Jack Bradley

Lessons of the Cultural Revolution: The working class must lead in everything

First Published: The Marxist, No. 10, April 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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ONE OF THE CRUDER distortions shared by Palme Dutt, the Trotskyists and the revisionists of the Soviet Union, is that Mao Tse-tung underestimated and played down the role of the working class in the the Chinese Revolution. Thus, N. Kapchenko (International Affairs, Moscow, February 1968) asserts that “The Mao Group has no exact or definite class mainstay, it does not express or reflect the interests of the working class or other working sections of the population” and Dutt refers to ’the potential weaknesses which lay in the class background of the (Chinese) revolution’. (Whither China, p 11).

Lenin maintained that a major problem for a revolutionary party is to elucidate the correlation of classes in the impending revolution.

It was just such an analysis of classes in Chinese society which Mao Tse-tung made in one of the first articles he wrote (March, 1926) in which with great precision he distinguishes the leading force, the most reliable allies, the vacillators and the out-right enemies. In this article he states that ’though not very numerous, the industrial proletariat represents China’s new productive forces, is the most progressive class in modern China and has become the leading force in the revolutionary movement’.[1]

Stalin, gave as one of the three circumstances which facilitated the development of the revolution in China, the fact ’that the national big bourgeoisie in China is weak, weaker than the national bourgeoisie was in Russia in the period of 1905, which facilitates the hegemony of the proletariat and the leadership of the Chinese peasantry by the proletarian party’.

From the time of writing his article of 1926 to the carrying through of the Cultural Revolution forty years later, Mao’s policy and practice have been strikingly consistent, never deviating from the principle of the leading revolutionary role of the working class – ’the most far-sighted, most selfless and most thoroughly revolutionary’.[2] This did not prevent Mao from laying great stress on the role of the poor and lower-middle peasants which, together with the workers comprised over eighty per cent of the Chinese population.

With Liberation in sight, the question of class alignments and of the leading force in the seizure of power brought Mao Tse-tung into conflict with Liu Shao-chi and other deviationists. Reporting to the Central Committee in March, 1949, Mao asks ’On whom should we rely in our struggles in the cities? Some muddle-headed comrades think we should rely not on the working class but on the masses of the poor. Some comrades who are even more muddle-headed think we should rely on the bourgeoisie. ...We must wholeheartedly rely on the working class, unite with the rest of the labouring masses, win over the intellectuals and win over to our side as many as possible of the national bourgeois elements. ..’ Later in this report he stressed that ’after the victory of the people’s democratic revolution, the state power of the people’s republic under the leadership of the working class must not be weakened but must be strengthened’.[3]

The first years after Liberation were occupied with stabilising prices and the currency, organising and reform and restoring production in what little industry had existed in China before 1949. Referring to the problems of economic development Mao Tse-tung wrote in 1957:

’...With barely seven years of economic construction behind us, we still lack experience and need to accumulate it. ...What we must demand of ourselves now is to cut down the time needed for gaining experience of economic construction to a shorter period than it took us to gain experience of revolution, and not to pay as high a price for it. Some price we will have to pay, but we hope that it will not be as high as that paid during the period of revolution. We must realise that there is a contradiction here – the contradiction between the objective laws of economic development of a socialist society and our subjective understanding of them – which needs to be resolved in the course of practice. ..’ (On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People)

In those early years Soviet influence in economic matters was strong – through both material and technical aid and through the loan of Soviet technicians to China and the training of Chinese experts in the Soviet Union. The principle of self-reliance was not fully appreciated and only partially practised. There was some stress on material incentives, differentia is in salaries began to widen, bonuses and piece-rates were applied as a stimulus to increased output. Technicians and experts occupied positions of special authority. Factory rules and regulations were frequently little more than translations from the Russian.

Many of these non-socialist features were exposed, attacked and to some extent cleared away by the Great Debate and Rectification Movement of 1957 and the Great Leap Forward which followed, beginning in the Spring of 1958.

But in the years immediately following the Great Leap two factors were to exercise a major influence on the development of the revolution in China. First, the revelations from April, 1960 of the extent and character of revisionism, first in Yugoslavia and later in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Discussion of the issues posed in the polemic greatly heightened the political awareness of the Chinese people. Recognising that the main source of revisionism is internal not external, the Chinese began to look to their own situation and, with the example of the Soviet Union before them, to examine with critical eyes the development of the revolution in China itself.

This was given added point and immediacy by the second factor – the years 1959, 1960, 1961 of China’s climatic difficulties, with poor harvests and severe shortages and with the withdrawal of the Soviet technicians in July, 1960 adding to the burden.

Attacks On Mao’s Line

It was in this situation that certain of the ex-landlords, bourgeois and rightists thought the moment to be opportune to exploit the economic difficulties, to challenge Mao’s revolutionary policy and to put a brake on the pace of socialist advance; eventually to set it in reverse. They were supported overtly or aided indirectly by certain elements in the Communist Party who were opposed to Mao’s revolutionary line and chose this moment to attack it.

One such clash took place at the Lushan meeting of the Central Committee in August, 1959 when, according to Chou En-lai:

’The Central Committee of the Party and Comrade Mao Tse-tung firmly refuted such bourgeois points of view of certain people both inside and outside the Party as those calling for the ’consolidation of the new democratic order’, ’long-term coexistence between socialism and capitalism’ and the ’guaranteeing of the four great freedoms in the rural areas – freedom of sale and purchase, letting and renting of land, freedom of employing farm hands, freedom of borrowing and lending money and freedom of trading’.[4]

Mass Line In Construction

The journal of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party “Red Flag” in November, 1959 published a policy statement which examined the application of the mass line on the industrial front:

“Taking as its starting point that ’the workers are the decisive factor in the social productive forces’ and recalling Marx’s dictum that ’of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself’ (Poverty of Philosophy). The article exposed and criticised those who maintained that ’mass movements are all right for revolutionary struggles but not for construction’, Bureaucracy, over-emphasis on material incentives, lack of confidence in the creativeness and wisdom of the working class were severely attacked. It seemed that the stage was set for a political campaign of a radical kind which would have a profound effect on the industrial front.”

The years of difficulty and the weighty economic problems demanding urgent attention must have delayed this process. But, at the same time, these difficulties exposed even more sharply the deep-going character of the problem.

In early 1962 Liu Shao-chi was attempting to reverse the decision of the Lushan Conference and the attacks on Mao Tse-tung’s line, particularly the Great Leap Forward and the commune movement were intensified by certain members of the Party supported by thinly-disguised attacks on the literary and cultural fronts.

The Central Committee in September, 1962 warned that ’the class struggle is complicated, tortuous, with ups and downs and sometimes it is very sharp. This class struggle inevitably finds expression within the Party’.

The Chinese economy turned the corner with the good harvest of 1962 and in 1963 the socialist education movement was launched, focussed especially on the countryside. This, we can now see, was something of a precursor of the Cultural Revolution which opened up in the spring of 1966.

Students’ Choice

As with earlier revolutionary movements in China, it was the students and intellectuals who fired the opening shots. But from the very beginning the orientation was clear. “Among the educational workers, the youth and students everyone must choose for himself”, said the People’s Daily, “which side you are on in the life and death class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie...to be a proletarian revolutionary or a bourgeois royalist.”[5]

So much for the nonsense retailed by 0. Lvov in a recent (January 11, 1969) article in Pravda that “the Mao group was deceiving the young people and terrorising the working people with their help. ...”

The class issues involved in the Cultural Revolution at this time were explained in “Red Flag” of 3 June, 1966:

“to foster what is proletarian and eradicate what is bourgeois in the superstructure” ... “Truth has its class nature. In the present era, the proletariat alone is able to master objective truth because its class interests are in complete conformity with the objective laws. ..There can be no equality whatsoever between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between proletarian ideology and bourgeois ideology, between proletarian truth and bourgeois fallacy……”[6]

By September, 1966 the Red Guards and the revolutionary students were being reminded that they “should take the workers, peasants and soldiers as their examples and learn from them modestly. They should learn from their way of working hard and diligently, learn from the simplicity and modesty of their style of work, learn from their revolutionary quality of being relentless towards the enemy and kind to comrades, learn from their high sense of organisation and discipline, learn from their revolutionary spirit of upholding the truth, correcting mistakes and daring to make self-criticism.”[7]

From the early Autumn of 1966, the debate on the two lines – capitalist or socialist – developed with great intensity among the workers, spreading from one factory to another, until it encompassed the entire working class of China.

The Chinese Factory

What had been the character of the Chinese factory before the Cultural Revolution began to set in motion these thorough-going discussions?

Although the Cultural Revolution was to expose many features of factory life and organisation which were distinctly hangovers from feudal and capitalist society, foreign observers, taking as their basis of comparison the factories of the Soviet Union and of capitalist countries, were nevertheless impressed with the worker-management relationship; the participation of workers in technical innovations and improvements of production methods as well as the political and social motivation of most of the Chinese workers.

For example, Barrie Richman, Canadian specialist in management and industrial relations, who had studied methods of industrial management in the Soviet Union and India, spent some time in China in the Spring and early Summer of 1966, and visited thirty-eight factories. He had this to say:

“...the Chinese enterprise is not viewed as a purely economic unit where economic performance clearly takes priority. In fact, Chinese factories seem to pursue objectives pertaining to politics, education, and welfare as well as economic results. ...The Chinese factory is a place where much political indoctrination occurs both at the individual and at the group level, with the aim of developing the pure Communist man as conceived by Mao. It is a place where illiterate workers learn how to read and write, and where employees can and do improve their own work skills and develop new ones through education and training. It is a place where housing, schools, and offices are often constructed or remodelled by factory employees. It is also a place from which employees go out into the fields and help the peasants with their harvesting.

“Hence if supplies do not arrive according to the plan, Chinese factory workers generally do not remain idle or unproductive – at least by the regime’s standards. In factories I visited where this type of situation arose, workers undertook some education or training during the period of delay in order to improve their skills; or they studied and discussed Chairman Mao’s works or, as was the case at the Tientsin Shoe and Wuhan Diesel Engine factories, they undertook various construction and modernisation activities; or they worked on developing new or improved processes and products.”[8]

Not surprisingly, Richman from his capitalist standpoint does not believe in the effectiveness of political motivation or “ideological extremism” as he calls it, in raising production. He contends that to eliminate self-interest and material gain as key motivating factors would be to fly in the face of world history and experience. From his observations, however, he does draw some interesting comparisons.

He remarks that in a Soviet or American factory there are generally clues – salaries, dress, education, working and living conditions, personal relations – whereby a visitor can distinguish top managers from the workers. But, he says, in Chinese factories there are less clues than probably any other country in the world. And these observations were made when the Cultural Revolution had made only its initial impact.

Richman found that in China there seemed to be no ’substantial differences in the housing conditions of managers, technicians, Reds or workers;’ all eat together in the same canteen, whereas in the Soviet Union upper level managers have for years been paid substantially better than workers, live significantly better in favoured housing and with an allotted car and are now an elite. In Soviet factories according to Richman, directors in an average enterprise drew four or five times more salary than the workers; in some the ratio was as high as nine to one. These, he says, are ’similar to relative pay differentials found in numerous US industrial firms.’ He adds that ’Soviet managers can augment their basic salaries each quarter by as much as fifty per cent – and in some cases even more – by earning bonuses.’

By contrast, in China at the time of Richman’s visit the ratio between directors’ income and the average factory pay was less than two to one. In fact, in eight of the thirty eight factories visited workers were the highest paid. He remarks: “The pay scale differentials between the top paid people and the average wage and the lowest wage in China’s industry are about the smallest in the world to begin with. But they were cutting pay more, especially of the experts, while I was there in a number of instances.’

“Hereditary Diseases”

While foreign observers were impressed, even before the Cultural Revolution, with Chinese factories in comparison with those of the Soviet Union, it was clear to Mao Tse-tung and his colleagues as to many politically advanced workers, that many customs and attitudes, the ’hereditary diseases’ of the old society still remained and that unless these were eradicated it would be impossible for China to continue along the socialist road.

Mao had explained the problem in dialectical terms:

“Socialist relations of production have been established; they are suited to the development of the productive forces, but they are still far from perfect, and their imperfect aspects stand in contradiction to the development of the productive forces. There is conformity as well as contradiction between the relations of production and the development of the productive forces; similarly there is conformity as well as contradiction between the superstructure and the economic base.” (On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, 1957.)

The Liu Line

The control of some sectors of the Party and economic apparatus by Liu Shao-chi and his followers in the years prior to 1966 had encouraged the growth of many bourgeois ideas and practices.

His conceptions of an ’elite’ and his advocacy of ’iron discipline,’ ’unconditional obedience’ to authority and the ’principle of submission’ had exercised a pernicious influence in many factories, as in other spheres. It had fostered a ’boss’ outlook in many Party leaders and directors in the factories and created a separation between workers and technicians. This attitude encouraged the “authorities” to surround themselves with ’yes-men’ and toadies. Already in 1959 Red Flag had said that since some cadres were affected with bureaucratic airs left over by the exploiting classes and were not good at solving problems by persuasion and education, the masses had little confidence in them and this hampered some workers from looking on socialist labour as their own business. The revisionist line played on the egoism and self-interest which thousands of years of Chinese society, slave, feudal and capitalist – all based on private ownership – had engendered in the outlook of the people, including the working class.

With the notion of ’authority’ and ’discipline’ and the failure to rely on the initiative of the workers, came an unnecessarily large body of administrators depending for their authority on long-winded rules and regulations which the workers were expected to observe. “Some comrades,” said Red Flag, “would love to have a set of regulations and systems which can meet every changing circumstance so that after one spell of work they can spend their lives in peace and tranquillity ...Such people always blame the masses, saying ’The regulations and systems have just been worked out, now you’ve upset them’.”

’One example exposed and then cleared away by the workers of the Chenfeng Machinery Plant, Langchow, during the Cultural Revolution was of sixty written regulations running to 140,000 words concerning the factory management. In this factory raw materials passed through twenty procedures before getting to the workers. There were sixty pages of technical data for making a common machine part.

In trade union work also there had been a running conflict from the time of Liberation between the two lines; Liu Shao-chi, Peng Chen and their followers constantly seeking to play down the class struggle in the workers’ movement. Putting politics in second place, they argued for ’productive construction,’ echoing Krushchov. For them, once the workers spent their time concentrating on production, their orientation was essentially correct. Liu Shao-chi maintained that ’the movement for production is in itself the workers’ movement.’

He argued that whereas the Communist Party includes only the advanced sections of the working class, the trade unions embrace almost the whole working class. With this conception, comparable to the ’All-People’s State’ and ’Party of the Whole People’ fantasies of the Soviet revisionist leaders, the proletarian Party should be relegated to assist but not exercise leadership over the trade unions. This syndicalist trend ran directly counter to Mao’s principle of putting ’politics in command:’

’Education should be conducted among comrades in the trade unions and among the masses of workers to enable them to understand that they should see not merely the immediate and partial interests of the working class while forgetting its broad, long-range interests.’

These were some of the problems affecting conditions in the factories at the start of the Cultural Revolution. In the last analysis they can be concentrated into one central issue – the question of political power – could the working class assert its authority as the leading force and strengthen and consolidate its dictatorship or would the bourgeoisie by stealth and cunning stage a come-back.

Factory Rebels

In some factories the attack by ’rebels’ against the ’capitalist-roaders’ in authority in the enterprise began as early as June, and July, 1966 when Liu Shao-chi and his followers were in control of certain sections of the Party apparatus.

Liu Shao-chi sent ’work teams’ from the party headquarters into the factories with the intention of suppressing those workers who were bold enough to ’dare to think, dare to speak, dare to act’ a slogan much used during the Great Leap Forward and now revived.

These work teams sought to protect the factory Party leader or Director who were, in most cases, the target of the rebels’ criticism and to suggest that the Cultural Revolution was principally of concern to intellectuals and youth and of little moment to the factories where the concentration should be on production. The work teams tried to represent the critics as counter-revolutionaries, who were opposing the Party, the Central Committee and even Mao Tse-tung himself.

Lenin remarked in 1919 that ’with luck the (capitalist) institutions can be smashed at once, but habit can never be smashed at once whatever your luck.’[9] This proved to be true in China’s Cultural Revolution. At first the rebels in the factories were in a minority, frequently just a few of the advanced, politically far-seeing comrades who had to contend not only with Liu Shao-chi, the work teams and the factory authorities’ but also with the resistance and, at times, outright opposition of those work-mates in whom a ’conservatism’ and unquestioning and uncritical loyalty had been engendered in recent years by the Liu Shao-chi line which played on the inhibitions, superstitions and feudal prejudices and fears left over from the old exploiting society.

Force of Habit

As it developed during the next two years, the Cultural Revolution was to demonstrate, with one striking example after another, how persistent are the ideas, customs and attitudes inherited from the past society and with what cunning the bourgeoisie and other reactionaries, changing their tactics and their appeal – now ’right’, now ’left’ – will exploit the ’force of habit’ for their own purposes in each changing situation until they are finally crushed. How correct had been Lenin’s warning that ’the danger threatens every ruling party, every victorious proletariat, for it is impossible at once to smash the resistance of the bourgeoisie or to set up a perfected apparatus.’ The apparatus, said Lenin, ’will sometimes cover up all kinds of rogues who call themselves Communists.’[10]

Let us follow the course of events in this early phase of the Cultural Revolution in one enterprise – the Peking Machine Tool Factory – where a group of only 18 ’rebels’ in June, 1966, were the first to put up posters criticising the factory authorities for failing to follow a truly revolutionary, proletarian line. Immediately after this the first work team arrived (8 June) but met with much opposition and criticism from the workers and then withdrew. A second team was sent in from the Peking Party apparatus – at this time under Liu Shao-chi’s Control – and was also rebuffed. They left on 22nd and the next night, the 23rd, the eighteen rebels organised a meeting of all the workers to discuss the criticisms. Then a third work team arrived. They had learned from the experiences of the first two teams and were more cunning. They assailed the rebels and set about cajoling other workers to oppose them. The rebels, they said, were ambitious, self-seekers, wishing to usurp the authority in the factory and set themselves up as leaders; they were counter-revolutionaries. The meeting on 23rd, they said, had been ’a small Hungarian incident,’ an attempt at counter-revolution. Many workers were misled by these arguments, just as some British workers are misled by Powell’s racialism, despite his patently anti-working class policies.

In this factory the debate on the rights and wrongs of the criticisms went deep and wide and continued over a period of nearly five months. Using the methods of direct democracy, discussions were held at all levels in small groups, on the workshop floor and at the level of the whole factory. In ’large-character posters’ which lined the walls of the workshops, filled the corridors and the factory canteen, individual workers or groups of workers- explained their ideas, voiced their criticism or counter-criticised the critics, put forward their suggestions for change.

These discussions and statements were not concerned with generalities or abstractions. They dealt with matters directly affecting the everyday life of the workers, the conditions in this factory, the character of the management, the methods of production; the quality and suitability of the production – did it truly ’Serve the People’?; the bonus systems and material incentives; the political life of the factory, the character of the Party leadership in the factory – questions on which every worker could speak from experience of his own. It was in the back and forth debate on such matters that the rebel minority were able to open the eyes of their colleagues to the actual features of the bourgeois line as it was being applied in their own factory; to extend their political understanding in the specific terms of their daily working lives.

This phase in this factory – the pace was uneven from factory to factory and from one part of China to another – came to an end with a mass meeting of all the workers on 21 October. The meeting started after work at 4 pm and continued until after 9 pm. The rebels stated their case. Many of the workers who had been misled explained how their viewpoint had changed, and why. The factory authorities had an opportunity to defend their position or to examine their past policies self-critically. The meeting showed that the five months of debate had had their effect. The rebels received the over-whelming support of their workmates and were elected with some others to a Cultural Revolution Committee for the factory. In the following months factory committees of this kind were being formed all over China. Procedures for elections had been laid down by the Central Committee of the Party:

“Members of these organisations must not be appointed from above nor is behind-the-scenes manipulation allowed. A system of general election must be instituted in accordance with the principles of the Paris Commune. ..The members can be replaced through election or recalled by the masses at any time.”

With a literary agility to be wondered at, but not admired, the Pravda article by Lvov already mentioned comments on these ’rebels’, ’whose organisations, as is generally known, are formed mainly from politically immature workers who have not been tempered from a class point of view. ..’ Would that in all countries there were many more such ’immature’ and untempered workers.

To Liberate Themselves

During June and July, 1966, Liu Shao-chi and the work teams, using the prestige of the Communist Party, had been able to pass themselves off as the true spokesmen of the Central Committee; the real revolutionaries in contrast to the ’counter-revolutionaries’, the rebels. This situation changed dramatically when on August 5, Mao Tse-tung published his own poster in which he directly accused ’some leading comrades from the central down to the local levels. ..adopting the reactionary stand of the bourgeoisie. ..have enforced a bourgeois dictatorship and struck down the surging movement of the great cultural revolution of the proletariat.’ ’They have’, said Mao, ’puffed up the arrogance of the bourgeoisie and deflated the morale of the proletariat.’

Within a few days, the Central Committee issued its Communique – the 16 Points – which emphasises among other things that the only method is for the masses to liberate themselves and ’any method of doing things in their stead must not be used.’

’It is normal,’ the Communique stated, ’for the masses to hold different views. Contention between different views is unavoidable, necessary and beneficial. In the course of normal and full debate, the masses will affirm what is right, correct – what is wrong and gradually reach unanimity ...In the course of debate, every revolutionary should be good at thinking things out for himself and should develop the communist spirit of daring to think, daring to speak, and daring to act. ...’

Political Power

Contending views argued out in debate had brought greater political enlightenment. But there remained the crucial question of political power.

With the formation of the Revolutionary Committees by mass action in the factories, there was for a short time, a duality of authority since responsibility for production and finance remained in the hands of the former factory managements. This obviously could not continue and the question of political power in the factory now came into sharper focus. By December, 1966, workers in the more politically advanced factories began to take the next step – to seize power. Through their Revolutionary Committees they took over from the former authorities the functions of production, finance and administration. The workers were taking their destiny into their own hands.

A rebel revolutionary worker in the Peking Machine Tool Works remarked that there were some who doubted whether the workers were capable of organising production. ’We believe,’ he said, ’that from our practical experience we have the ability to organise production economically and effectively, although the way we shall organise it will be different from the old method. We shall break through the straightjacket of the old bourgeois way and get rid of methods copied mechanically from the Soviet Union. These we shall replace by forms of organisation which correspond to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, the Thought of Mao Tse-tung, and to the needs of our, socialist system. ’This was putting into effect the policy expressed by Red Flag that the first thing to do to liberate the productive forces is to liberate the great masses of the workers, smash the chains which fetter their strength and wisdom and sweep away the obstacles restraining the developments of that strength and wisdom.

An American, Charles E. Merriam, wrote that the performance of daily work is ’in a sense a perpetual plebiscite in which the votes are not formally cast but in which the signs and symbols of assent and dissent are clearly understood by skilled observers.’ (Systematic Politics, Chicago, 1945). In other words, as the bosses well know, the workers have it in their power to ’vote with their hands.’ An old Chinese worker expressed the thought more crisply: ’I have the same pair of hands as I had yesterday. But see with what energy and joy I am working now.’


However, the seizure of power was not all plain sailing. In many places the capitalist roaders did not give up without resistance. The Central Committee had to warn leading personnel in the industrial enterprises at the end of 1966 against ’taking revenge because of the masses’ criticism and exposures of facts.’ Nor, said the Central Committee, must they cut workers pay or victimise workers by forcing them to leave their factories, (Peking Review, January, 1967).

In fact the methods of the bourgeois liners varied; at one period frontal attacks on the revolutionaries; at another bribes to win over the gullible and thus split the ranks of the workers. The municipal authorities in Shanghai in January, 1967 pulled out all the stops in the last-ditch endeavour to maintain their positions of authority using a variety of bribes and material inducements they tried to wean the masses from the revolutionary rebels and to stem the tide of seizures of power that were spreading from one factory to another. Bonuses and wages-in-advance were paid out; apprentices up-graded to receive full pay; fares granted for travel to other cities ’to exchange experiences,’ thus taking workers out of production. Students working in the factories were given relatively high pay to cause divisions between them and the workers. The appeal was to ’those workers who were carried away by the arguments that a kopek added to a rouble was worth more than socialism and politics’ (Lenin)[11]. The Party organ Red Flag characterised these manoeuvres as a ’form of bribery that caters to the psychology of a few backward people among the masses, corrupts the masses’ revolutionary will and leads the political struggle of the masses along the wrong road of economism, inviting them to disregard the interests of the state and the collective and the long-term interests, and to pursue only personal and short-term interests.’

The attempts in Shanghai failed. The organisations of the rebel revolutionaries answered with the ’January Revolution’ which swept the bourgeois liners out and installed a Revolutionary Committee for the municipality of Shanghai.

From the seizure of power by the revolutionary rebels to the creation of ’new organisational forms for the state organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat’ was a short step. Quite soon the ’revolutionary alliance’ or ’three-in-one combination’ became the accepted organ of power in factories, communes, schools and universities. This brought within the one unit three elements: the revolutionary rebels; the revolutionary cadres and the People’s Liberation Army or the militia.

From the beginning of the Cultural Revolution the Central Committee had explained that the majority of the cadres (Party and some non-Party activists and leaders) were sound although some had been misled and others had acquiesced all too easily in following a revisionist, bourgeois policy. Only a small number, said the 16 points, were ’anti-Party, anti-socialist Rightists.’

There were, of course, those cadres who from the beginning had identified themselves with and fought alongside the rebels. Many others, after their errors had been explained to them, through a process of self-criticism, discussion and study, and in most cases a spell of work as ordinary labourers, were accepted back as valuable comrades on the revolutionary alliances.

The People’s Liberation Army had always had close links with production and since 1959, when Lin Piao became Minister of Defence, had undergone intensive political education.

And so in the revolutionary alliance, or revolutionary committee as they are now called, were brought together the dynamic and enthusiasm of the revolutionary rebels; the experience of the remoulded cadres and the high political consciousness and devotion to the people of the army men.

The style of work of these committees was explained by Red Flag: ’The members of the revolutionary committees are ordinary labouring people. They should go deep among the masses and not take special privileges. They should consult the masses extensively whenever there are problems and take an active part in socialist productive labour.

New Forms of Democracy

Dutt, wedded to the British Road to Socialism with its reliance on the British Constitution and the Parliamentary system, has no time for such methods of direct democracy by which the workers elect their own mates to the factory committee and recall and replace them if they are not satisfactory. He says the groups of Revolutionary Rebels have been installed ’without any corresponding basis of popular representation or election.’ (Whither China p 38).

The transition from capitalism to communism ’will certainly create a great variety and abundance of political forms,’ said Lenin and added ’Under socialism much of the “primitive” democracy will inevitably be revived, since for the first time in the history of civilised society, the mass of the population will rise to independent participation, not only in voting and elections, but also in the everyday administration of affairs.’ (State and Revolution)

The revolutionary committees now managing China’s factories, communes, schools and universities represent a giant step in this process.

By August, 1968 revolutionary committees had been established in most factories, communes and educational institutions, as well as at the Municipal and Provincial levels. (The process was completed, with the exception of Taiwan by early September) The workers had by this time passed through the revolutionary fires of struggle against the bourgeois line, of argument and counter argument within the factory, of battles against the manouevres and duplicity of the capitalist roaders, and had already had some experience of the responsibility of power and authority. This, together with intensive study of the works of Mao Tse-tung, had greatly raised their political understanding and prepared them for the next major step – a development which put more teeth into the dictatorship of the proletariat giving it still greater effectiveness: the decision that ’The working class must exercise leadership in everything.’

Workers’ Leadership

In its immediate application this took the form of introducing working class supervision over education (and the management of rural schools by the poor and lower-middle peasants) ’The facts show us’ said one Chinese statement, ’that it is impossible for the students and intellectuals by themselves alone to fulfil the tasks of struggle-criticism-transformation and a whole number of other tasks on the educational front; workers and People’s Liberation Army fighters must take part, and it is essential to have strong leadership by the working class.’ (August, 1968) Although there had been some improvements after Liberation, the schools were still monopolised by bourgeois intellectuals. Attempts had been made for some years to introduce a combination of work and study by which education would be linked with production in factory and commune but these efforts had been only partially successful, not going to the root of the problem and were frequently sabotaged by the capitalist roaders supported by the bourgeois intellectuals at the schools and universities themselves. In future this would no longer remain a policy advocated from above; the workers’ teams which now entered the universities, middle schools (14-17) and primary schools would carry out in practice. ’The proletarian educational system under which theory and practice accord with each other can be brought into being only if the proletariat, takes a direct part.’ Nor would this be a passing phenomenon – the workers’ teams will remain a permanent feature in the management of Chinese schools and universities.

Scrap ’Empty Talk’

The workers teams may vary in size from thirty to forty workers in a middle or primary school, to two hundred or more in a large university. The workers in the factory decide which of their numbers are best suited to form the team and the factory continues to pay their wages. The members of one team will remain ’whilst they continue to be effective’ and will then return to the factory and be replaced by other workers. Members of the team serve on the school or university Revolutionary Committee and try to steer the school along a correct revolutionary course. Through study classes in small groups, or at the classroom level or in meetings of the whole school, the workers’ teams endeavour to give the students a correct proletarian class orientation, bringing their down-to-earth viewpoint and sense of organisation and discipline to the students. The working class ’detests the habit of empty talk and the practice of double-dealing, where words and actions do not match.’ (Yao Wen-yuan. statement, August, 1968)[12]

The entry into schools and universities of the workers’ teams has been welcomed by the students. Even those from working class and peasant families had sensed the growing generation conflict; that in the past as students they had tended to move away from their class origins, and the realities of the class struggle. In place of a political motivation, they worked hard for good marks in order to ’get on’, which before the Cultural Revolution usually meant to become an official or an intellectual.

This development has started with the schools and universities but it will not stop there. In time workers’ supervision will extend to all ’places where intellectuals are concentrated’ and ’In this way the unhealthy atmosphere, style of work and thinking that exist among intellectuals concentrated in groups can be changed and thus there is the possibility for intellectuals to remould themselves and achieve emancipation.

’In the course of fulfilling this mission, the working class will itself be profoundly steeled in the class struggle and a group of outstanding worker-cadres will emerge, not merely to manage schools but to reinforce every sector of the state organs and the revolutionary committees at all levels.’ (Yao Wen-yuan statement).

Thus in China is being fulfilled under the leadership of the Party and with the guiding principles of the Thought of Mao Tse-tung that destruction of bureaucracy’ envisioned by Lenin in 1917 and made possible ’by the fact that socialism will shorten the working day, will raise the masses to a new life, will create conditions for the majority of the population that will enable everybody, without exception, to perform ’state functions’ ...’ (State and Revolution).

Earlier in this article we took a look at a factory in the opening phase of the Cultural Revolution. We will now describe another factory at the end of 1968 when, according to the Central Committee’s Communique ’this momentous proletarian cultural revolution has won great and decisive victory’.

How It Works

The Peking Printing and Dyeing Factory is typical of many factories set up in 1958 at the time of the Great Leap Forward. The buildings are modern, airy and well laid out; the equipment is modern and the majority of the workers are comparatively young. In this factory the average age is thirty.

The factory has a lively, political atmosphere. Posters abound in workshops, along the corridors, out in the factory gardens with suggestions for the Revolutionary Committee, discussion of the Party Communique, a long strip-cartoon depicting the political life of Liu Shao-chi, comments on the Vietnam war and the liberation struggles in other parts of the world. A young worker of twenty-eight, member of the Revolutionary Committee, greets visitors and gives a lively and dramatic account of events at this factory during the Cultural Revolution.

The factory is engaged in printing and dyeing cotton, rayon and synthetic textiles. There are 2,000 workers (40 per cent women) organised in three shifts of eight hours. There is one rest day a week.

This factory experienced the same pressures from work teams which have been described earlier. Many revolutionary workers were at that time branded as ’black gang’ and reactionaries.

After Mao Tse-tung issued his poster the process of mass discussion and criticism began with the capitalist roaders going all out to split the workers into factions. By the winter of 1966 the conflict centred on the question whether it was necessary to make revolution or to follow the ’conservative’ line; both sides claimed to be the true revolutionaries; the leading cadres stood alongside the conservatives’.

In August, 1967 after the pronouncement that there is ’no fundamental political reason why the working class should be split into factions’ groups of workers representing both sides were set up to study the works of Mao Tse-tung with the problems of this factory in mind. One of the causes of disagreement concerned the cadres -were they capable of being remoulded and brought back into the leadership of the factory or should they be dismissed from all posts. From study came unity. In September a three-in-one alliance was formed based on the separate workshops.

In April, 1968 the workers began the movement ’to purify the class ranks’. Basing themselves on their experience during the Cultural Revolution, the workers started to examine how many were genuine workers who had been misled and how many former landlords and rich peasants who had sneaked into jobs in the factory to escape the wrath of the local peasants (and often changing their names) had attempted to sabotage the Cultural Revolution to serve their class interests. In this factory some forty were brought to light as a result of a factory-wide discussion and examination. These were put to work on the factory floor ’under the dictatorship of the workers’.

Cleanse The Party

This factory was also engaged with the problem of Party building and Party purification. When Liu Shao-chi carried out Party building in the past, the workers said, he did it behind closed doors. He did the same when Party members made mistakes. The investigation was made in secret. This meant, they said, that with Liu Shao-chi’s method of building and rectification, the Party got further and further away from the masses.

The method would be different this time. The important thing was to arouse the workers to concern themselves with Party building; the open-door method. Every worker in the factory would be invited to join in. Mao had said: ’Who gives us the power – the workers.’ He had also said that ’a proletarian party must get rid of the waste and let in the fresh.’ In this factory Party purification would be organised by each workshop setting up its own Party Purification group to study the question and to review the records of Party members –their attitude to the revisionist line; how far they had fought individual self-interest; if they had made mistakes in the Cultural Revolution and how they had corrected them; whether they were ’fresh’ retaining their revolutionary vigour or ’stale’, settling down into bureaucratic ways. These groups would also consider who were those workers who had shown their political mettle as advanced revolutionaries during the struggles of the Cultural Revolution.

After discussion the workers in this factory had abolished all piece-rate work and individual bonuses as material incentives inappropriate to the new situation when the main emphasis is on political consciousness to raise production.

The factory rules and regulations had been investigated and drastically reduced. The top-heavy administration had been pruned. The three hundred administrative-technical personnel had been cut to twenty. Many of the former cadres were now working on the shop floor.

The average wage in this factory was fifty yuan a month; there were a very few workers at the lowest level of thirty five yuan and an equally small number on the highest wage of 108 yuan.

The former revisionist trade union unit in this factory had been scrapped and replaced by a workers’ representative congress which will exercise supervisory functions on the workers’ behalf over the Revolutionary Committee (the political organ of power) and will serve as an additional channel for workers’ views, suggestions and criticisms. The factory elects representatives to the district and municipal levels of this Congress.

The Revolutionary Committee is composed of nineteen, of whom eight are standing committee members. The rest are engaged in full-time factory work. The eight standing committee members put in one day a week on the shop floor. Three members of the Revolutionary Committee are women. Fourteen are members of the Communist Party.

The Committee comprises ten members from the workers (the revolutionary masses) 2 People’s Liberation armymen and seven cadres.

The Revolutionary Committee is the body responsible for factory management. It divides its functions into four:

production including finance, workshop organisation; payment of wages;

political – organising the political life and political study in the factory;


welfare including special provision for large families, workers on pension; nurseries; kindergardens.

The effect of the workers taking control in this factory had been to boost production despite the fact that in July, 1968 the factory sent 600 of its workers in one of the first workers’ teams to enter the Tunghua University. 400 later returned to the factory leaving a team of 200 at the University.

The working class of China under the leadership of the Communist Party and by the application of the Thought of Mao Tse-tung is asserting itself as the ruling class in ever-widening spheres of production, education and social and political life, The workers’ ’inexhaustible fund of creativeness’ is finding expression.

But in a sense this is only the beginning of the process for ’when the old contradictions between relations of production and the productive forces and between the superstructure and the economic base are resolved, new contradictions will arise - this is an unending and ever new dialectical process. To answer the demand for the continuous development of the productive forces there must be a continual readjustment of various aspects of the relations of production and, as a result, a constant process of renovation of the various aspects of the superstructure. This is a guarantee for the continuous growth of the productive forces.’ (Peking Review 17 11 1959).


[1] Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society Mao Tse-Tung Selected Works Vol 1 p 18.

[2] On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship Mao Tse-Tung Selected Works Vol IV p 421.

[3] Report to the Second Session of the Seventh Central Committee Mao Tse-Tung Selected Works Vol IV pp 363 and 369.

[4] Peking Review October 13, 1959 p 11.

[5] People’s Daily June 5, 1966.

[6] Red Flag No 8 1966 editorial. Reproduced in Peking Review June 17, 1966 p 5.

[7] People’s Daily editorial September 15, 1966 reproduced in Peking Review, September 23, 1966 p 25

[8] Quoted in Monthly Review May, 1967 p 9.

[9] The Deception of the People by the Slogans of Equality and Freedom V I Lenin speech of May 19, 1919. Little Lenin Library p 34.

[10] Deception of the People p 34.

[11] What Is To Be Done? V. I. Lenin 1902 Selected Works Vol 2 p 59.

[12] Yao Wen-yuan’s statement is published as a separate booklet ’The Working Class Must Exercise Leadership in Everything’ August, 1968 Foreign Languages Press, Peking.