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1.01  The Common Program and the Creation of a New Democratic State 

6 March 2018

The plan for the reconstruction of a New China was drafted during the Seventh National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1945 before the founding of the new state. It was decided that realization of socialism should take two steps:[1]

  • First, there would be three years of preparation in the recovery period before another ten to fifteen years for the construction of a society of New Democracy (新民主主义社会).

  • This was to be followed by a transition towards the formation of a socialist society.


The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the Common Program


In 1949, the Chinese Civil War was turning decisively in favour of the CCP. In June, the Communist Party organised a "Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference" (CPPCC中国人民政治协商会议), also known as the People's PCC (人民政协) or just the PCC (政协), to prepare for the establishment of a "New Democracy" regime to replace the Kuomintang-dominated Republic of China government.


The first meeting of the CPPCC opened on 21 September 1949, and was attended by the Communist Party along with eight aligned parties. The first CPPCC served in effect as a Constitutional Convention. The meeting approved the Common Program (共同纲领), which was effectively an interim Constitution, specifying the structure of the new government, and determining the name and symbols of the new state. It also elected leaders of the new central government, including Mao Zedong as Chairman of the Central People's Government (中央人民政府). After the end of the conference, the People's Republic of China (PRC) was proclaimed on 1 October 1949.


The PRC government functioned for the next five years under the Common Program, with a degree of democracy and inclusion that was not seen again in Chinese government to the present day. Among the provisions of the Common Program, for example, were those guaranteeing protection of private property (Article 3), "uniting" the bourgeoisie (Article 13), and assisting private enterprise (Article 30). The first People's Government, elected in 1949, included a significant number of representatives from parties other than the Communist Party.


At this point, the CCP blueprint for the future as outlined in the Common Program was gradual, moderate, conciliatory, and inclusive in nature. In this interim constitution, even the bourgeoisie, the very class in which the struggle of communism was against, had a role.  In the words of Premier Zhou Enlai, the ultimate goals of socialism and communism were "not put . . . in writing for the time being [although] we do not deny [them]." Mao even more strongly emphasized the gradual nature of the Party's program in mid-1950 when he declared, "The view . . . that it is possible to eliminate capitalism and realize socialism at an early date is wrong [and] does not tally with our national conditions."[2]


Another feature of the Common Program is the policy of reassurance. The initial needs of economic revival and political acceptance argued for reassuring key groups in society and making tangible concessions to their interests. The policy, however, contradicted with the imperative of establishing firm organizational control as a prelude to planned development. Hence, a marked shift in emphasis from reassurance to tightening control occurred in late 1950 through the launch of various campaigns targeting especially the urban areas. From that time, roughly corresponding with the Chinese entry into the Korean War, the CCP's social programs intensified, mass movements were launched, and the regime penetrated society in a much more thorough manner than initially. But in the first year or so of power, the stress was on reassurance in view of both the fragility of the situation and the limited resources the Party had at its disposal.


The Drafting and Passing of PRC’s First Constitution


In accordance with the Common Program, preparations soon began for convening the first National People's Congress (全国人民代表大会) and the drafting of the first permanent Constitution of the People's Republic of China.


On 24 December 1952, a resolution was moved by Premier Zhou Enlai on behalf of the CCP at the 43rd meeting of the first CPPCC Standing Committee to draft the new, permanent, Constitution. The resolution was passed, and on 13 January 1953, the Central People's Government appointed a thirty-person drafting committee led by Mao Zedong.


The drafting process was dominated by the CCP, and was almost exclusively restricted to the Politburo. In March 1954, the draft Constitution was passed to the CPPCC and discussed in a national education campaign in the spring and summer of 1954. On 20 September 1954, exactly five years after the passage of the Common Program, the first meeting of the first National People's Congress unanimously approved the new Constitution to replace the temporary arrangements made in 1949. This version has subsequently been called the "1954 Constitution".


Strictly speaking, this was not a permanent constitution; it was designed to meet the needs of the period of transition to socialism. But given the long-term nature of that period, it was expected to last many years.


Forging a United Front to Build a New Democratic State


The involvement of the eight other aligned parties in the CPPCC to create a Common Program reflected one of the characteristic features of Mao's strategy of building revolutionary success on the principle of gathering a wide collection of allies while setting relatively limited goals and defining enemies as narrowly as possible. The strategy had the benefit of maximizing support and minimizing fears. It was this united front practice to seek the broadest base of legitimacy which was now applied to the post-liberation situation.


Politically, the CCP also coopted into the united front the so-called democratic parties which tried but failed to become a third force during the struggle between the KMT and CCP. Eleven of the twenty-four ministers appointed in the new government were delegates from these parties. While political power clearly rested in the hands of the CCP, the advice of prestigious non-Communist figures was genuinely sought throughout the early years of the PRC.


Interestingly, according to Wu (2005), Mao was not against the concept of capitalism before the founding of the new China based on his thoughts outlined in two of his papers. In his 1940 essay entitled “On New Democracy” (新民主主义论), he asserted that the economic base for the new democratic society would be a mixed economy which included a private capitalist sector that “cannot dominate the livelihood of the people" and the condition that big banks and the big industrial and commercial enterprises owned by the state. In another paper "On Coalition Government" (论联合政府) which he delivered at the Seventh National Congress of the CCP in 1945, he stated that in the new democratic society, capitalism should have adequate room for development. What he objected was not domestic capitalism but foreign imperialism (帝国主义) and domestic feudalism (封建主义). He further professed that “development of capitalism in a vast scale under the New Democratic regime has no harm but only benefit”.


Economically, the Common Program thus narrowly defining enemies as "imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism." Policies for reasserting China's national rights and squeezing out Western enterprises were genuinely popular because of their patriotic appeal. "Bureaucratic capital" - the limited number of large enterprises that had been run by figures closely connected with the KMT and were now confiscated by the new state - was also a popular target, particularly among private capitalists (the "national bourgeoisie") who had suffered grievously from KMT favoritism toward well-connected firms. Finally, feudal forces were defined as landlords, who made up only 3 to 5 percent of the rural population. Not only were rich peasants excluded from the list of enemies, but the need to maintain the "rich peasant economy" became a key aspect of CCP rural policies. This approach further served, as Mao elaborated in early 1950, to "isolate the landlords, protect the middle peasants [and] set at rest the minds of the national bourgeoisie".


CCP’s ability to forge a broad united front contributed immensely to its success in reducing resistance to, if not winning support for, its rule particular at the early phase of nation building. To begin with, the populace was impressed by the generally impeccable behavior of the occupying troops. They also welcomed the restoration of peace and public reliefs. As economic recovery set in, the improvement in living standard helped CCP win the support of the working masses. The urban middle class, on the other hand, was too disillusioned by the corrupt and discredited KMT to welcome any change. As for the intellectuals, despite their penchant for independent thinking and unwillingness to be pushed into the Marxist straitjacket, CCP’s success in reunifying war-torn China won their patriotic support. Even the industrial bourgeoisie welcomed CCP because of the assistance provided by the latter to help revive their enterprises.


Hence, by 1953-1954, under the central coalition government led by the CCP, a "new democratic state" was established that was not an orthodox dictatorship of the proletariat (i.e. the working class 工人阶级, 尤指无产阶级) but a "people's democratic dictatorship" (人民民主专政) in which the peasantry, petty bourgeoisie (小资产阶级), and national bourgeoisie (民族资产阶级) joined the working class as ruling classes.


Notably, however, the classes were not an alliance of equals. The alliance was led by the working class, the vanguard of the Party. Other members were to be educated by the proletariat. In the case of the national bourgeoisie, this education could be harsh indeed, since that class was described as vacillating and having an exploitative side. Initially the united front approach emphasized the role of the bourgeoisie and vast majority of the population in building the new China, but the democratic dictatorship could always quickly redefine the political status of any segment of the "people".


In adopting this concept of new democratic state in which even the bourgeoisie had a role, the CCP broke with Soviet orthodoxy on state forms. By persisting in their position until 1953-54, Party leaders indicated not only the importance they attached to the united front tactic but also the determination to insist on ideological as well as political independence from the Soviet model where circumstances warranted.[3]

NEXT: 1.2  Challenges Faced in Constructing a Society of New Democracy (1949 - 1952)



[1] See Wu Jingliang. (2005).

[2] See Denis Twitchett & John K. Fairbank. (Eds) (2008). “The Cambridge History of China: Volume 14. The People's Republic, Part 1: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1949-1965.” Cambridge University Press. Pg. 77.

[3] See Denis Twitchett & John K. Fairbank. (Eds) (2008). Pg. 76 – 79.

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