Comprehensively Developing Marxism for 21st-Century China

By: Xu GuangchunFrom:English Edition of Qiushi Journal July-September 2016|Vol.8,No.3,Issue No.28 | Updated: 2016-Sep-1 14:38
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Since CPC’s 18th National Congress in 2012, on the basis of complicated and volatile domestic and international situations, General Secretary Xi Jinping has introduced a series of new concepts, ideas, and strategies with regard to national governance, which have become a theoretical guideline and action plan for the efforts of the CPC and the government to boost reform and opening up, accelerate socialist modernization, and uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics under new historical conditions. These new concepts, ideas, and strategies combine the theoretical essence of Marxism with the practical features of Chinese socialism, demonstrating insight, creativity, practicality, and contemporary relevance. They have opened up new horizons for Chinese Marxism, especially the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and therefore represent the 21st-century Chinese Marxism that is developing in all respects. 


I. Balancing the dialectical relationship between upholding and developing Marxism


Chinese Communists have a mission to uphold and develop Marxism, and this combination of upholding and developing is essential if Marxism is to retain its vitality. As the history of the international communist movement and China’s experiences in revolution, socialist construction, and reform have shown us, the key to exerting the guiding role of Marxism as a scientific theory lies in balancing the dialectical relationship between upholding Marxism and developing it. Upholding Marxism is a fundamental prerequisite for developing it, as development without upholding is not development at all, but abandonment and betrayal. Developing Marxism, on the other hand, is an important condition for upholding it, without which attempts at upholding cannot be effective, and will result only in rigidity and stagnation. In leading China’s revolution, construction, and reform, Chinese Communists have combined their efforts to uphold and develop Marxism to create Mao Zedong Thought and the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, which constitute Chinese Marxism. These theories have led China to enormous success and have provided a major boost for its socialist cause.

An exhibition titled “Ray of Light: The Spread of Marxism in China During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” opens in Beijing on September 18, 2015. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XING GUANGLI

After the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the new CPC Central Committee headed by General Secretary Xi Jinping came to the realization that, in the face of complex domestic and international environments and the arduous task of governing a country as large as China with a population of over 1.3 billion, there would be no way to overcome risks and difficulties and gain new victories without the support of scientific theories. This support would depend fundamentally on upholding and developing Marxism, and on integrating efforts in both regards, so as to not only preserve and enhance Marxism’s vitality, but also maintain and strengthen its guiding role. On November 17, 2012, at the first group study session of the Political Bureau of the 18th CPC Central Committee, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out: “The theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics represent the latest achievements in our efforts to adapt Marxism to China’s conditions. These theories include Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development. Their relationship with Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought can be described in terms of continuation, development, inheritance, and innovation.” He stressed: “We cannot afford to disregard Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought; to do so would be to lose our roots. Meanwhile, focusing on practical issues that have arisen during the course of reform, opening up, and modernization, and on what we are working to achieve, we must attach great importance to the application of Marxist theory, to the theoretical analysis of practical issues, and to new practices and new development.” “In today’s China,” he continued, “to adhere to the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics is to truly adhere to Marxism.” These important statements have clarified how we should treat Marxism, and how we should uphold and develop it under new historical conditions. In its efforts to practice Chinese socialism, the CPC has indeed correctly understood and balanced the relationship between upholding and developing Marxism, engaged in theoretical and practical innovation on the basis of this understanding, and constantly opened up new prospects for upholding and developing Marxism and socialism with Chinese characteristics.


II. Comprehensively promoting the innovative development of Chinese Marxism


Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the CPC Central Committee headed by General Secretary Xi Jinping has, in view of the bigger picture of upholding and developing Chinese socialism and in keeping with a comprehensive, interrelated, developmental, innovative, and practical viewpoint, comprehensively pushed forward the innovative development of Chinese Marxism from the perspectives of Marxist philosophy, Marxist political economy, and scientific socialism.

In the last few years, the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee has continued to implement a system of regular group study, under which it has convened dedicated study sessions on major economic, political, cultural, social, ecological, military, and foreign policy topics. Its 1st, 11th, 20th, and 28th group study sessions addressed the topics of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, the basic tenets and methodology of historical materialism, dialectical materialism and Marxist political economy respectively, covering the three major components of Marxism – Marxist philosophy, Marxist political economy, and scientific socialism. Xi Jinping spoke at each of these sessions, setting forth new ideas and important affirmations with regard to upholding, developing, studying, and applying Marxism.

In an important speech at the first group study session on November 17, 2012, Xi Jinping explained why we must uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics and how we should go about doing this. He pointed out: “Upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics is the underlying theme of the report to the 18th National Congress of the CPC. We must hold fast to this theme and make it the focus, priority, and goal of our efforts to study and implement the guidelines of the congress. Only by doing so will we be able to study these guidelines more thoroughly, understand them better, and implement them more purposefully.” He added: “Why do I stress this point? This is because the long-term endeavors of the Party and country have shown that only socialism can save China and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can enable China to develop itself.” Xi then stated: “Only by holding high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics can we unite the entire Party and people of all ethnic groups in China, and lead them in completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the centenary of the Communist Party of China, and in turning China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the centenary of the People’s Republic of China (the Two Centenary Goals), thus creating an even more promising future for the Chinese people and nation.” With regard to the means of upholding and developing Chinese socialism, Xi laid out five requirements. First, we should fully understand that socialism with Chinese characteristics is a fundamental accomplishment that the Party and people have made through their long-term efforts. Second, we should fully understand that socialism with Chinese characteristics is a three-dimensional whole that comprises our path, our theories, and our system. Third, we should fully understand the overall basis, overall plan, and overall task for building socialism with Chinese characteristics. Fourth, we should fully understand the basic requirements for achieving new victories for Chinese socialism. Fifth, we should fully understand the importance of ensuring that the Party remains the leading core of the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In fact, the underlying idea of Xi Jinping’s entire speech at the study session was a Chinese theory of scientific socialism for a new era of history.

At the 11th and 20th group study sessions of the Political Bureau, which focused on the topics of historical materialism and dialectical materialism, Xi Jinping spoke on how to uphold, develop, study, and apply historical materialism and dialectical materialism. On the topic of historical materialism, he pointed out: “Both the past and the present have proved that only by upholding historical materialism can we continue to bring our understanding of the laws governing socialism with Chinese characteristics to a new level and open up new prospects for the development of Marxism in today’s China.” He emphasized that we should study and grasp methods of analyzing primary social contradictions in order to fully understand the importance and urgency of comprehensively deepening reform; that we should study and grasp the view that material production is the foundation of social life in order to accurately identify major relationships in comprehensively deepening reform; and that we should study and grasp the view that the people are the creators of history in order to rely firmly on the people in promoting reform. With regard to dialectical materialism, he pointed out: “In order for our Party to rally the people in a concerted and coordinated effort to comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, deepen reform, advance the rule of law, and govern the Party with strict discipline, and to achieve the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, we must continue to draw on Marxist philosophy, uphold and apply the world view and methodology of dialectical materialism more consciously, and enhance our capacity for dialectical and strategic thinking, in a bid to improve our ability to resolve fundamental problems in our reform and development initiatives.” In addition, he also emphasized the following points: First, we should study the principle that the world is unified on the basis of matter and that matter determines consciousness, and continue to formulate policies and advance initiatives on the basis of actual conditions. Second, we should study and grasp the basic principles behind the internal movement of contradictions, continue to raise awareness of contradictions, and actively address and resolve contradictions on the road ahead. Third, we should study and grasp the fundamental methods of materialist dialectics, enhance our capacity to apply dialectical thinking, and improve our ability to deal with complex situations and problems. And fourth, we should study and grasp the dialectical relationship between understanding and practice, continue to put practice first, and constantly promote theoretical innovations on the basis of practice. These two speeches by Xi Jinping represent a new chapter in the adaptation of Marxist philosophy to China.

Speaking on upholding, developing, studying, and applying Marxist political economy at the 28th group study session of the Political Bureau, Xi pointed out: “Studying the basic tenets and methodology of Marxist political economy will help us to master a scientific approach to economic analysis, understand the operational process of the economy, grasp the laws of social and economic development, steer the direction of the socialist market economy, and answer theoretical and practical questions about China’s economic development, thereby raising our capacity to lead China’s economic development.” He also stressed that, since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, our Party has integrated the basic tenets of Marxist political economy with new practices in reform and opening up, continued to enrich and develop Marxist political economy, and developed a number of important theories which constitute China’s current Marxist political economy. These include, for example, theories on the essence of socialism; on the basic economic system in the primary stage of socialism; on establishing and implementing the principles of innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared development; on allowing the market to play the decisive role in the allocation of resources and giving better play to the role of the government in developing socialist market economy; on China’s entry into a new normal of economic development; on coordinating the advancement of a new type of industrialization, IT application, urbanization, and agricultural modernization; on making effective use of both international and domestic markets and resources; and on promoting social fairness and justice and gradually achieving common prosperity. Xi emphasized: “These theoretical achievements represent theories on political economy that are suited to the conditions and features of today’s China. They are not only guiding China’s economic initiatives, but also opening up new horizons for Marxist political economy.”

How should we uphold, develop, study, and apply Marxist political economy under new historical conditions? Xi pointed out: “The purpose of studying Marxist political economy is to guide our economic development. Not only must we adhere to the basic tenets and methodology of Marxist political economy, but we should also integrate them with the actual conditions of our economic development in a constant effort to create new theories.” Specifically, we should adhere to a people-centered notion of development, which represents the fundamental standpoint of Marxist political economy; adhere to new principles of development to guide and promote economic development; adhere to and improve the basic socialist economic and distribution systems; continue to orient our reforms towards the socialist market economy; and remain committed to our basic national policy of opening up and develop an open economy at a higher level. Xi’s speech on the innovative development of Marxist political economy fully demonstrated the importance and necessity of upholding, developing, studying, and applying Marxist political economy. Summarizing the evolution and theoretical achievements of China’s Marxist political economy, the speech identified the direction, set out the tasks, and made the call for the innovative development of Marxist political economy under new historical conditions, and can therefore be said to constitute a foreword to China’s Marxist political economy in the 21st century.


III. Guiding the innovation of socialism with Chinese characteristics in practice


The goal of innovation in theory is to guide and promote innovation in practice. The new concepts, ideas, and strategies with regard to governance that General Secretary Xi Jinping has proposed since the 18th National Congress of the CPC represent the latest achievements in the innovation and development of Chinese Marxism. They are not only rooted in the great undertaking of socialism with Chinese characteristics, but have guided and promoted innovations in its practice and have ensured great success in upholding and developing this cause. These new concepts, ideas, and strategies constitute guiding principles and theoretical foundations for upholding and developing Chinese socialism, acting as important theoretical and practical guidelines for its practice.

A number of advancements have been made under the guidance of Xi Jinping’s new concepts, ideas, and strategies with regard to governance. First, China’s economy has steadily developed. The economy has made new progress while remaining steady on the whole under the new normal, sustaining moderately paced growth and undergoing structural improvements. As a result, China has consolidated its position as the second largest economy in the world amid deepening reform and opening up. Second, new progress has been made in political development. Adhering to the socialist path of political advancement, we have promoted political reform in an active yet prudent fashion, strived to develop a socialist political culture, and comprehensively promoted the law-based governance of the country, ensuring greater vitality in China’s socialist democracy. Third, new achievements have been made in cultural development. Adhering to the socialist path of cultural development with Chinese characteristics, we have continued to carry out the Project for the Study and Development of Marxist Theory, upheld an advanced socialist culture, consolidated the framework of core socialist values, fostered and practiced core socialist values, deepened the reform of the cultural system, and brought about the great development and flourishing of socialist culture, in a constant effort to enrich people’s cultural lives and bolster their inner strength. In doing so, we have made remarkable advancements in developing a leading socialist culture in China. Fourth, new accomplishments have been made in social development. Identifying initiatives for public wellbeing and social governance as two fundamental tasks for social progress, we have strived to advance initiatives in a continued effort to improve public wellbeing, ensure overall social stability, and enhance the capacity of the CPC and government for social governance. Fifth, ecological progress has been given high priority and effectively promoted. Public awareness of green development and environmental protection has been raised, environmental management initiatives have been intensified, legal requirements with regard to environmental protection have been strengthened, and the strictest possible system for environmental protection has been put into practice. Sixth, new horizons have been opened up in Party building. Upholding the principle that the CPC should supervise its own conduct and run itself according to a strict code of discipline, we have channeled strength to combat long-standing problems of misconduct, uphold integrity, and eliminate wrongdoing, so that we can further strengthen the Party through efforts to temper its ranks, correct mistakes, root out bad elements, and impose discipline.

Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the new concepts, ideas, and strategies with regard to governance set forth by General Secretary Xi Jinping and the new practices, achievements, and conditions created by socialism with Chinese characteristics have complemented and affirmed one another. Aided by a high level of unity and positive interaction between theoretical and practical innovation, Marxism for 21st-century China will undoubtedly witness new and better progress in the future, demonstrating the strong vitality of China’s continued efforts to adapt Marxism to its national conditions in an innovative manner. 


Xu Guangchun is Director of the Consulting Committee for the CPC Central Committee’s Project for the Study and Development of Marxist Theory.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.3, 2016)