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Michael Ledeen on Communist Party in China
Thank you and happy Tuesday. Youíre going to hear at some length from people who are a lot smarter than I am on the nature of the Chinese regime. I wanted to give you several thoughts. The first about some of the peculiarities of the government of the Peopleís Republic of China from the standpoint of someone like me who is an historian of 19th and 20th century movements of totalitarianism movements of various sorts. And then a few thoughts and I know Michaelís going to talk about this in greater detail about what the future is likely to hold. And I think the first and the most important concept most people do not understand comes from Machiavelli whose right about most everything. Machiavelli points out that of all the forms of government, tyranny is the least stable. Tyranny is the most unstable form of government. Now I put it to you that most people are not used to thinking this way; since most people think when they see a dictatorship, some kind of authoritarian or totalitarian regime immediately assume that its there for the duration. That itís strong because theyíre tough, and theyíre mean and theyíre cruel and they oppress their people and so forth. Yet if you look around the world today and ask yourself what are the governments that have lasted longest and are doing best and are manifestly the most stable, they are all elected representative governments of which we are the oldest existing constitutional government. Itís worth recalling when you look at nasty oppressive tyrannies and think about what can one do about that? The answer is you can do a lot because they are fragile in their very nature. And they are fragile because they are surrounded, there used to be a joke that in the old days of the cold war that the Soviet Union was the only country in the world that was completely surrounded by hostile communist regimes, as indeed it was. And the Peopleís Republic of China nowadays finds itself surrounded by an alarming number of freedom loving regimes. As freedom continues to spread in the world as it has almost non stop ever since the beginning the last quarter of the 20th century.
When I was a graduate student a frighteningly long time ago; we were required to read a book written by a great historian, a French historian at Princeton named R.R. Palmer. And in two fascinating volumes called The Age of the Democratic Revolution when he said that if you look at the last quarter of the 18th century you see that the entire known world, that is to say the western world of that time, Western Europe and the United States was just swept and transformed by a wave of democratic revolutions; starting in America and then spreading to every country in Europe with the French Revolution being the most violent and the most famous. But there wasnít a country anywhere; was no civilized country anywhere that didnít have to come to grips with the democratic impulse and an urge to reform and give freedom to the people.
We are now living through the age of the Second Democratic Revolution thatís been going on since the last quarter of the 20th century when starting with the fall of Franco in Spain a peaceful transition from dictator to democracy. Every angle of the world has been swept by democratic impulse. And the Peopleís Republic of China knows this well because they watched the downfall of their creator and their most reliable ally for a good part of their history the Soviet Union. And they said to themselves we are not going to repeat the errors that the Soviets made. So they looked at why the Soviet Union fell, and how it fell. And so they said, ďWhat did they do?Ē They gave political freedom and retained economic control. We are not going to make that mistake. We are going to give economic freedom but weíre going to retain political control; thereby avoiding the fate of the Soviet Union. And thereby, any sensible person can see, making exactly the same mistake that Gorbeshov did; because freedom cannot be sliced up into separate compartments.
Human nature is never satisfied with what it has. Human nature is insatiable; men always want more. Whatever it is that weíve got and whatever kind of success people have; whether itís political, or financial or sexual or athletic, whatever it may be, they always want more no one is ever satisfied. You cannot find the most overpaid athlete on earth wants more. The most powerful ruler on earth cannot stand one iota of criticism, wants more power. And so it is with freedom. When you start giving freedom to people they want it intact, entire, the whole nine yards ( a football term meaning all), all of it.
The Chinese people are not a new kind of human nature. Human nature in China is the same as it is elsewhere. When you start in a tyrannical regime to hand out freedom there is no place to draw that line and expect that line to hold. And so itís only a matter of time before this regime comes down.
Thereís a famous line from Mao to a visiting Japanese Prime Minister some years ago where the Japanese Prime Minister said to Mao, ďIím going to have to leave now because we have elections in two weeks and I have to go campaign.Ē And Mao shook his head sadly and said, ďWhat a terrible thing it must be these elections, all these public meetings, all these people voting, and all this effort you have to go through. Itís much better here.
Look at Chinaís position today. What is it that theyíre so afraid of? What is it that threatens them the most? And itís hilarious when you look at it. The greatest threat to China today is Taiwan; because Taiwan is the first country in the history of the world that calls itself China and elects its own leaders. That never happened before. Thatís the great revolutionary event. Thereíve been lots of Chinese tyrannies over the centuries. But Taiwan is the first free China that has ever been. And the prime reason in my opinion that the Peopleís Republic so desperately wants to put an end to the independence of Taiwan is not these nationalistic ambitions for more territory and so forth, itís just a few rocks in the ocean. What they hate about Taiwan, what they most desperately want to put an end to on Taiwan is the existence of free Chinese. Thatís a threat to them. As the existence of free societies generally is a threat to them. And since I am obsessed with the Middle East nowadays and itís always wrong to think in too small compartments, this is exactly whatís going on in Iraq today as countries like Syria and Iran and Saudi Arabia are threatened by the emergence of a free Arab country in the middle of the Middle East because it threatens them. It undermines there own legitimacy. It shows to their own people there is a better way to do that. And why shouldnít they do it that better way.
The other odd thing, peculiar thing about the Peopleís Republic of China is that itís a regime that calls itself communist but obviously isnít. And while the instruments of Chinese suppression against the Chinese people is called the Communist Party it should be clear to all of us it is not a communist party at all; because the very essence of communism, state ownership of the means of production has been gainsaid and undone. Thereís lots of private property in China today. There are lots of private enterprises. No such thing could possibly exist in a serious communist society. It is an anathema to the very idea of communism.
So what is this? Is it a unique form of dictatorship? Or is it one of a historical pattern? Well some time ago I braved the idea that what weíre dealing with in China is something we havenít seen before although itís of a type that we know. China is actually the worldís first mature fascist state. It was fascism not national socialism but the kind of fascism that people like Mussolini installed in Italy in the 1920ís that weíre talking about. The economy is a mixed economy; mixed public and private economy. And there is a certain degree of private initiative thatís left in the hands of entrepreneurs and business leaders and even trade unions.
But political control is entirely in the hands of the party. The party makes all of the important decisions. So if you want to get anything done you must necessarily go through the party. Thatís pretty much what China looks like today. And I said that the mature fascist state would be a fascist state in which the ideology had pretty much dried up. And I donít think that anybody could seriously argue that there is great zeal for Maoism or communism in China today. Quite the opposite. Kids are not doing that. Kids are going online. And p-scholars are not studying Stalin, Lenin, Marx and Mao any longer. Theyíre looking at business books and theories of modern management and things of that nature trying to learn about the world.
So the ideology has dried up, your left with a cynical, corrupt ruling elite that calls itself communist even though it isnít and that in itís desire to remain in power, is prepared or has been prepared up until now to take whatever steps are necessary in order to put down the people who challenge them. Itís obvious that the experiment that was initiated by Deng Xiao Ping that was the theory that one could give economic freedom and retain political freedom is failing because the repressive nature of the Chinese state intensifies year to year. It has not eased. If this tactic were successful and if they were succeeding they would be a lot more inclined to ease off and give people greater freedom in other areas. But theyíre not. There is arguably less freedom in China today than there was at the time of Tiananmen. So the ruling elite itself knows itís under siege and at this point the outcome of this inevitable final showdown between people who wish to be free and the regime that wants to desperately wants to cling to power will be determined by two things as such confrontations are always determined.
One is the courage determination of the people to challenge the regime and the clarity of their ideas. What it means to be free. How to accomplish it? And secondly the will of the regime to do whatever it has to do at whatever cost in order to retain power for itself and for their children. I will give you a few indicators that lead me to be moderately optimistic.
The first is the odd phenomenon thatís been discovered in the United States about the children of oligarchs in China and are coming to the United States and buying homes. Itís not just the United States itís true of the eastern and southern part of the Pacific Rim as well it applies to places like Canada in Vancouver, Puget Sound and Australia and so forth. But all over the United States including Massachusetts and even areas where it wouldnít occur to me to buy a vacation home in the Middle West and so forth where itís typically cold and it snows most of the year. These are not investment properties, these are not vacation paradises. Why are they buying all these houses?
The obvious explanation, common sense grabs you by the throat and makes you say well these are escape homes. These are places they hope to be able to repair if things go wrong in China. One of my favorite yardsticks of nervous dictatorships is the extent at which the ruling class is buying up real estate overseas in areas where you can reasonably expect them to want to go and live. The Iranians for example are going around buying up all over the place and getting their money outside the country as many Chinese leaders are to. In other words itís ruling elite whose corruption has reached the point that they are no longer convinced in the inevitability of their rule and they certainly donít believe every Marxists dictatorship in history has always believed namely that they were chosen by the laws of history to govern at this moment and their rule is secured and guaranteed by unbreakable historical laws.
So I just leave you one great thought. I always used to say I regretted not having lived in the 17th century which as a historian of Western Europe I always found the most fascinating, fabulous, incredible time in human history certainly cultural and intellectual but I have changed my mind. This is without a doubt: we are now privileged to live through what must be the most singular fascinating incredibly interesting moments in human history; because it is no longer restricted to a single area of the world. Itís global. And this great battle between people who wish to be free and people who wish to hold onto tyrannical powers now coming to a head in one place after another; final outcome entirely unknown itís what makes it so fascinating because it depends in the last analysis on us and people like us. Blessed we are despite the old Chinese curse about living in interesting times. We are blessed to be living in interesting times as these. And this new critique of the Communist Party of China has greatly advanced the argument, greatly advanced the chances that freedom will expand in one more place. Thank you.
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