Follow Us:

Socialism redux

The Chinese pivot to what is effectively a redistribution of wealth model albeit updated to factor in contemporary realities is breath-taking in its sweep; and it’s been made possible only because policy is unapologetically formulated and ruthlessly implemented from the top

SNS | New Delhi |

The signals are clear. The Chinese are looking to pivot towards socialism with, well, socialist characteristics. Now that the risk-reward ratio in terms of the benefits of state-controlled capitalism ~ rather disingenuously termed ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ ~ has tilted in favour of the former with growing inequality, cronyism, and the concentration of wealth, opportunity, and access to goods and services in the hands of the top one-third of the population, the potential for social unrest in China has been recognised by the leadership. Course correction has begun under the aegis of the ‘common prosperity’ concept headlined by President Xi Jinping in his comments to the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs last month, suggesting that “common prosperity is a fundamental requirement of socialism” and is necessary to “balance growth and financial stability”. Following his lead, the Committee called for “reasonably adjusting excess incomes” and encouraging high-income individuals and businesses to “give back more to society.” That’s the thing about the Chinese absolutist governance model ~ its leaders can adopt utilitarian approaches sans any ideological interference depending on their perception of what is in the common good because daddy does know best. This is quite unlike the erstwhile Soviet system or even communist parties in the West or closer home in the sub-continent which placed a premium on notions of ideological purity. The Chinese pivot to what is effectively a redistribution of wealth model albeit updated to factor in contemporary realities is breath-taking in its sweep; and it’s been made possible only because policy is unapologetically formulated and ruthlessly implemented from the top. The first signs that the CCP was on the path to asserting greater control over the economy and society came in November 2020 with Beijing’s decision to block Alibaba’s Ant Group from listing on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges. In subsequent months, Chinese authorities have launched a widening series of crackdowns on technology giants, wealthy individuals, education services providers, celebrities, and even youth video gamers. Over $1 trillion in market value for China-listed firms has been wiped out in the process, but the leadership is clearly focussed on its domestic audience amid whom these harsh measures have apparently met with widespread approval. According to business and technology reporter Chang Che, China has 14 “crackdowns” simultaneously underway on business sectors and individuals and most if not all of them could be included under the ‘common prosperity’ umbrella. China expert Ryan Hass of the Brookings Institute points to a previously low-profile blogger, Li Guangman, whose essay calling for a “profound revolution to correct the inequalities that capitalism has wrought” went viral and was republished online by party and state-controlled media. There is some pushback from more moderate voices who eschew calls for revolution and the turmoil it suggests, but those looking for a genuine debate on the way forward are likely to be disappointed. ‘Common prosperity’ is a concept that evokes strong emotions in the CCP, ever since the party mouthpiece People’s Daily first used the term in a headline in 1953 to bolster the case for socialism over capitalism.