Thursday, August 02, 2018

Zheng Yongnian: "Is Marxism Really Revitalized in China?" 郑永年:马克思主义在中国真的复兴了吗?

Students of Chinese constitutionalism and its founding ideology have been engaging in an interesting and important discussion about the nature of the character of the fundamental ideology on which the principles, operations and objectives of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), and the state apparatus which operated under the leadership of the CPC, are based.  These have significant implications for Chinese constitutionalism  (for my comments see, e.g., "Chinese Constitutionalism in the 'New Era'), and the character of its influence abroad. This has become an important element of the Chinese discourse (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here).

Fundamental to that debate is a renewed interest in Marxism. This has become an important element of the Chinese discourse (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here) and elsewhere (e.g., here). "Xi, who is also the state president, called on academics and party ideologues to focus equally on absorbing Marxist classics and adapting the theory to contemporary conditions" (XI JINPING: Marxism must be remade for the 21st century). That notion of absorption and adaptation appears to be fundamental to contemporary Chinese political theory. Xi Jinping has been quoted as noting: "It is perfectly right for history and the people to choose Marxism, as well as for the CPC to write Marxism on its own flag, to adhere to the principle of combining the fundamental principles of Marxism with China's reality, and continuously adapt Marxism to the Chinese context and the times." (Marx's theory still shines with truth: Xi).

On July 10, 2018, Zheng Yongnian (郑永年),  Professor and Director of East Asian Institute of National University of Singapore, published an important contribution to that debate: Is Marxism Really Revitalized in China? 郑永年:马克思主义在中国真的复兴了吗?  The essay touches on the now much more complicated issue of resistance to Westernization within a political system that itself has roots very much in the West. The essay considers the sinification of Marxism during the three contemporary historical periods of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and lastly in the "New Era" of Xi Jinping. These he considers matters not merely of pure theory of of its authenticity through practical application. This is a critical and quite innovative element in the characterization of the naturalization of a complex and dynamic ideological system within an equally complex and dynamic culture. Sinification, here, speaks to its practical expression--an expression peculiar to the era in which it is operationalized--a form of historical form of "seeking truth form facts" (实事求是). The analysis is particularly relevant for its astute description of the dynamic evolution of Chinese engagement with Marxism, and its practical manifestation. These moved from reception to utopianism, to doctrinization, to elitism, and lastly to institutionalization. 
If the major task of Marxism sinification in Mao’s era is to seize the political power and maintain national unification and the major task of Marxism sinification in Deng’s era is to get rid of poverty and develop the economy, then the major task of Marxism sinification in the new era is institution building and state governance.
That dynamic manifestation has much to say to Western engagement not only with foreign cultural influences, but also with the way in which the West retains a faith in its own fundamental values, if it continues to do so, and the form in which those receptions are now manifested. China and the West here are simultaneously walking along the same path, though whether or not that path is embedded in currents of historical materialism remains to be seen.

Both the English translation and the original Chinese version appear below. The original text--马克思主义在中国真的复兴了吗?--was first published in Chinese on Zaobao (联合早报) July 10th 2018. The English translation is the work of my excellent research assistant Dai Maioqiang (戴妙强) (Penn State School of International Affairs MIA expected 2019). Both versions are posted with permission. We welcome comments and engagement.

Is Marxism Really Revitalized in China?
Yongnian Zheng
Professor and Director of East Asian Institute of National University of Singapore
Original text first published in Chinese on Zaobao (联合早报) July 10th 2018

If the Chinese contemporary history begun with being defeated by the west (the Opium War), everything happened in China since then did has something to do with the west. Not only changes in thoughts and opinions but also changes in material and technology are direct results of western influence. But practically speaking, developments in any aspects, especially at the institution level, still undergo more according to the logic of China itself; some developments, even though looks western at the first glance, are still Chinese-style in its deep nature. Here comes a Sinification problem of things come from the west.

Ever since the contemporary history begun, many people regard modernization as a process of total westernization. But total westernization only exists as a concept in people’s minds, because at the practical level, it is impossible to totally westernize China. Even before the CPC, there is no political figure who claims total westernization. “Five-branch Constitution” drafted by Mr. Sun Yat-sen is a good example. The “Five-branch Constitution” combines the western notion of three branches of power (legislation, administrative and judicial) with two Chinese traditional branches (examination and supervision). Even though all political powers are influenced by the west, different political power will be influenced by different western sources. The CPC accepted Marxism, so there is a sinification problem of Marxism.

In the period of revolution and the early period of construction, even though the ideology and practice of CPC both followed the Soviet Union as a model, we shall not totally Marxism or Sovietize China or CPC. Revolution and construction are not pure theoretical problems, they are more practical problems. Even the issue of Sinification of Marxism itself is not a theoretical problem, rather, it is a problem that was raised after the failure of foreign thoughts in practice. From Mao’s era to the current era, the Sinification of Marxism roughly underwent three historical periods.

The reform of Mao started with the transformation of people.

The first historical period was the Mao Zedong period and is divided into two periods, namely the period of revolution and the period of construction. In the period of revolution, after the failure of the western-style struggle strategy of city-centered strikes, leaders of CPC including Mao raised more practical strategy of “military struggle” and “rural areas surrounding the cities”. Farmers’ wars in Chinese history are all examples of “military struggle” while the strategy of “rural areas surrounding the cities” was exactly on the opposite to that in the west where industrialization made the center of revolution to be located in cities.

After 1949, China entered the period of construction and turned from total copy of Soviet Union model to anti-Soviet model. This transformation is of critical importance because researches have proven that the reason why reformation after Mao in China could become successful is that China has already diverged from the Soviet Union approached in Mao’s era. The most important difference between the two is that the power of Soviet Union regime is highly concentrated while the power Chinese system is, at least in the economy, highly decentralized.

After departure from Soviet model, Mao stepped onto his “Utopia Model” which also rooted deeply in Chinese traditional elements because China has witnessed reforms with Utopia characteristics such as Wang Mang’s reform, Wang Anshi’s reform, and Zhu Yuanzhang’s reform in its history. Mao’s reform starts from reconstruction of people, the new elements that are largely influenced by the west. Before Mao, Liang Qichao has raised the concept of “new people (新民)” and re-construction of people is always the theme from the May 4th Movement to the “Cultural Revolution”. Mao successfully sinified Marxism in the early periods but did not achieve the same success in his late times.

Sinification of Marxism in Deng Xiaoping’s Era

Deng’s era is the second era in which the problem of economic development was solved in China. The success of solve that problem cannot happen without the concept of “socialist market economy” which is itself a result of sinification of Marxism. In the later period of “Cultural Revolution”, the Soviet version of Marxism, the planning economy, failed in China because it led to a “Poor Socialism”.

The ideology that Deng’s generation believes in is more of a European version of Marxism or Socialism, aiming at solving the problem of economic development and social fairness. Even though there were also many problems, it is undoubtedly successful in terms of economic development. It is a rarely witnessed miracle for a poor economy before the Opening and Reform policy to climb up to the second largest economy and lifted 7 hundred million people out of poverty.

In this era, the western idea of the market economy was translated into Chinese “Socialist Market Economy”. Actually, similar factors of both the element of socialism and the market could be found in Chinese traditions, but the Soviet planning economy model obviously made it hard for such factors to take effects. The reason why Deng could solve this problem is that he de-ideologize the concept of “market economy” and made clear that market economy is merely a tool to develop the economy and this is a viable part of toolkits of both capitalism and socialism. Such a new narration of market economy promoted the revitalization of traditional market elements and introduced a new western market mechanism. This has posed a revolutionary impact on the Chinese economy.

Anyway, the political change happened at the end of the 1980s shows that it is hard for western democracy, at least at the present stage, to become reality in China. The ruling party have stepped onto a path of intra-party democracy since the 1990s, that is to say, social democracy is to be achieved after the realization of intra-party democracy. Because of this, some mistakenly think that China will go to a path of western social democracy that is adopted in West Europe and North Europe. This, of course, did not become reality. The whole system did not turn to a western one even though the CPC did absorb some elements of western democracy.

The drawbacks of the sinification of Marxism

Since Deng’s era, even though the reality of China has experienced profound changes, there isn’t much innovation took place in terms of Marxist theories. The current status of Marxism in China is that on the one hand, it can not explain the changes in Chinese reality, on the other hand, it did not utilize the abundant experience of China to enrich itself neither.

From a superficial perspective, the research of Marxism has reached a new peak with an enormous amount of human resources, funding, and policy support invested in such an endeavor. But did Marxism revitalized in China? If China could ever revitalize Marxism, the first prerequisite is the sinification of Marxism. Marxism is the result of western histories, it could explain the history of the west in a scientific manner, but it can not do so for Chinese history. Marxism can explain China only if it was sinified and at the same time, it is only in the process of Marxism sinification, China could utilize its abundant experience of practice to enrich and develop Marxism.

Either in the world of a theorist or the whole academia, Marxism in China is largely witnessing doctrinization. Holding the banner of revitalizing Marxism, people blindly “explains” the Chinese reality with Marxism. It better be called “mis-explaining” rather than “explain”. The doctrinization of Marxism appeared when Karl Marx was still alive, and it made even Marx himself claims that he was not a “Marxist”. The spirit of Marxism is seeking truth from facts, thoughts need to evolve itself with the changes of the time. The lack of such a changing spirit itself is a betrayal of Marxism.

The reason why there is a doctrinization is not hard to understand. The core of the first generation of leaders, Mao, himself was both a practitioner and a theorist, there would not be much problem in sinification of Marxism with him. At the level of practice, Mao felt the dire need for sinification of Marxism because the lack of it would lead to total failure. On the other hand, Mao’s expertise in theories promoted the sinification of Marxism at the theoretical level. It is the same with Deng even though he did not write as much as Mao. Actually, lessons learned from Mao’s era, Deng Xiaoping was more experienced with socialist construction and also the development of Marxism.

But sadly, Marxism only exist in the studies of Chinese scholars. Even worse is that Marxism became a doctrine and the only ideology, making it stagnant without new sources of thinking. Marxism emerged and was developed in its competition with a number of other thinking. Once it became doctrine and the standard of judging other thinking, the exhaustion of Marxism will be unavoidable.

The focus of Marxism Sinification in the New Era

Now China is in a new era. Shall we place the task of sinification of Marxism high on the list while we re-confirmed Marxism as the guiding theory of the ruling party? This is highly urgent from both perspectives of practice and theories. Even though there are some traditional elements revitalizing, the theoretical legitimacy is still largely dependent on Marxism. What’s more important is that the history of the development of the ruling party is deeply rooted in Marxism.

It will be hard for Marxism to explain practice in China if it is not effectively sinified, and then it will lose its realistic vitality and reduce to pure ideology. The process to empower Marxism the ability to explain Chinese reality is the process of Marxism sinification.

In the new era, where’s the focus of Marxism sinification? If the major task of Marxism sinification in Mao’s era is to seize the political power and maintain national unification and the major task of Marxism sinification in Deng’s era is to get rid of poverty and develop the economy, then the major task of Marxism sinification in the new era is institution building and state governance. Any form of Marxism sinification will be nonsense without being aware of the fact that such a historical logic of the development of China.

Specifically speaking, Marxism sinification in the new era will demonstrate at the pursuit of the institutionalization of rule of law and social justice. This is in line with the reform and development roadmap set after the 18th and 19th national party’s congress. In terms of economy, this could be observed in abstinence of capital, the mixed ownership and the check and balance among each kind of capital. In terms of politics, this could be observed in the political participation of each social forces, or in another word, democracy.

Marx has criticized capitalists’ democracy because it is the minority’s democracy. Obviously, in Marx’s era, democracy is indeed capitalists’ democracy. Marx did not deny the importance of democracy, rather he was in pursuit of democracy that has a wider social foundation which is a social democracy.

At the individual level, it could be observed by establishing a social institution that could help people to liberate themselves. Even though Chinese civilization itself did not produce values like democracy and liberty, but like them or not, those values have become a part of what the Chinese society accept and pursue or in other words, those values have become a part of what the Chinese culture expects.

At a higher level, from the perspective of the development of Chinese civilization, China has reached a new phase which is absorbing the western civilization into the Chinese civilization. Traditionally speaking, China spent thousands of years to absorb and digest Buddhism and internalized it as an inherent part of Chinese civilization. Today, if China can not absorb western civilization, it will be hard to integrate traditions since the late Qing Dynasty into the greater tradition of Chinese civilization, furthermore, it will be even harder to govern a society which has accepted western values such as democracy, liberty, and equality. Anyway, Marxism itself is a product of western civilization. That is to say, the process of Chinese civilization absorbing western civilization is the process of the sinification of Marxism.


原创: 国际视野中国情怀 IPP评论 今天



































Professor Zheng received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Beijing University, and his Ph.D. at Princeton University. He was a recipient of Social Science Research Council-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1995-1997) and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2003-2004). He was Professor and founding Research Director of the China Policy Institute, the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.
He is Editor of Series on Contemporary China (World Scientific Publishing) and Editor of China Policy Series (Routledge). He is also the editor of China: An International Journal and East Asian Policy.

He has studied both China’s domestic transformation and its external relations. His papers have appeared in internationally referred journals such as Comparative Political Studies, Political Science Quarterly, Third World Quarterly and China Quarterly. He is the author of a few dozens of books, including Contemporary China, The Chinese Communist Party as Organizational Emperor, Technological Empowerment, De Facto Federalism in China, Discovering Chinese Nationalism in China and Globalization and State Transformation in China, and editor of many books on China and its foreign relations including the latest volumes China Entering the Xi Era (2014), China and the New International Order (2008), and China and International Relations (2010).

Besides his research work, Professor Zheng has also been an academic activist. He served as a consultant to United Nation Development Programme on China’s rural development and democracy. He has also been advising the Chinese government at different levels on various areas of reform and development. In addition, he has been a columnist for Xinbao (Hong Kong) and Zaobao (Singapore) for many years, writing numerous commentaries on China’s domestic and international affairs.


No comments: