China At 70: The Chinese Communist Party’s Ideological ContradictionsBloombergQuintOpinion
The first day of October matters for a reason more profound than it marks the scheduled increase from 25 percent to 30 percent in tariffs the U.S. levies on Chinese merchandise in the 18-month long U.S.-China Trade War. On Oct. 1, 2019, the Chinese Communist Party celebrates seven decades of rule over Mainland China, including since July 1, 1997, over Hong Kong.
A Tale Of Two Chinas
When the Red Flag was raised over Tiananmen Square on Oct. 1, 1949, China was an impoverished country ravaged by the conflicts of the 1931-1945 Imperial Japanese occupation and 1927-49 civil war with the Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces. Chairman Mao Zedong expressed the ideological foundation for today’s 1.5 billion mainlanders at the start of his quotations compiled in The Little Red Book:
“The theoretical basis guiding our thinking is Marxism-Leninism.” (1954, emphasis added.)
That’s the basis for China’s Constitution, which the CCP originally promulgated in 1954, altered in 1975 and 1978, and reset again in 1982. Since its founding in 1921, the Party always has been “communist.” But, can it continue to own that middle ‘C’ through the next 70 years and still survive?
Contrary to the CCP’s narrative, the last 70 years are not a history of One China unified by Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, but of Two Chinas, divided by two ideological contradictions in Chinese Communism itself, with the Party entrenched on One side.
Those contradictions concern representation and law. To survive the next seven decades, the CCP should rethink its ideology and thereby, perhaps, heal the schism.
Does The Party “Represent” The People?
A core tenet of communist ideology is that the Party represents the People. As Chairman Mao put it (emphases added):
“The Chinese Communist Party is the core of leadership of the whole Chinese people.” (1957)
“We must have faith in the masses and we must have faith in the Party. These are two cardinal principles. (1955)
Thus, Article 2 of China’s Constitution declares “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people.”
Yet, testing this tenet through multi-party elections is impossible, as the Party made sure in March 2018, when it amended the Constitution to remove term limits on the President and Vice President (Articles 79-84), and insert explicitly the “leadership” of the “Chinese Communist Party” (Preamble and various Articles). Absent direct democratic evidence, inferences as to the Party’s representativeness of the people must be drawn from circumstantial historical evidence.
One China is rightly proud of the CCP shepherding more people out of extreme poverty than any other nation in human history: 850 million, or a drop in poverty from 88 percent to 0.7 percent, between 1981-2015. China boasts the largest economy in the world, measured by purchasing power parity gross domestic product. America still holds the top slot in non-PPP GDP. The Preamble to China’s Constitution recounts China’s unprecedented party-orchestrated progress following 19th-century humiliations “imperialist and hegemonist aggression.” Today, “[t]he socialist transformation of the private ownership of the means of production has been completed, the system of exploitation of man by man abolished and the socialist system established,” “[t]he people’s democratic dictatorship held by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants, which is in essence the dictatorship of the proletariat, has been consolidated and developed,” “[t]he life of the people has improved considerably,” and “[t]he exploiting classes … have been abolished in our country.”
Chairman Mao presaged how these successes would occur in his August 14, 1949, entry in Selected Works, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle:”
Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history; such is the history of civilisation for thousands of years. To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism [material conditions, not ideas, are the causal forces in history]; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism [consciousness takes primacy over the world of experience]. (Emphasis added.)
But, the Other China spots an ideological contradiction: contrary to the official narrative, historical idealism and classism persist in modern China.
That ideas matter more than utilitarian outcomes, and that ideas shape economic realities, are evident from the costs the Chinese people paid for the CCP’s triumphs: 18-56 million people starved in the 1956-1958 Great Leap Forward; chaos reigned in the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution; untold souls perished through forced abortions and female infanticides under the One Child Policy (Two, since October 2015); and several hundred (maybe thousands) were killed in June 1989 in and around Tiananmen Square.
The CCP shows no appetite to confront openly the upheavals of modern Chinese history that its own monstrously dumb ideas caused.
Rather, the Great Firewall of One China protects what inquiring minds in the Other China can learn about what happened and why. When the Party deploys surveillance technology of Hikvision and Dahua, it casts further doubt on its claim to represent both the faces of the workers on the assembly lines of those Chinese companies, and the faces of the workers recognized by the devices rolling off those lines.
But, censors can’t sanitise the rich-poor divide. As a June 2018 IMF Working Paper, Inequality in China – Trends, Drivers, and Policy Remedies, concludes: “income inequality increased sharply from the early 1980s and rendered China among the most unequal countries in the world,” and though this trend has reversed since 2008, the decline in inequality has been “modest.” The widely accepted metric for income inequality is the Gini Coefficient: China’s number is “among the highest in the world,” at nearly 0.5, or 50 points. (A zero value “signifies that everyone has the same income,” i.e., perfect equality, while 1.0, or 100 points, “implies that the richest person or household has all the income,” i.e., perfect inequality.)
Precisely during this period, China re-integrated into the international economic order – and the ideological contradiction worsened.
Embracing globalisation, first cautiously, then aggressively, the CCP imported the economic excesses and extremes against which Mao and the Constitution rail.
And, greater cross-border integration undermined the Party-led dictatorship of a supposedly unified proletariat. The CCP has nearly zero control over the most disruptive source of ideas affecting China’s working class: Donald Trump.
How Does the Party Define ‘Law’?
On Oct. 1, 2019, the CCP can reflect proudly on joining all of the world’s major international organisations, the United Nations (in October 1971), International Monetary Fund and World Bank (April 1980), and World Trade Organization (December 2001). These institutions are the international rule of law, to which One China professes adherence, while calling out America as an outlaw.
But, the Other China is mindful of the breakdown of the rule of law. On the mainland, China is the world’s largest jailer of Muslims*, holding by U.N. estimates roughly one million Uyghurs in what the CCP calls “training centers.” Overseas, CCP support from 1975-79 empowered the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, under whose regime 25 percent of Cambodians (1.5-2 million) perished, and its Nine-Dash Line demarcates a new hegemony across the South China Sea.
The ideological contradiction dividing the Two Chinas is about the most basic of jurisprudential question: what is “law”? For One China, law has two complementary meanings. First, there is the law of history: “[t]he socialist system will eventually replace the capitalist system; this is an objective law independent of man’s will,” as Mao said (1957). Second, there is the “law” of China: Article 5 of the Constitution explains China is ruled “in accordance with the law and building a socialist country of law, and that “[t]he state upholds the uniformity and dignity of the socialist legal system.” As ruler, the Party administers “socialist” law, which implements the law of history. Socialist law thus mandates “public ownership of the means of production” (Article 6) and a “state-owned economy” (Article 7), with private ownership and non-public companies permissible “within the limits prescribed by law” as “major components of the socialist market economy” (Article 11).
The vital point is that materialism – people are fundamentally economic in nature – is the basis for the law of history and of China.
But, the Other China knows two other sources of law. One theory, predominant across much of the world for most of human history, is Natural Law. The second, more recent, theory is Positivism. Natural Law asserts ‘law’ is implanted in the heart by a higher power (God) and discernible by reason. Positivism posits no necessary connection between law and morality, or law and the divine, but sees law as the command of a sovereign, habitually obeyed, under threat of punishment, or as a union of primary (substantive) rules and secondary (procedural) rules. To be sure, each theory has many nuances, but any strain of either one challenges socialist law.
To see why, consider the implications of Tibetans professing adherence to Buddhism, and Christians to Catholicism. China’s roughly 300 million Buddhists (6.3 million Tibetan) and 31 million Christians (9 million Catholic) are part of a sacred legal system, in or akin to the Natural Law tradition. There is a power, higher than the CCP, that is the source of law. Neither Tibetan Buddhists nor Catholics can exalt socialist law over, respectively, the mysteries of reincarnation or apostolic succession to the Chair of Saint Peter, and thus cannot accept party primacy in choosing the next Dalai Lama or selecting Bishops. Article 36 of China’s Constitution fails to protect their freedom of conscience. It limits state protection to “normal religious activities” that do not “disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state,” and mandates that “[r]eligious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination” (emphases added). The Party, not Buddhist monks or Catholic clergy, define the terms.
Consider, too, the persistent protests in Hong Kong and ubiquitous unease in Taiwan. Natural Law is not the rallying cry. Rather, essentially Positivist motives catalyse professionals and proletarians. Extradition from Hong Kong to China, or direct governance of Taiwan by the mainland, threaten Positivist ingredients in the ‘rule of law’ they have enjoyed since Oct. 1, 1949: an impartial, objectively administered judicial system, separation of powers, and freedom of peaceful assembly and protest.
The CCP shows no inclination to reimagine its jurisprudence. Repressing alternate legal philosophies, the Party exacerbates the ideological divide. Socialist law has nothing to do with any of the international organisations China joined. Rather, their legal foundations are in Natural and/or Positivist Law.
Alas, the broader and deeper the CCP integrates China into the international legal order, the further away the Party moves from its legal pillar.
China is in weaker shape than widely realised. Its fearsome instruments of power mask ideological contradictions about representation and law. Not One, but Two, Chinas exist. One side clutches the instruments, but it can’t destroy the Other side with them. Each actual or threatened deployment reveals the proximity of One side to ideological bankruptcy. Every response is a reminder that on Other side are concepts that long predate October 1, 1949.
On behalf of One China, the CCP stands on its Communist foundations while sprinting the mainland into the ranks of developed, post-industrial, global economies.
However, no communist nation has advanced beyond middle-income status to a developed, post-industrial economy plugged into the global legal and economic order without either radically changing its ideological foundations or decoupling itself from the predominant capitalist trading system.
Until Communism disintegrated across the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Eastern Bloc countries bartered trade in their own orbit. Once Communism collapsed, they joined the WTO.
So, take your pick. The Other China has. For it, the ideological contradictions emerging across the last 70 years appear too much to bear.
(* Lest Israel be nominated for that title, remember it withdrew from Gaza by September 2005, and a small number of nefarious Hamas-misled Palestinians, not Islamophobia, necessitates a security perimeter around that wretched Strip.)
Raj Bhala is the inaugural Brenneisen Distinguished Professor, The University of Kansas, School of Law, and Senior Advisor to Dentons U.S. LLP. The views expressed here are his and do not necessarily represent the views of the State of Kansas or University, or Dentons or any of its clients, and do not constitute legal advice.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its Editorial team.