The Cultural Revolution in China – K N Ramachandran

17 May 2016
The 50th anniversary of the launching of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (CR), as it was known then , under the leadership of Mao Tsetung on 16th May, 1966, has passed unnoticed in the Chinese media. It is quite natural. The capitalist roaders who usurped power and degenerated socialist China to capitalist path along with the imperialists and their lackeys all over the world are extremely angry with this last effort by Mao to protect the socialist values from the attack of the capitalist roaders. This decade-long great revolution led by Mao Zedong had al least temporarily succeeded to beat back the offensive launched by the capitalist roaders within the Chinese Communist party, army and administration for a decade through the mobilization and reassertion of the people’s will in all fields.  But though the present social imperialist rules of China has black listed the CR and is avoiding any discussion on it after burying it as a great blunder of Mao and disaster in 1976, as far as the international media under control of the imperialists and their lackeys are concerned, they are active in launching vulgar, vicious attacks on CR year after year. Similarly the revisionists of all hues are also engaged in this mud slinging game against the CR. So it is the responsibility of the Marxist-Leninist forces to acclaim the revolutionary goals of CR, while making a thorough evaluation of its contributions to the international communist movement (ICM) as well as the reasons for its failure to defeat the capitalist roaders from their anti-communist offensive.

In the 20th Congress of the CPSU held in 1956, the capitalist roaders who had captured power in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Krushchov openly attacked all the basic Marxist Leninist positions. They called for collaboration with the imperialist camp under the banner of “peaceful competition and peaceful coexistence” and attacked all hitherto contributions of the ICM  under the cover  of attacking the ‘personality cult’ of Stalin for speeding up capitalist restoration. They had advocated for abandoning the path of class struggle and for “peaceful transition to socialism” through class collaboration and parliamentarism. The CPC under Mao’s leadership opposed them.

Along with the initiatives to mobilize the ICM against the Soviet revisionists, within the CPC Mao launched a vigorous struggle against the rightist forces within the party who were advancing the ‘theory of productive forces’. Advocating that since the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal tasks of the People’s Democratic Revolution  are completed, they called for focusing  attention on developing the production ‘by all means’. These forces led by Liu Shaochi and Deng Tsiaoping could get  majority support within the party leadership, as proved in the 8th Congress of the CPC held in 1956, shortly after the 20th Congress of the CPSU. They opposed Mao’s slogan “grasp revolution, promote production”. They opposed giving priority to changing the relations of production taking class struggle as the key link, while developing the productive forces.

As the capitalist roaders intensified their campaign openly, putting forward the ‘theory of productive forces’, it was challenged under the leadership of Mao. It was in the course of this struggle, following the ‘great leap forward’, the ‘socialist rectification movement’, the launching of the people’s communes and later the Cultural Revolution were taken up as the ‘continuation of class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat’. Or, as Mao explained, it was the path of socialist construction with communist revolutionary orientation. During this struggle against the capitalist roaders, the CPC under the leadership of Mao tried to put forward an alternative development model also, as explained in his famous article, the ‘Ten Major Relationships’.

During the inner party struggle following the 8th Congress, while Mao called for advancing the revolution towards socialist transformation, for putting politics in command to promote production, the line put forward by Liu and Deng  was the ‘theory of productive forces’, the line  ‘whether the cat is black or white, it should catch the mice’. This line was put forward under the influence of Soviet   revisionists. Intensifying struggle against the capitalist roaders who came to dominance in the 8th Congress, intensifying the inner party struggle against them became the severest challenges faced by the revolutionary forces.

When the revolutionary forces continued struggle against the capitalist roaders who had surfaced within the CPC, the Soviet revisionist leadership tried to put pressure on Chinese government by withdrawing the financial aid, technicians and even the blue prints of the various projects it had started. Instead of surrendering to this blackmailing, Mao retaliated by launching the ‘socialist rectification campaign’ to ideologically prepare the party to combat the capitalist roaders and the ‘Great Leap Forward’ to advance a development perspective not dependent on foreign aid, but based on people’s initiative. Along with these, in continuation to the revolutionary land reforms which was completed in the main by that time, the people’s communes were launched, speeding up co-operativization and collectivization in the agricultural field coupled with efforts to transform them as the embryonic forms of people’s political power. As explained in his article, Ten Major Relationships, Mao launched a major offensive to intensify the socialist transformation at all levels and tried to carry it forward this movement in spite of the wild attacks launched against these revolutionary initiatives by the imperialists and their lackeys at international level as well as by the capitalist roaders within the country.

This revolutionary offensive, the continuation of the class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat, led to throwing out of the chief captains of capitalist roaders, Liu and Deng, and large number of their followers from all positions of power. During the initial years of the CR the masses really entered the center of political and cultural scene debating openly and putting forward their ideas through ‘big character posters’ and putting on trial the Party leaders and the bureaucrats who were trying to advance capitalist ideas and practice. It was a great initiative to assimilate the spirit of the Paris Commune. It created the impression that the revolution in China had matured to throw out the capitalist roaders and their decadent ideas to the dust bin of history for ever.

But, as later developments proved, during the intensification of the Cultural Revolution, the left adventurist sections led by Lin Biao, succeeded to come to dominance. They were not sharing the vision of Mao regarding the CR as an upsurge of the masses who have grasped the importance of transforming the realm of old ideas, the superstructure consisting of ideology, politics, art, literature, philosophy, and all other aspects like religion, race etc in order to transfer all powers to the people and to promote production based on continuous revolutionary transformation of relations of production. Most of the so-called excesses that happened during the CR were due to the interference of this trend. Already, in his book published in 1965, Long Live the Victory of People’s War, contrary to Mao’s teachings,  Lin Biao had advocated that the ‘Chinese Path’ of protracted people’s war, should be followed by the Communist Parties at international level as their strategic line for capture of political power. Advocating  a new era of total collapse of imperialism and world wide victory of socialism, this line dominated the 9th Congress of the CPC in 1969.

Lenin’s teaching that ultimately the rightist and left adventurist lines are two sides of the same coin was getting proved in actual practice. As a result, the struggle against the capitalist roaders was not deepened. So, once this left adventurist line was thrown out, it was easy for the centrist forces to come to dominance first followed by the rightist forces after the death of Mao, openly usurping power in all spheres. Thus it can be seen that in spite of the fierce two line struggle waged against the capitalist roaders under the leadership of Mao, they succeeded to ultimately usurp power. How could it happen? Once again, it cannot be explained through any conspiracy theories. It can be seen that even while efforts were made to pursue a socialist line, even when the Cultural Revolution was launched, even when criticisms were raised against the metaphysical mistakes that took place during socialist construction in the SU, the standing army was getting more powerful and the state structure was also getting strengthened in China.

In spite of throwing out Deng from all positions of power thrice, he could repeatedly regain his positions and eventually return to power and turn China into capitalist path because the influence wielded by the capitalist roaders in the higher echelons of army, state bureaucracy and the party from the very beginning could not be destroyed. These developments show that in spite of people’s communes and Cultural Revolution, the soil in China continued to remain fertile for the capitalist roaders to grow and the CPC could not basically change this condition in spite of all the struggles it waged. So, a serious search is needed to find out the ideological, political and organizational reasons for these weaknesses leading to capitalist restoration taking place in China also.

Till the time of usurpation of power by the capitalist roaders led by Deng and their advance of the class collaborationist ‘Theory of Three Worlds’, all the CRs all over the world were upholding the ‘Chinese path’ almost uncritically. For example, the role played by the CPC and the Chinese government along with the Soviet leadership in projecting the so-called non-alignment movement and in promoting the ‘Bandung spirit’, in lauding the so-called anti-imperialist positions of Nehru, Nasser like leaders etc showed that the former was also influenced to a great extent  by the reformist positions of the Soviet leadership. Similarly like the Soviet leadership, the Chinese leadership also could not recognize the neo colonial policies put forward by the US-led imperialist forces from the post-Second World War years. On these questions a different perspective was put forward by the CPC only after the Great Debate was started against the Soviet revisionist positions. But even when such differences were put forward there were no efforts to analyze the reasons for these errors.

It is not difficult to see that like he Soviet leadership, the CPC leadership also failed to analyze correctly the changes taking place in the strategy and tactics of  the imperialist camp during the post-War years. Though in 1963 “Apologists of Neocolonialism”, the CPC had stated that the neocolonialism pursued by the imperialists following the SWW in place of colonialism is “more pernicious and heinous”, there was no subsequent effort to deepen and enlarge the study on imperialism in its new phase. On the contrary, starting with Lin Biao’s book, by the time of the 9th Congress of the CPC, it took the erroneous line that “imperialism is facing total collapse and socialism going to win world wide victory”.

In the A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the ICM presented in 1963,the CPC had quoted Lenin to show that for a very long historical period after the proletariat succeeds in capturing political power the class struggle shall continue as an objective law independent of the wishes of the revolutionary classes in difference forms. Lenin wrote: “a. the overthrown exploiters always try in a thousand and one ways to recover the “paradise” they have been deprived of; b. new elements of capitalism are constantly and spontaneously generated in the petti-bourgeois atmosphere; c. political degenerates and new bourgeois elements may emerge in the ranks of the working class and among government functionaries as a result of bourgeois influence and the pervasive corrupting atmosphere of the petti-bourgeoisie; d. the external conditions for the continuance of class struggle within a socialist country are encirclement by international capitalism, the imperialists’ threat of armed intervention and the subversive activities to accomplish peaceful transition”.

Though Mao waged a bitter struggle against the capitalist roaders, the later developments proved that in spite of launching the Cultural Revolution attacking the capitalist roaders, and ousting of some of them in this process, the gravity of the struggle was not subjected to an in depth ideological political struggle. At least such studies were not available to the ICM. There were also no attempts to mobilize the Marxist Leninist forces at international level in this crucial struggle. And it was not carried forward to the extent of the rectification it called for mobilizing the masses to recapture the power from the capitalist roaders in all respects.

There is another fundamental question on which the CPC failed to make a basic rectification of the mistakes committed in the SU. It was that of developing proletarian  democracy. In his article, Ten Major Relationships, Mao had called for differentiating the contradiction between the people and the enemy classes from the contradiction among the masses, and to deal the latter in a non-antagonistic manner. Mao had pointed out that one of the fundamental reasons for the erroneous dealing of the inner party struggle in the SU was that both these contradictions were not differentiated and both were handled antagonistically. Based on this analysis, different methods for handling the inner party struggle and the contradictions among the masses were not developed according to available material. Combating and overthrowing the capitalist roaders was possible only if the democratic practice was developed mobilizing the masses to the level of exercising political power at all levels, beyond providing powers to air their views including the right to ‘put up big character posters’.

While analyzing  the lessons of the Paris Commune, Marx had pointed out that not only the councilors, but also the executives were elected by the people, with the right to recall them. The standing army and the police machinery had to be dismantled, and in their place the people’s militia had to be developed. But the obstacles created initially by the right deviation, later by the left deviation and then again by the rightists’ domination were cited as the big hurdles which prevented experimenting daring models of democracy, transcending what is projected as the best models of bourgeois democracy. When the SU and a number of socialist countries had already degenerated without any significant resistance against  the forces trying for capitalist restoration, when China was almost the last bastion where people’s political power was continuing, only daring experiments would have saved socialism there. But after the initial momentum the spirit of proletarian internationalism was not put in command uniting the Marxist Leninist forces for a life and death struggle, and the struggle against the capitalist roaders within was not combined with the struggle against the US led imperialist forces at international level.

Marx wrote: Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one in to the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. From Marx’s time, from the time of the experience of Paris Commune, all the Communist parties and the socialist countries are confronting the challenge of translating the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat in to practice of real proletarian democracy, transcending the limits of the bourgeois democracy, which is nothing but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in content, however democratic it may be in its forms. Even in the most democratic capitalist countries, it is nothing but the dictatorship of the minority over the majority, it is a system which protects the hegemony of the private property in its most speculative and moribund form as it can be seen vividly around the world.

It can also be seen that, however short it was, the experience of Paris Commune as Marx explained is the best example so far of the proletarian democracy in practice. As Marx and Engels pointed out, the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purpose. As explained by them, the majority of the Commune members were working men or representatives of the working class. The police which was so far the instrument of the government was stripped of its political attributes and turned in to agents responsible to the Commune who can be called back by the people any time. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards the public service had to be done at workers’ wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of the state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves. Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the instruments of physical force of the old government, the Commune proceeded to at once break the instrument of spiritual suppression, the power of the priests. Similarly, the judicial functionaries lost their sham independence, they were thence forward had to be elected, responsible and revocable. As Marx explained further, instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent and repress the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people constituted in Communes, instead of individual suffrage serving every other employer in the search for workers, foremen and accountants for his business.

For anyone who tries to apply Marx’s teachings seriously the picture of the proletarian democracy drawn by him is not difficult to understand. Following them, Lenin made extensive studies on Paris Commune and developed the Soviets. They were to become centers of people’s political power. Based on this understanding, he declared: All power to the Soviets. Lenin made daring experiments to develop   proletarian democracy in all spheres, at all levels. The inner party democracy was allowed to develop fully. He recognized that only in this manner the ideological political line of the Party can be developed and put in to practice. Developing the functioning of the Soviets, democratic atmosphere was maintained in the Party, in the administration and among the people.

What could be seen during Lenin’s time was daring experiments to put proletarian democracy in to practice. For him Soviet Union was only the base area of world revolution. It is not difficult to understand from his great theoretical guidance based on Marxist teachings and practice based on them that his categorical stand was that it is not the survival of Soviet Union somehow or other, but the development of it as the real base area of world revolution daring to make socialist experiments in line with the Paris Commune which  is going to help  its existence and the further advance of world revolution .For Lenin “socialism in one country” was only an experiment in the countries where the proletariat and its allies succeed to capture power to make them serve as the base area of world revolution.

But it can be seen that during the post-Lenin period these priorities started changing. So, there were no question of experiments which may endanger the economic advance, which essentially meant all out efforts for the development of productive forces in SU. When this view came to dominance, naturally the space for Soviets started shrinking. The experiments for expanding democratic space under proletarian democracy, space for inner party struggle and the democratic atmosphere in the society as a whole started shrinking. When Marxist- Leninist teachings point out that the inner party struggle or the two line struggle within the Party is the reflection of the class struggle taking place in the society, a mechanical understanding negating the existence and development of class struggle in socialist country started gaining dominance. In the 18th Congress of the CPSU in 1938 it was announced that the Soviet society no longer contains antagonistic hostile classes and that the exploiting classes have been eliminated. Thus the possibility for inner party struggle was denied and all those opposing the official line became traitors and enemy agents. This was a picture quite opposite to what Lenin tried to develop. It was quite natural that in such an atmosphere the bureaucratic tendencies started gaining strength creating conditions for the capitalist roaders to smuggle themselves in to all fields.

It is in this context, the importance of the struggle waged by Mao in China against the capitalist roaders through the CR should be evaluated. When the capitalist roaders in SU usurped power and started the process of capitalist restoration openly under the leadership of Krushchov, it degenerated to a social imperialist country by 1960s. Inspired by it, the capitalist roaders in China also were trying to repeat what their counterparts did in the SU. It was in this critical situation the CR was launched. It was different from the struggles waged earlier at local level during “socialist rectification movement”. As Mao explained, what was required was a method to arouse the broad masses to expose the capitalist roaders in an all round way and from below. During the CR the people’s initiative was unleashed. People were politically educated so that they could politically attack the capitalist roaders. It was a question of bringing the people to the streets like the millions of red guards marching in a mighty expression of democracy, people taking the right to exercise their power against those who were trying to snatch the political power from them. As a form of the state, democracy can only realize formal equality. Under the proletarian democracy this formal democracy should be expanded and made effectively operative on as vast a scale as possible.

The method adopted was conducting struggles on the basis of people’s initiative to seize back the power from the capitalist roaders who were in positions of power in the Party and the state apparatus utilizing bureaucratic methods. The effort was to implement this process as effective and widespread as possible involving the masses of people so that their power can be enforced over the minority of the capitalist roaders. One of the best examples of seizing back power by the people was the Shanghai Commune which came in to being in 1967. By 1966 itself in Shanghai and other major cities the Cultural Revolutionary Committees were formed and as a result “dual power centers” had come in to existence. In January- February 1967 huge meetings took place with even a million workers participating. They took Paris Commune as model. But at this critical time the CPC leadership    decided not to spread them to other areas. It was a step backward which was proved basically wrong later and which affected the advance of the CR. This weakness shown at a critical moment helped the rightists to regroup. Though during the 1975-76, there were efforts to once again unleash the people’s initiative, it could not advance much. Utilizing the opportunity provided by Mao’s death, the capitalist roaders crushed the Shanghai Commune and such other areas of resistance and succeeded in usurping the power putting an end to CR.

During the CR, Mao had repeated about the need to continue the cultural revolutions without let up. According to him, the then CR was only the first. There will be many more in future. The issue, whether the revolution or counter revolution shall succeed, can only be settled over a long historical period. And he had also warned that if things are not properly handled capitalist restoration may take place at any time. And he continued to remind the revolutionary cadres that the revolution is still unfinished. In spite of his foresight and his contributions in  developing the theory and practice of the CR, it was a weakness that necessary attention was not given to what Marx had said: dissolve the army and arm the people, taking lessons from the Paris Commune. Evaluating the experience in China, it can be seen that when the people came forward to seize power from the capitalist roaders, the army played a decisive role in standing against the struggle and stopping it at halfway in 1967. Still, an uncompromising struggle was not waged against the army and the state apparatus which had got bureaucratized, and they were not dissolved and the system of people’s militia and a Commune like administrative system were not developed. It is not difficult to see the counter revolutionary role played by the army in both SU and China at a critical time, helping the capitalist roaders to usurp power. It may be argued that how the army could be weakened when the imperialists and their lackeys were plotting day in and day out to topple the Chinese government. This argument is proved hollow and rightist by what happened later. Such an argument itself is coming from the desire to maintain the existing state somehow or other, forgetting the fact that it is still essentially a state where state capitalist tendencies are dominant. Such outlooks go against the very spirit of the CR itself. Later developments have repeatedly proved that such positions invariably help the capitalist roaders to usurp power as happened in all erstwhile socialist countries.

The failure to lead the mighty advance of the revolutionary forces inspired by the Cultural Revolution by 1967 to a revolutionary upsurge to capture the political power back from the hands of the capitalist roaders as well as from the left adventurist line of the Lin Biaoist forces, the two sides of the same coin, who were either hiding within the Party, army and state apparatus as various shades of the capitalist roaders were doing, or leading the army and party pretending as leaders of the CR as the Lin Biaoists were doing, marked the first decisive setback to the socialist forces in the CPC. This failure led to the extremely dangerous formulations adopted by the 9th Congress which were diametrically opposed to the 1963 General Line and the revolutionary positions put forward then. Besides, the evaluation that the CR had won a great victory was also wrong. It rejected the fact the fact though Liu and Deng were removed from positions of power the capitalist roaders were far from defeated. The Congress had almost one third of its delegates from the army which had become ‘professional’ and a breeding ground of the capitalist roaders. Going against the principles of democratic centralism and inner party democracy, taking the CPC back to almost feudal positions, the Constitution adopted by the Congress declared that Lin Biao will be the successor of Mao! Whatever may be the consequences, the Soviet setback demanded that all these formulations should have been fought and defeated in a do or die struggle. That it did not happen, but these sectarian and backward concepts were adopted by the Congress showed that in spite of all the revolutionary positions including the launching of the CR, at the critical junctures the struggle was not led forward. This fundamental weakness calls for serious evaluation.

Thus, in spite of the great victories of revolutions in a number of countries including Russia and China and the great heights the ICM reached by the 1950s, the question of  how to achieve victory in developing people’s political power and proletarian democracy in the socialist countries remain unsettled. What happened in Paris Commune and carried forward by Lenin through Soviets were great lessons. Similarly, what were tried in China were also important steps. The challenge before the Communists is how the experiences of these revolutionary efforts can be carried forward to further develop the fierce class struggle in present situation and in future. Though Mao said that even if the capitalist roaders usurp power, their rule will be short lived and will not be tolerated by the people, it is proved wrong, at least for the time being. The capitalist roaders have succeeded to transform socialist China into an imperialist super power which is colluding and contending with US imperialism for world hegemony. And so far the resistance against them has not advanced in any significant form.

The Marxist- Leninist forces have to take up the challenge daringly and develop methods to expand the democratic space within the Party, within the class and mass organizations and  plan for ‘socialism in actual practice’ to include methods to establish and expand people’s   political power by developing democratic organs like Communes and Soviets during the process of carrying forward the class struggle for capturing the political power itself, and to develop them to a higher level immediately after the existing ruling system is overthrown. Marx correctly called for emulating the Paris Commune by dissolving the existing ruling system including the existing army, and for replacing them with new ones; to arm the people and to transfer all power to these new organs of political power like Communes developed according to concrete conditions of each country. 
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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.