Anyone who tries to expose the Party will be annihilated.
As a political machine the Party has proved to be
a sinuous, cynical and adaptive beast
in the face of its multiple challenges.
...The Party isn't over in China.

The beast that is China's ruling party
(author follows Communist government's bloody trail)

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor
book review, by Eric Enno Tamm, National Post, Oct 1, 2010

In the spring of 2006, I enrolled in a curious course at the B.C. Institute of Technology. It was called The Fundamentals of Doing Business with China, but it turned out to be more like Leninism 101. Our instructor, Lawrence Gu, had just become dean of Canada’s first Confucius Institute, a partnership between the institute and the Chinese government. There are now more than 300 Confucius Institutes around the world, mostly offering Mandarin classes. BCIT, Gu enthused, was the first to offer a practical business course.

Our first class was on China’s governance. “It’s the most sophisticated structure in the world,” Gu said. “It looks familiar, but it isn’t.” He distributed four handouts. Stapled on top was one simply titled “Party.” It was an organizational chart showing the Communist Party’s secretary-general, the Politburo Standing Committee, the Politburo and the Party Central Committee, in descending order. “Why do I put the Party first?” he asked, then answered: At every level of government, village leaders, mayors and provincial governors are shadowed by Party apparatchiks who hold the real power. At the top sits the Politburo Standing Committee. “These nine members are really calling the shots,” he said. He described the secretary-general, Hu Jintao, who is also China’s president, as “the emperor.” Gu boasted of his “pragmatic” approach in beating out more prestigious universities for the first Confucius Institute: “We followed the Chinese government strategy, and you’ll find out that’s the strategy for success.” Gu’s greatest challenge was finding a course textbook. “I don’t think you can have one,” he said. “The subject is too difficult and fluid.” Until now.

Richard McGregor’s new book, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, should be required reading for anyone wanting to do any kind of business in China. Understanding the Party is fundamental to success — and survival. McGregor’s chilling narrative unfolds like Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, in which Matthiessen tracks the mysterious cat through the Himalayas. As we travel with McGregor in search of his “beast,” as he calls the Communist Party, we see mostly the bloody trail of its mauled victims, from 35 million starved to death in the Great Leap Forward to the students massacred in Tiananmen Square. At every gripping step, he gets closer to capturing the essence of the Party but, in the end, this animal, like the snow leopard, proves elusive.

“The problem in writing about the Party … is that, much as the Party might be staring you in the face, you can’t easily glare back,” he writes. Indeed, he adds: “Sometimes, you can’t see the Party at all.” “The Party is like God”, one Chinese academic tells him. “He is everywhere. You just can’t see him”. Yet McGregor sees more than most. A reporter for the Financial Times, he’s been covering China for more than a decade and is a seasoned, entertaining guide. His book is a page-turner, a mystery of sorts. Although he gets only glimpses of the Party’s inner workings, his quest to shed light on the clique that rules the world’s most populous country becomes a vehicle for understanding modern China and its contradictions. “Over time,” he writes, “the Party’s secrecy has gone beyond habit and become essential to its survival, by shielding it from the reach of the law and the wider citizenry.”

McGregor deftly describes how the Party has junked its outdated Marxist software but “still runs on Soviet hardware”. It operates on a Leninist mainframe, keeping its “lock-hold on the state and three pillars of its survival strategy: control of personnel, propaganda and the People’s Liberation Army”. This point is often lost on Western observers who hail the end of communism in China. Not quite. “The Leninist bureaucracy survives”, he writes, “but the Party has added a touch of McKinsey to ensure it performs,” he writes, referring to the global business consultancy.

The book’s first half focuses on the Party’s control of the state, business, personnel and the army; the second half describes the Party’s challenges — reining in corruption and rogue officials in the regions, controlling the growing capitalist class and managing the narrative of China, “because if this narrative unravelled, it could devour them all”. At times, it seems as if the average Chinese is living in The Matrix. Workers may be improving their lot, but the real purpose of their toil is to sustain and enrich the “red machine”, whose greed and graft know no bounds. And anyone who tries to expose the Party will be annihilated. “As a political machine”, he writes, “the Party has so far proved to be a sinuous, cynical and adaptive beast in the face of its multiple challenges”.

McGregor is less successful at describing its evolution. That the Party has succeeded so spectacularly shouldn’t be a surprise. Lenin designed his dictatorship of the proletariat by setting up a vanguard party of professionals to industrialize a rural peasantry. Leninism is reverse Marxism: first the political revolution, then an industrial one. That’s exactly what China’s Communist Party has done, with aplomb. But can this rickety “Soviet hardware” effectively manage a post-industrial, pluralistic society of tech-savvy citizens? For many observers, democratization seems inevitable in China, just as the autocratic Kuomintang relinquished power to multi-party elections in Taiwan. Indeed, the Party already allows for elections of village leaders and in some townships. Yet McGregor sidesteps the issue of political reform. The Party has become craftier, too, but he barely touches on the new methods and technologies — from focus groups to blog monitoring — being used to co-opt and coerce public opinion. Whether it uses democratic elections or technological innovations, or a bit of both, to manage the complexities of post-industrial society, as McGregor rightly points out, the Party isn’t over in China.

The beast that is China's ruling party (author follows Communist government's bloody trail), by Eric Enno Tamm, National Post, Oct 1, 2010










2.Big Brother (...BIG BROTHER is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverance, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization. The Party exists ... BIG BROTHER is the embodiment of the Party ... BIG BROTHER will never die... The rule of the Party is forever." ...The mind of the Party is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party... The Party was...a dedicated sect doing evil. ... The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism. ... There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party...)

10.Rulers (... A member of the Inner Party enjoys the luxury of a large, well-appointed flat, better textures of his clothes, the better quality of his food and drink and tobacco, his two or three servants, his private motor-car or helicopter.... The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same.)

27.Goodthink (... It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodoxy.... He looked around the canteen again. Nearly everyone was ugly, and would still have been ugly even if dressed otherwise than in the uniform blue overalls....It was curious how that beetle-like type proliferated in the Ministries: little dumpy men, growing stout very early in life, with short legs, swift scuttling movements, and fat inscrutable faces with very small eyes. It was the type that seemed to flourish best under the dominion of the Party....The man with the strident voice was still talking remorselessly away. He held some important post in the FICTION DEPARTMENT. It was just a noise, a quack-quack-quacking. Every word of it was pure orthodoxy.... This was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man's brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck...."There is a word in Newspeak" said Syme, "I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck...)

22.Doublethink (...The rules of the Inner Party are held together by adherence to a common doctrine. In a Party member not even the smallest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated. But it is also necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner. And if it is necessary to rearrange one's memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox. In Oldspeak it is called, quite frankly, "reality control." In Newspeak, it is called doublethink, though doublethink comprises much else as well. Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt...)

20.Thought Police (...It was always at night - the arrests invariably happened at night. The sudden jerk out of sleep, the rough hand shaking your shoulder, the lights glaring in your eyes, the ring of hard faces round the bed. In the vast majority of cases there was no trial, no report of the arrest. People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers. Every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word...)

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~