Workers’ revolts threaten Xi Jinping

November 15, 2017

From the November-December 2017 issue of News & Letters

Xi Jinping was not merely elected to a second term as Party Secretary at the Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, he got his name and his thought into the Constitution. “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” will not fit on a bumper sticker, but multiple universities, including Xi’s alma mater Tsinghua University, are now racing to set up departments and class outlines to teach it.

When Mao Zedong found himself in the minority in the ruling Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), he introduced Mao Zedong Thought as a cover for a preventive counter-revolution against political opponents and factory workers in revolt. It was led by the army and aided by youth who for awhile waved Mao’s Little Red Books.


Xi, by contrast, has wielded control of the Party apparatus, and his hand was strengthened with the five new members of the seven-man PSC. Elevating himself to leading “Marxist” threatens that Xi will break recent precedent and not relinquish power after five years. Under Mao many refused to recognize China as state-capitalist, although Mao used that term himself. But now China presents itself as a linchpin of world capitalism, and all can see it.

Xi made a promise to end poverty by 2020, before this term ends. He might be able to do that and claim success by manipulating figures on paper. There are 46 million people listed as below the poverty line, which is 95 cents a day and not even close to enough for survival. Meanwhile millions of migrant workers in the cities, without local papers or eligibility for any social services, remain in poverty without being counted.

The Party has touted China’s power abroad—from making claims on the South China Sea to pushing forward in the Himalayas—and its public campaigns against endemic corruption, to counter the widening disruptions of striking workers in revolt and the escalating repression against them. Many strikers, lawyers and labor activists have been jailed, but Lu Yuyu, a former migrant laborer, has been sentenced to four years in jail just for blogging news about strikes.

The real promise Xi made is to double down on control of ideas of freedom in a surveillance society. Despite the nominal autonomous status of Hong Kong under “one country two systems,” a woman in Guangdong just spent three years in jail for praising Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement of 2014. Hong Kong schools erase mention of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square Massacre in their history classes. The announced plans to track the physical movements and online presence of every resident into an individual permanent record complete with loyalty grade is an ugly vision of Party control for the benefit of capitalists within and without China.

—Bob McGuire

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