The Socialist Revolution started 90 years ago in China
Henry C.K. Liu

Part I: The Beginning


Part II: Lessons of Other Revolutions

This article appeared in AToL on Novemebr 13, 2009
The French Revolution (1789-1799) was not a peasant revolt against the landed aristocracy. It was a violent process by which the bourgeoisie used the disenchanted peasantry to gain control of the power levers of the state from the aristocracy.  The rise of the bourgeoisie as the middlemen to carry out trade in a expanding market economy forced the aristocracy to transform from its traditional role as a benign, even benevolent feudal ruling class to an increasingly exploitative class to make up for the lost wealth siphoned off by the trading bourgeoisie. The accumulation of wealth by the bourgeoisie came from the backs of the peasant class through the escalating oppression by the aristocracy. This transfer of wealth from the peasants to a new bourgeois class was misleadingly credited to the superiority of market capitalism.
Had the French monarchy during the revolution sided with the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy as its British counterpart had done, France could well be a capitalist constitutional monarchy today. Louis XVI failed to understand that the political raison d’être for monarchism rests in its mandate of exercising state power to maintain socio-economic equity in the nation by protecting the French peasants from the aristocrats.
As the French bourgeoisie gained control of state power after the French Revolution, much of Europe gradually adopted economic and political systems in which the bourgeoisie lorded over the peasantry with a new exploitative capitalistic regime to replace the previous relatively benign, symbiotic arrangement between the landed aristocracy and the tenant peasantry under agricultural feudalism. As a result, the emergence of a universal class struggle between workers and capitalists in industrialized Europe was a historical inevitability.
But much of the world outside of Western Europe was still operating on agricultural feudalism which soon became ripe targets for Western imperialism born of the rise of European capitalism. The landlord class of these feudal agricultural countries, in order to resist the encroachment of Western imperialism as an advance stage of industrial capitalism, was forced to shift from the traditional symbiotic relationship with their landless peasants that had produced prosperity, as it had been in the Tang dynasty in the 8th century, to a new relationship of ruthless exploitation to make up for the lost wealth being siphoned off by Western imperialism, and to form alliance with an emerging national bourgeoisie to oppress a small growing working class in newly established national industries. The ruthless exploitation of labor in early European industrial capitalism was exported to the victim countries of European imperialism. 
In China, as in many other Asian societies, including Japan, the disappearance of a harmonious symbiotic socio-economic structure caused Confucian feudalism to collapse from its cracked foundation, heralding a spiritual vacuum of two centuries of cultural decline that pushed a once glorious civilization into temporary, relative backwardness in comparison to the advanced Western world. In Japan, after the Meiji Reform, which ended the Tokugawa era and restored imperial rule as an icon to support industrialization, nationalists sought solution to underdevelopment in fascist militarism in the first half of the 20th century. In China, liberation came in 1949 the form of socialist revolution after a protracted six-decade-long struggle of nation rebuilding.
Today, the leadership in the ruling Communist Party of China seeks to construct a harmonious society out of a socialist market economy. It is a highly problematic endeavor, because market economies, socialist or not, are inherently not harmonious, because markets operate with confrontational competition, not harmonious cooperation.
Lenin’s Misplaced Expectation
Lenin, up to his death in 1924, believed that the Russian Revolution was only a local phase of a Europe-wide revolutionary trend, albeit he did not connect the revolution with the underdeveloped non-European feudal societies which formed the majority of the world’s population, except indirectly through the resultant demise of Western imperialism after the eventual collapse of capitalism in the core countries.
After the October Revolution, Lenin had expected follow-up proletariat uprisings in Germany, Poland and the minor industrial states in the Danube valley from the ashes of the failed democratic revolutions of 1848 that inspired Marx to write the Communist Manifesto, which was issued as a propaganda pamphlet by the Communist League, renamed from the “League of the Just” after Marx and Engels joined it.
The internationalist communist movement was a European event until the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921, even though three years earlier Chinese nationalism had been seminally influenced by Marxist ideology in the May Fourth Student Movement of 1919, two years after of October Revolution of 1917.
Revolution and Counter Revolution in Germany
The Communist League was created in London in June 1847 out of a merger of the League of the Just and of the fifteen-man Communist Correspondence Committee of Brusselles, headed by Karl Marx. Friedrich Engels convinced the League to change its motto to Marx’s call for Working Men of All Countries, Unite!  It had branches in Paris, London, Geneva, Berlin and several other major European cities. In 1848, the Communist League issued a set of “Demands of the Communist Party of Germany”, renamed from the Spartacist Party, urging a unified German Republic, democratic suffrage, universal free education, arming of the people, a progressive income tax, limitations on inheritance, state ownership of banks and public utilities, transportation, mining and collectivization and modernization of agriculture. But the program was too radical for the liberal Frankfort Assembly.
Marx was asked in the summer of 1851 by Charles Anderson Dana, managing editor of the New York Tribune, the most influential paper in the US at the time, founded in 1842 by Horace Greeley, later a founder of the Republican Party in 1854, to write a series of articles on the German Democratic Revolution of 1848. These articles, written by Engels and edited by Marx who had not yet attained fluency in English, appeared under Marx’s name with the title: Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany. 
In these articles, Marx described how in April 1848, the revolutionary torrent in Europe was suppressed by those classes of society that had profited by the early victory who then immediately formed counterrevolutionary alliances with the vanquished reactionaries.
Marx wrote: “In France, the petty trading class and the Republican faction of the bourgeoisie had combined with the Monarchist bourgeoisie against the proletarians; in Germany and Italy, the victorious bourgeoisie had eagerly courted the support of the feudal nobility, the official bureaucracy, and the army, against the mass of the people and the petty traders.”  Yet “every inch of ground lost by the Revolutionary parties in the different countries only tended to close their ranks more and more for the decisive action,” which could be fought in France only.
Marx continued that as Germany remained not unified, France, by its national independence, civilization, and centralization, was the only country to impart the impulse of a mighty convulsion to the surrounding countries. Accordingly, when, on the June 23, 1848, “the bloody struggle began in Paris between the mass of the working people on the one hand, and all the other classes of the Parisian population, supported by the army, on the other; when the fighting went on for several days with an exasperation unequalled in the history of modern civil warfare, but without any apparent advantage for either side -- then it became evident to everyone that this was the great decisive battle which would, if the insurrection were victorious, deluge the whole continent with renewed revolutions, or, if it was suppressed, bring about an at least momentary restoration of counterrevolutionary rule.”
Republican France was the fountainhead of early modern socialism. While not all republicans were socialists, most socialists were republicans against monarchism. The economic system of monarchism had degenerated into chaotic aimlessness with systemic injustice brought about by the advent of the aggressive bourgeoisie. All felt moral indignation against a system where wealth was concentrated in the hands of an idle minority who enjoyed hereditary privileges sustained by unrestricted socio-economic and political power.
Yet this wealth was being siphoned off to the pockets of the bourgeoisie who plied their luxury goods and services on the idle aristocrats. Entrepreneurs and merchants began to gain power to give or deny work to workers and to set wages and working hours in their private enterprises to maximize private profit derived from the conspicuous consumption of the aristocrats.
French socialists rejected the social value of private enterprise in a market economy. They worked to organize society along principles of harmony, coordination, cooperation and free association, believing that beyond the civil and legal equality promoted by the French Revolution, a further step toward socio-economic equality had yet to be taken. They were dissatisfied with the incomplete human rights declared by the French Enlightenment for glaringly lacking in economic rights.  French citizens won the right to vote, but not the right to employment with living wages. 
As reactionary policies entrenched themselves all over Europe in the years following the post-Napoleonic peace, socialism spread rapidly among the working classes after 1830. In France, it blended with revolutionary republicanism. There was a revival of revisionist interest in Robespierre who was rehabilitated as a new hero of the masses. in 1839 Socialist Louis Blanc, published his Organization of Work. 
Marx reported that “the proletarians of Paris were defeated, decimated and crushed with such an effect that even now [1851] they have not yet recovered from the blow. And immediately, all over Europe, the new and old Conservatives and Counter-Revolutionists raised their heads with an effrontery that showed how well they understood the importance of the event. The Press was everywhere attacked, the rights of meeting and association were interfered with, every little event in every small provincial town was taken profit of to disarm the people to declare a state of siege, to drill the troops in the new manoeuvres and artifices that [Louis-Eugène] Cavaignac, prime minister of France (June 28-December 28, 1848) had taught them. Besides, for the first time since February, the invincibility of a popular insurrection in a large town had been proved to be a delusion; the honor of the armies had been restored; the troops hitherto always defeated in street battles of importance regained confidence in their efficiency even in this kind of struggle.”
Later under Napoleon III (president 1848-1852, Emperor 1852-1870), whom historians saw as the prototype of the modern dictator, and labeled the bourgeois emperor by royalists, Baron Haussmann’s baroque city planning was also dominated by the political and security purpose of clearing the rebel-infested urban quartiers in the old city, of easing troop deployment on the new, broad boulevards against much-feared popular uprisings, and of preventing the easy erection of revolutionary barricades on narrow streets that had once frustrated government authority in the "Bloody June Days" of the proletariat uprisings of 1848.
Marx linked this defeat of the ouvriers of Paris to definite plans of the old feudal bureaucratic party in Germany to get rid of even their momentary allies, the middle classes, and to restore Germany to the state she was in before the revolutionary events of March (Märzrevolution). The army, loyal to its institutional mandate, again was the decisive power in the state. The vanquished nobles and bureaucrats exploited the solidarity of the an army fresh from victories against Napoleonic France, jealous of the great success the French soldiers (whom the German army had defeated in war) had just attained in domestic civil conflict what it failed to achieve in foreign war, by putting down insurrection in Paris to crush the revolutionists, and blushing aside the presumptions of the bourgeois parliamentarians. Could the glorious German Army do less?
Marx reported that “by the beginning of autumn [1848] the relative position of the different parties had become exasperated and critical enough to make a decisive battle inevitable. The first engagements in this domestic war between the democratic and revolutionary masses and the army took place at Frankfort. Though a mere secondary engagement, it was the first advantage of any note the troops acquired over the insurrection, and had a great moral effect. The fancy Government established by the Frankfort National Assembly had been allowed by Prussia, for very obvious reasons, to conclude an armistice with Denmark, which not only surrendered to Danish vengeance the Germans of Schleswig, but which also entirely disclaimed the more or less revolutionary principles which were generally supposed in the Danish war. This armistice was, by a majority of two or three, rejected in the Frankfort Assembly. A sham ministerial crisis followed this vote, but three days later the Assembly reconsidered its vote, and was actually induced to cancel it and acknowledge the armistice. This disgraceful proceeding roused the indignation of the people. Barricades were erected, but already sufficient troops had been drawn to Frankfort, and after six hours' fighting, the insurrection was suppressed. Similar, but less important, movements connected with this event took place in other parts of Germany (Baden, Cologne), but were equally defeated.”
Marx observed that “this preliminary engagement gave to the Counterrevolutionary Party the one great advantage, that now the only government which had entirely -- at least in semblance -- originated with popular election, the Imperial Government of Frankfort, as well as the National Assembly, was ruined in the eyes of the people. This Government and this Assembly had been obliged to appeal to the bayonets of the troops against the manifestation of the popular will. They were compromised, and what little regard they might have been hitherto enabled to claim, this repudiation of their origin, the dependency upon the anti-popular governments and their troops, made both the Lieutenant of the Empire, his ministers and his deputies, henceforth to be complete nullities. We shall soon see how first Austria, then Prussia, and later on the smaller states too, treated with contempt every order, every request, every deputation they received from this body of impotent dreamers.”
Marx reported that “we now come to the great counter-stroke in Germany, of the French battle of June, to that event which was as decisive for Germany as the proletarian struggle of Paris had been for France; we mean the revolution and subsequent storming of Vienna, October, 1848. But the importance of this battle is such, and the explanation of the different circumstances that more immediately contributed to its issue will take up such a portion of The Tribune’s columns, as to necessitate its being treated in a separate letter.”
Liberals, with middle class backing, called for the many German states to send representatives to the Frankfort Assembly for the purpose of uniting Germany. The Assembly decided to offer the crown of emperor to Frederick William IV of Prussia. This was to be a limited constitutional monarchy. To their horror, he turned it down saying that he would not “pick up a crown from the gutter.” The Prussian king thus undermined the liberal movement and caused it to fail. Like Italy and Hungary, German unification failed. That was Marx analysis of the 1848 Revolutions in Europe. 
On September 30, 1862, Otto von Bismarck made his famous speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies: “The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions--that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849--but by iron and blood.”
Still, notwithstanding the political failure of liberalism, 1848 liberal proposals such as social insurance, public education, and expanded suffrage were incorporated into Bismarck’s social programs after German unification.
In Britain, early socialist ideas had given new energy to further parliamentary reform. The working-class anti-capitalist Chartists, deriving its name from the People’s Charter of 1838, a full decade before the democratic revolutions of 1848, circulated in 1848 a petition signed by half of the adult males in the population in Britain calling for electoral reform to allow working class representation in parliament. It was rejected by the House of Common by a vote of 287 to 49, fearing that political democracy would threaten property rights. Liberal democracy was not considered a safe institution until a property-owning middle class became the majority class in Europe. In America, representative democracy has always been the political instrument of the propertied class.
Lenin’s Dashed Hope for European Revolution
Lenin declared himself as not being a “socialist chauvinist”.  Lenin and the Bolsheviks sent all possible aid to the radical leftist fringes in Germany, Sweden and Italy to combat reactionary obstacles. The Soviet Party even considered sending troops to help Hungarian Bolshevik Bela Kun.  The Second International had failed to rally socialist parties in European states to oppose participation in the First World War. The Third International (Comintern) after the war accepted the Bolshevik Revolution as the true fruition of Marxism and declared itself as a weapon for world revolution. But the revolution never came.  Reaction in the advanced countries to international Bolshevik “menace” gave rise to fascism in post-war Europe.
Lenin’s Neglect of Non-European Agricultural Societies
The Russian Bolsheviks did not consider non-European agricultural societies ripe targets for revolution. Lenin’s anti-imperialism thesis was administered by the Comintern as a anti-longevity drug for European capitalism, not directed at national or personal liberation for the non-European peasant victims of European imperialism.  The revolutionary target was clearly and decisively European capitalism, not non-European agricultural feudalism nor European imperialism. The segment of the population deemed ripe for liberation was the industrial factory worker in cities, not the farm peasants even inside Europe, let alone the colonies outside.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) under Li Lisan, who had joined the communist party as a student in France before returning to China, followed this predisposed line of organizing urban workers for armed uprisings in cities. This line was met with repeated failure that almost destroyed the CPC until Mao Zedong turned the party into a revolutionary political instrument of the Chinese peasants. 
The October Revolution
The October Revolution was an unexpected metamorphic anomaly in the metabolism of revolution because geopolitical circumstances of the First World War caused it to take place in Russia, a pre-industrial country on the fringe of Europe, the majority population of which was rural peasants rather than urban factory workers, and the main socio-economic conflict was between feudal landlord class and landless peasant class rather than between capitalist class and the worker class.
It was then a revolutionary task after the revolution to create a proletariat class in Russia and the other Socialist Republics within the USSR as quickly as possible through rapid industrialization, not merely to catch up with the more industrialized West, but to hasten revolutionary dialectics of transition from feudalism to capitalism to socialism. Socialism was recast from an ideological social movement to a venue for post-WWI nationalism. After WWII, socialism was transformed by Cold War superpower geopolitics as a nemesis of capitalistic liberal democracy.
Thus the early modernization strategies of the Soviet revolutionary government were fundamentally different from the imperialist Westernization strategies of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia.  It is wrong to see Soviet industrialization as inter-imperialist rivalry the way the Western anti-communist left does.  Social engineering had to be speeded up through revolution to accelerate historical dialectics. This new post-revolution proletariat class, not having existed before the revolution, had not had the experience of being oppressed by capitalists. In fact there was a shortage of capitalists against whom to mount a triumphant class struggle that was supposed to be the victorious outcome of the revolution. 
Yet it was problematic for the new proletariat class to be a new antithesis against a nonexistence thesis of capitalism.  The revolution provided the solution by creating a class of state bureaucrats, known as party cadres, which liberal democratic opponents immediately named the New Class.  The task of the party cadres was to build a transitional capitalist system designed to give way to socialism voluntarily. This was essentially the same problem faced by Deng Xiaoping’s open and reform policy which aimed to direct China towards a transitional market economy without abandoning the socialist path of the Chinese revolution.
Notwithstanding that the ideological role of the party cadre is to guide the revolution toward socialism, this New Class acted essentially as management against labor in the new industries to facilitate a controlled class struggle toward socialism. The newly created socialist proletariat, in the absence of a capitalist class, mistook the bureaucratic management class as the target of class struggle and played into the hands of reactionaries. This eventually culminated in the Solidarity Movement that began in Poland, a broad anti-communist social movement that united the Catholic Church with the anti-communist left. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Solidarity Movement transformed itself into the color revolutions of the former Soviet Republics. The net result was a broad retreat from socialist revolution. 
Leon Trotsky, in his book The Revolution Betrayed, refers to the rise of Stalin and the accompanying post-revolutionary bureaucracy as the Soviet Thermidor. Trotsky and the adventurist left described the process of “bureaucratic counterrevolution” with French Revolution term “Thermidorian Reaction” that followed Robespierre’s fall on the 9th of Thermidor in the French Revolutionary calendar (July 27, 1794) that ended the Reign of Terror and the Paris Commune of 1792, and the purging of radical Jacobin clubs, later becoming pejorative labels for left-wing revolutionary politics and extremist centralist views. Social and political life became freer, more extravagant, and more personally corrupt and cynical. During the “Thermidorian Reaction”, a splurge of mannered fashion and conspicuous consumption of bourgeois wealth came forth while the poor suffered from harsh economic conditions amid a world of plenty. Trotsky’s reference to Thermidor was meant to show that the “counterrevolution” was not a restoration, a return to the ancient regime, but a counterrevolution against the path toward socialism. In reality, the Thermidorian Reaction was an official reversion to a regime of structural socio-economic inequality.
Trotsky attacked the trend of revolutionary aspirations shifting from the bottom to the top, with the consolidation of a new order of rule by the Party on behalf of the proletariat class for the purpose of sustaining the revolution. Trotsky failed to understand that revolutions, different for popular uprisings, have always been from directed from the top (Bolsheviks) and that the idea that it should have been from the bottom (the proletariat) was fantasy, particularly because the bottom (industrial workers) did not exit in Russia.  And where the bottom existed in Europe, there was no revolution or uprising.
In 1949, the Chinese socialist revolution also succeeded in seizing state power without a significant class struggle between urban industrial workers and national capitalists.  The revolution was a broad based united front of anti-imperialist forces within China. After three decades of open and reform policy introduced by Deng Xiaoping since 1978, a sizable industrial worker class, officially estimated to be 140 million, with untold millions not counted officially, has come into being, many members of which are migrant workers from rural region to urban centers, a majority of whom are exploitatively employed by enterprises financed and owned by foreign capital or in significant joint venture with foreign capital. There is no evidence that this new worker class in China, larger than the entire labor force of the United States (150 million), has been properly represented by, let alone gaining control of, the party or the government. 

However, some movement is observable. In February 2008, the National People’s Congress (NPC) accredited the qualification of three rural migrant workers as newly-elected deputies, making them the first group of “spokespersons” for migrant laborers all over the country in the national legislature. This development is a historic breakthrough that will help normalize the gap between urban and rural development and the oppression of migrant workers by unsavory employers, domestic and foreign.

Chinese government and trade unions at all levels had helped workers recover more than 66.54 billion yuan ($9.7 billion)in wage arrears by the end of 2008, according to a report delivered Friday to China's top legislature. The recovered wages, of which some were up to four years old, were paid to some 1.67 million workers, mostly migrant workers, said the report to the bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC).

Historically, the policy of opening to the outside was first instituted by Mao Zedong who invited Richard Nixon, president of the United States, to visit China in 1972. Deng’s policy of 1978 was merely a continuation of Mao’s initiative, without the foundation of which Deng would not have been able to implement his policy in 1978. Chinese economic autarky was never voluntary policy but was imposed on China by US anticommunist policy of containment by total embargo. Mao was merely making the best of an impossible geopolitical situation in order to preserve the socialist revolution. Without Mao immovable confidence in socialism as the correct path of national revival and his faith in the invincible power of the masses, the CPC might well have gone the same failed path as the KMT by yielding to misguided US pressure on how to rule China.
There is undeniable evidence that since 2002 the Communist Party of China (CPC) has de-emphasized class struggle as a revolutionary process. The final bell was rung in 2002 with the admission of capitalists into Communist Party membership. This is perhaps due to the fact that both the industrial working class and the capitalist class are really new groups in the Chinese economy, coming into existence only after 1978. The rationalization of this ideological metamorphosis was to prevent the Party being marginalized by the market economy.
Still, the proletariat in Chinese political nomenclature is the property-less class, historically mainly rural farming peasants. Many Chinese farmers today are no longer property-less. They are the new Kulaks of the modern Chinese market economy. In fact, the new proletariat class today appears to be made up of mostly migrant workers, numbering between 150-200 million, approaching the size of the US population.  The issue of the abuse of migrant worker rights has become a festering cancer in recent Chinese economic policy, presumably designed to promote a harmonious society, not to mention a ticking time bomb guaranteed to be the epicenter of a massive ideological earthquake in socialist orthodoxy.
Since 1978, revolution momentum has been preempted by economic reform while socialist construction has been pre-empted by material construction in a socialist market economy. For all practical purposes, the CPC has transformed itself from a revolutionary party to a ruling party that is only perfunctorily obligated to socialist principles while Chinese economic growth is achieved at the expense of economic equality and on excessive dependence on foreign capital and markets.  The CPC has not yet transformed itself by crossing the line to become a counterrevolutionary party because it has managed to resist political reform toward bourgeois liberal democracy as some misguided reformers have been pushing for in the name of economic necessity.
Yet, after 30 years of reform, the Chinese economy is visibly infested with glaring inequality in income and wealth, and the means of production have been increasingly privatized under the control of a minority financial elite for its own benefit. The CPC now officially represents all the peoples, including capitalists, rather than the dictatorship of the proletariat. All this is officially accepted in the name of modernization and following global neoliberal trends. Yet in 1919, the anti-imperialist socialist revolutionary movement in China had been launched to reverse global imperialist trends, not to follow them. At any rate, these global trends of capitalist free market fundamentalism had been halted abruptly since 2007 with the global collapse of finance capitalism.  The options available to the world now are whether state capitalism or socialism will end up as the legitimate replacement of finance capitalism.
The revolutionary momentum of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been put on hold since 1978 as socialist market economy was promoted by the Party leadership as a deliberate policy of ideological compromise, presumably to allow evolutionary dialectics towards socialism to work itself out in due time. There is a rising danger that even the normal pace of dialectic evolution from capitalism toward socialism has been deliberately slowed down by this compromised policy. Deng’s famous dictum of letting some people get rich first along the path to national prosperity had gradually been changed by quietly dropping the word “first”.  China is now a country in which some people can get super rich before others permanently. Forbes Magazine annually publishes a list of China’s richest.
Ironically, the socialist revolution that had been started by the 1911 May Fourth student movement had been torpedoed by a misguided counterrevolutionary interpretation of the student demonstration of 1989, both having taken place at Tiananmen but 78 years apart. Since 1987, Deng’s open and reform policy has forced by geopolitics to take a turn from a NEP-type transitional economic policy to kick-start modernization, to a permanent policy contaminated with dubious neo-liberal dimensions to appease geopolitical pressure from the US whose markets were deemed indispensable for an overgrown Chinese export sector financed mostly by foreign capital. 
Yet with the outbreak of the global financial crisis of 2007, ample evidence now exists to show that the economic achievements in China came not from unregulated markets opened to neo-imperialism, but from the fact that Communist Party of China has wisely and fortunately retained essential control of the socialist market economy by limiting the actual opening up of the economy to foreign capital and by slowing the privatization of state-owned enterprises, in contrast to what Russia had done following US shock treatment advice. Most importantly, China has managed to insulate its financial sector from the wild turmoil of global markets since 2007 because it resisted both internal and external pressure to fully open and deregulate its own financial sector and to make its currency free floating and fully convertible.

October 31, 2009

Next: Lessons of the Soviet Experience