In 2003 Communist leaders planed to amend China’s constitution to formally enshrine the ideology of Jiang Zemin, the recently retired leader who invited capitalists to join the Communist Party. Despite sweeping economic and social changes, the political status of China’s entrepreneurs is still ambiguous.
They included the communist era’s first guarantee of property rights. Certain amendments are still needed to promote economic and social development, said the party newspaper People’s Daily. It said the changes were meant to cope with accelerating globalization and advances in science and technology.
Jiang’s theory, the awkwardly named “Three Represents,” calls for the 67 million-member party to embrace capitalists, updating its traditional role as a “vanguard of the working class” and for the constitution to formally uphold property rights and the rights of entrepreneurs. Anyone who has visited Shanghai since and saw Beijing last summer will attest to the populace there embracing capitalism for sure.
As someone who has more than a passing acquaintance with China, I see this is as a big change indeed. Even under most dire oppression you cannot entirely stop people exchanging goods and services.
And so it was in the countries of the former Communist bloc, although the private sector was not officially recognized, there were shades of grey in the ‘socialist worker economy’.
Former Yugoslavia, for example, ventured furthest in its recognition of private enterprise and some semblance of property rights and in return relatively prospered. Also in practice, Poland and Hungary were kinder to their small landowners and tradesmen than the communist ideologues allowed.
Nevertheless, there was no question of formally acknowledging property rights and any form of private enterprise by governments whose grasp of economics was based entirely on Marxism. It was one thing to tolerate existence of non-state markets and even benefit from them, but changing their opposition to individual’s property rights, so firmly embedded in political systems that were barely surviving, would have been a political, ideological and social suicide.
China’s development has been very different to that of Eastern Europe, politically and economically, although both were waving the Red Flag. The proposed change to the China’s constitution may have amounted to a symbolic amendment given that China’s entrepreneurs have driven its two-decade-old economic boom. But then, symbols can be very powerful. Once the gates are open as they were during the Olympics it will be nearly impossible to close them.
The young Chinese love and embrace capitalism, heck they have downloaded Avril Lavigne’s music and images 38 million times. And that love affair with consumerism has created a new non-violent and more powerful revolution than Tiananmen or the West could ever have hoped to achieve with sanctions and posturing.