Ideological debate rages within China's Communist Party

July 19, 2007 - 0:0

BEIJING (AFP) -- A heated ideological debate within China's ruling Communist Party over how to solve the nation's social ills is spilling out into public view ahead of a major political gathering late this year.

But the classic communist/capitalist mud-slinging is unlikely to destabilize President Hu Jintao in the lead-up to the party's five-yearly congress where he will secure a second term as party chief, observers said. ""Everyone is seeing the same problems -- like corruption, a widening income gap, money worship, environment pollution and a lack of ethics -- are threatening the nation,"" writer and noted social critic Liu Xiaobo told AFP. ""But the big divide is in how the left and right wings of the party aim to resolve these issues."" Progressive elements in the party cite political system reform, a separation of powers and greater democracy as the best way to address the growing social ills, while the Maoist left is calling for a return to Marxist-Leninism. ""The people are indignant,"" said an open letter to Hu published on Monday by 17 retired government ministers and senior party cadres from the conservative camp. ""The party and the government have separated from the masses, socialism is being imminently threatened and the Chinese nation is in extreme danger."" The letter, posted on the website, said capitalist reforms had brought the nation to its knees, made officials corrupt, led to a wide gap between rich and poor, and exploited workers. The letter urged Hu to look upon a recent slavery scandal in brickyards in north and central China as a wake up call for the return to the egalitarian social policies of ""Marxist-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought"". ""We urge the party to take the evil brick kiln incidents ... as the straw that broke the camel's back and as a warning to mobilize people and correct the party's mistaken path,"" the letter said. Meanwhile a progressive academic journal, Yanhuang Chunqiu, run by democratic-leaning scholar Du Runsheng, said greater democracy and political system reform were the best ways to curb a corrupt government and an unfair economic and social system. ""The longer fundamental, substantial political reforms are delayed, the more likely unpredictable and insurmountable social unrest and political crises are going to occur,"" the journal said in its current edition. ""Reform must have a timetable... it should not be delayed."" The debate has heated up despite a speech by President Hu in June in which he insisted there would be neither a return to the Maoist era nor a move toward Western-style democracy at the congress, said Shang Dewen, a retired political science professor from Beijing University. ""Hu Jintao pretty much addressed both sides in his speech and has shown that he will remain in the middle and will not be entertaining the ideas of either side,"" Shang told AFP. ""The main reason for this is that neither a return to Maoism nor political reform is in the interest of the official class, which benefits from the economic reforms through its alliance with business.""