Clearly Understanding the Essence of “Constitutional Governance”

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Zhengzhi Xue

– The term “constitutional governance”, regardless of whether it is discussed as a theoretical concept or as an institutional practice, refers to the implementation of a bourgeois constitution.

– The direction that “constitutional governance” advocates is extremely clear, it is that we must abolish the leadership of the Communist Party in China, and overthrow the Socialist regime.

– “Constitutional governance” cannot be made into a basic political concept for our country, this would be falling into the “discourse trap” that is hidden behind it.

In recent years, Western thinking about constitutional governance and constitutional governance institutions have become a topic that gained much attention in our country’s legal scholarship circles and political science circles, and it became hot for a while to discuss constitutional governance. In some discussions, a number of people advocated the indiscriminate copying of Western constitutional governance systems, the implementation of a multi-Party system, parliamentary democracy and a tripartite separation of power, under the guise that constitutional governance does not differentiate between East and West, or under the disguise of “universal values”. These viewpoints are mistaken in theory, and are harmful in practice. There are also academics putting forward that we may discuss “Socialist constitutional governance”, which is different from the so-called “capitalist constitutional governance”, this is a formulation that is apparently right but actually wrong, and there are also deviations in understanding.

“Constitutional governance” refers both in theory and in practice to the implementation of bourgeois constitutions

“Constitutional governance” is also known as “constitutionalism”, it originated in the UK and the US, and is the main political achievement obtained in the modern bourgeois revolution. Our country has begun to be influenced by the idea of “constitutional governance” since the beginning of modernity. In the early stages, it was mainly influenced by the UK “constitutional government”, which understood constitutional governance as the integration of the power of the people and royal power, the so-called “joint leadership of the crown and the people”. Afterwards, the “Principle of the People’s Rights” was proposed, which strengthened the separation of political power and administrative power. Mr. Sun Yat-sen advocated that the “Five-Powers Constitution” was the concentrated reflection of the constitutional governance standpoints of China’s bourgeoisie. The first generation of leaders of our Party also used the concept of “constitutional governance” at some point during the struggle with the authoritarian and dictatorial regime of the Guomindang. In 1930, Mao Zedong put forward: What is the constitutional governance of the New Democracy? It is the revolutionary classes uniting to impose dictatorship over reactionaries.”. On the eve of victory for the New Democratic Revolution, our Party started to use the concept of the “People’s Democratic Dictatorship”. Afterwards, the constitutional governance concept that was used during the period of the bourgeois democratic revolution, as well as the constitutional governance concept that symbolized bourgeois rule of law and political system concepts, were not used by the Party.

The term “constitutional governance”, whether it is discussed as a theoretical concept or as an institutional practice, refers to the implementation of a bourgeois constitution. It is the political standpoint and institutional arrangement of Western liberalism. The Western political scientist Sartori said that “Constitutionalist institutions in fact are liberal institutions. It can be said that liberalist politics are constitutional governance”. Within our country, there are also scholars who say that “The constitutional governance movement in China at present cannot be separated from the resurgence of liberalism in China. Intellectual circles calling for constitutional governance are only a part of the resurgence of liberalism in China. Constitutional governance essentially is a liberalist concept.”

As a Western liberalist political system, the connotations of “constitutional governance” mainly include the following areas. First, tripartite separation of power, mutual checks and balances. This is one of the most important contents of constitutional governance. Second, judicial independence, constitutional review and constitutional courts. Third, multi-party rotational governance. Fourth, parliamentary budgets. Fifth, government with limited responsibilities, meaning small government and big society. Sixth, free market economies. Seventh, universal values, including freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights and other so-called modern Western values. Eighth, nationalization of the military. Ninth, freedom of news.

The discussion of “constitutional governance” is not a so-called battle of “words and expressions”, the standpoint of “Socialist constitutional governance” is a sort of muddled understanding that is apparently right but actually wrong.

For a long time, some liberalist intellectuals at home and abroad seen advocacy of “constitutional governance” as the break-trough point that was the most likely to change China’s political system and a political strategy and channel to deny the Four Cardinal Principles, they have done their utmost to propagate the transcendent nature and global value nature of “constitutional governance”. The direction of these “constitutional governance” viewpoints is extremely clear, which is that they want to abolish the leadership of the Communist Party in China, and overthrow the Socialist regime.

In legal scholarship circles, there are also some scholars who advocate to make constitutional governance or Socialist constitutional governance into a basic outline and superordinate concepts for the construction of our country’s democratic politics. These scholars have good intentions. They believe that there is a difference in constitutional governance between bourgeois constitutional governance and proletarian constitutional governance, that the tern “constitutional governance” should not be sweepingly abandoned, and that the three phrases of Socialist constitutional governance and Socialist democratic politics and Socialist political civilization can coexist. Not a few people believe, because of this, that the debate revolving around constitutional governance of the past few years is a debate on whether or not we must use the term “constitutional governance”. Indeed, a term can be interpreted in this way, and can be interpreted in that way, we may stipulated that it has or endow it with a certain meaning and use it. But the problem is the real use of a term cannot be removed from history. As stated above, constitutional governance is a Western political institution, and has a determined meaning, the essential content constituting constitutional governance is opposed to the essence of our country’s people’s democratic dictatorship and with our country’s current basic political system in some respects, and this is not something that can be transformed by adding the qualifier Socialist. We should consider that, in the West as well as in our country’s academic circles that have been influenced by the West, there is a considerable number of people who have a strong first impression of constitutional governance or even consider it to be a “customary” concept, they believe that constitutional governance is closely connected to multi-party rotational government, a tripartite separation of powers, judicial independence, neutrality of the military, press freedom, etc. If, at some time or another, we adopted the term “constitutional governance” or “Socialist constitutional governance”, and made “constitutional governance” into a guiding basic political concept, the constitutional governance thinking trends led by liberalism ins the country would become even more excessive, the area of social thought would become even more chaotic, hostile forces at home and abroad would gain space to wantonly interpret this new slogan , and would step by step pressure us to use liberalist constitutional governance theory to guide a so-called “Socialist constitutional governance”, this would interfere with the progress and orientation of our country’s political structural reform. The debate revolving around the issue of “constitutional governance” is not as simple as a mere battle of words.

Some comrades have seen the class attributes of constitutional governance, and also do not approve of interpreting constitutional governance according to Western viewpoints, but they try to endow constitutional governance with Socialist principles and content.

They make the essential interpretation of “Socialist constitutional governance” into: the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China is the basic starting point and precondition, constructing a Socialist political civilization is the objective, the leadership of the Party, the people mastering their own affairs, governing the country according to the law, protecting human rights and other political ideologies and political institutions that are characteristic for Socialist countries concerning implementing, safeguarding, developing and perfecting the Constitution. But even so, our country has already explored a successful path for the development of Socialist democratic politics that is suited to its own national conditions, and have summarized this as Socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics, in fact, it is not necessary to borrow the hat of “constitutional governance”.

In the discussion, there are some arguments that seem as though they have merit, but in fact are specious, in practice, these would easily mislead our democratic political construction.

There is a sort of formulation that believes that having a Constitution means having constitutional governance. Since China has had a Constitution, it is a constitutional governance country, China implements the Socialist system, and so what it implements is “Socialist constitutional governance”. In fact, having a constitution does not mean having constitutional governance, there is no relationship of necessity between having a Constitution and having constitutional governance. Constitutional governance itself has a singular Western implied meaning and institutional nature, it is not a label that cam be wilfully put on things. Starting from the viewpoint of historical materialism, constitutional governance is, in the final analysis, a tool for the bourgeoisie to safeguard their own domination and to implement class oppression. Although Socialist countries have constitutions, because they implement a Socialist system that is opposed to a capitalist system, they naturally do not fall into the scope of constitutional governance in the Western conception. Furthermore, although the UK and other countries do not have a written constitution, because their national systems are capitalist in nature, they still are constitutional governance countries.

There are also a sort of argument that believes that, because our Party raised “New Democratic constitutional governance” in the past, that “Socialist constitutional governance” may be discussed. Concerning this issue, if we only should have “Socialist constitutional governance” as a matter of form because we had New Democratic constitutional governance, this is completely lacking in understanding and meaning.

In 1924, in his “Fundamentals of National Reconstruction”, Sun Yat-sen divided the process of “building the nation” into the three periods of “military rule, political tutelage and constitutional governance”. Then the Guomindang reactionary clique with Chiang Kai-shek at the head used the argument of “military rule and political tutelage”, and made it into an excuse to implement counterrevolutionary dictatorship and deprive the people of all rights and liberties. In order to oppose the dictatorial rule of the Guomindang counterrevolutionary clique, stimulate the transformation of constitutional governance into an arm to arouse the people’s consciousness and demand democratic freedoms from Chiang Kai-shek, and to awaken the political consciousness and revolutionary ardour of the broad masses, the Chinese Communist Party decided to raise the constitutional governance banner which symbolized democracy and progress at that time, to unite all forces that could be united, consolidate and develop the united front of the nation to resist Japan, and to move the undertaking of China’s democratic progress and national liberation forward. During the period of the War of Resistance against Japan, and especially in the period after the War of Resistance against Japan, the Chinese Communist Party made participation in and stimulating the constitutional governance movement into an important policy for the Party.

Putting forward New Democratic constitutional governance has a direct relationship with this special social form of the New Democracy. During the New Democratic revolutionary stage, because the revolutionary forces led by the Communist Party had not yet obtained nationwide State power, the New Democratic society did not yet have the conditions for implementing Socialist democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat, how to establish the broadest national united front to resist Japan through politically allying and uniting all revolutionary classes, including the national bourgeoisie, to isolate and attack all national traitors and reactionaries, the task and requirement of implementing the New Democratic revolution became an important question that the Party faced and resolved. Lessons were drawn from some formalities of the capitalist constitutional governance democracy, for example the multi-party system, parliamentary democracy and a tripartite separation of power, and these were transformed in a revolutionary manner, in order to stimulate the development of the democratic revolutionary undertaking, which may be considered as some sort of beneficial attempt and choice. This choice is clearly not contrary to the essence of the New Democratic society.

Also, exactly because of the special nature of constitutional governance democracy, Mao Zedong strictly limited constitutional governance to the scope of New Democratic society, and distinguished New Democratic constitutional governance from old-style bourgeois constitutional governance and emerging Socialist democratic politics. He pointed out that Western constitutional governance “in fact always is a politics that eats people”, “That sort of old-style democracy has been practiced abroad and is already in decline, it has changed into a reactionary thing. We should absolutely not want this sort of reactionary thing.” Exactly because constitutional governance was strictly limited to the scope of New Democratic society, after the establishment of the New China and following the establishment of the Socialist system, the Party Centre no longer used the political term of “constitutional governance”, and certainly did not discuss “Socialist constitutional governance”. Our country, at present, is in the primary stage of Socialism, the nature of society has already become Socialist, this is a fundamental difference with the New Democratic society. Therefore, the constitutional governance that could be used during the New Democratic society, can no longer be suited to the nature and requirements of Socialist society.

We cannot make “constitutional governance” into a fundamental political concept for our country, in order to avoid falling into the “discourse trap”

Some people do not differentiate between political conceptions and implement “borrowism”, it seems as if as long as some concept has been recognized by the Western academic world, that it can be brought into China and applied mechanically, the reason for this is to link up rails with the international academic world, otherwise, there will be no way to conduct dialogue, and it will not be possible to have our own academic position recognized. According to some scholars who speak conceptually, going about this cannot bring about too big problems. But a concept always has its formal theory and historical process of practice. Concerning the core academic concepts that concentrate, reflect and support the Western capitalist social system and political system, we must be especially cautious, we cannot fall into the “discourse trap” that is hidden behind them. “Constitutional governance” is a core concept that reflects capitalist economic and political theory and practice, and to be lead by the nose by such a concept would mean that we remove our own ideological weapons.

Since the establishment of the new China, and after undergoing 60 years of practical experience, we now have “persisting in the organic unification of Party leadership, the people managing their own affairs and governing the country according to the law”, “developing Socialist democratic politics”, “constructing a Socialist rule of law country” and other basic political concepts. These basic political concepts are a scientific summary of our country’s experience in constructing democratic politics, they correctly reflect the essence and characteristics of our country’s political system, and conform to our country’s national circumstances, their meaning is clear and correct, and they have had a profound guiding function in perfecting and developing our country’s Socialist political system. Since many years, we have implemented the spirit of our country’s Constitution according to guiding principles reflected in these basic political concepts, executed administration according to the Constitution, and the democratic politics of Socialism with Chinese characteristics have gained great progress. In the future, we must still take the Constitution as guidance, and incessantly and vigorously move political structural reform forward, but we can absolutely not make “constitutional governance” into out political programme or a basic political concept.





















2 thoughts on “Clearly Understanding the Essence of “Constitutional Governance”

    […] Clearly Understanding the Essence of “Constitutional Governance” (Zhengzhi Xue, People’s Daily, 29 May) […]

    […] the official point has been forcefully made in a number of theoretical and editorial articles in major Central journals and newspapers, the counterarguments are somewhat less clear. To […]

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