Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

Why are Chinese leaders downgrading Mao?

First Published: In Struggle! No. 214, August 19, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Since Monday, August 11, most of the public portraits and monuments in memory of Mao Zedong have been coming down everywhere in China. It has also been decided that Mao’s works should from now on be distributed “on a reduced scale and with caution”. These are the practical consequences of a directive adopted by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China a little less than four years after the death of the person who led the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people for more than forty years.

The Chinese leaders would have us believe that all this is simply a criticism of the personality cult of Mao that left such an imprint on the country’s political life. But one has to be very naive to accept that explanation, especially since these same leaders have resumed extravagant praises of the political merits of Liu Shaoqi. The rehabilitated Liu, former president of the People’s Republic, was dismissed from office for opposing the dictatorship of the proletariat and the continuation of the Chinese revolution. More than 10,000 dignitaries attended the ceremony last May 17 to celebrate the rehabilitation of Liu Shaoqi, now considered to be a great Marxist and proletarian revolutionary.

There is actually a very specific political line behind this downgrading of Mao Zedong – the line of Deng Xiaoping and his buddies who, ever since the revolution came to power in 1949, have been working to build Chinese capitalism. Deng Xiaoping himself summed up his appraisal of Mao Zedong in these words: “Before Liberation, great merits; after Liberation, errors; and since the Cultural Revolution, crimes.” (Le Monde, Sept. 15, 1979) Deng’s phrase reflects his opposition to Mao’s struggle after 1949 against the Chinese revisionists and capitalists who tried to turn the people’s struggle to their own personal advantage. As Deng himself indicated, this struggle began in the period immediately following the Liberation, when Mao committed what Deng describes as his first “errors”. It reached its highwater mark during the Cultural Revolution in 1966-67, the period to which he refers in speaking of Mao’s “crimes”. Deng knows very well what he is talking about: he was the first, along with Liu Shaoqi, to be thrown out of power during the Cultural Revolution.

That this is Deng’s line is confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt when one examines all the policies adopted by the Chinese government since Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping took power, and more especially since the end of 1978, when Deng assumed full power.

In terms of the economy, the Chinese leaders’ new economic policy has been characterized by an “open-door” policy for foreign capital. The hotels of Beijing and Shanghai have had a steady stream of visitors, as the representatives of the big U.S., Japanese, German, Canadian and other monopolies checked in one after the other.

At the same time, they adopted various measures to ensure the freedom of action and prosperity of the foreign monopolies. The monopolies were allowed to reach agreements directly with Chinese firms and to manage their businesses in China much as they would in capitalist countries – they were even allowed to lay off workers who were not considered productive enough.

In terms of domestic policy, the slogan of the four great modernizations (namely of the army, industry, agriculture and science and technology) gave way to the drive for the full restoration of a market economy. This has meant that businesses are now authorized to dispose of their own capital and labour force as they please.

The reform of the system of economic management which got under way at the end of last year has authorized all Chinese firms to set their own prices. Significantly, all the changes in prices have been increases; in fact, the only exceptions provided for in the new law are designed to prevent prices from dropping! The new system also stipulates that a large share of a firm’s profits should remain in the hands of the individual firm instead of being turned over to the State, as they used to be. Profits are to be used first and foremost for the technological development of the business and only secondarily to improve the workers’ incomes. All Chinese enterprises now have the right to fire or demote workers. Responsibility for “business matters” has been taken away from the factory committee, which used to be elected by the workers, and turned over to the manager, head engineer and chief accountant. Last but not least, the leading Chinese firms now have the power to take over smaller firms and thus build what can only be called monopolies, concentrating control of the agricultural, industrial and commercial capital for an entire region.

The goal everywhere has become to maximize free enterprise. As far as the Chinese leaders are concerned, the only remaining difference between socialism and capitalism is socialism’s use of central planning, and even this is increasingly limited by the growing freedom of action being given to company managers.

The results were entirely predictable. As Vice-premier Zhao Ziyang himself admits, the economic reforms have led to unbridled speculation, fraud, uneven growth of profits, overproduction in some of the more profitable branches and the abandoning of production in less profitable lines of production. As a result, there are now more than 30 million unemployed in China; at the same time, there is a shortage of basic necessities such as bread, meat, eggs and vegetables, despite the fact that prices are up 30% to 50%.

In the political sphere, all the persons who have been upholding Mao Zedong’s political positions have been systemically eliminated at all levels of leadership. The dirty work was led by a central discipline and control commission created in the wake of the third plenum of the Central Committee in December 1978. At the same time all the former party and State leaders ousted from power in the Cultural Revolution are being rehabilitated, some even promoted. The Chinese constitution was amended last January to drop the four fundamental freedoms that Mao defended during the Cultural Revolution. They are the rights to “speak out freely, air their views fully, hold great debates and write big-character posters”. Deng Xiaoping explained the deletion thus: “I am for democracy, but I am against the excesses it engenders”.

Internationally, the united front against the two superpowers is now openly a united front against the Soviet Union founded on a China-Japan-U.S. axis. A military alliance with U.S. and Japanese imperialism has been established in practice. In February, U.S. Defence Secretary Harold Brown set up military co-operation during his visit to Beijing. The United States has lifted the ban on the export of ultra-modern technology for military use.

The Chinese party has officially recognized revisionist parties like the Italian CP which have taken their distance from Moscow.

In short, Deng Xiaoping’s China is a country where the Chinese capitalists and foreign imperialists are enabled to develop at the expense of the workers and peasants. It is the dictatorship of a minority of bureaucrats, intellectuals and managers. It is a regime which tries to muzzle the people by denying basic freedoms.

The history of the Chinese revolution is still to be written. One fact, though, is already evident. The new emperors will never be able to cover it up even by proscribing the works of Mao. The people of China stood up. They started down the road to taking their destiny into their own hands, to feeding and educating themselves, when Mao Zedong was still alive and kicking. Today those same people have been forced to their knees before the Chinese capitalists and their foreign allies, and wretchedness of their condition gets plainer every day.