Chen Erjin's work — originally entitled On Proletarian-Democratic Revolution — is the first major unofficial critique of 'existing socialism' to have reached the West from China. Written during the last two years of Mao's life, in the midst of the political crisis surrounding the final, disastrous stages of the Cultural Revolution decade, this pioneering study of the new class structure and development tendencies of China's post-revolutionary order maps out a radical anti-bureaucratic alternative to the present system of single-party dictatorship. First published unofficially in 1979 as part of the worker and student-based 'Democracy Movement', or 'Peking Spring' (an authentically grassroots response to the official liberalization carried out by Mao's successors), it quickly established itself as one of the movement's key political texts. By the time of the movement's final suppression in early 1981, it had helped to inspire the development in China of a new and fascinating school of left dissident theory, one whose achievements rank alongside those of such East European writers as Jacek Kuron and Rudolf Bahro.
A bold and uncompromising synthesis of elements from sources as disparate as Maoist cultural revolutionary radicalism and American-style 'separation of powers' governmental theory, this passionate and convincing manifesto for socialist democracy defies simple classification. Addressing the daunting problems of Chinese socialism from the inside and from the base, Chen argues the need for a thorough-going transformation, through 'proletarian-democratic revolution', of the inequitable power-relationship between party and people which has hitherto so distorted the social and political structure of New China. Coining the term 'crossroads socialism' to describe China's present politico-economic formation, he advances a detailed programme of policies and reforms designed to steer China away from the historical cul-de-sac of Soviet-style authoritarianism and towards a mass-based system of participatory democracy, one characterized notably by the creation of a second communist party.
In a detailed and important introduction, Robin Munro provides a survey of the contemporary political background in China, an account of the Democracy Movement as a whole, and an evaluation both of Chen's ideas and of the wide-ranging controversy to which they gave rise within the movement.