Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Documents for the criticism of revisionism

The Chinese revolution: Part one: 1949 to the Cultural Revolution

First Published: In Struggle! No. 255, June 16, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The experiences of the Chinese revolution proivided much of the inspiration for the formation of the Marxist-Leninist movement in the sixties. An entire generation of activists, including many of, us, developed a whole set of understandings about Marxism and what the struggle for socialism was all about from Mao’s writings, A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Peking Review and the Cultural Revolution, The proof of the validity of these understandings was there in front of us, the concrete example of China. We knew very little about what real contradictions China was going through.

The direction which Chinese policy has taken since 1976 has thrown a wrench into this whole system of thought that was supposed to provide guaranteed protection from Soviet revisionism. Something somewhere went wrong. It has been very hard to explain just what.

Why did the line of Deng Xiaoping triumph? All sorts of answers to that question, based on as many different general viewpoints, have been put forward. The bibliography contained in this supplement cites a number of them.

Charles Bettelheim thinks the cause of the defeat of the revolutionary line lies in errors in the way the struggle was conducted. There was too much dogmatism, too much sectarianism, problems in making alliances, a cult of personality, and so on. The problem was a political one.[1]

Then there is the viewpoint with which members of the current Soviet-line revisionist parties are often identified: Mao was too voluntarist (believing willpower could conquer all) and ignored the laws of scientific socialism; hence he failed.[2]

A third view, popular among academics claiming to be neutral, explains the rise in support for Deng’s line largely in terms of the demands of economic development which Mao’s line was unable to address correctly.[3]

It would be pretentious to try to resolve that debate here, for a number of reasons. To begin with the most straightforward, China stopped producing country-wide economic statistics between 1959 and 1977. There are some statistics around from that period, of course, but they are themselves the subject of hot debates. This one fact alone complicates any efforts to make evaluations of the situation and identify problems.

There are no satisfactory class analyses of Chinese society for the recent past either. What are the contradictions among the peasantry, working class, intelligentsia...? Without this kind of data our understanding of events as complex as the Cultural Revolution necessarily suffers. For all these reasons it is right to be prudent in not making too many hasty judgments.

There is another series of factors which also limit the degree of certitude we can hope to attain. They derive from the fundamental fact that the Chinese revolution embodies a goodly proportion of all the problems which have perplexed and divided communists for a very long time now. To try and resolve those differences here and now on the basis of looking at what was ultimately one, fairly brief experience would certainly be a great trick – and nothing but a trick. However, we can make some progress in our analysis despite these limitations.

The challenge China faced

China was one of the formerly colonial and semi-colonial countries which embarked on a process of economic development after World War Two. This coincided with a general upsurge in population growth in these countries. Some were to undergo a spectacular economic boom. Iran is a prime example. We are all aware of the enormous social cost paid for that economic progress: social inequalities, poverty, repression, etc.

The challenge to undertake growth in China was enormous. One out of four people in the world had to be fed from one-seventh the arable land. Although the amount of available land under cultivation did not change between 1957 and 1977 it had to feed an additional 300 million people. The resources around to meet these demands were pathetic for all sorts of historical, social, economic and even philosophical reasons: the backwardness of the economy, the weight of feudal traditions and Confucian ideology, illiteracy, the absence of democratic traditions, etc.

The central question was, and it will prove to be a recurrent central theme when we look at each stage in the Chinese revolution, the following: to what extent could all these tasks which historically have been carried out under capitalism be carried out under Chinese socialism without the various social relationships proper to capitalism making their appearance?

If you look at Europe in the Middle Ages or the Third World in more recent times, it is apparent that capitalism developed there when the productive forces were developed to the same level as they were in China in 1949 for the immense majority of peasants. The role of capitalism has been precisely that of developing the productive forces, at a price. That price is such things as unbridled urbanization, a constantly accelerating division of work into tinier and more boring bits, intensification of social inequalities, etc.

All of these phenomena are the expression of social relationships which, in the final analysis, are relationships between social classes. The towns dominate the countryside, intellectual work rules manual work, a rich minority oppresses an impoverished majority. These relationships do not fall from the sky. In the circumstances, each relationship contributes in its way positively to the advancement of society up to the point where it starts to turn into a fetter on further development.

The form this problem took in China

One might say that in China a faction of the Communist Party of China (CPC) sought to use these kinds of social relationships to develop production: all the while trying to limit their scope in various ways. Another faction tried in the name of socialism to avoid the appearance of such relationships or at least to go beyond them before they had really taken shape and started to play the role they played under capitalism.

For 30 years, major struggles took place in China over this, Let’s just look at the social relationships we mentioned above. Urbanization: China exercised strict control over population movements for a period and sent huge numbers of city-dwellers into the rural areas. Thus China was probably the only country in the world to industrialize while hardly urbanizing at all from 1960 up to now. It is surely one of the only places where the terms of exchange of agricultural and industrial goods evolved in favour of the former in that same period.

The debates that went on in China over the division of labour are even better known: intellectuals had to put in their stints in production and workers and peasants participated in the management end of their own work. There was a struggle against material incentives and prices on basic necessities were fixed very low. All of this was part of a policy of equalizing the distribution of wealth.

The goal of all this is apparent: to prevent the emergence of a new bourgeois ruling class. The debate in China today pivots around poorly understood contradictions that the struggle against these very capitalist social relationships may well engender. The result of the earlier egalitarian approach, which tried above all to enable as many people as possible to share in the relatively non-advanced state of knowledge, was that a lot of people knew a basic minimum of things. But when this policy is carried out to the detriment of the training of specialists, it can hold back the development of the advanced types of knowledge needed to continue to progress. But then again the development of a strata of specialists poses a danger too...

The material world: putty in the hands of man?

How were these dangerous capitalist social relationships to be gone beyond? The answer was apparently to be found in all the many ideological campaigns aimed at mobilizing the masses which are spotted throughout China’s recent history. One of Mao’s main criticism of the Soviet experience is that the Soviets neglected all the work that needed to be done on the level of the superstructure, ideology and carrying out socialist education [4].

In line with Mao’s critique, the increase of production can thus be seen as the result of the level of communist consciousness attained and the consequent degree of change in the relationships of people to one another. According to the hallowed formula, man himself was “the main productive force”. It is only one step from that viewpoint to the idea that ideology is all-powerful and can literally move mountains. There are just too many reported examples of technical or surgical exploits which are ascribed directly to an attentive reading of one or another of Mao’s works to avoid that interpretation of the approach taken in China. That approach has become a part of the heritage of the present-day Marxist-Leninist movement.

One statement by Mao expresses this approach, the idea that social reality can be moulded like clay if the right politics are placed in command, very clearly. It is the comparison he once made between China and a blank sheet of paper on which it was possible to write the most beautiful characters imaginable. Some of Mao’s supporters[5] say the same thing in a more elaborate way when they argue that socialism does not apply pre-existing laws but that it is up to the masses to invent them in the course of the struggle. Obviously, if this is true, why shouldn’t the masses create better laws than the ones we are stuck with now?

The whole issue of the relationship between subjective and objective factors, between the economic base and the superstructure in a backwards country, was central to the Chinese revolution. With this in mind, we will now do a rapid overview of the major stages of the Chinese revolution. But first, a brief mention of what those stages were.

The Chinese New Economic Policy: 1949-1952

When the Chinese communists took power in 1949, they were confronted with two main tasks. They had to get production, paralyzed or destroyed by the war, going again as soon as possible; and they had to carry out land reform, to give the Chinese peasants the land they had been demanding for so long.

From 1946 to 1949, prices in the city of Shanghai rose a mind-boggling 7,500,000% – just one indication of the extreme chaos and state of collapse in the Chinese economy. The situation was not unlike that at the end of the civil war in Russia in 1921, and it is noteworthy that reconstruction was approached in a fairly similar way.

In industry and trade, only the big capitalists linked to imperialism (the “comprador bourgeoisie”) were expropriated. But there were also other capitalists, bourgeois specialists and civil servants for the former State who had not fled. This tiny part of China’s population, which already had some skills in organizing production, was put to use in the work of reconstruction.

This favoured capitalist development, within certain limits. One of the most important controlling factors was the State sector’s economic competition with the private sector. By 1951, however, corruption, waste and bureaucracy were flourishing and the party decided to fight them by launching mass movements. Workers were invited to condemn these practices in their workplaces. This attempt at worker control in private enterprises had negative effects on the production levels of the companies, endangering economic recovery, because of the resistance it provoked among the employers.

A somewhat similar process occurred in the countryside. Poor peasants were encouraged to carry out land reform and take over the estates of landowners. But rich peasants were not to be stripped of their belongings – both Liu Shaogi and Mao opposed any such move. The agricultural production of these Chinese “kulaks” was far too important at the time to be disturbed. Any such attempts would probably also have had political repercussions.

In agriculture, like in the private industrial sector, State control was by and large indirect, exercised through its purchasing policy. Peasants could respond or not to such State initiatives as they saw fit. So the peasantry had undeniable power over the allocation of resources, the funds available for industrialization, etc. The situation was similar to the situation in the U.S.S.R. in the 1920s, with a similar outcome. As well, the amount of land granted to the peasants was sometimes so small the peasants often had no choice but to sell their labour-power to better-off peasants. As a result, capitalism tended to develop in the countryside.

To sum up: from 1949 to 1952, China made very definite economic progress – despite the Cold War, the blockade by Western powers and the Korean War (1950-1953). Production was back at or above the best levels attained before Liberation. Government finances had been straightened out and put on a sound footing. The enormous budget deficit had been reduced. Inflation was under control. Land reform was completed by 1952. As well, significant social reforms were under way, including the 1950 legislation guaranteeing women’s equality in marriage and the right to divorce.

The first five-year plan: 1953-1957

From 1953 to 1956, there were many, many changes of all kinds. Basically, this was the period when China, tied to the U.S.S.R. by the 1950 treaty[6], followed the “Soviet model”. In the space of a few years, private ownership of the means of production was abolished, agriculture was collectivized and the rapid development of a planned and centralized economy begun.

The elimination of the private ownership of the means of production proceeded gradually, by stages, until mid-1955, when it picked up speed very quickly. By 1956, some 92% of craftsmen were organized in co-operatives. Private industry no longer existed. It had been bought out by the State and replaced with a mixed sector accounting for one-third of industrial production (in terms of value). The rest was produced by the State sector.

The same gradual changes were occurring in rural areas. The Chinese Communist Party encouraged small peasants, isolated on their tiny holdings, to first help each other out occasionally and then to organize in lower-level (primary) co-operatives, where members benefited in proportion to the work and means of production they contributed. In higher-level (advanced) co-operatives, there was a more advanced degree of socialization, with members’ income depending solely on the work they did, regardless of the personal ownership of the means of production.

In 1955, Mao estimated that the organization of primary co-operatives would be completed by 1960. These estimates were overtaken by events, however, and by the end of 1956 all ..the peasants were already organized in advanced co-operatives.

This sudden acceleration of the rhythm of socialization illustrates the questions we raised at the beginning of this article. Two camps were emerging in the CPC. One aide stressed the transitory nature of socialism, arguing that there must be repeated and uninterrupted revolutions in social relations, seen as obstacles to further development of production. For this side, it was important to avoid consolidating any of the stages in the process, for any stage could ultimately engender undesirable social relations. For instance, if collectivization was delayed for too long, capitalist tendencies would emerge within the peasantry. The rapidity with which changes were made was therefore a key factor. justifying all the subsequent attempts to step up the rate of socialization of relations of production.

The other camp wanted to take more time in making changes, so that new social relations would have a solid grounding in the development of the material forces. There was also undoubtedly a concern to preserve the advantages present in the existing situation. It was this side that won out at the 8th Congress of the CPC in 1956. The central thesis adopted at this congress held that relations of production were advanced enough (private ownership had only just been abolished) and the problem was now to develop the corresponding productive forces.

The Soviet model

The Soviets contributed considerably to the drafting, orientation and achievement of the first five-year plan. The plan, which gave absolute priority to highly mechanized heavy industry, called for 650 major projects; of these, some 200 fully completed factories, ready for operation, were provided by the Soviet Union. Foreign trade thus played a leading role in China’s economic growth in the 1950s. It is estimated that 40% of new machinery came from abroad. In comparison, this proportion dropped radically to 4% during the Cultural Revolution. Tht imports of industrial goods were financed by exporting agricultural products and raw materials.

Along with the Soviet machinery came Soviet credits, professors, technicians, statistical organizational methods and, more generally, an entire way of organizing the centralized planning apparatus. Imports also included the system of one-man factory management; the principle of “to each according to his work” (in sharp contrast to the almost primitive communism of the Yenan days); material incentives; the introduction of ranks in the army in 1955; etc. China was well on its way to becoming a carbon copy of the Soviet modelR.

As a result substantial progress has been made since 1949, when the prevailing relations, even in big companies, were more or less feudal. In a few years of rapid industrial development (an average of 18% annually), China acquired a fairly solid and complete industrial base more easily then had the U.S.S.R., isolated during the 1930s. New sectors, like the production of machine tools and aviation, were developed. Women began to enter the urban job market, protected by legislation adopted in 1953 guaranteeing equal pay for equal work. The face of China was changing rapidly.

But the Soviet model also brought with it all its inherent contradictions. Agriculture, seen first and foremost as a source of accumulation for industry, grew much more slowly than the latter. Ultimately, this hindered further industrial expansion, as we will see when we look at the early 1960s.

The urban population grew by 30% during the first plan, while the rural population grew by only 9%. But urban industries, plagued by various bottlenecks related to their very rapid development, were unable to absorb this massive influx of people. Unemployment became enough of a problem to be mentioned.

The extreme centralization of the economy was responsible for at least two kinds of difficulties. First, centralization caused considerable delays given the huge size of the country, the serious lack of modern communications, etc. Highly-centralized control was practically impossible.

Second, setting up a centralized economy requires a complex network of all kinds of technicians and specialists at different levels. The economy was managed by central ministries in Beijing, working through this network – often more or less isolated from political control. The CPC played a fairly unobtrusive role until 1956, when it was decided that party cells in enterprises that were now nationalized would supervise factory managements politically.

There was one last contradiction that was to become increasingly important with time. This was China’s dependence on the U.S.S.R. and the many forms of aid received from that country. Consideration was even given to a plan for the international division of work within the socialist camp. All this jarred on the CPC. where feelings of independence had historically been very strong.

Briefly, this was the situation in 1956 when the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union opened up the criticism of the party’s past and undertook destalinization. In the ensuing years. China was not exempt from the atmosphere of general questioning as the international communist movement reexamined and debated the road to socialism taken previously and the road that should be followed in the future.

A number of texts written by Mao in 1956 and 1957 proposed a more balanced model of development[7] and spelled out in more detail the philosophical concepts underlying his work and the subsequent “Great Leaps Forward”.[8] The criticism of the Soviet model was thus very important for the events that followed.

The year 1957 was a year to pause and reassess things in the Chinese economy. But preparations were under way for an offensive against emerging social relations. Mao challenged the central thesis adopted by the 8th Congress of the CPC; he said that the principal contradiction was between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie – in other words, it was focussed in the relations of production, which had to be changed.

So in the wake of decentralization in the Soviet Union, China launched its own process of decentralization, apparently abandoning any really operational five-year plans. In May-June 1957, intellectuals manifested their discontent in the Hundred Flowers period. A campaign was launched in August against subjectivism and bureaucratism. This led to many people being labelled as rightists and purged; one of these was Chen Yun, director of the five-year plan.

Bad harvests in 1956 and 1957 were causing dissatisfaction among the peasants. This was met with calls for a spirit of abnegation and the affirmation that ’man was more important’ than material conditions. China was on the eve of the Great Leap Forward.

The Great Leap Forward: 1958-1960

The Great Leap Forward came as a pretty well across-the-board challenge to the Soviet model. Its focus was the establishment of new social relations. Like the Cultural Revolution a decade later, it was to give back initiative to the masses, instead of the cadre and specialists whose power had just been undermined by the recent decentralization.

This concern was summed up in the slogan that characterized the Great Leap Forward: “walking on two legs”. The goal was henceforth to simultaneously develop agriculture and industry; traditional and modern techniques; small local factories and big modern ones; etc.

Instead of using scarce factors like capital, sophisticated machinery and skilled workers, this policy would rely on ’mobilizing the most abundant factor – the unskilled and largely underemployed labour force in the countryside. Indeed, the problem of underemployment in China was to be transformed into a shortage of labour-power.

“Man” was said to be “the main productive force”. Motivated ideologically, man could move mountains. The August 1958 Central Committee communique that officially announced the Great Leap Forward talked about overcoming the gap between backwards China and other countries with three or four years of hard work. Reports say that 80-year-olds began to dream of the day they would see communism for themselves.

The people of China worked so hard and tightened their belts so far that the rate of accumulation for 1958 hit the record mark of 30%. Many, many local neighbourhood enterprises were established with whatever makeshift means could be devised and it was these local factories that were responsible for the spectacular jump in industrial production that year.

But there was also another side to the story. For instance, 100 million people wasted more than a year producing unuseable pig iron in 2 million small, rudimentary blast furnaces. Heavy industry, and especially steel, was still the priority; this part of the Soviet model had not yet been broken with. It was as if socialism could be created by the masses free of any constraints like the law of value, economic calculations, management, planning, etc. This approach later led to the closure of many new enterprises for economic reasons. The principle of “politics in command” was implemented in practice by party cells that apparently took direct charge of economic affairs, replacing existing management staff overnight.

The creation of the people’s communes was one of the most striking aspects of the surge forward in the socialization of the relations of production. The 740,000 advanced co-operatives were not yet two years old when they were merged into 26,000 communes better able to mobilize labour-power for major projects, like the harnessing and controlling of rivers.

For many, communes were seen as a short-cut to communism. They had all the features of a State: militia, legal system, health care and educational services. The commune also replaced the small team of peasants as the base unit for organizing and controlling agricultural production and for the ownership of the means of production. One of the side-effects of this movement was that the small private landholdings guaranteed in 1961 came under attack. The commune was to be a method for rapidly transforming collective property (belonging to a group of peasants) into State property (belonging to the whole society).

In the communes, more and more work was paid for in kind and “according to the needs” of the members – reflecting the well-known communist principle (as opposed to the socialist stage principle of “according to his work”). The pressing need to mobilize women workers – together with the belief in a communist ideal – resulted in a certain collectivization of household work. The most famous examples were perhaps the free cafeterias. The peasants’ motivation for their work was to be strengthened through their political awareness. This does not seem to have been the case in practice after the initial burst of enthusiasm and the excellent harvest of 1958.

The thinker who articulated an ideological framework for this move to establish aspects of communism immediately in backward rural areas was Zhang Chunqiao, a member of the future “Gang of 4”. He published influential articles arguing against bourgeois law, material incentives, private plots of land, a standing army, and so on. The themes of the future Cultural Revolution were already being developed.

But as early as December 1958, the Central Committee had started to slow down this movement. It pointed out in passing that communism presupposed a great abundance of goods, not equal scarcity for everyone. China was given an additional 15 or 20 years to catch up.

This decision was a response to disquieting indications that not all was well. The lack of planning and technical know-how was making some of the huge public works projects useless and even harmful. Getting ready for future harvests was being sacrificed to carrying out huge projects. Many of the small enterprises established at local initiative with more enthusiasm than skills or resources were experiencing serious difficulties.

Crisis: 1960-1961

For three successive years, in 1959, 1960 and 1961, natural disasters devastated China to an unprecedented extent. Harvests were cut to 1952 levels. Strict rationing was imposed on urban areas and foreign grain was imported for the first time to avoid millions of deaths from famine.

The agricultural crisis provoked a financial and economic crisis. Industries whose raw materials came from agriculture ground to a halt. As markets dried up, heavy industry cut back production. There were more and more unemployed in the urban centres.

This crisis points up clearly that industrialization in China was contingent on progress in agriculture. Agriculture, however, was fairly backward technologically (no chemical fertilizers etc.) and involved very little mechanization. This made it extremely vulnerable to any fluctuations in the weather. This is an important aspect to grasp, for there is a limit to how much production can be increased simply by making maximum use of available resources and techniques, as happened in the 1950s. Employing more and more manpower in plots of land that are already small has its limits; at some point it ceases to improve the yields.

This period (1960) was when the U.S.S.R. chose to withdraw its technicians, instantly paralyzing many big industrial sites. The collapse of Sino-Soviet trade, which had been so important for economic growth, added to the damage done.

Difficult conditions gave rise to a major political crisis among the country’s leaders. What analysis should be made of the causes of the crisis; What solutions were needed?

Old solutions revived: 1962-1965

Each of the forward surges – the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and to a lesser extent the years 1975 and 1976 – were followed by periods of definite setbacks. The main features of all these periods were very similar: concessions to the peasantry, higher wages for workers (in 1963, 1972 and 1977) and the return of the managers and technicians previously ousted from their jobs. A consolidation of the Party’s role was also characteristic, How were these policies applied after the Great Leap Forward?

The peasantry was given special treatment. The socialization of the relations of production regressed considerably. A charter for the communes adopted in 1961 deprived the communes of any role in the organization and remuneration of the peasants’ work. The team became the base unit once again, and has remained so up until today.

This is more than a detail. It involves the material interests of the peasants, whose incomes are thus closely tied to their individual work and the work of a limited number of others. When the base unit is the commune, incomes and the organization of work are dependent on a collectivity including tens of thousands of people. Another feature of the period was a reduction in the size of the communes.

The charter also guaranteed the existence of private plots and the right to market production from these plots. As a matter of fact, the private plot of land – so often denounced as a sign of the capitalist nature of agriculture in the Soviet Union – has been just as important a part of economic life in China ever since the early 1960s.

Private plots of land make up only 5% to 7% of total farmland but account for between 20% and 35% of peasant families’ income, Fully 25% of all purchases made by the States commercial services, are of produce from private plots. The figure is over 50% for purchases of some products, such as pork and poultry. Other benefits for the peasantry included tax reductions and a more advantageous pricing policy.

These measures were part of the new economic line that emerged as a result of the years of crisis. This line involved two basic aspects: top priority for agriculture, at the expense of heavy industry; and the principle of self-reliance, summed up in the slogan “Rely only on our own resources.”

This time, making the growth of agricultural production the priority did not lead to a revolution in the relations of production. On the contrary, the emphasis was put on developing productive forces in the country-side by orienting industrial production to this goal.

One feature retained from the Great Leap Forward was an extensive network of local enterprises, but concentrated this time in the cities and large towns. As well, various changes were made. The creation of these enterprises was to be preceded by more planning and they were to be managed in ways that took more account of economic necessities. Their production was to serve agriculture by concentrating an fertilizers and farm machinery. for example. The vast programme of rural electrification undertaken at the same time had the same purpose – to permit more adequate – irrigation with pumping stations, etc.

The policy of self-reliance also signalled the beginning of a decade of particularly intense international isolation for China; it is hard to know which is cause and which is effect. Foreign trade fell off sharply with the crisis and China responded with a policy of import substitutes that has been tried a number of times by various third world countries. The Taching oilfields were opened up at this time, in a context of extremely difficult working and living conditions reminiscent of the heroic exploits of the isolated worksites in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

Self-reliance was promoted as an appealing and fundamental socialist principle until recently, when it was challenged. It was related in part to the revival of Chinese nationalism, which had taken a beating during the years of the Soviet model; but there was more to it than that. Self-reliance was also applied to activities at the levels of know which is the regions, provinces, communes and even enterprises. Units at each level were encouraged to produce as much as they could of what they needed. Communications were woefully lacking, which probably helps explain this orientation (making a virtue of necessity), but it doesnot explain it all.

One effect of this tendency to work against the division of labour was to limit exchanges and consequently undermine the foundations for the emergence of a stratum of experts who have the task of organizing complex production based on exchange and the specialization of work.

It is not hard to see why the line that was applied is described as a line of compromise. From 1962 to 1965, it was a complex, unstable and highly explosive mixture of opposing tendencies whose relative strength was not clear.

On the one hand, after 1960-61, there was a massive return of cadre and experts who had been purged as rightists during the Great Leap Forward. Professional qualifications were emphasized, notably in education. Material incentives were extended, as we saw with agriculture. Principles management, profitability, economic calculations, the division of work and moderate recentralization were reintroduced. It is no coincidence that Liu Shaoqi’s text How to be a Good Communist was republished in 1962. This book clearly stresses the leading role of the vanguard. party, undoubtedly in demarcation with the Great Leap Forward, which had evolved in response to its own mass dynamic, leaderless.

The other tendency, represented by Mao, did not consider that the failure of the Great Leap. Forward signified its defeat. With a call not to forget class struggle. Mao launched a movement of a socialist education in the countryside to put this struggle back in the forefront. His attempt met with mixed results.

But above all, 1963 and 1964 were the years when the polemic against Soviet revisionism was waged with unprecedented vigour. The attacks were extended to include the Chinese Khrushchevs as well. Behind the concern to educate a new generation of revolutionaries could be recognized the emerging themes of the Cultural Revolution. The army was gearing up for the important role it would play from 1966 to 1971. It took charge of State security, giving it a sort of monopoly on the repressive forces. Under Lin Biao’s leadership, the Little Red Book was published in 1965 at the same time as ranks in the army were abolished – a sign of desire to return to the spirit of the Yenan days.

The impression one gets is that in the economy, the line of the managers and experts seemed to be winning out, with all that this involved in terms of relying on capitalist social relations to develop production. In 1965 the Gross National Product finally surpassed pre-crisis levels; agricultural production grew from 1962 to 1967. But all this also generated class contradictions that would be expressed in the Cultural Revolution.

Mao’s tendency seems to be most active on the ideological front – much like the Gang of 4 later on. Since it does not control the economy, it wins the support of the army. Both sides are gathering strength for the open conflict that is coming. (To be continued)


[1] See article written by Bettelheim mentioned in bibliography.

[2] This is Alain Reux’s point of view.

[3] Etienne’s work stresses what we know of the economic contradictions engendered my Mao’s line Eckstein does the same thing but in a less partisan way.

[4] See Mao’s text mentioned in the bibliography.

[5] The supporter of Mao’s line in question is Edouard Poulain.

[6] The friendship, alliance and mutual aid treaty signed on February 14, 1950 between USSR and China. With this treaty, China takes sides in the Cold War. This treaty marked a sort of interlude between the period of mutual suspicion which had existed until then between the two countries and the open conflict of the sixties.

[7] Mao Zedong “On the Ten Major Relationships”, Vol. 5, Foreign Language Press, Beijing 1977, p. 284.

[8] Mao Zedong, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People”, Ibid. p 384.


1. For a pro-Mao point of view:
– Charles Bettelheim, The Great Leap Backward, published as a summer issue of Monthly Review, Vol. 30, no. 3, July-August, 78.
– Edouard Poulain., Le mode d’industrialisation socialist en Chine, Maspero, Paris 1976.
– Patrick Tissier, Chine: transformations rurales et developpement socialiste, Maspero, Paris 1976.

2. For the pro-Deng Xiaoping point of view:
– Gilbert Etienne, La Chine fait ses comptas, IEDES, PUF, Paris, 1980.

3. For a “neutral” academic point of view:
– Alexander Eckstein, China’s Economic Revolution Cambridge University Press, 1977.

4. For the point of view of the Soviet-line revisionist CPs
– Alain Roux, Le Casse-tête chinois, 30 ans de Chine socialiste vus pas communiste français, Editions sociales, Paris 1980.

5. For a.summary of Mao’s points of view on the problems raised in this article:
– Mao Zedong..A Critique of Soviet Economics, Monthly Review Press. New York and London 1977.

6. For a view of Mao as an inveterate rightist:
– “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Reversal of Worker’s Power in China”, in Progressive Labor, Vol. 8, no, 3. Nov. 71.