EDITORIAL: A signal of political maturity

Tue, Jun 24, 2008 - Page 8

It was announced without fanfare on Friday and few acknowledged its importance, but the decision by the Ministry of the Interior to allow the registration of previously banned political organizations was another step toward becoming a normal, moderate and mature democracy.

What the decision means is that the country’s polity has become confident enough to accommodate a multiplicity of political views, rather than smother non-prevailing voices that could make life uncomfortable for those in power.

The banning of one political organization in particular — the Taiwan Democratic Communist Party (TDCP) — had long become an anachronism, not because the Cold War is over, but, as historian Tony Judt puts it, because Marxism and communism have no intellectual or political future. The fall of the Soviet Union forever discredited the concept of communism and the countries that still practice it — such as North Korea and to a diminishing extent Vietnam and Cuba — certainly do not add to its appeal.

Skeptics who argue that the TDCP could serve as a fifth column should be reminded that — like every other political organization in this country — it is the product of a long process of localization and could not conceivably be part of an underhanded Beijing plot, let alone a global front along the lines of the Comintern. Anyone visiting China these days quickly realizes the country is now only nominally communist and, despite the official rhetoric, shares very little with its ideological past.

What still has some popular appeal, however, are the foundations of Marxism, such as combating poverty and inequality.

Judt, in his review of the Polish philosopher and Marxist Leszek Kolakowski, says that “renewed faith in Marxism — at least as an analytical tool if not as a political prognostication — is now once again, largely for want of competition, the common currency of international protest movements.”

What this means is that at best the TDCP would use Marxist rhetoric to address social problems. But anything that departed from that, anything that resembled a political system, would crumble under the weight of the political burden of anything associated with “communist” or “communism.” A party like the TDCP will never represent a threat to the stability of the state and as such, its existence as a social entity no longer needs to be disallowed, as doing so would represent disproportionate intervention by the state.

The ministry’s decision was, among other things, made possible by the normalization of the country and its security apparatus, which now serves the state rather than a specific political party. This transformation, begun in the 1990s but for the most part springing from the reforms of the Democratic Progressive Party government, has given Taiwan the surefootedness it needs to allow for political pluralism, even when this means permitting the registration of parties whose names are echoes of an old ideological conflict.

Friday’s announcement may have gone unnoticed, but it should be celebrated as yet another achievement by Taiwanese, who are choosing inclusiveness and pluralism over the kind of repression that, sadly, is prevalent in the region and elsewhere.