Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Why the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was Reversed by Harsh Thakor : Celebrating 50 Years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

This article reflects the personal views of Harsh Thakor

Below I am noting a list of reasons the Cultural Revolution had a setback.

The majority have been taken from the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist research study group of USA. which no doubt have done most commendable research in upholding achievements and analysing it’s errors. I owe them my gratitude. I have put my personal comments on all the points.


The disbanding of many mass organizations in China in the fall of 1967, in order to put a halt to factional fighting, continues to be a controversial one. Some scholars and activists argue that independent workers organizations and unions were an essential means for the working class to exercise political supervision over the party during the Cultural Revolution, and this must be an important feature of socialist societies in the future.

In a paper presented at a China Study Group–and Monthly Review–sponsored conference in Hong Kong in June 2006 on the 40th Anniversary of the Cultural Revolution titled “Rethinking the Legacy and Genealogy of the Cultural Revolution,” Fred Engst, a lifelong China scholar, stated that it was a mistake to dissolve the mass organizations.

Another scholar and friend of revolutionary China, Professor Joel Andreas, argued that instead of calling for power seizures along the lines of the January Storm in Shanghai, Mao should have called on rebel workers to seize power in the unions, converting the unions into independent mass organizations that could undertake effective mass supervision of the party.[2]

We agree that mass organizations of workers, women, oppressed nationalities and other sectors have an important–indeed, essential–role to play in socialist society, particularly in allowing and ensuring broad and open debate to take place concerning party policies, and in bringing forward new revolutionary leaders from the masses and reinvigorating the party.

However two issues must be considered. First, while they should not be appendages of the party, if such mass organizations oppose the socialist system, any progressive role they might play will be undermined or short-circuited.

Second, in order to play their role, mass organizations will be arenas of discussion and struggle between party members and non-party sections of the masses with different levels of political consciousness.

The above classically illustrates the differentiation of the role of the mass organization with the party.

Even within a Socialist Society a mass organization must possess an independent identity from the communist party.

This part in facts goes further in expressing how even the mass organizations could place control on the party and check it.

Marxism-Leninism-Maoism needs to develop further whereby mass organizations have more independent control and a further democratically revolutionized from past experience of Soviets and revolutionary committees.

Unfortunately although the workers correctly intervened there was great intervention by the People's Liberation Army in suppressing or controlling movements.

Dissent was not allowed to the extent it should have been, especially for artists,writers,and intellectuals.party-vanguardism often obstructed sufficient dissent.

The reversal of the Shanghai commune into a revolutionary committee also was significant.


At times, factionalism—in the sense of groups placing their own narrow interests above political principle– was a difficult problem to resolve.

First, it must be said that what may have appeared to be factional power grabs were often examples of acute class struggle between revisionist party officials who formed conservative factions among the masses to defend their privileged positions on the one hand, and mass organizations of revolutionary workers, peasants and youth on the other.

In the course of the Cultural Revolution, rightist and leftist groupings all claimed to be following “Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line.” '

In this complex and often confusing situation, party members and the masses of people could only distinguish between correct and incorrect lines—between the socialist road and the road back to capitalism—by engaging in political and ideological study, discussion and struggle.

In many cases, disputes between leftist groupings had to be resolved by the intervention of the People’s Liberation Army, which brought new problems.

Further advances in the Cultural Revolution and consolidation of its achievements would have required a higher level of political consciousness and willingness to put collective interests first in order to reduce the level of unprincipled factional struggle.

Based on their own experience, many readers of this paper know how hard it can be to figure out how best to struggle for revolution in situations where there isn’t much in the way of historical experience.

During the course of the Cultural Revolution, it is understandable that there would be great tumult and uncertainty, and even dedicated revolutionary activists inevitably made mistakes.

One crucial point was why everything was analyzed from the prism of Mao Zedong thought. Or ‘Mao’s revolutionary line.’There should have been a wider spectrum of debate. There were tendencies here of excessive indoctrination and less critical analysis.

A scientifically critical approach so inherent in Marxism was lacking. Lack of sufficient development of institutions of revolutionary democracy and over intervention of peoples liberation army had a regressive effect.


The unleashing of millions of Red Guards in the spring of 1966 to criticize the Four Olds and revisionist party officials brought with it a set of unanticipated problems. Many Red Guard organizations ignored the policy of using reason, not force, in conducting political struggle.

Mao rejected the slogan adopted by some of the Red Guard groups, “doubt everything and overthrow everything.” [4] He repeatedly stated that 95% of the people could be united in the course of the Cultural Revolution, and that the method of political education, of “curing the disease to save the patient,” should be applied with people who had made mistakes.

Behind some of these ultra-leftist Red Guard groups were several members of the CCRG led by Wang Li who were calling for the overthrow of the majority of top state personnel.

In 1967, the Minister of Coal suffered a fatal heart attack at the hands of these “rebels” and the Minister of Railways disappeared altogether.

Their ultimate target was Premier Zhou Enlai, who was playing an important role in support of the Cultural Revolution at that time.

Wang Li and his allies were also behind the burning of the British embassy in Beijing in 1967. It turned out that their ultra-leftist activities were being coordinated by the secret “May 16th Group,” which was dissolved, and its leaders were expelled from the party.[5]

In addition there were cases when different Red Guard groups were consumed with fighting each other.

One famous example of student factionalism and its successful resolution concerns Tsinghua University, China’s preeminent school of science and engineering.

Two factions of Tsinghua students, each claiming to uphold Mao Zedong Thought, had armed themselves and clashed for months, paralyzing the campus.

In July 1968, Mao, the CCRG and the Beijing Municipal Revolutionary Committee decided that the situation had gone too far. They contacted a group of revolutionary workers at the Hsinhua Printing Plant to put out a call for the formation of Workers Propaganda Teams to go to Tsinghua, armed only with Red Books and the slogan, “Use Reason, not Violence.

On July 27, over 30,000 unarmed workers entered the campus, with columns assigned to surround buildings occupied by the armed student factions. As the workers successfully persuaded some students to lay down their arms, the largest armed faction launched an attack on the workers with spears, rifles and grenades.

By the following morning, five workers lay dead and more than 700 had serious wounds. Nevertheless, the workers did not retaliate against the students, and in less than 24 hours most of the students surrendered, while a few die-hards fled the campus.[6]

Due to the political weaknesses of many Red Guard organizations, Mao and the Central Cultural Revolution Group began to rein them in during late 1966.

Over the next few years,17 million educated youth, including many Red Guards, were sent to the countryside to work alongside, learn from and use their skills to serve the peasants.

Many had a hard time adjusting to rural life, but significant numbers of urban youth decided to settle down, started families and contributed their skills and education to the socialist development of the countryside.

Red Guard groups and workers and peasants organizations, each claiming to be flying the “red flag,” at times resorted to force during political struggle. This violated the explicit instructions of the “16 Point Decision,” one of which was that:

The method to be used in debates is to present the facts, reason things out, and persuade through reasoning. Any method of forcing a minority holding different views to submit is impermissible. The minority should be protected, because sometimes the truth is with the minority. Even if the minority is wrong, they should still be allowed to argue their case and reserve their views.

However, these instructions were simply ignored and openly violated by some of the forces that joined in the at times chaotic mass upsurges of the Cultural Revolution.

Red Guard groups and workers and peasants organizations, each claiming to be flying the “red flag,” at times resorted to force during political struggle. This violated the explicit instructions of the “16 Point Decision,” one of which was that:

The method to be used in debates is to present the facts, reason things out, and persuade through reasoning. Any method of forcing a minority holding different views to submit is impermissible. The minority should be protected, because sometimes the truth is with the minority. Even if the minority is wrong, they should still be allowed to argue their case and reserve their views.

However, these instructions were simply ignored and openly violated by some of the forces that joined in the at times chaotic mass upsurges of the Cultural Revolution.
The above note highlights the tendency of lack of education in the youth in term sof political consciousness, lack of connection of red guards with the workers or their movement and single authority of Mao Tse Tung Thought.

Mass organizations or their members do not necessarily support Mao Thought or reach that level of political consciousness.

Unfortunately although the workers correctly intervened there was great intervention by the Peoples Liberation Army in suppressing or controlling movements. Dissent was not allowed to the extent it should have been, especially for artists,writers,and intellectuals.party-vanguardism often obstructed sufficient dissent.

There were also tendencies of excessive indoctrination and use of coercive force.

Some factions widened the target, "pointing the spearhead down"


In spite of the August 1966 directive that the principal target of the Cultural Revolution was high-ranking party officials taking the capitalist road, intellectuals, especially those trained in the pre-Liberation era, were repeated, high-profile targets. At some points, nearly all teachers, writers and other intellectuals came under fire from Red Guard groups.[7]

When the policy on intellectuals was applied in a more focused way, rightist intellectuals were challenged and criticized in public. Some were sent to work in the countryside, where they did manual work and lived with peasants for the first time in their lives. In the course of political discussion and struggle, many intellectuals were won over to the goals of the Cultural Revolution and returned to their positions with a new outlook.

In addition to remolding and winning over as many of the intellectuals as possible, one of the goals of the Cultural Revolution was to develop working class intellectuals from the workers, peasants and soldiers.

The first contingent of 200, 000 proletarian intellectuals were graduated in 1974.[8] However, this success story was halted by the defeat of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

One year later, nationwide admission examinations were reinstituted, with a predictable impact on the numbers of workers and peasants attending universities.

In my view greater light has to be placed on the attacks on the intellectuals, artists and professors as it violated the very culture of freedom inherent in Marxism. Rather than coercion more persuasive methods could be adopted.

Here I Endorse Bob avakian’s viewpoint of greater dissent in Socialist Society. There should have been a greater democratic apparatus to check excesses which was not prevalent.

Used to stabilize the country, the PLA command was also shielded from revolutionary storms
Here the aspect of personality cult of Mao Tse Tung had a great bearing.Greater political education had to be given to cadres


One of the shortcomings of the Cultural Revolution that was most difficult to resolve was the inability of Mao and the leftists in the CCP to find the means to subject rightist commanders in the People’s Liberation Army to mass criticism, to ferret out their connections to revisionist forces outside the army, and to remove them from power where necessary.

Mao anticipated this problem, and tried to address it before the Cultural Revolution with a special educational campaign directed within the army.

The first publication of the Quotations of Chairman Mao Tsetung was by the PLA, as an instrumental move to raise consciousness and to put revolutionary politics in command of military affairs. However, this was in the main pedagogy, not political struggle, and was not sufficient to inoculate against dangers that emerged in full force later.

During the Cultural Revolution, more than a few generals and ranking officers were tied to Liu, Deng and other rightist party leaders.

In spite of instructions from Mao and the CCRG that they support the Left, some regional PLA commanders backed revisionist power holders, effectively checking the advance and social transformations of the Cultural Revolution in those areas.[14]

As described earlier, the development of widespread factional and at times armed struggle in 1967 left Mao and the new party leadership with no choice but to call out the PLA. To have called for the Cultural Revolution to be carried out in the military at this point would have risked splintering the PLA and civil war.

In addition, the buildup of military forces by the U.S. south and east of China and by the Soviet Union to the north and west required vigilance by the PLA.[15] These threats practically exempted rightist military officers from the scrutiny and challenges and criticism which their counterparts and allies in the party were facing.

By 1969, the growing danger of a Soviet attack on China threw up another serious obstacle to conducting political movements in the PLA.

This new situation favored military commanders who thought the Cultural Revolution should come to an end in order to focus on modernizing the armed forces and obtaining advanced weapons and technology from the Western imperialists.

In spite of these obstacles, there was a great need to carry out the Cultural Revolution and make revolutionary transformations in the PLA after the acute danger of civil war had passed.

This necessity became apparent in 1976. When the Chief of Staff of the PLA and other top commanders carried out the arrest of the Four, there was opposition to the coup in the militia in some areas, but virtually none in the PLA.

As long as socialist states face imperialist and hostile powers, they will need standing militaries for defensive purposes. But if ongoing political education, revolutionary transformations and mass campaigns against revisionism are not carried out in the armed forces of socialist states, the generals can accomplish from within what the imperialist armies have not yet been able to do from without—overthrow working class rule.

This shows that greater revolutionary political consciousness had to be rated in the P.L.A and arguably a struggle within the P.LA.itself.

Morally Lin Biao after 1967 did not support the G.P.C.R and this was an important factor of the bureaucracy strengthening.

One has to sympathise with Chia facing it’s border dispute that indirectly strengthened the right. The above shows the excessive power in the hands of the Peoples Liberation Army..

Although departing from the ways of the G.P.C.R in 1966 significantly Lin Biao was still not brought under criticism which was deferred after 1969.

The Four -- Revolutionaries who followed Mao


In the course of the Cultural Revolution, the development of new revolutionary leadership in the top levels of the party was incomplete and it was difficult to consolidate. The downfall of Lin Biao, Mao’s official successor as of 1969, the removal of the majority of the original members of the Central Cultural Revolution Group, and the turn to the right in the early 1970s by many party leaders and officials grouped around Zhou Enlai made it considerably easier for Deng Xiaoping and other leading revisionists overthrown during the earlier stages of the Cultural Revolution to make successful political comebacks.

Other than Mao himself, the Four—Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan and Jiang Qing—were the most prominent representatives of the leftist forces in the party who opposed Deng and defended the accomplishments of the Cultural Revolution.

All of them had played a leading role in the Cultural Revolution’s early upsurges. At the 10th Party Congress in 1973, Mao supported the Four for leading posts in the CCP; Wang became Vice-Chairman of the party, Zhang was on the five member Standing Committee of the Politburo, and Yao and Jiang were members of the Politburo.

According to a number of observers and scholars, the political strength of the Four was concentrated in Shanghai and a number of other cities, among lower and middle level cadre who joined the party during the mass upsurges of the Cultural Revolution, and in the fields of culture and propaganda-media. An indication of their support at higher levels can be found in the following figures:

After their arrest in 1976, about one quarter of the Central Committee was purged, including 51 who had been mass leaders of the working class.[16]

In assessing the role of the Four in the early 1970s, their promotion of leftist campaigns such as “Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius” and “Criticize Deng and Beat Back the Right Deviationist Wind” [17] are well known. Less is known about their policies for China’s socialist transformation and how they put them into practice. In making an assessment it is important to remember that the Four’s work was blocked and sabotaged at every turn by Deng and his supporters.

There has been some criticism of the methods of work of the Four even from supporters of the Cultural Revolution, which requires further investigation. For example, it is unclear whether Mao ever told them to stop acting like a “gang of four,” a claim made only after Mao’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the Four.[18]

The lack of a consolidated revolutionary leadership to succeed Mao that could beat back Deng’s revisionist forces became very apparent as Mao’s health declined sharply after 1972, when he had a stroke. He suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease,[19] heart disease and anoxia (shortage of oxygen). Mao was also nearly blind, making it impossible for him to read and write documents without assistance, and he issued few major statements until his death.

The question of bringing forward new revolutionary leadership is part of the larger question of what it would have taken to turn back the rightist offensive in the early 1970s and keep China on the socialist road. This would have required a new revolutionary upsurge among the masses. It may have been impossible to conduct a struggle on the scale and intensity of the early years of the Cultural Revolution, but by the time a campaign to explicitly criticize Deng and his “general program” was launched in 1976, it was too late to turn it into a powerful revolutionary force.

Some have argued that Mao was too lenient with Deng and other revisionist leaders. [20] But it wasn’t just Mao—the balance of forces in the leadership of the party had shifted sharply to the right. The fundamental issue, concerning which further investigation and discussion is needed, is how and the extent to which Mao and his leftist supporters waged what–as the rightist offensive got under way in the early 1970s–was a steep uphill battle to mobilize the masses and the revolutionary forces in the party to defend the achievements of the Cultural Revolution. This effort would have required targeting, removing and neutralizing the top party leaders who were taking China off the socialist road.[21]

The above criticism is poignant as it reflects the weakness of existence of revolutionary democracy .Just after Lin Biao’s fall such a dramatic turnabout took place illustrating the need for greater genuine peoples power at grassroot level being represented by organs of revolutionary democratic power and not just on the basis of factions.Such an organization should have been a watchdog on the rightists and the Maoists and lead a movement which ultimately upheld Mao Tse Tung’s understanding. It needed to have independence from factions of the Communist party .

To me Zhou en Lai has been wrongly clubbed as a rightist.There was also a powerful left sectarian tendency reflected by practice of the gang of four like Chiang Ching or Chang Chun Chiao.

It also reveals the excessive power in the hands of the Peoples Liberation Army..Although departing from the ways of the G.P.C.R in 1966 significantly Lin Biao was still not brought under criticism which was deferred after 1969.


Comrade Rangayakaama wrote a long article in the 2005 issue of journal ;frontier’ of India on the personality cult created by Mao.Personality cult of a leader obstructs massline .It was particularly invigorated after the publication of the little red book.This phenomena obstructed analytical and critical thinking and turned Mao thought into a dogma.

Apart from adding such adjectives, another aspect of Mao’s Cult was to drown him in eulogies.
The most important losses that result from the Personality Cult of a revolutionary leader are:

1) It encourages idealist thought. (Is it necessary to say specifically how?)
2) It introduces individualism. (It introduces a belief that any great deed would take place by means of a great individual. It glorifies only one individual; it ignores others who are qualified and thereby destroys collective spirit.)
3) It leads to factionalism. (It creates feelings of jealousy among other leaders, makes them start their own cult at some level to the extent possible and thereby destroys team spirit.)
4) It alienates the leader from the masses. (It presents the leader not as someone who studies the life of the people and learns from social facts but as a great knowledgeable person. A leader who reaches such a stage would become ineligible to lead people amid social conditions.)
5) It helps revisionists. (It does not help the development of people’s knowledge. Moreover, it weakens the revolutionary line by offering ignorance and thereby it strengthens revisionism.)

The following are the reasons for the continuation of a Personality Cult of their leader for some years on a large scale under the auspices of the revolutionary line in a ‘socialist’ country like China.

1) Continuation of bourgeois relations in the economic base of society. (Bourgeois relations give scope for bourgeois-feudal practices.)
2) Heritage of the Soviet Union. (Since the Cult was practiced on a large scale in the first ‘socialist country’, there had been no proper theoretical understanding among the Chinese.)
3) Very long feudal past of China.
4) The Personal weakness of the individual leader (surrender to worship).
“Mao is the sun that illuminates the world, Mao is a great genius without comparison in the history of mankind, the thoughts of Mao are the acme of Marxism, Mao knows everything, Mao has done everything…” (Hoxha, 1979: 224)
“[Mao is] a Marxist-Leninist theorist who had discovered a special road providing a short-cut from Socialism to Communism.” (Rice, 1972: 164)

“Chairman Mao is like the sun giving light wherever it shines. His ‘thought’ had the miraculous power of creating a spirit of self-sacrifice which in turn generates a ‘great material force’.” (Rice, 1972: 164)
“Indeed, today in the era of Mao Tse-tung, heaven is here on earth… Chairman Mao is a great prophet… Each prophecy of Chairman Mao has become a reality. It was so in the past; it is so today…” (Rice, 1972: 164)

“In China, in 1969, a factory was producing crimson hearts of foam rubber. They represented Chairman Mao, called ‘the great truth, the light of dawn, the savior of mankind and the hope of the world… the reddest, reddest sun in the hearts of the people of the world.” (Rice, 1972: 497)
Snow (1972: 21) informs his readers about an item in the Report presented at the Ninth Party Congress as follows: “whoever opposes Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s Thought at any time or under any circumstances, will be condemned and punished by the whole Party and the whole country.”

In his speech at the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee on August 1, 1966, Lin Piao proposed three criteria (‘to which Mao has agreed’) to assess the cadres. One of them was: “Do they hold high the red banner of Mao Tse-tung thought? Those who fail to do so shall be dismissed from office.” (Lin Piao, 1966-67: 12) In the same speech, Lin also said, “We must resolutely carry out Chairman Mao’s instructions, whether we understand them or not.” (p. 13)

Personally I am very critical of the personality cult but feel that comrade Rangakayama’s attack is overdone and does not assess the circumstances Mao and the C.P.C faced at that time.

It is like being unaware of a pot of water boiling at full temperature or ice melting. The cult was a phenomena of the 1st type of revolution ever in a Socialist State with unlimited complexities and great influence of traditional heritage ,particularly of the Confucian kind. She hardly gives credit to Mao or the C.P.C for striving to combat this tendency and efforts to promote mass line.


China was forced to be closer to America because of the border dispute with U.S.S.R.It had arguably no choice but to establish relations with Nixon led America in 1971.The Sino –Soviet border dispute also heated up afaris within the P.L.A.


Confucianism and feudal tendencies prevailed in China for 3000 years. It is not possible to eradicate culture that has so firmly been embedded in the minds and habits of the people. It was the 1st revolution of it’s kind and thus was bound to have it’s setbacks.


Strong rightist tendencies prevailed within the party even after the Socialist Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.Liu Shao Chi became head of state after the Socialist Revolution and Peng Te Huai head of P.L.A.Strong tendencies to give a loose reign to the rightist forces.

 I feel the Bolshevik party was a tighter and more cohesive unit. China being basically rural –based had a weakness in the building of proletarian headquarters.

It was a weakness that the majority of the party constituted the peasantry instead of the urban proletariat.

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