Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A Comrade in Boston [Harry Eastmarsh]

Analyzing China Since Mao’s Death (Part 3)


First Published: Theoretical Review, No. 6, July-August 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.

Strategy for the Revolution

Marx and Engels, never having been faced with the responsibility of dealing with a socialist transition, did not leave much in the way of their views on such a process. Regardless of that, it would still be necessary to evaluate the transition to socialism in terms of the understanding of socialism discussed in Part II. This section will begin with a short summary analysis of the position of the CCP under Mao’s leadership on these issues.

Through the experiences of the early years of China’s socialist transition, Mao found himself increasingly opposing the Soviet model. The break with the Soviet model began with Mao’s talk on the Ten Great Relationships in 1956 and developed further in opposition to increasingly revisionist Soviet theories and practices. What will be discussed here are not the specifics of Mao’s policies, but the underlying framework from which different specific policies were derived. For Mao, there were three principles: (1) the theory of the continuing revolution developing through stages; (2) the strategy of “two steps forward, one step back;” and (3) the methods for guaranteeing that the Party would not “change color” and usurp power. The purpose of this summary is to demonstrate Mao’s dialectical approach to developing a strategy for the socialist transition and thereby to provide a basis for some comparison of alternative strategies.


Mao argued that revolution was not a single act, but a continuing process. As this process continued to develop, the revolution would not develop in a linear fashion, but in correspondence to the relationship between quantitative and qualitative change, that is, in qualitatively distinct stages and substages. For example, in the socialist transition in the countryside there would be the substages of collective ownership by the various levels of the commune organization (in ascending order, the team, brigade and the commune) and socialist ownership by the whole people. An example of quantitative change turning into qualitative change and thereby initiating a new stage comes from Mao’s discussion of how the transition from brigade to commune ownership could be made. So long as the members of the various brigades – with the varying levels of brigades based on varying land conditions etc. – received more than half of their income from work done through enterprises under brigade ownership, the brigades would remain the basic ownership units.

A premature effort at this stage to make the transition to commune ownership would be resisted by members of the wealthier brigades who would resist the substantial reduction in their incomes which would be necessary to move to commune ownership with its commune-wide near equalization of unit incomes. However, during the substage of brigade ownership, as newer and larger industrial enterprises were developed in the countryside and as more advanced agricultural means of production oriented towards larger scale agricultural production were introduced to the countryside, they would be established under commune level ownership. As this process gradually (quantitatively) increased, the portion of the various brigade members’ incomes which came from commune-run enterprises (and were thus relatively equal) would increase. When this portion reached more than fifty percent of the income of all commune members, e.g. of the members of the various brigades which make up the commune, the material base for making the transition to commune ownership (one of the conditions of existence of commune ownership) would have been established. At that point the relatively equalized portion of all the commune members’ now higher incomes would be large enough that the rich brigade members would no longer oppose the now less significant reduction in their incomes that such a transition would involve.[1]

For Mao, it was crucial that cadres recognize the different stages because each stage and substage would be characterized by qualitatively different economic and social laws. Hence policies that would be correct in one stage would be incorrect in another. For example, distributing land to individual peasant households was correct in the democratic stage of the revolution but it would no longer be correct in the socialist period. The democratic dictatorship of the people was appropriate in the period of “New Democracy” but inappropriate to the period of the socialist transition. The policy of consolidating cooperatives would be correct before the basis for the transition to communes with ownership vested basically at the teams were established, but not after. To “overconsolidate” one stage at the expense of moving on to a new stage would threaten the continued progress of the revolution.

However, the process of making the transition from one stage to another is frequently not so easy. Frequently there is resistance from various quarters (some of which will be identified further below) to the quantitative change which is a prerequisite for qualitative change. Therefore, it is frequently necessary to rely on the tactic of “two steps forward, one step back” to make the qualitative change to a new stage.


Mao has frequently argued that “to break through and then seek balance” is dialectics.[2] Without taking two bold steps forward, it would be impossible to overcome the natural and social conditions as well as the conscious opposition of groups which have vested interest in any given stage.[3] Thus Mao’s support for the high tide of collectivization in 1955, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.

But after two steps forward there must be one step back lest society dissolve into ultra-left anarchism.[4] Mao’s support for or opposition to large numbers of leadership personnel can be seen in terms of whether they understood and put this principle into practice. Liu Shao-qi’s revisionist headquarters were advocates of one step forward, one step back, while Chen Bo-da (Ch’en Po-ta) and others in the Cultural Revolution Group advocated two steps forward, no steps back. The “four” are now criticized as advocates of two steps forward and then two more steps forward, while the “four” previously criticized the present leadership personnel as advocates of one step forward, one step back. In this light Zhou En-lai’s (Chou En-lai) history of support for the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution combined with his expertise in periods of consolidation in addition to the lifelong support he received from Mao would suggest that Zhou, working in combination with Mao, was able to put the “two steps forward, one step back” principle into practice.

Thus, implicit in Mao’s understanding of the continuing revolution is the need for recognizing the different stages of the revolution, the continuing process of consolidating and then transcending these various stages, and for devising strategies to develop the class struggle in a way which would allow transitions to be initiated successfully at crucial times. Either excessive or insufficient consolidation could have disastrous effects, as would the recognition of the stagelike nature of the revolution without the recognition of the need for breakthroughs to bring about certain qualitative changes. In other words, Mao’s approach to the socialist transition had no place for a bureaucratic approach to revolution or for purely incremental socialism.

The recent struggle between the “four” and the present leadership can be perceived as a struggle between those who see the “socialist new things” produced during the Cultural Revolution as sufficiently consolidated and thus in need of another leap, and those who see the need for further consolidation of the “new things” and possibly even earlier forms which they feel have still not been sufficiently consolidated.

The “two steps forward one step back” principle has another practical implication. It has been precisely during periods of mass upsurges that leadership positions have increasingly come into the hands of the poorest, least educated and least articulate peasants and workers whose level of political participation tends to increase in such periods. Thus the “two step-one step” strategy includes an aspect in which new leadership is generated and incorporated into the Party. Opposition to such leap periods might thus have its roots not only in positions which argue for further consolidation of specific formations in the political, economic and social spheres, but also in efforts by established leadership groups to consolidate their hold on Party and state leadership.

This then leads to the third component of Mao’s strategy, the method for preserving a mass line type of relationship between the masses and leadership, and preventing a usurpation of power by a corrupted leadership.


Mao’s position on the relationship between the Party and the state)on the one hand,and the masses, on the other, can be summed up as two principles and one strategy.

First, the Party is not the prescient agent which alone produces revolutionary theory which guides the masses. Rather, revolutionary knowledge, including both theory and practical knowledge, is the result of a dialectical interaction between the two.[5] Thus Mao’s opposition in 1957 to Liu Shao-qi’s argument for closed-door Party rectification (in which only Party members could participate) in favor of open-door rectification (in which the masses could also criticize the Party) and his support for the mass criticism of the Party in the Cultural Revolution can both be seen as practical reflections of this theory in different historical conjunctures.

Second, Mao argues that, given the continuing class struggle, capitalist roaders would constantly infiltrate the Party and be supported in and outside of the Party by newly constituted vested interest groups.

Consequently, to counter the potential danger of Party usurpation of power, Mao felt it was always necessary to be able to encircle the Party and state mechanism from above and below. It was only with Mao standing above the Party that the masses were able to participate in its rectification during the Cultural Revolution. Similarly, it was only Mao’s leadership which allowed the Peoples’ Liberation Army to function successfully as a counterweight to the Party in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution and as an agent of consolidation in its later stages. If Mao’s approach to the problem of Party-mass relations is correct, then the highest levels of Party leadership must always include members willing and able to unite with the masses at various levels to challenge capitalist roaders and heir allies in an otherwise invincible Party. Without such anti-bureaucratic leadership, the revolution in its early phases could be doomed to a similar fate to that of the Soviet revolution.

This was clearly the position of the “four” as evidenced in the film “Breaking with Old Ideas,” in which it was only Mao’s personal support which allowed the politically correct masses to overcome capitalist roaders and mere democratic revolutionaries who dominated the Party at the local and intermediate levels. From this point of view, the thorough purge of the “four” and their supporters could be seen to leave China in the hands of bureaucratic leaders, some more left, some more right. These leaders would be unwilling and incapable, theoretically or otherwise, of leading such a struggle against capitalist roaders in the Party.

Having laid out Mao’s approach to the socialist transition, it should be possible to build further and establish a framework for analysis of the basis and process of revisionist power seizures and capitalist restorations in revolutionary societies.

A Theoretical Framework for Analyzing Revisionist Subversion of Revolutions[6]

Let us first analyze the present leadership’s position on the process of potential restoration.

A previously cited article in Peking Review (Jan. 20, 1978, p.8), reflecting the views of the current leadership, states:

Revolutionaries must always be on the alert against the main danger of capitalist restoration which comes from the capitalist roaders in the Party. But so long as supreme Party and state power rests with a leading core that adheres to the Marxist line, capitalist roaders can not emerge daily, hourly and in large numbers. (Emphasis added).

This view can be contrasted with that of Mao, reflected through his statement:

Lenin said that ’small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously and on a mass scale’. They are also engendered among a part of the working class and of the Party membership.[7]

Thus, the Peking Review article has negated Lenin’s crucial conclusion on the basis of the bourgeoisie during the socialist transition.[8]

Even so, the argument is logically and theoretically insufficient because once again, it presents a circular argument. So long as supreme Party and state power is in the hands of Marxists (!), Marxists will be in supreme power. But when revisionists are in power, they will be in power. Nothing is said of the basis of or process by which a small minority can be transformed into a majority. As such, it offers nothing in the way of explanation or analysis.

Similarly, Peking Review of Jan. 6, 1978 argues that “if people like Lin Biao came to power our state would be turned into a state under the dictator ship of the bourgeoisie.” Does this imply that Lin Biao and his small groups of followers actually had the potential to seize power and begin to institute a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie? Was the hold of the Marxist (sic) core of the Party and the state so weak? In light of the previous argument that the small numbers of capitalist roaders cannot expand so long as the Marxist core holds power, then the small Lin Biao clique (and also the “four”) would hardly constitute a serious threat. Thus the argument is still circular.

In a different article representative of a trend in such articles, it is argued that once there has been a transition from the capitalist system of ownership to the socialist system of ownership, the inequalities arising from “distribution according to work” would be so small that

so long as the state under the dictatorship of the proletariat tightens its control over those engaging in illegal activities, both the state and cooperative commercial enterprises provide an abundant supply of commodities and the prices between town and country and in different areas show no substantial discrepancies, the scope for such speculative activities will be very narrow and, consequently, it will be very difficult for money to be converted into speculative commercial capital.[9]

To deny this, such articles argue, would be to argue that socialist relations of production engender capitalism, thus negating the difference between socialist and capitalist economic bases. This line of explanation is not much better, although at least it does venture into the realm of society and the economy. If it is the case that once a socialist system of ownership and other socialist relations have been established, it is virtually impossible for capitalism to be restored, how then is the alleged Soviet capitalist restoration on the basis of the previously established socialist economic base to be explained? Perhaps the argument is that illegal activities were of such magnitude that they constituted a sufficient base for this restoration. If that is the case, then such illegal activities should not be dismissed so lightly but should be systematically and theoretically analyzed. The fact that the social basis of the capitalist restoration might be illegal makes it no less important or dangerous.

In essence, this line argues that socialism is not a transitional conjuncture including elements of both the capitalist and communist modes of production, but rather a consolidated socialist mode of production capable of reproducing the conditions of existence of a socialist social formation.

Some slightly more theoretically advanced arguments are put forward in the series of letters discussing bourgeois rights and distribution according to need in Guangming Ribao (referred to in Part I).[10]

In an article by Wang Chong, the argument is carried a bit further to where it says:

...we must strongly point out that the distribution system being implemented in our society is a special concrete form of to each according to work. Because the characteristic of socialist society is that it actually contains two types of economic formations [collective ownership and ownership by the whole people] when commodity distribution and distribution according to labor are united together, it can also produce the actual basis of opposing social classes.

...On the basis of commodity production, capitalism can be restored and revived and, moreover, carry on an extremely fierce struggle with communism. Therefore we can say, under the conditions of existence of commodity production, the specific form of distribution according to labor can ostensibly even be beneficial to the production of a bourgeoisie. But persevering in distribution according to labor has basically negated getting [things] without working for them [as is the case under capitalism].[11]

In this much more unofficial public forum, the role of commodity production and unequal distribution of the means of consumption as a social basis for producing a bourgeoisie is reintroduced, if only in a general and hesitant way. That is, so long as distribution according to labor is “persevered in”, the problem is “basically” negated.

Another article on the same day makes this theoretical flaw more obvious:

As long as the principle of to each according to need is implemented correctly and the incomes of the broad masses of laborers are not excessively differentiated, the system of distribution according to labor itself cannot produce a bourgeoisie. If the differences between the higher and lower incomes of the workers are extremely great, polarization occurs and even exploitative activities are produced. This, then, is no longer to each according to labor, but it is the disastrous result created by the [system of] to each according to labor having been sabotaged.[12]

Although this rings somewhat closer to Mao’s position on polarization and its consequences, like most other explanations coning out recently, it concludes with a circular argument: when to each according to her/his labor has been sabotaged, it can lead to the production of a bourgeoisie. But what is the process by which it is sabotaged? Is this not what the “four” were at least trying to answer, but without calling such activities a negation of to each according to his/her labor? Could it be said that one aspect of such sabotage would be excessive differentiation of incomes among laborers? In the absence of concepts for analyzing the consequences of such differentials at the various levels of the social formation, it is virtually impossible to determine what is “excessive.” The “four” would argue that the differentials were already excessive while the present leadership would argue that they are not.

Further, the present leadership argues that, given the socialist economic base, aside from illegal incomes, there is no possibility of income from sources other than labor, nor any possibility of turning higher incomes into capital. Since according to these arguments, these two sources of higher incomes are quite small, the danger of internally producing a bourgeoisie is minimal. But, one must ask, how could any income in a socialist society, regardless of its source, be transformed into capital according to this argument? If this question cannot be answered, the alleged restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union still cannot be explained.

Is labor in fact the only source of income in China? Could political power be transformed into a source of income and thereby into an exploitative force? Has this already been done in the Soviet Union? If so, how? These questions (again relating to power holders) are not brought up in recent analyses despite the fact that without them the problem has been largely defined out of existence. It must also be asked why, given the conditions of commodity production, no attention is paid to polarization of units larger than individuals, e.g. to production units, as a possible base for the restoration of capitalism, particularly in light of the Yugoslav experience. In short, the present leadership’s analysis of the formation of a bourgeoisie in a socialist society is both circular and lacking in critical focus.

A major thrust of the analysis of the same process of the formation of a bourgeoisie attributed to the “four” can be succinctly summarized by a rather lengthy quote from Yao Wen-yuan’s On the Social Basis of the Lin Biao Anti-Party Clique:

In socialist society, we still have two kinds of socialist ownership: ownership by the whole people and collective ownership. This determines our practice of the commodity system at the present time. The analyses by Lenin and Chairman Mao both tell us that bourgeois right, which inevitably exists in distribution and exchange under the socialist system, should be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat, so that in the long course of the socialist revolution the three major differences between workers and peasants, between town and country and between manual and mental labour will gradually be narrowed, as will the discrepancies between the various grades, and so that material and ideological conditions will gradually be created for closing up all these gaps. If we do not act in this way, but instead call for the consolidation, extension and strengthening of bourgeois right and the partial inequality it entails, the inevitable result will be polarization, i.e., in the matter of distribution a small number of people will appropriate increasing amounts of commodities and money through some legal and many illegal ways... As a result, a small number of new bourgeois elements and upstarts who have totally betrayed the proletariat and the labouring people will emerge from among the Party members, workers, well-to-do peasants and personnel of state and other organs. As our worker-comrades have aptly put it, “If bourgeois right is not restricted, it will restrict the development of socialism and promote the growth of capitalism.” When the economic strength of the bourgeoisie has grown to a certain extent, its agents will demand political rule, demand the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system, demand a complete changeover from socialist ownership and openly restore and develop the capitalist system. Once in power, the new bourgeoisie will start with sanguinary suppression of the people and restoration of capitalism in the superstructure, including all spheres of ideology and culture; then they will conduct distribution to each according to how much or how little capital and power he has, so that the principle of “to each according to his work” will become an empty shell, and the handful of new bourgeois elements monopolizing the means of production will at the same time monopolize the power of distributing consumer goods and other products. Such is the process of restoration that has already occurred in the Soviet Union.[13]

This article covers the initial steps of the process of the development of the condition of existence for the bourgeoisie in a more dialectical and comprehensive fashion. In addition, with the idea that “the capitalist principle of exchange of commodities will make its way into political and even Party life, undermining the socialist planned economy,” it begins to address the problem of how leadership of the Party would change hands, although still in only an introductory fashion. But many of the same unspecified and circular arguments still exist: how public property is turned into private property, commodities and money into capital, and labor power into a commodity is still not explained. The formulation that, when the economic strength of bourgeoisie has grown to a certain extent, its agents will demand political rule and eventually a change of ownership systems, brings to mind the need for understanding the concept “mode of production.” If “mode of production” is not understood, it would be difficult to determine when the capitalist restoration actually occurs. This is at the same time a more dogmatic approach to the subversion of the socialist transformation that Mao had (see note 14 in Part II).

It may be argued that there is not yet enough information to answer these questions, or that the desire for such answers is a metaphysical search for phenomena that take their specific concrete forms only at specific historical conjunctures. It could be argued that it is not necessary to know how phenomena such as the transition from public into private property takes place, so long as one is able to recognize these changes once they have taken place and understand the dangers that they pose. But if one does not have a framework for analyzing the many concrete forms which such a transformation may take, it will be impossible to know when such a transformation has taken place until it is intuitively clear, by which time it will be far more dangerous than had it been recognized at an earlier stage of its development.

Rather than analyzing numerous other documents in this fashion, it is suggested that the readers themselves analyze the documents of the “four,” the present leadership, and Mao himself within the framework of the key question developed here.

There is still one specific theoretical formulation which will be analyzed here – the question of the new Chinese translation for “bourgeois right” initiated in Guangming Ribao on October 31, 1977.[14]

The article changing the translation begins with the argument that Marx’s term Das burgerliche Recht is ambiguous. On the one hand it means “reason, justice or right (in the sense of claim),” and on the other, “law.” The article then argues that the prior definition, faquan, (relied on by the “four”) reflected the incorrect legalistic meaning of “bourgeois right” and, therefore had to be changed to a word reflecting bourgeois ”natural right,” as Marx had intended. Leaving aside the question of why, if the term has two meanings, the new leadership would choose only one rather than varying the translations according to the context, it is important to consider the links of these two interpretations to the understanding of society they imply and their practical implications.

The prior definition, faquan, is literally “legal rights, or authority, power,” while the latter, quanli, (relied on by the present leadership) is “rights or claims.” The former is the traditional understanding of rights won through political/class struggle and subsequently codified into and sanctified by law. The latter refers specifically to the Enlightenment concept of “natural right,” or rights derived from outside society, inherent in all individuals regardless of legal and social conditions, e.g., the theoretical basis of the “human rights” argument.

The earlier translation, then, portrays the bourgeois rights which were carried over from the old society and which are now a potential threat to socialism, as a set of rights which are not inherent, but were won in political/class struggle. In all social formations, certain social choices always have to be made. So long as classes exist, they struggle over who is to make these choices. Thus in a class society, rights can always be analyzed in terms of class interest. Once one class has seized certain prerogatives, it relies on its state (laws) to help maintain, enforce and expand its rights. According to this argument, bourgeois rights are a specific political economic form which class struggle takes.

In continuing the struggle against bourgeois rights, the new leadership has redefined the bourgeois rights which potentially threaten socialism as a matter of ideas rather than political economy. The concept of natural right (which is what the present leadership argues Marx was referring to with his use of the term “bourgeois right”) is, as the article notes, based on extreme individualism. Where the prior definition sees rights as prerogatives which can be granted or withdrawn without violating what is perceived to be the essence of human beings, the later definition sees bourgeois natural rights as the inherent claim of the individual to a certain realm of activity immune from intervention by other individuals or by society as a whole. In other words, it is an argument that each person has the innate prerogative to see society from the perspective of the “I” which is dominant over the whole.[15]

Thus, somewhat ironically, the “four,” who have been accused of focusing on the superstructure and ignoring the base, argue that bourgeois rights potentially threaten socialism because they are still a part of the economic base, still generated by, among other things, commodity production, and that they are enforced, protected and expanded by state power. The present leadership, on the other hand, argues that bourgeois rights are a mere legacy in the realm of ideas whose base has already been basically destroyed. Consequently, for the “four,” the target of a campaign against bourgeois rights would be specific social and economic practices as well as those persons in the Party and state enforcing these bourgeois prerogatives. For the present leadership, however, the target of such a campaign would be the ideas of the population as a whole.

The analysis of bourgeois right on which the retranslation of the term was based is still incomplete on two accounts. First, it ignores Mao’s understanding of the term, which is basically in line with the earlier definition.[16] Second, it analyzes the term only in so far as it was used by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Program, thus overlooking Lenin’s further analysis of bourgeois right in State and Revolution. Therein Lenin is quite succinct: In its first phase, or first stage, communism cannot as yet be fully mature economically and entirely free from the transitions or traces of capitalism. Hence, the interesting phenomenon that communism in its first phase retains “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right.” Of course, bourgeois right in regard to the distribution of consumption goods inevitably presupposed the existence of a bourgeois state, for right is nothing without an apparatus capable of enforcing the observance of the standards of right.[17] (emphasis in original)

Thus Lenin argued quite directly that, when Marx discussed bourgeois right, it was precisely the type of rights seized in struggle and enforced by the state which the earlier Chinese translation of the term implies.

If we now also return to Mao’s analysis of vested interest, a further clarification of the issue may be provided:

After the democratic revolution, the workers and lower middle peasants...want revolution. On the other hand, a number of Party members do not want to go forward... Why? Because they have become high officials and want to protect the interests of high officials.[18]

Such officials, fighting to protect their own interests – the prerogatives to enjoy and enforce bourgeois rights perhaps – might well be prone to just such manipulations of political theory as in the redefinition of this crucial term.

Thus the retranslation of the term bourgeois right can serve three purposes for the present leadership. First, it allows them to debunk the “four” by demonstrating that they didn’t even understand the meaning of one of the key terms in their political program. Second, it allows the present leadership to continue to oppose “bourgeois right” while distinguishing themselves from the “four.” And third, but most importantly, it allows them to direct the focus of the attack on bourgeois right away from themselves as power holders and back onto the masses as a whole.

The Need for an Independent Analysis

In the end, an analysis of the situation in China must begin with an analysis of the nature of China’s social formation at the time of Mao’s death. Mao had clearly laid down a good set of guidelines for that analysis:

Whether or not the ideological and political line are correct; whether or not the movement to study the dictatorship of the proletariat has really developed; whether or not the masses are fully mobilized; whether or not a strong leadership core has been established; whether or not the bourgeois characteristics in the management of enterprises has been overcome; whether or not the Party’s policies have been implemented; and whether or not an effective blow has been struck against the disruptive activities of the class enemy. In sum, whether or not the task of consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat has been implemented at the basic level.[19]

The total disagreement of the “four” and the present leadership on each of these issues not only demonstrates the need for an independent analysis of such questions, but it also raises another basic question.

Why was the choice of a successor to Mao a choice between two theoretically deficient groups of leaders, neither of which seems to have fully understood the dialectical “two steps forward, one step back” strategy for the socialist transformation, or numerous other crucial laws of that transformation? Is there any similarity to the situation after Lenin’s death when the choice was between Stalin and Trotsky? In both the Chinese and Soviet cases, Mao and Lenin had been much more successful than most other leaders in consistently resolving problems of their revolutions based on their strong theoretical understanding. Throughout their lives, it was the case that major contradictions were resolved only when the Party finally turned to Mao or Lenin themselves.

But why was it the case that neither Lenin nor even Mao – despite his Cultural Revolution effort to raise a generation of successors, and his specific efforts to increase leadership study of theory[20] – were able to transmit their theoretical understanding and clarity to their potential successors? How is one able to train others in the methodology of producing scientific analysis? In essence, there is a need for a better understanding of theoretical practice and its relationship to cadres, to the masses and to the development of political line.

This is a problem which now begins to come to the fore but which, like the problem under consideration above, can only be analyzed and understood within a coherent conceptual framework.


The present leadership and the “four” have shared contradictory aspects in their respective analyses. They both seem to accept Mao’s theory of uninterrupted revolution divided into stages, but they disagree on the stage China’s social formation was in at the time of Mao’s death. To the extent visible in these documents, they disagree in significant ways in their methodology for making the above determination despite the fact that they both frequently rely on incomplete and circular arguments. For example, the present leadership adopts a more economist and determinist approach to Marxist-Leninist methodology, as seen, for example, in the “theory of productive forces” orientation of several of the articles analyzed here. The “four,” on the other hand, applied the results of their somewhat less economist and determinist methodology in a dogmatic way which renders the whole theory/practice totality suspect (for example, Jiang Qing’s position on Dajai above, excessive limitation of the cultural field, etc.). Both seem to lack Mao’s depth in analyzing the relation of the Party to the masses in the transition period. Rather, they (and here the present leadership more so than the “four” tend to argue in terms of which group represents the proletariat. But in the argument over who really represents the proletariat, the issue of how the proletariat will develop into its own ruler rather than eternally relying on its representative is frequently lost.

In short, both the similarities in approach and the theoretical limitations of this approach as well as the different analyses and policies which flow from it, demonstrate the need for an independent and scientific analysis of China’s social formation during the transition period.

Such an analysis will not only allow us to determine the state of China’s social formation at the time of Mao’s death and thus, which line was more appropriate. It will also allow us to better understand the social basis of the two lines. Neither of the lines, nor the conflict between the lines itself, appeared as a result of Mao’s death. Rather, pre-existing constellations of interests with distinct social bases crystallized after his death. Only by understanding the situation prior to Mao’s death both in terms of the social formation as a whole and in terms of why Mao, like Lenin, despite his efforts, was not able to transmit his depth of theoretical understanding to either of the possible alternatives as his successors, can this crystallization be understood.

At least as important as these lessons about China, such an analysis would have major implications for the Marxist-Leninist movement in the US today. This analysis would address the problem of how revolutionaries can be theoretically developed during the struggle to seize political power and once a Communist Party has seized power. In short, during these periods of constantly pressing crises time for theoretical development was short. Both Mao and Lenin made serious efforts to train successors, but each left successors theoretically less developed than themselves and seriously flawed theoretically. This might suggest that if the present conjuncture is a socially stable conjuncture (as other articles in the Theoretical Review have suggested) then the present conjuncture might well be one in which it would be possible to train a large number of cadre capable of making, rather than merely accepting, analyses. This could set a basis for developing a Party of theoretically developed cadres capable of acting independently in a Marxist-Leninist way rather than a Party theoretically dependent on a handful of leaders whose analyses they are incapable of evaluating.

Thus, by analyzing the present conjuncture in China and its roots in China’s social formation in a scientific and theoretical Marxist-Leninist fashion, the US Marxist-Leninist movement would not only be in a better position to understand China’s socialist transformation, but it would also be in the position to begin to develop a theoretical analysis of the concept of the socialist transition. It would provide an opportunity for US Marxist-Leninists to develop their theoretical capacities through theoretical practice, and simultaneously, it would provide a basis for developing a policy for party-building in the present conjuncture.

This last factor – the link of theoretical analysis to present pressing political tasks – is the criteria which differentiate Marxist-Leninist theoretical work from bourgeois and theoreticist “theoretical” work. This is the testing point of theoretical practice, although the link is sometimes more attenuated and/or long-term than at others. Hopefully, this article has met the test.


[1] Mao, Critique, Chapter 58. This translation is incorrect. It should read “the majority of income.”

[2] Mao’s talk on December 6, 1955 in JPRS 61269-1, p. 29. See also Mao’s mention of the method of “three years of experiment, five years of attack and two years of cleaning up” in his October 23, 1957 talk. Available in Chinese only in Mao Ze-Dong Sixiang Wansui (1969) p. 143. This paragraph has been eliminated from the version of this talk in Vol. V of Mao’s Selected Works, pp. 498-513.

[3] Mao, Critique, Chapters 27, 32, 36.

[4] See Mao’s talk on Agricultural Cooperativization (1955) for a clear exposition that the polarization in the countryside between rich and poor individual peasant households necessitated a qualitative leap to a higher stage lest the conditions for the emergence of a new class be created. See also his talks at Chengchow in February-March 1959 thanking the peasants for hiding their grain to protect it against excessive and ultra-left Party requisition quotas during the early phases of the Great Leap, in Chinese Law and Government (New York: M.E. Sharpe and Co.) Winter, 1976-1977, Vol. IX, No. 4.

[5] For example, Mao said, “My 1933 investigation at Gutian reflected the ideas of the masses and was the ideas of the peasant issuing from my lips. Ideas do not come from Peking. If a factory has no raw materials to work with it does not produce anything. We rely only on the raw materials to do the processing.” March 28, 1964, JPRS, 91269-2, p. 337.

[6] Building a framework for analyzing a revisionist subversion of a socialist revolution does not imply that such a revisionist subversion has taken place in China. It merely helps to pave the way for determining whether that has or has not happened in China and elsewhere.

[7] Quoting Lenin’s Left-wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder,.

[8] In light of these contradictory positions of the social basis of the bourgeoisie during the socialist transition, it is not surprising that the Peking Review article has established as the criteria for the continuation of the revolution that condition that power rest in the hands of Marxists, not Marxist-Leninists as had virtually always been the case in the past.

[9] “Refuting Yao Wen-yuan’s Fallacy that the Principle ’To Each According to His Work’ Breeds Bourgeoisie,” by Su Shao-chih and Feng Lan-jiu, Peking Review No. 6, February 10, 1978, pp. 11-14. See also “To Each According to His Work: Socialist Principle of Distribution,” Li Hung-lin, Peking Review No. 7 (February 17, 1978, pp. 6-8).

[10] It is interesting to note that the one article appearing to defend some aspects of the “four’s” line on these issues in a highly qualified way was written under the name Yu Fei, which can be translated to mean “surplus (or excess) negativeness (or badness or wrongness).”

[11] “Distribution According to Labor and the Special Form of Distribution According to Labor,” Guangming Ribao, October 24, 1977.

[12] “From Each According to Labor Is Not the Economic Basis of the Production of a Bourgeoisie,” Bang Clin-yun, CJiu Fu-ji and Wang Hai-po, Guangming Ribao, October 24, 1977.

[13] Yao Wen-yuan, “On the Social Basis of the Lin Piao Anti-Party Clique,” Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1975. pp. 6-8.

[14] “In the End, What Is Bourgeois Right?”, Qui Qin. Subsequent to this article’s publication, the new translation of “bourgeois right” was used consistently in all articles.

[15] It is useful to note that this latter definition of right, like many other terms in Western bourgeois political philosophy, has never been translated into Chinese in a way which completely conveys its original meaning. In this case, the specific effort to render the Enlightenment concept of natural right into Chinese is somewhat flawed since it relies on the Chinese character quan, which means “physical, military power,” an aspect completely absent from, and contradictory to, the Enlightenment term.

[16] Mao, Critique,, “Criticism of Stalin,” pp. 131-132.

[17] V.I. Lenin, Marx, Engels, Marxism,, 7th Revised Edition, (Moscow: Progress, 1965), p. 338. See also pp. 331-341. The Little Lenin Library version of State and Revolution here translated “right” as “law,” thus both reflecting the ambiguity of the original term and also reinforcing the state-oriented interpretation of it, p. 138.

[18] Editorial Departments of Renmin Ribao, Bong Qi and Jiefang Ribao,, “The Great Cultural Revolution Will Shine Forever,” Peking Review, May 21, 1976, p. 7.

[19] Buaqiao Ribao (Overseas Chinese Daily),, (New York), February 28 1977, p. 1.

[20] See Mao’s constant suggestions to higher level cadres to study various aspects of theory in his talks of 1958, 1959 and 1960, available in large part in JPRS 61269-1, 61269-2. See particularly Mao’s list of “Classical Works Recommended to High-Ranking Cadres,” Ibid, p. 234