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International Communist and Labor Press

Chinese Socialism, Xiaokang and Datong

Translated Wednesday 29 July 2020

Godfree Roberts
Ed.D. from Education & Geopolitics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (Graduated 1973)

What is your take on Kevin Rudd’s analysis of China and Xi Jinping?

People who have little experience with power–those who are far from it–tend to regard politics as mysterious and exciting. But I look past the superficialities, the power, the flowers, the glory, the applause. I see the detention houses, the fickleness of human relationships. I understand politics on a deeper level.–Xi Jinping.

Kevin Rudd’s analysis is deficient in several respects, mostly having to do with Kevin Rudd’s personal experience and proclivities. Mr. Rudd’s first handicap is that he studied Chinese at ANU, Australia National University, which has always been overtly hostile to, and ignorant about, China’s form of government and acted as an extension of the US Department of State. Rudd’s clueless thesis on Chinese democracy activist Wei Jingsheng, (supervised by politically clueless Pierre Ryckmans) neglected the fact that China is more democratic than Australia–because China refused to copy Australia’s fake democracy.

Rudd was extremely condescending towards China, imagining that, since he spoke Mandarin, he was qualified to lecture its government on how they should govern. His most notorious gaffe occurred when visiting Beijing before the Olympics there and told Xi Jinping (who was organizing the Games) and others how they should improve their human rights: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd angered Beijing with his stance on Tibet and has urged Beijing to tackle "significant" human rights problems in Tibet, in a speech to Peking University students at the start of his first official visit to the country. [Australian PM speaks out on Tibet].

Chinese officials were not amused and cancelled his special tour of the new facilities (which, until then, no-one had seen) and sent him home, where his own party kicked him out of office for being incompetent, divisive and self-centered.

In this recent speech at West Point, he analyzed Chinese politics as though they were Western politics which, of course, they’re not. Here are some direct quotes, in boldface, followed by my comments:

Xi “cleaned up” all of his political opponents on the way through. ...

None of this is for the faint-hearted. He has succeeded in pre-empting, outflanking, outmanoeuvring, and then removing each of his political adversaries. The polite term for this is power consolidation. Anyone who knows how busy officials like Xi are knows that they have neither the time nor the power to play such games. Unlike Western politicians who advance their careers through empty rhetoric and backbiting, the only way people like Xi advance is by being extremely cooperative and creating a 25-year track record of extraordinary accomplishments–which he did.

A further manifestation of Xi Jinping’s extraordinary political power has been the concentration of the policy machinery of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi now chairs six top-level “leading small groups” as well as a number of central committees and commissions covering every major area of policy.

This is very amusing, coming from Kevin Rudd because one of the reasons his party gave for firing him was that he would not share power! The CCP is Constitutionally required to ‘concentrate the political machinery’. Has Kevin never read China’s Constitution? Xi’s chairing of leading small groups reduces his power, as any experienced Chairman will tell you. Chairmen only do that if things are stuck and they need to intervene and kick asses, which is why Xi did it: some things were stuck in 2012 when he took power.

A third expression of Xi’s power has been the selection of candidates for the seven-man Standing Committee of the Politburo, the 20-person wider Politburo, and the 209-member Central Committee.

Kevin Rudd obviously doesn’t have a clue how candidates for the seven-man Standing Committee of the Politburo, the 20-person wider Politburo, and the 209-member Central Committee are selected. That’s the job of the Organization Department and they’re very, very good at it. Xi was far too busy to select anyone and didn’t even get to choose his own Prime Minister–who was his chief rival for the Presidency.

A fifth manifestation of Xi Jinping’s accumulation of unchallenged personal power has been the decision to remove the provision of the 1982 Chinese State Constitution.

Rudd misunderstands the nature of Chinese governance and the titles that Mr. Xi holds. The title of ’President’ is of largely symbolic value and confers little power (unlike the American President, whose title empowers him to kidnap, torture and assassinate enemies and, singlehandedly, to take the country to war). Mr. Xi’s significant positions, Party Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission (he was Assistant to the Secretary of Defense at 23, BTW) are positions of power and carry no term limits. The current amendments to the Constitution simply bring all three titles into alignment and confer no more power than Xi had when he was elected.
If you have become, in effect, “Chairman of Everything”, then it is easy for your political opponents to hold you responsible for anything and everything that could go wrong. Nonsense. Even if he had political opponents (people who disagree with some of his policies) they would not change the fact that, as Party Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission every Chinese holds him responsible for everything that goes wrong. That comes with the top job in every country.

We should never forget that the Chinese Communist Party is a revolutionary party which makes no bones about the fact that it obtained power through the barrel of a gun, and will sustain power through the barrel of a gun if necessary. Rather it should be seen as a definition of the particular form of authoritarianism that China’s new leadership now seeks to entrench. All countries are run by oligarchies–permanent political classes made up of elected and unelected officials, the military and the very wealthy. China’s oligarchy has a name (the CCP) and a face (Xi) and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

America’s oligarchy does not have a name or a face and takes no responsibility for anything. Australia’s oligarchy does not take responsibility for ten years of falling wages in the midst of a growing economy–but try replacing any oligarchy with one like the CCP that is genuinely dedicated to workers’ wellbeing and you will find yourself looking down the barrels of many guns.

I see this emerging political system as having three defining characteristics. First, the unapologetic assertion of the power, prestige and prerogatives of the Party apparatus over the administrative machinery of the state.

Again, a Western, power-based interpretation of affairs. The CCP has always been a genuine vanguard party and has always led by example and self-sacrifice–a notion that notoriously self-centered Kevin Rudd cannot comprehend.

A second defining feature of this “new authoritarian” period is the role of political ideology over pragmatic policy. This one’s a hoot! Have you ever heard the CCP spouting nonsense about being the greatest country on earth. The CCP is the most pragmatic political party (perhaps the only one) on Planet Earth! That’s how they earned public trust:

For the previous forty years, we’ve been told that China’s governing ideology was “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. As the decades rolled by, at least in the economy, there was much less “socialism” than there were “Chinese characteristics”. In this sense, “Chinese characteristics” became the accepted domestic political euphemism for good old capitalism.

Rubbish. The Chinese people still own the commanding heights (and commanding profits from) all the key industries, they have the strongest labor laws on earth and enjoy far greater employment benefits and protections than most rich countries.
Both he and the rest of the central leadership know what the international literature says: that demands for political liberalisation almost universally arise once per capita income passes a certain threshold. They are therefore deeply aware of the profound “contradiction” which exists between China’s national development priority of escaping the “middle income trap” on the one hand, and unleashing parallel demands for political liberalisation once incomes continue to rise on the other. Xi Jinping’s response to this dilemma has been a reassertion of ideology. This has meant a reassertion of Marxist-Leninist ideology. This is precisely the kind of blind arrogance Rudd displayed during his Olympic visit. The ‘international literature’ was written by dummies like Rudd who parrot the views of their employers. They have zero validity and today, a majority of educated young Americans reject their country’s failed form of ‘democracy’.

On top of this, we’ve also seen a rehabilitation of Chinese Confucianism as part of the restoration of Chinese historical narratives about, and the continuing resonance of, China’s “unique” national political forms. According to the official line, this historical, authoritarian, hierarchical continuity is what has differentiated China from the rest of the world. This Chinese “neo-Confucianism” is regarded by the party as a comfortable historical accompaniment to the current imperatives for a strong, modern Chinese state, necessary to manage the complex processes of the “Great Chinese Renaissance” of the future. As anyone who’s read the Dàtóng shu* (Book on the Great Community) knows, Confucianism is potentially far more radical than Marxism. Mao memorized it for that reason.
The Asia Society Policy Institute, of which I am President, in collaboration with the Rhodium Group, has been producing over the last six months the “China Economic Dashboard”:

..in five of ten areas, we’ve seen China at best marking time: investment, trade, finance, SOE and land reform. Just shoot me!

Rudd, who made little legislative impact on his own country, speaks condescendingly of China’s. In reality, China’s investment and trade are hugely up; SOEs’ profits rose 17% last year, outpacing the world’s stock markets; land use reform is unlocking $23 trillion of rural wealth; China’s finance sector is the safest, most solvent and best-regulated on earth; the environment is making enormous progress and, as for innovation, China leads the world in patents filed and, according to the Japan Science and Technology Agency, China now ranks as the most influential country in four of eight core scientific fields, tying with the U.S. The JSTA took the top 10% of the most referenced studies in each field, and determined the number of authors who were affiliated with the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, China or Japan. China ranked first in computer science, mathematics, materials science and engineering. The U.S., on the other hand, led the way in physics, environmental and earth sciences, basic life science and clinical medicine, though China is rapidly catching up in physics and is spending $6 billion building the world’s largest particle accelerator, which could put it at the forefront of particle physics. China joins US as top influencer in science- Nikkei Asian Review.
In the wake of the anti-corruption campaign and other compliance irregularities, we now see a number of prominent Chinese private firms in real political difficulty, and in one case, Anbang, the temporary “assumption of state control” of the company’s assets after its Chairman and CEO was taken into custody. Crooked businessmen taken into custody!!!?? Noooo!! Imagine America today if, after the GFC, its government had the courage to throw those crooks in jail!
Compounding all of the above is still a continuing lack of truly independent commercial courts and arbitration mechanisms.

Again, Rudd is oblivious to the fact that, in China, nothing and nobody is independent–everyone is part of the national family. In the Chinese cosmos, where all aspects of being are organically connected, “the spontaneously self-generating life process exhibits three basic elements: continuity, wholeness and dynamism”. To me, Xi’s China exhibits more continuity, wholeness and dynamism than any country on earth.[Confucian Thought: Selfhood as Creative Transformation. Tu Wei-ming, 1985].
There are many more criticisms that could be leveled at Kevin but you get the picture: he was a failure in his own country which itself is failing its working people yet he has the effrontery to criticize a government that does things like this:

*Although this has never been officially recognized, there is in fact a surprising degree of convergence between some important ingredients of Kang Youwei’s datong thought and the official ideology currently propagated by the Chinese Communist Party. According to this ideology, the Marxist vision of the communist society is still the highest ideal pursued by the Party and the Chinese people. However, this ideal can only be realized after socialist society has reached a high level of development. “The development and perfection of socialism is a long historical process.”

10 China is, and will remain for a long time, in the “preliminary stage of socialism,” because China, as an “economically and culturally backward” nation, needs to undergo “socialist modernization.” The theory of the preliminary stage of socialism implies that full socialism cannot be practiced yet, and China may legitimately borrow capitalist techniques from the West. Not all means of pro- duction will be socialized and subject to public ownership, and there will still be economic inequality among the Chinese people. The idea that the ideals of socialism and communism will be realized, and will only be realized, in the course of a long process of historical development and social evolution thus converges with Kang’s idea of historical progress and his vision of the datong world in which socialist or communist principles will be applicable in economic life.

The official view of the current level of economic development in Chinese society is that it has just reached the xiaokang level. It is hoped that by the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (2021), China will have reached a “higher level of xiaokang society,” and by the centenary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (2049), it will have reached the level of a middle-level developed country and will have “basically completed its modernization”. Thus the term xiaokang, which dates back more than two millennia ago to Liyun, is still being used today to refer to the second-best level of development. The concept of “harmonious society” advocated in recent years by the Chinese Communist Party also draws on traditional Chinese thought, particularly the Confucian vision of social harmony and amicable social relationships.

In the final analysis, the datong philosophy in Liyun and in Datong shu speaks not only to the Chinese people but to the whole of humankind. It is a philosophy that is universalist in nature rather than particularistic and dependent on a particular culture or religion. As a philosophy of the common good, it is a valuable contribution to the common heritage of mankind. Though ancient in origin, it still speaks to the needs, circumstances, and challenges faced by the contemporary world. Though Chinese in origin, datong is capable, as Kang Youwei has demonstrated,of entering into dialogue with the utilitarian, socialist, and liberal traditions of the West. It is to be hoped that datong thinking will continue to develop and contribute to the Chinese social and political philosophy of the twenty first century.

The Concept of “Datong” in Chinese Philosophy as an Expression of the Idea of the Common Good. Albert H.Y. Chen. The Common Good: Chinese and American Perspectives.

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