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Six Challenges to the Ideologies of Chinese Communism

[Editor’s Note: Qiushi Journal, the core publication of the Chinese Communist Party, published an article on the challenges to China’s ideologies. The author is keenly aware of the ideological challenges that the regime faces. “Vying for “soft power” has become the focus in the competition for overall national power, including, for example, dominance in discourse, control of the Internet, the right to disseminate information, the power to establish rules, and cultural leadership.” The following is a translation of the entire article.] [1]

The core national interest is to firmly occupy the ideological battlefield, which is also an important bargaining chip in international contests. Today’s world is no longer a world where “violence and money” are in control. “Nuclear missiles and rockets” are retreating backstage, while “will and ideas” are coming to the forefront. Vying for “soft power” has become the focus in the competition for overall national power, including dominance in discourse, control of the Internet, the right to disseminate information, the power to set the rules, and cultural leadership. As a participant in the “war without gun smoke,” domestic and international forces have pushed China to the front lines in an ideological battle that involves multiple challenges.

First, cultural infiltration by the Western hostile forces threatens our ideological security. The disintegration of the former Soviet Union, together with the successful “color revolutions” that the Western hostile forces have engineered in the post-socialist countries, make China an obvious target for a similar peaceful evolution. In addition to implementing a peaceful evolution in the economic and political arena, the West has put more emphasis on cultural infiltration to achieve its goal of “winning without war.” Cultural infiltration is being carried out on three fronts: the first is direct cultural propaganda, which is the use of modern media to engage in long-term ideological infiltration. The most typical and commonly used is full screen coverage via radio and TV broadcasting. The amount of information that the U.S.’s CBS and CNN disseminate is 100 times the total amount of information from all other countries in the world. This type of direct cultural infiltration is large scale, low cost, and has a wide coverage. As the Washington Post has stated, “The Western world has spent half a century and hundreds of millions of dollars to seek a way to collapse communism, but has suddenly found the answer in TV news.” Today, with the help of the Internet, the West employs direct cultural propaganda, using a more convenient, efficient, widespread, powerful, and high-tech platform, which has become an important battleground for ideologies. The second is the use of cultural products to convey Western values to the public. Before World War II, the West focused on combining cultural exports with a national geopolitical strategy; after the War, they put even more emphasis on exporting their influence via comprehensive cultural exports. Hollywood movies are typical in this regard. Some media even call Hollywood movies the “Ambassador in the Metal Box.” By exerting influence in an imperceptible way, this is a more covert and deceptive means of spreading its culture and values. The third is the use of educational and academic exchanges as a pretext to engage in the ideological infiltration of social elites such as top scholars and intellectuals. Through such entities as The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and The Fulbright Foundation, Western hostile forces have roped in and utilized top social science researchers and intellectuals to foster “cultural genes” that can disintegrate socialism from within, spreading Western culture and values, and influencing the general public.

Second, different social ideas prevent us from uniting under China’s mainstream ideology of Marxism, which was the choice of history and of the people of China. In the ideological arena, the debate and competition will never disappear. Ever since the “reform and opening up,” the domestic and international situations have been complex and volatile, with many ideologies following each other onto the stage. They include the Neo-liberalism that advocates liberalization, privatization, and marketization; democratic socialism that supports reform and promotes democracy and freedom; and historic nihilism that denies the history of the Chinese Communist Party by distorting and vilifying the Party’s history and leadership figures. At the same time, the Western hostile forces have also launched diverse and deep-level ideological offensives. They have gone beyond peddling the Western values of hedonism and consumerism into politics and philosophic values. Brzezinski’s “Great Simplification Theory,” Daniel Bell’s “End of Ideology,” and Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” are open challenges to Marxism. These social thoughts are very confusing. They aim to win people’s trust and acceptance via systematic theories and seemingly objective historical facts in order to undermine the authority of the mainstream ideology. The recent hotly debated “China Model” is another theoretical trap following on the heels of the “China Threat Theory” and the “China Collapse Theory.” It’s a conspiracy on the part of the West to “use praise to prevail against China,” since “prevailing against China by means of criticism” failed. By being systemic and theoretical, different schools of anti-Marxist and non-Marxist social thought may easily trap people into some theoretical misdirection, resulting in questioning, wavering over, and even deserting Marxism. Therefore, it is necessary to improve the persuasiveness and explanatory power of Marxism itself, which will serve to strengthen its position on the mainstream ideological battlefield.

Third, the dramatic changes in the former Soviet Union and East European countries undermined faith in China’s mainstream ideology. In 1991, the hammer and sickle flag that once fluttered over the Kremlin fell, marking the demise of the socialist empire of the Soviet Union that had existed for more than 70 years. Soon afterwards, the socialist camp rapidly disintegrated and the international communist movement retreated to a low ebb. The causes of the dramatic changes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries are very complex. They include the peaceful Western influence and the corruption and degeneration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as well as the USSR’s rigid implementation of socialism and its chaotic ideologies. The final straw was the Soviet Union’s departure from Marxism and its failure to adhere to socialism. Different countries around the world have reflected upon and evaluated this major event in the history of the international communist movement in different ways. This one event generated all kinds of thoughts and ideas, thereby complicating the thinking about ideology. Someone trotted out the theory of the “End of History,” claiming this was the final victory of capitalism; another one despaired over the future of socialism; yet another one imputed the setbacks and mistakes in the practice of socialism to Marxism itself, believing that the Soviet Union collapsed because of the failure of socialism and because Marxism was obsolete. In our country, the possibility of negating Marxism and abandoning socialism also emerged, resulting in a weakening of China’s mainstream ideological beliefs and posing a challenge to our mainstream ideology.

Fourth, the theme of development and the goal of modernization watered down the differences between ideologies. The theme of today’s world is peace and development. With the advent of globalization, every country wants to maximally avoid risk and seize the opportunity to develop. Developing countries need to enrich themselves, empower their people, and modernize. To that end, some developing countries will pay more attention to improving their overall national power, exploiting energy and resources, and advancing in technology and expertise and less to traditional ideological issues. The pursuit of development and modernization often puts human beings on a homogeneous track of development, blurring the line between capitalism and socialism and watering down ideological differences. Actually, modernization, as a human development process that originated in the West and expanded to the world, is, in itself, a cultural ideology. Universal acceptance of the idea of modernization promises the “less developed countries” that, as long as they develop in accordance with the U.S. model of modernization, they can overcome backwardness and ignorance and achieve national economic growth and social progress. Thus they can get rid of the influence of the Marxist communist revolutionary archetype and exercise guidance and control over potential dangers that occur once they are freed from their former colonization as “less developed” countries. At the same time, the process will incorporate the “less developed” world into the capitalist world to facilitate capitalistic exploitation. Therefore, during the process of modernization, we ought to fully understand the ideological nature of the modernization and avoid falling into the “illusion of development.”

Fifth, the orientation toward multiple value systems impacts our mainstream ideology. Because China is in a period of social transition, profound changes are occurring in people’s lifestyles, behavior, and values. In a socialist market economy, people’s values include not only positive components that conform to socialist values, but also negative components, such as the pursuit of material interests and the worship of money. As the reform and opening-up continues to expand, our economic system and social structure have undergone significant changes; the nature of interest groups has undergone some profound changes; multiple ownership and changes in social classes have led to diversified stakeholders. People care about and defend the interest of the social group that they belong to and pay attention to the feelings and interests of the individuals involved. These feelings and interests are then used as the criteria to judge and assess what is good and what is bad. It is inevitable that ideas and values are becoming more and more pluralistic. In addition, in an open modern society, as cultural exchange and integration between the West and East continue to expand and deepen, the influx of a variety of cultures and ideologies provides a breeding ground for the existence of diverse values. Cultural values, which are independent, selective, volatile, and heterogeneous, to some extent weaken the guiding role of the mainstream values.

Sixth, the spread of information through the Internet poses a challenge to the control over ideologies. Different from traditional modes of transmission, communication through the Internet is free, speedy, interactive, open, and massive in volume. With the new technology of the Internet, our socialist ideologies can be disseminated via new vehicles, new communication channels, and a new space for public discussion. This has helped to enhance the attractiveness and cohesiveness of the socialist ideology. However, the network also poses a serious test of our control over ideology. The ideologies spread on the worldwide web are usually dissimilar and can easily proliferate and infiltrate. The West’s advanced technology and powerful cultural exports are a great challenge to the spread and defense of our ideologies. On the one hand, the openness, diversity and interactivity of the Internet provide people with access to information and expression and can serve as a release valve to resolve social conflicts and re-direct negative emotions. On the other hand, open, pluralistic, and interactive information dissemination has increased the difficulty of controlling our ideology. Facing a flood of information, people may no longer passively accept the indoctrination and education from the media holding the dominant position or may simply follow mainstream ideology, resulting in weakened identification with the mainstream ideology. We must take practical measures to strengthen the attractiveness and cohesiveness of the mainstream ideology and improve our ability to control and guide the Internet culture.

(The author is a research fellow at the Marxist Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

[1] Qiushi Journal, “Six Challenges to our Ideological Work,” July 5, 2012