A Struggle Within the Chinese Communist Party


On July 1, 2001 Chinese Communist Party (CPC) general secretary Jiang Zemin delivered a speech recognized immediately to be of great importance. He advocated the admission of capitalists to the Chinese Communist Party.

A struggle broke out within the CPC. Inner party struggles within the CPC do not take place openly. Reports on disputes within the CPC in the press inside China are rare and in a sort of code. Even the Hong Kong press shies away from such a subject. Two letters from prominent older party figures opposing the admission of capitalists to the party began to circulate privately from hand to hand. The existence of these letters, and therefore the existence of the struggle, became widely known. But of public discussion there was none.

The importance of the conflict is clear. It was, and is, a test of the strength of an almost invisible but very real presence: the opposition within the CPC to further extensions of capitalist social relations in China. As of last summer, the public voice of this Marxist opposition within the CPC were four small theoretical journals. None had a circulation much greater than Monthly Review.

On August 16, 2001 Erik Eckholm reported in The New York Times that the “small but influential Marxist journal” The Pursuit of Truth had been closed “for attacking President Jiang Zemin’s plan to bring capitalists into the Communist Party.” He went on to report that “despite the unease in some circles about Mr. Jiang’s direction, the editor at a party magazine said today, ‘The decisions have already been made, and opposition is futile.’ ”

But things were not that simple. On August 23, 2001 Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan reported in the right-wing Hong Kong South China Morning Post (SCMP) that “President Jiang Zemin has ordered that anti-reform leftist forces be ‘exterminated at the budding stage’ ” and that “ Mr Jiang, on the one hand, fears that a rise in the influence of leftists…would drive away foreign businessmen at a time when the country is about to join the World Trade Organisation. On the other, he fears it will endanger his bid for leadership at the [Fall 2002] 16th Party Congress.”

It was extraordinary for the SCMP, which as editorial policy almost never reports left opposition in China, to suggest that Mr. Jiang feared his leadership endangered from that quarter.

And apparently there was some truth to this. The CPC Central Committee held a plenary session September 24-26, 2001. On October 23, 2001, Xu Yufang reported in the Taiwan owned, Hong Kong based, Asia Times Online that “[w]ith no fuss and without a word in public at all, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CPC) has repudiated the bold plan of its leader, General Secretary Jiang Zemin, to open the party to capitalists and entrepreneurs.” The article remains, as of May 2002, available at http://www.atimes.com/china/CJ23Ad01.html and deserves to be read in its entirety. It reports that “Ding Guangen, the CPC propaganda chief and Jiang’s major protege, received the most rebukes for having tried to suppress discussion on the plan’s merits while the party had yet to make a decision.” As far as we can tell, the accuracy of this Asia Times story has not been denied.

Anecdotal reports from China suggest that in practice censorship of left Marxist voices within the CPC has, if anything, intensified. Of the four left Marxist theoretical journals only two are still permitted to publish, and those two exercise a strict self-censorship. And many individual capitalists in fact belong to the CPC, as indeed was the case before Mr. Jiang’s speech of July 1, 2001.

The question is one of a fundamental de jure shift away from Marxist and Leninist traditions, and given how far the CPC has progressed de facto in such a direction, the October 23, 2001 Xu Yufang report of the rebuke delivered to Mr. Jiang came as a decided surprise.

More recently Jiang Xueqin, in a “Letter from China” published in The Nation of March 4, 2002, stated that “[w]hen Jiang Zemin welcomed capitalists to join the party last year…[f]ourteen Old Guard Communists wrote a letter to Jiang accusing him of violating party unity in a manner that would eventually lead China into a Soviet Union-like collapse. Jiang responded by placing the suspected ringleader, Wei Wei, an 82 year-old writer under house arrest. China’s security apparatus arrested lesser officials and sympathizers found distributing the letter.” This is a reference to one of the two letters whose circulation last summer led to so surprising—if perhaps temporary—an outcome.

Early in 2002 the official state news agency Xinhua set out a list of criteria for capitalists who want to join the Communist Party, such as treating employees fairly and re-investing their profits in their enterprises. In May 2002 Xinhua reported that the Communist Party of Guangdong province (the heart of capitalist development in China) had selected capitalists among its delegates to the 16th Party Congress, scheduled to meet in the fall of 2002. Such evidence suggests that the question of a formal change in the Party’s Basic Statute will be reopened at the 16th Congress, and that opposition to the admission of capitalists to the party is being, or has been, suppressed. Yet the rebuke to the proposal at the September 2001 plenum was unexpected, and the outcome of this hidden struggle is not yet certain.

We make available here for the first time an English translation of the Letter of the Fourteen, as well as a translation of the second—somewhat longer and more theoretical—letter addressed to the Central Committee by Ma Bin, former General Manager of Anshan Iron and Steel Company and Han Yaxi, former Alternate General Secretary and Head of the Propaganda and Education Department of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.