President Xi's purging of Communist officials: Stunning similarities with Stalin

by IANS |

New Delhi, May 22 (IANS) After ascending to power in 2012, President Xi Jinping of China embarked on a journey to strengthen his grip on the country's already authoritarian regime. Having grown up in a political environment, Xi is well-versed in the workings of the Communist Party, his father being a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of China.


Purges have long been a tool used by leaders in Communist states to eliminate any form of dissent. Mao Zedong and his 'Gang of Four' famously purged top Communist officials in China, including Deng Xiaoping, the architect of 'Market' China.


However, it was Joseph Stalin, the leader of Soviet Russia, who established the early standards for purges, setting a benchmark against which other totalitarian leaders are measured.


Xi Jinping is one such leader whose paranoia and relentless efforts to maintain supremacy in the communist hierarchy have led to a series of purges targeting both low-level officials ('flies') and high-ranking ones ('tigers'). Xi's infamous anti-corruption campaign is central to these purges.


Critics argue that this campaign is a systematic strategy by Xi to completely seize control of China's Communist Party and state machinery.


Xi's consolidation of power


Xi Jinping belongs to the second generation of the Communist political elite. In China, descendants of the Communist political elites who participated in the Revolutionary War are known as Princelings or 'Red Heirs,' and Xi is one of them.


His father, Xi Zhongxun, was one of the founding fathers of the Communist Party of China and served as a former vice-premier of the nation. As noted earlier, the elder Xi experienced multiple purges during Mao's rule due to suspicions about his activities. Xi Zhongxun was arrested in 1962 and again in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution.


Despite initial privileges and support from his father, Xi Jinping had to start from the bottom and was admitted into the Communist Party of China in 1974.


Xi came to the attention of officials during the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests. At the time, he was the party chief of Ningde in the southern Fujian province. Even though he was far from the capital, Beijing, localised protests erupted, which Xi effectively suppressed.


Due to these significant human rights abuses, China failed to secure the bid to host the 2000 Olympics. Ironically, this situation benefited Xi, as he was later put in charge of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


His effective management eventually paid off, and he joined the Communist Party's top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee. In 2012, he rose to power as China's President.


Xi and Stalin: A tale of stunning similarities


Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union not because he exhibited classic leadership qualities but because members of the Politburo thought he could be easily manipulated. However, he had different plans.


Once he secured the position of General Secretary, he centralised all power within himself, effectively disregarding any notion of internal communist party democracy. He utilised state mechanisms to purge and execute his political rivals.


Notably, he orchestrated the assassination of Leon Trotsky, who was living in Mexico, a Central American country, at the time. Stalin exiled many of his political adversaries to Gulags, situated in the most severe environments of Russia.


To cultivate a cult of personality around himself, he authored a book titled "A Short Course on the History of the Bolsheviks," which was published in 1938 and quickly became one of the most widely distributed books, selling over 42 million copies.


However, the book contained little historical substance and could more accurately be described as a manual for dictatorship. Scholars and experts specialising in Chinese political elites and Xi Jinping have noted his great admiration for Stalin's book.


In a similar vein to Stalin, Xi Jinping also produced "The Political Thought of Xi Jinping." This book represents a significant departure from Deng Xiaoping's vision of China, who aimed to transform the nation from a rural, backward economy into a modern, state-led economy.


The recent purges within the PLA military by Xi Jinping echo the extensive purges carried out by Stalin, where, in the late 1930s, numerous prominent Old Bolsheviks were accused of treason and either executed or imprisoned. All the evidence presented in court stemmed from the defendants' initial admissions and interrogations.


Later, it was revealed that the accused were innocent; the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) had fabricated the cases, and the confessions had been extracted under severe coercion and torture.


Who Xi purged and what is to be deduced from it?


In the initial series of purges beginning in 2012-13, the foundation of Xi's power consolidation began to take shape. He first targeted Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee and national security chief, who was charged with corruption.


Subsequently, Xi targeted the prominent 'Four Big Tigers', who were closely associated with the People's Liberation Army. In the mysterious disappearances last year, China's Defence and Foreign Ministers vanished from public view. One of the most notable incidents in this sequence was the suspicious death of Li Keqiang. He had recently retired as China's Prime Minister and allegedly died of a heart attack in a swimming pool.


It is crucial to acknowledge that in the initial stage of purges, Xi targeted individuals who could potentially challenge his authority within the party in the future. Many of the 'tigers' purged by Xi were from the second generation of communist elites who came from privileged backgrounds.


This strategy cleared the path for Xi to promote his loyalists. However, Xi's regime is not without its troubles. This is evident as he has started purging individuals previously considered close to him.


An example is Qin Gang, who ascended to prominence under Xi's leadership and became the foreign minister. Remarkably, after meetings with the foreign ministers of Sri Lanka and Vietnam in June last year, he mysteriously disappeared. Alongside Qin, Xi also purged top officials from China's 'Rocket Force', which manages the country's nuclear arsenal.


Xi's actions and the purges closely resemble Stalin's tactics of consolidating power. An authoritarian framework was firmly in place, both in Stalin's Soviet Russia and Xi's China. The distinct impact of figures like Stalin and Xi is their monopolisation of power, leading to cycles of poor decisions attributed to subordinates.


China is currently struggling with sluggish economic growth, an ageing population, and sanctions from the United States, which exacerbate its challenges. Many of Xi's policies have contributed to China's current predicament, potentially inciting unrest among the populace and threatening his hold on power. He is determined to maintain control, using purges as one of several strategies.


Unlike Stalin's era, when information flow was limited, Xi faces the modern challenge of widespread and rapid information dissemination, which increases scrutiny and fuels his paranoia.

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