CPC Central Committee proposes changes to the constitution

In preparation for the two sessions of parliament, the CPC Central Committee met to discuss – among other things – changes to the constitution. It is useful to see these in the wider context, since some international commentators have been making a bit of noise about the removal of term limits to the presidency. As you will see, what the document actually suggests is that the terms for president and vice-president be the same as delegates for the National People’s Congress.

And it turns out that Xi Jinping Thought (in full: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era), meshes rather well with my project on ‘Socialism in Power‘. Xi Jinping Thought has already been written into the constitution of the CPC, fostered more than 100 university research centres and entered into the school curriculum.

Here is the full list of proposals from the Central Committee, made public the other day:

The proposal, raised to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), was made in accordance with the new situation and practice of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

— New thought

The CPC Central Committee proposed writing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the country’s fundamental law. The Scientific Outlook on Development was also proposed to be included.

According to the proposal, under the leadership of the CPC and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the Chinese people of all ethnic groups will continue to adhere to the people’s democratic dictatorship and the socialist road, persevere in reform and opening to the outside world, steadily improve socialist institutions, develop the socialist market economy, develop socialist democracy, improve the socialist rule of law, apply a new vision of development and work hard and self-reliantly to modernize the country’s industry, agriculture, national defence and science and technology step by step and promote the coordinated development of the material, political, cultural and ethical, social and ecological advancement, to turn China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful and realize national rejuvenation.

— United front

The CPC Central Committee proposed including patriots devoted to national rejuvenation as part of the patriotic united front in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, in the long years of revolution, construction and reform, there has been formed under the leadership of the CPC a broad patriotic united front which is composed of the democratic parties and people’s organizations, and which embraces all socialist working people, all builders of socialism, all patriots who support socialism, and all patriots who stand for the reunification of the motherland and devote themselves to national rejuvenation. This united front will continue to be consolidated and developed.

— Harmonious relations among all ethnic groups

Harmonious socialist relations among ethnic groups were proposed to be written into the Constitution.

Socialist relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony have been established among the ethnic groups and will continue to be strengthened, according to a proposed revision to the preamble.

The State protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minority groups and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony among all of China’s ethnic groups, according to a proposed revision to a clause of Article 4.

— Community with shared future for humanity

The CPC Central Committee proposed writing building “a community with a shared future for humanity” into the Constitution.

The expression that China will “adhere to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up” should be added to the preamble, read the proposal.

China’s achievements in revolution, construction and reform are inseparable from the support of the people of the world. The future of China is closely linked to the future of the world, according to the proposal.

The proposal read that China consistently carries out an independent foreign policy, adheres to the five principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence, adheres to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up in developing diplomatic relations and economic and cultural exchanges with other countries, and works to build a community with a shared future for humanity. China consistently opposes imperialism, hegemonism and colonialism, works to strengthen unity with the people of other countries, supports the oppressed nations and the developing countries in their just struggle to win and preserve national independence and develop their national economies, and strives to safeguard world peace and promote the cause of human progress.

— CPC leadership

A sentence stressing the Party’s leadership was proposed to be added into the Constitution.

“The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” read the proposal.

— Core socialist values

The addition of core socialist values into a clause was also in the proposed package.

The proposal read that the State advocates core socialist values, and the civic virtues of love of the motherland, of the people, of labour, of science and of socialism.

— Oath of allegiance

The CPC Central Committee proposed inclusion of pledging allegiance to the Constitution into the fundamental law.

All state functionaries shall take a public oath of allegiance to the Constitution when assuming office, read the proposal.

— Chinese President and Vice-President

The CPC Central Committee proposed revising the clause “The term of office of the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China is the same as that of the National People’s Congress, and they shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” to “The term of office of the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China is the same as that of the National People’s Congress.”

— New cabinet function

The CPC Central Committee proposed to list ecological advancement as a new function and power of the State Council, or cabinet.

Apart from economic affairs and urban and rural development, the State Council also has the function and power of directing and administering ecological advancement, according to a proposed change to a clause under Article 89.

— More cities with legislative power

Chinese cities, with subordinate districts, would be granted the power to make local laws and regulations under the proposed constitutional amendment.

The people’s congresses and their standing committees of these cities would be able to adopt local laws and regulations under the condition that they do not contradict the Constitution, national laws and regulations, and provincial laws and regulations, according to the proposal.

The local laws and regulations would take effect after being approved by the standing committees of provincial-level people’s congresses.

— Supervisory commissions

The CPC Central Committee proposed listing the supervisory commissions as a new type of state organs in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, supervisory organs will be listed together with administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the State, all of which are created by the people’s congresses to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised.

A new section about supervisory commissions is proposed to be added to the third chapter titled “The Structure of the State” in the Constitution.

The country sets up the national and local supervisory commissions, according to the document.

A supervisory commission will consist of one director, several deputy directors and a number of members. The director will serve the same term as that of the people’s congress of the same level.

The director of the national supervisory commission shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.

The organization, functions and powers of supervisory commissions are prescribed by law.

As the supreme supervisory organ, the national supervisory commission will oversee local commissions and answer to the NPC and its standing committee.

The supervisory commissions at higher levels will lead the commissions at lower levels.

Local supervisory commissions at various levels will be responsible to the state power organs that created them and to the supervisory commission at the next level up.

The supervisory commissions will independently exercise their power of supervision and not be subject to interference by any administrative organ, public organization or individual, said the proposal.

It also asked the supervisory organs to coordinate with judicial organs, procuratorial organs and law enforcement departments, and check each other in handling duty-related offenses.

The NPC will be given the power to elect and remove the director of the national supervisory commission, while the NPC Standing Committee shall supervise the national supervisory commission and appoint or remove deputy directors and members of the commission at the recommendation of its director.

Local people’s congresses at and above county level will elect and have the power to remove the directors of the supervisory commissions at the corresponding level, while their standing committees shall supervise the supervisory commissions at the corresponding level.

Members of the standing committees of the NPC and local peoples’ congresses at and above county level shall not hold office in supervisory organs.

In addition, supervision will no longer be a duty for the State Council and local governments at and above county level, according to the proposal.

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The Bible and Soviet Constitution: Stalin’s Reinterpretation of 2 Thessalonians and Acts 4

The 1936 Constitution of the USSR contains two biblical verses:

He who does not work, neither shall he eat.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.

The first is clear enough, being drawn from 2 Thessalonians 3:10. But the second is a little more obscure, although it comes originally from Acts 4:35. Clearly, the appearance of such texts in the Constitution is not by chance. So how did they end up there?

A hint may be found in the slight obscurity of the origins of the second text, for it is not exactly the same as that of Acts 4:35. That hint suggests a unique exegetical path that winds its way from the Bible, through Lenin and the slogans of the early Bolshevik government in the USSR, to none other than Joseph Stalin. Let me trace that path.

I begin with the text from 2 Thessalonians: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’. Among the Bolsheviks, Lenin was the first to use it. It was 1918, during the famine brought about by the shortage of grain through the disruption to rail transport by the First World War and the White Armies of the Civil War. With the grain shortage came massive speculation by the profiteers – kulaks in the countryside and business owners in the cities. In that context, Lenin addressed a group of workers in Petrograd:

‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’. ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’ – every toiler understands that. Every worker, every poor and even middle peasant, everybody who has suffered need in his lifetime, everybody who has ever lived by his own labour, is in agreement with this. Nine-tenths of the population of Russia are in agreement with this truth. In this simple, elementary and perfectly obvious truth lies the basis of socialism, the indefeasible source of its strength, the indestructible pledge of its final victory (Collected Works, volume 27, pp. 391-2).

As the Civil War raged on and shortages continued, the text from 2 Thessalonians became a major feature of Agitprop. It featured on posters plastered throughout town and country. And it led to the Metropolitan of Moscow, Aleksandr Vvedensky, to observe:

When you say you are for the principle of work, I remind you of the slogan, ‘he who does not work shall not eat.’ I have seen this in a number of different cities on revolutionary posters. I am just upset that there was no reference to the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, from where the slogan is taken (Vvedensky in Lunacharsky, Religia i prosveshchenie, 1985, p. 193).

So it should be no surprise that Stalin should make much use of this text – with Lenin’s blessing – and that it should appear in the Soviet Constitution of 1936.

What about the second text from the Constitution: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’.

I suggest that it is a reinterpretation of Acts 4:35 in light of 2 Thessalonians 3:10. This reinterpretation was undertaken by the erstwhile theological scholar and avid student of the Bible, Joseph Stalin. Let us begin with Acts itself:

They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The context is the brief account of early Christian communism, in which everything was held in common and no-one had private possessions (see also Acts 2). Everyone would put whatever wealth they had into the common property and then it was distributed according to need. I do not wish to go into the long history of the various interpretations of this passage, save to point out that Acts 4:35 eventually became a socialist slogan, ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’. The influence of Engels’s argument for revolutionary Christianity had an influence here, as did Marx’s use of the slogan.

Yet, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 does not use this version of the slogan. Instead, it has ‘to each according to his work’. The exegetical work of Stalin is responsible. In texts leading up to the constitution (a revision of the one from 1924), Stalin interprets the text in light of what was by then a well-established distinction between socialism and communism. Socialism became the first stage of communism, which would eventually – albeit without a specified time frame – become fully fledged communism. Indeed, after the frenetic and profoundly disrupting drives for industrialisation, collectivisation and socialisation of economic and social life in the late 1920s and 1930s, the government announced that socialism had been achieved in the Soviet Union. But communism was still to come.

So Stalin distinguished between two slogans, one appropriate for socialism and the other for communism. Under socialism, the appropriate slogan was ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’. Under communism, it would be ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. The first slogan was clearly a combination of the texts from 2 Thessalonians and Acts 4. Not only does one need to work in order to live (targeted at capitalists and the idle rich), but one also works according to ability and is recompensed in light of the work done.

But what does this mean in practice? It means people will be paid according to the labour they have provided. It means different pay scales (within reason) in terms of skills, type of labour, and contribution to the overall good of the socialist project. It also means that one should take responsibility for one’s labour and stay in the same job for a while. This is far from the idea of ‘equalitarianism’, under which ‘everybody would get the same pay, an equal quantity of meat and an equal quantity of bread, would wear the same clothes and receive the same goods in the same quantities—such a socialism is unknown to Marxism’ (Stalin, Works, volume 13, p. 120).

Is communism different? In one respect it is, for this is the time when ‘labour has been transformed from a means of subsistence into the prime want of man, into voluntary labour for society’ (p. 121). Yet, communism is like socialism in that it does not fall into the trap of individualist equalitarianism in relation to labour. One provides labour according to ability and is given what one needs. Obviously, the abilities differ, as do the needs – depending on one stage in life, whether one has children or not, whether one is sick or healthy.

Until then, the socialist version of the two biblical texts remained in force:

From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.

The euphoria of the USSR

In the fashionable cynicism of post-USSR times, it is difficult to recapture the sheer euphoria at the achievement of the USSR itself. In 1922, after long and difficult negotiations, the excitement could hardly be contained. Here is Stalin in December of that year when the new agreement was announced.

here, in the world of Soviets, where the regime is based not on capital but on labour, where the regime is based not on private property, but on collective property, where the regime is based not on the exploitation of man by man, but on the struggle against such exploitation, here, on the contrary, the very nature of the regime fosters among the labouring masses a natural striving towards union in a single socialist family (Works, vol. 5, p. 153).

But, comrades, today is not only a day for summing up, it is at the same time the day of triumph of the new Russia over the old Russia, the Russia that was the gendarme of Europe, the Russia that was the hangman of Asia. Today is the day of triumph of the new Russia, which has smashed the chains of national oppression, organised victory over capital, created the dictatorship of the proletariat, awakened the peoples of the East, inspires the workers of the West, transformed the Red Flag from a Party banner into a State banner, and rallied around that banner the peoples of the Soviet republics in order to unite them into a single state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the prototype of the future World Soviet Socialist Republic.

We Communists are often abused and accused of being unable to build. Let the history of the Soviet power during these five years of its existence serve as proof that Communists are also able to build. Let today’s Congress of Soviets, whose function it is to ratify the Declaration and Treaty of Union of the Republics that were adopted at the Conference of Plenipotentiary Delegations yesterday, let this Union Congress demonstrate to all who have not yet lost the ability to understand, that Communists are as well able to build the new as they are to destroy the old (p. 161).