Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Karen Engst

On the mass line tradition of the Chinese Communist Party

First Published: Unity, Vol. 12, No. 9, June 20, 1989.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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After the June 4 massacre in Beijing, the Chinese government began to mass arrest the people who led or supported the student movement in attempt to put down the protests. This type of repression is the first time in modern Chinese history.

Why did the students and workers go to the streets? What do they want, and how could a socialist government turn the gun to her own people? To answer this question, I think we need to first understand Chinese socialism.

The principle for Chinese socialism has been to build a society that moves toward the elimination of exploitation, and that is ruled under what Mao called the people’s democratic dictatorship. This dictatorship contains two components. One is to forcefully take away the political rights of the enemies of the people, and the other is to encourage and to ensure people’s participation in politics. The job of the government under socialism is to serve the people. The people are the masters of the country. That is, people should participate in the decision-making process, both in their work units and on the national level.

How do people participate in national policy-making? In the 1970s, for example, I worked in a tea farm about four years after middle school. Because of the low productivity in state farms around the country, the government had decided to change our salary system into work points to stimulate worker enthusiasm. That means income would be dependent on the amount of work one can do.

Before this change was finalized, we workers who would be affected by this policy the most had full discussion. The workers rejected the plan and criticized the government for blaming the problems on the workers. They pointed out that the low enthusiasm was due to the distance between the leaders and the workers. The new policy was not implemented at the time.

Before the recent reforms, many problems existed in this system. The main problem was the relationship between the leaders and the workers. Many leaders have abused the power given by the people. There was a need for reform, both economic and political. But this reform needed to be carried out with full participation from all sectors of society.

However, after the recent economic reforms began, my opinion is that democracy has gradually disappeared in the practice of the government and by the top leadership in the party. For example, the first major change was dissolving the collective ownership of the land for agriculture, and dividing it among individual peasant families. Neither the party members nor the peasants were given an opportunity to participate in this policy-making process. Those who opposed the policy were removed from local leadership positions. Other rights, such as the right to demonstrate, to strike, and to post big character posters were taken away from the Chinese Constitution without the input of the masses. The current government has centralized political power, violating the socialist principle that the people are the masters of the country.

After ten years of economic reform, the Chinese people are increasingly unsatisfied with the growing problems such as inflation, government corruption and bribery. Many began to question the direction of the reforms. They were concerned about China’s future. Since there was no other way to get their voices heard, they took the last choice, and went to the streets to protest. The party leadership should have recognized that the mass demonstrations were a signal to the party that the party leadership had gone too far away from the people. They should listen to the people’s demands and correct the mistakes made in the reforms. Instead, the government used military force to put down the people’s voice.

But socialist concepts are deeply rooted among the Chinese people. The repression will not stop their struggle to regain their position as the masters of the country. The people will win. China will have an even more beautiful society once she is returned to the hands of the people.

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Karen Engst grew up in China. She is a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus.