Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Part 4 (The CCP's Guidebook)--On a Constitutional Theory for China--From the General Program of the Chinese Communist Party to Political Theory

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

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 4, The Structuring the CCP's Guidebook.  It considers Paragraph 2 of the General Program.

 Table of Contents
Part 4, The Structuring the CCP's Guidebook.  It considers Paragraph 2 of the General Program.

With the last post, I considered the first paragraph of the General Program of the CCP.  That paragraph focused on the core premises that shape the character and role of the CCP and the obligations that flow form that role. The General Program, indeed, starts with the formulation of the polity from out of which national sovereignty is to be exercised.  That polity is shaped and its power divided by the theoretical construction of the notion and need for a vanguard as the holder of popular sovereignty.  That foundation is grounded in the embrace of an instrumental role for the people and nation, which itself serves as the constraints within which sovereignty itself may be exercised, either directly or through representative groups or bodies. It answers a set of related questions in that respect.  First, what is a vanguard? The vanguard are those elements of political citizenship to which the obligation to lead the state and society to a particularized set of goals is vested.   Second, which organization must serve in that vanguard role?  In this case that is the CCP.   Third, for whose benefit is the CCP serving as a vanguard?  That is itself understood in three aspects--political, institutional and cultural. Fourth, to what objectives is the vanguard directed?  It is directed toward a socialism that reflects the character of the political, institutional and cultural contexts of the Chinese nation. The ultimate goal, and the ideal, is the realization of communism. Yet the core objectives are themselves left undefined.    

With this post I consider the first effort to delineate the fundamental theoretical sources that are available to the CCP in its work in its vanguard role. That is, if the core obligations of the vanguard is toward socialism with Chinese characteristics and the ultimate realization of communism, then it becomes important to construct those referents which ought to guide the vanguard in its objectives obligations.    To that end paragraph 2 of the General Program provides a foundational structure.
 [2] The Communist Party of China takes Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development as its guide to action.
 [2] 中国共产党以马克思列宁主义、毛泽东思想、邓小平理论和“三个代表”重要思想作为自己的行动指南。
In effect, paragraph 2 provides the guidebook for the vanguard in determining both the meaning and the implementation of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the realization of communism. The Guidebook includes the founding theories of Marxism and Leninism, two fundamentally European ideologies, at least in origin and historical context.  Yet it also includes a number of theoretical developments from out of the Marxism and Leninism base.  These include the "thought" of Mao Zedong, the "theory" of Deng Xiaoping, and the "important thought" of sange daibiao, and the scientific outlook on development.

What has the CCP taken as its guidebook? The normative substructure on which the vanguard role of the CCP is developed is quite specific.  It is notable both for what it includes and what it omits.  Most importantly it does not suggest what specific texts of Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping theory, sange daibiao and scientific development  form the corpus of the ideological basis (and theoretical constraints) of the CCP's vanguard role. This is quite disconcerting to Westerners, who are now quite used to the specification of specific texts as the legitimate expression and memorialized universe of the legitimate sources of fundamental norms.  Legal and political cosmologies are rooted in the texts of constitutions and other foundational writings; religious cosmologies are rooted in divine text and definitive glosses.  These are readily identified and unassailable.  They are the unquestioned basis on which theoretical reality and operationlaization constraints must be based. No such definitive list of text form of unassailable core premises whose expression is implemented in the CCP's vanguard role. The consequences is a form of flexibility in core premises that might mirror the flexibility of traditional U.K. constitutionalism--something suggested recently by Chinese academics such as Jiang Shigong. The second paragraph points to the galaxy of authoritative unassailable theory, but not to the texts from which these theories are drawn. What are the texts of Marxism or of Leninism, for example, from which the CCP must draw? Does Leninism include in its unassailable texts Stalin's glosses on Leninism? Exegesis without a definitive list of texts may be less of a problem when the vanguard is coherent and there is a long term consensus of at least the core of the texts from which core theory is to be drawn. But in the context of a vanguard party state, this flexibility may prove troublesome.  The trouble comes because cages, and especially cages of ideology, might not be tangible enough if it is not constructed of materials that can withstand strong pressure.  This is a subtext that will follow a reading of the rest of the General Program.

What is the character of this guidebook? Beyond ambiguity about the text of its core theory, the guidebook also notable for what it specifies and what it leaves open.  The guidebook does not suggest, at least in this iteration, three important elements.  The first is that the Guidebook does not specify how core theory is to be read.  Second it does not suggest how core theory is to be applied.  And third it does not specify whether or to what extent additional sources of core theory may be used or must be avoided.  
With respect to the first, the problem of hermeneutics looms large.  This is not a problem specific to Chinese theory, but here is appears as a problem of hermeneutics with Chinese characteristics. If there is no consensus on the way in which to approach text, and there is no consensus on the text that is authoritative, then the flexibility built into the normative cage becomes large indeed. And to the extent it becomes a doorway rather than a constraint, this shifts authority away from text and elsewhere.  If that "elsewhere" are the institutions of the CCP, or senior leadership, then there is a danger that the collective principles of the vanguardism may be imperiled.  If it is shifted in a way that itself does not provide a cage for interpretation, then it might well obliterate the value of any core theory.  At its limit, an unfettered authority to interpret, combined with an unfettered authority to apply, reduces the thing interpreted to an empty vessel--to a fetish that might be invoked but to which there need not be any fidelity.  And for a vanguard party that might be the most profound error of all.  If that is the case, then the character of the guidebook must be derived from out of a principle inherent in its establishment--that principle of fidelity, of loyalty, suggests that the vanguard party retains its authority as a vanguard party only to the extent and for so long as it remains loyal to the normative principles of the core theory.  This principle of fidelity to the core theory described in the Guidebook is the core of the normative obligation of a vanguard party.   We will see if this is enough to sustain the cage of theory, or if, instead theory has been caged by its servants.   

This principle of fidelity, then, ought to mark the boundaries of the second two issues. Application becomes more authoritative as it comes closer to the normative core, and less authoritative when it strays.   Indeed, Leninism is crucial as a normative foundation of the application fo the substantive core theories of the guidebook.  But the error of sloganeering is always a danger in this context. A facile connection between core and intended action might also run the risk of reduction to fetish, to a formula invocation justifying every action.  That, of course, marred much of the operationalization of European Marxism.  It is a danger elsewhere.  And not just in Marxist Leninist systems.  The third issue is a product of the ambiguity of text, but also relates to the first two issues. In the absence of authoritative text, is there a hierarchy of text that may be persuasive but less authoritative, or unpersuasive, or inimical to the functioning of a vanguard party. There is a sense, currently, of the need to create such hierarchy of authoritativeness of texts that might be used to gloss the core theories specified as constituting in the guidebook.  For example recent calls for avoiding Western ideas, especially political ideas, tend to fall in this category.  But such calls suggest a lack of education in the foundations of the General Program itself.  To avoid knowledge (of facts) is to betray the core premise of finding truth from facts.  There is a distinction between unassailable premises, authoritativeness of text, and persuasiveness grounded in the facts of the experiences of others.  While the guidebook suggests the core of the normative premises that constitute the basis for systemic fidelity, it does not suggest a fear of other facts and knowledge that might be used for the CCP's vanguard work. 

To what extent may the vanguard ignore the guidebook? One may not avoid, ignore or reject  foundational texts in the West and retain a crucial marker of legitimacy.  The General Program suggests  a similar, but not identical approach. The vanguard party is committed to using the core theory as a guide.  That requirement is not subject to exception.  But to use core theory as a guide is only to suggest that these serve as a starting point, and perhaps as well, as a constraint, on the action to which the vanguard party is bound to take. The CCP may not ignore the core theory specified in paragraph 2 but it is not bound to reduce its action to the contextual specifics of those texts.  And, of course, as guides, they might themselves develop, even as the vanguard moves, through application of the core theory, to the attainment of socialism and the eventual realization of communism.  Both vanguard and theory, then, are to some extent, moving targets, with only a principle of fidelity to hold them together. 

May the guidebook be amended? The preceding, then suggests that the guiding core theory might itself then be amended and further developed.  The use of the guide to action, what I have been calling the guidebook, exists in a reciprocal relation to the obligations of the vanguard party. That reciprocity is based on another and critical premise that is contained within but unstated in the second paragraph: the core theory that constitutes the unassailable theoretical basis for the elaboration of the vanguard role of the CCP and its relation to the political, institutional and cultural is not static and unchangeable.  Within the premise--seeking truth from facts--is the insight that the elaboration of core theory, its glosses, and its application in the context of the specific conditions of a place (China in this case) is itself also in a state of development in two respects.  First, core theory is itself unfinished.  Second, the application fo core theory's insights may require development when applied to the specific national and historical contexts for which it is drawn. This the guidebook provides the basis for formulating the form of application by the vanguard party, but that application itself is meant to contribute to the further development of the core theories, grounded in the insights drawn from the facts of context, history and application. Ideology, then, may be a cage, the bars of which may sometimes be elastic, but which is itself the carriage of a vehicle that is moving toward communism on a platform of fidelity to the core premises of its own logic.  

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