[A-List] The Secret World of the Chinese Communist Party?
cb31450 at gmail.com
Wed Sep 29 15:49:15 MDT 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
The Secret World of the Chinese Communist Party?
The New York Review of Books for 9-30-10 has an interesting article by
Ian Johnson, former Beijing bureau chief for the WSJ, reviewing
Richard McGregor's THE PARTY: THE SECRET WORLD OF CHINA'S COMMUNIST
RULERS. I don't know how secret it can be if there is a whole book
There are some interesting facts revealed in this review that readers
of our sites will find useful. We are told that the CPC is basically
the heart and soul of contemporary China and that the views of some,
that the party is becoming irrelevant, are dead wrong. Johnson informs
us that while many polices of the party are not actually "communist"
it is still "Leninist in structure" and its organization and workings
"would be recognizable to the leaders of the Russian Revolution."
Coming from a WSJ reporter I don't know if this a compliment or not.
McGregor's book also shows that despite its "secretive tendencies" the
CP "can be usefully analyzed." Maybe the secret world is not really so
secret after all.
Johnson says one big misunderstanding about China, and it is a BIG
one, is that China "has been privatizing the economy." There is a
stock market to be sure and many shares have been sold to investors
around the world but "almost all Chinese companies of any size and
importance remain in government hands." This is a socialist sine qua
non I would think.
This fact is relatively unknown to outside investors due to "ignorant
or unethical Western investment banks and lawyers." It seems that
ultimate decision making in all really important Chinese companies is
made by the Organization Department of the CPC and the NOT the board
of directors of the company-- i.e., the party remains "in control of
all personnel decisions." CEOs and directors thus dance to the tune of
What about smaller companies, those not belonging to the commanding
heights of the economy? Here too "government control still remains
pervasive" if less direct. What Johnson means is that "the manager is
often a former official or close to Party circles." Johnson is wrong
to call this "government control" since even he admits "that these
companies are run as the manager sees fit." What he really means is
that there is a climate of shared values and aspirations between
middle management and the party.
The party also has control of the government as the party, through the
medium of "leading small groups" of experts and senior party leaders
that have been set up to advise each of the ministries. These groups
exist from the top "down to the grass roots." Westerners object to
this system, especially in the legal system because judges are not
independent and merely "translate court decisions made by Communist
Party legal affairs committees into rulings." This objection is based
on the Western notion that the only free and democratic organization
of government has to be based on bourgeois notions of democracy and
any other notions of democracy, especially socialist or people's
democracy is bogus. This overlooks the fact that most bourgeois
democracies are themselves bogus.
While many Western "experts" on China write off the CPC in the long
term, Johnson shares the view that "the West has consistently
underestimated the Party's ability to adapt and thus might be
excessively negative about its future."
Johnson has some criticisms of his own but they seem to be motivated
by his WSJ background. He thinks China needs more reform efforts and
while he says "reforms haven't quite ground to a halt" nevertheless
the state sector is making a comeback because the CPC has a policy "of
recentralizing control." But this is what you would expect a socialist
state to do.
He also faults Chinese foreign policy for being concerned with only
two "narrow concerns." The first is territorial (Tibet and Taiwan) and
the second is "resource extraction in Africa and Central America."
Well the first is a concern with the territorial integrity of the
country, which is actually being threatened, and is hardly a "narrow
concern." Nor is the second, which deals with China's relation to the
Third World and its trade policies. By all accounts most African and
Central American countries have had better and fairer deals with the
Chinese than with the West. Johnson doesn't even mention the CPC's
push to increase the unionization of its workforce, which is in
complete harmony with socialist principles.
All in all this is an interesting article which should be read by
anyone interested in contemporary China and certainly by anyone
contemplating buying and reading Richard McGregor's THE PARTY.
Posted by Thomas Riggins at 3:39 PM ShareThis
More information about the A-List