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Replies to a reader: Part 1 of 3 (Gang of Four)

Written by: CPA (M-L) on 9 June 2020


A reader has sent us three questions.  Our responses required collective discussion with the Executive Committee of our Central Committee as there were details that are poorly remembered or were not personally experienced by some of us.  After all, the questions relate to matters that stretch back four decades. The first deals with China’s Gang of Four and our past and current views on this group. The second deals with the Theory of the Three Worlds and our current view on that, whilst the third asks about the place of Australian independence in our revolutionary strategy.

In addition to replying personally to our reader, we are making our responses public as there may be a wider interest in these issues. The first reply is printed below.  Others will follow over the next few days.


Hi B,
Your first question reads:
1) The Gang of Four: I read an article written by Ted Hill regarding the Gang of Four in which he praises their defeat as a victory for the proletariat. Did Hill view the gang as an ultra left tendency within the Chinese Communist Party and if so is this a view the CPA (ML) still holds today?
Our reply: Hill did regard the gang in the terms you’ve described. There was much evidence at the time that Mao had repudiated their factionalism and disruption. However, they consistently upheld his theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and of treating departures from collective economy and the socialist road as a matter to be resolved through class struggle and the mass line.
After their arrest, we accepted the assurances encapsulated in the Four Cardinal Principles advanced by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, namely:
The principle of upholding the socialist path
The principle of upholding the people's democratic dictatorship
The principle of upholding the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC)
The principle of upholding Mao Zedong Thought and Marxism-Leninism
For that generation of Australian Communists who had watched the growth of the Soviet Union into a social-imperialist power from 1956 onward, and who had witnessed the Soviet embrace of revisionism preceded by Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin’s legacy and character, the fact that Mao was not directly attacked, and that his legacy and character were evaluated positively for the most part, made it more difficult to see the revisionist changes in China in their early stages.
In the case of China and the Gang of Four, Ted Hill (and some of our other leaders, but especially Hill) regularly spent time in China. He had frequent and lengthy discussion with Mao Zedong, toured the country and met other officials. He was in a better position to know what was actually happening there than almost any other individual in Australia at the time. That doesn't mean he was right or that he was not swayed by what he hoped had happened, rather than what actually did happen. As a consequence of his immediate condemnation of the Gang of Four, our party leaders continued to have access to Chinese comrades who were opposed to the direction China was taking, right into the late 80s and early 90s, when it was very clear things were very much amiss, despite the increasing development of the productive forces. It was very clear that there were significant departures from the four cardinal principles, and by the turn of the Century we were convinced that the four cardinal principles were only being paid lip-service to, and that in most respects they had been abandoned. By the time of our 13th Congress in 2013 we had agreed that:
"So long as the Communist Party retains its current powers and functions and professes some form of socialism, it is likely that there will be contested areas of ideology, culture and the economy. However, it is the majority view of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) that the restorationists in China have the upper hand and that the most likely future for China is one of further embedding capitalist practices at the expense of the interests of the Chinese workers and peasants."
From that has come the analysis that we published in December 2018, "Explaining China: How a socialist country took the capitalist road to social-imperialism".
The period of history around the time of the death of Mao was one with a lot of confusion and uncertainties for revolutionaries around the world being somewhat removed from the on-the-ground struggle in China itself. With hindsight, it's possible to say the Party made some mistakes in its analysis of the struggle in China in those days, which we have rectified in more recent years. To dismiss the Gang of 4 as "an ultra-left tendency" would mean a failure to recognise much of the correctness of their theoretical positions as noted above. Likewise, it would be a mistake to say that everything they did was correct. Ultra-leftism certainly prepares the way for, and strengthens, the right. Revolutions are never so black and white.
For our Party in its struggle for revolution in Australia today in 2020, it would be a mistake to get caught up in taking positions on the intricate details of that period of history at the expense of focusing on the situation in our own country. In that regard, the more pressing question for us is the nature of China today, its role and place in the world, and the implications for the struggles of the Australian people.
China is a social-imperialist power and enough evidence has accumulated to ensure our party is united in that view.
Nick G. and the Executive Committee of the Central Committee


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