The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Reversal of Workers’ Power in China

First Published: Progressive Labor, Vol. 8, No. 3, November 1971
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The accepted view among Marxist-Leninists is that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) was a struggle of the masses, led by Chairman Mao, to defeat the bourgeois “rightists” within the Party and thereby prevent their influence from growing to the point where they could reverse the proletarian dictatorship. The “16-point” Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Concerning the GPCR (Aug. 8, 1966) defines the struggle in this way:

“Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavor to stage a come-back. The proletariat must do just the opposite: it must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.”

The basic assumption is that the GPCR takes place under conditions of proletarian dictatorship, i.e. that the working class holds state power and has successfully carried through the socialist transformation of the material base. A Red Flag editorial of Feb., 1967 made the goals more concrete and defined the enemy:

“Proletarian revolutionaries are uniting to seize power from the handful of persons within the party who are in authority and taking the capitalist road .... Adequate attention must be paid to the role of revolutionary cadres in the struggle to seize power... They can become the backbone of the struggle to seize power and can become leaders in this struggle... A clear distinction must be drawn between those in authority who belong to the proletariat and those who belong to the bourgeoisie... The overwhelming majority of the ordinary cadres in the Party and government organizations, enterprises and undertakings are good and want to make revolution.”

The official documents of the GPCR state that 95% of the cadre are revolutionary, that only a “small handful of capitalist-roaders” have “wormed their way” into the party and that even leading cadres who have made serious mistakes can be re-educated by the masses and allowed to remain in their posts. Thus the GPCR is seen as a struggle between the Left, led by the proletarian headquarters of Mao, Lin Piao, Chou En-lai et. al. and the Right, led by the “black gang”: Liu Shao-Ch’i, Teng Hsiao-p’ing P’eng Chen and T’ao Chu. Victory went to the Left preserving and consolidating socialism in China.

But this picture is confused by a third force on the scene. Mao and official CCP statements refer often to “extreme-leftists” who attack all the leading cadre, engage in “bitter armed struggle,” deny that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a supporter of the Left, despise Chou En-lai and the other bureaucrats of the State Council and launch indiscriminate attacks against China’s nationalist allies. What do we know about this “extreme-Left” and what was its program?

Many of the large mass organizations of students and workers formed to overthrow the “capitalist-roaders” espoused “extreme-Leftist” views. In Hunan province, the “Sheng-Wu-Lien,” a coalition of 20 Red Guard and rebel-worker groups, claimed 2 to 3 million followers. In Kwangsi, the “April 22 Rebel Grand Army” was one of the two largest mass organizations and came repeatedly into conflict with the PLA and the Central Authorities. In Peking, “extreme-Leftists” were strong in the Red Guard Congresses of Tsinghua and other universities. In Canton, the “Red Flag” was an “extreme-Leftist” group which was for a time the largest organization in the city and the major antagonist of the Military Region Command which ruled the city. Another important ̶-;extreme-Leftist” group was the “Red Guard Army,” known in Canton as the “August 1 Combat Corps,” which was made up of de-mobilized veterans of the PLA and several times resisted orders to disband. Similar organizations existed in Honan, Hopeh, Szechuan, Shanghai and all the major urban areas. The consensus of Red Guard sources and western scholars who have studied the question is that somewhere from 30-40 million people followed these organizations.

Moreover, these local organizations, based in factories, schools, cities and regions, began to develop an extensive network of connections. Red Guards traveled frequently to congresses where experiences and ideas were exchanged; liaison stations were established in many cities by important local groups, e.g., the Chingkangshang Rebel Red Guard group of Peking University had representatives in Canton, Wuhan and Shanghai. These congresses and stations were the beginning of a movement toward political and ideological unification of the “extreme-Left” which proceeded rapidly until smashed by the government and Army between Sept. 1967 and July 1968.

These facts make it clear that we are dealing here with a political movement quite different from the isolated sectarian groups whom Lenin had attacked as “ultra-Left” after World War I. This is a mass movement which frequently put forward positions in contradiction to Mao/Lin/Chou and came into sharp conflict with the PLA under their leadership.

An article in a Shanghai periodical in late July, 1967 characterized the politics of the “extreme-Left” in this way:

“Recently, a sort of so-called ’new trend of thought’ prevails in society. Its principal content is to distort the major contradiction of socialist society into one between the so-called ’power-holders,’ i.e., the ’privileged persons’ who hold ’property and power’ and the masses of the people. It demands an incessant ’redistribution’ of the social property and political power under the proletarian dictatorship. The new trend of thought has equated the current GPCR with a conflict for wealth and power ’within a reactionary ruling class.’ It has equated the headquarters of Mao/Lin with that of Liu/Teng/T’ao. It has branded all leading cadres as privileged persons and thrust them all into the position of objects of revolution.” (CNS, No. 188)

The “extreme-Left” held that China was already in the hands of a bourgeois ruling class at the time the GPCR began, that the vast majority (90%) of the leading cadres were part of that oppressor class, that the PLA was its tool to smash the real Left and maintain power, that the new “red” bourgeoisie had emerged during the 17 years from 1949-66 from the ranks of the revolutionaries themselves and, therefore, that the GPCR was not, as Mao said, a struggle to consolidate proletarian rule, but the first revolution in history to attempt to take power back from the revisionists. This basic analysis led the “extreme-Left” groups to carry out the following political campaigns,

1) They demanded the ouster of Chou En-lai as the chief representative of China’s “red” capitalists, along with the high-ranking economic and administrative ministers he was sheltering.
2) They demanded that the GPCR be carried into the Army Officer Corps, which they saw as a part of the new ruling class. They engaged in arms seizures from the PLA, raiding depots and arms trains, on the principle that a revolution to overthrow the bourgeoisie had to be an armed struggle of the masses.
3) They looked to the Paris Commune as the model of the institutions of the proletarian state and fought to establish the commune-type of state throughout China (abolition of the standing army, worker’s wages for officials, election and right of recall of all officials).
4) They opposed China’s foreign policies of alliance with secondary imperialists (France, etc.) and bourgeois nationalist regimes (Indonesia, Pakistan, etc.) To carry this through they seized foreign ships in the harbors, burned the British consulate in Aug. 1967, launched a liberation struggle in Hong Kong, seized Soviet arms going to Vietnam over China’s railroad lines and opposed China’s nuclear development program.
5) They began to discuss and implement the formation of a new Marxist-Leninist Communist party, given their assumption that the CCP had become the party of the bourgeois apparatus which was restoring capitalism under the ideological cover of Marxism-Leninism.

The “extreme-Left” presented a view of what was going on in the GPCR which was contradictory to the official views of the CCP under Mao. (“95% of the cadres are good” vs. “90% of the cadres must step aside”). If their analysis of the political situation in China was correct, if China was at that time ruled by a “red” bourgeoisie, then the “extreme-Left” is, in fact, the Left and Mao and his allies are the principal section of the “red bourgeoisie.” The attack on Liu Shao-ch’i and a tiny minority of high officials was therefore a struggle within this bourgeois class between those who wanted to develop China through dependence on the Soviet Union and those who wanted an independent path. Mao and Lin Piao attempted to mobilize the masses to their side by appropriating many of the ideas and slogans of the Left and presenting them in watered-down versions. We are not arguing that this was, in every case, a conscious process of deception; but that the ideology of new-democracy/Mao-Tse-tung Thought objectively led the proletarian and peasant masses into an alliance with a part of the bourgeoisie (the 95% of “good cadres”), allowing this part to consolidate its power at the expense of the masses and sacrificing only an especially discredited group of officials as scapegoats.

It is necessary, therefore to make an objective historical analysis of the development of socialism in China, in order to determine whether the position of the “extreme-Left” in the GPCR was correct.

Throughout the period of revolutionary struggle in the countryside, (1927-1949) the line of the CCP contained two contradictory aspects: on the one hand there was a “poor-peasant” class struggle line directed against both the landlords and the capitalist rich-peasants and calling for collective forms of landholding; on the other hand, there was a “rich-peasant” new-democratic class collaborationist line directed solely against the most important landlords and the Japanese imperialists and advocating partial reliance on local capitalists. These two lines were in constant struggle, giving CCP policy and practice a vacillating and inconsistent character. The class struggle aspect was primary during the period of civil war against the Kuomintang (1946-1949) and led to victory and proletarian dictatorship. But the new-democratic line became primary right after the seizure of power.

This new-democratic political line anticipated a transition period during which capitalism was to be allowed to develop further, although under close regulation, so as to create the material and ideological conditions for making the transition to socialism gradually and without further armed struggle. The CCP had promised the people immediate benefits from the elimination of the landlords and the imperialists and the opening up of new opportunities for individual and collective enrichment. On the eve of victory, Mao defined the party’s tasks:

“If we know nothing about production and do not master it quickly, if we cannot restore and develop production as speedily as possible and achieve solid successes so that the livelihood of the workers, first of all, and that of the people in general is improved, we shall be unable to sustain our political power, we shall be unable to stand on our feet, we shall fail....

“In this period, all capitalist elements in the cities and countryside which are not harmful but beneficial to the national economy should be allowed to exist and expand... But the existence and expansion of capitalism in China will be restricted from several directions... Restriction versus opposition to restriction will be the main form of class struggle in the new-democratic state.” (Report to 2nd Plenum of 7th Central Committee (CQ.)

There was only one way to bring about an immediate restoration and growth of the national economy: rely on the former ruling class which had learned the methods and skills required to keep the economy functioning. This meant, in particular, enlisting into the service of the new state the large body of technicians, managers, engineers, government administrators and intellectuals who had served the old regime. According to An Tzu-Wen (NCNA, Sept. 30, 1952), the cadre force had quadrupled between ’49-’52, from 720,000 to 2,750,000. The bulk of these were the so-called “retained cadres,” capitalist managers and ex-Kuomintang civil servants. Some were peasants and workers who had distinguished themselves in various political campaigns, especially the land reform; but the CCP was mistrustful of the many rural activists who had tendencies during land reform to commit “Leftist” errors, meaning that they had carried expropriation into the ranks of the rich peasants, whom Mao wished to preserve as a source of increased production. Another group consisted of recent graduates of colleges and special cadre training schools.

The ideological commitment of the bulk of cadres was thus not to socialism, as a system of social relations among men, but to national economic development, which they would tend, as a result of class background and education, to conceive in capitalist terms. The CCP tried to counter this situation by intensive political education of the new cadres and mass campaigns in which the workers were encouraged to criticize all elements of personal corruption, bureaucratic style of work, etc. that they found in the cadres! But these steps could not in any short period alter the basic ideological orientation of the bulk of the new cadres.

Moreover, many of the cadres were taken into the party, in order to subject them to its discipline and facilitate their ideological re-molding. Party membership rose from 3,000,000 in mid-1948 to 5,800,000 in mid-1951. (Official CCP figures in Schurmann, p. 129.) It was inevitable, given the new-democratic line, that the CCP would attract many whose primary commitment was not to socialism but to the protection and advancement of the interests of the bourgeoisie. The repeated anti-Rightist struggles of the next decade (1954-55, 1957, 1959) testify to the existence of this element within the Party.

The “retained” cadres, as well as the newly trained college graduates, were paid the wages which they were accustomed to receiving. Given their primarily bourgeois orientation, only material reward commensurate with the privileged position of managers and administrators within capitalist society would induce them to serve the new state power. This created a contradiction with the system under which the Communist cadres had lived before liberation, the so-called “supply-system.” All cadres, whatever their responsibilities and positions, from the rank-and-file on up to top leadership were provided with the basic necessities of life in kind, plus a little pocket money for incidentals. This created an egalitarian and democratic style of work. It was a concrete application of the communist principle of distribution: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Those who were committed to serving the people by destroying the system of exploitation and creating a new system of socialism should be willing to do the work they were capable of without special material reward. This corresponded to the lesson Marx, Engels and Lenin had drawn from the experience of the Paris Commune: that a fundamental principle of proletarian dictatorship must be that work for the state be performed at average workers’ wages.

After Liberation, the supply-system for Communist cadres contradicted the wage system under which new cadres were paid, a wage system which necessarily contained large differentials between high and low levels, it being a basic idea of bourgeois society that the mental work of administration and management is superior to manual work and ought to be rewarded correspondingly. The CCP leadership then made the choice to eliminate the supply-system and bring all the cadre, both Party and non-Party, both pre-Liberation and post-Liberation, under a unified wage-grade system. This was completed by a State Council Order of Aug. 31, 1955:

“for the purpose of putting into effect the principle of to ’each according to his work’ and ’equal pay for equal work,’ the supply system now applicable to a section of government employees is to be changed into a wage system as from July 1955 in order to unify the system of pay and allowance for governmental employees and facilitate the building of socialism.” (NCNA, Sept. 14, 1955. Transl. in SCMP. 1134, 1. 12)

At the same time, the cadre wage system was consolidated into a 30-grade scale with the following monthly wages: (from Barnett, p. 191)

(in Yuan/mo.)
Premier, Head of State, etc. 1 600
Deputy Premier, CC member, etc. 2-5 400-500
Central Minister 6 400-500
Bureau Chief (Central) 9-12 200-250
Division Chief (Central) 13-15 150-200
County-level Magistrate 13-15 130-160
Section Chief (Central) 16-17 100-135
County-level section member 18-23 50-90
Clerical staff 24-27 30-35
General Service personnel 28-30 23-29

For purposes of comparison, here are some representative wage figures for workers and managers: (from Chao Kuo-chun, Vol. 2, p. 73-74) figures for 1956: Plant Director-263, Chief Engineer-223, Chief Designer-135, Engineer-118-191, Technician-103-166, Chief Accountant-74-126, Bookkeeper-45-78, File Clerk-41-66, Worker in heavy industry-69-106, Worker in light industry-56, Worker in construction-31-51, misc. worker-23-34. At the same period peasant incomes ran about 8-15.

It is clear from these highly-differentiated wage scales that the principle of the Paris Commune was not being applied. The payments were thought to reflect correctly the principle of distribution under the first stage of socialism – ’to each according to his work.’ The official editorials explaining the change presented the following view:

“The supply system was a system of treatment of government employees adopted at a time of the revolutionary war when the financial and economic situation was rather acute. It was built on the premise that the revolutionary workers possessed a high degree of political consciousness. Its special features were: On the basis of the minimum subsistence requirements of revolutionary workers, the state was to supply them with a definite quantity of the essential articles of livelihood... There was thus little difference between the treatment accorded to cadres at higher levels and the general rank-and-file government workers, insofar as their personal requirements were concerned. It may be described as a measure in keeping with the military communist way of life.

“If the supply system has played an important role in ensuring the final victory of the revolution, why should it be replaced now in its entirety by the wage system?... This is because the supply system is contradictory to the principles of ’to each according to his work’ and ’equal pay for equal work.’ (Tu Shao-po & Wang I-cheng in Shih Shih Shou Ts’e, Sept. 25, 1955. Transl. in ECMM, no. 19, p. 27)

“... He who performs better labor and does better work gets a better pay, and equal work will earn equal pay. In this way, one can be caused to interest himself, from the standpoint of material interests, in the results of his labor and to link up his personal interests with the overall interest of the state.” (Renmin Ribao, Sept. 14, 1955. Transl. in SCMP no. 1134, p. 13)

The CCP leadership thus saw the supply-system not as a desirable application of the communist principle of distribution but as an expedient adaptation to the conditions of extreme material deprivation which prevailed before Liberation. The coming of socialism, with greater abundance of products, would eliminate the necessity for this kind of egalitarian sharing of difficulties. In this view, Socialism, the first stage in the development of the new society, is separated from communism by a long period of development of the productive forces. Only when there is general abundance, the ability to satisfy the material needs of all the people, could the transition to communism begin. During the first stage, material incentive still played a powerful role, along with other aspects of bourgeois thinking, and had to be harnessed to the needs of socialist development. The supply-system was therefore “Utopian” and a violation of the stage-by-stage development toward communism.

The opposing argument was put forward by Left forces during the Great Leap (1958) and again during the GPCR. It acknowledged that distribution according to need for the whole population and for all products could only be introduced gradually but saw the ideological consciousness of the masses, not the level of development of the material forces of production, as the main limitation on the rapidity of transition to communism. To the extent that people were won to the idea of “serve the people,” as against bourgeois individualism, communism could be introduced in part, even if at a lower level of shared subsistence than would be possible with the further development of the economy. In particular, the Party members, as the ideological vanguard of the working class, and especially the Party leaders should be willing to apply communist distribution to themselves even if the masses as a whole continued to cling, in part, to material incentive.

It was, in fact, the bourgeois road that prevailed. Rather than winning the bourgeois intellectuals to communism, the Party was won to material incentive. This was a consequence of the new-democratic line. Having taken power without a mass force of workers and peasants won ideologically to communism and having committed itself to satisfying the immediate material aspirations of the masses, the party had to rely on the bourgeois technicians to manage affairs of state and economy. If the masses had been won to a greater degree to socialism, a totally different course would have been possible – the creation of new organs of power and administration putting management directly into the hands of the people, under the leadership of the party. This might have meant, temporarily, more “disorder” and stagnation of production as the people learned to fashion and run these new socialist forms, but it would have avoided reliance on bourgeois forces and ideas and eventual reversal of the revolution. Moreover, the new-democratic line welcomed into the Party, during the anti-Japanese War, many forces whose primary commitment was to nationalism and bourgeois land reform. These forces within the Party were strong enough to bring about the elimination of the supply-system and the merging of Party cadres into the privileged stratum of officials. The new wage-grade system provided a framework of material privilege within which a new bourgeoisie could slowly form and become conscious of its class interest in opposition to further development toward communism.


In summarizing the lessons of the Paris Commune, Marx had pointed also to its abolition of the standing army and replacement by the arming of the workers, the proletarian militia. In the third of his Letters From Afar (March 11, 1917) Lenin had expanded:

“We need a state, but not the kind the bourgeoisie needs, with organs of government in the shape of a police force, an army and a bureaucracy (officialdom) separate from and opposed to the people. All bourgeois revolutions merely perfected this state machine, merely transferred it from the hands of one party to those of another.

“The proletariat on the other hand must “smash,” to use Marx’s expression, this “ready-made” state machine and substitute a new one for it by merging the police force, the army and the bureaucracy with the entire armed people... the proletariat must organize and arm all the poor, exploited sections of the population in order that they themselves should take the organs of state power directly into their own hands, in order that they themselves should constitute these organs of state power.” (Coll. Works, Vol. 23, pp. 325-326)

The Chinese revolution was made by armed masses of workers and peasants. After victory was achieved, the decision was made to disarm the masses and concentrate weapons in the hands of a standing army which lived in barracks separate from the masses. At the same time there began an intensive program of modernization, both technical and administrative, of the PLA which put increased emphasis on knowledge of military science, on sophisticated weaponry and on professionalism. All of these developments led, in the early 1950s, to significant moves away from the democratic-egalitarian traditions of the PLA. They culminated in the State Council order of Feb. 1955 setting up a system of ranks within the PLA and eliminating the supply-system for military service personnel. This was followed on October by the conferring of the title of Marshal on the ten top leaders of the PLA, the wearing of shoulder badges and insignia showing rank, and the creation and award of several types of military decorations. A Renmin Ribao editorial of Sept. 28, 1955 gave arguments for the new rank system:

“Why must the PLA adopt the system of military ranks at present? This is because with the application of the Military Service Law (conscription), the modern equipment of the armed forces requires that the training and activities of the servicemen should follow strict systems and regulations. The ranking and interrelation of the officers should be clearly defined, and the organization and discipline of the armed forces should be consolidated… all officers must wear shoulder badges and insignias of their ranks so that there will be clear distinction between officers and other ranks, between the various branches of the armed forces... Only in this way would the units of the armed forces be able to carry out successfully their task of defending the country in a changing situation and under the new conditions of complex equipment, speed of movement and joint action of the different branches.

“After the adoption of the military ranks, there will be clear distinction between the officers and the men... Will this affect the close unity of the officers and the men and of the officers of the upper and lower ranks? The answer is no... There is no clash of class interests between the officers and the men... their interests being the same. The officers and the men would struggle together to defend the country, protect the interests of the people, and safeguard the cause of Socialism. Therefore the holding of military ranks...implies that the officers are entrusted with an even greater responsibility and should be even more concerned with the men and take better care of them. The military ranking system will also ensure the quality of officers as required by national defense. The modern revolutionary fighting forces require of the officers not only their loyalty to the country and the people... but also accomplishment in the knowledge of military science as well as proficiency in modern military techniques… The conferment of titles is determined on the basis of responsibility, political qualities, abilities, terms of service and contribution to the revolution.” (Transl. in SCMP, no. 1147 , pp. 3-5)

The new system of ranks also included a wage scale for payment of men and officers, extending the principle “to each according to his work” to the people’s army. Our best information on these wages comes from Edgar Snow who visited an army camp in his trip of 1961-62 and was given the following pay figures (The Other Side of the River, p. 289. These figures are in $U.S./month. Snow calculated the monetary exchange himself):

Private –2.5; Corporal – 4; 2nd Lt. –20; 1st Lt. –24; Captain – 29-33; Major –39-44; Lt. Colonel –51-60; Colonel –62-64 ; Senior Col. –74-84 ; Lt. General –144-160; General–192-236 ; Marshal –360-400.

Why was the principle of the proletarian militia not carried through? In the first place, it requires a high level of ideological commitment of the masses to the long-term goal of the party – communism. Only if that ideological understanding exists will the Party feel that it can rely on the masses to defeat the class enemy during the sharp class struggle which continues under proletarian dictatorship. If, as in the case of the CCP, the Party has won the support of the masses by leading a national liberation struggle with an alliance with the national bourgeoisie, then the concentration of armed force in a standing army directly under the control of the Party (all officers are Party members) is seen as a guarantee against the situation where the Party loses, temporarily or permanently, the support of the masses.

In the second place, the CCP never broke away from the bourgeois concepts of war and did not carry through the revolutionary idea of people’s war. While on a number of occasions Mao put forward the idea that men are primary over weapons in warfare, he did not mean by this to deny the role of modern weaponry but only to attempt to control its use by political criteria. In practice, the CCP invested heavily in modern weapons, going all the way to atomic weapons in the 1960s. The logic of positional war with modern weapons corresponds to the kind of professionalism which came to dominate the officer corps of the PLA.

This does not mean that a proletarian militia is totally unable to use weapons beyond small arms. But it would adopt them only to the extent that its organization remained socialist and not elitist. The militia would train in the factories and neighborhoods. Those with technical knowledge would act as teachers but without becoming administratively separate from the masses, nor would this knowledge be kept as a monopoly of the few; rather all the people would attempt to master the more advanced weapons. Military work would be an aspect of political work and leadership would appear here as in all areas of life; but this leadership would not become professional, separate, institutionalized. Such a people’s militia, moreover, would have a powerful weapon only rarely used in the past, the appeal to the proletarian class interests of the soldiers of the imperialists. A people’s war is as much agitational as military in the narrow sense. And even if defeated temporarily by an army equipped with superior fire-power, the militia would have maintained the ideological consciousness of the masses and prepared them to continue to struggle against all their class enemies, while the standing army under socialism in China became one of the most important breeding-grounds for the new bourgeoisie and eventually became a tool of that class.

Arming of the people requires that the Party be willing to share power with the masses, that the dictatorship of the proletariat be seen as a system of worker’s rule with party leadership, a version of Left-center coalition under new conditions, rather than as a system in which the party monopolizes all positions of power because it is not willing to trust in the masses and their desire to fight for and defend socialism. This in turn requires that the party win power, leading masses of people who are consciously fighting for socialism, not just more material goods or land or peace. And it is precisely this element that the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions lacked. And the reason that they maintained a standing army under Party control.


So far we have seen some of the effects on the exercise of state power of the bourgeois aspect of the new-democratic line, the aspect that advocated reliance on the capitalist class as a progressive force in the first-stage of the revolution. But this line, insofar as it was Marxist-Leninist, also had a proletarian aspect, the intention of moving to socialism in a second-stage and the mobilization of the masses of workers and peasants to destroy the power of their class enemies. In 1953, the CCP proclaimed the General Line of the construction of Socialism, sketching out the Party’s plan to gradually expropriate all private capital and lead the peasants through a number of stages to collective production. Serious disagreements developed within the CCP around the question of how rapidly and comprehensively to move toward socialism. Liu and others had foreseen a much longer period of new-democracy and ascribed a much greater progressiveness to capitalism. They exerted their influence throughout the fifties to slow down and distort the elimination of the bourgeoisie. The Left in the party, made up primarily of worker and peasant cadres taken in during the sharp class struggles of 1947-52, fought constantly to move to higher stages of socialism.

Mao and his close supporters, applying the new-democratic line, swung back-and-forth periodically between these two groups and, most importantly, refused to break decisively with the Right. This created a complex pattern of economic struggle with distinct stages: 1) a sharp advance by the Left with which Mao associates himself, 2) an attempt by the leadership to restrain the advance and prevent it from passing beyond the new-democratic framework to a decisive break with bourgeois ideas, and 3) counterattack and victory by the Right putting an end to the advance and often retreating to an earlier position. This pattern characterizes all the major episodes; Land reform (1947-1950), Collectivization (1955-56), Communization (1958-59) and the GPCR (1966-68).

The first step was Land Reform, initiated as early as 1947 in the old Liberated areas and completed in 1950-51 in the Southern areas. The property of landlords was taken over and distributed to the peasants. In the early stages, Leftist cadres and poor peasants had tended to carry the struggle past the landlords to the rich peasants who owned sufficient amounts of land to require the employment of hired labor. These rich peasants were rural capitalists and often had industrial or commercial interests in addition to land. The CCP leadership quickly put a stop to these “excesses” and Mao summarized the new line in June, 1950,

“Carry forward the work of agrarian reform step by step and in an orderly manner. The war has been fundamentally ended on the mainland; the situation is entirely different from that between 1946 and 1948, when the PLA was locked in a life and death struggle with the KMT reactionaries and the issue had not yet been decided. Now the government is able to help the poor peasants solve their difficulties by means of loans to balance up the disadvantage of having less land. Therefore, there should be a change in our policy toward the rich peasants, a change from the policy of requisitioning the surplus land and property of the rich peasants to one of preserving a rich peasant economy, in order to help the early restoration of production in the rural areas. This change is also favorable for isolating the landlords and protecting the middle peasants and small “renters out” of land.” (Report at CC meeting, June 6, 1950. Transl. in CB, supplement no. 1, p. 3)

The same new-democratic line, with its prime emphasis on quantity of production, which required the use of bourgeois “experts” in the factories and state organs, required that the rural capitalists be allowed to flourish, at least for a time. The CCP was well aware, from observing the history of the Soviet countryside in the twenties, that the small-producer economy created by land reform was subject to internal instability; control of draft animals and implements by the richer peasants would progressively lead to the impoverishment of the “new-middle” peasants and their return to the status of wage-earners, i.e., that a petty-property commodity-producing economy generated capitalism rapidly and inexorably. It attempted to counter this development by encouraging, both ideologically and financially, the formation of mutual-aid teams, arrangements in which peasants would use their privately-owned implements to help each other by planning collectively the application of those resources. By late 1952, 40% of rural households were members of such teams, which generally included 7-10 families. In addition, genuine co-operatives, in which land and larger tools were pooled and used collectively, although payment was still made for the property contribution of each family as well as its labor contribution, were formed in many of the areas where land reform had taken place earliest.

But the policy of preserving the rich peasants left them free to use their political influence and economic power to enter the mutual-aid teams and coops, turning them into instruments of their individual enrichment, or to destroy them from without. Mao reported in 1955 that there had been “large scale dissolution of co-ops in 1953” as rich peasants convinced the other peasants that the road of individual enterprise was superior to the socialist road of the co-ops. Rich peasants entered the mutual-aid teams in order to share in the government loans and technical assistance which the teams qualified for. They then usually managed to get the lion’s share of the benefits for themselves. Thus by 1954-55, the class struggle in China had reached a fateful turning point. If no further mass movement toward socialism could be made, then the countryside would revert to capitalism and the proletarian dictatorship would most certainly be undermined.

But a profound ideological process had been percolating among the peasants in the preceding years. They had begun to grasp Marxism-Leninism under the leadership of the Leftist rural cadres. These cadres had not shared in the privileges of the senior cadres in the cities and lived among and at roughly the level of the peasants. The peasants initiated in 1955-56 a mass movement to form co-operatives. Leadership was taken by the poor peasants and the new “lower-middle peasants,” former poor peasants who had received insufficient land and implements from the agrarian reform to be able to survive without continuing, often in disguised and illegal forms, to hire themselves out to the rich capitalist peasants, or go deeper into debt to them. By May, 1956, 91.2% of rural families were members of agricultural producers’ co-operatives (APCs). By the end of 1956, 88% were in advanced APCs, in which payment to the individual family was based only on labor contributed, while property contributed was not compensated beyond the initial payment for its value. This was a tremendous victory for the Chinese proletariat and demonstrated concretely that peasants could be won ideologically to fight for socialism.

While the move along the “socialist road” was the primary aspect of this rural struggle, the Right forces in the CCP were strong enough to enforce certain limitations on the movement, to concede certain positions to the bourgeoisie.

The rich peasants were not compelled to enter the APCs, but had to be convinced that it was in their interest to do so. So, many remained separate, often with the best land and implements and continued to act as a source of temptation to the upper-middle peasants who had often reluctantly agreed to enter the APCs. Moreover, the prices set for subsidiary crops on the free markets were highly favorable and tempted the peasant to divert his labor and fertilizer from the collective endeavor to his private plot.

The principle of income distribution within the advanced APC was payment according to labor performed. Material incentive, transferred now from the level of the individual family to that of the small group, was still the cardinal point. Co-ops with different ratios of labor power to mouths-to-feed or different qualities of land received therefore very different per-capita incomes. The party fought vigorously against the tendency of the poorer peasants to demand more egalitarian distribution in favor of labor-poor families. A complex system of calculating work-points according to the job performed, the quality of the work, etc. was introduced, the equivalent of the piece-rate systems then being introduced in industry. This kind of system, beginning from a situation where the APCs are unequally endowed with labor power and land, would lead to progressively widening disparities in living standards between poor and rich APCs. A kind of “collective” exploitation of poorer co-ops by the richer could eventually result. It was this tendency which led, as we shall see, to the mass movement among the poor and lower-middle peasants to form the people’s communes in 1958.

Developments in industry had been very similar. In 1949-50 the state had seized the property of those capitalists who were intimately involved with the imperialists and politically supported the Kuomin-tang. This had brought a large part of Chinese industry into the hands of the state. In 1955-56 the government moved to convert all remaining bourgeois industrial property into jointly owned state-private enterprise. The state had complete control over the use of the property and ownership of its output while the former capitalist owners were compensated for their property in government bonds paying a fixed rate of interest. Many of the capitalists, in addition to these fixed-income payments, stayed on as plant directors and staff at the high money salaries prevailing in these positions and, through the combination of these sources of income, were able to continue living in a way that was far above that of the average worker and a constant source of corruption of the government cadres.

The system of management used in both state and joint enterprises was known as “one-man management” and had been quite consciously borrowed from contemporary Soviet practice. Its essence was the absolute authority of the manager over day-to-day operations, hiring and firing, use of available resources. This system was modified in 1956 to give a much greater advisory and supervisory role to the Party committee in the factory, made up of the most politically advanced workers, but the managers retained great power.

In June, 1956, the great variety of wage payment schemes which the CCP had inherited from pre-Liberation factories were unified and rationalized in a systematic wage reform. This set up a basic wage scale with eight grades, with the wage in the highest (most skilled) grade being approximately three times the lowest. Roughly 80% of wages was to be base pay, calculated by hours worked according to skill grade, with the remaining 20% being used to spur extra output through piecework or bonus remuneration. Material incentives were the basic technique driving production, as is shown in an important article commenting on the wage reform,

“This revision will effectively eradicate equalitarianism and the state of unreasonableness and confusion obtaining in the current wage system and serve as a powerful material factor setting into motion the extensive masses of workers and office employees to strive for fulfillment of the First Five Year Plan ahead of schedule.” (Chin Lin, in Lao-tung (Labor), no. 3, March 6, 1956. Transl. in ECMM, no. 35, pp. 32-35)

A Renmin Ribao editorial of July, 1956, emphasized that piece rates are the most effective way of tying income directly to the individual quantity and quality of work performed and advocated their extensive development in the wake of the wage reform. By 1957, about 42% of all workers in state-operated factories and mines were covered by some sort of piece-rate system. Beginning in 1954, workers were given special monetary rewards for invention and innovation. Workers were given special bonuses of up to 15% of the standard monthly wage for achieving cost reductions or overfulfilling output quotas. In addition, the State Council, in 1955, set down regulations establishing monetary rewards for scientific contributions aimed at “inspiring the positive and creative talents of scientific research workers for serving the construction of the country.” Monetary rewards to scientists represented multiples of the average worker’s yearly income, ranging from 2,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan.

It is fair to say, therefore, that material incentive was the primary idea affecting the ideology of the Chinese working-class through 1957. This kind of reliance on bourgeois thought and habits could only weaken the working class ideologically and prevent it from developing the communist consciousness necessary to enable it to prevent restoration of the state power of the bourgeoisie. The Party led mass campaigns for ideological re-molding of the thought of workers and cadres. But these were vitiated by the inconsistency of the party line and could not change the strong bourgeois ideas constantly being generated by the material conditions under which people worked.

Moreover, Mao’s reluctance to deal self-critically with the theory of new-democracy which allowed and encouraged the Party’s Rightists to devise these schemes, prevented him from breaking the unity of the Party. He compromised repeatedly with Liu and the other Rightists on the most fundamental questions.

The Rightist trend of 1956 also extended to the ideological sphere. Initial Chinese reaction to Khrushchev’s speech to the 20th CPSU Party Congress was quite favorable. At the first session of the 8th National Congress of the CCP (Sept., 1956), Liu gave a political report, as Head of State of the People’s Republic, which included the following points,

“... The fact that our bourgeoisie has heralded its acceptance of socialist transformation with a fanfare of gongs and drums is something of a miracle. What this miracle shows is precisely the great strength of the correct leadership of the proletariat and the absolute need for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“... During the past few years, the national bourgeoisie has taken part in the rehabilitation of the national economy... In the course of socialist transformation, the alliance of the working class with the national bourgeoisie has played a positive role in educating and remolding the bourgeois elements. In the future, we can continue our work of uniting, educating and remolding them so that they may place their knowledge in the service of socialist construction. Thus, it can be readily seen that it is wrong to consider this alliance as a useless burden.”

In another speech to the Congress, reported years later in a Red Guard tabloid, Liu is reported to have said, “The question of who will win in the struggle between capitalism and socialism in our country has now been decided” and he criticized “some members of our Party who hold that everything should absolutely be ’of one color’”(i.e., the Left).


The Great Leap period of 1958-59 is very complex because all the conflicting class forces in society and within the Party participated and put forward very different ideas and goals for the movement. For the Left, it was an attack on all the aspects of “bourgeois right” that had been primary up to that time in Chinese institutions; it put into question and often eliminated material incentives, piece-rates, managerial authority, high pay differentials, etc. It challenged the existence of the standing army and the wage system for cadres. For the Left, the large-scale RPCs, amalgamating the former APCs into units often containing 5,000 to 6,000 households and changing the existing system of income distribution, were the organizational means for beginning the transition to communism. The system of free supply of grain was introduced into the RPCs along with communal mess halls, nurseries, laundries, etc., so that the principle of distribution “to each according to his needs” was no longer a distant goal separated from the present by a long process of economic development, but a living reality. The commune eliminated the private plots of land and raised the socialization of property to a new level. The income earned by any individual household was determined not, as previously, by its own individual performance or that of the full work team of which it was a part, but as a share, based on a political calculation of needs, of the total output of the commune. Working for the commune, rather than for oneself, became, at least in part, a living principle.

It is useful here to quote extensively from some of the Left writings of the period, to show the kind of thinking which lay behind the mass movement of the summer and fall of 1958.

An article which stimulated a lengthy discussion was “Break Away From the Ideas of Bourgeois Rights,” by Chang Ch’un-ch’iao (whom we will meet again as a participant in the Shanghai Cultural Revolution in 1967),

“To support the PLA, thousands of militiamen followed the Army in their march to the South. They led the same life of military communism as the Army. They did not aim at becoming officials or getting rich. No idea of wages, let alone “piece-wages” entered their minds... After the nation-wide liberation, this life of military communism marked by “supply-system” was still very popular... Comrades who were inured to the life of supply system did not covet the wage system…but shortly afterwards this system of life was subjected to the impact of the bourgeois idea of right. The idea of bourgeois right has its kernel in hierarchy. In the view of persons imbued with the idea of bourgeois right, the supply system was undesirable... There was nothing strange in such arguments brought forth by the bourgeoisie. But soon a number of party cadres were subjected to the impact of this idea. Among them were heard more criticisms of the drawbacks of supply system while more talks were heard about the merits of the wage system... In a word, the communist supply system which ensured victory of the Chinese revolution, was condemned by some people as a serious offense which must be punished.

“The main argument against the supply system is that it cannot stimulate production enthusiasm. Its theoretical basis is the “principle of material interests” stressed by economists. It is said that as survivals of the old division of labor still exist under the socialist system, i.e., some distinctions still exist between mental labor and physical labor, between workers and peasants, and between skilled and unskilled labor, the principle of “developing production through the material interests of workers” is represented as a wonderful principle.

“...The arguments seem to be very convincing but reduced to the popular language it is the same as the old saying: “money talks.” If high wages are used to “stimulate,” then socialism and communism can be bought like a piece of candy.

“What do we have to say about such a theory? It is precisely the workers, who, according to the above-mentioned economists, are the most concerned with the wage levels, who express fundamentally contrary views. Shanghai’s workers... pointed out that... advocates of this theory want to “let money instead of politics assume command.” These words hit the bull’s eye. Of course, we do not deny... that the inequality in “bourgeois right” cannot be done away with at once... but did Marx tell us that bourgeois right and bourgeois hierarchy of inequality must not be destroyed but should be systematized and developed? Did he not say that the principle of “material interests” should only be partially stressed and that communist education should be intensified politically, ideologically and morally in order to break down the bourgeois right?...

“...As a result of the attack on the supply system, the living standard which did not show much difference in the past has changed among our party cadre and some who were not inured to hardship have rapidly learned manners of gentlemen, high-class Chinese and old Mr. Chap (a snobby character in Lu Hsun’s Story of Ah Q). Some cadres feel displeased when they are not addressed as “heads.” This indeed stimulates something. But it does not stimulate production enthusiasm but enthusiasm in fighting for fame and wealth... It stimulates estrangement from the masses. Some elements soon degenerate into bourgeois rightists... Some cadres expect extra pay when they work for only one extra hour. “(Trans. in CB, no. 537, pp. 3-5)

Another article of the same period, “Let us Begin Our Discussion with the Supply System,” by Hu Sheng, put forward the idea that, while it was not possible to introduce communist distribution “according to needs” generally and completely until the productive forces of society had developed further, it was necessary to fight for communist “aspects,”

“Does the enforcement of the supply system mean realization of communism? It is not yet the case. Many people’s communes in the countryside now provide free meals; some even provide “three things” (meaning food, clothing, free housing), “five things” and even “seven things.” It is not proper to represent this as communism.

“But it should be said that it contains the communist factors. At a time when products are not so abundant, the communist “to each according to his needs” principle cannot be fully realized. By communist factors are meant a comparative uniformity for all and the “break-up of the ”to each according to his work” framework. Under the supply system, one will not set a big store by pay... ” (Transl. in CB, no. 537, pp. 33-36)

Under the free grain supply system described in these articles food was provided free of charge in communal mess halls. Often additional necessities of life were provided free by the commune. This meant that the poorer co-ops, who previously had difficulty in providing these necessities, were merged into the larger commune and benefited from the higher productivity of the more advanced co-ops. Conversely, it meant that the peasants in the more advanced coops, which often meant the ones which had incorporated a larger number of former rich peasants, had to be willing to share the fruits of their own labor with the less fortunate, i.e. to put the needs of the commune as a whole above their own small group material interest. This transformation was no automatic administrative matter; it was the result of a sharp class struggle led in the countryside by party cadres in which poor and lower-middle peasants struggled for the formation of communes while rich and upper-middle peasants resisted them and tried to undermine the free supply aspects. The communization movement itself had been preceded in the fall of 1957 by a sharp anti-Rightist struggle within the Party in which some of the most prominent figures in economic affairs (such as Ch’en Yun) were demoted because of their opposition to the Great Leap.

A second aspect of the Left view of the Great Leap was the change in the mode of economic planning and organization. Rather than professional managers dominating the factories, with an advisory Party committee, the Left advocated that the Party committee itself combine political direction with day-today management, i.e. putting politics in command. This new management system was introduced in a number of factories and generally accompanied the partial elimination of piece-rates, narrowing of the pay differentials among the workers and an increase in the amount of political discussion and struggle within the enterprises. Control over the planning process was taken away from the central Ministries and given over to Provincial and county Party committees who were to involve the workers and peasants themselves much more closely in the process of drawing-up, reconciling and executing the plans. Overall co-ordination was to be maintained not by centralized bureaucratic determination of the details of output quotas and resource use (combined with much reliance on the price-market mechanism) but by de-centralized response by the masses and basic-level cadres to the general line put forward by the Party leadership. This kind of de-centralization was very different from that carried out in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, where more power to lower-level units meant more power to managers and technicians, not workers.

But there was a contradiction between the Left view of the RPCs as a new form of organization (with a new ideology) opening up the transition to communism, and the view of the Party leadership, which saw the Great Leap primarily as a production drive and the RPCs as a tool which could mobilize labor on a large scale and in a more specialized fashion to complete the industrialization of the country and catch up to the capitalist nations. The communes had been preceded by predictions of enormous increases in production, capital investment and per/acre yields, both in agriculture and industry, for the years 1957-62. It was anticipated that Chinese steel production would “catch up to Britain in 15 years.” As part of this plan, the CCP advocated the policy of “walking on two legs,” supplementing the large-scale modern factories in the cities with a network of smaller-scale regional and local industries making use of the traditional skills of the workers and peasants and relying on locally-available resources. The communist aspects of the RPCs, especially rejection of material incentives and growth of free supply, were always evaluated by the CCP leadership in relation to their effect on production. This cautiousness can be seen in the official editorials which followed the Aug. 20, 1958 Communique of the CC giving approval to the communization movement:

“... The establishment of people’s communes is shaping up as a new irresistible tide of the mass movement on a nation-wide scale... The existing people’s communes have shown ever greater superiority over the farm co-operatives in spurring the initiative of the masses in production, raising the rate of utilization of labor power and labor productivity, enlarging productive capital construction, accelerating the cultural and technical revolutions and in promoting public welfare.

“... The Chinese peasants, having defeated capitalism economically, politically and ideologically and having overcome right conservatism in agricultural production, have carried out agricultural capital construction on an unprecedented scale, adopted advanced technical measures in farming and thereby are doubling farm yields or increasing them by several, a dozen or scores of times. At the same time, small and medium industrial enterprises are being rapidly developed in the countryside to promote the integration of industry and agriculture and to raise the standard of living of the rural population.

“Of course, when the people’s communes are established it is not immediately necessary to transform collective ownership into ownership by the whole people and it is even less appropriate to strain to advance from socialism, i.e., the primary phase of communism, to its higher phase.” (“Greet the Upsurge in Forming People’s Communes” Red Flag, no. 7, Sept. 1, 1958. Transl. in CB no. 517, pp. 1-4)

CCP editorials and resolutions repeatedly stress that the free supply system should not be taken so far that “production enthusiasm” is affected. As time passed, it became clear that the new forms of social organization and the new communist ideas were leading to sharper class struggle in the countryside and that this struggle was likely to interfere with achievement of the evermore-grandiose production and productivity targets emanating from Peking. When the CC met for its 6th Plenary Session in Dec. 1958, it issued a set of “Resolutions on Questions Concerning People’s Communes” which carried the retreat from Leftist views several steps further:

“True, the free supply system adopted by the people’s communes has in it the embryo of the communist principle of distribution according to needs; the policy of running industry and agriculture simultaneously and combining them carried out by the people’s communes has opened up a way to reduce the differences between town and countryside and between worker and peasant; when the RPCs pass over from socialist collective ownership to socialist ownership by the whole people, these communist factors will grow further. All this must be acknowledged...

“Nevertheless, every Marxist must soberly realize that the transition from socialism to communism is quite a long and complicated process of development and that throughout this entire process society is still socialist in nature. Socialist society and communist society are two different stages marked by different degrees of economic development.

“... The communist system of distribution is more reasonable, but it can be put into practice only when there is a great abundance of social products. In the absence of this condition, any negation of the principle of “to each according to his work” will tend to dampen the labor enthusiasm of the people and is therefore disadvantageous to the development of production, to the increase of social products and hence to speeding the realization of communism. For this reason, in the income of commune members, that portion of the wage paid according to the work done must occupy an important place over a long period and will, during a certain period, take first place. In order to encourage the labor enthusiasm of commune members and also facilitate satisfaction of their complex daily needs, the communes must strive to increase the wages of their members gradually and, for a number of years to come, must increase them at a faster rate than that portion of income that comes under the heading of free supply...” (Transl. in CB, no. 542, pp. 7-23) (our emphasis – PLP).

The italicized words represent a major turning point in the development of the communes. Many of the more advanced had carried through the practice of giving half of income as free supply; and they had the perspective of gradually increasing that percentage as social productivity increased. But this resolution implied that this per cent was already too high and that the correct perspective was for it to decrease. As a result, free supply, in the bulk of the communes, fell to around 30% in the first months of 1959.

Another paragraph of the resolution altered previously held views on the degree of socialization of property.

“... Some people think that the switch over to communes will call for a redistribution of existing personal consumer items. This is a misconception. It should be publicized among the masses that the means of livelihood owned by members (including houses, clothing, bedding and furniture) and their deposits in banks and credit cooperatives will remain their own property after they join the commune and will always belong to them... Members can retain individual trees around their houses and small farm tools, small instruments, small domestic animals and poultry; they can also continue to engage in some small domestic side occupations on condition that these do not hamper their taking part in collective labor. “(Ibid)

These may seem like very small concessions to private property, but they were the opening wedge in a retrogressive movement which’ was to lead, within a year, to the restoration of the private plots and the revival of private sideline occupations.

We have seen that the party leadership justified the new principles of organization as beneficial to achieving great production advances. During 1958 Mao made a trip to Moscow to negotiate the largest Sino-Soviet trade agreement ever, as part of a plan to exchange the increased agricultural surplus for heavy capital goods. Thus, the leadership in no way accepted another cardinal tenet of the Left: that a socialist state should strive for self-sufficiency and avoid becoming dependent on others, especially those whose ideological position has already been put into question. When the great production advances failed to materialize, the CCP (just like the Russians and western commentators) blamed the excessive “Leftism” of the communes and took steps to retreat from those measures. In fact, the production difficulties of 1959-1961 resulted from a combination of severe natural calamities, unrealistic output targets, and especially the incorrect over-emphasis on heavy industry which the CCP had taken over uncritically from the Soviet experience. The Party Right was able to use the production crisis to completely overwhelm the Left and begin to undo the accomplishments of the Great Leap. In 1961-62, as we shall describe in the next section, the retreat turned into a rout as the new ruling bourgeois forces took China rapidly along the capitalist road.

Before moving on, it is important to consider the following question: Was the People’s Republic of China a proletarian dictatorship during the period 1949-1959? We have seen that it set up a number of arrangements which violated the teachings of Marx and Lenin on the conditions of workers’ rule (standing army, cadre income, etc.). Moreover, its foreign policy during those years was in no essential way different from the type of policy which our party criticizes today. China was the prime mover in the Bandung conference of non-aligned nations, strove at all times to establish diplomatic relations with bourgeois nationalist leaders, upheld unity with the revisionists by signing the Moscow declaration of 1957 and the 81 party statement of 1960, both of which acknowledged the possibility of peaceful transition to socialism, and, in general, put forward new-democracy as the universal strategy for revolution in the contemporary world. Throughout this period, bourgeois authorities dominated culture and education; and the former capitalist class continued to enjoy material privileges through its interest-income and high salaries.

But this is only one aspect. The other is the destruction of the landlord class, the expropriation of the property of the bourgeoisie (who, even if they retained some strong positions from which to engineer a comeback, had certainly become, for a time, subordinate to the workers and peasants), and the destruction of petty bourgeois property and ideas among a peasantry which had launched the commune movement. The most important lesson of these years is that the poor and middle peasants can grasp Marxism-Leninism and fight for socialism and communism. Our party’s line on the peasants is not an abstract prediction but is based on the accomplishments of the Chinese peasants and the ideological consciousness they reached. A great Left force of workers and peasants had been created which was to re-appear strongly during the GPCR in an attempt to resume the progress toward communism which had prevailed until 1959.

In the Leninist view, state power is an instrument of the class which holds it, used to transform the economic, political and ideological conditions of the society. The question of who holds state power cannot be answered by examining only forms (the Soviet Union, after all, has a Communist Party and state ownership of property) nor by taking ideological pronouncements at face value (the Soviet revisionists still occasionally proclaim their devotion to proletarian dictatorship) but only by determining which class is transforming society in the direction of its own interests. There are only two forms of state power possible in the modern world: proletarian dictatorship or bourgeois dictatorship. All theories of third forms: new-democracy, joint dictatorship of revolutionary classes, democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry, etc., are incorrect and correspond to no objective reality. In China between 1949 and 1959, the primary aspect of social change was in the direction of communism, despite the errors of line and policy which were to have such a devastating effect. No bourgeois dictatorship would have created the people’s communes or free supply or thoroughly liquidated the landlord class or removed the capitalists from much of their power. In 1949 a workers’ state came into existence in China and from its positive accomplishments we can learn much about what socialism is and will be.


The communes of 1958 had totally abolished private plots of land. It is important, therefore, to look at the available information for the period 1960-66 to see what changes had intervened. In 1964, a delegation of agriculturists and economists from Pakistan toured a sample of communes. Their observations were collected and used as the basis for a book: S.J. Burki, A Study of Chinese Communes, 1965. They found that in 1964 the 10 communes they surveyed, which included a large variety in terms of region and size, averaged 7.55% of the total land in private plots. For four communes which made more detailed information available, the following had been the change over time:

Year Percent of
Land Under
Private Ownership
1958 ___
1959 1.3
1960 2.79
1961 4.24
1962 6.40
1963 7.61
1964 8.64

The private plots, however, played a larger part in the peasants’ lives than these figures indicate because of the higher value of the crops grown on them. The 10 communes showed the following income figures:

Private Plot
Income as % of Total
Family Income
1 20.8
2 30.2
3 18.4
4 22.9
5 17.1
6 16.9
7 20.6
8 19.4
9 13.5
10 8.8
average 19.3

Even this data under-estimates the revival of private agriculture and its role in rural livelihood. More detailed information comes from the Lien-chiang documents, a series of directives and reports concerning communes in Lien-chiang county in Fukien province on the east China coast. They cover the years 1962-63 and were seized during a Nationalist Chinese raid on the coast. (They are translated and annotated in Chen, C.S. (ed.) Rural People’s Communes in Lien-chiang). We quote from the editor’s summary of the statistics provided by the documents:

“The area of private plots, by law, could not exceed five to seven per cent of a team’s crop area. (A team, at that time, contained, on the average, 24 households and a brigade, 171 households.) Nevertheless, in the Hu-li brigade the private plots amounted to 9.5 per cent of its crop land. The situation varied from team to team in the brigade. At one extreme, the private plots in one team amounted to 1.1 per cent of its crop land and at the other, 7.6 per cent. In the Shan-K’ang brigade, the private plots in the individual teams ranged from 12.1 per cent to 15 per cent of the crop area, the average being 13.1 per cent. For the two brigades, the private plots averaged 11.3 per cent of their crop land, which was substantially higher than the limit set by the law.

“Besides the private plots, team members might also hold reclaimed land and land for growing animal feed. In addition, some land collectively owned by the team was farmed out to the members for cultivation.

“The reclaimed land in the county amounted to 40,000 mou, or 19.6 per cent of the crop area.

“Farmed-out land was 4,178 mou, or 2.05 per cent of the county’s crop area. Private plots (11.3 per cent), reclaimed land (19.6 per cent) and farmed-out land (2.05 per cent) together constituted the “Small Freedom” land, which amounted to more than 30 per cent of the crop area. In some teams the proportion was more than 50 per cent. Households were permitted to engage in such subsidiary domestic enterprises as embroidery, sewing, knitting and bee-keeping. The products, except for the kinds and quantities subject to state purchase, could be disposed of in the free market. A surprisingly large variety of private activities, which would be thought impossible under a socialist system, was pursued by members of the commune system. Many commune members engaged in peddling. Selling what was produced by oneself was permitted, but re-selling what one purchased from others (er pan shang) was generally viewed with disapproval. Some members did odd jobs (“rat work”) outside their own commune units. Half the 106 member labor force of the Lien-teng brigade in the Ao-chiang commune worked outside: 31 in stonemasonry and earth-work, three in carpentry, 44 in peddling and 27 in miscellaneous jobs. The profits from peddling totaled 8,200 Yuan, averaging 196 Yuan per peddler (four of the peddlers made profits of more than 1,000 Yuan each). Members who worked outside the team would have to surrender their earnings to the team. Failing to do so, they would be given no ration and would have to buy food at high prices and be subjected to certain fines. Lending money at high interest was fairly prevalent. It was reported that in three communes ... 384 households engaged in lending at high interest, involving a total of 72,440 Yuan in principal. The rate of interest ranged from 1 to 1.5 per cent.

He calculates a breakdown of the peasant’s income sources:

Source of Income
Value (Yuan)
Rations 19.87
Retained Fruits 4.5
Work-Points 41.88
Income from Collective System 66.25
Private Plots 7.14
Reclaimed Land 14.28
sub. dom. enterprise (unknown)
misc. private income (unknown)
Total private income 21.42
Total Income per person/year 87.67

From this table it can be seen that private sources contributed about a quarter of total income, and this does not take into account the miscellaneous and illegal sources, which in some cases could be quite large. Moreover, the high prices paid for subsidiary products, such as livestock and vegetables, grown privately, presented the peasant with the constant temptation to divert his effort from the collective to the private sector. Many cases are reported of peasants attending to their private plots by day and making up by working the collective land at night.

Even more significant for ideological and political trends is the organization of the collective sector itself. A large-scale desocialization of the communes took place over the period 1959-62. By this is meant that property and control over its use were transferred downward from higher-level units to lower-level, from the commune to the brigade to the team, in order to bring about a closer relation between individual output and reward and restore the primary role of material incentive. The communes went through three distinct stages, depending on which level of organization was the ”accounting unit.” (An accounting unit, roughly defined, ”carries on independent accounting, is responsible for its own profits and losses, organizes production, and distributes income.”–Lien-chiang Document VII.) From Aug. 1958 to March 1959, the commune itself, with an average of 5,000 households, was the accounting unit. In March 1959, the CC decided to shift the accounting unit from commune to brigade. Then in Nov. 1961, it issued a directive establishing the team as the accounting unit. (In the meantime, the number of communes had been tripled and their average size reduced to 1622 households. A team had an average membership of 24 households in 1963.) This new arrangement was formalized in one of the most important documents of recent Chinese history, The Revised Draft Regulations Governing Rural People’s Communes, promulgated in Sept. 1962.

The basic principles of ownership and income distribution are set forth in these regulations:

“Article 21.
“Land within the scope of the production team is all owned by the production team. None of the land owned by the commune, including the members’ private plots, private hills and housing may be rented out or bought or sold.

“Labor power within the scope of the production team is all to be controlled by the production team. Transfer of labor power for use by the commune or the production brigade must be discussed with the mass of members. It may not be requisitioned without their agreement.
Large domestic animals and agricultural implements owned collectively by the production team may not be requisitioned by the commune or the brigade. Any agricultural implements, small scale agricultural machines and large domestic animals formerly owned by the communes or brigade which may be suitably owned by and utilized by the production team should revert to production team ownership ...

“Article 22.
“The production team has autonomy with regard to production operations and management and distribution of income...

“Article 31.
“For convenience in organizing production, the production team may be divided into permanent or temporary work groups, each to be assigned a section of land to work on a short-term, seasonal or year-round basis.

“Groups and individuals who are active in labor, responsible in management, noteworthy in achievements, or who overfulfill their obligations must be given suitable rewards. Those groups and individuals who are not active in labor, are irresponsible in management, and who do not fulfill their obligations must be given a suitable reduced payment for labor or other punishment.

“Article 32.
“The production team should give reasonable payment for the labor of its members. It should avoid egalitarianism among the members in calculating payment for labor.

“... Payment for labor requiring technical skills in agriculture or herding should be higher than that for common labor.”

The over-all effect of these regulations was to bring back the situation where the peasant’s view was limited to producing for the immediate small group of which he was a part. The beginnings of any aspects of communist distribution and communist morality (working for the sake of a larger and larger collective) were reversed completely. Along with this the experiments in free supply of grain on a commune-wide scale were wound up and income differentials between teams reappeared with full force.

These organizational changes were accompanied by an ideological campaign to justify the reversal of the original commune spirit. Private sideline occupations were said to be not only compatible with the collective economy but a necessary stimulus to it. Piece-rates, similar to those prevalent in industry, were encouraged as the best way to tie reward to effort. And the motif, ”this is the period of socialism; communism must wait until the full development of productive forces^’ was dominant once again. The argument was made that private plots and team-ownership did not represent movements toward capitalism for the following reasons: 1) The private plots are owned by the brigades and only assigned to members for use. They cannot be transferred or sold; 2) Collective labor takes up the majority of member’s time. 3) Only the collective economy can provide the tools and raw materials necessary for sidelines production; and 4) The markets for private output are controlled by the state. It was also pointed out that individual production is not the same as capitalist production, since the latter requires free purchase of means of production and existence of an expropriated proletariat. (Hsiao Liang, “Is Development of Family Side Occupations Likely to Aid Capitalist Spontaneity,” transl. in CB, no. 677, pp. 14-17.)

But this is a typical revisionist argument. Nobody claimed that private plots, contracting of land by teams to households, private reclamation of land, peddling, withholding effort from the collective, material incentive systems and all the other bourgeois tendencies characteristic of this period were already full-blown capitalism. The Left ideologists of the Great Leap had simply pointed out that the entire period of Socialism was a class struggle between capitalism and communism, that during this period a fierce and continuous struggle would take place between those who wanted to move forward to communism and those who wanted to freeze the revolution at some particular stage and then reverse it. Those who advocate the compatibility of private and collective tendencies, rather than their fundamental contradiction, will end up objectively building bourgeois consciousness among the masses and creating the conditions, ideologically, for the restoration of capitalism. Any time the revolution ceases moving forward toward communism as its clear goal, it will immediately begin to turn around towards capitalism. There is no middle position. Because of their concern for quantitative levels of production (implicitly defining socialism as material improvement) the CCP leadership created organization and ideology in the countryside which strengthened bourgeois consciousness and weakened proletarian consciousness. A clear example of this position is provided by the following article.

“As we know, the system of distribution of “to each according to his work” enforced in rural people’s communes at the present stage represents a sort of material incentive and material guarantee in-so-far-as the laborers are concerned. It plays an important part in stimulating the labor enthusiasm of commune members. But does this mean that material incentive is the only way to heightening one’s production enthusiasm? No. It must be realized that only with politics assuming command is it possible for material incentive to play its part correctly.

“.... the party’s policy is, on the one hand, to make it clear to the masses that their most fundamental interests lie in speeding up socialist construction and, on the other hand, to take the greatest care of the immediate living conditions and material benefits of the masses. In handling the relations between the state, the collective and the individual in people’s communes, over-emphasis on the collective and long-range interests is unfavorable to the raising of the production enthusiasm of the masses... if the principle of “to each according to his work” is not adhered to, those commune members who have strong labor-power and do more work will feel they are put at a disadvantage. If one simply looks at the superiority of collective labor and collective economy and loses sight of the small freedom permitted within the big collective and the necessity of meeting the diversified needs of members at the same time as increasing social wealth, one is disregarding the present level of production and consciousness of the masses... thus, it is not proper to set political command against material incentive. Political command and material incentive are united; they may not be cut apart; nor one be stressed to the neglect of the other.” (Chao Hsu-kuang, from Kung-ren Rihao, Dec. 1, 1961. Transl. in CB, no. 677, pp. 23-25.)

In articles like this and many others of the period the bourgeois principle of material incentive and the proletarian principle of politics taking command are not seen as waging a life and death struggle. Rather, in line with the new-democratic idea of utilizing the bourgeoisie in constructing socialism, they are seen as each playing a useful role; their relation is primarily one of unity and only secondarily one of struggle. This reversal of the unity-contradiction relations is the essence of revisionism, seen from the standpoint of dialectics.

Nor was the revival of revisionist ideas and policies limited to the rural areas. Major changes took place in industrial management, economic planning and wage payments. The system that began during the Great Leap of transferring managerial control to the Party Committee at the factory level was ended and the managers returned with even greater power than before. 1957. The manager is responsible for meeting certain financial targets set by the State Plan. The main ones are profit targets and cost reduction targets. In meeting these he has a great deal of discretion in determining what the enterprise shall produce, in placing orders with other factories or retail agencies and in using advertising to solicit orders for his goods. Contracts between enterprises are widely used and are legally binding. There is a good deal of evidence that the State has surrendered allocational controls over many goods, allowing them to be exchanged through the market. Before 1957, all profits above the set targets were taken by the state, with a portion returned to the enterprise for bonuses. In that year, however, and continuing to the present, a profit-sharing scheme was worked out. Under this, the enterprise was allowed to retain a fixed percentage of all profits above the target. This can be used for bonuses to staff and workers as well as for expansion of the scale of the enterprise.

Closely connected with these changes in management and planning are the return to piece-rates and material incentives in the factories’. In early 1961, enterprises were urged to cut down on employment, keeping only the best of their workers. Those retained would share more greatly in the excess profits of the enterprise. Piece-rates were advocated even more strenuously than before the Great Leap. A new device used was team piece-rates, which set groups of workers against one another in production competition.

These new policies were summarized in the so-called ”70 Articles on Industrial Policy” reputedly authored by Liu Shao-ch’i and Po I-po in Dec. 1961. Here are excerpts from these:

“Article 2. The task and target in industry from now on is “the market comes first.”
Article 9. All industrial units which show a deficit in “economic accounting,” with the exception of those designated, are henceforth to cease operating.
Article 21. The currently enforced eight hours of study and eight hours of meeting each week should be reduced as much as possible in order to avoid interfering with the rest time of the employees and workers.
Article 22. Henceforth no industrial unit is to summon its employees and workers again to engage in “bitter battles.”
Article 25. Factories may calculate piece-work wages when feasible.
Article 26. When it is not feasible to calculate piece work, they may implement a collective piecework system.
Article 52. Carry out the system of the factory manager bearing responsibility under the leadership of the party committee.
Article 65. Unions having 50 or more members are permitted to have a chairman who is half-removed from production… Those with 200 or more members may have a union chairman who is entirely removed from production. Those with over 500 men may have two men who are removed from production. ”

Special attention should be given to Article 9, which stipulates the domination of profits over production. (During this period Chinese economists began to write about “market socialism”; the content of their theories was in essence the same as that coming forth from Liberman in the Soviet Union, and revisionists like Sik and Brus in Eastern Europe.) The essential effect of a genuinely planned economy is that the production pattern which results, being determined by a social calculation of the people’s needs, would differ from the pattern determined by a monetary calculation of costs and profits. This article enforces a market-determined pattern by eliminating enterprises which don’t meet the monetary test.

Articles 21 and 22 register the leadership’s op position to the participation of the Workers in struggles against managers and technicians and their concern that excessive political study and debate would reduce labor productivity.

Another major bourgeois trend during 1960-66 was the system of temporary and contract labor which came into use. Under this, the number of workers permanently assigned to enterprises was reduced while the number who were temporarily employed when work was available and then let go increased. In this way, enterprise managers had more flexible control over costs of production and could shift social insurance and public welfare costs on to the communes and the State.

It was the Right forces within the party which seized control after the Great Leap. Many of the young cadre who had led and supported the Great Leap were purged or demoted. The party, under the leadership of the Right, became the representative of the bourgeois forces which had been slowly developing and consolidating; the senior cadres, the officer corps, the professional managers and technicians; all those whom the concessions of new-democracy had put into privileged economic positions. Even the old capitalist remnants got a new lease on life when the Party, in 1962, decided to extend their fixed-interest payments for at least five more years.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is itself a form of continuous and sharp class struggle. New bourgeois forces are constantly emerging from the ranks of the people. If bourgeois ideology is not decisively combated, it is possible at any stage in the transition to communism for the movement to be reversed and the bourgeoisie to come back to power. This does not mean that the full economic and political structure of capitalism can quickly be restored; that requires a transition period during which the new bourgeois ruling class undermines and dismantles the socialist aspects of the economic base. What it does mean is that the power of the state is now being used to move the ideological consciousness of the people away from communism and toward capitalism. That kind of use of state power is the essential definition of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and that is what came to prevail in China in the period 1960-1966.


One factor would seem to contradict the characterization of China, 1960-66, as a bourgeois dictatorship; the split in the international communist movement and the sharp anti-revisionist struggle waged by the CCP. Why would the new “red” bourgeoisie feel it necessary to defend the ideology of Marxism-Leninism against the changes the Russians were advocating. Two fundamental points can be made about this struggle.

1) At no time did the CCP question any of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism as it had always interpreted it, especially its compromises with nationalism and united-fronts alliances with secondary imperialists against  the main enemy.” It simply defended Marxism-Leninism against Soviet denials of its basic concepts: proletarian dictatorship vs. “state of the whole people” and armed struggle vs. peaceful transition. Major Chinese documents, such as the Proposal on the General Line, 1963, and Lin Piao’s Long Live The Victory of People’s War, 1965, reaffirmed the nationalism-based strategy that had brought the Chinese revolution to power. The practice of Chinese foreign policy did not alter significantly during the period of the anti-Soviet polemics; in fact; the Chinese re-doubled their efforts to put themselves at the head of an anti-U.S. imperialism coalition of nations. Chou En-Lai made an extensive tour through Africa in 1964, lauding such bourgeois regimes as that of Toure in Guinea and Nkrumah in Ghana. He especially went out of his way to make overtures to the Algerians and Egyptians. 1961-1965 saw the development of close relations between China and Indonesia. Liu Shao-chi visited Indonesia in April 1963 and stated, “The Republic of Indonesia has become an important force opposing imperialism and colonialism and safeguarding the peace and-security of Southeast Asia and Asia as a whole.” (Peking Review, April 19, 1963) The Chinese line in Indonesia was to lead the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) to the disaster of 1965 in which it was virtually destroyed.

Moreover, throughout the period of bitter back and forth polemics, the Chinese continued to maintain effective unity of action with the Soviet Union in delivering arms to Vietnam over the Chinese railroads. At no time did the Chinese engage in public polemics against Soviet aid.

2) The immediate cause of the split was Russian refusal to provide the Chinese with atomic weapons or even the technical assistance and materials necessary to produce them. One of the purposes of Mao’s Moscow trip in 1958 was to persuade Khrushchev to make this available. The polemics heated up considerably shortly after his failure. The Chinese have given this explanation themselves:

“In 1958 the leadership of the CPSU put forward unreasonable demands designed to bring China under Soviet military control. These unreasonable demands were rightly and firmly rejected by the Chinese government. Not long afterwards, in June 1959, the Soviet government unilaterally tore up the agreement on new technology for national defense concluded between China and the Soviet Union in October 1957, and refused to provide China with a sample of an atomic bomb and technical data concerning its manufacture.” (The Origin and Development of the Differences Between the Leadership of the CPSU and Ourselves. Peking, 1963, p. 26).

This was followed by Soviet refusal to support China in the Formosa straits, the proposed summit meeting of Khrushchev and Eisenhower and Soviet support for India in her border dispute with China. What the Chinese objected to most strongly was Russian rapprochement with the U.S. and desertion of support of Chinese foreign policy goals.

What then, is the real meaning of the dispute? The Russian bourgeoisie had seized power some years earlier and was already well along the way to restoring capitalism. Given the degree to which the Russian workers and peasants had lost confidence in Marxism-Leninism and given the long period during which nationalist ideas had been emphasized (from before World War II), the new Russian bourgeoisie could proceed to the renunciation of Marxism-Leninism without fear of popular reaction and begin to create a revisionist ideology more in correspondence to the new material conditions of bourgeois rule.

The newly consolidated Chinese “red” bourgeoisie, however, was coming to state power at a time when hundreds of millions of workers and peasants still looked upon Marxism-Leninism as a correct guide to social practice. But analysis of the objective historical process has shown us that Marxism-Leninism in the particular version that characterized the line of the CCP and the ideas of Mao Tse-tung, contained a number of incorrect ideas which led inexorably to bourgeois restoration. No doubt the Chinese leaders consciously believed that they were defending genuinely revolutionary ideas against Soviet revisionism. Historical experience has demonstrated otherwise. The anti-Soviet polemics were necessary in order to defend that body of ideas which corresponded to the class interests of the bourgeois class. Had the Chinese leaders gone along with Khrushchevite ideology they would have been exposed before the masses and would have lost the “Left” cover under which capitalist counter-revolution is most likely to succeed.

Moreover, the ideological imperative corresponded to the desire of the new Chinese bourgeois forces to free themselves from excessive economic and military dependence on the Soviet Union and create the material and scientific infrastructure for the development of their own atomic arsenal. The attempts by Soviet leaders to moderate the inter-imperialist rivalry with the U.S. opened up the possibility that the Chinese bourgeoisie could displace the S.U. as the leader of a world wide united front of “oppressed nations” against U.S. imperialism (now joined by Soviet social-imperialism).

Nothing in these external struggles contradicts the view, derived from internal evidence, that the bourgeoisie had regained power in China in the early 1960s.


We began this report by summarizing the class forces in the cultural revolution. We then presented evidence to confirm the position of the so-called “extreme-left” that most senior cadres and army officers had become a new bourgeoisie which was carrying out capitalist restoration. We can now look at some of the details of this great revolution in the light of that Left outlook.

The new element created by the GPCR was the existence of a great many mass organizations of students and workers. These tended to divide along political lines. Left groups, such as “Sheng-wu-Lien” in Hunan and “May 16 Corps” in Peking, took the leading role in the early days of the GPCR in attacking the high-level power-holders in the municipalities and provinces. These cadres, in turn, organized and supported mass organizations to defend their positions; these mass organizations waged protracted and often violent struggle with one another.

The mass organizations which favored “seizure of power” overthrew the existing senior cadre in many important provinces and municipalities in Dec. 1966 and Jan. 1967. In Peking, Shanghai and Taiyuan, the people moved to set up organs of power modeled on the Paris Commune. The implication of the commune arrangement was that all the existing cadre should be removed and replaced by new leaders elected by the membership of the mass organizations. The students and workers who put forward this demand were quite sure that they had the support of Chairman Mao in proclaiming the commune-type state as their goal. On Feb. 5, 1967 the Shanghai commune was proclaimed and all the leading cadre of the Shanghai municipal Party committee and the Shanghai municipal Council were put on notice that they would be evaluated by the people. A new organ of power, the provisional committee for the Shanghai People’s Commune, was established, with members drawn from a number of mass organizations which had participated in the power-seizure. The most important leader of’ the commune was Chang Ch’un-ch’io who had been a prominent Leftist during the Great Leap. Chang left for Peking on February 12 to consult with Mao.

When he returned on Feb. 24th, he reported to a mass rally that Chairman Mao opposed the name Shanghai People’s Commune and preferred that it be called Shanghai Revolutionary Committee, on the model of the new organ of power which had been created in Heilungkiang Province (Manchuria) in January. These are the reasons Chang gave:

“On the 12th, Chairman Mao called us to Peking, and received-us on the same day...

“Chairman Mao said: “The present revolution is a revolution under proletarian dictatorship, one that has been organized and started by ourselves.”.... As we understand it Mao showed clearly here that for the past 17 years our country was under proletarian dictatorship and that it was Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line, not the Liu-Teng line, that was in the ruling position. Why, then, did we need to carry out a revolution under proletarian dictatorship? Chairman Mao explained: “It is because some of the organs of proletarian dictatorship have been usurped.”

“... he noted that the slogan “Thoroughly Improve Proletarian Dictatorship” is a reactionary one

Speaking correctly, the proletarian dictatorship could only be improved partially.

“Can we do without revolutionary leading cadres? No! A combat team cannot do without a responsible man. In seizing power now, we must also have cadres, that is, we must have new as well as old cadres. Why do we need old cadres who have assumed leadership work before? The reason is very simple. For instance, some workers perform very well. They dare to break through and rebel; they are able and have made significant contributions to the cultural revolution. But if we turn over to them a city such as Shanghai or a province such as Kiangsu, then they would find it very difficult to manage it because of lack of experience. They may be more adept in the management of one workshop.

“Chairman Mao says, “A university student cannot become a university president for he has not graduated yet and is not familiar with the whole university.” As I see it, he is not even qualified to become a department head because he has no teaching experience and no experience of leading the work of the whole department. So we should ask a professor or assistant professor to lead the department.

“Young comrades present at the forum, don’t be discouraged. Chairman Mao also says that young people have made numerous contributions to this great cultural revolution, but they cannot at once be expected to take over the duties of the secretaries of the Provincial Party Committee or the Municipal Party Com- mittee. I myself think so too. The “three-way-combination” provides very good training for the young people. If young people in their twenties follow the old revolutionary cadres and learn from them for seven, eight or ten years, then they are still young when they become secretaries...

“There are more than 600 cadres holding the rank of heads of departments (bureaus) and more than 6,000 cadres with the rank of section head in Shanghai. How can we fail to find candidates for the “three-way-combination” from among these?... And the great majority of these comrades are good.

“The idea of “doubting all and overthrowing all” is a reactionary one. This is not an idea of us rebels, but it has an influence on us. When we are infuriated to see that many people are so stubborn, we can easily be taken in by the propaganda of others.

“... Recently the State Council told us that the rebel headquarters of an organ of the municipal party committee issued an order to the State Council demanding the abolition of all posts of “chiefs”. Many things said in it were wrong. For instance, it was stated that “for a long time the department heads control the section heads and the section heads control the section personnel.” I think that the same will be true in the future also. “The chiefs have always ridden on the backs of the Party and the people.” Comrade Lin Piao is Minister of National Defense, and does he ride on the backs of the Party and the people? It is reactionary to say that he does.

“Chairman Mao explicitly stated: “We shall not be able to survive for a few days if we do away with even deputy section heads.”

“Chairman Mao said: … “names should not be changed too frequently, because the form is only of secondary importance while the content is primary.”

“The main thing is: which class is in power? For instance, the Soviet Union has changed, yet its name remains the same...

“...Now the various provinces and municipalities are learning from Shanghai and calling themselves people’s communes. What should the State Council be called? Should the national title be changed? If the state is changed into the Chinese People’s Commune, then the chairman of the state would be called commune chairman or director. After the title is changed, there would still be the question of recognition or nonrecognition by foreign countries. I think the Soviet Union would not recognize it because to do so would be disadvantageous to herself.”

“Let the Shanghai People’s Commune be changed to Shanghai Municipal Revolutionary Committee.... Would you not feel isolated because yours is the only commune in the whole country? The Jen-min Jih-pao could not publish the news, for if it published it, all would follow suit, and the series of problems mentioned above would arise.” (Transl. in SCMP, no. 4147. March 27. 1968. pp. 1-19)

Clearly, the Shanghai Commune didn’t just have its name changed; the ”three-way-alliance” which Chang brought from Mao as the organizing principle of the new Revolutionary Committee – an alliance of army cadre, leading cadre who were “making revolution” (i.e. were willing to denounce Liu}, and hand-picked representatives of some of the mass organizations – was incompatible with the view of the Leftists among the students and workers. The Shanghai Commune itself, with Chang and Yao Wen-yuan in the leadership, had already excluded the “Red Revolutionaries,” the most Left student group. On Jan. 27, the latter had tried to question several members of the Shanghai Writers Union who had been drafting diatribes against them. They were prevented from doing so by a detachment of troops of the Shanghai garrison, sent on Chang’s orders. When they appealed to the Central CR Group in Peking (of which Chang and Yao were members) they were condemned as “ultra-Leftists.” This clash between the Left and the PLA was only a small foretaste of things to come.

An important editorial in Red Flag in February clarified the line of the CC further:

“Leniency should be adopted in making decisions about cadres who have made even very serious mistakes, after they are criticized and struggled against Cadres who have committed mistakes should be given the opportunity to examine, criticize and correct them. So long as they make a self-criticism, correct their mistakes and come over to the side of Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line, they can still be given appropriate leading posts. Many of them can even be drawn into the provisional organs of power…” (”Cadres Must be Treated Correctly,” Transl. in On the Revolutionary Three-in-One Combination, FLP, Peking, 1968, p. 36).

A State Council directive of Jan. 23, 1967 ordered the PLA to intervene actively in the provinces to bring about the formation of Revolutionary Committees. The typical series of events that followed was: 1) revolutionary mass organizations would overthrow the leading cadres as supporters of the Liu line. 2) the PLA would prevent these cadres from offering any kind of armed resistance (through mass organizations that they controlled); 3) some of the leading cadres, often from the second-line of leadership, would denounce their former superiors, make phony self-criticisms arid organize mass groups to support themselves; 4) these Right mass organizations would come into sharp and protracted struggle with the Left which wanted to overthrow all the bourgeois cadres, not just a handful; 5) when this struggle passed over, as it generally did, to armed struggle, the PLA would intervene, on orders from the CC and CR Group, to “overcome the contradictions among the people” and bring everybody, including the new group of ”Maoist” cadres, into a ”three-way-alliance.” If the Left persisted in refusing to work with the “red” bourgeoisie, then it was attacked and disarmed by the PLA.

Some examples of the end result of the process:

In Heilungkiang, the co-chairmen of the. Rev. Comm. were P’an Fu-sheng, first secretary of the former Provincial Party Committee, and Wang Chianti, commander of the Military Region; In Shantung, the chairman was Wang Hsiao-you, ex-deputy mayor of the province’s largest city. In Tsinghai the chairman was Liu Hsien-ch’uan, commander and party secretary of the Military District. In Szechuan, the chairman was Chang Kuo-hua, First Commissar of Chengtu Military Region and the commander of the Tibet operations of the PLA. In Kansu, Hu Chi-tsung, secretary of the former Provincial Party Committee, became a deputy-chairman.

It was this overall movement that the Left later came to call the ”February Adverse Current of Capitalist Restoration” or the ”Evil Wind of March.” The sharpest struggle was in the city of Canton. There the Leftist organizations were so strong that the CC had to place the province under direct military rule. Huang Yung-sheng (presently Minister of Defense) was sent to Canton to take command. The Leftist Red Flag faction attacked the military command several times during the following months, seizing arms, records, etc. and agitating for the removal of Huang. The armed struggle in Canton continued into mid-1968 before the resistance of the Left had finally been suppressed.

Between February and August 1967 the Left forces became more and more conscious and began to focus on the persons and institutions they held responsible for the failure of the leading cadres to ”step aside.” They directed their fire at Chou En-lai and the Vice-Premiers he was sheltering, Chen Yi and his Foreign Ministry and the PLA. Red Guards in Peking held several mass rallies denouncing Li Hsien-nien and Nieh Jung-chen, both high-ranking PLA generals who had turned to economic affairs. (The latter was in charge of the nuclear development program). On each occasion Chou personally intervened to rescue his fellow bureaucrats. In July, 1967, Lin Chieh, editor of Red Flag (he was purged in August) published an editorial calling for the “dragging out of a small handful of capitalist-roaders in the Army.” Even though this formulation was compromising (a “small handful”) it was still too much for Mao and Lin Piao who insisted that the members of the CR Group who had connections with the radicals be purged. Chiang Ch’ing (Madam Mao), who had brought these men onto the Group in the first place, was prevailed upon to denounce her protégés in a speech to a meeting of representatives from Anhwei on Sept. 5,

“...Comrades, I am not in favor of armed struggle, and you must not think that I like it, because I’m for ’peaceful struggle, not armed struggle’... Armed struggle always hurts some people and damages state property.

“At present, let us take Peking as an example. There is a bad thing, and I call it a bad thing because it is a counter-revolutionary organization, called the “May 16” corps. Numerically it is not a large organization, and superficially the majority of its members are young people, who are actually hoodwinked. The minority consists of bourgeois elements ... who make use of the ideological instability of the young people... The “May 16” assumes an ultra-“Leftist” appearance; it centers its opposition on the Premier (Chou).

“Now we come to the second question the army. Sometimes earlier, there was this wrong slogan: Seize a ’small handful in the Army.’ As a result, ’a small handful in the Army’ was seized everywhere and even the weapons of our regular troops were seized.

“Comrades, come to think of it: If our field Army were thrown into confusion and if trouble occurred, could we tolerate such a situation?... The slogan is wrong. Because the Party, the government and the Army are all under the leadership of the Party. We can only talk about dragging out the handful of Party capitalist roaders in authority and nothing else. Even if some comrades, a minority of comrades, some individual comrades in our Army committed serious errors, they need not be dealt with in this way.

“I have talked with the young fighters of Peking about this question. Last year you went out to kindle the fire of the revolution and exchange revolutionary experience. But by going out again now, you will only do a disservice. You said that you were unable to drag out the small handful in the Army and that you needed our help in doing this. In some places, this has been done. This is a wrong assessment of the situation, and the result of the fact that you have fallen into a trap set by others.

“We must not paint a dark picture of the PLA, for they are our boys and we must protect their honor. (Here she reads out the CC’s Sept. 5 Order Forbidding Seizure of Arms... from the PLA, which instructed the Army to respond with force to attempted seizures.) Do you know what has happened? Military materials allotted for the support of Vietnam have been seized, and the ammunition. Those were ammunitions for striking the American imperialists!

“...Some people also seized foreign ships. In Peking a strange thing has happened: some people went to the foreign embassies to make troubles and the office of the British Charge d’Affaires was burned down. We, of course, are determined to hit the American imperialists and reactionaries. But we must not make trouble at foreign embassies, and we must not go aboard foreign ships, It would be childish for good people to do so; and when bad people do so, they want to ruin the reputation of the country.”

During August a sharp struggle took place around the Foreign Ministry. Struggle sessions had been taking place against Chen Yi since June and had forced Chinese foreign policy slightly Leftward. Statements appeared focusing on armed revolutionary struggle against Ne Win in Burma and Sihanouk in Cambodia. In August Leftists, led by Yao Teng-shan, last Chinese representative in Indonesia, seized the Foreign Ministry. The British mission was sacked and burned, rebellion in Hong Kong was encouraged, foreign ships were boarded and cargo seized and editorials began to oppose the Vietnamese negotiations. But this period ended rapidly when Mao personally intervened to “save” Chen Yi and began to repair the damage the Left had caused to China’s “diplomatic position.”

After September the formation of revolutionary committees continued in more provinces. But the Left had also grown stronger in several provinces and continued to resist the continuation of bourgeois rule under this new guise. In Hunan, “Sheng-wu-lien” held out until April before being crushed and disbanded by the PLA. The most protracted struggle took place, however, in Kwangsi, the province bordering on N. Vietnam. Here, the Kwangsi “April 22 Rebel Grand Army” had been engaged in seizing arms bound for Vietnam and in preventing the formation of a stable revolutionary committee. A leaflet of June 1968 reveals how the cadres on the preparatory group for the revolutionary committees armed the members of conservative organizations to attack “April 22.” As a result of the battle, says the leaflet:

“more than 2,000 buildings were reduced to rubble in Wuchow, more than 4,000 inhabitants rendered homeless, hundreds of rebel fighters killed and more than 3,000 April 22 fighters and revolutionary masses arrested, creating a serious situation in which diehard conservatives and capitalist-roaders tried to reverse previous correct decisions on them.“ (Transl. in SCMP, no. 4213, p. 4)

Leaders of “April 22” and its rivals, along with Army leaders, were called to Peking in July for a meeting to settle the conflict. There, April 22, like the Leftists of Peking, Shanghai and Hunan, found out too late which side Chairman Mao was really on. At the meeting, “April 22” was condemned, the Army was ordered to protect the railway lines to Vietnam (many of which had been closed for months by Leftist railway workers) and the composition of the preparatory group was approved. (The CC Notices on the Kwangsi situation are translated in URS, Vol. 53, Nos. 1 and 2; the minutes of the above meeting in URS, Vol. 53, No. 9)

By autumn of 1968 the Left had been defeated everywhere and the new power structure was consolidated. A portion of the cadres had been purged, although many were and will be re-educated and rehabilitated, but the great bulk of the cadres who had carried through the bourgeois policies of 1960-66 remained in power. The role of the military officers had increased, as can be seen in the composition of the new 9th CC, announced at the 9th CCP Party Congress in April 1969. Of the 279 members, 123 are military cadres, 76 are leading political cadres and 80 are former members of mass organizations loyal to the Right. The continuity of political leadership is shown by the fact that eight of all the 11 members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the 8th Central Committee (elected in 1956) are full members of the new 9th CC. Twenty-three members of the new CC had been criticized and repudiated in mass struggles during the GPCR. The Cultural Revolution, as an attempt by the proletariat to take power back from the bourgeois revisionists, has failed and the Right is in firm control of the CCP.

Why did it fail? The basic reason is insufficient mass support and an important factor in that was misconception about the role of Mao Tse-tung. Repeatedly, the Left forces, or at least some part of them, continued to hope that Mao would come over to their side and agree to lead a new Marxist-Leninist party to attack the entire bourgeois class. Because they waited upon his moves and looked to his initiative, the Left constantly found itself unorganized and insufficiently prepared for the sharp attacks made upon it by the Army, with Mao’s approval. Behind the weakness lies the long history of the personal cult of Mao, which culminated in the quasi-religious glorification of him during the GPCR. This played an especially big part within the Army, where Lin Piao had been leading a ”learn from Chairman Mao” campaign since 1962-63. Their reluctance to admit (or even conceive) that Chairman Mao might be wrong in his evaluation of the situation must have led many Leftists to accept, partially, a Centrist stance.

This failure to break with Maoism, ideologically and organizationally, led to their defeat. Moreover, the bourgeoisie had used the period 1960-66 to conduct an intense ideological campaign against Leftist thought which must have weakened the ideological consciousness of the masses to the point where only a minority, though a very large one, was willing to follow the Left into battle.

Since the end of 1968, the Leftist students and workers have been sent away from the centers of power as part of the “hsia-fang” movement of sending young people to live and work among the peasants in remote and difficult regions. (In itself, there is nothing wrong with students going to learn from peasants; but, at this particular time and in this political context, the main aspect of “hsia-fang” is to fragment the Left and remove it from contact with the urban proletariat.

None of the Leftward ideological or economic trends of the GPCR can last. Material incentives are reappearing as the emphasis shifts overwhelmingly in publications and propaganda to technical innovations (see any recent Peking Review). The Draft Regulations for Rural People’s Communes of 1961-62 have never been changed; in fact, the CC, throughout the GPCR, emphasized that they would be around for at least 30 years. With the Right in firm political control, these trends will continue.



CB – Current Background, U.S. Consulate-General, Hong Kong
ECMM – Extracts From China Mainland Magazines, Hong Kong
SCMP – Survey of China Mainland Press, Hong Kong
CNS – China News Summary, Taiwan
URS – Union Research Service, Union Research Institute, Hong Kong


Red Flag (Hung ch'i or Hongqi) – bi-weekly theoretical magazine of the CCP
Renmin Ribao (or Jen-min Jih-pao) – People's Daily, daily organ of the CC of the CCP
New China News Agency (NCNA) – english-language news service of the Chinese government


Barnett, A.C., Cadres, Bureaucracy and Political Power in Communist China
Schurmann, H.F., Ideology and Organization in Communist China
Chao Kuo-chun, Economic Planning and Organization in Mainland China, Vol. 2