Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Eileen Klehr

China’s Continuing Cultural Revolution: Taking Class Struggle as the Key Link

First Published: Class Struggle, Nos. 4-5, Spring/Summer 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Publisher’s Note: In this article, Eileen Klehr summarizes the main lessons of the class struggle under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Klehr, the Vice-Chairman of the October League, recently returned from the People’s Republic of China where she had a chance to observe the struggle against Teng Hsiao-ping’s rightist line first hand.

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How does a socialist country remain socialist? What is the key link in preventing capitalist restoration?

In their pathbreaking struggle to build socialism in their country, the people of China are providing answers to these and other questions. The events now taking place in China are a living example to people all over the world of class struggle taking place under the conditions of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

While bourgeois “China-watchers” have called the current struggle in China an “indication of the communist regime’s instability” and a “power struggle” between “opposing factions” in the communist party, these reports have represented more the wishful thinking of the bourgeoisie than the actual facts.

Far from being a sign of “instability,” the present struggle in China is an indication of the progress and consolidation of socialist construction there and a continuation of the revolutionary process in China which has as its final aim the establishment of communism and the complete abolition of classes. The Chinese have called the present struggle one aimed against “the right deviationist wind to reverse correct verdicts.” In doing this they have indicated that the present stage of the struggle is a continuation and deepening of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Just as the Cultural Revolution was a class struggle waged by the working class against a handful of capitalist-roaders who wanted to pull China back towards capitalism, the present struggle has the same target–and is aimed at ensuring that the revolutionary policies that resulted from the Cultural Revolution are implemented and expanded.

This struggle is of vital importance to Marxist-Leninists throughout the world. In a living way, it is providing invaluable lessons that the working class in every country can benefit from–how does the proletariat keep state power once it has overthrown the old ruling classes? By studying the lessons of this struggle, it is possible to learn about the nature of class struggle under socialism–what is the basis for the existence of classes, and class struggle? What is the principal contradiction in socialist society? How are these contradictions reflected inside the Communist Party?


Marxism-Leninism has always recognized that classes and class struggle continue to exist throughout the entire course of the transition from capitalism to communism. It is for this reason that in the period between the socialist revolution and the final abolition of classes, the form of state power the proletariat must exercise can only be the proletarian dictatorship. Lenin described the relationship of the proletarian dictatorship to the class struggle under socialism:

The dictatorship of the proletariat is a most determined and most ruthless war waged by the new class against a more powerful enemy, the bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by its overthrow (even if in only one country), and whose power lies not only in the strength and durability of the international connections of the bourgeoisie, but also in the force of habit, in the strength of small production. For, unfortunately, small production is still very, very widespread in the world, and small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale. For all these reasons the dictatorship of the proletariat is essential, and the victory over the bourgeoisie is impossible without a long, stubborn and desperate war of life and death, a war demanding perseverance,, discipline, firmness, indomitableness and unity of will. (Lenin: Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder)

Referring to the above quote of Lenin’s, Chairman Mao added:

This also occurs among a section of the workers and a section of the Party members. Both within the ranks of the proletariat and among the personnel of state organs there are people who follow the bourgeois style of life. (Peking Review, Number 10, 1975, p. 6, “On the Social Basis of the Lin Piao Anti-Party Clique.”)

Under socialism, bourgeois right and inequalities cannot be thoroughly abolished–only restricted. In socialist society, there still exists two kinds of socialist ownership–ownership by the whole people through the state and on a smaller scale, collective ownership. This means, that a socialist country must practice a commodity system, which reflects the remnants of capitalism that still remain in the economic base. Using the example of China, Chairman Mao pointed out:

China is a socialist country. Before liberation, she was more or less like capitalism. Even now she practices an eight-grade wage system, distribution to each according to his work and exchange by means of money, which are scarcely different from those in the old society. What is different is that the system of ownership has changed. (Peking Review, Number 10, 1975, p. 6, “On the Social Basis of the Lin Piao Anti-Party Clique.”)

Under socialism, a protracted period of transition is necessary to bring the means of production entirely under the socialist ownership of the whole people. It is necessary to gradually narrow the differences between workers and peasants, town and country and mental and manual labor. In the course of this process, the discrepancies between the various wage grades must also be reduced. Until this process is entirely accomplished, which essentially, marks the abolition of classes, and the establishment of communist society, bourgeois right and inequalities are bound to exist. While the proletarian dictatorship wages a constant struggle to do away with the remnants of capitalist society, this can only be done gradually and in accordance with the development of the means of production.


If bourgeois right is not restricted in socialist society, it will become possible for a small number of people through the course of distribution and the process of exchange through money, to acquire large amounts of commodities and money–both through legal and illegal means. This will provide the material incentive for individuals to amass new fortunes and provide a material base for the emergence of a new bourgeoisie who can link up with the old, overthrown ruling class and use its power and influence to attempt a complete overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat and carry through with a restoration of capitalism. If bourgeois right is allowed to go unchecked, its influence is bound to grow inside the Communist Party itself–at first in the form of bribes, bourgeois style of life, etc., and eventually in a complete abandonment of Marxism-Leninism and the full-blown emergence of revisionism.

Pointing to this danger shortly after the socialist revolution in Russia, Lenin said:

Yes, by overthrowing the landlords and bourgeoisie we cleared the way but we did not build the edifice of socialism. On the ground cleared of one bourgeois generation, new generations continually appear in history, as long as the ground gives rise to them, and it does give rise to any number of bourgeoisie. As for those who look at the victory over the capitalists in the way the petty proprietors look at it–“they grabbed, let me have a go, too”–indeed, every one of them is the source of a new generation of bourgeoisie. (Lenin: “The Immediate Tasks of the Socialist Government.”)

An example of a new bourgeoisie that rose to power under the conditions of socialism can be seen in the present-day Soviet Union. With Khruschov at their head, the bourgeois elements in Soviet society led a takeover of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. Once in power, the new Soviet bourgeoisie carried out a bloody suppression of the Soviet people, overthrew the proletarian dictatorship and restored capitalist ideology and culture in every area of the superstructure. The Khrushchov revisionists and their successors abandoned the socialist principle of distribution “to each according to their work,” and replaced it with “to each according to how much capital and power he has.” Today in the Soviet Union, it is a small handful of bourgeois elements who have taken over the power of distribution and have seized for themselves the means of production.

Through a system of material incentives and “bonuses” granted to factory managers and directors, the rising Soviet capitalists have greatly enriched themselves. By instituting so-called “economic reforms” they have expanded bourgeois right to encompass the right of individuals to buy and sell the means of production. Rather than narrowing the gap between workers of various categories, the Soviet bourgeoisie has created an unbridgeable gap between the workers on the one hand and the class of non-workers, ie., the factory directors, party bureaucrats, etc., who today live as parasites from the profits created by Soviet labor. Through this process, the Soviet people have again been enslaved as they were under the rule of capitalism and the tsar over 60 years ago.


To prevent a capitalist restoration such as the one that took place in the Soviet Union, it is essential for the proletariat to recognize the principal contradiction in socialist society and to wage an ongoing class struggle against the bourgeoisie and its influences.

In the same article quoted above, Lenin pointed out the decisiveness of class struggle:

The bourgeoisie in our country has been vanquished, but it has not yet been uprooted, not yet destroyed, and not even utterly broken. That is why a new and higher form of struggle against the bourgeoisie is on the order of the day, the transition from the very simple task of further expropriating the capitalists to the much more complicated and difficult task of creating conditions in which it will be impossible for the bourgeoisie to exist, or to arise anew. Clearly, this task is immeasurably higher in importance; and unless it is fulfilled there is still no socialism. (Lenin: “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government.”)

It is with this understanding that Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party have put forward the line that, in building socialism, “Class struggle is the key link.” They have recognized the necessity of initiating policies throughout the country that are aimed at restricting bourgeois right and creating the ideological and material conditions for communist society. Such policies can be seen in the “new, socialist things” that emerged from the struggles of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. These “new, socialist things” include the mass movement of educated youth into the countryside to engage in manual work, the policy of “open-door” education which admits workers’, peasants and soldiers into the universities, and the May 7th Cadre Schools where party cadres engage in productive labor and renew their ties with the masses. “New, socialist things” also encompass the workers’ study circles in the factories and the restrictions placed on wage differentials.


The struggle to restrict bourgeois right and combat bourgeois influences in the society has been accompanied by a fierce struggle against revisionism in the party. Recognizing the principal contradiction in Chinese society and understanding the bourgeoisie as the target of the continuing socialist revolution has also led the Chinese Communist Party to isolate revisionism as the main ideological danger–the two line struggle against revisionism inside the Communist Party being a reflection of the fierce class struggle being waged in society as a whole.

In the late 1950s, Chairman Mao led a successful struggle against the Peng Teh-huai anti-party clique, which had opposed the socialist transformation of China’s economy. Speaking about this struggle, Mao referred to the general relationship between class struggle and inner-party struggle:

The struggle at Lushan is a class struggle, a continuation of the life and death struggle between two major antagonistic classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, a struggle which has been going on in the socialist revolution for the last ten years. This kind of struggle, it seems, will continue in China and in our Party for at least twenty years and possibly half a century. In short, the struggle will not cease until classes die out completely. (Peking Review Number 17, 1976, p. 15, “Grasp the Principal Contradiction in Socialist Society”)

Since its socialist revolution in 1949, China has seen a series of such two-line struggles–each one aimed against bourgeois elements within the communist party who have attempted to change the party’s basic line from one of Marxism-Leninism to revisionism and opportunism. Other such struggles also took place before the Party came to power. The present struggle against the right deviationist wind, which has targeted the line of Teng Hsiao-ping, is a good example of the character of these two line struggles. Teng has been targeted throughout this struggle as the representative of the old and newly-emerged bourgeoisie in China, and his line has been generally characterized as representing the ambitions and full program of the bourgeoisie for the capitalist restoration. What are the essential features of this program?


Throughout history, all capitalist roaders have pushed the revisionist theory of the “dying out of class struggle.” Exposing the fallacy of this theory, Chairman Mao pointed out:

In 1949, it was pointed out that the principal contradiction within the country was one between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Thirteen years later the question of class struggle was reiterated, and mention was also made of the fact that the situation began to turn for the better. What is the great cultural revolution for? To wage class struggle. Liu Shao-chi advocated the theory of the dying out of class struggle, but he himself never ceased to wage class struggle. He wanted to protect his bunch of renegades and sworn followers. Lin Piao wanted to overthrow the proletariat and attempted a coup. Did class struggle die out? (People’s Daily Editorial, April 6, 1976, “Firmly Keep to the Correct Orientation of the Struggle”)

Teng Hsiao-ping, like all the capitalist roaders, also complained of “too much discussion of the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat.” But like all capitalist roaders, he himself intensified the class struggle and launched a vicious attack against the proletarian dictatorship. He aimed his attack against the mass movement of the Cultural Revolution. This is not surprising, since it was this tremendous mass movement of the people that formed the most powerful army to combat the bourgeoisie and their plan for capitalist restoration.

In an article written under Teng’s leadership called “On the General Programme for All Work of the Party and the Country,” Teng’s attack on the fundamental aims of the Cultural Revolution are laid bare.

Teng attempted to hide his real character by pretending to criticize the role of Lin Piao in the Cultural Revolution. He aims his main criticism of Lin’s role as being an advocate of ultra-left policies. By doing this, Teng is attempting to obscure and distort the Cultural Revolution in two ways: Firstly, by characterizing Lin Piao as an ultra-leftist, Teng is trying to deflect the target of the two line struggle in China away from revisionism and right opportunism, that is, his own line, onto some other target. In reality, Lin Piao was an arch-revisionist, who had essentially the same line as Liu Shao-chi and Teng Hsiao-ping. Lin’s policies were consistent in their opposition to socialist economics and collectivization. He was a staunch advocate of the extension of bourgeois right and the policy of material incentives.

Secondly, Teng Hsiao-ping, by distorting the real character of Lin Piao’s line, is really opposing the general line of Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Communist Party that guided and directed the Cultural Revolution. It is Teng’s fundamental opposition to the Cultural Revolution that causes him to depict the masses as being duped by “ultra-left phraseology” and striking out blindly in the struggle. He complained that the Cultural Revolution “overthrew good party cadres.”

Who did the Cultural Revolution criticize and overthrow? Was it “good party cadres” or was it the capitalist roaders who comprised a bourgeois headquarters within the Party? Were the masses “duped” and struggling blindly in the course of this tremendous class struggle, or was this movement a mass movement of Marxist-Leninist education during which the masses received correct and timely guidance and direction from the proletarian headquarters of the Party leadership led by Mao Tsetung.

The historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has shown that, to prevent capitalist restoration, it is not enough to depend on just a small number of people. The masses have to be mobilized in very large numbers and be the motive force in the movement to defend and strengthen the socialist system. This was the great accomplishment of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In order to successfully overturn socialism in China, the capitalist roaders are forced to attack and attempt to discredit the Cultural Revolution. Teng’s attack with its shabby veil of criticism of Lin Piao is an important element in the bourgeois program for capitalist restoration.


In the article “On the General Programme,” Teng puts forward his instructions that “it is imperative to take the three directives as the key link to sum up the rich experience accumulated during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, formulate the specific policies for different fields of work, and use this general work programme and various policies to guide and straighten out all fields of work.”

Here Teng attempts to pull an eclectic trick of opposing Chairman Mao’s three directives on building unity, economic stability and study of Marxism-Leninism to the basic line of Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party which states that in building socialism, class struggle is the key link.

In addition to this fundamental distortion of the Marxist-Leninist line on building socialism, the above quote taken from Teng’s “General Programme” has several other revealing features. A call is issued to “sum up” the experience of the Cultural Revolution–in spite of the fact that the last two Congresses of the Chinese Communist Party have addressed themselves precisely to this summation. Obviously, Teng is in disagreement with the party’s summation of the Cultural Revolution. His position, of course, is that it was an “ultra-left” disaster that unjustly criticized experienced cadres.

Secondly, the article refers to the heed to “straighten out all fields of work.” Later on, the article elaborates on this by noting that the “emphasis” must be on party rectification with the “key point” the straightening out of the party’s leading bodies. What else can this mean except that Teng is opposed to the general policies guiding the various fields of work? Where else can the source be for these incorrect policies except in the leading bodies of the Chinese Communist Party? It is no wonder that the Chinese have referred to Teng’s “General Programme” as a “voluntary confession.” Along with Teng’s attack on the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie, Teng has been forced to attack the Marxist-Leninist leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.


Teng Hsiao-ping and all capitalist roaders oppose the task of continuing the class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat. One of the main ways they express their opposition is by calling for “modernization” and advancement of the productive forces to take command of everything. This is the basic line behind Teng’s call for “taking the three directives as the key link.”

Historically, the distortion of the relationship between politics and economics has been a hallmark of revisionism. This has been a central issue in every two-line struggle in China. Before and during the time of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, the revisionist Liu Shao-chi and his sympathizers opposed Chairman Mao’s line of agricultural collectivization based on the three-level system of ownership of the means of production in the people’s commune, with the production team at the basic level. The revisionists pushed for agricultural production based on private ownership and they continued to advocate this policy up through the early 1960s. Liu pushed the line that “Industry should fall back to a sufficient degree and agriculture should do the same, including the fixing of farm output quotas based on individual households and returning to individual farming.” Lin Piao echoed the same view–that out of the various types of relations of production in the world, “we’ll choose the one that will raise production.”

Teng Hsiao-ping added his own pragmatic twist on this theme with his “white cat, black cat” thesis. He said, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” Lest anyone not understand his analogy, he clarified it by saying. “What kind of relations of production is better? It seems that we have to take this attitude: Adopt whatever kind in whatever place that facilitates the restoration and development of production.”

In word, the capitalist roaders say (hat it “doesn’t matter” whether agriculture is collectivized on a socialist basis or whether individual farming dominates, as long as production is increased and modernization achieved. It is under this guise that, historically, in China for example, the capitalist roaders have opposed the building up of a socialist economy, and in practice, prior to the Cultural Revolution, sabotaged the collectivization of over 200,000 farming cooperatives.

Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought has always held that politics is a concentrated expression of economics. Lenin argued that, “Politics must take precedence over economics. To argue otherwise is to forget the ABC’s of Marxism.” (Lenin: “Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin,” S.W. III, p. 530)

In general, Marxism recognizes that in the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the productive forces are the principal aspect; in the contradiction between the economic base and the superstructure, economic base is the principal aspect. But Marxism also recognizes that when the relations of production and the superstructure become a fetter on the development of the productive forces and the economic base, then change, or revolution in the superstructure and the relations of production, become decisive.

In his essay, “On Contradiction,” Mao Tsetung explains this dialectical relationship:

When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize the general development of history, that material determines mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also-and indeed must-recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism. (Mao: “On Contradiction ” Selected Readings, p. 116)


It is here that Teng and all capitalist roaders turn dialectics on their head and again substitute eclecticism for dialectics. Teng Hsiao-ping, for example, deliberately distorts the line of the 10th Party Congress and the Fourth National People’s Congress in China by saying that both these meetings “put forward the magnificent task of developing the country’s national economy for the next 25 years.” He follows this with his formulation on “taking the three directives as the key link” as “the general programme for all work.” There is no mention here of class struggle or making revolution in the superstructure. Teng makes it absolutely clear that “advancing production” and “modernization” of China’s economy is the first and foremost task.

The Marxist-Leninist line of Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Communist Party at its 9th and 10th Congresses, as well as the Fourth National People’s Congress on this question has been made absolutely clear. They have advocated the slogan “Grasp Revolution, Promote Production.” This line has correctly grasped the dialectical relationship between politics and economics–based on the understanding that a socialist economy can only be consolidated in accordance with the development of socialism in the superstructure. That is, modernization has a class content. According to Marxism-Leninism, modernization must be achieved in order to serve the masses of workers and peasants–not at the expense of the proletarian dictatorship. On the other hand, the modernization that Teng and his cohorts are advocating is a call for expanding capitalism–in the economy and, correspondingly, capitalist ideology in the superstructure.


The line that Teng and the other capitalist roaders are advocating is a historically revisionist line known as the “theory of the productive forces.” This line has historically liquidated the need for class struggle and the dominance of politics over economics. It promotes the view that the gradual development of the productive forces alone will result in social and political change. In practice, this line liquidates the need for revolution entirely.

In his “General Programme,” Teng goes so far as to distort an article of Chairman Mao’s in order to gain legitimacy for this revisionist line. He quotes a section of Chairman Mao’s article “On Coalition Government,” which was written during the Anti-Japanese War Period and put forward the Chinese Communist Party’s program that led the revolutionary forces at that time. Teng quotes the first part of a section which states:

In the last analysis, the impact, good or bad, great or small, of the policy and practice of any Chinese political party upon the people depends on whether and how much it helps to develop their productive forces, and on whether it fetters or liberates these forces. (Mao: “On Coalition Government”, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 251)

What Chairman Mao goes on to say, and what Teng chooses to omit, is the following statement:

The social productive forces of China can be liberated only by destroying the Japanese aggressors, carrying out land reform, emancipating the peasants, developing modern industry and establishing an independent, free, democratic, united, prosperous and powerful new China–and this will win the approbation of the Chinese people.(Mao: “On Coalition Government”. Selected Readings, Vol. 3. p. 251.)

Clearly the point Chairman Mao is stressing is that only revolution can liberate and advance the productive forces in Chinese society. This basic Marxist-Leninist line has been carried through consistently with the development of the socialist revolution–the tremendous achievements made in all fields of production and the economy as a result of the class struggle of the Cultural Revolution are living examples of the truth of Chairman Mao’s statement.

The transitional period from capitalism to communism covers a long historical period. Throughout this entire period, the principal contradiction in socialist society remains between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The present struggle in China, however, does more than reaffirm these basic truths. It is showing, through practice, that recognition of the existence of classes and class struggle, recognition of the principal contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is reflected in upholding or opposing taking class struggle as the key link, in upholding or opposing the proletarian dictatorship. The current struggle in China is a living repudiation of the Soviet revisionists’ claim that they have established a “state of the whole people” in the Soviet Union.

The class struggle in China is, in fact, reaffirming the Marxist-Leninist principle that the dictatorship of the proletariat is an essential weapon to the proletariat throughout the entire period of socialist construction in its struggle to eliminate bourgeois right and all vestiges of capitalism. The Soviet revisionists’ claim that they have “eliminated classes and class struggle” in Soviet society has been shown to be nothing but a cover for the most brutal class exploitation and oppression of the Soviet people at the hands of the new Soviet bourgeoisie.

While revisionists everywhere in the world attempt to obscure the differences between socialism and capitalism and the differences between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the current struggle in China is clarifying these two systems and these two roads for Marxist-Leninists throughout the world.