From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
Any thoughtful person must have realised that opposition to Mao in China over recent years has not been confined to the proverbial ‘handful of top people in authority taking the capitalist road’. A recent issue of the weekly journal of the Union of Soviet Writers carried a letter from a schoolboy in Peking who wrote that ". . . the eyes of a majority of the youth are open. Many no longer believe in Mao Tse-tung. But there are still quite a number who do believe in him and who do not understand that he is the cause of all the difficulties of China.” This sort of comment comes as no surprise to socialists. Even in the current world situation where the vast majority of people (in China as elsewhere) look upon capitalism as the only practicable method of running society, it is inevitable that sizeable groups of working men and women should come into conflict with the capitalist class in every country. Although socialist ideas are as yet nowhere widely spread, socialists do not minimise the importance of workers’ movements in different parts of the world striking out a line independently of the ruling class, even though their policies may still be hemmed in by reformist illusions about capitalism. For, quite apart from any other considerations, it is a historical fact that all the World Socialist Parties organised so far have developed from similar groups of workers who were first engaged in attempts to reform capitalism and then through this activity became convinced that only independent revolutionary socialist parties could offer an effective solution to working class problems.
In China the Maoist representatives of the capitalist class have long been engaged in spurious polemics with their rivals in the Soviet Union and other countries such as Yugoslavia, emphasising that these can not be socialist since a ‘privileged bourgeois stratum’ exists there. It is hardly surprising, then, that numbers of workers in China who have been fed a staple diet of these sorts of comments in the editorials of the People’s Daily and Red Flag should quite naturally apply a similar analysis to China itself and decide that “a red capitalist class” is in power rather than the official myth that it is the workers themselves who rule. A good example of this tendency is a document produced by a group based on Hunan (Mao’s home province) called Sheng-wu-lien which has been released by the Survey of China Mainland Press series and is also available (in a shortened version) in a recent issue of International Socialism.
Sheng-wu-lien seems to look upon the Communist takeover from the Kuomintang in 1949 as the final phase in China’s capitalist revolution which cleared the way for the forced development of a capitalist economy. This means that (in contra-distinction to Mao’s confused notions) they recognise that the class struggle is rooted in the methods of production in operation in contemporary China, since “the development of new productive forces in China today has brought in conflict the class that represents the new productive forces and the decaying class that represents the production relations which impede the progress of history.” This “decaying class” Sheng-wu-lien normally refers to as the “class of Red capitalists” whose “special privileges and high salaries” are “built on the basis of the oppression and exploitation of the broad masses of the people”.
Although the general level of this analysis is obviously head and shoulders above any other material from China which has become generally available, such comments as these are not by themselves that impressive. After all, one might argue that they go no further than the normal tradition of Communist mudslinging (as between Russia and Yugoslavia in the past) of calling people ‘capitalist’ because you don’t like their politics. What makes the Sheng-wu-lien document significant, however, is their explanation of why the capitalist class first gained power in China and have since been able to consolidate their position through episodes such as the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The reason they give is exactly the one the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always maintained —that because the Chinese peasants and workers do not yet understand what socialism entails they therefore can not be equipped to overthrow the capitalist system. Thus: “The development of the wisdom of the masses had not yet attained the degree at which it would be possible to reform (sic.) society. As a result, the fruit of revolution was in the final analysis taken by the capitalist class.’’ and “Thus it may be seen that the revolution lacked depth and remained at a low stage of development. The degree of maturity of the political thought of the revolutionary people, was in conformity with this low level revolution . . ." Certainly, this method of focusing attention on the non-socialist ideas predominating among the working class is emphatically not in the tradition of any of the varieties of bolshevism (stalinist, trotskyist or maoist) and as such represents something of a breakthrough.
As might be expected, Sheng-wu-lien's principal weakness lies in what they see as the alternative to Mao’s brand of state capitalism. What they call for is a “People’s Commune of China', roughly based on the model of the Paris Commune of 1871. Its main feature would be to replace the capitalist class with ’cadres with true proletarian authority naturally produced by the revolutionary people in the struggle to overthrow this decaying class. These cadres are members of the commune. They have no special privileges. Economically they get the same treatment as the masses in general. They may be dismissed or changed at any time in accordance with the demands of the masses." The utopian character of this programme is obvious. A ’People’s Commune of China* would stand no more chance of surviving than the Paris Commune did. Socialism can be nothing less than world wide. But also it must be noted that Marx thought the Commune important because it indicated how workers could take over the existing state machinery and convert it from an oppressive bureaucratic structure into a democratic instrument for achieving socialism. By its very nature it could only be a highly transitional form, rapidly giving way to the free society of socialism which needs no state apparatus—no matter how democratic. So to try to use the Commune as a blueprint for some type of stable social system is to turn marxism on its head—and thus, in this respect, repeat the errors of bolshevism.
It is also worth mentioning that the demand for a ’People’s Commune of China’ is not very original either. The Communist Party under Mao has been brutally efficient in its work (still progressing, of course) of converting China’s millions of unorganised peasants into a mass working class which can be manipulated to create surplus value for the capitalists. Recent sources estimate that more than 25 million people were exterminated during the decade up till 1965, that another 30 millions were displaced and that tens of thousands of detainees are held in concentration camps in the Sinkiang deserts and elsewhere. (Alain Jacob in Le Monde, 28/8/69). Certainly, if the experiences of Russian workers and peasants under Lenin, Stalin and their successors are anything to go by, these figures seem perfectly plausible and yet periodically this bloody reality has been masked by opportunist demands for ’real democracy’ on the lines of the Paris Commune by Mao and his associates. For example, Ch’en Po-ta (a leader of the Cultural Revolution Group under the CCP Central Committee) announced in a talk at Peking University in 1966:,
You must pay attention to the public’s being broadly represented in elections, and you must be able to hear different kinds of opinion. The teachers and office workers should have their own representatives. These representatives are not elected for life. They may be removed any time they are found to be incompetent. The masses may remove them and replace them with other persons through re-election.
According to reports, this “suggestion for a system of representative committees modeled on the principles of the Paris Commune of 1871 . . . met with enormous enthusiasm.” (Monthly Review, July-August 1969). Obviously, then, Sheng-wu-lien's policy of establishing a ’People’s Commune of China’ represents little more than uncritically taking over some of the rhetorical demands of the most ruthless spokesmen of the Chinese capitalist class.
Interestingly enough, Ch’en Po-ta was reported to be one of the speakers at a mass rally of around 100,000 people in Changsha (the Hunanese capital) in January 1968 which denounced Sheng-wu-lien. Also speaking were Chou En-lai (described by Sheng-wu-lien as “at present the general representative of China’s Red capitalist class”), Chiang Ch’ing (Mao’s wife) and K'ang Sheng (a permanent member of the CCP politburo). Clearly, if Sheng-wu-lien is influential enough to warrant this sort of attack by some of the most powerful representatives of the ruling class in China, it could mean that the policies it stands for are echoed by a substantial number of workers. But the important point to stress is that if a sizeable body of workers in China have reached the level of political consciousness represented by Sheng-wu-lien, there is every reason to hope that a number of others will have elaborated a more solid analysis of world capitalism and armed themselves with an understanding of the need not for a ’People’s Commune of China’ but for a world socialist community based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. The World Socialist Parties have always insisted that the world wide problems of capitalism will lead workers quite independently of ourselves to grasp the need for a rationally organised society where mankind as a whole can plan production without being hampered by class or national limitations. To those workers arriving at these conclusions we want to extend the hand of socialist fraternity. And above all we want to work with them as comrades in the struggle to establish a socialist world. Workers of the World Unite!