[ In the year of the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) we revisit the history of the CPC’s birth and the inspiring legacy of the Chinese revolution. In the next instalment we will critically examine China and the CPC between the revolution and the present. In the previous issue of Liberation we had carried the statement issued by the CPIML Central Committee on the occasion of the CPC centenary.]
“A well-disciplined Party armed with the theory of Marxism-Leninism, using the method of self-criticism and linked with the masses of the people, an army under the leadership of such a Party; a united front of all revolutionary classes and all revolutionary groups under the leadership of such a Party -- these are the three main weapons with which we have defeated the enemy. They distinguish us from our predecessors. Relying on them, we have won basic victory. We have travelled a tortuous road. We have struggled against opportunist deviations in our Party, both Right and "Left". Whenever we made serious mistakes on these three matters, the revolution suffered setbacks. Taught by mistakes and setbacks, we have become wiser and handled our affairs better.”
- On the People's Democratic Dictatorship,
In Commemoration of the Twenty-eighth Anniversary of the Communist Party of China
(Mao Zedong, June 30, 1949)
In the more than two thousand years long feudal era, a self-sufficient natural economy predominated. The peasants produced for themselves not only agricultural products but most of the handicraft articles they needed. Gradually, however, commodity production began to develop and penetration of foreign capital, particularly since the Opium War in 1840, accelerated the process. With the development of capitalism, sluggish and uneven though, China became a semi-feudal country. At the same time, different imperialist powers worked hard to to transform it into a semi-colonial country -- each with its own sphere of influence -- and, if possible, a colony. For this purpose they resorted to all kinds of military, political, economic and cultural means of oppression and exploitation. To take a few examples, Japan occupied Taiwan and the Penghu Islands and “leased” the port of Lushun, Britain seized Hongkong and France “leased” Kwangchowwan. Moreover, they forced China to sign numerous unequal treaties by which they acquired the right to build land and naval bases and exercise consular jurisdiction in China. The imperialist powers monopolized China’s banking and finance by extending loans to the Chinese government and establishing banks in the country. Finally in September 1931 the large-scale invasion by Japan turned a big chunk of semi-colonial China into a Japanese colony. Thus China became a colonial, semi-colonial and semi-feudal country.
How should communists in a backward agrarian country like this go about accomplishing a socialist revolution? No ready-made answer to this question was available in the writings of Lenin and Stalin or resolutions of the Comintern. Chinese comrades had to chart out their own path by applying the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism in the concrete conditions of Chinese society. Mao Zedong wrote in December 1939:
“The contradiction between imperialism and the Chinese nation and the contradiction between feudalism and the great masses of the people are the basic contradictions in modern Chinese society. Of course, there are others, such as the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the contradictions within the reactionary ruling classes themselves. But the contradiction between imperialism and the Chinese nation is the principal one.” ("The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party")
So what should be the basic course of revolution in China? The short answer, according to Mao, was:
“Taken as a whole, the Chinese revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party embraces the two stages, i.e., the democratic and the socialist revolutions, which are two essentially different revolutionary processes, and the second process can be carried through only after the first has been completed. The democratic revolution is the necessary preparation for the socialist revolution, and the socialist revolution is the inevitable sequel to the democratic revolution. The ultimate aim for which all communists strive is to bring about a socialist and communist society.” (ibid)
Six years later, when with the victory in the war of national liberation the task of building a New Democratic China became an urgent one, Mao dwelt on the theme in some detail:
“It is foreign oppression and feudal oppression that cruelly fetter the development of the individual initiative of the Chinese people, hamper the growth of private capital and destroy the property of the people. It is the very task of the New Democracy we advocate to remove these fetters and stop this destruction, to guarantee that the people can freely develop their individuality within the framework of society and freely develop such private capitalist economy as will benefit and not ‘dominate the livelihood of the people’, and to protect all appropriate forms of private property.
… China's national economy at the present stage should be composed of the state sector, the private sector and the co-operative sector. But the state here must certainly not be one ‘privately owned by the few’. …
Some people fail to understand why, so far from fearing capitalism, Communists should advocate its development in certain given conditions. Our answer is simple. The substitution of a certain degree of capitalist development for the oppression of foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism is not only an advance but an unavoidable process. It benefits the proletariat as well as the bourgeoisie, and the former perhaps more. It is not domestic capitalism but foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism which are superfluous in China today; indeed, we have too little of capitalism. …” (On Coalition Government, April 1945)
From this skeletal introduction to the theory of new democratic revolution, let us now move over to a brief summary of the actual course of the revolution, and the attendant developments in political line.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) was born, as the legatee of the Chinese people’s centuries-long struggle for liberation from exploitation, oppression and bondage, at the confluence of (a) the new high tide in national liberation movement in the aftermath of World War I and (b) the deep integration of Marxism Leninism with the growing working class movement -- both currents being inspired by the October/November revolution in Russia.
Unlike India, China was then a semi-colony ruled by the Qing (now spelt as Ch'ing) dynasty. In 1911 a section of the Army, at the urging of the revolutionary societies of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, and with active support of workers and peasants, staged an uprising in Wuchang that rapidly spread to other provinces. By the end of the year the rule of the Ching Dynasty crumbled, thus bringing to an end over 2,000 years of feudal monarchical rule. On January 1, 1912, the Provisional Government of the Republic of China was set up in Nanking, and Dr. Sun Yat-sen1 was elected Provisional President. However, the new government failed to bring real benefits to the peasants and yielded to the pressure of imperialism and the feudal forces. State power actually fell into the hands of the Northern warlord Yuan Shih-kai and the semi-colonial and semi-feudal nature of Chinese society remained unchanged.
The next great mass upheaval took place in protest against the injustice meted out to countries like China by imperialist great powers in the so-called Peace Conference at Versailles (a suburb of Paris) in January 1919. On May 4, thousands of students staged a militant demonstration at Tienanmen Square in Beijing. Thus began the historic May 4th Movement which spread, despite ruthless suppression, to other cities and industrial, commercial and mining centres across China. In port city Shanghai, China's largest industrial and business centre, some 70000 workers staged the first explicitly anti-imperialist strike. Thanks to its rapid expansion and concentration in major industrial centres, ports and mining regions during and after World War I, and its organised collective militancy, the modern proletariat actually emerged as the vanguard in the anti-imperialist movement.
The May 4th movement also drew in almost every other social Strata including the national bourgeoisie (basically the small and medium nationalist businessmen and industrialists) who were happy to see an expanding market for their products at the cost of foreign products. The movement thus became so broad-based and powerful that the government was compelled to halt repression, release the arrested students and others, and sack the three ministers who betrayed the nation in post-war negotiations in Paris. The highly successful movement provided a great impetus to the struggle against imperialism and its domestic allies.
Meanwhile, a radical democratic cultural movement, targeted against feudal culture, antiquated values and irrational ideas as well as archaic language and writing style and in favour of a modern scientific mass culture, was spreading across the country. Led by eminent personalities like Lu Hsun, Li Ta-chao, Chen Tu-hsiu (all three were immensely inspired by the November revolution in Russia and embraced Marxism-Leninism) the radical cultural awakening provided one of the essential prerequisites for the emergence of a revolutionary Marxist movement and party in China.
In tandem with these objective development, small communist groups, barely connected with one another, sprang up in Shanghai, Beijing, Changsha, Wuhan, Jinan, Guangzhou (exactly as they did in India around almost the same time) and also in Japan and France in 1920-21. Trade unions, socialist youth leagues, communist study circles among students were also formed. The Shanghai group -- the most prominent among them -- published a Manifesto of the Communist Party of China and launched a monthly magazine, Communist Party. They brought out, and distributed on a vast scale, newspapers and periodicals like Workers Voice as well monographs like Class Struggle, and translations of classics like The Communist Manifesto. Thus developed the most essential condition for the foundation of a Communist Party - a rapidly expanding modern proletariat and integration of Marxism Leninism with an ascending working class movement.
On July 1 1921, 12 comrades elected by a total of just 57 members of these groups assembled clandestinely in Shanghai to hold the founding Congress of the party. Comrade Chen Duxiu, a senior leader from Shanghai, was elected secretary of the “Central Bureau”. The young Mao Zedong2 was appointed party secretary of his native province, Hunan.
In January 1922, representatives of the CPC attended the First Conference of Representatives of Communist Parties and National Revolutionary Organisations of Far Eastern Countries organised by the Comintern in Moscow. They shared their experiences at, and learned a lot from, the conference and held their Second Party Congress in July the same year. While proclaiming the establishment of Communist society as the final goal, the Congress also declared an immediate or minimum program, best expressed in three war cries:
Down with imperialism!
Down with feudal warlords!
Build a democratic republic!
During the first three years the party built itself -- and this is something not quite well-known -- mainly among the working class, and that with considerable success. In January 1922, more than 30000 sailors in foreign shipping companies in Hong Kong (HK) struck work. Solidarity strikes in other sectors, followed by a successful general strike, ultimately forced the British authorities in HK to bite dust. They withdrew the order to shut down the sailors’ union, freed the arrested workers and partially accepted the demand of wage raises. The nearly two months-long strike came to a victorious conclusion on 8 March. On May Day the same year, the First National Workers’ Conference was successfully organised by communists in Canton.
The next two years witnessed a series of stubborn strikes and massive, militant protest marches throughout the country. These were frequently subjected to firing and other forms of brutal repression by the provincial armies. The valiant struggles earned the working class -- and the Communist Party as its friend, philosopher and guide -- the wholehearted support and admiration of the entire nation, including democratic and patriotic sections of the KMT. In 1924, a CPC-KMT united front came into being.
The All-China Federation of Trade Unions was founded in May 1925 under communist initiative, but TUs led by non-communists also joined it. At the end of the month a massive strike and protest march were organised in Shanghai. 12 Protesters were killed in firing by the British police; the workers, supported by students and others, responded with a strike that would last for 16 months. With the spread of the movement to HK, Canton, Quantung and other areas, and thanks to the CPC-KMT cooperation, a “Strikers’ Congress” was set up in Quantung, which acted as a revolutionary local government. The general people boycotted the HK dollar and started making all transactions with paper notes issued by the revolutionary government.
In July 1926, the revolutionary government launched a war against the Northern warlords, better known as the Northern Expedition, under the slogan Oppose Imperialism and Warlords. The expedition made a very rapid progress, but on ground landlordism was not completely eradicated. The worst part was that Chen Duxiu, general secretary of the CPC, had been pursuing a rightist line of unprincipled compromise with KMT. Taking advantage of such weaknesses, the ace conspirator Chiang Kai-shek, who had grabbed the leadership of KMT after the death of Dr. Sun in 1925 and was bidding his time with a cunning duplicity, launched a sudden attack in 1927 against communists and other revolutionaries on a vast scale. The left wing of the KMT tried its best to resist this, but in vain. The first united front was thus demolished with a bloodbath. The total membership of the party, which had grown to more than 60,000, fell to a little over 10,000.
The counter-revolutionary offensive forced the communists to fan out to the rural backyard, where they found a vast reservoir of revolutionary energy in the poor and landless peasantry. Later Mao would remark, in a lighter vain, that communists should be thankful to Chiang for pushing them from the cities to the countryside.
The fact, however, is that Mao himself had been doing pioneering work among the peasantry -- not just because he loved them but because he realised, from a proletarian class viewpoint, the pivotal role of the peasantry in the revolution of a semi-feudal agrarian society -- well before the ‘push’ from Chiang came. If you open Volume I of Mao’s Selected Works, the first article you will come across is “Analysis of the Classes In Chinese Society”. Written in March 1926, it begins with a very simple yet fundamental question of all revolutions:
“Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution. The basic reason why all previous revolutionary struggles in China achieved so little was their failure to unite with real friends in order to attack real enemies. … To distinguish real friends from real enemies, we must make a general analysis of the economic status of the various classes in Chinese society and of their respective attitudes towards the revolution.”
The author then goes on to assess the economic status and political leanings of the major classes in China in those days and arrives at the conclusion that all those in league with imperialism--the warlords, the bureaucrats, the comprador class3, the big landlord class and the reactionary section of the intelligentsia attached to them are our enemies; the industrial proletariat is the leading force of the revolution; the entire semi-proletariat and petty bourgeoisie (including the small and landless peasants) are our closest friends; and among the vacillating middle bourgeoisie, the right-wing may become our enemy and the left-wing may become our friend.
Mao vastly expanded these ideas on the basis of intensive work among the peasantry in the celebrated “Hunan Report”4 , which for the first time highlighted, inter alia, a slogan coming up from the ground and being fully implemented in Hunan: “Down With the Local Tyrants and Evil Gentry! All Power to The Peasant Associations!”
But let us get back to the sequence of events that we were narrating.
Chiang’s bloody offensive did not go unanswered. Launched under the leadership of Zhou Enlai, the Nanchang Uprising of 1927 fired the opening shot for armed resistance against the KMT reactionaries and armed agrarian revolution. The Autumn-Harvest Uprising in the Hunan-Jiangxi border area, led by comrade Mao, brought into being the First Division of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolutionary Army and the first rural revolutionary base area5 in the Jinggang Mountains. Before long, the insurgents led by Comrade Zhu De also arrived there. Several other base areas as well as Red Army divisions emerged. The Red army and the revolutionary masses successfully resisted a series of “encirclement and suppression” campaigns launched by the KMT troops. Armed agrarian revolution thus became the mainstay of the new democratic revolution in China and the path of encircling the cities from the rural areas and seizing political power by armed force was opened up.
But “left” adventurist deviations on the part of a section of leadership resulted in a major setback and forced the First Front Army led by Mao to embark on the 25,000-li (12,500 KM) “Long March” in October 1934 -- across snow-capped mountains, hot desserts, and other extremely difficult terrain -- to join forces with other units of the Red Army in northern Shaanxi. In the base areas in south China, from where the main forces of the Red Army had withdrawn, guerilla warfare was carried on under extremely difficult conditions. In these struggles and in course of the Long March, the Red Army of 300,000 men was reduced to about 30,000 and the number of party members came down from nearly 300,000 to about 40,000.
Despite the heavy losses, the fire of revolution raged on. During the Long March, an extended Polit Bureau meeting of January 1935 at Zunyi charted a correct course of advance, which led the Long March to a sucessful conclusion. But there was a longer-term and deeper significance of this meeting. After fourteen years of painstaking inner-party ideological struggle, the leading position of Mao Zedong was firmly established in the Red Army and the party, thus bringing to an end a chapter of Chinese revolution that was marked by a cruel contrast between impressive advances achieved through arduous struggles and disastrous setbacks caused by both right and ‘left’ deviations.
By this time, Japan had severely intensified its war of aggression, leading to a new upsurge in the popular patriotic movement throughout the country. In this context, the party called for an end to the civil war and a vigorous united resistance against Japan with a CPC-KMT united national government. As on earlier occasions, it backed up the call with massive struggles like the great students’ agitation of December 9, 1936.
- Mao Zedong, On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism (December 27, 1935).
The call evoked spirited response from all democratic and patriotic forces, including those in the KMT. Chiang, on the contrary, became still more active in his military preparations for the suppression of the Communists and massacred young anti-Japanese activists in Xi'an. But patriotic army officials -- including some in the top brass -- were in favour of united resistance. When, on Dec. 12, 1936, Chiang visited the headquarters of Chang Hsueh-liang and Yang Hu-cheng to plan a new anticommunist campaign, they took joint action and arrested Chiang. This was the famous Xi'an Incident. Chang and Yang demanded cessation of the civil war between the ruling nationalists and communists, the establishment of a national united front to oppose the Japanese, and the reorganization of the nationalist government on that basis. Responding to the rebels’ requests, the Chinese communists, represented by Zhou Enlai, took part in their negotiations with Chiang. After Chiang accepted the proposals, he was set free to return to Nanzing. The CPC’s role in securing this peaceful settlement and conditional release of Chiang firmly established its credentials as the only party which really placed the interests of the nation above its own and called for unity with a treacherous man whose hands were red with the blood of thousands of its beloved comrades. As Mao noted in the article cited in the box, “ …the Anti-Japanese National United Front proposed by the Communist Party of China became the openly advocated policy of all patriotic people. The Chiang Kai-shek government with its traitorous policy became very isolated.”
The CPC therefore hoped that at this juncture Chiang could be pressured into accepting the communist proposal, the more so because, thanks to his close ties with Anglo- American imperialist interests, he might change his attitude to Japan at his boss’s biddings. Accordingly, both the Red Army and the CPC Central Committee separately sent direct appeals to the KMT Government to form a bi-partisan united front against Japan. In the given political atmosphere, Chiang had no way out but to reluctantly accept the proposal even as he waited for an opportune moment to strike back again. The CPC were well aware of this possibility -- rather certainty -- but that did not deter it from going ahead for unity with its shrewd and revengeful arch-enemy in the struggle against the foreign aggressor.
Despite the agreement, the KMT ruling clique continued to oppose the Communist Party and remained passive in resisting Japan. As a result, the government forces suffered defeat after defeat in battles with the Japanese invaders. By contrast, the CPC persevered in the policy of maintaining its independence and initiative within the united front, closely relied on the masses, penetrated deep behind enemy lines to mobilize the people, peasants in particular, to launch guerilla warfare, and set up a number of anti-Japanese base areas, where democratic governments, with representatives from all sections of people, were set up. Diverse forms of anti-Japanese struggle were unfolded on a broad scale in areas occupied by Japan or controlled by the KMT. The Red Army, the People’s Militia and the base areas were widely recognised as the mainstay in the war of resistance. The city of Yan'an, headquarters of the CPC Central Committee, became the principal command centre of the anti-Japanese war and the entire populace held it in high esteem.
All along, the party sincerely tried to maintain the united front. It acted with restraint even against the die-hards who insisted on opposing the communists and appeasing the Japanese aggressors. As a result, the party made remarkable progress in developing its own mass organisations and united front work even in the KMT-controlled areas.
On 8 August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and moved swiftly to attack and destroy the main bases of the Japanese army. The Chinese Red Army and the people of China joined forces and on 14 August Japan declared unconditional surrender.
Even as the anti-Japanese war was going on, the party conducted a rectification movement, a very successful movement of Marxist education, beginning in 1942. It was on this basis that the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party was adopted by the Central Committee in 1945 and soon afterwards the party’s Seventh National Congress was convened. Summing up the rich experience since its inception, the party laid down the correct line, principles and policies for building a new-democratic China.
On the eve of the successful conclusion of the war of resistance against Japan, the CPC put before the nation the call for a broad-based national government based on the principle of "peace, democracy and unity". To quote Mao from On Coalition Government (April 24, 1945):
“... the moment is near when the Japanese aggressors will be defeated by the Chinese people in co-ordination with the allied countries. But China remains disunited and is still confronted with a grave crisis. In these circumstances, what ought we to do? Beyond all doubt, the urgent need is to unite representatives of all political parties and groups and of people without any party affiliation and establish a provisional democratic coalition government for the purpose of instituting democratic reforms, surmounting the present crisis, mobilizing and unifying all the anti-Japanese forces in the country to fight, in effective co-ordination with the allied countries, for the defeat of the Japanese aggressors, and thus enabling the Chinese people to liberate themselves from the latter's clutches. After that it will be necessary to convene a national assembly on a broad democratic basis and set up a formally constituted democratic government, which will also be in the nature of a coalition and will have a still wider representation of people from all parties and groups or without any party affiliation, and which will lead the liberated people of the whole country in building an independent, free, democratic, united, prosperous and powerful new China.”
This call was warmly received by the whole people and all democratic parties, but the Chiang government, with the help of US imperialism, launched an all-out civil war against the communists. With the active support of the people in the liberated areas as well as in the KMT areas, with the powerful backing of the students’, workers’ and peasants’ movements, and thanks to the co-operation of the democratic parties and non-party democrats, the CPC led the People’s Liberation Army in fighting the more than three-year long war of liberation. Nearly 8,000,000 counter revolutionary troops were wiped out; the PLA and the revolutionary people also had to sacrifice many precious lives. Ultimately the Chiang government fell under a siege laid by the whole people under the leadership of the communist party. Just on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Party, Mao succinctly summed up the new task at hand -- building the state system of New Democracy or People’s Democracy -- the people's democratic dictatorship:
“The combination of these two aspects, democracy for the people and dictatorship over the reactionaries, is the people's democratic dictatorship. …
“The people's democratic dictatorship is based on the alliance of the working class, the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie, and mainly on the alliance of the workers and the peasants, because these two classes comprise 80 to 90 per cent of China's population. These two classes are the main force in overthrowing imperialism and the Kuomintang reactionaries. The transition from New Democracy to socialism also depends mainly upon their alliance. …
“To sum up our experience and concentrate it into one point, it is the people's democratic dictatorship under the leadership of the working class (through the Communist Party) and based upon the alliance of workers and peasants. This dictatorship must unite as one with the international revolutionary forces. This is our formula, our principal experience, our main programme.” (On the People's Democratic Dictatorship, June 30, 1949).
“The Chinese people have stood up”, said Mao, inaugurating the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference6 on 21 September, 1949. On October 1, 1949 a grand ceremony was witnessed by 300,000 people in Beijing's Tienanmen Square, and Mao Zedong, as chairman of the Central People's Government, solemnly proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). “The heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the People's War of Liberation and the people's revolution shall live for ever in our memory!”, he said at the end of his short speech.
[To be continued]