The Communist Party of China (CPC), often referred to as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China. The Communist Party is the sole governing party of China, permitting only eight other, subordinated parties to co-exist, those making up the United Front. It was founded in 1921, chiefly by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. The party grew quickly and by 1949 it had driven the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government from mainland China after the Chinese Civil War, thus leading to the establishment of the People's Republic of China. It also controls the world's largest armed forces, the People's Liberation Army.
The CPC is, officially, organized on the basis of democratic centralism, a principle conceived by Russian Marxist theoretician Vladimir Lenin which entails democratic and open discussion on policy on the condition of unity in upholding the agreed upon policies. The highest body of the CPC is the National Congress, convened every fifth year. When the National Congress is not in session, the Central Committee is the highest body, but since the body meets normally only once a year most duties and responsibilities are vested in the Politburo and its Standing Committee. The party's leader holds the offices of General Secretary (responsible for civilian party duties), Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) (responsible for military affairs) and State President (a largely ceremonial position). Through these posts the party leader is the country's paramount leader. The current paramount leader is Xi Jinping who was elected at the 19th National Congress held in October 2017.
The CPC is still committed to communism and continues to participate in the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties each year. According to the party constitution, the CPC adheres to Marxism–Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, socialism with Chinese characteristics, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. The official explanation for China's economic reforms is that the country is in the primary stage of socialism, a developmental stage similar to the capitalist mode of production. The command economy established under Mao Zedong was replaced by the socialist market economy, the current economic system, on the basis that "Practice is the Sole Criterion for the Truth".
Since the collapse of Eastern European communist regimes in 1989–1990 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the CPC has emphasized its party-to-party relations with the ruling parties of the remaining socialist states. While the CPC still maintains party-to-party relations with non-ruling communist parties around the world, since the 1980s it has established relations with several non-communist parties, most notably with ruling parties of one-party states (whatever their ideology), dominant parties in democratic systems (whatever their ideology) and social democratic parties.
The CPC has its origins in the May Fourth Movement of 1919, during which radical Western ideologies like Marxism and anarchism gained traction among Chinese intellectuals. Other influences stemming from the Bolshevik revolution and Marxist theory inspired the Communist Party of China. Li Dazhao was the first leading Chinese intellectual who publicly supported Leninism and world revolution. In contrast to Chen Duxiu, Li did not renounce participation in the affairs of the Republic of China. Both of them regarded the October Revolution in Russia as groundbreaking, believing it to herald a new era for oppressed countries everywhere. The CPC was modeled on Vladimir Lenin's theory of a vanguard party. Study circles were, according to Cai Hesen, "the rudiments [of our party]". Several study circles were established during the New Culture Movement, but "by 1920 skepticism about their suitability as vehicles for reform had become widespread."
The founding National Congress of the CPC was held on 23–31 July 1921. With only 50 members in the beginning of 1921, the CPC organization and authorities grew tremendously. While it was originally planned to be held in the Shanghai French Concession, police officers interrupted the meeting on 30 July and the congress was moved to a tourist boat on South Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province. Only 12 delegates attended the congress, with neither Li nor Chen being able to attend, the latter sending a personal representative in his stead. The resolutions of the congress called for the establishment of a communist party (as a branch of the Communist International) and elected Chen as its leader.
The communists dominated the left wing of the KMT, a party organized on Leninist lines, struggling for power with the party's right wing. When KMT leader Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925, he was succeeded by a rightist, Chiang Kai-shek, who initiated moves to marginalize the position of the communists. Fresh from the success of the Northern Expedition to overthrow the warlords, Chiang Kai-shek turned on the communists, who by now numbered in the tens of thousands across China. Ignoring the orders of the Wuhan-based KMT government, he marched on Shanghai, a city controlled by communist militias. Although the communists welcomed Chiang's arrival, he turned on them, massacring 5000 with the aid of the Green Gang. Chiang's army then marched on Wuhan, but was prevented from taking the city by CPC General Ye Ting and his troops. Chiang's allies also attacked communists; in Beijing, 19 leading communists were killed by Zhang Zuolin, while in Changsha, He Jian's forces machine gunned hundreds of peasant militiamen. That May, tens of thousands of communists and their sympathizers were killed by nationalists, with the CPC losing approximately 15,000 of its 25,000 members.
The CPC continued supporting the Wuhan KMT government, but on 15 July 1927 the Wuhan government expelled all communists from the KMT. The CPC reacted by founding the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army of China, better known as the "Red Army", to battle the KMT. A battalion led by General Zhu De was ordered to take the city of Nanchang on 1 August 1927 in what became known as the Nanchang uprising; initially successful, they were forced into retreat after five days, marching south to Shantou, and from there being driven into the wilderness of Fujian. Mao Zedong was appointed commander-in-chief of the Red Army, and led four regiments against Changsha in the Autumn Harvest Uprising, hoping to spark peasant uprisings across Hunan. His plan was to attack the KMT-held city from three directions on 9 September, but the Fourth Regiment deserted to the KMT cause, attacking the Third Regiment. Mao's army made it to Changsha, but could not take it; by 15 September, he accepted defeat, with 1,000 survivors marching east to the Jinggang Mountains of Jiangxi.
The near-destruction of the CPC's urban organizational apparatus led to institutional changes within the party. The party adopted democratic centralism, a way to organize revolutionary parties, and established a Politburo (to function as the standing committee of the Central Committee). The result was increased centralization of power within the party . At every level of the party this was duplicated, with standing committees now in effective control. After Chen Duxiu's dismissal, Li Lisan was able to assume de facto control of the party organization by 1929–30. Li Lisan's leadership was a failure, leaving the CPC on the brink of destruction. The Comintern became involved, and by late 1930, his powers had been taken away. By 1935 Mao had become the party's informal leader, with Zhou Enlai and Zhang Wentian, the formal head of the party, serving as his informal deputies. The conflict with the KMT led to the reorganization of the Red Army, with power now centralized in the leadership through the creation of CPC political departments charged with supervising the army.
The Second Sino-Japanese War caused a pause in the conflict between the CPC and the KMT. The Second United Front was established between the CPC and the KMT to tackle the invasion. While the front formally existed until 1945, all collaboration between the two parties had ended by 1940. Despite their formal alliance, the CPC used the opportunity to expand and carve out independent bases of operations to prepare for the coming war with the KMT. In 1939 the KMT began to restrict CPC expansion within China. This led to frequent clashes between CPC and KMT forces but which subsided rapidly on the realisation on both sides that civil war was not an option. Yet, by 1943, the CPC was again actively expanding its territory at the expense of the KMT.
From 1945 until 1949, the war had been reduced to two parties; the CPC and the KMT. This period lasted through four stages; the first was from August 1945 (when the Japanese surrendered) to June 1946 (when the peace talks between the CPC and the KMT ended). By 1945, the KMT had three-times more soldiers under its command than the CPC and initially appeared to be prevailing. With the cooperation of the Americans and the Japanese, the KMT was able to retake major parts of the country. However, KMT rule over the reconquered territories would prove unpopular because of endemic party corruption. Notwithstanding its huge numerical superiority, the KMT failed to reconquer the rural territories which made up the CPC's stronghold. Around the same time, the CPC launched an invasion of Manchuria, where they were assisted by the Soviet Union. The second stage, lasting from July 1946 to June 1947, saw the KMT extend its control over major cities, such as Yan'an (the CPC headquarters for much of the war). The KMT's successes were hollow; the CPC had tactically withdrawn from the cities, and instead attacked KMT authorities by instigating protests amongst students and intellectuals in the cities (the KMT responded to these events with heavy-handed repression). In the meantime, the KMT was struggling with factional infighting and Chiang Kai-shek's autocratic control over the party, which weakened the KMT's ability to respond to attacks. The third stage, lasting from July 1947 to August 1948, saw a limited counteroffensive by the CPC. The objective was to clear "Central China, strengthening North China, and recovering Northeast China." This policy, coupled with desertions from the KMT military force (by the spring of 1948, the KMT military had lost an estimated 2 of its 3 million troops) and declining popularity of KMT rule. The result was that the CPC was able to cut off KMT garrisons in Manchuria and retake several lost territories. The last stage, lasting from September 1948 to December 1949, saw the communists take the initiative and the collapse of KMT rule in mainland China as a whole. On 1 October 1949, Mao declared the establishment of the PRC, which signified the end of the Chinese Revolution (as it is officially described by the CPC).
On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong announced the 21 September 1949 establishment of the PRC before a massive crowd at Beijing Square. By the end of the year, the CPC became the major ruling party in China. During the 1960s and 1970s, the CPC experienced a significant ideological separation from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. By that time, Mao had begun saying that the "continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat" stipulated that class enemies continued to exist even though the socialist revolution seemed to be complete, leading to the Cultural Revolution in which millions were persecuted and killed.
Following Mao's death in 1976, a power struggle between CPC general secretary Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping erupted. Deng won the struggle, and became the "paramount leader". Deng, alongside Chen Yun and Li Xiannian, spearheaded the Reform and opening policy, and introduced the ideological concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics, opening China to the world's markets. In reversing some of Mao's "leftist" policies, Deng argued that a socialist state could use the market economy without itself being capitalist. While asserting the political power of the Party, the change in policy generated significant economic growth. The new ideology, however, was contested on both sides of the spectrum, by Maoists as well as by those supporting political liberalization. With other social factors, the conflicts culminated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The protests having been crushed, Deng's vision on economics prevailed, and by the early 1990s the concept of a socialist market economy had been introduced. In 1997, Deng's beliefs (Deng Xiaoping Theory), were embedded in the CPC constitution.
CPC general secretary Jiang Zemin succeeded Deng as "paramount leader" in the 1990s, and continued most of his policies. As part of Jiang Zemin's nominal legacy, the CPC ratified the Three Represents for the 2003 revision of the party's constitution, as a "guiding ideology" to encourage the party to represent "advanced productive forces, the progressive course of China's culture, and the fundamental interests of the people." The theory legitimized the entry of private business owners and bourgeois elements into the party. Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin's successor as paramount leader, took office in 2002. Unlike Mao, Deng and Jiang Zemin, Hu laid emphasis on collective leadership and opposed one-man dominance of the political system. The insistence on focusing on economic growth led to a wide range of serious social problems. To address these, Hu introduced two main ideological concepts: the Scientific Outlook on Development and Harmonious Socialist Society. Hu resigned from his post as CPC general secretary and Chairman of the CMC at the 18th National Congress held in 2012, and was succeeded in both posts by Xi Jinping. Since taking power Xi has initiated the most concerted anti-corruption effort in decades, while centralizing powers in the office of CPC General Secretary at the expense of the collective leadership which had led foreign commentators to liken him to Mao.
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Currently, in a bid to curtail the powers of the individual, collective leadership, the idea that decisions will be taken through consensus, has become the ideal in the CPC. The concept has its origins back to Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Bolshevik Party. At the level of the central party leadership this means that, for instance, all members of the Politburo Standing Committee are of equal standing (each member having only one vote). A member of the Politburo Standing Committee often represents a sector; during Mao's reign, he controlled the People's Liberation Army, Kang Sheng, the security apparatus, and Zhou Enlai, the State Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This counts as informal power. Despite this, in a paradoxical relation, members of a body are ranked hierarchically (despite the fact that members are in theory equal to each others). In spite of this, the CPC is led by an informal leader principle, each collective leadership is led by a core, that is a paramount leader; a person who holds the offices of CPC general secretary, CMC chairman and President of the PRC. Before Jiang Zemin's tenure as paramount leader, the party core and collective leadership were indistinguishable. In practice, the core was not responsible to the collective leadership. However, by the time of Jiang, the party had begun propagating a responsibility system, referring to it in official pronouncements as the "core of the collective leadership".
The CPC's organizational principle is democratic centralism, which is based on two principles: democracy (synonymous in official discourse with "socialist democracy" and "inner-party democracy") and centralism. This has been the guiding organizational principle of the party since the 5th National Congress, held in 1927. In the words of the party constitution, "The Party is an integral body organized under its program and constitution and on the basis of democratic centralism". Mao once quipped that democratic centralism was "at once democratic and centralized, with the two seeming opposites of democracy and centralization united in a definite form." Mao claimed that the superiority of democratic centralism lay in its internal contradictions, between democracy and centralism, and freedom and discipline. Currently, the CPC is claiming that "democracy is the lifeline of the Party, the lifeline of socialism". But for democracy to be implemented, and functioning properly, there needs to be centralization. The goal of democratic centralism was not to obliterate capitalism or its policies but instead it is the movement towards regulating capitalism while involving socialism and democracy. Democracy in any form, the CPC claims, needs centralism, since without centralism there will be no order. According to Mao, democratic centralism "is centralized on the basis of democracy and democratic under centralized guidance. This is the only system that can give full expression to democracy with full powers vested in the people's congresses at all levels and, at the same time, guarantee centralized administration with the governments at each level exercising centralized management of all the affairs entrusted to them by the people's congresses at the corresponding level and safeguarding whatever is essential to the democratic life of the people".
The Multi-party Cooperation and Political Consultation System is led by the CPC in cooperation and consultation with the 8 parties which make up the United Front. Consultation takes place under the leadership of the CPC, with mass organizations, the United Front parties, and "representatives from all walks of life". These consultations contribute, at least in theory, to the formation of the country's basic policy in the fields of political, economic, cultural and social affairs. The CPC's relationship with other parties is based on the principle of "long-term coexistence and mutual supervision, treating each other with full sincerity and sharing weal or woe." This process is institutionalized in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). All the parties in the United Front support China's road to socialism, and hold steadfast to the leadership of the CPC. Despite all this, the CPPCC is a body without any real power. While discussions do take place, they are all supervised by the CPC.
The National Congress is the party's highest body, and, since the 9th National Congress in 1969, has been convened every five years (prior to the 9th Congress they were convened on an irregular basis). According to the party's constitution, a congress may not be postponed except "under extraordinary circumstances." The party constitution gives the National Congress six responsibilities:
In practice, the delegates rarely discuss issues at length at the National Congresses. Most substantive discussion takes place before the congress, in the preparation period, among a group of top party leaders. In between National Congresses, the Central Committee is the highest decision-making institution. The CCDI is responsible for supervising party's internal anti-corruption and ethics system. In between congresses the CCDI is under the authority of the Central Committee.
The Central Committee, as the party's highest decision-making institution between national congresses, elects several bodies to carry out its work. The 1st Plenary Session of a newly elected central committee elects the General Secretary of the Central Committee, the party's titular leader, the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), and since 2013, the Central National Security Commission (CNSC). The first plenum also endorses the composition of the Secretariat and the leadership of the CCDI. According to the party constitution, the general secretary must be a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), and is responsible for convening meetings of the PSC and the Politburo, while also presiding over the work of the Secretariat. The Politburo "exercises the functions and powers of the Central Committee when a plenum is not in session". The PSC is the party's highest decision-making institution when the Politburo, the Central Committee and the National Congress are not in session. It convenes at least once a week. It was established at the 8th National Congress, in 1958, to take over the policy-making role formerly assumed by the Secretariat. The Secretariat is the top implementation body of the Central Committee, and can make decisions within the policy framework established by the Politburo; it is also responsible for supervising the work of organizations that report directly into the Central Committee, for example departments, commissions, publications, and so on. The CMC is the highest decision-making institution on military affairs within the party, and controls the operations of the People's Liberation Army. The general secretary has, since Jiang Zemin, also served as Chairman of the CMC. Unlike the collective leadership ideal of other party organs, the CMC chairman acts as commander-in-chief with full authority to appoint or dismiss top military officers at will. The CNSC "co-ordinates security strategies across various departments, including intelligence, the military, foreign affairs and the police in order to cope with growing challenges to stability at home and abroad." The general secretary serves as the Chairman of the CNSC.
A first plenum of the Central Committee also elects heads of departments, bureaus, central leading groups and other institutions to pursue its work during a term (a "term" being the period elapsing between national congresses, usually five years). The General Office is the party's "nerve centre", in charge of day-to-day administrative work, including communications, protocol, and setting agendas for meetings. The CPC currently has four main central departments: the Organization Department, responsible for overseeing provincial appointments and vetting cadres for future appointments, the Publicity Department (formerly "Propaganda Department"), which oversees the media and formulates the party line to the media, the International Department, functioning as the party's "foreign affairs ministry" with other parties, and the United Front Work Department, which oversees work with the country's non-communist parties and other mass organizations. The CC also has direct control over the Central Policy Research Office, which is responsible for researching issues of significant interest to the party leadership, the Central Party School, which provides political training and ideological indoctrination in communist thought for high-ranking and rising cadres, the Party History Research Centre, which sets priorities for scholarly research in state-run universities and the Central Party School, and the Compilation and Translation Bureau, which studies and translates the classical works of Marxism. The party's newspaper, the People's Daily, is under the direct control of the Central Committee and is published with the objectives “to tell good stories about China and the (Party)" and to promote its party leader. The theoretical magazines Seeking Truth from Facts and Study Times are published by the Central Party School. The various offices of the "Central Leading Groups", such as the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the Taiwan Affairs Office, and the Central Finance Office, also report to the central committee during a plenary session.
Party committees exist at the level of provinces; autonomous regions; municipalities directly under the central government; cities divided into districts; autonomous prefectures; counties (including banners); autonomous counties; cities not divided into districts; and municipal districts. These committees are elected by party congresses (at their own level). Local party congresses are supposed to be held every fifth year, but under extraordinary circumstances they may be held earlier or postponed. However that decision must be approved by the next higher level of the local party committee. The number of delegates and the procedures for their election are decided by the local party committee, but must also have the approval of the next higher party committee.
A local party congress has many of the same duties as the National Congress, and it is responsible for examining the report of the local Party Committee at the corresponding level; examining the report of the local Commission for Discipline Inspection at the corresponding level; discussing and adopting resolutions on major issues in the given area; and electing the local Party Committee and the local Commission for Discipline Inspection at the corresponding level. Party committees of "a province, autonomous region, municipality directly under the central government, city divided into districts, or autonomous prefecture [are] elected for a term of five years", and include full and alternate members. The party committees "of a county (banner), autonomous county, city not divided into districts, or municipal district [are] elected for a term of five years", but full and alternate members "must have a Party standing of three years or more." If a local Party Congress is held before or after the given date, the term of the members of the Party Committee shall be correspondingly shortened or lengthened.
Vacancies in a Party Committee shall be filled by an alternate members according to the order of precedence, which is decided by the number of votes an alternate member got during his or hers election. A Party Committee must convene for at least two plenary meetings a year. During its tenure, a Party Committee shall "carry out the directives of the next higher Party organizations and the resolutions of the Party congresses at the corresponding levels." The local Standing Committee (analogous to the Central Politburo) is elected at the first plenum of the corresponding Party Committee after the local party congress. A Standing Committee is responsible to the Party Committee at the corresponding level and the Party Committee at the next higher level. A Standing Committee exercises the duties and responsibilities of the corresponding Party Committee when it is not in session.
To join the party, an applicant must be approved by the communist party. In 2014, only 2 million applications were accepted out of some 22 million applicants.  Admitted members then spend a year as a probationary member.
In contrast to the past, when emphasis was placed on the applicants' ideological criteria, the current CPC stresses technical and educational qualifications. To become a probationary member, the applicant must take an admission oath before the party flag. The relevant CPC organization is responsible for observing and educating probationary members. Probationary members have duties similar to those of full members, with the exception that they may not vote in party elections nor stand for election. Many join the CPC through the Communist Youth League. Under Jiang Zemin, private entrepreneurs were allowed to become party members. According to the CPC constitution, a member, in short, must follow orders, be disciplined, uphold unity, serve the Party and the people, and promote the socialist way of life. Members enjoy the privilege of attending Party meetings, reading relevant Party documents, receiving Party education, participating in Party discussions through the Party's newspapers and journals, making suggestions and proposal, making "well-grounded criticism of any Party organization or member at Party meetings" (even of the central party leadership), voting and standing for election, and of opposing and criticizing Party resolutions ("provided that they resolutely carry out the resolution or policy while it is in force"); and they have the ability "to put forward any request, appeal, or complaint to higher Party organizations, even up to the Central Committee, and ask the organizations concerned for a responsible reply." No party organization, including the CPC central leadership, can deprive a member of these rights.
As of 30 June 2016, individuals who identify as farmers, herdsmen and fishermen make up 26 million members; members identifying as workers totalled 7.2 million. Another group, the "Managing, professional and technical staff in enterprises and public institutions", made up 12.5 million, 9 million identified as working in administrative staff and 7.4 million described themselves as party cadres. 22.3 million women are CPC members. The CPC currently has 89.45 million members, making it the second largest political party in the world after India's Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Communist Youth League (CYL) is the CPC's youth wing, and the largest mass organization for youth in China. According to the CPC's constitution the CYL is a "mass organization of advanced young people under the leadership of the Communist Party of China; it functions as a party school where a large number of young people learn about socialism with Chinese characteristics and about communism through practice; it is the Party's assistant and reserve force." To join, an applicant has to be between the ages of 14 and 28. It controls and supervises Young Pioneers, a youth organization for children below the age of 14. The organizational structure of CYL is an exact copy of the CPC's; the highest body is the National Congress, followed by the Central Committee, Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. However, the Central Committee (and all central organs) of the CYL work under the guidance of the CPC central leadership. Therefore, in a peculiar situation, CYL bodies are both responsible to higher bodies within CYL and the CPC, a distinct organization. As of the 17th National Congress (held in 2013), CYL had 89 million members.
According to the Article 53 of the CPC constitution, "the Party emblem and flag are the symbol and sign of the Communist Party of China." At the beginning of its history, the CPC did not have a single official standard for the flag, but instead allowed individual party committees to copy the flag of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On 28 April 1942, the Central Politburo decreed the establishment of a sole official flag. "The flag of the CPC has the length-to-width proportion of 3:2 with a hammer and sickle in the upper-left corner, and with no five-pointed star. The Political Bureau authorizes the General Office to custom-make a number of standard flags and distribute them to all major organs". According to People's Daily, "The standard party flag is 120 centimeters (cm) in length and 80 cm in width. In the center of the upper-left corner (a quarter of the length and width to the border) is a yellow hammer-and-sickle 30 cm in diameter. The flag sleeve (pole hem) is in white and 6.5 cm in width. The dimension of the pole hem is not included in the measure of the flag. The red color symbolizes revolution; the hammer-and-sickle are tools of workers and peasants, meaning that the Communist Party of China represents the interests of the masses and the people; the yellow color signifies brightness." In total the flag has five dimensions, the sizes are "no. 1: 388 cm in length and 192 cm in width; no. 2: 240 cm in length and 160 cm in width; no. 3: 192 cm in length and 128 cm in width; no. 4: 144 cm in length and 96 cm in width; no. 5: 96 cm in length and 64 cm in width." On 21 September 1966, the CPC General Office issued "Regulations on the Production and Use of the CPC Flag and Emblem", which stated that the emblem and flag were the official symbols and signs of the party.
It has been argued in recent years, mainly by foreign commentators, that the CPC does not have an ideology, and that the party organization is pragmatic and interested only in what works. The party itself, however, argues otherwise. For instance, Hu Jintao stated in 2012 that the Western world is "threatening to divide us" and that "the international culture of the West is strong while we are weak ... Ideological and cultural fields are our main targets". The CPC puts a great deal of effort into the party schools and into crafting its ideological message. Before the "Practice Is the Sole Criterion for the Truth" campaign, the relationship between ideology and decision-making was a deductive one, meaning that policy-making was derived from ideological knowledge. Under Deng this relationship was turned upside down, with decision-making justifying ideology and not the other way around. Lastly, Chinese policy-makers believe that the Soviet Union's state ideology was "rigid, unimaginative, ossified, and disconnected from reality" and that this was one of the reasons for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. They therefore believe that their party ideology must be dynamic to safeguard the party's rule.
Marxism–Leninism was the first official ideology of the Communist Party of China. According to the CCP, "Marxism–Leninism reveals the universal laws governing the development of history of human society." To the CCP, Marxism–Leninism provides a "vision of the contradictions in capitalist society and of the inevitability of a future socialist and communist societies". According to the People's Daily, Mao Zedong Thought "is Marxism–Leninism applied and developed in China". Mao Zedong Thought was conceived not only by Mao Zedong, but by leading party officials.
While non-Chinese analysts generally agree that the CCP has rejected orthodox Marxism–Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought (or at least basic thoughts within orthodox thinking), the CCP itself disagrees. Certain groups argue that Jiang Zemin ended the CCP's formal commitment to Marxism with the introduction of the ideological theory, the Three Represents. However, party theorist Leng Rong disagrees, claiming that "President Jiang rid the Party of the ideological obstacles to different kinds of ownership [...] He did not give up Marxism or socialism. He strengthened the Party by providing a modern understanding of Marxism and socialism—which is why we talk about a 'socialist market economy' with Chinese characteristics." The attainment of true "communism" is still described as the CCP's and China's "ultimate goal". While the CCP claims that China is in the primary stage of socialism, party theorists argue that the current development stage "looks a lot like capitalism". Alternatively, certain party theorists argue that "capitalism is the early or first stage of communism." Some have dismissed the concept of a primary stage of socialism as intellectual cynicism. According to Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a China analyst, "When I first heard this rationale, I thought it more comic than clever—a wry caricature of hack propagandists leaked by intellectual cynics. But the 100-year horizon comes from serious political theorists".
Deng Xiaoping Theory was added to the party constitution at the 14th National Congress. The concepts of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and "the primary stage of socialism" were credited to the theory. Deng Xiaoping Theory can be defined as a belief that state socialism and state planning is not by definition communist, and that market mechanisms are class neutral. In addition, the party needs to react to the changing situation dynamically; to know if a certain policy is obsolete or not, the party had to "seek truth from facts" and follow the slogan "practice is the sole criterion for the truth". At the 14th National Congress, Jiang reiterated Deng's mantra that it was unnecessary to ask if something was socialist or capitalist, since the important factor was whether it worked.
The "Three Represents", literally a Marxism adapted to Chinese conditions, was adopted by the party at the 16th National Congress. Certain segments within the CCP criticized the Three Represents as being un-Marxist and a betrayal of basic Marxist values, supporters viewed it as a further development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Jiang disagreed, and had concluded that attaining the communist mode of production, as formulated by earlier communists, was more complex than had been realized, and that it was useless to try to force a change in the mode of production, as it had to develop naturally, by following the economic laws of history. The theory is most notable for allowing capitalists, officially referred to as the "new social strata", to join the party on the grounds that they engaged in "honest labor and work" and through their labour contributed "to build[ing] socialism with Chinese characteristics." The 3rd Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee conceived and formulated the ideology of the Scientific Outlook on Development. It is considered to be Hu Jintao's contribution to the official ideological discourse. To apply the Scientific Outlook on Development to Chinese conditions, the CCP must adhere to building a Harmonious Socialist Society.
Deng did not believe that the fundamental difference between the capitalist mode of production and the socialist mode of production was central planning versus free markets. He said, "A planned economy is not the definition of socialism, because there is planning under capitalism; the market economy happens under socialism, too. Planning and market forces are both ways of controlling economic activity". Jiang Zemin supported Deng's thinking, and stated in a party gathering that it did not matter if a certain mechanism was capitalist or socialist, because the only thing that mattered was whether it worked. It was at this gathering that Jiang Zemin introduced the term socialist market economy, which replaced Chen Yun's "planned socialist market economy". In his report to the 14th National Congress Jiang Zemin told the delegates that the socialist state would "let market forces play a basic role in resource allocation." At the 15th National Congress, the party line was changed to "make market forces further play their role in resource allocation"; this line continued until the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee, when it was amended to "let market forces play a decisive role in resource allocation." Despite this, the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee upheld the creed "Maintain the dominance of the public sector and strengthen the economic vitality of the State-owned economy."
The CCP views the world as organized into two opposing camps; socialist and capitalist. They insist that socialism, on the basis of historical materialism, will eventually triumph over capitalism. In recent years, when the party has been asked to explain the capitalist globalization occurring, the party has returned to the writings of Karl Marx. Despite admitting that globalization developed through the capitalist system, the party's leaders and theorist argue that globalization is not intrinsically capitalist. The reason being that if globalization was purely capitalist, it would exclude an alternative socialist form of modernity. Globalization, as with the market economy, therefore does not have one specific class character (neither socialist nor capitalist) according to the party. The insistence that globalization is not fixed in nature comes from Deng's insistence that China can pursue socialist modernization by incorporating elements of capitalism. Because of this there is considerable optimism within the CCP that despite the current capitalist dominance of globalization, globalization can be turned into a vehicle supporting socialism.
The CPC continues to have relations with non-ruling communist and workers' parties and attends international communist conferences, most notably the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties. Delegates of foreign communist parties still visit China; in 2013, for instance, the General Secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), Jeronimo de Sousa, personally met with Liu Qibao, a member of the Central Politburo. In another instance, Pierre Laurent, the National Secretary of the French Communist Party (FCP), met with Liu Yunshan, a Politburo Standing Committee member. In 2014 Xi Jinping, the CPC general secretary, personally met with Gennady Zyuganov, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), to discuss party-to-party relations. While the CPC retains contact with major parties such as the PCP, FCP, the CPRF, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, the Communist Party of Brazil, the Communist Party of Nepal and the Communist Party of Spain, the party retains relations with minor communist and workers' parties, such as the Communist Party of Australia, the Workers Party of Bangladesh, the Communist Party of Bangladesh (Marxist–Leninist) (Barua), the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Workers' Party of Belgium, the Hungarian Workers' Party, the Dominican Workers' Party and the Party for the Transformation of Honduras, for instance. In recent years, noting the self-reform of the European social democratic movement in the 1980s and 1990s, the CPC "has noted the increased marginalization of West European communist parties."
The CPC has retained close relations with the remaining socialist states still espousing communism: Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam and their respective ruling parties as well as North Korea and its ruling party, which officially abandoned communism in 2009. It spends a fair amount of time analyzing the situation in the remaining socialist states, trying to reach conclusions as to why these states survived when so many did not, following the collapse of the Eastern European socialist states in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In general, the analyses of the remaining socialist states and their chances of survival have been positive, and the CPC believes that the socialist movement will be revitalized sometime in the future.
The ruling party which the CPC is most interested in is the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). In general the CPV is considered a model example of socialist development in the post-Soviet era. Chinese analysts on Vietnam believe that the introduction of the Doi Moi reform policy at the 6th CPV National Congress is the key reason for Vietnam's current success.
While the CPC is probably the organization with most access to North Korea, writing about North Korea is tightly circumscribed. The few reports accessible to the general public are those about North Korean economic reforms. While Chinese analysts of North Korea tend to speak positively of North Korea in public, in official discussions they show much disdain for North Korea's economic system, the cult of personality which pervades society, the Kim family, the idea of hereditary succession in a socialist state, the security state, the use of scarce resources on the Korean People's Army and the general impoverishment of the North Korean people. There are those analysts who compare the current situation of North Korea with that of China during the Cultural Revolution. Over the years, the CPC has tried to persuade the Workers' Party of Korea (or WPK, North Korea's ruling party) to introduce economic reforms by showing them key economic infrastructure in China. For instance, in 2006 the CPC invited the WPK general secretary Kim Jong-il to Guandong province to showcase the success economic reforms have brought China. In general, the CPC considers the WPK and North Korea to be negative examples of a communist ruling party and socialist state.
There is a considerable degree of interest in Cuba within the CPC. Fidel Castro, the former First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), is greatly admired, and books have been written focusing on the successes of the Cuban Revolution. Communication between the CPC and the PCC has increased considerably since the 1990s, hardly a month going by without a diplomatic exchange. At the 4th Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee, which discussed the possibility of the CPC learning from other ruling parties, praise was heaped on the PCC. When Wu Guanzheng, a Central Politburo member, met with Fidel Castro in 2007, he gave him a personal letter written by Hu Jintao: "Facts have shown that China and Cuba are trustworthy good friends, good comrades, and good brothers who treat each other with sincerity. The two countries' friendship has withstood the test of a changeable international situation, and the friendship has been further strengthened and consolidated."
Since the decline and fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the CPC has begun establishing party-to-party relations with non-communist parties. These relations are sought so that the CPC can learn from them. For instance, the CPC has been eager to understand how the People's Action Party of Singapore (PAP) maintains its total domination over Singaporean politics through its "low-key presence, but total control." According to the CPC's own analysis of Singapore, the PAP's dominance can be explained by its "well-developed social network, which controls constituencies effectively by extending its tentacles deeply into society through branches of government and party-controlled groups." While the CPC accepts that Singapore is a liberal democracy, they view it as a guided democracy led by the PAP. Other differences are, according to the CPC, "that it is not a political party based on the working class—instead it is a political party of the elite ... It is also a political party of the parliamentary system, not a revolutionary party." Other parties which the CPC studies and maintains strong party-to-party relations with are the United Malays National Organisation, which has ruled Malaysia democratically since 1957, and the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, which dominated Japanese politics for over five uninterrupted decades.
The CPC has, since Jiang Zemin's time, made friendly overtures to its erstwhile foe, the Kuomintang. The CPC emphasizes strong party-to-party relations with the KMT so as to strengthen the probability of the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China. However, several studies have been written on the KMT's loss of power in 2000, after having ruled Taiwan since 1949 (the KMT officially ruled mainland China from 1928 to 1949). In general, one-party states or dominant-party states are of special interest to the party, and party-to-party relations are formed so that the CPC can study them. For instance, the longevity of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party is attributed to the personalization of power in the al-Assad family, the strong presidential system, the inheritance of power, which passed from Hafez al-Assad to his son Bashar al-Assad, and the role given to the Syrian military in politics.
In recent years, the CPC has been especially interested in Latin America, as shown by the increasing number of delegates sent to and received from these countries. Of special fascination for the CPC is the 71-year-long rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico. While the CPC attributed the PRI's long reign in power to the strong presidential system, tapping into the machismo culture of the country, its nationalist posture, its close identification with the rural populace and the implementation of nationalization alongside the marketization of the economy,  the CPC concluded that the PRI failed because of the lack of inner-party democracy, its pursuit of social democracy, its rigid party structures that could not be reformed, its political corruption, the pressure of globalization, and American interference in Mexican politics. While the CPC was slow to recognize the pink tide in Latin America, it has strengthened party-to-party relations with several socialist and anti-American political parties over the years. The CPC has occasionally expressed some irritation over Hugo Chávez's anti-capitalist and anti-American rhetoric. Despite this, in 2013 the CPC reached an agreement with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which was founded by Chávez, for the CPC to educate PSUV cadres in political and social fields. By 2008, the CPC claimed to have established relations with 99 political parties in 29 Latin American countries.
Social democratic movements in Europe have been of great interest to the CPC since the early 1980s. With the exception of a short period in which the CPC forged party-to-party relations with far-right parties during the 1970s in an effort to halt "Soviet expansionism", the CPC's relations with European social democratic parties were its first serious efforts to establish cordial party-to-party relations with non-communist parties. The CPC credits the European social democrats with creating a "capitalism with a human face". Before the 1980s, the CPC had a highly negative and dismissive view of social democracy, a view dating back to the Second International and the Marxist-Leninist view on the social democratic movement. By the 1980s that view had changed, and the CPC concluded that it could actually learn something from the social democratic movement. CPC delegates were sent all over Europe to observe. It should be noted that by the 1980s most European social democratic parties were facing electoral decline, and were in a period of self-reform. The CPC followed this with great interest, laying most weight on reform efforts within the British Labour Party and the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The CPC concluded that both parties were re-elected because they modernized, replacing traditional state socialist tenets with new ones supporting privatization, shedding the belief in big government, conceiving a new view of the welfare state, changing negative views of the market, and moving from their traditional support base of trade unions to entrepreneurs, younger members and students.
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