Written by Carlos Martinez for Friends of Socialist China. The article has been translated into Dutch by our friends at ChinaSquare.
On 26 August 2021, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee released an important document, entitled ‘The CPC: Its Mission and Contributions’. The publication, consisting in its English translation of over 28,000 words, clearly represents a wide-ranging discussion within the CPC, reflecting on its contributions of the last hundred years and its goals and challenges for the future.
The document emphasises the basic continuity at the heart of the CPC’s mission. Since its founding in July 1921, the CPC has devoted itself to the project of building socialism, establishing China’s sovereignty, creating a better life for the population, and contributing to a peaceful and prosperous future for humanity.
Although the CPC has gone through many phases – including the first united front with the Guomindang (1925-27), the establishment of the first revolutionary base areas, the Long March, leading the war against Japanese occupation, the civil war from 1946-49, the early decades of socialist construction, and the period of reform and opening up from 1978 – it has stuck resolutely to its core mission and principles. It has remained grounded in the needs and aspirations of the people, and that is one of the key reasons for its success.
This is something many Western leftists have failed to understand. Some denounced China in 1978 for having abandoned the path of socialism. Some felt that China joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001 marked its capitulation to the US and its integration into the imperialist system. Such analyses have ignored or dismissed the position of the CPC – stated frequently and clearly – that every step of China’s development since the founding of the People’s Republic has formed part of the long road towards advanced socialism.
Xi Jinping in recent months has made numerous references to common prosperity, and the Chinese government is increasingly explicit about its desire to rein in big capital and reduce social inequality. Common prosperity however is not a new concept; it was also a watchword of the Mao and Deng Xiaoping periods. Jiang Zemin often spoke of the need to frame economic growth within the broader project of “enabling the whole people to advance steadily toward the goal of common prosperity”. The Hu Jintao leadership (2003-13) made important strides towards the construction of a new socialist countryside, and placed a strong emphasis on expanding the welfare system.
‘The CPC: Its Mission and Contributions’ makes it clear that there is a common thread of socialism, development and progress running through the entire history of the CPC, observing that “China’s Communists, with Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping as their chief representatives, have adapted the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s realities and its traditional culture, and they have gone from victory to victory on their journey towards national rejuvenation.”
Party of the people
The document reiterates that the CPC is a party of the people; that “members of the CPC are ordinary people” who have stepped up to provide leadership and shoulder responsibility. “They are Communists – citizens of China both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.” They do not constitute a separate social class; they are not an ‘elite’. The CPC “has no special interests of its own, nor does it represent any interest group, establishment group, or privileged social group. Its only goals are to deliver happiness for the people and achieve national rejuvenation.” The phrasing here parallels the Communist Manifesto: “The communists have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”
The principal goal for CPC members is to serve the people. For example, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost 400 CPC members have lost their lives in the course of volunteering in support of China’s containment efforts. Those lives were not lost in vain; if China had failed in its coronavirus containment to the same degree as the US, it could expect to have registered close to 3 million deaths by now. The document also notes that more than 1,800 party members and officials gave their lives in the mass mobilisation to eradicate absolute poverty. These people gave up a relatively comfortable existence in order to spend years living in remote villages, working relentlessly to help low-income communities lift themselves out of poverty. Their heroism and selflessness embody the guiding spirit of the CPC.
‘The CPC: Its Mission and Contributions’ notes that the Chinese state is fundamentally people-oriented: “The state founded by the people under CPC leadership is called the People’s Republic of China; its government is called the people’s government, the armed forces are called the People’s Liberation Army; and Party officials are people’s servants. The Party Central Committee’s newspaper is the People’s Daily, and China’s central bank is called the People’s Bank. The people are the lifeblood of the Party; indeed, they are the inexhaustible source of inspiration giving the Party all the strength it needs to fulfil its mission.”
Forty-five years after the death of Mao Zedong, much to the frustration of the ideologues of capitalism in Washington and London, the CPC remains committed to Marxism – described in the document as “the single guiding ideology, the very soul of the CPC, and the banner under which it strives.” Adapting Marxism to China’s specific conditions, and continually working to develop it, the CPC has been able to achieve extraordinary goals and solve seemingly insurmountable problems. As the document states, “socialism can solve problems that other social systems cannot… The Party’s history of struggle is a process of continuing to adapt Marxism to the Chinese context and to explore creative and innovative ideas.”
In adapting Marxism to constantly changing and highly complex conditions, China’s leadership has shown itself to be considerably more capable and creative – dialectical, one might say – than its detractors in some sections of the Western left, suffering from some combination of dogmatism, sectarianism and eurocentrism. The CPC has always creatively developed Marxism and considered it to be an evolving, living science in constant need of developing, updating and refining. In Xi Jinping’s words, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics is socialism, not any other ‘ism’”.
Deng Xiaoping tirelessly explained that reform and opening up came with certain dangers, and that those that “got rich first” might expect their wealth to translate into political power, as is the case in the capitalist world. To protect against this, he formulated the Four Cardinal Principles: adherence to the socialist road; adherence to the dictatorship of the proletariat (in its specific form of the people’s democratic dictatorship); adherence to the leadership of the Communist Party of China; and adherence to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. Each generation of the CPC’s leadership has upheld these principles, and China remains red. The recent wave of government regulation – targeting big tech companies, the private education sector and the insurance industry – amply highlights the fact that capital has not been allowed to dominate Chinese politics.
Marxism will continue to form the core ideology of the CPC. “Experience has proved that the CPC’s choice of Marxism is correct. On the journey ahead, considering China’s realities in contemporary times the Party will continue to adapt the basic tenets of Marxism to the best of China’s traditional culture, and use Marxism to observe, understand, and steer the trends of our times in the 21st century.”
The document includes a detailed discussion of China’s socialist democracy, which it describes as a whole-process democracy incorporating extensive discussion and consultation, people’s congresses, community and workplace committees, social organisations, community-level self-governance and democratic management in enterprises, alongside an extensive system of regional ethnic autonomy.
The authors point out that democracy is a shared value of humanity, “not something to be claimed by any one country.” A similar point was made recently by Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying: “What is democracy? Who gets to define it? How to judge whether a country is democratic? These rights should not be monopolised by the US and its few allies. Chinese democracy is people’s democracy while the US’ is money democracy; the Chinese people enjoy substantial democracy while Americans have democracy only in form; China has a whole-process democracy while the US has voting democracy that comes every four years. China’s socialist democracy puts the people front and centre.”
There is more than one model of democracy, and yet the Western ‘liberal democracies’ insistently put forward their own system as if it were the embodiment of universal truth. China, emerging from thousands of years of feudal authoritarianism followed by a century of war and invasion, has had to chart its own path of governance by and for the people. By most measures, its evolving socialist democracy is far more democratic than its Western counterpart, in which money plays the biggest role.
Peace and cooperation
‘The CPC: Its Mission and Contributions’ takes a firm stand against hegemonism, unilateralism and the New Cold War, pointing out that China’s rise has been accompanied by a peaceful foreign policy, a rejection of interventionism, and a commitment to multipolarity.
The document notes that, in its pursuance of global peace and collaborative development, the CPC has proposed such ideas and initiatives as the five principles of peaceful coexistence, the global community of shared future, and the Belt and Road Initiative. It has consistently supported international law and adherence to the UN Charter, and it is a key player in regional and global institutions including the G20, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Since the day of its first successful nuclear weapons test in October 1964, China has advocated for comprehensive nuclear disarmament, calling for “complete prohibition and thorough destruction” of all nuclear weapons. It was the first country to adopt a no-first-use policy and to commit to never using nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear power. NATO meanwhile has consistently refused to adopt such policies, insisting on the right to pre-emptive nuclear strike – that is, the right to unleash a nuclear holocaust.
While the Biden administration in the US takes forward Trump’s New Cold War, the CPC promotes a totally different system of international relations, in favour of “building a global community of shared future, with the goal of creating an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.”
Towards an advanced socialism
In spite of the CPC’s world-historic achievements, “the past hundred years have been the prologue.” The document makes clear that there is a long way to go in the struggle to build socialism and communism in China. The most important medium-term objective is, by the time of the PRC’s centenary in 2049, to develop into “a great and modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.” This means continued rapid improvements in living standards, a strong emphasis on green development, tackling inequality, continuously expanding and enhancing social welfare, and using advances in science and technology to create a richer, more meaningful life for everyone.
Progress is being made along this road. With its per capita income recently having surpassed 10,000 USD, China has joined the ranks of the upper-middle income economies, and is on its way to become a high-income country. The urban-rural income gap is steadily shrinking, and China now has a middle-income population of at least 400 million people.
In the last two decades, China has paid a great deal of attention to building a modern social security system. Its basic medical insurance covers the entire population. All children are entitled to nine years of free education. Pensions, unemployment benefits and injury insurance are being expanded every year. Such progress, in an enormous developing country in Asia, is truly impressive and laudable.
Xi Jinping’s repeated comments this year about common prosperity, and the actions that are being taken by the government to rein in the power of wealthy individuals and large private businesses, indicate that China is taking very seriously the challenge of stimulating high-quality growth, reducing inequality, and delivering prosperity to the entire population.
‘The CPC: Its Mission and Contributions’ will certainly be of benefit to China’s friends around the world, helping to us to better understand and analyse China’s history and future.