Guest Post: Is China's Communist Party Doomed?

Tyler Durden's picture

Via Minxin Pei of The Diplomat,

Last Friday's announcement in Beijing that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene its 18th congress on November 8 has brought much relief to those concerned that political scandals and power struggle at the very top of the Chinese government have derailed the once-in-a-decade leadership transition.  Finally, the party's top leaders seemed to have agreed on what to do with the disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai (likely off to jail) and on whom to promote to the Politburo and its more powerful standing committee.

For all the obvious reasons, China's ruling elites will do their best in the next few months to project an image of unity and self-confidence, and to convince the rest of the world that the next generation of leaders is capable of maintaining the party's political monopoly.

That is, unfortunately, a tough sell.  Confidence in the party's internal cohesion and leadership has already been shaken by the Bo affair, endemic corruption, stagnation of reform in the last decade, a slowing economy, deteriorating relations with neighbors and the United States, and growing social unrest.  The questions on many people's minds these days are how long the party can hold on to its power and whether the party can manage a democratic transition to save itself.

These questions are by no means the products of idle minds.  By many measures, the party's rule is about to enter a decade of systemic crisis.  Having governed China for 63 years, the party is approaching, within a decade, the recorded longevity of the world's most durable one-party regimes — the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union (74 years), the Kuomintang - KMT (73), and the Revolutionary Institutional Party of Mexico - PRI (71).   Like a human being, an organization such as the CCP also ages.

In addition, China's rapid economic development has thrust the country past what is commonly known as the "democratic transition zone" — a range of per capita income between $1000 and $6000 (in purchasing power parity, PPP).  Political scientists have observed that autocratic regimes face increasing odds of regime change as income rises.  Chances of maintaining autocracy decrease further once a country's per capita income exceeds $6000 (PPP).  China's has already reached $8500 (PPP).  And nearly all the autocracies in the world with a higher per capita income are petro-states.  So China is in a socioeconomic environment in which autocratic governance becomes increasingly illegitimate and untenable.  Anyone who is unconvinced of this point should take a look at Chinese Weibo (or microblogs) to get a sense of what ordinary Chinese think of their government.

Thus, the answer to the question of the durability of one-party rule in China is clear: its prospects are doomed.

The answer to the question of how a one-party regime can manage its own political transformation to save itself is more interesting and complicated.

Essentially, there are two paths for such regimes: the Soviet route to certain self-destruction, and the Taiwan-Mexican route to self-renewal and transformation.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, top CCP leaders have resolved not to repeat the Soviet tragedy.  Their policy has been, therefore, resisting all forms of political reform.  The result is, unfortunately, an increasingly sclerotic party, captured by special interests, and corrupt and decadent opportunists like Bo.  It may have over 80 million members, but most of them join the party to exploit the pecuniary benefits it provides.  They themselves have become a special interest group disconnected with Chinese society.  If the fall of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) offered any real lessons, they are definitely not the official Chinese narrative that Gorbachev's political reforms brought down the party.  The sad truth is: the Soviet regime was too sick to be revived by the mid-1980s because it had resisted reforms for two decades during the rule of Brezhnev.  More importantly, the CCP should know that, like the millions of the members of the CPSU, its rank and file are almost certain to defect in times of a regime crisis.  When the CPSU fell, there was not a single instance of loyal party members coming to the defense of the regime.  Such a fate awaits the CCP.

That leaves the CCP with only one viable option: the Taiwan-Mexican path of self-renewal and transformation.  The one-party regimes in Taiwan and Mexico are, without doubt, the most successful ones in transforming themselves into multi-party democracies in the last quarter century.  Although the stories of their transition to democracy are different and complex, we can glean four key insights into their successes.

  • First, leaders in Taiwan and Mexico confronted a legitimacy crisis in the 1980s and realized that one-party regimes were doomed.  They did not deceive themselves with illusions or lies.
  • Second, both acted while their regimes were stronger than the opposition and before they were thoroughly discredited, thus giving them the ability to manage a gradual transition.
  • Third, their leaders centralized power and practiced inner-party dictatorship, not inner-party democracy, in order to overcome the opposition of the conservatives within the regime.  In one-party regimes, inner-party democracy will surely lead to an open split among the ruling elites, thus fatally weakening the a reformist regime's ability to manage the transition.  Additionally, making the entire political system more democratic, mainly through competitive elections in cities and states, will provide the ruling elites an opportunity to learn a critical skill: seeking support from voters and winning elections.  Such skills cannot be learned through the dubious exercise of inner-party democracy, which is simply another name for elite bargaining and manipulation.
  • Fourth, a moderate democratic opposition is the best friend and greatest asset a reformist one-party regime has.  Such an opposition is a negotiating partner and can help the regime maintain transitional stability.  It can also offer much better terms protecting the interests of the ruling elites and even helping them avoid jail.

When we look at the rewards reaped by the KMT and the PRI, they included not only favorable terms for exiting power (except for President Salinas, who was forced into exile because of corruption), none of the senior leaders faced criminal prosecution.  Most importantly, both the KMT and PRI managed to recapture the presidency, the seat of political power in both countries, after spending two terms in opposition.

But can the CCP actually learn from the KMT or the PRI?

Its willingness aside, the CCP faces an additional hurdle.  It is still a totalitarian party, not an authoritarian party.  The difference between a totalitarian party and an authoritarian party is that the former is far more deeply and extensively embedded in the state and the economy.  The CCP controls the military, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and the economy to a far greater extent that the KMT or the PRI.  Extricating a totalitarian party from a state is far more difficult.  In fact, such a feat has never been tried successfully.  In the former Soviet Union, it led to regime collapse.  In Eastern Europe, democratic revolutions did not give such regimes a chance to try.

So the task for China's new rulers is truly daunting.  Their first order of business is actually not to plunge into a Gorbachev-style political perestroika, but the de-totalitarianization of the Chinese state and the transformation of the CCP into another KMT or PRI.  Without taking this intermediate step immediately, the CCP may find that a Soviet-style collapse is its only future.

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Parabolic's picture

Seems like ZH is mass producing China articles

Dr. Engali's picture

Maybe they should produce articles about dog grooming, or landscaping.

Popo's picture

What's this nonsense about a "democratic transition"?

Hasn't everyone figured out that "democracy" (as it is currently defined) is a scam to make everyone feel like they have some control over the government?   In the USA people have a choice between "Banker Party A"  and "Banker Party B".   How's that "democracy" treating you all?   What "democracy" actually is, is a form of social control.  As long as people believe they are voicing their opinion, they are far less likely to rise up and overthrow the elites.   Were the people consulted about TARP?  Iraq?  QE?  No.  But you were directly *damaged* by all of those policy decisions.   You are offered small, irrelevant options to make you feel like you're not a serf,  while the big decisions are made behind closed doors.

China is very similar.  Discussing whether or not China's Communist Party will "successfully transition to democracy" is a question of appearance only.    What we are really asking is:  Will the Chinese oligarchy undergo a cosmetic, public-image transformation from "benevolent socialist state" to "freedom-loving democratic state"?   But the underlying reality is that it won't matter anyway, as the elites will be the elites in whatever "system" is publicly served to the population in exchange for obedience and peace.


Gully Foyle's picture


Brother you are on the right track but incorrect in your grasp of bankers.

There is simply a single banker group.

malikai's picture

What I really want to know is what will come of the USA's communist bi-party?

GetZeeGold's picture



If anyone can finally make communism will be the USA.


Do you believe in miracles?



lolmao500's picture

They already have a plan :

When the China Bubble Bursts

If the world has invested in the wrong things, and China is one of those things, then the bursting of the China bubble may be the greatest catastrophe of all. China’s financial system is a mess, and a major crisis cannot be far off. With the U.S. economy dipping lower and Europe facing its own financial nightmare, China cannot postpone its own day of reckoning. So what will China’s leaders do? What plans have they made?

To give readers some idea of the problem, a recent WikiLeak revealed that the U.S. had advanced knowledge of a secret Chinese missile test last year. In response to this revelation, Chinese Gen. Xu Guangyu told the South China Morning Post that American officials possessed enough advanced detail to suggest the presence of a sensitively placed U.S. spy in China’s rocket forces. According to the South China Morning Post, Gen. Xu said that “if China could no longer keep secret its missile launches, it would not be able to launch a surprise attack on the U.S.”

But why would China want to launch a surprise attack on the U.S.?

The strategic thinking of the Chinese Communist leadership holds that as long as America continues to enrich China, and as long as China can build its military power, then peace is workable. But when the economic wellspring runs dry and the Sino-American partnership has exhausted its profitability, then peace becomes unworkable. Rising discontent within China must then be diverted. The natural course would be for the people to hold the country’s leaders responsible, and to remove them from power. Many of these leaders would be tried as criminals, and would lose their heads. The only alternative to this would be war with the United States. This course automatically shuts down the Chinese democracy movement, which would have to choose between China and America in the course of a life-and-death struggle. In such a contest, the Chinese Communist Party automatically wins the assent of nearly all Chinese – including democrats.

And so, the best course for a failing Chinese economy is war. One might ask what kind of war? In a secret 2005 speech given by Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chi Haotian (titled “War is not far from us and is the midwife of the Chinese century”), a biological attack on the United States was suggested as optimal. “It is indeed brutal to kill one or two hundred million Americans,” said Gen. Chi. “But that is the only path that will secure a Chinese century….” Having already noted that millions of Chinese would die if the Chinese economy collapsed, Gen. Chi explained that the only way out for China was to “teach the Chinese people to go out” (i.e., attack the United States). “We, as revolutionary humanitarians, do not want deaths,” said Chi. “But if history confronts us with a choice between deaths of Chinese and those of Americans, we’d have to pick the latter….”

And it seems they might have started...

White House Hack Attack

Chinese hackers break in to White House military office network in charge of the president’s nuclear football


Have sweet dreams!

bahaar's picture

If CCP wants to divert attention they'll start a war with Japan or Vietnam or India.  They're China's traditional enemies.  War with America will consume far too much energy and resources.  Easier still, will be for the elites to escape to America with their booty.  Their children are already here.  Chinese elites need America.  They'll not be so foolish as to destroy it. 

DanP1966's picture

Do not bet on that.

War with Taiwan or japan IS war with the US. We have security gurantees and the Chninese know it.

MOST of the hack attacks on US financial institutions, infrastructure and government are done by the Chinese. I know...I work dealing with it every day.

The Chinese could take down our financial system, large parts of our national infrastructure (power/water) and many local and state governments in hours.

A biological attack, even if did not kill millions, could seriously disable the ability of the government to respond. You release one in the DC/NOVA area, areas around Sandiego, Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, Ft. Richardson, etc. that gives everyone massive cramps and the runs just as you release an attack on Japan or Taiwan and you would seriously disable our ability to respond. Really, there is not much anyone could do to stop it.

You could create such panic and such chaos within the US over a period of two or three days that you would disable our ability to respond for months short of using nukes.

neptunium's picture

No you couldnt. 


Biological attacks are massively overrated as weapons (as are chemical weapons but to a lesser extent), they take a long time to propogate, there's plenty of safeguards that can delay the onset, it might be something you could use within a window of a few months to degrade an enemy but releasing virulent pathogens is fairly counterproductive for a region like china with an enormous urban population and limited sanitation. 

You do know, that of regions vulnerable to cyberwarfare that the PRC is just about the most exposed, most industrial and commercial plant operates using bootlegged software most of which is designed in the US, who knows what backdoors are incorporated as standard into operating systems. How well maintained (at a systems level) is the PRC's national infrastructure? 

Re: Nukes: The US defensive systems are nested on several levels with fail-safes, given several hundred D-5 missiles nested aboard SSBN's there's literally nothing you can do to stop a counter-attack - even if you managed to whack the entire pentagon and white house without any advanced warning, it wouldn't make a bit of difference, to stop a retaliatory strike you would literally have to destroy the entire continental US and somehow also detect, track, and destroy every SSBN, all within a window of a few minutes and with no advanced warning.  You allude to this obiously but it's a fairly potent deterrent against the level of attack you're postulating.

Vince Clortho's picture

Sounds like everything is under control.  Cool.

Dermasolarapaterraphatrima's picture

When was the last time China started a war?

ReactionToClosedMinds's picture

and some additional dolt gave this a positive 1 .... r u kidding!   PRChina was almost solely behind Korea

China/Mao started the Korean War ... the Russkies were ambivalent to not enthused ....but as bolshevik brethern could not be outstripped by Mao.

Sir, either you are seriously stupid & unread (read any credible history ----even the western red star Mao lovers admit that Mao was behind the Korean War) or you are PRC propagandist



Heyoka Bianco's picture

You know, it's shit like this that makes me want to give up a life-long aversion and move to a major city, just so as to increase the odds that I'll be vaporized in the first round. Anywhere's better than here, with fuckwads like this in charge of things. If they really need to feel the charge of authority, why can't they make like the rest of the sad-sack power-hungry twats and be dugeon master of their very AD&D group?

Things that go bump's picture

And what are we going to be doing while this is going on?  The Chinese think our military is going to lie down for that? What, we don't have biologicals?  We don't have militarized bubonic? Small pox?  Aerosolized ebola?  Anthrax? Worse? Do they think we don't have enough nukes to kill every living being on this planet 7 times over and leave the whole place a smoking cinder and the highest lifeform a cockroach?   Do they think we won't do it?  Are they mad?  


lolmao500's picture

Let's see what Mao thought of nuclear weapons.

The atomic bomb is nothing to be afraid of. China has millions of people. It cannot be bombed out of existence. If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, I can too. The death of 10 or 20 million people is nothing to be afraid of...

A bunch of people in control in China probably thinks the same.

They think losing power + economic collapse + results of that would be worse for them than a first strike by China/Russia on NATO.

Things that go bump's picture

Mao was mistaken about a great many things.

GetZeeGold's picture



Maybe so...but half of the population in Washington DC worships the dude.


Newsboy's picture

Mao was a caoable military leader as a younger man, but he advaced to way more than one level above which he was competent.

Then he got neurosyphilis.

Then there was the great leap forward, and cultural revolution, and all those Chinese that didn't die from the American nukes, which never came, died from the Great Helmsman charting a new course through the stormy seas.

FreedomGuy's picture

The equation may change over time. You have not seen Obama's disarmament plans, I presume. Plus, if reelected he will gut the military for his collectivist dream.

Vince Clortho's picture

Obama (and Hilary) are much more likely to try to gut/disarm the American population.

They will need  strong military/DHS forces to institute martial law.

Disarming and Controlling the Domestic population will be a major focus of his second term.  They have not been beefing up DHS for no reason.

The Elite Bankers also need a strong American military for their private Police force to safeguard their Oil and other precious natural resources.

I do not see disarming the American Military in the forseeable future.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

lolmao500 said:

They already have a plan :

[quoting article by J.R. Nyquist] "The only alternative to this would be war with the United States. This course automatically shuts down the Chinese democracy movement, which would have to choose between China and America in the course of a life-and-death struggle."

You really need to consider the source when reading articles like this. If you examine the archive of articles by J.R. Nyquist, you'll discover that he still lives in a 1950s-1960s cold war world. His writing comes from a point of view where Mao still runs China, the domino effect is real, and Krushchev or Brezhnev still presides over the Soviet empire. The commies are all out to "get" us and pollute our Purity Of Essence®.

While it is not surprising that Nyquist sees war with the US as China's "only alternative", anyone else believing this should forget about gold and silver and only concentrate on protecting and preserving their Precious Bodily Fluids®.

ACP's picture

I don't think you can call it Communist anymore. Some weird hybrid of Crony Capitalist-Authoritarian-Steal-As-Much-As-I-Can-And-Get-The-Hell-Out-Of-Dodge government.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



In America, we call that, "Washington, D.C."  Maybe the Chinese are trying to peg their political process to ours, just like the currency?

ACP's picture

Yeah pretty much. The only difference is that there's no consequence to stealing there, so no one ever thinks of leaving, hence the (overall) wealthiest counties on the US are around DC.

CheapBastard's picture

<< there's no consequence to stealing there >>

Wrong. I read the death penalty still exists if they catch you stealing greater then about $300,000.

If course, that's why the bankers, businessmen, etc. sneak out their embezzled millions into HK RE...or Vancouver RE or NYC RE as the ZH article earlier today refers...and they themselves are not far behind.



ACP's picture

I meant no consequence to stealing (Edit: government funds) in Washington DC. I have no idea what the laws are in China.

Dr. Engali's picture

Uh hmm ... No consequence for stealing in China, but there is in the U.S. ? Does the name Corzine ring a bell? Consequences in the U.S. are for little people.

GetZeeGold's picture



What's wrong with stealing from dirt farmers? They're just people in flyover country.




toady's picture

Betcha Bo is pretty happy to be on the outside these days, as long as he gets out alive.

lolmao500's picture

The communist party in China is like the Free Shit Army in the US. A corrupt and morally bankrupt organization that will destroy it's host.

FreedomGuy's picture

Yes, people do not realize that in order to survive in the old communist regimes you lied about everything from "We love the dictator!" to "Yes, we will have that done on time without cutting corners." When you have absolute power, then power grants favors. So lieing and connections are built into the system. In the Soviet Union it was all held together by fear. When the fear disappeared it collapsed suddenly. The Chinese are trying a transition.

History teaches that men do not give up power willingly. At some point there would have to be a bumpy uneven transition. There is also a strong desire to get even with the former oppressors.

China's equally large problem is they have also learned all the bad parts of Keynsian economics and practiced it on a typically Chinese scale. if they ever figured out they chose the wrong theories they will find they are in a bigger mess than they presumed.

We can only hope they transition to some form of liberty and maybe even learn from our mistakes.

Gully Foyle's picture


"Yes, people do not realize that in order to survive in the old communist regimes you lied about everything from "We love the dictator!" to "Yes, we will have that done on time without cutting corners." When you have absolute power, then power grants favors. So lieing and connections are built into the system"

Other than the word "dictator" how is that description different from the US?

old naughty's picture

"Other than the word "dictator" how is that description different from the US?"

On Nov 6, you may elect one.

matrix2012's picture

""Other than the word "dictator" how is that description different from the US?"

On Nov 6, you may elect one."


The Elite Choice in 2012:



"A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years." – Lysander Spooner



"Western democracies are ossified bastions of self-perpetuating interest groups, aided & abetted & legitimitised by the ritualised spectacle that we call elections" -- Unknown Indian author

FreedomGuy's picture

On a governmental level we are not much better. On a business level we are way ahead because one of the things a free market demands is integrity. Products that fail to measure up to their hype are punished. People who know nearly nothing about cars know from the markets that they have better odds of a quality vehicle with Honda or Toyota.

I will also tell you that is absolutely possible and probable that we will corrupt our country and culture at all levels as we proceed to the left. We presume we are smarter than the rest of the world. If we do the same things that crush their societies we will find out we are not. In fact, history a couple hundred years from now may well record what fools we were to trade liberty and prosperity for checks and impossible promises that had already failed around the world.

deki's picture

I think we need Dictatorship so we can have only one guy stealing from taxpayers...with democracy we have at least 1000 motherfuckers stealing.

Harbanger's picture

I'm Barack H. Obama and I approve this message.

Gully Foyle's picture


You didn't approve that by yourself.

GetZeeGold's picture



You're right.....I seconded it.



FreedomGuy's picture

I have actually heard arguments and analyses to that effect. Do you think that the kings, queens, emperors and monarchs of old ever had the level of control and knowledge over their "subjects" that our elected government has over our "free citizens"? Not even close.

ffart's picture

I guess all you had to worry about was some lord descending on you to burn your farmstead down or take your daughter as one of his concubines. I wonder what the lifetime odds of that happening were, though? Couldn't have been too high since they had to spend so much time plotting against each other.

FreedomGuy's picture

Really? What history do you read? There has always been different processes in different governments to do those things. Why don't you ask the Jews of the 1940's if that happened in modern history. You might consult ex-soviets, maoist Chinese or even property owners in the Kelo decision. Perhaps you watched Braveheart reruns but it was not unique to Scotland or that part of history.

My point is that the modern bureaucratic state has more intimate detailed knowledge of your life than any time in history. I also suggest that the actual taxes paid are equal to or higher than the feudal era. So, our freedom sounds nice but in fact it is evaporating before our eyes.

CheapBastard's picture

I don't know if teh Commies are doomed but I DO KNOW I enjoyed the Chinese models at the car show they showed online....tiny pasties is all they wore!!!


If only The Chairman could see them now...

tony bonn's picture

democracy and freedom are not synonyms....amerika is a fascist democracy....democracy is a tool for plutocrats to exploit by pretending they are offering people a choice when in fact it is only the choice which the fascists want the stupid people to have.....

china is controlled by the same wall street freaks who control america.

i-dog's picture


"democracy and freedom are not synonyms"


From the article: "whether the party can manage a democratic transition to save itself"

... translates to: "if the party can manage the change from an overt oligopoly to a hidden oligopoly"!

Ghordius's picture

counterquestion: are all democracies like this? or is this irrelevant since the US example is the only one that matters? to me, you sound like fascist front-fodder by throwing the democracy baby out with the dirty corruption water...

nmewn's picture

"...are all democracies like this? or is this irrelevant since the US example is the only one that matters?"

America was not setup to be a democracy, so its no small wonder its not "working" in any sense of the word work. Mob rule is a wonderful thing as long as you're part of the mob voting block...but when the mob turns its attention towards you, its a little late to stop it and ask it for a vote on its intentions.

A mob will not stop.

New_Meat's picture

I always liked the "Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea" as a verbal perversion.  It predates Lackoff (The pink elephant guy) who gave us the constant use of "investments" that are anything but.

- Ned

[ed.  Scott Brown and Professor Warren (fake indian and not, apparently licensed lawyer) will be debating tonight, streaming on]