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WEALTH OF COMRADES

Primitive accumulation, according to Karl Marx, precedes capitalism. The wealth that the family of the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, has reportedly accumulated should suggest that the Middle Kingdom is well on its way to becoming a capitalist country. There is nothing odd about the fact that Mr Wen is among the top leaders of the ruling Communist Party of China. It is precisely because of his position in the party and the government that his family has been able to amass wealth allegedly amounting to US $2.7 billion. It is much more than a glaring example of corruption in high places. That corruption in China is endemic is no secret. It is also known that the party is at the root of corruption and all that it entails. Historically, though, this has been the case in all communist countries where top leaders lived like ‘new emperors’ and other party bosses formed the ‘new class’. But the revelations about the wealth of Mr Wen’s family could not have come at a worse time for its leadership. At the 18th congress of the CPC next month, a new generation of leaders will take over the reins of power from those who ruled the country for the past 10 years. Mr Wen has been known as a leader who reaches out to the common people more frequently than other leaders. The hitherto unknown story of his family’s wealth will shatter the party’s make-believe world. It will also destroy whatever is left of the party’s credibility among the common people. After all, the methods of primitive accumulation are, as Marx said, “anything but idyllic”.

There was something pathetic about the way the Chinese authorities reacted to the New York Times report on the wealth of Mr Wen’s family. They did what they always do in the face of adverse criticism at home or abroad. They saw in the report a capitalist conspiracy to slander China and its leaders. And they blocked access not only to the NYT’s English-language and Chinese-language websites but also all mentions of the newspaper or of Mr Wen on the most popular mini-blogging service in China. It is amazing that China’s leaders think this is a good enough strategy to shut out information from the people or to secure their public image. It may not be long before the whole edifice of this monstrous falsehood comes crumbling down.

China’s economic growth has long had its dark underbelly. The growing income gap between the rich and the poor has routinely sparked widespread social unrest. The ruthless methods that the State uses to suppress dissent are only making things worse for a government obsessed with maintaining economic growth and social stability. Like the murky affairs that led to the fall of Bo Xilai and the suspended death sentence for his wife, the wealth of the Wen family holds the mirror to the rotten world of Chinese communism.