In his landmark speech at the Communist Party congress in November, President Xi Jinping said that the party would uphold Marxism and pursue the ideal of communism.
Putting the ‘Communist’ back in the Communist Party
At least, that’s what Xi said.
In reality, the economic boom following China’s opening up in the 1980s has given rise to an increasingly affluent society that has taken on a flashier, more bourgeois look – and a yawning wealth gap that would have been frowned upon by the early Marxists.
To restore the shaky – if not long-lost – faith in Marxism and communism in the 90 million members of the world’s largest political party, Xi has ordered party members and cadres to study the Communist Manifesto.
Last week, Xi convened a study session to celebrate the tract by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which portends the collapse of capitalism and the eventual triumph of socialism.
Studying the work serves the purpose of “strengthening faith in Marxism” and “enhancing the party’s ability to use Marxist principles to solve the problems facing contemporary China,” Xi told the 25-member politburo, the Communist Party’s ruling body.
At Monday's study session, Xi hailed the party as “a faithful successor to the spirit of the Communist Manifesto.”
But Marx and Engels’ pamphlet, which argued that “communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things,” could serve as a reminder of just how un-communist the country has become, analysts said.
Sean Kenji Starrs, an assistant professor of international studies at City University of Hong Kong, argues that China today is “one of the most anti-Marxist and anti-socialist states on the planet.”
“The fact that workers’ rights are better protected in the capitalist West than in China today shows just how intellectually and morally bankrupt Xi's version of Marxism is,” he said.
“Beijing now has more billionaires than any other city in the world, and Shenzhen rivals Silicon Valley in venture capital and private start-ups. And one can hardly argue that workers in the sprawling sweatshops of southern and coastal China have any control over the means of production.”
In China, Marxism is enshrined as a “guiding ideology” in the constitutions of both the party and the state.
In universities, an “introduction to the basic principles of Marxism” is a mandatory course all students must pass to graduate. Most universities also have a school dedicated to Marxist teachings.
But beyond paying lip service and cramming for exams, few party members – especially among the younger generation – still believe in communist orthodoxy.
China’s economic opening also introduced and popularized ideas from beyond the communist ideological pantheon, such as liberalism, constitutionalism, and democracy.
Chen Xi, head of the party’s Organization Department which oversees personnel decisions, lamented in November that some officials had lost faith in communism and considered it an “entirely unreal mirage.”
“Some don’t believe in Marx and Lenin but believe in ghosts and gods,” he wrote in party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
The loss of faith, along with rampant corruption, is seen as a danger that threatens the party’s own survival and a wrong that Xi is determined to right – by harking back to its Marxist roots.
Since coming to power in late 2012, Xi has launched an anti-corruption crusade to clean the party of extravagance, graft, dissent and disloyalty.
Coupled with the tightening of discipline is a shoring up of party ideology, with members and officials urged to “stay true to the founding mission” and return to the ideological purity of its earlier days.
Universities were ordered to steer clear of topics including universal values, civil rights and judicial independence, and to beef up their Marxist teaching.
Party cadres were hit by waves of mandatory political-study sessions centring on party rules, Xi’s speeches and the “spirit” of the central leadership’s latest meetings.
With the Politburo taking the lead in studying the Communist Manifesto, more junior members of the party will be expected to soon follow suit and immerse themselves in Marxist classics.
Already, the party’s top training ground for up-and-coming officials, the Central Party School, has put together a collection of 16 introductory Marxist books as recommended reading for cadres, according to a post on its social media account on Wednesday.