China's leadership has taken a significant step toward erasing the crucial notion of class struggle cause of much past upheavel in China, while betraying concern that they may be going too far.
In a key speech at the recently concluded National People's Congress, Communist Party Chairman Hua Guofeng said: "There is no longer any need for large-scale and turbulent class struggle" The remarks touched a delicate nerve in ideologically conscious Peking, but drew little attention outside China because of an unprecedented deluge of Chinese economic data released at the same time.
Coming from Hua, who has not committed himself so bluntly to the concept in the past, the appeal for a turning away from ideological strife seems a victory for technical experts who want to run the country without political interference.
In one view, the speech brings China closer to the Soviet view of a struggle-free society where technocrats with many special privileges can still be regarded as part of the working class, a notion that helped begin the Sino-Soviet split.
Hua's speech continues to assault "social-imperialism," Peking's code word for Soviet foreign policy, but neglects to attack "revisionism," inside the Soviet Union, in the past a favorite of Chinese speechwriters.
Hua seeks to reduce the importance of struggle by the workers against former exploiting classes. He particularly defends intellectuals, who in the era of the late Mao Tse-tung were seen as often back-sliding remnants of the old society. Now many intellectuals, such as teachers and scientists, play a key role a rebuilding the Chinese economy.
"The masters of socialist society are the socialist workers, peasant and intellectuals and those other patriots who support socialism. There are contradictions of one sort or another among them but no conflict of fundamental interests," Hua said.
In other parts of Hua's speech, however, he appears less certain that the old ideology can be dispensed with entirely, despite the apparent urging or party veterans like Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, who suffered two political purges when class struggle was a watchword.
Unlike the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who used his 1956 "secret" speech in Moscow to attack the memory of his predecessor Joseph Stalin, Hua has only praise for the late Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.
Hua endorses Deng's favorite slogan, "seeking truth from fact," which Chinese see as a veiled warning to ignore Maoist dogma if it doesn't fit the situation at hand.
But Hua also quotes a favorite slogan of the Mao era, that struggle must be carried on so "it will be impossible for the bourgeoisie to exist."
Chinese officials, both in Peking and outlying provinces, watch such language closely. They remember being demoted or reprimanded during the Mao era for following advice of their technical experts to do such things as reward their hardest working workers, that contradicted Maoist egalitarian notions.
Hua's effort to soften emphasis on class struggle will likely encourage some local officials to risk measures, such as disciplining employees who get to work late, that might annoy some members of the working class.
But Hua's failure to attack Mao more directly, which some Peking leaders last year seem to be leading up to, will cause other officials to hold back on implementing reforms, such as worker bonuses, that Mao disliked.