Karl, China Needs You: Just When It Seemed It Was All over for Marx, the Chinese Communist Party Has Had a Spectacular Change of Heart, Writes Isabel Hilton

By Hilton, Isabel | New Statesman (1996), February 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Karl, China Needs You: Just When It Seemed It Was All over for Marx, the Chinese Communist Party Has Had a Spectacular Change of Heart, Writes Isabel Hilton


Hilton, Isabel, New Statesman (1996)


According to Hu Jintao, China's president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Marxism is still applicable in China. And, in a recent announcement that has startled analysts, the party has pledged "unlimited funds" to the cause of "reviving" Marxism in China, in an attempt to turn the country into the global centre for Marxism studies.

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The project is nothing if not ambitious: 3,000 "top Marxist theorists" and academics from across the country are to be summoned to Beijing to compile more than a hundred Marxism textbooks, each one to contain contributions from between20 and 30 scholars. Each textbook will be funded to the tune of one million yuan ([pounds sterling]70,000). In addition, the party promises a huge investment of human and financial resources to build more research institutes, train more theorists and produce more academic papers, all with the full support of the Politburo.

Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the party's chief official in charge of ideology, was reported to have told a meeting of propaganda officials and theorists that the leadership saw the project as a means of resolving various issues facing the country, and had given it "unlimited" support. The Institute of Marxism at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics will host an international seminar--on 1 April, appropriately enough--while the newly established Academy of Marxism at the notoriously liberal Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Cass) is planning one for next year. All over China, heads will be bent over translations of Das Kapital as school and university students fulfil their mandatory quota of Marxism studies, In turn, teams of translators will be hired to translate the new textbooks into foreign languages for the waiting world.

This most remarkable ideological high-wire act since new Labour abandoned Clause Four is a sign, perhaps, that the CCP's identity crisis is reaching fever pitch. Marxism, or the local variant of it, was the ideology that produced stagnation in China for the first 40 years of the revolution, an ideology that few in China today remember, let alone subscribe to, and which the Chinese Communist Party itself appeared to abandon as a working model in 1992. China's current success derives from ditching Marx in favour of Warren Buffett.

Since then the country has enjoyed such spectacular capitalist-style growth that the expectation that the Chinese Communist Party will be ruler of the world's largest economy within two decades may well be fulfilled.

In the past decade and a half, the party has dismantled the state sector, thrown hundreds of millions out of work, given up on collective agriculture, celebrated the art of getting rich (not least through its own corruption), embraced the market "with Chinese characteristics", dumped the principles of free education, healthcare and cheap housing for the workers and created one of the most unequal societies in the world. Workers are not allowed to form trades unions, have little job protection, suffer appalling labour conditions and routinely go unpaid for months on end: a recent study by the National People's Congress concluded that migrant workers were owed more than [pounds sterling]5bn in unpaid wages. Meanwhile, the peasants suffer the depredations of greedy and powerful local officials, against whom they have no redress. China's 2005 National Human Development Reportcon-cluded that inequality was growing fast by every index and that its Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, had increased by more than 50 per cent in the past 20 years. …

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Karl, China Needs You: Just When It Seemed It Was All over for Marx, the Chinese Communist Party Has Had a Spectacular Change of Heart, Writes Isabel Hilton
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