Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A Comrade in Boston [Harry Eastmarsh]

Analyzing China Since Mao’s Death (Part 2)


First Published: Theoretical Review, No. 5, May-June 1978.
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.

The first part of this article[1] argued that if the present situation in China is to be analyzed in a principled Marxist-Leninist way, there must first be a clear theoretical framework in which such an analysis can be made. For the purpose of working out such a framework, the first part of this article presented a summary of changes in China since the death of Mao (a sample of the data needed to be analyzed) and a summary of the analyses of these changes by the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement. This second part of this article will lay out a preliminary theoretical analysis for this framework,and will begin to present a number of examples of how such a framework can increase our understanding of the situation in China since Mao’s death. The third part of this article will present more of such examples, including Mao’s strategy for revolution, a discussion of a pamphlet by Yao Wen-yuan, one of the “four”, and a discussion of the retranslation of Marx’s phrase “bourgeois right” by the present Chinese leadership. The third part will appear in the next issue of Theoretical Review.


This section will attempt to point out what questions must be recognized and dealt with before a serious Marxist-Leninist analysis of China can be made. It will not attempt to definitively resolve these problems, or even put forward the answers of the “four” and the present leadership. Rather, it will limit itself to pointing out these questions and referring readers to some of the more recent Western works on these topics. Section four will present examples of these positions of China’s present leadership, and to a lesser extent of the “four” on these key issues and a beginning analysis of them.

In order to know what to analyze, theoretically or otherwise, it is first necessary to determine what the primary contradiction is.

In analyzing China since Mao’s death, certainly we can dismiss both the personalities and the style of the two leadership groups as the principal contradiction. In addition, we can also dismiss the struggles over the different evaluations of the progress of the revolution since 1949 and the struggle over the understanding of “bourgeois right” because they are mere manifestations of a deeper theoretical and practical disagreement. More than a year after the purge of the “four,” the present leadership, in fact, acknowledged that the disagreement had a much deeper basis. An article (oddly) entitled “Why Did Chang Chun-Chiao Kick Up a Fuss over the Question of Ownership?”,[2] clearly explained that by focusing on forms of ownership and leadership personnel in the factories and agricultural production units, Chang had raised a “most fundamental and important question of principle, [namely] which class was in control of the supreme leadership of the Party and the state in China in 1975?” On this issue the two groups clearly disagreed.

In other words, the “four,” and the present leadership disagreed over what constituted proletarian politics in command. They disagreed over the very nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and of socialism itself. This is the key theoretical contradiction which underlies all the various specific policy clashes, disputes and criticisms.

To even begin to evaluate the policies of the present leadership and the “four,” a Marxist-Leninist must have a clear understanding of what socialism is. This does not mean that one should attempt to idealistically and/or metaphysically lay out a concrete and specific plan for the development of “socialism,” deviations from which would constitute “dogmatism” or “revisionism.” Rather what is needed is an understanding of socialism as a process of transition, and a concomitant understanding of the role of the Party and the state in this process.

No doubt all would agree with the position laid out by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto that,

the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class...

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e. of the proletariat organized as a ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.

But there is no clear agreement on what this means in practice, certainly not among U.S. Marxist-Leninists.

What does it mean for the proletariat to be a “ruling class”? There is no general agreement on what either of the words in this phrase means. For example U.S. Marxist-Leninists are yet to even clearly define the U.S. proletariat, while the question of what constitutes the Chinese proletariat under socialism is still not clear in China.[3] What does it mean for such a class to be a “ruling” class? What is to be the relation of the proletariat to the Party acting as its vanguard through the state? What is the specific relation of the “despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production,” or of the dictatorship of the proletariat to socialism? What are the measures which Marx and Engels wrote “appear economically insufficient and untenable...”? What precisely is meant by the term “mode of production”? All these terms must be infused with a certain degree of specificity before they can be used to evaluate any socialist revolution. Otherwise the terms become so loose (ideological as opposed to scientific) as to allow their manipulation to “prove” that certain societies “felt” to be socialist, are so; while other societies “felt” not to be socialist, are, in fact, not so. In other words, a scientific framework, including but not limited to these concepts, must be developed to present a prior, coherent and consistent conceptual framework within which to evaluate different claims to socialism.

To even begin to develop this framework, it is first necessary to establish the most general framework. As Marx and Engels wrote, “For almost forty years we have stressed class struggle as the immediate driving force of history....”[4] Within the framework of class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the means by which the proletariat resolves the contradictions between the forces and relations of production and those between the economic base and the superstructure. The task of the dictatorship of the proletariat is not merely to develop the forces of production; it is to develop the forces of production in such a way as to strengthen the proletariat as a ruling class.[5]

To increase the strength of the proletariat as a ruling class the dictatorship of the proletariat must increase the freedom of the proletariat to control, plan and direct social production.[6] Since, as Engels argued, freedom requires the recognition of objective laws, then the socialist revolution would have to do more than merely increase the material forces of production. It would also have to constantly increase the proletariat’s knowledge and consciousness of the various aspects of the objective laws of social practice and, in particular, the production process, including production, circulation and, to a declining extent under socialism, realization.[7]

Thus, a key factor in evaluating China’s socialist revolution is whether China’s proletariat, as a body of armed workers (Lenin), is, or is not, increasing its participation in the accounting and control functions of the state, and therefore, of production. But, given the existence of a vanguard Party, is increasing such freedom for the vanguard the equivalent of increasing such freedom for the proletariat itself? Since even a simple analysis of the history of the Soviet Union suggests that this is not the case, what types of relationship between the Party, the state and the proletariat must be established and developed to prevent the Party and/or the state from using such freedoms in its own interests rather than in the interest of the proletariat. How is the transition from a dictatorship for the proletariat exercised by the vanguard Party to be transformed into a dictatorship of the proletariat itself? It is not enough to claim that one must adhere to the mass line. If one limits oneself to declaring this without specifying how adherence or nonadherence can be determined at any time and in any conditions, then one will fall into the trap of circular (non)analysis; i.e. because the Party has already become isolated from the masses, it must not have been following the mass line. It is precisely at this point that Charles Bettelheim’s somewhat turgid Economic Calculation and Forms of Property: An Essay on the Transition Between Capitalism and Socialism[8] begins to deal with just such problems in a systematic theoretical fashion. It is through studies such as this that scientific concepts may finally be established for analyzing the socialist transition in all its aspects. At present, in the absence of a more fully developed theoretical framework, it is crucial for Marxist-Leninists to at least recognize the critical significance of analyzing the roles of the of the proletariat and its vanguard in influencing the ways in which the forces of production are developed and expanded.

Once an understanding of this process has been achieved, one is on the way to understanding the crucial concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Etienne Balibar’s recent work[9] demonstrating that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a phenomenon which can be grafted onto socialism in different degrees, but is identical to socialism, is among the recent theoretical works which can provide a framework in which to analyze the specifics of a proletarian dictatorship; for example, how it is to be exercised in literature and art, in science and technology, how is the democratic aspect of the dictatorship to be exercised? These are all topics which were struggled over and continued to be struggled over by the “four” and the present leadership.[10]

Returning to the section of the Communist Manifesto cited earlier, it would be idealistic and metaphysical to attempt to exactly define what is meant by the “measures...which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves [and] necessitate further inroads upon the old social order and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.” But various concrete policies and practices can be evaluated in this context, on the condition that the theoretical construct “mode of production” is understood.[11] For example, were the Great Leap Forward – with the economic losses it sustained while raising the consciousness of millions of peasants and workers and establishing the economic infrastructure for decentralized industrialization–and the Cultural Revolution–with the economic dislocations which occurred in the process of raising the political awareness of millions of workers, peasants and students–just such measures? Or were they–particularly the Cultural Revolution–ultra-left attempts to impose communist relations of production on a socialist economic base? What of the disruptions of production allegedly carried out under the influence of the “four”? Were they disruptions ordered simply as part of a coup attempt? Could they be seen as such “economically insufficient and untenable measures” which were necessary “to revolutionize the mode of production”? Or were they ultra-left attempts to prematurely impose communist relations of production?

Once these issues have been dealt with satisfactorily, we will have a preliminary framework for evaluating to what degree a given transition is developing in the direction of socialism.

However, if a transition ceases to move in the direction of communism (an event which is entirely possible as a result of interrelated and over-determined changes at the various levels of the specific social formation), if, for example, state power is seized by a revisionist leadership group, we must also be able to scientifically analyze such events. It is not sufficient to say that because the revolution has already gone off course leadership must have been in the hands of revisionists for a fairly long period of time. Nor is it sufficient to say that since revisionists are in power, a given society must be revisionist, or even a society in which capitalism has been restored.

Rather, it is necessary to have the theoretical tools to make a specific, coherent and step-by-step analysis. What is revisionism? What is the social basis of revisionism and/or capitalism in a society undergoing a socialist transformation? Where does revisionism first reveal itself in the social formation and what forms does it take? What are the processes by which it expands its base and its power and overcomes the proletariat and its true representatives in the Party in any given social formation? How does it consolidate its power? Is violence necessary to overthrow the rule of the proletariat through its vanguard? At what point does the consolidation of revisionism lead to a qualitative change which is manifest as a new mode of production? Without the tools necessary to address and analyze these issues, one is left with unsubstantiated conclusions. For example, Chinese public statements (including statements by Mao), Martin Nicolaus, and the Revolutionary Union (RU) all have argued that capitalism had been restored in the Soviet Union. But Nicolaus and the RU point to Khrushchov’s breaking up of the machine tractor stations (centrally owned units which owned the tractors in the countryside and allocated them to collective farms for use), and the consequent transfer of these tractors (and ownership of these tractors) to the collective farms, as a crucial step in the restoration of capitalism through the reintroduction of commodity production into the realm of the means of production. In contrast, Mao comments favorably on this specific practice in analyzing the transition to socialism.[12] Mao’s statements on this issue were not available in English at the time either of these U.S. analyses were written. But the contradictory ways in which Mao and his U.S. “followers” reached the identical conclusion demonstrates the lack of a common theoretical framework among these Marxist-Leninists and the poverty of the sycophantic American version of the analysis of the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union.

Turning to some of the other issues raised above, one finds that revisionism manifests itself in so many ways that a succinct definition is hard to derive. Rejection of basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, is clearly one form of revisionism; while the economist practice of the CPUSA in the labor unions during the 1930’s and 1940’s is another; while Stalin’s focus on the economic base at the expense of the superstructure and his generally mechanistic application of dialectics also contain the seeds of revisionism. Policies, programs and theoretical constructs can be evaluated in terms of whether or not they “deny the scientificity of Marxism-Leninism by ignoring its laws and attempting to develop [this] science on another basis under bourgeois ideological pressure or on the basis of bourgeois concepts.”[13] This evaluation, of course, can only be made on the basis of a thorough theoretical understanding of dialectical and historical materialism.

The remaining questions alluded to in reference to a theoretical analysis of a revisionist seizure and consolidation of power have not been handled well by U.S. Marxist-Leninists either. For example, the issue of the social basis of revisionism has usually been handled in an almost instinctive, as opposed to scientific fashion. While more efforts have been put into analyzing the forms which revisionism takes, and the processes by which it expands, most of these analyses reek of ex post facto rationalizations of conclusions which had been arrived at earlier. And virtually nothing of a scientific nature has been written on either the relationship between a revisionist seizure of power or a restoration of capitalism, on the one hand, and the violent overthrow of one class by another; or on how and where a revisionist leadership is able to consolidate its strength and power sufficiently to establish a qualitatively new–and presumably capitalist–mode of production on the other.[14]

This section obviously presents many question with very little attempt at their resolution. While it is not at all satisfying to leave them unresolved, this very lack of resolution reflects the state of our movement. However, the formulation of such questions at least provides an initial and necessary step in overcoming our history of theoretical impoverishment. Obviously, it is not enough to pose these questions. They must also be posed in a correct problematic,[15] for example, one which acknowledges the role of class struggle as the motor force of history which informs the analysis of all aspects of the social formation, while in turn being informed by them. Thus, these questions must be posed within a problematic which recognizes that the development of the forces of production does not determine the structure of the social formation, but rather, that the overdetermined interrelationships among the economic, political and ideological aspects of a given social formation explain the specific form which class struggle takes in that society, and that this class struggle in turn plays a significant role in determining the degree and form of development of the forces of production.

The next section of this article will attempt to concretize this methodology by analyzing a few specific struggles in China since Mao’s death.


The object of the fourth section is to go into a little more depth on the positions of the present leadership and the “four” on the theoretical issues underlying the events laid out in section one.

To this point, the article has argued: (1) that events since Mao’s death have raised serious questions about the direction of China’s revolution; (2) the “four” and the present leadership are not arguing over whether politics should be in command or even whether proletarian politics should be in command, but over what constitutes proletarian politics, and what being in command means; and (3) the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement has dealt with these issues in only the crudest ways, substituting conclusions and circular arguments in support of either side’ for real theoretical analysis of the two sides. The results of this is that a major opportunity for both developing the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement as a force with a self-reliant corps of theoretical cadre, and for further understanding the nature of class struggle during the socialist transition has been missed.

The Question of the Nature of the Socialist Transition

Since the Cultural Revolution it has been well established that what distinguished Mao from the capitalist roaders, headed by Liu Shao-qi and Deng Xiao-ping was the latter’s adherence to the “theory of productive forces.” This theory holds that developing the forces of production is the primary task of the revolution, that the development of the forces of production under the leadership of the CCP would virtually guarantee the development of socialist, and subsequently communist, relations of production. In fact, the 1956 Resolution of the Eighth Party Congress (written under Liu and Deng’s sponsorship and hurriedly countersigned by Mao at the time, but later strongly criticized by him)[16] argued that the relations of production in China at that time were so advanced that the main contradiction in China was that between the advanced social relations and the backward forces of production, not between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

In contrast, although Mao had long acknowledged that the object of the socialist revolution was to develop the forces of production, he also argued that these forces should be developed only in a way that would transform the social formation into one increasingly controlled by an increasingly conscious proletariat.

For example, in his critique of the Soviet textbook on political economy, Mao wrote:

On p. 4-14 we find a discussion of the right labor enjoys (under socialism) but no discussion of labor’s right to run the state, the various enterprises, education and culture. Actually this is labor’s greatest right under socialism, the most fundamental right, without which there is no right to work, to an education, to vacation, etc.

The paramount issue for socialist democracy is: Does labor have the right to subdue the various antagonistic forces and their influences? For example, who controls things like the newspapers, the broadcast stations, the cinemas? Who criticizes? These are a part of the question of rights.... There is a variety of factions among the people. Who is in control of the organs and enterprises bears tremendously on the issue of guaranteeing people’s rights. In sum, the people must have the right to manage the superstructure. We must not take the rights of the people to mean that the state is to be managed by only a section of the people, that the people can enjoy labor rights, education rights, social insurance etc. only under the management of certain people.[17]

In other words, unless the dictatorship of the proletariat were continuously consolidated, the revolution would not continue to progress. This consolidation means that class struggle must be continuously carried out thereby effectuating, for Mao as for Lenin, a dictatorship for the proletariat to a dictatorship of and by the proletariat itself.

The “four’s” adherence to the primacy of class struggle is not a subject of debate, if anything they are accused of overemphasizing class struggle at the expense of developing the forces of production. They are now charged with emphasizing class struggle as a means to consolidate power in their own hands as the sole agents of the proletariat, rather than expanding the role the proletariat itself played in the dictatorship, particularly in the literature and arts field.

The “four” and their supporters probably would not have disrupted the key of this charge. If the key question is, “Is power in the hands of the representatives of the bourgeoisie or of the proletariat?” and if the “four” (and for that matter, the present leadership) saw themselves as the true representatives of the proletariat, then they would admit to trying to eliminate from power the bourgeois representatives masquerading as proletarian representatives. This is, in fact, what the present leadership claims to have accomplished by purging the “four.”

If the question is not pushed further, posing the key question as above presents an incorrect problematic. The above problematic poses the question as a struggle between bourgeois and proletarian representatives in the Party. However, the issue of the class character of a leadership group cannot be determined by mere self-proclamation. The correct problematic incorporates the need for concrete analysis of the policies and practices of different leadership groups to determine which, if either, “help[s] the workers to effect a revolutionary change in social relations which will enable them to gain increasing control over their conditions of existence.”[18] In other words, the correct problematic incorporates an understanding of the socialist transition as one in which the representatives of the proletariat would act in such a way as to “help the masses to achieve themselves the tasks that correspond to their basic interests,” and thus create the conditions for the withering away of a party “act[ing] in place of the masses.”[19] The consequences of using the wrong problematic are quite disastrous. For example, if one reads Jiang Qing’s autobiography (as presented through Roxanne Witke’s bourgeois perspective), it is precisely the absence of a theoretical framework and the lack of any recognition of the need to create the conditions discussed above which stands out above any other aspect of the book.

In summation, in the positions of the “four”, who were by no means so monolithic as is presently alleged to be the case, certain positions are clearly posed in an incorrect problematic, although it is one largely shared with the present leadership.

Consequently, in analyzing the struggle in China it is not enough to say that theoretically the “four” adhered to the primacy of class struggle. Rather, their practice must also be carefully analyzed in terms of what was laid out above. But before we turn to some of the “four’s” positions on other topics, it is preferable to evaluate the present leadership’s position on the nature of the socialist revolution.

An article “On ’Grasping the Key Link’” demonstrates that the theory of productive forces takes many forms, including some very subtle, but no less incorrect forms.

The basic contradictions in human society are those between the productive forces and the relations of production and between the economic base and the superstructure. In class society these invariably find expression in class struggle which, independent of man’s will, always occupies the dominating position in all social activities and constitutes the motive force propelling history forward. [20](Emphasis added)

Although this position seemingly holds to the theoretical position and line of the primacy of class struggle, its presentation reveals a theoretical framework found throughout official and unofficial Chinese documents since the fall of the “four.”[21]

This framework is apparent in the emphasized section which portrays class struggle as a manifestation of a deeper essence–the contradiction involving the forces of production. Such a presentation presents a rather mechanistic approach to history in which economic factors are the “essence” while the class struggle in its various forms are mere “manifestations,” “expressions” or “exteriorizations” of this essence. Marx, however, was evolving a new conceptualization of causality in which a social formation could not be reduced to a single essence which, when it changes, produces changes in its various “manifestations.” Marx saw any given social formation as an overdetermined but constantly changing combination of particular elements, overdetermined in the sense that changes at any level, be it economic, political or ideological, change the entire social formation as a whole. For Marx there was no eternally evolving “essence” which is revealed in such “manifestations.” What are frequently seen as such “manifestations” are the result of a particular set of conditions in the economic, political and ideological levels of that social formation and themselves cause further changes throughout the various levels of that social formation.

In more concrete terms, the class struggle is the contradiction between the forces and relations of production (among other things) and the contradiction between the forces and relations of production is the class struggle. They are in fact different instances of the same totality. But it is important to note that they are part of the same totality–not separate phenomena. In other words, the specific forms of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production is, as the article alleges, the class struggle in various spheres of the social formation, but the specific form of these forces and relations of production themselves at any time is precisely the effect of the class struggle at the different levels of the social formation. For example, certain forces of production which are technically feasible at a given time are developed or suppressed in accordance with the specific class relations in that society at that time. Take, for example, the case in which oil, auto and tire interests bought up and physically dismantled the electric tram public transit system in Los Angeles in the thirties so as to allow for further development of productive forces oriented towards the privately owned manufacture of individual, rather than collective,.means of local transportation. Conversely, consider the situation in China at least until Mao’s death. With the seizure of power by the proletariat through its vanguard, a new set of relations of production were established. These new relations of production allowed the development of the forces of production in a specific manner, a manner very different from that through which the forces of production have developed in other “developing” countries operating within the framework of capitalist relations of production, e.g., India, Indonesia. Thus, the specific form of the development of the forces of production, e.g. in a decentralized manner relying on a vast growth in both semi-mechanized and highly advanced agricultural and industrial means of production, is in itself a consequence of class struggle, which itself influences the form of future class struggle.

In other words, by misconstruing the role of class struggle in the social formation, the Chou Cheng article reveals an underlying “theory of productive forces” orientation. However, the analysis of this article is not meant to demonstrate that the present leadership is consistently adhering to the “theory of productive forces.” Rather, its object is to help prepare the reader to carry out scientific analyses of other documents and data which she/he may encounter.

Another example of how recent statements can be analyzed to determine their theoretical base can be found in a January 1978, discussion of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

...in the last analysis, the economic situation plays a decisive role in propelling history foward. The productive forces are the most active and revolutionary forces; whether they are developed or not determines what the relations of production will be.

The reaction of the superstructure on the economic base finds expression basically in either promoting or holding back the development of the latter. To judge whether those things in the superstructure (politics and Party leadership included) promote or hold back social development, we have to take into consideration whether they promote or hold back the development of the special productive forces and whether they help resolve the contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production. The superstructure cannot bypass the mode of production and play a decisive role in pushing society forward.[22]

Despite the obvious differences between this position and Mao’s position on the relations between the forces and relations of production,[23] and between this position and Marx’s position on the role of superstructural factors,[24] it is not sufficient be a quotation-monger and then conclude that this position is representative of the “theory of productive forces.” Rather, we must independently demonstrate why this is so.

First, it is implicit in this statement, and explicit in other recent statements, that at present the forces of production lag behind the more advanced relations of production–the same position put forth by the Eighth Party Congress (although at an earlier time) and subsequently renounced by the CCP from the Great Leap Forward on. Second, it manifests the same non-dialectical approach to economic development manifested in the previously cited article–here separating the forces and relations of production and mechanistically relying on the forces. Mao, on the other hand, saw the process of development much more dialectically. He saw one in which the adoption of new productive forces by certain sectors of society (for example, the emergent bourgeoisie). In their effort to develop these productive forces and thereby strengthen their class position, the emergent bourgeoisie came into conflict with the old relations of production and their corresponding feudal aristocracy. To destroy the old ruling class and the relations of production on which it was based, the bourgeoisie made the first move in the superstructure by challenging and overcoming, to a certain extent, the old ideology. Still within the superstructure, they then seized power, after which they went on to destroy the old relations of production. This paved the way for the development of the forces of production in a way that would increase the power of the bourgeoisie.[25] Thus, as Mao put it elsewhere, destruction [of the old] precedes construction [of the new]. But such a dialectical understanding of the dialectical process of development, including the role of ideology and the superstructure, is not to be found in the above article.[26]

Finally the argument against relying on the superstructure to “bypass the mode of production” and play a decisive role in directly pushing society forward is also seriously flawed. No one could argue persuasively that the superstructure can “bypass the mode of production” and play the decisive role in transforming a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society into a socialist one, if for no other reason than because the superstructure is part and parcel of the mode of production. But it is precisely in transitional conjunctures–when the conditions of the social formation are such that the transformation of the dominant mode of production is a possible outcome of the class struggle–that the superstructure plays its most decisive role.[27]

The article in question says that the key link is development of the forces of production. But on a worldwide scale, considerably more advanced forces of production than China possesses exist. Therefore, the problem is how to adapt, employ, and develop these already existing forces of production, while simultaneously developing new ones. But the decisive factor is how these forces are appropriated and utilized, and this is determined by the relations of production and the superstructure, or by which class holds state power.

Was it not the case in China that seizure of state power on the basis of the military might of the people’s armed forces led by the CCP–as phenomena of the superstructure–was the decisive factor in establishing a social conjuncture in which the old relations of production could be destroyed and the conditions for China’s subsequent rapid economic growth established? Thus, the problematic established in the Peking Review article–whether the superstructure can or cannot “bypass the mode of production”–is a false and deadly one. In China’s own case the actions of the CCP in the superstructure did not “bypass the mode of production.” Rather, they were crucial to transforming it.

In short, the mechanistic framework of the Peking Review article creates a problematic which excludes the possibility of developing a dialectical analysis of China’s social development.

Further on, the same article disputes the “four’s” contention that “the target of the continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat is the capitalist roaders in the Party” and further disputes the “four’s” equation of these capitalist roaders with the “formation of a bourgeoisie in the Party.” As the basis of its disagreement with the latter equation, the article merely cites Mao’s statements that, while the capitalist roaders are indeed the target, they are a “mere handful”, and then concludes that a “mere handful” does not make a class. Certainly this is not a convincing argument, since it is not, in fact, an argument but a conclusion. The article goes on to say that since the target of the revolution is the bourgeoisie as a whole, and since there is no bourgeoisie, but merely a handful of capitalist roaders (in the Party), the main target cannot be the bourgeoisie within the Party. Nor need it even be the capitalist roaders in the Party. Certainly, it argues, they are dangerous, but so long as their numbers are small and the Party’s leadership core is composed of Marxist-Leninists, they cannot always be the main target of attack.

This argument is also unacceptable for several reasons. First, it offers no meaningful criteria for what distinguished Marxist-Leninists from capitalist roaders. Second, it does not lay out a framework for determining when capitalist roaders within the Party would become the main target of attack. Most likely one would not want to wait until they had become a majority in the Party, as might be implied from this article, for by then it would be too late. But on the other hand, it is not explained how, during the period when Marxist-Leninists retained control of the Party, the capitalist roaders could increase their numbers beyond a small handful such that they would be numerous enough to become the main target. If the capitalist roaders could not increase their numbers to such an extent, it is the equivalent of saying that they can never be the main target of attack (although the Cultural Revolution if nothing else would suggest). It seems that there are two possible sources of growth for the capitalist roaders. One source is errors made by the Marxist-Leninist core which might allow their growth. The other is that they might increase in numbers as a result of various social and economic forces in the Chinese social formation. But none of this is brought up in the article. Rather, one gets an unscientific “feeling” that, by dismissing the notion of a bourgeoisie or even of a large number of capitalist roaders in the Party, the present leadership is trying to negate the “four’s” claim that far larger numbers of Party members were capitalist roaders. Second, they seem to be trying to dissociate themselves–the majority of the Party, the leading power-holders in China today and the very people who were accused by the “four” of being the main danger to China’s revolution–from that “mere handful” of capitalist roaders in the Party who, they argue, aren’t nearly so dangerous as they were recently made out to be.

Although little direct analysis of the various positions of the “four” on the nature of the socialist revolution has been made, it is clear that these attacks by the present leadership on the “four’s” position are posed in an incorrect problematic. From this point it is possible to turn to an analysis of the different strategies for carrying out the socialist revolution.

In the next part of this article Mao’s strategy for revolution and the relationship of this strategy to that of the “four” and of the present Chinese leadership will be discussed.


[1] Two points from part I need clarification. On page 24, I mentioned that posters had appeared in China accusing Hua Guo-feng of being the fifth member of the ”gang of four.” This information came from visitors to China in March 1977 and was reported by Jurgen Domes, “The ’Gang of Four’and Hua Kuo-feng: Analysis of Political Events in 1975-1976,” in China Quarterly (71: Sept. 1977) p. 473.

[2] By Wang Jui-teh, Peking Review #1 (Jan. 6, 1978) pp. 16-19. After reading Wang’s critique of Chang, the reader should also read Mao’s A Critique of Soviet Economics, Moss Roberts, trans. (Monthly Review, 1977) Chapt. 30, for his previously unpublished views on the relationships among various different socialist ownership forms.

[3] Prior to Mao’s death there was a struggle over whether one’s class status was determined by ”blood,” by one’s position in the production process, or by some combination of the two. Determination of class status by blood meant determination of the basis of one’s parents’ class background, which had in turn been derived in struggle during Liberation and the cooperativization movement. However, since these class determinations had not been revised, in the main, since the mid-1950’s, class status was being determined in a somewhat static fashion, isolated from the actual production process. In February, 1978, the new leadership began to shift towards determining class status by one’s place in the production process rather than relying on parental class status. However, the extent of the shift in emphasis is not yet clear.

[4] “To A. Bebel, W. Liebknecht, W. Bracke and Others-Circular Letter,” 1879.

[5] See Louis Althusser, “Marxism-Leninism and the Class Struggle,” Theoretical Review, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 17-20; and Reading Capital for a theoretical analysis of the dialectical relationships between class struggle and the various key economic contradictions within a social formation.

[6] Lenin, State and Revolution (Progress Publishers, 1970) pp. 140-43.

[7] Lenin, State and Revolution, p. 141:

“When the majority of the people begin independently and everywhere to keep such accounts and exercise such control over the capitalists vnow converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry who preserve their capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general and popular; and there will be no getting away from it, there will be nowhere to go.”

“When the more important functions of the state are reduced to such accounting and control by the workers themselves, it will cease to be a “political-state” and “public functions will lose their political character and become mere administrative functions.”

In the second quote Lenin is citing Engels, “on Authority,” Marx and Engels Selected Works, Vol. 1, pp. 638-39. For a more recent theoretical discussion of this crucial issue, see Paul Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim, On the Transition to Socialism (Monthly Review, 1971).

[8] (Monthly Review, 1977).

[9] Etienne Balibar, On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. (New Left Books,1976).

[10] See, for example, the new Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (Peking Review, 11, March 17, 1978).

[11] For example, Barry Hindess and Paul Q. Hirst have recently attempted a theoretical development of this concept, arguing that a mode of production (as distinct from a social formation) exists only when a determinant set of relations of production can correspond to only a single determinant level of the development of the forces of production, Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production (Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1977). See also Ira Gerstein’s review of this book “A Theory of Modes of Production,” in Insurgent Sociologist, Vol. VII, No. IV, Fall, 1977, pp. 67-71.

[12] See Martin Nicolaus, The Restoration of Capitalism in the Soviet Union, and the RU’s Red Papers 7, “How Capitalism Has Been Restored in the Soviet Union and What This Means for the World Struggle,” particularly p. 24. For Mao’s comments and a short discussion of the importance of the level of ownership at which tractors are vested in the countryside, see Mao, Critique, “Critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR,” pp. 135-49, particularly point 27, and Mao’s February-March 1959 talks at Chengchow, in Chinese Law and Government (Winter 1976-77), particularly p. 91. For more on the importance of vesting various means of production at different ownership levels, see Bettelheim’s Economic Calculation and Class Struggles in the USSR among other works.

[13] “On Party Building,” Ann Arbor Collective, April, 1977, p. 4.

[14] Mao has also argued that a revisionist seizure of power need not necessarily lead to a capitalist mode of production. “Humanity left to its own devices [i.e. left with their present conditions, values, and culture] does not necessarily re-establish capitalism (which is why you are perhaps right in saying that they [the Soviet revisionists] will not revert to private ownership of the means of production), but it does re-establish inequality.” Interview with Andre Malraux, in Malraux Anti-Memoirs, T. Kilmartin, trans. (Rinehart and Winston Inc., 1968) pp. 369-70.

[15] A problematic is a theoretical or ideological framework which puts into relation with one another its basic concepts, determining the nature of each by its place and function within that framework. Concepts can only be properly understood in the context of the problematic; fundamentally different problematics give what appear to be identical concepts fundamentally different meanings. Of particular concern to us here is the fact that a problematic is a specific field of vision which both sees that which falls within its scope and cannot see that which falls outside of it. Consequently, a change of problematic is not a mere incremental change of vision but a qualitative transformation of the entire process of seeing.

[16] See Mao’s “Talk at the Third Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee,” Oct. 7, 1957, available in English only in Joint Publications Research Service (Arlington, Va.) No. 61269-1, pp. 72-76, see also his “Talk at a Report Meeting,” in Stuart Schram, Mao Tse-tung Unrehearsed (Middlesex: Penguin Penguin, 1974) p. 269.

[17] Mao, Critique, p. 61.

[18] Paul Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim, On the Transition to Socialism (Monthly Review, 1971) p. 71.

[19] Sweezy and Bettelheim, Transition to Socialism, p. 62.

[20] Article by Chou Cheng, Peking Review 9, March 3, 1978.

[21] One particular overt example of this trend is “On the Function of the Forces of Production in the Development of History,” by Lin Chun, in Lishi Yanjiu (Historical Research) 1977, #5, pp. 37-54.

[22] “The tasks of Continuing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” by Wu Chiang, Peking Review, 1978, #3.

[23] Socialist revolution aims at liberating the productive forces. The change-over from individual to socialist, collective ownership in agriculture and handicrafts and from capitalist to socialist ownership in private industry and commerce is bound to bring about a tremendous liberation of the productive forces. Thus the social conditions are being created for a tremendous expansion of industrial and agricultural production.

“Speech at the Supreme State Conference,” Jan. 25, 1956, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Foreign Languages Press, 1967) p. 26.

[24] See for example, Marx’s statement, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 10 (International Publishers, 1973):

“And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement–and it is the ultimate aim of this work, to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society–it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs.”

[25] Mao, Critique, Ch. 15, 28.

[26] The absence of this or that point of view in the present leadership’s position should not be taken to imply that such a point of view was incorporated fully or partially into the “four’s” point of view.

[27] See Hindess and Hirst, Modes of Production, particularly pp. 27-28; and Gerstein, “Modes of Production,” op. cit.