Monday, September 27, 2010

Sssshhh! China is a Communist Country

The greatest innovation of China’s Communist Party is building a hybrid market economy, a pragmatic and profitable blend of capitalism and socialism that keeps the Party’s own dominant role “off the front stage of public life in China and out of sight of the rest of the world.” In his fascinating new book, “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.” Richard McGregor describes how the Party achieved this remarkable success in organized duplicity.

As a journalist in the People’s Republic for more than a decade, he observes: “Foreigners in China can be forgiven for thinking they are not in a Communist state.” Yet a Communist state it is indeed.

“Like communism in its heyday elsewhere,” he writes, “the Party in China has eradicated or emasculated political rivals; eliminated the autonomy of the courts and press; restricted religion and civil society; denigrated rival versions of nationhood; centralized political power; established extensive networks of security police; and dispatched dissidents to labor camps.”

Nowadays, the Party has deliberately relaxed its hold on the daily lives of ordinary people, the better to keep “a lock hold on the state and three pillars of its survival strategy: control of personnel, propaganda, and the People’s Liberation Army.” Vladimir Lenin, who devised the prototype, would recognize it immediately in the People’s Republic, McGregor shows, because the necessary Leninist institutional and behavior patterns have endured, “generally masked or dressed up in other guises.”

Foreigners have helped. Before, during, and after his historic trip to China in 1972, Richard Nixon made sure that “Communist” did not embarrass him with his base at home. Mao Zedong was simply the Chairman, not the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. The State Department’s record of the trip, including the speeches, toasts, and press conferences did not mention the word “Communist” even once.

Although most Westerners are well informed about the growth of China’s economy, they know much less about the Party’s powerful role in that economy. At all major state enterprises, for example. Party meetings are held regularly before board meetings, which leave personnel matters in the hands of the Party.

One day in November 2004 the Central Organization Department announced without warning that the top executives of three big state-owned telecom companies had been reshuffled. McGregor makes this striking comparison: “It was the equivalent of the CEO of AT&T being moved without notice to head its domestic U.S. competitor, Verizon, to run Sprint, at a time when the three companies are locked in a bruising battle on pricing and industry standards….The deliberate element of surprise…serves the Party’s purposes perfectly, by reminding them who’s boss.”

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