Capitalists, Unite!

Closing the little red book


"The world is changing," Chinese President Jiang Zemin told the 16th Communist Party Congress in November. "Wemust adapt ourselves." Jiang's adaptation, offered as his legacy on officially leaving office, was finally to junk Karl Marx, thus "free[ing] our minds…from the erroneous and dogmatic interpretations of Marxism."

Marx has gone missing in Chinese practice for years, but the party had maintained lip-service regard for the concept of class struggle. No more. Jiang's new dogma is called, in true Chinese party style, "The Three Represents," an awkward label that means the party now reflects all elements of society, including rich capitalists and foreign-owned companies. According to Jiang, it is now unacceptable "to judge whether people are progressive or backward by how much property they own." Indeed, Jiang said that "all legitimate income, from work or not, should be protected."

Of course, the new "Jiang Zemin Thought," adopted in the usual unanimous fashion by the congress, does not allow for the surrender of any power by the party, or for countenancing dissent; China immediately closed those left journals that complained about the rhetorical shift. Outside critics, including The New York Times, have called the new arrangement a change from socialism to "plutocracy" and suggested that it opens the door for the complete exploitation of Chinese workers by international corporations cozy with the state.

That's not quite right. Yasheng Huang of the Harvard Business School points out that much of China's capitalist class consists not of corporate fat cats but of peasants, because the rural populace was allowed more freedom to experiment than were city dwellers who posed a threat to China's state-owned enterprises. Huang adds that while China has indeed been facing worker restiveness, the problems are all in the socialist provinces, not in those provinces where foreign companies are situated.

"Under today's arrangements," Huang wrote in an analysis published in numerous Asian newspapers, "China faces a choice between the 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' or the 'Three Represents.' Which to choose seems very clear to me."