Legitimizing Communist rule

With the decision to grant the CPPCC - and thereby the minor political parties and nonaligned intellectuals - an official status within the state apparatus, the CCP leadership broke with the model of the Soviet Union. Years earlier, Mao Zedong had coupled the ideal of an inclusive constituency with a Marxist avant-garde leadership in his writings on “New Democracy.” For him, historical materialism and scientific communism justify the rale of the working class led by the Communist Party over the people. Following this logic, the working classes, commanded by party members, possess the highest level of social consciousness and are thus the driving force in the linear historical progress toward socialism and communism. This role as a vanguard of historical change legitimizes party authority, while the power of the state rests on the claim that it represents the interests of the people.18

In Communist China, the oxymoron of the “people’s democratic dictatorship,” a term Mao coined in 1949, exemplifies this logical friction between the rale of the few and the will of the masses. Only the Communist Party, he declared, possessed the necessary knowledge and foresight to create a glorious classless future. Under the leadership of the CCP, the masses (minzhong K ) could unite and rise up to create a democracy for the people (renmin K K) and a dictatorship for the reactionaries (fandongpai 19 Accordingly, the only relevant bestowers of legitimacy are the masses. All those who refuse to follow the CCP are counterrevolutionaries and hence irrelevant to the construction of legitimacy.20

It was not Mao, however, who first put the theory of a Communist-led “people’s democracy” into practice. After the Second World War. the “new democracies” of Eastern Europe set precedents for alternatives to the Soviet state system.21 By inviting all toilers to participate in a (nominal) coalition government, they established a much more inclusive policy than the Soviet “dictatorship of the proletariat.”22 When the CCP leadership decided that China too would follow a path independent of the Soviet model, they invoked special historical conditions.

The popular democratic dictatorship in China includes representatives and political groups of the liberal bourgeoisie which wish to fight imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capital. This is the difference [from the Soviet Union]. This circumstance is explained by the fact that China is a semi-colo-nial country and that in a period of revolution and after its victory, we will need for a long time a concentration of all the forces in the fight against imperialism and its agents.23

Mao’s principle of a people’s democratic dictatorship is only the normative dimension of the construction of the legitimacy of CCP rule. A shared belief in the logic and truth of Marxist theories is the precondition for its acceptance. Yet, in the transition period of the late 1940s, a large part of China’s elites still embraced a vision of legitimacy based on constitutionalism, deliberation, and inclusiveness. Because there was not a unified "Legitimitatsglaube” (belief in legitimacy) in a Weberian sense,24 the new regime could not solely rely on ideological persuasiveness. David Beetham identifies three different factors that are essential for creating a belief in legitimacy. First, “the legal validity of the acquisition and exercise of power,” second, “the justifiability of the rules governing a power relationship in terms of the beliefs and values current in the given society,” and third, "the evidence of consent derived from actions expressive of it,” such as political rituals.25 Even nondemocratic rulers “need to credibly anchor their legitimacy claim in the hearts and minds of the people.”26 Hence, after the abolition of the “old” political system in 1949, the CCP needed a new narrative of how this regime not only received an ex-post approval but also how it was created through consensual deliberations between Communist and non-Communist leaders.

In short, as the proclamation of the People’s Republic drew closer, the planning for the CPPCC was part of the Communists’ strategy to tie the normative-ideological legitimation of power and the popular belief in legitimacy together. All of China and the world were watching how the CCP would “set the stage” for the CPPCC.27 Every official communiqué, every gesture of goodwill toward the DPGs, and every negotiation report contributed to the stabilizing of CCP rule during the transition period. The CCP later combined these narrative threads and memorialized them as part of a political myth of the founding of the People’s Republic. Christopher Flood's understanding of political myth as “an ideologically marked narrative which purports to give a true account of a set of past, present, or predicted political events and which is accepted as valid in its essentials by a social group”28 is instructive in this respect. How exactly the events leading up to the first CPPCC unfolded and whether we can glimpse behind the scenes of the “ideologically marked narrative” will be discussed in the following section.

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