Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Great Democratic Debate Sweeps China

First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 47, December 4, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There has been widespread speculation in the media recently about events in the People’s Republic of China. From all appearances, a great democratic movement is underway with broad debates on important basic questions to the Chinese revolution.

The wall posters, mass meetings, and other forms of this debate have put many Western journalists through all sorts of contortions, tearing apart the image they have always portrayed of socialism as an autocratic dictatorship with no freedom of speech.

It is still too early to tell all the ramifications of the current movement, or the exact nature of the various issues involved. China has embarked on what has been termed its “second long March” to transform itself into a modern industrial socialist country by the year 2000.

This effort is accompanied by a continuing struggle against the influences of the “gang of four” –the reactionaries who tried in vain to seize power following the death of Mao Tsetung in 1976. The “gang” exercised what they called “all-round dictatorship” over the people wherever they could. Their base of support was so small and shaky that they couldn’t dare allow a word of dissent to crop up for fear it’ would topple them. The present movement is sending up a “hundred flowers” as the masses take full advantage of the climate of freedom that exists since the departure of the “gang.”

The current Chinese leadership enjoys the full support of the people. Under Chairman Hua Kuo-feng’s leadership and with the return of Teng Hsiao-ping to his post of deputy prime minister, the whole country has been brought together in a common struggle to carry out the modernization campaign and to safeguard socialism.

Among the issues presented in the wall posters that have been quoted in the press is that of democracy, both in China and in the West.

There have also been rumors that Teng Hsiao-ping might be appointed Premier, a post now held by Chairman Hua.

This situation arises because Teng’s removal from office in 1976 came in the aftermath of the famous Tien An Men incident, an event which the Party has now affirmed to have been a revolutionary action. But at the time it took place (April 5, 1976) there was confusion spread by the “gang”-dominated press which called the incident “counter-revolutionary.”

What actually happened in Tien An Men that day was that thousands of people flocked to Peking’s giant square to commemorate the beloved late Premier Chou En-lai. When the “gang” tried to squash the commemoration of Chou, the people rebelled. They denounced the “gang” and opposed their mounting attacks on Teng, who had worked closely with Premier Chou in charting the plans for China’s modernization drive.

At the time, Chairman Mao was extremely ill and not in close touch with what was happening. The removal of Teng from leadership that followed the Tien An Men incident went along with the “gang’s” gross violations of socialist democracy and raised a number of important questions about the future of socialism.

These questions are especially important in light of the restoration of capitalism in the USSR following Stalin’s death and the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in that birthplace of socialism. How can this be prevented in China? How can socialist democracy be insured and the full participation of the masses themselves be promoted in this new “Long March”?

Of course, when you have working class democracy and when the masses are unharnessed from old superstitions and fears, there are bound to be both correct and incorrect ideas put forth. In China as well as other socialist countries, there are still classes and two roads–socialist and capitalist–that can be traveled and this struggle between two lines goes on within the Communist Party as well as outside of it.


For example, it appears that in China today there are some who are confusing socialist democracy with the kind of “democracy” we have here in the U.S., a democracy that in reality exists only for the rich. Some people are awed by the great industrial development of the West, especially now that steps have been taken to increase trade and contacts with the U.S. and other capitalist countries.

Some of this sentiment is also a response to the “gang of four,” who glorified China’s economic backwardness and claimed that nothing could be learned from the West. But a significant wall poster went up in Peking last week criticizing this erroneous view of capitalist “democracy,” saying, China does not need a “Hyde Park kind of democracy”–a reference to a London park where orators espouse different causes.


Some people have also gone so far as to attack Mao Tsetung in the wall posters. But other posters insisted that the Chinese people would never allow Chairman Mao to be “chopped down.”

The great debate that is taking place was termed a “good thing” by Teng Hsiao-ping last week in an interview with American columnist Robert Novak. But Teng also stated that some of the statements on the wall posters were incorrect, especially the “unfair” criticisms of Mao Tsetung. He warned that the importance of the posters should not be “exaggerated.” He added, “The people like to have the right to speak.”

While criticisms of Mao as well as some naive references to American democracy in China’s wall posters were quickly seized upon by the U.S. press, other more relevant ones weren’t so widely covered here. One of the most important posters said, “China will declare to the world that China from the center to the grassroots is stable and united.” On this theme, Teng, in his talk with Novak, refuted the idea that he will be made premier, a post that was offered him after his return to political prominence in 1977 and which he turned down because of his advanced age of 75. He also denied the rumors that there was a split in the leadership, telling the journalist that he and Hua Kuo-feng were unified.

Finally, on the question of Chairman Mao, Teng said that Mao’s contributions were beyond the description of words. “Every Chinese knows that without Chairman Mao there would have been no new China,” he said.