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International Socialism, Winter 1978/79


The OCT (France)

China – revisionism in power? I


From International Socialism, 2:3, Winter 1978/79.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A major part of the European left has drawn political inspiration from the Chinese revolution. Until recently China has been widely seen as providing an alternative model of socialist development to the discredited USSR.

But events over the last couple of years have led many groups to begin to question their previous assessment of the Chinese experience. Most notable among these has been the purging of the leaders associated with the Cultural Revolution: the Shanghai group or ‘Gang of Four’. Concern at these developments is now giving way to what could be the start of a basic reappraisal.

Here we publish one of the most considered assessments on the recent course of the Chinese revolution yet to appear from a European revolutionary organisation which had previously looked to it for inspiration. The document, entitled China: Revisionism in Power, is the final amended resolution produced by a national conference on China and the dictatorship of the proletariat held in November 1978 by the French OCT (Organisation Communiste des Travailleurs).

The OCT, formerly called Revolution, has never been completely uncritical of the Chinese regime, especially of its foreign policy, nor has it followed hard-line Maoists in seeing Stalin as a key part of the revolutionary heritage. In these respects, and others, it belongs to a far wider current represented in Italy by Avanguardia Operaia [now regrouped into Democrazia Proletaria), in Sweden by Forbundet Kommunist, in Belgium by Pour le Socialisme, etc.

The text of the OCT document is translated by Ian Birchall. The original can be found in the Nov. 17 ‘78 issue of the OCT’s weekly paper Etincelle.

Etincelle points out that while the conference which approved the document was in broad agreement that the present Chinese leadership is revisionist, there were substantial disagreements on such subjects as the characterisation of the Shanghai group and the relation between Maoism and Stalinism.

They describe the text as ‘a working document for a debate which is far from being closed.’ We welcome it in that spirit and continue the debate in this issue with some critical comments by Tim Potter for the SWP. We invite our readers in Britain and abroad to submit their contributions for publication in future issues.

1) Today the revisionist road is dominant in China. This country has embarked on the process of the destruction of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is this judgment which must guide us in the attitude which we should henceforward take towards the Chinese regime.

2) The new leadership, which originated from a coup d’etat, is systematically reversing all the gains of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It is attacking what were the most advanced theoretical bases, liquidating what still remains of them from the point of view of potential for autonomous organisation and control by the masses and repressing the last surviving spokespersons of the great revolutionary upsurge of the sixties.

The ‘Great Order’

3) From now on the theory of the ‘primacy of the productive forces’ is being established in China. The mere development of these forces is expected to consolidate socialism and to lead to communism. This is expressed by the reestablishment of authoritarianism in the factories, one-man management and the reign of ‘specialists’.

The regime has given up any attempt to fight for the revolutionising of the relations of production, and is imitating the Soviet revisionists in such important fields as factory regulations, the necessity for financial profit factory by factory, the reinforcement of the division between town and country, education and the sciences.

4) The principle laid down by Mao of ‘daring to swim against the stream’ when it is a question of the line, has been abandoned; the new leadership is preaching the age-old dream of oppressors: the ‘great order’, ‘discipline’, the total subordination of the working class.

5) Mass repression is being used against communists linked to the Shanghai group. Not that this is the first time in China: already at the end of the Cultural Revolution certain elements classified as ‘leftists’ were persecuted. But today the attack is against a considerable fraction of the CPC and its apparatus, a considerable fraction of the advanced and vanguard workers, with sentences that go as far as the death penalty, which has in fact been applied in numerous cases.

Foreign policy

6) In international policies, the new leadership is confirming, developing and systematising all the counter-revolutionary aspects of the foreign policy of the former leadership, while at the same time abandoning certain revolutionary aspects of Chinese foreign policy before 1972. The ‘theory of the three worlds’ (which Teng Hsiao-ping proclaimed at the UN in 1975), according to which the world of the ‘super-powers’ is the principal enemy of the peoples of the planet, leads to the abandonment of any concept of class, and even to the abandoning of the anti-imperialist struggle at the expense of the struggle against ‘hegemonism’. What is more, US imperialism and its lackeys are whitewashed and even considered as allies against the only enemy which China in fact recognises, namely the USSR.

This policy, and its most recent manifestations (messages of support to Videla and Geisel in Brazil, Hua’s visit to Iran, support for the Shah, military support for Mobutu ...) is dressed in a ‘theoretical’ mask, but in reality is guided purely by the defence of the immediate interests of the Chinese state to the detriment of the world revolution.

7) The fact that international policy is the only component of the line followed in Mao’s day which has not been called into question has an explanation. Its ideological root is not the opposition of communism to capitalism and imperialism, but the bourgeois opposition between (capitalist) ‘development’ and ‘underdevelopment’, between the ‘superpowers’ and the ‘small countries’: the abandonment of the principle of ‘relying on one’s own forces’, a consequence of the economic and political line of the present leadership of the CPC, is leading this to make more and more economic and political agreements with the advanced capitalist countries (Japan, EEC ...).

It is therefore understandable that these conceptions should develop and be made systematic at the same time as China is seeing the triumph of the ‘primacy of the productive forces’ and the productivist ideology.

China’s foreign policy has thus become counterrevolutionary on a global scale.

The compromise with the right

8) The principal merit of Mao and the ‘gang of four’ was that they participated in the launching of the Cultural Revolution; they represented one of the left tendencies during and after this period. The whole series of battles which took place in China from 1956 to 1976, in which the Cultural Revolution was the high point, saw a very important advance in the revolutionary process in China, and they form a valuable political asset for revolutionaries throughout the world: namely

These battles took the form of a succession of political confrontations and mass struggles. Frequently it was only during these confrontations or even when they were over that the left currents in the CPC theorised their positions.

The return of the right and the strengthening of the state bourgeoisie could only be encouraged by the compromise made, around the Cultural Revolution, under the pressure of international isolation and conditions of class confrontation within China, which served as a justification to the Maoist leadership for bringing the debate and the struggle back into the framework of the state institutions and of the reconstruction of the Party as the leading instrument of the state.

It is in this way that, in the years 1973–75, the systemisation, notably by the ‘gang of four’ of certain gains of the Cultural Revolution, constituted a significant advance in the search for the social roots of the right-wing lines (social division, reduce the divergences ...) and in the struggle against the productivist ideology, in the necessary struggle to limit bourgeois right, and even (more partially) in the defence of the right of the masses to control over the state apparatus and the productive apparatus.

9) None the less, the extension of the Chinese revolution ran up against two sorts of obstacles: the objective social and historical conditions in which the Chinese revolution took place and in which its leadership was formed, and the subjective failings of that leadership. The objective conditions: weight of the peasantry, absence of a historically forged national unity, weakness of the international revolutionary movement, division of the proletariat during the Cultural Revolution ... weighed heavily.

The Stalinist framework: breaks and limits

10) Mao and his supporters made many practical and theoretical breaks with the Stalinist framework. But this framework was never destroyed at its roots.

The theory of ‘socialism in one country’ was called into question in fact by the mass movement during the Cultural Revolution. This break was partly theorised by the Ninth Congress of the CPC, with the affirmation that the Chinese revolution could not succeed outside of the world revolution. But the ‘gang of four’ at least accepted in the compromises the necessity of confining their political problematic within the framework of the construction of the Chinese state.

It is on the question of the form of political power under the dictatorship of the proletariat that the limits of the Shanghai group appear most clearly. Their conception of a mass movement and of self-organisation is limited to the role of controlling the state and party bodies, and, in the last resort, to reforming the party without questioning in the final analysis its place in the decision-making process.

Thus the question of the organisation of the masses to exercise and that of the progressive withering away of the state, questions which were only posed in the course of the Cultural Revolution, not only have not been settled, but have been excluded from the debate and apparently from the concerns of the CPC left.

To this must be added a double inadequacy in the class analysis of Stalinism and in the class analysis of contemporary Chinese society.

Mao and the ‘gang of four’ had archaic and nationalist conceptions in cultural matters; Chiang Ching lumped together her criticisms of striptease and abstract art, and monopolised artistic criticism and cinematic creation, limiting it to a few works for ten years; they had puritanical conceptions of sexuality and homosexuality (ban on sexual relations before marriage).

11) In these conditions, it must be noted that the Shanghai group broke only very partially with the existing forms of ‘debate’ and struggle for power within the CPC, forms which had been inherited from the Stalinist tradition. Monolithic organisation, impossibility of real debate, exercise of constraints not only against privileged or vacillating strata, but against sections of the popular masses themselves.

Prisoners of a battle in the apparatus

12) But, especially from 1975 onwards, the ‘gang of four’ became prisoners of a battle within the apparatus in their struggle against the return of counterrevolutionary options. Weak in the party apparatus, even weaker in the state apparatus (government, administration, army ...) the Shanghai group joined battle on the basis of the institutional strong points it held, in particular the propaganda apparatus. Enjoying Mao’s protection, they found themselves disarmed when he died. They were beaten without appealing to the masses (except perhaps when it was too late).

13) For the evolution of the class struggle in China, the decisive question remains that of the general confrontation between the new bourgeoisie which is in process of constituting itself as a class, and the popular masses.

The elimination of the Shanghai group by Hua’s coup d’etat is a decisive setback for it marks the culmination of the process of the recapture of power by the Chinese right with the elimination of the last obstacle which remained in the higher reaches of the state apparatus against a general questioning of the Cultural Revolution. This creates a difficult situation for the struggle of the popular masses in China. The absence of a central political leadership, the weight of past errors, the unbridled repression by the new leadership are all elements which make a reversal of the dominant tendency unlikely in the short term.

However, the experience of the Cultural Revolution (even if today it is called into question, openly and despite all the advances it represented for the Chinese masses), together with the situation of the proletariat and the peasantry, who have not experienced repression of the scale of that in Russia in the thirties-all these are elements which enable us to think that large-scale political and social confrontations are to be expected during a long period of state capitalism in China.

On the other hand, we see no hope of the appearance of a new revolutionary orientation within the leading bodies of the CPC, and in particular we have nothing to hope for from the contradictions between Hua and Teng Hsiao-ping.

14) We must support any struggles by the masses or the left opposition against the regime that may arise. We must from this time on support the Chinese dissidents who are struggling for the free expression of all political viewpoints, and we must support the left positions among them.

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