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Communism in China: 50 years of broken promises

Communist supporters
Communist supporters rally in northern China in December 1944  

'Waving a red banner to oppose the red banner'

By Wei Jingsheng
Translated by Susan Jakes

(CNN) -- The Communist Party has now ruled China for a full half-century. It has been a half-century plagued with discontent and disunity and a half-century in which the ideals of the Chinese people have marched toward destruction.

It has also been a half-century in which the Chinese people have studied and learned from the West even as they inherit the legacies of their own culture.

China at 50: Strong, prosperous and changing

Fifty years ago, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) relied on the support and trust of 600 million Chinese people to defeat the KMT (Kuomintang-Nationalists) and establish the People's Republic of China. People believed in the Communist Party because of its complete set of ideals; it promised protection of human rights for generations to come.

The idea of a prosperous future was universally appealing.

The CCP promised that in a short time the land would be distributed equally, which attracted peasants in large number. Then it promised that control of industrial production would be "in the hands of the working class," and that profits would be divided equally among its members. This appealed to large numbers of salaried workers.

Fanatical support, blind faith

The CCP used its broad support among workers and peasants, as well as the energies of a large group of intellectuals, to overpower ruthlessly those few who opposed its rule.

This campaign was immensely successful. According to still-incomplete CCP statistics, during the first five years of its rule "suppression of opponents" and "land reform" claimed the lives of between 2 million and 3 million people.

The Communist leadership thereby redressed grievances in the ranks of Chinese people who had suffered exploitation under past regimes, and it provided a vent for people who had various other discontents to air.

Thus the CCP rapidly consolidated its single-party autocracy. It won fanatical support and blind faith among the majority of the Chinese people and rendered the leadership immune to calls for more rational and just policies.

Despite its early popularity, however, the CCP could not possibly make good on all of its promises. To practice the ideals of communism, it implemented state ownership of land by force. This antagonized the majority of peasants, and peasants accounted for 80 percent of China's population.

Peasant retaliation

The varied and creative ways in which the peasants resisted state control provided the greatest contradiction of the first 30 years of CCP rule. The evidence of this contradiction became painfully clear during the devastating famines at the beginning and end of the 1960s.

During the Cultural Revolution, party cadres stationed in the countryside were subject to constant attacks by peasants, many of which were fatal. These were clearly retaliations for the party's broken promises.

Mao Tse-tung used the concept of the peasant struggle with rural cadres to alleviate discontent temporarily. But it could only be a temporary and superficial solution. Deng Xiaoping, therefore, had no choice but to return ownership of land to the peasants, which briefly resolved "the problem of the Chinese countryside" and lent peasant support to Deng's leadership.

Industrial communism faired no better than its agricultural counterpart. Mao bequeathed to Deng a pattern of steadily deteriorating ethical content in party slogans.

When industrial production had not kept pace with his projections, Mao changed the ideal from "to work according to one's abilities and to be compensated according to one's labor" to a phrase more characteristic of serfdom: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

Angry workers, angry students

But Mao's semantic deceptions did not placate angry workers, and Deng was forced to devise other slogans that could justify his party's broken promises. Thus was born Deng's notion of "the primitive stage of socialism." Again, however, it was not enough to satisfy the Chinese people.

Next, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang used the concept of "post-industrial socialism" to make further excuses for the failures of the CCP's plans. (Editor's note: Hu served as general secretary of the CCP between 1980-1987. When student demonstrations forced his resignation, he was replaced by Zhao, whose tenure ended with the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 when he was ousted and put under house arrest.)

But by this time, very few people still believed what the CCP had to say. No amount of rephrasing and updating the party line could make up for 50 years of broken promises.

Mao declared China a Communist state in October 1949  

The biggest promise that the party broke involved human rights. Chinese Communists had been the first human rights activists in Chinese history. In fact, the early popularity of communism in China was a direct result of the ideals it preached on human rights.

But it was Marxism's dictatorship of the proletariat that turned human rights into a mere tool for consolidation of political power. The Communist Party has refused to share its rights and powers with anyone, which is why for 50 years a group of people under the guidance of certain intellectuals has jumped at any excuse to protest CCP rule.

Democratic activism

For the first 30 years, this group relied on the ideals of communism to attack the policies of China's Communist rulers. Or, as Mao put it, the opposition was "waving a red banner to oppose the red banner."

But 20 years ago, beginning with the Democracy Wall movement, people began to oppose the one-party dictatorship openly. The ideals of the Democracy Wall became a new banner with which to protest oppression and pursue liberty, and ushered in a new tide of democratic activism.

This pro-democracy sentiment spread quickly, due not only to broken promises, but also to the party's commitment to a one-party dictatorship and to its bureaucratic bourgeoisie.

Even if we say that creating extreme dissatisfaction among the people was the most important result of Mao's communism, we still can't say that it completely lacked legality. But Deng and his successors' have "hung up a sheep's head to sell dog meat." They have used Communist slogans to disguise the bureaucratic capitalism they have created.

This is completely unjust. History and the Chinese people demand a new regime.

Wei Jingsheng, one of China's most prominent dissidents in the United States, is currently a visiting scholar in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York.

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