Jean-Paul Martin

“Uninterrupted” Revolution in China

(October 1958)

From Fourth International (Paris), No. 4, Autumn 1958, pp. 23–27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

China is at present in a state of “uninterrupted” revolution that condenses “twenty years in a day,” according to the formulae which the Chinese leaders themselves are currently employing – borrowing them, they remind us, from Marx and Lenin. Thus Liou Shao-Chi, in the report he made to the second session of the VIIIth National Congress last May, did not hesitate to affirm that the Chinese Revolution has always been led by the Chinese CP and Mao Tse-Tung in the spirit of the “uninterrupted” revolution.

The Chinese leaders are now using this term in the sense of the “permanent revolution” which stipulates that the seizure of power in a country does not finish the revolution but opens a whole period of revolutionary transformations, marking so many stages in the “steady development of the revolution.”

The years 1955–1956 were those of the total collectivization of agriculture and the “socialization” of industry, handicrafts, and trade. The year 1957 was above all that of the campaign of “rectification,” which having begun with the keynote of “liberalization” by taking into account the “contradictions in the people,” soon turned into a furious campaign of extermination of the “rightists.” The year 1958 will be above all that of the “people’s communes.”

This last transformation is far-and-away the most radical that has hitherto been undertaken by the Chinese leadership on the economic, social, cultural, and administrative planes simultaneously.

But before treating this subject, we must get a better grasp of what may be called the “uninterrupted” and “stormy” revolution which has been taking form in China since May, and whose frantic character has never been matched in the history of any revolution, including in the Soviet Union at the time of the 1928–1933 turn, of the First Five-Year Plan, and of forced collectivization.

To understand these events, we must set up some relatively arbitrary guide-marks, and take as starting-point for example the balance-sheet and prospects of the situation such as they were drawn up at the second session of the VIIIth National Congress in April–May. At that moment, the Chinese leaders appear to have been struck already by the scope of the results attained in the field of “socialist construction” and by “the heroic communist spirit of self-sacrifice of the masses, with the slogan ‘Hard work for a few years; happiness for centuries.’” (Speech of Liou Shao-Chi.)

Spring 1958 marked the beginning of a phenomenal jump in all fields of production. It was estimated at that period (end of April 1958) that industrial production had shown a spurt of 26% compared to the corresponding period of 1957; that steel production would reach 7,100,000 tons in 1958, coal production 180 million tons, machine-tool production 60,000 units. In agriculture the most important progress had been accomplished in irrigation, by adding 350 million mou [1] of irrigated land, i.e., 80 million mou more than the total of irrigated land in the previous eight years, and 110 million mou more than the total of irrigated land during the thousands of years prior to liberation. This caused record results to be predicted for this year.

On the basis of these facts and prospects, the Central Committee of the party proposed in May to push the “technological revolution” still further in order to increase the expansion of productive forces by a whole series of measures, of which the most important was the “transformation of all the big and medium-sized cities into industrial centres” and

to build up new industrial bases in those places where the necessary conditions exist, to enable all the country towns and many townships to develop their own industries, and to increase the value of industrial output of all the provinces and autonomous regions and even most of the provincial administrative counties so that it exceeds that of their agricultural output.

Between August 17th and 30th there was held an extended Plenum of the Political Bureau of the Chinese CP, which took the decision to raise steel production for 1958 from 7,100,000 to 10,700,000 tons, i.e., double that of 1957. The Political Bureau furthermore estimated agricultural production in foodstuffs this year as between 300 and 350 million tons, i.e., an increase of from 60 to 90% over 1957, and cotton production at 3,500,000 tons, i.e., double that of 1957.

On the basis of these results, the Political Bureau pointed out that 1959 would be a decisive year in the 3 years’ hard battle by the people of the whole country. 1959 demands that China’s industry and agriculture continue to forge ahead at the 1958 speed or at a still higher speed. [Our italics]

But the most important decision of this meeting was unquestionably “the establishment of people’s communes in the rural regions throughout the country.”

Since these decisions an enormous press campaign has never stopped glorifying both the surprising new results achieved in the economic field and the “irresistible” movement that is sweeping the peasant masses toward the creation of “people’s communes.”

The Economic Balance-Sheet and Perspectives at the Present Time

In October, on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the liberation, the Chinese press was full of statistics illustrating the “phenomenal” spring forward in production, which was developing at a rhythm never previously equaled in history by any country, including the USSR. The goal of 10,700,000 tons of steel will be achieved this year, thanks to a fantastic multitude (116,000 in September 1958) of little blast furnaces throughout the country, functioning by local methods.

Electric power this year will reach 27,500 million kilowatt-hours, i.e., 42% more than in 1957; production of machine-tools will increase 4½ times over 1957; coal production (210 million tons), 60% more than in 1957.

Agricultural production will reach 350 million tons of foodstuffs (of which rice is the principal one), i.e., double last year. The production of wheat alone has this year reached 40 million tons, exceeding that of the United States and making China the second-largest wheat-producing country in the world.

Cotton production has also doubled, reaching 3.5 million tons, making China the world’s largest cotton-producing country.

Irrigation has made colossal progress, extending to more than 79 million additional acres, i.e., the total arable land of Great Britain and France combined. It is in fact the “fantastic” development of agriculture which in its turn is currently pulling along with it the development of industry, with a particular stress on heavy industry.

Thus the party line about an “equilibrated” development of agriculture and industry is preserved, one steadily backing up the extension of the other.

Tasks which would normally require “20 to 30 years, and, in certain cases, 60 to 70 years,” have been accomplished, according to the Chinese press, in 1958, in a single year.

”Production has been rocketing in almost every branch of industry, agriculture, and other fields of activity.” “Miracles have been created by the extraordinarily diligent and daring efforts of China’s 650 million people.” “It will not take long to overtake Britain,” the Chinese press concludes, foreseeing even more surprising productive results in 1959, “the decisive year.”

These “miracles” have been all the more astounding in that they have been performed on a most rudimentary material and technological foundation. Let us take agriculture, for example.

China’s stupendous achievements in agriculture this year have exploded and rendered out-of-date the theory that a high rate of development can only be achieved in agriculture by way of mechanisation. China’s agricultural advance this year, made without many tractors or big amounts of chemical fertiliser, have relied mainly on the initiative and creativeness of peasants, and on water conservancy, farmyard fertiliser, deep ploughing, soil improvement, the popularisation of selected seed, close planting, pest and plant disease control, careful tending of the land, and tool improvement. [2]

As for developments in industry, the Chinese press attributes them to the fact, among others, that “the mysteries surrounding industrial technique” have been dissipated, and that “the whole party and the whole people” were directly involved in the construction and functioning of every sort of industry. Also involved in the development, according to the party line, were

both national and local industry and large medium and small enterprises simultaneously, with centralized leadership, over-all planning, proper division of labour, and coordination in accordance with the concrete situation of the country. Thus in summary the advances in production are explained by a certain rationalization of human labor, mobilized on a super-Pharaonic scale throughout all China, under the urging of the Communist Party, and, to say things plainly, under the indirect, and if necessary direct, coercion of the state apparatus which the Party controls.

But the basis of a sincere enthusiasm of the broad masses for the gigantic constructive effort at the present stage must not be minimized, either. The “miracles” of China are those of strenuous work by the country’s uncountable people, work better rationalized than in the past, which, applied at a very low production level, cannot fail to produce for a whole period returns that are relatively “miraculous” indeed. China, infinitely faster than the USSR, has experienced, as it were, its “Stakhanovist” period, i.e., a certain rationalization of work, freed from routinary hindrances, but with the difference that Chinese Stakhanovism has already taken on the aspect of a colossal mass movement and is trying to make the best advantage of working methods and material possibilities locally, rather than of mechanized means of production.

The “People’s Communes”

”The people’s commune,” stipulates the ordinance published last September in the party’s theoretical organ, the Red Flag, concerning the Weising-type commune in Honan province,

is a basic unit of society in which the working people unite of their own free will under the leadership of the Communist Party and the People’s Government. Its task is to manage all industrial and agricultural production, exchange, cultural and educational work and political affairs within its own sphere.

This new form of organization in the countryside, considered by the Chinese press to be the “inevitable trend in the development of Chinese history,” and “the best form for accelerating socialist construction and transition to communism in China,” has started to spread irresistibly, especially beginning with September 1958.

The “people’s communes” first sprang up “spontaneously, then were noticed by the Chinese Communist Party and encouraged and developed under its leadership.” Following on the great victories won in agricultural production during the Summer and Autumn of this year, small agricultural cooperatives began to amalgamate into larger ones and to transform themselves into “people’s communes”

where the township and the commune become one entity and industry (the worker), agriculture (the peasant), exchange (the trader), culture and education (the student), and military affairs (the militiaman) merge into one.

One of the main characteristics of the “communes” is that they are constructed on a large scale, owning much land and comprising thousands of persons.

They can develop agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, fishery and subsidiary production simultaneously. [...] The people’s communes so far established generally embrace some 10,000 members, or even 10,000 households, and their area is equal to townships.

By the fact that the “communes” undertake vaster and more complicated productive tasks, they also need all available labor power – all the more so in that everywhere in China now this constitutes at the present stage by far the most important if not the only productive force; hence the need of a quite different social organization so as to free “the full use of labour power,” including that of women, children, and the aged, and to avoid their “waste.” For this reason, the “communes”

not only [...] have to collectivize labour further, but also to organize the collective way of life. On the basis of this urgent need, public canteens, nurseries, kindergartens, tailoring teams, etc. have been formed in large numbers.

The form of property in, the “communes” is “collective,” while waiting to become the “property of all the people,” i.e., state property (which is already the case in some advanced “communes”).

The administrative committees of the communes are in reality “the people’s councils of townships,” soviets.

There is also the tendency for a federation of people’s communes in a county to become one with the people’s council of that county. This facilitates unified leadership, closely combines the collective economy of co-operatives with the state owned economy of townships and counties, and helps transition from collective ownership to ownership by the people as a whole. [People’s Daily, 3 October 1958]

The Chinese leaders estimate that the transformation of “collective” property into property “of all the people” will require from three to four years, if not from five to six, to be completed in the countryside. Some years later, after this period of transition (property of “all the people”), thanks to an unheard-of development of its productive forces, China will enter into the phase of communism properly so called.

“The present people’s commune,” the Chinese CP’s theoretical organ, the Red Flag, writes, at the end of September,

offers our country a good form of organization to accelerate socialist construction and the transition to communism. It will not only be the primary unit of society at the present stage but will grow and become the primary unit of the future communist society. [Our italics]

For the moment, however, one must not have any illusions. The “people’s commune” is an organization of agricultural labor “along military lines.” That does not mean, however, the aforementioned party theoretical organ hastens to emphasize, that the peasants are organized in barracks, or that they are granted the titles of generals, colonels, and captains.

It simply means that the swift expansion of agriculture demands that they should greatly strengthen their organization, act more quickly and with greater discipline and efficiency, so that like factory workers and armymen they can be deployed with greater freedom and on a large scale.

For the moment this military organization is destined “for waging battles against nature.” But in case of need, if an outside enemy attacks “them, the entire armed population will be mobilised to wipe out the enemies resolutely, thoroughly, and completely.”

Just as at present in the factories, schools, and other organizations, so also in the “people’s communes” there exists a militia comprising all men and women from 17 to 40, which engages in military training while working. The militia, according to Mao, is “a military, labor, educational, and athletic organization” beside the regular armed forces. The tension in the Straits of Formosa gave an enormous push to this organization which, under the slogan of “everyone a soldier,” has now become more than 72,000,000 strong.

The “people’s communes,” lastly, also combine educational work with productive work by generalizing compulsory education in different stages and forms for all its members, outside their working hours, reduced precisely to permit these studies.

This in addition ties up with the general directive for educational work in China, which involves a close association with productive manual labor [3] at all echelons of schooling. [4]

According to this directive, besides the formation of schools directly attached to the factories, to the other enterprises, and to the “people’s communes,” attended by workers and peasants at times outside their working hours, permanent full-time schools will include a manual training course with an obligatory period of instruction in manual labor for all pupils and at all echelons of schooling; That is a reform that already goes far beyond Khrushchev’s educational reforms that are currently under discussion in the USSR.

The members of the “people’s communes” receive part of their needs in food and other services free, in addition to a basic wage, and bonuses according to the “intensity” of their labor. The situation varies from one commune to another in terms of how many needs are already satisfied free. Some communes give free food, clothing, housing, education, medical care, etc. Certain others have already extended this system to baths, theatres, cinemas, domestic heating, etc.

Thus, say the Chinese leaders, the income of the members of the “communes” is already divided in two parts: one given according to “the communist principle of to each according to his needs, the other according to the socialist principle of to each according to his labor.”

In reality this distribution system, which was practised before the liberation in the regions occupied by Mao’s armies, has as its goal the transformation of peasants into agricultural workers, with a fixed income, while for the moment favoring the poorest among them, for example large families having a limited capacity for labor, who formerly – according to the Chinese press itself – often had a hard time to keep alive.

The creation of the “people’s communes” has taken on a more rapid and irresistible extension than the 1956 campaign for the collectivization of agriculture, the Chinese press assures us. As of the end of September, more than 90% of all the families of the 500 million Chinese peasants had joined the “communes.” There are at present (October 1958) more than 23,384 “communes” in China, composed on an average of 4,797 families each (as against 750,000 previously existing cooperatives). Organized “along military lines, to do things the way battle duties are carried out,” they live in a “collective” way. According to recent statistics concerning eleven provinces and autonomous regions, 1,400,000 public restaurants and 1,200,000 creches have been created, besides other “collective” services.


Thus China is currently launched on a gigantic enterprise which, on the basis of a Spartan “collectivism,” is trying to give the maximum valorization to its main capital: the labor power of 650 million human beings.

In fact everything is driving toward production by manpower such as has never been undertaken in history, with truly surprising results. Beside the labor of the workers in the cities and of the peasants in agriculture, China is now mobilizing on a gigantic scale the supplementary labor of peasants in local industries, as well as that of women freed from domestic labor, and of children and the aged.

This directed and at least elementarily rationalized mobilization is causing such an opening up of productive forces in a China sunk in sleep for several millenia that, compared to the low level from which that country set out on the morrow of its liberation, it is naturally astounding.

In addition, also in an absolute way, the product of the strenuous labor of 650 million people, consuming in a Spartan way, can in any case not fail to be impressive.

There remains to be seen what is in fact the quality of this labor and how long the present high pressure can continue on the basis of a more than elementary distribution. Criticisms in this connection are not lacking, including within the ranks of the Communist Party, as can be deduced from the speeches of several officials, beginning with Mao himself and Liou Shao-Chi.

The criticisms concern precisely the extreme “pressure” imposed on labor, its “speeds,” as well as its “peasant style,” “the guerilla way to do things,” etc. But the Chinese leaders reject these criticisms as unfounded, defeatist, and timorous, and as not taking into account the creative potentialities of the masses and the immense possibilities of the country. [5]

That is the same language that Stalin also used at the time of the extravagances of the First Five-Year Plan and forced collectivization in the ’30s.

It would be a mistake, however, to minimize the real creative enthusiasm at present existing in China, on which the Chinese leaders are deeply drawing. It would also be a mistake to minimize the gigantic upsurge in which the country is engaged, and the revolutionary fervor reigning there, which is reflected in the Chinese masses as a whole and in the policy of the Chinese CP.

The Chinese giant is getting to his feet and observing to his own surprise and pride the immensity of his own stature in the face of the XXth-century world. He feels limitless forces awakening in him. His view of the world is quite different from that of any other power whatsoever, with an admixture of the childish – normal in a country that was yesterday still asleep in the past and is arriving with such fire and passion at the atomic age – and of the really gigantic.

It all constitutes an extraordinary revolutionary mixture, explosive in matters not only of internal policy, but also – inevitably – of foreign policy.

The Chinese like to repeat that imperialism is in fact a “cardboard tiger,” a regime which is virtually finished, engaging only in desperate rear-guard actions, and that already “the East wind prevails over the West wind.” Even the bomb and atomic war will destroy only “capitalism,” not “socialism,” which is already in fact the winner of the historic stakes.

All that is not merely hypocritical or childish bravado; it is the reflection of real self-confidence on the part of a China that is becoming conscious of its strength and its enormous possibilities, of its immensely increased role in the world of today, and even more in that of tomorrow.

The problem is to “civilize,” so to speak, this gigantic force by avoiding its passing through a stage of super-Stalinist orgies against mankind – to “civilize” it thanks to the material and ideological aid of the world socialist revolution – which is, after all, compared to the Chinese revolution and the colonial revolution in general, historically behind time.

10 October 1958


1. Approximately 6 mou equal 1 acre. Note also that the ton used in these statistics is the metric ton, 10% more than, the British and US ton. [This isn’t strictly true – it does apply to a short ton of 2,000 lbs, whereas a long ton of 2,240 lbs. is approximately the same as a metric ton. – Note by MIA]

2. Bulletin of the Hsin Hua News Agency, 24 September 1958.

3. According to a decision of the party and the government dated 25 October 1958, all functionaries are from now on obliged to do their share of manual labor in industry for one month each year.

4. Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese CP, dated 20 October 1958.

5. China’s potential iron is currently estimated at 100,000 million tons; coal, at 1,500,000 million tons; phosphates, at 30,000 million tons.

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Updated on: 10 October 2015