We are republishing this useful article from Workers World outlining the history of the Communist Party of China and calling on progressives and anti-war activists in the West to oppose the US-led New Cold War.
Workers World Party, founded in 1959, is a Marxist-Leninist party in the U.S. From its beginning, Workers World has been a staunch supporter of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, with great appreciation for the guiding role of the Communist Party of China in that revolution. As a revolutionary working-class party in the center of world imperialism, we are determined to defend all the gains of our class on a world scale. We intend to make the following essay saluting the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China available to readers in the United States, so we have included some history not widely known in the U.S. that shows the differences between the U.S. and China.
For 5,000 years, China was one of the world’s most advanced societies in culture, art and technology. It came under attack in the 18th and 19th centuries from powers whose rapid capitalist development gave them a temporary advantage in military and industrial power. This advantage led to several hundred years of the colonial looting of China and much of East and South Asia. Unequal treaties and military occupation reduced China to a country of staggering poverty, famines, social chaos, enforced underdevelopment and wars.
Most people brought up in the United States know little of the past intervention by the U.S. and other imperialist countries into China. They are unaware that, in the 19th century, armed units from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Japan imposed their will on Chinese cities. The U.S. Navy had fleets of armored ships patrolling Chinese rivers and coastal waters. This most brutal gunboat diplomacy imposed unequal treaties to reinforce their military occupations, while making China pay these imperialist countries huge indemnities. With U.S. participation, Britain unleashed two Opium Wars on China to enforce its “right” to sell opium. They called it “free trade.”
When students mobilized against Chinese rulers who were compliant to the imperialists, they were repressed. A nationalist movement grew. Until 1921, despite the courage of its young participants, they were unable to coalesce into a movement that could mobilize the masses of people — one-quarter of the world at that time — and liberate China.
What changed in 1921 was the founding of the Communist Party of China.
In the following century, the CPC led a great revolutionary upheaval of hundreds of millions of workers and peasants. By providing leadership, education and organization to the mass resistance, the CPC led the Chinese Revolution to victory. It drove out the imperialist occupying powers and broke the stranglehold of corrupt warlords, landlords and feudal elements.
Strengths of the CPC
Perhaps the most admirable characteristics of the CPC throughout its history have been (1) its ability to change strategy and tactics when confronted with new developments; (2) as a party with state power, the ability to plan far in advance, taking advantage of the socialist organization of the Chinese economy; and (3) its ability to mobilize the Chinese masses to support any changes in policy.
There have been several tumultuous historical eras since the founding of the Communist Party of China. Historic change never happens in a straight line. Change is dialectical, filled with contradiction, with sharp, sometimes unexpected twists based on material conditions. Throughout the past 100 years, the Communist Party of China has maintained its ability to move in a revolutionary direction, even through the most difficult periods.
The CPC overcame its first big challenge to adapt when, driven out of their base territory by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, its cadre went on a Long March of 7,000 miles and created a new base. Despite great casualties, this solidified the organization. Reacting to the Japanese invasion, the CPC gave priority to fighting Japanese imperialism over fighting the Nationalists. Reacting to the globe-shattering experience of World War II, the CPC took advantage of the contradictions among the imperialist powers — in particular, the war between the U.S. and Japan — to help liberate China.
With the end of that war, China was freed of the Japanese imperialists, but it faced a new would-be exploiter. The CPC, however, defied the victorious U.S. military and pressed a class war of the peasants and workers against the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government. The Red Army finally restored sovereignty to nearly all of the country in October 1949, placing the Communist Party in power in the People’s Republic of China.
October 1949: People’s Republic of China
The CPC chairperson, Mao Zedong, promised the new Communist government would ensure stable development and broad prosperity while resisting foreign intervention.
Mao declared: “[T]he Chinese people, comprising one-quarter of humanity, have now stood up! The Chinese have always been a great, courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind. And that was due entirely to oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary governments. For over a century our forefathers never stopped waging unyielding struggles against domestic and foreign oppressors.”
Mao warned: “Every day and every minute the imperialists will try to stage a comeback. This is inevitable and beyond all doubt.
“It is because we have defeated the reactionary Kuomintang government backed by U.S. imperialism that this great unity of the whole people has been achieved. . . . We shall emerge in the world as a nation with an advanced culture. Our national defense will be consolidated, and no imperialists will ever again be allowed to invade our land.”
The role of the Communist Party of China was essential in reversing colonial ruin and imperialist occupation and looting. The CPC’s firm leadership transformed the country into a united, well-organized developing society.
During the early years after the 1949 victory, an enormous reorganization took place at every level of society. The revolutionary changes in land distribution, collectivization, reorganization of industry and the Five-Year Plans made dramatic changes for millions still struggling to free themselves from a feudal class society. Infrastructure, literacy and health care were put on a new basis. This was a constant process of experimentation with rapid change.
The new republic faced U.S. imperialist hostility, which after 1949 imposed an embargo on all trade and investment in an effort to economically strangle the newborn People’s Republic of China. The U.S. set up a Kuomintang government on China’s island of Taiwan and, while invading the Korean peninsula in 1950, threatened invasion of the PRC. Despite this U.S. hostility, the PRC’s successes were an inspiration to liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America and even inspired many revolutionary youth in the imperialist countries.
1979: Opening to foreign capital
While far from the only crossroad the CPC faced in the early decades of the PRC, the 1979 decision to open the country to foreign capital investment and to allow individual capitalist development had an impact that continues today. There were times that great surges of foreign capital and growing inequality within China appeared to threaten its socialist system. As it turned out, an organized and centrally planned focus on raising the economic level of the whole population, especially in rural and most underdeveloped areas, maintained a socialist direction.
There is no doubt that enormous economic development has taken place since 1949, accelerating in recent decades. China has met and exceeded the basic material needs of its 1.4 billion population. More than 800 million people have been pulled out of dire poverty, something without precedent in modern history. The lives and expectations of the average person have been transformed. This revolutionary accomplishment deserves to be celebrated and studied.
From an illiteracy rate of more than 80% in 1949, literacy is now universal. China graduates more students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from their own universities than the rest of the world combined.
Nevertheless, the CPC leadership rightfully calls China “still developing.”
Belt and Road Initiative
While China’s economy can now compete successfully on a world scale, the CPC advocates “building a community with a shared future for humanity.” China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative provides infrastructure loans, equipment and training to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America for a network of trade routes. It plans for new rail lines, ports, highways, pipelines, telecommunications facilities and energy centers linking more than 60 countries on four continents. It includes financing to promote urban planning, potable water, sanitation and food development. China is calling it the “plan of the century.”
U.S. imperialism’s strategists fear that China’s huge, unfolding global infrastructure projects could challenge the U.S.-led world order. Unable to match Chinese aid, U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations and media outlets are waging widely publicized scare campaigns against these sorely needed development projects. They are aimed at disrupting countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Defending equality, health and the environment
The CPC has taken the lead in finding solutions to two of the major issues facing humanity today: in the short term, the COVID-19 crisis; and in the long term, the environmental crisis. And the CPC has taken decisions that defend equality within China.
The Chinese working class now numbers 623 million people. Its social weight and political consciousness are growing. Thousands of job actions have consolidated new and steady gains in pay and working conditions. The capacity of the working class to organize all future society will be decisive. By comparison, in the U.S., despite constant growth in the productivity of labor, the pay scale has not increased in the past 40 years, and the level of unionization was forced down to 10.8%, via decades of union busting and offshoring work from formerly unionized industries.
On March 4, 2014, the 3,000 delegates to China’s National People’s Congress voted to reassert greater national control over development through conscious plans to reduce poverty, increase social programs and benefits, combat extreme pollution and build a sustainable environment.
Even the World Economic Forum says the world can learn from China’s example. Some 90% of the world’s estimated 385,000 electric buses are in China today. Only 1.6% of the world’s electric city buses are in Europe, and less than 1% are in the U.S.
Today China leads the world in clean energy investment. Dramatic changes in major population centers show that it is possible, if decisive actions are taken, to begin to restore the environment and dramatically improve the quality of life.
Even three years ago an article in the Economist magazine of March 15, 2018, reported that China “through a combination of subsidies, policy targets and manufacturing incentives had spent more on cleaning up its energy system than America and the EU combined.”
Learning more about what China is doing to clean the environment, and understanding why it is structurally and politically able to do so, should open the eyes of environmental activists about what is possible.
The problem in the U.S. that holds back and even reverses programs to mitigate pollution and climate change is that this highly developed country is dominated by a decaying capitalist system and a ruling class desperate to maximize its quarterly profits at the expense of any long-term planning.
COVID-19 confirmed difference in social systems
The starkest comparison between these two social systems is reflected in the global pandemic. China’s success in containing the virus and providing vaccines to the world is an enormous scientific, social and medical accomplishment. Its containment of the disease, due to its centrally planned economy, has enabled China to become a force able to provide medical supplies and essential personal protective equipment on a global scale.
It is now able to provide hundreds of millions of doses of lifesaving vaccines. China is not only sharing the vaccines globally; more important, it is sharing the technology involved in making the vaccines with the world.
Capitalist private ownership is the biggest roadblock to solving any global problem that endangers the public good. This is confirmed by the COVID disaster in the U.S. The lack of free, accessible national health care and the compartmentalized, competitive, for-profit medical/pharmaceutical industry are a deadly combination.
It is of historic and decisive importance that the CPC leadership refuses to yield its direction of the development of Chinese society and the economy. China continues to be committed to using central planning to guide the development of essential infrastructure and central banks.
U.S. imperialism is incapable of matching China’s incredible humanitarian effort. So it is hardly surprising that China’s global aid is repeatedly criticized by the U.S. corporate media and Washington think tanks.
U.S. escalates economic and war threats
Every social relationship is subject to constant change, contention and struggle — in this case, a struggle between two contending social systems. The billionaire deciders and power brokers of U.S. imperialism are totally hostile to the dramatic improvements in the lives of hundreds of millions of people in China. Whether its stunning growth will continue — despite U.S. imperialism’s determined effort to stop it with tariffs, a trade war and military encirclement — is now debated in U.S. ruling–class circles. As the Washington Post has explained: “The trade war isn’t about trade. The trade war is about the United States trying to contain China and counteract its rise.” (Sept. 24, 2018)
The corporate owners, their strategists and think tanks are forced to admit that most of their hopes and dreams that the Chinese government could be easily overwhelmed and that Wall Street would find an open road into China are now dashed by the reality of a stable government that has wide mass support amid growing prosperity.
U.S., British and other Western policy strategists have been unable to either overtake or overturn socialism in China. Their past machinations were based on the premise that the capitalist market would quickly overwhelm China’s socialist revolution. That premise proved false.
Nevertheless, they have extended the trade war by imposing a ban on software and electronic components in an effort to block China’s companies from all global markets. The implications are far-reaching.
U.S. warships have escalated their so-called “Freedom of Navigation” exercises, sailing through the busy waterways of the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy has sent guided missile destroyers through the narrow Straits of Taiwan. There are now regular monthly offensives.
The “pivot to Asia” is a major military reorientation of the Pentagon war machine to focus on China. Aircraft carriers with nuclear weapons, destroyers, nuclear submarines and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile batteries are being moved into place.
The Biden administration is escalating the Trump administration’s hostility. It has asked Congress for more than $27 billion over five years to build a curtain of missile bases and satellite systems around China, including a constellation of radar on space platforms.
The bitter turmoil in Hong Kong stems from imperialism’s effort to create a crisis to stop China’s steady development. Hostile propaganda charging genocide in Xinjiang is another effort to attack China’s international standing and justify a new round of U.S. sanctions.
Powerful forces in the U.S., both Republicans and Democrats, are determined to exert heavy political, military and economic pressures on China to undermine state planning and state-owned industries.
Opposing imperialist war and anti-communist propaganda is never a popular position in the imperialist center. In the capitalist U.S., every social relation is poisoned with systemic racism, deeply ingrained bigotry, competitive arrogance and anti-working-class bias. Class consciousness cannot be built without building working-class solidarity with all the struggling peoples of the world.
The historic loss of socialist planning for the working class in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has had global implications. This loss reaffirms that a communist party must provide an essential bulwark against imperialist overturn.
U.S. imperialism is attempting to maintain its faltering grip on world domination and prevent the rise of People’s China — which offers an alternative world order based on multilateralism, mutually beneficial economic relations and noninterference in internal affairs, under the leadership of the CPC.
The past 20 years of U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have proven by every measure an absolute disaster for U.S. imperialism’s dreams of conquest and recolonization.
China — with a population many times larger than all these countries combined — with advanced technology, internal cohesion and many trading partners, is now in a stronger position to resist arrogant U.S. demands. Nevertheless, clarity and militant working-class solidarity are still essential in opposing all threats to China from U.S. imperialism and its giant military machine. Its allies include those who oppose imperialism from within.
Workers World Party salutes the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. We have much to learn and a world to win. U.S. imperialism — Hands off China!