Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Cynthia Lai

Historic Lessons of China’s Cultural Revolution

Cultural Revolution Unfolded

In addition to the Socialist Education Movement in the countryside, Mao repeatedly urged the literature and arts circles, as well as the various propaganda arms, to reform their areas. Their failure to reform made the Cultural Revolution inevitable. In September 1965 during the CPC’s Central Work Conference, the Central Committee announced the launching of the Cultural Revolution. A group of five high-ranking party leaders was formed to direct the movement. Peng Chen, then Peking mayor and a Politburo member, was chosen head due to his close relationship with and strong influence among the intellectuals in the literature and arts.


On November 10, 1965, Shanghai published an article entitled “On the New Historical Play Hai Jui Dismissal from Office” by Yao Wenyuan, a member of the so-called “gang of four.” That article addressed the controversy around a play and was officially recognized by CPC leaders as the shot that launched the Cultural Revolution.[1] The play, written by Wu Han, a former history professor and leading non-party intellectual, was the story of a Ming dynasty official dismissed from office by the emperor who reacted negatively to the official’s criticism of him. The play defended the official and condemned the emperor. As it was common intellectual practice in China to use historical legends to criticize contemporary events or figures, the play was clear to many as an orchestrated attack on Mao for his treatment of Peng Teh-huai, a former Minister of Defense who was purged in 1959 for slandering the Great Leap Forward, having close ties with the Soviet Union and various other crimes.

The political content was condemned by Mao when the play was published in 1962. He had ordered criticism of the politics of the play by intellectuals. But the criticism was quickly turned into an academic debate on how to look at historic figures such as Hai Jui. The main proponent of this shift was Peng Chen. Amidst the widespread resistance to Mao’s criticism of the play, Yao’s article condemned with theoretical clarity the play’s political content. The Cultural Revolution was then officially launched.

On May 16, 1966, the Central Committee under Mao’s leadership issued a circular criticizing the content of Peng Chen’s February 12 Outline Report on the Current Academic Discussion made by the Group of Five in charge of the Cultural Revolution. A new leading group was established to replace the old one.

According to the circular of the Central Committee, Peng’s report was wrong on several line questions. The report obscured the sharp class struggle in the cultural ideological sphere. Point one of Mao’s circular stated, “Our country is now in an upsurge of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which is pounding at all the decadent ideology and cultural positions still held by the bourgeoisie and the remnants of feudalism.... Using muddled, self-contradictory and hypocritical language. . . it (Peng’s report) obscures the aims of this great struggle, which is to criticize and repudiate Wu Han and the considerable number of other anti-party and anti-socialist representatives of the bourgeoisie. There are a number of them in the Central Committee and in the party, government and other departments at the center as well as at the provincial, municipal and autonomous region level.” Point two of the circular charged that the report turned a political struggle into an academic struggle and point four criticized Peng’s report for obscuring the class content of truth to defend the bourgeoisie. It stated: “Just when we begin the counter-offensive against the wild attack of the bourgeoisie, the author of the report raised the slogan: ’Every one is equal before the truth.’” Point nine of the circular criticized the report’s attempt to restrict the movement: “At a time when the new and fierce struggle of the proletariat against the representatives of the bourgeoisie on the ideological front has only just begun, in many spheres and places it has not even started. . . the Report stresses again and again that the struggle must be continued ’under direction,’ with prudence,’ ’with caution’ and ’with the approval of the leading bodies concerned.’ All this serves to place restrictions on the proletariat left, to impose taboos and commandments in order to tie its hands, and to place all sorts of obstacles in the way of the Proletariat Cultural Revolution.” Last but not least, the circular charged that the group of five headed by Peng Chen actually opposed the Cultural Revolution and called for protecting students in the movement.[2]

Trying to Narrow the Target

This Central Committee circular set the tone for later events. With Mao’s endorsement of Nieh Yuan Tzu’s first big character poster (criticizing Lu Ping, head of Peking University, for refusing to revise the curriculum and teaching methods), the movement gathered steam. Following that big character poster put up by the young instructor of philosophy in Peking University, Red Guards appeared in schools and universities, leading the movement to criticize state and party bureaucrats.

During this period Liu Shaoqi, then head of state, and his wife began to send “work teams” made up of cadres of middle echelon responsibility to the campuses to “direct the revolution.” The work teams hit the lower level cadres and students as a clear violation of the Central Committee circular. Mao later condemned and withdrew the work teams. In August 1966, the 11th Plenum of the Eighth Party Congress issued a 16-point program outlining the aim, targets, and method of struggle of the Cultural Revolution. This famous document, Decision of the Central Committee of the CPC Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, points out the rationale behind the revolution. The Decision is important because it is the program of the revolution and serves as a reference point for summing up the whole period. The Decision said, “Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use old ideas, cultures, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavor to stage a comeback.”[3]

The Cultural Revolution was to counter all that. “At present, our objective is to struggle against and overthrow 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 other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure not in correspondence with the socialist economic base so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.” The “main force” of the revolution is “the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals and revolutionary cadres.” It called on cadres to “trust the masses, rely on them and respect their interest.”[4]

Many points were devoted to narrowing the target of attack. The Decision asked people to ”win over the middle and unite with the great majority. . . achieve the unity of more than 95% of the cadres and more than 95% of the masses.” The 16 points also cautioned against counter-revolutionary sabotage by stating, “To prevent the struggle from being diverted from its main targets, it is not allowed under whatever pretext, to incite the masses or the students to struggle against each other.” Furthermore, “as regards scientists, technicians and ordinary members of working staff, as long as they are patriotic, work energetically, are not against the Party and socialism and maintain no illicit relation with any foreign country, we should in the present movement continue to apply the policy of unity, criticism, unity. Special care should be taken of those scientists and technical personnel who have made contributions.”[5]

To prevent possible disruption in production, the Decision urged that “the socialist education movement now going in the countryside and in enterprises in the cities should not be upset. When the original arrangements are appropriate and the movement is going well, they should continue in accordance with the original arrangement.” It also said, “The aim of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is to revolutionize people’s ideology and as a consequence to achieve greater, faster, better and more economic results in all fields of work.” It warned that “any idea of counterposing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to the development of production is incorrect.”[6]

Model Shanghai Experience

The 16-point program was actually a moderate program. If it had been followed correctly, many mistakes of the Cultural Revolution would have been prevented. As events unfolded, many factors prevented the full and correct implementation of these points, a not uncommon situation in a revolutionary movement. As Lenin said, real life is more varied and complex than any theory.

Bolstered by this general program, the revolution soon reached the factories and there took a qualitative leap. It was January 1967 when Shanghai factories were effected.

Due to the pivotal role of workers in production, their overall maturity and discipline, the movement took on a whole different character when it reached the factories. The revolution became real. In an event later called the January Storm, revolutionary workers in Shanghai seized power from leadership in factories and enterprises. A mass organization called the General Headquarters of the Revolutionary Workers was formed. At the same time, leading cadres opposed to the Cultural Revolution were using economic schemes to lure many workers away from the movement and trying to discredit the whole revolution. They paid workers bonuses and extra wages with which they bought all stocked-up goods in the stores, causing a shortage in the city. Workers were instigated to stage work stoppages and block bridges.[7]

Soon after taking control of the city, the General Headquarters with 10 other mass organizations issued a Message to the Entire Population of Shanghai which said: “Our revolutionary rebel workers, bearing in mind the teaching of Chairman Mao, have stood our ground in the face of this adverse current, have given proof of our high sense of revolutionary responsibility and, under extremely difficult conditions, have shouldered all the production tasks of our factories and plants, dealing a telling blow against the handful of party persons in authority, who are taking the capitalist road and smashing their big plot by which they attempted to ’thwart the revolution through sabotaging the revolution.” The Message asked those who had left their jobs a question, “By deserting your posts in production, whose interest are you seiving^”[8]

Again on January 9, the General Headquarters, this time with 31 more mass organizations, put out an “Urgent Notice.” It called for all workers who had left Shanghai to return, and called on them to “take firm hold of the revolution and promote production put forward by Chairman Mao and on the other hand, take an active part in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, while on the other hand remain steadfast at our posts of production and construction, persist in the 8-hour day, strive to fulfill and over fulfill production plans, and do our best to turn out high quaiity products.”[9] As later events showed, these were not just general platitudes. Shanghai city, then under the leadership of Chang Chun-chiao, another member of the so-called “gang of four,” was one of the areas that recovered most quickly in production after the Cultural Revolution. These two calls for unity and perseverance in production were the first by any mass organization during the Cultural Revolution, They were later officially endorsed and promoted by the Central Committee led by Mao as a positive example. Judging from the prominent publicity given to these two statements, Mao saw the Shanghai experience as the correct process for the Cultural Revolution’s unfolding and concluding.

In fact, the situation at that stage was excellent. In place of the old bureaucrats sitting behind big desks, revolutionary committees were formed. The committees, made up of army personnel, cadres (party or nonparty) and workers, were modelled on the principles of the Paris Commune under the conditions of socialism and were set up in most enterprises, some as far away as Heilungkiang in the Northeast. Except for the army personnel, revolutionary committee members were elected by the masses and subject to recall any time.

They were to run the factories and enterprises on a day-to-day basis. Rectification in the mass organizations against all kinds of wrong tendencies also began. Mao would have declared an end to the Cultural Revolution at that point, but a left line developed among many student and worker groups at the transfer of power and rectification of cadres and mass organizations. The left line took the form of doubting all cadres and the party, and refusing to let cadres or army personnel assume leading posts.

Disruption by Ultra-Left

Trying to redirect the revolution to a proper path, the center issued a call for great alliance in Peking Review. It said, “The class struggle is being waged under very acute and complicated circumstances. We hope dear workers and staff members, comrades, that you will heighten your vigilance, form a great revolutionary alliance,” uphold the policy of the revolutionary three-in-one combination and resolutely beat back the adverse current aiming at a counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism.”[10]

But under the ultra-left line leadership of Wang Li, Kuan Feng and Chi Ren Yu, leaders of the Central Committee Cultural Revolution Group, the call for great alliance was rejected. Disagreement among the masses quickly turned into violent confrontations. Confrontations involving the PLA occurred in Wuhan and Canton in the summer of 1967. In Canton, the British Legation was burned and other embassies were attacked. The ultra-leftists even called up the office of the Indonesia-Chinese Friendship Association in Indonesia and asked them to follow the Chinese lead to overthrow the Indonesian government. This prompted a threat by Suharto to cut diplomatic ties with China. Many historic sites were attacked and books were burned. In the course of the fighting, thousands died and many more were injured. Later, though the ultra-left leaders were purged from leading the revolution, enough damage was done. Later, they were discovered to belong to the May 16 Detachment, an organization that included as members many counter-revolutionaries who were purged prior to or during the Cultural Revolution. How many mistakes made were due to the left lines, or how many were conscious acts of the counterrevolutionaries to discredit the Cultural Revolution is open for dispute. It is enough that many honest cadres and intellectuals were hit during this period, and many were silenced after. It is hard to calculate the wounds inflicted.

From October 1967 to February 1968 was a period of relative calm and order. Many more revolutionary committees were formed, party organizations were reshaped. New education programs were experimentally implemented. The government as well as revolutionary mass organizations appealed to the masses to restore the majority of cadres to their posts, and called for unity among all revolutionary-minded people. Again, the rightists used the opportunity to call for rehabilitation of purged rightists. Factionalism among students in campuses continued. At this point worker teams were sent to universities to restore and help supervise the transformation of curriculum. Revolutionary committees continued to be set up even in autonomous regions of Tibet and Sinkiang. By September 1968, they were in all 26 provinces. The network was developed and began to sink roots. At the 12th Plenum of the Eighth Party (October 1968) Congress, Liu Shaoqi, then head of state and number one target of the Cultural Revolution, was ousted.

Official Conclusion

Then in April 1969, the Ninth Party Congress was called. It was called a congress of victory and a congress of unity. In the press communique issued afterwards, it asked the people: “We should, under the leadership of the proletariat, consolidate the worker-peasant alliance, reeducate the intellectuals and win them over and unite all people that can be united to fight concertedly against the enemy.” The Ninth Congress also adopted a new party constitution. It allowed, for the first time, rank and file cadres’ direct access to the Central Committee and Chairman instead of only to their immediate supervisors. This was a lesson to prevent the suppression of opinions and criticisms from below by bureaucratic leaders, sabotage of party directives from the top. Revolutionary committees were institutionalized as a means to combine the party and the masses in exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to guarantee the party’s close link with the masses. A new Central Committee, 50% grassroots leaders of the Cultural Revolution, was elected. The turbulent stage of the Cultural Revolution was officially ended with the conclusion of the Ninth Congress. Everything else that happened later was not planned, and basically anti-climactic.


The proletariat fought the Cultural Revolution out of necessity rather than choice. It was a battle that they had to fight – to safeguard the fortress of socialism when enemies among the ranks threatened to seize power. Mao was the battle general, who sized up and directed the assault. However, historical and social limitations left Mao’s troops ill-equipped for their tasks. Even though the enemy was temporarily forced to retreat, it was far from a decisive defeat. The proletariat’s casualties were also great. The victory of the Cultural Revolution was in the main lessons learnt.

Politically, it did purge the party of a whole faction of revisionists, in particular the ringleader Liu Shaoqi. This significantly weakened their influence and gave Mao an uninterrupted decade to implement many of his correct lines. One of the most important gains was the consolidation of the commune system which was in danger of disintegration during the economic retrenchment period under Liu’s line leadership. The consolidation of the socialist economic base not only furthered the development of the socialist economy, but also made it all the harder for capitalism to be restored. The implementation of Mao’s line settled the question of whether a poor agrarian society like China could embark on the socialist road without having to consummate capitalism. It was a victory of dialectical materialism over the vulgar and mechanical materialism characteristic of Trotskyism and revisionism.

Steady Economic Growth

As a result of this consolidation, and the high consciousness of the masses, even though production was hampered during the Cultural Revolution, overall the damage was slight compared to the magnitude of the movement. The rate of recovery was rapid, and has continued with steady increases since then. Many economists acknowledge this is a tremendous accomplishment for a country so poor as China. In comparison, countries such as India are getting nowhere with capitalism.

According to Siet Fung Shuan of Hong Kong University, who compiled statistics from the Asia Year Book and People’s Republic of China, an economic review by the U.S. Congress Economic Council in 1975 showed China’s GNP in 1966, the first year of the Cultural Revolution, was $144.6 billion. The respective figures for 1967, 1968, and 1969 (the years of the Cultural Revolution) were $140.5 billion, $140.9 billion and $156.7, billion. It was one year of a small decrease followed by years of a small increase. Productivity figures in 1970, 1971, and 1972 showed a steady increase, $178.9 billion, $190.5 billion and $197.4 billion, respectively. Calculated in percent growth, the average annual growth rate from 1965 to 1970 in agriculture, industry, construction and service was a steady growth of 4.1%, 8.5%, 4.1%, and 5.1%, respectively. The growth rate from 1970 to 1974 in those four areas was 4.6%, 9.4%, 9.2%, and 5.9%, respectively. And from 1969 to 1975, the average GNP growth rate of China was a steady 5.7% compared to Eastern Europe’s and the Soviet Union’s maximum growth rate of only 2.7% and a decline in the West. The growth may not be spectacular, but the charges that the Cultural Revolution set back China’s economy for 10 years are clearly unfounded.[11]

Old Apparatus Destroyed

In the sphere of organization, bureaucracy was the main issue motivating many Chinese to action. It was greatly reduced to conform to Mao’s line of ”simple administration, better troops.” Instead of party leaders acting as bureaucrats lording over the masses, new leading bodies, the revolutionary committees made up of both party and non-party members, were set up in all institutions. This gave workers and peasants a new sense of pride, which was largely responsible for the rapid recovery of the economy in the post-Cultural Revolution years.

One example of bureaucracy being trimmed was given by Edgar Snow, quoting Chou Enlai. In 1971, Chou was assisted by only two vice-premiers, where formerly there were seven doing the same amount of work. “In the past there were 90 departments directly under the central government, now there will be only 26. . . . They are all run presently by revolutionary committees, and in each committee the party nucleus is the core of leadership. Formerly there were more than 60,000 administrative personnel in the central government. Now it is about 10,000.”[12] In one factory which employed 3,400 workers in 1952, the Peking General Knitwear Mill, there were 700 administrative personnel before the Cultural Revolution. After, there was a revolutionary committee of nine members, and an administrative staff of 20 cadres, half dealing with production business, and half devoted to the political and social welfare of the workers. The revolutionary committee was divided into three sections, taking care of production, politics and administration.[13]

However, the purging of revisionists and trimming of bureaucracy was accomplished at a tremendous cost: many good communists and non-party intellectuals were also purged or criticized in the process. Wheat and chaff were thrown out together. The Cultural Revolution literally destroyed the old party apparatus, and many members of the cadre core were purged. In the Ninth Congress held after the Cultural Revolution, out of the 170 full Central Committee members from the Eighth Congress, only 52 remained in leadership. Of the more than 270 members of the new Central Committee, 43% were from the military. Of them 31 were peasants or workers, and only two were former Red Guard leaders. Out of the 26 Political Bureau members from the Eighth Congress, 11 were purged, three demoted, and three died. At least half of the Standing Committee of the Politburo was gone. In the Party Secretariat, an administrative body taking care of the day-to-day business of the Politburo, nine out of 13 members were purged. Of the 10 known members of the Central Committee Department, only the leader of the women’s department survived the storm. Of the Party Control Commission, 54 out of 60 members were disgraced. Only one leader of the six Regional Bureaus of the Central Committee was still in charge. Over half of all the party secretaries at the regional or provincial levels were demoted, or at least disappeared from the news after 1966. And it was not until the fall of 1971 that all these leading posts were filled, mainly with military personnel. The search for personnel to fill country posts continued even after 1971.[14]

Key Problem: People

Mao had to bring Deng Xiao-ping and other purged members back to the Center precisely because of this dislocation. Wang Hung-wen was promoted to the Vice Chairmanship. But according to Mao, he was not able to assume national responsibilities due to lack of training. Mao’s move to rehabilitate many experienced cadres shows that he was not only aware of the problem but also he took a correct approach towards it. That’s a basic programmatic difference he had with Jiang Qing and Chang Chun-chiao.

Summing up the effects of the destruction of cadres, Jerry Tung wrote, “That was the key reason why the gains of the Cultural Revolution were not consolidated and there was a backlash immediately after Mao’s death. Addressing a historically quite similar situation, Lenin said that the key problem was ’people,’ ’competent revolutionaries with political and organizational skills.’ The Bolshevik Revolution was dislocated due to the internal, subjective factor.

The weakness in the subjective factor in the CPC, particularly with regard to party-building and especially because of the casualties of the Cultural Revolution led to the across-the-board reversals after Mao’s death. The key reason why many correct slogans on art and literature, trade and commerce, ’red and expert,’ plan and law of value got turned around and turned into metaphysical practices was the absence of this cadre core to do propaganda and interpret the Party’s line. That’s at the root of the discrepancy between CPC’s theory and its practice since the Ninth Congress and the reason it was not able to implement the ’three directives’ or ’concentric attack’ on all fronts and not able ’ to unite to win still greater victories.’

Mao’s grasp of the need to mobilize through campaigns was a lesson learned from his success in the ’red base areas’ before liberation. That was reflected in his writings prior to 1949 and has become a political tradition since liberation. Most of the campaigns in the early ’50s against corruption–’three anti-’ (anti-corruption, anti-waste, anti-bureaucracy in 1952) and ’five anti-’ (struggle against bribery, tax theft and evasion, theft of state property, shoddy workmanship and inferior materials, and theft of state economic secrets in 1952) even ’greenificiation,’ mass clean-up and disease prevention campaigns – were world-renowned successes. . . . While most campaigns, including the ’people’s cooperative’ movement, were necessary and successful, some dislocated sectors of the economy.

There are some signs today that after the rightists in the CPC went through their own experiences and made a mess out of China’s economy and caused tremendous disorientation among the Chinese masses, they are inching back to restore at least some of Mao’s lines and policies on the national economy. But the casualties of the Cultural Revolution and the backlash afterwards, the wholesale swing to extreme rightist dogmatist deviations by the CPC leadership, has left the Chinese people in a state of disorientation – once again lacking self-respect, and the economy suffering dislocation. Most disturbing of all is the cynicism of many towards socialism and a widespread attitude of disrespect for the CPC. This is a classical empiricist kind of flip, a reaction to metaphysical practice.[15]

Step-by-Step in Sphere After Sphere

Besides its problems, the Cultural Revolution had undeniable accomplishments. Reforms made in education, health care and other services gave workers and peasants more opportunity to enjoy the social wealth of society. In education, many children from worker and peasant backgrounds were admitted to schools of higher learning. In health care, in Peking alone from 1969 to 1971, 3,600 health workers were sent to the countryside where they organized 6,000 medical workers in 430 mobile health teams. Besides reforms in the conventional health care system, barefoot doctors were trained to supplement general medical services. Barefoot doctors were similar to paramedics trained mainly in preventive health care and the treatment of minor ailments. Of course, they cannot substitute for professional trained doctors and well-equipped hospitals.

The fundamental way to improve the Chinese people’s health is to raise the level of productive forces and improve all aspects of people’s lives, including better diet, better education, better living and working conditions. Until all these conditions are realized, however, barefoot doctors are very innovative, “socialist new things” that assist a more equal distribution of social services under the condition of extreme scarcity of resources. The barefoot doctors provided great services to 80% of the total population, the peasantry, who previously received little, if any, medical attention. The system helped to popularize medicine, and outstanding barefoot doctors, many from worker/peasant backgrounds, were later picked for professional training.

Despite their denunciation of the Cultural Revolution, the present Chinese leadership upholds the use of barefoot doctors as a significant accomplishment of the last period. They recently announced allocation of more rnoney and other measures to upgrade the training and ’status of the barefoot doctors and further expansion of the program. This is very positive. There would never have been any barefoot doctors without the Cultural Revolution.

Furthermore, the Cultural Revolution confirmed many fundamental truths about the superiority of socialism. Cinder socialism, the masses are the masters of society, and the dictatorship of the proletariat means people’s rule. It means that even though the party is part of the class and leads the masses of people in exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat, masses still have the final say. They support the party when it acts in their interest, and will supervise the party and even overthrow some leaders if they counteract the interest of the masses. This is possible because the class owns the means of production, and the party in the main has to act according to this economic interest. Because of public ownership of the means of production, the state belonging to it is not antagonistic to the masses. Resolving contradictions between the leaders and the led, and changing incorrect lines does not require overthrowing the state. This is the basis for the eventual withering away of the state towards communism.

Undoing 2,000-Year Myth

Also, socialism is a social system wherein for the first time, people can consciously direct and mold our social organization based on objective laws rather than be subjected to its spontaneous development. Under capitalism, even the capitalists are as much enslaved by the objective laws of capitalism as the proletariat is. But under socialism man can consciously direct society in the best interest of the proletariat. This gives full play to the dynamic role of the subjective factor, particularly the role of leadership, which is stifled and frustrated under capitalism. As a result, the subjective factor plays a bigger role – either accelerating or retarding the development. Inasmuch as development of the economic base is not spontaneous, and does not enslave but only guides the development of the superstructure, the role of the party is very important. Not only can it lead when it is correct, it can also take the lead in correcting itself even after many mistakes are made. Changes in leadership and lines can mean a totally different direction for the party and society. Thus, the Cultural Revolution was initiated by the party to cleanse itself. Changes in leadership after 1976 altered almost every single aspect of China’s foreign policy. (Similarly, sweeping changes are now being carried out by leadership in the Polish United Workers Party.) All this, without fundamentally changing the economic base. In contrast, even though under capitalism there may be a two-party system, it is hard to expect changes of any magnitude beneficial to the proletariat even if the party in power changes. No matter which party is in power, they all have to act in the interest of their boss, monopoly capitalism. More changes can occur in a one-party system under socialism than in a two-party system under capitalism! Nothing short of overthrowing the state can effect real social change in the latter.

The most significant accomplishment of the Cultural Revolution was the high level of consciousness it generated among the Chinese people. For 2,000 years, Chinese were taught to treat authority as a mandate from heaven that could not be challenged. Inequality was accepted as fate. The active mass participation in challenging and replacing authority undid a 2,000-year myth in a remarkably short period. The learning process of this direct experience to affect changes in consciousness cannot be matched by any amount of legislation. Andor correctly summed up that since the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese people will never be the same. They are less tolerant of abuses and bureaucracy in leadership. They are more confident of their essential and leading role in society.[16] Despite their inexperience in participating in formal democratic procedures such as those available under bourgeois democracy in capitalist countries, the Chinese people are highly political. Though the Soviet Union’s economic development surpasses China’s, China’s political atmosphere is far more open, with much bolder criticisms and challenges to the leaders’ corruption and bureaucracy. This is invaluable for socialist construction.

Airing Opposing Views

Just as the American people after the civil rights movement of the ’60s, after Watergate, after Vietnam and ABSCAM, have changed, so have the Chinese people after the Cultural Revolution.

This open political atmosphere is manifested in many ways. Instead of printing only the official party view, newspapers now allow more open debate on questions before the party formally adopts a view. Examples are debates on topics such as classes, the purpose of socialist economic production, the relation of superstructure and base, and the role of education. Opposing views have appeared side by side in Peking Review, or were summarized in Social Science and other academic journals.[17] Even a question as major as the evaluation of Mao was open for discussion. While many writers thoroughly slandered Mao, others tried honestly to sum up Mao’s achievements as well as his mistakes. The gradual changes of many lines – from total reversal and negation of the past lines and policies, to now more and more complete adoption of Mao’s correct lines, probably results from this process of airing and debating. Generally, the more correct view has prevailed. In addition, the CPC leaders have understood their mistake in totally reversing Mao’s lines.

Another example of the “open” atmosphere is the publication without censorship of many novels exposing corrupt bureaucrats. A play entitled “If I Were Genuine” told about a peasant youth, disguised as the general’s son, who was able to get privileged treatment, including free theatre tickets and a furnished apartment, from an official who hoped to win favor from the general. At the end of the story, the youth was apprehended but refused to admit guilt. He said his only guilt was not having a real general for his father. If his father were a general, everything he did would have been legal and legitimate. That story, which was not far from reality, was not only published uncensored; it was produced on TV and turned into skits and performed on stage.[18] It was the most popular story of the time about two years ago. A national TV program in Peking showed a short documentary about the wives of bureaucrats buying luxury goods from a special store, thus exposing the privileges of that stratum. Many such stories are still current and widely read. Nothing of this sort could possibly be done in the Soviet Union without fear of prosecution. A more mature attitude toward freedom of the press has also developed as a result of the lessons from the Cultural Revolution. Recently, the work of a writer named Ba Wah was given the highest honor in a literary contest.[19] Just a short while ago, the same writer was denounced for degrading socialism. In China before the Cultural Revolution, and today in the Soviet Union, these people would be permanently labelled with no opportunity to criticize or change.

Another action of the Cultural Revolution was the abolition of all laws and organization. Many of these did need to be overthrown because of thoroughly revisionist content. However, there were also many excesses. For example, abolishing the Bureau of Statistics hurt national planning on all fronts due to the lack of information about concrete conditions. Furthermore, the lack of new laws and policies allowed a lot of arbitrariness in later leadership. As Jerry Tung wrote, “One of the strengths during the Cultural Revolution was mass democracy. It turned into the opposite at the Ninth Congress with their inability to formulate new laws, new policies with a different set of values.... It is one thing to overthrow, to drag down, demote and purge; it’s quite another to establish positive organizational policies, socialist legality and positive leadership. Without that, it will inevitably lead to an arbitrary style of decision-making. That’s another essential element in safeguarding democracy under socialism.”[20]

Metaphysical Lines After Ninth Congress

The destruction of the cadre core and the inability to quickly train new leaders to replace the old had other grave political consequences. One was the new leaders’ lack of confidence in their own ability to combat the influence of the other lines. Their uptightness about a possible comeback of the defeated line was further aggravated by the rehabilitation (based on economic and political necessity) of purged leaders including Deng Xiao-ping. Idealism about the socialist system plus uptightness about being able to influence the veteran leaders led to the total degeneration of the (previously) relatively correct line. These incorrect lines caused tremendous harm both internationally and domestically, especially as China has been the rallying point for the international communist movement since the Cultural Revolution. It is the source of a renewed disorientation and confusion in the present-day communist movement. The metaphysics of the lines that gradually developed after the Ninth Congress can be summed up briefly as pitting the dialectical relationship between revolution and production, between relations of production and productive forces, between destruction and construction, between red and expert, between superstructure and economic base, between subjective and objective, between self-reliance and foreign and many other questions. Flowing from the ideological system of idealism and metaphysics, all the former aspects were absolutized and the latter, totally negated. While it is not the purpose of this article to sum up all the incorrect lines developed after the Ninth Congress, we will mention a few simply as illustration.

One manifestation of this metaphysics was to drag the Cultural Revolution on, indefinitely and artificially, even when the mass momentum had obviously ebbed. This violated the important principle of the dialectics of the ebbs and flows of any movement. After the Ninth Congress, the mood of the masses and the cadres favored unity and getting on with economic construction. It was correct at that point to “unite with the majority to win greater victory” as called for in the Ninth Congress. Class struggle of the intensity and magnitude of the Cultural Revolution cannot be sustained for an extended period of time; the standard of living of the people must also show concrete improvement. Ebbs and flows of the movement are inevitable. The task of communists is to guide these ebbs and flows in the general interest of the people, not to prolong them according to subjective wishes. The result of this forced campaign after the Ninth Congress was minimum participation by the masses. It was kept alive only in the propaganda machine under the “four’s” control.

Another illustration of the metaphysics is the formulation over admission policy in education, stressing exclusively academic or exclusively political criteria, when the Cheng Tieh Sheng case emerged.

By far the gravest consequence was the metaphysics in absolutizing the revolution in the superstructure. The Fundamentals of Political Economy published in Shanghai in 1974 said, “Only by grasping revolution in the superstructure, including the ideological sphere, and making sure that the ideological and political lines are correct, can a Marxist party lead the proletarian revolutionary enterprise from victory to still greater victory.”[21] This is wrong. The leadership of the party is a lot more than just a correct line on transforming the superstructure. It must also implement a correct line on building the economic base, or socialism degenerates and does not move towards communism. Furthermore, the line that absolutized the superstructure later developed into a full-blown system that equated revisionist lines in the party leadership (a question of superstructure) with restoration of capitalism in the economic base. From idealism, the incorrect line developed into vulgar materialism. This line assumes that a few rotten eggs in leadership can undo decades of work by the broad masses, a total negation of the superiority of the socialist system, which is primarily the strength of the public ownership of the means of production.

The impact of the Cultural Revolution was also international. The defeat of Liu’s line and ascendancy of Mao’s line on Khrushchev’s revisionism helped to demarcate Marxism from pseudo-Marxism. The emergence of the CPC as center for international communism rejuvenated the international communist movement after a period of disorientation. Revolutionaries sold out by Khrushchev’s refusal to support national liberation struggles looked to China for leadership. Around the world, youth totally disillusioned by the dead end of capitalism and the degeneration of revisionist parties drew inspiration and strength from the vitality of the Cultural Revolution. Despite its poverty, China provided idealistic youth in the world a model of what a better society should be and the possibility of its creation. This idealization of socialism had a negative one-sidedness, and many were thrown into total disarray when the lines of the CPC later degenerated and the “gang of four” denounced. But the Cultural Revolution had rejuventated the whole international communist movement. Many communist organizations, including the Workers Viewpoint Organization, precursor of the CWP, and other Marxist-Leninist collectives, were directly inspired by the Cultural Revolution. Many of these groups have been able to maintain correct orientation despite all the twists and turns in the international movement, and continue to struggle for revolution in their own countries.


Various social and historical factors contributed to the mistakes (excesses, violence, destruction of cultural relics, etc.) of the Cultural Revolution. The most important reason was insufficient leadership, lack of a core of leading cadres to provide the necessary leadership to a mass movement of such gigantic proportion. The problems were compounded by Mao’s incorrect method of leadership, the low cultural level of the masses, and the inevitable problems of practicing real democracy in a socialist country with extremely low level of productive forces.

Lack of a Leading Core

The lack of a leading core was apparent in the split within the Central Committee and the aim of the Cultural Revolution being to “smash the bourgeois headquarters within the party.” The very party supposedly leading the revolution was simultaneously its target. This greatly undermined the party’s credibility. The lack of a leading core was also due to the fact that close to half of the CPC top leadership opposed the Cultural Revolution. Mao openly admitted the intra-party opposition in a 1966 statement: “The publication of Yao Wen Yuan’s article was a signal. This signal met with firm opposition from Peng Chen and others. They even completely vetoed my suggestion to publish small pamphlets. Therefore, I had to draft the May 19 circular. This circular clearly already talked about the question of two lines and two roads. At that time, most people thought that my thinking was already old. Sometimes, only myself agreed with my proposal. Later, when I brought this spirit to the 11th Plenum of the Ninth Party Congress, I only got the support of a little more than half of the people. Many comrades still could understand. . .”[22]

The obvious disagreement of the revisionists notwithstanding, the weakness of the cadre core was largely responsible for the discrepancy between the correctness of many of Mao’s lines and the incorrect practice during and after the Cultural Revolution. One example was his repeated call to “not look for ants where ants don’t exist” (meaning not to look for capitalist-roaders in your unit if there aren’t any) during the Socialist Education Movement. The same thing happened during the Cultural Revolution. Mao repeatedly called for narrowing the target of attack, but the target was actually enlarged, leading to many excesses. The weakness of the cadre core not only meant that cadres could not guide the revolution correctly, but that many were themselves part of the problem.

Worried about China’s future, Mao repeatedly stressed the need to train revolutionary successors as a strategic task in the later stage of the Socialist Education Movement and he institutionalized this task in the Ninth and 10th Congresses. The revolutionary committees sought to give this an organizational form, but were largely unsuccessful. The eventual fall of the “gang of four” proves that Mao failed in this respect. The problem of succession under socialism affects all socialist countries. The proletariat’s inexperience in governing and socialism being a new social system mean a tradition has not been established. So succession in every socialist country has been earth-shaking, with denunciation and curses heaped on former leaders. There are very few exceptions.

Incorrect Method: Naming No Names

The second major source of the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution and the Socialist Education Movement was Mao’s incorrect method of leadership. As Mao was the only person with significant credibility and authority among the masses during both periods, we should not underestimate his incorrect method.

One of Mao’s mistakes was not pinpointing the lines and their concrete representatives at the outset of the campaigns. When the Socialist Education Movement was first launched, its purpose was vague and general. Reading over the party resolutions that initiated the movement, the only possible impression is that it aimed at everybody. This gave the opposing faction, Liu Shaoqi and his followers, an opportunity to replace leadership at several levels with their loyal supporters, under the pretext of carrying out the campaign. The damage was already done, a significant number of good cadres purged and morally injured, when Mao specified the target of attack. Even then, no names were mentioned, leaving the line subject to all kinds of interpretation. The same incorrect method was repeated in the Cultural Revolution; the effect was more serious because the struggle was qualitatively broader. In the absence of defined targets, excesses were almost inevitable. Almost anyone who had made a mistake was branded a “capitalist-roader.”

Mao himself knew the problem. He said during the Cultural Revolution, “Workers, peasants and soldiers don’t have direct contact with counter-revolutionary revisionist elements. In addition, these counterrevolutionary elements all wave the red flags to fight the red flags, and use the banner of Central Committee directives to get their lines out. . . .therefore, the people were easily deceived.”[23] Given that understanding, Mao was wrong to persist naming no names. As a result of his method, every leading cadre directly linked to the masses became a target of attack, while the real bureaucrats and capitalist-roaders were spared until very late, almost two years after the Cultural Revolution had started. Enough damage had been done then.

Mao’s other error was not to draw up a strategic and tactical plan on how to remove and replace revisionist leaders with the minimum disruption and destruction. As a result, he could not reconstruct the party after its dramatic destruction during the Cultural Revolution. It may be that the revisionists’ line and organization were simply too strong for Mao to crack without first mobilizing the masses in action. Purging the revisionists too early could have led to a civil war or himself getting squeezed out. Another reason for his error might be historical necessity, that the revisionists’ skills and experience were crucial to the building of socialism in China, especially in the early stage. A premature struggle could weaken China tremendously and make it vulnerable to imperialist invasion.

Theoretically, delaying action on the revisionists was consistent with Mao’s view of handling contradictions among the classes in China under dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1957 Mao talked about the antagonistic contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the proletariat, saying that “this antagonistic contradiction can, if properly handled, be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods. However, it will change into a contradiction between ourselves and the enemy if we do not handle it properly and do not follow the policy of uniting with, criticizing and educating the national bourgeoisie, or if the national bourgeoisie does not accept this policy of ours.”[24]

Applying this policy to inner party struggle, Mao obviously did not consider the contradiction with Liu and others antagonistic, although the lines were, until the repeated sabotage during the Socialist Education Movement and in the early stage of the Cultural Revolution, when Liu used the work teams to hit at lower level cadres. Furthermore, Mao’s principle of “ideologically severe and organizationally lenient” in inner party struggle delayed the purges of revisionists. Deng Xiaoping, a major target, had the opportunity to make self-criticism as late as October 1967, two years after commencement of the Cultural Revolution. Whatever the rationale behind Mao’s move, the unfortunate effect was too many incorrect purges of relatively good cadres along with the revisionists.

Oversimplified in Application

A third mistake or weakness in Mao’s method of leadership was leading by slogans. This was an aspect of Mao’s style as well as necessitated by China’s conditions of extreme poverty and low cultural level. These conditions made the communication and consolidation of lines very difficult. Finally communicated from level one to level 27 and the masses, the lines barely resembled what they were originally.

To educate and rally people around party lines, especially in a wartime situation, is not only a question of politics, but an art. To avoid misinterpretation by cadres poorly educated in Marxism (and even language), the rule of thumb in presenting any line or directive is crispness, sharpness and precision. One way to simplify the line and make it easily understood is to use numerical formulae such as “unite with 95% of the cadres and masses,” “punishment should be limited to 1% of the population,” (which were directives and resolutions of the Socialist Education Movement) or sharp concepts such as “key link,” “principal contradiction,” “foundation,” and “leading factor.” Mao was particularly able to synthesize complicated concepts into easily-remembered slogans and songs. During the war of liberation, most military concepts were formulated this way for the illiterate peasant army. One was the slogan, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” which has, been a rallying call for all national liberation fighters.

Though very convenient, and sometimes a necessary method of leadership, slogans tend to be absolutized, especially by people who lack a comprehensive view of the slogans’ context, and grave consequences ensue. For example, Mao’s 16 Points Guiding the Cultural Revolution asked for narrowing the target, then clarified it in numerical terms with a directive to “unite with 95% of the cadres and masses.” Absolutely applied, the line meant that nationwide, at least 40 to 50 million people were hit. Everywhere, the masses tried to dig out the 5% “enemy.” Their implementation of the line disregarded whether the real enemy existed or not within their particular unit or enterprise. This excess was complicated by the fact that Mao did not name the targets early on.

Combining Propaganda and Slogans

Though slogans are necessary to mobilize the masses, this method of leadership has an inherent one-sidedness. We will quote Jerry Tung extensively on this problem: “Lenin said that using agitation and slogans to lead entails a danger of degenerating into demagogy. But without sharp and clear slogans of agitation, it would be hard, if not impossible, to mobilize the masses.

The masses, who are not politically trained, are not motivated by historical visions even though in the long term their actions are of such substance. The masses must be organized initially by issues and events that affect them and flow from their perceptions. Such perceptions are always spontaneous and thus often lack a clear focus. The purpose of revolutionary slogans and agitation is precisely to rally and focus these spontaneous perceptions. Slogans coined sharply and in a forward-looking manner can help to define the issue itself and rouse the masses to action. Slogans and agitation are indispensable to mobilizing the masses in millions. But because such slogans and agitation around these issues are transient, unfolding around the turning points of events, and generally focus on one issue at a time, they inherently lack the scope and comprehensiveness of putting the present into historical perspective.

This can only be done through propaganda, comparison, synthesis and analysis. Propaganda, while orienting people and putting particular issues and immediate events into historical perspective, does not have the agitational or mobilizing value of single slogans. A working class’ or any political party’s degree of success in organizing depends heavily on its ability to use both forms in skillful combination, appropriately and in a timely fashion.

One-sided emphasis on agitation and slogans has the danger of degenerating into demagogy. When an opportunist is betraying the working class and cannot possibly give reasons and perspective for his actions, he can just agitate or use inappropriate slogans to appeal to the masses’ emotions and spontaneous associations. Then this slogan turns into demagogy. If a slogan is used correctly under one set of circumstances, and still being used after a sharp turn of events, then the slogan itself would turn into a kind of demagogy for a different reason. The latter happens often even to the most honest revolutionaries. To minimize deviations, communists must do constant size-up and lead by propaganda, and only then should lively and invigorating slogans be coined to mobilize the masses. The politics must be in command.

In the case of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, there was a lack of rich and varied propaganda though all that time they had slogans. The problem of Mao’s leadership after the 50’s was that he rarely wrote. Those things he did write were notes taken during meetings as “talks” or quotes. It is a serious fault in political leadership in that this approach, though lively, necessarily lacks scientific vigor and theoretical precision. How could a serious position such as the claim that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union be propagated without serious theoretical work? This seems to have resulted from a loose and informal style of leadership after the Party Secretariat was dissolved during the Cultural Revolution. By comparison, Lenin and Stalin wrote much more.

Metaphysical practice skips the process of development and materialist comprehensiveness. Generally it does not proceed from concretes to solve the problem. Let me give a couple of examples of Mao’s correct slogans getting misused and turned into the opposite in practice. One is the statement that in the final analysis art is not above class and has to serve the working class. Another is the statement to the effect that “as with all things reactionary, if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall.”

The first slogan, “there is. . . no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes or art that is detached from or independent of politics” is a sharp and correct slogan cutting through all the muddle on this complicated matter. But it led to simplifying art forms by reducing their variety and cutting China’s art off from international experience. The second slogan, while again very sharp and advocating a philosophy of struggle applied to the ideological sphere, often meant that the only method of leadership is to “hit” or combat incorrect ideas. Ideas may be incorrect and even reactionary, but we must see who (what class) holds such ideas, under what circumstances they appear, and whether they are being carried out in practice. Under some circumstances some of those reactionary ideas held among young workers, for instance, can be most effectively defeated by leadership through positive examples and actions rather than solely through ideological struggle. Before a young revolutionary has gained an all-sided grasp of material reality or any problem, his application of the formulation “correctness or incorrectness of ideological and political line decides everything” can be downright academic, reducing class struggle to either pedagogics or harmful internal motions.

No communists have done better than the Chinese comrades in mobilizing and organizing millions of peasants in rural areas, the most difficult section of the population to organize. But the forces of habit of CPC’s leadership on one-sidedly stressing slogans and campaigns rather than integrating them with propaganda has unquestionably created conditions for the CPC to make some grave errors. Perhaps the only exception to this approach are the “Nine Polemics” waged during the early 60’s and the campaign to study the dictatorship of the proletariat in the early 70’s. The latter was a model of pedagogics and campaign on the theoretical front. However, the three ideological campaigns around Confucianism, “Water Margin” and “against the right deviationist wind” were perverted into an insinuation campaign which ultimately led to the downfall of Jiang Qing, Yao Wen-yuan, Chang Chun-chiao and Wang Hung-wen.[25]

Inevitable Limitations

As mentioned earlier, once unfolded, the Cultural Revolution was largely a spontaneous movement with very little leadership other than sporadic directives of general guidelines from Mao. The problems inevitable in any spontaneous movement also affected the smooth sailing of the Cultural Revolution. After the call to take power from the bureaucrats, the masses’ enthusiasm was unleashed with an independent momentum running its own course. We support the masses’ participation in cleansing the party because as Lenin said in 1921: “In appraising persons, on the negative attitude to those who have attached themselves to us for selfish motives, to those who have become ’puffed-up commissars’ and ’bureaucrats,’ the suggestions of the nonparty proletarian masses and, in many cases, of the non-party peasant masses, are extremely valuable. The working masses have a fine intuition, which enables them to distinguish honest and devoted communists from those who arouse the disgust of people earning their bread by the sweat of their brow, enjoying no privileges, and have no ’pull.’

In some places the party is being purged with the aid of the experience and suggestions of non-party workers. . . .If we really succeed in purging our party from top to bottom in this way, without exception, it will indeed be an enormous achievement for the resolution.[26]

We affirm the necessity for the Cultural Revolution, the energy of the masses’ participation, and our confidence in their decisions. However, there is also an inherent danger, as Lenin’s warning about masses’ “sentiments” in “Purging the Party” we quoted earlier demonstrated.[27] This “sentiment” was responsible for many of the excesses that could not be checked during the Cultural Revolution, given the lack of a leading core in the party and the very nature of the Cultural Revolution.

The lack of leadership was compounded by the rapid pace at which the Cultural Revolution developed. The short time from inception to peak (Mao estimated about five months) caused discontent among even the stronger comrades due to insufficient time to consolidate them on the correct orientation and outlook towards the masses’ participation. Mao made self-criticism to these cadres that he “made a mistake in the Cultural Revolution which is giving a response to Nieh Yuet Tzu’s big character poster (the first one in Peking University – author) and wrote a letter to Tsinghua University Affiliate High School, and my own writing of the big character poster to smash the bourgeois headquarters. All these things occurred in a very short time. . . less than five months. No wonder comrades don’t understand.”[28]

A third aspect of the spontaneous movement was the disruption caused by the non-proletarian masses exerting their influence. According to Mao’s sum-up, that was the main reason he could not call off the Cultural Revolution in January 1967 when he and the Central Committee officially promoted and endorsed the Great Alliance in Shanghai. He said, “After the January Storm, the broad masses of workers and peasants advanced great alliance for a while, and the Center also wanted a speedy great alliance. However, while the proletariat wants to transform the world according to the proletariat world outlook, the bourgeoisie also wanted to transform the world according to their world outlook. Petty bourgeois and bourgeois ideology developed among the intellectuals, youths and students destroyed the situation. Every class still wanted to stubbornly express itself. Since the law of class struggle is independent of man’s will, therefore, the great alliance was not formed. Those that ’ were formed rapidly disintegrated.”[29] So the Cultural Revolution dragged on for two more years, and then was prolonged even more by the “gang of four.”

Obstacles to Real Democracy

Related to the above problem is the difficulty of exercising socialist democracy, real democracy for the broad masses. The Cultural Revolution was a genuinely democratic movement involving millions of people. Because under capitalism bourgeois democracy is mainly various forms of deception, it is relatively easy to administer. But not so for democracy under socialism. Given the newness of the socialist system and the rawness of the proletariat, no traditions are well-established. A genuine democracy is also much harder to achieve. Under socialism, the question of democracy is not just who can vote and how to vote, but whether any measure truly reflects the principle of the masses participating in shaping their own future. This problem, or blessing, was compounded by the fact that with a semi-feudal and semi-colonial history, the broad masses in China had almost no experience in formal democracy, and hardly knew of the idea of democracy. Given the opportunity, people could go beyond the limit simply because there was no limit, stated or unstated. The Great Leap Forward, the Socialist Education Movement, and the Cultural Revolution all represented great attempts to involve masses in exercising power over society. In the course of learning, mistakes were made, some great and some small; but we cannot denounce the masses as anarchists for their lack of knowledge.

Writing about the difficulty and complexity of exercising democracy under socialism, Jerry Tung explained, “In Marxist dialectics, the question of democracy is not posed abstractly as ’all men are created equal,’ to cover real inequality under bourgeois democracy. Marxism presents the question of democracy as an identity of contradictions. It has a centralism part and a democracy part at a given concrete level of freedom and necessity. Real democracy requires that the masses’ knowledge be at a high level so that there are scientific criteria and agreement as to what’s right and what’s wrong. At the same time it must be possible to express and communicate differences and opinions to affect the activity of a society.

Because agrarian societies such as China, Zimbabwe, and even the Soviet Union have not gone through a period of laissez-faire capitalism with the tradition and necessary organization of bourgeois democracy which accompany the development of an industrial society, there is a lack of know-how to centralize public opinion and at least some lower forms of participatory democracy. The low level of productive forces also gives rise to a relatively low educational level as in China, parts of Russia and Zimbabwe today where they can only support universal education up to elementary school level and not even into junior high or high school. The masses’ low literacy level affects their ability to study Marxism and other sciences. This is a real hindrance to and a limiting factor for democracy and centralism under socialism. So the genuine mass democracy that has no structural material basis under socialism is limited.

Another hindrance to socialist democracy is the problem of leadership transition, a problem that has still not been worked out under socialism. That is why leaders either hold the leadership position until they die, or there must be purges to change leaders. The change is usually resolved through coups or purges which inevitably negate many positive lessons and traditions of socialism – e.g., the Cultural Revolution and Stalin’s contributions. In advanced capitalist countries this question is solved. That’s why the most vicious imperialist bourgeoisie also has the most perfected minority ruling state apparatus that has ever been developed in human history. One example is the U.S. presidential election and transition. Comparatively speaking there is a minimum of upheaval, disruption, and discontinuity as it moves from one leader to another, from one party to another, all the while guaranteeing the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. As a class, the bourgeoisie is definitely a far more trained and experienced class than the working class today.

In China and the Soviet Union, the fact that the parliamentary tradition was not strongly established is at the root of the problems of socialist legality. There is no tradition to correctly handle and resolve these types of contradictions. That’s why Mao had to put this point in his formulation of the CPC’s basic line. But in retrospect, Mao too had only a perceptual understanding of the problem. It is one thing to formulate the basic line and quite another to establish socialist legal codes and institutions to resolve contradictions in practice. There is very little experience in resolving differences systematically, without major disruptions. And that is one of the obstacles for socialist democracy today and, therefore, one of the problems to tackle in order to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat.

There is no structural guarantee, no organizational guarantee per se to the cause of socialism. Our own Party’s experience shows that there needs to be ideological/political line as well as organization. Both are indispensable. Political line without organization to implement it, to propagate it, to consolidate it, to clothe it, cannot be turned into a material force. On the other hand, organization without political line is useless and bureaucratic. In fact, it will serve reactionary ends. Organizational structure on its own cannot guarantee democracy and maintain the dictatorship of the proletariat.

However, organizational structure is a necessary condition for the implementation of the line. That particular structure was correctly overthrown during the Cultural Revolution. But after the Ninth Congress, this overthrowing of the old was abused. Basically a whole generation of cadres who held opposing views, or had differences of opinion, were purged. There was no way to engage in debate with the opposition. That’s the result of the obsession with and subjectivity on the ideological line – that any shade of difference in line will lead to restoration of capitalism. They totally overlooked the material enforcement of socialism – the workers’ interest in building the organization to protect it. Not seeing the positive independent momentum of socialism, of the socialist state, will lead to abnormal internal life of the Party. That’s how democracy can be abused and was abused in China after the Ninth Congress. And that’s why struggle has to be on a line basis.

Organizational guarantees such as the ability to go to the grass roots, to vote somebody out of their position, to have regular congresses, in other words, the norm of democratic centralism, have to be there. If there is no Party Congress, no Central Committee plenary scheduled on a regular basis, then questions drag on and there’s no chance to vote on them. Part of the organizational guarantee is to make sure that socialist legality is established. There must be set policies and procedures. All will be judged as equals before that socialist legality. . . .

People should not be persecuted for holding a different line, a different opinion, a different belief under socialism unless they engage in active sabotage, carry out the other line in practice and violate democratic centralism. Line has to be debated on a line basis and everybody has the right to hold a different line under socialism. That’s the only way you can have genuine socialist democracy. That’s why we oppose the prosecution for the “four,” because it objectively was on the basis of their line and not as arbitrary individual acts (even though the present leadership tries to present it as such). They are accused of executing different people but those acts were based on the prevailing line of the Central Committee at the time. The problem was that the majority of revisionists who are in power today and were in the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Central Committees did not dare raise differences. So it was the nominal majority view. Even though some lines did cause damage, people should not be prosecuted because those were the lines they were operating under. Those who are prosecuting are equally responsible. That’s where the organizational structural guarantee comes in, even though that does not guarantee the change in line itself. The only way a party can truly maintain itself as the vanguard party is if it can successfully combat the incorrect line. It has to be able to exercise its influence without having to shut people up. It must actually win the masses over to its line instead of allowing them to be influenced by the incorrect line, and then punishing them for it.

The ideological/political guarantee is to have a true vanguard – the most advanced, far-sighted in the party – particularly in the Central Committee and in top leadership positions. To raise the political level of the people as a whole, you have to constantly raise the masses’ theoretical and cultural level. That’s what the campaign to study the dictatorship of the proletariat was all about. The study classes on the job while getting paid are necessary. These theoretical, ideological, and political components of the masses’ lives are absent now in China and the Soviet Union where there is no concentric attack. There is excessive and one-sided concern for economic construction. I see some signs of correction recently in China. And in the Soviet Union the socialist materialist basis is more extensive than in China. The public ownership of the means of production reaches out to larger realms and is more thoroughgoing than in China.[30]


The present CPC leadership has one-sidedly overturned the sum-up of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s contributions. The Line of March has gone even further and tried to polarize the U.S. communist movement into Maoism and anti-Maoism. In doing so, Line of March has not only become the mouthpiece of the Soviet revisionist line on this question; they also reveal their total ignorance of reality in China, as well as their chauvinist contempt for third world countries’ struggles to build better societies.

Proceeding from the fact that the present CPC leadership lumped the trial of the “gang of four” with Lin Piao’s associates, Line of March concludes that there was no line difference between Mao and the Deng group (meaning Liu Shaoqi’s faction). Charging that the trial was carried out in such a manner mainly to avoid a question of Mao’s line which Deng continued to carry out, Line of March said that the historic struggle between Mao and Liu Shaoqi and others “was not a struggle between a revolutionary proletariat line and counter-revolutionary bourgeois line. . . . Rather, it was a struggle in the context of steady degeneration of an opportunist line, one characterized by a fierce battle between voluntarism on the one hand and pragmatism on the other.” This line, according to the Line of March, is the “nationalist policy of attempting to develop China at the expense of the world revolutions and in collaboration with imperialism.”[31]

Academic Games of Idealists

With this idealist conception, Line of March reduces the history of the CPC since 1956 to merely a series of power struggles, factional fights and concessions from the two factions. Since Line of March’s conclusion is so at odds with reality, they have to resort to the opportunist method of consciously ignoring the concrete content of this “factional fight” in their analysis of the Cultural Revolution. Ignoring all facts, they conclude that the Cultural Revolution was incorrect because it was based on Mao’s incorrect theoretical assumption that capitalism could be easily restored and that the Cultural Revolution was an ideological and political campaign aimed at the capitalist-roaders to prevent the restoration of capitalism. Line of March argues that because capitalist-roaders don’t exist, the Cultural Revolution was unnecessary and the method antagonistic. To Line of March, class struggle, especially on the scale of the Cultural Revolution, was merely an experiment to prove the correctness of one theoretical assumption or another, rather than a concrete result of real issues, regardless of the line guiding it.

Line of March is full of idealists: unless workers have a correct line on the theory of capitalism, the correct line on strategy and tactics, the main enemy and secondary enemy, and so on, their struggle against their immediate boss has to be wrong. Their idea that action must be based on a correct line turns reality upside down. Though Line of March’s assertion that it is not that easy to restore capitalism in socialist societies is correct in general, their conclusion that there are not capitalist-roaders in China is wrong. Reality refutes them. By stretching their argument to its limit, Line of March’s method of analysis becomes metaphysical, idealist and opportunist.

Even Line of March’s theoretical basis (the incorrectness of Mao’s capitalist restoration thesis) to support their reversal of the Cultural Revolution is full of holes. First of all, at the time of the Cultural Revolution, the restoration thesis was still not that developed. The arguments used in the Ninth Polemic on Khrushchev’s Phoney Communism were mainly common sense arguments with little theoretical justification. The two quotes Line of March uses to substantiate their claim that Mao was wrong were not even written by Mao, and appeared years after the Cultural Revolution had subsided, in 1973 and 1978 respectively. Using a later, incorrect line to prove that a previous action was incorrect doesn’t even pass in bourgeois logic. It is rationalism through and through. It is like calling someone who lied once in his old age a liar all his life. This rationalist methodology overlooks the process of development.

Disbelieving Revisionism

However, Line of March’s gravest mistake and the biggest flaw in their argument lies in not seeing that the Cultural Revolution was a concrete struggle unfolded around concrete circumstances, which is apparent from the historical two-line struggle between Mao and Liu. It was not a game to prove the correctness or incorrectness of a particular view. The Cultural Revolution was a struggle unleashed to resolve real problems in China. To ignore the circumstances and get hung up on one or two ideas that might be incorrect (in order to prove a point) only shows the extent of Line of March’s idealism. With a pen-stroke, Line of March not only reduces the struggle between Mao and Liu to nothing but factional fights, they also dismiss the struggle between the CPC and Khrushchev as unfounded. And by attributing China’s successful economic construction and the first eight polemics to Liu Shaoqi, Line of March has distorted history and bent over backward to give the revisionists a good image.

Because of their capitulation to revisionism (even though they said “revisionists leave the door open to capitalists to penetrate and threaten socialism”), Line of March opposes the very movement, the Cultural Revolution, that attempted to deal with revisionism and its concrete representatives. In essence, Line of March doesn’t believe in the danger of revisionism. (This is why they charged the Polish workers’ struggle against the Polish Workers Party with “false consciousness.”)[32]

Line of March justifies sympathy for revisionism with quotes from Lenin’s teachings on the three sources of capitalist restoration: the old bourgeoisie, petty commodity producers and international capital. But Line of March fails to mention what kind of leadership and lines will allow these three social sources to flourish. These three sources for the restoration of capitalism gain strength only when revisionist lines dominate the party and society. If the Polish Workers Party (PWP) had seriously taken up the task of consolidating and mobilizing the peasants to collectivize agriculture, one major source of capitalist restoration would have been eliminated or greatly weakened. If the PWP’s lines were correct, Poland would not be so indebted to western imperialists, and thus imperiled by western penetration and domination.

The logical conclusion of Line of March’s line on revisionism is that under socialism the masses’ prevention of capitalist restoration should focus on the old bourgeoisie (which is insignificant since they no longer own the means of production), the imperialists (who are not immediately present in most socialist countries), or the peasants (the most likely and immediate target since they are visible and the most numerous). And what would be the practical consequences of Line of March’s line? Politically, it would disintegrate the worker-peasant alliance, which is the social basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat in most socialist countries. It would misplace the blame, and totally liquidate the role and responsibility of the party leadership in tackling problems with correct lines and policies corresponding to their countries’ concrete conditions. Line of March’s position denies the absolute need to sort out the party’s ranks when leaders fail to work in the long-term interest of the masses.

There is nothing original about Line of March’s charge that the Cultural Revolution was a voluntarist attempt aimed at the wrong target; Soviet revisionists made that accusation a long time ago. They said, “The ’great proletarian cultural revolution’ in China was in no sense directed against the national bourgeoisie and the remnants of the other exploiting classes. None of those who have been ’exposed’ as being opponents of the ’thought of Mao Tse-Tung’ were capitalist-roaders or received unearned incomes.”[33] If Line of March gets their line from Moscow, they should have at least the courtesy, if not the courage, to say so, and not claim originality.

The Magic of Mechanical Materialism

Line of March’s view on how to prevent capitalist restoration is a concentrated expression of mechanical materialism. While pretending to disagree with the revisionist view that “the development of the productive forces will automatically lead towards communism in an economically determined fashion,” Line of March actually champions that line. Their words about inequality under socialism: “Social relations between town and country, administrative and executive, manual and mental work, hierarchy of the job, etc., are secondary relations of production, framed of course by the underlying property (class relations), but stemming more directly from social division of labor, which is determined by the prevailing level of productive force.”[34] According to Line of March, since under socialism there is public ownership of the means of production (and therefore no classes), differences in society are only a question of division of labor, and everybody should be content with their social status and the existing inequalities. According to Line of March, all prejudices, unequal distribution allocated to people in different divisions of labor will automatically vanish as soon as the productive forces develop enough (perhaps because there will be no division of labor then?).

With this invention, Line of March rejects Engels’ teaching that as a transitional society built on the basis of the old, socialism is inevitably stamped with traces of capitalism in every sphere, including production. While we recognize and uphold the necessity for unequal distribution and the inevitability of social differences under socialism, it isn’t only a question of division of labor (which, by the way, is how Liu Shaoqi saw it). To resolve this problem we not only have to step up the development of the productive forces; we must combine that with ideological and political campaigns to raise people’s socialist consciousness. Engels called this combination of economic/practical, theoretical and political measures under socialism “concentric attack.”

Instead, Line of March’s line justifies spontaneous growing stratification between masses and leaders, bureaucratism and all other social injustices under socialism. They oppose all measures to transform the mass consciousness and any measure to bring about more equality at a given level of productive forces. To the Line of March, development of the productive forces will automatically bring about these changes.

With this mechanical materialist view, Line of March pits the need for structural reforms (that is, organizational measures) against the need for ideological/political campaigns, charging that “Mao displayed little faith in any (structural) solution, however, democratic or based on the masses. . . . ”[35] It is true that lack of organization was the main weakness of the Cultural Revolution, but it is not true that there was no attempt to organize it. Before and after the Cultural Revolution, Mao tried various structural reforms, such as workers’ participation in management and vice versa, the three-in-one combination, and the revolutionary committees. There probably were tremendous weaknesses in these reforms, and many even fell apart. One has the right to disagree with these reforms, but not to ignore these attempts. To substantiate their claim that Mao is voluntarist, Line of March has to screen out the facts and line that don’t fit into their argument.

Preferring Business-as-Usual

The thread woven through Line of March’s justification for stratification is their theoretically anti-Leninist line on the role of the party under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and its relationship to the masses. This is also the basis for Line of March’s slander of the Cultural Revolution as too anarchistic and “one of the most undemocratic and arbitrary episodes in the history of the international communist movement.” It was anarchistic, Line of March claims, because it was based on Mao’s anarchistic line of the “right to rebel.” It was undemocratic because workers and cadres were attacked by Red Guards led by “sons and daughters of the recently expropriated Chinese bourgeoisie.”[36] Factually, this is wrong. Major works on the Cultural Revolution report that the only Red Guards of that background were from the Peking United Action Committee, which was formed after other groups refused them membership. The United Action Committee was consciously promoted and egged on by the revisionist party leaders trying to sabotage the Cultural Revolution and confuse the situation. By branding the millions of Red Guards as reactionary, Line of March reveals their thorough disdain for the masses’ participation in this earthshaking event. However, this isn’t Line of March’s main example of how “undemocratic” the Cultural Revolution was.

They cite the abandonment of parliamentary procedure and ignoring majority vote as other examples of lack of democracy. This did happen, and it would be surprising if it hadn’t. A major objective of the Cultural Revolution was to get rid of obsolete forms and organizations as well as rules and structures that legitimized spontaneous and incorrect stratification in society. Even without this goal, one cannot expect orderly parliamentary procedure and business-as-usual during a social upheaval as great as the Cultural Revolution. Line of March is just infatuated with “legitimate” channels of formal democracy under the bourgeois system. No wonder they consider Reagan’s election a real mandate from the American people.

Again, the accusation that the Cultural Revolution was anarchist is nothing new. The Soviet revisionists say the same thing. “The methods used in the ’cultural revolution’ show that its organizers intended not only to defeat their opponents, who held Party and government office in accordance with the CPC rules and the Constitution of the CPR (People’s Republic of China – author), but also to create a totally different machinery of political power, which would make the apparatus of power and the broad masses of the population absolutely subservient in their activity to the implementation of Mao’s political line.”[37]

With the barrack-room as their ideal, the leaders of the ’cultural revolution’ have no need for normally functioning democratic organs of socialist legality. No wonder then that in the course of the ’cultural revolution,’ central and local organs of power were disbanded, trade unions and young communist organizations were broken up and a massive purge of Party bodies carried out.”[38]

But the fault with the Cultural Revolution was not that it overthrew the old organizations, legal systems, rules and regulations. Many of these were revisionist in content and needed to be overthrown. The problem was Mao’s inability and lack of consciousness to establish new institutions and rules to replace the old. To charge that the Cultural Revolution was undemocratic because it dared to overthrow the existing order only reveals Line of March’s faith in the old order and fear of mass movements. This unreserved faith in the established order also underlines Line of March’s incorrect line on the party and its relationship with the masses.

Idealism on Party’s Leadership

They say “the key to proletariat democracy is to raise the political and ideological level of the masses. . . which requires first and foremost,” leadership by a revolutionary party based on the science of Marxism-Leninism, systematically striving to bring revolutionary theory to the masses. For Marxism and Leninism, there is no antagonism between the existence of a disciplined vanguard and the broadest workers’ democracy, in fact, the one is diametrically linked to the other.” To Line of March, the Cultural Revolution violated this cardinal principle because the “guiding line of the Cultural Revolution, however, held that democracy be extended by rebelling against the party.”[39] While we agree with Line of March on the essential need for raising the consciousness of the masses and the essential role of the party in this respect, we want to pose this question: If the party itself has so degenerated that it can’t even raise its own consciousness anymore, what are the masses supposed to do as far as democracy is concerned? It doesn’t take too much effort to think of parties like that – the CPSU and PWP are good examples. Do the workers in these situations have the right to rebel against the leadership to force changes, or should they just sit and wait for the leaders’ future transformation?

Talking in idealist principles about what the party should be, Line of March liquidates the need for a concrete analysis of concrete conditions – that is, what was the state of affairs in the CPC prior to the Cultural Revolution? The revisionists in the party refused to raise the ideological and political consciousness of the masses and took the revolutionary soul out of the party, thus rendering the party impotent. Therefore, it was totally legitimate for the Chinese masses to rebel against these “leaders” and to remove the obstacles to future progress so the party could once again assume its leading role.

A Revisionist Equation

Again, Line of March’s view is not its own invention. They picked up wholesale the line of the Soviet Union which says, “Mao and his followers paid lip service to the Communist Party’s leading role, but their practical activity testifies to the contrary. Mao does not regard the party as a leading and directing force of ’ society but as an instrument of the regime of personal power, as the most important means for carrying out his adventurist and chauvinist policy. . . . That is why one of the basic tasks of the ’cultural revolution’ was to change the composition and ideological-political face of the Communist Party of China and also its function within the system of society’s political superstructure.”[40]

By echoing the CPSU’s line, Line of March makes a serious theoretical error. They equate the leading role of the party in exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat with the full content of the dictatorship of-the proletariat.

Stalin commented on this question in his article, “Concerning Questions of Leninism.” “The directing force is the advanced detachment of the proletariat, its vanguard, which is the main guiding force of the dictatorship of the proletariat.... Without the Party as the main guiding force, it is impossible for the dictatorship of the proletariat to be at all durable and firm.” However, Stalin also warned against the tendency to equate the leading role of the party with the whole content of the dictatorship of the proletariat. “Although the party carries out the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in essence the ’dictatorship of the Party,’ this does not mean that the ’dictatorship of the Party’ (its leading role) is identical with the dictatorship of the proletariat, that the former is equal to the latter.” This dictatorship of the proletariat includes not only the party but all kinds of mass organizations under socialism. Talking about the Russian experience, Lenin said, “Taken as a whole, we have a formally non-Communist, flexible and relatively wide, and very powerful proletarian apparatus, by means of which the Party is closely linked with the class and with the masses, and by means of which, under the leadership of the Party, the dictatorship of the class is exercised.”[41]

The relationship between the party and the masses is characterized by unity as well as contradiction. When the party’s lines and policies are correct and reflect the interests of the masses, the leading role of the party coincides with the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the party leadership turns revisionist, the party contradicts the interest of the masses, and the masses have the right to rebel and struggle to supervise their leaders, Mistakes, excesses and other problems may occur due to the lack of leadership from the party, but these acts are justified and have to be supported. The pressure from below can bring about qualitative changes in the lines and policies of the leadership who, if still genuine, will take the initiative to correct itself. Consistent with this principle, Lenin supported the masses’ participation in sorting out the party ranks.

Denying Both Mao’s and Masses’ Successes

Having full confidence in the masses and the majority of the party membership, Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to remove revisionists and revisionist lines from the party. Line of March’s line on the relationship between the party and the masses is bureaucratic and lifeless, having nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism. In practice, under the pretext of safeguarding the dictatorship of the proletariat, their line leads to repression of the masses who have legitimate grievances. That’s exactly what the Line of March advocates with regards to the Polish workers’ struggle.

Contending that Mao was interested only in manipulating the masses, Line of March charges that “while the party was locked in bitter factional struggle over the nature of revisionism’s relations with the CPSU and USSR, the masses were manipulated into struggle and shallow debate over such questions as whether the party work teams were under the control of ’capitalist-roaders’.” This is Line of March’s proof that the CPC “largely ignored” the task of “systematically raising the scientific and cultural level of the masses.”[42] There were problems in this sphere due to limitations of both the subjective and objective factors. But the debates and struggles in work places and campuses were definitely attempts to raise the scientific and cultural level. Typical intellectual idealists, Line of March can’t see any value in these campaigns, because to them, the struggle against revisionism is only a debate of ideas unrelated to actual class struggle and socialist construction. They slander the masses’ struggles against immediate effects of revisionism on their work – the only correct way to train Marxists – as “shallow.” To the Line of March, theories and lines are not for use in class struggle, but for self-cultivational academic debate.

Blinded by their idealism, mechanism and chauvinism, Line of March claims that “Maoism... is a proven failure at constructing socialism where it has state power, at leading revolution to victory where it does not, and at directing the struggle of the world’s workers and oppressed people against their real common enemy – U.S. imperialism,” and that Maoism is the same as Trotskyism. This assertion parrots the line of the Soviet revisionists that “the Trotskyists and Maoists have also much in common in the methods they advocate for socialist construction, for these are based on subjectivism and voluntarism and lack of any scientific understanding of the laws governing the development of the socialist economy.”[43]

Clearly these lies cannot explain how China under Mao’s leadership developed from a terribly backward country into a country with a self-sufficient economy and a developed infrastructure. Nor can it explain how China succeeded in its own liberation and how “Maoism” inspired many third world countries to wage victorious struggles for national liberation (while Trotskyism has inspired only counter-revolution). Line of March never begins to answer these questions. At the end of an article full of countless contradictory facts and analysis, Line of March asks, seemingly naive, “If Maoism constituted a backward ideological and political viewpoint, how did the Chinese Revolution, objectively a great blow to imperialism, succeed?”[44] This question should shatter any remaining doubts about Line of March’s idealism.


The Cultural Revolution was a battle fought by the Chinese people against the revisionists that threatened the gains of socialism. Though overall it failed to achieve its objective, it was an historic attempt and the victory is the lessons provided to the world proletariat. Just as we don’t condemn a child for a fall while learning to walk, we don’t condemn the masses for their mistakes in the course of fighting and learning. We respect their spirit of fight, fail, fight, fail and fight again until final victory.

The present Chinese leaders have condemned the Cultural Revolution. Their reversal of the verdict on this great event and other accompanying questions has given modern revisionists a new lease on life. The ideological and theoretical confusion created has disintegrated many formerly genuine revolutionary organizations around the world. A correct sum-up of this great event is essential to resolve this confusion. Given the many lessons we can retrieve from the strengths as well as weaknesses of this movement, an incorrect sum-up has great consequences. Those who denounce the Cultural Revolution have no conception of the difficulty of building socialism, especially in an economically backward country. For those parties in advanced capitalist countries denouncing the Cultural Revolution, lack of appreciation of the necessity and lessons of the Cultural Revolution means inability to consolidate socialism after the seizure of state power, and even inability to take state power given the much higher level of all-rounded preparation necessary in advanced capitalist countries. Therefore, differences over the Cultural Revolution sum-up are more than a line of demarcation: they affect our direction in party-building, and professionalizing the party ranks for the all-round preparations for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the responsible outlook of genuine communists on any sum-up of major historical events. In contrast, to the idealists, political lines have no relevance to reality. That’s why they have such an outrageous and distorted view of the Cultural Revolution.

Those socialist countries which denounce the Cultural Revolution risk losing valuable lessons of the Cultural Revolution in safeguarding socialism and eventually transforming socialism into communism. Totally liquidating ideological and political campaigns, those countries cannot deal with the widespread phenomena of bureaucracy, abuse of privileges and similar social problems that exist under socialism – the problems confronting the present CPC leadership.

The very problems that motivated the masses to participate in the Cultural Revolution are again widespread in China. Educated through the storm of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese are less tolerant. Some have written about it, others are threatening another Cultural Revolution. A significant number take it with apathy and demoralization. Some people even doubt the superiority of the socialist system. These are factors counter-productive to the drive to modernize China. So despite their condemnation of the Cultural Revolution, due to opportunism or merely to seek revenge, the Chinese leaders know that something has to be done, or there will simply be no modernization, period.

A letter written by a leading cadre of the Chinese Academy of Social Science urging ideological work was recently given full play in the party press. The author criticized the one-sided formulation of the “four modernizations” slogan. He said, “The fundamental modernization and capitalist modernization is that the former aims to unite the material and spiritual civilization .... It is important to us to study and inherit the revolutionary spirit of the Yenan Times, understand the relationship between material and spiritual civilization and attach importance to the building of socialist spiritual civilization.” Echoing Mao’s line, he added, “As an ideology, socialist spiritual civilization has its relative independence and hastens the building of a material civilization.”[45] This letter was the official party propaganda that launched the socialist civilization campaign recently carried out.

After two years of wholesale opportunist rejection of Mao’s lines (both correct and incorrect ones), the Chinese leaders are paying for some of the unpleasant consequences, such as the boldness of anti-socialist elements that not only reject Mao, but also socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the party. This forced the present CPC leadership to restore some of the correct teachings of Mao, if only to give themselves legitimacy and credibility as leaders. Altering their line that China after 1957 was in total darkness, and Mao’s leadership caused almost total economic collapse, they finally have to admit that despite the mistakes, China under Mao made tremendous progress, beyond comparison with other third world countries. That was in response to the bourgeois rightist challenge that bourgeois democracy and capitalism would be better than socialism for China.

Perhaps nothing scared them more than the upsurge of Polish workers demanding accountability from their leaders. It reminds them of the Cultural Revolution, and that such a movement could come at any time, independent of their will. CPC leaders have repeatedly summed up lessons from the Polish situation, and are learning from it. The CPC summed up problems of opportunism in economic policy (cheating the masses with short-term economic results by getting the country tremendously in debt), bureaucracy among leadership, and lack of political independence as the cause of the Polish workers’ discontent. This sum-up gave impetus to their launching of the socialist civilization campaign, and their recognition of some of Mao’s very correct lines. But without also a correct sum-up of the Cultural Revolution, the measures that they are taking, while useful, will yield few results. How can they recognize that something has to be done about a problem, but condemn a serious attempt, namely the Cultural Revolution, to deal with it. This is the dilemma facing the CPC leaders and many communists around the world.


[1] For a complete account of the events during the Cultural Revolution, see Jan Myrdal and Gun Kessle, China: The Revolution Continued, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972); Jean Daubier, A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, (U.S.A.: Vintage Books, 1974); Joan Robinson, The Cultural Revolution in China, (Maryland: 1969); and Edgar Snow, op. cit, p.65-89.

[2] “Circular of the Central Committee of the CPC,” May 16, 1966 – A Great Historic Document (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1967).

[3] Decision of the CC of the CPC Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Adopted on Aug. 8, 1966, (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1966), p.l.

[4] Ibid., p.l, 2.

[5] Ibid., p.l, 11.

[6] Ibid., p.12.

[7] Joan Robinson, op. cit., p.58-61.

[8] The Shanghai Workers Revolutionary Rebel General Headquarters and Ten Other Revolutionary Mass Organizations, ”Message to All Shanghai People,” Jan. 4, 1967, reprinted in Joan Robinson, op. cit, p.99.

[9]The Shanghai Workers Revolutionary Rebel General Headquarters and Thirty-one Other Revolutionary Mass Organizations, ”Urgent Notice,” reprinted in Joan Robinson, op. cit, p. 102.

[10]Peking Review, March 3, 1967, #4.

[11] Siet Fung Shuan, op. cit., p.36.

[12] Edgar Snow, op. cit, p. 14.

[13] Stephen Andors, op. cit, p.215.

[14] Derek J. Waller, op. cit, p.67.

[15] Jerry Tung, op. cit, p. 193-194.

[16] Stephen Andors, op. cit, p.222, 225.

[17] “Debate on Role of Education,” Social Science Quarterly, (Peking: Academy of Social Science, 1980, Issue 3), “Debate on Politics and Economics,” (Issue # 4).

[18] Cheng Ming Monthly Magazine, Aug. 1, 1979, Issue 22, (Hong Kong: in Chinese), p.22-24, 70s Monthly Magazine, May 1980, Issue 124, (Hong Kong: in Chinese), p.21.

[19] Sino Daily Press, (New York City), Aug. 12, 1981, Front page.

[20] Jerry Tung, op. cit, p.175.

[21]Fundamentals of Political Economy, Vol. II, op. cit, p.247.

[22] Mao Zedong, “March 7th Directive and Talk Concerning Tactical Disposition,” March 7, 1966, Mao and CC of CPC– Early Period of the Cultural Reuolution, (Hong Kong: I San Books, Sept. 1975, in Chinese), p.2.

[23] Ibid., p.3.

[24] Mao Zedong, “On Correction Handling of Contradictions...”, Selected Readings, (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1971), p.435.

[25] Jerry Tung, op. cit, p.185-188.

[26] Lenin, “Purging the Party,” Collected Works, (Moscow: Progress Publishers), Vol. 33, p.39-40.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Mao Zedong, “Talk at Central Work Conference,” Oct. 25, 1968, Mao Zedong Si Xiang Wan Xui, op. cit., p.657.

[29] Mao Zedong, “May 7th Directive. . .”, op. cit, p.3.

[30] Jerry Tung, op. cit, p. 173-176.

[31] “The Trial of the Gang of Four. . .”, Line of March, op. cit, p.8, 10.

[32] “Poland, where we stand,” Line of March, Jan.-Feb. 1981, (U.S.A.), p.30.

[33] A Critique of Mao. . . ., op. cit.

[34] “The Trial of the Gang of Four. . . .”, op. cit, p.27.

[35] Ibid., p.26.

[36] Ibid., p.30-31.

[37] Critique of Mao’s Theoretical Conceptions, op. cit, p. 156.

[38] Ibid., p.l, 19.

[39] “The Trial of the Gang of Four. . . .”, op. cit, p.31. .

[40] Critique of Mao’s Theoretical Conceptions, op. cit, p. 160-161.

[41] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 25, p.192, quoted in Stalin, Problems of Leninism,, (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1976), p.178-216.

[42] “The Trial of the Gang of Four. . . .”, op. cit, p.31.

[43] Critique of Mao’s Theoretical Conceptions, op. cit., p.283.

[44] “The Trial of the Gang of Four. . . .”, op. cit, p.55.

[45] Li Chang, “Build Socialist Spiritual Civilization”, Peking Review, No. 10, March 9, 1981, p.16-17.