Chinese revolution and the Buddhist sense of knowledge


The following is the English version of an essay in Chinese originally prepared for the Central Institute of Socialist studies in Beijing.

Marxism in modern China

The role of Marxism in modern China is very important and delicate for the ruling Communist party, whose ideology is still grounded in the ideas of the philosopher of Trier. Still, in the past four decades Marxism in China has dramatically changed. We offer a look into the possible future of Marxism in China from a foreign perspective.

In order to understand what kind of role Marxism will play in contemporary society, we must first understand the theory of Karl Marx himself in the 19th century. Marx’s theory is divided into two parts: the analysis of society and the economy, and the use of this analysis to start the revolution to overthrow the contemporary political and social order. Of course, his two-part theory is not entirely new. The former appeared in Smith and Ricardo theories; the latter appeared in every revolution since the French revolution 1789: they wanted to start a very thorough surge to change society’s rules, overthrow the 19th century aristocracy and the rich. Marx linked these two parts together because he found a scientific way to measure the exploitation of the working people. Marx found that the capitalists turned the laborers’ plus-labor into their plus-value, and he could return the plus value to the laborers through the revolution, so that the expectations of the revolution were linked to the analysis of the economy.

This methodology, which combines the expectations of economic society and revolution, became the soul of communism in the 20th century. But the question is, now that the revolutionary party has become a ruling party, how can a theory to create revolution be used while holding on power? Presently the once revolutionary party certainly does not want to start the revolution; it only wants to maintain a stable rule. In this, some socialist countries believed that letting the state control all the production capacity would solve every problem, but now realize that doing so will make a country poor and backward.

In order to overcome this problem, Deng Xiaoping opened the economy and launched the reforms, and the result was to give full freedom to all productive forces, so that China can continue to move forward.

Furthermore, a ruling party must maintain internal stability, and at the same time maintain stability in foreign countries, because the export of revolution might also bring instability also domestically. So perhaps we have to reconsider the spirit of Marx, and in order to help the ruling party, we should find ways to separate the revolution from the economic and social analysis – that is, to maintain its economic and social analytical methods, and to abandon its theory of the expectations of the revolution because the revolution poses a great danger to political and social stability.

From the historical point of view, if we do not consider the revolutionary inspiration and only consider the economic and social analysis, then we will find that many thinkers also have a direct or indirect Marxist inspiration, such as Weber, Schumpeter, or Hayek. These people use a very complex ideological structure to analyze the economy and society, and their purpose is of course to help the ruling party in power. But in China the original revolutionary party has become the ruling party, so the purpose is the same.

China is now facing the same problem, that Weber, Schumpeter or Hayek faced: to uphold and improve the present order. Now in China the ruling party needs to avoid and prevent revolution.

It should be necessary then to analyze domestic and foreign social contradictions, and think of ways to overcome these contradictions and not let these contradictions lead to revolution. There is also a need for adequate socioeconomic space to promote domestic and foreign economic and civil development.

So objectively speaking, China’s ruling party conflicts with the contemporary theory of the so-called Neo Marxism in the West. Some Western Marxists also hope that a violent approach will overthrow the present world’s political order in each state. China’s ruling party, on the contrary, needs to overcome or even cover up social contradictions.

For instance, China’s theory of harmonious society and the theory of China’s Dream encompass this idea. The meaning of a harmonious society is that there is actually a class conflict, but this conflict should not be resolved through struggle, but through harmony – that is, whether you are rich or poor, we need to exist together peacefully. The Chinese dream is almost the same concept. Now the Chinese have become richer, and many are middle class, which means that all people should also be satisfied.

Presently, the problem is not the need for revolution, but what will help China’s ruling party to stabilize the country. China must, on the one hand, analyze and explore contemporary social and economic problems, and on the other hand, try to overcome these problems.

These two aspects require knowledge of the issue: where the problem is, but also how to solve the problem. Where is this knowledge? The 17th century thinker Hume[1] is the first in the West to propose the concept that “knowledge is decentralized”, and everyone in his personal scope is the most knowledgeable. This concept was central in the evolution and acceptance of modern markets, the basis for a capitalist economy. Markets had always existed but were subject to the vagaries of long drawn transactions. Here, exchange blurred into deceit, piracy, and theft. Modern exchanges conversely assume fairness and transparency in return for speed in transactions.[2]

Adam Smith also raised the issue of personal knowledge in the 18th century as a way to exchange and find a balance in the market and competition. Perhaps these concepts will help us to find new theories to help the ruling party. Of course, we know that the market and competition are not absolutely perfect – knowledge and people are not absolutely perfect – but other ways have even greater shortcomings.

[1] See The article underscores the role of 18th-century Jesuit Ippolito Desideri in providing the first comprehensive account of the theory of dispersion of knowledge in Buddhist theories. The dispersion of knowledge of Hume is the precedent for Adam Smith’s first clear definition of the modern market in The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II: «What is the species of domestick industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it».
[2] I owe this to conversations with and the advice of Lorenzo Infantino.

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  1. Antonio Manca Graziadei 1 settembre 2017

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