Communist leaders plan 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.
There have been no details of the possible changes although foreign analysts say they include 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.
As someone who has more than passing acquaintance with communism, 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 recognised, 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. (As a matter of fact, not changing it amounted to the same, just by other means: No, no, no, comrade, let’s not play with this (freedom of the press, speech, travel, association, trade, property rights etc) it has sharp edges and will cut your wrists, let’s just circle round the drain together, holding hands and singing the Internationale…)
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 amount to a symbolic amendment given that China’s entrepreneurs have driven its two-decade-old economic boom. But then, symbols can be very powerful.