The Enduring Ideological Monism of the Chinese Communist Party

 By Giorgio Strafella.

In his last article on this blog, Dr Wang Zhengxu examines the coming changes in the CCP Constitution to prove the CCP’s “continuous evolution toward a normal, secular, governing party.” The current Party Constitution, dated 2002, does not include Hu Jintao’s contribution, “the Scientific Outlook on Development,” which will be added after “Deng Xiaoping Theory” and Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents.” Deng, Jiang, and Hu’s formulas could be subsumed under the umbrella term “the System of Theories of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.”

Even though the Constitution has been amended several times to make room for new formulas, the primary source of ideological legitimacy of the CCP has remained Marxism. Whenever a new formula or theory is adopted, the CCP takes great pains to stress its adherence to Marxism. Therefore, this revision of the Party Constitution does not entail any intention to allow for a more democratic political system to emerge.

Crucially, the formulas do not constitute a set of tenets of the same value. They are introduced as mere derivations from Marxism — actually, as the best possible derivations for the Chinese context. Maoism, for instance, is celebrated for representing the correct application of Marxism to China’s situation. Deng Xiaoping Theory is officially described as “a great theoretical result of the Sinicisation of Marxism,” and so on. This also applies to key ideological slogans that are not included in the Constitution, such as Deng’s “Seeking Truth from Facts”. In 1992, the phrase became a code word for pragmatism in economic policy-making. Even such a basic proposition could not be officially used without justifying it vis-à-vis Marxism. A long article on the front page of Guangming Daily (10 July 1992), proclaimed: “Seeking Truth from Facts is the quintessence of Marxism.”

The same happens today with the addition of the Scientific Outlook. Hu did not present it as simply another “principle for managing economic and social issues”, but as a further distillation of Marxism. The General Secretary declared on 8 November: “The Scientific Outlook on Development was created by integrating Marxism with the reality of contemporary China and with the underlying features of our times, and it fully embodies the Marxist worldview on and methodology for development.” There would be no Scientific Outlook without Marxism, and the Outlook itself would lack legitimacy if Marxism were not accepted as the sole correct ideology. This is why new formulas could be summarized as “System of Theories,” but Marxism must remain untouched.

Hu Jintao added: “Firstly, we must strengthen ideals and beliefs and hold fast to the spiritual aspirations of a communist. The faith in Marxism and belief in Socialism and Communism represent the political soul of a communist, they are the spiritual mainstay that a communist relies on through every ordeal.” The use of “faith” and “belief” in this passage suggests an ideological disposition diametrically opposite to “secularisation.”

In the final analysis, the key to “democratization” is not the “secularisation” (or de-ideologisation) of the Communist Party, but the pluralist nature of the state. That is, not the demise of the CCP’s ideology, but the ability of the state to accommodate a plurality of ideologies. At the moment, the CCP remains a Marxist-Leninist party, which by nature is characterized by the ideological monism described above, no matter how hollow the references to Communism might sound. As long as a party so devoted to ideological monism owns the Chinese state, real pluralism within the state is impossible and the narrative of democratisation little more than an act of faith.

 Giorgio Strafella is a PhD Candidate of School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

6 replies »

  1. It’s very interesting and insightful entry Giorgio, thank you. My question is about your conclusion and critique of Zhengxu Wang’s previous piece. Does adopting a pluralist stance after being monist not require first de-ideologisation or secularization (you have used the terms analogously)? Or are you suggesting the state itself remains monist-ideological but simply accepts outside pluralism (ie diversity of views)? Seemingly not, because you talk about within-party pluralism. If as you suggest party keeps ideology within the party (you say de-ideologisation is unecessary), but also adopts pluralism within the party(accepts diversity of stances). So who/what controls/decides which ideology remains the ideology of the party in that case or does Marxist Leninist still get to dominate the other ideologies?

  2. Thanks for your comment. Sorry, but I have to correct a few misunderstandings. I am not talking about intra-party pluralism, but pluralism within the state, as a key to a democracy. There is pluralism in Chinese society, but not in the institutions of the state, I believe. There won’t be as long as the CCP “owns” the state, as Prof Tsang wrote. Also, I do not see the CCP embracing pluralism within the party at all. To answer your question: In Wang’s opinion, the de-ideologisation of the party heralds a more democratic state. According to my understanding, this is based on the assumption that the CCP is becoming more managerial and less ideologic, that is, less political, and a less political ruling party would bring about a more tolerant state (Dr Wang, please correct me if I am wrong). On the contrary, I start from the assumption that there is no democracy without the political (in Mouffe’s sense), and the political implies a competition between different ideologies, different projects for society. So de-ideologisation is not a way to democracy to begin with. Now, these are just assumptions. Based on my analysis of party rhetoric, I argue that no de-ideologisation (or secularisation) is actually occurring within the CCP. Given that: the CCP remains a Leninist party organisation-wise; it systematically emphasises Marxism as its sole source of ideological legitimacy, rather than secularising; it owns the Chinese state and wants to remain the owner at any cost; and it also claims to possess the only correct interpretation of Marxism for China — therefore, it does not appear willing to let its ideology compete with others within state institutions to define the policies of the state. So, no democracy in sight. In fact, what is crucial for the CCP in Marxism is not its revolutionary dimension or emancipatory message, but the fact that it is non-optional. There cannot be two ideologies within a Marxist-Leninist party.

  3. … but there can be a conflict between interpretations of Marxism, and there have been some in the past. And here we fall back on the hard ground of reality: interpretations win or fail based on factional struggle. This is all I understand, it’s not much, sorry! 🙂

  4. Thanks it makes a lot more sense now. So intra-Party is ideological monist and Party controls the state. Society is in fact pluralist and the direction of democracy requires pluralism within the state. However, because the Party that rules the state is monist Marxist-Leninist, so it does not by its nature accomodate pluralism. This aspect continues to be asserted, rather than it is being deconstructed so that the Party-State apparati are more benign/secular and therefore democracy is slowly emerging. You argue that no democracy in sight and this is revealed by the continuing assertion of the Party of its singular (monist) ideology. Further you argue that it is not necessary for Party to de-ideologise, but State needs to embrace pluralism and competition between political ideologies. Party is a block to this due to its inherent monism and disavowal of competition in that which forms state. Becoming more secular/managerial is married to the idea of becoming more apolitical, but you argue that democracy and pluralism require the political and that the CCP is no less political than previously, neither does it accomodate pluralism, nor does it becoming more managerial/less political facilitate emergence of democracy.

  5. Hi Giorgio,
    I enjoyed reading your blog and the comments. I think you and Tobin and thinking along the same lines on this, although coming to your conclusions through different avenues. Here’s his recent blog “China’s Divided Leadership, China’s Divided Society” http://reasonablyraging.blogspot.co.uk/

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