The Guardian • Issue #2030

Marxism at the centre of the CPC’s Twentieth National Congress

It has been quite some time since a Communist Party’s national congress has attracted worldwide attention. I speak of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 20th National Congress. Of course, some of that attention – in the few Western countries of the world – leaves much to be desired, but we can leave that material aside. Here, I would like to address an issue of utmost importance: the central role of Marxism at this congress, especially in General Secretary Xi Jinping’s report on the 16th October, 2022. We need to remember that such speeches are collective products of the CPC central committee, although they are attributed to Xi Jinping.

Already there is much discussion and commentary on the speech and the 20th congress as a whole. In what follows, I draw from various pieces in Chinese news media, where – refreshingly – Marxism is discussed and analysed on very frequent occasions. After studying the opinions of a number of Chinese specialists, the main points that emerge in discussions are as follows:

1) In Xi Jinping’s report, Marxism – dialectical and historical materialism – was front and centre. This was put in terms of “opening up a new horizon of a sinified and modernised Marxism.” The idea of “sinification,” or developing concrete Marxism in light of China’s specific and concrete conditions, was first proposed by Mao Zedong in 1938. At that time, he pointed out that there is no such thing as abstract Marxism, universally applied, but only concrete Marxism developed in terms of the concrete conditions of the time. Ever since 1938, this has been a focus of the CPC, which has been engaged in continuously “writing a new chapter” in the history of Marxism. And by “modernised” is meant the simple fact that Marxism must be constantly attentive to and address problems and issues of the times in which we live.

As one commentator puts it, “Marx and Engels could not provide realistic answers to the development of socialist countries decades or even hundreds of years later. Thus, the CPC must take the Marxist scientific worldview and methodology as the guide, combine it with China’s specific realities, analyse, study, and solve China’s problems. Only in this way can Marxism be alive, dynamic, and play an important guiding role in practice.”

2) CPC cadres need to improve their theoretical knowledge and practical application of Marxism in the contemporary situation. This is no small task, given that there are now more that 96 million active members of the CPC from all walks of life – village farms, industrial workers, high-tech research and production, and much more. I have personally witnessed the significant growth in study and reading sessions, as well as deeper involvement among people by branch members since the 18th congress in 2012, but the task is ongoing.

3) Marxism in China involves what is known as the “two combinations.” A long-standing practice in Chinese Marxist discourse in speaking of key policy areas is to number them. Think of Deng Xiaoping’s “four cardinal principles,” for example. By the “two combinations” is meant China’s concrete conditions and its long cultural development, both of which are combined with or reinterpreted in light of Marxism. We are used to the idea that Marxism is a guide for action, a method and political program that provides the best solutions for concrete problems.

But what about the relation with China’s traditional culture? Let me give an example: the Chinese understanding of “freedom” is quite different from Western countries. “Freedom” in traditional Chinese culture means “because of oneself.” In other words, you and I draw on ourselves, on the best of our abilities for the sake of the greater social good, or what is good for our society. For communists, this means working to bring about a socialist Australia. But we can also see that the traditional Chinese notion of freedom connects with the communist slogan, “from each according to one’s abilities.”

4) The CPC’s communist worldview also involves what are called the “six perseverences.” In Xi Jinping’s speech, they are named in this way since the first word in each phrase calls on cadres to persevere or persist in specific tasks. Let us take each in turn:

Persevere in putting the people first. This has been a signature emphasis since the CPC’s 18th congress in 2012, which is also known as “taking the people as the centre.” This is no small task, since the people in question number 1.4 billion. From Xi Jinping’s speech, we find that the Party’s theories are from the people, for the people, and beneficial to the people. Theories that are detached from the people are feeble and ineffective, and theories that cannot deliver for the people are stale and lifeless. The starting point and foothold for all developments in Marxism arise from the people and are for the benefit of the people. This entails standing firmly with the people, responding to their wishes, respecting their creativity, and pooling their wisdom to develop theories that they like, accept, and adopt so as to become powerful tools in guiding people to understand and change the world. This approach has very deep roots in the CPC, going back for a century in what is known as the mass line: decisions, policies, and programs must be owned by the people, since they can see them arising from their own needs and desires for a better life. The mark of success: in survey after survey, from 85 per cent to more than 90 per cent of Chinese people now trust government and public institutions, and are confident in the direction China is going. No small achievement, but it has been an arduous path to that achievement.

Persevere in self-confidence and self-reliance. A marked feature of socialist countries over the last century is the importance of self-reliance. A socialist country must develop food security, rather than relying on capitalist countries for food. It must also seek to develop a complete industrial chain, from heavy industry to light industry. This does not preclude international engagement and trade, even with capitalist countries, but such engagement is based on the strength of self-reliance. As for self-confidence, I am always struck in my discussions with Chinese comrades and friends by the confidence they have in the socialist system. It already clear that this system is able to achieve far more for the well-being of all people than any capitalist system. In short, China’s socialist system is already more mature and robust than any other in the world today.

Persevere in integrity and innovation. Communist party members are known in socialist countries, and indeed in former socialist countries (think of Russia), for their integrity, honesty, and forthrightness. Integrity also means that a party member does not forget his or her roots among the common people, as well as the mission of the Communist Party, which is to work towards the achievement of communism. Added here is innovation, not merely in terms of Marxism-Leninism, but also in the need to foster concrete innovation all the way from agricultural production to high-tech (the two are not unrelated). In socialist countries the backbone of innovation and economic strength are state-owned enterprises.

Persevere in solving problems. As some readers will know, I teach Marxist philosophy in the School of Marxism at Dalian University of Technology in China. In the few Western countries of the world, philosophy is usually seen as a rather useless pursuit in the ivory towers known as universities. Not so in China. Research by people such as myself is always focused on solving real problems that face common people. This is also the CPC’s line: Marxism-Leninism is always about deploying the communist worldview for the sake of solving the problems we face today.

Persevere in a systematic approach. This simply means seeking solutions from a comprehensive and systematic perspective, and not piecemeal. Any problem has its particular features, but one must understand it also from an overall perspective. This perspective includes history and current reality,  local conditions and global developments, and the implications for the future. My own experience in China is that problems are always seen in terms of an overall and comprehensive way, considering and assessing all aspects in seeking a solution.

Persevere in keeping the whole world in mind. The word used here is ancient: tianxia means literally everything under the sky, and thus the whole world. In China, they are very conscious of the fact that they have stepped onto the centre of the world stage, with the largest economy in the world, the most successful Communist Party in human history, the most mature and developed socialist country, and a system more robust and enduring than any capitalist country. While these developments – in the short space of a little over 70 years – lead to a quiet confidence in socialism, it also brings with it immense responsibility. Everything said and done in China has a global impact, and it is no surprise that the CPC’s 20th congress has worldwide attention. Responsibility: this means finding ways to contribute in today’s world – which is undergoing profound qualitative change – to a more democratic and multipolar world that is emerging all around us. Or, as they like to put it in China, they seek to integrate the great renaissance of China with the cause of human progress.

To conclude with a final quotation: “Practice tells us why the CPC has so many capabilities, and why socialism with Chinese characteristics is the right way to go: in the final analysis, the reason lies with Marxism, with sinified and modernised Marxism.” All of this raises a question for us: in light of our own conditions, how can Marxism-Leninism be developed as a living and dynamic guide for our difficult and real tasks in Australia today?

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