Developing and Popularizing Marxism in the Modern Chinese Context

By: Jia GaojianFrom:English Edition of QiuShi Journal July-September 2018|Vol.10,No.3,Issue No.36 | Updated: 2018-Sep-7 17:36
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The year 2018 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx, the main founder of Marxism. The Communist Party of China (CPC) established Marxism as its fundamental guiding thought and, over years of efforts, integrated the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete realities of China. As a result, a series of major achievements have been made in China’s revolution, economic construction, and reform. At the same time, the CPC has adapted Marxism to the Chinese context, attuned it to contemporary needs, and popularized it. In commemorating Marx today, we need to uphold the position of Marxism as our guiding thought in the new stage of development and continue to adapt it to the Chinese context, attune it to contemporary needs, and popularize it based on our new experiences.

I. Addressing China’s issues under the guidance of Marxism to further adapt it to the Chinese context

As a scientific system of thinking, Marxism represents a major achievement in scientific knowledge in human intellectual history. When Marx and Engels founded their theories, they first critically absorbed positive outcomes from the history of philosophy, in particular German classical philosophy, thus founding Marxist philosophy and effecting a fundamental transformation in the history of philosophy. It is precisely due to the assistance of the scientific worldviews and methodologies of Marxist philosophy that Marx and Engels were able to undertake thorough studies and critiques of capitalist society. In particular, they revealed the laws underlying and the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production from a politico-economic perspective. On this basis, they illustrated the objective inevitability that socialism will replace capitalism, marking the progression of socialism from utopian thinking to science. Marx and Engels also applied their scientific worldview and methodology in their studies of major issues in all areas of society, giving shape to many theoretical achievements.

The Marxist system of thinking is vast and profound, providing the guidance of scientific theories for social practices. Nevertheless, we need to be aware that Marxism does not and cannot provide ready-made solutions to all specific issues which occur in actual practice. As Engels said, “Marx’s whole manner of conceiving things is not a doctrine, but a method. It offers no finished dogmas, but rather points of reference for further research, and the method of that research.” For this reason, we need to apply Marxist theories as guides to practice, and cannot take them as dogmas. Rather, we need to proceed from our real conditions and apply Marxist standpoints, viewpoints, and methods in our studies and inquiries into issues that we come across, and then make efforts to reach our own conclusions.

“The Power of Truth: An Exhibition Commemorating the Bicentenary of the Birth of Karl Marx” was held in Beijing from May 5 to August 5, 2018.


During its history, the CPC has undergone a long process of inquiry into how to apply Marxist theories in addressing China’s practical problems. In the past, tendencies to err toward dogmatism occurred within the CPC, causing major damage to our revolutionary cause. Drawing lessons from this, Chinese Communists made efforts to integrate the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s realities and carried out innovative inquiries. By doing so, they developed a unique approach that entailed using rural areas to encircle the cities and seizing state power with military force and thus secured victory for China’s revolution. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and once again under the guidance of Marxist theories, the CPC established the basic socialist system through socialist transformation and actively carried out socialist development. Even so, in this process, mistakes once again arose from the “Left” and thinking became rigid and stagnant, inflicting great harm in practice. After the launch of reform and opening up in the late 1970s, the CPC made great efforts to set things right, thereby restoring and confirming its belief of freeing minds and seeking truth from facts. Based on China’s status of being in the primary stage of socialism, the CPC launched reform and opening up in all areas, ultimately forging a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It has been during this arduous process of inquiry that Marxist principles have been further integrated with China’s actual conditions and Marxism has been adapted to the Chinese context, thus producing Mao Zedong Thought, the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and other major theoretical achievements.

Following the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, socialism with Chinese characteristics entered a new era. The CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core has led the whole Party in coordinating the advancement of the “five-pronged” overall plan and the “Four Comprehensives” strategy, and strived to realize the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, making historic achievements in these areas. During this new process, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has taken shape, which is the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and a Marxist theory for present-day China. It is also an important constituent part of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

II. Integrating the commitment to Marxism with efforts to develop and attune it to contemporary needs

While we emphasize the guiding position of Marxism in China, we frequently encounter questions such as this: Marxism was a theory produced in the 19th century, but we are already in the 21st century; is this theory still suited to contemporary needs?

As a major achievement in scientific knowledge in human intellectual history, Marxism is a scientific system of thinking founded on the basis of rigorous scientific research. In particular, the fundamental transformation in the field of philosophy which it brought about provided a rational worldview and methodology for structuring the Marxist system of thinking. Though many changes have taken place in the world over the past century, the basic tenets of Marxism are by no means outmoded. It reveals the most general laws governing nature, society and human thinking, which are universal in all stages of history and will not change after one century. It is true that capitalism today differs from that in the past, and many new circumstances have arisen in the world socialist movement. However, the underlying laws of the capitalist mode of production which Marx brought to light still exist, and the inevitable trend that socialism will replace capitalism has not changed. Consequently, Marxist theories still play a guiding role in our current practices, and its basic standpoints, viewpoints, and methods must be upheld.

On the other hand, however, Marxism is not a sclerotic or closed system. Rather, it is a living theory that continually develops on the basis of practice, and a scientific method that moves in step with the trends of the times which allows us to continually understand and reshape the objective world. Marxism does not exhaust truth, but rather paves a path toward it. From the perspective of Marxism, people’s understanding of the world is a process that forever deepens and expands. The flows of scientific knowledge of each generation have added new achievements to the long river of absolute truth. However, as each generation is restricted by the historical conditions of their time, their knowledge has the character of relative truth. Later generations will go on to make further inquiries based on a continuation of their predecessors’ achievements, and in so doing drive the progression of knowledge forward. Just as Engels pointed out, “Human thought is just as much sovereign as not sovereign,” and “this is a contradiction which can be resolved only in the course of infinite progress.” This is also true of Marxist theories. Marx and Engels created their theories in the specific context of the 19th century, and the knowledge that they obtained was only that which could be obtained given the circumstances at that time. Today, we are in the 21st century, so we certainly cannot stop at these prior achievements; rather, we need to keep pace with the times and study new issues from a contemporary perspective in light of our present circumstances so as to enrich and further develop Marxist theories and attune Marxism to contemporary needs.

During the practice of revolution, economic construction, and reform, the CPC has integrated its commitment to Marxism with efforts at developing it. In doing so, the CPC has actively launched new theoretical inquiries while upholding the guiding role of Marxism. Efforts at adapting Marxism to the Chinese context are closely linked to efforts at attuning it to contemporary needs. While integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s realities and promoting continued efforts at adapting Marxism to China’s context, we simultaneously undertake the process of making theoretical innovations of Marxism on this practical basis. This process not only allows us to obtain new specific knowledge, but also to continually deepen our knowledge and understanding of the basic tenets of Marxism. This process spurs us to rethink our current understandings and imbue Marxism with contemporary meaning. Of course, if we are to attune Marxism to contemporary needs, we also need to closely follow global developments and changes from a broad, global viewpoint and study and reflect on them from the perspective of human society as a whole.

In the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core has put forward new requirements for upholding and developing Marxism in the new historical context. Xi Jinping pointed out that the secret to Marxism retaining its lasting vitality lies in the integration of a commitment to Marxism with efforts at developing it, and continuous theoretical innovation on the basis of new experience. He emphasized in particular that we need to heed and respond to the call of our times, and pay attention to new issues arising from current practices so as to attune Marxism with contemporary needs and develop Marxism for the 21st century. The continued development of socialism with Chinese characteristics has provided a new practical foundation for the innovation of Marxist theories, and the profound changes and new issues and challenges facing human society in the world today have also given rise to new problems to be studied using Marxist theories.

III. Prioritizing stronger publicity of and education in Marxist theories to popularize them

Marxism holds that people are the primary actors in society and the decisive force which creates history, and the development and progress of human society must ultimately be realized through human activity. We must hand the scientific theories of Marxism to the people, and transform these theories into keen intellectual tools for them to use. Only by doing so will the people be able to more directly incorporate these theories into social practices, which will then prompt the more conscientious and effective development of practices in all fields. Just as Marx once pointed out, “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, and material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” For this reason, as a proletarian political party it is a very important task to carry out publicity of and education in Marxist theories, further popularize Marxism, and equip officials and members of the public with Marxist theories.

The CPC has always highly valued the popularization of Marxism, and has taken various effective measures in this regard. As far back as the hard years of revolutionary war, the CPC overcame a great many difficulties in compiling and translating Marxist works and introductory books on Marxism and carrying out all kinds of publicity activities in an effort to spread Marxism. At that time, the CPC also stressed the education of Party officials, establishing Party schools at all levels and other training institutions for Party officials so that they could be systematically trained in Marxist theories. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Marxism became China’s mainstream thinking. As such, a basic task in the realms of publicity, philosophy, and culture was to universalize education in Marxist theories and disseminate them among all in society, and to popularize Marxism to a greater extent. Education in Marxist theories has been fully incorporated into the national education syllabus; in key institutions for training officials such as Party schools at all levels and colleges of administration, and education in Marxist theories has an even more central role in the curriculum. Through the concerted effect of all kinds of media including newspapers, publications, radio, and television, Marxist standpoints, viewpoints, and methods are presented by means of various forms of social consciousness. During the long course of revolution, economic construction, and reform, the CPC has been able to unite and lead the people in concerted efforts in advancing our cause and exhibit formidable cohesion and appeal; it is fair to say that this ability is inseparable from the common intellectual foundation formed throughout society through the popularization of Marxism.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 8, 2018)

Jia Gaojian is Vice President of the Central Institute of Party History and Literature.