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China and Maoism

Q. What about Mao and the Chinese Revolution?

A. From time to time it is necessary to draw a balance sheet of our ideas and theoretical positions. How did they work out in practice over the past fifty years? If there is a major contribution of our tendency to Marxism, this is our analysis of the colonial revolution and the development of proletarian bonapartism, beginning with our analysis of the Chinese revolution after 1945. It was precisely the impasse of capitalism in these countries and the pressing need of the masses for a way forward which gave rise to the phenomena of proletarian bonapartism. This was due to a number of different factors. In the first place, the complete impasse of society in the backward countries and the inability of the colonial bourgeoisie to show a way forward. Secondly, the inability of imperialism to maintain its control by the old means of direct military-bureaucratic rule. Thirdly, the delay of the proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries and the weakness of the subjective factor. And lastly, the existence of a powerful regime of proletarian bonapartism in the Soviet Union.

The victory of the USSR in the Second World War, and the strengthening of Stalinism after the War with its extension to Eastern Europe and the victory of the Chinese revolution were all factors that combined to condition the development of proletarian bonapartism as a peculiar variant of the permanent revolution which was only understood by our tendency. This was an entirely unprecedented and unexpected phenomenon. Nowhere in the classics of Marxism was it even considered as a theoretical possibility that a peasant war could lead to the establishment of even a deformed workers' state. Yet this is precisely what occurred in China, and later in Cuba and Vietnam.

We characterised the Chinese revolution as the second greatest event in world history, after the Russian revolution of 1917. It had an enormous effect in the subsequent development of the colonial revolution. But this revolution did not take place on the classical lines of the Russian revolution in 1917 or the Chinese revolution of 1925-27. The working class played no important role. Mao came to power on the basis of a mighty peasant war, in the traditions of China. The only way Mao was able to win the civil war of 1944-49 was by offering a programme of social liberation to the peasant armies of Chiang Kai-shek, who was armed and backed by American imperialism. But the Stalinist leaders of the peasant Red Army had no perspective of leading the workers to power as did Lenin and Trotsky in 1917. When Mao's peasant armies arrived at the cities, and the workers spontaneously occupied the factories and greeted Mao's armies with red flags, Mao gave the order that these demonstrations should be suppressed and the workers were shot.

Initially, Mao did not intend to expropriate the Chinese capitalists. His perspectives for the Chinese revolution were outlined in a pamphlet called "New democracy" in which he wrote that the socialist revolution was not on the order of the day in China, and that the only development that could take place was a mixed economy, i.e. capitalism. This was the classical "two stage" Menshevik theory which had been adopted by the Stalinist bureaucracy and had led to the defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1925-27. But our tendency understood that under the concrete conditions that had developed that Mao would be forced to expropriate capitalism.

Not only that but we also predicted in advance the fact that Mao would be forced to break with Stalin. Already in early 1949 we wrote: "The fact that Mao has a genuine mass base independent of the Russian Red Army, will in all likelihood provide for the first time an independent base for Chinese Stalinism which will no longer rest directly on Moscow. As with Tito, so with Mao, despite the role of the Red Army in Manchuria, Chinese Stalinism is developing an independent base. Because of the national aspirations of the Chinese masses, the traditional struggle against foreign domination, the economic needs of the country and above all, the powerful base in an independent state apparatus, the danger of a new and really formidable Tito in China is a factor which is causing anxiety in Moscow.

"However, the subordination of the Chinese economy to the benefit of the Russian bureaucracy, with the attempts to place puppets in control who will be completely subordinate to Moscow--in other words, the national oppression of the Chinese--will create the basis for a clash with the Kremlin of great magnitude and significance. Mao, with an independent and powerful state apparatus, with the possibility of manoeuvring with the imperialists of the West (who will seek to negotiate with China for trade and try and drive a wedge between Peking and Moscow) and with the support of the Chinese masses as the victorious leader against the Kuomintang, will have powerful points of support against Moscow.

"Stalin's very efforts to try and forestall this development will tend to accelerate and intensify the resentment and the conflict." (Reply to David James, reprinted in Grant, The Unbroken Thread, p. 304.)

These lines were written more than a decade before the outbreak of the Sino-Soviet conflict, when the Chinese and Russian bureaucracies seemed to be inseparable allies.

The victory of Mao's peasant armies in China was due to a number of factors: the complete and utter impasse of Chinese capitalism and landlordism, the inability of imperialism to intervene because of the war-weariness of the imperialist troops after the Second World War, and also because of the colossal power of attraction of the nationalised planned economy in Stalinist Russia which demonstrated its superiority during the war with Hitler's Germany.

The fact that the peasantry was used to carry through a social revolution was a completely new development in the history of China. China was the classical country of peasant wars, which took place at regular intervals. But even when these wars were victorious this merely resulted in the fusion of the leading elements of the peasant armies with the elite in the towns, resulting in the formation of a new dynasty. It was a vicious circle which characterised Chinese history for over 2,000 years. But here we had a fundamental departure. The peasant army under Mao was able to smash capitalism and create a society on the image of Stalin's Moscow. Of course, there could be no question of a healthy workers' state as in Russia in November 1917 being established by such means. For that, the active participation and leadership of the working class would be required. But a peasant army, without the leadership of the working class, is the classical instrument of Bonapartism, not workers' power. The Chinese Revolution of 1949 began where the Russian Revolution had ended. There was no question of soviets or workers' democracy. From the very beginning it was a monstrously deformed workers' state. Our tendency underlined that on the world scale the only class which can bring about the triumph of socialism is the proletariat.

Once Mao had taken power and created a state apparatus on the basis of the hierarchy of the Red Army he did not have any need to ally himself with the bourgeoisie. In a typical bonapartist fashion, Mao balanced between the different classes. He leaned on the peasantry and to a certain extent on the working class to expropriate the capitalists, but once these had been defeated he then proceeded to eliminate any elements of workers democracy that might have existed. This phenomena was possible precisely because of the delay of the world revolution and the impasse of society. He had the powerful example of Stalinism in Russia, where a strong bureaucracy was parasiting the planned economy and benefiting from it, so he decided to follow the same model. Despite its monstrously deformed character, the Chinese Revolution nevertheless represented a gigantic step forward for hundreds of millions of people who had been the beasts of burden of imperialism.

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