Those who consider the “reform and opening up” of Deng as non-Marxist do not understand Marxism, the CCP says.
by Massimo Introvigne
In the first article of this series, we highlighted the dialectical scheme of the 2021 CCP Resolution on history: Chairman Mao represents the thesis, Deng Xiaoping the antithesis, Xi Jinping the synthesis.
The passage concerning Deng Xiaoping and his “reform and opening up” stage is very delicate. With Deng, the Resolution says, the CCP took “the momentous decision to completely renounce the Cultural Revolution. Over the more than 40 years that have passed since then, the Party has never wavered in following this line.” There is no room for the nostalgics of the Cultural Revolution.
On the other hand, in embracing “Deng Xiaoping Theory” as an integral if dialectic part of the CCP ideology, the Resolution is very concerned that it is understood as Socialist theory. That Westerners believe that with Deng the CCP has repudiated Marxism is of little concern to the Party. If Chinese would believe it, however, consequences would be catastrophic.
There are those, in fact, that—to hail it as realism or decry it as betrayal—insist that a Party that embraces private property and capitalism and has among its members several billionaires is no longer a Communist Party. For those who adopt this theory, Deng’s slogan “To get rich is glorious” took out the second C from the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party. It is argued that Marx proclaimed that the essence of Communism is the abolition of private property, and certainly of billionaires, and that a party restoring private property and giving membership cards to billionaires can no longer be a Communist party.
Many of Xi Jinping’s writings are devoted to explain how those who maintain this theory have a very primitive understanding of Karl Marx’s Marxism. Marx said that Communists will abolish private property (and billionaires). He did not say that they will abolish it immediately once in power.
The Resolution proclaims that Deng understood, better than Mao in his late years, the difference between “the primary stage of socialism” and the final stage or Communism in the two-stage process constituting a Marxist revolution. Perhaps Soviet and other Eastern European Communists did not perfectly understand the difference either. Under Deng, the Resolution says, it were the “Chinese communists [that] brought the essence of Socialism to light, and set the basic line for the primary stage of Socialism.”
The CCP under Deng Xiaoping theorized and created “the basic economic system for the primary stage of Socialism, under which public ownership is the mainstay and diverse forms of ownership develop together, as well as an income distribution system under which distribution according to work is the mainstay while multiple forms of distribution exist alongside it.”
This is not a system without private property at all and where “distribution according to work” eliminates the very rich and the billionaires, something that will be achieved in the final stage of Communism but is not appropriate nor even possible in the primary stage of Socialism. It is a system where the public sector remains “the mainstay,” but coexists with a private sector characterized by private property. And “multiple forms of distribution” means that some will become more rich, and even much more rich, than the others.
This remains a Socialist system, or perhaps a “Socialist market economy,” not because there are no private property and super-rich businesspersons but because the party representing the cause of Socialism, i.e., the CCP, maintains a strict control of economy and society, and never loses sight of the remote but shining goal of the future Communist stage.
The Resolution admits the possibility that, in reacting against a previous confusion between the Socialist and the Communist stage, Deng Xiaoping might have lost sight of the risk that in the Socialist phase some rich may become too rich, and even assume that they may operate independently of the Party. Here, those who led the CCP between Deng and Xi, i.e., Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, get their footnote, and are acknowledged for their ideas of a “moderately prosperous society,” with emphasis on “moderately,” a program that will get its teeth with Xi Jinping.
More important, the Resolution says, is to understand that Deng’s correction of some mistakes Mao did in his last period was not a way to repudiate Maoist Marxism but to save it. Thanks to Deng, we are told, “the Party re-established the Marxist ideological, political, and organizational lines,” and “correctly appraised the historical position of Comrade Mao Zedong and the value of Mao Zedong Thought as a scientific system.” This was consecrated in 1981 by Deng’s second resolution on the history of the CCP, now followed by the third.
Those who believe that Deng Xiaoping had abandoned Marxism, the Resolution observes, should consider how he reacted to the demise of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, rejected any suggestion that China should have its own perestroika, and cracked down on the Tiananmen movement. Whether the crackdown was ordered by Deng personally is a question not discussed in the document. What is affirmed, however, is that by crushing the Tiananmen movement in 1989 the CCP saved itself and avoided the fate of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other Communist parties in Eastern Europe.
“The late 1980s and early 1990s, the Resolution says, witnessed the demise of the Soviet Union and the drastic changes in Eastern European countries. In the late spring and early summer of 1989, a severe political disturbance took place in China as a result of the international and domestic climates at the time, and was egged on by hostile anti-Communist and anti-Socialist forces abroad. With the people’s backing, the Party and the government took a clear stand against the turmoil,” avoiding worst consequences.
From the point of view of the CCP, rejecting perestroika models and repressing the Tiananmen movement was exactly what the leaders gathered around Deng should have done—and they did it. Had they acted otherwise, CCP-dominated China would have shared the fate of the Soviet Union. At the price of reaffirming its repressive and merciless nature, the CCP, unlike the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, managed to stay in power—which is what the CCP cares about the most.