding gloss to the landmark speech he made July 1 last year at the Communist Party of China’s 80th birthday party.
So important was the speech that it had “repercussions throughout departments and institutions under the Communist Party of China Central Committee and mass organizations.” For two days after the speech was made, groups all over China studied it and concluded that it marked a further development of Marxist theory and a guide for CPC members’ actions. Lesser mortals will be required to study it for months to come.
The speech was given on May 31 at the graduation ceremony of the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC. This is the educational establishment where handpicked future leaders of the CPC are sent for training in party lore before they are promoted, and where existing leaders are sent for additional instruction in Marxist Leninist Maoist theory.
Is there anything new in the speech? Not really. It is more an expansion and explanation of some of the finer points of the July 1 speech of last year. That speech aroused some controversy in conservative CPC circles, questioning as it did some of the long-standing basic tenets of MLM theory. In it, Jiang set out his “Three Represents” theory.
So important does he think this theory is that he is currently trying to get it written into the constitution of the CPC before he retires as party general secretary later this year. The theory is his claim to a place in the Chinese Communist pantheon, along with leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
The Three Represents theory holds that the CPC represents advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the “overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.” In setting out this theory, however, Jiang cracked some icons of MLM thought and smashed others. His latest speech appears to have been addressed to those with objections.
The first point he makes in his latest speech is that China arrived at its new socialist economic system after a long period of building socialism. The system, with public ownership at the core, now depends on the capitalist private sector, both domestic and foreign, for the future growth of the economy that is needed to keep the CPC in power.
This new system is based on a mixed ownership structure that replaces the old “irrational ownership structure” in which, as advocated by Marx, Lenin and Mao, all productive capital is owned by the state.
Just in case anyone thinks that this is a rejection of MLM theory, Jiang emphasized that the political system supported by the CPC is still based on the Four Cardinal Principles. You may recall that these four principles are: adherence to the socialist road, the people’s democratic dictatorship, Marxist Leninism and Mao Zedong thought, and the leading role of the Communist Party of China.
If you find it hard to square adherence to the Four Cardinal Principles with the new economic system supported by the CPC, as many people in China do, especially the rejection of the labor theory of value that it implies, don’t worry, Jiang has the answer.
While it is “wrong and harmful to negate the scientific nature of Marxism,” it must be remembered that times have moved on. In the 150 years since the Communist Manifesto was written, the world’s political, economic, cultural and technological characteristics have so changed that capitalism is now an important stage on the road to communism. This is what the CPC theoreticians have decided comes from “seeking truth from facts.”
In his speech, Jiang argued that it was so important that the CPC “uphold the spirit of marching in step with time” in this way and to recognize that capitalism is the essential character of communism that China’s future depends on it.
However, “China will never copy the Western political systems,” as this would lead to the possibility of the CPC being swept from power at some time through the expression of democratic forces. Democratic socialism to Jiang means bringing capitalists into the CPC ranks and listening to grass-roots opinion in order to be able to identify and crush any antiparty thinking — and to work out what the people want so that they accept the dictatorship of the party as a substitute for the dictatorship of the people (which is what real democracy is).
What the “overwhelming majority of the people” want, of course, is to be better off. Jiang correctly believes that only by following Deng’s strategy of “reform and opening up” can this be achieved.
In a rare moment of modesty, he admitted in the speech that China “needs new ideas and breakthroughs” if the successes of Deng’s strategy are to be sustained and repeated.
The significant new element in this part of the speech was a reference to constraints on policymakers’ freedom of action. They must ensure that their action is based on a strategy of sustainable development and that it achieves regional balance as well as balanced urban and rural development. This recognizes the increasingly obvious fact, from which the truth can be derived, that political stability in China — i.e., the continuation of the CPC as the party in power — depends on keeping the “overwhelming majority” of the people happy.
China watchers will be aware that the real significance of this speech is that it is one of Jiang’s last opportunities to establish his authority as a leading party thinker: one that the party needs to listen to to ensure its survival. If he cannot establish that in the next three months, then his influence will wane rapidly after his retirement from the party in October.
He may then face the nightmare that the truth people will find in the facts is that political change that limits and eventually ends the dictatorship of the CPC is what that overwhelming majority of the Chinese people want.
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