Based on the long and careful speech delivered by Chinese President Xi Jinping on New Year’s Eve, it is currently useful to identify his policy line and of the conceptual framework of his activity as statesman.
From what we can currently read on the most widespread Western media, Xi Jinping’s policy line comes down to a simple and mechanistic “concentration of power” in the President’s hands or, worse, to the discovery of a “new Chinese authoritarianism”, characterized by the usual and banal request for some “opening” by the Chinese Party and State structures.
The banality of good, we could say, by ironically paraphrasing the title of a very famous book by Hannah Arendt, namely The Banality of Evil.
It is really strange that the Western theory of political representation can never go beyond a naive, rough and phenomenological pluralism or the childish fear of power in the hands of a Leader.
Yet another example of a conceptual and philosophical crisis of the modern State in the West foreshadowing more severe and material destabilization.
Certainly, the best political theory of liberal pluralism – from Dahl to Lipset until Giovanni Sartori – has never been so sloppy and superficial.
Therefore it is good to understand the context in which Xi Jinping’s philosophy and his new approach to the issue of China’s renewal and economic, political and cultural development must be placed.
In fact, on April 2, 2017, in the West we received news that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China had incorporated the “Xi Jinping’s Thought”.
A line adding to President Xi Jinping’ specific “foreign affairs thought” – concepts mentioned in an article of the Party’s bi-monthly political theory magazine Seeking Truth on July 16, 2017.
Therefore the President’s Thought will be officially associated with the Party’s “guiding ideology”, without forgetting that the current Chinese leader is the first, after Mao Zedong, to mark the history, texts and official policy line of the Communist Party of China with his own explicit ideological and political dictates.
This applies both to the phase of his rising to power and to the height of his and his closest aides’ hegemony.
However, the previous revisions of the Chinese Constitution have always taken place before a Congress of the Party since its foundation in Shanghai in 1922.
In fact, in the 7th Congress held in 1945, mention was made of a fact which is still very important to understand the current situation: “the Communist Party of China takes the Thought that supplements Marxism-Leninism with the practice of the Chinese Revolution – Mao Zedong’s Thought – as the principle guiding all its activities” (emphasis added).
This reflected Mao’s victory over his internal opponents obtained in 1943.
At the 8th CPC Congress in 1956 – the key year in the history of Communist regimes – “Marxism-Leninism” became “a guide to action” with no reference to Mao Zedong’s Thought.
That was either an uncritical acceptance of the de-Stalinization proclaimed by the 20th CPSU Congress of 1956 or it was more probably the sign of a hidden break in the Party’s leadership.
As is well-known, the failed “Great Leap Forward” was the breaking point between Mao and his Party, the moment when the Great Helmsman decided to “shoot on the Headquarters”.
In fact, only the most incompetent people (and there are still many) believe that the Communist regimes were or are still totally monolithic.
Those who think so – also with regard to contemporary China – should read the small masterpiece entitled “The pressure groups in the Soviet Union”, published by Laterza in 1977 – a book written in the USSR by the extraordinary Italian Ambassador, Silvio Fagiolo.
Moreover, in the CPC Congress held in April 1969, the Constitution read as follows: “the Party takes Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong’s Thought as the (only) theoretical foundation of its guiding ideology” (in that version Marxism-Leninism was disaggregated into separate elements).
Hence Mao was elevated to a stature of Father of the Communist theory comparable to the two traditional German founders’.
The specificity of the construction of Socialism in China is no longer a case on the margins of Karl Marx’ sacred texts, but their autonomous evolution and with equal dignity compared to the Third International and its tenets.
Conversely, in the 12th Congress held in 1982, it was stated: “the Communist Party of China takes Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong’s Thought as its guide to action” (emphasis added).
It was a matter of clearly writing in the Constitution that “Mao Zedong’s Thought was the only possible adaptation of the Communist revolution principles to the specific situation of China”, as applied by the whole Party leadership and not only by Mao.
Mao Zedong who rescued China from the dangerous embrace of the Soviets and implemented his own autonomous foreign policy, in which there was no room for the “paper tiger” that the Cold War was.
In the 15th CPC Congress held in 1997, an observation was added that quoted the Thought of the late Leader Deng Xiaoping in applying the Marxist-Leninist tenets to the Chinese reality defined as “undergoing a process of change”.
Therefore, at the time, the CPC line was determined by “Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong’s Though and also Deng Xiaoping’s Theory” (in that version Marxism-Leninism was no longer disaggregated into separate elements).
It is worth noting that, according to Chinese formulas, Deng Xiaoping’s Theory was “the product resulting from the integration of the basic laws of Marxism-Leninism with China’s current practice and with the underlying features and forms of our Times, i.e. the heritage and development of Mao Zedong’s Thought under the new historical conditions – a new stage in the development of Marxism in China, namely the Marxism of contemporary China and a crystallization of the CPC collective wisdom” (yet another concession to the pluralism hidden within the Party).
Therefore Deng was elevated to the same stature as Mao and, indeed, he became the only interpreter of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Tradition within the new China which was firmly emerging after the “Four Modernizations”.
Hence defining the Modernizations as irreversible and making them fit into Mao’s Marxism, as well as placing them as a basis for future developments was the goal of these apparently sibylline wordings, but very clear if only we read them as concrete projects of Chinese autonomy in economy and in foreign policy.
Therefore in 2002, at the beginning of the 16th CPC Congress, the new Chinese central formula was outlined, incorporating the changes occurred after Deng’s death and the crystallization of the Four Modernizations.
The Party’s ideological principles were “Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong’s Thought, Deng Xiaoping’s Theory and the important thinking of the Three Represents“.
Jiang Zemin was not mentioned directly, but reference was made to his Thinking, by emphasizing its importance for the Three Represents.
The Party fully represented the development of Productive Forces, as well as the orientations of an advanced culture, and finally the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of China’s people.
Jiang Zemin’s Thought, expressed in 2000, basically meant three things: a) the productive forces – or, Marxistically, the people’s working ability – the knowledge used in production, as well as the machines and tools used in production, and finally infrastructure did not diminish during the construction of Chinese Socialism; b) the Party had always a mass role it had to preserve also at the cost of losing abstract ideological purity; 9) finally, Marxism-Leninism had to be always integrated with “contemporary culture”.
In other words, Jiang Zemin’s official speech on the “Three Represents” delivered on July 1, 2001, meant something very simple: important representatives of the various social strata emerged during the Modernizations, and even private entrepreneurs, could be admitted into the CPC.
It should also be noted that the Chinese Communists wanted to integrate the most dynamic forces of society into their power apparatus. The aim was exactly to avoid suffering the same sad fate as the CPSU and the Eastern European Communist Parties, which China studied with great care.
Nevertheless, the CPC’s official circular letter interpreting the Three Represents, specified that Jiang Zemin was the only most authoritative representative of the Party, while the text published by the Chinese press mainly focused on Hu Jintao’s theoretical approach by stating, in particular, that – as he said – “a Party must be established which is devoted to the public interest and governs for the people”, making “the health and safety of the common people a top priority” (a theme we can currently find in Xi Jinping’s policy) by “achieving and maintaining the development of people’s fundamental interests” (a typical Deng’s topic, as already seen).
Hu Jintao repeated that last part ten times in his speech.
Hu Jintao wanted to use those abstract criteria which, however, have a precise meaning in the CPC semantics, particularly to stem corruption, improve control over its officials, enhance the Party’s prestige and good reputation among the masses.
Three themes we will find explicitly developed in the current context of Xi Jinping’s Thought.
In 2012, after the end of Hu Jintao’s leadership, the 18th CPC Congress officially referred “to Mao Zedong’s Marxism-Leninism-Thought (and it was the first time those elements were put together), to Deng Xiaoping’s Theory, to the important thinking of the Three Represents and to the scientific outlook on development“.
It was the first time that said terminology appeared in the CPC official texts – and it was certainly not by mere coincidence.
For the new CPC the “scientific outlook on development” was “a scientific theory having the same origin as Marxism-Leninism and the other theories already mentioned, but it also fully embodies the Marxist worldview on and methodology for development” – hence it was the last result of the sinicisation of Marxism (emphasis added) and “the crystallization of the collective wisdom of the Communist Party of China”.
Therefore, for the first time, the CPC thought went explicitly beyond the tradition of the Third International, by reaffirming – as was the case with the other Communist Parties derived from the Soviet one – the practice of autonomous sinicisation, having the same origins as Karl Marx’s theory.
Hence, the Party’s unity was reaffirmed once again, as well as its collective wisdom – a unitary wisdom seen as a factor counterbalancing the Soviet tendency to the cult of personality.
It should also be noted that the scientific outlook on development had already been incorporated into the Constitution in 2007, even though it was not part of the Party’s guiding ideology at the time.
For the first time the typical criterion of the 17th Congress appeared, according to which it was necessary “to put together all the CPC wisdom to develop a scientific outlook on development“.
Again a non-Marxist formula that – outside the classic Marxism-Leninism and the tradition of the Chinese State and Party leaders – reminded of an autonomous theory allowing precisely to develop Socialism with Chinese characteristics and, even, a Chinese way to something going even beyond Socialism itself – a road to the power, strategic autonomy and well-being of the Chinese people.
Many years later, in 2012, the 18th CPC Congress merged Hu Jintao’ scientific outlook on development with the Party’s “ideological guide”.
Hence, with reference to Xi Jinping, over the last five years the Chinese media have reported the emergence of “Xi Jinping’s thought” and of “Xi Jinping’s Party construction thought”, in addition to “Xi Jinping’s foreign affairs thought”.
There are also some quotations on “Xi Jinping’s military thought”, now published regularly in many Chinese newspapers.
Moreover, since 2013 the expression “the spirit of the important speeches of Comrade Xi Jinping” has emerged. These speeches are collected in the text entitled “The Governance of China”, which was published for the first time in September 2014.
Hence what are the theoretically and practically significant speeches delivered by President Xi Jinping?
In February 2017, for example, the Chinese leader proposed “new lines, new concepts, new strategies regarding domestic policy but, above all, foreign policy, military issues and the armed forces”.
While his predecessors spoke about economy and the development of productive forces in relation to the masses’ needs, Xi Jinping mainly thinks about the economic expansion of his country in relation to foreign policy and military issues.
This is an extremely important change.
As already noted, while the tradition of his predecessors’ Thoughts – apart from some Mao’s considerations – regarded essentially economic development and the masses’ wellbeing, with Xi Jinping the “Party line” is often focused on foreign policy and global strategy.
Hence this becomes a way to fully achieve and develop the internal economic power of current China.
Moreover, the President’s line increasingly regards “the comprehensive deepening of reforms”, that is the union between domestic and foreign policy and the legacy of reforms from Deng to Xi Jinping – reforms currently brandished by the President against the interests of the Party and State bureaucracy.
Therefore the aspect currently linking Xi Jinping’s line to Mao Zedong’s is precisely the will to fight against some very strong interests of the Party hierarchy – in the past with the legacy of the Soviet model and the clash between the CPC and Mao after the failure of the “great leap forward” and currently with the struggle between Xi Jinping’s group and the vast network of corruption.
Again in President Xi Jinping’s mind, a new era is currently opening up for China, as well as a new “strategic opportunity”. After the 19th CPC Congress, China has become the leading nation of the countries already called “developing countries” and, at the same time, of the developed ones.
While Marxism-Leninism has always been a political theory needed to skip steps and forge ahead at economic and military levels, today Xi Jinping’s China is reaffirming its hegemonic role and hence needs new theoretical models, well beyond the Marxism of the Third International and the inevitable closure of its strategic, military and geopolitical prospects.
Again in President Xi Jinping’s mind, China’s future transformation is hinged around some key sectors.
The first one is the CPC deep reform.
With a view to achieving it, first and foremost the Party’s internal discipline must be strengthened, not only with regard to the fight against corruption, but also in proposing Xi Jinping’s austere and simple lifestyle as a universal model.
Hence the Party’s reconstruction is essential to understand the President’s Thought, which is based precisely on the CPC’s internal reform.
Another factor not to be neglected is what Xi Jinping often defines as “the new contradiction”.
In fact, according to the President, the traditional contradiction characterizing the Chinese society has currently evolved and changed.
It is the new contradiction between “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life”.
Hence not productive forces and production conditions, in an old Marxist model which always implies a capitalist overproduction crisis, as in the West, but a typically Chinese contradiction between the development of productive forces and production conditions with respect to the People’s current needs.
This is at the core of Xi Jinping struggle – always very explicit in his essays, speeches and actions – for eradicating poverty in China and building much infrastructure, especially in rural areas, to definitively uproot poverty and allow the “Chinese” solution to an old contradiction which has always existed in the Marxist theory, namely the contradiction between urban and rural areas.
It is from this viewpoint that Xi Jinping assesses the environmental issue, with an environmental cleaning campaign following the models adopted in his campaigns against corruption.
With reference to the issue of President’s control over the Party, Xi Jinping wants to keep on controlling the State economy, which backs the single-party political structure, with structural investment in large transport networks and heavy industries.
This is not the return of the Stalinist myths of basic industry, but Xi Jinping’s problem is that the State economy is essentially more efficient than the private one, chaotically developed in a short lapse of time.
Hence Xi Jinping will largely enter the best business generated by individuals and private entities over the last ten years. It will be on these modern sectors, typical of the new economy, that the Party reformed by Xi Jinping will justify its new social and political hegemony.
It will absorb them and it will make them tools for political and social cohesion.
From this viewpoint, Xi Jinping’s China will be increasingly assertive, aggressive and sometimes cynical on world markets and in its relations with the other Powers.
Currently Xi Jinping wants above all the Chinese supremacy in Asia and later in the Eurasian Heartland, up to being on an equal footing with the United States in the old strategic regions and playing an asymmetric role again with the United States in the new strategic regions of the future, namely the Arctic, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Antarctica.
As Xi Jinping said at the 19th Congress, China is “ready to donate to the world its ancient wisdom and its recipes for the salvation of mankind”. It will be once again the Middle Kingdom with its explicit “civilizing mission” at cultural, political and strategic levels.
Xi Jinping currently thinks about China as the world, while his predecessors pondered on how to reach the development of the First World countries as early as possible.
Hence, according to President Xi Jinping, at the end of the current phase of development there will be the “revitalization and rejuvenation of the Chinese race” – at least until the centenary of the Party’s foundation in 2022.
From this viewpoint, we need to clarify the apparently simple concept of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
As is well-known, according to Marx and Engels, Socialism could be achieved only with the maximum maturation of capitalism.
From the “Long March” onwards, China has inevitably developed the project of a Socialism created starting from a semi-feudal and backward society both in terms of productive forces and in terms of production conditions.
Forget about structural overproduction crises! For centuries China had been experiencing only massive famines.
In this sense, in the Chinese case, the traditional CPC theorists spoke of a transition from the unqualified to the qualified, from the indistinct to the distinct – and Xi Jinping certainly does not deny this theory.
This means that Socialism in China must experience the transition from an indistinct backward and semi-feudal society to undeveloped capitalism.
This implies the future transition to Socialism in the ways and conditions of the ancient Chinese society.
Therefore China had to develop industrialization, marketing, socialization and modernization, all together at the same time, by repeating the capitalist contradictions along with those typical of a backward society.
Hence the need for the Chinese Communists to use a full market economy, but always distinguishing between the State and the market, by combining the superiority of Socialism and public ownership with free market – hence a State competing with the private sector, which optimizes the costs of the State sector almost automatically.
But only if the Party rules the whole society.
In fact, while the Soviets calculated the costs of production and prices figuratively by using Lange’s public accounting, for Communist China the market parallel to the State and to its planned economy optimally calculates exact and minimum prices.
Another trait of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the link between strong strategic autonomy (i.e. an economy not dependent on foreign countries) and the maximum openness to the world market.
Without peace in the world there is no economic autonomy and optimal combination of State and Market in China.
Therefore for Socialism with Chinese characteristics it is necessary: 1) to speed up modernization through the use of foreign investment; 2) to attract advanced technologies from abroad for current China’s dual economy system (State and private sector); 3 ) to promote the creation of special autonomous free zones for the industrial economy and international trade; 4) to make the best use of capitalism through the formula of “one country, two systems”; 5) to combine Socialism with the market in order to overcome the gap between China and the rest of the world.
Moreover, Xi Jinping’s Thought initially incurred some unexpected difficulties in becoming – as theoretical model – the focus of the Chinese debate inside and outside the CPC.
Again in Xi Jinping’s mind, the contradiction between the State and the market – brilliantly managed from Deng Xiaoping onwards in Communist China – in which both are essential for the single hegemony of the CPC and its leader, regards the simultaneous following of the “mass policy line” (which implied, with Mao, the slogan “to serve the people”) and the “strengthening of the State’s transformation”.
Here Xi Jinping proposes again his theory of the “Four Greats”, already clear as early as 2007.
According to the President, the Four Greats are the following: “great struggle, great project, great cause and great dream”.
This clearly reminds us of Mao Zedong’s old statement, “it is a great pleasure to fight against Heaven, to make war with the Earth, to clash with human beings”.
Furthermore, Xi Jinping recalls that it is necessary to “fight against subversive mistakes” in economics and politics.
President Xi Jinping will never accept the Party’s weakness or its transformation into a secondary factor for the creation of the Chinese State.
It is not easy, however, to imagine how all this will materialize in the concrete Chinese political and economic practice. Nevertheless, it is clear that Xi Jinping’s Thought is the formula with which, today, China thinks to overcome its traditional appearance, be it Marxist-Leninist or born of a whirling and often corrupt market economy.
The new synthesis between these two functions, which Xi Jinping no longer interprets as weaknesses or simple internal contradictions, will be the one shaping the shift from a China rising to the level of the other world powers to a China achieving a new global hegemony on its own.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France