The American Socialist and the Chinese Revolution

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at
Tue Oct 17 20:03:17 MDT 2000

>From the Chinese perspective, this debate is irrelevant.  The conditions under
which the Chinese Revolution emerged were the those of a decaying feudal society
being victimized by Western capitalism under Western "democratic" political
systems.  The Chinese of the 19th century were faced with a political-economic
defeat inconsistent with their ancient history and proud culture.  Early Chinese
revolutionaries, personified by Sun Yatsen, were Western educated and they
attempted to reform the Chinese feudal system through scientific modernization and
capitalistic Westernization.  That attempt, despite strong support from liberals
in the West, ended in total failure.  National revival energy then shifted toward
radical revolution and brought the success of the 1911 bourgeois democratic
revolution.  But subsequent events proved Westen style democracy and liberal
capitalism could not save China from Western imperialism.

After the October Revoltuion, the sole revolutionary political party in China, the
KMT, under Sun Yatsen, turned to the Soviets for inspiration and communism for
hope.  Lenin, in his analysis of imperialism as the advanced phase of capitalism,
made the Chinese revolutionaries aware that to fight imperialism, they must also
fight capitalism.  An ideological struggle ensued within KMT which caused a split
between the communists and the rightwing national capitalists who led to a coup
that turned the KMT toward fascism and forced the communists to build up their own
party.  China then was faced with two alternative routes for national revival,
socialism or national capitalism.

The bottom line was that the KMT after WWII, despite enormous US financial and
military assistance, failed to save China through national capitalism. KMT was
driven from mainland China by 1949.  With the establishment of the PRC, under the
leadrship of the Chinese Communist Party, the main target was not modern
capitalism, which never really took root except in a few trading ports such as
Shanghai and Canton.  The main target was feudalism and its heirachical economic
system of landlords and monopolies.  The early programs concentrated on land
reform and redistribution, women liberation from feudal customs and marriages,

Modern socialism took root in China not because someone read a book in the library
or had a Pauline vision on his ways back to China from the West.  It took root
becuase it was what China needed at this historic moment.  The full, awsome power
of the mighty US establishment could not stop it, what is the point of one Michael
Harrington denouncing the Chinese socialist revolution for doctrinal impurity.

The struggle continues and the same rules still apply.  Political institutions
that truely serve the masses will survive and those that exploit the masses will
be swept away by the tides of history.
Do not worry about China going capitalistic, because capitalism cannot work in
China any more than tobacco can grow without water.

Democracy is not a virtue by itself.  Democracy is only virtuous if and when the
majority opinion is virtuous.  That is why capitalist democracy is a sham.

Henry C.K. Liu

Louis Proyect wrote:

> [Now that I am in the home stretch of creating electronic archives for the
> American Socialist magazine, I am pleased to discover one of the more
> interesting articles in a treasure-chest of interesting articles. In the
> April 1959 issue, Bert Cochran takes the measure of the Chinese Revolution.
> As somebody trained in the Trotskyist movement, you find certain
> preoccupations in Bert's article that go with the territory. What is of
> more interest, however, is the overall positive embrace of the greatest
> socialist revolution since 1917.
> [This is in vivid contrast to the American SWP's generally sectarian and
> uninformed attitude toward Mao's revolution. At my first branch meeting in
> 1967, I voted for the expulsion of Arne Swabeck who was a founding member
> of the party and who had evolved toward Maoism. (Swabeck was one of the
> "talking heads" in Warren Beatty's memorable "Reds".) One after another,
> party members got up to denounce the veteran as a Mao-ite. If you wanted to
> let the branch know you meant business, you'd pronounce it "Mayo-ite" as if
> we were talking about a sandwich spread rather than a revolutionary
> movement that had liberated a billion people.
> [The SWP leader who hated Maoism the most was one Tom Kerry, an old
> merchant seaman who wore a permanent scowl. Every time he got up to
> denounce Ernest Mandel and the other European Trotskyists for being soft on
> Maoism, he'd refer to the Chinese beau-ROH-cracy as opposed to the
> beau-RAH-cracy. I figured he used that pronunciation because it sounded
> more uncompromising or something. RAH might be mistaken for RAH-RAH.
> [At the recent conference on American Trotskyism, I learned from Richard
> Fidler that Les Evans, a younger party leader of the 1960s and a serious
> China scholar, found it impossible to have a rational discussion with
> Kerry. Even the slightest concession to the Chinese Communists would result
> in a tirade from the cranky old man. I also learned at the conference that,
> according to Michael Livingston, Harry Braverman was something of a Maoist
> himself.
> [The biggest problem with American Trotskyism is that it hardly dealt with
> Maoism itself. Mostly it was content to repeat Trotsky's polemics against
> the Comintern over the 1927 Shanghai uprising, as if this had anything to
> do with Mao's peasant uprising and successful overthrow of the comprador
> bourgeoisie.
> [Beneath you will find a section from Bert Cochran's "New Thunder Out of
> Communist China" from the April 1959 American Socialist. It was so contrary
> to the normal accepted discourse of Trotsky's disciples that an outraged
> Michael Harrington, a Shachtmanite at the time, wrote in to complain. I
> include a brief section from the May 1959 exchange between him and Cochran.
> It epitomizes the differences between Marxism and the kind of Left
> Menshevism that Harrington found congenial. Following in the footsteps of
> Karl Kautsky, Harrington states, " underdeveloped country
> attempts a quick industrialization on basis of its own national resources,
> it will develop a totalitarian apparatus." Cochran replies in Leninist
> fashion, "Regimentation and dictatorship, as far as I can see, are
> inevitable with a forced industrialization of a backward country. The
> alternative is not democracy as it is practiced in England or even in the
> United States, but the regime of Indonesia, or Pakistan, or Iran, or Chiang
> Kai-shek. I think the Chinese people are far better off with what they have."]
> ====
> >From Bert Cochran, "New Thunder Out of Communist China", American
> Socialist, April 1959
> HERE is how the new course shaped up in practice. Beginning with the winter
> of 1957, great armies of rural laborers were mobilized for thousands of
> local regional irrigation and conservation projects. A number of these were
> enormous modern engineering ventures organized by the central government
> and requiring sizable investments of equipment. The bulk were smaller
> affairs of a labor-intense character involving little investment. work,
> financed in great part by the food supplied to the laborers, has been
> estimated to have added an actual third to the total accumulation fund.
> According to Liu Shao-chi the government invested 1,450 million yuan to
> harness the Huai river, and completed over 1,600 million cubic meters of
> masonry and earth work in eight years. But by means of labor, money, and
> material resources of the peasants themselves, in six months of the winter
> of 1957 and spring of 1958, more than 12,000 million cubic meters of
> masonry and earth work were completed in Honan and Anhwei provinces alone.
> China s use of chemical fertilizer is still negligible, and dependent on
> foreign sources for most of that. The original plan looked forward to the
> manufacture of three million tons in 1962, which would only provide under
> 20 pounds per acre as against Japan’s use of 40 times as much per acre. But
> it is remarkable to note that in this same period, the peasants accumulated
> 15¼ billion tons of crude and mud fertilizers with which they were able to
> achieve startling results. The two main efforts, improved irrigation and
> increased use of fertilizer, coupled with better seed election and control
> of pests and plant diseases, has been sufficient for spectacular increases
> in 1958 which revolutionized all perspectives. Where the original figure
> for grain was 250 million tons, later revised downward to 240 million tons
> for 1962, production for 1958 is now estimated at 350 to 375 million tons —
> double last year’s crop. Where the raw cotton target was 2-2/5 million
> tons, later revised downward to 2-1/6 million tons for 1962, production for
> 1958 was estimated at 3-1/3 million tons — again, a doubling of production
> within one year. Output of cured tobacco, sugar cane and sugar beets
> doubled. Other farm produce increased by 20 to 40 percent. It was assumed
> by Westerners, as the reports of bumper crops came in, that the sown area
> had been considerably extended. But Liao Lu-yen, the Minister of
> Agriculture, explained that the area enlargement was very slight; the
> increases were due primarily to higher yields unit.
> WHAT is one to make of these figures? There has never been reported
> anything like it. The most spectacular example of agricultural advance in a
> population-congested has been that of Japan. It was able to double
> agricultural production prior to mechanization from 1885 to 1915, a period
> of thirty years, by standardization, seed selection, improved irrigation,
> scientific management, and large uses of commercial fertilizers. In this
> thirty-year span, output by three-quarters, a rate of increase of 2-2/5
> percent ear, with the rural population declining while the national
> population was rapidly growing. Western experts convinced that this type of
> advance was excluded for China, as her population density was already
> extreme and growing at an alarming rate, and her productivity per acre was
> high, much of her farming being practically of the garden type.
> Thee 1958 achievement has demolished this Western expertise. It has
> demonstrated that once the social barriers to the scientific application of
> production techniques and utilization of labor are swept away, even in a
> country as thickly inhabited as China (where a smaller acreage than of the
> United States supports a population 3¾ times as large), productivity
> advances are possible of a magnitude and at a rate that no one had dared
> suggest before. Even if we downgrade the figures considerably (as Chinese
> statistics necessarily have a high component of inaccuracy, and the
> Communists have a tradition of juggling with figures), it is still
> unimpeachable, as many Western observers have attested, that agricultural
> production has been revolutionized and the whole economic perspective has
> altered for the better.
> Complete article at:
> ====
> Michael Harrington-Bert Cochran exchange, American Socialist, May 1959
> FINALLY, let me return to the basic point in terms of your final remarks on
> democracy. You write that democracy requires a certain material level. Of
> course! That ABC. But the point is not to under-value the relevance of
> democracy to socialism — which I feel was the implication of your words —
> but to re-emphasize it. When, an underdeveloped country attempts a quick
> industrialization on basis of its own national resources, it will develop a
> totalitarian apparatus, for that is the only way that the peasant can be
> forced to give up his surplus or the worker be kept at the grindstone. In
> the process, the totalitarians will not exist as an abstract and classless
> force, but enjoy the fruits of their economic, social and political power
> at once. This grim mechanism of accumulation only be changed if there is
> massive aid from advanced (socialist, or socialist-tending) countries. It
> will, I think, become generalized so long as the present international
> situation continues, and so long as there is no perspective of socialism in
> an advanced country.
> All of this is hardly encouraging, but this is the reality must face. In
> dealing with China, what realism compels us to recognize is that
> industrialization is being carried in an anti-socialist way which is
> bringing a new social class to power. On this point, there is enough
> evidence. Your major failure, to my mind, was that you did not the problem
> of the basic direction of the system squarely and that, in your ambiguous
> remarks about democracy, you gave unwitting aid to those who would corrupt
> the very image of socialism through their attitude phenomenon like that of
> Chinese Communism.
> You say that Chinese planning has a "gimmick" character and you cast doubt
> that the rural industry drive amounts to much. We have to beware, it seems
> to me, of bending the stick so far in direction of suspicion as to deprive
> ourselves of the possibility of comprehending the actual process under way.
> It is easy to get into such a mood because the Communists are unscrupulous
> manipulators of data. But it is the duty of conscientious social observers
> to strike a reasonable balance on the basis of the best information
> available. We do not have any reliable statistics as to the value the goods
> turned out in cottage and rural industry as against urban industry. But
> even if we had them, they would not tell us too much. Chinese economic
> development is occurring on several different levels. The commanding fact
> of rural industry is not its inevitably low productivity, but that it can
> be gotten under way with a small capitalist investment, with such technical
> skills as locally available, and that it puts to use resources and or which
> would otherwise go to waste. It is one aspect the great public works, which
> in turn makes possible huge agricultural increases, which in turn add to
> the capital fund for industrialization and general growth. In other words,
> it is part of a chain reaction; it has what the economists call a
> multiplier effect.
> NOW, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As a result of the public
> works and local industries program — the two are closely linked — China
> reported greater agricultural progress than in the previous five years.
> Food grains shot up to 350-375 million tons, and they are talking in terms
> of 525 million tons this year. Of course, we can say the figures are all
> lies, but the Russian experience should caution us, while viewing the
> statistics critically, against blanket rejection. I am prepared to accept
> that it is not all beer and skittles: the transportation system is probably
> badly overstrained, a lot of the rural ventures probably flopped, some
> costly miscalculations were made, etc., etc. But the economic balance sheet
> reads very high. The British and Australian journalists on the scene accept
> the fact of an unprecedented agricultural breakthrough. This is all the
> more impressive as it is taking place while heavy and general urban
> industry is being relentlessly pushed ahead. How can monumental
> achievements of this kind be waved away as "gimmicks"? Aren’t we in danger
> of repeating the experience of some of the professional Russian critics:
> scoffing and jeering year after year only to wake up one fine day to
> discover that Russia is the world’s second industrial power?
> Complete exchange at:
> Louis Proyect
> Marxism mailing list:

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