What will the average cadre in Hunan province make of the following sterling call for the workers of the world to reject alternatives to the Communist Party such as: “the Owenites in England, and the Fourierists in France” … or they can “retrospectively oppose the Chartists and The Reformists”.
Moreover, they need to be aware that “the significance of Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism bears an inverse relation to historical development”.
All of this and more can be found in the Communist Manifesto, first published in 1848 under the authorship of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Its turgid style is matched only by its datedness, yet last week Xi Jinping, in his role as head of the Chinese Communist Party of China, insisted that fervent study of this document would offer the “ability to use Marxist principles to solve the problems facing contemporary China”.
Moreover, in the wake of a specially convened Politburo study meeting, Xi ordered “the broad masses of party members, cadres and especially senior cadres to study well and apply well”.
Bearing in mind that very few of the CCP’s 90 million members can even vaguely be described as being knowledgeable Marxists nor indeed would they be able to disentangle the meaning of the Communist Manifesto, what on earth is going on here?
Yet the Manifesto is far from being an unreliable guide to the theory of dialectical materialism, which can be interpreted in many ways but most basically can be viewed as a way of seeing the development of the world through class struggle, providing the links between the various stages of development that indicate how progress is made.
That said Marx and Engels turned out to be profoundly wrong in their view that Germany was most likely to be first in line to witness the triumph of Communism. They appeared unable to conceive the possibility that either Russia or China would be in line for this distinction.
And, there’s another problem because in calling for the “forcible overthrow of all existing conditions” and urging the workers to throw off their chains, the two German-born Communists have a message that might not be quite so comfortable for China’s ruling class.
As matters stand, income inequality in China is higher than in most other countries, the detachment of the ruling class from the ruled is more profound, and the role of the state as an oppressor, much discussed in the Manifesto, is hardly obscure.
So, China’s leaders have a problem clinging onto Marxist ideology while in practice having much to fear from close reading of the “sacred” texts.
Why then do they urge closer study? The most obvious answer is that like all authoritarian regimes, the Chinese regime is deeply afraid of challenges to its legitimacy that might come in the form of questioning the prevailing ideology. It matters little that the original ideology is no longer or maybe never was practiced but it is deemed to be far too risky to allow questioning of this ideology.
In so many ways the CCP’s ideological orientation has veered away from Marxism into a form of extreme nationalism. China’s alleged Marxists ignore the Manifesto distaste for nationalism, which expresses confidence that the achievement of socialism would eliminate national divisions, giving way to the international solidarity of the proletariat.
Unlike Marxism, nationalism is well understood and popular among China’s so-called “broad masses”. Xi has ramped up nationalist posturing and can point to many successes in projecting the strength of the Chinese nation.
Yet somehow this is not enough; a party that describes itself as being Communist feels it cannot be seen abandoning its founding ideology and feels the need to pay lip service to it. When Xi urges vigorous study of the Manifesto he is really saying no more than: “keep the faith” and do not deviate from it.
However, he should be worried if the faith ends up being studied closely because the sacred texts contain time bombs.
This year sees the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth; what would he have made of China, the country which partially governs in his name and has his face plastered on many walls?
One possible response would be amazement, another might be horror. But even Marx, who was not known for his sense of humor, would surely have to chuckle when observing the tycoons in both China and Hong Kong who go around extolling the virtues of a system he is supposed to have created.
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