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Cover Stories Series 2011> CPC Celebrates 90th Anniversary 1921-2011> Opinion
UPDATED: August 1, 2011 Web Exclusive
A Vigorous Organization

Theodor Bergmann (ZENG WENHUI)

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Beijing Review reporter Zeng Wenhui spoke to Theodor Bergmann, a 95-year-old German scholar who calls himself a "critical communist," on the development of the Party and the country. Edited excerpts follow:

Beijing Review: When the CPC was founded in 1921, you were five years old. You followed the development of the CPC over a long period of time. Did your perception of the CPC change over the years? And if so, how did it change?

Theodor Bergmann: The CPC is of great significance for China's history and also the history and politics of today's world.

A few idealists who had led the suffering people, including workers and peasants, founded the CPC after decades of struggle. There always had been a lot of debates and even fights between the two competing lines. I think this is very important for the past and present development of the Party, as I believe that the communist movement should retain vigor, openness, and internal democracy. It has to be open for criticism and discussion to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to minimize mistakes in the future.

The CPC led the people to fight against the Kuomintang (KMT) troops in the civil war (1946-1949) launched by the KMT. The Party guided the Chinese people into a new social system, which was a remarkable achievement in my opinion. 

How do you view the development of the CPC starting from its founding, through the reforms of the opening up policy, to now?

It was no easy job for the CPC to rule such a big country with 450 million people when the People's Republic of China was founded in October 1949.

Making mistakes is unavoidable. What is more important is to correct the mistakes as quickly as possible. From my point of view, the CPC made two major mistakes, namely the "great leap forward" (1958-60) and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). Fortunately, in 1981 the Party adopted the scientific approach of seeking truth from facts and displayed the spirit of critical analysis in summing up historical experience. I think this was a remarkable achievement for the ruling party to openly admit mistakes of the past and take responsibility for not repeating those mistakes in the future. The policies that made by new generations of leaders are better and more reasonable.

I believe there always will and should exist different opinions inside the Party. It is necessary to discuss what is happening in a democratic way.

Moreover, it is also a great achievement that the older generation of Party members supported Deng Xiaoping, who had been deposed three times yet became the core of the Party's central leadership in 1978. The reform and opening up policy that Deng proposed is what simultaneously enabled China's far-reaching progress and solved many economic and social problems.

Chinese society is a truly modern one, in which everyone has opportunities for personal development and progress; everyone is cared for, although there are still problems yet to be solved.

The CPC plays a significant role in the world, too. As true communists, it is our duty to keep on improving the structure of society and bring rationality, peace and assistance to all the peoples of the world. This aim should be achieved through criticism, cooperation, support and solidarity.

Have you meet with any famous CPC members in person? How did they impress you?

I met a lot of CPC members. One of them was Israel Epstein (1915-2005), who I knew very well. I was deeply impressed by the fact that he remained a loyal communist after being in prison for years. As far as I know, he was a wise person, willing to devote himself for the goals of communism and the people.

I talked to Wang Guangmei (1921-2006),  wife of late Chinese President Liu Shaoqi, at Beijing's Great Hall of the People. She was a really brave woman. She lost her husband and spent many years in prison with her children during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). However, she kept on fighting for communist goals, making contributions to the country, and helping poor children since the 1980s. 

What do you think is the reason for the CPC is so successful as a ruling party?

I think the CPC has made many great achievements. At the beginning of the Party's founding, the majority of Chinese people were illiterate and suffered from hunger, misery and repression. The CPC succeeded in helping people build a new social system. Nowadays, every child goes to school. Millions of children from working-class families have the opportunity to study in university. The present society aims at creating better living conditions for everyone, rather than for only small numbers of the privileged. I believe this is an outstanding achievement for a developing country.

I think the CPC is very vigorous. It constantly puts forward reforms and new ideas. A communist ruling party has to keep up with the time, understand and be aware of emerging problems. My impression is that the CPC members are connected with the world with smooth access and also have a profound understanding of developments in their own country. They are capable of responding to international and domestic affairs in a rational way.

Profile of Theodor Bergmann

Born in 1916 in Berlin as the seventh child of a rabbi, he joined the Junior Spartacus League and the Socialist Pupils Association in 1927. Since both organizations followed the line of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) quite uncritically, he decided to quit. In 1929, he became a member of a youth organization in opposition to the KPD. He earned his doctorate at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim in 1955. In 1973, he became a professor of international comparative agricultural policy in Stuttgart-Hohenheim. Since 1989, he is a member of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), now the Left Party (Die Linke). As an active and critical communist, he visited many countries in the world for doing research. Since 1978, he regularly paid visits to China to study the political and economic development of the country.

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