Grasping the Main Thread in the History of the CPC

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-12-28 19:31
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 This year marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. As we look back on the history of the Party, it is essential that we correctly grasp the main thread that runs through the course of this history. Only with a grasp of this thread will we be able to make clear the course of the Party’s history, and in turn, understand the pattern that lies behind it. Though the history of the Communist Party of China is both intricate and complex, identifying some of the pivotal points therein will allow us to gain a firm grasp of its main thread. Of these pivotal points, the most significant can be summarized as three major revolutionary transformations and two major theoretical accomplishments. Amidst the constant interaction of revolutionary practice and scientific theories, the CPC has written its own history, and changed the face of the country over the past 90 years. 

  Party members serving the people on Party Member Service Day in Xinjian County, Jiangxi Province. During the activity, which was held on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, thousands of Party members used their professional skills to the benefit of the people. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Chen Bin

 From semi-colonialism and semi-feudalism to New Democracy: the formation of New Democracy and the establishment of Mao Zedong Thought

 Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country was a society that was torn between colonial and feudal rule. Under the rule of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism, the country was poor and weak, and the people lived in a state of destitution. Throughout the course of China’s modern history, many people of insight searched for a true way of saving China and the Chinese people, but to no avail. They failed because they pursued a path of reformism, which, despite being somewhat progressive at the time, was not a viable approach in China, and whose fate was sealed by the failure of the Hundred Days' Reform movement. While the old democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen did eventually succeed in toppling the corrupt Qing Government, thereby putting an end to thousands of years of autocratic monarchy in China, the fruits of its success were usurped by the lingering feudalistic remnants and counter-revolutionary forces comprising of warlords and politicians. At a time when China’s fate weighed on the minds of people across the land, China’s progressive intellectuals were awoken from their slumber by the salvoes of the October Revolution, and their historic choice to follow in the footsteps of the Russians was made. These people were China’s first generation of Marxists, the founders of the CPC.

 Considering that modern China was a society torn between colonial and feudal rule, China’s Marxists were required to determine the nature of China’s revolution: Would it be a socialist revolution akin to Russia’s revolution? Or if not, how would it be related to socialist revolution? At that time, there were two erroneous theories in regard to this question: the first regarded China’s revolution as a Russian-style socialist revolution, maintaining that the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal goals of a democratic revolution could be incidentally achieved through a socialist revolution. This is what we refer to as “rushing to accomplish the democratic and the socialist revolutions at one stroke.” The second maintained that there was an unbridgeable gap between a democratic revolution and a socialist revolution. According to this view, a democratic revolution would take place first, following which the proletariat would need to rebuild its revolutionary strength and wait for the right time before a socialist revolution could take place. This is what we refer to as the “theory of the second revolution.” The result of this debate would not only have a bearing on the future of China’s revolution, but also on the fate of the entire nation. In the end, it was the Chinese Marxists led by Mao Zedong who provided the correct answer to this question.

 Mao Zedong was one of the founders of the CPC, and the core of the Party’s first generation of collective leadership. Mao Zedong’s largest contribution during the democratic revolution was the development of New Democracy. Applying the fundamental principles of Marxism with the realities of China, the theory of New Democracy answered the question of how China would follow in the footsteps of the Russians, providing a scientific basis for China’s democratic revolution. At this time, Mao Zedong Thought primarily consisted of the theory of New Democracy, which is regarded as an important component in the overall scientific framework of Mao Zedong Thought. Mao Zedong pointed out: Owing to the fact that Chinese society is a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society, the task of the revolution is to overthrow imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat-capitalism. Therefore, the revolution is a democratic revolution, and not a socialist one. However, owing to the weakness of the Chinese bourgeoisie, and its inability to lead the revolution, it will be left to the proletariat to lead the revolution in their place. This revolution differs from the old pattern of democratic revolutions, which were led by the bourgeoisie, and is, in fact, a new pattern of democratic revolution, or a new democratic revolution; This revolution cannot be carried out in the same way as European revolutions, in which uprisings in central cities led to a surge in revolutionary fever; but must, by firmly relying on peasants and establishing revolutionary bases in rural areas, involve a unique approach in which rural areas surround the cities and eventually capture them; As the revolution is led by the proletariat, it is inherently linked to the socialist revolution, and there is by no means a gap dividing the two. Empowered by the theory of New Democracy, and the political lines, principles, and policies developed by the Party on its basis during the new democratic revolution, the CPC led the Chinese people to victory against powerful counter-revolutionary forces, toppling imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism, which had long weighed like mountains on the backs of the Chinese people, and establishing the People’s Republic of China, thereby fulfilling the dreams of generations of Chinese people for national independence and liberation. The victory of China’s democratic revolution can, in a certain sense, be regarded as a victory for New Democracy and Mao Zedong Thought. 

 From the new democratic period to the socialist revolution and socialist construction: the emergence of the socialist transformation theory and the further development of Mao Zedong Thought

 China’s history entered a new phase with the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Although the semi-colonial, semi-feudal China of the past was no more, China was by no means a socialist country at this time. This prompts the question: “What kind of country was it?” In fact, Mao Zedong had already answered this question in On New Democracy, which he wrote roughly ten years before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. According to Mao Zedong, the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution were linked together, much like two passages of the same essay. However, Mao Zedong did not believe that the success of the democratic revolution would immediately set in motion the socialist revolution. Instead, he pointed out that a country established through a democratic revolution would be neither a bourgeois republic, like the U.S. and European nations, nor a socialist republic, like the Soviet Union, but a “new democratic republic.” This form of state was particular to a certain phase of history, making it transitional in nature; but despite this, its form was a necessary one which could not be altered. The theory that New Democracy would progress toward socialism was one of the major theoretical contributions made by Mao Zedong following the founding of the People’s Republic of China, representing both a continuation and an expansion of his thoughts in On New Democracy.

 The theory emphasized that China’s transition to socialism had begun with the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and would end with the establishment of the basic socialist system. This was not a transition from a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society to a socialist society, nor was it a transition from capitalism to socialism as theorized by Lenin; it was not a social formation, but merely a phase of transition, one which, according to Mao Zedong’s thoughts in On New Democracy, could be referred to as the new democratic period. During this period, the tasks left unfinished by the Democratic Revolution would be completed, and the preparations necessary for the establishment of a socialist society would be made. Its duration would depend entirely on the completion of the two foregoing tasks. The main tasks during the phase of transition would be to achieve industrialization of the country and to complete the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts, and capitalist industry and commerce. Mao Zedong remained firmly committed to the theory of the transitional period, criticizing various erroneous views that challenged it. He led the Party and the Chinese people forward, achieving the initial industrialization of the country in a short period of time, and completing the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts, and capitalist industry and commerce. With this, China, the most populated country in the world, had succeeded in establishing a basic socialist system.

 The key to the success of the transitional period, which would pave the way towards socialism, was the sound initiation of the socialist transformation. The creative approach that was used to achieve China’s socialist transformation represents an outstanding contribution made by Mao Zedong following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Mao Zedong’s fundamental approach to the socialist transformation involved the following aspects: first, by employing means of organization, small producers (handicraftsmen, especially farmers) would be led onto a developmental path that would at first embody the rudiments of socialism, later exhibit more prominent socialist characteristics, and finally lead to full-blown socialist cooperation. Second, the assets of capitalist industry and commerce would be redeemed and gradually restructured to form socialist enterprises. Mao Zedong’s theories on socialist transformation marked the further development of Mao Zedong Thought, representing a huge achievement in the adaptation of Marxism to suit Chinese conditions.

 The establishment of the basic socialist system was followed by a large-scale campaign of socialist construction. Under the leadership of the Party, the socialist construction ushered in a series of sweeping achievements in economic, political, cultural, and social spheres, which changed the face of China profoundly. In response to events on the international front, such as the disturbances in Poland and Hungary, and in line with the situation in China, Mao Zedong published an essay entitled On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, which, from a theoretical perspective, analyzed the fundamental contradictions of socialist societies, identified the forms in which social contradictions manifested themselves in China following the end of large-scale class struggle, and discussed how these contradictions should be addressed. The essay was not only hugely significant from a theoretical and practical perspective at that time, but still bears a great deal of relevance to the resolution of social conflicts and the enhancement of social management in China today. While it is true that the CPC made mistakes during this period, such as the grave mistake of initiating the “Cultural Revolution,” the fact remains that this was merely an offshoot in the meandering course of history. Following the socialist revolution, the establishment of the basic socialist system, and the launch of large-scale socialist construction, the old China of the past–poor, backward, and torn between colonial and feudal rule–was replaced by a new socialist China, one who had taken its first steps towards strength and prosperity. This is what must be regarded as the mainstream of history during this period.  

 From socialist revolution and construction to a new era of reform and opening up: the emergence and development of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics

 Following the end of the “Cultural Revolution,” the situation in China and the world called for the Party to make a rapid, resolute, and strategic decision regarding the country’s overall political direction, which would have a major bearing on the fate of the entire nation. Under this historical backdrop, Deng Xiaoping led the Party back on track, searching for a socialist path that was suited to China, and eventually achieving a major breakthrough. The convening of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee marked the beginning of a new phase for China’s socialist construction, whose most prominent characteristic was reform and opening up. Through the reform and opening up drive, China completed its historic transformation from a highly centralized planned economy to a socialist market economy, going from isolation and semi-isolation to being fully open to the outside world. The policy of reform and opening up not only paved a broader path for socialism in China, but also promoted the formation and development of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics consists of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and other major strategic thoughts. Created by integrating the fundamental principles of Marxism with the specific realities of China’s reform and opening up drive, this theoretical system is the latest achievement in our efforts to adapt Marxism to suit Chinese conditions, a shining banner leading the way forward for China’s social and economic development. Although each component of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics has its own historical context and point of emphasis, there is a single consistent theme that joins them all, that is, to focus on China’s development and reform and opening up. Development and reform and opening up is a common theme that runs through Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development.

 To understand why the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics puts an emphasis on development, we must understand the historical position that China is in at present. According to Deng Xiaoping, China is currently in the primary stage of socialism, and will continue to be so for a considerable period of time. Therefore, this must be regarded as the basis for everything. The principal contradiction in the primary stage of socialism results from the inability of productive forces to satisfy the constantly rising material and cultural demands of the people. Therefore, the key to resolving this conflict is to engage in the vigorous development of productive forces. This is why Deng Xiaoping said that the fundamental task of socialism is the development of productive forces, while the core of all government initiatives is the development of the economy. Rather than simply laying emphasis on the significance of development, Deng Xiaoping went a step further, formulating a staged developmental strategy and grand objectives for China’s development. In fact, the important aspects of Deng Xiaoping’s outlook on development, such as accelerating development, achieving modernization in four aspects, and reaching a moderately prosperous level of development, were closely linked to one another. Drawing from years of discourse on the subject of development, Deng Xiaoping asserted that “only development counts,” and identified development as one of the fundamental characteristics of socialism.

 Development is also a core aspect of the important thought of Three Represents. When Jiang Zemin developed the thought of Three Represents, he identified the representation of advanced productive forces, a developmental requirement, as the first of the three represents. The important thought of Three Represents linked the issue of development to the governing role and missions of the CPC, emphasizing that “development is the top priority of the Party in governing and rejuvenating the country.” This not only expanded on Deng Xiaoping Theory, but also further developed Marxist theories on party building. Like Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin also gave high emphasis to the importance of fully understanding the concept of development, pointing out that a solid grasp of the relationships between speed and benefits, and between quantity and quality in the course of development was needed. He believed that the key to balancing out those relationships was to assume new approaches to development and transform the pattern of economic growth. This exerted a far-reaching influence on the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics, as it not only enriched Deng Xiaoping’s outlook on development from a theoretical perspective, but also strategically readjusted China’s developmental approach for the period that followed.

 Following the Sixteenth National Party Congress, the CPC Central Committee, with Hu Jintao as the General Secretary, realizing that China has entered a new period of rare strategic opportunity in the new century, put forward the Scientific Outlook on Development, which aims to address the reality that although China is developing at a relatively fast pace, it still faces the problems of imbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable development. This culminated in the emergence of “scientific development and social harmony” as concepts of governance. In his report at the Seventeenth National Party Congress, Hu Jintao gave an important summary of the Scientific Outlook on Development, saying: “The Scientific Outlook on Development takes development as its essence, putting people first as its core, comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development as its basic requirement, and overall consideration as its fundamental approach.” The essence is development, because development is pivotal to building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and accelerating socialist modernization. The core is to put people first, because the fundamental tenet of the CPC is to wholeheartedly serve the people, the struggles and efforts of the CPC are entirely for the benefit of the people, and serving, safeguarding and developing the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people has always been the starting point and objective of the Party and the government. The basic requirement is comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development, because this is the only form of development that is healthy, harmonious, and beneficial for both the country and the people. The fundamental method is overall consideration in five respects, namely, coordinating development between urban and rural areas, between regions, between society and the economy, between humans and nature, and coordinating domestic development with external openness, because this is the only means of ensuring comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development. The Scientific Outlook on Development is a basic principle that China’s development must adhere to at the present time; it is a fundamental guide that will lead forward China’s economic, political, cultural, social, and eco-cultural development. 

 Reform and opening up is another important aspect and essence of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It was Deng Xiaoping who first said that socialism needs reform. According to Deng Xiaoping, although China had succeeded in establishing the basic socialist system, it still implemented an economic system that hampered the development of productive forces; the only way to liberate productive forces, and thereby allow them to develop on a large scale, was by reforming the old system. He said that productive forces could be liberated through reform much as they could through revolution. Reform does not change the basic socialist system, rather, it is a self-improvement conducted within the system. However, when looked at in terms of the depth and breadth to which it removes the old system, reform can be viewed as a revolution. Deng Xiaoping proposed an approach for the reform of the economic system that was oriented toward the market economy. This was a major theoretical breakthrough, as it ended the traditional misconception in China that the market economy equated to capitalism, and opened up a vast range of prospects for the reform of China’s economic system in practice. In addition to pushing for reform, Deng Xiaoping also identified opening up to the outside world as a means of addressing China’s long-term state of isolation and semi-isolation, establishing it as a fundamental national policy to be adhered to in the long term. Deng Xiaoping was the chief architect of China’s reform and opening up. His thoughts on reform and opening up have since been inherited and expanded on by the central collective leaderships of the Party that have followed.

 The third generation of the Party’s central collective leadership, with Jiang Zemin at its core, clearly stated that the goal of China’s economic reforms is to establish and develop a socialist market economic system in which the public sector and distribution according to work play the dominant role, while other forms of economic sectors and distribution play a supplementary role. This represented a more specific take on Deng Xiaoping’s market oriented approach to reform. At the Third Plenary Session of the Fourteenth CPC Central Committee, the Party deliberated and passed the Decisions on Several Matters Regarding the Establishment of the Socialist Market Economy, which emphasized that the socialist market economy is linked to the basic socialist economic system, and that the purpose of establishing this system is to allow the market to play a basic role in the allocation of resources under the macro-control of the government. According to the Decisions, in order for this goal to be achieved, China must continue to maintain the dominant role of public sector while allowing the public and non-public sectors to develop simultaneously. At the same time, it must further transform the way that state-owned enterprises are run, so as to establish a modern corporate structure. Following years of efforts under the overall leadership of the CPC Central Committee, China not only made enormous progress in the reform of its economic system, but also took solid steps toward the reform of other systems. Jiang Zemin led the Party in a series of important initiatives that would expand the scope of China’s openness to the outside world and led China into the World Trade Organization. This represented a new victory for the policy of opening up.

 In a new century and a new phase, the Party Central Committee, with Hu Jintao as the General Secretary, has introduced a new approach which closely links the idea of scientific development to reform. Hu Jintao has pointed out that the innovation of systems and institutions is not only a path that must be taken to resolve numerous conflicts and problems, both economic and social, but also an essential requirement of the Scientific Outlook on Development. He emphasized that reforms must be deepened, and efforts must be made to create a framework of systems and mechanisms that are conducive to the attainment of scientific development, thereby providing greater potential for the development of China’s productive forces. In line with this principle, China has gone on to make a series of major achievements in reform over recent years, which have covered agriculture, administration, management of state-owned assets, state-owned enterprises, culture, education, medical care, and public health. These accomplishments have provided the institutional basis that will guarantee the implementation of the Scientific Outlook on Development at a deeper level. The extensive mode of economic development long practiced in China has become a major constraint on the country’s further economic development. For this reason, the Party Central Committee, with Hu Jintao as the General Secretary, has placed a great emphasis on transforming China’s pattern of economic development, and has made a series of important decisions in order to promote such a transformation. Transforming China’s pattern of economic development is both a matter of development and a matter of reform. This transformation is, in itself, a comprehensive reform initiative, one that will involve significant changes to the layout of interests within the country. At the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventeenth Party Central Committee, the Party identified scientific development and transforming the pattern of economic development as the theme and the main thread of China’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan respectively, meaning that they have become guiding principles for China’s economic and social development that must be adhered to in the period ahead. The Twelfth Five-Year Plan has also proposed a series of important principles in regard to opening up to the outside world, such as improving the pattern of regional opening up, optimizing the foreign trade structure, integrating “bringing in” with “going global,” and actively participating in economic globalization and regional cooperation. These measures are expected to play an important role in expanding the overall scope of China’s openness to the outside world.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.13, 2011)

Author: Former Editor-in-Chief of Qiushi Journal   

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