Book outline: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

This book arises from a contradiction in our time: Chinese scholars and indeed most people in China are well aware of the key arguments and developments that form the basis of socialism with Chinese characteristics (zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi); non-Chinese scholars are largely ignorant, even though I find that more and more want to know at least something. In China, many of the topics presented in this book were settled quite a few years ago, so much so that one finds relatively little debate today. Other topics have a renewed vigour – such as contradiction analysis and rule of law – but these rely on earlier debates. By contrast, one struggles to find even remotely adequate treatment of these topics in foreign materials – if they are studied at all. I will examine some of the reasons in the introduction to the book, but three may be identified here: first, some have a tendency to say they prefer to look at the practice and ignore the theory, but this is a profound abdication of not only proper research, but Marxism itself (where theory along with practice is crucial); second, the material that does appear stops with the death of Mao Zedong (some, especially by Knick Knight, is excellent); third, the vast bulk of available scholarship is in Chinese. Obviously, one needs to be able to research this Chinese-language material.

Even so, the primary purpose of this book not to engage in polemics (lunzhan – fighting theories), but to make available for a non-Chinese audience the sophisticated debates and conclusions in China concerning socialism with Chinese characteristics. Without knowing this material, one can come to superficial perceptions and profound misunderstandings; knowing it, one begins the first steps in understanding and thereby trust. The following begins with a careful philosophical analysis of Deng Xiaoping, and the implications of his core ideas and practices. This study is the basis of what the rest of the book: contradiction analysis; the Marxist philosophy of the Reform and Opening Up; the basis and nature of the socialist market economy; socialist modernisation; rule of law; sovereignty and human rights; minority nationalities and the anti-colonial project; and Xi Jinping’s thorough Marxism in a Chinese situation. I should say that I have about a year of further in-depth research before me, so some of the material below will be revised as the project develops.

Introduction

The introduction begins by tracing the idea that while Marxism has core principles, or sets of problems, the way it develops in different locations has distinct characteristics. While there are global commonalities, each region has its distinct history, culture and philosophical tradition. As a result, in each situation the problems are somewhat unique and require new answers – hence the specific ‘characteristics’ of Marxism in such a location. We may trace this idea back to the late writings of Marx and Engels, as they faced developments of socialism in other parts of the world. But it begins to appear more clearly with Lenin and Stalin, and of course with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Obviously, the idea is not original to Deng, although he gave it a particular resonance in China.

The introduction also attempts to explain why there is precious little treatment in non-Chinese material of the Marxist basis of the Reform and Opening Up, with which ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has been most closely associated. In order to understand this situation, I elaborate on the distinction between ‘before’ and ‘after’ October. In other words, a crucial divide in analysis appears between those who take the perspective of ‘before October’, before the communist revolution, and those who analyse Marxism ‘after October’, after the revolution and in the difficult period of the construction of socialism. As Lenin and Mao said repeatedly, gaining power in a communist revolution is relatively easy; by contrast, constructing socialism is infinitely more complicated. Obviously, this study is concerned with ‘after October’, with the project of constructing socialism.

Finally, the introduction presents the main features of Chinese scholarship on socialism with Chinese characteristics. This material is immense, so I introduce the main resources, journals and themes – with a distinct focus on the philosophical foundations as they are manifested in practice.

Chapter 1. Reading Deng Xiaoping

‘Less talk, more deeds’ – Deng Xiaoping is mostly remembered as a leader of concrete acts rather than extensive theoretical reflection. In non-Chinese works, one may find biographies, studies of foreign policy, and scattered quotations taken out of context (albeit usually within a western European liberal framework). Few indeed are the studies of ‘Deng Xiaoping theory [lilun]’. Apart from Domenico Losurdo, no-one outside China has credited Deng with a sophisticated and insightful theoretical basis.

Through a careful study of Deng’s speeches and writings, along with relevant Chinese scholarship, I analyse the philosophical basis in two related ideas: liberating thought, and seeking truth from facts. While the terms seem simple enough on the surface, at a deeper level they identify the need to escape from the trap of Marxist dogmatism (as Mao also urged) and the need for careful analysis of the particular conditions of China in order to develop new answers in light of the Marxist tradition. From these two core ideas flow many of Deng’s positions: liberating the forces of production (see further the chapter on the socialist market economy), seeking a moderately well-off (xiaokang) society, to each according to work, and of course socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Chapter 2. Contradiction Analysis

Deng Xiaoping presented less of a break with Mao or indeed the Marxist tradition and more of a creative continuity within that living tradition. A significant element of this continuity was ‘contradiction analysis [maodun fenxi]’. This topic requires an initial step back to Mao Zedong (‘On Contradiction’) and how he developed a whole new phase in the Marxist tradition of dialectical analysis, via Lenin and Chinese conditions. Crucial for the construction of socialism is the idea of non-antagonistic contradictions: contradictions will appear under socialism, but the focus should be in ensuring they are non-antagonistic. Subsequently, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, we find contradiction analysis at the basis of philosophical thought and government policy. For example, it appears in: class analysis in the primary stage of socialism; socialist market economy; poverty alleviation; education: medicine; workplace realities; core socialist value; and – of course – the crucial need to identify a primary contradiction as the basis of all policy (as Xi Jinping did at the nineteenth congress of the CPC in 2018).

Chapter 3. The Marxist Basis of the Reform and Opening Up

It is perhaps less realised than it should be that the Reform and Opening Up is not a compromise, but a distinctly Marxist project. As Deng Xiaoping pointed out repeatedly, the Reform and Opening Up provides a distinct path to socialism (and not, as some misguided foreigners suggested, to capitalism). To understand this emphasis, we need initially to go back to Lenin and his insight into the relationship between revolution and reform. Instead of seeing these two terms as an either-or, Lenin argued that reform is absolutely necessary, but it should always be undertaken in light of the communist revolution. During the era of constructing socialism, this means that reform must be undertaken by a communist party in power. In a Chinese context, I would like to focus on the following issue (until more have been identified in research): the tension between equality-justice and improving the quality of life for all. In many respects, the Reform and Opening Up may be seen as an effort to keep the two sides of the contradiction in a productive and non-antagonistic relationship. Finally, this chapter offers a brief survey of the leading Marxist philosophers during the forty years of the Reform and Opening Up.

Chapter 4. Socialist Market Economy

With the socialist market economy, we come to a question that was settled in China 25 years ago, but of which foreigners remain noticeably ignorant. After immense debates in the 1980s and early 1990s, the following was seen as the solution. First and following Stalin, the core contradiction of socialism is between the forces and relations of production. How is this manifested? It can be – and often is – seen in terms of the ownership of the means of production. Thus, workers and peasants need to seize ownership of the means of production from the former bourgeois and landlord owners. But what happens after such a seizure and the destruction of the former ruling class? The contradiction shifts to one between the underlying socio-economic system (zhidu) and its specific components (tizhi). In the first category, we find – for example – a capitalist system and a socialist system; in the second, there are political, social and economic components. Here the productive forces also appear, of which one manifestation is a market economy. To summarise a more detailed analysis: a market economy may form part of a larger socio-economic system, including socialism; a market economy is not  always the same and is not inherently capitalist, but is shaped and determined by the system in question (as found already in Marx and in historical analysis); the overall system not only determines the nature of a market economy, but also its purpose, whether profit (capitalist system) or social benefit and meeting the needs of all people (gongtongti fuwu) as in a socialist system. Finally, this approach to a socialist market economy entails a recalibration of the question of ownership. Initially, the ownership of the means of production was related to secondary status, with a mix between public and private ownership, albeit with the state owned enterprises (SOEs) as the drivers of the economy. However, since the 2010s, one may identify a new development: the very distinction between public and private has begun to ‘die away’ (to parse Engels). How this works is the focus of the final part of the chapter.

Chapter 5. Socialist Modernisation: Seeking a Xiaokang Society

Since Zedong and Zhou Enlai, ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihua]’ has been a major feature of government policy and action.[1] But what does it mean? Let us begin with Deng Xiaoping’s famous observation in 1979: ‘By achieving the four modernizations, we mean achieving a “moderately well-off family [xiaokang zhi jia]” … a moderately well-off country [xiaokang de guojia]’. For Deng, this is modernisation with Chinese characteristics.

To understand this statement, we need to go back and forward in the Chinese tradition. Deng was the first to pick and reinterpret the old Confucian category – from the Books of Rights and Book of Songs – of xiaokang in light of Marxism, with the sense of being moderately well-off, healthy and peaceful. It is a more achievable aim than datong, the ‘Great Harmony’, at least in the foreseeable future, although both terms (through He Xiu and Kang Youwei) are intimately connected. If we move forward in the more recent tradition, Deng’s insightful move led to a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects’ becoming central to the Chinese socialist project under Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and especially Xi Jinping. Indeed, the end of 2020 – following hints from Deng – was set as the ambitious but achievable goal for a xiaokang society. But what are the benchmarks? Xi Jinping has identified three: managing profound risks, poverty alleviation and environmental health. The last section of the chapter considers each of these items, with a focus on the impact of lifting 750 million rural and urban workers out of poverty since 1978 and the noticeable advances in achieving an ‘ecological civilisation’.

Chapter 6. Socialist Rule of Law

‘Governing the country according law [yifazhiguo]’ – this four-character phrase encapsulates a range of permutations, from the new Social Credit system, through core socialist values, to religious policy. However, it also has a distinct history that enables us to understand what it means in China, specifically as a socialist rule of law. Although traces of usage appear in much older texts, the key development is precisely during the Reform and Opening Up.

Initially (1978-1996), most of the debate centred around the opposition between ‘rule of human beings [renzhi]’ and ‘rule of law [fazhi]’, after which the latter became the agreed-upon position. Subsequently (1997-2011), the relationship between ‘rule of law’ and ‘legal system [fazhi]’ (sometimes misleadingly translated as ‘rule by law’) was debated, with the two clearly demarcated. Thus, while ‘legal system’ is the basis and concrete manifestation of ‘rule of law’, ‘rule of law’ is itself the ultimate framework and goal of the legal system. During this time, ‘governing the country according to law’ entered the 1999 revision of the Constitution. Finally (2012 to the present) we find increasing clarity of more and more aspects of rule of law, along with its consistent and impartial application. Tellingly, in 2018, the Constitution was revised further, replacing ‘improve the socialist legal system’ with ‘improve the socialist rule of law’.

Theory is crucial, but so is practice. The final part of the chapter examines some concrete manifestations of the rule of law in China: the Social Credit System as an effective and creative way to ensure rule of law at all levels; core socialist values as the positive side of the anti-corruption campaign; and ensuring that the long-standing laws on freedom of religion are strictly observed, especially in light of the revised Regulation on Religious Affairs (2018) and its emphases on self-government, self-support and self-propagation. In all of this, it should re remembered that we are speaking of a socialist rule of law, which is a crucial bulwark of China’s socialist system and is distinct from a capitalist rule of law.

Chapter 7. Sovereignty and Human Rights

This chapter offers a comparison between two traditions concerning human rights, through the prism of state sovereignty: the Western European liberal tradition and the Chinese Marxist tradition. It does so as follows. The first part introduces the distinction between false and rooted universals. A false universal forgets the conditions of its emergence and asserts that its assumptions apply to all irrespective of context, while a rooted universal is always conscious of and factors into analysis contextual origins, with their possibilities and limitations. With this distinction in mind, the next part deals with state sovereignty. In a Western European context, the standard narrative of this development has two main phases: the initial Westphalian definition (1648) and its significant restriction after the Second World War. The main problem with this narrative it that it largely neglects what drove the shift: the success of anti-colonial struggles in the first half of the twentieth century (the last phase through the United Nations under the inspiration of the Soviet Union). In light of this global perspective, it becomes clear that in formerly colonised and semi-colonised countries the very definition of sovereignty is transformed into an anti-colonial and non-theological definition. It is not simply an extension of the Westphalian definition, an assumption that entails a false universal. The next two parts of the argument deal directly with human rights. Initially, it focuses on the Western European tradition, which is predicated on the identification of human rights as private property and their restriction to civil and political rights. Here is the risk of another false universal: the assertion that this specific tradition applies to all, irrespective of context and of anti-colonial sovereignty. The final topic is the Chinese Marxist tradition of human rights, which arises from the intersections of Confucianism and Marxism. In this tradition, anti-colonial sovereignty is a prerequisite but does not determine human rights, and the core human right is the right to socio-economic wellbeing, through which civil, political, cultural and environmental rights arise.

Chapter 8. Minority Nationalities and the Anti-Colonial Project

The main topic of this chapter – minority nationalities policy –arises from the Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights. In brief, the comprehensive minority nationalities (which are sometimes called ‘ethnic groups’) emphasises the core human right to socio-economic wellbeing. Before we get to that point, we need to engage in historical analysis. The Soviet Union was the first socialist country to develop a comprehensive minorities policy, so much so that it was crucial in the very formation of the Soviet Union and was embodied in government structures. Much was learned, from both successes and failures. The Soviet Union was also the first country to see the intrinsic connection between an internal minorities policy and the international anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle. It supported most of them, from logistics and weapons to initiating declarations in the United Nations (especially the 1960 ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’, which forced France, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, to give up their colonies for the sake of independence).

But what did the minority policy entail? Here I turn to China, which – like other socialist countries – adopted the Soviet policy, adapting it and strengthening it in light of their own conditions. This ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ fosters minority languages, cultures, education, governance, and – above all – economic development as the basis for all the others. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the 1990s the policy was strengthened in a dialectical manner; minority rights and incentives were enhanced significantly, precisely as way of ensuring the inviolability of China’s borders. To give a sense of how this policy works, I deal with two pertinent case studies: Tibet and Xinjiang. In both cases, we find short-term and long-term programs. Short-term: enhanced fostering of security (anquan), stability (wending) and harmony (hexie), in order to counter the effects of separation, extremism and terrorism. Long-term: renewed and revised projects to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of all who live in Tibet and Xinjiang. At this point, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plays a significant internal role, with marked results in the six years or so of its implementation.

The BRI brings us finally to the question of international relations. Here we find a distinct development: while material from the 1950s and 1960s still used the terminology of anti-colonial struggle, it substantially disappears from use thereafter. Why? Already in the late 1950s, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had proposed the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Deng Xiaoping as China sought not confrontation but peaceful development (although he was also quite clear that China would always have closer connections with formerly colonised countries due to a shared common history). The more recent manifestation of this emphasis appears with Xi Jinping’s promotion of a ‘community of shared future for humankind [renlei mingyun gongtongti]’, concretely manifested in the BRI, and the policy – as an alternative to the Western European liberal emphasis on ‘zero-sum’ – of ‘both win, many win, all win’. Or simply, ‘win-win’.

Chapter 9. Xi Jinping on Marxism

Xi Jinping has confounded those international observers who ignored much of what I have discussed in the previous chapters and concluded that China had abandoned Marxism. But Xi Jinping’s resolute emphasis on Marxism makes perfect sense if we keep these developments of socialism with Chinese characteristics in mind. At the same time, it is true that Xi Jinping has also re-emphasised Marxism at its many levels, so much so that the CPC has been noticeably strengthened. Older members are once again proud of the party and what it has achieved, while young people are once again keen to join and study Marxism.

How did this happen? While Xi Jinping’s many writings and speeches (in the good tradition of communist leaders, he is also a thinker and writer) cover a wide range of topics, my focus is on his direct engagement with Marxism. The core piece for analysis is his major speech on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, delivered on 5 May, 2018. While the speech deals with Marx’s biography (as an engaged intellectual), the basic premises of Marxism, its history as a living tradition and its emergence to sustained leadership in China, the main part of the speech elaborates on nine topics of relevance to China’s situation. Calling on all the ‘study Marx’ once again, he begins each sub-section with quotations from Marx and Engels and then elaborates on what they mean for the time after the communist revolution, during the complex and often difficult process of constructing socialism. The topics are: development of human society; sticking to the people’s standpoint; productive forces and relations of production; people’s democracy; cultural construction; social construction; human-nature relationship; world history; and Marxist party building. These topics open out to a series of other dimensions of Xi Jinping’s writings, with which I deal when analysing each section.

Conclusion

Given that most of the material in this book concerns material already known in China, it may be of interest to Chinese readers who wish to see what a foreigner engaged with and working in China thinks about socialism with Chinese characteristics. But I anticipate that it will mostly be of use to non-Chinese readers whose minds may already be open, or perhaps should be opened, to what such a socialism actually means in theory and practice.

Note

[1] The original four modernisations are: shaking off China’s poverty and backwardness [pinqiong luohou]; gradually improving the people’s living standards; restoring a position for China in international affairs commensurate with its current status; and enabling China to contribute more to humankind.

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DPRK white paper on human rights violations in the USA

China regularly publishes its own white paper on human rights problems in the United States, in light of the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights rather than the European derived approach, which is so often universalised in a colonialist fashion.

However, the DPRK also publishes annual human rights reports on the USA. Of course, some would dismiss this as either hypocrisy or tit-for-tat, but it seems to me that what the report says is actually quite spot on. I have copied a summary from Rodong Sinmun

White Paper on Human Rights Violations in U.S. in 2017 Issued in DPRK

The DPRK Institute of International Studies on Jan. 30 released the “White Paper on Human Rights Violations in U.S. in 2017”.

According to the white paper, soon after being inaugurated as president, Trump filled the important posts of his administration with billionaires, who had “contributed” to his election campaign, and their mouthpieces.

Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Commerce Ross and also the secretaries of Treasury and Defense are all billionaires from conglomerates. The total assets of public servants at the level of deputy secretary and above of the current administration are worth of 14 billion US$.

The anti-popular policies the Trump administration pursued openly in one year were, without exception, for the interests of a handful of the rich circles.

In the U.S., where genuine freedom of the press and expression does not exist, intervention in and crackdown on the press grew more intensified over the past one year.

In 2017 the cases of searching and confiscation against journalists accounted for 12 and the cases of violation against them for 11. Moreover, 19 persons in the domestic press circles and four foreign journalists were arrested or detained.

Racial discrimination and misanthropy are serious maladies inherent to the social system of the U.S., and they have been aggravated since Trump took office.

The racial violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 is a typical example of the acme of the current administration’s policy of racism.

In the U.S. the absolute majority of the working masses, deprived of elementary rights to survival, are hovering in the abyss of nightmare.

As a result, during the first week of March, 241 000 persons joined the large contingent of the unemployed; in May 9 000 public servants were fired from governmental agencies; in September the number of the unemployed increased by 33 000 as compared to that of the previous month.

In particular, unemployment of young people has become a matter of serious social concern; currently the unemployment rate of young people under 25 is 7.9%, and 31% of graduates from high schools do not have proper jobs.

According to what the U.S. administration made public, in 2017 the homeless numbered 554 000, about 10% increase as compared to that two years ago, and number of the poor families, living in rented rooms devoid of elementary facilities for living, is on the steady rise.

The soaring school expenses are plunging the students into the hell of loans.

Those who are diagnosed with a disease but cannot afford to pay their medical fees total 50 million. Flu, lung diseases and asthma cause 36 000, 40 000 and 150 000 deaths, respectively, on an annual average.

On the other hand, health-hazardous disqualified products are on sale across the country, which often leads to an outbreak of infectious diseases.

The U.S. is one of the world’s two countries that have yet to embrace paid maternity leave.

Over the past decade the proportion of American women who live below the poverty line has risen from 12.1% to 14.5%, and they usually receive 25% less salary than their male colleagues of the same post.

A woman is sexually abused every 89 seconds.

According to basic statistics, about 61 100 gun-related crimes took place in the U.S. last year, leaving 15 488 dead and 31 058 wounded.

According to data, the number of marijuana users in the U.S. was more than 20 million, a 3% increase as compared with that a decade ago; and over 90 people lose their lives on a daily average from drug abuse.

In the U.S. where crimes and evil are rampant, the number of imprisoned criminals tops 2.3 million and 70 million are ex-offenders.

The U.S., “guardian of democracy” and “human rights champion”, is kicking up the human rights racket but it can never camouflage its true identity as the gross violator of human rights, the white paper said.

On Recovering the term ‘Flunkeyism’

As I have been working with material from the DPRK, I came across a wonderful term, flunkeyism. In a basic sense, it means to pay undue reverence to and serve someone who is greater and stronger, exhibiting the characteristics of subservience.

The term came into central usage in the 1950s in the DPRK, when it gained a specifically negative sense. As the communists were seeking to construct socialism in Korean conditions, Kim Il Sung made a significant speech called ‘On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work’ (1955). In this context, flunkeyism meant not so much subservience to powers like Japan or the United States, but the larger communist powers of the Soviet Union and China. Kim points out that too many Korean communists were simply repeating formulae, plans, news items and ideas from these places, without knowledge and appreciation of the specificity of Korean conditions.

The opposite is Juche, with the basic sense of self-reliance and being the master of one’s own situation. The idea of Juche has three main components, already outlined in 1930: the need for Koreans to avoid worshipping great powers, that the masters of the revolution are the masses of the people and the need for correct leadership on the road to victory. Each of these points would be emphasised over the coming years, with the other two moving somewhat into the background. Crucially, during the initial phase of Juche theory (1950s), it was opposition to flunkeyism that was the most important.

Of course, Kim Il Sung did not invent either term out of whole cloth. Flunkeyism has a much longer history, going back to Mencius. Being a good Confucian, Mencius used the term in a positive light, writing: ‘He who with a great State serves a small one, delights in Heaven. He who with a small State serves a large one, stands in awe of Heaven’. The Chinese term here is shida, ‘serving the great’. The initial appropriation in Korea (sadae) was used in a similar way, with the Korean Joseon monarchy seeking to follow the example of the Chinese. But with the rise of a desire for Korea to carve its own path, flunkeyism became a decidedly negative term, for it downgraded Korea’s own uniqueness and national traditions.

So we find the emergence of opposition to flunkeyism – sadaejuui, literally ‘serving the great-ism’, or loving and worshipping foreign powers. The term can be double-edged, since it can foster more extreme forms of nationalism. At the same time, nationalism in an anti-colonial context has – since the insights from the Soviet Union – often been closely connected with communism. In this sense, anti-colonial struggles are at the same time anti-imperialist struggles, undermining the efforts at global hegemony by capitalist powers. This is the sense that emerges from the writings of Kim Il Sung. It is also a key to the reunification program in Korea, for a basic desire and position is that the two Koreas will once again unite without outside interference.

It seems to me we need to recover ‘flunkeyism’. We could well do with a good dose of opposition to it – or ‘anti-flunkeyism’ – in Australia. We used to use the term ‘cultural cringe’, with some people feeling that Australia needed to serve some or other greater and more ‘advanced’ place. But ‘flunkeyism’ is a much stronger term. Too often have our politicians, intellectuals and cultural producers been flunkeys, seeking the favours of whichever international power is around.

So here’s to two words for 2018: flunkeyism and anti-flunkeyism.

DPRK statement on human rights: religion

In completing my chapter on ‘Religion and Revolution in Korea’, I found a great site for downloading recent statements on a range of issues. Volume 9 concerns human rights, which articulates some of the main points from the constitution. Of interest for my current purposes is the following (pp. 54-55):

68. Provision of the Freedom of Thought and Religion

In the DPRK everybody is fully provided with the right to choose and follow their thought and religion according to their own free will.

Through their everyday life and experience and through historical process, the Korean people have realized that the Juche idea is an idea that thoroughly defends and realizes their independence and truly guarantees human rights, and that when they advance along the road indicated by the idea genuine happiness and prosperity will be achieved.

And they have acquired this idea as an element of their faith and will on their own accord.

They follow the Juche idea and think and act as required by it.

In the DPRK the church and the state are clearly separated, and everybody is fully provided with the freedom of religion.

In accordance with the Constitution, people are free to choose and follow any religion, and can officially or personally, privately or jointly hold religious service, ritual and ceremony. They can also build religious structures or conduct religious education.

At present there exist in the DPRK the Korean Christians Federation, Korean Buddhists Federation, the Korean Catholics Association, the Chondoist Association of Korea and Korean Council of Religionists.

Foreigners resident in the DPRK and expatriates are also given complete freedom of religion.

Kim Jong Un’s new year address

This one is a beauty and worthy of note. In his new year address (for Juche year 107), Kim Jong-Un deployed the standard genre of communist speeches. It focuses on achievements in the past year, the international situation, problems that need to be addressed and the workers’ party. The section of most interest to observers is the following:

My New Year greetings go also to the compatriots in the south and abroad who are fighting for the reunification of the country and to the progressive peoples and other friends across the world who opposed war of aggression and gave firm solidarity to our cause of justice

As I have pointed out earlier, reunification has been a consistent policy of the DPRK since 1972, based on the two Koreas achieving reunification without outside interference and a bicameral system. We find these themes in the following section of the speech, with a call for easing tensions, dialogue and mutual celebration of 70 years of the DPRK and the Winter Olympics in the south.

The prevailing situation demands that now the north and the south improve the relations between themselves and take decisive measures for achieving a breakthrough for independent reunification without being obsessed by bygone days. No one can present an honourable appearance in front of the nation if he or she ignores the urgent demands of the times.

This year is significant both for the north and the south as in the north the people will greet the 70th founding anniversary of their Republic as a great, auspicious event and in the south the Winter Olympic Games will take place. In order to not only celebrate these great national events in a splendid manner but also demonstrate the dignity and spirit of the nation at home and abroad, we should improve the frozen inter-Korean relations and glorify this meaningful year as an eventful one noteworthy in the history of the nation.

First of all, we should work together to ease the acute military tension between the north and the south and create a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula.

As long as this unstable situation, which is neither wartime nor peacetime, persists, the north and the south cannot ensure the success of the scheduled events, nor can they sit face to face to have a sincere discussion over the issue of improving bilateral relations, nor will they advance straight ahead towards the goal of national reunification.

The north and the south should desist from doing anything that might aggravate the situation, and they should make concerted efforts to defuse military tension and create a peaceful environment.

The south Korean authorities should respond positively to our sincere efforts for a detente, instead of inducing the exacerbation of the situation by joining the United States in its reckless moves for a north-targeted nuclear war that threatens the destiny of the entire nation as well as peace and stability on this land. They should discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces, as these drills will engulf this land in flames and lead to bloodshed on our sacred territory. They should also refrain from any acts of bringing in nuclear armaments and aggressive forces from the United States.

Even though the United States is wielding the nuclear stick and going wild for another war, it will not dare to invade us because we currently have a powerful nuclear deterrent. And when the north and the south are determined, they can surely prevent the outbreak of war and ease tension on the Korean peninsula.

A climate favourable for national reconciliation and reunification should be established.

The improvement of inter-Korean relations is a pressing matter of concern not only to the authorities but to all other Koreans, and it is a crucial task to be carried out through a concerted effort by the entire nation. The north and the south should promote bilateral contact, travel, cooperation and exchange on a broad scale to remove mutual misunderstanding and distrust, and fulfil their responsibility and role as the motive force of national reunification.

We will open our doors to anyone from south Korea, including the ruling party and opposition parties, organizations and individual personages of all backgrounds, for dialogue, contact and travel, if they sincerely wish national concord and unity.

A definite end should be put to the acts that might offend the other party and incite discord and hostility between fellow countrymen. The south Korean authorities should not try, as the previous conservative “regime” did, to block contact and travel by people of different social strata and suppress the atmosphere for reunification through alliance with the north, under absurd pretexts and by invoking legal and institutional mechanisms; instead, they should direct efforts to creating conditions and environment conducive to national concord and unity.

To improve inter-Korean relations as soon as possible, the authorities of the north and the south should raise the banner of national independence higher than ever before, and fulfil their responsibility and role they have assumed for the times and the nation.

Inter-Korean relations are, to all intents and purposes, an internal matter of our nation, which the north and the south should resolve on their own responsibility. Therefore, they should acquire a steadfast stand and viewpoint that they will resolve all the issues arising in bilateral relations on the principle of By Our Nation Itself.

The south Korean authorities need to know that they will gain nothing from touring foreign countries to solicit their help on the issue of inter-Korean relations, and that such behaviour will give the outside forces, who pursue dishonest objectives, an excuse for their interference and complicate matters further. Now it is not time for the north and the south to turn their backs on each other and merely express their respective standpoints; it is time that they sit face to face with a view to holding sincere discussions over the issue of improving inter-Korean relations by our nation itself and seek a way out for its settlement in a bold manner.

As for the Winter Olympic Games to be held soon in south Korea, it will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. From this point of view we are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures; with regard to this matter, the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon. Since we are compatriots of the same blood as south Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them.

We will, in the future, too, resolve all issues by the efforts of our nation itself under the unfurled banner of national independence and frustrate the schemes by anti-reunification forces within and without on the strength of national unity, thereby opening up a new history of national reunification.

Availing myself of this opportunity, I extend warm New Year greetings once again to all Korean compatriots at home and abroad, and I sincerely wish that in this significant year everything would go well both in the north and in the south.

Back to the roots: rural Red Army schools and training centres

Two other aspects of the rural revitalisation under way in China: Red Army primary schools and rural revolutionary centres. Over the last ten years, more than 200 primary schools have been established in rural areas to specialise in teaching children about China’s revolutionary spirit and history – alongside regular education. In the enmeshed socialist market economy of China, much of the funding for the schools comes from donors, especially families with a history in the Red Army.

Further, the revolutionary training centres have been revived in order to engage with farmers about new developments in rural policy and its implications. In an age of easy access to internet information, it is felt that good old face-to-face engagement is still far better. So local party members and officials, often from villages themselves, organise discussion groups in order to discuss and plan new developments – and, crucially, to gain feedback from farmers themselves so as to shape local implementation. These ventures are the modern form of Jiangxisuo (‘teach and study centres’), the Peasant Movement Training Institutes run by the early Chinese Communists, including Mao himself.

These developments are part of Xi Jinping’s and the CPC’s focus on the rural areas, since farmers are, after all, the heart of the CPC.

Karl Barth on Stalin

The socialism of Karl Barth – the greatest theologian of the twentieth century – is reasonably well-known, but for many the following observation is a step too far:

It would be quite absurd to mention in the same breath the philosophy of Marxism and the “ideology” of the Third Reich, to mention a man of the stature of Joseph Stalin in the same breath as such charlatans as Hitler, Göring, Hess, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Rosenberg, Streicher, etc. What has been tackled in Soviet Russia – albeit with very dirty and bloody hands and in a way that rightly shocks us – is, after all, a constructive idea, the solution of a problem which is a serious and burning problem for us as well, and which we with our clean hands have not yet tackled anything like energetically enough: the social problem (‘Die Kirche zwischen Ost und West’, 1949).

Obviously, for me this is where Barth actually becomes interesting.

New CPC Politburo takes oath of admission at site of first meeting in 1921

The new politburo of the most powerful communist party in human history recently restated the oath of admission to the CPC. This was at the site of the first meeting of the CPC back in 1921.

The English version of the oath:

It is my will to join the Communist Party of China, uphold the Party’s program, observe the provisions of the Party Constitution, fulfill a Party member’s duties, carry out the Party’s decisions, strictly observe Party discipline, guard Party secrets, be loyal to the Party, work hard, fight for communism throughout my life, be ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the Party and the people, and never betray the Party.

Stirring stuff.

A video of the event can be found here.

Enmeshment: An Effort to Understand Chinese Socialism

In the aftermath of a workshop on the Socialist State, I have been thinking about the category of enmeshment in order to understand Chinese socialism. It came up at various points in the workshop.

For example, in a discussion over the issue of public and private ‘ownership’ in economic matters, one of the Chinese participants pointed out that the opposition does not make sense in a Chinese context. Instead, the reality of a ‘socialist market economy’ is one way to think about the situation differently.

What does this mean? To begin with, it indicates that ‘market economy’ does not necessarily mean ‘capitalism’ or indeed a ‘capitalist market economy’. As I have pointed out earlier, most market economies throughout history have not been capitalist. So the possibility arises that a socialist market economy is different from a capitalist market economy – even in the context of a global dominance of a capitalist market economy.

One might point to the fact that most of the franchises for KFC in China are government owned. Or to the fact that many of the leaders of ‘private’ companies are members of the CPC. Or that the fostering of ‘start-ups’ have government backing. Or that the development of the internet in China is inescapably tied to governmental involvement. Or to Deng Xiaoping’s statement that there is no necessary contradiction between socialism and capitalism. Or indeed Mao’s quotation of an old Chinese proverb: ‘Things that oppose each other also complement one another’. The list goes on.

But this is only a beginning. Enmeshment has many other levels, well beyond economic matters. A key feature on a political level is the enmeshment between state and civil society. The problem here is that this is a rather perverse and very European way of putting it. Why? In a European – or, rather, North Atlantic – mode of understanding, the state is alienated from civil society, something ‘out there’ that imposes its will from time to time, intervening in society and the economy. On this understanding, civil society becomes the focus of new ideas and possible opposition to the state.

But what if you have a very different situation in which these features are enmeshed with one another in all manner of complex ways? This means that the very idea of ‘civil society’ is a very bourgeois invention. Indeed, the original German is ‘bourgeois society’ and not ‘civil society’. This would mean that civil society in this sense does not exist in China, which is a good thing.

A further feature of enmeshment is what is called non-antagonistic contradictions. The term originally arose in the Soviet Union, especially in the 1930s with the achievement of socialism, albeit in ways that were not expected. Mao for one found the idea extremely useful in the context of socialism in power (as we see in his crucial essay, ‘On Contradiction’). For example, classes will continue to exist under socialism, but now in a non-antagonistic fashion. In the Soviet Union, this meant workers, farmers and intellectuals. In China, this means workers, farmers and a ‘middle class’, although we need a new term here. Why? These are the vast number of people that have benefitted from the 40-year anti-poverty campaign. Their lives have become secure (anquan) in a way not imagined before. But they realise very well that their situation is due to the long project of the CPC.

The upshot: Deng Xiaoping’s category of the ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ (one of his four Cardinal Principles) includes this new class. A very new interpretation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants’ that includes everyone in what can only be called socialist democracy. Jiang Zemin’s ‘Three Represents’ (2002) is the clarification of this position.

My thoughts are only at their early stage of thinking about enmeshment, but let me add one more point. The appropriation of the idea of ‘the common’ in China now takes a distinct turn. In a North Atlantic situation, ‘the common’ is an effort to rethink communism, even though it comes from a very theological idea in which the world was created by God, with everything in common. In a Chinese situation, the common includes the crucial role of governance. The government is involved in and directs the common, not in the sense of censorship but in the sense that any function of the common is enmeshed with governance.

My perception is that all of this makes sense of the old Confucian category of datong, the Great Peace or Great Harmony, which has been reinterpreted in terms of communism. Datong is not an overcoming of contradictions but rather a form of existence in which contradictions function in a non-antagonistic fashion. Of course, a datong society lies in the distant future, perhaps 500 or 1000 years away. Meanwhile, the aim for 2021 is for a xiaokang shehui, a moderately prosperous, peaceful and secure society.

A North Korean Perspective on Reunification

Since the DPRK (North Korea) is in the corporate news, and full of the usual misrepresentation, I thought I would reprise a section of an article I wrote a couple of years ago on Korean reunification – from the perspective of the north.

Reunification been a consistent policy of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea since its earliest days. But on what terms? A northern takeover of the south? Not at all. The policy is that reunification would be undertaken without outside interference, peacefully and in terms of a federal system, socialist in the north and capitalist in the south. This position was made explicit in the Communiqué of 1972, after the leaders of both countries had secretly met. In 1973 and again in 1980, Kim Il-sung reiterated this position, proposing a Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo.

However, the most significant movement happened after the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration of 2000, between Kim Jong-il of the north and Kim Dae-jung of the south. Given that reunification has been a core northern policy, the change was obviously in the south. Here more progressive governments became open to the idea and agreed to the declaration. The change began with Kim Dae-jung’s ‘Sunshine’ policy of 1998. The result was the opening of borders, family reunions, a series of meetings between leaders of north and south, sports, cultural and economic exchange, and even the two Olympic teams marching together at the opening ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

But as is the way with the vagaries and uncertainties of bourgeois democracies, the south changed its tune in 2008 with the new president, Lee Myung-bak. His right-wing policies led to a hard-line approach more in tune with United States foreign policy. Cooperation ended and tensions once again escalated – the situation in which we find ourselves now. Perhaps an opening up from the south may be possible once again if Moon Jae-in wins the elections this year. Who knows.

But the north Koreans I have met continue to hope ardently for an eventual reunification along federated lines.