Deng Xiaoping

Speech At the All-Army Conference On Political Work


Spoken: June 2, 1978
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine



This All-Army Conference on Political Work is another historic meeting, like the preceding meeting of the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

It has discussed and revised three draft documents: the decision on strengthening political work in the army, the regulations for such work and the regulations concerning the military service of army cadres. Once these documents are examined and approved by the Military Commission, the army will have rules and regulations to go by in its political work.

This conference has focused on the problem of how to carry on the army’s fine tradition in political work and to improve its combat effectiveness under new historical conditions. In line with Mao Zedong Thought and taking into account the army’s realities, the participants have raised and analysed problems in an effort to solve them. That is very good and indeed essential. Having a well-defined central task — a clear-cut subject to deal with — they have focused their energies on the main issues, and the conference is proceeding more successfully day by day. It is taking place in a healthy, democratic atmosphere, with the participants airing their views freely and yet not equivocating on issues of principle. This has set a good example for the lower levels. In short, the conference has been fully satisfactory so far — a complete success.

I am going to discuss four points.

First, about seeking truth from facts.

If we hold meetings, make reports, adopt resolutions and so on, it is all for the purpose of solving problems. Whether or not what we say and do actually solves problems correctly depends on our ability to integrate theory with practice, to sum up experience well and to base our actions on objective reality by seeking truth from facts and proceeding from the actual conditions. Only when we do all this will it be possible for us to solve problems more or less correctly. The correctness of the solutions is something which needs to be tested in practice. But if we fail to act in the way I’ve described, then it will surely be impossible for us to solve any problem correctly.

Many comrades in our Party are persistent in their study of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought and in their efforts to integrate the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the practice of our revolution. This is very good and should certainly be encouraged. There are other comrades, however, who talk about Mao Zedong Thought every day, but who often forget, abandon or even oppose Comrade Mao’s fundamental Marxist viewpoint and his method of seeking truth from facts, of always proceeding from reality and of integrating theory with practice. Some people even go further: they maintain that those who persist in seeking truth from facts, proceeding from reality and integrating theory with practice are guilty of a heinous crime. In essence, their view is that one need only parrot what was said by Marx, Lenin and Comrade Mao Zedong — that it is enough to reproduce their words mechanically. According to them, to do otherwise is to go against Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought and against the guidelines of the Central Committee. This issue they have raised is no minor one, for it involves our general approach to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.

That we must never go against the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought is beyond doubt. We must, however, integrate them with reality, analyse and study actual conditions and solve practical problems. Guidelines for our work must be set in conformity with actual conditions. This is a most fundamental approach and method of work, which every Communist must cleave to. The principle of seeking truth from facts is the point of departure, the fundamental point, in Mao Zedong Thought. This is materialism. If we fail to seek truth from facts, all our meetings will be nothing but empty talk, and we will never be able to solve any problems.

Ever since the time Comrade Mao Zedong joined the communist movement and helped to found our Party, he always conducted investigations and studies of the objective social conditions and urged others to do likewise. He always fought resolutely against the erroneous tendency to divorce theory from practice and to act unrealistically, according to wishful thinking, or mechanically, according to books and instructions from above regardless of the actual conditions. In 1929, in the resolution he drafted for the Gutian Meeting, he sharply opposed subjectivism in the guidance of work, pointing out that this would “inevitably result either in opportunism or in putschism”. In 1930 he wrote the essay “Oppose Book Worship”, in which he advanced the scientific thesis, “no investigation, no right to speak”. He firmly opposed the misguided mentality of those who, in discussions within the Communist Party, could not open their mouths without citing a book, as if whatever was written in a book was right. Comrade Mao Zedong said: “To carry out a directive of a higher organ blindly, and seemingly without any disagreement, is not really to carry it out but is the most artful way of opposing or sabotaging it.” He also stated: “When we say Marxism is correct, it is certainly not because Marx was a `prophet’ but because his theory has been proved correct in our practice and in our struggle. We need Marxism in our struggle. In our acceptance of his theory no such formalistic or mystical notion as that of `prophecy’ ever enters our minds.”

After the defeat of the “Left” line of Wang Ming which had caused serious setbacks to the Chinese revolution, Comrade Mao Zedong summed up the lessons from this struggle and wrote, in 1936 and 1937, a series of immortal works including “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War”, “On Practice” and “On Contradiction”. In these he laid the ideological and theoretical foundation for our Party. He pointed out: “Marxists hold that man’s social practice alone is the criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world…. The dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge places practice in the primary position, holding that human knowledge can in no way be separated from practice and repudiating all the erroneous theories which deny the importance of practice or separate knowledge from practice.” He also said: “Our dogmatists are lazybones. They refuse to undertake any painstaking study of concrete things, they regard general truths as emerging out of the void, they turn them into purely abstract unfathomable formulas, and thereby completely deny and reverse the normal sequence by which man comes to know truth.” In discussing the guiding principles for waging war, Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out: “A commander’s correct dispositions stem from his correct decisions, his correct decisions stem from his correct judgements, and his correct judgements stem from a thorough and necessary reconnaissance and from pondering on and piecing together the data of various kinds gathered through reconnaissance.” When we fought battles in the past, we all understood that failure to study our own situation and that of the enemy, that is, failure to know both ourselves and the enemy, meant defeat.

However, some opponents of Mao Zedong Thought within our Party did not change their stand in the light of Comrade Mao’s teachings. Therefore, he initiated the great rectification movement of 1941-42. Among the main documents guiding that movement were his works “Preface and Postscript to Rural Surveys”, “Reform Our Study”, “Rectify the Party’s Style of Work” and “Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing”. In the movement, he repeatedly emphasized the need for the fundamental principle and attitude of seeking truth from facts and proceeding from reality. He said: “`Facts’ are all the things that exist objectively, `truth’ means their internal relations, that is, the laws governing them, and `to seek’ means to study. We should proceed from the actual conditions inside and outside the country, the province, county or district, and derive from them, as our guide to action, laws which are inherent in them and not imaginary, that is, we should find the internal relations of the events occurring around us.” This attitude “is the manifestation of Party spirit, the Marxist-Leninist style of uniting theory and practice. It is the attitude every Communist Party member should have at the very least.” Antithetical to this attitude is the subjectivist method which, being contrary to science and Marxism-Leninism, “is a formidable enemy of the Communist Party, the working class, the people and the nation; it is a manifestation of impurity in Party spirit”. Comrade Mao Zedong admonished all comrades in the Party not to “regard Marxist theory as lifeless dogma” or to “regard odd quotations from Marxist-Leninist works as a ready-made panacea which, once acquired, can easily cure all maladies”. For this would “impede the development of theory and harm themselves as well as other comrades”. He declared that “there is only one kind of true theory in this world, theory that is drawn from objective reality and then verified by objective reality”. Basing himself on this fundamental tenet of Marxism, Comrade Mao Zedong, in his report to the Seventh National Congress of the Party, defined integration of theory with practice as the first of the three major features of our Party’s style of work.

Comrade Mao Zedong frequently explained this tenet and this style of work on subsequent occasions. For instance, in 1953 he said: “The central leading organ [of the Party or government] is a factory which turns out ideas as its products. If it does not know what is going on at the lower levels, gets no raw material or has no semi-processed products to work on, how can it turn out any products?” In 1956 he said: “Integration of theory with practice is one of the fundamental principles of Marxism. According to dialectical materialism, thought must reflect objective reality and must be tested and verified in objective practice before it can be taken as truth, otherwise it cannot.” And in 1958 he said: “The ideas, opinions, plans and methods of any hero can only be a reflection of the objective world. The raw and semi-processed materials that go into them can only come from the practice of the people or from his own scientific experiment. His brain can only play the part of a processing plant turning out finished products, or else it is utterly useless. Whether or not such finished products made by man’s brain are useful and correct has to be tested by the masses of the people.” In his essay “Where Do Correct Ideas Come from?” written in 1963, Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out that correct ideas “come from social practice, and from it alone”. He added that “whether or no one’s…ideas (including theories, policies, plans or measures)” — all of which arise from social practice — “do correctly reflect the laws of the objective external world is not yet proved at this stage [the stage of conceptual knowledge], in which it is not yet possible to ascertain whether they are correct or not”. Only if man’s knowledge is tested by being applied in social practice can its correctness or incorrectness be demonstrated, and “there is no other way of testing truth”.

Comrade Mao Zedong always maintained that in raising, analysing and solving problems we should adhere to the Marxist-Leninist stand, viewpoint and method. He always discussed problems in the context of time, place and conditions. He once said that in writing articles he himself seldom quoted from Marx and Lenin, and that he felt uneasy when his own words were quoted again and again by the newspapers. People should learn to write in their own words. This, of course, does not mean that they should refrain from quoting others altogether. Rather, it means they shouldn’t quote others all the time. The important thing is to adhere to the Marxist stand, viewpoint and method in analysing and solving problems. Concrete analysis of concrete conditions is the living soul of Marxism. Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought lose their vitality if they are not integrated with actual conditions. When we are analysing and solving problems, it is our duty as leading cadres to integrate the instructions from higher levels, up to and including the Central Committee of the Party, with the actual conditions in our own units. We must not just function like a “relay station”, simply receiving and transmitting instructions.

Comrades, let’s think it over: Isn’t it true that seeking truth from facts, proceeding from reality and integrating theory with practice form the fundamental principle of Mao Zedong Thought? Is this fundamental principle outdated? Will it ever become outdated? How can we be true to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought if we are against seeking truth from facts, proceeding from reality and integrating theory with practice? Where would that lead us? Obviously, only to idealism and metaphysics, and thus to the failure of our work and of our revolution.

For many years no all-army conference on political work has been called. Now that such a conference is being held, what method should we adopt? Obviously, it is the method of seeking truth from facts, of proceeding from reality and of integrating theory with practice in order to sum up past experience, analyse the new historical conditions, raise new problems, set new tasks and lay down new guidelines. Only in this way can this conference come to grips with problems and solve them correctly. Comrade Wei Guoqing has made a good report. It is good because it analyses the problems posed by the new historical conditions and proposes pertinent solutions. It demonstrates that we are firmly upholding Mao Zedong Thought in our actions. If, on the contrary, we were just to copy past documents word for word, we could not solve a single problem correctly. With such an approach, even if we paid constant lip-service to Mao Zedong Thought, we would actually be going against it. We must eliminate the poisonous influence ofLin Biao and the Gang of Four, set things right and cast off our mental shackles so that we can really emancipate our minds. This is without question a most arduous task.

Second, the new historical conditions.

What should be the main issue at this conference? If we look at the actual problems and conditions in the army, it seems clear that the most important issue is how to restore and carry forward the fine traditions of the army’s political work under the new historical circumstances, so as to improve the army’s combat effectiveness. This means studying, analysing and solving practical problems in accordance with Comrade Mao Zedong’s teaching about seeking truth from facts.

We are historical materialists, and when we study a problem and try to solve it we cannot do so in isolation from the given historical conditions. From the time of the democratic revolution to the socialist revolution, we experienced more than 20 years of war. Since then we have had more than 20 years of peace. This shift from an environment of protracted war to one of peace is a very big change in historical conditions.

So far as our army is concerned, this change is most significant. But the fundamental task and the basic content of our political work remain unaltered. And the fine traditions we wish to perpetuate are also the same. Nevertheless, times have changed, conditions have changed and those to whom our work is directed have changed so that the approaches we take must change as well.

The Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention formulated by Comrade Mao Zedong varied in their specific content according to the circumstances. At first he laid down Three Rules of Discipline and then Six Points for Attention. Later on, some changes were made in the formulation of the Three Rules of Discipline. The rule “do not take anything from the workers and peasants” became “do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses”; the rule “turn in all things taken from local bullies” was changed first to “turn in all money raised” and then to “turn in everything captured”. To the Six Points for Attention were added two more: “do not bathe within sight of women” and “do not search the pockets of captives”. When the Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention were reissued in 1947, some revisions were again made in the content. “Put back the doors you have taken down for bed-boards” and “put back the straw you have used for bedding” were replaced by “do not hit or swear at people” and “do not damage crops”. “Do not bathe within sight of women” was changed to “do no take liberties with women”, and “do not search the pockets of captives” became “do not ill-treat captives”. The basic spirit of the Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention must not be changed and indeed remains unchanged. However, we must study how to put them into practice under changed conditions. Take the rule “turn in everything captured” for example. At present there can be no question about what to do with captured articles since we are not fighting a war. So we have to consider how to act in the spirit of this rule under the new historical conditions.

The principle of maintaining unity between the army and the people cannot be changed. But our relations with the people now have different features. In the countryside, the individual economy that prevailed in the past has not been replaced by the collective economy. And many of our troops, instead of being in the rural areas as before, are now in cities and quartered in barracks. These are new conditions. One important way of improving the army’s relations with the people is for the army to help develop the collective economy. Each army-level unit should consider whether it can help one or two communes or any nearby factories. We have to take account of the new conditions as we try various ways to improve relations between the army and the people, and to properly solve the problems involved.

Within the army, too, there have been many changes. Comrade Wei Guoqing has analysed the organizational and ideological conditions in the army in his report. The cadres have changed in many ways and the soldiers too have new characteristics. Since the people we are trying to educate are now different, we must add new content to our educational work. The practice of recalling bitterness in the old society and contrasting it with happiness in the new should, of course, continue. But this in itself is no longer enough. We must study ways of raising the political consciousness of the troops in our new historical circumstances. Furthermore, the relations between officers and men are not the same as they were during the war years. So in addition we must study ways of maintaining unity between officers and men.

The logistical departments are also holding a conference at present. They too should concentrate on the new conditions and new problems in their work that have arisen in the new historical situation. For instance, many new problems have appeared as military science and technology have developed and as our military equipment has gradually improved. We used to rely on millet plus rifles, which didn’t constitute too heavy a burden for the logistics department. But things are quite different today. For provisions, arms and ammunition and miscellaneous equipment, our army has to rely heavily on supplies from the economically strong rear areas. The types of war matériel stockpiled are also continually changing. All these questions demand careful and detailed study. Furthermore, the material foundations of the army, which used to be rather weak, have now been strengthened. Thus the problem of logistics has taken on new dimensions. We must work out a whole range of regulations and solutions suited to the new conditions, and we must struggle against waste, extravagance and the violation of financial regulations.

The foregoing remarks all concern the new circumstances and new problems that have emerged in the new historical period. On the basis of an analysis of the actual state of affairs in political work in the army, we are here proposing that the army’s fine traditions in such work be carried forward under the new historical conditions in order to improve its combat effectiveness. By making this proposal we are raising — with the intention of solving — the problem of formulating specific guidelines and policies for political work. We are doing all this in order to better fulfil the historical tasks of the new period. In short, we are following Comrade Mao Zedong’s teaching that we should have specific guidelines and policies for our work in addition to the general line and general policies. If we failed to analyse and solve the new historical problems, we would be unable either to restore and carry forward the fine traditions in political work or to improve the army’s combat effectiveness when no war is going on.

Our revolutionary teachers Marx, Lenin and Comrade Mao always stressed the importance of concrete historical conditions and the need to study those of both the past and the present in order to ascertain objective laws to help us guide the revolution. To ignore the new historical conditions is to cut things off from their historical context, to divorce oneself from reality, and to abandon dialectics for metaphysics.

Third, the question of destruction and construction.

When we discuss seeking truth from facts and the new period of development and new historical conditions, we should also discuss the question of destruction and construction. At present — and for some time to come — “destruction” means exposing and criticizing in depth the Gang of Four and, collaterally, Lin Biao, so as to eliminate their pernicious influence. “Construction” means understanding Mao Zedong Thought correctly and as an integral whole and restoring and carrying forward, under the new historical conditions, the fine traditions and style of work of our Party and army.

Though the movement to expose and criticize the Gang of Four is not developing evenly, it is generally going well in the army, and I won’t elaborate on it. We must make this movement thorough and deep-going and carry this struggle through to the end. On no account should we try to put a lid on it.

The exposure and criticism of the Gang of Four is the key task at present and will be so for some time to come. If it is not carried out effectively, right and wrong cannot be clearly differentiated and the lines between political forces cannot be clearly drawn; the leading bodies will not be satisfactorily restaffed; our style of work will not improve; there will be no proper basis for unity; and our work will not advance. In short, there can be no construction without destruction.

In order to further deepen the exposure and criticism of the Gang of Four, we must simultaneously expose and criticize Lin Biao. Lin Biao and the Gang entered into collusion very early in their plot to usurp Party and state power. But Lin Biao, who did such great harm to the army, has scarcely been criticized, because his crimes were covered up by the Gang of Four. They refused to criticize him but instead, on the pretence of criticizing Confucius, directed their real attack at Comrades Zhou Enlai and Ye Jianying. It is only natural that Lin Biao should be exposed and criticized along with the Gang of Four. This is no way means that we are wasting a lot of time settling old scores.

In order to strengthen unity, we must expose and criticize the Gang of Four in depth and concurrently expose and criticize Lin Biao. This must be done if we want to distinguish right from wrong and to strengthen unity on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. Otherwise, we will not be able to unite with the overwhelming majority. We should place full confidence in persons who, having erred in siding with Lin Biao and his clique, have since made sincere self-criticisms, really mended their ways and behaved well politically. Of course, it will be necessary to deal severely with those who clung to their errors and followed the Gang of Four in doing evil. Unless we do that, it will be impossible to clarify right and wrong, to achieve unity and to straighten things out in different fields.

The exposure and criticism of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four must be related to realities, and things must be straightened out in every field. This involves both destruction and construction. In the main, it means readjusting the leading bodies and rectifying their style of work.

It is of key importance at present to do a good job in readjusting and consolidating the leading bodies. The main reason why problems have piled up and remain unsolved in some units is that their leading bodies have not really been properly readjusted. We should firmly enforce the stipulations of the Military Commission as to what kinds of people can and cannot be placed in leading posts or assigned to important work. We should lose no time in the careful selection of cadres and the consolidation of the leading bodies at all levels. In 1975 we criticized weakness, laziness and laxity, but some leading bodies still have those problems. We should fully mobilize the masses, uncover the contradictions, clarify right and wrong, get rid of the factional systems of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four and discredit and eliminate factionalism itself.

The issue of training our successors must be resolved by every available means, because it bears directly on the building of our army and our overall national interests in any future war against aggression. Young cadres can become worthy successors provided we select the right candidates, pass on our experience, help and guide them, and give them better training in our schools. We veterans should take the long view in this matter and play the key role in selecting and training successors. Unless we have done this well, when the time comes for us to go and meet Marx, Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou, we won’t be able to face them with a clear conscience.

One important aspect of consolidating the leading bodies is the rectification of their style of work. Leaders at all levels must improve their work style, get rid of any bureaucratism and familiarize themselves with realities at the grass roots. In every kind of work, we must make in-depth investigation and study of actual conditions and solve problems in the light of the realities in our own units.

If the army wants to achieve an exemplary style of work, it must increase efficiency. Army units must work hard and expeditiously. Slackness, procrastination, endless discussion without decision, and decision without implementation are all impermissible. Army units must continue to stress observance of the Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention; orders must be obeyed in all actions, for it is only when we all march in step that victories can be won.

Straightening things out also includes restoring the functions, position and prestige of the political organs of the army. We have often said that within about three years the functions, position and prestige of these organs should be restored to the levels that obtained in the days of the Red Army, the War of Resistance Against Japan [1937-45] and the War of Liberation [1946-49]. If we are to achieve this, we must discard the ways of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four, reaffirm Comrade Mao Zedong’s theory on political work, foster the traditional style of work he advocated and enrich both under the new conditions. Before this conference opened, I repeated that it should at least restore the functions, position and prestige of the political organs.

Political work is the Party’s work, and the political organs in the army are working organs of the Party. Higher political organs should guide, supervise and check up on the work of Party committees, political commissars and political organs at the lower levels. This is one of our long-standing traditions.

In order to straighten things out, we must have strict standards. We have to take vigorous action to consolidate both the leading bodies and the political organs and rectify their style of work. In the process, we must conduct a rigorous appraisal of cadres and make it a regular practice to do so.

Fourth, about setting an example.

This is of great importance. It is essential that leading cadres, senior cadres in particular, set an example for others. The rank and file always watch to see if cadres’ deeds match their words. Company commanders and political instructors cannot train good soldiers if they themselves fail to set a good example. Leading cadres will not be able to help create a good atmosphere in their units, or to make their troops combat-worthy, if they themselves fail to set a good example.

The stress on setting an example is particularly necessary at present. For instance, when a cadre is reassigned, he must change his residence. If senior cadres who are reassigned don’t show the way, what’s going to happen? When an order comes, a cadre must report promptly for duty, and senior cadres must set the example. They must also take the lead in working hard and living simply.

Whether work is carried out thoroughly and well depends on whether the leading cadres likewise set the example by conducting investigation and study in the basic army units and by proceeding from reality to analyse problems and solve them. Recently, the leading cadres of many units have started to go down among the rank and file again. This is very good.

When we say we should be strict in running the army, we mean first of all being strict with the leading bodies and senior cadres. Senior cadres must be exemplary in acting on the fundamental principles of the “three dos and three don’ts”. They must be exemplary in working hard and living simply, and in seeking truth from facts. In a word, they must be exemplary in integrating Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought with the practice of the revolution.

Cadres engaged in political work have an even greater obligation to conduct themselves in an exemplary way. That’s how it was with us during the war years. At that time, if you were not brave in battle or if you were not at one with the rank and file and didn’t stay in contact with reality and with the masses, your political work went unheeded. A cadre engaged in political work must not talk in one way and act in another. The regulations governing the political work of the Red Army stipulated that in doing their work, “the political instructors should rely solely on their direct contact with the masses and their close familiarity with the Red Army fighters”, and that “both in the performance of their duty and in their personal behaviour, they must be models for all armymen in word and deed”. In order to revive and carry forward our excellent traditions in political work, we must rely on the cadres engaged in it to behave as models.

Comrades who are attending the conference on logistical work are also present today. I would just like to mention that the cadres in charge of logistics, leading ones in particular, should behave as models too. They must guard against taking advantage of their position to obtain the best of everything and to become, as the saying goes, like the “waterfront pavilions which are always the first to enjoy the rising moon”. They must be honest and upright in performing their duties and become “red managers”. They must be of scrupulous integrity in financial affairs and combat any violations of the rules, graft and all “back-door” deals.

I would like to point out in particular that the conduct of senior cadres has a great impact on others. Unhealthy tendencies are quite widespread at present, and to correct them we should begin with the leading cadres who are at fault. All eyes are fixed on them; once they correct their mistakes, the lower levels won’t present much difficulty.

Our Comrades Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai set an example by their conduct. Placing strict demands upon themselves, they worked hard and lived a simple life for decades. They personified the fine traditions and work style of our Party and our army. What an immense and far-reaching impact their inspiring deeds have had on the Party, the army and the entire people! Not only have they influenced our own generation but they will influence generations to come. Our cadres, veteran cadres in particular, should take Comrades Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai as their models and pass on their experience and help and guide the young and middle-aged.

This All-Army Conference on Political Work has been a united and successful one. All comrades present here are duty-bound to see that its decisions are fully carried out. More important, members of all Party committees and all political commissars must strengthen their leadership and personally make sure that these decisions are implemented. I for one believe that after this conference political work throughout the army is sure to improve and that the fine traditions of our Party and army fostered by Comrade Mao Zedong will be carried forward.