Khrushchev as Role Model
By Jin Zhong
The publication of Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs recalls to memory the publication of Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs in England in 1970. A common feature of the two memoirs is the delivery of audio recordings abroad for editing and publishing. The controversy surrounding the two publications is also similar: Du Daozheng, author of the preface for Zhao’s memoirs, expressed his reservations regarding their publication, while Nikita Khrushchev declared that he hadn't sent information to any outsiders and even accused Western capitalists of tricks to oppose the Soviet Union. In fact, Du, like Khrushchev, was under pressure from the Communist Party, but the authenticity of both memoirs is beyond doubt.
Today, readers worldwide can listen online to the familiar voice of the former General Secretary of the CCP, and demand for the memoir has already outstripped supply. On the other hand, the recordings by Nikita Khrushchev were validated after an in-depth analysis and appraisal. This memoir by the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is now a must-read in studying the history of communism.
Certainly, the two books display different features and political and cultural backgrounds, but both reflect a realistic and introspective spirit rarely found among Communist leaders. That is why the two memoirs are so significant to readers. The CPSU's development was seeded by Khrushchev, finally bearing fruit, after more than 30 years of adversity, in the era of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” at the 20th Congress of the CPSU was epochal, shaking the foundations of the theory and power of communist autocracy. It also served as a valuable and inspirational resource for Chinese intellectuals in 1950s who longed for freedom, as evidenced in many books recalling the era of the Anti-Rightist Campaigns. Recently, Szeto Wah, Chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union when predicting that the June 4th Incident might be redressed in 2022.
Much emphasis has been placed on the significance to China of the former Soviet Union's transformation from an autocratic megalith to a democratic power. Many now understand that China cannot achieve its democratic transformation unless progressive members of the CCP system come forward to take on certain roles. The Soviet model could be an alternative. However, in the last two decades, China's economic achievements have made its people complacent and conservative, and leading to comparisons between the democratization of the Soviet Union and similarly unappealing developments in Taiwan; Russia's Vladimir Putin is perceived as acting “more like a dictator” who doesn’t accept the people’s criticism of the government, while Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian, who was elected by the people, is now in prison. Who can ensure that universal suffrage will not result in the Chinese people electing a president like Chen Shui-bian or Putin?
Over the course of thousands of years, China has never tried to return the power to its people, so it’s not surprising to see the authorities following the same old practices. But it must be pointed out that China's intellectuals have always tended to breaking tradition. The essential spirit embodied in Charter 08 is what we call “procedural justice,” which emphasizes that modern democracy is “constitutional democracy” and should not be referred to as mere “democracy.”
In other words, democracy is established through appropriate procedures, which are far more important than the result. The electoral systems in Taiwan, Russia and even the United States already offer vivid interpretations of this. The essence of a democratic system is not demonstrated through the election of a good leader or the best leader, but in the establishment of a firm and solid system that provides the people with a choice, and that follows certain procedures to protect and optimize the system in order to select competent and capable individuals to serve the people. Chen Shui-bian can be replaced by Ma Ying-jeou; Vladimir Putin can never become another Joseph Stalin; Barack Obama, the first black US President, has finally taken over the White House, but he could still step down if he doesn’t perform well.
It is conceivable that China’s future democratic transformation will not result in a reduction of the power of the Communist Party. On the contrary, the various resources the Party has seized throughout the years may even enable it to enjoy a string of victories in future elections. Those who endorse democratic values must be prepared for such an eventuality. Striving for the rationalization and continuous optimization of the democratic “process” is the key, and the emphasis on choosing the best person has become an outmoded concept.
(Translated by Isabella Lam)