Whole-process people’s democracy: Features and advantages

BY BAO XINJIAN | 12-24-2021
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The English and Chinese editions of the white paper titled “China: Democracy That Works” released by China’s State Council Information Office on Dec. 4, 2021 Photo: CFP

Whole-process people’s democracy is not only a distinctive feature of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics, but also a crucial objective for furthering the political progress of contemporary China. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee, with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, has been constantly deepening the understanding of democratic politics, creatively proposing the significant concept of whole-process people’s democracy. The concept points out a fundamental direction for promoting the construction of socialist democratic politics in more depth and with greater effectiveness in the new era, and ensures that the people’s status as masters of the country is manifested in the Party’s governance policies, measures, and all aspects of its work more concretely and pragmatically. 
People-centered democracy 
In the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx said that it is not the constitution that creates the people, but the people who create the constitution. This is the most brilliant revelation regarding the essence and intrinsic logic of democracy. 
Developing a people-centered socialist democracy has always been a political value pursuit of Chinese Communists. Since the day it was founded, the CPC has been upholding democracy for the people, unswervingly striving for the people’s liberation. 
As a result, democracy is a thread which has run through the whole process of revolutions, construction, and reforms led by the CPC, from theory to practice, from regional to overall practices, from a value to an institutional form, and from institutions to governance mechanisms, covering all links of state governance and reflected in each and every aspect of China’s economic and social development.  
That the Chinese people truly become the masters of the country and society is a great achievement in the construction of Chinese socialist democratic politics and the fundamental premise for further developing whole-process people’s democracy. 
As socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, the construction of democratic politics has broken new ground in China. Advancing democratic politics in the new era, with the people at the core, is significant on multiple levels. 
First, the people are the fundamental starting point for the construction of democratic politics. Safeguarding the people’s sovereignty and improving their wellbeing to realize their aspirations for a better life have been the basis for the CPC to lead state governance and the development of democratic politics. 
Second, the people are the fundamental force to rely on in the construction of democratic politics. In the final analysis, the organic integration of CPC leadership, the people’s status as masters of the country, and law-based governance aims to win and retain the people’s support, relying on the people’s power as subjects wholeheartedly to promote socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics. 
Third, the people’s status as masters of the country is the fundamental aim of democratic political construction. As General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping said, “Democracy is not an ornament to be used for decoration; it is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve.” The core value of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics is to entitle the people to real voting rights and extensive participation, to ensure their more robust, solid, and sustainable sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security. 
All-encompassing democracy 
After 100 years of unremitting efforts, particularly since the reform and opening up, the CPC has led the people to form a complete institutional chain for developing whole-process people’s democracy. The institutional chain consists of the following parts. 
The first is the system of people’s congresses, which is the fundamental political system of contemporary China. The system is distinctive and advantageous in that it can realize consistency among the Party’s policies, the people’s aspirations, and state will through democratic elections and legislation. 
The second part, the system of CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation, is the basic political system of contemporary China, which features democratic consultation that can pool the people’s wisdom and build democratic consensuses to reach the greatest common ground through multiple channels of consultation. 
The system of regional ethnic autonomy is a great political creation to realize equity and solidarity among all ethnic groups through democratic channels and forms, and a fundamental choice of path and basic institutional guarantee to address ethnic issues with Chinese characteristics. It can forge a keen sense of national identity, guide people of all ethnic groups to establish the vision of the national community with a shared future, and bolster national cohesion. 
The system of community-level self-governance is an important institutional arrangement to safeguard the people’s extensive democratic rights and build a community of social governance for all, in which everyone is responsible and performs their duties. The system can stimulate the people’s initiatives and creativity on the basis of their wide democratic participation, improve the social governance system based on collaboration and broad participation with the goal to bring benefits to all, continuously strengthen their sense of gain, happiness, and security, and promote the well-rounded development of individuals and comprehensive social progress. 
The complete institutional chain of whole-process people’s democracy includes electoral democracy, consultative democracy, social democracy, primary-level democracy, citizen democracy, and all other elements of democratic politics. It covers democratic elections, democratic consultation, democratic decision-making, democratic management, democratic oversight, and all other fields of the democratic process. It integrates process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democracy, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people’s democracy with the will of the state. Practices have proven that democracy’s complete institutional chain, which reflects the essence of the people’s democracy, has a broad social base and great political potential. 
Broadest democracy
The essence and nature of socialist democracy is the people’s participation in the whole process of state life. Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics has created two basic forms—electoral democracy and consultative democracy—for the people’s participation in state governance and in political and social life. The core of electoral democracy lies in fair competition, and the core of consultative democracy is extensive participation. 
Through fair competition and elections in accordance with the law, people’s congresses and governments of all levels have been built to exercise the right to run the country on behalf of the people, transforming the people’s rights into power. This is vital to sustaining the operation of the state and promoting state governance. Electoral democracy based on fair competition is a fundamental institutional arrangement for the people to exercise their rights as masters of the country and a crucial institutional channel to develop whole-process people’s democracy. 
Meanwhile, it should be noted that electoral democracy is not a panacea. Voting alone can by no means thoroughly solve many problems concerning the immediate interests of the people in state governance. The development of whole-process people’s democracy not only entails complete electoral procedures to ensure fairness and justice in elections, but also necessitates a mechanism of extensive democratic participation, in which democratic consultation is leveraged to jointly tackle various realistic problems of the people’s concern. 
Only by allowing the people to participate in democratic decision-making, democratic management, and democratic oversight regularly and extensively through diverse institutionalized consultative platforms, can they be motivated to engage in state governance and the construction of democratic politics in an orderly fashion. 
In this light, electoral democracy and consultative democracy are complementary, constituting a strong institutional power for advancing whole-process people’s democracy. 
Equality-based inclusive democracy 
Socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics has increasingly demonstrated tremendous vitality and impact, and showed unique features and advantages amid comparison with diverse democratic systems and values around the world. A fundamental reason for this is that the CPC adheres to the people-centered governance philosophy and firmly grasps the true meaning of democracy—to build broad consensuses and achieve convergence of interests to strive for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation together, while guaranteeing the people’s status as masters of the country. 
In the new stage of building China into a modern socialist country in all respects, diverse political value appeals of all members of society are embodied as higher expectations for equality. The people not only expect equality in results—to enjoy more equitable democratic rights and interests in the country’s modernization drive and through the course of social democracy. Also, they expect equality in the process, anticipating more equal opportunities to participate in public governance and fully express their democratic rights and appeals of public opinion. The organic integration of equality in results and the process is essential to the development of whole-process people’s democracy. 
Equality and inclusiveness are closely related as the two basic links of whole-process people’s democracy. Socialist democracy is inclusive on the basis of equality. Under the shared political value of the people as masters of the country, uniquely Chinese democracy is characterized by the broadest tolerance of opinions and suggestions from all sides, and the unification of all political groups and social forces to form the broadest patriotic united front, to harmonize relations among political parties, ethnic groups, religions, social strata, and compatriots at home and abroad and create “a political landscape, which integrates concentration with democracy, discipline with freedom, and unified will with ease of individual mind,” as first described by Chairman Mao Zedong and reiterated at the sixth plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee. 
Realizing and consolidating such a political landscape requires proper handling of the relationship between consistency and diversity to maximize the inclusive function of socialist democracy. 
China’s whole-process people’s democracy, particularly consultative democracy, covers all political parties, people’s organizations, ethnic groups, social strata, sectors, and fields, so it has high political inclusiveness. Democratic political practices since the 18th CPC National Congress have proved forcefully that the unique function and institutional advantage of consultative democracy have endowed whole-process people’s democracy with profound logic and bright prospects. 
Bao Xinjian is a distinguished professor of Marxist Studies from Shandong University.