Martin Glaberman 1967

Upheaval in China

Source: Speak Out, (January 1967).
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg, with thanks to Ian Birchall.

The struggle among the Communist rulers for control of China has reached the stage where the Chinese masses are coming independently on the scene. It is clear that although Mao Tse-tung remains dominant at the national level, controlling most of the press and radio, he is very far from having established his control over the Communist Party, not to speak of the country as a whole. The huge cracks opened up in the ruling structure, the split between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Party, the divisions within the Party itself, the inability of Mao to control major institutions such as the trade unions, higher and secondary education, etc., all have contributed to (and have undoubtedly been caused by) major resistance by Chinese workers and peasants to the totalitarian regime.

In the battle within the Party the Mao wing contains those who are determined to industrialize the country on the disciplined backs of the workers and peasants. The opposition to this view in the party hierarchy seems to include those who do not believe it is possible to impose a greater discipline without great risk of a much more fundamental explosion. They really fear a socialist, revolution of the Hungarian type.

There have been numerous admissions in the Chinese press of resistance by the workers. This has been blamed on the machinations of those in authority in the Party who stubbornly adhere to the bourgeois line. But apart from the needs of the factional struggle, the emergence of an independent struggle by masses of workers and peasants is overwhelmingly documented. One example is the editorial that appeared in the Peking newspapers of Dec. 13,1966, which put it this way: “The one peculiar feature among those in authority inside the party who are taking the capitalist road and a very few who adhere stubbornly to the bourgeois reactionary line is that they stay at back of the screen, and pull strings of mass organizations of students and workers who have been blinded by them, sow discord, create factions, instigate struggles by force and even resort to all kinds of illegal means to deal with the revolutionary masses while they themselves sit on the mountain to watch the tigers fight among themselves.” The only public activity indicated is the activity of “mass organizations of students and workers.”

Widespread reports of loss of control by managers of factories, formation of opposition cells by workers (embryo workers councils?), strikes in major industries and in transportation, inability of Red Guards to reimpose discipline in the factories, together with the peasant unrest and mounting violet confirm our statement in Facing Reality that “China will not need forty years to begin the process of detotalitarianization.”

An editorial in the Liberation Army Daily of May 4, 1966 noted that “Chairman Mao Tse-tung teaches us that classes and class struggle continue to exist in socialist society and that the struggle between the road of socialism and the road of capitalism still goes on... Several decades will not suffice; anywhere from one to several centuries will be required for success.” That sounds the clarion call of the “Great Socialist Cultural Revolution”: not the building of a classless society but the imposition of “centuries” of class rule. What is the “capitalist road” that Mao’s revolutionaries attack? An editorial on April 6, 1966 in People’s Daily attacks the Khrushchev revisionist clique in the Soviet Union because “they have changed the system of pay according to labour, with the result that industrial and raining enterprises and collective farms became instruments with which to make money.” That is, they attack the fact that Russian workers have been able to overcome the worst of the Stalinist piece work system (“pay according to labor”) as revisionism. And they attack the similar efforts of Chinese workers in exactly the same way.

Nowhere are the many thousands of capitalists who were incorporated into the state capitalist hierarchy brought under attack. (According to the N. Y. Times 90.000 capitalists still draw interest on their property in Shanghai alone. They also participate in the management of the state enterprises.) Always it is misled workers and students who are taking the “capitalist Road.”

As we indicated tentatively in Speak Out No.6 (July 1966), “a purge on this scale must concern the most fundamental aspects of Party Policy. That is, and can only be, the failure to discipline the people of China to the extent necessary to overcome the technological, industrial and military backwardness of the country.” From its beginnings as a purge of intellectuals in 1965-6, it has evidently been the aim of Mao to remove from all aspects of Chinese life and culture any elements which will in any way detract from the absolute rigidity of totalitarian discipline. It is impossible, in the long run, to impose the necessary discipline on workers and peasants if flexibility, disagreement, relative freedom appears among the managers, that is, among the intellectuals. The former willingness of Chinese Communism to present itself as. the culmination, rather than the rejection of Chinese history and culture has now been reversed. In the campaign against Wu Han (historian and former vice-mayor of Peking) and a whole range of intellectuals and the purging of Lu Ting-yi, former Minister of Culture, the intention of rooting out every element of humanism, of culture, of cosmopolitanism, came to the fore. No longer will anyone point with pride to the penmanship of Mao Tse-tung or the accomplishments of earlier centuries.

The case of Lu Ting-yi exposes the nonsense about defending the thought of Mao Tse-tung. That is exactly why Lu was purged. A member of the Party since 1924, a veteran of the Long March, he was for many years a leading spokesman for the twists and turns in “Mao’s thought.” All that must go because what is involved is the rejection of the past, including Mao’s past, and the substitution for it of one monolithic facade.

So critical had this problem become of imposing a total discipline on Chinese society that Mao was prepared to risk the destruction of the university system rather than leave any loopholes for resistance to the Stalinization of the society. An indication of part of the problem with the youth was given : in an editorial in People’s Daily of March 31, 1966: “Right on the heels of increasing production and the improvement of people’s livelihood come growing demands from the masses for culture. For this, and for other reasons, the desire of young men and women for education cannot be fully satisfied. The average age of the youthful aspirants is young and they lack the ability to be independent in their livelihood, they do not possess the skills for labour production and cannot participate in this activity... The young men and women idle in society form the major point of attack for the capitalist.,. To face the countryside and develop labour reserves for the rural areas should be the main policy... They should have the foresight to organize all the young men and women of the cities who are not in schools and educate them and also send them to the rural areas in planned migration...”

A picture emerges of unemployment and dissatisfaction among the youth. Mao took two measures to cope with the situation. On the one hand he attempted to dissolve and disperse all youth who were joined together in some social institution by shutting down the universities completely and dissolving or by-passing the official youth organizations. On the other hand he attempted to organize massive bands of scattered, primarily rural, youth in a new organization, the Red Guards. These were removed from their social bases and geographic origins in order to be used as an instrument of the Army to purge the Party. These young people were torn out of the social context of their lives, in either production or in education, in order to be made more manageable.

There is no way to predict the outcome of the massive struggle taking place in China today. To the experts of Monthly Review on the one hand and of The China Quarterly on the other, the struggle is a battle between the “revolutionary” Mao and the conservative Party hierarchy led by President Liu Shao-chi and Party Secretary Teng Hsiao-ping. This leaves to others to explain how the supression of the independent activity of the workers becomes a “revolutionary” policy. Our concern remains above all the workers and peasants of China. He repeat what we said in Facing Reality: “that the genuine mass revolution, the Twentieth Century uprising of the people, has not yet taken place in China and history has decreed that when it does take place it will take place against the totalitarian regime.” It may be aborted, it may suffer defeats and setbacks; but that uprising of the people has begun.