Statement by Communist Intervention, 30 June 1989

The Chinese Road to Socialism

The May/June 1989 uprising against the Chinese bureaucracy is the most significant political development in China since the 1949 Revolution.

The movement was led by the young intelligentsia but quickly gained widespread support from the working class. The entrance of the urban working class into the struggle against the bureaucracy has not been seen before.

1. What is the proper characterisation of the Chinese government?

The regime is Stalinist. The Chinese revolution was led by followers of Stalin in the period of the degeneration of the Communist International. The decision in 1929 to enter the Kuo Min Tang led to the slaughter of the revolutionary section of the Chinese working class. The revolution was denied this base. Just as Stalin had betrayed the aims of the Soviet Revolution, it was inevitable that his followers in China betray the Chinese Revolution. From the moment of the revolution, the bureaucracy has never represented the Chinese working class, and it is only in this light that we can understand the recent events in Tienanmin Square.

Deng and the rest of the bureaucracy, just like Mao Tse Tung before them, are a Stalinist regime, in the same camp as Pol Pot and the repressive bureaucracies of the Eastern European states.

2. The last seven years have seen an acceleration in the struggles of the working classes in the Stalinist states. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was isolated as was the Czechoslovakian uprising in 1968, but since the emergence of Solidarity in Poland there has been a more or less continual stream of resistance developing. This development leaping from one country to another, forcing reforms of the Soviet Union and most recently the uprising in China. It forced the Chinese bureaucracy to take respite from their attempts to appear ‘reasonable’ in their wooing of the capitalist world.

Opposition in the Stalinist countries is taking many different political forms, and it is not surprising that the opposition to the bureaucracy is politically diverse. The overthrow of the Stalinist regimes can take two forms: the restoration of capitalism, or the building of healthy workers’ states. This diversity has been clear in Poland, where restorationists have been prominent; and the largely syndicalist movement has an active minority with a communist program. In Hungary, it seems that the road to restoration is well under way, and in the Soviet Union itself there are clearly many tendencies existing side by side and in some confusion. In respect to China, one of our major tasks is to understand the political form of the resistance, and it can only be understood at all if seen in the overall context of the developments in all the Stalinist states.

In Hungary in 1956, the leadership of the revolution successfully won the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian workers to a communist program of political revolution, and actually succeeded in taking power and holding power for several days until the Soviet Army invaded and re-imposed a Stalinist government. Here, the restorationist element was eclipsed by the revolution.

It is ironic but understandable that it is the Hungarian regime which is now introducing capitalist economic reforms faster than any other, apparently with little opposition. The goals of the Czechoslovakian uprising were much less clear and much more diverse. The national question was an important element in both these cases and seems prime in the recent events in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, etc.

The Chinese uprising stands out as a political opposition to the Stalinist regime without a national motive. It is also significant that it was put down by its own national army. This made the situation clearly one of class – the Chinese regime used peasant sections of the army against the urban workers.

3. The economic direction of the bureaucracy in all workers' states including China has been economic reform in the direction of capitalism. The Eastern European bureaucracy has introduced de-centralisation and petit-enterprise, workers' co-operatives etc over some time. The Soviet Union has moved towards large scale foreign investment under close state control, market-ification of the economy, reduction of the extent of 'command economy' towards de-centralisation.

China has moved from its policy of the Cultural Revolution, of national economic isolation and local autonomy for communes, at a startling rate towards the 'enrich-the-peasants' policy, the stimulation of capital accumulation and a total elimination of the state monopoly on foreign trade.

The policy has been to stimulate small-scale capital accumulation, particularly in the countryside, encouraging better-off peasants to hire labour and buy land. Also, the Party has withdrawn from control of industrial and distributive enterprises, encouraging the formation of a technocracy of influential and well-off managers and administrators, with control over units of production. Unemployment and a variety of economic levers have been created to give these new entrepreneurs control over the labour market. The Chinese government has pursued a policy of appeasing the peasantry by shifting resources to the countryside, at the expense of the urban population.

Although these trends have predominated it would be wrong to characterise all the economic reforms in the Stalinist states as restorationist. They signify the bankruptcy of ‘socialism in a single country’ and in some cases are long overdue. Like Stalin when he introduced piece-work instead of wages, the bureaucracy wish to paint necessary concessions to the backwardness and isolation of their economies as well as outright political retreats, as ‘steps towards socialism’ or even ‘achievements of socialism’.

Decentralisation replacing command economy is more, not less, consistent with proletarian control of the economy, especially given the usurpation of the political power of the working class by the bureaucracy. It is also essential for the development of a modern economy, and what is more, is also impossible under the political regime of bureaucratic centralism.

The re-introduction of market forms of distribution, which is currently taking place in almost all these countries, is, on the contrary, entirely unnecessary for the development of the economy, and fosters the growth of a petit-bourgeoisie.

The bureaucracy may see an emergent petit bourgeoisie as a buffer against working-class opposition. There clearly exists a danger of capitalist restoration to the degree that the market is opened up, but multiplied a thousand-fold where the state monopoly on foreign trade is abolished and a thousand-fold again where the Stalinists are guardians of the workers' state.

Abolition of the state monopoly of foreign trade has not yet been carried through in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. In China it is very nearly complete.

Integration into the world economy, dominated of course by imperialism, is essential. Despite the fact that this serves the economic interests of imperialism, it is necessary for workers in the Stalinist regimes. There is simply no possibility of developing a modern economy in an isolated, backward economy. The turning of the isolation of China into a virtue, by the Chinese Stalinists especially from 1960 on, is a typical Stalinist deception.

The isolation imposed by imperialism upon the workers’ states made it impossible to modernise and develop their economies. The initiative to break down this embargo has come from imperialism, which is seeking a way out of its economic crisis. To this end, imperialism has boosted leaders like Gorbachev.

Apart from progressive and necessary economic ends, the bureaucracy seeks political support from imperialism in exchange for economic co-operation. From its emergence in the 1920s, the bureaucracy has always sought ‘peaceful co-existence’ with imperialism. To capitulate to this economic and political pressure by weakening the state monopoly on foreign trade is criminal.

Although the opening up of the working class in the deformed workers' states for exploitation may act to further delay the economic crisis of imperialism, integration into the world economy is necessary for the unification of the working class.

The bureaucracy seeks to deliver their working class as passive fodder for capitalist exploitation with themselves playing the role of procurers. Workers in these countries need to rid themselves of their bureaucratic servants to become active participants in the class struggle alongside the workers of the capitalist states.

It is essential for the workers both in the West and in the East to break down the economic and political isolation imposed by Stalinism and imperialism. The Stalinist perspective of ‘socialism in a single country’ has proved its own bankruptcy.

Thus, one important feature of the whole movement of opposition to the bureaucracy is the yearning of the workers and intellectuals, isolated from the people of other countries by the division of the world between imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy, to break through that isolation.

This is beginning. In China, it was clear that the fact that they followed political events outside their own borders, and took inspiration from progressive movements. They also took pains to communicate their own political ideas to the workers of other countries. Modern technology now makes such communication, not only fast and comprehensive, but impossible to suppress and almost universally enjoyed.

4. How should we characterise the role of Gorbachev in relation to the opposition in the Soviet Union? Is Gorbachev qualitatively different from Deng Zhou Ping?

A very diverse array of political opposition groups has grown up in the Soviet Union, quite independently of the bureaucracy. These movements have provided the impetus for a reform of the bureaucracy. Gorbachev has come to be seen as the spokesperson and figurehead, but he represents the attempt of the bureaucracy to contain the opposition.

To a considerable extent, especially outside the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has succeeded in painting himself as a leader of opposition to bureaucratic rule.

It is doubtful if he is either. There is considerable evidence that within the Soviet Union, the predominant attitude of workers, youth and intellectuals is sceptical and often hostile. These attitudes are not only directed towards Gorbachev, but there is a deep cynicism as to whether the majority of the bureaucracy, which remains conservative, can ever carry out the promised reforms.

This does not and should not exclude the fact that workers will use what ever opportunities are available to them to break up the hold of the bureaucracy, including support for glasnost candidates in elections, etc.

The fact that speed-up, wage-cutting and unemployment are an integral part of perestroika and glasnost of course poses a political problem for workers in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, which requires quite complex forms of political opposition.

The capitalist press made a great deal of the visit of Gorbachev to China, which they saw as the focus of the uprising. There was little evidence to support this view, for instance, there was no evidence of the demonstrators holding slogans of support for Gorbachev. The timing of the visit certainly had historical significance. The world media were present to witness the first meeting between the two great Stalinist powers for decades, this provided the students with a chance they would never otherwise have had to speak to the workers of the world.

5. The Events in China

The movement was clearly not led, controlled or even inspired by any section of the bureaucracy. Nor was it led or inspired by any section of imperialism.

The movement was relatively spontaneous, but from the earliest moments there was evidence of a fairly well-developed organisation. That is to say that events manifested the independent response of a large number of groups to the same situation, rather than a unified response to a call. But at the same time, it is evident that there had been considerable organised political preparation.

Reports from China indicate that the organisations that led the May/June demonstrations had been in existence for 2 or 3 years. The majority of the population in the cities would have had some contact, or at least read leaflets during this time, although the existence of such organisations remained clandestine.

Reports further indicate that before the suppression of the uprising, something like 60 to 70 per cent of the urban population was hostile to the government. The brutal suppression of the students can only have further isolated the CCP leaders, despite the apparent return to ‘normality’.

The political sentiments manifested were not new-born. Clearly, the hatred of the bureaucracy and the yearning for political freedom existed long before finding an avenue for overt political expression.

The slogans that inspired the movement were never published by the bourgeois press agencies. It is clearly evident that the movement was essentially and overwhelmingly socialist in character, having as its aim, the renovation of socialist democracy within the framework of socialised property. This was clearly expressed by the singing of The Internationale by demonstrators as they faced the troops.

Not a single call for the restoration of capitalism was picked up by the media who were obviously hungry for it. This would indicate that there was absolutely nothing on which any such report could be hung.

The movement was political in its aspirations and economic demands were not raised; contrasting with the reform of the economy by the bureaucracy in the direction of restoration of foreign ownership, market relations and capital accumulation. The movement was an urban movement; initiated by the young intelligentsia, supported by the urban workers and those sections of the military that were close to the workers.

The peasantry remained fairly indifferent throughout, having been placated by the bureaucracy with its economic policies. It was sections of the army based in the peasantry that were used to squash the movement.

Army units initially sent against the demonstrators refused to act and in some cases joined the students. These were units drawn mainly from the urban workers and they solidarised with the demonstrators, as did vast sections of the population of Beijing.

The international nature of the process leading to the uprising is striking. Triggered by the visit of Gorbachev, it is clear that the Chinese masses have followed closely events in the Soviet Union, as well as in the West. Banners in English were carried by the demonstrators to ensure that their message is read by workers in other countries.

6. The movement in China differs from that in the Soviet Union coming after and building upon the movement in the Soviet Union. We are now witnessing the effects of the Chinese events on the Soviet Union, which is facing crippling miners’ strikes already reported to be moving to other industries. The conclusion that Gorbachev will be unable and unwilling to lead the opposition in Russia, as was Deng Zhou Ping in China, is now obvious.

7. The events in China will also have a positive and inspirational effect in the West, since the masses have moved not against socialism and towards capitalism, but against the bureaucracy (with its 'get rich quick' policies) and for socialist democracy. Whether the Chinese events have this positive effect, or whether imperialism will be able to use them to bolster anti-communist propaganda will depend on whether Communists in the West can be successful in popularising an understanding of the socialist character of the movement.

The formulation of democratic demands in opposition to pro-capitalist economic reform is very important. It is the bureaucracy that has been promoting bourgeois economic reform, and the Chinese workers and students gave no support whatever to those reforms. What was demanded was political freedom and an end to bureaucratic centralism.

The observation that the young students are a 'privileged elite' themselves is neither here nor there. All revolutions have been initiated by the intelligentsia and the youth, whatever the class character of the revolution itself.

It is clear that the students were supported by the urban workers, who staged a general strike in protest against the repression of the demonstration, and actively participated in the movement throughout. In any case in a country such as China there hardly could be a great gulf between the students and the workers.

8. The economic effects of the movement are already great and potentially profound. The effects on Hong Kong are immediate and have great ramifications. Australia has enormous export markets threatened. The great workers' states were formerly seen as stable and safe investments to the extent that investment had become possible, and this is now called into question. The interests of imperialism are very much to seek stability in this case, not to de-stabilise China.

9. Prospects in China

Being the first open discussion for the opposition in China it was likely that the movement would subside before it would be possible to move through to a completed revolution against the bureaucracy. A passage of time was necessary during which it could draw the lessons, estimate the extent of its support, formulate perspectives, develop leaders, programs and organisations fitted to the struggle.

The crackdown by the bureaucracy was near-inevitable under these circumstances, but equally it is sure that such a vast movement, which was able to develop to a relatively well-organised level, relatively spontaneously, cannot be erased by even many thousands of executions. Discussions will continue, and when the movement in China re-emerges it will have developed leaders, substantial organisations and clearer programs. Now is the most important time to help the Chinese workers in this process of re-grouping and analysis. This is especially true for us in Australia where discussion can take place in relatively open conditions, while ideas will continue to flow to and from China itself.

10. It is likely that the movement will re-emerge in the Soviet Union, continuing the process of cross-pollination between the USSR and China. Here it is possible that the more politically progressive character of the Chinese uprising will have a most profound and healthy effect on the very diverse movement in the Soviet Union.

11. The attitude of imperialism on the one hand and the bourgeois press on the other is noteworthy.

Imperialism has approached the events with extreme caution. It has not responded to appeals to apply sanctions, and is not at all certain about how to act in the situation. While conscious of the possibility of finding allies among the opposition forces, it is more concerned to retain its friendly links with the bureaucracy, looking for the most peaceful possible transition to capitalist democracy.

The bourgeois press has reacted more unconsciously in a more or less emotional way. While deliberately belittling and suppressing the communist character of the opposition, its populist tendency to support the demonstrators should not be seen as expressing the line of the bourgeoisie as a whole, although the way it welcomed the return to 'peace' is clearly a bourgeois-partisan response.

12. The truly historic character of recent events is clear if we reflect on the history of the Chinese Revolution.

The Revolution was born in the industrial centres such as Shanghai, among the urban workers, supported by the youth and intelligentsia. The leadership was won to the Communist International in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

Hardly before the young Chinese Communist Party could develop its own experience and its own leaders, it fell victim to the degeneration of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, under Josef Stalin.

Many, perhaps even a majority of Chinese Communists supported Trotsky against Stalin in the late twenties, but the authority of the CPSU was sufficient to ensure the victory of the Stalin faction within the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy gained its power by resting on a peasant movement, by means of which it crushed the independence of the working class that it had led to disaster in the 1920s. The political leadership of the urban working class was wiped out by the combined brutality of the Stalinists, the Kuo Min Tang and the Japanese imperialists during the period before 1948. The remaining opposition was rounded up during the Chinese NEP in the 1950s.

Throughout its period of rule the Chinese Communist Party has used the peasantry to suppress opposition from the workers, youth and intellectuals. Within this policy it also used the youth against the intellectuals, the workers against the youth, imperialism against the peasants, etc. This is the characteristic method of bureaucratic rule.

The rise to power of Deng Zhou Ping confirmed that the warnings of Mao Tse Tung that sections of the bureaucracy were 'capitalist roaders' were not entirely without foundation, since the economic line of the current leadership has gone a long way to undermining the basis for collective ownership of the economy. Nevertheless, it is self-evident that Stalinist methods of struggle cannot succeed in overthrowing what is essentially the Stalinist character of the ruling clique.

This is equally true today. While it is entirely in order for the students and workers to devote time to explaining their case to the peasants, in order to neutralise them at least, it is clear that they can go no further than that with the peasantry until the urban workers have placed themselves in the front ranks of the political revolution.

The renovation of the political regime in China can only be successful to the degree and extent that it can critically examine the misleadership of the leaders of the CP, not only in their old age, but particularly in their youth. The emergence of a mass opposition based in the cities, led by the young intelligentsia and workers poses the tasks that have remained unsolved since the 1929 defeat and the beginning of the Long March.

Vast movements are taking place now in all the deformed and degenerated workers' states. The recent events prove that the Stalinists will use any degree of violence to retain their power. To establish socialist democracy what is required is not reform, but political revolution.