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Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Assn. Volume 40, Number 1. May 23, 1977.

China in Turmoil: A Socialist View

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China in Turmoil: A Socialist View

(The following is the talk given on a recent tour of New Zealand campuses.)

The success of the Chinese Revolution and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 had a tremendous impact on the rest of the world, particularly in the underdeveloped and neo-colonial countries of Asia and Africa. Many around the world looked to China as the model for socialist revolution.

However many have been disillusioned, particularly over the last decade. The Chinese government repeatedly supported reactionary regimes like Yayha Khan of Pakistan and Bandaranaike of Ceylon against liberation struggles in those countries, and now sides with vicious right-wing opponents of the Soviet Union like Fraser and Muldoon. The decline of Maoist influence was further accelerated by the covert political struggles that were going on in China occasionally manifested in the purges of top party officials. The monolithic structure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was being held up by one singular pillar - the great Chairman himself.

When Mao finally died in September of last year, the crisis of leadership immediately plunged the country into a state of political turmoil; a deep going split became more and more apparent as rival factions in the Chinese Communist Party vied for the chair vacated by Mao.

What was the cause of this gigantic power struggle? What political tendency do the "Gang of Four" represent? Most of all, how is the upheaval going to affect China in the next era - the era of China after Mao? In order to answer these questions, I want to go back into the history of China and briefly look at a particularly important period - the period of the Cultural Revolution, during which the dichotomy within the CCP first became prominent.

Bases of Conflict

The underlying basis of Mao Tse-tung's thought on the socialist construction of China is that despite the backwardness, poverty and isolation of China, it is sufficient to rely on the appeal of the leader and the ideological fervour of the masses to propel the country forward into the ranks of great world powers. Liu Shao-chi and other leaders within the CCP, on the other hand, have tried to modify Mao's policies since their illusions in the past have been shattered by the realities of such policies. They tried to take into account the objective laws in the economy, attend to the immediate needs of the masses, and put more emphasis on science and technology.

The conflict manifested itself in a number of specific policies:

In 1958 Mao initiated the "Great Leap Forward" campaign to carry out the de-entcentralisation of industry and the establishment of backyard furnaces. Up to 100 million people were mobilised to carry out this programme. Later in the year, Mao ordered all peasants to enter People's Communes as fast as possible. The forced collectivisation included the appropriation of all private property including livestock, but the family institution was left untouched.

The results of the Great Leap and the Communes were deeply discouraging. Indigenous production methods entailed an enormous waste of materials and a high cost of operation, while yielding low quality products; agricultural production was adversely affected by technical and managerial problems, resulting in lower output. The Liuists grew increasingly critical of these policies; they felt that Mao was out of touch with reality trying to run the country with a guerrilla mentality.

Mao's policies on literature, art and education imposed an extremely tight control on the intellectuals, and the so called "modern operas" took the place of the traditional operas. Hence criticism continually arose among the cultural and educational workers. On the other hand, Liu in his report to the 8th Congress of the CCP emphasised that the party should not interfere arbitrarily in the work of scientists or artists.

Because of Liu's more tolerant position on these questions, most of the cadres in the cultural, educational and scientific fields sided with him against Mao. It was for this reason that Mao singled out the leaders among them as the first targets of attack in his Cultural Revolution.

Protesters and wreaths in Tien An Men Square during demonstration, April 5, 1976.

Protesters and wreaths in Tien An Men Square during demonstration, April 5, 1976.

During the discussion at the 8th Congress of the CCP on Khrushchev's 20th Congress speech in which he denounced Stalin's personality cult, Liu Shao-chi, Teng Hsiaoping and many other leaders voted their agreement. On Liu's initiative, the Congress proceeded to change the statutes by omitting all references to Mao Tse-tung's thought. Teng Hsiao-ping gave a report to motivate the change.

Mao Retires—Unwillingly

Then at the 6th Plenum in 1958, a resolution was adopted to "accept" Mao's request not to be the Chairman of the Republic on the ground that he needed more time to pursue the theoretical works of Marx and Lenin. Every effort was made to give the impression that Mao retired willingly but in fact Liu had quietly eased him out of the chairmanship. Mao was moved to comment on the the event retrospectively in 1966, when he said, "I was extremely discontented with that decision, but I could do nothing about it. "He also complained that he was treated like a "dead man at his own funeral."

In order to break the opposition's control over the party, the Youth League and the trade unions, Mao was forced to depend on the armed forces under the command of Lin Piao to regain his power. With the backing of Lin, Mao was able to remove Peng Chen together with a number of the Central Committee members; he then convened the 11th plenary session of the Central Committee at which he shuffled the Politbureau and the Standing Committee to pave his way back to power.

Despite these drastic measures, he was still unable to control the lower ranks and the base of the political hierarchy. Moreover, he was concerned that if he relied too much on Lin, he would lose some of his power to Lin. Instead he agitated through the medium of propaganda for the young people to form the Red Guards. Taking advantage of his personal prestige and the rebellious impulse of the young people, Mao urged the Red Guards to launch struggles against the opposition elements.

Red Guards Strengthen Mao's Base

It is interesting to note that although the Red Guard's movement was a kind of mass movement, it was essentially built on the loyalty to Mao and the central task was to protect Mao's dominance. It was also led by Mao's personal aide Chen Po-ta, and Mao's wife Chiang Ch'ing. The programme of reforming the traditional customs helped to create an atmosphere of rebellion, thus setting the stage for the purge of the Liu faction.

Mao even advanced demagogic slogans directed against "bureaucracy", calling for the creation of democratic institutions modelled on the Paris Commune. The students took this rhetoric in good faith and many began to attempt joining with workers to set up communes. Thus the mass movement set into motion powerful forces which threatened to break out of the narrow constraints the Maoists had originally intended.

When Mao found himself losing grip on the situation, he quickly brought the army into play, dissolving and dispersing the Red Guards and re-establishing discipline in the factories. This resulted in a big increase in the relative weight of the army within the political hierarchy. Mao emerged as the leader with supreme power taking the place of the Liuist Politbureau, while leaving a whole generation of city youth disenchanted with the regime.

The Cultural Revolution came to an end in April 1969 at the 9th Congress of the CCP, at which Liu and his supporters were expelled from the party. By the 10th Congress, Mao had virtually eliminated all the leaders of the CCP who participated in the Long March, the civil war and the founding of the People's Republic. This created a dilemma for Mao, since, at his advanced age, the continuity and the survival of the bureaucracy after his death must be a constant source of concern. He decided to follow Stalin by filling his administration with unknown mediocrities and former opponents who had capitulated and publicly humbled themselves, thus destroying their authority in the eyes of the masses.

Three Components of New Leadership

The new leadership consisted of three components; they were firstly the "ancients", such as Chu Teh and Tung Pi-wu (both 87); secondly, the younger functionaries who owed their rise to a demonstrated readiness to follow orders from the Maoist centre during the Cultural Revolution, such as Li Teh-sheng, Wang Hung-wen and Chang Ch'un page 3 ch'iao; and lastly the rehabilitated captives from the Liuist camp, the most prominent being Teng Hsiao-ping..

Chou En-lai played a particular role in the power struggles taking place. He was obviously the most important person next to Mao and commanded much of the administrative power of the government. Throughout his career he was able to make subtle shifts to accommodate the political climate of the time. Thus he adjusted himself to Liu's leadership and advocated the economic methods of the Soviet Union proposed by Liu.

During the Cultural Revolution he came under heavy attack by the Red Guards, but was able to come out of it relatively unscathed mainly due to Mao's personal intervention. This is quite understandable because despite Chou's association with Liu, Mao was aware of his valuable role as a moderator between the two factions and his exceptional administrative abilities.

Mao Launches Anti-Rightist Campaign

At the 4th People's Congress in January 1975, the faction associated with Chou and Teng gained control over all areas of government including the military. Mao was very concerned at the time but he did not have the forces to challenge the Chou faction. The death of Chou in January 1976 tipped the balance of power in favour of Mao, who lost no time in launching the anti-rightist campaign against the Chou-Teng faction. These "rightists" are the old leaders and cadres who were purged during the Cultural Revolution and rehabilitated at the 10th Congress.

Mao fired the first shot by accusing Teng as the man responsible for the rehabilitation of these "rightists". He also used his position as chairman of the CCP to appoint Hua Kuo-feng as acting premier instead of Teng, who was the rightful successor according to the constitution.

Throughout February and March, the Maoist press continuously accused Teng of being a "capitalist roader" and a "capitalist restorationist". Teng was accused of proposing to use the "Three Directives" as a program opposed to the class struggle. But in fact Mao himself proposed the Three Directives after the Cultural Revolution.

At the same time, sensing the popular support Chou was enjoying, the Maoists were not prepared to attack him personally, at least not just yet. Instead, they launched an attack on his political program. On March 1 "Red Flag" the theoretical organ of the CCP published an article called "A General Program of Restoration of Capitalism" in which attacks were made on the "Four modernisations" first proposed by Chou at the 4th People's Congress. The program called for agricultural, industrial, defence, scientific and technological modernisations.

The Tien An Men Square Incident

Seeing the violent attacks in the press on Teng, and by implication Chou, the people were naturally confused and afraid. The Tien An Men Square incident reflected to a degree the anxiety and fear about the effect of Chou's death on the political situation; it was also a demonstration for Chou and his policies which they thought were going to improve their lives.

It should be noted that the Chinese mourned Chou's death on a mass scale, and with a degree of spontaneity that was unusual - workers, soldiers and students expressed their sorrows visibly, as reported by foreign and Chinese press. There can be no doubt of the respect of the people for Chou.

The Tien An Men incident started off innocently enough with isolated groups laying wreaths at the Monument of People's Heroes to pay respect to Chou, in accordance with the traditional customs of the Ching Ching Ming Festival in April. But the trickle of people quickly built up into a torrential flow until by April 4 there was a sea of 40-50,000 people who came to pay their respect to Chou. It was also clear by then that the gathering was no longer participating in a cultural event but rather one of a political nature.

Maoists Remove Wreaths

These activities at the Square worried and angered the Maoists. Orders were sent down to remove the wreaths. News of the removal spread quickly and the reaction of the masses was instantaneous. On April 5, masses surged into the Square to protest against the removal of the wreaths and new ones were brought in. By mid-day more than 100,000 had gathered in the Square, a figure acknowledged by the "People's Daily". They demanded the return of the wreaths and when the authorities refused, several scuffles broke out.

By night most of the crowd had dispersed, but more than 3000 of the most determined remained. It was then that more than 10,000 police, militia, and soldiers converged on the square and attacked the crowd, some with wooden clubs.

The protest movement of April 5 in Tien An Men was suppressed by physical violence. For the first time in 26 years of CCP rule, the regime has resorted to open attack on the people in order to suppress opposition. It is an indication of the seriousness of the power struggle and the paranoia of the Maoist leadership.

In order to intimidate and demoralise the dissidents, the "People's Daily" stated on April 10 that the revolt involved only a handful of reactionary elements directed by Teng Hsiao-ping. Teng was formally stripped of all posts inside and outside the party and the government. The police, the militia and street committees were mobilised to search and arrest the Tien An Men participants.

The second political crisis struck when Mao finally died on September 9, 1976. Within a month the once obscure party functionary Hua Kuo-feng had been catapulted to the chairmanship of the CCP and Peking was thick with rumours that four top-ranking members of the Politbureau had been arrested.

They were Chiang Ch'ing, the director of state cultural policy; Wang Hung-wen, party vice-chairman and second-ranking official; Chang Ch'un-ch'iao, vice-premier and chief army political commissar; and Yao Wen-yuan, director of communication media. As many as 50 others are said to have been arrested, including the Minister of Culture and top Peking university administrators.

Lynch-Mob Atmosphere

The regime remained tight-lipped over the purge, deflecting Western diplomats and reporters with "no comment". It was not until October 15 that some "explanations" were offered; not by the press, but through party-organised demonstrations throughout the cities to condemn the "gang of four" for their "towering crimes", which were not specified.

The official accusations were revealed in stages. Firstly, a lynch-mob atmosphere was established under slogans such as "crush the heads of the four dogs" and "crush and strangle the gang of four".

Then came the character assassinations. A campaign of rumours revealed that they had fabricated directives from Chairman Mao proposing Chiang Ch'ing's election as party chairman in opposition to Hua. Another accused them of trying to assassinate Hua Kuo-feng.

By the end of October, the seriousness of the charge had escalated, to no less than the "towering" crime of seeking to usurp the party and state power. Peking papers declared on October 24 that "Wang, Chang, Chiang and Yao are typical representatives of the bourgeoisie, of revisionists and fascists and would mean the restoration of capitalism in China".

Are we supposed to believe that some of the country's leading Maoists had for years participated in a secret conspiracy against Mao and that they were really "fascists"? Isn't it an aberration on Mao's part to have worked with them for all those years, promoted them to central party leadership and yet never detected their treachery?

Charges A Decoy

In fact, the stereotyped, framed-up charges used by the Chinese regime to discredit defeated opponents are not intended to convince or be believed. The purpose is to distract and to conceal from the masses the real nature and operation of the elite in the bureaucracy. There is nothing new in the method used by Hua or [unclear: Mao from that] matter Chiang Ch'ing, when she was in power.

It was in line with the procedure perfected by Stalin in the mass purges of the 1930's. At that time, the Soviet bureaucracy not only sought to destroy its political opponents and potential rivals of the supreme arbiter, but also to demoralise the workers in the process.

By the use of slanders and false charges that placed the victims outside the realm of political debate, and by compelling massive public endorsement of these charges, the regime was conveying a simple message: if the leader's words could cause the heads of the powerful to roll, what chance was there for the ordinary worker who dared to criticise the regime?

Mao has repeatedly used these methods to maintain his grip on the Chinese party and state apparatus; especially one aspect of the process that Stalin used in the 1930's. The calling of rallies and demonstrations and innumerable local meetings, all securely under party control, to justify his policies and give them the popular 'mandate'.

The Chinese Stalinist justice operates in a completely different way from the norms of the early Soviet Union in Lenin's time, or even in their own procedures specified in the Chinese constitution - first comes the punishment, then the verdict, and only then are the charges revealed. The evidence is conveniently left out altogether.

In this case, four of the top party leaders were thrown in jail or placed under house arrest and stripped of their party and government posts. Then the masses were called into the streets to declare them guilty - before the authorities had accused them of any specific crime.

Hua Hostile to Maoists

On these latest purges, there are a couple of questions that remain to be answered. One concerns the apparent contradiction that since Hua was personally appointed by Mao as premier and first vice-chairman of the party, why was Hua hostile to the four Maoists?

To answer this question, we have to understand first of all the nature of the Maoist leadership and the way it operates. True to the Stalinist tradition, Mao elevated people who would be loyal and obedient to him in his own interest. For example, Mao appointed Lin Piao as his successor because of Lin's personal loyalty and obedience, especially his contribution during the Cultural Revolution when he helped to destroy Liu Shao-chi's faction. Yet when Lin began to build up his own influence and proved to be a threat to Mao, Mao had no qualms in eliminating Lin and his followers.

On left, wall poster caricature of Chiang Ch'ing. Only months before she was one of top leaders as at right, along with fellow "gang members", she flanks Hua at Mao's funeral.

On left, wall poster caricature of Chiang Ch'ing. Only months before she was one of top leaders as at right, along with fellow "gang members", she flanks Hua at Mao's funeral.

Hua Kuo-feng had never played any role in the Revolution. Mao had promoted him from a local cadre to vice-premier of the government and minister of security only because of his subservience. While Mao was alive, supporters of his faction were rewarded with posts in the party and government. But after his death, these people must find other ways to maintain their privileged position.

This is precisely what Hua did. There were reports which revealed that-differences arose over who should fill the posts of premier and party chairman after Mao's death. The four are said to have proposed Chiang Ching as party chairman and Chang Ch'un-ch'iao as premier. Hua naturally disagreed because that would remove him from his newly-acquired posts. So he turned to the old leaders of the so-called 'moderates' for support.

The old leaders, in particular Defence Minister Yeh Chien-ying, were only too pleased to oblige and help destroy the Maoists. At the same time, since among the Stalinist leadership of the CCP the ideology and methods of operation are identical, Mao's prestige can serve Hua as well as it did his own.

We must remember that Hua has no base and prestige of his own in the party, the government or the army. He was appointed to high leadership by Mao, so must continue to use Mao's authority as his political capital. He is also carefully separating Mao from his followers so that Mao's reputation can continue to be used as a tool to deceive and control the masses.

Unstable Support for Hua

Despite this desperate attempt by Hua to rub off some charisma from Mao and to secure some solid backing from the established members of the CCP, the Chinese masses supported him basically because they-identify with Chou and Teng and the policies which the people believe would improve their lot.

His tenuous position was underlined by an escalating series of demonstrations and wall posters that began in Peking on January 6 this year, which praised Teng and demanded Hua to "reverse the verdict" on the Tien An Men demonstration. The following days new posters with increasingly bold demands appeared, describing Teng as a "very good comrade" and demanded "arrangements for Teng Hsiao-ping to be working again".

The posters called for pardons for those who had been victimised on the grounds of being supporters of Teng. Perhaps the most serious warning to Hua of his vulnerability was a small graffiti of January 10 on the construction site at Tien An Men Square. On it the reference to Teng as vice-premier has been crossed out and replaced by the title "chairman".

These challenges present a dilemma for Hua. While he cannot continue to ignore the popular support for Teng, he is also aware that Teng, next to Chou, was the most important leader of the moderate faction, possessing much more influence and experience than anyone in the current leadership. His rehabilitation would be a serious threat to Hua's position.

One possible move by Hua to release at least some of the pressure is to adopt the economic policies of Chou and Teng, first advanced at the Fourth People's Congress calling for the "Four Modernisations". There is some evidence already which indicates this move from the ideological campaigns of the post Cultural Revolution period towards an emphasis on economic construction. This shift was hinted in the editorials of the October 25 issue of the "People's Daily" and other official organs. The editorials called for accomplishing "the comprehensive modernisation of agriculture, industry, national defence and science and technology and building China into a powerful socialist country before the end of the century. . ."

Whatever they do the new leadership cannot resolve these problems without making a radical break with the Stalinist policies first instituted by Mao. What they are likely to do is to appease the masses with short term concessions, which will only raise the expectations of the masses to press harder for an end to the present intolerable situation.

A Privileged Bureaucracy

So far in this talk, by tracing through the cause and effect of the latest event against the "Gang of Four" I have attempted to highlight the nature of the Chinese bureaucracy. It is a bureaucracy that enjoys special privileges, higher pay and monolithic power. It is a parasitic social formation that concerns itself with the maintenance of its interest at the expense of the toiling masses. It tries to perpetuate the myth that the nationalised economy has been collectively administered by the people.

To this end, it has to stifle any opposition or even discussion on a rational, political basis. The same sterile atmosphere prevails in the CCP apparatus. Its members do not make decisions or elect their leadership. But in order that the bureaucracy may survive they have to unite around a supreme arbiter.

Mao has been able to play this role during his lifetime because of his almost divine image that was continuously reinforced since the founding of the People's Republic Since there is no such omnipotent figure among the present leadership, the power struggle within the bureaucracy is very likely to intensify.

At the same time, a new pattern of intervention is emerging among the masses which threatens to break out of the traditional constraints of the bureaucracy. Examples of this can be seen in the strike wave of Hangchow in the summer of 1975 and the massive spontaneous demonstration of the Tien An Men incident.

Recent visitors to China have noted a certain breakdown in social discipline. There are reports of arguments between citizens and police; and wall posters which touch on tabooed subjects. For the first time since the CCP victory in 1949, ordinary citizens are seen to approach Western correspondents to volunteer information and opinion on the latest events.

Such actions are particularly encouraging to revolutionary socialists when we realise that China is not the only country that is plagued by an increasingly critical public; dissident movements are also growing and becoming more vocal in other workers' states of the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and East Germany.

For socialists, these workers' states represent a historic advancement in social organisation. In China, especially, the establishment of a planned economy has proved conclusively its superiority over the anarchy of the capitalist system.

No underdeveloped capitalist country has solved or has the hope of solving the problems of industrialisation, the eradication of illiteracy, the creation of a national healthcare system or the achievement of agrarian revolution needed to feed an expanding population. China has made tremendous progress in all these fields in a relatively short time.

Overthrowal of Bureaucracy Needed

In the long term there can be only two possible outcomes to the bureaucratic rule. Either the planned economy will be destroyed through the growth of the privileged caste which will endeavour to pit the peasantry against the workers and students, or the bureaucracy will be overthrown in a political revolution to preserve and extend the planned economy.

As revolutionary socialists, we must side unequivocally with the students and workers of China in their struggle for socialist democracy. To achieve this end, they have to overcome their illusions with the bureaucratic leaders, whether they are the "radicals" or the "moderates", for no concession or reform from Hua or any other leader is really going to help.

They must be prepared to rise up in their thousands and millions and cast off the bureaucracy from their backs. Only then can they begin to construct a truly socialist state of China.