CCP Internal Resilience – post 10 of 10

Bonding - A conclusion

Martin Jacques wrote When China Rules the World in 2009.  His analysis ignores the potential dangers in Chinese politics.  But his observation that the western world must learn to understand how Chinese think, those rules of the cultural road that are foreign to us, is quite correct.

Concepts about survival of authoritarian regimes need to account for China as sui generis.  Modernization theory, which sees regime change in China as a logical next step in an upper middle class society, has not confronted an occupying elite like CCP anywhere else in the world. 

We can start with the history lesson. As was true for the literati in ancient times, the CCP elite exists apart from the mass of society. Higher quality health care, better education, subsidies for apartment purchases, even high quality food free from poisons are common.  Kids and relatives enjoy the privileges of being related to someone in the elite. 

A secure lifetime career with good wages and benefits is no small inducement for most cadres. With the security come some obligations - study of leadership writings, listening to interminable speeches, mouthing of the Party line.  This constant communication, along with training, reinforces the thought of the moment, and has its own binding effect. 

There is some meritocracy in promotion, and to the extent that is true, it is also a binding force - being a member of the best and the brightest. The testing and training and evaluation mean that someone is always watching what you say and do, so conforming is important.  Knowing how to conform becomes a personal art.  When rules and regulations are unclear, local elites must cooperate to undertake ventures.  To not cooperate is to let down the team.  Cadres bind themselves to the success of a local leader.  To some extent, when the leader wins, we all win.  Who doesn't want to be part of a winning team?

The decentralization of governance means the traditional concerns for family and network can be acknowledged.  In most circumstances, local loyalties can supercede rules or regulations coming from higher up.  A system that allows people to take care of their own is a strong system.

I've Been Moved is not just an IBM concept.  Job rotations in government come often, and permit a wide variety of new experiences.  At midlevel jobs and above, only the unlucky get stuck in a single job for a decade.  Boredom that could lead to discontent is not a system characteristic, and cadres develop wide networks of colleagues that can help in various ways - a favor here, a minor concession there.  Perhaps the colleague can simply provide information, but in a system of secrecy and lack of access, knowing someone who can share information is valuable.  More binding. Below midlevel, cadres retain their lifetime employment even if not performing to expectations. In private businesses, CCP membership does not confer benefits.  But membership is certainly an advantage in joining government, SOE, or a university.  And CCP members outside of government are not the people anyone would worry about in fomenting change.

With the substantial benefits and obligations, there are also severe punishments for those who run afoul of the Party, whether due to corruption, moral laxity, or falling out of favor.  The Party maintains its own system of punishment outside of the law, and that is more feared than any government imprisonment.  Once one is in the CCP system, one is in the system - a bit like joining the priesthood.  Priests can leave, but CCP members rarely do so.  To leave under either good or bad terms is to be shunned, or at least acknowledged as now being apart.  Once you were part of us.  Now you are not.

There are costs.  The conflicting demands from superiors that must be obeyed; the heavy stresses and the late-night drinking requirements; the loss of moral freedom, to think and write and speak as one thinks.  There are the demands to say yes when no makes most sense, so much so that wo bi xu zuo - I must do it - is a popular comment.  For most Party members, these are costs to be borne, in return for the benefits. 

Bonding and binding take place in many ways, many locations, more or less continually.  The result is a well-molded character.  Barbara Geddes on single party authoritarian regimes - … single-party regimes are simply remarkably long-lived and resilient on average. They survive longer in richer countries than in poorer, but even in Africa their longevity has been notable. When facing intense pressure from donors or uncontrollable popular opposition, however, single-party regimes usually negotiate their extrications.   Geddes did not study China in her research.  But she does conclude that when authoritarian single party regimes manage the economy well, regime allies remain loyal and citizens are at least acquiescent. 

Single party regimes are more likely to expire due to an exogenous event – in the China case, some rebellion, act of war, famine, drought or other cataclysmic event, rather than internal fracture.  As Geddes modeled, CCP has shown itself to be remarkably flexible when useful.  Alternative internal interests can usually be accommodated.

Geddes and Benjamin Smith note that single parties born in serious conflict are forced to develop strong organizations, and the strength of these organizations is of value in future crises as well as in normal times.  This is clearly the experience of CCP.

Even the communist party in the Soviet Union (CPSU), the other major long lived communist party, is a different authoritarian model from CCP.  Both CCP and CPSU were born in conflict, as are most communist regimes.   But CPSU was a worker’s revolution in cities; CCP was a peasant revolution, in many locations across a huge and diverse countryside.  While CCP was founded with CPSU assistance, and much of the organizational structure was copied, CCP met different conditions on the ground and evolved differently.   CPSU ruled over a land of many different nationalities and languages, of which Russians were about 50%.  In China, about 90% of the people claim to be Han Chinese.  USSR was in theory a federation of sovereign republics, and without the Party, the federation ceased to exist.  China existed long before CCP, and CCP could bring to bear more cultural and civilizational references than could CPSU.

CCP has established hierarchy, training, factions that provide alternative ideas and stability, evaluation, thousands of years of literati models, Confucian top-down values, credible punishment for disobedience and a completely parallel system of control within government. CCP works very hard at internal discipline and control of the message, and provides significant benefits to most Party members. Membership and a government job are still a much sought-after by college graduates. 

Modernization theory as usually presented – economic growth, followed inevitably by  democracy – has never confronted power like this, because developing countries with authoritarian regimes have otherwise never had such power traditions.  The elite and the middle class generally are not pushing hard for greater voice in governance, and certainly not for democracy as they see it in Britain or the US. Voice has not been part of Chinese governance for two thousand years, and Chinese remain a handful of sand, without unity (Sun Yat-Sen), focused still on network and family rather than state.

CCP analysis of CPSU is right – USSR permitted cracks in the top echelon, into which oligarchs ran. Perhaps the USSR could never be as unified as China can.  CCP is having trouble controlling oligarch-like factions now, but Mr. Xi is working hard to eliminate them.  Communism fits China far better than it did in USSR or anywhere else. A system of governance came to power in 1949 that conformed in some ways with the past - the secrecy and mystery, distant leaders issuing dictats, local loyalties of paramount importance, and occasional terrible consequences of disobedience. 

Party members are heirs to a literati tradition of two thousand years, and many of them are worthy of the comparison.   Even Party members now in their forties remember what life was like before. In the highly networked Chinese society, an individual bears some responsibility toward nuclear family, extended family, perhaps even neighbors and friends.  Who is going to rock that boat with dissension, when the future is so bright?  For most cadres, it would be tough to find a better place to be. Party life and personal success are so intimately intertwined that to separate is unthinkable.  For others, the best strategy is to Grin and Bear It.  Being a cadre is pretty much the Best of all possible worlds.