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New Left Review I/100, November-December 1976


Fred Halliday

Marxist Analysis and Post-Revolutionary China

The Communist Party of China’s triumph in 1949 was an event of momentous importance. It put an end to the century of foreign intervention in China that had begun with the Opium War of 1840, and liberated a quarter of the world’s population from control by capitalism. The cpc’s victory represented an act of revolutionary mobilization and struggle unequalled before or since, and began the transformation of a country that had, for decades, been racked by war, famine, national disunity and the survivals of an archaic agrarian system. Moreover, after some years, the achievements and policies of the Chinese leadership began to have an international resonance. China appeared to offer a point of orientation for revolutionaries elsewhere—particularly for those who were no longer loyal followers of the Soviet Union or who were trying to make the revolution in third-world societies that faced some of the problems encountered in China. The evolution of this relation between China and revolutionary movements outside its boundaries has involved, at times, a bewildering variety of themes—the manner of seizing power, guerrilla tactics, forms of struggle in post-revolutionary societies. It has extended to more specialized matters such as socialist medicine and aesthetics. But at the centre of the relationship have lain two themes that for a time appeared to define the exemplary and effective side of the Chinese revolution. Internally the cpc and Mao himself advocated, with varying intensity, a form of mass political activity and an egalitarianism in a post-revolutionary state unlike that seen anywhere else in the Communist world; while externally, the cpc, after its earlier support for bourgeois régimes in the Bandung period of the mid-1950s, championed a militant anti-imperialism and the rejection of a reformist or peaceful road to socialism. Subsequent events have underlined the need to be cautious about how far these policy statements corresponded to Chinese practice. But there is no doubting how they were received internationally at the time and the positive manner in which many revolutionaries interpreted them.

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