1975 - CONTRIBUTIONS FROM A ROUND TABLE ON COMPUTERS
DEVELOP COMPUTERS ON A LARGE SCALE ACCORDING TO THE PRINCIPLE OF “AUTONOMY AND SELF-RELIANCE”
The computer is an advanced technique of great utility in agriculture, industry and national defense, as well as in science. Our national computer industry, guided by the revolutionary line of Chairman Mao, for more than ten years, and par- ticularly, since the Cultural Revolution; has grown and established itself from zero and has become a flourish- ing sector of the electronics industry. This has laid the foundations for the advancement of the industry so it can catch up with the most advanced world levels.
During this meeting, the following truth was clearly expressed by the participants: the development and the use of computers are domains which are constantly the object of intense struggle between two conceptions or lines. It is only by holding to the revolutionary line of Chairman Mao that the computer industry can, with a great leap forward, respond to the economic development of the country. Curently, based on the principles of autonomy and self-reliance, we must emphasise and give priority to more widespread use of computers, especially in industry, and increase the level of applications. A resume of the discussion follows.
HOLD TO THE ORIENTATION OF ‘AUTONOMY AND SELF-RELIANCE’ MA QIJUN
(of the “Changjiang” Radio Factory, Shanghai): Our factory is a series of streets.1 At first, 80% of the staff were housewives. But since 1972, phoenix birds have soared from our grass nest; we now make integrated-circuit digital computers capable of 120,000 operations a second. This year, a foreign specialist in information science visited our factory. He saw that all the components were of Chinese manufacture and couldn’t help expressing his admiration by giving the “thumbs-up” sign. Where does such a change come from? Our conclusion is that it is the fruit of the consistent application of the autonomous and self-reliant line. When we were asked to produce computers, we were both happy and uneasy. At that time, the majority of workers had never even heard of this type of machine, let alone seen one. Some of them said, “A street factory, making precision equipment? It’s sheer daydreaming. We’ll never be able to do it!” But when everyone understood the blockade methods of imperialism and social imperialism 2 , and the consequent degrading conditions for their supplying our country, there was indignation all around.
Everyone resolved to honour our socialist motherland and Chairman Mao, and to create the “machine to save our honour” as soon as possible. We criticised the thesis which held that electronics is “mysterious”, as well as servility to overseas countries, advancement at a snail’s pace and blind emulation of others. With the help of the Information Science Research Centre of Shanghai, and also ·of Fudan University, we studied and went ahead with research at the same time. The comrade-workers correctly remarked, ”To create a computer, we must make a path. It is only by taking this path that we will know all the pitfalls. If we don’t make a start, we’ll never know how to take this road”. To create this “machine to save our honour” as soon as possible, and to guarantee its quality, the old women were fitted with far-sighted glasses.
”Each magnetic core is a red heart for Chairman Mao”. 3 They pass three electric wires through 1,840,000 magnetic cores, each as big as half a sesame seed. The welders painstakingly studied the difficulties and successfully accomplished the task which needed several hundred thousand soldered joints. When the first computer constructed by our factory was tested, to the tune of ‘The East is Red’, and with a print-out reading ‘Long live Chairman Mao’, tears of joy streamed down our cheeks! This event reduced our preconceptions to dust, liberated our thought, and showed that with a correct line, a hen’s feather can fly up to the sky.
(Radio Factory, No. 13, Shanghai): Following the path of other countries, to built a computer, one must start from the stage of vacuum- tube computers, move towards semi-conductor computers, before going on to integrated-circuit machines. Some people advocated this path, and at first we imitated foreign vacuum-tube computers, under the pretext that ‘it’s a shortcut’. What is a shortcut? What is a long path? Chairman Mao has pointed out, “We cannot follow the paths previously traced out by other countries for their technical development. If we do, we are towed behind by others. We must break with the routine, conquer avant-garde techniques, and in a relatively short historical period, make our country into great, modern socialist country”.
Following this teaching of Chairman Mao, we decided to start with the manufacture of a semi-conductor computer. In about a year only, we succeeded in manufacturing our first semi-conductor computer which served as a control system for the industrial process. Superficially, one would have thought that jumping the stage of the vacuum-tube computer would have caused a lot of difficulties and a loss of time. In other words, an overly-long path. But by making this leap, we are the masters of our destiny. It is precisely this which is the shortcut of self-reliance. Following in the footsteps of overseas countries does not seem to present any obstacles, but in fact, by doing so, one is pulled along by the nose. This path would have been not only long, but dangerous. We must not take it.
Next, we tackled integrated-circuit computers. This time, the debate was even more violent. The fact that there were a lot of young people participating in the experiments led some to say that the experimental group was like a “new-born calf’ and that integrated circuits were like a “fierce tiger”4 They said, “How can a young calf fight a fierce tiger?”. Of course, the difficulties were immense. At the time we had never seen an integrated-circuit computer, but we had had some experience constructing discrete component computers; and as for the integrated-circuit computers, we had already proceeded with some trial and error experiments for some time. After many experiments, the failures were transformed into success and the integrated-circuit computer saw the light of day.
The ”young calf’ had conquered the “fierce tiger”. In the light of these tangible successes was the veneration of foreign countries going to disappear? Not at all. Last year, there were still a few people proposing plans for manufacturing computers dependent on foreign-made components. The working masses raised a violent criticism, “You want our socialist factory to become an assembling workshop for the capitalists”. If we want to hold to the “autonomy and self-reliance” line, we must continue to develop the struggle between these two modes of thought and the two lines.
(Textile Research Centre, Shanghai): For some years, jackets made of synthetic textiles have appeared. Elegant and comfortable on top of many other advantages they have been very well received by customers, even overseas. But as these clothes have machine-made decorations, the patterns are necessarily small, and it has not been possible to respond entirely to the customers’ needs, especially for export. How could we produce medium or large-sized jackets and still keep the decorations?
At the beginning of this year, we pooled our efforts with spinning mill 13 and devised a weaving loom controlled by computer. While developing this equipment, we visited an exhibition organised by a capitalist country. In order to keep their technical monopoly, they simply exhibited an old-model of an electronic-controlled loom, and moreover, refused to show to us the control system for the weaving of decorations by means of perforated tape. 5 This was an important negative lesson for us. It was only by consistently following the path of self-reliance that we were able to have our own electronic-controlled loom. After the exhibition, we were more determined than ever to construct this machine by ourselves.
We went to the factory to learn from the specialized workers and to get the feel of the machines. We struggled without stopping for several months, and finally, before the 25th anniversary of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the prototype computerized loom weaved its first large-size patterns under electronic control. Its speed and quality were much greater than a mechanical loom.
(Research and Scientific and Technical Information Centre, Shanghai): Since 1946, the year when the very first computer was constructed, the manufacture of these machines has developed very quickly. Having left the first generation (vacuum-tube computers) behind, we are now in the fourth generation, using integrated circuits. The speed of operation has progressed from several thousand operations per second to several million, even reaching 10 million. As far as foreign- made computers are concerned, we must study them seriously, without worshiping them blindly or slavishly copying them. Computers, like all other techniques, have been stamped with the mark of a class in the course of their development.
For example, there are many different types of computers constructed in capitalist countries. For spare parts, the situation is even more complex. A single type of part can exist in more than 30,000 forms in the US. This is the inevitable result of the anarchy existing in capitalist countries. Overseas, the majority of computers are used for the management of companies. Those which are used directly in the control of the manufacturing process represent little more than 10%. Some are still used for things like ‘situations wanted’, matrimonial agencies or even horoscopes, and we haven’t seen everything yet. This is why, when we reflect on the manufacture and the use of computers overseas, we should be guided by Mao’s thought and develop our analyses in line with the principle, “One divides into two”. 6 We must take what is good, and reject the bad. In this way, we can profit from the study of foreign computers.
ASSURE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH USE; RAISE STANDARDS THROUGH POPULARIZATION
(Telecommunications and Instrument Measuring Office, Shanghai): I consider that in order to develop computers on a large scale, their applications must be generalised. It is only through generalising and popularising applications, that we will be able to arrive at a real and total independence, self-reliance, and the installation of an independent information science industry. Why is this the case? By spreading computers out amongst people, and submitting applications to the test of practice, we will be able to improve their role and bring out various contradictions; like, for example, problems arising from the quality of the machines themselves, their integration in the factory, and the relations between computers and other techniques etc. Thus, we . will assemble a rich collection of documents and establish a favourable terrain for the development and improvement of computers.
Computers adapted to the production conditions of our country could therefore appear in large quantity. One of our proverbs says, “Small hole, small peg” If we do not generalise applications or advance through the practice of production, with what rule do we measure the hole, and with what tool do we shape the peg? There would be nothing left to do but slavishly recopy foreign textbooks. We have already learnt our lesson from this viewpoint in the past. Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao and other con-men of the same mould advocated the theory that “electronics is mysterious”, “electronics is at the centre of everything”, and by doing so, made the popularization of applications of computers very difficult.
In the past, we did not pay enough attention to applications and simply imported foreign machines and blindly recopied them. These computers were either not adapted to the production conditions of our country, or could not be integrated into our existing material. Most were not able to play their full role and some were left dormant in a corner. This experience led us to the following conclusion: all the problems due to useless imports are essentially due to having taken the capitalist road. To deal with the popularisation of applications, a troop of users must be created. These people will study mainly the techniques of using computers. They will also be able to participate in the conception and manufacture of new articles, and apply their powers to the transformation of old factories.
Can we not imagine, in the years to come, each profession proposing an example of using computers, thus permitting a multiplication of computers? This is within the realm of possibility. Particularly with us, the electronic workers, the use of computers is at a very low level, a long way behind the development of our production. We must be determined to transform the techniques in our own corporation and to use computers to manufacture computers.
(Automatic Measuring-Instruments Reseach Centre, Shanghai): We cannot speak of popularization without speaking of standards. There are people who consider that as soon as we popularise, there is no longer any standard or that the standard is low. What are we to make of this? I consider that small computers, adapted to our real situation, reliable, convenient and economic, possess a certain standard. Before the Cultural Revolution, poisoned by the line of Liu Shaoqi, people were devoted to the cult of large machines. Shutting themselves in for several years, barricaded in their own world, they were always behind the others. If we cut off ourselves from popularization, then the raising of standards becomes as hollow as a house of cards.
During the Cultural Revolution, guided by the revolutionary line of Chairman Mao, we established profound links with the production factories and those that use them; we combined with the working masses to conceive of simple machines for industrial use, characterized by rapid installation, small investments, reduced volume and lightness. These machines have already played a role in the three great revolutionary movements. 7 Of course, these machines are not perfect, and still need to be perfected. But we think that the path is a correct one. Taking popularization as a basis, efforts must be made with small and medium-sized machines, particularly, mini-computers.
Mini-computers have a vast range of applications, and on top of other qualities, are cheap. They are very suitable for popularization. As the worker-comrades say, “these simple,reliable and practical mini-computers are like coal brought to you in winter. They are really useful”. This does not mean that we should reject large computers with over a million operations per second. While popularizing these machines, we must pay attention to the way they are integrated with already existing equipment.
The context is just as important as the machine itself. When we use computers in industry, we are using entry. and exit organs. If we compare the central unit to the brain, the input and output peripheries of the machine are like the eyes, ears, arms and legs. If the eyes and ears perceive nothing, then the arms and legs will remain inert, and the brain will not be able to attain its goal. Currently, the input and output peripheries are the weak links which influence the use of computers. I consider that this equipment must be simplified, miniaturized and brought back to more reasonable prices.
(Information Science Research Centre, Shanghai): The generalization and use of computers is a domain which is undergoing intense struggle between two types of thinking, two lines. Some scientists remain skeptical; computers being a very advanced technology, how can their applications be generalized? Experience shows that by going to the heart of the masses, through practice the computer can demonstrate all its powers. For example, the workers of a naval construction site felt the urgent need to use computers as well as other advanced techniques, in their struggle to successfully emancipate our naval industry and to create shipping lines. An old specialised worker with an education level of four years primary school, studied assiduously the basic techniques of computer utilization for more than six months. Currently, the naval industry uses computers for problems such as the study of structures, engine power, and the adjustment of models.
Another example. For the conception of micro-generators: we can determine in five minutes, thanks to the computer, the optimal solution which previously took six months, The volume and weight of the equipment was cut in half. We economised over 20% in silicon sheets and lightened the labour of the workers. The worker cornrades happily remarked that now that we use the computer, it’s as if the tiger grew wings. For this reason, the popularisation and applications of computers are needed by the three great revolutionary movements; workers, peasants and soldiers.
CRITICIZE CAPITALIST VIEWS ON THE USE OF COMPUTERS
(Information Science Research Centre of Eastern China): From a technical point of view, each time a new technology appears, each class adds to it its explanations, its evaluation and its appreciation of the perspectives for development. When computers appeared, each made its own analysis. The bourgeoisie did their best to exaggerate their role pretending that the computer could replace humans: going so far as to overtake the human brain; there are still people who put forward the idea that computers could resolve the economic and political crises of capitalism. The soviet revisionists have loudly and clearly proclaimed that computers and other automated machines were more intelligent than, and superior to humans.
The Liu Shaoqi, and Lin Biao current spread the theory that “electronics is mysterious”, that “electronics is at the centre of everything”, and other reactionary theses. These absurdities must be totally refuted. In spite of what the bourgeoisie say, computers do no more than carry out automated processes by means of electron movement, resulting in better output, increased speed and a more developed memory capacity. As to their nature, computers are an extension of the organism and the capacities of man, and the machines controlled by man. For the thirty years that they have progressed through the necessities of practice, computers have greatly developed, but whatever their development, they never escape the control and the command of man.
There are only two fundamental possibilities for computers: -the possibility to calculate, and to carry out the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division); -the logic possibility to decide between YES or NO. The two possibilities are implemented through a programme foreseen and writted by man. If man does not program the computer, it can do nothing. This is why there are absolutely no grounds for saying that the machine will replace or catch up with man. It is even more extravagant to imagine that machines can be used to resolve the political and economic crises of capitalism. Today, computers are very numerous in capitalist countries, but the crises are stronger than ever. Daily, capitalism plunges deeper into a phase of great depression and crisis.
(Jiaotong University, Shanghai): It is very important to criticise bourgeois theories. In our teaching work, we find ourselves in contact with a small number of students who find that computers have something mysterious about them; we understood that they had been influenced by books and publications. These are publications which, when they present the current state of forexgn techniques or when they translate the works of bourgeois scientists, add no explanatory notes and pretend to adopt a viewpoint of “strictly fidelity”.
Of course, this information on foreign science and techniques must be known and presented, but it is better to accompany it with a system of notes and explanations. As to the theory of the ‘represen- tativeness’ of the bourgeoisie, I propose that the journal Dialectics of Nature make a critique of it.
This text was first published in Chinese in the journal Dialectics of Nature (Shanghai), 1975, and was translated and published in French in Interferences (Paris), 3, Autumn 1975. It was translated from the French by David Buxton and included in the collection Communication and Class Struggle, 1983.