CPC 18th Congress Signals: Little Signs of Any Course Correction

The Eighteenth Congress of the world’s largest political party (membership strength upwards of 80 million, represented by more than 2300 delegates to the Congress) ruling the most populous country under the sky had hardly any surprises to offer. The Congress was held in the backdrop of a whole set of disturbing reports of growing unemployment and hazardous working conditions, rampant corruption, rural poverty and land acquisition, social disparity, marginalisation of women and environmental degradation. The spectacular growth rate of the Chinese economy has also been undergoing a steady decline.

While duly electing a new set of leaders, the 18th Congress discourse showed little signs of any serious attempt on the part of the CPC leadership to grapple with the growing problems. The issue of declining economic growth dominated much of the Congress resolutions and speeches. In his keynote address to the inaugural session, outgoing general secretary Hu Jintao set a target of doubling the country’s 2010 GDP and per capita income by 2020.

It is however to be noted that while previously GDP alone was considered sufficient in fixing growth targets, this is the first time that per capita income also has been included, signifying some attention being paid to the quality of growth also. In another ‘first’, the Congress decided “to give high priority to making ecological progress”.

In a similar vein, a resolution approving the work report submitted by the outgoing Central Committee called for more balanced, domestic-driven and innovation-led development – a move away from the current export-driven model. In fact the Chinese government had started introducing such a change in policy orientation right from the onset of the global economic crisis. This has stood the country in better stead compared to other major economies and now the Congress has “emphasised the need to speed up…the change of the growth model.” If the renewed thrust provided by the Congress succeeds in at least preventing further slowdown of the economy and improving the living standards of Chinese workers and peasants, that would be an encouraging development not for that country alone, but for all developing nations. However, given the very serious economic and political obstacles like structural dependence on the export-led growth strategy and tough opposition from vested interests and lobbies in the government that have profited enormously from the cheap labour-high export model, this will prove an extremely difficult task.

A related and more urgent task is to combat corruption. “We should pursue a distinctive Chinese approach to combating corruption and promoting integrity”, with greater stress to be placed on prevention than on punishment, observed the resolution on CPC Central Committee report. The urgency is understandable in the context of growing incidence of cronyism. Only recently Politburo member and Chongqing chief Bo Xilai and a former railway minister were expelled from the party on charges of graft and misuse of power. Both of them will soon stand trial. The case of Bo is more embarrassing for the party because he is one of the “princeling” leaders (as close relatives of former leaders are sarcastically called).

That his was not an isolated or accidental case is evident from an important amendment to the party constitution. “The party should select its cadres on the basis of both moral integrity and professional competence, with priority given to the former,” it said, “and appoint cadres on their merits without regard to their origins” (emphasis ours; the allusion is to family backgrounds). More generally, the party should “attach greater importance to conducting oversight of cadres”, the amendment urged.

But corruption is only one of several challenges confronting the party. As the newly elected General Secretary himself said in his first public remarks after the conclusion of the Congress, there are “many pressing problems within the Party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism caused by some Party officials.”

The honest recognition of some of the most dangerous pitfalls and the urge to mend them is indeed laudable. But the self-introspection does not go deep enough to reveal the roots of the problems, which we believe lie in not only the practice but in the very notion of market-driven socialist construction, an oxymoron euphemistically called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

Followed since 1980s, this path has entailed spectacular capitalist growth along a somewhat restricted neo-liberal trajectory, inexorably accompanied by rampant corruption; growing social, regional and gender disparities; as well as cultural degeneration, environmental degradation and many other evils. As we pointed out in a document of our Eighth Party Congress, which followed close on the heels of the 17th CPC Congress.

“Rapidly growing capitalist relations in the base is naturally having its impact on the superstructure – on the politics, policies and priorities of the ruling party as well as conduct of its members…The need for a deeper ideological-political rectification and course correction is therefore being felt widely by well-wishers of the Chinese experiment across the world.”

No hint of such a fundamental course-correction is available in the 18th Congress documents released so far. No wonder, the cancer of ideological-political degeneration – of which problems like corruption and bureaucracy are but outward symptoms – is spreading unchecked.

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