The Chinese Communist Party is going all‐out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1. Movies, music, theater, elaborate wedding ceremonies. Fireworks, of course. And, in keeping with the party’s roots, repression. As the New York Times reports, nothing is being left to chance:
The Ministry of Civil Affairs is leading a nationwide crackdown against “illegal” nonprofit organizations, including religious and social groups, as part of efforts to ensure a “good environment” for the centenary.
Officials have also warned of consequences for those who “distort” party history or “defame” Communist heroes ahead of the centenary. The Cyberspace Administration of China, which regulates the internet, recently unveiled a website and hotline for citizens to report “historical nihilists” and encouraging the public to help root out those who “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture.”…
The campaign against such dissent reflects concerns among China’s top leaders that the party must do more to strengthen public loyalty and fortify its control of society.
Mr. Xi has long warned that Communist rule could disintegrate if the party does not assert control across society, including the private sector, schools and the news media. Party organs at the national and local levels are hosting study sessions on party history for cadres. Chinese military officials say they are using the centenary to “forge absolute loyalty” to the party and Mr. Xi.
Apparently, after 70 years of absolute rule, independent thought has not been completely snuffed out.
This is entirely in keeping with the experience of communist rule elsewhere, and with the historic mission of the CCP. The party was formed in 1921 with an official ideology of Marxism‐Leninism. On July 1, 1949, as the Communist armies neared victory, party leader Mao Zedong made an important speech titled, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Instead of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Mao spoke of “the extinction of classes, state power and parties,” of “a socialist and communist society,” of the nationalization of private enterprise and the socialization of agriculture, of a “great and splendid socialist state” in Russia, and especially of “a powerful state apparatus” in the hands of a “people’s democratic dictatorship.” That was the CCP’s founding vision.
Tragically, unbelievably, this vision appealed not only to many Chinese but even to Americans and Europeans, some of them prominent. But from the beginning it went terribly wrong, as really should have been predicted. Communism created desperate poverty in China. The “Great Leap Forward” led to mass starvation. The Cultural Revolution unleashed “an extended paroxysm of revolutionary madness” in which “tens of millions of innocent victims were persecuted, professionally ruined, mentally deranged, physically maimed and even killed.” Estimates of the number of unnatural deaths during Mao’s tenure range from 15 million to 80 million. This is so monstrous that we can’t really comprehend it. What inspired many American and European leftists was that Mao really seemed to believe in the communist vision. And the attempt to actually implement communism leads to disaster and death.
Since Mao’s death in 1976, China has changed a great deal. In far‐flung parts of the country, villages and communes had already begun recreating markets and individual plots of land. Mao’s old comrade Deng Xiaoping, a victim of the Cultural Revolution, had learned something from the 30 years of calamity. He began to implement policies he called “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which looked a lot like freer markets—decollectivization and the “responsibility system” in agriculture, privatization of enterprises, international trade, liberalization of residency requirements.
The changes in China over the past generation are the greatest story in the world—more than a billion people brought from totalitarianism to what we might call “capitalism with crony characteristics.” Imperfect as this system is, it has lifted some 800 million people out of poverty.
Whatever its official ideology, China can hardly be regarded as Marxist any more. But it remains Leninist. The CCP still rules China with an iron fist. There is no open political opposition, and no independent judges or media. President Xi Jinping has become more authoritarian, and has concentrated more power in his own person than any ruler since Mao. Some say China is becoming “the perfect dictatorship.” As Jude Blanchette and Evan S. Medeiros write, Xi Jinping has moved not only to make himself and the party more powerful but also to make the party more ideological. New guidelines for party membership “required all individuals entering the CCP to ‘possess a belief in Marxism and in socialism with Chinese characteristics’ as a basic criterion. So too must members ‘place political standards above all else,’ which entails priority to Party commands and ideology.”
China’s economic reforms since 1976 have dramatically reduced poverty, increased economic growth, and made Chinese companies some of the world’s largest. In recent years China has intensified repression and begun to play a larger role in regional and world affairs. But the country faces many challenges: slowing economic growth, a rapidly aging population, and increasing hostility from people and governments around the world. China is trying to defy the lesson of the past two centuries, that liberal countries are more prosperous and more secure. President Xi’s rush to lock down party control of the country is unlikely to succeed in the long run. No dictatorship, even the Chinese Communist Party’s, is perpetual.