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Chinese Marxism is a mixture of elements from Confucianism, German Marxism, Soviet Leninism and China's own guerrilla experience. Because Mao Zedong (1893–1976) was in power longer than any other Chinese communist, the phrase 'Chinese Marxism' is commonly used to refer to Mao's own evolving mixture of ideas from these sources. However, the advocates of Chinese Marxism have come from many different factional backgrounds and have tended to emphasize different aspects in their own thinking. Even Maoism reflects many minds. For example, Mao's two most famous essays, 'Shijianlun' (On Practice) and 'Maodunlun' (On Contradiction) (1937) drew heavily from Ai Siqi, the author of the popular philosophical work Dazhong zhexue (Philosophy for the Masses) (1934).

The goals of the Chinese Marxists included the salvation of China from its foreign enemies and the strengthening of the country through modernization. Accordingly, they selected from other systematic theories those doctrines that appeared to facilitate those goals, and then paired these doctrines with others from theories that were sometimes incompatible. One should not, therefore, look for logical consistency in the relations between the ideas that the Chinese Marxists drew from these various sources.

The foundation of Chinese Marxism was undoubtedly Marx's materialist conception of history, and the concepts of class struggle and control of the forces of production shaped the thinking of many early Marxists. However, faced with the need to accelerate social change through class struggle rather than waiting for the full flowering of capitalism, Marxists such as Li Dazhao began focusing less on materialism or determinism and more on voluntarism. There also arose a doctrine, based on the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky, that right-minded people could 'telescope' the phases of the revolution and hasten the transition through the historical stages. This ultimately led to the doctrine of permanent revolution. First promulgated in China in the late 1920s, it reappeared in the 1950s. After Mao's death, the 'subjectivity' movement within Chinese Marxism sought to move the focus away from classes or groups and onto the individual subject as an active agent.

Throughout the evolution of Chinese Marxism, political struggles played a direct role in the formulation and discussion of philosophical positions. Mao's epistemological essay 'Shijianlun' clearly reflects the experience of leaders during the guerrilla period, and his theories of knowledge are analogous to the 'democracy' practised by the guerrilla leaders: the people were consulted for their knowledge and opinions, decisions were then made from the centre, and the resulting policies were taken back to the masses through teaching. In the same way, Mao believed, individuals perceive through their senses, form theories in their brains (the centre), and test the resulting theories in a manner analogous to teaching.

In China, right minds among the people were thought to arise through officials teaching the people. Here pre-modern Confucian legacy becomes important. It helps to explain the endurance of teaching as an official function in the Chinese Marxist discussion of democratic centralism. In Confucianism, the primary function of government was education, although it certainly had other tasks, such as the collection of taxes. All officials, including the emperor, had the task of transforming the character of the people. The education in which the state involved itself, through control of the curriculum and national examinations for the civil service, was moral education. The ultimate aim of state-controlled Confucian education was a one-minded, hierarchical society, meaning that people of all different strata would think the same on important matters. Maoists also sought to create a one-minded people through officially controlled teaching.

If the focus of teaching is on right ideas, which are supposed to motivate people towards socialism, one such idea in later Maoist writing is egalitarianism of social status. This was challenged by others, notably Liu Shaoqi, and following Deng Xiaoping's assumption of power in 1978 it suffered a further blow with the switch in economic policy from central planning to market forces.

An example of the relevance of political struggle to the formulation of ideas was the heightening of the campaign against the philosophy called 'humanism', following a dispute in 1957 between Mao and President Liu Shaoqi. Liu made a speech in April of that year saying that capitalists had changed and so class struggle against them could be minimized; this was followed by a Maoist-inspired attack on humanism as a philosophy. The humanism that the Maoists attacked was a Confucian-inspired belief in a class-transcending humaneness or compassion for humankind or humaneness. In contrast, in the post-Mao years, the content of humanism has altered, and the term has come to refer to a doctrine inspired by both the early Marx and by the Western psychologist Maslow, namely that the goal of society is the individual's self-realization. This form of humanism is one of several competing positions that claim to carry on the Marxist tradition in new directions, and has been reinforced by one form of the subjectivity movement in the Deng Xiaoping era.

  1. Historical materialism
  2. Permanent revolution
  3. Democracy, centralism and epistemology
  4. Distributional equality versus material incentives
  5. Humanism and class struggle
  6. Humanism and the end of alienation
  7. Subjectivity

1 Historical materialism

It was the German theories of MARX that furnished the vocabulary from which Chinese Marxists gradually developed their positions. The key expressions are the building blocks of Marx's 'materialist conception of history', found in the preface to his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1858). Here, Marx argues that human societies evolve progressively through historical stages and that there is an agent of change that propels them from one stage to another. This agent is the struggle between social classes ('relations of production') that have differing power ties to property, especially to property used in production. This class struggle begins when the existing class structure prevents further development of the technology used in making tools ('forces of production'). The combination of classes and tool technology constitutes the 'foundation' or base; everything significant that humans believe (their ideologies or 'consciousness') in the realms of legal, political, religious and aesthetic matters, plus the institutions that embody them, are the 'superstructures'. In this formulation, the materialist conception of history suggests that the base determines the superstructure. What we believe is determined by economic factors, the classes and tools.

The class that has the most advanced beliefs leads a society from one stage to the next. However, there is an inevitable sequence in this historical progression. There must first be economic development (in Marx's time, this meant the flowering of capitalism), then the acquisition of consciousness by the emerging social class that capitalism fetters (the proletariat), and only then can that progressive proletarian class carry out its struggle to move society forward.

The founders of the Chinese Communist Party included Li Dazhao (1888–1927) and Chen Duxiu (1879–1942). Li, once chief librarian at Beijing University, was later the first communist to join the Guomindang. Chen had been an editor of the influential journal New Youth and initially advocated guild socialism under the influence of John DEWEY. Li was at first only critically receptive to Marxism; although he accepted the need for class struggle, he viewed it as a sign of human evil. Marxism itself, he felt, lacked an ethical perspective. Good persons emerge as they learn mutual aid, a principle not stressed by Marx.

The early Chinese Marxists did ultimately retain the idea of a glorious future for China, a future guaranteed by the progressive view of history and embodied in historical materialism and the dynamics of class struggle. However, the sequence of the historical theory, the fact that a full flowering of capitalism was required before the agents of change could begin to guide the struggle to create a new society, caused problems. This process could take a long time in industrially backward China. During the years 1919 and 1920, many of the earliest Chinese Marxists, such as Li Dazhao, focused on economic determinism and were troubled by it. In an attempt to find a solution they turned to other theories, selecting those doctrines that appeared to facilitate their goals.

One such example of selective borrowing took from German Marxism. Li Dazhao and certain other Chinese Marxists played down base--superstructure determinism and the idea of the inevitable sequence of events (right ideas follow upon full economic development, and leadership of revolutionary struggle follows consciousness of those ideas) with which it was associated. They eliminated those parts that comprised the materialist conception of history, as well as the notion that historical stages are of long duration and that classes are to be defined solely in economic terms. Instead, they took the position that human consciousness or the minds of right-thinking, strong-willed persons can determine the future. This is voluntarism, the power of the conscious will (voluntas) to change the material world. In taking this position, Li and the others were influenced by non-Marxist intellectual currents in China, including even anarchism.

Although economic determinism in the Chinese Marxist theory of history faded, this did not mean the total disappearance of the economic variables in that determinism from the theories of the Marxist community. For example, enduring variables encompassed some economic determinants used in class analysis. These included differentiating urban factory proletarians from rural peasantry, and defining poor peasants in terms of amount of farm tools and animals owned. Another example is the explanation of historical stages in terms of the transition from one form of property ownership (bourgeois/capitalist) to another (socialist). Ideological disputes often centred on the nature of some of these economic variables, such as on the duration of stages. For example, Chen Duxiu initially opposed an alliance of the communists and the Guomindang in the 1920s, which was promoted by the USSR. He eventually accepted the alliance, while at the same time trying to preserve the independence of the communists, but he proclaimed that China would need a long capitalist/bourgeois stage before socialism could be achieved. During this period, Chen wanted the communists to focus on education in a multi-party state that protected civil rights. He regarded armed class uprisings at this stage as foolish.

Other factional disputes within the leadership centred on which economically-defined class was to play the dominant role in the revolution. As early as 1926, while the Communist International stressed organizing the urban proletariat, Mao saw the potential of peasant associations, believing that peasants could be successful agents of the communist revolution. In contrast, Li Lisan wanted the urban proletariat to control the rural communist councils. In 1931 came the end of the communist movement in the cities and the shift to rural areas. Mao's doctrine prevailed: the 'peasants' have proletarian ideas, and thus class definition came to be defined partly in economic terms and partly in terms of consciousness.

The voluntarist position that replaced economic determinism gradually became intertwined with another doctrine, that concerning the ability of right-minded people to telescope the process of transition through historical stages. This new doctrine drew elements from a thesis popularly associated with Trotsky, the theory of permanent revolution, from which Mao had nominally distanced himself. Trotsky in turn had borrowed most of the essentials of this theory from Marx and Lenin. This voluntaristic, unacknowledged theory of permanent revolution came to coexist with what was left of historical materialism in China after the unacceptable parts were eliminated. It is completely incompatible with the original German formulation of historical materialism and economic determinism that had so fascinated the first Chinese Marxists.

2 Permanent revolution

Impatient to move China into its safe and prosperous future, first Li Dazhao and then Mao Zedong adopted a stance that had been foreshadowed by Marx (in his 'Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League' in 1850), and then by Lenin ( in 'Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution'). The voluntarist theories of Li and changed the agent that precipitates class struggle in historical materialism. No longer was this agent the tension between tool technology and class structure; rather, it was the ideas in the minds either of a few elites who teach the masses (in the view of Mao), or of those elites aided by some positive ideas already in the minds of almost all Chinese people (in the view of Li). Armed with these ideas, elites can telescope the course of history, shortening the normal duration of a historical stage. They can do so by taking control of the historical period that really should be led by the capitalists. Although Mao and Liu Shaoqi did not start regularly using the term 'uninterrupted' (permanent) to describe revolution and society until the 1950s, Mao had accepted the principles of this doctrine of permanent revolution in the 1930s.

In this view, then, China does not need to wait for capitalism to flower before the right ideas enter the minds of its people; the elite can acquire the right ideas rapidly and proceed to lead the class struggle, take over leadership of the revolution and introduce socialism. This revolution is permanent in the sense that the attainment of one stage (bourgeois democracy) is not followed by a long period of peace and gradual growth into the next. Rather (and this was Lenin's contribution), the struggle that ushered in the new stage continues, as the few leaders with the right ideas take power away from those that would seem to be in charge (capitalists) and rapidly accelerate people into the new historical (socialist) phase.

Li Dazhao foreshadowed the doctrines of Mao Zedong in important ways. First, he highlighted revolutionary consciousness as being able to arise independently of the existence of either a large capitalist or proletarian class. The correct ideas in the minds of even a small progressive class (the communists) could accelerate China's economic and social development. Second, he defined class partially in terms of the ideas in minds. Thus, as Maurice Meisner (1967) showed, it is permissible to speak of proletarian ('progressive') ideas in the minds of most Chinese people (who are peasants) as a result of their experience with foreign 'imperialists'. Third, in Li's view, China's revolution would be peasant-based rather than based on urban workers. China could change rapidly through class struggle. The agent that would initiate class struggle and modernize China was ideas in the minds of peasants or of most Chinese, a reversal of the sequence in historical materialism.

Mao differed from Li Dazhao in being China's quintessential Leninist. In his view, the right ideas are originally the exclusive preserve of a small elite within the Communist Party, rather than being more widely shared among the people. Mao also differed from Trotsky and other advocates of permanent revolution in identifying a democratic or bourgeois stage for China. This is an insignificant difference, however, because for Mao, such a stage (described in his 1940 essay 'Xin minzhu zhuyilun' (On New Democracy)) would last only a few years and would be controlled by the communists as much as possible. In fact, according to Mao, socialism was achieved and new democracy ended in 1955.

Not all of the early Chinese Marxists advocated the power of the mind to change objective conditions as strongly as did Li and Mao. This particular aspect of permanent revolution is less pronounced in, for example, the writings of Ai Siqi, the author of the popular philosophical work Dazhong zhexue (Philosophy for the Masses) and a resident ideologist in the Yenan guerrilla base.

3 Democracy, centralism and epistemology

The bridge between permanent revolution on the one hand, and democracy and epistemology as topics for study on the other hand, lies in the need for those who already have access to correct ideas to teach and thereby mobilize those who do not. Together, they initiate the struggle that modernizes China. Teaching is required by permanent revolution, a dictum reinforced by Confucian views on the role of rulers. The content of what is taught, or the epistemological element, derives in part from the Chinese Marxist understanding of democracy.

Ideas about democracy and epistemology in Chinese Marxism owe as much to the guerrilla experience of the 1930s and 1940s as they do to Lenin's earlier insistence on the subordination of party debate to central leadership positions once decisions are made. In north China, the communists were dependent on local peasants for logistical support (avoiding long supply lines that could be cut) and for intelligence about the movements of Japanese and Guomindang troops. Being dependent, they had to maintain good relations with the local people. This is the origin of the communist custom of living with and consulting with the people about non-military and military matters.

Mao believed that the origin of knowledge lies in practice. Although he referred to production and science as forms of practice, uppermost in importance was the practical experience of conducting class struggle. Thus Mao regarded the knowledge of the Chinese people as developing in part during the guerrilla struggles with the Japanese and the Guomindang (in spite of the United Front with the latter, during which the communists and the Guomindang fought together against the Japanese). Democracy and centralism are forms of relationship between party officials and masses that generate knowledge in the course of the class struggle.

Mao understood the term 'democracy' to mean letting ordinary people speak out on topics about which they have some direct knowledge. They have useful concrete information that can help officials make good policies. Letting them speak out also helps to unify the party and the people; it promotes cohesiveness. Thus democracy is a useful tool for leaders to employ.

The expression 'mass line' arose during the guerrilla period to refer to the custom of consulting with local people or carrying out local investigations prior to expanding operations to a larger area, where that locally-derived information would be applicable. 'From the masses' is part of a slogan, and it refers to this grass roots consultation. Thus, for Chinese Marxists this aspect of the mass line practice embodied 'democracy'. Typical of the Maoist form of Chinese Marxism is the position that 'masses' refers primarily to the peasantry, a source of important raw data.

There is another aspect to the mass line, indicated by the rest of the slogan ('to the masses'), which refers to leadership, guidance or, especially, teaching by officials about policy for the local people. This takes place after prior consultation at headquarters, where the authority of centralism prevails.

In Maoist Marxism, the ideas of democracy and centralism are also intertwined with a theory of knowledge. In the stages of acquiring knowledge, an individual begins with perceptual or empirical knowledge gained through practical experience. Within the brain the individual then generalizes and formulates hypotheses or theories about such concrete data. The resulting rational knowledge is higher or more worthy than perceptual knowledge. Following this, individuals test their theories, observe and, if necessary, revise the theory. This process is discussed in Mao's essay 'Shijianlun'(On Practice). Chinese Marxists extended the analogy of the individual's acquisition of knowledge to the mass line or to the leadership style required by democratic centralism. 'From the masses' consultation is analogous to sense perception by an individual; policy formulation at headquarters is analogous to theorizing in the brain; and testing/revising of theories is analogous to 'to the masses' teaching. Mao discusses this in several places, notably in 'Guanyu lingdao fangfa di rogan wenti' (Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership), written in 1943.

All of the above is compatible with the Leninist idea of elite officials knowing more than ordinary people. After all, they possess rational knowledge, which is higher than the perceptual knowledge of the masses. That possession justifies their privileges. The fusion of the mass line with a theory of knowledge also meets the demand of the doctrine of permanent revolution for the telescoping of progress through a historical stage. Leaders focus on transforming the minds or consciousness of the people as a way of rapidly modernizing the country socially and economically. Leaders are teachers who help transform the perceptual knowledge of the people into higher, rational knowledge. In consulting and then teaching, they satisfy the requirements of democracy and of centralism. Permanent revolution demands not only changing consciousness, it demands also the class struggle that follows in its wake. Other Marxists in China opposed the focus on struggle, advocating instead what they and their ideological opponents called 'humanism' (see §4).

After the communist victory in 1949 the consultative side of the mass line atrophied, but the leaders, members of the Communist Party, retained their instructional role. As during the imperial age, transforming the minds of the people remained a core function of officials. Among the many reasons why the consultative role evaporated was the increased difficulty of the task. Consulting in a small area such as the guerrilla bases was not difficult; consulting in a large country such as China was, especially when that country had no history of representative government. The difficult was ignored. Also, there were no built-in safeguards to the mass line consultation process; in gathering information, officials could easily filter out opinions or data they did not like. Finally, there was no institutionalized time period during which consultation had to be conducted.

As late as 1982, when China's leaders issued a constitution, there was still no procedure for representative government. The constitution document is not a contract between leaders and people involving the sharing of power; it does more to protect the state from individuals than to grant inalienable rights to participate in government to the people. Nor does the constitution treat the individual as the best judge of the individual's interests. Such an assumption is part of representative democracy and the obligation of leaders to consult with the people's representatives.

4 Distributional equality versus material incentives

The content of the right ideas that should motivate people from socialism forward are in part summed up in the terms 'class analysis' and 'class struggle'. However, there is another aspect, the priority of moral over material incentives. Like democracy, to which it is related, the principal Maoist thesis against significant wage differences took shape during the guerrilla period. Like democracy as mass line, its fate was affected by the switch from small societies in the guerrilla base areas during the 1930s and 1940s to its application to China in its entirety after 1949. The Maoist position was attacked intermittently by opponents during the next quarter-century, and finally evaporated after the death of Mao.

Marx himself had no special fondness for spreading wealth around equally, although popular writers often attribute such a concern to him. In Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) he describes inequality of distribution as characterizing the first phase of communist society. Marx states that 'The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply'. The essential trait of communism is not distribution but the elimination of the division of labour. Mao himself criticized those absolute egalitarians who would object to officers riding on horses in periods of guerrilla warfare. Officers have responsibilities and needs that justify some unequal material privileges.

However, Mao idealized the roughly egalitarian society of Yenan and the other base areas during the anti-Japanese war. He wrote that they had a free supply system (take what you need) and minimal contention. After 1949, he stated, the introduction of a differential wage system along with status differences increased quarrelling. In his 'Reading notes on "The Soviet Union's Political Economy"', he wrote: 'Right up to the early stages of liberation, people on the whole lived an egalitarian life. They worked hard and fought bravely on the battlefront. They absolutely did not rely on material incentive for encouragement, but on revolutionary spirit.' After 1949, wage differences did continue to exist, but the gap was modest.

There is always the assumption that people can be self-motivating in pursuit of communist goals, especially those whose minds have been transformed. For the Maoist, this obviates the need for material incentives. In Maoist theory, however, social arrangements must coexist with transformed minds in order for this nonreliance on material incentives to prevail. There must be at least the illusion of democratic decision making and equality of status. Here is one place where the topics of democracy and egalitarianism converge.

Critics of this position included economists and some supreme leaders (for example, President Liu Shaoqi in 1962), who questioned its impact on productivity. The argument was that people who have an 'iron rice bowl' (guaranteed wage) have no motive to work harder or to innovate. A free supply system would not work in a large country because it requires an abundance of wealth that can only come later in the development process. Inherent difficulties in the policy of opposing material incentives included the fact that it was incompatible with two values to which its advocates were also committed: social order and self-sufficiency. Social order requires a chain of command and differences between those who give and those who take orders. Efficiency in maintaining order dictates status distinctions between them, often manifest in their access to different styles of uniform, to houses and cars that have different monetary worth, and so forth. With regard to self-sufficiency, if officials ask regions to prize self-sufficiency, they are also telling poor regions to be satisfied with what they have and not ask for handouts from wealthier ones.

The major departure from the Maoist position came after Deng Xiaoping assumed power in 1978. Economic reformers argued that socialist goals could best be attained by rejecting central government planning in favour of market factors such as price and profit. This meant taking profit into account in organizing and running an enterprise, wide differences in wages, legal protection of contracts between economic entities and toleration of individual entrepreneurs. Given China's clan–village social structure, individual entrepreneurs could be either individual persons or villages taking the initiative in starting industries, using village-owned resources. The existing village elites (Communist Party officials) would see their incomes rise most rapidly, along with the incomes of managers working on contract to the village.

5 Humanism and class struggle

Within the ranks of Chinese Marxists, the most serious challenge to Maoism in the 1950s and 1960s came from critics characterized as 'humanists'. After Mao's death in 1976, those Marxists who criticized the Communist Party were also humanists. Some of them decried the alienation of people from leaders caused by the party's dictatorship. Others participated in the growth of a new movement, 'subjectivism', that centred on the autonomy of all individuals as possible and desirable.

'Humanism' stood for opposition to Maoism in the 1950s and 1960s because it was a broad term under which a variety of perspectives could unite. First and foremost, it symbolized repudiation of the Maoist position that class struggle is the principal agent of historical change and the agent that could propel China into the modern world. The doctrine of class struggle assumes that human society is divided into distinctly different classes, that analysis of humans in class terms is the only correct sociological methodology and that class hatred is an inevitable motive in that struggle. In an essay from 1942 entitled 'Zai Yenan wenyi zuotanhui shangdi jianghua' (Talks at the Yenan Forum on Art and Literature), Mao had taken two positions that authorize such conclusions. One is that there is no pan-human or universal human nature common to all people. There are only the differing natures of people of different classes; within a given class, natures are somewhat uniform. The other is that love or sympathy that transcends classes is impossible; there is only love for members of one's own class. Class antagonism is therefore inevitable.

Both these positions are totally alien to the dominant Confucian legacy regarding the nature of humans and the ethical position that should flow from that assumption about human nature (see CONFUCIAN PHILOSOPHY, CHINESE). Together, these Confucian positions carry the label of 'humanism', although the term has several meanings in China. In attacking humanism, Maoists were simultaneously supporting class struggle and opposing the most powerful philosophical legacy of the past. This was the teachings of MENCIUS, who in the fourth century BC first formulated the concept of a universal human nature. The essential features of this universal nature are a mind that evaluates right and wrong, and a sentiment of compassion. Mencius based an ethical and political position on this psychological analysis, namely that each person has an obligation to implement these features. Acting on the sense of compassion, individuals should extend their affection beyond family members and those who suffer to encompass an increasingly large number of other persons. Class-transcending love and universal traits set Mencius in opposition to Mao. Thus, to attack humanism was to attack the old, or that part of the old that was the greatest ideological threat.

In modern China, three disciplines have inherited the traditional concern with the topic of human nature: literature, philosophy and psychology. During the 1950s and 1960s, each of these was affected by the conflict between class struggle and humanism. In literature, Ba Ren (a pseudonym of Wang Renshu, a literary editor, critic and diplomat) got into trouble in the 1960s for insisting on the right of authors to deal with things that all people universally share, namely the love of the fragrance of flowers and the song of birds, and the desire to eat and to be warm. The popular philosopher Feng Ding of Beijing University was attacked for claiming that there is a survival instinct common to all persons. Beginning in 1958, younger Chinese psychologists shifted away from an interest in neurologically-based character types to focus on the subjective class standpoint or thought that separates people into social groups.

These themes dominated intellectual activity, in so far as it existed during the Cultural Revolution, until Mao's death. They were reinforced by rivalry with the USSR. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had claimed that the Soviet Union had eliminated class antagonism and was thus a 'state of all the people'. This sounded to Maoists like an arrogant claim that the Soviet Union had leapt ahead of China into communism, and that Soviet leaders were practising class-transcending love where class divisions actually still existed. This Chinese critique appears in an influential essay published in 1963 by Chou Yang (1908–), a leader of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and a member of the Department of Philosophy and Social Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In this case, international political disputes had spilled over into philosophical debates.

6 Humanism and the end of alienation

With the death of Mao, some prominent Chinese Marxists shifted their concerns away from opposing class struggle towards promoting the free development of the individual. They treated these goals as humanistic goals. However, they shifted the content of humanism away from its Confucian focus on humaneness, being interested instead in the development of other, different human traits. Influenced by the early writings of Marx, long popular in eastern Europe, they spoke of the individual's freedom as the absence of alienation and described it positively as the all-round development of the individual.

This was a monumental leap in China. Mao had manifested no interest in the individual at all, only in classes or groups. His idea of ending the division of labour and promoting all-round development was sending intellectuals to the farm and introducing peasants to schools. This was intended to end the mental–manual division of labour, an ideal with some Marxist justification. However, MARX in his early works had a richer vision, one symbolized in some famous words of The German Ideology (1846) that describe a person who can metaphorically 'hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner', without ever being simply one-sided. This was also the Renaissance humanistic ideal of the fully-developed individual human.

The ideals of the early Marx are also remarkably convergent with the ideals of nineteenth-century British liberals. Indeed, John Stuart Mill was influenced by the same German Romantics that influenced Marx. For those Romantics, the heroes were the artists who put into canvas or into stone their own personalities; they realize themselves in their art (see GOETHE, J.W. VON; HÖLDERLIN, J.C.W.). These are also the heroes of Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). These manuscripts became popular with some Chinese Marxists because they directed attention away from class or group to individuals and their self-realization, thus providing the basis for an ethics in which individuals count for something. The Manuscripts do so by asserting that all people are born with basic needs (to realize themselves by means of variety in their lives and to be free agents in their productive work). However, most people are unable to satisfy those basic human needs. Marx described communism as humanism because in communism, all individuals are able to satisfy those needs and become fully human. To those Chinese Marxists who prized individual freedom, the contrast with the Maoist vision of communism could not have been more stark.

The most prominent of the advocates of this style of humanism after Mao's death was Wang Ruoshui, a former editor of the official newspaper People's Daily and one of the leading reform theorists. Wang accepted the premise (he never tried to prove it) that there are universal human needs, the most basic of which is for self-realization in an all-round, free manner. From this premise, he derived a standard to judge acts or policies. Good acts or policies foster the satisfaction of basic needs; bad ones cause individuals to feel alienated or separated from their natures. Wang used this standard to criticize the Communist Party's dictatorship. In his view, in the 1980s the Party fostered alienation in the Chinese people; individuals had little control over their work and bureaucrats constantly intruded into their lives.

The counterattack on this brand of Chinese Marxist humanism was mounted by Hu Qiaomu, one-time secretary to Mao, author of a history of the Chinese Communist Party and, towards the end of his life, honorary president of the Academy of Social Sciences. With the help of ghostwriters from the Academy's Institute of Philosophy, Hu produced an article entitled 'Guanyu rendaozhuyi ho yihua wenti' (On Humanism and Alienation), which appeared in the journal Hongai (Red Flag) in 1984. Hu's thesis was that it is acceptable to incorporate humanism into Chinese Marxism when the term stands simply for routine ethical considerations, such as being kind to an elderly or sick person, but it is not permissible to treat it as a theory of history or as something generating a serious standard. This, he claimed, is what people like Wang Ruoshui had done, by describing humanity's gradual evolution from alienation to need-satisfaction over time and deriving from this process the top normative standard. This is to treat humanism as a theory of history, said Hu, which is wrong. It leads to the impermissible conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party causes alienation, which cannot exist in socialism. The only correct theory of history is historical materialism, with its claims about stages of history, and the standard that one can draw from historical materialism tells whether or not a given policy is right as a function of its appropriateness for a particular stage or moment in history. In Hu's analysis, the dictatorship of the party passes this test as it is appropriate for China's current stage.

7 Subjectivity

The other current away from Maoism that permeated Chinese Marxist philosophy, literary criticism and psychology was subjectivity. In some versions, it too made a place for the individual's worth. Especially in this regard, subjectivity represents a break during the Deng era from the Maoist social class-centred analysis of human beings. It focuses instead on individuals having unique identities. When it began in 1978, the subjectivity movement was a radical departure from the implications of the term 'materialism' in historical materialism. It rejected the idea of humans as puppets whose consciousness is entirely formed by their socio-economic environment; specifically, it was a departure from the Leninist theory of reflection (the inner or mental is simply a reflection of the outer or environmental) that had dominated orthodox Leninist epistemology in China since 1949. Later, the subjectivity movement took two different directions.

Li Zehou, a Marxist philosopher from the Institute of Philosophy, took the lead among those who treated subjectivity as a new direction in epistemology. The objective world, they argued, is shaped by the subjective interests, interpretative paradigms or psychological memories unconsciously sedimented in human minds. The mind is active, not a passive reflector, and objectivity changes as subjects with different interests or (over time) differently sedimented memories come on the scene.

The other view of subjectivity flourished in literary and psychological circles. Here, subjectivity meant the ability and desirability of the individual acting autonomously. The literary critic Liu Zaifu of the Institute of Literature at the Academy of Social Sciences encouraged writers to portray in their works characters who act freely and are conscious of their autonomy. In psychology, this approach was seen as consistent with the worldwide movement away from Freudian psychological reductionism and behaviourism. The autonomous individual's inner needs and choices exist and count. These Marxists wished China to acquire the perspective of the European Enlightenment, wherein the beliefs of individuals do not need to be determined by gods, destiny or rulers. The individual can and should be in control. In working out these various positions on subjectivity, Chinese Marxists drew into their own heritage ideas from Immanuel KANT in the West and WANG YANGMING in China.


References and further reading

Ch'en, J. (1970) Mao Papers, London: Oxford University Press. (Writings from 1917–69, along with an essay on Mao's literary style.)

Dirlik, A. (1989) The Origins of Chinese Communism, New York: Oxford University Press. (Ideology and organization in the early years, including the impact of such diverse strands as anarchism and guild socialism.)

*Lenin, V.I. (1888–1924) Collected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1990, 47 vols. (See for the essay 'Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution'.)

*Mao Zedong (1965) Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 5 vols. (The official collection of edited works attributed to Mao, including the essays cited in this entry.)

*—— (1968) Four Essays in Philosophy, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. (Includes the two essays 'Shijianlun' (On Practice) and 'Maodunlun' (On Contradiction). These essays owe much to the thought of Ai Siqi.)

*—— (1974) 'Reading Notes on "The Soviet Union's Political Economy"', Joint Publications Research Service no. 61269-2, Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. (This was not a public document in China; a copy was obtained and published by the US government.)

*Marx, K. (1843–83) Collected Works, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975. (A complete edition of Marx's works in English; see for the works cited in this entry.)

*Meisner, M. (1967) Li Ta-Chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (On the reinterpretation of Marxism by one of the founders of the Chinese Communist party.)

Meissner, W. (1990) Philosophy and Politics in China: The Controversy over Dialectical Materialism in the 1930s, trans. R. Mann, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. (Discusses the meaning of 'philosophy' and 'science' in these years, with special attention to the essays 'On Practice' and 'On Contradiction'.)

Munro, D. (1978) The Concept of Man in Contemporary China, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. (The impact of Confucian and Soviet thought on the central theme of traditional Chinese philosophy in Chinese Marxism, and the resultant influence on education.)

Schram, S. (1963) The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung, New York: Praeger. (Topically divided selections from Mao's writings, preceded by a lengthy interpretive introduction.)

—— (1974), Chairman Mao Talks to the People: Talks and Letters 1956–1971, New York: Pantheon. (Directives and statements that came to light in 'Red Guard' tabloids during the Cultural Revolution.)

Schwartz, B. (1958) Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. (The interaction of factional conflict and doctrine during the period 1918–33.)


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