I have commented on this one from time to time before, but every now and then I encounter foreign Marxist who come to China with a preset idea of what socialism should be. Inevitably, China today does not fit the definition, so it cannot – they think – be socialist. This assumption also applies to pretty much any other place in the world that has had a socialist revolution.

But then a question arises? What do you make of some of the categories of Chinese Marxism: Marxist political economy as the guiding principle of economic planning; socialist core values; socialism with Chinese characteristics; socialist market economy; democratic centralism; democratic peoples dictatorship, and so on.

The response varies, but it turns on a distinction between being out of touch with reality or in touch with reality. If the first, then Chinese Marxists are deluded, since they cannot see what is really going on. But this approach really struggles to make sense of what they are actually doing. If the second – in touch with reality – then they must be hypocrites, or perhaps cynics who use Marxist language to say something else. It becomes a spinning of words with  a coded meaning or no meaning at all. Again, this is an impossible position, since the leaders, teachers, party members, students and common people are largely very serious about these terms – and they usually know what they mean.

Perhaps a better approach is take Chinese Marxism seriously and try to understand what it means.

Two further points. First, socialism is often expected to be perfect and ready made. The reality is that it is never perfect, for it is a work in progress. Second, we need to be aware of the many levels of socialism, whether social, economic, cultural, political and so on. These interwoven aspects move at different and uneven speeds, so that figuring out the complexity of a work in progress becomes even more difficult.