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On Communist Faith

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‘Keeping the faith’ is a common slogan that appears from time to time in socialist circles, especially during tougher times. Usually, it is invoked when a small, marginal party seeks to call on the group to maintain its focus in the face of yet another defeat. But what if the party in question is actually the government, as in China? Here the idea of faith takes on a completely new texture.

One of the fascinating questions that emerge after a long period of communist government (more than sixty years in China’s case) is the continued legitimacy of that government. It too faces periodic crises of faith. But faith now means not holding to the cause in the face of defeat, but the bond between the party and the masses. Over longer periods, ever new ways must be found to maintain and renew that bond. The faith in question is never a given, but must be renewed again and again.

According to a survey based on the student communists at Gongzhou University in Guangdong province, which is one of the most economically developed parts in China, ‘only 27.4% of student Communists believe that communism will be realized, …75.8% of them have not ever read Manifesto of the Communist Party, 24.66% of them have never read a book written by Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or Jiang Zemin’.[1] To an outside observer, these figures seem quite high, for a Chinese observer they reveal a crisis of faith. As Ma Yongjun points out, the ‘problem of faith is the most serious problem in present China…. With economic development and social progress, a serious problem is emerging with respect to faith in Marxism, which is regarded as the ideology of Chinese authority’.[2]

In light of this situation, it is noteworthy that the terminology of faith is being used explicitly, even at the top leadership. Thus, it should come as no surprise that President Xi Jinping talks openly of the need to restore faith in Marxism. At a local branch meeting in Hebei province in September, 2013, Xi Jinping cited previous Chinese leaders in his call for renewed faith.

In 1925, Mao Zedong wrote, ‘I have faith in communism and advocate a proletarian social revolution’. Deng Xiaoping, who orchestrated reform and opening-up, told a CPC national conference in 1985 that: ‘In the past, however small or weak our party was, and whatever difficulties it faced, we maintained a great fighting capacity thanks to our faith in Marxism and communism. With common ideals we have strict discipline. Now, as in the past and in the future, that is our real strength’. Addressing a symposium in 1999 to mark the 78th anniversary of the CPC, Jiang Zemin, then general secretary of the central committee, said ‘Communists should adhere to socialism and communism as their fundamental political convictions, as well as Marxist dialectical materialism and historical materialism as their outlook on the world’. In 2006, Hu Jintao told a ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Long March that, ‘a lofty ideal and firm belief should be upheld as a great banner for pooling cohesive force and inspiring people to advance, as well as the source of strength for overcoming difficulties and winning battles’.[3]

Xi went on, now in an effort keep in touch with his down-to-earth rural roots: ‘Ideals and belief are like vitamins for communists’. Without them, the Party will suffer from ‘vitamin deficiency’ and consequently get ‘rickets’.[4] Perhaps it is no longer a matter of keeping the faith, but renewing it.

[1] Yahui Du, ‘On the Cause and Strategy of Insufficient Identity as a Communist in Present College Students – A Survey Based on Samples from Gongzhou University’. Journal of Xianning University 31, no. 11 (2011): 185. Translation by Li Zhixiong. The survey was carried out in June 2011 by the author and his research group. Jiang Zemin is (1926-) a key figure of ‘the third generation’ Chinese Communist Party leaders, serving as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002. In 2000, he coined the term ‘three represents,’ which means: the Party always represents the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces; the orientation of China’s advanced culture; and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.

[2] Yongjun Ma, ‘On the Aspects of Instrument and Faith in Marxism’, Exploration 1 (2012): 153. Translation by Li Zhixiong.

[3] Cited in Yang Yi, ‘China’s Leadership Takes “Big Exam”’, Xinhua News, 23 March 2014. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2014-03/23/c_133208015_5.htm

[4] Yang, ‘China’s Leadership Takes “Big Exam”’.

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