Deciphering The Third Plenum Report

The Key to Addressing Reforms When You Have No Intention of Implementation

18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China

18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. By 东方 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The hardest thing about running an authoritarian regime is assuaging the population’s desire for reform without actually doing so. It’s a tricky tightrope act that only the most agile of leaders can master. China’s recent Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress captured this balancing act in action. Unlike the Third Plenum of the 11th Congress in which Deng Xiaoping clearly articulated a set of free-market, economic reforms, this most recent meeting was a charade. The document released after their three-day meeting, known as the Plenum Communiqué, contained some legitimate calls for change. The only problem was that even in its original language the document is incomprehensible; it lacks coherent solutions and legitimate policy reforms. A drug addict with a monkey stenographer might have been able to pound out a piece of similar – or perhaps greater – substance.

To be fair, identifying necessary reforms in a country plagued by environmental issues, social and economic inequality, and political malfeasance is no easy feat. If Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and their band of merry men released a statement with too many calls for reform and policy changes, the bar would be set unreasonably high. At the same time, if in the Third Plenum they called for insufficient changes there would be tremendous public outrage that might precipitate political activism.

In this case, being vague is the best approach. If China’s leaders prescribed legitimate reforms for their economy and political systems, just think of the instability it might prompt. The millions of migrant workers who are denied health insurance, educational opportunities, and economic freedom would get overexcited. Calls to curtail environmental pollution would give the millions of Chinese who live in cities with toxic PM 2.5 levels such a sense of relief that they might pass out on the streets during rush hour, dying of asphyxiation from exhaust fumes. Discussing democratization or even more transparency in government might distract Foxconn workers from assembling iPads. It is clear that rushing into reforms without proper thought and consideration is a bad decision for a country still in the early phases of development.

Engaging In Premature Reform is Dangerous

For now the safest way to engage in reform is by avoiding said reform at all costs. They say the longer you wait for policy changes the better they feel. The right time for reform implementation, however, remains unclear. One can’t simply engage in pre-hegemonic reform. At the moment, the party is simply waiting for that special generation to come along. The wait of course will be worth it.
China’s 18th Party Congress can’t be upfront about the fact that reforms may be only attainable in the far-away future. China’s 1.3 billion people are bursting with all kinds of desires to experiment politically, economically and socially. If China was too upfront about its intention to postpone reform, there might be a nasty schism and nationwide protests. And it isn’t that the Communist Party doesn’t want to reform with its people. It just doesn’t feel ready.

How to Lead on Your Population in the Most Effective Way

Sure you can’t engage in it, but you definitely can talk about it. Even just saying the word over and over can excite your countrymen enough without succumbing to their desires. It’s for this reason that in the Plenum Communiqué there was a lot of mention of reform and other words that are sure to excite its disgruntled, frustrated citizens. According to a press release by the Beijing News, no prior Third Plenum report had as many uses of the word ‘reform’.

The Plenum stressed that to comprehensively deepen reform, we must hold high the magnificent banner of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important ‘Three Represents’ thought and the scientific development view as guidance, persist in beliefs, concentrate a consensus, comprehensively plan matters, move forward in a coordinated manner, persist in the reform orientation of the Socialism market economy, make stimulating social fairness and justice, and enhancing the people’s welfare into starting points and stopover points, further liberate thoughts, liberate and develop social productive forces, liberate and strengthen social vitality, firmly do away with systemic and mechanistic abuses in all areas, and strive to open up an even broader prospect for the undertaking of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Chinese readers must have gotten excited just reading this. “Persist…”, “concentrate…”, “stimulate…” This proactive language would leave any reform-deprived person brimming with optimism, if only for a while. One Chinese blogger wrote, “In the end it’s not important whether the document is consistent from beginning to end, because everyone can find what they need in it.” So long as Chinese citizens are satisfied with their government toying with reform, the Communist Party may be able to kick the can down the road and refrain from true policy changes for some time. Sure, citizens’ reform frustrations will continue, but at least everyone can be assured that no one is rushing into any big decisions.

An Autocrat’s Guide for Dummies: How to Build Your Own Cult of Personality

As an autocrat, one of the smartest choices you can make for long-term political domination is to build a strong cult of personality. This is no easy task. Building your brand requires much dedication and effort, which will surely take away from many scotch tastings at your summer palace. Indeed, rumor has it Stalin only slept four hours per night due to his constant cultivation of his exceptional personality cult. However, the rewards of this strategy are bountiful. A personality cult attracts blind devotion in the minds of your subjects and instills fear in the souls of your opponents – the ever-rare opportunity to murder two birds with one stone! Indeed, history has shown that some of the most powerful autocrats, such as Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, enjoyed a long period of rule and a lasting legacy because of the success of their personality campaigns. The mass-appeal of the cult of personality syndrome is irrefutable, as even the humblest man would enjoy the constant ego stroking. By heeding the following recommendations, you too can develop your own brand that will stand the test of time.

1. Nail Down Your Style

Right: Graffiti of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi in Knoxville, Tennessee. June 19, 2013. (Joel Kramer) Left: Muammar Gaddafi at the 12th AU summit in Addis Abeba. February 2, 2009. (U.S. Navy/Jesse B. Awalt)

Right: Graffiti of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi in Knoxville, Tennessee. June 19, 2013. (Joel Kramer)
Left: Muammar Gaddafi at the 12th AU summit in Addis Abeba. February 2, 2009. (U.S. Navy/Jesse B. Awalt)

The communist-style grey suit is so 1950s. Kim Jong-un: please take note. While those drab American leaders all dress similarly and wear the same American flag pins, which are of course made in China, you should focus on dressing to impress. We recommend obtaining a military uniform and cramming as many shiny badges on your outfit as possible. People want a strong leader, and old-school military power projection will impress your subjects while making them more accepting of your militaristic police state over time. Muammar Gaddafi mastered the dressing game, switching between flashy traditional garb and his ornate military uniform to trumpet both his cultural and military credentials. A consistent, yet unique style will leave the newly minted members of your personality cult craving for more.

2. Plaster Your Face on Everything

Bundesarchiv Bild 137-075664, Polen, Betreuung von Umsiedlern

Child holds portrait of Hitler in Poland. 1940 (Wilhelm Holtfreter)

If there is one thing you should do, it would be to post your portrait everywhere possible, including private buildings, buses, churches, government buildings (give-in), postage stamps, flags, and children’s toys. This author would advise against toilet seats, although that is a potential option. Not only will everyone learn to recognize you, they may even develop an emotional attachment to your face. Let’s take a lesson from Comrade Stalin. His portrait was diffused so broadly throughout society that some Soviet families felt the need to turn his portrait against their walls if they criticized the Soviet regime. This is power you cannot buy. Hire a good photographer, take as many portraits as possible, and send them off everywhere. Additionally, a good skin regimen can help with regime perpetuation. You’ll thank me for this bit of advice when you’re before The Hague and the judges compliment your radiant glow of self-confidence.

3. Product Placement

Right: Portrait of Vladimir Putin. Unspecified date. (Russian Federation) Left: Putinka Vodka. February 5, 2011. (Reuben Yau)

Right: Portrait of Vladimir Putin. Unspecified date. (Russian Federation)
Left: Putinka Vodka. February 5, 2011. (Reuben Yau)

Extend your brand to everyday, consumable goods. You should connect yourself to the minds and souls of your subjects at as visceral a level as possible. Vladimir Putin has been able to link himself to the everyday pleasure of alcohol consumption by making a state-sponsored Vodka manufacturer label a popular brand of vodka, “Putinka,” after himself. It’s all about the subliminal advertising.  So the next time your subjects drink themselves to sleep, they will have raised many a glass to you along the way. Za Zdorovie!

4. Crush Challenges to Your Image

Left: Stalin and Nickolai Yezhov (chairman of the Soviet secret police) at the shore of the Moskwa-Wolga-Channel. After Yezhov was tried and executed, he was purged out of from this photograph. April 22, 1937. (Unknown Author) Right: Nickolai Yezhov has vanished from this doctored photograph. 1937. (Author Unknown)

Left: Stalin and Nickolai Yezhov (chairman of the Soviet secret police) at the shore of the Moskwa-Wolga-Channel. After Yezhov was tried and executed, he was purged out of from this photograph. April 22, 1937. (Unknown Author)
Right: Nickolai Yezhov has vanished from this doctored photograph. 1937. (Author Unknown)

 

If an individual or a group tries to rain on your cult parades, you must remove them from the scene. The last thing a true leader wants is a competing figure or group stealing your thunder. You and you alone are the star – channel your inner Hollywood diva. Remove all opponents swiftly and by any and all means necessary through any force necessary, and most importantly, be sure to erase them from the annals of history. A few photo touch-ups should do the trick for well-known figures. Job prerequisite: a least two years experience with Adobe Creative Suite© and, preferably, previous experience in product marketing and re-branding.

5. Micro-managing is a Must

Lenin reading Pravda

Lenin reads Pravda newspaper at his study desk at his flat in the Kremlin. October 16, 1918.

You must maintain an active presence in the direct management of your cult or else it could be hijacked by the opposition, or worse, a not-so-loyal lieutenant. Stalin was a master of this management style and developed a habit of personally monitoring and directly approving or disapproving cult products that were to be distributed to the masses. So next time one your lieutenants offers to “take care” of management, politely refuse. Reply that you will “take care” of him and send him to Siberia to break rocks.

6. Conceal any and all Physical Faults

Kim-Jong-il

Kim Jong-il. October 7, 2010. (maxdavinci)

We know you’re perfect, but on the off chance that you have a physical or mental ailment, it must be concealed. You need to portray yourself as god-like, and to do this requires careful image manipulation. Kim Jong-il had a major speech impediment that prevented him from giving speeches or distributing recordings, but he was able to hide this impediment and keep his people in the dark. Rather, Kim was known to have Herculean sporting abilities where he would bowl and golf perfect games, and he was incapable of passing gas. Focus on your strengths and do not be afraid to highlight only your finest qualities, such as your ability to show off that priceless grin.

7. Bad Press is BAD Press

Edmund S. Valtman, What you need is a revolution like mine ppmsca.02969

This cartoon of Fidel Castro is critical of Cuba’s revolution in 1959. August 31, 1961. (Edmund S. Valtman)

The saying “any press is good press” should NOT apply to you. As supreme autocrat, you can afford to restrict any and all bad press. Any negative material could dampen your image and threaten your grip on power. It may be wise to invest in subtle social media filters, shut down freelance journalistic outlets (perhaps by accusing them of being “foreign agents”) and employ youth bloggers friendly to your regime to capture the minds and hearts of a more skeptical generation. Now there’s an image that makes every autocrat want to click the “like” button.

8. Keep it Funky

Vladimir Putin in Japan 3-5 September 2000-23

Vladimir Putin judo wrestling at the Kodokan Martial Arts Palace. September 5, 2000. (Russian Federation)

Unpredictability is a good thing. By dazzling your people and the international community, you will earn a reputation of being spontaneous and larger-than-life. Many autocrats have employed this technique. Chairman Mao accomplished this task by allegedly swimming the length of the Yangtze River. Putin constantly publicizes his wild activities, such as wrestling fellow Russians to the ground (that includes bears) or guiding endangered migratory cranes on a hang glider. Stability is a necessary ingredient to ironclad rule, but in order to build a good brand, a little funk is necessary now and then.

*Disclaimer: The aforementioned recommendations will only get you so far in an increasingly democratic world. In these volatile times, where a globalized press and social media apparatus seem to be exposing the ugly aspects of your brotherhood of autocrats left and right, the days of autocracy are increasingly numbered. Instead of building a cult of personality, consider democratizing your state’s society and liberalizing its economy. Until next time, Do Svidaniya.

Updated 2 November, 2013: formatting changes for better image-text integration.