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International Socialist Review, Summer 1958


The Wall Bulletins Speak


From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.3, Summer 1958, pp.103-104.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A sampling of opinion in China’s factories showed the value of free expression in finding weak spots

This report is from our Hong Kong correspondent

* * *

WHEN the new Chinese government temporarily relaxed its attitude toward free expression of opinion, the criticisms that came from workers indicated a good deal of dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic attitudes and practices that interfere with the development of socialism in China.

The form of “suggestion box” used in the plants, factories, mines and public enterprises was a “Wall Bulletin,” opinions of workers being written out by hand and posted for everyone to read. A study of reports about the criticisms in the Peking People’s Daily from October 16 to November 4, 1957 reveals some interesting facts.

In the Wusan factory at Liouning in Northeast China 5,870 sheets, including 15,426 suggestions, were posted within one week.

In Chungking, in the 21 largest factories and mines, which employ more than 100,000 workers, 70,000 sheets, including 240,000 suggestions, were posted from September 15 to October 15.

In Harbin, 400 enterprises listed 990,000 suggestions; while in 49 factories and mines of Tangshan the score was 403,500.

In the Nanking Electronic Tube factory, the workers set up four “Platforms for Democracy.” These included a variety of opinions. Over a 50-day period, 3,000 bulletins, including 9,000 suggestions went up on the walls.

Complaints centered around four issues:

  1. unwieldy organization, low efficiency and “more administrators than places”;
  2. poor management and a bureaucratic attitude among the administrators;
  3. lack of democracy in the election of workers representatives;
  4. low pay.

Under (1) the workers at the Shenyang Screw plant in Mukden noted that the work schedule for 1957 was the same as in 1955 but that the administrative staff had increased by about 42%. Some jobs which could be done by a single person were now shared by two. Sections of the staff worked only two hours a day.

At the Shih-ching-shan Steel Works in Peking it was observed that formerly the administrative staff had held the view that plant expansion or increased production required only a “proportional” increase in the number of administrators. However, in 1949 there were only 343 administrators; that is, 8.85% of the number of workers; while in August 1957 the staff had grown to 1,975, 17.14% of those on the production line.

Another instructive example was offered by the workers at the National Chinling Electric Works. An undue proportion of skilled workers had been elevated to management positions. There were only 12 eight-class skilled workers in the plant; nine of them were shifted to administration. A similar situation existed in regard to lower classes of skill. In this plant, which needs skilled workers, the administrative staff had reached 37.42% of the number of workers.

Under (2) a case of bureaucratic mismanagement was noted in relation to the Chungking Steel Company. A company branch was ordered by the Ministry of Metallurgy to obtain steel from the Anshan Steel Company, which happens to be located in the Northeast where Chungking was sending its steel.

At the Harbin Union Machine Shop, rejects due to poor management reached 30% of total production.

At the Heilunkiang Food Company only 60% of production met inspection standards.

The general opinion about the administrators was voiced by the People’s Daily itself (October 10):

“The working attitude of some cadres is simple, rough and rude. They do not go deeply into the masses and do not pay attention to their own tasks.”

Under (3) the workers of Chang-chung No.1 Auto Works reported a revealing case. Not only did they have no part in electing a delegation to the Provincial Congress of Advanced Workers. They did not even know such a delegation existed. In demanding an explanation from the plant manager and from the president of the union, they pointed out that

“the Congress of Advanced Workers merely serves the purpose of exchanging and improving technical experience. To achieve this aim it is necessary to consult with the workers and to act under their control. We have heard a lot about the party’s line on mass work; what does it mean when this method is applied in electing a delegation?”

Under (4) a bulletin at the Shih-ching-shan Steel Works noted that

“the average wage of the workers is about 70 yuans a month; in fact only workers in the sixth class and up can earn this much and the majority of workers are below sixth class. Therefore, we would suggest (1) that the housing allowance for workers should be subsidized by the state; (2) that wages of cadres should be cut.”

In response to the demands, the leadership of the Chinese Communist party has granted concessions such as simplifying the administrative set-up in some places, reducing the number of administrative posts, and even sending administrators back to production.

At the Shenyang Mine Machine Shop, 21 administrative branches were reduced to 13 and the list of 1,158 administrators was cut to 648.

At the Shenyang Screw Plant, 19 branches were reorganized into 11, reducing the administrative staff by half. The reorganization is expected to make possible an increase of 15% to 20% in labor productivity.

A pay-roll saving of 140,000 yuans a year is projected through the reorganization of the Peking Shih-ching-shan Steel Works.

The National Chinling Electric Works decided to reduce its 28 administrative branches to 18 and the percentage of administrators from 37.42% to 9.87%.

As for the improvement of living conditions and the need for greater democracy, the heads of the Chinese Communist party admit that these problems exist. They also acknowledge that although reforms have been started they are far from offering the final solution. The trouble is, according to the officially voiced opinion, that the party cadres do not fully understand the essence of the mistakes and their causes and therefore learn neither from their own experiences nor from the criticism of the masses.

However, as we can see even from the carefully filtered criticisms that appeared in the People’s Daily, the Chinese workers have a fairly clear idea of the nature of the mistakes and who is making them. They also appear to be forming opinions as to what should be done about the mistakes. In the further development of such sentiments lies China’s best hope for reaching the socialist goal without undue delay.

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