Increasing domestic criticism of Beijing's procapitalist course

By Eva Cheng

Eva Cheng was a longtime staff writer for Green Left Weekly. This article is an introduction to the document that follows.

Over the past decade, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been escalating its pro-capitalist agenda, a pro-capitalist current among China's economists—known as the neoliberals—has consolidated its domination of China's media and publications, giving these economists a strategic position from which to shape public opinion. An opposing, anti-capitalist current—often called the "new left"—and its occasional sympathisers in the centrist camp have been struggling to have their voices heard. Via the internet they have broken down some barriers, but not completely. An intermittent tussle between these opposing views has been going on.

Then in August 2004 a study by the Taiwan-born Hong Kong-based scholar Lang Hsienping was released. Based on public data that firms listed on the Hong Kong stock market have to reveal, Lang concluded that a few of China's partially privatised listed state enterprises have been appropriating state assets illegitimately. The enterprises concerned were furious. One even launched a legal action against Lang, which has unintentionally weakened the censorship that the mainland Chinese media are subjected to on politically sensitive matters; they have greater rights to report on legal cases. The neoliberal economists, led by renowned apologists such as Zhang Weiying from Beijing University, backed these firms with a vicious polemical attack on Lang. The new left and others came to Lang's defence, sparking a hot debate, which the China News Service listed as one of the top ten economic events in China in 2004.

At issue is not just the few accused enterprises but the widespread problem of massive and systematic plundering of state property by enterprise managements, nearly invariably backed by local officials or others in positions of power, while state firms are being partially or fully privatised. This process has all the hallmarks of being a key source for the primitive capital accumulation of China's fledgling capitalist class. Thousands of protests in recent years, mainly by redundant state enterprise workers or desperate retired workers, have provided a glimpse of the devastating human consequences of this process. Contrary to its continuing but increasingly empty proclamations, the CCP regime is doing little to defend the interests of the working class, but is keenly guarding those of the capitalists, many of whom have come from its own ranks. Protesters know very well that they are not the only victims although they may not be aware of the class struggle of which they have become a part. The new left and other educated layers who still have a socialist conscience have stepped in to help explain the anti-socialist nature of these measures and to argue for an urgent reversal.

In October 2004 a group of veteran CCP members, cadres, military personnel and intellectuals jumped in to make their voices heard with the important document that we are publishing in the following pages. (As far as we know, this is the first time it has appeared in English.)

Apparently in response to the debate, in January 2005 the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission flagged that the "big" state enterprises, defined as those with assets exceeding 400 million yuan ($1=8.2 yuan), management would be banned from engaging in buyouts of their own firms. Such management buyouts are a common tactic, facilitated by accounting tricks or outright fraud, through which China's enterprise managers have been plundering public assets. Presumably the 150,000 enterprises that have less than 400 million yuan in assets have the green light for full privatisation.

In spite of tens of thousands of protests by workers and peasants, and simmering critiques from leftist intellectuals (which mostly go unpublished or don't get wide circulation), CCP cadres and military personnel haven't been vocal in recent years in criticising the pro-capitalist process. The exact identity of the authors of this document is hard to ascertain. But their action and the comprehensive nature of their sharp and uncompromising critique are an indication that a distinctly pro-socialist current is still alive within the CCP. This could provide an added support to the mass rejection of the restoration of capitalism that is taking place in China.