Sunday, September 03, 2017

"What are the usual ways to listen to party members and the opinions of the masses?": The Mass Line, Social Credit, and the Convergence of Governance Engagement

I have been focusing on the Mass Line and its importance to the development of Chinese constitutional theory and practice ("The Party follows the mass line in its work, doing everything for the masses, relying on them in every task, carrying out the principle of “from the masses, to the masses,” and translating its correct views into action by the masses of their own accord." (here)). The Mass Line is intimately connected both to the working style of the CCP, as well as the core methodology for Party building, and thus for CCP legitimacy as a Leninist vanguard self conscious of its responsibilities. 

The main focus on the Mass Line is incidental to its use as the framework for the current rectification campaign targeting CCP working style, the anti-corruption campaigns of the last several years (e.g., here). The Mass Line also appears to be developing as the structure through which the CCP will seek to engage in  outreach to mass society.

This post includes the text of a recent set of suggestions for operationalizing Mass Line principles for Leninist engagement both of Party cadres (intra-Party democracy through the Mass Line) and society at large (Socialist Democracy under the leadership of the CCP) and some brief comments in light of the emerging social credit initiative.These implicate a convergence of techniques for the use of data in managing collectives in China and the West.

The Mass Line is an integral part of the shaping of China's social credit system. Index of Posts.

The short essay below asks: "What are the usual ways to listen to party members and to the opinions of the masses? What should one listen for? These questions are meant to center the methodological question of the Mass Line. In effect, and from the perspective of the social credit project, the questions can be recast as asking: (1) what sort of data might be of value in interactions with Party members--what data ought to be harvested? and (2) How does pne extract meaning from data that can then be used to advance the goals, objectives and responsibilities of the Leninist vanguard party? 

The essay suggests a few parameters at a very general level.  First, it is necessary to listen carefully to what is said.  That is harder than it sounds.  Vanguard cadres must check the tendency tp  lecture rather than listen if the "from the masses" part of the Mass Line can have any value.  And the value is in the data to be extracted form the conversation itself.  Second, it is necessary to use conversation to engage in initial guidance.  That has two distinct purposes.  One is to ensure that all relevant data (information) is extracted from the conversation. The second is to ensure that problems that can be easily solved, or issues easily mitigated may be resolved before they become larger and more sensitive. Here the second part of the Mass Line "to the masses" may be initially implemented, but with caution. Third, more generalized data may be extracted through mass harvesting and data gathering techniques--especially polling. Polling provides a means of collective aggregation of issues and collective response. These suggestions apply both to data gathering and mitigation both within CCP operations and in the context of CCP interactions with societal forces. There is irony in the last point--polling was once viewed as a means of dividing the masses and as a bourgeois technique of false democracy.  But Chinese Marxist Leninism has moved a way from a grounding in class struggle and revolutionary movements to socialist modernization and the responsibilities of a party in power guiding the state in emerging historical contexts. 

More interesting are the preliminary suggestions for ensuring the gathering of more robust data.  The first goes to the way that Parrty cadres listen and ensure that the speaker "opens up". Central here is the way in which the conversation is handled: "When talking, the attitude should be warm, the tone should be kind, the atmosphere should be relaxed." The object is to ensure that the speaker produces more rather than less information.   The second goes to meeting management, with the advice sounding much like the sort of guidance that administrators are given in conducting the now popular "town hall" style meetings in the West (see, e.g., On the Practice of Town Hall Meetings in Shared Governance--Populist Technocracy and Engagement at Penn State). Lastly, good polling practices are stressed, along with efforts toward confidentiality.

Taken together, one can begin to see the outlines of the way that Mass Line principles may shape the way in which the CCP develops the forms of intra-Party democracy (in the face of the forms of democratic centralism) as well as its engagement with non CCP society. The object is to gather information, to mitigate "error" to anticipate difficulties, and to develop approaches to the move toward objectives realization that reduces conflict with societal expectations. More importantly, it is also clear that these tendencies can be easily quantified, and that, in the process, the idea of individual conversation can become an abstracting process.  The individual becomes an important element--but only as a means toward a collective understanding of individual needs, desires and opinion. Mass democracy on a socialist model, and collective participation within the CCP requires a focus on the mass through the individual, rather than the aggregation of the mass for individual difference. That fundamental difference divides the Western from the Chinese project fo democratic engagement. Yet ironically, the methodologies of the Mass Line also appear to mirror the approaches of Western institutions toward the management of social forces.  The advice provided in the essay could be understood as useful for middle managers of large companies as it may be for provincial officials in a Party-State system.  Indeed, the Mass Line suggests a conversion of methods in data extraction and use in the management of collective societies in both the West and China.  The language may be different and the objectives contextually distinct, but the methodologies will converge



2017-09-03 寿光党建


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