The Chinese revolution
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A "Communist" regime in China in 1949 reproduced the misconceptions of the Russian Revolution thirty-two years previously. Numbers of people in other countries believed "real" Communism was being created in China; Mao Tse-tung was regarded as a Marxist and "Maoism" came into existence. These beliefs are untrue. The achievement of the Chinese revolution has been to bring China into the world of capitalism.
Between the first and second world wars the working class of China were concentrated in a small number of cities. They numbered 1 per cent of the population, and their condition was like that of workers in Britain in the early 19th century.
"Some of the match factories and carpet factories, the ceramics and glass works, and the old-style silk and cotton factories would well have served as an inspiration for even Dante's description of the infernal regions . . . When the time to stop work finally comes, these miserable creatures doss down in any place they can find — the lucky ones on bales of waste material or in the attics if there are any, and the rest on the workshop floor, like chained dogs" (J. Chesneaux, The Chinese Labour Movement 1919-27, 1968).
The great majority of the population, then estimated at nearly 500 million, were peasants. Their existence was characterised by poverty, oppression and early death. They were at the mercy of landlords, tax collectors and usurers. Peasant insurrections were a feature of Chinese history. Though conditions improved a little for some town workers in more modern industries in the nineteen-thirties, for the peasantry they deteriorated further as a result of the world depression.
The blame for conditions in China was placed on western and Japanese imperialism. The history of the Opium War, the British rush for spoils, the Boxer indemnity, and the control of customs, finance and key industries by foreigners produced a nationalist movement. At the end of the 1914-18 war several of its leaders were influenced by the Bolshevik revolution. Sun Yat-sen, the head of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), made an alliance with Russia one of his aims. However, when Sun's successor Chiang Kai-shek came to power in 1928 he attacked the Communists and relied on the support of the Chinese bourgeoisie.
The Kuomintang period lasted from 1928 to 1937. Its attempts at reform and controlling the economy failed. Technical improvements, irrigation and reforestation did nothing for the peasants. The government was unable to destroy the warlords; legislation to reduce land rent was not enforced; and the total of agricultural production increased less than 1 per cent from 1932 to 1936. Industrial advances affected only a small section of the working class in towns, and immediately after gaining power the Kuomintang had many trade-union leaders killed and brought the unions under government control. The Nationalist Party, after setting out to make a capitalist revolution, became a reactionary regime moving towards dictatorship under Chiang.
Mao emerged as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party at this time. With little opportunity to win support among industrial workers, the CCP concentrated on the grievances of the peasant population. In his Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan (1927) Mao declared : "To overthrow these feudal forces is the real objective of the revolution." The Communists were more realistic than the Kuomintang in their view of how to establish capitalism in China. The peasants offered a mass of discontent great enough to overthrow the old regime. as well as providing a huge reservoir of labour for exploitation.
In 1931 Japan attacked Manchuria, and it became a full scale war in 1937. The Chinese Communist Party united with the Kuomintang to fight the Japanese. With ihe Japanese Imperial Army in possession of all the major Chinese ports and cities, the Communists organised sccesful guerrilla campaigns which led to them taking charge of areas in North China. As the war continued into World War II, the CCP made patriotic propaganda its monopoly. Presenting itself as the force of popular resistance to foreign invaders, it created a peasant nationalism which served its future purpose well. By the end of the war the party had 1.2 million members and was contending for political power.
The war produced a massive inflation in China, which lasted until 1949. Though China, with Chiang Kai-shek still the head of state, was officially proclaimed one of the victorious "Big Five" in 1945 and was one of the founder-members of the United Nations, discontent ran high. Peasant grievances against the landowners were renewed, and inflation was crippling urban workers and small business men. In 1946 the Communists formed the People's Liberation Army and started a civil war. By January 1949 Chiang, facing defeat, asked his wartime allies — Britain, USA, Russia and France — to mediate. They refused; Chiang resigned and retreated to Taiwan (Formosa). The People's Republic of China was inaugurated on 1st October 1949.
Mao Tse-tung pointed out that the new society would not be Socialist. In his statement On People's Democratic Dictatorship (July 1949), which was incorporated into the Common Programme adopted by the Communist Party, he wrote:
"To counter imperialist oppression and to raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilise all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and the people's livelihood; and we must unite with the national bourgeoisie in common struggle. Our policy is to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it" (Essential Works of Chinese Communism, New York, 1972).
Though private enterprise was to continue, production and commerce were to be brought progressively under state control. Theoretically the new political institutions represented a coalition of classes — the CCP plus minor parties and national minorities; but it was laid down by Mao that the bourgeoisie "should not have the chief role in state power" because their social and economic position was too weak. The "people's democratic dictatorship" was created and had to be led by the Communist Party.
The enemies of the revolution, besides the Kuomintang. were the landowners. They were the "feudal forces" which must be overthrown. In addition, the removal of "abuses" for which the landowner-tax collector-usurer class was responsible meant the removal of obstruction to a strong central government. The land redistribution programme of 1950-53 was designed to increase agricultural production and bring it under co-operatives and state trading companies as the basis of the nation's economic development.
Other reforms had the same motive. The Communist government pushed mass education and laid emphasis on technical education to train engineers, agronomists, medical personnel and other skilled workers needed for economic reconstruction.
In the mid-fifties the movement to state control of industries accelerated sharply. Mao and the CCP started to assert that China was socialist. Private capitalists were bought out on terms described by Yuan-li Wu in The Economy of Communist China (1965) as follows:
"A nominal 'fixed interest' or 'dividend' of 1-6 per cent a year, payable quarterly, regardless of the profit or loss of the enterprise in question, was promised to private stockholders for a period of six years. The amount was subsequently revised to a uniform 5 per cent per annum."
Smaller capitalists were offered state agencies on relatively generous terms. By 1956 it was claimed that the proportion of the "capitalist enterprises" in the gross value of output of industry had declined to 1 per cent. This merely repeated the nationalisation schemes used in Germany in the 19th century, and later in Britain and other countries including Russia, as a method of organising capitalist production and distribution. It has nothing to do with Socialism. Dividends and profits are created in one way only, out of the exploitation of the working class.
After 1961 "open markets" were permitted to develop to try to overcome defects in the planning system. According to Franz Schurmann in China Under Mao (1972) this has produced free markets in agricultural and manufactured goods, advertising, and "the release of a range of 'top class goods' to retail outlets". At another time the state will seek to repress what it has licensed and encouraged — leaving the position that sometimes individual profit-makers can be discerned and sometimes not.
The "Great Leap Forward" of 1959-61 was a strategy to boost production without any increase in consumption. It failed: workers toiled to the point of exhaustion and produced shoddy goods in the factories, while the peasants were tired, hungry and resentful. The Chinese ruling class discovered what western ones had previously learned, that they could go too far in crude exploitation. Natural disasters ended the Great Leap, but its ending was marked too by the appearance of a split between China and Russia.
The two governments had signed a thirty-year Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance in 1950. The alliance brought economic and technical aid to China, and for a time Chinese policies reflected the Russian influence. However, the bearing of "Communist" labels makes no difference to the facts of economic and political life. To state-capitalist Russia, China with its developing state-capitalism was a prospective rival. A. M. Halpern says in China Under Mao, using Chinese documents, that in 1959 the Russian government "made it clear that they would not actively help the Chinese People's Republic obtain an independent nuclear capability". In 1960 Russian technical support was withdrawn from China. Following this, the Chinese viewed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 as Soviet-American collusion. Their own atomic bomb was exploded on 16th October 1964.
The line taken in China was that Stalin's successors had departed from the principles of Lenin. Mao Tse-tung and Hoxha of Albania were the only political leaders in the world who continued to sing the praises of Stalin after the general Communist reaction against him. An editorial commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Chinese Com¬munist Party in 1971 said:
"Khrushchev, Brezhnev and company are renegades from the proletarian revolution, and present-day social-imperialists and world storm-troopers opposing China, opposing Communism and opposing the people. It is our Party's bounden internationalist duty to continue the exposure and criticism of modern revisionism with Soviet revisionism at the centre and carry the struggle to the end" (Translated Peking Review, 2 July 1971).
This is ironical. In 1927 Stalin had ordered the Chinese Communist Party to restrain risings of the peasants and workers, and then sided with Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang against the Communists.
There has never been any pretence of equality in standards of living in China. Wages vary sharply from one area to another and from one city to another, the highest being in Shanghai — as was always the case. Franz Schurmann says: "The existence of inequity has not only been admitted, it has been encouraged". It was estimated in 1964 by Charles Hoffman (Work Incentives in Communist China) that the wage rates of the highest grades in Manchurian industry were 2.5 to 3.2 times those of the lowest grades.
A social security system was inaugurated in 1951, covering workmen's compensation, medical treatment, cost-of-living subsidies, etc. This secures a competent and dependable workforce. It is also a familiar method today throughout the capitalist world of keeping wages in check. According to an article in a Times Special Report on 2nd October 1974 a Peking factory worker is paid between £11 and £13 a month. The writer says: "Because food — even in the best restaurants in Peking — is comparatively cheap, the Chinese worker has money to save for those three most desired consumer durables — a bicycle, a transistor radio, and a sewing machine". But another article in the same report described the car industry in China:
"Chinese car production is running at a meagre 1.500 units a year, rising perhaps to 5,000 units with the irtnv duction of a new assembly line at the Shanghai plant. Additional needs are being met by importing a snall number of Toyotas from Japan. The top Chinese car is the Red Flag limousine, which has a huge 5.6 litre 220 brake horsepower engine, automatic transmission arc full air conditioning. It is largely hand built, at the rate of one a week."
Who rides in the Red Flags and Toyotas while the workers save up for bicycles?
The industrialisation of China was stated, in the Preamble to the Constitution of 1954, to be a "socialist transformation" which would "eliminate exploitation and poverty". Except to the wilfully blind, it is plain that what has been developed there is capitalism with its essential features of wage-slavery and inequality. It is a society of production for sale and profit. Despite the misleading talk about socialism, the Communists opposed Chiang Kai-shek because he and his supporters stood in the way of capitalist development. Mao's statement of July 1949 said:
"'We want to do business.'" Quite right, business will be done. We are against no one except the domestic and foreign reactionaries who hinder us from doing business. Everybody should know that it is none other than the imperialists and their running dogs, the Chiang Kai-shek reactionaries, who hinder us from doing business and also from establishing diplomatic relations with foreign countries" (Essential Works of Chinese Communism).
According to the Times Special Report, in 1974 China was trading with more than 150 countries and regions, and had a volume of trade 2.5 times higher than in 1965. Russia and other 'Communist' countries accounted for about a quarter of the total, and the biggest gains were made by Japan, the United States, and Europe. Part of this expansion was armaments bought from several countries. A report in the Financial Times, 10 September 1974, described the growth of international trade fairs in China and efforts by the Chinese to expand their own sales abroad. There are no ideological barriers on any side. For the class which owns and controls the means of wealth production and distribution in China, as in all other countries, the necessary aim of "business" is to realise the surplus-value obtained by exploiting the working class.
One reason for widespread interest in China has been the rapid changes affecting a population now 800 millions, approximately a quarter of the world's total. Certainly it is true that vast numbers of Chinese no longer die prematurely, that they receive the necessities of life, go to school and have recreation. These conditions for the reproduction of labour-power in modern capitalism were established gradually in Europe, by reforms over a lengthy 90 period. In a large country seeking to accumulate capital quickly and get into the world of today, the process has to be telescoped. Thus it appears dramatic and is called naively a "social experiment", implying some justificative for the regimentation and political dictatorship.
All this has served to confuse the Chinese workers as to their position, and dupe many others outside China. The oppressions and disabilities removed following the revolution of 1949 were not capitalist ones; they were parts of an obsolete despotism which had to be eliminated to create the conditions for capitalist production. The social relationships which now dominate China are those of wage-labour and capital, the peasant class haying been turned into rural wage-workers. The great majority of the population are members of the propertyless working class, forced to live by selling their labour-power. The capitalists' side of the class struggle has been wrapped in the mystical aphorisms of Mao Tse-tung, and the workers' side concealed by lack of information from China; nevertheless, the struggle exists.
Now that Mao is dead, whoever rules in China will claim to be his true representative. Some conflicts over political power have already taken place; the putting-down of the "gang of four" which included Mao's widow, and the adoption as Deputy Prime Minister of the formerly demoted Tens Hsiao-ping. These struggles among individuals and conspiring groups are the substitute, in what is effectively a one-party state, for rivalry among political parties. As well as expressing only different capitalist interests, they testify to the absence of democracy.
The euphoria of the post-revolution period has died down, and the rulers will undoubtedly find it harder to manage the working class in the future. The workers en their part have to learn what system they are living under; that production for markets leads to crises and war; that the fruits of their labour are taken not to build Socialism but to maintain a privileged class. With that knowledge they can help to make not a new China but a new worid
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