China: the long march to modernisation

A brief comment on the different historical periods China has been through since the early 20th Century, from the founding of the Chinese Communist Party by genuine Marxists to the present-day transition to capitalism.

In 1919 progressive minded intellectuals hoped the Versailles Treaty after the First World War would end China's humiliating semi-colonial status. When the imperialist powers betrayed these hopes, the May 4th Movement led by Chen Duxiu marched in Beijing behind the slogans "Science and Democracy". The voice of progress, promoting cultural awakening, enlightenment and modernization, was the journal "New Youth". It said:

"Be independent not servile,
be progressive not conservative,
be aggressive not retrogressive,
be cosmopolitan not isolationist,
be utilitarian not impractical,
be scientific not visionary"

The Confucian doctrines of filial piety, subordination and authority were to be smashed, mysticism eliminated, the patriarchal family destroyed, women liberated, their feet unbound and "cannibalistic" culture overcome. The best ideas from all over the world were to be adopted and applied to invigorate China. The search for social forces able to bring progress led to the working class; the search for a model to the USSR; the search for theory to Marxism. The foundation of the Communist Party by Chen Duxiu was the culmination of this process.

Following the defeat of the urban revolution in 1927, partly because of the disastrous advice given to the fledgling Chinese Communist Party by Stalin and the Communist International, Mao improvised a distorted form of ‘Marxism'. They fought a guerilla war based on the peasantry over two decades of the Chinese civil war. This led to the consolidation of military-bureaucratic power in economically backward areas. This in turn produced administrative structures based on temporary alliances and deals, with warlords, gangsters, rich peasants, petty merchants, monks, feudal lords and the like. The Maoists maneuvered between these forces whilst "the barrel of a gun" determined ultimate power.

Thus in 1949 Liberation took a military-bureaucratic form instead of a proletarian-democratic form as the peasant army marched into the cities. The Maoists were confronted with all the problems that stem from economic and cultural backwardness. Class interests were not represented through democratic organizations. The ‘mass movements' that came into being were bureaucratically organized - tools in the battles between leading cadres and individuals, determining the processes of change.

Often apparently clever policies worked for a period then broke apart in violent conflicts. For example policy in Tibet after Liberation was based on reforming feudalism and theocracy by leaning on progressive minded layers of the elite like the Dalai Lama. He initially supported modernization and progress, was open to reform in Tibet and admired Mao's apparent sensitivity to Tibetan culture. However, feudal forces totally opposed to reforms surrounded the Dalai Lama and raised the slogan of a ‘Free Tibet'. Army Marshall Chen Yi on visiting Lhasa said, "If one holds the hills where the Potala (palace) and Jagpori Medical School are, one controls Lhasa." Thus if persuasion failed, the military-bureaucratic option was always held in reserve by Beijing.

At a mass meeting of peasants in Hunan province in 1959 under the slogan ‘Happiness through Communism' there were two points for discussion:
1. The building of a new canal.
2. The building of communism.

After opening the meeting the chairperson asked if anyone had comments about the agenda. One peasant stood up:

"Comrades we all know there is no wood, no bricks, no nails and no cement. So let's move straight to the second point on the agenda."

By the late 1950s the uneasy balance of forces nationwide broke down as the ultra-left tendency within the regime attempted to overcome backwardness by diktat. The previous period of concessions to feudal interests provoked a sharp reaction, and private land was bureaucratically eliminated. All over China huge communes were created, which were supposed to overcome backwardness at a stroke.

Since Liberation, wild swings in policy by the Communist Party of China reflected not just the will and madness of individuals or factions, but also the balance of class forces and bureaucratic tendencies when confronting the problem of development.

For the Chinese masses the 2008 Olympics symbolize that the Peoples' Republic has come of age. The success of its poverty eradication program has no historical parallel; from being a nation governed by superstition it sends rockets to space, feeds itself and is building modern cities housing hundreds of millions. The rate of economic growth and urbanization is unparalleled. However all these advances are tempered by increasing inequality, corruption and exploitation. A sharp reaction by the masses is inevitable.

The prolonged boom in the Chinese economy is based on the shift from a rural to an urban society, creating primitive accumulation and fostering massive state and private investment. This process has brought into being a working class whose presence is felt in the commodities used and the clothes worn everywhere, soon they will influence how we live and think.

The struggle for the democratic control of work and planning flows automatically from the condition of the Chinese working class. A modern harmonious and Socialist People's Republic is only possible as an egalitarian society based on the fraternal union of the workers and poor of all nationalities.


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