This Blog Essay site devotes every February to a series of integrated but short essays on a single theme. For 2015 this site introduces a new theme: On a Constitutional Theory for China--From the General Program of the Chinese Communist Party to Political Theory.
This Post includes Part 14, CCP Basic Line-Four Cardinal Principles. It considers Paragraph 12 of the General Program.
Table of Contents
Part 14, Paragraph 12 of the General Program--CCP Basic Line-Four Cardinal Principles.
We have been reviewing the initial paragraphs of the CCP Constitution's General Program. The first two paragraphs of the General Program set out the outer framework of two critical aspects of Chinese constitutional theory. The five theories identified in paragraph 2 are the elaborated in paragraphs 3-7. Each, in turn, represents the “crystallization of the collective wisdom of the Communist Party of China” at each successive stage on the road toward communism. And the path itself makes clear that the process of successive crystallization is far from complete. Paragraph 3 elaborated on the place of classical Marxism-Leninism as the first stage of the path of socialism and serves as the foundation for Chinese political and constitutional theory. If the foundations of Chinese political and constitutional theory is built on European and received wisdom--the classical philosophy of Marxism-Leninism—the foundations of classical Chinese political and constitutional theory is built on Mai Zedong Thought.
Paragraph 4 considered Mao Zedong Thought as a necessary bridge between European theory and its transposition within the Chinese context, one that brings Marxism-Leninism forward from out of Europe into Asia, and places that forward evolution within the historical constraints of its time.It expressed the Leninist foundations of Chinese constitutional theory within notions of collective development and its role in establishing the socialist path toward which Mao Zedong Thought points, but which it does not in itself constitute. Paragraph 5 introduces the next stage in the development of Chinese constitutional and political Theory--Deng Xiaoping Theory. If Mao Zedong Thought provided a bridge from revolutionary to governing vanguard party, Deng Xiaoping theory provides the principles through which socialist modernization can be realized. Paragraph 6 introduces the succeeding layer of development of Chinese constitutional and political theory--the Important thought of Three Represents (Sange Daibiao). Paragraph 7 introduces the last of the current layers of theoretical development of Chinese political and constitutional theory--the scientific outlook on development. Paragraph 8 serves to sum up the initial paragraphs and as a bridge to the elaboration of the basic CCP line and working style in the paragraphs that follow. It is directed specifically to cadres and provides an easy conceptual framework within which they can understand their role in socialist modernization. Paragraph 9 the General Program moves from theory to action infused by theory. It considers the first of the three fundamental tasks of the CCP derived from its theory, that is the first operational element of the CCP line.
With Paragraph 10 we come to the first full expression of the CCP's basic line in the context of the current stage of development of China. The subsequent paragraphs amplify the basic line. Paragraph 11, the General Program begins the elaboration of the CCP's basic line, starting with economic development as the central task.
With Paragraph 12, we come to the second amplification of the CCP basic line--the four cardinal principles.
 The Four Cardinal Principles - to keep to the socialist road and to uphold the people's democratic dictatorship, leadership by the Communist Party of China, and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought - are the foundation on which to build the country. Throughout the course of socialist modernization the Party must adhere to the Four Cardinal Principles and combat bourgeois liberalization.
Beyond its complex and nuanced history, the four cardinal principles serve as a quite precise shorthand of the foundational principles of Chinese constitutional and political theory. Together these four cardinal principles serve as the foundation of the nation (是我们的立国之本). Their foundational character is based on the role of the four cardinal principles in constraining self constitution of the state, its government, purposes, organization and normative structures.
But there is also a danger in the constitution of the four cardinal principles. Reduced to slogan, the four cardinal principles can be reduced to irrelevance. Yet that would constitute a fundamental betrayal, not of the CCP basic line but of the substantial entirety of the structures of legitimacy of the CCP as a vanguard party, a party in power in China. Virtually all of the errors of individual cadres, and of misdirection by the collective leadership in times of great shifts on historical context may be explained by a failure to adhere strictly to the four cardinal principles, or to cynically use them to ill effect.
Each is fairly straightforward within the context of Chinese constitutional theory. To adhere to the socialist road (坚持社会主义道路) constrains the approaches to economic policy. Adherence to socialism means rejection of feudalism, capitalism and the like. But such adherence and rejection mat not be as easy as it sounds. To reject capitalism, for example, may not necessarily require a rejection of markets. Nor need it require a rejection of private ownership of property, even property that might be central to the development of productive forces. Adherence to socialism rejects the primacy of capital over labor for the purpose of individual rather than societal advancement toward the objective of fashioning a communist society. Beyond that, the issue of technique requires only a fidelity to the ultimate utilization of capital and productive forces.
Similarly to adhere to the people’s democratic dictatorship (坚持人民民主专政) constrains the approaches to political policy. It is central to the organization of power in a Party-State system. And it suggests the fundamental principle of division of power, which marks socialist-Leninist systems as distinct from capitalist-republican systems. A people’s democratic dictatorship places the whole of sovereign power in the Leninist vanguard party, which retains political authority but which delegates administrative authority to the apparatus of state (NPC, ministries, and provincial administrations). Administrative power may then be divided functionally along legislative, executive and prosecutorial-judicial lines. Democracy is filtered through and within the vanguard party and might be exercised with respect to constrained choices that might be made within the administrative apparatus of state. The people’s democratic dictatorship is essential to socialism precisely because the state is an instrument of the overall popular objective of establishing a communist society. That fundamental direction itself constrains popular democratic expression and makes necessary the vesting of leadership authority in a vanguard party—as and to the extent that party remains loyal to that objective in all of its actions. In contrast, capitalist-Republican states are grounded in the preservation of custom and tradition without any particular direction for societal development. Within this context the state need not be directed to any particular objective. All popular sovereign authority may then be vested in the governmental apparatus. The only constraint is to ensure that such a governmental apparatus remains loyal to the people from whom its power is derived. And traditionally the most efficient approach to those constraints is to divide power functionally among judicial, legislative and executive lines. Additionally because politics ha sno object but the maintenance of an apparatus response to popular expressions of custom, tradition and societal expectations within broad principles of societal norms, politics can be reduced to contests among individuals and factions seeking office on the basis of their assertions that they best represent the current iteration of popular sensibilities of how it understands itself.
The third of the four cardinal principles merely identifies the vanguard party. It constrains approaches to constitutional policy in its organizational sense. To adhere to the leadership of the communist party (坚持中国共产党的领导), however, is a conditional requirement. Adherence is required as and to the extent that the CCP continues to fulfill its obligations as a vanguard party—to adhere to its own line and to the core principles on which the state was founded. One has an obligation to adhere to a communist party, but no obligation to adhere to any party that styles itself communist but does not practice the appropriate fundamental line. That conditionality, of course, is emphasized in ¶ 1 of the General program and embedded within the four cardinal principles as an operational condition of operationalizing the CCP’s basic line.
The conditionality of the third of the four cardinal principles is underlined by the last principle—to adhere to Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and the four cardinal principles themselves (坚持马克思列宁主义毛泽东思想这四项基本原则). This last cardinal principle constrains popular self-constitution, that is it constrains normative policy. That is both a reminder of the fundamental role of the principles described in ¶ 2, but of their direct applicability in the implementation of the CCP’s basic line.
The relational nature of the four cardinal principles is also made clear in ¶ 12. The paragraph ends with an admonition: Throughout the process of socialist modernization drive We must adhere to the Four Cardinal Principles and Against bourgeois Liberalization (在社会主义现代化建设的整个过程中，必须坚持四项基本原则，反对资产阶级自由化). That admonition is directed inward to CCP cadres (including its leadership) and outward to the CCP’s relations with the masses and the world beyond China. It sets up the binary opposition of classical early Marxism—between socialism and bourgeois liberalization as a necessary reminder that while the techniques of socialist modernization may be similar to those of bourgeois liberal systems, they are not deployed to the same ends. That is to be taken up in more detail in the succeeding paragraphs to which we turn next.