The Communist Party of China (CPC) held its seventeenth national congress in Beijing between 15-21 October 2007. As with any communist party, the congress is the most important event in the political life of the Chinese party. Moreover, as the CPC is the ruling party in the world’s most populous country and most rapidly-developing major economy, its proceedings are of considerable global significance, to both friend and foe alike.
The theme for the congress was spelled out in the keynote report by the general secretary, Comrade Hu Jintao, delivered immediately after the opening session had paid a silent tribute to the memory of Comrades Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and other proletarian revolutionary forerunners and founders of the People’s Republic.
Entitled, “Hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics and strive for new victories in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects”, Comrade Hu was able to report on a number of significant achievements since the last congress five years ago.
Gains in prosperity
He said: “Economic strength increased substantially. The economy sustained steady and rapid growth. The GDP (gross domestic product) expanded by an annual average of over ten percent. Economic performance improved significantly, national revenue rose markedly year by year, and prices were basically stable. Efforts to build a new socialist countryside yielded solid results, and development among regions became more balanced.
“The endeavour to make China an innovative nation registered good progress, with considerable improvement in the country’s capacity for independent innovation. Notable achievements were scored in the construction of infrastructure including energy, transport and telecommunications facilities and other key projects. Manned spaceflights were successfully conducted. Fresh progress was registered in energy, resources, ecological and environmental conservation.
“The tenth five-year plan (2001-05) was fulfilled successfully and implementation of the eleventh is in smooth progress.”
In summary: “The past five years was a period in which substantial progress was made in … building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. During this period, China’s overall strength grew considerably and the people enjoyed more tangible benefits. China’s international standing and influence rose notably.
“The creativity, cohesion and combat effectiveness of the party increased significantly, and the whole party and the people of all ethnic groups became more united.”
Difficulties to overcome
However, Comrade Hu, rather than being complacent, self-satisfied or arrogant, advised the delegates, and by extension the entire party, to be modest and self-critical, warning:
“While recognising our achievements, we must be well aware that they still fall short of the expectations of the people and that there are still quite a few difficulties and problems on our way forward.
“The outstanding ones include the following: Our economic growth is realised at an excessively high cost of resources and the environment. There remains an imbalance in development between urban and rural areas, among regions, and between the economy and society. It has become more difficult to bring about a steady growth of agriculture and continued increase in farmers’ incomes.
“There are still many problems affecting people’s immediate interests in areas such as employment, social security, income distribution, education, public health, housing, work safety, administration of justice and public order; and some low-income people lead a rather difficult life.
“More efforts are needed to promote ideological and ethical progress. The governance capability of the party falls somewhat short of the need to deal with the new situation and tasks. In-depth investigations and studies have yet to be conducted on some major practical issues related to reform, development and stability. Some primary party organisations are weak and lax. A small number of party cadres are not honest and upright, their formalism and bureaucratism are quite conspicuous, and extravagance, waste, corruption and other undesirable behaviour are still serious problems with them.
“We must pay close attention to these problems and continue our efforts to solve them.”
To rectify these problems – many of which, including excessive income disparity between both social groups and regions, a deterioration in public provision of health care and education, especially in the rural areas, environmental degradation, and corruption, have either emerged or become more acute since the post-Mao leadership adopted the policy of ‘reform and opening up’, alongside the undoubted and undeniable achievements scored by China in developing the national economy, raising people’s living standards and developing the strength of the country both at home and abroad over the same period – Comrade Hu advocated in his report that China should henceforth adopt what he terms the “scientific outlook on development”.
This concept has been given considerable prominence in Chinese communist discourse since Comrade Hu assumed the leadership. Indeed, as of October’s congress, it has been written into the constitution as part of the basic doctrine of the party.
Whilst it in no way reverses the basic approach taken by the post-Mao leadership of the CPC, which abandoned the policy of “taking class struggle as the key link” during the period of building socialism, it nevertheless introduces some important modifications. Whereas the recent leaderships of the CPC advocated that economic development was the key task, almost without any qualifications, Hu’s “scientific outlook” places more stress on the type of development – namely that it should serve to reduce inequality, bring real benefits to the people, especially those sections left behind or disadvantaged in China’s rise, and that it should be environmentally sustainable.
As Hu put it in his report: “We must always put people first. Serving the people wholeheartedly is the fundamental purpose of the party, and its every endeavour is for the well-being of the people. We must always make sure that the aim and outcome of all the work of the party and the state is to realise, safeguard and expand the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people …
“We must uphold the viewpoint of historical materialism that it is the people who make history, remain committed to serving the people wholeheartedly and adhere to the mass line.”
Standing on the shoulders of giants
In contrast to a tendency among some people in China over the recent period, Comrade Hu also laid great stress on the fact that none of China’s recent achievements could have been possible without the strong foundations laid by Mao Zedong and his comrades.
He said that the party “must never forget” that their work over the last period was “conducted on a foundation laid by the party’s first generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Mao Zedong at its core, which founded Mao Zedong Thought, led the whole party and the people of all ethnic groups in establishing the People’s Republic and scoring great achievements in our socialist revolution and construction, and gained invaluable experience in its painstaking exploration for laws governing socialist construction.
“The victory in the new-democratic revolution and the establishment of the basic system of socialism provided the fundamental political prerequisite and institutional basis for every inch of development and progress in contemporary China.” (Our emphasis)
The first congress of the CPC took place from 23-31 July 1921 and was attended by 12 delegates representing a little over 50 members. When the police discovered the meeting place, the delegates were forced to continue their deliberations on a boat sailing on a lake. By June 2007, CPC membership had reached over 73 million.
In the conclusion to his report, Comrade Hu said: “Ever since its founding in July 1921, the CPC has bravely dedicated itself to the historical mission of leading the Chinese people in striving for a happy life and for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Chinese communists have been fighting one generation after another to fulfil this mission, and countless revolutionaries have sacrificed their lives in the course of doing so. Party members in contemporary China must continue on this mission …
“All party members must be keenly aware that it will take more than a decade of continued efforts to reach the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and decades more to realise modernisation by and large, and that it will require unremitting efforts by several, a dozen or even dozens of generations to consolidate and develop the socialist system.
“We are bound to meet with difficulties and risks in our endeavour. We must therefore stay prepared for adversities in times of peace, be mindful of potential dangers, and always maintain our firm faith in Marxism, socialism with Chinese characteristics and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We must guard against arrogance and rashness, preserve the style of plain living and hard struggle, bear firmly in mind the basic reality that China is still in the primary stage of socialism, and work tirelessly for the cause of the party and the people. We must study and work diligently and keep scoring achievements that can stand the test of practice and time to the satisfaction of the people.”
Among the many messages of greetings sent by fraternal and friendly parties to the CPC congress, that from the Workers’ Party of Korea stated:
“We rejoice over the achievements made by the Chinese people under the leadership of the CPC with Hu Jintao as its General Secretary and sincerely hope that everything would go well in China in the future.”
We in the CPGB-ML share the same sincere hope with our Korean comrades.
Immediately following the conclusion of the congress, the CPC sent two high-level delegations to provide a detailed briefing and exchange views with the leaders of the fraternal socialist countries. Political Bureau member Comrade Liu Yunshan visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam and Laos, whilst his Political Bureau colleague Comrade Wang Zhaoguo visited Cuba.