Since 1949, Marxism-Leninism has been an official ideology within the PRC. Under the previous leader Deng Xiaoping, he summed up the era of orthodoxy with the phrase “let’s dispense the theory” and expanded the role of the market in the Chinese economy and maximized participation in the US-led global economic regime. So did the following leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. In contrast, President Xi has brought that era to a crashing halt, and the era of pragmatic and non-ideological governance has been smashed. Now, Marxism-Leninism has returned as the main ideology in CCP, portraying the US as struggling, and suffering under the decline of capitalism. Under Xi, ideology drives policies more often than other ways such as social demands or markets.

President Xi waved the flag of Marxism-Leninism to control the party. The first step President Xi did was purge any perceived political opposition, with the decade-long anticorruption campaign as a good example. President Xi reasserted party control and demanded CCP members proclaim their loyalty not only to the party, but to him, which could be seen in the centralization of the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police, and even the cybersecurity and surveillance systems. 

However, compared to the immediate moves toward domestic politics, President Xi implemented Marxist orthodoxy in economic policy much more gradually. The global financial crisis in 2008, as well as China’s homegrown financial crisis of 2015, which was triggered by the bursting of the stock market bubble and caused a 50 percent collapse in the value of Chinese stocks, both dampened his confidence in the market economy. After that, China’s economic policy trajectory shifted moved from market reforms to party and state intervention. From 2015 to 2021, state-owned enterprises received trillions of dollars in investment from “industry guidance funds.”    

Although Xi’s China seems confident in the period of “the rise of the East and the decline of the West,” Xi is not completely secure. His Achilles’ heel is the economy. Xi’s “common prosperity” through redistribution and expanding the role of state-owned enterprises are likely to shrink economic growth. Furthermore, it will decline the confidence of businesses, and lead to reduced capital investment because of the increasing political intervention. After all, what benefits you get from the state, the state can also impose in costs as well. In addition, China’s business elites are already spooked by the anti-corruption campaign and the arbitrary party-controlled judicial system. In addition to this, the rapid aging population and low productivity growth may cause both employment to shrink and income growth stumble. 

In conclusion, Xi’s adherence to Marxism-Leninism helps him consolidate the state-controlled power, but this stance will also create dilemmas of resolve, especially in economic growth. However, Xi will likely not abandon his belief, so the US and the West should avoid “mirror imaging,” and not automatically assume Beijing will act as a rational actor and serve its self-interests, the state may also instead act to serve its ideology, including forms of economic and political nationalism.

Written by Eddie C.

Edited by Ari B.