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  • Tiananmen and BeyondThe Resurgence of Civil Society in China
  • Thomas B. Gold (bio)

The remarkable events of April and May 1989 revealed the degree to which civil society has reemerged in Communist China. The ruthless campaign of suppression that began on June 4 revealed in turn the degree to which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) remains unwilling and unable to accept the reality of nascent civil society in China.

The fate of civil society under communism in China can best be illuminated by focusing on two key periods: the years immediately following the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, when the newly victorious CCP restructured Chinese society in a systematic effort to destroy all autonomous spheres of activity and preclude their revival; and the period since the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978, when the CCP set in motion a process that has culminated in the tentative emergence of a true civil society, which is something that the CCP is able neither to understand nor to tolerate.

Marxist-Leninist parties like the CCP are predicated on a fundamental mistrust of the people. Their Marxism infuses them with a specific objective and claims to scientific certainty, Party members believe that Marx proved the inevitability of communism, which is a consummation waiting at the end of a revolutionary process involving the destruction of capitalism and then an intermediate stage of socialism. Communism is the end point of historical development, a utopia of perfect freedom, [End Page 18] community, and abundance where there will be no classes, no states, and no exploitation.

Their Leninism gives these parties organizational principles enabling them to seize, hold, and wield the levers of state power. Leninist parties are vanguard parties, whose carefully selected members must be willing to submit to iron discipline. Their basic principle is "democratic centralism," which maintains the absolute necessity of implementing party policies once they are determined by higher levels, no matter what one's views might have been—or still are. Leninist parties are organized on the basis of a hierarchy of tightly compartmentalized cells. When out of power, they operate conspiratorially to undermine the state with a view to seizing power for themselves. When in power, they retain the same structure as well as a conspiratorial habit of mind. Finally, they remain vanguard parties, for becoming mass parties would undermine the discipline needed to mobilize and lead society.

Members of such parties constantly study the works of Marx and orient their policies towards eliminating all vestiges of capitalism and building the necessary socialist basis for communism. The relentless study of Marx is supposed to give party members a higher consciousness than their fellows. Communists understand the laws of historical development, and therefore know the best, long-term interest of society as a whole; the immediate interests of particular groups or individuals must be subordinated. The masses, however, are bereft of this higher consciousness; left to themselves they will inevitably prefer narrow personal interests to the larger demands of social progress. Thus it is essential that well-indoctrinated, highly disciplined party members lead all organizations of state and society. There is no other way to ensure that all policy decisions, large and small, promote the achievement of socialism. The goal is a better life for the great many in the long run, even if the many themselves lack the vision and foresight to recognize this scientific fact.

Marxist-Leninist parties, then, aspire to totalitarian control; they aim to dominate all aspects of economic, political, and cultural life in the most comprehensive sense. They operate outside and above the law. Their unchallenged mastery is said to be a necessary measure in the march towards the bright communist future. Yet in spite of all their efforts, none of them has as yet actually achieved total control.

Since the beginning of the 1980s, fundamental changes have been sweeping societies ruled by Marxist-Leninist parties. These changes are not accidental, but proceed from profound crises of legitimacy. It is no secret that even the most successful socialist countries have failed to provide a standard of living or quality of life comparable to that widely enjoyed in successful capitalist countries...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 18-31
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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