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Is Today’s China Yesterday’s Soviet Union?

Xi Jinping and the rest of the Communist Party of China leadership apparently do not realize that the same fundamental problems that sank the Soviet Union are now threatening to sink China. The long experiment in opening up appears to be over, making economic failure all but certain.

STANFORD – The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), held this past October, confirmed President Xi Jinping and China’s top political leadership for the next five years. But what that means for the Chinese economy going forward will depend on three factors: the state of the country’s institutions, past and current economic conditions, and the leadership’s political intentions.

China’s most fundamental institutions are totalitarian, reflecting and reproducing the CPC’s monopoly control over every facet of society, including the economy. The party-state institutions of totalitarian control were transplanted, in full, from the Soviet Union in 1949. While Soviet-style totalitarianism collapsed three decades ago under the dead weight of its economic failures, China appeared to be an exception. The question now is whether China’s own totalitarian experiment can last.

To answer that, one must understand the structure of “totalitarianism with Chinese characteristics.” A key pillar is regionally decentralized totalitarianism (RDT), which combines highly centralized totalitarian control over politics, ideology, and personnel with decentralization in administrative and economic affairs.

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