In China, Marxism, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

By Dr Hugh Goodacre,

Published on Friends of Socialist China, Dec 23, 2022:

On 10 December, the first of two online seminars on the theme ‘The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and its World Significance’, organised jointly by Friends of Socialist China and the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was held. We are pleased to publish below the contribution by Dr Hugh Goodacre, Managing Director of the Institute for Independence Studies and lecturer in the History of Economic Thought at University College London. Hugh’s speech provides a profound and thought-provoking analysis of the global relevance of Chinese socialism, situating the new developments in Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era within the overall and ongoing 170-year evolution of Marxism. He observes: “Xi Jinping Thought is deeply grounded in the scientific socialist tradition, standing in direct continuity with the work of its founders, and is indeed the Marxism of today.”
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Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this Seminar on the world significance of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China. This was indeed an event of historic significance, in particular for its having firmly established the core position of Comrade Xi Jinping in the Central Committee and the Party as a whole, as well as of Xi Jinping Thought.

As the Resolution on the Party Constitution amendment noted: “The Congress unanimously agrees that the new developments in Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era since the Party’s 19th National Congress should be incorporated into the Party Constitution, so as to better reflect the major contributions made by the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core to advancing the Party’s theoretical, practical, and institutional innovations.”

As a contribution to the assessment of its significance, my following comments aim to establish three interlinked points:

First, Xi Jinping Thought, the guiding ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics, epitomises the outstanding features of socialism in the world today.

Secondly, Xi Jinping Thought is deeply grounded in the scientific socialist tradition, standing in direct continuity with the work of its founders, and is indeed the Marxism of today.

Thirdly, Xi Jinping Thought provides the basis for substantial steps forward in our work in this country to forge a socialist ideology and political line, on the basis of which we can build a genuinely socialist movement in this, the oldest imperialist country.

In the following, I aim to express a standpoint formulated collectively within the Institute for Independence Studies, an organisation which conducts activities to promote the study and dissemination of ideologies of social and national emancipation and to draw lessons from them for socialists in this country. This Institute, whose Patron is Keith Bennett, holds that it is the socialist countries which constitute the collective leadership of the international working class and progressive movements of the world, and Xi Jinping Thought is, in terms of scale and impact on global affairs, the most influential ideology emanating from within those countries today. Consequently, in recent years, much of our work has been directed towards the establishment of our Institute’s Xi Jinping Thought Study Group.

First, then, Xi Jinping Thought epitomises the outstanding features of socialism in the world today, which lie in its cultural, social and intellectual diversity. This diversity reflects the fact, that since the establishment of the first socialist state in 1917, the advance of socialism has impacted on every civilisation and every culture throughout the world. This has faced socialists with the task of creatively adapting their theory and practice to widely diverse social and cultural environments. The resulting multifaceted socialism of our new era is epitomised in socialism with Chinese characteristics, of which Xi Jinping Thought is the guiding ideology.

Far from being a departure from the mainstream of Marxist political thought and the communist ideal of internationalist unity, this diversity was foreseen and welcomed from within the scientific socialist tradition from its very origins. Marx himself, ever since the early years of his revolutionary activity, was acutely conscious of the dialectical unity between diversity and mutual reinforcement, as illustrated in his comment that “what the nations have done as nations, they have done for human society,” a comment which was recently quoted by Xi Jinping.

Similarly, Lenin wrote that “all nations will arrive at socialism – this is inevitable, but all will do so in not exactly the same way.” In fact James Connolly, leader of the 1916 uprising in Ireland – an uprising which was emphatically endorsed and supported by Lenin – had already anticipated that statement in strikingly similar terms, stating that, “while it is true that the problems and trials of people the world over are the same, it is equally true that each and every country must set socialism up in the way most suitable for its own people”. As Lenin put it, the world’s advance towards socialism will not have a “monotone grey” aspect, just as Xi Jinping similarly emphasizes that we live in a “colourful world”, and warns that “no two political systems on earth are exactly alike, and no model can fit the political systems of all countries”.

All this demonstrates that socialism with Chinese characteristics epitomises the nature of socialism in today’s world, and that its guiding ideology of Xi Jinping Thought is deeply grounded in the mainstream of Marxist thought, and indeed may justly claim to be Marxism of today.

Moreover, by achieving this theoretical advance, Xi Jinping Thought constitutes an invaluable ideological resource for us in our efforts to draw socialists and other progressive people in this country into closer understanding and solidarity with the diverse manifestations of socialist and other emancipatory ideologies confronting our common enemy of imperialism today. It is an essential aid for those of us who have been aligned with the politics and ideology of China and other socialist countries continuously ever since the 1960s, since we have a particular responsibility to address a task whose importance is emphasised by Xi Jinping, which is to “foster broad-mindedness toward the ways of different civilizations, understand their values, and respect different peoples’ explorations of their own paths of development.”

The multinational character of Britain’s working class is a notable aid in fulfilling our responsibilities in this regard, since the minority constituents of this class are naturally the most open to anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist ideas, and have historically provided invaluable potential for a mass base for anti-imperialism and socialist internationalism even here within this imperialist metropolis. By the same token, it has been these communities who have historically been the most ready to form bonds of mutual understanding and solidarity with China and other socialist countries, bonds further strengthened by Mao Zedong’s inspirational statements in solidarity with the African American people’s anti-racist struggle.

Such currents of socialist internationalism within our working class were, in turn, invaluable in stepping forward in resolute solidarity with the great Irish Republican insurrection from 1969 to 1995 and beyond. This was by far the most sustained mass revolutionary uprising in this part of Europe in that period, an uprising with deep roots in the working class and an explicitly socialist political orientation, which moreover provided clear lessons on our very doorstep on how to build mass organisations in conditions of severe repression, a repression which was imposed on the Irish community within Britain as well. All those rallying to such solidarity were indeed standing in a direct line with the work of Marx himself since it was with specific reference to the danger of disunity between the English and Irish components of the working-class in England that he and Engels formulated their most explicit warnings against the dangers of disunity within the working-class.

Although those early warnings by Marx and Engels were uttered with specific reference to England and Ireland, the lesson they drew is of course relevant universally – that no movement towards social or national emancipation can succeed if it falls victim to the divide-and-rule tactics of its rulers, a teaching upheld today by Xi Jinping in his warning that “a divided country cannot prosper”.

Division among the working class forces fostered by imperialism is exemplified by the evil weapon of racism, a weapon largely forged in our country, which was a pioneer of the African slave trade and other most extreme forms of colonialist brutality and oppression. Marx warned that “labour in the white skin can never free itself as long as labour in the black skin is branded”, and Mao Zedong similarly stated that “the evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of African people and the trade in African people, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the black people.”

Racism is a thread that runs through many of imperialism’s schemes to stir up trouble internationally as well, with the aim of dividing nation against nation, country against country and people against people. Imperialists even try to make trouble within and between the socialist countries. They finance separatist and counter-revolutionary organisations, hosting them in imperialist countries such as ours, and even seek support for them from misguided elements within the left! Yet China’s party and government have successfully sustained the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation.

China has, moreover, strengthened its unity with the other socialist countries and with other countries aspiring to take the socialist road and the great mass of developing countries, avoiding any aspiration to hegemony, thereby encouraging them to stand up against imperialist pressure, bullying and threats.

Indeed, what developing country, in particular, could now fail to take to heart the message of China’s achievements? Having been within living memory a country which had fallen behind the times in economic development, China has, in a short period of history, eradicated absolute poverty among its people and achieved such spectacular advances in economic development that it is now the world’s second-largest economy. Consequently, China is now uniquely in a position to defy imperialist threats not only on the regional but also on the global stage, enabling Xi Jinping to issue the resounding warning that “we do not make trouble, but when it comes, we will not back away.”

This situation clearly demonstrates the superiority of the socialist system. On the one hand, China holds out the prospect to the countries, peoples and nations of the whole world that they too could stand tall and proud in independence and growing prosperity. On the other hand, all imperialism has to offer is the prospect of a deeply unjust and unequal system, sinking ever deeper into economic, political and social crisis, and threatening a descent into war of unprecedented danger to the very survival of humanity. This illustrates how the global balance between these two socio-economic systems is now indeed tipping decisively in favour of socialism.

At this momentous historical tipping point, Xi Jinping Thought creatively applies the Marxist method of historical materialism in today’s context of the international diversity of contemporary socialism. In the four volumes so far published of his Governance of China there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of references to all periods of the 5000-year history of Chinese civilisation, and the accumulated wisdom of its literature, all of which are used to put even the most ancient insights to use today. This provides an outstanding example to peoples anywhere in the world who aspire to forge a path to socialism that accords with the characteristics of their own country. It also creatively develops and extends the success of the Communist Party of China in constantly assessing and reassessing the experience of its own history, a tradition through which it has added such depth and richness to its ideological and political culture.

Above all, the history of the Communist Part of China, like the history of socialism ever since the time of Marx, demonstrates the truth that the impact of progressive ideas and policies is not ultimately determined by whether they emerge from within a small circle of people or a large number, let alone from within a large established organisation. Rather, what matters is whether those ideas and policies truly reflect the interests of the people and have the potential to gain a mass hearing from them and so to unite them in the struggle against their oppressors. That is why our Institute has always placed central emphasis on struggle on the ideological front.

At this time, we are seeking ways to integrate Xi Jinping Thought into the practical struggles of the multinational working class in our country in the situation of intensifying class struggle that lies ahead of us in the coming period. It is our view that this will be an essential step in forging a political and ideological line to lead the working class in transforming itself, in Marx’s terms, from a ‘class in itself’ into a ‘class for itself’. This would indeed be a contribution to the anti-imperialist struggles of the world’s people as a whole, this being the oldest country of modern colonialism and imperialism and the closest ally of United States imperialism today.

Our comrades’ constructive relationship with the Communist Party of China has always been a feature of our efforts in this regard. Indeed, a powerful impetus was provided to the formation of the Institute’s precursor organisations by a discussion held between the International Department of the Communist Party of China and Keith Bennett, on his first visit to China in 1981, when a CPC comrade commented: “We deeply feel that the question of how to make a revolution in the countries of Western Europe remains an unanswered one.” That comment succinctly expressed the hitherto unanswered question to which we have now spent over forty years seeking to formulate an answer. It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to contribute to this long-term dialogue by sharing experience and engaging in mutual learning with comrades in China, a suitably constructive way of celebrating the successful holding of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China.

*****

EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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