Li Lisan1

The Chinese Labour Movement

Source: World News and Views Vol. 30, No. 2, January 14, 1950
Date: November 1949
HTML Markup: Mike B. for MIA, September 2007
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Extracts from the report delivered at the Trade Union Conference of Asian and Australasian Countries organised by the W.F.T.U. and held at Peking last November

1. Victory of the Working Class and People of China

The Chinese working class and the people, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, have carried out long struggles for nearly thirty years. Throughout the four stages (the Great Revolution of 1925-27, the Agrarian Revolution of nearly ten years, the eight years Anti-Japanese War and the People's Liberation War from 1946 up to the present), we have passed along tortuous and difficult paths, and have employed and co-ordinated, in different stages, various extremely complex methods of struggle and forms of organisation, legal and illegal, secret and open, sanguinary and non-sanguinary, peaceful and armed struggle, guerilla and regular warfare. So that now, a nation-wide victory has been fully won, and the People's Republic of China, led by the working class and based on the people's democratic dictatorship, is established.

How is it that the Chinese working class and the Chinese people could defeat the long and brutal reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism and win the victory in such a semi-colonial, semi-feudal and backward country? This is a question many people want to ask urgently, particularly our friends in the colonial and semi-colonial countries which are still under the brutal imperialist rule.

National United Front

Firstly, the Chinese working class could lead the revolution to victory because of the fact that the Chinese working class, through ceaseless struggles, won the support of the broad masses of people, and became the true leader of the Chinese people's liberation movement. The winning of this leading position was not only due to the fact that the working class has shown itself to be the bravest, firmest, most faithful, most thorough-going and unselfish fighter in the national liberation movement of the Chinese people against the rule of imperialism and its stooges, thereby gradually winning the sincere and willing support of the broad masses of the people, but also because the Chinese working class has been skilful in using correct tactics, putting forward appropriate slogans, and taking the initiative to unite with all the classes, political parties and groups, organisations and individuals who suffer from the oppression of imperialism and its lackeys, in forming a mighty national front against them. In the first place, it united with the broad peasant masses in forming a firm alliance of workers and peasants. The Chinese working class realised that in a semi-feudal, backward country, the peasantry was its chief and most reliable ally, and firmly supported the peasantry's demand for land reform and brought forward a revolutionary agrarian programme. It won the support of the broad peasant masses and organised agrarian revolution struggles in which the broad peasant masses really participated.

Had the Chinese working class not united closely with the peasants who constitute 80 per cent of the population, had it not put forward its revolutionary land programme to lead the peasants' agrarian revolution, and had it not secured the firm support of the whole peasantry, they would not have been able to emerge victorious in the war and the revolution.

In the second place, it united with the broad masses of the petty bourgeoisie in the cities, especially the revolutionary intelligentsia. In countries which stiffer from imperialist and feudal oppression and which are culturally backward like China, the intelligentsia frequently play an important role. They are not only the initiators and propagandists of an anti-imperialist, anti- feudal ideology but are also frequently vanguards of the revolutionary movement. The working class should pay special attention to uniting this revolutionary force, though attention should be paid to taking precautions against the tendencies of hastiness, flightiness, running to extremes and adventurism, etc., inherent in their class so that they cannot affect the whole revolutionary movement.

Finally, the Chinese working class could build up the mighty national united front and establish its leadership in the national united front because it found the correct policy in dealing with the Chinese national bourgeoisie, differentiating the national bourgeoisie who oppose imperialism from the compradore bourgeoisie who have capitulated to imperialism, not opposing the national bourgeoisie as a national enemy but treating them as allies in the national liberation movement, and adopting the policy of both uniting and struggling, but mainly uniting, with them. This is because, generally speaking, although the national bourgeoisie in a country like China have many connections with imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism, they have at the same time suffered by fettering, exclusion and restriction. That is why, although the national bourgeoisie are prone to wavering and compromising in the national liberation movement, it has been possible to unite with them and win them over to the side of the revolutionary masses of the people while the struggles against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism were going on. In this connection, it is required of the working class on the one hand to be skilful in using tactics of winning them over and uniting with them, while on the other hand, to be skilful at all times in exposing and opposing their wavering, compromising and even designs of betrayal by a certain part of them. The working class must firmly oppose national capitulationism in the national united front, and at the same time oppose class capitulationism in its own ranks. Only thus can it establish its firm leadership in the national liberation movement. This is the first reason why the Chinese working class has led the revolution and won victory.

Revolutionary Army

The second reason why the Chinese working class has led the revolution to victory is due to its grasp of the teaching of Comrade Stalin that "the characteristic and merit of the Chinese revolution is that it is an armed revolution against armed counter-revolution." After the failure of the first Great Revolution of 1925-27, many activists of the Chinese working class left the cities under the white terror for the countryside to set in motion the struggle of Agrarian Revolution of the broad peasant masses against the landlords. In doing so they built up numerous small armed forces and set up guerilla bases which were developed and consolidated in the long period of guerilla warfare lasting for about twenty years until they grew into the powerful People's Liberation Army of today, with the highest political consciousness and the best discipline, and finally attained victory in overthrowing the reactionary regime and liberating the whole country. Since that time, the Chinese working class has taken special care in building the armed troops under its leadership and in supporting these troops and the guerilla warfare.

In the areas where the revolutionary regime was set up, the workers strove to develop production movements, especially military production, to support the armed struggle at the front. In the enemy-occupied cities, the workers preserved and accumulated their strength while secretly, absolutely secretly, managing to support the revolutionary troops, for instance, by sending their outstanding elements, particularly the activists who were exposed and could no longer stay in the cities, to join the revolutionary troops in the guerilla areas. In this way, the leadership of the working class in the revolutionary troops was strengthened while the revolutionary cadres were preserved. It was later borne out by facts that the great majority who were sent to the guerilla areas were preserved while the great majority of those who should not have remained but inadvisably remained behind in the cities under the white terror were sacrificed.

When in its victorious development the People's Liberation Army was about to take a city, the workers fought to protect their factories against the enemy's designs to remove or destroy them and used all means to help and support the attack of the People's Liberation Army. And as soon as the Liberation Army entered a city, the workers exerted efforts in resuming production and restoring all the communications and water and electricity supplies to support the further advance of the Liberation Army.

Through protracted struggles, the Chinese working class has acquired, from its experiences and lessons learned through bloodshed, the knowledge that in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country like China, the working class definitely cannot fundamentally better its status and livelihood, not to speak of winning a revolutionary victory like that of today, without building a revolutionary army under its own leadership and waging a revolutionary war against the rule of imperialism and its lackeys with the support of broad masses of the people.

Struggle in the Cities

But on the other hand, in the areas where the ruling forces of imperialism and its lackeys were concentrated, especially in the cities where the enemy was strong and where armed struggles could not be conducted and when the revolutionary movement was at its low ebb, the policy of lying low with a compact organisation and accumulating strength was adopted by the labour movement so as to wait for the ripe moment. This was the policy against the then existing tendency of desperatism and adventurism in order to avoid fighting pitched battles with the enemy under unfavourable conditions. Work was then carried on by making use of the smallest possibilities of legal and open activity, by secretly joining the yellow trade unions, even including the Kuomintang reactionary trade union organisation and all other legal organisations; and by making use of every minute contradiction in the enemy ranks to organise and educate the working masses, to lead them in the day to day minor struggles for the improvement of their living conditions, no matter how small the improvement might be, so as to gain the leadership of these legal organisations, and finally, when the suitable opportunities present themselves, to organise movements of a broad mass character by making use of these legal organisations with great vigilance and resourcefulness to further the high tide of the revolutionary, struggle.

All these legal activities and open struggles, of course, had to be conducted in various forms and through various contacts, so that they might be carried out under an absolutely secret Communist organisation. In this way, legal struggles were combined with revolutionary secret work, thus accumulating revolutionary strength for the ripe moment when the workers would be called upon to collaborate with the People's Liberation Army in occupying the city. This was the main direction of work in the cities before the victory of the revolution.

For quite a long time, because we did not realise the fact that, under the rule of fascist white terror in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country like China, revolutionary trade union organisations and revolutionary struggles had no legal protection whatever, we did not know how to organise proper defence and retreat on the occasions when the movement met with setbacks; on the contrary, we adventurously organised offensives and openly organised workers' strikes and demonstrations and even armed struggle. As a result, the revolutionary organisations and revolutionary forces in the cities suffered severe damage and destruction, resulting in terrific losses and at one time even leading to the destruction of practically all organisations of the Party and revolutionary mass organisations by the enemy. I myself have committed serious mistakes on this question and therefore feel deeply about this historical lesson.

Later on, owing to the correct leadership of Comrade Mao Tze-tung and Comrade Liu Shao-chi, who sternly criticised this mistake of "Left" adventurism, we found the correct direction and the correct method of combining open and secret work, and, after fifteen years of strenuous efforts, attained great achievements in the work in the cities; thus enabling our army to obtain strong support from the broad masses of workers in liberating the cities as they do today. In the experiences of China, right opportunism was also opposed and this occurred during the two periods of united front with the Kuomintang. The tendencies of legalism and liquidationism were also opposed and they occurred during the early period after the failure of the first Great Revolution.

Communist Party Leadership

The third and most fundamental reason why the Chinese working class has led the revolution to victory is the fact that the Chinese Labour movement has always been under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. The Chinese Labour movement and trade union organisations grew up only after the birth of the Communist Party. Therefore, the Chinese Labour movement was from its very beginning under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and accepted the theoretical guidance of Marxism-Leninism. Therefore, the Communist Party of China enjoys a great prestige among the Chinese working class and has the support of the broad masses of the people. The Communist Party of China enjoys such a great prestige among the Chinese working class and broad masses because it has, after traversing long tortuous paths, grasped and mastered the theory of Marxism-Leninism and become skilful in using this theory to analyse the concrete and objective conditions in every stage, in deciding upon the correct strategy, in dexterously employing tactics, changing the methods of struggle and form of organisation according to the change in the objective situation, so that the greatest successes were achieved by the mass revolutionary movement with the smallest sacrifices.

U.S.S.R. and the Chinese Victory

These are the conditions at home leading to the victory of the Chinese revolution. But with simply these conditions there could be no victory, which must also have favourable international conditions. And they are the existence of the Socialist Soviet Union and the sympathy and support of the Soviet Union and the world working class. The victory of the Russian October Socialist Revolution pointed out to the Chinese working class the road to liberation and gave them great inspiration and encouragement. The victory of the anti-fascist Second World War led by the Soviet Union resulted in the defeat of the German-Italian-Japanese fascist bloc and the establishment of the various New Democracies in East Europe, and inspired the heroic struggles of the working class in the West and of the oppressed nations in the East. The main attention of the imperialists was drawn to Europe, thereby enabling China to break through the imperialist front in the East, to defeat the reactionary rule of American imperialism and its running dog Chiang Kai-shek, and win a complete victory. Just as Chairman Mao Tze-tung said:

"If the Soviet Union did not exist, if there were no victory of the Anti-Fascist Second World War and no defeat of Japanese imperialism, if the various New Democratic countries did not come into being, if there were no rising struggles of the oppressed nations in the East, if there were no struggles of the masses of the people in the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Japan and other countries against the reactionary cliques ruling over them, and if there were no sum-total of these things, could we have won victory? Obviously not It would also be impossible to consolidate the victory when it was won."

Allow us therefore to express here our gratitude and respect to the working class of the whole world! Our gratitude and respect to the great teacher of the world working class-Stalin!

These are the reasons why the Chinese working class and the Chinese people have won victory in the revolution. A study of these reasons, a study of the experiences and lessons of the Chinese revolution, is of great practical significance not only to the Chinese workers, but also to every worker abroad, particularly to the workers of the Asiatic countries still under imperialist oppression—this is a fact which needs no explanation.

2. Present Situation of the Chinese Labour Movement

Trade Union Organisations

Chinese trade union organisations are rapidly growing. At the time of the convocation of the Sixth All- China Labour Congress in August 1948, there were 2,830,000 trade union members all over the country under the leadership of the All-China Federation of Labour.

During the past year, with the rapid development of the People's War of Liberation throughout the country, trade union organisations developed rapidly. For instance, of the 1,200,000 workers in Shanghai nearly 710,000 have joined trade union organisations, and nearly 200,000 of the 400,000 workers in Tientsin have joined trade unions. In all districts and cities, trade unions are also being established and expanded one after another.

The All-China Federation of Labour plans to organise the workers fundamentally, and firstly the industrial workers, of the whole country in about one year's time. Before May 1950 national industrial unions will be established in the ten industrial departments of railway, seamen, postal service, tele-communications, metal, textile, fuel, food, publication, and culture and education, in order to lead the workers of the whole country more effectively to take an active part in the great tasks of building up the New China.

The Labour Movement in Large Cities

The special feature of the Chinese revolution is not. the occupation of the cities through the uprising of the urban workers, but the seizure of the cities after the extermination of enemy forces by the People's Liberation Army. Therefore whenever a city is liberated and the working class has changed from its former brutally oppressed position as a slave into the master of society and the State enjoying all free and democratic rights, the primary task of the trade unions is to educate the workers, arouse their class consciousness, and organise them to co-operate in taking over the enterprises originally in the hands of bureacratic capital.

First and foremost it must be explained to the working masses that the working class, after liberation, is the master of the State and society and the master of State enterprises. They must be called on to organise at once their shop stewards' councils, elect representatives to participate, together with the personnel of the People's Government, in the tasks of taking over and examining inventories, and further carry out the work of organising trade unions. In this way, the work of the taking over of bureaucratic capitalist enterprises can be quickly and systematically fulfilled in a planned and organised manner. The workers also devise many ways to overcome difficulties and speedily resume production.

State enterprises are the property of the People's State. For the purpose of enhancing the sense of responsibility among the workers as masters of the State and publicly-owned enterprises, we have adopted the system of democratic factory administration within these enterprises, applying the policy of depending on all the workers and employees to run the factories and enterprises efficiently, absorbing workers to take part in the control of production and establishing the organisation of factory administration committees headed by the factory manager and participated in by representatives elected from the workers and the staff—thus transforming former bureaucratic capitalist enterprises into new democratic enterprises.

With the new attitude of masters, the workers are happily and consciously labouring, thereby greatly increasing the efficiency of production. For instance, the output of forty-two of the publicly-owned factories taken over by the People's Government in Tientsin, up to June this year, was fifty to eighty-five per cent more than that in the reactionary Kuomintang period. After the workers participated in factory administration, large numbers of capable workers have been promoted to be cadres for the control of production.

In private enterprises, after the liberation of each city, waves of workers' struggles immediately ensued. As the capitalists lost the support of the reactionary regime, they could not but make concessions to the demands of the masses. As a result, the former feudal oppression suffered by the workers has, in general, been obliterated, while the position of the workers has been greatly raised and their livelihood generally improved.

However, the demands of the workers were sometimes too high. Their actions and forms of struggle were in some cases inordinate. This resulted in the closing down of some enterprises, stoppage of production, and the passive running away of the capitalists; these are detrimental to the paramount interests of the resumption and development of production.

Therefore, right from the beginning, we carried out education on the policy of developing production and benefiting both labour and capital among the working masses in the private enterprises, so as to correct the "Left" deviation of excess which is detrimental to the long range interests of the working class.

Our policy of benefiting both labour and capital is fundamentally different from the policy of co-operation between labour and capital of the social reformists in Western Europe. Labour-capital co-operation of the Social Democratic parties is a reformist policy adopted under the bourgeois governments for the purpose of deceiving the workers and maintaining the rule of these bourgeois governments.

Our present policy of benefiting both labour and capital is adopted under the New Democratic Government for the purpose of rehabilitating and developing production to consolidate the regime which is led by the working class. The principal method to realise this policy is the signing of collective contracts between labour and capital in various trades containing provisions on working conditions and the rights and obligations of both labour and capital, etc. This changes the former relation in which labour was completely under the slavish oppression of capital into a relation in which contracts are signed on an equal footing.

Labour Insurance and Welfare Work

Under the oppression of feudalism, imperialism and bureaucratic capitalism, the Chinese working class had not the least protection. China never had any national labour insurance system whatever and workers never received the slightest relief from the State in the event of disability, injury, sickness or death.

After the establishment of the present People's Government, the adoption of a proper labour law for the protection of workers has become a very pressing task. The general principle for the realisation of national labour insurance was passed among the resolutions of the Sixth Labour Congress.

In accordance with this principle, the "Wartime Labour Insurance Regulations" promulgated by the Administrative Committee of North-East China in December 1948 provide that all public enterprises are to pay a monthly labour insurance fund contribution equivalent to 3 per cent of the total amount of wages. In addition, medical treatment of workers, and wages during the period when they are injured or sick, are to be paid by the enterprises concerned and not from the insurance fund.

Statistics for July this year showed that in the seven big industrial departments, railways, mines, arsenal, military supplies, postal and telecommunications, electricity and textiles, in North-East China alone, the number of workers and their relatives who benefited by labour insurance reached over one million. There were besides 333 workers' hospitals and sanatoria with 2,316 doctors and nurses. Twenty-one nurseries, childwelfare institutions, homes for the disabled, etc., were under construction. Certain enterprises in other liberated areas have also made plans modelled on such lines and are beginning to carry them out. For instance, in Tientsin alone, 230,000 workers and employees are benefiting from the welfare establishments of the trade unions.

Political, Cultural and Educational Work

As the cultural standard of the broad masses of the Chinese people is generally very low, over 50 per cent of the working masses are illiterate. Furthermore, they were for quite a long period under the deceitful propaganda of imperialism and Kuomintang reaction. Therefore, the carrying out of general political, cultural and technical education among the working masses and the close linking up of this education with the raising of production have become important day-to-day tasks of our trade unions.

In the initial stage after the liberation of a city, we employ the method of holding big classes and organising short-term training classes to conduct widespread education on policy and class-consciousness among the working masses. This has brought about great results in raising the consciousness of the working class.

To ensure that workers can receive education in their spare time, the People's Government has stipulated that the administration in every enterprise and factory should earmark a sum equivalent to 1.5 per cent of the total wage for the trade unions as the cultural and educational fund of the workers, and should provide the trade unions with various facilities for educational work.

Transcriber's Notes

1. Li Lisan was the Vice President of the All-China Federation of Labor at the time of publication.

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