The Communist Party of China celebrated its 90th founding anniversary on 1 July. A few days before this significant anniversary, the party announced that its membership had reached 80.269 million by the end of last year.
This is a very far cry from the early days of the CPC. The first congress, which founded the party, was attended by just 12 delegates, who represented a little over 50 members. The congress met in conditions of strict secrecy and illegality. Indeed, the delegates only narrowly avoided arrest, and quite possibly death, when they left the school where the congress had originally been convened shortly before the police arrived and continued their deliberations on a river cruise boat.
The objective situation of China has undergone equally radical changes over the last nine decades, thanks to wave after wave of tenacious struggles waged by the Chinese people under the leadership of the party. At the time of the party’s foundation China had been reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country, in which the masses of people lived under conditions of dire poverty and oppression.
Today, although it still faces a long and hard road ahead, China has advanced to take the position of the world’s second largest economy, the country is strong, capable of defending itself and respected in the world, and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty.
It is against this background that the 90th anniversary of the party’s foundation was treated both as a major political event and cause for celebration across China.
The political centrepiece of the anniversary was an important speech delivered by the party’s general secretary, and the president of China, Comrade Hu Jintao, at a grand gathering held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Explaining the background to the party’s formation, Hu said:
“In the 170 plus years since the Opium War of 1840 [waged by British imperialism against China – Ed], our great country has weathered untold hardships, our great nation has waged earthshaking struggles, and our great people have scored splendid achievements in the annals of history.
“Following the Opium War, China gradually became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, and foreign powers stepped up their aggression against China. The feudal rule became increasingly corrupt, the country was devastated by incessant wars and turbulence, and the Chinese people suffered from hunger, cold, and oppression. To salvage China from subjugation was an urgent mission for the Chinese nation. And the Chinese people faced the historic tasks of winning independence and liberation, and making China strong and prosperous.
“In those dark years, in order to change the destiny of the Chinese nation, the Chinese people, led by many leading figures with lofty ideals, waged unyielding struggles to explore a new future against great odds. Not resigned to fate, the Chinese people launched one struggle after another … but all these struggles ended in failure. The Revolution of 1911 led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen put an end to the autocratic rule that had existed in China for several thousand years. This revolution greatly boosted China’s social progress, but it did not change the country’s nature as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society or end the misery of the Chinese people.
“Facts have shown that neither the mission of striving for national survival nor the historic task of fighting imperialism and feudalism could be accomplished by reformist self-improvement movements which did not touch the foundation of feudal rule, old-style peasant wars, revolutions led by bourgeois revolutionaries, or other attempts to copy western capitalism. To find a way of achieving China’s development and progress, one must, first of all, find an advanced theory that can guide the Chinese people in their revolution against imperialism and feudalism, and an advanced social force must rise that can lead social changes in China.
“In 1921, the CPC was born in the process of integrating Marxism Leninism with the Chinese workers’ movement. The birth of the CPC was a natural product of the development of modern and contemporary Chinese history, as well as the indomitable exploration of the Chinese people for survival of the nation. The birth of the CPC put the Chinese revolution on the right course, gave the Chinese people a powerful motivation and created bright prospects for China’s future development.”
Over the past 90 years, Hu continued, the CPC has united with and led the Chinese people in a series of earth-shaking events.
The first was to complete the new-democratic revolution, winning national independence and people’s liberation. As a result:
“The history of old China being a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society which was like a heap of loose sand was brought to an end once and for all. The unequal treaties imposed on China by imperialist powers and all the privileges they had in China were abolished. The Chinese people stood up, and the Chinese nation entered a new era of development and progress.”
The second was to complete the socialist revolution and establish a basic socialist system for a quarter of the world’s population, thereby bringing about the “most extensive and profound social changes in Chinese history”. Stressing the continued relevance and importance of these achievements, Hu Jintao summed up:
“The party’s first generation of central collective leadership, with Comrade Mao Zedong at the core, united with and led the entire party and the people of all ethnic groups in achieving the great victory of the new-democratic revolution, establishing the basic socialist system and creating the fundamental political prerequisite and institutional foundation for all development and progress in contemporary China.” (Emphasis added)
According to Hu Jintao, a review of the last 90 years meant that “we have naturally come to this basic conclusion: Success in China hinges on the party”. Accordingly, in a sober and realistic way, he proceeded to elaborate on a number of the things that need to be done to “preserve and develop its advanced nature as a Marxist political party”.
The party “should serve the people, rely on them, work for their benefit with heart and soul, draw on their wisdom and strength, and always maintain close ties with them …
“The entire party must be keenly aware that at a time of profound changes in global, national and intra-party conditions, we are now faced with many new developments, problems, and challenges in our effort to enhance the party’s leadership and governance and its ability to resist corruption and degeneration and to withstand risks … We are facing long-term, complicated and severe tests in governing the country … And the whole party is confronted with growing danger of lacking in drive, incompetence, divorce from the people, lacking in initiative, and corruption. It has thus become even more important and urgent than ever before for the party to police itself and impose strict discipline on its members.”
To face up to these and other problems, Hu advocated that, “all party members and cadres should take learning as an intellectual pursuit, study in an in-depth way and master Marxism Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought … [and] foster a worldview and methodology of dialectical materialism and historical materialism …
“The only interests the party has are those of the people, and it does not have special interests for itself. The party adheres to this lofty principle, and for all those who are loyal to the people, identify themselves with the people and dedicate themselves to the people, the party provides a big arena to give full play to their talent.”
Hu Jintao also spoke about the need and ways to develop young cadres and the need to maintain close ties with the masses. He said:
“To continuously train a large number of outstanding young cadres is of fundamental importance for carrying on the cause of the party and the people from generation to generation. To shoulder heavy responsibilities, young cadres must foster a sound worldview and correct views on power and career, and they should be loyal to the party’s cause, be identified with the people, be committed to whatever they do, and constantly improve themselves.
“Young cadres need to take the initiative to work in hardship areas and complicated environments and take up challenging positions to temper their moral character and work style and improve their ability. When young cadres come to the fore in large numbers who have honed themselves in tough and complicated environments, endured the test of major struggles, and proved themselves outstanding and promising, they will create a great future for the cause of the party and the people …
“Putting people first and governing for the people is what the party is all about. It fully embodies the party’s fundamental purpose of serving the people wholeheartedly. It is the ultimate yardstick to guide, assess, and test all governance activities of the party. All the comrades in the party must bear in mind that maintaining close ties with the people gives the party its biggest political asset, while alienation from the people poses the greatest risk to the party after it has gained political power.
“Therefore, we must always place the people’s interests before everything else, and make sure that the aim and outcome of all our work is to realise, uphold and expand the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people …
“The people will care about and feel close to the party only when the party feels the same toward them. Party and government offices at all levels and their officials should be more community-focused in their work, regularly visit communities, and stay close with the people.”
Hu laid stress on the absolute importance of fighting corruption “in a comprehensive way”, “addressing both its symptoms and root causes, and combining punishment with prevention, with emphasis on prevention. We must intensify efforts to improve party conduct, uphold integrity and combat corruption so as to maintain the advanced nature and integrity of the party as a Marxist political party.”
He said that the party “is soberly aware of the gravity and danger of corruption that has emerged”, warning that if not effectively curbed it would cost the party the trust and support of the people:
“Leading officials at all levels must bear in mind that our power is entrusted to us by the people and can only be used in their interests. In exercising power, we must serve the people, hold ourselves accountable to them, and readily subject ourselves to their oversight. We must not turn our power into an instrument for making personal gains for a handful of individuals … We must preserve the political integrity of communists.”
He also laid stress on the social policies and programmes that need to be pursued to address the problems of inequality that have become serious in China over the last period:
“To promote social development, we should focus on ensuring and improving the people’s wellbeing, and make special efforts to solve the most practical problems of the utmost and immediate concern to the people. We should ensure that development is for the people and carried out by the people and that they share in the fruits of development.
“We will strengthen the institutional arrangements for ensuring and improving the people’s wellbeing, give high priority to promoting employment in our economic and social development, and accelerate the development of education, social security, medicine and health care, low-income housing and other social programmes. We will ensure that all the people have equal access to basic public services, make more efforts to regulate income distribution, pursue prosperity for all, and strive to ensure that all the people enjoy the right to education, employment, medical and old-age care, and housing.”
In conclusion, Hu Jintao noted: “Ninety years ago, the CPC only had a few dozen members. Back then, China was a poor and backward country and its people were leading a miserable life. Today, the CPC has more than 80 million members. China is prospering and its people are living a happy life. All the achievements of the party over the past 90 years have been made by the party together with the people. We will never forget that the people are the real heroes.
“We have every reason to be proud of what the party and the people have achieved, but we have no reason to be complacent. We must not and will never rest on our laurels.”