Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 19. 2nd August 1973
"I dreamt I saw Chairman Mao last night..
"I dreamt I saw Chairman Mao last night...
Shortly after their return from China we gathered together a few Wellington members of the delegation — Peter Franks, David Cuthbert, David Cunningham, Cheryl Dimond, Ted Sheehan and Anne Gilbert — in the Salient office. Roger Steele and Bruce Robinson of Salient, and VUWSA President Peter Wilson asked them a few questions. We felt that some of the ground had been well covered in an interview we ran a few issues ago with members of the 1971 delegation, so this time we attempted to go over new ground. Also, as readers will have noticed, we are running articles on specific subjects by members of this year's delegation, so we tried not to enroach on the areas they are covering in more detail elsewhere.
Roger: You've just seen a revolution in progress: do you think you've learned anything from it?
Ted: Well when you talk about the Chinese revolution you have to start with the two great watersheds that were pointed out to us everywhere in China: before and after liberation, and before and after the Cultural Revolution. Those were the two great turning points. Any discussion of the Chinese revolution must be seen in those terms.
Roger: In what context were these two events discussed?
Ted: Everywhere we went, in the workplace or in the family situation they were always discussed. The Cultural Revolution seems to be more internalised now, for example there were very few Mao badges worn and very little waving of Little Red Books. The 1971 delegation saw a lot more wearing of badges, even though-that was dying down. But people spoke of the Cultural Revolution and the changes before and after it. People would tell you before the Cultural Revolution they were doing such and such, but they'd realised the error of their ways and were now following Mao's revolutionary line, and had reorganised their lives.
David Cuthbert: The normal introduction to anything was to describe it in terms of historical transition, especially the very big changes before and after liberation. Some members of the delegation tried to forget this but they found that they then couldn't comprehend the changes before and after the Cultural Revolution, they initially couldn't understand that any changes had taken place. Some of the questions earlier on indicated this.
Roger: Did you get a clearer definition of what a revolution actually is?
Peter Franks: I think so. Most of us went with the impression that the Chinese Revolution was the events that took place between say 1946 and 1949; but the Chinese always refer to this period as 'Liberation'. It became clear after the first formal visit that rather than being a post-revolutionary society China is a society where the revolution is still continuing. The Chinese have always made it quite clear that there will be more Cultural Revolutions in the future, and that class struggle and political struggle between the capitalist line of Liu Shao-Chi and the revolutionary line of Mao Tsetung hasn't finished. Liu Shao-Chi is not seen as a particularly bad individual but a symbol of that line of development.
A revolution is not just seizing power by armed force. Once you've changed the base of an economy and socialised it, and the people through the state taking control; then you have to go on and do the much more difficult task of changing the superstructure. That means changing things like cultural values, forms of political institutions and changing even the people themselves. Even in such a short period as three weeks you get the strong impression of what a difficult battle a revolution is.
From my point of view the continuing Chinese revolution is a very important verification of what writers like Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin pointed out, that working towards a communist society would take a great many years. Chinese experience bears this out, and not only helps you to understand your own society better but also helps you to understand a country like the Soviet Union. I've always found it extremely difficult to understand how a society like the Soviet Union could go back to capitalism peacefully, but being in China you can see much more clearly how this could happen. Understanding China also helps you to understand what's going on in Chile and what a difficult struggle the revolutionaries there face. In Chile the only change that took place was a parliamentary one, with the election of a Marxist President, rather than the overthrow of the state by the people through-armed struggle.
David Cuthbert: It was fairly easy to see just how easily things could go wrong. In Peking University for example it was very easy to see how people could become completely remote from the rest of society. The setting of the university was very physically divorced from the rest of society and the whole place was very peaceful and tranquil. The students and the teachers could very easily become completely divorced from society and become a self-perpetuating elite, perpetuating capitalist tendencies.
Cheryl: But they were very well aware of these dangers.
David Cuthbert: The present generation was very aware of this, but you could see very easily what had happened in the past 20 years.
Cheryl: It's very interesting to see the emphasis on physical labour for academics and students, and their going back to factories at regular intervals and applying their knowledge all the time.
Ted: But you could see how easy It would be for academics and students to enjoy a remote and peaceful life there, while doing their one day a week of manual work.
Cheryl: There's constant evaluation of what they're doing and the relationship between students and the staff, and constant evaluation of course material and the way in which it is presented.
Roger: Are students potentially more counter-revolutionary than any other group? David just pointed out how easy it is for students in any society to become isolated from the people.
Ted: It would be difficult to say whether students are potentially more counter-revolutionary than any other group. Anyone who was cut off from the working people was potentially counter-revolutionary. That means administrators in factories, the whole crew could become counter-revolutionary. Even the people in the Design Office of a factory who are working in fairly close contact with the workers could become cut off.
Roger: How much did you see of the universities in China and did you get an idea of the principles on which they are run?
Ted: We saw two: Peking University and the Engineering Institute at Talien. As far as the principles they operate on, well I got the impression that most of them have just started up agair after the Cultural Revolution and all their enrolments were low.
David Cuthbert: At Talien Engineering Institute there were 1200 students in their second year of enrolment, and 1200 staff members. The other thing is that they are trying to prevent students and staff from becoming cut off from the rest of society. They drastically reduced the course length. For instance at Peking University, they said some first degrees were taking up to five or six years for people to compete. In a subject like archaeology, the academics said you need to do more field work, more research work, and courses just got longer and longer.
Roger: Why are the Universities still under-populated?
Ted: Well I think that part of this was that the selection procedures for universities before the cultural revolution were somewhat similar to ours. But now they're completely revised all this now with the process of self-application. Students can't go straight from secondary school to university, but after two years work on a commune or in a factory they can apply to go to university. Then their fellow workers have to discuss and endorse their application.
David Cuthbert: The universities still seek to have a veto power. If the character (secondary School) obviously doesn't perform with academic competence it appears to me they have a veto power there. At Peking University they said the final endorsement of the application would be on the basis of the student's school record. But it was pretty obvious that the most important criteria that person would apply in actually getting to university was an endorsement by the student's fellow workers in terms of his productive output, and more importantly his political attitude. His political attitude was most important.
Ted: It might be wrong to say that academic ability was the deciding factor. Even if a potential student hadn't a great deal of academic ability he or she still might be considered for university because they believe in bringing out a person's creative powers. I think myself that the reason why the universities are underpopulated is that the new selection procedures are a hell of a lengthy.
David Cuthbert: Another reason why the universities are taking so long to get underway again is the problem with the staff who were misleaders in a sense. That came through when they described the salaries. The professors were all still on contracts. Some of them were on contracts and being paid 300 yuan a month. Now that's a very high salary in China. But it was suggested to the professorial staff that they be paid the average wages of about 70 yuan a month and deposit the rest of their contractual salary in the Bank of China for investment in national development. Some professors have done this and some haven't and we needn't go much further about the ones who haven't. But I would have thought that the re-education of the academic staff is taking some time so you've got a group of staff who have a politically incorrect attitude in terms of relating to the people. Chuck all your students out and you've got the same sort of professors who start the old system rolling again and you haven't got any further ahead.
Peter Wilson: It seems from what you're saying that there are two important aspects of the ways the Chinese see their progression towards a communist society. Firstly the danger of a division between physical and intellectual labour growing up, which brings with it the very strong danger of bureaucracy. Secondly they recognise that once the economic base of society is transformed it does not necessarily follow that ideas of people's consciousnesses will automatically be transformed. This seems to me to be one of the differences in perspectives between Mao Tsetung and Stalin: in fact, this is something that is a real contribution by the Chinese, the idea of the ongoing necessity of struggling to change people's values and ideas, even after the economic base of society has been transformed to socialism.
Peter Franks: The best comment I heard on the cultural revolution came from a worker in the Housing Settlement we visited in Shanghai. What he said was that before liberation he and his family had lived in Shanghai in a slum and after the liberation they moved to a new apartment building. They moved from a very poor standard of housing to one which was pretty good even by our standards, and he said that that made him tremendously happy and they thought that socialist society was pretty good. But at the same time there were struggles going on within the communist party that they knew vaguely about but these struggles weren't subject for discussion among the working people. He said the difference after the Cultural Revolution was that all the conflicts between the two lines — the capitalist road of Liu Shao-Chi and the Revolutionary line of Mao Tsetung, which were limited to internal discussion within the Communist Party came out into the open and people were forced to take an attitude towards this struggle. As a consequence people were spending a groat deal more time in political study. It would be wrong to say that there was no political study among the working class before the cultural revolution, but the difference was that after the Cultural Revolution political study became absolutely essential as a guide to social practice. We asked this worker what he was studying at the moment in his neighbourhood study group. He replied 'State and Revolution' by Lenin, 'Critique of the Gotha Programme' by Marx and 'Anti-Duhring' by Engels. Now the last two of those works are very complex philosophical Works in anyone's terms. That really hit home for me how seriously people regarded political study in China. The difference was that before the Cultural Revolution important political matters were things that were just discussed among Communist Party members but after the Cultural Revolution they became something on which every peasant and every worker had to take an attitude towards.
Ted: I got the impression that a lot of the discussion during the Cultural Revolution made people realise that the Communist Party was dependent on them for survival.
Peter Wilson: A lot of China watchers tend to see some sort of course already charted for China, that it must become a technological bureaucratic society regardless of what the Chinese people want. It seems that what you're saying is that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, although there are certainly potential dangers at every stage of the struggle there is no reason for these dangers to become reality so long as people's vigilance and determination to keep on struggling are still alive. The masses can make the society in accordance with their own wishes, provided political struggle at all levels is continued.
Peter Franks: This is something that is difficult for westerners to grasp. For example on the plane from Kwangchow to Shanghai one of the members of our party struck up a conversation with a Scots sea captain who was working for a Chinese government shipping line. Now this bloke just couldn't understand why the Chinese emphasised politics although he'd been in China for years off and on. He was saying that the Chinese had "got over this mad cultural revolution, but they still refused to understand that you need a highly developed technical society." It was just beyond this bloke's comprehension that the Chinese refused to accept experts unless they were communist experts. The China watchers and many western commentators on China find Chinese society incomprehensible because they fail to understand the supremacy of politics in Chinese life.
Bruce: You said that before the Cultural Revolution, debate about potential development was seen by the common people as something for the Communist Party and that after the Cultural Revolution they understood better that they themselves had to take part in political discussion. You quoted some of the literature the workers were reading but how did they actually apply it in their daily lives?page break
David Cuthbert: The term 'grass root' translated very easily from the Chinese to the English while many other words we used didn't translate very easily. The point it that at every level, from running a creche in a housing district to the development of a better way to crush glass in a glass factory people are encouraged to apply their political study.
Peter Franks: One very good example we got was when we were in Shenyang and we were taken to see a demonstration of how powerline maintenance had been improved by applying Mao Tsetung thought. Through discussion among the workers and the technicians, and through applying the principles of two of Mao's works. On Contradiction' and 'On Practice', they had been able to develop techniques of 'live line operations', that is doing repair work and maintenance work on power lines without having to turn off the power This development was very important, especially in a heavy industrial area, because it meant that production wasn't disrupted by power cuts every now and then.
The people in China take this very seriously and for them the principles of Marxism-Leninism are a guide to action in their everyday lives. This is a two sided thing. Theory on its own is useless without practice, but social practice cannot be advanced to a higher stage without constant study of theory.
Bruce: How successful were the people in applying socialist thought in their daily lives?
David Cuthbert The theory behind the 'live-line operations' techniques was fairly simple, but the big triumph was convincing the people that the theory could be applied. The theory itself wasn't all that complex but as I saw it the big triumph was convincing people that they could apply a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo in a textbook to improving techniques of power-line maintenance.
Roger: How much political education do people receive at varying stages of their lives?
Ted: In the kindergarten which we went to where the children were about three to seven years old, political education was given throughout the entire curriculum. You could see it in songs and dances like 'I dreamt I saw Chairman Mao last night', 'We are determined to liberate Taiwan' and How to serve your neighbour', sharing out toys and apples and taking the small apples yourself. In the schools, textbooks often had a definite political content, and apart from that there are specific politics classes.
David Cuthbert: In the factories we went to there was specific time allocated each week when workers would get together in groups and study various Marxist writings. The trade unions organised these study groups. At the glass factory in Talien we saw several groups of women workers studying the 'Communist Manifesto'. They told us they spent two one hour periods a week in political study. But that varied quite considerably from factory to factory depending on the production process.
Ted: On the first commune we went to in Kwangchow they spent two nights out of every ten in political study.
Roger: With reference to the kindergartens, you said that what went on was political education, but a lot of westerners would say what you saw was indoctrination.
Ted: It's just the way you look at it. Without the politics the country wouldn't survive.
Cheryl: It's just the teaching of revolutionary principles on which their society is based. It's no more in doctrinational than the principles in which we rear our children, of individualism versus co-operation, which is one of their main principles. The hard thing for listeners to comprehend is that the political basis is made explicit — the children argue and discuss basic principles rather than just accept them.
Ted: The emphasis on sharing things is very strong in kindergartens. If that's indoctrination, well good on them.
Roger: The American at the Catacombs forum last night made the comment that Anne didn't seem able to talk anything other than cliches. I think he was referring to the remarks you made about 'the continuing struggle to build socialism', and 'serving the people' and' relying on the creativity of the masses'. Do you think they are cliches?
Anne: Well they are very meaningful terms of reference to the Chinese people in their daily lives.
David Cunningham: I think it would be equivalent to going into an accountant's office in NZ and asking him why you couldn't do something and the accountant saying, 'well it wouldn't be profitable'. For a capitalist to say we can't do it, it's not profitable' is not a cliche, it's terms of reference. To say we're doing it because it serves the people isn't a cliche in China.
Ted: They have bloody huge posters in China, for example a poster of a girl holding a tray with a drink on it and a huge sign underneath saying 'it's a glorious thing to serve the people'. It's like the signs outside churches here, which say 'Jesus says Love your neighbour'.
Peter Wilson? Dave Cunningham just made an important point when you compare the central logic of the Chinese system to the rule of profit under capitalism. The rule of profit is transmitted throughout the whole structure of capitalist society as opposed to the logic of collective needs. The slogan 'serve the people' illustrates that the Chinese system has a totally different dynamic.
For example, I heard on a radio programme two Australian educators who had been to China expressing the opinion that perhaps the Australian could learn from the Chinese example by integrating more practical work with theoretical work, and having the children going out to work etc. This kind of understanding at a very superficial level misses out the fact that the only reason the Chinese can serve the people is because the whole base of society has been transformed from capitalism to socialism. Were there people in the delegation who wanted to apply things from Chinese society to New Zealand while missing out the necessity of a socialist revolution?
David Cuthbert: Yes, very definitely. There were people who had a shopping basket, and as they went round they picked up things for example on child-care centres and thought you could merely transpose Chinese ideas back to the NZ system, and make them work by convincing a few party bosses. They found the greatest difficulty understanding the essential political basis to things, the necessity for the transformation of the whole society before child-care centres could operate in NZ on the same basis they operate on in China.
Cheryl: This applied in particular to women's liberation. The Chinese women we spo)ce to stressed very strongly that women will never be liberated and will never overcome oppression without the people first overcoming oppression. The women's liberation here could learn a lot in terms of looking at their position in terms of the class struggle, and from this they would realise that they should be fighting for the liberation of people as a whole, not just the liberation of women. Women in China were amazed that this wasn't the idea that was being put forward here.
Anne: They couldn't understand the idea that some women thought they had to fight males, and that males were the oppressors. They couldn't see how this worked out logically.
Cheryl: The ongoing struggle for women's liberation in particular comes after the liberation of the people as a whole. The major contradiction was liberation of the people, and the secondary contradiction was liberate the women in the context of a society that had been liberated from oppression.
Peter Franks: On the point of transplanting things from Chinese society straight to New Zealand we sometimes found cases where the form of a thing was the same as NZ, but the content was quite different. For example when we went to the Engineering Institute at Talien the engineering students in our delegation found that a lot of things were exactly the same as engineering schools in NZ. I think Dave could elaborate on that point.
David Cuthbert: When we went through their hydraulics laboratory the technical equipment was exactly the same as in NZ. And a group of students at Auckland or Canterbury would have been solving exactly the same problems as the students at Talien. The point is that at Canterbury the students would have been solving the problems for a private contractor in Christchurch who would be paying the university a fat cheque, while at Talien Engineering Institute the students were working for a commune that had an irrigation problem. We looked at their geometry and calculus textbooks, and they were very similar to the textbooks used in NZ engineering schools. The whole political context was of course present whereas it is totally absent in NZ.
Peter Wilson: So you would say that although there were similarities in a field like engineering it is not a 'neutral' suojecv. In NZ society the study of engineering does serve certain ends and meets certain demands, and it is a highly political thing.
Ted: Yes. The students at Talien were doing things like the flow of water through construction sites and the actual building of large resettlement areas. Well NZ students do the same thing but it's usually for some developer, and rarely in the interests of the people.
Peter Wilson: So do we need to make our science students realise how political their studies are?
Roger: Could someone explain about 'labour intensive' production as distinct from what we heve here. For example whenever you see pictures of China you always see thousands of people with shovels instead of one with a steamshovel.
David Cuthbert: I think this is one of the things that the so-called China watchers in Hong Kong try to distort. The Chinese admit that on communes there are big strides to be made in increasing mechanisation. They see the increased use of devices such as tractors as a very good thing. It depends what you mean by labour intensity. In the huge steel rolling mills we saw everything was mechanised that could be mechanised and there weren't thousands of people working with shovels, everybody was doing something productive and they stressed that