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The following is an article received by the ICL in December and our reply.

From Boycotting Christmas, Observing the Rift in Chinese Society

About a week prior to me writing this article, while the Western world was celebrating the joyous Christmas holiday, in China - a holiday not typically overly emphasized in the overseas world - some significant social conflicts erupted.

Those who do not frequently browse the Chinese internet might be unaware that from a couple of days before Christmas Eve, a mass movement regarding 'boycotting Christmas' had erupted on the Chinese internet. People were divided into two camps, engaging in extensive debates both online and offline about the dissemination and celebration of Christmas in China. At least one to two hundred million people, more or less, were involved in this movement. While this wasn’t the first time there had been a boycott of Christmas, it was an immensely large, unorganized mass movement, far surpassing previous occurrences. This movement was undoubtedly led by Chinese nationalists and conservatives, and it's discernible that nationalism permeated every corner of this movement. The primary participants in this unconventional Chinese Christmas carnival were middle-aged and elderly individuals, although there were also glimpses of younger people. Many Chinese celebrities chose to remain silent or expressed support for boycotting Christmas. Supporters of this movement flooded popular Chinese video-sharing platforms like Kuaishou, Douyin (TikTok), Bilibili, and various forums, uploading countless short and long videos and leaving numerous angry articles, comments, etc., conveying the viewpoint that 'Christmas is a Western 'cultural invasion,' an infringement upon Chinese traditional culture, and an insult to Chinese revolutionary martyrs. Therefore, conscientious and patriotic Chinese people must cease celebrating Christmas.' On the other hand, those who wished to preserve Chinese Christmas believed, 'Christmas is just a holiday, and those who wish to celebrate it should not be condemned.' Both sides attacked each other verbally online, often escalating from the boycott of Christmas to issues of loyalty to the nation and respect for Chinese communist revolutionary martyrs. Moreover, deliberate destruction of Christmas-related items and violent clashes between nationalists and ordinary people celebrating Christmas occurred in the real world.

Some may consider this just a typical clash between traditional and foreign cultures, but in reality, it symbolizes and represents an almost irreversible rift that has occurred in Chinese society, increasingly widening the conflicts between different social groups. Given the vast scale of this conflict and its paramount importance to China's social progress, I feel compelled to delve into this entire issue in detail in this article.

In this article, I aim to elucidate the contradictions present in the current mainstream ideologies within Chinese society, the extent to which they have silently evolved, the class forces behind them, and explicitly propose what interventions need to be made to influence the current course of events.

Since the 'Reform and Opening Up' initiated by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which is well known for betraying the socialist revolution in China, the Chinese government has accelerated down the path of embracing and adopting Western capitalist systems. It has consistently dismantled the planned economy and state-owned enterprises constructed in the early Mao Zedong era following the Stalin model. This process has fattened the wallets of corrupt bureaucrats and the bourgeoisie, enhancing the social power of both.

The 'Reform' in the 'Reform and Opening Up' signifies the aforementioned privatization process, while the 'Opening Up' represents peaceful diplomacy with Western nations and efforts to dismantle China's closed-off nature regarding foreign markets. This also implies reducing the hostility of the Chinese populace towards the Western world since the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Overall, it's akin to Western liberalization and globalization reforms. Before Xi Jinping came to power, these processes were predominantly tinged with liberalism. However, after Xi Jinping's rise, there was a shift in the narrative. Xi Jinping, much like his predecessors Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, betrayed the Chinese revolution as an advocate for the bourgeoisie and bureaucracy. Yet, he transcends merely being a conservative to become an absolute nationalist. He shamelessly and unscrupulously exploits national hatred to consolidate his rule and attempts to ensure this sordid method remains one of the cornerstones of his lifelong leadership in China. After assuming office, he emphasized the 'traditional culture' of the Chinese nation - primarily referring to Confucian culture that enslaved the Chinese people for thousands of years. He also stressed 'forgetting history means betrayal' - mainly the history of Japanese aggression against China and the Korean War (although he conveniently forgets the history of Confucian culture's subjugation of China and the class struggles during the Mao Zedong era). He emphasizes 'cultural confidence' - essentially disdain for foreign cultures. In other words, if China's previous leaders were akin to the 'Democratic Party' in the United States, Xi Jinping can be likened to China's Trump (though, in terms of timing, Trump could be seen as an imitator of Xi Jinping). Such a shift has undeniably caused turmoil in Chinese ideologies, resulting in the emergence of certain contours. Chinese mass consciousness has been divided into three major categories.

1. Liberals: Their ideologies mainly originate from the pre-Reform and Opening Up era in China. Their overall thoughts lean toward capitalism, believing that China's way forward lies in further capitalist liberalization reforms or social democratic reforms, considering communism as an outdated, entirely flawed concept. A portion of these individuals may believe China is beyond redemption and see migration to developed capitalist countries like Europe, Japan, or the United States as their escape route. These individuals represent a segment of the Chinese petite bourgeoisie, intellectuals, or those deeply disappointed or even despairing about society. They have a marginal position in political struggles, being quite weak in actuality. Liberals are more inclined to preserve their own well-being than to bring about societal change. They hope that someday the Chinese government will spontaneously reform. Those fiercely critical of the Chinese government are generally those advocating emigration, but their stance limits their influence on the progress of political struggles. However, through appropriate means, some among them could still be persuaded to support the revolution. Yet, when the revolution arrives, most of them are inevitably prone to splintering. Some will turn to us spontaneously, while others will spontaneously turn to them, just like all petite bourgeois tendencies during a revolution.

2. Nationalists: Their thoughts align closely with what Xi Jinping vigorously advocates. They believe China remains a great socialist country, devoid of problems or only with extremely negligible ones. They also believe their interests are intrinsically linked with the glory or disgrace of the nation. Though on the surface, they support communism, in reality, they only support every word of their government - irrespective of its ideology. Ignorantly, they think China currently stands tall above the world and confronts evil entities like the United States, Japan, and Europe as heroic figures from fairytales. They often fail to distinguish between the 'state' and the 'people.' In the eyes of a considerable number among them, individuals from developed capitalist nations are some kind of indescribable monsters - white people are foolish and arrogant, black people are impoverished and violent, and only the yellow race, particularly the Chinese (to them, the Japanese are nauseating perverts, Koreans are shameless waste, and Southeast Asians are all ungrateful), are capable of developing integrity and virtues as normal human beings. For them, class conflict is an unknown entity or an outright lie. In no exaggeration, the thoughts of a substantial portion among them resemble a mirrored version of German Nazism. They also believe that the Chinese people should work hard, oppose any form and scale of workers' struggles, and consider the state as unconditionally standing with the proletariat while seeing foreign forces as enemies. This group encompasses the big bourgeoisie, figures such as Jack Ma, Wang Jianlin, Pony Ma, etc., the top echelons of the bourgeoisie and senior bureaucrats. Certainly, the vast majority of these big bourgeoisie and senior bureaucrats aren’t foolish enough to believe in this extreme patriotism, but they are willing to propagate and amplify this ideology for their benefit. They represent about 35% of China's current population, with some being extremely radical and others merely driven by blind patriotism. However, most of these individuals, although part of the populace, will inevitably stand on the other side of the barricades in an imminent revolution. The only possibility of reconciliation with some of them lies in their voluntary abandonment of this ideology for various reasons, embracing the ideologies of liberals or the left-wing.

3. Leftists: This is a broad category that encompasses adherents of Mao Zedong, Stalin, Trotsky, and even advocates of economic left-wing anarchists. Like liberals, they also believe China has immense problems, some even considering it beyond redemption. Most have realized that the current Chinese government is the betrayer of the revolution and the greatest enemy. However, their solutions differ based on different ideological details. For instance, some Mao Zedong and Stalinists might believe forcing the government into reform through intense mass movements is still viable. However, another faction of these Mao Zedong, Stalinist supporters, including Trotsky supporters and anarchists, believes the Chinese government is beyond redemption and must be overthrown through revolution. There are varying degrees of understanding regarding communism among them - some are entirely ignorant of communism and support it only because of their aversion to the current government, while others are dedicated and reliable warriors advocating communist ideology. Although some among them may undergo betrayal and ideological shifts, most undeniably stand on the side of the Chinese communist revolution, on the side of the barricades. Currently, they constitute about 15% to 20% of China's population. It's noteworthy that due to China's revolutionary history, most still identify with Mao Zedong. Given the urgent situation of the revolution, comrades from the Fourth International must cooperate with Maoists, rejecting meaningless internal fights over history and detailed agendas. Discussions are permissible, but it's best to avoid escalating into mutual attacks and divisions.

However, despite Xi Jinping's efforts to spread nationalist ideologies, history does not easily bend to the will of individuals. The rampant spread of this nationalism, much like a virus, has deeper societal roots. This lies in the shifting balance of power among different social classes. Nationalism burning among the 'combustible material' of the Chinese populace signifies the current zenith of its primary supporters – the petite bourgeoisie.

China's higher education entrance examination system and the employment practices based on educational qualifications have caused a significant detachment of most students from the proletariat masses. They are solely focused on studying classics and lack practical production experience. The fierce, zero-sum competition of the college entrance examination has nurtured a selfish mindset among these intellectuals, exhibiting extreme selfishness and self-centeredness, manifesting as both personal selfishness and, at a macro level, as nationalism and even Nazism. Once these students become adults, their entrenched selfish tendencies render them China's so-called 'middle class,' essentially a group of worker-traitors, urban white-collars. They exemplify the term 'labor aristocrats,' hoping for wage reductions in exchange for some benefits, completely believing that their interests should be established at the expense of others. They find any unified worker movement utterly baffling. Unfortunately, this particular class is becoming a significant component of China's economy and population, signifying the severity of the current situation for the Chinese revolution. Moreover, this reflects the continual strengthening of the forces behind the big bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy, with the petite bourgeoisie and white-collars serving as their primary power sources.

However, the grassroots workers, various blue-collar workers, progressive students, radicalized white-collar workers, and a small number of party members still holding pure thoughts are evidently aware that something is amiss. Most of them currently limit themselves to complaints and hostility toward the current state and government, while a minority among them might be more advanced in varying degrees. These individuals are the main force of the future revolution, but lacking proper theoretical guidance, they are currently in a state of confusion. If they are correctly exposed to living Marxism, they will eagerly accept and apply it. Their numbers are not less than the worker-traitors mentioned earlier; on the contrary, they outnumber and are increasing daily. It is imperative to guide and ensure they tread the correct path, relying firmly on them to achieve the victory of the revolution.

Nevertheless, regardless of the approaches, the current ideological conflict based on class contradictions in China is irreconcilable. Considering the severe economic problems surfacing in China after the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the bankruptcy of Xu Jiayin's Evergrande Group, accumulating debts of 2.4 trillion, a continuous downturn in the stock market, decreasing consumption levels, worsening corruption issues, sluggish real estate and manufacturing markets, it's evident that China is likely to face a severe economic crisis within 1 to 3 years. In the imminent crisis, China's long-accumulated class contradictions could erupt anytime, leading to an anticipated state of chaos amidst the struggles of the three mentioned ideological currents. The government, along with the big bourgeoisie, will undoubtedly seize this opportunity to deepen China's autocratic system for better exploitation of the people. Correspondingly, the left-wing and liberal factions will be considerably dissatisfied. The question remains, how extensive will the conflict be, and when will it erupt?

So, what stance should we, as communists, take on this matter? Should we remain passive and observe? Should we attempt to mitigate the conflict, striving for stability? No. These methods belong to social democrats, to the bourgeois liberals, not to Marxism. Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky have already informed us about what to do. In the impending economic crisis, we must seize the opportunity to launch a revolution; there's no time for hesitation. Otherwise, interest groups represented by Xi Jinping will exploit the opportunity to strengthen their rule over China, further enhancing the power of the world bourgeoisie. However, the revolution won't be easy. Firstly, the state apparatus and the military are in the hands of the reactionary Chinese Communist Party. The current Chinese party and government are beyond redemption, contrary to what some Chinese and foreign comrades hope; they will undoubtedly use force to suppress the masses. Additionally, the patriots will also align themselves with the government, which is beyond doubt. Therefore, considering the balance of power, it's challenging for Marxist forces to secure victory.

The current situation for Chinese Marxists is likely to remain as such if there's no change. It's either death or a dead end. To avoid this tragedy, we must strive to garner more social support. There's hope in this regard. Despite the severe surveillance and oppression under the Xi Jinping government since the COVID-19 pandemic, social struggles have intensified. The previous resistance against isolation measures proved this, and there is growing discontent, both in strikes and in reality. However, revolutionaries are almost impossible to confront the Chinese government head-on under the current circumstances. Therefore, in the present Chinese context, there is an immediate need to start real political propaganda and organize revolutionary groups. The liberals seem approachable currently, and the politically indifferent and confused masses involved in workers' struggles also need guidance. The struggle for Marxist revolution in China must begin by forming genuine labor unions and underground parties, starting strikes and protests step by step, preparing to take over the government in the upcoming economic crisis. The current revolutionary strength in China is still in its infancy and must be nurtured into a robust entity within one to two years; otherwise, regrets will follow too late.

The movement to boycott Christmas is a symbol, but it won't be the last. In fact, similar events might occur in less than two months. The key issue now lies in China's societal development, no longer proceeding smoothly but transitioning into radical transformation, possibly paving the way for a revolution. This signifies the scarcity of time. I urge Marxist comrades worldwide to pay more attention to the situation in China. International communist organizations must guide the currently fragmented Chinese Marxists to establish a disciplined underground organization. Chinese Marxist comrades must begin taking action, propagating our propositions in reality. China's new Marxist revolution is about to enter its most crucial period. To seize the initiative and achieve victory, the spread and organization of genuine Marxism in China must be fostered with the utmost enthusiasm and energy. Today's issue of the Chinese Communist revolution, just as Lenin said a century ago, is a matter of 'now or never.' We must soon make a choice that will determine China's fate and the global situation. In short, it's a matter of life and death."

ICL Reply

8 February 2024

We found your article “From boycotting Christmas, observing the rift in Chinese society” both interesting and insightful. Clearly you approach the fight for communism with much seriousness. We could not agree more with your call for Marxists internationally to pay more attention to the situation in China and work towards the crystallization of a genuine communist trend. In this spirit we offer some critical remarks on your analysis of the ideological and class divisions in Chinese society.

You describe three fundamental camps—nationalist, liberal and leftist—and determine the balance of class forces in China today based on the popularity of each ideological grouping. We think this analysis is idealist and needs to be turned on its head. As Marxists we must start not from the ideas which dominate society but from the conflict of objective class interests. In his 1883 Eulogy to Marx, Engels explained how:

“Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”

To base your analysis of China on the relative strength of ideas can only be disorienting. The different ideological groupings you describe are full of contradictions and in no way represent homogeneous class interests. This has crucial implications for the course of action for communists. You can change the world only through the extent that you understand it. It is for example impossible to break the hold of Chinese nationalism on the working class if you do not understand how it expresses deeply contradictory and conflicting interests. Overall, the result of your analysis is to downplay the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, exaggerate the strength of the CPC bureaucracy and diminish the threat of the imperialist capitalist class. The end result is to disappear the role of the revolutionary party as the conscious expression of the historic interests of the proletariat. The problem lies not in your intentions but in your method. In the following remarks we will try to provide elements of a materialist explanation for the sharp ideological polarizations vividly described in your article.

A Marxist understanding for developments in China must start with the international situation. The last thirty years of stability and high economic growth in China were possible due to the favorable international environment after the Cold War. The uncontested hegemony of the U.S. created conditions for an explosion in international trade and a low level of conflict both between countries and within national borders. Regarding China, the consensus among imperialists was that its integration into the world economic system would lead to its rapid evolution towards capitalism. However, this is not what happened. The CPC engaged in economic liberalization without fundamentally giving up state control of the economy or its monopoly of political power. The stated goal of the CPC was to keep the Chinese working class subdued through the combination of a high level of economic growth and intense political repression. The stability of international conditions made this model successful for over two decades.

The initial opening up of China offered a golden opportunity for imperialist exploitation. However, with time foreign monopolies grew increasingly frustrated by the market restrictions maintained by the CPC as well as the increased competition from domestic capitalist firms. The steep worsening of relations between China and the U.S. is fundamentally caused by the inherent limits China’s social regime imposes on imperialist finance capital. It is this international contradiction, and the incapacity of the Stalinist regime to solve it, which is at the root of increased polarizations in China today.

Inside China itself, the domestic capitalist class has grown enormously. This class is under CPC political control, but it is in its interest to break this stranglehold. More than that, the capitalist class in China ultimately seeks to overthrow the entire social regime and establish its own dominance through the final liquidation of the 1949 Revolution. The Chinese working class for its part has also grown enormously in strength. However, the economic and social gains it has made are threatened by counterrevolution and the aggressive moves of imperialist finance capital. Its objective interest is to sweep away the CPC dictatorship in order to strengthen the hold of the state over the economy and reorient the PRC towards the struggle for international socialist revolution.

The two fundamental poles in Chinese society are the working class and foreign imperialism. Balancing between these two poles we find the Stalinist bureaucracy, which plays a bonapartist role based on maintaining an iron grip on society through the state apparatus. The imperialists are exerting more and more economic, military and political pressure, in turn exacerbating the gigantic contradictions within China which have grown to extreme levels. In response to this increased pressure, the CPC regime has further increased the centralization of power and has turned towards heightened nationalism.

It is from this objective class basis that we must examine the rise of Xi as well as the different ideological groupings in China today. Your article notes the strong rise of nationalism, but it fails to explain the materialist roots of this rise. Moreover, Chinese nationalism has certain specific characteristics and contradictions which must be accounted for if it is to be defeated. Nationalism is a reactionary ideology in all its forms because it divides workers along national lines as opposed to uniting them internationally. That said, nationalism is not the same in imperialist countries, in nationally oppressed countries—such as Mexico—and in deformed worker states—such as China. In the first case, it represents the interests of the bourgeoisie in exploiting foreign countries; in the other two it partly represents a reaction against foreign domination. Moreover, in China it is essential to understand that nationalism partly draws its strength from the deep sentiment in the masses to defend what is left of the 1949 Revolution, not least national unification against imperialism.

The example of the USSR is most instructive. It would be totally false to equate German and Russian nationalism in the context of World War II. German nationalism expressed in Nazism was pure imperialist reaction. Russian nationalism had a fundamentally different basis. Stalin fully leaned on Russian nationalism to foster resistance to the Nazi invasion. The strength of this appeal was rooted in the deep sentiment of the workers and peasants to defend the gains of the October Revolution. To win the Russian masses to a revolutionary internationalist program, it was not enough to simply denounce nationalism. It was necessary to show through the course of the war itself that nationalism undermined the defense of the very things impelling the masses into action. The facts clearly show that the Russian chauvinism behind which the Red Army was led not only stiffened the resistance of Germany, but most fundamentally it betrayed the European revolution, the only definitive way to secure the gains of the October Revolution. The final vindication of this analysis is that in the end, Russian nationalism fostered the forces of counterrevolution that brought down the USSR in 1991.

Today Chinese nationalism is employed in much the same way as it was by Stalin. The CPC uses the fact that the 1949 Revolution put an end to the “century of humiliation” to justify its nationalist policies. In this way the CPC can rally great forces against foreign aggression but can ultimately only undermine the gains of the 1949 Revolution. To defeat Chinese nationalism, it cannot be simply equated with pure imperialist reaction as your article does (even if certain of its expressions can be similar). Chinese nationalism can be defeated only by showing how it undermines the interests of the working class, including the defense of China against imperialist reaction. We have developed some basic arguments to show this in English Spartacist No. 68 (sections of which are now available in Chinese).

Your article interestingly notes the weak appeal of liberalism—hitherto the main vehicle for imperialist counterrevolutionary ploys. We can probably expect that this will continue as an expression of both the global decline of liberalism and the incompatibility between liberalism and the current Chinese regime. This should not be mistaken as a diminishing threat of counterrevolution. On the contrary, the CPC has bet so heavily on the continued existence of the liberal world order that its break-up will lead to huge internal convulsions, and no doubt pose the question of counterrevolution or political revolution. You explain that the representatives of the Chinese big bourgeoisie stand currently in the camp of nationalism. This surely represents to some degree the decline of liberalism as well as a sign of deference to the diktats of the CPC. But it is also an indication that nationalism fundamentally represents the interests of the Chinese capitalist class and—as in the USSR—is the most likely banner around which capitalist restoration will be organized.

According to you, between 15 and 20 percent of the Chinese population can be categorized as leftist. This is an amorphous category which can only lead to confusion. As Marxists, we must rely first and foremost on the working class. This is not because it currently holds progressive beliefs, but because its objective class interests are historically progressive. The task of communist intellectuals and the working-class vanguard is to organize themselves in a party which can give a conscious expression to the objective needs of the international working class.

The idealist analysis you make of Chinese society leads you to downplay the revolutionary potential of the proletariat and exaggerate that of those you categorize as leftists. This is clear from your conclusion that “given the urgent situation of the revolution, comrades from the Fourth International must cooperate with Maoists, rejecting meaningless internal fights over history and detailed agendas.” This is incorrect. If one approaches the task of communists based on the objective interests of the proletariat, we must conclude that Maoism does not further these interests—this was true in the 1940s just as it is true today. Mao just like Xi today sought to solve the problems facing China within its own national borders, entirely separated from the task of international socialist revolution. This nationalist approach must not be conciliated but politically defeated if the forces of communism are to advance in China today.

The ICL has only a very limited understanding of political and economic developments in China today. For this reason, the points outlined in this letter have a necessarily general character. In contrast, your article clearly indicates you have a pulse on essential aspects of the political life in the country. What you lack is a Marxist method through which to organize these insights. Towards this there is no better guide than Trotsky’s writings on the USSR, in particular The Revolution Betrayed and In Defense of Marxism. We strongly encourage you and your comrades to study the method and content of these works. It is from this standpoint that we have sought to approach our recent articles on China and the current letter.

We very much look forward to future correspondence.