China at 60
Published Oct 1, 2009 9:48 PM
This editorial was written on a Lenovo PC. Lenovo is today the
world’s fourth-largest manufacturer of computers. The largest share of
this Chinese company is owned by the government through the Chinese Academy of
Sciences, which has been in charge of bringing the world’s most populous
country into the modern era. How did China get here?
Sixty years ago, it was a very different place. When, on Oct. 1, 1949,
Communist leader Mao Zedong looked out over a sea of faces in Beijing’s
Tienanmen Square and told the world, “China has stood up,” he spoke
as the leader of an earth-shaking revolution.
After two decades of civil war and anti-imperialist struggle, this great social
movement had succeeded in overcoming the resistance not only of the decadent
ruling classes of China but also of the imperialists and their collaborators.
The People’s Liberation Army had defeated the Japanese invaders and then
swept Chiang Kai-shek and his U.S.-supplied forces off the mainland.
China had been liberated, but it faced enormous challenges and obstacles. Half
a billion people, many of them half-starving, had first to be fed. The cyclical
droughts and floods that killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese every year had
to be tamed. A mostly illiterate population needed to master China’s
complicated written language and then get access for the first time to a formal
education. Basic health needs had to be addressed. A predominantly agrarian
economy had to be modernized to do all this.
Years of struggle had already shown that only the Communists, whose strength
came from fighting in the interests of the millions of exploited workers and
peasants, could carry out such a transformation of Chinese society.
Red China was born into a world dominated by imperialism. Most of the rest of
the world’s people were still under the yoke of colonial rule, although
were being challenged by burgeoning national liberation movements. After World
War II, the U.S. capitalist class imposed its own form of neocolonialism
wherever the exhausted European powers were losing their grip.
Sam Marcy, who later founded Workers World Party in the U.S., wrote in 1950
that the Chinese Revolution was much more than an agrarian reform or
anti-colonial struggle, although it incorporated both these tasks. It came at a
time in history when the bourgeoisie, represented in China by Chiang Kai-shek,
was incapable of liberating the peasants and was completely entangled with
Thus the task of liberating China fell to the Communists and the working
class—small at that time, but natural allies of China’s vast
peasantry. And this required that the Chinese Revolution move beyond bourgeois
property relations. This is what so frightened the world bourgeoisie.
Under Mao, the rural masses were inspired to go from collective farming to the
establishment of communes—where everyone was insured a basic education,
health and increasingly modern technology as well as food, shelter and clothing
in exchange for their labor.
The masses performed wonders, building great dams, canals and other
infrastructure largely by hand in huge brigades.
In the cities, the revolutionary government began to build up industry, where
the workers got the same guarantees. This system was known as the “iron
rice bowl.” Iron because nothing—droughts, floods, war—could
break this basic social security. None of this could have been done without
socializing the means of production.
In 1949, the Soviet Union was China’s greatest ally. But over time,
especially after the Korean War when hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops were
right on China’s doorstep, followed by the Cold War, the pressures of
imperialism caused the Soviet leaders to pull back their support for China. The
Chinese Communist Party was faced with having to go it virtually alone, and
this eventually opened up a sharp debate within the Party over what road to
take to acquire modern technology.
This was the context for a shift to the right in China under Deng Xiaoping and
the opening up to the capitalist world market. Many features of China’s
socialist development, like the communes and the social guarantees for workers
and peasants, were abandoned. At the same time, however, Chinese industry grew
enormously and so did its once-small working class. Sharp class struggles by
the workers against difficult conditions, many imposed by capitalist owners,
are now commonplace in China.
Many in the world progressive movement see China today as a capitalist country.
However, Workers World begs to differ. The kind of counter-revolution that
broke up the workers’ states and set back conditions for the workers in
Russia, other parts of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has not
occurred in China.
The world capitalist economic crisis presents a big challenge to China,
especially since much of its economic growth has been geared to amassing
capital through selling to the capitalist world. How much of China’s
economy can, under the direction of the state, be restructured to strengthen
its socialist base? This is undoubtedly one of the big questions being debated
inside China today.
We cannot analyze in this brief editorial the Chinese economy, which is so huge
and so complex. What we can do is celebrate the tremendous gains for the
Chinese people that were made possible by its great revolution. And we extend
our solidarity to China in its struggle to maintain and develop further the
economic structure necessary to establish a higher form of security and
richness of life for the masses—that is, a socialist society.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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