Abstract by Hongsheng Jiang
In 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, the Parisian workers revolted against the bourgeois government and established the Paris Commune.
Extolling it as the first workers’ government, classical Marxist writers took it as an exemplary—though embryonic— model of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The principles of the Paris Commune, according to Marx, lay in that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”
General elections and the abolishment of a standing army were regarded by classical Marxist writers as defining features of the organ of power established in the Paris Commune.
After the defeat of the Paris Commune, the Marxist interpretation of the Commune was widely propagated throughout the world, including in China.20th century China has been rich with experiences of Commune-type theories and practices.
At the end of 1966 and the beginning of 1967, inspired by the Maoist theory of continuous revolution and the vision of a Commune-type state structure, the rebel workers in Shanghai, together with rebellious students and revolutionary party cadres and leaders, took the bold initiative to overthrow the old power structure from below. On Feb.5, 1967, the Shanghai workers established the Shanghai Commune modeled upon the Paris Commune. This became known as the January Storm.
After Mao’s death in 1976, the communist party and government in China has rewritten history, attacking the Cultural Revolution. And the Shanghai Commune has barely been mentioned in China, let alone careful evaluation and in-depth study. This dissertation attempts to recover this lost yet crucial history by exploring in historical detail the origin, development and supersession of the Shanghai Commune.
Examining the role of different mass organizations during the January Storm in Shanghai, I attempt to offer a full picture of the Maoist mass movement based on the theory of continuous revolution. Disagreeing with some critics’ arguments that the Shanghai Commune was a negation of the party-state, I argue that it neither negated the party nor the state.
Instead, the Shanghai Commune embodied the seeds of a novel state structure that empowers the masses by relegating some of the state power to mass representatives and mass organs. Differing from the common narrative and most scholarship in the post-Mao era, I argue that the commune movement in the beginning of 1967 facilitated revolutionary changes in Chinese society and state structure.
The Shanghai Commune and the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee developed as ruling bodies that did not hold general elections or abolish the standing army and in this way did not replicate the Paris Commune.
But in contrast to the old Shanghai organs of power, they were largely in conformity with the principles of the Paris Commune by smashing the Old and establishing the New. Some of their creative measures,“socialist new things”, anticipated the features of a communal state –a state that does not eradicate class struggle yet begins to initiate the long process of the withering away of the state itself.
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Introduction by Hongsheng Jiang
Recovering a Lost History: Unraveling the Shanghai Commune in 1967 On September 9, 1976, the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong passed away.
Within one month, a coup d’état took place on October 6, 1976, plotted by the acting prime minister Hua Guofeng, Marshal Ye Jianying, General Wang Dongxing,deputy prime minister Li Xiannian, and other high Party and army officials.
Four party leaders who were followers of Mao – Jiang Qing (Madame Mao, member of the CCP Politburo), Zhang Chunqiao (deputy prime minister), Wang Hongwen (vice-chairman of the CCP), and Yao Wenyuan (member of the CCP Politburo) – were called to an alleged Politburo meeting and then arrested when they arrived.
These four high party leaders were later denounced as the “Gang of Four.” After this coup, the
new Hua Guofeng regime claimed allegiance to the Maoist revolutionary line in order to legitimize the new administration. But at the same time, it relentlessly persecuted Cultural Revolution activists.
But this contradictory policy of the Hua Guofeng regime actually undermined its legitimacy and paved way to its self-destruction. At the time, no strong political force in Chinese society, either leftists or rightists, truely supported this regime.
And the rightist Deng Xiaoping and his followers were therefore able to easily take over state power.
Eventually, while launching a large-scale campaign to “thoroughly negate the Cultural Revolution”, Deng Xiaoping forcefully dismantled all rural Peoples’ Communes, as he, together with Liu Shaoqi, had intended to in the wake of the Great Leap Forward.
The slight rise of the grain yield in the post-Mao Era was attributed to the restoration of small-scale peasant farming which had lasted for more than one thousand years and caused countless famines in Chinese history – not the the achievements during the Cultural Revolution such as the water conservancy works ,the basic farmland construction drives and projects (nongtian jiben jianshe), the building of numerous fertilizer and pesticide plants, and the introduction of hybrid rice crop (zajiao shuidao).
Deng Xiaoping used state funds that had been accumulated for years during the Mao Era, to raise the workers’ salaries. And then simultaneously,Deng publicly denounced the so-called “persecution” of the intellectuals by the “Gang of Four” and promised to rapidly raise their wages and social status.
In order to cater to the intellectuals, the Deng regime purposely set up a “Teacher’s Day” on September 10th, a day after Mao’s death.
One could say that, in a sense, this was a festival to celebrate Mao’s death. For several years, it seemed that everybody loved Deng Xiaoping. Consequently, Mao and the Cultural Revolution were disregarded by many Chinese people, including quite a number of peasants and workers.
The true history of the Cultural Revolution was meanwhile considerably blurred, distorted and
This recalls how today the French workers have ceased to commemorate the Paris Commune. As Alain Badiou deplores, “little is remembered [about the Paris Commune]... Does the working class have a heart?”
For about ten years after the Cultural Revolution, similar questions were posed in post-Mao China as well.
But the bourgeoisie has never been reluctant to grow their own gravediggers. Due to the division of land and individual farming (fen tian dan gan) promoted by the Deng regime, Chinese agriculture was soon mired in great difficulties.
This resulted in burning and lasting “sannong” issues, namely, rural problems pertaining to agriculture, the villages, and the peasants.
The need to address these rural issues is in part behind why at the end of 2009 the Chinese regime legalized and promoted the mass-scale growth of genetically engineered rice, corn and soybeans offered by the US based chemical company Monsanto—regardless of its uncertainty to human health.
The Chinese netizens’ resistance to genetically engineered crops was powerful. And the final outcome of this resistance is still to come. Compared with the peasants, the Chinese workers’ fate was even worse after 1992 when many of them were laid off by state-run enterprises. As the urban workers’ plight has increasingly deteriorated, there have been many so-called “collective incidents” (qunti shijian) among working people.
For instance, on July 22, 2009, thousands of angry steelworkers of the Tonghua Steel Factory in Jilin Province, who faced the prospect of being fired, rushed to the general manager, Chen Guojun, and beat him to death. This could be seen as a watershed event for the Chinese workers’ struggle. And rounds of “Mao Zedong fever”, like the waves of an endlessly rising tide, have surged through the streets and villages in China in the first years of the 21st century.
Many workers and peasants are looking forward to a new Cultural Revolution to get rid of corrupt officials.
Consequently, in recent years, there has been a powerful trend among the grass-roots people and non-mainstream, namely, non-neo-liberal intellectuals to re-evaluate the Cultural Revolution by challenging the official verdict of the CR, and recovering the lost history of the CR.
In doing research on the Cultural Revolution one has to confront the dire reality in China over the past 30 years. And a number of important questions come up:
What really was the experience of the masses of Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution?
How do the common people who experienced the CR—not the elite—look back and reflect upon this historical period?
Why and to what degree are the interpretations of the CR meaningful in understanding contemporary Chinese reality and reenvisioning the future of China?
In some sense, the process of answering these questions about the CR is a process of recovering a lost, or, a suppressed history.
The increasingly intensified struggle of the Chinese working people has made me focus my study of the CR on the mass movements, especially workers’ movements.
And the most important, yet least explored workers’ movements during the CR took place in Shanghai. Therefore, written from a political and historical point of view, my dissertation is a close examination of the CR in Shanghai from 1966 and 1967.
I explore this eventful period against the backdrop of the masses’ collective activities, including those of the workers, students, intellectuals, and peasants, both conservatives and rebels. The rise and supersession of the Shanghai Commune during the CR, a unique local state power organ created by the Shanghai masses modeled upon the Paris Commune, will be my central focus.
So far, mainstream scholarship on the CR has mainly focused on either political power struggles among top leaders in Beijing, or the student movements (existing studies are mainly on Red Guards in Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan).
Different from these studies, my project focuses on the workers’ movement and the role of mass political participation in the shaping and formation of the Shanghai Commune.
I will explore the political activism of leaders of mass organizations as well as of ordinary workers and citizens, many of whom in fact held different political viewpoints while declaring allegiance to the same banner of Mao Zedong Thought.
The short-lived Shanghai Commune lasted only 20 days, and was then replaced by a Three-in-One Combination leadership.
Yet for several important thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, and some scholars such as Henry C. it represents the political apogee of the CR. How should we evaluate and interpret this seminal event?
Also, although there have been some studies on the CR in Shanghai, there have been few in-depth studies on the Shanghai Commune itself.
The climax of the CR, whether acclaimed or condemned, has still been kept silent in the dark shadow of history. As the product of grass-roots workers’ mass movements aimed at promoting democratic participation and exercising proletarian leadership, the Shanghai Commune contributed greatly to the political practice and theory of the working class.
In order to bring to light the voices, passions, and dreams of the silenced masses, my project endeavors to provide a much fuller picture of the Shanghai Commune, so that an alternative understanding of the CR can be effected.
Marx claimed that “after every [previous bourgeois] revolution marking a progressive phase in the class struggle, the purely repressive character of the state power stands out in bolder and bolder relief,”
“All revolutions thus only perfected the State machinery instead of throwing off this deadening incubus.”
But Marx and Engels saw in the Paris Commune the seeds of developing a novel form of society,
that is, the gradual “withering of the state”. The Commune was “the political form of the social emancipation, of the liberation of labor from the usurpations (slaveholding) of the monopolists of the means of labor, created by the laborers themselves or forming the gift of nature.
The Commune, therefore, is a tool for liberating labor from capital, for liberating the society from the oppressive state. Marx and Engels’
I will discuss Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek's such evaluation of the Shanghai Commune in the first chapter.
Marx and Engels evaluation may be partially applicable to the Shanghai Commune, and its substitutive Shanghai Revolutionary Committee. On the one hand, the new Shanghai power organ that emerged from the CR did exert controlling measures toward dissents and oppositions among the masses, thus keeping distance from the prototype structure of the Paris Commune. On the other hand, greatly inspired by the Paris Commune, it adopted many measures to expand mass democracy, to further advance the continuous revolution, and to some significant extent, to usher in the beginning of the withering
away of the oppressive characters of state power.
My dissertation examines the precious experiences and lessons of Shanghai Commune and its substitutive Shanghai Revolutionary Committee in comparison with those of the Paris Commune.
The first chapter, “The Paris Commune Goes to China: Historical Contour and Scholarship of the Shanghai Commune”, sets the historical stage of the Shanghai Commune in a long-term perspective. I briefly reiterate the history of the Paris Commune through the account of a Chinese eye-witness. I then trace the obliteration of the Paris Commune by the French state machinery and the commemoration of the Paris Commune by various revolutionary forces.
I touch on the introduction of the Paris Commune into China, first mainly from France, then largely through the events in Russia. It was the Russian Bolshevik Revolution that enabled the Chinese
revolutionaries to look toward the model of the Paris Commune and set out to practice Commune power organs in China. In 1927, Chinese revolutionaries twice set up Commune power organs in two major cities—Shanghai and Guangzhou, though, unfortunately, they were brutally demolished by the bourgeois Nationalist troops. The third urban Commune power organ, the focus of my project, appeared in Shanghai in the heat of the Cultural Revolution. In this chapter, I will mainly cover the Chinese and Western scholarship on the Shanghai Commune and thinking on the concept of
communes in the Mao Era.
I will first introduce two memoirs written by foreign observers: Neal Hunter’s Shanghai Journal, and Sophia Knight’s Window on Shanghai: Letters from China. What they saw and heard before or during the Shanghai January Revolution provided us with precious materials on the Shanghai
Commune. Then I will comment on the early Western scholarship on the Shanghai commune. In 1971, to commemorate the centennial of the Paris Commune, two China specialists in the U.S., Maurice Meisner and John Bryan Starr, reflected on the relationship between the Paris Commune and the thinking and practice of the Commune in China, especially the Shanghai Commune. Although their path-breaking work is inspiring, I argue that some of their viewpoints warrant further scrutiny.
Afte rthat, I will examine the post-Mao Chinese scholarships aiming at negating the Shanghai commune. Specifically, I will examine works of Gao Fang, Jin Chunming, Yan Jiaqi and Wang Nianyi, which serve the ideological aims of the pro-capitalist Chinese regime to demonize the CR and the Shanghai Commune. And then I will deal with the Marxist elegies to the Shanghai Commune in the West after the 1976 coup d’état. Their representative evaluations, namely, those of Charles Bettelheim, Sam Marcy and the Progressive Labor Party, will be explored. Furthermore, I will probe
into the works of two China scholars in the West—Andrew Walder and Elizabeth Perry after the CR.
In addition, I will discuss Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek’s rethinking of the meaning of revolution in relationship to the lessons of the Shanghai Commune. Finally, I will deal with the recent Chinese reappraisals of the Shanghai Commune, from both anti-CR and pro-CR parties.
As the Marxist theories of the state are crucial in understanding Maoists'imagination and construction of “a wholly new form of state structure” in the storm of the CR, the second chapter “Lessons of the Paris Commune: Classical Marxist Writers on the State” proceeds to examine the classical Marxist thinking about the Paris Commune by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Focusing on their theories of the state summarized from the lessons of the Paris Commune, I will explore why in the Marxist tradition the Paris Commune was seen as a form of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. I will argue that this kind of dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Paris Commune should be considered an embryonic one. Furthermore, I will argue that in the Marxist tradition the Paris Commune was usually treated as a negation of theprevious states, especially the feudal and the bourgeois states, but an upholding of the
The Paris Commune endeavored to construct a communal state based on a communal constitution. As it discarded the major evils of previous state forms, such as the standing army and the military bureaucracy, the communal state would be just a semi-state and an anti-state state, namely, a state of initiating the withering away of the state itself.
Then I proceed to an analysis of why Marx claimed that the commune [state] would not do away with class struggle. The class struggle would not be completed even with the establishment of the Commune state. I will discuss the possible elements contributing to the class struggle and forms of class struggle in a commune state.
The destiny of a communal state, I argue, would hinge on the class struggle between the global proletariat and the global bourgeoisie. In this sense, the communal state is oriented toward the future and toward a world revolution.
This may be regarded as the Marxist theoretical foundation of the Maoist theory of continuous revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The third chapter “Envisioning a Wholly New Form of State Structure” deals with the ideological preparations of the Maoist thinkers for the formation of the Shanghai Commune. I start by tracing the formation of Mao’s theory of continuousrevolution by following the two-line struggle within the CCP, with a focus on the communization movement and the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s.
The resistance against the collectivization of agriculture within the CCP, I will argue, was an important factor that led to Mao advocating continuous revolution. I will then examine the debate around “bourgeois right” from 1958 to 1962, in which Zhang Chunqiao, who became one of Mao’s closest associates, drew on the lessons of the Paris Commune to envision a future society. Furthermore, I will examine Zhang Zhisi’s article in commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the Paris Commune in 1966. In this editorial, Zheng Zhisi explained why the Paris Commune was still
relevant and worthy of commemoration. After the launch of the CR, Mao hailed a wall poster at Beijing University as “the declaration of the Chinese Paris Commune”.
With a close reading of this poster, I discuss the relationship between the mass movement and the theory of continuous revolution. The dynamics of the continuous revolution lay in the staging of mass movements, which were seen by Mao as an ideal way of waging class struggle against the bourgeoisie in and outside the Party.
I then discuss the vital document of the CR, The Sixteen Points, in which the Party officially
called for looking to the Paris Commune as a model in creating a wholly new form of state structure. At the end of this chapter, I discuss another crucial editorial of the Redflag, in which the Paris Commune-type general election was considered a key measure to restore and defend the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to create a wholly new form of state structure.
The fourth chapter “The Road to Shanghai Revolutionary Revolution” and the fifth chapter "The Rise of the Shanghai Commune" trace the brief yet complex, course of events leading to the formation of the Shanghai Commune. Under the banner of "All power to the Shanghai Commune", it was a product of unprecedented mass initiatives driven by discontent over the pre-CR order and the old power holders’ suppression of the rebel movement in the early stage of the CR.
The Commune was also inspired by a call from the Maoist leadership and by the ideals of revolution and democracy modeled after the Paris Commune. This movement involved fierce struggles, both physically and ideologically, and constant negotiations and compromises among various mass organizations and their leaders. Focusing on the seizure of power by the rebels, I discuss how the rebel workers in Shanghai understood the Paris Commune model and the organizational forms they created in the January Storm.
I also discuss the problems and difficulties encountered by the Shanghai Commune by looking at the formation of rival workers’ organizations, the spate of economism, the democratic experiment of self-governance of workers in the factory, the dual power in the January storm, and the internecine struggles.
The fifth chapter ends with a discussion of whether or not the Shanghai Commune, as some
critics such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have argued, was an antithesis to the state. I argue that it did involve a utopian moment that kept a distance from the state,but this was mainly put forward by a minority of rebels. And almost nobody in the Shanghai Commune proposed to abolish the standing army, the police, and the Party.
Nevertheless, the Shanghai Commune valued the basic principles of the Paris Commune and followed its spirit.
Chapter Six “Revolutionary Committee is Good”: The Supersession of the Shanghai Commune” examines the considerations that led the Maoist leadership to replace the Shanghai Commune with the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee.
I provide evidence that there were strong, hostile opposition forces in the rebel ranks to the Shanghai Commune. One of the most important reasons, I argue, came from the mighty resistance of the high ranking leaders in the Party and the army. Another major reason for replacing the Commune was that Mao believed that the Party should not be abolished at that time. The Maoists thought that the failure of Paris Commune was mainly due to the lack of strong party leadership. One of the actual products of the CR is that the Party lost its control over the masses, who were then offered multiple
opportunities for political emancipation.
But should the party be abolished? Mao’s answer would be no. In this chapter, I offer Mao’s own explanations for replacing the Shanghai Commune. I end this chapter with an examination of the staging of the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee, delving into whether there were marked
differences between the Shanghai Commune and the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee.
During the period of forming RCs throughout China, there was strong opposition from the ultra-leftist Red Guards, represented by Yang Xiaokai, to the replacement of the Shanghai Commune. These forces, who hated the Revolutionary Committees favored by Mao, envisioned a People’s Commune of China.
It is tempting to discuss their position. But given the limitations of this disseration, I will leave the
ultra-leftists’ roadmap to a communal state for later exploration.
In the Conclusion, I reaffirm that the Chinese Commune movement in 1967 was an unprecedented and far-reaching revolution that changed the face of China, not a farce as some people have depicted. I also outline the fate of the major players in the Shanghai Commune after the coup d’état in 1976.
More attention is given to the issue of how to prevent a socialist society from capitalist restoration and whether there is a future for the Paris Commune in China. If there exists a possibility for the revival of the commune spirit/ model in China, what should the revolutionaries learn from the
lessons of the Paris Commune and the Shanghai Commune? Following this vein,
I discuss a possible Maoist roadmap to extensive democracy within the philosophical framework of the dialectics of party and mass organizations. Having drawn the lessons of the Shanghai Commune and the CR, I propose a tentative model: the mass organizations, instead of being weakened, should be consolidated as necessary complements to the party, while the two should maintain a dialectical relationship.
That is to say, the pro-communist mass organizations are politically, not organizationally, under the leadership of the revolutionary party, yet maintain their own initiatives and substantial autonomy.
Therefore, the mass organizations function as the supervision over the party, while the party can get rid of the stale and take in the fresh from the mass organizations, thus always sustaining new dynamics and continuing the revolution.
I argue that one of the main things that contributed to the failure of mass organizations is the dissolution of strong organizational structures and the loss of clear organizational identities.
But I reaffirm that no organizational forms and institutional forms can guarantee that a society will move toward socialism and communism. Nevertheless, a valuable lesson drawn from the failure of the first wave of the socialist and communist experiments is that after a successful working people’s
power seizure of the state, as long as there is no major threat from the enemies of the working people, the proletariat should immediately initiate the long, difficult and complicated process of the “withering away of the state”.
Any advocates of the working people’s revolution in the future should have a clear sense about the
imminent oppressive characters of the state, especially its worst aspects, as Engels suggests, “the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to top off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap.”
I conclude this dissertation by stating that as long as labor is not completely liberated
from capital, as long as the big differences between the privileged and the underprivileged are not largely leveled, the Commune could be an enduring point of reference and an eternal return for the working people’s emancipation.