The Incomplete Transformation of Sinicized Marxism*


Genesis of this article

This article was written originally for domestic readers in the author’s homeland, China, and aimed at some serious problems of so-called Sinicized Marxism, including its neglect of Marx’s theoretical attitude and the idea of freedom. The Chinese version of the article was prepared as a contribution to the Eighth Annual Conference (in 2008) of the Chinese Forum on Marxist Philosophy, sponsored jointly by the journal Chinese Social Sciences and Wuhan University. I was listed in the conference-program as a key speaker, but just at the moment I was going to the platform to present this article, I was deprived of the right of presentation by officials of the sponsor organizations without any explanation or apology. After the close of the conference, I was told that my critique of Sinicized Marxism had offended those officials and some authoritative scholars who had not noticed the viewpoints in my article until it was my turn to present. And then, a number of participants in the conference condemned my opinions as a challenge to the Party’s ideology. For the same reason, many similar cases happened in the following years. I was warned that I might not talk about this issue henceforth; my critical articles were rejected by domestic journals; my applications for national research funds failed one after another; I was not welcome in domestic academic conferences; and so on.1 In brief, I have been bearing great pressure in response to the ideas I sought to put forward.

I do not know whether any English readers of this article have had a similar experience (whether in academia or in the larger society), but this very situation is what I propose to discuss and attack. If any reader is confused by my opinions, please keep these circumstances in mind. My purpose here is to expose their essence, namely, de-theorization and de-liberalization of Marxism in China. Sinicized Marxism has not hitherto permitted any theoretical and liberal critique of the official ideology, whereas Marx himself used to bravely defend freedom of the press.

Brief description of the Sinicization of Marxism

The name Marx appeared first in the Chinese press in 1898 (Huang 2005b: 20), but Marxism did not influence Chinese political practice until the October Revolution in Russia. Mao Zedong has a well-known remark: ‘The salvoes of the October Revolution brought us Marxism-Leninism’ (Mao 1964: 1360).

From the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 to Mao’s victory in the competition with Wang Ming for the leadership of the Party in 1938, Russian Marxism had dominated Chinese understanding of Marxism which Mao called doctrinarism. Accordingly, Mao put forward an alternative agenda, namely, the Sinicization of Marxism. Mao said: ‘the sinicization of Marxism – that is to say, making certain that in all its manifestations it is imbued with Chinese characteristics, using it according to Chinese peculiarities – becomes a problem that must be understood and solved by the whole Party without delay’ (Mao 2004: 539). However, according to Wang Ming’s account, Mao suggested that Leninism is Russianized Marxism, while his doctrine is Sinicized Marxism, so what should dominate the Chinese Party and the Chinese revolution was his doctrine and not Leninism (Wang 2004: 15).

In 2007, in his political report to the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, General Secretary Hu Jintao called on the Party and the people ‘to continuously promote the Sinicization of Marxism,’ and ‘to link the insistence on the fundamental principles of Marxism and the promotion of the Sinicization of Marxism’ (Hu 2007: Part 2). From then on, the Sinicization of Marxism has become a very important issue in both politics and academe in China.

Two negative aspects of Sinicized Marxism and their transformation

The Sinicization of Marxism as a historical fact is undeniable; as an ideological strategy, it has its own rationale. The difficulty is not how to understand it, but how to evaluate it.

In the Chinese political and academic context, the Sinicization of Marxism is viewed entirely as a positive phenomenon, so people can only praise it but may not criticize it. Actually, it indeed has its positive aspects; for example, it guided the Chinese revolution to success and the Chinese nation to independence. All this has been amply expounded and is not in question.

But the application of Sinicized Marxism is too homogeneous to tolerate different voices. It therefore seems necessary to talk about its negative aspects as well. This article explores two of these negative aspects, namely, de-theorization and de-liberalization, and their recent transformation into re-theorization and re-liberalization, and then offers some constructive proposals. Those two aspects and their transformation produce an incomplete hermeneutic revolution of Marxism in China, namely, from a radical de-theorization to a limited re-theorization and from a radical de-liberalization to a limited re-liberalization.

The de-theorization of Marxism in China

European theoretical attitude and Marx’s theoretical attitude

Let us first explain the de-theorization of Marxism in China.

In Philosophy in the Crisis of European Mankind, Husserl shows that there is a distinctive European theoretical attitude that suspends intentionally from all practical interests, faces the thing itself, and purely pursues objective knowledge for its own sake. This is the opposite of the Eastern attitude, which considers everything only in terms of practical interests. Comparing them, we find that the theoretical attitude is more helpful for the practical than vice-versa because the theoretical attitude endows human beings with universal scientific reason. The European belief is that practices should be normalized by objective truth (Husserl 1970: 282).2 The European tradition that Husserl speaks of really exists (though perhaps his affirmation is exaggerated), and reveals itself clearly in Marx’s scientific research.

Marx is known for his claim about changing the world, which seems to imply that he does not have the so-called theoretical attitude. But in its pursuance of knowledge and its insistence on guiding practice with theory, Marx’s attitude is undoubtedly firmly theoretical, though at the same time Marx also has a practical attitude and his two attitudes are both different from and related to each other. This can be proved by the following considerations.3

To refute Weitling, who once said with a sneer that Marx’s works are merely ‘theories in the library’, Marx argues that ‘it is simply deceiving to incite the people without giving their actions any reliable, carefully studied foundation’ (Weitling 1960: 45-6). Bakunin also criticized Marx as ‘a glutton for theory’, ‘indulging in those inane theories’ (Mehring 2003: 146-7). The difference between Marx and them is that Marx has the theoretical attitude alongside the practical attitude while they do not. Schumpeter described Marx’s theoretical attitude:

This incessant endeavor to school himself and to master whatever there was to master went some way toward freeing him from prejudices and extra-scientific aims, though he certainly worked in order to verify a definite vision. To his powerful intellect, the interest in the problem as a problem was paramount in spite of himself, and however much he may have bent the import of his final results, while at work he was primarily concerned with sharpening the tools of analysis proffered by the science of his day, with straightening out logical difficulties, and with building on the foundation thus acquired a theory that in nature and intent was truly scientific whatever its shortcomings may have been. (Schumpeter 1997: 25)

Of course, what most accounts for his theoretical attitude is certainly his studies themselves. Even though he had planned to publish his economic work in early 1851, as Engels had often urged him, Marx refused to begin to write if there was any book which he thought to be important but had still not read.4 In 1859, the first part of this book (The Critique of Political Economy) was finished and published; and finally eight years later, based on his previous studies, the first volume of Capital was printed. The theoretical purity of these representative works is indubitable as shown by Marx’s declaration of ‘theoretical conscience’ (Marx & Engels 1983: 317) and his willingness to resign himself to the evidence in the event that his expectations were not borne out.5

As stated above, the theoretical attitude consists in leaving aside the student’s taste and interests in the objects of study, facing the things themselves, and from that foundation constructing the universal, necessary, and objective relations among the facts. Arguably Marx’s study on the relations of capitalist production is the best example of this kind of attitude.

De-theorization of Sinicized Marxism: From theoretical attitude to hermeneutical, applied and strategic attitude

Unfortunately, however, Sinicized Marxism loses this theoretical attitude.

Twenty years after its introduction into China, at the turn of the 20th century, Marxism seemed to be just another western system of thought. It was the October Revolution that inspired the first group of Chinese Marxists and their political organization, the Chinese Communist Party. Thereafter, the Party came to be the authoritative voice of Marxism in China, and meanwhile Marxism came to be the legitimate foundation of the Party’s existence and practices. Only those who represent the Party have the right to represent Marxism. Any Marxism not authorized by the Party is declared to be non-Marxism or pseudo-Marxism. This is the context of the Sinicization of Marxism.

The foundational task of the Sinicization of Marxism is translating, introducing, and propagandizing Marxism. Marx’s formulation of his doctrine was a kind of theoretical work, whereas the translation, introduction, and propagation of the doctrine is not theoretical work, but hermeneutical work in a general sense. The theoretical work does face and is faithful to the facts themselves, while the hermeneutical work is self-referential. Superficially, those Chinese Marxists seemed to echo Marx in discussing capitalism, but where Marx did so in a theoretical manner, they did so in a hermeneutical manner. Marx, living in the most developed and typically capitalist society, studied capitalism by analyzing first-hand data, whereas those Chinese Marxists talked about capitalism by reading Marx’s works. Thus the theoretical attitude inherent in Marxism was transformed into the hermeneutical attitude.

That the Chinese Marxists used Marxism to interpret the social history of China is only a theoretical application but not the theorizing itself. The theoretical application determines the particular objects by the general principles, whereas the work of theorizing abstracts the general principles from the particulars. The theoretical application may be rigorous as well as flexible, so there is room for varying degrees of doctrinarian and empirical attitudes. And all of these attitudes are attitudes of theoretical application (which is analogous to the technical attitude as opposed to the scientific attitude), but are not the attitude of theorization. Insofar as the theoretical or theorizing attitude does not make prior assumptions, it establishes its general system of principles from the roots; the attitude of application, on the contrary, must assume the rightness of a certain general principle, or the application would be implausible. In other words, the theoretical attitude is reflective and critical of the theory itself, but the attitude of application is non-reflective and non-critical of the theory. In the Sinicization of Marxism, the theoretical attitude of the original Marx turned into the applied attitude of the theory.

The most important role that Marxism plays in China is to be the ultimate rationale and justification for the Party’s practices, though it is to some extent also the gospel of the poor. As a result, to vindicate Marxism is to maintain the existence of the Party, and to vindicate a certain interpretation of Marxism is to maintain the existence of the Party’s established authority. The discourse of Marxism has thus become a practical strategy. In other words, the discourse of Sinicized Marxism is seldom scientific or academic, but mostly ideological or political. Whether a statement is Marxist or not depends not on whether it shows the objective facts from the Marxist view nor on whether it accords with the classical texts, but instead on whether it has produced actual influences which are of benefit to the Party and its established authority. That is to say, for Sinicized Marxism, the problem of what the facts are and whether the reasoning is logical is secondary; the primary problem is whether what was said is of benefit to the Party or not. This is a kind of strategic attitude. Everyone who has ever studied Marx carefully should know that Marx himself never has this kind of attitude. For him as a person who always does scientific research truthfully, what matters is what the facts are and whether the reasoning is logical. It was because of such an attitude that he was unafraid of being an exile and surrendering his hope of being a professor in a German university.

There is a sharp opposition between the attitude of Marx himself and the attitudes of Sinicized Marxism. The latter attitudes, whether hermeneutical, applied, or strategic, are not theoretical, but practical. And although the Sinicization of Marxism also has some theoretical results, they are archived in Mao Zedong’s theoretical model of ‘from practice to knowledge to practice again’ (see Mao 1965: 297). Typically embodying the practical attitude of the Sinicization of Marxism, this model puts cognition in the crack between the practices, and leaves no room for independent theory or purely cognitive activity. As a result of this, the theoretical attitude inherent in Marxism is taken away from Chinese Marxism. I call this process de-theorization. Taking this article as an example again, all its Chinese critics censured it not for its scientific falsity or academic defects but for its ideological wrongness and political error, although they might have recognized its statements of facts as true. By contrast, its Western reviewers criticized it only from a scientific or academic perspective but not from any similar ideological or political perspective. In short, the de-theorization imposed by Sinicized Marxism means that Sinicized Marxists take the practical function of their opinion on Marxism as a priority over its theoretical value, and consciously choose the former over the latter in the event of any discrepancy.

The consequence of de-theorization is thus that Sinicized Marxism is filled with the various hermeneutical, applied, and strategic discourses. Of those discourses, insofar as the strategic discourse of the political campaign is the dominant one, the history of Sinicized Marxism is effectively just a collection of politically strategic discourses. However necessary this situation is, and whatever defenses are given to its reasonableness, there is an undeniable and huge cost arising from the de-theorization of Marxism in China: not only has basic Marxist theory been scarcely developed, but much of its valuable content has been lost. Compared with Western Marxism, which was introduced into China after the Reform and Opening in 1978, Sinicized Marxism has an extremely large theoretical deficit.

The De-liberalization of Marxism in China

The Western tradition of freedom and Marx’s idea of freedom

Let us now talk about de-liberalization of Marxism in China.

The most valuable idea of Marxism is its concept of liberalization. The idea is fully embodied in a famous proposition in the Manifesto of the Communist Party: ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’ (Marx & Engels 1988: 231). For Marx, the whole of human history naturally tends to a final ending, that is, the freedom of all people without exception, which is the kind of freedom that each can acquire only by becoming a full person. And the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the necessary approach to emancipate all human beings and achieve universal freedom.6

The Marxist idea of freedom inherits, develops, and transcends the Western tradition of freedom, especially the tradition of classical liberalism. Marx disagrees with liberalism not in the sense of rejecting the freedom it proposes, but rather in the sense of regarding that freedom as insufficient – not comprehensive enough or exhaustive enough. Marx favors the kind of universal freedom that allows everyone to do what they want to do, and the precondition for this freedom is removing material lacks and unequal ownership and distribution. That is to say, what Marx denies are not the essential components of freedom claimed by the bourgeoisie (freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom of voting, and freedom of property), but rather their specifically bourgeois applications. Although it is not easy to distinguish their spiritual essentials from their class-inflected forms, there is a basic operative principle: when criticizing capitalism, Marx never has in mind to replace free speech with restricted speech, free belief with a ban on religion, private property with the deprivation of personal possessions, or democratic voting with an elimination of voting.

The first article published by Marx, ‘Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction’, was written to advocate free speech. Some might say that insofar as this only shows Marx’s immature thought, it is not truly Marxist. But in fact Marx continued to hold forcefully to this idea even after the Manifesto of the Communist Party (Marx 1977: 314, 316). ‘According to Marx, no government should ever impose restrictions on freedom of thought and publication. The democratic freedoms of conscience, speech, and the press should not be restricted under any circumstances. Every restriction, every censorship, is a cry of a “dirty conscience,” according to Marx’ (Maneli 1978: 43).

In A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx clearly pointed out that only if the actual causes bringing about suffering are removed would people cease to need the comfort they sought from religions. In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx labeled as ‘crude communism’ the communism that ‘wants to destroy everything which is not capable of being possessed by all as private property’ (Marx & Engels 1988: 100-1). In The Civil War in France, he called for a more radical direct democracy than the capitalist representative system. All such ideas show that Marx never intends or proposes to promote his theories by reducing the people’s freedom in the spiritual, economic, and political spheres. Instead what he makes a great effort to understand is how to really enhance their freedoms. Although some of his projects yielded somewhat the opposite results – for instance, the planned economy in fact functioned to deprive the people of freedom – Marx would not, I believe, pursue the means at the expense of the end, freedom, if he saw with his own eyes the contradictions between the theory and the application.

The de-liberalization of Sinicized Marxism

The Sinicization of Marxism has never really accepted Marx’s idea of freedom.7 Li Dazhao described Marxism as a system composed of three parts and a golden line: first, a way of understanding the past – the doctrine of history (the evolution of social organizations); second, a way of understanding the present – the doctrine of economics (the economics of capitalism); third, a way of understanding the future – the doctrine of policy (the doctrine of socialist movements or social democratism); and the golden line uniting the three doctrines – ‘the doctrine of class struggle’ (Li 1984: 50). This conception of Marxist theories was generated by the hermeneutical situation of national salvation and revolution in the early 1980s, but it had been the common basic purport of the Sinicization of Marxism in the half century before the Reform and Opening. However, eventually the term ‘social democratism’ was no longer accepted. When struggling against the Kuomintang government, Marxism deployed many discourses of freedom, such as the song Union Is Strength which urges ‘letting all undemocratic systems die, running towards freedom, towards the sun, and towards the new China’. But now those discourses are treated as being dated, and those who sing the song do not truly understand and believe in Marx’s idea of freedom.

Compared with the term ‘freedom’ (Ziyou), terms that we are more familiar with are ‘emancipation’ or ‘liberation’ (Jiefang), which often appear in the terms ‘the Liberation Army’, ‘emancipate the whole of China’, and ‘liberation of mankind’. In the Sinicization of Marxism, the implied meaning of ‘emancipation’ or ‘liberation’ (Jiefang) is not ‘setting free from…’, namely, not the verb form of ‘liberty’ (Ziyou), but standing up and being master through taking power by violence. That is to say, ‘liberation’ (Jiefang) does not produce ‘freedom’ (Ziyou).

In fact, after the ‘liberation of China’, Sinicized Marxism delivered a set of planned political, economic, and cultural systems with a high degree of collectivization, and took as its ideal social state the regulation of all people’s thoughts and actions. Obviously this state is totally different from the romantically free state described by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology: ‘to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind’ (Marx & Engels 1978: 160).8 According to Marx’s original idea, through labor-saving machinery capitalism necessarily produces more and more free time, the distribution of which allows people freely to develop their own character, which is real liberation. On the other hand, ‘liberation’ (Jiefang) in Sinicized Marxism consists of collectively controlling and managing everybody’s resources and time through political authority. This shows that although there are certainly many points of agreement between Sinicized Marxism and original Marxism, in what pertains to the issue of freedom, they have nothing in common. In fact, Marxism takes freedom as of ultimate value, whereas Sinicized Marxism is not only uninterested in freedom, but binds ‘liberalization’ with ‘the bourgeoisie’ so that people tremble when ‘liberty’ is mentioned. I call this situation the de-liberalization of Marxism in China.

Let us still take this article itself as an example. Objectively speaking, since the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1976, Chinese people have achieved various freedoms, including academic freedom to some extent, but it is evident that topics such as the one in this article are still taboo, even if they are based on Marx’s texts. So perhaps this case can be regarded by foreign observers as a thermograph of the degree of academic freedom in present-day China. In contrast to Sinicized Marxists, Marx himself was at all times one of the boldest fighters for freedom in the whole of human history, emphasizing the fundamental importance of freedom of the press (see Marx 1974: 3-89).9 Only if one personally experiences the lack of freedoms, including freedom of the press, can one really understand the difference between Marx’s Marxism and Sinicized Marxism on freedom in general and freedom of the press.

A comparison between de-liberalized Marxism and Marx’s Marxism

Therefore de-liberalized Marxism is seemingly in harmony but actually at variance with Marx’s Marxism and would never have been accepted by Marx himself.

First, that the government completely controls the publication industry is simply anti-Marxist. It originally was the practice of the Celestial Empire, as noted by Marx when he satirized Prussian censorship instructions (Marx 1975a: 115).10 In fact, unknown to Marx, in those days there was no modern journal or newspaper run by the Chinese government. Would Marx have accepted that his theory, when applied in China, produced the very situation he condemned? The answer should be NO, I believe. For in another article Marx declared that censorship would ‘stifle the national spirit’, and he asserted that ‘any other freedom would come to naught without the freedom of the press’ (Marx 1975b: 168, 181).

Second, Marx designed the planned economy to improve people’s freedom, whereas in China the annulment of the planned economy allowed a certain freedom. I can imagine that some mixed feelings would well up in his heart if Marx knew about this.

Third, the consequences of the ultra-leftist line in regard to religion are still harming this country, which proves Marx’s insight regarding freedom of conscience.

Finally, in politics, would Marx not be shocked to find that Sinicized Marxism still maintains a political condition resembling that of Germany in his day, and that the condition is thus far from his ideal of democracy?

It should be pointed out that, of all the different kinds of freedoms, the one which the theoretical attitude reflects is the purest. And it is perfectly necessary for any theoretician to be given freedom of thought. Marxism is the result of Marx himself seeking freedom of thought and living in the tolerant circumstances of the most developed capitalist country. Compared with this, Sinicized Marxism lacks not only the practice of free thinking, but also the permission for it.

In a word, insofar as freedom or liberation is the spirit of Marxism, the de-liberalization of it is essentially crushing that spirit. This, in my opinion, is the biggest error of the Sinicization of Marxism.

Toward the re-theorization and re-liberalization of Sinicized Marxism

An objective tendency

Although the topic of this article is the negative side of the Sinicization of Marxism, I do not deny that it has its achievements, and especially do not deny some positive changes relevant to the above aspects in the past thirty years.

First, the Sinicization of Marxism is beginning to manifest some degree of opening and toleration, and thus to leave a little room for diverse Marxisms. Before the Reform and Opening, there was only one true Marxism, namely, Mao’s version of Marxism, while all other versions of Marxism were not recognized. After that, various versions of Marxism have been introduced into China, and some have been recognized. Furthermore, before the Reform and Opening, as regards understanding of Marxism, one billion people could legally hold one uniform opinion, namely, Mao’s opinion, whereas it was extremely dangerous for anyone to have personal opinions different from the uniform one. Now, except for some opinions at odds with the concerns of the Party like the one in this article, any opinion can be freely held.

Second, there is a tendency towards re-theorization in Sinicized Marxism, that is, an attempt to research the fundamental tenets of Marxism proceeding from the theories themselves rather than from political needs. Of course, it must be clarified that re-theorization is not a return to idealism. All his life Marx criticized idealist approaches like that of Bauer and the Left Hegelians who started from the theory and not from the reality and the real conditions of the workers. However, re-theorization just means a return to basic academic honesty or ‘theoretical conscience’ regardless of materialism or idealism, which is opposite to the purposive ideological lie for the sake of the speaker’s practical interests.

Third, the Sinicization of Marxism is gradually recognizing the free spirit of Marxism in some degree and even embodying it in its practices, a situation which can be called re-liberalization. These positive changes are allowing Marxism to have a much more positive impact on Chinese development.

Suggestions for a complete revolution: Liberalization, theorization and diversification of Marxism

My analysis has focused mostly on the negative aspects of Sinicization because its positive aspects have been talked about so much,11 while the negative aspects have been mostly ignored. In view of those negative aspects we should adjust our evaluation of the Sinicization of Marxism and consider a new proposal for Chinese Marxism. Accordingly, I have three constructive suggestions.

1. The liberalization of Marxism. In the first place, for Marxism itself, liberalization does not mean imposing on Marxism anything non-Marxist, but rather returning to Marxism what originally belongs to Marxism itself. In the second place, liberalization is a necessary condition for Chinese studies of Marxism. It means that our Marxist discourses will be not truly Marxist but pseudo-Marxist if Marx himself is recognized as an untiring advocate of freedom of the press while Marxism cannot be freely studied and discussed in China. Finally, the essence of liberalization consists in liberalized Marxism being transformed into practical power and thereby making due contribution to increasing the freedom of the people.

2. The theorization of Marxism. In the first place, for Marxism theorization is actually re-theorization, that is, paying back to Marxism our debts to Marxist theories. What has made Marxism influential is primarily the power of its theory. Before Marxism became state ideology in some countries, millions of workers and people in the world had accepted it. Clearly, they did so not because they were forced to convert by any Marxist organization, bought over by any revolutionary agency, or deceived by communist propaganda, but because they believed in its theoretical truth, namely, its discovery of their real situation in capitalist society. In the second place, for Chinese studies of Marxism, theorization is the only way to seek autonomy of thought. If Chinese researchers of Marxism do not independently produce any original theory, there is nothing they can do but to follow, translate, interpret, and apply those theories produced by others, and hence they will always be consumers of theories and dance to others’ tunes. Finally, the essence of theorization consists in forming true theories, which requires the laying aside of practical attitudes, especially the practical needs of political authority, intuiting the facts and problems of the world with our own eyes, judging them with our own mind, and discussing others’ opinions with an open heart. A Marxism so produced is the kind of theory that is really helpful for practice. By contrast, those theories which are created with a practical attitude, in particular those theories customized to political requirements, only get in the way of practice. In other words, laying aside practical attitudes does not mean that theory should neglect practice throughout, but simply means that theory must lay aside practice at first, and then can satisfy practice at last.12

3. The diversification of Marxism. In the first place, Marxism was originally the result of diverse thoughts stimulating each other in modern Europe. If thought and speech in Europe at that time had been as controlled as Sinicized Marxism is, Marxism could not have come into being. In the second place, in the Western world, Marxism after Marx presents a scenario of diverse schools and theories competing with each other, which has allowed the Chinese study of Marxism to become a translation industry and has to some extent determined our research results. This picture presents a sharp contrast to the extreme poverty of theory in the Sinicization of Marxism. Finally, we must notice the fact that in the past century there has been no lack of different voices in Chinese Marxism, but all of these have been eliminated by the political orthodoxy of the Sinicization of Marxism. That is the biggest tragedy of Chinese Marxism. In this context, if we really hope that Marxism will have a normal development in China, a situation of diversification of Marxism is absolutely necessary, which will allow Sinicized Marxism to be positioned as one school among others.13

In a word, liberalization, the theorization and diversification of Marxism can be taken as the theme of the final stage to complete the revolution of Sinicized Marxism from de-theorization to re-theorization and from de-liberalization to re-liberalization.

An unconcluded conclusion

In this final part, although some reviewers thought I should avoid speaking in the first person and should use scholarly language, I still have to express some personal sentiments and beg readers for sympathy with this kind of expression, which can be seen even in Marx’s text. After all, one can hardly ignore the irony that Marx himself and his students in the Western capitalist countries can have basic academic freedom to advocate Marxism and criticize capitalism while a scholar in a Marxist country does not have the same academic freedom to advocate the original Marxism and criticize some misunderstanding of it. Just because I was afraid of possible troubles brought about by this article, I wrote the next concluding paragraph three years ago, which now seems especially meaningful and which I am still willing to take as an unconcluded conclusion.

In his later years, Engels did find that there was intolerance in the Marxist camp, which made him anxious. About this he wondered, ‘Are we then asking that others concede us the right of free speech merely so that we may abolish it again within our own ranks?’ (Engels 2001: 425) It is a pity that his admonishment was to no effect. It is because of what he feared in those days that Chinese Marxist research is still in an irregular or abnormal state to the present day – a state to which we remain accustomed even though the Reform and Opening has gone on for thirty years. For that reason, what this article speaks of is not an easy thing. Anyway, I firmly believe that although a researcher who accepts Marx’s theoretical attitude and idea of freedom may not be a Marxist, one who dismisses them from his mind absolutely does not deserve the name of Marxist.


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Xu Changfu (2005) ‘To Study Marxism with Marx’s Academic Spirit’ in Modern Philosophy, 2005(1): 11-17.


*This article is an outcome of the Humanities and Social Sciences Project of Guangdong Province in 2010 – ‘Practical Language, Practical Thinking and Practical Wisdom’ and the 3rd stage of the 985-Project of Sun Yat-sen University. It was translated from the Chinese by Liu Yu, proofread by Stephen Ney, revised in English by the author, proofread by Andrew Chiang, and further edited into its present form.

1. A year later, part of the Chinese version of this article was translated into English as a contribution to a small international symposium in Shanghai. After the end of my presentation in Chinese, most Chinese participants stopped the interpreter with one voice: ‘Don’t interpret it to the foreign participants!’ Fortunately, there has been no subsequent trouble.

2. Husserl discussed the difference between practical attitude and theoretical attitude in his Vienna Lecture in 1935 (Husserl 1970: 282). In fact, Hegel had already used the term theoretical attitude (Hegel 1975: 291).

3. For a more detailed exposition, see Xu 2005: 15-16.

4. On this point, see Mehring (2003: 228-9, 257) and Musto (2008: 157).

5. Musto says: ‘Marx had to resign himself to the evidence: the crisis had not provoked the social and political effects that he and Engels had forecast with so much certainty’ (2008: 159). In my understanding, the more precise statement should be ‘Marx, according to his theoretical conscience, resigned himself to the evidence’. This is totally different from Sinicized Marxism which always rejects any unfavorable evidence.

6. The following citation can be taken as evidence of my understanding: ‘This socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class differences generally, to the abolition of all the production relations on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to theses production relations, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations’ (Marx 1959: 317; Marx’s italics). In contrast to Marx, Russianized and Sinicized Marxists took proletarian dictatorship, on the one hand, as a normal and endless condition (instead of abnormal and temporary), and on the other hand, as the dictatorship of a minority, namely, the Party or the representative of proletariat, instead of the dictatorship of the majority (namely, working people themselves), so as to maintain the Party’s rule.

7. The same was true of the Soviet Union.

8. Carver attributes this passage to Engels due to its ‘Utopian, naïve, pre-industrial and an unconscious parody of Fourier’ (Carver 1998: 106). Clearly, this does not apply to my article. Even if there is some disagreement about this example between Marx and Engels, they share the same idea of freedom.

9. Even liberal thinkers recognize Marx’s conception of freedom. Karl Popper says: ‘Marx loved freedom, real freedom (not Hegel’s “real freedom”)’ (Popper 1966: 102).

10. By the way, when talking about this article, most Chinese scholars do avoid intentionally or unintentionally this point that Marx took China as a case. An example can be seen in The History of Marxist Philosophy (Huang 2005a: 127-129).

11. In the past 20 years, 357 books or dissertations and 3814 articles whose titles include the Sinicization of Marxism were published in China. Data from the information system of the National Library of China.

12. Hegel brilliantly expounds the dialectical relation between theory and practice (Hegel 1975: 284).

13. In this case, it will no longer be a ‘Sinicization of Marxism’ in the full sense. But insofar as Sinicized Marxism has its specific tradition, it can rationally degenerate into one of multiple Chinese Marxist schools in the future.

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