Workers Vanguard No. 965
24 September 2010
China: Labor Struggles in the Socialist Market Economy
Defend the Chinese Deformed Workers State Against Imperialism, Capitalist Counterrevolution!
For Proletarian Political Revolution!
This part concludes this article, Part One of which appeared in WV No. 964 (10 September).
Whatever the respectful attitude Chinese workers may have toward the country’s labor laws, the recent strike wave brought discredit to the main institution by which the bureaucracy seeks to contain and control labor unrest: the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Several years ago, the federation leadership announced its intention to organize workers employed in enterprises owned by Western, Japanese and offshore Chinese companies. In 2004, the notoriously anti-union American company Wal-Mart agreed to ACFTU membership and representation in its retail outlets. This was played up in the Chinese media as an important gain for labor. In an article at the time, we described the ACFTU as contradictory:
“On the one hand, as the only union body legally allowed in China, the ACFTU is an arm of the Stalinist bureaucracy, whose aim is to maintain its privileges and rule, including by policing the workers. At the same time, even the official unions have at times participated in some of the large-scale labor protests that Chinese workers have engaged in in recent years to defend their livelihoods against the bureaucracy’s ‘market reforms’.”
—“Labor: Organize Wal-Mart!” WV No. 851, 8 July 2005
Since then, ACFTU functionaries have generally sought, above all, to maintain labor peace by discouraging effective actions by the workers. Workers at the Honda transmission plant complained about paying union dues when union officials did nothing for them, especially in terms of negotiating with management on their behalf. We’ve noted that one of the strike demands was for new elections for local union chairman and other representatives. Workers during the Honda Lock strike went further. One of them, who insisted on anonymity, told Western journalists: “The trade union is not representing our views; we want our own union that will represent us” (New York Times, 10 June). Strikers staged a protest march in Zhongshan chanting their demands, among them the right to form an independent union.
We have always recognized that labor unions, factory committees and other inclusive economic organizations of the working class independent of direct bureaucratic control are key elements in the transitional program for proletarian political revolution in China and other deformed workers states. Even in a workers state governed by genuine workers democracy, trade unions independent of (though not opposed to) the state administration are necessary to protect against possible encroachments and abuses and to help plan production and work methods. Addressing the question of trade unions in the early Soviet workers state, V.I. Lenin insisted that communists should fight for leadership of the unions based on their program and practice on behalf of the workers state. They must be selected by the workers and not appointed by the state authorities.
Lessons of Capitalist Counterrevolution in the Former Soviet Sphere
The fight for unions free of bureaucratic control must take as its starting point defense of the social gains of the 1949 Revolution against imperialism and capitalist restoration. The experience of the former Soviet sphere, particularly Poland, points to the possibility that independent labor organizations could come under an anti-Communist leadership that effectively exploits the workers’ hostility to the ruling bureaucratic caste. Polish Solidarność spearheaded the imperialist-backed drive for capitalist counterrevolution in East Europe in the 1980s.
Sections of the bourgeois media, especially in the U.S., have likened the demand by some Chinese workers for their own, independent unions to a potential Solidarność-type development. For its part, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime also raises the spectre of Solidarność, falsely claiming that any organized opposition to its rule must be pro-capitalist and counterrevolutionary. An article by Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in the Wall Street Journal (14 June) reported that in closed-door talks on the recent labor unrest, Chinese president Hu Jintao and other CCP Politburo members “cited late patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s warnings about how Poland’s Solidarity Movement undermined Communist Parties throughout the former Eastern bloc.”
However, the factors that gave rise to Solidarność as a counterrevolutionary movement have no parallel in China. It is an imperialist falsification that this “free” trade union arose as a spontaneous opposition by the mass of Polish workers to the Communist government and system. While formed in the course of a general strike in the summer of 1980, the pre-existing political and organizational base of Solidarność was the Roman Catholic church in league with a small group of right-wing social democrats, Jacek Kuron’s Committee for Social Self-Defense (KOR).
Under the liberal Stalinist regimes of Wladyslaw Gomulka and Edward Gierek, the Catholic church had functioned as a de facto, mass political opposition to the Soviet-backed Communist government since the mid 1950s. The church was identified and identified itself with traditional Polish enmity to Russia, which had subjugated Poland as part of the tsarist empire from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. A strong clerical-nationalist current, centered on the church hierarchy, depicted Communism as a new form of Russian domination over Poland.
In the late 1970s, under the pressure of imperialism (U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s “human rights” campaign), the Gierek regime also tolerated the activities of a coterie of social-democratic “dissidents” who collaborated with the church hierarchy and were protected by it. In 1978, the historically unprecedented elevation of a Polish prelate to the papacy further strengthened the authority of the church vis-à-vis the Stalinist regime. It was in this period that Lech Walesa and other future leaders of Solidarność received their political training in anti-Communist oppositional circles organized by the church hierarchy and KOR.
While recognizing the reactionary clerical-nationalist politics of the Solidarność leadership around Walesa, we nonetheless did not oppose its legalization. The situation of political openness, albeit short-lived and unstable, provided some space in which a Leninist-Trotskyist tendency could develop and win workers to the program of proletarian political revolution throughout the Soviet sphere. We condemned the Stalinist bureaucracy for its nationalism, economic mismanagement and decades of capitulation to the Catholic church and other pro-capitalist forces, which drove many of that generation of the historically socialist-minded proletariat of Poland into the arms of reaction.
However, when Solidarność consolidated on a program of open counterrevolution at its first congress in September 1981, we declared that this “threat must be crushed at all costs and by any means necessary” and supported the Stalinist regime’s move to suppress it in December 1981. Solidarność had become a multi-class, anti-Communist movement. We wrote at the time: “Solidarity is no longer a trade union, but has come to include large sections of the intelligentsia, petty bureaucrats, priests, etc.” (“Stop Solidarity’s Counterrevolution!” reprinted in Spartacist pamphlet Solidarność: Polish Company Union for CIA and Bankers [October 1981]).
Far more relevant than Poland for potential developments in China is the experience of Soviet Russia during the terminal crisis of Stalinist rule in 1989-91. With the disintegration of the bureaucracy under Mikhail Gorbachev, the forces of counterrevolution, mainly drawn from government/party functionaries, intellectuals and petty capitalist operators, cohered around Boris Yeltsin (a former top Kremlin leader) in the so-called “democratic” camp. These forces gained influence over important workers organizations. In early 1991, the main union of coal miners in Siberia engaged in strikes that combined economic and political demands. The latter aimed to strengthen the Yeltsin-led government of the Russian republic while further weakening the beleaguered Kremlin regime of Gorbachev.
At the time, many Russian miners and other workers believed that Western-type “democracy” and “free market” capitalism would in a relatively short period raise Russia to Western levels of economic productivity and living standards. In reality, the restoration of capitalism under the Yeltsin regime in the 1990s was a catastrophe for working people in Russia. Post-Soviet Russia suffered a social and economic collapse of a historically unprecedented magnitude in an advanced industrial society. Writing in 1999, we summarized the indices of that collapse:
“Production has fallen at least 50 percent since 1991, capital investment by 90 percent. Today a third of the urban labor force in Russia is effectively unemployed; 75 percent of the population lives below or barely above subsistence level and 15 million are actually starving. Life expectancy has fallen dramatically .
“The infrastructures of production, technology, science, transportation, heating and sewage have disintegrated. Malnutrition has become the norm among school children. Some two million children have been abandoned by families who can no longer support them.... With the disintegration of the former state-run system of universal health care, diseases like tuberculosis are rampant.”
—“The Bankruptcy of ‘New Class’ Theories,” Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 55, Autumn 1999
A capitalist counterrevolution in China, which is industrially less developed than Soviet Russia and is especially marked by the backwardness of its rural areas, would, if anything, have even more catastrophic consequences, with economic degradation overlaid by imperialist subjugation.
Han Dongfang: Agent of “Democratic” Counterrevolution
Unlike conditions in Soviet Russia under Gorbachev, Chinese workers today are acting in a situation where there appears to be no immediate prospect of significant political change. There is therefore no reason to think that the workers involved in the Honda and other strikes are aiming at anything beyond higher wages, improved social benefits and better working conditions. And they want to elect their own representatives to the local ACFTU branch or at most to form a separate factory-based union to effectively pursue these economic ends.
Insofar as worker activists sought outside support, it was from those elements of the bureaucracy, including its academic component, who were seen as sympathetic to their interests. Thus Li Xiaojuan, a young woman leader of the Foshan Honda strike, contacted the director of the Institute of Labor Relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, Chang Kai, and asked him to advise the negotiating committee. He agreed. Predictably, he advised the workers to be flexible in demanding higher wages.
However, when the political situation opens up, anti-Communist forces, supported by the imperialists, will undoubtedly intervene in the renascent workers movement. An aspiring candidate for that role is one Han Dongfang, who runs a well-financed operation centered around the China Labour Bulletin (CLB), based in Hong Kong, where the CCP does not exercise a monopoly of political organization. Han is vice-chair of the World Movement for Democracy, an outfit founded and run by the National Endowment for Democracy, a notorious CIA front. Previously, he had a program on the CIA’s Radio Free Asia.
In 2008, Han made a presentation at a hearing of a U.S. Congressional commission on China. For what purpose? Following the scenario of the “human rights” dissidents in the former Soviet sphere, he appealed to American imperialism to pressure the CCP regime to permit the activities of his outfit, especially among workers. He told the political representatives of the Wall Street banks and Fortune 500 corporations: “The active support and involvement of civil rights groups in defending workers rights will be crucial in the development of a functioning civil society in China.” In the name of “defending workers rights,” Han and his cohorts are actually seeking to re-enslave the Chinese proletariat to the bloody-handed American imperialists.
In the past, Han’s outfit advocated “independent” trade unions in China. However, partly in response to the 2008 labor laws, they made a tactical shift. A March 2009 CLB report concluded that there was a “need to establish democratically elected grassroots unions within the ACFTU” and argued that “because independent unions are illegal in China, these grassroots unions will have to be affiliated to the ACFTU” [emphasis in original]. However, this tactical shift has in no way changed their counterrevolutionary aims. The same CLB report states: “China is now, to all intents and purposes, a market economy.” The term “market economy” is used here as a code word for capitalism. By contending that capitalism has already been restored in China, Han & Co. disguise their program for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the workers state as one of extending “democratic rights” and building a “functioning civil society.”
The CLB promotes a version of trade unionism in China very much in keeping with that of the pro-capitalist American labor bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO, to which the CLB has a link on its Web site. In response to the global capitalist downturn, the CLB stated that under conditions of genuine collective bargaining, “employees might, for example, be quite willing to accept a temporary pay cut”! Not even ACFTU officials have suggested that workers accept a wage cut to improve the international competitiveness of the firms that employ them. It is no accident that the U.S. labor tops have embraced the CLB. For decades during the anti-Soviet Cold War, the “AFL-CIA” wielded the banner of “free trade unions” in a campaign to destroy unions associated with Communist parties and other left organizations in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.
Acting as “left”-sounding cheerleaders for the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution in China are a number of groups that falsely claim the mantle of Trotskyism. Prominent among these is the British-centered Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), led by one Peter Taaffe. A 12 June article on the recent strike wave on the CWI Web site (www.socialistworld.net) is written in the language of social-democratic anti-Communism. China is described as the “sweatshop of the world” and the CCP regime as the “ruling ‘communist’ dictatorship.” The author of this screed, Vincent Kolo, is the CWI’s leading China “expert.” A few years ago he wrote a piece titled “China’s Capitalist Counterrevolution” (Socialism Today, December 2007-January 2008), in which he asserted: “A section of the former Maoist bureaucracy has converted itself through the ‘reform process’ into a property owning class.”
The CWI’s attempt to depict China as capitalist is but a “theoretical” rationale for a longstanding policy of supporting the forces of capitalist counterrevolution in the degenerated and deformed workers states. In the name of democracy, the Militant tendency, from which the CWI originated, supported imperialist-backed, anti-Communist forces such as Polish Solidarność in the 1980s. In August 1991 in Moscow, their comrades stood on the barricades with Boris Yeltsin and his counterrevolutionary rabble, including petty capitalist operators and their criminal henchmen. It didn’t matter that they formally held that these countries were workers states governed by bureaucratic Stalinist regimes. What is fundamental is that the program of the social-democratic Taaffeites is opposed to the defense of the workers states.
Idealizing the Mao Era
The purveyors of “democratic” counterrevolution like Han Dongfang and his group are not the only current of political opposition in China today. There is also a quasi-oppositional current among elements of the bureaucracy and intelligentsia of a neo-Maoist character. Moreover, a certain nostalgia for the Mao era, with its relative egalitarianism and economic security (the “iron rice bowl”), can be found among older workers employed, and especially those formerly employed, in state-owned enterprises.
In Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt (2007), a study of labor protests in the early 2000s, Ching Kwan Lee frequently encountered this attitude in the “rustbelt” province of Liaoning. This region was the site of numerous, often militant, protests by laid-off and forcibly retired workers, mainly over unpaid wages, unemployment allowances, pensions and subsidies. In March 2002, tens of thousands marched through the streets of Liaoyang, some singing the “Internationale,” demanding the economic benefits due them and also calling for the ouster of the head of the local legislature, a notoriously corrupt former mayor.
Workers involved in such protests identified public ownership of the means of production with socialism and the 1949 Revolution. They saw themselves as having been in the vanguard of building a socialist society but were then abused and degraded by the post-Mao CCP regimes. One told Lee with deep-felt bitterness:
“I am a good citizen, a good worker, a progressive producer in the enterprise. No black spot in my background. I have always believed that as long as the Communist Party exists, they would not ignore our problems. I have been loyal to Chairman Mao from the revolution until today . Thirty-some years of job tenure, at age fifty-three, with young and elderly dependents at home, you make me a laid-off worker.”
A technician in his 50s who had once been honored as a model worker lauded the economic security and public glorification of the working class he had experienced in the Mao era:
“As long as I worked hard and well, I did not have to worry. The work unit took care of my housing, children’s employment, and pension.... They used to say the working class was the leadership class. At that time, I believed it because of our status in society and in the enterprise, and our wages were not low.... Our living standard was not high, it’s true, compared to the present. But we were worry-free.”
An American academic, William Hurst, who did field research among laid-off workers in the same period, reported similar political attitudes. A coal miner on a “long vacation” said to him:
“The Northeast is dying and the Communist Party does not care about socialism any more. During the planned economy we were all poor. But we were poor together. We were all proletarians. We all ate the food from the common pot. Now, the rich people get richer while we all get poorer.”
—The Chinese Worker After Socialism (2009)
These expressions of nostalgia for the Mao era implicitly share the same basic (but false) premise as that of the post-Mao Stalinist regime: that economic modernization necessarily entails widening social inequality. One of Deng Xiaoping’s best-known aphorisms was “Some must get rich first.”
The present-day neo-Maoist political current was given public expression during the recent strike wave in a June 6 “Position Statement of Old Revolutionaries on the Present Upsurge of Worker Action in China” that was addressed to the top party and government leaders. The five signatories are two former state functionaries, one former ACFTU official and two professors at Beijing University. One of the latter, Gong Xiantian, was prominently involved a few years ago in opposing, though unsuccessfully, a new law strengthening the rights of private property.
The statement calls for “the restoration of the working class as the leading class of our country and the re-establishment of socialist public ownership as the mainstay of our national economy,” while contending that “in so far as the capitalist privately-owned economy rather than the socialist publicly-owned economy dominates, the working class cannot change their weak position under structures of exploitation, nor the unfair distribution system and the disparity between the rich and poor.” It is unclear whether the authors believe that China has been transformed back to a capitalist country under the post-Mao CCP regimes. Even if they do think that, they evidently also believe that the present government of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao can and should re-transform China back into “a socialist state led by the working class” according to Article 1 of the country’s constitution. For self-styled “old revolutionaries,” they are very legalistic in their thinking.
Echoing these sentiments, the reformist Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) in the U.S. opines on its Web site that the strike wave presents a “fork in the road for the CCP,” whose “orientation toward the working class will be ultimately decisive” (“Class Struggle Intensifies in China,” 11 June). The PSL calls on the bureaucratic caste to “alter its course” of concessions to imperialism and “reorient its policy toward winning the allegiance of its historic base of support: the workers and peasants of China.” Support, however “critical,” for the CCP misrulers is in the PSL’s political DNA. Its parent organization, the Workers World Party (WWP), was founded by Sam Marcy and others who, while in the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, supported the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian workers uprising by the Moscow Stalinist regime, which brought that political revolution to a brutal end. In 1989, the WWP likewise hailed Beijing’s suppression of the 1989 protests centered in Tiananmen Square, denouncing that incipient proletarian political revolution as counterrevolutionary.
As was true in the former Soviet Union, the planned, collectivized economy established in China following the 1949 Revolution laid the basis for enormous social gains for the workers and peasants. However, as experience in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China also showed, under a Stalinist regime of bureaucratic commandism, a planned, collectivized economy is no guarantee of steady social progress and rising living standards for the populace. Not at all. Here one recalls in particular Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” in the late 1950s, a campaign of insane economic adventurism that ended catastrophically. An estimated 20 to 30 million people, mainly on the rural communes, died in the ensuing famine.
The neo-Maoist statement is critical, if not condemnatory, of China’s integration into the world capitalist market and advocates transforming “our export-oriented economy to one that is independent, self-reliant and seeks to satisfy the material and cultural needs of people in the country.” The present size of China’s industrial economy (far greater than in the Mao era) requires as an objective necessity the large-scale importation of fossil fuels, especially oil, and metallic ore, e.g., iron. A move toward economic “self-reliance” (autarky) would lead to a contraction of production, generating increased unemployment and a decline in the living standards of both workers and rural toilers.
Claiming the guidance of “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought” and harking back to Maoist autarky, the “old revolutionaries” subscribe to the Stalinist doctrine of building “socialism in one country,” with its consequent accommodation to world imperialism. Here one should recall that in the early 1970s the Mao regime formed a strategic alliance with U.S. imperialism against the Soviet degenerated workers state. That alliance was continued and deepened under Deng. The Beijing Stalinists’ participation in the renewed Cold War offensive led by Washington contributed in no small measure to the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union—a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat—and also provided the political basis for the beginnings of large-scale foreign capitalist investment in China itself.
Egalitarianism vs. Modernization: A False Counterposition
The perceived antagonism between egalitarianism and modernization is derived from the bureaucratic deformation of the Chinese workers state and, more fundamentally, its position in a world dominated by capitalist imperialism.
In Stalinist-ruled workers states, the advantages of centralized economic planning are limited and subverted by pervasive bureaucratic parasitism and mismanagement. Quantitative output targets are met, but with poor quality and ill-assorted goods. Energy, raw materials and labor power are squandered. State-owned supplies and equipment are diverted into the black market, undermining the socialized economy. When the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR scrapped central planning in favor of market-oriented “reforms,” we wrote in a 1988 Spartacist pamphlet:
“Within the framework of Stalinism, there is thus an inherent tendency to replace centralized planning and management with market mechanisms. Since managers and workers cannot be subject to the discipline of soviet democracy (workers councils), increasingly the bureaucracy sees subjecting the economic actors to the discipline of market competition as the only answer to economic inefficiency.”
—“For Central Planning Through Soviet Democracy,” in “Market Socialism” in Eastern Europe
Additionally, recourse to market mechanisms is driven by the personal material interests and appetites of the bureaucratic elite. The neo-Maoist contention that “socialism” and “working-class leadership” were abandoned by Deng and his successors disregards the fact that the core of China’s newly emergent capitalist class derives from the CCP cadre of the Mao era and their political (and in many cases biological) children. Many of the managerial and technical functionaries of small- and medium-sized state-owned enterprises gained ownership rights when these were privatized in the late 1990s.
During the Mao era as well as in the post-Mao “reform” era, the working class has had no control whatsoever over economic policies, including sudden shifts that had disastrous consequences. We have already pointed to the “Great Leap Forward” in this respect. There were also the enormously disruptive effects of the “Cultural Revolution” that began in the mid 1960s, a violent campaign launched by Mao against his more pragmatic opponents in the CCP leadership.
Leon Trotsky explained in The Revolution Betrayed, his classic analysis of Stalin’s Russia in the mid 1930s, that bureaucratic commandism obstructed technological innovation and dynamism:
“The further you go, the more the economy runs into the problem of quality, which eludes the bureaucracy like a shadow. The Soviet products are as though branded with the gray label of indifference. Under a nationalized economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers, freedom of criticism and initiative—conditions incompatible with a totalitarian regime of fear, lies and flattery.
“Behind the question of quality arise more complicated and grandiose problems which may be comprehended by the concept of independent, technical and cultural creativity.”
The Chinese Stalinists have sought to acquire advanced technology by attracting large-scale investment by American, European and Japanese corporations. This policy has certainly contributed to raising the level of economic productivity in China far above that of the Mao era. But it has done so in a way that has greatly increased social inequalities in both the cities and the countryside, which, despite quantitative development, remains mired in backwardness. “Market reforms” have greatly exacerbated regional disparities, although these have been somewhat offset recently by the current regime’s economic stimulus program. Furthermore, the large imperialist-dominated capitalist export sector strengthens the forces for an internal capitalist counterrevolution that would reduce China to semicolonial subjugation and economic degradation.
But how can China acquire the advanced technology available in North America, West Europe and Japan—a prerequisite to all-round economic development—except through foreign capitalist investment? What is the alternative? The answer is proletarian revolution in the imperialist centers, thereby laying the basis for an internationally planned socialist economy. This revolutionary Marxist program and perspective is fundamentally opposed to the ideology and practice of Chinese Stalinism in both its Maoist and “market socialist” variants.
For a Government of Workers and Peasants Councils!
It is not only anti-Communist counterrevolutionaries like Han Dongfang who falsely identify a democratic government with the Western-type parliamentary system: contested elections based on universal and equal suffrage. In their own way, the Chinese Stalinists also promote a classless (bourgeois) concept of democracy. For many years, there have been multi-candidate (though not multi-party) elections for rural village councils in China. Of course, all candidates, even those who are not formally CCP members, must be approved by the local party apparatus, which retains tight political control regardless of which candidate wins. But the form of these elections mirrors bourgeois parliamentarism, which gives the appearance of equality since the vote of, say, an impoverished peasant leaseholder counts the same as that of a wealthy entrepreneur.
Parliamentary government is, in fact, a political form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In such a system, the working class is politically reduced to atomized individuals. The bourgeoisie can effectively manipulate the electorate through its control of the media, the education system and the other institutions shaping public opinion. In all capitalist “democracies,” government officials, elected and unelected, are bought and paid for by the banks and large corporations.
As Lenin explained in his classic 1918 polemic against Social Democracy, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:
“Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed people at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the ‘democracy’ of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage-slaves .
“Under bourgeois democracy the capitalists, by thousands of tricks—which are the more artful and effective the more ‘pure’ democracy is developed—drive the people away from administrative work, from freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, etc.... 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.”
Under bourgeois democracy, workers merely have the illusion of some control or power over the government. But in a workers state, the question of workers democracy is not one of abstraction or illusion, but at bottom a question of power. In a workers state like China, the dictatorship of the proletariat is deformed by Stalinist misrule—the proletariat as a class is deprived of political power, which is instead monopolized by an anti-working-class bureaucratic caste whose policies ultimately threaten the very existence of the workers state. This was no less true under Mao than it is today. The working class and rural toilers can exercise real political power only through a dictatorship of the proletariat ruled by their own class-based governing institutions, the soviets (the Russian term for councils), which would be open to all parties defending the collectivized foundations of the workers state. In the work quoted above, Lenin explained:
“The Soviets are the direct organisation of the working and exploited people themselves, which helps them to organise and administer their own state in every possible way. And in this it is the vanguard of the working and exploited people, the urban proletariat, that enjoys the advantage of being best united by the large enterprises; it is easier for it than for all others to elect and exercise control over those elected. The Soviet form of organisation automatically helps to unite all the working and exploited people around their vanguard, the proletariat. The old bourgeois apparatus—the bureaucracy, the privileges of wealth, of bourgeois education, of social connections, etc. (these real privileges are the more varied the more highly bourgeois democracy is developed)—all this disappears under the Soviet form of organisation.” [emphasis in original]
For Proletarian Political Revolution!
The potential for a pro-socialist workers uprising was shown in the May-June 1989 Tiananmen upheaval. Protests that began among students opposing corruption and seeking political liberalization were joined by masses of Chinese workers, who were driven into action by their own grievances against the impact of the regime’s market measures, especially high inflation. Workers’ assemblies and motorized flying squads were thrown up, pointing to the potential for the emergence of authentic worker, soldier and peasant councils.
It was the entry into struggle of the working class that marked an incipient proletarian political revolution in May-June 1989. The terrified CCP leaders eventually unleashed fierce repression. Initially, however, the bureaucracy, including the military officer corps, began to fracture under the impact of the proletarian upsurge. The first army units that were mobilized refused to act in the face of enormous popular support for the protests among Beijing’s working people. Other, more regime-loyal army units had to be brought in to carry out the bloodletting of June 1989, which overwhelmingly targeted workers rather than students. (For more, see “The Spectre of Tiananmen and Working-Class Struggle in China Today,” WV Nos. 836 and 837, 12 and 26 November 2004.)
The crucial missing element, during the Tiananmen events as well as today, is an authentic Bolshevik—i.e., Leninist-Trotskyist—party to rally the working masses around the banner of workers democracy and communist internationalism. Championing the interests of workers in both the state-owned and private sectors and defending national and ethnic minorities against Han chauvinism, such a party would be forged in political combat against currents emerging out of the decomposing Stalinist bureaucracy and also against anti-Communist purveyors of Western-type “democracy.”
The survival and advancement of China’s revolutionary gains hinge on the fight for socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries of Japan, North America and West Europe—the only road toward the all-round modernization of China as part of an international planned economy. A proletarian political revolution creating a China of worker and peasant councils would be a beacon for the oppressed working masses of Asia and the entire world, inspiring the downtrodden masses of the former Soviet Union and East Europe and the workers in the imperialist heartlands to struggle for new October Revolutions. It is toward that goal that the International Communist League fights to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International—world party of socialist revolution.