Saturday, May 28

From Mao’s famine to totalitarian superpower


At 374 Huangpi Nanlu Street in Shanghai stands the traditional house with a stone door (‘shikumen’) where, a century ago, the Communist Party of China. Recently renovated, a legion of visitors queue up in front of its gray brick façade, enduring the suffocating heat, entertaining themselves by taking selfies with their fists raised. In July 1921, thirteen Chinese revolutionaries, plus one Russian and one Dutch, began to found the Communist Party here, but they had to leave by legs when the police arrived. To avoid more inopportune visits, they finished that first congress aboard a tourist boat on a neighboring lake. Jiaxing. Although the meeting was held on July 23, the regime commemorates the founding on July 1.

A century later, the founding museum of the Communist Party of China is not located in a working-class neighborhood or in the middle of a rural cooperative. Guarded by police officers like those who caused the stampede of his ‘parents’, it stands majestically in Xintiandi (New Heaven and Earth), the most expensive and exclusive shopping and entertainment area in Shanghai. One hundred years later, that house where fifteen outlaws came to the conclusion that «Marxism was the answer to China’s problems“As stated in the introduction, it is surrounded by shops and upscale restaurants overflowing. Dressed in fashion, their clients walk through their charming alleys taking photos with their latest generation mobiles. Beneath the futuristic skyscrapers of Shanghai, Xintiandi’s glitz reaches such extremes that, last summer, popular Chinese cosmetics brand Chando displayed its creams and concoctions in a dozen Porsche sports cars parked a few meters from the Party Foundation Museum. Communist China (CCP). No image better sums up the ‘capicommunism’ in which that congress of a century ago has derived.

The Party celebrates one hundred years with China turned into the second world power, the only country capable of challenging the United States for its global primacy. Thanks to its extraordinary economic growth in the last four decades, precisely since it opened to state-controlled capitalism, its authoritarian model has become an alternative to the battered and chaotic Western democracies, especially for countries in the process of development. growth. In 1976 when he died Mao Zedong, one of the Party’s founders and ‘father of the country’, China’s contribution to the global economy was only 1 percent. Last year it surpassed 18 percent and, at the current rate, China is set to overtake the US as the world’s leading power before the end of this decade. At the time there were 800 million poor people and, as the propaganda announces with great fanfare, extreme misery has been eradicated this year, another of the ‘miracles’ with which the party’s centenary is being celebrated.

Commemorating this special occasion in style, China shows off its economic progress to counter international criticism against the lack of freedom of its authoritarian regime and, of course, forgets the atrocities that communism brought during the Mao era. In one of the greatest catastrophes in history, between 15 and 55 million Chinese perished from hunger, exhaustion or violence during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ (1958-1961), the collective insanity with which Mao wanted to overcome the industrialized nations. imposing the communist ideal. «In the attempt to reach this utopian paradise, everything was collectivized. Villagers were concentrated in gigantic communes that anticipated the advent of communism. The peasants were deprived of their jobs, their homes, their lands, their belongings and their ways of life. The food was distributed with the ladle in the collective canteens according to the merits of each one, and it became a weapon that forced individuals to follow each and every one of the dictates of the party. The experiment culminated in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known “, writes historian Frank Dikötter in his book ‘The great famine in Mao’s China’ (Cliff), essential. Diving into a thousand documents collected over several years in dozens of official archives, he estimates that “at least 45 million people died unnecessarily between 1958 and 1962.” Added to them are the lives that were claimed by other atrocities such as the Anti-Rightist Movement or the Hundred Flowers Campaign. Equivalent by many scholars to the greatest executioners in history, such as Hitler or Stalin, the portrait of Mao still hangs in Tiananmen Square to give continuity to the regime and his figure continues to be venerated despite the disasters he caused.

Releasing responsibility for the horror of the ‘Great Leap Forward’, the ‘Great Helmsman’ then launched the ‘Cultural Revolution‘(1966-76), a radical youth mobilization campaign to purge their opponents within the party that plunged China into totalitarian fervor and chaos for a decade. Upon his death, magnificently recounted by his physician, Dr. Li Zhisui, in ‘The Private Life of Mao’ (Planet), a bloodless coup d’état removed his successor, Huo Guofeng, from power and allowed the purged Deng Xiaoping to undertake a ‘Reform and Opening Policy‘to gradually embrace the market economy, but, yes, controlled by the Communist Party.

If before “Marxism was the answer to China’s problems,” now capitalism was. Renaming it as «socialism with Chinese characteristics‘Deng proclaimed his pragmatism with his famous sentence:’ White cat, black cat, the important thing is that it catches mice ‘.

Then, in the West it was thought that the progressive economic and social opening of China would be followed by the political transition to democracy, as had happened with other communist regimes after the collapse of the Soviet Union and with other dictatorships in Asia. But that hope was extinguished after the Tiananmen massacre, with which the regime crushed protests in 1989 demanding democratic reforms, and, more recently, with the personalist drift of the president Xi Jinping, the most authoritarian leader since Mao. After ending the collective leadership that the regime had adopted so that the excesses of the ‘Great Helmsman’ would not be repeated, Xi has reformed the Constitution and the party’s statutes to perpetuate himself in power in next year’s congress, in which in theory should end its decade-long term. With no successor in sight, the burgeoning China of the 21st century is bigger than ever for having successfully controlled the coronavirus pandemic after its outbreak in Wuhan and because of its increasing weight in the world. Lest anyone continue to be misled, the regime openly asserts that “a Western-style democracy would not work in China” and that only the Communist Party can guarantee the country’s prosperity and unity.

Among the majority of Chinese, who were starving four decades ago and today enjoy progress that inflames their nationalist fury, it is difficult to find voices calling for democracy. Despite enormous social inequalities and the fact that 600 million people live still on only 1,000 yuan (129 euros) a month, propaganda indoctrinates the people and censorship and repression silence dissidents and those who have been injured by the injustices of the system. Outside its borders, its economic boom and the chimera of its market of 1.3 billion consumers neutralize criticism for the repression in the Muslim region of Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong and for its military harassment of the island of Taiwan, whose sovereignty it claims .

Of course, none of this is mentioned in the museum of the founding of the party, whose official account starts now a century ago with a humiliated China and reduced to practically a colony of Western powers. At the time, the Communist Party only had 57 members. Today there are more than 91 million who, in addition, belong to the economic and business elite of the country. In China, nothing like being from the party to do business and get rich.

For Jean-Pierre Cabestan, political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University and author of ‘China tomorrow: democracy or dictatorship?’ (Rowman & Littlefield), the balance of these hundred years is “very mixed to say the least.” On the positive side, he quotes “the restoration in 1949 of peace and unity, if we exclude Taiwan, some modernization in the 50s and, after launching the 1978 reforms, unprecedented economic growth, the opening to the West and the globalization of the Chinese economy, as well as the end of extreme poverty and more prosperity for many people. But, in his opinion, “the negative list is greater” because of “the Leninist and undemocratic political culture of the Communist Party, its opacity and top-down operational secrecy, its violent purges and campaigns against real and imaginary enemies and, after taking the power, its crushing of proprietors and counterrevolutionaries. In 1980, Hu Yaobang (the reformist leader of the Communist Party) calculated that political campaigns had ruined the lives of one hundred million Chinese. ‘ Since opening up to capitalism in 1979, Cabestan highlights “the persistent repression of any dissent, including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and the imprisonment of many opponents (including the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo), as well as corruption and their inability to curb the privileges of the rich and powerful and reduce growing social inequalities. ‘ Therefore, he does not hesitate to affirm that “despite its weaknesses and setbacks such as corruption, the Kuomintang (which the communist guerrillas defeated in the civil war in 1949) would have done better and finally would have democratized China, something that until now the Communist Party has opposed. According to The Economist, the country’s economy would have been 42 percent larger until 2010 if it had grown since the end of the civil war at the same rate as that of Taiwan, where the defeated Kuomintang government with its leader Chiang went into exile. Kai-shek. In Cabestan’s opinion, “the one responsible for the economic achievements is not the Communist Party, but the Chinese themselves, for their hard work, entrepreneurial character, investments in education, science and technology and, of course, for their unlimited love for the world. money”.

For the Party to last these hundred years, “a clear adaptability and lack of democratic culture in China” has been essential, as well as “the constant inclination to kill any democratic idea.” But Cabestan does not believe that the Chinese Communist Party can last another century: «Only 20 or 30 years at the most. Afterwards, he will have to accept the competition with other parties if he wants to survive. The emergence of an increasingly demanding urban middle class, the pressure from the liberal strata of the intellectual, political and business elites, as we have seen with the confrontation with Jack Ma, and the need to handle more and more tensions will increase the pressure to democratize ‘.

Nor does he believe that the Chinese Communist Party can last another century, at least without giving up power, Bonnie Glaser, Asia director of the German Marshall Foundation of the USA, dedicated to promoting democracy. “Right now, President Xi Jinping is in firm control and there are no visible challenges for the Party, but a key key will be whether China falls into the middle-income trap (and its growth stagnates),” Glaser warns. While she does give the credit of economic development and education to Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up policies, she and Cabestan both recall the opportunities brought by investment from the US and the rest of the West. As the economic tables of the Chinese takeoff show, a turning point was its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.

A century after its founding, the Communist Party wields to its people the progress and rise of China to erase its past atrocities and counter the international criticism of his totalitarian regime. But, in view of the economic change that these last forty years of ‘Capicommunism’ and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese have brought, we are left in doubt as to whether this success has been thanks to the Communist Party, or in spite of it.



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