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International Socialism, January 1977


Notes of the Month

The Fall of the Shanghai Left


From International Socialism (1st series), No.94, January 1977, p.8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The ‘gang of four’ ‘made secret contacts with foreign countries and pursued capitulationism and national betrayal in a big way’. They are ‘out-and-out counter-revolutionary revisionists, typical representatives of the bourgeoisie inside the party who suck the blood of the workers and are unrepentant capitalist readers’.

The wheel has come full circle. Ten years ago, when he launched the Cultural Revolution, Mao invented a ‘Left’ with which to scourge the Party establishment. It got out of control and raised a whirlwind of rebellion against the top leadership of the Party. The ‘Left’ was able to pull down Liu Shao-ch’i, President of the Republic, and Teng Hsiao-p’ing, General Secretary of the Party, but not to make a permanent mark upon the basic structures of power in the army and party. For three years, Mao endeavoured to strangle his Cultural Revolution but without losing his ‘Left’, so important in balancing against the establishment. He pushed them into the central leadership and made Lin Piao, Defence Minister, his heir, but he could not command the basic Party structures. The ‘Left’ controlled the media, culture, propaganda, some of education; in terms of Party units, only Shanghai and possibly Liaoning.

In 1971, Lin Piao must have gone too far. He and the top leadership of the armed forces fled to escape arrest. The ‘Left’ as a whole was nearly caught in the debacle (indeed, we don’t know how far the Lin Piao affair was precipitated in order to catch the ‘Left’.) Mao no doubt protected what he could of the ‘Left’ from complete liquidation, but permitted the old Party establishment under Chou En-Lai and a rehabilitated Teng Hsiao-p’ing to run the country until Chou’s death earlier this year.

1976 has been a year of paralysis. The factions in the top leadership have stalemated each other in the scrabble for power as Mao approached death. In the spring, the ‘Left’ secured a notable victory when it ousted Teng. But it could not replace him with its own nominee. Hua Kuo-feng had all the appearance of a neutral compromise candidate. By August, the unfilled vacancies in the top leadership indicated the degree of stalemate – Politbureau membership down to 15 (of 21) and its crucial Standing Committee, down to three (of 9).

The ‘Left’ was dangerously exposed. It controlled only culture and Shanghai. Once its protector, Mao, died, it was annihilated with astonishing speed. The real power order of the provincial Party bosses was revealed. The only hope of the ‘Left’ lay in an appeal to the people, over the heads of the Party establishment, as Mao appealed to the students in 1966. At various times before this year, it seemed it was endeavouring to do so through Big Character posters. But the ‘Left’ did not use its paramount position in the media to discuss openly the issues in dispute, perhaps for fear of starting a counterattack immediately. In any case, to whom would they have appealed? The young Red Guards who responded in 1966 have long since passed on; they were sold out in 1967-68, and re-exiled to the countryside in 1969. They will be bitter and cynical at having been used solely as a ladder to the top by Lin Piao and the ‘gang of four’. For the workers, the ‘Left’s’ programme of ‘self-reliance’ means increased speed-up and wage-cuts – abolition of premiums, overtime pay, bonuses. For the peasants, the ‘Left’ seems to have offered little more. For the ‘intellectuals’, the ‘Left’ offered extreme chauvinism, sterilised culture and rural exile.

There seems to have been scarcely a protest when the crunch came. The rumours suggest a stalemated Politbureau meeting between the 6th and 9th October. The factions retired to discuss, the ‘Left’ retreating to the Western Hills outside Peking. Chiang Ch’ing is said to have asked General Chen Hsi-lien, Commander of the Peking Military Region, to settle the stalemate through a coup. He is said to have denounced her to Hua, and the ‘Left’ were all promptly arrested (30 of them at the Western Hills meeting; 3 were said to have been killed in the struggle). Shanghai was immediately cleaned up, and no doubt, other areas as well. The decisive military units – including Mao’s personal guard, Detachment 8341 – then made their public support clear, and the affair was over. The crowds – between a quarter of a million and two million strong in the different provincial capitals – were then dutifully turned out for three days to cheer the downfall of those so recently the saints. The posters and cries escalated the charges – with a strong flavour of male chauvinism in the attacks on Chiang Ch’ing (accused of nagging her husband to the grave, hastening his death, forging his will, high treason, arming the Shanghai militia to fight the army, as well as wearing fine clothes, high heels and putting on make up). A five man commission ‘to investigate the crimes’ is said to have been set up, including in its membership those two earlier casualties of the ‘Left’, Teng Hsiao-p’ing and Peng Chen (Mayor of Peking until 1967).

The establishment will now promptly start rewriting history to heap on the Four all the calumnies they once attributed to those now in power. Meanwhile, they will revive ‘incentives’ (overtime pay etc.; possibly higher prices for peasant output, possibly increasing the area of private plots), and relax cultural controls. They will also resume the foreign trade suspended for so much of this year – swapping crude oil for industrial imports.

The relaxation will be temporary until China’s Stalin – whether Hua or someone still lurking in the wings – establishes his power securely, after which the regime will resume once again the Long March of capital accumulation. While the individuals and the factions change, the central drive to build up China’s industrial might at the expense of the workers and peasants remains.

The ‘four pests’

1. Chang Chun-chiao, mid 60s, Chief Political commissar of the army; writer-journalist in 1950s; 1965 Secretary Shanghai Municipal Committee; 1969 Politbureau.

2. Chiang Ch’ing, 62; actress 1930s; married Mao 1940; 1962 reformed Peking Opera; 1966 on Cultural Revolution Group in charge of culture; 1969 Politbureau.

3. Yao Wen-yuan, mid 50s; 1950s propaganda work; 1966 Cultural Revolution Group; 1969 Politbureau.

4. Wang Hung-wen, 40?, textile worker, active Shanghai Cultural Revolution; 1969 Politbureau; 3rd in status in the Party; chief of Shanghai militia.

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