Two Roads Defeated Part 3: Proletarian Jacobins


The defeat of socialism in the People’s Republic of China was not the result of the lack of a social program or the lack of struggle as diverse critics ranging from Slavoj Žižek to Philip Short have implied. (1) These critics re-cycle the claim that communism is heavy on criticism of the status quo, but short on practical answers. The Cultural Revolution was an attempt to reach a higher level of socialism, to move closer to communism. And, there were two currents, the roads, that had a chance at certain junctures of moving the Cultural Revolution forward on a communist axis: the spontaneous, mass movement road and the road of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Proletarian Jacobins

Head of the Central Cultural Revolution Small Group (CCRSG), Chen Boda, one of the architects of Maoism as a system, quoted Lenin’s teaching on the split within the revolutionary movement:

“By our comparison we merely want to explain that the representatives of the progressive class of the twentyieth century, of the proletariat, i.e., the Social-Democrats, are divided into two wings (the opportunist and the revolutionary) similar to those into which the representatives of the progressive class of the eighteenth century, the bourgeoisie were divided, i.e., the Girondists and the Jacobin.” (2)

“The Jacobins of contemporary Social-Democracy — the Bolsheviks, the Vperyodovtsi, Syezdovtsi, Proletartsi, or whatever we may call them — wish by their slogans to raise the revolutionary and republican petty bourgeoisie, and especially the peasantry, to the level of the consistent democratic centralism of the proletariat, which fully retains its individuality as a class. They want the people, i.e. the proletariat and the peasantry, to settle accounts with the monarchy and the aristocracy in the ‘plebeian way,’ ruthlessly destroying the enemies of liberty, crushing their resistance by force, making no concessions whatever to the accursed heritage of serfdom, of Asiatic barbarism and human degradation.” (3)

As early as 1954, by focusing on these quotes, Chen Boda implied that the Maoists are the real proletarian movement and their rightist opponents, while physically a part of the proletarian movement, were something else. Revolutionary science, and the dialectical philosophy upheld by the Chinese Maoists, sees the world in constant motion. There is no static world. Rather, the world is understood through motion metaphors, as a becoming. It follows that a revolution is never at rest, the revolutionary tide must either be advancing or retreating. The Jacobin trends represented forward motion toward communism. On the other hand, the new capitalists led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, the Girondists, the revisionists, represented regression back to capitalism.

Describing the revolutionary currents as “Jacobin” captures the tone of the revolution within the revolution. It captures the tone of the most advanced, the most revolutionary within the broader Communist movement. In invoking Lenin’s teaching on the split in socialism, Maoists abandon the metaphysical view that the Party is a monolithic entity that is the source of all authority, that the Party is always right. Today, such a view is found within so-called Marxist-Leninists: Hoxhaites, “Stalinists,” “Anti-revisionists,” and so on. Instead, the Communist movement, and Party, is always already itself splintered into the revolutionary and, ultimately, counter-revolutionary wings. And, eventually, the revolutionary wing itself splits, and on and on. This splitting process is what Maoists referred to as “one becoming two.” Class struggle continues throughout the period of socialism until communism. The proletarian jacobins correctly understand this process of division and class struggle as a bridge to communism. The revisionists, the Girondists, seek to achieve a static order or retrogression. Underscoring this, current revisionist leaders in China are seeking to re-christen their Party a “ruling party” as opposed to a “revolutionary party.” By contrast, the proletarian Jacobinism from 1966 to 1971 is associated with supposedly “going too far,” revolutionary “terror,” dictatorship, authoritarianism and democracy, egalitarianism and utopianism. These were important aspects of the Cultural Revolution led by the Maoists.

Two and a half Jacobins defeated

There were two opportunities for the Cultural Revolution to possibly move forward along a communist axis. The first of these opportunities was expanding the movements to seize power from below in 1967 and 1968. This meant expanding the power seizures into the “pillar of the dictatorship,” the right wing PLA in the provinces to take down the Adverse Current. This also meant targeting Zhou Enlai and the Foreign Ministry. Mao criticized this line when he criticized  Wang Li’s line as advocating “all out civil war.” In addition, Mao criticized Guan Feng’s drag-out campaign against the PLA as a “poisonous weed.” Later, Qi Benyu would meet the same fate, he would fall with Wang Li and Guan Feng. Initially, Jiang Qing, Chen Boda, and Lin Biao gave their nods to the First Road, but quickly distanced themselves from it when Mao turned against it in late 1967 into 1968.

After the First Road was defeated, the Second Road, Lin Biao’s trend, remained as the most influential Jacobin trend. This group continued its attacks against the right wing and Zhou Enlai, the Adverse Current, even as Mao shifted right after the Ninth Congress in April of 1969. They continued to push forward with the Cultural Revolution. They attempted to introduce a Maoist reorganization of the countryside. Their newFlying Leap sought to bring back the mass participation and social experiment of the early Great Leap. This economic initiative was combined with efforts to unify the population with Maoism. Lin Biao’s group resisted the move by Mao toward closer relations with the United States. This led to the downfall of the Maoist leadership within the PLA. According to one source, after his fall, some defenses of Lin Biao were made in the Chinese press. These defenses took the form of allegorical discussions about Robespierre. They upheld the necessity of Robespierre’s actions in defense of the revolution.  (4)

The remaining Jacobin trend was the Gang of Four. They had followed Mao’s line closely, and when Mao turned against the mass movement and, later, the left wing of the PLA, so did they. Throughout the 1970s, they stood as a symbolic opposition to the growing power of the revisionists. Although they did manage to dislodge Deng Xiaoping temporarily, their power appears to have been mostly dependent on Mao’s own. When the Gang of Four were overthrown, there was virtually no resistance to their arrest,  even in Shanghai, the heart of their power base. (5) (6) By the time the Gang of Four fell, socialism had suffered huge blows.

By the time of Mao’s death in 1976, there were no spontaneous Maoist street movements. Through most of the 1970s, the PLA, the “pillar of the dictatorship” is in the hands of the revisionists. In addition, the verdicts had been reversed for many of those deposed in the 60s. Lin Biao had provided the social space, protected by military authority, where the street movements could carry out their power seizures from below. Without the PLA in Maoist hands, there was little hope of another Cultural Revolution of the type witnessed in 1967. In addition, the population was demoralized after Mao shifted away from the radical, utopian promise of the early Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping was restored to power to help run the state following Lin Biao’s death. Much of the old bureaucracy was restored. The Chinese foreign policy was moving toward an alignment with the West through the 1970s. The key junctures where socialism had the best chance for advancing was in 1967 with the expansion of the power seizures and, later, from 1968 to 1971, Lin Biao’s efforts.

Leading Lights, the new proletarian Jacobins

Maoism developed fully as Maoism in the Cultural Revolution years. Chen Boda had worked on elevating and systematizing Mao’s works for decades. And, it was Lin Biao who announced that Maoism was a new stage of Marxism. Others, like Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao, also expanded revolutionary science throughout the Cultural Revolution decade. To go forward, it is necessary to take a step back and study the development of Maoism at its origins. Today, Leading Light Communism has been elevated to the fourth stage of revolutionary science as part of the rebirth of the international communist movement. The recovery of the Jacobin tone is an important part of this rebirth. All of the critiques and slurs thrown at the Leading Light movement are the same ones thrown at Lenin and Mao when they made their radical breaks with the past. The Leading Light movement will go as far as it has to, even if this means being criticized as extreme and “going too far.” Nothing is as radical as reality itself.


1. Two Roads Defeated. Monkey Smashes Heaven Journal. 2008

2. Chen Po-ta. Notes on Mao Tse-Tung’s “Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan”. Foreign Language Press. Peking, People’s Republic of China: 1954. pp. 35.

3. Chen Po-ta. Ibid. pp. 34.

4. I am unable to find this source at the moment. As soon as I find it, I will add it here.

5. Perry, Elizabeth J. and Li Xun. Proletarian Power in Shanghai. Westview Press USA: 1997 pp 184-187.

6. Unite! Info 310en. The author of this online journal quotes passages from foreign visitors in Shanghai. The authors gives the following as his source: ”Klaus Mehnert: “Kampf um Maos Erbe” (’Struggle over the Heritage of Mao’), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH,1977. The excerpt is translated from a Swedish translation of the book, 1979. pp 38-39.”  Also Jan Myrdal’s account, “The day when Tsingtao ran out of liqour,” “published in Swedish liberal evening paper Expressen on 29.12.1976.”