China's rulers hold back tide of leftism

Damaging splits over the way forward are coming into the open at last
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Just weeks before China's Communist Party holds its full congress meeting, President Jiang Zemin has made a pre-emptive strike at China's dwindling band of Leftists.

The attack came through an interview given by a senior official who, while castigating the remnant Maoists, made a rare revelation of continuing factional strife within the party. "The Marxism they hold in their hearts is ... ossified," said Xing Bensi, editor of the Communist Party magazine Seeking Truth.

The interview was published on the front page of the China Economic Times, under a headline which seemed to spring from a bygone era - "Realise fully the primary stage of Socialism and guard against Leftism". Party propagandists normally stress that an absolute consensus exists among its ranks.

Mr Xing admitted that the problem of battling Leftism "can be seen very clearly". The political exchange ostensibly centres on who is being "anti- Marxist" and what stage of Socialism China has so far attained. At issue is whether it is appropriate to use capitalist-style policies to move further towards Socialism.

"This [disagreement] is not a problem involving a small number of people, but confronts us with a profound problem ... that is that there is not yet a consensus within and without the party," Mr Xing said.

Mr Xing is a close adviser of Mr Jiang, and such an interview must have had the highest clearance. Its publication comes as the top leadership is closeted at the Beidaihe seaside resort, thrashing out policies and personnel changes that will emerge at this autumn's full Communist Party Congress, a once-in-five-years occasion.

In Peking, analysts were surprised that the President would wish to see such a public admission that not everyone agrees with his policies. Before the death of Deng Xiaoping in February, there was some suggestion that his departure would prompt splits in the party and a power struggle. But over the past seven months, Mr Jiang had seemed successfully to be shoring up his position as the "core" of the leadership.

Leftist views had effectively been almost sidelined in policy-making, although China's traditional commitment to political consensus means that they must be accommodated if possible. All the leaks so far about this Congress have suggested that the main rows are over who gets what jobs. Mr Jiang seems, for reasons not yet clear, to have wanted to make a pre- emptive strike on the Leftists, even though they appear to be more of a political nuisance than a threat.

In this argument, each side accuses the other of betraying the policies of Deng, and of being "anti-Marxist". Mr Xing said: "Since last year, Leftists have made use of some problems since the reform and opening up policy to exaggerate wantonly, inflame public opinion, and create discord. Their aim is against the exercise of present policy and Deng's theory. If we do not respond to their criticism, we may waver on the question of how to approach the old Marxism [which is now deemed too rigid to deal with today's problems]".

Asked about the battle against Leftism, Mr Xing said: "The problem can be seen very clearly ... This is not only based on the fact that a few comrades have written some long articles that criticise our exercise of present policies." The Leftist grouping, centred on Deng Liqun, has produced a number of long treatises criticising present government policy.

Publication of Mr Xing's interview may yet prove a misjudgment by Mr Jiang. Mr Deng used to warn colleagues repeatedly not to engage in public debate. Leftists have a limited constituency in China these days, but there are those within Mr Jiang's mainstream grouping and on the more liberal wing of the party who could prove far more dangerous to the president if they believe that the green light has now been given for public debate.