Strange things are happening in the Communist world; strange things always do. Jack Ma, China’s richest man and the guiding force behind its biggest e-commerce company, has been inducted as a member of the country’s pivotal entity called the Communist Party of China.
It is testament to the winds of ideological change in the Xi Jinping era that the country’s most prominent capitalist and incidentally the executive chairman of the Alibaba Group has been listed by People’s Daily as one among 100 persons whose contribution to China’s development in the past 40 years has been “extraordinary”.
The time-span is critical ~ a little over four decades after the passing of Mao Zedong (1976). What the Chairman would have binned as anathema has now happened, transcending the rigorous ideology of Deng Xiao-peng. And blurred fair and square is the line that demarcates capitalism from Communism.
The colour of the capital is of lesser moment in the overall construct, as the CPI-M ideologue, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had once remarked in the context of his attempted industrialisation.
West Bengal’s former Chief Minister did allude to the China model while buttressing his perception, but in point of fact, China hasn’t jettisoned socialism.
Nonetheless, Jack Ma’s membership of the CPC reinforces the essay towards an economic/ideological transformation that was manifest during the party’s Third Plenum a couple of years ago, pre-eminently the acceptance of market economy as State policy.
A not dissimilar advice was proffered by none less than Amartya Sen to the CPI-M dispensation, but contretemps, both agricultural and political, had thwarted the party’s drive. While the rest is history for the CPI-M, the CPC narrative symbolises forward movement, a blend of ideology with the imperatives of the economy.
There is, therefore, a certain pregnant symbolism in Jack Ma’s membership. The billionaire capitalist belongs to an organisation that had initially called for the empowerment of the proletariat. His political affiliation came as no surprise to China-watchers, however.
Though it still publicly extols the principles of Karl Marx, the CPC has largely abandoned the collectivist doctrine in the post-Mao era, notably permitted private entrepreneurs to help build the world’s second-largest economy after the United States.
Well and truly has the CPC “affiliated” itself with capitalist success stories. The Hurun Report, a research organization in Shanghai that tracks the wealthy in China, has estimated the net worth of Mr Ma and his family at 270 billion Renminbi, or $39 billion.
On closer reflection, the party has veered away from its Communist roots and welcomed private entrepreneurs. Jack Ma had in the past tried to keep his distance from the government. When asked how he managed government relations, he would say, “Fall in love with the government, but don’t get married.” Pragmatic realism indeed.