Many Western media commented the key document based on a press release. This led to incomplete analyses. Here you can find a complete analysis of the resolution on CCP history, released on November 11, 2021.
This article collects, for ease of reading, a series of articles published on this site in November 2021.
What It Is All About
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.
Chinese Light vs. Western Darkness
The 2021 Resolution on history insists that “all Party members should uphold historical materialism,” and adopt Marxism as the scientific, infallible tool for the interpretation of history. Yet, it also refers to a tradition of interpreting Chinese history that emerged in the two resolutions on CCP history that preceded this one, the third, i.e., Chairman Mao’s resolution of 1945 and Deng Xiaoping’s resolution of 1981. It is important for the third resolution to stress the continuity with the first and the second.
“These documents, the 2021 Resolution says, unified the whole Party in thinking and action at key historical junctures and played a vital guiding role in advancing the cause of the Party and the people. Their basic points and conclusions remain valid to this day.”
The first and the second resolutions on history were steps in the process leading to an official interpretation of Chinese history, which is simple to the point of being simplistic. The third resolution repeats that, “With a history stretching back more than 5,000 years, the Chinese nation is a great and ancient nation that has fostered a splendid civilization and made indelible contributions to the progress of human civilization.”
“After the Opium War of 1840, however, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society due to the aggression of Western powers and the corruption of feudal rulers. The country endured intense humiliation, the people were subjected to untold misery, and the Chinese civilization was plunged into darkness.”
In fact, many Chinese nationalists shared this view of history, and one can still find versions of it promoted in contemporary Taiwan. It posits that the glorious and splendid Chinese civilizations was destroyed by the aggression of Western imperialism in the 19th century. What is true in this view is that China had indeed offered to the world a magnificent civilization, of which its literature and art remain as exceptional testimonies. The only quarrel non-Chinese historians of China may have with the CCP is that the latter’ s historical approach promotes the “excellent traditional Chinese culture” selectively, by systematically eliminating from it religion and spirituality.
In continuity with the rationalist ideologists of early nationalist China, the CCP perpetuates the myth that traditional China had no religion, passing off the real absence of a word that might have been translated with “religion” as if it supported the false statement that Imperial Chinese were not religious. They might not have had a word for indicating it, but their daily life was full of what we would now call religion.
Again in continuity with some trends in nationalist China, the CCP makes Western imperialism the main culprit of the decadence of Imperial China, although it also mentions that “the corruption of feudal rulers” prevented an effective reaction against the Western powers. Again, not all is false in this narrative. The Western powers, particularly the United Kingdom, exerted an enormous and unfair pressure on the Qing empire and accelerated its demise, while the Qing emperors did not manage to deal with the West adequately and underestimated its strength.
However, it is a gross over-simplification to pretend that “after the Opium War” and the subsequent so-called “unequal treaties” with Western powers (and Japan), China started its decadence and went “from light to darkness.”
The defeat in the Opium War and the unequal treaties occurred because Imperial China was already in a situation of decline. Some historians believe that the decline started when the Qing replaced the Ming in 1644, although the late Ming period had already been one of civil wars, gross social injustice that produced peasant rebellions, and fiscal collapse of the state. The Qing were “foreign,” i.e., non-Han, emperors, as their dynasty was founded by Manchus, a Tungusic people speaking their own language different from Chinese.
The Qing continued to use Manchu as their court’s language, cultivated their diversity, and generated Han resentment and reactions. They also did little to solve the social problems that had led to the fall of the Ming. It is true that Western imperialism made the Qing’s problems worse, but similar pressures were exerted on Japan, whose rulers dealt with the West somewhat more skillfully, and were also able to implement modernizing programs that ultimately saved their empire.
The CCP adopts the self-congratulatory explanation that attributes to external factors, i.e., Western imperialism, China’s “plunge into darkness,” while it would be more helpful to consider also the internal factors that had started the decline long before the Western powers appeared.
The Resolution also maintains and canonizes the interpretation of “the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom movement” and the Yihetuan (i.e., the Boxer rebellion) as part of the unfortunate and unsuccessful but “heroic and moving struggle” that “patriots of high ideals” launched to “save the nation.”
As has been discussed in previous Bitter Winter articles, these are curious interpretations, considering also the struggle the CCP promotes against religious movements it labels as xie jiao (“heterodox teachings,” translated in the CCP’s own documents in English, less accurately, as “evil cults”). Hong Xiuquan, the founder of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, proclaimed himself the younger brother of Jesus, married eighty-eight wives, and had those of them who displeased him or forgot they should constantly smile beheaded.
The war to eradicate the Heavenly Kingdom he managed to establish costed China between 30 and 70 million deaths. Although some Western historians have re-evaluated Hong’s religious creativity, in modern journalistic jargon he would be the quintessential “cult” leader, and in Imperial China the Taiping were considered a stereotypical example of a xie jiao.
Mao, who launched the first great campaign to eradicate the xie jiao in Communist China, arresting in the 1950s more than 13 million members of Yiguandao and other religious movements, regarded the Taiping as a patriotic proto-Communist movement. It is unclear whether Mao was aware that Karl Marx himself, in a little known text, had concluded that the Taiping were a reactionary religious movement and had compared it to Spiritualism in Europe and the United States. But if he knew, Mao did not care. He had decided to bracket the Taiping’s obvious religious nature and regard them as a social protest movement.
He considered in the same way the xenophobic and anti-Christian movement of the Boxers, exterminated by the foreign forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900 and 1901 after it had killed some 30,000 missionaries and Chinese Christians. It is difficult to consider the Boxers too independently from their religious and even magical beliefs, but this is what Mao did. As late as 2021, that the Taiping and the Boxers were heroic social movements rather than “evil cults” remains the CCP’s dogmatic position reaffirmed in the Resolution.
As the Resolution shows, this is part of a vision of history opposing light and darkness, the splendid Chinese culture and the sinister West that destroyed it, with the implication that the West is still at work today and continues its plots of destruction against China. However, we are told that, unlike the Taiping and the Boxers, the CCP is armed with the scientific tools of Marxism, and this time the story will have a different ending.
Mao’s “Correct Marxist Line”
The 2021 Resolution on history is not very generous with the Chinese revolution of 1911. It devotes to it exactly four lines. We read that, “The Revolution of 1911 led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen brought down the absolute monarchy that had reigned over China for thousands of years, but it failed to change the semi-colonial and semi-feudal nature of Chinese society and to alter the bitter fate of the Chinese people.”
Much more important for China, in the eyes of the CCP, was the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia of 1917, because it opened the way for the foundation of a Marxist party in China too. “The founding of a Communist party in China, the Resolution proclaims, was an epoch-making event, and from then on the Chinese revolution took on an entirely new look.”
It was not an event without problems, though. The Resolution continues the disturbing path of blaming the military and political defeats of the CCP on Mao’s rivals, while the successes are attributed to Mao alone. Mao’s “correct Marxist line” is presented in contrast with the “right deviationist ideas” of Chen Duxiu and the “‘left’ dogmatism” of Wang Ming.
While the name of Chen Duxiu, the co-founder and first General Secretary of the CCP, has been simply eliminated from some accounts of the Party’s history, here Chen is mentioned as a deviationist whose mistakes led to serious military defeats. This view was popularized by pro-CCP American journalist Edgar Snow, but in fact Chen’s role in devising the Party’s military strategy was never decisive. Chen’s “rightism” was expressed in criticizing Stalin (which at one stage led him to support Stalin’s rival in the international Communist movement, Leon Trotsky) and in asking that some bourgeois institutions, including an independent judiciary, should be preserved in the future Communist China to avoid Stalin-like authoritarian excesses. Chen was expelled from the CCP in 1929, and died in poverty in 1942.
The “leftist” deviation of Wang Ming is also accused in the Resolution of having caused “enormous losses” to the CCP. However, his role was mostly political. He was trained in Moscow and represented a line strictly aligned with Marxism as it was taught in party schools in Soviet Russia. Mao was compelled to treat him with respect as Wang was supported by Stalin, but also saw him as a Soviet tool to limit the CCP’s autonomy and enforce Moscow’s strict control on the Chinese party. Distrusted by Mao, and with his position and life depending on the vagaries of Soviet politics, Wang escaped to Moscow in 1956, where he sided with the Russians when a conflict erupted between the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and China, and died there in 1974.
The criticism of Wang in the Resolution is the opportunity to reaffirm something that had already emerged in other recent CCP documents, that the present-day Chinese Communist Party regards as a source of inspiration the Yan’an Rectification Campaign of 1939–42. While the CCP was headquartered, after the long March, at Yan’an, Shaanxi, Mao, following Stalin’s suggestions, decided to destroy any possible challenge to his absolute authority by inventing a non-existing “Trotskyist” dissent, and arresting, torturing, and executing CCP members perceived as “weak” or “at risk.” Scholars believe that at least 30,000 were purged, and some 10,000 executed, in a campaign that shaped the CCP as we know it today. Although he was not executed, Wang was among the victims of the Yan’an Campaign. He was publicly humiliated, and his health never fully recovered from that stress. The Resolution states that the Yan’an campaign was “a Party-wide Marxist ideological education movement” and “yielded tremendous results.”
Although the Resolution is correct in claiming that Mao’s strategy of “encircling cities from the countryside” was crucial in securing the CCP’s victory, it glosses over his merciless repression of the opponents and unfairly blames the latter for the military defeats that preceded the victory.
Depicting Mao as holding the center between the “rightist” deviationism of Chen Duxiu and the “leftist” one of Wang Ming is an opportunity to proclaim the Marxist principle that ultimately military victories come from a correct ideological position, something the CCP wants to reaffirm when dealing with the relationship between ideology and PLA, the Chinese military, today. It also allows the Resolution to hail Mao’s “correct Marxist line,” of which the merciless repression of the dissidents was an essential part, as a science of the revolution still valid today.
However, the Resolution admits that Mao also made serious mistakes. We will examine how the Resolution depicts them in the next chapter.
Mao’s “Theoretical and Practical Errors”
The Resolution celebrates Mao’s achievements after the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The merciless repression of dissidents and the occupation of Tibet are among these achievements. Mao, we read, “cleared out bandits and residual Kuomintang reactionary forces,” “suppressed counter-revolutionaries,” and “liberated Tibet.” These are not considered part of Mao’s excesses or mistakes, but of his praiseworthy successes.
Mao is also praised for his decision to send the so-called “Chinese People’s Volunteers” to fight alongside North Korea in the Korean War. The Resolution fully embraces the version of the 2021 movie The Battle at Lake Changjn, whose critics have been severely repressed. The Korean War was “a war to resist U.S. aggression,” the Resolution proclaims, and North Korea and China achieved “a resounding victory.”
This is false. It was North Korea that invaded South Korea in what was branded as an aggression by the United Nations. The aim of North Korea and its ally China was to unify Korea into a single state governed by the North Korean Communists. Three years of war and three million victims did not achieve this result. At the end, the border between North and South Korea remained the same with respect to when the war was started. Perhaps the U.N.-sponsored coalition led by the United States did not fully “win” the war, as there was no regime change in North Korea, but certainly the North Koreans and the Chinese did not conquer South Korea and did not obtain a “resounding victory.” Additionally, South Korea gradually emerged from the war as a major world economic power, while North Korea, the Chinese support notwithstanding, continued as a starving country whose main problem remains to this very day its citizens’ malnutrition.
Mao is also celebrated in the Resolution because in 1956 “China basically completed the socialist transformation of private ownership of the means of production, and put into practice public ownership of the means of production and distribution according to work, thus marking the establishment of the Socialist economic system.” As we will see in the next article of this series, Deng Xiaoping is also celebrated for having deeply modified this system, but this is part of the thesis-antithesis model we mentioned in our first article. We are told on the other hand that, just like Deng, and Marx and Lenin before them, Mao fully understood the difference between the Socialist and the Communist phase of a Marxist revolution. Only Communism is the utopian phase where the private property is fully abolished. The long Socialist phase is one where some economic compromise is needed.
The Resolution claims that this line emerged at the Eight National Congress of the CCP, which had two sessions, in 1956 and 1958. However, “regrettably, the correct line adopted at the Party’s Eighth National Congress was not fully upheld. Mistakes were made such as the Great Leap Forward and the people’s commune movement, and the scope of the struggle against Rightists was also made far too broad… Comrade Mao Zedong’s theoretical and practical errors concerning class struggle in a Socialist society became increasingly serious, and the Central Committee failed to rectify these mistakes in good time.”
This version is the one prevailing in the Party history as told by the CCP since Deng Xiaoping. But it only emerged post factum. Between 1958 and 1962, Mao proclaimed that the Great Leap Forward, a catastrophic experiment aimed at jumping immediately to the Communist phase that caused the death by starvation of 38.5 million Chinese (while another 1.5 million were executed for criticizing the campaign), was carried out in application of the directives of the Eight National Congress, not against them.
Worse was to come, the Resolution admits. “Under a completely erroneous appraisal of the prevailing class relations and the political situation in the Party and the country, Comrade Mao Zedong launched and led the Cultural Revolution. The counter-revolutionary cliques of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing took advantage of Comrade Mao Zedong’s mistakes, and committed many crimes that brought disaster to the country and the people, resulting in ten years of domestic turmoil which caused the Party, the country, and the people to suffer the most serious losses and setbacks since the founding of the People’s Republic. This was an extremely bitter lesson.”
While some intellectuals in China try to re-evaluate the Cultural Revolution and find positive aspects there, the CCP under Xi Jinping maintains Deng Xiaoping’s line that the Cultural Revolution was “catastrophic,” which is an adjective used in the Resolution.
However, somewhat acrobatically, the Resolution maintains that when Mao died in 1976, he had achieved China’s “great transformation from a poor and backward Eastern country with a large population to a Socialist country.” Mao also left to his successors a “scientific” thought that remains true and valid, the Resolution proclaims, although in certain occasions he failed to apply it correctly himself. But certainly, the Resolution says, nothing that happened in Mao’s later years authorizes us to call into question the fundamental principle that “only Socialism could save China, and only Socialism could develop China.”
As we will see in the next chapter, the principe was somewhat reinterpreted by Deng Xiaoping, who offered the antithesis to Mao’s thesis, preparing Xi Jinping’s synthesis. It is because of the inherent development of dialectic materialism, the Resolution implies, not (or not only) because of the superior brain of Xi Jinping that Comrade Mao Zedong did commit catastrophic mistakes while we can rest assured that Comrade Xi Jinping does not commit mistakes. The mistakes belong to the stages of the thesis and the antithesis, and Xi Jinping is beyond these stages. When the synthesis comes, mistakes disappear.
How Deng Xiaoping “Upheld Marxism”
In the first chapter of this article, 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.
Enter Xi Jinping
As mentioned in the previous chapter, the 2021 Resolution on CCP History is based on a dialectical architecture where, in Hegelian terms, Mao represents the thesis, Deng Xiaoping the antithesis, and Xi Jinping the synthesis.
Marxist history is based on necessity. Certainly, in accordance with current Chinese hagiography, Xi Jinping is acknowledged for his extraordinary skills. “Comrade Xi Jinping, we read, through meticulous assessment and deep reflection on a number of major theoretical and practical questions regarding the cause of the Party and the country in the new era, has set forth a series of original new ideas, thoughts, and strategies on national governance revolving around the major questions of our times.”
However, it is not a question of skills only. In a system of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, the moment of synthesis is paramount by necessity and by definition. It is because he represents the synthesis, and both goes beyond and preserves Mao’s thesis and Deng’s antithesis, that Xi cannot but produce the most correct position. It is for this reason, not only because of his personal brightness, that Xi “has solved many tough problems that were long on the agenda but never resolved and accomplished many things that were wanted but never got done.” In so doing, Xi has produced “the Marxism of the 21st century.”
Unfortunately, coming after an antithesis means coming after excesses and mistakes, just as Deng’s antithesis had to correct the mistakes and excesses of Mao’s thesis. The Party under Xi Jinping, the Resolution says, had and has to face “no small number of long unresolved, deep-seated problems as well as newly emerging problems regarding reform, development, and stability. Moreover, previously lax and weak governance has enabled inaction and corruption to spread within the Party and led to serious problems in its political environment.”
Xi, the Resolution says, had to deal with contradictions in 13 main sectors. It was and is his job to indicate clear solutions for them. We will examine the crucial first two sectors in this article, and will continue with the others in the next installments.
The first sector deals with the CCP itself and its leadership. “There have remained many problems within the Party with respect to upholding its leadership,” the Resolution says. Xi (or “the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core,” but the two are really presented as one and the same) “has made it clear that the leadership of the Party is the foundation and lifeblood of the Party and the country, and the pillar upon which the interests and wellbeing of all Chinese people depend. All Party members must maintain a high degree of unity with the Central Committee ideologically, politically, and in action.”
Incitement without punishment cannot work. Xi has “investigated and handled cases of deviation from the Party’s line, principles, and policies as well as instances in which the Party’s centralized, unified leadership has been undermined; and rid the Party of members who acted duplicitously.”
The second sector also deals with the Party, and addresses the lack of supervision that generated lazy or not totally motivated members. Before Xi, “there was a certain period in which we failed to supervise Party organizations effectively or govern them with the necessary stringency. This resulted in a serious lack of political conviction among some Party members.” Some even dared to criticize the Central Committee, “got too big for their boots and made presumptuous comments on the decisions of the Central Committee.”
To produce “a vibrant Marxist governing party,” Xi has called everybody to “frugality,” and has tried to put an end to “hedonism, and extravagance.” When discussing this sector, as several comments have noted, the Resolution uses a religious terminology. Under Xi, CCP cadres should show “faith,” but this is possible only if they learn “to be strict with themselves in practicing self-cultivation.” This is the traditional term in the Chinese three teachings (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) for ascetic exercises. Of course, this is an inner-worldly asceticism (to borrow Max Weber’s term), based on devoting hours to studying CCP history, “the Party Constitution, Party regulations, and General Secretary Xi Jinping’s major policy addresses,” thus reinforcing “their identity as Communists.”
The opposite of self-cultivation, we are told, is corruption. The Resolution reaffirms that “corruption is the greatest threat to the Party,” but also reiterates that corruption for Xi does not only mean pocketing public money or taking bribes. Xi has punished “both political and economic corruption,” and made clear that an otherwise honest bureaucrat who lacks “political integrity” is also “corrupted.”
Here, Xi Jinping is credited with reaffirming an important principle that makes a Communist country different from a capitalist one. In the latter, candidates for the top positions are selected primarily on the basis of their ability. In a Communist country such as China ability is considered, but as a second test, the first test being political integrity and loyalty to the Party. Xi’s Central Committee, and China in general, “has adhered to the principle of selecting officials on the basis of both integrity and ability, with greater weight given to the former.”
For the CCP it is better to have a bureaucrat who is not very bright but is fanatically loyal to the Party than a very intelligent bureaucrat who thinks independently. This ensures the stability of the Party, but may also create problems.
Xi Jinping’s Program Revealed
We have seen how the 2021 Resolution on the history of the CCP indicates 13 sectors where Xi Jinping has inherited problems from his predecessors that he has solved, or plans to solve. This list in the Resolution is of some interest because, besides celebrating Xi’s achievements, it indicates his program for the future.
After examining the first two sectors, which deal with the internal problems of the CCP, the Resolution mentions the third sector, Chinese economy. Here, Xi was confronted with a Deng-style “traditional growth model,” where “undue emphasis” was given to “the rate and scale of growth.” This model can “no longer be sustained,” also because focusing all the attention on growth means leaving excessive autonomy to the non-public sector, which is the main engine of the growth. More important than growing, in Xi’s China, is making sure that private enterprise are “guided” by the Party “to prevent runaway expansion of capital, [and] maintain order in the market.”
Also, Xi wants to “galvanize” “micro, small, and medium [private] enterprises,” which are less at risk of asserting independence from the CCP than their larger counterparts.
The fourth sector discussed in the Resolution is “reform and opening up,” which was Deng’s main slogan and program. It was a good program, the Resolution says, but “certain deep-seated institutional problems and impediments from vested interests became increasingly evident. China’s reform thus entered a critical phase fraught with tough challenges.” Xi is there to make sure that “reform stays on the right path,” remains guided by the Party, and does not challenge the Party.
The fifth sector is “political work.” This is a part of the document that was anticipated last month in a speech by the third highest ranking CCP leader, Li Zhanshu, which we reviewed in Bitter Winter. “Political work” should focus on criticizing Western-style democracy that, if adopted in China, “will get us nowhere, and could potentially lead our country to ruin.”
“We must remain on guard, the Resolution says, against the erosive influence of Western trends of political thought, including the so-called constitutionalism, alternation of power between political parties, and separation of powers.”
We should also be on guard, the Resolution adds, against another Western idea we want to keep out of China, Western-style religious liberty. “Religions in China must be Chinese in orientation,” and constantly submit to CCP’s “active guidance for the adaptation of religions to socialist society.”
And, in case somebody would mention human rights, the Resolution states that in this field in China’s “top priority is given to safeguarding the people’s rights to subsistence and development,” which is a nice way of saying that Chinese should be happy that the CCP feeds them and improves their economic situation, and pay the price that democracy, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion are denied to them.
The sixth sector is the “Socialist rule of law.” “Xi Jinping’s thought on the rule of law” has been heavily promoted in the last couple of years. The Resolution reiterates that the rule of law Xi teaches is both “Socialist” and “with Chinese characteristics,” and should not be confused with Western concepts of the rule of law. In practice, this means that the ultimate aim of the rule of law is enhancing and protecting “the Party’s ability to lead and govern the country.”
The seventh sector is culture. This is a main concern of Xi, as “misguided ideas have often cropped up, such as money worship, hedonism, ultra-individualism, and historical nihilism [meaning a study of history independent from CCP guidance], online discourse has been rife with disorder, and certain leading officials have demonstrated ambiguity in their political stance and a lack of fighting spirit.” The culture that Xi promotes is ideology, “Socialist culture.” “We must have a firm hold on leadership in ideological work, the Resolution proclaims, develop Socialist ideology that has the power to unite and inspire the people, and build China into a country with a strong Socialist culture.”
Xi and the Central Committee are very concerned that Internet in China can slip out of their control. “The Central Committee has made it clear that failure in the cyberspace domain will spell disaster for the Party’s long-term governance. The Party therefore attaches great importance to the Internet as the main arena, battleground, and frontline of the ideological struggle.” This is also an international problem, and the CCP is engaged in a huge effort to use the Internet to “tell well China’s stories and the Party’s stories.” Unfortunately, the Resolution admits, these efforts do not always succeed.
The eight sector is a “better life,” supplemented by the ninth sector, ecology. Xi and the Central Committee are credited with concluding victoriously “the most extensive and aggressive anti-poverty campaign in human history” and when COVID-19 (whose origins are not discussed) hit, in leading “the whole nation in an all-out people’s war to curb the spread of the virus,” which “enabled China to lead the world in getting the epidemic under control.”
Through the initial press release, this self-congratulatory part of the Resolution became one of the most quoted internationally. Eventually, the Resolution says, Xi’s CCP will also improve China’s results in the fields of ecology and sport, where much has already been achieved (the frustration of Xi, a famous soccer fan, for the lack of international success of Chinese soccer is not mentioned).
The tenth sector is the military. Besides congratulating Xi for having built a Chinese army stronger than ever, and threatening “Taiwan separatists,” this part of the Resolution insists that the military should be strictly controlled by the Communist Party. “It is of paramount importance, we read, to uphold the fundamental principle and system of absolute Party leadership over the military.”
Problems existed, and “for a period of time, the Party’s leadership over the military was obviously lacking. If this problem had not been completely solved, it would not only have diminished the military’s combat capacity, but also undermined the key political principle that the Party commands the gun.” In case this was not clear enough, the Resolution names several generals who have been liquidated, thus ensuring that everybody in the army understands that generals are there to serve the Party.
Parallel to the army, national security as the eleventh sector is called to “fight to the end with any forces that would attempt to subvert the leadership of the Communist Party of China and China’s Socialist system,” and remember that national security is in fact “political security.”
The twelfth sector is “national reunification.” The Resolution hails among Xi’s achievements that he “restored order in Hong Kong.’’ “Due to a variety of complicated factors both at home and abroad, we read, anti-China activities aimed at destabilizing Hong Kong ran rampant for a period of time.” Happily, Xi reacted through “the enactment of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the refinement of the electoral system of the HKSAR, and the implementation of the principle of patriots governing Hong Kong.”
Now, it’s the turn of Taiwan. “Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Party. It is also a shared aspiration of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation,” which according to the Resolution currently finds an obstacle in President Tsai Ing-Wen and her “separatist party.” But “time is on our side,” the Resolution says.
Finally, the thirteenth sector is diplomacy. There is no mention of “wolf warrior diplomacy,” but as for other sectors we are told that the essence of Xi Jinping’s thought on democracy is “the Party’s leadership over diplomatic endeavors.” There should be no autonomy of diplomacy from the Party and the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core. But then, there should be no autonomy from Comrade Xi Jinping of anybody and anything.
The Four “Upholds”
Both Chinese and Western commentators have observed that the substance of the Resolution is in “the two upholds”: uphold the authority of the Central Committee of the CCP, uphold the authority of Comrade Xi Jinping. In fact, there are four “upholds,” and they flow logically from each other.
The first “uphold” is “uphold Marxism.” The Resolution reaffirms “our faith in Marxism, the great ideal of Communism.” The first aim of Xi Jinping’s activity, we are told, is “ensuring the guiding role of Marxism in the ideological domain.”
He needs the help of all CCP members. Every Party member should know and study Marxist theory. “The advanced nature of a Marxist party is not a given, but rather cultivated through constant self-reform [this is the official English translation of 自我革命 but Bill Bishop at Sinocism has suggested that ‘self-revolution’ may be more appropriate].” Chinese “must uphold Marxism-Leninism… We must use Marxist positions, viewpoints, and methods to observe, understand, and steer the trends of the times, and constantly deepen our understanding of the laws underlying governance by a Communist party, the building of Socialism, and the development of human society.”
Today as 100 years ago when it was founded, the CCP remains persuaded that “Marxism has brought to light the laws governing the development of human society. It is a scientific truth for understanding and shaping the world.”
Marxism, however, went through difficult times, and now “to uphold and develop Marxism, Marxists from all over the world must engage in extremely strenuous and challenging work, both in theory and in practice.”
It is “in China that Marxism has been fully tested as a scientific truth.” The Chinese experience “has enabled Marxism to take on a fresh face in the eyes of the world, and significantly shifted the worldwide historical evolution of and contest between the two different ideologies and social systems of Socialism and capitalism in a way that favors Socialism.”
This would be good reason enough, the Resolution says, for the second “uphold”: “uphold the Chinese Communist Party.” By succeeding, according to the Resolution, where no other Communist party had succeeded before, i.e., in proving that the Socialist stage of the Communist project may produce one of the strongest economies in the world, the CCP has emerged as “an important force driving human development and progress.” It has rescued Marxism from its crisis, and now we “see Marxism emanate mightier and more compelling power of truth.”
“The strong leadership of the Party, the Resolution says, is the fundamental reason why the Chinese people and Chinese nation have been able to transform their fate in modern times and achieved the great success we see today. Both the facts of history and the reality of today prove that without the Communist Party of China, there would be no new China and no national rejuvenation.”
Third, “uphold the Central Committee.” “The centralized, unified leadership of the Central Committee is the highest principle of the Party’s leadership, and upholding and strengthening this is the common political responsibility of each and every Party member. In upholding Party leadership, all Party members must, first and foremost, take a clear stance in maintaining political integrity to ensure that the whole Party obeys the Central Committee.”
And the fourth “uphold” is, as expected, “uphold Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole.” “Party members and officials should be educated and guided to have firm belief in Xi Jinping Thought,” and to “rally more closely around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core.”
The Resolution is much more than a call to obedience. It depicts in the Hegelian terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis a great fresco that explains why Xi Jinping is “at the core” through the implacable Marxist logic of dialectical materialism and historical materialism.
Surprises are always possible in China, but it seems that those Western commentators that mentioned in the last few months the possibility that Xi Jinping had been weakened by international pressures and silent but not absent internal resistance were wrong. The Resolution establishes his role as a leader comparable to Mao and Deng, and in fact greater or at least more correct than them, not through an analysis of his exceptional personality or through political argument. It draws the conclusion from a philosophical view of history presented as quintessential Marxist orthodoxy. It seems a very stable foundation for Xi’s power.