It’s difficult to know which was more shocking to the centrist commentariat of the West in recent weeks as regards China? Was it the crackdown on TV talent shows, effeminate looking young men, or official limits to video game playing by the young to three hours a week? Or was it Xi Jinping’s announcement that there were too many billionaires in the country, and that there would have to be a moderation of super-rich wealth? The announcement came in mid-August, with Jinping unveiling a ‘common prosperity’ doctrine, aiming for an ‘olive-shaped’ society, fat in the middle, tapering at top and bottom. 

The move was prepared for in an obscure CCP releases in 2019. Now it’s being generally launched. It supersedes Deng Xioping’s ‘enrichment’ doctrine from the 1980s, which acknowledged that China would have to pass through guided capitalism, and that wild inequalities would result. This in turn replaced Mao’s ‘Communism of Poverty’ notion. 

Western establishment China-watchers took decades to understand that Deng’s move was not a repudiation of Marxism, but a return to it, after Mao’s utopianism. Deng simply did what Lenin had started with the ‘new economic policy’ in 1921 and run state capitalism for seve­ral decades to keep Marxist stages in place. It is genuinely hilarious how amateurish and uninformed the mainstream ‘strategic’ commentary in China is, full of elementary errors about Marxism and actual post-1949 Chinese history. 

Indeed, the watchers appear to be even more confused by the steering to the next stage. If, as Deng said, the first stage of socialism is capitalism, then a later version of that stage is social democr- well not democracy, but social capitalism. The reining in of excess incomes and financial speculation – witness the crackdown on bitcoin – is the complement of its highly repressive actions against popular culture.

China is shaping its capitalism with reference to the socialism to follow, not just letting it rip. It is shaping a new socialist person within capitalism, consciously restraining the excess individualism that capitalism encourages. Whether this will work, and what the hell it actually is, remains to be seen.