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

Uninterrupted Revolution or Permanent Revolution?

18.1 Introduction

This chapter draws together the arguments on whether the Maoist theory of stages or Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution more accurately described the processes of the Third Chinese Revolution. It explains why it was possible for a deformed workers’ state to revert to capitalism in a so-called cold process, without a revolution. Finally, it addresses whether the return to capitalism in China challenges the theory of the permanent revolution and asks whether the theory of permanent revolution remains relevant in the China of today.

The acid test of any theory is how well it measures up to reality. Has Mao’s Stalinist theory of stages been proven correct by the Third Chinese Revolution, and permanent revolution proven wrong? Hardline Stalinists such as Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Cuban Minister responsible for agrarian reform (1962–1965)[1], have continued to argue for the theory of stages. These people are now supported in their view by former Trotskyists such as the leadership of the American Socialist Workers Party who grew tired and impatient with the slow and arduous work of building a revolutionary party and chose, at the cost of basic theory, to become uncritical cheer-leaders for the Castro regime in the false hope that this would accelerate the growth of their organisation. The old Cuban leaders were primarily activists not theoreticians, and to get Russian aid and break the American blockade were willing to endorse such Stalinist concepts as the theory of stages, and there being no need for proletarian democracy or Soviets. The American SWP chose to compromise not with the best elements of the Castroist regime but the worst.

There is a parallel phenomenon that must be addressed here, one that appeared amongst the radical students who fought on the barricades in Paris in 1968, and their fellows who demonstrated on the streets of London, Rome and Berlin, and gained popularity as news of the Cultural Revolution spread. It was accepted that the theory of permanent revolution was correct and, because Mao had come to power in a semi-colonial country he must, somehow, be an ‘unconscious Trotskyist’ and his interpretation of the theory of stages could have no substantial differences with the theory of the permanent revolution. This view infected a number of revolutionary Marxists; people who should have known better opened the doors of their organisations to self-professed anti-Trotskyists with disastrous consequences.

Though the conclusions of the two arguments appear to be opposites, the opportunist method that gave rise to them is the same: impatience, looking for short cuts to building the revolutionary party.

18.2 New Democracy – a Necessary Stage?

Mao’s New Democracy asserts that the bourgeois stage is necessary, that it is not possible to achieve socialism without passing through such a stage and the quickest and most efficient way of doing this is to join the national bourgeoisie in a bloc of four classes. Mao, of course, had the right to believe in any scheme he wished, but it is the responsibility of a political leader to test his/her ideas against reality. Unfortunately, just as Stalinism entered its death throes this argument has been revived by those who label Mao’s theory as the two-stage, uninterrupted revolution.[2]

The essence of this argument is that there was a clear and definite bourgeois-democratic stage in the Third Chinese Revolution (and the October Revolution), and that this is an indispensable pre-requisite in all socialist revolutions. This stage, it is argued, is necessary in order to carry through, for example, the agrarian revolution which has to precede the socialist. This is a shadow of Kamenev’s argument of April 1917, that because the agrarian revolution had hardly begun in Russia, therefore the bourgeois revolution had not been completed and thus a socialist revolution was premature. It is, of course, quite the opposite of Lenin, who argued consistently that the inability of the bourgeoisie to complete the agrarian revolution to the satisfaction of the peasants was the very reason a socialist revolution was possible, and that the bourgeois-democratic agrarian revolution in Russia took place only because it was preceded by the proletarian revolution.[3] Both Trotsky and Lenin (and Stalin, incidentally) agreed that the October Revolution was a socialist revolution which resulted in a workers’ and peasants’ government resting on the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In China it is obvious that such an intermediate, New Democratic, stage was not necessary at all. This is confirmed by six clear and undeniable facts:

  • The CCP and the PLA assumed power in China without any need for an alliance with other forces. The CCP was the only party in the PRC with any real authority and the PLA was the power of the new state right from the start.
  • On seizing bureaucratic capital, the properties of those at the top of the KMT, the PRC owned so much of industry and the banking system that it was in de facto control of the national economy. It could (and should) have had to hand, and immediately introduced, a pre-prepared national economic plan that included monopolising foreign trade and wholesale food distribution. If the CCP had proactively carried through these rational measures instead of waiting until they were forced to do so by inflation, sabotage, the US embargo and the needs of the Korean War, the regime would have been a workers’ state from 1949 and the Chinese people would not have had to undergo unnecessary privation and hardship.
  • The specific weight of the national bourgeoisie that remained in China after 1949 was minimal, its growth and strength was artificial, enhanced by the advantages showered on it by the PRC. When the CCP withdrew its support the national bourgeoisie was rapidly, easily and almost entirely peacefully swept from the scene. This was because the balance of forces was so strongly in favour of the CCP/PLA, which demonstrated clearly that any base the bourgeoisie had in post-revolution China was more illusion than reality.
  • The policy of “Land to the Tiller” was carried through, but artificially delayed while the CCP tried to build the ‘rich peasant economy’ instead of paying attention to the wishes of the vast majority of the peasants – the poor and middle peasants. The agrarian revolution could and should have been carried out more rapidly, more efficiently and more thoroughly. The New Democracy actually delayed land reform but, as in Russia, the transition to a workers’ state preceded the completion of land distribution.
  • The duration of the bourgeois stage of the New Democracy could hardly have been any shorter. There was no time for the national bourgeoisie to significantly advance the economy before they were discarded and what they did achieve was largely due to their special treatment by the regime.

The contribution of the national bourgeoisie was, essentially, negative and corrosive. Its drive for profit made it ready to disrupt the government’s economic plans and its greed meant it bribed state officials on a grand scale. Because it was working with a Stalinist bureaucracy which saw perks as its right, and which pandered to the national bourgeoisie this corruption was all-pervasive. The most significant contribution of the national bourgeoisie to the New Democracy was the level of sleaze, bribery and dishonesty it generated.

However, the most irrefutable argument for the unnatural nature of the New Democracy is obvious when one recalls that the new Chinese state had a long border with the Soviet Union. Only the Stalinist nature of the two regimes and the false creeds of socialism in one country and the theory of stages prevented a union of the two states and the immediate progression of China to a workers’ state.

In both Russia and China the overthrow of the bourgeois regime took place before the agrarian revolution was finished. That both workers’ states existed with a substantial private sector in agriculture should not be surprising since ownership of the land is not a deciding factor in determining the class character of a regime. The Russian dictatorship of the proletariat, first with Lenin as leader and then bureaucratically deformed, continued until 1929 based on private farming. Without Stalin’s premature and forced collectivisation the situation could have continued. In China the 1st FYP which inaugurated the workers’ state rested to a large extent on private farmers.

The theory of the permanent revolution readily accepts the importance of democratic demands for the mobilisation of the urban and peasant masses. However, it argues that the common interests of the reactionary elements (e.g. compradors, landlords, big bourgeoisie) in so-called backward countries and their intimate links with imperialism, means the national bourgeoisie as a whole will oppose the carrying through of the bourgeois democratic revolution. To overcome this opposition, to implement popular democratic demands (e.g. achieving national independence, overcoming hunger and famine, equality for women, control of inflation, land to the peasant, planning to overcome natural and man-made disasters, etc.), it is necessary for the oppressed sectors of society to take governmental power. With this action the natural flow of events is inevitably in the direction of the overthrow of capitalist property relations, for the establishment of a workers’ state and the first steps towards socialism.

To appreciate such an analysis, and plan accordingly, was to develop a political line best matched to the actual forces that existed in China after WWII. Such an analysis is certainly not ultra-left as Stalinists have traditionally claimed. For example, handicraft workers and family shops would not have been dragooned into state controlled co-operatives, and the peasants would not have been forcibly collectivised. With Soviet democracy and workers’ control of production it would have been possible, if so desired, to incorporate a privately-owned light industry into a national plan.

The belief in the necessity of a bourgeois phase caused the defeat of the 1925-27 Chinese Revolution because it limited the mobilisation of the op-pressed masses to demands acceptable to the landlord families of the officers in the NRA. But even after 1949, the disadvantages of this unnecessary stage were many, including: restraining the self-organisation of the working class, denying the poor and middle peasants the right to seize land, restrictions on women’s rights, waste of time, effort and money in pandering to the national bourgeoisie, and facilitating the development of widespread corruption throughout the Party and government.

History is littered with leaders such as Oliver Cromwell who held to one programme at first but carried out another under the pressure of events, Mao is another such. After 1949 Mao assessed the strength of the forces competing for a place in government, saw which way the wind was blowing and tacked accordingly. This is not surprising, it is characteristic of the petty-bourgeoisie.

Today, in late capitalism, surrendering a major gain of Marxist theory and retreating to the pre-Leninist argument that a socialist revolution must be preceded by the completion of the bourgeois-democratic stage, is openly and unambiguously counter-revolutionary. The irony is that the American SWP renounced permanent revolution in favour of uninterrupted revolution just prior to the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe and Russia. Just as these bureaucratic regimes tottered and began to implode the SWP declared itself in favour of one of the basic features of Stalinism. But one cannot compartmentalise political degeneration, sacrificing permanent revolution in favour of Stalinist ideology naturally led to political decay generally in the organisation. The latest development along this trajectory was the SWP leadership’s decision, during Israel’s slaughter in Gaza in the summer of 2014, to embrace Zionism.[4]

18.3 Mao and Uninterrupted Revolution

Mao’s uninterrupted revolution (the name was ripped from Lenin’s article Social-Democracy’s Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement, 1 September 1905)[5] contained the key assumption that the Chinese Revolution would pass through two stages. In the first stage, the bourgeois democratic revolution would be carried out by a ‘united front of all revolutionary classes’, including the national bourgeoisie, to overthrow the imperialists, feudal rulers and reactionary traitors. During this stage national independence would be achieved and agrarian reform implemented. Subsequently, after Chinese capitalism had developed separately from international imperialism to a degree that made the transition to socialism possible, the capitalists would peacefully (it was hoped) step aside and allow the revolution to move to a second stage in which the CCP would lead China to socialism. Finally, the new workers’ state would adopt the policy of Peaceful Coexistence, thus allowing the CCP to preserve its own narrow national power base.

The CCP always argued that the ultimate goal of the Chinese Revolution was to achieve socialism, and this would require the prior development of capitalism ‘to a certain degree’. It was supposed that during the New Democracy the social weight of the proletariat would grow, while remaining under CCP guidance and control, and this would allow China to carry through its bourgeois-democratic revolution while steering clear of imperialism and heading towards the realisation of socialism.

At the time he wrote On New Democracy in 1940, Mao hoped for a united front against the Japanese armies and a post-war coalition government with Chiang Kai-shek. It was expected that national bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties supporting capitalism would be an integral part of the revolutionary forces, since the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution would be achieved without challenging the principle of capitalist property relations. In underdeveloped countries such as China, the second stage, the proletarian revolution, would arrive at some time in the future in a quite separate transformation. The two stages were carefully compartmentalised and separated by ‘scores of years’ with the socialist revolution ‘a thing of the rather far future’.

Mao was not wedded to historical accuracy so when On New Democracy and The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party were re-published in 1951, having been tested against reality, the unity with “other classes” was downplayed by editing out offending phrases and inserting expressions such as “under the leadership of the proletariat” into the text.

The reason for these editorial additions is obvious. The stagist theory of New Democracy had been found wanting. During WWII the united front with the KMT was at best partial and temporary; after the war, instead of inviting the Communists to join him in government, Chiang launched an all-out military assault on them. The national bourgeoisie noticeably failed to rally to the united front and by the end of the civil war it was found that the national bourgeois elements that had remained in China had little substance. One of the main planks of the New Democracy was noticeable by its absence. On the other hand the hunger, poverty, unemployment, inflation and other problems facing the Chinese masses demanded solutions that were socialist in principle.

However, even as he confronted the fact that the national bourgeoisie in China after 1949 was, at best, economically weak, Mao continued to assert that China had to pass through all the necessary stages of a democratic bourgeois republic in order to achieve socialism. Just as Stalin would say one thing while doing the opposite, in 1958 at the 8th National Congress of the CCP, Mao reviewed his analysis:

“I advocate the theory of uninterrupted revolution. You must not think that this is Trotsky’s theory of uninterrupted revolution. In making revolution, it should be like striking the iron while it is hot, one revolution to follow another … Trotsky advocated that socialist revolution be undertaken even before the democratic revolution was accomplished. We do not proceed like that.”[6]

In fact, Trotsky said the socialist revolution would begin before the democratic revolution was finished and become entwined with it.

Mao was determined to show how his theory of uninterrupted revolution differed from Trotsky’s permanent revolution. Despite the experience of China 1949-1953 which saw the interpenetration of different stages of economic development, particularly the introduction of a national plan and wholesale nationalisation of industries to solve the crises the nation faced, Mao continued to assert that the different stages of development of the uninterrupted revolution were separate and should not be confused, the democratic revolution would be accomplished before the socialist:

“The democratic revolution will undergo several stages of development, all under the slogan of a democratic republic, not that of a soviet regime. … We stand for going through all the necessary stages of a democratic republic in order to arrive at socialism.”[7]

The historic current within which Mao has a leading position, Stalinism, has, ever since Stalin published Foundations of Leninism in April 1924[8], consciously and unswervingly counter-posed uninterrupted revolution to Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. However, Pierre Rousset (a leading member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, with responsibility for developing its strategy for the 21st century) has claimed the differences between Mao’s theory of uninterrupted revolution and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution are more apparent than real due to “lack of precision in the theoretical formulas.”[9]

It is not surprising, then, that Mao’s theory of uninterrupted revolution is still being touted as a strategy for victory in colonial and semi-colonial countries. The lessons of the October 1965 slaughter of one million Communists in Indonesia when the Indonesian Communist Party attempted to apply ‘uninterrupted revolution’ have not been assimilated, and Maoism continues to surface in different guises, as in the guerrilla movement in Nepal.[10]

18.4 Permanent Revolution

The theory of the permanent revolution presents a model in which completing the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in so-called backward countries flows naturally into the socialist revolution because the common interests of feudalists, landlords, and national capitalists with the imperialists are far greater than any common interest with the poor peasants, middle peasants or proletarians.

On 29 August, 1917, Lenin wrote From a Publicist’s Diary in which he publicly endorsed Trotsky’s analysis:

“You do not have to give these demands (seizure of the landlords’ land and its division amongst the peasants) a lot of thought to see that it is absolutely impossible to realise them in alliance with the capitalists, without breaking completely with them, without waging the most determined and ruthless struggle against the capitalist class, without overthrowing its rule.”[11]

Lenin also concluded that the presence of the Soviet Union meant that colonial and semi-colonial countries, certainly those in Asia, did not need to pass through a capitalist phase. This was endorsed by the Baku Congress of the Peoples’ of the East held in September 1920 which declared most definitely that the poor peasants of the East did not have to proceed via bourgeois democracy; did not have to pass through a phase of capitalist development before they could go over to a Soviet system.[12] The Congress also accepted that the Russian experience had demonstrated that middle peasants would support socialist revolution if the resulting regime approved the seizure of the landed estates and their distribution to the peasants by the peasants.

This analysis is, of course, quite the opposite of the ‘bloc of four classes’ proposed by Mao and Stalin. At the time it assumed governmental power in 1949, the CCP already had control over those sectors of the economy most important for a socialist transition; heavy industry and banking. The big estates and landlordism had to be eradicated and the land distributed amongst the peasants, preferably by the peasants themselves, and this should and could have been done quickly. The artificial delay in the move to a workers’ state was based on erroneous ideological concepts.

Of course the theory of the permanent revolution in no way precludes the development of pre-capitalist, colonial countries into capitalist countries as happened with India. It argues that the struggle for national democratic demands opens the possibility of direct transition to a workers’ state as happened in Russia 1917-1918, and was brilliantly confirmed in China in 1949-1953. The theory also provides a guide to the limits that will be imposed on the struggle for national independence if the national bourgeoisie retain the leadership. In countries such as India the struggle ended with the conquest of political independence, but the completion of the democratic tasks was only partial, as the position of women and the poor peasants only too clearly demonstrate. Nor does the theory reject the possibility that certain external factors could intervene to generate the bourgeois revolution and the capitalist mode of production. In certain specific circumstances it might be in the interests of a section of the imperialists to force through a capitalist transformation in a relatively backward country. This is what began in Japan, in 1852, when Commodore Perry used gunboat diplomacy to force Japanese ports to open to American trade, and continued after WWII when the US administration feared Japan could be lost to Communism if its economic foundations were not restructured and strengthened.

18.5 Capitalist Restoration and Permanent Revolution

Does China’s return to capitalism contradict the theory of permanent revolution? Does the theory of permanent revolution offer any insight into the coming Chinese socialist revolution?

To answer the first question we must place the theory of the permanent revolution in context as the application of the general law of combined and uneven development to the specific circumstances of the democratic revolution in so-called backward countries during late capitalism, and must conclude it is not directly applicable to capitalist restoration. At the same time, we note that the question is somewhat artificial as it could equally have been addressed to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We also note that Trotsky’s analysis of the Russian Soviet regime[13] did accurately predict that if a hardened bureaucratic caste remained in power there was every likelihood of capitalist restoration (see Chapter 15).

The second question is valid, but only to the extent that the theory of the permanent revolution analyses the coming Chinese revolution as a classical, proletarian, socialist revolution from the outset; the urban population of China is in the majority and China is a modern state with an advanced and extensive industrial base. The method contained within the theory teaches us that inevitably the first goals of the revolution will include democratic demands and the fight of the revolutionary forces to genuinely implement these demands will win them the support of the urban and peasant petty-bourgeois masses. Enacting the democratic demands will, necessarily, take place in parallel with taking the first steps towards socialism. Permanent revolution rejects completely the need for any alliance with the national bourgeoisie, perceiving it as fully integrated into world imperialism.

Strike figures show a new proletariat numbering nearly three hundred million is being tempered on the anvil of the struggles taking place in China’s workshops. No amount of state repression has been or will be able to stop the rise of this objective process. At the same time, the integration of China’s industries into the world market means it cannot avoid capitalist crises of overproduction, and these will inevitably generate revolutionary movements. The driving force of the revolution will be the working class which will lead the peasantry, and the main methods of the revolution will be mass strikes supported by peasant uprisings.

The bourgeoisie in China is the ruling class and overlaps substantially with the CCP (and, thus, also the state apparatus) because it was this organisation that was responsible for re-launching capitalism in China and providing the owners and managers of many important enterprises. This gives the bourgeoisie a very high degree of state support in, for example, dealing with strikes. But there is an important corollary, the very integration that has been so helpful to the growth of capitalism will mean the bourgeois state will find it very difficult to accommodate the just and democratic demands of the masses. The material interests and innate conservatism of this block will mean it will fiercely oppose the development of free expression, particularly any free trade union movement.

However, the lack of an established labour aristocracy and the inexperience of the Chinese bourgeoisie means that a revolutionary explosion could take place with little warning. This would be in the context of a crisis-ridden world market that would block the tried-and-tested safety valve for Chinese capitalism – rapid industrial expansion and an increase in exports.

The socialist revolution would be unthinkable without the day-to-day struggle for advances under capitalism. Only in, and through, such struggles can the working class acquire the necessary experience and organization to challenge the capitalist system. However, any protesters will face a state apparatus which is the fusion of a monstrous Stalinist regime with the most repulsive features of capitalism.

A revolutionary or even workers’ party is lacking but, nevertheless, proletarian consciousness is rising, and there is a sense amongst many that the left is on the verge of a leap forward. But this will only occur if workers, peasants and intellectuals find issues that unite the forces of opposition. Socialists will, of course, fight for immediate demands but pose them in a way that links day-to-day problems to the socialist transformation of society. Such demands, transitional demands as Trotsky referred to them, act as a bridge between actions taken in the struggle for bettering the condition of the masses and the idea of the socialist revolution.

18.6 Summary

The Third Chinese Revolution was a magnificent historic achievement despite the best efforts of the Stalinists to side-track it into the dead end of class-collaboration, first with the KMT and when this proved impossible, with the remnants of the national bourgeoisie who had not fled to Taiwan with Chiang.

It is blindingly obvious that the New Democracy was neither a natural nor a necessary stage in the Third Chinese Revolution. It was imposed on the revolution in a most unnatural and artificial manner by the CCP itself in order that the revolutionary process would appear to follow the path pre-scribed by Stalin and Mao. To achieve this, the agrarian programme was limited and the proletariat constrained. But the revolution refused to be confined in this way and it burst through.

The apparent successes of the national bourgeoisie during the New Democracy was achieved because of government-provided resources and careful tending, only to be repaid by economic sabotage and corruption of Party and state on a fantastic scale. In a war with American imperialism, facing a damaging embargo on trade, the bureaucratic state acted swiftly to preserve itself and within four years of its launch, the New Democracy was dead in the water, and the PRC was consciously moving in the direction of a centrally planned economy (though without workers’ democracy).

Stalinist regimes may have varied from country to country and era to era but all had certain qualities in common. The CCP met all the necessary criteria; its ideological basis was socialism in one country at home and peaceful co-existence abroad, it had a privileged bureaucratic caste (after 1953 this rested on the property foundations of a workers’ state), it repressed workers’ democracy, it was a monolithic, totalitarian regime both within Party and government, its policies zigged and zagged between ultra-leftism and open class collaboration according to the short-term needs of the bureaucracy. In the special circumstances that existed in China, a Stalinist party was forced to go further than it wished in breaking with the bourgeoisie, but did not become a genuinely revolutionary workers’ party.

Marxism is concrete so it is important to observe the actual events in China, to see how and why the class-collaborationist perspective of the New Democracy and the theory of stages collapsed so completely and so quickly. But it is also necessary to place these events within a correct overall perspective. The necessity of taking measures which were objectively socialist to solve the problems of the democratic revolution was clearly spelled out by Lenin in 1917 and repeated many times thereafter. The permanent revolution is a tendency for revolutions in backward countries to transcend the bourgeois-democratic phase and turn into socialist revolutions.[14] China was living proof of this.

Stalinist regimes have always acted as a brake on economic progress, but following the utter chaos of the KMT and by putting state plans and other socialist forms into place, it initially took the Chinese economy forward at a rapid pace. However, as the economy became increasingly complex, a centralised bureaucratic system that attempted to control every aspect of economic life could no longer cope and became an absolute impediment to progress. To counter this the Party adopted a Chinese New Economic Policy which was initially successful in greatly increasing agricultural production and convincing many in the CCP that a market economy was the route to rapid industrial expansion.

Escalating social unrest caused by dissatisfaction with aspects of the regime’s policies climaxed in the Tien An Men Square events. The outcome was that the hard-liners took control of the Party and determined that a full market economy was necessary to generate the economic growth necessary to save their skins; that the best way to ensure their benefits continued and could be handed down to their children was for China to move to a capitalist system with themselves as owners of property. The most common forms were for CCP officials who were the managers of TVEs and small/medium SOEs to buy such enterprises at give-away prices and for senior local government bureaucrats to purchase properties and shares using the monies received from bribes. At no time did the bureaucracy consider workers’ democracy as a means of governing the economy to eliminate waste and corruption. That would have meant the end of their privileges.

Step by step the CCP dumped the measures necessary for a workers’ state. Each step in the process was justified as necessary for maintaining the dynamism of the economy and expanding employment prospects for those flooding into the cities from the countryside. The first to go was the monopoly of foreign trade, then central planning was replaced by the profit motive and commodity production, and next was the privatisation of small, medium and large SOEs. Today, only a small number of certain strategic industries (e.g. telecommunications for control of the media), hopelessly unprofitable industries (e.g. industries of the rust belt), and the Big Four banks (each with massive debts) remain in state hands. China is now a fully-fledged capitalist country though its capitalist class lacks both experience and refinement.

China’s emergence as a major capitalist power temporarily provided world capitalism with a much needed boost, but soon it was serving to sharpen all the old contradictions and raise them to a new level. The massive investment in Chinese industry expressed itself as an avalanche of cheap commodities which soon saturated many sectors of the world’s economy. Now there is increasing overcapacity in the Chinese economy itself.

The combination of a capitalist restoration and the consequent opening of the economy to a huge influx of capital investment often subsidised by the state, combined with a vast supply of cheap labour from the countryside, has enabled China to rapidly develop a powerful modern industrial base. That period of explosive growth is nearing its limit. Now China finds itself faced with the same problems that afflict every capitalist economy.

The successes of China’s economy have been based on the labour of Chinese workers. However, with the development of capitalism came enormous class differentiation, and China has become one of the most unequal and corrupt societies in the world. The flaunting of the obscene wealth of the ruling elite and their children (the “Princelings”) is bitterly resented by the population. That said, the base of the Chinese capitalist class is very narrow. China is run by a tiny elite of super-rich oligarchs who have enriched themselves by plundering the state and brutally exploiting the labour of the Chinese workers. It is true that beneath them there are layers of factory managers, directors, bureaucrats, and officials in state and Party institutions. Together with their families, these form part of the establishment. But even after taking them into account, the overwhelming majority of the population is excluded from economic wealth and the power bestowed by it.

It is possible, given the colossal accumulation of discontent, that attempts to rationalise the big factories of heavy industry in the North-East will provoke fierce defensive struggles which might, under certain conditions, become transformed into offensive actions. The world working class is entering an epoch of permanent and increasing austerity which will require class battles to retain the gains remaining from the relative boom of the post WWII years, such as the UK National Health Service. One thing is clear, workers are beginning to look for ways of fighting back. There will be many false starts such as Syriza in Greece. But once the class begins to move, the whole attitude of the workers will change, the entire political atmosphere will be transformed and what might seem impossible today will be realised. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to leader of the UK Labour Party, is especially important as he in now leader of the traditional party of the British working class. His victory has opened up enormous possibilities for British workers and if the momentum that gained him that victory can be maintained then a real threat to the British ruling class will appear.

The history of the last hundred years has demonstrated that a healthy socialist revolution needs a revolutionary leadership armed with correct theory based on the collective experience of the revolutionary movement on a world scale. Without Lenin, the October Revolution would never have taken place. In the absence of this subjective factor, all kinds of aberrations can occur as China is witness. In the absence of such a revolutionary leadership, there will be extreme confusion and disorientation of the workers and it is possible that the movement will be defeated. The problem facing the Chinese working class today can be summed up in one word – leadership.

Capitalism in China may continue for some time on a very unstable basis. But something more than just favourable objective conditions, numerical strength or even the willingness of the masses to fight is necessary for a socialist revolution. The subjective factor is also indispensable.

The Chinese leadership know this and that is why it monitors the internet so vigorously. It is no accident that since 2013 the Chinese state has been spending more on internal security than on defence, the budget for 2015 is US$24.6 billion, up 11% on 2014.[15] However, the new generation of young workers is not prepared to put up with the low wages and bad conditions that their grandparents, former peasants recently arrived from dirt-poor villages were willing to accept. So it is also not surprising, that the CCP has given the ACFTU a more active role in controlling workers’ discontent and supressing workers’ self-organisation.

The growing mood of discontent in Chinese society is expressed by the rising number of street demonstrations, strikes and other actions in the factories. In a totalitarian society, where discontent is forcibly suppressed and there are few legal safety valves, explosions can occur suddenly and without warning. The workers in the older heavy industries were loyal to the regime because it provided them with secure employment and reasonable living conditions, but now they are faced with large scale unemployment coupled with worse conditions and cuts in pay. They are well and truly disillusioned with the regime and are starting the fight back. The workers in the new electronic factories in the SEZs began as inexperienced peasants grateful to get out of their village, now the third generation is arriving in the factories and demanding better pay and work conditions. Until now these two groups of workers were at different stages of development in their fight with the regime. Now their interests are coinciding and a new stage of the struggle has been reached.

The Chinese working class is destined to play a key role in world history in the coming period. Napoleon is reported as having said that, “China is like a sleeping giant. And when she awakes, she shall astonish the world.” Paraphrasing Napoleon we can say that today that sleeping giant is the Chinese proletariat. When it rises no force on the planet will be able to stop it and it will transform the whole world.


[1] Rodriguez, C. Lenin and the Colonial Question, New International, 1(1)93-144, 1983.

[2] Lorimer, D. www.dsp.org.

[3] Roberts, J. Lenin, Trotsky and the Theory of the Permanent Revolution, Wellred, 2007, p172-192.

[4] Young, A. Decline and fall: The US SWP’s Final Embrace of Zionism, Links International, 18 Sept. 2014.

[5] Roberts,Op. cit. p182-183.

[6] Star, J. Conceptual Foundations of Mao Tse-Tung’s Theory of Continuous Revolution, Asian Survey, 11(6)610-662, June 1971.

[7] Schram, S. Mao Tse-tung and the Theory of the Permanent Revolution, The China Quarterly, No. 46 (Apr.-Jun., 1971), pp. 221-244.

[8] Stalin, J. Foundations of Leninism, April 1924, w.m.org.

[9] Rousset, P. The Chinese Revolution, International Institute for Research and Education, Number 3.

[10] Conlon, B and Hulaki, K. Nepal: A Revolution Adrift, 2013, w.m.com.

[11] Lenin, V. From a Publicist’s Diary., From a Publicist’s Diary Aug 1917, CW 25:278-286.

[12] Report of 6th Session, Baku Congress of the Peoples’ of the East, September 1920, www.marxists.org.

[13] Trotsky, L. Revolution Betrayed, Ch9, w.m.org.

[14] Grant, T. The Unbroken Thread, Fortress Books, p282-288 and 345.

[15] Bloomberg News, 5 March 2015.