Nigel Harris


The Mandate of Heaven


Part III
The Workers and Peasants
in the People’s Republic


9. The Working Class After the Cultural Revolution

After the Cultural Revolution, the government set about restoring labour discipline and made renewed efforts to establish what, in sum, might be called a “high productivity-low wage” economy. The watchword again became “race against time to speed up socialist construction”. [68] Those who found work onerous were automatically “bourgeois”, for “to love manual labour is the intrinsic virtue of the proletariat and other working people.” [69]

In the Number 1 Blooming Mill at Anshan (the largest in this, the largest steel complex in China), the cadres urged the workers to “seize every minute, every second, to produce more steel”. [70] To this end, an example was given of a veteran worker who braved the searing heat of the rolls to replace a loose bolt rather than shut down the whole operation to allow it to cool before making the adjustment. Safety of workers was clearly not the first consideration. Nor, in the coal industry, were the hours worked. The mines exceeded their targets “under the inspiration of the Second Plenary Session of the Communist Party’s Tenth Central Committee and the Fourth National People’s Congress ... Most of the coal mines continued production during the Spring Festival ... Many young workers deferred their wedding ceremony or gave up their holidays after marriage so as to cut more coal.” [71]

A Tientsin building company reported that, between 1966 and 1973, labour productivity had been increased by seventy-four per cent, and work completed by fifty-eight per cent. [72] The work was mainly small construction projects. Morale was high. “Trusting the enthusiasm of the masses” had led them to use only the workers’ spare time for work preparation, maintenance of equipment and moving between sites; an example that inspired the medical and nursing staff to follow suit, “so that most of the workers and staff members who were slightly indisposed or had chronic diseases could come to receive medical treatment without encroaching upon the time set aside for labour”. Three examples were offered to illustrate the spirit: firstly, on the Liut’an site, the land was not levelled, half covered by an old concrete road, twenty centimetres in depth and the “earth was frozen and its surface was very hard”. There was no power or water available. Nonetheless, the team refused to wait for power drills, and set to with ordinary iron spades to dig through the soil under the road, breaking it, fragment by fragment, by dropping heavy weights on the surface. Secondly, on another site, the team were required to sink a drainage well, but there was no power to operate the pumps. However, the workers “rushed to carry out their work in the well. In the waist-deep water, they scooped out the mud, spadeful by spadeful”. And thirdly, another gang were building a dormitory. Parts weighing seven to eight hundred catties (roughly seven to eight hundredweight, or 350 to 400 kilograms) arrived at the site, but without hoists to lift them. Nevertheless, “four young workers of the framework group ... insistently carried on their shoulders all these structural parts in the five blocks of the four storey dormitories.” The article received prominent display in the People’s Daily, and the honour of a special recommendation by the editor, stressing its great importance for all cadres.

It was not all plain sailing. There were obstacles to labour discipline. But happily, they were attributable not to bad working conditions but alien class forces. A number of “educated youths” were hostile to the dirty and tiring work. One of them “often associated with some ideologically backward people and often feigned to be suffering from lumbago in the course of work”. However, the “malingering” was short lived. Veteran workers and others called on his home “more than ten times”, and enlisted the help of the man’s parents. In due course, the son gave in.

The ideological climate encourages the most touching complaints. Consider, for example, the case of Chang Chen-an, worker in a Lanchow fertilizer plant, whose contribution to the People’s Daily in 1974 was entitled by the editor, A warm and sincere letter. [73] Chang explained that his plant had fulfilled their production target twenty days ahead of schedule, so the management planned “a general meeting in celebration of victory by sounding drums and gongs and letting off firecrackers. Furthermore, the factory also plans to give everyone a large tea cup and a free meal ticket.” Chang opposed the proposals because they were extravagant and wasteful, leaving the door open to bourgeois influences. The leading cadres in the factory, he concluded, lacked revolutionary spirit. We are not told whether Chang won his promotion. The miserly millowners of eighteenth-century Lancashire would certainly have made him a foreman.

To ensure that the expansion in output was not offset by increased wage bills, the number of workers in any given plant had to be kept constant or even reduced. Chiangnan Locomotive section claimed to “make very economical use of labour resources”; the Wuhan railway sub- bureau boasted that, between 1969 and 1971, the volume of goods carried increased 53.6 per cent, staff by five per cent, and labour productivity by 46.2 per cent. [74] T’angshan Locomotive and Rolling Stock Plant raised the question in terms of “two lines of ideology”. One “line” was “to improve labour productivity and strive for increases in production with no additional workers or just a slight increase in personnel but through tapping the potentialities within the enterprise is a principal way for socialist enterprise to increase production”. The other stated that “to try to increase production with little or no increase in workforce is tantamount to ‘requiring a horse to gallop without feeding it’ - something that can’t be “ The horse, in this case, was the Chinese working class. However, the writers from T’angshan claimed vindication - the work load had been nearly doubled between 1969 and 1970, the targets being fulfilled forty days ahead of schedule, “while cutting the original workforce by ten per cent”. [75] In this way, Mao’s instruction to make the “maximum economical use of manpower and material resources” would be achieved. Indeed, the writers explained, “There is no limit to the economies of manpower.”

A Shansi colliery offered another example. [76] The 1971 workforce of 1,246 had been cut in 1972 by twelve per cent, yet the output of raw coal had increased by thirty-two per cent, labour productivity by forty-three per cent, and profits by a princely 347 per cent. Furthermore, major economies had been made. In one chilling claim, the writers boasted that “the consumption of (pit) props declined by forty-two per cent”; presumably Mao’s thoughts would hold up the roof of the mine shaft. the recent performance was not new. the original construction plan had demanded 200 men working for two years at a cost of RMB 700,000. In practice, however, only seventy-two men had been employed, and had completed the construction “in several months” at a cost of RMB 190,000. either the original planners were incompetent, or the claims exaggerated, or the construction unsafe.

Again, the Shansi pit had its number of malcontents. A cadre examined the poor production performance of teh Number 3 tunnelling team: “When he found that some young miners went down the shaft late and came out early and were lax in discipline, he thought of the problem of labour management.” He found, as one might guess, that “a few young workers were influenced by bourgeois ideology and this was the principal cause of laxity of discipline”. However, education and “mobilizing the masses” did the trick, so that the team labour force could be cut by thirty-one per cent in 1972 (the writers do not say whether those sacked include the young workers of “lax discipline”). The production targets were met four months ahead of schedule.

The report from Shansi, like many other similar accounts, is a paean to what Western managers call “man-management”. Indeed, with a toning-down of some of the more absurd claims, and phrases like “improving communication with the shop floor” or “taking the workers into the confidence of management” substituted for “mobilizing the masses” and “practising Mao Tse-tung thought”, such articles would not be out of place in a Western progress-chaser’s bulletin. Like the capitalists before them, the cadres have discovered that “the masses of people have boundless creative power”, provided they are firmly disciplined. If the cadres only follow Mao, “we can bring the creative power of the masses into full play, and save more manpower to do more things.” In the Shansi colliery, as a result, “most miners have vigorously striven to raise the utilization rate of working hours, with one doing the work of two or even three.” [77] One year later, on the occasion of the 1974 British miners’ strike, Chinese miners were told that “British workers are getting more and more impoverished ... the coal miners, at the bottom of British society, are suffering the most relentless exploitation by monopoly capital.” [78]

If the lay-offs were as extensive as the Chinese press suggested, where did the unemployed go? The régime resumed its efforts to “send down” workers and students from the cities, and cadres from clerical to manual occupations, partly in the last case to provide supervision “on the production front” for the speed-up. Individual workers in “non-productive” jobs - e.g. teachers, public health officials, administrative workers, physical training instructors - were prime candidates for transfer to manual agricultural jobs. Other workers perhaps secured jobs in the “unorganized” sector of city industry - plants employing under one hundred workers, and not covered by the existing social insurance system.



(i) Lenin and “Subbotniks”

The Chinese authorities were not slow to create an appropriate ideological rationale for a general speed-up in production combined with constant or declining earnings and size of workforce. This was the model of “Subbotniks”. Railway workers on the Moscow-Kazan line volunteered in the hard days of May 1919 to work five extra hours without extra pay (on Saturdays, the Sabbath or Subbota) as an increased contribution to the passage of railway freight and so the survival of the beleaguered Soviet State. In a famous speech, A Great Beginning, Lenin greeted this contribution as one of “the young shoots of communism”, a rejection of “bourgeois right” (i.e. the principle that pay should be related to work done) and as an exemplary “display [of the] class consciousness and voluntary initiative of the workers in developing the productivity of labour”. [79] The Subbotniks of China were to be Mao’s “new sprouts of communism” (Mao’s quotation from the Russian loses some of its poetry in the English translation).

Even if we accept Lenin’s formulation - and the retreat into the New Economic Policy suggests he might later have thought his speech premature - does it apply to China? First, Russia was in condition of grave collapse in which extraordinary measures were required to secure survival until the German revolution brought real support. In China, however, the extraordinary is presented as the norm for the long haul of national primitive accumulation. Secondly, in the Soviet Union, the efforts were expected primarily of the Communists rather than the whole labour force. Thirdly, the increase in productivity was in the long term to be based, not on the physical exertion of workers lacking basic equipment - building workers, for example, digging a well with spades, relying on their muscle power and disregarding safety - but on the organization of a technically advanced industry. Lenin criticized those who thought all could equally attain the same level of productivity: “The assumption that all the ‘toilers’ are equally capable of doing this work would be an empty phrase, or the illusion of an antediluvian, pre-Marxian socialist; for this ability does not come of itself, but grows historically and grows only out of the material conditions of large-scale capitalist production.” It is true that “Communism is the higher productivity of labour - compared with capitalist productivity of labour” - but enhanced productivity comes not from more physical labour but the “voluntary, class-conscious united workers, employing advanced technique”. [80] The Chinese emphasis on hard physical labour as itself the mark of socialism is contrasted with the Bolshevik aim of the abolition of hard physical labour.

What happened to the return to labour in conditions of speed-up? There has been no general wage reform of the kind seen in 1956 and therefore the wage structure today corresponds in essentials to the 1956 pattern. In so far as revolutions involve changes in the structure, none has occurred. Real effort was directed up to 1976, however, at ending payments made over and above the eight grade system, an effort which, in the case of bonuses, began in 1950. Cadres have attempted to end overtime pay and similar ancillary awards for extra work (for example, issuing meal tickets for overtime work), while retaining the same work load. Estimates from the mid-1960s put the contribution of bonus and overtime to earnings at between five and seventeen per cent, a not inconsiderable element, given the low level of Chinese wages. Some visitors report that small pay increases were awarded to workers to induce them to give up overtime pay, and there were minor adjustments in prices to reduce the impact of reduced earnings. However, these cannot have been significant, given the scale of labour disputes in 1974 and 1975.

The justification for these changes was an attack on “material incentives”. According to the régime, “material incentives” were “the magic weapons used by Khrushchev and Brezhnev for restoring capitalism”. [81] They still had “a powerful hold on the minds of some people”, not because incomes were low and conditions austere, but “because of bourgeois ideas and the force of old habits ... some of the selfish people are likely ... to go so far as to turn ‘to each according to his work’ into #work according to pay’.” [82] For some writers, it was necessary to detach work from pay altogether: “the money wage received by a labourer represents a part of the total output of society used for individual consumption; this part corresponds to the amount and quality of each worker’s labour, to his social contribution.” How did it “correspond”? Clearly not in terms of a worker’s output since workers were extraordinarily productive. How were income differences to be assessed? Mao divulged no more than that the current wage system was “scarcely different from [that] in the old society”. [83]

By official acknowledgement: “Wages are low and the living standard is not high. We only just get enough clothing and a full stomach. To develop the economy, this situation must be maintained for some time to come.” [84] The efficiency in the distribution of labour between jobs must be poor also, given the efforts made to reduce the size of the bureaucracy whose task it is to direct workers to the right job. As a result, pay must still be used as the primary means of getting people to work, to work harder and to move between jobs so that their skills are used to best advantage.

The contradiction between the two aims - to minimize the loss to accumulation from wages, and to induce people to work and learn skills - is the source of the confusion. As always, this is then attributed to the current enemy: “swindlers of the Liu Shao-ch’i type consistently opposed Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line and politics. In the countryside, they sometimes put ‘wage points in command’ and give ‘material incentives’, and at other times, practice ‘egalitarianism’, violating the socialist principle of distribution and creating confusion.” [85] Liu Shao-ch’i’s contradictory responses are the mirror image of the party leadership’s own contradictory position. In the mid-1950s, “egalitarianism” was a petty bourgeois deviation that “thwarted the enthusiasm of the masses” for work. Now it appears it contributes to the restoration of capitalism, a system apparently identified by great inequality of income!

Understanding the reasons for inconsistency did not help the cadres to meet production targets. In tight spots, working against the clock, they were obliged to contradict one element in policy to achieve another (meeting the target). For example, in a Shansi factory, “in the fourth quarter when time was pressing, the tasks were heavy and pressure was great, some people forgot the previous lesson and decided to pay the workers overtime.” [86] When there are people eager to replace the cadre, it is a dangerous tactic: “After comrades of Number 14 work group of Number 5 workshop wrote an article, Do we work hard to make greater contributions or to earn more money?, they were greatly educated and enlightened ideologically.” The writer does not say whether the education was sound enough to deduct the overtime pay from the workers’ next wage packet. In another factory, workers pressed for overtime pay and were finally given it; whereupon a wall newspaper appeared, denouncing this “bribery”; the party committee, under such an embarrassing threat (with the local party leadership watching), eventually reversed itself once more. [87]

There are many other forms of reward besides straight payment from the wage fund - ranging from preferential treatment in the supply of housing to promotion, titles, invitations to star events, medals, banners, holidays, and travel privileges. Travellers in a north-eastern industrial city in 1976 reported that workers were sometimes awarded goods (cups, basins), sometimes a monthly bonus of five yuan, and sometimes some of China’s fiery liquor, maotai. [88]

The party did not honour its promise of increased pay, made in the heat of the moment in late 1966, although small increases for lower wage grades were announced in 1971 and somewhat larger ones in 1977. More characteristic of the party in these eleven years was the sustained effort to lower labour costs per unit of output. This does not mean that household incomes have not continued to improve since the Cultural Revolution. Due to the rapid expansion in industrial output perhaps, more household members could get jobs and so raise household incomes. As Red Flag reminded workers: “In the past, a worker had to support his whole family. Now his dependants take part in work. So, the aggregate income of a worker’s family is greatly increased.” [89] But the jobs in organized industry cannot have increased very much since 1969; the expansion in output has come from increasing the use of existing industrial capacity rather than adding to it. Perhaps more jobs have been created in unorganized industry, units employing less than one hundred workers. Wages and conditions are much inferior here, and not governed by the eight grade wage system. There are also “a small number of labourers working on their own in the towns” [90], presumably day labourers and petty artisans providing miscellaneous services. The number of those employed outside the organized sector is not clear, nor how stable their income is (some seem to work on a wage point system as in agriculture). Visitors have listed a wide variety of jobs - from subcontracting work for big factories, the manufacture of consumer goods (household utensils, plastic flowers, paper goods) and petty services.

Since the Cultural Revolution, more has been done to encourage cooperative health insurance schemes among unorganized sector workers, and there seems to have been some neglect of the organized sector. Such schemes are financed out of the meagre wages of the workers concerned, and, as a result, provide no cover for old age or disability. The State’s assistance has been limited to the provision of small items of equipment and reductions in the price of basic medicines. [91] It is, however, very remote from any kind of “welfare State”.



(ii) Workers’ control

It could be argued that the “low wage” policy is essentially socialist, not because low wages are the mark of socialism (which would make nineteenth-century capitalism largely socialist!), but because the working class of China voluntarily imposes this policy upon itself as an act of conscious and collective self-discipline. The Cultural Revolution is seen as the time when China’s working class established its power in the State, transforming social relations within society and winning popular control at the base. In sum, there was created workers’ control in the workplaces and workers’ power in the State.

The subject of “workers’ control” is often confused. Some socialists have regarded it as an anarcho-syndicalist aim which would obstruct the realization of the collective interests of the working class, exercised through the State. Others have seen it as no more than the final stage of “participation” by the majority in making important decisions; every increase in participation would then be a step towards the final goal of democracy.

The Bolsheviks came to a different conception. For Lenin, workers’ control was a necessary element in a working-class struggle for power, the tangible expression of class rule at the point of production and the precondition for an effectively planned workers’ State. Participation, by contrast, was the method employers chose to sap the independent class power of workers, to bind them to the purposes of capital. Real power came only through independent workers’ organizations, pursuing their own class interests, whether in the factory or in society.

The Bolsheviks accordingly opposed the proposals of the Provisional Government to create a system of workers’ consultation committees in April 1917. Instead, Lenin argued that “the workers must demand the immediate establishment of genuine control to be exercised by the workers themselves.” [92] The Mensheviks in the Provisional Government argued - as the Chinese Communists did in the 1950s - that the revolution of February 1917 (or 1949 in China) was not a socialist revolution, so the workers should not take over production. They offered participation to ameliorate the wage system without infringing managerial prerogatives. Russian workers themselves provided the answer. In August 1917, a conference of factory committees demanded power to control the composition, the hiring and firing of management, and the internal rules governing factories (hours worked, wages, hiring and firing). The Provisional Government could not concede such demands without jeopardizing its own power, based upon the employers. It denounced “acts of coercion” by the workers as crimes. The Soviets themselves, then under Menshevik influence, urged the workers to restrain themselves; but the excesses’ continued.

For the Bolsheviks, and particularly those workers active on the factory committees, it became clear that the struggle for workers’ control was the necessary complement of the struggle for State power, not some alternative or diversion. Indeed, State power without workers’ control would be no more than a minority seizing the old State machine and trying, without mass initiative, to implement reforms from above. Nationalization of industry by the State was not sufficient: “The important thing will not be even the confiscation of the capitalists’ property, but country-wide, all-embracing workers’ control over the capitalists and their peasant supporters. Confiscation leads nowhere, as it does not contain the element of organization, of accounting for proper distribution.” [93]

In China, the new government did not undertake immediate nationalization, and was careful to protect managerial and private business authority. However, as part of the reorganization of labour, it encouraged measures of consultation through Joint Production Committees and Worker and Staff Representative Committees in the public sector, and Labour-Capital Consultation Committees in the private; public sector committees were not permitted to discuss wage and welfare issues. [94]

However, the priorities of planning soon overtook any functions these committees might perform; everything was subordinated to targets and timing. There were complaints of authoritarianism, but nonetheless, in 1956, the Central Committee affirmed that managers were fully responsible, under the direction of the party committee. In 1957, there was much talk of decentralization (that is, vesting more power in the local party committees). Events in Budapest showed the leadership some of the dangers of permitting the gap between cadres and workers to widen too far. Worker Representative conferences were reorganized, and, for a time, it was claimed they supervised the execution of plant plans (the committees included managers and party cadres). In a much publicized case, the Peking Tram Company set up an administrative committee of nineteen, including workers, managers, technicians, cadres, trade union and Young Communist representatives, empowered apparently to elect managers and supervise the implementation of the plan. Other attempts were made elsewhere, but the government stressed that management was fully responsible for meeting the targets, whatever other committees existed. Little was heard subsequently of these efforts, and, it seems, managers and cadres retained their full authority. The committees became, on one account, “a mere vehicle for management and the party cadre to make speeches.” [95] In the Great Leap Forward, as we have seen, the cadres assumed managerial authority, and rules of operation (of which these committees were part) were only restored in the troubles of 1959.

Managerial authority again came under attack during the Cultural Revolution. There was once more a drive to scrap internal distinctions and what are known as “unreasonable rules and regulations”, or, in Britain, “restrictive practices”. After the first upheaval, revolutionary committees were set up to unite the managers, representatives of the PLA, the party and the Red Rebels. Under the leadership of the PLA, these committees endeavoured to restore discipline, complaining of workers who “in the name of rebellion and opposing slavishness ... in reality stir up anarchism”. [96]

By 1971, factory rules and managerial cadres were once more supreme, but the memory of the hopes of the Cultural Revolution perhaps lingered on. The People’s Daily continued to attack those who “under the influence of the theory that ‘systems are useless’, said that, since the Cultural Revolution had raised the consciousness of the masses, production could be stimulated without systems and rules so that the question of their revival was irrelevant”. [97] Forms of consultation continued in many factories, usually through a consultative body – “worker-management groups” and “Three-in-One” economic management groups (including cadres, managers and workers). Occasional mass meetings were organized by the cadres. Although this does not in itself constitute “consultation”, managers participated in manual labour. Some factories claimed that workers were involved in the election of managers, but it is not clear whether this was just a verbal change in the normal pattern of nomination from above. In a Shanghai watch and clock factory in 1975, “a number of workers have been selected to assume leading positions and take part in management work” [98]; as the report later explains, the selection was made by the factory committee.

This is very far from Lenin’s conception of workers’ control; in one sense, it is its opposite. It is also remote from the party’s own claims that “the rank and file take part in all aspects of management”, a formulation which in any case preserves the idea of management as an authoritative elite. There are in fact no institutions whereby a collective workers’ interest could be expressed, in contradistinction to the interests of management or local party committee. But even if there were, would it constitute workers’ power? The right to control or participate (and the two are very different) in the direction of a factory is only a stable possibility if simultaneously the working class controls the State. For, in China, the national and provincial governments determine the level of wages, the numbers employed, the price of factory output, the allocation of raw materials and skilled labour, and the raw materials and equipment moving between provinces: that is, all the key items that determine what happens inside the factory. An individual worker may well be “self-governing” at home, involving all members of his or her household in deciding what to do; but the alternatives open to the household depend on factors outside the home, and usually outside the household’s control - how many have jobs, what the level of pay is, the conditions and hours of work.

However, this is not the end of the question, for there is another area of “workers’ control”, the struggle for the control of the workplace quite independent of management and cadres, which has been impressively represented in China in recent years: the strike.



(iii) Strikes

The periods of known industrial disputes and strikes have already been mentioned - 1955-7, 1966-8 and 1974-6. From the Chinese press and radio, it is possible to reconstruct some of the disputes.

Forms of worker resistance range from resisting pay cuts or deterioration in conditions, refusing work discipline, disobeying the law or factory regulations (including changing jobs or place of residence without permission) through to direct resistance, the go-slow, outright strikes, refusals to work, to accept direction or transfer, and even attacks on the factory or managers. The sanctions similarly range from the mild - reprimands, public criticism by the cadres through wall posters or mass meetings, backed up by fines deducted from pay, loss of seniority or demotion, to the more severe: being transferred to a rural area and “re-education”. In some cases, workers were sent to prison; for example, in July 1957, the three leaders of a demonstration outside the manager’s office at the Chungking Machine Tool factory were arrested as “counter-revolutionaries”. In the l950s, labour correctional camps were created to “re-educate” rebel workers. In extreme cases, even the death penalty was used; at the Kweilin Building Company, cadres were beaten up during a strike, and the two strike leaders were tried and sentenced to death, others being given terms of imprisonment. [99]

Was the situation qualitatively transformed by the Cultural Revolution? Certainly, the new constitution for the first time acknowledged that strikes took place and legalized them, but in practice how were things changed? The campaign in 1973 and 1974 to end all payments above the eight grade wage system produced a rash of opposition (perhaps difficulties were exacerbated by shortages of foodstuffs). Reports of disorder, go-slows and absenteeism occurred through 1974 and 1975, particularly in the mines, the steel industry and railways, and in a number of cities (Shanghai, Anshan, Hsuchow, Nanch’ang, Canton and Wuhan; in Kwantung, Liaoning, Kiangsi, Heilungkiang and Shensi). [100] Indeed, some foreign observers attributed the 1975 drop in steel output to labour resistance to the abolition of overtime pay. In Heilungkiang, the radio reported that “factionalism has greatly disrupted and undermined our revolution and production”; the militia was required to protect cadres in some areas from those who “misled” the people. Troops were sent to Hsuchow (Kiangsi) and also to the Tahuangshan coal mines.

However, Hangchow (Chekiang province) was the place that received most publicity in 1975, perhaps because it was the location of Mao’s summer retreat. The factories there were apparently disturbed from early 1974. Late in the year, an expanded provincial militia was introduced into the city to police a sort of martial law on the streets. However, the militia itself is said to have divided into warring groups, and the troubles were sufficiently severe for train drivers to refuse to pass through the city (the line through Hangchow connects Shanghai to the south). As a result, there were severe delays of freight which were not overcome until May 1975.

In the spring, the new Vice-chairman of the party, Wang Hung-wen, who is credited with taming the Shanghai workers in the Cultural Revolution, was despatched to the city but without success. Chekiang troops were then moved in and public security squads from north China were drafted in to patrol the streets. The leading deputy Prime Minister, Teng Hsiao-p’ing, also visited the city, and perhaps was instrumental in framing the Central Committee and Standing Council resolution on the situation: “a handful of counter-revolutionary revisionist elements and newly emergent bourgeois elements sneaking into the party and the army and headed by sworn adherents of Lin Piao and Liu Shao-ch’i in Chekiang, vainly attempted to subvert the dictatorship of the proletariat in collaboration with the landlords, the rich, the counter-revolutionaries, the bad and the rightists ... [and] stirred up anarchism, factionalism and an evil wind of economism; conducted armed struggles; made trouble; interrupted the supplies of electricity and running water; disrupted production and transport; made a sally against troops; and blasted public security departments.” [101] The resolution concluded that “chief plotters shall be severely punished according to the law. As to the masses, we should re-educate them and let bygones be bygones.”

The resolution was perhaps the signal for the final effort - over 10,000 PLA troups moved into the city to take over the thirteen leading factories. The municipal authority was reorganized, three leading officials replaced, and the local party put in order. Officially, the troops were necessary because the workers of Hangchow were “unable to increase production under the pernicious influence of the counter-revolutionary revisionist line and bourgeois factionalism and due to the sabotage activities of a handful of class enemies”. [102]

Officially, the PLA - and later, air force and naval units - undertook “participation in manual labour”, or peacemaking. From 12 July, when PLA unit 1815 took over a car component manufacturing plant, there was a stream of reports of particular units taking particular factories - textile mills on 19 July, a textile printing and dyeing plant on 21 July, and a wool textile mill. The 7th PLA company worked at the cement warehouses where “they completed one day’s work in two hours and were praised by the workers”. [103] Air force units were sent into factories manufacturing heavy machinery, oxygen equipment, steam turbines, boilers and glass works. “They all took the initiative in carrying forward the same vigour ... and worked continuously, fearing neither heat nor fatigue.” Commander Li Chi-ming “set a good example to the fighters by arduously working for a few hours ... deputy commander Ni Chungsheng ... actively took the lead in unloading coal. He never uttered a word despite the blisters on his hands ... In one day, ten cadres and fighters unloaded fifty tons of cement, and none of them complained of being tired.” The workers must have been impressed at this temporary display of a fortitude they were expected to show month in month out.

Successive mass meetings were held to pull the local cadres into line - for example, 8,000 provincial cadres assembled on 22 July, and 15,000 on the 24th. Similar meetings were held in the main factories, to “vigorously denounce Liu Shao-ch’i and Lin Piao”. As a result, reports said, everyone agreed to work harder - even “cooks in the cafeteria strove to increase the variety of dishes. They provide the workers with steamed bread and hot vegetable soup.” Bus drivers, after finishing their regular runs in the daytime, “returned in the evening to drive the night shift”; there were presumably no safety regulations to limit the number of hours of driving. The cadres “have made use of their holidays and days off to do manual labour and have taken the lead in tackling the most difficult jobs”.



(iv) Theory and practice

In study classes at three factories in Chengchow, Honan, the cadre leadership raised the then fashionable, but curious, question, twenty-six years after the seizure of power in 1949, and eight or nine years after what was called a “proletarian seizure of power” in the Cultural Revolution: “Should the leaders of an enterprise put the workers in the position of the masters, trust and rely on them and ceaselessly strengthen their position in enterprise management, or regard them simply as hired labour and squeeze them out of management and supervision of the enterprise?” The implication escaped the cadres - he who has the power to choose the master is himself the master.

That curious quality is repeated in numerous statements of the party. The workers must be told that the factories belong to them, since there is no way that they will discover this in their daily experience. It was, according to the party’s accusations, Liu Shao-ch’i, like those early anti- capitalist dreamers of the socialist movement, who urged that labour should be paid more, or should be paid even the whole value of their labour. The writer’s indignation at such an idea leads him to employ the same metaphor as would be used in the West - if workers consume all they produce, they will “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”; there will be nothing with which to “build socialism”. [104]

For nearly twenty years, the régime continued to pay annual profits of five per cent on capital to China’s former capitalists. It was at the same time striving to hold down wages, increase output, cut the permanent labour force and dilute it with temporary and contract workers. None of the central leadership questioned this procedure. Labour was treated as an important factor of production, the goose that laid the golden eggs, and it was production which was the régime’s continuing obsession. Labour was treated throughout, despite the rhetoric expended on “the working class”, as essentially passive, a commpdity. If workers objected, they were accused of being the creatures of just those capitalists, so richly rewarded and protected by the régime. Workers reacted on the scale they did not because they were being manipulated nor because bad thoughts somehow persisted in their heads, but because of the onerous disciplines imposed upon them by the régime’s pursuit of production.

Is the position of workers in the People’s Republic qualitatively different from that in other societies? In objective terms it is the same, even if the propaganda is different. By no serious standard can the Communist party in the period since 1949 - or since 1968 - be seen as the leadership or representative of the Chinese working class. Chinese workers have been the object, not the subject, of modern Chinese history.




68. NCNA Peking, 28 December 1974, SCMP S770, 10 January 1974

69. To idle and not to idle, Hsiao Tung, PLA, JMJP, 13 January 1969, SCMP 4350, January 1969

70. North-east heavy industrial workers go all out to produce more, NCNA Shenyang, 1 May 1973

71. NCNA Peking, 7 April 1975, SCMP 5834, l7 April 1975

72. Grasp well education in the line, arousing revolutionary spirit, from No.2 work section, Tientsin Municipal No.2 Building Construction Company, JMJP, 18 September 1973, SCMP 5469, 1-5 October 1973, pp.1S9-60

73. JMJP, 25 January 1974, SCMP 553, 14 February 1974

74. JMJP, 28 October 1972, SCMP 5244, 13-17 November 1972, p.8

75. Economize on manpower wherever possible, Hung-ch’i II, 1 November 1972, SCMM 741-2, 27, 4 December 1972, p.30

76. Chiangchiawan Colliery, Tat’ung Municipality, Shansi, in Hung-ch’i 3, 3 March 1973, SCMM 749-50, 26 March-2 April 1973, p.55

77. Chiangchiawan Colliery, op. cit.

78. NCNA Peking, 15 February 1974

79. SW9 (1937), pp.423-45

80. Ibid., p.439; stress added

81. Kuang-ming JP, 27 April 1975

82. JMJP, 15 May 1975, SCMP 75-24, 9-13 June 1975

83. PR, 28 February 1975, p.5

84. Teng Hsiao-p’ing, 2 October 1974, interviewed by Professor Fan Lan, cited Carl Riskin, Workers’ incentives in Chinese industry, in China: A Reassessment of the Economy, Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress, Washington, 1975, p.201

85. Perseveringly put politics in command, do a good job of reckoning wages of labour, Lin An, JMJP, 12 August 1972, SCMP 5199-5203, 21-25 August 1972, p.186. The criticism continues: “They vigorously practise ‘egalitarianism’ for the purpose of sabotaging the policy of more pay for more work and equal pay for equal work, thwarting the enthusiasm of the masses in production, undermining the development of the productive forces, disintegrating the collective economy and restoring capitalism.”

86. Sian radio, Shensi, 11 March 1975, SWB FE/4860/BII, p.20

87. Report, China News Summary, 555, 19 February 1975

88. Reported, Far Eastern Economic Review 94/40, 1 October 1976, pp.89-90

89. The essential distinction between two systems of distribution, Hung-ch’i 7, 1 July 1972, SCMM 733-4, 3 July-8 August 1972, p.56

90. Kuang-ming JP, 19 May 1975, SCMP 75-23, 26 June 1975

91. For details, see Some basic facts about China: ten questions and answers, in China Reconstructs, Supplement, January 1974, p.91; for further details after a visit, cf. Joyce Kallgren, Welfare and Chinese industrial workers: Post-Cultural Revolution Prospects and Problems, unpublished paper, August 1976

92. 17 May 1917, CW24, p.428; Lenin’s stress

93. CW26, pp.107-8

94. Strictly implement Joint Production Committees, Ch’ang Chiang JP, 29 May 1951

95. L’i Ch’un, Why is it necessary to broaden the management of our enterprises?, Chung-Kuo kung-jen, 6, 27 March 1957, cited by Choh-ming Li, Chinese Industry, CQ 17, Jan-March 1964, pp.26-7

96. JMJP, 15 July 1969

97. Grasp ideology systems and technique, JMJP, 8 October 1971

98. SWB 4964/BII/9, 25 July 1975; stress added

99. Hoffman, The Chinese Worker, op. cit., Table 5:1, pp.146-7

100. Reports, China News Summary, Nos. 577-8, August 1975; on Shensi, SWB 4971 /BII/8

101. Central Committee and State Council, Resolutions concerning the problem of Chekiang province, 24 July 1975, translated and published, Issues and Studies, June 1976, pp.102-5

102. Hangchow radio, 21-22 July, SWB 4965i and 4, 26 July 1975

103. NCNA, 2 August l975, in SWB 4976/BII/5-6, 8 August 1975

104. The essential distinction, op. cit. (note 89), p.59


Last updated on 26.7.2001