In Defense of the Chinese Revolution:
The record of Workers World Party

September 17, 1976

By Deirdre Griswold

In the 27 years since the victory of the revolution on the Chinese mainland, Workers World has been unique in both consistently defending the essentially socialist character of the revolution and in providing a profoundly Marxist explanation of its successes and reverses. Even before the formal launching of Workers World Party in 1959, the leaders of our party-to-be saw in the Chinese Revolution the greatest social upheaval since 1917, when the Russian Revolution had for the first time put the proletariat in power.

In a document on "The Global Class War," published in September 1950, Sam Marcy, future chairman and theoretical leader of Workers World Party, was the first defender of the revolution to explain that it was, in essence, a "dictatorship of the proletariat," although "not chemically pure, as no social formation ever is."

This position was put forward by no other political tendency known to us at that time, including the Chinese Communist leadership themselves. Of course, the proletariat was then very weak numerically in China, and the revolutionary workers' state was not able to carry out many of the socialist tasks of the revolution at the beginning. But even though the leaders of People's China themselves referred to their state as representing a "peoples democracy" and a "democratic dictatorship," this only masked the fact that one class, the proletariat, was dominant, and that only proletarian revolution with the expropriation of private property and the introduction of socialist planning could move China forward out of centuries of oppression and backwardness.

While this fact was debated by the entire left, it was quickly grasped by world imperialism. In less than a year, a war had been launched in Korea that arrayed the forces of world imperialism, led by the U.S., against the combined strength of the Korean people and the entire socialist camp -- led by China and the USSR. Its objective was to turn back the socialist revolution sweeping Asia, and the ferocity of the imperialist onslaught confirmed the character of that revolution.


The founding of Workers World Party in 1959 signified the emergence of a tendency in the U.S. that championed all the socialist countries, seeking through its press to educate the most advanced elements here on the earthshaking changes being wrought in that part of the world that had seemed to be mired in social stagnation. In the very first issue of this newspaper (March 1959), a front-page article hailed the Chinese communes, which were being treated as utopian by many on the left. Workers World saw the communes not only as a higher stage of production in agriculture, but as an expression of the revolutionary determination of the youth, of women, of students and political cadre, to thoroughly reorganize life in China on a collective basis, in the process overthrowing the old oppressive institutions and social relations based on private property.

To combat ideologically the anticommunism of the U.S. imperialist ruling class and help the workers and oppressed here understand their identity of interests with the revolutionary currents in the world -- such has always been a cornerstone of the purpose of Workers World Party. Of course, in order to best defend the overall interests of our class camp, that is, in order to be most partisan to the cause of the world proletarian revolution, it is necessary to maintain the kind of political independence that enables revolutionaries to speak up if they see that cause being damaged by the policies of leaders of socialist countries subject to the tremendous pressures of hostile imperialism.


While Workers World Party has always maintained such independence, this has not prevented it from being the most enthusiastic fighter for the Chinese Revolution, especially in those Years when the masses in China were sweeping away one entrenched institution of class society after another, and when China's international policies were more and more providing a rallying point for the world working class and the liberation movements in the struggle against imperialism.

In the early sixties, there was no organized "Maoist movement" in the world. China was under constant ideological attack by imperialism, and increasing military pressure on its borders, too.

The bourgeois press then created an image of the USSR and China almost the opposite of what they convey today. Chinese society was "dogmatic," "totalitarian," "xenophobic." Khrushchev's openings to the West, his meeting with Eisenhower at Camp David, his advocacy of "peaceful coexistence" were all viewed in the camp of imperialism as positive developments, and the Soviet leaders were increasingly characterized as "imaginative," "flexible," and "realistic."

People's China was extremely hard-pressed and isolated on the issues of Tibet and the border war with India. Workers World Party stood virtually alone in this country in its defense of China on these questions. In retrospect, they may not seem difficult issues. Now it is known that the CIA had a special campaign to promote counterrevolution in Tibet through the Dalai Lama, and a Tibetan colony under the protection of the U.S. Air Force exists in Colorado today, a legacy of that period.

And by now several books have been written to show that China was fighting a defensive war against India in a struggle largely orchestrated by U.S. imperialism. But at that time the bourgeois opinion-makers depicted China as a monstrous aggressor hungry to dominate the entire Indian subcontinent, and it took a thoroughly revolutionary, internationalist party in this country to expose this as a lie.

The origins of the Sino-Soviet split must be seen in the context of a world in which the leaders of the Soviet Union were courting the U.S. imperialists, who in turn showed an unbending hostility to People's China. And it was a world in which rising revolutionary movements -- in Vietnam, in the Congo, in Cuba -- were seeking not accommodation with imperialism, but liberation from its oppressive coils.

With the publication in late 1962 of the article, "The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us" by the Chinese Communist Party (reprinted in the U. S. in pamphlet form by WWP), the Chinese party began a polemical attack on the policies of revisionism and class collaboration practiced not only by the Italian CP, but also by the leaders of the Soviet Union. On Jan. 25, 1963, Workers World newspaper called for "firm support to the Chinese CP" in the polemic and explained, "Marxism-Leninism is the doctrine of the prosecution of the revolutionary class struggle in the interest of the victory of the world socialist revolution. In its answer to Togliatti, the CCP states that 'he and other comrades are in reality substituting class collaboration for class struggle on a world scale (and) advocating a fusion of the capitalist and socialist systems.' "


It was only six months later that U.S. imperialism achieved a significant victory in its efforts to inflame the differences between the Soviet and Chinese leaders, to push them beyond polemics onto a state-to-state collision course.

This was the purpose of the nuclear test ban treaty of July 1963. Far from leading to any kind of move toward world disarmament, the U.S.-Soviet treaty was seen by U.S. imperialism as a way of freezing its military advantage over the socialist countries. Politically, it was a razor cut at the Sino-Soviet alliance. Workers World newspaper said at the time (July 26, 1963), "In carrying on the negotiations with the U.S., while at the same time carrying out a campaign of vilification against the Chinese CP, Khrushchev has not only undermined the strength of the socialist countries and the international communist movement, but the Soviet Union itself.

"It is now plain that he has embarked upon a course that is most dangerous to the cause of world socialism and the destiny of mankind itself. No greater error can be made than to underestimate this danger."

Workers World saw this pact -- the test ban treaty with its implied U.S.-Soviet alliance against China -- as a weighty link in the chain of events that led China's leaders to so drastically alter their stance toward the USSR, and eventually to seek their own alliance with Washington. The course of Sino-Soviet relations cannot be understood without taking into account the long and carefully planed efforts by the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie to split the socialist camp.


In all the great bourgeois revolutions, and in the first proletarian revolution in backward Russia, the period of intense forward motion was followed by a decline and a partial reaction. Marxists call such a period Thermidor, after the month during the French Revolution when the political reaction asserted itself, restored much of the old society, but was unable to overthrow the class foundations of the new bourgeois state.

In China, this period of reaction was anticipated by the revolutionary leadership, who called on the masses to meet and defeat it with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was almost universally condemned at the time -- first of all by the world bourgeoisie, who slandered it as "anarchy" and "chaos" -- but also by the CPs lined up with the Soviet leadership and even by those tendencies who considered themselves to the "left" of the Communist parties.

Workers World, however, hailed the Cultural Revolution as an "earnest effort" to bring into practice new, revolutionary socialist ideas, habits, and customs to conform to the socialist foundations of China. In a series of articles in Workers World, beginning Jan. 20, 1967, Sam Marcy explained that the Cultural Revolution was a genuinely leftist development that found inspiration in the first workers' government, the Paris Commune, and that it was responding to the rise of a restorationist element in China that had become so strong within the party and in the positions of authority that a situation of dual power had been created.

Workers World Party supported the momentous effort of the leftists -- particularly the Red Guards and units of the People's Liberation Army -- under the leadership of Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Defense Minister Lin Piao to rouse the masses in this struggle against reaction and bourgeois restoration.

It was at this very moment in history that the leaders in the Soviet Union took another step fatal to the revival of Sino-Soviet collaboration. While visiting Britain in February 1967, that is, while in the capital of an imperialist country, Premier Kosygin told the press, "We are aware there are today in China, in the Communist Party in China, and in the Chinese government, people who are struggling against the dictatorial regime of Mao Tse-tung. We sympathize with them. ..."

This counter-revolutionary attack on the leadership of the Chinese Revolution was made in a period when the USSR, not China, had made an accommodation with the U.S. It was followed by yet another blow against People's China: an agreement in 1968 between Washington and Moscow preventing the "proliferation" of nuclear weapons to their allies -- an agreement that it is obvious today the U.S. never intended to keep, since it has provided Israel, Taiwan, south Korea, and others with nuclear capabilities.

The tremendous heightening of tensions that followed these events led ultimately to an actual military clash along the Sino-Soviet border -- a disastrous development not only for these two socialist countries, but for the solidarity and consciousness of the world proletariat and the oppressed nations.


While the parties that were lined up with either the Soviet or Chinese leaders at that time took sides on the border dispute, Workers World called for a peaceful solution of the conflict. In an editorial on March 20, 1969, we said, "The continuation of the border conflict between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China can serve no useful, genuinely progressive purpose. If it is not terminated soon, it will divert the struggle against imperialism, confuse large masses of progressive people everywhere, diminish the political consciousness of the working people, and inflict untold damage on the cause of world socialism."

This position did not ignore the role that Soviet revisionist policies had played in provoking the border clash. "The fundamental responsibility for the border clash rests ... on the Soviet leaders," we said. But we believed that the Chinese Communist Party, as the party that had been "the standard bearer for the revolutionary cause," had "the duty to the world movement to see to it that the border conflict does not divert the main revolutionary struggle against imperialism."

The border dispute did not turn into the all-out war between the Soviet Union and China that the bourgeoisie so hoped for, predicted, and incited. But it did raise the spectre of such a war on both sides and gave impetus to those elements in China who had been characterizing the Soviet Union as "social-imperialist." It had only been a year earlier that Peking Review had for the first tome declared that capitalism had been restored in the Soviet Union. Even then, it had run it alongside a quote from Mao Tse-tung advising that "the masses of the Soviet people and of Party members and cadres are good, that they desire revolution and that revisionism will not last long."


This optimism, which belied any serious assertion that there had been a thorough-going bourgeois counter-revolution in the USSR, did not survive the "non-proliferation" treaty or the border clash.

The label "social-imperialist" was used for the first time by Premier Chou En-lai to describe the USSR immediately after the Warsaw Pact intervention into Czechoslovakia in 1968. Yet this move by the USSR to prevent a bourgeois restoration in Czechoslovakia, no matter that it was done by a revisionist bureaucracy, was no different in essence than the Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956 -- a move that had been supported at the time by the Chinese leaders.

This new class characterization of the Soviet Union by the Chinese CP, arrived at not because of any fundamental change that had taken place in the USSR but because of the increasingly hostile relations between these two great socialist countries, opened the door to a U.S.-China rapprochement. If the Soviet Union were now "social-imperialist," then the question of an alliance with one imperialist against the other was only a matter of tactics, not principle. And if the Soviet Union were "fascist," a term that began to appear in the Chinese press, then it might even be preferable to have an alliance with U.S. imperialism!

Yet even this logic did not cushion the shock for many loyal followers of China's line when, in the early summer of 1971, it was announced that Nixon had been invited to China. For China had attracted behind its banners many who wanted the most to fight U.S. imperialism and who hoped that a new international alliance of revolutionaries could be forged. This was the height of the war in Indochina, and U.S. imperialism was passionately hated around the world. Every day the living images were there to see: children burned with napalm and phosphorus; villages razed to the ground; bomb craters stretching to the horizon.

Nixon personified U.S. imperialism, and the question on every politically conscious person's mind was: Why did China do it?

Workers World Party had been prepared for this painful turn of events much earlier. At the 1966 Labor Day Conference of the Party in New York City, Comrade Sam Marcy had raised the possibility: "If the ideological struggle between the Chinese party and the Soviet revisionists deepens and becomes a struggle between states, then it is possible that People's China may make a pact with the U.S. against the USSR."

Then, as in 1971, our party did not oppose the right of a socialist country to conclude a pact or treaty with an imperialist nation. But there was more involved in the Nixon visit than a mere "normalization of relations" between the two states. What it signified was a broad agreement between the U.S. and People's China -- undertaken at a time when U.S. imperialism was intensifying its bombing against the Vietnamese people. As we said on July 30, 1971, "The irresistible conclusion is that the Nixon invitation is a setback to the revolutionary movement."

But in analyzing why China did it, Comrade Sam Marcy wrote that it could not "be explained solely as a response to Soviet revisionist policy." Comparing this turn to that made by the Soviet party in the twenties, alter the failure of important revolutionary struggles in Europe, he pointed out that the crushing defeat to the progressive forces in Indonesia in 1965, plus the inability of the Chinese party to win to its side in the struggle against Soviet revisionism any large and influential communist parties, were key factors in China's retreat to a "national" brand of socialism -- where it perceived its own national interests in a way that subordinated the interests of the international revolutionary movement.


The tragic end of Lin Piao, former Defense Minister and successor to Mao according to the Chinese Constitution, and the disappearance of his associates marked the end of an entire stage of the Chinese Revolution. In two wide-ranging articles in this paper on "The Cultural Revolution and the Fall of Lin Piao," Sam Marcy reviewed the lessons derived by Marxists from earlier great social revolutions. He showed how applicable were the writings of Engels on this subject to the course of events in China.

Speaking of modern bourgeois revolutions, Engels had noted that "after the first great success," the victorious class had become divided. "One half was pleased with what had been gained, the other wanted to go still further, and put forward new demands." But the radicals had been defeated in this. Nevertheless, said Engels, "the achievements of the first victory were only safeguarded by the second victory of the more radical party; this having been attained ... the radicals and their achievements vanished once more from the stage."

This was the achievement of the Cultural Revolution, said Marcy, and of Lin Piao and the other "radicals" in China. "Their participation and leadership in the Cultural Revolution helped block capitalist restoration and to safeguard the new property relations established by the revolution."

But there are also important differences between a proletarian revolution and the bourgeois revolutions, Comrade Marcy pointed out. A proletarian revolution "needs a revolutionary worldwide perspective for its further socialist development," while the bourgeois revolutions were nationalistic in character.

"Peaceful coexistence and accommodation with the West is what Mao proposed as the new foreign policy," he wrote. "This is what the 'radical faction' ... rejected and opposed. They were vanquished as earlier opponents of peaceful accommodation with the West were vanquished in the long period following Lenin's death in the Soviet Union.

"But the decay of the worldwide system of imperialism daily brings in its train economic, social, and political catastrophes for the masses as well as genocidal imperialist wars. This makes the worldwide proletarian revolution all the more imperative and inevitable, and peaceful accommodation with the West a reactionary utopia."


In the four years since this was written, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have succeeded in expelling the foreign imperialists and have embarked on the road of socialist reconstruction of their war-torn societies; Portugal's former colonies in Africa have defeated the combined efforts of the colonialists and their imperialist backers; and the capitalist world has entered a period of economic decline more prolonged and severe than any since the Great Depression.

China's leaders in this period have found themselves in a blind alley with regard to international policy. This reached a critical point over the question of Angola. The false theory of "social-imperialism " and its application to southern Africa put the People's Republic of China in an antagonistic position to a genuine and most revolutionary struggle for national liberation led by the MPLA -- in other words, in a position harmful not only to the world movement but also to the basic class interests of socialist China itself.

The policies of China's leaders in recent years have led to their support of NATO and other reactionary bourgeois alliances to contain "Soviet social-imperialism" and to the sorry spectacle of a right-wing militarist like ex-Defense Secretary James Schlesinger being welcomed at Chairman Mao's funeral.

Proletarian revolutionaries can only be saddened by and opposed to such harmful policies, and promote, in the words of Ho Chi Minh, the "restoration of unity among the fraternal parties on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, in a way which conforms to both reason and sentiment."

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