The Discussion between Velio Spano and P.A. Shibayev on the Situation in the People’s Republic of China

(13th December 1949)

The account which is given here by the Italian communist Velio Spano shortly after the successful revolution in China suggests the fragility of the situation in the country and the potentialities for the restoration of capitalism. Despite the correctness of the political line of the people’s  democratic dictatorship at its first stage of development where the primary tasks were directed against imperialism and the survivals of feudalism there were necessarily weaknesses in the situation in the country. The Marxist literature of that time distinguished between two phases of People’s Democracy. The first phase was one where the dictatorship of the proletariat was advancing but still had the representatives of sections of capital and landlordism in the state power in which the immediate tasks of taking over imperialist enterprises and completing land reform were being carried out. In the second phase of people’s democracy the representatives of the non-labouring classes were to be removed from the state power and the people’s democratic state was to fulfil the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat and embark on the construction of socialism. By 1952- 53 the tasks of the first phase were largely completed and both the CPSU(b) and the CPC envisaged the transition to the next, socialist, stage of people’s democracy.

Mao in 1952 pointed out that the main contradiction was that between the national bourgeoisie and the working people. However after March 1953 matters took a negative turn in People’s China as in much of the democratic camp. The new understanding now adopted in the People’s China was that it was unnecessary to expel the representatives of the non-labouring classes from the state organs or socialise all the instruments and means of the production under socialism. The Chinese constitution  of 1954 was declared to be an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat, even though the parties of national capital continued to remain in the National People’s Congress and the country was said to be socialist even though huge sectors of the economy were not socialised – throughout the Mao period this continued in town and country even in the urban and rural people’s communes. Nationalised property was subordinated to the group property of the people’s communes. This represented a major departure from Marxism parallel to Khrushchev’s policy of selling the agricultural machinery of the machine tractor stations to the collective farms thereby expanding the sphere of commodity production and exchange in the economy. Such non-Marxist ‘innovations’ were given support and sanction at the 20th Congress of the CPSU by Khrushchev and the 8th Congress of the CPC by Mao in 1956. This did not mean, however, the end of democratic and revolutionary advance in China in the period 1953-1976 though it did amply indicate that People’s China was not geared to constructing a socialist society.

Velio Spano (1905-1964) was a leader of the Communist Party of Italy who was imprisoned 1928-1932 for re-establishing the illegal communist party under the fascism of Mussolini. In Paris thereafter, Velio Spano joined the illegal apparatus of the Italian Communist Party. Along with Romain Rolland, he campaigned for the release of Gramsci and the sending of an inquiry delegation to verify the conditions of political prisoners in Italian prisons. He worked on behalf of the party in France, Egypt, Spain and Tunisia frequently in underground conditions. After the liberation of Italy he was elected a member of the Politburo of the CPI, a member of the National Council for the Constituent Assembly and Undersecretary for Agriculture in the De Gasperi II Government (July 1946-January 1947). He was elected deputy for Sardinia and participated in the peasant struggles, the land occupations and the strikes of the miners in Sardinia. In 1949 he was sent by the CPI and the journal L’Unità to China in August 1949 and travelled in China between September, 1949 until early January, 1950. During his visit he was able to meet Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, Li Lisan, Bo Yibo, Chen Yi, Peng Zhen, Guo Moruo, Song Qingling and other leaders. Details of the visit of Velio Spano to China are available from a scholarly study by Laura De Giorgi of the Università Ca’Foscari Venezia, Italia, entitled “A Welcome Guest? A Preliminary Assessment of Velio Spano’s Journey to Mao’s China 1949-1950" (Roads to Reconciliation People’s Republic of China, Western Europe and Italy During the Cold War Period (1949-1971) edited by Guido Samarani, Carla Meneguzzi Rostagni and Sofia Graziani, 2017, pages 177 to 195). This study refers to the meeting of Velio Spano with Pyotr Shabayev, the chargé d’affaires at the Soviet Embassy in Canton. Spano had requested this secret meeting. In early December 1949 Spano refers in his travel notes to his marginalisation, distrust, coldness and being kept at a distance by the Chinese. After his return to Italy Spano was a Deputy in the Italian parliament and fought for the recognition of the People’s Republic of China. In the Khrushchev period Velio Spano took pro-Soviet positions though he was known for his positive stands against the US military bases in Italy, particularly in Sardinia (the island in which Spano was born). In 1957 he became responsible for the Foreign Office of the CPI Central Committee, and in 1958 he was appointed Secretary of the Italian Movement for Peace.

Vijay Singh.

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