Once upon a time the idea of united front tactics was to use non-communist progressive forces to strengthen the communist-led assault on feudalism, landlordism, organised crime, monopoly capitalism and bureaucratic corruption. Today, it seems that the purpose of a united front, as understood by Beijing and as practised by its acolytes, is to protect a new hereditary feudalism, the power of landlords and monopoly capitalists, and of gambling empires that thrive on the ready availability of large-scale money laundering, prostitution and related rackets.
Hong Kong was recently host to United Front Work Department chief Du Qinglin, who was in the city to launch a local branch of the China Reunification Council, another body seemingly designed to offer local bigwigs new opportunities to ingratiate themselves with Beijing in the hope of the usual commercial rewards. Mr Du provided an opportunity for a group of leading landlords to express their dissatisfaction with the Legislative Council for hindering projects that would favour themselves and the bureaucrats who do their bidding, or for demanding health and environmental safeguards. Legco's modest attempts to achieve transparency, a level playing field and replace collusion with competition are an obstacle to their interests.
Those reported criticising Legco included Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying, close ally of the developers and possible chief executive, and Henry Cheng Kar-shun, head of his family's property, bus and gambling empire and fighting a Legco attempt to query him over New World's hiring of a top official not long after he sold it a plum property at a price well below that suggested by Exco. New World was the largest contributor to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's re-appointment campaign and is also the employer of his brother, former police chief Tsang Yam-pui.
It is true that Legco and other objectors are holding up some development projects. But that is to be expected so long as the public can, as it does, clearly see that the interests of the top policymakers and officials are aligned with an array of vested interests of whom the main ones are the developers and the Heung Yee Kuk. In the latter case, the authorities seem simply afraid of trying to enforce laws on land use and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has brought to its bosom and into Exco Lau Wong-fat, the still-expanding great landlord of the New Territories and powerful representative of a feudal relic that denies proper representation to most of the New Territories inhabitants.
How claimed representatives of Hong Kong's grass roots can live with this I do not know - except that they were likewise blind to the evils of the Cultural Revolution. To be part of the united front assumes abandoning critical faculties and claimed principles in favour of blind loyalty to the leader, whether the personality cult of Mao Zedong or the institutional cult of the party.
Beijing's cynical devotion to feudal principles and the merits of the gambling industry is even more obvious in Macau. There the chief executive-elect, Fernando Chui Sai-on, is from the same mould as incumbent Edmund Ho Hau-wah - the families of the three 'patriotic businessmen' who have fronted for Beijing since Mao's days. Mr Ho retained an interest in Stanley Ho's main vehicle, Socieded de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, for a long time after becoming chief executive. He was also a shareholder in Air Macau, recently rescued by Macau and Air China.
Dr Chui, meanwhile, distinguished himself by presiding over the construction of facilities for the East Asian Games in Macau in 2005. They were 80 per cent over budget, thanks in part to a 50-million-pataca payoff to then public works secretary Ao Man-long.
Even a few of the 300 hand-picked 'electors' declined to vote for Dr Chui, who they saw as a non-entity ill-suited to lead Macau. But in Hong Kong, Donald Tsang could be relied on to gush congratulations: 'With your devotion, resolution and wealth of experience in public service you have rightly earned your place as chief executive.' Long Live the United Feudal Front.
Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator