It has long since walked away from its founding principles, but the Chinese Communist Party still has a hammerlock on power in the world's most populous nation. How long will the Chinese people tolerate a ruling clique that can't be voted out of office?
Most organizations launch with unbridled enthusiasm. “Victory is ours!” their slogans proclaim. “From each according to his ability to each according to his need!” Some causes go on to change the world. Others fizzle. And many just keep going and going like a battery-operated bunny long after their original mandate has been forgotten.
That’s especially the case with political parties. In the United States, Republicans began life as radicals. Democrats were so conservative that they were the party of the Confederacy. Over time, both changed dramatically. Closer to the present day, Ronald Reagan redefined Republicanism as the less-government party, and Bill Clinton maneuvered the Democrats toward the political center. At heart, both parties care about democracy and freedom; over time, they have pursued it differently.
But what happens when your party’s past is so checkered that you dare not go back to first principles? In Peter Ford’s vivid Monitor cover story, you’ll see what a head-spinning array of contradictions the Chinese Communist Party has become.
Mao Zedong’s “great proletarian cultural revolution” has evolved from cause to club. Under China’s 21st-century social compact, the Communist Party has a monopoly on power but has loosened its grip on the economy (though many party members also wear the hats of corporate chiefs), and largely stays out of the private lives of Chinese citizens as long as they do not agitate too aggressively for change. Party members prosper, and the communist-capitalist system they control keeps 1.3 billion people fed, clothed, sheltered, and productive.