Sixty Years Ago: The Chinese Revolution
Editors' Note: Translation of "O Militante" article by Albano Nunes, member of the Secretariat of the CC,  Portguese Communist Party, originally published in Portuguese on January 1, 2009 ; English  translation July 26, 2010

The victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949 ranks second only to the October Revolution as the 20th century's most important revolutionary event.

The establishment of people's power in the world's most populous country as a result of a heroic people's war for national and social liberation led by the Communist Party of China, was an event with huge international repercussions, and gave a valuable impetus to workers' and people's struggles all over the world, and very specially in Asia and Africa. The camp of socialist countries – that with the defeat of nazi-fascism had extended to the centre and East of Europe – became a powerful social force encompassing one third of humankind and challenging the capitalist system for world supremacy.

The establishment of the new people's power (the “people's democratic dictatorship”), the agrarian reform and other far-reaching revolutionary changes targeting feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism, the people's enthusiasm and creative energy, the alliance with the USSR and the other socialist countries, enabled the new China to make quick progress in terms of development and to confirm the superiority of socialism over capitalism.

Sixty years on since the historic date of October 1st 1949 when, on Tien Anmen (Celestial Peace) Square, Mao Tse Tung solemnly proclaimed its birth, the People's Republic of China is an important and unavoidable reality in today's world. While still a backward country overall, with a low per capita GDP, it has for several years maintained a high rate of economic growth, that has enabled it to tackle, and even solve, problems of huge size – such as hunger, poverty, illiteracy, destructive natural disasters – and attain highly valuable technical, scientific and cultural achievements, such as for example the Chinese space program and the Beijing Olympics. All of this has been done within the framework of a mixed economy, with strong capitalist elements (the “socialist market economy”), that the CPC justifies on the theoretical and political levels as necessary to ensure the productive forces' growth and the modernisation of the economy as part of their original conception of building “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

The “reform and opening up” policy, adopted thirty years ago (1) , actually opened up for China a period of impetuous economic development, with an average annual GDP growth of 10%, the highest in the world, turning it into the world's fourth economy in absolute terms. And today, when the crisis is shaking the capitalist system and growth rates are falling dramatically, China predicted a very noteworthy growth rate of 7.1% for 2009.

However, at the same time as the people's living conditions really improved, there was also a growth in disparities, in regional and social imbalances, and even in class contradictions, a prominent feature of which has been the formation and growth of a rich and powerful bourgeoisie that will sooner or later formulate its own political program, challenging and placing on the agenda the issue of the party's and the political powers' class character.

The acute class struggle that is unfolding on the international arena also involves China, even as – as is happening with the capitalist world crisis – strong ties of economic interdependency condition the PRC's relations with the capitalist system. Imperialism cannot obviously look kindly upon a powerful China, led by a communist party and geared toward building, albeit in the long term (2) , a socialist society.

At the same time as it courts and seeks to dominate China's vast domestic market, it is everywhere confronting what it calls “Chinese expansionism”, encircling China with threats (from Formosa to Tibet, from the border with the Korean peninsula to the Sinkiang) and has not given up the hope of achieving what the Chinese comrades have dubbed “peaceful evolution”, that is, as happened in the USSR and the East of Europe, a degeneration of China's communist party and political regime.

Where is China heading? How and at what price will the backwardness, problems and contradictions that plague today's Chinese society be overcome?


The whole world, and obviously especially the communists, have their eyes set on this great and multifaceted country with over 1300 million inhabitants and 50 different nationalities.


The CPC's well-known slogan “only socialism can save China” - recalled on October 1 last by comrade Hu Jintao during the the revolution's 60th anniversary celebrations in Beijing – is possibly more topical today than when it was formulated at the dawn of China's communist movement.


China's stability, the consolidation of people's power and of the CPC's leading role, the definitive triumph of socialist relations of production, the Chinese people's social and cultural advancement – all are in the interests of social progress and peace all over the world.

Old China and the revolution
China is a convincing example of the fact that, as the PCP has always proclaimed, each people follows its own road to liberation and that, even though there are valid general laws of social development that Marx and Engels uncovered, there are no (nor can there be any) “models of revolution”.


This huge and extremely populous multinational country, with a civilisation that dates back thousands of years, that for centuries had a front-line role in the progress of culture, science and technology (paper, the printing press, the compass, gunpowder, as well as many others, were all discoveries made by the Chinese people) was, early in the 20th century, a backward, semi-feudal and semi-colonised country, splintered by internal wars among lords, periodically decimated by hunger and horrendous natural disasters.

The predominantly feudal relations of production, together with imperialist domination, smothered its development. Major peasant revolts, such as the Taiping (3) , that went so far as to establish a new power in vast regions of the country, were cruelly crushed by reactionary forces allied to imperialism.

From the Opium Wars (4) to the imposition of the so-called “unequal treaties”, China was subjected to a fierce imperialist offensive that brought unspeakable suffering upon the people, subjugated the country politically and economically, prevented the development of national production and forcibly opened up its borders to an invasion of foreign products.

While tsarist Russia was appropriating strategic infra-structure in the North of the country and disputing the rich province of Manchuria with Japan, England, France and the USA were carving up amongst themselves the best slices of China's domestic market and the most important trading outposts and military bases along China's coast. In the early 20th century, the Chinese people were undergoing an unbearable situation of poverty and national humiliation that had to be urgently addressed.

The peasant revolts were followed by an upswell of popular resistance in large urban centres such as Canton and Shanghai. The student movement erupted with great impact in the “May 4th Movement” (5) , that had the participation of many future leaders in the powerful anti-feudal and anti-imperialist republican movement that spread above all in the South of the country. The Kuomintang – the democratic revolutionary movement led by Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925), successor to the China Revolutionary League – gained a great mass character and in 1911 a bourgeois-democratic revolution overthrew the Manchu Qin dynasty and established the Republic of China with Nanking as its capital.

In the meantime – in spite of the relative backwardness in capitalist relations of production – some important industrial centres emerged, the workers' movement developed, and under the influence of the October Revolution and with support from the Communist International, the Communist Party of China was founded in 1921 in Shanghai, and quickly became (particularly with Chou En-Lai, Mao Tse-Tung, Liu Shao-Chi, Chu Teh and many other outstanding revolutionaries that had come into contact with marxism) an influential party and a precious ally to the Kuomintang (which it joined, without dissolving itself into it) that wielded power in the Southern provinces in its struggle to unify the country.


But Sun Yat-Sen's death (1925) and the counter-revolutionary coup be the then-Vice-President of the Kuomintang Chiang Kai-Shek in 1927 (6) , drove the communists underground and toward a revolutionary guerrilla from which – with the exception of vast territories liberated in various parts of the country (7) – they only emerged with the revolution's victory in 1949.

Between the Shanghai coup and the 1949 victory were twenty-two years of hard battles, prominent among which was the legendary “Long March” (October 1934-October 1935) where, fleeing and fighting Chiang Kai-Shek's troops, the Red Army traversed 12500km from the Jiangxi mountains to the Yunan soviet in the North, where the central revolutionary base was established. It was from the Yunan that the CPC led the struggle against Chiang Kai-Shek's government and the national liberation struggle against the Japanese invaders. It was in ths period that Mao Tse-Tung became the CPC's main leader and “Mao Tse-Tung thought” was introduced into the party Rules as a theoretical base side-by-side with marxism-leninism (9) .

The establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1st 1949 opened up a new chapter in China's history. Under the CPC's undisputed leadership, a broad front of social forces achieved victory, with a workers-peasant alliance at its core. The routed reactionary forces took refuge in Taiwan (Formosa island) under the USA's protection. Imperialism erected a “bamboo curtain” around People's China, attempting to isolate it internationally. Many years were to pass until the PRC was able to occupy its rightful place in the United Nations Security Council, until then usurped by the so-called “nationalist China”.

To achieve international recognition of the PRC as the sole legitimate representative of the Chinese people, a hard struggle had to be waged, one that had the support of the USSR and the other socialist countries, in spite of the extremely serious splits and conflicts that had in the meantime erupted between the two great socialist coutries and that dramatically affected the whole international communist movement. It was only in 1971 that the PRC took its place at the UN. And it was only in late 1978 that diplomatic relations with the USA were fully reestablished, actually as the result of a particularly opaque and tortuous process.

In the meantime it had been necessary to - with China's decisive contribution – defeat US imperialism in the Korean War (1950-53), resist US nuclear blackmail, repeatedly confront “nationalist” provocations from the so-called “Taipei Republic”, defeat the separatist counter-revolution in Tibet, orchestrated by the most obscurantist feudal forces in coordination with imperialism (10).


In the sixty years that have elapsed since the Chinese revolution's victory, there have been advances and retreats, victories and defeats, very tense situations (with extremely serious military buildups in the Formosa Strait, or the tragic events on Tien An Men Square two decades ago), major upheavals and political and ideological shifts, tragic splits, stormy events (such as the “cultural revolution”) that caused great suffering to the Chinese people and split the comunist movement and the anti-imperialist front.

Sudden shifts and frequent “rectification campaigns” have marked the CPC's existence. From considering the experience of socialist construction in the USSR as an example or even “copying” it, to openly contesting it on the path to a “socialism with Chinese characteristics”; from close friendship and cooperation with the USSR to calling it “social-imperialist” and to the “three worlds” theory singling out the socialist camp as the main enemy during the “cultural revolution”; from the voluntaristic “communism now” of the “great leap forward” (1958) and the “cultural revolution” (1965-75) to the thesis that China is still at the “initial stage of socialism”; from total collectivisation in the “people's communes” and the most egalitarian extremes, to the “reform and opening up policy” and the “get rich!” slogan; from the the most schematic, doctrinarian and rigid dogmatism symbolised in the famous “Red Book”, to an (almost) overt pragmatism; all of this has come to pass throughout the Chinese revolution's rich and bumpy history (11).

This is not the time to dwell on the serious problems that were created to the international communist movement and the anti-imperilaist front by the “cultural revolution's” ideology and by the splintering work of “maoist” provocatory groups all over the world, including against our own party. While not forgetting them, what is important above all now is to continue working to overcome them once and for all, and to draw from them lessons for the future.

That is what the PCP has done and is doing when, following more than twenty years of interruption, in 1985 it reestablished relations with the CPC on a solid principled basis (12). Without ignoring differences and even disagreements on important issues, we intend to pursue and strengthen those relations, in the interests of both countries' workers and peoples, and to strengthen the communist movement.

We look to China and to the Chinese communists' and people's history with great respect and admiration. We fraternally salute their great people's revolution and sincerely wish them every success in their creative work and quest for solutions to very difficult problems of their development and for the victory of socialism.

The Portuguese Communist Party observes China's revolutionary process from a class standpoint, taking into account its own revolutionary experience, as well as the world commuist and revolutionary movement's experience. And this leads us to raise major questions and even concerns over China's socialist future. But we do not make hasty and definitive judgements.

As Henri Alleg (13) - an exceptional marxist journalist – warned, it is not possible to understand the Chinese epic without taking into account China's historic, cultural, and even “scale-induced” peculiarities. But one thing is certain: It is up to China's communists and people to choose their own path and to find solutions to their own problems.

Liberation processes unfold through an intense class struggle. They are not linear, nor are they written in advance. And from China's revolutionary process – original as all are, and more complex than most – what is most important is to draw teachings to more assuredly and lucidly confront the difficult and not always predictable problems of implementing the revolutionary transformation of society.

The experience accumulated the liberation struggles of workers and peoples, is a treasure that every new generation of communists must protect, upholding historical truth and steadfastly opposing campaigns that seek to denigrate the generous work of communists or to deny the superiority of their values or their project for society.

Notes
(1) December 1978, decisions of the XI Central Comittee's III Plenary Session


(2) The CPC considers that China “is and will remain for a long time at the primary stage of socialism” (XVII CPC Congress, October 2007).


(3) The Chinese people's suffering worsened greatly with the opium wars. Between 1841 and 1850 alone, over one hundred peasant revolts erupted. In 1851, the Taiping (“great peace”) insurrection led by Hong Xiuquan begins, taking over 600 cities in 18 provinces. It established its capital in Nanking and lasted 14 years. The peasants' fighting tradition had a profound effect on the path taken by the Chinese revolution and on the speed with which communists became established in the countryside.


(4) The first opium war started by British imperialism in 1840 when, invoking protection of its traders, Britain sent over 40 warships and 4000 men to attack the Guangdong coastal area. Among many other possible ones, the following example is very revealing as to the way imperialism attempted to fragment and dominate China. During the Boxer revolt, following a provocatory attempt on the German ambassador to Peking's life a 40,000-man expeditionary army with troops from the USA, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Austro-Hungary occupied Peking in 1890.


(5) On May 4th 1919, influenced by the October Revoltuion and protesting China's signing the Versailles Treaty, 3000 students occupied Tien Anmen Square and suffered violent repression.


(6) With the CPC growing stronger and workers' and peasants' struggles for revolutionary change on the rise, the Kuomintang's right wing wove a vile conspiracy and on April 12th 1927 launched a coup d'etat in Shanghai – the revolution's main bastion – murdering thousands of workers and communists.
(

7) In the 1920s and 1930s, in connection with peasant struggles, communist-led “soviets” and “revolutionary bases” emerged in several placed in China. This is where the Red Army's first detachments were set up – the Red Army came to have many hundred thousand members – and marked the beginnings of a far-reaching agrarian reform that on the eve of the revolution had already given land to over 100 million peasants in the liberated areas.


(8) Japan occupied Manchuria in 1931 – with the “west's” passivity, in what can be considered the first major military aggression in the run-up to World War II – and extended the invasion to the whole of China in 1937. The CPC, raising the banner of national sovereignty, proposed to the Kuomintang the formation of a “united anti-Japanese front”. But with the exception of short periods of national convergence, Chiang Kai-shek always preferred to fight the communists.


(9) At the 7th CPC Congress, in 1945.


(10) Tibet – that may be considered China's most backward region – was only liberated in 1951. Its peaceful integration into the PRC was negotiated with the participation of the Dalai Lama himself, and thus Tibet became one of China's Autonomous Regions. But the feudal and religious reactionaries, and imperialism, never accepted the agrarian reform and other revolutionary changes, and have organised many provocations and subversive operations.
(

11) A CPC CC meeting in 1981 adopted a “Resolution on some problems in the CPC's history: 1949-1981” where a global assessment was made of Mao Tse Tung's role, and a new view was cast on issues such as the “great leap forward” and especially the “cultural revolution”.


(12) This process included an exchange of study delegations and official delegations, prominent among which were the visit of a PCP delegation to the PRC led by comrade Alvaro Cunhal (8-12 December 1986) as part of a long trip to the far East. See comrade Alvaro Cunhal's interview to “Avante!” in the 8 January 1987 issue.


(13) Henri Alleg, “The Century of the Dragon”, Caminho Pubishers, Our World series, Lisbon, 1994.

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