Here’s an idea to straighten out American politics. Let’s make the armed forces a branch of the Republican Party, which currently holds executive power. Man, we’d get some law and order then, right? And if you consider the idea hair-raisingly idiotic, alarming, and dictatorial, why’s it OK that the People’s Liberation Army is part not of the Chinese government but of its Communist Party?
This alarming tidbit comes, with much company, from Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg in their book “Hidden Hand,” whose scary subtitle “Exposing How the Chinse Communist Party is Reshaping the World” gives you a good idea of what it’s about. Namely, a detailed if dry cataloging of how the CCP’s influence networks have ensnared useful business and political idiots around the world, with illuminating flashes about how dangerous the Politburo’s lunge for global influence is given the nature of the regime.
As they say, “To grasp just how much the Party dominates all other institutions, note that the People’s Liberation Army is not a national army, but the armed wing of the CCP.” And on the subject of the Party dominating all other institutions, they also note that “After the 19th party Congress in 2017 voted unanimously to incorporate ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ into its constitution – with China’s parliament inserting it into the nation’s constitution a few months later – party members across China joined study sessions to absorb the paramount leader’s ideas.”
The idea of having to study Xi Jinping thought conjures up comically awful images of a cross between the dullest high school class you ever endured and a concentration camp. But the sequence here, of inserting his thought into the Party then national constitutions, underlines that, like the army, the parliament is a branch of the Communist Party. As are “all other institutions” including corporations like, yes, Huawei. But back to the PLA because, as Mao once said, “Political power grows from the barrel of a gun.”
It’s not a novel insight. Consider the ominous case of Gaius Marius (c. 157 BC-13 January 86 BC) during the upheavals that destroyed the Roman Republic. And in case you’d forgotten old what’s-his-name, Wikipedia calls him “a Roman general and statesman. Victor of the Cimbric and Jugurthine wars, he held the office of consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his important reforms of Roman armies.” Plus he married Caesar’s aunt. (Funny when I say “Caesar” I don’t have to explain that I mean Gaius Julius Caesar, whose first name was not “Julius” no matter what Asterix would have you believe.)
Do I seem to have wandered off topic? Well, Marius wasn’t a bad guy as far as we can tell. He even vetoed a bill to expand the bread in bread and circuses, which went down about as well as you’d expect. In Canada we can’t even ditch supply management. But here’s the thing.
As the old Republic defended by citizen-soldiers crumbled, it faced a crucial military manpower shortage. After efforts at land reform to turn turbulent plebians into farmers with a stake in society who could be trusted with arms had failed, Marius took the ingenious, perilous step of recruiting poor men as soldiers with promises of later rewards of land and money.
It filled the ranks. But with legionnaires now attached not to the res publica but to the state and, worse, to individual men on horseback whose cause in the civil wars became vital to their economic security. If you fought for Marc Antony and Augustus won, you could kiss your farm goodbye if not your head. From then until the Empire was consolidated, the fate of Rome was settled by private armies.
Ah well. All ancient history, right? Then let’s try the medieval kind. Britain has long had a Royal Navy, and added a Royal Air Force in 1918. But it did not and does not have a Royal Army. Much wiser and better men than Mao knew from history that it was too dangerous to give the chief executive a quasi-private army that might suppress freedom at home, or even the funds with which to buy one, as James II attempted.
Frankly the creation of the Royal Navy in 1546 under the scariest of all English monarchs, the would-be absolutist Henry VIII, worries me a bit. But not even he dared seek a Royal Army. And after the Civil War a century later, Parliament passed annual Mutiny Acts that put troops under martial law only for 12 months, so that any king who tried to dispense with Parliament would quickly lose legal authority to command soldiers. Whereas Xi Jinping has a fully private, publicly funded army that’s the second-largest employer in the world.
You might argue that it’s a trivial detail because ostensible rules don’t matter in a dictatorship. For instance, Stalin never bothered cashing his paycheques because nobody ever said no to him; under “rule by law” rather than “rule of law” the state is at once bureaucratic and arbitrary. But speaking of Stalin, on whose regime Mao modelled his own, such arrangements are revealing of how the regime thinks and acts.
Even in the other great tyranny of the 20th century, as grotesquely sweeping in its ambitions as the communists and as dreadful but with some traditional trappings, Adolf Hitler was commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht in his capacity as President/Fuhrer (and Reichskanzler) of Germany, not Fuhrer of the Nazi Party, which he also was. But in the Soviet Union, Wikipedia notes, while the Red Army was created “by decree on 15 (28) January 1918 ‘to protect the population, territorial integrity and civil liberties in the territory of the Soviet state,’” its Commander in Chief from April 3, 1922, through Oct. 16, 1952, was not the head of state. It was the general secretary of the Communist Party, Joseph Stalin.
It was not even the head of state when that post was filled by the leading figure in the Bolshevik Party, Vladimir Lenin, as “Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars” or prime minister before the Soviet Union had the equivalent of a president. It certainly wasn’t when the post of “Praesidium Chairman” was created and Mikhail Kalinin took office in January 1938. Kalinin was an Old Bolshevik of peasant origins and longtime Stalin ally who evaded the purges and retired terminally ill in 1946, but he was not a major figure in the regime. And I defy you to name any of his successors (for instance Nikolay Shvernik 1946-1953) until Leonid Brezhnev took it on in 1977 so as to rank equally with U.S. presidents in protocol matters. Wikipedia’s list of “leaders of the Soviet Union” does not mention any of his predecessors, including Kalinin, and if you Google “Vasili Kuznetsov,” who held the post three times, you get the wrong guy.
Such is the nature of Marxist regimes. They’re all about the communism.
It’s upsetting even to think about communist penetration of governmental, economic, and cultural institutions in the West. And if you talk about it you’ll be accused of McCarthyism. But if it’s horrifying to contemplate a leader of the free world having the military in his pocket, how about the leader of a communist party ruling perpetually?
John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.