Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Building socialism according to Chinese conditions

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 18, September 26-October 9, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Socialism is a relatively new social system in the world, and twists and turns in its construction are inevitable. It took hundreds of years for capitalism to develop economically and politically, and it will take a protracted period of time for the rule of the working class to develop as well.

The conditions of each country vary tremendously in the world today. Great differences exist in histories, levels of social and economic development, culture and political experiences, and as a result, it is impossible for there to be a set path for revolution and the construction of socialism.

The people of each country must make their own revolutions. The Chinese have always maintained this view and are proceeding to do exactly that to build socialism in China, and this is something worth learning from. This is reflected in the decisions of the recently concluded session of the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC), one of the most significant meetings since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The NPC is the highest decision-making body of the Chinese government. Its delegates, who met over a 12-day period, agreed on a number of major decisions. The most publicized was the resignation of Hua Guofeng as premier, and the election of Zhao Ziyang as the new chief officer. Seven vice-premiers, including Deng Xiaoping also resigned and were replaced. The Congress deputies also passed four new major laws which update old ones or institute new rules. These concerned marriage, citizenship, and income taxes on jointly owned enterprises and on the income of some individuals.

The Congress also discussed and accepted several major reports from various bodies of the government and the economy. The most important was a two-hour speech given by Hua Guofeng summarizing the work of the government and the major tasks for the coming year. These reports touched on the main issues being tackled in China today.


One of the most basic of these is the necessity to correct erroneous ways of thinking that had damaged China’s work over the past decade or so. It was emphasized that work must proceed from an assessment of the objective conditions and what is actually possible. Some economic plans will be revised because the previous ones established unrealistic goals.

The Congress endorsed the various reforms taking place in China’s system of economic management. Less emphasis is being given to central planning and more to individual enterprise initiative. China is also trying to make more use of commodity production and the market to help develop and determine production.

China’s experience has been that over-centralization of economic plans has stifled the economy, making for inefficiency, wastefulness and unresponsiveness. But by giving a certain allowance for enterprises to have more independence in organizing production, pricing and marketing their products, China has found that the economy can grow faster and better fulfill people’s needs. As a result of these reforms, the variety and quality of consumer goods has already improved in China over the past several months.


The subject given a great deal of attention by the Congress was the need to eliminate government bureaucracy. This goal and the establishment of a stable, efficient system of people’s government has been one of the central concerns of the Chinese. China inherited a long tradition of bureaucracy from feudalism, with practices such as nepotism, privilege seeking and authoritarianism. The breakdown of the government during the Cultural Revolution actually gave new impetus to these problems. China is today making great efforts to eliminate these erroneous methods.

Closely related to this is the need to further develop socialist democracy. The NPC emphasized that a system of strictly adhered to laws and practices must be established to enable socialist construction to go forward. Special attention must be given to see that government personnel follow rules and discipline and not have special privileges.

One legal matter that was given a lot of press in the U.S. was the deletion from the Chinese constitution of the right to conduct wall poster debates. This practice had become popularized during periods of the Cultural Revolution, but the Chinese believe these posters actually hindered rather than helped democracy since the debates encouraged anonymous and rumor-mongering slander. Rather, China today is stressing institutionalization of democratic procedures such as direct election of county governments, elections of factory administrative personnel and improved government functioning.

Along these lines, the NPC also set up a committee to further revise the constitution in 1981. One further new practice that was instituted at this NPC session was encouraging the resignation of elderly leaders and their replacement with younger people. The resignation of several of the vice-premiers was thus a precedent. Lifelong tenure in government posts had become a custom in China.

Far-reaching significance

The decisions made at the NPC are of major significance, but they are themselves a part of broader changes taking place in China today. The Chinese are in the midst of defining what socialism will look like in China.

Following the revolution in 1949, the Chinese adopted much of the example of socialism in the Soviet Union as their own. This included the governmental structure as well as economic setup. The Chinese did revise and adapt various policies to suit their own conditions, especially after the condemnation of Soviet revisionism in the late 1950’s. But the disruption caused by the Cultural Revolution impeded the development of the concrete application of socialist principles to the concrete conditions of China.

Following the purge of the ̶gang of four” in 1976, it took the Chinese a year before they began to squarely confront certain objective facts: the productive forces of the country were weak; the country was still poor; a system of law was nonexistent; and the government was unsettled, ineffectual and in instances even autocratic over the people. Feudal thinking and practices were still widely in existence. While much progress had been made since the 1949 revolution, major practical problems existed for the further development of socialism in China.

It is in this context that the changes in China were initiated.

Understanding in the U.S.

For many people outside of China, sympathetic to the Chinese revolution, these changes have been difficult to keep up with and understand. In part this is because the picture that the Chinese themselves presented of China during the Cultural Revolution was one of a socialism without social or economic problems, without complex difficulties to overcome. But the unclarity also is a result of a certain immature and naive understanding in the United States of what is socialism.

For instance, many believed that socialist economy was equivalent to central planning. But now it is clear that this is not so: central planning is being combined today in China with the use of the market to develop and determine production. Over-centralization of the economy impeded the use of the social ownership of production by burdening the economy with an unresponsive bureaucracy.

When production, for example, was too divorced from marketing due to over-centralized state administration, the producing bodies had no way to respond to actual demands of the people. Unpurchased, unpopular cigarettes, for example, rotted by the millions in warehouses because the producers were cut off from the demands of the market. The result was great waste and an inability to serve the people’s needs.

The Chinese have as a negative example the power and privileges held by the Soviet political and economic bureaucracy, one of the main facets of Soviet fascist rule. The fact that bureaucratism was not correctly dealt with in the Soviet Union is a major factor of why socialism was ultimately overturned there.

The Chinese in a sense are just beginning to deal with these problems. Over the coming years, they will be continuing to try to solve the problems of how to develop the economy of a country that is still not industrial, but still a backward agricultural one; what is the appropriate system of management (one that will protect social ownership of the means of production and help develop the economy, but will also not be encumbered by bureaucracy); how to develop socialist democracy in a country that never went through a stage of bourgeois democracy; and what will be the relationship of the communist party to the government (how can the leadership of the party be maintained while also developing a genuine people’s democracy that is not just an appendage of the party).

This last issue, after the economic reforms, may become the next most important area of attention in China. Some changes in the past pattern were already taken by the party when it decided that party leaders should not concurrently hold corresponding top government posts, to avoid over-centralization of power. This was one of the reasons given for Chairman Hua’s resignation from the premiership.

Support necessary

China today is playing an indispensable role in opposing hegemonism and imperialism in the world. It is a major factor for peace. Its foreign policy is an example of noninterference and staunch opposition to aggression. Domestically the aim to construct, as Hua Guofeng stated, a modern, powerful, highly civilized socialist China by the end of the century is indeed a noble ideal, and the practice of China shows definite strides in this direction. For these reasons, it is imperative that progressives support China’s efforts.