Just when I had got my head around pronouncing Hu Jintao correctly — Hu as in ‘(Barack) Hussein’, Jin as in ‘gin’ and Tao as in ‘towel’ — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) went in for their once-every-ten-years leadership change. Xi Jinping is the new CCP general secretary and I’m now trying to get the hang of his name — pronounced ‘She-Jchingping’ — before the dark suits in Beijing change their mind and go for a tougher name.
Xi-ji will be paraded about in world capitals and fora as China’s new ‘premier’ — or, more precisely, ‘paramount leader’. But in the remaining communist nations across the globe such as Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and the CPI(M) headquarters at AKG Bhavan in New Delhi, it will be his designation as ‘the highest leader of the party and the State’ that will matter.
I’ve been reading the excellent and illuminating book, The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Financial Times journalist Richard McGregor (pronounced Ri-chrd Mc-Gre-gr). Apart from unravelling the intricate circuits that make the Chinese politico-governmental-administrative system tick and exploring the rivalries and lava bubbles under its never-a-ripple ‘Confucius says’ facade, McGregor has highlighted two key characteristics about China that most people forget. One, that despite the notion of communism being a stuffed sabre-toothed dodo in a museum, China remains a communist State. Even with Deng Xiaoping’s lurch towards controlled market capitalism in the late-1970s, the modern Chinese State, in McGregor’s words, “still runs on Soviet hardware”.
Which leads to the second pivotal point about China 2012: despite (or irrespective of) the Shanghai skyline and China’s economic superpower status, it is a one-party State where the party infiltrates every aspect of China. While the romanticism of having one no-nonsense policy-making entity is alluring for many of us harbouring a socio-erotic fantasy of a dominatrix State especially in these days of ‘policy-paralysis’, ‘coalition shuffles’ and ‘moribund Parliament’, the People’s Republic’s socio-political architecture is built to protect, sustain and strengthen the Party, not its people. If the Party is now gearing to tackle corruption in a big way, or is planning to make China’s vast wealth reach poorer sections so as to make for a more equitable society, it's to protect the CCP against the rampage of hordes that lie within China’s gates.
“The notion of the party controlling the government, especially when the same party effectively is the government, remains conceptually difficult for many to grasp,” writes McGregor. Anyone coming from West Bengal of the 1980s as I do won’t have any problem at all grasping this. Much like its models, the Soviet Communist Party and its Chinese avatar, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that led Bengal’s Left Front government from 1977 to 2011 conflated party and government in a way that feudal-democratic parties such as the Congress can only fantasise about.
It’s another matter that West Bengal’s communist ‘party-state’ ran out of things to offer to those under its loyalty scheme. Mamata Banerjee’s Communism 2.0 continues the old programme of infiltrating every level of government and society with The Party. And if anyone finds it intriguing how so much secrecy surrounds the CCP, then it could be worthwhile to try and figure how the communist parties in India — whether pertaining to the decision that disallowed Jyoti Basu from becoming prime minister in 1996, or regarding how Prakash Karat continues to be the CPI(M) general secretary even after the party’s 2011 electoral debacle — are also covered in a thick dialectical materialistic smog.
There are friends of mine who, of late, have been showing signs of missing the Left. Ramachandra Guha, a staunch liberal if there is one, wrote in a recent essay how “communist leaders and activists are probably more intelligent than their counterparts in other parties and — by and large — more honest.” Guha quotes a “bourgeois friend” saying, “They are the kind of people in whose home she can safely permit her teenaged daughter to spend the night”. I’m not sure what being socially at ease with leaders of an ideological ilk has to do with their ability, or seriousness, to be part of democratic politics. I’m told Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s confidant during the Emergency years and under whose chief ministership Bengal saw a crackdown on ‘Naxals’ in the 1970s, was a very refined man.
So while the Xi-Xi crowd here may find Leninist China alluring and make sounds about missing the charming leaders of the Left, I’ll play Party-pooper. Just because India’s rickety democracy hasn’t got things right doesn’t mean that China’s Gangnam-Style Communism is laudable. At the heart of the communist ideology lies the need to protect the Party at all costs. It’s not only about Big Brother making you rich. It’s also about Daddy knowing best. Even at the cost of freedom that we here in anarcho-narcoland take far too much for granted.