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Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Class struggle joins Marx in the dustbin

HONG KONG -- Last Wednesday, a top official declared that, as a result of the market economy, "people's jobs and status keep changing" in China today, and there are "differences and contradictions between communities, between industries and between regions." These remarks by Li Ruihuan, China's fourth-ranking leader, seem innocuous enough. And yet they reflect the distance that the Chinese Communist Party has traveled in the last quarter century.

Li, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, went on to say in his speech to mark the closing of the conference's annual meeting: "We should be able to see that social contradictions at this stage in our country all belong to the category of contradictions among the people predicated upon a basic identity of interests. The main way to resolve contradictions among the people is through coordination work."

This is a roundabout way of saying that in China today there may still be classes and class contradictions, but they are all nonantagonistic contradictions that can be resolved through coordination and harmonization of interests. So-called antagonistic contradictions are between oneself and the "enemy," and can be resolved only by destruction of that enemy.

This is a far cry from the days of Chairman Mao Zedong, when he taught all Chinese to struggle against "class enemies." But it is in line with President Jiang Zemin's "Three Representatives" theory, under which the party represents advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the interests of the majority of the people. By contrast, during the Cultural Revolution, the party's constitution defined it as "the political party of the proletariat."

While Mao emphasized the need to wage never-ending class struggle, the party under Jiang is rapidly moving toward becoming a "party of the whole people," something that Mao had accused the Soviet Union of becoming under Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Becoming a "party of the whole people" by definition means an abandonment of class struggle.

The party's transformation from being the representative of "advanced elements of the proletariat" to "advanced productive forces" and "advanced culture" means that it is moving upmarket in Chinese society and is identifying, not with the poor and downtrodden, as in the past, but with the rich and the powerful.

In fact, the transition is already well under way, as a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shows. The study, which concluded that Chinese society is now divided into 10 classes, with party officials on top and the unemployed at the bottom, also showed that the party is well represented among managers, private entrepreneurs and professionals but not nearly as well among workers and peasants, who previously were its main supporters.

According to the study, in Shenzhen, which is adjacent to Hong Kong, for example, 35.7 percent of managerial personnel, 22.2 percent of private entrepreneurs and 27.2 percent of professionals are party members. This compares to only 10.4 percent of workers in the service industry being party members. Figures in other parts of the country tell a similar story. Everywhere, it seems, party membership among workers and peasants is dropping while enrollment of managers, entrepreneurs and professionals is rising. The nature of the party is clearly changing.

To Mao, who founded the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 and who proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, class struggle was the party's primary task. The first article in his "Selected Works" is one he wrote in 1926, "Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society." In it, Mao asks: "Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?"

According to Mao, the enemies of the Communists were "the landlord class and the comprador class" as well as the bourgeoisie -- in other words, people with money and power. And their friends, of course, were the exploited workers and the peasants in the countryside.

To the day he died, Mao's instructions to the party were consistent: "Take class struggle as the key link." To Mao, it was better to be poor as long as one was ideologically pure. Wealth inevitably carried with it the danger of turning revisionist.

However, after Mao's death in 1976 and the subsequent emergence of Deng Xiaoping as China's undisputed leader, these Maoist theories were gradually jettisoned.

In 1981, the party passed an unprecedented "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the Communist Party of China." In the resolution, Mao was accused of having confused right and wrong and "confusing the people with the enemy."

Even so, the party constitution adopted in 1982, which replaced the Cultural Revolution constitution of 1969, retained Maoist language, declaring: "It is essential to strictly distinguish and correctly handle the two different types of contradictions -- the contradictions between the enemy and ourselves and those among the people." This implied that, within Chinese society, there were still "class enemies" who needed to be struggled against and eradicated.

Now, 20 years later, things have changed again. All contradictions are now benign and there are no class enemies left, according to the latest Li Ruihuan speech. No doubt, the party constitution will need to be revised again to take account of this.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.

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