March 31, 2015
This study discusses how the Chinese Communist Party has fashioned “Marxism” as a tradition during the last three decades. I argue that its leaders have invented the tradition of Sinicised Marxism by means of a ritualised repetition that emphasises a largely factitious continuity with the purpose of legitimising the Party, justifying policy changes and winning factional struggles. The point is corroborated by an analysis of the invocation of “Marxism” during key political phases in the reform era when the pretence of continuity became crucial for the CCP, including 1978–1985, 1992–1995 and the Eighteenth Party Congress of 2012. The article shows how, in the debates on “the criterion of truth” and “Marxist humanism”, the reformists endorsed a re-definition of Marxism that aimed at saving communism from radical Maoism and legitimising the new policies. Next, I examine texts from the beginning of the second reform period, when official propaganda strove to justify the roll-out of a market economy by portraying “pragmatism” as the essence of Marxism. Finally, I analyse how Party-state leaders have invoked Marxism around the time of the last leadership transition. The article suggests that such a use of “Marxism” in contemporary official discourse originates from Mao Zedong Thought as well as in a gradual hollowing out of the concept. As a result it sheds light on the ideological undertows of China’s contemporary socio-political history and on the chances of future political change.