In 2013, all over the country, Party members were invited to private viewings of a curious film. Not one of those big ‘Hollywood’ productions the Party had become keen on, such as The Founding of the Republic, which was released in 2009 to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, featuring a cast of over 100 famous actors. Instead, this was a three-hour didactic documentary entitled In Memory of the Collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Shot in early 2012, the film was devised by the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the Research Centre for World Socialism of the Academy of Social Sciences.
The film crew had travelled to Russia to interview witnesses, who happened mostly to be former Soviet Communist Party members. Oddly enough, they were all desperately nostalgic for the USSR’s lost greatness. In the film, a voice-over recites a ponderous political analysis tinged with a hint of paranoia, characteristic of authoritarian regimes. The original sin, it explains, can be traced back to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956, during which Khrushchev gave his ‘secret speech’ before 1,430 delegates. This was when the seeds of disaster had been sown. The Soviets had started to burn down their idols: Stalin, but also Lenin, which opened the floodgates to a questioning of Marxist faith. Gorbachev, father of the 1980s reforms, and his ‘accomplices’— Alexander Yakovlev, Edward Shevardnadze, and Boris Yeltsin— were all ‘children of the Twentieth Congress’. In a nutshell, they were traitors. When they came to power, their objective had been to bring down socialism and communism. Under the influence of Western powers, who were counting on them, they had implemented their destructive policies: the introduction of a multi-party system, the authorisation of NGOs, the liberalisation of the media, the abandonment of control over means of production, the privatisation of public industries, and severing the link between the Party and the army.
The documentary specifically demonises Gorbachev and accuses him of selling himself to the Americans. Weak in his decision-making, ideologically hesitant, he had driven his country to ruin through a wave of privatisations. The wealth of a huge majority of the people had been collected by a handful of oligarchs from the old Party bureaucracy. It was the beginning of the reign of violence and of the mafia. The final blow came with the former USSR falling victim to separatist movements. Twenty years after the fall of the motherland of socialism, the outcome of glasnost and perestroika was not just negative— it was downright criminal.
The film ends with the usual elements of propaganda: not all is lost for communism, since China has taken up the baton. Gennady Zyuganov, leader since 1993 of what’s left of the Russian Communist Party, drives this point home in his interview with the Beijing film crew: In the space of thirty years, China has achieved formidable results. I hope you will not forget the reasons for the collapse of the USSR and the lessons of the fall of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: only by [learning these lessons] can the Chinese people build their own country. The documentary ends with images of the Kremlin set to The Internationale. The voiceover gives some closing recommendations to Party members: never renounce socialism and Marxism; never give in to the influence of ‘hostile forces’ who wish to ‘Westernise’ the country and ‘sow the seeds of separatism’. Beware above all of ‘the manoeuvres of Western powers’, of their ‘financial and ideological manipulations’, of their use of NGOs, of ‘their will to incite chaos by promoting governance from the streets’.
With this film, the tone was set from the first year of Xi’s mandate: the West was the enemy and Gorbachev had been its puppet. Xi, on the other hand, would be a herald of Chinese Marxism-Leninism.