An Epoch-Making Event(Extract)

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 “The birth of the Communist Party in China was an epoch-making event.” These words, which appear in the last article of Selected Works of Mao Zedong, bear a great deal of weight, leaving one with a lasting impression. They prompt the question: why did such an epoch-making event take place in China 90 years ago? In the past, some people claimed that Marxism-Leninism was an “imported product” in China, and that the CPC was “born prematurely.” However, a brief look at the state of China at that time reveals that such claims were, in fact, completely groundless. 

 Children releasing multi-colored balloons in front of the Memorial Hall of the Site of the First National Congress of the CPC. On May 20, 2011, an activity named “Review the Oath to Join the Party, Remember the Mission and Continue to Advance” was held at the birthplace of the CPC in Shanghai. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Guo Changyao 

 I. The inherent basis for the birth of the CPC  

 The Chinese people, once the founders of an incredible ancient civilization, were made to suffer deep miseries in modern times. No longer in control of their own destiny, they found themselves manipulated and trampled on by Western colonialists. As the fate of the nation hung in the balance, the Chinese people engaged in all manner of attempts to save themselves from their bitter plight, such as the Westernization Movement, the Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898, and the Yihetuan Movement of 1900. Though each of these events played its own historical role, none was able to provide a fundamental solution to the problems that China faced. This is what led to the Chinese Revolution of 1911, which was carried out under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The Revolution of 1911 succeeded in toppling the autocratic system of feudal monarchy under which China had been ruled for more than 2,000 years. It was, in every sense, a bourgeois democratic revolution, and the first of several historical changes that would reshape China in the 20th century. However, the Revolution of 1911 was subject to historical limitations of its own, failing to fully uproot imperialism and feudalism in China. It was thus unable to fundamentally change the nature of Chinese society, and thereby put an end to the suffering of the Chinese people.

 This leads us to the question: why was the Revolution of 1911, a revolutionary movement on a national scale, unable to provide an ultimate answer to China’s problems? There were at least three lessons to be learned from the Revolution of 1911: first, the revolutionaries at that time failed to pursue a revolutionary program that thoroughly opposed imperialism and feudalism. Many of the revolutionaries involved in the movement failed to recognize the true face of imperialism, and feared that a drastic revolution would prompt a fierce backlash from the major imperialist powers. Most of them also lacked a thorough understanding of feudal forces, regarding the rulers of the Qing Dynasty as their only enemies. For this reason, once the Qing government had been overthrown and the Republic of China founded in its place, many people mistakenly thought that the revolution was over, and lacked the motivation to push further ahead. The second reason that the revolution was unable to solve China’s problems was its failure to mobilize and draw strength from the working people, who, at the lowest echelons of society, represented the absolute majority of the Chinese population. In particular, the revolution failed to enact significant changes to rural areas by organizing these people. As a result, the foundations of the revolution were extremely weak. In contrast to the forces of imperialism and feudalism, the revolutionary forces were isolated, weak, and prone to compromise. Third, the Chinese Revolutionary League, the organization which led the revolution, lacked a solid organizational structure. Owing to the intricate nature of its membership, the inner structure of its organization began to crumble as the revolution began to gain momentum, which prevented it from becoming a strong leading core to carry the revolution forward.

 In summary, the Revolution of 1911 lacked a revolutionary political party composed of progressives who shared common ideals and adhered to a strict code of discipline that could advance a clear and scientific revolutionary program and mobilize and rely on the great majority of the masses of the people. This was the most fundamental lesson to be drawn from the revolution. However, it must be noted that these shortcomings were, in fact, an inherent outcome of the immature social conditions in China at that time.

 After the Revolution of 1911, China fell under the dark rule of the Northern Warlords. As the state of the nation deteriorated on a daily basis, a revolutionary change was in the making. At that time, a magazine entitled New Youth, founded by Chen Duxiu, began to sum up the lessons of the Revolution of 1911. It stated that China had been unable to establish a solid republican system because of its failure to thoroughly criticize the old revolution, old culture, and old ethical codes, stressing that the minds of most Chinese people were still muzzled by autocracy and ignorance. It strongly advocated the concepts of democracy and science, which it referred to as Mr. De and Mr. Sai respectively. The key ideological weapons in the early stages of the New Cultural Movement were still “independent personality” and “emancipation of individuality,” which were both centered on the individual. However, the harshness of reality made people realize that there could be no “independence” or “emancipation” for the absolute majority of the people if society remained so corrupt and if deeply entrenched old forces were not removed. This reality urged the people to continue to search for the path ahead. Thus, history called for new and advanced social and political forces to lead China forward.

 Major progress was made in China’s national industries during the First World War. As the development of industry reshaped China’s society, the conditions of the working class became an issue of increasing concern, and social issues became more and more prominent. Under this backdrop, increasingly loud calls to “transform society” and “build a new society” captured the attention of many progressive youths. In 1917, the October Revolution erupted in Russia, turning the ideal of socialism into a reality. For the Chinese people, who had suffered from oppression and humility in the modern era, it presented a new world to which they were deeply drawn. The May Fourth Movement of 1919 was a great movement of ideological enlightenment. It promoted the spread of Marxism in China, allowing for its integration into the workers’ movement that was taking place at the time. From that point on, Marxism-Leninism began to occupy the mainstream position among China’s progressives, laying down the ideological and organizational foundations for the birth of the CPC. For this reason, we may regard the May Fourth Movement as the beginning of a new era, and the start of China’s New Democratic Revolution.  

 II. It is no exaggeration to say that the founding of the CPC was “an epoch-making event”  

 The birth of the CPC was “an epoch-making event.” The CPC was an entirely new entity whose formation conformed to historical trends. From the very beginning, the CPC defined itself with distinctive features that no other political party in China’s history had ever possessed.  

 Firstly, the CPC declared that the scientific theories of Marxism would constitute its guiding ideology, and actively applied these theories in its observation and analysis of China’s problems. We may say that the CPC came into being only after the Chinese people had embraced Marxism. In the years leading up to the founding of the CPC, Li Dazhao established a research society for Marxist theories in Beijing, while Chen Duxiu established a research society for Marxism in Shanghai. In 1920, Chen Wangdao, one of the founders of the CPC, translated the Manifesto of the Communist Party into Chinese and had it published. This was the first complete translation of the basic Marxist writings into Chinese. In November of the same year, the communist organization in Shanghai drafted the Manifesto of the Communist Party of China, expounding the ideal of a new communist society envisioned by Chinese Communists. After the founding of the CPC, the Party’s most important task was to observe and analyze the actual situation in China by applying the scientific theories of Marxism that it had acquired. In January 1922, the foreword of Vanguard, an organ of the Socialist Youth League of China, read: “The foremost task of this journal is to study the objective realities of China in an endeavor to identify the most appropriate and practical plan for the resolution of China’s problems.” In July of the same year, the Resolution on Democratic United Front passed at the Second National Party Congress clearly stated: “In name China is a republic, but in reality it is still ruled under the grip of feudal warlord forces. Externally, it is a semi-independent country controlled by international capitalist and imperialist forces.” “We, the Communist Party, should unite all of China’s reformist parties and groups to form a democratic united front, whose goal shall be to wipe out the feudal warlords, overthrow the oppression of imperialists, and build an independent state that is truly democratic.”

 At that time, China had been a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society for over 80 years. However, for a considerably long period of time, the Chinese people had failed to realize that this was the case. This meant that they lacked a scientific understanding of the purpose of the revolution. Soon after its founding, the CPC took an unprecedented and unequivocal stance against imperialism and feudalism in its program for the democratic revolution (although at the beginning it did not mention opposition to the feudal land system). In fact, this clearly expounded the relationship between the maximum and minimum program of the Party. It enabled the Chinese people, who were still shrouded in the darkness, to gain a basic understanding of China’s national conditions at that time. With a clear objective to fight for, they began to understand the necessity of approaching the revolution in two steps.  

 Secondly, by penetrating the lowest levels of society, the CPC mobilized and drew strength from the working people, who represented the majority of the Chinese population. This became a source of strength that would drive forward the cause of the CPC. In 1922, the newly founded Communist Party issued the First Manifesto of the CPC Central Committee on the Current Situation, in which it stated: “The CPC, as the vanguard of the proletariat, struggles for the proletariat and for the proletarian revolution.” The first resolution of the CPC, which was passed at the First National Party Congress, devoted more than half of its content to ways of appealing to the workers. Many intellectual Party members who had embraced Marxism took off their long robes and started workers’ night schools and clubs in factories. The China Trade Union Secretariat was founded just days after the conclusion of the First National Party Congress, and branches were subsequently set up around the country. Following the sailors’ strike in Hong Kong, the CPC initiated and led a series of influential struggles around this time, including the Railway Workers’ and Coal Miners’ Strike in Anyuan, the Coal Miners’ Strike in Kailuan, and the Strike by the Workers of Beijing-Hankou Railway. In addition to focusing on the workers’ movement, the CPC also began to launch its struggle against the oppression of landlords by initiating peasant movements and establishing peasant associations in the countryside.

 The CPC led the Chinese revolution to success by encircling the cities from the countryside and seizing political power by force. Despite this, however, the CPC was not born in the countryside, but in the cities. The leaders of the CPC, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi, were all engaged in workers’ movements in the cities before moving to the countryside to lead peasant movements and guerilla warfare. Their ideology was oriented towards the working class, who represented the advanced productive forces of society. This not only embodied significant foresight, but also gave rise to extremely powerful organizational forces. The importance of this point must be noted: without such an ideology, China’s revolution would have been nothing but a peasant uprising akin to those of the past, and its success would have been impossible. This is something that had been proven repeatedly throughout several millennia of Chinese history, and ultimately by the peasant uprising of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. 

 Thirdly, the CPC emerged as a strong revolutionary political party composed of progressives who shared common ideals and adhered to a strict code of discipline. This allowed it to become a core leading force behind the revolutionary cause. For the revolution to succeed under such difficult and complicated circumstances, a powerful core capable of bringing the people together in a joint struggle was needed. From the very beginning, the CPC stressed that Party members must share common ideals and adhere to a strict code of discipline. Through its struggles with the anarchists, who were highly influential at that time, the CPC showed people that upholding the absolute freedom of individuals would make it impossible for the working class to become a concentrated force, and would actually benefit the bourgeoisie in their efforts to disintegrate the workers’ movement. Establishing a contingent for the CPC was by no means an easy matter. This involved a constant process of grouping, division, and re-grouping. For example, of the thirteen delegates to the First National Party Congress, some went on to become the leaders of the CPC, such as Mao Zedong and Dong Biwu; several laid down their lives heroically, such as Deng Enming and Chen Tanqiu; several chose to leave the Party; and some even became traitors and enemies of the revolution, such as Chen Gongbo, Zhou Fuhai and Zhang Guotao, eventually being expelled from the Party. In fact, this was a process of refinement that would allow the CPC to grow progressively stronger.

 These three features had never been demonstrated by any other political party in China. Viewed in the context of the lessons left by the Revolution of 1911, we can clearly see that the founding of the CPC was a milestone in China’s modern revolutionary history. Therefore, it is not at all an exaggeration to call the birth of the CPC an “epoch-making event.” In fact, this is something that has actually become more evident with the passage of time.

 When the CPC was founded, few people realized that this was an “epoch-making event” in China. Regardless, those fearless Chinese Communists devoted themselves to creating a new and more rational society in this ancient land. Twenty-eight years later, the CPC led the people of China to success in the New Democratic Revolution, and began its struggle to build a new state and a new society. Now, sixty-two years has elapsed since the founding of New China. During this period, particularly in more than 30 years of reform and opening up, the CPC, adhering to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, has led people of all ethnic groups in China toward the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, captivating the world with its glorious achievements.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.11, 2011)

Author: Former Deputy Director of the Party Literature Research Centre of the CPC Central Committee

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