Home > 2021 > Centenary of Foundation of Communist Party of China | Anil Rajimwale

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 32, New Delhi, July 24, 2021

Centenary of Foundation of Communist Party of China | Anil Rajimwale

Friday 23 July 2021, by Anil Rajimwale

The completion of hundred years of CPC (Communist Party of China) is a historic event, both in its positivity and negativity. Officially, its centenary was completed on July 1, though the foundation congress was held in third week of July.

 It has been a fascinating journey for the party as well as for Chinese revolution, full of extraordinary events, successes and tragedies. Second in importance only to Russian revolution, Chinese revolution has left a lasting imprint on Asia and world. Wonderfully absorbing, this revolution is unlike any other, unbelievably rich in mass upsurge, full of twists turns. CPC played a great role in raising the slumbering giant to consciousness. Simultaneously, it also was a tragic experiment in what Karl Marx characterized as utopian socialism, in which masses were treated as guinea pigs for social engineering. Lenin had a foreboding of this kind of ‘socialism’ when he criticized petty-bourgeois socialism in his polemics against Narodniks.

Sun Yat-sen and anti-feudal revolution of 1911

 Foundation of CPC and Chinese revolution cannot be understood without reference to the great anti-feudal revolution of 1911, called Xinhai Revolution, resulting in the inauguration of Dr Sun Yat-sen as China’s Provisional President and later to foundation of the KMT or Kuomintang (Guomindang) Party. KMT grew out of Nationalist Party formed earlier by Sun Yat-sen.

 Sun Yat-sen was characterized by Lenin as “a revolutionary democrat, endowed with the nobility and heroism of a class that is rising, not declining...” This referred to the rising revolutionary bourgeois democracy of China. Lenin said that “Every line of Sun Yat-sen’s platform breathes a spirit of militant and sincere democracy.”

 Sun Yat-sen replaced the older ‘Three principles’ of KMT by the crucial new ones. After Russian revolution, KMT got radicalized, and Dr Sun developed three significant principles: Friendship with Soviet Union, friendship with Communist Party of China (CPC), and deep concern for workers and peasants. They were culmination of bourgeois democratic tendencies gathering force in society. KMT was a bourgeois democratic party and its aims coincided with bourgeois democratic revolution.

Foundation of CPC (1921)

 May 4th movement of 1919 brought Marxism and other radical ideologies to China. Foundation of CPC was preceded by a number of Marxist study circles all over China founded by the well-known intellectuals Li Dachao, Liu Shaoqi, Chen Duziu and others. It was under Li Dachao that Mao Zedong initially worked in the library of Peking University. Liu worked mainly among the working class, while Mao and many others among the peasants. CPC was simultaneously the product of mass movements and Russian revolution.

  Series of initial consultations led to emergence of a group of about 50 communists, who held their first congress in 106, Rue Wantz, Shanghai, on July 23, 1921. The venue now is CPC History Museum, which resurrects scenes of the congress with statues of delegates. 13 delegates met, including Chen Duxiu (ChenTu-ziu), Li Dazhao (Li Ta-chao), Zang Guotao, Tan Pingshan, Chen Gongbo, Dong Biwu, He Mengxiong, He Shuheng and others. Mao was present as one of the two delegates from Hunan.

 Voitinsky and Sneevliet (‘Maring’) were Comintern representatives in China greatly helping preparatory work. Sneevliet was a Dutch Communist, who worked in Holland and Dutch East Indies (Indonesia etc). Later Mikhail Borodin for long years functioned as Comintern representative living in China, advising KMT and CPC. He even was included on the Central Executive Committee of KMT. The name ‘Zongguo Gongchan Dang’ (Communist Party of China) was adopted. The police intervened on July 30 and broke up the congress. The congress then moved to South Lake, and continued its deliberations in a boat!

Chen Duxiu was elected first general secretary.

United front with KMT (1921-27)

 After Dr Sun’s initial presidency, Yuan Shihkai, a rightwinger, became president. Yuan died in 1916, and political power in China got divided between mainly two centres: Peking (Beijing) government in north and Canton, Nanjing and Wuhan governments of KMT, including CPC, in south.

 Sun Yat-sen was very close to CPC, and it became possible for the newly formed CPC to enter into united front with it. He was a near Marxist. KMT, particularly its leftwing, worked closely with CPC. There were several Communists in the CEC of KMT, including Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, Deng Yanda (formally not in the CPC), and others. Many of them were in-charges of various KMT committees.

 KMT and CPC launched armed ‘Northern Expedition’ in early 1920s against warlord governments. Dr Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925, replaced by Chiang Kai-shek. United front continued till Chiang turned against Communists in Shanghai in 1927, and then in Wuhan, but Communist General Ye Ting fought back. In Beijing (Peking), Li Dazhao and 19 other communists were executed.

Historic Long March and Second United Front (1927-37)

 Dr Sun’s wife Madam Soong Ching Ling (Mdm. Sun) played a great role in trying to keep the UF intact. She represented radical left KMT faction and was one of the leaders of the continued Northern Expedition. She never gave up UF with CPC, though never did formally join the CPC. She went on to become one of the vice-presidents of China after liberation in 1949. Leftwing of KMT led by her broke up with Chiang Kai-shek.

 The ‘Great March’ is immortalized by Edgar Snow in his famous work Red Star Over China, himself participating.

 In January 1935, Polit Buro meeting in Zunyi (Tsunyi) elected Mao Zedong chairman of party, a turning point. The meeting is also controversial on several counts, as it allegedly usurped several functions of a party congress. During mao’s leadership, party congresses were became a rarity. It is also alleged that Zunyi meeting was timed by Mao with the absence of several key CPC leaders.

 Mao decidedly emerged as the leader of CPC and Chinese revolution.

 Japan attacked China in 1931 and on a massive scale in 1936, invading huge areas including Manchuria.

 CPC gave clarion call for nation-wide broad united front with KMT and other forces, without being disturbed by the latter’s anti-CPC activities. It was able to persuade KMT, thus helping fight back the Japanese. CPC established many ‘liberated zones’.

 One interesting fact is that a Medical Mission from Indian National Congress went to China in 1936 at Nehru’s initiative, with five doctors including the famous Dr Kotnis, who served the liberated areas, lived, married and worked in China and died there. His statue was erected there and a film on him by V Shantaram made. The Mission also included Dr Bose and others.

CPC and Second World War

 CPC and Mao presented model examples of united front tactics before and during the WWII. This the extreme left and Maoists need to know. United front of CPC and KMT spread rapidly, and actually helped CPC to strengthen its bases. CPC showed how UF tactics, if followed correctly, helped CPC grow in respect and mass base. New Fourth Army led by Gen Ye Ting and Eighth Route Army under Gen Zhu De played crucial role in alliance with KMT forces to throw back Japanese forces.

Liberation in 1949

 Soviet and Allied victories over fascism in 1945 created favourable situation for Chinese revolution. Though War ended in Europe, it continued to rage in Asia. Soviet troops fought back Japanese armies in Manchuria defeating their key divisions including the elite Kwantung Division. This enabled PLA to pour into this vast province. Simultaneously, Liu Shaoqi (Liu Shao-chi) and others organized industrial and urban areas, turning Manchuria into crucial base for revolution.

 Soviet armies defeated Japanese armies by September 1945, proving uselessness of dropping atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US.

 It is interesting to note that CPC at the initiative of Mao Zedong proposed a coalition government with KMT in 1946, a fine example of UF tactics. Mao Zedong especially wrote ‘On Coalition Government’ in support of this move. This again is a lesson for sectarian-dogmatic concepts. KMT refused, and CPC waited for a year before counter-attacking on a wide front.

 Chiang Kai-shek government retreated, fled from Peking to Nanking and then to Formosa (Taiwan). PLA surrounded Peking and entered it in September 1949. People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on October 1, 1949, thus completing ‘New Democratic Revolution’, politically.

Strategy and tactics of Chinese revolution

 China was predominantly a terribly feudal society, divided into feuding warlords, each with own area of domination, fighting constantly. There was no bourgeois democracy, no elections, no parliament, no parties officially. Democratic rights including press and open struggles were next to impossible. So, main form of struggle had to be armed one. The centre was always weak, and warlords dictated terms. What China needed was a bourgeois democratic revolution, ‘new democratic revolution’ in CPC terms.

 China also was predominantly a peasant, petty bourgeois and small producers’ in social composition.

 Thus the conditions in China were qualitatively different from that in India. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to follow Chinese tactics and methods in countries like India. Copying Chinese revolution has done immense harm to Indian revolution and democratic movement.

 Main enemies of revolution in China were imperialism, feudalism and comprador bourgeoisie. Compradors were particular type of parasitic bourgeoisie dependent on internal and external trading without interest in industrialization. They were different from the enlightened national bourgeoisie. China had a weak industrial base. The united front in China included the national bourgeoisie, along with workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals etc.

 It will be interesting to know that the Chinese Red Flag depicts one big star representing CPC, and four smaller ones representing working class, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie. This is notable, and it would be interesting to note the reaction of the ‘ultra-revolutionaries’ to this act of ‘class collaboration’!

 There are thus basic qualitative differences between situations in China and India. Chinese tactics do not apply here. Even Chinese leaders like Zhou Enlai and others insisted that Indian Communists must not copy Chinese methods.


It was a huge task to transform China from extreme feudal backwardness to path of progress. As the main task, lands of the feudal lords had to be taken over and distributed among the mass of poor peasantry. Besides, industrialization had to be undertaken and a strong state sector built. The task for CPC was to guide democratic transformation of China on way to socialism. There was no hurry to ‘bring’ socialism, which was a distant goal. China was a land of petty producers, who had to be gradually transformed.

 By 1956, land reforms were completed with take-over of lands of feudal lords and their distribution among the landless. Some cooperative farms and a few state farms were also built. Industrialization began with state help in raw materials, tools and equipments, loans and infrastructure etc. Feudals and comprador bourgeoisie were eliminated as a class.

 The 8th congress of CPC was held in 1956. It set realistic aims for the future. The party congress was being held in an internal and international atmosphere of optimism and new potentials for world revolution, democratic transformation and move towards liberation.

 World Communist movement (WCM) was making new evaluation of the post-WWII situation, and formulating new tasks. The famous 20th CPSU congress took place in 1956, setting the tone for fashioning new outlook. New forms and methods with democratic revolution as a key to future was being assessed. Parliamentary and peaceful paths to socialism were being worked out. Peaceful coexistence emerged as the key to world situation. Communist movement had to formulate new strategies and tactics for future. World Communist conferences of 1957 and 1960 were to take place. CPC found itself in tune with the wavelengths of the WCM.

 Mao Zedong played a minor role at the 8th CPC congress, though universally recognized as leader of Chinese revolution. A collective leadership was visible, to be shattered in next few years with the rise of Maoism. Mao appeared briefly, delivering a short opening address. Liu Shaoqi delivered long Political Report, with Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) reporting on 2nd 5-year plan, and some other proposals and reports were presented.

 Political Report by Liu Shaoqi declared that China had achieved a “virtual completion of the stage of bourgeois democratic revolution...”, beginning a transition to socialism. There were no hasty conclusions and no impossible tasks set, as was to happen later. It was a balanced and sober report. CPC took decisions on a realistic evaluation of the given situation. There was to be no ‘utopian’ and adventurist rush for ‘socialism’, though that was the goal.

 Report on Party Constitution was interesting in many ways. It was more democratic compared to the later Maoist period. The Constitution interestingly stated that CPC “takes Marxism-Leninism as its guide to action.” There was no mention of ‘Mao Zedong Thought’, which was incorporated later during rise of Maoism.

‘Second session’ of 8th congress (1958)

 Then something interesting and intriguing happened in 1958. In an unusual move, a ‘second plenum’ of the 8th congress was called in 1958. In other words, the same Party congress (8th) having a ‘second’ session or plenum two years later! The chief reason for it was that there occurred a change in balance of power during these two years. Mao consolidated his positions in the party and the state with the help of his group, armed forces and intelligence agencies. He began to set up parallel structure, which was to strike back some years later.

 Mao played the chief role during the ‘second session’, in the course of which most of the basic positions of 1956 party congress were revised. Balance and sobriety of 1956 was gone, which was reflected in the haste for ‘socialism’. Concepts of ‘People’s Commune’ and ‘Great Leap’ made their appearance, and calls were given to overtake the West quickly. Time frames of targets were reduced, and forcible conversion of production relations without adequate levels of productive forces was begun, accelerating rapidly.

 Utopian concepts of socialism and communism gained ground, preparing base for rise of Maoism.

CC CPC resolution of June 27, 1981 on ‘Certain Questions of History of Party’, pointed out that the short-coming of ‘Second Plenum’ of 8th Congress (1958) “was that it overlooked objective economic laws...”. ‘Left’ errors with excessive targets stirred up “communist wind" unchecked throughout the country. “Comrade Mao Zedong and many leading comrades ... were impatient for quick results” and overestimated role of subjective will. Great Leap Forward and rural people’s communes “were initiated without careful investigation and study.” Actions against “the so-called anti-Party group of Peng Dehuai, Huang Kecheng, Zhang Wentian and Zhou Xiaozhou was entirely wrong. Politically, this struggle gravely undermined inner-Party democracy ...”

Emergence of Maoism

 It was mainly with second session of 8th congress (1958) that Mao Zedong initiated the trend known as ‘Maoism’, a variety of adventurism, compellism and utopianism. Even earlier, there were deficiencies and gaps in Mao’s thoughts, not in accord with scientific concepts of Marxism and socialism.

 In the international arena, CPC went back on its support to new evaluation of post-War situation by world communist movement. CPC refused to see the changes in post-War world, and began imposing ‘Chinese path of revolution’, insisting only on armed form of struggle, imposing its line on other Communist parties, forcing splits in them. Now, for CPC peaceful democratic path of revolution and peaceful coexistence was not possible. Mao even thought a new world war was quite possible, beamingly saying it would help world revolution!

 This was the period of growing conflict of CPC with CPs in other countries. Indian Communist movement suffered heavily, leading ultimately in split in CPI. China made aggression on India in October 1962. This was roundly condemned by CEC and NC of CPI in clear terms in October-November 1962.

 SA Dange was the first to characterize Chinese party activities since 1959 as ‘Great Power Chauvinism’ and ultra-nationalism, which led to a violation of international boundaries, of internationalism itself and to severe jolt to democratic movement. India-China friendship received severe setback.

  Maoist leadership aimed to defeat the West in economic competition first in 15 years, then in a revised 10 and then 3 years: all in preparation for an imaginary ‘communism’! Agricultural lands were reorganized into just 25 thousand ‘communes’, depriving peasants of their land. Massive transfers of populations to force industrialization with maddening targets resulted in unprecedented dislocations. China’s backyards were studded with 18th century ‘blast furnaces’ in a bid to reach ‘communism’, throwing it many decades back!

 Agricultural and industrial production fell sharply, as socialism was sought to be built with utterly backward means of production: ninety percent of land was still tilled with wooden ploughs! This combined with 18th century furnaces created havoc.

 Failure and disaster led to blame game. Failure to build ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ was put on the head of so-called ‘capitalist-roaders’ and ‘rightists’ within the party, culminating in infamous campaign under so-called ‘cultural revolution’. It led to mental and physical abuse, repressions, beatings and imprisonments, dismissals from posts, and defamation and mass hysteria of the ‘Red Guards’. That also was the time when millions of copies of mini Red Books with Mao’s quotations were distributed all over China and the world as ‘guide book’ to sure success for revolution! It all only helped strengthen imperialism.

 ‘Cultural revolution’ led to a countrywide frenzy against those opposing Mao’s ideas. Millions of people were uprooted, repressed and killed. Even President of China Liu Shaoqi was persecuted and died in most tragic circumstances. His wife was dragged on the streets, forced to put on dunce cap. All this was analyzed and criticized in CC CPC Resolution of June 1981.

  CPC Resolution stated: “The ‘cultural revolution’, which lasted from May 1966 to October 1976, was responsible for the most severe setbacks and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the state and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic. It was initiated and led by Comrade Mao Zedong.” Further, “The history of the ‘cultural revolution’ has proved that Comrade Mao Zedong’s principal theses for initiating this revolution conformed neither to Marxism, Leninism nor to Chinese reality.”  It resulted in massive losses in means of production, disruption of industries and agriculture, and massive transfers of populations, mass starvations and deaths. CPC sharply criticized Maoist theory and practice of forcing utopia upon China. Resolution said these events violated ‘Mao Zedong Thoughts’ themselves. According to Resolution, Chen Yi, Peng Dehuai, Li Xiannian, Chen Yun, Zhu De, and many others were wrongly persecuted and stripped of power.

China after Mao’s death (1976)

  The extreme wing of ‘Cultural Revolution’, the ‘Gang of Four’ led by Lin Biao, Chiang Ching and others, sought to take advantage of the confusion to stage a coup, but failed. In the meantime Zhou Enlai became ill and passed away in 1975. Deng Xiaoping was given charge of party affairs. Mao died in September 1976, leaving Deng de facto leader. He continued to hold various positions but never that of chairman or general secretary, yet he was accepted as the ‘paramount leader’. Post of chairman in CPC was abolished in 1982.

 CPC led by Deng Xiaoping guided China to slowly recover. There was a qualitative shift from building production relations without adequate productive base to gradually raise the productive forces, and then to try to build new relations. China had suffered heavy losses in its productive, which as it is were backward. Party allowed private enterprise and China opened up to foreign enterprise including foreign capital. Immediate building of socialism was given up, which became a distant aim. Deng’s period laid foundations for reforms and building technical base. Capitalism was allowed on increasingly larger scale.

 In fact it was during the last years of Mao himself that private foreign capital was allowed, first with the overseas Chinese capital.

CPC and China Today

 If we look at the contemporary China, we have mixed and contradictory reactions. Today China has transformed drastically compared to what it was in 1970s. It has become second most powerful economy and political-military power after US: no mean achievement for a developing country. Is it still a ‘developing’ country?

 There is no doubt that living standards of Chinese people have risen, and there is a general feeling of welfare among sections of people; poverty has reduced. But is China building socialism or capitalism?

 Giant MNCs and world corporates are flooding China. China is divided into six SEZs, dominated by giant foreign and local capital and billionaires. Shenzen, Pudong (Shanghai) etc are among the famous SEZs. The number of billionaires in China is rapidly on the rise, second only to US. The numbers have grown particularly during the Covid pandemic. What to make of it?!

 Has China given up building ‘socialism’? It continues to talk of it, yet foreign and local capital continues to expand into monopolies. Its ‘market socialism’ is dominated by capital. China is now a country of hundreds of massive urban conglomerates with huge shining skyscrapers unmatched even by US.

 Yet the state sector there is retreating fast, having come down to less than 1/3 of economy. Privatization of education, health and enterprise is spreading. Unemployment is a serious problem though reduced in last two decades.

 Presently, CPC, led by Xi Jinping, is guiding China towards a powerful economy. He also displays tendencies of concentration of power. China declared aims of raising living standards and building ‘a happy and prosperous Chinese society’. There are a lot of misgivings. Questions are being raised whether China is not acting as an expansionist power including in Africa. India-China border disputes have increased lately, and Indian political opinion had to clearly reiterate its intentions to defend country’s borders and sovereignty. China’s relations with Vietnam and several other countries are tension-ridden.

 There are serious misgivings as to why is not doing enough to help progressive movements and the developing countries. It is alleged that China has given up revolutionary internationalism. CPC declares it is building socialism with Chinese characteristics and market forces. Its main emphasis appears to be to go ahead in latest technologies.

 Yet, Chinese papers do not mention ‘capitalism’ and ‘imperialism’, and do not criticize them anymore. It is with these intriguing features that China entered 21st century. Today’s China is much different from that in 20th century. It would be fascinating to follow how the intriguing China shapes up in 21st century.

* (The author is General Secretary of All India Progressive Forum.)

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