The Party as Polity, the Communist Party, and the Chinese Constitutional State: A Theory of State-Party Constitutionalism

68 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2009 Last revised: 18 Jan 2012

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: January 10, 2009


Since the establishment of the Soviet Union, constitutional theory has tended to look suspiciously at the constitutionalization of Marxist Leninist state apparatus under the control of a single party in power. There is a sense of illegitimacy, and a suggestion of the construction of sham constitutions, in regimes in which the ultimate state power is vested in an apparatus which itself is subject to the direction of an extra constitutional power, which in turn is meant to mask personal rule. These judgments have formed the basis of analysis of Chinese constitutionalism as well, serving as the foundations for critique especially after the reforms of Deng Xiaping and his successors after 1989. But are these criticisms inevitably correct in general, and wholly applicable in the post 1989 Chinese context? This paper explores those questions, suggesting a basis for the articulation of a legitimizing constitutionalist theory for states organized on a state-party model along certain lines. Focusing on the evolution of state-party constitutionalism in China since 1989, the article first reviews the basic principles of current constitutionalism theory and its importance as a legitimating global ideology against which state organization, and the actions of state officials, are judged. The article then looks to the evolution of the party-state model of governance from its origins in 19th century European Marxist-Leninist theory to its reception in China in the 1920s, and its modern transformation “under the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of 'Three Represents'” (PRC Constitution 2004, Preamble). Drawing from the implications of the evolution of theories of state-party constitutionalism in China, the article suggests that it is possible to theorize a state-party model of state organization that remains true to the ideals of constitutionalism grounded in the core postulate of rule of law governance. This argument is based on an understanding of the relationship between state and Party grounded in (1) a division between economic and social citizenship, which is the right of all persons, and political citizenship, which can be exercised through the Party though not exclusively in the Party, (2) an understanding of political organization in which the state power and its institutions are subordinate to political authority, (3) an institutionalization of political authority within a collective that serves as the source and conduit of constitutional values to be applied by the holders of state authority, and (4) a system in which Party elaboration of rule of law values is contingent on state and party self discipline. Rule of law constitutionalism in China, then, is better understood as state-party constitutionalism, with a necessary focus on party rather than state, grounded in separation of powers principles in which the administrative function is vested in the state and political authority over all is vested in the Party under law.

自 前苏联 成立以来,宪政理论始终试图以怀疑的目光审视一党专政之下的马克思列宁主义国家政权。当国家的最高权力被授予某一个机构,而这个机构受制于一种超越宪法的外力,并且这种外力意味着个人统治的面具,这时,这个国家的宪法被认为是不合法并且是虚伪的。当国家受制于政党,而政党成为个人权力博弈的平台,那么这种“党国”体系逐渐被理解为专制与暴政的傀儡、个人或小集团统治的面纱。这样的“党国”体系由暴力机关和内部恐怖机构的强制力支持着,依照个人或小集团反复无常的念头统治着国家。在这种背景下,宪政是不可理解的。同样的,这些评判形成了分析中国宪政的基础。特别是在看待邓小平和他1989年以后的继任者们的改革方面,这些评判已作为批评中国宪政的基础理论。然而,这些批评成立、并且普遍适用于1989年之后的中国社会现实吗?本文将探讨这些问题,并提出一种理论基础——遵循一定的路线,如何使建立在“党国”模式之上的国家的宪政法制化。本文关注中国1989年之后的“党国”宪政的演进,并首先回顾现代宪政理论的基本原则,以及它作为评判国家组织形式、政府官员行为的国际意识形态标准的重要性。接下来,本文将目光投向“党国”模式的演进——从它的源头,十九世纪欧洲的马克思列宁主义思想,到它被二十世界二十年代的中国接受,再到它在当今中国“马列主义毛泽东思想、邓小平理论以及三个代表重要思想引导下” (摘自2004年中华人民共和国宪法,序言)发生的转变。根据这样的演进,本文指出,在理论上构建一个以依法治国为基础的“党国”模式的政权,并不悖宪政原则,是可行的。中国的“党国”宪政理论需要重新定义宪法——这样的宪法需要囊括组织国家政权的文件,同时也囊括组织一个平行与国家权力的政党的文件。这同样建立在对于共产党属性的不同理解上——不是一个政党或私人行为者,而是政府结构的内部组成部分,更重要的是,作为政治公民权的持有人。本文最后将使用全球的宪政标准来衡量中国的宪政,并依据以上观点得出结论。这些包括对于“党国”结构的思考:(1)划分不同的公民权—— 不同于社会与经济公民权,政治公民权由政党来支配;(2)国家权力和制度从属于政治权威;(3)多党制被作为实现宪政价值的资源与渠道;(4)在这个体制中,法制依靠国家于党的自律。中国的宪政,作为“党国”的宪政,可以用来理解依法治国。在这样的依法治国概念中,宪政约束的重点不是国家机器,而是政党组织。由此,中国的宪政法制,应当理解为“党国”的宪政。从而,“党国”体系可以被称为一种合法的宪政体系,虽然它的实质价值有别世俗的、国际的宪政。这就是有中国特色的宪政。

Shorter version published in Chinese as 共產黨與中國式的憲政體制— 一黨專政下的憲政發展理論,in 百年宪政与中国宪政的未来 (百年憲政與中國憲政的未來)

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, The Party as Polity, the Communist Party, and the Chinese Constitutional State: A Theory of State-Party Constitutionalism (January 10, 2009). Penn State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-2009. Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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