Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Beyond the first anniversary of the debt-relief programme – what does it hold for the indebted Indian farmers?

Sushovan Dhar


Andhra Pradesh has recorded 25 farmers’ suicides in the last two months. Dozens of impoverished farmers struggling with debt and poor rainfall have killed themselves in southern India in recent weeks, leaving behind families plunged even further into poverty, activists and politicians said. Nearly every day, newspapers report more farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh, a state of 80 million people where 70% of the population depends on agriculture — and which has suffered badly this year from weak monsoon rains. Officially, the total number of suicides stands at 25 in the past six weeks. But opposition parties and farmers' groups say the true total is more than 150.


When a high-level team from the Central Government was visiting different districts and assessing the loss because of drought in the region, 11 more farmers from Vidarbha[i] ended their lives since September 1. Nine farmers killed themselves by swallowing pesticides while two ended their lives by hanging themselves, reports said. It is suspected that most of the farmers had taken the drastic step because of crop failure. Paddy, Soyabean and cotton crops were badly affected because of paucity of rains in the region, he pointed out.

An average two farmers now commit suicide every day in the region. As many as 48 farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha last month while the figure was 784 last year. The farmers' pressure groups in Nagpur attributed rising costs of cultivation, low rate of remunerative price of agriculture produces, lack of credit availability for small and marginal farmers and repeated crop failures are the main reasons for such a pathetic state of farmers in the region.

Indebtedness as a grave problem for the Indian farmers arrived at the horizon ever since the government openly embraced the neo-liberal economic since 1991. Within a few years the nation started witnessing the pandemic of farmers’ suicide and saw it spread across the country.  This tragic and unprecedented phenomenon caused by increasing debt-driven vulnerability of peasant households started with the cotton farmers of Andhra Pradesh and gradually afflicted farmers – primarily growers of various commercial crops in other parts of the country. The government was initially in an attempt to deny & downplay its grave economic policies as a reason for such suicides and was making all possible efforts to attribute the suicides to social problems such as family disputes or alcoholism. However, as things went out of proportion and after numerous political protests and social affront besides a number of sustained enquiries and reporting of the same the government was compelled to announce the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008[ii]. The much-awaited debt-waiver scheme arrived much later than necessary, and lamentably after more than 1, 60,000 farmers have ended their lives over the last decade.

A number of analysts point out that financial liberalisation not only swung credit flows towards urban areas but also starved agriculture of credit. It was therefore an important cause of the more than decade long agrarian crisis that characterised rural India. Starved of institutional credit, farmers switched to high-cost non-institutional sources of borrowing. When farm prices collapsed globally in the 1990s, farmers, caught in the pincer of falling prices and rising indebtedness and with nowhere to turn, started committing suicides. However, the government has still date never acknowledged its flawed credit policies or the trade policies that have been instrumental behind this catastrophe devastating large parts of rural India.

The government claims that till date over 36 million farmers have benefited from debt waivers[iii]. However, the waiver is only for the loans taken from the commercial or regional rural banks and no care has been taken of the farmers who have taken loans from the informal sources. Also the limitation of 5 acres has also caused problems for the farmers as there as some areas in the country where farmers have more than 7 acres of land but they are still poor as the land is not fertile.

As discussed earlier[iv], the limits of the scheme was evident from its inception and it was coupled with a total apathy to apply the same. Indeed a shocking revelation comes from a RTI (right to information) query regarding implementation of the prime minister’s and chief minister’s special relief package for distressed farmers in suicide-prone Vidarbha. The worst fears of planners and activists came true as a huge scam relating to relief schemes for the families of farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region came to the light. The revelations point to large-scale corruption and irregularities in the implementation of a subsidised cattle scheme in Yavatmal district, known to be the epicentre of farmer suicides. The scheme, in which 50% of the cost of buying a cow or a buffalo is subsidised by the government for poor, bereaved farmer families, is being abused[v] by undeserving beneficiaries including a six-time former Member of Parliament (MP), relatives of a sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and several former MLAs. The cattle scheme was put in place to help the families of indebted farmers who were the sole breadwinners and had ended their lives. Its purpose was to enable distressed families to supplement their income as farming had become uneconomical in Vidarbha’s unirrigated cotton-growing hinterland.

Another problem was the definition used to categorise poor and marginal farmers based on that of the debt waiver relief scheme. It is problematic and cannot be accepted, as it does not differentiate between irrigated and non-irrigated land. Thus, while adivasi farmers in Nasik and Vidarbha holding more than five acres of unirrigated land were excluded from the debt relief scheme even though they are in the category of poor peasants, the better off small farmers of Western Maharashtra holding five acres of irrigated land were beneficiaries of the debt relief scheme.

Another controversy developed when the national agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar took a ‘u-turn’ on raising the two-hectare land-holding cap stipulated in the government’s farm loan waiver. Activists complained that it was a stunning breach of umpteen promises of raising the land-holding ceiling in un-irrigated areas. Only 400,000 farmers out of a total three million in Vidarbha have a land holding less than two hectares (five acres) and only 100,000 of them are eligible for loan waiver though most of those deprived of the benefit because of a larger land holding are in dire straits and are committing suicide. The fact that un-irrigated lands have low productivity but high input costs - because of inappropriate farm practices promoted by the government - is commonly known and hundreds of farmer suicides in the last five years have highlighted the frightening agrarian crisis in such regions. About 80% of farmers in each village of Vidarbha have been left out of the government’s ambitious farm loan waiver package. Farmers say the manner in which the scheme was drafted and implemented shows little understanding of rural India and the conventional agricultural practices followed here. In most villages, the agricultural land is owned by the whole family, where the title is usually in the name of the family’s eldest male member. While on the land revenue records a farmer may own 15-20 acres, his actual per capita holding may be far less. The current ceiling of 5 acres (2hectares) makes these farmers ineligible for a full waiver. The most deserving have been left to fend for themselves.

As argued earlier, a cardinal weakness of the scheme is that ‘agricultural / professional moneylender’ is more important than banks or standard credit institutions for farmers with lower land holdings. Informal sources of credit outweigh the formal sources in case of farmers with up to 0.40 hectares of land. Apart from the moneylenders, there are a lot of other informal sources that farmers approach for their credit needs. Informal lending is a peculiar phenomenon in Indian agriculture, and as Arindam Banik points out, “Farmers, on an average, borrow much larger amounts from commission agents or traders than workers do from employers or tenants from landlords[vi]”. Still, the problem of indebtedness due to informal sector lending is not considered in the loan waiver scheme.

Indeed, the benefits of the loan waiver scheme would be very short-term, and the same problem of indebtedness might arise in the next season also. This is because the need for credit would never end, and due of the lack of a long-term solution in this approach, the productivity and the yield will not increase and many farmers would continue to be defaulters.

Several reports and studies identify the heavy rural indebtedness as the major reason behind the suicides but more importantly, indebtedness arises from a mismatch between the cost of production and the market prices. So, in order to get farmers out of this indebtedness induced suicide trap, improving the market mechanism would be crucial. Cost of inputs has also gone up drastically after the increase of pest attacks 1995 onwards, and thus the increasing need for application of pesticides. The short term policy of the government should have ideally targeted these problems in order to put an end to the increasing trend of farmer suicides.

It is a well known fact that the current scheme provides only a very short term relief, with a very limited outreach and it does not cater to the problems of agriculture. The last budget should have given a large push to core issues like public investment in infrastructure, land and water management including rain water conservation and watershed development, research and extension, price stabilization, etc, to make cultivation viable and profitable. There is no doubt that agriculture could have benefited more if the same amount had been used for development of infrastructure.

A simple provision of credit will also not end the woes. It is almost a fallacy to believe that credit or its waiver alone can mitigate the problems of the afflicted farmers. Timely availability of the right kind of fertilizers, genuine and quality seeds is very important. The marketing component of the chain is weak and the Government can improve the storage, transport and processing facilities of grains, fruits and vegetables and prevent distress sale of produce. Measures for raising output and good prices for production are fundamental rather than mere credit which, in the absence of viable agriculture, push them back into a debt trap. The issue is not that of availability of institutional credit, but access, ease, and terms and conditions of such finance.

In retrospect, Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008 has been a petite step towards the solution and there is a need for more effective measures that will negotiate the huge debt burden of farmers to informal sources. The adoption of unilateral and misplaced targeting rules based on size of and holdings limits the effectiveness of such a policy. A more inclusive debt-relief policy that also constitutes a debt-relief commission, expansion of rural institutional credit facilities and improved real returns for agriculture can effectively release the primary sector from the clutches of deflation and indebtedness in which it has come to be ensnared under the neoliberal regime.

The severe crisis in the agricultural sector must be addressed, and the viability of farming in India ensured. There are a slew of measures that are needed to ameliorate distress and increase the vibrancy of farming. These should include better support prices, more rational policies in international trade, special programmes and direct subsidies for agricultural revival including the building of farm ponds on every farm, better credit policies and effective crop insurance. Questions of credit, trade, and technology must be re-examined keeping the farmer’s long-term interests in mind. However, subsidising farmers through lower wages for agricultural labour, or transferring a share of resources meant for those who are worst-off in rural India, is the most unjust way to help the Indian farmer. The legitimate concerns of the farmers need to be separately addressed. The fragile success of a debt-relief programme cannot lift the entire rural economy and the population out of the morass.

[i] An area of the Indian state of Maharashtra where the suicides have occurred at a magnitude much higher than anywhere in the country.

[ii] The Finance Minister, in his Budget Speech for 2008-2009, announced a Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme for farmers.

[iii] The Hindu, April 6, 2009

[iv] See AVP, issue no….

[v] The information, provided by the deputy commissioner of Yavatmal’s animal husbandry department, says former Congress MP Uttamrao Patil and members of his family got 10 cows, sitting MLA of Digras Sanjay Deshmukh’s wife and mother got a cow each, ex-minister and former guardian minister of Nagpur district Shivajirao Moghe’s relatives got eight cows, four relatives of Wani ex-MLA Wamanrao Kasawar’s got eight cows, while Congress leader Suresh Lonkar’s relatives bagged six cows. The contractor who supplied the cows, Amol Kshirsagar, also got a subsidy on two cows!

[vi] Arindam Banik, June 20,2006, Farmer Suicides: Beyond the Obvious The Hindu Business Line

Support the Gurgaon Workers

Fight for Unfettered Trade Union Rights

Gurgaon in Haryana has been time and again projected as the ‘shining’ India, a symbol of capitalist success promising a better life for everyone behind the gateway of development. It has also been rocked by workers’ protests, ignored by the media until it boils over. In 2005, a massive struggle broke out, only to be brutally crushed. But trouble was simmering for the past few months, and it boiled over in late October, as over 80,000 of workers walked off their jobs on the 20th, after the death of a colleague over the weekend when police fired on agitating employees of an auto parts company. The workers, belonging mostly to auto parts units in a belt that houses factories of India’s biggest car maker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and bike maker Hero Honda Motors Ltd, were protesting against the death of the RICO Auto Industries Ltd worker on Sunday.

The strike follows the militant struggles across industrial hubs such as Sriperumbudur and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, also home to several automobile companies and their ancillaries.

Protests began early Tuesday morning with hundreds of workers from Rico and Sunbeam Auto Ltd protesting near the company gates adjacent to National Highway 8, which connects Delhi to Jaipur. They were joined by waves of workers from other units such as Sona Koyo Steering Systems Ltd, Lumax Industries Ltd, Bajaj Auto Ltd and Hero Honda Motors Ltd.

The workers of Rico’s Gurgaon factory were seething in anger since 21 September, 2009 when 16 employees were arbitrarily sacked by the management citing disciplinary reasons. The management resorted to such vindictive stand in response to workers’ demand that their union be recognized by the labour commissioner. It is reported that the management hired gangsters to prevent workers from coming back to work and with the collusion of the police of the police, brought around 300 casual workers to resume work in the factory. There are testimonies of workers who were not allowed to leave the premises of the factory and tortured by the goons.

The management’s act violated the workers’ basic right to association guaranteed by ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention “Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation” and ILO Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining “Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment.” It is utterly shameful that India has still not ratified Conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom of association, the right to organise, and the right to collective bargaining.

Though Indian Trade Union Act of 1926 and the Industrial Dispute Act of 1947 permits the right to form trade unions and collective bargaining by the workers, the matter has been systematically impinged and violated by the Indian capitalist class. The working class in India, for that matter throughout the world, has established their rights through struggle and sacrifice and they cannot forego their right to collective bargaining including the right to form unions in furtherance of their legitimate interests whatever may be the circumstances. We strongly denounce the attempts of the Rico management against the workers to suppress their justified collective action for the redressal of their grievances.

We salute the workers and stand in solidarity with their struggle with the hope that their collective class actions would further the workers movement and will motivate more and more struggles against the capitalist tyranny and their associates from the governments to the media.

We support the basic demands of the workers, including:

  • Arrest and punishment of the people responsible for the death of RICO employee
  • A substantial compensation to be provided by the company along with job to the kin of the deceased family
  • The reinstatement of 16 employees sacked by the company
  • And above all, the company must recognize the right of the RICO employees to form a union and recognize their own democratic union.

The intrigues by the trade-union bureaucracy on this issue are likewise condemnable. Though it was the AITUC which formally called the strike, the motive was revealed categorically by a leading member of the central trade union, who equated the workers’ protests sans control as a Maoist menace. So the strike has been called only out of fear of some form of radicalism, not because working class emancipation is the goal of these bureaucrats. The betrayal of the movement by these leaderships after the 2005 repression of Honda Workers in Gurgaon – which was crushed by brutal state violence – is firmly etched in the memories of the workers.

We urge upon all trade unions of the country and internationally to rise in strong protest against such virulent attack on the trade union rights and to hold high the banner of class unity and class independence.











Is Nature Dialectical?

George Novack

On December 7, 1961, 6000 young people gathered in a Paris auditorium to listen to a debate on dialectics by four noted French scholars.[1] Such a meeting would be as unlikely in New York as the outdoor recitals poets give before large crowds in Moscow. Different countries, different customs—and different levels of cultural and intellectual development.

The participants in the symposium represented the two most widely discussed philosophies of our time: existentialism and Marxism. Neither trend of thought has the following in the United States that the first has in Western Europe or the second in communist countries. America’s ideological life is provincial and lags far behind the most advanced movements elsewhere.

Jean-Paul Sartre, possibly the most influential living man of letters, and Jean Hyppolite, Sorbonne professor and Hegelian scholar, upheld the existentialist viewpoint. Roger Garaudy of the Political Bureau of the French Communist Party, director of its Centre for Marxist Studies and Research, and author of numerous philosophical works, and Jean-Pierre Vigier, one of France’s leading theoretical physicists, spoke for Marxism. Their topic was: “Is the dialectic solely a law of history or is it also a law of nature?”

It is possible to hold one of three main positions on this question. The first is that dialectics is sheer metaphysics, a vestige of theology, an aberration of logic, meaningless verbiage which has no reference to reality and is useless for scientific thought in any field. This is the opinion of almost all scholars, scientists, and those trained by them in the universities of the US and England, where empiricism, positivism, and pragmatism hold sway.

Another is that dialectics is valid in certain domains but not in others. Adherents of partial dialectics usually maintain that its laws apply to mental or social processes but not to nature. For them a dialectic of nature belongs to Hegelian idealism, not to a consistent materialism. This position has been put forward by quite a number of Marxists and semi-Marxists. Such is the view taken by the existentialists Sartre and Hyppolite.

The third position is that dialectical materialism deals with the entire universe and its logic holds good for all the constituent sectors of reality which enter into human experience: nature, society, and thought. The laws of dialectics, which have arisen out of the investigation of universal processes of becoming and modes of being, apply to all phenomena. Although each level of being has its own specific laws, these merge with general laws covering all spheres of existence and development, which constitute the content and shape the method of materialist dialectics. This view, held by the creators of scientific socialism and their authentic disciples, was defended in the debate by Garaudy, Vigier, and the chairman, Jean Orcel, professor of mineralogy at the National Museum of Natural History.

An American would consider it strange that the controversy on the question should take place only between two schools of dialecticians, one piecemeal, the other thoroughgoing. Very few people in the United States today are convinced that dialectical logic of any kind is worth serious consideration.

A broad spectrum of attitudes toward Marxism is exhibited in the Soviet Union, the United States, and France. In the US, where capitalism reigns supreme, anything associated with socialism and communism is depreciated, if not tabooed. Marxism is regarded as obsolete, its philosophy false.

In the Soviet Union, where the socialist revolution abolished capitalism decades ago, dialectical materialism is the state philosophy. Under Stalin, in fact, it became scholasticised and ossified, as Vigier admits and Hyppolite testifies. The latter tells how during a recent visit the Soviet Academy of Sciences contrived to have him talk to the students about mechanism instead of existentialism, as he wished. However, all the questions after his lecture related to existentialism. “It seems to me that the youth were strongly interested in Sartre’s existential philosophy”, he dryly observes.

The intellectual and political climate of France stands between those of the major cold war antagonists. There is lively tension and continual intercourse between Marxist and non-Marxist currents of thought, and especially between the politically oriented atheistic existentialists such as Sartre, and various exponents of Marxism. Sartre and C. Wright Mills reflect the ideological differences between their two countries. Mills held a place among radical intellectuals in the English-speaking world like that of Sartre in Europe. Yet in his last work, The Marxists , Mills dismissed the laws of dialectics as something “mysterious, which Marx never explains clearly but which his disciples claim to use”. Indeed, even this footnote reference was an afterthought added to his original manuscript in deference to friendly critics.

Such a blackout of dialectics would be unthinkable for Sartre. He was educated and lives in an environment where both Hegelian and Marxist philosophies are taken seriously, on a continent where scientific socialism has influenced intellectual and public life for almost a century, and in a country where the Communist Party gets a quarter of the vote and has the allegiance of much of the working class. He has developed his own ideas in contact and contest with Marxism, from the time he propounded the philosophy of existence as its rival to the present stage, when he conceives of existentialism as a subordinate ideology within Marxism which aspires to renovate and enrich it.

Mills took from Marxism only those elements that suited his empirical sociology and New Left orientation. He cut the dialectical heart out of the Marxist method of thought and presented what was left as the whole organism. Sartre has a higher esteem for dialectics. But as we shall see, he too accepts only what can be fitted into his Marxised existentialism.

The transcript of this Paris debate between existentialists and Marxists is worth examining at length because many of the chief objections to materialist dialectics were posed and answered in the light of present-day scientific developments.

Sartre’s case against a dialectic of nature is quite different from that of an American pragmatist or positivist. His arguments are distinctively existentialist.

He agrees that history and knowledge are dialectical processes because they are created by humanity and humanity is involved in their development. There is a historical materialism but no dialectical materialism. Dialectics is internal to history. The province of dialectics cannot go beyond human practice. It is illegitimate to extend dialectical laws to nonhistorical, nonhuman phenomena. Sartre presents three main reasons for this restriction:

1. Dialectics deals only with concrete totalities which human beings themselves “totalised” through practice. History and society are such. Nature, on the other hand, does not constitute a single integrated whole. Nature may be infinite, even contain an infinity of infinites. But it consists of fragmented totalities which have no inner unity, no universal and necessary interconnection. The disunity of nature forbids any universal dialectic.

2. The contradictions operating in history cannot be the same as antagonisms in nature. Social contradictions are based upon the reciprocal conditioning and organic interpenetration of their contending sides through human mediation. The opposing forces inside a physical-chemical system are not interactive and interrelated in this way. Brute matter, the “practico-inert”, is disjointed, dispersed, resistant to dialectical movement.

3. We can know society and history from the inside, as they really are, because they are the work of humanity, the result of our decision and action. Their dialectical linkages are disclosed through the contradictory interplay of subject and situation. But physical phenomena remain external to us and to other objects. They are opaque to our insight. We cannot penetrate to their real inner nature and grasp their essence.

In sum, nature must be nondialectical because of its disunity, its lack of contradiction, its insurmountable externality and inertia. The only possible dialectical materialism is historical materialism, which views our establishment of relations with the rest of reality from the standpoint of our action upon it.

Orthodox Marxists revert to theology and metaphysics, says Sartre, by extending dialectical laws over nature on purely philosophical or methodological grounds. He does, however, concede that dialectical laws may at some point be found applicable to nature. But only by way of analogy. This presently involves a risky extrapolation, which must await verification through further findings by the natural scientists. And even if they should discover that physical processes resemble the dialectical type and start to use dialectical models in their research, this would provide no insight into the nature of nature, no true knowledge of its essential features.

Thus the existentialist Sartre turns out to be a positivist in his last word on the possible relations of dialectics to the physical world. For him the ideas of this logic can be no more than handy hypotheses in metaphorical dress that may help scientists order and clarify their data but cannot reflect the content of nature.

Sartre is not consistent in his effort to imprison dialectics in the social world and strike it out of prehuman and nonhuman phenomena. His arguments against the dialectics of nature are more fully set forth in his 1960 philosophical work of 755 pages, Critique of Dialectical Reason , of which the first part was published here in 1963 under the title Search for a Method . There he admits that living matter, at least, may develop dialectically. Sartre writes: “The organism engenders the negative as that which disrupts its unity; disassimilation and excretion are still opaque and biological forms of negation in so far as they are a movement oriented toward rejection.” This exception opens a breach in his position. Garaudy correctly observes that once Sartre has recognised that negation and totalisation exist in the prehuman state, it will be difficult to stop halfway and keep dialectics confined to biology without extending its jurisdiction to the rest of nature.

In his rejoinder to Sartre, who wishes to see only partial unities or specific totalities in nature, Vigier points out that nature is a whole made up of myriad parts. The reality of the universe we inhabit is both material and dialectical. Its unity is expressed in an infinite series of levels of existence. Each of the specific realms of being which collectively constitute the material universe is finite, partial; it incorporates only a limited aspect of the whole.

In itself nature is endless and inexhaustible. It forever generates new properties, modes, and fields of existence. There are no limits to what it has been, to what it now is, to what it may become. One of the major errors of mechanical and metaphysical thought about nature, Vigier says, is the notion that it is based upon ultimate elements from which everything else issues and with which the rest of reality can be built up. This conception, which goes back to the Greek atomists, has been carried forward by the natural scientists who believed that molecules, atoms, and then “elementary” particles were the basic building blocks of the entire universe.

Actually science has been developing along different lines, both in regard to the universe at large (the macrocosm) and to the subatomic domain (the microcosm). There is no foreseeable end to astronomical phenomena or our discovery of them, as the recently discovered “black holes” indicate. What appears immobile on one level is really in flux at another level. There are in principle no irreducible or immutable elements in nature. This has just been reconfirmed by the acknowledgment that so-called elementary particles can no longer be considered the ultimate objects of microphysics. New microparticles keep turning up which reveal more profound movements and antagonisms.

The history and practice of the sciences demonstrate that various totalities exist in nature as well as in human history. Vigier points out that living organisms are totalities which can be decomposed into finer totalities such as the giant molecules. Farther afield, the earth, the solar system, our galaxy, and all galactic systems taken together can be approached and analysed as totalities with a disregard for their detailed fluctuations. The distinct totalities which are found all around us in nature are relative, partial, and limited. Yet, far from negating the unity of nature, they constitute and confirm it.

Experiments show that however complicated the biochemistry of life, its processes are fundamentally the same from the algae to the human organism. We ourselves are made of star-stuff. It has been ascertained that the universe has a common chemistry, just as all the diverse forms of life on earth share similar biological laws. The same elements that make up the earth and its inhabitants are present in the most remote stellar regions.

The substantial unity of nature is asserted not only in its structural components, but in its stages and modes of development. Science is rapidly filling in a vast panorama of cosmic advancement. It is uncertain how the observable universe originated, if it did at all. But it has certainly evolved—from the creation of the elements, the constitution of the stellar galaxies, and other celestial phenomena to the birth of our solar system and the formation of the earth’s crust and atmosphere. Then it proceeded to the chemical conditions required for the primary reactions leading to the first forms of life, on through the transformations of organic species, up to the advent of humanity. All this has been climaxed by the birth and forward movement of society over the past million-odd years.

This unified process of development is the real basis for the universality of the dialectic, which maintains that everything is linked together and interactive, in continuous motion and change, and that this change is the outcome of the conflicts of opposing forces within nature as well as everything to be found in it.

To assert that everything is in the last analysis connected with everything else does not nullify the relative autonomy of specific formations and singular things. But the separation of one thing from another, its qualitative distinctions from everything else, breaks down at a certain point in time and in space. So long as the opposing forces are in balance the totality appears stable, harmonious, at rest—and is really so. But this is a transient condition. Sooner or later, alterations in the inner relation of forces, and interactions with other processes in the environment, upset the achieved equilibrium, generate instability, and can eventuate in the disruption and destruction of the most hard-and-fast formations. Dialectics is fundamentally the most consistent way of thinking about the universal interconnections of things in the full range of their development.


In addition to denying the unity of nature, Sartre attempts to erect impassable barriers between different orders of existence by splitting nature from human history. Is this justified by the facts? There was a profound interruption in the continuity of natural evolution, a qualitative jump, when humankind lifted itself above the other primates by means of the labour process. There are basic differences between nature and society; they have different laws of development. But there is no unbridgeable gap between them.

Just as the inorganic gave rise to the organic, that in turn and in time engendered social life, the distinctive field of human action. But all three sectors of reality remain in the closest communion. The chemical elements (nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen) which enter into the total metabolism of organisms through food consumption, inhaling, exhaling, internal utilisation and breakdown, excretion and elimination, return to the atmosphere, earth, and water for reuse. Our economy as well as our physiology exhibits the unbreakable unity of the diverse levels of being. The farmer furrowing the soil with an animal-drawn plough and seeding it brings together mineral, botanical, zoological, and human forces in the unified process of producing food.

The inanimate, the animate, and the social belong to a single stream of material existence and evolution with endless currents.

Are the oppositions in nature so radically different from contradictions in the life of humanity as Sartre contends? Contradictions on every level of existence have their peculiar characteristics, which must be found out in the course of practical experience and formulated in scientific inquiry. The sociological law that as technology expands, the productive forces of humankind tend to grow beyond and conflict with the relations of production and the property forms in which they have been encased is very different from Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.

Does this mean that physical and social processes have no common denominators? Marxism maintains that general laws of being and becoming exist which allow both for the identities and differences, the persistent and the changing, in the real world. They embrace both nature and human life and are capable of expression as laws of logical thought. Included in the inventory of the laws of dialectics are the interpenetration of opposites, the passage of quantity into quality, the negation of the negation, the conflict of form and content, and many others. They are as relevant to nature as to society because they are rooted in the objective world.

Vigier observes that “internal antagonisms (that is to say, the assemblage of forces which necessarily evolve in contrary directions) illustrate the nature of contradiction Ö The unity of opposites is understood as the unity of elements on one level which engenders the phenomena of a higher level. The transformation of quantity into quality is interpreted as the sudden rupture of equilibrium within a system (for example, the destruction of one of the antagonistic forces), which modifies the equilibrium and gives rise to a qualitatively new phenomenon in the midst of which new contradictions appear.”

Vigier cites the advances of modern physics as evidence of the intrinsically contradictory properties of analysed systems, which contain simplicity and complexity, inertia and violent motion at one and the same time. “The material elements considered inert at one level, for example the macroscopic bodies described by classical physics, are revealed upon analysis to be prodigiously complex and mobile as scientific knowledge progresses. On our scale this table can appear to me inert, but we know it is composed of molecules in extremely complex and violent motion. These molecules themselves can be decomposed into mobile atoms when I push analysis much further. Finally, the atoms themselves split into so-called ‘elementary particles’ which in their turn disclose equally mobile and complex internal structures.”

The motion dealt with in contemporary microphysics is not considered as the simple shift of an inert element from one point to another but rather as a violent oscillating movement which develops at one point to the degree it is destroyed in the immediately preceding position. Each side of this dual process of annihilation and creation reciprocally conditions the other.

The new emerges from the old in nature by way of contradiction, that is to say, by negating the essential properties of the previous form of being and absorbing its reconstituted elements into a higher synthesis. The major leaps from one qualitative state to another take place on the borderlands of evolution where one state of matter passes over into another.

Biochemists are now seeking to ascertain and duplicate the successive steps through which purely chemical reactions produced the first biochemical mechanisms. Although the inorganic is the matrix, the mother of life, life on earth is something radically novel. As a totality it is other and more than a chemical process; it has structures, properties, and powers that go far beyond its predecessor. “It is necessary to seek in the mineral for the origin of the processes and materials of the organic world”, says J.D. Bernal, the British physicist, “but life itself represents a capital stage in the evolution of matter: the containment of continual chemical processes in a limited volume.”

Formal logic, which is based on abstract, or simple, identity (A equals A), is too one-sided to explain this negation of one state of matter and its transformation into its opposite, in this case the lifeless into the living, because it excludes from its premises real difference and contradiction, which is the extreme development of difference. But the unity of opposites (A equals non-A), which makes contradiction explicit and intelligible, can explain this transition, which actually occurred on earth. The emergence of life from the nonliving in turn substantiates the objective basis in nature of this law of concrete contradiction, a cornerstone of dialectical logic.

According to Sartre, we are barred from knowing the inside of nature because it is not the work of humankind. Are physical-chemical phenomena inaccessible to us because we do not have such direct contact with them as with history? To be sure, remarks Vigier, we have to make and employ experimental devices to delve into the thick of things. But through these instruments we do find out their real properties and inner relations.

How can we be sure that our ideas actually correspond to what nature is “in itself”? This is no new question for philosophy, and Marxism developed a theory of knowledge to answer it. Sartre, like Immanuel Kant, bases his agnosticism upon the supposedly impenetrable character of materiality. Garaudy points out that while relations between the subject and object, the human and nonhuman, may initially be opaque, they can be rendered more and more transparent by practice and theory.

The proof that we know what things really are comes from useful practice. From solar masses to subatomic particles, we handle the materials and direct the operations of nature for our social purposes.

If we project through action an idea or scientific hypothesis about the material world or any portion of it, we receive a response, either negative or affirmative. The idea either fits the situation or it does not. Both responses enable us to deal with, and eventually to understand, the features and functions of nature. They disclose not only the movement but the structure of reality.

A new hypothesis does not simply destroy the old, leading to null results in the history of thought. The superior hypothesis that replaces the cruder and narrower one contains within itself whatever remains valid and valuable in its outworn and discarded predecessor, as an automatic shear retains the cutting edge of chipped stone and Albert Einstein’s relativity theory includes and explains what is true and useful in Newtonian physics. Knowledge progresses and accumulates in this dialectical manner. It is thus possible to deepen our understanding and extend our control. Even if we never get to learn everything about nature, the verified knowledge actually gained through endless investigation enables us to probe ever more deeply into its recesses.

The issue in dispute is whether the structure and movement of nature disclosed by science and experiment is such that only a dialectical method of thought renders the phenomena intelligible and manageable. Sartre evades a definite answer to this question by walling up nature in an unbreachable externality with no windows we can look and reach through. He rejects the Marxist conception that human knowledge reflects objective reality.

Garaudy is obliged to clear up two common misunderstandings about this theory which Sartre plays upon. The term “reflection” does not signify that knowledge is a passive phenomenon which merely duplicates the object, like a mirror image, or mechanically reproduces it, like a stamping machine. The process of conception is more complex and active. Arising out of work and everyday practice, stimulated by the predicaments of life, the human mind invents ideas and hypotheses and tries various means of verifying them. Further, knowledge is not simply derived from sensation—which gives immediate contact with the external world—as the original empiricists taught. It is essentially historical, the product of prolonged social practice and intricate modifications of thought in its adjustments to reality, which remain forever incomplete.

This is true of the dialectics of nature as well. It is not imposed a priori or wilfully upon nature, as Sartre charges. It represents the verified conclusions, the systematic formulations of practical experience, scientific investigation, and critical thought extending from Heraclitus to Hegel. Like other theoretical acquisitions, it is projected into the future as a guide to further inquiry into concrete reality.

But if Marxism has discarded the passive, oversimplified, and nonevolutionary versions of the thought process held by previous schools of materialism from Epicurus to the 18th-century sensationalists, it asserts with them that conceptual reflection does bring out and define the essential qualities and relations of things. Nature is prior to consciousness. There is an internal bond between what exists and what is known—and even how it is known. The order of ideas, as Benedict Spinoza said, does correspond with the order of things.

Hyppolite makes two charges against the Marxist interpretation of dialectics. On the one hand it aims to make nature historical by importing dialectical laws into it, and on the other it tries to “naturise” history by subjecting it to the same laws as the physical world. He wishes to keep history and nature in totally separate compartments.

This is alien to reality. Nature is through and through historical. Vigier emphasises how, “proceeding from the history of biology and the human sciences, the idea of evolution has step by step invaded the whole of the sciences: after astronomy it is today breaking through into chemistry and physics Ö This idea of history, of evolution, of analysis in terms of development is for us precisely the profound logical root of the dialectics of nature. It can even be said that in a sense all scientific progress is being achieved along the line of abandoning static descriptions for the sake of dynamic analyses combining the intrinsic properties of the analysed phenomena. For us, science progresses from Cuvier to Darwin, from the static to the dynamic, from formal logic to dialectical logic.”

Nature and society form two parts of a single historical process. But they are basically different, contradictory parts. Other living beings have history made for them; we make our own history.

Animals depend upon the available food and other features of their environment for survival; they cannot alter or discard their specialised organs and ways of life to cope with sudden changes. Entire species can perish when their habitats change too rapidly and radically. Humans, on the other hand, are not subjected to any particular environment or mode of adaptation. We can adjust to new conditions, meet changes, and even institute them by inventing new tools and techniques and producing what we need.

Up to now social development has carried over certain traits of natural development because by and large it has proceeded in an unconscious and uncontrolled manner. The course of society has been determined not by human purposes, but by the unintended results of the operation of the productive forces. But human history has reached the point where it can discard its blind automatism and enter an entirely different type of development. By discovering the laws of social development and collectively acting upon them, we can take control of society and consciously plan its further growth.


Hyppolite and Sartre accuse Marxism of instituting a new dogmatism by presenting a fixed and finished system of thought about the world. Hyppolite’s last words in the debate are: “You risk giving us a sort of dialectics, under the pretext of dialectics of nature, which would be a speculative (i.e., idealistic) thought, in certain respects a theological thought, even though you disclaim such an intention.” Sartre contends that Marxist dialectics is a frozen system based upon a limited number of laws, the three mentioned by Engels in Dialectics of Nature .

Sartre is right in saying that the laws of logic are not limited. But so does genuine Marxism, even though some doctrinaires of the Stalinist school have sought to limit them. The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre ridiculed one official of the French Communist Party who smugly declared to him: “The house [of dialectical thought] is finished; there is nothing left to do but put up the tapestries.”

“There does not exist a closed, finished, definitive list of dialectical laws”, says Garaudy. “The presently known laws constitute a provisional balance sheet of our knowledge Ö Further social practice and scientific experiment will permit us to enrich and extend them.” Although the dialectical laws discovered and formulated to date have a definite content and universal scope, they are neither completed nor unchangeable. The number and the character of the laws of logic have changed over the past 2500 years. They will continue to be transformed along with the development of nature, society and knowledge.

Sartre strives to secure an objective basis for dialectics by locating it exclusively within human practice. “If we refuse to see the original dialectical movement in the individual and in his enterprise of producing his life, of objectifying himself, then we shall have to give up dialectic or else make of it the immanent law of history,” he writes in Search for a Method . This is a very misleading description of dialectical movement even within human history. The dialectical development of society proceeds not from the action and decision of the isolated individual in a concrete situation but from the work of the group, first in the struggle against nature, then in the conflict of classes. Subjective components of the whole—such as individual psychology—which so preoccupy the existentialists, are integral and subordinate elements of this objective historical process and derive their validity and significance from it.

In the reciprocal relationship whereby human practice transforms and masters the environment, nature retains existential priority, however much this offends the subjectivity of the existentialist philosopher.

The origin of human practice itself requires explanation. The distinctive activities that have separated humanity from the animal condition originated with the using and making of tools and weapons to obtain the means of subsistence. But this new kind of activity, which is at the foundation of society, grew out of natural processes which antedate human practice by billions of years.

In the evolutionary scale, animal activity preceded human practice, which was a qualitatively new offshoot of it. When the first fish developed lungs, came to live on dry land, and converted themselves into amphibians, that was a dialectical change in organic nature. Through the natural mechanisms of the evolution of species, the fish, to use Sartre’s language, “objectified himself” into something else.

The dialectics of human history grew out of this dialectics of nature. It originated in the conversion of the early primate into the human, the most meaningful of all the contradictory developments of matter. The elevation of humanity above animality was the greatest rupture in the continuity of nature’s evolution. The qualitative disjunction between us and other species is so deepgoing that Sartre takes it as the ground for excluding dialectics from nature.

He is here baffled by a genuine contradiction. Human beings are both creatures of nature and a departure from it. When the human is low-rated as nothing but a high-grade animal, different in degree but not in kind from other living beings, the essential and distinctive nature of humanity is obliterated. Human life, which stems from the production of the means of subsistence by tools and weapons, is something radically new compared with the animal foraging for food. The labour process is the beginning of society and provides the platform for the dialectical movement of history. Fundamental changes in the organisation of this labour process are the decisive steps in the further advancement of humanity.

But the processes which humanised our primate ancestors were both a prolongation of brute nature and a level above and beyond it. Just as there is both continuity and discontinuity in the transition from ape to human, so there is comparable continuity and discontinuity between the dialectics of nature and that of history. The dialectics of nature has different forms and proceeds according to different laws than the dialectics of social evolution. It is the prehistory of human dialectics, the precondition for it. The one passes over into the other as humanity has created its own characteristics in distinction from the rest of nature.

The evolution of human life through social practice is only the culminating chapter in the evolution of matter. The dialectic of human history, which for Sartre is the be-all and end-all of dialectics, is the latest episode in the universal dialectic.

Sartre’s subjectivist and anthropocentric conception of dialectical movement is belied by the latest finding of modem science. Scientists now say that billions of planets are suitable for the creation of life and may very likely be populated by intelligent organisms of some sort. There are 100 million eligible planets in our galaxy alone! Humanity is only one manifestation of life, inhabiting a small planet of a solar system on the edge of an ordinary galaxy in an explorable universe of billions of galaxies containing other—and in some cases higher—specimens of life.

This remarkable addition to our knowledge does not detract from the value and significance of life on earth for us. After all, the improvement of our own scientific practice and theory has led us to this insight. But it should serve to put our existence into proper cosmic proportion and perspective. Dialectics can no more be restricted to the people on our planet than life and intelligence can be.

The existentialist resents and rejects the rationalism and objectivity of science. It supposedly leads us away from real being, which is to be perpetually sought, though never reached, through the ever-renewed, ever-baffled effort of the individual consciousness to go beyond our human condition. The terrible destiny of the human race is like “the desire of the moth for the star/ the night for the morrow/ the devotion to something afar/ from the sphere of our sorrow”.

So the exasperated existentialist Sartre flings as his trump card against the dialectics of nature the current crisis in science. “There has never been, I believe, as grave a crisis as the present one in science”, he cries to Vigier. “So when you come to talk to us about your completed, formed, solid science and want to dissolve us in it, you’ll understand our reserve.”

Vigier calmly replies: “Science progresses by means of crises in the same manner as history; that’s what we call progress. Crises are the very foundation of progress.” And he concludes: “The very practice of science, its progress, the very manner in which it is today passing from a static to a dynamic analysis of the world, that is precisely what is progressively elaborating the dialectic of nature under our very eyes Ö The dialectic of nature is very simply the effort of the philosophy of our time Ö of the most encyclopedic philosophy, that is, Marxism to apprehend the world and change it.”

This ringing affirmation will appear bizarre to Anglo-American scientists who may respect Vigier for his work as a physicist. They summarily disqualify dialectical logic on the ground that, whatever its philosophical or political interest, it has no value in promoting any endeavour in natural science. If the method is valid, the antidialecticians say, then purposeful application by its proponents should prove capable of producing important new theories and practical results in other fields than the social. Marxists are challenged to cite instances where the dialectical method has actually led to new discoveries and not simply demonstrated after the fact that specific scientific findings conform to the generalisations of dialectical logic.

The most splendid contribution of this kind in recent decades has been Oparin’s theories on the origin of life, which are widely accepted and have stimulated fruitful work on the problems of biogenesis and genetics. The Soviet scientist’s theory is based on the hypothesis that the random formation and interaction of increasingly complex molecules gave rise to the simplest forms of living matter, which then began to reproduce at the expense of the surrounding organic material.

Oparin consciously employed such principles of materialist dialectics as the transformation of quantity into quality, the interruption of continuity (evolution by leaps), and the conversion of chance fluctuations into regular processes and definite properties of matter, to initiate an effective new line of approach to one of the central problems of science: How did inanimate nature generate life on earth? Such cases would undoubtedly multiply if more practicing scientists were better informed about the Marxist method of thought.


The crisis of method within science is only one aspect of the more general crisis of modern civilisation. This has become most excruciating in the deadly consequences of physical science under capitalist auspices. The dialectics of nature exhibited in the fission and fusion of atoms has merged with the dialectics of history in the most monstrous and momentous of all contradictions facing humanity: the threat of self-destruction by nuclear war.

Why have the immense strides in physical knowledge and technology designed to serve humankind become perverted into an intolerable menace to our survival? The H-bomb exemplifies the sociological law that the fast-expanding forces of production have outgrown capitalist relations and are pounding against them for liberation. Used for good or evil, nuclear energy, the greatest source of power at our command, is proving incompatible with private ownership of the economy and capitalist control over the government.

The imperative political conclusion is that the representatives of the money power in the United States must be prevented from pressing the button which can doom us all, as was nearly done in the 1962 missile crisis over Cuba. Capitalism is the last form of socioeconomic organisation dominated by laws which operate in an ungovernable way, like laws of nature. The aim of scientific socialism, the task of the proletarian world revolution, is to subdue all the anarchic forces tied up with capitalism which generate insecurity and havoc in our society. The blind drives of class society have pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Conscious understanding and application of the dialectical laws of evolution—and revolution—can help save us.

Only through public ownership and operation of the economy and democratic direction of state policy can the working people introduce scientific enlightenment into the material foundations of life, overthrow the last entrenchment of automatism in social evolution, and clear the way for the rule of reason in all human affairs.


I have just read your article, “Is Nature Dialectical?” in the Summer 1964 issue of the International Socialist Review , and I was quite impressed by it.

Although I must plead guilty to a rather superficial knowledge of Marxism, I am very interested in Hegel’s work. During my study of Hegel, I have come to the conclusion that the question of the philosophy of nature is a crucial one. In my opinion, Hegel’s philosophy falls apart into a dualism of mind and matter instead of being the synthesis he desired just because of the failure of his philosophy of nature.

This failure is not, I submit, a failure of the dialectical method, but the result of the lack of sufficient scientific knowledge at Hegel’s time plus Hegel’s insistence on bending the inadequate knowledge he did have into his philosophic system. It is the latter fault that makes his philosophy of nature appear downright silly today; but it is only today that we are beginning to attain the scientific knowledge that makes a dialectical view of the facts the only reasonable one.

This part of Hegel’s philosophy has been largely neglected, but I consider it vital to a serious consideration of his thought today. Therefore, your article on the dialectics of nature was a very welcome piece of writing to me. On the whole, I agree with your position—the laws of dialectics apply to nature as well as humanity.

The scientific knowledge available now can only be understood thoroughly by the use of dialectics. This appears most obviously in the realm of evolution and biology in general, but the interrelationship of all aspects of our world means that it is applicable to the other sciences as well.

The existentialist position would create a complete alienation between man and the world, and would destroy the objectivity of our knowledge and thus our ability to act. Sartre’s position, as described in your article—that humans can never attain to the “reality” of things, that our knowledge and the laws of our (dialectical) logic apply only to humanity and society, etc.—sounds like that of a resuscitated Kant.

It can only lead to a divided world-view, a denial of the possibility of true knowledge and, ultimately, to excesses of subjectivity rather than creative activity. The existentialists may begin their philosophic inquiry from the standpoint of the individual, but that does not mean that they can stop there without losing sight of the essential thing—that we are in and of the world.

The points made by Vigier and Garaudy were, I felt, an excellent rebuttal to Sartre and Hyppolite. There is one point in your article, however, with which I would take some exception. That is when you argue against the antidialecticians by pointing out the advances made in science, especially by Oparin, through the use of dialectical method. Dialectical logic may help the scientist reach some useful hypotheses for later investigation, but this is not the essential point here.

It seems to me that the method or means by which scientific discoveries are made is secondary in this argument. What is really vital is the fact that only a dialectical view of nature can provide an adequate framework in which these new discoveries can be seen in their total relationship. That is, how one gets to the discovery is not so important as the realisation that this new “fact” can only be thoroughly explained and related to the rest of our knowledge through a dialectical viewpoint.

There is one other point that seems appropriate to this discussion: I read recently that Roger Garaudy was to write an introduction to a Russian translation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man . Now Teilhard certainly is not a dialectical materialist in any sense of the word. However, beneath the theological portion of his thought, one finds a view of evolution that is certainly dialectical—in a Hegelian, if not a Marxist, sense. And Teilhard’s work seems to have been a little too “materialistic” for the Roman Catholic church.

Teilhard’s work in itself deserves study, but simply in connection with the question of the dialectics of nature, it seems to me that it may be a sign that we are approaching a higher synthesis of thought. The static conceptions of “idealism” and “materialism” may give way to a newer, more adequate realisation of their interdependence throughout the whole sphere of nature. That can only be achieved if we recognise the objective character of dialectics—that it applies to nature as well as to history. The perpetuation of alienation between “mind” and “matter”, humanity and the world, nature and history, can serve no good purpose, but only leads to fragmentation and confusion in philosophy and action.

Dialectics by its nature has to be an “open” system which not only allows for the addition of new knowledge but also admits our freedom and ability to shape history. The recognition of nature as dialectical is the only way to a whole world-view that includes humanity in the world while recognising our unique position and frees us to control our own future. Your article is an excellent statement of the issues and their importance, and I hope it will precipitate in this country a greater appreciation of the problem and wide discussion of it.

Yvonne Groseil

Here are some comments on the main questions of theoretical interest raised by this friendly comment.

1. Would knowledge of the method of the materialist dialectic, which is based on the most general laws of being and becoming, assist physical scientists in their investigations of nature?

Up to now almost all scientists have carried on their work without conscious understanding of the dialectical laws of universal development, just as most people speak very well without knowing the history or grammar of their language, breathe without awareness of the physiological processes of respiration, and acquire the necessities of life without comprehending the principles of political economy.

Western philosophers and scientists almost unanimously believe that the dialectical view of nature is false, irrelevant, and even positively harmful in the theory and practice of science. This prejudice, rooted in our predominantly empirical and positivist intellectual traditions, has been reinforced by the arbitrary and ignorant interference of the Stalinist bureaucrats with scientific theory, along with their narrowly schematic, distorted, and dogmatic interpretation of Marxist method.

This correspondent has a more favourable attitude toward the dialectical conception of nature. But she suggests that it may be far less important in facilitating progress in physical science than it is for explaining and correlating its discoveries after they have been made.

Such a one-sided emphasis runs the risk of lapsing into the very Kantian dualism which she correctly criticises in the case of the existentialists. What are here involved are the organic connections between the unity of reality, the sum total of our knowledge, and the scientific inquiry which shuttles from one to the other. If the dialectical method can be useful in clarifying the relationships of the knowledge of nature once it has been acquired, why cannot it be equally valuable in helping scientists to arrive at verified results? After all, the dialectical characteristics which are disclosed in the body of known facts must already have existed and been effective in the objective realities from which they have been derived.

If scientists should approach the problems for which they seek solutions in their particular fields with an informed understanding of the fundamental traits of development formulated in the laws of dialectical logic, why couldn’t these serve as a general methodological guide in their concrete inquiries?

In fact, the most creative scientists have assumed the truth of this or that rule of dialectical logic in conducting their work, although they have done so in a piecemeal, haphazard, semiconscious manner. Without referring to past examples, let’s take the many non-Marxist scientists around the world who are cooperating with Oparin in studying the specific steps by which the most elementary processes and mechanisms of life have emerged from inanimate matter. Unlike him, they pay no heed to the fact that the transition of the lifeless into the living exemplifies at least two laws of dialectical logic.

One is the unity of opposites, which states that A equals non-A; the other is the transformation of quantity into quality. That is to say, a sufficient aggregate of chemical reactions of a special type gave rise to new properties appropriate to a new and higher state of material existence on this planet, the biochemical level, of which humans are the most complex and advanced embodiment.

Just as Teilhard de Chardin’s religious views did not prevent him from participating in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929 and thus adding to our knowledge of human origins, so practicing physicists, chemists, and biologists can and do promote their sciences without any clear notions of the logic underlying their investigations, or even with erroneous ideas of the world. But would not the work of individual scientists benefit—as much as science as a whole—if they could rid their minds of errors and inconsistencies which run counter to a scientific outlook, and thus bring their general ideas about the universe and their logical theory into closer accord with their experimental practice and the requirements of science itself?

That is why Marxists contend that a comprehensive grasp of the logic of dialectical materialism would not only clarify what science has already achieved but enable contemporary scientists to promote and improve their work. Science is still in its infancy and is only now being applied on a grand scale. There are more scientists in the world today than in all previous history. This sudden and sharp jump in the number of scientists and the facilities at their disposal demands a corresponding expansion in their understanding of the logic of evolution, which so far has been best provided by the school of dialectical materialism.

2. The works of Father Teilhard de Chardin can throw light on this matter, although not entirely in the way intended by our correspondent. While Chardin is an inconsistent dialectician, he is not at all a materialist in his philosophy and procedure. One of the world’s most eminent biologists, George Gaylord Simpson, who was a friend of Chardin’s and has read both his published and unpublished manuscripts, concurs with this judgment in his book This View of Life . There, in a chapter entitled “Evolutionary Theology: the New Mysticism”, Simpson states that Chardin’s ideas are mystical and nonscientific in two major respects. First, he divides all energy into two distinct kinds which cannot be verified: a “tangential” material energy and a “radial” spiritual energy. Second, he advocates orthogenesis as the principal mechanism of evolution. Unlike natural selection, which is based upon random and multidirectional trends of evolution, orthogenesis holds that evolution proceeds in a unidirectional, predetermined, and even purposive manner.

Simpson severely censures Chardin for his spiritualistic “doubletalk”, which really has nothing to do with science. He writes that “Teilhard was primarily a Christian mystic and only secondarily a scientist”.

Roger Garaudy likewise deals with Chardin in his book Perspectives of Man . Ironically, this foremost French communist philosopher is far more conciliatory toward the views of the Jesuit father than is the American biologist Simpson. Garaudy’s book undertakes a critical analysis of the main currents of contemporary French thought: existentialism, Catholicism, and Marxism. He claims that all three are engaged in a common effort to grasp “man in his totality”, and he seeks to emphasise their “possible convergences”. He concludes that radical existentialists, liberal Catholics, and communists can cooperate “not as adversaries but as explorers in a common venture” which proceeds by different paths toward the same goal.

This theoretical position is the reverse of that taken by Garaudy in the days of Stalin-Zhdanov. It is motivated by the desire for a philosophical rapprochement among these incompatible schools of thought to accompany the CP’s quest for a political alliance of all “democratic, progressive, peace-loving” forces as prescribed by the policy of “peaceful coexistence”.

Those unorthodox features of Chardin’s thought, which scandalise his superiors in the Jesuit order and the church but attract liberal Catholics, lend themselves to this purpose. It is true, as Garaudy points out, that Chardin recognised certain dialectical characteristics in the process of evolution, such as the universal interconnection and reciprocal action of all things, the transformation of quantity into quality in connection with biogenesis (though not in the transition from biological to social life), and the transmutation of matter in an ascending series of higher forms.

But the “finalism” and “vitalism” which permeate his thought—based on the supposition that evolution heads in only one direction, toward greater “centro-complexity”, toward the Omega point where humanity will merge with God—are irreconcilable not only with dialectical materialism but, as Simpson insists, with any acceptable scientific approach to universal evolution.

3. Somewhat in the spirit of Chardin, Yvonne Groseil intimates that “the static conceptions of ‘idealism’ and ‘materialism’ may give way to a newer, more adequate realisation of their interdependence throughout the whole sphere of nature.” A Marxist cannot agree with this for numerous reasons.

First, there is nothing “static” about a consistently dialectical and materialist view of nature, which is based upon the proposition that everything is in flux because of the opposing forces at work within it and in the universe. Materialist dialectics is dynamic, mobile, evolutionary through and through.

Second, the valid and valuable contributions made to the store of human knowledge by the great idealists of the past (like dialectical logic itself) have been—or ought to be—incorporated into the structure of dialectical materialism without surrendering or compromising its fundamental positions: that reality consists of matter in motion, and that social life and intellectuality are the highest manifestations of the development of matter.

Idealism, on the other hand, makes spiritual, supernatural, ideological, or personal forces the essence of reality. Such a fundamentally false philosophy has to be rejected in toto.

Nor can these two opposing conceptions of the world and its evolution be amalgamated into some superior synthesis eclectically combining the “best features of both”, as Sartre tries to do with his neo-Marxist existentialism and Father de Chardin in his blend of religious mysticism and evolutionism.

Modern thought and science can be most effectively advanced through a firm repudiation of all religious, mystical, and idealistic notions and the conscious adoption, application, and development of dialectical materialism. Working in equal partnership, Marxist logic and the sciences can enable us to penetrate more surely and deeply into the nature of the world we live in.


After finishing this reply, I chanced to read “The Emergence of Evolutionary Novelties” by Ernst Mayr, Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard, in The Evolution of Life . It deals with the key problem of explaining the origin of entirely new biological phenomena on the basis of random variations.

Mayr points out that “the exact definition of an ‘evolutionary novelty’ faces the same insuperable difficulty as the definition of the species. As long as we believe in gradual evolution, we must be prepared to encounter mediate evolutionary stages. Equivalent to the cases in which it is impossible to decide whether a population is not yet a species or already a species, will be cases of doubt as to whether a population is already or not yet an evolutionary novelty. The study of this difficult transition from the quantitative to the qualitative is precisely one of the objects of this paper.”

Mayr finds that there are three main kinds of evolutionary novelties: cellular biochemical innovations (the uric acid and fat metabolism of the cleidoic egg of the terrestrial vertebrates); new structures (eyes, wings, stings); and new habits or behaviour patterns (the shift from water to land or from the earth to air).

The saltationists and mutationists of various schools argued against the natural selectionists that new structures could only have come into existence suddenly and all ready for advantageous use, whereas Charles Darwin held that they would have to be formed by numerous, successive, and slight modifications of preexisting organs. “The problem of the emergence of evolutionary novelties”, writes Mayr, “then consists in having to explain how a sufficient number of small gene mutations can be accumulated until the new structure has become sufficiently large to have selective value.” He calls this the “threshold problem”.

His paper undertakes to demonstrate the ways in which different organisms have actually effected the changeover from one structure to another in the evolutionary process. Mayr’s treatment is highly pertinent to our own discussion of logical method in science because it indicates how a biologist concerned with the fundamental problem of evolution has been impelled to invoke the dialectical law of the transformation of quantity into quality in order to explain the generation of novelty in living beings.

Indeed, how would it be possible to comprehend how the mere piling up of quantitative variations could give rise to something decisively different from its antecedents unless this law was operative?

It may be objected that Mayr has not used this law to discover anything new but only to clarify how new biological phenomena come into existence. But, as John Dalton’s atomic theory of the chemical elements, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Max Planck’s quantum theory testify, the discovery of the general laws at work, the basic features and essential relations in any field of reality, is the highest expression of scientific activity. A correct and comprehensive conception of the production of novelty in organic evolution is more important for the advancement and reinforcement of biological science than the discovery of some new aspect of functional adaptation to a habitat by a particular group of fauna.

Mayr is one of the most eminent of contemporary American biologists. It can be assumed that he is not a Marxist or an adherent of dialectical materialism. He has resorted to one of the major laws of dialectics empirically, without a full awareness of the type of logical thinking he was applying, just as another naturalist of lesser stature might explore a novel type of adaptation of a group of organisms without concerning himself about a general explanation of evolutionary novelty as Mayr had done.

Mayr’s acknowledgment of the indispensability of this law of dialectics in solving the problem of the emergence of evolutionary novelties provides involuntary and forceful testimony to its value for the natural scientist.


[1] The stenograph of this debate was published as Marxisme et Existentialisme (Libraire Plon: Paris, 1962).

Globalisation in India and Women

Soma Marik

In my talk, I will address globalisation as an economic process, and ask how far that has been gender neutral. Has it weakened patriarchy and created greater employment opportunities and greater equality for women in India or just equalized poverty? There is a need for an assessment from a feminist and socialist standpoint, since the bourgeois/ non-feminist scholarship makes invisible both the class and gender dimensions of the dynamics of power and capital distribution.
The imperialist offensive on state regulated economies, begun by Reagan and Thatcher, intensified from the late 1980s. Globalisation as an ideology and a strategy involved using the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, and from the peripheries to the core countries. Hundreds of millions have been impoverished since the late 1980s across the world. (Chossudovsky). For women, the impact of globalisation has been uneven. A small layer have gained work opportunity in terms of newly emerging forms of employment, especially in the IT, service and food-processing sectors, but the semi-/unskilled ones have lost control over their natural recourses (land, water forest etc), as well as in traditional industries, resulting in the loss of traditional livelihood and sustainability. Gender is not a homogeneous category, but is intersected by class, caste, community and ethnicity, and impacted by age, ideology and sexual preference.


Even among leftists, there exist various views on globalisation. Rohini Hensman argues that an ‘anti-globalisation’ agenda would actually deprive third-world women of job opportunities and improving their conditions. She argues that talk of alternatives at the present juncture is to dream, and reality demands recognizing that some job is better than no job. Even if trade unions have collapsed due to capitalist offensives, jobs for some women enable them to survive, be independent of male relatives and feed their families. However the Second NGO Shadow Report (2006) on CEDAW shows a considerable decline and in some cases closure of employment opportunities for large numbers of women. Work participation rates for women fell from 444 per thousand in 1993-1994 to 419 in 1999-2000 across rural India, and from 154 per thousand to 139 in urban India in the same period.
But nationalist oriented leftists like Jayati Ghosh and others like Sumita Sarkar argue that globalisation-generated international mobility of capital has increased its relative strength vis-à-vis labour. As a result, tough conditions are imposed on workers, with women workers facing the worst attacks. True but focus on import-restrictions and restoration of state control, link the fate of indigenous labour with the fate of native capital. As though indigenous capital will voluntarily increase wages of local workers, and will not adopt strategies to exploit workers more ruthlessly.
Inter-capitalist competition under neo-liberal free market conditions mean intense pressure on workers viz, (a) Labour flexibility – a shift in many sectors from full-time, pensionable, medical benefit enabled jobs to part-time, temporary, sub-contracted and home-based work. (b) Casualisation of labour-- companies use a small permanent labour force, and hire casual workers depending on the expansion of work. (c) Feminisation of certain types of labour, especially home based as well as low skilled jobs. The consequences are: (i) decline of regular social-security based work, (ii) fragmentation of labour processes-- the creation of a small layer of well-paid skilled workers, especially in or using information communication technology and called upon to do multi-tasking (thereby maximising profit) and a large segment of low-salaried workers mostly women. Labour flexibility tantamounts to super-exploitation of women who have to do both housework and “flexible” production, with no flexible time for themselves.
The growing predominance of international trade in the economy has meant a growing power of exporters and importers. Both Indian and Transnational companies seek more women workers, to gain flexible labour with cheaper wages. Women workers are seen as more subservient to male managers’ authority, and hence hired more. They are also perceived as anti-union/ lesser capability to organize unions, more willing to accept poor working conditions and easier to dismiss using lifecycle criteria such as marriage and child birth (Ghosh, 1999).
The argument in favour of globalisation is that the country that can produce something most efficiently will produce it at low cost and will then export it in order to buy other things from other countries at low rates where restrictions on imports and exports will no longer be necessary. Surplus production, lower prices will whip up demand, expand domestic market as well as employment opportunities thereby making ample scope for steady progression of global economy.
Vibhuti Patel contesting this argued that in looking at the impact of globalisation on women, we need to look, not at the binary of national frontier versus globalisation, but at capitalist-patriarchy. She shows that the ideology of globalisation and the drive for cheap labour has meant the defiance of India’s labour laws, especially those affecting women.


Despite protective legislations and Minimum Wages Act the workers in the organized sectors are not adequately better off as the there is lack of political will to implement them. While, minimum wages fixed by the government are low (Rs 80 per day), but even that basic level is denied to many workers.  Often, bribes to factory inspectors or threats to close down factories ensure flouting the minimum wages laws. Crèches in workplaces are often not maintained in violation of the Factories Act (1987) where according to the Act the crèches are supposed to be maintained only when there are 30 women employees. Women activists in India are demanding the clause 30 women to be replaced by 30 men and women employees. Moreover in the service sector there is no legal compulsion to maintain crèches. Both the absence of crèches and insistence of its presence only in women’s workplace have obvious gender implications.
The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 is seldom implemented. The definition and evaluation of the same work or work of a similar nature often makes gender discrimination very easy. In the era of globalisation, attempts to enforce this law have come down even more. Regardless of whether they work in the formal or the informal/home-based sector/s women suffer from a significant pay differential. The forms however vary. In the formal sector there are laws to protect equal pay, but due to lesser access to education and consequent lower skills women could not always get the better paid jobs. In some cases, formal distinction of designations ensures pay differentials, as between air hostesses and stewards. In the informal sector, there is a straightforward pay differential, based on several assumptions – that men have a greater responsibility of feeding the family, that women are necessarily less skilled even when doing the same kind of job, and cultural constraints and life cycle factors making prolonged work for women more difficult (Esteve-Volart and Bhan).
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 covers benefit during childbirth, miscarriages, abortions, and tubectomy. But substantially large number of establishments employing less than ten persons are excluded from this Act as well as the Employees State Insurance Act. Under the former the woman before availing the leave must have worked for eighty days in that establishment or organization. Even the Calcutta University First Statutes, 1979, prevents women teachers from availing of this paid leave if they have not completed nine months of service. This a travesty of Constitutional guarantee of the right to work without discrimination. Moreover given the power equations in the family women are not always in a position to take the decision when to have a child. In many organizations they are never allowed to complete the required number of days on record. Globalisation in particular has seen the rise of Export Promotion Zones (EPZs) and Free Trade Zones (FTZs), all or most recently renamed Special Economic Zones (SEZs). In these areas, women’s employment is most precarious. To avoid payment of maternity benefits, women are thrown out of job if they get married, and certainly if they are found to be pregnant. Dr Pratibha Sharma, who runs a clinic in Noida Export Processing Zone, points out with horror that women workers often go for unsafe abortions to retain their jobs. With weak or non-existent trade unions in the SEZs, it is easy to impose such distortions of the law. Especially, by Section 49 of the SEZ Act (2005), the government is empowered to exempt any SEZ from the operation of any central law, which means for all practical purposes SEZs exist outside the laws of India, though on paper unionization is legal.


In the informal sector women workers have neither contracts nor social security, and have low wages and unhygienic working conditions. Poverty, lack of medical insurance, and forced overtime and the culture of self-denial often make health the first casualty. Women suffer from malnutrition, chronic anaemia, TB, respiratory problems, pelvic inflammatory disease, severe cases of dehydration and miscarriages are common. The lack of income security for women in the informal sector also means children’s lack of access to education. As a result the children also get pushed into the informal sector themselves.
The worst off among all the unorganized sector women are the women employed across urban India as domestic maids or “naukars”, a feudal term still much in use among the well to do. Since 1959, there have been repeated, but abortive, attempts at legislating their social security, [the latest being the Domestic workers (Registration social security and welfare ) Act 2008] because the ruling elite in India, as well as the more comfortable layers of the salaried population, all depend on exploiting such people, most of whom are women. There are about 20 million of them across India (Faleiro). Globalisation and the growing insecurity as well as work pressure has also brought a little greater awareness among such women about the need for greater rights and the possibility of upward mobility. In September 2008, the Sara Bangla Paricharika Samiti (All Bengal Maids’ Association) representing 17,000 such women, organized a protest meeting, demanding social security from the state, identity cards, fixed holidays and minimum wages. In few cities, like Mumbai, there have been of women domestic workers’ organizations demanding rights. But Parichiti, a Calcutta-based NGO organising women domestic workers, says that organizing them is particularly difficult, because many of the women work as part time help in several houses at different times and have to commute from quite a distance. So these women lacking a collective space are among the most vulnerable even among unorganized workers. Formally, the new Act provides for implementation of the Minimum Wages Act, 15 days a year paid leave, and ten hours of rest time per day. But the word “as far as practicable” leaves a leeway for flouting its provisions under any pretext.


Globalisation has also dealt blows to traditional rural economy where despite patriarchy women had a space, since family units did much of the work of vegetable and food grain production. Globalised push for cash crops and high end technologies has attacked food security for the entire family and the national economy. The widely reported suicides by Indian farmers involve not the poorest, but well-to-do farmers who took bank loans to fund cash crop production and were ruined when global competition and overproduction led to plummeting prices and failure to repay loans (Shiva). The immediate effects of the IMF-World Bank dictated Structural Adjustment Programme meant, in 1991-92, a rise in cash crop production for export by 3 per cent, while the cultivation of basic grains fell 1.5 per cent (The People vs Global Capital). At the same time, this shift to cash crop and the need to meet orders quickly meant regular hired (male) labour replacing women who henceforth used to combine house and field-work flexibly leading to a higher wage gap. On an average, in rural India, a woman’s daily wage in early 2008 was Rs 20 less than that of a man, though both worked equal hours. (It’s a Free World). The introduction of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 is an evidence that the economy by itself was totally failing to provide jobs, and that the state had to step in. If a BPL family were to get the full promised benefit of NREGA they could earn the equivalent of more than 40% of their annual income from this one scheme alone. Data for the three years during which NREGA has been in operation, 2006-09 shows that on average only 50% of the households that registered under the scheme actually got employment and that only for 45 days against the promised 100 (Shankar Raghuraman). Moreover, an ungendered notion of “the average worker” means that in reality, gender and age have not been factored in, so women and the aged will be getting less than average wages, as the same productivity norm is imposed on them. A survey carried out in January, 2008, in the Nuapada district of Orissa observes that the absence of crèche facilities may severely affect women’s participation in the NREGA schemes (Centre for Science and Environment report).
Another development has been the attempt by major corporate groups to go into agricultural production directly, like the recent attempt by the Reliance group in Gujarat to set up its own organic farming units involving setting up SEZs by taking over peasants’ lands. At best, this will, given the pre-existing patriarchy in Indian agriculture, mean that the compensation in the form of cash will go to males. It is the experience of the present author, that when compensation is paid, whether in the Narmada eviction cases in Western India (since the 1970s) or in Singur in West Bengal (2006), most often the money is given singly to a male “head of household”. In the case of the Narmada displacements, that “head of household” has even been as young as a thirteen year old boy. One result of the displacements due to the building of the Bargi Dam on the Narmada was the influx of rural women into prostitution in nearby Jabbalpur city. Even when that does not happen, the shift from an agricultural to a non-agricultural economy is traumatic, and women lose much of their voice in family level decision making as men control the money.


As opposed to the hope of the supporters of globalisation, greater employment for women in the new industries like textile and food-processing in the 1990s, instead of breaking the patriarchal hold reintensifies gender division of labour and their deskilling led to wider wage gap. The demand for greater female labour has come because female labour is seen as cheaper and safer than male labour. Capital intensive industries, not women, are taking away men’s jobs. Women of female-headed households, about one-third in India, have to go for salaried employment in order to feed themselves and their family members. Poverty is another reason why the older patriarchal model, where the woman was expected to be an unpaid housewife, no longer operates. Among the so-called “middle classes”, women’s employment has gone up as lifestyles change, as greater education leads to greater expectations, and as globalisation itself needs more consumers.
A survey (1985-1990) of export oriented industries carried out across 165 countries, showed that though the majority of new entrants in the industries were women they face gender disparity at almost every step. In this process of feminization of poverty – on one hand the rich are truly getting richer while the poor grow poorer, and on the other hand women constitute a disproportionate part of the poor. A noted feminist economist remarked in a study of the 1990s that “FTZs and EPZs thrive on young women’s super-exploitation”. (Patel)
III. Urbanization and its Impact:
One of the important dimensions of the recent globalization process is, there is a huge amount of capital in the developed capitalist world, which wants to find new areas of investment. At the same time, in countries like India, where there have been some amount of capital accumulation, both the local capitalist class and the upper layer of the salaried want access to the consumer goods and services available in the developed countries. So a massive urbanization process has begun in India, with funding from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, as well as numerous private capitalist consortiums. The steps include huge outlays for building residential areas, office complexes, shopping malls and supermarkets, road widening to facilitate the new cars coming in, more expensive varieties of public transportation (e.g., the proposal that Calcutta should have an elevated monorail). The boom in car manufacturing and selling, and the boom in real estate, were the crucial driving forces of the urbanization process. But everywhere, whether in Calcutta, Bombay, or Delhi, the bottleneck for this dream of unimpeded beauty was the existence of the urban poor. In India, the urban poor were essential for the urban rich. They provide services, from road side tea stalls to domestic maids, from small food shops for the other poor (who in turn provide services for the rich) to pavement hawkers who have so far sold goods at lower prices (since they have little establishment cost) to the lower middle classes. Many of them live in terrible slums, not because they like it, but because that is the only option open to them. And everywhere, development now meant targeting these layers of urban poor. This is done in open contravention of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees right to life and livelihood, as well as of India’s accession to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), whose articles 2, 11, 12, 13 and 15 are being flouted. In Bombay, nearly 80,000 slums are going to be “rehabilitated’ so that airport expansion and modernisation can take place. In one such slum, Gaodevi, which is one of the poorest slums (housing 85000 families), private builders are moving in, trying to buy up the property from the slum dwellers before the state comes in, presumably in order to do a spot of profitable real estate deal. But locals are not happy. Vijaya Muthu argued that relocation to some far away place would not benefit them. She also said that many of the women living in the slum worked as domestic help in the city and therefore could not afford to be relocated very far away. "Bring on the bull dozers. We will not move so easily," Vijaya says. (Meena Menon) Yet with land at a premium in Bombay, that is inevitably what the government would do at best.
In 2006, a Supreme Court order paved the way for the sale of 602 acres of land owned by textile mills in the heart of a city where prices are high even by world standards. The land will be used to build expensive shopping malls and high-end apartments for the affluent few. The court ruling immediately affected 285 acres. Under Development Control Rules (1991) 58, the vacant mill land was to be allocated according to “a one-third formula”—one third of affordable homes for mill workers, one third for public use, including parks, and one third for commercial use. According to this legal provision, Mumbai municipal authorities were to guarantee 400 acres of mill land for open space and for public housing.
In 2001, using a loophole in the Maharashtra Town and Planning Act 1966, DCR 58 was amended to DCR 58 (I), which stated: “Only land that is vacant on mill properties, that is, with no built-up structure, would be divided by the one-third formula”. With this legal sleight of hand, the way was opened to sell most prime land to private developers, leaving just 133 acres for public housing and recreation.
The amendment allowed the National Textile Mills to be sold in 2005 for $US158 million to the Delhi-based builder DLF in what was one of India’s highest priced real estate sales. Another mill Kohinoor was sold for $95 million to a company, reportedly owned by two leading Mumbai politicians. The Supreme Court ruling has upheld these deals and opened the door for further land sales.
In West Bengal, ruled since 1977 by the Left Front, the picture was not different. What was different was that because of the leftist past, there was a degree of militancy. Developmental discourses of the World Bank have led in fact to a sustained pumping out of money from the poorer to the richer countries and from the poor to the rich in every country. So how has development been tackled in West Bengal? How are the poorest of the poor availing of the safety net?
The Development paradigm has created a uniform model of urbanisation. The “middle class” is being redefined, so the new middle class (i.e., the well paid salariat, especially those in the IT and IT enabled sectors), tempted to copy a western model of living (shopping malls, electronic gadgets, semi-cooked food bought from shops, or eating out relatively regularly) no longer needs the hawkers, the slum dwellers providing part time domestic help, and the rest. Moreover in the languages of power, the people evicted/ to be evicted were all illegal occupants.
The first major charge came in November 1996, when a project called Operation Sunshine saw around 100,000 pavement hawkers being evicted from their livelihoods. Though most hawkers were male, and hence the movement was mostly male dominated) many women who were connected to street hawkers, including women who supplied food to the hawkers, women who manufactured at home many of the goods sold by the hawkers, as well as the family members of the hawkers themselves, suffered a deep negative impact. Hawking was not ultimately abolished, but it came to be regulated through a symbiosis between the state, and an association that, developing originally from a Hawkers’ movement, became an institutionalized bureaucracy. Within the bureaucratic structure, women seem to have had no space. (Bandyopadhyay)
The beginning of the 21st century saw large-scale projects of eviction of illegal squatters. One major test case was the Tolly Nallah eviction. The Chief Minister has gone on record saying: “Where is the problem in accepting a minor loss of 4000 people for a development project [Tollynallah Metro Rail] that is proposed for the benefit of 4 lakhs of people? (Krishna Roy)” In 2002, the NNPM brought out a pamphlet highlighting the gender dimensions of these evictions. The following narrative is mainly based on that pamphlet (NNPM: 2002). Women were major victims, especially in the evictions at Beliaghata and Tolly’s Nullah. 1100 shanties were demolished in and around Tolly’s Nullah in South Calcutta, after landing the Rapid Action Force (created originally to tackle terrorists) and after using tremendous violence. Most of the women were employees in middle class houses as domestic help.  After the first round of evictions, 147 families had taken shelter in a godown. Anima Chanda recounted that they had been given eviction notices only 15 days before the forced eviction occurred. Rekha Kundu remarked that police had broken up her home with great brutality. One woman told Maitreyi Chatterjee, convenor of Mancha that the RAF had urinated on her bed while throwing her stuff out. They also recounted that as a result of the timing of the eviction some 300 children, including some who were preparing for their Class X test examinations, faced an uncertain future. The women tried to fight on, by organising a common kitchen, which became the symbol of collective resistance. However this symbol is not free of gender stereotype. Here too, Maitree members campaigned both before and after the evictions, and assisted the victims in organising their rehabilitation, including in running a community kitchen, as a result of which, when the police broke up the kitchen, Maitree members were among those arrested. On October 2, 2001, on Gandhi Jayanti and immediately after observing World Housing Day, the police smashed that kitchen, even though it was located in a place outside the distance marked off by the police. Maitree immediately adopted a resolution condemning it.
Evictions have occurred in all major metros. But even when we consider the infamous Turkoman Gate evictions during the Emergency (1976), we should remember that the government was condemned for relocating the people so far away. Repayment of debt and interest becomes the paramount fiscal task of all governments. The attack on “subsidies” ensures that social security is heavily reduced. (Chossudovsky)  At the same time, the fact that a supposedly progressive regime like West Bengal has a brutal policy also needs to be stressed. In 2002, the Sachar Commission Inquiry Report stated that there have never been such brutal evictions as in West Bengal.
On December 10, 2002, police in Calcutta unleashed brutality on shanty dwellers in the Beliaghata Canal area. A large number of people were evicted from the only homes they had ever known, for the crime of being “illegal squatters”, in a country where a huge number of people live below the poverty line and where the idea of a room of one’s own is a distant dream for most men and women. Protesters were beaten up, and over a hundred were arrested, including Sujato Bhadra, former General Secretary of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal, Shaktiman Ghosh of the Hawkers Sangram Committee, and Pranab Bandyopadhyay, veteran Gandhian and local community activist. Subsequently, the shanties were set on fire. It was symbolic, that the Left Front Government chose Human Rights Day as the latest date for eviction. It sent out a message that the squatters and such other people do not merit human treatment. Once more, thousands of women were among those evicted. During our visit to the area, we talked with many of them. They had been living in those slums for four decades. Indeed, many had been born there. They worked in areas within walking distance, because often they did not have the money to pay the daily bus fare.
In West Bengal, the process of evictions and job losses of the poor in the name of development has been temporarily halted after the severe electoral reverses of the Left Front in 2009. But the Calcutta High Court’s orders, such as permitting the banning of “non-licensed” hand-pulled rickshaws, banning the (genuinely environmentally terrible) auto rickshaws without ensuring that the people who drive them get proper subsidies so that they can buy more eco-friendly models of auto rickshaws ( using Compressed Natural Gas rather than an oil mix that releases huge quantities of poisonous fumes), and the other attempts at urban beautification that systematically target the u8rban poor, mean that the attacks of globalization on life and livelihood have not really stopped. And each set back enabled the rulers to attack more brutally. The initial success of Operation Sunshine emboldened the government so it could launch the eviction attacks at Tolly Nallah and Beliaghata. The successes there in turn made them think they could take on the entire rural communities, and build Special Economic Zones by taking over peasant land. This finally led to their hubris, but that will have to be discussed separately. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee explained that his party was opposed to globalization only insofar as a handful of countries benefited from it. So as long as the capitalists of India also make a killing, it is good.


There is no conclusion to this paper, because it describes a situation that is still unfolding. Globalisation has met a global check, with the economic crash of 2008. At the same time, there have been local level struggles. The anti-SEZ, anti-globalisation struggles in India had mixed fortunes. Historically, people in such struggles have turned to the left parties. But the left was nationally a supporter of the Congress between 2004 and mid-2008, while in its main turf, West Bengal, it played a role worse than the Congress. So the anti-globalisation campaign was harvested by the TMC. (Chattopadhyay and Marik). But the votes for the TMC should be seen primarily as votes against globalisation. The urban as well as the rural poor voted en masse. Many women who often did not care to turn out for the vote did so this time. It is unlikely that they will be satisfied with what is being done now. So the next chapter in this unfolding story of resistance to globalisation is still to be written.


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In Defence Of October

Leon Trotsky

A speech delivered in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 1932

The first time that I was in Copenhagen was at the International Socialist Congress and I took away with me the kindest recollections of your city. But that was over a quarter of a century ago. Since then, the water in the Ore-Sund and in the fjords has changed over and over again. And not the water alone. The war has broke the backbone of the old European continent. The rivers and seas of Europe have washed down not a little blood. Mankind and particularly European mankind has gone through severe trials, has become more sombre and more brutal. Every kind of conflict has become more bitter. The world has entered into the period of the great change. Its extreme expressions are war and revolution.

Before I pass on to the theme of my lecture, the Revolution, I consider it my duty to express my thanks to the organisers of this meeting, the organisation of social-democratic students. I do this as a political adversary. My lecture, it is true, pursues historic scientific and not political lines. I want to emphasise this right from the beginning. But it is impossible to speak of a revolution, out of which the Soviet Republic arose, without taking up a political position. As a lecturer I stand under the banner as I did when I participated in the events of the revolution.

Up to the war, the Bolshevik Party belonged to the Social-Democratic International. On August 4, 1914, the vote of the German social-democracy for the war credits put an end to this connection once and for all, and opened the period of uninterrupted and irreconcilable struggle of Bolshevism against social-democracy. Does this mean that the organisers of this assembly made a mistake in inviting me to lecture? On this point the audience will be able to judge only after my lecture. To justify my acceptance of the kind invitation to present a report on the Russian Revolution, permit me to point to the fact that during the thirty-five years of my political life the question of the Russian Revolution has been the practical and theoretical axis of my thought and of my actions. The four years of my stay in Turkey were principally devoted to historical elaboration of the problems of the Russian Revolution. Perhaps this fact gives me a certain right to hope that I will succeed in part at least in helping not only friends and sympathisers, but also opponents, better to understand many features of the Revolution which before had escaped their attention. At all events, the purpose of my lecture is to help to understand. I do not intend to conduct propaganda for the Revolution, nor to call upon you to join the Revolution. I intend to explain the Revolution.

Let us begin with some elementary sociological principles which are doubtless familiar to you all, but as to which we must refresh our memory in approaching so complicated a phenomenon as the Revolution.

The Materialist Conception of History

Human society is an historically-originated collaboration in the struggle for existence and the assurance of the maintenance of the generations. The character of a society is determined by the character of its economy. The character of its economy is determined by its means of productive labour.

For every great epoch in the development of the productive forces there is a definite corresponding social regime. Every social regime until now has secured enormous advantages to the ruling class.

It is clear, therefore, that social regimes are not eternal. They arise historically, and then become fetters on further progress. “All that arises deserves to be destroyed.”

But no ruling class has ever voluntarily and peacefully abdicated. In questions of life and death, arguments based on reason have never replaced the arguments of force. This may be sad, but it is so. It is not we that have made this world. We can do nothing but take it as it is.

The meaning of revolution

Revolution means a change of the social order. It transfers the power from the hands of a class which has exhausted itself into those of another class, which is in the ascendant. Insurrection constitutes the sharpest and most critical moment in the struggle for power of two classes. The insurrection can lead to the real victory of the Revolution and to the establishment of a new order only when it is based on a progressive class, which is able to rally around it the overwhelming majority of the people.

As distinguished from the processes of nature, a revolution is made by human beings and through human beings. But in the course of revolution, too, men act under the influence of social conditions which are not freely chosen by them but are handed down from the past and imperatively point out the road which they must follow. For this reason, and only for this reason, a revolution follows certain laws.

But human consciousness does not merely passively reflect its objective conditions. It is accustomed to react actively to them. At certain times this reaction assumes a tense, passionate, mass character. The barriers of right and might are overthrown. The active intervention of the masses in historical events is in fact the most indispensable element of a revolution.

But even the stormiest activity can remain in the stage of demonstration or rebellion, without rising to the height of a revolution. The uprising of the masses must lead to the overthrow of the domination of one class and to the establishment of the domination of another. Only then have we achieved a revolution. A mass uprising is no isolated undertaking, which can be conjured up any time one pleases. It represents an objectively-conditioned element in the development of a revolution, just as a revolution represents an objectively-conditioned process in the development of society. But if the necessary conditions for the uprising exist, one must not simply wait passively, with open mouth; as Shakespeare says: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

In order to sweep away the outlived social order, the progressive class must understand that its hour has struck and set before itself the task of conquering power. Here opens the field of conscious revolutionary action, where foresight and calculation combine with will and courage. In other words: here opens the field of action of the Party.

The Coup d’État

The revolutionary Party unites within itself the flower of the progressive class. Without a Party which is able to orientate itself in its environment, appreciate the progress and rhythm of events and early win the confidence of the masses, the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. These are the reciprocal relations between the objective and the subjective factors of insurrection and revolution.

In disputations, particularly theological ones, it is customary, as you know, for the opponents to discredit scientific truth by driving it to an absurdity. This method is called in logic Reductio ad absurdum. We shall start from an absurdity so as to approach the truth with all the greater safety. In any case, we cannot complain of lack of absurdities. Let us take one of the most recent, and crude.

The Italian writer Malaparte, who is something in the nature of a Fascist theoretician – there are such, too – not long ago, launched a book on the technique of the coup d’état. Naturally, the author devotes a not inconsiderable number of pages of his “investigation” to the October upheaval.

In contradistinction to the “strategy” of Lenin which was always related to the social and political conditions of Russia in 1917, “the tactics of Trotsky.” in Malaparte's words, “were, on the contrary, not at all limited by the general conditions of the country.” This is the main idea of the book! Malaparte compels Lenin and Trotsky in the pages of his book, to carry on numerous dialogues, in which both participants together show as much profundity of mind as Nature put at the disposal of Malaparte alone. In answer to Lenin's considerations of the social and political prerequisites of the upheaval, Malaparte has his alleged Trotsky say, literally, “Your strategy requires far too many favourable circumstances; the insurrection needs nothing, it is self-sufficing.” You hear: “The insurrection needs nothing!” That is precisely the absurdity which must help us to approach the truth. The author repeats persistently, that, in the October Revolution, it was not the strategy of Lenin but the tactics of Trotsky which won the victory. These tactics, according to his words, are a menace even now to the peace of the States of Europe. “The strategy of Lenin” I quote word for word, “does not constitute any immediate danger for the Governments of Europe. But the tactics of Trotsky do constitute an actual and consequently a permanent danger to them.” Still more concretely, “Put Poincaré in the place of Kerensky and the Bolshevik coup d’état of October, 1917 would have been just as successful.” It is hard to believe that such a book has been translated into several languages and taken seriously.

We seek in vain to discover what is the necessity altogether of the historically-conditioned strategy of Lenin, if “Trotsky’s tactics” can fulfil the same tasks in every situation. And why are successful revolutions so rare, if only a few technical recipes suffice for their success?

The dialogue between Lenin and Trotsky presented by the fascist author is in content, as well as in form, an insipid invention, from beginning to end. Of such inventions there are not a few floating around the world. For example, in Madrid, there has been printed a book, La Vida del Lenin (The Life of Lenin) for which I am as little responsible as for the tactical recipes of Malaparte. The Madrid weekly, Estampa, published in advance whole chapters of this alleged book of Trotsky’s on Lenin, which contain horrible desecrations of the life of that man whom I valued and still value incomparably higher than anyone else among my contemporaries.

But let us leave the forgers to their fate. Old Wilhelm Liebknecht, the father of the unforgettable fighter and hero Karl Liebknecht, liked to say, “A revolutionary politician must provide himself with a thick skin.” Doctor Stockmann even more expressively recommended that anyone who proposed to act in a manner contrary to the opinion of society should refrain from putting on new trousers. We will take note of the two good pieces of advice and proceed.

The Causes of October

What questions does the October Revolution raise in the mind of a thinking man?

  • Why and how did this revolution take place? More correctly, why did the proletarian revolution conquer in one of the most backward countries in Europe?
  • What have been the results of the October revolution? And finally:
  • Has the October Revolution stood the test?

The first question, as to the causes, can now be answered more or less exhaustively. I have attempted to do this in great detail in my History of the Revolution. Here I can only formulate the most important conclusions.

The Law of Uneven Development

The fact that the proletariat reached power for the first time in such a backward country as the former Tsarist Russia seems mysterious only at a first glance; in reality it is fully in accord with historical law. It could have been predicted, and it was predicted. Still more, on the basis of the prediction of this fact the revolutionary Marxists built up their strategy long before the decisive events.

The first and most general explanation is: Russia is a backward country, but only a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system. In this sense Lenin solved the enigma of the Russian Revolution with the lapidary formula, “The chain broke at its weakest link.”

A crude illustration: the Great War, the result of the contradictions of world imperialism, drew into its maelstrom countries of different stages of development, but made the same claims on all the participants. It is clear that the burdens of the war would be particularly intolerable for the most backward countries. Russia was the first to be compelled to leave the field. But to tear itself away from the war, the Russian people had to overthrow the ruling classes. In this way the chain of war broke at its weakest link.

Still, war is not a catastrophe coming from outside like an earthquake, but, as old Clausewitz said, the continuation of politics by other means. In the last war, the main tendencies of the imperialistic system of “peace” time only expressed themselves more crudely. The higher the general forces of production, the tenser the competition on the world markets, the sharper the antagonisms and the madder the race for armaments, so much the more difficult it became for the weaker participants. That is precisely why the backward countries assumed the first places in the succession of collapse. The chain of world capitalism always tends to break at its weakest link.

If, as a result of exceptional unfavourable circumstances – for example, let us say, a successful military intervention from the outside or irreparable mistakes on the part of the Soviet Government itself – capitalism should arise again on the immeasurably wide Soviet territory, its historical inadequacy would at the same time have inevitably arisen and such capitalism would in turn soon become the victim of the same contradictions which caused its explosion in 1917. No tactical recipes could have called the October Revolution into being, if Russia had not carried it within its body. The revolutionary Party in the last analysis can claim only the role of an obstetrician, who is compelled to resort to a Caesarean operation.

One might say in answer to this: “Your general considerations may adequately explain why old Russia had to suffer shipwreck, that country where backward capitalism and an impoverished peasantry were crowned by a parasitic nobility and a decaying monarchy. But in the simile of the chain and it weakest link there is still missing the key to the real enigma: How could a socialist revolution succeed in a backward country? History knows of more than a few illustrations of the decay of countries and civilisations accompanied by the collapse of the old classes for which no progressive successors had been found. The breakdown of old Russia should, at first sight have changed the country into a capitalist colony rather than into a Socialist State.

This objection is very interesting. It leads us directly to the kernel of the whole problem. And yet, this objection is erroneous; I might say, it lacks internal symmetry. On the one hand, it starts from an exaggerated conception of the phenomenon of historical backwardness in general.

Living beings, including man, of course, go through similar stages of development in accordance with their ages. In a normal five-year old child, we find a certain correspondence between the weight, size and the internal organs. But it is quite otherwise with human consciousness. In contrast with anatomy and physiology, psychology, both individual and collective, is distinguished by exceptional capacity of absorption, flexibility and elasticity; therein consists the aristocratic advantage of man over his nearest zoological relatives, the apes. The absorptive and flexible psyche confers on the so-called social “organisms", as distinguished from the real, that is biological organisms, an exceptional variability of internal structure as a necessary condition for historical progress. In the development of nations and states, particularly capitalist ones, there is neither similarity nor regularity. Different stages of civilisation, even polar opposites, approach and intermingle with one another in the life of one and the same country.

The Law of Combined Development

Let us not forget that historical backwardness is a relative concept. There being both backward and progressive countries, there is also a reciprocal influencing of one by the other; there is the pressure of the progressive countries on the backward ones; there is the necessity for the backward countries to catch up with the progressive ones, to borrow their technology and science, etc. In this way arises the combined type of development: features of backwardness are combined with the last word in world technique and in world thought. Finally the countries historically backward, in order to escape their backwardness, are often compelled to rush ahead of the others.

The flexibility of the collective consciousness makes it possible under certain conditions to achieve the result, in the social arena, which in individual psychology is called “overcoming the consciousness of inferiority”. In this sense we can say that the October Revolution was an heroic means whereby the people of Russia were able to overcome their own economic and cultural inferiority.

But let us pass over from these historico-philosophic, perhaps somewhat too abstract, generalisations, and put up the same question in concrete form, that is within the cross-section of living economic facts. The backwardness of Russia expressed itself most clearly at the beginning of the twentieth century in the fact that industry occupied a small place in that country in comparison with the peasantry. Taken as a whole, this meant a low productivity of the national labour. Suffice it to say that on the eve of the war, when Tsarist Russia had reached the peak of its well-being, the national income was eight to ten times lower than in the United States. This expresses numerically the “amplitude” of its backwardness if the word “amplitude” can be used at all in connection with backwardness.

At the same time however, the law of combined development expressed itself in the economic field at every step, in simple as well as in complex phenomena. Almost without highways, Russia was compelled to build railroads. Without having gone through the European artisan and manufacturing stages, Russia passed directly to mechanised production. To jump over intermediate stages is the way of backward countries.

While peasant agriculture often remained at the level of the seventeenth century, Russia's industry, if not in scope, at least in type, reached the level of progressive countries and in some respects rushed ahead of them. It suffices to say that gigantic enterprises, with over a thousand workers each, employed in the United States less than 18 per cent of the total number of industrial workers. In Russia it was over 41%. This fact is hard to reconcile with the conventional conception of the economic backwardness of Russia. It does not on the other hand, refute this backwardness, but dialectically complements it.

The same contradictory character was shown by the class structure of the country. The finance capital of Europe industrialised Russian economy at an accelerated tempo. The industrial bourgeoisie forthwith assumed a large scale capitalistic and anti-popular character. The foreign stock-holders moreover, lived outside of the country. The workers, on the other hand, were naturally Russians. Against a numerically weak Russian bourgeoisie, which had no national roots, there stood confronting it a relatively strong proletariat with strong roots in the depths of the people.

The revolutionary character of the proletariat was furthered by the fact that Russia in particular, as a backward country, under the compulsion of catching up with its opponents, had not been able to work out its own social or political conservatism. The most conservative country of Europe, in fact of the entire world, is considered, and correctly, to be the oldest capitalist country – England. The European country freest of conservatism would in all probability be Russia.

But the young, fresh, determined proletariat of Russia still constituted only a tiny minority of the nation. The reserves of its revolutionary power lay outside of the proletariat itself-in the peasantry, living in half-serfdom; and in the oppressed nationalities.


The peasantry

The subsoil of the revolution was the agrarian question. The old feudal monarchic system became doubly intolerable under the conditions of the new capitalist exploitation. The peasant communal areas amounted to some 140 million dessiatines. But 30,000 large landowners, whose average holdings were over 2,000 dessiatines, owned altogether 7 million dessiatines, that is as much as some 10 million peasant population. These statistics of land tenure constituted a ready-made programme of agrarian revolt.

The nobleman, Bokorin, wrote in 1917 to the dignitary, Rodsianko, the Chairman of the last municipal Duma: “I am a landowner and I cannot get it into my head that I must lose my land, and for an unbelievable purpose to boot, for the experiment of the socialist doctrine.” But it is precisely the task of revolutions to accomplish that which the ruling classes cannot get into their heads.

In Autumn, 1917, almost the whole country was the scene of peasant revolts. Of the 642 departments of old Russia, 482, that is 77%, were affected by the movements! The reflection of the burning villages lit up the arena of the insurrections in the cities.

But you may argue the war of the peasants against the landowners is one of the classic elements of bourgeois revolution, and not at all of the proletarian revolution!

Perfectly right, I reply – so it was in the past. But the inability of capitalist society to survive in an historically backward country was expressed precisely in the fact that the peasant insurrections did not drive the bourgeois classes of Russia forward but on the contrary, drove them back for good into the camp of reaction. If the peasantry did not want to be completely ruined there was nothing else left for it but to join the industrial proletariat. This revolutionary joining of the two oppressed classes was foreseen by the genius of Lenin and prepared for him long before.

Had the agrarian question been courageously solved by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat of Russia would not, obviously, have been able to arrive at the power in 1917. But the Russian, bourgeoisie, covetous and cowardly, too late on the scene, prematurely a victim of senility, dared not lift a hand against feudal property. But thereby it delivered the power to the proletariat and together with it the right to dispose of the destinies of bourgeois society.

In order for the Soviet State to come into existence, it was consequently necessary for two factors of a different historical nature to collaborate: the peasant war, that is to say, a movement which is characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development, and the proletarian insurrection, or uprising which announces the decline of the bourgeois movement. There we have the combined character of the Russian Revolution.

Once let the Bear – the peasant – stand up on his hind feet, he becomes terrible in his wrath. But he is unable to give conscious expression to his indignation. He needs a leader. For the first time in the history of the world, the insurrectionary peasants found a faithful leader in the person of the proletariat.

Four million workers in industry and transport leading a hundred million peasants. That was the natural and inevitable reciprocal relations between proletariat and peasantry in the Revolution.

The national question

The second revolutionary reserve of the proletariat was formed by the oppressed nationalities, who moreover were also predominantly peasants. Closely allied with the historical backwardness of the country is the extensive character of the development of the State, which spread out like a grease spot from the centre at Moscow to the circumference. In the East, it subjugated the still more backward peoples, basing itself upon them, in order to stifle the more developed nationalities of the West. To the 70 million Great Russians, who constituted the main mass of the population were added gradually some 90 millions of other races.

In this way arose the empire, in whose composition the ruling nationality made up only 43 percent of the population, while the remaining 57 per cent, consisted of nationalities of varying degrees of civilisation and legal deprivation. The national pressure was incomparably cruder than in the neighbouring States, and not only than those beyond the western frontier, but beyond the eastern one too. This conferred on the national problem an enormous explosive force.

The Russian liberal bourgeoisie was not willing in either the national or the agrarian question, to go beyond certain amelioration's of the regime of oppression and violence. The “democratic” Governments of Miliukov and Kerensky, which reflected the interests of the great Russian bourgeoisie and bureaucracy actually hastened to impress upon the discontented nationalities in the course of the eight months of their existence: “You will obtain what you can get by force.”

The inevitability of the development of the centrifugal national movements had been early taken into consideration by Lenin. The Bolshevik Party struggled obstinately for years for the right of self-determination for nations, that is, for the right of full secession. Only through this courageous position on the national question could the Russian proletariat gradually win the confidence of the oppressed peoples. The national independence movement as well as the agrarian movement, necessarily turned against the official democracy, strengthened the proletariat, and poured into the stream of the October upheaval.

The permanent revolution

In these ways the riddle of the proletarian upheaval in an historically backward country loses its veil of mystery.

Marxist revolutionaries predicted, long before the events, the march of the Revolution and the historical role of the young Russian proletariat. I may be permitted to repeat here a passage from a work of my own in 1905.

“In an economically backward country the proletariat can arrive at power earlier than in a capitalistically advanced one ...

“The Russian Revolution creates the conditions under which the power can (and in the event of a successful revolution must) be transferred to the proletariat, even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism receives the opportunity of unfolding its genius for government to its full extent.

“The destiny of the most elementary revolutionary interest of the peasantry ... is bound up with the destiny of the whole revolution, that is, with the destiny of the proletariat. The proletariat, once arrived at power, will appear before the peasantry as the liberating class.

“The proletariat enters into the Government as the revolutionary representative of the nation, as the acknowledged leader of the people in the struggle with absolutism and the barbarism of serfdom.

“The proletarian regime will have to stand from the very beginning for the solution of the agrarian question, with which the question of the destiny of tremendous masses of the population of Russia is bound up.”

I have taken the liberty of quoting these passages as evidence that the theory of the October Revolution which I am presenting today is no casual improvisation and was not constructed ex-post facto under the pressure of events. No, in the form of a political prognosis it preceded the October upheaval by a long time. You will agree that a theory is in general valuable only in so far as it helps to foresee the course of development and influence it purposively. Therein, in general terms, is the invaluable importance of Marxism as a weapon of social historical orientation. I am sorry that the narrow limits of the lecture do not permit me to enlarge upon the above quotation materially. I will therefore content myself with a brief resume of the whole work which dates from 1905.

In accordance with its immediate tasks, the Russian Revolution is a bourgeois revolution. But the Russian bourgeoisie is anti-revolutionary. The victory of the Revolution is therefore possible only as a victory of the proletariat. But the victorious proletariat will not stop at the programme of bourgeois democracy: it will go on to the programme of socialism. The Russian Revolution will become the first stage of the Socialist world revolution.

This was the theory of permanent revolution formulated by me in 1905 and since then exposed to the severest criticism under the name of “Trotskyism”.

To be more exact, it is only a part of this theory. The other part, which is particularly timely now, states:

The present productive forces have long outgrown their national limits. A socialist society is not feasible within national boundaries. Significant as the economic successes of an isolated workers’ state may be, the programme of “Socialism in one country” is a petty-bourgeois utopia. Only a European and then a world federation of socialist republics can be the real arena for a harmonious socialist society.

Today, after the test of events, I see less reason than ever to discard this theory.

Pre-requisites for October

After all that has been said above, is it still worthwhile to recall the Fascist writer Malaparte, who ascribes to me tactics which are independent of strategy and amount to a series of technical recipes for insurrection, applicable in all latitudes and longitudes? It is a good thing that the name of the luckless theoretician of the coup d’état makes it easy to distinguish him from the victorious practitioner of the coup d’état; no one therefore runs the risk of confusing Malaparte with Bonaparte.

Without the armed insurrection of 7th November, 1917, the Soviet State would not be in existence. But the insurrection itself did not drop from heaven. A series of historical prerequisites were necessary for the October Revolution.

  1. The rotting away of the old ruling classes-the nobility, the monarchy, the bureaucracy.
  2. The political weakness of the bourgeoisie, which had no roots in the masses of the people.
  3. The revolutionary character of the agrarian question.
  4. The revolutionary character of the problem of the oppressed nationalities.
  5. The significant social burdens weighing on the proletariat.

To these organic preconditions must be added certain highly important connected conditions.

  1. The Revolution of 1905 was the great school or in Lenin’s phrase, “the dress rehearsal” of the Revolution of 1917. The Soviet’s as the irreplaceable organisational form of the proletarian united front in the Revolution were created for the first time in the year 1905.
  2. The imperialist war sharpened all the contradictions, tore the backward masses out of their immobility, and thus prepared the grandiose scale of the catastrophe.

The Bolshevik Party

But all these conditions, which fully sufficed for the outbreak of the Revolution, were insufficient to assure the victory of the proletariat in the Revolution. For this victory one condition more was necessary.

  1. The Bolshevik Party

When I enumerate this condition last in the series, I do it only because it follows the logical sequence, and not because I assign the last place in the order of importance to the Party.

No,. I am far from such a thought. The liberal bourgeoisie can seize power and has seized it more than once as the result of struggles in which it took no part; it possesses organs of seizure which are admirably adapted to the purpose. But the working masses are in a different position; they have long been accustomed to give, and not to take. They work, are patient as long as they can be, hope, lose patience, rise up and struggle, die, bring victory to others, are betrayed, fall into despondency, bow their necks, and work again. Such is the history of the masses of the people under all regimes. To be able to take the power firmly and surely into its hands the proletariat needs a Party, which far surpasses other parties in the clarity of its thought and in its revolutionary determination.

The Bolshevik Party, which has been described more than once and with complete justification as the most revolutionary Party in the history of mankind was the living condensation of the modern history of Russia, of all that was dynamic in it. The overthrow of Tsarism had long been recognised as the necessary condition for the development of economy and culture. But for the solution of this task, the forces were insufficient. The bourgeoisie feared the Revolution. The intelligentsia tried to bring the peasant to his feet. The muzhik, incapable of generalising his own miseries and his aims, left this appeal unanswered. The intelligentsia armed itself with dynamite. A whole generation was wasted in this struggle.

On March 1st 1887, Alexander Ulianov carried out the last of the great terrorist plots. The attempted assassination of Alexander III failed. Ulianov and the other participants were executed. The attempt to make chemical preparation take the place of a revolutionary class, came to grief. Even the most heroic intelligentsia is nothing without the masses. Ulianov’s younger brother Vladimir, the future Lenin, the greatest figure of Russian history, grew up under the immediate impression of these facts and conclusion. Even in his early youth he placed himself on the foundations of Marxism and turned his face toward the proletariat. Without losing sight of the village for a moment he sought the way of the peasantry through the workers. Inheriting from his revolutionary predecessors their capacity for self sacrifice, and their willingness to go to the limit, Lenin, at an early age, became the teacher of the new generation of the intelligentsia and of the advanced workers. In strikes and street fights, in prisons and in exile, the workers received the necessary tempering. They needed the searchlight of Marxism to light up their historical road in the darkness of absolutism.

Among the émigrés the first Marxist group arose in 1883. In 1899 at a secret meeting, the foundation of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party was proclaimed (we all called ourselves Social-Democrats in those days). In 1903 occurred the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and in 1912 the Bolshevik faction finally became an independent Party.

It learned to recognise the class mechanics of society in its struggles during the events of twelve years (1905-1917). It educated groups equally capable of initiative and of subordination. The discipline of its revolutionary action was based on the unity of its doctrine, on the tradition of common struggles and on confidence in its tested leadership.

Such was the party in 1917. Despised by the official “public opinion” and the paper thunder of the intelligentsia Press it adapted itself to the movement of the masses. It kept firmly in hand the lever of control in the factories and regiments. More and more the peasant masses turned toward it. If we understand by “nation” not the privileged heads, but the majority of the people, that is, the workers and peasants, then the Bolsheviks became during the course of 1917 a truly national Russian Party.

In September, 1917, Lenin who was compelled to keep in hiding gave the signal, “The crisis is ripe, the hour of insurrection has approached.” He was right. The ruling classes faced with the problems of the war, the land and liberation, had got into inextricable difficulties. The bourgeoisie positively lost its head. The democratic parties, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, dissipated the last remaining bit of confidence of the masses in them by their support of the imperialist war, by their policy of compromise and concessions to the bourgeois and feudal property owners. The awakened army no longer wanted to fight for the alien aims of imperialism. Disregarding democratic advice, the peasantry smoked the landowners out of their estates. The oppressed nationalities of the far boundaries rose up against the bureaucracy of Petrograd. In the most important workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets the Bolsheviks were dominant. The ulcer was ripe. It needed a cut of the lancet.

Only under these social and political conditions was the insurrection possible. And thus it also became inevitable. But there is no playing around with insurrection. Woe to the surgeon who is careless in the use of the lancet! Insurrection is an art. It has its laws and its rules.

The party faced the realities of the October insurrection with cold calculation and with ardent resolution. Thanks to this, it conquered almost without victims. Through the victorious soviets the Bolsheviks placed themselves at the head of a country which occupies one sixth of the surface of the globe.

The majority of my present listeners, it is to be presumed, did not occupy themselves at all with politics in 1917. So much the better. Before the young generation lies much that is interesting, if not always easy. But the representatives of the old generation in this hall will certainly remember well how the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was received: as a curiosity, as a misunderstanding, as a scandal; most often as a nightmare which was bound to disappear with the first rays of dawn. The Bolsheviks would last twenty four hours, a week, month, year. The period had to be constantly lengthened. The rulers of the whole world armed themselves up against the first workers’ state: civil war was stirred up, interventions again and again, blockade. So passed year after year. Meantime, history has recorded fifteen years of existence of the Soviet power.

Can October be justified?

“Yes", some opponents will say, “the adventure of October has shown itself to be much more substantial than many of us thought. Perhaps it was not even quite an ‘adventure’. Nevertheless, the question (#8211; What was achieved at this high cost? – retains its full force. Have the dazzling promises which the Bolsheviks proclaimed on the eve of the Revolution been fulfilled?”

Before we answer the hypothetical opponent let us note that the question in and of itself is not new. On the contrary, it followed right at the heels of the October Revolution, since the day of its birth.

The French journalist, Clad Anet, who was in Petrograd during the Revolution, wrote as early as 27th October, 1917:

“The maximalists (which was what the French called the Bolsheviks at that time) have seized power and the great day has come. At last, I say to myself, I shall behold the realisation of the socialist Eden which has been promised us for so many years ... Admirable adventure! A privileged position!”

And so on and so forth. What sincere hatred was behind the ironical salutation! The very morning after the capture of the Winter Palace, the reactionary journalist hurried to register his claim for a ticket of admission to Eden. Fifteen years have passed since the Revolution. With all the greater absence of ceremony our enemies reveal their malicious joy over the fact that the land of the Soviets, even today, bears but little resemblance to a realm of general well-being. Why then the Revolution and why the sacrifice?

Permit me to express the opinion that the contradictions, difficulties, mistakes and insufficiency of the Soviet regime are no less familiar to me than to anyone. I, personally, have never concealed them, whether in speech or in writing. I have believed and I still believe that revolutionary politics as distinguished from conservative, cannot be built up on concealment. “To speak out that which is” must be the highest principle of the workers’ State.

But in criticism, as well as in creative activity, perspective is necessary. Subjectivism is a poor adviser, particularly in great questions. Periods of time must be commensurate with the tasks, and not with individual caprices. Fifteen years! Haw long is that in the life of one man! Within that period not a few of our generation were borne to their graves and those who remain have added innumerable grey hors. But these same fifteen years – what an insignificant period in the life of a people! Only a minute on the clock of history.

Capitalism required centuries to establish itself in the struggle against the Middle Ages, to raise the level of science and technique, to build railroads, to make use of electric current. And then? Then humanity was thrust by capitalism into the hell of wars and crises.

But Socialism is allowed by its enemies, that is, by the adherents of capitalism, only a decade and a half to install on earth Paradise, with all modern improvements. Such obligations were never assumed by us.

The processes of great changes must be measured by scales which are commensurate with them. I do not know if the Socialist society will resemble the biblical Paradise. I doubt it. But in the Soviet Union there is no Socialism as yet. The situation that prevails there is one of transition, full of contradictions, burdened with the heavy inheritance of the past and in addition is under the hostile pressure of the capitalistic states. The October Revolution has proclaimed the principles of the new society. The Soviet Republic has shown only the first stage of its realisation. Edison’s first lamp was very bad. We must learn how to discern the future.

But the unhappiness that rains on living men! Do the results of the Revolution justify the sacrifice which it has caused? A fruitless question, rhetorical through and through; as if the processes of history admitted of a balance sheet accounting! We might just as well ask, in view of the difficulties and miseries of human existence, “Does it pay to be born altogether?” To which Heine wrote: “And the fool expects an answer” ... Such melancholy reflections haven’t hindered mankind from being born and from giving birth. Even in these days of unexampled world crisis, suicides fortunately constitute an unimportant percentage. But peoples never resort to suicide. When their burdens are intolerable they seek a way out through revolution.

Besides who are they who are indignant over the victims of the social upheaval? Most often those who have paved the way for the victims of the imperialist war, and have glorified or, at least, easily accommodated themselves to it. It is now our turn to ask, “Has the war justified itself? What has it given us? What has it taught?”

The reactionary historian, Hippolyte Taine, in his eleven volume pamphlet against the great French Revolution describes, not without malicious joy, the sufferings of the French people in the years of the dictatorship of the Jacobins and afterward. The worst off were the lower classes of the cities, the plebeians, who as “sansculottes” had given of their best for the Revolution. Now they or their wives stood in line throughout cold nights to return empty-handed to the extinguished family hearth. In the tenth year of the Revolution, Paris was poorer than before it began. Carefully selected, artificially pieced out facts serve Taine as Justification for his destructive verdict against the Revolution. Look, the plebeians wanted to be dictators and have precipitated themselves into misery!

It is hard to conceive of a more uninspired piece of moralising. First of all, if the Revolution precipitated the country into misery the blame lay principally on the ruling classes who drove the people to revolution. Second the great French Revolution did not exhaust itself in hungry lines before bakeries. The whole of modern France, in many respects the whole of modern civilisation, arose out of the bath of the French Revolution!

In the course of the Civil War in the United States in the ’60s of the past century, 50,000 men were killed. Can these sacrifices be justified?

From the standpoint of the American slaveholder and the ruling classes of Great Britain who marched with them – no! From the standpoint of the Negro or of the British working man – absolutely. And from the standpoint of the development of humanity as a whole there can be no doubt whatever. Out of the Civil War of the ’60s came the present United States with its unbounded practical initiative, its rationalised technique, its economic energy. On these achievements of Americanism, humanity will build the new society.

The October Revolution penetrated deeper than any of its predecessors into the Holy of Holies of society-into the property relations. So much the longer time is necessary to reveal the creative consequences of the Revolution in all spheres of life. But the general direction of the upheaval is already clear: the Soviet Republic has no reason whatever to bow its head before the capitalists accusers and speak the language of apology.

In order to appreciate the new regime from the stand-point of human development, one must first answer the question, “How does social progress express itself and how can it be measured?”

The balance sheet of October

The deepest, the most objective and the most indisputable criterion says: progress can be measured by the growth of the productivity of social labour. From this angle the estimate of the October Revolution is already given by experience. The principle of socialistic organisation has for the first time in history shown its ability to record results in production unheard of in a short space of time.

The curve of the industrial development of Russia expressed in crude index numbers is as follows, taking 1913, the last year before the war as 100. The year 1920, the highest point of the civil war, is also the lowest point in industry – only 25, that is to say, a quarter of the pre-war production. In 1925 it rose to 75, that is, three-quarters of the pre-war production; in 1929 about 200, in 1932: 300, that is to say, three times as much as on the eve of the war.

The picture becomes even more striking in the light of the international index. From 1925 to 1932 the industrial production of Germany has diminished one and a half times, in America twice, in the Soviet Union it has increased four fold. These figures speak for themselves.

I have no intention of denying or concealing the seamy side of the Soviet economy. The results of the industrial index are extraordinarily influenced by the unfavourable development of agriculture, that is to say, in the domain which essentially has not yet risen to Socialist methods, but at the same time had been led on the road to collectivisation with insufficient preparation, bureaucratically rather than technically and economically. This is a great question, which however goes beyond the limits of my lecture.

The index numbers cited require another important reservation. The indisputable and, in their way, splendid results of Soviet industrialisation demand a further economic checking-up from the stand point of the mutual adaptation of the various elements of the economy, their dynamic equilibrium and consequently their productive capacity. Here great difficulties and even set backs are inevitable. Socialism does not arise in its perfected form from the five-year Plan like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, or Venus from the foam of the sea. Before it are decades of persistent work, of mistakes, corrections, and reorganisation. Moreover, let us not forget that socialist construction in accordance with its very nature can only reach perfection on the international arena. But even the most favourable economic balance sheet of the results so far obtained could reveal only the incorrectness of the preliminary calculations, the faults of planning and errors of direction. It could in no way refute the empirically firmly established fact – the possibility, with the aid of socialist methods, of raising the productivity of collective labour to an unheard of height. This conquest, of world historical importance, cannot be taken away from us by anybody or anything.

After what has been said it is scarcely worthwhile to spend time on the complaints that the October Revolution has brought Russia to the downfall of its civilisation. That is the voice of the disquieted ruling houses and salons. The feudal bourgeois “civilisation” overthrown by the proletarian upheaval was only barbarism with decorations à la Talmi. While it remained inaccessible to the Russian people, it brought little that was new to the treasury of mankind.

But even with respect to this civilisation, which is so bemoaned by the white émigrés, we must put the question more precisely – in what sense has it been destroyed? Only in one sense: the monopoly of a small minority in the treasures of civilisation has been done away with. But everything of cultural value in the old Russian civilisation has remained untouched. The “Huns” of Bolshevism have shattered neither the conquests of the mind nor the creations of art. On the contrary, they carefully collected the monuments of human creativeness and arranged them in model order. The culture of the monarchy, the nobility and the bourgeoisie has now become the culture of the historic museums.

The people visit these museums eagerly. But they do not live in them. They learn. They construct. The fact alone that the October Revolution taught the Russian people, the dozens of peoples of Tsarist Russia, to read and write stands immeasurably higher than the whole former hot-house Russian civilisation.

The October Revolution has laid the foundations for a new civilisation which is designed, not for a select few, but for all. This is felt by the masses of the whole world. Hence their sympathy for the Soviet Union which is as passionate as once was their hatred for Tsarist Russia.

Human language is an irreplaceable instrument not only for giving names to events, but also for their valuation. By filtering out that which is accidental, episodic, artificial, it absorbs into itself that which is essential, characteristic, of full weight. Notice with what sensibility the languages of civilised nations have distinguished two epochs in the developments of Russia. The culture of the nobility brought into world currency such barbarisms as Tsar, Cossack, pogrom, nagaika. You know these words and what they mean. The October Revolution introduced into the language of the world such words as Bolshevik, Soviet, kolkhoz, Gosplan, piatileka. Here practical linguistics holds it historical supreme court!

The most profound meaning of the Revolution, but the hardest to submit to immediate measurement, consists in the fact that it forms and tempers the character of the people. The conception of the Russian people as slow, passive, melancholy, mystical, is widely spread and not accidental. It has its roots, in the past. But in Western countries up to the present time those far reaching changes which have been introduced into the character of the people by the revolution, have not been sufficiently considered. Could it be otherwise?

Every man with experience of life can recall the picture of some youth that he has known, receptive, lyrical, all too susceptible, who later becomes suddenly under the influence of a powerful moral impetus, stronger, better balanced and hardly recognisable. In the developments of a whole nation, such moral transformations are wrought by the revolution.

The February insurrection against the autocracy, the struggle against the nobility, against the imperialist war, for peace, for land, for national equality, the October insurrection, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and of those parties which supported it, or sought agreements with the bourgeoisie, three years of civil war on a front of 5000 miles, the years of blockade, hunger, misery, and epidemics, the years of tense economic reconstruction, of new difficulties and renunciations-these make a hard but good school. A heavy hammer smashes glass, but forges steel. The hammer of the revolution is forging the steel of the people’s character.

“Who will believe,” wrote a Tsarist general, Zalweski, with indignation shortly after the upheaval, “that a porter or a watchman suddenly becomes a chief justice, a hospital attendant the director of the hospital, a barber an office-holder, a corporal a commander-in-chief, a day-worker a mayor, a locksmith the director of a factory?”

“Who will believe it?” But it had to be believed. They could do nothing else but believe it, when the corporals defeated the generals, when the mayor – the former day-worker – broke the resistance of the old bureaucracy, the wagon greaser put the transportation system into order, the locksmith as director put the industrial equipment into working condition. “Who will believe it?” Let anyone only try not to believe it.

For an explanation of the extraordinary persistence which the masses of the people of the Soviet Union are showing throughout the years of the revolution, many foreign observers rely, in accord with ancient habit, on the “passivity” of the Russian character. Gross anachronism! The revolutionary masses endure privations patiently but not passively. With their own hands they are creating a better future and are determined to create it at any cost. Let the enemy class only attempt to impose his will from outside on these patient masses! No, better, he should not try!

The Revolution and its place in history

Let me now, in closing, attempt to ascertain the place of the October Revolution, not only in the history of Russia but in the history of the world. During the year of 1917, in a period of eight months, two historical curves intersect. The February upheaval – that belated echo of the great struggles which had been carried out in the past centuries on the territories of Holland, England, France, nearly all over Continental Europe – takes its place in the series of bourgeois revolutions. The October Revolution proclaimed and opened the domination of the proletariat. World capitalism suffered its first great defeat on the Russian territory. The chain broke at its weakest link. But it was the chain that broke, and not only the link.

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfil its essential function: the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. Freedom in two senses – first of all man will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical toil. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and obscure forces which work behind his back. He will build his economy freely, according to plan, with compass in hand. This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and the will of collective humanity. In this sense, socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind. Before our ancestor, who first armed himself with a stone axe, the whole of nature represented a conspiracy of secret and hostile forces. Since then, the natural sciences hand in hand with practical technology, have illuminated nature down to its most secret depths. By means of electrical energy, the physicist passes judgement on the nucleus of the atom. The hour is not far when science will easily solve the task of alchemists, and turn manure into gold and gold into manure. Where the demons and furies of nature once raged, now reigns over more courageously the industrious will of man.

But while he wrestled victoriously with nature, man built up his relations to order men blindly almost like the bee or the ant. Slowly and very haltingly he approached the problems of human society.

The Reformation represented the first victory of bourgeois individualism in a domain which had been ruled by dead tradition. From the church, critical thought went on to the State. Born in the struggle with absolutism and the medieval estates, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and of the rights of man and the citizen grew stronger. Thus arose the system of parliamentarianism. Critical thought penetrated into the domain of government administration. The political rationalism of democracy was the highest achievement of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

But between nature and the state stands economic life. Technical science liberated man from the tyranny of the old elements – earth, water, fire and air – only to subject him to its own tyranny. Man ceased to be a slave to nature to become a slave to the machine, and, still worse, a slave to supply and demand. The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rise up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves from the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and – every man and every woman, not only a selected few – become a citizen with full power in the realm of thought.

The Future of Man

But this is not yet the end of the road. No, it is only the beginning. Man calls himself the crown of creation. He has a certain right to that claim. But who has asserted that present-day man is the last and highest representative of the species Homo Sapiens? No, physically as well as spiritually he is very far from perfection, prematurely born biologically, with feeble thought, and has not produced any new organic equilibrium.

It is true that humanity has more than once brought forth giants of thought and action, who tower over their contemporaries like summits in a chain of mountains. The human race has a right to be proud of its Aristotle, Shakespeare, Darwin, Beethoven, Goethe, Marx, Edison and Lenin. But why are they so rare? Above all, because almost without exception they came out of the middle and upper classes. Apart from rare exceptions, the sparks of genius in the suppressed depths of the people are choked before they can burst into flame. But also because the processes of creating, developing and educating a human being have been and remain essentially a matter of chance, not illuminated by theory and practice, not subjected to consciousness and will.

Anthropology, biology, physiology and psychology have accumulated mountains of material to raise up before mankind in their full scope the tasks of perfecting and developing body and spirit. Psycho-analysis, with the inspired hand of Sigmund Freud, has lifted the cover of the well which is poetically called the “soul”. And what has been revealed? Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Learned divers descend to the bottom of the ocean and there take photographs of mysterious fishes. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will.

Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race.


Napoleon I (1769-1821): Seized power in coup d’état in 1804, proclaiming the French empire and himself emperor.
Karl Von (1780-183l): Prussian army officer, military theoretician.
: Parliament in Russia before 1917. Had a truncated franchise.
: Popular name for members of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, who were the radical wing of the French revolution.
Alexander (1882-1970): Reformist Prime Minister in Russia in 1917, overthrown by the October Revolution.
Wilhelm (1826-1900): Alongside Bebel founder of the German Social Democracy.
Karl (1871-1919): Leader of the left wing of the German Social Democracy, opposed World War One, founded Spartakusbund with Rosa Luxembourg. Murdered by reactionary troops in January 1919.
Mensheviks: Reformist wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDLP), until 1912 when it and the Bolsheviks became separate parties. The Mensheviks opposed the October 1917 revolution.
Paul (1859-1943): Leader of the capitalist Cadet Party in Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs until May 1917.
Raymond (1860-1934): President of France, 1913-20, Prime Minister 1912, 1922-24, 1926-29.
Democratic International: Historically Social Democratic was the title adopted by many workers’ parties. The International collapsed in 1914 when a majority of its parties supported the imperialist war.
Revolutionaries (SRs): Peasant socialist party. Split in 1917, the Left SRs participated for a period in the Soviet government, the right SRs opposed the revolution.

The Third Chinese Revolution (December 1950) -- II

II. Nature and Perspectives of the China of Mao Tse-Tung

Ernest Mandel / Ernest Germain

From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.1, January-February 1951, pp.14-26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

From the Portal of Celestial Peace in Peiping, Mao Tse-tung on October 1, 1949, proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Military operations had not yet come to an end on that date. Canton, metropolitan center of Southern China, did not fall until 15 days later. Chungking was occupied at the end of October and Kunming, capital of Yunnan, last province of the south-west to be liberated, was taken December 10. Nevertheless, October 1 can well be considered as the date all of China came under a new central power dominated by the Chinese Communist Party. Mao Tse-tung proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in the name of a pre-Parliament, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Council, which met in Peiping from September 21 to December 1 and adopted a governmental platform and a provisional Constitution. The Consultative Council was a body set up from above by the Chinese CP through the various mass organizations it controls, together with the other political parties participating in the government. In fact it is a coalition government – officially, the Central People’s Government Council – which today reigns in China. This government is periodically accountable, not to the People’s Political Consultative Council, a top heavy body of 576 members, but to the 149 members of the National Committee of this Council. Mao Tse-tung, as Chairman of the Republic, Chairman of the Central People’s Government Council and Chairman of the National Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Council, combines within his person all the legislative and executive powers of the Chinese People’s Republic.

It must not be assumed by any means that the present coalition government simply represents stage scenery set up to hoodwink the public while the real power remains with the CP. Among the political parties participating in the government with the Chinese CP are two which can be considered genuine representatives of social classes other than the proletariat or poor peasants: The Democratic League of China, banned October 13, 1947 by the Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship, is composed of numerous teachers, professionals and petty bourgeois intellectuals as well as some generals of “liberal” renown. It represents the cultured middle classes of the cities and has some 50,000 members. The Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang, primarily a regrouping of generals in Southern China who deserted Chiang Kai-shek, must be considered as representing the interests of a section of the Chinese bourgeoisie of the South. Among the “great” of People’s China there are, in fact, a number of former Kuomintang dignitaries whose hands were often red with the blood of workers and farmers. Thus the Vice President of the Central Government, Marshal Li Chi-sen, is known as the butcher of the 1927 Canton Commune. General Chen-chien, butcher of the Hankow workers and the farmers of Hunan province in 1927, is today head of the provincial “People’s” government of Hunan. General Lu-han, Kuomintang governor of the province of Yunnan until December 1949, and General Liu Wen-hui, once known as the butcher of the farmers of Szechwan, are members of the National Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Council. This integration of former reactionary cadres is not at all limited to instances in top government circles. In the city of Tsinan, capital of the province of Shantung, 75 to 80 percent of the functionaries kept their places. This phenomenon, duplicated throughout the country is a source of corruption of the Spartan ways of the Chinese Communist leaders. It is highly characteristic that in the cities a good part of the police force was taken over by the new authorities, with results that might well have been foretold:

“To a considerable degree, vestiges of the traditions of the former reactionary police force have contaminated our public security corps where a part of the former personnel have had to be reintegrated.”

Nevertheless, in the countryside the transformation of power was radical and is in fair way to be completed. Wherever the agrarian reform was carried out, the former political regime disappeared with the former property relations. The Peasants’ Associations, embracing tens of millions of members, carry out the agrarian reform and are in fact invested with all power on a local scale. The People’s Courts, genuine revolutionary organs of the insurgent peasantry from the beginning, are developing in Central and Southern China where the agrarian reform is only beginning to be carried out. They are composed half of members appointed by the district authorities (including the chief Judge and the assistant Judges), and half of members elected from below by peasant organizations. The higher bodies (district and cantonal authorities) are likewise beginning to be elected. It is only when we pass to the level of the province that we find authorities exclusively appointed from above. This likewise holds for mayors of the large cities, directly subordinated to the central power. From the point of view of form, the Chinese People’s State appears as an agrarian democracy capped by a political dictatorship exercised primarily by the CP.

The Struggle Against Economic Chaos

At the time the People’s Central Government was constituted, the collapse of the Kuomintang’s power had brought to a climax all the factors of economic decomposition that had characterized Chinese society for a number of decades. Runaway inflation raged. Barter had replaced commerce. Industry was paralyzed. The middle classes were ruined. Relations between the cities and the countryside were broken. The productive forces had fallen into ruin. Floods, famine, epidemics added their ravages along the road of retreat of Chiang Kai-shek’s armies.

Of the three fundamental tasks of the bourgeois revolution remaining to be achieved in China – solution of the agrarian question, elimination of the predominate influence of foreign imperialism, completion of genuine national unification – the third was needed the most urgently to overcome the economic chaos which sapped all the living forces of the nation. Without genuine central administration, there could be no serious collection of taxes, no standardization of money and no genuine struggle against inflation. Without reconstitution of a unified system of national transport, no genuine revival of commerce and no revival of industry was possible in the big coastal cities that remained cut off from the agrarian hinterland. Without the combination of an effective central administration and a unified system of national transport, there could be no genuine struggle against famine. Such a struggle demands the creation of a nation-wide market of food products, replacing the hundreds of autonomous markets of provincial, departmental, district and even county-wide size that permitted famine to develop in isolated areas, within 300 miles of an abundance of food. Consequently the new central government has devoted its major efforts to the actual realization of national unity and it is in this field that it has achieved the most rapid and most remarkable successes.

The struggle against inflation was not at all easy and victory was far from assured at the beginning. The necessity of financing the enormous Liberation Army, whose forces tripled within a year, forced the new power to continue printing a considerable amount of paper money. As a consequence, the new monetary unit, the “People’s Dollar,” underwent rapid depreciation. The index of prices in Peiping rose from 100 in June 1949 to 407 in October; to 1,107 in November; to 1,454 in December and doubled once again between that date and March 1950. In Chungking, liberated later, prices tripled between January and March 1950. At the same time, speculation raged, provoking scarcity of many prime necessities.

Measures to Check Inflation

The reaction of the new power to all this, prepared by a conference of financial specialists in Peiping in February 1950 was, however, made easier by a sensible measure taken at the beginning which acted as a strong check to the havoc of inflation. Instead of imposing an artificial market price on the “jen min p’iao” (People’s Dollar) and thus aggravating the ruin of all those with fixed incomes, the Chinese government applied the sliding scale to all wages, salaries and bank accounts. A “parity index” called the FEN was set up, equal to the average wholesale price of eight pounds (six catties) of rice or millet in the six largest cities of China. The purchasing power of the bulk of the urban population, expressed in this “parity index,” was stabilized, thus permitting an early commercial and industrial revival which limited the effects of inflation and speculation.

Then the government set about drastically reducing the budgetary deficit. In the first place, taxes were increased and above all centralized. On one hand this eliminated at a single stroke the principal source of corruption under the Kuomintang regime whereby the land owner himself was most often the village tax collector, not paying anything himself and letting the biggest part of the taxes squeezed from the peasants disappear in his own pockets. On the other hand, it reestablished the fiscal equality of city and countryside by levelling numerous surtaxes on luxury products (wines, liquors, cosmetics, custom cigarettes, etc., from 60% to 120%). In the second place, considerable income was derived from the big industrial, commercial and banking institutions of the State. Thirdly, a forced loan was levied, called the “Victory Loan,” which the Communist functionaries extracted often not without brutality from owning circles in the cities and countryside. Normal revenues of the State now cover 80% of the expenses (against 33% in 1949!). The Loan in turn must have absorbed close to two-fifths of the remaining deficit, the balance being covered by the printing of bank notes. These measures prepared the ground for the final assault against inflation. Due to the important industrial sectors which it controlled, the government like the private merchants had retained enormous stocks of finished products during the inflationary period. With the collection of taxes, considerable quantities of grain were likewise concentrated in its hands – taxes paid in kind predominate in fact in most of the agricultural regions of China. Now began an enormous stabilization operation that created at one stroke a unified market in China. To the regions deficient in food products, the government services sent huge quantities of grain and rice. During the first three months of the year, more than 20,000 carloads, amounting to more than 600,000 tons of grain, were shipped from Manchuria to Eastern China. In the following months, more than 200,000 tons from Manchuria and more than 300,000 tons from Southern China were likewise sent to deficit regions. The result of this operation was a successful struggle against famine in regions hit by natural catastrophes in 1949 and the abrupt halt of price rises in the cities. At the same time, the government dumped on the market the masses of consumer goods stocked during the preceding period. At once, the merchants and speculators began to unload their stocks too in fear of seeing them depreciate in the fall of prices, and inflation was arrested. In Shanghai prices fell 10% within a month, in other large cities even more: in Canton an average of 35% from March 13 to April 13; in Hankow the price of rice fell 25%, etc.

The arrest of inflation created the preliminary conditions for industrial revival. But only the preliminary conditions, since the whole heritage of the past continued to weigh heavily on the economic life of China. A big part of the industrial equipment remained idle. Even in Manchuria where the revival had been under way for a year, industrial production at the end of 1949 stood at only 29% of the level of 1943. The productive forces revived slowly, profiting first from the restoration of agriculture, the transport system, and above all from the first year of genuine internal peace China had known for a half century.

The Structure of Industry and Commerce

The victorious struggle against inflation constituted not only an indispensable precondition for industrial revival in China. It also permitted the central government to modify perceptibly the relations between the State sector and the private sector in industry, and above all in commerce.

In decreeing expropriation without compensation of “bureaucratic capital” belonging to the four monopolist families of the Chinese big bourgeoisie , the People’s Political Consultative Council in September 1949 gave the State the key position in the national economy. Although opinion varies on the exact weight of the State sector, the most moderate estimate puts its weight in the various industrial branches of China south of the Great Wall as follows :

Metallurgy 60% Electrical 62%
Oil 53% Paper 72%
Textiles 55% Cement 37%
Machine Tools 70% Chemicals 89%

As for Manchuria, the North-East Inspection Commission sent into that region by the Shanghai bourgeoisie after the liberation of the city estimated the weight of the state sector in industry at 87.5%. For China as a whole it is certain that nationalized capital represents between two-thirds and four-fifths of the industrial capital. To appreciate this figure at its true value, however, the fact must be taken into account that Chinese industry does not produce more than 10% of the country’s national income.

Consequences of the Stabilization

The measures taken at the beginning of 1950 in the struggle against inflation brought about the ruin of numerous private industrial enterprises. First of all, the forced loan was often imposed without regard to the real status of the treasury. Next, enforcement of the new legislation compelled industrial companies to continue paying wages to their employees and workers even when production was halted. Then came the bankruptcy of numerous firms, above all the foreign ones in Shanghai when the Nationalist blockade cut off supplies of raw materials for many an industry. Finally, stopping inflation likewise meant stopping the race for products of all kinds and the reestablishment of the normal functioning of the laws of the market. It then appeared that many industries had enjoyed false prosperity due to speculative buying during the inflationary period; their markets abruptly disappeared. In the same way it turned out that many firms had abandoned all concern for productivity during the period when “anything sold”; among them too many shut-downs occurred. The first consequence of financial stability was consequently the closing of a great number of plants, above all in Shanghai, where out of 4,671 plants in 41 branches of industry, 3,205 were functioning in April 1950, a decline of 30%. Finally, the social changes occurring in the country brought about a redistribution of purchasing power which rendered obsolete the industrial structure of the big coastal cities. Actually these had turned in the first place toward satisfying the luxury needs of the old owning classes, and not toward satisfying the needs of the immense peasant population of China.

More important still were the modifications the government struggle against inflation brought about in the structure of trade. Already in Manchuria in 1949, 34% of retail trade and the greater part of wholesale trade passed through the State stores and cooperatives. To combat inflation effectively, the central government at the beginning of 1950 took a series of far-reaching measures. On March 14, six State trading companies were set up to control the entire trade in food products, textiles, salt, coal and construction materials, farm products, and miscellaneous goods. Branches of these centralized companies were established in all the big cities and provinces. These bodies were in fact entrusted with the management of State trade and the “giving of directives to the private commercial companies aimed at stabilizing the local markets”. Following these measures, the network of State stores and cooperatives spread rapidly. In August 1950 there were 38,000 cooperatives with 20 million members, ‘a fourth in Manchuria alone. In one year, the number of cooperative members in Northern China rose from one to six millions and four million new members were recruited in Eastern China.

Alarmed by Their Success: A NEP Follows

It goes without saying that at the same time, the government established trading companies to control foreign trade, representing a stage toward the establishment of a monopoly over this trade. In fact a monopoly was established over the export of a certain number of products: pig bristles, tung oil, hides, furs and minerals.

The complete statization of the industrial means of production, however, requires a certain level of development of the productive forces to meet the criterion of economic efficiency. Hadn’t the Chinese CP leadership understood this in advance of the conquest of power? Hadn’t it sought in the low level of development of the productive forces in China the reason why socialism, in its opinion, cannot be built now, China having to pass through a period of mixed economy, half-Statist, half-capitalist, the so-called “new democracy”? Hence, the Chinese government itself appeared alarmed at the radical results of its struggle against inflation. At the meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese CP early in June 1950, several days before the session of the National Committee of the PPCC (People’s Political Consultative Council), Mao Tse-tung sounded the alarm and dexterously outlined the retreat under the form of a veritable NEP. The slogan of this NEP, developed more fully in the reports to the National Committee of the PPCC, was “readjustment of the relations between the State sector and the private sector of the economy.” The two principal corollaries were: the beginning of a new “course toward the rich” peasant of the countryside,” and the opening of an energetic struggle for the reduction of State expenses, particularly through the demobilization of a big part of the Army.

Beginnings in Planning

This new economic policy was not long in producing its effects. The State granted generous credits and handed out huge orders to private industry, which visibly recovered from its slump. The production of cotton goods in private industry in Shanghai rose 70% from March to August; paper production increased seven fold in the same period. The number of State stores and bazaars have been reduced and not permitted to sell more than six different products. Even in the export field private initiative has been encouraged. In Manchuria the State abandoned its monopoly on export of soya, cotton and peanut oil established the year before, and even sold back to private firms, for commissions of one to five percent, products which had been reserved to the monopoly.

At the same time, strict relations were established between the Communist directors of economy and the representatives of the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie. Early in June 1950 a conference was held in Peiping between the principal heads of State and private industry. Proposals made by the private sector, such as the prohibition of the sale of certain products by the State stores, were ostentatiously adopted with great publicity. In his report mentioned above, Chen-yun, Chairman of the Financial and Economic Commission of the Chinese government, openly declared:

“In China, a country poorly exploited from the industrial point of view, the development of industry and industrial investments undertaken for a long time by the national capitalists, if they remain progressive in character, will be useful to the State as well as to the people. Although Chinese commercial capital causes inflation in the big cities, we take into account that China is a vast country where small, dispersed production plays a predominant role and the existence of private traders is inevitable.”

In order to prevent this revival of private trade and industry from shortly reproducing the chaos from which the country had just emerged so painfully, measures to organize the economic life were taken which represent the first rough draft of future planning. A first national conference of heavy industry was held in mid-July 1950 to elaborate a series of “control figures” for certain branches of industry such as steel, smelting, machine tools and chemicals. The fundamental aim of this conference was to re-orient the development of Chinese industry so as to modify its essentially colonial structure of a producer of raw materials. The incorporation of private industry in this planning operates through the distribution of State orders. These measures were reinforced by the decision of the regional government of Manchuria to start a unified and planned distribution of ten essential raw materials in order to avoid seasonal production slumps, particularly in the coal mines. Although the Chinese authorities strongly insist on the necessity “of not. exaggerating the possibilities of planning at the present stage” , it is clear that we are dealing here with a series of experiences that will facilitate the preparation of integrated national planning at the opportune time.

Agrarian Reform Continues

The new economic policy inaugurated by Mao Tse-tung in June 1950 opens, we have said, a “course toward the rich peasant.” In his speech of May 1, 1950, cited above, Liu Shao-chi criticized the too brutal fashion in which the Communist cadres had imposed the Forced Loan on the rich peasants. But the real problem of the attitude to be taken toward the village bourgeoisie arose in a sharp form the moment the government prepared to continue the agrarian reform south of the Yangtze, which had been stopped in 1949. The manner in which this agrarian reform was approached and carried out is highly characteristic of the transitional stage through which China is passing today and of the contradictory elements in the politics of the Communist Party.

The CP leadership sought to postpone as long as possible carrying out the agrarian reform in Southern China, for economic as well as political reasons. From the point of view of production, the agrarian reform inevitably provoked, if only for one harvest, supplementary difficulties through the overturns of all kinds which accompanied it in the village. From the point of view of a revolutionary movement fighting for power, these difficulties cannot be considered as anything but overhead expenses of the revolution. In history up to now it has not been possible to achieve any revolution without provoking a temporary setback of the productive forces, a setback which appears inevitable even from the viewpoint of the subsequent development of these productive forces. The Chinese Communists by contrast found themselves in the unique position of having already conquered power while the revolution which they headed had not yet been effected over the major part of the national territory! The fundamental aims which this position posed were not only social but of an economic nature; it was a question of conquering famine and inflation and along this road anything that could diminish agrarian production, even one harvest, appeared harmful. This point of view exerted its weight not only in the delay and hesitations with which Mao Tse-tung decided on the development of the agrarian reform in Southern China. It also stamped its seal on the very methods of the reform.

In thus taking the economic point of view on the agrarian problem, the leadership of the Chinese CP at the same time chose in full consciousness a definite political and social orientation. The desire to “limit casualties,” to “maintain a maximum of stability in the countryside” went against the aspirations and desires of the poor peasants who had waited for decades for their liberation from the yoke of the land owners, the money lenders and tax collectors. Now, in Southern China, as we have already indicated, the urban bourgeoisie represented the predominant element among the land owners in many provinces. The present orientation of the Chinese CP, however, is that of making a “bloc” with this “national bourgeoisie” whose representatives sit beside the Communist leaders in the Central Government of People’s China. Agrarian reform in the South thus risks undermining the very base of this bloc. Concern not to cut this alliance prematurely no doubt enters heavily into the delay with which the agrarian reform has been launched in the South.

Nevertheless, absolute necessity forced the CP to carry out the reform; and the factors which had delayed its execution ended up by influencing above all the form of its application. Without agrarian reform in South China, richest and most advanced part of the country, no unified national market for the industrial products could be created and all the plans for industrialization of the country would miscarry. Without continuation of the agrarian reform in the South, the CP risked, in addition, loss of support from the Southern peasantry at the very moment when the first enthusiasm of the peasants of the North for the agrarian reform carried out there began to calm down. The relation of forces in the government itself would have become modified from this viewpoint; the bourgeoisie would have regained confidence, economically and politically, in its future and the South would have become the base of operations for the counter-revolution. In fact, it is in this part of the country that the Kuomintang bands have maintained their activity without cease since the end of the war on the mainland. To cut the ground from under their feet through the agrarian reform was certainly not the least important objective sought by the Chinese CP in following this policy. And the existence of real peasant pressure for the reform was frankly admitted by authoritative Communist sources.

Yielding to Pressure of Masses

To prepare the reform and contain the impatience of the peasants until after the first harvest of 1950, the government on February 28, 1950, published “directives on lowering the rate of taxes and on collecting taxes in kind in the newly liberated zones”. In accordance with these directives Various cuts in the tax rate were granted by the different regional and provincial authorities. In the region of Eastern China a limitation of 35% maximum of the farm crop had already been granted several weeks previously. At the same time, the government was concerned above all with not diminishing its own revenues. Since some land owners did not dare claim payment of the tax from the peasants, they found themselves without means of covering their obligations to the state. Because of this the directives insisted that taxes be paid regularly and that the land owners and peasants fulfill their obligations. In fact, the directives prescribed that “the number of those obliged to pay taxes in kind shall not be less than 90% of the total rural population” (by district).

Announced by Mao Tse-tung in his speech before the Central Committee of the Chinese CP June 7, 1950 (“100,000 cadre elements are ready to launch the agrarian reform in the newly liberated regions”), the Law on Agrarian Reform was presented by Liu Shao-chi before the National Committee of the Political Consultative Council June 14 and finally adopted June 28, 1950. The text of this speech as well as the text of the Law makes clear the important limits of the reform which we have summarized in the formula “course toward the rich peasant.” It represents a considerable step backward in comparison to the manner in which the agrarian reform was carried out in Northern China. Liu Shao-chi declared:

“In the period between July 1946 and October 1947 in many regions of North China, Shantung and Northeast China, the peasant masses and our rural militants were not able (!), in carrying out the agrarian reform, to follow the directives published May 4, 1946 by the Central Committee of the Chinese CP, directives laying down as inviolable in the main the land and property of the rich peasants. They did it according to their own ideas and confiscated the land and property of rich peasants as well as the big land holders.”

He explains at the same time that the CP was obliged in this period to tolerate these “excesses” to obtain the support of the village poor:

“... we authorized the peasants to requisition the land and excess property of the rich peasants, and to confiscate all the property of the big land owners to satisfy in a certain measure the requirements of needy peasants so that the peasants would join with greater revolutionary enthusiasm in the people’s war of liberation.”

To block confiscation of the land is not only an economic necessity; it is also a means of limiting the revolutionary activity of the masses in the countryside:

“If the peasants take the initiative in undertaking the agrarian reform, it is necessary to dissuade them ... we must not let disorder be established and we must no longer tolerate the deviations and disorder for long without remedying them ... The implementation by the People’s Government of a policy of maintaining the holdings of the rich peasants will enable us generally to neutralize them and it will thus be possible to better protect the middle peasants and to bring to an end the useless agitation among the peasants ...”

And if these admonitions were still not sufficiently clear, they were accompanied by an open threat:

“If, in certain regions, deviations and a certain disorder appear when the agrarian reform is begun, deviations and disorder which are not susceptible to rapid liquidation, it will be necessary to halt realization of the agrarian reform in those regions in order to correct these deviations ...”

Naturally the speech of Liu Shao-chi as well as the text of the Law on Agrarian Reform state flatly that all commercial and industrial enterprises belonging to land owners, urban bourgeosie and rich peasants must be left untouched. The Law does not even broach the question of cancelling the debts and mortgages which in Southern China more than elsewhere constitute the main component of the misery of the poor peasant.

As for the rest, the Law continues the essential forms on carrying out the division of the land in force since the agrarian reform in the North. Confiscated land is to be taken over by the Peasants’ Association and distributed “in a rational, uniform and equitable manner among the poor peasants who possess little or no land and lack other means of production”. Draft animals and tools are confiscated along with the land. Big forests, irrigation works, extended reaches of uncultivated land, salt-marshes, ore bodies, lakes, rivers, ports are to be nationalized. Big tea plantations, mulberry cultivations, etc., already worked according to large scale methods can be nationalized in certain cases. Finally, this limited agrarian reform as a whole is to be applied gradually in the winter of 1951 and even 1952. It should be underlined that in certain provinces where the “interlacing” of the old Kuomintang cadres and Communist cadres is farthest advanced (Yunnan, Szechwan, etc.), the reform is postponed until 1952.

A Condition of Dual Power

We shall examine later the economic consequences of this reform; but the political and social consequences are clear. Whether it wished to or not, the government found itself compelled to institute a genuine dual power in Southern China. On the provincial and district level, the majority of the old cadres remain in place; on the local level their class enemies, the poor peasants of the Peasants’ Associations, bid fair to seize all the actual power in carrying out the agrarian reform. In vain the central government tries to block the present stage of the development of the class struggle in the countryside. Despite the government, the class struggle manifests itself in all the regions of China. Even while Liu Shao-chi spoke against all “useless agitation” among the peasants, the New China News Agency reported in its daily bulletin of June 11, 1950 that the peasants of Hupeh province had imposed a radical change in the tax structure:

Formerly In 1950
Owners as a whole paid 3.2%. They paid 50%.
Rich peasants paid 7.9%. They paid 8%.
Middle peasants paid 29.0%. They paid 15%.
Poor peasants paid 61.0%. They paid 8%.

At the same time, the poor peasants complained that in this province alone no taxes had. been paid on 2,520,000 acres of unregistered land held by, land owners and rich peasants. We dare say these various changes have “agitated” the villages of Hupeh not a little despite what Liu Shao-chi might have desired ...

It was by basing itself on the peasantry that the Chinese CP was able to conquer power, and that is why the nationwide extension of the agrarian reform was inevitable. But what happened when the peasant armies entered the big industrial cities of Eastern China? To properly answer this question it must be understood that these peasant armies were headed by a party that in program as well as political perspectives, tradition, consciousness and tempering of cadres did not issue from the peasantry but remained for close to three decades the main spokesman of the Chinese proletariat. To be sure, this party fought for the bloc of “four classes,” it came out in favor of collaboration with the “industrial bourgeoisie,” with the representatives of which it constituted a coalition government. But it affirmed at the same time that “the working class has become the ruling class of the nation” and that it is only a question of time until the construction of a socialist society can be undertaken in China.

The Working Class and the “New Democracy”

These contradictory aspects of the policy of the Chinese CP are faithfully reflected in its attitude toward the workers and in the reactions of the workers toward it. On the one hand, with its entrance into the big cities, the Peoples’ Army of Liberation promised complete protection of private property. It repressed all disorders and attempts of the workers to create on their own initiative the “big overturn” announced by the Chinese CP. But at the same time it lifted all restrictions on trade union action and favored a rapid rise of the trade union movement that thoroughly upset the relation of forces between employers (Chinese and foreign) and workers. The struggle, organization and development of class consciousness of the workers likewise received an immense impulse on the arrival of the Communist armies, since the workers took at their word the CP leaders who talked about the “leading role of the working class.” Quickly disappointed by the passive attitude of the Communist leaders toward them, they have since then fallen back into an attitude of cautious expectancy toward the regime, an attitude all current observers have noted.

The two most important concessions the workers received from the new power were establishment of a genuine sliding scale of wages based on purchasing power in kind, and enactment of the first social insurance and health laws to. be generally imposed on all factories. The rest, they conquered themselves through the stormiest economic action. Thus official statistics show in Shanghai 9,027 labor disputes between May 1949 and May 1950. Avenging their past miseries and humiliations, the Shanghai workers forced payment in particular of enormous back wages, ruining certain foreign firms. In certain cities, above all in Shanghai itself, these gains were however in large measure neutralized by the agonizing development of unemployment. Out of an industrial proletariat of 1,200,000 persons in Shanghai, 350,000 were listed without work in December 1949–January 1950. The evacuation of part of Shanghai’s industries and the ensuing dispersion of the vanguard of the city’s proletariat-were certainly not unrelated to the fear the leaders of the Chinese CP must have felt before these workers, militant and strongly conscious of their own class interests.

The anxiety of the CP not to alienate at one blow the sympathy or even the goodwill of the workers seems however to have been sufficiently strong during the first period after the constitution of the People’s Central Government to prevent any measure tending to run counter to the proletariat. It was not until the government felt itself firmly stated in power, after the successful stabilization of its money, that it began to harden its attitude toward the working class.

Attitude to Workers’ Struggles

Li Lisan speaks of the exaggerated demands of the workers, of the necessity

“... of correcting the workers’ persistent (habit) of occupying themselves exclusively with their own interests without taking into account the general interests ... of correcting (the error) of workers who in their own narrow interests make exaggerated, inadmissible demands.”

These remarks, repeated by other government officials, culminated in the setting up of “consultative commissions of Labor and Capital” which established a general system of compulsory arbitration. These commissions do not grant the workers any right of management or control over private industry, but do allow measures tending especially to increase production. Decisions cannot be made except by common agreement, and in important decisions, the entire staff of the concern must be consulted. Within the framework of the new economic policy inaugurated by Mao Tse-tung in March 1950, the measure in fact lays down the principle in Chinese private industry of “producing first, demanding better conditions later”; and represents a serious setback for the Chinese labor movement in comparison with the rising militancy from the spring of 1949 to the spring of 1950.

Neverthless, while marshalling demagogic arguments to implant the idea that increased production in private industry represents the common interests of workers and capitalists, Li Li-san insisted in his speech on the legitimacy of a certain limited militancy on the part of the workers:

“... The Department of Labor cannot, naturally, eliminate altogether the conflicts existing between labor and capital. In fact, so long as private capital exists, conflicts between labor and capital will continue to exist ... (it is necessary) to extend everywhere the system of collective agreements ... etc., etc.”

In the same fashion, the new trade union law, reflects the contradictory elements of this labor policy of the Chinese CP at the present stage. For the first time in China, the law recognizes the right of wage-earners, including government employees, to organize. At the same time, the following clause limits this newly conquered labor right:

“Every union upon being organized must apply to the Chinese General Confederation of Labor ... so that, after examination and approval, the Chinese GCL ... files for its registration with the People’s Government of the place where it has been established ... All other groupings which are not constituted in accordance with the requirements (cited above) ... cannot be called trade unions or enjoy the rights provided in this law.”

In practice this establishes the absolute monopoly of the Chinese CP, since it can, through the GCL, dissolve or force into illegality any union which disagrees with this or that aspect of its labor policy, thus clearly demonstrating that the party leadership fears such reactions from the working class.

Workers’ Role in Nationalized Industry

In nationalized industry, where the biggest part of the industrial proletariat is concentrated, factory councils have been created. Contrary to the Stalinist theory prevailing in the USSR as well as in the “people’s democracies” with the exception of Yugoslavia, the Chinese Communists have not refurbished the pernicious myth of “the identity of interests between the management of (nationalized) enterprise’s and the workers.” In the report cited above, Li Li-san explicitly declares:

“In the State enterprises there is no longer a conflict of classes, but other conflicts, partial or general, still exist ... Certain people deny the existence of such conflicts; they hold that the head-foreman acts in the name of the State, his instructions are equivalent to a law or ruling which no one can oppose. This point of view is false ...”

And in an article commenting on the trade union law, the same author, a specialist of the Chinese CP on labor questions, writes:

“In the State enterprises, the policy (to be followed) must consist of taking into account public and private interests, and the unions have the duty of protecting the interests of the mass of workers.”

This conception, half-way between the Stalinist bureaucratic conception and Leninism, is expressed quite fully in the statute on factory councils, which, according to the provisional Constitution, possess the “right of control over production” but in practice have only a consultative function and are presided over by the heads of the enterprises. The Yugoslav Communists say on this subject:

“... the People’s Republic of China has begun to introduce workers’ councils and management committees, and this only in the nationalized enterprises. The system of management in the People’s Republic of China is in fact a compromise between the Soviet principle of bureaucratic-administrative management and the principle of Marx, ‘the factories to the workers.’ The management committee is dominated by the manager ... and the latter possesses greater and more decisive powers than the organs elected by the worker collectives.”

Other Yugoslav sources report that a Soviet magazine held the Chinese legislation on factory councils to be too “liberal.” Kao-kang, head of the regional government of Manchuria, reported that in some factories the unions have a tendency to completely replace the manager, which is a strong indication of the pressure toward workers’ management pure and simple . He also extols Stakhanovism, but in terms which seem almost a criticism of the Stalinist system:

“It is necessary however to understand that increased output is, after all, a function of human capacity. Any output exceeding human capacity is incorrect. This means that in the movement for the establishment of new records we demand a rational output according to average human capacity and the technical conditions at our disposal at present. We must at the same time stimulate and encourage the initiative of the workers and specialists ... This will permit all the workers to attain certain new records which up until now have been made only by a minority.”

The Economist (November 18, 1950) asserts that Chinese Stakhanovism operates at the expense of industrial equipment, which is not in contradiction with the concept outlined by Kao-kang.

Among all these contradictory tendencies, the Chinese CP tries to maintain an intermediate position, basing itself on the working class in order to keep the bourgeoisie in hand; limiting the action of the workers so that it can continue the present stage of collaboration with private capital.

Soviet Bureaucracy and the Revolution

We can thus assume that on a certain number of problems of political and organizational orientation, the Chinese CP has not simply copied or imitated the “solutions” and institutions of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR, but has tried to elaborate its own conceptions, corresponding to its own experience. In fact, the very victory of Mao Tse-tung over the rotten Chiang Kai-shek regime is due in large measure to the fact that even before the war the Chinese CP began to work out its own political orientation and does not seem to have been guided by directives coming from the Kremlin.

The fundamental conception of the politics of the Chinese CP was elaborated in Mao Tse-tung’s book, The New Democracy, published in 1940 when direct relations between Moscow and Yenan were interrupted. It looked like a public insult when Chen Po-ta, in an article celebrating Stalin’s contributions to the victory of the Chinese revolution on the occasion of the 70th birthday of the “Father of the Peoples,” candidly explained:

“It was only after the 1942 movement of ideological reorientation that Stalin’s numerous works on China were systematically published by our party ... Many comrades of our party who in fact led the Chinese revolution never had occasion to make a systematic study of Stalin’s numerous works on China. Among them was Comrade Mao Tse-tung.”

In fact, the new statutes and program of the Chinese CP adopted in May 1945 did not even mention the name of Stalin but openly declared that the programmatic foundation of the party was represented by “Marxism-Leninism and the Thought of Mao Tse-tung.” It is difficult to believe that many present leaders of the Chinese CP, who either participated intimately in the leadership of the party during the great revolution of 1925-27 or lived abroad for long periods since then, can be ignorant of the real role played by the leadership of the Communist International, and especially by Stalin, in the organization of the great defeat. In their official writings, they continue the tradition inaugurated by Stalinism, of making Chen Tu-hsiu, General Secretary of the Chinese CP from 1921 to 1927, the scapegoat for all the opportunist mistakes committed under direct orders of the Kremlin. But they must know that a week before Chiang Kai-shek began to massacre the Communists in Shanghai, Stalin declared in a speech in Moscow, April 5, 1927:

“Chiang Kai-shek is submitting to discipline. The Kuomintang is a bloc, a sort of revolutionary parliament (!), with the Right, the Left, and the Communists. Why make a coup d’etat? Why drive away the Right when we have the majority (!) and when the Right listens to us? ... Chiang Kai-shek has perhaps no sympathy for the revolution, but he is leading the army and cannot do otherwise (!) than lead it against the imperialists.”

Recent Hostile Acts of Stalin

They cannot fail to note, especially if they study all of Stalin’s works on China, how for years the leadership of the Communist International defended a position diametrically opposed to the one they themselves advanced beginning in 1940, in regard to the impossibility of carrying out the bourgeois-democratic revolution under the leadership of the bourgeoisie in China. Above all, they cannot forget that coinciding with the Japanese debacle in the summer of 1945, when they began to move toward the rapid occupation of northern China, Stalin sprung a surprise agreement with Chiang Kai-shek, recognizing his government as the only legal government of China and stabbing the Chinese Communists in the back! They cannot forget that at the beginning of the civil war in 1945-46, the Kremlin helped Chiang Kai-shek install Kuomintang functionaries in Manchuria by prolonging Russian occupation of Manchurian centers, on express demand of the Chinese marshal, until the arrival of Nationalist reinforcements. Nor can they forget the evacuation of Harbin, when the Russian troops took with them the hated Kuomintang functionaries, giving them safe-conduct to Nationalist territory ; nor that in 1947, on the eve of their great offensive to liberate the whole northern plain of China, Stalin counseled them not to attack the big cities but to continue their guerrilla struggle.

They cannot forget that upon the popular uprising in the province of Sinkiang. the Soviet bureaucracy helped Chiang Kai-shek to dissolve the new insurrectional power and return a part of the old feudal rulers to power in a coalition government which the people had to overthrow a second time. Belden even affirms that he heard many Chinese Communists declare that in the USSR the farmers are “serfs of the State”. The Yugoslav example shows us how important these experiences are for determining the future course of the Chinese revolution, even if at the present stage the Chinese Communists abstain from delimiting themselves publicly from the Kremlin.

Present State of Sino-Soviet Relations

Nevertheless, a break between Peiping and Moscow in the near future would be a surprise. Powerful objective forces still make such a break highly improbable. The intervention of the Soviet bureaucracy in People’s China is different in form and substance from that in the European “buffer zone.” Unlike the mixed companies set up by the Kremlin in eastern Europe, all of which represent simple exploitation by the Soviet bureaucracy of the already existing industries and manpower, the mixed companies established in China (Sino-Soviet oil company, Sino-Soviet company for the development of rare and non-ferrous metals in Sinkiang, Sino-Soviet civil aviation company) involve a real investment of capital on the part of the USSR that favors early development of the productive forces, objective No.1 of the Chinese Communists.

And if the Sino-Soviet treaty, concluded by Mao Tse-tung in Moscow after lengthy negotiations testifying to the independent spirit of the Chinese, imposes on the People’s Republic of China the payment of indemnities to the USSR for expenditures on the Chinese railway construction in Changchun, Port Arthur and Dairen, the return of these Soviet enclaves to China represents a satisfaction, as the agreement openly states, “to the national honor and dignity of the Chinese People”. Moscow drew some conclusions from the break with the Yugoslav CP and is trying not to irritate the Chinese Communists by a condescending attitude on secondary questions. The Kremlin’s distrust of Peiping is, however, indicated by the fact that deliveries of modern arms, particularly jet planes, are made in such a way that control of the materiel remains in Soviet hands, and by the fact that the USSR seems to have established military bases in Sinkiang.

As long as the Chinese retain essential control of the Communist movement in a series of Asiatic countries (Indo-China, Malaya, etc. – as demonstrated by the exclusively Chinese leadership of the conference of Asiatic and Australasian unions held at Peiping from November 16 to December 3, 1949), and thereby clash directly with imperialism, they will have to maintain close relations with the Kremlin. As long as imperialism maintains its factual blockade of China as to the principal raw materials and so-called “strategic” equipment, the restricted economic aid which they can obtain from the USSR will seem all the more appreciable. And above all: as long as the revolutionary forces independent of the Kremlin are unable to appear as an important political factor in Asia or elsewhere, the Chinese CP, drawing conclusions in turn from the current evolution of the Yugoslav affair, will essay only with extreme caution to draw away from the Kremlin.

In the long run, however, the social forces of the Chinese revolution and not the political or economic considerations of its leaders will determine relations between Peiping and Moscow. The development of the rural bourgeoisie, the eventual difficulty of maintaining industrial equipment, the eventual modification of the international relationship of forces in favor of imperialism, the appearance of capitulatory Rightist tendencies in the Chinese CP, could, under a condition of prolonged passivity and feebleness of the proletariat, bring about a reversal of Chinese foreign policy. An attempt, not yet excluded, by the Kremlin to reach an understanding with the State Department at the expense of China, could have similar results. Contrariwise, a new development of the Chinese revolution, an upsurge of the labor movement, a leftist orientation of the CP, the favorable development of revolutionary forces in the world, above all in India, Japan and western Europe, could bring about at a later stage a break “to the left” between Chinese Communism and the Kremlin. To be realized, however, the two possibilities require rupture of the new class equilibrium in China today, the equilibrium on which the Chinese CP bases its power.

Role of the CP

This equilibrium is not the product of accident alone in China’s historic process. It was consciously prepared during long years by the CP of that country in the course of an ideological evolution which led it to reconsider the fundamental problems of the Chinese revolution.

In the fall of 1936, Mao Tse-tung, summing up the experiences of the revolution and civil war, wrote a small book called The Strategy of the Revolutionary War in China in which, without basing himself on a Marxist analysis of class relations in Chinese society and drawing only the empirical lessons of the past struggles, he reached the following conclusion, a complete revision of Stalinist conceptions of China:

“The enemy of the revolution has been not only imperialism but also the regime of the big bourgeoisie allied with the big land owners. The national bourgeoisie has become an extension of the big bourgeoisie, leaving only the Chinese CP to lead the revolution. Complete command in the hands of the Communist Party is the basic condition for ability to guide the war to a successful conclusion.”

In the same work he assigns a negligible, secondary role to the proletariat in the Chinese revolution and arrives at the conclusion that a revolutionary victory in China is impossible without a victorious war of peasant armies led by the CP.

Only a few copies of Mao’s book were printed at the time and it did not at all influence the immediate strategy of the party. Quite the contrary: In 1937 Mao made a “bloc” with the Kuomintang against Japanese imperialism in which he openly abandoned all struggle for agrarian reform in the liberated regions. Up to now he has not been able to name a single advantage of this coalition with the land owners in northern China. Moreover, it must be added that this bloc was broken only under the pressure of the masses, who began to divide the land themselves in 1946 without waiting for directives from the CP . In the meantime, however, reconsideration of the character of the Chinese revolution by the leaders of the Chinese CP has progressed considerably. Beginning in 1940 in his book, The New Democracy, published in printed form several months before The Strategy of the Revolutionary War (which appeared in March 1941), Mao characterized the revolution as follows:

“This stage of the Chinese revolution ... by its social character is a bourgeois democratic revolution of a new kind; it is not yet the socialist revolution of the proletariat, but it already constitutes a part of the world socialist revolution of the proletariat ... This first stage cannot be the construction of a bourgeois society under hegemony of the capitalist classes in China, but the creation of a new, really democratic society through union of the various revolutionary layers of China ...”

Several years later, speaking before the Seventh Congress of the Chinese CP, Liu Shao-chi declared still more clearly:

“... because the fundamental motor forces of the Chinese revolution are the masses of the people, with the peasantry as principal force and the proletariat as guide, the Chinese revolution cannot be either a bourgeois-democratic revolution of the old type nor a proletarian socialist revolution, of the new type ... In this revolution, the principal motor forces are the proletariat, the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie.”

Finally, reviewing after the event: the development of the victorious military campaign, the Central Committee of the Chinese CP thus defined the character of the third Chinese revolution:

“The people’s democratic dictatorship, led by the working class, based on the alliance of workers and farmers, demands that the Communist Party of China seriously unite the whole working class, the whole peasantry, the revolutionary intelligentsia as the guiding forces and as the basic forces of that dictatorship.”

It was with this conception that the armies led by the CP were launched toward victory in 1947 on a formidable wave of peasant insurrections. To carry out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution completely through conquest of power by the Communist Party without touching a single one of the tasks of the proletarian revolution – this appeared to be the program of the Chinese CP which permitted it to achieve victory in the first stage of the revolution. This victory was possible only because in practice the CP dropped the Stalinist idea of carrying out the bourgeois revolution in a fifty-fifty bloc with the “national” bourgeoisie and even under the periodic hegemony of the “national” bourgeoisie.

Contradictions in Policy Revealed in Practice

But with the conquest of power, the limitations of this program became apparent. The CP wished to construct a “democratic” capitalist economy, but three-fourths of industry was already nationalized. It wished to halt the struggle against the “national” bourgeoisie for a period, but realization of agrarian reform in the south constantly placed this struggle on the order of the day. It wished to avoid all planning for the time being, but the task of industrializing the Chinese mainland appeared immense and planning seemed to be the only means of getting it going. It wished to leave the road to accumulation open to the rich farmers of the countryside, but despite its intentions, the class struggle blazed up more vigorously than ever The whole logic of the situation pointed to the conclusions of the Trotskyist theory of the permanent revolution. The present equilibrium of forces cannot last. In the near future the CP will have to decide to sharpen the struggle against the urban and village bourgeoisie, basing itself on the proletariat and “poor farmers, if it does not wish to capitulate before the enormous bourgeois pressure which the beginning of peasant “prosperity” is preparing. Will it know how to make this choice?

Is a Left Turn Possible?

Many reasons permit us to hope for such a development. More than any other Communist Party, the Chinese CP has been obliged to keep a less bureaucratic and centralized structure, to maintain a constant metabolism between its own aspirations and preoccupations and those of the masses. The objective situation pushes it along this road. The party cadres became habituated for years to the regime of Kung Kie Tche (guaranteed food, housing, clothing), a Spartan egalitarianism. In his report cited above (p. 75), Liu Shao-chi says that in 1945 half the villages of the liberated regions did not have a single member of the CP! Under such conditions how could the agrarian reform be carried out without permitting relatively free development of the initiative of the masses? The vastness of the Chinese mainland and the extreme density of its population does not at all permit the rapid establishment of bureaucratic control over the awakened masses. The formidable power of this awakening, of peasants freed from the tyranny of the land owners, of women liberated by the new marriage code, of youth finally given a future of hope, of masses avid for education and culture , make such control all the more difficult. Thus it was no more than an expression of this objective situation when Liu Shao-chi, submitting the CP statutes to the Seventh Congress, affirmed again and again the party’s “faith in the self-emancipation of the people” (op. cit., p.56), rejecting the whole idea that “the cadres decide everything” and even insisting on the rights of minorities within the party, the majority possibly being wrong during political debates! (Op. cit., pp.83-4). In 1945 such remarks could never have been heard in a party linked to Moscow for a long time. Of course, they have only a formal value. In 1931 and particularly in 1937, on the occasion of two “turns to the right,” the leadership of the Chinese CP organized violent campaigns “against counterrevolutionary Trotskyism.” But Belden tells how a Communist newspaper in the “liberated regions” publicly criticized the too moderate directives in the application of the agrarian reform. (Op. cit., p.503). And all observers are unanimous on the extreme “liberalism” at present of the Communist power, the restricted limits of any political repression, the absence of Stalinist-type control of the revolutionary forces in the countryside. If it remains alert to the voice of the masses, a new turn to the left by the CP is not at all excluded. It is fails to heed that voice, its bureaucratization and its course toward the right will signify at the next stage a course against the masses.

Straws in the Wind

To estimate the chances of such a turn to the left, we must not forget the fact that the leadership of the Chinese CP, contrary to the affirmations of some people, has never ceased to consider itself as a proletarian leadership. True, the party is composed of an overwhelming majority of petty-bourgeois peasant elements. Its rapid growth (30,000 members in 1937, 1,200,000 in 1945, 4,000,000 at present) signifies an extremely low ideological level. But at the Seventh Congress, when the party was still cut off from the cities, it did not cease insisting on the proletarian character of the party, on the necessity of the non-proletarian members assimilating the proletarian ideology; they even inscribed in the statutes different conditions for admission of workers, poor farmers, .middle farmers and intellectuals, etc., increasing the difficulty of their entrance into the party to the degree their mode of existence departs from that of the proletariat. Nevertheless, a certain number of rich peasants succeeded in infiltrating into the party and caused it to deviate from its class line in regard to the village. The Central Committee reacted violently to this danger with its February 22, 1948 Directives on the agrarian reform and the reorganization and purge of the party in the formerly liberated regions. And when the People’s Army of Liberation reached the big proletarian centers, the same Central Committee made a resolute change in its attitude toward the relative importance of the working class:

“On account of the disproportion between the popular forces and those of the enemy after the defeat of the Great Revolution of 1927 up to now, the center of gravity of the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people has been the rural sector, gathering together the rural forces ... to encircle and take the cities ... The period when this way of working had to be adopted is now ended ... The center of gravity of Party work must be placed in the cities”

This turn found its logical conclusion in the halting of peasant recruitment to the Communist Party, which from now is concentrating on winning the industrial workers. The difficulties on this road will remain numerous as long as the Party leadership has nothing to offer the workers except the perspective of increasing production. On this plane likewise, a future turn to the left would correspond to the main concern of the Communist leaders and alone permit the party to become the principal force among the proletariat.

Whither China?

The first stage of the Chinese revolution ended with the overthrow of the power of Chiang Kai-shek. It carried out most of the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, particularly emancipation from imperialist domination (even though foreign capital has not yet been completely expropriated) and the realization of national unification. It has not yet resolved the agrarian question to the degree demanded in the south, or carried out the expropriation of the urban bourgeoisie and, above all, the cancellation of debts and mortgages. The coming stage, in definitively solving the agrarian question and in order to realize the conclusive victory and consolidation of the revolution, will sharply pose the solution of the proletarian tasks, certain of which have already been outlined. That is why China is still passing through a transitional period between the downfall of the old and the definitive establishment of the new regime. Politically it is a Workers and Farmers Government still maintaining a coalition with certain elements of the big bourgeoisie. The alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is in brief the revolutionary alliance with the poor farmers in the North, in the Center the temporary alliance with the rich peasantry and in the South the uncertain alliance with the urban exploiter elements who dominate agriculture. Dual power, existing on the village scale, is also reproduced on the national scale in the opposition between various zones and inside the government itself by the presence of bourgeois ministers in its ranks.

The future of China is in the first place the future of 90 million peasant holdings. To the degree that agrarian reform is achieved, the immediate future appears brilliant. Under the old regime, rent and taxes, not to mention interest on loans and other supplementary charges, took, on an average, more than 50% of the peasant’s crop; in certain prosperous regions, the percentage even reached 75%. Today taxes take only an average of 17% of the farm income, and taxes are based on an average yield per acre, so that an increase in yield lowers the proportion of the levy. The Chrinese peasantry suddenly sees its purchasing power enormously increased, and industry, particularly the textile industry, sees an unlimited market opening before it. In Manchuria where the agrarian reform was carried out first, the levy on the peasantry reached a total of 2.3 million tons of food products in 1949 against 8 million tons under the old regime. Consequently in 1950 they were able to buy 9 million bolts of cotton goods as against 3 million in 1949 and 0.8 million in 1947 (before the reform). The cause of the defeat of agrarian revolts of the past – the need to crush the peasantry under a burden of taxes in order to construct a centralized state apparatus – seems to have been checked in People’s China thanks to the elimination of corruption, to the frugal ways of the new government, to local self-administration, and above all, to the development of the productive forces.

Only when the agrarian reform is completed throughout China, will a new differentiation of social forces appear in the village on the basis of the private accumulation and the competition of millions of small peasant enterprises. The Mao Tse-tung regime will then experience its first serious test. Before this first crisis is reached, several years remain in which to concentrate on developing industry and raising the standard of living, consciousness and organization of the proletariat. On success in these two domains as well as on the aid the international revolution can give People’s China, depends the future fate of the Chinese revolution.

The victory of Mao Tse-tung smashed the bases of the century-old imperialist domination of Asia. Driving the H.M. Amethyst under artillery fire from the Yangtze in 1949, then driving the proud Yankee army from North Korea in 1950, the Chinese People’s Army overturned the relation of forces on which the capitalist world has been based for a century. It has avenged the victims of the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, the Shanghai workers of 1927, the peasants of Kiangsi and the millions of other victims of imperialist savagery in Asia. From now on China will no longer develop under the stigma of bandits and opium; modern industry will advance in giant strides and these strides will resound like a death-knell in the ears of the industrialists in Manchester, Bombay and Osaka. It is not only through the revolutionary forces which it is unleashing in all of Asia that the Chinese revolution is undermining the world domination of imperialism; it is likewise dealing a mortal blow to the economic foundation of its existence which is rooted in the exploitation of the backward, under-developed countries.

The wofkers of the advanced European countries and the United States as well as the proletarians of Japan, India, Ceylon and Indonesia are not compelled to follow the tortuous road of Mao Tse-tung – 23 years of mass suffering in his country before smashing the enemy. Lenin’s road remains all the more on the order of the day while the revolutionary forces of the masses continually grow on a world scale: decisive blows, and audacious strategy make possible today, as in October 1917, an early victory. But they can achieve this victory only if they make their own – without any sectarianism and despite all the reservations due to the opportunism of the leadership of the Chinese CP – the cause of the great Chinese revolution. For a fourth of humanity this revolution sings, and will sing for many years, the Carmagnole of the people in arms and the Marseillaise of the workers.

December 10, 1950


Jean Jacques Brieux, La Chine du Nationalisms au Communisme, Editions du Seuil, Paris 1950. p.411.

New China News Agency, March 1, 1949.

May 1, 1950, speech of Liu Shao-chi, Vice-President of the Government and member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party. In New China News Agency, daily bulletin, Prague edition, May 1, 1950, p.13.

Report of Chen-yun before the National Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Council, June 15, 1950. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine, published by La Documentation Francaise, October 21, 1950.

Kiai Fang Je-Pao (Liberation), Shanghai daily official organ of the Chinese CP, August 10, 1950. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine, published by La Documentation Francaise, October 21, 1950.

New China News Agency, daily bulletin, July 26, 1950. p.2.

Problemes Economiques, November 14, 1950.

Problemes Economiques, April 25, 1950.

Speech of Vice-President Liu Shao-chi, op. cit.

Problemes Economiques, April 25, 1950.

New China News Agency. Daily bulletin, June 6, 1950.

The Chinese Communist press acknowledged that great natural catastrophes had hit certain provinces of eastern China in 1949, Shantung, Kiangsu and Anhwei. According to an editorial in Kiai Fang Je-pao, March 9, 1950, more than 15 million victims suffered from famine in these three provinces.

New China News Agency, September 20, 1950.

Problemes Economiques, June 20, 1950. Most of the reports on China printed by this review edited by La Documentation Francaise, come from France’s commercial adviser in China.

Report of Kao-kang, head of the government of Manchuria, to the regional Congress of the CP, March 13, 1950. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine II (La Documentation Francaise).

See part I of this article in the Fourth International, September-October 1950.

Tsu Ti-tsin, La Voie Economique de la Chine.

See Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 1, 1950. Le Soir, September 2, 1950, etc.

La Situation Interieure de la Chine II, p.28.

Speech of Liu Shao-chi, May 1, 1950, op. cit.

Report of Kao-kang, op. cit.

Problemes Economiques, June 13, 1950.

New China News Agency, daily bulletin, August 15, 1950.

Problemes Economiques, December 5, 1950.

The Times, London, June 7, 1950. New China News Agency, daily bulletin, October 27, 1950.

Report of Chen-yun before the National Committee of the PPCC, June 15, 1950. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine I, p.25.

Problemes Economiques, December 5, 1950.

New China News Agency, daily bulletin, June 5, 1950.

Report of Chen-yun before the National Committee of the PPCC. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine I, p.24.

New China News Agency, daily bulletin, July 21, 1950.

At present there are six administrative regions and one autonomous region (Inner Mongolia) each of which has a regional government.

Ibid., August 19, 1950.

Ibid., July 21, 1950.

See Part I of this article.

See the government declaration in the New China News Agency, December 6, 1950.

La Situation Interieure de la Chine II, p.20.

La Situation Interieure de la Chine I, p.9.

Ibid., p.15.

La Situation Interieure de la Chine I, p.9.

Pour une Paix Durable ... (Cominform paper in French) July 21, 1950.




Text of the Law on Agrarian Reform in La Situation de Chine I, pp.11-18.

It appears nevertheless that cases are strictly limited where the Army repressed movements of the workers by violence. These were only due to the initiative of certain “field commanders” and not to directives of the CP. In these cases the peasant nature of the Army came into collision actually with the opening of the proletarian development of the revolution.

Among others: Jack Belden, China Shakes the World; Economist, September 16, 1950. Jean-Jacques Brieux in his book La Chine du Nationalisme au Communisme (p.392) speaks flatly about the present “unpopularity” of the government among workers. This is all the more remarkable since he espouses in general all the propaganda theses of the Chinese CP and is strongly influenced by Stalinism in all his views on the labor movement and Marxism.

Report of the deputy-mayor of Shanghai. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine II, p.23.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung of October 1, 1949, mournfully describes how the workers and employees of the American and British general consulates in Shanghai used similar “methods of blackmail.”

Li Li-san gives the total number of workers in Shanghai in an article reprinted in the New China News Agency, September 22, 1960. The figures on the unemployed are derived from the statistics on employment published in La Situation Interieure de la Chine II, p.25

Speech, March 8, 1950, at the first conference of the Chinese Department of Labor. In La Situation Interieure de la Chine I, p.37.

New China News Agency, May 12, 1950.

La Situation Interieure de la Chine I, p.37.

Ibid.,, p.32

Op. cit., p.37.

New China News Agency, daily bulletin, July 9, 1950.

Dr. Jovan Djordjevic, New Management System, in New Yugoslav Law, No.2-3, 1950, p.27.

La Situation Interieure de la Chine II, p.9.

Ibid., p.10.

China Weekly Review, January 21, 1950.

Reprinted in On the Party by Liu Shao-chi (Foreign Languages Press, Peiping, 1950, pp.155-204).

Cited by Harold Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, London 1938. Seeker and Warburg. p.185. Isaacs tells how this speech was suppressed in the official publications of the USSR after events had so cruelly contradicted Stalin ...

Jack Belden, China Shakes the World, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1949, p.69.

Ibid., p.375.

Tanjug Bulletin, April 4, 1950.

Belden, op. cit., p.68.

New China News Agency, bulletin, Oct. 2, 1950.

Pour une Paix Durable... (Cominform paper in French) Feb. 17, 1950.

See the revelations of Kyril Kanov in The Reporter for Sept. 26 and Oct. 10, 1950, published in The Militant, Oct. 16, 1950. Also see the articles by C. Sulzberger in the N.Y. Times, May 5, 1950 and by Eric Downton in the London Daily Telegraph, June 19, 1950.

Mao Tse-tung, Le Strategie de la Guerre Révolutionnaire en Chine, Paris 1950. Editions sociales. p.33.

Belden, op. cit., p.169.

Reprinted in J.J. Brieux, op. cit., p.329.

Liu Shao-chi. On the Party, op cit., p.37.

New China News Agency, bulletin, March 29, 1949.

This note is missing – MIA.

Liu Shao-chi, On the Party.

Cited in Le Developpement du Communisme en Chine II, pp.28-9. (Edited by La Documentation Francaise, June 29, 1950).

Resolution adopted by the Central Committee of the Chinese C.P., March 1949, New China News Agency, March 29, 1949.

According to the 1934 statistics republished in Le Developpement du Communisme en Chine II, p.45.

Quatrième Internationale, May-July, 1950.

New China News Agency.


Ibid., Sept. 22, 1950.

Highly characteristic of the transformation of China: it is no longer raw materials, but semi-finished products and cotton goods which today head the exports of Tientsin, China’s foremost port. Problemes Economiques, Dec. 5, 1950.

The Third Chinese Revolution (May 1950) -- I

I. Origin and Significance of the Victory of Mao Tse-tung

Ernest Mandel / Ernest Germain

From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.5, pp.147-157.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A half-billion inhabitants in a sub-continent as vast as Europe , nomad peoples living beside modern proletarians, the kerosene lamp and Rockefeller’s fuel oils penetrating to the smallest villages of the South while money remains unknown in entire regions – such is the China of today, classic example of the historically combined development of all Asia. The penetration of international capital industrialized an insignificant coastal strip and a few northern provinces; in the rest of the country its action was limited to the destruction of the centuries-old handicrafts and the crushing of the peasant under the burden of usury. Between international capital and the mass of the Chinese arose a class of intermediaries, the compradors, who. living on the commercial profit granted them by the foreign entrepreneurs and its conversion into usurer’s capital, bled the peasantry white.

Incapable on account of their social peculiarities of unfying the country, of assuring its independence, of resolving the agrarian question, this bourgeoisie of compradors, unable to play any progressive role in history, kept the country in chaos and prostration. The ancient Chinese culture disintegrated: in the countryside, ignorance and illiteracy reached their culmination. At the same time, in the big cities as a common means of communication with the foreign lords the infernal and highly symbolic jargon of “pidgin English” was coined in which “I am” is translated by “I belong.” Such is the country which is the theater of the most important revolution precipitated by the Second World War.

Chinese society, bastard child of the old China and world imperialism, did not cease suffering bloody convulsions. Principal theater of imperialist rivalries in the Far East, it was chopped up by warlords waging private wars subsidized by the big powers interested in Chinese commerce before duly falling victim to a war of conquest by Japanese imperialism. The defeat of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 permitted no progressive solution of the contradictions in which this bastard society writhed. That is why there was a consequent slow decomposition of the lundamental productive relations on which Chinese society was based.

Japanese imperialism invested considerable capital in Manchuria, colonized in 1931. The equivalent in yen of close to 5.5 billion dollars flowed in. Vast industrialization doubled coal production there and tripled metallurgical production. But this industrial development did not profit the country as a whole. The great agricultural belts of the North and the South, which the Japanese never succeeded in occupying, were cut off from the developed industrial centers. In the North, above all in territories occupied by Communist guerillas or by local peasant militias, handicrafts underwent a new growth. Trade died down and the tendencies toward provincial and even district autarchy gained strength continually. The country turned in upon itself.

This had considerable consequences for agrarian economy. The links with the world market which made it possible to smooth the ups and downs in the supply of rice and wheat, were cut. The result was famine at each bad harvest. Entire provinces with tens of millions of inhabitants

were hard hit, especially during the big famine in the northern plain in 1941-43. A shift occurred away from crops such as cotton, grown for sale in the cities, to food crops.

At the same time, the officers of Chiang Kai-shek’s army, small local officials and other supports of the Kuomintang, suffering from the mounting inflation, appropriated for themselves immense stretches of communal and tenant peasant lands. In the province of Szechuan it was estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the landlords seized their lands during the war and their holdings represented 90 percent of the land owned by the old landlords. This evolution was again accentuated after the end of the war when the government through nationalized companies seized lands belonging to the Japanese. The North China Exploitation Company alone seized several hundred thousand mow of land in Hopei. (One mow equals approximately one-sixth of an acre.)

The tax in kind since 1941, the innumerable forced loans and requisitions of the army, dealt the final blow to a peasant economy that had been tottering for a long time. Numerous villages were depopulated – the number of farmers who died of starvation during and after the war is estimated at ten to fifteen million! Vast reaches remained uncultivated. The soil, exhausted by centuries of too numerous harvests and lack of care, rebelled in its turn against the archaic mode of production in northern China. The yield per mow dropped without cease. Belden estimates that at the end of the war 50 million mow of land were lying desolate in the three fertile provinces of Honan, Hupeh and Hunan. Hundreds of thousands of small and middle peasants were dispossessed. A considerable devaluation in the price of land occurred as numerous peasants found themselves forced to sell their tiny patches.

Thus the war and its immediate aftermath created on one side a new layer of speculators and parasitic owners, and on the other an enormous mass of expropriated peasants. This polarization of society signified an extreme exacerbation of the social contradictions and was the midwife of the third Chinese revolution.

“Bureaucratic Capital”

China’s sudden reconquest of the big industrial centers upon the Japanese capitulation betokened brutal confirmation of a typical aspect of contemporary China – the submergence of the extremely weak industrial bourgeoisie by “bureaucratic capital.” From 1936 on, nationalizations acquired importance. Official statistics indicate that in 1942 the government possessed 20 power stations, eight iron and steel factories, many machine and electrical manufacturing plants and ten distilleries. At the end of the war, the government seized all Japanese-owned enterprises, thus appropriating the lion’s share of the textile and coal industries. Four families, Chiang Kai-shek, the Soongs, the Kungs and the Chen brothers skimmed the cream from these nationalized enterprises as their private domain, utilizing their political positions at the same time to amass fabulous fortunes in the management of these enterprises and to acquire in numerous sectors virtual monopolies for their private enterprises.

The reactionary American writer George Moorad, who remains nevertheless an apologist for the Kuomintang, decried the situation thus created in these terms:

By using government loans and UNRRA materials, and by confiscating enemy-alien properties, the state-family monopolies soon came to dominate mining, heavy industry, silk, cotton, spinning, sugar, transportation, and, of course, banking and overseas trade ... In addition to their controlling interest in the National government, Soong-Kung combine and its satellites also owned the China Highway Transport Company, Fu Chung Corporation, Yangtze Development Corporation, Central Trust of China, China Textile Development Corporation, and Universal Trading Corporation. Thus the great Japanese-owned cotton spinning mills in China, which, in 1937, had rivaled Bombay and Manchester productions, were taken over by the China Textile Development Corporation, which, receiving government loans and government cotton, was able to put private Chinese and British mills out of business. The monopolies also got preferences in allocations of fuel, transport and raw materials. (Lost Peace in China, E.P. Button & Co., New York, 1949, pp.197-98)

This is a form of the concentration of monopoly capital which the advanced countries have never known.

When a member of one of these families, the financier T.V. Soong, ex-president of the Bank of China, ex-minister of foreign affairs, and ex-prime minister, was named governor of the rich province of Kwangtung in September 1947, four months after his resignation as head of the government under the pressure of public opinion, the press explained this nomination as the result of a gift which Soong himself had made to the charity fund of the Kuomintang of at least 500 billion Chinese dollars, or 10 million American dollars, in stocks and bonds of important commercial and industrial enterprises. “Bureaucratic capital,” hence, was the conquest of dominating positions in the economy by exploiting public office, combined with the purchase of controlling posts in the government by means of enormous profits wrung from the economy.

These extremes of corruption and despotism injured not only the foreign capitalists who saw themselves excluded from part of their traditional profits, but also the majority of the Chinese compradors themselves who found the most profitable fields monopolized by the “four families.” These native bourgeois layers, cut off from profitable commercial or industrial activity, concentrated all the more on speculation and usury, thus accelerating the disintegration of the economy and feeding the hate of all the productive classes toward the Kuomintang and its rotten regime.

Galloping Inflation

But the factor which contributed most to the disintegration of the traditional social relations was the galloping inflation that developed during the course of the war and its immediate aftermath. In addition to the universal parasitism of the regime, the cause of this inflation resided above all in the enormous mass of unproductive governmental expenditures for the maintenance of a hypertrophied bureaucracy and army – approximately 70 percent of the budget was devoted to the army. This led to an enormous budgetary deficit surpassing two-thirds of the expenditures, and this deficit could not be covered except by unbridled printing of bank notes. By 1940 prices had already reached an average of 3,500 (taking the 1937 level as 100) and in some provinces even more than 5,500. The end of the war was marked by pronounced acceleration of the inflationary movement. During 1946 prices soared 700 percent in Shanghai. From January to July they mounted again by 500 percent. The circulation of money rose from 1.15 trillion Chinese dollars in January 1946 to 11.46 trillion in July 1947. From that time, the rhythm of inflation accelerated, as is indicated by the course of the American dollar on the Shanghai black market:

One American dollar was worth [in Chinese dollars] – in June 1947, 36,000; August 1947, 44,000; October 1947, 100,000; November 1947, 165,000; March 1948, 500,000; May 1948, 1,000,000; beginning of August 1948, 10,000,000. The magnitude of the inflation ended in the elimination of money as means of monthly payment of salaries and wages, payments being made with sacks of wheat. Inflation led to hoarding of gold and foreign money, to massive stockpiling of goods and from that to increasing scarcities. At the end of August 1948, the government made a last attempt at stabilization of the monetary situation. A new issue, the gold yuan, was put in circulation. Prices were stabilized and rigorous penalties instituted to curb speculation. But the public remained sceptical, since at the same time budget figures showed annual government revenue covered scarcely two months’ expenditures. And so, like agrarian reform, inflation on the morrow started up again worse than ever. Six weeks later the hike in prices reached 45 percent. Four weeks more, and the official index hit 81 percent. Between November 1948 and January 1949, prices mounted 500 percent. A new cycle of galloping inflation was opened.

The inflation led to complete prostration of business. “Production is paralyzed,” wrote the correspondent of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 17, 1948, “because of the lack of raw materials. The peasant producers refuse to sell their products so long as they cannot buy foods at official prices.” Fear of the inflation led to heavy disinvestment of capital. Such capital, transformed into gold bars or dollars, flowed to Hong Kong, the United States, Latin America. Plant equipment deteriorated. Machines were no longer repaired. Capital ceased to be renewed. Inflation devoured what reserves had remained intact in the country. Coal production fell to half the pre-war level; textile production to a similar level. Throughout Manchuria, industrial production in 1948 stood at 10 percent of its normal level. A typical case, cited in the report of General Wedemeyer, is that of the Hwainan Coal Mine in central China owned by the China Finance Development Corporation which is controlled by two of the four families, the Soongs and Kungs. This corporation possessed extensive foreign exchange assets, but refused to use them to rehabilitate the mine. The government itself had to start production moving by advancing more than one million American dollars. After exhausting this loan, things stopped at that. Finally, this situation led to a rupture in trade between city and country. Great stocks of foods and cotton accumulated in the villages of Manchuria and northern China while famine reigned in the cities. At the same time, huge stockpiles of coal accumulated in mining centers while the peasant population suffered terribly from the bitter cold of winter. All economic life in the country seemed to halt. The culpability of the regime was apparent to everyone.

American Intervention in China

Imperialist intervention had prevented transformation of China into a modern nation. At the same time it lent unexpected support to the particular social relations characterizing the China of the first half of the twentieth century. With the end of the war this situation was radically upset. Of the old powers protecting the Chinese social order, only Great Britain and the United States remained independent forces, and Great Britain was too weak to intervene effectively in China. On American imperialism fell the whole burden of defending that Christian civilization which had pressed on China the seal of opium, coolies and the licensed brothels of Shanghai.

The outbreak of war between Japan and the United States considerably accentuated American interest in China. While bankers and technicians prepared plans for credits and capital investments, General Stilwell sought to utilize the immense Chinese human potential for the creation of new armies endowed with modern equipment. It was in the course of these attempts that the Yankee military heads had their first prolonged contacts with the leaders of the Kuomintang and understood that the Chiang Kai-shek regime Was hopelessly corrupt and condemned to perish. The documents published by the American State Department contain secret reports of agents, written in 1943-44, which were all unanimous in predicting the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in the event of civil war on the grand scale in China. The report of John Stewart Service characterizes the situation in the provinces controlled by the Kuomintang in the following way:

1. Morale is low and discouragement widespread. There is a general feeling of hopelessness.

2. The authority of the Central Government is weakening in the areas away from the larger cities. Government mandates and measures of control cannot be enforced and remain ineffective. It is becoming difficult for the Government to collect enough food for its huge army and bureaucracy.

3. The governmental and military structure is being permeated and demoralized from top to bottom by corruption, unprecedented in scale and openness.

4. The intellectual and salaried classes, who have suffered the most heavily from inflation, are in danger of liquidation. The academic groups suffer not only the attrition and demoralization of economic stress; the weight of years of political control and repression is robbing them of the intellectual vigor and leadership they once had.

This appreciation of the Chinese situation placed American imperialism before an insoluble dilemma the moment the war in Asia came to an end. On the one hand, it was necessary to give maximum aid to Chiang Kai-shek to prevent the swift collapse of Kuomintang China. On the other hand, it was necessary to replace the Chiang Kai-shek government by a government capable of avoiding the outbreak of civil war on the grand scale, since the Kuomintang could not help losing such a war. But the sole means American imperialism had to put pressure on the Kuomintang was precisely the aid which it advanced. Unable to make up its mind to cut this aid in order to wring real concessions from the Kuomintang, it saw all its attempts to reach conciliation between the Chinese Communist Party and Chiang Kai-shek doomed to failure in advance.

Attempts at Compromise

The political and military basis for such a compromise was real nonetheless the first two years after the war. Chiang’s armies, equipped thanks to the Americans with ultra-modern materiel, were transported by American planes and ships to the big centers of Manchuria and the North, in order to speedily occupy the cities evacuated by the Japanese, then by the Russians. The groups of Communist partisans, officially united to the regular army under the name of the Eighth Route Army, had occupied some agricultural districts and a few cities, then had halted their operations. On October 11, 1945, an agreement was reached between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party providing for the convocation of a People’s Political Consultative Conference to iron out all the differences.

This conference was held in Chungking in January 1946 and after 21 days of discussion adopted a series of resolutions on the organization of a coalition government, the reconstruction of the country, military problems, convocation of a National Assembly, etc. It was not a question of a radical reform. Finally on February 25, 1946, under the aegis of General Marshall, in China on special mission as conciliator, the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party concluded an agreement for the unification of the armed forces. The road to “social peace” seemed open.

Nevertheless, at the very moment these agreements were reached, hostilities were again on the point of breaking out. Responsibility for this fell squarely on the Kuomintang, and several months later General Marshall did not hesitate to publish a declaration in which he listed “seven errors” of Chiang Kai-shek, seven flagrant cases of military aggression on the part of the Kuomintang’s forces in violation of the agreements previously reached with the Chinese Communist Party. In the summer of 1946, general hostilities resumed and at the end of that year the Kuomintang army opened a general offensive aimed at occupying the territories held by the Communist armies. A widespread civil war had blazed up.

Failure of Marshall’s Mission

Formally, General Marshall’s mission of conciliation was wrecked on the question of the occupation of territories which had changed hands after January 13, 1946, the opening date of the Political Consultative Conference. The Chinese Communist Party demanded the status quo ante and continuation of social reforms previously carried out in these areas. Marshall proposed evacuation of the territories and; their conversion into a kind of no-man’s land. Chiang Kai-shek demanded their occupation by “government” forces.

In reality, the landlords were convinced of the inevitability of peasant uprisings on a grand scale. They had no confidence that the Chinese Communist Party, following eventual entrance in a coalition government, would prove capable of halting these uprisings. They feared consequently that any prolongation of the period of relative freedom enjoyed by the peasants in the Communist-occupied regions would lead fatally to the seizure of land, and that the example set by these regions would spread throughout the Chinese peasantry. The sole means of avoiding this catastrophe was the rapid reconquest of these regions, as long as the relation of military forces was basically favorable to the Kuomintang. The Chinese ruling classes understood that time worked against them. The military adventure in which they plunged with a blindness rarely equalled was neither desired nor provoked by the Chinese Communist Party which seems to have genuinely sought the road to compromise.

The failure of General Marshall’s mission of conciliation and the following fact-finding mission of General Wedemeyer did not by any means signify abandonment by American imperialism of its policy of intervention and “pacification” of China. For two years, American policy continued to be buffeted between two contradictory aims – to avoid any breaching of Kuomintang power from one side; from the other to try to “liberalize” the regime and lead it to putting an end to the civil war. If American conciliatory intentions in China seem to have been genuine, in practice American intervention brought about prolongation of Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship. The “pressure” exerted on the generalissimo to introduce some “progressive” reforms achieved only ridiculous results.

The total amount of American aid given the Kuomintang was considerable. It is a flagrant lie when reactionary circles in the United States and the world try to explain the victory of Mao Tse-tung by the “insufficient” support Washington gave Chinese reaction. So far as military aid strictly speaking is concerned, besides numerous American advisors in China and the transport of soldiers and materiel for the Kuomintang in American ships and planes, 700 million dollars’ worth of lend-lease deliveries were made after the end of the war in Asia, plus arms and munitions worth more than one billion dollars. As for economic aid, the official American figure is another billion dollars plus sale of surplus goods worth an additional billion dollars. Say a total of three billion dollars which could not save Chiang Kai-shek. In truth, nothing could have held back the mounting flood of the third Chinese revolution.

The Disintegration of Power

The defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese civil war cannot be understood if you consider it as the defeat of a “democratic” government in the face of the “totalitarian” power of the Chinese Communists. From the social point of view, the Kuomintang regime, based on an alliance of landlords and bourgeois compradors, was crushed by the uprisings of exploited peasants. Even from the formal point of view, it was the spontaneous initiative and a considerable degree of local self-government which permitted the Mao Tse-tung armies to overwhelm the rotten and universally detested despotism of the Kuomintang.

Nothing in fact could be further from reality than to call Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship bourgeois democracy. The dictatorship was openly affirmed as such, since the Kuomintang openly declared that it was exercising tutelage over the Chinese people, not yet ripe for political sovereignty, up to 1947. And the formal abandonment of this “tutelage” came at the time when the dictatorship, basing itself on a secret service of 200,000 members, opened an unparalleled wave of repressions.

A very convincing example of the “democratic” nature of Chiang Kai-shek’s government is its reign of terror on the island of Formosa in 1947. On February 25, 1947, incidents broke out which led to a number of killings by Chinese soldiers. The population of Formosa rose up and organized political councils which demanded a democratic constitution for the island. The governor entered into negotiations with the populace to gain time pending arrival of reinforcements from the mainland. When the Chinese troops landed, a bloody repression began. The Americans fix the number of victims at 5,000 slain; the inhabitants of Formosa speak of 20,000 people murdered. History took its revenge on Chiang Kai-shek by abandoning him today to the stubborn, underground hatred of the unhappy people of this island.

As Trotsky long ago observed, the Kuomintang dictatorship was not fascist in character ; contrary to the fascist regimes it had no base of support in the petty-bourgeois masses, which were violently hostile to it. It was a military dictatorship based on an alliance between landlords, certain layers of compradors and the immense caste of military men and upper bureaucrats who profited from the regime. According to the Swiss journal Der Bund, China had 6,773 generals in active service. (June 15, 1948.) The war, however, altered the base of this regime. Cut off from the big industrial centers and the decisive levels of the compradors, Chiang Kai-shek was forced to support himself more fully on the most conservative and backward landlords. From this fact, the political weight of the representatives of this class (notably the clique of the Central Committee of the Kuomintang) became decisive. This explains the failure of the 1946 compromise which had been favored’ by the industrial bourgeoisie of northern China, who, on March 13, 1946, sent a delegation to Kuomintang headquarters to obtain immediate cessation of hostilities.

Career of a Generalissimo

The personality of Chiang Kai-shek is a faithful reflection of the regime which he incarnated. Harold Isaacs has drawn a portrait of the Chinese dictator as ferocious as it is faithful. Son of a landlord-trader of the province of Chekiang, Chiang Kai-shek came to Shanghai about 1911 where he tried to make a career as a stock broker. He got in touch with the secret societies and hobnobbed, says Isaacs, with “gangsters and bankers, smugglers and brothel-keepers, the money-changers and the scum of the treaty ports.” Headed for prison, he was saved by his comprador protectors, then went south to link his fortune with Sun Yat-sen. A young career officer, he was chosen by the father of the Chinese Republic to spend six months in Moscow in 1923. On his return, he became commander of the Whampoo Military Academy, constructed and maintained with Russian funds; and it was from this position that he left in 1925 for the military expedition which permitted him later to crush the revolution in 1927 and to unify China under his dictatorship. The massacres which he perpetrated left wounds that are felt to this day.

From April to December 1927, 37,985 persons were executed for “political crimes.” From January to August 1928, the number condemned to death was 27,699. At the end of 1930, it was estimated that 140,000 political, opponents had been put to death by the regime. In 1931, incomplete statistics referring to the cities of only six provinces mentioned 38,778 persons executed by the political police in the course of the year.

Changes Wrought by the War

Chiang Kai-shek maintained his dominant position, says Isaacs, by offering immediate benefits to all the ruling classes and by effective maneuvering among the mutually hostile military cliques. But the change in the relationship of forces between landlords and compradors during the war profoundly altered the Kuomintang’s seat of power. Even more fatal was the development in northern China and Manchuria during the same period of organs of self-defense and self-government among the peasants. In the lost villages where the Japanese troops had not been able to send more than advance scouts but which the Kuomintang troops precipitatejy abandoned, solid nuclei were organized of anti-imperialist resistance and local democracy. The village militia of secretly elected town administrations appeared even behind the Japanese lines.

The Communist Eighth Route Army soon began to coordinate this resistance movement under its leadership. Having insufficient cadres, it was compelled to leave the villages a high degree of autonomy and democracy. Administrative units put together in rather slack fashion were taken in hand by a central body created from above, the “government of the Shansi-Hopei-Shantung-Honan Border Region” which left considerable representation to local and non-Communist elements. Toward the end of the war, this “government” and the authoritative formations which the Communist partisans had constructed in other parts of the country already controlled close to 90 million people.

The mass of peasants, while observing with distrust the measures of the new authorities tending to prevent the agrarian reform up until 1946, nevertheless considered the new government as the first which had not acted forcibly and always against the people. They were ready to grant it their support from the moment their fundamental demand for land was carried out.

The Chiang Kai-shek regime thus found itself facing an adversary whose forces did not cease to grow. Its own resources did not cease to diminish, corroded by an unbridled corruption. Belden cites the case of a colonel due for promotion to command of a battalion who was rejected because of inability to pay the customary “gift” to his superiors. He was then made head of the transport unit of his regiment. In this capacity he had to give one-seventh of all the gasoline to the officer in charge of the supply depot. His superiors took another one-seventh of the gasoline for their personal graft. To supply the regiment, the colonel had to sell grease and lubricants on the black market himself in order to make up for the gasoline lifted by the corrupt officers. The Chinese writer Pei Wan-chung reports that the mayors of villages responsible lor sending young recruits to the army had organized, in the province of Hopei, a system according to which every family paying exorbitant sums could keep their sons home. At the same time the missing forces were inscribed on the regimental books so that the officers could put their pay in their own pockets. The result was that numerous armed formations did not have more than 60 percent of their presumed forces. The situation becomes clearer still when one adds that very often officers of the Kuomintang sold their arms to the Communists.

The monetary reform of August 1948 installing the gold yuan had been prepared so secretly that not even the American advisors of the Chinese governmelnt had been informed. Yet it soon appeared that the General Secretary of the Ministry of Finance had organized his own little speculation in the Shanghai stock exchange through the fact that he knew the date and details of this reform! General Wedemeyer’s report affirms that tax officials took more from the peasants than they could pay, while rich businessmen and merchants evaded tax obligations by presenting fake accounts. The same report declares that “In pre-war years, the reputation of the Chinese-Maritime Customs for efficiency and honesty of administration was unexcelled throughout the world. At the present time ... corruption ... is widespread, more so ... than at any time in the last 94 years.” Merchants bribed customs officials to pass their goods illegally, evading license fees and customs duties to get around price controls or simply to expedite action. The administrative costs of collecting duties, however, averaged only 10 percent; while in the Direct Tax Bureau of the Ministry of Finance the “administrative” expense of tax collection ran as high as 60 percent.

Middle Class Rebellion

In contrast to the high dignitaries of the regime who organized fraud and corruption as a private racket, the bulk of the small functionaries were pushed on the road of corruption because of the flagrant insufficiency of their salaries. Inflation hit the functionaries and salaried middle classes harder than it did the industrial workers. In March 1948, a university professor earned 10 million Chinese dollars (equivalent to 20 American dollars). He had no way of obtaining supplementary income to this starvation wage. Hardly surprising then, in these conditions, that “the cultured, intellectual classes should be almost completely alienated from the regime”. And in token of this hostility, imposing protest movements centered around the universities.

In 1946 especially there were demonstrations greeting establishment of the truce; but the demonstrators who acclaimed the leaders of the Kuomintang as well as those hailing the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were attacked by the police and army. At Suchow, 12 students were killed and 27 wounded. The dean of the school was likewise killed. At Kunming, two professors were murdered after having spoken at a meeting in favor of the truce. In 1947, the movement was much larger. Students of the universities of Shanghai, Peking and Nanking proclaimed a general strike. Some 3,000 students of the Transport High School occupied the North Station in Shanghai and seized a train, demanding that it take them to Nanking to talk with the government. The students tried to organize the nationwide general strike for June 2. Repression was rapid and violent. Thousands of soldiers and police closed in on the universities of Shanghai and Nanking, arresting and beating hundreds of students. At Hankow and Chungking likewise, the number of victims was high. Nine hundred and twenty-three arrests, dozens of deaths, a thousand wounded – such was the balance sheet of the student movement of 1947.

In 1948, the movement started again in the spring. At Peking a mass demonstration clashed with a barrier of police. There were a number of dead and wounded on both sides. At Kunming, July 15, 1948, police staged a raid on the University, killing five students, wounding a hundred and arresting 1,200, of whom 300 were sent to concentration camps. The prisoners were submitted to infamous tortures; 30 were buried alive. In August 1948, a special court was set up to handle “student insubordinations.” Thousands of students and hundreds of professors were dismissed from the middle and higher schools.

The workers’ movement during the first postwar years also experienced a period of mounting intensity in the big industrial centers. During 1946, 1,600 strikes took place in Shanghai.

The sliding scale of wages was won and the workers obtained numerous supplementary bonuses to offset the effects of the worst inflation. In 1947, there was a new wave of strikes which in Shanghai in May almost reached a general strike protesting the temporary banning of the sliding wage scale system. The system was restored. In 1948, however, the acceleration of the inflationary movement and the aggravation of the military situation brought on a period of retreat in the labor movement. The struggle for elementary personal and family needs became paramount. Apathy spread among the people who began to look toward the armies to resolve their difficulties. There were only the disturbances of the famine, the rice riots.

Government authority disappeared completely. The desire for peace was universal. All classes of the nation felt profound loathing for the regime. Still, a class was needed to deal it the final blow. It was the peasant insurrections that overthrew Chiang Kai-shek.

The Agrarian Question

The unequal historic development of China finds its most faithful reflection in the unequal development of agriculture in the different Chinese regions. Hence it is impossible to give a simple sketch of class relations in the Chinese village since these relations vary enormously from region to region. A certain number of generalizations nevertheless remain possible. Agriculture in the provinces south of the Yangtze is in general more advanced than that of the northern provinces; in the same way, in the North in places remote from the coast and principal railway lines one finds stronger vestiges of feudalism in agriculture. In southern China, farms are smaller than in the North. But this difference simply reflects the poverty of agriculture in the North where the peasants are unable to eke out a living on smaller plots. Thus in the South of China only half the farms have an area greater than 1.64 acres and 20 percent an area greater than 3.29 acres. In northern China, 73 percent of the farms have more than 1.64 acres, not more than 50 percent are larger than 3.29 acres and 35 percent exceed 4.94 acres. These figures also indicate the extremely small dimensions of Chinese farms.

In the North of China, the small landlord system predominates; in the South, tenants and sharecroppers constitute the majority of the peasants. However, throughout China the number of independent peasants has diminished considerably since the turn of the century, as is recognized by official Kuomintang sources. In some provinces of southern China, the percentage of peasants owning their land fell extremely low – in the province of Chekiang (south of Shanghai along the sea) to 18 percent; in the rich province of Kwantung, where Canton is located, 21 percent; in Fukieng, between Chekiang and Kwantung, 25 percent, etc. More agriculture is capitalist and more small farmers have given way to the tenant and sharecropper.

In 1936, professor Chen Han-seng estimated that 65 percent of the Chinese peasantry either possessed no land or possessed too little to make the barest living.

Chinese agriculture is likewise marked by a strong differentiation in the form of payment of agrarian rent. This rent is paid sometimes in kind at a fixed rate, sometimes as a portion of the annual harvest. In general, industrial crops (cotton, tea) pay rent in money, food crops predominantly in kind. This rent is extremely high. Official Kuomintang sources fix “the average” at 40 to 60 percent of the harvest, but in numerous cases the landlords receive more than 60 percent of the harvest, as the following figures demonstrate:

Percentage of farms paying on the harvest
Province From 50% to 60%
(of the crop)
From 60% to 70%
(of the crop)
More than 70%
(of the crop)
Hopei 6.9 16.0 9.2
Szechuan 28.9 21.7 2.4
Shantung 3.4 9.4 11.7
Suiyuan 6.3 12.5 6.3
Honan 11.0 13.6 2.2
Shansi 24.8 14.3 0.8
Fukien 19.3 9.7 2.2
Tsinghai 9.1 4.5 4.5
Hunan 16.5 5.5 3.3
Kansu 4.9 4.9 2.4

To complete this picture, it must be added that in practice the landlord fixed the rate of rent as he pleased and this rate often varied from harvest to harvest in the absence of any written contract. Even with a written contract, it remained with the landlord to interpret it as he pleased since the peasant was most often illiterate. Finally, it is necessary to say that the rates cited above refer solely to rent of the land. If the landlord likewise furnished some farm tool or fertilizer, he demanded additional payment.

Backwardness of Land Relations

The landlords were themselves quite different. In the North, they lived in general amid their lands; capital went from the city to the countryside; the merchant tended to become a landlord. Contrariwise, in the South, the owner generally lived in the city. He invested the rents he received in business or industry. Capital went from the countryside to the city. In both cases, however, the capitalization of the land rent was never made through the industrialization or mechanization of agriculture, the improvement of the land or increase in the productivity of labor. It was done either by taking the land from ruined peasants and parceling it out to other peasants toiling with the same archaic methods, or by usury, trade, or by a combination of these different operations. This explains the considerable backwardness in the development of agriculture in relation to the growth of the population.

Bourgeois economists try to explain this backwardness by the lack of arable land or the excessive birth rate. In reality, it is a question of a phenomenon already well known in Russia and again today in India. Because of the lack of land, the landlord is interested in maintaining production within the limits of intensive small production similar to truck gardening, without introducing the methods of production and instruments of modern technique. Each year, all the surplus product and a part of the means of subsistence are taken from agriculture to feed and enrich the landlords, the bureaucrats and innumerable officers. This permanent crisis in agriculture cannot be resolved unless the owners are expropriated, a new concentration of land rendered impossible by the nationalization of the soil, the buying and selling of land forbidden and the countryside thus made capable of providing a market for the industries of the city, which in turn will furnish the countryside with the instruments needed to considerably raise agricultural production.

The Burden of Taxes and Usury

In addition to this basic cause of the poverty of the Chinese peasant, other evils overwhelmed him too, principal among them being the feudal vestiges, usury and the exorbitant taxes. Feudal vestiges were heavy in northern China and even in certain inland provinces of southern China. Not very far from Shanghai one could see the adobe castles of the landlords surrounded by the miserable huts of the peasants. The head of each sai (social unit composed of a number of villages) was at once judge, merchant, tax collector, usurer and executioner. He had his own army recruited on a “voluntary” basis among his servants and the poor peasants of the area. Forced labor, the lord’s feudal right over wives of the peasants, concubinage, existed on a wide scale.

Usury was the direct consequence of the exorbitant rate of rent which prevented the peasants from accumulating the least reserve fund. It expanded considerably with the commercialisation of agriculture which tied the value of the harvests to the fluctuations of the world market. If for natural causes or in consequence of the movement of prices a poor harvest made it impossible for the tenant to pay his taxes to the government and his rent to the landlord, he was obliged to borrow money from the usurer, the landlord himself or a member of his family. He was often obliged to borrow seed for the coming season or even food in order to give his family its meager pittance of millet or rice. Interest was extremely high and did not cease to mount in later years. On the eve of the war, it reached 40 to 60 percent a year. During the war it exceeded 100 percent for three months.

Who could be astonished in these conditions that “the most massive and best-built houses in the villages and small towns were always the pawnshops”? Or that the poor peasants of the province of Shansi had a bitter verse: “In good years, the landlord grows crops in the fields. In bad years, the landlord grows money in his house.”

During the war the four families sought to move in on the considerable profits of usury. Their Farmer’s Bank and above all the “government” farm cooperatives, which before the war had never advanced more thn 15 percent of the sums borrowed by the peasants, now furnished them 80 percent. These cooperatives loaned money to the village heads and small landlords who in turn loaned it to the peasant. As in the celebrated cartoon at the time of the peasant war, the tenant alone bore the cost of all these beautiful institutions which crushed him and pushed him into revolt.

The exorbitant character of the taxes has been emphasized again and again. In the history of China, the examples of insupportable tax systems which have pushed the peasants into revolt are innumerable. But never were any pushed to such extremes as in the final years of Kuomintang rule. Besides the land tax, there were a dozen different additional taxes which from 1941 on began to be collected in kind. In 1942, government monopolies were established for the sale of salt, sugar, tobacco and matches. At the same time, they established and extended the system of military requisitioning of manual labor and agricultural products which bled entire areas white.

In the article already cited, the writer Pei Wan-chung reports that in the province of Hopei in 1946 no one would accept a mow of land as a gift, the special tax exceeding in effect the annual revenue which one could squeeze from this morsel of land. Belden tells of a case where the special land tax passed annual production by more than 100 percent in the plain of Chengtu. And in the province of Honan, the same author discovered a case where the military requisitions of the Kuomintang army were one thousand times greater than the land tax. This had a precise significance – the peasants lost not only their land, their food and their clothing, they still had to sell their women and children as concubines or servants to the tax collectors or officers in charge of the requisition.

If the predominant mode of agriculture was that of small plots, the continuous expropriation of the small peasants through very high rates of rent, usury and taxes ended in the concentration of property in the hands of the village lords, usurers and merchant-usurer-compradors. It was not rate to find landlords possessing 20,000 mow (3,333 acres) or more. Ten percent of the agricultural population of China – lords and rich peasants – possessed 55 to 65 percent of the land. In the province of Shansi, 0.3 percent of the families possessed 24 percent of the land. In Chekiang, 3.3 percent of the families possessed half the land, while 77 percent of the poor peasants possessed no more than 20 percent of the land. And in Kwantung where 2 percent of the families possessed 53 percent of the land, 74 percent possessed only 19 percent of the land.

This explains why the insatiable land hunger of the peasant soon became transformed into a class hate with an exact object – hate for the landlord and all those allied with him. This hate precipitated the downfall of Chiang Kai-shek.

The Collapse of Chiang Kai-shek

When the economic and political situation becomes insupportable to all the productive classes of a society; when all the conflicts tend to become marked by force; when the classes supporting the decrepit power have lost all confidence in themselves; when indignation and revolt constantly mount; when the past and the future confront each other in every social conflict; at such a crucial time, the rulers of the country, seeing their power falling away definitively, end up despite themselves risking all in a fatally imprudent action because they are powerless to reverse the course of events. What the Varennes flight of Louis XVI was for the French aristocracy and the Kornilov coup d’etat for the Russian bourgeoisie, such was the Manchurian adventure of Chiang Kai-shek for the Chinese ruling classes.

We have seen that at the time the truce was agreed upon under the aegis of Marshall at the beginning of 1946, the Kuomintang still possessed considerable military superiority over the Communist armies. At that time nothing was yet clear-cut. The peasants had not yet definitively chosen. The uprisings were still sporadic. It was then that Chiang Kai-shek, against the advice of the Americans but with their aid, took his best armies to the north of China and Manchuria and began an offensive to drive the Communists out of the few cities which they still occupied after the departure of the Russians.

This maneuver proved fatal on all counts. Militarily, it lengthened the communication lines of the government armies to the extreme and ended in their isolation and complete encirclement far from the supply centers and vital centers of central China. Politically, it forced the Chinese Communist Party to proclaim agrarian reform to obtain the active support of the peasantry. And socially, it provoked the indignant hostility of this same peasantry because of the vexations and reprisals inflicted on them, and thus unleashed the uprisings on such a scale that the downfall of the Kuomintang became inevitable.

In vain the American advisors, including General Wedemeyer himself, counselled Chiang Kai-shek against the Manchurian campaign and proposed that he first consolidate his positions on the North plain. The generalissimo was obliged to take his chances as he had been obliged to sabotage the agreement with Mao Tse-tung. Chiang had used this tactic with success in crushing the revolution of 1927. But the revolutionary fires were then less numerous and more isolated. Now it was a question of the entire country. That is why in 1927 the lightning-blow of a concentrated force could overwhelm the main revolutionary centers one by one, while twenty years later a similar concentrated force found itself outflanked on all sides by the extent of the uprisings.

At first the generalissimo’s action seemed crowned with success. On May 23, 1946 government forces seized the important city of Changchun in Manchuria; the Communists were obliged to lift the siege of Tatung, important communication center in the province of Shansi. On October 10, the government troops seized Chihfeng, last important Communist center in the province of Jehol, and the big city of Kalgan. In November, they occupied the city of Tunghua in Manchuria, and finally, in March 1947, they occupied Yenan, which had been the Communist capital during the war with Japan.

Communists Gain Initiative

These quick successes would not have been possible had not the Communist command avoided being drawn into big engagements. The Communist troops retired systematically from the cities toward the countryside, contenting themselves with cutting communication lines between the urban centers occupied by the government troops, and harassing them constantly. Although the Kuomintang troops at the beginning of 1947 still had a numerical superiority of two to one and still greater superiority in arms, the immobilization of important contingents of the Kuomintang used to garrison the cities soon gave the advantage of the initiative to the Communist troops.

This initiative was utilized by the Communists in an audacious maneuver that was crowned with complete success. The armies of the Communist general Liu Po-cheng marched from their base positions in Shantung, close to the sea, toward the province of Honan in central China, separating the government forces which had conquered Yenan to the west from the main forces of the Kuomintang in the Suchow-Nanking area. The forces of General Liu gained the Yangtze and began to cross it in the month of June 1947. Other Communist forces followed and a new front was opened by the Communist troops on the two banks of the Yangtze in central China. At the same time, Liu continued his march, ending by establishing his general headquarters in the autumn of 1947 in the mountains between Nanking and Hankow, the very heart of the Kuomintang empire, from where in 1948 the decisive attacks were directed against the government forces. Thus began to develop the grandiose encircling maneuver which in 1948 overwhelmed the troops of the Kuomintang in the battle of Suchow and destroyed them there.

It would however be unjust to ascribe the success of the Communist maneuvers and the failure of the government maneuvers solely to the difference in strategic ability of the generals of the Kuomintang and those of the Chinese Communist Party. It is true that this difference existed, and that, adhering to the fundamental rules of the military art, the Communist chiefs sought above all to destroy the enemy , while the Kuomintang generals sought to occupy the big cities.

But in these different strategies was reflected the different structure of the two armies and the difference of their social function. Army of social conservatism, dragging with it an interminable train of parasites, living off the country and universally detested by the population, constantly losing forces when in march because of desertions and carelessness; cut from its supply bases in the South, and for that reason obliged to group itself around aviation fields where its food came by air – the army of Chiang Kai-shek was heavy, immobile, harassed continually from the rear by partisans, exposed more and more to demoralization. Army of social revolution, consciously seeking to gain the sympathy of the peasants by distribution of the land and food stocks , capable of dividing itself into innumerable columns which in course of the way became armies that grew larger with peasants in revolt; without baggage or a train of camp-followers, limiting itself to the most frugal nourishment on the level of the population of the area it traversed – Mao Tse-tung’s army enjoyed extreme mobility, unseizable by the forces of the adversary, utilizing with constantly repeated success the tactics of infiltration, seeing its morale growing at each new success and at each extension of the peasant uprisings. No matter what Chiang’s strategy, he would have lost this civil war in advance.

Peasant Revolt

As military operations, extended to an ever greater number of provinces and districts, the peasant uprisings similarly widened and deepened. The peasants had hesitated up to the summer of 1946. At that time, after months of hesitation and evasion, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party decided to permit distribution of the land. This was the sole means available to halt the offensive of the government armies at the edges of the big cities and to recruit new forces. Peasant uprisings began to be felt behind Communist lines in territories under jurisdiction of the “Border Region Government.” Organizing at first with hesitation, then with growing courage as they became conscious of their forces in the frequently held public meetings , the poor peasants expropriated 21,000 landlords in the Shansi-Hopei-Shantung-Honan Border Region during the summer of 1947. This example exercised an irresistible attraction on the peasants in neighboring areas, then on the peasants of all China.

In vain the landlords supported themselves on the forces of the Kuomintang or on their own armed bands, seeking to dam the insurrections. The “fire brigades” which they organized against the “bandits” conducted a reign of terror in the villages, but this terror continually brought new recruits to the armies and partisan groups of Mao. Numerous students and functionaries escaped from the big cities to join the Communist forces. In the second half of 1947, the peasant insurrections in Hopei, Honan and Shantung brought together a new armed force. Farther to the south, an insurrection in Kiangsi forced the Kuomintang to open a new front. Along with the students and small functionaries, women joined their forces in the revolt, rising against the thousand-year-old slavery, covering the villages with their “Women’s Associations” which had written the emancipation of women on their banners. The downfall could not be delayed longer. But the Communists understood that the easiest and most crushing victory is not that carried off on the fields of battle, but the one conquered in the minds and hearts of the opposing army. Beginning in 1948, they concentrated all their forces on the disintegration of the government armies. The democratic structure of their army, the lack of privileges among their officers, the attention paid the ranks, the consideration with which prisoners were treated, paved the way for a radical reversal of the situation.

Chiang’s officers, already profoundly demoralized, treated their own soldiers as brutally at the first military reverses as the Chiang Kai-shek regime had treated its own peasants. Thousands of wounded were abandoned without any aid, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, destitute of food and clothing, did not even receive their pay. It was on these detachments that the Communists concentrated their efforts, efforts at fraternization. Beginning in May 1947, the press announced that special “supervisory” detachments would prevent the mass desertions of government troops in Manchuria. In January 1947, the whole American-equipped 26th Division went over to the Communist camp.

A year later this movement became irresistible. In September 1948, Tsinan, capital of Shantung, was captured thanks to the desertion of the troops of the general defending the city. In the same month, the important city of Kaifeng likewise surrendered at the same time as other centers. Chiang Kai-shek lost within a few weeks three armies and 300,000 men. The situation of his best armies in Manchuria became untenable. Besieged in Changchun, the 60th and the 7th government armies lost 13,000 soldiers and officers within a few weeks to the Communist camp; then it surrendered almost without a fight. At Chinchow, another Manchurian city, 120,000 men surrendered. The Communist troops took Mukden, capital of Manchuria, rejoining under forced march in December 1948, the Communist forces of the Great Plain, occupying rapidly Tientsin and Peking and destroying the bulk of the troops of the Kuomintang in the battle of Suchow.

The military collapse of the Kuomintang completely shook the foundations of the regime. Important military chiefs like General Fu Tso-yi, commander of Peking, went over to Mao’s camp. A spirit of everyone-for-himself marked the definitive disintegration of the party in power. Seeking to save itself by desperate measures, it opened a reign of terror in Shanghai, directed not only against the Communists but even against the bourgeoisie. The latter threw its weight in the scales and demanded the end of the civil war at any price. Chiang Kai-shek resigned as head of the government and retired to his home province. Peace parleys which could not lead to anything were undertaken. Meanwhile, the Communist armies regrouped along the whole Yangtze, central artery of China.

At midnight, April 20, 1949, when the Communist ultimatum for the acceptance of terms expired, Communist troops crossed the river at numerous strategic points in face of insignificant resistance. The triumphal march on Shanghai, Nanking, Hankow, Canton and Chungking began. In a few months, Mao Tse-tung became master of all continental China. The dictatorship of the Kuomintang had lasted 22 years, exactly the same as that of Mussolini.

May 1, 1950

(The second part of this article gives a description of the current situation in China, a study of the evolution of the policy of the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war, a criticism of the intervention of the USSR in China, an analysis of the class nature of the Chinese revolution and a sketch of the future perspectives of this revolution.)


Including Sinkiang and Manchuria, excluding Tibet and Outer Mongolia, China has an area of some 3.75 million square miles, that is, somewhat less than that of Europe. With Tibet and Outer Mongolia, China becomes 15 percent bigger than Europe.

Report of Pauley, President Truman’s special envoy to Manchuria, in the spring of 1940. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 4, 1947.

Jack Belden, China Shakes the World, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1949. pp.127-28.

United States Relations with China. Based on the files of the State Department, US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., August 1949, pp.127-28.

Ibid., p.60. Belden, op. cit., pp.145 and 151.

Belden, op. cit., p.151.

Belden, op. cit., p.151.

Article by a Chinese professor in Journal of Farm Economics. Cited by John Bowman in The Chinese Peasant (Workers International News, January-February 1949).

Belden, op. cit., pp.151, 157.

Article from the Peking magazine Ta Kung Pao, reprinted in N.Y. Herald Tribune, July 8, 1947.

China Handbook, 1937-1943. Compiled by the Chinese Ministry of Information. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1943. pp.432-30.

Report by General Wedemeyer, United States Relations with China, pp.780-93.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 2, 1947.

United States Relations with China, p.770.

China Handbook, pp.612-13.

United States Relations with China, pp.782-83. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, August 21, November 29, 1947, June 5, 1948. N.Y. Herald Tribune, May 21 and August 7, 1948.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 9, 1948.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 10 and November 28. 1948. N.Y. Herald Tribune, October 10, 1948.

United States Relations with China, pp.781-82, 80, 89, 93.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 4 and June 3, 1947. United States Relations with China, p.221.

United States Relations with China, p.567.

United States Relations with China, pp.135-40.

United States Relations with China. pp.140-43.

United States Relations with China, pp.151-56.

United States Relations with China, pp.232, 158, 166.

In an interview with Marshall. December 1, 1946, Chiang-Kai-shek felt confident “the Communist forces could be exterminated in eight or ten months.” Previously, his military advisors had even declared that the Communist armies could be brought to terms within three months! (Ibid., pp.212, 216.)

See the declaration of Chu Teh, commander in chief of the Communist armies: “If the Kuomintang had carried out the People’s Consultative Council’s agreements in February, there would never have been a civil war.” (Robert Payne, China Awake, Dodd, Mead and Co., New York 1947, p.304.) Payne likewise reports that the Communist Party proposed as arbiter of a common administration of the town of Changchun, a big Manchurian capitalist, Mo Ti-huei.

Thus, to combat inflation, the government decided in September 1947 to bar importation of cosmetics and to limit the duration of banquets to two hours, limiting the number of dishes to the number of guests only, with a ceiling of 8 dishes! (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Sept. 14, 1947).

United States Relations with China, pp.940-42, 945-46, 952-55, 969.

United States Relations with China, pp.1043-44.

See Program of Political Tutelage, fundamental charter of the Kuomintang between 1928 and 1937, in China Handbook, pp.84-85.

Robert Payne, Journey to Red China, p.110, Heinemann, London 1947.

United States Relations with China, pp.925-33. Belden, op. cit., pp.394-97.

L. Trotsky. Letter to the comrades of Peking, A Strategy of Action and Not of Speculations (La Lutte de Classe, Nos.46-47, January-February 1933).

Belden, op. cit., p.422.

Payne, op. cit., p.109.

Harold Isaacs, No Peace for Asia, Macmillan, New York 1947. pp.54-55, 60-61.

Belden, op. cit., pp.28, 52-53, 55, 71, 84.

Report of John P. Davies, Jr., United States Relations with China, p.567.

Belden, op. cit., pp.83, 84, 161-62.

Belden, op. cit., p.376.

N.Y. Herald Tribune, July 8, 1947. General Wedemeyer extends this conclusion to all of China. United States Relations with China. p.759.

Belden, op. cit., p.376.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 9, 1948.

United States Relations with China, p.758.

United States Relations with China, p.799.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung. June 15, 1948.

The Times, May 19, 1948.

Belden, op. cit., p.399.

United States Relations with China, pp.238-39. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 21, 1947. Le Soir, May 22, 1947.

Belden, op. cit., p.400-02.

Belden, op. cit., p.404. United States Relations with China, pp.277, 869, 872. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, July 17, 1948.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, August 12, 1947.

Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, May 12, 1947.

Harold Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, Seeker & Warburg, Ltd., London 1938, p.28. Belden, op. cit., p.155.

China Handbook, pp.609-10.

China Handbook, p.605. One reads: “Land ownership became more and more concentrated in the hands of a small section of the people.”

Agrarian Problems in Southernmost China. Cited by Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, pp.27-28.

China Handbook. p.608.

Bowman, The Chinese Peasant, op. cit.

Agnes Smedley, Feudal Vestiges in the Chinese Countryside, in Sneevliet’s magazine, De Nieuwe Weg, 1933, No.2.

Belden cites on this subject (op. cit., p.147) the following facts: From about 1650 to the present, the population of China grew from 70 million to 450 million, while the area under cultivation increased from 130 million acres to only 260 million!

Agnes Smedley, op. cit. Belden, op. cit. pp.155, 158.

Belden, op. cit., pp.152-53. Isaacs, op. cit., p.29.

Owen Lattimore, The Making of Modern China, pp.78-84. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London 1945. Isaacs, op. cit. p.3.

China Handbook, pp.200-04.

Belden, op. cit., pp.157-58.

Belden, op. cit. pp.149-50.

United States Relations with China, pp.131-32.

Belden, op. cit., pp.360-61. The report of military operations is based essentially on the dispatches of A. Steele of the N.Y. Herald Tribune.

Military tactics outlined by Mao Tse-tung in his Christmas Day speech in 1947. Belden, op. cit., p.322.

Belden, op. cit., pp.361, 381.

Meetings to “settle accounts” or “list grievances” against the landlords. Belden, op. cit., pp.30-31, and in passing.

. Belden, op. cit., p.200.

N.Y. Herald Tribune, July 8, 1947.

Belden, op. cit., p.406. In October 1948, 4,500 students crossed over in ten days.

The Times, November 20, 1948.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 27, 1947.

Belden, op. cit., p.351.

Notably by the execution of speculators, the arrest of owners of the biggest textile mills and Tu Yueh-sen, opium king of Shanghai and head of the yellow “trade unions” of the Kuomintang. (Belden, op. cit., p.409.) Belden, as well as others, indicates that the bourgeoisie was forced to resume commercial relations with the areas occupied by the Communists. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung of November 19, 1948, estimates that 25 to 40 percent of the goods imported in the Kuomintang ports went past the Communist lines.