Can communist China drop Marxism?

By Edward Hadas
September 5, 2012

Speeches by Chinese Communist Party leaders are great opportunities to play “buzzword bingo”. Hu Jintao’s July 23 policy summary was replete with such phrases as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, “Deng Xiaoping Theory” and “Scientific Outlook on Development”. But the sloganising is more than empty rhetoric. The speech, echoed elsewhere, shows the outgoing leader wants the CCP, and the country, to escape from might be called a Marxist trap.

The trap has three parts. The first is the core Marxist belief that economic considerations come first while culture and everything else lag far behind. These days, many non-Marxists also put the economy first, but Chinese leaders are especially loyal to the simple claim that GDP growth equates to progress. Hu’s focus on scientific development, for instance, is shorthand for putting higher production before all other goals. His other big buzzword – harmonious development – is not a tribute to the traditional Confucian notion of cosmic harmony, but a call not to let inharmonious social disorder slow material progress.

The second part of the Marxist trap is the Communist Party’s monopoly of power in government and its final authority over everything in society. That predominance has been taken for granted by virtually everyone in the top leadership since the foundation of the People’s Republic in 1949, although the thinking comes less of Marx himself than his teacher G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel believed that the state would and should eventually take over the roles traditionally played by the various organisations of civil society: family, church, guild, cultural and special interest groups. Lenin added the claim that the Communist Party is the vanguard of this all-encompassing state, so there is neither need nor space for other voices.

The final piece of the trap was set by Deng Xiaoping, the second leader of communist China. His endorsement of rapid and chaotic capitalist development, later know as socialism with Chinese characteristics, may not sound Marxist – Deng’s doctrinaire opponents in the CCP were certainly horrified. But Marx himself believed that only bourgeois capitalists had the fervour and motivation required to industrialise a predominantly agricultural economy. In Marx’s day, the bourgeois and the communists were enemies, but the CCP has tried to co-opt the private sector by admitting leading industrialists into the Party.

By some standards, the Deng version of Marxism has worked very well, far better than the Leninist approach, adopted in the Soviet Union and its satellites, which gave the state control of all the means of production. China’s GDP has increased remarkably rapidly for almost four decades. There has been little social discord and the Party remains in firm control.

Still, as the Party prepares for the arrival of a new generation of leaders, its Marxism looks far more constraining than liberating. The narrow focus on production has led to the neglect of such important matters as corruption, environmental depredation and quality control. The Party’s suffocation of civil society has neutered campaigns against abuses. It has also impoverished intellectual discourse, an important failing in a society still in the throes of the dramatic transition from poor to rich; from traditional to contemporary. And the Party’s acceptance of capitalists, careerists and opportunists has accelerated a decline in ideological fervour.

Hu is certainly aware of the challenge. He noted that the country will soon be “a well-off society” with a more demanding and restive population. However his new buzzwords are unpersuasive. The all-encompassing Communist Party is incapable of building China into “a power of socialist culture” or of ensuring “the people’s extensive rights and freedom”. The Party is trapped because it can neither let civil society flourish nor do what civil society does.

If the Marxist trap is not sprung, China will be left lame and angry. The government will become more oppressive and more of a kleptocracy, stultifying society and depressing the economy. Escape, however, requires a truly revolutionary change. In buzzword-speak, the CCP and China should no longer remain “unswervingly on the socialist path”.

What new path should the Middle Kingdom take? There are some bad ideas about, for example militaristic nationalism and a reversion to more Leninist economics. The western way, towards the European and American social model, is much more attractive. China, much like its Asian mentor and rival Japan, could end up with a mixed economy, a pushy but not omnipotent state and a society in which any lack of higher values is largely a private concern.

In a way, a choice to follow the conventional path to multi-party democracy would be regrettable. China would become less distinctive and its indigenous cultural traditions would become less relevant. More significantly, this looks a bit like a road to nowhere. Apathy blights politics in rich countries while idealism is in short supply and civil society often seems stunted. However, in China no better alternative is available. For its own good, the Communist Party should abandon Marxism.

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Yes. For the same reason(s) America should abandon Socialism. Every government is comprised of individuals who ultimately wield their power wisely or unwisely. In the coming election in America, many who vote will do so as much “against” certain ideas and ideals as “for” them.

This election won’t make much difference who wins, because both parties have refused to present the “big choices” to voters. So long as this is true, the “big choices” that MUST be made will remain on the “back burner”. Truth be known, that’s where the leadership of both major parties want them to stay. That preserves their existing power and influence with little, if any, accountability.

In case you haven’t noticed, our elected politicians predictably place their own personal interests above those of “we, the people” they purportedly serve, and thus have created for themselves lives of wealth and privilege. We see this same trend in unelected unionized government workers, bring state and local governments nearer and nearer to bankruptcy. More and more politicians at the federal, state and local level come from the legal field, and the direct and inseparable result is an ever-increasing “need” for legal services in our day to day lives.

America is one of the few nations economically productive enough to be able to afford everything it needs. Past decisions by both parties to increase the number of American dollars in circulation again and again when American natural resources are being consumed, all territory already has “legal owners”, employment opportunaties are relatively low, and jobs and retirement prospects uncertain dilute the residual “value” of each dollar in circulation.

“Our” government has regularly increased our national “debt limit” in the mistaken belief that it can thus “afford” everything “America” wants. No country in the history of the world has succeeded in doing that. No country ever will.

What is long overdue is honest debate among taxpayers to reach majority consensus as to what “we, the people” agree to pay for “government services”, and precisely WHICH “government services” for WHOM. It has long been said that when government takes money from Peter to gove to Paul, government can always depend upon the support of Paul. As the number of Pauls exceed the number of Peters, America’s future dims.

Each political party identify government services it regards as “needs”, and budgetary priority of each for available revenues. There is also the “question” as to whether “available revenues” should continue to exceed actual tax revenue and, if so, how often, how much, how long and why.

Until the taxpayers have final say as to defining America’s NEEDS, there is no limit to the size of government and no limit to the amount of revenue government will seek. That is the “status quo” all politicians will ever seek to preserve.

They LIKE being “in charge” of those they are supposed to serve. They say otherwise, but the truth is in what they DO! Each today believes that whatever they spend “we, the people must pay”. They do NOT want to be accountable to us. They will resist anything that will force them to justify and/or prioritize their prolifigacy.

If a pipe breaks, you call a plumber, and two fellows arrived and proceeded to argue over what to do while your house continues to flood, you’d fire them and get someone else. Instead of proceeding to fix financial policies that today threaten the continued operations of the American “economic engine”, “our” representatives instead divert us into squabbling over fundamentally frivolous matters even as with each day, week, month and year the growth in U.S. debt approaches infinity.

Priorities, people. Priorities make solutions possible. Solutions are NOT possible when everyone talks or shouts all at once, unmoderated. It’s time to throw the ones that can’t or won’t “heel” out. They are undisciplined rabble who take our money and give back nothing of value. OUT!

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