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A Global Community with a Shared Future from a Macro-Historical Perspective

By Yu Pei Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2021-06-07

Karl Marx's theory of world history is an important component of the Marxist conception of history, as well as a scientific achievement stemming from this conception that Marx deciphered from the patterns of human history. Today, humans have long been living in the era of "world history" revealed by Marx, that is, an era of globalization in which our interests are intertwined and our futures interconnected. The idea of a global community with a shared future expounded by General Secretary Xi Jinping represents a further step in scientifically analyzing and revealing new features and trends in the course of world history that are present today, thus enriching and developing Marx's theory of world history.

I. Marx's theory of world history

Differing fundamentally from previous idealist theories of world history, Marx's theory of world history is founded upon a materialist conception of history, and is mainly comprised of the following content: first, changes in the mode of production represent the material foundation of world history, and presuppose the universal development of productive forces and the universal development of world exchange bound up with the former. Second, the historical process of the development of human society is a transition from the original isolation of nationalities to an extensive world history. This transitional process entails humanity's continued efforts to remove geographic restrictions and overcome various limitations to achieve full emancipation, and requires all the world's nations to rely on one another and move toward unification. Third, the "world-historical existence" of capitalism merely provides the preconditions for complete human emancipation; it does not enable them to actually achieve emancipation. Only under communism can we overcome the limitations of capitalist world history and truly realize human emancipation. Fourth, the course of human history generally passes through the following stages of development: tribal ownership, ancient communal and state ownership, hierarchical feudal ownership, capitalist ownership, and public ownership of the means of production (communist society). It is an inexorable trend of human society that communism eventually comes to replace capitalism, and world history essentially moves toward communism. The publication of The Communist Manifesto was an important symbol of the formation of Marx's theory of world history.


The 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council was held in Switzerland on March 23, 2018. The meeting adopted a resolution proposed by China entitled "Promoting Mutually Beneficial Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights," marking the first time that the goals of developing a global community with a shared future and a new model of international relations featuring mutual respect, equity and justice, and mutually beneficial cooperation were simultaneously incorporated into a UN document. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XU JINQUAN

History and reality have increasingly proved the scientific value of Marx's theory of world history. In primitive society, human history existed in a state of isolation. Starting around 4,300 BC, the Tigris-Euphrates Basin in West Asia first began to transition from a clan system to class society and the civilized age. Slave society was the first class society in human history, and the economic and social systems and the development level of productive forces in slave countries determined that these countries existed in a state of isolation in terms of their living environments and interactions. Throughout the 8th to 6th century BC, a great wave of emigration took place in ancient Greece. However, viewed from a world-historical perspective, this did not change the state of isolation characterizing human history at that time. In feudal society, exchange and connection between different countries and nations as well as their spheres of activity visibly expanded. However, feudal land ownership was the foundation of feudal society, and its essence was feudal lords' possession of most land and their incomplete possession of peasants. Therefore, the feudal economy was still a natural one, which determined that human history during the time of feudal society remained unable to move from national, local history to universal, world history.

The period between the 16th century and Britain's Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century saw disintegration of the feudal system, primitive accumulation of capital, and the development of capitalist handicraft workshops. The development of productive forces allowed different nations to begin interacting with one another, which gradually came to happen more regularly. Bourgeois revolution broke out successively in the Netherlands in the late 16th century, Britain in the mid-17th century, France in the late 18th century, and Germany and several other countries in the mid-19th century. As a result, the feudal mode of production was replaced by the capitalist one, and this, on a broader scale, helped to drive the transformation of history into world history.

In Volume I of Capital published in 1867, Marx provided a scientific analysis of capitalism as a phenomenon in world history, pointing out that it was simply one stage in the development of human history and that its birth, growth, and extinction were all part of an inevitable historical process. During the course of human history, capitalism has liberated people from the fetters of feudalism, which is a progressive step. However, capitalist society contains inherent and unresolvable contradictions. Marx and Engels pointed out: "The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself;" "… not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians;" "The development of Modern Industry … cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."

The formation of Marx's theory of world history is not only a reflection of real society, but also the continuation and development of previous achievements in research. Within this past research, Hegelian philosophy is an important theoretical source. In Elements of the Philosophy of Right and Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel for the first time systematically elucidates his thinking on world history. In the Hegelian system – and herein is its great merit – for the first time the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, and development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development. However, proceeding from "absolute spirit," "world spirit" and "self-consciousness," Hegel perceived human history as the actualization of a sense of God, and thereby regarded material human history as a form of mysterious and abstract history. The main point of Marx's theory of world history is, through scientific analysis of the world history that has been created by capitalism, to illustrate the inevitability of the realization of socialism and communism. Thus, although Marxist philosophy has its origins in Hegelian philosophy, it has essentially surpassed the latter in terms of both logic and values.

II. From history to world history: revolutions of productive forces and social exchange

Marx's theory of world history proclaims that history, as world history, is the result, while its initial source, precondition, and driver were primarily the rapid development of productive forces, science, and technology. The high level of development of productive forces inevitably led to extensive division of labor, which in turn expanded commodity exchange. The expansion of commodity exchange on a global scale gave birth to the world market, which accelerated integration of different countries and nations, and thus world history was formed. 

As history became world history, the nature of exchange changed accordingly and also became global. Marx's theory of exchange is an important part of his theory of social development. Exchange is a form of humans' social existence, and is conducive to promoting their world-historical development, while the level of productive forces directly constrains the level of exchange. It is not difficult to see such a regular phenomenon throughout the process of human history: isolation, insulation, and seclusion have always been connected to backward productive forces, and the same is true of the reverse, in that communication, exchange, and openness have always been connected to advanced productive forces. Marx pointed out that, the fundamental reason for the formation of world history is practical material production, because only with this universal development of productive forces can universal exchange between humans be established. During this process, humans, as the main actors of exchange, would also comprehensively improve in caliber while adapting to world history. In a certain sense, the formation of world history is a process of constant expansion of modern social exchange based on constant development of productive forces. It was through constant exchange that human history went from isolation to openness and from regional to global, and that the ideal of communism spread from one country to many and intimately linked the future of all humanity.


Colonial plundering was an important means of primitive accumulation of capital. Early methods of colonial plundering included the slave trade and the seizure of gold and silver resources. By the end of the 19th century, capitalism entered the imperialist stage, and colonial plundering shifted from being dominated by commodity exports to exports of capital, with colonized countries and regions suffering from brutal theft of their resources. This image taken in South Africa in 1888 shows British colonizers opening up a gold mine to plunder gold.

Roughly during the 16th century, the development of productive forces and exchange relations began to break free of the regional limitations of nations, indicating the beginning of history's transformation into world history. As the capitalist mode of production sprang up and developed in Europe, the emerging bourgeoisie became increasingly eager in its pursuit of commercial and trade interests overseas. Various intertwining factors led to the discovery of new sea routes, enlarged the scope of world exchange, and gave rise to unbridled colonial expansion and commercial revolution, thus directly expediting the formation of world history. In order to establish and expand the world market, capitalism had to dispel the state of isolation that existed between different countries and nations. As regional and artificial barriers were broken down by the expansion of capital, capitalism gained more room for its own development, and the histories of individual nations increasingly turned into world history. As history became world history, humans themselves were also transformed from regionally isolated individuals to world-historical individuals.

It is generally believed that since the advent of modern times, the rapid development of productive forces has led to several world-altering productive force revolutions throughout human history. Currently, we are experiencing even broader-scale and deeper-level revolutions in science, technology, and industry, which have been collectively labeled by the German scholar Klaus Schwab as the "Fourth Industrial Revolution." Characterized by exponential instead of linear growth, this new industrial revolution will undoubtedly prompt a series of changes in humanity's economic formations as well as their ways of production, life, exchange, and thinking, shrinking the margins of time and space in the world and bringing different countries and nations closer. All nations and countries included in the tide of world history have become part of the world as an organic whole; major events of every country and nation possess "world-historical preconditions," and are attributable to the interconnection and interrelation of comprehensive global factors and domestic factors.

III. Viewing the efforts to build a global community with a shared future from a world-historical perspective

Marx's 19th-century prediction concerning world history has become today's reality, and the overall laws governing the development of human society that were revealed by Marx's theory of world history have been or are being testified through practice by humanity. Accompanying the fall of Europe and the rise of the Soviet Union and the US following the World War II, a number of countries embarked upon the path of socialism. In particular, the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 served to dramatically alter the balance of power in world politics. The emergence of national liberation movements allowed a large number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to gain independence and become active on the world political stage. It was based on such facts that the British scholar Geoffrey Barraclough first clearly raised the concepts of global history and a universal view of history in his book History in a Changing World. He believed that Western historical science was in need of reorientation, and that historians should move beyond Europe and the West to turn their sight to all regions and eras. The US scholar Leften Stavros Stavrianos wrote A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century, which was acclaimed as a representational work on global history. Just like Barraclough, he believed that the post-colonial world since the 1960s necessitated a new type of global history, and that the new world needed new historical science. According to Stavrianos, every era needs to write its own history. This is not because old history books are incorrect, but because every era faces new problems, raises new questions, and explores new solutions.

The march of history has advanced all the way up to the present moment, and human society now exists in a period of major development, transformation, and adjustment, and is facing profound changes, the likes of which have not been seen in a century. The trends of multipolarization, economic globalization, the digitalization of society, and cultural diversification are continuing to deepen, while the entire world has become more closely connected. The era we now live in, according to the logic of historical materialism, represents a new stage in the development of world history. Globalization born of economic development has strengthened social relations worldwide, linked distant regions together, and led to a deeper and more extensive level of human exchange than at any point in the past, thus forming a new relationship model of mutual dependency. One could say that the globalization of today further proves the truth of Marx's theory of world history.

Currently, world development is confronted by all sorts of problems and challenges. Economic globalization faces a stiff headwind, the world economy has long been stagnant, the development gap grows a little wider each day, regional conflicts flare up frequently, and terrorism, refugee crises, and other global challenges arise one after another, while the various trends in social political thought vie and compete with each other. What is wrong with the world, and what should humans do? The international community is confused and hesitant about the direction of its future development, while the international landscape, dominated by the West and Western values, can no longer be sustained. The principle, system, and model of Western governance have increasingly failed to adapt to the times, and their various shortcomings are both chronic and incurable. The international community is calling for new global governance principles and the establishment of a new international order that is fairer and more equitable, with a view to creating brighter prospects for human development.

Viewing the course of China's own development, the country has passed through three stages in its relations with the rest of the world since the advent of modern times. The first stage lasted from the closed-door period to the semi-colonial and semi-feudal era. Before the 1840 Opium War, China was isolated from the world market and the tide of industrialization, and then became a poor and weak country after the repeated defeats suffered in the Opium War and several subsequent wars of aggression by foreign powers. The second stage lasted from the period of "leaning to one side" to a largely closed period. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, we made arduous efforts to explore an approach to socialist development while leaning toward the Soviet Union in a relatively closed environment that was under Western blockade. The third stage is that of comprehensively opening up. Since reform and opening up, China has made full use of the opportunities brought by economic globalization and strived constantly to open up more broadly, thereby achieving historic changes in its relations with the rest of the world. Our experience shows us that China's development is reliant on the world, while world prosperity cannot be achieved without China.

On the basis of thoroughly grasping the dialectical relationship between history and reality and gaining insight into the trends of domestic and world development, General Secretary Xi Jinping has taken into consideration the development of humanity and the future of the world. With a sense of responsibility befitting the leader of a major country, Xi Jinping has thought deeply about the question of "what kind of world we wish to build, and how we shall build it," which is a major issue concerning the fate and future of humanity. He has raised the idea of building a global community with a shared future, which he has expounded on several different occasions, thus creating a scientific and complete theoretical system rich with connotation and far-reaching in its implications. In March 2013, Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, during which he solemnly conveyed to the world China's judgment on the trend of human civilization: "It is a world where countries are connected to and dependent on each other to an extent never before experienced. We as humans all live in the same global village, in the same time and space at the confluence of history and reality. More and more we are becoming a community with a shared future in which we all have some of others within us." In September 2015, at the summit meetings marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Xi Jinping delivered a full exposition on the main elements of building a global community with a shared future: establishing partnerships in which countries treat each other as equals, engage in mutual consultation, and show mutual understanding; developing a security architecture that features fairness, justice, joint contribution, and shared benefits; seeking open, innovative, and inclusive development that benefits all; boosting intercultural exchanges that promote harmony in diversity and inclusiveness; and cultivating ecosystems in which mother nature and green development come first. In the report to the 19th National Congress of the CPC, Xi made clear that major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a global community with a shared future. Building such a community is in line with current conditions of world development, and represents a scientific idea that reflects the realities of economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological development in today's world. It offers a profound answer to the question of our age, "whither human society?" and embodies the CPC's creative application and development of Marxism, not only carrying forward Marx's theory of world history but also significantly promoting its innovation and development. 

The idea of a global community with a shared future is a new diplomatic concept of peace that draws on traditional theories of world history. Surpassing narrow-minded Western-centrism, it focuses attention on the future of all humanity and on world peace, strives to establish a new model of international relations characterized by mutually beneficial cooperation, transcends the old conception that international order can only be maintained through equilibrium or hegemony, and presents a new model of maintaining international order. In essence, the idea of a global community with a shared future comprises an approach to global governance featuring mutually beneficial cooperation, which represents innovation in theory, system, and approach, and outshines its Western capitalist counterparts. One can say that the idea of a global community with a shared future embodies the thinking on humanity's shared future, constitutes a practical approach to global governance, and represents China's proposal to promote economic globalization and establish a new international political and economic order in the new era. 

History is the best teacher. The long history of the development of human society shows us that the history of civilization is a process of intermingling and mutual propulsion between diverse cultures of different nations, and a process that transforms history into world history. British philosopher Bertrand Russell said that contacts between different civilizations have often in the past proved to be landmarks in human progress. Greece learnt from Egypt, Rome from Greece, the Arabs from the Roman Empire, medieval Europe from the Arabs, and Renaissance Europe from the Byzantines. It is through collision, exchange, and integration that different cultures have been able to constantly draw on each other for their own development, to shine with fresh vigor in different historical periods, and to last throughout the generations. A global community with a shared future is a "whole" that consists of various social and cultural forms; instead of denying the existence of contradiction and conflict between different countries, this "whole" seeks the best approach to their resolution. Adopted by UNESCO in 2005, the Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions states that, cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity, forms a common heritage of humanity, and should be cherished and preserved for the benefit of all. Rich and diverse in nature, all cultures are equal, and no one culture is superior or inferior to another. Different cultures should coexist in a harmonious and symbiotic relationship of mutual complementarity. To respect cultural diversity, it is essential that we adapt to contemporary trends, respect the choices that each country makes regarding its own social system and development path, continuously advance toward the goal of building a global community with a shared future, and allow the whole world to benefit from the achievement of this goal.

The idea of a global community with a shared future is the embodiment of the Marxist theory of human emancipation in these new historical conditions, and it identifies a goal and direction for humanity's future ventures. In this sense, the building of a global community with a shared future is a stage that we must pass through if we are to realize "a community of free individuals" in the future. Communism is an inevitable outcome of social development – this goal is distant yet not hopeless, and the reason for its eventual realization can be found in both history and reality. Socialism, the first stage of communism, has already been achieved as a system. Despite severe setbacks encountered since the beginning of the 1990s, the development of world socialism continues to display strong vitality. Marching proudly into the new era, socialism with Chinese characteristics is flying its banner high to show the vibrancy and bright prospects of socialism, and restore the confidence of people around the world in Marxism and scientific socialism.


Yu Pei is a research fellow at the National Academy of Chinese History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 3, 2019)