In offering a new look at the Chinese revolution, this study aims to clarify certain issues concerning the central role of the peasant movement and how it was organised by the Chinese Communist Party with a view to a socialist future. Through an examination of land relations and the power structure of state and village, the study seeks to clarify the centrality of landlordism in the Chinese feudal system, by showing how landlord-peasant relations were determined through a feudal land monopoly which created conditions of land hunger for the peasant majority, whilst the landlords’ subordination of the peasantry operated through the Confucian bonds of patron-client ties and their domination of the rural organisations. It is argued that the impact of imperialism worsened the agrarian crisis, aggravating the landlord-peasant bond and increasing the peasants’ potential for spontaneous rebellion. The aim is to expose the common misconception of pre-revolutionary China as a society of owner-cultivators, whether shaped by bureaucratic and patriarchal traditions or by market relations, which tends to underestimate the urgent need for land reform. It is argued that what was distinctive about the agrarian revolution in China, in contrast with Europe, was on the one hand, the revolutionary nature of both the small owner and tenant peasants, given their shared discontent, and on the other hand, the close links between the landlords and rich peasants. These features can only be understood through a consideration of the specific nature of the feudal land monopoly and the structure of village power. In examining the revolutionary process with a view to assessing the strategy of the Chinese Communist Party of revolutionary transformation through peasant mass organisation, the focus is upon class dynamics at village level. This reveals the contradictions within and between the peasantry and the traditional powerholders, indicating the difficulties as well as the possibilities for organisation. Given the political and economic structure of landlordism, it is argued that there was an objective potential as well as political necessity for alliance with the middle peasants based upon poor peasant activism. A detailed look at specific episodes in the revolutionary process provides for a comparison of the methods of Li Lisan, the ‘28 Bolsheviks’, Liu Shaoqi and Mao Zedong, and clarifies the inadequacies of Comintern, Trotskyist and reformist policies, as well as highlighting problems of class analysis, and of adapting land reform and Party and peasant organisation to the dynamics of the rural struggles. In seeking to clarify the central issue of the ‘mass line’, the study aims to show how the Chinese Communist Party succeeded by bridging the rift between town and countryside, between the national and the agrarian movements, in transforming the economic, political and social order of the villages through the mobilisation of the peasantry.
Last updated: 15.2.2005