The Chinese Revolution is arguably the most successful social project in the history of humankind. Liberated from the shackles of colonialism and feudalism, China has emerged as a global political and economic force through its world-historic process of socialist development. The earth-shattering Chinese Revolution and its ideology played a crucial role in sparking revolutionary socialist and anti-colonial movements worldwide, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to the New Communist Movement (NCM) in the United States. Given the historical importance of the Chinese Revolution to the communist movement, I would argue that an appraisal of Mao Zedong Thought and the legacy of Chinese socialism is more than mere esoterica.
In this post, I will first discuss the broad history of the Chinese Revolution, and in particular the legacy of the Great Leap Forward (GLF) and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). This is not meant to be a comprehensive or even rudimentary account of Chinese history, but rather a brief discussion of the key problems of socialist construction. I will then discuss the theoretical merits of Maoism as practiced in China. I will conclude with a brief appraisal of PRC as it exists today.
Key tasks of the Chinese Revolution
The Communist Party of China (CPC), 28 years after its 1921 founding, was able to decisively drive out the Kuomintang and declare the People’s Republic of China in 1949, following decades of grueling warfare with not only the Kuomintang but also the Japanese and U.S. imperialists. While the CPC had already achieved a monumental accomplishment in driving out the imperialists and their compradors, they had an equally massive task ahead of them: the eradication of the vestiges of the old (capitalist) society and the construction of a new (socialist) one.
The People’s Republic inherited incredibly dire conditions, with China being one of the poorest, most oppressed countries in the world. Much like the Soviet Union in early 1920s, a key problem facing the Chinese Revolution was the level of development of the productive forces. While the productive forces do not always play a decisive role in the development of a given society, they provide an objective constraint on the productivity of a given economic mode of production. Especially for the conditions in China, socialism could not be built without a strong foundation in both heavy and light industry, as well as agriculture. While life under Communist rule showed immediate improvements in quality of life, the vast majority of the country continued to toil in dire poverty.
From 1949 to 1956, the Party took on the tasks of expropriating the lion’s share of the means of production into State ownership, reforming agriculture, suppressing counter-revolution, and generally constructing the new State apparatus. This marked the end of the New Democratic era. For the first several years of socialist construction, the CPC focused on modernizing industry and securing the proletarian State leadership. “Between 1953 and 1956, the average annual increases in the total value of industrial and agricultural output were 19.6 and 4.8 per cent respectively.” (Resolution) However, over the years, the Party oscillated between focus on developing industry versus agriculture, instead of building them in tandem in a mutually reinforcing economic model. While previously focusing mostly on developing industry and then briefly on agriculture, the period of the Great Leap Forward saw an almost exclusive focus on the production of steel along with agricultural collectivization.
The Great Leap Forward (1958-1962)
In May 1958, at the Second Session of the Eighth Party Congress of the CPC, it was proclaimed that the fundamental contradiction in Chinese society remained between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and their respective ideologies. This declaration was a complete reversal of a September 1956 analysis that proclaimed that the primary contradiction was that between the advanced socialist system and the backward productive forces. This reversal, in the wake of the recent Anti-Rightist Movement, paved the way for the ambitious Great Leap Forward (Zong).
The five year targets set for 1962 were to be accomplished within one year. In place of doubling industrial production, it was to be multiplied six and a half times. In place of the increase of agricultural output by 35 per cent, it was to be multiplied two and a half times. Steel output of 51 million tons in 1957 was to be doubled to 110 million tons in 1958. China was to surpass Britain as an industrial power within fifteen years, and in heavy industry within ten years, reaching a steel output of 40 million tons by 1972 and soon 100 million tons. The People’s Communes were to represent a shortcut to communism. Three years of toil would lead to ten thousand years of happiness. Poetry was displacing Marxism as a guide to economics. (Dutt)
The results of such an ambitious plan were on the whole characterized by artificial progress through the increase of production in an unsustainable way:
Though the quantity of production was rising, the quality was dropping, meaning that while gross national output increased, the actual value of commodities was going down. Heavy machinery was produced without the spare parts or accessories to put it into operation. Both energy and raw materials were in shortage, and there was fierce competition among state enterprises to get a share of the scant supplies. An excessive issue of money caused inflation, and shortages of commodities were making life increasingly difficult for the rural and urban populations alike. (Zong)
The Great Leap Forward exhibited an overall subjectivist approach: hard work and the Correct Line can overcome all obstacles, no matter the objective conditions. Unfortunately, the ambitious ‘leap’ was curtailed by the constraints of objective forces. The plan ended up outstripping the level of the productive forces, and by the second quarter of 1960 actually slowing down heavy industry production instead of speeding it up. (Kobash) While GDP steadily increased in the years 1953-59, it actually decreased during 1960-62, the largest decrease being 26.6% in 1961. (National Bureau of Statistics)
Additionally, material incentives such as the bonus system and piece-rate wages were nearly abolished during this period in favor of egalitarianism. While the theoretical problems with this approach are addressed in the second section of my argument, the results of this policy were largely negative, in many cases lowering the wages of workers. Material incentives play an important role in raising the productivity in underdeveloped socialism. Eroding them in order to “eliminate the contradictions” between administrators and manual laborers is voluntaristic and to the detriment of all workers. Rather than raising up the poorest workers, the ‘egalitarian’ policy brought everyone down.
The Party replaced material incentives with strictly moral ones, a repudiation of previous emphasis on distribution according to work, which in the GLF they attacked as ‘bourgeois’. By banning the reward system, the Party attempted to launch Chinese society into full communism. Unfortunately, they paid the price for this error due to the objective limitations imposed by the level of productive forces. Of course, the Great Leap Forward was not the anti-communist myth of a forced famine, but it was hardly an ascent to the heavens of high communism.
The ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-1972)
Following the ‘leap’ experiment were a few years of stability, which saw the increased influence of Party ‘centrists’ Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who called for more realistic production targets and material incentives. But despite that Mao self-criticized for ‘Left’ errors of the Great Leap Forward, the ‘Left’ continued to hold influence in the Party. The Party continued to assert the primacy of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; class struggle became absolutized. Every instance of disagreement within the Party was seen as a ‘two-line struggle’ between the two antagonistic classes of capitalist society. In early 1965, a set of the Party shined the light on the ‘capitalist roaders’, who Mao and others believed would restore capitalism if they were not dealt with. The ‘cultural revolution’ was launched in 1966, sparked by criticisms the Party made of plays and other art that represented bourgeois culture.
The central thesis of the ‘cultural revolution’ was that representatives of the bourgeoisie had infiltrated all facets of the State apparatus in order to steer Chinese society back towards capitalism. On these grounds, mass purges and an ideological campaign against ‘rightism’ were necessary in order to save the revolution and the workers’ State. The main targets of this campaign were then-President Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who were seen as key figures of ‘revisionism’, or the ‘bourgeois headquarters’. Liu and Deng were both proponents of material incentive programs and harsh critics of the ‘Left’ deviations in the Party. During the ‘cultural revolution’, material incentives were not just rejected, they were deemed ‘counter-revolutionary’.
Meanwhile, Lin Biao and Jiang Qing each opportunistically formed counter-revolutionary cliques within the Party amid the turmoil stoked by the ‘cultural revolution’. Lin Biao, a leader within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), advocated for the militarization of all facets of Chinese society, attempting to replace the Party with the military and to name himself the successor to the Chairman. Jiang Qing, along with Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen formed the ‘Gang of Four’ clique, set on eliminating what they saw as the bourgeoisie within the Party, purging dissenters and destroying Party structures. Lin Biao’s plot was finally thwarted by Mao and Zhou Enlai in 1971. Following the outsting of Biao, the ‘Gang of Four’ launched a campaign against Zhou Enlai. After Zhou’s death, they even had his memorials removed from Tienanmen Square, which was met with mass protests. The ‘Gang of Four’ was eventually arrested in 1976 by Hua Guofeng.
Mao encouraged undisciplined methods of struggle, which provided cover for opportunism:
Mao Zedong issued is appeal to “Bombard the headquarters!” It called for disbanding central and local party bodies which were called bourgeois headquarters…
…The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China practically ceased to exist as the highest guiding body. It was replaced by the Group for the Cultural Revolution. The second stage of the “cultural revolution” began–that of mass onslaught against party and government bodies, of the closure of many newspapers and journals and the disbanding of public organizations.
Chaos reigned in the country. Educational establishments were closed. Eight gatherings were held in Beijing, attended by a total of nearly 13 million hungweipings. Addressing these gatherings, Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing and other members of the Group for the Cultural Revolution called to “smash the propaganda department of the Central Committee” and the “old Ministry of Culture” and “depose” many leaders of the party and the government. Mass trials of important figures were held at stadiums in Beijing and in other Chinese cities.
Two-thirds of the Central Committee elected by the 8th Congress were removed from practical activity and more than half of the members and alternate members of the Political Bureau were labelled Mao Zedong’s enemies. Eight of China’s nine marshals, nearly all ministers and heads of central departments of the State Council fell into disfavour. Provincial organizations were also subjected to systematic onslaught.
The country had a rough time during the “rebellion” organized by Mao and his group. Factories stopped working and supplies were erratic. Mass actions of workers against the “cultural revolution” and the hungweipings began in Shanghai and other cities. (Glebov)
At the dawn of the ‘cultural revolution’, the Party had recently emerged from decades of intense warfare, so it is no surprise that a section of it had become accustom to dealing with class struggle in such a militaristic manner. Young people, especially students, were mobilized by proponents of the ‘cultural revolution’ to ‘rebel’ against the ‘capitalist roaders’ in leadership positions. In many Party committees, schools, factories, and offices, normal functioning ceased as Party organs were divided into ‘rebels’ and ‘loyalists’. In other words, the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ was a direct attack on the Party organs, undermining the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The nation was in chaos. By early 1967, nearly all Party and government organizations had been deprived of their power or drastically reorganized. Public security agencies, the protectorates and the courts ceased to operate, while violence and civil strife ravaged the country. Production in factories, mines and other enterprises crawled to a halt, and communication and transportation systems were seriously interrupted. (Zang)
Yet again, material incentives were abolished, and a ‘rationally low wage system’ was implemented. In May 1967, Beijing wall papers reported that ‘to each according to his work’ was ‘bourgeois’ while a free-rationing system was ‘in the Marxist style’. Families in want of food were instead given copies of the Little Red Book, as the Party plugged the slogan of ‘striving for high targets in production, while maintaining a low level of consumption.’ (Kobash)
At the enterprises and state institutions much was being done in the way of ‘socialist training’ and militarisation of collective life, with the main stress on universal egalitarianism at a continually primitive level of production and consumption… The workers and employees had their wages reduced through the abolition of various extras and bonuses for the overfulfilment of production targets. (Kobash)
This disastrous policy resulted in decreased consumption, political turmoil, and stagnant development of the productive forces. Small-scale agricultural communes were constrained by the objective limits of the level of technology. This was paired with the policy of ‘sending intellectuals to the countryside’, instead of raising the level of the peasantry. Abolishing the division of labor in a low stage socialist society with widespread poverty, natural disaster, and imperialist encirclement is entirely premature, regardless how good the ‘line’ of the Party is. No matter advanced the productive relations of Chinese society, its output would be limited without corresponding advances in technique.
While the ‘cultural revolution’ was not a total economic disaster as anti-communists would claim, the economy did stagnate during its most tumultuous years:
For the country as a whole, the value of total production declined by 9.6 percent in 1967, with industry harder hit than agriculture. The decline continued steadily in 1968, when the industrial output of the southern provinces of Henan, Hubei, and Hunan combined declined by 25 billion yuan. In southwest China, output was down by more than 41 percent; in Yunnan, the output value of state-owned industries dropped by almost two-thirds. (Bai)
1967-69 saw a relative stagnation in Gross National Product, while the following years of relative political stability were reflected by renewed economic growth:
China’s GNP in 1966, the first year of the Cultural Revolution, was $144.6 billion. The respective figures for 1967, 1968, and 1969 (the years of the Cultural Revolution) were $140.5 billion, $140.9 billion and $156.7, billion… Productivity figures in 1970, 1971, and 1972 showed a steady increase, $178.9 billion, $190.5 billion and $197.4 billion, respectively. (Lai)
GDP decreased in 1967 and 1968 by 8.1% and 6.6% respectively, followed by increases of 13.7% in 1969 and 16.1% in 1970, with stagnation again in 1974-1976 (National Bureau of Statistics). Gross value of industrial output followed a similar pattern, with decreases of 14.7% in 1967 and 6% in 1968, coordinating with the introduction of the Red Guards in factories and mines (Field):
Hua Guofeng stated:
between 1974 and 1976 the nation lost about 10 billion yuan in the total value of industrial output, million tons of steel and 40 billion yuan in state revenue and the whole economy was on the brink of collapse. (as quoted in Fields)
While on the whole, China’s economic basis for socialism continued to grow during the years of the ‘cultural revolution’, most of the growth occurred during the period of relative political stability of the early 1970s, between periods of economic stagnation that went along with political turmoil and eroding Party structures.
During this period, the Party advanced its thesis of ‘social-imperialism’, that capitalism had been restored in the Soviet Union, which had evolved into an imperialist power. This was essentially a response towards the Moscow’s big-power chauvinism towards Beijing and capitulation to Washington. While legitimate criticisms of Khrushchev’s revisionism were made (both for his foreign policy and economic decentralization), they quickly devolved into sectarianism and dogmatism. The CPC’s ‘social-imperialism’ thesis was never elaborated theoretically, instead characterized by phrase-mongering.
Beginning with the withdrawal of Soviet technicians from China, the economic lives of the two countries continued to diverge, forcing China to trade with imperialist powers such as the U.S. and Japan instead of the socialist bloc. The break from the Soviet Union hurt China economically, as its economy had developed within the context of an international, socialist division of labor; the Maoists conflated economic independence with economic isolation.
This foreign policy laid the basis for the rightward shift of the late 1970s, which was worse than any Soviet foreign policy blunders. Bejing made amends with Washington against Moscow, supporting counter-revolutionary forces in several countries, including Chile, Iran, Angola, and Egypt. The Sino-Soviet Split proved to be one of the most disastrous events in the history of world socialism; however, blame should not be placed solely on either country. But in terms of foreign policy, China’s ‘cultural revolution’ was based much more on nationalism and sectarianism than proletarian internationalism.
Moving past the GPCR
The militaristic, anarchistic ‘cultural revolution’ was perhaps the darkest period in post-liberation China. It was not wholly negative, as strides were made in terms of women’s liberation and socialization of reproductive labor. However, on balance, the turmoil of the ‘cultural revolution’, along with the GLF, were departures from the steady progress of Chinese socialism and the plethora of positive contributions of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and many others. While I believe the contributions of Mao Zedong and many other participants in the ‘cultural revolution’ were positive on balance, the GPCR had more in common with the Yezhovschina than Stalin’s first Five Year Plan.
While the ‘cultural revolution’ was a disaster on balance, the period of 1966-1976 was not an unequivocal failure. It is important to note that the majority of the Party and the working masses persisted in their tasks in spite of the ‘cultural revolution’, fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain and expand the achievements of Chinese socialism, against the ‘Left’ errors of a small group of Chinese society:
It was through the joint struggles waged by the entire Party and the masses of workers, peasants, PLA officers and men, intellectuals, educated youth and cadres that the havoc wrought by the “cultural revolution” was somewhat mitigated. Some progress was made in our economy despite tremendous losses. Grain output increased relatively steadily. Significant achievements were scored in industry, communications and capital construction and in science and technology. New railways were built and the Changjiang River Bridge at Nanjing was completed: a number of large enterprises using advanced technology went into operation; hydrogen bomb tests were successfully undertaken and man-made satellites successfully launched and retrieved; and new hybrid strains of long-grained rice were developed and popularized. Despite the domestic turmoil, the People’s Liberation Army bravely defended the security of the motherland. And new prospects were opened up in the sphere of foreign affairs. Needless to say, none of these successes can be attributed in any way to the “cultural revolution”, without which we would have scored far greater achievements for our cause…
…it remains difficult to eliminate the evil ideological and political influence of centuries of feudal autocracy. And for various historical reasons, we failed to institutionalize and legalize inner-Party democracy and democracy in the political and social life of the country, or we drew up the relevant laws but they lacked due authority. This meant that conditions were present for the over-concentration of Party power in individuals and for the development of arbitrary individual rule and the personality cult in the Party. (Resolution)
It is also important to note that these errors are in the context of an emerging socialist society, a world-historic achievement, and that the Chinese Communists did not have the same historical lessons to learn from that we do today. Again, I am highlighting what I see as key periods of controversy in Chinese history. The times before the GLF and between it and the ‘cultural revolution’ were much more steadily progressive in socialist construction. Mao led the liberation of the country from the yoke of feudalism and colonialism, as well as played a key role in constructing an early socialist society. Life expectancy nearly doubled during the overall Mao era. Thankfully, the ‘Gang of Four’ were purged from the Party and the ‘cultural revolution’ was brought to an end by 1976, although unfortunately Liu Shaoqi died in 1969 an outcast from the Party. Following would be another great period of stability under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, focused on developing the productive forces with much more reasonable production targets and methods.
Maoism and its social basis
In this section of the article, I will review what I see as key theoretical problems of Maoism, as well as evaluate its class character. I conclude that for the most part, the universalized ‘advances’ of Maoism are departures from Marxism-Leninism, and that the class basis of such deviations lies in the petit bourgeoisie and other middle strata. In semi-feudal China, this meant the peasantry, especially poor and middle peasants.
Given the tendency of Maoism to frown on material incentives in an underdeveloped socialist society, how does its practice square with the Marxist tradition’s conception of ‘bourgeois right’ in the lowest stages of communism (socialism)?
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it…
Hence, equal right here is still in principle — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case. (Marx)
It is clear that Marx himself saw the necessity of material incentives in the lowest stages of communism, i.e. the payment of workers according to amount of labor. When could ‘bourgeois right’ be abolished, according to Marx?
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly [emphasis mine] — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! (Marx)
The strategy of Maoism, rather than to build the foundations that Marx lays out here, is to neglect the development of the productive forces in favor of voluntaristically ‘abolishing’ the division of labor by ‘sending intellectuals to the countryside’, i.e. bringing skilled workers down instead of raising unskilled workers up. While the vast majority are still living in utter poverty, and scarcity remains a widespread problem, building socialism requires focus on development. To attempt to jump straight into communist society without the necessary level of production is an exercise in anarchism, not Marxism. The barracks communism of Maoist ideology is a petit-bourgeois caricature of socialism rather than a blueprint for achieving a higher communist society.
The theoretical justification for the ‘cultural revolution’ was a vulgarization of class struggle. All disagreements were conceptualized as between a bourgeois and a proletarian line, to the point of idealizing class. Class no longer referred to one’s relationship to the means of production, but rather one’s perceived ideas and political worldview. During the ‘cultural revolution’, Maoists found the ‘new bourgeoisie’ in the intelligentsia, including specialists, technicians, engineers, managers, and academics. The division of labor in lower socialism inevitably persists for some time, but given the conditions of China in the 1960s, the primary tasks to overcome these inequalities should have been to focus on eradicating poverty and raising the level of production. Instead, the solution was to ‘send the intellectuals to the countryside’.
The thesis of the ‘new bourgeoisie’ is not unlike left-communist theses of ‘state capitalism’ or ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ in the Soviet Union, i.e. that Capital can possess any productive forms:
Capitalist production relations, and in particular the existence of a capitalist class or bourgeoisie, are not like a disembodied spirit that can inhabit one or another juridical form – i.e., state vs. private property – at will. As an important application of the dialectic of the production relations as a complex structure, one can neither merge the property form and the ‘social process of appropriation’ and mistake the form for the real relation itself; nor separate them, and speak of the underlying class relation as one of real ‘appropriation’ etc., without explaining the source and reproduction of the power appropriate. (Laibman)
The concepts of ‘two-line struggle’ and the ‘new bourgeoisie’ are vulgarizations of Marxism, in that they absolutize capitalist class structures no matter the form of a given society. Despite the fact that the Chinese bourgeoisie had for the most part been expropriated, simple disagreement with the ‘Left’ tendency in the Party was seen as full capitulation as a bourgeois agent. Contradictions between mental and manual laborers and between city and countryside, which inevitably persist in the lowest stages of socialism, were viewed on the level of antagonistic class contradictions, which provided justification for the adventurist policies of the ‘cultural revolution’.
On Contradiction is without a doubt one of Mao’s most widely read works. While I agree with most of its content, there are some key points at which it at the very least is open to an idealist interpretation. Specifically the following passage:
True, the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. (Mao)
In this conception of dialectical materialism, there are ‘certain conditions’ under which, for example, theory takes primacy over practice. While certainly there are times when theory, the Superstructure, etc. require special focus or emphasis, this does not necessarily constitute a “flipping” of the aspects of a given contradiction. In particular, this conception of dialectics was used to justify the excesses of the ‘cultural revolution’.
It was decided, despite the continued existence of dire poverty and backwards productive forces, that the Superstructure became the primary site of class struggle. Thus, Ideas became ‘decisive’ during the GPCR. This suggests that once in a blue moon, ideas become dominant over reality, subjective conditions over objective. This goes hand-in-hand with the Maoist conception of classes existing at the level of ideas or ‘political line’ rather than at the site of production.
A contradiction, in Marxist dialectics, is a unity of opposites. While a contradiction does contain its two opposing aspects, it is ultimately an integral whole, and each aspect bleeds into the other. The Maoist conception of contradiction entails two wholly discrete aspects that periodically ‘swap’ primacy. This is mechanical materialism because it conceptualizes phenomena as discrete objects that act upon each other rather than complex systems and processes.
The social basis of Maoism
Like all political ideologies, Maoism has a class character. I assert that the class character of Maoism’s deviations from Marxism-Leninism are essentially petit-bourgeois, which in China meant the vast peasantry.
Maoist policy during the GPCR and GLF oriented primarily towards poor and middle peasants, who had no interest in material incentive programs, but rather simply wanted to secure a bare minimum of food. It also to an extent appealed to unskilled workers, given that they would not benefit as much from material incentives and wage distributions as technical and administrative workers. It is not surprising that China’s large peasant population was able to exert influence on Party policy in comparison to the tiny proletariat. The ideology of Maoism allowed for the petit-bourgeois influence on the Party to increase by justifying and encouraging a petit-bourgeois worldview.
Like anarchism and Trotskyism, Maoism’s ‘Left’ in form, right in essence errors are characteristic of petit-bourgeois radicalism and vacillation on proletarian organization and discipline. The ‘cultural revolution’ mobilized primarily millions of students, who engaged in all sorts of ultra-left and petit-bourgeois radicalist acts in the Red Guard formations. Maoism in China is roughly analogous to anarchism in pre-revolutionary Russia: an ideology based on petit-bourgeois (peasant) and student class interests.
China & Maoism today
The post-Mao legacy of Maoism is complicated and ultimately beyond the scope of this essay. Maoist practice has been taken up by various militant groups across the world, from the Sendero Luminoso of Peru, to the Communist Party of the Philippines, to insurgent groups in India and Nepal. In the West, the New Communist Movement was in large part informed by the Chinese Revolution and Maoism. In 1984, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) was formed as one of the major organizational forms of Maoism, specifically what they call Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Maoist movements have had various levels of success; none have taken State power (except Nepal’s New-Democratic revolution), but many have achieved limited successes in class struggle, in particular the movements in the Philippines and India.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics
As for China in particular, the country has taken a path much different from the tumultuous Great Leap Forward and ‘cultural revolution’. The Party ‘centrists’, led by Deng Xiaoping, gained influence and implemented a series of reforms. In particular, they implemented a policy of ‘opening up’ to foreign capital, by increasing trade with capitalist countries and allowing for subordinate capitalism to develop in China under tight State control. This capitalism (operating in the Special Economic Zones) is a sort of ‘contained fire’ in that the commanding heights of the economy remain in the hands of the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The CPC under Deng began to focus on sustainable development of the ‘Four Modernizations’: agriculture, industry, national defense, and science/technology.
My evaluation is that China has remained on the socialist path. I won’t use this article to prove such a claim, but I encourage those who are skeptical to peruse this study guide that some comrades have put together. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with such evaluation, the world-historic achievements of the Chinese Revolution since 1978 are undeniable. 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty since the ‘opening up’ policy. China now has the second highest GDP in the world.
As far as Party line, the CPC has officially self-criticized for the mistakes of the GLF and the GPCR, while still upholding comrade Mao Zedong as a positive contributor to Marxism-Leninism in its application to China. The CPC has largely moved away from the excesses of Maoism, which has provided a basis for the opposite errors, i.e. rightism. Deng Xiaoping anticipated such a development, and launched widespread campaigns against ‘bourgeois liberalization’ during his time in office. Thankfully, the PRC was able to avoid the fate of the late USSR, although it did have to suppress a counter-revolution by a largely student-led movement in what is now called the ‘Tienanmen Square massacre’, although much of the violence supposedly carried out by the PLA has been exaggerated by the capitalist media.
In “Has China Turned to Capitalism?—Reflections on the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism”, Domenico Losurdo upholds the ‘Deng reforms’ as a positive development, comparing them to the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the USSR. Losurdo’s basic thesis:
After the tragedy of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, it took Deng Xiaoping to emphasise that socialism implies the development of the productive forces. Chinese market socialism has achieved extraordinary success.
Losurdo distinguishes between ‘economic’ and ‘political’ expropriation:
It is, therefore, a matter of distinguishing between the economic expropriation and the political expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Only the latter should be carried out to the end, while the former, if not contained within clear limits, risks undermining the development of the productive forces. Unlike “political capital,” the bourgeoisie’s economic capital should not be subject to total expropriation, at least as long as it serves the development of the national economy and thus, indirectly, the cause of socialism.
Given the existence of capitalist productive relations in China there is a dangerous basis for corruption and rightism in the Party. Luckily, comrade Xi Jinping, current General Secretary of the CPC and President of the PRC, has launched massive anti-corruption campaigns to curb the influence of Chinese billionaires (who are regularly jailed or “disappeared”) and other corrupt officials. While the CPC is faced with many crucial problems of socialist development, the 80-million-member Party stands strong under the leadership of comrade Xi. Xi Jinping and the CPC have plans to eradicate poverty by 2030 and develop the basic productive forces for socialism by 2049, a century after liberation. While the future is unknown, the success of the past 40 years (and generally since 1949) provides many reasons for optimism. Losurdo writes:
While initiating his policies of reform and openness, Deng was aware of their inherent risks. In October 1978, he cautioned, “We shall not allow a new bourgeoisie to take shape.” This goal is not contradicted by tolerance granted to individual capitalists. Of course, they must be given much consideration. However, one point is constant: “the struggle against these individuals is different from the struggle of one class against another, which occurred in the past (these individuals cannot form a cohesive and overt class)” (Deng 1992–95, vol. 2, 144, 178). Although there are residues of the old class struggle, on the whole, with the strengthening of the revolution and the communist party’s power, a new situation was created. “Is it possible that a new bourgeoisie will emerge? A handful of bourgeois elements may appear, but they will not form a class,” especially as there is a “state apparatus” that is “powerful” and able to control them (Deng 1992–95, vol. 3, 142–43). Besides the power of the state, ideology plays an important role: many of the new rich, although not communists, feel patriotic and share the horror at the “century of humiliation” that began with the Opium Wars and ended with the victory of the revolution, so these new rich also share the dream of “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
And yet, precisely as a result of the success of policy reforms and the extraordinary economic growth of China, the number of millionaires and billionaires is growing dramatically; will the wealth accumulated by the new capitalists have an influence on politics? It is in light of this concern that you may fully comprehend the on-going campaign against corruption.
The enormously successful Chinese Revolution is not without its defects. In order to properly learn from the Chinese experience, it is necessary to delve into the history to glean important lessons about class struggle and socialist development. While the Chinese Communists have achieved wild success in their 96 years, I do believe that the hiccups of the revolutionary process are too often idealized as its defining components by many Western leftists. Both partisans and detractors place great importance on both the Great Leap Forward and the ‘cultural revolution’, which in my evaluation mark difficult and tumultuous chapters in an otherwise positive experience of the Chinese revolution.
Economic Legacies of the Cultural Revolution, Liang Bai
Whither China?, R. Palme Dutt
“The Performance of Industry during the Cultural Revolution: Second Thoughts”, Robert Michael Field, The China Quarterly
Maoism: Words & Deeds, Vladimir Glebov
The Economic ‘Theories’ of Maoism, E. Korbash
“The ‘State Capitalist’ and “Bureaucratic Exploitative’ Interpretations of the Soviet Social Formation: A Critique”, David Laibman, The Soviet Union: Socialist or Social-Imperialist?
Historic Lessons of China’s Cultural Revolution, Cynthia Lai
“Has China Turned to Capitalism?—Reflections on the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism”, Domenico Losurdo, International Critical Thought
On Contradiction, Mao Zedong
Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx