Northite Revisionism on Chinese Revolution of 1949

The following is excerpted from recent discussion in the IBT:

A few months ago the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS—daily on-line publication of the Socialist Equality Party headed by David North) made a significant reevaluation of the nature of the Chinese state.

In 1917 No. 26 (2004) we observed that WSWS articles on China “studiously avoid the elementary question as to whether China is a bourgeois or deformed workers' state,” while combining descriptions of a ruling “Stalinist bureaucracy” with references to Chinese “capitalism.” Recently, however, the Northites have proclaimed that the state that issued from the 1949 Chinese Revolution was bourgeois from its origins.

A lengthy report by WSWS China "correspondent" John Chan to a WSWS International Editorial Board meeting in late January was subsequently posted as a three-part series on the WSWS under the title "The implications of China for world socialism" (March 9, 10, and 11) In the third part Chan claims that, following the smashing defeat suffered at the hands of the Guomindang in 1927, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “was transformed into a radical nationalist movement in alliance with sections of the Chinese bourgeoisie.” A few paragraphs later Chan asserts: “Like other bourgeois nationalist movements, the Maoist regime had no difficulty in abandoning its ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric and transforming China into a cheap labour platform [with the onset of Deng-era ‘market reforms’].”

In 1949, when this “bourgeois nationalist movement” finally triumphed in its civil war with the Guomindang, it created a new state in its own image:

“Rather than some kind of deformed workers’ state, it would more accurate to characterise Mao’s China from the outset as a deformed bourgeois state. The anti-working class character of the regime has been apparent ever since 1949, as the Beijing bureaucracy suppressed any independent role of the workers. Under ‘market reform,’ Beijing has consciously acted as the collective representative of the interests of both Chinese capitalists and foreign investors, using police-state measures to enforce the ruthless exploitation of the working class.”

Rather than tying themselves in knots trying to explain how a deformed workers’ state could be seamlessly transformed into a bourgeois one, the Northites have decided that “Communist China” must have been a capitalist state (albeit a “deformed” one) from the beginning. In a subsequent article entitled “China’s new five- year plan: futile hopes and promises” (23 March), Chan dismisses the introduction of Soviet-style central planning under Mao:

“In the 1950s, China’s ‘Five-Year Plan’ was an imitation of Soviet planning methods used to regulate a state-controlled, shut-in economy. While each plan was declared to be ‘socialist’, it was not so different from the methods of national economic regulation used by bourgeois regimes in countries such as India and Turkey. Even the rival, anti-communist Kuomintang dictatorship in Taiwan had its own ‘four-year plan’ in the 1950s and 1960s.

“None of this had anything to do with genuine socialist planning, which involves the rational organisation of economic processes to fulfill the social needs of humanity as a whole. It requires the democratic participation of the producers and consumers to properly organise the productive forces, not simply within the borders of one country, but across the globe.”

The expropriation of the national bourgeoisie as well as foreign capital and the subordination of the key elements of the economy to centralized control was qualitatively different than what was loosely referred to as economic “planning” in countries like India and Turkey. What the Northites have done is extend to China the absurd position, first developed by Gerry Healy (the former leader of the international tendency from which the WSWS is politically descended), that Cuba remained capitalist because the working class did not exercise direct political power.

It is hardly surprising that the Northites are enthusiastic about the various “democratic” movements in China, particularly Hong Kong. While praising “the aspirations of ordinary working people for democratic rights,” the WSWS admonishes the “democrats” for “seeking to confine the opposition to manoeuvres within the present anti-democratic framework” (John Chan, “Hong Kong ‘political reform’ package rejected,” 10 January: Chan offers no criticism of the role of organizations with explicitly anti-Communist and counter-revolutionary politics in the Hong Kong demonstrations. Perhaps the Northites hope that “democracy” will correct the deformities of the Chinese “bourgeois state.”

In a somewhat parallel development the WSWS seem to have concluded that, with Lula’s victory, the Brazilian trade union bureaucracy “transformed” itself into a layer of the bourgeoisie:

“When, in 2002, it finally came to power the PT was already clearly a petty-bourgeois party, whose working class roots had long since been torn out through multiple bourgeois elections and financial contributions from big capital.

“But this was merely the beginning. The party, as could be foreseen with a Marxist analysis, was to finally ally itself, in an open and direct manner, with finance capital. This alliance, however, would have such a dimension that the entire hierarchy of the trade union bureaucracy transformed itself into a true new ‘class,’ or more precisely, a new bourgeois layer at the service of financial capital.”
—Hector Benoit, 20 April, “The definitive bankruptcy of centrism in Brazil,”]

Of course, the Northites claim that trade unions everywhere have become capitalist institutions that are completely incapable of defending even the basic interests of workers—so perhaps the Brazilian “transformation” is not so remarkable.

Posted: 25 August 2006