Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, December 1949


Hsieh Yueh

Mao Tse-tung’s “Revolution”

Report on Chinese Stalinism


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.11, December 1949, pp.328-332.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Following is the digest of an article which appeared in the first issue of the magazine Fourth International (published in Hong Kong), organ of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Chinese section of the Fourth International. The writer is one of the principal leaders of Chinese Trotskyism and one of the pioneers of the communist movement in the Far East. Although written some eight months ago, April 15, 1948 (sic!), the article reports facts and trends in so-called Communist China which have been hitherto unknown in the West. The translation is from the French as it appeared in the October-November issue of Quatrième Internationale.

* * *

Stalinist military victories in China have led certain people to believe that backward countries provide a fertile soil for the development of Stalinism. This is an empirical method of thinking. It is true that colonial countries are composed in their majority of petty-bourgeois and peasant elements, but this condition alone is not sufficient to guarantee the success of the Stalinists. The petty bourgeoisie is not isolated from society. Despite its numerical majority in certain countries, it cannot play an independent role in the epoch of capitalist decline. It must take its position in the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, on the side of one class or the other. The Chinese Stalinists cannot march to victory by basing themselves solely on the petty bourgeoisie, a class which is incapable of resisting the pressure of the capitalists. This holds equally true for situations in which the proletariat has been crushed and the peasant movement isolated. Thus the peasant insurrection in the Kiangsi province in 1927-37 was defeated by the capitalist blockade.

Stalinism has been able to achieve great victories in China because, alongside the prostration of the proletariat, there took place a collapse of capitalism. The war of 1935-1947 weakened the material bases of capitalist power. The broadest masses, even those who normally support the bourgeoisie, turned against it. But the same historic conditions, which favor the growth of Stalinism, also create difficulties for it as its armies approach the major cities. The question for Stalinism is whether to ally itself to the proletariat or to the capitalists. The facts prove that it has allied itself with the bourgeoisie rather than with the proletariat.

The major cause for Stalinist military successes was the October 1947 agrarian reform. During the Sino-Japanese War the Stalinists abandoned agrarian reform and limited themselves to a reduction of rents accruing to the landowners. After the war, the CP was defeated by the Kuomintang in the struggle for control of the liberated areas. The Stalinist leaders themselves acknowledged that the peasants were not satisfied with their reformist policy and were demanding land. At the Central Committee meeting of May 4, 1946, the CP decided to execute a turn toward agrarian reform in order to win the support of the peasantry in their war against Chiang Kai-shek.

However the effects of this reform in the areas initially controlled by the Stalinists were limited. The landowners received their share in the distribution of land and this share was often better than that received by the peasants. The rich peasants retained all of their property. But even this limited reform clashed with the resistance of the landowners who had penetrated into the ranks of the Chinese CP.

The Open Letter to the Members of the Party, published in January 1948 by the Central Committee of the Shansi-Shantung-Honan region declared: “The present directives of the party are aimed at a section of the party membership which is composed of landowners and rich peasants who are protecting the property of their families and relatives.” And the Stalinist, Nieh Yung-jin, in his work on Renewal of Our Ranks admits that “these elements (landowners and rich peasants) occupy most of the positions in our party.” He even states that “considered in the light of agrarian reform, our policy appears to reflect the views of the landowners and the rich peasants.”

Furthermore these documents give a very concrete description of the attitude of these landowner members of the Chinese CP. These elements were the chief opponents of agrarian reform but when it occurred they did their utmost to derive the maximum advantages from it for themselves. They conducted themselves “invariably in a very greedy way,” even utilizing the armed forces to seize the best plots of land, most of the livestock, implements, homes and clothes, etc. These elements had already become “a group in opposition to the people,” in opposition to the poor and landless peasants. And the document referred to above continues:

“The poor and landless peasants are today in a worse situation than ever, for they don’t have enough land to cultivate, not enough houses to inhabit, nor sufficient clothes to wear. They do not even have the right to speak in the village committees, let alone take a leading position in these committees ... Formerly exploited by the landowners, the poor and landless peasants are now exploited by these bad party members.”

Under pressure of this internal crisis in its ranks, as well as of the left turn of the Kremlin’s foreign policy, the CP then made a new turn with its publication. on October 10, 1947 of the Program of Agrarian Reform. This was an appeal to the masses to complete the agrarian reform. But the limited character of this “orientation toward the masses” was apparent not only in the fact that the agrarian reform did not upset the right to buy and sell land confiscated from the landowners – thus favoring a new concentration of land in the hands of the rich peasants – but also because it expressly permitted the free transfer of capital to commercial or industrial enterprises. It appeared further in the fact that the reform itself was rapidly brought to a halt.

In actuality, the bureaucracy was frightened by the rising waves of mass struggle. “The masses automatically fight the bad party members. In some areas members of the party were arrested and beaten by the people.” This is the complaint of Liu Shaw-chi in Lessons of the Agrarian Reform in Pinshang. In another important document, the CC of the Shansi-Hopei-Shantung-Honan district gives this summary of the conflicts between the peasants and the political line of the CP:

  1. For the purpose of getting more land the peasants gave false information on the size of the landowners’ property;
  2. After the division they do not admit that the landowners obtained more land than themselves;
  3. They want to confiscate the factories and enterprises of the landowners and rich peasants.

This clearly demonstrates the conflict between the revolutionary tendencies of the masses, who want to completely expropriate the owning classes, and the bureaucratic and conservative tendency of the CP which, in practice, protects the positions of these classes. The bureaucracy invariably accuses the masses of being “too far to the left” or of “left adventurism” in order to limit their actions which threaten the Stalinist line and its bourgeois allies.

It was soon obliged to halt all mass actions. On August 24, 1948, the New China News Agency (New China press service) issued the text of an article in the West Honan Daily News to the radio which officially announced: The agrarian reform must be halted and the peasants would have to be satisfied with a reduction of rent, taxes and interest to usurers.

Thus, agrarian reform which began on May 4, 1946 in areas previously occupied by the Stalinists was halted in August 1948 in the areas newly occupied by the Stalinists. An official document of the Chinese CP on February 22 indicated that in the “old and semi-old liberated” areas, the reform which was achieved by different norms had led to the constitution of three distinct zones:

It appears from all the evidence that the “greediness” of the landowners and rich peasants, whether CP members or not, has been given free rein in this reforrn and that most of the elements whose lands were confiscated are already in the process of re-enriching themselves. The “middle peasants” in the first zone referred to by the CC include many exploiting elements and landed proprietors.

The so-called” “old and semi-old liberated areas” constitute all of the territory situated at the north of the Hoang-Ho (Yellow River). Agrarian reform was and is still applied in this area in a varied manner. Here we encounter a typically Stalinist policy. To resist the pressure of the bourgeoisie, the Stalinists are forced to base themselves on the masses. But when the upsurge of the masses threatens to cause social upheavals, the Stalinist bureaucracy attempts to channelize these actions and, in its fright, makes a zigzag to the right, engages in negotiations with the bourgeoisie and orders a halt to the popular movement.

Industrial and Commercial Policy

The principal breach in the agrarian reform consists in the policy called “protection of industry and trade.” It allows for the free transfer of the capital of the rich peasants to industrial and commercial enterprises even in the small towns and villages of the liberated areas. The factories and mines previously nationalized in the districts first occupied have gradually been transferred to private capitalists. Liu Ning-i indicates this clearly in his work on Industrial Policy in the Liberated Areas where he writes:

“The government desires to strengthen the various sectors of heavy and light industry. For that all the people, including the big capitalists, must be mobilized, by utilizing all their strength and their complete cooperation.”

To contribute to industrial and commercial development, the Chinese CP has proclaimed a tax policy to stimulate private initiative instead of the Kuomintang’s tax policy which stifled the entrepreneur. But this has not resulted in a miracle of a rapid construction of heavy industry in the immense backward, agricultural areas. For the most part industrial and commercial enterprises in this area are of the artisan type. There is little heavy machinery. The organic composition of capital is therefore very low. But the propaganda of the Chinese CP declares that the main task in the field of industry and trade is (according to Liu Ning-i) “to develop the productive forces and to reduce the cost of production.” The lower the organic composition, the greater is the part of variable capital, that is of wages, in determining the cost of production. Consequently the industrial and commercial policy of the Chinese CP leads in the first placebo a lowering of real wages, the lengthening of the working day and to the super-exploitation of the working force by the well-known method of piece-work.

The Chinese CP has introduced, these methods of exploitation in all the liberated areas. Here are the real facts about its much vaunted “wage policy.” The documents of the Chinese CP openly speak of “too high wages.” The working day has been lengthened to 10 and even 12 hours a day. Not only has the system of piece-work been introduced but the Stalinists have attempted to justify it theoretically. They explain that “in the system of piece-work payment, the workers obtain higher wages if they increase, production; they will therefore increase production to obtain higher wages: this is a very reasonable and progressive conception of the rewards for manual labor.” (Chang Per-la, Policy on Labor and Taxes in Relation to Industrial Development)

When the army of the Chinese CP entered the large cities it protected all private enterprise, Chinese or foreign. (Only the old and “bureaucratic capital,” i.e., enterprises directly controlled by the Kuomintang government, were affected; and even in these cases the investments of private capitalists in these “bureaucratic enterprises” were left intact. Thus the Stalinist policy in the cities is an extension of the Stalinist policy on the countryside. And just as the Stalinists, under pressure of the national bourgeoisie, sacrifice the interests of the workers and the poor peasants, they will take similar measures under pressure of imperialism.

Transfer of Power

Let us now, after having examined the economic facts, go over to the political situation. Before the agrarian reform in the areas originally occupied, power had already slipped into the hands of the rich peasants and landowners without the poor or landless peasants having any voice in the party or any organization of their own. After the introduction of agrarian reform, the Chinese CP began to form Committees of Poor Peasants for the purpose of mobilizing mass support for its policy. These committees unified the poor on the countryside and accelerated the realization of agrarian reform. The Committees of Poor Peasants gave rise to the Congress of Peasant Delegations. At the time of their formation, the Committees of Poor Peasants were already fulfilling the role of genuine peasant Soviets: they confiscated the land of the landed proprietors, levied the taxes and other services on the village families.

The Congress of Peasant Delegations replaced the Committees of Poor Peasants by Peasant Committees to which exploiting and wealthy peasants also belonged. In fact the documents of the Chinese CP complain that “some of these Peasant Committees do not even include the medium rich peasants.” It should be noted that the CP does not scientifically differentiate between the various peasant strata and often considers rich peasants as “middle peasants.” Moreover, the party membership always consists of rich and often even exploiting elements. This explains the constant complaints of the bureaucracy about the poor and landless peasants who “always want to control everything,” who “violate the property of the medium rich peasants.”

Upon the completion of agrarian reform, the bureaucracy especially insisted on the dissolution of the Committees of Poor Peasants; the most it would allow was a “commission on- poor peasants” in the Peasant Committees: For their part, the Peasant Committees were established only for certain economic purposes. The bureaucracy made every effort to prevent them from establishing any political authority: This power was to pass from the Congress of Peasant Delegations to the Village Congress of People’s Delegates who were to create the political authority in the village. It is expressly stated that this Village Congress of People’s Delegates should “embjace all democratic classes, including workers, peasants’, artisans, the free professions, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and enlightened landowners.” (Speech by Mao Tse-tung at the CP Congress in the Shansi-Shuiyun area) This is therefore an organization of power based on class collaboration and replaces the authority of the poor peasants.

The heads of “the liberation army” demonstrated the same conservative and reactionary spirit when they entered the big cities. In their attempt to reconcile the factions of the former Kuomintang government, the Stalinists considered the “peace of Peiping” as the model for the transfer of power. Thus they demonstrated to the bourgeoisie that what counted was only the winning of the confidence of the Kuomintang bourgeoisie and not that of the working class which would have destroyed the bourgeois state structure in the cities. The Chinese CP also maintained in effect in the cities the existing means of repression among which is the infamous principle of collective responsibility. (If the police cannot find a “trouble-maker,” they can arrest a member of his family as a hostage.) The Stalinists have abolished the right to strike and instituted compulsory arbitration. Just as the power of the poor peasants was wiped out in the interests of class collaboration, so the first efforts of the workers, to create an independent organization in the cities was stifled by the bureaucracy.

Trade unions have traditionally served the workers’ movement as a school of class struggle. The Chinese Stalinists have changed this formula. For them the trade .union has become “a school of production which encourages the productive and positive characteristics of the proletariat.” The task of defending the interests of the workers is dubbed “leftist adventurism.”

In private enterprises, the capitalists have retained unlimited power. In nationalized factories – formerly the property of “bureaucratic capital” – power is to be invested in a control committee, with the manager of the factory acting as president, and consisting of representatives of the former owners, representatives of the supervisory personnel and representatives of the workers. But the workers have only consultative rights, the director retaining the final say in all decisions.

As a result of this anti-working class policy, as was recently admitted by the North East Daily News, “members of the party working in the factories lacking an understanding of the point of view of the masses, believe that the manager should take responsibility for all important decisions without asking for the opinion of the party and the trade union, and believe that the control committee is superfluous and the trade unions are onlymeddlers.” The paper continues: “It will not be possible to long maintain the positive attitude of the workers if we ao not protect them by methods of democratic management. Besides the manager, the engineers and the supervisory personnel, the control committees must include a majority of the workers. These workers should be elected by the unions or by the Congress of Workers’ Delegates.” (On March 16, 1949, the New China News Agency reports from Mukden an article in the North East Daily News: “The democratization of the management of the enterprises is an important measure in raising production.”)

This quotation indicates that control committees in the nationalized factories are not even universally established in the old areas originally occupied by the Stalinists. Wherever they do exist, they are purely administrative organs separated from the working class and have, in fact, become dictatorial organs in the service of the directors. But wherever the Congress of Workers’ Delegates exists it serves, like the unions, as a consultative body.

Character of the “People’s Power”

The analysis made above provides us with important material on the character of the socalled “People’s Power” of the Chinese CP and its further development. The advance of the armies from the countryside to the industrial cities had gradually lifted the CP from an unstable regional power with an isolated agricultural base to a power based on a relatively stable urban, economic foundation. This transformation has been accompanied by a class collaboration policy. The closer the Chinese CP comes to national power, the further it is removed from the workers and the poor peasants and the more it succumbs to the pressure of the bourgeoisie. Mao Tse-tung pretends that his power will be “the popular democratic dictatorship led by the proletariat allied to the peasantry.” But in explaining what classes form the basis of ?his power, he frankly states that its structure rests on “workers, peasants, independent artisans, the liberal professions, intellectuals, ‘free’ capitalists, and ‘enlightened’ landowners who have broken with their class.” We, Marxists, are not deceived by this formula; we understand that it is nothing but an embellishment of bourgeois power.

Today, when the armies of the Chinese CP are conquering the big cities, this power is still in evolution and is being extended from the countryside to the city. The victories of the CP could not have been won without the armed support of the peasantry, which resulted from a compromise, between these armies and the bourgeoisie. We can recognize, however, from its conservative attitude toward the working class and the poor peasantry and from its fear of mass actions, that the CP is moving towards a military dictatorship. Almost all the cities have been placed under direct military control. To the degree that the bureaucrats disengage themselves from mass organisms, they can only base themselves directly on the army, the police and the secret service. Of course this process is still far from completion-. It is only in its preliminary stages but its further development can already be anticipated.

Perspectives of Chinese Stalinism

A number of important consequences will flow from the developments in China:

1. On the countryside:

  1. In the “old or semi-old liberated areas” where agrarian reform has been carried out or is in process of completion, the newly rich peasants and landowners, among whom are party members who have acquired numerous privileges, constitute the main elements in the Village Congress of People’s Delegates while the Peasant Committees, in those cases where they had any real power, have been subordinated to “coalition governments” on a village scale. The poor and landless peasants, eternal victims, will express their discontent and indignation against the power exercised by local members of the party and rich peasants who have arisen from the new differentiation.
  2. Agrarian reform has been halted in “newly liberated” areas. The former rich peasants and the landlords are considered the principal components in the formation of the “coalition government.” The poor and landless peasants, unable to satisfy their needs, will continue the class struggle as before thus introducing friction in the ranks of the Stalinist movement itself.

2. In the cities:

These differentiations and contradictions are leading to the formation of numerous oppositionist tendencies in the Stalinist movement but they are still on a regional scale, isolated, individualist and often of a peasant type They are condemned and crushed as manifestations of “leftist adventurism” and “Trotskyism.” A large number of workers will join the CP after the Stalinist armies enter the cities but the anti-labor policy of the bureaucracy will give rise to discontent among the proletariat. Their resistance will aggravate the class struggle in the ranks of the Stalinists themselves. The educated worker elerments will tend to form political opposition groups. This will mark the beginning of the collapse of Stalinism in China.

3. On the national scale:

The Chinese CP is moving toward power on the basis of a class collaboration policy. It will acquire power by maintaining the old social base of China and will find itself face to face with all the old. difficulties. To resolve them on the economic as well as on the political plane, the bureaucracy will not be able to confine itself to small partial reforms (like the sacrifice of “bureaucratic capital” and a part of the interests of the landlords). It will not receive adequate aid from the Kremlin. The Kremlin’s reputation is already at a low point among the Chinese people: it demands services for which it gives nothing in return. The only road open for the Chinese CP is the utilization of the national bourgeoisie as an intermediary to beg for assistance from imperialism. While less capable of resisting imperialist pressure than Tito, Mao Tse-tung will more quickly enter into conflict with Stalin’s “internationalism” (read: Great-Russian nationalism).

The inevitable crisis toward which Chinese Stalinism is evolving will benefit the Chinese section of the Fourth International. At the same time it will create a broad and favorable base for the development of the revolutionary forces of the proletajiat and peasantry, forces which can only be unified by the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Its main task, now and in the future, is to struggle on the side of the poor and landless peasants and on the side of the workers in the cities against imperialism, the bourgeoisie and their agent, the Stalinist bureaucracy. It will prepare all the conditions for entering on the morrow on the field of battle now being matured by history.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 17 March 2009