Minqi Li on the GPCR


The following is extracted from Chapter II of the unpublished text Capitalist Development and Class Struggle in China. The entire work is available here.-Signalfire

To understand Maoist China, we must fully realize that it was a society born of a great people’s revolution in which the broad masses of the oppressed people rose up to fight for their own liberation, and thus bore deeply the mark of the revolution. While under bourgeois liberty individuals are guaranteed a set of formal civil rights, the production activities on which people spend most of their disposable time are regarded as people’s “private” affairs. Without means of production, the majority people have to allow most of their living activities to be dictated by the minority of property owners. At this point, civil right is not more than the right to choose between failing to make a living or giving up freedom.

It was one of the greatest achievements of the socialist revolution that as a result of the revolution, the right to employment became an inalienable right of working people. The right to employment was important not only because it guaranteed workers the “iron rice bowl,” but more importantly it allowed workers to have some control over the labor process. It was much more difficult for the managers of the Chinese state-owned enterprises than their capitalist counterparts to extend working time and increase working intensity without the cooperation of the workers. For they could not threaten the workers with firing. According to one investigation made by the Chinese Center for the Scientific-Technological Research and Development in 1986, the average effective weekly working time of the staff and workers in the state-owned enterprises was only 19.2-28.8 hours, which was only 40-60 percent of the required working time (see Zhong Pengrong, 292).

That is, the workers in the Chinese state-owned enterprises could to a large extent decide by themselves the length and intensity of their work. This is a kind of freedom which is unimaginable for the working people in capitalist societies. For working people, the freedom over labor process is much more important and much more practical an freedom than bourgeois civil freedom, such as the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association, which in capitalist societies only the ruling class and the intellectuals who serve their interest can fully enjoy. While the socialist revolution failed to realize its original goal, the society born of the revolution was not, as bourgeois scholars said, a totalitarian society without any freedom. Instead, it had both the oppressive side and the democratic side. In fact, from working people’s point of view, it was a much more democratic society than the most democratic capitalist society..

On the other hand, while the former exploiters and oppressors had been deprived of their ownership of means of production, working people were not yet prepared for the direct control over social production. The control over society’s means of production thus fell into the hands of the state, the long-standing oppressive institution in human history. A new ruling class–the state bureaucratic class–thus came into being. It replaced the old ruling class as the oppressors and the exploiters of working people Why is society always divided into the ruling class and the ruled class? Is it a natural law as inalterable as the moon revolving around the earth? What is the Marxist viewpoint on this question? Engels said:

The separation of society into an exploiting and an exploited class, a ruling and an oppressed class, was the necessary consequence of the deficient and restricted development of production in former times. So long as the total social labour only yields a product which but slightly exceeds that barely necessary for the existence of all; so long, therefore, as labour engages all or almost all the time of the great majority of the members of society–so long, of necessity, this society is divided into classes. Side by side with the great majority, exclusively bond slaves to labour, arises a class freed from directly productive labour, which looks after the general affairs of society: the direction of labour, state business, law, science, art, etc. It is, therefore, the law of division of labour that lies at the basis of the division into classes . . . It was based upon the insufficiency of production. It will be swept away by the complete development of modern productive forces (Engels, 1978, 714).

Thus, according to Engels, only with highly developed productive forces (as a result of capitalist development), can the great majority of people be largely freed from directly productive labor, allowing them to participate in the general affairs of society, and thus abolishing the division of classes. However, when the Chinese Communist Party came to power, they inherited from the Kuomintang regime an extremely backward semi-feudal, semi-colonial economy with little modern industry. In this case, there was the objective foundation for the new oppressor class to emerge. But this by no means suggests that the Chinese socialist revolution was doomed from the very beginning. Instead, the final fate of the revolution must be decided by real historical struggles.

On the one hand, the state bureaucratic class wanted to consolidate its rule over society, and establish a “normal” oppressive society. On the other hand, the oppressed people would not allow the oppressive order to be consolidated. They would not only defend their interest that they had won in the revolution, but also further develop the revolution, overthrowing the new oppressor class. These two sides were sharply against one another, and could by no means co-exist peacefully. Their contradiction thus must be solved by real struggles and it was in the Cultural Revolution, the contradiction reached the stage of total explosion, and the struggle between the state bureaucratic class and the oppressed people reached the stage of decisive battle.

The Cultural Revolution

History is always written by contemporary people. From the perspectives of different classes, and to serve different political purposes, people can reach totally different explanations of history. According to the official viewpoint, the Cultural Revolution was “ten years of havoc,” in which the state and people had experienced terrible sufferings. For the liberal intellectuals, they do not have much common language with the ruling class except on two fundamental issues, one is the “reform,” and the other is the Cultural Revolution. According to the liberal intellectuals:

The Cultural Revolution was a wrong movement which had been started for wrong purposes and undertaken with wrong methods . . . The Cultural Revolution could have occurred for it was rooted on the one hand, in the economic and political system that had been established in China before the Cultural Revolution, and on the other hand, in the traditional Chinese culture. As for Mao Zedong himself, why did he initiate the Cultural Revolution in his late years? This reflects on the one hand, his failure to properly deal with the internal contradictions of the Chinese Communist Party, and on the other hand, his increasingly arbitrary personal style

. . . All of those good opinions which were not in the favor of Mao Zedong, were considered by him to be “rightist,” “capitalist roaders,” “anti-party,” and were put under attack, leading to historically unprecedented ten years of havoc. When Mao Zedong met with Edgar Snow in 1965, he acknowledged that there was personal cult in China, and said that China needed more personal cult, that is, the cult of Mao Zedong himself . . . When Snow met with Mao Zedong again in 1970, Mao said that when they had their last talk in 1965, he had lost control of much of the power–the provincial and local party organizations, and especially the propaganda work under the Party committee of the Beijing city . . . Mao Zedong decided that Liu Shaoqi must be driven out of office

(Gao Gao and Yan Jiaqi, preface, 1-2).

In the opinion of the liberal intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution resulted first of all from Mao’s pursuit of unlimited personal power. To acquire unlimited despotic power, Mao conceived a great conspiracy. This conspiracy could be realized for under the despotic system and traditional culture, the prevailing popular psychology were blind loyalty and blind obedience. Let me first ask two questions. First, if Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution simply to pursue personal power, why did he mobilize the masses of people to destroy the entire state apparatus? Without state apparatus, how can we talk about power, and about personal dictatorship? Second, both the liberal intellectuals and the official historians fail to explain why hundreds of millions of people simply be turned crazy overnight. Did such a greatly important historical event as the Cultural Revolution occur simply because all people over the country went mad?

In the opinion of the liberal intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution was a tyrannous movement which had been started for tyrannous purposes and undertaken with tyrannous methods, and the masses were simply some ignorant and mindless people that could be made use of by anyone at will. But if the masses were so ignorant and mindless, why did the ruling elite with the help of the entire state and party bureaucracy fail to make use of them? For example, there is certainly no difficulty for the party bureaucrats to claim that they are exactly following Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line and all those people against them are against Chairman Mao. Of course, Mao, with his personal power, might have no difficulty to remove several high-ranking party cadres from their positions.

But if there had not been any objectively existing contradiction between ordinary people and the bureaucratic class, how could he put the entire ruling class under attack? For in a world where everyone claims he or she is on the side of Chairman Mao and use all the material and spiritual means at his or her disposal to convince or to force others to believe his or her claim, it is up to people themselves to decide who is “really” on the side of Chairman Mao, who they will fight with, and who they will fight against.

Thus, no matter what Mao’s personal intention was, the very fact that the Cultural Revolution was carried out by mobilizing the broad masses of people, means that it had to reflect the feeling, the desire, and the objective conditions of life of ordinary people. Referring to traditional culture gives no help to the liberal intellectuals. First, there was certainly not a single emperor who would tell his subjects “it is right to rebel.” Secondly, in traditional China people were by no means always blindly loyal and obedient. They did rebel, and when they rebelled they had good reason to do so.

What the liberal intellectuals and the official historians declined to say is that on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, a ruling class which was separated from and stood over the masses of people had already taken shape. This ruling class, like all other ruling classes, was by nature an oppressor class and exploiter class. All the contradictions in the Chinese society, in the last analysis, derives from this. Otherwise we would not be able to understand the contemporary Chinese history. If we keep silence on this fundamental problem, it is inevitable that we would consciously or unconsciously distort the actual history. In 1965, Mao said:

The bureaucratic class is a class in sharp opposition to the working class and the poor and lower-middle peasants. How can these people who have become or are in the process of becoming bourgeois elements sucking the blood of the workers be properly recognized? These people are the objectives of the struggle, the objectives of the revolution (see Meisner, 1986, 271).

When Mao said this, he was not happening to have some fantastic idea, and he was not simply looking for excuses to get rid of dissidents. There was indeed a “bureaucratic class,” who is indeed “bourgeois elements sucking the blood of the workers.” Let us see some facts:

[In July 1961,] Liu Shaoqi visited the Jing Bo Lake1 and squandered four million Yuan only for his personal pleasure . . . Whenever his meal was made, the rice had to be selected piece by piece, the Man Tou had to be even in size, each had a weight of about one liang3, and the top of the Man Tou must be cut into cross-like flower after it was cooked . . . Fat pigs had to be carried over everyday from Mu Dan River which is two hundred and forty li4 away [to the Jing Bo Lake], and were immediately killed and cooked. In every meal, there must be fresh fishes, two or three year old young chickens, camel humps, bear palms, scallops, sea cucumbers, and Mao Tai wine (ZDJS, 15).

To meet their personal desire for pleasure, the bureaucratic gentlemen in the Shaanxi province had spared no human and material resources, especially in the difficult period of our country, squandering a great deal of working people’s blood and sweat . . . The Zhang Ba Gou high-ranking cadre guest house, which is supposed to be a sanatorium, is actually a place for the provincial cadres to have amusement and pleasure. It has an area of hundreds of mu5, with western-style houses, kiosks, and pavilions, looking magnificent.

There are also pleasure boats, woods, rockery, restaurants, dance halls, theaters, rare plants, and precious flowers . . . We know that in the Xian area, people can only swim in summer. But our gentlemen had the spirit to remake nature. They wanted to swim in winter. To realize their invention, comrade workers built a “warm water swimming pool” at Zhang Ba Gou. It uses up ten to twenty tons of coal, costing hundreds of Yuan, every time to heat the water for the swimming pool.

Sometimes even if only one leading cadre came with his wife and children on Sunday, comrade workers would have to heat water specially for his family . . . Last year we students in the Northwest Industrial University took part in the Socialist Education Movement. There was a poor peasant family, whose total belongings might be less than five Yuan. This is the life of our poor and lower middle peasants! But our bureaucratic gentlemen spend hundreds of Yuan just to have a swim! Is it really water that is in the swimming pool? I do not think so. It is not water, not at all. It is a pool of blood and sweat of working people ! (CLHB, 7-9)

If it were in other oppressive societies where people took oppression and exploitation more or less for granted, given the same level of social contradictions, the rulers might be able to continue to rule as they used to and the people might continue to live as they used to. But for Chinese people, with the victory of the people’s revolution in 1949, the anti-oppression, anti-exploitation, anti-privilege ideas had become popular ideas deeply rooted in their hearts. The privileges of the ruling class were no longer considered to be society’s normal phenomena, and social inequality could no longer be justified. People had seen with their own eyes that revolution could change everything.

All of those once “sacred and inviolable” things had been struck to the ground and the heaven did not collapse. Now the state bureaucratic class, following the steps of the old oppressor classes, again wanted to stand over people, how could people allow them to do so? People had overthrown an oppressor class, why could not they overthrow another? Mao (1977, 344) correctly pointed out:

If great democracy is now to be practised again, I am for it . . . the great democracy set in motion by the proletariat is directed against class enemies . . . Great democracy can be directed against bureaucrats too . . . If some people grow tired of life and so become bureaucratic, if, when meeting the masses, they have not a single kind word for them but only take them to task, and if they don’t bother to solve any of the problems the masses may have, they are destined to be overthrown.

Now this danger does exist. If you alienate yourself from the masses and fail to solve their problems, the peasants will wield their carry-poles, the workers will demonstrate in the streets and the students will create disturbances. Whenever such things happen, they must in the first place be taken as good things, and that is how I look at the matter.

The old state apparatus was smashed as soon as the Cultural Revolution began. From the state president, provincial chiefs, to factory directors, managers, and different levels of party committees, in one word, the entire bureaucratic state institutions were overthrown by the revolutionary masses. The masses of people saw with their own eyes those once majestic-looking bureaucratic gentlemen now lost all of their power and prestige, how could they not burst with joy? What a great spiritual liberation it is! Meisner (1986, 343) described how the Shanghai party and state bureaucracy was overthrown by the revolutionary masses:

By mid-autumn of 1966 the rebellion against established authority had spread from the schools to the factories, thus making the appearance of the actual proletariat in the drama of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” . . . The Cultural Revolution, for the first time in the history of the People’s Republic, brought discontented workers and others the freedom to voice their grievances and the freedom to establish their own organizations, unhampered by the organizational and ideological restraints hitherto imposed by the Communist Party. The result was the spontaneous emergence of a bewildering variety of popular rebel organizations, all proclaiming fidelity to Mao and Maoist principles but interpreting those principles to suit their own particular interests.

At the beginning of November several of the rebel groups formed a loose alliance under the name Headquarters of the Revolutionary Revolt of Shanghai Workers, which came under the leadership of Wang Hung-wen, a young textile worker and mid-level party functionary. The Workers’ Headquarter was the self-creation of the Shanghai workers, owing nothing to instructions from Peking . . . On November 8 the Workers’ Headquarters presented its demands to the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee, and they clearly portended the replacement of the old bureaucratic administration by new popular organs of government . . . With the victory of the Workers’ Headquarters in mid-November, the power of the Shanghai party and government apparatus rapidly disintegrated as rebel groups freely roamed the city to organize workers and others. The mass movement grew at a frenetic pace and on a vast scale . . .

The overthrow, which would be celebrated as the “January Revolution,” was accomplished during the first week of the new year. On January 5 a dozen rebel organizations loosely allied with the Workers’ Headquarters (and with the encouragement and assistance of members of the Cultural Revolution Group in Capital) published a “Message to All the People of Shanghai” . . . and called for the unity of workers, students, intellectuals and cadres. That call for unity received dramatic expression in the next day, January 6, when more than a million citizens gathered to hold a mass meeting in the central city square, with the proceedings observed by millions of others. Mayor Ts’ao and other high party officials were denounced, removed from their positions, and forced to make public confessions of their political sins. Over the next few days lesser officials and cadres were similarly humiliated at other public meetings and paraded through the street wearing placards and dunce caps. The old regime had fallen.

Who are scared? The ruling class is scared, and the liberal intellectuals are also scared. The liberal intellectuals worry about the social order to no less an extent than the ruling class. They are afraid of the proletarian great democracy. They keep silence on the abuses that the oppressors had done to people in the entire “normal time,” but cry loudly when they see the violence that people did to the oppressors at the moment of revolution:

“the party and state leaders suffered from wrongs, persecutions, and abuses . . . Liu Shaoqi, the President of the Republic, was not protected by the Constitution and laws, was framed as ‘traitor,’ ‘enemy agent,’ and ‘scab,’ and had lost any right to defend himself (Gao Gao and Yan Jiaqi, preface).”

But as was said by the Red Guards, “these bourgeois gentlemen, when seeking their own pleasure, care nothing about the party’s policies, care nothing about the government’s laws, and care nothing about people’s life or death!” When people want to settle their accounts, what do they want to defend of themselves?

The Cultural Revolution had almost completely destroyed the old relations of production: In the Cultural Revolution the old cadre system (people who were in authority) had been largely destroyed by the mass movement. The masses were out of control. In factories, old regulations and institutions had been overthrown . . . and workers often disobeyed cadres . . . production had gone out of hand, or was even paralyzed. Since cadres did not have real authority, in many enterprises production and management were out of control (Li Qiang, 162).

With the old relations of production destroyed, the new relations of production must be established in time, otherwise the development of productive forces would be paralyzed. In fact, some elements of the new relations of production did begin to emerge in the Cultural Revolution. Following are some excerpts from an investigation report on the Beijing General Knitwear Factory made by Charles Bettelheim and an investigation report on the Beijing Northern-Suburban Timber Mill included in a then official collection of propaganda materials. In the Cultural Revolution, workers “demanded participation in management, in keeping with the Anshan Constitution (Bettelheim, 1974, 21).”

Implementing the Anshan Constitution means always to put politics in command, strengthen party leadership, launch vigorous mass movements, systematically promote the participation of cadres in productive labor and of workers in management, reform any unreasonable rules, assure close cooperation among workers, cadres, and technicians, and energetically promote the technical revolution (Bettelheim, 1974, 17).

What are the unreasonable rules? The unreasonable rules were “imposed by the old management–regulations concerning work organization, discipline, etc., which reflected a lack of confidence in workers’ initiative and thus tended to preserve capitalist relations (Bettelheim, 1974, 22).”

The old regulations and institutions followed the line of “experts in charge of factory,” and were established to control and to impose restrictions on the workers, providing (many ways to) deduct workers’ pays or to impose fines on workers. They provided for this right to this principal, and that right to that chief, but not a single right to the workers. The workers only have the right to be controlled (WANSUI, 675)

How to reform the unreasonable rules? Each regulation was subjected to mass discussion . . . a great number of rules have already been abolished, making it possible to effect a substantial reduction in factory administrative personnel (Bettelheim, 1974, 22).

In the past the administrative structure was overexpanded and overstaffed . . . To regulate the interpersonal and interdepartment relations, there were a great number of overelaborated rules and regulations, to have different people and different departments check against each other. In one department, the rules wrote: “if the chief is absent for business, the vice chief is in charge of all the work; if the vice chief is absent for business, the chief is in charge of all the work.” Since the revolutionary committee was established, the administrative structure has been simplified

. . . If there were not idle staff, there would be no overelaborated rules and regulations. Now there are fewer people, more work, but problems have been solved faster. Under the old rules and regulations, workshops served (rather than being served by) administrative departments. After simplifying the administrative structure, administrative cadres often come to workshops to solve practical problems. This is deeply welcomed by the masses of workers (WANSUI, 677).

The old quality control system did not trust the masses of workers. It relied upon a small number of inspection workers to “supervise workers,” resulting in tensions between production workers and inspection workers. Comrade workers said: “if you do not rely upon the masses, you have no way to improve product quality, even if behind every worker you place an inspector.”

Now the new quality control system has been established. Under the new system, proletarian politics is in command, every one takes responsibility, and is to help each other, the team chief is to examine (workers’ work), and the group is to evaluate (workers’ work). The new system guarantees the steady improvement of product quality (WANSUI, 679).

At the General Knitwear Factory, the (workers’ management) teams deal with problems involving the upgrading of product quality. The system is one of self-control and each work team controls its own work. The workers make every effort to find collective solutions to whatever problems come up (Bettelheim, 1974, 25).

In the past, plans were made and directed by a handful of people. These plans were separated from proletarian politics, from the masses, and from reality. They are metaphysical and mechanistic. Under these plans, production had to fit quotas and norms, the productive initiatives of the masses of workers were seriously restrained, there were a lot of idleness due to poor organization and a great deal of waste . . . Now production tasks are to be discussed by workers.

A planning system which relies upon the masses and combines the top and the base has been established. (Under the new system,) plans correspond to reality. Leaders and the masses have one common goal in their mind, and work together towards that common goal. The new custom of communist cooperation is emerging everywhere. Comrade workers say: “in the past everything was determined by the top and workers were only to do their work. Now planning is everybody’s business, everybody is to find solutions to problems, and production is also everybody’s business. Thus we can always finish production tasks ahead of time (WANSUI, 679).”

The workers’ management teams are also involved in planning factory output. The workers are repeatedly consulted before a plan is formally adopted. The planning project is scrutinized concretely in terms of how it will affect each shop and each work team. The workers divide into small groups for this purpose, which enables them to express themselves fully on the plan’s significance, it implications for each worker, and on possible improvements in terms of production, quality, product diversification, etc. This results in numerous exchanges between workers and managerial bodies, with the workers’ management teams acting as go-betweens. The overall plan is thus scrutinized repeatedly, and its final adoption is the outcome of a common effort by the various work teams and shops (Bettelheim, 1974, 25).

In his comments on the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the conditions of the Chinese working class, Meisner (1986, 385) said:

Possibly, as the reports of many foreign visitors suggested in the early 1970s, a collectivistic spirit and a degree of workers’ participation in management were characteristic of Chinese factory life . . . administrative and managerial cadres, having gone through the trials and humiliations of the Cultural Revolution, temporarily abandoned their more autocratic practices and bureaucratic habits, and were disposed to consult workers in more meaningful fashion than in the years before the great upheaval.

As Meisner said, in the Cultural Revolution, “mass democracy was the official order of the day.” This is the germ of the new relations of production. This is to solve fundamentally the contradiction that all the former relations of production have failed to solve–the contradiction between the oppressors and the oppressed. While the new relations of production had never moved beyond its embryonic stage, it provided a concrete solution to the contradictions of the Chinese society at that time, the solution which was a working people’s solution, a fundamental solution, and therefore, the only real solution.

However, to build up the new relations of production and to replace the old relations of production with the new relations of production, it was not only necessary to have widespread autonomous mass movements, which were far less than sufficient. On the basis of mass movements, a new revolutionary party must be established. This party would take power from the ruling class and thus provide political safeguard for the transformation of the relations of production. It is the fatal weakness of the Cultural Revolution that there was not a new revolutionary party. Making revolution without a revolutionary party is just like a man without brain, and revolution is reduced to little more than destruction. Without a new revolutionary party, working people could not take political power, and the old state apparatus which had been destroyed was soon restored. After the ruling class took back political power, they immediately made use of this power to take back everything they had lost in the revolution.

Moreover, the drive to reestablish labor discipline in the factories after the disruptions of the Cultural Revolution (particularly aimed at younger workers who had been the most politically radical) was followed in the early 1970s by the gradual revival of many of the old factory rules and regulations previously abolished and by a growing emphasis on specialist administrators and technical criteria . . . The factory director . . . still remained the director. In the end he was less responsible to the workers he directed than to the state and party apparatus that employed him (Meisner, 1986, 384).

On the other hand, it was impossible for the ruling class to simply go back to the conditions before the Cultural Revolution.

Like many other problems in China in the 1980s, low efficiency is one of the consequences of the Cultural Revolution. For more than ten years, Chinese workers have refused to follow the direction of the party committees in factories, refused to take care of machines. Instead they spend much of time to play cards or leave workshops to play basketball

. . . Even two years after Hua Guofeng took power, western companies that have made investment in China find that Chinese workers refuse to follow the directions that they do not like . . . In the last analysis, low efficiency results from the management’s lack of power. It is almost impossible for a state-owned enterprise to fire a worker . . . A Chinese official, feeling somehow awkward, explained to a journalist: “you must understand that we cannot force workers to work (JLFS, 69-70).”

They cannot force us to work! This is the concrete and actual benefit that revolution has brought about to the oppressed people. When bourgeois scholars denounced “low efficiency,” they did not understand that this is also democracy. What rights do bourgeois democracy provide to people? Parliamentary election? It happens only once for every few years. Freedom of speech, freedom of press? To deliver opinion in press, on radio, or on television, or to publish essays and books, are not considered to be the business of ordinary people. Freedom of association, of organizing political party? This has always remained a privilege of the elitists. But labor, is the most important activity that the majority people have to participate everyday. To be able to control their own labor, is thus the most important freedom and right for the majority people.

The benefit that a revolution can bring about to working people will by no means be overestimated. The new relations of production failed to be established, but the old one no longer worked. People did not acquire power, but the old power could no longer rule as it used to. For the ruling class the only way out was the “reform.”

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