The Chinese Communist Party and China's Capitalist Revolution: The Political Impact of the Market

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Lance L.P. Gore, The Chinese Communist Party and China's Capitalist Revolution: The Political Impact of the Market, London and New York: Routledge, 2011, 180pp. +xx.

Richard McGregor's Tie Party: ??? Secret World of China's Communist Rulers portrays the picture of an omnipresent and (sort of) omnipotent Chinese Communist Party. One of the most memorable quotes in that book comes from a Chinese professor: "The party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can't see him."1 However, had McGregor read Lance Gore's The Chinese Communist Party and China s Capitalist Revolution, he may have to modify his conclusions. True, the party is powerful, but its party organizations are not as secure as its ruling positions. Gore's book gives another picture of the party - a party in which its grassroots organizations are either in atrophy, become irrelevant, or have been assimilated by the market.

The key thesis that Gore attempts to argue is that the Leninist party organization and the market are fundamentally incompatible, and increasingly the latter has decisively prevailed over the former. In making the case why capitalism supports democracy, a leading liberal economist, Robert Heilbroner, argues that "It is certainly not that the pursuit of capital breeds a liberty-loving frame of mind, it is rather that the presence of an economy within a polity gives an inestimable aid to freedom by permitting political dissidents to make their livings without interdiction by an all-powerful regime."2 Gore here is making a similar assertion about the impact of the market in China: it provides an alternative source of resources and rewards outside of the control of the party. Gore uses the theory of institutionalism and affiliated theoretical concepts such as "institutional isomorphism" to explain the impact of market capitalism on the socialist ruling party. Accordingly, the market has "an isomorphic effect in the Chinese communist institutions" (p. 34) including the nomenclature system, the residential registration system, the work unit system, shifts the interest calculation of the party members (they can now pursue opportunities outside of the party channel), reshapes social and institutional orders, and remakes the party.

The empirical chapters hence are devoted to testing this thesis, by looking at the party's presence and activities in various spaces such as village administration, private enterprises, foreign-invested enterprises, state-owned enterprises, newly formed urban communities, universities and colleges, as well the party's interaction with various social classes. What Gore has found is either party's atrophy in the face of market forces or prevailing submission to the market rules on the part of party organizations. For example, in village politics, party leaders have to become entrepreneurial leaders who can lead the villagers to prosperity, otherwise they will simply lose credibility in the eyes of the villagers. Large numbers of migrant party members are either inactive or uninterested in party's work and affairs. In order to lure back these party members, the party organizations have to make themselves "service" centres similar to social work organizations. In private and foreign-funded enterprises, party membership can even be seen as minus point in the eyes of enterprise management. In any event, there is hardly anything for a party member or a party organization to do in these enterprises. Their presence simply is surplus to requirements of a successful business operation. …