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Paranoia from Soviet Union collapse haunts China's Communist Party, 22 years on

Party cadres made to watch documentaries on failure of Russian communism, by new leader determined not to see history repeat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 6:14am

In the heyday of Sino-Soviet socialist brotherhood in the 1950s, Chinese liked to say that “today’s Soviet Union is tomorrow’s China”, as Beijing faithfully followed Moscow’s every footstep in development.

But since the collapse of communist rule and the Soviet Union in early 1990s, the old saying has become an evil omen haunting China’s communist leaders. 

And there are renewed shudders among the Beijing leadership following a warning from President Xi Jinping calling for the need to pay greater attention to the dramatic events in Moscow more than two decades ago.

Significantly, officials ranging from top central government ministers to heads of grassroots party organs have been called on to watch a four-part DVD documentary about the historic events. 

The video, In Memory of the Collapse of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, is jointly produced by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection,  the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences  and its affiliated Research Centre of World Socialism. It tells the story on how a once great power stumbled to become a second- or third-class nation. 

The video blames Mikhail Gorbachev’s radical moves to introduce Western-style democratic reform and to relax the party’s monopoly control of ideology and also Boris Yeltsin’s rush to privatise state-owned enterprises as the main reasons behind the collapse of Communist rule and the dismantling of the Soviet empire.

Another new video co-produced by the National Defence University  that was leaked late last month tells how the West, the United States in particular, has schemed for a Soviet-style collapse in China. 

Entitled The Silent Contest, the 100-minute video begins with a lament for the end of the Soviet Union, and proceeds through recent history to show the supposedly evil motives behind America’s relations with China and other communist countries. 

General Liu Yazhou, political commissar of the military institution and son-in-law of former president Li Xiannian, produced the work.

Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered
Xi Jinping

Analysts pointed out that the renewed fear of a Soviet-style nightmare in China might reflect the leadership’s anxiety over slowing economic growth, rising social tensions and growing calls for political reform following the leadership transition last November.

They said that whether the new generation of Chinese leaders will pursue reform in the next few years lies in how they interpret the Soviet collapse. 

Xi, the party’s general secretary, appears more fascinated by the ideological aspects of the Soviet downfall than his predecessors. 

In an internal speech early this year, Xi told party officials that China must still heed the “deeply profound” lessons of the former Soviet Union, where political rot, ideological heresy and military disloyalty brought down the governing party. 

“Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse?” Xi asked, according to a summary of his comments that has circulated among officials, but has not been published by the state-run news media. 

“An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered,” he said. 

The mainland’s propaganda machines have responded to Xi’s call, publishing more articles warning about the possibility of a Soviet-style collapse in the last major communist-ruled state.

Steve Tsang,  director of the China Policy Institute  at the University of Nottingham,  said Xi was clearly setting out his “policy line”, which is to strengthen the party’s capacity and determination to adhere closely tight to the existing system, and resist any demand for democratisation or constitutional rule as understood in the West.  

“The sense of crisis has been reintroduced to warn the rest of the party not to be complacent and to embrace changes that he is introducing,” he said. 

Kerry Brown,  executive director of the China Studies Centre  at the University of Sydney,  said that although Chinese think tanks had expended huge effort and time on trying to understand why communism in the Soviet Union failed, there remains a lack of consensus over the cause. 

Was the most critical issue a lack of economic reform, over-hasty political reform, issues intrinsic to the structure and culture of power within the USSR, or the failure to reach consensus within the leadership? 

“The one point upon which most Chinese intellectuals, politicians and officials seem to agree is that, contrary to mainstream opinion in the West, the collapse was not a good thing and the results were to cost Russia and the states created out of the ruins of the USSR dearly,” Brown said.

He said that one of the great paradoxes of our time was that the world’s second-biggest, and most dynamic, economy happens in name at least to be governed by a system that was written off two decades ago. 

“This is no cause for celebration in China however,” Brown said. 

Xiaoyu Pu,  a professor of political science at the University of Nevada,  said that while the Communist Party had maintained its legitimacy through economic performance and nationalist mobilisation, it faces many challenges.

Thus, the primary security concern of the party leaders is not national security, but regime security.  

“For the CCP, the collapse of the Soviet Union has always been regarded as a ‘negative example’,” Pu said. “The party has put a lot of energy and resources into examining what lessons the CCP could learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union.” 

However, Pu said the implications of the documentary programmes should not be over-estimated as they “might reflect the voice of the leftist and conservative faction within the party”

“It is hard to say the programmes reflect the consensus of the CCP leadership,” he said. 

Tsang noted that the USSR lasted 69 years and the People’s Republic of China had now been in existence for 64 years. In other words, the Chinese Communist Party could surpass the Soviet Communist Party during Xi’s tenure.   

Xi has every intention to ensure the People’s Republic will outlast the USSR and thus has every reason to get the Communist Party to re-learn the lessons of why their comrades failed.


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This article is now closed to comments

China is not communist. The basic fundamentals aren't even followed. Classlessness? Nope, small, elite bourgeois group (rich people), and the working class. Moneyless? Far from it. Common ownership of land and assets? Nope, government owns everything.
China is authoritarian and and the Party struggling to hold onto power. History suggests that this power is going to come to an end, the only question is, how long its going to actually take.
And also go back to Poland in 1980, where a shipyard worker named Lech Walesa founded "Solidarnosc", the first independent and really trouble-making trade union in the eastern Block. That was some corrosive acid to the system in Eastern Europe and the USSR. The point is that if enough people are intelligent, have their own values and believes and act bravely, it is almost impossible to keep their movements down forever.
How about asking former Soviets if they are happier now vs then? Nope, can't do that. Might involve critical thinking or seeing things from multiple points of view.
The PLA is going to really regret this indoctrination. One of these zombie soldiers will command a submarine some day and start firing missiles on Japanese or US navy vessels just because. Beijing will have no way to de-escalate because the army would go nuts and revolt. The average Chinese person, raised on a steady regimen of anti-Japanese TV dramas will insist that the country go to war. Then what?
The collpase of the the USSR started in Germany in 1988 with constant peaceful protest during the so called "Monday Prayers" in Leipzig. and it was Hungary who opened the iron curtain in 1989 by allowing 1000s of eastern Germans to cross its border to Autria and get into West Germany. Thencam the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was actually by mistake of the East German govenrment Spokesman during a press conference on 9/11/89. The atmosphere in the whole eastern block was that tense that none of the eastern German police at the inner german border dared to refuse anybody to cross that border. The hope and vision for the eastern countries of Europe to become free and part of what is today the EU fueled the peaceful collapse of the Eastern Block and the USSR. The main reason was constant discontent of the people in the east and thier persistance in peaceful demonstration of their political will. The collapsmof the USSR was just one end of happy ending story in Europe.
True, this is a very real concern, as most Chinese, even educated Chinese, lack the ability to formulate their own understanding or opinions on such matters.
In the face of severe economic problems, you might even see the rise of nationalism and an attack on Taiwan as people's anger is steered away from the domestic problems. This has happened many times throughout history.
Xi Jinping seems to be fixated on how the ex-Soviet Union collapsed. It's always a bit dangerous to concentrate so much on what happened in the past. China's regime challenges may be quite different.
Remitting Prosperity
The collapse of the USSR was seen as a great liberation in Europe. Remember the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, and how people were shot trying to cross them. The states of Central and Eastern Europe are still recovering from decades of rule under this backward system. The Chinese have been cleverer as they realised that central socialist planning can't work, but the basic 'contradictions' in the system remain.
I think at this point, most intelligent and knowledgeable people are just waiting for the collapse. Some are trying to make money during the interim period, but it seems clear that the current situation is unworkable in terms of long-term development and prosperity, given the regime's inability to reinvent itself and dynamically change and respond to the ever changing domestic and international environment - which will be its ultimate undoing.
This is not a paranoia at all. This is a very serious issue. Here is a small part of a some deep analysis of what had been happening at the Soviet Union and Russia in last 20 years, which I did as an asset manager based on many years of observation from inside: dshamov.livejournal.com/6275.html. If South China Morning Post's editor would be interested I am happy to submit this article for publication.
These measures are rather strange at first sight but they are reasonable. Nowadays practically in most part of the world there is market economy. It means that the Communist regime of China has its own way and thus there are high risks of the collapse. That is why Chinese leaders should know exactly what were the reasons of the USSR's split in order to prevent the same situation in their own country. However, I believe that Chinese socialism is particular and it also uses some other elements. Besides, these two states, USSR and People's Republic of China, have different history and culture and it is impossible that they go in one and the same direction. PRC is able to combine its main strategy and new international principles and that is what will help it to outlast the USSR.



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