Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Commentary: On the Cultural Revolution in China

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 7, March 28-April 10, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On the 30th anniversary of the founding of People’s China, elder statesman of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Ye Jianying, on behalf of the Party and government of China delivered an important speech which reevaluated the Cultural Revolution. Ye stated:

“In the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, our country went through a fierce struggle between revolution and counterrevolution. The Cultural Revolution was launched with the aim of preventing and combating revisionism. For a proletarian party in power it is of course necessary to be constantly on guard against going down the revisionist road, characterized by oppression of the people at home and pursuit of hegemony abroad. But the point is that at the time when the Cultural Revolution was launched, the estimate made of the situation within the Party and the country ran counter to reality, no accurate definition was given of revisionism, and an erroneous policy and method of struggle were adopted, deviating from the principle of democratic centralism.”

Ye pointed out that Lin Biao and the “gang of four,” with counterrevolutionary motives, took advantage of these errors, encouraged ultra-leftism and plunged the country into havoc. The result was “calamity for our people” and “the most severe reversal to our socialist cause since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

This new evaluation set the basis for the rehabilitation of Liu Shaoqi, former vice chairman of the Party purged during the Cultural Revolution. The CPC took this step last month at a Central Committee meeting.

The sharp criticism of the Cultural Revolution and the reversal of the condemnation of Liu are major developments which have provoked questions and discussion among communists and progressives around the world. Previously many had accepted the CPC’s judgment that the Cultural Revolution had saved China from revisionism, headed first of all by Liu Shaoqi.

Now, however, with the evidence available and in restudying the Cultural Revolution, it is evident that the Cultural Revolution did have a devastating impact on China. Despite its original intentions, the Cultural Revolution damaged and did not advance China’s socialist cause. The CPC today is correctly evaluating the Cultural Revolution based on the actual results of the struggle on the people and socialist construction. Every, major area of society suffered: the economy, politics, culture, education, social consciousness, etc. China estimates it suffered a 60 billion yuan (about $40 billion U.S.) economic loss during the Cultural Revolution. A great number of schools did not function for a decade and tens of thousands of people were persecuted unjustly. The damage of the Cultural Revolution is evident to anyone who has visited China recently or spoken with those who went through the struggle. The Cultural Revolution has to be judged not by any abstract standard but by its real effect upon the country, on the basis that practice is the criterion of truth.

In rereading documents from the Cultural Revolution one can independently see that the scope of the struggle had been greatly magnified – large numbers of Party and government personnel had been targeted as enemies. One can also see the counterposing of politics and economics, absolutizing of the subjective factor and dogmatic vulgarization of Marxism. All of this is evidence of the ultra-leftism of Lin Biao and the “gang of four” pointed out by the CPC today.

While to a large extent those outside of China are dependent upon the CPC’s own opinion as it is in the best position to evaluate its work, the independent evidence and study of the Cultural Revolution that can be done in the U.S. supports the CPC’s evaluation of the negative impact of the struggle.

Apart from the Cultural Revolution’s detrimental impact on China, there is the question of its effect on the U.S. revolutionary movement. The Cultural Revolution had a certain positive influence among revolutionaries in this country. Here, the Cultural Revolution helped inspire people to break with the revisionism of the Communist Party, USA, take up Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, and forge a new communist movement. This new communist movement had its origins in the actual social struggles of the U.S., especially those of the oppressed nationalities, students and anti-war movements. It would be wrong to characterize the new communist movement as simply the child of the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, the Cultural Revolution did have an inspirational effect at the time.

Along with a certain positive influence, however, there were also some negative consequences which augmented existing weaknesses in the U.S. revolutionary movement. Ideologically, sectors of the new communist movement adopted some of the idealism and metaphysics of the Cultural Revolution. Dogmatism and sectarianism fanned up in China during the Cultural Revolution were echoed here. Some of the polemics issued in China encouraged a phrasemongering style here as well. These negative aspects took their most extreme forms in the “Revolutionary Wing,” Workers Viewpoint Organization (now the Communist Workers Party) and the Revolutionary Communist Party. These opportunist forces of course have their origins in the conditions of U.S. society and so it would also be wrong to label them simply products of the influence of the Cultural Revolution.

The rehabilitation of Liu Shaoqi is another matter, although obviously connected to the new evaluation of the Cultural Revolution. The CPC has not yet issued an evaluation of Liu’s 30-year career as one of the top leaders of the CPC. Few in the U.S. have studied Liu’s works. Communists in the U.S. will have to seriously evaluate Liu’s role in the Chinese revolution and study China’s assessment of his work.

The developments in China are creating a new understanding of the construction of socialism in China among communists in the U.S. Further revaluations will probably continue as the Party attempts to summarize its successes and errors over the past 20 years. Through this period, however, the CPC is maintaining that it must keep its four basic principles of upholding the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist road, the leadership of the Communist Party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

While continuing to carry out their revolutionary work in the U.S., communists here should continue to study the developments in China and support the CPC’s efforts to lead the Chinese people in the construction of socialism.

– C.H.S.