Self-respecting despots endeavour to pass their oppressive regimes as enlightened dictatorships. Fascists love that.
Before the Righteous Left rears proudly up, no, dears, you started with the aim of using a dictatorship of the proletariat to attain your goal of Perfect Communism in the Beehive State, remember? The Will of the People, you reckon, guarantees that the enlightened elite of the Inner Party works, strenuously, for the good of the Many — even if there are always a stubborn and reactionary Few in the gulag.
But that is working in China, or so we are told. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty, and the country, uniting 18% of humanity, thrives toward hyper-duper superpower status. It works like clockwork, minus the occasional massacre, oppression of the odd minority, reeducation camps, fostering of the odd hermit kingdom — niggling stuff like that. But what are a few illusory individual rights, when set against the common good?
It’s like the Army, right? Soldiers don’t vote, take orders without question, and speak respectfully to their commanders. Or else. What is a general to do? The battle must be fought, the war must be won, and one can’t have the privates taking strategic decisions. Even the armies of the Democratic West are indoctrinated, conditioned, to salute and obey, and to die trying.
The army model works fine, on two crucial conditions: that our generals be good at their business, and that the enemy’s be not as good. Or that our logistics are excellent, and far superior to the enemy’s. And so on. To win, our side must be the better one. The corollary is that a bad junta does not need an enemy, and can defeat itself by having its minions shoot themselves in their collective feet.
China went through that phase, with the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the One Child Policy — all abysmal failures costing many millions of lives and distorting demographics for generations to come. Have the generals changed, though? There was great alarum over the extirpation of the Gang of Four and many scapegoats received the proverbial bullet to the back of the neck. Justice was done, the Party was purged, opening the way for the Great Change — partial opening of the economy and material progress: people were allowed to own more than the very basics.
The selection process for the officer corps remains the same, notwithstanding those small changes in apparent policy. Party members climb their networks by assiduous kowtowing to Party doctrine, to ideological purity as defined by the Top Cadre. Competence and intelligence are not enough — disciplined orthodoxy is a must. Which guarantees an extremely conservative polity, obsessed with its own perpetuation above all else.
That is Nineteen Eighty-Four Stalinism for you, even if dubbed as post-Maoist enlightenment. The crucial difference is that in Orwell’s Utopia war was the defining factor for both social and economic policies. An external enemy, and its traitorous infiltrators, justified — nay, demanded — continuous vigilance and submission to a common purpose, which need never be explained. War kept the masses busy, producing what must be destroyed and never be used to raise their perceptions of what constitutes the common good. Above all, individual contentment must never be allowed to trump that common good, not even accidentally.
There’s a catch: perpetual war requires perpetual and conniving enemies. When the enemy’s ideology, or lack thereof, makes them disgusted with the Game of Empire, the People are bound to notice. Even in such a perfect heavenly state such as North Korea, material progress and external news have their insidious ways. So even NK engages in the devilish Capitalist game of commerce.
The Inner Party of China have been clever enough to notice that Maoism was not as catching as they hoped — at least not enough to supply some Eurasian and Oceanic destructive balance to their blooming Eastasia. They conceded that the accumulation and reapplication of wealth can be as stabilising as its continuous destruction.
What, though, made their prospective perpetual foes opt out of the Game? Technology. Without evolving technology, resources do not become obsolete, but they do become scarce, by sheer entropy and waste, supplying the perfect excuse for a good old war. Your stuff is running out, so you go take more from those bastards. But when innovation makes steel and coal less important than aluminium and uranium, in turn less important than silicon and lithium, you just can’t be making war on the new suppliers all the time, especially when their new sleek weapons beat your old ironmongery hands down. Innovate, or die.
The other catch is that the political and economic models of Populist Stalinism, aka Maoism, are anything but conducive to innovation. Surprise, surprise, the Masses are Conservative! Always been. The proles want security and stability, as well as a firm hand. Innovators have been known to make good fuel for the Saturday burnings at the church square.
The price of continuous innovation is a modicum of individual liberty in a meritocratic society. By offering your innovative methods and gadgets to the masses, you want not only some guarantee of being spared the gibbet, but also some upgrading to your livelihood, even if and when the State has promised to supply you and yours with the basics. What, some of your nerd friends don’t care for money, they do it for fun? Who pays for the pizza and the new quantum processor, then?
So China became a Neoliberal Capitalist State commanded by the same old Inner Party self-selected elite. No issue with that, except that some have taken it to mean the model works.
An Enlightened Dictatorship of the Masses might work without the ideology.
See, humanity does not seek anything, we have no consistent collective will. Ideology, by determining what an elite considers to be the only path to the, erm, ideal state, will work to repress anything that forces the collective to deviate from that path. As local, individual conditions are forever changing, the stresses accumulate, ultimately requiring the use of force in order to be ignored.
The defining characteristic of the future is that it is unknown. No one, not even the most enlightened Inner Party, can put together a Five Year Plan and expect it to work seamlessly. Yearly budgets require monthly reviews, and monthly plans need daily assessments. That is, when the aim is the provision of essential services for the basic wellbeing of every individual in society.
For it should be obvious that the perfect society offers every single individual the basic conditions for wellbeing and happiness, here and now, and not in some glittering future in the Sunny Uplands. There is a scientific definition for that, if you will, in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: when we have our basic, animal needs for food, shelter and security met, we can aspire to affective and social wellbeing. The key is that any collective organisation, any state, need only ensure the first rung of physiological needs: adequate food, housing, freedom from inflicted harm, health, mobility. All else must be decided by individuals, for their own good.
Ideology does not do a better job of the basic stuff than any other method. Basic is basic. Ideology, though, by selecting who should receive certain incentives, can selectively deny access to the basics. Ideology will always be less effective than its absence.
In conclusion, the collective good can be attained by an enlightened dictatorship, if we define dictatorship as anything less than universal suffrage, as long as the elite so empowered acts free from ideology. The elite does not aim to improve anyone’s lot, nor to direct the collective to an ideal state, but only to provide the basic rung of the ladder, and let individual people do the rest.
We have tried to do that, through what we call Democracy. We still do not have universal suffrage, for we place arbitrary lower limits on the age of voters. Even so, we elect our presumedly temporary dictators through a statistical sampling process. Informed choice becomes so diluted in emotional, fickle whim as to be meaningless. Presidents might as well be elected via a throw of the dice during a convenient earthquake.
A one-party system, such as China’s, offers a solution. Why not make One Party into No Party? Imagine a governing chamber composed of non-partisan administrators and lawmakers, selected on the basis of their CVs alone, by an elite of voters of proven intelligence and demonstrated civic sense. Never mind their beliefs — if they are intelligent they are far less likely to have beliefs, anyway. In fact, they should be barred from legislating or acting on the basis of their beliefs, if any. Fact based government.
The privilege of voting should be given only to those who, possessing the intellect to be able to choose, have demonstrated civic spirit in their choices and actions. That means they have consistently chosen to avoid harm to others when promoting their wellbeing, and have acted to repair harm they perceived.
This might reduce the electorate to Inner Party proportions. Such Inner No-Party would not be likely to insist there are four fingers where there are clearly five.