After Zhao’s death, where is China heading?

FORMER CHINESE Communist Party (CCP) leader Zhao Ziyang died last week. He
had been under house arrest since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square
pro-democracy protests in May 1989.

Zhao had gone to the square and made a tearful appeal to student leaders to
call off the protests on the eve of the government’s declaration of martial
law. His aide, Wen Jiabao, who is now China’s premier, accompanied him to the
square that day. Two weeks later the streets of Beijing turned red with the
blood of hundreds, if not thousands, of young workers and students.

In the 48 hours before Zhao’s unexpected visit, over a million
demonstrators had marched through Beijing in support of hunger-striking
students. Young workers had appeared in the square to announce the formation
of autonomous trade unions and a one-day general strike in the capital unless
the government met the movement’s main demands.

"National leaders" visit Zhao

ZHAO’S FORMER secretary, Bao Tong, (who spent seven years in prison and
lives today under government surveillance), told foreign media: "The fate of
Zhao Ziyang is also a chilling reminder of other injustices that are on the
consciences of those who are still powerful," before his telephone was cut

In the last few months there had been growing calls from within the CCP for
Zhao’s release, if not rehabilitation. Postings appeared on China-based
websites mourning Zhao, some critical of the regime.

That section of the Chinese ruling elite that favours more rapid political
‘reform’ (a relaxation rather than dismantling of the dictatorship), will
undoubtedly invoke Zhao’s memory. More ominously for CCP tops, there are
growing calls for an official reappraisal of the Tiananmen Square massacre –
officially a ‘counterrevolutionary’ rebellion that had to be put down. As
recently as last year, president Hu Jintao ruled out such a step, fearing this
could open a Pandora’s box of recriminations and demands to punish several
still living party elders. There are even rumours that an agreement not to
reopen the issue may have featured in the deal struck in September 2004 which
led to former president, Jiang Zemin, relinquishing his control of the army.

China’s Gorbachev?

ZHAO, WHO during the so-called Cultural Revolution [in the 1960s] was
paraded through Canton (Guangzhou) in a dunce’s cap, was rehabilitated by Zhou
Enlai in 1973 and sent to China’s largest province, Sichuan, as first party
secretary. There he instituted rural land ‘reforms’, the abolition of the
commune system and a raft of other pro-market measures.

This gained the attention of Deng Xiaoping, China’s "paramount leader" (and
later architect of the 1989 massacre), who had him drafted into the Politburo
in the late 1970s. Zhao became prime minister in 1980 and assumed, in
addition, the post of CCP general secretary in January 1987.

In some respects Zhao was a Chinese Gorbachev, who was denied the chance to
play a similar historical role as the last leader of the Soviet Union. The
views of both men were shaped by the economic quagmire that Stalinism (the
system of bureaucratic rule wedded to a nationalised, planned economy) found
itself in by the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The fundamental reasons for this economic crisis, which saw growth slow to
a snail’s pace and a widening technological gap open with the capitalist
world, flowed from the nature of bureaucratic rule. To replace the brutal
‘self-correcting’ mechanism of the market (which is now at work in both
countries with a resultant growth of poverty and social misery) a planned,
state-owned economy requires democratic interaction and control by the mass of
the population, not a privileged, unelected and tyrannical layer of

Gorbachev and Zhao attempted to find a way out of the impasse by copying
some of the methods of capitalism, encouraging wider income differentials,
more financial ‘incentives’ for management and a relaxation of state control
over the economy.

Both men also sought to introduce ‘political reform’ while in no way
wishing to go beyond the bounds of Stalinist one-party rule. This was a
classical case of ‘reform from the top to prevent revolution from below’. Some
of Zhao’s prescriptions are gaining currency in the CCP today, for example his
call for direct elections for government chiefs below the county level and
‘constitutional law courts’ where officials could be brought to justice for
abuses of power.

Zhao’s ideas – the guide to the 1990s

BY 1989, by which time he was party secretary and Deng’s heir apparent,
Zhao’s economic ‘reform’s had led to a surge in inflation and a huge growth of
official corruption – two factors which fuelled the mass discontent of 1989.

Paradoxically, and as the CWI at the time predicted, although the 1989
movement led to Zhao’s ousting, the ruling clique were forced to turn back to
a variant of his economic ideas after a short interregnum following the
crackdown. But with nerves shattered by the sweep of the mass protests, Zhao’s
ideas on political reform were put on ice indefinitely.

The ruling doctrine under Deng and Zhao’s successor, Jiang Zemin, was one
of fast economic growth based on a shift to capitalism, but in a controlled
form to avoid the chaos that accompanied the break-up of the Soviet Union. The
Stalinist boot remains – in the form of police repression – but now serves a
new, capitalist, master.

After Zhao’s death, capitalist governments abroad have commented on the
need for further steps toward "democratisation" in China.

In reality, however, the capitalist class internationally stands in
solidarity with Deng, Jiang and the other leaders who ordered the crackdown of
4 June 1989, not with Zhao’s futile but personally heroic opposition.

Commenting on the current instability in China, Simon Murray, (an adviser
to Hong Kong’s and Asia’s wealthiest tycoon Li Ka-shing), recently warned that
a "co-ordinated national uprising as happened in 1989," could be in the
offing. "If that starts rolling," he added, "China goes backwards".