Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Klonsky

Commentary by CPML Chairman: Socialist modernization and the class struggle in China today

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 32, August 27, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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A recent Call article by Charles Elias on the latest session of China’s National People’s Congress has stirred up some controversy. I would like to comment on some of the questions raised in the article.

First of all, I think it is a positive thing that such healthy discussion and debate can go on in our movement today. It represents an advance from the days when revolutionaries in this country would often blindly parrot things from other parties without question, or would mechanically try to apply the experiences of other countries here.

In my opinion, the Elias article was correct in its praise for the decisions of the Second Session of the 5th National People’s Congress. The meeting represented a great step forward down the road towards developing China into a modern and highly developed socialist country.

The Congress made a number of extremely important and difficult decisions based on a summary of the concrete experiences of the Chinese revolution. It readjusted some of the plans laid out at the first session of the NPC because these plans were based upon an unrealistic assessment of the problems faced in setting the pace for the modernization campaign.

The NPC also adopted a new legal framework which will insure democracy under socialism and prevent the kind of violations that occurred under the reign of the gang of four. No longer will it be possible to punish people for their ideas if they should happen to disagree with those in areas of leadership. Counterrevolutionary activity, on the other hand, has been clearly defined. All Chinese citizens, regardless of position, are to be treated equally before the law.

This new legal system is based upon an assessment of the real class forces at work in China. It is a part of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which must continually be strengthened under socialism. And here is where much of the controversy around the Elias article arises.

The question is being asked, what is the relationship between this continuing class struggle in China which Premier Hua’s speech affirmed, and the campaign to carry out the four modernizations? Hua brought out the two controversial points dealing with this subject. First he said that “class struggle is no longer the principal contradiction in our society.” Secondly he called for an end to “large scale, turbulent class struggle” in the future.

Elias correctly points out that this reflects some changes from the First Session of the NPC held in 1978. But it must be added that the conditions have changed since that time and some adjustments must be made. First and foremost, the gang of four have been thoroughly smashed and in the main their political line has been exposed and defeated. As a result, this session of the NPC pushes China into a period calling for new tasks and priorities.

Some might erroneously argue that Premier Hua’s view of the principal contradiction is a break from the view of Mao Zedong and others that class struggle is the principal contradiction under socialism. Some are worried that China might follow in the direction of the Soviet Union, claiming that class struggle has disappeared and promoting a bourgeois line in industrializing the country. But in my mind this is not the case.

Rather, I think Hua is describing the tasks for the next period in socialist construction, not summarizing the general picture of socialist society.

In general, one could say that under socialism the main contradiction is between the proletariat in power and the bourgeoisie which continues attempting to regain power in various ways. But one of the most important lessons that has come out of the struggle against the gang of four is that such general formulations by themselves are not adequate and can even be harmful when they are separated in a metaphysical fashion from the need for concrete direction and leadership.

Whether here in the U.S. or in China, there can be no substitute for concrete analysis of concrete conditions. This is the heart and soul of Marxism-Leninism.

The way I understand Hua’s report is that the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in China, while still existing, isn’t the principle contradiction at this time. This doesn’t negate the centrality of class struggle in general under socialism, nor does it separate, as some would have us do, the four modernizations from class struggle. Rather it gives concrete direction to the Chinese people.

In the period ahead, the central task is to carry out the four modernizations. Big, turbulent class struggles are not timely and would be disruptive to this, task, which is a life-or-death question for China’s survival as a socialist country.

But what about Elias’ question asking what would happen if “another group of capitalist readers should make inroads” in the future? Elias is again right in the general sense. If such a thing should occur, another shift in the focus of the struggle would then have to take place.

But for now, this isn’t the case. The Marxist-Leninists are firmly in power. I think Hua was speaking of the “future,” not in the abstract or in an eternal sense, but in the concrete future–meaning the next period ahead which will be guided by this Congress.

Elias then asks another very important question. “Shouldn’t socialist modernization be considered a form of class struggle?”

It seems to me that the answer to this question is yes. The four modernizations can be seen as a form of class struggle in the sense that the campaign isn’t simply aimed at raising the level of production.

The four modernizations, for example, are also aimed at eliminating the soil in which a new bourgeoisie can emerge. The campaign is aimed at strengthening China’s defense capacity, certainly a part of the class struggle. And socialist production in and of itself is a form of class struggle in the sense that socialism strives to outdo capitalism in the world. As Elias points out, Hua’s report says that the principal contradiction includes the transformation of those relations of production and superstructure which hamper modernization and of all old habits which harm it. This is an example of the unity of the modernization campaign with class struggle.

But again, when discussing the principal contradiction, it is important to pay attention to the concretes of the present situation. Throughout the course of history of capitalism as well as socialism, the principal contradiction within a given country can change according to the changes in the different stages in the development of revolution. To draw on an example from Chinese history, prior to the invasion of China by Japanese imperialism, the principal contradiction in China was the internal class struggle between feudalism and the masses. But following the invasion, Mao Zedong pointed out that the principal contradiction had changed to one between the entire Chinese nation and imperialism. The central task became one of driving out the foreign invaders.

Did this mean that this struggle wasn’t a “form of class struggle”? No, while the national question had become principal, national struggle was a form of class struggle. In speaking of the class struggle, we are speaking in the general sense. But in the particular sense, the class struggle, that is the struggle between China’s landlords and exploiters on the one side and the toiling masses on the other, could not have assumed centrality at that time without weakening the struggle against imperialism.

Some people have responded to the Elias article claiming that the political revolution is always the principal contradiction under socialism. But this is dogmatic in my opinion.

There are times when economic revolution becomes decisive and when socialist construction becomes the spearhead of the struggle against’ those who would restore capitalism.

Lenin pointed this out in the early 1920s.

Whether under capitalism or socialism, the principal contradiction must shift with the change of periods. While in general the class struggle is the determining factor during these entire epochs, there are periods within the framework of capitalist and socialist society which call for a shift in the analysis of the principal contradiction.

The struggle being waged by the Chinese people under the leadership of their Communist Party is one of world importance. Our comrades in the People’s Republic of China are charting new ground. They are solving, with great difficulty, many problems never fully solved in other socialist countries. Most significantly, they are addressing their problems (and there are many) with an open and self-critical approach, something all of us would do well to learn from.

Our Chinese comrades have strongly affirmed that practice and only practice can be the criterion of truth. And the practice under Lin Biao and the gang of four showed that calls for large-scale turbulent class struggle aren’t always appropriate. The fact that China practically came to a standstill economically for a decade or more because of their influence is proof enough.

For our part, we should have the same open attitude in developing our own understanding. It is good to raise questions and to study problems scientifically. I hope that this article will encourage more discussion and debate.

Let the enemy try and make use of our mistakes and our policy of criticism and self-criticism. Let them write about our problems or the problems of socialism and try and sow division and demoralization. Whatever harm they can cause will more than be made up for in the strength that is gained for the revolutionary movement by summing up its problems and errors.

We will continue to march forward with confidence in socialism and in the masses. If there are those who are upset because socialism has its problems, it is high time that they woke up to face reality.

In my view, the situation in socialist China is very healthy. We should continue to learn from China and other countries as well. We should always support socialism, strengthen our solidarity with the great Communist Party of China and maintain our faith in the Chinese people.