I am most grateful to John Rudge for this piece on Cliff’s 1967 article “Crisis in China”.


    Tony Cliff’s article “Crisis in China” was written in 1967 and first appeared in the journal International Socialism Issue Number 29 (Summer 1967). It was an important and well-researched piece that brought forth much detail on industrialisation in China and its associated politics. Cliff described the central theme of his article as being “the similarities and differences between the problems facing contemporary China and Russia at the time of her industrialisation drive”. The article concluded that, whilst in Russia there had been a Left Opposition that “represented the traditions of the working class that came to power in 1917”, there was no such equivalent in China. Even so Cliff was “quite optimistic about the future development of a revolutionary working-class movement in China” and that “the crisis from above may also spur on a new, revolutionary working-class political movement below”.

    It was certainly recognised that Cliff’s article was of some contemporary importance to both the International Socialists and beyond. When in 1973 it was decided that a Special Double Issue of International Socialism devoted to Marxist theory be issued “Crisis in China” was one of the five articles selected for inclusion. To show the company this article was keeping the other four articles were “Imperialism, Highest Stage but One” (Mike Kidron, 1962); “International Capitalism” (Mike Kidron, 1965); “Permanent Revolution” (Tony Cliff, 1963) and “The British Labour Movement: Aspects of Current Experience” (Colin Barker, 1967).

    Duncan Hallas wrote the “Introduction” to this Special Double Issue (International Socialism Number 61 June 1973) on theory and positioned the whole as follows:

    People often talk about the need to “develop theory”. In fact, Marxist theory is not developed on the basis of some general wish to theorise. It grows in response to actual problems facing Marxists. The five articles reproduced here represent aspects of the attempts of the International Socialists to master the new and unforeseen problems that arose after the second world war.”

    Hallas specifically introduced “Crisis in China” by writing:

    The theory that Maoism is progressive can be defended, in fact, only by the same type of arguments that were used to defend Stalin’s dictatorship in Russia. But the Stalin regime did indeed industrialise Russia. “Crisis in China” explains the attempts of Mao to do likewise from the first five-year plan (1952-57), through the “great leap forward” and its collapse to the “cultural revolution”. Since it was written the “cultural revolution” has collapsed in its turn and a new “Bukharinist” phase has been in progress for several years (see “China Since Lin Piao” in IS55). It is, unfortunately, too much to hope that Cliff’s sober examination of the facts from a historical materialist standpoint will dispel the fog of Maoist myths on the soft left. The roots of the myths are emotional, not rational, and the craving for myths has more to do with events in Europe and distaste for class politics than anything that has happened in China. Nevertheless “Crisis in China” is essential reading and a valuable contribution.”

    As well as appearing in these two issues of International Socialism (Numbers 29 and 61) Cliff’s “Crisis in China” article also appears on the Marxist Internet Archive here:


    The text of Cliff’s article is identical across these three publication places.

    Here, however, is an interesting, if minor, discovery.

    In Tony Cliff’s personal archive at Warwick University Modern Records Centre (MSS.459/2/15) in a section marked “Miscellaneous drafts and notes. Undated (c1940’s-1970’s)” there is a copy of “Crisis in China”. It has very clearly been typeset for inclusion in International Socialism Number 29 – but its first two sections do not appear at all in the other published versions. The extra material is a new section 1 titled “Previous “Rectification” Campaigns” and a new section 2 titled “The “Cultural Revolution” Gains Momentum” (all other sections are re-numbered so that the archived version has 15 sections rather than the published version’s 13). The two new sections provide some useful background to and aspects of the “Cultural Revolution”. Of much less interest, there is some additional text in the section of the published article titled “Voluntarism Gone Mad”. As this latter text largely consists of the words of two songs written in praise of Chairman Mao and adds little to the overall article I have not transcribed it.

    It is unclear if the extra text in the Cliff archive version of “Crisis in China” was deleted from the finally published version for reasons of space or for some other reason. Nigel Harris, the editor of International Socialism at this time, has no recollection (Harris, pers. comms.). Even though Cliff published work over a period of more than 60 years he retained very little of it personally – hence the very small size of his archive at Warwick. To my mind, the fact that he retained this particular item suggests that it meant something to him. For this reason, for the fact that the archive version is what Cliff originally wrote and to complete the record I think it important to make the important two “missing” parts of the article available. They are transcribed here at Appendix 1.

    There is, perhaps, one other interesting footnote to be made regarding Cliff’s “Crisis in China” article. In International Socialism Number 37 (June/July 1969) Cliff proudly refers to his own final sentence of the article when introducing a document titled “Whither China?”. Here is Cliff’s introduction to this document:

    In International SocialismNumber 29 (Summer 1967) I wrote in an article on the Cultural Revolution in China; “While there is without doubt a ‘Bukharinist’ wing in the Chinese Communist Party, and a Stalinist (Maoist) wing … there is not a Trotskyist or Left-Oppositionist wing.” I added, however, as the final sentence of the article “The crises from above may also spur on a new, revolutionary working-class movement below.”

    Much sooner than anyone expected, echoes of just such a movement reached our ears.

    On 24th of January 1968 K’ang Sheng, Minister of Public Security, in a speech attacked an organisation he called “Sheng-wu-lien” (shortened form of Hunan Provincial Proletarian Revolutionary Great Alliance Committee). It is made up of more than 20 organisations, we are told.

    They describe the State and the Party led by Chairman Mao as a privileged class similar to Kruschev’s party … It may be seen from an article by Yang Hsi-kuang that they have probably collected some counter-revolutionary works of Trotsky … They say that the great cultural revolution has just begun, that the great cultural revolution in the past was merely reformism, and that it has really begun only since the emergence of “Sheng-wu-lien” … They say that the provincial revolutionary committees and preparatory groups for these committees set up in the great cultural revolution are all reformists. Now we all know that the problems in various provinces were settled by Chairman Mao himself … In a roundabout way and by all conceivable means they are trying to hoodwink the masses, describing the great cultural revolution, the solution of provincial problems, and the setting up of preparatory groups for revolutionary committees as reformism, and identifying them with the thought of Mao Tse-tung. In this way, isn’t Chairman Mao’s thought reformism too? In this way they slander our great leader Chairman Mao. 

    On January 26th, Premier Chou En-lai, head of the Cultural Revolution Committee Chen Po-ta, the wife of Mao, Chiang Ching, and K’ang Sheng spoke at a mass rally of 100,000 people in Changsha, capital of Hunan, denouncing Sheng-wu-lien as a counter-revolutionary Trotskyist organisation. On the same day, Hunan Jih-pao published an editorial Thoroughly Smash Sheng-wu-lien, a Counter-Revolutionary Big Hotch-Potch. We are told that on February 8th the Premier personally instructed the Nan-fang Jih-pao to reproduce the editorial of the Hunan Jih-pao.

    At last one of the documents of the Sheng-wu-lien, entitled “Whither China?” came into our hands. It is a very interesting document indeed, though written in quite stilted language, and although it is not openly critical of Mao, going as far as paying some lip-service to him, (possibly otherwise the printers would have refused to print it), it analyses the Maoist regime as State-Capitalist, and calls for a social revolution, a working-class revolution against the ruling-class, the bureaucracy. They put forward proposals for smashing the state-machine, abolition of the standing army and the establishment of the Paris Commune type of state. With the Kuron and Modzelewski Manifesto for Poland, and this Manifesto for China it is clear that the struggle against Bureaucratic State Capitalism as well as monopoly capitalism is really a world-wide struggle….”.

    APPENDIX 1 – The two “missing” sections of Tony Cliff’s “Crisis in China” article

    1. Previous “Rectification Campaigns

    Prior to the present “Cultural Revolution”, China experienced a number of what were called rectification campaigns. All of these, however, were incomparably smaller in scope and depth; for instance, the “5-anti” campaign of 1952. This was directed in the main against private capitalists, to root out five evils: bribery, tax evasion, theft of State assets, cheating in labour and materials, and leakage of State economic secrets. The “3-anti” campaign that took place at the same time was directed against corrupt elements among Party cadres and members. Neither the “5-anti” nor the “3-anti” campaign touched any of the higher ranks of the Party at all, only the outskirts of the citadel of power.

    Affecting more closely the higher ranks of the Party was the “Hundred Flowers” campaign of 1957-58. Over a period of eleven months, a series of provincial purges took place. They affected 12 provinces and autonomous regions:

    The victims of the purges included four alternate members of the Central Committee, one provincial first secretary, eighteen members of standing committees of provincial committees, five secretaries of provincial committee secretariats, ten members of these secretariats, four governors, and ten vice-governors as well as approximately twenty-five other officials holding Party or government positions on the provincial level. In brief, this was no minor matter.”(1)

    The people purged were said to have had only a limited influence. In every case they were accused merely of attempting to seize control of the provincial committees, but all the provincial committees upheld the Party line.

    The failure to reveal any widespread anti-party alliances….would seem to indicate that, with the possible exception of Yunnan and Kwangtung, the clique activities of the major figures were on a comparatively small scale.”(2)

    It would appear…that the provincial purges were accomplished smoothly and apparently with remarkable organisational continuity….” (3)

    Thus, in the case of the anti-Rightist campaign following the “Hundred Flowers” the victims included a few members of the higher ranks of the Party and State, but still not one of the top ranks – not one member of the Central Committee, let alone the Politbureau, and not one Minister or member of the Central Government. The current “Cultural Revolution” campaign is radically different. (a)

    2. The “Cultural Revolution” Gains Momentum

    The “Cultural Revolution” began at a meeting of the Central Committee in September 1965 when Mao “pointed to the need to subject reactionary bourgeois ideology to criticism.” (4)

    The target of the Revolution, the September CC made clear, was the intellectuals who “succumbed to bourgeois influence” at the time of the retreat from the Great Leap Forward (the building of the People’s Communes and the forced economic advance during 1958-59).

    The first victim of the “Cultural Revolution” was Wu Han, a leading historian and Deputy Mayor of Peking, attacked on 10 November 1965. But Wu Han did not take it lying down, and months after that first shot the People’s Daily, the main organ of the Party, was still continuing the discussion on Wu Han: the attackers, it is true, were in the majority, but there were defenders as well. On 3 April, two Shanghai papers, the Liberation Daily and the Wen Hui Pao, carried an article criticising a self-criticism by Wu Han. On 14 April, the campaign reached a graver stage. On this date the National People’s Congress Standing Committee held its thirtieth meeting. Shih Hsi-min, a deputy minister of Culture, gave a report “on holding aloft the great red banner of Mao Tse-tung’s ideas and firmly carrying through the socialist cultural revolution to the end.” This report was followed by a speech by Kuo Mo-jo, president of the Academy of Sciences and vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, which was published in the People’s Daily three weeks later on 5 May.

    Comrade Shih Hai-min’s report is to me a deeply moving piece. Sincerely speaking, it is as painful as a knife wound. In the past decades, a pen has always been in my hand, writing and translating works amounting to many millions of words. However, in the light of present-day standards, what I have written, strictly speaking, should all be burned. It has no value, none whatsoever.”

    Though Kuo Mo-jo has not been demoted during the cultural revolution, the unprecedented nature of his self-abasement indicated the far-reaching nature of the coming upheaval.

    On 16 April, an article in the Peking Daily, organ of the capital’s Municipal Party Committee, gave a clear indication that the net might be spread wider to include more important Party officials. It devoted three pages to criticism of the “Three Household Village” and “Night Talks at Yensham”, two columns of which had appeared in the Peking party newspapers, the first under the joint authorship of Wu Han, Liao-Mo-sha, head of the Peking Municipal Party’s united front department, and Teng T’o, a secretary of the Peking Municipal Party Committee, and the second by Teng T’o alone.

    On 3 June, the Peking home service announced the dismissal of P’eng Chen, First Secretary of the Peking Municipal Party Committee, mayor of Peking and member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. A couple of weeks after his fall, Chou Yang, Deputy-Director of Propaganda, Vice-Minister of Culture, Vice-Chairman of the Federation of Literary and Art Circles and of the Chinese Writers’ Union – the real head of the whole propaganda network – was accused of acting on the orders of “the chief of the counter-revolutionary sinister gang who were recently exposed.” (5)

    On 8 August, a Central Committee decision on the cultural revolution was published. In a sense it provided some sort of order in what must have been, even for China, a chaotic situation. It indicated that the attacks on “those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road” would continue, but stated that the attacks would have to be approved in advance by the appropriate Party committees. Scientists and technicians were reassured about their future. Perhaps most interesting of all, cultural revolution groups were to be organised on a long-term basis into a system of teams, committees and even congresses with elected deputies.

    On 18 August, a new phase of the cultural revolution began. A mass rally of over a million people began at dawn in Peking’s Tien An Men Square. Next to Mao, the “great leader, supreme commander and great helmsman” was Lin Piao who had evidently replaced Liu Shao-ch’i as the second-ranking Chinese leader and heir apparent.

    One major development revealed at the 18 August rally was the formation of a new youth organisation, the Red Guards. They were described as members of “revolutionary mass organisations set up in the great proletarian cultural revolution by the capital’s college and middle school students,” and as “the most active, the bravest and the firmest of the revolutionary students.” The whole attack was directed against “those overlords in power who still cling to the road of capitalism.” Again and again they were and are defined as “a handful of people in authority in the Party and the State.”

    But going carefully through the list of those accused of these heinous crimes, the conclusion is unavoidable that the “handful” constitute quite a large proportion, if not the majority, of the top echelons.

    Look, for instance, at the seven-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, the topmost organ of the Party: three are good Communists – Mao Tse-tung, Lin Piao and Chou En-lai, but four are “heinous criminals” – Liu Shao-ch’i, Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman of the National Defence Council; (b) Teng Hsiao-p’ing, General Secretary of the Party for more than two decades; Chu The, from 1928 to 1949, Commander-in-Chief of the Army; Ch-en Yun, Deputy Prime Minister.

    Other top leaders have also been under attack: Ch’en Yi, Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Member of the Political Bureau; Po I-po, Chairman of the State Economic Commission, Deputy Prime Minister and Alternate Member of the Political Bureau; Lu Ting-yi, Minister of Culture and Alternate Member of the Political Bureau, was purged, as was also Lo Jui-ch’ing, the Chief of Staff. The list could be considerably lengthened.

    Party committees below the central leadership did not fare much better. After the purge of the First Secretary of the Peking Party Committee, P’eng Chen, and his committee, the Shanghai Party Committee followed suit. The majority of the Provincial Committees suffered the same fate.


    1. Individual top leaders were purged prior to the “Cultural Revolution”: Kao Kang, ruler of Manchuria, purged in 1954, and P’eng The-huai, Minister of Defence, purged in 1959, were two of these. But these purges were not accompanied by campaigns.
    2. Liu grew up in the same village as Mao; he belonged to the same Socialist youth movement; joined the Communist Party at the same time as Mao; was elected to the Central Committee and also to the Political Bureau at the same time as Mao. For nearly thirty years he was Number Two in the Party.


    1. Frederick C. Teiwes, “The Purge of Provincial Leaders, 1957-1958”, China Quarterly No. 27, July-September 1966, p.14.
    2. Ibid, p. 25.
    3. Ibid, pp. 31-32
    4. Raise High the Great Banner of Mao Tse-tung’s Thought to Carry the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to the End”, Chieh-fang Chun Pao (Liberation Army Daily), 6 June 1966; in Peking Review, 15 July 1966.
    5. Peking Review, 19 August 1966, p. 38.