Communist parties seem to have a weakness for show trials. The most famous of these were the Moscow trials, which provided the backdrop to Arthur Koestler's powerful novel Darkness at Noon.
I was reminded of it while watching the Bo Xilai trial. You can call it an open trial because millions of Chinese citizens can follow it on television and the internet. But it is really a show trial, much like those of Madame Mao and the Gang of Four more than three decades ago.
The novel, an essential part of a 20th century education, charts its hero's soulful struggle to finally confess publicly to his fabricated "crimes" against the revolution as his last act of devotion and sacrifice because that was what the party demanded of him. In an ironic way, this anti-communist novel was a tribute to the weird and twisted nobility and self-sacrifice peculiar to modern revolutionaries since the French Revolution.
No such confessions came from Madame Mao; or from Bo today. Chinese show trials follow a different script. Like Jiang Qing, a defiant Bo lashed out at his accusers, including his own wife. With the communist ideology taken out, the producers of the trial aim to make it a display of righteous justice punishing a corrupt and unrepentant mandarin: in other words, an ancient Chinese morality play for the 21st century.
Except it is not really about moral retribution but the outcome of a naked power struggle. To be sure, all politics is about power struggles. But modern revolutions, including the Chinese communist revolution, are also, by definition, ideological struggles.
The children of the Chinese revolution are, once again, devouring each other. But with no genuine ideology, there can be no nobility in this naked power play because that requires existential belief and commitment. The one-party state is now anything but communist. Rather it has become a vehicle on which to ride to power and wealth. And as with any power struggle, there are winners and losers. The winners are now doing what they often do - appropriating the opponent's programme, in this case, the leftist agenda against political reforms, while putting its poster boy, Bo, on the chopping block. Instead of ideological darkness, just smog from industrial pollution envelops China today.