The socialist road of the reform and opening up (Deng Xiaoping)

In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping made many statements concerning the reform and opening up, which had begun only a few years earlier. As he points out again and again, its core purpose was and is to liberate the forces of production – inescapable for socialism – in order to improve the socio-economic lives of everyone. And he is also clear that the reform and opening up is following the socialist road. For example, this talk from 21 August, 1985, points out:

People abroad are making two kinds of comments about China’s economic reform. Some commentators maintain that the reform will cause China to abandon socialism, while others hold that it will not. These last are far-sighted. All our reforms have the same aim: to clear away the obstacles to the development of the productive forces. In the past we carried out the new-democratic revolution. After the founding of the People’s Republic, we completed agrarian reform and conducted the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts and capitalist industry and commerce, thus establishing the socialist economic base. All this was a great revolution, which lasted for more than three decades. But in the many years following the establishment of the socialist economic base, we failed to work out policies that would create favourable conditions for the development of the productive forces. As a result, they developed slowly, the material and cultural life of the people did not improve rapidly enough, and the country could not free itself from poverty and backwardness. Under these circumstances, in December 1978, at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Party, we were compelled to decide on a course of reform.

Our general principles are that we should keep to the socialist road, uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship, uphold leadership by the Communist Party and uphold Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. These principles have been written into China’s Constitution. The problem is how to implement them. Should we follow a policy that will not help us shake off poverty and backwardness, or should we, on the basis of those four principles, choose a better policy that will enable us to rapidly develop the productive forces? Our decision at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee to carry out reform meant that we were choosing a better policy. Just like our past revolutions, the reform is designed to clear away the obstacles to the development of the productive forces and to lift China out of poverty and backwardness. In this sense, the reform may also be called a revolutionary change.

… Of course, the policies of invigorating the economy and opening to the outside may have certain negative effects, and we need to be aware of that. But we can cope with that; it is nothing serious. This is because from the political point of view, our socialist state apparatus can safeguard the socialist system. And from the economic point of view, our socialist economy already has a solid basis in industry, agriculture, commerce and other sectors. That is how we look upon the possible negative effects of our policy.

Our reform is an experiment not only for China but also for the rest of the world. We believe the experiment will succeed. If it does, our experience may be useful to the cause of world socialism and to other developing countries. Of course, we do not mean that other countries should copy our example. Our principle is that we should integrate Marxism with Chinese practice and blaze a path of our own. That is what we call building socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Deng Xiaoping: Basic principles of international engagement

In the context of the 1978 launch the ‘four modernisations’ (agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defence), Deng Xiaoping made the following remarks relating to China’s international engagement:

At present, we are still a relatively poor nation. It is impossible for us to undertake many international proletarian obligations, so our contributions remain small. However, once we have accomplished the four modernizations and the national economy has expanded, our contributions to mankind, and especially to the Third World, will be greater. As a socialist country, China shall always belong to the Third World and shall never seek hegemony. This idea is understandable because China is still quite poor, and is therefore a Third World country in the real sense of the term. The question is whether or not China will practise hegemony when it becomes more developed in the future. My friends, you are younger than I, so you will be able to see for yourselves what happens at that time. If it remains a socialist country, China will not practise hegemony and it will still belong to the Third World. Should China become arrogant, however, act like an overlord and give orders to the world, it would no longer be considered a Third World country. Indeed, it would cease to be a socialist country. I first addressed these points in a speech delivered at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1974. The current foreign policy, which was formulated by Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, will be passed on to our descendants (Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 123).

Fast forward to 2017 and the official launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, where Xi Jinping reiterated the five core principles of peaceful coexistence, which date back to 1954:

China will enhance friendship and cooperation with all countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. We are ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, export our own social system and model of development, or impose our own will on others. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we will not resort to outdated geopolitical maneuvering. What we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation.

In light of Deng Xiaoping’s comments, China is obviously still a socialist country, if not even more so today.

Concerning the Taiwan Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (updated)

We need to get used to a simple fact: Taiwan is part of China. It is not a separate state and virtually no country or international body in the world recognizes it as such. Everyone you ask on the mainland simply assumes that Taiwan is part of China. We should do likewise.

The Chinese government has been exceedingly patient on this one, allowing for a long time a type of double-speak. On the one hand, people speak of ‘Taiwan’ as though it were a state, and yet governments around the world, as well as the UN, recognize the ‘one China’ principle. But time is up and the double-speak needs to wind down.

To get a handle on the situation, it is useful to return to some observations by the man-of-few-words, Deng Xiaoping.

The first is ‘An Idea For the Peaceful Reunification of the Chinese Mainland and Taiwan’, from 1983. Deng observes:

The most important issue is the reunification of the motherland … The idea is not that one party should swallow up the other. We hope the two Parties will work together for national reunification and both contribute to the Chinese nation.

We do not approve of “complete autonomy” for Taiwan. There must be limits to autonomy, and where there are limits, nothing can be complete. “Complete autonomy” means two Chinas, not one. Different systems may be practised, but it must be the People’s Republic of China alone that represents China internationally. We recognize that the local government of Taiwan may have its own separate set of policies for domestic affairs. And although, as a special administrative region, Taiwan will have a local government, it will differ from local governments of other provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. Provided the national interests are not impaired, it will enjoy certain powers of its own that the others do not possess.

A year later, Deng made the following observations during talks in Hong Kong and in preparation for its long overdue return to China. This is from his famous ‘One Country, Two Systems’ piece:

We are pursuing a policy of “one country, two systems”. More specifically, this means that within the People’s Republic of China, the mainland with its one billion people will maintain the socialist system, while Hong Kong and Taiwan continue under the capitalist system. In recent years, China has worked hard to overcome “Left” mistakes and has formulated its policies concerning all fields of endeavour in line with the principle of proceeding from reality and seeking truth from facts. After five and a half years things are beginning to pick up. It is against this background that we have proposed to solve the Hong Kong and Taiwan problems by allowing two systems to coexist in one country.

The concept of “one country, two systems” has been formulated according to China’s realities, and it has attracted international attention. China has not only the Hong Kong problem to tackle but also the Taiwan problem. What is the solution to these problems? As for the second, is it for socialism to swallow up Taiwan, or for the “Three People’s Principles” preached by Taiwan to swallow up the mainland? The answer is neither. If the problem cannot be solved by peaceful means, then it must be solved by force. Neither side would benefit from that. Reunification of the motherland is the aspiration of the whole nation. If it cannot be accomplished in 100 years, it will be in 1,000 years. As I see it, the only solution lies in practising two systems in one country. The world faces the choice between peaceful and non-peaceful means of solving disputes. One way or the other, they must be solved. New problems must be solved by new means. The successful settlement of the Hong Kong question may provide useful elements for the solution of international questions. Has any government in the history of the world ever pursued a policy as generous as China’s? Is there anything recorded in the history of capitalism about any Western country doing something similar? When we adopt the policy of “one country, two systems” to resolve the Hong Kong question, we are not acting on impulse or playing tricks but are proceeding from reality and taking into full account the past and present circumstances of Hong Kong.

Update: Intriguingly, the 2018 local elections (apart from president), have comprehensively rejected the anti-mainland position of the Democratic Progressive Party. The pro-mainland Guomindang, which recognises the one-China policy, has been swept into power at all levels of local governance. For example, the Guomindang won 15 of 22 mayoral positions, while the margins at lower levels were even higher. Information can be found here, here, here and here.

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).

Tellingly, Mao had a similar perspective on dealing with Chinese traditions:

A splendid old culture was created during the long period of Chinese feudal society. To study the development of this old culture, to reject its feudal dross and assimilate its democratic essence is a necessary condition for developing our new national culture and increasing our national self-confidence, but we should never swallow anything and everything uncritically. It is imperative to separate the fine old culture of the people which had a more or less democratic and revolutionary character from all the decadence of the old feudal ruling class. China’s present new politics and new economy have developed out of her old politics and old economy, and her present new culture, too, has developed out of her old culture; therefore, we must respect our own history and must not lop it off. However, respect for history means giving it its proper place as a science, respecting its dialectical development, and not eulogizing the past at the expense of the present or praising every drop of feudal poison (On New Democracy, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 381).

As for socialism in China, Mao was himself carrying on a tradition that can be traced back to Stalin and Lenin. Here is Stalin in 1927, where he castigates those who

sincerely believe that the revolution in China can be directed, so to speak, by telegraph, on the basis of the universally recognised general principles of the Comintern, disregarding the national peculiarities of China’s economy, political system, culture, manners and customs, and traditions (Works, vol. 9, p. 338).

Later in the same year, he observes:

In its content the culture of the peoples of the U.S.S.R. which the Soviet Government is developing must be a culture common to all the working people, a socialist culture; in its form, however, it is and will be different for all the peoples of the U.S.S.R.; it is and will be a national culture, different for the various peoples of the U.S.S.R. in conformity with the differences in language and specific national features (Stalin, Works, vol. 10, pp. 72-73).

And Lenin in 1917:

Our business is to help get everything possible done to make sure the “last” chance for a peaceful development of the revolution, to help by the presentation of our programme, by making clear its national character, its absolute accord with the interests and demands of a vast majority of the population (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 26, p. 60).