Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Criticism of The Call’s Coverage: Looking at China Realistically

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 33, October 6-19, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Call Note: The following was submitted by an American friend living in China.

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I am a regular Call reader now working in China. Although I am hardly a “China expert,” I speak and read the language quite well and have been here for over a year and a half, which has enabled me to learn a lot about the situation. The Call recently printed an article about China’s countryside which I feel contains quite a number of inaccuracies and is misleading. (See The Call, July 21, “China’s new farm policy” by Fran Conroy.

•The Red Star Commune mentioned in the article is not at all typical, as the author asserted. The accounting is done at the production team level for most communes, not at the commune level as in Red Star. Changing to brigade level is only for communes with definite material conditions, which most communes do not have.

The Chinese countryside is a lot poorer than people think. In some cases peasants don’t even sell grain to the state because they can hardly produce enough for themselves to eat! Of course communes that are that backward are in the minority, but so are communes – such as Red Star. The reality is somewhere in between.

•The article mentions some sort of “retreat to the team level,” as a recent development. In fact, the “retreat” occurred over 20 years ago after what is now recognized in China as the failure of the “Great Leap Forward.” It’s true that teams have been further subdivided into smaller “work teams,” but the old three-level system is still quite intact. So far as I know the production team is still the main unit of accounting and planning.

If there has been any “retreat” in China, it’s been a retreat to objective reality. How do you expect a country that is only one step out of feudalism to build an advanced socialist (no less communist) state?

•The article also mentioned that going on to the commune stage is based only on “mutual trust” among the peasants of the particular area. I find this a bit idealist. Mutual trust and other subjective factors are quite important, but nothing can take the place of having prepared an adequate material base, which is simply not present in much of China’s countryside. Besides, some of the areas that “advanced” to the commune level only did so due to executive order; “mutual trust” was not involved at all.

•The falsification of figures at Dazhai has been proven and is not just “alleged” as the article states. Dazhai did make a lot of progress after liberation, but it is a fact that production figures were exaggerated by over 20% every year all throughout the 70s. This sort of dishonesty was rampant during the “Great Leap Forward,” the “Cultural Revolution,” and is still doing damage today despite current newspaper campaigns against it.

I support you completely in your attempt to print realistic, even critical articles about China. Unfortunately, the things you have chosen to criticize are to me the few things that give me hope about China’s future: The various economic reforms have already had something of a positive effect here and really seem to be wholeheartedly welcomed by a lot of people.

What really disturbs me most about China is the prevalence of bureaucracy–legal and illegal– special privileges for cadres, and insufficient democracy. These are problems that existed even before the gang of four.

The masses simply do not have enough institutionalized means of supervising cadres and officials, such as widespread, unmanaged elections, the right to recall any officials and real worker rule in production units. Elections are usually limited to shop heads, and most are only consulted, sometimes only occasionally, on production matters. Factory Party committees, which are appointed, have too many powers concerning daily production matters, instead of just limiting their role to providing ideological leadership and ensuring that general government policies are implemented. Elections on the local level and attempts to separate party and state were a step forward in the right direction, but there still is a long way to go.

Some people have explained to me that this lack of meaningful political participation is one of the reasons for the low morale and general turning away from politics that can be observed among the masses now, especially young people.

I think there should be a “Fifth Modernization” in the political system, which despite a few changes by Mao and others, is still pretty much based on the over-centralized hierarchical old Soviet model. This model may be all right for the first few years following revolution in developing countries, but it is now antiquated even in China and certainly shouldn’t be a model for technologically advanced countries.

Although I am very glad to see an end to the almost obsessive “China worship” that had prevailed in the U.S. movement, I think it would be a mistake and a cop-out to reduce reportage just because changes are happening in China that you can’t totally understand or even cope with. Especially now that The Call seems to be going through an anti-ultra-leftism rectification, it would seem to make sense to call the readers’ attention to similar developments in China as well.

I also think there is a lot Americans can learn from China’s negative example. The Chinese CP. consistently failed to adequately sum up various mistakes ever since 1957 (most of which were “leftist” in nature). Also, even when a wrong line was corrected in the past, there was always a tendency just to blame a handful of individual “renegades” instead of looking for the real sources of trouble in the Party itself and/or in the political structure.

A careful analysis of China’s mistakes could also lead U.S. Marxists to ask themselves a few questions that would be quite relevant to the situation in America as well as China, such as: What exactly is revisionism? What is the relationship between material base and superstructure (judging from the above example concerning “mutual trust,” there is a definite tendency to exaggerate the latter)? Does “Party leadership” have to mean Party control and manipulation?

How do you institutionalize supervision of the masses over Party and government? Does criticism of the Party make one reactionary or “anti-Party”? Can Party newspapers openly debate issues on which there is no fixed line? How do you evaluate mistakes as well as contributions of leaders like Mao and Stalin? And so-on.

I think that the people are going to want to know just what it is that you have in mind for them when you’re talking about having socialism in America. Simply condemning capitalism or speaking in generalities about how exploitation will be eliminated and so on, is not enough. In other words, you’re going to need a specific program if you really want to win over more people.

I believe that China is a socialist country, however primitive, as there is little private ownership, no exploitation, and generally speaking the Party and government still more or less stands for and are working in the interests of the people. However, if more is not done to increase real mass supervision, then China could very well develop into another Soviet Union.