CCP Internal Resilience – post 2 of 10

CCP intraparty authoritarian resilience - no more

In 2003, Andrew Nathan proposed four reasons for authoritarian resilience in CCP.  The four reasons speak to both forms of resilience – resilience against the people and resilience to disruption from inside CCP.  Nathan was reflecting on political developments during the term of Deng Xiaoping and the more or less orderly transitions since.    

1) the increasingly norm-bound nature of its succession politics;

2) the increase in meritocratic as opposed to factional considerations in the promotion of political elites;

3) the differentiation and functional specialization of institutions within the regime; and

4) the establishment of institutions for political participation and appeal that strengthen the CCP's legitimacy among the public at large.


All four of these speak to the transition over time from a revolutionary party to a governing party, or from formative to an administrative state.  All four are now defunct indicators. As Andrew Nathan himself and David Shambaugh and Carl Minzner have pointed out, the four conditions no longer apply under Xi Jinping.  Minzner sees Xi as cannibalizing the reforms of the last forty years in order to enhance the power of Xi and address problems, mostly internal to CCP, that threaten CCP survival.  The tools Xi is using include the anticorruption campaign, the use of the campaign to eliminate rivals, the return to heavy ideological programming, the requirement to download the Xi app and study Xi and answer questions about Xi Jinping thought, the relocation of power from ministries to leading small groups chaired by Xi, and the return supremacy of CCP in every segment of the society, from business to universities to social service groups to residential management groups. 

Political resilience – internal to CCP - is a dead concept now.  Mr. Xi creates friends when he promotes, but also enemies when he sidetracks or jails those perceived to stand in his way. The third plenum reforms from 2013 are designed to take money from the elite-dominated state sector. This is a good idea economically for China, but as a result capital and kids flee China for the west at high rates. At the same time, Xi is reinforcing ideology, loyalty to the core of the Party (Xi himself) and obedience to the word of the leader.  (“We have no king but Caesar …”)   What Xi creates is brittle.

The internal fallout from this era of Xi still lies in the future.  But in the past, how did CCP maintain internal stability over the decades? Autocratic or personalist regimes, almost by definition, tend not to last longer than the life of the paramount leader.  Deng Xiaoping jettisoned Hua Guofeng and his “whatever Mao said, whatever Mao did” policy within a couple of years.  Mao’s policies could not survive his death.  Mao was the paramount leader -  one might even say leader of a personalist authoritarian regime rather than the leader of the moment in an authoritarian single party regime.  Deng did the Southern Tour in 1992 to help cement his reforms, hoping the reforms would survive him.

Single party regimes last longer than personalist regimes, but all seem to collapse after a couple of generations. In 2024, CCP will become the longest lived single party regime in modern history, longer than the communist party in the USSR (CPSU, 74 years, 1917-1991), longer than PRI in Mexico (71 years, 1929-2000).   

Chinese dynasties tended to last only a couple of centuries – or less - before collapsing due to internal dissension, indifference, greed, misrule or exogenous events, such as desertification, drought, flood, famine.  Rebellion never came from the literati, the educated bureaucracy.  But rivalries, ego, nepotism and desire for power and wealth continue unabated regardless of the ideology or regime type.  How to keep unity over generations?

Within CCP, we have again an imperial family – we can think of the Central Committee, the 375  or so leading cadres, or perhaps the 5000 or so cadres who hold positions filled by the Central Organization Department.  Below that level is the bureaucracy, the millions of cadres who staff positions in the central, provincial, and local governments.  As in imperial times, they clearly have different levels of responsibility and different incentives.  How to keep harmony within the government?

More detail follows.