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A Road Map for the Development of Inner-Party Democracy

In its October 26, 2009, issue, Study Times published two articles about the Chinese communist party’s inner-party democracy. The titles were "A Road Map for the Development of Inner-Party Democracy" [1] and "Promoting Democracy within the Party in Our Study and Practice" [2]. The main idea the articles stressed was that, "democracy can only be developed in an orderly and healthy way under the leadership of the (communist) party." "Development of the people’s democracy (should only be) done through inner-party democracy, and (absolutely not) by the emergence of independent forces outside the ruling party that constitute a challenge to the ruling position of the communist party." The following is a summary of these two articles.

A Road Map for the Development of Inner-Party Democracy" [1]

"The Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee raised the issue that the party is facing profoundly severe challenges. … It revealed the deep background and an inevitable trend of developing inner-party democracy under the new situation. One of the important tests the Party is facing is to achieve legitimacy in the transformation of governance, that is, the transformation from revolution legitimacy to governance legitimacy, and to achieve democratic governance under highly developed inner-party democracy. The Plenary Session … placed the development of inner-party democracy in a very prominent position, proposed strategic thinking and detailed requirements for inner-party democracy’s development, and laid a road map for further developing democracy within the party. This road map includes four elements: adhering to one principle, laying one foundation, following one path, and perfecting one system. Adhering to one principle means to adhere to the unity of inner-party democracy and centralization, or the principle of democratic centralism; [3] laying one foundation is to strengthen the building of grassroots democracy within the party and consolidate the cornerstone of democracy within the party; following one path is to follow the path of inner-party democracy leading people’s democracy, to achieve an effective connection and interaction between inner-party democracy and people’s democracy. Perfecting one system means to reform and perfect a series of specific systems of inner-party democracy and improve the institutionalization of democracy within the party. "

"Either from a theoretical or from a practical perspective, there are three forms of relationship between democracy and centralization: strong democracy, weak centralization; weak democracy, strong centralization; and the unity of democracy and centralization. A revolutionary party generally adopts the second form, namely, weak democracy and strong centralization. This is due to the need to ensure the victory of the revolution. It was also related to the limitations associated with the situation back then. When a revolutionary party turns into a governing party, especially governing in a market economy and in opening up conditions, it requires transformation from the second to the third form, that is, from weak democracy strong centralization to the unity of democracy and centralization. Democratic centralism is the third form, which is the combination of centralization based on democracy and democracy under centralized guidance. Developing inner-party democracy does not mean to abandon the centralization within the party, but to change the situation where there is not enough democracy but too much centralization." "Given the conditions of our country and the party, it is feasible and relatively beneficial to choose transformation from weak democracy, strong centralization to the unity of democracy and centralization, that is, maintaining centralization while developing inner-party democracy, or democratic centralism. Centralization within the party embodies a number of specific principles and systems, such as the party’s leadership, the party’s managing its cadres, and so on. Developing inner-party democracy is inseparable from the party’s leadership and promotion. Inner-party democracy can only be developed orderly and healthily under the leadership of the party. … Without the party’s leadership and promotion, inner-party democracy will be difficult to develop, may lead to a wrong path, or may even cause the party to split."

"The development of inner-party democracy is critical to political system reform and the stability of the nation’s reform and development policies. … A safer way is to effectively build grass-roots democracy from the grassroots level. A grassroots unit involves a small number of party members and is relatively simple to operate with relatively low risk. Thus it is a good testing ground to try inner-Party democracy. It will help us to learn democracy while practicing democracy, and practice democracy while learning democracy." "Whether we can develop a good grass-roots democracy within the party is directly related to the immediate interests of party members. Party members and the masses care the most about the development of grassroots democracy within the party. The development of grassroots democracy within the party will facilitate party members to be directly involved in the management and decision-making processes of party affairs at the grassroots level, and fully reflect the democratic rights of party members."

"The people’s democratic system is formed and developed under the party’s leadership. If we want to continue the development of the people’s democracy, we must have a breakthrough in inner-party democracy; otherwise the room for people’s democracy will be limited. From a procedural point of view, inner-party democracy in some respects is the front link for people’s democracy. For example, the candidates for government leaders must be nominated by the ruling party. Hence, at this point, the ruling party’s inner-party democracy has a decisive impact on the people’s democracy. More importantly, it is a strategic choice to have inner-party democracy lead the people’s democracy. In the democratic development process, if the people’s democracy is too far ahead, independent forces outside the ruling party could constitute a challenge to the ruling party’s governing position. This is what the ruling party does not want to see during its development of democracy." "The development of inner-party democracy could serve as a model for the people’s democracy, mainly in the following areas: how to protect democratic rights; how to build a competition mechanism; how to improve democratic procedures; and how to constrain and balance power. If we can implement the constraints and balances of power within the ruling party which is the core of state power, it will not be difficult at all to develop the people’s democracy."

"The Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC central committee pointed out that (we should) uphold and perfect the party’s leadership system, perfect the party’s congress system and the party’s electoral system, and improve the mechanism of democratic decision-making within the party. The system plays a fundamental role. For inner-party democracy to really work, we must rely on a series of effective concrete systems: 1. Perfect the party’s congress and the committee system. In recent years we have … implemented the party congress tenure system, and emphasized the committee’s role in major personnel decisions, but there is still much room for improvement. We need innovation in the process of determining representatives and committee members, and also improving the quantity and quality of meetings. 2. Perfect the competitive election system within the party. Currently there is room for the party’s election system to improve, mainly in two areas. One is in candidate nominations, which has a significant impact on the election results. If the power of nomination rests in the hands of a few people, it is not beneficial for broadening the view for the election, and can easily lead to corruption. The second is whether to have the same number of candidates as there are positions, or to have more candidates, and if more, how much more. The meaning of an election is to choose from a number of candidates. If we offer the same number of candidates or a slightly larger number of candidates, compared to the positions to be elected, the election is not meaningful any more. 3. Improve the democratic decision-making mechanism within the party. Improving the decision-making mechanism is an extremely urgent requirement and task for developing democracy within the party. The main disadvantage of the current decision-making mechanism is that the power is too concentrated in a few hands, especially in the ‘number one’ hands. Sometimes it is only a "one-man decision." This has become a major cause for decision-making errors and corruption."

Promote Democracy within the Party in Our Study and Practice [2]

"On June 29, 2009, at the 14th group study meeting of the Central Politburo, Comrade Hu Jintao clearly pointed out that promoting inner-party democracy is a strategic task in the great new project to comprehensively promote the party’s development. … The Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee once again called on all party members and leading cadres to work hard at mastering and applying all new scientific ideas, new knowledge, and new experiences, and to treat the strategic task of building a learning-oriented Marxism Party as an urgent priority. Therefore, promoting democracy within the party in our study and practice and leading people to create a new situation in the great cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics have become the strategic tasks for our party’s development. As the governing party we must study democracy more comprehensively and more systematically, and practice democracy in a broader and deeper way."

"To promote inner-party democracy, we must seriously and systematically study the Marxist  theory of democracy. Marxism is the thinking and action guideline for the proletarian party. Marxism is not only revolutionary theory but also development theory." "To promote inner-party democracy, we must have a broad and open vision and objectively learn the outstanding civilization results from other countries in their development of democracy. The historical development of democracy is diverse. The democratic practice models in different countries are vastly different, too. Different countries and different nationalities choose their own model for democratic development based on their own historical and cultural traditions and specific national conditions. … Our country has a long, rich history of feudalism. It is lacking in democratic traditions and democratic culture. … [We] must have an open and inclusive attitude to selectively learn step by step from outstanding civilizations’ experiences in the development of a democratic political system." "To promote inner-party democracy, based on our current task, we must timely and comprehensively learn from the democratic experiences created and summarized in the nation’s reform process. … The creative practice of grassroots democracy within the party has crystallized the wisdom, hard work, responsibility, and vision of the grassroots party members and cadres." "To promote inner-party democracy … we must get rid of various erroneous arguments that occurred during the development of democracy, achieve a systematic connection, and promote systematic development and mechanism innovation under the framework of the law. We must encourage all party members and cadres to actively participate in the democratic process, exercise democratic skills, and develop democratic habits, to ensure the vitality and sustainability of inner-party democracy by institutional development."

"To practice democracy within the party, we must first break through the theory of democratic conditions and the fear of democracy. We must promote the practice of inner-party democracy without hesitation and be down to earth. … The essence of the democratic conditions theory is to postpone the practice of democracy into the unforeseeable future using the excuse of waiting for the conditions suitable for democracy to arrive. The essence of the fear of democracy is either people’s fear of losing their own privileges and special gains under democracy, or, due to their lack of understanding of democracy, taking it for granted that democracy will bring chaos and disorder." "To practice inner-party democracy, we must achieve a systematic connection among inner-party democracy, people’s democracy, and social democracy. … In the process of building China’s socialist democratic politics, the inner-party democracy is the core, the people’s democracy is the main project, while social democracy is the foundation. If there is no inner-party democracy, the development of democratic politics will lose its guidance and direction; if there is no people’s democracy, the development of democratic politics will lose its soul and the specifications for its system; if there is no social democracy, the development of democratic politics will lose its momentum and foundation. When implementing inner-party democracy leading people’s democracy, we must treat them as being linked overall and not overemphasize one and ignore the other. … The development of the inner-party democratic system, mechanisms, and procedures can help regulate the democratic practice and avoid disorder, confusion, impulsiveness, and blindness. The development of inner-party democracy must be under the rule of law, procedure-oriented, and normalized." "To practice democracy within the party, all party members and cadres must be encouraged to actively participate in the democratic process. … Party organizations at all levels must encourage party members to participate in a variety of democratic practices. Each individual member must show their enthusiasm, initiative and creativity. … When we learn while practicing and learn through practice, culture and structure, as well as attitudes and behavior continually interact with each other. The socialist democratic political culture will mature and improve together." "Only when we are prepared for danger in times of safety … and vigorously promote the development of inner-party democracy, will we be able to control the power of our voice in the global ideological competition … and ultimately promote the renaissance of the great course of building socialism with Chinese characteristics."

[1] Study Times, October 26, 2009
[2] Study Times, October 26, 2009
[3] Democratic centralism is the name given to the principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties. … The democratic aspect of this organizational method describes the freedom of members of the political party to discuss and debate matters of policy and direction, but once the decision of the party is made by majority vote, all members are expected to uphold that decision. This latter aspect represents the centralism.