Seas are rising, Clouds and Waters Raging
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Begins, Maoist China from 1958 to May 16, 1966
Best laid plans: Failures and Opposition to the Maoists
The Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1961) ran into a perfect storm of problems. Unusually bad weather reportedly devastated many areas. Over half of China’s farmland, 150 million acres, was reportedly afflicted by natural catastrophe. (1) In a conscious effort to sabotage the effort to modernize, the Soviets withdrew their technical and financial aid to China. Soviet advisers left industrial projects to waste away when they packed up and left, technical plans in hand, on Moscow’s orders. Many Western countries also imposed a trade embargo on China in an effort to bring its economy to its knees. Bad environmental policies led to ecological and agricultural ruin. Errors by planners and grassroots activists undermined production. In addition, enemies of the revolution resorted to open sabotage. Bureaucracy, non-transparency, and leftist idealism often compounded errors. Big problems devastated industry and the food supply. Many problems were unavoidable, independent of the efforts of communist activists. Other errors, by contrast, were very much tied to human failings. Even though the record of the Great Leap is a mixed one of both successes and errors, responsibility for its errors was a topic that would dominate the political landscape leading up to the Cultural Revolution, which began roughly a decade later. The struggle over how to correctly understand the Great Leap era played an important role in the life-and-death battle between revolution and counter-revolution, communism and capitalism.
Examples of Problems in Industry, Agriculture, and Environment
Numerous problems plagued the Great Leap. One contributing factor was unchecked enthusiasm and idealism. These errors of going too far, too fast were originally made by the Party’s left as a whole, which included Mao. However, as time went on, lines changed as problems emerged, this particular error became associated more with the Maoist left. One of the most infamous examples of the failings of the Great Leap is the campaign to produce steel in backyard furnaces. This was part of a broader effort to localize and decentralize production across the board. It was part of an effort to move away from centralized, capital-intensive production. In many other areas, localization and decentralization of production was a great success. However, this particular model of steel production, part of Mao’s effort to surpass England, failed miserably. It ended up wasting lots of labor and capital. The backyard furnace campaign also produced major ecological damage as forests were cut down to provide fuel to produce useless steel. Also major environmental damage and wasted labor resulted from efforts to control China’s rivers. Labor and capital were thrown into Great Leap-era and other water projects that did not end well. For example, the Banqiao and Shimantan dams in Henan broke catastrophically in August of 1975. The exact deaths are not known, figures range from 86,000 to 230,000. By 1966, half of the 110 dams built in Henan had collapsed. In 1973, 554 dams collapsed. By 1980, 2,976 dams collapsed, including two larger ones. These failed projects inflicted a huge toll on not only human life, but also the environment. Erosion, siltation, and deforestation caused by such failures have been enormous. (2) However, the most well-known failure of the Great Leap was a crisis in the food supply. The famine became known as the “three bitter years” of 1960, 1961 and 1962 by many who experienced them.
The scope of the famine is disputed. There are good reasons to look at official claims about the famine with great skepticism. Records from the period are incomplete and unreliable. (3) The Chinese Communist Party was known to rewrite history to suit its current political needs. By the fall of the Maoist regime, their opponents had good reason exaggerate the failures of the Great Leap. The Deng Xiaoping regime of the 1980s rejected the earlier Maoist policies as part of the effort to further restore capitalism in the late 1970s into the 1980s. At the time, a Beijing conference of Eastern European countries estimated the famine deaths as high as 70 million. (4) Others estimate it at 45 million. (5) On the other end, an earlier estimate in 1959 by Tan Zhenlin, a supporter of the Great Leap placed the number of suffers at five million with 70,000 having starved to death. Zhou Enlai estimated 120,000 deaths around the same time. (6) Surely these lower numbers are underestimates. One claim, made by the best Western scholar of Chinese agricultural policy, states that no figure under ten million seems credible. (7) When looking at these figures, it is also important to keep in mind China’s vast population. At the time of the Great Leap, China’s population is now thought to have been around 800 million.
The failures of the Great Leap are often used to discredit socialism as a whole in the popular imagination. Whatever the failures of socialism, it is important to not be blinded by capitalist propaganda. It is important to maintain a sense of perspective. The problems that China faced as it modernized were not unlike problems faced by other, non-socialist societies. For example, India, with a capitalist economy and a population only second to China, similarly suffered for lack of adequate food. Even at the height of the food crisis in China during the Great Leap, China did better than India. (8) Even with its failures, socialism did better than similarly situated capitalist societies. Even with their failures, the Soviet Union and China in their socialist periods outpaced capitalist development. It is worth nothing that, besides the crisis of the Great Leap, the communists solved China’s food problem. Similarly, Soviet socialism solved its food issues on the whole despite a similar famine associated with collectivization there. Both pre-revolutionary China and the Czarist empire had a long history of regular famine that was overcome through socialist modernization. By contrast, India, a large capitalist country has ongoing food problems, has a population of many, many millions who continue to live on the razor’s edge or life and death. Even today, capitalist India has major problems providing food to its people. Often critics of the Great Leap and socialism do not see the forest, for the trees.
It is important to understand these events in their wider historical context. Problems accompanied China’s effort to modernize. The same is true in Soviet Union. Industrialization is a bloody process. In terms of modernization, socialism achieved in a few decades what capitalism achieved in hundreds of years. Socialism did not rely on genocide of an entire continent of indigenous peoples as the United States and Western Europe did. And socialist development did not depend on the exploitation and plunder of the whole colonial world nor the brutal slave system of the Americas. Even with its failures, socialism resulted in an explosion of technology and prosperity. The productive forces flourished while at the same time social relations revolutionized along egalitarian lines. Production boomed. Life expectancy doubled. Public education and literacy skyrocketed. Safety nets were created for society. The poor were empowered. Women were liberated from the shackles of traditionalism. Collectivization eroded traditional patriarchy through education, political activism, economic agency, by turning them into workers, militia members, leaders. Twentieth century socialism, even with its failures, created the greatest, most advanced, egalitarian, just societies in the modern era. With all things, we apply true science, Leading Light Communism. We uphold the good and reject the bad. It is important to learn from the past so the same mistakes will not be made. It is our duty to serve the people truth, not fiction. Only the Leading Light of truth shines the way forward.
Opposition at the Beginning of the Great Leap
In the beginning, Mao went behind the back of top leadership of the Party. Mao held impromptu conferences, beginning in Nanning in 1956, that would set the goals and agendas of the Great Leap to come. Mao brought the secretariat to the provinces where leftist optimism and radicalism resonated. Mao did this rather than have those in the provinces come to Beijing to attend more formal sessions of bodies like the State Council. (9) Had the provincial activists come to Beijing, it would have meant exposing them to those in the leadership who opposed the Maoist direction. This was part of Mao’s strategy of outmaneuvering his opponents in the central bureaucracy of Party and state. Mao’s strategy is seen in the birth of the People’s Communes that were at the heart of the agricultural and social revolution of the Great Leap.
In the months leading up to the formation of the People’s Communes in 1958, there was a struggle between the left versus the right wing of the Party. On the right were many leaders who had run the economy. For example, Chair of the State Planning Commission Li Fuchun, Minister of Finance Li Xiannian, and Chair of the State Economic Commission Bo Yibo, all opposed the Great Leap in the beginning. Zhou Enlai played a role he would come to know very well. Even at the onset of the Great Leap, he opposed the leftist ideas, but remained a Mao loyalist and Mao’s functionary in the end. (10) On the left were Mao, Chen Boda, and, for a time, Liu Shaoqi — although Liu Shaoqi would later switch sides and lead the opposition to the Maoists. Liu Shaoqi would be dubbed by Maoists as “the number one capitalist roader” during the Cultural Revolution a decade later. The rightists favored a slower pace and capital intensive strategy for development. By contrast, the leftists favored further collectivization and a self sufficiency where local industries were to be financed out of resources of agricultural collectives themselves in order to relieve the national budget. First Vice-Premier Chen Yun directed harsh attacks against the radicals, “those people who call for a reckless and immediate advancement.” (11) The right emphasized consumption over sacrifice. They emphasized the limitations placed on development by insurmountable “objective conditions.” The left championed “greater, faster, better, and more economical results.” The left emphasized “revolutionary enthusiasm” and the human factor. In addition, the left sought higher levels of collectivization, they sought to combine the existing cooperatives into larger units that were nonetheless decentralized. These larger units would become the People’s Communes. Surveys conducted until the end of September 1958 showed an average of 4,797 households per Commune. In a pattern that Mao would later repeat at the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Mao circumvented the bureaucratic machine of the Party and state. Instead of going through bureaucratic channels, Mao first secured the support of provincial secretaries at regional conferences during the first months of 1958. Mao circumvented the central authorities by pitching his strategy directly to the lower level cadres. However, even at the lower levels, Mao’s efforts did not go completely unopposed. Defense Minister Peng Dehuai said that the Chairman talked of “greater, faster, better and more economical” as if he were “chanting odes and prayers.” The right cautioned against Mao’s theory of leaps. (12) (13) (14) (15) However, the issue would soon be settled. Following Mao’s plan, the Henan provincial leadership went forward to move toward higher collectivization. They went ahead with mergers of the smaller cooperatives into larger People’s Communes. They did this before receiving permission from the central Party authority. The formation of the first Communes were carried out by enthusiastic local, grassroots activists. Thus Mao was able to present the Communes to the Party higher-ups as a fait accompli. Chen Boda first introduced the word “Communes” on July 1st, 1958. (16) (17) Later, Mao would remark positively on the Communes, “the People’s Communes are fine,” setting off a whirlwind, nationwide, semi-spontaneous movement to form more and more Communes. With his allies in the provincial leadership, Mao was able to outmaneuver his conservative, rightist opposition concentrated in the central bureaucracies. In the spring of 1958, Mao later won over the majority of the Party leadership. The policies decided on between 1957 and 1958 became known as the Three Red Banners:
“(1) the ‘General Line of Socialist Construction’, introducing the simultaneous development of industry and agriculture through simultaneous use of both modern and traditional modes of production;
(2) the ‘Great Leap Forward’, with which the PRC was to ‘catch up with and surpass’ the per capita production of heavy industry in Great Britain within fifteen years, i.e. by 1972, and
(3) the establishment of People’s Communes, i.e. large rural collectives which were suppose to assist the comprehensive collectivization of life in the countryside.”
The most important elements of these policies can be summarized:
“(1) industry and agriculture should be developed simultaneously, and on an equal footing.
(2) In doing so, the simultaneous use of modern technologies and traditional modes of production were to be promoted.
(3) Planning and management of agriculture and local industries were decentralized on the xiang level in order to create a larger number of relatively autonomous economic units, and at the same time to relieve the national investment budget.
(4) Wherever possible, the use of the investment capital was to be substituted the mass mobilization of manpower.
(5) The driving force of this mobilization was supposed to serve primarily the change of popular consciousness through mass campaigns.
(6) The formation of large rural collectives was to create the organizational conditions for the policy of mobilization.” (18)
The leftist policies were opposed from the beginning in 1956. As Mao pushed through his policies in 1958, his opposition often folded, got in line, or was brushed aside. A good example of this is Zhou Enlai, who even though he surely opposed the leftist line privately, was a Mao loyalist who worked to ensure that grain procurements were carried out even as the Great Leap ran into difficulty. (19) As the Great Leap ran into more and more difficulty, opposition to Mao returned in greater force. Liu Shaoqi is a good example. Liu Shaoqi was one of Mao’s key supporters at the Second Plenum of the Eighth Party Congress. (20) President Liu Shaoqi echoed Mao’s claim that China would outpace Britain in the output of iron, steel and other industrial products. Zhang Guozhong, at Mao’s prompting, announced communism would be achieved by 1963 at a series of conferences in 1958. At a July meeting of thousands of Party activists at Shandong, Mao praised the pledge to reach communism by 1960: “This document is really good, it is a poem, and it looks as if it can be done.” In July of that year, Liu Shaoqi stated that “China will soon enter communism; it won’t take long, many of you can already see it.” (21) On New Year’s Day of 1958, People’s Daily published an editorial approved by Liu Shaoqi: “Go All Out and Aim High!” (22) As the Great Leap ran into difficulty, many, including Liu Shaoqi, changed their tune. Opposition returned, and at its head would eventually be Liu Shaoqi himself.
Those who supported the Great Leap did so for different, often mixed reasons. Some saw it as offering a developmental model distinct from the Soviet one. Thus, for some, the Great Leap represent a way out from under Soviet paternalism. Although he would later withdraw his support, Liu Shaoqi initially backed the Great Leap mainly as a means of accelerated development, a way to propel China to industrial and consumerist prosperity. Thus support for the Great Leap was not incompatible with a leftist version of the Theory of the Productive Forces. Mao, with his focus on surpassing England’s steel production, expressed this sentiment at times. Later, as Maoist theory developed during the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap came to primarily represent class struggle, revolutionizing culture, mass mobilizations, social experiment, etc. It was primarily a means of reaching communism, only secondarily a means of modernization. Much later, in the mid-1970s, as Maoist ideas were losing credibility in the Party, Maoists sought to distance themselves from the leftist excesses of the Great Leap. Both Liu Shaoqi and Maoist Chen Boda were scapegoated as responsible for spreading a “communist wind” in a famous, but disingenuous, article by Zhang Chunqiao, who had himself vocally supported ultra-left lines, such as that of extending the Commune movement into urban areas. (23) The leadership, Maoist and non-Maoist alike, had encouraged unrealistic goals. Even though the Great Leap had many failures, the right and revisionists would seize on these failures to reject the positive aspects of the Great Leap and its righteous goal of communism. Although the Maoists would come to admit excesses, they sought to prevent the revisionists from using these failures as a way to reject communism as a whole in favor of capitalism. Thus the Great Leap continued to be hot topic of debate in the years up to and following the Cultural Revolution.
Lushan, Opposition, Reversal, Armistice
As the problems in industry and food supply increased, vocal criticism of leftist policies broke out. The criticism reached new heights at the Lushan Conference in July and August of 1959, an enlarged Politburo meeting and Eighth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee. Mao and leftist radicalism came under heavy criticism from the revisionists and rightists, especially then Defense Minister Peng Dehuai. Peng Dehuai leveled several criticisms at Mao that paralleled criticisms made by the Soviets at the time. Peng Dehuai criticized Maoist radicalism as irresponsible, petty-bourgeois fanaticism. Others, such as Deputy Director of the Bureau of Infrastructure of the State Planning Commission Li Yunzhong, expressed similar views. The problem was not the criticism itself so much as that the rightists had formed a clique, a faction to secretly oppose the leftist line. (24) Even some Maoists like Mao’s loyal secretary and ghost writer Chen Boda, who was one of the main architects of the radical push, questioned the continuation of leftist policies at the time. Even Chen Boda, who would later cast himself as a radical democrat defending the right to speak out against the leadership, defended Peng Dehuai’s dissent — something, Chen Boda reportedly claims Mao never forgave him for. (25) (26) Mao rejected Peng Duhuai’s criticism. Rather than changing course and uniting the Party, Mao dug in his heals. In response to Peng Duhuai, Mao threatened to “go to the countryside lead the peasants to overthrow the government. If those of you in the Liberation Army won’t follow me, then I will go and find a Red Army, and organize another Liberation Army.” Some cadres wondered aloud if the aging Mao was losing his self-control. (27) Mao was forced to make a self-criticism over some the errors of the Great Leap, but found “mass enthusiasm for communism” among the peasantry to be positive. The conflicts at Lushan led to major changes in the leadership. For his criticism of Mao, Peng Dehuai would be deposed as Defense Minister. He would be replaced with Mao-loyalist Lin Biao. Although the right did not realize it at the time, Lin Biao’s rise to the position of Defense Minister was a major victory for the weakened Maoists. As Defense Minister, Lin Biao would play a major, key role in the revenge of the Maoists during the Cultural Revolution to come.
Even so, Mao’s position was weakening during and after Lushan. Eventually, several summations of the famine emerged. The summation of the Maoists was that the Great Leap was 70 percent natural disasters, 30 percent human errors. Liu Shaoqi gave a speech that rejected the Maoist explanation that the main reason for the problem was natural disasters. Liu Shaoqi argued that bad weather had only affected a part of the country and man-made disaster affected the whole. Liu Shaoqi began moving to exonerate and bring back those activists who had opposed the Great Leap from the beginning. Liu Shaoqi’s summation that natural disasters were responsible for 30 percent of the problems and human error for 70 percent became popular within the Party. Mao reportedly said that Liu Shaoqi’s speech had abandoned a class viewpoint and was itself “a disaster.” Lin Biao gave a very different view. Lin Biao’s position was that the problems arose from not following Mao’s Thought closely enough. The centirst and Mao-loyalist Hua Guofeng, who was the former secretary of Xiangtan in Hunan who would go on to be Chairman after Mao’s death in 1976, delivered a speech that admitted the problems and inability to go forward with big projects, but rejected decollectivization. (28) Mao reportedly approved Hua’s summation of events.
Mao criticized those who “waver in times of crisis and show lack of resolution in the great storms of history.” (29) Mao was correct to criticize the pessimism of his critics, even if he was wrong to silence dissent. Getting to communism is not something that will go off without a hitch. After all, we are going up against thousands of years of inequalities ingrained in society and culture. Revolutionary advance happened in waves. And, to go too far, too fast, was part of the learning process. Mao expressed the sentiment, repeated from Heraclitus to Karl Marx, that “disequilibrium is normal and absolute whereas equilibrium is temporary and relative.” (30) Again: “there is nothing worse than a stagnant pond.” As theorist Chen Boda implied, Maoist thought rings a jacobin tone by embracing extremes, radical shifts, and conflicts as part of the process of moving forward. (31) Some Maoists, especially Chen Boda, came to see the problems as resulting from not going far enough, not pushing hard enough in face of all the difficulty.
At the Lushan Conference, Mao characterized the situation as “great achievements, numerous problems, and a bright future,” but not everyone agreed. (32) On August 16, 1959, Mao wrote “The Origins of the Machine Gun, Mortar, and Other Weapons.” In this important document, Mao describes the dispute at Lushan as “a continuation of a life-and-death struggle between the two contradictory classes, the proletariat and the bourgeois[ie], during the process of socialist revolution in the past ten years.” Mao declared that this struggle would continue for another half century. (33) Two contending factions emerged in this period: a communist one and a capitalist one. Revisionists, the capitalists, are those who responded to the difficulties of the Great Leap with efforts to slow down the radical push, and ultimately, to reverse socialist gains that had been made, to ultimately restore capitalism. It was during the debate in 1961 and 1962 that the majority of the civilian Party machine under Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping gradually revised the leftist policies. A rightist revistionist bloc emerged with a unified platform to oppose Mao. On January 26 or 27, 1962, Liu Shaoqi delivered a speech in which he stated the problems of the Great Leap were not to be blamed on “right deviationists,” but rather on “questionable leftists,” “adventurers.”
Decollectivization and privatization began in a limited way. Efforts were made to dismantle the Communes to the point where they were a shadow of their former selves. Smaller units — the production brigade, then individual rural household, not the original Commune — were recognized as the basic unit of production. In 1962, Liu Shaoqi demanded further decollectivization, that the production guarantee be shifted to the small rural household and called for “renewed permission for individual production.” The push downward continued. Later, in June 1962, Red Flag revealed that the production guarantee had shifted from the production brigade to the smaller production team, the latter was also now the basic unit of account. This would later be described as “a storm of individual production.” Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping would summarize their proposals as “three freedoms, one guarantee.” This meant: 1. increase in the portion of private land; 2. expansion of free family sideline occupations; 3. increase in the number of “collective markets” for free trade. The “one guarantee” meant decollectivization, a return to traditional production, by shifting the production guarantee down to the rural household. (34)
Inequalities and material incentive were reintroduced. Private production was increased. Private property was increased. Markets were reintroduced. Pay by the piece was reintroduced. Mass political mobilizations were reduced. Youth militancy was phased out. The Communist Youth League, previously seen as the leaders of the future, was described as “dormant” by 1964. There was less recruiting of new blood into the Party, especially from the peasants and poor. (35) (36) (37) The Party elite reduced public education, healthcare, and social services that had increased during the Great Leap. The revisionists — especially through Lu Dingyi, head of the Propaganda Department — had criticized of the Maoist educational model, with its emphasis on self-sufficiency, egalitarianism and ideological education since 1959. (38) Even at the height of the Great Leap, Deng Xiaoping had warned against emphasizing “popularization” and manual labor over technical evaluation. Lu Dingyi warned of lowing standards during the Great Leap. He criticized decentralization and part-farming, part-study schools. He warned they created “disorder, damage, and deviation.” Liu Shaoqi promoted a two-track system. One track led to full-time academic and full-time vocational schools, the other to work-study and spare-time schools. Enrollment in schools dropped. Slots allocated to children in primary schools decreased by 30 percent in 1965 and 1966, the years leading up to the Cultural Revolution. Maoist policies that favored the poor and marginalized were put aside in favor of promoting expertise. The Ministry of Education declared that schools should not set up political departments. Schools were to stress academic work above all else. The transformation of the Chinese education system has been characterized as a transformation from “inegalitarian statism” of the pre-Great Leap period to Maoist attempts to create an egalitarian new humanity during the Great Leap and Cultural Revolution years to “inegalitarianism economism” of the post-Maoist period. Numerous articles appeared in this period that quoted Confucian texts. Liu Shaoqi’s On the Self-cultivation of the Communist Party Member, originally written in 1939, was reproduced in 60 million copies. The text drew heavily on classic Confucian approaches to education and life. (39) This traditionalist elitism was very opposed to the egalitarian radicalism of the Maoists and the ideal of the Great Leap. Schools and clinics closed in the early 1960s. The inequalities in the educational system in the early 1960s, after the Great Leap programs were reversed, were greater than any time in the previous decade. This especially affected the peasantry and urban poor. (40) As the Cultural Revolution approached in July, 1964, Mao would complain of the deviations from egalitarian ideals that had occurred since the Great Leap years:
“Tell the Ministry of Public Health that it works for only 50 percent of the people, and that of this 50 percent only the lords get real service. The broad masses of the peasants do not get medical treatment. The Ministry of Public Health is not that of the people; it is better to rename it Ministry of Urban Health… or the Health Ministry of Urban Lords.” (41)
China today is the outcome of a long struggle between the revisionists and Maoists. Politics and ideology were deemphasized by the revisionists. Bourgeois technocracy was elevated over revolutionary ideals. In the cultural realm, when it suited them, the revisionists favored liberalism and humanism as a club against the Maoists. Other revisionists favored traditionalist, especially Confucian-type authoritarianism, of the kind that is embraced by the revisionist ruling party of China today. By contrast, the Maoists sought to overcome difficulties of the Great Leap, and socialism generally, by continuing the forward motion, by continuing to advance toward communism albeit in new ways. The Maoists sought to preserve the egalitarian gains of the previous years. They sought to preserve some aspects of the Communes. They continued to emphasize the importance of mass mobilizations, class struggle, ideology, and social experiment. They continued to promote revolutionary culture over other art forms. The Maoists argued that the problems of the previous years of the Great Leap would have been much greater without the egalitarian programs.
The slide back to total capitalism was temporarily halted at the end of the Great Leap. The Maoists were able to preserve some aspects of “the three red banners,” that is the Party’s general line, the Great Leap Forward, and People’s Communes. Due to the problems of the Great Leap, the Maoists had lost control of significant parts of the Communist Party; they lost control over the overall direction of society. They lost control over economics and culture at the bureaucratic level within the Party and state. The Communes were scaled back and went through several readjustments. As early as 1958, the campaign for more urban Communes was halted. (42) In many places, Communes only existed in name. Even though Maoists were able to stop the complete liquidation of the collective economy by the revisionists at the Tenth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee, which convened in Beijing from September 24 to 27, 1962, much damage was done. (43) The “People’s Communes” now differed significantly from the original Maoist concept of 1958.
“(1) The name ‘People’s Commune’ is retained as a term for the former township (xiang) and the lowest unit of public administration, but its unity of administration and direction of production has been removed.
(2) The principle of private property is introduced again for a limited area; collective property is distributed over three levels of the commune, brigade and production team, with definite priority given to the property of the team.
(3) The collectivization of life is abolished; the life of the individual again takes place in the family.
(4) Remuneration is again distributed mainly according to the principle of achievement; it may even be distributed exclusively on this basis.
(5) The production team alone decides on all questions of planning and management of agricultural production; brigades and communes may only assume coordinating roles.” (44)
After much tug of war, a compromise was reached over how to govern after the Great Leap. The revisionists led by President Liu Shaoqi and his allies now were a “first line” of leadership that held the bureaucracy and ran the day-to-day operations of the state. Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping sought Mao’s endorsement for the restoration of the Small Group on Central Finance and Economy headed by Chen Yun. The institution had earlier been abolished by Mao. The reinstating of Chen Yun, who advocated abolishing the People’s Communes, was especially humiliating to Mao because Chen Yun had come under heavy criticism from Mao in 1956. Revisionist economists who advocated private production in agriculture were promoted to high positions in economic and financial work. (45) (46) The compromise ceded to Mao a “second line” of leadership that concerned itself with ideology and theory. The “second line” was to concern itself only with the big picture, not the day to day. Mao sarcastically complained that he relegated by the bureaucracy to the status of a “clay Buddha,” a symbol of authority and reverence, but without real power. (47) Even so, through the cult of personality, Mao and his followers continued to have enormous prestige and influence at the grassroots level among the masses and lower-level cadre. They were able to use what power they retained to stop the capitalist slide. The readjustment policy of 1959 to 1961, pushed by the revisionists, especially President Liu Shaoqi and Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping, did not gain enough momentum to become the comprehensive reform needed for the full capitalist restoration. During the years following the Great Leap, but prior to the Cultural Revolution, from 1962 to 1965, an uneasy and unstable compromise was struck between the Maoist and revisionist factions as they prepared their forces for the life-and-death struggles of the next decade. Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, Chen Yun, Bo Yibo, Peng Zhen, Li Fuchun, Li Xiannian, Zhou Yang and Lu Dingyi collectively took control over most of the bureaucracy. The media reflected the contradictory compromise. In 1963, both technological innovation and modernization, favorite topics of the revisionists, and the Maoist collective economy, including the People’s Communes, were promoted in the media. (48) (49) In the mean time, the debates raged over the future of China behind the scenes. These debates spilled into the public often in the spheres of cultural policy and in coverage of events in the Soviet Bloc. These discussions were rich with allegorical content. The media, by way of several articles on Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, criticized those who conceived revolution merely as the nationalization of production: “…they have stepped up their propaganda campaign to deceive the people, claiming that the capitalism of today is not the same as capitalism of yesterday, and that it has changed into ‘people’s capitalism,’ ‘the welfare state,’ and so on.” (50) (51) (52) (53) (54) (55) Both camps gathered their forces. Conflicts arose, usually with neither side able to win decisively. In the various struggles in the years after the Great Leap but prior to the Cultural Revolution, from 1962 to 1965, neither the Maoists nor the revisionists could land a decisive blow.
Socialist Education Movement, the Four Cleanups
This stalemate was reflected in the results of the Socialist Education Movement. In late 1962, in order to thwart further capitalist slide, Mao initiated the Socialist Education Movement. This campaign (later, “the Four Cleanups”) would exist in various forms into the early Cultural Revolution. In May 1963, the “Draft Resolution of the Central Committee on Some Problems in Rural Work” or “First Ten Points” raised two major Maoist concerns connected to the campaign: the decline of the Communes and the bureaucratization of the Party. The resolution also focused on corruption and other concerns. It was recommended that the way to solve the problems was “to set the masses in motion” through the organization of “poor and lower-middle peasants.” The Maoist solution was renewed class struggle, especially class struggle in the countryside. And, to fight bureaucratization and corruption, a new ideological reeducation campaign was advanced. (56) The more ambitious expression of the Socialist Education Movement found some expression in the media:
“As for the well-to-do middle peasants, however, their force of habit as petty producers is stronger and they have a more deep-seated sense of private ownership, so their spontaneous capitalistic tendency which runs counter to the socialist collective economy will invariably find expression in one way or another. When the opportunity presents itself, they will try to depart from the socialist road to take the capitalist road.
The class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie and the struggle between the socialist and capitalist roads will last throughout the entire historical period of the proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat, throughout the whole historical period of the transition from capitalism to communism. The education of the peasantry is therefore an important task.” (57)
“What does ‘culture and art in the service of the countryside’ mean? It means stepping up the education of the peasantry in socialist ideas, in collectivism and patriotism by means of revolutionary literary works and cultural activities, so that the peasants can be led to take the socialist road and make their way along it with greater determination. This will also help the peasants rid themselves of the influence of outworn ideas and habits and replace them by new ideas and new customs. It means using suitable cultural means to help promote cultural revolution and the technical revolution in our rural communities… An intense struggle is now going on in the countryside between the old and the new.” (58)
Great Leap-type triumphs were still publicized in the media:
“Now, illiteracy has been eliminated; a regular school system has been established and in the last few years, the number of locally educated peasants has steadily increased. In addition, large numbers of young students educated in the cities have returned to their home villages and quite a number of educated workers and employees have come from the cities to reinforce the work of the rural communes. All of this has greatly raised the general education level in the villages. In the future… there will be an even faster rise in the educational level.” (59)
The Maoist efforts to go on the offensive met resistance from the Party bureaucracy. Two additional documents appeared. One came to be called the “Later Ten Points,” which was drafted by Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping in September of 1963. While the Maoists emphasized the Commune model of 1958, the September document emphasized the policy of readjustment and defended the transfer of private plots to the peasants and the establishment of free markets. (60) Another, the “Revised Later Ten Points,” was issued by President Liu Shaoqi in September of 1964. Although these documents quoted Mao, they opposed Mao’s course. The Party apparatus sought to tightly control and limit the scope of the movement. They sought to use the campaign to tighten their own local authority. They did this by taking control of Mao’s campaign at the local level by dispatching “work teams” made up of small groups of outside cadres organized by higher Party organs. They also included “upper-middle peasants,” those who had owned land prior to the land-reform movement, as part of the active protagonist of the campaign. Many of old elites had married cadre, thus acquiring power again. Whereas the Maoists saw solutions in the masses, President Liu Shaoqi emphasized their low cultural levels and limited potential. All of this helped to deaden class struggle in the countryside. These acts prevented the campaign from developing into a genuine mass movement. The work teams sought to keep lower-level cadres in line with the Party bureaucracy, not with Mao. Because the top leadership could not agree on the appropriate course, the Party appeared conflicted. Thus the campaign did not achieve the Maoist aim nor were the revisionists able to use it to fully consolidate their Party discipline at the grassroots level. When Mao traveled in 1963 to generate support for the campaign, he found little enthusiasm amongst cadres. He complained in May, 1963 that only two officials in eleven provinces had mentioned the movement. (61) Similar conflicted results occurred in other areas of struggle. For example, conflicted results occurred in the rectification campaigns in the cultural world in these years. Later, at a conference in 1965, Mao criticized these outcomes. Mao recommended: “We must boldly unleash the masses.” Mao broadened the goals of the Socialist Education Movement in the countryside as a movement for “clean politics, clean economics, clean organization, and clean ideology,” to the Four Cleanups. Thus Mao emphasized the need to widened the target of the campaign to include society itself, including the Party. Mao set the goals of the campaign higher. (62) (63) (64) These conflicted outcomes foreshadowed the storm to come. In January, 1965, Mao criticized Liu Shaoqi several times at Central Working Meetings. On January 13, Mao asked provincial leaders what they would do if revisionism appeared within the central leadership. “What will you do if revisionism appears within the Central Committee?” Mao began preparing those around him. Mao would later tell Kang Sheng to prepare to “attack the Central Committee.” (65)
At the same time, Mao’s star had fallen, President Liu Shaoqi’s star was rising. Since the Great Leap, Liu Shaoqi’s prestige amongst the bureaucracy had increased. Since 1963, Liu Shaoqi’s essay “How to Be a Good Communist” was republished and circulated in pamphlet form. His book represented the outlook of the top bureaucrats and Party elites. President Liu Shaoqi promoted traditional Confucian values masked under Marxist rhetoric. He promoted the virtues of obedience to superiors and discipline at all costs. Its outlook was very different from the creative, populist, egalitarian outlook of Mao. President Liu Shaoqi’s traditionalist outlook was both couched in and echoed the outlook and tone of the revisionism that had emerged in the Soviet Union, especially since end of World War 2 and the death of Stalin. Liu Shaoqi’s views can be paraphrased by the English expression “Don’t rock the boat.” Mao would oppose the status quo with “It’s right to rebel!” In the spring of 1965, the media that was controlled by the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee, which was in revisionist hands. The media began to refer to “Chairman Liu.” Although there had been earlier uses of the abbreviated designation since 1959, State President Liu Shaoqi was usually referred to by the longer “Chairman of the People’s Republic of China.” This abbreviated form was designed to boost President Liu Shaoqi’s prestige and to foster his own personality cult to rival Mao’s. “Chairman Liu” was meant to compete with “Chairman Mao.” This usage became more and more frequent in Party publications. At rallies, “Chairman Liu’s” image was displayed alongside Mao’s more and more. On October 1st, 1965, on mass rally for the National Holiday, marchers reportedly carried as many portraits of “Chairman Liu” as they did of Mao. (66) (67) Japanese correspondent noticed at the onset of the Cultural Revolution:
“Last spring, when I stayed in Beijing, I noticed the picture of Mao was gradually decreasing in the streets, and when I called the Central Headquarters of the Communist Youth League in October last year, its CC members did not go beyond touching on Mao’s ideology. A tendency to shelve Mao was steadily permeating the CCP.” (68)
In President Liu Shaoqi’s Collected Works, the last 3 volumes consists of statements made between 1958 and 1962, while Mao’s last major article was “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People” from earlier, from 1957. (69) Although volume four of Mao’s Selected Works was being compiled after the Great Leap, the articles in the volume were from an earlier period spanning the end of the last civil war to the founding of the People’s Republic. President Liu Shaoqi’s ideas were presented as more recent. And they were spreading. After the Great Leap, Mao complained that he was now treated as a “dead ancestor” by the Party. Mao criticized Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping and the revisionists. Mao would later recall, “from 1959 to the present he has never consulted me over anything at all.” (70) (71) Mao was being pushed into the background, turned into an empty symbol, an elder statesman figure. He, and Maoist radicalism, was being sidelined as President Liu Shaoqi’s politics were taking center stage.
In reaction to this, Mao began to speak in more and more militant tones. Mao took to the offensive. Rather than seeing the contradictions as non-antagonistic ones that could be resolved within the system, Mao began to see the contradictions as antagonistic ones that could only be solved through revolution. In other words, what was shaping up was not a conflict between friends, between two proletarian, communist camps. What was shaping up was a conflict between friends and enemies, a conflict between communists and capitalists. Mao criticized the bureaucracy as being:
“…afraid of the masses, afraid of the masses talking about them, afraid of the masses criticizing them… There are some comrades who are afraid of the masses initiating discussion and putting forward ideas which differ from those of the leaders and leading organizations. As soon as problems are discussed they suppress the activism of the masses and do not allow others to speak out. This attitude is extremely evil.”
“The reactionary classes which have been overthrown are still planning a comeback.”
“There are some people who adopt the guise of Communist Party members, but they in no way represent the working class — instead they represent the bourgeoisie. All is not pure within the Party.” (72)
And, in 1965, on the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Mao stated:
“The key point of this [Socialist Education] movement is to rectify those people in positions of authority within the Party who take the capitalist road, and progressively to consolidate the socialist battlefront in the urban and rural areas. Of those Party persons in authority taking the capitalist road, some are out in the open and some are at the higher levels…” (73)
Again, in 1965:
“The bureaucratic class is a class in sharp opposition to the working class and the poor and lower-middle peasants. How can these people who have become or are in the process of becoming bourgeois elements sucking the blood of the workers be properly recognized? These people are the objectives of the struggle, the objectives of revolution.” (74)
The storm did not go unnoticed by Premier Zhou Enlai who straddled the fence between Mao and President Liu Shaoqi. Even Premier Zhou Enlai expressed dismay at Liu Shaoqi’s policies at the Third National People’s Congress in 1964. He mocked the revisionist’s policy as the “three reconciliations and one reduction”: reconciliation with capitalist-imperialism, social-imperialism, and reaction, and reduction of aid to wars of national liberation. (75) Even though the Maoists had lost their influence over the Party elite, Mao still had enormous popular support among the masses. And the Maoists scored a big victory when they gained control of the People’s Liberation Army with the appointment of Maoist Lin Biao as Defense Minister during the Great Leap in 1959. Thus the Maoists politicized the military, turning it into their institutional base. Skirmishes continued between the Maoists and revisionists throughout the early 1960s, but these conflicts did not erupt until the Cultural Revolution later. Both camps prepared to strike as the mid-1960s approached. Maoists began to warn of impending capitalist restoration. Their warnings proved true. The Cultural Revolution period would become the second great attempt by the Maoists to push further toward communism. The Maoists made important innovations since the Great Leap. Once again the Maoists pushed for class struggle, social experiment, mass mobilizations, democratization, egalitarianism, altruism, a revolution in culture. The Maoists sought to reprogram and reorganize all of society to further the revolution toward communism. The Maoists would declare that society must “continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Yet they had learned important lessons from the failures of the Great Leap. What emerged from the Cultural Revolution would share many similarities with the Maoist push during the Great Leap, but would avoid many of the errors of the past. As the Maoists pushed forward, others, the capitalists, the revisionists, pushed backward. Social tension erupted, sometimes into bloodshed. Only one future was possible: communism or capitalism, world revolution or imperialism. The Cultural Revolution is a battle between these two futures. Although the Cultural Revolution was far from perfect, it was the most dynamic, creative mass mobilizations for communism the world had ever seen. Its radical mobilizations and social experiment would touch the lives of a quarter of the world’s population. Even so, the Cultural Revolution would be eventually defeated.
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 46
- Shapiro, Judith. Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China. Cambridge University Press, USA:1991. pp. 63-64
- Ball, Joseph. “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?” https://leadinglightcommunist.org/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward/
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 47
- Dikotter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine. Walker Publishing Company, New York, USA: 2010 p.89
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 47
- MC5. “Great Leap Distortions Uncovered.” Maoist Internationalist Movement. 2000 http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/bookstore/books/china/macfarquhar.html
- Dikotter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine. Walker Publishing Company, New York, USA: 2010 p.21
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 22
- “Resolution Of The Central Committee Of The Chinese Communist Party On The Establishment Of People’s Communes In The Rural Areas (August 29, 1958)” People’s Communes In China (Foreign Language Press Peking: 1958) p. 1
- “Greet The Upsurge In Forming People’s Communes (Editorial Hongqi no. 7, September 1, 1958)” People’s Communes In China (Foreign Language Press Peking: 1958) pp. 12-13
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 24
- ibid. p. 27
- “Greet The Upsurge In Forming People’s Communes (Editorial Hongqi no. 7, September 1, 1958)” People’s Communes In China (Foreign Language Press Peking: 1958) pp. 9-11
- “Tentative Regulations (Draft) Of The Weihsing (Sputnik) People’s Commune (August 7, 19580 People’s Communes In China (Foreign Language Press Peking: 1958) p. 62
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 pp. 24-25
- Dikotter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine. Walker Publishing Company, New York, USA: 2010 p. 78
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 24
- Dikotter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine. Walker Publishing Company, New York, USA: 2010 p. 49
- ibid. p. 15
- Zhang Chunqiao. “On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship over the Bourgeoisie” https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/zhang/1975/x01/x01.htm
- Jin Qui. The Culture of Power. Stanford University Press, California, USA: 1999. pp. 50-52
- Rittenberg, Sidney and Bennett, Amanda. The Man Who Stayed Behind. Simon and Schuster, USA: 1993 p. 248
- Hughes, Christopher. “Rewriting the Cultural Revolution: From centre to periphery” The China Quarterly 2006 http://www.jstor.org/pss/20192707
- Rittenberg, Sidney and Bennett, Amanda. The Man Who Stayed Behind. Simon and Schuster, USA: 1993 pp. 249-250
- Li Zhisui The Private Life Of Chairman Mao (Random House, New York, USA: 1995) pp. 386-389
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) p. 232
- Mao Zedong. “Sixty Points On Working Methods — A Draft Resolution From The Office Of The Centre of the CPC February 2, 1958” Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-8/mswv8_05.htm
- Socialism and Reversal in China’s Countryside: From Great Leap to Flying Leap Part 3 of 6 llco.org (2010)
- Jin Qui. The Culture of Power. Stanford University Press, California, USA: 1999. p. 30
- ibid. p. 34
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 pp.52-54
- Han Suyin, Wind In The Tower (Little, Brown And Company, USA: 1976) pp. 236-237
- Then in 1964, as a way to counter Maoist youth policies, the Youth League’s doors were arbitrarily opened up to anyone in a move to flood the organization with elements that opposed radical policies. These moves by the revisionists in the Party elites were aimed to prevent Maoist influence on the youth. This would eventually lead to the Youth League being suspended during the Cultural Revolution in late 1966, only to be revived in 1971. Even so, the Maoists inserted their militant rhetoric at the Ninth Congress of the Youth League on July 8, 1964: “In your work there exist two fundamentally antagonistic lines. One is the Marxist-Leninist line, and the other the modern revisionist line.” See: Han Suyin, Wind In The Tower (Little, Brown And Company, USA: 1976) pp. 236-237 and “Educate The Younger Generation To Be Revolutionaries Forever (Jen Min Jih Pao Editorial, Peking, July 8, 1964)” Chinese Politics edited by Myers, James T., Domes, Jurgen, von Groeling, Erik (University of South Carolina Press: 1986) p. 104
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 51
- Milton, David and Nancy Dall The Wind Will Not Subside (Pantheon Books, USA: 1976) p. 60
- Sautman, Barry. “Politicization, Hyperpoliticization, and Depoliticization of Chinese Education” Comparative Education Review, Vol 35, No. 4 (The University of Chicago Press, November, 1991) p. 672-678
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) p. 270
- Han Suyin, Wind In The Tower (Little, Brown And Company, USA: 1976) p. 237
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p. 39
- ibid. p. 54
- ibid. p. 55
- Li Zhisui The Private Life Of Chairman Mao (Random House, New York, USA: 1995) p. 392
- Jin Qui. The Culture of Power. Stanford University Press, California, USA: 1999. pp. 35-36
- Dittmer, Lowell, Liu Shao-ch’i And The Chinese Cultural Revolution (University of California Press, London, England: 1974) pp. 51-53
- Wang Wei, “Modernizing Chin’a Agriculture” Beijing Review no. 9 (March 1, 1963) p. 27
- Shambaugh, David. “Deng Xiaoping: The Politician” The China Quarterly No. 135, Special Issue: Deng Xiaoping: An Assessment (Cambridge Universtiy Press September, 1993) p. 477
- “The Infamy Of Modern Revisionism” Beijing Review no. 38 (September 21, 1962) pp. 12-13
- Huang Fan-chang, “The Hoax Of ‘People’s Capitalism’” (part 1) Beijing Review no. 37 (September 14, 1962) pp. 5-7
- Huang Fan-chang, “The Hoax Of ‘People’s Capitalism’” (part 2) Beijing Review no. 38 (September 21, 1962) pp.15-16
- “The Predatory Nature Of The Yugoslave Revisionists’ ‘Economic Co-operation’” Beijing Review no. 26 (June 28, 1963) pp. 14-16
- “The Tito Grou’s New Constitution” Beijing Review no. 27 (July 5, 1963) pp. 15-17
- Sanzo Nosaka, “Modern Revisionism Must Be Refuted” Beijing Review no. 27 (July 5, 1963) pp. 17-18
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) p. 274
- Kao Cheng-sheng, “New-Type Urban-Rural Relations In China” Beijing Review no. 13 (March 29, 1963) p. 22
- “Socialist Culture For The Countryside” Beijing Review no. 16 (April 19, 1963) pp. 21-22
- “Cultural Life In Rural Honan” Beijing Review no. 16 (April 19, 1963) p. 23
- Domes, Jurgen. Socialism in the Chinese Countryside. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Canada: 1980 p.62
- Jin Qui. The Culture of Power. Stanford University Press, California, USA: 1999. p. 38
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) pp. 275-277
- Domes, Jurgan The Internal Politics of China 1949-1972 (Praeger Publishers, USA: 1973) pp. 137-193
- Myrdal, Jan and Kessle, Gun China: The Revolution Continued (Pelican Books: 1973) pp. 41-42
- Jin Qui. The Culture of Power. Stanford University Press, California, USA: 1999. p.56
- Domes, Jurgan The Internal Politics of China 1949-1972 (Praeger Publishers, USA: 1973) pp. 139-140
- Dittmer, Lowell, Liu Shao-ch’i And The Chinese Cultural Revolution (University of California Press, London, England: 1974) pp. 52-53
- ibid. pp. 52-53
- ibid. pp. 52-53
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) pp. 254-256
- Rittenberg, Sidney and Bennett, Amanda. The Man Who Stayed Behind. Simon and Schuster, USA: 1993 p. 252
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) pp. 257-258
- Dittmer, Lowell, Liu Shao-ch’i And The Chinese Cultural Revolution (University of California Press, London, England: 1974) p. 57
- Meisner, Maurice, Mao’s China and After (The Free Press, Third Edition USA: 1999) pp. 257-258
- Dittmer, Lowell, Liu Shao-ch’i And The Chinese Cultural Revolution (University of California Press, London, England: 1974) pp. 58-59