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New Left Review I/148, November-December 1984

Gregor Benton

Chinese Communism and Democracy

Just a few years ago many socialists in the West saw China as the stronghold of true socialism in the world and Mao Zedong as its wise leader. Now China has few such ‘foreign friends’ and Mao-bashing has taken over from Mao-worship, with some of yesterday’s main worshippers among today’s main bashers. This article, though critical of the Chinese Communist Party, is not part of that trend. It starts out from the belief that what happened in China before and after 1949 was not a restoration of ‘oriental despotism’ but a real revolution, led by a Party of quality that has turned China into a power in the world. But the ‘socialism’ that this revolution brought about was lacking in one vital ingredient: democracy. This study addresses the reasons for that lack, and in so doing rejects two great myths about the Chinese revolution: the old myth that the Party’s immersion in the countryside softened it and made it more prone to listen to the ‘masses’; and the new myth that all China’s present ills have their origin in Mao’s bad character. [*] Thanks are due to Wang Fanxi and Pierre Rousset for comments on this text. An earlier draft was presented at the conference on Democracy and the Third World organized by the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam in January 1984.

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