A WORLD TO WIN    #26   (2000)

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Chinese Revolution!

This is an edited version of a speech prepared by AWTW which was given at various meetings held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949

We are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Chinese revolution. The workers, peasants and common people of China held political power from 1949 until 1976. Here we are going to focus on what the people did with that power, both what they did with it right away, almost overnight, and what they did with it over the course of almost 30 years. We are celebrating their accomplishments in building a new and different society.

Revolutionary war led by the Communist Party made that change possible in China. The guns of the Russian Revolution inspired the birth of the Chinese Communist Party. This party was something China had never seen before - a political party whose backbone was the "coolies" on the docks, the miners who had spent their lives in the dirt and other workers, that drew in legions of poor peasants and others from the countryside, as it led two decades of revolutionary wars.

The revolutionary outlook and goals of this party took a very concrete form in the Red Army it created. Its soldiers never stole so much as a needle and thread from the people, and even turned in everything looted from the enemy. They embodied new values of selflessness, co-operation and serving the people. They not only fought, but organised the people and worked in the fields, whenever possible, so as not to be a burden to the masses.

When poor people and others joined the Red Army, they were transformed. They stopped being downtrodden and desperate for a way out of an unbearable life, and began to understand that the way out for China and the world depended on them and their class brothers and sisters. They held political meetings, where soldiers and officers criticized each other's backward ideas and individualistic habits without restraint. These soldiers were capable of a heroism no mercenary army could match. Wherever they went they called on the poor to rise up and join them.

Eventually, the Red Army became a raging torrent that tore apart the reactionary army of Chiang Kai-shek, who had all the tanks and planes and soldiers US money could buy.

On 1st October 1949 Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese people, he said, have stood up. The US, Britain, France, Japan and all the other imperialist powers would not accept it. They told everyone the Chinese communists could not succeed. A US official wrote a report saying that China simply had too many people and no government could ever hope to feed them all. Even many of China's people themselves thought, meiyu banfa ("there is no way"). But Mao and the Chinese revolutionaries did not agree.

"In a few decades, why can't 600 million 'paupers', by their own efforts, create a socialist country, rich and strong?" Mao asked. "The wealth of society is created by the workers, the peasants, the working intellectuals. If they take their destiny into their own hands, use Marxism-Leninism as their guide, and energetically tackle problems instead of evading them, there is no difficulty in the world which they cannot overcome."

That was not a boast. It is an accurate description of what they set out to do and did.

China had been a prisoner of feudal landlords; foreign imperialists, who directly ruled some parts of China as if it were their own country; and a handful of big monopoly capitalists, who were closely associated with the landlords and served as the imperialists' junior partners. Once the army of the former ruling classes had been defeated and their government overthrown, the next step was to break their economic power. Their property had to be confiscated immediately if the new government was to meet the basic needs of the people. Many millions had fought for the new government and were counting on it; many wavering people would support it if it could bring them relief from their problems.


The vast majority of China's people were peasants who worked the land, and yet they had little or no land to call their own. They were like people standing on slippery rocks in water up to their necks: as long as everything went fine they could survive, but at the slightest ripple, they would drown. In bad years they ate leaves and bark, begged food from the temples and froze. Some years they died in their millions.

When the revolutionary army defeated Chiang Kai-shek's armies and the local landlord forces, this feudal system was quickly overthrown. Actually, the overthrow began in the liberated areas before country-wide victory, and then swept across China like a river bursting a dam. Work teams led by the Party went into the villages to hold long and deep discussions with the peasants about the conditions and their problems. The Party told the peasants they should rise up, organize themselves and seize the land. The peasants held big protest demonstrations against the landlords and their goons, and 'spoke bitterness'. All debts to landlords and money-lenders were cancelled. The landlords had to give back what they had stolen. Those who had committed the most serious blood crimes against the people were punished; otherwise, the people they had trampled on would not have dared to speak out.

The peasants themselves divided up the land, tools and animals in mass meetings where everyone in the village had their say. What made it so complicated was the question of how to treat the various classes among the peasants in such a way that the poorest peasants would get what they needed and yet unite as many people as possible to support the new political power. The deeds were given to every single person, men, women and children, not just to the husband. This was an extremely revolutionary measure. Never before had Chinese women been treated as equals or owned anything.

As we will see, the Chinese revolution could not stop with the policy of "land to the tiller". But it had to start there. First of all, if the peasants did not take over the land they farmed, they could never feel free. Second, there was no other way that China could feed itself and build the foundations for the development of industry and an independent economy not controlled by imperialism.

Contrary to the United State's predictions, by 1952, when land reform was basically completed, China became self-supporting in rice. This meant that every single person had enough to eat. It also meant that the imperialists could no longer threaten to starve China.


Before the revolution, China's cities were no less a horror than the countryside.

Take Shanghai, China's biggest city. It was a roaring, teeming, pulsating metropolis, one of the world's largest cities. Yet Shanghai was several different cities all jammed together, like so many cities in the Third World today. It had a traffic-filled, modern city centre, with large Western-style hotels and corporate headquarters. There were luxury department stores and speciality shops where the rich could buy goods from all over the world. It had night-clubs, where officials, officers and millionaires could entertain, gambling joints, and houses of prostitution for every pocketbook. The French, British and Americans each had their own private districts, where the city's real overlords could live in mansions with gardens, undisturbed by the Chinese. The Chinese worked their lives away on ships and wharves; in warehouses, factories, restaurants, kitchens and shops; driving rickshaws, pedicabs and other vehicles; and in general serving the rich. They lived crowded together in one-room hovels on the narrow, dark and dirty side streets and alleys, or on the street itself.

Many of these workers became Communists. All during China's long period of revolutionary war, quite a few proletarians went to the countryside to strengthen the Red Army. Others stayed and built underground party organisations and labour organisations, whose membership included many hundreds of thousands. The Party also secretly organised and led store clerks, students, artists, intellectuals and all those who could be united against the common enemy.

When the Red Army marched into Shanghai early one morning, months before Peking and southern China were liberated, some things began to change right away. The revolutionary army began to replace or direct the old police, whose high officers had fled. The police were forbidden to mistreat the people. They could no longer stop rickshaw and pedicab drivers, beat them up and steal their money and the seat cushions from their vehicles.

The liberation forces immediately began repairing the sewers. Shanghai stank mightily because its ancient sewer system was full of holes, especially in the poor districts, as the old authorities hadn't bothered to fix them for a century. Slums had been built over broken sewer pipes and many people lived surrounded by raw sewage. The streets were cleared of piled-up garbage. The huge puddles of muck and stagnant water that bred disease were drained. In the city and the countryside, China's millions could live free of filth and have clean drinking water, something that to this day billions of people in this world do not have.

As they seized China's biggest cities, one after another, the Red Army marched into the biggest banks, factories and other businesses and took them over. They organized emergency supplies from the countryside, which had been cut off from the cities during the war.

The plentiful and extremely cheap labour provided by the feudal system had not only kept wages at starvation level, but had held back China's industrialisation as well. Why bother putting in modern machinery when an endless supply of people from the countryside could be worked to death instead? Many workers were not treated much differently from the peasants. Young women who worked in the textile mills were locked in at night like slaves. Boys and men who worked in the mines were beaten and abused; the masters treated the donkeys far better.


The Party put an end to all this overnight. Child labour was abolished. The working day went from 12-16 hours a day to eight. Wages went up two or three times in the first several years. Because they knew their labour was going to free China and help make it a bastion of world revolution, workers now had an interest in production and for the first time were encouraged to reorganise it to make it increasingly efficient. All the workers who had never been more than a pair of hands were free to take part in the transformation of the country's social, cultural and political life. They were encouraged to join the Communist Party. They formed unions and other associations of all the workers that began to take part in the administration of the workplaces. Factories built new housing, nurseries, cafeterias and other facilities previously unknown in China.

China's million prostitutes were now organised into groups led by the Party. Previously they had often been sold or kidnapped; many had been kept prisoners for many years. These new groups helped the women understand the reasons for their oppression and also fought any tendency by other people to look down on them. The former prostitutes could train for jobs or return to the countryside.

Within a short time, the streets and country roads of this country, which had been among the most violent and dangerous in the world, had become relatively safe. Reactionaries like to argue that the way to end crime is more government repression. China proved the opposite, that when the conditions that gave rise to crime were changed, the crime rate dropped dramatically. Further, when the people, especially the poor people, were free and began to rule society themselves, they could bring their own collective strength to bear against crime. Today the reactionary rulers of countries where hundreds of thousands and even millions of people are behind bars, like to claim that socialism is one big lock-up. The truth is that socialist China kept only a few thousand people in prison, and freed the people to go anywhere at any hour without fear.


The status of women underwent huge changes very quickly. Chinese women had been ruled by men their whole lives, by their fathers as children, their husbands when young, and their sons or other male relatives when widows. People used to say, "No one is happy when a girl baby is born." This wasn't because the poor were hard-hearted. Some people felt they couldn't afford to raise a baby girl who was destined to serve someone else's family.

If workers and peasants suffered under the yoke of feudalism, capitalism and imperialism, women, too, suffered under all this plus one more burden: they were also oppressed because they were women. This gave women tremendous revolutionary potential. Furthermore, China could not become completely free of the feudal system without knocking down one of its main pillars, patriarchy - the rule of the male head of the family over the women and children. The masses of women were a powerful force in overturning all the old social relations and the backward ideas and moral values that rested on them, which were common among the people.

Some said, "Land reform is good, the new currency is good, but when they won't let a man beat his wife anymore, that's going too far." The answer was not a matter of relying on government repression to end wife beating. For instance, during the land reform, many men did not want their wives going to the peasant association meetings. When women spoke up there, men laughed in contempt. These backward attitudes were struggled against by the Communists and advanced women, who had been organised into a women's association. If a man beat his wife, the village women's association might pay him a visit. All would join the wife in criticizing him and arguing with him about why such behaviour served the old society and went against the peasants' interests. In extreme cases, the women would give the man a taste of his own medicine.

By comparison, at the time this took place, women in many European countries were still not allowed to vote. In 1950, divorce was difficult for women to obtain in almost every other country of the world, birth control was unavailable and abortion illegal. Women in the richest countries today are just starting to catch up with some of the legal rights women in revolutionary China won two generations ago. But, again, as we will see in the case of land reform, China's revolution was to go far beyond simple legal equality and begin to eliminate the reasons for inequality and oppression.

All these were just the first steps on a long road.


From the start, there was struggle within the Chinese Communist Party about the path forward. One of the biggest issues was how to achieve modernisation. Should it be by putting profits in command and simply modernising the same kind of economy as China had before, thereby keeping China dependent on the world market controlled by imperialism? That would be following the capitalist road, and it would lead back to a life that China's workers, peasants and women hated. With industry now the property of the whole people, it had to be developed in a different way, not by simply pouring resources into those industries that generated the most profit. The goal of the economy now was to produce what the people needed and to encourage even development throughout the country. This meant giving priority to agriculture, so as to feed the people, supply industry with raw materials and provide a market for industrial goods. China had to develop a balance between heavy and light industry, build a self-sufficient national economy and support revolution throughout the world.

Mao said that China's new-democratic revolution had opened the door to capitalism but had opened the door to socialism even wider. For instance, land reform had created a country of small farmers, but the revolution couldn't stop there. First, if it did, some of those who had slightly more land, tools and animals or even just more labour power would prosper, whilst some of those who had less would end up forced to sell their land. The workings of capitalism would have polarised the countryside into rich and poor. Second, even though the overthrow of feudalism by the peasants had started to pull the Chinese countryside out of stagnation and poverty, the further advance of agriculture depended on turning these small plot holders into collective labourers. Thirdly, this backwardness blocked the overall development of the socialist economy.

The need for these big changes met with resistance from within the Party itself. But Mao believed that the peasants' potential enthusiasm for collectivisation could overcome all obstacles.

Before country-wide liberation, and even before land reform was completed, peasants formed mutual aid teams to help each other in planting and harvesting. Within a few years of liberation they had formed lower-level co-operatives. They farmed all the land together and distributed the produce according to how much land, tools and animals each family had put in, as well as their labour. But still they needed canals, dams and flood control, as well as terracing, irrigation ditches and so on. Individual ownership was holding back the peasants' ability to produce.

By the mid-1950s, peasants formed higher-level co-operatives. They burnt the deeds to their land because they now owned the land, tools and animals in common. This was a zigzag process, with different areas moving at a different pace. It was not uncommon for peasants to join a co-operative, drop out, join up again and drop out again, according to their moods and confidence in the new ways. But at some stages of this process there were waiting lists of peasants who wanted to join up. As peasants pooled their land and labour, giving up their old isolated plots and working together to change the physical face of the land, tractors and other machinery could be used in areas which had never before seen an iron plough. The development of agriculture allowed industry to soar.


China was ready for a Great Leap Forward.

The basic level of government in rural China is the county or township. The co-operatives of a whole county joined together to create something new, an economic and political unit through which tens of thousands of people built a common life. These People's Communes were a giant step in moving toward the elimination of the gap between the peasants and government, since now they would increasingly administer everything themselves. While work teams based on several families were still the basic unit, the confines of the clan and the village were breached as these teams became a part of a far broader organisation. Irrigation, flood control, roads and so on could be planned on a large scale, with the knowledge and participation of the peasants playing the driving role in determining what should be done and how.

Mao's policy put the emphasis on the rural areas to gradually narrow the gap between the city and countryside and between workers and peasants. The move to People's Communes made it possible to make a large dent in this gap by building hospitals, schools and new industries in rural areas, rather than just expanding the existing facilities in the cities, even though that might seem "cheaper" in narrow economic terms.

The development of industry in the countryside would not have been possible without the People's Communes. Women and men were encouraged to take the initiative to organise, start up new factories and find new ways of meeting the needs of the people. The Party led this process and the government lent support in accordance with the country's overall economic plans, but everything hinged on the people's own efforts and initiative.

The Great Leap Forward solved many problems and achieved great things. But it ran into difficulties. There were three years of extremely severe drought. The Soviet Union sought to sabotage China's economy in retaliation for China's criticism of the capitalist road the USSR had taken under Khrushchev. There was also opposition to the Leap from within the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese capitalist roaders used these difficulties as an argument for why China, too, should change course.

Revolution, they said, had become a distraction from the labouring people's real job, to work. The people were not supposed to concern themselves with questions of state or how their workplaces were organised and run, and whether or not their labour was serving to gradually liberate all the abilities of all the people and what direction society as whole was taking.


By studying experiences in both the Soviet Union and China, Mao and other Chinese revolutionaries came to understand that socialism does not end the struggle between antagonistic classes. Instead, once the old ruling classes are eliminated, the battle shifts to within the Communist Party itself. The conflict over opposing policies and strategies - over different roads - represents a struggle between opposing classes. The workers and peasants and their Party leaders seek to continue on the socialist road. This means, step by step, eliminating the social gaps and inequalities left over from the old society and the old ideas that went along with these relations, supporting revolutions all over the world and making the country a base area for advancing to communism world-wide. The communist revolutionaries find themselves locked in deadly battle against those high party leaders who represent a newly emerging exploiting class and stubbornly seek to protect and expand all the old relations and accommodate themselves to the imperialist world order. These revisionists have the weight of tradition on their side, along with the dominant position of imperialism in the world.

This struggle came to a head with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In 1966, Mao and the revolutionaries in the Chinese Party called upon the Party members and masses to "Bombard the headquarters" - to criticise these capitalist policies and overthrow those who tried to impose them, to study and apply Marxism, and to take the initiative in creating socialist new things that could further transform society.

The immediate aim of the Cultural Revolution was to overthrow those Party leaders who were trying to take China down the capitalist road. But, as Mao explained, it had a deeper goal as well: to transform the world outlook of the people, so that people could better understand the difference between Marxism and revisionism. This meant that people's thinking had to be transformed, along with transforming the economic and social relations between people that these ideas represented.

The opening battles in the Cultural Revolution were fought by the Red Guards, fearless students and youth who answered Mao's call to oppose some of the most powerful people in China. But Mao also called upon the working class to take the lead in everything. He fought to strengthen the Party's ability to lead as the representative of the long-term interests of the workers in turning society and the world upside-down.

In January 1967, after months of meetings and fierce debate to clarify the issues, rebels from Shanghai's factories, neighbourhoods and schools, led by revolutionary party members, threw out the old city administration, which had been a stronghold of the capitalist roaders. They replaced the old administration with a new, city-wide three-in-one combination of: representatives from the rebel organisations, revolutionary party leaders and Red Army representatives. The masses had seized power in an all-round way and from below. By late 1968, this kind of revolutionary committee was formed in every area of China.

Millions of educated youth went to take the Cultural Revolution to the countryside. Many stayed there permanently. City people who did not usually work with their hands also went for periods of time to work on the farms, to get to know the peasants and better understand their needs and to help transform their own outlook.

Factories were run by three-in-one committees of workers, technicians and administrators; in hospitals the committees were made up of doctors, workers and patients' representatives; and so on. As Mao predicted, when the role the workers played in production was revolutionised, when they began to act as thinkers and administrators and not just as pairs of hands, and when everyone's thinking was further revolutionised, then production too was liberated. At a Shanghai oil refinery, whose gases used to foul the air, workers carefully studied the problem, including the most technical details, and figured out how to recycle the gases for use in manufacturing chemicals to make clothing, plastics and medicine. It had seemed cheaper for the plants to simply spew their poison freely into the atmosphere. That made a plant look more profitable and required less effort from the workers, and maybe even made extra funds available to them. But this, the workers proved, was not what was best for society or even the economy as a whole.

China's cultural activities - films, plays, opera, books, etc. - were a bastion of the capitalist roaders and a remnant from the old society, and their dominance of the ideas and outlook in the sphere of culture was a big obstacle to further revolutionising society. Mao said that the Ministry of Culture should be renamed the Ministry of Emperors, Kings, Generals and Ministers, Talents, Mummies, Gifted Scholars and Beauties, if it refused to change.

Chiang Ching came forward as a major Party leader in her own right. She played an important role in leading a mass upsurge to overthrow the capitalist roaders wherever they had power. She also made a particular contribution to the revolution in culture. Opera was extremely popular in China and yet still needed to be transformed. In a meeting with 5,000 representatives of opera companies from across the country, she provocatively asked whether they wanted to serve the interests of the common people or the handful of capitalist roaders who represented the persistence of the evils of the old society. "The grain we eat is grown by the peasants, the clothes we wear and the houses we live in were all made by the workers, and the People's Liberation Army stands guard at the fronts of national defence for us, and yet we do not portray them on the stage. May I ask which class stand you take?" The foremost task in opera, she said, was to create revolutionary heroes and especially to produce some advanced operas that could serve as models for opera and culture in general.

With the Cultural Revolution teaching was completely overhauled. Universities were set up in the countryside, so that teachers and students could learn from each other and from the masses and produce graduates who were both close to the masses and scientifically trained - in other words, both red and expert.


What made all this possible? The leadership of a Communist Party guided by the ideology that today we call Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. That Party led a revolutionary war that smashed the political power of the old ruling classes and put it in the hands of the people. It made that ideology the property of the dispossessed and led them to continue the revolution, step by step, toward the liberation of all humanity.

China remained a poor country, but its socialism was a superior system.

It was able to meet the people's needs. From the early days after liberation, everyone was guaranteed food, clothing, fuel, a dignified funeral and education, whether working or not. No one had to worry about what would happen to their children. In short, they stopped being prisoners of starvation and could develop fully as human beings.

This development took place in a way that can never happen in a capitalist country. China was able to provide for its people, without exploiting the people of other countries, which is the secret of the higher living standards in the imperialist countries. Instead of increasingly dividing the country into a rich minority and a poor majority, the Chinese revolution was increasingly reducing the gaps and inequalities in society, between city and countryside, workers and peasants, intellectual labour and manual labour, and men and women. While it was not yet possible for everyone to simply get everything they needed, without any differences, many of the basic necessities of life were free or very cheap for all.

The Cultural Revolution could not put an end to all social inequalities and contradictions. As Mao said, communism could not be won until classes were finally abolished, not only in China but throughout the world. As long as classes exist, what is decisive is the line the party takes, or in other words, the direction society is moving in.

The capitalist roaders staged a military coup, arrested Mao's closest comrades, Chiang Ching and Chang Chung-chao foremost among them, and unleashed a wave of terror against the revolutionaries. China's masses were robbed of their political power.

The new ruling class undid everything. They broke up the People's Communes. Today a few peasants have become rich and a hundred million or more roam the country, homeless and half-starved, searching for work. The workers have been kicked out of running things and ordered to shut up and be grateful for their jobs - if they are "lucky" enough to be employed in making something the imperialists find profitable. China's so-called "modernisation" has meant shutting down much of China's heavy industry and throwing people onto the streets to fend for themselves. Where new industries have sprung up, making clothing and televisions, for instance, they have meant the employment of cheap Chinese labour under the boot of foreign capital and often for the foreign market. The dirty work for rich countries is done in countries like China, where industrial poison and toxic wastes are everywhere. China's new rulers are running the country for the benefit of the imperialists on whom China's economy increasingly depends.

China now has some of the world's most extreme corruption at every level. There have been major peasant uprisings against the heavy burden of taxes and other new forms of exploitation. Girl babies are being killed at an alarming rate. Prostitution and drug addiction are once again rampant. AIDS is threatening to rival or even surpass the epidemics that stalked China until they were stopped cold in 1949.

The capitalist roaders who have taken over the Communist Party may be in control, as long as it suits their foreign masters, but there is nothing at all communist about the Chinese Communist Party anymore. Once again, China's people will have to take power, guns in hand, with the backing of the revolutionaries and the people of the world. Yet they - and we - don't have to start out all over again, from zero, because we have the experience of socialism, the line and lessons of that living, breathing example, developed through the struggle of hundreds of millions. It was a revolution that went further than any other ever before. That experience is the common heritage of the people of the world, a shining example of the superiority of the socialist system.