China Since 1978 Part 2: Political Science

Part One available here.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

This summary is split up by author. This section includes the chapters written by Graham Young.

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

“In contrast to the collapse of regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China under Deng has remained one of the few state-socialist political systems.”

The two main goals of political reform were to reduce state intrusion into social activity, and to facilitate economic reform.

China wasn’t sure who to draw positive lessons from, liberal democracy of the west, authoritarian capitalism of S. Korea & Singapore, or the Soviet Union. Reforms in China were very hesitant at the start for fear of losing what gains had been made.

The CPC was more prone to openly referencing their ideology when it came to articulating political principles and how they were linked to action as compared to other nations. Long term objectives were also specifically linked to current political practices.

China was to be guided by Marxism-Leninism, and the CPC had the best understanding of Marxism Leninism. This knowledge was the justification for its dominance.

The CPC claims to be Democratic.

“A standard argument was that democracy could not apply universally in any society having fundamental social divisions based upon economic classes. Thus, according to CCP sources, the claims Western countries to be democratic were fraudulent because they simply disguised an effective dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat in order to maintain capitalism.”

Mao Zedong Thought refers to all the knowledge gained through the process of the Chinese Revolution. Therefore “MZT” now includes Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai & Deng Xiaoping thought, since they contributed to the same revolutionary movement. This development means that some of Mao’s own views, particularly during and after the Cultural Revolution contradict MZT.

The end result is that MZT can be stretched and adapted to justify a very broad range of actions, some of which Mao himself may have balked at.

Two factions emerged around this issue.

The ‘whatever’ faction supported whatever policies Mao had laid down.

The ‘practice’ faction emphasized that ‘practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.’ They asserted that practices should be revised based on their results and that anything else is antimaterialist, and therefore anti Maoist.

That being said there are different views and values when it comes to assessing a project. There are tradeoffs and cost-benefit analyses to be made.

Theory of the Initial State of Socialism 1987: Explanation of the characteristics and objectives of SWCC. First of all China is a socialist economy based on public ownership of the means of production and that exploitation has been eliminated. Still China’s socialism was limited by its poverty and backwardness. Industrialization and economic development was necessary to increase productive forces. This stage of development has no shortcuts as China learned from the Great leap Forward which attempted to modernize past China’s capacity.

The implication of this theory is that any measure that raises productivity could be justified, and would even be considered socialist. “Factors such as widening inequalities, private use of labour or receipt of unearned incomes may be encouraged so long as they produce economic results.”

Socialist values were subverted in the name of socialism. That being said the Chinese economy is still heavily planned, with high levels of state ownership of industry, and resolute dominance of the CPC.

Political Reform and the Chinese Communist Party

Stability remained paramount for the sake of economic development, which means any change to the existing political system would be viewed negatively.

The strategy for maintaining stability was “institutionalisation.” Where the cultural revolution was “haphazard, arbitrary, and unpredictable” institutionalisation sought to “channel political activity within formal institutional structures.” Operations of these institutions also had to maintain some regularity and predictability.

National Party Congresses have also become more regularized and the proceedings have become far less secretive, and more democratic in the selection of delegates to congresses and leadership of party organs. “Such moves are still very limited,” but legitimate. After 1979 the People’s Congress was directly elected at the county level. These people’s congresses were also given more meaningful power, no longer acting as a ‘rubber stamp.’

Still this form of guided democracy is not equivalent to that of the West. Candidates are vetted by local party officials instead of by private interests. Acceptable candidates are then put up for elections.

“Life tenure of office has been condemned as contributing to the ossification of bureaucratic structures and preventing the appointment of more competent officials. Competence is under stood primarily according to standards of expertise, education and youth.”

The CPC started offering material incentives for retirement as well as advisory positions for retirees. Average age has declined, and average education level has increased.

Peasants and manual workers have declined proportionally as the numbers of entrepreneurs and wealthy farmers have increased, calling the legitimacy of SWCC into question.

Corruption in the 1980s was addressed at the lower levels but likely went unencumbered at higher levels.

In 1987 CPC was relatively unpopular with workers, but even more unpopular among intellectuals.

At this point the CPC has over 50 million members, (90 million now). Any organization with this much inertia cannot be reformed quickly. The “entrenched” practices of the CPC make the task nearly impossible.

Deng Xiaoping has been prominent in the condemnation of “bureaucracy, under which he has included a formidable list of faults — divorcing oneself from reality and the masses; spending a lot of time and effort to put up an impressive front; indulging in empty talk; sticking to a rigid way of thinking; being hidebound by convention… circulating documents endlessly without solving problems; shifting responsibility to others’ and so on.”

The line between party and government, which had been blurred by the cultural revolution has been redrawn to some extent. After 1982 it was decided that party leadership would provide the framework and decide the major principles and goals of governance but would leave the application of those principals to administrative leaders. Guidance and supervision, not performance. In my introduction I talked about how a bonus of this method is that it can function as plausible deniability.

Deng also reduced political intrusion into daily life, which was ubiquitous in the post 1949 system. The loosening of social forces arguably culminated in the 1989 student demonstrations, which led to a tightening of controls. Political activity is still “subjected to firm controls and limits.”

“‘Class labels’ attached to social groups were removed.” In practice individuals who may have fought against the system, were invited to participate in it.

Political Economic Commentary & Analysis.