China: From the socialist revolution to the capitalist restoration

By Nicolás Zuttión 

On July 1, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary. In this article we address some debates about the transformations produced within it. From 1921 to the present, its history was traced by revolutionary and counterrevolutionary processes, culminating in the restoration of capitalism in China.

The prelude to the emergence of the CCP

In order to locate the origins of the CCP, it is necessary to recall the processes that the country where it was born went through. The plunder generated by the colonialism of England1, Japan2, France and the United States, were constituent elements of the decline of the Qing dynasty and therefore of Chinese imperialism, which was glimpsed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The anti-imperial and national liberation sentiment of the great Chinese masses gave rise to the Kuomintang (a bourgeois party), led by Sun Yat Sen, who in 1911 led the triumphant bourgeois democratic revolution in the country. However, the ruling bourgeoisie ran into all the contradictions of the capitalist world order of that time. In order to survive, it became dependent on foreign capital, without advancing in its expulsion to gain national independence. Nor did it solve the land problem, which was very important.

The origins of the CCP

At the end of the First World War, “(…) there was a great industrial development, uneven and dependent, serving foreign interests more than national ones. But this stimulated the presence of the labor movement on the national scene and in the main cities”.3 Undoubtedly, what has been described, together with the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, motivated the birth of the CCP in 1921. The support of Lenin and the Comintern were decisive in the emergence of this revolutionary party that was constituted on the basis of a dozen university students and professors, but saw an accelerated growth in the last years of the 1920s. The insertion of its best cadres in the labor movement promoting the formation of unions and intervening in the confrontations of the workers and the mass movement against the ruling party bore fruit. By 1927 it had become a reference for large layers and reached a membership of over 55,000 militants. This position was dilapidated by the international politics of the Comitern, already under the leadership of Stalin, imposing a policy of class conciliation with the Kuomintang on the Chinese party. This orientation, which reflected the theory of the Revolution by Stages, according to which the task of the CP was limited to supporting the national bourgeoisie to get rid of the clutches of imperialism and then develop capitalism in China, led to the defeat of the revolutions of ’25 and ’27 in China. A fact highlighted by a thesis outlined by Trotsky: “the ruling classes of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples are incapable of leading the struggle against imperialism as long as this struggle takes the form of a mass revolutionary movement”.4

The long march and the party’s metamorphosis

After the defeat and massacre in Shanghai and Guangzhou, the CCP was decimated. The bloodbath that Chiang Kaishek’s party dealt it caused an ebb that led to profound changes within the party. The leadership remained in the hands of Mao Tse Tung, who developed the organization’s activity linked to the great masses of poor peasants, enthusiastic about the agrarian revolution that the party carried out in the village of Juchi, where a soviet republic was declared in 1931, making the national government react with an offensive, which forced the “long march” towards Shenshi province. In addition to this element, the metamorphosis of the party also began as a result of its composition and the orientation taken by Mao to transform itself into a guerrilla army. The 1930s will also be marked by Japan’s offensive to turn China into its colony, re-motivating the sentiment of national-liberation. At the end of the Second World War, with Japan on the defeated side, Mao’s party did not advance against the national government still held by the Kuomintang. The CCP once again joined the Stalinist policy of class conciliation. In 1949, however, supported by the expansive wave of victory over Nazism, the CCP unleashed a civil war against the Kuomitang after it broke the agreement to hold a Constituent Assembly and the unify the armed forces (People’s Army of Liberation and National Revolutionary Army). The victory won by the CCP impacted a large part of the world vanguard, making guerrilla warfare the preferred method of seizing power, making all kinds of abstractions and generalizations, without considering the conditions that allowed it to triumph in China. As Argentine revolutionary Nahuel Moreno highlighted, the revisionism of that time could be characterized as pre-Trotskyist, where “the permanent revolution is being rediscovered by different segments. So far they have reached, at best, a revisionist and evolutionist variant of this theory: the revolution will inexorably advance from the countryside to the city, from the colonial peoples to the industrialized ones, from the guerrillas to the seizure of power, refusing to consider it in all its dialectic and breadth.”5

From Mao’s government to the present

Reviewing the life of the CCP from 1949 to the present can cause us to skip important events. But if there is something to highlight, it is the effects caused by not having deepened the revolution and limiting its power to the country’s borders.

Beginning with the coexistence chosen by Mao with great landowners and the adoption of a bureaucratic regime traced from that of Stalinism in the URRS, with a single party and the rejection of working class and peasant democracy, the future life of the CCP had a predictable result. Since everything that does not advance retreats, the CCP, after having been one of those responsible for carrying out a revolution, became its nemesis by restoring capitalism. All the reforms introduced by the group of “pragmatists”, which had as a corollary the bloodbath against the Tiananmen rebellion in 1989, somehow explain why China today, hand in hand with this hundred year old party, is an imperialist power. The CCP leadership, already constituted as a new bourgeois class, gives a misleading speech, pointing out that there is “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in the country, a reason for the prosperity in its economic indicators. But in truth what exists is a capitalist restoration where the extraction of surplus value from Chinese workers who live, in many cases, in very poor conditions prevails at historical levels. At 100 since the foundation of the CCP, the imperative conclusion for the present of the workers of the Asian giant is the construction of a new organization for the fight for revolutionary socialism, with workers’ and internationalist democracy.

1 The Opium War in 1842 is an emblematic case in which England, through armed struggle, conquered Chinese ports for its own trade.

2 In 1985, Japan invaded China and imposed, by means of a treaty, a colonial submission that included seizing a large part of the port market and some annexations of territories, mainly in northern China.

3 Héctor A. Palacions. China. From Mao to the Red Princes.

4 Leon Trotsky. The relations between the classes in the Chinese revolution.

5 Nahuel Moreno. The Chinese and Indochinese Revolutions.