Xi’s embrace of Marxism only goes as far as it bolsters his legacy

Cary Huang says the Chinese president’s apparent enthusiasm for communist orthodoxy is no true ideological revival, which would be impossible in today’s China. Rather, it reflects his desire to stamp his authority

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2015, 2:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2015, 2:36pm

Is President and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping (習近平) a dedicated socialist and believer in Marxism, given his keenness to promote communist ideology?

Clearly, there is no easy way to reconcile the combination of Marxism, Maoism, nationalism and market reform

Xi has shown greater enthusiasm for the communist orthodoxy than his four predecessors after Mao Zedong (毛澤東) – Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). On November 23, Xi chaired a Politburo session to study Karl Marx’s political economy theory. He has led two similar sessions, one on the German philosopher’s dialectical materialism, the other on his historical materialism.

Under Xi’s rule, the government has directed more resources to the study and fostering of the Marxist tradition and the works of Mao. He wants to make the world’s last major communist-ruled nation a global centre of Marxism.

In October, Peking University hosted the inaugural “World Congress on Marxism” and laid the foundations for the construction of a Karl Marx Building, to make the campus the permanent host of the biennial global event.

READ MORE: The method in Xi Jinping’s Marxism: What’s behind the president’s push for the economic theory?

The revival of Marxism is a major departure from Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) more pragmatic and fact-driven approach to development. And it seems all the more ridiculous to explore Marxist political economy for China’s development when the party has pledged to allow the market to play a “decisive role” in the distribution of resources.

While continuing Deng’s reformist path, Xi has also tried to revive some Maoist policy and resurrect slogans and practices from decades ago. For instance, he launched the Maoist rectification campaign, better known as the “mass line”, and ordered officials, academics, journalists and university students to take compulsory courses on Marxist philosophy.

He has repeatedly stated that Marxism must remain the ideological lodestar of the ruling party and the nation.

He is also more of a nationalist than his predecessors, given the heightened tensions with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over the territorial disputes under his presidency.

The question now is whether Xi, who earned a doctorate in “scientific socialism” from the prestigious Tsinghua University, is a true Marxist or Maoist who wants to derail China’s development from the path envisioned by Deng. Or does this son of a revolutionary want to bring the world’s proletariat to the communist nirvana as it is “the ultimate goal of the party”, as stated in China’s party charter? Clearly, there is no easy way to reconcile the combination of Marxism, Maoism, nationalism and market reform.

READ MORE: Marxism must find answers to today’s social woes or become irrelevant, PLA general warns

Most China observers agree that Xi’s promotion of the communist orthodoxy is merely a result of his desire to develop his own political theory and shape his legacy rather than an attempt to return China to communist orthodoxy. Today, communist rule is what matters, not any particular “ism”.

Xi apparently wants to continue what Mao, Deng and his four predecessors have achieved, and also distinguish himself

If the leadership does not believe in its own ideology, where is the legitimacy of Communist Party rule, and how can its authoritarianism continue? Xi apparently wants to continue what Mao, Deng and his four predecessors have achieved, and also distinguish himself.

But what Xi desires most is to use the crusade to assert his absolute authority within the ruling circle, without using such words.

Xi is not a fundamentalist Marxist, purely socialist, or a nationalist. Nor is he a Maoist or Dengist. He seeks to be his own man, someone who combines the merits of all the historic greats to make himself even greater. Xi wants to see China’s revitalisation and thus leave a legacy that can rival those of the greatest emperors of the Middle Kingdom.

Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post