Broad, Multilevel, and Institutionalized Consultative Democracy*
September 21, 2014
Consultative democracy is a unique form and a distinctive strength of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It is an important embodiment of the Party's mass line. It was stated at the 18th National Congress of the CPC that as China's socialist democracy progresses, we need to improve the institutions and mechanisms for consultative democracy and promote its broad-based, multilevel, and institutionalized development. It was emphasized at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee that with a focus on the major issues concerning economic and social development and the practical issues that affect people's immediate interests, the Party should lead extensive consultations throughout the whole of society and ensure that they take place both before decisions are made and during their implementation. These important statements and plans have shown what the way forward will be for China's socialist consultative democracy.
– We should have a full understanding of the nature of socialist consultative democracy. The very purpose of the CPC's leadership in developing people's democracy is to guarantee and support the position of the people as masters of the country. This is not simply a slogan or a few hollow words; we must ensure its place in the country's political and social activities, and guarantee the people's right to effectively manage state affairs, economic and cultural undertakings, and social affairs in accordance with the law.
"A name is not granted by heaven; it must be earned in life."1 There are many diverse ways to realize democracy, so we must not be confined just to one particular rigid one. Further, there is no such thing as one single set of standard criteria that are universally acceptable. Whether people enjoy democratic rights or not depends on whether they have the right to vote in elections, as well as whether they have the right to constantly participate in everyday political activities. Apart from having the right to democratic elections, it also depends on whether they have the right to democratic decision-making, democratic management, and democratic supervision.
Socialist democracy requires not just a complete set of institutions and procedures, but also full participation. The position of the people as masters of the country must be manifested in the concrete and practical exercise of state power by the CPC and its governance of the country, in all aspects of the work of the Party and government organizations at all levels, and through the realization and development of the people's own interests.
Putting people's democracy into practice and ensuring the people's position as masters of the country demands that we initiate extensive discussions throughout the whole of society while governing the country. Mao Zedong once said, "The relations between all aspects of the state need deliberations."2 "You are all familiar with the nature of our government – to do things through consultations with the people.... We may call it a consultative government."3 Zhou Enlai once said, "The spirit of deliberation of the New Democratic Revolution is not in the final voting; it is mainly in the deliberations and repeated discussions that happen before a decision is made."4
Under China's socialist system, whenever a problem crops up, we should resort to deliberations first. Matters involving many people are discussed by all those involved; to reach consensus on the wishes and needs of the whole of society is the essence of people's democracy. On matters that concern the people's interests, deliberations should be held with the people; without deliberation or with insufficient deliberation, it is difficult to handle these matters well.
We should always hold deliberations when we raise and address issues: the more numerous and in-depth, the better. On matters that have a bearing on the interests of everyone, deliberations will be held extensively throughout the whole of society; on matters that concern the interests of people in one specific area, deliberations will be held locally; on matters that affect the interests of certain groups of people, deliberations will be held among those groups; and on matters that concern the interests of a community, deliberations will be held within the community.
The process of holding extensive deliberations among the people is the process of promoting democracy and drawing on collective wisdom, the process of unifying people's thinking and building consensus, the process of scientific and democratic decision-making, and the process of ensuring the position of the people as masters of the country. It is only in this way that we can have solid foundations for our country's governance and for social governance; it is only in this way that we are able to draw together strength.
In both ancient and modern times, in China and abroad, experience has shown that to guarantee and support the people's position as masters of the country, it is paramount that their lawfully elected representatives participate in the management of state affairs and social activities, and it is equally important that they participate in such activities through systems and methods that go farther than simple election. If the people merely have the right to vote but no right of extensive participation, in other words, if they are awakened only at election time but go into hibernation afterwards, this is token democracy. Reviewing our experience with people's democracy since the founding of the PRC, we have made it clear that in such a vast and populous socialist country, extensive deliberation under the leadership of the CPC on major issues affecting the economy and the people's quality of life embodies the unity of democracy and centralism. Chinese socialist democracy takes two important forms: In one the people exercise their right to vote in elections, and in the other, people from all sectors of society undertake extensive deliberations before major decisions are made. In China, these two forms do not cancel one another out, and nor are they contradictory; they are complementary. They constitute institutional features and strengths of Chinese socialist democracy.
Consultative democracy is a unique form of Chinese socialist democracy. It springs from our nation's long-established inclusive political culture, including such notions that all under heaven belongs to the people, mutual learning and inclusiveness, and seeking common ground while putting aside differences. It springs from China's political evolution in modern times, from the long-term practical experience as the CPC led the people through the course of revolution, development, and reform; from the great innovations made in our political institutions after the founding of the PRC by all political parties, people's organizations, ethnic groups, and people from all social strata and different backgrounds; and from the continuous innovations in China's political system since the adoption of reform and opening up. It has firm cultural, theoretical, practical, and institutional foundations.
Consultative democracy has been integrated into the whole process of Chinese socialist democracy. Chinese socialist consultative democracy not only upholds the leadership of the CPC, but also gives expression to the positive roles of all participants; it not only upholds the people's principal position in the country, but also implements the leadership system and organizational principle of democratic centralism; it not only adheres to the principle of people's democracy, but also promotes unity and harmony. So China's socialist consultative democracy diversifies the forms and widens the channels of democracy, and gives it new meaning.
– We need to thoroughly understand the fundamental nature of socialist consultative democracy as an important manifestation of the Party's mass line in the political sphere. The CPC comes from the people, and serves the people. This makes it essential that the PRC, which was established by the people under the leadership of the CPC, should rely on the people in governing the country and managing society. The CPC carries out its mass line in its work, that is to say, it stays committed to doing everything for the people and relying on them, following the principle of "from the people, to the people", and translating its sound proposals into people's conscious actions. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates that all power of the state belongs to the people, and all state organs and public servants must rely on their support, keep in close contact with them, listen to their opinions and suggestions, accept their scrutiny, and work hard to serve them. Both the CPC and state organs must follow the mass line and rely heavily on the people in their exercise of state power.
"Decrees may be followed if they are in accordance with the aspirations of the people; they may be ineffective if they are against the aspirations of the people."5 The future of a political party or government ultimately rests on public support. The development course of the CPC and the PRC reveals that the reason that we have made progress in our cause is that we have always maintained close ties with the people and represented the fundamental interests of the greatest possible majority of the people. However, if we become detached from the people and lose their support, that cause will fail. We must put the people's interests first. Under no circumstances can we ever alter our standpoint of breathing the same air as the people and sharing a common future with them, nor can we forget our purpose which is to serve the people wholeheartedly, nor can we discard the view of historical materialism that the people are the real heroes.
Serving the people wholeheartedly and always representing the fundamental interests of the greatest possible majority of the people are the important preconditions and foundation for the implementation and development of consultative democracy. It is stipulated in the Constitution of the CPC that the Party has no special interests of its own apart from the interests of the working class and the greatest possible majority of the people. The CPC and the state it leads represent the fundamental interests of the greatest possible majority of the people, and all of their theories, lines, principles, policies, and work plans should come from the people and should be formulated and implemented in the best interests of the people. With this as our basic political premise, we have the obligation and ability to listen extensively to comments and suggestions from all sectors of society.
By extensively listening to suggestions and recommendations and accepting criticism and scrutiny through various forms of consultation, we will, under the CPC's unified leadership, be able to reach the broadest possible consensus on all decisions we make and on all our work, and in doing so, ensure that factional strife and bitter disagreement between parties and between interest groups can be avoided. We will be able to have all demands heard on matters affecting the interests of all sides before decisions are made so that political forces do not remain fixed in their own opinions or reject others with different views for the sake of their own interests. We will be able to put in place broad-based mechanisms for identifying and correcting errors so that decisions are not made unless there is a clear understanding of the circumstances, nor are they made on the basis of a belief in one's own infallibility. We will be able to form mechanisms for ensuring people's participation in administration and governance at all levels in order to guarantee that the people will be able to voice their opinions and will find it easy to take an active part in the country's political activities and social governance. We will also be able to pool the wisdom and strength of the whole of society to advance reform and development, effectively overcoming any problems with our decisions and ensuring that essential work is not impeded by lack of consensus. This is where the unique strength of our socialist consultative democracy lies.
Democracy is not an ornament to be used for decoration; it is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve. In all the activities of the Party as it exercises state power, and in all of the PRC's activities related to governance, we need to respect the people's principal position in the country, and respect their creativity. We need to look to them as our teachers, and ensure that increased political wisdom and stronger governance capability are deeply rooted in the people's innovative practice. We need to incorporate constructive advice and opinions from all sides of society into the governance of the country.
"Heaven sees as the people see; Heaven hears as the people hear."6 The realization, protection, and development of the fundamental interests of the greatest possible majority of the people should be taken as the end goal of all work. And in carrying out major tasks and making major decisions we must always take into account the reality of the people and their opinions, and general public sentiment. We must put the people's interests first, bear in mind their expectations, pay heed to their aspirations, work to genuinely reflect their wishes, and show true concern for their difficulties. We need to be more community-focused in our work, regularly visit communities, and stay close to the people so that we can become empathetic to their actual conditions, ease their concerns, address their discontent, and enable them to feel that we do care about them. We must do more for the people and offer them practical benefits so as to spark their enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity.
– We need to work hard to ensure the broad-based, multilevel, and institutionalized development of consultative democracy. Looking forward, we must adhere to the principle of democratic centralism, encourage the free airing of views, gather advice from all sides, and get every member of society to think and work for a common cause. This will allow us to achieve success in all our social programs, consolidate the political situation of stability and unity, and harmonize the relations between political parties, between ethnic groups, between religions, between social strata, and between our compatriots at home and overseas. This is what is meant by the words, "If you use the eyes of all those under Heaven to see, there is nothing you cannot see. If you use the ears of all those under Heaven to hear, there is nothing you cannot hear. If you use the minds of all those under Heaven to think, there is nothing you cannot understand."7
Socialist consultative democracy is not a matter of doing things for the sake of appearances; it must be carried out in a down-to-earth manner. And it must be put into practice in all respects, rather than just in a particular respect, and across the country at all levels, rather than just at a certain level. Therefore, we must establish a system of socialist consultative democracy that has rational procedures and is all inclusive, so as to ensure that it is carried out on the basis of proper institutions, rules, regulations, and procedures.
When we talk about consultation, we mean real consultation. Real consultation requires consultation both before and during the process of decision-making. It requires that decisions are made and actions are modified on the basis of opinions and suggestions from all sectors. It also requires that institutions are in place to ensure that the results of consultations are implemented, so that our decisions and work better reflect public will and are better adapted to real-life conditions.
We need to take advantage of every mechanism, every channel, and every method to conduct extensive consultations on the major issues of reform, development, and stability, and especially on the issues that have a bearing on people's immediate interests. We need to respect the wishes of the majority of the people, and at the same time take into account the reasonable demands of those who are in the minority. We should extensively solicit opinions and pool wisdom from society, expand consensus, and bolster integrated strength.
We need to expand the consultative channels for the CPC, people's congresses, people's governments, the CPPCC, other political parties, people's organizations, community organizations, enterprises, public institutions, social organizations, and think-tanks. We need to conduct far-reaching consultation on political affairs, lawmaking, government administration, democracy, social issues, and community-level issues. And we need to improve consultation through proposals, conferences, informal discussions, seminars, hearings, public notices, assessments, the internet, and other means. Through this, we can make our consultative democracy more scientific and effective.
The key element of socialist consultative democracy lies with the people. A great number of decisions and work affecting people's interests happen mainly at the community level. In line with the principle of consultation among the people and for the people, we need to redouble our efforts in developing consultative democracy at the community level, with a focus on conducting consultations among community members. All decisions that affect people's immediate interests must be made on the basis of soliciting the people's opinions, as well as consultations conducted with them through various means, on different levels, and from different sectors. We should improve the system by which community-level organizations maintain contact with the people, strengthen consultation on community affairs, do a sound job of two-way communication of information from the top down and the bottom up, and make sure the people manage their own affairs well in accordance with the law. We must make the exercise of power more open and standardized, and increase transparency in the operations of the Party, the government, and the judiciary, as well as in the administration of other areas. We must ensure that the people oversee the exercise of power and that power is exercised in ways that are open to scrutiny.
* Part of the speech at the meeting marking the 65th anniversary of the CPPCC.
1 Wang Fuzhi: Records of Thinking and Questioning (Si Wen Lu). Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692) was a thinker and philosopher in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.
2 Mao Zedong: "On the Nature and Tasks of the CPPCC", Collected Works of Mao Zedong, Vol. VI, Chin. ed., People's Publishing House, Beijing, 1999, p. 386.
3 Ibid., "Talks with People from the Business Circles", Vol. VII, p. 178.
4 Zhou Enlai: "Issues on the CPPCC", Selected Works of Zhou Enlai on the United Front, Chin. ed., People's Publishing House, Beijing, 1984, p. 134.
5 Guan Zi.
6 Book of History (Shang Shu).
7 Guan Zi.
(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)