Intellectual calls for constitution to ditch 'dictatorship of the proletariat'

Outspoken liberal tells university audience key Marxist phrase in the constitution of the socialist people's state should be scrapped

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 4:47am

A leading liberal intellectual has urged the government to eradicate the concept of zhuanzheng (dictatorship) from the country's constitution as a major step towards respecting citizens' rights.

Cao Siyuan told a seminar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong yesterday that doing away with the clause on the "people's democratic dictatorship" would amount to "removing a threat of death" hanging over the nation. "It will bestow freedom from fear on 1.3 billion citizens," he said.

The opening clause of the constitution says the country is "a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class".

The concept originated from Marxist doctrine that during the transition from capitalism to socialism, the use of "ruthless, extra-judicial oppression" against reactionary forces was justified in the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, Cao said. The resulting lawlessness meant no one, not even high-ranking officials, was exempt from persecution, he said.

"We should all call for the eradication of dictatorship [in the constitution]," Cao said.

We should all call for the eradication of dictatorship [in the constitution]

He said his study of the constitutions of more than 110 countries found that 99 per cent did not mention "dictatorship".

Communist Party chief Xi Jinping said in a speech in December that officials must protect citizens' constitutional rights and hit out at those who violate the constitution and the law, state media reported.

The constitution says citizens enjoy freedom of the press, speech, religion, assembly and association and the right to demonstrate - but in reality these rights are routinely violated and citizens are often jailed for expressing their political views.

Many officials regard respect for citizens' constitutional rights as tantamount to the weakening of their authority. Legal experts also say many mainland laws contradict the constitution.

Cao, who proposed and drafted the mainland's first bankruptcy law, has paid a price for his outspokenness. During politically sensitive periods, he is often followed by security agents and the operations of his Beijing-based independent think tank are often disrupted. But this has not dented his determination to push for political reform and greater openness.

Many analysts say party officials resist political reform because greater transparency would mean the end of their privileges. Some predict political openness would lead to the collapse of the communist regime, as in the former Soviet Union.

But Cao said political reform would not necessarily lead to regime collapse. "Reform may proceed smoothly … this would prevent the system from total collapse," he said.