what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

party control and discipline


I paced myself better yesterday – with an hour’s sawing session in the morning and another in the afternoon. But another couple of sessions are needed before all the wood is neatly stored away. And I’m pleased to say that my new window is now complete – the old wooden flaps protecting the frames were duly hammered into place after the foam was trimmed.
There is absolutely no planning system here in Romania – so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a small hotel beginning to emerge at the top of the hill opposite the house. It would be impossible anywhere else in the EU to get permission for such a development. Like 2 other houses on the same stretch which mushroomed last year, it will have superb vistas of the valleys which contain Moiecu and Bran but will impose demands on water which the system is incapable of coping with and will also probably interfere with pedestrian rights. I’m tempted to take civic action – after all I do pay the local taxes! One of the reasons for not lopping branches off the tree I was advised to trim is because its leaves mask that hill from my study window!
And a nice little story In Transition Online about one Romanian MP’s attempt to control journalists!

An article in the current issue of London Review of Books summarises how the communist party in China works
Nominations to key posts – in Party and state organs, but also in large companies – are made first by a Party body, the Central Organisation Department, whose headquarters in Beijing have no listed phone number and no sign outside. Their decisions, once made, are passed to legal organs – state assemblies, managerial boards – which then go through the ritual of confirming them by vote. The same double procedure – first the Party, then the state – obtains at every level, including fundamental economic policy, which is first debated by the Party, and its decisions then implemented by government bodies.
So what’s new? For my sins, I was, for 16 years, Secretary of the Labour Group on Strathclyde Regional Council in Scotland. Each Monday morning all the Council Chairmen would meet to consider an agenda which had been drawn up by myself and the Council Head. These consisted of key items which were coming up for discussion in the various Committees of the Council in the forthcoming week. Our recommendations would then be put in the afternoon to a meeting of all 70-odd of the Labour Councillors on the Council. These were generally accepted and this then became the line which would be taken at those Committees. And that, of course, is how the House of Commons operates. Such whipping has had a bad press – but, at a local level, certainly it was one way to avoid corruption. And, once we accept the case for parties, it is difficult to argue against the need for party discipline – which is supposed to ensure that you get what you vote for. So I think we have to be very clear about what we find so objectionable about the operations of the Chinese Communist Party. Every political system has a small group which gives strategic guidance; that is not the issue. What is at issue are such things as the secrecy (uncontestability) with which the process is conducted; and the incorporation of the judiciary, police and army into party control as the article indicates.
The gap between Party and state is most obvious in the anti-corruption struggle: when there is suspicion that some high functionary is involved in corruption, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a Party organ, investigates the charges unrestricted by legal niceties: suspects are liable to be kidnapped, subjected to harsh interrogation and held for as long as six months. The verdict eventually reached will depend not only on the facts but also on complex behind the scenes negotiations between different Party cliques, and if the functionary is found guilty, only then is he handed over to the state legal bodies. But by this stage everything is already decided and the trial is a formality – only the sentence is (sometimes) negotiable
An excerpt here from the book produced in June about The Party (by the Financial Times journalist in Beijing) puts the system in a useful comparative context.
Like communism in its heyday elsewhere, the Party in China has eradicated or emasculated political rivals; eliminated the autonomy of the courts and press; restricted religion and civil society; denigrated rival versions of nationhood; centralized political power; established extensive networks of security police; and dispatched dissidents to labor camps.
The original text of the Charter 08 document for which the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner was put in jail can be found here and also a useful summary of the latest developments. Foreign Affairs has a useful overview of the general Chinese situation -
Increased misappropriation of land, rising income inequality, and corruption are among the most contentious issues for Chinese society. China’s State Development Research Center estimates that from 1996 to 2006, officials and their business cronies illegally seized more than 4,000 square miles of land per year. In that time, 80 million peasants lost their homes. Yu Jianrong, a senior government researcher, has said that land issues represent one of the most serious political crises the CCP faces.
From 1996 to 2006, Chinese officials and their business cronies illegally seized more than 4,000 square miles of land per year. In that time, 80 million peasants lost their home.
China’s wealth gaps have also grown; according to Chinese media, the country’s GINI coefficient, a measure of income inequality, has risen to about 0.47. This level rivals those seen in Latin America, one of the most unequal regions in the world. The reality may be even worse than the data suggest. Wang Xiaolu, the deputy director of the National Economic Research Institute at the China Reform Foundation, estimates that every year about $1.3 trillion in income -- equivalent to 30 percent of China’s GDP -- goes unreported. More than 60 percent of the hidden income belongs to the wealthiest ten percent of China’s population, mostly CCP members and their families. The use of political power to secure inordinate wealth is a source of considerable resentment, and the wealthy are keenly aware of it. They now employ more than two million bodyguards, and the private security industry has grown into a $1.2 billion enterprise since it was established in 2002.
Since 1999, when China’s senior leadership amended the constitution to protect private property and allow capitalists to join the CCP, the CCP has embarked on a program of internal political reform. It has strengthened collective decision-making, established principles for balancing factional interests, developed rules for succession to leadership posts within the party, and improved the system for internal promotions so that performance is considered in addition to political factors. Although the CCP suppresses external critics, it now permits its own members to debate its political future openly, especially within the Central Party School, which trains China’s future leaders.
In pursuing intraparty reform, CCP officials have become more sensitive to the need to win support from within the party and from society to remain in power. Competition for wider support has encouraged some officials to endorse local experiments in political reform, but reforms that increase competition and openness also carry risks.
But although ongoing experiments with village elections have somewhat improved oversight and accountability at the grass-roots level, the CCP has refused to scale the experiments up to the township or county level. Experimentation with increasing public participation in township-level politics, such as budget decisions, has likewise been limited.
My better half phoned me today to ask about two 18th century French novels by Diderot I had never heard of. – Jacques the fatalist and Rameau’s Nephew. Both looked fascinating when I looked at them on googlebooks – so they have duly been ordered from Amazon. She also asked about a Montaigne essay on „salutory failures” which I can’t actually find in his Complete Works but the query has encouraged me to keep this vast book nearer to hand and also to complete the charming book on his work by Sara Bakewell which I bought at the beginning of the year

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