Hidden History of Workers' Struggles: Fighting to Build An Egalitarian Society

An egalitarian, working class, truly democratic, collectivist society has been the goal of oppressed workers and peasants for thousands of years. Recorded history, although always written by the bosses, tells of hundreds, if not thousands, of such revolts which aimed not only at an end to the immediate repression, but at a just, egalitarian society. The Old Testament reflects, though indirectly, the struggle of the oppressed workers and peasants of ancient Palestine; Greek historians tell of the social goals of rebelling s1aves; medieval chronicles allow us to catch a glimpse of dozens of revolts by European peasants and workers in the towns of Italy, Germany, France and England. The Peasants' War of Germany, and the Levellers of the mid-17th Century Puritan revolt in England; the black, white and Native American slaves of Bacon's rebellion and of dozens of other slave revolts in the American colonies; the French Revolution; the Revolt of the Foreign Brigades of George Washington's army against their brutal "gentlemen" officers in January, 1780; Shay's Rebellion; the beginnings of the trade union movement -- these among others all testify to the vision of justice and equality in the hearts of the working people. The history of China is one of great peasant revolts for a "kingdom of heavenly peace" (e.g. the T'ai-p'ing Revolt of the mid-19th century.)

From the beginning of class society thousands of years ago, the struggles of oppressed peasants and workers has been the main force behind social progress; the contradictions between the ruling classes and the oppressed, exploited masses has been the main determinant of human progress.

Our Party stands in this, the "great tradition" of the working class and the human race. The international communist movement emerged in the mid-19th century in Europe, where the class struggles of oppressed workers were sharpest, the antagonisms between exploiter and exploited most acute, and capitalism most highly developed. The communist movement and Marxism-Leninism, the science of revolution, made it possible for the first time for workers and exploited people to learn, from past experience and from a scientific analysis of the conditions of capitalism and imperialism, how to improve their struggle, overcome past shortcomings, and bring the final goal of worldwide communism out of the mists of utopian never-never land and into the near future. Since the spread of communist ideas and science around the world, workers' revolts are virtually a daily occurrence.

While all these previous struggles for a just society ended, at last; in failure due to internal weaknesses within the movements they represented, the history of these struggles nonetheless the history of these struggles gives witness to the desire of working people for a communist, egalitarian society, and the readiness with which workers can be, and have been, won to struggling for just those goals. Studying the history of these struggles can do more than help us learn how to avoid their errors, crucial as that is. We should never become cynical about these earlier struggles. Without them, we would not have arrived at Road to Revolution (IV). Despite the setbacks, these earlier struggles were basically positive. Learning about them proves that there is no basis for hopelessness about the potential of workers everywhere for overcoming racism, sexism, individualism, anti-communism, materialism and the other trappings of the decadent bosses. For these reasons, we present below excerpts from longer works describing some of the great workers' and peasants' struggles of the past century.

Peasant Revolts in China (1927)

-Mao Zedong, from Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan

The main targets of attack by the peasants are the local tyrants, the evil gentry and lawless landlords, but in passing they also hit out against patriarchal ideas and institutions, against corrupt officials in the cities and against bad practices and customs in the rural areas. In force and momentum the attack is tempestuous; those who bow before it survive, and those who resist perish.

As a result, the privileges which the feudal landlords enjoyed for thousands of years are being shattered to pieces. Every bit of the dignity and prestige built up by the landlords is being swept into the dust. With the collapse of the power of the landlords, the peasant associations have now become the sole organs of authority and the popular slogan " All power to the peasant associations" has now become a reality. Even trifles such as a quarrel between husband and wife are brought to the peasant association. Nothing can be settled unless someone from the peasant association is present. The association actually dictates all rural affairs, and quite literally, "whatever it says, goes." Those who are outside the associations can only speak well of them, and cannot say anything against them. The local tyrants, evil gentry and lawless landlords have been deprived of all right to speak, and none of them dares even mutter dissent. In the face of the peasant associations' power and pressure, the top local tyrants and evil gentry have fled to Shanghai...

In the Ching Dynasty, the household census compiled by the local authorities consisted of a regular register and "the other register," the former for honest people, and the latter for burglars, bandits and similar undesirables. In some places the peasants now use this method to scare those who formerly opposed the associations. They say, "Put their names down in the other register!"

...In short, what was looked down upon four months ago as a "gang of peasants" has now become a most honorable institution. Those who formerly prostrated themselves before the power of the gentry now bow before the power of the peasants. No matter what their identity, all admit that the world since last October is a different one.

Revenge on a Landlord (China, late 1940s)

-Schell and Esherick, from Modem China, quoting from an unnamed source

That same day a mass meeting was called...about eighty people came to complain against Wang the landlord, while the rest of the village watched, among them Wang's wife and daughter. The crowd accused the landlord of many crimes, including betrayal of Resistance members to the Japanese, robbing them of grain, forcing them into labor gangs. At last, he was asked if he admitted to the accusations.

" All these things I have done," he said...

...Over the fields now sounded an angry roar, as of the sea, and the crowd broke into a wild fury. Everybody shouted at once, proclaiming against the landlord...

[The passage then describes how the peasants hung the landlord upside down from a tree until he began to confess his crimes one by one. In then continues}

As soon as the meeting was over, twenty or thirty men went to the landlord's house, drove the wife and daughter out of doors and sealed the house. The two women went to a nearby village to stay with relatives.

That evening the five cadres and those who had taken an active part in the struggle against the landlord walked around the village to listen to the gossip and sample public opinion. Such words were heard as "serves him right; he's so wicked. This is too light for him...just count his sins."

Later that night another meeting of those of the village who wanted to struggle against the landlord was held in a courtyard. This time a hundred and twenty people attended...

Exactly what to do with the landlord was a problem for which the people at first had no solution. Half of those in the meeting thought he should be beaten to death. A few said: "He is too old." Some had no ideas at all. Others thought that his clerk, the rich farmer Shih Tseng-Hua, should be bound up with him at the same time in the struggle.

It was decided that Wang must die for his murders. But how? Should he be sent to the district government to be punished, or should the people kill him, or what?

"If he is tried before a court-martial for treason," said a farmer, "then there will be only one bullet, and that is too cheap for Wang. We ought to kill him first and report to the government afterward."

"Who dares kill him?" asked a farmer doubtfully.

At this everyone shouted at once: "We dare! We dare! He bayoneted our militiamen to death and we can also do that to him..."

Three days after the meeting, the whole village breakfasted early, and shortly after sunrise, seven hundred men and women, including visitors from neighboring villages, many armed with pig knives, hoes, sickles, swords and spears went out to the large field south of town where the landlord was to be killed. The cadres had written Wang's crimes on large pieces of paper and these, hanging by ropes from trees now fluttered in the breeze..."

A shout went up as landlord Wang was led onto the field. Three guards marched him, pale and shaking, to a willow tree where he was bound up. With his back against the tree, the landlord looked once at the crowd, but quickly bent his head toward the ground again.

...Ma Chiu-tze stepped before the crowd and called for attention. "Now the time has come for our revenge," he announced in a trembling voice. "In what way shall we take revenge on this sinful landlord? We shall kill him."

The crack of palm against cheek rang like a pistol shot on the morning air. A low animal moan broke from the crowd as it leaped into action.

The landlord looked up as he heard the crowd rushing on him. Those nearest saw his lips move, and heard him say "Two words, two words, please."

The man closest shouted: "Don't let him speak!" and in the same breath swung his hoe, tearing the clothes from the bound man's chest and ripping open the lower portion of his body.

The landlord gave one chilling shriek and then bowed his head in resignation. The crowd was on him like beasts...A big farmer swung his pig knife and plunged it directly into the landlord's heart. His body quivered -- even the tree shook -- then slumped, but still the farmer drew his knife in and out, again and again and yet once again.

Landlord Wang was quickly dead, but the rage of the crowd would not abate. The field rang with the shouts of maddened people.

"It is not enough to kill him." "We must put him in the open air." "We must not allow him to be buried for three days."

But convulsive passions do not last long. They burn themselves out. Slowly, the anger of the crowd cooled. The body of the landlord might rot in the open air, and it was better that his wife and daughter be allowed to get him.

That evening...the landlord's wife and daughter brought a mule cart across the field to where their husband and father lay. They wept no tears, but silently lifted the mutilated body into the cart and drove away.

Few saw them come and few saw them go. And no one said a word: For there was nothing left to say. The struggle against the landlord was ended.

Stone Wall Village had turned over.

Voices of the Commune

- from a wall poster of the Paris Commune, Mar., 1871, signed by a 120-member committee and by delegates of the National Guard, the workers' militia of the commune.

...Labor will be organized on a collective basis. Since the aim of life is the unlimited development of our physical, intellectual and moral being, property is and must be the right of each individual to share (by virtue of his individual cooperation) in the collective fruit of the labor of all -- the true basis for social wealth...

There will be no more oppressors or oppressed; no longer any distinction of class among citizens; no longer any barriers among nations. Since the family will be the primary form of association, all families will group themselves in a larger one...nations will fuse into this collective and higher personality: humanity.

- from a proclamation April 11, 1871, issued by the Central Committee of the Association of Women for the Defense of Paris and Aid to the Wounded, a group of women workers of the commune, as part of their successful effort to form an organization of working women in the city.

...The fratricidal madness that has taken possession of France, this duel unto death, is the final act in the eternal antagonism between Right and Might, Labor and Exploitation, the People and their Tyrants!

The privileged classes of the present social order are our enemies; those who have lived by our labor, thriving on our want.

They have seen the people rise up, demanding: "No obligations without rights! No rights without obligations! We want to work, but we also want the product of our work. No more exploiters. No more bosses. Work and security for all -- the people to govern themselves -- we want the Commune; we want to live in freedom or to die fighting for it!"

...The decisive hour has come. The old world must come to an end! We want to be free! And France has not risen up alone. The nations of the world have their eye on Paris. They are waiting for our victory to free themselves in their turn...

- issued May 6, 1871 by the Central Committee of the Association of Women for the Defense of Paris in answer to an appeal by the bosses of France for "conciliation. "

On behalf of the socialist revolution to which we are dedicated, and "of the battle for the rights of Labor, for Equality and Justice -- the Association of Women...protests with all its might against the shameful proclamation which was addressed to women the day before yesterday by an anonymous group of reactionaries.

This proclamation urges the women of Paris to appeal to the Versailles government's "generosity" and asks for peace at any price.

The generosity of cowardly murderers! Conciliation between freedom and tyranny; between the people and their oppressors!

No, it is not peace but all-out war that the women workers of Paris demand!

Conciliation today amounts to betrayal! It would be a denial of all working-class hopes for total social revolution, for the abolition of all existing social and legal structures, for the elimination of all privileges and forms of exploitation, for the replacement of the rule of Capital by the rule of Labor -- in short, for the emancipation of the working class by the working class...

The struggle in which we are engaged can end only in the victory of the people's cause. Paris will not give in, for it bears the flag of the future. The supreme moment is at hand. All power to the workers! Down with their oppressors...,

The united, determined women of Paris have been aroused and enlightened by the suffering that follows in the wake of all social crises; they are firmly convinced that the Commune -- representing the international revolutionary principles of all peoples -- contains the seeds of the Social Revolution. The women of Paris will prove to France and to the world that at the hour of greatest danger -at the barricades and forts, if the enemy breaks into the city they are as capable as their brothers of giving up their lives in the cause of the Commune, the cause of the People!

Once victorious, men and women workers in complete solidarity will be able to defend their common interests, and with one final effort, they will extinguish all trace of exploitation and exploiters!

Long live the social and international Republic!

Long live Labor!

Long live the Commune!

Running Society on a Democratic Centralist Basis (China, late 1940s-mid 1950s)

- excerpts from Fanshen, by William Hinton.

[Fanshen is a good account of how the Chinese Revolution affected the people of a village called Long Bow. It discusses successes and failures and shows how people's lives were affected. There are serious weaknesses in the book, such as Hinton's downplaying the role of force against class enemies. Also, the Chinese Communist Party made some serious errors at this time, especially winning the peasants to split up the land along families rather than work it collectively. Still, Fanshen shows how democratic centralism can be used to run society. The following excerpts show how Long Bow was run with full participation of the workers, using collective struggle to arrive at decision; with leadership by the Party. This, not bourgeois democracy and elections, is how working people can take control of their lives.]

Every revolution creates new words. The Chinese Revolution created a whole new vocabulary .A most important word in this vocabulary was fanshen. Literally, it means "to turn the body" or "to turn over." To-China's hundreds of millions of landless and land-poor peasants, it meant to stand up, to throw off the landlord yoke, to gain land~, stock, implements and houses. But it meant more than this. It meant to throw off superstition and study science, to abolish "word blindness" and learn to read, to cease considering women as chattels and establish equality between the sexes, to do away with appointed village magistrates and replace them with elected councils. It meant to enter a new world. That is why this book is called Fanshen. It is the story of how the peasants of Long Bow Village built a new world.

To master Marxism-Leninism, to expand each individual's political consciousness, to overcome subjectivism, reduce unprincipled vindictiveness, uproot that small producers' tendency to take advantage of others for personal profit, and unite to build a new world -- this was the struggle that began in April 1946 in Long Bow with the- founding of the Communist Party branch there. The struggle continued year after year, with varying intensity and success; no doubt it still goes on.

The vitality of this effort was due to the fact that at all times the transformation of the Party members' outlook was linked to the actual struggle going on in the village to transform the peasants' miserable way of life and forge something better. From the very first day that the branch was set up, its members undertook to lead the village~ to fanshen; and lead they did, for better or worse, thereafter -not in isolation, of course, but as a basic unit in a nationwide Party of over a million members. The District Committee, the County Committee, the Border Region Committee and the Central Committee with Chairman Mao at its head, all gave them guidance, but in the last analysis they had to do the work; and they were responsible for its success or failure.

The leadership exercised by the Communist Party in Long Bow was not of the kind that most people in the West imagine. The Party could not and did not simply issue orders that the peasants had to obey, even though at certain times and on certain issues a strong tendency toward this type of "commandism," as it was so aptly called, arose among the leading cadres, Communist and non-Communist alike. The Party led the village by virtue of the fact that its members held leading posts (but by no means a monopoly of them) in all the village organizations, won considerable prestige by the example they set, seriously studied problems collectively, and spoke and acted together once they decided on a solution~. All this, it should be made clear, must be taken as having been accomplished in a relative sense, for not all the members of the Party were able to win prestige; some won notoriety instead. Also, the decisions of the Party branch were not always taken collectively, the whole membership did not always carry out the decisions when made, and sometimes the decisions that were made were quite wrong...Nevertheless, the Party branch was the best organized, the most active, the most serious and dedicated group in the village, and it tried to lead by example and persuasion, not by force.

[The following selection follows a description of how the Communists had won the peasants to the political line that would be used to guide the allocation of land. While we don't think that the line used was correct, we do approve in general of the process used to arrive at the line.]

The classification method used was called tzu pao kung yi: or "self report, public appraisal." The "self report" meant that every family head must appear in person and report his sources of income~ and his economic position prior to the liberation of the village. "Public appraisal" meant that all members of the provisional League must discuss each report and decide, by sense-of-the-meeting, on the family's class status.

Everyone knew that these classification proceedings could transform the Draft Agrarian Law from a general declaration of purpose into a concrete reality. Decisions concerning class status would eventually determine the future of every family. Those classed as poor peasants could expect to gain prestige as members of the new Poor Peasants' League and to acquire prosperity by coming into enough worldly goods to make them new middle peasants. Those classed as rich peasants could expect expropriation of all their surplus property, leaving them with only enough to earn a living like any other fanshened peasant. Anyone classified as a landlord faced complete expropriation and then the return of enough property to live on. The classification, in other words, could not be regarded as an academic matter, as a mere nose count, as a census. It laid the basis for economic and social action that affected every family and every individual in the most fundamental way.

Because this was so, the peasants took an extraordinary interest in the classification meetings and gathered without complaint, day after day, to listen, report, discuss and judge.

It soon became apparent that every family wanted to be classed as far down the scale as possible. To be called a middle peasant meant to receive nothing. Only those classed as poor peasants could expect to gain, Therefore, every family wanted to be classed as poor, and every family head, no matter how poor, tried to minimize what his family had possessed prior to liberation and deprecate what the family had received since.

For the minority at the upper end of the scale, downgrading was even more vital. All the prosperous peasants were fearful lest they be shoved over the line into the rich-peasant category and lose out. Even the middle peasant category included an upper group, the well-to- do, who could legitimately be asked to give up something. Those who feared that they owned enough to be called well to do wanted no part of any such condition and fought hard to convince their neighbors that they really had no surplus, that they were simply average middle peasants.

Since everyone wanted to be downgraded, since "poverty was best," I expected the final result of the classification to be a general shift downward, But this was not the case, and the reason for it was quite simple. The preliminary classification was undertaken by a group of families already designated by the work team as poor. It was in their interest to place others in higher brackets for two obvious reasons -in the first place, unless some families were classed as landlords, rich peasants, or well-to-do middle" peasants there would be no property to distribute; in the second place, if there were large numbers of families classified as poor, whatever "struggle fruits" materialized would have to be spread thin. Clearly the fewer families there were on the sharing end, the more each family would be likely to get.

The two contradictory trends, the desire on the part of all those being classed to be downgraded, and the desire on the part of those doing the classing to upgrade everyone else, tended to cancel each other out. In the course of the reports and appraisals the true situation of each family tended to be revealed.

For this happy result, credit must also be given to the method of discussion employed, a method that enabled every individual to talk over each case. This method was known as ke ts'ao, a word that literally means "ferment" and finds its American equivalent in the "buzz session." After each family presented its report, the chairman called out "ke ts'ao, ke ts'ao." Then all those who were sitting together in their natural clusters formed as people came to the meeting fell to discussing the case. They continued to discuss it until they more or less agreed. As an agreement was reached in various parts of the room, the hum of voices gradually died down. Then the chairman called out, ‘Pao kao, pao kao!" (report, report!).

A spokesman for each group, designated on the spur of the moment by those who sat around him, then expressed the consensus arrived at by his companions in the course of their "ferment." If the opinions of the scattered groups did not coincide, the chairman tried to clarify the differences, review the facts in the case, and ask the family under consideration to report in greater detail. Then he called for another ke ts'ao and repeated the process until a real sense-of-the-meeting was reached. No votes were taken. To decide such matters by a vote meant to impose the will of the majority on the will of the minority with all the hard feeling that such an imposition was sure to cause. Objectively, the work team felt, any family must stand somewhere in the scale. A real understanding of the family's condition should enable the peasant judges to place the family in its proper niche. To vote meant to admit defeat, to make a subjective rather than an objective decision. When no sense-of-the-meeting could be reached, the cadres advised putting off the classification until further study of the standards and further investigation of the facts clarified the whole picture.

[The next excerpt describes the collective evaluation of the Party members by a mass meeting (the gate) Note how the opinions of experienced workers are given more weight than those of others and how collective evaluation can silence unfair criticism.]

That the Party members and village cadres had made many mistakes and committed a number of serious crimes was confirmed by the meetings at the gate. But that these people took all the good things for themselves and let the poor peasants fan an empty shen, as we had been hearing ever since we arrived in the village, proved to be an exaggeration. Another six Communists passed the gate in the next few days, and none of them had misappropriated anything worth worrying about.

One of these was Hu Hsueh-chen, suspended head of the Women's Association. We had heard, mostly from Old Lady Wang, that Hu was a tyrant, that she oppressed everyone and that she took piles of valuable clothes and ornaments while others got only rags. But when it came time for the women's leader to go before the gate, people had no important grievances against her.

In the preparatory meeting held the night before, only Pao-ch'uan's mother spoke up. "She forced our small group to make shoes. Twelve of us had to make six pairs. It wasn't fair."

The handsome widow was quickly silenced. "To make shoes was our duty. If she forced you to make more, it was only because she wished to fulfill the quota. It had nothing to do with her private interest."

"As soon as I open my mouth, you cover it, complained Pao-ch'uan's mother. "I'll not criticize others again."

But no one sympathized with her.

"Hu Hsueh-chen's attitude is very good. She is gentle and modest," said T'ai-shan's mother. The others agreed.

The secretary of the branch, Hsin-fa, certainly the most important Communist in the village, also passed easily. The fact that he had never been a leading cadre in the village administration helped. Everyone seemed to like him and only criticized the fact that he was too easy-going. They called him a laohaojen, or "good old fellow," meaning someone who wanted to get along with everyone and have pleasant relations all around. This was a serious fault for a Communist and particularly the leader of the local branch, but at that moment the peasants had their eyes on more concrete matters and so were lenient with him.

How strict the delegates could be where property was concerned was revealed when they got around to Tsz'ai-yuan, the village storekeeper, a man whose popularity was legendary. They forgave him a fairly notorious record as a ladies' man when he said, "I didn't force anybody, they were all willing." Considering his good looks, his charm, and his prestige as a local man with the longest Eighth Route Army [a main unit of the Chinese Red Army] record, no one had any reason to doubt his word. They criticized him sharply, however, for smashing the big mirror that his brother Fu-yuan lent him for his wedding but would not let him have as part of his share of the "fruits." They criticized him even more sharply for bringing home from the front eight rounds of captured ammunition and then selling them for cash. They made him promise to turn over the proceeds to the government.

As a wounded soldier, Ts'ai-yuan was entitled to free help in the fields, a privilege that he had taken full advantage of in the past. But by now his wound had healed. He was able to do a man's work. He was, therefore, asked to pay for whatever help he might need in the future. This he also agreed to.

The strictness shown by the delegates in the above matters was balanced by their generosity when it came to an expensive quilt that Ts'ai-yuan offered to give up because it had not been allocated to him by any committee. They told him to keep the quilt as a token of their gratitude for the services he had rendered in the war.

[The following excerpt shows how leadership by the Communist Party allowed the workers to take control over society -- to work for the common good, not for individual self-interest. Without that leadership, there could be no struggle for improvement. This leadership is communist democracy.]

Hou's report covered what might be called the statistical and the tangible results of the Party purification. All the members of the team felt that the intangible results were far more important. They saw the gate as a turning point in the political fanshen of the people. It had already created a new climate of opinion, a new political atmosphere, a new relationship between the Communist Party and the people, and a new relationship between the people and the Border Region government.

These changes were profoundly democratic. They transformed "supervision by the people" from a slogan into a reality and effectively drew people, whom the land distribution had made equal economically, into activity that enabled them to project this equality into the political sphere.

The most important result of the whole campaign was certainly this drawing into meaningful action of hundreds of peasants who, because of various inhibitions and fears, had remained passive throughout the revolutionary years, or had lapsed back into passivity once the big struggle against the landlords had been victoriously concluded. The campaign to purify the party made clear to all participants that they people were sovereign, that they were responsible, and that they could and must decide their own future.

Almost equal in importance to the changes wrought by the campaign in the consciousness of the peasants were the changes it wrought in

'Supervision by the people' was turned from a slogan into a reality.

the consciousness of the Communists. In the agony of public self-examination, they were forced to face up to their weaknesses, to ask themselves fundamental questions concerning their character and their intentions, and to make important decisions about the future. Under fire for every lapse, every weakness, they began to catch a glimpse of the Revolution as the "hundred-year great task" that Chairman Mao had so often called it, rather than a great upheaval impetuously entered into and soon completed. "Service to the people" assumed new and demanding dimensions.

The enthusiasm engendered by the success of the gate was tempered by the realization that not all had gone well. The obvious disproportion between the fanfare of the build-up and the actual findings of the delegates was disturbing. One could hardly help wonder whether truth had been served as impartially as it should have been. Concentration on the weaknesses, errors, and crimes of the Party members had completely obscured any merits they might have had, any contributions they might have made to the fanshen movement. This followed inevitably from the thesis that the movement itself had been abortive. Yet if this were actually the case, what accounted for the great progressive change that had, in fact, taken place in the village? To insure the reality of supervision by the people, an atmosphere had been created in which only those who bowed their heads won approval. Those who had the courage to stand up for themselves and deny charges which they believed to be false had not been able to pass the gate. Yet possibly they had served truth better than those who had accepted all accusations, admitting full responsibility for crimes that they shared with others and agreed to give up property that was perhaps as rightfully theirs as anything that any family held. The disproportion between allegation and fact showed up sharply in this area.

The Great Leap Forward (China, 1957-1961)

- The Great Leap Forward, as seen in the writings of a North American resident of China who took part in it.

[There is abundant concrete evidence that the revolutionary masses, when given the chance, are eager to "work gratis for the benefit of society," are eager to develop "new social links, a new discipline of work in common." Much of this practical experience comes from China, home of a quarter of humanity, and once the scene of the most advanced revolutionary society. Between 1957 and 1961 a great nation-wide movement for increased social cooperation took place in China, resulting in the formation of communes and a leap into a "new discipline of work in common and a new national system of economy, " which, of course, is condemned by the current capitalist leaders of China as a "leftist mistake."

...across the country all sorts of people were turning out and getting things done, without waiting for money, special machinery or trained personnel. Between October 1957 and January 1958, for example, one hundred million co-op farmers pitched in and dug irrigation ditches and built check dams, converting nearly 26 million acres into irrigated land. In four months they brought more water to more land than their ancestors had been able to irrigate in the previous 2500 years.

I managed to get in on one of those projects when they built the Ming Tombs Reservoir. About twenty miles northwest of Peking was a wide bowl of arid mountains. When the rains came in July and August water rolled down the bare slopes in torrents, swamping some 50,000 acres in the lowland. It happened almost every year. Only the tombs of the Ming emperors, high and dry on the mountainsides, escaped damage...

When the people themselves came to power they decided to put an end to the annual scourge by building a dam across the mouth of the Tungshan Gorge. But this was a big project. Where was the labor to come from? And the steam shovels and bulldozers and dump trucks? Thousands of projects were in the course of construction in China, and all needed machinery. The dam was tentatively scheduled for...between 1963 and 1967.

Why wait? said the farmers in the neighborhood of the Ming Tombs. Since the job was too big for them to handle alone, they asked the various organizations in and around Peking whether they could help. The response was tremendous. Soon there were 120,000 working right around the clock in three eight-hour shifts of 40,000 each. All the labor was voluntary, at no charge to the project. Each office or enterprise sent, in relays, groups of volunteers –not

A joyous frenzy of energy and creativity -- the Great Leap Forward – was sweeping China.

exceeding ten percent of their personnel -- for periods often days. During this time the volunteers continued to draw their regular salaries, while their jobs were taken over by the remaining ninety percent of their colleagues...Army men participated as part of their duty, at no extra compensation.

Ordinary tools -- mostly picks and shovels and carrying poles with baskets suspended at either end -- were either loaned or contributed. Electrical equipment had to be paid for, but its installation, including all the wiring, was done free by technicians in their spare time.

Of all the factors going into making the project a success, unquestionably the most vital was the enthusiasm of the volunteers. I did a stint with some people from my office, and it was an astonishing experience. Men and women who ordinarily did nothing more vigorous than tickling a typewriter or taking half a turn in a swivel chair were suddenly shoveling earth and toting gravel in baskets slung from shoulder poles, day and night, rain and shine. It was tough heavy work, but what with the singing and wisecracks and high spirits all around, you thought you were at some sort of jamboree rather than at the site of one of the largest earthen dams in the world.

Our cuisine consisted of gruel, bits of pickled vegetable, and coarse corn muffins, but we wolfed them down as if they were epicurean delights. We slept eight in a tent, with only pallets of pine branches between us and the ground, but our slumber was deep and dreamless. I heard many a white collar worker say he never realized manual labor was so difficult -- and so satisfactory .The camaraderie and drive knocked some of the stuffiness out of the stuffed shirts, and made everyone better at his job when he got back to his desk.

In 1ess than five months the dame was finished. Fifty thousand acres of land that before were constantly hit by floods now came under controlled irrigation. Local grain output was raised by 27,000 tons a year. The value of the increase in the first year alone covered the entire cost of construction. The reservoir was also used for fish breeding and generating electricity. This "do-it-yourself-with-what-you've got" approach was spreading like wildfire all over China, always carefully watched and encouraged by the Communist Party. Someone would have what looked like a good idea. He would need time or money or conditions to try it out. These, the local Party organization would provide. If it worked, it would be tried on a some- what larger scale. If that also succeeded, a complete report would be sent to the Central Committee of the Party in Peking. After investigation, the Central Committee might decide to introduce it nationally.

One of the most important developments in modern Chinese history -- the advent of the communes -- occurred in just this manner. It began in Honan Province early in 1958.

Honan for centuries had been tormented by floods and droughts. Determined to put an end to these disasters once and for all, the high-level cooperative farms to which most of the rural population belonged began to merge. This offered obvious advantages in dealing with the vagaries of a river. The co-ops on the lower reaches couldn't do much without the help of those on the upper. But they discovered other benefits as well. With manpower and capital pooled into large units, they were able to allocate their personnel more rationally and invest in costlier projects. They could make more appropriate use of their fields, according to soil conditions. The coal in the hills of one cooperative farm, for example, could be combined with the iron ore of another to make iron and manufacture farm implements.

Mergers proceeded apace. Under the guidance of the Honan provincial committee of the Communist Party several thousand more communes -- as people then began to call them -- were formed on an experimental basis. In addition to agriculture, the communes did small-scale manufacturing -- mainly of things they needed themselves -- set up their own supply and distribution units, ran their own schools and their own militias. They organized dining rooms, tailoring and mending groups, laundries, homes for the aged, medical dispensaries, maternity clinics, nurseries, kindergartens. Women were freed from much of their household drudgery and could take a fuller part in the work and administration.

A joyous frenzy of energy and creativity, soon to become known to the world as the Great Leap Forward, was sweeping China. Much of it was unscientific and impractica1...but...on balance, it was found that the gain exceeded the losses.

For the first time in history China was able comprehensively to control her floods, drain her fields and provide irrigation when needed. Thousands of miles of dikes, dams, canals and roads were built. New agricultural techniques were discovered and spread. Small homegrown mills and workshops sprouted like mushrooms. There were many inventions, some mechanization, even a little automation. In science and the arts there was a lively ferment of new methods, new ideas. China had made another qualititative leap...

About half of China's iron and steel production was coming from crude furnaces in the countryside, close to sources of iron and coal, and tended by people fresh from the farms with no previous experience.

The furnaces were miracles of ingenuity. Guided by only a few dozen persons with any technical training, the farm folk of Yuhsien County in two or three weeks learned to improvise furnaces and blowers that were cheap, quickly built -- and that made iron.

...a lot of the iron had been quite good, and was turned into much-needed farm tools. Mass prospecting had unearthed a large number of previously undiscovered mines. More important, homemade iron and steel production had given millions a basic familiarity with tools and machinery, sadly lacking in a country which had just emerged from centuries of feudal backwardness. When small and medium iron and steel plants were subsequently set up all over the country these people were the reservoir of technical trainees...

Every school, every government office, had its backyard furnaces. Teachers, pupils, civil servants, took turns tending them.

Inefficient, yes, but exciting, stimulating. I doubt whether the iron turned out behind the Foreign Languages Press served any practical purpose. The cost of transporting coal and iron ore to the center of the nation's capital must have exceeded the value of the steel we produced. But the value to intellectuals rising from their swivel chairs and sweating beside a blast furnace they had built themselves, carbon smudges on their noses, was incalculable. They were identifying, for the first time, physically and directly, with industrial production. They weren't just talking and writing about things -- they were doing them. It was very satisfying.

The atmosphere was positively festive. There was a great feeling of togetherness. "Me" and "mine" tended to give way to "us" and "ours."

Colonia Ruben Jaramillo -- (México,1973)

- Squatters' movements in Mexico in recent years set up autonomous villages on unused land, governing themselves and defending themselves from the army and police. This is part of the story of one of these villages. Although it was repressed by the state power of the bosses after months of struggle, there is much we can learn from it for the future.

In Mexico, as in other capitalist countries, one of the innumerable unsolved problems is the lack of housing for the people.

This is the main reason why, on March 31, 1973, six determined men, heads of families, took possession of some vacant lots located some 5 kilometers from Cuernevaca in an urban development tract that had been abandoned about 15 years before.

The forces of repression responded without delay. The police immediately arrived to evict them. But the resistance of the new arrivals on the land prevented the police from carrying out their aims. Despite their initial failure, the police did not give up. In the following days they came back with more patrol cars, but they were repulsed again. Then they changed tactics.

Public officials arrived to try to bribe the settlers, offering them money in exchange for leaving the land they had seized. But this, too, failed. They offered other places to live if the families would abandon the occupied land. This also failed.

Not succeeding with intimidation as they wished, they threatened violent evictions if the 'settlers did not leave willingly.

Still the new arrivals did not leave. Subsequently, the newspapers campaigned against the settlers, branding them as criminals, guerrillas and agitators, etc. But these attacks could not alter the resolve of the harassed families. So the authorities, principally the State government, began to worry seriously about the problem.

Meanwhile, the new residents were wasting no time. They were aware of the critical housing situation for thousands of people who, like themselves, had no roof they could call home, and were forced to pay exorbitant rents to voracious landlords. They issued a call, inviting the homeless to join them and confront the police attacks to which they were being subjected.

The call was well received. By the end of the first week, the original six families had grown to fifty; within a month there were six hundred. The number of settlers continued to grow, resulting soon in a considerable force with which to face down the government and police of their "property," where they intended to build their homes and to have something to leave for their children. Each household was provided a 2100 sq. ft. lot (about one-twentieth of an acre).

For the government, the situation had become alarming. Word reached it that the population of the village already exceeded 15,000; under these conditions, it was becoming increasingly difficult to evict them, so the authorities began to think of taking more drastic measures.

As soon as the number of settlers began to grow, it was decided in a general assembly to give the village a name that would identify its spirit of struggle and combativeness with the cause of the poor and the destitute. The name of Ruben Jaramillo was selected. He was a peasant leader, treacherously assassinated, along with his wife and young children, by the Mexican government immediately after the president had "convinced" him to rely on the government for solutions. As proof of his "good intentions" President Lopez Mateos embraced Ruben Jaramillo to symbolize his loyalty to their pact. A week later Ruben Jaramillo and his family were shot dead -as later revealed, "on higher orders."


In the village, the people of Ruben Jaramillo inaugurated a new system of social life, which made them very happy because they were really in command.

The highest authority was the General Assembly, which met every weekend. Next in rank was the Struggle Committee, whose president was one of the original six settlers. He was well known to all and loved and esteemed for his candor and warmth toward all his comrades. His name was Florencio Medrano, and he was called "El Guero" -- the blond one. Then came the corps of Block Delegates, freely elected by the residents of each block. There were more than fifty of them, and they met with the Struggle Committee twice a week to discuss the order of priorities of the various tasks to be done. Each delegate in turn convened a Block Assembly to present the plans with a view to improving, rejecting or approving them.

The settlers always expressed their point of view, made suggestions and constructive criticisms, constantly seeking ways to make further advances. Sometimes a member of the Struggle Committee, or the president, "El Guero" Medrano, would attend the Block Assembly meetings. These had two purposes: suggestions and criticisms from the settlers to their representatives and reports from the representatives to the people. The meetings were held once a week in the afternoons, when the villagers returned from their regular jobs in Cuernevaca or nearby places.

The people had the right to recall any of their representatives at any time, whether members of the Struggle Committee or Delegates. Among the latter there were more changes, because some who were elected tried to take personal advantage of their posts, rather

Collective work to build the village was the spirit of Ruben Jaramillo; most wonderful were the Collective Sundays.

than work for the collective good as everyone desired.


Working collectively to improve the village was the spirit of Ruben Jaramillo. Most wonderful, and most characteristic of Ruben Jaramillo, were the "Collective Sundays."

When the settlement was first getting started, all the "houses" consisted of no more than a blanket, a bedsheet or a serape, tied with ropes to a tree or to stakes driven into the ground. Even the Control Office was made up of a canvas which covered part of the roof and the four sides, leaving gaping holes near the floor and at the corners, through which the wind would blow, as well as the rain, which seemed to be helping those who wanted to evict the settlers.

Since everyone was suffering the same inclement weather, the same harassment and threats, they decided that all should pitch in to help each other out. They started out by improving and shaping up their homes, some built of straw, others of tarred cardboard and others yet of pieces of lumber discarded by the factories. Next, they turned to the streets, to trace them out and open them where there were none, or to level out and smooth down the terrain where it was very uneven and rocky. Brigades were formed. With machetes, spades, hoes and pickaxes they quickly finished the job, proving at each step that in unity there is strength.

The Colonia Ruben Jaramillo was divided by a ravine into two sections. To the east was the area where the developers had marked off lots and laid out streets. This the settlers called Los Pinos, for a big stand of pines near the entrance. To the west lay the undeveloped area, covered with "nopales," a type of cactus, and called La Nopalera. During the rainy season the stream that flowed through the ravine grew considerably, and the settlers decided to build a ford so that people could cross easily. Using pipes left over from the original construction, heavy ropes and crowbars, they quickly completed the work. However, as it was not fortified with cement, it didn't stand up well, and three weeks later it washed away.

Immediately, the Colonos (settlers) set out to build a better one. One Colono from each block contributed a full day's work. In twelve days the work was done.

In the Colonia stood a two-story building, originally planned as the "club" of the luxury development. It was surrounded by a chain-link fence and a big iron grating at the entrance.

When the governor saw that the settlers were determine not leave the land, and that their numbers were increasing day by day, he decided to at least save his club. So he sent some policemen to guard the building. When the settlers saw the cops coming, they invited them to join them, because the settlers were prepared to take back the building by any means necessary. But the policemen chose instead to flee in the middle of the night and the settlers then seized the site, deciding to use it as the headquarters of the Struggle Committee.

The building also served as a refuge against the rain for those whose houses weren't finished, or leaked. It became the House of the People –- home to the Struggle Committee, a medical clinic with nominal fees, and an elementary school with classes based on new teaching methods that enabled the students to advance rapidly. When a sick person had to go to the hospital in Cuernevaca, the loudspeaker would call for a volunteer to drive him. Once a car on such a mission was rammed in a traffic accident in the city, and the police falsely blamed the driver from Ruben Jaramillo and jailed him.

The response of the settlers was immediate. The following day a great number of them arrived at the place where their comrade was being held and began to chant their demand that he be set free. Some policemen with heavy weapons came out and threatened them. They were not intimidated and stood their ground. Eventually the police were forced to back down and release the settler.

The governor of the State, Felipe Rivera Crespo, was very worried about what was happening at Ruben Jaramillo, so he decided to pay an official visit to the Colonia, accompanied by some of his collaborators. He was hoping to win everybody's confidence and deceive them with his usual promises. He promised so many improvements that the settlers got tired of listening and started to boo and jeer, especially when he promised to build a subway system for them. No one swallowed his tale and he was forced to leave with his tail hanging between his legs.

On another occasion, the governor tried to enter incognito. He got past the first guardhouse, but he was soon recognized, and the alarm was sounded. Settlers poured out from all sides and surrounded his car. He was directed to the office of the committee and ordered to explain before all the purpose of his visit. Obviously quaking, he went with them, telling them they should not be rude to him. Stuttering and stammering, he then proposed and drafted a pact, which he was forced to sign in everybody's presence, agreeing that the Colonos could stay on the land and that the ten pesos per square meter that he had intended to charge everyone could be used instead by the committee to install drinking water, electric power, drainage or paved sidewalks. After that he never showed up again at Ruben Jaramillo, officially or in disguise.

Nor were the concerns of the residents of Ruben Jaramillo limited to their own village. When workers of the Nissan-Datsun factory nearby demonstrated to protest the company's failure to comply with the profit-sharing law, a big contingent of Colonos joined them. When these same workers, along with several other unions, demonstrated against the Mexican Institute of Social Security, the Colonos also participated. Similarly there were demonstrations by the settlers themselves, demanding that the governor fulfill his agreement to install water and electricity. One demonstration that left its mark was called to protest the proliferation of bars, prostitution and the sale of alcoholic beverages. None of these evils was permitted in Ruben Jaramillo.