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  • From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion of Official Ideology in Deng's China
  • John A. Rapp (bio)
Kalpana Misra. From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion of Official Ideology in Deng's China. New York and London: Routledge, 1998. xviii, 270 pp. Paperback $21.99, ISBN 0-415-92033-7.

Kalpana Misra, an associate professor of political science at the University of Tulsa, makes use of an elegant model to summarize succinctly the large and widely varying intellectual debates and controversies in the Deng years in China, despite the serious shortcomings and blind spots of the neo-Marxist theoretical underpinnings of her model.

Intellectual discourse in China is not as strictly limited as advocates of the "totalitarian" model of communism would suggest, though, of course, as Misra shows, it is limited according to the needs and interests of the Leninist regime. As Misra notes, "the intellectual dynamism and vitality that accompanied the ideological reorientation effort belies the claim that the regime's theorists were merely articulating and legitimating the existing socioeconomic order" (p. 8).

In her model, which the author herself restates throughout the book at convenient moments, the regime called upon intellectuals to construct a new ideological basis that would justify a change of course from the Maoist-era emphasis on equality and antipathy for material incentives to the Deng-era stress on the buildup of a commodity economy. Nevertheless, intellectuals have their own varying interests depending on their status and location within the Party-State elite, which led at times to diverging interests between some of them and their superiors. Misra's thesis is that this tension of interests ultimately led to a failure to find an ideological basis for the regime's changes in policy. One consequence of this failure may have been the pervasive cynicism and apathy in China noted by many observers after 1989.

Drawing a distinction between "moderate" and "radical" reformers of the Deng era (both of whom tried, to different degrees, to repudiate and replace the "Maoist radical intellectual discourse" of the earlier era), Misra nicely examines the shifts and changes in positions on all sides over the Deng years. Examining the debates on the "Criterion of Truth," the nature of revolutionary praxis, discussions on feudalism versus capitalism as the key negative legacy of the past, and the stages of socialism, among other controversies, Misra finds that some intellectuals were radicalized over time to the point that the Party leadership came to see their positions as politically unfeasible. Even as it repressed those intellectuals who would not conform to the merging post-Tian'anmen "neo-conservative" line, the Party failed to achieve a new ideological consensus and thus undermined the utility of any official Marxism as either an analytical tool or a legitimating ideology. For all their courage in finding new openings to call for political reform, [End Page 504] even "radical-reformist" intellectuals themselves were inconsistent and fuzzy in their own thought, Misra claims. Even if, as she notes (unfortunately only in one reference), these radical reformists "wrote in a political atmosphere that was not always conducive to frank and forthright expression" (p. 194), their fuzziness was a necessary consequence of "their failure to assess the long-term political and socioeconomic consequences of economic liberalization" (p. 196).

Her assessment of the radical reformers shows the neo-Marxist theoretical underpinnings of her model. Misra wants to believe that the Marxism of the Mao era, whatever deep anti-democratic tendencies it led to in practice, was genuinely concerned with "considerations of equity and social justice" in which Mao and his followers "linked the transformative 'means' of socialism to the 'end' of a classless communist society" (p. 125). As part of this supposed genuine socialist concern for economic equality, Mao developed a "new class" critique that was not a departure but firmly based on the views of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky (Mao of course took pains to deny influence from the latter) of the dangers of the bureaucracy of the workers' state backsliding into a new capitalist elite. Misra notes throughout her book that despite the early attempts of Dengist intellectuals to deny the "new class" argument and to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 504-507
Launched on MUSE
1999-09-01
Open Access
No
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