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China: Socialist revolution and capitalist restoration

By Chris Slee

The Chinese revolution was one of the most important events of the twentieth century. The victory of the revolution in 1949 was a major defeat for imperialism. The new Communist Party government carried out democratic measures such as land reform, and improved the conditions of workers and peasants through the spread of health care and literacy. It began expropriating industry, and within a few years had nationalised all capitalist enterprises. It proclaimed that the revolution had entered the socialist stage.

A Lego recreation of Jeff Widener's 1989 photograph of "The unknown rebel".


But the new state was bureaucratically distorted from its inception. The bureaucrats enjoyed substantial privileges. They repressed dissent amongst workers, peasants, students and intellectuals. And they engaged in violent power struggles amongst themselves, undermining the gains of the revolution.

Eventually the bureaucracy set out on the road of restoring capitalism. By 1992, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership had adopted a policy of restoring capitalist economic relations as the predominant relations of production. The state had become a capitalist state.

The struggle for power

In 1921, when the CCP was founded, China was in chaos. Western imperialist intervention -- military, economic political and cultural -- had destroyed or undermined traditional Chinese institutions, but stable new ones had not been created.

In 1911, the Chinese emperor was overthrown by nationalist army officers. However, this did not resolve the situation. Foreign intervention continued, with various imperialist powers grabbing pieces of Chinese territory. China was divided amongst competing regional tyrants known as ``warlords’’, and the central government virtually ceased to exist. Peasants were ruthlessly exploited by the big landowners. Some modern industry was established, mainly in the coastal cities, but the workers (who were only a very small proportion of China's population) were ruthlessly exploited by foreign and Chinese capitalists, enduring very long hours and unsafe and unhealthy conditions.

The main bourgeois nationalist party, the Guomindang, aimed to unite China by defeating the warlords. During the 1920s the Communist Party formed an alliance with the Guomindang. But once the main warlord armies were defeated, the Guomindang, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, turned on its ally and massacred thousands of communists.

The Guomindang lost whatever progressive direction it originally had, and became an unambiguously reactionary party of landlords and capitalists. It did deals with some of the warlords it had formerly opposed.

The Communist Party was virtually wiped out in the cities, but it survived in remote rural areas. With peasant support the CCP began to grow again. Liberated areas were established, with their own revolutionary governments. In these areas the CCP carried out progressive measures such as land reform. Land was taken from big landlords and distributed among the peasants.

National united front

During the 1930s the Japanese imperialists seized large areas of Chinese territory. There developed a strong popular sentiment that all Chinese should unite against the Japanese invaders. A truce was eventually arranged between the Guomindang and the communists, but only after Chiang Kai-shek had been taken prisoner by some of his own generals and forced to agree.

During the period of the national united front against Japanese imperialism -- from 1937 to the end of the second world war -- the CCP moderated its land reform policy. Instead of redistributing land from the landlords to the peasants, it merely reduced land rents and interest rates. In theory, that was also the policy of the Guomindang, but the latter never actually carried it out.

It was during the anti-Japanese war that the CCP became a really powerful force. Because it had the support of the peasantry, the CCP could wage an effective guerrilla war. The Guomindang, on the other hand, became increasingly discredited due to its corruption and incompetence.

After the defeat of Japan in 1945, attempts were made to negotiate some sort of agreement between the CCP and the Guomindang, but nothing came of it, and war broke out again. The CCP once again adopted radical land reform policies.

The Guomindang received a lot of US aid, but the CCP, with the support of the vast majority of the Chinese people, was victorious. The peasants supported the CCP because of its land reform policy. But in addition, people from all sectors of Chinese society respected the communists as the most determined fighters against the Japanese invasion, and because of their reputation for honesty, in contrast to the corruption of the Guomindang regime.

In 1949 Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island of Taiwan. The Chinese mainland was united under the rule of the Communist Party. CCP leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

The People’s Republic

The new political system was called ``new democracy’’. It was said to be based on an alliance between four classes -- the working class, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie.

The revolution was intended to be democratic, not socialist. It was directed against imperialism, feudalism and what was termed ``bureaucrat-capitalism’’ – that is, against those capitalists who had gained their wealth through corrupt links with the Chiang Kai-shek regime. The national bourgeoisie was regarded as an ally.

In the rural areas, land reform was extended to the newly liberated areas. The CCP began to encourage the formation of mutual aid teams and cooperatives. Participation in cooperatives was supposed to be voluntary.

In the urban areas the government expropriated the property of Chiang Kai-shek's collaborators, but initially allowed other capitalists to continue running their enterprises. The Communist Party did however launch a drive to recruit workers to its ranks[1], and it reorganised the union movement on an industrial basis. The CCP also made a major effort to recruit students and intellectuals.

After the defeats of the 1920s, the CCP's base in the cities had been greatly weakened. The urban population did not play a major role in the victory over Chiang Kai-shek. The victory was won by a peasant army (known as the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA). The fact that the revolution came to the cities from outside, without the active participation of the urban masses, was a factor contributing to the bureaucratic nature of the regime.

In the immediate aftermath of the victory, the PLA played a major role in administering the cities. Many administrative personnel from the Chiang regime also remained in their positions. In local governments and other institutions there was often a ``triple alliance’’, comprising representatives of the CCP and the PLA, representatives of mass organisations such as trade unions, and personnel from the old regime.

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 led to a change in policy. The arrival of large numbers of US troops in Korea, and the stationing of the US Navy in the Taiwan straits, led the CCP leadership to fear renewed US intervention in China. This led them to worry about a potential alliance between imperialism and the ``national bourgeoisie’’, which was an unreliable ally.

Furthermore, some capitalists were bribing government and party officials to get favourable treatment from the government. These problems and dangers led to a radicalisation of the CCP’s policy.

A series of mass movements were launched by the CCP leadership. The ``3 anti’’ movement was directed against bribe-taking, waste and bureaucratism amongst government and party officials. The ``5 anti’’ movement was directed against bribery, tax evasion, theft of state property, cheating on state contracts and theft of state economic information by capitalists. Unions were told to mobilise their members to investigate their employers. Bosses were brought before mass meetings and confronted with accusations by their workers.

Those who confessed and said they were sorry were usually able to keep their positions as owners and managers of the means of production -- at least in the short term. However this experience intimidated the capitalist class and weakened its ability to resist subsequent nationalisation measures.

In October 1953 the CCP stated that its policy was one of ``transition to socialism’’ (see Brugger, p.112 and p.119). By 1956 nearly all capitalist property had been nationalised.[2]

Social gains

The early years of the revolution brought big gains for the Chinese masses. Health and education were greatly improved. The new regime organised mass campaigns to eliminate disease, illiteracy, prostitution, forced marriage of women and young girls, and many other abuses of the old society.

Prior to the revolution, a large proportion of the people lived on the brink of starvation. This so lowered their resistance to disease that epidemics killed thousands every year. While there were no reliable statistics, one estimate of the average life expectancy in China in 1935 was 28 years! (Horn, p. 125; cited by Evans, p. 49) Another estimate of life expectancy before liberation was 35 years (Ruth and Victor Sidel, p.94).

By 1981 life expectancy had risen to 69.6 years for women and 67.0 for men, according to Chinese figures (Sidel & Sidel, p.94).[3]

Massive campaigns of vaccination and public health education, stepped up medical training and widely distributed health services virtually wiped out many diseases that were rampant in the past.

Medical services were brought to rural areas which had not previously seen a doctor. The number of doctors was rapidly expanded, and doctors from urban areas were encouraged to spend some time in rural areas. In addition, tens of thousands of rural people were trained as paramedics (known as ``barefoot doctors’’) and were able to provide a basic level of health care to their neighbours.

Urban workers also benefited from the revolution. In addition to the health and literacy programs, they gained job security and other benefits, such as housing supplied by their enterprise.

What sort of revolution?

How should we analyse what happened in China in the first few years after 1949? What sort of revolution was it?

I would sum it up by saying that the CCP first carried out a democratic revolution (land reform, achievement of national independence). It then began some initial steps in the transition to socialism. It mobilised the working class to weaken the power of the capitalists. It nationalised capitalist industry and began building a planned economy, which began to bring social gains for the workers and peasants.

However, the transition to socialism was hindered both by objective conditions (the backwardness of China, the pressures of imperialism) and by the bureaucratic nature of the Communist Party.

The CCP mobilised the workers and peasants to attack the capitalists and landlords, but did not allow them to organise in a democratic manner. The workers and peasants made big social gains, but politically they were ruled over by a bureaucratic regime.

In the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia, we usually refer to this kind of state as a ``bureaucratically deformed worker’s state’’, or a ``bureaucratically ruled socialist state’’.


The Communist Party bureaucracy had begun to develop in the liberated zones during the decades of civil war and war against Japanese imperialism. Communist Party officials, PLA officers etc became a privileged layer in the liberated zones. Bureaucratic tendencies were exacerbated when the CCP came to power in the cities.

In 1956, the Chinese government adopted a system of ranks for state employees that included 30 grades, with the top grade receiving 28 times the pay of the bottom grade. (Evans, p. 86) In addition to their salaries, higher party and state officials had expense accounts that provided special housing, cars, drivers, personal servants, meals, travel and more.

The CCP used repression against people who supported the revolution but disagreed with some of the government's policies. One early example was the arrest of several hundred Trotskyists in 1952-53.

In 1956, following Khrushchev's speech denouncing Stalin's reign of terror in the Soviet Union, there was a brief period of liberalisation in China. People were encouraged to voice their criticisms. The CCP advanced the slogan: ``Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.’’

However the amount of criticism that came forward shocked the party leadership, and in June 1957 there was a crackdown. Many of those who had spoken out were arrested. This repression intimidated people from criticising mistaken policies of the Communist Party and the government. This meant that mistakes were not corrected until they had become disasters of such a magnitude that the leadership was forced to change course.

The bureaucratic nature of the CCP was also reflected in its foreign policy. In 1954 China and the Soviet Union combined to put pressure on the Vietnamese Communist Party to agree to the division of Vietnam at the Geneva peace conference. But instead of showing gratitude to the Chinese leadership, US imperialism continued its embargo on trade or any other form of contact with China.

Divisions in the leadership

Over the years there have been a series of internal struggles within the CCP leadership, which have resulted in drastic changes in policy, affecting the economy and all aspects of social life.

In the early and middle fifties, a system of centralised planning was established. Heavy industry was given priority over the production of consumer goods. The Soviet Union provided aid and technical advisers. The first five year plan (1953-1957) was successful in bringing about a rapid growth in production. Employment and workers' wages also grew.

During the same period agricultural cooperatives spread, and ``higher level cooperatives’’, which were in effect collective farms, began to be formed.

In 1958, carried away by these apparent successes, the CCP leadership went on a voluntarist binge. (Voluntarism is the idea that, if we try hard enough, we can do whatever we like, regardless of objective conditions.)

Mao, who had become increasingly out of touch with reality, initiated a set of policies that led to severe setbacks for the revolution. The Chinese media, presumably reflecting Mao's views, talked of advancing rapidly to communism, ignoring the fact that the material basis for this did not exist in China at that time (see Maitan, p. 47). Mao put forward unrealistic targets for rapid economic growth, but adopted policies that led to a period of economic decline.

The collective farms were amalgamated into communes comprising tens of thousands of people. These were too large for the peasants to identify with. Calls went out for enormous increases in industrial and agricultural production -- for what was termed a ``great leap forward’’. Workers and peasants were pushed to work at an excessive pace. Transport and supply systems collapsed. Thousands of small scale ``backyard’’ blast furnaces were established. They turned out poor quality iron, much of which was totally useless.

Peasants were set to work on big projects such as dam construction. While some of these projects were useful, others were ill conceived, an a lot of labour was waste through poor planning. This would undoubtedly have led to a growth of cynicism about the benefits of collective labour amongst many peasants.

The net result of the Great Leap Forward was a severe decline in agriculture -- causing the reappearance of famine -- and chaos in industry, aggravated by the sudden cutting off of Soviet aid in 1960.

The Communist Party leadership was forced to retreat. The July 1959 central committee meeting began a gradual process of reversing some of the voluntarist policies. The communes lost much of their importance. Smaller units -- production brigades (i.e. villages) and production teams -- became the basic units. The peasants were allowed small private plots.

In the early 1960s China began to recover from the effects of the Great Leap Forward. However, a new wave of turmoil was about to hit the country. The failure of Mao's grandiose schemes had discredited him somewhat and reduced his influence within the party leadership. There had already been differences within the leadership over the speed of the transition from individual farming to collective agriculture. The debacle of the Great Leap Forward exacerbated this conflict and sowed the seeds of an open and extremely bitter split in the leadership.

However there was no open admission of mistakes, nor open criticism of Mao, who was the driving force behind the Great Leap Forward and the communes. The cult of Mao was maintained. Even at the July 1959 central committee meeting, which began the retreat from the policies of the Great Leap Forward, most leaders seem to have been reluctant to openly criticise Mao. Defence minister Peng Dehuai wrote a letter to Mao criticising some of the voluntarist policies, but does not seem to have openly attacked Mao. However this did not prevent him from being dismissed from his position as a result of the letter (see *Memoirs of a Chinese Marshal*, Foreign Languages Press: Beijing 1984)

Two factions

The retreat from the Great Leap Forward began in 1959 and continued in the early sixties. By this time, if not before, two hostile factions had emerged among the CCP leadership.

One faction, headed by Liu Shaochi and Deng Xiaoping, were often referred to as ``pragmatists’’ or ``moderates’’. They wanted no more voluntarist adventures like the Great Leap Forward. They emphasised increasing production through material incentives; they also wanted managers and technical experts to be able to run industry with minimal interference from political cadres.

The other faction, headed by Mao Zedong, and including defence minister Lin Biao (who had replaced Peng Dehuai) and Mao's wife Jiang Qing, was still prone to voluntarism. They were also anti-intellectual and xenophobic, and tended to glorify the peasantry and denigrate city life. They sometimes used egalitarian rhetoric, but this was hypocritical given the privileged lifestyle of the bureaucracy, of which they were part.

Cultural Revolution

The Maoist faction, in decline after the debacle of the Great Leap Forward, launched the Cultural Revolution as a means of making a comeback .[4] They made use of Mao's prestige to mobilise youth to attack the wing of the bureaucracy that supported Liu and Deng, who were accused of ``following the capitalist road’’. The cult of Mao, built up over several decades and never seriously challenged by other members of the CCP leadership (except to a limited extent during the brief period of relative openness in 1956-7), was used as a weapon against Mao's opponents.

Mao and his supporters used some radical-sounding slogans to mobilise students against Mao’s opponents (e.g. ``It is right to rebel’’). High school and university students formed groups of ``rebels’’ or ``red guards’’. They criticised, publicly humiliated and often physically attacked teachers, professors and academic authorities. They also attacked party and government officials.

Mao’s faction tried to keep control of the movement, directing it against those perceived as Mao’s opponents. But some groups got out of control and began attacking Mao’s supporters as well. Some groups seized arms, and different groups of ``rebels’’ began fighting each other .

In some areas workers began demanding and going on strike for wage rises, shorter hours, better working conditions and better social security. Some began to throw out their factory managers and replace them with elected committees (Maitan, pp. 124-6).

The army was brought in to restore order. As a means of co-opting some of the ``rebel’’ leaders, ``revolutionary committees’’ were set up in schools and factories, and to replace local and provincial governments. These committees included representatives of the army, the old party cadres, and the young ``rebels’’.

As a further measure to contain the upsurge, millions of students were sent to the countryside, supposedly to learn from the peasants, but actually to get them out of the way and keep them quiet.

Although the Maoist faction appeared to have come out on top in the inner-party struggle, their grip on power was actually very shaky. They had to restore to positions of authority many of the old cadres who had been purged, in order to get society functioning normally again. The Maoists depended heavily on the army, but its loyalty was also very shaky.

Thus the Cultural Revolution ended in an uneasy compromise.

Right turn in foreign policy

At this stage, US imperialism started putting out feelers to the Chinese bureaucrats. It was looking for a deal with China at the expense of Vietnam and third world national liberation struggles generally. The first talks were held in 1969. US secretary of state Henry Kissinger visited China in 1971, preparing the ground for Nixon's visit the following year.

China's foreign policy turned sharply to the right in 1971, with the Chinese government openly supporting the reactionary side in struggles in Ceylon, Bangladesh and Sudan. It appears that most of the leaders of both the Maoist and anti-Maoist factions agreed on the right turn. Defence minister Lin Biao may have been an exception. Previously Mao's leading supporter, he is believed to have died in a plane crash in September 1971 while fleeing towards the Soviet Union after an alleged coup attempt. However it is difficult to be sure of the reasons for his split with Mao.

Deng's return

The uneasy compromise between the Maoists and the ``moderates’’ continued. In 1973 Deng Xiaoping was restored as vice-premier. In 1976 Premier Zhou Enlai died. He was generally regarded as a moderate, although unlike Deng Xiaoping or Liu Shaochi he had not been purged in the Cultural Revolution. After Zhou’s death, Deng was purged yet again. However, a mass demonstration occurred in Beijing under cover of ``mourning’’ for Zhou Enlai. It was violently repressed.

Later that year Mao died. The Maoists -- led by the so-called Gang of Four, including Mao's widow Jiang Qing -- were defeated in the ensuing power struggle.

At first Hua Guofeng became the leader. He was a sort of compromise figure. But by 1978 Deng Xiaoping had become the real leader of China, though Hua remained a figurehead until 1980. In that year Deng's supporters Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang took over as party secretary and prime minister respectively.

The death of Mao and the rise to power of Deng Xiaoping led to a degree of liberalisation. Art, literature and music had been severely repressed by Jiang Qing, who was in charge of culture. Only stereotyped ``proletarian’’ art was allowed. Deng allowed more freedom for different varieties of art, and also initially allowed a degree of freedom for critical comment about society. But he soon became worried at the extent of the criticism coming forward and arrested some of the most outspoken dissidents.

The Communist Party talked about a non-dogmatic approach to Marxism. Books by or about Bolshevik opponents of Stalin, such as Trotsky and Bukharin, were published, as were some of Ernest Mandel's writings.

However the pro-imperialist foreign policy continued and even got worse. In 1979, shortly after Deng came to power, Chinese troops invaded Vietnam. The invasion occurred shortly after Deng had visited the US, and it is reasonable to assume it was planned in collusion with the US.

The Chinese troops met strong resistance and were soon forced to withdraw, but only after causing substantial damage and loss of life. Chinese harassment of Vietnam continued for a number of years. China continued to support the forces of the former Pol Pot regime -- a genocidal regime which ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 and had been ousted by Vietnamese troops. Pol Pot’s forces, which were carrying out attacks on Cambodia from Thailand, received Chinese as well as Western aid.

Economic changes reintroduce capitalism

Deng’s main changes were in the economic area. These changes are often referred to as ``market reforms’’. In the early stages, the reforms could be seen as similar to those carried out by the Bolsheviks during the period of the New Economic Policy in the 1920s -- i.e. the use of market mechanisms to develop the economy, but with the state sector remaining predominant in large-scale industry. But by 1992 the Deng regime had adopted the perspective of restoring capitalism as the dominant mode of production.

The first step in the market reforms was to encourage peasants to sell produce from their private plots on the free market. The next step was the introduction of what was called the ``responsibility system’’. Each peasant household was allocated a certain amount of collectively owned land to farm. Each family had to produce a certain amount of wheat, rice or other crop for the collective. Whatever they produced above this amount they could keep for themselves, sell to the state, or sell on the free market.

In the cities the responsibility system meant that individual factories became responsible for their own profits and losses. If a factory could not make a profit it could be forced to close.

Foreign-owned companies were allowed to establish joint ventures with Chinese state and collective enterprises. As the reform process went further, some wholly foreign-owned enterprises were established. Restrictions on the ability of Chinese citizens to establish privately owned enterprises were progressively eased.

``Special economic zones’’ were established, where foreign capitalists were offered cheap labour and land, low taxes and easy remission of profits. But soon foreign capital was no longer confined to these zones, and began spreading throughout China.

Corruption spread as bureaucrats increasingly strove to accumulate wealth for themselves and their relatives and cronies in the context of an increase in private ownership of the means of production. The bureaucrats began to start to turn themselves into owners of capital.

The 1989 democracy movement and the Beijing massacre

But opposition to corruption -- and to the bureaucratic regime -- began to grow. In 1988-89 there was an upsurge of demands for freedom and democracy, and against corruption. In April 1989 students protested in Beijing's Tien An Men square. They remained for more than a month and were joined by many non-students. The army was ordered to remove the protesters, but the protesters talked to the soldiers and won many of them over. Workers joined the protest and raised their own demands, focusing on job security, wages, opposition to the burgeoning private enterprises, and control over their workplaces.

Eventually the regime brought in new army units that used extreme violence to crush the movement. A wave of repression followed.

In early 1992, Deng Xiaoping gave the go-ahead for a policy of all-out privatisation. He cited the example of Guangdong province, where privatisation was most advanced, as an example for the whole of China to follow. The 14th Communist Party congress later that year confirmed this perspective, adopting a policy of creating what was termed a ``socialist market economy’’. In reality, it was a policy of creating a capitalist economy.

At the 15th congress of the Communist Party in 1997 the policy was reaffirmed and deepened. Jiang Zemin (the president of China at that time) declared that the CCP’s aim was the rapid privatisation of all small and most medium-sized state-owned enterprises. The state’s share of industrial production has fallen from 100 per cent in 1978 to 31.6 per cent in 2004. The private sector has risen from zero to 62.1 per cent in the same period.

When did the state become capitalist?

While it is clear that the Chinese state is now capitalist, there was some debate in the DSP a few years ago about when the decisive change occurred.

In his report to the January 1999 DSP congress on ``The Class Nature of the Chinese State’’ (reprinted in the pamphlet The Class Nature of the People's Republic of China, Resistance Books, 2004) Doug Lorimer argued that 1992 was the point of qualitative change towards a ``new course -- towards the full-scale restoration of capitalism’’. This was when the CCP leadership adopted a policy of all-out privatisation. He argued that this was the point at which the People’s Republic of China became a capitalist state.

In this report, Lorimer polemicised against a view I had expressed during the pre-congress discussion that the decisive change occurred in December 1978, when Deng Xiaoping came to power. I held this view because Deng’s rise to power was the starting point for the ``market reforms’’ which eventually culminated in the predominance of the capitalist mode of production.

Lorimer pointed out that there is no evidence that Deng was already committed to the restoration of capitalism in December 1978, and that the market reforms implemented in the years immediately after Deng's rise to power were not in themselves evidence that the state was capitalist. Rather they could be interpreted as an attempt to carry out a reform along the lines of those carried out in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, where the role of the market had increased but state property remained predominant.

I now agree that it was premature to talk of the state becoming capitalist in 1978. In principle, a different outcome was possible. The relaxation of repression during the 1980s, however limited and contradictory, created the potential for moving in the direction of socialist democracy rather than capitalist restoration.

Unfortunately this potential was crushed. The 1989 Beijing massacre, by crushing the movement for socialist democracy, helped prepare the way for the turn to capitalist restoration a few years later.

China today

Today millions of Chinese workers are ruthlessly exploited by local and foreign capital. Extremely long hours, physical punishment, fines and non-payment of wages are among the abuses suffered by many Chinese workers. (This is documented in the book China's Workers Under Assault: the Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy, by Anita Chan)

By 2005 China had become the world’s third-biggest recipient of foreign investment. In that year, the flow of foreign direct investment into China was US$72 billion, which was exceeded only by Britain and the United States, according to OECD figures.

The transnational corporations (and the South Korean, Taiwanese and Hong Kong contractors who do much of their dirty work) are attracted by the huge reserve army of labour created by the displacement of peasants from the land, and of workers from state-owned factories that have cut their workforce or closed down altogether. They are also attracted by the total absence of unions in many enterprises, and the tameness of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions where it exists.[5]

It is clear that China is now a capitalist country. Yet the imperialists are not totally satisfied. State-owned enterprises remain dominant in certain strategic industrial sectors and in the banking sector. The imperialists want more rapid and complete privatisation, and unfettered access to all areas of the economy. This contributes to the tension which exists between China and the United States. It helps to explain the rhetoric from Western politicians and media about the need for ``democracy’’ in China.

It appears that the Chinese regime wishes to maintain a certain degree of independence from imperialism. Although in the past it has collaborated with imperialism to attack Third World revolutions, today it has good relations with Cuba and Venezuela.

Nevertheless, the state remains capitalist. It represses the resistance of the workers to capitalist exploitation.

However, workers are fighting back against the attacks on their job security, living standards and working conditions. There have been thousands of strikes and protests by Chinese workers, as well as numerous protests by peasants against land seizures by local governments and property developers, and protests by environmentalists against pollution and other forms of environmental destruction.

These struggles indicate the potential for a new socialist revolution.

[Chris Slee is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency within the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]


1. ``Many factories reported increases in Party membership from some three per cent to between 10 and 30 per cent, of whom large numbers were skilled workers and technicians... By mid-1950, therefore, the composition of the Party ... was very different from two years previously. In the following year when 11.4 per cent of the total industrial workforce in north-east China was enrolled, it was announced that within five years the Party planned to recruit one-third of all the industrial workers’’ (Brugger, p. 61).

2. ``In theory, the state was supposed to own enterprises jointly with the former owners, who were to draw 5 per cent of the value of their business for twenty years. Since there was officially no inflation, this was supposed to represent full payment of the total value. The former owners were to stay on as managers and be paid a relatively high wage, but there would be a Party boss over them" (Jung Chang, p. 270-1; see also Brugger, p. 120).

3. The World Bank gives a slightly lower estimate of 64 years in 1979, but this is still markedly better than India’s figure of 52 for the same year (Sidel and Sidel, p. 93). It is likely that the 1981 Chinese figures are more accurate than the 1979 World Bank estimates, since Chinese statistics began to improve after the death of Mao.

4. Doug Lorimer (The Class Nature of the People’s Republic of China, Resistance Books 2004, p.15) argues that there were two qualitatively different stages in the Cultural Revolution -- the first initiated by Mao’s opponents and involving high school students, the second initiated by Mao and involving university students. I am not convinced by this argument. I view the two stages as part of a single process initiated by Mao.

The cult of Mao meant that Mao’s opponents in the bureaucracy did not usually oppose him openly. Rather they pretended to agree, but tried to hinder the implementation of Mao's policies in practice, or selectively implemented those aspects least harmful to themselves. This happened in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, but that does not alter the fact that Mao was the driving force behind the Cultural Revolution as a whole.

5. In 2006, the ACFTU launched a drive to unionise foreign companies, and succeeded with many, including companies such as Wal-Mart. (See Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2006: China to press more firms to unionize, by Mei Fong.) Critics charge that the ACFTU is more concerned with controlling workers than organising them to fight for their rights. It sometimes challenges blatant violations of China's labour laws by employers through legal channels, but does not encourage strikes.


Bill Brugger, China: Liberation and Transformation 1942-1962, Croom Helm: London, 1981.

Anita Chan, China's Workers Under Assault: the Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy, East Gate: New York, 2001.

Jung Chang, Wild Swans, Flamingo: London, 1992.

Les Evans, China After Mao, Monad Press: New York, 1978.

Joshua Horn, Away with all pests, Monthly Review Press: New York, 1969.

Livio Maitan, Party Army and Masses in China, NLB: London, 1976.

Ruth and Victor Sidel, ``The Health of China, Zed: London, 1982.

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