In Comment

By Charles McKelvey,

Posted on the author’s Substack column, Aug 23, 2022:

A video by Carlos Martínez, “Chinese democracy is far more effective than Western democracy,” recently was published in ChinaDaily, an English language website operating under the auspices of the Communist Party of China.  Martínez is co-editor of the London-based platform Friends of Socialist China, which has the mission of supporting the People’s Republic of China and spreading understanding of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
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Click on the link to watch the video: Carlos Martinez: Chinese democracy ‘far more effective’ than Western democracy

Carlos Martínez began by noting that in the West we tend to think of China as having an undemocratic system because if follows a model different from Western parliamentarism.  Intellectuals and politicians have universalized the idea of liberal democracy, so countries like China and Cuba are painted as being undemocratic or even authoritarian.  But the reality is that the Chinese system is far more effective than Western representative democracy in representing the interests of ordinary people.

The effectiveness of Chinese democracy can be seen, Martínez observed, in its effectiveness in battling Covid-19.  There was nationwide mobilization to protect people’s health, resulting in far less deaths than what occurred in the Western democracies.  China places people over profits, Martínez declared, and this is the fundamental difference between governance in China and governance in the West.

Moreover, the greater effectiveness of Chinese democracy can be seen with respect to renewable energy.  China is the world’s leader in the production and use of renewable energy, which has resulted in a massive decrease in the cost of renewable energy around the world.  China has had gains with respect to renewable energy, biodiversity, reforestation, and water conservation.

In China, Martínez says, power is in the hands of the people and not a tiny elite.  In the West, a fossil fuel lobby has been able to slow down investments in renewable energy for decades, and it has been allowed to spend billions of dollars spreading disinformation and promoting climate denialism.  In contrast, China’s fossil fuel lobby does not have the power to tell the Chinese government what to do.

China’s democracy is a democracy for the people.  Even studies by Western institutions, Martínez notes, recognize that the Chinese government has the support of the great majority of the population.

What are the structures that enable democracy for the people in China?

What structures ensure that political power in China is in the hands of the delegates and deputies of the people and not in the hands of the state bureaucracy, Chinese capitalists, or foreign imperialist interests?  This is the question that I address in my commentary of October 8, 2021, “Political Structures in Socialist China: A people’s alternative to Western representative democracy.”

As I note in my October 8, 2021, commentary, the National Congress of People’s Power is the highest authority of state power in China.  The Congress enacts laws, and it elects the President and the Vice-President of the People’s Republic.   And it elects the members of the standing committees that manage legislative affairs, which include extensive consultations on legislative proposals.

The deputies of the National People’s Congress are elected directly and indirectly by the people in an electoral process that is based in direct elections to local people’s congresses, which in turn elect people’s congresses at higher levels, culminating in elections to the National People’s Congress.  Nominations for each seat can be made by the Communist Party of China, other political parties, mass organizations, or any group of ten voters.

The Communist Party of China enjoys strong support among the people, and it therefore attains a strong majority in the elections to the people’s congresses.  However, by convention, approximately one third of the seats of the National People’s Congress are reserved for members of other parties, in order to provide for a greater diversity of views.  The non-CPC deputies do not function as an opposition, as occurs in representative democracies.  Laws and policies are arrived at through a long process of consultation seeking consensus, a process that includes many organizations and institutions of Chinese society.

The Communist Party of China is a vanguard political party which gives priority to the education of its members, who come from all walks of life and constitute approximately 6% of the Chinese population.  Party committees are present in state entities, mass organizations, and public and private companies, playing a key role in the formation of policy and the selection of leaders at all levels.  However, while the Party influences and proposes, it is the people’s congresses and the People’s National Congress, the highest authority of the nation elected by the people, that decide.

So political power in the Chinese system is vested in people’s congresses or people’s assemblies, which are directly elected by the people at the local level.  It is a system that functions without political campaigns and political advertising as they are known in Western representative democracies.  The elected delegates of the people are entrusted with the task of electing delegates and deputies to higher level congresses, in consultation with local leaders and organizations of civil society.  In such a context, television commercials supporting a particular candidate are not likely to have much influence.

It would be possible in such a system that wealthy individuals and/or organizations that represent them would attain controlling influence on the voting.  But the system is tilted against this possibility.  In the period of the opening in China from 1978 to 2012, reforms were adopted that gave more space to privately owned companies.  These reforms, however, were not adopted by representatives whose political careers were bankrolled by corporate interests, as occurs in representative democracies.  Rather, they were endorsed by delegates and deputies vested by the people with the authority to decide the question.  They decided to increase space for capitalist enterprises based on their assessment that it would benefit the people and the nation, because it would elevate the productivity of the nation’s economy, in a context in which low growth in productivity had become a problem.  Subsequently, the negative side of the spectacular economic ascent became more and more evident, with respect to environmental destruction, the disintegration of the rural health care system, and increasing rural-urban inequality.  In this context, led by Xi Jinping, the delegates of the people came to the support of the new reforms of 2012 to the present, which are effectively addressing these problems.

The Chinese political system, therefore, is designed to ensure power to the people.  It is designed to maximize the possibility that elected delegates will act in accordance with their duty to the people and the nation.  It is designed to ensure that money does not have a legitimate place.  It is designed to ensure that elected delegates and deputies are not dependent on the support of moneyed interests.  It is designed to ensure that the corrupting influence of money is a deviant phenomenon, not structurally supported.

People’s democracy in Cuba

In previous commentaries, I have discussed the political process in Cuba, which has structures of people’s democracy and people’s assemblies similar to China.  See “Political and civil rights in Cuba: The politicization of the issue of human rights,” June 24, 2021; “Participatory democracy in Cuba: The 2018 constitutional assembly formed by an entire people,” September 10, 2021; “Cuban people’s democracy at work: National Assembly of People’s Power approves eight new laws,” May 17, 2022.

As I discuss in these commentaries, the National Assembly of People’s Power is the highest authority in the state, endowed by the Constitution with the authority to elect the President of the Republic and other high members of the executive branch.  It is constitutionally endowed also with the authority to enact legislation, to elect the highest members of the judicial branch, and to interpret and amend the Constitution.  Thus, it is a political structure that concentrates power in the legislative branch, similar to the structure of the thirteen American colonies prior to the American Revolution.

The deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power are elected by the delegates of the municipal assemblies, who are elected directly by the people in secret voting, with two or more candidates nominated by the people in neighborhood nomination assemblies.  This process occurs without the participation of the Communist Party of Cuba or any other political party.  At various points with respect to elections and consideration of legislative proposals, mass organizations (of workers, farmers, students, women, and neighborhoods) have constitutionally defined roles.

The Communist Party of Cuba is a vanguard political party.  Because of the high regard in which the Party is held by the people, the great majority of state officials and leaders of mass organizations are Party members.  These prominent Party members teach the people by making commentaries, fully covered by the television and print media, in their roles as high state officials or leading members of mass organizations.  Most journalists and educators are also Party members, and they educate the people in their roles as educators and columnists.  Education and exhortation are the primary functions of the Party.  It teaches with great moral authority, because of the high regard in which it is held.  In this sense, the Party guides the nation and the Revolution.  However, the Party does not decide.  The authority to decide pertains to the National Assembly of People’s Power, elected directly and indirectly by the people.

Cuba today is experiencing high levels of inflation, shortages of goods, and periodic cuts in electricity, as a result of the depression of its tourist industry due to the global pandemic; and as a result of the intensification of the U.S. blockade, which now blocks financial and commercial transactions with companies and banks of third countries.  The economic situation is not precisely a crisis, because the revolutionary government understands and explains to the people the sources of the difficulties, and it is taking intelligent steps to respond to the situation.  Nor has the economic situation generated a political crisis, in spite of efforts of the U.S.-backed Cuban counterrevolution to use social media and paid mercenaries to provoke political crisis.  This continuing political stability of Cuba is a consequence of the structures of people’s democracy that have been developing since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, and which today possess institutionalized legitimacy.  When the political leaders speak and explain to the people, they do so with credibility.

The legitimation crisis of Western representative democracy

As China and Cuba experience political stability and legitimation, Western representative democracy is in the midst of a legitimation crisis, as is illustrated by the United States.  The problem is rooted in the structures of representative democracy, which permit the sponsoring of politicians by wealthy interests.  In this inherently contradictory situation, successful politicians are those who serve the interests of a small elite but skillfully present themselves as defenders of the people, putting forth any ideas, valid or not, that are useful for this art of deception.

At the same time, there is the problem of competing political parties in conflict.  In most cases, there were good reasons for the formation of new parties in given moments in U.S. history.  However, there has not been sufficient effort to unite the parties into a single party, as occurred in Cuba, or to unite them into a cooperative coalition of parties, as has occurred in China.  In general, the politicians were too preoccupied with the deceptive art of politics to pay attention to this necessary task of forging a political process that would be able to raise the political consciousness of the people and lead then in unity toward national goals and objectives.  In general, this has been attained only in times of war, and through ideological distortions rather than true teachings.

In the United States today, the two political parties are in a condition of ideological civil war.  What one party proposes, the other rejects.  Each party marshals evidence in support of its arguments, in accordance with the deceptive art of politics.  In such a process, with caustic disagreements being modeled, how can the people be led to mature political consciousness and consensus, necessary in times of crisis and challenge?

Compounding the deceptive art of politics and a political process defined by hostile confrontation between parties and ideological bands, there is the problem of the denial of the objective reality of imperialism and neocolonialism.  The U.S. government has continuously miseducated the people, pretending that its wars and proxy wars and its economic sanctions are in defense of democracy.  Confused by its own long-standing deceptions, the political establishment itself is incapable of understanding the sources of the problems of the nation and of formulating a reasonable plan to address them.

The people sense that the nation is without direction and in decline.  But lacking guidance, the people have fallen into a condition of confusion and uncivil division, unable to lift up leaders who can lead them toward the necessary road.  Faith in all institutions has plummeted, thus constituting a crisis of legitimation.  The nation has fallen into decadence, which is indicated not by the serious problems it confronts, but by its inability to understand the problems in order to begin to resolve them.

The people can only be led out of their malaise by leaders who are intellectuals and intellectuals who are leaders, who discern the necessary road by careful observation of those nations that have attained legitimation, learning from their insights, appropriating their insights, and reformulating them in the context of their own national conditions and concrete realities.   Accordingly, the Left in the Western imperialist countries today ought to teach their peoples concerning the persistent socialist revolutions in the world today, making clear the characteristics of the political structures in countries like China and Cuba.  These structures give power to the people and are the source today of political stability and legitimation, providing the foundation for gains in health, education, science, culture, and sport.  If the peoples of the imperialist nations were to know this, they might uncynically conclude that a more just world is possible, and that “power to the people” is not an impossible dream.  And they might come up with some realistic ideas concerning how to attain it.

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Charles McKelvey is influenced by black nationalism, the Catholic philosopher Lonergan, Marx, Wallerstein, anti-imperialism, and the Cuban Revolution. Since his retirement from college teaching in 2011, he has devoted himself to reading and writing on world affairs.

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