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China's rulers are right to be nervous

The celebrations earlier today to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China were amongst the strangest in history. Residents in Beijing were told that they were likely to be shot if they opened any window or balcony door facing the route of the anniversary parade. Police shouted at people to watch the displays of military might on television rather than venture onto the streets.

Since July there has been a major clampdown on Internet communications, such as Facebook, U-tube and Twitter, according to most accounts, including Reporters Without Borders, who remarked: “The Electronic Great Wall has never been as consolidated as it is now, on the eve of the 1 October anniversary, proving that the Chinese government is not so sure of its record.”

There is no doubt that Mao Zedong’s proclamation on 1 October 1949 of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was a momentous event. It was a triumphant end to no less than three anti-colonial revolutions and decades of civil war between the nationalists of the Kuomintang capitalist classes and the Peoples Liberation Army.

Chinese peasants and working masses toppled the might of British, Japanese and US colonialism and challenged the power of the Chinese bourgeoisie. The Kuomintang were massively aided by the United States and other capitalist powers, while the Soviet Union supported the PLA, albeit in a duplicitous way. The success of the Chinese Revolution marked a tectonic shift in the struggle by developing nations to free themselves from old and new imperial powers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Stalinist-influenced Chinese Communist Party pursued a series of exaggerated policy turns, some of which led to famine, in a bid to overcome the country’s isolation. The Cultural Revolution was launched in an attempt to defeat bureaucracy but turned into an orgy of violence against intellectuals and dissidents.

After Mao’s death in 1976, a power struggle resulted in a leadership that would eventually take China down the capitalist road. From the 1990s, China became the manufacturing centre of the world economy as the global capitalist corporations moved into the country. Chinese corporations are now amongst the world’s biggest predators for oil, gas, water, mineral and land resources, competing ferociously for territory and power. The ruling elites and the middle classes have benefited from China’s rise to become the world’s biggest exporting nation and third largest economy. This enabled the rulers to keep a lid on things.

But in the wake of the global financial crash, the Chinese economy is being shaken by vast cutbacks in production which has led to waves of sackings. Many of the millions who migrated to cities in past decades are now being forced back to the countryside, but without the old securities. Social unrest and strikes are commonplace, while issues like the lack of care for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 lead to hostile anti-government demonstrations. Those who try to defend the earthquarke victims, like world-famous artist-designer Ai Weiwei have their blogs shut down and are cruelly beaten by police.

Alongside repression of internal dissent, the Chinese government rules with a mailed fist against rebellious national, ethnic and religious minorities within the country’s borders, not to speak of its active support for dictatorships around the world, from Burma to Sri Lanka.

During September there was another brutal clampdown on the Uighur peoples in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The World Uighur Congress said that near 800 Uighurs were killed after Han Chinese attacks and following intervention of Chinese government forces.

Members of the Politburo and Central Committee are desperate to being seen as the heirs of the Chinese Revolution. The reality, of course, is quite different. In recent decades, the Communist Party has turned into the vehicle for promoting the interests of a self-serving ruling elite while headlong growth has seen an environmental and public health nightmare.

The nervousness of President Hu Jintao and the bureaucrats who control virtually all the political and economic top positions is apparent. They are terrified lest their carefully manipulated claim to legitimacy is torn to shreds by 1.3 billion people over whom they rule. They live in fear of a repeat of the events of 1989, when students and workers joined together in a pro-democracy movement, encouraged by Gorbachev’s glasnost in the Soviet Union, only to be put down in the bloodbath in Tiananmen Square. As many China experts note, the ruling regime is fragile and ossified and a renewal of the country’s revolutionary tradition is long overdue.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
1 October 2009

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