An Effort to Understand the DPRK (North Korea) in Light of the Marxist Tradition

This year (2018) the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – or DPRK – celebrated 70 years. This is no mean feat, given the challenges it has faced. These include Japanese imperialism, United States imperialism, and what they call the ‘arduous march’ of the 1990s, when the web of connections with the Communist Bloc of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union collapsed. Through all this they have persevered through what they see as a struggle, for they define the transition period of socialism as a long process of struggle.

I was fortunate enough to visit the DPRK for the second time in early October of 2018, soon after the celebration of 70 years of struggle. We managed to catch a late episode of that unique creation, the ‘mass games’ which were in this year called ‘The Glorious Country’. It recounted through dance, music, song and gymnastics, the history of struggle and achievement. The experience, along with an intense week of in-depth engagement at many levels, has led to an effort to understand the DPRK within the longer Marxist tradition. It begins with the tension between old and new, in which a revolution is meant to usher in a qualitatively new society that at the same time stands in a complex relationship with what has gone before. This leads to the second topic, which concerns the relationship with the Marxist tradition, which may now be seen in its own way as an element of the old. In this case, the DPRK has been undergoing a process of claiming a distinct autochthony and gradually dispensing with reference to the tradition. Third, I investigate this development in light of anti-colonialism, which had an initial emergence within the Soviet Union but took on a whole new phase on the Korean Peninsula. Here the desire to rid this part of the world of foreign interference runs strong, so much so that Korean independence and sovereignty not only determine the nature of socialism in this part of the world, but also the drive towards reunification. At the same time, I remain intrigued by a unique feature of DPRK socialism, which is the role played by the leadership. It is very clear that the glue of the Korean project is the Kim family with its socialist succession and that the majority of people in the DPRK genuinely believe in the power and tradition of the family. How to understand this feature? I want to suggest that it ties in closely with the constituent feature of inheritance, according to which the actual figure of the revolutionary leader is embodied in the son and grandson of Kim Il Sung. Finally, I approach the whole situation in light of the ‘Western’ Marxist trope of the qualitatively different nature of socialist society.

Between Old and New

A constituent feature of revolutionary movements like Marxism is a tension between the old and the new. A revolutionary seizure of power is predicated on dispensing with the old and beginning the process of constructing a new society. The particular modulations of such a construction – the stages of socialism and communism, the use of contradiction analysis in the new situation, the development of new philosophical positions in light of circumstances, and so on – are merely part of this more fundamental question.

From the Russian Revolution inwards, this tension appears. Thus, in what became the Soviet Union, we find a significant push to discard all that had gone before, for it was part of the corrupt and exploitative old order of autocracy and nascent capitalism. Everything was to be destroyed and the new constructed from the ground up. On the other side were those – such as Lenin and Lunacharsky – who felt that this was impossible. It was not only that socialism had many precursors that it would be foolhardy to dismiss, but also that a dialectical relationship with what had gone before should be taken up and transformed in the context of the new. All that was best of the past should be appropriated and thoroughly sublated through the process of socialist construction. The second approach ended up becoming the basis of the Soviet Union’s construction of socialism, although it was always  in tension with the desire for creation ex nihilo.

Let us move forward to the second great communist revolution of the twentieth century. In China, the reality of a complex and very long pre-history was far greater than in Europe or Russia. How to deal with this old tradition? While Mao Zedong argued for the need to make Marxism concrete in Chinese conditions, running all the way from Confucius to Sun Yat-sen, and while he deployed much from this tradition in his own thinking and action, he tended towards a desire to begin anew. Perhaps the most significant manifestation of this tendency was during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when the whole tradition that had gone before was to be wiped out. That the excessive trauma of this period runs deep in China even today is witness to the presence of a strong sense that one needs to engage dialectically with the past.

How is all this relevant for Korean socialism? In this case we find not so much a continuing tension, with now one and now the other approach coming to the fore in relation to constructing socialism. Instead, the DPRK is a qualitatively new society, unlike any other country on earth. The challenge is to understand this different in light of the Marxist tradition. This means that the old is understood at two levels. The first is in terms of imperialism and colonialism, which Korean experience has been and continues to be capitalist imperialism. At the same time, the ‘old’ is very much present through the internal tension with the south of the peninsula and the continued occupation of United States troops. In response, the DPRK has set itself in stark contrast to the capitalist south.

The second level in which the old operates is a rather unique development, for it concerns the Marxist tradition itself.

The Marxist Tradition

With its 200 year history, Marxism has developed a rich tradition, full of experiences in seeking power and exercising state power. On this road, the philosophical developments have become significant indeed. How does the DPRK relate to this tradition? Curiously, the Marxist tradition has come to be seen as part of the old. Thus, there has been a steady process of stressing the originality, if not the autochthonous nature, of Korean socialism. If we study the extensive writings of Kim Il Sung – a 50-volume ‘Works’ exists, but the ‘Complete Works’ is still under way, with who knows how many volumes – we find a clear identification with the Marxist-Leninist tradition. Texts are cited, names mentioned, core elements of the tradition are developed further. Indeed, on one of the earlier monuments in Pyongyang devoted to the construction of socialism, one can still find the inscription ‘Uphold Marxism-Leninism’.

However, Kim Il Sung also stressed other features and floated the beginnings of an alternative terminology. So we find the first mention of ‘Juche’, that human beings are masters of their destiny, as well as a core principles of reunification, which is to be undertaken independent of foreign powers. These and other ideas would provide the seeds for his successor, Kim Jong Il, to stress more and more the autochthonous nature of his father’s thought. ‘Juche’ began to replace Marxism-Leninism, and the new security policy of ‘Songun’ was seen as originating with Kim Il Sung. Gradually, more and more of the traditional Marxist vocabulary began to disappear. The latest casualty – I am told – is the term ‘dialectics’. To be sure, they still speak of the stage of constructing socialism as one of struggle, which will eventually lead to communism. And one notices many features that come from earlier experiences of constructing socialism, such the planned economy (although there is a careful shift underway to a socialist market economy), education, socialist culture, and the history of art. The latter is intriguing: after the revolution and liberation of Korea, one finds first a period of socialist realism that then becomes Juche art, or realism with social features.

At the same time, if one studies the literature from the late 1990s until now, one finds less and less of the conventional Marxist terminology. Indeed, one may gain the impression that the socialism in question was created by Kim Il Sung and elaborated later. Indeed, under Kim Jong Un (since 2011), there has been a further shift, speaking of Kimilsungism and Kimjongilism as the body of theory and practice.

So we find a gradual and studied move from the old to the new – to keep the terminology I have been deploying. Korean socialism may have begun with a clear awareness of its debts to the old, maintaining close links with countries in the Communist Bloc. But it has moved ever more clearly into the new, stressing the sheer autochthony of this socialism.


As I have elaborated elsewhere, I am not inclined the deploy a ‘betrayal narrative’, especially since such a narrative is a Western European product with heavy debts to the biblical story of ‘The Fall’. Instead, I seek to understand this relationship to the Marxist tradition.

An important factor in this shift to an autochthonous Korean socialism is the anti-colonial project. The connection between socialism and anti-colonialism was initially made – theoretically – in the Soviet Union. In the immensely creative 1930s, they began to realise that the internal affirmative action policy in relation to minority nationalities (sometimes erroneously called ‘ethnic groups’) had implications for anti-colonialism. If the internal policy was to foster such nationalities at all levels so that they gained autonomy within the Soviet Union, then the same applied to other places in the world seeking to throw off the colonial yoke.

The intrinsic connection between Marxism and resisting capitalist imperialism appeared again and again in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. Practically, this meant substantial support – albeit not without occasional friction – from the Soviet Union. Politically, it meant that some newly independent countries established themselves on a socialist basis. We see this situation clearly in China, where even today the anti-colonial project unfolds with extraordinary consequences. Think of the Belt and Road Initiative, the heavy investment of China in African infrastructure and economic development, as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

In Korea, the anti-colonial struggle was initially directed at Japan, which had unilaterally annexed the peninsula in 1910. Brutal was the regime and intense was the struggle. The effort to develop a united front against Japanese imperialism meant that ‘patriotism’ was often the key determining factor. For example, in Kim Il Sung’s writings, we encounter all manner of groups and individuals who were not necessarily communists. Some were of a religious background, others were not, but as long as they worked to overthrow Japanese domination, they were seen as part of the same project.

Soon after the defeat of Japan, with the crucial role of the Soviet Red Army after it had defeated Hitler, a new imperialist force appeared on the peninsula. Keen to get a foothold on the Asian landmass, United States troops scurried to occupy part of the peninsula. Ignoring Korean requests to determine their own future, the United States Commander installed the well-known anti-communist hitman, Syngman Rhee, as the ruler of the south. A state was quickly declared in the south (with the north reluctantly following with it sown declaration), tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in crackdowns on uprisings, and United States troops remain on the peninsula.

For the DPRK, the Korean War – or what they call the Fatherland Liberation War – was an effort by the United States to impose its imperialism on the whole peninsula. Resisting this effort was an extraordinary achievement at an extraordinary cost. Twenty percent of the population was slaughtered, every building and piece of infrastructure destroyed, with more napalm and biological weapons used on the north than in Vietnam. Everything one sees in the DPRK today had to be built again or, very often, anew. Pyongyang is perhaps the best example of a completely new city. One or two former buildings (such as Chilgol Church) might have been rebuilt, but the city as a whole has been built from scratch.

As they like to say in the DPRK, Kim Il Sung managed to defeat two imperialisms in his lifetime. Not a bad effort at all.

All of this means that independence from foreign forces is close to hearts of those in the DPRK, as well as a good number of those in the south. Sovereignty here has a distinct sense: no interference from outside forces. This understanding of sovereignty the DPRK shares with China and other formerly colonised countries. It also shapes the policy of reunification, which the north has consistently promulgated. The three principles for reunification are that it should be determined by Koreans and not outside powers, that it should be peaceful, and that it should result in a federated Republic of Koryo, with a socialist north and a capitalist south.

While these developments constitute a worthy topic in their own right, I am also interested in the implications for the autochthonous socialism that I discussed above. Given the strength of the desire for the sovereign independence of the whole peninsula, it should be no surprise that this desire also influences the relationship with the Marxist tradition. Marxism is, of course, originally a foreign and indeed Western European body of theory and practice. But it took root in what at first seemed to be unexpected places, such as Russia, China and Korea. However, instead of acknowledging this tradition and the specific form it has developed in Korea – socialism with Korean characteristics – the preference is to efface the tradition itself. If they did acknowledge it and see themselves as part of it, they would in some way undermine the sheer emphasis on independent sovereignty.

Lest I steer too much in this direction, let me add a caveat: I have found Korean students very knowledgeable about Marx, Engels, Lenin and others, so much so that I have been asked what Marx and Engels would think if they visited the DPRK today. At the same time, this remains at the level of education and discussion, not officially stated positions.

Inheritance and Leadership

Let me now shift my underlying framework of old and new to a slightly different register: the type of socialism found in the DPRK is the most qualitatively different I have found anywhere in the world. One can, of course, identify specific features that one recognises from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China. But the way the pieces come together and how they have developed is quite distinct.

What holds them together? It is a feature that many foreigners find most difficult to understand: the leadership. President Kim Il Sung, General Kim Jong Il and Marshal Kim Jong Un provide the inescapable cohesion of the whole project. As one person put it me when were discussing the recent developments towards reunification: ‘as long as we have our marshal, everything will be fine’. The vast majority genuinely hold to this position. The respect and veneration given takes place every day. For example, at the Palace of the Sun (mausoleum), one shows absolute respect, bowing low at three points of each leader’s preserved body (not the head). Or whenever one comes before a statue, one bows low in respect. Images of the leaders are not to be reproduced for commercial purposes, and one always uses their titles when speaking of them.

The question is how this might be understood from a Marxist approach. Those foreign Marxists who are sympathetic to and even supportive of the DPRK project usually bracket out the leadership. Apart from the inherited leadership, they say, they can support what the DPRK is doing. Obviously, this approach will not work, for the leadership is absolutely central for understanding the DPRK.

Alternatively, one can draw on various non-Marxist examples to gain some perspective. It may be the reverence given to the Thai king, with prison sentences for any act that shows disrespect. Or it may be the development of absolute monarchy in Europe, during its transition from feudalism to capitalism. Or it may be due to the old Korean imperial tradition, with its dynasties and indeed representations of large rulers. These suggestions may help a little, but they do not get us very far.

Other approaches draw nearer to Marxism, at times arising from within as internal criticisms. These include the ‘cult of the personality’, especially surrounding the one who leads the party to power through a revolution, or the well-worn trope of a quasi-religion, with the rituals and reverence for the alternative communist tradition and its practices likened to religion. I have written enough about such dubious suggestions elsewhere, so will not repeat those points here, save to indicate that they are decidedly unhelpful in the DPRK.

I would like to suggest another approach, which arises from the complex laws of inheritance in the DPRK. In the statement on family law (published most recently in 2018), we find a very strong emphasis on family continuity. Someone in the family must inherit the property of the one who dies, even when no spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers or sisters can be found. Even a will written by the testator can be declared invalid if it ‘prejudices the interests of one who has been supported by the testator’. In other words, anyone in the family who has even remotely been supported by the testator can apply to have a will overturned. On the other hand, an inheritor can lose the right to inheritance if they ill-treated the deceased, did not take of the deceased properly or even ‘created conditions for inheritance’. Both conditions are sweeping and reciprocal.

Two questions arise from this feature of family law. First, the document is clear that it refers primarily to property, but one may wander what private property is doing in a socialist country. Here the constitution (revised in 2016) can provide some insight. Articles 21 to 24 stipulate three types of property: state owned, cooperatively owned, and private property. The first two are familiar from other socialist systems and ideally work together. Private property, however, also clearly exists. It is ‘property owned and consumed by individual citizens’. It may arise from socialist distribution according to work (as developed by Stalin in the Soviet Union), from ‘sideline activities’ and ‘other legal economic activities’ – rather broad, to say the least. Crucially the state guarantees this private property and the right to inherit it. Is this an innovation in light of the thriving DPRK economy, which deftly manages to negate economic sanctions (as was abundantly clear on our recent visit)? Not at all, already in the Soviet Union it became clear that only under socialism can everyone enjoy full access to their private property.

The second question concerns what may be inherited beyond property, or indeed whether property includes items that are not material. Some may want to refer to the ‘songbun’ system, in which all families are classified – in many subcategories – as ‘core’, ‘wavering’ or ‘hostile’, depending on family history and loyalty. The catch with this analysis is that it has never been outlined by the DPRK, but rather by CIA operatives, lousy ‘evidence’ from defectors and creative interpretations of Kim Il Sung’s texts. So I prefer not to deploy it here. Instead, what is important is family history and tradition, with a distinct focus on those from anti-imperialist fighters, peasants and workers. The nature of a family continues through the generations, being embodied in each generation. This too, I suggest, counts as inheritance.

By now the implications for understanding the central role of the leadership should be clear. Marshal Kim Jong Un inherits the family tradition of being a revolutionary leader. Let me add one further ingredient: it has become clear by now that the revolutionary leader is crucial not merely for the success of the revolution, but even more so for the construction of socialism. This complex process of veneration first developed with Lenin, but has been repeated in each effort to construct socialism. Lenin died only a few years after the October Revolution, but he lived on in so many ways. Leaders like Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung were fortunate enough to live long after the revolution, leaving their imprint on the new societies they led. In many respects, the leader embodied the revolution, so much so that the body itself was preserved and continues to be venerated (I, for one, have paid my respects to Lenin, Mao, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il).

If we connect this history of veneration of the revolutionary leader with the strong emphasis on inheritance in the DPRK, we are led to the following conclusion: Kim Jong Un today inherits the role of revolutionary leader from his father and grandfather. But he is not merely the descendent; he is the revolutionary leader. It is not for nothing that he is represented much like his grandfather at the same age, with similar clothing, bearing, and even hair.

Conclusion: A Qualitatively Different Society

In closing, I would like to return to the underlying tension between old and new. A visit or two to the DPRK can be a disconcerting experience, for it is simply like no other society on earth. Some of the elements I have outlined above, but let me use the example of Pyongyang. It has the advantage of having been thoroughly destroyed during the Korean War. In doing so, the United States did the city an unexpected favour. It could be planned and designed anew. And it has been.

Without going into detail concerning the city lines and unique architecture (a new building boom continues as I write), one way of putting it is that Pyongyang is what many cities in eastern Europe tried to become. Perhaps Minsk, also completely destroyed, comes closest, but Pyongyang is far beyond Minsk. What I mean is that Pyongyang is the world’s first truly socialist city. The very construction of space is different, a socialist space at once monumental and collective. The vast majority of the buildings are for the people – sport institutes, cultural venues, performance venues, reading houses, and so on. And now, with the economy moving along at a good clip the streets are full of people and traffic, although most prefer to use the trams, trolley buses and metro to get about – in the newly designed and manufactured vehicles from the DPRK. Many are the foreigners who find it disconcerting, unable to find a way to be in it. I find it one of the most amazing cities on earth.

But it is utterly and qualitatively different, as is the society of the DPRK. Here we may deploy an element of ‘Western’ Marxism. It has been the wont of some ‘Western’ Marxists to stress the qualitatively different nature of socialism, let alone communism. So different will it be, they suggest, that we can barely imagine what it will be like. This approach has many negative dimensions (idealism, romanticism, perpetual putting off of socialism, myopia regarding actual socialist states), but here it may provide an unwitting insight. If you want a qualitatively different socialist country, then the DPRK is it.

Do I like it? I admire it, I enjoy many elements within it, but I am not sure if I like it. This essay is one effort among a number to understand it and come to terms with this sense. Let me put it this way: I am not an admirer of much of ‘Western’ Marxism, especially its emphasis on the new and the qualitatively different. Too many are the negatives with this approach. Instead, I can say that of the socialist countries (past and present) in which I have lived or which I have visited, I prefer socialism with Chinese characteristics, with its complex dialectical relationship with the past – including a clear sense of the Marxist tradition.


Reading Deng Xiaoping: On the Origins of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

Deng Xiaoping’s ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics [zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi]’ is often mentioned in relation to his speech at the twelfth congress of the CPC in 1982. This was indeed a major statement and was elaborated on many occasions afterwards.

However, the idea was neither a new development, nor a departure from Mao Zedong. As part of my Chinese language study, I have been reading the key statements by Deng and came across a speech from 1956, called ‘Integrate Marxism-Leninism with the Concrete Conditions of China’ (Selected Works, volume 1, pp. 256-58). Let me quote the key section:

The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism must be integrated with the concrete practice of a country – a formulation which is itself a universal truth. It embraces two aspects – universal truth and the integration of that truth with a country’s concrete conditions. We have consistently held that neither aspect can be ignored. It is the view of our Chinese Communist Party that the universal truth includes abolishing feudalism and capitalism and realizing socialism, to be followed by communism. Can we do without taking the socialist road? No, we cannot. If we deviate from this universal truth and give up our efforts to establish socialism, the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party would have no need to exist. How then can China abolish feudalism and capitalism and realize socialism and communism at an earlier date? We have to study the characteristics of our own country. Otherwise, if we mechanically copy the experience of other countries, this universal truth will not be realized in China. You, my friends, must have learned about China’s socialist transformation of capitalist industry and commerce in the various places you visited. This is a case of integrating the universal truth with the concrete conditions of China. The universal truth calls for abolishing capitalism and exploitation, and realizing socialism. If we depart from it, socialist transformation of capitalist industry and commerce would be out of the question, and we shall find ourselves on the capitalist, not the socialist, road. This is one aspect of the matter. The other aspect is that the road we are taking today, namely, transforming capitalist industry and commerce, is the one which Lenin had in mind but was unable to take. We have chosen the peaceful transformation of capitalist industry and commerce. Experience has shown that in so doing our production has not been impaired but, rather, expanded and we have not only eliminated capitalism but educated the bourgeoisie as well. It has proved to be a good method. If the universal truth had not been integrated with the concrete conditions of China or had been poorly integrated, we would have suffered great losses. The same is true in the socialist transformation of agriculture and in all other fields of our endeavour as well.

Was this perhaps a new idea in 1956? Not at all, for Deng is careful to point out its origins:

Who decides which of the classic international principles of communism are applicable to China? The Seventh National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, held 11 years ago, laid down the following principle: we shall integrate the universal truth of Marxism and Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution as a guide for our country’s revolution and development. This principle, formulated by our Party and Comrade Mao Zedong on the basis of the experience of failure and success in revolution, was affirmed at the Seventh and Eighth Party Congresses.

If one reads Mao Zedong’s lengthy report to the seventh national congress of 1945, one finds the following:

From its very beginning our Party has based itself on the theory of Marxism-Leninism, for Marxism-Leninism is the crystallization of the most correct and most revolutionary scientific thought of the world proletariat. When the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism began to be integrated with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese revolution took on an entirely new complexion … the Communist Party of China has brought a new style of work to the Chinese people, a style of work which essentially entails integrating theory with practice, forging close links with the masses and practising self-criticism. The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism, which reflects the practice of proletarian struggle throughout the world, becomes an invincible weapon for the Chinese people when it is integrated with the concrete practice of the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese proletariat and people. This the Communist Party of China has achieved (Selected Works, volume 3, p. 314).

Actually, we can go back even further to 1938, where Mao observes:

There is no such thing as abstract Marxism, but only concrete Marxism. What we call concrete Marxism is Marxism that has taken on a national form, that is, Marxism applied to the concrete struggle in the concrete conditions prevailing in China, and not Marxism abstractly used … consequently, the sinification of Marxism – that is to say, making certain that in all its manifestations it is imbued with Chinese characteristics, using it according to Chinese peculiarities – becomes a problem that must be understood and solved by the whole party without delay (‘On the New Stage’, 1938, p. 539).

China and the Vatican sign provisional agreement on appointment of bishops

This happened faster than one might have expected, even with the 300 year history of the ‘Chinese Rites controversy’. They key, however, was not so much whether traditional Chinese rites were compatible with Roman Catholicism, but who would appoint the bishops. Would it be the Vatican or the state, an old controversy indeed even in Europe? Thus far, no agreement had been reached, so two branches of the Roman Catholic Church have been operating in China, one recognised by the state and the other by the Vatican (more detail here).

But now, after lengthy negotiations, an agreement has at last been reached. As the Global Times reports (see also the here here and here):

China and the Vatican signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops on Saturday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced later that day.

A Vatican delegation held talks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao on Saturday in Beijing, after which the deal was signed, read a statement from the ministry’s website.

The two sides will continue communicating to promote bilateral relations, said the statement.

The two sides put in great effort to achieve the agreement and their good intentions deserve to be known, said Bishop Fang Jianping, deputy head of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

The provisional agreement will open a new page for the China-Vatican relations, Fang told the Global Times on Saturday.

“Provisional” shows this agreement will be improved and expanded over time, Vatican affairs expert Francesco Sisci told the Global Times on the signing of the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican on Saturday.

The Vatican is the historical continuity of thousands of years of Western civilization. The Chinese government is the continuity of three millennia of history. This deal signals that, for the first time, these two civilizations are meeting as equals, in peace, without the hatred of war or the petty calculations of trade, Sisci said.

The deal does not deserve criticism from Catholic groups as it was reached out of practical needs and to further the global development of the Catholic church, Fang noted.

Critics of the long-waited agreement are merely a “loud minority,” said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, also chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“In our interpretation, the critics are a little minority group of people, people who wanted to create trouble,” the bishop told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Sorondo explained the importance of having this deal, or having China better involved in the Catholic world, is that “the country has a large population with good quality people, it observes the common good and it has proved its ability to great missions like fighting against poverty and pollution.”

Note: this is the same Sorondo who observed last year:

Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese …

They (the Chinese) seek the common good, subordinating things to the general good … The dignity of the person is defended …

Liberal thought has liquidated the concept of the common good, not even wanting to take it into account, asserting that it is an empty idea, without any interest. By contrast, the Chinese focus on work and the common good.

How to Deal with an Old Revolutionary: The Struggle over Engels’s 1895 Introduction to Marx’s ‘The Class Struggles in France’

A few months before Engels died a crucial struggle emerged in the communist movement. It had to do with Engels’s introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 (Engels 1895 [1990], 1895 [2010]). Marx’s original text had been published as a series of articles in Neue Rheinische Zeitung over 1849-1850. In 1895 it was decided by the editorial board of the German Social-Democratic Party to gather the articles and publish them as a distinct book, so they approached Engels for advice and with a request to write an introduction. After some hesitation, Engels agreed, sending three articles that Marx had written and suggesting a fourth chapter that he had gathered from later material (some written by both Marx and Engels) to be entitled ‘The Abolition of Universal Suffrage in 1850’ (Engels 1895 [2004]-f, 444; 1895 [1973]-e, 410). The title of the whole work, by which it is now known, was also proposed by Engels. Soon afterwards, he also sent them the introduction.

This introduction includes a long assessment of the situation in the 1890s with regard to military action by insurgents, street fighting and barricades. With his long-standing military knowledge, Engels assesses the changing circumstances in terms of tactics, weaponry and perceptions of the public in response to revolutionaries. He also notes the rise of communist parties as electoral forces, urging caution and careful assessment of the new context before engaging in such actions. The risk of failure is even greater and the possibility of moral victory attained in earlier efforts has largely vanished. Yet he firmly holds to the need for revolutionary action in the future, which would have to carefully considered and revised: fewer skirmishes before a major revolution are more likely, but revolution is still required.

Before examining the fate of this introduction, let me set the context. It appeared at a time when the communist movement worldwide had made considerable progress. Political parties had established themselves and gained hundreds of thousands of members, especially in Germany, a situation that produced considerable debate over theory, policies and programs. The catch was that they now were able to operate largely within the structures of the bourgeois state and its form of democracy. Pressure grew to soften communism’s more radical edges, since some felt that these threatened the new-found legitimacy of the parties in question. The push for moderation was enhanced by the famous anti-socialist laws instigated by Bismarck from 1878 to 1890. Even though support for the German Social-Democratic Party grew during this period, questions arose. Should the party continue to advocate ‘illegal’ means, such as revolution and proletarian dictatorship? Or should it be content to work within the existing structures and pursue peaceful transition?

To return to the introduction.[1] Upon receiving the text for publication, the executive of the Social-Democratic party became decidedly anxious. They were torn between immense respect for Engels’s authority and their delicate political position in Germany. Not only were the anti-socialist laws still fresh in everyone’s memory and experience, but the Reichstag was also debating in the early months of 1895 yet another law aimed at preventing a ‘coup-d’état’. Thus, the editors were working at a feverish pace to complete all of the publications in case the law came into effect (Engels 1895 [2004]-a, 453), but they were also keen not to aggravate the situation. So they asked: would Engels please tone down the excessive revolutionary tenor of the piece so as not to incite the authorities? He was sent a copy-edited text in which all references to future revolutionary militancy were altered or excised. At times it was a phrase, at times a sentence and at times a whole paragraph. In his reply to Richard Fischer in March of 1895, Engels was clearly unhappy with the efforts to subscribe to absolute legality under any circumstances. Nothing can be gained, he writes, by ‘advocating complete abstention from force’; no person, no party would forfeit the right to resist ‘by force of arms [Waffen in der Hand]’ (Engels 1895 [2004]-e, 457; 1895 [1973]-d, 424). Yet, he understood the party’s position in Germany and so relented on some editorial changes but resisted five others that would have changed the meaning entirely. A couple of weeks later, he wrote to Kautsky that his text had suffered to some extent from the ‘apprehensive [umsturzvorlagenfurchtsamlichen] objections, inspired by the Subversion Bill, of our friends in Berlin’, but he also acknowledged that in light of circumstances he ‘could not but take account’ of these objections (Engels 1895 [2004]-c, 480; 1895 [1973]-b, 446). From the side of the editors, perhaps Bebel’s letter to Engels a few days later captures the tensions best: ‘We do not ask you to say something that you do not wish to say – or may not say – but we ask you not to say something which, if said at this time, would be embarrassing for us’ (Blumenberg 1965, 795).[2]

The story has further twists. Under Liebknecht’s guidance, the editors disregarded Engels’s reservations and pressed ahead with all of the changes they had made. They published selections from the introduction in the leading article of Vorwärts, number 76, on 30 March, 1895, under the title ‘Wie man heute Revolutionen macht’. The authorship was attributed to Engels. Upon receipt of the issue of Vorwärts, Engels was incensed. The next day he wrote to Kautsky: ‘I was amazed to see today in in the Vorwärts an excerpt from my “Introduction” that had been printed without my prior knowledge and tricked out in such a way as to present me as a peace-loving proponent [friedfertiger Anbete] of legality quand même’. He requested that the complete text should be published in Neue Zeit so that ‘this disgraceful impression [schmähliche Eindruck] may be erased’ (Engels 1895 [2004]-b, 486; 1895 [1973]-a, 452). And he promised to give Liebknecht and others involved a piece of his mind for disfiguring and ‘perverting [zu entstellen]’ his views.

Neither would eventuate. As for the letter to Liebknecht, perhaps it was the advancing throat cancer – from a life of enjoying tobacco and alcohol – that prevented him from castigating those involved. Perhaps the letter has been lost. As for the anticipated rectification in Neue Zeit, the journal published the introduction in the heavily edited form in numbers 27 and 28. And the book, The Class Struggles in France 1849-1850, appeared in the same year with the introduction in the form that the editors deemed fit. Only much later would the full original text be published.

What are we to make of this important moment? While Engels did not use ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in his introduction, Marx had deployed it for the first time in the very same text that was now being published in book form. Clearly, many were uncomfortable with the idea and its militancy. So we may resort to a betrayal narrative, in which the ‘revisionists’ – taking advantage of Engels’s failing health – betrayed the need for revolution for the sake of parliamentary reform.[3] Or we may follow the line of many at the time, who suggested that Engels had realised the need for peaceful parliamentary means within the structures of the bourgeois state (Hunt 2010, 238-39). Or we may invoke a line from Engels a few years earlier: ‘do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat [Das war die Diktatur des Proletariats]’ (Engels 1891 [1990]-b, 191; 1891 [2010]-a, 16). For some, the conflation of the commune and the dictatorship assists in softening the militant and violent import of the dictatorship in favour of comradely cooperation (Johnstone 1971; Balibar 1977, 58; Miliband 1991, 151; Van Ree 2015, 77, 115).

By contrast, I suggest that Engels may be the best guide here, as reflected in his observations to Paul Lafargue a couple of days after he became aware of what had happened. He accuses Liebknecht of playing a ‘fine trick [Streich]’ on him by taking from his introduction ‘everything that could serve his purpose in support of peaceful and anti-violent [Gewaltanwendung verwerfende] tactics at any price’, especially in light of the threat of new laws against the socialists. At this point, we can easily suggest that Engels had been betrayed, but then he writes: ‘I preach those tactics only for the Germany of today and even then with many reservations [mit erheblichen Vorbehalten]’. Despite his best instincts, Engels realises the need for such an approach in a particular situation. In certain circumstances, it is necessary to adapt for a time in order to advance the cause. Some may call this ‘opportunism’, but if so, it is a productive opportunism, a needed zigzag so that the project may continue. Liebknecht, Engels feels, lack this sense, seeing only black and white: ‘Shades don’t exit for him’ (Engels 1895 [2004]-d, 489-90; 1895 [1973]-c, 458). In other words, communism requires not one or the other, not revolution or reform, but appropriate tactics for specific circumstances. Engels’s legacy would come to fruition with subsequent communist leaders, especially those who actually experienced socialism in power such as Lenin, Mao, Deng and indeed Xi Jinping.


Balibar, Etienne. 1977. On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. London: NLB.

Bernstein, Eduard. 1899. Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie. Stuttgart: Dietz Nachfolger.

———. 1993. The Preconditions of Socialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blumenberg, Werner. 1965. August Bebels Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Engels. The Hague: Mouton.

Engels, Friedrich. 1895 [1973]-a. ‘Engels an Karl Kautsky in Stuttgart, London, 1.April 1895’. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 39, 452. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1895 [1973]-b. ‘Engels an Karl Kautsky in Stuttgart, London, 25.März 1895’. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 39, 446-48. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1895 [1973]-c. ‘Engels an Paul Lafargue in Le Perreux, London, 3April 1895’. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 39, 454-58. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1895 [1973]-d. ‘Engels an Richard Fischer in Berlin, London, 8.März 1895’. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 39, 424-26. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1895 [1973]-e. ‘Engels an Richard Fischer in Berlin, London, 13.Febr. 1895’. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 39, 410. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1895 [1990]. ‘Introduction to Karl Marx’s The Class Struggles in France‘. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 27, 506-24. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2004]-a. ‘Engels to Eduard Vaillant in Paris, London, 5 March 1895’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 50, 453-55. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2004]-b. ‘Engels to Karl Kautsky in Stuttgart, London, 1 April 1895’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 50, 486. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2004]-c. ‘Engels to Karl Kautsky in Stuttgart, London, 25 March 1895’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 50, 480-83. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2004]-d. ‘Engels to Paul Lafargue at Le Perreux, London, 3 April 1895’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 50, 487-90. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2004]-e. ‘Engels to Richard Fischer in Berlin, London, 8 March 1895’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 50, 457-59. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2004]-f. ‘Engels to Richard Fischer in Berlin, London, 13 February 1895’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 50, 444-45. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1895 [2010]. ‘Einleitung (1895) zu Karl Marx’s “Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich 1848 bis 1850″‘. In Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe, Vol. I.32, 330-51. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Hunt, Tristram. 2010. Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels. New York: Picador.

Johnstone, Monty. 1971. ‘The Paris Commune and Marx’s Conception of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. The Massachusetts Review 12 (3):447-62.

Kautsky, Karl. 1899. Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische Programm: Eine Antikritik. Stuttgart: Dietz.

Lenin, V.I. 1918 [1965]. ‘The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky’. In Collected Works, Vol. 28, 227-325. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Miliband, Ralph. 1991. ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. In A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, 151-52. Oxford: Blackwell.

Möser, Sandy. 1990. ‘Zur Weiterentwicklung der Revolutionstheorie in Friedrich Engels’ “Einleitung zu Karl Marx’ ‘Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich 1848 bis 1850′” und zur unmittelbaren Wirkung dieser Arbeit’. Beiträge zue Marx-Engels-Forschung 139:139-44.

Tudor, Henry, and J.M. Tudor. 1988. Marxism and Social Democracy: The Revisionist Debate, 1896-1898 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Ree, Erik. 2015. Boundaries of Utopia – Imagining Communism from Plato to Stalin. London: Routledge.

[1] For a useful overview of the events, see Möser (1990).

[2] Translation mine.

[3] But who are the revisionists? Is Liebknecht one of them? Engels obviously thought so in 1895, with his efforts to water down the militant emphasis upon which he and Marx had always insisted. Yet Liebknecht would become part of the Spartacus League, being a leader of the Spartacist Uprising on 1919 in which he (and Rosa Luxemburg) were murdered. How about Kautsky? Lenin identified Kautsky as a ‘renegade’ due to his advocacy of the ballot box and decrying of the Russian Revolution (Lenin 1918 [1965]). Was is Bernstein (1993, 1899) with his advocacy of peaceful transition once the bourgeoisie saw the benefits of socialism. Now Kautsky becomes a radical, for he opposed Bernstein as the chief theoretician of the second generation (Kautsky 1899; Tudor and Tudor 1988).

‘Like the sun shining over the world’: The Dalai Lama’s poem praising Mao Zedong

This poem was written by the Dalai Lama in 1954. But since the text is somewhat difficicult to find (for obvious reasons), I provide a translation here. It comes from an interview by Anna Louise Strong.


The great national leader of the Central People’s Government, Chairman Mao, is the cakravarti born out of boundless fine merits. For a long time I wished to write a hymn praying for his long life and the success of his work. It happened that the Klatsuang-kergun Lama of Kantsu monastery in Inner Mongolia wrote me from afar, saluting me and asked me to write a poem. I agreed to do so, as it coincides with my own wishes.


O, the Triratna (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) which bestow blessings upon the world,

Protect us with your incomparable and blessed light which shines forever.

O! Chairman Mao! Your brilliance and deeds are like those of Brahma and Mahasammata, creators of the world,

Only from an infinite number of good deeds can such a leader be born, who is like the sun shining over the world.

Your writings are precious as pearls, abundant and powerful as the high tide of ocean reaching the edges of the sky.

O! Most honourable Chairman Mao, may you live long!

All people look to you as a kind protecting mother, they paint pictures of you with hearts full of emotion,

May you live in the world forever and point out to us the peaceful road!

Our vast land was burdened with pain, with shackles and darkness,

You liberated all with your brilliance. People now are happy, full of blessings!

Your work for peace is a white jewelled umbrella, giving shade over heaven and earth and mankind.

Your fame is like golden bells on the umbrella, ringing and turning forever in the sky!

Our foe, the blood-thirsty imperialists, are poisonous snakes, and messengers of the devil furtively crawling.

You are the undaunted roc which conquered the poisonous serpent. To you be power!

The cultural and industrial constructions which make the people prosperous and defeat the enemy’s armed forces are like a vast sea;

These constructions develop continuously until they shall make this world as full of satisfaction as heaven.

The perfect religion of Sakyamuni (Buddha) is like a moonlight pearl lamp shining bright.

It is like a perfumed pearl ornament which we wear without prohibition. O! Of this we are proud.

Your will is like the gathering of clouds, your call like thunder,

From these comes timely rain to nourish selflessly the earth!

As the Ganges River runs precious and to all the earth

The cause of peace and justice will bring to all people boundless joy!

May our world gradually become as happy as Paradise!

May the torch of the world, our great leader, be lit forever!

May the powers of the benevolent Bodhisattvas, the resourceful Dharma-protector, and the truthful words of the Maharishis, make these good hopes true!

Mao’s Liberation of Tibet

It is useful to keep the whole picture in mind, rather than blindly follow what the ‘vegetarian between meals’ would lead us to believe (see further Sautman). To begin with, there is the simple historical question. Although accounts differ in relation to Tibet, the reality is that this region has been subject to Chinese rule in various ways since at least the eighteenth century under the Qing dynasty (with Chinese claims to de jure rule since the Yuan dynasty in the thirteenth century). Claims to some form of independence hark back to an image of the feudal Tibetan empire from the seventh to the eleventh centuries.

What happened after the liberation of Tibet in 1951 by the PLA, which was supported a wide range of Tibetans? A comprehensive 17-point agreement was reached in 1951, approved by all lamas and the Dalai Lama himself. Subsequent CIA agitation, funding, arms and logistics led to reneging on the agreement and the fateful 1959 uprising, which failed to garner widespread support, especially among those Tibetans who had been abused under the former feudal system. The Dalai Lama and his entourage were assisted by the CIA to flee the Tibetan region. Eventually, the CIA wound up its well-publicised ‘covert’ activities in the 1970s, only to be replaced by the innocuous sounding National Endowment for Democracy in 1984 (instituted under Ronald Reagan). As Elizabeth Davis’s careful study indicates, ‘Allen Weinstein, the NED’s first acting president, observed that “A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’. A range of other western government-sponsored bodies work together with the NED to undermine Chinese sovereignty.

Even more, the factionalism of the Tibetan diaspora is bewildering. Many have not lived in the Tibetan region for two generations and they spend as much time attacking each other as they spend in trying to garner cash and support from states keen to irritate China. This factionalism is by no means new, for the struggles between different groups in Tibet’s history often used torture, violence and displacement to assert their control.

What about China’s position? This boils down to two strategies. The immediate aim is security and peace in the Tibetan autonomous region. Apart from the CIA-sponsored uprising in 1959, another more recent example concerns the deadly 2008 riots in Lhasa, in which some Tibetans burned, looted and killed Han Chinese and Muslims. From a Chinese perspective, these acts are part of the ‘separatism, extremism and terrorism’ continuum.

The long-term aim is socio-economic improvement, a core feature of the ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ for all minority nationalities. Obviously, this takes time but we can already see the significant improvements in living standards, with massive infrastructure projects, favourable conditions for Tibetan businesses, and a host of other measures. The Tibetan region has one of the highest growth rates in China now, although it is belated in comparison with the eastern regions of China.

As I have observed on a number of occasions before, socio-economic improvement is the basis of a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights, which may be described as the right to economic well-being. While the Euro-American tradition focuses on civil and political rights, and uses these to irritate China, it neglects the whole other dimension of the right to economic wellbeing, which includes the rights to work and to development. The Chinese emphasis goes back in more immediate history to the Jiangxi-Fujian Soviet of the early 1930s, with its capital in Ruijin. Here developed what may be called the ‘Ruijin ethos’: focus first on the people’s need for food, shelter, clothing and security; only when these are secured will they become communists. In the longer tradition, the Confucian ethos is strong, particularly with the desire for at least a xiaokang society, meaning that one is moderately well-off, healthy, and peaceful. This basic human right in China has actually been embodied in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1976). Article 11(1) is relevant here, which mentions that state parties ‘recognize the rights of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions’. Notably, the United States has not ratified this covenant.

But does this mean civil and political rights are curtailed for militant Tibetans? If they engage in ‘separatism, extremism and terrorism’, yes. This is a security issue. But as Barry Sautman observes:

The point to stress is that there is no repression of Tibetans simply for being Tibetan. Nor does the Chinese government repress religion per se. Instead, Tibetans receive a range of preferential policies, and authorised religions in China receive state support. Where religious organisations pose no political threat, they are regulated by the state and can generally function openly, especially among ethnic minorities. The relation between religious organisations and the state is informed by longstanding Chinese traditions; separatism is another story. Under international law, states may make separatism illegal. The Chinese government, based on China’s history of cycles of territorial unity and disunity, makes use of that right.

On the matter of culture it is worth noting the most thorough treatment of the issue by Colin Mackarras, who observes, ‘what strikes me most forcefully about the period since 1980 or so is not how much the Chinese have harmed Tibetan culture, but how much they have allowed, even encouraged it to revive; not how weak it is, but how strong’.

Finally, two pieces from none other than the Dalai Lama himself. The first is a telegram sent to Mao in 1951, indicating support of the 17-point agreement, which included the statement: ‘The central authorities will not alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama‘.

The second is a poem he wrote in 1954 concerning Mao Zedong:



What about the Uyghurs?

I begin with a caveat: for more than six months I have not read corporate (sometimes called ‘western’) news sources. Instead, I read more reliable and in-depth sources, for reasons I have explained elsewhere. I find corporate news sources given to selective sensationalism, in which they select a few items, give them a twist and distort them, so as to produce a sensationalist account that does violence with the facts, fits into a certain narrative and attracts a certain readership (some ‘western’ Marxists among them). It is like a toxic drip into the brain, with which I can well do without.

By word of mouth and from reliable sources, I have heard that it has become fashionable in some quarters to switch from the ‘vegetarian between meals’ (Dalai Lama) and focus on the Uyghurs, mostly concentrated in Xinjiang province in the far western parts of China. Supposedly, the whole of the Uyghur minority is kept under what some call a ‘police state’. The reason why is never articulated, except perhaps the inherent evil of the Communist Party of China.

Let us have a look at the facts.

To begin with, there is the simple historical question. Xinjiang was incorporated into the Chinese state in the 1750s and eventually became a full province in 1884, marking the western border of the Chinese state under the Qing. Obviously, Xinjiang has been part of China for centuries.

Further, for some international critics, the claim that radical Muslim Uyghurs are involved in terrorism is a smokescreen for the suppression of the Uyghur. But let us see how selective the terminology of ‘separatism’ and ‘terrorism’ is. From one perspective, the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 is ‘terrorist’, while the efforts by some in Tibet and Xinjiang are peaceful and ‘separatist’, seeking independence. In short, any attack on western sites are ‘terrorist’, but any attack in other parts of the world – whether China or Russia or Syria – are ‘separatist’. From another perspective, the attempted suicide attack on a China Southern flight in 2008, threats to attack the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a car ramming in Tiananmen Square in 2013 and the deadly knife attack in Kunming railway station – all perpetrated by Uyghur radical Muslims – are ‘terrorist’ acts. To add a twist to all this, the Chinese government typically uses a three-character phrase, “separatism, extremism and terrorism,” which indicates that they see a continuum and not an either-or relation.

Third, it is clearly not the case that the whole of the Uyghur minority nationality is engaged in separatism, extremism and terrorism. I have encountered a good number of Uyghurs who assert strongly and passionately that they are Chinese and decry the small number of their nationality who engage in terrorist activities. The fact is that a very small number of Uyghurs, influenced by radical Islam, have engaged in terrorist activities. By far the vast majority of Uyghurs see themselves as part of China and seek to contribute positively to it.

Fourth, a crucial feature of Chinese sovereignty is the resistance to all forms of foreign interference. This approach to sovereignty arises from the anti-colonial struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in which Chinese independence from semi-colonialism developed a strong sense of the need to prevent foreign intervention. (It also influences China’s dealings with other countries, in which it avoids any effort to change political, economic and social patterns.) Thus, there has been a profoundly negative effect from the CIA’s intervention in Tibet in the 1950s, funding the Dalai Lama and inciting the ill-fated uprising in 1959, in which tens of thousands of Tibetans died and the Dalai Lama and his entourage fled to India. CIA operations wound up in the 1970s, only to be replaced with western propaganda, funding and organisation – especially by the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy that carries on the work of the CIA – of protests in Tibet, all of which are based on a particular interpretation of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’. These activities have also focused on Xinjiang, with the added dimension of a distinct increase in influence from Islamic radicalism from further west in the 1990s. The discovery of Uyghurs training with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, or links with militant groups in restive parts of Pakistan, as well as various radical fronts focused on Xinjiang and passing weapons, explosives and militants along drug routes, made it clear to the Chinese government that another form of foreign interference had arisen. All of these efforts are seen as profound challenges to Chinese sovereignty.

Fifth, it is asserted by some that Uyghurs are subjected to facial recognition cameras, social credit systems and political arrest. Let us set the record straight. Facial recognition cameras, first developed reliably in China (as with so much technological innovation these days) are used for the sake of social security – a fundamental feature of Chinese culture. I am told that some corporate media reports make much of the fining of jaywalkers. This is laughable. If the Chinese devoted their valuable time and energy to this pursuit, billions of fines would be given every day, for the Chinese love to jaywalk. Instead, facial recognition cameras are used for more serious purposes: criminal networks; fugitives from justice; or terrorist cells.

Social credit: the best example is a recent announcement on a high-speed train. The announcement stated that if you had not bought a ticket and did not contact the conductor as soon as possible, it would reflect negatively on your social credit record. In other words, the system is geared to ensuring conformity with the laws of the land.

Arrest for political purposes: this is usually framed in terms of ‘prisoners of conscience’, who are supposedly subjected to ‘brain-washing’ techniques. Again, let us deal with the facts. The fiction that one million Uyghurs are in ‘internment camps’ – spread by dodgy news services – is precisely that, a fiction. China has abolished re-education labour camps, although it could be argued that in certain circumstances (international interference) that they can be a good thing. Instead, a central feature of high-school and university is ‘ideological and political education’. This entails being taught the basics of Marxism, socialism with Chinese characteristics, and now Xi Jinping Thought. All worthwhile subjects that need to be taught well. And all Chinese people – including the 55 minority nationalities and even theological colleges – must study such subjects

Sixth, some sources – such as the ‘Human Rights Watch’ (affiliated with the US state department) trot out a standard ‘western’ approach to ‘human rights’. This tradition typically focuses on civil and political rights, such as freedom of political expression, assembly, religion and so on. In an imperialist move, this specific tradition of human rights is assumed to be universal, applying to all parts of the globe. Because some Uyghurs are denied Muslim practices, expressions of anti-Chinese sentiment, and subjected to ideological and political education, this is deemed to be a violation of ‘human rights’.

The problem here is that such an approach systematically neglects alternative approaches, such as the Chinese Marxist one. This tradition identifies the right to economic wellbeing as the primary human right. So we find that in relation to Xinjiang, Chinese sources have identified the deep root of the problem as poverty. Thus, when unrest in Xinjiang rose to a new level in the 1990s (under foreign influence), much analysis and policy revision followed. The result was two-pronged: an immediate focus on comprehensive security (which is a core feature of Chinese society at many levels); and a long-term effort to improve economic conditions in a region that still lagged behind the much of eastern China. Not all such incentives have been as successful as might have been hoped, with the various nationalities in Xinjiang – not merely Uyghur, but also including Han, Hui, Kazak, Mongol and Kirgiz – benefitting at different levels. The most significant project to date is the massive Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2014. Although its geographical scope is much vaster than the western parts of China, the economic effect is already being felt in these parts. In light of all this It is reasonable to say that there has been a marked improvement in the economic wellbeing of all those who live in these and other regions, such as Yunnan and Guizhou. The basic position is that if people see that their living conditions have improved, they will more willingly see themselves as part of the greater whole

The outcome: in the short-term the Chinese government has instituted various measures to ensure that the terrorist attacks of 2008, 2013 and 2014 do not happen again. The fact that they have not happened in the last few years is testimony to the effectiveness of these measures. In the long-term, previous policies to develop Xinjiang economically have been assessed and found wanting, so a whole new approach has been developed in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Finally, we should be aware of the deeper level of the ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ in relation to all of the 55 minority nationalities in China. Since its revision in the 1990s (after careful studies of the breakup of the Soviet Union), the policy has developed two poles of a dialectic. On the one hand, autonomy of the minority nationalities was to be enhanced, in terms of economic progress, language, education, culture and political leadership. On the other hand, China’s borders were strengthened as absolutely inviolable. Secession is simply not an option. A contradiction? Of course, but the sense is that for the vast majority of the nationalities, it is precisely the benefits of increased autonomy that has led them to appreciate being part of China.