fredag 9. juli 2021

Torbjørn Færøvik: The Chinese Communist Party at 100 is Big, Fat, and Dangerous

The world's most dangerous political party has celebrated its 100 years anniversary. The Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921. Thirteen serious-minded men, among them Mao Zedong, attended the historic meeting. "A small spark can start a large prairie fire," Mao said a few years later - and he was right.

When Mao and his soldiers seized power in 1949, the membership was estimated at 4.5 million. In the anniversary year, it counts well over 92 million. The party's youth organization with its 110 million members is also not to be missed. "We are the invincible vanguard in the struggle to realize the Chinese dream," party leader Xi Jinping declared earlier this year.

"The Chinese dream" is the vague term for Xi's political project, which aims to create a prosperous China with significant global influence. 

The party's hundred-year journey has been extremely bloody and thorny. The fight against the Japanese and the domestic nationalist government army claimed millions of lives. The death toll did not decrease after Mao settled in Beijing. In the early 1950s, real as imaginary enemies of the revolution were executed in large numbers. A few years later, during the Mao-inspired Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961, tens of millions of Chinese died of overwork, starvation, and disease. Yang Jisheng, a former party member who has written a well-documented book about the tragedy, estimates the loss at between 35 and 40 million.

Mao's failure was a scorching defeat for the party and the chairman himself. For a few years, "The Great Leader" continued to stumble, until in 1966 he decided to strike back. The result was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which once again plunged the country into chaos. People attacked each other all over the country, and more blood was wasted. As the drama grew in strength, the party more or less disintegrated. The situation eventually became so dramatic that the Liberation Army, at Mao's own command, had to intervene.

By 1969 the fighting had subsided so that the party could hold its ninth congress, but as a sign that something was wrong, the majority of the delegates came from the Liberation Army. To their wild cheers, Lin Biao, "the ever victorious general," was appointed Mao's successor. Two years later, Lin died in a plane crash in Mongolia. It was said that he had made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power, and had chosen to flee as soon as he realized that Mao had "seen through his evil plans". 

According to Chinese media, Mao's death in 1976 triggered "boundless grief" in the party and the people. But the chairman's body had barely gotten cold before the party was thrown into a new internal battle. For who should inherit Mao's cloak and crown? The tug-of-war that autumn ended with the arrest of four of Mao's most ardent supporters, the so-called "Gang of Four". 

Thus, the stage was set for the relatively unknown Hua Guofeng. But Hua soon became overshadowed by Deng Xiaoping. “Comrades, we must seek the truth from the facts," he said. "If we continue in the same way as before, the party will cease to exist, and everything we have fought for will be lost."

With Deng at the helm, the reform policy that would save the Communist Party and give the Chinese new hope began. But even in this phase, towards the turn of the millennium, the party was haunted by strong internal contradictions. For Deng and his colleagues, the 1989 uprising was a reminder that China would need strong political leadership. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the party leadership received another warning about the importance of standing together.

When Deng died in 1997, he left behind a party that had managed to regain some of its reputation, much thanks to high growth rates and a freer economy. At the same time, the party leadership stated clearly that no opposition would be tolerated.

In the new millennium, the course that Deng set out has, by and large, remained fixed. However, many Chinese are disappointed with the turn of events in recent years. In the early 2000s, there was a widespread perception that China's political system would adapt to economic developments and become more open. The opposite has happened. Under Xi Jinping, the party's claws have become both longer and sharper. There was probably nothing else to expect. Faced with new technological advances led by the Internet, the party had to choose between joining a new global reality with an unknown outcome or creating its own closed high-tech universe.

It has chosen the latter, to shut itself in, knowing that the free flow of information means the death of any communist party. The party's fear of free speech was clearly expressed on June 17, when five hundred police officers suddenly invaded the reception of the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily. Days later, the newspaper was forced to cease operations. Few if anyone thinks it will resurface as long as Xi Jinping is in power. In the rest of China, the last free voices have long since been silenced.

China's governance is often referred to as authoritarian. It is a misleading term, especially when it is also used about countries such as Poland and Hungary. China is in a very different category. The system of government is approaching the totalitarian. The Communist Party strives to gain full control over all the country's inhabitants from cradle to grave, and is well on its way to succeeding with the help of new technology and a hyper-efficient police force. To quote Oxford professor Stein Ringen: "The party's goal is not to reform the system, but to perfect it."

That is why the world's largest communist party is so dangerous. In a time when small and large democracies are cracking at the seams, it insists on having found the only viable path, yes the Truth with a capital T. Therefore, it does not tolerate being criticized, neither by its own nor by others. "Xi Jinping Thought", which is now the prevailing ideology, is claimed to be scientific. "Xi Jinping's Thoughts on Diplomacy", which have gained increasing publicity recently, is described as "scientific, advanced and action-oriented".

As a continuation of this arrogance, the party cultivates the notion that the Chinese, "the Yellow Emperor’s sons and daughters", can only realize their dreams in close interaction with the party and the nation. Everything else is betrayal. Individual happiness and national greatness are inseparable. Heard it before? "Let it be known to everyone that patriotism is at the heart of the nation's spirit," writes the English-language newspaper China Daily. "Let it be known to all that consolidating the China dream requires consolidating Chinese power."

Anyone who does not feel uncomfortable reading such has not read enough history.

This article appeared in the Norwegian daily Dagsavisen June 29, 2021