By Gustavo Gimenez
On October 1, the government commemorated the 70th anniversary of the revolution with what has been considered the “greatest military parade in all history.” However, television showed that, in neighboring Hong Kong, thousands of protesters clashed violently with the police demanding greater democracy and autonomy.
After the imposing parade, which included missiles that could reach American territory in a few minutes, there were other impressive celebrations in which some 100,000 civilians of different professions participated. The images showed the president of the Asian giant and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) standing aboard a nationally manufactured Hongqi limousine, saluting the troops like a 21st-century Napoleon Bonaparte.
The military parade and massive celebration, destined to show the achievements of the “Chinese model” in a country that is home to 1,400 million people and is the second economy of the planet, could not hide the rebellion that challenges the ruling Chinese bureaucracy a few hundred kilometers to the south. In the former British colony of Hong Kong – now a special autonomous area under Chinese sovereignty – the people have rebelled against that same bureaucracy that parades with an air of omnipotence and governs China with the methods of a strong dictatorship but cannot contain a territory of just seven million of inhabitants.
Revolution and Counterrevolution in Contemporary China
Seventy years ago, at the beginning of October 1949, having defeated the troops of Chiang Kai-shek´s Kuomintang nationalist party after long years of civil war, Mao Tse-tung´s CCP entered Beijing victorious. There, in Tiananmen Square, Mao declared the “People’s Republic.” Thus, the third Chinese revolution triumphed. The first, led by Sun Yat-sen, had destroyed the emperor’s monarchical regime and established a bourgeois-democratic republic in 1911. The second, in 1927, led by the CCP, was a great workers and peasant revolution brutally defeated after Moscow ordered the Communists to hand over their weapons to the national bourgeoisie led by Chiang, whom Stalin had named honorary member of the Third International years earlier.
Mao, a survivor of that bloody defeat, was responsible for concentrating the forces of the CCP in the mountainous region of Hunan, protected from the Kuomintang´s repression, adopting a defensive tactic that is characteristic of the Chinese peasantry´s struggles: the rural guerrilla war. Thus, the crushing of the revolution in the most important cities was followed by a long peasant resistance (the peasantry represented 80% of the country’s population). The civil war lasted from 1927 to 1937 when Japan, which already occupied Manchuria, invaded all of China and nationalists and communists united to face it.
At the end of the war in 1945 and after Japan´s defeat, the Chinese economy was destroyed, its industries were dismantled and a serious crisis hit its peasant economy. The civil war between the poor peasantry led by the CCP and the Chinese bourgeoisie with Chiang in government resumed. The CCP, which had been strengthened among the peasant masses during the years of resistance against the Japanese invasion, did not intend to take power to carry out a socialist revolution. On the contrary, it was trying to reach an agreement with Chiang to first establish a democratic republic, a “revolution by stages” recipe from the Stalinist cookbook. But Chiang and his generals did not want that agreement: they wanted to destroy the CCP´s power among the peasant masses, as the only way to regain full control of the country and reorganize capitalist China.
According to the Yalta and Potsdam agreements signed by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, China had to remain in the capitalist orbit: Chiang´s government was recognized and consequently Stalin ordered the Chinese CCP to subordinate itself to the Kuomintang´s power.
The Chinese situation was dire after the war. Industry was dismantled, millions of peasants had been stripped of their land and a layer of speculators and collaborators from the Kuomintang had seized millions of hectares. Hunger, hyperinflation and widespread corruption of the ruling strata completed a picture of a serious crisis.
The situation was so fragile that the US government ordered its fleet, which had fought against the Japanese in the Pacific, to disembark in China. An uprising of US workers and young sailors and soldiers prevented the incursion. The triumph of the Chinese revolution owes much to this uprising, just as the Vietnamese revolution in 1975 owes much to the multitudes of young people in the US that rebelled and refused to be recruited to the Vietnam War.
Gradually, the Chiang regime that persecuted and forced Mao’s army to undertake the “Long March,” began losing ground against the peasant insurgency. The course of the confrontation led Mao to decree an agrarian reform in October 1947, in which tens of millions of peasants expropriated landowners. That measure marked the final course of the civil war: Mao’s troops and peasant insurrection were unstoppable. Finally, Chiang’s generals were defeated and the historic October 1 revolution triumphed in mainland China. The Kuomintang bourgeoisie fled desperately to the island of Formosa, later renamed Taiwan, where they proclaimed their government, which the UN recognized as the legitimate representative of the Chinese nation until 1971.
The People’s Republic
The revolution unified China and won its independence from imperialism. It implemented a first agrarian reform that became massive after the Korean War. It ended the hunger of millions, alphabetized, recomposed industry and the labor movement. Imperialism counterattacked with the Korean War of 1950-53 and a million Chinese fought alongside Koreans against imperialism, dealing the US a hard defeat.
While the revolution meant a huge leap forward for hundreds of millions of Chinese people, the bureaucratic economic decisions (failure of the “one hundred flowers campaign” first and the “great leap forward” later), the increasingly reluctant USSR aid, three years of calamities (drought, floods, etc.) and the defeat of the Indonesian revolution (1) generated friction and disputes within the bureaucratic clique.
Mao launched the “Cultural Revolution” in 1966 to tip the balance of these internal disputes in his favor. Thus he displaced from the party apparatus the leaders and cadres who, like Deng Xiao-ping, questioned his policies. It was an attempt to curb the contradictions raised by the imperialist advance in Vietnam after the Indonesian defeat and the internal problems caused by the strengthening of the working class and the crisis of the poor peasantry. The movement aroused great enthusiasm among Chinese students and intellectuals in the beginning, and then penetrated the labor movement, which developed a wave of strikes and, together with the students, founded a commune in the city of Shanghai in January 1967. It also entered deeply among the Red Guards.
Once he had achieved his objective, Mao slowed the process down, repressed its left wing, took over the organizations that the masses had created and called for an end to criticisms of the apparatus. The “rehabilitation” of many of the displaced hierarchs took place and a right turn began. Strengthened by border clashes with the USSR in March 1969, this turn led to Mao receiving President Nixon in Beijing in 1971, in the midst of a US military offensive in Vietnam. Army Chief Lin Piao, who was considered Mao’s successor, was displaced for expressing differences with this policy. In 1973, Deng Xiao-ping was rehabilitated. In 1975, the Chinese Constitution was reformed and peasants´ right to private property over small plots of land was recognized. The advance of the rightist turn would be accelerated qualitatively by Deng after Mao’s death in 1976.
The Maoist leadership stems from a process that combines an agrarian revolution and its organizations power – the associations of poor peasants – in the north of the country, with an uprising against feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism and US imperialism in the south. Mao tried to contain the revolution in a democratic phase, but the logic of the socialist revolution in the countryside was imposed and a government emerged that expropriated the bourgeoisie, in contradiction with Mao´s initial strategy. Unlike the Soviet democratic regime of the Russian Revolution´s early years, the Chinese government would be based on a Bonapartist (1) regime and the apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party and the People´s Army from the outset.
The weakness of the Chinese working class, which had been devastated during the war, the enormous volume of the peasantry and the petty-bourgeois influences in it, the absence of a revolutionary Marxist party and the pressure of Stalinism, were substantial factors in the formation of that leadership. Itp´s origin is different than that of the Stalinist leadership that ruled the USSR: while the Russian leadership was the product of a counterrevolution and reflected a privileged caste, the Chinese leadership emerged from a great revolution, trying to play a mediatory role between the different classes in conflict. By its origin, the Chinese bureaucracy is similar to the Cuban or the Yugoslavian ones, which were born from revolutions they led. Its Bonapartism closely resembles that of the bourgeois nationalist movements of backward countries, which Trotsky called sui generis Bonapartists. (3)
After several decades, we can affirm that the CCP bureaucracy took a similar course to that of these bourgeois nationalist movements, many of which morphed from sui generis Bonapartistm to classical Bonapartism. When they saw themselves losing their dispute with imperialism, they consolidated themselves in the administration of their bourgeois economy and the preservation of their bureaucratic caste privileges. To do so, they had to confront the mass movement. Just like Perón in Argentina evolved from a nationalist leader to the founder of Triple A (fascist paramilitary force) or Ortega in Nicaragua went from democratic revolutionary to murderous dictator, Maoism generated a bureaucratic caste that ended up restoring capitalism in China and did not hesitate to repress those who tried to question its power with blood and fire in Tiananmen in 1989.
From Deng to Today: the Capitalist Restoration
The year 1978 marks a turning point in China´s economy and the bureaucratic project. Confirming the Trotsky´s predictions on the Soviet bureaucracy becoming an agent of capitalist restoration, its Chinese counterpart, with Den Xiao-ping at the head, opened the country to the capitalist world market.
“The deep reforms initiated in 1978 included the de-collectivization of agriculture, the opening of China to foreign investors and the granting of licenses to launch private companies. This denationalization of services, together with the end of the Cold War and the rise of international trade, allowed the country to begin to register the rapid growth that Mao had failed to obtain, despite the fact that its planned economy had significantly increased the training of technical professionals that began to sustain the country during the 80s. The opening policy also triggered the market abroad, especially in the field of exports.” (4)
From this decision onward, successive measures adopted by the Chinese bureaucratic power advanced down that path: “In the third Plenary of 1984 it was seen how CCP general secretary Hu Yaobang abandoned the idea of a planned economy and the times of ‘urban economic reform’ were inaugurated. In the 1993 Plenary, Jiang Zemin initiated the time of the ‘socialist market economy’”. (5) European newspapers described Jiang (6) in a similar vein: “He spoke of socialism to support the freedom of prices, the liberalization of the financial sector, the conversion of companies into entities with public and private shareholders, the establishment of a Social Security system and the privatization of new sectors, including real estate (though, mysteriously, he did not explain why it is essential that other areas of economic activity are not). He also announced the opening of all of China, and not only of the ‘special zones’ located on the coast, to foreign investments. And he said that unequal development must be accepted: more advanced areas must go faster, and this will help the rest of the country improve.” (7) In those special areas, in order to install imperialist corporations, the government granted tax benefits and limited trade union rights.
Xi Jinping, the current president, took the bureaucratic dream to its greatest expression. Today, China is the second global capitalist power, far exceeding Japan, it has an ambitious commercial expansion project called the “silk road” consisting of huge investments in infrastructure to facilitate its penetration and is the main trading partner of many countries in the world. It develops a truly imperialist policy on the Sea of China, which it shares with other Asian nations, and has been developing a strong advance in high-tech areas and in military development. In the political arena, Xi has sought to develop the regime’s Bonapartism to such an extent that he could be proclaimed a new emperor. Since the latest reforms, he can be re-elected eternally.
Clouds of Crisis Over the Triumphalist Posturing
One of the main explanations for the enormous and vertiginous Chinese industrial development that made it the “factory of the world” was its cheap, nearly free, labor for capitalist investments. The policy of industrial relocations that moved huge manufacturing enterprises from the United States and other powers to “communist” China in the 1980s, benefited from Chinese workers who worked for a handful of dollars, living in subhuman conditions, and even had “hot beds” very close to the production lines, like in the early stages of capitalist industrial development. This super-exploited workforce provided such a profit that it compensated the extra expenses in transport by avoiding the industrial wages paid in the US, around 3,000 dollars a month.
China´s so-called iron bowl, which guaranteed all Chinese people labor, food, education and health, was gradually replaced by the porcelain bowl, which suppressed these collective rights with the false promise of individual triumph in the capitalist market.
Thus, cheap products made in China invaded the the world’s supermarkets, achieving an economy that was growing at a record rate of 10% a year. Chinese growth does not have a great secret: it is a gigantic extraction of surplus value, subjecting its working class to enormous levels of super-exploitation that, coupled with the political stability ensured by the bureaucratic dictatorship, was very attractive for the profit-thirsty capitalists.
But this capitalist “development” did not succeed without experiencing huge contradictions. In 1989 a popular uprising, led by students and supported by broad layers of workers and the Chinese people, led a national demand against bureaucracy and the political regime for a democratic opening and participation in decisions: it was the uprising of Tiananmen Square. There were even bureaucratic sectors that reflected the crises and contradictions within the CCP apparatus, who supported or at least adopted a friendly neutral position towards the movement. Tiananmen was the local reflection of a huge worldwide anti-bureaucratic wave that threw down the Berlin Wall and the old Stalinist regime of the USSR.
It is precisely the defeat of the Tiananmen uprising that made the process of capitalist restoration different in China than in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. The Chinese process was much more vertiginous in overcoming the resistance of the mass movement. The control of the CCP apparatus was much stronger and became uniform, increasingly emphasizing its Bonapartist character, its dictatorship over the whole society. The persecution of opponents, the great-Chinese oppression over entire territories such as Tibet or the current attempt to liquidate democratic clauses in the status of Hong Kong, the prohibition of independent unions and opposition parties, a citizen oversight which will now require facial scanning to surf the Internet, are some of the characteristics of a regime that at times resembles the Big Brother of Orwell´s 1984.
The crisis of the imperialist economy that broke out in 2007/2008 will soon impact the Chinese economy, loaded misled expectations. At that time, more than one liberal propagandist said that the “Chinese locomotive” would serve to overcome the world capitalist crisis, turning the emerging power into the new dominant power in the face of the obvious decline of the US, the European Union and Japan.
The last few years have diluted these exaggerations. The Chinese economy saw part of its exports to the imperialist central markets decline. It had to encourage the development of an important domestic market and a new Chinese middle class, while its growth rates decreased from 10 to 6% or less annually. As a result of the imminent deceleration of the world economy, it further lowered its growth forecasts. The increase in the “cost” of their work force due to labor demands also caused a relocation of capital to other countries in the region, such as Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, with much lower wages.
Finally, as a direct consequence of the world imperialist economic crisis, the development of the “trade crisis” with the US reflects a sharp struggle between the planet´s largest power and the one that is emerging as its competitor for world surplus value. The dispute does not only affect the commercial exchange that generates a huge surplus in favor of the Asian giant, but also its plan for the development of new technologies, a key aspect in the fight to dominate the capitalist world market.
Chinese capitalist development has resulted in a serious increase in social inequality and greatly aggravated the tensions today contained by bureaucracy. There is a very large immigration from the countryside to the cities that has modified much of China´s traditional demography in recent decades, but this immigration does not have the necessary social safety nets. The rise of a middle class benefiting from economic growth is accompanied by a huge social inequality between hundreds of millions of poor people and the millionaires that benefit from the bureaucratic capitalist model. There are at least three millionaires in the CCP Central Committee of 300 members.
China was the planet´s nation that grew the most in these times. According to the World Bank, its Gross Domestic Product tripled and its exports quadrupled in three decades. This has led the Chinese bureaucracy to argue that 700 million people were lifted out of poverty. However, behind bureaucratic arguments, other data corroborates the distortion of this capitalist “growth”: “Far from the images of skyscrapers in Shanghai and Chinese billionaires traveling the world quenching their appetite for exoticism, 40% of Chinese people still live in rural areas, mostly working on small farms with incomes that would place them in extreme poverty in any country of the developed world. In many cases they are populations that eat little and have limited access to drinking water and basic services, while the urban 60%, a mass that works about 13 hours a day, between six and seven days a week, in deplorable security conditions, does not live much better, though the difference in access to basic services has been enough to increase the cultural division in the country.” (8)
In times of economic slowdown, trade war and clouds of global recession, these contradictions will develop more rapidly. The crisis is already impacting and will profoundly affect Xi Jinping’s China and reveal that its 70th anniversary celebrations were actually a great show of force to hide the crisis.
Tiananmen and Hong Kong
It is valid to wonder why the Chinese giant, its heavy bureaucracy, its new emperor, who paraded showing all his power, cannot stop a community of just seven million inhabitants, when it dominates 1,400 million people with an iron fist. Why do the increasingly radical mass protests of insurgent Hong Kong, not lead it to drown the uprising in blood and fire as it did in Tiananmen 30 years ago?
The rope is tightening. Xi´s exasperation leads him to say: “Whoever takes up separatism in any region of China … will be reduced to dust and shattered.” All this despite the fact that Hong Kong not only represents a very small sector of Chinese territory and population, but that its economy and Chinese businesses there have decreased greatly in proportion to what they represented 20 years ago.
It is clear that the world situation has changed a lot since 1989. The imperialist crisis is greater and the relation with its now rival in the contest for the distribution of surplus value is not the same as then. Hence, the threats of sanctions and various blackmails used to negotiate in better conditions with Xi´s bureaucracy. The struggles of the peoples in the world, from the Arab Spring to the independence of Catalonia, the wave of uprisings and revolutions in Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Ethiopia, the Lebanon that are currently shaking the world, also conditions China. But Xi´s central fear, without a doubt, is what a false step in Hong Kong could cost in its repercussion inside China. It is evident that storm clouds that could shake the Asian giant appear over Xi´s triumphant posturing. If these clouds end up producing an open storm and the working class and the Chinese people come out in a frontal fight against the regime, the turn of events in that region of the world and its worldwide impact will be qualitative.
perspective, the construction of a revolutionary anti-bureaucratic and
anti-capitalist alternative is an urgent and strategic task for those of us who
integrate the ISL with the intention of taking up the enormous tasks that times
impose on revolutionaries.
1. The Chinese bureaucracy advised the Indonesian CP to subordinate itself to the bourgeois nationalist government of Sukarno, which ended up massacring the communists.
2. Marxism has used the concept of Bonapartism to define a regime in which the ruling class cannot govern by democratic methods and does so through a government supported by the police and military apparatus. As a regime that defends the interests of the exploiting class or the oppressive bureaucratic caste, it appears as an authoritarian “personal regime” that rises above society and “reconciles” the interests of social classes. Hence the analogy with Napoleon Bonaparte.
3. A variant of classical Bonapartism, described by Trotsky. While the former is typical of governments that defend the interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie and use dictatorial methods against the working class and mass movement, sui generis Bonapartism is typical of bourgeois nationalist governments that, like Cárdenas in Mexico or Perón´s first administration in Argentina, had strong disputes with imperialism over the distribution of local surplus value and, in order to face it, had to rely on mass mobilization, given the structural weakness of the capitalist classes they represented.
4. Evolution of the Chinese economy: journey to the past to understand the
present, on the APD website, 3/14/18.
5. The Third Plenary is coming, the most important political act in China, by Andrea Pira, on the website china-files.com, 11/5/13.
6. Jiang Zemin: CCP General Secretary from 1989 to 2002 and President of the People’s Republic of China from 1993 to 2003.
7. Comunismo de mercado chino, El País (Spain), 17/10/92.
8. La otra cara de China…, Infobae, 31/10/19.