The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1949-1976
For the first time in the memory of Chinese living in the early 1950’s, China had begun to experience a period of unification, peace, adequate food, economic growth, and international respectability. A century and a half of decline and disorder had abruptly come to an end with the emergence of a formidable Communist movement that came out of the fields and paddies of China’s agrarian society. The challenges at the time were enormous. War with Japan and civil war with Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists had left China devastated. Public works were destroyed, fields were left unattended, and starvation was rampant. China’s deprivation, however, brought on the anguish and despair among its people that facilitated the Communist Party in setting up a new government and a new society.
In viewing the events that followed “liberation,” Guillermaz narrates, in great detail, the Communist Party’s policies and methods of implementation. He is particularly interested in identifying the problems that beset the Communist leadership and the role of Mao Tse-tung in seeking solutions within the context of Marxism-Leninism. Obviously focused in the author’s mind is an answer to the question: How has the Communist Party been able to maintain effective control over such a large nation under the trying conditions that beset China in 1949?
The problems were widespread. China’s population, Guillermaz considers, is the most important. Without an accurate tally, no effective means to check population growth, and inadequate agricultural technology, a substantial shift in the country’s food-people ratio could result in disaster. A second problem given the Party’s attention is economic development. In this area, the Communist government has sought to devise policies which would expand both agriculture and industry, interrelating their expansion. Third, to bring about extensive political and economic change in China, the Party has experimented considerably with policies that would create an egalitarian society to break class distinctions and “elitism.” Guillermaz, however, detects residual strength in family and clan ties, as well as the prevalence of materialism and individualism of Chinese tradition that impedes the development of a “new society.” A fourth problem is to overcome factionalism which has historically plagued Chinese politics. Power struggles have continued to play a role in the casting of Communist directions, especially in the shifting between moderate and radical leaders. Guillermaz, however, could not unwrangle Mao’s last days. When the book was completed in 1976, Mao was still alive and the “Gang of Four” leftists had not yet been incarcerated; and the unsettled political scene at this juncture did not allow the author to assess accurately China’s future political course.
The assertive hand of Mao Tse-tung in China’s socialist transformation is evident throughout the upheavals of the Communist experiment. The “Hundred Flowers” campaign (1956), seeking the adulation of China’s intellectuals; the “Great Leap Forward” campaign (1957-1958), China’s fanatical drive for instant communalization and industrialization; and the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1969), Mao’s effort to make his revolution and “Maoism” permanently ingrained in the mind of every Chinese, were all part of Mao’s strategy. The fact that they failed to achieve their objectives is not important. What is significant is that the movements were part of the Maoist brand of Communism that differed from the Soviets’ and brought Maoism to an equal footing (at least in Chinese eyes) with Marxism and Leninism.
Guillermaz envisions Mao as “compliant and inflexible” and yet as one who contributed seriously to Communist doctrine and who had an influence on the international movement. Nevertheless, the author regards Mao as a leader who outlived his usefulness as a nation-builder and confused the past with the future. The watershed was the Cultural Revolution, according to Guillermaz, as the cyclic phenomenon of revolution was too disturbing to peace, order, and planning; and he questions the “seriousness of [the] Maoist vision.” More credit should be given to Mao. While his tactic might have been overdrawn, his vision was not. He knew the difficulty of erasing old traditions in China, and he was fully aware of the “capitalist tendencies” that forged an emphasis on consumer production in the Soviet Union. He earlier expressed his concern to visiting American journalist, Edgar Snow, that China’s youth might some day lose their revolutionary zeal. Mao was looking beyond Mao and his revolution.
In his analysis of the success of China’s Communist Party to maintain effective control, despite periodic convulsions that...
(The entire section is 1959 words.)