Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
Tension Between Officialdom and Bureaucracy Within the Party
Undesirable Working Styles and Corruption: Discipline as a Mediator Between the Moral and the Lega^l
As we briefly noted in Chap. 4, there is a close relationship between the undesirable working styles and corruption campaigns, whereas the differences between them are a matter as to whether they are punishable or not by criminal law. Our participants see the former as a collective and structural problem (the officialdom and bureaucracy of the communist system), whereas the latter is seen as an individual or moral problem (the crime committed by individual subjects) that is generated by the former. As a midlevel official from the general office of a provincial government informs us:
Undesirable working styles are everywhere and superficial, whereas corruption is more likely to be an individual problem. If the undesirable working styles can’t be well controlled, when an ordinary cadre is in power, they will become corrupt, the undesirable working styles create the space to obtain private gains.
That is, the moral degradation within the Party (as the moral body of the Party) could lead to the corruption of individual officials (like cells diseased within the moral body of the Party). The problem of undesirable working styles manifested by individual officials (as diseased cells) is seen as a step away from the criminal corruption of individual officials (as corrupt cells), which in turn leads to the Party’s moral decline (damage of the moral body of the Party). A mid-level official from an Education Department further elaborates on the relationship between Party discipline and the ethical subjectivities of officials:
The lack of Party discipline will inevitably lead to malpractices and corruption intensifying. The ethical degradation of those cadres usually starts from malpractices and violation of Party discipline. Their corruption in turn contributes to organizational slack discipline. Both follow each other, forming a vicious cycle. At the same time, we should also notice, the prevailing undesirable working styles and serious corruption have become a systemic problem, which are attributed to the weakness and slackness of Party organization. The fight against corruption is complicated, strict Party discipline is a critical step to implement the responsibility to manage the Party.
That is to say, if the Party’s discipline is violated, then individual officials will become dysfunctional. Through the process of individual officials becoming dysfunctional, they will gradually become prone to criminality and immorality, which further damages the Party’s standing in society. The individual’s ethical problem within the Party will become a legal problem. This individual’s moral and legal problems will then lead to the collective problem of the Party’s moral ecology that determines the Party’s legitimacy. In this discourse, corruption and the four undesirable working styles are together attributed to the maintenance of the “Party’s discipline.” In other words, discipline is the mediator between morality and legality.
The identification of the Party’s discipline as being the key to the Party’s moral ecology and the individual’s legal responsibility (which we explored in Chap. 5) further enables the Party to simultaneously address corrupt behaviours, criminal behaviours and immoral behaviours through disciplinary measures. In this discursive field, it is not the subjectivities of officials that determine the effectiveness of their action, it is their actions guaranteed by the Party’s officialdom that manifests their effectiveness. If there is no effectiveness associated with their actions, it is officialdom that becomes problematic rather than the subjects (although officialdom constitutes and marks the subjects) (Agamben 2013b: 87). That is to say, the quality of the subject is included in the realm of officialdom through its very exclusion (De 2013: 22). In other words, only through officialdom, which acts as an instrumental cause and divine intervention, can the Party be rendered effective (Agamben 2013b: 80). For example:
Fighting against corruption and undesirable working styles are closely linked. Without fighting against undesirable working styles, there will be corruption and vice versa. But corrupt cadres will not necessarily show problems of undesirable working styles, cadres with undesirable work styles are not necessary corrupt either. (Mid-level official, the Disciplinary Department)
Thus, within the field of disciplinary problems, there is often a direct relationship between corruption and the four undesirable working styles. In some cases, the four undesirable working styles exaggerate an official’s seeming immorality and corruption, whereas corrupt officials could also be associated with the less severe characteristics of the four undesirable working styles. In other words, the juridical problems among officials can be derived from moral problems, while moral problems could generate juridical problems. Their transgression is mediated by the Party’s discipline. In this discourse, the juridical and moral are becoming indiscernible in the space of the Party’s discipline.
Moreover, formalism can be found at both the central and local levels of the Party, as the centre can introduce formalism in policy making, while the local can introduce bureaucratism in policy implementation. Furthermore, higher-ranking officials’ formalism is often seen by lower- level officials as bureaucratism. For example, in the following quotation, one of our participants complains about the education programme associated with the anti-corruption movement:
Let’s talk about the platform for anti-corruption, and how the ordinary Party members rarely have these opportunities for corruption anyway. Several times a year we are required to be gathered there and they show us an exhibition dedicated to identifying the corrupt officials from our province. As various Party organizations arrange the visit, we have to go as an ordinary Party member. Every time after the visit, we feel funny as we don’t have the power and ability to be corrupt. These exhibitions are more useful for higher-level leaders. This is an example of bureaucratism. I feel bureaucracy is quite serious in China. (Low-level official from an Education Department)
As discussed in Chap. 4, the distinction between ordinary people and official does not necessarily refer to membership of the Party, but to the privileges one can enjoy as an official. The division between the people and officials in actual fact represents something that is not exhausted in this dimension, but is in the borderlines between them (Agamben 2013a: 75). The reason for this is ordinary or low-level officials are also the people, the members of the masses (we will further elaborate on this below), similarly the distinction between formalism and bureaucratism does not refer to the level of officialdom, but to the culture of officialdom in China.
As such, the practices that are associated with the discourses of the undesirable working styles initiatives and of the anti-corruption campaign provide the ingredients for the (re)production of sovereign power and the subjectivities of Party members (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2012: 21). Thus, by constructing the problems of the Party as a crisis of “the governing,” a complex moral and political apparatus of governance is (re) produced (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2012: 29).
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