New Communist Party of Britain
A New Communist Party delegation spent two weeks in the People’s Republic of China last October and witnessed first hand the immense achievements that have transformed the country in recent years. General Secretary Andy Brooks, National Chair Alex Kempshall and National Treasurer Dolly Shaer held talks with the Communist Party of China, Chinese trade union leaders, academics and officials from provincial and municipal governments during their stay that included Beijing, Nanjing, Guizhou province and the southern city of Shenzhen. New Worker Deputy Editor DAPHNE LIDDLE talks to ANDY BROOKS about his impressions.
Daphne Liddle: This was the third major NCP delegation to China.
Andy Brooks: Yes. The first was back in 1993 and the second in 1999. We have made brief visits for talks with the Communist Party of China during stop-overs en route to Democratic Korea on two occasions but this was the first in-depth visit since 1999. We wanted to spend a considerable amount of time in China this time to study the developments which are taking place in China at the moment. We saw colossal achievements of modernisation in several major cities like Beijing, Nanjing and Shenzhen. But we also spent several days in Guizhou, one of China’s poorest provinces - a mountain region with three autonomous areas populated by a number of ethnic minorities. This was the first time that any British communist delegation had ever visited Nanjing and it was the only the third delegation from overseas to have ever gone to Guizhou, the other two were from Vietnam and Tanzania. And we were warmly welcomed everywhere we went.
DL: China’s economy is booming. We see it every time we shop on the high street but what are its implications for the millions of working people in the country?
AB: This was the question we put to communists and trade unionists wherever we went. China is certainly going through a period of unparalleled development though it was pointed out to us that in the past China had been the factory of the world. The feudal Chinese Empire produced the silk, paper, porcelain and tea that merchants across the globe clamoured for and it held that position until the mid-1700s. Then, when the Western merchants, with the backing of imperialist gun-boats and troops, discovered it was more profitable to steal rather than trade, China went into rapid decline. Britain and the other European powers imposed unequal treaties and reduced China to a semi-colonial status that continued until the communist victory in 1949.
In 1949 the Chinese people had the lowest standard of living in the world. After liberation the people’s government brought in sweeping changes that enabled it to feed, clothe and educate the millions. Through self-reliance and hard work the Party and the people overcame many problems. But they were racing against a rise in population that continues to grow even today and by the 1970s they had to make dramatic changes. These have paid off and now the People’s Republic has, once again, become the factory of the world - which is not surprising considering it comprises a nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
The reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping, the “opening up” of the Chinese economy to the world and the reforms in agriculture have brought immense prosperity to the vast majority of the people. Some have become rich. Most now have living standards far higher than they enjoyed a decade or so ago. And some - older workers in industries made redundant due to restruccturing and automation or migrant workers from the provinces who do not have the same rights as city workers - are experiencing difficulties. The trade unions are addressing these problems now.
All the cities, even in Guizhou, that we went to are dominated by huge skyscrapers that would put London’s Docklands to shame. Huge shopping malls and small-traders’ markets are packed with goods from all over China and from all over the rest of the world. The streets are jammed with cars - cars that until this year the government encouraged people to buy by with soft-loans. A new leisure industry has sprung up, also encouraged by the central government, to reduce the high level of savings - roughly 50 per cent of income - to get money circulating and promote domestic tourism in underdeveloped areas.
DL: Is there still a population problem?
AB: It’s still rising but late marriages and birth control programmes are reducing growth. For the first time the coastal cities in the development areas are suffering from a labour shortage. This is partly because increased prosperity in the provinces is slowing down the numbers migrating to the cities and partly due to China’s “one child” policy that is taking effect in the big cities. The target is for the population to level out by 2050, maybe sooner as there are plans to build thousands of new towns across the country and mechanise the countryside to accelerate industrialisation and urbanisation.
DL: Some Western economists claim China is embracing capitalism and dumping socialism.
AB: Well, that’s largely wishful thinking. The ideology of the Communist Party of China rests on Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Three Represents. And the Three Represents means upholding the fundamental interests of the people, elevating culture and developing advanced productive forces. In every discussion with communists at a national and provincial level, with trade unionists and cadres at the Party schools in Beijing and Shenzhen no-one argued that capitalism could solve the problems of China. On the contrary, they stressed that socialism was the only way forward - but socialism applied to the concrete conditions of Chinese society.
The basic Marxist principle of “from each according to his ability to each according to his work” is applied whether it is in agriculture, private enterprises, joint ventures or the public sector. In agriculture all the farmers have opted for family tenancy - the State being the owner of all the land in China. Many farmers have prospered and those who work in poorer areas are helped to find alternative sources of income. In the factories and offices higher wages have fired consumer demand and given workers life-styles they only dreamt of a decade ago.
DL: But you said there were problems for migrant workers.
AB: Yes. There’s around 130 million migrant workers in China, about a tenth of the total population. They now outnumber existing urban workers and they constitute the majority of China’s industrial workforce. Some are builders and others are seasonal workers but many want to join the permanent workforce in the cities they have moved to but they are denied full residential rights. In some cities like Shenzhen migrant workers overwhelmingly outnumber the resident population but their residency depends on them keeping their jobs.
The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has two problems. First of all to organise them and secondly to campaign for their equality in employment, wages and health and safety. Most migrant farmers have no experience of unions at all and many initially don’t see the advantage of joining the union. When they do ACFTU often has to fight to win recognition and organisational rights.
In the public sector the unions have 99 per cent membership but it varies with joint-ventures or private corporations. Some foreign companies, like the US supermarket giant Wal-Mart, refuse to recognise unions at all. Others try to limit collective bargaining. The ACFTU fights to win recognition and campaigns in the National People’s Congress for far reaching labour laws to strengthen their position and organise all the workers.
DL: How are the reforms impacting on Guizhou, which you said was one of the poorest provinces in China?
AB: We spent five days and drove some 1,200 km during our stay in Guizhou province, in the south western corner of China. The provincial capital of Guiyang, Xingyi City and Zunyi are much like many other big Chinese cities today with their huge office blocks and shopping centres. It’s only when you get out into the countryside that you begin to appreciate the problems of this province. About 87 per cent of Guizhou is mountainous and farmers have scratched a living from terraced plots across the province for centuries.
Guizhou covers an area of over 176,000 square km and has a population of more that 35 million so it’s comparable to a medium-sized European country. It is also the home a number of ethnic minorities who live in autonomous prefectures. Though there are considerable tobacco, mining and manufacturing industries the majority of people make their living from the land like the rest of China. Farmers from minority communities are reluctant to migrate to the coastal cities for work due to language problems and a deep attachment to their land and until recently transport services and roads in general were poor. New motorways and airports are now opening up the region for investment and trade.
The communists have strong roots here that began with the Red Army’s Long March during the struggle against Chiang Kai-Shek’s reactionary Kuomintang (KMT) regime in the civil war. The retreating Red Army’s 8,000 km march that began in 1934 went through Guizhou, fending off KMT divisions on the way. Everywhere the communists went they spread the ideas of freedom and socialism. One of the tribal leaders signed a formal alliance with the communists and he paid for it with his life when he was captured by Chiang Kai-Shek’s men.
DL: How many ethnic groups live in China?
AB: Fifty six and the biggest are the Han Chinese who comprise 91.6 per cent of the population. In Guizhou the majority are Hans, mainly in the big cities. In Guizhou’s Qiandongnan Miao-Dong Autonomous prefecture, for instance, ethnic minorities are over 80 per cent of the population.
DL: And how does autonomy operate in Guizhou?
AB: Key posts like the Chairs of the governing committees are reserved for ethnic minorities. Minority languages are taught in all junior schools and the ancient heritage and culture of these people are preserved and encouraged. We were impressed at the way China has solved the nationalities problem based on the Marxist principles of full equality for all peoples.
In Guizhou people from all ethnic backgrounds live in equality and harmony unlike those in the capitalist West. You only have to think of the discrimination against black people and savage treatment of the Native Americans in the United States that continues to this day to see the difference.
The Bolsheviks pioneered the resolution of the national question by establishing the Soviet Union but that system did not survive the counter-revolution in 1990. Throughout the capitalist world ethnic minorities are denied their rights. Until recently entire populations were oppressed under the old European colonial empires or under the racist regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa.
That the national question can be resolved by people’s power is taken for granted but it is only when you see it operating at first hand that you can truly appreciate the achievement.
Local traditions are used to encourage tourism. Arts festivals and the outstanding scenic beauty of the mountains and gorges have made this a focus for domestic tourism as well as some intrepid international travel companies. The region produces a number of traditional medicines, popular throughout China and increasingly throughout the world. But more importantly the autonomous regions preserve a vital part of our common heritage that generations to come will cherish. We started as one people hundreds of thousands of years ago and ultimately, in the era of communism, we will be one people again. And our descendants will know how they got there.
DL: What about the standing of the Communist Party?
AB: Well the Party represents the modern revolutionary movement that began with Dr Sun Yat-sen. Dr Sun is regarded as the father of modern China because he led the national democratic movement that ended the Manchu dynasty and established the Chinese republic in 1911. Sun Yat-sen became first president but he was pushed aside within months by a powerful warlord. Sun Yat-sen’s party, the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party or KMT) set up a government in the south with its centre in Nanjing and Dr Sun spent his last days there.
The Communist Party of China was founded in 1921 and in those days it was welcomed into the ranks of the KMT. That would soon change under Sun Yat-sen’s successor, Chiang Kai-shek. Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 and his hill-side tomb, which we visited, is still a site of homage. The hundreds of steps symbolise the arduous task of revolutionaries and the flights get steeper as you approach the mausoleum. The breathtaking view from the top and the seamless descent, a deliberately designed optical illusion, symbolise the victory that Dr Sun never lived to see.
The Communist Party enjoys immense prestige. It numbers some 64 million and the Communist Youth League has about 70 million members. This is because the Communists saved China and established the people’s democracy that the masses enjoy today. The Japanese imperialists and the reactionaries would never have been defeated if it wasn’t for the communists. We saw what this meant when we went to Nanjing and visited the memorial and the museum dedicated to the 350,000 Chinese massacred by the Japanese army in December 1937.
Japan invaded China in 1931 seizing Manchuria and advancing in the north. The feeble reactionary Kuomintang regime was more interested in killing communists than defeating the invader. In 1937 the Japanese, by then full members of the Axis, launched a new offensive in the north and opening a new front in central China by capturing Shanghai and marching on to the Kuomintang capital, Nanjing.
Chiang’s troops withdrew after a brief siege leaving the citizens to the mercy of the Japanese army. Some 50,000 troops were let loose in an orgy of rape, murder and looting. Over 350,000 men, women and children were massacred during a period of four weeks by the Japanese soldiers. They were carrying out the policy of the “Three Alls” - “burn all, kill all, loot all” and by these means they hoped to terrorise the Chinese into submission.
The memorial grounds are on the site of one of the killing zones and visitors can see the remains of some of the victims whose bodies were dumped in what was then a pond. The museum contains horrifying photos of atrocities, many taken by Japanese soldiers and war correspondents at the time, that rival anything the Nazis did.
The KMT was forced to unite with the communists to form a common front against Japanese aggression but Chiang, backed by US imperialism, turned his guns on the communists again, immediately after the Second World War ended. Three more years of civil war ended with the final victory of the Chinese people led by the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 October 1949.
The hopes and dreams of millions upon millions of Chinese people were fulfilled and the fruits of their labour can be seen in the modern, people’s democracy that is China today. We saw it for ourselves in October.