Many Western media commented the key document before its text was published, based on a press release. This led to incomplete analyses.
by Massimo Introvigne
Article 1 of 8.
On November 11, 2021, at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), an eagerly awaited document was adopted, titled “Resolution of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century.”
Virtually all mainline Western media published articles on the text. They did it without having read it. Indeed, very few Chinese outside of the members of the CCP’s Central Committee had read the Resolution when these comments were written. The full text was published in Chinese and English only on November 16. By that date, for the Western media the Resolution was old news, and only specialized China watchers paid any attention to the lengthy document.
This was no minor achievement for the CCP propaganda. Since, claiming to comment the Resolution, Western media in fact discussed the short CCP press release, they could only include in their articles what the Party had decided to emphasize through its communique. It was as if an author published a book, wrote a review of it, and had media comment the review rather than the book itself—realizing every author’s dream of controlling how a text is reviewed.
The press release, of course, was not unrelated to the Resolution. It steered its readers’ attention toward two points. First, that the document celebrated the historical successes of the CCP under Xi Jinping: eliminating poverty (a claim that is not true, although some results were achieved), gathering a majority of countries ready to vote in favor of China at the United Nations no matter what, and controlling COVID-19 better than any other country in the world, thus proving that its system is better than democracy in dealing with crises.
Above all, the CCP managed to stay in power, and is set to become in two years the longest reigning Communist Party in history, surpassing the record of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
All this is in the Resolution, but all this has also been included in countless other CCP documents, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic started. A “historical resolution” would hardly have been needed to repeat these platitudes. What is translated as “historical resolution” is, more precisely, a “resolution on history.” But the resolution on history is also historical, because it is only the third such resolution in the history of the CCP, after the ones passed under Mao and Deng Xiaoping.
Mao had the resolution on “Certain Questions in the History of Our Party” passed by the seventh plenary session of the CCP’s Sixth Central Committee in 1945. Deng promoted the approval of the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China” at the sixth plenary session of the CCP’s 11th Central Committee in 1981.
Here lies a first key to read the document. Its structure is distinctly Hegelian. Marx’s thought and Communism cannot be properly understood without considering how much, while criticizing him, Marx took from the leading German philosopher in the years of his youth, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Marx re-interpreted the idealistic philosophy of Hegel in materialistic terms, but kept his dialectic method.
In fact, the idea that history advances through the three stages of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis did not originate with Hegel but with another of the founding fathers of German idealistic philosophy, Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Hegel used a similar method, but rarely quoted Fichte’s formula and criticized its mechanical application. But in general the founding fathers of idealism shared a three-stage historical model, where a thesis emerges in history that becomes dominant but also has flaws, thus leading to its criticism in the shape of an antithesis.
Since the antithesis normally goes too far in criticizing the thesis, and also includes flaws, both thesis and antithesis should be overcome through what Hegel called aufhebung, a word that had been variously translated and indicates both overcoming the thesis and the antithesis and preserving and including what was valid in them.
Scholars of philosophy would find this summary simplistic, but it corresponds to what was and is passed down to students in Marxist manuals. Just like other dictators who were directly or indirectly inspired by the idealistic philosophy, including Hitler and Mussolini, Communist strongmen liked to think of their own position as the synthesis. Nobody liked to represent the thesis or the antithesis, as these stages are destined to be overcome. The synthesis is what at the end emerges, comprehensive and victorious.
Very clearly, the Resolution presents Mao as the thesis, Deng Xiaoping as the antithesis who reacted against certain excesses of Mao, and Xi Jinping as the synthesis who incorporated the best of Mao and Deng, yet according to a dialectic version of history could only come after them.
Bitter Winter will accompany its readers into the architecture and subtleties of the Resolution, putting them in the positions of hundreds of millions of Chinese—CCP members, students, public servants—who are now supposed to study it for months and even years to come.
Sort of, as we will also include some critical comments. But in general the CCP, rather than emanating documents where those sending information to Bitter Winter from China are singled out, naming our magazine explicitly, for punishment and incarceration, and putting our Chinese reporters in jail, should thank us for continuing to pay attention to its documents.