Talk given by WWP Secretariat member Deirdre Griswold at the WWP National Conference Nov. 14.
It is amazing that so little has been said in the imperialist media about the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution, especially considering that one-fifth of the world’s people live in China and that it has become the manufacturing hub for much of the globe.
If you added up all the people of North, Central and South America, plus the Caribbean—in other words, all the 38 countries of the Western Hemisphere–you would still need to add 400 million more people to reach the size of China. And the many different peoples in China all live under one central government and are affected by its plans for development.
It was an earth-shaking event when, on October 1, 1949, after the defeat of the U.S.-supported Kuomintang army, Mao Zedong addressed a huge crowd in Tienanmen Square and said, “The Chinese people have stood up.” The revolutionary war, which had gone on for decades, not only liberated the peasants from the tyranny of the landlords and the workers from capitalist exploitation but it had an enormous impact on world events – and on Workers World Party.
While our party was officially formed a decade later, the world view of its founders was first expressed in a 1950 document by Sam Marcy on the global class war.
At that time, the Soviet Union was considered the leader of the international communist movement. Both the USSR and People’s China were helping defend the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea against a massive invasion and war by U.S. imperialism, which was aimed at crushing the spread of revolution in Asia.
Marcy’s document recognized that the Chinese Revolution was not just an agrarian reform or a national liberation struggle—although it incorporated both these vital features. He argued that it represented a fundamental change in class forces and that the new state rested on the working class and was oriented toward the building of socialism.
But, said Marcy in 1950, the revolution was not “chemically pure.” What did that mean?
The working class of China was then very small. In the course of the revolutionary war, the Communist Party had built what it called a “bloc of four classes” that included not only the workers, peasants, and petty bourgeoisie but also elements of the capitalist class not aligned with either Japanese or Western imperialism.
Nevertheless, Marcy argued in the left movement here at the time that all who were for socialism, for workers’ power, had a duty to stand with China and the other workers’ states against domestic reaction and imperialist intervention.
Marcy’s analysis proved correct. The Chinese Communist Party moved forward with expropriating the propertied classes. It inspired the masses of people to create social forms of production in the countryside as well as the cities.
The first issue of Workers World newspaper in 1959 contained an article on China called “Hail the Communes!” The communes were a tremendous step forward in the effort to raise up the peasantry and increase productivity so that China could feed its hundreds of millions of people.
After liberation from the blood-sucking landlords, farmers had begun to build collectives where labor was pooled and their product shared. But the communes went much further. They were a higher form of social organization. They brought schools and clinics to the countryside. They provided child care and made it possible for women to join social life on an equal basis after centuries of the deepest oppression. They incorporated small manufacturing with agriculture and taught new skills. The communes provided the elemental necessities of life—food, shelter, clothing—from the cradle to the grave. The Chinese called this social security the “iron rice bowl.”
In the 1960s, China kept moving to the left under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Eventually it would launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, an attempt to uproot privilege and a growing bureaucracy. At the same time, it championed revolutionary movements, especially in the many countries that were trying to break the bonds of colonialism and neo-colonialism that kept them poor and underdeveloped.
To understand why this leftward movement was thwarted and China moved to the right under Deng Ziaoping, you have to see the world context.
Beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. threatened both China and the Soviet Union with nuclear war. Both countries had to divert scarce resources to build up their military defenses. By the mid 50s, the USSR under Khrushchev tried to bring about an accommodation with the U.S. under the slogan “peaceful coexistence.” Relations between the two huge socialist countries became strained as Moscow made agreements with Washington on nuclear arms at the expense of China.
In 1960 Soviet technicians who had been helping China with many infrastructure projects were suddenly withdrawn.
By 1962, the U.S. was already waging war against the revolutionary movements in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In 1965 the CIA engineered a bloody military takeover in Indonesia in 1965 that destroyed the largest communist party in the world outside the socialist countries and slaughtered an estimated 1 million people.
The Chinese Communist Party by this time had opened a debate with the Soviet leaders, accusing them of watering down Leninist doctrine on the rapacious nature of imperialism and failing to give the liberation movements the help they needed.
Here in the U.S., China’s attempts to revive revolutionary Marxism and Leninism and champion the national liberation struggles won adherents, especially among the youth and in the Black movement. Our party vigorously supported China on these questions.
But the split in the world movement took its toll. A cornerstone of U.S. imperialism’s strategy was to deepen this split. An editor of the New York Times, Harrison Salisbury, even wrote a book in 1969 called “The Coming War between Russia and China,” which really was an attempt to incite such a war.
An all-out war didn’t happen, but the Chinese leaders made a grave error when they took their polemic against the policies of the Soviet leaders much further and characterized the USSR as “social-imperialist.” This derailed much of the world movement. It precluded any efforts to have a united front against the real imperialists and actually laid the basis for a turn to the right inside China itself.
In the 1970s, while the war in Vietnam was still raging, China invited President Richard Nixon to Beijing. It was a move that shocked and demoralized many in the movement here. It was a prelude to China’s later “opening” to Western investment and allowing the capitalist market to operate there.
The leader of Workers World, Sam Marcy, analyzed these political developments and you can read his articles online, as well as in our party pamphlets on China.
A revolutionary workers’ party cannot close its eyes to political issues like these, particularly a party in the very center of world imperialism. What happens in China is of the greatest consequence to the workers and the oppressed peoples here.
In this world capitalist economic crisis, when many workers are afraid for their jobs if they haven’t lost them already, capitalist demagogues like Lou Dobbs get paid to make sure that the workers’ anger is turned against immigrants and China instead of against the bosses here who lay them off or cut their wages.
China’s growth in the last two decades has been the most dynamic in the world. The working class has grown by several hundred million people. The standard of living of the masses has risen, but the wealth of the new bourgeoisie—still a small class–has risen even faster.
Who do we credit for this rapid development? The capitalists who invested in China to make a quick buck? Or the revolutionaries who pulled China out of the middle ages, ended illiteracy, achieved the beginnings of industrialization, brought millions out of famine and an early death by organizing the masses to change their conditions of life?
China’s rapid growth is proof that a centralized and planned economy, even one that has allowed market forces to operate, is vastly superior to capitalist anarchy. Not only has production soared but the infrastructure is being modernized. Even the environmental movement is starting to admit that China is becoming a world leader in the transition away from fossil fuels and toward a more sustainable economy. In the current world H1N1 epidemic, China has registered 30 flu deaths, compared to 4,000 in the U.S. (which has only one-fourth China’s population). This is proof of China’s ability to spin on a dime when it comes to dealing with potential disasters, and proof of a sophisticated medical system that has already inoculated nearly 60 million people against the flu. Such quick action is impossible when medical care is shackled to producing profits for private corporations.
The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have gambled that they can contain the growing capitalist class and keep it under control. But the world capitalist economic crisis is affecting China, especially in its export-oriented businesses, many of which are privately owned. However, China’s stimulus plan, which goes directly to producing jobs, has softened the effects of the crisis.
At the same time, the class struggle has also surged in China as workers fight against layoffs and poor working conditions—especially in the privately owned sector of the economy. Strikes and demonstrations are on the rise, along with plant occupations and even direct action by workers against their bosses and managers.
Some of the struggles are directed against corrupt officials. Where does corruption come from? It comes from bourgeois elements who have the money to buy political influence and favors. China has actually executed quite a few millionaires for corruption, unlike the U.S., which reserves the death penalty for the poor and oppressed.
We continue to stand with China against imperialist threats, attempts to carve off areas like Tibet and Taiwan, and domestic reaction. And we stand with the Chinese workers, who have become bolder in fighting for their rights—which include the right to a job and a decent standard of living.
We say no to China-bashing, whether it comes from CNN or from backward elements in the union movement here. Above all, we are dedicated to building a revolutionary workers’ movement in the U.S. that can undo this highly militarized, imperialist regime that is holding back all humanity, so that our class everywhere will be free to control its own destiny and build a workers’ world.