PLA Political System
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) guarantees its absolute control over the military by means of a complex political work system (政工系统). Every organisation in the PLA, including headquarters, operational units, academies, research institutes, and factories, has been assigned with the three basic elements of the political work system – the Party organ system, political officers, and the political department. The political work system sees that all Party decisions, directives, and orders are expeditiously implemented and judiciously adhered to. In addition, the political work system directly controls personnel affairs, ideological education, discipline, and security within the armed forces.
Party Organ System
The Party organ system runs independent from but parallel to the chain-of-command at all levels in the PLA. Every PLA organisation has been assigned with a party organ, which oversees virtually all of a unit’s work: from operations, training issues, logistic issues, cadre promotion and transfer, budget and expenditures, etc. The Party organ of a unit reports to the Party organ of the next higher-level military organisation in the chain-of-command, ultimately through the Central Military Commission (CMC) to the CCP’s Central Committee.
At each level, the Party organ implements the principle of democratic centralism (also known as “collective leadership”). Members of the party organ have the freedom to discuss and debate matters of policy and direction (“democratic”), but once the decision is made by majority vote, all members are expected to uphold that decision (“centralism”). Both the command and political officer are the executors of the Party organ’s wills and orders.
Depending on its size and status in the administrative hierarchy, each PLA organisation is assigned with one of the five types of the Party organ: A “Party committee” is established in every unit at the regimental-level and above. A “grassroots Party committee” is established in every unit at the battalion-level. A “Party branch” is established in every unit at the company-level . A “Departmental Party branch” is established in each of the four administrative departments within headquarters. Finally, “Party cells” are established at the platoon-level and ad-hoc working groups with more than three Party members.
Party Committees (党委)
A Party committee is established in every unit at the regimental-level and above in the PLA’s administrative hierarchy. It is the decision-making and guidance body for all key issues in a given unit, and is responsible to a next higher-level Party committee. The Party committee of a given unit is generated during the Party Congress, which is normally held every five years, and subject to the approval of the next higher-level Party committee. The Party committee exercises its overseeing power through its standing committee, and carries out its administrative roles through the political department in the unit’s headquarters. The standing committee consists of the commander, political commissar, deputy commanders, deputy political commissars, and directors of the four administrative departments in the headquarters – Command, Political, Logistics, and Equipments. The size of a standing committee varies from 7 to 15 people.
Each Party committee (including its standing committee) is headed by a Party secretary and a deputy secretary. In most cases, the political commissar is the Party secretary and the commander is the deputy secretary, though in some rare cases the commander is the Party secretary and the political commissar is the deputy secretary. In regional military organs such as provincial military districts, garrison districts, people’s armed forces departments, and reserve forces, the Party secretary position is held by the Party secretary of the local civilian Party committee concurrently.
Departmental Party Committees (机关党委)
At the division-level and above, each of the four administrative departments in the headquarters also has its own Party committee, though not necessarily a standing committee. Where the standing committee is not established, the Party committee’s power is exercised through the Party secretary and deputy secretary, who are normally the chief and deputy of that department respectively.
Grassroots Party Committees (基层党委)
A grassroots Party committee is established in every unit at the battalion-level in the PLA’s administrative hierarchy. It is elected during the Congress of All Party Members, which is held every three years, and is subject to the approval of the regimental-level Party committee. A grassroots Party committee exercises its power through the Party secretary and the deputy secretary.
Party Branches (党支部)
A Party branch is the most basic organisation of the Party, and is established in every company-level unit, as well as second- or third-level administrative departments in the headquarters. A temporary Party branch can also be established in an ad-hoc unit with more than three Party members. The Party branch is elected during the Congress of All Party Members, which is held every two years in the unit. The Party branch has a committee, which consists of Party secretary, deputy secretary, party affair commissioner, propaganda commissioner, youth work commissioner, discipline commissioner, security commissioner, and mass work commissioner. One of the most important roles of the Party branch is to vet and recruit new Party members.
Party Cells (党小组)
A Party branch can be further divided into several Party cells, though the Party cell itself is not officially a level of the Party organ system. Party cells are established when members of a Party branch are scattered at several locations. Most platoons in the PLA has been assigned with a party cell for Party activities such as ideological education.
Party Congress (党代表大会、党员大会)
By regulation, Party organs must hold regular Party Congresses as an important part of the “democratic centralism”. At the regimental-level and above, the Party Congress is held every five years and is attended by representatives of Party members within the unit. Additionally, every headquarters administrative department with more than 200 party members must hold its own Party congress every five years. At the battalion-level, the Congress is held every three years and is attended by all Party members within the unit. At the company-level, the Congress is held every two years and is attended by all Party members within the unit.
Party congress are responsible for approving the reports by the Party committee and the Party discipline inspection commission of that level; discussing important issues and making decisions based on these issues; and selecting and approving the members for the next Party committee (or branch committee at the company-level) and that organisation’s discipline inspection commission (or commissioner at the company-level).