Some may say that nothing resembles a book by Xi Jinping more than another book by Xi Jinping, and they are published every two months or so. However, they are still worth a look, considering they are mandatory reading for millions of CCP members and students throughout China.

The new book, On the Party’s Propaganda and Ideological Work (Beijing:  Institute of Party History and Documentation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, 2020) collects 52 texts by Xi on Marxist ideology and propaganda from August 19, 2013 to February 23, 2020.We should admit that the theme is in itself particularly interesting,

Xi argues that Chinese should be confident in “the excellent traditional Chinese culture nurtured by the Chinese nation’s 5,000 years of civilised history.” However, this culture should be interpreted taking “Marxism as the guide.” Not all is acceptable in Chinese traditions, and Xi’s idea is to filter them and keep only what is compatible with Marxism. The “charm of Chinese culture” should be used in international propaganda, to spread a gentle image of the CCP as part of its “soft power.” However, the content of the propaganda should be and remain Marxism.

Xi clarifies that, contrary to certain accusations, Marxist ideology and propaganda are not ancillary to modern Chinese geopolitical goals. Actually, it is the other way round. The main aim of the CCP is “the long-term development of Marxist propaganda and ideological work.” If they are not at the centre of CCP activities, something is wrong. Some, Xi notes, believe that today the main battlefield is the Internet. They are right, and “the Internet is at the forefront of the current ideological struggle.” However, Internet should be used to spread the Marxist ideology, and the medium should not change the message.

China, Xi writes, “is red, and this colour cannot be diluted. It is necessary to tell the stories of the party, the revolution, the origin, the stories of heroes and martyrs, strengthen revolutionary tradition education, patriotic education, and youth ideological and moral education, and carry on the red gene to ensure that the red country will never change its color.”

“Insist on historical materialism,” Xi suggests, mandating that

“the whole party must strengthen the study and application of Marxist philosophy, strive to use Marxist philosophy as a housekeeping skill, and improve the ability to use Marxist positions, viewpoints, and methods to analyse and solve problems. As an important part of Marxist philosophy, historical materialism is a science about the general laws of the development of human society.”

Moreover, the application of historical materialism to China should be made through the writings of Chairman Mao, which nobody is authorised to overlook or discard.

An interesting part of the book deals with literature and the arts. Once again following the Marxist tradition, Xi ridicules the Western ideas that art and literature are autonomous. On the contrary, “it is the bounden duty of literary and art workers to serve the people,” and “the people’s” will is interpreted by the Communist Party. “The Party’s leadership, writes Xi, is the fundamental guarantee for the development of socialist literature and art, and it is necessary to strengthen and improve the party’s leadership over literature and art work.”

In other chapters, Xi explains that the same applies to history and social science. Those who believe that they are employed by institutions and universities to produce “objective” history or sociology for fellow academics do not understand “socialist core values.” Sociology and history, too, are “tools for ideology and propaganda.”

Unnecessary to say, for journalists and all who work in the media “adhere to the correct political direction is the first priority.” They “must firmly adhere to the principle of party spirit, firmly adhere to the Marxist outlook on news, firmly adhere to the principle of correct orientation of public opinion, and firmly promote positive publicity of the Party.”

One sure way to incur Xi’s wrath is to claim that dialectical materialism, the historical core of Marxism, is outdated. Those who renounce dialectical materialism may even, Marx forbid, fall prey of a spiritualist worldview. “It is necessary, Xi reminds his readers, to learn and master the principle that the world is unified by matter, and matter determines consciousness.” Rather than discussing it, “we must continue to accept the nourishment of Marxist philosophical wisdom, and more consciously adhere to and apply the dialectical materialist world outlook and methodology.”

Xi clarifies that all Chinese should know, study, and advertise Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party, where the materialist conception of history was first presented in 1848. “The publication of the Communist Manifesto,” Xi explains,

“is a great event in the history of human thought. The Communist Manifesto is the first great work to comprehensively expound the principles of scientific socialism, (…) and erect a monument of Marxist spirit. Once the Communist Manifesto was published, it promoted the development of world socialism in practice and profoundly changed the course of human history. Today, when we study the Communist Manifesto, we want to apply the scientific principles and scientific spirit contained in the Communist Manifesto to the practice of mastering great struggles, great projects, great undertakings, and great dreams.”

Xi speaks often of a “new era” for China, but he clarifies here that

“in the new era, Chinese Communists still have to learn Marxism, learn and practice Marxism, and continuously draw scientific wisdom and theoretical strength from it.” “We must persist in using Marxism to observe, interpret and lead the era.”

We also live in a globalised world, and the great challenge for the CCP is finding ways to “influence international public opinion,” and induce international media to paint China and its Communist Party “with warmer colours.” It seems an impossible task, in a world where dialectical materialism and Communism are not exactly popular.

On the other hand, Xi Jinping’s international propaganda has been successful on one aspect. It has persuaded naïve politicians all over the world that China is “no longer Communist” — even if Xi’s books produced for domestic consumption devote hundreds of pages to claim the contrary.

This article has been republished from Bitter Winter with permission.

Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new...