Despotism’s Historical Roots in Marxist/Leninist One-Party States

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Tuesday, November 1, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Succession of leadership has always been a major problem for Marxist/Leninist one-party states.

Why? The simple answer could be that ideology is one thing and governance is another, but that is not sufficient.

Ideology is open to interpretation and governance has different ways to face reality, but this fails to consider human factors. Ambition, hubris, and even jealousy play their parts. Russia and China, the two largest Marxist/Leninist states, illustrate this well.

Chinese President Xi Jin Ping’s recent bold move to seize a third five-year term beyond the previously established norm of two was done with aplomb and in full view at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 20th National Congress. Just before being “crowned,” he had the previous two-term president Hu Jintao visibly and unceremoniously escorted out.

This was clearly telling all present that “a new sheriff is in town.”

Xi’s act could even be interpreted as a “killing a chicken to frighten the monkeys warning” in case other CCP officials considered objecting.

Did Xi feel that he and he alone was capable of guiding China to where it should be?

Xi was not the first of his ilk; he had plenty of dramatic precedents. For example, when then Chinese vice premier, Lin Biao died mysteriously in a plane crash in Mongolia on September 13, 1971, several victim’s bodies apparently had bullet wounds insuring their demise.

Lin had once been designated as former CCP chairman Mao Ze Dong’s successor; he had survived Mao’s 1956 purge to “let 100 flowers bloom” as well as the 1966 Cultural Revolution. Disagreements about leadership style and that Mao was cozying up to US capitalism forced the matter of “kill or be killed,” with the ironic touch of Lin being branded a “secret admirer of Confucius.”

A later case and one worthy of a John le Carre novel is that of former Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and a potential competitor to Xi Jinping’s rising star. Bo fell from grace when he became tied to British citizen Neil Heywood’s death in a Chongqing hotel in November 2011.

That unraveling led to the further realization that Bo had been taping private phone messages of politburo members with Bo’s Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijune seeking asylum in a US embassy in 2012.

Russia had already demonstrated its own leadership succession problems beginning with Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924.

Ideological and personal power struggles emerged between Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Trotsky went from losing his war commissariat position (1925), to being expelled from the politburo (1926) and finally from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1927). In 1928, he had to flee into exile but even then was relentlessly pursued until his 1940 assassination in Mexico.

Trotsky was no isolated incident. Stalin employed numerous purges throughout his “reign,” the greatest being the1937 Great Purge—also known as the Great Terror—which sent thousands to either death or Gulag prisons.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin is following suit. He has already manipulated the system to remain in power since 2000. With new changes, he has the possibility of serving until 2036 when he would be 84 years old.

Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most recent critic survived poisoning only to be imprisoned for failing to report from his absence in Berlin where he was receiving treatment

All this drama is grist for the mill for Taiwan, which only recently emerged from the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party state.

Taiwan’s president has been elected by popular vote since 1996 and its leadership has successively and peacefully crisscrossed between the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party.

In China, people have simply traded an emperor for a despot; and Russia has traded a tsar for the same.

Democratic Taiwan has had no purges and no president has sought to hang on to power. Taiwanese choose who rules next.

This is the freedom that Taiwan and all democracies including Ukraine possess.

Democracies should ask these simple and basic questions: Why do China and Russia have such problems in leadership succession and we do not?

Why would we want to return to the vicissitudes of a one-party state?

“What freedoms could it possibly offer that we don’t already enjoy?”

The answers should be obvious.