Document No. 9

I’ve just been catching on my ideological education, reading “A Notice on the Current Situation in the Ideological Arena” (关于当前意识形态领域情况的通知). The document was sent out by the Communist Party’s Central Office in April 2013. It’s not been published officially, but you can read about it here.

In it, the Party argues it is under attack from “anti-China western forces“ (西方的反华势力) and at home by book-clubs, letter writing liberals and “dissidents” (“异见分子”). In response, it calls for extreme vigilance among Party members, and policies which push back hard against calls for constitutionalism, “universal values” and other “western” evils.

It’s a stark document. It stresses there can be no compromise; across the fields of history, media and economic policy Document No.9 reasserts the official Leninist line - Do Not Question the Party. Whereas in previous years, discussion and some mild ‘revisionist’ ideas were kind of brooked, at least listened to, their more moderate adherents viewed as friends of the Party, trying to improve the system, now the ideas are clearly identified as poison and their carriers marked anti-revolutionary. It’s the difference between a Party member making “a mistake”, from which they can recover with reflection on their egregious errors and self-criticism, and being labelled “anti-Party”, at which point you better kiss your wife (and girlfriend(s)) goodbye. As has been remarked on much since, Document No. 9 is a foundational document for the New Era.

What caught my eye, though, were the bits on the economy. The fourth type of ideological creep that the Party Centre is worried about, is called “New Liberalism” (新自由主义), which seems to be a catch-all category for liberal economics. Not without some exaggeration, the Document claims such economists push for “thorough privatization” (彻底私有化) and “complete marketization” (完全市场化) of the economy. They believe in the “all-powerful market” (市场万能话) theory, are opposed to public ownership (公有制), call SOEs a “state monopoly” (国家垄断), and they believe that “macro-economic management” (宏观调控) undermines market efficiency and vibrancy. In all this, of course, these new liberals are wrong. And here comes the strangle-hold line: “They want to change the basic economic structure and weaken the government’s ability to control the lifeblood of the economy” (削若政府对国民经济命脉的控制). In other words, all this new liberal economics is exactly what Gorbachev did to the Soviet system, undermining the Party’s foundational power.

And there we have it. Seven months before the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress in November 2013, the No. 9 Document had already laid out what New Era economic policy could not be. Market-leaning economic policies were cartoonishly mischaracterized, exaggerated and simplified, and then judged to be anti-revolutionary. No mention of the systemic corruption that the SOE system engenders, no truck given to the benefits of privatizing some non-strategic assets, and no time for the benefits of market incentives. Document No. 9 made fun of the “all-powerful market” theory and then the Third Plenum document called for the market to be the primary allocator of resources.

And there we have it; the core contradiction at the heart of economic policy making ever since, and one of the two main reasons reforms have stagnated. That and the money.