Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Ericson and Charles Loren

The Anti-Marxist-Leninist Line of Progressive Labor

The Peasant Question and ’New Democracy’

Some people[1] are maintaining that the Communist Party of China has adopted a revisionist foreign policy. And further, that this revisionist foreign policy is a sign that the revisionist elements are in a strong position (if not in control) in the leadership of the party. I believe this estimate to be in error.

This estimate seems to be based on the idea that the supporting of nationalists of various sorts (the national bourgeoisie, nationalist intelligentsia, and nationalist peasants) is mistaken. The people who support this attitude seem to feel that only leaders or groups can be supported who are already communist. Support for nationalist forces only leads to defeat and betrayal in the long run.

Nationalists, it is asserted, are not only reactionary; they are incapable of development from a nationalist to a communist position through alliances and the education that flows therefrom. Therefore, fruitful alliances are not possible. Advocates of this position say, “We hold that nationalism in all its forms is reactionary. We do not look to a so-called progressive section of the national bourgeoisie to ally with. We have seen historically that alliances with the bourgeoisie do not work. Marxist-Leninists must instead integrate with the masses of the people, mainly the working class. They must base themselves on the needs and aspirations of the working class, which is for socialism. Revisionism and nationalism go hand in hand.” A number of examples of the bad results of alliances with nationalists are cited (e.g., Indonesia).

There are undoubtedly many instances where such alliances turned out badly. But we have at least one major example where it turned out well And that is in China itself. Therefore, on the basis of the evidence, what ought to be objected to is the faulty application of such alliances, rather than such an alliance itself. The assumption of the critics is that such alliances inevitably breed revisionism rather than that revisionists do a bad job with such alliances.

The rejection of “New Democracy” (Mao’s phrase for such alliances) as a possible step or stage towards the socialist revolution is based on a number of assumptions, some of which we will examine now.

One such assumption is that all poor people are pretty much the same no matter what class they belong to or what country they come from. Whether these poor people are craftsmen, wage workers, or peasants, they are all referred to as “the masses” or “the people.” That is, the critics regard all poor and exploited people as being, in essence, proletarian. The same goes for people of various countries. Examples of the failure of this particular tactic (i.e., New Democracy) are drawn from the Soviet Union, China, the U.S., and from Cambodia. The New Democracy tactic, we are told, was used to fool “the people.” This is a non-class approach, which is the hallmark of the petty bourgeois.

Let us look at this non-class petty bourgeois approach a little more closely. The critics think they are using a class analysis because they divide people into the “exploited” class and the “exploiter” class (usually capitalist). But they lump all the “exploited” classes into one group, the people. And this group they assume to have all the characteristics of the wage-earning class. But exploited classes are not all the same, particularly in non-industrialized societies.

In countries such as China (before 1949), Cambodia, Korea, Vietnam, etc., the most numerous exploited class is the peasantry. The working class was small in China and Korea and was insignificant in French Indo-China. Since wage-earning classes and their theorists had come into existence in other countries, it is possible for the leadership of Communist Parties in countries where the working class is small or nonexistent to have a working class (proletarian) perspective. But it was not possible for very many of the peasants to have such an outlook. So the leaders of the Communist Parties of these countries have a problem. In order to get the support of the peasants they are going to have to communicate with them in terms that the peasants can understand.

Now it is at this point that the class position and mentality of the peasant become crucial. He is not a proletarian; he is a petty bourgeois, a particular type of petty bourgeois. Literally, petty bourgeois means a small businessman. But the term also refers to small producers such as town craftsmen and small farmers (peasants).

Other groups develop petty bourgeois outlooks or mentalities because of the conditions under which they make a living. Intellectuals are the most obvious example of this type. As school teachers, writers, scholars, artists, scientists etc., they produce or work more or less by themselves. They have little or no direct supervision. They produce or work individually. They are a form of craftsmen (though most receive wages), similar to dentists, shoemakers, doctors, cabinet makers, etc. who were the classic form of the petty bourgeois. Marx referred to that system in which craftsmen in the town and the peasant in the country dominated production as the petty mode of production. A life of individual production produces an individualist outlook. A famous quotation by Marx summarizes this phenomenon:

The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.[2]

Marx, Lenin, and Mao spent a great deal of time in elaborating an extensive class analysis of the societies in which they lived. Why? Because different classes have different points of view which flow out of their different positions in relation to the productive process. People’s ideas are the result of their experiences, practical and academic. But the experience of everyday life, which is usually concerned with production (for exploited classes), is the primary determinant. Is there a difference in the productive experience., of wage earners and peasants? There most assuredly is. But these critics apparently do not think so. Or they think ideas are not primarily reflections of the experience gained in the material world. This is an idealist rather than a materialist point of view.

Let us look further into this difference between a petty bourgeois and a proletarian. Most petty bourgeois, and the peasant variety in particular, have very limited productive and social relationships. They (and their families) produce individually. They normally do not work cooperatively with other people. The proletariat, on the other hand, produces collectively and cooperatively. An elaborate division of labor with a highly developed economic interdependence is characteristic of most wage workers. Peasants usually pay rent in one form or another (money, labor, goods in kind) to a landlord or usurer. They have a small connection with the market. They produce a majority of the goods they consume. They have low incomes generally, but due to the conditions of life as small property owners, they believe that their salvation lies in getting more land and equipment so that they can have more income. There are variations on this depending on whether or not they are poor peasants, middle peasants, or well-to-do peasants. But the small individual producer, because of his economic experience, tends to seek a solution to his problems of low income and high rent by reducing or eliminating rent and increasing the size of his holding so that he can produce more and have more income. His productive experiences are individualistic and, consequently, the solutions that appeal to him are individualistic. Marx’s analysis of the economic origins of the peasant outlook in France is as valid now as when he made it (1852):

The small peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions, but without entering into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another, instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is increased by France’s bad means of communication and by the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, admits of no division of labour in its cultivation, no application of science and, therefore, no multiplicity of development, no diversity of talents, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient; it itself directly produces the major part of its consumption and thus acquires its means of life more through exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. The small holding, the peasant and his family; alongside them another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these make up a village, and a few score of villages make up a Department. In this way, the great mass of the French nation is formed by simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sackful of potatoes. In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions that divide their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of other classes, and put them in hostile contrast to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among these small peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no unity, no national union and no political organisation, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.[3]

Proposals for solving the peasant’s problems by abolishing the peasant’s individual ownership of land and the substitution of collective ownership of the land in conjunction with cooperative production carries little conviction for the overwhelming majority of peasants. If he has little or no experience in collective or cooperative enterprises, these solutions based on cooperative production will have no meaning for him. The protagonist of such schemes might as well be talking in a foreign language.

The wage earner in modern factories has the opposite experience. All his experiences, in production, in unions, in various organizations, are in collective activity. Cooperative activity is obviously more effective and efficient than individual activity. Collective solutions implemented by means of cooperative organizations are a necessary starting point.

Socialism only came on the stage of history with the development of modern industry and its elaborate division of labor. Socialism can make sense to an industrial worker. Individualist solutions make little sense to him. For instance, an industrial worker usually knows that you need a union if you want to make the capitalist give you higher wages and/or better working conditions. He is aware of the fact that he could not extract as high a wage by his individual efforts. In the absence of capitalist propaganda, wage workers will find a socialist solution a logical one. Also, they will easily see that the various petty bourgeois solutions are blind alleys.

It was because of the individualistic experience of the peasant that socialist theory and solutions were ineffective in enlisting the peasants’ support. Consequently, Lenin and Mao, both being in predominantly peasant countries, adopted the two-stage strategy of the socialist revolution. First would come the anti-imperialist national-democratic revolution and then would come the transition to socialism. In Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution Lenin said:

A decisive victory of the revolution over tsardom is the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants... But of course it will be a democratic, not a Socialist dictatorship. It will not be able (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism.[4]

Since the revolutionary and anti-imperialist war in a predominantly peasant country must be mostly a peasant war, peasant demands must be met and power must be given to peasants as well as to workers. As Mao Tsetung said:

This means that the Chinese revolution is essentially a peasant revolution and that the resistance to Japan now going on is essentially a peasant resistance. Essentially, the politics of New Democracy means giving the peasants their rights. The new and genuine Three People’s Principles are essentially the principles of a peasant revolution.[5]

Outside of having a program that incorporates peasant demands, how do you go about increasing support? One way is to support leaders who already have substantial peasant support and who also support peasant demands. This tactic the Communist Party of China followed in supporting Sun Yat-sen. Now, there is a problem in supporting bourgeois, petty bourgeois, or landlord leaders. Some of them may turn on you at the most unexpected moments. But then, some do not. “The principal representative or the principal social support of this Asian bourgeoisie of the Sun Yat-sen type, which is still capable of fighting in a historically progressive cause, is the peasant. And side by side with him there already exists a liberal bourgeoisie whose leaders, men like Yuan Shih-kai, are above all capable of treachery: yesterday they feared the emperor, cringed before him; they betrayed him when they saw the strength, and sensed the victory, of revolutionary democracy, and tomorrow they will betray the democrats and strike a bargain with some old or new ’constitutional’ emperor.

The real liberation of the Chinese people from age-long slavery would be impossible were it not for the great, sincere democratic enthusiasm which is stirring the toiling masses and making them capable of miracles, and this enthusiasm is present in every line of Sun Yat-sen’s platform.[6]

In any event, when supporting such leaders, judgment must be used. This judgment applies not only to selecting leaders to support who would have a low probability of turning traitor, but also includes the good sense to make preparations to protect the movement in case they do turn traitor. Furthermore, even though losses may be suffered through such treachery on the part of nationalist leaders, it still contributes to the education of the peasantry on the unreliability of the national bourgeoisie.

The discussion around the question of alliances and New Democracy by the critics seems to assume that alliances with the national bourgeoisie rather than with the peasantry are the basic issue. These critics also seem to attribute the nationalist spirit more to the bourgeoisie than to the peasant. Of course, the opposite is the case in both of these instances.

The principal reason for allying with nationalist bourgeois leaders is because of the amount of peasant support they have. Lenin and the Bolsheviks allied themselves with leaders like Spiridinova, Karelin, and Kamkoff, who were officials of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, the party of the revolutionary peasants. The C.P.C. allied with left Kuomintang leaders like Sun Yat-sen, Wang Ching-wei, Madame Sun Yat-sen, Eugene Chen, etc. As Lenin pointed out in the earlier quotation on national bourgeois leaders, some remain true to the revolution while others turn traitor.

Peasants work individually and have relatively little contact outside of their village. Under feudalism, the peasant is usually subject to and owes allegiance to a feudal lord and/or to a landlord. The subjection and the allegiance of the peasant was personal, that is to say, it was to an individual lord, not an abstract entity which was usually out of sight and hearing. Once he rejects the lord and wants to reduce or eliminate the rent and/or divide up the lord’s land, he shifts his support and allegiance to the only available alternative, his nation. Since the peasant’s loyalty had previously been personal, he finds it easier to attach the sentiment of national allegiance to the person of some leader who has a nationalist platform or program.

The peasant is the true and consistent nationalist. As already indicated, the bourgeoisie is much more unreliable. This is so for several reasons, two of which will be mentioned. First, it is much easier and more practical for an imperialist government to bribe a small business class than an entire peasantry (or section of it). Second, most businessmen and their representatives are class conscious. Their class interests can be played off against their national loyalties, when they conflict. Thus, they become unreliable.

Peasants are not normally class conscious (see earlier quotation by Marx, p. 11). They are petty bourgeois and are conscious of individuals, not classes. Usually what we mean when we say that a person is petty bourgeois, is that he has a non-class outlook. Therefore, the peasant has no conflict in his loyalties. He owes loyalty (outside of himself) only to his nation. The peasant is the true nationalist. In 1920, Lenin summarized the political lessons to be learned from this very nicely. He said:

The more backward the country, the stronger is the hold of small agricultural production, patriarchal ism and isolation which inevitably lend particular strength and tenacity to the deepest of petty-bourgeois prejudices, viz., national egoism and national narrowness. These prejudices cannot but die very slowly, for they can disappear only after imperialism and capitalism have disappeared in the advanced countries, and after the whole foundation of the economic life of the backward countries has radically changed. It is therefore the duty of the class-conscious communist proletariat of all countries to treat with particular caution and attention the survivals of national sentiments among the countries and nationalities which have been longest oppressed, and it is equally necessary to make certain concessions with a view to hastening the extinction of this distrust and these prejudices. Unless the proletariat and, following it, the mass of working people of all countries and nations all over the world voluntarily strive for alliance and unity, the victory over capitalism cannot be successfully accomplished.[7]

This is why the position of the critics “that nationalism in all its forms is reactionary” is so wrong.

To reject nationalism in most underdeveloped countries is to reject the support of the peasants. It is that simple. This was Lenin’s position, it was Stalin’s position, and it is Mao’s position. This follows from an analysis of the characteristics of the various economic classes. The critics are unaware of these characteristics. They seem to be particularly ignorant of the characteristics of classes in what are essentially pre-capitalist societies. These countries include most of the colonies of the imperialist system.

The critics seem to be aware of the basic characteristics of the classes in advanced capitalist countries like the U.S. But the attempt to transfer these classes to countries like Thailand and Cambodia only produces the most elementary errors. To repeat what the critics say: “Marxist-Leninists must instead integrate themselves with the masses of the people, mainly the working class. They must base themselves on the needs and aspirations of the working class, which is for socialism.”

Another question that it is important to ask is why did these critics come up with such an analysis at this particular time. To a certain extent this involves speculation, but there are plenty of examples of similar theories developed in the past. Bukharin and his allies among the “left communist” faction immediately come to mind. These theories are usually called “left-wing communist,” “infantile left,” “extreme left,” etc. It is basically a petty bourgeois, non-class position. It is one of the forms that revisionism takes. It is left revisionism as opposed to the position of a Kautsky or a Suslov, which is right revisionism.

They are both the result (at least partially) of a loss of faith in the possibility of a successful socialist revolution. This “demoralization” is much more a cause of left revisionism than of right revisionism. Material corruption (or good living among the leadership) is much more a factor in right revisionism.

What directly produces this “demoralization”?

Basically, it flows from a relative lack of knowledge of correct history and of basic Marxist-Leninist theory. The indirect causes are outside the scope of this discussion. The principal immediate cause is the reverses in anti-imperialist movements that have come about recently as a result of these alliances. The critics can see the losses, but they cannot see the gains. For example, a larger proportion of the world’s people live under a dictatorship of the proletariat than when “New Democracy” was written. And imperialism is a great deal weaker. Since the critics cannot see the necessity for the alliance, they attribute the gains to other causes. Because of theoretical inadequacies, they cannot take the long-run view and can only see the short run. Thus, they look for shortcuts to the desired goal. And the biggest shortcut of all is to eliminate the alliance with the peasantry under the slogan of no alliances with the national bourgeoisie. (The critics most probably do not realize that this is in fact what they are advocating.) Instead, the strategy of relying on “the working class,” going for socialism in one jump, and skipping the national-democratic stage is advocated.

Consequently, everything is simple, easy, and impossible. Even though the cause has been lost, the critics have preserved their “revolutionary purity.” These critics have lost faith in the ability of the leaders of communist parties to remain true to communist ideology and guide their countries through the national-democratic stage and on into the socialist stage. They have also lost faith in the peasants being able to change as the results of new cooperative experiences and intensive political re-education (patiently to persuade).

Here is what Mao Tsetung had to say about the relative merits of these two strategies:

Some comrades have raised this question of the future of the revolution, and here I can only give a brief answer.

In the writing of an article the second half can be written only after the first half is finished. Resolute leadership of the democratic revolution is the prerequisite for the victory of socialism. We are fighting for socialism, and in this respect we are different from those who confine themselves to the revolutionary Three People’s Principles. It is the great future goal to which our present efforts are directed; if we lose sight of the goal, we cease to be Communists. But equally we cease to be Communists if we relax our efforts of today.

We are exponents of the theory of the transition of the revolution and we are for the transition of the democratic revolution in the direction of socialism. The democratic revolution will develop through several stages, all under the slogan of a democratic republic. The change from the predominance of the bourgeoisie to that of the proletariat is a long process of struggle, of struggle for leadership in which success depends on the work of the Communist Party in raising the level of political consciousness and organization both of the proletariat and of the peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie.

The staunch ally of the proletariat is the peasantry, and next comes the urban petty bourgeoisie. It is the bourgeoisie that will contend with us for leadership.

To overcome the vacillation of the bourgeoisie and its lack of revolutionary thoroughness we must rely on the strength of the masses and on the correctness of our policy, or otherwise the bourgeoisie will come out on top.

A bloodless transition is what we would like and we should strive for it, but what will happen will depend on the strength of the masses.

We are exponents of the theory of the transition of the revolution, and not of the Trotskyite theory of ’permanent revolution.’ We are for the attainment of socialism by going through all the necessary stages of the democratic republic. We are opposed to tailism, but we are also opposed to adventurism and impetuosity.

To reject the participation of the bourgeoisie in the revolution on the ground that it can only be temporary and to describe the alliance with anti-Japanese sections of the bourgeoisie (in a semi-colonial country) as capitulation is a Trotskyite approach, with which we cannot agree. Today such an alliance is in fact a necessary bridge on the way to socialism.[8]

It is now time to sum up. Under the impression that they are repudiating nationalism, alliances with the national bourgeoisie, and the national-democratic revolution, the critics are in fact repudiating an alliance with the peasantry. They are neglecting the support of the peasants in colonial areas, the overwhelming majority of which are predominantly peasant countries. They have reached this absurd position out of ignorance of history and basic Marxist-Leninist theory. The fact that the critics’ position is anti-Marxist-Leninist is proved by the fact that Lenin, Stalin, and Mao have all supported the two-stage theory of transition (with stage one being the national-democratic revolution) at great length.

This rejection of the traditional Marxist-Leninist position is based on the theoretical position that class differences are really not important. That is, the critics aver that the difference between wage-earner and peasant, between proletariat and petty bourgeois is not basic or significant. For all practical purposes, they can be lumped together as if they both were proletarian. This is a non-class, a petty bourgeois position. Even though the critics talk about the capitalists and the working class, they do not really understand why socialism is attractive to the working class. They think it is only because the workers are exploited, not their cooperative experiences in production, that predisposes them in this direction.

This non-class, petty bourgeois position is anti-Marxist-Leninist and hence anti-communist. It is revisionist. Left-wing adventurism is merely the other side of the coin from right-wing opportunism. Undoubtedly the critics do not view themselves as allies of the Soviet revisionists. But objectively they are, all the same. Any adventure that is anti-Marxist-Leninist, anti-communist, and petty bourgeois is helping the imperialists and the Soviet revisionists.

The despair that has been generated by some recent setbacks on the international scene is the result of theoretical shortcomings. The loss of the long-run perspective and the temptation to hunt for short-cuts is a natural consequence. As Lenin aptly said:

We ’finished’ the bourgeois-democratic revolution more ’cleanly’ than has ever been done before anywhere in the world. This is a great gain of which no power on earth can deprive us ....Those Communists who imagine that it is possible to finish such a world-historical ’undertaking’ as completing the foundations of Socialist economy (particularly in a small-peasant country) without making mistakes, without retreats, without numerous alterations to what is unfinished, or wrongly done, must be regarded as doomed for certain. Those Communists who do not allow themselves to become captives to illusions or despondency, and who preserve their strength and flexibility of body in order ’to begin from the beginning’ over and over again in approaching a very difficult task;, are not doomed (and in all probability will not perish).[9]


[1] These critics of the policies of the C.P.C. will be referred to throughout this discussion as the “critics.”

[2] Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago, Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1904), pp. 11-12.

[3] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York, International Publishers, no date, p. 109.

[4] V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 3 (New York, International Publishers, no date), p. 82.

[5] Mao Tse-tung, “On New Democracy,” Selected Works, vol. 2 (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1967), P. 366.

[6] V. I. Lenin, “Democracy and Narodism in China,” The National Liberation Movement in the East, (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1957), pp. 43-44..

[7] V. I. Lenin, “Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions,” ibid., p. 256.

[8] Mao Tse-tung, “Win the Masses in Their Millions for the Anti-Japanese National United Front,” op. cit. , vol. 1, pp. 290-291. See also footnote 10 of this article.

[9] V. I. Lenin, “Notes of a Publicist,” Selected Works, vol. 10 (New York, International, no date), pp. 308-309.