A couple of days ago, the Washington Post reported the latest episode of an ongoing story about ideological control in the Chinese media. This story should be — but is not — familiar to those who are hoping that economic growth in China will translate into political reform. With regrettable regularity, the Chinese Communist Party cracks down on the Chinese news media.
The latest crackdown, which involves a sharp intensification of the Party’s efforts to control journalists — is designed to enforce political conformity in order to protect the Party’s monopoly on power. The enforcement mechanism is Marxist-Leninist ideology.
In the last months of 2013, reporters from all across the country were compelled to attend Marxist ideological training sessions. Meanwhile, Chinese journalism schools are being compelled to host Communist propaganda officials in senior management positions to ensure that the Party line is enforced in journalistic education.
It is not well understood in the West how an ideology can continue to be operational if most people don’t believe in most of its tenets. It was well known in the last years of the Soviet empire that ideological fealty was in a state of decay. On top of this, official Soviet propaganda endeavored to portray the USSR as a country where the ideology was effectively dead or obsolete. Why? Because if the USSR was no longer communist, then, by definition, it could no longer harbor unlimited global strategic objectives, including the radical political transformation of the United States. In addition, if its strategic goals were now limited, then its limited desires could not only be accommodated, but it could be seen as much less of a threat.
For all of that Soviet propaganda, how, then, could one explain why longtime Soviet Politburo member and later Russian President Boris Yeltsin could describe Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR as a “totalitarian” state? What did Yeltsin know that few people in the West seemed to understand? It was precisely this: That the ideology was installed as such an integral part of the Soviet system that people had to march according to its drumbeat, whether they believed in it or not.
The ideology was the key element of the internal security system of the state, setting the standard against which deviationism was measured. It was the drum beating for the soldiers marching, and anyone who failed to conform with the tempo could be easily identified by the “sergeants” and appropriately punished.
What this means is that the Chinese Communist Party continues to use a totalitarian method. What the Party requires is not even necessarily loyalty, but most importantly, submission. It doesn’t care which, because both have the same operational result.
Marxism-Leninism also continues to be the legitimizing principle of the Party’s governing authority. There is no other credible argument by which the Party can legitimize itself in power. For illegitimate regimes, which rule without the consent of the governed, legitimacy is a very big deal. In contrast, we in the West take it for granted. But without legitimacy, a regime knows that it has a very big internal security problem. Therefore the central fact of political life in China, just as it was in the USSR, is the regime’s fear of its own people and its fear of democratic ideas.
This is why China, as currently constituted as a Marxist-Leninist regime, will always see the United States as its greatest enemy. This is not because of what we do, nearly so much as who we are and the ideas which we represent — ideas which offer a compelling alternative legitimizing principle that is a mortal threat to Chinese Communist internal security.
The desire to do business with this regime and its front companies is widespread in the United States, and it has produced a willful blindness about these ideological realities. As China’s military buildup proceeds apace, and threatens the peace and stability in East Asia and potentially elsewhere in the world, as well as U.S. vital interests, we would do well to be more realistic about the ideological genetic code of the regime that considers itself in a cold war with the United States.