Mao on Revisionism

“The rise to power of revisionism means the rise to power of the bourgeoisie.” – Mao Tse-tung

Revisionism is the denial of the necessity for the proletariat to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie; it is the denial of the necessity for the proletariat to exercise all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie; it is the denial of the necessity of protracted class struggle throughout the entire period of the socialist transformation of society.

Right from the beginnings of the international proletarian revolutionary movement revisionism has repeatedly appeared within the ranks of revolutionary organisations.  Marx and Engels opposed reformist elements in the German Social-Democratic Party, Lenin struggled against the Mensheviks in the Russian revolutionary movement and Stalin battled against the Trotskyist defeatists who denied the possibility of sustaining socialist construction within one country.

In fact, the struggle against revisionism will continue right up until the time communism is achieved on a world-wide scale.  This is because revisionism is the form that bourgeois ideology takes on within the ranks of the revolutionaries.  Until such time as the last vestiges of capitalist relations of production are abolished, (which are the basis of the division of society into opposed classes), the material basis for the generation of a bourgeois outlook still exists.  Only if the proletariat and its allies never cease to carry the class struggle forward will the danger of capitalist restoration be averted.

In the People’s Republic of China the Communist Party, under the leadership of Comrade Mao Tse-tung, deepened and intensified the revolutionary struggle against revisionism, both within China itself and in the international arena against the Soviet revisionists originally led by Nikita Khrushchov.  At the 20th. Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union held in 1956 Khrushchov delivered his notorious speech denouncing Stalin and his political line.  The Chinese communists had many differences and disagreements with Stalin but they were aware of the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater as this extract from a speech given by Mao in 1956 makes clear:

“I would like to say a few words about the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  I think there are two “swords”: one is Lenin and the other Stalin.  The sword of Stalin has now been discarded by the Russians, Gomulka and some people in Hungary have picked it up to stab at the Soviet Union and oppose so-called Stalinism. The Communist Parties of many European countries are also criticising the Soviet Union, and their leader is Togliatti.  The imperialists also use this sword to slay people with.  Dulles, for instance, has brandished it for some time.  This sword has not been lent out, it has been thrown out.  We Chinese have not thrown it away.  First, we protect Stalin, and, second we at the same time criticize his mistakes, and we have written the article On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.  Unlike some people who have tried to defame and destroy Stalin, we are acting in accordance with objective reality.”

“As for the sword of Lenin, hasn’t it too been discarded to a certain extent by some Soviet leaders?  In my view, it has been discarded to a considerable extent.  Is the October Revolution still valid?  Can it still serve as the example for all countries?  Khrushchov’s report at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union says it is possible to seize sate power by the parliamentary road, that is to say, it is no longer necessary for all countries to learn from the October Revolution.  Once this gate is opened, by and large Leninism is thrown away.”

The Chinese communists began to campaign against this new revisionist trend led by the Khrushchov clique within the international communist movement.  In particular they combated the erroneous theory that it is possible for the proletariat to seize state power, not by means of the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie, but through a peaceful parliamentary road.  The Communist Party of Great Britain had the dubious distinction of having been the first communist party to openly proclaim a revisionist line when it adopted  The British Road to Socialism as its programme back in 1951.  Even so, Mao engaged in ideological struggle with its leader Harry Pollitt but without success as this comment made in 1957 shows:

“Now the Communist Parties in a number of countries, the British Communist Party for example, only advance the slogan of peaceful transition.  We talked this over with the leader of the British party but couldn’t get anywhere.  Naturally they may well feel proud, for as their leader queried, ’How can Khrushchov claim to have introduced peaceful transition?  I advanced it long before he did!’”

Another first for Britain!

By the early nineteen sixties it was clear that the revisionists in the USSR were becoming consolidated into a new state bourgeoisie and were rapidly reinstating capitalist relations of production in Soviet Society.  Also in China the revisionist elements were strong, their leading representative being Liu Shao-chi who was President of the PRC.  Throughout the nineteen fifties there had been many sharp struggles against the revisionists who had opposed the step-by-step collectivisation of agriculture and the Great Leap Forward of 1958.  Drawing from this experience, together with the counter-revolutionary turn of events in the Soviet Union, Mao began a campaign to alert the Chinese workers and peasants to the need for intensifying the class struggle as the key link in the process of socialist transformation.  In 1962 he said:

“Now then, do classes exist in socialist countries?  Does class struggle exist?  We can now affirm that classes do exist in socialist countries and that class struggle undoubtedly exists.  Lenin said: After the victory of the revolution, because of the existence of the bourgeoisie internationally, because of the existence of bourgeois remnants internally, because the petit bourgeoisie exists and continually generates a bourgeoisie, therefore the classes which have been overthrown within the country will continue to exist for a long time to come and may even attempt restoration.  The bourgeois revolutions in Europe in such countries as England and France had many ups and downs.  After the overthrow of feudalism there were several restorations and reversals of fortune.  This kind of reversal is also possible in socialist countries.  An example of this is Yugoslavia which has changed its nature and become revisionist, changing from a workers’ and peasants’ country to a country ruled by reactionary nationalist elements.  In our country we must come to grasp, understand and study this problem really thoroughly.  We must acknowledge the existence of a struggle of class against class, and admit the possibility of the restoration of reactionary classes.  We must raise our vigilance and properly educate our youth as well as the cadres, the masses and the middle– and basic-level cadres.  Old cadres must also study these problems and be educated.  Otherwise a country like ours can still move towards its opposite.  Even to move towards the opposite would not matter too much because there would still be the negation of the negation, and afterwards we might move towards our opposite yet again. If our children’s generation go in for revisionism and move towards their opposite, so that although they still nominally have socialism it is in fact capitalism, then our grandsons will certainly rise up in revolt and overthrow their fathers, because the masses will not be satisfied.  Therefore, from now on we must talk about this every year, every month, every day.  We will talk about it at congresses, at Party delegate conferences, at plenums, at every meeting we hold, so that we have a more  enlightened Marxist-Leninist line on the problem.”

In 1966 Mao and his comrades put out a call to the masses for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  The aim of this mass revolutionary upheaval was to wage mass ideological struggle against revisionist elements who were trying to take the capitalist road in the Party, the State, the economy, the educational system and the cultural sphere.  The Cultural Revolution began among the students in the colleges and universities which were the main bastion of bourgeois ideology.  But it quickly spread to to the communes and factories with workers and peasants criticising persons in authority who were taking the capitalist road, removing them from their positions and establishing direct proletarian control over economic enterprises and public administration by means of the setting up of Revolutionary Committees.  This constituted a strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeois elements.  However, Mao never underestimated the strength of revisionism in China and had this to say in a letter to Chiang Ching, his wife and close comrade, written right at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966:

“Since 1911, when the emperor was overthrown, a reactionary regime has not been able to hold China for long.  If there is a Right-wing, anti-communist coup d’etat in China, then I am certain that those elements will not know a moment of peace.”

“It is very possible that they will be able to retain their dominance for a while.  If the Right-wing seizes power, it will be able to use my words to retain power for a time.  But the left will use other quotations of mine, and organise themselves, and overthrow the Right-wing.”

The Cultural Revolution achieved many important victories including the downfall of Liu Shao-chi and his close associate Teng Hsiao-ping.  Most significant of all was the qualitative rise in the political consciousness of the workers and peasants and the great extension of proletarian democracy which resulted.  But the advance and consolidation of the Cultural Revolution was not evenly carried out throughout the whole country, as Mao made clear in 1969:

“It seems essential that the Great Proletarian Cultural revolution should still be carried out.  Our foundation has not been consolidated.  According to my observation I would say that, not in all factories, nor in an overwhelming majority of factories, but in quite a large majority of cases the leadership is not in the hands of true Marxists, nor yet in the hands of the masses of the workers.  In the past the leadership in the factories was not devoid of good men; there were good men.  Among the Party committee secretaries, assistant secretaries and committee members there were good men.  There were good men among the branch secretaries.  But they followed the old line of Liu Shao-chi.  They were all for material incentives, they put profits in command and did not promote proletarian politics.  Instead they operated a system of bonuses, etc..  There are now some factories  which have liberated them and have included them in the leadership based on the Triple Alliance.  Some factories still have not done so.”

During the Cultural Revolution Lin Piao, an army commander, had risen to national prominence  as Mao’s main supporter in the anti-revisionist struggles.  Mao had always had reservations about Lin and his associates but had not openly voiced these doubts because this would have brought about confusion and splits among the workers and peasants at the time of the most fierce struggles against those in power taking the capitalist road.  As we have seen with so many opportunist elements in the past, e.g. Trotsky & co., Lin’s political line was left in form and right in essence.  In 1971 the Lin Piao group attempted to stage a coup d’etat and assassinate Mao.  This attempt to impose military dictatorship failed but the resulting confusion enabled some capitalist roaders to reassert themselves and begin to move back into Party and State positions, especially in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  By 1974 Teng Tsiao-ping had fully re-emerged from disgrace to take up leading Party and State positions.  It was in this year that he delivered his notorious speech at the United Nations in which the reactionary Theory of the Three Worlds was first put forward.  By now Mao was a very sick man but once again he took up the cudgels against revisionist resurgence.  In late 1974 he called, in the following four statements, for a nation-wide movement to study the dictatorship of the proletariat:

“Why did Lenin speak of exercising dictatorship over the bourgeoisie?  It is essential to get this question clear.  Lack of clarity on this question will lead to revisionism.  This should be made known to the whole nation.”

“In a word, China is a socialist country.  Before liberation she was much the same as a capitalist country.  Even now she practices an eight-grade wage system, distribution according to work and exchange through money, and in all this differs very little from the old society.  What is different is that the system of ownership has been changed.”

“Our country at present practices a commodity system, the wage system is unequal, too, as in the eight-grade wage scale, and so forth.  Under the dictatorship of the proletariat such things can only be restricted.  Therefore, if people like Lin Piao come to power,, it will be quite easy for them to rig up the capitalist system.  That is why we should do more reading of Marxist-Leninist works.”

“Lenin said that ‘small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale.  They are also engendered among a part of the working class and of the Party membership.  Both within the ranks of the proletariat and among the personnel of state and other organs there are people who take to the bourgeois style of life.”

In 1975 Teng Tsiao-ping circulated three policy documents among party cadres.  These contained proposals on the course of development to be taken by China and were of an openly revisionist kind,  Mao reacted strongly and said:

“What!  ‘Take the three directives as the key link’!  Stability and unity do not mean writing off class struggle; class struggle is the key link and everything else hinges on it.”

Also, Mao gave a very direct assessment of Teng’s political character:

“This person does not grasp class struggle; he has never referred to this key link.  Still his theme of ‘white cat, black cat’, making no distinction between imperialism and Marxism.”


“He does not understand Marxism-Leninism, he represents the capitalist class.”

As it became obvious that Mao’s days were numbered, the revisionist elements in the CPC led by Teng became bolder.  In April 1976 they organised a violent demonstration in Peking, ostensibly to commemorate Premier Chou En-lai who had recently died, but in reality to attack Mao, his close comrades Chiang Ching, Chang Chun-chiao, Wang Hung-wen, Yao Wen-yuan, and the proletarian line they upheld.  Teng was dismissed from all his posts and a mass campaign to criticise his revisionist line was launched.  It was around this time that Mao exclaimed to his comrades:

“You are making the socialist revolution , and yet don’t know where the bourgeoisie is.  It is right inside the Communist party—those in power taking the capitalist road.  The capitalist roaders are still on the capitalist road.”

By June 1976 Mao’s health was deteriorating rapidly and he gave his last warning against revisionism:

“I have predicted that full-scale capitalist restoration may appear in China.”

In September 1976 Comrade Mao died and a month later revisionist elements staged a coup d’etat in which the Four were unconstitutionally removed from their Party and State offices.  Within the year Teng was back in leading positions and his revisionist line is now being implemented although there has been and is mass opposition, including armed uprisings, from workers and peasants.  The final outcome of the revisionist seizure of State power in China remains to be seen.*

However, the temporary triumph of revisionism in China does not mean that Mao’s struggle against it was a complete failure.  Comrade Mao and the Chinese masses have helped us to deepen our understanding of the sources and nature of revisionism during the period of socialist construction.  It is not simply that bourgeois elements left over from before the revolution attempt to stage a comeback.  Neither is it primarily a case of the middle strata intelligentsia clinging to bourgeois ideology and disseminating it through education and culture.  The fundamental problem is the persistence of some capitalist relations of production during socialist transformation.  It is true that those persons appointed to leading posts in the State and economy are experienced Party cadres with a high level of political consciousness.  But it is social being which determines social consciousness and prolonged occupancy of authoritative positions in the social division of labour will tend to generate a bourgeois outlook in those persons.  The only real and lasting safeguard against such high-ranking cadres emerging as a new and nascent state bourgeoisie is the continuous revolutionisation of the relations of production by the proletariat and its allies.  It is not sufficient for the means of production to be publicly owned only in a formal, juridical sense.  The proletariat must increasingly take over and exercise day-to-day control of the economy and State apparatus at all levels.  Significant steps were taken along this road during the Cultural Revolution in China although these advances are now being reversed by the revisionist counter-revolution.  Nonetheless, the great revolutionary legacy of the Chinese revolution, the practice of the working masses as summed up by Mao, is the necessity of cultural revolution—not just one but many.  The struggle to transform capitalist relations into socialist relations of production is in fact the process of progressively abolishing classes in society and thus the erosion of the State apparatus which is the instrument of the domination of one class over another.

“Never forget class struggle!” 

“Carry through the revolution to the end!”

*  This article was first published in Red Star, No. 3, Organ of the Nottingham Communist Group, in 1980.  Since that time there has been all-round restoration of capitalism in China and it has become an imperialist power.  The solid industrial infrastructure  built-up in Mao’s time was the basis upon which the capitalist-roaders have been able to bring about rapid economic growth. But a minority have materially benefited much more than the great majority of the people.  From being in 1976 probably the country with the least inequalities the Chinese leaders now boast that it is the most unequal country in the world.  The leaders of the CPC are billionaires. State-owned industrial enterprises have been progressively privatised and the destruction of the People’s Communes has led to the peasants losing their land.  Mao would not have been surprised because he was well aware that revolution is a tortuous path with many setbacks and reverses as well as advances.  Chinese capitalism is highly unstable, exhibiting all the problems generated by the inherent contradictions of capitalism.  Every year there are tens of thousands of industrial actions by workers trying to defend their living standards and violent uprisings by peasants opposing the expropriation of their lands.  Given that China is now fully capitalist, only by making a thoroughgoing revolution will the Chinese people be able to return to the socialist road.  For this to occur a new, genuinely revolutionary communist party must be formed to provide the necessary leadership