China dilutes Marx in words as well as deeds

China's denuciation of Marxist dogma is another significant step in the nation's decisive break with Soviet-style communism. A front-page editorial Friday in the People's Daily came less than two months after the Communist Party called for broad economic reforms. It said that some of Karl Marx's ideas are ''no longer suited'' to today's China. Western diplomats said the editorial was the furthest the party has ever gone in distancing itself from orthodox Marxism.

''(Marx's) works were written more than 100 years ago,'' the official Communist Party newspaper editorialized. ''There have been tremendous changes since his ideas were formed. Some of his ideas are no longer suited to today's situation, because Marx never experienced these times, nor did (Friedrich) Engels or (V. I.) Lenin, and they did not come across the problems we face today. So we cannot use Marxist and Leninist works to solve our present-day problems,'' the unsigned editorial said.

The editorial's denunciation of dogmatism used the familiar call for combining political theory with practice as an argument for being more experimental in applying Marxist principles.

''In terms of Marxism and Leninism, we cannot be dogmatic. . . . If we continue to use certain Marxist principles to limit out lives, our historic development will surely be hampered. We Marxist descendants have the duty to transform and enrich theory through practice,'' the People's Daily said.

The statement also called on party workers to pay more attention to their study of modern economics and technology.

(The People's Daily later published a correction in an apparent attempt to balance the editorial, Reuters reports. The rare front-page correction said that a crucial sentence should have read ''We cannot use Marxist and Leninist works to solve all our present-day problems.'')

Diplomats said that the editorial reflected the views of senior leader Deng Xiaoping, who has called on the Chinese people to develop ''socialism with Chinese characteristics.''

It also reflects the views of party General Secretary Hu Yaobang. Mr. Hu has approved measuring the success of the party's political program against achieving the goals of reforming the economy and quadrupling China's output of goods and services by the end of century.

In October, the party announced broad outlines for economic reforms, including a larger role for competition and market forces and decentralized decisionmaking in Chinese industry. In suggesting that portions of Marxism were virtually obsolete, Friday's editorial appeared to be an attack on the ideas of those who oppose the new reforms and who cling to economic policies favoring continued egalitarianism, strong central control of the economy, and less involvement by foreign business in the country.

The current leadership has broken with the longstanding practice of quoting heavily from communist scriptures to justify policies. The October decision on economic reforms, for instance, contained only two such quotations - one from Lenin and one from Mao Tse-tung. Both were obscure.

Su Shaozhi, director of the Institute of Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Tse-tung Thought, defended this recently in a meeting with the press and denied that it implied the abandonment of Marxism.

''I do think that to find quotations from the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin is a very typical dogmatism. That dogmatism came to its highest level during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when everybody waved the Little Red Book'' of quotations from Mao, he said.

''The guiding principle of the Chinese Communist Party is . . . what Deng Xiaoping said: 'Emancipate our minds, proceed from reality, and seek truth from facts.' But this doesn't mean we give up the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism. It just means we want to apply the fundamental viewpoint . . . and try very hard to explore a Chinese way of socialism,'' he said.

Marxist teachings are a key part of the political foundation of the modern Chinese state. Marx's works are required reading for Chinese political study sessions, though critics have said this political education badly needs strengthening.

Many younger party members have had little exposure to the classical works of communist theory, partly because their education was interrupted during the Cultural Revolution. But also, technical and professional training has displaced old-fashioned political education.

One high-level government official with a graduate degree in engineering who joined the party a few years ago admitted recently that he had never read any works by Marx or Lenin. He said this was not unusual for younger, well-educated party members whom the party had recruited in recent years.

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