Still communist after 90 years? The Chinese Communist Party was founded on July 1, 1921.
1. On July 1, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its 90th birthday. Do you think the CCP will celebrate also its 100th birthday 10 years from now, and why?
2. Where is CCP heading to in your opinion? Is an adjective “Communist” still somehow important in the name Chinese Communist Party?
Harold Tanner, Associate Professor of Chinese History, Department of History, University of North Texas
1. Yes—I think that ten years from now, the CCP will still be around and celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding. Why? Because so far, the CCP has proven very successful at combining economic reform with a continued monopoly on political power. The Communist leadership’s ability to deliver continued economic growth has enabled it to co-opt the emerging Chinese middle class of entrepreneurs, professionals, and urban educated people, all of whom see the Communist Party as having provided the economic policies and political stability that have been the context for their own increasing wealth and happiness. There are people who have been on the losing side of the Chinese economic miracle—laid-off workers, farmers who have lost their land to development, people whose lives have been affected by pollution or who have been victimized by local officials, and intellectuals who, for one reason or another, have run afoul of the government. These disaffected people are not linked together to form a coherent opposition and are unable to pose a significant threat to the Communist Party, let alone take its place. However, when economic growth slows down (which it certainly will at some point), China will experience increasing levels of social instability. If this begins to happen in the next few years, it is possible that the Communist Party regime will be facing a more challenging environment in ten years’ time and that its 100th anniversary celebrations will be less exuberant than we might expect. But all in all, I do think that the Party will still be around and holding on to its monopoly on political power in ten years.
2. China experts routinely try to predict where the CCP is heading—the predictions are generally wrong. To cite the most notorious example Gordon Chang’s book _The Coming Collapse of China_ predicted that the Communist regime and its economic miracle would come crashing to the ground within five to ten years. That was in 2001. Ten years later, China is still growing and the Communist Party is still in power. I do think that the Communist Party is heading for more challenges, both internal and external, over the next ten years. These challenges are not unique to China, nor are they fundamentally tied in any causational way to China’s one-party political system. First, China, like all the other countries on the earth, will face increasing challenges in the matter of resources, and especially energy resources. The Communist Party will come under pressure to obtain the resources, particularly oil and gas, necessary to continued economic growth. This will push China into deeper and farther-reaching regional and global relationships and possibly conflicts, particularly in the South China Sea and in the waters between China and Japan. The Communist Party will need to be increasingly assertive in order to guarantee access to energy resources, but not so assertive as to precipitate a war. Domestically, any significant slow-down in economic growth has the potential to cause disaffection among the urban middle classes. This, combined with the strong perception of endemic official corruption, could create a serious problem for the Party. In the coming years, the Party, whose leaders are clearly aware of the possibility of domestic unrest metastasizing into the kind of massive rejection of Party rule that happened in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, will continue to suppress any signs of organized opposition, increase control over the flow of information, and imprison or otherwise silence high-profile dissidents.
Is the adjective “Communist” still somehow important to the Communist Party? In economic terms, it is nearly, but not entirely meaningless. The Communist Party presides over an economy which has long abandoned the egalitarian ideals of Mao Zedong Karl Marx and which gives no more than lip-service to the Marxist idea that human history is advancing toward the realization of the historical stage of communism. Still, state enterprises do exist and the fact that the regime does use the name “Communist” means that there is always the possibility of criticizing the regime for not living up to its name and of the regime adopting policies that give more encouragement to state industries and less to the private sector if it should choose to do so. In political terms, if we think of the adjective “Communist” as denoting a Leninist one-party political system, one inspired by Marx and Engels’ writing on the dictatorship of the proletariat (as, for instance, in the Critique of the Gotha Program), then the adjective does have some meaning: the Chinese Communist Party is still “Communist” in the sense of still being a Leninist state.
Lawrence C. Reardon, Associate Professor of Political Science, Coordinator, Asian Studies Minor, University of New Hampshire
1. While the CCP is constantly fending off challenges to stability…local disputes concerning party and gov abuses of power, intellectuals fighting for freedom of expression, corruption at all levels of the state and party,etc., I can only assume that the CCP will continue to rule China in ten years. First, the CCP retains legitimacy in the view of most Han Chinese, who have yet to support any organized opposition. By delivering high growth and a noticeable improvement in standards of living, the technocratic leadership is regarded as good stewards. They have maintained a high degree of social stability by combining flexible economic policy management with somewhat flexible controls over dissent, which only become draconian when the party’s control over society its threatened. Finally what will keep the party in control its leaders’ ability to learn. Starting with Zhou Enlai’s attempt to engage the West economically in the late 1950s, the leadership has attempted to adapt its economic policies to achieve a stronger, more prosperous China. In the 1980′s, they realized that adaptation of existing policies would not work, thus prompting a fundamental change in development paradigm change focusing on outward oriented development. The ensuing decades of adaptations of this new strategy and the spillover to other policy sectors have resulted in phenomenal growth and continued CCP control.
2. Communism and the pantheon of Chinese Marxist leaders continue to be symbols of legitimacy and continuity….but the interpretations of these symbols have changed along with the technocratic leadership’s decision to enact paradigm change private owners off the means of production are now allowed to become revered Party members. I assume Marx and Mao are rolling in their graves…but such an ability to adapt has insured the party’s survival for at least another decade.
Andrew Nathan, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, Author of numerous books about China and East Asia
1. Yes I do. Of course I cannot be sure because the party faces many vulnerabilities. Yet, it seems on track to elect a new leadership in 2012, headed by Xi Jinping. I do not see the signs of an economic or political crisis severe enough to topple the party from power.
2. The name “Leninist” would be more descriptive since the party remains a typical Leninist style organization, with centralized power, and branches reaching into all sectors of society. Another descriptive term would be “statist” because the state still owns the land and the main resources, controls the commanding heights of industry, directly or indirectly controls the price of labor, energy, transportation, capital, and so forth. Since both Leninism and statism are elements of communism, I think the adjective still has some relevance. What has disappeared is the core idea of “communal” economic activity and sharing of an economic and social fate. Instead the society has become very individualistic and wealth is highly polarized.
Bobo Lo, Independent Scholar and Consultant, former Director of the Russia and China Programmes at the Centre for European Reform, former Head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House
1. Yes, I certainly do think the CCP will celebrate its 100th anniversary in power. The Party has shown a remarkable ability – unlike the CPSU – of adapting to changing circumstances and reinventing itself. It is also tremendously resilient.
2. I think that, over time, the CCP will become more open and liberal – but these are relative terms. There will still be a strong culture of secrecy! Eventually, I expect the CCP to become a little like the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan or the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico. In other words, it will remain by far the dominant political party, but there will be clear factions within it, and some opposition parties that compete directly against it in more or less free elections. But it will take some time to get to this stage – in my opinion, not for another decade at least.