Seas are rising, Clouds and Waters Raging
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Begins, Maoist China from 1958 to May 16, 1966
by Leading Light Commander PF
One of the problems that communists have faced is how to keep the revolution moving forward, how to keep the revolution from stagnating and reversing. This is connected to problems of corruption, bureaucracy, and degeneration. The Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union saw itself through the lenses of the industrial revolution. The metaphor of the machine was often used when depicting socialism. The machine, also man-as-machine, was romanticized in propaganda, literature, and art. Technological development was usually seen as the main factor leading to a healthy socialist and communist future. Both Stalin and his rival Trotsky shared this outlook. Lenin once remarked that socialism is Soviet power plus electricity. This kind of outlook would later be criticized by the Maoists when their opponents advocated similar views in China. It would be called “the Theory of the Productive Forces.” This kind of outlook in Stalin’s regime has a close connection to the rise of the police state there. If socialism is seen as a kind of machine, then what explanation is there when the system fails to generate the expected levels of prosperity? What is the explanation for the failures of the machine? The first and easiest kind of explanation is that the problem is not the machine, not socialism itself, but rather alien forces that are hostile to it, saboteurs and spies. There is a natural development from such an outlook to the rise of a police state. The use of police terror as a means of revolution is not new. During the French revolution, Maximilien Robespierre of the Committee of Public Safety openly stated that there is no virtue without terror. Stalin’s terror, the purges, was a terror waged, for the most part, not against the general population, but against the Party itself. It was a, sometimes metaphoric, sometimes literal, gun pointed at the head of every cadre, every person of responsibility, in order to eliminate corruption and sabotage, to ensure virtue, to ensure the machine operated as it should. Now, this is obviously oversimplifying the complex nature of Stalin’s regime, but nonetheless it points to an important aspect of it that should not be ignored. The Maoists did not seek to repeat this aspect of the Soviet experience. In their better moments, the Maoists developed another, more dynamic view of socialism. The Maoists sought to address the problem of “continuing the revolution under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” in another way. Socialism was not perceived to be as static as it had been in the Stalinist regime. Socialism was a more transitional and imperfect social form that could generate new inequalities that could solidify and become permanent. Eventually, out of the structural and ideological problems of socialism, a new kind of capitalist class, a new bourgeoisie, could emerge within the centers of power, “within the Communist Party itself.” This eventually could and did lead to counter-revolution. The Maoists warned that “China’s flag could change its color.” In other words, rather than seeing the problems as mainly alien to the system as the Soviets had, the Maoists, in their better moments, traced the problems to the transitional nature of the system itself. The Maoists came to see class struggle, not better policing, as the main way to prevent counter-revolution, to continue the revolutionary momentum. Class struggle came to mean many things during the Cultural Revolution period of 1965 to 1969, when most of the Maoist ideas became most developed. It meant ideological struggle in the political and cultural realms. It meant mass mobilizations, reliance on people power. Class struggle also means the development of dual power, New Power. This last aspect of class struggle is one that is often ignored in the Maoist narrative of the Cultural Revolution.
Like all revolutions today, revolution is not merely an act of seizing the existing state apparatus. Revolution is not a coup. The state and other institutions of society are not just neutral instruments of class warfare, they can, in a sense, become capitalist in themselves. Therefore, in revolution it is necessary not merely to seize the existing institutions, but to smash them. However, to smash the bourgeois power is not enough. It is necessary to fill the power vacuum with a New Power, new institutions of the proletariat, led by proletarian ideology, revolutionary science. Class struggle is a case of two sets of institutions led by two different ideologies involving two different classes battling for dominance over society. With this kind of view, socialism becomes a battle ground where a kind of metaphoric people’s war must be waged continually by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for control of society, by proletarian ideology against reactionary ideology, by the New Power against the Old Power, even throughout the socialist period.
Maoist influenced was reduced after the problems of the Great Leap Forward, which lasted roughly from 1957 to 1961. The Maoists had less and less to do with the day-to-day of the Party. They were sidelined to various degrees by a group led by China’s other chairman, Liu Shaoqi, the Chairman or President of the State, who would later be targeted as “the top capitalist roader” in 1967 as the tempo of the Cultural Revolution peaked. However, in the years leading up to the Cultural Revolution, there was increasing tension between the Maoist factions and the rightist, revisionist, capitalist factions within the party, there were also struggles within the factions themselves. The Maoist faction was divided into a Party left, an army left, and a mass movement left, whose interests sometimes conflicted, sometimes very violently. The rightist, capitalist faction itself contained a more traditionally nationalist, Confucian authoritarian pole but also a more Western-style liberal pole, whose interests similarly conflicted at times. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the leftists factions were mostly united against the rightist factions. As time went on, this unity would break down as the left achieved more power. Eventually the capitalists would return to sweep away the last of the Maoists from power.
Sometimes historians refer to the entirety of the last decade of Mao’s life from 1966 to 1976 as the “Cultural Revolution.” Although political struggle of various kinds existed throughout this period, such an approach grossly distorts and simplifies the politics of the era. Although Mao later changed his terminology to suggest he considered the Cultural Revolution ongoing throughout the 1970s, earlier, the official Cultural Revolution had been declared over at the Ninth Congress in April of 1969. This congress was seen at the time as representing a complete Maoist victory, especially the victory of the army and Party left. By then the right had been mostly suppressed at the centers of power. Leftist excesses were ended, the mass movements had been disciplined and brought under control of the army left and Party left. Military actions, Zhang Chunqiao’s work teams operating under the “Working Class in Command” slogan, the imposition of Three-in-One committees, the attack on the fictitious May 16th Corps, the campaign to cleanse the class ranks, relocation of urban youth and students to rural work in the countryside or industrial work, all played a role to effectively end the independent mass movements associated with much of the leftist chaos. However, even the official Party chronology from the period immediately following the Ninth Congress that considers the Cultural Revolution as lasting from 1965 to 1969 is not the best either since it fails to include the offensive by the army left that lasted until Lin Biao’s death in 1971. It is really September 13, 1971 with the fall of Lin Biao and the Maoist loss of the army that marks the end of the Maoist progress. With the leftist loss of the military, the right slides back to power. After all, Lin Biao’s army was a kind of praetorian guard that secured the space that allowed other aspects of the Cultural Revolution to unfold. The mass movements could not have happened without the protective bubble provided by Lin Biao. Lin Biao’s army was the site of the development of both the New Power that allowed the Maoists to bypass revisionist Party channels. Also, it was the center of much of the Maoist ideological offensive. The possibility for further Maoist advance after the loss of the army is highly unlikely if not impossible. The “leftover left,” the so-called “Gang of Four,” were easily deposed on October 6, 1976 after Mao’s death earlier on September 9, 1976. Even their own power base, their own militia, in Shanghai refused to stand up for them. There was no way that the post-1971 “leftover left” would be able to pull off another Cultural Revolution, another Maoist advance. They simply lacked the mass or institutional support, especially with the loss of the army left. So, Maoist campaigns existed before the official beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1965. And Maoist campaigns continued after the end of the Ninth Party Congress is 1969 and even after the fall of the army left in 1971. However, in terms of revolutionary forward momentum, what Maoists call “continuing the revolution under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” it was over, for the most part, with the fall of the army left in 1971. In this series, “Cultural Revolution” refers almost exclusively to the official sense of the Ninth Congress period chronology. Sometimes it refers to the whole period of Maoist forward momentum lasting into 1971. When referring to the entire last decade of Mao’s life from 1966 to 1976, the phrase “Cultural Revolution Decade” will be used. It should be clear from the context what exact time periods are being referred to in any given instance.
There were two main roads that might have pushed the Chinese revolution forward. The first road is that of the semi-spontaneous, Maoist mass movements that arose between 1966 and were subdued fully as 1968 rolled on. This Maoist advance never really articulated a single programme or model of socialism. This trend advocated the continuation of the mass movement fighting in 1967. Chen Boda’s “Support the left, but not the factions” was a slogan that was a de facto call to allow the status quo of factionalist, sometimes violent fighting to continue. The idea being that the process will eventually generate the correct line, that the “real left” will eventually emerge victorious from the chaos. Criticizing the spontaneity and violence of the mass movements, Mao famously said he wanted class war, not civil war. Sometimes a vague rhetoric of a “commune of China” was advanced to opposed to the Three-in-One Committee model that was imposed across China. The Three-in-One Committees were associated with the Party or bureaucratic left, Mao and Zhang Chunqiao in particular, that tended to cutout the mass movements. The second road is that of the left wing of the army under Lin Biao. The Maoist army sought a more ordered approach to the Cultural Revolution, imposition of the guerrilla ethos across society, big ideological campaigns, society was to be seen as a kind of Maoist school writ large, a return to mass collectivization campaigns — the Flying Leap, etc. This was a kind of barracks egalitarianism. This road dead-ended when Mao turned against Lin Biao and brought back the Adverse Current, the old Party bureaucracy and military commanders who had been deposed as capitalists during the previous years. Lin Biao’s death in 1971 and his subsequent frame-up was the end of this model. Both roads, and all Maoist trends, shared much of the same rhetoric. They used similar symbols and elevated Mao’s cult of personality to religious levels. There was much overlap between all Maoist trends, and even between Maoist trends and their enemies.
Dogmatic Maoists today say that the Cultural Revolution was the furthest advance toward socialism in history. In some senses, this is true. Theoretically, the Maoist structural and ideological analysis was better than the Bolshevik one. Some of the Maoist practice was innovative, even if it failed to prevent counter-revolution. However, too often, the Maoist rhetoric did not live up to reality. Just like previous experiments, the Maoists too relied on police methods. In the end, all of the main leaders of the Maoist left, except Mao himself, would be defamed by a police narrative version of history: Wang Li, Guan Feng, Qi Benyu, Chen Boda, Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, Wang Hongwen, etc. The last decade of Mao’s life was not simply a single period where Maoists ruled the roost, it was a complex period that saw the fall of prominent rightists, revisionists, capitalists like Liu Shaoqi, but also the fall of prominent Maoists. Many good ideas came out of the Cultural Revolution even if they were often poorly implemented. Even though China was the last great revolution, revolutionary science and the understanding of socialism and counter-revolution have advanced significantly since then. The most advanced revolutionary science today, Leading Light Communism, has deepened not only our understanding of this period of revolutionary history, but has deepened our understanding of every other aspect of revolution. Armed with this knowledge, the next time we seize power, we will advance even further, all the way to Leading Light Communism. The future is ours for the taking if we dare. Our sun is rising. Our day is coming.
Great Leap Forward, Economism, the Theory of the Productive Forces
The roots of the Cultural Revolution are very complex. They go back to the conflicts that came to the surface during the Great Leap Forward from 1957 to 1962 and the Sino-Soviet split around the same time. The Maoists saw China’s economic problems as very much connected to the problems within the “socialist bloc” generally. The Maoists identified their domestic opponents as representing the same kinds of forces that had led the international communist astray.
The relationship between the Soviet Union and the Chinese communists had always been rocky. The Chinese revolution had gone through many leaderships in the long course of their liberation struggle. The Maoists rose to leadership often in opposition to those closest to Moscow. Even though their relationship to Moscow had been rocky, the Maoists always maintained socialist unity with the Soviet leadership and the international communist movement. This was all about to change.
The de-Stalinization efforts in the Soviet Union hit close to home for Mao, who also had an enormous cult of personality within his own Party. Mao’s own enemies within his own Party surely felt emboldened by those toppling the legacy of Stalin. Mao surely felt attacks on Stalin’s legacy were also directed at himself. Nikita Khrushchev’s attacks on Stalin on February 25, 1956 at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were also made without prior consultation with other parties, not even a Party with as high a prestige as the one Mao led. Those in Moscow who would later be identified as “revisionists” by Mao were making unilateral decisions for what was considered the entire socialist movement. The Soviets unilaterally restored relations with Tito’s Party in Yugoslavia, a party that earlier been denounced by Stalin and the international communist movement. In addition, the revisionists were shifting Soviet foreign policy toward the West, again without consultation. The revisionists downplayed the antagonistic nature between socialism and capitalism-imperialism. Thus rather than seeing the world through the lenses of class struggle, the revisionists hoped for harmony with the capitalist world. This new outlook was the doctrine of “peaceful coexistence.” The new outlook was reflected in several foreign policy decisions that irked the Maoists during the 1950s and 1960s. The Soviets refused to aid the Chinese in their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The militancy of the Chinese was one reason the Soviet refused to help China. Also, the Soviets desired to maintain its monopoly on nuclear weapons within the “socialist” bloc, thus making the bloc easier to control from Moscow. China was not pleased when the Soviets offered moral support to the US-backed Tibetan uprising against China. During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958, the Soviets cautioned Mao against militant action. The Soviets refused to side with the Chinese during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. When the Soviets downed a US U-2 spy plane, the revisionists merely demanded an apology at the 1960 Paris Summit. When US President Eisenhower refused, the revisionists did not respond. By contrast, the Chinese took the incident as an insult to all socialist countries. The Chinese organized massive rallies in response. When the Soviets backed down during the Cuban missile crisis, the Maoists felt their criticism of the revisionists confirmed.
Along with restoring relations with Yugoslavia, the Soviets came into conflict with hardline Albania that refused to break with Stalin or his policies. All of this was adding up to a new kind of Soviet-centered imperialism. Like the Western empires, Moscow was now imposing dependence on those countries in its orbit. Maoists were critical of the so-called “international division of socialist [sic] labor” as advocated by the Soviets. This meant that instead of developing well-rounded economies, Soviet colonies might be dedicated to one or two products to be exported and coordinated through Moscow. King Sugar, for example, ruled Cuba under both Western and social-imperialism. “Ten years after their revolution even Cubans, whose revolutionary leaders had spoken of the servitude of sugar, found themselves resorting to the chimera of the ten-million-ton sugar harvest.” (1) Mao was not the only critic of the Soviet Union on the international scene. Some suggest that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro split over this issue. Che is reported to have objected to the application of the revisionist model, with the dependency that it entailed, to Cuba. Across the globe in Albania, Evner Hoxha, for example, was offended when Khrushchev proposed turning Albania into a giant fruit plantation to service the Eastern Bloc. What began as murmurs eventually turned into full blown public attacks. Khrushchev eventually denounced Mao for his domestic and international outlook as “a nationalist, a deviationist, and adventurer.” Mao broke completely with the Soviets, denouncing them as “revisionist” and “social-imperialist.” (2) Eventually, in the 1970s, Mao would go so far as to label the Soviets as “fascist” and justify his own version of peaceful coexistence and cooperation with the West. However, at this point, in the 1960s a Maoist policy was emerging that opposed both the Western and Soviet imperialists.
Mao also began criticizing the domestic policies of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev. Revolutionary energy within Soviet society had dissipated. Bureaucracy had replaced revolution. Mao hoped to avoid this fate for the Chinese revolution. Mao sought a more energetic, mass-based revolution that did not mimic the top-down Soviet approach. Mao sought a creative, new approach that avoided the degeneration that had befallen the Soviets. Although at the beginning of the Great Leap, Mao had not fully broken from the Soviets, the beginnings of the split are apparent. Although Mao was still formally recognizing the role of the Soviets as leading the international communist movement, Mao grew louder in his criticisms, sometimes hidden in vague comments. (3) A fully coherent Maoist criticism of Soviet revisionism had not developed yet. Similarly, Mao did not always distinguish himself fully from the revisionists in China at this juncture. At this point, what would later be identified by Maoists as the revisionist “Theory of the Productive Forces” was shared to various extents by both the Maoists and their opponents. As the class struggle continued over the next decades, the Maoists would break more fully with the revisionists. The Maoists would advance revolutionary science even further, claiming to have reached a whole “new stage,” through class struggle and experience of the Great Leap through the Cultural Revolution. However, in 1957, on the outset of the Great Leap, the error of economism, the error of overemphasizing the role of technological development in creating revolution, the Theory of the Productive Forces, can be seen in the words of Mao and in his ideological competitors in the Soviet Union and China. For example, both the Soviets and Maoists emphasized the need to beat the West technologically in order to attain socialist victory. In May 1957, Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would soon catch up to the United States in per-capita production of meat, milk and butter. Not to be left behind, Mao responded by saying that China would surpass Britain, which was at the time still a major industrial power.
“Stalin” means man of steel. Alexei Gastev, a Soviet poet, wrote “We grow out of iron.” Steel was an important part of the Bolshevik worldview where socialism was a kind of machine. Mao inherited this outlook to an extent. (4) For Mao, during the Great Leap, steel output was seen as an indicator of the progress of socialist production as a whole.
“This year our country has 5.2 million tonnes of steel, and after five years, we can have 10 to 15 million tonnes; after a further five years 20 to 25 million tonnnes, then add five more years and we will have 30 to 40 million tonnes. Maybe I am bragging here, and maybe we can have another international meeting in [the future where] you will criticize me for being subjective, but I speak on strength of considerable evidence… Comrade Khrushchev tells us that the Soviet Union will overtake the United States in fifteen years. I can tell you that in fifteen years we may very well catch up with or overtake Britain.” (5)
This overemphasis on the economy and technology in the Theory of the Productive Forces is seen in the famous July 24, 1959 “Kitchen Debate” between Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, Vice-President of the United States at the time. This debate was a series of impromptu exchanges between the two men at the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park. This debate looked at a number of ordinary household and recreational items. Nixon implied that whichever system was able to deliver the best kitchen to its ordinary citizens was superior. Khrushchev took the bait:
“The Americans have created their own image of the Soviet man and think that he is as you want him to be. But he is not as you think. You think the Russian people will be dumfounded to see these things, but the fact is that newly built Russian houses have all this equipment right now.”(6)
These short remarks do not encompass all that was said. However, the Soviet response demonstrates flaws in their thinking. Socialism’s goal should not be about matching the West in terms of delivering an imperial style of life with its consumerism and comfort. The standard of living in the United States is based on hundreds of years vicious exploitation and oppression. It is based on hundreds of years of genocide of indigenous people, extermination and detention of their populations, theft of their land and other resources. It is based on the deaths of millions of Africans and the forced labor of millions more, and the forced labor of their children. It is based on the plunder and exploitation of billions of Third World peoples over decades. It is based on exploitation and plunder of the Earth itself, squeezing the natural world to feed a base, unending consumerist hunger. It is a simple step to thinking that achieving such a consumer utopia is merely a matter of acquiring the productive forces, the technology, to get there. Socialism should not be about competing with the West on the West’s terms. Socialism does not accept the goal posts for success as set by the capitalists. The Theory of the Productive Forces is very much connected to the open rejection of socialism. After all, socialism is always going to be less able to deliver the vision of prosperity and success as set by the capitalists. Capitalism is better at capitalism than socialism. Technology will not simply serve up socialism and communism. Mao inherited some of the Soviet tradition steeped in the Theory of the Productive Forces, but at the same time the Maoists began to break from it in important ways.
1. Hayter, Teresa. The Creation of World Poverty. Third World First. Great Britain: 1990. . p. 67
2. “Sino-Soviet Split” Wikipidia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Soviet_split
3. Dikotter, Fran. Mao’s Great Famine. Walker Publishing Company, Inc. New York: 2010. p. 12
4. ibid. p. 57
5. ibid. p. 14
6. “Nixon and Khrushchev Argue In Public As U.S. Exhibit Opens; Accuse Each Other Of Threats,” NY TIMES. July 14, 1959 http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0724.html