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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 these fetters

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 foreign imperialism.

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.