[Book] China: From Permanent Revolution to Counter-Revolution

The New Democracy

10.1 Introduction

The New Democracy was Mao’s interpretation of the Revolutionary (bourgeois) Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry introduced by Lenin in 1905, and firmly rejected by him in April 1917.[1]

Despite the experience of the civil war, Mao and Stalin still argued that China was not a capitalist country but a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country which would require a lengthy transitional period before a workers’ state could be achieved. According to this stagist theory, the national democratic revolution in colonial and semi-colonial countries was one in which the national bourgeoisie was a revolutionary force opposed to imperialism and feudalism.

With the collapse of Chiang’s armies, this theory hypothesised a united front of workers, peasants, petty-bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie – the bloc of four classes – building a prosperous, independent China. This coalition government would have its own specific New Democratic economy which would achieve national independence and carry out agrarian reform but with no suggestion of overthrowing the whole bourgeoisie or expropriating private property, rather the national bourgeoisie was essential for re-building the economy.[2]

10.2 The New Democracy

That Mao’s natural politics and personal ambitions fitted him well for the Popular Front perspective, is testified to by Chen Po-ta in his pamphlet Mao Tse-tung on the Chinese Revolution, written in 1951 and published in a revised edition by FLPH, Peking, in 1963[3]:

“After 1927, Mao Tse-tung repeatedly refuted the erroneous ‘Leftist’ ideological trend in relation to the question of the character of the revolution. He considered that the Chinese democratic revolution must be carried through to the end … Mao Tse-tung regarded the opinion then held by the Communist International that the character of the Chinese revolution remained bourgeois-democratic as completely correct. He said, ‘The struggle which we have gone through verifies the truth of the opinion of the Communist International’.”

The action programme flowing from Mao’s New Democracy was contained in his report to the 7th National Congress: On Coalition Government.[4] This was a clear and systematic expression of class-collaboration. To preserve Mao’s omnipotence it was re-written subsequently to match actual events. The official version published in Peking in 1955 was significantly different from the original. We know this because the American Communist Party published Mao’s original speech as a pamphlet, The Fight for a New China, in 1945.[5]

“It is a law of Marxism that socialism can be attained only via the stage of democracy. And in China the fight for democracy is a protracted one. It would be a sheer illusion to try to build a socialist society on the ruins of the colonial, semi-colonial and semi-feudal order without a united new-democratic state, without the development of the state sector of the new-democratic economy and of the private capitalist and co-operative sectors.”[6]

The phrase in italics was added in 1955 and liberally sprinkled throughout the document.

Liu Shaoqi elaborated:

“The immediate policy of the Communist Party is to realise completely its minimum programme …. it is known that the Communist Party of China has in addition to its minimum programme, its maximum programme which is not included in the common programme …. In the course of consultation, some delegates proposed to write the future socialism of China into the common programme, but we deem this to be out of place, because the taking of serious socialist steps in China is a thing of the rather far future.”[7]

Mao expected the bourgeois-democratic stage to last for generations. The original 1945 version of the report says: “In the entire bourgeois democratic revolution stage, over scores of years, our new democratic general program is unchanged”, and “The carrying out of (the CCP) program will not advance China to socialism. This is not a question of the subjective willingness or unwillingness of certain individuals to do the advancing; it is due to the fact that the objective political and social conditions in China do not permit the advance.” The 1955 version contains neither passage because the laws of Marxism contradicted Mao, the workers’ state was created rather rapidly, not after a protracted time, not after ‘scores of years’.

The theory of revolution in stages leads inevitably to coalition government and class collaboration. Thus, even after the overthrow of the Chiang regime, Mao persisted in maintaining unity with the section of the bourgeoisie which had separated from Chiang and the doomed KMT regime, as one step in realising his New Democracy. This unity was embodied in the Political Consultative Conference, composed of representatives of the CCP, various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, leading figures from the KMT who had deserted Chiang at the last moment, trade unions and peasant organisations and numerous individuals who represented no-one but themselves. This People’s Government of four classes which defined the general policy of the state was appointed, there was no room in the New Democracy for direct elections by workers’ and peasants’ committees – that smacked too much of Soviets.[8]

In 1945, Mao had been supported by US imperialism when he attempted to achieve a modus vivendi with Chiang, and On Coalition Government reflected this:

“We are also grateful to Britain and the United States, particularly the latter, for their immense contribution to the common cause – the defeat of the Japanese aggressors. We are grateful to the governments and the peoples of both countries for their sympathy with the Chinese people and their help. … Large amounts of capital will be needed for the development of our industries. … Enterprises profitable to both the Chinese people and foreigners are swiftly expanding large-scale light and heavy industries and modernizing agriculture, which can become a reality when there is a firm internal and international peace, and when political and agrarian reforms are thoroughly carried out. On this basis, we shall be able to absorb vast amounts of foreign investments. A politically retrogressive and economically impoverished China will be unprofitable not only to the Chinese people, but also to foreigners.”

After the onset of the Korean War these paragraphs were removed. With American diplomats, Mao was less reserved:

“China must industrialize. This can be done – in China – only by free enterprise and with the aid of foreign capital. Chinese and American interests are correlated and similar. They fit together, economically and politically … The United States would find us more cooperative than the Kuomintang. We will not be afraid of democratic American influence – we will welcome it.”[9]

The New Democracy was to be a coalition, but the bourgeoisie in its great majority stuck with the KMT despite its being so decrepit and degenerate and so obviously losing the civil war. On 1 May 1948, the CCP issued an open appeal for allies in a broad united front against the Chiang regime:

“Labouring people of the entire country, unite; ally with the intelligentsia, liberal bourgeoisie, all democratic parties and groups, social luminaries and other patriotic elements; consolidate and expand the united front against imperialist, feudal, and bureaucratic capitalist forces; fight together to destroy Kuomintang reactionaries and build a new China. All democratic parties and groups, people’s organizations, and social luminaries, speedily convene a Political Consultative Conference, discuss and carry out the convoking of a People’s Representative Assembly to establish a Democratic Coalition Government!”[10]

The response from mainland China was almost zero! But from Hong Kong came a cheer. Individuals who had once been leading figures in the KMT but were now refugees saw a chance to re-gain lost prestige and importance, and half a dozen grouplets (mostly no more than a few dozen strong) grasped at the offer. However, there were two small but significant organisations; the Kuomintang Revolutionary Committee (led by Li Chi-sen, the KMT general who gained notoriety as the butcher of the Canton Commune in December, 1927 and which had Song Qingling [Mme Sun Yat-sen] as a member), and the Democratic League (representing the cultured middle classes of the cities with support from about 50,000 teachers, professionals and petty-bourgeois intellectuals). Within eighteen months these would provide the staff for many important positions in the New Democracy. The multi-millioned CCP was forming an alliance, not with the Chinese bourgeoisie but with its ghost. These opportunists represented little but themselves, their politics did not differ in any substantial way from Chiang’s; they were attempting to board the gravy train.[11]

Traditionally, the leaderships of Chinese peasant rebellions had compromised with the existing regime. Mao was no different. His call for a bourgeois democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry was an offer to collaborate with the Chinese bourgeoisie. This had been Mao’s stated aim almost from the day he joined the CCP, it was a clear thread through his actions and writings. Supporting the bloc of four classes, Mao was consistently reluctant to use class terms when analysing Chinese society. In March 1926 he classified society in terms of ‘our friends’ (which, naturally, included the left wing of the bourgeoisie), later he would talk in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad gentry’ and now the CCP attempted to divide the ruling bourgeoisie into two mutually antagonistic sections: ‘bureaucratic, feudal and reactionary’, and ‘national, democratic and progressive’.

After the surrender of Japanese imperialism, KMT tyranny and corruption reached a climax. Four families, the Chiang Kai-sheks, the Soongs, the Kungs, and the Chen brothers, who dominated the KMT, expropriated properties of those they designated enemies and traitors, and with low interest government loans soon came to dominate mining, heavy industry (metallurgical, machine tools, electrical, chemical), textiles, sugar, transportation and, of course, banking and overseas trade. Using their political positions they treated these nationalised enterprises as their private domains ensuring they were virtual monopolies, and amassed fabulous fortunes.[12]

The enterprises owned by these four families and their closest associates were designated bureaucratic capital. Bureaucratic capitalists were those who had acquired dominating positions in the economy by exploiting public office or purchased important posts in government using the enormous profits wrung from the economy. The so-called ‘national’ bourgeoisie were those relatively smaller capitalists who, despite their efforts, had been unable to gain a place in the big financial oligarchies. While the four families were certainly oligarchical and reactionary, to designate them as feudal meant concealing the true character of the ruling summit of the entire Chinese bourgeoisie.

Naturally, the four families were up to their ears in all aspects of usury, attracted by its astronomical profits. As finance-capitalists they had close ties with Wall Street and using the four Chinese government banks they gripped the economy by the throat and indulged in a mad orgy of speculation to extract the maximum from the masses in the time left before their inevitable downfall. These bureaucratic capitalists provided capital to the village heads and landlords to loan to the peasants at ruinous rates of interest.[13]

Yes, the national bourgeoisie were dissatisfied with the unbridled domination and corruption of the four families. Yes, they complained about the arbitrariness and unfairness of the government. Yes, they talked about democracy. But they were progressive only to the extent that they would support the New Democracy while it allowed them to retain their property and guaranteed them their profits. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, these democratic national capitalists would reveal their reactionary face and their essential class solidarity with world imperialism. On 1 October 1949, Mao formally proclaimed the Chinese People’s Democratic Republic. The new government was a People’s Front coalition in which the Stalinists joined hands with the national bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie. Part of the price Mao Zedong paid for securing the co-operation of these elements was to abandon the more radical elements of land reform in south China.

However, the character of Mao Zedong and the lessons he learned from the defeats of 1925-27 and the Jiangxi Soviet are important. It is clear that Mao, while genuinely committed to an economy in which the national bourgeoisie had a more or less free hand and there was no monopoly of foreign trade, was even more determined to be the leading figure in the New Democracy. Mao balanced between the bourgeoisie and the workers and peasants during the New Democracy period while concentrating power into his hands, and to achieve this he crushed all signs of an independent workers’ movement.[14]

When the Mao team assumed government of China they had a huge advantage over the Bolsheviks of 1917, having accumulated some 20 years of invaluable experience of administering local government covering many millions of people (taxes, public works, police force, judiciary, armed forces, etc.) under the difficult conditions of a civil war. Thus, when the PLA arrived in south China the CCP had a good understanding of the implications of the decision to retain two million KMT officials in post to continue performing their functions.[15] However, the major difference with the Bolsheviks was not governmental experience nor the relatively large number of trained CCP cadres (Fairbank estimated over half a million) to do this kind of work; rather it was the political perspective of the two parties. The Bolsheviks understood that the personnel inherited from the previous regime were an alien class force that had to be overcome. The CCP saw the personnel they inherited as part of the New Democracy, as collaborators in creating a bourgeois democratic state. The membership of the CCP rose from 2.7 million in 1947 to 5.8 million in 1958, many of the recruits were existing officials, and as they were welcomed into the regime to positions of authority they brought their own methods and perspectives with them.

During this time the Party made a determined attempt to recruit students and intellectuals because their ability to read and write was needed for effective administration. Their skills put these people into relatively senior positions even though they had little or no experience and lacked any formal training in Party ideology. There was considerable tension between these so-called upstarts and their new ways and the domineering attitudes of old cadres, which was one factor motivating Mao to take such an interest in the activities of Chinese intellectuals.[16]

It must not be assumed that the coalition government was stage scenery used to hoodwink the public. Real power remained with the PLA but an important and substantial partner in the governmental coalition was the Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang. Li Chi-sen had gathered around himself important elements representing the interests of a section of the Chinese bourgeoisie from south China, bourgeoisie who had deserted Chiang Kai-shek’s sinking ship of state at the last moment. The Revolutionary Committee was the gateway through which they hoped to make their way into the safe haven of the new People’s Republic, hoped to retain their fortunes and, in due time, get back into the political saddle. Li Chi-sen now sat alongside Mao Zedong as one of the six vice-chairmen of the People’s Government.[17]

The initial priority of the New Democracy (October 1949 to June 1950) was clearing away the military remnants of the KMT and suppressing independent activities of the workers and peasants. On the political plane, the CCP assiduously courted the bourgeoisie, landlords and rich peasants, military men and top Kuomintang bureaucrats in an attempt to create the bloc of four classes and reinforce its own power. But simultaneously it had to cover its costs and to do this the government extorted food and money from the only people who had them. They levied severe taxes on all of industry and commerce, forced the bourgeoisie, landlords and rich peasants to buy Victory Bonds, Patriotic Bonds, etc., and appropriated ‘voluntary contributions’ of foodstuffs from the countryside.[18] It has been claimed that even with rent lowered to 37.5% of the crop, the taxes levied by the CCP (and collected much more efficiently) were not much less than paid under the KMT, but were, of course, more evenly distributed.

The reality was that the CCP held the final decision-making power in its hands through complete control of the armed forces, despite having a majority of ministries headed by non-CCP personnel. The bourgeois democratic parties existed only so far as the CCP allowed them to, they were able to influence the policies of the People’s Government only because the CCP wished to maintain bourgeois property relations. Bourgeois representatives were given important positions in the People’s Government on a whole number of levels: vice-presidents, ministers and vice-ministers in the central government, presidents of provincial governments, etc. In contradiction, the working class and poor peasants had to be content with CCP-nominated delegates from trade unions and peasant associations. The number of such delegates was far fewer than those allocated to the so-called democratic parties. Soviets were, of course, not countenanced. Workers were further constrained by being deprived of the right to strike; indeed one of the first activities of the PRC was strike-breaking in the interests of the national bourgeoisie.[19]

As an aside it should be noted that as the PLA swept southward it was particularly rigorous in arresting all known revolutionaries, especially Trotskyists, together with their spouses, siblings, relatives and friends. These people simply disappeared. Many were killed immediately, the remainder imprisoned for decades without trial or public notification.

Formally, the elections to the People’s Congress were based on universal suffrage but the representatives were determined beforehand by the CCP in agreement with the various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties or groups. In view of the composition of the new regime and its political line it was certainly no bourgeois dictatorship. But it could not be characterised as a proletarian dictatorship either. Rather, it was a distorted form in transition between bourgeois and proletarian dictatorships, but without any certainty that it would actually complete the transition. It has become common practice to designate such a contradictory and transitional form as a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government. This is used in the same sense as it was by the early Communist International – to indicate a regime that had taken anti-capitalist measures but had not broken definitively either politically or economically from the capitalist system.

Mao considered the New Democracy as the Chinese version of Lenin’s Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry (RDDPP). However, the New Democracy was Lenin’s 1905 concept filtered through Stalinism and so the revolutionary content was removed. Indeed, three essential components of the RDDPP were actively suppressed by the CCP: Soviets as the free and democratic expression of the proletariat, peasants and soldiers; proletarian activities in support of the overthrow of the Chiang regime; and independent peasant activities to seize the land.

If a revolutionary Marxist party had gained governmental power in China under the impulse of a proletarian revolution, as happened with Lenin in Russia, then there would have been no doubt about the subsequent dynamics of the regime. Even though the Bolsheviks held power for a short initial period based on a capitalist economy and a capitalist state structure with a petty-bourgeois minority party in the government, it would be correct to say the state form was a dictatorship of the proletariat from October 1917. This was Lenin’s consistent view from 1917 until his death.[20]

But in China the party which had come to power was non-Leninist, class-collaborationist, bureaucratised, had betrayed the revolution in 1927, and had achieved power based on peasant armies with the declared aim of creating a bourgeois democratic state. It had no real base amongst the workers and had no intention of allowing them free trade unions or introducing any direct democracy, certainly not through Soviets. Ted Grant, an eminent Marxist, added three additional important points: a) Mao was a premeditated Stalinist who had consciously incorporated into his ideas and strategy many of the manoeuvres that Stalin had developed empirically in response to the needs of the bureaucracy; b) The “simple and austere life” of the leaders in Yenan (it has since become known that even there the bureaucracy had its privileges) would disappear and those with the power would soon surround themselves with pomp and honours; and c) The state machine developed and controlled by the CCP would be separate from the masses and tower over them as a means of repression, not least to protect the bureaucracy from criticism.[21]

It did not take long for the top bureaucrats to acquire the same trappings as their Russian mentors. A leading member of the Democratic League who was a delegate to the People’s Congress from 1949 to 1956 fled to Hong Kong where he published his memoirs and blew the whistle.[22] The top Party men took the best villas belonging to the richest capitalists, imported luxury furniture and carpets, hired servants and the best chefs, had luxury clothing for private use. There were exclusive cinemas, and dance parties. How the CCP provided cars to Party cadres is an excellent example of the hierarchical system that existed; at the top were a select few who used the same luxury limousines as the Russian Politburo, next came ministers who were supplied with less sumptuous vehicles, and so on down to the departmental bus and individual bicycles. Special residential complexes were built for provincial and municipal Party leaders from which middle and lower ranking Party members were excluded. Similarly with “kitchens”, the food supplied to party personnel; a number of the very top restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Tientsin, etc., were reserved for officials such as Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Liu Shaoqi and their immediate entourages, and then there was a descending order matching rank to restaurant. Extra rations (and the best at that) were sent to the residences of party officials. Naturally, the enormous cost for all this was met by the state – as were summer and seaside holidays.

In the same way that the CCP imported the privilege structure of the USSR so it also copied an ever-present police system. Thousands of Russian experts arrived in China to train agents to implement a network which kept records on all citizens, their work activities, their travel, their visitors, their views, their earnings, what letters and/or parcels they received, and so on.

The working class were hailed as the masters of society while the CCP used its new dominance in the trade unions to establish a general system of compulsory arbitration which enforced the policy that in private industry increased production came first, better conditions might come later. The Party recognised that there could be legitimate conflicts of interest between management and workers and they should be resolved amicably but the factory manager had the final say, whilst those elected by the workers had only a consultative voice. As in the Soviet Union, the Chinese Stalinists made the trade union “a school of production which encourages the productive and positive characteristics of the proletariat.” Defending the interests of the workers was dubbed “leftist adventurism.”[23]

A series of Labour and Capital Consultative Conferences was held to determine how to revive industry and commerce. With government support these consultations accepted the proposals of the industrialists and merchants and concluded that workers and employees in factories and shops should accept lower wages and undertake voluntary unpaid overtime or else return to work on the land in their native provinces. These decisions were then approved by the Political Consultative Conference in May 1950, rubber-stamped by the government, and passed into law.[24]

The bourgeoisie, were the main beneficiaries of this turn, whilst the working class, especially the workers in the private enterprises, were its victims. But all workers were subjected to methods used in the Soviet Union to extract maximum value from their labour: tight control of real wages, longer working hours, and increased exploitation through piece-work and Stakhanovism.

The American Secret Services appraised these CCP policies as having gained wide support amongst Shanghai and Nanjing businessmen who were won over by promises that taxes would not be confiscatory, that governmental enterprises harmful to private enterprises would not be permitted, that workers would not demand excessively high wages, and generally that all means would be used to encourage private industrial production. Among the middle classes, the CCP gained support by paying technical and managerial specialists twice the salary of government officials and giving them more authority within the workplace than they had enjoyed under the KMT.[25]

In early 1950, the Party was forced to recognise serious unrest amongst the peasants in south China. The limits placed on land reform meant the broad mass of peasants believed they were being forced to contribute endless taxes and food for no gain. The situation was made worse because the peasants were well aware of the land re-distribution that had occurred in the north and liberated areas. There was general confusion and sabotage of production, social order was becoming increasingly unsettled. So-called ‘lawless’ landlords were exploiting the uncertainty in the situation to unload their taxes onto their tenants who were being rendered so destitute of food and seed that they could hardly proceed with the spring sowing. Some became so desperate they plundered public stores of foodstuffs. The outbreak of the Korean War gave a boost to the confidence of reactionary elements and KMT agents were able to successfully exploit the situation to kill unpopular CCP cadres.[26]

The regime was failing to meet its agricultural targets and was obliged to change the emphasis of its policy beginning with the Land Reform Law of June 1950. The Act strictly forbade all violence – arrest, beating and/or killing of landlords and rich peasants – but so explosive were conditions in the south that a safety valve had to be introduced to defuse the situation. Under strict Party control, peasants were permitted to struggle against individual ‘vicious autocrats’ whose land could be expropriated.[27] To further appease the peasants the regime did relax its food appropriation measures, and reduced the overall tax burden, but the main policy emphasis remained firmly on the enforcement of reductions in rents and interest rates.

Prior to the Korean War, and despite the increasingly hostile atmosphere, most landlords and rich peasants survived with at least some of their holdings intact and many with most of their land and holdings intact.[28]

10.3 The New Democracy and Industry

The CCP had very few concrete plans for the operation of industry and what they did have came from the Soviet Union. Mao and the CCP accepted and enacted a version of the Soviet Union’s 4th Five-Year Plan (FYP) of 1946-1950. The Soviet plans were copied because of the lack of relevant experience within the CCP, because the Soviet Union had suffered almost as much in the war as had China and was demonstrating a rapid recovery, and because there was no other source of such help.

The PRC’s industrial management model, primarily used in heavy industry, was taken lock, stock, and barrel from the Soviet Union. The essential features of the plan were: (1) Linking economic goals and patriotism (Party members and activists would paste the factory walls with slogans and distribute leaflets urging co-workers to ever greater exertions); (2) Involving the work force in campaigns to increase production and reduce waste through work unit and factory meetings; (3) Trades unions to educate and motivate workers in how to improve their working methods; (4) Meticulous attention paid to plan fulfilment; and (5) Authority within the factory resting with the local CCP cell which had responsibility for increasing labour productivity.[29]

In private enterprises, the capitalists retained their power. In nationalised factories power was nominally invested in a Control Committee consisting of representatives of the former owners, representatives of the supervisory personnel and representatives of the workers, and chaired by the factory manager. The Regulations for the Conduct of Factory Committees stated[30] that if a decision passed by a majority of the Committee was judged by the manager to be in “conflict with the factory’s best interests” or “in conflict with the instructions of higher authority”, the manager was empowered to prohibit its implementation.

The petty-bourgeois and bureaucratic nature of the CCP, through its overwhelmingly peasant membership and its Stalinist politics, soon became obvious as was admitted in the North East Daily News;

“members of the party working in the factories lacking an understanding of the point of view of the masses, believe that the manager should take responsibility for all important decisions without asking for the opinion of the Party and the trade union, and believe that the Control Committee is superfluous and the trade unions are only meddlers.”[31]

The basic policy of the PRC was “mutual consideration for both state and private property, equal benefits for both labour and capital.” In practice this meant the property of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie was confiscated by the state while the private property of the national bourgeoisie was protected and allowed to secure ‘legal profits’ subject only to the condition of working in ‘coordination’ with the nationalised industries.

The contradictions in Mao’s programme were becoming ever more apparent. The CCP wished to construct a democratic capitalist economy, but in seizing bureaucratic capital it had taken ownership and control of virtually all heavy industry and a sizeable chunk of light industry. It wished to industrialise China, particularly the hinterland, but the magnitude of the task meant that quite spontaneously planning was being adopted as the rational way forward. It wished to leave the road of capital accumulation open to the rich peasants, landlords and national bourgeoisie but the agrarian struggle in the south kept on bursting out.[32] Mao’s New Democracy called for a mixed economy and protection of private capital but the actual direction being taken to solve Chinese capitalism’s problems was all too clearly towards state planning and control.

On 6 June 1950, Mao addressed the Central Committee and sounded the alarm, calling for a re-adjustment of relations between the state and private sectors of the economy. He endorsed moves towards a new economic policy for China. Private (light) industry was to be encouraged by the state handing out huge orders and granting generous credits. The number of state retail shops was to be substantially reduced and the number of products they could sell was to be limited. There would be a big reduction in the “tax burden” through large scale demobilisations of PLA troops. In the countryside there would be “a change from the policy of requisitioning surplus land and property to one of maintaining a rich peasant economy.” He concluded “The view … that it is possible to eliminate capitalism and realize socialism at an early date is wrong, it does not tally with our national conditions”, and to put a lid on such thoughts “the whole Party must carry out a large-scale rectification movement.”[33]

The regime attempted to proceed according to Mao’s wishes but the Korean War intervened. By the autumn of 1950, US troops led by General MacArthur and fighting under the banner of the United Nations, had pushed the North Korean army until its back was against the Chinese border. This greatly revived the KMT anti-communist guerrillas who drew around them dissident peasants. With the Korean War (China entered October 1950) the regime was compelled to mobilise broad mass support, and to modify its policies accordingly, making yet another turn in its policy towards industry and agriculture and sharpening the struggle against the urban and village bourgeoisie.[34]

10.4 The New Democracy and Women

The CCP came to power with a reformist programme that promised much. Fairbank described the situation: “After 1949 public sentiment in the cities was one of euphoria, … Here was a conquering army which was strictly self-disciplined, polite and helpful, at the opposite pole from the looting and raping of warlord troops and departing Nationalists.” Women’s liberation is a good example of progress made under the regime and the limits imposed. The new marriage law made wives equal to husbands: “All marriages are to be based on the free consent of men and women.” It was a new day for women, divorce which had been all but impossible under the old regime was now available. Polygamy, the sale of women into prostitution, and the killing of female babies were all banned with severe punishment for those who broke these laws.[35] The liberation of more than 200 million Chinese women from the yoke of feudal custom represented an historical 1,000 year jump in the course of a single year.

On 18 February 1946, Liberation Daily had opened a discussion to prepare for the launch of a revised Party policy for women. Given the difficulties of holding such a wide-ranging discussion with the poor communications that existed within Communist-controlled areas (telephones were almost unknown, it took a day to travel twenty miles and a letter carried by the Post Office Bureau could take a month to travel a couple of hundred miles)[36], it is little short of a farce that two weeks later on 3 March 1946, the Liberation Daily could conclude the discussion and list eighteen points that had been agreed. These were codified in an editorial in the Liberation Daily of 8 March 1946; not surprisingly it was reported that women supported CCP policy that the demands of the peasants be limited to reducing rents and interest rates but not land seizures. Nor is it surprising that equal rights for women came well down the list, the top demands called for “a peaceful solution to China’s post-war problems” and committed women to working with other groups to solve them.[37] Women, it appeared, fully endorsed Party policy.

The Party next launched a woman’s Political Consultative Conference. This was an effort to mobilise women throughout China behind Party policy on the grounds that reduced rents and interest rates would allow women greater participation in mass struggles. Women were mobilised behind slogans proclaiming political freedom and equal rights for women, but peace, (bourgeois) democracy and national unity were the proclaimed goals for the women’s organisations. In Liberation Daily, the dominant theme of all articles regarding women was building a (bourgeois) democratic China.[38]

By the end of 1946, civil war was the order of the day and the CCP was using language similar to that of the late 1930s urging women to join the war effort. There was no doubt about what the role of women was to be. On 8 November, 1946, Liberation Daily urged women to expand their movement in response to the war crisis and listed their responsibilities: improve textile production to guarantee each family had clothing; give moral support to men away fighting; encourage husbands and sons to join the army; and promote healthy habits. A week later an editorial added: women should undertake agricultural work in the fields to replace those men who enlisted. The CCP clearly saw women’s liberation as an important but subsidiary goal.

Nevertheless, the New Democracy represented a major step forward for women. Article 6 of the Common Programme stated:

“The People’s Republic of China shall abolish the feudal system which holds women in bondage. Women shall enjoy equal rights with men in political, economic, cultural, educational and social life. Freedom of marriage for men and women shall be put into effect.”

The All-China Women’s Federation was established on 24 March 1949 as China’s first country-wide women’s organisation with a watching brief to protect the interests of women and promote gender equality within the prescribed goal of building a democratic China.

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and while enormous gains were made, a Stalinist bureaucracy will always put its own interests first. Just as in Jiangxi and Yenan, the CCP would bow to the pressure of the male peasants and actively restrict the democratic rights of Chinese women. CCP cadres almost without exception saw women’s right to work, to own land and property as sufficient conditions for women’s liberation. Too often however, the latter condition was not enacted. For example, under the new laws a wife inherited the land of a husband, but all too frequently the local village association (invariably under CCP leadership) seize the land on the grounds that women are unable to tend their own fields, and re-allocate it to one of her dead husband’s male relatives, leaving the wife to cope as best she can.[39] In 2011, some 80% of rural land was exclusively in a man’s name, and the proportion is increasing.

10.5 “Under the leadership of the proletariat”?

Bourgeois academics have long argued that Mao’s New Democracy was a master strategy for the CCP to take power: that the New Democracy was a façade, a sugar coating behind which Mao hid his true intentions. The New Democracy was intended to deceive the national bourgeoisie, landowners and rich peasants, neutralising them while the CCP prepared to transform China into a workers’ state. All the manoeuvres and confusions generated by the New Democracy have been lauded as contributions to the final victory of the Chinese Revolution while, in reality, victory was actually achieved in spite of them.

It is, of course, axiomatic that revolutionaries should maximise the forces arrayed against imperialism, but if this is done at the cost of principle then the unity achieved becomes self-defeating. Unfortunately, within the world Trotskyist movement there has long been a current with a ‘get rich quick’ mentality that has consistently looked for ways to short-circuit the arduous task of building a Leninist Party. Their siren song is that the socialist revolution could be better and sooner accomplished by joining with other forces. These people greeted Maoism as a genuine revolutionary force and accommodated their politics to it. In Italy, for example, under the leadership of Livio Maitan (prominent member of the United Secretariat of the 4th International) the formation of Maoist groups was welcomed and no serious political fight put up against Maoist ideas with the result that in the late 1960s the majority of the Maitan group broke away from Trotskyism and joined the Maoists, possibly the only time in history that such a thing has happened.

Maitan and Ernest Mandel (Secretary of the United Secretariat of the 4th International) were sufficiently impressed to support a Maoist strategy of peasant guerilla warfare for an extended period, looked for a suitable environment and hit on Latin America as an appropriate location “on account of technical and military considerations.”[40] What followed was scandalous, the good name of Trotsky was appended to ultra-left, rural, sectarian Maoist guerrilla groups, leading an entire generation of revolutionary youth down a blind alley and contributing to the needless deaths of numerous young revolutionaries. There was even a discussion within the Ligue Communiste (largest and most prestigious of the sections of the USec) as to whether the rural (sic!) guerrilla tactics used in Latin America should be applied in France on the grounds that power comes from the barrel of a gun!

Mandel and Maitan were the most prominent representatives of an international mood. Michael Lowy, a respected academic, whose book Combined and Uneven Development was widely promoted as a defence of Trotsky’s ideas was not immune. The manner in which he introduced Mao in this book showed where his emotions lay. Mao is presented as a “young and unknown Communist leader”, who “largely in defiance of Comintern directives” was the organiser of the 1927 radical peasant movement in Hunan which was actively seizing the land and killing landlords, supported apparently, by no lesser person than Trotsky. It turns out on investigation, that Mao was already an established leader in both the CCP and the KMT and a firm supporter of the policies of the Comintern, and that Trotsky was praising the independent peasant movement in Hunan and Hupeh which was acting against the wishes of the CCP and, especially, Mao Zedong.[41]

Maitan, Lowy and others saw Mao as having led a successful revolution and, taking appearances for reality, accepted him as a genuine revolutionary. Marxist analysis and the history of Stalinism was thrown aside by these people because they wanted to believe that Mao would make the revolution for them. Lowy makes it clear that he did not consider the CCP either Stalinist or petty-bourgeois, rather he suggests that large sections of the Red Army and CCP had attained a socialist consciousness.[42] It could be argued that the facts were not known, that Mao had led a revolution and that he appeared a genuine revolutionary. But such an approach is impressionism, taking the appearance for the reality. These people wanted to believe in Mao and this desire trumped Marxist analysis and the counter-revolutionary history of Stalinism.

In the UK, publications which considered themselves both left and intellectual, such as the New Left Review, swung behind Mao and the CCP with many on the editorial board appearing to believe there was no real difference between Mao and Trotsky.[43] As the revolutionary mask of Maoism slipped, the NLR failed to produce an in-depth critique of either Mao’s record or its own analysis, probably because that would have threatened a split in its own ranks. Instead it adopted at local level a policy of ideological peaceful co-existence. This was all the more scandalous because leading editorial board member Robin Blackburn had only recently been feted as a new recruit to Mandel’s Fourth International.

In France, Pierre Rousset considered that despite his avowed Stalinism, Mao adhered in practice to revolutionary Marxism. Rousset’s confusion may be due to a selective reading of Mao’s writings such as The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party where the “new-democratic revolution” is described as

“part of the world proletarian-socialist revolution … Politically, it means the joint revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of several revolutionary classes over the imperialists and reactionary traitors, and opposition to the transformation of Chinese society into a society under bourgeois dictatorship … This kind of new-democratic revolution … results in the dictatorship of the united front of all revolutionary classes under the leadership of the proletariat, not in the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”[44]

In 1939, in the original text which had the bloc of four classes in mind, the phrase in italics did not appear.

Possibly Rousset was unaware of the original text; perhaps like Lowy, he took Mao’s additions as a “self-criticism” rather than Stalinist face-saving.[45] However, for revolutionary Marxists “under the leadership of the proletariat” can be guaranteed only by mobilising the broad masses of the urban proletariat through Soviets or similar democratic organisations. For the CCP, “under the leadership of the proletariat” meant its own continuing domination, Soviets remained anathema.

Dazzled by appearances, this political current failed to appreciate that Mao gained power due to a special conjuncture of world events. Instead it was proposed that Mao’s actual political practice “was flatly in contradiction to Stalin’s policies.”[46]

10.6 Summary

With the victory of the CCP in 1949, national unity was achieved – except for Tibet and Taiwan – which gave the new regime legitimacy and mass support. This was the most important single achievement needed to overcome the economic chaos which sapped what little strength remained in the nation. Without effective central administration, there could be no standardisation of money, no genuine struggle against inflation and no co-ordinated and fair system for the collection of taxes. Without a unified national transport system, there could be no effective measures against local famines. The new central government devoted major efforts to the realisation of national unity and achieved rapid and remarkable successes.

Viewed in this way the Chinese Revolution appears as a phenomenon of combined development on an enormous scale. The military-bureaucratic victory was achieved because the bourgeoisie was without any mass base, deserted by its imperialist protectors and with the peasant masses rising in rebellion and following the Communist Party. The victory of the CCP was predominantly the result of the conjuncture of specific conditions created by the Second World War: the entire capitalist world was in a state of unparalleled decline and disarray, the disintegration of the KMT regime was only the most extreme manifestation of the deterioration of the whole capitalist system. American imperialism was obliged to abandon its aid to Chiang just as the peasant masses in China were rising in rebellion against impossible living conditions.[47]

The conservative and petty-bourgeois nature of the CCP was immediately demonstrated when the PLA entered the big cities – it has been claimed that amongst the Shanghai proletariat, CCP cadres numbered a mere 800.[48] The Stalinists immediately demonstrated that what was important to them was winning the confidence of the bourgeoisie and not that of the working class. The efforts of the urban workers to create independent organisations were stifled, the right to strike was taken away and compulsory arbitration instituted on 19 August 1949, when provisional regulations for the adjustment of labour-management disputes were promulgated in Shanghai. Capitalists alone had the right to hire and fire, and all labour conflicts had to be settled by negotiations during which the workers had to “maintain discipline.”[49]

Irresolvable differences were settled by the PLA. However, the PLA soldiers were almost entirely peasants, the officers were, approximately, 70% peasant with a leavening of workers, students and the sons of merchants and small landowners.[50] When the workers struck in support of demands for wage increases or against oppressive conditions, the PLA was brutal in its repression. At a large textile factory in Shanghai in early 1949, eight strikers were shot. In factories in Tientsin, striking workers were arrested and executed. The workers of Shen Hsin Factory Number 9 were machine-gunned, resulting in more than 300 casualties. In May 1950, in the Ching Hsing coal mines in Hopeh Province, when the workers went on strike against the cruelty and arrogance of the Soviet advisers the PLA killed or wounded 200. Such events confirmed the CCP’s petty-bourgeois character and its distrust, even hostility, toward the working class.[51]

However, in the three decades between the announcement of the People’s Republic on 1 October 1949 and Mao’s death 9 September 1976, many academics and commentators in Europe and the USA, with the strength of the Stalinist state behind them, idealised his achievements. They argued, in one way or another, that if he achieved power, his general strategy must have been correct. China experts such as John Fairbank, Alexander Pantsov and Steven Levine have presented Mao’s New Democracy strategy as the master plan for the CCP to take power. Arthur Cohen has claimed that Mao made a unique contribution to Marxist theory when he included bourgeois parties in the government which took the final steps to a workers’ state. Patricia Stranahan argues that Mao’s masterstroke was accommodation with the landlords and rich peasants and that was key to his successes. These commentators mistake the appearance for the reality.

Mao wished to confine the revolution to within China but the imperialists understood that revolution cannot be contained by bureaucratic decree and acted accordingly. Despite Mao’s intention that the New Democracy would follow a path different from that of Russia in 1917, the Korean War and imperialist blockade would force the regime to extend state ownership into all sectors of the economy, not to loosen the state monopoly of foreign trade but take an even tighter grip, not to reduce state planning but extend its scale to all sections of the economy, not to give the national and petty-bourgeoisie ever greater weight in society but instead to mobilise the masses to save the new regime. Lenin had already explained the reasons for this a generation earlier: “The extremely high level of development which world capitalism in general has attained …. (has) transformed the present stage of capitalist development into an era of proletarian socialist revolution.”[52] To carry through the bourgeois democratic tasks China would have to take measures which would leave her with one foot in … socialism.

The PLA and CCP had taken power in China not because of the application of correct theory but because the mass of peasants in China could no longer go on living in the old way and rose up in rebellion in a time-honoured manner. The CCP were the beneficiaries and their peasant armies were able to defeat those of the KMT because the World War had weakened imperialism to the extent that Chiang was left to his own devices. Mao’s class-collaborationist ideology and method were fundamentally flawed and when applied under less favourable conditions in Indonesia in 1965, led to the deaths of as many as a million workers and Communists. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the largest in the world outside China and the Soviet Union, followed the Maoist strategy of advocating a united national front of four classes and taking ministerial posts within a bourgeois government. Events followed all too closely what had happened in China in 1927 even to the PKI handing over lists of names and addresses of Party members; the biggest difference was the scale of the resulting slaughter.


[1] Roberts, J. Lenin, Trotsky and the Theory of the Permanent Revolution, Wellred, 2007, p138.

[2] Mao Zedong, On New Democracy, Jan 1940, w.m.org.

[3] collections.mun.ca/PDFs/radical/MaoTseTungontheChineseRevolution.pdf

[4] Mao Zedong, On Coalition Government, April 1945, w.m.org.

[5] Mao Zedong, The Fight for a New China, New Century Publishers, 1945.

[6] Mao Zedong, On Coalition Government, 1945, w.m.org.

[7] Liu Shaoqi, Strengthen the Great Revolutionary Unity of the Chinese People, Sept. 1949, w.m.org.

[8] Kerry, T. The Mao Myth Pathfinder Press, 1977, p129.

[9] Service, J. Lost Chance in China, Random House, 1975, p306-07.

[10] Groot, G. The CCP and United Front Work, 2004, Routledge, p48.

[11] Woods, A. The Chinese Revolution of 1949, 1 October 2009, w.m.com.

[12] Moorad, G. Lost Peace in China, E.P. Button & Co., 1949, p197-98.

[13] Mandel, E. The Third Chinese Revolution, 1950, w.m.org.

[14] Woods, Op. cit.

[15] Fairbank, J. The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985, Harper Perennial, 1987, p278.

[16] Twitchett, D. and Fairbank, J. (eds) Cambridge History of China, CUP, 1987, Vol.14, p74.

[17] Mandel, The Third … Op. cit.

[18] Peng Shuzi, Report on the Chinese Situation, Education for Socialists, SWP, 1952, p43-47.

[19] Kerry, The Mao Myth, …Op. cit.

[20] Roberts, Op. cit. p172-192.

[21] Grant, T. The Unbroken Thread, Wellred Books, 1989, p301-303.

[22] Chow Ching-wen, Ten Years of Storm, https://archive.org/details/tenyearsofstormt013586mbp.

[23] Hsieh Yueh, Mao Tse-tung’s “Revolution”, Report on Chinese Stalinism, 1949, w.m.org.

[24] Peng Shuzi, Report on … Op. cit.

[25] CIA Report on Developments in China 1949, ORE 44-49.

[26] Mandel, The Third… Op. cit.

[27] Ladejinsky, W. Carrot and Stick in Rural China, Foreign Affairs, 1957, 36(1)91-104.

[28] Tomlinson, B. The Chinese Revolution and the Peasantry, School of Oriental & African Studies, Univ. of London.

[29] Kaple, D. Dream of a Red Factory: The Legacy of High Stalinism in China, OUP, 1994.

[30] Wang Fanxi, The Stalinist State in China… 1951, Socialist Review.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Anon. Labor in Revolutionary China, Fourth International, March-April 1953.

[33] Mao Zedong, Fight for a Fundamental Turn, June 1950, w.m.org.

[34] Peng Shuzi, Report on …. Op. cit.

[35] Fairbank, J. – The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985 – Harper Perennial, 1987, p279.

[36] Belden, J. China Shakes the World, Gollancz, 1951, p109.

[37] Stranahan-Jackal, P. Changes in Policy for Yenan Women, 1935-1947: Modern China, 1981, 7(1) 83-112.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Sargeson, S. Why Women Own Less, China Perspectives [Online], 2012/4)

[40] Maitan, L. Cuba, Military Reformism and Armed Struggle in Latin America, Intercontinental Press, 20 April 1970, p360.

[41] Lowy, M. Combined and Uneven Development, Verso, 1981, p83.

[42] Ibid, p95.

[43] Birchall, I. 1980, w.m.org.

[44] Mao Zedong, The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party, Dec. 1951, w.m.org.

[45] Lowy, Op. cit. p118.

[46] Lowy. Op. cit. p122.

[47] Peng Shuzi, The Causes … Op. cit.

[48] Roux, A, Le Casse-tête Chinois, Editions Sociales, 1970, p. 83.

[49] Anon. Labor in Revolutionary China, Op. cit.

[50] Belden, Op. cit. p331.

[51] Peng Shuzi, The Causes … Op. cit.

[52] Lenin, V. Draft of a Revised Programme, May 1917, CW 24:469.