The Socialist State: Philosophical Foundations

This book outline deals with the socialist state, examining an alternative path through the Marxist tradition in order to understand the realities of the socialist state, with a focus on China. These realities include a many-layered enmeshment of state and society, the nature of the multi-party system, the practices of socialist democracy, and future directions, all in light of distinct emphasis that Marxism – as a guide for action – is front and centre in China. The method is simply working very closely with the texts in their original languages, especially texts or aspects of texts that have been sidelined or even forgotten.

Chapter 1: Marx’s Ambivalence: State, Proletarian Dictatorship and Commune

I begin with Marx, who struggled with a tension concerning what happens after a communist revolution: between the proletarian dictatorship, with its force and violence (Gewalt), and the commune, based on the Paris experiment (1871). One entails strengthening the state and the other its breaking down – a tension bequeathed to the tradition. Marx also begins to offer a possible resolution, in terms of a narrative from one to the other, and in his struggle to delineate the forms of governance under communism. But he is reticent to speculate, aware that without the experience of constructing socialism, he could not undertake a ‘scientific’ study of what might happen.

Chapter 2: Engels: Enmeshed Governance

While Engels set the agenda for subsequent approaches – Weberian and Marxist – to theories of the bourgeois state, his real contribution is in the ‘enmeshed apparatus’. This arises from a contrast: while the state is a separated ‘public power (Gewalt)’ that – in this form – will in theory ‘die away’ with communism, non-state societies have complex patterns of organisation and governance that are not separated but enmeshed within society. This ‘enmeshed apparatus’ (my term) provides a potential theoretical model for understanding the state under socialism in power, although it also entails redefining ‘state’.

Chapter 3: Lenin and the Early Socialist State

In The State and Revolution (1917) Lenin tackled the tension bequeathed by Marx and Engels, between the strong state of the proletarian dictatorship and its ‘dying away’ under communism. His solution was to introduce the crucial distinction between socialism and communism. Socialism was the ‘transition period’ with many relics of earlier state forms and potentially lasting a very long time. Only after communism had become a global reality would conditions arise for the natural ‘withering away’ of the state.

Chapter 4: Stalin and the Socialist State

Since Lenin’s work remained incomplete, it fell to Stalin to develop a fuller theory. His texts (and debates at the time) reveal the importance of a strong state, for the purpose of establishing a comprehensive welfare system, the world’s first ‘affirmative action’ program for minority nationalities, fostering international anti-colonial struggles, and dealing with internal and especially external enemies. But what is this state? It is not a ‘nation’, but a redefined ‘Soviet people’ constituted by workers, collective farmers and intellectuals. Philosophically, this required the breakthrough of non-antagonistic contradictions – classes and tensions continue, but in a non-antagonistic manner. Stalin concludes: ‘We now have an entirely new, Socialist state [sotsialisticheskoe gosudarstvo], without precedent in history’ (1939, 336).

Chapter 5: Mao Zedong’s Contradiction Analysis

The second part of the monograph focuses on the Chinese situation. It begins with Mao’s ‘On Contradiction’ (1937, see also 1957), which is inescapable for understanding the philosophical basis of Chinese political forms. The main insight for my purposes is reframing non-antagonistic contradictions in light of the Chinese idea that contradictions not only oppose but also complement one another (xiangfan xiangcheng), that continuity is enabled through change (biantong). This approach enables a unique development of Marx’s problem – proletarian dictatorship versus commune – and Engels’s enmeshed apparatus, in terms of state-society envelopment, cooperative multi-party system, and socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. Today, ‘contradiction analysis’ continues at the heart of government policy: a new primary contradiction was announced at the CPC’s 19th congress in 2017.

Chapter 6: State-Society Envelopment

This chapter investigates the envelopment or enmeshment of state and society (and economy), beginning with the proposal that the origins of civilisation and society in China are inseparable from the emergence of that state (Yi 2012). I take seriously the position that China is in the first, or long transitional stage, of socialism. Thus, the state is in some respects separate, as a relic of earlier forms, but also deeply enmeshed within society in all manner of complex ways. Ridding ourselves of the notions of ‘intervention’, the approach – drawing on both Engels and Mao – enables a new understanding of how this envelopment takes place.

Chapter 7: Consultative Multi-Party System

Here I set aside the notion of ‘party-state’ and investigate the philosophical implications of ‘consultative governance’ of the multi-party system (Wang and Wei 2017). Based on the reality of nine political parties, I examine the philosophical implications: political parties operating in a context of differences based on a complementary common ground; robust ‘criticism and self-criticism’ (at the intersection of Chinese and Marxist traditions) in contrast to agonistic models; the nature of the supreme decision-making National People’s Congress (NPC) and the consultative Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC); the separation and enmeshment of powers.

Chapter 8: Theory and Practice of Socialist Democracy

Does China practice democracy, and if so, how? In contrast to a universal notion of ‘democracy’, I begin by distinguishing between ancient Greek, liberal, illiberal and socialist democracies. Focusing on ‘socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics’ (Yu 2008, Yang 2009, Li 2013, Li 2015, Ma 2015a, 2015b, Fang 2015), I examine how ‘democratic centralism’ and indeed ‘democratic dictatorship’ are possible (contradiction analysis) and how they can be mutually reinforcing – as already seen in the Soviet Union (Kokosalakis 2018). This also requires analysis of the permanence of the communist party, feedback mechanisms, and wide-ranging direct and indirect elections.

Chapter 9: The Governance of China

The most recent development is found in Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (Xi 2014, 2017), core texts in increasing number of works that now comprise ‘Xi Jinping Thought’. Xi carries on a communist tradition of the leader as philosopher, but also the Chinese tradition in which the leader is also tutor. Critical analysis reveals elaborations on the themes already discussed, but also a distinct future focus. Important here are the two centenary goals of a ‘moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui)’ by 2020 and a ‘great modern socialist country’ by 2049, as well as the new primary contradiction between uneven and unbalanced development and people’s desire for a ‘better life (meihua shenghuo)’. This 4-character saying has deep resonances in Chinese tradition, which is now being elaborated in light of Xi Jinping’s sustained emphasis on Marxism as the guiding principle of China’s transition into a ‘new era’.

Conclusion: The Socialist State with Chinese Characteristics

The conclusion draws together the themes of the book and delineates what is meant by a socialist state, especially with Chinese characteristics. Here I also broach issues for potential future work, concerning the socialist market economy and international relations. While the former entails further development of the category of enmeshment, historical analysis and distinguishing it from a capitalist market economy, the matter of international relations raises important questions. For example, is the Belt and Road Initiative another form of imperialism, or does it spring from Chinese tradition and older socialist practices of anti-colonialism? Does the ‘community of shared destiny for humankind [renlei mingyun gongtongti]’ – which underlies the BRI (Fu 2017) – really enable moving past geo-political zero-sum rivalry for the sake of ‘win-win’ solutions?

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China’s multi-party system: ‘a great contribution to political civilisation’

The all-important ‘two sessions’ (lianghui) are underway in Beijing. These are the National People’s Congress (NPC), the highest law-making body in China, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which provides advice and recommendations to the NPC. You can watch a brief video about the two sessions of 2018 here. These two sessions are perhaps even more important this year after the landmark 19th congress of the CPC in November of 2016.

During the first session of the CPPCC, Xi Jinping and others met with representatives from other political parties, those without party affiliation and returned overseas Chinese. Among other items, Xi stressed the following (quoting from Xinhua News – see also a later piece in the People’s Daily):

President Xi Jinping Sunday called the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity.”

It is “a new type of party system growing from China’s soil,” said Xi …

Xi said the system is new because it combines Marxist political party theories with China’s reality, and truly, extensively and in the long term represents fundamental interests of all people and all ethnic groups and fulfills their aspiration, avoiding the defects of the old-fashioned party system which represents only a selective few or the vested interest.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, because it unites all political parties and people without party affiliation toward a common goal, effectively preventing the flaws of the absence of oversight in one-party rule, or power rotation and nasty competition among multiple political parties.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, also because it pools ideas and suggestions through institutional, procedural, and standardized arrangements and develops a scientific and democratic decision making mechanism.

It steers away from another weakness of the old-fashioned party system, in which decision making and governance, confined by interests of different political parties, classes, regions and groups, tears the society apart, he said.

Fitting China’s reality and fine traditional culture, it is “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity,” he said.

Xi said upholding the CPC leadership was not meant to do away with democracy.

Instead, it aims to create a form of democracy that is broader and more effective, he said.

The CPC-led system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation stresses both the CPC leadership and socialist democracy which features political consultation, participation in the deliberation of state affairs, and democratic supervision, he said.

 

CPC Central Committee proposes changes to the constitution

In preparation for the two sessions of parliament, the CPC Central Committee met to discuss – among other things – changes to the constitution. It is useful to see these in the wider context, since some international commentators have been making a bit of noise about the removal of term limits to the presidency. As you will see, what the document actually suggests is that the terms for president and vice-president be the same as delegates for the National People’s Congress.

And it turns out that Xi Jinping Thought (in full: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era), meshes rather well with my project on ‘Socialism in Power‘. Xi Jinping Thought has already been written into the constitution of the CPC, fostered more than 100 university research centres and entered into the school curriculum.

Here is the full list of proposals from the Central Committee, made public the other day:

The proposal, raised to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), was made in accordance with the new situation and practice of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

— New thought

The CPC Central Committee proposed writing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the country’s fundamental law. The Scientific Outlook on Development was also proposed to be included.

According to the proposal, under the leadership of the CPC and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the Chinese people of all ethnic groups will continue to adhere to the people’s democratic dictatorship and the socialist road, persevere in reform and opening to the outside world, steadily improve socialist institutions, develop the socialist market economy, develop socialist democracy, improve the socialist rule of law, apply a new vision of development and work hard and self-reliantly to modernize the country’s industry, agriculture, national defence and science and technology step by step and promote the coordinated development of the material, political, cultural and ethical, social and ecological advancement, to turn China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful and realize national rejuvenation.

— United front

The CPC Central Committee proposed including patriots devoted to national rejuvenation as part of the patriotic united front in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, in the long years of revolution, construction and reform, there has been formed under the leadership of the CPC a broad patriotic united front which is composed of the democratic parties and people’s organizations, and which embraces all socialist working people, all builders of socialism, all patriots who support socialism, and all patriots who stand for the reunification of the motherland and devote themselves to national rejuvenation. This united front will continue to be consolidated and developed.

— Harmonious relations among all ethnic groups

Harmonious socialist relations among ethnic groups were proposed to be written into the Constitution.

Socialist relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony have been established among the ethnic groups and will continue to be strengthened, according to a proposed revision to the preamble.

The State protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minority groups and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony among all of China’s ethnic groups, according to a proposed revision to a clause of Article 4.

— Community with shared future for humanity

The CPC Central Committee proposed writing building “a community with a shared future for humanity” into the Constitution.

The expression that China will “adhere to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up” should be added to the preamble, read the proposal.

China’s achievements in revolution, construction and reform are inseparable from the support of the people of the world. The future of China is closely linked to the future of the world, according to the proposal.

The proposal read that China consistently carries out an independent foreign policy, adheres to the five principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence, adheres to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up in developing diplomatic relations and economic and cultural exchanges with other countries, and works to build a community with a shared future for humanity. China consistently opposes imperialism, hegemonism and colonialism, works to strengthen unity with the people of other countries, supports the oppressed nations and the developing countries in their just struggle to win and preserve national independence and develop their national economies, and strives to safeguard world peace and promote the cause of human progress.

— CPC leadership

A sentence stressing the Party’s leadership was proposed to be added into the Constitution.

“The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” read the proposal.

— Core socialist values

The addition of core socialist values into a clause was also in the proposed package.

The proposal read that the State advocates core socialist values, and the civic virtues of love of the motherland, of the people, of labour, of science and of socialism.

— Oath of allegiance

The CPC Central Committee proposed inclusion of pledging allegiance to the Constitution into the fundamental law.

All state functionaries shall take a public oath of allegiance to the Constitution when assuming office, read the proposal.

— Chinese President and Vice-President

The CPC Central Committee proposed revising the clause “The term of office of the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China is the same as that of the National People’s Congress, and they shall serve no more than two consecutive terms” to “The term of office of the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China is the same as that of the National People’s Congress.”

— New cabinet function

The CPC Central Committee proposed to list ecological advancement as a new function and power of the State Council, or cabinet.

Apart from economic affairs and urban and rural development, the State Council also has the function and power of directing and administering ecological advancement, according to a proposed change to a clause under Article 89.

— More cities with legislative power

Chinese cities, with subordinate districts, would be granted the power to make local laws and regulations under the proposed constitutional amendment.

The people’s congresses and their standing committees of these cities would be able to adopt local laws and regulations under the condition that they do not contradict the Constitution, national laws and regulations, and provincial laws and regulations, according to the proposal.

The local laws and regulations would take effect after being approved by the standing committees of provincial-level people’s congresses.

— Supervisory commissions

The CPC Central Committee proposed listing the supervisory commissions as a new type of state organs in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, supervisory organs will be listed together with administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the State, all of which are created by the people’s congresses to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised.

A new section about supervisory commissions is proposed to be added to the third chapter titled “The Structure of the State” in the Constitution.

The country sets up the national and local supervisory commissions, according to the document.

A supervisory commission will consist of one director, several deputy directors and a number of members. The director will serve the same term as that of the people’s congress of the same level.

The director of the national supervisory commission shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.

The organization, functions and powers of supervisory commissions are prescribed by law.

As the supreme supervisory organ, the national supervisory commission will oversee local commissions and answer to the NPC and its standing committee.

The supervisory commissions at higher levels will lead the commissions at lower levels.

Local supervisory commissions at various levels will be responsible to the state power organs that created them and to the supervisory commission at the next level up.

The supervisory commissions will independently exercise their power of supervision and not be subject to interference by any administrative organ, public organization or individual, said the proposal.

It also asked the supervisory organs to coordinate with judicial organs, procuratorial organs and law enforcement departments, and check each other in handling duty-related offenses.

The NPC will be given the power to elect and remove the director of the national supervisory commission, while the NPC Standing Committee shall supervise the national supervisory commission and appoint or remove deputy directors and members of the commission at the recommendation of its director.

Local people’s congresses at and above county level will elect and have the power to remove the directors of the supervisory commissions at the corresponding level, while their standing committees shall supervise the supervisory commissions at the corresponding level.

Members of the standing committees of the NPC and local peoples’ congresses at and above county level shall not hold office in supervisory organs.

In addition, supervision will no longer be a duty for the State Council and local governments at and above county level, according to the proposal.

Text: Friend or Foe? The role of criticism in China

The following is the text of the preceding video:

A central aspect of democratic practices in whatever type of democracy we are thinking about is the role of criticism. How does criticism work in the Chinese situation of socialist democracy? A common international perception of China is that nearly all criticism is simply squashed down; it is censored and you cannot engage with it. This is actually not the case.

Criticism works in a number of ways in a Chinese situation. First of all, there is a long socialist tradition of what is called ‘criticism and self-criticism [piping yu ziwopiping]’. This tradition also meshes with Chinese culture in a way that is pervasive and productive. But there is a fundamental distinction between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Or to put it another way, there are certain boundary lines. So it is very common to identify a particular problem, a shortcoming, and propose a constructive solution to that problem. But what is not accepted is a solution that would lead to the destruction of the current situation in China. So the boundary lines are there: forms of criticism and constructive criticism that are very much encouraged and fostered.

My experience in China as a foreigner, who spends more and more time in China, is that the range of criticism and debate is incredibly wide. But there is a really experience in China. Chinese people are extremely sensitive and can pick up very, very quickly the following: if a foreigner disdains or looks down on China and Chinese culture and Chinese people, they pick this up immediately. As a result the mode of engagement will change. You do not have to say anything, but they can sense it immediately. And you will certainly not get access to many dimensions of Chinese life.

But if people can discern that you are what they call a ‘friend of China’, then everything is different. The range of debate is much wider, the possibilities of constructive criticism are much greater, so much so that contributions from foreigners too are fostered and encouraged.

For anyone who is thinking of spending some time in China, it is very important to be aware of whether you are going there with an implicit attitude of looking down on China, or disdaining or dismissing it, or whether you want to go to China to understand, and at least to try and come through as someone who is open and is a friend.