What many in the West don’t understand: socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, not any other ‘ism.’ The extent to which Chinese socialism has improved people’s lives is historically unprecedented. It could not have been achieved under capitalism.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, not any other ‘ism.’ Both history and our present reality tell us that only socialism can save China – and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China. This is the conclusion of history, the choice of our people.Xi Jinping, 2019
The source of this quote is an essay by Xi Jinping, Uphold and Develop Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, the text of which is reproduced below.
First of all: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is socialism. It is not any other sort of “ism.” The foundational, scientific principles of socialism cannot be abandoned; only if they are abandoned would our system no longer be socialist. From first to the last our Party has emphasized that “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” adheres to the basic principles of scientific socialism and is imbued with characteristically Chinese features bestowed by the conditions of the times. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, not any other ‘ism.’
Which ideological system a country implements depends on one crucial issue: can this ideology resolve the historical problems facing the country? In the days when the Chinese people were poor, weak, and at the mercy of others, all sorts of ideologies and theories were attempted. The capitalist road was tried and found wanting. Reformism, liberalism, social Darwinism, anarchism, pragmatism, populism, syndicalism—they all were given their moment on the stage. They all failed to solve the problems of China’s future destiny. It is Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought that guided the Chinese people out of the darkness of that long night and established a New China; it is through socialism with Chinese characteristics that China has developed so quickly.
Now from the moment China’s opening up and reform began—and especially after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the tremendous changes in Eastern Europe—international public opinion has continuously railed against China. There has been no end to the different flavors of “China collapse” theory. Yet China has not collapsed. To the contrary, our comprehensive national strength increases day by day. The living standards of the people are constantly improving. “The scene before us is unique in its beauty.”
Both history and our present reality tell us that only socialism can save China—and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China. This is the conclusion of history, the choice of our people.
In recent years there have been a few commentators—both at home and abroad—that have asked if what modern China is doing can really be called socialism. Some have said we have engaged in a sort of “capital socialism;” others have been more straightforward, calling it “state capitalism” or “bureaucratic capitalism.” These labels are completely wrong. We say that socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism. No matter how we reform and open up, we should always adhere to the socialist road with Chinese characteristics, the theoretical systems of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the structure of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and the basic requirements put forward by the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China for a new victory of socialism.
These include: the absolute leadership of the Communist Party of China, grounding policy in national conditions, putting economic construction at the center, adhering to the “Four Cardinal Principles” and to the program of reform and opening up, liberating and developing productive social forces, building a socialist market economy, socialist democratic politics, an advanced socialist culture, a harmonious socialist society, and an ecological socialist civilization. It includes promoting the comprehensive development of the people, gradually realizing the common prosperity of all the people, and building a modern, prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized and harmonious socialist country—including adhering to the fundamental political system of the National People’s Congress, a Communist Party led system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation, a system of regional ethnic autonomy, a system of grassroots self-government, a legal system with Chinese characteristics, and an economic system in which publicly owned enterprises are the principle part, which develop side by side with diverse forms of ownership. These features embody the basic principles of scientific socialism under our new historical conditions. If we lose these, we lose socialism.
Comrade Deng Xiaoping once made a profound observation: “Our modernization must flow from Chinese realities. No matter if it is revolution or construction, we should pay attention to, learn from, and borrow from foreign experience. However, copying other countries’ experiences and models has never been successful. We have learned a lot in this respect.”
In the past it was impossible to import the Soviet system full-scale; today it is just as impossible for us to import the Western system full-scale. After the conclusion of the Cold War many developing countries were forced to adopt the Western model. The consequence of this has been party feuds, social unrest, and peoples left homeless and wandering—all of which have, to this day, been difficult to stabilize.
I recall the story written in Zhuangzi’s ‘Autumn Floods:’
“Perhaps you’ve never heard about the young boy of Shouling who went to learn the Handan Walk? He hadn’t mastered what the Handan people had to teach him when he forgot his old way of walking, so he had to crawl all the way back home.”
We must not ever “go to Handan to learn to walk and forget our native stride.” Instead, we have taken Marxism and Sinicized it. That is socialism with Chinese characteristics.
In recent years, with the rise of China’s comprehensive national strength and international status, there has been much international discussion and study of the “Beijing Consensus,” “China Model,” and the “China Road.” Among these studies there is no shortage of praise. Some foreign academics believe that the rapid pace of China’s development has called Western theories into question. A new form of Marxist theory is overturning the traditional theories of the West!
Yet from beginning to end, we have maintained that every country’s road to development should be decided by the people of that country. The so-called “China model,” the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, was created through the Chinese people’s own struggles. We firmly believe that as socialism with Chinese characteristics develops further, our system will inevitably mature; it is likewise inevitable that the superiority of our socialist system will be increasingly apparent. Inevitably, our road will become wider; inevitably, our country’s road of development will have increasingly greater influence on the world. We need just this sort of confidence—confidence in our theories, confidence in our system, and confidence in our road. We will truly be what the poets called “like cliffside bamboo, standing strong despite countless hardships, beaten about by gales on every side.”
Secondly: Our party has led the people two historical periods of building socialism: before the “reform and opening-up” and afterwards. These are two periods are interrelated. They also had significant differences, but in essence they were both practical explorations made by our Party in leading the people in socialist construction. Socialism with Chinese characteristics was first initiated in the period of reform and opening up. However, it was during the New China era that the basic socialist system was built, and socialism with Chinese characteristics could only have been initiated on this twenty-year foundation of socialist construction.
To correctly understand this issue, we must grasp three points. First, if our party did not decisively decide to implement reform and opening up in 1978, unswervingly promote reform and opening up, and staunchly grasp the correct direction of reform and opening up, socialist China might not be in the favorable situation it is today. It may be facing serious crises—perhaps even the sort of crises faced by the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe, crises which brought about the death of their parties and their states. Yet if New China was never established in 1949 and we did not pursue socialist revolution and construction at that time, then the prerequisite ideological, material, and institutional wherewithal needed to smoothly implement reform and opening up would never have accumulated. We needed those experiences—both the positive and the negative ones.
Second, even though the guidance, policy, and actual work of building socialism in these two historical eras had large differences, they are by no means cut off from each other, much less inherently antithetical to each other. In the midst of building practical socialism, our Party put forward many correct propositions. But at that time these propositions were not implemented. Only after the reform and opening up were they fully carried out. In the future these concepts will need to be both adhered to and further developed. Like Marx said long ago: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
Third, we must correctly evaluate the historical period that came before reform and opening up. We cannot use the post-reform period to repudiate the pre-reform period. Nor can we repudiate the post-reform period with the history of the pre-reform era. The exploration of socialist practice before reform and opening-up created the necessary conditions for the exploration of socialist practice after reform and opening-up. Our explorations of socialist practice in the post-reform era are a continuation and development of what came before. Thus, in regard to the exploration of socialist practice before reform and opening up, we should adhere to the ideological line of seeking truth from facts, clearly distinguish the essential from the nonessential, adhere to truth, correct errors, develop our experience and draw lessons from it. On this foundation we can continue to push forward the cause of the Party and the people.
The reason why I emphasize this problem is because it is a major political issue. If it is not handled well, it will have serious political consequences. As one ancient said: “To destroy a people, you must first destroy their history.”[xii] Hostile forces at home and abroad often write essays on the history of the Chinese revolution or of New China, doing all in their power to smear and vilify that era. Their fundamental purpose is to confuse the hearts of the people. They aim to incite them into overthrowing both the Communist Party of China’s leadership and the socialist system of our country.
Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union fall to pieces? An important reason is that in the ideological domain, competition is fierce! To completely repudiate the historical experience of the Soviet Union, to repudiate the history of the CPSU, to repudiate Lenin, to repudiate Stalin was to wreck chaos in Soviet ideology and engage in historical nihilism. It caused Party organizations at all levels to have barely any function whatsoever. It robbed the Party of its leadership of the military. In the end the CPSU—as great a Party as it was—scattered like a flock of frightened beasts! The Soviet Union—as great a country as it was—shattered into a dozen pieces. This is a lesson from the past!
Comrade Deng Xiaoping pointed out: “The banner of Mao Zedong Thought cannot be discarded. Throwing this banner out negates the glorious history of our Party. Generally speaking, our Party’s history is still a glorious one. Although our Party has made some large mistakes in its history, including in the 30 years since the founding of the People’s Republic, even mistakes as large as the Cultural Revolution, in the end it was our Party that made the revolution successful. China’s status in the world was significantly improved after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Only the founding of the People’s Republic of China enabled us, a big country with a population of nearly one fourth of the Earth’s total, to stand up and stand strong in the world.”
He also emphasized, “The appraisal of Comrade Mao and the exegesis of Mao Zedong Thought does not solely touch upon the personal issues of Comrade Mao. These things cannot be cut away from the entire history of our Party and our country. To grasp this is to grasp everything. This is not just an intellectual issue—it is a political issue. It is a great political issue, both here and at home.”
This is the vision of a great Marxist politician. Just think: if at the time of reform Comrade Mao had been completely repudiated, would our Party still be standing? Would our country’s system of socialism still be standing? And if it was not still standing, what would we have? A world of chaos.
Therefore, correctly handling the relationship between socialist practice and exploration both before reform and opening-up and after cannot be seen as a mere historical issue. It is a political one. To better understand this, I recommend you all take the time to read the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.”
My third point: Marxism always develops along with the social realities and technology of the times. Marxism cannot stagnate. After the start of opening-up, socialism has only continued to advance. Upholding the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics is much like a great book. To establish foundational principles and ideas, Comrade Deng Xiaoping etched his part in. The Party Central Committee’s third generation, with Comrade Jiang Zemin as its core and Comrade Hu Jintao as general secretary, added their own brilliant chapters to this book. The responsibility of this generation of Communist Party members is to write the next chapter of this great work.
More than 30 years have passed since socialism with Chinese characteristics began; in that time, it has succeeded in many a grand endeavor. This is besides the accomplishments made in the founding of New China, a foundation that has allowed China to stand tall and stride far. Our understanding of socialism, and our grasp of the laws that govern socialism with Chinese characteristics, have reached unprecedented heights. This is unquestionably true. Yet at the same time, we should also recognize that the socialism of our country is still in its infancy. We still face many problems that we have not grasped clearly and dilemmas that have not been resolved. It is also unquestionably true that our understanding and handling of many significant issues is still deepening. Understanding anything requires a process. We have only engaged in socialism for a few decades. Our grasp on these things is still very limited; in practice, we must constantly develop further.
To uphold Marxism and socialism, we must take the perspective of development. We must take the practical problems of China’s modernization and reform and put these things we are doing at the center of our vision. Then we must focus our view of them through the perspective of Marxist theory, the sort of theoretical thinking that addresses practical problems, and through the new practices and forms of development that result from this. We have said that there is no one-size-fits-all path of development for the entire world. There also is no path of development that does not require change. Our past achievements in theory and practice will help us better face the problems of our forward march. However, we cannot let them become an excuse for arrogance and complacency, or even worse, a weight that drags this march down. As our cause advances and develops, the situations we encounter will be less familiar, the challenges and risks we face will grow greater, and we will meet with a growing number of events that cannot now be foreseen. We must become more alert to potential misfortune. We must prepare for danger in a time of peace.
Liberate your mind. Seek truth from facts. Keep pace with the times. This is the living soul of Marxism. These are the fundamental ideological weapons for adapting to new terrain, understanding new things, and accomplishing new tasks. Yet first and foremost, all Party cadres at all levels must adhere to the Marxist viewpoint of development, insist that practice is the only criterion for testing truth, bring into play historical initiative and creativity, and clearly perceive both continuity and change in the Party, the country, and the broader world. We must always have the spirit of “opening roads where we find mountains and building bridges where we meet rivers.” We should be enterprising, bold, and daring as we analyze and answer the pressing questions of real life and issues of mass ideology. We will continue to deepen reform and opening up, continue to discover, create, and advance, and continue to promote institutional, theoretical, and practical innovations.
Fourth: From beginning to end our Party has always adhered to the lofty ideals of communism. Party members, especially leading cadres, should be firm believers and faithful practitioners of the lofty ideal of communism and the common ideals of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Faith in Marxism, a socialist and communist conviction, is the political soul of the Communist Party member. They are the spiritual pillar that give him the strength to undergo any test. The Party Constitution clearly stipulates that the Party’s highest ideal and ultimate goal is to achieve communism. At the same time, the Party Constitution also clearly stipulates that the high ideal of communism can only be realized by a highly developed socialist society. To pause for a moment or two and then suddenly enter communism—that isn’t realistic.
Comrade Deng Xiaoping said that the consolidation and development of the socialist system will require its own long period of history. He said it will require the tireless struggle of generations, up to ten generations, or perhaps even tens of generations of communists. Tens of generations—that is a long time! From the time of Confucius to the present day we have not seen more than seventy generations. Looking at the problem in this way is a real demonstration of the soberness of the Communist Party of China.
We must recognize that our labors today and the unceasing work of so many generations in the future are paired together, all moving towards the ultimate goal of achieving communism. If we throw away our Communist Party’s lofty ideals, we will lose our direction and become coldly utilitarian. At the same time, we must recognize that the realization of communism is a very long historical process. We must ground ourselves in the struggles of the present moment and keep our work down to earth.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is our Party’s most fundamental, unifying program. The program of socialism with Chinese characteristics is, in a nutshell, to build a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, modernized and harmonious socialist country. Not only is this program based on the basic national conditions in which our country is now in, and the primary stage of socialism in which it must remain in for a long time—it also does not depart from the highest ideals of the Party.
Thus we must tread the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics with resolve. We must keep the sublime ideals of Communism in our hearts, and with unswerving conviction implement the Party’s basic line and program for the primary stage of socialism. Every job we do must be done well.
Revolutionary ideals reach higher than the heavens. Without lofty ideals, you do not reach the standards of a Communist Party member. Yet those who abandon their work in the real world to vainly preach such ideals also do not reach this standard. In our Party’s ninety years of history, one generation of Communists after another did not hesitate to shed their blood and lay down their lives for the independence and liberation of the people. They did this by relying on their faith and ideals. Even though they knew that their ideals would not be realized by their own hands, they firmly believed that as long as the generations to come continued laboring, as long as the generations to come sacrificed for this goal, then their sublime ideals would be realized.
Today, there are objective criteria to measure whether a Communist Party member or a leading cadre aspires to the lofty ideals of communism. Will he devote his whole heart and purpose to the service of the people? Will he suffer hardship first and postpone enjoyment until later? Will he work diligently and perform his duties honestly? Is he willing to dash ahead regardless of danger, fight, and consecrate his entire spirit, his entire life, for these ideals? Every hesitant, undecided conviction, every hedonistic way of thinking, every self-interested behavior, and every style of inaction is incompatible with these ideals.
There are people who believe that communism is an unattainable hope, or even that it is beyond hoping for—that communism is an illusion. This touches upon whether historical materialism or historical idealism is the proper frame through which to view world affairs. The fundamental reason why some of our comrades have weak ideals and faltering beliefs is that their views lack a firm grounding in historical materialism. We should educate and guide cadres and the broader mass of Party members so that we can unite our the common ideal of practicing socialism with Chinese characteristics together with our lofty ideal of securing Communism. Our actions must be devout, determined, profound, and sincere. With firm ideals and convictions, we will stand taller, our vision will grow wider, and our mind will grow broader. We will be able to adhere to the correct political orientation, stand without arrogance in victory, without despair in adversity, enduring all sorts of risk and adversity, consciously resisting the corrosion of decedent philosophies, forever fostering the political essence of a Communist.
Facts have repeatedly told us that Marx and Engels’ analysis of the basic contradictions in capitalist society is not outdated, nor is the historical materialist view that capitalism is bound to die out and socialism is bound to win. This is an inevitable trend in social and historical development. But the road is tortuous. The eventual demise of capitalism and the ultimate victory of socialism will require a long historical process to reach completion. In the meantime, we must have a deep appreciation for capitalism’s ability to self-correct, and a full, objective assessment of the real long-term advantages that the developed Western nations have in the economic, technological, and military spheres. Then we must diligently prepare for a long period of cooperation and of conflict between these two social systems in each of these domains.
For a fairly long time yet, socialism in its primary stage will exist alongside a more productive and developed capitalist system. In this long period of cooperation and conflict, socialism must learn from the boons that capitalism has brought to civilization. We must face the reality that people will use the strengths of developed, Western countries to denounce our country’s socialist development. Here we must have a great strategic determination, resolutely rejecting all false arguments that we should abandon socialism. We must consciously correct the various ideas that do not accord with our current stage. Most importantly, we must concentrate our efforts on bettering our own affairs, continually broadening our comprehensive national power, improving the lives of our people, building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position.
From this analysis, we gain a deeper appreciation of the fact that the ideological road we choose to follow is the central problem that will determine the victory or defeat of our Party’s work, the very fate of the Party itself. As Comrade Mao Zedong once said: “A revolutionary party is the guide of the masses. In revolutions, there has never been a revolutionary party that led its people onto the wrong road whose revolution did not fail.”
Our Party, in the time of revolution, construction, and reform, has adhered to the national conditions of our country, explored and formed a new democratic revolutionary road, a road of socialist transformation and construction. This is the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This spirit of exploration, this resolution to stick to our own road, is the true reason this Party has always been able to reawaken itself after set-backs and spring from triumph to triumph.
The great writer Lu Xun coined a famous saying: “Even if there is no road, when enough people walk through, a road will be made.” Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the dialectical unity of the theoretical logic of scientific socialism and the historical logic of China’s social development. It is a scientific socialism rooted in China’s soil, one that reflects the aspirations of the Chinese people, and one that is adapted to the conditions of progress in our times. It is the only way to comprehensively build a prosperous society, accelerate socialist modernization and realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. As long as we stick to our own path and unswervingly adhere to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, we will surely be able to comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society by the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and a prosperous, democratic, civilized, modernized, and harmonious socialist country by the centennial anniversary of the founding of New China.