100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party: How a revolutionary party was derailed by Stalinism, Part I

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) attends the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on July 1, 2021. (Photo by WANG Zhao / AFP)


PART I. The revolutionary party is “celebrated” by its enemies.

The Chinese Communist Party has been throwing a massive birthday celebration this month. Along with the festivities, the CCP is touting the party’s accomplishments during the century since it was founded while trying to justify the policies and authority of the present bureaucratic leadership.

There should be no doubt that the founding of the party at a conference that began July 23, 1921, was a brave and historic action, worthy of commemoration by the working class of all countries. The massive anti-imperialist struggle, which culminated in the establishment of the Chinese workers’ state, was likewise a world-shaking accomplishment—to say nothing of the mass campaigns to give the land to the peasants, eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, provide universal education and health care, etc.

However, the present leaders of the CCP are in no way qualified to pay tribute to the revolutionary victories of the Chinese people. Rather, they represent the parasitic caste, trained in the school of Stalinism, that has served as the gravediggers of the Chinese revolution.

The 100th anniversary campaign has been largely aimed at preserving the monolithic rule of the Communist Party in China, while fortifying the dominance of the inner leadership circle over the party. The most prominent “revolutionary” imposter, Xi Jinping—the party’s top leader, commander of the army, and head of the Chinese state—followed through on this objective in his July 1 commemorative address to the nation. He exhorted the Chinese people to “follow the Party forever.”

“We must uphold the firm leadership of the Party. China’s success hinges on the Party,” Xi declared. “The leadership of the party is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and constitutes the greatest strength of this system. It is the foundation and lifeblood of the party and the country, and the crux upon which the interests and wellbeing of all Chinese people depend.”

Xi heaped praise on the current Communist Party leadership for its alleged record in “staying true to our original aspiration and founding mission.” But the fallacy of Xi’s statement was demonstrated by the fact that he also applauded the CCP’s contradictory formula of a “socialist market economy.” Regardless of Xi’s rhetoric about “socialism,” the workers’ state in China has now been effectively dismantled. And certainly, the Chinese Communist Party’s founders, whom Xi extolled, would have been sickened to witness the restoration of capitalist relations, coupled with predatory imperialism, that underlies the current economic model.

Xi failed to mention that the misnamed “socialist market economy” involved the privatization of tens of thousands of nationalized firms, the selling off of collectivized land, the gutting of public services for working people, and the re-institution of profit-driven and exploitative economic relations. (“To get rich is glorious” was the slogan, commonly attributed to former leader Deng Xiaoping, as advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.) Xi did not report that the private sector now contributes 60% of China’s GDP and owns about 40% of financial and capital assets (30% to Chinese citizens and 10% to foreigners), while private firms provide 90% of jobs.

Nor did Xi mention that as of April 2021, China had about as many billionaires as the United States—with each of the two countries claiming about a third of the billionaires in the world. According to an April 1, 2019, article in the LSE Business Review, there is huge income inequality in China, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. The share of national income accorded to the richest 10% of the population increased from 27% in 1978 to 41% in 2015, while the share earned by the bottom 50 percent dropped from 27% to 15%. The later figure is far worse than in France (22%), and almost as bad as in the United States (12%).

Xi brought his message to some 70,000 people who had been invited to witness the July 1 extravaganza in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The Chinese leader presided over the affair, speaking from a podium festooned with the giant visage of Mao Zedong. He handed out medals to exemplary party members, as soldiers goose-stepped by. Ten thousand doves were released into Beijing’s smoggy sky, along with thousands of colored balloons.

The state has sanctioned an outpouring of artistic works to mark the party’s centennial, with some 300 operas, ballets, concerts, plays, and other works in production. Grand musical spectacles have been brought to the stage that commemorate heroic episodes from the 1920s to the Cultural Revolution—the disastrous ultra-left movement that Mao’s wing of the ruling bureaucracy unleashed in the late 1960s. Movie theatres have been ordered to screen patriotic films. Loudspeakers on buses and subways are broadcasting messages about revolutionary heroes. Shrines of the revolutionary struggle have been refurbished; people on the “Red” tourist circuit can even visit the rural village near Yan’an where Xi labored as a youth after his home had been ransacked and his father beaten during the Cultural Revolution.

Trinket shops have a bounty of Communist Party kitsch, such as figurines of Mao, on their shelves. These days, the party bureaucracy’s uneasy relationship with the memory of Mao Zedong seems to have turned mostly to adulation of him as a god-like figure. In the meantime, the CCP, both nationally and on the local level, has stepped up its own internal training programs on party history and policy, including its paved-over version of “Marxism-Leninism.”

Chinese authorities have warned of unhappy “consequences” for anyone who dares to “distort” the official version of party history or “defame” its heroes. A web hotline was set up for citizens to report “historical nihilists” in order to root out people who “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture,” which apparently, capitalism in China (aka. “socialism with Chinese characteristics”) has now achieved.

Shoring up the dominance of the party bureaucracy

In recent years, the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party have spoken of the need to bolster the party’s authority in the country at a time when economic growth was slowing, food prices soared, drought and other ecological problems mounted, workers’ strikes broke out, and the protests in Hong Kong threatened to spread until they were crushed. The COVID crisis greatly worsened matters, of course, and caused dissatisfaction to increase.

Xi himself gave warning that increasing discontent required shoring up the Communist Party’s dominant role over society. “From ancient times to the present, whenever great powers have collapsed or decayed, a common cause has been the loss of central authority,” Xi said in a speech in 2018, which was published in a leading party journal at the end of 2019.

Xi has said that he sees the party as the leader not just in government and economic matters but in all aspects of society—even daily life. In certain respects, this is a revival of the centralized policies that were current under Mao Zedong, who famously said: “East, west, south, and north, the party leads everything.” And it appears to be a shift, however slight, from the views of former party head Deng Xiaoping. Deng spoke about the “separation of party and state” during the years when the drive toward capitalist restoration—introducing market mechanisms into the economy, establishing special zones for foreign investment, decollectivizing agriculture, and other “modernizations”—had just gotten under way.

Xi’s declarations on the role of the party might be more permissible (though still exaggerated) if the Chinese Communist Party were truly a revolutionary workers’ organization, with a program that was responsive to the needs and wishes of the country’s working class, including agricultural workers, with full input from national minorities and other oppressed groups, and with a vibrant and democratic internal structure. However, the CCP does not represent the interests of working people.

In the days of Mao Zedong and his immediate successors, starting with the “Gang of Four,” the program and apparatus of the CCP were designed to service first of all the privileged bureaucratic caste that ruled the country. That is still true, but now that the bureaucracy has altered its ideology to advocate and profit from a capitalist “mixed economy,” the party has been revamped as an organ to manage the Chinese capitalist state—even though its program is still couched in “socialist” rhetoric. The CCP has party units within nearly 70 percent of some 1.86 million privately owned companies, the official China Daily reported in August 2017, although the units do not necessarily concern themselves with business matters. The party also directly manages a financial empire that includes hotels, factories, and other companies, while the party and government entities invest as limited partners in private-sector funds.

The composition of the Chinese Communist Party is more and more made up of people who are comfortable with the pro-capitalist course. The party, which claims over 95 million members, is no longer a party of blue-collar workers and poor peasants. Some 41 million professionals and other petty bourgeois or middle-class people make up the largest social grouping within the party—a great many joining with the keen understanding that party membership can provide a passport for advancement in their fields. Some 6.5 million are laborers, and 25 million are agricultural workers—figures that are steadily declining—while outright capitalists number almost 3 million. The predominance of professionals, executives, and bourgeois elements is even greater in the top layers of the party leadership, along with a vast number of paid party officials, while the number of less well-off workers diminishes.

The current drive for more centralization has been applied to the Communist Party itself. Under Xi, the core structure of the Communist Party has been increasingly concentrated from the top downward, and disciplinary rules have been tightened. Under new organizational policies enacted late last year, Xi has been given more authority over the party’s Central Committee. Now, Xi not only has the responsibility for convening a CC meeting; he has the exclusive power to set the agenda.

The 100th anniversary events appear oriented in part toward intensifying the public portrayal of Xi as a seminal leader—the logical and indispensible successor to major figures like Mao and Deng. Party officials, according to The New York Times (April 19, 2021), are speaking about the importance of promoting “Xi Jinping Thought.” The campaign is ominously reminiscent of the way “Mao Thought” was put forward as an infallible guidepost for everyday life during an earlier era. But the effects of glorifying Xi may have more immediate prospects since he is hoping to claim a third five-year term as China’s president in elections next year. The third term was enabled in 2018, when the party pushed through an amendment to the constitution that abolished the two-term limit that had been put into effect after the regimes of Mao and Deng.

Panegyrics in the international socialist press

It is unfortunate that some socialist organizations in the rest of the world appear to accept without criticism the rosy self-portrait that the Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy is painting. In the United States, for example, the Workers World Party recently “saluted” the CCP with a highly flattering website article (June 21, 2021). The writer, Sara Flounders, of the group’s editorial staff, conceded that China created an “opening to foreign capital” some 40 years ago (under Deng Xiaoping), but declared that it has now circumvented that detour and successfully “maintained a socialist direction.” She supplied no evidence for such a cheery appraisal—nor can she.

Flounders applauded China’s imperialist Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), accepting the CCP line that the project is purely altruistic. She wrote that the BRI is aiming at “building a community with a shared future for humanity.” Ignored in Flounders’ article is the extent to which the Initiative allows China to reap billions in profits from its investments. With the BRI, China will gain new markets for both surplus capital and manufactured goods, facilitate the importation of raw materials back to China, and earn high returns on the loans granted for infrastructure enhancements (Chinese companies do most of the construction work, while target countries borrow money to pay for it). In order to secure its loans in several countries, China has used as collateral the infrastructure it helped to construct. Thus, since Sri Lanka could not service the debts on the $8 billion it owed China for BRT construction, China was given a 99-year lease on the port of Hambantota in 2017.

A Chinese consortium, China Merchants, also partly controls a container terminal in Djibouti that was financed as a BRI project. The port is of great strategic importance to China’s plan to expand its logistics and trade routes throughout northern Africa and the Middle East, and into Europe. It is the terminus of a Chinese-built $3.4 billion railroad from Ethiopia, and will be the nucleus of a new International Free Trade Zone that China is developing. Both China and the United States have naval bases in this tiny country near the head of the Suez Canal.

China has relocated many industries to countries where wages are just a fraction of what Chinese workers earn at home. The Chinese shoemaking company Huajian, for example, employs thousands of workers in Ethiopia at one-fifth the cost of employing an equivalent number in China; the company plans to employ 50,000 workers by 2025. In these countries, Chinese managers have become rabid union busters in order to ensure that the levels of wages, benefits, and working conditions remain low. The Chinese shipping company Cosco, which has a 67% share of the port of Piraeus in Greece, conducted a bitter anti-union campaign in 2015 after the company’s participation in privatization of the port had resulted in large-scale layoffs. Such anti-worker activities seem poorly suited for people whom Workers World describes as heading in a “socialist direction.”

(For more information on China’s actions as an imperialist country, see the Socialist Resurgence document: https://socialistresurgence.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/china-a-new-imperial-power.pdf)

Also in the Workers World article, Flounders backed the Chinese leadership’s efforts to smash the mass movement for increased democracy in Hong Kong. Rather unconvincingly, the article blamed “the bitter turmoil in Hong Kong” solely on “imperialism’s effort to create a crisis to stop China’s steady development.” Such evaluations are not new for the Workers World Party, which used similar language in order to cover up the Chinese military’s massacre of the massive workers’ and students’ movement for socialist democracy in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

More recently, Workers World has backed the Chinese regime’s suppression of the oppressed Uyghur people, in which more than a million people have been rounded up and interned in so-called “re-education” camps. A Dec. 18, 2019, article by Sara Flounders on the WWP website glowingly described these concentration camps as nothing more than “vocational and training centers” meant to “engage the population in education, skill development, and rapid economic and infrastructure development.” At the same time, Flounders uniformly portrayed Uyghur activists as “terrorists” and “religious extremists” who are linked to U.S. imperialism. The Leninist principle of supporting the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities was forgotten.

If one probes beyond Workers World’s panegyrics, it should not take long to understand that the Chinese Communist Party leadership strayed from the “socialist” path a long time ago. Although it was a considerable feat to overthrow the comprador capitalist regime at the head of the world’s largest country and to establish a workers’ state, that state was deformed and bureaucratized from the beginning. In time, the top leadership committed real betrayals of the revolutionary cause, both at home (i.e., Tiananmen Square in 1989) and internationally (such as opportunistically establishing relations with reactionary military coups in Algeria, Chile, Angola, etc.). And finally, the Chinese bureaucracy shifted its aims toward restoring capitalism outright, while maintaining the fig leaf of “building socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

END OF PART ONE: Part II will be posted tomorrow, July 24.

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