The Chinese communist party and its State Xi Jinping’s conservative turn

Por • 2 ago, 2021 • Sección: sociologia

Michał Bogusz, Jakub Jakóbowski

THESES • In accordance with the Leninist model, the total dominance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over state structures is inscribed into the Chinese political system; the state structures’ sole purpose is to aid the Party to govern China effectively and guarantee the Party’s monopoly on power. The Party makes all personnel decisions, controls domestic and foreign policy, wields direct control over the army, and has the prevailing influence on the economy through the state-owned enterprises sector. It has no legal personality; it exists outside the state structures, in parallel to them, and also above them, acting as their binding agent, and also as the source of its cadres. The Party’s structures are also the place where decisions are taken; they also transmit those decisions’ into the complex and multi-level state structures of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The CCP thus plays the role of the state’s ‘nervous system’, and as such, there is no alternative to it within the PRC’s present political system.

The official image of the Party monolith hides a dynamic, inter-generational and internally complex multilevel organisation, with a total of 90 million members. It is an arena for struggles for power between factions and interest groups and, increasingly, family clans. The dynamics of power within the CCP, and consequently the functioning of the state’s structures, are undergoing constant transformation, demonstrating the PRC’s great flexibility. Upon initiating the reform process after 1978, the Party moved away from the politically unstable one-man rule of Mao Zedong. It also began to institutionalise the rules of Party governance and to balance the influences of internal political forces, represented by the concept of ‘collective leadership’ at the top of the Party. Comprehensive reforms and a strengthening of the state structures were initiated, as well as economic transformation; this latter was driven by the shifting of much power to the regional structures and opening up the economy to the world. The Party also began to withdraw from the ideological disciplining of society, and offered it the opportunity to improve their material status, while maintaining control over all organised forms of social life and suppressing any symptoms of independence.

Despite the spectacular success of the reform programme and the opening- ‑up which began in  1978, the CCP entered the twenty-first century with a  feeling of growing, multidimensional problems which could potentially jeopardise its continued rule over China. The  decentralisation in the OS W REPOR T 4/2020 6 management of the state and the inclusion of the Party structures in the development of a capitalist economy, in conjunction with the new pluralism at the top of the CCP, brought serious political challenges: debilitating factional fighting, the emergence of centrifugal forces in the regions, and corruption undermining the CCP’s social legitimacy. These problems have also lowered the capacity for the internal reforms that have become necessary in the face of the ongoing exhaustion of the model of economic development which was devised after 1978. This has been topped off by the transformations in the international environment which are of key importance to China, including the intensification of its competition with the United States.

 When Xi Jinping assumed power as General Secretary in 2012, he received a mandate from the CCP’s leaders to make a major adjustment in the structures of the Party and state, a kind of conservative turn aimed at restoring the prospects for the CCP’s continued, indivisible rule in China. His response to the problems facing the Party has been a conservative – and more precisely, in the Chinese context, a neoconservative – renewal of the foundations of the PRC as established in 1949, including the strengthening of the Party at the expense of the state, a return to ideology as a tool of social control, and the rejection of previous experiments in limiting the Party’s power by means of the rule of law and political liberalisation. In the dimension of socio-political governance, the methods Xi has employed are inspired by Leninist-Stalinist concepts, although this has been selective in nature, and has not included country-wide mass repressions or the central planning of the economy. From the perspective of the political status quo which was devised at the end of the twentieth century, the tools Xi has used to implement these changes are revolutionary in nature, and are associated with changes in the internal operation of the CCP. However, there are many signs that Xi’s policy turn is taking place with the support of the Party’s most influential clans and of some Party elders who see Xi’s programme as a way to save the special Party-state project which the PRC is. This conservative turn has led to a change in direction in the PRC’s foreign policy, which poses a challenge to the existing international order and has led to its re-evaluation.

The essence of the changes Xi is making is the concentration of power in the hands of the CCP top leadership, at the expense of sectoral interest groups in the Party; the cadres at the local level; and the state and Party bureaucracy at the central level. This is being done through an unprecedented OS W REPOR T 4/2020 7 replacement of Party cadres through the anti-corruption campaign, the development of informal Party bodies controlling the decision-making process, as well as the centralising reforms of the state administration. In parallel, Xi has been developing an extensive system of social control based on modern surveillance technologies and artificial intelligence, aimed at both the internal ideological disciplining of the CCP members, and at preventing potential sources of opposition arising among the public, as well as shaping behaviour at the individual level. The concentration of power and the strengthening of surveillance are intended to make the state more manageable and increase social stability in the face of rising internal and international challenges. As a result, however, the CCP’s ever-tightening control over the economy often comes into conflict with its attempts to create a modern, innovative economic system based largely on the private sector. This is also calling into question the implementation of the most important reform package announced by Xi Jinping – the development of a new model of economic growth for the PRC.

Xi  Jinping’s conservative turn translates into major changes in the formulation of sectoral policies in the PRC, affecting both decision-making processes and communication channels in foreign relations with the PRC. The personalisation of power in China increases the importance of people who have personal ties to Xi Jinping. Decision-making powers – not only those affecting policy, but also the governance of the state – are being moved to formal and informal structures within the CCP’s central structures. Depending on the particular policy sectors, the decision-making process is centralised either by strengthening or creating new institutions, or by the significant concentration of prerogatives and positions into the hands of individuals from Xi Jinping’s inner circle. This is creating a new mosaic of personnel at the top of the CCP, in which the importance of people in formal positions is increasingly giving way to political membership of Xi’s inner circle and positions within informal Party bodies.  Sigue en…

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