Deng Xiaoping

The Party’s Urgent Tasks On the Organizational and Ideological Fronts


Published: October 12, 1983
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


The major question before this plenary session of the Central Committee has been the rectification of Party organizations. The Central Committee’s decision on this question has been adopted after deliberation by all present. That decision is a very good one, and I fully agree with it. After the session we shall discuss the Party’s leadership on the ideological front. At this time, however, I should like to make two points: the rectification movement must not be conducted in a perfunctory way, and people working in the ideological field must not spread mental pollution.

Now, the first point: the rectification movement must not be conducted in a perfunctory way.

Since the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, our Party has reestablished Marxist ideological, political and organizational lines and formulated correct policies that are suited to actual conditions. Thus, excellent results have been achieved, new prospects are being opened up in every field of work and the masses have supported our Party’s line and leadership. In the course of realizing this historic change, the Party members have repeatedly withstood the test of major struggles, and most of them have proved to be good, capable people, resourceful and ready to fight.

However, we are far from satisfied with the present state of affairs in the Party. There are still quite a few serious problems that we haven’t had time to analyse and solve. Some negative things have been left over from the ten years of domestic chaos, and others have appeared and grown under the new historical conditions. The decision on rectification lists “three types of people”. It also mentions persons who have committed serious economic or other crimes, those who have abused power for private gain, those who have seriously impaired the Party’s relations with the masses, those who have been at odds with the Party politically all along and have merely pretended to be in agreement with it, and so forth. All these people are dangerous, corrupt elements, representing serious defects in the Party’s ideology, style of work, and organization.

The most dangerous are the first three types. Some of them have been identified and dealt with, and others have corrected their ideology and conduct. But a certain number have simply lain low in the Party without ever renouncing their former stand. They are exceedingly dangerous for several reasons. First, they cling to their old factional mentality and are politically subversive, agitating against the Party. Second, they are cunning and deceitful; when the times are against them, they conceal their ideas to win other people’s confidence; then, when the situation changes in their favour, they will come forth to stir up trouble and fan the flames of unrest. Third, they have moved to different parts of the country and hidden out there, still maintaining their clandestine factional ties. And fourth, they are relatively young and well educated. After their downfall some of these people threatened to settle accounts ten or twenty years later. In short, they are a political force with unscrupulous ambition and must on no account be taken lightly. They are walking time-bombs, and unless they are detected and defused during the rectification movement, they will destroy us.

It goes without saying that the other types of people listed are also dangerous and will be the ruin of us unless we deal with them now.

Many of our veteran Party members are deeply worried about this situation, and other people both inside and outside the Party are likewise concerned and indignant about it. Our entire membership and the people of all our nationalities are in favour of the decision made by the Twelfth National Party Congress to conduct Party-wide rectification, and they expect a great deal from the movement. Our Party must therefore be determined to carry it out thoroughly and conscientiously. We must see to it that we solve these serious problems and don’t just go through the motions. We cannot let our Party comrades and the entire people down.

It was absolutely right for us to do everything possible to correct the “Left” mistakes made during the “cultural revolution” and during previous political campaigns and ideological struggles. We shall never allow such mistakes to be repeated. However, quite a few comrades have made only a one-sided analysis of the historical lessons. They regard any mention of ideological struggle or of stern measures to be taken against people as a “Left” mistake and are only interested in combating “Left” mistakes and not Right ones. This leads to the other extreme, weakness and laxity. In waging ideological struggle against negative tendencies, persons and acts and in meting out organizational sanctions, Party people have tended in recent years to be a little too tolerant, hesitant, tender-hearted and ready to gloss things over to avoid trouble. Consequently, Party discipline has been lax that some bad people have been shielded.

Not long ago, concentrated efforts were made throughout the country to crack down swiftly on serious crime and to deal with offenders severely in accordance with the law. The people have been gratified by this and have given their warm support. They had been worried that if criminals were dealt with leniently and released like tigers sent back to the mountains, they might come back to avenge themselves. The people complained that we ought to have taken action earlier and criticized us for having waited so long. We should pay close attention to this reaction. Two years ago I pointed out that many leaders at various levels were weak and lax, as was shown by their tender-heartedness in dealing with persons guilty of grave criminal offences. They should draw a lesson from this reaction on the people’s part and resolutely overcome their weakness and laxity. During the rectification movement, firm disciplinary measures must be taken against the three types of people mentioned earlier and against those who have made serious mistakes and caused great damage. Some of them should be expelled from the Party, others should be removed from office or subjected to other sanctions, as the case may be, and those who have committed crimes should be dealt with according to law. People who have made less serious mistakes should be severely criticized and should themselves make genuine, not superficial, self-criticisms and pledge to correct their failings. This will be one of the most important demonstrations that rectification is not being conducted in a perfunctory way.

During the rectification movement only a few Party members will be subjected to organizational sanctions. For the majority it will be only a matter of strengthening their Party spirit through ideological education. The purposes of the movement are to help the members make significant moral, ideological and political progress, to raise their awareness of the need to serve the people rather than to seek private gain, and to greatly improve relations between the Party and the masses. After the movement there should be regular criticism and self-criticism within the Party. All Party members, no matter who they are or what posts they hold, should be prepared to criticize others and themselves. The rectification movement should serve to consolidate Party organizations and bring about a fundamental improvement in the Party’s style of work. All Party members, cadres and organizations will be required to examine themselves in light of the qualifications set forth in the Party Constitution, to work out plans, in accordance with their own specific conditions, for meeting them, and to make sure that those plans are carried out. Leading cadres at various levels, and senior cadres in particular, should set an example by strictly abiding by the Constitution and the “Guiding Principles for Inner-Party Political Life”. This will be another important demonstration that the rectification movement is not being conducted in a perfunctory way.

In short, we must make a success of the current rectification movement, so that our Party will become a militant Marxist party, a powerful central force leading the people throughout the country in their efforts to build a socialist society that is advanced materially and ethically. With the firm resolve of our members, we shall surely accomplish this.

Now I come to my second point: people working in the ideological field must not spread mental pollution.

The ideological field covers a broad area, but I shall chiefly discuss theoretical work and literature and art. The past few years have witnessed great successes in these two fields. Our theorists have contributed a great deal by studying, expounding and publicizing the theory that practice is the sole criterion for testing truth, the scientific analysis of the Party’s history, especially in the period since the founding of the People’s Republic, and the need to build socialism with Chinese characteristics, to reform the economic and political structures, build a socialist society advanced in ethics and culture and to educate people in communism and patriotism. Many comrades in other academic fields have also been working hard and have made useful contributions. Our literature and art have never been so flourishing, and marked progress has been made in artistic expression and in the depiction of reality in all its breadth and depth. Excellent novels, pieces of reportage, films, television dramas, plays, operas, poems, musical compositions, paintings, dances and works of folk art have been produced. In this field, achievements have been predominant. There is no doubt about that, and it must be affirmed.

However, there are quite a few problems and much confusion among our theorists, writers and artists; in particular, some of them have spread mental pollution. So today I wish to discuss this question at some length.

All our workers fighting on the ideological front should serve as “engineers of the soul”. In the effort to build a socialist society that is ideologically and culturally advanced and to promote the socialist cause as a whole, and particularly during the present period of change, they are charged with the heavy responsibility of educating people. The aftermath of the ten years of domestic turmoil, the difficulties left over from the past and the complicated problems that have arisen under the new circumstances have affected people’s thinking and have resulted in some confusion and misunderstanding. As “engineers of the soul”, our ideological workers should hold aloft the banner of Marxism and socialism. They should use their articles, literary works, lectures, speeches and performances to educate people, teaching them to assess the past correctly, to understand the present and to have firm faith in socialism and in leadership by the Party. They should inspire the people to work hard, to set high goals for themselves, to have lofty ideals and moral integrity, to raise their educational level, to cultivate their sense of discipline and to strive courageously for the magnificent cause of socialist modernization. This is what most ideological workers have been doing, to one degree or another. But some, flying in the face of the requirements of the times and of our people, are polluting people’s minds with unwholesome ideas, works and performances. In essence, mental pollution means the spread of the corrupt and decadent ideas of the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes and the spread of distrust of socialism, communism and leadership by the Communist Party. The year before last the Central Committee convened a forum on problems in the ideological field, at which certain tendencies towards bourgeois liberalization and towards weakness and laxity in leadership were criticized. Some results were achieved after that forum, but not all the problems were solved. In some places leadership remained weak and lax, not all tendencies towards bourgeois liberalization were overcome, and some even grew worse.

A number of theorists are indifferent to the major theoretical questions raised by socialist modernization. They are reluctant to study actual problems because, they say, they want to keep a distance from reality so as to avoid making mistakes, or because they think work of that sort is of no academic value. It is true that in the study of current problems some comrades have deviated from the Marxist orientation. They have only been interested in discussing humanism, the value of the human being, and alienation and in criticizing socialism, not capitalism. Of course, humanism may and should be studied and discussed as a theoretical and ethical question. But there are a thousand and one definitions of humanism. What we should do is make a Marxist analysis of it, disseminate and practise socialist humanism (which we used to call “revolutionary humanitarianism” during the years of revolution) and criticize bourgeois humanism. Members of the bourgeoisie often boast how humane they are and attack socialism as inhumane. I am amazed to find that some of our Party comrades are preaching humanism, the value of the human being and so forth in abstract terms. They don’t understand that neither in capitalist society nor in socialist society can there be an abstract value of the human being or abstract humanism, because even in our society there are still bad people, dregs of both the old and new societies, enemies of socialism and spies sent by other countries and Taiwan. Furthermore, the standard of living and the level of education of our people are not high, and discussion of the value of the human being or of humanism isn’t going to raise them. Only active efforts to achieve material and ethical progress can do that. Discussion of human beings apart from these specific conditions and tasks is discussion not of real human beings but of abstractions; this is not a Marxist approach, and it will lead young people astray.

As to alienation, after Marx discovered the law of surplus value, he used that term only to describe wage labour in capitalist society, meaning that such labour was alien to the workers themselves and was performed against their will, so that the capitalist might profit at their expense. Yet in discussing alienation some of our comrades go beyond capitalism; some even ignore the remaining alienation of labour under capitalism and its consequences. Rather, they allege that alienation exists under socialism and can be found in the economic, political and ideological realms, that in the course of its development socialism constantly gives rise to a force of alienation, as a result of the activities of the main body of the society. Moreover, they try to explain our reform from the point of view of overcoming this alienation. Thus they cannot help people to correctly understand and solve the problems that have arisen in socialist society today, or to correctly understand and carry out the continual reform that is essential for our technological and social advance. On the contrary, their position will only lead people to criticize, doubt and negate socialism, to consider it as hopeless as capitalism and to renounce their confidence in the future of socialism and communism. “So what’s the point of building socialism?” they say.

Marxist theory will advance and so will socialist theory; they will both advance as social practice and science advance. These comrades, however, are not advancing in their thinking but going backwards, back to pre-Marxist times. This confusion about humanism and the theory of alienation is a very serious problem among people working in the ideological sphere. And there are quite a few other problems of the same order. For instance, some people preach abstract democracy, even advocating free expression of counter-revolutionary views. They set democracy in opposition to Party leadership, put forward anti-Marxist arguments on the questions of Party spirit and service to the people, and so on. Even today there are still comrades who have doubts about the need to uphold the Four Cardinal Principles. For a while not long ago a few comrades doubted that our society was really socialist, that we should or could have a socialist system, and even that our Party was the party of the proletariat. Others argued that since we were still at the socialist stage it was only natural and correct for people to “put money above all else”. Things came to such a pass that most of these mistaken ideas were published in newspapers and periodicals, and some have still not been clarified. All this goes to show the extent of ideological confusion that has existed among theoretical workers.

So far as literature and art are concerned, it is gratifying that in recent years there have been more works depicting our new life as we strive to build socialism. There have been a number of pieces of reportage that awaken a revolutionary spirit, especially in young people, encouraging them to dedicate themselves to construction and struggle in every field, pieces that are very inspiring. There have been some inspiring works in other literary forms as well, but altogether there are not many. Some writers and artists have become indifferent to the socialist orientation and to the Central Committee’s call for literature and art that serve the people and socialism. They are not interested in portraying and extolling the revolutionary history of the Party and the people and their heroic deeds in the struggle for socialist modernization. They do not proceed from the Party’s revolutionary stand and try to help people understand the problems that have to be solved in building socialism, to inspire their enthusiasm and to strengthen their confidence. Instead, they make a point of writing about the dark side of life, they spread pessimism and sometimes even concoct stories to distort the revolutionary past and present. Others loudly praise the “modern” schools of thought of the West, declaring that the supreme goal of literature and art is “self-expression”, propagating the notions of abstract human nature and humanism and maintaining that man’s alienation under socialist conditions should be the theme of creative works. A few produce pornography. Although there are not many of these negative works, their influence on some young people cannot be ignored. Many writers and artists have neglected to study Marxism and held aloof from the people’s struggle to build a new life, and some Party members have been reluctant to take part in Party activities. It is chiefly for these reasons that the negative phenomena have emerged.

The bad practice of putting money above all else has been spreading in literary and art circles. Some members of theatre troupes from the grass roots to the central level run around giving cheap performances and even staging low, vulgar shows just to make money. Most regrettably, certain famous actors and actresses, including some from the PLA troupes, have been swept up in this trend. It stands to reason that people are indignant about those persons who are interested only in catering to the bad taste of some audiences and who thereby sacrifice the honourable title of socialist writers and artists. And this tendency to regard money as the only important thing, to commercialize intellectual products, is manifested in other creative fields as well. Some who occupy positions in the fields of art and publishing or in departments in charge of cultural and historical relics have simply degenerated into merchants intent on nothing but profit.

What attitude should we take towards the bourgeois culture of the modern West? It is right for us to carry out the economic policy of opening to the outside world, and we must adhere to it for a long time to come. We must also continue to expand our cultural exchanges with other countries. With regard to economic exchanges, however, we are following a dual policy: we keep our doors open, but we are selective, we don’t introduce anything without a purpose and a plan, and we firmly combat all corrupting bourgeois influences. Why is it, then, that when it comes to cultural exchanges, we have allowed harmful elements of bourgeois culture to be introduced without impediment? If we want to learn from developed capitalist countries and take advantage of such advances in science, technology, management and other areas as may be useful to us, it would be foolish to keep our doors closed and persist in the same old ways. But in learning things in the cultural realm, we must adopt a Marxist approach, analysing them, distinguishing the good from the bad and making a critical judgement about their ideological content and artistic form. There are quite a few honest, progressive scholars, writers and artists in the West today who are producing serious and valuable works, which of course we should introduce into China. But some of our comrades rush to praise to the skies all trends in the philosophy, economics, social and political thinking, literature and art of the West, without analysing them, distinguishing the good from the bad or exercising any critical judgement. There has been such confusion in the importing of Western academic and cultural things that in recent years we have witnessed an influx of books, films, music, dances, and audio and video recordings that even in Western countries are regarded as pernicious junk. This corruption of our young people by the decadent bourgeois culture of the West is no longer tolerable.

It must be pointed out that the majority of our theorists, writers and artists are good or relatively good; only a few are guilty of spreading mental pollution. The problem is that the mistakes of those few have not been severely criticized and that necessary measures have not been taken to put a stop to their harmful actions and to the dissemination of their wrong ideas. Mental pollution can be so damaging as to bring disaster upon the country and the people. It blurs the distinction between right and wrong, leads to passivity, laxity and disunity, corrupts the mind and erodes the will. It encourages the spread of all kinds of individualism and causes people to doubt or even to reject socialism and the Party’s leadership. The Four Cardinal Principles boil down to upholding socialism and upholding leadership by the Party. These two principles are the basis for building our country and uniting all our people in a common struggle. Of course, we should not attribute all negative phenomena — bad practices, criminal behaviour and the anti-socialist activities of a few — to ideological confusion, because there are many other reasons for them. However, we must not underestimate the impact of such confusion.

Don’t we all agree that practice is the sole criterion for testing truth? The comrades concerned should look at the influence and effect that their wrong words, pernicious writings and cheap performances have on young people and others. Our honest, sympathetic foreign friends are worried about these things. Of course there are also people — on the mainland, in Taiwan and Hong Kong and abroad — who applaud them. I should like to give the comrades concerned a bit of advice: when you are showered with praise, stop to think who it is that is applauding you, from what viewpoint and for what purpose, and put your work to the test of practice too. Don’t think that a little mental pollution doesn’t matter much, that it’s nothing to be alarmed at. Some of its ill effects may not be immediately apparent. But unless we take them seriously and adopt firm measures right now to prevent their spread, many people will fall prey to them and be led astray, with grave consequences. In the long run, this question will determine what kind of people will succeed us to carry on the cause and what the future of the Party and state will be.

The Party must strengthen its ideological leadership. The guiding principles laid down since the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, and particularly at the Twelfth National Congress, are correct and clear-cut. The problem is that they have not been resolutely put into practice. Leading members of Party committees from the central to the local level must pay close attention to the situation among theorists, writers and artists, to the problems that have arisen in ideological work and to the way such work is done. First and foremost, they should recognize the seriousness of the problems and the urgent need to overcome weakness and laxity in leadership in this area. Some comrades are indifferent to mental pollution, they take a laissez-faire attitude towards it and even consider it something lively and colourful, an embodiment of the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom, a hundred schools of thought contend. Others, knowing that it is wrong, are nevertheless reluctant to criticize it, because they are afraid of hurting people’s feelings. This cannot go on. Just as we must take a serious and resolute attitude towards bad tendencies, persons and practices during the Party’s rectification movement, so must we take the same attitude towards negative phenomena that give rise to ideological confusion and mental pollution. We must not stop half-way.

The chief method for dealing with this confusion remains criticism and self-criticism. We must acknowledge that while our theorists, artists and writers have made a Marxist criticism of some negative tendencies, it has not yielded tangible results. For one thing, the criticism was insufficient in both quantity and quality, and for another, it met with substantial resistance. Inadequate as it was, it was often rejected as “an attack from all sides” or “coming down on people with a big stick”, when in fact it was the critics who were attacked and the criticized who won sympathy and protection. This abnormal situation must change, so that propaganda in favour of socialism and communism will be truly predominant in the ideological sphere, along with the dissemination of Marxism and, in particular, of correct views on all major theoretical questions of principle. There are people who call their wrong views Marxist and others who challenge Marxism.

Under these circumstances, Marxists should step forward and speak up. Party members working on the ideological front, particularly leading and influential ones, must stand in the forefront of the struggle. Those who have been mistaken themselves should make genuine self-criticisms and try to correct their thinking. No one who clings to his mistaken views and refuses to correct them can hold a leading position in ideological work. Party members should strengthen their Party spirit and always abide by the Party Constitution and Party discipline. No matter whether they are scholars, writers, artists or specialists in any field, they are not allowed to consider themselves different from everyone else, wiser than the Party in political matters and free to do as they see fit. In the current rectification movement the most important task for Party organizations and members doing ideological work is to resolve these questions. Provided we make real efforts to reinforce Marxist leadership, to overcome weakness, laxity and the laissez-faire attitude and to wage active ideological struggle, all these problems can be readily solved.

When we try to do these things, people may wonder if the Party has changed its principles, if it has abandoned the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend. The Party has not changed its principles, and it has not abandoned the “hundred flowers” policy. To place criticism in contradiction to that policy is a gross misunderstanding or distortion. The policy is designed to enable socialist culture to flourish. Comrade Mao Zedong once said, “Truth develops through its struggle against falsehood. This is how Marxism develops.” Some people took the “hundred flowers” policy to mean that there was absolute freedom to air any views, or even that only wrong views could be expressed, leaving no room for Marxist arguments. How can that be called letting a hundred schools of thought contend? They were turning the proletarian Marxist policy of the “hundred flowers” into a bourgeois policy of laissez-faire. Comrade Mao Zedong’s Combat Liberalism is a good Marxist essay. I suggest that leading comrades at all levels, especially those working in the field of ideology, study it conscientiously and act accordingly.

While stressing the need for active ideological struggle, we should continue to guard against “Left” mistakes. The ruthless methods used in the past — the over-simplified, one-sided, crude, excessive criticism and merciless attacks — must never be repeated. When speaking at meetings or writing articles, people should reason things out and analyse them rationally and scientifically. Those who are to take part in discussion or criticism should have clear ideas on the subject beforehand. They must on no account make sweeping criticisms, find something suspicious everywhere they look, use a position of power to intimidate others or try to convince them through sophistry. We should take a sympathetic attitude towards erring comrades, give them plenty of time for consideration and allow them to make reasonable reply, explaining the facts and clarifying their positions. We should particularly encourage sincere self-criticism and receive it warmly. It is good for a person to make such a self-criticism, and once he has done so, that should be the end of it. When criticizing either others or oneself, one should do it from a Marxist point of view, not from a “Left” point of view. We should continue to criticize and correct “Left” views in the ideological and theoretical sphere. But it should be clearly understood that the primary problem on the ideological front is to overcome the Right tendency to weakness and laxity.

In short, strengthening Party leadership in ideological matters and overcoming weakness and laxity has become urgent tasks for the entire membership. Not only theorists, writers and artists but also people working in the fields of education, the press, publishing, radio and television and those doing cultural, ideological and political work among the masses are confronted with these tasks and others that call for immediate action. All our ideological work has to be improved. We should put this question before the entire Party membership and give it an important place on the agenda of the Central Committee and of local Party committees at all levels. Now that we have shifted our emphasis to economic development, all our members should consider how to strengthen ideological work and adapt it to the new conditions, so that it is not neglected in favour of economic work. Party committees at all levels, and especially their leading members, must pay close attention to the situation on the ideological front, make a thorough study of the problems and adopt effective measures to improve work in this area. I suggest that the Political Bureau or the Secretariat of the Central Committee hold special discussions of that work, concentrating on principles, tasks, measures and so forth. I am convinced that if all our members recognize the importance of ideological work and give it their best efforts, and if at the same time we carry out the Party-wide rectification movement, a tremendous change will take place. A new situation will emerge in which socialist ideology and culture will flourish.

(Speech at the Second Plenary Session of the Twelfth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.)