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International Socialism, May 1976


Notes of the Month

‘Beat back the right deviationist attempt to reverse correct verdicts’


From International Socialism (1st series), No.88, May 1976, p.7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A correspondent writes: Duncan Hallas wasn’t alone in wrongly assuming, in IS 86, that Teng Hsiao-ping would take over in China after Chou En-lai’s death. The latest power struggle has taken everyone by surprise, because all ‘China-watchers’ had assumed that the ‘moderate’ faction of the CCP was well in command.

Chou En-Lai’s political legacy has been to intensify the struggle between the factions for power. While he was alive, they had to manoeuvre against each other in secret, not least because no one knew whether Mao or Chou would kick the bucket first. Further, Chou was far too powerful for the ‘radicals’ – centred around Mao’s wife Chiang Ching and the Shanghai leaders Yao Wen-yuan, Chang Chun-chiao and Wang Gung-wen – to attack, and he seems to have been instrumental in damping the struggle down. But with Chou dead, the question of Mao’s successor is directly posed, and this is the immediate reason behind the present struggle. The ‘radicals’ have to make their bid now – and fast.

The facts of the dispute can be fairly quickly sketched. Shortly after Hua Kuo-feng was appointed Acting Premier in February, wall posters attacking Teng started to appear in Peking. Within a couple of days he was being attacked by name, and foreigners were being taken to see the posters – both unusual events which indicate the seriousness of the attack. The posters have centred on the theme of ‘reversing the verdicts of the Cultural Revolution’, particularly in the fields of education and, more recently, health. The official press reports have been much milder in tone. The March edition of Red Flag, the army’s theoretical journal, carried a long article stressing the need to understand why people become ‘revisionists’, and explaining it in terms of personal development. And recent reports have repeatedly talked of the possibility of ‘saving’ Teng through ‘serious criticism’.

Behind the rhetoric about ‘right-deviationists’ and ‘capitalist-roaders’ lies a deadly serious struggle over political and economic strategies whose origins go back to 1970. After the Cultural Revolution, order had been restored at the price of the army taking over effective government. Military leaders headed almost all the ‘revolutionary committees’ that replaced provincial governments.

The party and state machines had been greatly weakened by the Cultural Revolution (over 70 per cent of the surviving members of the 8th Central Committee were removed by the 9th Congress). What was left of the government burea ucracy faced the urgent tasks of rebuilding the state machine and preparing the army to face the threat from Russia, which necessitated reducing the independent political influence of the army. This inevitably led to clashes with the top army bureaucrats and the purge of Lin Piao and his men. The influence of the ‘radicals’ declined further as the state machine was re-staffed with bureaucrats who had been purged during the Cultural Revolution.

Economic strategies were crucial in this development. All the CCP inner-party struggles since the mid-fifties have been at bottom over the ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ strategies for economic development – especially agricultural development. Put very crudely, the ‘moderates’ favour a policy of slow, steady, economic growth through material incentives and a fairly high level of investment and technology. The ‘radicals’ want a much faster rate of growth, using political campaigns and ideological incentives to raise production – replacing investment and foreign technology with enthusiasm. China’s economy has since 1955 zig-zagged between these two poles.

The damage the CulturalRevolution inflicted on China’s economy – though the worst of it was over by 1970 – made the ‘moderate’ option the only possible short-term one, especially with a war with Russia seeming then a distinct possibility. As the top army leadership – then definitely part of the ‘radical’ camp – were opposed to this, it strengthened enormously the hand of the ‘moderates’ in removing them from power. But by the 10th CCP Congress of August 1973 the ‘radicals’ were in a position to re-assert themselves, and launch another voluntarist campaign to ‘criticise Lin Piao and Confucius’.

The present struggle is around the same division. Recently the ‘moderate’ strategy has been to the fore, with large imports of technology from the west (of the same value as Russia’s aid to China in the 1950s) and the National Conference in October last year where stress was put on material, not ideological, incentives. Against this, the ‘radicals’ in their attacks on Teng Hsiao-Ping advocate ‘Grasp class struggle, promote spring farming’ and, more concretely, moving agricultural colleges to the villages to develop agricultural techniques (and incidentally add extra labour to the spring farming and the early harvest).

The struggle will be long and hard. The ‘radicals’ are in a minority both in state and party machines – the struggle has only started because of Mao’s personal backing, and the moderation of the official attacks shows the strength of the ‘moderates’. Though only Teng has been directly attacked, at stake in this struggle are the positions of tens of thousands of bureaucrats rehabilitated since the Cultural Revolution, whose strength is particularly at local and provincial level. To date, the struggle has only been reported as taking off in Peking, the North East and the Shanghai-Hangchow area, in all of which areas the ‘radicals’ have long been dominant.

It is far too early to predict the outcome of the struggle. What is certain is that it won’t be the last of its kind. Because the truth is that, with the world economic crisis starting to bite in China, neither economic strategy is viable because both are purely national ones. China could develop economically in isolation from the world market, in conditions of boom, by veering between pragmatism and voluntarism, and because of masssupport for the regime. In conditions of crisis, the zig-zags must of necessity be far sharper, and erode even further the mass support. The struggle has so far been deliberately restricted to top party level, because they fear a repetition of the workers’ revolts of the Cultural Revolution if any attempt is made to whip up a mass campaign. And yet the ‘radicals’ will be forced to do this if they are to replace the ‘moderates’ at provincial and local level. We may well soon be seeing another Cultural Revolution.

If that happens, it will almost certainly get out of control and give rise to independent working-class action. And it is on such developments, not any faction-fights among the ruling class, that the future of China depends.

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