Reading right and left in China

Earlier this year, we wrote about how a single photo from the annual meeting of China’s top propaganda ministers spoke volumes about the current tense ideological climate. Included in the official Xinhua News Agency photo with Politburo Standing Committee Member and chief ideological czar Li Changchun (李长春) and Central Propaganda Department Minister Liu Yunshan (刘云山) was Chen Kuiyuan, dean of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and a figure strongly associated with China’s hardline left.

This week we have further hints that China’s deep reds, as we might call them, those who hearken back to a bygone era of Marxist glory and mercilessly attack capitalist infection, are enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment. At the very least, they seem to have been emboldened, and no longer blush at tossing out terms from the conservative playbook, like the “Four Basic Principles” (四项基本原则) and “dictatorship” (专政).

In fact, if these terms don’t soften your heart to the glories of the pre-reform past, some theorists are now suggesting, you might just need to brush up on your dialectical materialism.

Here to help you in the latest edition of the Party theory journal Seeking Truth (求是) is Li Shenming (李慎明), currently a vice-director at CASS and formerly secretary to Wang Zhen (王震), one of the so-called Eight Elders of the Chinese Communist Party, a former revolutionary commander, and a man well-known for his hard-line political views before his death in 1993.

Li Shenming argues openly in his article for the continued relevance of the “Stalinist model,” and says that the critical reason for the collapse of both the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union was not the failure of Marxism or socialism, but the betrayal of these values and systems by Khrushchev and Gorbachev.

Things are getting frightfully interesting in China, folks.

For more theoretical saber-rattling from the political left in China, see this recent article by Li Shenzhi on the development of “socialist democracy” in China, and this one from Beijing Daily‘s Theory Weekly section, which argues the case for the “superiority” of China’s CCP-led authoritarian political system.

Let’s not forget, though, that while the reds are coming out strong, strong pro-reform language can still be found at the likes of Study Times, published by the Central Party School, and Yanhuang Chunqiu.

Selections of Li Shenming’s piece follow:

The Degeneration of the Soviet Communist Party was the Fundamental Reason for the Collapse of the USSR
Li Shenming (李慎明)

Concerning the reasons for the break up of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), there are various disputing viewpoints. We believe that the fundamental reasons for the fall of the CPSU and the break up of the Soviet Union lie not in the “Stalinist model” (斯大林模式) and the Soviet mode of socialism, but in the fact that from Khrushchev to Gorbachev [the CPSU] withdrew from, departed from and ultimately betrayed Marxism, socialism and the fundamental interests of the great masses. According to dialectical materialism and historical materialism, [we] can carry out our analysis of the following aspects.

1. We must do our research standing in the position of the fundamental interests of the great masses. Fundamentally speaking, as the life situation and life conditions of each person at different aspects [of human life] is different, they will yield different conclusions about major historical events. [Li writes here about a view of history, a false one he says, created by schemers at institutions such as those run by George Soros, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, who have infiltrated Russian history books with their own capitalist agendas. It is clear he is preparing to give us a "true" version of the history of the USSR and the CPSU, one whose basis is "serving the people with all one's heart, and representing the fundamental interests of the masses."]

2. We must judge [history] with the idea that social practices are the only standard for testing the truth (社会实践是检验真理的惟一标准) . . . [Li talks about the successes of the Soviet Union, which he says by around 1940 had transformed itself from an agriculturally-based nation into an industrialized nation.] Of course, this is not to say that the planned economy built by the Soviet Union did not have its weaknesses and problems. But practice is advancing, and our understanding is advancing. After several years of practice of the world socialist movement, we will have much more confidence, and we will see much more clearly the reasons and lessons behind the collapse of the Soviet Union.

3. We must see through appearances and get to the essence (透过现象看本质). Marxism holds that appearances are just an external manifestation of essence, and essence forms the internal relations of phenomena. Sometimes, appearances fully reflect essence; sometimes appearances partly reflect essence; and sometimes appearances entirely cloak essence. Therefore, we must clearly recognize the nature of things. Using only our intuitions and perceptions is not sufficient. We must penetrate through appearances, rising up to rational thought. Only in this way can we grasp the rule and basic nature [or essence] of things . . . [Li writes here about Marx's discussion of affairs in 19th-century France] . . . In the same way, we can come to this conclusion about dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe around 1991: 1. It was not Marxism that failed, what failed rather was Khrushchev’s gradual withdrawal and departure from Marxism, and ultimately Gorbachev’s betrayal of Marxism, quite contrary to the dogmatism spread by the West; 2. What failed was not socialism or the “Stalinist model” of socialism, what failed was Khrushchev’s gradual withdrawal and departure from socialism, and ultimately Gorbachev’s betrayal of socialism for a another form of capitalism — and also we can say that what failed was social democracy; 3. What failed was not the original and true proletarian vanguard — the Soviet Communist Party, what failed was was Khrushchev’s gradual withdrawal and departure from Marxism, socialism and the masses, and ultimately Gorbachev’s betrayal of Marxism, socialism and the masses, by which time [CPSU] had fundamentally transformed into a capitalist political party . . .

Of course, Gorbachev has called himself a socialist. Looking back through history, in the era of bourgeois democratic revolution, countries around the world had scores of groups and schools that identified themselves as “socialist.” But in the space of a mere 10 to 20 years, or even less, they quickly showed their true colors. Gorbachev’s revealing happened within an even shorter span of just 3-5 years. Judging the essence of anyone’s political party affiliations is not a question of what pretty clothes they dress themselves up in, nor is it a question of what name they give themselves. It is a question of their conduct, and it is about what actually it is that they propagate. The Marxism of rigid dogma is not [the real] Marxism. Therefore, the fall of the CPSU and the collapse of the USSR was not a failure of Marxism.

3 Comments to “Reading right and left in China”

  1. King Tubby says:

    @Dr. Jones Jr. It was a strictly tongue in cheek comment.

    I suspect Bo Xilai is trying to break the mould in terms of provincial government leadership with a mix of go go business friendly policies, some proposed populist measures as low cost housing , serious population surveillance management and not forgetting his own his own mafia alliances.

    Nothing like having your own personal fiefdom, now that he has selectively sorted out some of the competing mafia bad elements. This is modern warlordism by bureacratic manoeuvre , extensive horizontal and vertical alliances (read the Garnaut article which is all over the net), plus red envelops, retro entertainment spectacle and text messages to occupy the lower orders.

    Bet most of the other members of the Politburo are either green with envy or quietly hate his guts.

    Fn. Re: low cost housing. Even Pablo Escobar twigged to this one as a means of acquiring the undying loyalty of the lower orders, but they went with religious shrines rather than wall portraits.

  2. I doubt even Bo Xilai could resurrect Marx’s ghost one more time. “Red Texts” and all that are meaningless to the vast majority of the Chinese people. The Chongqing locals, my own in-laws included, are much more interested in his practical efforts (such as making police available at outside kiosks, rather than lounging in their stations) than his retrograde Maoist tidbits. Maybe he’s trying to win over the hard-leftists to his own causes, as it seems like he’s an otherwise quite reformist, business-friendly sort of politician. Not the ultra-paranoid, leftist-conservative sort at all.

  3. King Tubby says:

    This is SO good! Try and make sense of this dialectical pearl.

    “We must see through appearances and get to the essence (透过现象看本质). Marxism holds that appearances are just an external manifestation of essence, and essence forms the internal relations of phenomena. Sometimes, appearances fully reflect essence; sometimes appearances partly reflect essence; and sometimes appearances entirely cloak essence. Therefore, we must clearly recognize the nature of things.”

    Fully. Partly. Entirely cloak. Therefore, we must clearly recognize the nature of things.

    Nice to see Marxian exergesis still at work in 2011: 18 th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

    Even my cat, who is none too bright, is smirking, and David gets some sort of Nelson Mandela award for locating and translating this lot.

    However, it could grow legs in Chongqing if Bo Xilai gets the urge to do another sms text to his red masses.

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