Boris Ryvkin

Xi Jinping is acting like Stalin

Political consolidation, destabilisation abroad and subordination of the economy

A revolutionary poster from communist China c. 1966, near the start of the Cultural Revolution. (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The General Secretary of China’s Communist Party is a different kind of leader. Now in his third five-year term, Xi Jinping believes that time is running out for him to secure his legacy as Mao Zedong’s true successor. He spent a decade dismantling the technocracy and politburo consensus government ushered in by Deng Xiaoping after Mao’s death, rolled back the authority of local party nomenklatura in favour of more centralised control from Beijing, and worked to subordinate China’s economy to the Communist Party’s (meaning Xi’s) political priorities.

In abandoning the ‘to get rich is glorious’ social contract of the post-Tiananmen Square era, Xi has come to bury Deng and not to praise him. Or, perhaps, to transcend him, as appeared to be the outcome of the sixth plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee in November 2021. For only the third time in the Party’s hundred-year history — the first in 1945 before Mao’s victory in China’s Civil War and the second in 1981 under Deng that rejected certain excesses of the Cultural Revolution — the Committee passed a resolution ‘on certain historical questions’ related to Communist Chinese socialism.

The 2021 resolution not only elevated Xi’s vision for the Communist Party and state to a level with Mao and Deng, but also replaced Deng’s conception of Communist China’s history and approach to the transfer of power. The Party’s official position became that China under Xi is undergoing its third great development phase — the first, under Mao’s original socialist theory, brought the Communists to power and the second, under Deng and his modifications to Mao’s theory, made the country richer. Xi’s ideas, in turn, seek to make China strong. Deng was, in effect, a bridge between Mao and Xi. And in a nod to Xi’s personal dictatorship, the resolution omitted references to power transfers among succeeding generations of Party leaders after Mao.

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