The Chinese Communist Party at 100: the secret of its longevity

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ON 1 JULY The Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its 100th anniversary. He has always called himself “great, glorious and correct”. And as it enters its second century, the party has good reason to boast. Not only did he survive much longer than his many critics predicted; it also appears to be on the rise. When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, many experts thought the other great Communist power would be next. To see how wrong they got, consider that President Joe Biden, at a summit on June 13, felt the need to declare not only that America disagreed with China, but also that a much of the world doubted “whether democracies could compete or not.” ”.

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One party ruled China for 72 years, without a mandate from voters. It’s not a world record. Lenin and his sad heirs held power in Moscow a little longer, as did the Workers’ Party in North Korea. But no other dictatorship has been able to transform from a famine-ravaged disaster, as China was under Mao Zedong, into the world’s second-largest economy, whose cutting-edge technology and infrastructure have put the roads to shame. and US railways. The Chinese Communists are the most successful authoritarians in the world.

The Chinese Communist Party has succeeded in maintaining its grip on power for three reasons. First, he is ruthless. Yes, he procrastinated before crushing the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. But eventually, he responded to megaphones with bullets, terrorizing the country until he submitted.

Current Chinese leaders show no signs of concern over the massacre. On the contrary, President Xi Jinping laments that the Soviet Union is collapsing because its leaders were not “men enough to stand up and resist” at the critical moment. For which to read: Unlike us, they didn’t have the courage to slaughter unarmed protesters with machine guns.

A second reason for the party’s longevity is its ideological agility. A few years after Mao’s death in 1976, a new leader, Deng Xiaoping, began scrapping the “people’s communes” that were destroying the late president’s productivity and putting market forces to work in the countryside. The Maoists winced, but production skyrocketed. Following the fall of Tiananmen and the Soviet Union, Deng fought hard-core Maoists and embraced capitalism with even greater fervor. This has led to the closure of many public enterprises and the privatization of housing. Millions have been made redundant, but China has exploded.

Under Mr. Xi, the party again shifted to focus on ideological orthodoxy. Its recent predecessors have allowed for some moderate dissent; he stamped it. Mao is hired again. Party cadres are imbued with “Xi Jinping’s thought”. The bureaucracy, army and police have suffered purges of deviant and corrupt officials. Large companies are brought into compliance. Mr. Xi rebuilt the party from the ground up, creating a network of neighborhood spies and injecting executives into private companies to monitor them. Since Mao’s time, society has never been so tightly controlled.

The third cause of the party’s success is that China has not turned into a simple kleptocracy in which wealth is sucked up exclusively by the well-connected. Corruption has become rampant, and the most powerful families are indeed super rich. But many people also felt that their lives were improving, and the party was shrewd enough to acknowledge their demands. He abolished rural taxes and created a social protection system that provides everyone with pensions and subsidized health care. The benefits were not plentiful, but they were appreciated.

Over the years, Western observers have found many reasons to predict the collapse of Chinese communism. Wasn’t the control demanded by a one-party state incompatible with the freedom demanded by a modern economy? One day, China’s economic growth must run out of steam, leading to disillusion and protests. And, if that were not the case, the vast middle class that such growth created would inevitably demand greater freedoms, especially because so many of their children had encountered democracy firsthand, when they made their way. studies in the West.

These predictions have been belied by the continued popularity of the Communist Party. Many Chinese credit it for improving their livelihoods. Granted, China’s workforce is aging, shrinking, and used to ridiculously early retirements, but these are the kinds of challenges every government faces, authoritarian or not. Strong economic growth appears to continue for some time to come.

Many Chinese also admire the strong hand of the party. Watch, they say, how quickly China crushed covid-19 and revitalized its economy, even as Western countries stumbled. They relish the idea of ​​China’s newfound pride and weight in the world. He plays on a nationalism that the party stirs up. State media confuse the party with the nation and its culture, while caricaturing America as a land of race riots and gun massacres. The alternative to one-party rule, they suggest, is chaos.

When dissent emerges, Xi uses technology to deal with it before it develops. Chinese streets are bristling with cameras, reinforced by facial recognition software. Social networks are spied on and censored. Officials can solve problems sooner or persecute citizens who raise them. Those who share the bad thinking can lose their jobs and their freedom. The price of the party’s success in brutal repression has been horrendous.

No party lasts forever

The most dangerous threat to Mr. Xi does not come from the masses, but from within the party itself. Despite all its efforts, it suffers from factionalism, disloyalty and ideological weariness. Rivals accused of plotting to seize power have been jailed. Chinese policy is more opaque than it has been for decades, but Xi’s endless purges suggest he sees even more hidden enemies.

The moment of greatest instability is probably succession. No one knows who will come after Xi, or even what rules will govern the transition. When he removed presidential term limits in 2018, he indicated that he wanted to hang on to power indefinitely. But this can make the eventual transfer even more unstable. While the peril to the party will not necessarily lead to the enlightened rule that freedom lovers desire, at some point even this Chinese dynasty will come to an end. â– 

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Always So Strong”


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