Communist Regimes Show a Pattern of Survival Anxiety

June 15, 2021 Updated: June 16, 2021


Historically, communist regimes in the world have shown a pattern of survival anxiety due to their fear of losing power, causing them to commit similar crimes. For example, several decades before the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Chinese regime killed thousands of students protesting for democracy, the communist regimes of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland had all committed similar crackdowns to suppress free speech.

Likewise, out of this same survival anxiety, communist regimes block out the truth of their heinous crimes. These emotions or inferiority complexes usually come from internal weaknesses within the regime that in turn lead to jealousy, provoking hatred toward developed societies. The weaker the regimes are, the more hatred they have, resulting in an extreme ambition to unscrupulously dominate the world. Despite the obvious machinations throughout the past 40 years, world governments tend to take a hands-off approach to China. For instance, most U.S. presidents, except for Reagan and Trump, have been unwilling to probe the enigma of the communist regimes.

Let’s take a closer look at how survival anxiety drives communist regimes to commit the most egregious crimes.

Crimes Caused by the CCP’s Survival Anxiety

Acknowledging the Tiananmen Square massacre is an eternal taboo for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). It is a historical crime that the CCP tries to conceal but never admits. However, it is only one of the numerous identical crimes committed by the Chinese regime: the Collectivization of Agriculture, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Famine, the Cultural Revolution, and the worker lay-offs of the 1990s—each of them was carried out because of the communist regime’s survival anxiety.

The Collectivization of Agriculture Campaign deprived the peasants of land that the CCP promised to give them in the Land Reform Campaign. The CCP plundered its agricultural production to forcefully collect resources for the development of its military industry. This seizure was justified to the CCP because it feared that it would be threatened by the Soviet Union and defeated by the United States.

The Anti-Rightist Campaign was derived from people’s dissatisfaction with the CCP’s policies, and the intellectuals who dared to speak up for the people were punished as a warning.

The Great Famine was driven by Mao Zedong’s big brother (constant surveillance) leadership style. Throughout the Great Leap Forward and the Great Famine, Mao’s survival anxiety prevented rural famine victims from flocking to cities because he feared it would damage the communist regime’s image. Therefore, Mao called out the militia to contain the peasants within villages where they had no food, starving them to death. Thirty million lives were killed at the hands of the CCP, whereas Mao raised enough financial resources to build atomic bombs.

The Cultural Revolution was also driven by Mao’s inferiority complex over the economic policy implemented by Liu Shaoqi, then vice-chairman of the PRC (People’s Republic of China)—which somewhat won public support. For the sake of building his own authority, Mao restructured the political system of Zhongnanhai, the central headquarters for the CCP, causing the entire nation to suffer the 10-year turmoil.

In 1989, economic reforms started to bear fruit alongside a rising sentiment toward democracy in universities. Eventually, students peacefully petitioned for democracy reform. Nevertheless, former paramount leader of the Party Deng Xiaoping, and a group of CCP leaders covertly dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops to Beijing as if confronted by a formidable enemy. They used tanks and guns to kill many young lives who had voiced their appeal for democracy—and put an end to any possibility of a peaceful political reform in China.

The historical worker lay-offs also originated from the CCP’s survival anxiety. Public ownership based on Marxism and a planned economy put most enterprises in China on the brink of bankruptcy and the state-owned banks that financed the enterprises were about to collapse in the mid-1990s. Zhu Rongji, then CCP Premier of the PRC, in order to uphold the CCP’s political authority, initiated the privatization of state-owned enterprises. The policy allowed small and medium-scale state-owned enterprise directors to take over enterprises and, at the same time, retrenched and victimized tens of millions of state-owned enterprise employees.

Epoch Times Photo
In May 1962, Chinese refugees stand in line for a meal. During the famine caused by “The Great Leap Forward” Chinese policy, between 140,000 and 200,000 people entered illegally into Hong Kong. (AFP via Getty Images)

CCP’s Reforms Prove Its Revolutions to Be Historical Crimes

The CCP has been in the midst of survival anxiety practically since its establishment, and it will likely be that way in the future. Although it declared many haughty propaganda slogans such as, “surpass Britain and catch up to America,” in the 1950s; and “the rising power,” nowadays; the CCP actually has many underlying grievances like, “the imperialists, revisionists, and anti-revolutionaries have not ceased their desire to annihilate China (CCP),” from the last century; and “the national economy is on the brink of collapse,” prior to the reform. Therefore, the CCP has been encouraging Chinese people to struggle as a way to free its own self of survival anxiety.

In fact, the root cause of the Communist Party’s anxiety is the crisis inherent in its own system. An economist from an Eastern European communist country had insights into this crisis. In 1988, during a seminar on the reform of the socialist state held in the Austrian capital Vienna, an economist from communist Hungary spoke bluntly about the irony of so-called socialism, which he said is nothing more than a transition period from capitalism to capitalism. What he meant was that although a communist country aims to abolish capitalism, sooner or later, it has to return to capitalism. This viewpoint was soon confirmed by the fall of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. Likewise, the economic reforms of China, Vietnam, and Cuba showed that the socialist system was successively abandoned by these communist regimes, and the capitalist economy was reinstituted.

In 2009, I put forward a term—two 30-year phases—to describe what happened in China from 1949 to 2009. The theme of the first 30 years is a revolution (from the socialist revolution in the 1950s to the continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletarians in the 1960s), and the latter phase is development (the most prominent example is “development is the absolute principle” by Deng Xiaoping). If the two phases are scrutinized separately, the respective achievements touted by the CCP’s state-owned media seem to be logical.

However, the results will be different if the two phases are scrutinized together.

The most favorable term used by the authorities for the latter phase was “reform and openness.” China has indeed become market-oriented and also integrated into economic globalization. The CCP seems to have made a significant contribution to that. Yet, before 1949, China was already a market economy and open to the world. After the CCP seized power from the then republic government, its dictatorship of over 60 years left the economy in total ruins. The object of reforms was not the system in the republic government, but the disaster resulting from its dictatorship. Therefore, the success of the reforms required a denial of its touted revolutions and the reforms themselves became nothing more than a compromise.

The paradox of the two 30-year political achievements is evident: if the original reforms had yielded great results, the CCP’s revolutions would have failed. Conversely, if the revolutions had delivered high achievements, the later reforms wouldn’t have been needed. As such, Deng Xiaoping stressed a “no argument” theory because he could not justify his actions and resolve the paradox. As far as the economic system is concerned, the combined achievements of the successive rulers in those 60 years would at most make up for the demerits. Furthermore, the revolutions established a new form of autocratic system, while the reforms adopted an economic plan to consolidate this new system. The primary beneficiaries will always be the ruling group, which hides behind the people.

At one time, Radio France Internationale (RFI) interviewed me about my use of the term two 30-year phases. The interview video is still circulated in China today, but my name has been replaced with another. Later, Xi Jinping gave a speech at the CCP’s Central Party School, stating that the achievements of the two 30-year phases are not contradictory. He had to issue a banning order to make it an irrefutable argument. This is also another manifestation of the CCP’s survival anxiety.

Epoch Times Photo
Berliners sing and dance on top of The Berlin Wall to celebrate the opening of East-West German borders. Thousands of East German citizens moved into the West after East German authorities opened all border crossing points to the West. In the background is the Brandenburg Gate, on Nov. 10, 1989. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)

East Germany’s Last Survival Anxiety

An East German economic think tank member once shared with me the East German Communist Party’s survival anxiety.

In 1989, as a visiting scholar at an economic research institute in West Berlin, I often visited Chinese students in East Berlin. One time, an international student in East Germany told me that an East German professor wanted to see me. The economics professor—to avoid detection by the Stasi (the secret police of East Germany)—gave me his license plate number and waited on the roadside by a subway station in the north of East Berlin. I got in his car on time, but he dared not talk until we arrived at his villa in the suburbs.

He introduced himself as a capitalist professor indicating his social standing in East Germany. A few East German residents trusted by the authorities were allowed to visit the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Despite agreements for mutual visa exemption with China, residents could only go to China or Vietnam with special passports. The special passport was called a capitalist passport. The East German authorities saw China as a heterogeneous regime among communist countries and regarded its reforms as the restoration of capitalism. This is also how the capitalist professor was termed. The professor, who worked at the Higher School of Economics in East Germany, met with me to learn more about China.

He revealed to me a secret that no West German economists knew. He was a member of an economic research team organized by high-ranking East Germans working for East German General Secretary Erich Honecker. The research project aimed at identifying when the economy in East Germany would exceed that of West Germany. Although East Germany was the most economically developed country in the Soviet bloc, it lagged far behind West Germany. It had long relied on road tolls on the outer strip of West Berlin surrounded by East German territory for its economy.

The professor told me that they submitted a confidential report to Honecker after studying for half a year and concluded that, in terms of per capita income, East Germany could never surpass West Germany. It would be extremely difficult for East Germany to reach a fraction of West Germany’s per capita GDP. The conclusion indeed upset Honecker who was filled with survival anxiety and he classified the report as Top Secret, sealing it forever. Honecker and other red regimes shared the identical mindset—fearing the downfall of the red regimes.

Communist Regimes’ Global Ambitions and Survival Anxieties

Driven by its own global ambitions, the red power has always fantasized about its rise. Its education and propaganda tools have always been characterized by two features: for one, the United States hegemony is waning, for another, the red power is waxing. The youth who grow up in such a nation are victims of long-term brainwashing, and most of them who are simple-minded have had implicit faith in the regime’s propaganda throughout their lives. All the more reason for the Party leader to proclaim such lofty remarks—occasionally with a menacing tone.

On Nov. 18, 1956, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev declared to Western diplomats at a reception in Moscow for the General Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party Wladyslaw Gomulka, “We will bury you!” The Soviet Union, at that time, took their rocket technology and experts away from Germany, which was defeated in World War II, and accelerated the development of missiles. The Soviet Union was the first to launch a spacecraft into orbit and thought it could surpass the United States.

Coincidentally, in November 1968, when Mao Zedong met with Edward Fowler Hill (known as Ted Hill), chairman of the Communist Party of Australia, he expressed his desire to unify the world. Mao asserted: “In my opinion, the world needs to be unified … In the past, many, including the Mongols, the Romans in the West, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and the British Empire, wanted to unify the world. Today, both the United States and the Soviet Union want to unify the world. Hitler had wanted to unify the world … but they all failed. It seems to me that the possibility of unifying the world has not disappeared … In my view, the world can be unified … But these two countries [the United States and the Soviet Union] have too small a population, and they will not have enough manpower if it is dispersed. Furthermore, they are also afraid of fighting a nuclear war. They are not afraid of eliminating the population in other countries, but they are afraid of their own population being eliminated … In another five years, our country … will be in a better position …” Mao’s overtone was that he could start to deploy his dream of unifying the world by then. Mao believed that no one but himself could accomplish the task because China had a large population. If hundreds of millions of Chinese died, there would be more to continue to fight for him.

The red regime’s ambition of global dominance and its survival anxiety are like two sides of a coin. Survival anxiety begets global ambition, and global ambition begets new survival anxiety. This is how the Soviet-U.S. Cold War and the Sino-U.S. Cold War were ignited. Judging from this perspective, the red power ostensibly confronts the United States over clashes of value. In fact, the root cause of the opposition between the two sides rests with the red power’s innate survival anxiety and global ambition. However, from the old Bush to Clinton, from Obama to Biden, none of them were game for a probe into the truth. Whether it be adopting Clinton’s policy of most-favored-nation status to relieve the CCP’s survival anxiety and global ambition, or Obama’s engagement policy to enlighten the CCP, they have proven to be inadvisable approaches and reflect these Americans’ failure to understand the power of the Chinese regime.

Cheng Xiaonong is a scholar of China’s politics and economy based in New Jersey. Cheng was a policy researcher and aide to former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang. He also served as chief editor of Modern China Studies.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Cheng Xiaonong
Cheng Xiaonong
Dr. Cheng Xiaonong is a scholar of China’s politics and economy based in New Jersey. Cheng was a policy researcher and aide to the former Party leader Zhao Ziyang, when Zhao was premier. He also served as chief editor of the journal Modern China Studies.