I came across this podcast on China on The Financial Times site. It’s a little less than 20 minutes long and worth the listen (if you don’t have a subscription to The Financial Times you can probably register for free articles to have a listen). I certainly don’t bill myself as a China expert, but nevertheless I was struck by what appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding about the difference between Xi Jinping thought and Mao Ze Dong thought. The interesting question is whether Xi Jinping is moving China back to the Mao era, or is “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” more akin to Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalism. At first blush, it’s easy to associate the cult of personality, the strengthening of CPC rule with Mao, and the purge of the CPC via the anti-corruption drive, but to do so ignores Mao’s revolution against his own party and the overall thrust of Mao’s efforts to level Chinese society and purge it of Chinese tradition. In contrast, Xi Jinping’s goal is to modernize China and to build on China’s cultural traditions, as interpreted of course, through the lens of Xi Jinping thought and the CPC.
If Xi Jinping considers himself wedded to “building socialism”, it seems that his understanding of socialism is at best 1) mechanical and 2) rhetorical. It is mechanical in the sense that “building socialism” appears to be first and foremost about developing “the forces of production” and not at all about any kind of genuine worker control of production or redistribution of wealth. To the contrary, the policies pursued since Deng have heightened inequality in China. For the time being, I’ll leave aside arguments pro and contra Socialism, but State Capitalism under one party rule is not socialism. Though it would take more time, I would argue as well that Maoism was not, and is not Socialism.
Xi Jinping thought is ideology. And this leads us to the question asked in the podcast referenced above “does Xi Jinping believe in his own ideology?” My thought is that ideology today is playing essentially the same role that Slavoj Zizek argues ideology played in the in the former Yugoslavia: in other words, Xi Jinping believes it to a point, but like horseshoes hung over doors, it works whether you believe it or not.