First Published in English: Class Struggle, No. 17, July 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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In September-October 1984 a delegation from the central committee of the Workers’ Communist Party (marxist-leninist) headed by Pal Steigan, was in China. Six comrades spent three weeks visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong province and the economic zone in Shenxhen. This was Pal Steigan’s fifth visit to China. On previous occasions he has met Mao Zedong, Chou Enlai and Hua Guofeng. This time he, and the entire delegation, met Hu Yaobang. The delegation also participated in the celebration in Beijing of 1st October – the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic.
Class Struggle has asked Pal by Steigan what he found most conspicuous in today’s China. The greater prosperity, without a doubt. The shops carry more merchandise, People are better dressed and there is a lot of new housing. Many of the political slogans have been replaced by advertisements for Sony and International. A question which remained unanswered was whether China would develop in a commercial direction in the time ahead, with political issues taking second place to purely economic factors.
A question we consider important is the role played by the working class in Chinese society, given the new economic reforms. What of trade union rights? What power does the working class have? On the question of how delegation approached the tour, Pal Steigan said that very critical questions were put to the Chinese comrades throughout.
Compared with previous visits our hosts were relatively open. They gave close attention to our questions and provided us with a wealth of material to take home. The Workers’ Communist Party (marxist-leninist) has not adopted a viewpoint on the economic reforms in China. We believe unreservedly that major changes in the economy were necessary in order to modernize China. But we will not take a stand on the concrete measures now being carried through. We see clear dangers associated with the economic reforms which we discussed openly with our Chinese hosts. Will the gap between poor and rich in China become so wide as to amount to a cleavage between the classes? Does the manufacturing industry being developed through joint ventures with overseas companies contain the beginnings of an urban bourgeoisie? Is there a risk that a new landowner class will emerge in the rural areas as witnessed in many other Third World countries. Pal Steigan cites issues which the delegation worked on.
There is a danger here that the gains won through socialism will be undermined, he emphasizes. And the dangers are quite obvious, in my view. It remains to be seen how the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people will meet this situation. Our sincere wish is that China will succeed in building up a modern socialist country with an advanced technology and culture. But we realize there are many obstacles to be overcome. For the time being we consider it too early to draw any preliminary conclusions. At international level we noted China’s support to liberation movements, e.g. in Kampuchea, and its general support to the Third World. China gives large and valuable support to those struggling against imperialism and hegemonic desires. There can be no doubt about that. But at the same time there appears to be doubt regarding China’s views on the situation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It is no secret that there are differences of opinion between our two parties in this respect, differences which we discussed frankly with our hosts.
Pal Steigan relates that the visit was concluded with a mutual desire to develop relations between the Chinese Communist party and the WCP (L) of Norway in a number of fields, for example, through further tours by special delegations.
I would stress that the visit was carried through based on the principle of parity between the WCP and the CCP, he says.
What was the greatest surprise of the visit to China?
We chose the same route as in 1981. The biggest surprise was probably the marked economic progress made in the most backward rural areas. We feared that progress had only been made in the advanced rural areas. Otherwise, the capital Beijing had changed a great deal, with large new housing projects in evidence. Obviously there are immense ecological problems. Waste gas from industry is a major problem. At the same time, energy utilization is low. The Chinese face great challenges here.
The visit to one of the economic zones was a novel experience for this delegation. And I must admit that the strategy presented to us for the next 70 years, with the aim of creating a developed modern China, was more comprehensive and ambitious than I realized. It was slightly surprising to discover how well informed they were of the new technological revolution. I would assert that in material terms China is undergoing a very sound development. What worries China’s friends is whether socialism and the leading role of the working class will survive this process. China has always occupied a central role in the young revolutionary movement, and many are the parties including the WCP (m-l) – which have sworn by “Chinese solutions” to political problems they have faced.
The most important lesson to be learned is that the Chinese always did what they themselves considered right. Ignoring the Komintern’s directives, Mao applied marxism’s general principles to the actual conditions in China. That is why there was a revolution in China. And that is why we cannot emulate China today. Mao once said to some foreign guests who praised China uninhibitedly: “Go home and forget everything you’ve seen.”
Pal Steigan emphasizes how important it is to cool one’s ardour once in a while.
A significant weakness of the young revolutionary movement in the Western world was that we too failed to listen to what Mao said, he says in conclusion.