While many people debate the legacy of Marxism on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, for the world’s largest communist country, the People’s Republic of China, Marx is less a matter of debate than a matter of reality. In the run-up to Marx’s bicentenary, Chinese leaders have been emphasising the importance of Marxist thought in the modern world. For students, the politically minded and the social aware in China, it is a matter of reviving the always present legacy of Marxism in the Chinese political system, while for those outside, it is a matter of examining how Marxist ideas influenced various political systems over time and how they have been differently implemented across the world.
While in the 1990s it became popular to say that “communism had failed”, the fact that China is one of the richest countries in history and will soon be the world’s over-all strongest economy, overtaking the United States, means that the old notion that Marxism equals economy stagnation or even worse, economy retardation has been proved systematically false.
Furthermore, while some say that China has abandoned its 20th century Marxist traditions, this is a blatant falsehood. China remains a country shaped by the Communist Party of China which retains crucial economic controls, social regulations and economic investment initiatives that are part and parcel of the Marxist-Leninist system. What many confuse for elements of capitalism in the Chinese system are actually elements of a system of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics where after a period of a struggle for equality, can lead to new expansions in the fields of innovation, economic growth, invention and entrepreneurial that are normally stereotypes associated with capitalism. This is the stage of contemporary socialism in China and it is one that continues to strive for more equality, prosperity and innovation in the services of a collective society where the profits of Chinese labour remain within the realm of Chinese society. This forms the crux of China’s social safety net. While many countries are able to produce prosperity, it is China’s market socialist system which allows for these profits to be enjoyed by the Chinese people rather than by foreign regimes and institutions.
In reality, the failed neo-liberal systems of the world have led to some of the most negative aspects of developing communist nations including over-regulation, corrupt taxation systems, an overly censorious central government and social engineering that is not in-keeping with cultural characteristics. Notably, all of these negative attributes normally associated with communism have been achieved within neo-liberal system which call inequality freedom. In spite of this, the result has been the same as the most dysfunctional communist systems.
By contrast, China has pushed communism further than most other countries, including than the Soviet Union whose progress was interrupted by the corrupt leadership of the late 1980s. As a result, Chinese people are today, living in a country where wealth is greater than ever before and where social safety nets remain both for the urban proletariat and for rural workers. According to President Xi Jingpin’s new five year plan, rural poverty will be eliminated in China early in the next decade.
But if personal freedom, living standards, social confidence and social cohesion are all crumbling in the ‘capitalist/corporatist west’, in China all of these things are expanding in-line with the end stage of the social struggle that typifies early Marxist states.
For China, the age of war, social struggle and class struggle have resulted in a cohesive society that is not only more at peace with itself than ever but a society that is more prosperous, more orderly and one than provides more opportunities for individuals than ever before. This has neither been accomplished by embracing anarchy nor neo-liberlaism but by combining Marxist thought with Chinese cultural characteristics.
The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said,
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps”.
It is this wisdom that has allowed China to adopt its socialist model in the name of reaching the goals of creating a healthy moderately prosperous society while not embarking on a path towards revisionism or overtly decadent debates which serve to distract from national progress rather than aid it.
In his speech celebrating Marx’s 200th anniversary Xi Jinping reminded Party members and the wider world of two important quotes from Marx.
“All social life in essence is practical”
Xi then reminded his audience that,
“Marxism does not just exist in the study room, its purpose is to change peoples fate”.
Failing to realise these truisms, many in 1980s/1990s Europe and the leaders during the last days of the Soviet Union neglected to understand that like any prominent philosophy, Marxism can only function if it is embarked on with a pragmatic understanding of problem solving which includes the ability to adapt and modernise without losing one’s core values. Where in contemporary Europe Marxism is dominated by those stuck in the past and in countries like The Philippines by gangsters cloaked in a red flag, in China the principles of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era remain grounded in contemporary problem solving in the service of social progress and creating the moderately prosperous society.
Because Marxism has been implemented in many varied ways throughout the world, labels are often not helpful for intentional audiences. As the great Chinese reformer Deng Xiaoping stated,
“It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”.
It is this attitude which has made Marxism work for China where it failed or was sabotaged elsewhere. This is not to say that Marxism is the only successful format for building and revitalising a nation. Far from it, Singapore was able to succeed as a post-colonial state by adopting a combination of free market economics with Chinese characteristics in a multiracial society.
For Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, things are at a crossroads. While Marxism remains more popular in Germany than in many neighbouring states, Angela Merkel’s long time in power and her embrace of neo-liberalism with German characteristics has been a very mixed bag.
Celebrations of Marx’s bicentenary in his birth city of Trier in Germany are being paid for by the People’s Republic of China, while Chinese officials have spoken at the ceremony with a confidence that most European politicians are totalling lacking in the 21st century.
What is clear is that in the 21st century, the most successful political systems have either been leftist systems that owe a great deal to Marx and hybrid free market systems that retain elements of central control and regulation like Singapore. While there is much wealth still to be made in neo-liberal societies, there is also more violent crime, more economic and social inequality and more social degeneracy than in either China or Singapore.
Thus, in 2018, Marx has been vindicated in the sense that while the world’s most successful superpower is a Marxist state, the neo-liberal ideology that has guided many of China’s 20th century adversaries has now been exposed as a totally failed ideology even among some of its former proponents. For the leadership in Beijing, China has no desire to export its system either by force or by proxy. The decisions about how the rest of the world moves forward will ultimately be their own. It is this prospect that frightens those who lack imaginations and that which inspires those who dare to dream big as China has and continues to do.