Last month, a group of prominent former Party leaders issued an open letter calling for freedom of speech in China and an end to restrictions on the press, allowing “publishing institutions to independently operate.” Yesterday, a hard-line article in the Party journal Seeking Truth fought back against the idea of relaxed restrictions on China’s press, saying this would lead inevitably to “national collapse.” [Frontpage image by PictureWendy available at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.]
The article raises a familiar fear among Party leaders in China, that political reforms — of which the relaxation of press restrictions are a part — would lead to a series of events mirroring the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.
In a veiled reference to recent debates in China over the direction of the country and the possibility of political reform, the Seeking Truth article says China stands once again at “the crossroads of reform.” The message is not one of hope but of fear. At this critical juncture, China must be on guard against attempts by the West to capitalize on a time of uncertainty and “infiltrate” China with its ideological messages.
True to the spirit of ideological sledgehammers of its kind, the article is built on simplistic summaries and foggy references to authority like “scholars have said.” It concludes its review of political change and “disintegration” in the Soviet Union with an imposed “model” that is supposed to illustrate how the failure to impose Party controls on public opinion leads to a landslide of weakness.
In a veiled reference to the recent decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), the summary of Soviet chaos is concluded with the statement: “And Gorbachev, this man who personally engineered the Soviet Union’s collapse, was awarded by the West with the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The Seeking Truth article is a prize example of leftist CCP demagoguery.
Seeking Truth (求是)
By Zhao Qiang (赵强)
In the eyes of the West, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was a victory. But for Russians whose welfare was directly concerned, this was an unprecedented disaster. The reasons for disintegration and change in the Soviet Union are numerous, but among these “news reform” and the loss of control over public opinion played a very important role.
News reform was an integral part of Michael Gorbachev’s “democratization” and “openness,” or glasnost. Most regrettable was that this news reform took the evil turn of denying the Marxist View of Journalism (马克思主义新闻观) and departed from the principles of socialist news work, leading ultimately to loss of control over public opinion. This was seen principally in the following:
1. Various media became gradually detached from the leadership of the Communist Party. The principle of the Party spirit [in journalism} (党性原则) is a fundamental principle of socialist news work. Adhering to the Party’s leadership of news work is at the core of the principle of the Party spirit [in journalism]. However, not only did Gorbachev’s news reform not keep to this, it openly abolished this “administrative intrusion” on cultural and propaganda work (文化宣传工作), so that Party leaders from the national level down to the local level dared not exercise their leadership over cultural propaganda offices and public opinion organs under their jurisdiction, allowing them to act as they pleased and govern themselves.
This in fact amounted to the abandonment of the Party spirit [in journalism] and a discarding of the Party’s leadership over news work. In June 1990, the USSR’s Supreme Soviet passed its News and Publishing Law (新闻出版法) ruling that government organs, political parties, social organizations, religious groups, and citizens of the age of 18 or over “all have the right to establish public opinion tools [or media].” This was a green light for the “free operation of publications” (自由办报), ensuring the legitimization of publications launched by political parties and individuals. By October that year there were already more than 700 newspapers, magazines and journals registered [in the Soviet Union], including those from 13 different political parties. Of these, one-seventh were registered by individuals, and privately-operated news services had also appeared.
Once the News and Publishing Law went into effect, the predominant direction of public opinion was in opposition to the Communist Party. Some publications even ran pieces written by Party secessionists, saying those who remained Communist Party members were all “men without principles.” A clear increase in the number of people withdrawing their Party membership followed, contributing to the disintegration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).
At the same time, the Moscow News, the Literaturnaya Gazeta, the Supreme Soviet affiliated Izvestia and many other government-run publications gave up their official status and announced their “independence.” Izvestia even launched an extended criticism of the Party and government of the Soviet Union, and supported the “democratic party” and various nationalists.
So on the one hand, the newspapers, radio and television operated by the ruling party and government suffered problems in guidance of public opinion (舆论导向), not only failing to serve their role as mouthpieces of the Party and government, preserving a degree of fighting spirit and social responsibility, but even standing against the Party and government, carrying out irresponsible criticism and censure of the Party and government. This situation, of using one’s own money to operate [media that] criticize oneself, is difficult to imagine in any country in the world.
On the other hand, various opposition parties, recognizing themselves the importance of controlling public opinion, created their own publications, and these perhaps uniformly made it their mission to smear the CPSU and socialism. In the first half of 1990 it was estimated that there were more than a thousand “unofficial” publications in the Soviet Union. About this [proliferation of published materials] the famous Russian writer Yuri Bondarev [later] said: “Within six years, [these] publications achieved what Europe’s best equipped army had been unable to accomplish in 40 years. That army was equipped with state-of-the-art military material, but what it lacked was millions of germ-carrying publications.”
2. Negative public opinion of all kinds engulfed the media in the name of “openness” (glasnost). Not long after Gorbachev settled into the Kremlin, he raised such new concepts as “democratization and “glasnost,” urging newspapers and magazines to openly debate various ideological issues that had appeared in the midst of reforms. He spoke of an “unrestricted openness” (毫无限制的公开性) and “diversity of public opinion” (舆论多元化); he said clearly that, “Any matter, whether concerning pains of the moment or suffering stemming from historical tragedies, may become the object of analysis by publications.”
“Democratization” and “glasnost” became a general mass mobilization of opposition party voices in the Soviet Union in loudly denouncing the CPSU, and media in the Soviet Union whipped up a “revolution of fact revelation (including about the operational procedures of state organs) and exposing of historical stains.” All at once, publications ran a flood of pieces about the inner workings of government corruption, bribe taking and perversion of the law, about public drunkenness, drug abuse and the prostitution of women — all seriously muddling the thoughts of ordinary people . . .
Once the gates were opened, a torrent of anti-CPSU and anti-socialist content flooded the country. Stalin became a “demon,” Lenin a “gangster,” and the entire history of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union became a tale of sin. The October Revolution and socialism had brought on only disaster, while capitalist society became the imagined heaven of freedom and prosperity.
Once mainstream public opinion held that the experience of the CPSU and Soviet-style socialism was a failure, and various media had blackened the images of Party leaders, the prestige of the Party bottomed out at zero. People had doubts about the rightness of Communist Party leaders and the socialist system, and the national pride of the Soviet people was dealt a severe blow. As hostile forces (敌对势力) capitalized on “democratization” and “glasnost” to mercilessly attack Marxism and socialism, not only did Soviet leaders and their representative Gorbachev not return the attack decisively, but they answered with appeasement, indulgence, admiration and even direct participation in the chorus of voices.
3. Opening the door to a large-scale offensive by Western ideology. In January 1987, according to the direction given by Gorbachev, the Soviet Union stopped with interruption of BBC broadcasts into the country. Not long after it stopped its interference with broadcasts of Voice of America, Radio Liberte and other Western radio programs into the Soviet Union. After this, people in the Soviet Union could listen freely to the voices of foreign radio.
These mouthpieces of governments in Western nations loudly promoted Western ways of life, introduced Western attitudes and viewpoints toward Soviet reform, and criticized Soviet politics from the perspectives and standpoint of the West. For the people of the Soviet Union, standing at the crossroads of reform, the lure and incitation [of these messages] can be clearly guessed.
Concerning this, America’s Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) said: “The ceasing of Soviet interference of Western broadcasts was probably more important than Gorbachev’s decision to withdraw 500,000 troops from Eastern Europe. For the United States, this promoted the peaceful evolution (和平演变) of Soviet society, and provided a rare opportunity.”
However, the Soviet Union did not stop there. In December the same year, the Soviet Union decided to appropriate four million roubles for the import of twenty publications from Western countries for open sale within the country. This further encouraged the West’s public opinion offensive against the Soviet Union.
The facts show that Gorbachev’s news reforms brought the collapse from the inside within a few short years of the socialist ideological line the Soviet Union had painstakingly built over decades. Some scholars have summarized this process from news reform to the loss of political power with the following model: news reform >> relaxation of the media >> infiltration of outside [ideological] forces >> revelation of dark [secrets] >> accumulation of popular feeling of discontent >> countermeasures ineffective >> total loss of control over public opinion >> loss of political power >> national collapse.
This model clearly shows that the loss of control over public opinion was one important reason for changes in the Soviet Union. Among these, the detachment of news media from the leadership of the Communist Party was critical to the loss of control over public opinion in the Soviet Union. As scholars have said, at the critical moment in reforms, “Russian media journalists became the final force pushing over the edifice of the Soviet Union.”
Russian President Boris Yeltsin said it more clearly: “It was the questioning of the dark episodes in the Soviet Union’s history and present institutional shortcomings by the news media that directly shook this empire on its foundations.” And Gorbachev, this man who personally engineered the Soviet Union’s collapse, was awarded by the West with the Nobel Peace Prize.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The loss of control over the media resulted in anti-Party and anti-socialist public opinion that steadily broke apart and destroyed the ideological foundations of the Soviet Union, hallowing out the core value system of the [political] system of the Soviet Union, and accelerated change and disintegration in the Soviet Union. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia went through ten years of instability and decline, bringing a formerly great nation down to a country crushed by the West. How many Russians now feel painful regret in looking back on this. Most interesting is that Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, has experienced what the West calls a “rolling back of democracy,” including a strengthening of controls on the media. But this has resulted in economic recovery and political stability in Russia.
All of this bears important lessons for China, which is now taking the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics — and [the West] wants to send China along the path taken by the Soviet Union. The lessons of others’ mistakes are too near, and we know better than to repeat them.