Behind Xi Jinping’s call for a return to Marxism

The president of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, has been issuing statements that seek to curb the corrosion of socialist values that has become widespread in China.

The Press Trust of India reported on July 1: “Officials of the ruling Communist Party of China should shed the obsession with GDP numbers to get promotions and return to principles of Marxism, which suffered an ideological meltdown in the course of the country’s reforms, President Xi Jinping said today.”

Later Xinhua, the official press agency of China, reported on July 12: “Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged the 85 million members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to work hard and serve the people wholeheartedly to ‘ensure the color of red China will never change.’”

Xi, who is also the general secretary of the CPC, made these remarks on the eve of the 92nd anniversary of the founding of the party. On July 11, he visited Xibaipo in Hebei Province, where the CPC leaders had been based from May 1948 to early 1949 as they prepared to seize power and become the ruling party of China.

Xi said, according to Xinhua, that “late Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s remarks on Party members’ work styles prior to the founding of New China in 1949 still have far-reaching ideological and historical significance.”

“At an important meeting of the CPC in March 1949,” continued Xinhua, “Mao called on the whole party to resolutely carry forward the work style of displaying modesty and prudence while guarding against conceit and impetuosity, and resolutely carry forward the style of working hard and plain living.”

“Calling China’s revolutionary history ‘the best nutrient,’ Xi said studying and recalling such history can bring ‘positive energy’ to Party members.”

Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying “the people should be encouraged to take care of the CPC and be guided to exercise their duty of supervision.”

The Press Trust article quoted Xi as having said earlier that “the party’s cadres should be firm followers of Communist ideals, true believers of Marxism and devoted fighters for the socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The PTI further paraphrased Xi: “A party official’s integrity will not grow with the years of service and promotion of his post but with persistent efforts to discipline himself and study Marxist classics and theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, Xi said.”

These were not just one-time speeches. They are part of a campaign to try to restore the party’s reputation through pushing a public, ideological foundation. The campaign began back in April of 2013, as a campaign against corruption shortly after Xi took over as president.  At that time it was known mainly by a slogan against “four course meals” for officials, meaning an end to extravagant banquets and other indulgences. Now it is being put in the context of Marxist ideological renewal.

The campaign has been unfolding step by step recently, with daily reports in the Chinese government press about carrying out the “mass line” and using such slogans as “from the masses to the masses.”

All 31 provincial level regions, central government organs and other people’s organizations are scheduled to convene work conferences to carry out an educational campaign, attacking undesirable work styles such as “formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance.” This is part of the anti-corruption campaign initiated by Xi.

Xi is promoting rectification of work styles by calling for “self-purification, self-perfection, self-renewal and self-progression. “

A matter of ‘survival or extinction’ for the CPC

In a blunt statement to a Central Committee meeting on June 18, called to launch the campaign in full, Xi put the stakes involved as plainly as possible. Xinhua reported: “‘Winning or losing public support is an issue that concerns the CPC’s survival or extinction,’ Xi said, stressing that the mass line, or furthering ties with the people, is lifeline of the Party.”

The same dispatch spoke about “flesh and blood” ties with the people and called for getting more workers with knowledge of the grassroots and social conditions into the party.

Li Junnu, a former vice president of the CPC Central Committee Party School told Xinhua: “Maintaining close ties with the masses is the Party’s largest political advantage while isolation from the people is the greatest danger facing the CPC.” (Xinhua, June 18)

It must be remembered that on Xi’s first trip after assuming the presidency in March 2013 he went to Guangdong Province and gave a talk to a party group warning about the dangers of a Gorbachev-type development in China. He spoke in dire terms about how the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was overthrown and socialism completely destroyed. The long-term fate of the party is undoubtedly a deep concern of Xi and his collaborators.

An observer must conclude that this is a serious attempt to reverse the effects of three decades of erosion of socialist morality under the impact of capitalist inroads and all the decadence, corruption and market immorality that the exploiters, domestic and international, bring along with their profit lust.

Massive corruption is the norm under capitalism. And these norms have become pervasive throughout socialist China, severely undermining the consciousness of the society as a whole and breeding cynicism and alienation among the workers and the peasants.

The reputation of the party has suffered immeasurably, especially at the provincial and local level. There have been tens of thousands of “mass incidents” annually, reported on by the government itself. They include peasants protesting their lands being sold off to developers; workers protesting against employers violating their rights; protests against pollution; and numerous other grievances.

In this campaign led by Xi to deal with the political and social decay brought on by concessions to capitalism and imperialism, the leadership is harkening back to memories and associations with the heroic period of the Chinese Revolution.

It is notable that Xinhua, undoubtedly with the agreement and perhaps the advice of Xi, referred in the most favorable way to Mao as the authority in prescribing “hard work” and “plain living” as the correct practice for cadres. The reference to studying the revolutionary history of China as “nourishment” to strengthen the party is a breath of fresh air. Talk of “mass line,” “from the masses to the masses” and “serving the people heart and soul” — various prescriptions for self-correction and reflection — are clear references to the early stages of the Chinese Revolution.

The leadership is reaching back to earlier, more revolutionary times, both to warn the corrupt elements and to inspire the masses.

Entrenched bureaucratic interests must be fought from below

This campaign is a laudable step, certainly as regards its intentions, and hopefully it will bring about positive results. But there are deep contradictions and limitations in the campaign that must be overcome in order for it to achieve its objectives.

There are bureaucratic interests in the party that are tied in with government officials and those invested in capitalism who will not abandon their positions based upon moral appeals or social pressure alone. They will find a thousand ways to evade or obstruct the campaign, so long as it relies on voluntary compliance.

These entrenched interests must be fought. And the surest, most reliable way to fight them is to enlist the masses in the struggle. Without this, the campaign will be severely limited.

Corrupt officials must be weeded out. And this cannot be done from above. It must come from below, from the masses who are subject to official abuse, who know firsthand who are corrupt, who are opportunists, who are out for themselves, who are privately collaborating with the landlords or the developers and the bosses, who violate the rules that protect the people’s interests, who laud it over the people and so on.

It is ironic that Bo Xilai, a popular former party official and Politburo member in charge of Chongqing Province, now languishes in detention because he was persecuted by the present leadership. Among other things that put him out of favor with the leadership was that he called upon the masses in Chongqing to report corrupt officials, business people and party officials. Bo waged a hard campaign to prosecute and jail these corrupt elements as part of his overall campaign to slow down the march along the capitalist road.  And Bo tried to restore Maoist culture.

Reading the Marxist classics and popularizing the idea of remaining loyal to communism is a healthy and ideologically cleansing program. The more widely it is implemented, the greater the benefit for socialist forces in China.

But it will take more than reading to overcome the pragmatists, the opportunists and the capitalists who were allowed into the party by Jiang Zemin in 1992. Marxism asserts that being determines consciousness. While some individuals can re-educate themselves, the broad layers of privileged officials will not do so voluntarily. It will take a fight. Perhaps the Xi leadership has anticipated this and has a plan to break the resistance of recalcitrant elements. That would be all to the good.

Economics determines politics

But there is a more fundamental problem. The problem is the very existence of outrageous privilege itself in the party. In the early Bolshevik revolution, Lenin and his collaborators instituted the “law of the maximum,” following the example of the Paris Commune. No party member could earn more than the highest-paid worker.

This was a measure designed precisely to prevent privilege and its companion, corruption. It was the abandonment of this practice and the growth of inequality that was one of the decisive factors leading to the alienation of the Soviet workers and the decline of the Soviet party leadership, making the USSR vulnerable to capitalist counterrevolution as it came under pressure from imperialism on all sides.

Privilege in China, under the regime of so-called “market socialism,” is out in the open. It is praised as a sign of accomplishment, not in the party so much as in society as a whole. China has strayed far, far away from socialist norms and has become enveloped by capitalist norms.

When Xi calls upon party members to be loyal to communism and to study “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” what he is not acknowledging is the relationship between politics and economics. It is a foundational tenet of Marxism that in the long run economics determines politics — and morality, social consciousness, legality and ideology as well.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is actually a phrase whose content is a socialist China in partnership with domestic and international capitalists. But this is a wholly antagonistic partnership — one in which the capitalist side strives to destroy the socialist side.

In addition to being affected by the spread of private capitalists — who are corrupt and corruptors — the socialist sector, the state-owned enterprises, the banking system and the planners have adopted capitalist market models. This is a great source of corruption inside the state itself.

Xi has not yet declared openly his economic program nor has he taken a public position on the economic orientation of Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Li is calling for the reduction of the role of the central government in the economy, including reducing the role of state-owned enterprises, ending the use of economic stimulus to support the economy, increasing the role of small and medium private businesses in the Chinese economy, and opening up widely to foreign investment in finance and other crucial areas.

In fact, last year Li was a co-sponsor, along with the World Bank, of a long and detailed report entitled “China 2030.” This was a blueprint for profoundly undermining the remaining fundamental structures of Chinese socialism — government planning, state-owned enterprises, and central financial and economic control by the Communist Party.

Xi himself is a devoted advocate of so-called “market socialism.” Market socialism means socialism side by side with and contaminated by capitalism. The acquisitive, grasping quest for profit and individual material gain that characterizes capitalism has permeated China and eroded the socialist spirit.

The destruction of the rights and benefits of the working class and the peasants to jobs, land, education, health care and housing that were bedrocks of the revolution of 1949 were abandoned by the Deng leadership and subsequent leaderships.

Now the chickens have come home to roost in the form of the alienation of the masses. Xi, to his credit, sees this as a threat to the party and the foundation of what remains of socialism in China.

But the Xi leadership is trying to fight the symptom without tackling the disease: capitalist penetration of the economy and the social mores, ideology and the very core socialist spirit of the Chinese Revolution.

Perhaps the attempt to turn back this reactionary tide of corruption and bureaucracy will lead to greater struggles in which the masses can intervene and act in their own name and on their own behalf.

But one thing is certain: the politics of anti-corruption, anti-bureaucratic reform on the one hand and capitalist market economics on the other are thoroughly opposed to one another.

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