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Seven Decades of Arduous Inquiry into the Laws Governing Socialist Development

By Zhong Xuanli Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2020-03-20

Speaking at a number of activities celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 2019, General Secretary Xi Jinping reviewed China's glorious journey and tremendous achievements over seven decades of socialist development, and solemnly declared China's confidence in and commitment to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Though 70 years is just a drop in the vast stream of history, this period has been hugely transformative for the Chinese people and the Chinese nation. Over the course of this great journey, the CPC has led the people in arduous efforts to explore the laws governing the development of socialism on the basis of China's realities and the features of the times. As a result, this latest chapter in the Chinese nation's history stands out as one of the most glorious.

I. Over the past 70 years, China has pioneered an extraordinary path.

Since the day of its founding in 1921, the CPC has made clear that it will always pursue the lofty objective and ideal of realizing socialism and communism. After the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the CPC has led the people through tireless explorations and great hardships in the search for a path of socialist development suited to China's national conditions. They have thus pioneered a unique path—the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

1. It is a path on which socialism has been built from a foundation of economic and cultural backwardness.

According to the assumption of Marx and Engels, socialism is the natural outcome after socialized production has developed to a certain extent, and is built upon a highly advanced economic and cultural foundation. However, in the early days of the PRC, China was one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world, with an extremely weak economic foundation and a mostly uneducated population. At that time, industry accounted for just 12.6% of China's GDP, with heavy industry making up about a quarter of the total industrial output. Moreover, over 80% of the country's population was illiterate. The key to saving China from this state of backwardness and utter destitution as quickly as possible was liberating and developing productive forces. Therefore, over the last 70 years, the CPC has attached great emphasis to building the economy, and put development in a position of prominence. Development has remained the distinct theme through all of China's efforts to build socialism. It is by sticking to this theme that China completed a process of industrialization that took Western developed countries several centuries in the space of mere decades, creating a miracle in the economic history of the world and bringing about historic leaps from poverty to prosperity and from weakness to strength.

2. It is a path on which socialism has been built over the Caudine Forks of capitalism.

It is a general law of human social development that socialism is a higher social form evolved from capitalism. However, under certain conditions, underdeveloped countries in the East could skip the capitalist stage and transition directly to socialism, thus avoiding a lengthy and painful process. Marx described this as skipping the "Caudine Forks." Though it was a historical inevitability that China would embark on the socialist path, the state of our society 70 years ago decided that our country would have to go through a long primary stage of socialism in order to bring about the industrialization, and the commercialization, socialization, and modernization of production that many other countries achieved under capitalism. After the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, the CPC made the determination that China was still in the primary stage of socialism and would remain so for a long time, and formulated a range of guiding principles and policies on the basis of this determination. For example, the Party laid out its basic guideline of "one central task and two basic points," decided to build an economic system in which public ownership as the mainstay and ownership of diverse forms develop side by side and an income distribution system which is centered on labor-based distribution while allowing other forms of distribution to coexist, and set the goal of establishing and developing a socialist market economy. These major institutional designs have not only adhered to the basic principles of socialism, but also absorbed reasonable elements of capitalism in consideration of China's realities in the primary stage of its socialism, thus allowing China to skip over the capitalist stage.


A ceremony for awarding national medals and honorary titles was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 29, 2019. Pictured: President Xi Jinping enters the Golden Hall with the awardees.


3. It is a path on which socialism has been built in a large and populous Eastern country.

China's most prominent feature is its size, as it is home to the world's largest population. This great size is unique, and has never been matched by any other country at any time in history. When the Netherlands rose to prominence in the 17th century, its population numbered in the millions; when England rose to prominence in the 19th century, its population numbered in the tens of millions; and when the US rose to prominence in the 20th century, its population was little more than 100 million. In contrast, China's population was already 540 million at the time of the PRC's founding, breaking the one billion mark in the early 1980s and rising to almost 1.4 billion today. Figuring out how to fuse socialist development with the reality of having such a large population, and turn this pressure into a source of motivation was an immense challenge. Using its strong organizing and mobilizing abilities, the CPC has fully unleashed the enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity of the people, thereby pooling strength behind major undertakings. China has thus implemented one great strategy after another, completed one great project after another, and overcome one great challenge after another, making the impossible possible and bringing about a string of fantastic miracles. This has fully demonstrated the institutional advantages of Chinese socialism.

4. It is a path on which socialism has been built in a country with a long history.

Every country and nation is built upon cultural and historical foundations accumulated over time and constantly influenced by these foundations. Chinese culture, with over 5,000 years of history, contains a wealth of philosophical ideas, humanistic concepts, values, and moral standards, providing a steady flow of spiritual nourishment for the development of socialism. The CPC has always carried forward the best of China's traditional culture faithfully, and used its essential morals and concepts to educate the people. Meanwhile, taking new contemporary circumstances and requirements into consideration, the CPC has promoted the creative transformation and innovative development of our traditional culture, imbued it with new contemporary meaning and forms of expression, and expanded and enhanced its content. This has ensured that China's traditional culture is compatible with socialist development and can effectively play its important role in carrying on our traditions, educating society, and nourishing the hearts of the people.

5. It is a path on which socialism has been built against the backdrop of a complex and volatile international environment.

Marx and Engels believed that socialist revolution would occur in multiple developed capitalist countries simultaneously, resulting in a shared victory. According to their hypothesis, socialism would largely replace capitalism and dominate the international landscape in the future. However, looking at the history of international socialism over the past century, we can see that although the forces of capitalism and socialism have waxed and waned to a certain extent, there has been no fundamental change to the relative advantage of capitalism over socialism in the international arena. Socialist China has thus existed in a hostile environment since its founding, and faced enormous pressure in seeking survival and development. In the face of capitalist containment and suppression, China has upheld its independent foreign policy of peace and maintained unswerving commitment to its own path. Whether closed off by capitalist countries or embroiled in discord between other socialist countries, and whether facing competition between two opposing blocs or unprecedented changes on the global landscape, China has always stuck to its own path. Through this long period of contest and competition between two social systems, China has not only survived, but also kept growing stronger and holding high the banner of socialism, enabling scientific socialism to consistently shine with great vigor in China.


On the evening of September 29, 2019, a gala entitled "Stride Forward, the Chinese Nation" was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. Party and state leaders including Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Han Zheng, and Wang Qishan watched the performances along with more than 4,000 audience members. Pictured: Xi Jinping poses for a group photo with performers after the show. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WANG YE

II. Over the past 70 years, China has made major breakthroughs in understanding the laws governing the development of socialism.

Over the seven decades since the founding of the PRC, China has forged ahead in the process of socialist development, while the CPC has made constant efforts to build a better grasp of the laws governing this process on the basis of China's realities. The CPC has led the people in pondering and exploring the fundamental questions of socialist development. As a result, we have made a series of pioneering theoretical advances with landmark significance, adding to the treasure trove of Marxist thought on socialist development. Some examples of these advances are discussed below.

The theory on the essence of socialism

China's socialist system is sound, and therefore must be upheld. Before doing so however, we must first understand what socialism is and how to go about building it. There was a long period of time in which we had not yet found clear answers to these questions. We regarded socialism simply as the combination of public ownership, central economic planning, and labor-based distribution, and as a result of this misunderstanding, we developed a planned economy that was rigid and closed off. This severely impeded the development of China's productive forces. After the launch of reform and opening up, the CPC gradually came to understand that ownership and distribution structures being purely socialist did not make them better, and that central planning and the market are simply economic tools. It thus arrived at the scientific conclusion that the essence of socialism is to liberate and develop productive forces, eliminate exploitation, end polarization, and ultimately realize common prosperity. This scientific summary clearly identified the objective of development in a socialist society and the need to liberate and develop productive forces as the basis for realizing this objective. It also pointed out the fundamental difference between socialism and capitalism, which is that socialism seeks the benefit of all people while capitalism only seeks the benefit of a minority.

The theory on the primary stage of socialism

According to the authors of Marxist classics, communism will enter the "advanced stage" and replace capitalism after going through a "transitional period," which represents the "first stage." This "first stage" is also called socialist society. However, there is no detailed discussion regarding the length of the "first stage" or how it should be developed. There was a time when all socialist countries were stumped by this problem. China too was overly eager to complete the transition from socialism to communism, which ultimately led to setbacks and great losses. After the launch of reform and opening up, the CPC constantly deepened its understanding of China's basic national conditions by drawing on the lessons and experience of the past, and introduced the theory that China is still and will long remain in the primary stage of socialism. This important theory emphasizes the fact that China has become a socialist society, while also clarifying the degree to which our socialist society has developed. It is therefore useful for preparing us with a more levelheaded perspective on the arduous and protracted nature of socialist development.

The theory on the socialist market economy

Is it possible to develop a market economy under socialism? This is a question with global relevance. The authors of the Marxist classics never discussed it, while Western economists believe that socialism and market economics are incompatible. Taking China's realities into account, the CPC created the socialist market economy theory and gradually established a dynamic socialist market economic system. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in particular, General Secretary Xi Jinping has noted the importance of making the market play the decisive role in resource allocation while ensuring that the government plays its role better. This has resulted in a great step forward in our understanding of the socialist market economy. Developing a market economy under conditions of socialism is a great and unprecedented feat, which has broken through the narrow view of equating socialism with central economic planning and the market economy with capitalism, and addressed the global challenge of reconciling the market economy with public ownership. It therefore represents a historic contribution to Marxist political economy made by the CPC.

The theory on the principal contradiction in socialist society

The CPC has always stuck to the basic principle of focusing on main contradictions and highlighting priorities. In 1956, the Eighth National Congress of the CPC made the important determination that the main challenge in China was the gap between the people's desires for rapid economic and cultural development and the lack of sufficient economic and cultural resources at the time. The people hoped to build an advanced industrial country, but this was at odds with the reality that China was still a backward agrarian society. After the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, the Party further refined the concept of the main contradiction introduced at the Eighth CPC National Congress, stating that the principal challenge facing Chinese society was the gap between the growing material and cultural needs of the people and China's underdeveloped social production. With the new era beginning in 2012 and new changes arising with regard to social production and demand, the 19th CPC National Congress convened in 2017 set forth the major determination that the principal challenge in Chinese society today has become the gap between imbalanced and inadequate development and the people's growing needs for a better life. This set the stage for continued advancement of the cause of the Party and state. The CPC's accurate grasp of the principal challenge in socialist society has helped it actively adapt to trends of development in social production and changes in the demands of the people, indicated what the priorities were for liberating and developing productive forces in different historical periods, and enriched and developed Marxist theory regarding social contradictions.


Formations showing the national flag and national emblem during the National Day parade on October 1, 2019.


The theory on building a global community with a shared future

According to a more traditional perspective, socialism and capitalism are two opposing systems that are incompatible with each other and locked in an antagonistic relationship. In 1952, Stalin introduced the theory of "two parallel world markets," which argued that the formation of a socialist bloc would cause the single world market dominated by capitalism to disintegrate, and lead to the emergence of two parallel world markets that would exist in isolation from and opposition to each other. He therefore proposed that all countries in the socialist bloc should work together to resist the capitalist market that was moving toward its doom. The socialist and capitalist blocs remained in a tense standoff for quite some time, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union and dramatic changes in Eastern Europe brought the world socialist movement to a low point. The CPC's major proposal to build a global community with a shared future is one that transcends disagreement and opposition between different systems. It reflects the Chinese nation's open-minded outlook of striving to build a just and peaceful world, and serves as a banner under which China will seek to guide global trends and the progress of human civilization.

The theory on self-reform of the governing party

The most essential feature of a socialist country is that it is a state with a Marxist political party as the party in power. This fundamentally guarantees that state power is centralized and effectively exercised, thereby avoiding the vicious competition and factional strife endemic in capitalist countries with two-party or multi-party systems. However, under conditions of long-term governance, the one-party system can easily give rise to indolence as well as hedonistic and corrupt practices, which shake and weaken the foundations of the party's governance. The CPC is not only capable of leading people in advancing great social reform, but also of carrying out great self-reform. As a large political party with a 98-year-long history (1921 to 2019), the CPC's great strength lies not in its being faultless, but rather its willingness to openly confront its faults. With the courage to face its problems head-on and reform and purify itself, the CPC is able to maintain its great vitality. The CPC's theory on self-reform has effectively addressed the historic question of how a Marxist political party can maintain its advanced nature and purity under conditions of long-term governance, thus further enriching and developing Marxist theory on party building.

These major concepts demonstrate high-level integration of historical, theoretical, and practical logic, boasting pioneering and universal significance in theory, and playing a fundamental and decisive guiding role in practice.

III. Over the past 70 years, China has successfully explored the laws of socialist development.

Throughout the long stream of history, there has never been another country like the PRC, which has changed so much in such a short amount of time. How has China, without any experience, achieved such tremendous success in building socialism? The basic answer is that the CPC has, by virtue of its political wisdom, historical insight, and dialectical thinking, grasped the intrinsic logic and objective laws of socialist development, thus ensuring that the causes of the Party and state always advance on the right track. There are five secrets to the CPC's success in this regard.

First, maintaining independence and self-reliance while drawing on the experience of others

Developing socialism in a country as large as China has been a world-class challenge. Marx never discussed this challenge, and no other socialist countries have confronted it. Therefore, China had to find its own way forward through practice. Over the past seven decades, the CPC has led the people in integrating the universal principles of scientific socialism with China's specific national conditions, and refused to stick to established practice or put blind faith in foreign experience. China has thus found the right path for itself that is suited to its own development and accords with the people's interests. At the same time, however, to build socialism in a relatively underdeveloped country like China, it is absolutely necessary to learn from the success of other countries. For example, in the early days of the PRC, it was by learning from the experience of the Soviet Union that China was able to rapidly complete socialist transformation, establish socialism as its basic system, launch large-scale economic development, and consolidate the newly-formed people's government despite its lack of experience in socialist revolution and economic development. After reform and opening up, we also studied the advanced forms of organization in production and managerial and administrative methods of Western developed countries as we sought to build a market economy, and this played a definite role in driving China's economic growth. It is precisely because we have maintained our independence and self-reliance while learning from the strengths of others that we have built a steady source of momentum for driving China's socialist development.

Second, pursuing bold breakthroughs while making steady progress

Building socialism in China can be compared to a great ship sailing into unknown seas. We can only cleave the waves and venture forward if we have the courage to break through our limitations and surpass ourselves, and we can only sail steadily toward our destination by planning first and proceeding step by step. At the APEC CEO Summit in 2013, General Secretary Xi said, "China is a large country. We cannot afford to make any severe mistakes on issues of fundamental importance, as the damage would be unavoidable and irreparable. Our belief is that we must act boldly, but take steady steps. More specifically, we must be brave enough to explore and blaze new trails, and cautious enough to plan carefully before taking action." In the process of building socialism, we have on the one hand persisted in freeing minds and seeking truth from facts, carried out daring initiatives and ambitious reforms, and cut a path through great challenges toward new horizons; on the other hand we have made solid progress while advancing at a swift but steady pace, promoted reform in an active yet prudent manner, and methodically pushed forward all of our undertakings. Our efforts to make bold breakthroughs and achieve progress amidst stability complement and reinforce each other, and this demonstrates the Party's intense enterprising spirit, tenacious strategic resolve, and outstanding leadership skills.

Third, staying on the correct course while trying new things

Our direction decides our future, and our approach determines whether we will succeed or fail. Over the past seven decades, whether engaged in development or reform, the CPC has always stuck to the correct course by upholding socialism as China's basic system, the leadership of the CPC, and the guiding role of Marxism, thereby preventing our socialist cause from getting off track or changing in character. For example, the CPC has set the overall objectives of comprehensively deepening reform as improving and developing the Chinese socialist system and modernizing China's governance system and capacity, of which the former part has defined the course that we must follow. More precisely, we must follow the path of Chinese socialism and no other path. No matter what changes we make, we must not deviate from the socialist course. Meanwhile, since there is no ready-made model for us to follow, we can only explore our own way forward. As we find new ways to advance, we can build up experience and spread successful methods more broadly, thus turning pioneering trials into powerful sources of momentum. It is precisely by balancing the dialectical relationship between the changing and the constant and combining a definite path with flexible approaches that the CPC has ensured smooth progress for our undertakings.

Fourth, upholding top-level design while conducting explorations at the community level

Building socialism in China is a systematic project that is both massive and complicated, and therefore it is imperative that we are able to draw energy from positive interaction between top-level design and community-level innovation. The CPC has consistently strengthened macro-level planning and holistic initiatives, putting stress on making various reform and development measures more wide-ranging, scientific, and coordinated in order to ensure that the whole country moves toward our established goals together. Meanwhile, the Party has put emphasis on bringing the principal role of the people into play and fully unleashed their enthusiasm and creativity. The innovations we have seen over the last 70 years, including new initiatives from the patriotic public health campaign to the agricultural cooperative movement, game changing reforms from the household contracting system to the rapid rise of township and village enterprises, new ways of doing business from mobile payments to the sharing economy, and advanced technologies from 5G communications to unmanned aerial vehicles, have all been the result of the ingenuity and dynamic experimentation of millions of Chinese people. The remarkable success of the PRC's development is the outcome of concerted efforts on the part of all Chinese people who have devoted their sweat and brainpower to building the country.

Fifth, remaining consistent while replacing old ideas with new insights

Human society has always developed by moving forward on the basis of past progress. The glorious achievements we have made since the founding of the PRC are result of the unremitting efforts of generations of Chinese Communists. China's socialist development can be divided into two historical periods, namely the periods before and after the launch of reform and opening up, with the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978 marking the transition between the two. In the pre-reform and opening up period, the CPC made a number of important achievements in its explorations of the laws governing socialist development. For instance, it recognized that the basic challenges in socialist society remained those between productive forces and the relations of production and between the economic base and superstructure, that the goal of socialist development was to modernize agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology and to follow a Chinese path to industrialization different from the Soviet model, and that the production and exchange of commodities also exists in socialist society, and therefore we should grow commodity production and abide by the law of value. These discoveries laid a foundation for our Party to gain a more thorough understanding of the laws governing socialist development. Since the launch of reform and opening up, the CPC has kept exploring by carrying forward the work of those that came before us while also taking new contemporary circumstances into consideration. For instance, it made the great decision to pursue economic development as its central task and carry out reform and opening up, worked to establish and improve the socialist market economy and develop a modern economic system, adopted a new approach to industrialization, and promoted China's transformation into a nation of innovation. These two historical periods are both processes in which the CPC conducted arduous explorations and worked tirelessly in search of the correct path. They therefore represent an organic whole linked together in an unbroken chain. The past 70 years as a whole are a vivid demonstration of how socialism with Chinese characteristics has found its path, taken shape, developed, and constantly improved, and how the CPC has gradually deepened its understanding of the laws governing the development of socialism.

In the words of General Secretary Xi, "China's past is inscribed in the pages of human history, and its present is being forged in the hands of hundreds of millions of Chinese people. China's future is certain to be even brighter." Through 70 years of hard work, our Party has reached a new height in its understanding of the laws governing the development of socialism. As we embark on a new journey, our Party will continue to lead hundreds of millions of Chinese people to work tirelessly in writing an even more glorious chapter for the development of socialism in China.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 20, 2019)