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Accelerating the Pace of CPC Transformation

-- An Interview with Wang Changjiang, Director of the Party Building Teaching and Research Department, the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC

By staff reporter HOU RUILI

China Today: The party system has its origins in Western society and the notion is an import to China. The political party is the organization connecting the populace and formal government; it ensures those in power act in the public interest. So what is the difference between the CPC and Western parties?

Wang: The difference is that the CPC experienced a transition from a revolutionary party to a ruling party, and led the country's transformation from a planned economy to a market economy. This is significant because for a revolutionary party, the primary target is seizing power, while a ruling party aims to better conditions in a country and develop its society. The transition from a revolutionary to ruling party is a huge feat. The CPC didn't complete the transition in 1949 after it seized the power, neither was it completely transformed by the time it introduced the reform and opening-up policy in 1978. When did it steer the transition? When the 16th CPC National Congress was held in 2002, the party made the explicit statement, "Having gone through the revolution, reconstruction and reform, our Party has evolved from a party that led the people in fighting for state power to a party that has led the people in exercising the power and has long remained in power. It has developed from a party that led national reconstruction under external blockade and a planned economy to a party that is leading national development while the country is opening to the outside world and developing a socialist market economy." It is a long historical process to realize a complete and workable transition from an idea to a theory, and from a method to a system. In this sense, our work is still in progress, and many problems take root in the course of transitions.

China Today: Jiang Zemin, then general secretary of the CPC, gave a speech on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the CPC. He pointed out, "Since China adopted the policy of reform and opening-up, the composition of China's social strata has changed to some extent. There are, among others, entrepreneurs and technical personnel employed by scientific and technical enterprises of the non-public sector, managerial and technical staff employed by foreign-funded enterprises, the self-employed, private entrepreneurs, employees in intermediaries and free-lance professionals. At that time, what did it mean for the Central Committee to advocate expanding the source of membership?

Wang: The CPC's desire to absorb private entrepreneurs into its ranks was a rapid response to the rapid change in the composition of Chinese society. At that time, private companies in Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou of coastal Jiangsu Province were evolving at breakneck speed. New social strata had emerged beyond the normal workers, farmers and intellectuals and the collective economy was in transition to private ownership. It was a big problem for the ruling party. In wartime, the CPC needed the strength of the worker-peasant alliance to be victorious in revolution, but in a market economy, new social strata developed and the diversity would challenge the CPC if the Party confined itself to earlier models and policies. After a full investigation and discussion within the Party, Jiang Zemin called for the admittance of people of merit from the private sector into the Party.

Seen from a macroscopic perspective, it represented yet another timely transformation of the CPC. To accelerate social development and mobilize the entire society for the construction of a socialist country, the CPC would not only have to emphasize its original class attributes but also try to expand the strata it stood for. These goals actually are not contradictory, as how to combine its working class roots with a wider social base is a question that should concern any political party at any given time. When developing a market economy and catering to diverse interests, the CPC can, without going against its basic nature, represent a broader political base. Absorbing talent from private enterprises into the Party is one dimension of that.

China Today: The trend of the last decade has been that members of the new social strata seem to show little enthusiasm for joining the CPC. What's the reason?

Wang: Since the CPC opened up to new segments of society, many private entrepreneurs have been admitted to the Party and played a positive role in its growth, but it is true most private entrepreneurs were not so enthusiastic. One reason is they have other channels like the People's Political Consultative Conference and non-government organizations to participate in politics and play their roles. The CPC has diverse channels to involve the public, and joining the CPC is just one of them. A richness of options is consistent with the times. Another reason is, in a modern society people no longer, as in the planned economy, rely on the ruling party and government to satisfy all their needs, so what were once motives for joining the Party, like individual survival, personal gain and development, are less compelling. In a market economy people are responsible for themselves to a large extent. They develop economic independence and have therefore very different reasons for joining a political organization. For that reason, joining the CPC is no longer so attractive to private entrepreneurs.

Besides that, the CPC is an organization with special values and pursuits. Regardless of a person's social origins, a Party member is required by the Party constitution to confirm its values by putting them into practice. Even current members from the private sector do not just make appeals for their own strata; they live by a code of conduct and fulfill their role as a Party member. These requirements have discouraged those who considered joining just to reap personal gain.

China Today: After members of the emerging social strata began joining the CPC, how did the Party see fit to balance the interests of different social strata?

Wang: After reform and opening-up, people noticed that seeking personal interest is a human instinct, a powerful motive force for social development. According to the contract system introduced at that time, remuneration was linked to output. After handing over a specified quantity to the country and collective, the surplus belonged to the farmer himself. This was meant to motivate the producers.

The pursuit of personal interests is rightful and legitimate, and as people's interests differ from one another, it is of great importance in a single-party system to provide diversified channels for people to make their appeals. Judging from the situation in other countries, if a political party rests on a narrow base, it can't represent people's interests well. Consequently, appeals will be expressed outside and beyond the political system, challenge the capacity of leadership, and cause social instability.

How can we use the single-party system to provide such a diversified population with fair representation? On the one hand, a responsible party expands its inclusiveness and is open to people who can demonstrate merit; on the other hand, a single-party system relies strongly on the development of civil institutions, for example, non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In recent years, NGOs have grown in number in China and the CPC has changed its views on NGO development in favor of a more practical approach.

Moreover, during the macro-adjustment and guided development of social and economic life, our strategies have already become more market-oriented, negotiable and democratic, rather than the simple mechanisms used in the planned economy and its rigid administration.

China Today: How is the CPC responding to the development of democracy and civil society under this market economy?

Wang: A planned economy disallows pursuit of personal interests. Without personal interests, how can there be any appeal to interests? So in a planned economy, actually the expression of public will has no constraining force on a political party. This situation often leads to organizational pathologies of a political party, such as nationalization, administrationalization and bureaucratization.

A market economy is quite different. The starting point of the market economy is that people are allowed to pursue their interests. This leads to an awareness of the value of safeguarding one's interests, and consciousness of independence, participation and responsibility, which are the cornerstones of civil obligation. Therefore, the most important point of the market economy is that it not only boosts economic development, but also promotes civil society. In a civil society the people raise new demands to the political level. If their appeals are disregarded, estrangement will ensue and political parties will no longer reflect the public interest. A party must respond to public demands or it will lose their trust and support.

After China shifted to a market economy, corresponding reforms were required in many dimensions of civil life, such as political, social and cultural reforms. The current political restructuring has a clear direction, and in its path are such issues as the integration of rule by the people, the Party's leadership, and the rule of law. Comprehensive adjustment of institutions and mechanisms are other critical needs. In many respects, our political restructuring is happening on the surface so far, and we should be prepared to dig in for further reform.

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us