Reflections on the Cultural Revolution: A Ten Thousand Character Petition
By Huangfuxinping [Zhou Ruijin 周瑞金 ]
The Cultural Revolution clearly demonstrates just how bad the political life of a country can become if there is no democracy, no rule of law and power is not subject to constraint.
2016 is a special year: it is the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the historically unprecedented Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Cultural Revolution. Ten years of the Cultural Revolution that began fifty years ago was a terrible disaster for both the Chinese state and the Chinese nation. The ending forty years ago of the Cultural Revolution made possible the reform and opening that followed. This in turn made possible the China of today.
Therefore, when we speak about reform, we cannot avoid discussing the Cultural Revolution. Not only is it unavoidable but it is inseparable from any discussion of reform. The end of the Cultural Revolution essentially put an end to the class struggle that had divided Chinese society. For a long period following the end of the Cultural Revolution there was a broad consensus in Chinese society against the Cultural Revolution – kind of like the greatest common factor in arithmetic. Further deepening of reform was a quest for the greatest common denominator.
But was the Cultural Revolution actually rejected in its entirety? To get at that question we must ask if society made a deep and thorough reflection upon the nature of the Cultural Revolution itself. Absent a deep examination of the nature of the Cultural Revolution, it cannot be rejected in its entirety. Reflection on some aspects of the Cultural Revolution was avoided. There always arose the question of how to reject it and to just what degree to reject it. The differing views on the Cultural Revolution that we have been hearing in recent years reflect that.
I. The Cultural Revolution Made Us Realize the Harm that Dictatorships Cause
For some time after the end of the Cultural Revolution, reflections upon the Cultural Revolution on one hand made the “Gang of Four” the focus of all criticism. All hatred was focused on them and all the dirty water was splashed on their faces. Most people thought that Chairman Mao meant well when he started the Cultural Revolution but the plotting of the “Gang of Four” diverted it from its proper course and lead to serious mistakes.
The other aspect surrounds accusations made as a result of the hardships that people have suffered. There was a man named Qu Xiao 曲啸 who became a household name. The movie “The Horse Herder” 《牧马人》was made about him. Qu Xiao made speeches throughout China and even went to the USA. In tears he said that although he said that although as a child of the Communist Party he had suffered many severe hardships and had only narrowly escaped death, he love for and loyalty to the Communist Party has never wavered. Qu Xiao said “The Party is my mother. If a mother mistakenly hits her child, the child will not and cannot nurse a grudge against the mother!”
A member of the audience, the Taiwan historian Professor Wang Rongzu 王荣祖could not contain himself and asked, “If a mother hits her child for a long time is she still a loving mother? If this woman is so cruel, how can she expect the abused child to be loyal to her? For a mother to treat her child this way is illegal in all civilized countries and is punishable by law.” After this, Qu Xiao’s positive propaganda became a negative and he had to break off his speaking schedule and hurriedly leave the USA. After returning to China, he became seriously ill, made no more public appearances and slowly faded from view.
This example shows how very superficial reflections on the Cultural Revolution have been. Criticisms of the Cultural Revolution have been confined to specific events. Only very has the fundamental nature of the Cultural Revolution ever been addressed.
After the resolution made at the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Congress of the Communist Party of China, most people believed that the Cultural Revolution’s ten years of chaos was the result of extreme leftist ideology. For them, the lesson of the Cultural Revolution was that China should concentrate on building the economy and greatly strengthen the productive capacity of society. China should strengthen democracy and the construction of the legal system so that the country would be ruled according to the law.
In August 1980, in an interview with the Italian journalist Oriana Falacci, Deng Xiaoping said “If we do not realize that the systems of democratic centralism and of collective leadership had been destroyed, then the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution is incomprehensible.” Falacci bluntly shared her concern: up to then, nothing had been done to avoid or prevent the outbreak of another terrible event like the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping explained, “That problem can be solved by addressing the system. Some of our systems in the past were actually deeply influenced by feudalism, including the superstition of individuals, the clan system and the working style of clan heads, as well as the lifetime employment system for party cadres and government officials. We are now studying how to avoid the repetition of these phenomena and preparing to address them by focusing on reforming the system. Our country has had several millennia of feudal history and lacks socialist democracy and a socialist legal system. Now we will conscientiously build a system of socialist democracy and a socialist legal system. Only in this way will we solve the problem.”
Deng Xiaoping believed that “The Cultural Revolution was a serious mistake that was wrong across the board. “ When Deng Xiaoping in March 1981 spoke with the party members on the subcommittee drafting the “Resolution on History” 历史决议, he pointed out “The Cultural Revolution, compared with the errors committed during the 17 years that preceded it was serious and wrong all across the board. Its consequences were extremely serious and are still with us today.”
Marx said several times that once that often only when a thing develops to its classic or final state (including their extreme state) does it become possible to understand the stages of development and essential nature of a thing. Similarly, the Cultural Revolution enables us to recognize the extremely serious harm done by a dictatorship.
II. The Cultural Revolution Did Not Come Out of Nowhere
The primary cause of the Cultural Revolution was an intense personality cult in a dictatorship. The next most important cause was the ideology of class struggle. The combination of these two created a severe breakdown of rule according to law and led to total anarchy.
The Cultural Revolution was not an isolated event. Its occurrence and development did not come out of nowhere. They are rather the necessary consequence of a series of errors.
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong became the embodiment of Truth. His words were “One word of Chairman Mao counts for more than ten thousand words from someone else”. Mao’s personality cult developed to an extreme. The rise of this cult of personality can be traced back to the Yan’an period. During this period the cult of personality and dictatorial style of Mao Zedong arose. After the founding of the PRC, it became more intense, finally leading to extreme leftism and the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution.
Chen Po 陈坡in his history of the Cultural Revolution wrote: “The prehistory of the Cultural Revolution is the history of how the Cultural Revolution came to be… The Cultural Revolution originated from arguments within the Chinese Communist Party during the five year long Great Famine of 1959 – 1963. The most important event was the Meeting of the Seven Thousand in early 1962. That was because this meeting was the most important internal discussion held by the Party during the 1960s that was a focused and comprehensive evaluation and reflection upon the Great Famine. This meeting was described in the book Meditations on the Cultural Revolution . 《文化大革命深思录》
The root of the calamity that became the Great Famine was the campaign that ran from 1957 through the first half of 1958 to “Oppose ‘Oppose Rashness’” 反‘反冒进’. “Oppose Rashness” was a resolution adopted by a majority of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee after the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of 1956 – 57. The “Oppose ‘Oppose Rashness’” campaign disrupted economic planning and preparations, led to Mao over-riding the Politburo of the Communist Party, made Mao authoritative, establishing the practice in the top level of the Party of flattering Mao.
After the Second Session of the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of China, Zhou said: “Mao is the representative of Truth. The Great Leap Forward is the direct result of the “Oppose ‘Oppose Rashness’” campaign. The process from the “Oppose ‘Oppose Rashness’” to the Cultural Revolution is in essence the story of internal struggles within the Communist Party. This is a disaster brought on by the Communist Party. Mao governed China for 27 years. During his rule there took place the three years of the Korean War, the five years of the Great Famine, the ten years of the Cultural Revolution. During these 27 years, there were 18 years of war, famine and chaos. The remaining nine years were punctuated by incessant campaigns from Land Reform to the Four Cleanups 四清 [Translator’s Note: 1962 campaign to cleanup politics, cleanup the economy, clean up organizations and clean up ideology. 清政治，清经济，清组织，清思想]. People were buffeted by campaigns large and small without let up. Although all this created unprecedented hardships for the Chinese people, Mao always said that he was doing this for China’s 600 million people, for the Chinese revolution and for world revolution. Lin Biao’s personal evaluation of Mao was that “Mao believed himself to be the representative of the people and saw himself as the authority on the people”.
How is it that Mao Zedong’s political thought became essentially the core ideology of the Communist Party? How is it that an extreme leftist erroneous line came to predominate? The most important factor is a personality cult that grew up over a long period so that Mao acquired indisputable dominance, a dominance that meant that one word from Mao could mean life or death. This developed later into “One word from Mao counts for more than Ten Thousand words from another” Mao himself became the embodiment of Truth. Nobody inside or outside of the Party could oppose him. The real explanation of how the Cultural Revolution came to be is that if there is no democracy, no rule of law and power is not constrained, than there are no limits to just how false the political life of a country can become.
Personality cults are fundamentally a manifestation of dictatorship. What is the difference between saying that someone is the Great Red Sun and saying that the Emperor is the Son of Heaven? Cheap applause, however loudly the tide resounds at the time, in no way represents the will of the people. In the end it cannot escape the ridicule of history. We should be alert to the danger of personality cults. This is no more and no less than being alert to the danger of dictatorship. Nearly all socialist countries in practice have suffered from the overcentralization of power. Some, such as the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, had one-man dictatorships. They suffered from political pathologies such as big purges and large scale repression. The Cultural Revolution in China greatly harmed the image of socialism.
After the Cultural Revolution had ended, the Communist Party of China came to recognize the harm that personality cults and continuing the class struggle had done. The Party called for focusing on economic construction and for China to prioritize reform and opening. This was a correction to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. This was an historic change of course. As a result, Chinese society was united as never before and industry flourished. People realized that they had been like the people in the old proverb, “A broken bowl too can be filled with water”: meaning that people should not be so handicapped with old ways of thinking that they are not open to other perspectives. Now people had hope that their lives would improve.
III. During Ten Years of Cultural Revolution Many People Falsely Accused One Other
Class struggle was the Cultural Revolution’s key ideological foundation and runs as a thread through the entire period. The momentum of a long period of class struggle and misunderstandings about socialism caused by the influence of traditional ideas created distorted perceptions that differing views within the Party were a struggle between competing lines and a kind of class struggle. This finally led to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution.
During the Cultural Revolution, people were categorized into different groups and then treated according to class struggle thinking. People were placed into groups such as capitalist roaders, evil-doers [牛鬼蛇神], traitors, betrayers, Royalists, landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, rightists, saboteurs and thieves, counter revolutionary elements within the May 16 Red Guard faction, intellectuals, dictatorship imposed on artists, dictatorship imposed upon teachers, criticism of people who would rehabilitate rightists. The labels differ but all involve being hauled before a group and being stigmatized as a class enemy. Anyone put in these categories cannot avoid suffering attacks and troubles of various degrees.
From late 1966, society split into two factions, the “Conservative Faction” and the “Rebel Faction”. Both factions claimed to be “Loyal defenders of Mao Zedong Thought” and that the other faction are class enemies who “Oppose the Party, Oppose Socialism and Oppose Mao Zedong Thought”. Whenever one faction gained the upper hand, the other side would rush to severely punish the other.
The Cultural Revolution harmed one hundred million people. Of these, most were from these two factions made up of people who early on had dedicated themselves to the struggle. The bloody battles are remembered in many parts of the country in Red Guard cemeteries. The violence of the struggle within the Communist Party itself was astonishing. Xia Yan 夏衍 wrote a parody of the “Barber’s Song” entitled the “The Struggle People Song” that goes：
Whenever I heard that someone should be rectified, I do my utmost to rectify them!
All these people should be rectified, if you don’t do it, you are a bad person.
If people are rectified by someone who belongs to another group, the rectified one is still one of our own.
Take a close look at the rectified; they also rectify other people!
These words express exhaustion, helplessness, and black humor. In this song you can see the cruelty of the struggle sessions of those days and who everyone felt terrorized. During the Cultural Revolution, today’s revolutionaries may become tomorrow’s counter-revolutionaries. The roles of struggler and struggled can switch from one moment to the next. Everyone was on edge.
On June 10, 1966, when Mao Zedong met Vietnam State Chairman Ho Chi Minh, he said, “In this movement we’ll rectify a few hundred or a few thousand people, especially academics, teachers, journalists, publishers, artists, the universities, middle schools and primary schools.” He listed the principal targets of the movement but sharply circumscribed its scope. Finally the number of people rectified was not just several hundreds or thousands of people. Millions and tens of millions of people were rectified.
After the Cultural Revolution had ended, the old author Ye Shengtao 叶圣陶 wrote an article in People’s Daily “Those ten disastrous years killed about one hundred of my friends and acquaintances. The author Qin Mu 秦牧said, “Although I don’t have a very wide circle of acquaintances, but I made a count and among closer acquaintances about 27 were killed during those years. From there I might extrapolate that across the entire country there must have been a great number killed. This was unprecedented devastation. How many millions of people suffered severe hardships, how many millions will carry their resentments to their graves, how many homes were shattered, how many children wandered homelessly, how many books were consigned to the bonfire, how many historic sites were devastated, how many graves of worthy people of the past were dug up and desecrated, how many crimes were committed in the name of the Revolution?
How many people died as a result of the Cultural Revolution? There are many views on this and no settled answer. On December 13, 1978 Ye Jianying at the closing ceremony of the Central Committee Work Conference said, “During the Cultural Revolution 100 million people were rectified and over 20 million died.” In 1980, Deng Xiaoping said to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, “We’ll never know because people died of so many different causes and China is so very large. We can only say that very many died.” The figures given in the “Facts on the Various Movements since the Founding of the PRC” gives these figures: over 1,728,000 dead, 135,000 people executed for counter-revolutionary crimes, over 237,000 killed in armed struggles, 7.03 million handicapped, and over 71,200 homes destroyed.
We can say that the coming of the Cultural Revolution was a sign that China’s millennia long rule of man era had begun to lose its moral baselines and that humane restraints. During the decade of the Cultural Revolution, 100 million people made false accusations against one another. Such a large number of nonsensical criminal accusations and such naked barbarity and slaughter has rarely been seen in human history.
IV. Why Class Struggle Thinking is Wrong
The document “Concerning the Resolution on Certain Questions on the History of the Communist Party Since the Founding of the PRC” 《关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议》 analyzed mistaken thinking about the use of class struggle thinking continuing during the period of socialism. “Owing to the historical characteristics of our Party, after the socialist transformation had been basically completed, our leaders in observing and handling the political, economic, cultural and other issues that arose during the development of socialism easily made the mistake of applying class struggle thinking to issues to which class struggle no longer applied. Moreover, when faced with class struggle under the new conditions, they applied the old methods of violent mass movements to which they had become accustomed even though this was no longer appropriate. This led to a serious widening of the use of class struggle.” Here, the “Resolution” clearly indicates that operating according to the methods used to fight the enemy during the revolutionary era leads must lead to great widening of the class struggle. In a way, the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” used means of struggle that were meant to be used against an enemy. Party leaders had forgotten that a different kind of contradiction was involved. The result was that disagreements within the Party were exaggerated into class struggles.
During the law revisions of 1997 the crime of counter-revolution was abolished. The crime of harming national security, which replaced it, manifested an approach consistent with a common sense approach to the state authority. Law as the manifestation of the governing class cannot permit “revolutionary” behavior such as harming national sovereignty, territorial integrity and security, dividing the country, armed violence, overthrow of state power or overthrowing state institutions.
The fundamental error of the theory of continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat is the misconception that the capitalist class will continue to exist after the establishment of the socialist system. Moreover, this also assumed that class opposition and class struggle would continue in society and so a great political revolution would be needed in which one class would overthrow another. This is classic thinking about conflict with an enemy. This erroneous extension of class opposition and class struggle to socialist society had serious consequences.
Many things were criticized during the Cultural Revolution as being revisionist or capitalist. Many of these are Marxist fundamentals and socialist principles including many that Mao Zedong himself had advocated or supported. “If we do not have unity and stability then we have nothing”; “We have been suffering hardships for ten years. If disorders continue, people will not be able to stand it and they will not accept it.” The unity and stability that Deng Xiaoping talked about is the ‘bringing order out of chaos’ caused by class struggle theory and expressing a fervent hope for economic construction.
After the Cultural Revolution, China gradually opened up. Chinese discovered that while China had been preoccupied with its ferocious political movements, other countries had concentrated on developing their national economies. Some countries and regions, such as the “Four Little Dragons” of Asia had already begun their economic take-offs. China had lost out on many development opportunities while it was doing political movements. The gap with the developed countries was growing. Deng Xiaoping is said to have thought “After the Second World, the countries aligned with the US have gotten rich while the countries aligned with the Soviet Union are poor. “ This may well have been something that average Chinese people were thinking but didn’t dare to say.
V. Democratic Politics is the Logical Foundation for Building A New Kind of State
Why are we called the People’s Republic of China? A republic is the goal: it replaced the dictatorial dynastic system and builds a new kind of country. Democratic politics is the logical foundation of newly established states in the modern era. The establishment of the first People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China was the result of a session of the first Political Consultative Congress. Under the historical conditions prevailing then, this expressed to a certain extent that “the power of the rulers comes from the consent of the governed”. This was a watershed event for China. What is a watershed event? In the words of Xu Youyu, it is the state replacing the dynasty.
Dynastic politics should have ended there and Chinese history should have turned a page. The task of the new government should be to heal the wounds in society and to build institutions and the economy. But Mao Zedong didn’t do that. He still insisted that “class struggle is the guiding principle”. The Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of China opened in 1956. It determined that China’s general policies and political lines should be expanding democracy, strengthening the legal system, and concentrating on construction. However, the Party reversed course in 1957. The errors which developed in 1957 and afterwards arose, as people both inside and outside the Party knew at the time, because of opposing views within the Party about the right course for China. These divisions, however, did not prevent the development of “leftist” errors. Moreover, each time efforts were made to correct a “leftist” error, there was an opposing reaction and even stronger leftist impulse.
Most of the Party leadership was forged during the era of bloody and intense revolution and maintained their outlook from those days and accordingly used the same old methods to solve problems. They had great difficulty restraining their egos, in giving up the traditional class struggle ways of thinking and revolutionary methods and instead come to recognize and understand the modern society. The era in which spiritual force and martial might confer legitimacy to a regime are over. The legitimacy of modern states does emerge from the barrel of a gun but can only come from hearts and minds of the people. Power is conferred by the people. That is what it is all about.
The limitations to their understanding can be seen in their strong attachment to “ruling the state through the Party”. “All state decisions, orders and laws must be based on corresponding Party directives”. This results in a situation in which “the Party is higher than the state and occupies a position superior to the state”. The relationship between Party and the state have become distorted. This can very easily result in dictatorship and impede the progress of China towards a modern civilized society.
Professor Tong Zhiwei 童之伟 of the East China University of Politics and Law wrote that in recent years there have been many high profile arguments in the political and legal fields. These include arguments over the relative positions of the Party and the law; on whether political reform is moving ahead or regressing; whether severe repression of freedom of speech is necessary; whether constitutional rule is appropriate for China; etc. While these arguments may appear separate, there are all linked to the tensions among internal elements involved in the various principles involved the governance of the state. Most specifically, they all arise from conflicts between the traditional strategy of state governance of “rule the state through the Party” and the new strategy issued after the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of China “implement ruling the country according to law, and build a socialist country ruled by law.”
What created this situation is related to the congenital defect in the initiation of the period of reform and opening itself. Professor Sun Liping 孙立平of Tsinghua University 清华大学 that reform began because of the confluence of several factors. The people demanded improved economic conditions while idealistic intellectuals called for change. Even more important, however, was the demand of people who had lost power during the Cultural Revolution get back in power. There were two types of people in this last group. Some wanted to set the clock back to 17 years before the Cultural Revolution began [Translator’s note: 1949, the year the PRC was founded] and while others wanted to take advantage of this turning point to create a new culture. The reforms of the early 1980s were run by this group. There were confident since they compared the early 80s with the years of chaos during the Cultural Revolution. This kind of confidence created the enlightenment of the 1980s. This enlightenment, however, concealed the shortcomings of reform – the reforms did not truly have the values and goals needed to move towards a new kind of civilization.
Deepening reform means nothing less than replacing rule by the Party with rule by law.
The difference between medieval and modern society, between barbarous society and civilized society is the difference between dictatorship and democracy. The difference is in the legitimacy of the source of power, in the legitimate uses of power, and in the legitimate transfer of power. Once legitimacy is accepted as a criterion, then social development occurs in a relatively controlled manner within certain defined parameters. This kind of certainty can spare people dealing with power from anxiety, uncertainty and fear and so give them liberty. Members of the Communist Party have fought, from the very beginning, for the sake of freedom and democracy, for the sake of putting an end to dictatorship and backwardness, for the sake of building civilization and an advanced modern country. We cannot therefore end up becoming the kind of people we originally opposed.
VI. The Law Should Not be the Tool of Rulers
In January 1955, Liu Shaoqi said, “Now that the Constitution has been promulgated, we will need to strengthen the legal system and become skillful at using the legal system. We will use state power and the power of society and the masses to carry out the class struggle. Our laws are not for constraining ourselves but for constraining the enemy and for attacking and obliterating the enemy.” In July 1955, Liu Shaoqi in a speech at Beidaihe to leaders of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said, “Our law protects the people in their struggle with the enemy and cannot be used to bind up the arms and legs of the revolutionary people. If a law ties up our own hands and feet, than we should consider eliminating that law.”
In July 1955, Liu Shaoqi said, “The first task of the People’s Procuratorate is to ensure that the counterrevolutionary elements who should be detained are quickly detained. The Constitution stipulates that detention and indictments are handles by the Procuratorate. A detention that does not have the permission of the Procuratorate is illegal. Now the Party is carrying out a socialist revolution. Those counter-revolutionaries intent on destroying the socialist revolution are being caught so the Procuratorate needs to quickly take full responsibility for detaining and indicting them. The Party Committee decides who will be detained and then the Procuratorate is to close its eyes and rubber stamp its approval. Maybe this is not the right way to do things but we can be quite clear about that within the Party. But as for what people outside the Party can see, everything is being handled by the Procuratorate. … If the Procuratorate doesn’t take the heat for the Party then democracy advocates will use that to oppose the Party. That would be in effect the Procuratorate opposing the Party.” He stressed repeatedly, “The Procuratorate must be in the hands of the Party. This organ, just like Public Security, is a sharp weapon used by the Party and the people in the struggle against counter-revolutionary elements. We must keep it in our own hands. We must ensure the organizational purity of the procuratorial organs. “
From the instructions and speeches of Liu Shaoqi quoted above, we can see that he used class struggle thinking in his approach to the law and to the legal system. He clearly places the power of the Party and of the government above the law. Once we acknowledge that the power of the Party and of the government is above the law, and then the law is merely instrumental and is not about values. The law becomes optional.
Chen Yun 陈云in his opposition to a new law on the mass media put it well. Chen said “During Nationalist Party rule a law on the mass media was passed. Our Communist Party studied every word in the law, examined it in great detail and drilled into the gaps in the law. Now we are in power. I think we would do better not to have a law on the mass media so that people will not be able to take advantage of the gaps in it. If there is no law, we will have the initiative. We will be able to exert control anyway we want.”
Clearly the way that people thought in those days was that the law was simply a tool of the ruler and cannot constrain power by putting it in a cage. This is probably the reason why that during the years prior to the Cultural Revolution almost nothing was done to build a legal system.
The capital investment needed to build a system can be very high. In extreme circumstances, it requires bloodshed. However, once a system has been established, the cost needed to maintain the operation of society sharply decreases. A system in which the Party rules the state necessarily leads to the Party being above the law. When power is above the law, any system, no matter how good it is, becomes merely furniture and an impediment to the implementation of the rule of law.
Singapore National University Professor Zheng Yongnian 郑永年 wrote in an article “China has more anti-corruption systems than any other country in the world. Singapore, however, only has one – the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and Hong Kong has only one – the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption. Why are those societies so honest? China has so many anti-corruption systems. The Party has the Central Disciplinary and Inspection Commission, the government has the Corruption Prevention Bureau and the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The National People’s Congress and the People Political Consultative Congress both have anti-corruption bureaus, every university has one. Nonetheless we often hear reports that the most corrupt people are those corruption fighters themselves! For example, the Deputy Mayor of Beijing Municipality Wang Baosen was also the Director of the Beijing Anti-Corruption Bureau. He was the most corrupt of them all. How can this situation be accepted? Therefore Wang Qishan proposed to first cure the symptoms and then cure the disease. I agree completely. If we talk about systems, doesn’t that just mean the more systems the better? China already has too many systems. The key point is what kind of a system. China’s intellectuals says that China is corrupt because of one party rule and because power is too centralized. I disagree. Power in China is too decentralized. Within the Chinese Communist Party there are so many director and deputy director positions and so many anti-corruption organizations. But nobody takes responsibility. That failure opens many opportunities to corrupt people. Just who is responsible in the end? In Singapore the answer is simple. If there is corruption, the anti-corruption bureau is responsible. It may not pass the responsibility on to any other organization. Hong Kong does it the same way.”
Professor Zheng Yongnian has observed the phenomenon, but has not hit on the root problem. He came up with the opposite solution to corruption. He believes that there are not too many anti-corruption systems. For him, the key point is who is in charge. If corrupt officials are in charge, corruption will just go on as before. However I believe that this is the result of the state being ruled by the Party and the result of the system not being powerful. However, I do agree with something he says: he stresses the importance of people. A system created by honest people can be called an honest system while a system created by corrupt people can only be a corrupt system. However, even if the system is good, so long as the Party is greater than the law and power is greater than the law, it will be at best only window dressing. Consider for a moment how in the old days Mao Zedong as Party Chairman, holding high the Party charter, commanded attention with how Liu Shaoqi as PRC President when during the Cultural Revolution he held up the Constitution as a claim of authority. The difference between the two is like the distance between the heavens and the Earth.
VII. Be Open Towards Every Force in Society
Another consequence of the rule of the State by the Party is the rejection or even repression of all efforts by social forces outside the Party to participate. This not only makes it hard for the Party to become the solution, it makes the Party the problem.
The Communist Party of China with its over 80 million members is the largest political organization in the world. The Communist Party is the main force for reform and opening but it is not the only force. Ever since reform and opening began more than 30 years ago, Chinese social forces outside the Communist Party have developed to a certain extent. Conflicts between different interests in society have begun to appear. China is entering a period in which social contradictions manifest themselves more frequently. These various social forces are clearly putting the Party under pressure. But we should also be aware that these forces are also forcing the Communist Party to improve itself and motivating it not to become marginalized.
The confidence of the ruling party cannot and should not be built on the oppression and restriction of other forces in society. As Engels once pointed out, social progress is due to the sum of the various forces in society. A good society must be the result of a contest that balances many different social forces, not one in which one party dominates and runs the show everywhere and in everyl domains. A civilized society should not be one which we must fight each other to the death but instead a society in which the various forces in society can get along rationally.
Democracy is one of the core values of socialism. Democracy should not be just a slogan but also a spirit and most importantly the manner in which a system is arranged. The most fundamental manifestation of democracy is in a constitutional framework. The touchstone for democracy is whether the administrative power can be confined within a constitutional framework. We can say that the constitution is the lowest common denominator for our society. The constitution is a contract made according to the will of all members of society. It is the foundation for the governance of the state and for overall social stability. Once this lowest common denominator is in place, we can build a social community. A community needs the equal participation of all social forces. Other social organizations and forces in Chinese society that want to have a role in promoting social development should not be opposed, restricted or attacked. The participation of other social forces cannot lead to the dissolution of community. It can only make the community stronger and more stable.
The participation of various social forces also means a sharing of responsibility. If the ruling party takes all responsibility onto itself, the will surely arrive when it is not up to that responsibility. It would not be good for China if there were to be nothing but the Communist Party — no other political forces, no development or activities of other social organizations. Long term co-existence, mutual supervision, sharing honors and trials together, and facing the tribulations of the world together as crew in one boat, we should not be limited to China’s eight “democratic party factions”. We should also permit, allow, support and encourage other normal social organizations to operate, develop and participate in politics within the scope stipulated in the constitution.
Democratic politics is a new kind of politics that differs from autocracy. It replaces the bloody violence of the autocrat with the loud noise of election campaigns during which the people make their choices. “Counting people’s heads replaced smashing people’s heads”. Democracy tames power but does not seek power. Democracy puts power in a cage and does not let emerge at will to harm people. Power put in a cage is also safest for people who are in power because it eliminates their greatest threat – the possibility that some other violent force will replace them. This way political barbarism was put to an end and political civilization was born. This made it possible for the community to live peacefully in an enduring political order.
Democracy is not about diminishing the system that exists today. It is about preserving the existing system. Alarmists warn rulers that democracy is so very bad and that if democracy is implemented they will lose their privileges, their interests will suffer etc. These view lack historical perspective and are unrealistic. This kind of advice can only make rulers more and more divorced from today’s trends. Only by implementing democracy will we be able to protect the liberty of citizens, ensure the peace and stability of the state, and achieve peace and tranquility in international affairs.
VIII. Ending Rule of the State by the Party Begins with Rule of the State According to Law
Professor Tong Zhiwei believes that the ideas “implement a state ruled by law and build a socialist rule by law state” and the “ruling the state by the Party” are completely opposite methods for governing the state. Before reform and opening, the governance of the state was according to the “rule of state by the Party” model. After opening and reform began, China gradually moved towards “rule the state according to the law and build a socialist rule by law country”.
Historically, the Communist Party of China first affirmed theoretically “rule the state according to the law and build a socialist rule by law state” was at the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party. This marked a fundamental innovation in the Communist Party’s management of the state. At the same time it was a flat out rejection of the “rule of the state by the Party” model of governance. After the Fifteenth Party Congress [1997 – 2002], the National People’s Congress  amended the PRC Constitution so that the fifth article of the PRC Constitution states “The People’s Republic of China governs the country according to law and makes it a socialist country under rule of law.” [Translator’s note: Citation is from the PRC National People’s Congress website at http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Constitution/2007-11/15/content_1372963.htm ] Before the Constitution was revised, the Constitution of the Communist Party of China had already enunciated the principle that the Party must operate within the scope of the PRC Constitution and laws. Moreover, the form of the revision of the Party Constitution was controlling for revision that was later written into the PRC Constitution that China is a country governed by law and is building a socialist country ruled by law.
Even before its revision, the fifth article of the PRC Constitution already reflected to a significant degree the requirement that the PRC be a state ruled according to law and was building a state ruled by law: The state upholds the uniformity and dignity of the socialist legal system. All state organs, the armed forces, all political parties and public organizations and all enterprises and undertakings must abide by the Constitution and the law. All acts in violation of the Constitution and the law must be investigated. No organization or individual may enjoy the privilege of being above the Constitution and the law.
The two formulations, “rule the State by the Party” and “governing the country according to law and makes it a socialist country under rule of law” might be said to be compatible in some respects. Overall, however, there is a clear contradiction between them and so they are incompatible. “Ruling the state by the Party” is a classic formulation meaning that there is no distinction made between state organs and party organs, the funds of the state and of the party are not distinct, power is over-centralized, the party takes the place of the state (government), party power is substituted for the law etc. . All this is incompatible with the state “according to law and makes it a socialist country under rule of law”.
For the state to truly “rule the country according to law and make it a socialist country under rule of law”, we would need to follow the PRC Constitution and the laws in order to clearly define the scope of Party power, the procedure for the exercise of party power, and separate the Party from the state in their legal relationships, organs, property, personnel etc. We cannot fly the flag of the state “governs the country according to law and makes it a socialist country under rule of law” while in fact we are “ruling the state by the Party”.
Realistically, we realize that all new systems are born from old systems. In the new system there will certainly be some scars left over from the old system. The path chosen for reform is inevitably the product of history. The past not only conditions the creation of and changes in political systems and ideologies but also restricts the choices for reform we have at any given time. Disagreeing with rule of the state by the party does not mean that one is opposed to strengthening the leadership of the Communist Party.
The leadership of a governing party is mainly characterized by the choice of political lines and policies, but there is also the selection of important cadres in organizations, recommendations, decisions, as well as in leadership in propaganda, and ideological work. This does not means that the party takes the place of state organs such as the organs of people’s power and administration, the courts, and the procuratorate. The leadership of the Communist Party is in the PRC Constitution and so this leadership must be excercised according to law. The Communist Party, through legislation and revision of laws, makes its will the will of the state and makes the laws define the scope of action of all members of society including the ruling party. Although there are party regulations that are outside the scope of the law, these party regulations apply only within the governing party itself. In an era of the rule of law, we must emphasize that the rules of behavior that apply throughout society, that is the legal system and the general rules of social behavior, constrains all members of a rule by law society. That includes members of the ruling party itself.
The PRC is a constitutional state. A constitution suitable to the interests of the entire Chinese nation and capable of being implemented is the lowest common denominator that we are looking for. Recently there have been some news reports that government officials at their installation ceremony were swearing an oath to uphold the PRC Constitution. This is a good sign. Ending rule of the state by the Party is the beginning of rule of the state according to law with the constitution being the highest law. Putting power into a cage means that all forces in society, including the governing party itself, are subject to the authority of the PRC Constitution.
另一方面则集中在对苦难的控诉。当时有个著名的曲啸，八十年代中后期成为家喻户晓的人物。有一部电影《牧马人》，故事里的主人公就是他。曲啸在国内 做过不少巡回演讲，后来还到了美国，声泪俱下地讲述了自己作为党的儿女在遭受了种种不堪、九死一生之后，仍然痴心不改、忠诚爱党的事迹。曲啸说：“党就是 妈妈，妈妈打错了孩子，孩子是不会也不应该记仇的！”
听到这番话，当时在场的台湾历史学家汪荣祖教授不禁发问：“如此长期地打自己的孩子，那还是亲娘吗？比后娘都残忍，还有什么资格要求被虐待的孩子忠 诚于她？母亲这样对待自己的孩子，在任何文明国家都是非法的，都要受到法律的制裁的。”就这样，曲啸的正宣传变成了负能量，他不得不中断演讲计划，匆匆结 束了美国之行。他回国后大病一场，此后从演讲台上消失，淡出了人们的视线。
1980年8月，在会见意大利记者奥琳埃娜?法拉奇时，邓小平说：“民主集中制被破坏了，集体领导被破坏了，否则，就不能理解为什么会爆发文化大革 命。”法拉奇坦率地表示了自己的忧虑：至今看不出怎样才能避免或防止再发生诸如文化大革命这样可怕的事情。邓小平解释说，“这要从制度方面解决问题。我们 过去的一些制度，实际上受了封建主义的影响，包括个人迷信、家长制或家长作风，甚至包括干部职务终身制。我们现在正在研究避免重复这种现象，准备从改革体 制着手。我们这个国家有几千年封建社会的历史，缺乏社会主义的民主和社会主义的法制。现在我们要认真建立社会主义的民主制度和社会主义法制。只有这样，才 能解决问题。”
陈坡在他的文革前史中写道：“文革前史，就是文革起源史……文革起源于1959—— 1963年5年大饥荒的党内争议，1962年初的七千人大会是关节点。因为这次大会是60年代中共内部对大饥荒集中而全面的检讨与反省。这在《文化大革命 沉思录》有所论述。而造成大饥荒的祸根是1957年底到1958年上半年的反‘反冒进’，‘反冒进’是1956-1957年八大以后中央多数的决定。反 ‘反冒进’打乱了原有的经济计划与安排，使毛凌驾于政治局，一言九鼎，党内高层逢迎之风兴起。八大二次会议上，周说：毛主席是真理的代表。大跃进是反‘反 冒进’的直接产物。从反‘反冒进’到文革，实质上都是中共党内斗争，是党祸。毛治国理政27年，朝战3年，大饥荒5年，文革10年，27年中战争、饥荒、 动乱有18年，其余9年亦是运动不断，从土改到四清，大运动套小运动，生命不息，折腾不止。所有这些给同胞带来史无前例苦难的折腾，毛的说法从来是为了六 亿人民，为了中国革命与世界革命。林彪私下评毛，毛自认为代表人民，以人民自居。”
为什么毛泽东的政治思想几乎占据了党的核心地位?为什么极左的错误路线能够大行其道？最根本的原因，就是长期形成的个人崇拜，使得毛泽东拥有了无与 伦比的巨大威权，一言可以置人于死生异境，到了后来发展成一句顶一万句，他本人成了真理的化身，党内外无人敢于也无人能够反对他。文革的发生，充分说明， 不实行民主法治，权力不受制约，一个国家的政治生活可以荒唐到何种程度.
个人崇拜，是一种现象，其实质，也还是专制主义。说一个人是红太阳，和说他是真龙天子，有什么区别？廉价的掌声，即使潮水般响亮，也代表不了民意， 免不了最终遭受历史的嘲弄。对个人崇拜保持高度警惕，其实就是警惕专制主义。几乎所有社会主义国家在实践中都出现过权力过于集中的情况，一些国家搞个人专 制，比如苏联东欧发生大清洗、大镇压等政治异常现象，中国发生文化大革命，这些都严重败坏了社会主义的名声。
文革中，把人分为三六九等，然后用阶级斗争的思维对待他们。走资派、牛鬼蛇神、叛徒、内奸、保皇派、地富反坏右、打砸抢分子、五一六分子、臭老九、 文艺黑线、教育黑线、右倾翻案风等等，名目虽然不同，但都以阶级敌人的面目被推到世人面前，成为全民公敌。有谁一旦位居其中，免不了要遭受不同程度的打击 迫害。
文革受难者高达一亿人，其中，两派斗争的受害者，也就是是当初积极投身于文革的社会大众，占绝大多数。因为严重的流血冲突事件，很多地方留下了枉死 的红卫兵墓园。在党内，斗争的残酷性也令人瞠目。夏衍仿《剃头歌》写了首《整人歌》：“闻道人须整，而今尽整人。有人皆须整，不整不成人。整自由他整，人 还是我人。请看整人者，人亦整其人。”语带俏皮，语带无奈，语带黑色幽默，能看出当时斗争的残酷性以及人们不能免于恐惧的心情。因为文革期间，今天是革命 阶级，明天可能就是反革命阶级。迫害和被迫害的角色转换可以在顷刻之间。所有人都提心吊胆。
文革结束后，老作家叶圣陶在《人民日报》发表了一篇文章，“十年人祸，相识的朋友致死的有一百左右”。作家秦牧说：“我是个交游不广的人，但后来计 算了一下，我握过手的相识的人，横死者竟达二十七名。从这一点推论，全国牺牲者数量之巨，也就可以想见了……这真是空前的一场浩劫，多少百万人颠连困顿， 多少百万人含恨以终，多少家庭分崩离析，多少少年儿童变成了流氓恶棍，多少书籍被付之一炬，多少名胜古迹横遭破坏，多少先贤坟墓被挖掉，多少罪恶假革命之 名以进行！”
文革中究竟死了多少人？说法不一，无从确定。1978年12月13日，叶剑英在中央工作会议闭幕式上说：“文革期间，全国整了1亿人，死了2000 万人。”1980年邓小平对意大利女记者法拉奇说：“永远也统计不了，因为死的原因各种各样，中国又是那样广大，总之，人死了很多！”《建国以来历史政治 运动事实》给出的数据是：420余万人被关押审查，172万8000余人死亡，13万5000余人被以反革命罪处决，武斗死亡23万7000余人，703 万人伤残，7万1200余家庭被毁。
对于社会主义时期继续运用阶级斗争思维的错误，《关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议》分析说：“从领导思想上来看，由于我们党的历史特点，在社会 主义改造基本完成以后，在观察和处理社会主义社会发展进程中出现的政治、经济、文化等方面的新矛盾新问题时，容易把已经不属于阶级斗争的问题仍然看做是阶 级斗争，并且面对新条件下的阶级斗争，又习惯于沿用过去熟习而这时已不能照搬的进行大规模急风暴雨式群众性斗争的旧方法和旧经验，从而导致阶级斗争的严重 扩大化。”在这里，《决议》已经明确地指明了照搬革命年代的对敌斗争方法必然导致阶级斗争扩大化。从某种意义上讲，“文化大革命”就是滥用敌我矛盾、混淆 两类不同性质矛盾、将党内意见分歧放大为阶级斗争的结果。
文化大革命中被当作修正主义或资本主义批判的许多东西，实际上正是马克思主义原理和社会主义原则，其中很多是毛泽东自己过去提出或支持过的。“没有 安定团结，就没有一切”，“过去我们已经吃了十来年的苦头，再乱，人民吃不消，人民也不答应。”邓小平所说的安定团结，正是对阶级斗争理论的拨乱返正，以 及对经济建设的渴望。
文革之后，国门渐渐打开，中国人发现自己在轰轰烈烈搞政治运动的时候，世界上很多国家却在努力发展经济，一些国家和地区经济开始腾飞，比如像亚洲的 “四小龙”，中国由于搞政治运动失去了很多发展机会，与发达国家的距离拉大了。坊间传言邓小平曾反思：二战以后，跟着美国走的国家，都富了；而跟着苏联走 的国家，都受穷。这可能也是一般老百姓心中想说，却不敢说出口的话。
我们为什么叫中华人民共和国？共和的目的，就是要结束专制王朝的更替，建立现代新型国家。而民主政治，正是现代新型国家建立的逻辑基础。中华人民共 和国第一届人民政府的建立，正是第一次政治协商会议的结果，在当时的历史条件下，这一定程度上体现了“统治者的权力来自被统治者的同意”。这在中国具有划 时代的意义。什么叫划时代？用徐友渔的话说，就是国家取代了朝代。
王朝政治应该到此而终，中国的历史应该翻开全新的一页，新政权的主要任务，应该放在弥合社会创伤、进行制度建设和经济建设上。但是毛泽东没有，他仍 然以阶级斗争为纲。中共八大在1956年确定了扩大民主、加強法制、集中精力搞建设的方针路线，到1957年却反其道而行之；而对于1957年后发展起来 的错误，当时党内外都已有所认识，党内也存在着与之对立的正确发展趋势，但都没有阻止住“左”的错误发展。而且，每一次纠“左”的努力，都导致了它的反弹 和再次膨胀。
暴风骤雨般革命时代造就的绝大多数领导人，习惯于以那个时代的方式思考问题，用那个时代的办法来解决问题。他们很难否定自我，放弃传统的斗争思维和 革命方式，从新的角度来认识和理解现代社会。神力和武力为政权提供合法性的时代，已经过去了。现代文明政权的合法性，不是来自于枪杆子，只能来自于民意和 民心。权为民所赋，说的就是这个道理。
华东政法大学的童之伟教授撰文说，近年来我国政法领域发生了不少引入注目的的争论，其中包括党与法的相对位置之争、政改前进还是倒退之争、严厉压制 言论是否必要之争、宪政正当与否之争，等等。这些争论看起来是孤立的，实际上都源于治国理念内部要素间关系的紧张。说得更具体些，就是源于“以党治国”的 传统治国理政方略，同中共十五大之后“实行依法治国，建设社会主义法治国家”新方略的冲突。
之所以造成这种局面，与当初改革启动时的先天缺陷有关。清华大学孙立平教授认为，改革的启动，是几股力量合在一起的结果。这当中有民众改善经济状况 的现实要求，有知识分子改变现状的理想，但其实更有力量的，是文革中失势者重归权力中心的要求。后者又有两部分人，一是想回到文革前的17年，一种是想借 此走向一种新的文明。80年代初期改革即在这部分人的掌控之下了。不过，能够和当时形成对比的，是文革的荒唐岁月，所以掌握权力者充满自信，这种自信造成 了80年代的开明。然而开明的表象掩盖了改革的缺陷，即没有一种真正的走向新文明的价值目标。
中世纪和现代社会的分野，野蛮社会和文明社会的分野，就在于专制还是民主，在于权力的合法来源，合法使用，合法交接。在合法的前提下，社会发展处于 可控的相对确定的范围之内。这种确定性，可以使身处其间的人们，免于莫名的恐惧和焦虑，从而获得身心的自由。中国共产党人从一开始，就是为争取民主自由， 为告别专制和落后，为建立文明和先进的现代国家而奋斗，我们不能成为我们最初所反对的那种人。
1955年1月间，刘少奇曾经说：“在宪法颁布以后，我们必须加强法制，要善于利用法制，利用国家政权和社会群众的力量来开展阶级斗争。我们的法律 不是为了约束自己，而是用来约束敌人，打击和消灭敌人的。”1955年7月间，刘少奇又在北戴河向最高人民检察院负责人指示说：“我们的法律是要保护人民 去同敌人斗争，而不能约束革命人民的手足。如果哪条法律束缚了我们自己的手足，就要考虑废除这条法律。”
1955年7月间，刘少奇说：“检察院当前第一条任务，就是要保证把该捕的反革命分子迅速逮捕起来。宪法已经规定了，逮捕和起诉都要经过检察院。如 果不经过检察院批准，捕人是违法的。现在党要搞社会主义革命，要把那些破坏社会主义革命的反革命分子抓起来，所以检察院要很快把批捕、起诉全部担负起来。 党委决定要捕的，检察院要闭着眼睛盖章。这样做也可能有错，这在党内可以讲清楚，但对外，都要由检察院出面担起来。……如果检察院不做党的挡箭牌，民主人 士就会利用这点来反对党，结果可以说等于是检察院反党。”他还再三强调：“检察院必须掌握在党的手里，这个机关同公安机关一样，同样是党和人民同反革命分 子作斗争的锐利武器，必须掌握在自己人手里。必须保证检察机关在组织上绝对纯洁。”
新加坡国立大学的郑永年教授在一篇文章中说到：“中国反腐败的制度是世界上所有国家最多的。新加坡只有一个反贪局，香港只有一个廉政公署，为什么这 两个社会很清廉？中国反腐败制度有多少，党有纪检，政府有预防腐败局、反贪局，人大有，政协有，每一个大学都有，但是往往可以看到这些反腐败的人是最腐败 的。我以前看北京市副市长王宝森，他是北京反贪局的局长，他自己最腐败，这样的情况哪行？所以王岐山提出一个思路就是先治标后治本，我是非常赞同的。如果 从制度来说，也不是说制度越多就越好，中国的制度已经太多了，关键是什么样的制度。中国的知识分子说中国的腐败就是因为一党制，因为太集权。我说不是这样 的。中国的内部分权太多了，党内那么多的正副职位，那么多的反腐败机构，但谁也不负责，反而给腐败的人很多的机会。到底谁负责？新加坡很简单，如果出现腐 败了，就是反贪局负责，不能把责任推卸给其它什么机构。香港也是一样。”
郑永年教授看到了现象，但是没有触及根本，得出了相反的结论。他认为，反腐制度不在多，关键看谁负责，让腐败官员去操作照样会腐败。而我们认为，这 恰恰就是以党治国的后果，是制度没有权大的结果。当然，有一点他说得是对的，他强调了人的因素：清廉的人去建立的制度才叫好的制度，腐败的人建立起的制度 还是不好的制度。但即使是好制度，如果党大于法、权大于法，充其量也是花瓶而已。想想当年毛泽东作为党主席手举党章要求发言，和刘少奇在文革中作为国家主 席手举宪法要求权利的情形相比，有何霄壤之别?
中国共产党拥有八千多万党员，是世界上最大的政治组织。共产党是改革开放的主体力量，但不是唯一力量。改革开放三十多年后，中国社会的其他力量，也 得到了一定程度的发展，社会上开始出现不同的利益诉求，国内矛盾进入多发期。这些不同的社会力量无疑会给党造成一定的压力，但是应该认识到，这也是进行自 身建设、避免僵化的动力来源。
民主是社会主义核心价值之一。民主不应该只是一个口号，而应该是精神，更应该是制度安排。民主最根本的体现，是宪政框架。是否能够把执政行为置于宪 法的框架之内，是民主与否的试金石。可以说，宪法，是我们这个社会的最小公倍数，是按照全体社会成员的意志订立的契约，是国家治理和社会稳定大局的基石。 最小公倍数，才可能构建社会共同体。既然是共同体，就需要各种社会力量的平等参与。不应反对、限制、打击中国社会其他也想在推动中国社会发展中起作用的社 会组织和力量。其他社会力量的参与，不会带来共同体的解体，只会进一步巩固共同体，从而带来社会的稳定。
不同社会力量的参与也意味着责任的分担，执政党把一切都抗在自己身上，总有一天会不堪重负。除了共产党外，没有其他政党与社会组织的发展、活动，对 中国来说不是好事。长期共存，互相监督，荣辱与共，同舟共济，不应当只限于八个民主党派，八个民主党派也不能只是陪衬。不能像过去国民党一样，搞一个政 党、一个主义、一个领袖。应当容忍、允许、支持、鼓励其他正常和社会组织在宪法规定的范围内活动、发展、参政议政。
民主政治是不同于专制政治的新形态的政治，它以民众的选举过程中的噪杂喧闹，来代替了暴力屠杀的血腥，“以数人头代替打破人头”；民主能驯化权力， 而不是不要权力。它是要把权力放在笼子里，不让它随便出来伤人。而放在笼子的权力，对于掌权者本身也是最安全的，因为它免除了其最大的威胁：被另一种暴力 取代的可能性。如此，才能告别政治野蛮，迈入政治文明，实现共同体的长治久安和政治安全。
揆诸历史，共产党首次从理论上肯定“依法治国，建设社会主义法治国家”，是中共十五大的事情。此举标志着中共治国理政方略的根本性创新，同时也是对 “以党治国”执政方式的直接否定。十五大后，全国人大随后修改宪法，在宪法第5条中规定：“中华人民共和国实行依法治国，建设社会主义法治国家。”在此之 前，中共党章已具体规定了党必须在宪法和法律的范围内活动的原则，并在十五大用党章修正案的形式，规定了后来写入宪法的依法治国、建设法治国家方略。
其实，此前宪法第5条的下列规定，已经在不小程度上表达了依法治国建设法治国家的要求：国家维护社会主义法制的统一和尊严。一切国家机关和武装力 量、各政党和各社会团体、各企业事业组织都必须遵守宪法和法律。一切违反宪法和法律的行为，必须予以追究。任何组织或者个人都不得有超越宪法和法律的特 权。
“以党治国”与“实行依法治国，建设社会主义法治国家”，虽然看起来它们两者也有些可以并存的地方，但总体而言是严重对立、无法兼容的。“以党治 国”的典型表现，是党的机构与国家机关不分、党产与国家财产不分，权力过分集中，且以党代国（政）、以党权代法等等，这些与“依法治国，建设社会主义法治 国家”不可能相容。
执政党的领导，主要体现在政治上路线方针政策的领导，组织上重要干部人事的选拔、举荐、决定，以及思想宣传、意识形态工作的引领，并不是要包办代替 国家机关，即人民权力机关和行政、司法、检察机关的工作。党的领导有宪法依据，也必须依法领导。党通过立法或修法行为，将自己的意志转化为国家意志，让法 律成为包括执政党自己在内的全体社会成员的行为规范。虽然法外有党规，但党规只是执政党内的规矩。在法治时代，我们应该在全社会强调行为规则，即法律制度 和社会行为的通则，这是法治社会全体成员包括执政党成员在内的行为准绳。
中国是有宪法的国家，一部合乎全体中国人民利益并且能够切实实施的宪法，就是我们所要寻找的最小公倍数。前一段时间，政府官员在就职时面对宪法宣誓 的消息，不时见诸报端，这是一个很好的信号。结束以党治国，就应该从依法治国开始，而宪法，是最大的法。把权力关进笼子，就是要把所有社会力量，包括执政 党，置于宪法的权威之下。