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When will the Chinese Communist party end? Or, more relevantly, “When will the absolute rule of China by the Chinese Communist Party end?”

The Chinese Communist Party might actually end pretty soon.

People say the USSR collapsed because it failed to adapt its economic system, while China became capitalist and avoided the same political fate. In my opinion, this view is too superficial, because it ignores the massive similarities in the Soviet and Chinese systems and only focuses on growth at face value. It also fails to consider the timing of the CPSU and CCP periods of power.

The 30-year gap between Soviet and Chinese Communism

Russian radical revolutionaries, who would eventually become the Leninists, were active already in the late 1800s. After a few decades of insignificance, they took power in Russia in 1917 following WW1, in which the Tsarist empire was dealt a serious blow by the Germans. By contrast, the Chinese Communists only founded their movement in 1921, and it took them three decades. Just as Imperial Russia’s resistance to the Leninists was broken down by the Germans in WW1, the Nationalist Chinese, who almost destroyed the CCP in the 1930s, were badly weakened by the Japanese invasion and WW2.

The CCP finally took power in 1949, following a long and destructive civil war, just like the Leninists did in Russia. By 1949 the Soviet Union was already a world power with almost 30 years of history, the strongest land army on earth, and possessed the atomic bomb. All this demonstrates that in terms of political development, the CCP was about 30 years behind the CPSU.

And the CCP continued to follow the same political path of the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, Josef Stalin consolidated power over the Old Bolsheviks and launched brutal campaigns that killed about 20 million people through labor and starvation (Holodomor), or over 10% of the Soviet population. World War 2, for which the Soviet Union was heavily responsible (see note at bottom) killed another 25 million Soviet citizens, but no matter: Stalin and the CPSU were still firmly in power and would stay that way.

Let’s compare this to the Chinese communists: Mao Zedong had his Great Leap Forward, which killed at least 40 million people (though incomplete provincial CCP records means this could’ve been more like 65 million), or about 10% of the Chinese population. This happened about ten years after the CCP took power, similar to how the Holodomor happened about ten years after the Russian Civil War. Soon thereafter, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, in which tens of millions of people were executed, committed suicide, or were otherwise victimized. This was a setback similar to that suffered by the Soviet Union in WW2.

The Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. Incidentally, the Soviets defeated Hitler in 1945, giving us a thirty-year discrepancy between the Soviets and the Chinese communists.

Note: In my opinion, Stalin’s foreign policy made the early Nazi successes of WW2 possible, and were designed to achieve this effect as a means of destabilizing Western Europe. It is of course incorrect to lay all the blame for the war on communism, but we cannot pretend that it was all Hitler’s doing.

Superficial Reform

In 1953, Stalin died, and Mao Zedong did the same thing in 1976. In both cases, the surviving communist leadership did two things: They quietly criticized and loosened the policies of their deceased master, and maintained the power of the Communist Party while continuing to “build socialism” in a new form.

For both the USSR and China, this meant and means trying to become a superpower to surpass U.S. dominance. The Soviet Union wanted to prove that the planned economic under the guidance of the CPSU could “bury” the capitalism of America, while now the the CCP is attempting to prove that it can do the same thing through its “harmonious” one-party society.

Massive changes came to the Soviet Union after Stalin died. Consumer goods became more important in the eyes of the CPSU, and objectively speaking, the quality of life improved. Though still inferior by Western standards, but the USSR and its Eastern European allies were in fact developed countries. The mass murder and starvation of Stalin were a thing of the past, though dissidents and religious believers continued to be persecuted.

A similar thing occurred in China between 1976 and the 2000s. Quality of life improved, the economy became stronger, and political repression was toned down from the Maoist era, though it continued behind the scenes.

Then, if this reform and partial liberalization did in fact bring changes, why is it superficial? It is because in both cases, the Communist Party remained firmly in power and did not allow anyone to question it. In advanced democratic nations, there are in place systems of checks and balances, combined with effective constitutions, that ensure things like human rights, a relatively low level of corruption, and adaptation.

Communist governments don’t have these things, so they have no one to correct their mistakes. As time goes on, the ruling elite becomes more and more corrupt, all the while stressing how successful and how unbreakable communist rule is. They really believe their own lies, or at the very least, they do not have the ability to see the truth of their situation.

The Soviet Collapse

Sometime soon before the end of the Soviet Union, upwards of 95% of the population said they were okay with Communist rule (in the modern day, equivalent Chinese polls give us similar percentages of people who are fine with the CCP’s rule). Russians were not perfectly happy with their lives, but on average they were getting by alright and did not think their country was inferior to the West, much less that it would break up and become very poor in just a few years. Basically, the USSR did not collapse because the people rose up against it.

The reasons were economic and political, and they were built into the Communist system.

In the 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev consolidated power and began an era that was said to be more authoritarian than his predecessor Khrushchev. The Soviet economy also stagnated under Brezhnev, but more importantly, massive corruption became a major problem. In the 1980s, economic troubles that would lead to the end of the USSR were already in place, but the country was still producing advanced weapons and spacecraft, and it was still considered a superpower.

A popular explanation for the Soviet collapse is that they spent too much on their military. While spending lots of money on weapons certainly put more strain in the Soviet economy, it wasn’t the root problem. Neither was a plan-based system the root problem (though it is unworkable)

The root problem was that due to the authoritarian nature of the Soviet economy, all the means of production ended up in the hands of few corrupt government officials. Funds, resources, and capital couldn’t be allocated properly and massive inefficiencies developed in the long run.

Mikhail Gorbachev saw the disasters looming in the future, and put the USSR on a crash course to economic and political liberalization. In 1989, he did nothing when the Warsaw Pact fell apart. Two years later, Gorbachev tried to reform the USSR as a non-communist union, which most republics agreed to, but then some hardcore communists arrested him, put him “on vacation” in Ukraine, and tried to take over the Soviet Union. This attempt failed, and the President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, took the opportunity to declare independence from the Union. The USSR without Russia made about as much sense as a fish out of water, and it dissolved.

Where is China Headed?

In general, the Chinese communist political, economic, and historical model is following that of the Soviet Union. There was a burst of economic growth (after a period of man-made disasters) that started in the 1980s and continued throughout the 2000s, but this period of growth is accompanied by an explosion of corruption and mis-allocation.
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Working in a corrupt country where laws don’t mean much, they only care about their own fortune. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being siphoned to foreign countries by rich officials. Local governments and state-run businesses have racked up trillions of dollars in bad debt that can’t be paid off, because their prior investments into ill-conceived projects aren’t providing returns.
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China’s economy is stagnating badly (Chinese Economic Metrics Paint a Frightening Picture). And I haven’t even begun to touch upon the environmental and social issues that are disrupting the harmonious functioning of society. China is going to run out of drinking water in a couple decades, due to catastrophic desertification and pollution. They face an aging problem more severe than that of Japan. And with so much debt built up that can’t be paid off, the leaders of China today have dug future generations a hole they won’t be able to get out of easily, if at all.

‘Anti-Corruption’ is Just a Political Game

I’ve already answered the question about what the aims of current CCP leader Xi Jinping are in another response, Li Zhengmin’s answer to Is Xi Jinping a closeted liberal reformer?, so I won’t go too much into that here.

The economic implication of the anti-corruption campaign is simple: the people in power will change, but the rule of the Communist Party will remain unquestioned, inviolate, and therefore the corruption that this authoritarianism breeds will start up all over again. China’s politics are paralyzed by Communism—the survival of the Party means the continued monopoly of wealth and authority, which in turn means that effective and efficiency policy cannot be conducted.

It would be a “good” outcome if Xi Jinping was a Gorbachev, because it would cut the stagnation short before the country explodes into actual violence. But that’s very unlikely since the CCP has gone on and on about how they will not follow Gorbachev. So the stagnation will continue, and China will suffer. Tragedy awaits.

UPDATE 20200220

Five years after I wrote this answer, communism in China indeed seems to be on course for a downfall perhaps even more spectacular than that seen in the Soviet Union. Because of the CCP’s internal struggle between Xi Jinping and opposing factions, the Party has taken a nonsensical totalitarian turn and the phenomenon of 国进民退 (the state sector cannibalizes the private economy) has not helped the worsening economic environment. And of course, the Wuhan coronavirus was made much worse by the CCP ignoring the outbreak until it became a full-on epidemic around the country, and then downplaying the true numbers of deaths and cases to save face. Now they have to shut down much of the economy and expend massive resources to fight the disease, while praying to the gods they don’t believe in that the epidemic dies out before the CCP does.

The CCP’s violent and stupid habits are on full display in the handling of the epidemic. First, they arrested the doctors who tried to warn their friends about what was going on. As it was Chinese New Year season, the CCP officials in Hubei and Wuhan encouraged people to celebrate as normal, and said that there was no confirmation that the virus could spread between humans. Then, after 5 million people had already left Wuhan, they finally decided that maybe they should do something, and locked down the city.

And in fighting the virus, the CCP resorts to harmful propaganda and fake news. It claims that this is just similar to the common flu and that the situation in the US is much worse, because the Party thinks that people don’t understand the difference between a disease that only kills 0.001 percent of people who get it, and one that … well, we don’t even know the real death rate from the Wuhan coronavirus because the CCP’s numbers of infected and dead are almost certainly fake.

Inside China, the CCP media and its aggressive lockdown policies encourage hatred and fear of people from Hubei and uses typical communist tactics of class struggle, as if this will actually improve the situation. (For examples, see here: All the hilariously aggressive coronavirus propaganda banners found in China)

Hopefully the lockdowns will actually work, but looking at this in detail, there’s a good chance they won’t and the CCP will simply run out of resources trying to enforce them. The tragedy I talked about is coming to pass.