Controlling No.5, Shi Lifeng, 2009
From London Review of Books:
An article in the newsletter of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection claims that since it is a ‘founding ideological principle that Communist Party members cannot be religious’, party members don’t enjoy the right to religious freedom: ‘Chinese citizens have the freedom of religious belief, but Communist Party members are not the same as regular citizens; they are fighters in the vanguard for a communist consciousness.’ How does this exclusion of believers from the party aid religious freedom? Marx’s analysis of the political imbroglio of the French Revolution of 1848 comes to mind. The ruling Party of Order was the coalition of the two royalist wings, the Bourbons and the Orleanists. The two parties were, by definition, unable to find a common denominator in their royalism, since one cannot be a royalist in general, only a supporter of a particular royal house, so the only way for the two to unite was under the banner of the ‘anonymous kingdom of the Republic’. In other words, the only way to be a royalist in general is to be a republican. The same is true of religion. One cannot be religious in general: one can only believe in a particular god, or gods, to the detriment of others. The failure of all attempts to unite religions shows that the only way to be religious in general is under the banner of the ‘anonymous religion of atheism’. Effectively, only an atheist regime can guarantee religious tolerance: the moment this atheist frame disappears, factional struggle among different religions will explode. Although fundamentalist Islamists all attack the godless West, the worst struggles go on between them (IS focuses on killing Shia Muslims).
There is, however, a deeper fear at work in the prohibition of religious belief for members of the Communist Party. ‘It would have been best for the Chinese Communist Party if its members were not to believe in anything, not even in communism,’ Zorana Baković, the China correspondent for the Slovenian newspaperDelo, wrote recently, ‘since numerous party members joined churches (most of them Protestant churches) precisely because of their disappointment at how even the smallest trace of their communist ideals had disappeared from today’s Chinese politics.’
In short, the most serious opposition to the Chinese party leadership today is presented by truly convinced communists, a group composed of old, mostly retired party cadres who feel betrayed by the unbridled capitalist corruption along with those proletarians whom the ‘Chinese miracle’ has failed: farmers who have lost their land, workers who have lost their jobs and wander around searching for a means of survival, others who are exploited by companies like Foxconn etc. They often take part in mass protests carrying placards bearing quotes from Mao. This combination of experienced cadres and the poor who have nothing to lose is potentially explosive. China is not a stable country with an authoritarian regime that guarantees harmony and is thus able to keep capitalist dynamics under control: every year thousands of rebellions of workers, farmers and minorities have to be squashed by the authorities. No wonder official propaganda talks incessantly of a harmonious society. This very insistence bears witness to its opposite, the ever present threat of chaos and disorder. One should apply the basic rule of Stalinist hermeneutics here: since the official media do not openly report on the troubles, the most reliable way to detect them is to search for the positive excesses in state propaganda – the more harmony is celebrated, the more chaos and antagonism should be inferred. China is full of antagonisms and barely controlled instabilities that continually threaten to explode.