Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

XMLC and A. Green

New Democracy and the Transition to Socialism in China: A Polemic Against Jim Washington

The Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, and Party Rectification

In a section entitled “The ’Rectification’ of the Party”, Jim Washington focuses on the increased recruitment of the intelligentsia into the CPC in the mid-50s, mentioning the Hundred Flowers campaign only as a slogan (“Let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend”) backed by Liu Shao-chi and designed “to give the bourgeois intelligentsia the opportunity to freely propagate bourgeois ideology.” JW continues: “At the same time the revisionists wanted no restrictions on their activity and efforts to spread bourgeois ideas in the Party.” (p 15) In the next section of his pamphlet JW claims Mao subsequently endorsed the 100 Flowers slogan and the concept of mutual supervision by the CPC and the democratic parties, in Mao’s speech “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People”.

In Imperialism and the Revolution, Enver Hoxha says the policy of mutual supervision is “an open denial of the leading and indivisible role of the Marxist Leninist party in the revolution and construction of socialism.” He goes on to say the 100 Flowers slogan was part of a “conciliatory stand towards everything reactionary (which) goes so far as to call disturbances in socialist society inevitable”.[1]

None of these criticisms attempts to take up the actual historical context in which the “offending phrases” were put forward. Our investigation has led us to quite different conclusions.

The 100 Flowers slogan was actually first promoted in an unpublished speech by Mao made in May, 1956, which resulted in a mild “blooming and contending” period among the intelligentsia during the second half of 1956. After the Hungarian uprising in late 1957, Mao drew some lessons and struggled to expand the scope of 100 Flowers to encompass a rectification in which the party’s style of work, especially tendencies toward bureaucracy, would be open to criticism by the non-Party masses. Initially this effort was directed toward the intelligentsia and democratic parties, in line with the idea of “mutual supervision”.

The theory behind the campaign which was subsequently launched in late April 1957 was outlined in Mao’s speech “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People”, given February 27, 1957.

As noted above, JW ignores the 100 Flowers (and the Anti-Rightist) campaign in his discussion of party rectification in the mid-50s. The 100 Flowers campaign, in fact, was an attempt to rectify the party and prevent disturbances such as had occurred in Hungary. Although 100 Flowers did not succeed in thoroughly rectifying the party (see below), it was followed by an anti-Rightist campaign which did develop into a serious party rectification targetting rightism.

One of JW’s claims is that Liu was a main proponent of 100 Flowers and that Mao merely “endorsed” the slogan. On the contrary, it was Mao who first promoted the slogan and who later promoted it and the associated ideas as an important method to rectify the party. Liu on the other hand gave very little attention to and a narrow interpretation of “blooming and contending” at the Eighth Party Congress, and made no mention at all of external criticism of the party as part of a rectification campaign–he then and later recommended a strictly internal rectification campaign. There was considerable resistance within the party to external criticism of the party, and indirect evidence points strongly to Liu as opposing external criticism, even though he formally agreed to it on the eve of launching the 100 Flowers campaign.[2]

As to Liu and mutual supervision, Liu’s mention of it at the 8th Congress in 1956 actually sidestepped the central issue of outside supervision of the party. The concept had been put forward first by Mao in his “Ten Great Relationships” speech (April, 1956).

Once the 100 Flowers campaign was officially launched in late 1957, the actual period of criticism of the party was limited to only six weeks. Criticism was brought to an abrupt halt by the CPC, with Mao’s approval, because of the anti-socialist nature of many criticisms raised by the intellectuals and members of the democratic parties. Some of the demands attacking the leading role of the party made by the intelligentsia and democratic party members were

1. The diminution if not the extinction of the CCP’s influence on literature, art and science,
2. The abolition of the regulations for the United Front parties which confined their propaganda to certain strata of the population.
3. The appointment of at least one or two non-Communist vice-premiers.
4. The transformation of the People’s Consultative Conference, in which non-Communists were more strongly represented than the CCP, from a purely consultative body to a second decision-making body besides the National People’s Congress, i.e. into a Political Planning Board,
5. The abolition of one-party rule and free competitive elections,
6. The resignation of Mao Tse-tung and of the Communist leadership groups.[3]

It is easy to see why the campaign was brought to a halt early, given the severity and scope of these demands. It appears, however, that Mao and others in leadership were surprised by the intensity and volume of criticisms raised by the intelligentsia.

Inasmuch as the 100 Flowers campaign didn’t develop as Mao and those close to him had foreseen, it may be said there was a failure of leadership and the campaign was not a success in this respect. It must be said at the least that Mao had mistakenly expected the intelligentsia to keep its criticisms of the party, on the whole, to cases of abuses of authority and bureaucracy, and not to attacks on socialism, the leading role of the party, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

However, this failing of Mao must be weighed against several other factors. First, Mao and the CPC were attempting to find methods to ensure a sound party-mass relationship, to prevent distortions which led to events like Hungary in 1956. They were attempting to break with the long-standing tradition in the communist movement which had kept substantial criticism of the party either internal or repressed altogether. Second, as discussed briefly below, the 100 Flowers was followed shortly by the anti-Rightist campaign, which built on and tried to go beyond what had been achieved in 100 Flowers toward combatting bureaucracy and other tendencies which alienated the party from the masses without whose support the party would degenerate.

An Anti-Rightist campaign was initiated by the CPC following the 100 Flowers, and it lasted from 10-18 months, depending on the area and target. At first it was directed at the non-party intelligentsia and democratic party members, based on criticisms they had raised during 100 Flowers.

Among other results, this phase of the Anti-Rightist campaign led to devastation of the democratic parties:

The non-Communist United Front parties never recovered from the struggles of the summer and autumn of 1957. The areas for recruiting members were further limited, and the purges weakened their personnel to such an extent that thence forth they were irrelevant to the political process in the People’s Republic of China. Altogether more than 2,000 members of the RKMT were labelled as ’rightist deviationists’. The DL lost more than one-third of the members of its CC, and 4,300 more party followers. The DNCA lost 3,400, the APD 452 and the CSH 700. The party chairman of the PWDP, the Minister of Transport, Chang Po-chun, and the chairman of the TDSL, Mme Hsieh Hsueh-hung, were dismissed from their posts. Being labelled as ’rightist deviationists’ meant for most of those reprimanded that they lost their government positions as well. Thus the Minister of Forestry, Lo Lung-chi (DL), the Minister of Transport Chang (PWDP) and the Minister of Food, Chan Nai-ch’i (DNCA) were dismissed at the fifth session of the first National People’s Congress in February 1958, and together with them ten members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and 54 other members.[4]

After this campaign, any further possibility of real “mutual supervision” by the democratic parties was doubtful, in our opinion.

Many groupings of people besides urban intellectuals and members of the democratic parties were targets of or took part in the many-sided Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957-58. As F. Teiwes describes it in a detailed study of the campaign, groups ranging from “central government officials to village cadres, university scholars to common laborers, and bourgeois industrialists to people of pure proletarian origin” became involved through the efforts of the party – so much so that Teiwes terms the campaign an “all people rectification” (p. 411).

Later the Anti-Rightist campaign turned its aim toward rightists inside the CPC, and this resulted in a purge of some provincial leaders in 1958, though this was not of major proportions. The issues involved and the course of the campaign were complex, but it is clear the CPC held that rightism was the main danger at the time within the party, and few “leftists” were identified or made the subject of widespread propaganda and education.

The Anti-Rightist campaign was a movement through which the party attempted to learn from the surprisingly harsh criticisms raised during 100 Flowers and point the way toward a reorientation of the party on matters of policy in socialist construction, on the relationship with the masses, and on methods of rectifying the party. The Anti-Rightist campaign became deeply involved with an attempt to improve the line on economic construction in building socialism, to combat rightist ideas holding back production, and to move toward implementing the more radical policies which became associated with the Great Leap Forward. The pace of economic development in the countryside, for example, was one of the main issues around which rightist provincial leadership was criticized, and in some cases purged.[5]

This mass campaign lasting more than a year and a half was the most extensive and developed such campaign that the CPC had carried out to that time. It developed on many fronts and involved a great proportion of Chinese society, though it has not been as widely publicized as the Hundred Flowers campaign which set it off. Discussion, education, and propaganda were very extensive, and polemics were often sharp and harsh. While some cadre were purged, the numbers let go were small, particularly given the size and scope of the campaign. This appears characteristic of the CPC’s campaigns over the years, and in this instance also the evidence indicates that the organizational purging of the party did not correspond to the tenor of the campaign as a whole; some leniency occurred.

In summing up the 100 Flowers campaign, the foregoing should be borne in mind. Following the 100 Flowers, the rightist danger was in general better appreciated by the CPC; the rightism of the intelligentsia and others in society was struggled against, and, of great significance, the importance of struggle against rightism in the party was recognized – struggle from inside and outside the party – and measures taken to carry this struggle through.

It should be noted that there had been previous campaigns against rightism which had targetted the intelligentsia. (Domes, pp 53-55) But 100 Flowers and the Anti-Rightist campaign raised this to a higher level.

As part of improving this struggle, Mao reassessed the intelligentsia and called more strongly for the working class to produce its own technical workers (Domes, p. 87). This was a component part of what became Mao’s “strategy” for socialist construction: less reliance on heavy industry, and so less reliance on the technical intelligentsia critical to a program overly based on heavy industry.

This perspective stemmed from Mao’s evaluation of the Soviet model for economic development: he wished to improve on it and develop a strategy suited to China’s conditions. Of necessity, to put such views into practice required considerable struggle inside the party over a long period of time, particularly since Mao and those close to him were breaking significantly with the precedent for socialist industrialization and economic development: the Soviet model.

Thus, the 100 Flowers campaign should not be viewed as some liberal invitation to the intellectuals for a period of ideological laissez-faire, but as a stage – and an important one – in developing methods of struggle that nurture a living relationship between the party and the masses, and, in doing so, rectify the party.

Closely related to these points is the following: As mentioned earlier, Mao described the relationships among the forces of production, the relations of production–these two being the base–and the superstructure (ideology, state structure, laws, etc.) as in flux between imbalance and balance. Any one of these could hold back the development of the others if a correct line and practice were not followed in each area. The Hundred Flowers campaign was the first major effort by the Communist Party of China after taking state power which was aimed directly at the superstructure (ideology), with a view–not always clearly understood or articulated by the CPC at the time–towards altering ideas and practices so as to further liberate the forces and relations of production. The ensuing Great Leap Forward leaves no doubt that this was the basic perspective adopted by Mao and the Left in the CPC at the time, as the relationship between sound approach and attitudes and the development of production was made very explicit. This same basic perspective underlies the approach taken by Mao and those who agreed with him during the Cultural Revolution.

As to the specific slogan criticized by Hoxha (“Let a hundred flowers bloom . . .”), this slogan could be interpreted as part of a “conciliatory stand towards everything reactionary”, but as promoted by Mao prior to the 100 Flowers campaign and as practiced during it, it was not “conciliatory”. For example, definite limits were set on criticism. The published version of ”On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People” contains six explicit criteria on the limits of criticism.[6] The intelligentsia were also warned several other times before and during the campaign to keep their criticism within limits, and not to attack the leading role of the party.[7]

Hoxha’s criticism stems from an unrealistic policy toward class struggle under socialism, one which insists on class harmony, “monolithism”, and smooth and straight relations between the party and the masses. On the other hand, Mao’s approach, as set out in 100 Flowers, developed in the Anti-Rightist campaign, and continued to deeper levels in the Cultural Revolution, recognizes straightforwardly the diversity of opinion, the clash of policies and practices, the contradictions between the party and the masses which will be inevitable in any country during the long period of socialist construction. This may be mitigated in a tiny country like Albania in which the party may more intimately understand and lead the masses of the people, but it will exist. Further, if an unrealistic policy of “monolithic unity” is pursued, this is bound to introduce distortions into the relations between the party and the masses. As the experience of China and other countries has shown, there must be provision for the expression of ideas, including forthright criticism of the party within certain limits, if the degeneration of the party is to be avoided and a healthy atmosphere of socialist construction maintained. The Communist Party of China under Mao’s leadership did not, and dozens of other parties did, degenerate from (in part) an improper and idealist handling of the party-mass relationship.[8] Mao sought a way out of bureaucracy, sterility, “closed doorism” through such a slogan and such a campaign. This approach should be supported by those who want to construct a healthy, viable socialist society.


[1] Hoxha, Imperialism and the Revolution, pp. 111-12.

[2] There is a lack of analysis by the Communist Party of China of inner-party struggle during this period. We are critical of this, as well as the lack of documents by which to judge the struggle. One is forced to rely considerably on bourgeois scholars who have screened the press of the period to reconstruct inner-party debates. The Revolutionary Communist Party may defend the Communist Party of China in general on this subject. For our part, we think both the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labor of Albania – the leading parties up until the last few years – could have and should have done a great deal more to educate communists worldwide on the struggles that have taken place in their parties on socialist construction and other vital areas. Where are the ex-extensive open polemics by both sides such as one finds in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin up until the end of the 1920s? The Revolutionary Communist Party has been a good model on this point in their own publications, but their defense of the Communist Party of China in this area doesn’t wash. Before the 100 Flowers campaign there was an attempt by some rightists in the party to shield the intelligentsia and the national bourgeoisie from criticism, claiming criticism would endanger the Communist Party of China’s alliance with these two strata. (Solomon, p. 30.) This attempt, however, was unsuccessful, and the criticism of the rightist intellectuals during the Anti-Rightist campaign resulted in fundamental changes in the Communist Party of China’s line toward the intelligentsia.

[3] Domes, pp. 59-60.

[4] Domes, p. 84.

[5] Teiwes, pp. 416-19.

[6] Domes argues that the six criteria may have not been mentioned in the February 1957 speech but added several months later in the published version (p. 58).

[7] Solomon, p. 312.

[8] We are not implying that the Party of Labor of Albania degenerated into a bureaucratic or revisionist party; rather, that there are danger signs. The Party of Labor of Albania, along with the Communist Party of China, led the way in resisting the tendency toward all-around degeneration of the communist parties over the last thirty years. However, the Party of Labor of Albania has in the last couple of years put forward very forcefully and definitely certain views which call into question the depth of their understanding of class struggle under socialism, the relation between the party and the masses, and inner-party struggle. Since the death of Mao Tse-Tung and the purge of the Left in China, the Party of Labor of Albania has gone back on what was presented by them as close agreement with the general line on the construction of-socialism and related matters held by the Communist Party of China. Increasingly the Party of Labor of Albania urges reliance on the experience of Stalin and the Soviet Union in the construction of socialism, turning away from the advances in understanding class struggle under socialism achieved by the Communist Party of China and, at the time, popularized by the Party of Labor of Albania as well. Still, based on our study to date, our view is that the Party of Labor of Albania has been and remains a Marxist-Leninist party and Albania is continuing its construction of socialism.