First Published: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 3, January 23, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Forge has received a great many questions from readers concerned about recent developments in socialist China. In the following article The Forge would like to take the opportunity to briefly present its view on some of these questions.
Readers are invited to send us further questions and comments on this and other articles on China.
How does The Forge view the ongoing efforts to modernize China? Is this a valid policy?
We definitely think that modernization is an important task for China, whose economy remains relatively backward despite great advances since 1949.
The aim of building a rich and strong socialist China is not new. In 1957, Mao Zedong wrote of the need to “make China a socialist country with modern industry, modem agriculture, and modern science and culture.” (Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, Vol. 5)
Former Prime Minister Zhou Enlai first put forward the four modernizations as official policy at the National People’s Congress in 1974. It was a far-reaching plan which included modernization of agriculture, industry, scientific and technological research, and national defence by the end of this century.
What about the new economic reforms and their effects?
While it is normal that China re-adjust its economic plans and develop new policies to repair the damage caused by the Gang of Four, we have serious questions about a certain number of the new economic reforms.
Among these is the decision to allow individual enterprises more control over profits and investments and in some cases even authorizing them to carry on commerce directly with foreign countries.
The control of prices has also been loosened and there have been certain steps to allow market forces to play a greater role in regulating production.
Also, competition between different factories and communes for raw materials and markets has been encouraged while the role of socialist emulation has been downplayed.
While some of these policies could be justified, all these reforms taken together appear to lead towards weakening the centrally-planned nature of China’s economy. In our opinion, they could have serious consequences on socialist construction in the upcoming period.
After all, isn’t central planning one of the cornerstones of a socialist economy? Doesn’t it permit a socialist country to do away with the total anarchy and other problems typical of capitalist production?
Another major reform in the factories and communes has placed almost exclusive accent on material incentives to raise production while placing less importance on moral (ie. political) incentives.
It was erroneous to do away almost completely with material incentives as was done during the Cultural Revolution. But is the new reform correct?
It seems to us that China’s present attitude towards incentives could lead to harmful competition and a widening of already existing differences among working people.
Marxists have always considered that moral incentives are primary and should be combined with material incentives, and that neither one should be neglected.
The Chinese government’s recent decision to freeze all prices and to pull back on some economic reforms in an effort to reduce inflation is evidence that some of the new measures are not working. It has also revealed a lack of unanimity on many of the recent policies among the CPC leadership and among the people.
Did the policies supported by Mao Zedong hold back China’s economic development, as certain people in Chins now claim?
Certain Chinese leaders argue that it is necessary to change some of the economic policies developed by the CPC under Mao Zedong’s leadership because they caused “serious economic dislocation.”
But, in fact, from the late ’50s until the mid-’70s the Chinese economy made important advances under Mao Zedong’s leadership. Even during the Cultural Revolution, Mao and other leaders like Zhou Enlai always stated that this mass movement must serve to advance and not hold back economic development.
Of course problems did arise, especially in the years 1974-75 just before Mao Zedong’s death, when the Gang of Four seriously sabotaged the economy and persecuted many people in their frantic attempt to grab power. This caused grave problems in many regions and held back development.
Despite the Gang’s influence, however, China’s economy has developed faster than almost all other third world nations and capitalist countries, even during the decade 1966-76. For instance, from 1965 to 1973, socialist China’s overall industrial output grew by about 10 to 11 per cent per year, according to the Encyclopedia of China Today (F.M..Kaplan, J.M. Sobin at S. Andors: Encyclopedia of China today, New York, Harper & Row, Eurasia Press, 1979). In the same period Canada’s output increased less than five per cent per year.
China’s agriculture grew by about 2.5 per cent per year and total steel production more than doubled in the same period. From 1965 to 1975, according to the same source, oil production more than doubled.
To appreciate the gains the people of China made under Mao Zedong’s leadership, we have only to compare this socialist country with India, where the system of poverty and famine for the great majority of the population has changed little over the past 30 years.
Even at that, Mao Zedong and the CPC were not satisfied with the progress and decided to push ahead with the four modernizations in the early ’70s.
Clearly, to paint an overly negative picture of the economic situation during the last 20 years of Mao’s life is inaccurate and serves to negate his important contributions to socialist construction during this period.
Today a lot of attention in China is given to reinstating democratic rights and The legal system. What does The Forge think of these developments?
Over the last couple of years there has been a large development of socialist democracy in China.
While the Cultural Revolution was a great mass movement which involved millions of Chinese in the political process and led to the development of many new democratic initiatives, it had weaknesses. These included the dismantling of some legal institutions and mass organizations like the trade unions.
The Gang of Four exploited these weaknesses and seriously undermined democracy, as they imprisoned and even murdered some Party leaders and ordinary Chinese who opposed their policies.
Among the important recent developments is the rank-and-file election of leadership in most factories and communes. Congresses of workers and staff members have now been democratically elected in over 80 per cent of the factories in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin to supervise and evaluate cadres and to review major policy decisions. These factory congresses are being popularized across the country.
A system of direct elections with more than one candidate per position has been instituted in the People’s Congresses up to the county level. Before, elections were indirect, often with only one candidate in each post.
Trade unions have recently resumed their activities to look after the needs of workers. Other mass organizations like the Youth League and Women’s Federation have also been revived.
At the same time, the legal system has been strengthened. This makes all citizens truly equal before the law and should help combat privilege-seeking party and state cadre.
However, a certain number of steps taken appear to us quite negative, such as the decision to abolish the “four big rights” – that is the right “to speak out freely, air their views fully, hold great debates and write big-character posters (dazibao)” – which were previously included in article 45 of China’s Constitution.
These rights were deleted from the Constitution by the National People’s Congress last September. This decision appears to be linked to the complete and unilateral renunciation of the Cultural Revolution, since the “four big rights” played an important role during this tumultuous decade.
From what we understand of this period, these rights allowed a great number of Chinese people to take part in political discussions and to air their criticisms and points of view. Although these rights may have been used to attack some people unjustly, it seems wrong to reject them out of hand as “conspirators’ tools” as the Chinse press does today.
After all, it was Mao Zedong himself who wrote the famous dazibao, “Bombard the Headquarters,” at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
How do you evaluate China’s foreign policy?
Overall, socialist China’s role in international affairs continues to be positive. While we may have differences on som questions, they are giving firm support to peoples around the globe in the front lines of the fight against imperialism, especially those people battling the two superpowers.
This includes the peoples of Korea and Palestine in their efforts to overthrow US-backed regimes. It also includes the key role China is playing in building support for the Afghan and Kampuchean people’s fights for freedom against Moscow’s aggression.
In South-East Asia, the Marxist-Leninist parties in such countries as the Philippines and Thailand receive China’s fraternal backing. China also continues to play a leading role in the fight against the growing danger of war.
What about China’s recent decisions to recognize the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) as genuine communist parties?
We believe it is a serious mistake to qualify them as communist. It is a complete reversal of China’s previous position. In the early 1960s, for instance, the CPC criticized the PCI in two in-depth criticisms, “On the differences between Comrade Togliatti and us” and “More on the difference between Comrade Togliatti and us.”
In the polemics the CPC stated that the positions of the PCI leadership were an “out and out total revision of Marxism-Leninism on the question of state and revolution” and placed the PCI in the camp of the “modern revisionists.”
Last April when PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer visited China, CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang called him a “fine son of the Italian people, a splendid fighter in the international communist movement.”
Does this mean the PCI has fundamentally changed its nature since the early ’60s? We think not. At the PCI’s 15th Congress under Berlinguer’s leadership the PCI dropped all reference to the basic Marxist-Leninist principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Also, during the 1970’s the PCI allied with the minority Christian Democrats and supported the CD’s overtly anti-worker policies.
In Spain the PCE led by Santiago Carrillo has had a similar history rejecting the dictatorship of the proletariat and supporting the government’s wage freezes.
The opposition these parties have lately demonstrated towards some Soviet policies such as the invasion of Afghanistan is positive. There is nothing wrong with China developing some exchanges with the PCI and PCE in order to play upon the contradictions between these parties and Moscow.
But since when does a certain opposition to the Kremlin make a party communist?
In your answers there seem to be positive developments in China as well as a series of problems. How do you account for this?
We believe that the developments in China today as well as the often contradictory points of view on some questions are clearly the result of debate over what orientation to follow in socialist construction. This is taking place among the people and up to the top levels of the CPC. One group appears to want to follow the basic policies developed by Mao Zedong and the CPC during the first 30 years of socialism, while adjusting the policies to deal with the changing situation.
On the other hand, there are some people, apparently including top-level leaders like Deng Xiaoping,who seem deermined to make a major break with the policies developed under Mao Zedong’s leadership.
The debates between these two groups appears certain to heat up over the next few months.