Mass killings perpetrated by Mao between 1942–44 are evoked to tell cadres that the Party will “completely remove the tumor” represented by “weak” officers.
by Massimo Introvigne
Xi Jinping has repeatedly warned that Stalin is a necessary part of the Marxist tradition he advocates, and scholars of Stalinism know that purges were a core component of its system. Rather than reactions to external threats, purges were needed to keep Communist Party members in a constant state of terror, crushing any possible dissent even before it was manifested.
Historians of the CCP tell us that the same system was implemented by Chairman Mao starting with the bloody Yan’an Rectification Campaign (整風 運動), which took place from 1942 to 1944. While the CCP was headquartered, after the long March, at Yan’an, Shaanxi, Mao, following Stalin’s suggestions, decided to destroy any possible challenge to his absolute authority by inventing a non-existing “Trotskyist” dissent, and arresting, torturing, and executing CCP members perceived as “weak” or “at risk.” Scholars believe that at least 30,000 were purged, and some 10,000 executed, in a campaign that shaped the CCP as we know it today.
On July 8, 2020, the ghost of the Yan’an Rectification Campaign appeared again in China, at a meeting of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (中共中央政法委员会) of the CCP. The Secretary General of this Commission is Chen Yixin, a close associate of President Xi Jinping, who sent him to Wuhan to keep local authorities under control during the pandemic. He is described as a rising star in the CCP.
Chen is also the director of something called the National Political and Legal Team Education and Rectification Pilot Office (全国政法队伍教育整顿试点办公室). The name is sinister enough, but is nothing compared to the speech Chen pronounced on July 8 before the Commission. He mentioned twice the Yan’an Rectification Campaign of 1942–1944 and unveiled plans for a “Yan’an Rectification Campaign of the political and legal front in the new era.” They will be implemented immediately, and will “rectify” and re-educate members of the police and other security bodies and the judiciary in pilot areas identified as Harbin and Hulan districts in Heilongjiang Province, Xuzhou and Yunlong districts in Jiangsu Province, Sanmenxia prefecture-level city and Lingbao county-level city in Henan Province, Yibin prefecture-level city and Gongxian county (under the administration of Yibin city) in Sichuan Province, as well as Baoji prefecture-level city, in Shaanxi Province, and Hulan Prison and Songbin Prison in Heilongjiang Province. This is just a pilot project, to be completed by October 2020. It will be followed by a national campaign to be started in January 2021 and completed by the first quarter of 2022.
The language used is reminiscent of the Yan’an Rectification Campaign and the Cultural Revolution. “The legal and political teams, said Chen, are impure, unfair, weak, and even exhibit violations of law and discipline.” They have “seriously damaged the image of the party and the government. In recent years, the political and legal system has been stepping up efforts to eliminate the black sheep, but the situation is still grim.” It is thus time to “scrape the bone to remove the poison,” “completely remove the tumor,” and “make sure that the political and legal team is absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable.”
This language is normally used for political and religious opponents, but here the CCP is talking about its own cadres. Yet, it denounces “shortcomings and weaknesses, as well as some political, legal, and police incorrect views on discipline, power, and interests, resulting in political, legal, ideological, organizational, disciplinary, and impure styles that have not yet been fundamentally resolved. To this end, a violent Yan’an-style Rectification in the political and legal system should be carried out, to resolutely remove the persisting poison that has accumulated for many years.” Chen promises to “eliminate the black sheep” with “heavy containment” and “zero tolerance,” and eradicate the “evil forces” and the “two-faced people who are disloyal to the Party.”
Reading between the lines, one has also the impression that the CCP is concerned with what it sees as a soft enforcement of the law in courts and jails, although this may seem paradoxical to a foreign observer. Chen quoted the Maoist slogans of “punish before and after, cure and save the people” and “punish severely.”
As usual in China, the speech includes a detailed organization program, from provinces to blocks, and encourages deflation.
The campaign, coming after the pandemic, confirms that all is not well within the CCP, or so Xi Jinping believes. On the other hand, Communist parties do not need real threats to start purges. Chen mentioned that “keeping the fear” is reason enough for this 2020 revival of the Yan’an Rectification Campaign.