The role of the Chinese Communist Party in the process of national transformation

"A journey of a thousand li begins with the first step” (Lao Tzu)

Celebrating a centenary may well represent the culmination of a human lifetime, but 100 years is a short time for a country like China, whose civilisation stretches well over three millennia.

Yet, it has taken only a century to generate a process of social, political, and economic transformation of such proportions that it has largely transcended its territory and huge population, profoundly affecting both the current and the foreseeable configuration of the global system.

In July 1921, a secret meeting was held in a small school in Shanghai. Twelve young students of Marxism took part (the thirteenth could not attend), among whom was a student at Peking University: Mao Zedong.

The aim of this meeting was to prepare the foundations for the creation of the Communist Party of China. Their purpose was to eradicate foreign intervention and occupation from their homeland, to unify the country and to establish the rule of the proletariat.

The appeal of Marxism as an ideological matrix was largely due to its adequacy to the purposes of the movement, the situation, and the needs of the historical moment: an overwhelming flow of European (Germany, France, England and Russia) and American political and philosophical ideas; the tragically proven material superiority of the West and the struggle against imperialism upheld by the USSR.

In this context "historical materialism" and its "scientific" nature promised for its final stage a classless society and the possibility of social progress in different phases through the interaction between the ruling classes and the exploited and the abolition of private property.

These features of the Marxist project were enormously attractive. Planning was central, with mechanisms and strategies for organising the direction to be taken (stage-by-stage actions and long-term processes). Finally, and crucially, there was the Leninist conception of the "Revolutionary Vanguard". The intellectual elite - the Chinese Communist Party - would be in charge of leading the revolution for the benefit of the masses.

It is not possible, in this brief text, to refer to the dimension of the changes and transformations achieved by the CCP over a century in an adequate way. However, it is worth at least to try to present the guidelines of the central phases that follow the first period, which culminates with the seizure of power and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in October 1949.

The difficult situation that China found itself in at the end of the Mao Zedong government (1966-1976) justified the transition from the "class struggle" to "economic development". The great “Leap Forward” was replaced by a gradualist and pragmatic approach, focused on the modernization of the country. The inauguration of Deng Xiaoping in mid-1977 resulted in the following year, on the occasion of the third session of the CPC Congress, a decision to transfer the center of gravity from political struggle to economic development.

The national goal conceived by Deng Xiaoping was to achieve the status of a “moderately prosperous society” for China by 2020. For that purpose, there was a need to set in motion a growth model based, among other elements, on external economic and financial openness; the expansion of consumption; the elevation of the technological level of the industry; the internationalization of the yuan; the increase in competitiveness and the development of Chinese “soft-power”.

This period is understood as a "transition phase", where China must move from a rural economy, based on agriculture, to an urban economy, supported by industry and planning. In this context, the situations that arise at each stage determine the economic role to be played by the Party and the Government. The first should provide the central guidelines for the reform and the second should ensure a stable functioning of the internal market. Only in this way could China adequately respond to the challenge of competitiveness imposed by economic globalization. At the 12th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (1982), the general goals for economic construction for the next two decades (1981-2000) were proposed.


The "Second Transformation": 2010-2030/2040-2050

At the beginning of the 21st century, new technologies, market forces and economic globalization put these development programs in front of other realities. China faced a complicated and changing internal and external context, characterized by contradictions related to reform, development and social stability.

To respond to these challenges, four major transformations were envisioned: (1) the transition “under the rule of law”, from a primary to a modern market economy; (2) the concretion of the transition from an extensive economy to a “green” economy (low in carbon and environmentally sustainable); (3) the movement from a dual urban-rural structure to an integrated urban-rural one; (4) the effective transition from a society "of the people" to a "civil society".

This reform stage intends to achieve the complete transformation of China by the middle of this century, creating the conditions to "enrich the people and make them a mighty power". It includes the multiple political, social and economic actions in the domestic and international spheres that China is carrying out with a broad impact on the global system.


The "socialist democratic politics" in contemporary China

The Chinese development of democratic politics is based on the integration of the theory of Marxist democracy with the changing realities of the world as well as of China.

As a system, its corresponding political organization differs substantially from the Western model. It is based on a concept that comprises three components: "social democracy", "economic democracy" and "political democracy". The first two represent the foundations of political democracy.

The establishment of a "socialist market economy" in the first thirty years of reform and opening thus constitutes "the most important feature of economic democracy" and a relevant foundational element for democratic politics.

Consequently and in line with the directives of President Xi Jinping, gradually promoting the reform of the political system, linking it to economic growth and strengthening the government’s action represents an adequate way to advance towards new stages, thus reflecting the vitality and governance capacity of the CCP.

By way of example, in order to adapt politically to the new conditions brought about by the significant growth of the middle class, during Jiang Zemin’s government, they conceived and implemented a gradual and pragmatic process of selective expansion of the CCP cadres. In this way, "the CCP is the vanguard of the Chinese working class, people and nation".

Finally, when considering Party-State-society interactions, we should note that the profound changes currently being introduced in the economic-social field are positively received by the vast majority of the population. In essence, these changes adhere to a dynamic that, although it presents limits, advances in pursuit of conquests already foreseen in the programs of democratic evolution and social welfare of the CCP for the next decades.

These reforms of the Chinese political system will most probably continue in the future. Thus, for example, its flexibility to a greater degree could perhaps include the generalized direct election of its leaders and a different configuration of the National People's Congress and the Central Committee of the PCC.

Although the foregoing analyzed is hypothetical, we cannot rule out that the process of political reforms -insofar as it is inherent to democratization- will continue to maintain “Chinese characteristics”. The existence of important features that differentiate it from Western systems will persist.

We can hope that pragmatism, always present in Chinese decisions, contemplates restructuring that satisfies the changing demands for liberalization imposed by the transformations of the domestic and international context.


Carlos Juan Moneta is an expert in economics and political science, as well as a professor at the National University of Tres de Febrero. He was Permanent Secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System and founder and coordinator of the Ibero-American Network for Asia-Pacific Studies.

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