James Wood

Teaching by Negative Example

First Published: The Marxist, No. 6, Spring 1968
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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TAKE AN ASSORTMENT of anti-China slanders from the capitalist press, add a dash of Marxist phraseology, garnish liberally with British bourgeois hypocrisy and you have R Palme Dutt’s pamphlet, Whither China?

It is not a tasty dish but it is not without value as a lesson by negative example, especially now, when supporters of Liu Shao-chi and opponents of Mao Tse-tung named and anonymous, old revisionists, neo-revisionists, neo neo-revisionists and self-styled anti-revisionists, are popping up on all sides.

Dutt’s pamphlet is so full of distortions and anti-Marxist argument that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps one could start with his lament that events are moving so fast that his words will be outdated before they are read. He need not fear. Attacks on Marxism from within working class organisations started during Marx’s lifetime and drew from Marx the wry comment that if they were Marxists, then he was not. Such attacks will continue until classes have disappeared from the earth and not until then will the Kautsky’s, Khrushchevs and Dutts be out-of-date.

What are Dutt’s main ’arguments’?

1. The Chinese communist leaders, and Mao in particular, are not really Marxists. Of course, Dutt explains, it’s not their fault, poor dears, they’re only peasants. They have never been to Oxford and some of them can’t even read Dutt in the original fruity English. We recall a previous article where, with unbelievable condescension, Dutt compared them to himself ...’those of us who were Marxists before the CCP was founded. ..’

Marx said that the task of revolutionaries was not just to explain the world, but to change it. Who has effected more revolutionary change, ’peasant’ Mao or ’academician’ Dutt?

Dutt mouths fragments from the Marxist classics, not to change the world, but to prevent change. He says that Mao swallowed Marxism ’as a whole’ in 1920. If so, he differed from Dutt, who swallowed only the parts he liked, and couldn’t even digest those properly. He quotes the book and says ’Marxists always look for the class forces involved.’ Then he analyses the reasons for what he calls ’the change of course in China.’ ...’It may be overconfidence ...or an element of national pride. ..or dissatisfaction. ..or grievances. ...’

What profound Marxism!

What staggering impudence for this book-bound boaster to lecture the greatest living Marxist-Leninist who has raised Marxism-Leninism to a new height, successfully defended it against the most vicious onslaught of all times, rallied the revolutionary movement throughout the world and initiated a gigantic operation to open the road to Communism.

2. The Great Leap Forward was a big flop which substituted ’poetry for Marxism.’ The cultural revolution is an unmitigated disaster, ’a fever of internal conflict and violence,’ ’a ruthless offensive.’

He derides the ’China experts’ but he is less honest than they for they do not hide their hostility to China behind such pontifications as ’we need to approach them with understanding. ..a spirit of internationalism. ..full solidarity. ..full confidence. ...’

Has Dutt not heard that in spite of the ’wrecking of the economy,’ the last International Trade Fair in Canton did more business than any of its predecessors or that the 1967 harvest was the best ever? Can he not understand that the Great Leap Forward was a vast revolutionary upsurge which should gladden the heart of anyone with a spark of revolutionary feeling?

But this fossilised reactionary has no spark of revolutionary feeling. For him, anything not in the book, is a ’temporary abnormal phase.’ He shrinks from the spectacle of anything new, virile and revolutionary. He berates the Red Guards ’full of zeal and political innocence. ..fingering their little red books like a rosary.’ The little innocents would make political mincemeat out of Pundit Dutt for, unlike him, they not only know and understand their priceless Red Books, but they have rich practical experience in making proletarian revolution.

Forty-one years ago Mao wrote of three possible attitudes to revolutionary movements: To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them, gesticulating and criticising? Or to stand in their way and oppose them?

Dutt has chosen the last.

Ten years later, when Mao wrote his philosophical work On Practice he might almost have had him in mind when he wrote ’We are opposed to die-hards in the revolutionary ranks, whose thinking fails to advance. ..and has manifested itself historically as right-opportunism. Their thinking is divorced from social practice, and they cannot march ahead to guide the chariot of society; they simply trail behind, grumbling that it goes too fast and trying to drag it back or turn it in the opposite direction.’

3. Since, in Dutt’s opinion, there can he no class struggle after seizure of power by the working class, the cultural revolution is at best unnecessary and at worst, a big plot to stifle legitimate ’opposition.’ He denies that bourgeois agents can penetrate into the Party and even into its highest organs, although objectively, he is just such a bourgeois agent. He is blind to the truth of Lenin’s statement that after the seizure of power, small-scale production, the influence of the bourgeoisie and the force of habit ’daily and hourly breed capitalism.’ He cannot or does not wish to learn the lessons of the betrayal of the Soviet revolution by a handful of revisionists, of the Hungarian counter-revolution, of the restoration of capitalism in Yugoslavia.

This blindness leads him to misquotation as when he writes that Mao told the Red Guards to ’Bombard the Party headquarters.’ Actually the title of Mao’s dadzebao was ’Bombard the Headquarters’ and everybody in China knew that this referred to the bourgeois HQ headed by Liu Shao-chi. When British revolutionaries bombard their bourgeois HQ, Palme Dutt will be one the first casualties.

Like the Hyde Park evangelist who thundered the dreadful conundrum ’If it wasn’t a whale that swallowed Jonah, then who dunnit?’, Dutt asks ’If the dictatorship of the proletariat already exists, how can the central task of the cultural revolution be the conquest of political power by the proletariat?’

The Marxist answer is that seizure of power is not an absolute, a magic shibboleth. Power can be seized more or less firmly. It may be seized and lost. It may be seized in the base but not in the superstructure. It may be seized in some departments but not in others.

The central task of the cultural revolution is for the proletariat to seize power firmly and completely, in the base and superstructure, inside and outside the Party, in all departments including art, literature and education and above all, in the minds of man.

4. Prof Dutt is angry with the unruly CCP because it doesn’t play according to the rules. He dons his mortar board, points his bony finger at his pupils and asks them to produce their programme. ’The CCP which has never had a programme still has no programme!’ Stay behind after class and write out 100 times ’I must have a programme.’

Of course Dutt has had a programme for years. It is called the British Road to Socialism and even though it leads to capitalism, surely it is better than no programme!

Even worse, the CCP not only has no programme, but it has not even called a National Congress for eleven years. Disgraceful! The CPGB has had thirty rubber stamp congresses and the CCP only eight. For Dutt, proletarian democracy is a formality; for the CCP it is a living reality, a means of achieving the aims of the revolution. The Cultural Revolution is the greatest exercise in proletarian democracy that the world has ever seen. For twenty months at least 200 million people have devoted from two to four hours a day to political activity. They not only have unlimited means of expression and debate, but they also have the power to effect revolutionary changes. The cultural revolution has added a new dimension to proletarian democracy. It is preparing the ground for a National Party Congress, probably to be held this year, which will mark a milestone in the Chinese and the world revolution. Party Congresses are held to serve the cause of socialism and not, despite Dutt’s disapproval, vice versa.

5. The CCP is disruptive. Dutt proves it by quoting from the letter of the CC of the CCP of June 14 1963. ’If the leading group in any Party adopt a non-revolutionary line and convert it into a reformist Party, then Marxists-Leninists inside and outside the Party will replace them and lead the people in making revolution.’

Would Dutt be prepared to state explicitly what, in his opinion, Marxists-Leninists should do under such circumstances? We think he dare not. He might feel the draught.

6. Quaker Dutt objects to Mao’s formulation that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and callously points out that ’The counter-revolutionary generals in Indonesia acted on the principle that power comes out of the barrel of a gun and slaughtered half a million Indonesian Communists.’

This is what the Chinese call ’lifting a rock only to drop on your own feet.’

In September 1966, after the counter-revolutionary coup, the political bureau of the central committee of the Indonesian Communist Party issued a lengthy self-criticism which contained the following passages:

’To achieve its complete victory, the Indonesian revolution must also follow the road of the Chinese revolution. This means that the Indonesian revolution must inevitably adopt this main form of struggle, namely the people’s armed struggle. ...The experience during the last fifteen years has taught us that starting from the failure to reject the “peaceful road” ...the PKI gradually got bogged down in parliamentary and other forms of legal struggle. The Party leadership even considered this to be the main form of struggle. ...’

’In order to prove that the road followed was not the opportunist “peaceful road” the Party leadership always spoke of the two possibilities ...they held that the better the Party prepared itself to face the possibility of a “non-peaceful” road, the greater would be the possibility of a “peaceful road.” By doing so the Party leadership cultivated. ..the hope of a peaceful road which in reality did not exist.’

What could be clearer! The leadership of the PKI attributes the tragedy of 1965 to their failure to implement the teachings of Mao and the experience of the CCP while the warrior of King Street draws the opposite conclusion.

In the final analysis the fascist generals put the issue beyond doubt and proved that political power does indeed grow out of the barrel of a gun. The important question for revolutionaries, is who holds the gun.

7. As proof of Chinese ’exceptionalism’ Dutt says that because China is largely a peasant country, ’the leadership of the working class was in consequence expressed through the leadership of the CCP.’

This is very revealing. Britain is an industrialised country and so according to Dutt’s logic, the leadership of the working class need not be expressed through the CP. Would Dutt tell us through whom it should be expressed? Through the LP? The trade unions? The Peace Movement? The Army and Navy Club? Or through RPD himself?

8. The Chinese Revolution was not really a revolution in its own right but was bestowed on the Chinese people by the Soviet Union in the same way as revolutions in Eastern Europe after the second world war.

It was part of the inspiring advance after the second world war. ’The victory of the Chinese Revolution 1949 was an integral part of. ..the advance of the world socialist revolution after the second world war. ...The role of the Soviet Union ...was not only that of. ..teaching and example ...it also gave direct help. ..which found expression in 1945 in the supply of the vast stores of arms from the defeated Japanese armies. ...’

What effrontery! The whole world knows that from its foundation till its final victory, the CCP had waged continuous armed struggle relying almost exclusively on its own resources; that the strategy and tactics of the Chinese revolution were worked out independently by Mao Tse-tung; that the SU entered the war against Japan a few days before Japan’s capitulation and that it was not necessary for the SU or anyone else to hand over Japanese war booty to the Communist Armies which had defeated them.

Mao has often paid tribute to the value of the support given by the international working class movement and especially by the Soviet Union but in fact they got very little material assistance from outside. Proletarian revolution relies on proletarian internationalism. That principle applied equally to the Russian revolution of 1917 and to the Chinese revolution which triumphed in 1949.

9. Dutt objects to the Three Continent theory. The undeniable fact that revolutionary armed struggle against US imperialism is actually taking place in Africa, Asia and Latin America and not in Europe, means nothing to Dutt for it is not in the books. At least, not in the books he has read. This theoretical Marxist should extend his reading to include Lenin’s many references to the decisive importance of the struggles in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, struggles which led him to use the phrase ’Backward Europe: Advanced Asia.’

’For only when the Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Persian, Turkish workers and peas- ants join hands and march together in the common cause of Liberation – only then will decisive victory over the exploiters be ensured. Long live free Asia!’

– From To the Indian Revolutionary Association, Pravda, May 20 1920.

’In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc, account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And it is precisely this majority that, during the past few years, has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest shadow of doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured.’ – From Better Fewer, But Better, March 2 1923.

Perhaps Dutt maintains that Lenin, like Mao ’turns Marxism-Leninism upside down’? Those who stand on their head, see everything upside down. As for the distortions, we need list only a few.

’Mao ...emphasised the fundamental difference between the Peoples Democratic Dictatorship and the dictatorship of the proletariat.’

In fact Mao emphasised the basic identity between them. In his speech at the CCP’s national conference on propaganda work in 1957 he said: ’The peoples democratic dictatorship has paved the way for the rapid economic and cultural development of our country.’

And in the same speech he said: ’They do not like our state, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat. ...’

Dutt says that after the Soviet Union withdrew its experts in 1960, ’Thereafter a flood of propaganda was let loose from Chinese official sources. ...’ In fact there was no reference to this dastardly event in the Chinese press for a full three years. Even the Chinese people were not told about it, possibly because there were still hopes that the Soviet Union would return to the side of proletarian revolution.

Dutt says that at the time the Chinese raised no objection to the 1960 Moscow Statement. In fact Dutt knows full well that the Chinese delegation objected strongly to the formulations concerning the possibility of peaceful transition and circulated its objections in writing to every delegation including the British. Later the CCP made a self-criticism for having accommodated the leaders of the CPSU at a time when they were under heavy pressure.

Perhaps the kindest advice we can give RPD is that he should RIP.