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
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
THE SITUATION IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
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
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
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.
STRUGGLE IN THE PARTY
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.
THE GREAT LEAP FORWARD
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.
THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION
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
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
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
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
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
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.