Originally published in Party Building (Dangjian 党建), on 1 August 2013. This reprises many of the themes from the earlier articles on constitutionalism published in official media, but it also adds a strong nativist, essentialist note on the importance of studying historical classical works to capture and maintain a true cultural quintessence.
Party Building Editorial Note: Marxism is the ideological system of the proletariat, and is not a “universal value” applicable to all people or all times. “Marxism is a universal value”, is a mistake in understanding, and does not make clear the difference between “universal values” and “universal truths”. A view “universal values” pundits have ulterior motives in putting forward the argument that “Marxism is a universal value”, they have different thoughts, and want to lead us into getting trapped in a “doubly difficult” plight: recognizing this argument benefits the pleadings for “universal values”; opposing this thesis weakens the guiding position of Marxism. We can clearly answer: Marxism is the ideological system of the proletariat and is not a “universal value” applicable to all people at all times.
The viewpoints of Wang Ningyou, Invited Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Science Socialism Research Centre, Associate professor at the Renmin University of China Marxism Institute:
– Values are always concrete and historical, in a class society, values have a class nature, universally applicable and eternally existing “universal values” do not exist.
– Values reflect the unity of subject-object relationships, the objective reality of the material world cannot be considered as a basis for the existence of “universal values”.
– We must separate objective understanding (factual judgements) and value understandings (value judgements), we cannot consider some objective understanding as value understanding.
– Denying “universal values” does not mean denying the existence of consensus on value, but no consensus on value can be “universal”.
– We must not make generalities or commonalities in objective facts into the “universality” of value systems”.
– As the concept of “universality” has been brought into the political areas, it has been endowed with special meanings by Western mainstream ideologies and ruling groups.
Some people advocate that “universal values” are values that are universally applicable and will exist eternally, they are received by all people under heaven, and penetrate the development of human society from beginning to end. They believe that “universal values” have universal applicability, eternality and universal necessity. This sort of concept believes that, even though in practice, “universal values” are not yet fully reflected in the understanding of all people, or in their actions, this is only temporary. From the point of view of the general trends of historical development, “universal values” will, in the end, be universally recognized by all of mankind and become the basic principle to guide human activity and historical development. Now, is there something such as “universal values” that are commonly pursued by all people under heaven and exist eternally? In order to elucidate this question, we must start from this basic philosophical concept of values.
I, Values are always concrete and historical, in a class society, values have a class nature, universally applicable and eternally existing “universal values” do not exist
Values are philosophical categories reflecting subject-object relationships, meaning they are the effect or meaning of the subject vis-a-vis the object. Whether or not they can satisfy the needs of the subject as well as the extent of satisfaction is measured by whether or not the subject has values as well as the scale of those values. There are at least the following characteristics in the subject’s value understanding of the object: first and foremost, value understandings differ concretely according to differences in subject and differences in needs. We know that music can bring people the enjoyment of beauty, but this sort of value of beauty in music can only be tasted by the talented who understand how to enjoy it. Therefore, Marx said: “Where ears without a sense of music are concerned, the most beautiful music is meaningless”. Life is precious to every person, but in the eyes of revolutionaries, defying power and practicing truth are even more important than life. The magnificent feats of heroes who, like Giordano Bruno, defend truth and calmly climb the pyre, or the revolutionary magnificent feats of those like Xia Minghan, who abandoned life and liberty in a manner moving one to song and tears, are too many to enumerate.
The same object may have a different value because of differences in the needs of subjects. Water is the source of life. Even so, it appears that water has different values according to the different needs of humankind. Where water is used to resolve daily life needs, the value of water is reflected in its preservation of human existence and life; where water is used for irrigation, electricity generation, transportation or for production in factories and mines, the value of water is reflected in humankind’s engaging in industrial or agricultural production; when water is used to beautify the environment, water satisfies people’s demand for beautiful scenery. Even though subjects have the same needs, the value understanding or appraisal of the same object may be different as well, due to differences in evaluation standards, principles or methods between subjects. For example, when one is thirsty, one needs to drink water. But everyone has their own predilections and tastes in which water to drink. Some people like to drink hot water, some like to drink cold water, still others like to drink mineral water, tea, beverages, etc. The background of these choices reflects different value subjects, who have different conceptions on how to satisfy their own need for water.
Furthermore, values are historical, they change with the times, this is decided by the historicity of human activities. Human practices are an incessantly developing historical process. This decides the movement of the value understanding to take the satisfaction of human needs as objective, and inevitably is a historical process that incessantly develops following practice. As early as the time when the ancients discovered oil, oil at that time did not have much value to humankind (it was perhaps only limited to illumination). But following the emergence and development of industry, the energy value and chemical value of oil was fully revealed. Following the development of human practices and activities into news depths and breadths, humankind’s needs have also incessantly been enriched and developed, the world has, in torn, incessantly produced rich and varied values in the fact of humankind. Furthermore, following the emergence of new values, some old values progressively diminished or even disappeared. For example, following the daily development of traffic tools, human-powered vehicles’ traffic value progressively diminished.
Social existence decides social awareness. The satisfaction of human needs depends on the ability and means to understand nature and transform nature, it depends on the development level of social productive forces. Consequently, the concept of human need has clear differences at different times, and is invariably imprinted with the stamp of the times. Comparing the need of modern people for comfortable living conditions with primitive societies or even feudal societies, substantive changes have already occurred. Modem people aren’t just unable to be satisfied with a cave or a peasant’s thatched cottage from the feudal era, they are also unable to be satisfied with the living conditions from feudal castles without modern amenities. Modern people’s need for information concerning all sorts of events happening in the world are greatly different from the needs of people in the past, when there was no paper, radio, television or Internet.
In the social area, value understandings are decided by the economic base, which essentially means that they are decided by socio-economic relationships. The content of people’s value concepts and the standards for value judgements must always incessantly change in step with changes in socio-economic relationships. Under different socio-economic relationships, people endow the same value concept with completely different content, eternally unchangeable concepts do not exist at all. For example, people like fairness in debate, some people also say that it is an eternal thing that everyone pursues, as if this means it is a “universal” value concept. Even so, in different societies, the meaning of fairness is different. When criticizing Proudhon’s petty bourgeois “eternal fairness”, Engels gave a model definition to fairness. He said: fairness is never anything but the ideologies, glorified expression of the existing economic relations, at times from the conservative side, at times from the revolutionary side. The justice of the Greeks and Romans held slavery to be just. The justice of the bourgeois of 1789 demanded the abolition of feudalism because it was unjust. For the Prussian aristocrat even the miserable Kreisordnung is a violation of eternal justice. The conception of eternal justice therefore varies not only according to time and place, but also according to persons, and it belongs among those things of which Mulberger correctly says, ‘everyone understands something different.’
When Marx criticized Lassalle’s “fair distribution”, he used questioning methods to elaborate his own viewpoints concerning the issue of fairness, this viewpoint was completely the same as Engels’. He said: “What is ‘a fair distribution’? Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is “fair”? And is it not, in fact, the only ‘fair’ distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones? Have not also the socialist sectarians the most varied notions about ‘fair’ distribution?”
Third, in class societies, people’s value concepts unavoidably have a class nature, and especially systematized value views that rise to the ideological and theoretical level. Value subjects are people living in a certain society, they are not abstracted but real and concrete, every person lives in a certain class position. People living in different class positions unavoidably have their own class attributes in value understanding, value orientation and value concepts. Although not all value understandings have a class nature (for example, material values reflecting the relationship between humans and nature, naturally, concrete historical differences exist as well), but the socio-economic values, political values and spiritual values reflecting social relationships between people generally have a clear class nature, especially systematized and theorized value views The core value system of a society is the basic expression of the will of the ruling class, and reflects the nature and development orientation of social consciousness.
Recognizing the “class nature” of value concepts inevitably means that their “universality” must be denied. There may be value views of this class or of that class, but it is impossible that there are value concepts that transcend all classes and override all people. Even if humanity enters Communist societies, “universal values” cannot exist at all. Because, although classes and class differences will have disappeared in society at that time, and people’s class concepts will not have a class nature, communist societies are societies where every person gains complete and free development, every person’s individuality will be fully respected and nurtured, differences between subjects’ personalities due to different value understandings of the same object shall be a generally existing phenomenon. At the same time, communist societies are also societies that incessantly develop forwards, there may be historical changes in the value understanding of a subject towards an object, it is impossible that eternally unchanging value conceptions exist.
Naturally, recognizing the complexity of the phenomenon of values, the thousands of differences in value understandings and the class nature of value concepts is not to say that “the husband claims to be right and the wife claims to be right” in questions of value, and there is no objective standard. When discussing specific subject-object relationships, people may have different value understandings, but only those value understandings that conform to objective reality, reflect material development rules and are integrated with the scale of truth are correct and scientific understandings. The why we must persist in materialism in questions of values, and a reflection of value objectivity. Also, only with those correct and scientific value understandings is it possible to assist people’s practice and thereby create materials needed to satisfy human needs or spiritual achievements. Because of this, in the process of understanding and transforming the objective world, we must persist in the principle of integrating the scale of values with the scale of truth, and organically integrate satisfying human needs with handling matters according to scientific rules. Only in this way is it possible to incessantly achieve successes.
Correct and scientific value understandings are also not “universal”, they must always follow the development of practice and the deepening of understanding, and be incessantly enriched and perfected. The Chinese masses are the creators of history, and are the main force pushing forward social development. The aspirations and needs of proletariat and the broad labouring masses are consistent with the basic development tendencies of human societies from beginning to end. Because of this, the understanding of the process of the development of human societies, the analysis of phenomena and issues in the historical area, and especially the appraisal of major events and major personalities, can only be done correctly and scientifically by standing on the viewpoint of the proletariat and the broad labouring people, and evaluating matters according to standards that conform to the interests and aspirations of the masses. this is the basic reflection of Marxism concerning the principle of integrating the class nature of values and the scientific nature of values. For example, the evaluation of the major historical events that were the huge changes in the Soviet Union will come to different conclusions from different classes standing on different viewpoints, which might even be sharply opposed. When standing on the Western capital-monopolist class viewpoint, it must be recognized that the changes in the Soviet Union were a good thing, they were “historical progress”. Standing on the viewpoint of the people in the Soviet Union, according to the general rules of the development of human societies revealed by historical materialism, it can be believed that the changes in the Soviet Union were a historical tragedy, a historical retreat, and has brought major disaster to the people of the Soviet Union and even the people of the world.
II, Values reflect the synthesis of subject-object relationships, the objective reality of the material world cannot be considered as a basis for the existence of “universal values”
First and foremost, subjects and objects are the basic elements composing a value relationship, both are indispensible. Objects are the preconditions and counterparts of values, without objects, there would be subject corresponding with it, and movements in value understandings would certainly be out of the question. Similarly, subjects are the condition and basis for values to come into being, without the needs of a subject, there would be no subject to relate to objects, and value understanding movements would not exist, neither would value understandings or value concepts come into being.
Furthermore, objectivity and subjectivity are two fundamental characteristics of values. (1) Fundamentally, the objectivity of values is decided by social practice. Existing value relationships are the products of social practice, and rely on social practice. The objectivity of values is reflected in every segment of value relationships. For example, the needs of the subject are objective, and the counterparts or objects used to satisfy the needs of the subject are objective, the process and results of satisfying people’s needs are also objective. Furthermore, people’s needs are always restricted by objective historical conditions, this is also an important reflection of value objectivity. (2) The subjectivity of values is reflected in the subjective judgment of the value subject concerning the object. Whether or not objects have value and the extent of that value are the result of the cognition and evaluation of the subject’s subjective activities. Therefore, value understandings have a very strong subjectivity. Engels said: “the effect of objects is a sort of purely subjective thing that can essentially not be determined”. This sentence points the subjectivity and relativity of value understandings out clearly. Not all subjective understandings fall into the category of value understandings, but value understandings certainly are the result of the subjective will, and are shaped in the process of understanding and transforming the world.
Clarifying the above two points is extremely important. There is a viewpoint that considers the usability of things, in other words, the natural attributes of things that can satisfy some human needs as “universal values”, for example sunlight, air, water, bamboo trips, sawdust, sand, etc. Because these things are beneficial and useful to people, and their value cannot change, they are said to be eternal “universality”. This mistaken understanding of sort of viewpoint lies in the fact that it makes the objective reality of the material world into a basis for the existence of “universal values”. We know that the myriad things in the natural world exist, and that they cannot be changed by the human will. Lenin once summarized the objective existence of the myriad things in the natural world as the fundamental characteristic of the concept of matter in philosophy. The material world’s objective reality can be said to not have been born with Yao or to have died with Shun. Bit these objectively existing myriad things can only enter the category of value evaluation when they become the object of value understandings. Where no linkage occurs with a value subject, there only is a kind of objective existence. This sort of objectively existing fact cannot be said to have value, and can certainly not be said to have “universal value”.
III, We must separate objective understanding (factual judgments) and value understanding (value judgements), we cannot treat some objective understandings as value understandings
In the process of understanding the world, humankind has engendered a large amount of understanding of objects, there are two categories among them: one category is objective understanding. This has the state of the object itself as content to be reflected, and scientific knowledge of exploring the true features material world and its internal rules, are the descriptions of objective facts. This sort of understanding may either conform to (or partially conform to) objective reality, or not conform (partially not conform or completely not conform) to objective reality, but must not be mixed up with people’s subjective judgments, or transformed by the people’s subjective will. This sort judgement shaped with the objective of seeking truth is called factual judgments, for example, people looking for natural properties of gold or jade, physical characteristics, etc.
Another category is value judgements, these have the value relationship between objects and subjects as content to be reflected, judgements shaped in order to gain understanding of the meaning and use of subjects to objects, whether or not it is useful, whether or not it is worth something, whether or not it is good, whether or not it is beneficial, whether or not it has meaning, and so on. The basis for these judgements are the subjects’ needs. Where needs are different, value judgments may also be different, furthermore, there may be historical changes. For example, the people’s understanding of the collection value or market value of gold and jade may differ greatly because of differences in subjects, differences in market conditions and differences in times, objective uniform standards do not exist at all.
Naturally, there are also relationships between objective understandings and value understandings. Some understandings are both objective understandings and value understandings. Only when value judgements conform to the measure of reality, and thereby are scientific value judgments, can both be truly unified.
Clarifying the difference between objective understanding and value understanding is extremely important to our understanding of the issue of “universal values”. When some people discuss “universal values”, they always wittingly or unwittingly confuse objective understandings and subjective understandings, they consider objective understandings that do not fall into value categories at all, as value understandings, and use this to explain the existence of “universal values”. For example, some people believe that since humankind came into being, without making a difference between man and woman, class, or race, everyone must eat. Because of this, the sort of common human need like “people must have something to eat” is a “universal value”. Undoubtedly, people must eat to subsist, but this is a biological instinct that people share with all other animals in the world, this is a sort of objective understanding. Naturally, the meaning of eating is different, because of this, even listing “people need something to eat” into the category of value understandings cannot lead to the conclusion of universality. “The rich are overwhelmingly wealthy, while people freeze do death in the streets” is a true reflection of ancient exploiting societies. In the present world, according to statistics, there are 800 million people in the world who suffer from hunger every day, there are 4 billion people living poor lives, 100 million children living in the street, every year, there are 110 million children of five years or younger who die because of malnutrition, poverty or preventable or curable illnesses. And the total assets of three rich and powerful Americans Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Pail Allen are larger than the total amount of the GDPs of the 43 least developed countries in the world. These two categories of human groups are completely different when evaluating “people must have something to eat.
Some people consider Marxism as a “universal value”, the reason being that Marxism contains universal truths that are applicable across all four seas. When we say that Marxism is a universal truth, this is because it reveals the general rules of nature, society and thinking that have been proved by innumerable practices, and is a scientific conclusion tested by practice and history, that cannot be transformed by any person’s will. In terms of the proletariat and the broad labouring people, Marxism is both a factual judgment and a value judgement, even so, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, Marxism is not a universal truth, conversely, they believe that Marxism is heretical fallacy. In history, Marxism has been subject to frenzied strangling by the international bourgeoisie since the day it was born, Marxism has been looked upon as a phantom. The basic reason is that Marxism is the ideological system of the proletariat and the ideological weapon of the proletariat to conduct class struggle, and it is not a “universal value” that all classes can identify with.
Some scholars believe that “Marxism is a universal value”, this is a mistaken understanding, and does not make clear the difference between “universal values” and “universal truths”. A few “universal value” pundits put forward the thesis that “Marxism is a universal value” with ulterior motives, they have different plans, and want to lead us into “paradoxical” circumstances: recognizing this thesis benefits the defence of “universal values”; opposing the thesis benefits the weakening of Marxism’s leading position. We can clearly answer: Marxism is the ideological system of the proletariat, and is not a “universal value” that can be applied to all people or all times.
IV, Denying “universal values” does not means denying the establishment of value consensus, but no value consensus can be “universal”.
It should be said that certain subjects, under certain conditions, and within certain scopes, may come to certain value consensus. For example, in the progress of human civilizations, and in the cultural exchange between various nations, different nations and different countries may progressively form approval of certain fundamental values, and it may even be so that on a global level, there are value consensus that the absolute majority of people agrees with. But all value consensus are conditional and fall within a certain scope, furthermore, they may change in step with changes in categories and scopes, and a “universal” value consensus that is eternally unchangeable does not exist.
For example, the relationship between humans and nature. using nature enriches humankind, this is a value consensus of humankind. But this human consensus also is changing continuously. When productive forces were backwards and science or technology had not yet developed, people placed an excessive stress on grabbing from the natural world, and they even did not stint to violate natural rules in order to satisfy excessive human needs, and therefore, were punished by nature. Following the development of science and technology, human capacity understanding and transformation, on the basis of summarising lessons of the past, humankind has progressively learnt to understand the harm of plundering nature without thinking of the consequences, and consequently, has begun to change and even abandon its original mistaken concepts and methods. In the present time, humankind lays an even bigger stress on respecting the rules of nature, advocates a scientific use of nature, and proposes harmonious co-existence with and sustainable development of nature. There is no doubt that in the future, humankind will incessantly enrich and develop its understanding of using nature through new practices.
Moreover, there are nuclear threats, terrorism, environmental pollution, resource depletion and other global problems of this time. All of humanity has a common interest because of this, and a value understanding has emerged on this basis, to reflect and resolve these problems. But these value understandings of all of humanity are still not “universal”. Because all of humanity facing common problems and the existence of the common interests are one thing, but interests in dealing with common interests and methods to deal with common problems are a completely different thing. For example, until today, the US are unwilling to renounce their first use of nuclear weapons, until now, they are unwilling to accede to the “Kyoto Agreement” to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, in the end, this is because they want to safeguard the political rule and economic interest of the American monopolist bourgeoisie.
The world climate convention that was convened in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, in September 2009, can be said to be an extreme satire of those “universal value” preachers. Representatives of more than 190 countries brought the worry and common problems of all of humanity into the meeting. Even so, this value consensus of protecting the global environment did not meet the true universal agreement of all participating countries, there was a great difference between developed countries and developing countries on matters such as which actions to undertake and other such questions. The US openly refused to accept the “principle of common but differential responsibilities” that was generally approved by international society, and every effort was undertaken to ensure that the US did not have to bear its historical responsibility and actual responsibility, at the same time, it still spearheaded criticism directed at China. This essentially meant that protecting this human consensus of protecting the global environment had not become a “universal value” for the US and other Western developed countries.
Another example is constitutionalism. Some people sedulously conceal the class nature of constitutionalism, and do their utmost to attenuate the systemic properties of constitutionalism, they aim to separate constitutionalism from capitalist systems, to ensure that it becomes a universally applicable value concept and systemic model with independent characteristics. There is no doubt that constitutionalism is the universal value understanding of Western capitalist, and that what it safeguards is the interests of the bourgeoisie in occupying the ruling position, it is a protective escort for capitalism. Because of this, in the eyes of the proletariat and the broad labourers, constitutionalism is a tool for the ruling class to suppress them, and has a deep impression of the capitalist system. Comrade Mao Zedong once deeply exposed the essence and nature of constitutionalism and capitalism, he believed that European-American-style constitutionalism was “bourgeois dictatorship” constitutionalism, “for example, England, France, the US and other countries at present, what is called constitutionalism, or what is called democratic politics, in fact is a politics that eats people:. Where this sort of constitutionalism is concerned, the proletariat and the broad labouring masses absolutely not believe that it is “universal”. On the contrary, after the victory in the proletarian revolutions, it is even more necessary to sweep this into the rubbish bin of history. Constitutionalism is absolutely not something of which all people say that “there is no difference between East and West”, or that it is a “universal value” that “has a universal meaning for all of humankind”.
V, The generalities or commonalities of objective realities must not be considered as the “universality” of value concepts.
People advocating for “universal values” have a common point in their thinking, which is that they consider the generalities or commonalities that people abstract from objective reality as the “universalities” of value concepts. For example, they take the common points of value concepts existing among different classes and different groups, they abstract equal or similar experiences accumulated in different countries, and call them “universal values”. For example, democracy, freedom, equality, fairness, justice, human rights, etc., are stressed in capitalist countries and are stressed in Socialist countries as well, they are present in the capitalist lexicon, and are present in the Marxist lexicon as well, capitalist countries do market economies and the rule of law, Socialist countries do them as well. Because of this, democracy, freedom, equality, fairness, justice, human rights, etc., are the “universal values” that the entire humanity commonly pursues, market economy and the rule of law are “universal experiences”, “universal models” and “universal values”.
Separating the commonalities or generalities of things from their individualities and particularities means only looking at one side and not the other, this is a metaphysical method for understanding. In philosophical terms, the commonalities or generalities of objective realities cannot exist in isolation. People may abstract the commonalities or generalities from the objective targets of their abstraction, but in reality, the commonalities or generalities cannot be separated from individualities and particularities. Commonalities or generalities must always reside in individualities and particularities, and must be manifested through individualities and particularities. Abstract realities from which individualities and particularities are removed basically do not exist. People may abstract generalities from all kinds of concrete fruits (apples, tangerines, pineapples, bananas, etc.) but on the market, they can only buy concrete fruits.
In fact, the commonalities and generalities abstracted from things cannot be completely determined, static and unchanging. Because under certain historical conditions, objective conditions are limited, human method, abilities and levels to understand things is always limited. It is necessary to undergo the process from practice to understanding, and again from understanding to practice, in a never-ending circle. This decides the commonalities and generalities of things, which are inevitable concrete and historical, and not eternally unchanging. Furthermore, the commonalities and generalities of things fall into the category of objective understanding. The abovementioned democracy, freedom, equality, fairness, justice, human rights, etc., belong to the category of value understandings, hence, democracy, freedom, equality, fairness, justice and human rights are never “universal” in the area of value systems.
For example, although democracy is an abstract concept, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat both talk about democracy, but in the end, which sort of democracy is better? Different classes have different answers in relation to democracy. The Marxist answer is the democracy of the proletariat, or Socialist democracy, in which the people master their own affairs. The democracy that the bourgeoisie talks about, is essentially the democracy of the bourgeois dictatorship, which guarantees the freedom of capital to exploit and suppress. Exactly because different classes have different understandings of democracy, in the Marxist vocabulary, we must always talk about bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy, capitalist democracy and Socialist democracy. These qualifiers in front of the word democracy are indispensable, and point out the class nature of democracy and the essence of democracy. One sort of pure democracy, common democracy or “universal democracy” that all of humanity identifies with has never existed in human societies.
Abstract freedom does not exist in real social life. People’s understanding of freedom is always concrete and differentiated. Different classes have different answers, that even are completely opposed. The bourgeoisie believes that relying on the possession of the means of production, employing workers and exploiting the surplus value created by workers is their right and freedom; the working class believes that they will only gain their own freedom through the abolition of the private ownership system and the abolition of the exploiting labour system.
Concerning the essence of democracy and freedom, Comrade Mao Zedong said: “In fact, there is only concrete freedom in the world, and concrete democracy, there is no abstract freedom or abstract democracy. In class struggle societies, where there is the freedom for the exploiting classes to exploit the labouring people, there is no freedom for the labouring people to be free from exploitation. Where there is bourgeois democracy, there is no democracy of the proletariat or the working people”. He also said that “democracy and freedom are relative, not absolute, they all occur and develop in history”.
Not only democracy and freedom are concrete and have a class nature, the same is true for equality, fairness, justice, human rights and other such concepts. Under existing conditions of class and class conflict, concrete freedoms and equality are deceptive. Lenin acutely pointed out that “as long as classes have not yet been eliminated, any general debate concerning freedom and equality is deceptive, cheats the workers, or cheats the whole body of labourers who are subject to capitalist exploitation, regardless of how it is said, this always safeguards the interests of the bourgeoisie. As long as classes have not yet been abolished, any debate concerning freedom and equality shall put forward this question: freedom for which class? In the end, how is this sort of freedom to be used? Equality between which class and which other class? In the end, equality for which side? Directly or indirectly, wilfully or inadvertently avoiding these questions naturally means safeguarding the interests of the bourgeoisie, the interests of capital, and the interest of exploiters. As long as mention of these problems is avoided, and the private ownership system of the means of production is not discussed, the slogans of freedom and equality are hypocritical falsehoods of capitalist societies, because capitalist societies use the formal recognition of freedom and equality to cover up that workers and the whole body of labourers subject to capitalist exploitation, who are the absolute majority of capitalist countries’ inhabitants, are economically unfree and unequal in fact.”
Market economics have their general meaning, but market economies cannot exist in abstraction, they always must be integrated with a country’s basic system and concrete national circumstances, in practice, market economy systems each having different characteristics are formed. There are capitalist market economies and Socialist market economies. Even in countries with similar social systems, market economy structures may manifest themselves differently. This is the characteristic of market economies that inevitable emerges in the process of integration with different national conditions. Comrade Jiang Zemin pointed out that: “the “Socialist” in front of the Socialist market economic system care indispensible, that they are not superfluous, and certainly not “drawing snakes and adding feet”, it is the exact opposite, this is “drawing dragons and adding eyes”. What is called “adding eyes”, is pointing out the essence of our market economy”, “Western market economies are done under a capitalist system, our market economy is done under a Socialist system, this is a point of difference, and our creativity and characteristics are reflected herein”. Furthermore, following the development of practice, different countries and different social systems may differ in terms of the content and understanding of the market economy. Socialism may do a market economy, but not because the market economy is a “universal value”, but because the market economy, like the planned economy, are methods for developing and means for regulating economies. What is suitable is used, what is unsuitable is not used.
The rule of law essentially is a tool of the class occupying the economically dominant position to safeguard its ruling position, and is the basic method for the ruling class in a society to govern the country and structure administration. The rule of law is a method and means to manage the country and the society, and is not the exclusive possession of any single social form, it exists in all countries that have law. But the rule of law is not abstract, it inevitably obtains the nature and attributes of a sort of social form through the process of serving that social form. For example, our putting forward ruling the country according to the law and constructing a Socialist rule of law country refers to the fact that the Party leads the people in governing the country, and it guarantees that the people engage in democratic elections, democratic policymaking, democratic management and democratic supervision according to the law, and safeguard the broad people’s fundamental interests. Jiang Zemin pointed out that: “Persisting in the leadership of the Party and the Socialist orientation” as well as “guaranteeing that the broad popular masses fully exercise democratic power” are the “two principles” that must be implemented in building a Socialist rule of law country. This has pointed out the essential difference between Socialist rule of law and capitalist rule of law.
We oppose the term “universal value”, but that does not mean a denial of the commonalities and generalities of objects, or one-sidedly stressing individualities and particularities, as some people pointed out. We stand for the recovery of the true spirit of dialectical materialism. We must both see the commonalities and generalities of objects, and see the individualities and particularities of objects, and unify both in a scientific manner. People who advocate “universal values” one-sidedly stress the commonalities and generalities of objects, and make them into a basis for the existence of “universal values”, this essentially violates the Marxist worldview and methodology, and does also not conform to objective reality.
VI, Vigilance against the trap of “universal values”
Originally, “universal” was a religious concept broadly used in European medieval Christianity. Its original idea refers to everyone under Heaven, or all of human kind. By the Nineties of the 20th Century, some Western theologians and ethics scholars designated some commonly accepted and broadly recognized ethnical concepts and moral standards as ‘universal ethics” or “global ethics”, “common ethics” or “world ethics”, etc., and started a high tide of marching towards “universal values” internationally. In the main, during this period, philosophers, psychologists, politics scholars and scholars in some other areas began to describe some commonly recognized phenomena and concepts as “universal values”.
When Western scholars interpret the concept “universality”, it mainly refers to a basic consensus recognized by a majority of people. For one of the main pioneers of “universal ethics”, the German philosopher Hans Küng, “universal ethics” are a sort of “basic consensus in the ethical area” and “a sort of minimum common values, standard and attitudes recognized by all religions, that are supported by believers and non-believers”. The English philosopher and historian of political thought Isaiah Berlin believes that “universal values” are a sort of values that are commonly observed by the majority of people in a majority of places and situations, almost all the time, regardless of whether or not people are conscious of this or express this in their actions.
But after the concept of “universality” was brought into the area of politics, Western mainstream ideology and ruling cliques endowed it with a specific connotation. In 1996, a leading figure in US politics and foreign affairs think tanks, Samuel Huntington, claimed in his “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” that Western “universal civilization” and “universalism” was to be used to counter non-Western civilizations and non-Western social ideologies. He believed that, although the “collapse of Communism” in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe meant that Western liberal democratic thought had gained “a global victory”, the clash between Western civilization and anti-Western civilizations, Western ideology and non-Western ideology, still exists in the world of today. He also had to point out that: the concept of universal civilization is a special product of Western civilization, and “the universalism in Westerners’ eyes, is imperialism to non-Westerners”. How is this clash to be dealt with? Huntington points out: “At the end of the 20th Century, the concept of universal civilizations has helped the West to defend their domination of the cultures of other societies, and their demanding that those societies imitate Western practices and structures. Universalism is the West’s ideology to deal with non-Western civilizations.
At the beginning of the 2st Century, the US have begun to make “universal values” into a new offensive and a new concepts for them to promote their hegemonic ideology, policy and strategy. The Obama government has raised the promotion of “universal values” to a new strategic height. On 27 May 2020, the US Government submitted the “United States National Security” to Congress, which pointed out that there are four long-term interests for the US, the third of which is “respecting universal values domestically and in the whole world”. This report clearly pointed out that: the US persist in “universal values”, and devote themselves to promoting “universal values” on a global scale. The persistent support for “universal values” distinguishes the US from enemies, inimical governments and potential adversaries. The report also meticulously expounds six strategic measures that must be adopted to spread “universal values”, for example, affirming the legality of all peaceful democratic movements in non-democratic countries, establishing a broad alliance of “universal value” promoters, etc. On 15 December 2010, Hillary Clinton issued the US “Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review”, of which the foreword pointed out that: in a new global structure, we must promote the security and the flourishing of the US, respect “universal values” as well as international order. We start from this point, to determine trends remoulding global structures.
As early as July 2006, on the eve of the right-wing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first election as prime minister, he played up “universal values””. He believed that freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law were four “universal values” that were central to his foreign policy concepts, and promoted them in Asia and round the world. he also indicated that he would strengthen cooperation with the US, Europe and India that shared his “universal value” views of freedom and democracy, with Asia at the centre and would vigorously expand this value system. When he was elected prime minister for the second time on 18 January 2013, he proclaimed the “New Five Principles of Foreign Affairs in South-East Asia” to encircle China, in the Indonesian capital Djakarta, one of those principles was “consolidating and spreading ‘freedom, democracy and fundamental human rights’ and other universal values”.
Nonetheless, there are people in our country who believe that in China’s implementation of reform and opening up, and realizing modernization, “universal values” must be recognized, “universal values” must be taken as yardsticks, and rails must be linked with mainstream international concepts; in the face of these “universal values”, it is not necessary to differentiate between the surnames “capital” and “social”; to liberate thoughts, the slogan “universal values” must be established; China must have a footing in its national characteristics, but must also embrace ”universal values”. Some people even believe that the history of success of three decades of reform and opening up is the result of having realized these ”universal values”. These discourses match with the “universal value” strategy of the US and other such Western countries vis-a-vis the outside world, including China.
Mr. Fei Xiaotong pointed out that: “‘Cultural self-consciousness’ is a need of the present times, it refers to the fact that people living in a certain culture have self-knowledge about their culture”. In terms of its implications, cultural self-consciousness means that people have a sober self-knowledge of their own culture, and that its content can only been truly understood and learnt by those having self-knowledge. Cultural self-consciousness decides people’s spiritual attitudes, whether or not people have self-knowledge of their own culture may be reflected through their thoughts, words and actions. These thoughts, words and actions are the symbols of cultural self-consciousness.
First and foremost, cultural self-consciousness means being extremely clear bout what the quintessence and excellent traditions of one’s own culture are. If people want to determine what the cream and the dregs of their own culture are through scientific research and social practice, which also means that they still lack self-knowledge about their own culture. In these terms, Chinese people are the nation that lack cultural self-consciousness in the world today. Westerners have a Christian culture, Muslims have an Islamic culture, the Russians have an Eastern Orthodox culture… whenever the Chinese people discuss what the cream of Chinese culture is, and they often get bogged into endless dispute.
Furthermore, there are people with cultural self-consciousness who have a strong cultural self-confidence, who are completely convinced that their existence is perfectly justified. Faith is not a subjective concept that is detained in a mind, but it is a yardstick for human life. Chinese culture has fostered and formed a magnificent culture that is the axis of an era. In history, Chinese people once had a strong cultural self-consciousness, believing that “heaven does not change, and the Way also does not change”, cultural self-confidence coexisted with Chinese people’s living principles and heaven and earth. Even so, after the Opium War, because of civilizational differences between China and the West, imperialist aggression and the global structure of the Cold War, and moreover, the atheist nature of Chinese culture, Chinese people progressively accepted large amounts of Western ideological concepts, in order to strive for national independence and liberation, as well as the modernization of China, but at the same time, they hid their own cultural consciousness, and lost their cultural self-confidence step by step, and in the end, considered the Chinese culture handed down to us by the ancients as the backward ideology of a feudal society. The result that this engendered is that many Chinese often feel culturally inferior, even though they warmly love Chinese culture, they are always perplexed about what is the quintessence of Chinese culture, they collaborate to differentiate the cream and the dregs of Chinese culture, but are not clear about the cultural classics and the spiritual traditions that present the individuality of Chinese culture throughout.
Third, if we have self-knowledge about our own culture, we will be able to clearly know what kind of people we are, and know what this means. When people study the classics of their own culture, they understand themselves, and answer the question who “I” am, consequently, they define themselves by their own culture. What is a pity is that nowadays, not a few of our people still face this perplexity: what kind of people are the Chinese? What is meant by China? Our consciousness is hidden by some ideological concepts that believe themselves to be scientific but that have fallen behind the times, causing us to underestimate the Chinese culture that lets us become Chinese people, and to be unable to understand ourselves correctly.
Finally, people who have self-consciousness inevitably firmly believe in the classical works of their own culture. In intellectual structures constructed by cultural classics, there not only is scientific knowledge, but also knowledge carrying cultural quintessence; although posterity cannot verify it in scientific experience, these still are truths that go without saying. If people only believe science, that would bean that they lack cultural self-confidence. At present, the main content of Chinese education is exactly imparting this sort of knowledge structure that lacks cultural self-confidence. Our education only passes on knowledge, and does not pass on culture. The wealthier we become in material terms, the poorer we become spiritually, and consequently, the quality of cultural morality incessantly slides down.
After the Cold War, cultural identification replaced the class identification from the past, cultural self-consciousness also correspondingly replaced class consciousness, and became an important symbol deciding people’s spiritual attitude. Because of this, Chinese people must have cultural self-consciousness before they are able to adjust to the needs of the present times.