A Maoist conundrum:

review of William Hinton's

The Great Reversal

by Pete Brown
(from Communist Voice #19, Dec. 8, 1998)


Are co-ops a guarantee of socialism?
Objective and subjective factors
Getting rich under socialism
Foreign-lackey capitalism or Chinese state-capitalism?
Hinton's shallow critique of the Cultural Revolution
Hinton defends the movement as inoffensive to the bureaucracy
Maoism degenerates to Nasserism


. William Hinton is a well-known leader of the U.S.-China Friendship Association. A farmer in Pennsylvania, Hinton first visited China in [1945]. He and some of his family members have made prolonged stays in China since that time. Hinton authored books and articles showing life in China, especially in the rural areas, and became an agriculture adviser to some Chinese localities.

. This book(1) is a series of essays written by Hinton in the 1980s showing his growing disillusionment with the new regime of Deng Xiaoping, as Deng and his cohorts launched the "modernization" campaign leading to the restoration of private-market capitalism. In the first articles Hinton appears fairly naive and surprised by Deng's policy shifts. He's taken in by Deng's "socialist" rhetoric and is willing to give Deng's policies a chance.

. But by the end of the book Hinton has become disillusioned in Deng. He sees that the "socialist" rhetoric is nothing but hot air, that what Deng & co. are really after is the complete privatization of the Chinese economy. Particularly after the 1989 Tien An Men "democracy square" movement and Deng's massacre of protesters, Hinton bitterly denounces the regime as corrupt and rightist. At this time Hinton severed his connections with the Chinese government and swore to not visit China again until the official verdict on Tien An Men had been reversed.

. Hinton's overall outlook is that of a thoughtful and good-hearted Maoist.(2) He really seems to have the interests of the rural Chinese people at heart. But his judgment is restricted by the narrow confines of Maoist three-worldism. Thus he was taken in at first by Deng's rhetoric because he saw problems with a certain stagnation in the economy, and he hoped that Deng's reforms might speed up agricultural mechanization. And when he finally grows angry and resentful at the end, his strategy is confined to the call for a coup to overthrow Deng's clique; he thinks a military coup will easily restore the old system (which he regards as socialist). Hinton has no analysis of how the old system was state-capitalist, in which the bureaucrats did not simply stagnate things through policy errors but actually formed a new bourgeoisie based on their control of the state sector. Hinton has no grasp of the class differences state-capitalism engenders and intensifies nor of the profound class struggle required to overcome it. In the end, then, Hinton's book is a graphic example of the weakness of Maoism in the face of the neo-liberal onslaught. This is what I mean by the Maoist conundrum: Hinton has enough sense to see things wrong with the old system and also to sense that something's very wrong with the path charted out by Deng, but isn't clear about what's wrong and can't do anything about it.

Are co-ops a guarantee of socialism?

. One of the main points stressed by Hinton is that the privatization of agriculture will mean disaster for China. The book gives a lot of valuable information about how the breakup of rural communes (large-scale co-operatives) proceeded in China, and of how this engendered some severe problems. Now the collectivization of Chinese agriculture in the 1950s on the whole improved things for the peasantry. But Hinton's Maoist ideology clouds his judgment about this issue. He thinks that the rural communes were a guarantee of socialism; this is an exaggeration of their significance. Further, he regards the breakup of communes as a disaster that will mean not only the end of socialism, but mass starvation and the return of the enslavement of China.Hinton strikes a patriotic three-worldist pose with his insistence that China can only survive as an independent state if it "maintains socialism", which for him means bringing back co-operative agriculture. This negates the fact that China is one of the major capitalist powers of the world.

. Hinton's position raises the question of whether rural producer co-ops are a guarantee of socialism. Hinton certainly seems to think so, even though he recognizes that state ownership by itself does not constitute socialism. In fact he criticizes Deng & co. for the theory that so long as the land is nationalized (owned by the state), that China must still be socialist. Hinton sees this is bogus, since when land-use is divided up into millions of small plots through family contracts, then clearly there is no socialized production. Hinton sees this. But what about the co-op system in which land-use was divided up into tens of thousands of independent communes which rose and fell on their own? Hinton thinks such a system defined socialism.

. But inside communes the peasants maintained their identity as a separate class distinct from the working class. Their economic enterprises (both agricultural and other) were not owned by the working people as a whole or managed on behalf of the toilers as a whole, which is the sort of ownership and management that would exist under socialism. Ownership/management by the toilers as a whole could take the form at first (during the period of transition to socialism) either of state farms or of communes in which the peasants' livelihood and resources are linked to the overall economy and not just to their local conditions. But the Chinese communes, though working with nationalized land, were independent enterprises with sharply differing conditions. Individual members of the commune were not paid a wage, but instead were remunerated according to a system of profit-sharing. Thus the peasants were not part of a centralized planned economy. The state did set some agricultural prices and set quotas of grain it would purchase from communes. And the state provided some support and guidance to communes. Nonetheless the communes remained separate enterprises with wide disparities in incomes. Strikingly, Hinton admits that under the old system only about 30% of the communes did well (he says they "were prospering"); 40%, he says, "held their own" (i.e., were stagnating); while 30% were doing badly -- the members were dirt-poor and had no prospects of improvement. A system that allows 30% of its members to languish in poverty is obviously not socialist.

. In China the peasantry were not a small segment of the population; in fact they were (and are) the overwhelming majority. So even if we defined the industrial working class in state-owned enterprises as the "socialist sector", this sector was dwarfed in size by the "non-socialist sector" of peasants grouped into co-ops and communes. So it's way off the mark for Hinton to call China of the 1960s socialist.

. The forming of agricultural co-ops is generally a positive step in the transition to socialism.This was true of China also. But taking some positive steps did not give China a socialist, planned economy. Nor did it guarantee that China would continue evolving toward socialism.Russia is another example which shows that, even if the peasantry is grouped into co-ops for generations, it still may go back to the full restoration of private-market capitalism.

. So Hinton's theoretical argument that equates co-operativist agriculture with socialism is bogus. Furthermore, Hinton's argument that China's agriculture must be co-operativist in order to maintain production is also suspect. On p. 155 he says that co-ops "provided the scale and the infrastructure for the modernization and mechanization of the Chinese countryside, a development that has been severely hampered if not totally aborted by the family-contract system [Deng's system of private-enterprise agriculture]."

. It's generally agreed, and Hinton admits as much, that the first few years under Deng's reforms (late 70s-early 80s) resulted in a spurt of production in Chinese agriculture and rising living standards for many peasants. Hinton explains this away by saying many peasants were enthused about any change, at first, and threw themselves into production work; also by the fact that many communes, as they were breaking up, sold off their stored-up surpluses on the private market. Hinton's probably right about this. It's also generally agreed, and Hinton stresses this point, that after the mid-80s a decline set in. The peasants' original enthusiasm for the new system petered out. Capitalist competition wiped out a number of peasants, and those who were left did not have the resources to immediately go over to large-scale mechanized farming. At this point farm production, at least in basic grains, actually declined for a few years.

. Hinton paints the picture that this generated a crisis in agriculture that was part of an overall crisis in the economy in the late 80s. Inflation was developing while new production and jobs were lagging. Hinton argues that these problems underlay the development of the political protest movement that broke out in 1989.

. But since then there have been a number of new reforms by the Chinese government, both in agriculture and the general economy. Hinton's book doesn't cover the 90s, and I have no accurate statistics about agricultural development. Occasionally there are articles in the press about various aspects of it, and one gets the picture that it is developing in a classical capitalist way. Poorer peasants are being forced off the land and are flocking to the cities for jobs. So clearly class contradictions in the countryside are intensifying. Farmers are moving over towards production of more profitable crops rather than basic grains. Tens of millions of impoverished peasants are heading for the cities, while some successful farmers have realized Deng's dream, "It is glorious to get rich." Hinton's view that it's impossible for Chinese agriculture to mechanize under a private-market system is probably wrong. In fact some multinational corporations such as Caterpillar are planning to set up factories producing farm equipment in China.

. Hinton goes so far as to say, on p. 166, ". . . autonomous self-generating national capitalism for China is no more viable an option today than it was in 1930 . . . ." Hinton gives many examples to show the destructive effects of private-market capitalism in agriculture. For example, since roads and hydraulic projects don't belong to a single capitalist farmer, then under the family-contract system there's no incentive for individual farmers to take care of them. And the same goes for the environment: Hinton shows how the family-contract system led to massive destruction of grasslands and forests.

. Even so, it's an exaggeration to say that this social irresponsibility makes the development of a private-capitalist China impossible. Some of the same facts cited by Hinton would no doubt be cited by neo-liberals to argue, "You see how great private-market capitalism is? It stimulates people to cut down trees and sell lumber, thereby developing the economy." Hinton's arguments show that capitalism is incredibly wasteful of both natural and human resources. They show that capitalist development is an incredibly painful process. But Western nations, as well as Eastern ones like Japan and South Korea, went through this process and eventually built modern industrial economies, and there's no reason to think this is impossible in China. Painful, wasteful, and exploitative -- yes; but impossible? -- unlikely.

Objective and subjective factors

To back up his contention that capitalist development in China is impossible, Hinton cites objective and subjective factors. For one thing, he says the world market is already glutted with export goods of the type China is capable of producing. Thus it will be impossible for China to follow the path pioneered by South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

. Actually this argument has more force today than it did when Hinton wrote it (about 1990). In the early 1990s China's economy grew at a furious pace, as fast or faster than any country's economy has ever grown. And China's exports, e.g. to the U.S., also grew rapidly. Since 1996, however, the world glut Hinton talked about has taken a bite out of China's growth. The Asian economic crisis has slowed China's growth, and the possibility of a devaluation and recession looms on the horizon.

. But so what? Every capitalist country goes through cycles of boom and bust. This doesn't mean capitalism is impossible; it simply means capitalism is anarchic, and particularly chaotic for the ordinary worker or poor peasant trying to survive. Hinton is repeating the viewpoint of the late 19th century Narodniks, who tried to maintain that capitalist development was impossible in Russia. Lenin correctly countered their arguments by, for one thing, showing that in fact Russia was already developing capitalistically. The same is true of China today. Today, in the late 90s, China is accumulating the elements of a major crisis -- its banks are insolvent, environmental pressures are building, city slums are packed with the unemployed, etc. But the crisis that breaks out will be a crisis of capitalism and another proof that it has been rapidly developing in China.

. Hinton's Maoist three-worldist viewpoint is also similar to that of the dependency theorists of the 1970s-80s. Dependency theory taught that third-world countries could not develop capitalistically. Hinton raises (p. 160) the possibility of "renewed neocolonial status and eventual debt peonage" for China. But this is a serious misreading of China's status as a world power. Though China is still, per capita, a very poor country, its economy as a whole is very large. In fact, some economists estimate the total value of goods and services produced in China to be equal to or greater than in the U.S. (this depends on how you count noncommercial parts of the economy such as subsistence agriculture, how you figure currency exchange rates, etc.). China's exports today even rival Japan's. And China's trade continues to grow on the plus side rather than racking up deficits as predicted by Hinton. (For 1998 China's predicted trade surplus with the U.S. will be a record $60 billion -- Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25.) China is also a major military power. It has a huge army, a growing navy, and is the only Asian country (aside from Russia) with nuclear weapons armed and ready to launch. It's highly unlikely that China is going to undergo "renewed neocolonial status".

. Hinton also argues that the resistance of the working masses -- urban industrial workers and rural peasants -- will make it impossible to privatize the economy. On p. 171 he says the working class will defend its "iron rice bowl" to the last. He paints a nice picture of a working class mobilized, united and secure. That would be nice, if it were true. But actually it's an overestimation of what the Chinese revolution accomplished. The Chinese proletariat, like their Russian compadres, have been disarmed by decades of revisionist rot parading as communism. A number of strikes and other resistance struggles have broken out as the privatization plan proceeds. But these have been kept under control by the Dengists' combination of repression and throwing a few sops at rebellious localities. It will take something much deeper to stop the privatization campaign. And at the present time the Chinese workers lack the organization and experience to launch a serious, classwide struggle against the so-called "Communist Party of China." This is what is needed, though Hinton himself has a positive assessment of the CPC.

. The same point can be made about the peasants, whom Hinton says (p. 173) will never give up the land-use rights to their subsistence plots. This would make it impossible for capitalist farmers to consolidate large land holdings and thereby hobble capitalist agriculture. But no doubt impoverished peasants, faced with starvation, will instead opt to lease out their land to their richer neighbors who are becoming capitalist farmers. This is what has happened elsewhere -- for example in Mexico where some of the poorer peasants leased out their ejido (co-op) land long before it was legal to do so. As the private market invades more and more, no doubt the government will even pass laws mandating the leasing or selling of such land.

. Grasping at straws, on p. 168 Hinton argues that the state bureaucrats will oppose privatization. But he himself cites cases in which government assets have been handed over to local bureaucrats. Hinton denounces this corruption but somehow misses that this process on a large scale is exactly what will disarm any potential opposition to privatization on the part of the state bureaucracy.

. All in all, Hinton is misled by his romanticized Maoist notion that China already in the 1960s was a socialist country. The only support for privatization, in his view, comes from the "capitalist roaders" Deng and a few other comprador sellouts in the leadership of the CPC.

Getting rich under socialism

. One of the oddest, yet most frequent, of Hinton's arguments against privatization is his insistence that peasants could have enriched themselves under the co-op system just as well, or better, than under Deng's privatization policy. As noted before, Hinton himself admits that under the old system some 70% of the communes were not prospering. And even within communes that were doing well, Hinton's examples show that this was often more to the benefit of a few commune leaders than to the mass of members. He doesn't seem to notice that the enrichment of a few peasants under the commune system throws in doubt his concept of a "socialist" China in the 1960s.

. When Deng launched his campaign for privatization, he accompanied it with a lot of propaganda against egalitarianism. The Dengists said that the commune system fostered inefficiency by, supposedly, paying everyone the same. They insisted that people should be paid according to their output, and privatizing was the only way to ensure this.

. Hinton opposed privatization, but not on the basis that he was an advocate of equality. On the contrary. He gives examples of prosperous co-ops to show that co-ops, too, could allow people to get rich. But some examples he cites are of communes that have ten times the land per capita as the average commune. Hinton doesn't seem bothered by this inequality -- he just uses it to argue for the prosperity of some co-ops (while other co-ops remained mired in poverty). He also points proudly to some commune leaders who were paid fat salaries, many times what the ordinary members of their own commune made. Hinton thinks this is great that some individuals could enrich themselves under the co-op system; but what about the great mass of peasants?

. Pursuing this point, Hinton is drawn more and more to capitalist-sounding arguments. On p.147 he says,

"There is no reason why tens of thousands of co-operative units can't relate to each other and to the state-capitalist economy through the market just as individuals now do."

Co-ops can be just as market-driven, just as competitive and capitalist as individual families are;therefore we should maintain co-ops as an essential part of socialism!?

Foreign-lackey capitalism or Chinese state-capitalism?

. Hinton finally began to get an inkling of state-capitalism in the 1980s. On p. 187 he says the ruling group

"are certainly not trying to build socialism -- they're all capitalist roaders. And they've developed beyond that to the point of being bureaucratic capitalists with strong comprador tendencies." (emphasis Hinton's.) And further: "People with clout, people in high office, have been able to use their influence to buy commodities at low prices from the state and turn around and sell them at higher prices on the free market. In this way they have been able to make fortunes. . . So you have what could be called the development of bureaucratic capitalism, government officials who are taking over huge chunks of industry and combining them as private fortunes and then making comprador deals with external capitalists."

. So in the late 80s Hinton began to grasp that the ruling clique was operating in a capitalist way.But he still doesn't grasp the reality of state-capitalism. He thinks this is a phenomenon that only appeared in the 1980s as private markets were set up. Before that, apparently, the state bureaucrats were all socialist.

. But who, and what, created the pressure for privatization in the first place? Hinton treats this as just an oddball policy thought up by Deng & co. and foisted on the rest of the Chinese nation. According to him it serves only foreign capital and its "compradors" inside China. But weren't the state bureaucrats functioning as a ruling class before the privatization campaign began? Weren't they already in positions of power and relative wealth? And didn't they see the privatization campaign as a way to further consolidate their positions, to free themselves from public scrutiny and supervision? Hinton is reluctant to admit this because it would mean admitting that even under Mao a stratum of privileged bureaucrats was being fostered. This would blow away his contention that Mao's China was socialist. It raises the question who, and what, put these bureaucrats in a position where they could profit. And it exposes the weakness of Mao's campaign to supposedly revolutionize China in the 1960s.

A shallow critique of the Cultural Revolution

. Mao first identified Deng and his mentor, Liu Shaoqui, as "capitalist-roaders" in the 1960s. To counter the influence of such people Mao launched the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution".But the shortcomings of the cultural revolution stand out clearly when we consider the views of Hinton, a latter-day Maoist. Like Hinton, Mao and his faction tended to see capitalism as only manifestations of the free market or direct capitalism, or as bad officials inside the CPC who supported these things. They thought one was a bourgeois if one had wrong views, and a communist leader if one had good views, and missed the issue of the structure of the economy. Mao sounded very radical when he called on the Chinese youth to "bombard the bourgeois headquarters" and exposed that the capitalist-roaders were "right inside the Communist Party." But Mao, like Hinton, didn't have any inkling of China being a state-capitalist society. In this respect his views were just the standard Stalinist-Trotskyist excuse for state-capitalism: the Communist Party was in power, industry was nationalized, agriculture was collectivized; therefore China must be socialist even though the working class was passive and a new ruling class of state bureaucrats made all the decisions and dominated and ran the state sector and the Communist Party.

. Underneath his fine words to "bombard the bourgeois headquarters" Mao was mobilizing the masses into a factional fight. The issue turned on this individual or that, rather than the deeper issues. And the fight became very complex as Mao himself changed direction a number of times. But throughout the GPCR Mao never wanted the masses to confront the fundamental issues on the economy. China's economic system and social base were supposedly fine, completely socialist; no one was supposed to question that. Mao's cultural revolution developed in a highly charged atmosphere that quickly became politicized in a factional sense; but it never confronted the underlying class issues of the state-capitalist system.

. Mao would not even tolerate discussion of economic reforms. When the GPCR spread to and became popular among the working class in the fall of 1966, workers enthusiastically began forming their own versions of Red Guard brigades (the student youth first formed Red Guard contingents in summer '66). And workers saw this movement as an opportunity to raise their legitimate grievances. Thus the GPCR began to take an economic turn, allowing workers to denounce the bureaucrats who sat on their backs in the factories and to demand better working conditions. In December '66 the workers sent petitioners to Beijing who demonstrated at the Ministry of Labor, closing it down, and met with Jiang Qing (Mao's wife and a top leader of the GPCR). In their protests the workers demanded relief from a prolonged wage freeze and the delay in turning contract labor ("temps") into regular workers. They also protested the insufficient labor insurance and fringe benefits, the lack of employment for high school graduates, insufficient housing (workers were being assigned to dormitories), and management's slowness in paying overtime compensation.(3)

. Jiang Qing at first expressed sympathy for the workers' cause. But Mao and other top leaders of the CPC didn't want serious economic issues being taken up by the working masses. So in early January '67 the Central Committee issued a special circular against this, and the cultural revolution took a new turn: "smashing counterrevolutionary economism." Student Red Guards were mobilized to go to the factories to spread this new line, and petitioners to Beijing were turned away. Most of the workers demonstrating in Beijing were eventually persuaded to return home and go back to work; those who hung on through February were finally arrested and their Red Guard contingents banned.

. Hinton's own critique of the GPCR is that it "committed excesses". He's right about that, but this is a rather shallow critique; it's the critique of a Maoist who followed Mao in both his left-leaning and right-leaning periods. But as the episode cited above shows, the GPCR was never intended as a serious attempt to revolutionize Chinese society, to put the working class in charge of the economy and state. After the GPCR, just like before, a state-capitalist bureaucracy remained sitting on the backs of the Chinese working class. And Hinton, like Mao, has no critique of this system. In fact Hinton promotes it as "socialist" and finds plenty of sympathy in his heart for the Chinese state, army and ruling party. The only problem, in his view, is the few capitalist-roaders gathered around Deng Xiaoping. Hinton's touching faith in the bureaucracy reaches its apex when he says the present capitalist policy being pursued by Deng could be solved with a military coup. This is another superficial idea, similar to the Trotskyists' call for "political revolution" (i.e., change the individuals or factions leading the ruling party while leaving the state-capitalist system alone). And Hinton was only led to make this "militant" call after Deng had destroyed his ruling group's credibility with the Tien An Men massacre.

Hinton defends the movement as inoffensive to the bureaucracy

. By 1990, following the Tien An Men massacre, Hinton had broken with Deng's administration. Hinton's book contains valuable eyewitness description of events at that time in Beijing. Hinton stresses that the students in Tien An Men were supported by the working masses of the city. All through Beijing the workers erected barricades in their neighborhoods to try and block the army from going after the students. When the crackdown finally came, the army pushed through these barricades and in the process killed many workers long before they reached the central square. This account is valuable because it shows that the students' movement was not an isolated phenomenon; it reflected anger and resentment among broad sections of the working class. And it fits in with other reports at the time about contingents of workers coming to the square to support the students just before the crackdown occurred. Like Mao, Deng's greatest fear was that the working masses themselves would take up and move on issues of concern to them.

. Hinton addresses the views of some opportunist groups in the U.S. who maintained that the students were right-wing pro-capitalist demonstrators, and that Deng and Li Peng were justified in using force against them to "defend socialism". Hinton correctly points out (p. 190), ". . . the students are not the right wing [despite their illusions in free markets, etc.]. The right wing consists of Deng and his group."

. But in defending the student movement Hinton at the same bows to the opportunists with his view that China, despite Deng, is socialist. Thus Hinton concedes the major point that one should be concerned about "defending socialism in China" -- which really means defending the state-capitalist bureaucracy, army and ruling party. Hinton's difference with the opportunists lies in his assessment that the student movement did not really threaten the bureaucracy. He feels their demands were reasonable and could have readily been granted: "Prior to the martial law decree they [the students] were asking for dialogue, a freer press, more democratic rights, public disclosure of high officials' assets." (p. 190) Hinton defends the students by arguing there is nothing revolutionary or insurrectionary in these demands. So Hinton defends the students as inoffensive.

. Despite what Hinton says, however, the movement did cut at the basis of Deng's regime and threaten to undermine it. The simple demand for public disclosure of high officials' assets, if implemented, would have been enough to reveal Deng's administration as scandalously corrupt. And if the workers began pushing on these demands it would undermine the state-capitalist system itself. Despite the confusion of activists concerning the relationship between Chinese state-capitalism and socialism, it was within the '89 movement that one could see the start of independent mass action. This is the reason that leftists should stand with the mass struggle against the old state-capitalist tyranny, even though the mass movement is facing the problem of the same capitalist influence as the mass struggle faced in Eastern Europe. Socialism can only come as the product of mass initiative and mass consciousness, and not from the orders of state-capitalist bureaucrats.(4) Thus, despite all the detours that the Chinese workers may make on the road to building up a new communist movement, leftists must defend socialism not by defending the state-capitalist tyrants but by encouraging, within the popular movement against tyranny, consciousness of the real nature of state capitalism.

]Maoism degenerates to Nasserism

. But despite the massacres Hinton still can't tear himself away from his Maoist framework to denounce the Chinese state bureaucracy and army. On p. 191 he addresses those who want a genuine leftist solution: "Some people in the U.S. are calling for . . . a new revolutionary party in China and a new revolution." Opposing this call, Hinton says there are plenty of "dedicated communists in the CPC and in the army." All that's needed, he says, is for them to be energized, for example through "an army coup led by radical officers." This is how desperate Maoism has become, its "communist" third-world radicalism reduced to good old-fashioned Nasserism. The state is repressive? No problem -- just locate a few radical officers. They'll dump Deng Xiaoping as easily as Nasser got rid of King Farouk. Then China can just continue down its merry socialist road.

. The only struggle Hinton calls for is limited to the economic sphere. He says the students have to learn to "stand with the workers against surrendering all prerogatives to management. They have to defend the 'iron rice bowl', the job security workers won through revolution." (p. 191) And he mentions similar types of struggles among the peasantry. This is fine. And in fact the workers and peasants in China are taking up these sorts of struggles. But the trouble is, these struggles always come up against a repressive state machine led by corrupt bureaucrats entrenched in the CPC. So for them to have any chance of success you have to deal with the political question. Is the Chinese state really a dictatorship of the proletariat? Does the CPC really represent the working masses? As soon as the question is asked, you see how absurd the answer is that Hinton provides (or rather, assumes).

. Hinton's touching faith in the Chinese "People's Liberation Army" reflects the pre-1989 illusions of the students and workers themselves. Up until the last moment many students in Tien An Men were expressing the conviction that "the People's Liberation Army will never fire on the Chinese people." They were wrong, and they paid for that mistake. But now that people are ready to question the whole regime due to that experience, Hinton is trying to drag them back to the old illusions and the old ideology. This is particularly egregious since Hinton is so dead-set against the privatization campaign, and according to reports the PLA itself is the most corrupt and most pro-privatization segment of the Chinese bureaucracy. PLA officers run many goods-producing enterprises, many of which have now been privatized, their assets taken over by the officers. They invite foreign capital in to help expand the enterprises and to develop export markets for them. It's not likely these officers are going to throw out the Dengists in any kind of "radical coup".

. Hinton opposes the transition from state-capitalism to private-market capitalism. But he doesn't understand the depths of the support for this transition among the Chinese state, bureaucracy and party. He simply assumes that China before Deng's ascendancy was a socialist state and economy. This assumption must be challenged in the light of present-day developments. The Chinese youth, the students, the workers and peasants cannot build a strong, successful movement against the neo-liberal onslaught by falling back into Maoist orthodoxy. Building a new revolutionary party and developing a new revolutionary movement, a movement based on the ever-fresh ideas of Marxism, is exactly what they need.


(1) Hinton, William, The Great Reversal: The Privatization of China, 1978-1989, New York:Monthly Review Press, 1990.(Return to text)

(2) Note that there are different varieties of Maoism. Some Maoist groups are more left-leaning than Hinton. The RCP,USA for example continues to support the "Gang of Four", though Hinton praises Deng for getting rid of them. But all Maoists share three-worldist state-capitalist prejudices.(Text)

(3) Information on this episode is contained in the book A Brief Analysis of the Cultural Revolution by Liu Guokai, edited by Anita Chan of Australian National University, published 1987. See Part I, Section 5, Smashing "Counterrevolutionary Economism". Liu Guokai was a Red Guard who in the 1980s became a pro-democracy dissident. (Text)

(4) The Stalinist and Trotskyist revisionists are notorious for not grasping -- rather, for opposing -- this point. For example the latest (November 20) issue of Workers' Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League, in an article on the Philippines says, "Trotskyists stand for unconditional military defense of China and the other remaining deformed workers states against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution . . . ." By "internal counterrevolution" they mean the '89 movement and similar movements of protest. So when push comes to shove, the Sparts couldn't care less whether the Chinese "workers state", as they term it, is "deformed"; they will defend it to the death, "unconditionally", against the mass protests.

. The Sparts try to make this outrageous position sound better by adding, at the end of the above sentence, ". . . while fighting for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies." The Sparts dream of a pure proletarian, purely political movement they can safely support. Such a movement, of course, will be led by a sister Trotskyist party -- that's their guarantee that it's "proletarian." This sectarian dreaming is promulgated only for the purpose of opposing the real movements of protest that have come up in China. (Text)

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