Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist League of Britain

Looking Once More at China

First Published: October Review, No. 5, July 1996
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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In the aftermath of the 1989 Beijing massacres the League membership politically identified itself with ”those progressive forces in the Communist Party and among the People struggling to overthrow those at present in control in Beijing”. We no longer spoke of Socialist China, but remained Maoist in our politics.[1] An all-encompassing analysis of the successful counter-revolution in China is outside the scope of this paper, but it looks at key elements in that process. The focus on the process of debunking Mao and the drift from right deviation to revisionism is deliberate. Critical comments or corrections are positively welcomed in strengthening the collective understanding of the value (and weaknesses) in Mao’s teachings.


That the sixth volume of Mao Zedong’s Selected Works has not been published is not surprising: it would be political dynamite. As it is Volume five was withdrawn from circulation because it was tainted with the theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. When it appeared in 1977, the publication note praised Mao’s struggles:

to oppose the revisionist lines of Kao-Jao, Peng Teh-huai, Liu Shao-chi, Lin Piao and Wang-Chang-Ching-Yao, to fight against imperialism and the reactionaries of all countries and to combat modern revisionism with the Soviet revisionist renegade clique as its centre.[2]

Volume V contains writings from Liberation in September 1949 through to the anti-rightist campaign of 1957. In this period Mao for the first time put forward ideas on class struggle under socialist orientated regimes- the thesis that the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie will exist for a long time after the basic completion of the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production; he wrote on the types of contradictions in socialist society that are different in nature; and sketched out the theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the ideas that underlined the general line for building socialism.

Yet within a year of his death, the leadership of the Communist Party of China were attempting to put into historical perspective the political achievements and redefine the thought of Mao Zedong. By using the precepts and selective quotation they could use Mao’s own words to rehabilitate those condemned during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, readjust the economic development strategy, and begin to dismantle that which had been seen as signifying Maoist contribution to contemporary politics.


In the late Seventies much of the reassessment by the Communist Party of China occurred without the fanfare of public discussion, it was conducted unpublicised within Party councils. Public opinion was prepared and alerted to changing judgement through a process of culpable denial: the occurrence of ’Democracy Wall’ allowed issues to be publically raised (“flying kites” signalling opinions) without invoking the authority of the CPC. It was besides Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Tranquillity that ideas were market tested, attacks on individuals first raised and arguments rehearsed. There were more coded references in the official media that pointed towards what was authorised to consider. Articles in the theoretical journal Red Flag appeared calling for a “correct attitude” towards Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Nieh Jung-Chen, Vice chair of the powerful military Affairs Commission correctly observed:

We must resolutely oppose taking words and phrases torn out of context from Marxism-Leninism Mao TseTung Thought as dogma with no regard to time, place and circumstances... Chairman Mao never placed blind faith in the wisdom of any individual but instead relied on the wisdom of the proletarian class and the mass.[3]

The framework for assessing Mao and his contributions were opened wide. Those in the Party associated with Deng Xiaoping embarked upon the delicate task of desanctifying Mao’s memory without besmirching it completely. The veneration of Mao during the Cultural Revolution had become semi-divine worship. He proved mortal by dying. The demystification of Mao was both necessary and desirable for Chinese society. His sacred eminence could not endure. They put forth the line that Mao’s philosophy was basically correct, but, that it had been distorted and misapplied by his one-time heir Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. Sponsorship of the Cultural Revolution was to be excused on the grounds that Mao was aged, infirm and confused.

July 1978 saw the republication of Mao’s speech of January 30, 1962 to 7,000 cadres containing self-critical references: “Who ever makes mistakes must criticise himself, and we must let others speak up, let others criticise.” Symbolically it was preparing the grounds for others to be permitted to criticise Mao. It was part of a process that saw the Chinese public conditioned, with some care to accept doctrines so heretically un-Maoist that it could have gotten people imprisoned or executed a few years previously.

In October 1978, The People’s Daily criticised “The Little Red Book” (as it was known in the West) debunking the theme that one sentence of Mao’s writing was equal to the wisdom of 10,000 sentences: “In this way the system of Mao Tsetung’s Thought was dismembered and it was reduced to maxims which neither had inner links nor a proper historical context.” This was a legitimate criticism that had been reflected (if unspoken) in the campaign to study the Marxist classics in the aftermath of Lin Biao’s death. During the Cultural Revolution millions of youthful Red Guards waved the Little Red Book enthusiastically as a totem of political support.


The Red Guard youth organisation was formally abolished on November 1st 1978. Mao’s body laid preserved in a crystal coffin as his political reputation was questioned in wall posters on ’Democracy Wall’. There was an intense period of reassessment that began in November 1978. Then a fourteen paged wall poster appeared linking Mao with the discredited “Gang of Four”:

Chairman Mao, because his thinking was metaphysical during his old age and for all kinds of other reasons, supported the Gang of Four in raising their hands to strike down Comrade Teng Hsiao-ping... the Gang used Mao’s mistaken judgement and the situation to launch an all out offensive against China’s revolutionary cause.[4]

The frequency of posters appearing critical of Mao, acknowledging him as a gifted individual who made mistakes, and supporting people’s rights to express unorthodox opinion and to analysis Mao’s contributions critically, all suggested official instigation. At the same time there were a spate of posters praising Chou Enlai as the only leader to protect the ordinary Chinese people during ten years of “fascism”, veiled attacks on Hua Guofeng’s succession, and known leftists in the leadership like vice-chairman Wang Tung-hsing and praise for Deng as the “living Chou”, calling for his appointment as Premier. Conflicts and tensions within the Chinese leadership were played out in the posters of ’Democracy Wall’. The assessment of Mao was intimately bound to assessment of the Party and the current political situation in China.

There were major developments when Radio Beijing announced the “restoration of honour” of persons persecuted as “rightists” in 1957 and The People’s Daily called for the rehabilitation of those wrongly purged as reactionaries and capitalist-roaders, between 1966 and 1976. The People’s Daily carried an article on November 20 1978 which emphasized that it was necessary for a clear line to be drawn dividing Chairman Mao who ”launched and led the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” from Lin Biao and the Gang of Four who sabotaged it”. It called for rehabilitation “the righting of injustices” but warned against the emergence of a Chinese Khrushchev who would fight the political line of Mao. The article signalled that there was to be no de-Maoization patterned on the Soviet experience when careerists in the CPSU “fan the flames to denounce Stalin and attack socialism” in a counter-revolutionary plot.

Party journals echoed the attack on “false trials” and “wrong verdicts” sanctioned by “a certain top leader”. Mao was being gently shaken from his pedestal. In a poster attributed to ’Workers from Kweichow province’ a reassessment of the Cultural Revolution was called for, and added Mao Tsetung must be considered 70 per cent good and 30 per cent bad.”[5]

This echoed the assessment which Mao made of Stalin in 1956. By late November Deng was publically quoted as saying “Every Chinese knows that without Chairman Mao there would have been no new China.” The attacks on Mao had gone too far. Deng said “Some utterances are not in the interest of stability and unity and the Four Modernisations.” Deng found himself criticised in posters at the end of December for trying to curb criticism of Mao and seeking to limited free speech in his call for stability and unity.[6]

Xidan Wall – popularised in Western press reports as “Democracy Wall” – served as a forum for dissent, and came to be regarded as a barometer of Chinese politics. Who was being attacked? Who was being praised? Wall posters appeared in December 1978 calling for the rehabilitation of the chief target of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Shao-chi. The momentum of “reversing the judgements” seemed unstoppable. There was the return of veteran economists and political strategists restored to leadership positions throughout the late 1970s after years of obscurity and even physical detention. Most prominent amongst them (after Deng’s spectacular triple rise and fall) was Chen Yun, an economist purged during the Cultural Revolution, re-appointed as Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China in December 1978.

The Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee in December rehabilitated the popular army chief Peng Dehuai – long considered unjustly purged for his public criticism of the Great Leap Forward in 1959. It laid the basis for more criticism of Mao’s policies to come. The slogan “Seek truth from facts” had a partisan association with Deng, an oblique rejection of Mao’s dictum to always ”put politics in command” and the Hua-led “whateverist” faction in the CPC leadership. The rehabilitation of Peng Chen, the ex-major of Beijing and amongst those first overthrown in the Cultural Revolution, reinforced the signals that China’s future did not lay on the road laid by the Cultural Revolution. The plenary session “corrected the erroneous slogan, ’take class struggle as the key link’ which is inappropriate to socialist society”[7] and shifted the emphasis of Party work to socialist modernization marking the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping’s statist perspective.

Deng Xiaoping had played the central role at the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Central Committee in 1978 which decided to reassess the CCP’s recent history, to restructure the economy and reverse the political and economic practices of Mao Zedong’s later years, Deng was the architect of the reform era that followed Mao’s death in 1976, His leadership created the conditions for the acceptance of Chinese economic integration with the world market via the Special Economic Zones. Deng was often portrayed as a pragmatist illustrated by reference to his observation that what latter if the cat was white or black so long as it caught mice. Deng was regarded as the revisionist par excellent by the ultra-leftist faction in the CCP leadership: Deng was associated with the drive for production and the emergence of policies associated with the Four Modernization in 1974, Chinese economic development was faltering, the Four Modernization still set out targets for growth in all spheres of the economy [including the heavy industry sector, acceptance of a dominant state sector, and only a limited relaxation of the policy of autarky which had been forced upon the CCP by the Cold War policies of the West.

Deng’s understanding of socialism clearly included a belief that the central role of the Party could and should not be questioned at all. The crushing of “Democracy Wall” predates the tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square. He had no time for Mao’s 1950s notion of “extended democracy”. The personalised and dogmatic politics of the Cultural Revolution had no part to play in Deng’s formulation of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. His focus was on party rule, party discipline and economic production in that order. His expression of admiration for Singapore’s authoritarian “social order” is not surprising, Deng’s views on the needs for a strong state led by one party marks him out as a ’Statist’ , The importance of organization and bureaucracy to Deng would never inspire poetry or Mao’s belief in mass mobilization as the engine of change, Deng was committed to make China both economically strong and powerful in international terms, He argued consistently that in order to ensure the CCP’s leadership of society it was necessary to demonstrate the material advantages: “Poverty is not socialism was one of his truism”.


Liu Shao-Chi had died a political prisoner in November 1969, his name heap with accusations forever cursed. The trend to rehabilitate his reputation and political standing was evident throughout 1979. Historical documents were released and publicised that included praise by Mao in 1945 for Liu’s early work for the Party and the Political Report of the 1956 8th Party Congress – when Lui’s policies were thought to hold sway over Mao’s – was re-issued. The reappraisal of not only Mao, but the policies of the previous twenty years were evoked as loyalty to Mao Zedong Thought. The Workers Daily reassured its readers. ”To cast off the outmoded words of Chairman Mao and to correct improper words according to the principle that practice is the sole criteria of truth does not mean rolling up Mao’s banner.” The article insists “on the contrary it is what, is required by Mao’s philosophy.” And on Mao himself, the article was explaining ”today we cannot write him off just because of his short comings or even mistakes. Chairman Mao’s deeds cannot be denied just because of some problems or mistakes during socialist construction and the great cultural revolution in particular.”

This reassessment that was taking shape – Mao remained a great strategist, Marxist and revolutionary apart from the last twenty years of his life when errors out weight achievement – was reinforced in a significant speech given on the 30th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China.

Yeh Chien-ying, Chair of the National People’s Congress, was explicit in his public criticism. The Cultural Revolution was “an appalling catastrophe suffered by all our people”. It had been intended to combat revisionism, but ”’When the Cultural Revolution was launched, the estimate made of the situation within the Party and Country ran counter to reality.”

“No accurate definition was given of revisionism, and an erroneous policy and method of struggle was adopted.” There were major criticisms of policies associated with the last twenty years of Mao’s life: these included widening the scope of the anti-rightist campaign and ’Leftist errors’ in the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s and the visionary mass campaigns of the early 1960s which culminated in the Cultural Revolution.

The Party leadership were drawing a clear line in the sand as to what was permissible to criticise. At the same time they wanted to preserve Mao’s authority as the symbol of the Chinese Revolution. Ye Jianying spoke for the CPC when he described Mao as “the most prominent representative of the Chinese Communist Party.” But the formula used to undermine the divine aspects that had infected Party authority was to argue that “Mao Tsetung’s Thought is not the product of Mao’s personal wisdom alone. It is also the product of the collective wisdom of his comrades in arms.” While stating the obvious, it shifted the source of authority away from the dead Mao to the existing Party leadership which resembled a roll call of the Maoist’s era victims. The Cultural Revolution had excluded from power and humiliated most of those who had struggled to make Chinese communism successful. Within a few years of Mao’s death, there was a remarkable transformation as the political verdicts, economic prescriptions and Social policies of that period were jettisoned.

Ye Jianying’s speech on the 30th anniversary of the CPC described Mao’s actions as “faults” rather than shortcomings. By February 1980 Mao’s faults had become ”serious mistakes” and were broaden to include the persecution of Liu Shaoqi. The man dubbed ’China’s Khrushchev’ was formally rehabilitated in February 1980: ”It was the biggest frame up our Party has ever known, and it must be completely over thrown.” The final rehabilitation of Liu Shaoqi, former head of state, took place at a solemn memorial ceremony held in the Great Hall of the People in May 18, 1980. In a speech broadcasted live throughout the country, Deng Xiaoping read the eulogy in which he described Liu as “a great Marxist and proletarian revolutionary who dedicated the whole of his militant life to the cause of communism.” The ceremony was delayed because of Liu widow’s opposition to the inclusion of the description “Mao’s close comrade” – it was omitted from the eulogy.

By September 1980, Chinese courts had re-examined 94% of the 1.2 million criminal cases tried between 1966-76 and rehabilitated 266,000 unjustly prosecuted, The fourth anniversary of Mao’s death was ignored in Beijing, not even recalled in the editorial of the party’s People’s Daily, there were no commemorative events and no special activity of reminiscences.

Hua Guofeng resigned that month as prime minister attacking the “ultra-leftism of the past”. Hua’s departure from effective leadership had been earlier than September 1980, and it stood as a watershed: Hua had stood for some adherence to Mao’s policies.

Kang Sheng, security chief throughout the Cultural Revolution and close ally of the “Gang of Four” had been posthumously denounced that summer of 1980. Kang once described as “the great cardinal” was held directly responsible for the deification of Mao. He was accused of having “directly participated in scheming by Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and company to usurp the supreme leadership of the party and state during the Cultural Revolution and committed grave crimes.”[8] Kang and former Public Security minister Xie Fuzhi were posthumously expelled from the Communist Party of China in a public denunciation on the eve of the trial of the Gang of Four and Lin Biao conspirators.


The trial of the Gang of Four in November 1980, four years after their arrest, was evidence that Mao’s previously infallible reputation had been sufficient tainted to prosecute the most publically identified followers of Mao without fear of social unrest. Essentially the Party argued that Mao’s mistakes were fundamentally different from the conspiratorial activities blamed on Jiang Qing and nine other disgraced leaders on trial. The guilty verdict was a formality.

Published July 1st 1981, Resolution On Questions In Party History Since 1945 contained much of what had been discussed in semi-public. The assessment of Mao had been decided: “Mao Zedong was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist who made various mistakes – some them quite serious – especially in his later years. Judging his life as a whole, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his errors. ”[9]

There were genuine criticisms of Mao, that he acted arbitrarily and arrogantly, increasingly putting himself above the principles of collective leadership and democratic centralism. The launching of the Cultural Revolution is said to be the result of Mao labouring under a misapprehension of theories inconsistent with Marxist-Leninist principles and the realities of Chinese life, and capitalized by counter-revolutionary cliques. The resolution saw a protracted ultra-leftist error in Mao’s appraisal and promotion of a theory of continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. For all the weaknesses in that theory sketched out by Mao[10], it was asking the right questions even if the answers it supplied were less than satisfactory. Mao did identify the problem of the danger of down playing, or even forgetting that class struggle persist amidst socialist construction and that the Party, as the ruling Party, was the best vehicle to infiltrate and use to deflect the orientation towards a classless society. This stance was firmly rejected in the Resolution. It sought to praise the historic contribution of Mao Zedong as an outstanding individual amongst a generation of outstanding communist fighters – hence Mao Zedong Thought being the collective property of the Party and not the individual. So the Resolution still praised Mao while condemning everything he had stood for in the last twenty years of his life, condemned everything that had inspired the young anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist trend internationally, whilst praising the party as capable of correcting its mistake.

“The skill with which China has been detached from revolutionary Maoism these last three years must be admired” wrote Richard Harris in “The Times” on February 20 1980. In a sense the reassertion of the Party was always going to see a diminishing of Mao’s place in the constellation. The Party needed Mao: policy truth may change but curiously the source of that truth – Mao Zedong Thought – remains the same.

It was relatively easy to take a quote from Mao, disregard its context, and use it to justify the programme of economic reform which the leadership had embarked. The Chinese revolutionary experience was so rich and varied that Mao had spoken as conciliator on many occasions, welcoming foreign investment, stressing balanced development, incentives the value of national capitalist etc. The Party, while asserting collective leadership – because no one had the statue or authority that Mao had earned – needed Mao’s authority as the key symbol of the very legitimacy of the People’s Republic of China. Indeed, Australian author, Ross Terrill once described Mao as “the Marx, Lenin, and Stalin rolled into one of the Chinese Revolution.[11] It was no exaggeration: Mao diagnosed Chinese society, seized power by raising a peasant army and laid the basis for New China before turning on and purging old party colleagues.

As to explain the previous twenty years policy aberration for the post-Mao leadership, that proved relatively easy. In October 1980, the People’s Daily touch upon a recognisable theme: “because of the influence of feudalism, some leading comrades have unconsciously introduced a patriarchal mentality into the party, something which even that great revolutionary, comrade Mao Tsetung, could not avoid. “ Mao had colluded in the establishment of his own cult it was politically expedient and successfully fostered within Chinese society.

One of Mao’s final feudal gestures was that Mao had scrawled on a piece of paper in his last year, the words “With you in charge, I feel at ease” and passing it to Hua Guofeng. Hua flourished that paper as his claim to authority. Hua was hailed as Mao’s chosen heir yet sidelined within a couple of years.


The significance of the decision at the Third Plenum in December 1978 cannot be over-emphasised: it marked the shift to economic construction as the focus for Party policy and introduced the policy of opening up to the outside world as a significant means to achieve modernization. China was to become an “awaken giant. ..indispensable to the efforts to maintain world peace and stability.”

“In this decade” Chinese Premier Li Peng foretold, “China will preliminarily establish a new system of the planned socialist commodity economy and an economic operational mechanism that combines planning and regulation by market forces.[12]

The party’s leading economist, Chen Yun, originated the so-called “bird-cage theory”: the market is like a bird; it needs its freedom to fly but must be prevented from flying away by the cage of central planning. That idea was soon superseded by the all-embracing rush to make China’s per capita GIP reach in general the level of moderately industrialised nations by the middle of the 21st century.

The leadership had no detailed blueprint for economic reform. As Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin explained in Moscow: “Reform is a great practice, and we are exploring our way ahead.”[13]. From the start, their maxim was to “feel for stones as we cross the river”. It was a profoundly pragmatic doctrine; anything it seemed was permissible so long as it boosted production.

Reform gave birth to small, semi-rural private rural enterprises that now account for a third of the GNP. Communes, the torch bearers of Maoist economic mechanisms, abandoned. A dated state sector out-produced and left to flounder amidst the Open Door policy. How does this mixture of market and plan match Deng’s hazy notion of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” when it has all the hallmarks of capitalist accumulation? The promotion of the market system, the integration of the Chinese economy into the imperialist dominated world economy, the ’expansion of financial markets and the stock exchange has opened a door to what?

During the 1980s, China had no trouble talking communism while moving towards capitalism. The parallel has been drawn with other economic dragons in the area – Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea – the model of keeping a tight rein on politics while relaxing economic policy. Despite the heavy ideological propaganda, with everybody having a public face that praises Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, over a decade of economic evolution has left China dependent on foreign investment, private enterprise and exports for most of its growth – that averaged out at 9% a year throughout the 1980s. The leadership has reined in an overheated, if dynamic, economy, brought down inflation and curbed the rush for ill-thought out financial experimentation but economic reforms has tied the country into the world market: exports account for about a fifth of the GIP, compared with 4% in 1978 when economic reform began. Whole swathes of China’s coastline is now indistinguishable from free market Hong Kong.

Imperialism has welcomed China’s open door policy, special economic zones and free-wheeling business. Today every mass produced children’s toy seems to have “Made in China” stamp on it as the big trans-national corporations set up operations to take advantage of cheap, skilled workforce, China’s favoured trading arrangement, relaxed taxation regime, and access to markets and materials. But the range of business production is staggering; to take one example, British Polythene Industries (BPI), Europe’s largest polythene film producer closed its plant in the Midlands where workers were paid 15,000 a year to move to China where workers are paid 670 a year. They have not been alone to take advantage: with nearly $28 billion, China was the second largest recipient of foreign direct investment (after the USA) in 1993. China took 37% of the total investment going to the Third World, compared to 4% directed to the continent of Africa. China may have developed a manufacturing export-orientated base with spectacular coastal development, but it is in the context of reinforcing the economic dominance of western capital in an increasingly unequal and monopolistic global environment.

American academic Henry Park made this observation about income distribution about China in 1990:

the poorest 20% receives 6.4% of the income, the richest 20% receives 41.8%. In the United States in 1985, the poorest 20% receives 4.7% and the richest 41.9% ”. The income disparity in China is greater than many European countries; if these countries have capitalist distribution relations then China has too. If these countries are socialist countries, then China could be too!”[14]


There is a viewpoint reflected by China-watchers that the ruling party no longer seeks its legitimacy in the ideals of communism but in its role as the guardian of China’s quoqing, or national essence. Put crudely, to find a way for the Chinese people to recover its former glory as a civilization and race in the 21st century. As Politburo member Rui Xingen spelt it out in 1988:

If our race and country cannot develop through reform and construction, life will not be able to take our rightful place in the world.

We would then face the threat of being wiped off the earth. The history of modern China is a history of defeat, disgraceful forfeiture of our sovereignty, and acceptance of humiliation. A country which falls behind others for a long time will always be bullied.[15]

Such sentiments have a deep well of Han chauvinism to draw upon. Racial nationalism has been on the increase in the post-Tiananmen era, with a research team set up in November 1993 to isolate the quintessentially “Chinese genes” of the genetic code of human DNA, and publications in demography making claims about the “biological fitness” of the nation and herald the next century as an era to be dominated by “biological competition” between the “white race” and the “yellow race”. The idea of the destiny of the ’Chinese Race’ is one that was challenged (because it still survived) amidst the period of Mao’s rule. This was not always successfully vanquished from political discourse. But since eugenic laws have been implemented at the provincial level since 1988, the idea that ”the success of the state and the prosperity of the race, but also the well being of the people and social stability’ can be affected by “inferior births” has gained a wide currency amongst China’s top policy makers. As Frank Dikotter noted in an article detailing the growth of eugenic policies and practices in China, the 1995 Maternal and Infant law suggests that those “deemed unsuitable for reproduction” should become celibate, or voluntarily undergo sterilization or abortion in order to prevent “inferior births”.[16]

He Xin, a scholar at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Science, argues that whether the party stands or falls is not on the question of socialism but nationalism. “Is it a government of traitors, a government of subservient to foreigners, or is it a government that can give pride in themselves? This will decide whether the Chinese people support or oppose it. This is the most basic point. “[17]

The question of how to evaluate the Communist Party of China’s policies since 1979 was addressed in an article in Beijing Review under the heading ”Only CPC can lead China’s Socialist Construction”. It defended the CPC against the charges of the movement suppressed in 1989, acknowledging the corruption within the party as “only a partial phenomenon”, but citing Mao’s warning of the emergence of a stratum within the party, and admitting that “in addition to theoretical blindness, an ideological confusion and crisis of belief” had arisen. Furthermore, it argued for the necessity of party rule:

Chinese in the contemporary history, suffering greatly from imperialist bullying had two beautiful dreams one, the dream of independence and prosperity of the motherland and the other, the dream of freedom and liberation of society. ..The Chinese Communist Party’s programme is a concentrated expression of that dream.[18]

The refrain is familiar: China needs order, Confucius always stressed harmony, the party stresses stability and unity. Tiananmen represented the choice between chaos and order. The foundation of party rule is that it can keep order in China, a China free of warlords and imperialists. There is a bankruptcy of China’s ideological front: ”socialism with Chinese characteristics” preaches state ownership and party oversight but promotes stock markets, private enterprise and millionaires.

The advice to ”integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete realities of China, blaze a path of our own and build ’socialism with Chinese characteristics’, which Deng made no attempt to define, has led to a Maoist worse nightmare. The reform programme formally abandoned the notion of communism in our time with the adoption of the “preliminary stage of socialism” at the 13th Party Congress in 1987. The commodity economy will last for at least a hundred years according to now disgraced Zhao Ziyang at that congress. The Chinese leadership may be said to playing the long ball game but are they capable of passing that strategy on to a new team and keeping their eyes on the ball?


Events since his death has proved Mao right: the party is full of capitalist roaders. They have instigated a counter-revolution inspired by China’s poverty. The heavy responsibility of providing for a quarter of humanity’s material needs, China’s backwardness and a cultural legacy that remains a source of pride and inspiration has diluted the ideological goal. Many of the proposals associated with economic policies are the antithesis of socialism as communist have understood it. The ideological incongruities of socialist bankruptcies, socialist labour markets and socialist stock markets have in effect gutted its core belief structure. The re-appearance of the social ills of the old society in the name of building socialism has accompanied tremendous economic achievements.

China is developing using capitalist methods, inculcating the capitalist spirit and hypocrisies. Reform sowed the seeds for unprecedented corruption with tales of brazen bribery, embezzlement, misuse of funds, smuggling, counterfeiting and profiteering filling the pages of the state run press throughout the 80s and 90s. What does not get official promotion are the widely whispered charges of nepotism as the families of Party cadres at every level grow rich.

That leadership has addressed the material poverty that it confronts, it has survived despite the loss of status in Chinese society. That slide in party’s social influence and prestige after the disastrous Cultural Revolution and in 1989 has questioned the wisdom of Party rule. The purely formal nature of proletarian rule has not hindered the rise of a new bourgeoisie taking hold, helped by the purge of three million party members in 1983, of the bureaucratic state machinery and using it for its own purpose against a policy that positively embraces capitalism and the nationalist ethos to rally the people to build a new China. The Communist Party of China has degenerated into a new source of revisionism. It uses Mao Zedong Thought to maintain a united facade that is ideological bankrupt. It is used by a ruling party, communist only in name, that seeks to develop a country that will take a more prominent role in the next century committed to its own way for development, and decide its economic mode and social system as well as its own concepts of value in accordance with its national conditions.”[19]

This model owes nothing to the communist ideals, policies or practices of Mao Zedong and the once victorious Communist Party of China. Mao was right in his political emphasis – “Never forget Class struggle” – if you tell people that it’s glorious to get rich then that is the spirit you encourage to grow in a nominally socialist society. When the CPC advertises that the present road will last a hundred years you are talking about a road that accepts the ethos of capitalism while trying, at best, to modify some of its harsher effects on those who are losers in the capitalist system – that has traditionally been the role of social democracy in the West, not a ruling communist party. They may argue that there are no blue prints, no economic mechanism that are essentially socialist. There are values, there are criteria for policies which are to the benefit of working people in increasing control over their lives – that’s what the liberation of the working class, and the creation of a classless society is about, the removal of the social power of capital. And this is something not being done under the auspices of state promoted capitalism in China today.

Mao Zedong may be criticised for many things. What was needed was less subjectivism in training revolutionary successors. The Cultural Revolution failed to obtain that as a method. But what can not be taken away from Mao is that he asked the right questions and kept a revolutionary perspective, and that is the nub of the matter.

It is not simply a matter of leadership as Trotskyists will assert, it is not just a matter of production as revisionists will claim. What matters is that people have greater control, greater accountability and greater initiative in their lives over the structures which shape and dictate those lives. The Maoist mass line remains fundamental approach to addressing the issues of the masses in a progressive manner. One must listen and learn from the masses. Policies based on predictive scenarios, must be subjected to the corrective of practice. Otherwise one is in the realm of abstract politics of the individual which has dominated the left for too many years.


[1] RCL Resolution 6.6.89, The progression from being identified by others as “pro-China” to our rejection of that label was discussed in a London branch lead at that tile entitled “How Did We Get to This State?” which made the point that “to a large extent, commentaries on developments in China (throughout the 1980s) took place outside of Marxist-Leninist organisations and was carried on between ’non-party’ intellectuals”.

[2] Selected Works of Mao TseTung Volume 5, Foreign Language Press (Peking) 1977:5

[3] Regional papers reiterated the theme charging Lin Biao and the Gang of Four with forcing the Chinese people to treat Marxism-Leninism-MaoZedong Thought with religious reverence and turned political science into theology.

[4] Guardian November 20, 1978

[5] Daily Telegraph November 25, 1978

[6] The Human Rights Alliance wall poster of January 1979 called for the body of Mao to be removed from its mausoleum and contained a 19 point Manifesto challenging Communist Party rule. This was the catalyst for a crackdown on those attacking communism, with arrests of activists, the abolition of the right to display wall posters and eventual demolition of “Democracy Wall” by Beijing authorities, Deng Xiaoping was denounced in an Underground magazine Exploration as a “fascist dictator... no longer worthy of the people’s trust,” He was charged with lending his support to attack his personal enemies, notably Wang Dongxing, the fundamentalist Maoist internal security chief, The fifteen years sentence for Wei Ching-Sheng dissent editor arrested as a counter-revolutionary was a clear signal to the nascent Human Rights movement of the boundaries of permissible criticism.

[7] Beijing Review August 16, 1982 p 17

[8] Reuters November 1, 1980

[9] Summing Up: Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution and 32 Years of New China, China Reconstructs October 1981 p33

[10] Discussed in the 1990 internal league document ’Draft reflections on socialist transition: China – Continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat’.

[11] New Statesman 12,9,80

[12] Beijing Review July 1-7, 1991 p 25

[13] China on It’s March Towards the 21st century. Beijing Review May 27-June 2, 1991 p9

[14] Author of ’The Political Economy of Counter-Revolution in China 1976-1988’, lecturer in Sociology, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, speaking at the International Seminar on Mao Zedong in November 1993.

[15]Helmsmen’s lost bearings. Far Eastern Economic Review 27.10.88

[16] Throw-away babies, Times Literary Supplement Jan 12, 1996 p4

[17] Peking’s chosen scholar and thug, The Independent 31.12.90

[18] Beijing Review March 12-18, 1990

[19] Beijing Review Nov 18-24, 1991