Workers' Liberty #58


The fate of the revolution

"Communist China" is 50 years old? Communist China was drowned in working class blood during terrible massacres in Shanghai and elsewhere in May 1927. The two pieces which follow - by Leon Trotsky from September 1932, and by Jack Ranger from December 1948 - will explain this statement.

The Communist working class movement of the mid-20s had been destroyed as a social force by the Guomindang led by Chiang Kai-Shek, The Guomindang had allied to the Communist Party of China which had held membership in it. Chiang Kai-Shek had been made an honorary member of the Presidium of the Communist International!

A workers' general strike and uprising in the city delivered Shanghai to the Guomindang in mid-1927. Shortly afterwards Chiang's forces suddenly turned on the Communist Party and on the workers. A great massacred followed. Of the surviving Chinese Communists some, including the party's founder, Chen Du Tsiu, became Trotskyists.

Led by Chu Teh, Mao Zedong, Chou en Lai and others, the official Comintern party abandoned the cities and the workers and took to guerrilla war in the countryside. When Trotsky was writing, this turn to the countryside was four years old. By the time the Maoist armies would take Beijing (Peking) and proclaim the People's Republic in October 1949, the Maoist armies would have been 21 years in the countryside. From the late '30s they had control of a large, very backward part of China, inhabited by 80 million people: they had their own state. They formed an uneasy alliance with the Guomindang state when the full-scale Japanese invasion came in 1937. The alliance would last until civil war broke out in 1946.

Three years later, the Chinese Communist Party-army of peasants, in which declassed intellectuals and some declassed workers had the leadership, took power. Conquering society, they took Russia as their model and, in the '50s, transformed China after that model. In the beginning, they had Chinese bourgeois support because the Chiang family had used the state to rob and exclude the bourgeoisie. (An almost identical situation existed in Nicaragua before the 1979 Sandinista revolution, which initially had the backing of a big part of a bourgeoisie, because they had been robbed and excluded by the gangster Somoza regime.) The Maoists manipulated "the contradictions of the people", using and then diminishing the bourgeoisie, using the peasants and then forcing them into ill-prepared collective farms.

From the beginning, the Maoist conquerors confronted the workers as a hostile force, allowing no labour movement, no civil liberties.

Symbolically, they uprooted the gravestone of the founder of real Chinese Communism, Chen Du Tsiu. The cities of the eastern seaboard had fared badly during the Japanese invasion. Much of the working class had been uprooted and dispersed to the countryside. This, and the savage police state, made the task undertaken by the Trotskyists in China - to rebuild the working class party destroyed in 1927 - impossible.

Trotsky's article brilliantly uncovers the social processes that would work to create the Maoist movement and let it conquer all of China. Trotsky did not, however - writing in 1932, when his analysis of the prototypical Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR was at an early stage - foresee that the Maoists would take power and create a replica of Stalin's USSR. He thought that, if the peasant armies took power, only something like the Guomindang bourgeois or quasi-bourgeois regime could result. In this, of course, he was mistaken

Sixteen years later, when Jack Ranger wrote the first article we print here, the nature of USSR Stalinism as a new form of relatively stable exploitative class society had uncovered itself fully. Ranger's analysis was written a year before the proclamation of the People's Republic, as the Maoist armies were moving towards victory in the civil war, (the US had chosen to withdraw its large World War Two army from China, in 1946). Its delineation of the anatomy of Chinese Stalinism is full and complete - to the extent that he foresees the patterns of the state's future relations with the classes it dominates, including the bourgeoisie.

That system remains in power 50 years later (in fact Maoists have held state power in parts of China for over 60 years). The activities of the state-licensed Chinese bourgeoisie in the first seven years of the '50s seem insignificant compared to that of today. The Chinese Stalinist state may have unleashed forces that will finally destroy it and will in any case be not so easy to snuff out as was the bourgeoisie of the '50s. (When expropriated by the state they were given 7% interest on their capital and were, mostly, retained as managers).

Both Trotsky's fine-point analysis of early Chinese Stalinism and Ranger's panoramic depiction of it as it rode to full victory stand in stark contrast to the perceptions of the post-Trotsky official Trotskyists.

Trapped in the idea that so long as USSR industry remained state owned, the USSR would remain a degenerated workers' state, they were confronted in China by a regime which by the late '50s had achieved as much in China - nationalised property - as "remained" of the Russian October Revolution. Some - Ernest Mandel, for instance - were wildly enthusiastic for Mao from the late '40s, seeing what Ranger saw implicit in Stalinist state power, but grotesquely misunderstanding and mislabelling it (Mandel was an enthusiast for Mao even while he was still passionately arguing that the Eastern European satellite states of the USSR, whose social and economic structures were now identical with the USSR, were fascistic state capitalism). Others, such as James P Cannon, were more cautious and waited a few years (1955) to proclaim China a "deformed workers' state".

As distinct from Cannon, Mandel, Pablo and the European Trotskyists did not think a working class "supplementary", "political" revolution was needed in China. They would not arrive at this conclusion for 20 years (1969). They claimed that Mao was the political heir of Trotsky. One of their number, Pierre Frank, polluted a French-language collection of Trotsky's writings in the late '50s by prefacing it with such absurdities.

Unlike so much of Trotsky's writings, 'Peasant War in China and the proletariat' was widely available from the mid-'50s, published with other material by the Cannonites. Faced with the giant "fact" that the Chinese Stalinists had created a "deformed workers' state", it seemed only the plaintive, thrilling music of a Chinese proletarian past over which the Maoists had erected their system. In fact, Trotsky's focus on the working class is the music of the future too.

Fifty years after the proclamation of the Stalinist "People's Republic" the Chinese proletariat is a great force that, locked into the totalitarian system, has yet to become conscious of its own potential power. The comparative loosening of the system attendant on the state's licensing of capitalist exploitation, together with the savage social contrasts that are now so blatant in China, where there is conspicuous consumption side by side with dire want, cannot but speed that process on. Material such as these two pieces brought to the attention of the Chinese workers will help them understand their own situation, how it came to be so, and what they should strive to do about it.

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