The following speech was delivered by Fight Back! editor Mick Kelly at a Minneapolis October, 2019 celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese revolution. Kelly is a member of the Standing Committee of the Central Committee of Freedom Road Socialist Organization and is responsible for its international relations.
It is a real honor to be with you this evening to mark the 70th anniversary of the Chinese revolution. In October of 1949, the outstanding Marxist-Leninist, the main architect of China’s revolutionary process, Mao Zedong, would proclaim in Beijing, “The Chinese people have stood up.”
The three great mountains that weighed on backs of the Chinese people – imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism – were thrown off, and the dawn of a new China had arrived. The China that was a playground for the so-called great powers had come to an end.
In the port city of Shanghai, foreign powers had taken physical control of parts of the city and in that part of the city that they ran, they had a park. And that park had a sign that read, “No Chinese or dogs allowed.” The 1949 victory of China’s war of national liberation and social emancipation marked the beginning of a new period Chinese history.
There are two points are important here.
The first is, just how big a change we are talking about, or, what were the conditions before the revolution?
The vast majority, more than 90%, of the people lived in countryside, and China was the land of famines. Repeated famines – let’s just pick one, the north China famine that started in 1928. That took the lives of 3 million or 5 million or 10 million people. The numbers are in dispute, but it is an absolute truth that repeated instances of mass starvation were a periodic feature of pre-1949 Chinese history.
These famines were not accidents caused by bad weather, or lack of rain, or flooding, although all those things were factors in some of them. The root cause was this: China’s feudal, then semi-feudal, system of agricultural production was incapable of meeting China’s food needs and in fact did not exist for the purpose of feeding people. It was a system that did what it was meant to do: enriching the landlord class and the merchants, while condemning the vast majority of rural folks to an ever-deepening poverty. Life in the countryside was turned into a nightmare, where parents sold children, there was no health care to speak of, and in 1949 the average person in China could expect to live 35 years.
Chinese workers also faced horrific conditions, but the working class was not particularly big, given that the imperialist powers blocked the path of industrial, national development and made China a dumping ground for their manufactured goods, pushing locally-produced commodities out of the marketplace.
What I am describing are conditions that are largely products of China’s class structure, but there is another dimension to this – and that is relatively simple to understand. The real rulers of China were not Chinese – they were to be found in Washington DC, on New York City’s Wall Street, in Berlin, London, Tokyo, and Paris – and they came to dominate China by force.
For example, in the mid-1800s the British waged a war on China for the ‘right’ to sell opium and make huge profits from the drug trade. That is how the British colonialists eventually came into possession of Hong Kong. Or, here is another – in 1899, the masses of Chinese people, weary of foreign overloads, decided to rebel in a big way. They formed the organization, a movement really, the Fists of Righteous Harmony, and challenged the foreigners who strutted about China’s cities. In the West this is sometimes called the “Boxer Rebellion.” The upshot is that American, British, German, Japanese and other imperialist powers would occupy Beijing, where they would burn historic buildings, carry out rapes and mutilations of the dead, and loot at will.
To digress for a second, this history is largely unknown or downplayed in the West, and this says something about bourgeois histography. If, in 1900, Chinese troops occupied Washington DC, burned the White House and looted the Smithsonian, we all know that every right-wing reactionary from Trump on down would be talking about it as if happened yesterday.
But back to where we were – China suffered under a succession of puppet governments, including that of Yuan Shikai, the multiple warlord regimes, and finally Chiang Kai Shek. These ‘leaders’ were unable to resist Western or Japanese imperialism and had no real desire to. They demonstrated this in the face of the Japanese invasion and occupation of much of China between 1932 and 1945.
These puppets were in fact backed by outside powers and stood at the apex of corrupt, parasitic system that empowered the landlords and a clique of crony capitalists for whom corruption was a way of life.
So that is point one, objective conditions — and I dealt with them at some length because it is impossible to say how far someone has come if you do not understand where they were starting from.
Point two is “How did New China come into being?” and here we are talking about a titanic struggle, which involved mass heroism on a scale rarely seen in human history.
Unfortunately, the limits on our time together this evening does now allow me to recount it. So, in the interests of time and summation, let me say this. While Mao, the revolutionaries of China, and the Chinese people did not have a magic carpet that allowed them to fly away from oppression – they did manage to create what Mao called the three magic weapons. And given that these weapons are important to revolutionaries everywhere, including right here in the U.S., they are worth recounting.
First, and most importantly, there was the issue of building revolutionary organization, and to that end the Communist Party of China was founded on July 23, 1921, and it immediately became as it remains today – the guiding force of the China’s revolutionary process. Building a new communist party is something that FRSO is working to do right here in the U.S.
The second magic weapon is the united front. In China’s case, uniting all who can be united to cast off imperialism and its lackeys, which included challenging the power of the landlords in the countryside. Here in this country we need to build a united front against the monopoly capitalists.
And finally, Mao took the lead in creating a people’s army, to wage an armed struggle, a protracted people’s war where the struggle in the countryside engulfs the cites. The exploiters and oppressors never surrender power of their own volition. Never have and never will. Sure, there are differences between the U.S. and China and revolution in this country will take place in cities. But the idea that the rulers of this country will step aside because people want to end capitalism is not rooted in a solid understanding of this country’s reality or history. The capitalists who run this country go into hysteria about losing something small 10,000 miles away. With their very existence as a class at stake, there is no chance they will surrender peacefully.
By making use of these three magic weapons, the Chinese people, led by the Communist Party of China, embarked on one of the most wondrous processes of social transformation ever known, creating a socialism with Chinese characteristics. In doing so they have changed the world as they have transformed China.
China and the world
The success of the Chinese revolution changed the course of world history. Perhaps some of you have seen old globes or maps from 1940s or 50s where large sections of Africa, Asia, some of Latin America and other places were denoted as colonial holdings. Belgium enslaves the Congo – a country that is larger than all Western Europe. France holds Algeria, The U.S. holds the Philippines, Puerto Rico, etc. You get the picture.
The victory in China radically accelerated the destruction and disintegration of the colonial system, as it served as an incredible inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere. It also greatly strengthened the socialist camp and shifted the balance of forces on a world scale, signaling a decline of imperialism in general. And while over the past 70 years the decline of the imperial powers has been relatively constant, with a few exceptions – particularly the collapse and betrayal of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the shifting balance of forces stands out today in sharp relief.
The peaceful rise of China is underway. China now has the second biggest economy in the world and there is little doubt that it will soon have the largest. About half of the world’s steel is now produced in China. China produces more than twice and many cars than the U.S. each year. If there ever was an ‘American century,’ it is over now.
The rulers of the U.S. are panicking. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. undertook a ‘pivot towards Asia,’ which involved encircling China with a web of military bases, anti-China treaties and economic agreements. The Pentagon now speaks of preparing for war on China, and preparing for said war is now a higher priority among U.S. war planners than, say, counter-insurgency. There is a document called the National Defense Strategy that states, “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term strategic competition…” This means get ready for war with China.
The Trump administration has sharpened the conflict with China, the other imperialist powers, and the rest of the world for that matter, although there is a complexity to this which has more do with the changing place of the U.S. in the world. China is just one part of that. There are two things worth noting here. One is the U.S. is abandoning or destroying the economic architecture that previous administrations worked so hard create, including the World Trade Organization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These institutions and other factors (such as the role that the U.S. dollar plays as an international currency), had put U.S. at very center of a world financial empire – but it is an empire that requires absolute and relative strength to maintain.
Secondly, the U.S. has opted for a far narrower strategy of increased rivalry with the other imperialist powers and a growing conflict with socialist China – for example, putting tariffs on an ever-widening spectrum of Chinese exports.
Finally, no discussion of U.S. policy towards China would be complete without looking at the U.S. policy of encouraging turmoil in China, such as the turmoil that is taking place in Hong Kong; the encouraging of a ‘peaceful evolution’ away from socialism; or reactionary separatism, such as that in Xingang or Tibet or Taiwan, to destroy China’s territorial integrity.
And just because they are the subject of considerable discussion, let’s talk a little bit about Tibet and Hong Kong. As for Tibet: the Dali Lama is much loved by Westerners afflicted with a spiritual vacuum – they have empty hearts and empty heads too. Old Tibet, under the rule of the Lamas, was hell on earth. It was a semi-slave, semi-feudal society that depended on serfs. They maintained their power by employing every sort of brutality. For example, gouging out the eyes of serfs who disobeyed or rebelled. Or burying peasants alive.
In 1959, this Lama slavocracy, which was alarmed by land reform, staged an uprising – yes, with firearms, not prayer wheels – against the central government, and was defeated. And this defeat is still celebrated in Tibet as Serf Emancipation Day. And a great day is was.
Or take Hong Kong. The recent Hong Kong protests come in response to a proposed extradition treaty between Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Macau. In 2018, a Hong Kong college student murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while vacationing in Taiwan. Hong Kong law does not allow for his extradition, so Beijing wanted to address this. The results are a protest movement, which has a colonialist and pro-imperialist cast – with demonstrators waving British flags, carrying signs hailing Trump, and spending money from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. This out there for everyone to see. It is shameful. Some people who call themselves leftist and progressives support it. It is unbelievable, but true. You can’t make this stuff up.
Great accomplishment of socialism
Now let’s turn to the accomplishments of Chinese socialism. One was mentioned at the onset of this talk as the issue of life expectancy. The average life expectancy of Chinese people rose 42 years, from 35 years in 1949 to 77 years in 2018. Let’s compare this to the U.S. where life expectancy has declined for three years in a row.
Or let’s take the issue of poverty. The World Bank, hardly a bastion of pro-socialist thought, reports that about 850 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty between the years 1981 and 2015. China’s goal is to bring extreme poverty to an end next year. And they are on track to doing it. Here in the capitalist U.S. ending poverty is not even a goal. Instead the U.S. wages a war on the poor.
Trade unions are encouraged by the Chinese government, which often compels foreign investors to recognize them. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions currently has about 300 million members.
Because China is not a capitalist country, there are no periodic crises of capitalism. Capitalism is governed by economic laws and so is socialism.
Let me quote for the from the General Program found in the Constitution of the Communist Party of China:
“The Communist Party of China is the vanguard of the Chinese working class, the Chinese people, and the Chinese nation. It is the leadership core for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and represents the developmental demands of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation for China’s advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the greatest possible majority of the Chinese people. The Party’s highest deal and ultimate goal is the realization of communism.”
By communism, what we mean is a society without classes and class rule, and it the goal of communists everywhere. It’s our goal too.
Complexities and class struggle in China
Over the past 70 years, there can be no dispute about the fact that socialism in China has made remarkable strides forward. It is also beyond dispute that there is a large section of China’s economy that is, in essence, capitalist in nature and that gives play to the market. This sector has been harnessed to assist China’s development and faces restriction – for example state banking institutions favor state-owned enterprises, (production facilities and distribution networks) that are owned and controlled by the people’s government.
The result is that class struggle continues to be a factor in society and inside the Communist Party and it could not be otherwise. For example, in 1989 this class struggle took place on a big scale. Reactionary elements started a protest movement that made use of real social problems to advance an anti-socialist agenda. They gathered at Tiananmen Square and other places. It turned out that a section of the Communist Party, including its main leader at the time, Zhao Ziyang, went over to the turmoil.
Likewise, it can be said, even now, that some of statements from the press of the Communist Party of China are not entirely Marxist, and the same can be said of some of its actions, so the class struggle, which includes the struggle between the capitalist and socialist roads, is bound to continue.
This method of stressing the strong points but noting the problems is approach that should be used by revolutionary and progressive persons. We wish the Chinese revolution well. If there are problems, there are problems and they can be acknowledged or talked about – there is nothing wrong with that.
But the method we reject is that of subjective idealism, where an image of socialism is created in one’s mind and that image is pitted against reality and then that reality ‘doesn’t measure up.’ Be it China, Cuba, or Democratic Korea – we all know people who pick up one or more imagined and/or real defect and then say, “Well it’s not socialism. It not socialism because it is not in accordance with what I want it to be.” This approach is wrong and ultimately foolish, and no one wants to be a fool.
Actually, existing, socialism in any country is the result of a concrete historic process that determines its problems, prospects and path of development.
For 70 years the Chinese revolution has contributed to making our world a better place. It is certain to do so for many more.
Long Live the Peoples Republic of China!
Long Live Socialism!