First Published: In Struggle! No. 165, July 3, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The takeover of the Communist Party of China (CPC) by the revisionist leaders Hua Guo Fang and Deng Xiaoping in the fall of 1978 raised a lot of important questions for many militants and friends of the communist movement. Is it inevitable that communist parties become revisionist after they’ve taken power? Is it perhaps time to question democratic centralism? The history of the CPC provides many of the answers to these questions.
Even a cursory look at the history of the party in China after the 1948 seizure of power, or more precisely a look at the history of its congresses, reveals serious twists in democratic centralism, both in regards to democracy and centralism. Over a span of 41 years, the party congress, the highest level of leadership, only met four times – in 1928, 1945, 1956 and 1969.
This is particularly serious for the period covering the initial twenty years of revolutionary power from 1949 to 1969, a period which witnessed deep-going changes within Chinese society, the establishment of a popular democratic dictatorship, and the transition from this to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Cultural Revolution.
In fact, this practice is radically different from the traditions of the international communist movement, including parties in power like the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Stalin and the Party of Labour of Albania, all of which held congresses at regular four or five-year intervals, with the exception of wartime.
The Central Committee of the CPC also had great difficulty holding meetings. For example, in a four year period between 1962 and 1966, there wasn’t a single plenary session of the CPC Central Committee. This situation seriously weakened the party’s capacity to struggle within its own ranks against bourgeois and revisionist deviations. It also sapped away at its ability to orient the masses in their struggle for socialism and communism.
A number of facts from the history of the congresses confirm that the leadership of the CPC was deeply divided over a number of questions and did not succeed in correctly resolving those differences. This could only further sabotage the unity of the party, leaving the way wide open for the development of factions.
Already in 1956-57, at the conclusion of the 8th Congress, the principal contradiction In China was defined by the Congress thus:
Given that a socialist system has already been established in our country, the true nature of this contradiction is the contradiction between the advanced socialist system and the backward social productive forces.
This position was adopted in September 1956 due to the work of Deng Xiaoping and Llou Shaogi who were respectively Secretary-General of the party and vice-president of the People’s Republic of China. But in October 1957, Mao had this to say about the Congress decisions, in a speech to the 3rd session of the enlarged plenum of the Central Committee elected by the 8th Congress:
(...) the principal contradiction is between socialism and capitalism, between collectivism and individualism, or in a nutshell between the socialist road and the capitalist road. The resolution of the Eighth Congress makes no mention of this question. It contains a passage which speaks of the principal contradiction as being between the advanced socialist system and the backward social productive forces. This formulation is incorrect.
The way in which the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution developed is another definite expression of the existence of major divisions. It wes directed primarily against certain leaders in the CPC, the Political Bureau – most of whose members were thrown out, and the very line adopted at the party’s previous Congress.
The 9th Congress of the Chinese party, the culmination point of the Cultural Revolution, provides another example of this. The Central Committee report presented by Chou En Lai explained what happened at this congress, revealing this following things: before the 9th Congress, Lin Biao had presented an incorrect report which was revisionist from top to bottom, in that it upheld the 8th Congress’s formulation of the principal contradiction which set the development of production as the number one task. The report was rejected by the Central Committee and Lin Biao had to read the congress a report prepared under Mao’s personal leadership; Lin Biao disagreed with the report he read. But what does it say in the CPC Constitution adopted at the very same congress?:
Comrade Lin Biao has always held high the red banner of Mao Zedong Thought. He applies and defends the proletarian revolutionary line of comrade Mao Zedong with the greatest fidelity and firmness. Comrade Lin Biao is the close comrade-in-arms and the successor of Mao Zedong. (our emphasis)
A political inconsistency like that can only be explained by the existence of factions. The persistence of such factions seriously impeded the ability of the elected leadership to set guidelines and enforce the application of decisions by all levels and all committees of the party. This provided fertile ground for the most reactionary elements to take control of things.
This inconsistent application of democratic centralism had a particularly corrosive effect on the party, given the framework for the struggle it waged. During the entire first period of the Party’s history, the pre-1949 era, national liberation against foreign imperialism was uppermost. Yet during such a period, agreement with and application of a communist programme and party constitution are absolutely necessary to prevent the infiltration of bourgeois elements and to guarantee the struggle will continue until the stage of socialism and then communism are achieved.
Isn’t it clear that a party which keeps within its ranks for over 20 years a revisionist leader like Deng Xiaoping, a man whose revisionist line was exposed at least as early as 1957 by none other than Mao himself, is having serious problems in this regard? The persistence of such erroneous conceptions in the struggle against opportunism could only undermine the proletarian nature of the party. Instead of representing the most conscious section of the proletariat, the party became the locus of intrigues and manoeuvres by opportunists and careerists like Deng Xlaoping. Corrupted increasingly from within, the party lost its iron unity; the Chinese proletariat was robbed of the one indispensable instrument for exercising its dictatorship over the exploiters. This opened the door to the bourgeoisie, ever so anxious to recapture power and to restore capitalism and exploitation.
We are not by any means trying to saddle Mao and the Chinese revolutionaries with responsibility for the defeat of socialism in China. It should not be forgotten that in 1956-57 most communist parties in most countries took the revisionist path. Mao and the other Chinese revolutionaries together with the Party of Labour of Albania were among the few to fight valiantly against that trend. However, the fact that they took a different stand doesn’t mean we should not criticize some of the incorrect understandings that they had or the sometimes serious errors that they committed in the course of that struggle.
This should in no way prevent us from upholding the correctness of Marxist-Leninist principles, principles which opportunists of all kinds are happy to throw out each time the revolution suffers setbacks.
The proletariat and the entire international communist movement must draw the right lessons from these setbacks, rebuild iron unity and register decisive victories over the class enemy. The lessons will enable the proletariat to build a communist society where there is no exploitation and where people’s basic material needs will not go unfulfilled. In short, a society where all forms of oppression will be overcome.
 Resolution of the 8th Congress of the CPC on the political report, 8ème congrès national du PCC, selected texts, published by les Cahiers du Communisme, January 1957, p. 214.
 “Soyons les promoteurs de la révolution”, Volume 5 of Mao’s works, p 535, French edition (our translation).
 The entire constitution is published in Gilbert Mury’s book: De la révolution culturelle au Xe congès du PCC, volume 2, collection 10/18, no 808, Paris, 1973, p. 251.