The Chinese Communist Party 1937-49 – The Unfolding of Historical Necessity: China’s Great Revolution – Part Nine

By now it should be clear that the all rounded disintegration of Chinese bourgeois society, which from the moment of its birth was a weakling kept alive by stronger, foreign parents, is the only real explanation for the CCP’s stunning military victory in 1949.

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The succession of military victories are in themselves not especially interesting or meaningful once their social mainsprings are understood, however it is necessary to explain briefly the concrete events, forming as they do one of the greatest events in human history. It is also important that the reader understands the Stalinist, bureaucratic character of Mao’s regime as sealed in the manner in which they came to power.For the first two years following Japan’s defeat, not a great deal happened. We have already explained, at the end of Part III, how in 1942 the CCP issued political demands to the Guomindang that were not only exclusively bourgeois democratic but also pertained only to the CCP. We then explained how, in their political perspectives and demands in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat, the CCP argued only for the need to be included in a coalition government with the Guomindang (and others).

This strategy of appealing to the Guomindang for concessions and possible power sharing remained the CCP’s approach until 1947. Despite the objective situation of unprecedented military contradictions between the two parties - the CCP now enjoyed a larger, more experienced and well armed force than ever before, despite still being much weaker in this regard than the Guomindang - the CCP put forward only one extremely tame demand in July 1945. This was for the replacement of the planned national assembly with a new political conference with three CCP, three Guomindang, three Democratic League and three independent members.

Once again, we must emphasise that this demand seems designed not to appeal to the increasingly revolutionary masses but merely to arrange a discussion behind closed doors. In the meantime, the CCP used the formal cover of negotiations to reorganise and if possible expand its bases.

In late 1945 a vague joint statement from both parties was drawn up which essentially just formalised the extremely unstable state of affairs. The CCP agreed to keep its own troops in demarcated zones and to reduce their numbers by three-quarters. But clearly the very existence of an alternative, armed state structure capable of appealing to the masses was intolerable for the bourgeois state, and inevitably this agreement was worthless. Within two weeks it fell apart as fighting broke out thanks to aggressive Guomindang troop movements (Guilermaz, A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-49, p383).

There followed a tedious toing and froing of skirmishes and violations of agreements, followed by the resumption of joint agreements and ceasefires no one took seriously. In 1946, leading CCP members participated in the Political Consultative Conference, a sham and illegitimate meeting to begin with, and were thus responsible for the hopeless proposals it put out, which did not even meet the standards of limited bourgeois democracy. It called for a National Assembly to be formed, not via universal suffrage, but by delegates from professions and political parties, all decided behind closed doors presumably. Ten mysterious ‘experts’ were to draw up a new constitution. Despite this timid agreement, fighting continued in fits and starts, generally to the government’s advantage. Frustrated at the inability to win a real ceasefire, which they felt necessary due to their complete lack of confidence in the Guomindang, the US representatives finally gave up and left Chiang to his fate at the beginning of 1947.

The Civil War and the Revolution

As we have already explained, the civil war, at its real commencement in early 1947, looked a foregone conclusion - the Guomindang outweighed the CCP by up to five times in troops and equipment. They held all the key cities and economic centres. We have already explained the social and economic causes of their snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Additionally, their military strategy and tactics further compounded the Guomindang’s staggering failure.

They began the campaign with a series of superficially great victories over the CCP. In central China huge numbers of Guomindang troops were used to smash areas of CCP control, but their success in doing so was misleading - the CCP was once again, quite brilliantly, employing its tactic of melting away into the countryside in the face of overwhelmingly superior forces. They thus retained the bulk of their forces whilst luring the Guomindang into fixed positions it felt obliged to retain. Indeed, excessive rigidity in tactics proved to be a large part in the Guomindang’s undoing, which reflects the ossified, conservative and blinkered character of Chiang’s regime, which arrogantly assumed it could score victories based purely on quantitative superiority, ignorant of local conditions wherever they went.

By 1948 the initiative was swinging decisively to the CCP’s side. The Guomindang had frittered away its strategic advantage, and the CCP was gaining in numbers through defections and constant recruitment from the peasantry. Their hidden advantage from their deep understanding and link to the countryside and peasantry is revealed in the fact that, whilst still possessing slightly fewer regular troops, every single one of them could be used for offensive operations, as the Red Army enjoyed the use of 2.5m in their local militia to act as their rearguard (Guillermaz, Ibid, p401). This now enabled the CCP to pass over from guerrilla tactics to fully fledged positional warfare on a huge scale. From flight, they turned to fight, and began to win battle after battle thanks to their superior, flexible tactics, in turn derived from their hardened experience of the countryside and their belief in their revolutionary mission.

The Guomindang’s numerical and technical advantage was decimated, along with their morale, in a few devastating battles that now took place. In 1948 the Guomindang threw everything it had at keeping the more industrialised North East, and lost everything. Partly this was due to the stupidity of Chiang and his generals, but in the main the Guomindang was strategically defeated by their political weaknesses - caring little for the countryside and its citizens, they concentrated on maintaining the big cities, which they already held. But they were not liked by the urban population and could not draw on any enthusiasm from their troops either. The CCP, on the other hand, controlled much of the countryside and were enmeshed in its population and geography, and were thus able to lay siege to the cities of Manchuria. By the Autumn of 1948 the CCP controlled Northeast China. “Manchuria had cost the government over thirty good divisions, half of which had American equipment. A large proportion of the men and all the equipment went over to the communists, who were now superior in numbers and armaments.” (Ibid, p407).

This process of disastrously throwing all their eggs in one basket was repeated in the Shandong area near Shanghai and Nanjing - the financial and political capitals of the Guomindang. In late 1948 the CCP was able to attack and defeat one by one the various army groups stationed to defend Shanghai, whilst the other groups simply stayed put in their rigid formation, despite totaling an overwhelming 550,000. Many also defected to the CCP in the course of the battle. By January 1949 this strategically decisive part of central China, the link from the north to Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou in the south, had completely fallen along with a vast bulk of Guomindang troops. The victory of the CCP was assured.

At the same time the rest of north China fell as a formality. 1949 began with the surrounding and then surrender of both Tianjin and Beijing (not then the capital), the two most important cities in northern China, with little or no fight.

The Conspicuous Absence of the Working Class

The taking of these proletarian centres reveals more clearly than any programme or statement how totally the CCP had by now alienated itself from its original base. Only twenty five years previously, this party had led the founding of China’s mass trade unions and contained all the most class conscious workers in its ranks. But in 1949, “even though Tianjin is almost surrounded by the Communists - they are 30 miles west of the city, 40 miles south, and 30 miles north-east, and contains one of the largest concentrations of industrial proletariat in China, its labour force seems to be almost free from Communist infiltration and influence.” (Doak Barnett, China on the Eve of Communist Takeover, p58).

The same author describes the same process in Beijing. Despite the complete absence of morale, in which the Guomindang made no effort “to explain, to either soldiers or civilians, what was being done and why”, with “the complete undermining of whatever popular support the Nationalist regime had previously enjoyed”, it is clear that the CCP had no influence or base of any kind in this key city. Although the people “hoped that the Communists would take the city soon”, “only a small minority looked forward to Communist rule with enthusiasm.” Evidently no prior political work of enthusing the working class for the takeover, of preparing them for power, of offering them a programme and the perspective of workers control over industry, had been done, despite

“conditions in Beijing reaching the point where the city was ripe for revolution; that is, for some sort of mass action springing from the universal dissatisfaction existing among soldiers and civilians and directed against the authorities. It is significant that not only did no revolution occur, but there were not even any moves to exert mass pressure or influence on the government or army... the decisions that finally turned the city over to the Communists were made by a handful of men. Ordinary people knew almost nothing of what was going on...The Chinese Communist revolution finally engulfed Beijing, but it was born full blown and did not grow gradually from within the city itself. The revolution arrived in the form of a powerful peasant army which, after being handed the keys to the city by the Nationalists, marched in, with the political workers following close behind, to take over. This did not happen, however, until a few key individuals had completed the devious maneuvers and negotiations that finally resulted in a face-saving peace settlement.” (Ibid, pp324-5)

This, of course, was the rule throughout the country. It speaks volumes for how and why the gamble of building a movement in the petty-bourgeois backwaters necessarily led to the establishment of a Bonapartist regime, one that must be an obstacle to achieving socialism due to its exclusion of the masses from political control.

The CCP’s vaguely bourgeois-democratic programme had the twin effect of discouraging revolutionary actions from the working class, and encouraging the absorption of large numbers of corrupt, bourgeois and bureaucratic elements from the old regime as these rats fled the sinking ship. To pick just a couple of examples from the sea of high level defections, in August 1949 the governor of Hunan province, Chen Mingjen, and General Cheng Qian, who had been a contender for vice-President under Chiang Kai Shek, went over to the CCP and were given key positions in the new regime.

The Bolsheviks built a new state apparatus out of the real democratic organisations of the proletariat, and when they were compelled by circumstances to use the expertise of former Tsarist generals etc., these were placed under the political control of Bolshevik workers. The reason for the violent struggle of Stalin’s ascendency was the need for these Tsarist bureaucrats to free themselves from the constraints of Bolshevism to guarantee their privileges. The entire manner in which the CCP came to power, independently of the masses and in negotiations with the ancien regime, meant that this bureaucracy was installed from the beginning with no control from below.

Doak Barnett’s description of the establishment of CCP power in Beijing fully accords with this perspective,

“There were no huge crowds to greet [the Red Army troops], and the ordinary civilians watching from the curbs along their route seemed to express no emotion more intense than curiosity...The lack of any sort of excitement when the first troops marched in was striking. ‘The Communists have arrived,’ one man said. ‘And prices have gone up,’ said his companion. … “The first organisations affected were the obvious instruments of power, thought control, and propaganda. On February 1, the North China Daily News, Central News Agency, and Central Broadcasting Station were transformed into the People’s Daily, New China News Agency, and New China Broadcasting Station. With as little fuss as a chameleon changing colour, these organisations abruptly changed their propaganda line and continued operations...The protectors of law and order simply continued on their old beats.” (Ibid, p336 & 340)

Everywhere, upon taking over, the CCP ensured everything stayed business as usual and gave the masses no cause for hope nor opportunities to express their aspirations and demands. They would meet with the old managers of industry and public services, and simply agree to keep things as they were, except with a few leading Communists at the top and the odd Chiang loyalist rooted out.

The Commandism of Mao’s Party

Chinese communists celebrate Stalins birthday 1949This bureaucratic manner of carrying out the Chinese revolution was an inevitable outcome, not only of the general Stalinist conception of socialism foisted onto the party from Moscow, but especially of the peculiar rural, petty bourgeois basis of the entire party. We have already dwelt at some length on the effects of this environment in detaching the party leadership from the working class. All that remains is to demonstrate how Mao’s leadership conceived of and built for the revolution thanks to the rural armed struggle.

It is stated in the 1945 Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party that “the Chinese revolutionary struggle is complicated, and it must, for a very long time, find primary expression in armed struggle. Before the victory of the revolution in key cities, it will be pre-eminently important to consolidate the villages as a revolutionary base”. Such work relegates the revolution as a political, class struggle to an after-thought of the top-down workings out of the military struggle, whose life-and-death logic will frequently be at odds with the political needs of the revolution.

“The peculiar characteristics of guerrilla warfare, and its relatively independent aspect, helped develop [the party cadre’s] love of responsibility and an ability to take decisions [as removed from any accountability from below - how could there be, when such cadres were collectively roving from one village and battlefield to another]. The Party became more and more imbued with a military sense of organisation and discipline. This approach was extended to the state administrative bodies [upon taking power]” (Guillermaz, op cit. p362).

“The fact remains that, throughout the greater part of these twenty-two years, the party existed in significant measure as a soul or parasite in the body of the army. Even to the extent that the Chinese Communist Party appeared on the stage as an actor in its own right, it owed its very survival to the protecting shield of the Red Army, rather than to the solidity of its working class basis” (Schram, Mao’s Thought to 1949, in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 13, pp820-1).

As an activist emerging from the rural petty bourgeoisie himself, Mao from the beginning failed to grasp the Marxist understanding that the political balance of class forces is more fundamental than the military struggle, the balance of forces in the latter being subordinate to and transformed completely by revolutionary developments in the class struggle. For instance, in 1927 he argued that 60% of the party’s energies must be devoted to military matters, because ‘only armies can fight armies’. This he said in the midst of a revolution led by the working class, in which all Chinese institutions were splitting, being turned upside down, dissolved and destroyed! A mass revolutionary movement can ‘fight armies’ by winning their rank and file to the cause of the revolution, provided they can offer that rank and file a real political alternative to the status quo. Only because as the CCP abandoned the political struggle amongst the working class in the chaos of their failed perspectives in 1927, the military struggle had to absorb all the party’s energies.

This situation encouraged in Mao an extremely subjectivist understanding of the revolution and the building of socialism. Conducting as they were a vicious, life-and-death military and not mass political struggle, attributes such as will-power, determination, discipline for discipline’s sake and the notion that such attributes can smash through all objective obstacles were inevitably inculcated into Mao and his comrades. These attributes were substituted for a sober analysis of the class balance of forces, the level of consciousness of the working class and the best slogans to correspond to this.

In general the leadership of the party was wont to confuse the narrow and short term military and political needs of the party with those of the revolution and the masses. We have already seen this in their tendency to place demands on the Guomindang, even in the midst of the civil war, that were not even demands for bourgeois democracy for the people but simply the granting of freedoms for the CCP. It can also be seen in Mao’s insistence that the armed struggle is the logic of the revolution and must absorb 60% or more of the party’s time and energy, without in any way analysing the actual condition of the working class and its propensity to organise itself (which as we have seen, it was doing in the form of increasing strikes all over the country). The only justification given for why the revolution must be military and ignore the cities until the final moment, is that this happens to be the position the party finds itself in.

Why did it find itself in this position? Because in 1925-7 it systematically failed, under Stalin’s imposition, to grasp and give expression to the revolutionary movement of the working class. It was this catastrophic failure that forced the party into the countryside for bare survival, and it was, again under Stalin’s pressure, its failure to honestly and democratically assess the causes of its failure, that led it to blindly pursue the path of rural armed struggle which nearly destroyed the party in 1934-5.

Mao continually complained of the inability of party cadres to relate to the rural masses of the local districts, for the reason that they were outside occupiers of these districts who did not have the trust and understanding of the local peasants. There could be no mass, democratic control of the party on this basis. He complained of the failure of local parties to connect with and mobilise the masses, and tried to find means to stir them into activity.

But such means could only ever take the form of directives from above, abstract and assertive because they did not reflect real, concrete struggles from the self-organised below - for there was no self-organised peasantry. This mentality is summed up early on in the voluntarist Canton Commune, in Li Lisan’s statements in the late 1920s that “When the revolutionary high wave arrives, 90,000,000 can be organised in three days”, and “Long ago the masses said: ‘When there is an uprising let us know and we shall surely come.’” It is crowned in the party’s coming to power via negotiations and military victories, both of which passed by the urban workers, and finally in the continuing ‘will to power’ of Mao’s regime after 1949, in which the commanding bureaucracy imagined socialism could be built in 5 years through sheer willpower and ‘Chinese characteristics’.

There is really little to be added about that actual assumption of power by the CCP. Following the above described military victories, the political process proceeded in a smoothly controlled manner, with only the minor hiccough of the loss of Taiwan (then known as Formosa) to Chiang’s fleeing regime. A ‘New Political Consultative Conference’ was called in September by the CCP, and was composed according to the CCP’s wishes - having won a crushing military victory, no one else had any authority to set their seal on the new regime. The CCP, according to its bonapartist strategy of balancing between different political forces tried and tested in the countryside, artificially and arbitrarily refrained from taking a majority in this assembly, which was nothing more than a fig-leaf for its crushing political and military dominance.

From this body of dubious legitimacy, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s (not workers) Republic of China at the Imperial Palace in Beijing on 1 October 1949. Via the most circuitous and improbable of imaginable routes, the Chinese Communist Party had succeeded in finally overthrowing the tottering bourgeois state and, against its own prognoses, carrying out a revolution that would abolish capitalism and the capitalist class with it. It was one of the most momentous events in history. An apparently socialist revolution had taken place with no movement of the working class and in a backwards, rural and non-Western country. And yet, by being obliged by the logic of events to abolish capitalism, the CCP had unconsciously confirmed, in a very distorted manner, Trotsky’s thesis on the ‘permanent revolution’.