Tony Cliff

Mao Tse-Tung and Stalinism

(April 1957)

From Socialist Review, April 1957.
Reprinted in A Socialist Review, London 1965, pp. 228–35.
Reprinted with the title Mao Tse-Tung and Stalin in Tony Cliff, Neither Washington nor Moscow, London 1982, pp. 135–42.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Thanks to Ted Crawford.
Proofread by Marcin Bielecki (September 2012).

During recent events in Hungary the Chinese press came out firmly in support of Moscow’s oppressive policy. Thus, for instance, the editorial for November 5th in Peking’s People’s Daily, entitled Celebrate the Great Victory of the Hungarian People, stated: “The joyful news has arrived that the Hungarian people ... with the support of the Soviet armed forces have overthrown the reactionary Nagy Government which betrayed the Hungarian people and the Hungarian nation.” Every victory of Russian arms in Hungary was applauded in ever more glowing terms.

On December 29th, 1956, the People’s Daily published a major pronouncement entitled More on the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This approved the general course of Moscow’s policy, in the main justified Stalin’s career, supported Russia’s policy in Hungary and reproved Tito. It emphasized the “leading role of the Soviet Union in the Socialist camp.” Chou En-lai again and again harped on the same theme throughout his tour of Moscow, Warsaw and Budapest in January this year. It was indicative that Chou applauded the loudest after Khrushchev had said “All of us Communists ... consider it a matter of pride for us to be as true to Marxism-Leninism as was Stalin himself” (Manchester Guardian, January 18, 1957).

Not unexpected

To many a sincere Communist, suffering under the profound illusion that Mao and his regime are not Stalinist, this must have come as a great shock. However, to anyone using the Marxist method of analysis, which looks at the economic foundation of politics, Mao’s extreme Stalinism is not unexpected.

To understand Mao’s policies one must bear in mind the main historical task facing the Chinese bureaucracy, the task of industrializing the country. The Chinese bourgeoisie proved incapable of accomplishing this. The Chinese working class, after the defeat of the 1925–27 revolution, the world slump and the Japanese invasion, being pulverised and leaderless, has not played an active, decisive role for the last three decades. The task of industrializing an extremely backward country when it cannot rely on the aid of industrially advanced socialist centres is extremely difficult, it demands that the people tighten their belts in order to make quick capital accumulation possible. A considerable tightening of the belt cannot be done democratically for any length of time. Hence the more backward the country and the greater the drive towards quick industrialisation, the more hank and totalitarian the regime has to be. The rulers of such a regime, while being the guardians of capital accumulation, will not, of course, forget themselves: they accordingly derive increasing privileges from their position of absolute control over the economy, society and State.

China’s poverty

China is extremely backward economically. Thus, for instance, steel consumption per head of population in 1950 was 2 lbs., as against 11 in India, 111 in Japan, 278 in Russia, 556 in Britain, and 1,130 in the United States. (W.S. Woytinsky and E.S. Woytinsky, World Population and Production, New York 1953, p. 1124.) The output of electricity in 1950 was 3,500 million kwh. in China, as against 5,063 million in India and Pakistan (whose population is two-thirds of China’s), 38,840 million in Japan and 91,200 million in Russia (ibid., p. 967.) The number of spindles in China in 1951 was 4 million as against 10.8 million in India (ibid., p. 1067). Chinese transport is also extremely backward. It was estimated that prior to the second world war there was 1 km. of railways per 25,300 people in China, as against 1 per 6,878 in India (UN, Economic Survey of Asia and the Far East, 1947, Shanghai 1948, p. 113). In motor transport China was even more backward relatively to India.

As a result of economic backwardness, China’s national income is extremely low. Colin Clark estimates that the net income produced per head of population in China (1933–5) was 138 International Units (he defines the Unit as “the amount of goods and services which one dollar would produce in USA over the average of the period 1925–34): in India (1944–45), 246; USSR (1937), 379; Hungary (1938–39), 408; Poland (1938), 508; Japan (1940), 600; Britain (1947), 1,383; USA (1947), 2,566 (C. Clark, Conditions of Economic Progress, First Edition, London 1940, and Second Edition, London 1951).

The plans

The rate of industrial growth aimed at by Mao in his first Five Year Plan is quite ambitious, although it falls short of Russia’s aims in her first Five-Year Plan (see Table 1).

So meagre are China’s initial resources that even after her first Five-Year Plan she will be far behind Russia’s level of production not only after its first Five-Year Plan, but even before it was started. This can be seen clearly from table 2. China will need a number of Five-Year Plans to reach the level Russia reached even prior to her Plan era.

China’s First Five-Year Plan shows an even greater emphasis on heavy industry than Russia’s First Five-Year Plan. According to the plan, of all gross capital investment in industry, 88.8 per cent will be devoted to means of production industries, and only 11.2 per cent to light industries (Li Fu-chun, Report an the First Five-Year Plan, Peking 1955, p. 34). In Russia the corresponding figures were 85.9 and 14.1.

Table 1





Index for 1957
(1952: 100)

Yearly Rate
of increase

Index for 1932
(1928: 100)

Yearly Rate
of increase

Value of gross
            industrial output





Output of large-
            scale industry





(Yang Chien-pai, A Comparative Analysis of China’s First Five-Year Plan and the Soviet
Union’s First Five-Year Plan
, Statistical Work Bulletin (Chinese), Peking, August 1955.)

Table 2: Per Capita Output of Different Goods in China and Russia










Power supply












Cotton cloth













Consumption bows to investment

The subordination of consumer goods industries to the needs of capital goods is shown in the fact that while the amount of profits of light industries in the years 1952-1955 was some 10.8 millard yuan larger than the amounts invested in these same industries. This sum went mainly to capitalise heavy industry (Statistical Bulletin (Chinese), Peking, November 14, 1956).

With the national income very low, capital investment takes up a big portion of the national income. It has been stated that gross capital investment in 1952 made up 15.7 per cent of the national income; in 1953 it was 18.3 per cent; in 1954, 21.6 per cent; in 1955, 20.5 per cent; in 1956, 22.8 per cent (Jen Min Jih Pao (People’s Daily), September 20, 1956). This rate is only a little lower than in Russia during her first Five-Year Plan, but seeing that in absolute terms the level of income in China is some three times lower than in Russia at the time, a rate of 20 per cent accumulation is a much greater burden than a rate of even 30 per cent would have been in Russia.

In absolute terms, however the capital accumulation in China is quite small. Thus the average annual investment rate during the five years 1953–7, was planned to be 8,548 million People’s Dollars, or, at the official rate of exchange, some 3,650 million US dollars.

In Canada, with a population one-fortieth of China’s population in 1956, capital investment reached 7,900 million US dollars. (Even if we consider possible differences in price levels between the two countries, the picture would not alter radically.)

The burden of arms

The military budget of China made up 18.1 per cent of the national income in 1952; in 1953, 15.9 per cent; in 1954, 15.2 per cent; and in 1955, 16.2 per cent. (Calculated from Wang Tzu-ying, On Public Finance, Ta Kung Pao, Tientsin, January 29, 1955). These figures compare with the military budget of Russia in 1928, which made up only 2 per cent of the gross national product of the country.

With a high rate of capital accumulation and with the great burden of the military budget, workers’ wages naturally lag far behind their output, that is, the rate of exploitation is high – and is rising.

This was underlined by a People’s Daily editorial, which stated: “In 1952, the workers of State-operated enterprises produced a yearly average rate of 100 million People’s Dollars per worker. Of this, except for 500 thousand dollars as the average monthly wage for each worker, 94 per cent directly represented capital created for the State” (People’s Daily, December 13, 1953). The above figures probably exaggerate the rate of exploitation of the workers, but there is no doubt that it is extreme.

Growing exploitation

As time goes by the rate of exploitation is increasing, as can be seen clearly from the lag of wages behind labour productivity. This was the situation according to the People’s Daily:


Labour Productivity Increase (%)

Wage Increase (%)










(People’s Daily, June 19, 1956)

(For reasons that cannot be dealt with in the present article, it can be proved that it is doubtful if real wages showed even the rise mentioned in this table.)

The exploitation of the peasantry is even more extreme than that of the industrial workers. For lack of space we shall mention only a few facts to show this.

Vice-Premier Chen Yun stated that in the year July 1954 to June 1955 the State acquired in the form of grain tax and compulsory deliveries of produce, a total of 52 million tons of grain, or some 30 per cent, of the total grain output of the country. (New China News Agency, April 30, 1955.) This figure is not far behind that taken by the Russian state as taxation in compulsory deliveries: in 1938 it was some 33 per cent. (A. Anna, Kolkhozes in 1938, Sotsialisticheskoe Selslcokhozyaistvo, Moscow, December 1939)
The figure for China exceeds what the peasantry used to pay as rent under the Kuomintang regime – some “30 million tons of grain” (Chen Han-seng, Industrialisation Begins, China Reconstructs, Peking, January–February 1953).

Forced labour

Capital being so very scarce and human labour so very plentiful and cheap, the natural result is the widespread use of forced labour – including prisoners, or slave labourers.

Unlike Moscow, Peking is not shy about giving information on forced labour. Thus, for instance, in a Report on the Work of the Kwangtung Provincial Government during the Past Ten Months, given by Ku Tats’un, its Vice-Chairman, on September 15, 1951, it was stated that in the province of Kwangtung alone during 10 months, a total of 89,701 counter revolutionaries were arrested, 28,332 were executed, while “those whose crimes were punishable by death, but who did not incur the intense hatred of the public were sentenced to death, but had their execution delayed for two years, during which time they were made to undertake forced labour to give them a chance to reform themselves” (Canton, Nan Fang Jih Pao, September 18, 1951). If some 60,000 people were condemned to slave labour in only one of China’s 27 provinces in a matter of 10 months, the size of the slave labour force in the country as a whole must be huge. Po I-po, at the time Minister of Finance, claimed that in three years “more than two million bandits were liquidated” (New China’s Economic Achievements, 1949–52, Peking 1952, p. 152), the majority, presumably, not being killed, but put to work.

A milder form of forced labour is the compulsory conscription of peasants to public works. Thus, Fu Tsoyi Minister of Water Conservancy, stated on October 28, 1951: “During the two years (October, 1949–October, 1951) a total labour force of 10,370.000 workers was mobilised for various conservancy projects ...” (People’s Daily, October 30, 1951). The average pay for this kind of work was some 2–3 catties of rice for a 12-hour workday. (Calculated from the book of the Stalinist, W.O. Burchett, China’s Feet Unbound, London 1952, p. 157). Under the Kuomintang in the years 1929–33, the average daily wage of agricultural workers was equal to 14 catties of rice (J.L. Buck, Land Utilisation in China, Shanghai 1937, pp. 305–6).

The low level of the productive forces at the disposal of the Chinese bureaucracy makes for an even harsher political regime than in Russia. Space allows for only a few points to be dealt with in this connection.

Police dictatorship

As in Russia so in China, there is also a system of internal passports, the obligation to register with the police any change of address, etc. (See the decree of the Ministry of State Security, Provisional Regulations Governing Urban Population, New China News Agency, Peking, July 16, 1951; Ministry of State Security, Provisional Rules for Control of Hotels and Lodging Houses, New China News Agency, Peking, August 4, 1951; State Council, Directive Concerning the Establishing of a Permanent System for Registration of Persons, New China News Agency, Peking. July 2, 1955.)
To control the population three sets of regulations were issued. First, Organic Regulations of Urban Inhabitants’ Committees; secondly, Organic Regulations of Urban Street Offices; and thirdly, Organic Regulations of Public Security Sub-stations. All three were adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on December 31. 1954).

To strengthen these organisations, special Denunciation Rooms and Denunciation Post-Boxes were set up all over the country.

Sons against fathers

Nothing shows the extreme of totalitarianism reached in China more than the demand that children should denounce their own “counter-revolutionary” parents. To give one example: The China Youth Journal published an open letter by a student called Lu Ch’eng-hsu, accusing her father of being an agent of Chiang Kai-shek. The letter opens with these words:

Lu Hsu,
When I write out this stinking name of yours, I feel ashamed and intolerably insulted. In the past I looked upon you as my father, but now I have seen your true face: you are a cannibal with your teeth bared in madness and your paws whipping about in the air.

It ends with these words:

Now, I am a member of the New Democratic Youth League, and you are the people’s enemy, forever unpardonable. Between us there is nothing in common now. I would rather be a daughter of the people than the slave of a special agent. It is our sworn principle that we will never co-exist with our enemy. So no matter where you hide yourself, we will get you in the end. You just wait and see. (China Youth Journal (Chinese), Peking, May 8, 1951.)

Such a level of depravity imposed by the totalitarian state was not surpassed, indeed not even reached, by Stalinist Russia.

Cult of the individual

The cult of Mao is, in a way, even more extreme and nauseating than the former cult of Stalin. Portraits of Mao hang everywhere. Five storeys high, they adorn Shanghai and other cities. Trains carry portraits of Mao over the boiler. In many peasant houses his picture replaces the former kitchen god, and a kind of grace is said before meals by the household: “Thank Chairman Mao for our good food.” His pictures occupy the tiny household shrines where formerly clay images were kept. A report of the Peking Municipal People’s Government quotes a peasant approvingly: “Formerly we worshipped Kuan Kung, who was said to be omnipotent. Where is his omnipotence? Whom shall we worship? To my mind, we should worship Chairman Mao.” (General Report of Peking Municipal People’s Government on Agrarian Reform in Peking Suburban Areas, approved by Government Administrative Council on November 21, 1950.)

Special obeisance is made to Mao at all public meetings. A description of a mass trial ran: “The meeting opened with the singing of the national anthem. Then everybody took off their hats and bowed to the national flag and to the portrait of Chairman Mao,” (Hsiao Ch’ien, How the Tillers Win Back their Land, Peking 1954, p. 72), just as they had formerly done to the landlord as he was borne past them.

Not to be outdone, Wa-ch-mu-chi, Governor of the Yi Nationality Autonomous Area in Lianshen (Sikiang) sang the following hymn of praise at the National People’s Congress: “The sun shines only in the day, the moon shines only at night. Only Chairman Mao is the sun that never sets” (New China News Agency, Peking, July 26, 1953). Practically the same words were used about Stalin: “I would have compared him to the shining moon, but the moon shines at midnight, not at noon. I would have compared him to the brilliant sun, but the sun radiates at noon, not at midnight” (Znamya, Soviet Authors’ Union Monthly, October 1946).

China’s Stalinism

The basic facts of the Stalinist regime are the subordination of consumption to the needs of quick capital accumulation, the bureaucratic management of industry, the limitation of workers’ legal rights, the enforced “collectivisation” of agriculture, the differentiation of society into privileged and pariahs and the totalitarian police dictatorship. All these traits are to be found in Mao’s China. Being a relatively late corner and rising on extremely backward productive forces, the oppressive facets of the system are even more accentuated in Mao’s China than they were in Stalin’s Russia. The historical function of the bureaucracy is the accumulation of capital on the one band and the creating of a working class on the other (a function fulfilled by the bourgeoisie in the West). The less capital a country is endowed with and the smaller its working class, the deeper are the roots of bureaucratic state capitalism and the longer its span of life, if taken in isolation).

To put it differently, as the backwardness of China is so much greater than that of Russia, not to speak of the European satellites, the working class so small in size and so lacking in cohesion and culture, the forces compelling the bureaucracy to give concessions and even threatening to explode the regime in revolution are much weaker in China than in Russia, not to speak of Eastern Europe. In all probability, if not for the influence of revolutionary events elsewhere, China will have to go through a whole generation, or perhaps two, until its working class becomes a strong enough power to challenge the rule of the bureaucracy. In isolation the present regime in China will probably surpass in harshness as well as in length of life its Russian Stalinist precursor. In this we find one reason why Peking did not take kindly to the “reformers” in Eastern Europe and why it applauded the defeat of “reactionary Nagy.”

There is another reason, connected with the above, for Mao’s support for “ Stalinist policies, and – if there is a split in the Kremlin – for the Stalinist faction. Being interested in China’s rapid rise to be a giant industrial and military world power, Mao cannot but oppose any weakening or softening of the austere regimen in Russia and Eastern Europe, a regimen that makes for emphasis on heavy industry at the expense of popular consumption. Mao prefers to get steel, machine tools, turbines, etc., rather than that the Russian or Hungarian people should get better housing, food and clothing.

Mao’s China is a tremendous rock on which probably many revolutionary anti-Stalinist waves will break. However, in the long run, probably after a few decades, this rock will begin to crumble not only, or perhaps even mainly, through the effect of anti-Stalinist revolutions in Europe, but through revolutionary events in China itself.


Last updated on 7.9.2012