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After The Fall…Bo Xilai and the Crisis in the CPC

posted 12 Apr 2012, 04:02 by Admin uk   [ updated 15 Apr 2012, 15:53 ]
The drama surrounding the fall of Chongqing's Mayor Bo Xilai has exposed a crisis of authority in the system of rule by Communist Party of China. Its inner cohesion is based on governance capacities and adaptability to sharp changes; it leans on a solid foundation of strong economic growth and a history of radical shifts in orientation to resolve accumulated conflicts. This growth is rooted in the uniquely effective system for the exploitation of public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. The capacity to radically apply the authority of the state bureaucracy to mobilize resources is based on the ‘Democratic Centralist’ party structure and state model. The CPC rule and public ownership are the key factors to control all levers of state power and this permits general mobilization to attain objectives.              

Paradoxically, it is precisely the loosening of classical methods of dictatorial control from the centre and the flabby permissiveness towards all that is not explicitly forbidden that generated the conditions in which Bo Xilai’s political power play was rehearsed, set and performed.   

Bo sensed out the opportunity to perform to the masses by pinpointing the gap between official ideology and real conditions. The socialist iconography of the party and state remains the foundation of its legitimacy. Whilst it is claimed that the collaboration with business and wealth serves national development, those at the bottom of the seesaw see those above as elevated to such heady heights, precisely due to the exploitation of the mass.

The older generation in Chongqing were touched by Bo’s appeal to the spirit of a lost collectivism, reincarnated in ‘red singing’. The urban workers were impressed by his appeals to put the interests of masses first by a ‘red growth’ model and a radical fight against business-mafia interests.

All over China, strikes and other forms of unrest in state enterprises and other non-private units are commonly led by party cadres, PLA veterans and former managers, who articulate the grievances of the workers and utilize their knowledge of the structures and weaknesses of the bureaucracy to bring effective pressure to bear and win concessions.

Bo Xilai’s political ascendance sailed on winds driven by the universal social pressures generated by urbanization and proletarianization. Housing shortages, discontent at inequality, anger at corruption, and the criminal interpenetration between the party officials and business interests dependent on their sanction, permission or support. The myriad everyday struggles of the workers to find some stability and quality of life sharply contrasts to the lives of the wealthy and the powerful.

By cracking down hard on crime syndicates and their business allies, Bo Xilai’s Chongqing regime naturally attracted supporters among the urban masses, who are less concerned with the fineries of tactics than with determined action. But winning friends and influencing people by such methods was always a dangerous game. Bo’s attack on ingrained interests and his brazen play for national leadership set off alarm bells in the minds of those who felt threatened. If hundreds of ‘mafia gangs’ are smashed in Chongqing, what happens if others emulate such ‘populism’ and are backed by the urban masses? In addition, if leaning on popular support can be used to leverage power, is this not the pathway to unleash uncontrollable democratic pressures that would threaten CPC unity and rule?

Premier Wen Jiabao’s ominous warnings of the dangers of a ‘new Cultural Revolution’ preceded Bo Xilai’s demise. The radical shift in Bo’s situation - with the arrest of his wife for the murder of a shady British intelligence operative and his suspension from the Politiburo and Central Committee - appears to be part of an offensive move by pro-capitalists within the leadership. The recent World Bank Report China 2030 called for widespread but carefully sequenced privatization, and Wen Jiabao recently used flamboyant rhetoric, threatening to ‘smash the monopoly’ of large state banks. In addition to this, the closure of three influential neo-Maoist websites might lead one to conclude that a capitalist restoration is in sight.

The reasons for skepticism regarding this scenario are rooted in the balance of social forces and the consequent nature of power. The public sector bureaucracy - the party, PLA, trade unions, local governments, police, judiciary, etc. - have been constantly expanding their terrains and spheres of influence in the past decade. This process has accelerated since 2008, funded by a vast expansion of state investment. The bureaucratic command over the economy and state has vastly extended and intensified in the last three years. The balance of forces of the bureaucracy vis-à-vis domestic capitalism is poignantly revealed by events in the capitalist citadel of Wenzhou. The Wenzhou capitalists are the leaders of the indigenous bourgeoisie, yet these business leaders bemoan the terrible burden that they suffer, crushed between the twin pincers of state control and global economic crisis. In 2011, dozens of Wenzhou’s business leaders went into hiding, lest they be arrested and imprisoned as their business finance arrangements unraveled. The case of the 28-year-old Wu Ying, a.k.a. ‘Rich Sister’, sentenced to death for illegally raising funds, sends a chill down the spine of business leaders.

The People’s Daily’s editorial on 11 April appealed for unity behind the leadership in its action against Bo Xilai’s ‘violations of discipline’. Simultaneously, the spreading of provocative rumours on the Internet has been condemned and repressed. Such ‘democratic centralist’ demands, to uncritically trust the word of the leadership, are made for reasons of bureaucratic self-preservation. However, bureaucratically manufactured unity cannot overcome the contradictory pressures generated by the tectonic motion of social forces, to which the bureaucratic machine must respond and react.

A tragicomic theatre has unfolded over the last days. Although some in China might like this to end in an all out assault on the left, this scenario is unlikely. The bizarre mystery surrounding the story and tales of Bo Xilai’s elitist, aristocratic and business associations enthuses those who would paint the CPC leadership as nothing but a ‘kitchen of thieves’ who are engaged in a vast capitalist confidence trick to plunder the people. It also evokes memories of a John Le Carre spy novel from an apparently bygone era. But superficial appearances should not form the basis of analysis. The relation of class forces governs the root of systemic dynamics. The objective power relations between the classes are ingrained in the organizational form of CPC rule. This system reproduces itself by expanding the power of the state and bureaucracy.

Indeed, paradoxically, it is possible that the new CPC leadership will launch a nationwide anti-corruption campaign emulating features of Bo’s anti-Mafia crusade. We are also likely to see a greater emphasis on social objectives - aimed at winning over the urban masses – and a concentration on the core social and welfare policies that the state is already pursuing under the Twelth Five Year Plan. Only by stealing the cloak, mask and dagger of this fallen actor can new and less popular actors retain the attention of their restive audience.