Spartacist South Africa No. 5
Spartacist South Africa No. 5
Market Reforms Exacerbate Contradictions in China
Defend, Extend the Gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution!
For Proletarian Political Revolution!
We reprint below an edited version of a presentation by Trotskyist League of Canada spokesman Russell Stoker at an April 21 TL forum in Toronto, Canada. It was originally published in Spartacist Canada No. 153 (Summer 2007).
One of the placards on the wall over there has the slogan in Chinese and English, “For unconditional military defense of the Chinese and North Korean deformed workers states!” What do we mean by that? What are the nature and dynamics of contemporary Chinese society? Why is the fate of China one of the most crucial questions facing the working class today? And why is refusing to defend China—the position of almost all our reformist left opponents—necessarily an accommodation to the imperialist rulers in Washington and Ottawa?
To answer these questions, we must start with the 1949 Chinese Revolution. The victory of Mao Zedong’s peasant-based People’s Liberation Army destroyed capitalist rule and profoundly transformed Chinese society. The capitalists and landlords fled to Taiwan under U.S. protection. A nation that had been carved up and plundered by the imperialist powers was unified. Rebuilt as a workers state based on a centrally planned economy, China saw a huge leap in social progress. Land was distributed to the peasants, key industries expropriated and a substantial state-run industrial sector built up from virtually nothing. The revolution’s liberating impact can be seen in the status of Chinese women, who advanced by orders of magnitude over their earlier miserable existence, historically symbolized by the barbaric practice of footbinding.
Ever since, the imperialist powers that dominate the world—centrally the U.S. and Japan, but also junior players like Canada—have sought to reverse the 1949 Revolution and reopen China to full-scale capitalist exploitation. The U.S. threatened nuclear strikes on China during the Korean War of 1950-53. It has sought to isolate China economically and diplomatically. It has persistently worked with Japan and Taiwan to surround China militarily. More recently, the imperialist bandits have employed a dual strategy, combining military provocations with economic penetration of China aimed at strengthening internal counterrevolutionary forces. This has been aided immeasurably by the “market reform” policies enacted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) starting in the early 1980s.
For all the very real gains of the Revolution, the People’s Republic of China was born bureaucratically deformed—ruled not by councils of workers and peasants but by a privileged nationalist bureaucracy. The CCP was not a proletarian but a peasant-based party, having abandoned the cities following the massacre of the workers of Shanghai by the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang in 1927. It was able to overthrow capitalism some two decades later only under exceptional historical circumstances. The working class had been atomized thanks to vicious repression by both the Guomindang and Japanese occupation forces. Bourgeois rule was particularly unstable after Japan’s defeat in World War II, with a deeply corrupt Guomindang regime rotting from within. A final crucial factor was the existence of the Soviet Union, a workers state that could provide military and economic support to the new People’s Republic.
From the start, the CCP regime suppressed independent working-class activity while falsely claiming to be building socialism in a single, very backward country. This was in sharp contrast to the origins of the Soviet Union in the 1917 October Revolution—a proletarian revolution led by the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky that took Marxism out of the realm of theory and gave it flesh and blood. It showed that the working class could take power and run society through democratically elected workers councils. Internationalist to the core, the early Soviet Union was a beacon for workers and the oppressed everywhere.
The Bolshevik leaders understood that workers revolutions in the more advanced capitalist countries were essential to achieve international economic planning and the kind of vast growth in social production that could lay the basis for socialism, an egalitarian society rooted in material abundance. But the revolutionary upsurges that ensued, notably in Germany, were defeated, due to the treachery of the pro-capitalist social democrats and the lack of experienced Bolshevik-style parties that could direct the masses’ aspirations toward a proletarian seizure of state power. In the wake of these defeats, a conservative nationalist bureaucracy took control in the Soviet Union starting in 1923-24. Abandoning working-class internationalism, Stalin and his coterie invented the anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country.” Soon they were sabotaging revolutionary opportunities abroad in a search for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.
Despite this bureaucratic degeneration, the Soviet Union remained a workers state. As long as it existed, it was a crucial military and economic counterweight to the imperialist powers. The Soviet nuclear umbrella prevented the U.S. from irradiating China, North Korea and Vietnam. Even in isolation,the Soviet Union was transformed from an overwhelmingly peasant society to an industrial power, including sharp economic growth during the Great Depression of the 1930s when the economies of the capitalist world were stagnant and shrinking. This amply demonstrated the superiority of a socialized planned economy over the anarchy of capitalism, a system based on accruing private profit through vicious exploitation of the working class.
Marxism and the Proletarian Dictatorship
What do we mean by a “workers state”? This is another way of saying that the USSR was and China, etc. are forms of what Marxists call the dictatorship of the proletariat. Any state is composed of bodies of armed men—police, army, prisons—charged with defending the rule of one class against another. In Canada today we live under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the class of rich financiers and industrialists who mask their rule under a façade of parliamentary democracy. Behind this lies the armed fist of the state—the cops who break picket lines, who beat up and jail Natives, minorities and the homeless.
Karl Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat “the period of revolutionary transformation” to communism, in which a state apparatus is needed to reorganize society and suppress counterrevolutionary machinations by bourgeois forces. The existence of proletarian states in one or more countries is a huge advance that must be defended by working people everywhere. But as communists from Marx on understood, it will take the triumph of workers revolutions on a worldwide basis—especially in the most industrially advanced countries—to defeat capitalism for good and ensure a communist future for humanity.
The world we live in was shaped by the destruction of the Soviet Union through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. This was a terrible defeat that has emboldened the imperialist powers, especially the U.S., and thrown back the struggles and consciousness of workers and the oppressed everywhere. China is now by far the strongest of the remaining deformed workers states, the others being Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. Its proletariat, now hundreds of millions strong, has become the largest and potentially the most powerful in the world. So the stakes here are exceptionally high: over the next period, the fate of China could shape the future of mankind, for good or ill.
The imperialist powers are seeking to replicate in China the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. They are working to cohere a right-wing political opposition centered on the class of capitalist entrepreneurs created during the past two decades of “market reforms.” At the same time, Washington and Tokyo are stepping up military pressure, including encircling China with military bases.
On the pretext of defending the offshore capitalist bastion of Taiwan, they have set up a common military command against China in Yokohama. Tokyo’s so-called Self-Defense Forces weigh in these days with a military budget well in excess of $40 billion. The Pentagon is developing new weapons against China’s limited nuclear arsenal to allow the option of a nuclear first strike. Defense of China against imperialism crucially includes supporting China’s possession and testing of nuclear arms. In the face of U.S. imperialism’s unchallenged global nuclear hegemony, the only meaningful guarantee of any nation’s sovereignty today is possession of a credible nuclear deterrent.
In calling for unconditional military defense of China, we take the same stance that Trotsky took toward the Stalinist-ruled Soviet Union. “It means,” as Trotsky wrote at the outset of World War II, “that we do not lay any conditions upon the bureaucracy. It means that independently of the motive and causes of the war we defend the social basis of the USSR, if it is menaced by danger on the part of imperialism” (“Again and Once More Again on the Nature of the USSR,” October 1939). But, again like Trotsky, we give not an iota of political support to the program of the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy.
The anti-revolutionary nature of the Chinese bureaucracy can be seen historically in its alliance with U.S. imperialism against the Soviet Union, a logical outcome of the quest for “peaceful coexistence” with the rulers in Washington. In 1972, even as U.S. bombs rained down on Vietnam, Mao Zedong hosted and toasted U.S. president Richard Nixon in Beijing. This policy continued under his successor Deng Xiaoping. In 1979, four years after the U.S. was finally defeated by the heroic Vietnamese, Chinese troops criminally invaded Vietnam. Soon after, China supported the CIA-backed Islamic cutthroats in Afghanistan who fought against the Soviet Red Army. In multiple ways, the Mao and Deng wings of the bureaucracy both directly aided the imperialists in destroying the Soviet Union. And it was China’s alliance with the U.S., launched under Mao, that set the stage for Deng’s “open door” to imperialist economic penetration.
Today the CCP regime of Hu Jintao supports Bush’s “war on terror,” the political rationale for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and for Washington’s threats against Iran, one of China’s main energy suppliers. The Beijing bureaucrats have also joined the imperialist-led uproar against North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests, supporting a United Nations resolution last October that imposed sanctions against the Pyongyang regime. Yet any weakening of North Korea against imperialist militarism also weakens the defense of China, which has key industrial regions directly adjacent to the Korean border.
With its appeasement of imperialism and repressive, anti-worker practices, the CCP bureaucracy is an obstacle to the defense of the workers state and to socialist revolution abroad. What is needed is a fight to sweep away bureaucratic rule and replace it with a truly communist regime based on workers and peasants councils and rooted in Marxist internationalism. This would be a political, not a social, revolution. It would defend and extend the gains of the Chinese Revolution while removing the parasitic bureaucracy that undermines and squanders them.
Given its huge population and crucial position in the global economy, the ascent of a revolutionary workers government in China would truly shake the world. It would put socialist revolution in Taiwan, and thus the revolutionary reunification of China, on the immediate agenda. It would spur a fight for revolutionary reunification in Korea through socialist revolution in the South and workers political revolution in the North. A proletarian political revolution in China would provoke revolutionary upsurges in Indonesia and the Philippines, radicalize the proletariat of Japan, the imperialist overseer of Asia, and reverberate globally, including opening up prospects for socialist revolution in the United States and Canada. The success of this perspective hinges on building Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties as part of a reforged Fourth International.
Contradictions of the “Market Reforms”
This is the necessary Marxist political framework for addressing the Chinese rulers’ domestic policies, specifically the “market reforms” of the past 25 years. If you ask Chinese students or other informed individuals their view of these measures, you get one of two reactions. Some, looking back fondly to the egalitarian rhetoric of the Mao era, claim the “reforms” are a total betrayal of the Chinese Revolution. Most, however, say they are overwhelmingly good, as they have brought a sustained level of growth that has greatly improved living standards and economic prospects. Both views capture only part of the reality; both are one-sided, superficial and thus fundamentally false.
China’s “market reforms” have intensified the contradictions inherent in any workers state in an economically underdeveloped country. Under Mao, China was able to build a substantial and relatively modern heavy industrial sector, but it remained a largely rural, peasant country. Over three-quarters of the labour force was engaged in farming and over 80 percent of the population lived in the countryside. Agricultural output did not keep pace with industrial growth and low rural productivity was a barrier to increasing industrialization.
Mao’s policies were far from consistent, ranging from the economic adventurism of the “Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s to the intra-bureaucratic purges of the “Cultural Revolution” in the ’60s. But on the whole, Mao promoted nationalist autarky—a profoundly unreal conception that China could achieve socialism purely through its own methods in an economically backward and resource-poor country. The “reforms” introduced by Deng after Mao’s death were initially an attempt to respond, within the framework of bureaucratic rule, to the inefficiencies of the command economy—poor productivity and quality, scarcity, etc.—that marked the Mao era. Sworn enemies of workers democracy, which is necessary for the healthy operation of a planned economy, the CCP regime turned to the market as a whip to increase productivity.
The foreign investment that began under Deng opened up areas of rapid growth that would not otherwise have been possible in an isolated and largely undeveloped workers state. And growth has indeed been rapid: almost ten percent a year for more than two decades, bringing hundreds of millions out of dire poverty and creating the biggest industrial proletariat in the world. The proportion of the population living in cities has more than doubled. There has been a vast expansion of industrial capacity, and over half the labour force works in manufacturing, transport, construction and the service sector. The precondition for these hugely progressive advances was the smashing of capitalist class rule and creation of a workers state.
By every socioeconomic measure, development in China has greatly outstripped that in capitalist neocolonies like Indonesia and the Philippines. India, which the imperialists tout as Asia’s other “emerging economic giant,” has a per capita gross domestic product that is barely half of China’s. China’s poverty rate is less than half of India’s, while the rate of malnutrition in children is three quarters less. Female adult literacy is nearly 90 percent, almost double the rate in India.
We do not minimize the danger posed by substantial capitalist economic penetration within China. But we differ sharply with those liberals and reformist leftists who claim that the “market reforms” mean China is now capitalist. In fact, the core of the economy remains collectivized. The private sector, including foreign companies, is mainly made up of light industry. Heavy industry—steel, nonferrous metals, heavy machinery, telecommunications, electric power, oil extraction and refining—is concentrated in state enterprises and strategically much more important. The nationalization of land has prevented the emergence of a class of large-scale agrarian capitalists socially dominating the countryside. Continued control of the financial system has thus far enabled the Beijing regime to insulate China from the volatile movements of speculative money-capital that wreak havoc with so many neocolonial countries.
But that’s only part of the picture. The “market reforms” have massively widened the gap in living conditions in China. At one end, they have created a wealthy new class of capitalists with links to both the CCP officialdom and the offshore Chinese bourgeoisie in Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. At the other end, they have impoverished millions of workers, hollowed out crucial social programs like health care, and created tens of millions of unemployed. Workers forced to find new jobs in the private sector generally get lower wages and none of the benefits provided by state enterprises.
Some 150 million migrant workers from rural areas have moved to the cities, where many labour under often terrible conditions for imperialist and offshore Chinese companies. Under the household registration (hukou) system, migrant workers lack the rights of the permanent city residents to health care, education, etc. These workers are often forced to live in segregated dormitories and are looked down upon by workers with urban residence permits. Yet this development, again, is acutely contradictory. Migrant workers in the Pearl and Yangtze River deltas—now the world’s main manufacturing hubs—produce vast quantities of goods for the international market. That means, in turn, that these workers possess significant potential social power.
For years now, China has seen ongoing worker protests over unpaid wages, job losses and working conditions. Peasants too have protested against corruption, environmental disasters and land seizures by local CCP officials. According to the regime’s own statistics, there were more than 80,000 such “mass incidents” in 2005—more than 200 a day. Last month, 20,000 peasants in Hunan province confronted police in protest against a doubling of transit fares by a privatized bus company. After suppressing the revolt, the regime reinstated the original fares and suspended the bus company while arresting the protest leaders.
The regime has attempted to mollify angry workers and peasants with “anti-corruption” campaigns, even executing some high-ranking officials, and has occasionally reversed some of its own “free market” measures. This is not because the Stalinists are committed to defense of the collectivized economy. As Trotsky wrote of the Soviet bureaucracy in The Revolution Betrayed (1936), “It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat.”
Such actions are not those of a possessing class but rather are characteristic of a brittle parasitic caste that deeply fears social unrest. And the bureaucracy is clearly divided. Some elements want the economic reforms to continue unabated. Others want more state intervention to curb the ravages of marketization and to stifle discontent. Still others seek a return to a bureaucratically planned economy. The bottom line is that the CCP’s economic policies are circumscribed by fear of working-class and peasant revolt. The ongoing struggles in China today are the raw material for proletarian political revolution. What is missing is revolutionary internationalist leadership.
China’s “Market Reforms” vs. NEP Under Lenin
We do not oppose China’s extensive economic relations with the capitalist world through trade and joint ventures. To do so would be to accept that Mao-style national autarky is a viable alternative, which it manifestly is not. The key question is: what is the political program of the regime that administers the economy?
Here it is useful to contrast China’s “market reforms” to the New Economic Policy (NEP) instituted by the revolutionary Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union in 1921. The NEP was an emergency measure aimed at reviving the Soviet economy, which had been crippled after three years of bitter civil war and invasions by 14 imperialist countries, including Canada. It included major concessions to small traders as well as invitations for foreign investment. Foreign currency thus earned could have enabled the workers state to purchase what it could not yet make. In the end, little investment came from a hostile capitalist world. But the perspective was completely valid—to secure the resources necessary to defend, and then extend, the revolution.
The Bolshevik leaders saw this as a necessary compromise to buy time until socialist revolutions succeeded in more developed countries. And they worked to actively prepare such revolutions. By day, the Soviet ambassador in Berlin signed trade and other agreements with German capitalists. By night, he worked secretly to help the German workers overthrow these same capitalists. The inherent danger of the NEP, which Lenin and Trotsky were well aware of, was the creation of a new class of capitalist traders and rich peasants who would act as a force against the workers state. In contrast to China today, the early Soviet regime maintained a strict state monopoly on foreign trade.
In China, one of the motivations of the ruling bureaucrats in enacting the “market reforms” is to enrich themselves, while enhancing their privileged position atop the workers state. Numerous sons of top CCP officials—the “Communist” princelings—have become millionaires. Capitalists are now officially welcome in the CCP and wealth may be inherited, a key element allowing for the cohering of a distinct bourgeois class. The regime has also been happy to act as a labour contractor for foreign capitalists to savagely exploit migrant workers, who are offered up as second-class citizens with few rights and social benefits.
When the CCP’s National People’s Congress recently voted a constitutional amendment to protect private property, this simply reflected reality. Even here, however, reality isn’t all it seems. Of the companies quoted on the two main Chinese stock exchanges, the government controls either a majority or a strong minority of the shares. Shareholders don’t have property rights in the capitalist sense of the term. They can get income from stocks and sell shares but can neither determine nor influence enterprise management or policy.
More fundamentally, it is not the bureaucracy’s resolutions that will determine China’s fate, but social struggle. Private property in China is as unstable as the bureaucracy itself: it exists to the extent that the bureaucracy authorizes it. This supposedly inviolable private property could be violated by the bureaucracy under the impact of an open counterrevolutionary threat, or by the working class in a fight for political power in the Chinese deformed workers state. At some point, the explosive social tensions of Chinese society will shatter the current political structure. When that happens, the fate of China will be sharply posed: either proletarian political revolution to open the road to socialism or a return to capitalist enslavement and imperialist subjugation.
A China of workers and peasants councils would re-establish a centrally planned economy and reinstate the state monopoly of foreign trade. It would expropriate the Chinese capitalist entrepreneurs and renegotiate the terms of foreign investment in the interests of Chinese workers—insisting, for example, on at least the same benefits and working conditions as in the state sector. It would encourage the voluntary collectivization of agriculture on the basis of large-scale mechanized and scientific farming, while recognizing that this requires substantial material aid from successful workers revolutions in more economically advanced countries. A revolutionary regime in China would be profoundly internationalist, understanding that genuine communism can only come via a globally integrated and planned socialist economy following proletarian revolution in the imperialist centers.
For Workers Political Revolution!
The potential for a pro-socialist workers uprising was shown in the May-June 1989 protests centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. At first the protests were mainly by students opposing corruption and seeking political liberalization. Soon the movement was joined by millions of workers, who began to hold mass meetings and create embryonic workers councils.
The entry onto the scene of the working class terrified the bureaucracy, which unleashed fierce repression. But the first army units it mobilized failed to suppress the protests, because they solidarized with the students’ demands. The massacres of June 1989, which overwhelmingly targeted the workers, could only be carried out when the regime brought in army units considered more loyal. The Tiananmen events illustrated a key point about the army in a workers state—it can be split vertically during a political revolution, with sections of both the ranks and the officer corps making common cause with the insurgent workers.
Our organization, the International Communist League, covered these events extensively in our press. We called to “Oust the Bureaucrats—For Lenin’s Communism! Workers and Soldiers Soviets Must Rule!” and, after the massacre, to “Defend Chinese Workers! Stop the Executions!” While we were not able to intervene directly in China in the spring of 1989, six months later we were able to intervene in another upsurge in a deformed workers state, the German Democratic Republic (DDR), that posed the possibility of proletarian political revolution. When the East German population rose up against bureaucratic privilege and mismanagement, the Stalinist regime began to disintegrate from within. Up to a million people rallied in the protests, raising slogans like “For Communist Ideals—No Privileges!” We undertook the biggest intervention in the history of our tendency, fighting for workers and soldiers councils to be forged and to take power.
Workers came to us and asked, how do we form workers councils? Enough seriously considered what the ICL was fighting for that when fascists desecrated a Soviet war memorial in Treptow Park, East Berlin, the ruling Stalinist party felt compelled to join a united-front protest we initiated against the Nazis and in defense of the Soviet Union. A quarter million workers and soldiers came out. For the first time ever in a deformed workers state, Trotskyists addressed a mass audience. Our speaker called for “Workers and soldiers soviets to power!”
Two programs were competing: ours, of proletarian political revolution to defend and extend the gains of the workers state, and the Stalinist program of capitulation and counterrevolution. The Treptow mobilization frightened the powers that be, both East and West, and our forces were too small. We lost, as the Soviet Stalinist regime quickly surrendered the DDR to capitalism. But the lessons of this struggle must be assimilated by the international working class, including in China. Our intervention showed how, when an accumulation of events finally produces an upheaval and crack in bureaucratic rule, it is possible for a revolutionary internationalist program to have a massive impact.
Down With Anti-Communist China-Bashing!
I now want to turn to the stance toward China taken by the social democrats and labour bureaucrats in Canada, as well as the reformist left groups that tail them. The bottom line is this: while we Trotskyists call to defend China against imperialism as part of a fight for international socialist revolution, the labour tops and fake leftists stand with the imperialists. In supporting all manner of anti-Communist campaigns against China, they are reprising their dirty work in backing the capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union.
Let me start with the question of protectionism. As everyone in this room knows, the capitalists have been looting the working class of this country. Since the early 1990s, the wealth amassed by Canadian banks and corporations has soared while workers and the poor have seen huge cuts in real wages and social services. Hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs are gone, especially in Ontario. Despite outbursts of labour struggle, the union leaders have repeatedly capitulated to the attacks and giveback demands.
Instead of using class-struggle weapons like strikes, they whip up Canadian-nationalist protectionism, claiming that workers abroad—especially in Japan, Korea and China—are “stealing jobs.” Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) president Buzz Hargrove regularly demands that Canada act against Asian automotive imports. And the UNITE HERE union is waging a joint campaign with the textile bosses demanding that Ottawa slash imports from China. This underlines the pro-capitalist character of the labour bureaucracy, a thin, privileged layer at the head of the unions. Its calls to ally with the Canadian capitalist state against foreign competition are flatly against the workers’ interests, which lie in common, internationalist class struggle against capitalism.
What I want to emphasize is how these campaigns are combined with anti-Communism against China. Take the recent furor over the award of a Toronto subway manufacturing contract to Bombardier for production at its Thunder Bay plant. When a German company claimed it could do the work cheaper, in part by assembling trains in China, the labour bureaucrats staged chauvinist rallies on the theme, “Made in Canada Matters.” Cynically manipulating workers’ fears of job losses, the CAW tops called to “oppose politicians who want to ship jobs overseas,” while NDP [social-democratic New Democratic Party] councillor Howard Moscoe railed, “I don’t want to build my cars in a communist regime.... I want to make my cars where it benefits Canadian workers” (Northern Ontario Business, 5 June 2006).
Such calls are coupled with demands that the Canadian rulers take a hard-line stand against China in the name of “human rights.” To look to the Canadian capitalists as a progressive force for “human rights” anywhere is grotesque. This is the same ruling class that interned Japanese Canadians in World War II; that has visited unspeakable devastation on Native people from the reserves and inner-city ghettos to the residential schools; that sent the army into Quebec to suppress struggles for national and social rights in October 1970, jailing hundreds.
Yet when Chinese premier Hu Jintao visited Canada in 2005, the NDP called on the then Liberal government in Ottawa to “drive home Canada’s serious concerns with China’s record of human rights abuses.” And the Canadian Labour Congress has joined with pro-imperialist organizations including the Falun Dafa religious sect, Canada Tibet Committee and Rights & Democracy, a “non-partisan” outfit set up by the Mulroney Tory government, to form something called the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China. Last fall, an open letter to [Conservative prime minister] Stephen Harper by this outfit attacked the Liberal government’s “quiet diplomacy” with China and urged the Tories to implement a “strengthened approach.” Now they’re getting what they asked for, as Harper lectures the Chinese regime on “human rights” at every opportunity.
The Canadian labour tops, like their U.S. partners-in-crime, have a long record of dirty work on behalf of their imperialist masters. The CLC bureaucracy and the NDP were forged through vicious purges of reds from the unions from the 1940s up into the ’60s. In the 1980s, they hailed Polish Solidarność, a reactionary movement masquerading as a union that was in the forefront of the drive for capitalist restoration in East Europe. The American AFL-CIO channeled millions in CIA money to Solidarność. In Canada, the NDP and B.C. [British Columbia] Federation of Labour organized an anti-Communist picket against a Polish ship, while the CLC put on its payroll one Zygmunt Przetakiewicz, a rabidly reactionary Solidarność advocate who openly made common cause with Washington, including by supporting murderous CIA-orchestrated counterinsurgency against Central American leftists. Today, the union tops promote pro-imperialist so-called “labour activists” like the Chinese exile Han Dongfang, who broadcasts on the CIA’s Radio Free Asia and is a darling of American right-wing circles.
Political struggle against the pro-capitalist labour tops and their allies in the social-democratic NDP is central to the fight to forge a revolutionary workers party in this country. Buying into protectionism and anti-Communism means allying with the very capitalist exploiters who are ripping apart the livelihoods of working people. What is needed is class struggle against the capitalist rulers. A crucial component of this is defense of the gains of working people abroad—in China, in Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea—against the counterrevolutionary machinations of our “own” ruling class.
Pro-Imperialist Accomplices of Counterrevolution
What about the reformist “socialist” groups who claim to stand to the left of the labour bureaucracy and NDP? Almost all of them claim that China is a capitalist country. This is not a mistaken analysis but an anti-Communist political program. These reformist groups openly back counterrevolutionary forces inside China or among the Chinese diaspora, or even directly support U.S. imperialism and its regional allies like Taiwan.
The International Socialists (I.S.) claim China has never been a workers state but has been “state capitalist” since 1949. This absurd “theory,” which they also apply to the other workers states, is a fig leaf for decades of anti-Communist practice on behalf of imperialism. The I.S. tendency began in Britain when its founder Tony Cliff bowed to bourgeois hysteria accompanying the Korean War. In a craven capitulation to the Labour Party government, which had sent troops to Korea, Cliff refused to call for defense of North Korea and China against U.S. and British imperialism. He and his followers went on to hail every manner of imperialist-backed movement against the workers states.
This included Boris Yeltsin’s pro-capitalist rabble in Moscow in August 1991, whose triumph paved the way for the destruction of the Soviet Union. The I.S.’s British parent group, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), proclaimed, “Communism has collapsed.... It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991). Rejoicing! The return of capitalist exploitation to Russia produced armies of the unemployed and homeless, plummeting life expectancy, murderous nationalism and the destruction of women’s rights. Unfettered by what had been the industrial and military powerhouse of the non-capitalist world, the U.S. has felt free to launch military adventures all over the world, while capitalist governments everywhere have accelerated their attacks on workers and the oppressed.
While the I.S. hailed capitalist counterrevolution, the ICL fought against it—standing, as Trotsky urged, “on the final barricade” in defense of the USSR. In the crucial days and weeks, our comrades distributed 100,000 copies of a Russian-language leaflet, “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” at factories and in workers’ districts.
Naturally, the I.S. and SWP also side with anti-Communist bourgeois forces against China. This includes the political heirs of the Guomindang, who for decades ran the brutal capitalist state of Taiwan. Eleven years ago, as U.S. warships plied the Taiwan straits in one of many provocations against Beijing, the SWP magazine Socialist Review (April 1996) proclaimed: “China’s claim to Taiwan is a colonialist one. We would oppose any Chinese invasion of Taiwan as an act of imperialist aggression.”
In sharp contrast, we Trotskyists will stand with China in any military conflict with Taiwan or its imperialist patrons. Ever since the Guomindang and the Chinese bourgeoisie fled to Taiwan, the latter has been an outpost for U.S. imperialism’s counterrevolutionary schemes. Taiwan has been a part of China since ancient times—it is ethnically, linguistically and historically Chinese. We also oppose the Chinese Stalinists’ proposal for reunification with Taiwan under the slogan “one country, two systems.” We call instead for the revolutionary reunification of China: socialist revolution in Taiwan to overthrow and expropriate the bourgeoisie and proletarian political revolution on the mainland.
Another group that embraces imperialist anti-Communism is the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) of Alan Woods, whose Canadian affiliate is the Fightback group. This group claims that China has gradually, even imperceptibly, been transformed from a workers to a capitalist state over the past 15 years via a series of policy decisions taken by the CCP bureaucracy. A document adopted at an IMT conference last year claims that by the early 1990s the CCP leaders “began to see capitalist restoration as the solution to their own crisis, but they were determined that the process would take place under the firm control of the bureaucracy. In essence this meant that the bureaucracy was preparing the ground to transform itself into a new capitalist class” (“China’s Long March to Capitalism,” October 2006). They go further, asserting that China “is now behaving like an imperialist power” and has an “imperialist character.”
The IMT’s claim that the Chinese state became capitalist gradually in a “process” with various “turning points” is an example of what Trotsky polemicized against in the 1930s when he said, “He who asserts that the Soviet government has been gradually changed from proletarian to bourgeois is only, so to speak, running backwards the film of reformism” (“Class Nature of the Soviet State,” October 1933).
The notion that capitalist restoration can come through incremental shifts from state to private ownership, without a counterrevolution, is the flip side of the IMT’s deeply reformist belief that “socialism” can come about if a bourgeois parliament nationalizes the key sectors of the capitalist economy. This is captured in the slogan featured in every issue of Fightback, “NDP to Power on a Socialist Program.” The idea that the NDP will ever adopt or implement a socialist program is the purest illusion-mongering, designed to pull militant workers and youth into the trap of social democracy. The IMT/Fightback reformists utterly reject the idea that the proletariat must smash the bourgeois state and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.
As Trotsky noted concerning the former Soviet Union, the decisive arena in which a capitalist counterrevolution in China would have to triumph is at the political level. A likely scenario will be when bourgeois elements move to eliminate CCP political power by supporting capitalist restorationist forces. And let me make a prediction: in such an event Alan Woods & Co. will side with counterrevolution, just as they did in the former USSR when they supported Washington’s man Boris Yeltsin in August 1991. A year after Yeltsin’s victory, their Russian affiliate, the Rabochaya Demokratia group, wrote that this was the start of “a revolutionary anti-bureaucratic process” and denied that “the liquidation of the USSR weakened the position of socialism in the world” (Rabochaya Demokratia, July-August 1992).
Finally, I’d like to address the group known as the Bolshevik Tendency (BT). Those familiar with the BT will know of their preoccupation with smearing the ICL. The “Who We Are” declaration on their website screeches, for example, that we are “a grotesquely bureaucratic and overtly cultist group of political bandits.” Such smears, which ape the language of anti-Communists who rail against Stalin-style gulags and personality cults, are one side of the BT’s face. The other is political opportunism of the social-democratic type, including an embrace of anti-Communism whenever it counts.
During the 1989-90 East German upsurge, the BT focused on denouncing the ICL, claiming we had conjured up an “imaginary political revolution.” As we noted at the time, only those in thrall to the anti-Communist myth that Stalinism had rendered the workers in the deformed workers states mindless automatons incapable of struggle could so blithely dismiss any outcome other than capitalist counterrevolution. The BT denounced our work in building the 250,000-strong East Berlin anti-fascist protest in January 1990, which defended the Soviet Union and the DDR against counterrevolution. Their complaint? We did not offer a platform to the German Social Democratic Party—an openly pro-capitalist party that was the spearhead for counterrevolution in the DDR!
And what about China? While claiming for the record that China remains a workers state, the BT again embraces counterrevolutionary forces. One example is the self-styled “god-king” of Tibet, the Dalai Lama. As I noted earlier, complaints about “poor little Tibet” are a regular feature of imperialist-sponsored “human rights” campaigns against China. In fact, it was the Chinese Revolution that liberated Tibet from the barbarism of a society based on mass slavery. In 1959, China’s People’s Liberation Army put down a CIA-organized uprising aimed at overturning these gains. The Dalai Lama was then and is now unambiguously a creature of U.S. imperialism.
Yet the BT argues that “a revolutionary government in China would signal its willingness to coexist with Tibet’s traditional ruling caste” as long as the latter “retain popular support” (1917, 2004). This grotesque respect for the devotion of benighted peoples to their religious leaders is the opposite of the Bolsheviks’ policy in the early Soviet Union. Lenin and Trotsky steadfastly defended the rights of minority nationalities against Russian chauvinism, while suppressing nationalist or religious leaders who used this as a cover for pro-imperialist counterrevolution. Today, we oppose any manifestation of Han chauvinism toward the Tibetan people, while denouncing the anti-Communist hue and cry in the West that upholds supposed “rights” for Tibet’s deeply oppressive priestly caste.
BT also apologizes for another anti-Communist religious force in China, the sect known as Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa). They denounce us for calling Falun Gong a “force for counterrevolution in China.” They claim, “unlike Polish Solidarność, whose leadership functioned as a consciously pro-imperialist agency within the deformed workers’ state, Falun Gong advances no particular political or social program.” Anyone who has come across a Falun Gong rally or picked up a copy of its lavishly produced paper Epoch Times can see that this group openly allies with right-wing capitalist forces in calling for the counterrevolutionary overthrow of the CCP regime. Here are two of its banners at a recent Toronto rally: “The Root of Communism is Dead” and “Support 20 Million People Resigning from Chinese Communist Party.”
The BT’s polemic against us over Falun Gong is typically dishonest, claiming we “incline to a policy of repression” by the Beijing government and asking rhetorically, “Do you imagine that the best way to destroy the popular influence of Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan monks and Xinjiang’s mullahs is to round them all up and throw them in jail?” (1917, 2005). We call on the working class to combat such counterrevolutionaries as part of its struggle for a political revolution based on unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and internal capitalist counterrevolution.
This is in line with our stance toward Polish Solidarność in the 1980s. When it consolidated around an explicitly capitalist-restorationist program in September 1981, we called to “Stop Solidarność counterrevolution,” and when the Stalinist rulers invoked martial law to spike its bid for power later that year we supported this measure. At the same time, we recognized that it was Stalinist misrule that had driven the historically socialist Polish working class into the arms of clerical counterrevolution. Thus we wrote, “As the immediate counterrevolutionary threat passes, these martial law measures must be ended, including release of the Solidarność leaders. A Trotskyist vanguard seeks to defeat them politically, by mobilizing the Polish working class in its true class interests” (“Power Bid Spiked,” Workers Vanguard No. 295, 18 December 1981).
Why do the self-styled socialists of the BT so readily embrace right-wing religious forces like Falun Gong and the Tibetan lamocracy? The BT originated, at first as the “External Tendency,” from individuals who quit our organization because they couldn’t stand our forthright defense of the Soviet Union against the imperialists’ renewed anti-Communist Cold War of the 1980s. In particular, they hated our call to “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” The Soviet army entered Afghanistan in late 1979 to support a left-nationalist government that was under siege by woman-hating, anti-Communist religious fanatics who were backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism and its Canadian junior partner. Our support to the Soviet intervention—which opened up a prospect of social liberation to the Afghan peoples, especially women—underlined our unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialism. Today it is China that is the main target for imperialist military and other anti-Communist threats. It is crucial that revolutionaries in the capitalist world fight to win the working class to defend the Chinese deformed workers state against all such threats. And once again the BT flinches when it counts.
Defense of China and International Socialist Revolution
I’d like to conclude this talk by returning to Leon Trotsky, leader of the 1917 October Revolution and founder of the Fourth International from whom our organization takes its name. The last major political struggle Trotsky waged before being struck down by a Stalinist assassin in Mexico City in 1940 was against a renegade minority of the American Trotskyists that abandoned defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism in the face of anti-Communist “public opinion” on the eve of World War II. Trotsky’s polemics during this struggle are collected in a book titled In Defense of Marxism, where he writes the following:
“The workers’ state must be taken as it has emerged from the merciless laboratory of history and not as it is imagined by a ‘socialist’ professor, reflectively exploring his nose with his finger. It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may be distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.”
—“Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events” (April 1940)
If the working class in Canada, the U.S., Japan and the other capitalist countries do not come to understand the historic significance of the gains of the Chinese Revolution, like the collectivized economy, then they will never understand the importance of making a revolution against their own bourgeoisie. Comrades and friends, it is for the purpose of providing the necessary leadership to the proletariat in these struggles that the ICL seeks to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution.