The 17th Congress of the Chinese ‘Communist’ Party was held back in October. It was five years since the previous one, so this is clearly not a decision-making body that determines how the party — and therefore the country — should be run. Rather it’s a rubber-stamp gathering that endorses what the CCP’s power-holders have already decided. The Central Committee is ‘elected’, but even that meets less than once a year, and it is the political bureau and its standing committee (nine men in dark suits) who really run things.
The CCP has changed over the years. It now has over 70 million members, and another 20 million applicants for membership. The growth of private capitalism in China has led many of the wealthiest people in the country to join the party. In the Hongdou textile group, which has assets of over a billion yuan (around £60 million), all the high-level managers are party members. Another capitalist, Liang Wengen, who has a fortune of three billion yuan (£190 million), was a delegate to the congress. If private entrepreneurs can join the party, he said, it “helps to enhance the brand recognition of our company.” Western companies may promote their brands by sponsoring football teams, while in China they do so by joining the ‘Communist’ Party!
A new party constitution was adopted at the congress. This talks about building ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, which includes a supposed socialist market economy, i.e. “optimizing resource allocation while giving play to market forces”. As the balance shifts towards private rather than state capitalism and state-owned enterprises are increasingly listed on the stock market, all pretence at any connection to Marxism has long since been dropped.
Instead, the rich are getting much much richer. According to some reports there are over a hundred billionaires in China, while the average income is less than $1000 a year. No wonder many Chinese workers, especially in the south, are prey to the ‘snakeheads’ who promise good jobs and decent wages in return for a huge fee for smuggling people out of China and across to Europe. The jobs and pay are never quite what is promised, of course, but the prospect is better for many than the grinding poverty of life in China. Within China there are 120 million migrant workers who have moved to the cities to find work and yet fail to escape poverty and exploitation.
In December, the China Labour Bulletin published a report on the workers’ movement in China 2005-6 (see http://www.clb.org.hk/enfiles/File/research_reports/Worker_Movement_Report_final.pdf). It begins as follows:
“After working repeated overtime shifts for an entire month, Hu Xinyu, a 25-year-old employee at the Huawei factory in Shenzhen, collapsed and died from multiple organ failure on May 28, 2006. Two days later, Gan Hongying, a 35-year-old woman employed in a clothing factory in the Haizhu district of Guangzhou, died after working a total of 54 hours and 25 minutes (22 hours overtime) in the previous four days. A few weeks later, a senior union official publicly admitted that China’s official trade union was virtually powerless to prevent forced overtime in factories across the country.”
So workers endure forced overtime in dangerous conditions while the bosses count their ill-gotten gains and flaunt their membership of the ‘Communist’ Party. It’s still capitalism, and becoming less and less different in any way from the kind found in the West.