If 1949 marked the culmination of New Democratic Revolution (NDR) it also meant, by definition, the simultaneous initiation of the socialist revolution/transformation. Yes, by definition, because here lies its uniqueness – its distinctive feature – that separates it from the bourgeois democratic revolutions. In part one of this article we revisited the legacy of the Chinese revolution up to 1949, in this part we shall outline what followed next.
In the first three years after liberation, the new government cleared the mainland of bandits and the remnant armed forces of the KMT reactionaries, confiscated bureaucrat-capitalist companies and transformed them into state-owned socialist enterprises, established people’s governments at all levels throughout the country, systematised the country’s financial and economic work, stabilized commodity prices, carried out agrarian reforms in the newly liberated areas, peacefully liberated Tibet, and suppressed counter-revolutionaries. With the exception of Taiwan and a few small islands, genuine unification and stability were achieved in the People’s Republic.
Under the leadership of the party, the people unfolded the movements against the “three evils” of corruption; waste and bureaucracy and against the “five evils” of bribery, tax evasion, theft of state property, cheating on government contracts and stealing of economic information, the latter being a movement to beat back the sabotage attempted by the bourgeoisie. The educational, scientific and cultural institutions of old China were reorganised, as far as possible with meagre economic means, on a modern basis. Simultaneously with these internal reforms, New China entered the war to resist US aggression and aid Korea.1
After these initial achievements, the party called upon the people to vigorously carry forward the general line for the period of transition to socialism, which meant “basically to accomplish the country’s industrialization and the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts and capitalist industry and commerce over a fairly long period of time.” (Mao Zedong, The Party’s General Line for the Transition Period, August 1953; emphasis added).
However, since the socialist transformation was to take place “over a fairly long period of time”, capitalism would also remain, in fact thrive, under state control. As Mao pointed out in very precise terms,
“The present-day capitalist economy in China is a capitalist economy which for the most part is under the control of the People’s Government and which is linked with the state-owned socialist economy in various forms and supervised by the workers. It is not an ordinary but a particular kind of capitalist economy, namely, a state-capitalist economy of a new type. It exists not chiefly to make profits for the capitalists but to meet the needs of the people and the state. True, a share of the profits produced by the workers goes to the capitalists, but that is only a small part, about one quarter, of the total. The remaining three quarters are produced for the workers (in the form of the welfare fund), for the state (in the form of income tax) and for expanding productive capacity (a small part of which produces profits for the capitalists). Therefore, this state-capitalist economy of a new type takes on a socialist character to a very great extent and benefits the workers and the state.” (On State Capitalism, July 1953).
The “transformation”, i.e., gradual socialisation of the privately owned means of production, was essentially completed in most parts of the country by the year 1956. Comrade Mao’s speech On the Ten Major Relationships, delivered in April that year, presented a deeply insightful guideline for a dialectical approach to the practical problems of socialist construction in the peculiar situation in China. His On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (February 1957) stressed the necessity of correctly distinguishing between and handling the two types of social contradictions – those “between ourselves and the enemy” and those “among the people” – in a socialist society. Around the same time, he called for the creation of “a political situation in which we have both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of will and personal ease of mind and liveliness".
Thus with a correct ideological and political orientation, New China was pulsating with new energy and liveliness and 1957 saw encouraging progress in socialist economic construction as well. But, due to the party’s inadequate understanding of the laws of economic development, impetuosity for more quick results and an overestimation of the role of revolutionary will-power, the Party launched the “Great Leap Forward” (GLP, 1958-62) without proper trials and careful investigations.
The central idea behind the GLP was that extremely rapid development of China's agricultural and industrial sectors can and must take place, simultaneously, by unleashing the collective revolutionary energy of the masses through people’s communes. While major investments in larger state enterprises were made -- which was of course necessary – absurd targets like doubling steel production in less than six months (most of the increase was expected to come through small backyard steel furnaces, an idea that proved to be patently absurd) and China's industrial output surpassing that of the UK within 15 years were set. Mandatory agricultural collectivization was introduced, private farming was sternly discouraged. The campaign not only failed to reach anywhere near the targets but worse, combined with adverse climatic conditions, it resulted in a famine-like situation and huge loss of lives.
In the winter of 1960, Mao led the party in rectifying many of the “Left” errors. Comrades Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Chen Yun and Deng Xiaoping were put in charge of supervising implementation of correct policies. In January 1962, the enlarged Central Work Conference attended by 7,000 comrades made a preliminary summing-up of the experiences of the GLP in different places and unfolded criticism and self-criticism. A majority of the comrades who had been unjustifiably criticized during the campaign against “Right opportunism” were rehabilitated. Thanks to these economic and political measures, the national economy recovered and developed fairly smoothly between 1962 and 1966. However, within four years after ending the Great Leap, the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (GPCR) was launched, which would prove to be a much bigger disaster.
Deng Xiaoping made an interesting observation regarding this backslide from the GLP to the GPCR in an August 1980 interview with eminent Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci2 in Beijing (see box, next page).
The principal theses of the Cultural Revolution (CR) were that many representatives of the bourgeoisie and counter-revolutionary revisionists had sneaked into the Party, the government, the army and cultural circles, captured leadership in a fairly large majority of organizations and departments, even formed, within the Central Committee, a bourgeois headquarters3 which had agents everywhere; that since the forms of struggle adopted in the past had not been able to solve this problem, the need of the hour was to carry out a great cultural revolution by openly and fully mobilizing the broad masses from the bottom up, so as to expose these sinister phenomena; and that the cultural revolution was in fact a great political revolution in which one class would overthrow another, a revolution that would have to be waged time and again. The the Central Committee’s famous “May 16 Circular” (of 1966) served as the programmatic document of the CR, and the theses were incorporated in the political report to the Ninth National Congress of the Party held in April 1969.
The cult of Chairman Mao was frenziedly pushed to an extreme. Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, and others, acting chiefly in the name of the “Cultural Revolution Group", exploited the situation to their own sectarian interests. Many leading comrades including Political Bureau members who sharply criticized the mistakes of the “cultural revolution" were attacked and repressed. In 1970-71 the counter-revolutionary Lin Biao clique plotted to capture supreme power and attempted an armed counterrevolutionary coup d’etat. Comrades Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai ingeniously thwarted the plotted coup and Lin Biao died in September 1971 in a plane crash over Mongolia when he was reportedly trying to flee the country.
Following this dramatic episode, the Party launched a campaign to criticise and repudiate Lin Biao. Comrade Zhou took charge of the day-to-day work of the Central Committee and things began to improve in all fields. He correctly proposed that the repudiation of Lin should be expanded into a critique of the ultra-Left trend of thought as a whole. But Mao believed that the task was still to oppose the “ultra-Right". So the Tenth Congress of the Party (August 1973) perpetuated the “Left” errors and made Wang Hongwen a vice-chairman of the Party.
By 1974, however, Mao belatedly realised that Jiang Qing (Mao’s third wife), Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and even Wang Hongwen, handpicked by himself to be vice-chairman of the Party, had formed what he openly called a “Gang of Four” inside the Political Bureau by turning the “Cultural Revolution” to their advantage in order to seize power. He severely criticized them, specifically saying that Jiang Qing harboured a wild ambition of making herself chairperson of the Central Committee and “forming a cabinet” by political manipulation. In 1975, when Comrade Zhou Enlai was seriously ill, Comrade Deng Xiaoping, with the support of Mao, took charge of the day-to-day work of the Central Committee. But very soon Mao developed serious differences with Deng and triggered a movement to “criticize Deng and counter the Right deviationist trend". Once again the party and the whole country were pushed into confusion and turmoil.
In January 1976, Premier Zhou Enlai passed away. About three months later, machinations by the “Gang of Four” resulted in the PB once again removing Deng from all his posts inside and outside the Party. As soon as Comrade Mao Zedong passed away on 9 September 1976, the counterrevolutionary Jiang Qing clique stepped up its plot to seize supreme Party and state leadership. However, early in the next month the PB resolutely smashed the clique and brought the catastrophic “cultural revolution” to an end. Hua Guofeng, the pre-designated successor to Mao, took charge as Party chair4. Deng was rehabilitated with full honour and responsibility for the second time (not counting the first punishment he was subjected to, back in 1934, by the then leader Wang Ming on the allegation of working for “Mao’s group”), and gradually rose to be the Party’s top leader.
The Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee (December 1978) called for emancipating the mind from the spiritual shackles of personality cult and dogmatism and seeking truth from facts. This ushered in a lively atmosphere where people inside and outside the Party try their best to study new things and seek solutions to new problems. And to ensure that this is done properly, the Party reiterated “the four fundamental principles of upholding the socialist road, the people’s democratic dictatorship (i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat), the leadership of the Communist Party, and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought”, which “constitute the common political basis of the unity of the whole Party and the unity of the whole people as well as the basic guarantee for the realization of socialist modernization.”
With the curtains thus coming down, in both ideological and organisational terms, on one of the two most controverted chapters of the story of modern China, started the other one: that of market oriented economic reforms with attendant ideological- political issues. But before we come to that, a brief – and necessarily inconclusive-- assessment of the CR will be in order.
Without a doubt, tendencies of ‘Left’ as well as right deviation did manifest themselves within the Party both before and, no less calamitously, after the revolution; as they did in Russia. In post-Lenin Soviet Union also, the methods adopted in handling inner-party debates/struggles turned out to be highly problematic, if not atrocious.
In china the CR was launched in the shadows of the international great debate correctly led by Mao and targeted against the right revisionism of Nikita Khrushchev. From the very beginning, Mao believed that
“[The] anti-party and anti-socialist representatives of the bourgeoisie (there are a number of these in the Central Committee and in the party, government, and other departments at the central as well as at the provincial, municipal, and autonomous region level) …[and also in] the army, and various cultural circles, are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen thorough, others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khrushchev, for example, who are still nestling beside us.” (Circular of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, May 16, 1966)
Can we brush aside such concerns just as a sort of 'Left' paranoia? No we can't; although one could argue that perhaps the danger was overestimated, leading to unnecessarily harsh methods of struggle that proved counter-productive. The CPC's 1981 document "Resolution on certain questions in the history of our party since the founding of the People’s Republic of China”5 itself says,
“Of course, it was essential to take proper account of certain undesirable phenomena that undoubtedly existed in Party and state organisations and to remove them by correct measures in conformity with the Constitution, the laws and the Party Constitution. But on no account should the theories and methods of the “cultural revolution” have been applied. These erroneous “Left” theses, upon which Comrade Mao Zedong based himself in initiating the “cultural revolution", were obviously inconsistent with the system of Mao Zedong Thought, which is the integration of the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution.”
How far was comrade Mao personally responsible for the disruption in socialist construction caused by the CR? According to the resolution,
“All the successes in these ten years [1956-66] were achieved under the collective leadership of the Central Committee of the Party headed by Comrade Mao Zedong. Likewise, responsibility for the errors committed in the work of this period rested with the same collective leadership. Although Comrade Mao Zedong must be held chiefly responsible, we cannot lay the blame for all those errors on him alone. Likewise, …[c]hief responsibility for the grave “Left” error of the ‘cultural revolution’… does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong. But after all it was the error of a great proletarian revolutionary. Comrade Mao Zedong paid constant attention to overcoming shortcomings in the life of the Party and state. While making serious mistakes, he repeatedly urged the whole Party to study the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin conscientiously and imagined that his theory and practice were Marxist and that they were essential for the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Herein lies his tragedy. “While persisting in the comprehensive error of the ‘cultural revolution’, he enabled some leading cadres to return to important leading posts. He led the struggle to smash the counter-revolutionary Lin Biao clique [and] made major criticisms and exposures of Jiang Qing …”
Moreover, the 1981 Resolution goes on, “there are complex social and historical causes underlying the ‘cultural revolution’ … Our Party had long existed in circumstances of war and fierce class struggle. It was not fully prepared, either ideologically or in terms of scientific study, for socialist construction on a national scale. …we were liable, owing to the historical circumstances in which our Party grew, to continue to regard issues unrelated to class struggle as its manifestations when observing and handling new contradictions and problems which cropped up in the political, economic, cultural and other spheres in the course of the development of socialist society. And when confronted with actual class struggle under the new conditions, we habitually fell back on the familiar methods and experiences of the large-scale, turbulent mass struggle of the past, …. All ideological differences inside the Party were [seen as] reflections of class struggle in society, and therefore frequent and acute inner-Party struggles were conducted. All this led us to regard the error in broadening the scope of class struggle as an act in defence of the purity of Marxism. … normal differences among comrades inside the Party came to be regarded as manifestations of the revisionist line or of the struggle between the two lines. This resulted in growing tension in inner-Party relations.” (emphasis added)
The document also points to another aspect of the abnormal and unwarranted inner-party situation that contributed to the initiation and prolongation of the CR:
“Comrade Mao Zedong’s prestige reached a peak and he … increasingly put himself above the Central Committee of the Party. The result was a steady weakening and even undermining of the principle of collective leadership and democratic centralism in the political life of the Party and the country. This state of affairs took shape only gradually and the Central Committee of the Party should be held partly responsible.”
Obliquely alluding to the infamous purges and personality cult of Stalin – whom the CPC always held in high esteem without being blind to his mistakes – the CC resolution goes on to mention the relevant international experience too:
“ … In the communist movement, leaders play quite an important role. … However, certain grievous deviations, which occurred in the history of the international communist movement owing to the failure to handle the relationship between the Party and its leader correctly, had an adverse effect on our Party, too.”
So these were the main reasons why, according to the resolution, the Party failed to fight out the ‘Left’ theses that culminated in the CR. Now as we move forward from cultural revolution to economic reforms, let us enrich ourselves with some deep insights comrade Vinod Mishra shared with us, some twenty five years ago, about Mao and Deng -- the best-known icons of the two most-discussed chapters in the history of post-revolutionary China.
1. Following frequent border clashes between North and South Korea (both states were established in 1948) the Korean War broke out on 25 June, 1950. The United States immediately dispatched its Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait. US military aircraft intruded into China’s airspace, and bombed areas along the Sino-Korean border. The US navy also attacked Chinese commercial vessels and fishing boats. The US troops landed in South Korea on 15 September, crossed the 38th parallel (the border between the two Koreas) and entered North Korea on 7 October. At the request of Kim IL Sung, the Premier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Chinese Government organised the Chinese People’s Volunteers to go and fight in Korea. Among the first who volunteered was Mao Anying, Mao Zedong's eldest son, who along with many others would embrace martyrdom fighting American imperialism in Korea. After entering Korea on 19 October 1950 with the help of air cover provided by Soviet fighter planes, the armed volunteers worked alongside the Korean People’s Army and drove the US troops from the Sino-Korean border back to the south of the 38th parallel. The fight continued for several months. Ultimately the US Administration, realising that it was not possible to unify Korea by armed force and make it their vassal state, proposed talks on a cease-fire. It was the first defeat suffered by US imperialism post World War II.
2. From the collection “Interviews with History and Conversations with Power”, published by Rizzoli (1911). The conversation was translated by Shi Yanhua, former interpreter of Mao Zedong.
3. Hence the “My Big Character Poster” written by Mao himself on 5 August, 1966: “Bombard the Headquarters”.
4. He contributed to the struggle to overthrow the counter-revolutionary Jiang Qing clique. But he promoted the erroneous “two-whatever’s” policy, that is, “we firmly uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and we unswervingly adhere to whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave", and he took a long time to rectify this error.
5. In the absence of our own sources for ascertaining or verifying exactly what all actually happened in China in those days or are happening now, we are quoting from this document -- and from some other interviews, articles etc. - - excerpts that are not from our party sources but which we think are sensible and worth pondering over. This by no means signals our complete agreement with the views expressed therein.