Workers Vanguard No. 1164
1 November 2019
70th Anniversary of Chinese Revolution
Defend China! Down With Reactionary Hong Kong Protests!
For Workers Political Revolution!
We print below the conclusion of a forum, edited for publication, given on October 5 in Vancouver by Angela Swanson, editor of Workers Tribune, English-language press of the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada. Part One appeared in WV No. 1163 (18 October).
Today, a lot of bourgeois ideologues and most leftists claim that China has become capitalist. This is completely false. The “market reforms” introduced in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping were a bureaucratic response to economic stagnation and an attempt to use the whip of the market to spur modernization and growth. Deng and his followers argued that such reforms were necessary to carry out the “four modernizations” of industry, agriculture, science and technology, and military defense.
Under the market-oriented measures, China privatized many non-strategic state-owned companies and replaced the state monopoly of foreign trade with a hodgepodge of ad hoc state controls. A key goal of the reforms was obtaining foreign investment, including in the form of joint ventures with state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This led to a more rapid and broad development of the economy relative to the earlier period under Mao, when bureaucratic commandism defined the operation of the planned economy. Under conditions of material scarcity, when a Stalinist bureaucracy administers a planned economy, there are necessarily imbalances and much incompetence. With the workers excluded from control over the functioning of the economy, the only means the bureaucracy has to correct for imbalances and incompetence is the introduction of market forces.
It is clearly evident that the market reforms have resulted in economic growth, including by bringing hundreds of millions of former peasants into the proletariat—which represents historical progress from our Marxist vantage point. But this rapid growth has created huge contradictions. Daily life for many millions of Chinese has improved, but the gap between rich and poor, between city and countryside, has widened. In the early period of the reforms, there was an enormous increase in productivity, but the real wages of Chinese workers hardly increased at all. The productivity gains were largely a result of the transfer of laborers from rural farms to urban factories.
The policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have led to the development of an indigenous capitalist class, tied to the imperialists by economic interest and to many CCP leaders through family ties. However, these capitalists remain politically atomized as the CCP retains a tight grip on political power. There are even capitalist entrepreneurs inside the party, but this has not changed the overall social composition of the bureaucracy or its functional ideology. According to an official survey conducted in 2002, some 600,000 of China’s two million private business owners were party members and had been for some time. The overwhelming majority were longtime CCP managerial cadre who took over the small state-owned enterprises they were running when these were privatized.
A result of the market reforms is that there are enclaves of capitalism within the workers state, the Special Economic Zones. However, the core of the economy remains collectivized, with state-owned industry maintaining exclusive ownership or absolute control in strategic sectors such as heavy industry (power generation and distribution, civil aviation, shipping), the bulk of the high-tech sector, telecommunications and the defense industry. It is state-owned industry that has enabled China to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to ward off the imperialists’ military threats.
China’s economy continues to grow by 6 to 7 percent a year, a level that no advanced capitalist country today could even hope to attain. A large part of this has come from government investment in infrastructure. While China is not immune to the effects of downturns in the global economy, it has been able to navigate through them more effectively than have capitalist countries. This was true in the 1997-98 East Asian financial/economic crisis and then again during the global financial crisis of 2008-09, when state-driven investment kept the Chinese economy growing while the capitalist world was staggering.
Especially since the 2008 crisis, there has been a concerted push by Beijing to reinforce the SOEs and reassert state dominance over the economy. SOEs are increasingly taking over private companies or forcing them into joint ventures. More broadly, the Chinese Communist Party has made it clear that it expects to exert control over private companies as well as joint ventures with foreign partners. A key component in the expansion of the state sector is government control of the financial system. The vast bulk of major banks in China is state-owned, and the restricted convertibility of the yuan has kept China insulated from the financial volatility that periodically wreaks havoc on neocolonial capitalist countries.
It is precisely these core collectivized elements of China’s economy that the forces of world imperialism want to eliminate. Their ultimate goal is to reduce China to a giant sweatshop under neocolonial subjugation. We are not indifferent to the need for China to have economic relations with and foreign investment from imperialist countries. Any isolated workers state would need such agreements. Under revolutionary leadership, they would be worked out under the democratic control of the working class organized in soviets (councils), supported in countries like China by peasants councils.
A revolutionary workers and peasants government in China would renegotiate the terms of foreign investment in the interests of working people. The domestic capitalists, on the other hand, would simply be expropriated and their property used in the interests of society as a whole. Such a regime would strengthen central economic planning and re-establish a state monopoly of foreign trade. This perspective is linked directly to the struggle for socialist revolution in the imperialist heartlands, particularly the U.S., Japan and Germany (as well as in the lesser imperialist countries like Canada), which would end global imperialist domination and lay the basis for a world socialist order.
Imperialism, China and
the Trade/Tech War
The political crisis in Hong Kong comes in the context of ramped-up provocations against China, in particular by the U.S. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has waged a wide-ranging anti-China offensive centered on an aggressive trade and tech war combined with military provocations. These policies are broadly in line with the previous Democratic Party administration of Barack Obama, and many so-called “progressive” Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, have long demanded more stringent tariffs against China. The tariffs now imposed on Chinese exports have been paired with U.S. demands that the CCP government relinquish state control of the economy. (For more, see “U.S. Imperialists Ramp Up Trade/Tech War,” WV No. 1157, 21 June.)
Advanced computer and communications technologies are critical to China’s defense against imperialism. The “Made in China 2025” program, adopted by the Xi Jinping regime four years ago, aims to make China a global leader in cutting-edge technology through state-sponsored development. China’s rapid development of these industries has raised the ire of the imperialists, who are intent on stopping such advances. This is seen in the drive against Huawei, spearheaded by the U.S. and assisted by its Canadian junior partner. Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is still fighting extradition to the U.S. while under house arrest in Vancouver. We say: Free Meng Wanzhou! No extradition!
The trumped-up charges against Huawei include “theft of intellectual property,” which is a central pillar in the hysteria over “Chinese spying.” The anti-Communist dragnet by the U.S. and Canadian governments has also spread to university campuses, where Chinese nationals are being targeted.
Aggressive military operations in the South China Sea and elsewhere near China’s east coast, which started under Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” have escalated under Trump. U.S. destroyers have repeatedly entered the waters around the Spratly Islands, as have British, French and Canadian warships at times. U.S. B-52 long-range bombers have conducted overflights of the region, including joint drills with Japanese fighter jets. U.S. Navy and Marine forces have staged “live-fire” drills in the area.
Over the last year, the U.S. Navy has also ramped up its operations in the Taiwan Strait, and the U.S. State Department recently approved a massive weapons sale to Taiwan. The bourgeoisie in Taiwan, operating under Washington’s direct military protection, has ruled over the island since fleeing Mao’s CCP forces. Control of the Taiwan Strait would be crucial in the event of war between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, which since the late 17th century has been part of China. The Beijing Stalinists have long promoted reunification with Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” formula that has been applied to Hong Kong. We Trotskyists of the International Communist League call to reunify China through socialist revolution in Taiwan and political revolution on the mainland.
We seek to win the working class in the U.S., Canada and internationally to the understanding that they have a side in this conflict—with China against imperialism. Thus, it is crucial that the working class stand for the defense of China in any military conflict with the imperialists or forces acting on their behalf. The trade-union bureaucracy, which acts as a transmission belt for anti-Communist poison, promotes the lie that the workers in the U.S. and Canada have a common interest with their own capitalist ruling classes. In pushing for more protectionism against China, the labor bureaucrats serve as foot soldiers in the imperialist drive to restore capitalist rule in China.
For Proletarian Democracy!
In their drive to destroy the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East and Central Europe, the imperialists promoted all manner of reactionary forces, including those who waved the banner of “democracy” against Stalinist “totalitarianism.” Similarly, the question posed by the crisis in Hong Kong today is not “dictatorship or democracy?” but “which class will rule?” A key demand of the Hong Kong protesters is for free elections. This is their way to unseat Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong. It is a call for bourgeois democracy, which is a call for counterrevolution. We are for proletarian democracy: a government of elected workers, peasants and soldiers councils that would make decisions about the development of the economy and the organization of society.
Capitalist democracy is, in reality, a political form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In such a system, the working class is reduced to atomized individuals. Parliamentary democracy, which is mainly the preserve of the wealthy imperialist countries, gives the mass of the population the right to decide every few years which representative of the ruling class is to repress them. As Lenin wrote in his 1918 polemic The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:
“The working people are barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and the banks) by thousands of obstacles, and the workers know and feel, see and realise perfectly well that the bourgeois parliaments are institutions alien to them, instruments for the oppression of the workers by the bourgeoisie, institutions of a hostile class, of the exploiting minority.”
The capitalist media in the West and counterrevolutionaries in Hong Kong try to equate the current rampages with the mass protests centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. They falsely present the Tiananmen events as a student movement for Western “democracy.” In fact, while triggered by protests initiated by students in Beijing, this social explosion increasingly drew in layers of workers and spread throughout the country. The entry of masses of workers into the protests signaled an incipient proletarian political revolution against the ruling CCP bureaucracy.
On 17 April 1989, a group of students laid a wreath in the square in honor of the recently deceased Hu Yaobang, whom they regarded as one of the rare CCP officials not to be corrupt. By the time of Hu’s funeral a week later, a mass student protest had assembled. Organized workers’ contingents started to participate in the marches, and the threat of a general strike led to an order of martial law in mid May. This was met with an outpouring of hundreds of thousands of working people into the streets, stymieing the attempted crackdown. Residents of working-class neighborhoods effectively blocked the initial military units that were converging on Tiananmen.
Eventually, the Deng regime was able to use loyal army units to suppress the mass protests. The 3-4 June 1989 slaughter brought China to the brink of civil war. Contrary to imperialist propaganda, the main victims of the bloodbath were not the student activists, most of whom were able to withdraw unscathed. It was working people in the surrounding areas of Beijing who received the brunt of the repression. Even then, the uprising continued to spread across China, as millions of workers staged mass strikes and protests. We wrote at the time:
“While pro-regime military forces still occupy the center of Beijing, the rest of the city is in the hands of insurgent workers and students…. In the great industrial metropolis of Shanghai, student activists and militant workers have set up barricades using buses, trucks and cars. And a de facto general strike has brought economic activity to a standstill. In the central industrial city of Wuhan workers and students occupy a strategic bridge over the Yangtze River, a crucial transport link between northern and southern China.”
—“Beijing Massacre—Civil War Looms,” WV No. 479,
9 June 1989
In suppressing the upsurge, the bureaucracy executed dozens of working-class militants.
The working masses of China were driven by anger against the corrupt and despised Stalinist bureaucracy and the effects of its market reforms, like rising inequalities and inflation. They were not looking to overturn the 1949 Revolution. If anything, they wanted a return to the “iron rice bowl” of guaranteed jobs and benefits, not a return to capitalist slavery. Even while many of the students in 1989 displayed illusions in Western-style “democracy,” they repeatedly sang the “Internationale,” the historic anthem of the socialist working class. This underlines that the aims and class character of the Tiananmen uprising were fundamentally different from the current protests in Hong Kong.
The events of May-June 1989 also decisively demonstrated that the Stalinist bureaucracy was not a new type of possessing class but rather a brittle and contradictory caste parasitically resting atop the collectivized economy. While a capitalist ruling class faced with a proletarian challenge to its rule inevitably unites around a program of counterrevolution, the Stalinist bureaucracy, including the officer corps, began to fracture under the impact of the workers’ revolt.
The central lesson of the Beijing spring was the need for an authentic communist party in China, an internationalist vanguard rooted in the working class. Such a party would have the task of winning the toiling masses to a program and understanding of the need to form workers, soldiers and peasants soviets (or similar organs) that could become the basis for political power in the workers state. It would seek to coordinate and lead the spontaneous and localized workers struggles, linking the fight against the bureaucracy’s corruption and privileges to the struggle of comrades in capitalist countries fighting for socialist revolutions. This requires political combat against the Stalinist fraud of building socialism “in one country” or “with capitalist methods,” and the dangerous illusions in “peaceful coexistence” with the imperialist countries. As Trotsky wrote in The Revolution Betrayed (1936), the question is: “Will the bureaucrat devour the workers’ state, or will the working class clean up the bureaucrat?”
ICL Trotskyism vs.
As I mentioned, our Marxist stance in defense of China against counterrevolution despite the betrayals of the CCP bureaucracy flows directly from Trotsky’s stance regarding Stalin’s Soviet Union. I’d like to briefly contrast this to the positions of our reformist political opponents, starting with the group known as Socialist Alternative (SAlt). These people are on the wrong side of the political barricades. They falsely claim that China is capitalist and even a rising imperialist power. And their cothinkers on the ground in Hong Kong are cheering on the counterrevolutionary forces in the name of “democracy.”
This group has put out leaflets calling for “united mass struggle of Hong Kong and China people against the CCP dictatorship.” They would sell out the workers to their most direct class enemies: the Hong Kong bourgeoisie and its imperialist patrons. This counterrevolutionary position is completely in line with SAlt’s practice at home. In the U.S., they support the imperialist Democratic Party via its supposedly “progressive” wing around Bernie Sanders. In Canada, they back the pro-capitalist social democrats of the New Democratic Party.
Perhaps stung by our recent article on Hong Kong (WV No. 1160, 6 September), which exposed their support to the counterrevolutionaries, SAlt has produced a new article titled “Is the U.S. Behind Hong Kong’s Protest Movement?” (socialistalternative.org, 16 September). Trying to wish away the mass of protesters waving American flags and singing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” they call the idea that this movement is backed by and looks to the imperialists a “political hoax.” In fact, Socialist Alternative is uniting with people who demand that Hong Kong become a protectorate of U.S. imperialism, or perhaps return to the days of British rule. This is an utterly scandalous position for self-styled “socialists.”
Another reformist outfit, the Fightback group in Canada and its cothinkers in the International Marxist Tendency, has also cheered on the Hong Kong protests. In several articles over the summer, they chided protest leaders for being too timid, calling, like SAlt’s Hong Kong cothinkers, for the protests to be extended to a general strike and onto the Chinese mainland. But following the huge pro-U.S. rally on September 8, Fightback is engaging in a shoddy cover-up. Their latest article, titled “The USA Is No Friend of Hong Kong” (marxist.com, 12 September), warns that the protests are going in the wrong direction. But this cynical whitewash hasn’t changed their fundamental line. They, too, claim that China has become capitalist, even writing that it is “behaving like an imperialist power.”
The stance of these groups toward China is squarely in line with their history of supporting imperialist campaigns against the Soviet degenerated workers state. Back in 1991, they were in a common political tendency, the Committee for a Workers’ International. In this capacity, they literally joined the capitalist-restorationist rabble on Boris Yeltsin’s barricades in Moscow. In contrast, our Trotskyist international tendency fought in defense of the Soviet workers state. Our comrades in Moscow mass distributed a leaflet titled “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!”
Earlier, starting in late 1989, a political crisis had developed in East Germany. Amid the disintegration of the ruling Stalinist party, we mobilized the forces of our international organization to intervene. The potential for a workers political revolution was shown on 3 January 1990 in the pro-socialist united-front rally against the fascist desecration of a Soviet war memorial in Berlin’s Treptow Park and in defense of the East German and Soviet workers states, a rally that we initiated and that was taken up by the Stalinist SED-PDS (Socialist Unity Party-Party of Democratic Socialism).
In front of more than 250,000 demonstrators, our speaker called for proletarian political power based on the formation of workers and soldiers councils, and warned against the social-democratic West German SPD as the Trojan horse for counterrevolution. Against illusions that the SED-PDS could be reformed, we fought to build a new, egalitarian Leninist party. Our call for the revolutionary reunification of Germany was a call for political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy in the East and social revolution in West Germany to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie—for a red Germany of workers councils. Our comrade’s speech showed concretely the clash, marked by a disproportion of forces, between the ICL’s revolutionary program and the Stalinist program of capitulation and bolstering the forces of counterrevolution. Thanks in no small part to the Stalinists’ treachery, the counterrevolutionary forces prevailed.
Over a quarter century after capitalist counterrevolution in East Germany, the Soviet Union and East Europe, China is the largest of the remaining countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown (the others are Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos). If the 1949 Revolution were to be overturned, China’s toiling masses would face even worse conditions than those seen today in the former Soviet bloc, where living standards have been massively thrown back and such “democracy” as exists is merely a veneer for brutal capitalist rule. Counterrevolution in China would be a further massive victory for world imperialism and a defeat for the workers and the oppressed across the globe.
There is an enormous divide within China today. On the one side are corrupt government officials, capitalist entrepreneurs and privileged petty bourgeois; on the other, hundreds of millions of proletarians in both state-owned and private enterprises, along with poor peasants. The consequences of bureaucratic misrule have led to a high level of strikes and social protest. This ferment points to the potential to sweep away the Stalinist regime and replace it with a revolutionary workers and peasants government.
There is a need for a worldwide party based on the program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks. Forging such a party is a daunting and difficult task, but the workings of the capitalist world order compel it. To defend and extend the gains of the Chinese Revolution, it is imperative to link the fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy with the class struggles of militant workers throughout Asia and beyond against their capitalist rulers, including in Japan, the U.S. and other imperialist centers. Only through socialist revolutions in these countries will the threat of capitalist re-enslavement of China be eliminated once and for all and the basis laid for its all-sided development in a socialist Asia.
The working class in the capitalist countries must be won to defense of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state against all imperialist threats. Only by understanding the historic significance of the gains of the Chinese Revolution will workers understand the importance of making a revolution against their own exploiters and oppressors.