Scholar urges 'exit mechanism' for China's Communist Party members in downsizing plan

Large membership a risk to survival, warns mainland scholar, who wants to see it reduced from 83 million to at least 50 million

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 8:53am

A mainland scholar has suggested downsizing the ruling Communist Party by setting up an "exit mechanism" to cut at least 31 million members.

An article in the latest edition of the People's Forum Biweekly Political Commentary, a magazine run by the party's mouthpiece, People's Daily, suggests the world's biggest political and ruling party establish a comprehensive "exit mechanism" and management system to trim the roughly 83 million members to what the author said was a more reasonable 51 million.

The Bolsheviks had only 240,000 party members before the October Revolution in 1917 when it became a ruling party, Professor Zhang Xien , who teaches politics at Shandong University, wrote in the article.

But the Communist Party of the Soviet Union lost power when its membership increased to 19 million in 1991, a painful lesson to oversized parties that did not set up a sturdy exit mechanism for members, he added.

Zhang suggested the party's Central Committee classify members into three categories: honorary, probationary and formal members, with the honorary group being where most of the cuts should be made, because it was largely composed of "older, sick and retired members who are unable to toe the party line".

He estimated "honorary members" could make up 20 per cent of the members, and many of them "are forced to stay in the party in order to save face, or for other political reasons". He also suggested the party extend the probation period of some "unqualified members" who failed to pass internal assessments.

To prevent party cadres from using the "exit mechanism" to kick out political enemies, Zhang said the human rights of all party members should not be "violated", and members should not be "discriminated" against, after deciding to leave the party. He stressed that the party's constitution allows members to "join and withdraw" freely.

Zou Shubin , an associate professor of politics at Shenzhen University, said the article reflected the thinking of many political experts on the mainland.

"In the past, withdrawal from the party was a serious issue because everyone believed that only those members who had made serious political mistakes would be removed," he said. "But nowadays, it is common sense that if the party doesn't sweep away all of its bad elements, it might follow in the path of the former Soviet Union."

Li Junru , a former vice-president of the Central Party School in Beijing, said the party had planned to cut members many years ago, but the plan was postponed because Beijing leaders found it too hard to implement. Zou noted downsizing, a hot topic, could again be discussed openly, indicating the leadership was confidant enough in its political regime.