Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Battle for China’s Present: Mao and the Cultural Revolution

Inspired by reading Mobo Gao’s new book The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, I’ve decided to review some questions, such as why Mao initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural revolution (GPCR), how the personality cult can be explained and what Mao’s role was in the GPCR. Books can and have been written on each of these so please accept my apologies in advance for merely skimming the surface, or as the Chinese idiom zou ma guan hua puts it, “viewing flowers from horseback”.

1. Marxist theory has always warned of the danger of revisionism which, put simply, means the watering down of the revolutionary nature of Marxism. It means that people who say they support revolutionary change have gone soft, and are prepared to make deals with the counter-revolution so that the revolutionary change is frustrated and delayed, or so that the revolution, if it has already been successful, loses sight of its goals and allows the overthrown forces to restore their lost privileges and power.

2. Revisionists are subjected to special scorn and disdain by revolutionaries because they are regarded as pretending to be something they are not. They claim to be revolutionaries and Marxists but are rejected by revolutionaries and Marxists. Counter-revolutionaries are also hated but they are at least open about their aims and don’t “hide within the revolutionary ranks”. The special contempt reserved for those denounced as revisionists can be seen in the phrase that always accompanied the name of the man regarded as the leading revisionist at the top of the Chinese Communist Party (Liu Shaoqi): ”the hidden renegade, traitor and scab”. Similarly, the title of Lenin’s book refuting the revisionist arguments of Karl Kautsky was “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”.

3. In the context of a Communist Party ruling a country, it is easy to see how the debate between those who think they are genuine Marxists, and those they accuse of revisionism, can be pictured as one involving a choice between the two lines or two roads for the development of the country: the proletarian revolutionary line versus the counter-revolutionary revisionist line; and the socialist road versus the capitalist road.

4. By the time the GPCR was launched in 1966 there had been a decade, following the death in 1953 of the Soviet Union’s leader Stalin, during which increasingly strained relations had developed between the Soviet and Chinese Communist Parties. The Soviet party believed that it had the right to give leadership to other Communist parties and this was resented by the Chinese party (a) because they wanted a relationship of equality between Communist parties; and (b) because they believed that the Soviet party was becoming a revisionist party. The person they blamed for the Soviet party’s apparent slide into revisionism was the person who replaced Stalin, Nikita Krushchov. In the early stages of the GPCR, Liu Shaoqi was not referred to by name but as “China’s Krushchov” and references were made to “persons like Krushchov nestling beside us”. As early as 1959, at the Lushan Conference, Mao had warned that “Bourgeois elements have infiltrated our Communist Party”. However he said that the vast majority were “good people…They can enter communism because they are willing to accept Marxism.” Intriguingly, he saw the challenge for the remainder of these bourgeois elements, between one and five per cent of the total, not in terms of a purge or exclusion, but in the quasi-Christian terms of personal spiritual rebirth. He said: “It will be very difficult for this small minority of people to enter communism, to become real Marxists. When I say it will be difficult, I don’t mean that it will be impossible. As Liu Bocheng said: ‘It is necessary to be completely reborn’…If you are not completely reborn you cannot enter the door of Communism” (see Speech at the Enlarged Session of the Military Affairs Committee and the External Affairs Conference, 11 September 1959 in Stuart Schram (ed.) “Mao Tse-tung Unrehearsed”, Penguin, 1974).

5. The GPCR would not have been possible if it were not for the enormous prestige of Mao Zedong. At the time of the GPCR, references to it were inevitably followed by the phrase “personally initiated and led by Chairman Mao”, and this is quite an accurate characterization. To initiate the GPCR, Mao had to bypass the Government’s Constitution and the Party’s Constitution: his personal authority had to surpass that of the entire machinery of state and party. This was only possible on the basis of an enormous personality cult.

6. The hysterical adulation and worship of one person is possible in each and every society and culture. It can be a combination of sexual appeal; recognition of extraordinary ability that places the person in a class of their own; gratitude; and charisma. It is often associated with celebrities in popular culture (Elvis as “the King”, the Beatles and “Beatlemania”, Eric Clapton as “God’) and sport (Maradonna, Michael Jordan, and Tony Modra as “Godra” for those familiar with Australian Rules Football), although it is particularly characteristic of popular political figures who have emerged as the saviours and liberators of their peoples.

7. In the case of China there were many reasons for a cult-like awe to surround the person of Chairman Mao. The history of his leadership of the Chinese revolution, including such incredible episodes as the Long March, might have seemed to have come straight from the pages of some of the classical stories of mythological hero-generals and gods which inhabit much of the traditional culture and folklore of China. There was genuine gratitude on the part of ordinary people directed at Mao for having defeated the Japanese and the corrupt KMT Government of Chiang Kaishek (Jiang Jieshi) and for having ushered in an era of history of which it could truly be said: “The Chinese people have stood up!”

8. There was also an unhealthy and persistent emperor-worship. When people chanted “Mao Zedong wansui!” (“ten thousand years to Mao Zedong”), they were chanting a formula that had been used in salutations to the Emperors in the past: the very word “wansui” had come to be used as a synonym for “emperor”. Thus, for many people in China, Mao had the status of an emperor even though the very idea of kings and emperors was the opposite of the equality sought by the supporters of communist policy.

It is well-known that Mao prohibited such examples of personality cult behaviour as the public celebration of Party leaders’ birthdays, and having cities and streets named after leaders. And he was initially very disapproving of the “long life/wansui” chant as well. This extract from the book “Mao Zedong: Man, Not God” by bodyguard Li Yinchao, is revealing, because it indicates that Mao’s resistance to it softened after a while:

This kind of phrase may have turned Mao’s head a bit, but he did not lower his guard. About two years after the end of the Korean War, Kim Il Sung made Mao a gift of twenty-four crates of apples. Mao only saw lists of the gifts sent to him by Chinese or foreigners alike, but he never saw the gifts themselves; they were taken directly to a department responsible for handling gifts, where they became public property. But these apples were different; they were from Kim and were perishable. So Mao told me to give them to the guards.

When I brought the fruit to the First Guard Company, the men were very happy because they came just before Lunar New Year. They opened the crates in excitement, but when they saw the contents their excitement vanished. These apples, each the size of a fist, were perfect in quality, but each of them had been inscribed with a line of characters proclaiming “Long live Chairman Mao!”. It was impossible to erase the characters, since they had been written on the apples, as we learned later, before they were fully grown, and as a result of the exposure to sunlight, these inscriptions had become permanent. How could the men eat into a line saying “Long live Chairman Mao!”?

…When I reported this to Mao he was displeased. Knitting his brows he shook his head saying, “I for one, don’t like this slogan. Can anyone live forever? No one can; so eat the apples!”

…In the beginning, Mao was awake to the danger of the “personality cult”. I have cited one such example in my account of the fate of the apples sent by Kim Il Sung. His strong objection to the erection of a statue, cast in bronze, in Tiananmen Square, which he referred to as “nothing but a piece of sarcasm”, was yet another. Examples of this kind are numerous. I may be wrong, but I still claim in Mao’s defence, that in a country like China, where the shout of “long live” has been repeated throughout several thousand years of history, a man, no matter how wise, will be unable to keep a cool head for long, when the shout turns into a kind of ritual greeting, but will ultimately come to regard it as a matter of course.

(Quan Yanchi, Mao Zedong: Man, Not God, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1992, pp 83-4)

9. The GPCR was not Mao’s first attempt to deal with the question of revisionism inside the Chinese party. There had been the Socialist Education Movement of the early 1960s. Mao was clearly disappointed with the way in which some senior Party leaders conducted this movement, keeping it strictly under the control of the Party and dictating its agenda and methods. If the revisionists held leading positions and ostensibly “led” movements against revisionism, then how could such movements really prevent the further spread of revisionism. How could the working people and peasant masses be warned through such a movement of the danger that the country and Party might change colour?

At the same time, Mao believed in taking the back seat, to some extent, and giving authority to other people so as to test in practice their adherence to the revolutionary road. He did not want to so dominate the party and government that should he die his replacements would, through inexperience, follow the revisionist road as had happened in the Soviet Union following Stalin’s death. Thus, during the late fifties and early sixties he tried to put in place a system of two lines of leadership, pushing people like Liu Shaoqi to the forefront and observing their exercise of power from a distance.

On October 24, 1966 Mao explained what was behind his taking up a position on “the second line”:

Why did we make this division into first and second lines? The first reason is that my health is not very good; the second was the lesson of the Soviet Union. Malenkov was not mature enough, and before Stalin died, he had not wielded power. Every time he proposed a toast, he fawned and flattered. I wanted to establish their prestige before I died; I never imagined that things might move in the opposite direction.

The following day he returned to the same topic:

I am in the second line, I do not take charge of day-to-day work…it was I who proposed that the Standing Committee be divided into two lines…(but) I put too much trust in others….Last September and October I asked, if revisionism appeared at the Centre, what could the localities do? I felt that my ideas couldn’t be carried out in Peking.

(Mao Zedong Unrehearsed, pp266, 270).

Mao’s willingness to go back into the “second line” of leadership was something of a gamble; and in the context of mounting criticism of the failings of the Great Leap Forward, he nearly lost his hold on Party leadership. He was encouraging other people in the leadership to run the country on a day-to-day basis, but growing increasingly dissatisfied with the way they were doing it, and increasingly frustrated at his inability to change what they were doing.

Despite his differences with the people in the party leadership, Mao knew that his standing with the ordinary people remained extremely high. He was their saviour, regardless of mistakes he might make. To that extent, Mao knew that the personality cult which surrounded him provided him with the means to win his way back into the “first line” of leadership whenever it suited him.
10. In 1965, the Deputy Mayor of Beijing, Wu Han, published a play based on the historical fact of a loyal minister being dismissed from office by an unjust emperor. Mao believed that the play, “Hai Rui Dismissed From Office”, was really an attack on his dismissal of Peng Dehuai, China’s Defence Minister, who had criticized aspects of the Great Leap Forward in 1959. He was furious and saw the play’s publication as further indication of his growing loss of control over the Party.

11. Throughout 1965 and early 1966 Mao gathered his forces together in preparation for a revival of his authority within the Party via the launching of a mass movement (a period of intense debate and criticism unrestricted by formal legal rights or “Party discipline” but protected by provisions in the Constitution guaranteeing the right to speak out freely). He had few supporters in key positions in Beijing, and had to rely on more radical or “leftist” Party members in Shanghai. He was particularly pleased with the writings of a Shanghai journalist Yao Wenyuan (later to be a member of the gang of four). Yao wrote a scathing attack on members of the Beijing cultural circles allegedly controlled by Wu Han, and on Wu Han’s play. The Beijing press initially ignored Yao’s articles despite Mao’s insistence that they be published and circulated.

12. On May 16, 1966 the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a circular which re-established the authority of Mao over the Party and the new mass movement which was described as a cultural revolution. Liu Shaoqi was given responsibility for developing the cultural revolution, although he and Deng Xiaoping were soon to be criticized by name as the chief targets of the movement, and criticized for trying to stop it through Party work teams instead of promoting it through the actions of the masses.

13. On June2, 1966 Nie Yuanzi, a lecturer at Beijing University, pasted onto a wall a poster she had written criticizing the university’s principal. Mao was not in Beijing at the time, but on his return, in July, he quickly took the side of the Nie against those Party leaders who had criticized her for her actions, and on August 5, put up a poster of his own entitled “Bombard the Headquarters!”. This criticized “comrades from the leading down to the local levels” who were suppressing the “Great Cultural Revolution of the proletariat” and gave the green light to criticism of, and attacks on, the very highest leaders of the Party.

(Reading big character posters, or wall newspapers, during the GPCR)
14. The subsequent development of the GPCR - the formation of the Red Guards and rebel organizations, the overthrow of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and many others, the violence, the cruel and unjust treatment of some of those targeted during the GPCR, the exiling of city youngsters to remote wilderness locations - is well-covered in the “scar literature” and other writings that emerged after the arrest of the Gang of Four and the rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping. Once a market emerged for such memoirs in the West anti-Mao and anti-GPCR writings became the dominant discourse about the GPCR to the point where suggestions that many of the “sent-down youth”, for example, actually enjoyed the experience and still express nostalgic feelings towards it are not even considered. What is important in the context of Mao’s leadership is the extent to which he was responsible for the violence and chaos characteristic of the early stages of the GPCR.

15. Mao himself seems to have had no preconceived idea of what form the GPCR would take, nor of how long it would last, nor of what its final objectives should be. Even after he put up his big character poster (dazibao), he appeared tolerant of Liu and Deng, saying that they should not be named in criticisms and should be allowed to make revolution. At a Talk at the Report Meeting of 24 October, 1966, and the following day in a Talk at the Central Work Conference, Mao said three times:

1. “It’s bad to paste up big-character posters about Liu and Deng in the streets. Mustn’t we allow people to make mistakes, allow people to make revolution, allow them to change?”

2. “Liu and Teng acted openly, not in secret, they were not like Peng Chen…We should allow Liu and Teng to make revolution and to reform themselves.”

(October 24, 1966, Schram, op. cit., pp. 265, 267)

3. “Nor should we put all the blame on Comrade Shaoqi and Comrade Xiaoping. They have some responsibility, but so has the Centre. The Centre has not runs things properly.”

(October 25, 1966, Schram, ibid, p 274)

Mao probably envisioned Liu and Deng’s positions as being similar to that of Peng Dehui: criticized and removed from office in 1959, but reassigned work in China’s Southwest in 1965.

On the 25th, at the Central Work Conference, after the GPCR had been underway for five months, Mao expressed his surprise at the chaos that had occurred, and indicated that the GPCR could even last for another five months. He clearly had little control over events and even less foresight about how this movement would unfold or the time it would take. What he did have was the unshakeable confidence in the masses characteristic of a genuine proletarian revolutionary. He said:

Second, the Great Cultural Revolution wreaked havoc after I approved Nie Yuanzi’s big character poster in Beijing University, and wrote a letter to the Qinghua University Middle School, as well as writing a big character poster of my own entitled ‘Bombard the Headquarters’. It all happened within a very short period, les than five months in June, July, August, September and October. No wonder the comrades did not understand too much. The time was so short and the events so violent. I myself had not foreseen that as soon as the Beijing University poster was broadcast, the whole country would be thrown into turmoil. Even before the letter to the Red Guards had gone out, Red Guards had mobilized throughout the country, and in one rush they swept you off your feet. Since it was I who caused the havoc, it is understandable if you have some bitter words for me. Last time we met I lacked confidence and I said that our decisions would not necessarily be carried out. Indeed all the time, quite a few comrades still did not understand things fully, though now after a couple of months we have had some experience, and things are a bit better. This meeting has had two stages. In the first stage the speeches were not quite normal, but during the second stage, after speeches and the exchange of experience by comrades at the Centre, things went more smoothly and the ideas were understood a bit better. It has only been five months. Perhaps this movement may last another five months, or even longer.

(Schram, ibid. p. 271)

16. As China was caught up further in the convulsions of the great struggle against revisionism and against the capitalist path of development, so Mao seemed to once again withdraw from the scene. He no longer appeared on the rostrum of Tiananmen to review parades of Red Guards, and in sharp contrast to his personal direction of the course of the pre-1949 revolutionary struggle, issued very little in the way of directives or comments on, or analyses of, the GPCR. In terms of writings authorized for publication and acknowledged to be authored by Mao, there is very little beyond some single sentence “latest directives” or snatches of conversation given official release. There are some verbatim records of talks with central and provincial leaders and with representatives of some of the university Red Guard and rebel factions; these were unofficially circulated in Red Guard newspapers. But without knowing the detail of his day-to-day involvement with the direction taken by the GPCR it is almost as though Mao retained an Olympian aloofness from the turmoil in the country, preferring to allow it to run its course like a mighty river in flood, consuming whoever stood in its way.

17. As the adulation and worship of Mao gripped the revolutionary masses the isolation and loss of personal freedom of movement of the Party Chairman became more and more pronounced. The bodyguard Li Yinchao wrote later:

…we in the bodyguard would feel sorry for Mao; for the dreariness of his life and his lack of freedom of movement. All this may sound incredible, but try to imagine an astronaut in a spaceship who travels millions of miles without ever being able to leave that hermetically sealed capsule. Mao travelled all over the country, but he couldn’t take a stroll in the streets, go to a park, walk into a movie house or a department store as he wished…How Mao longed for the freedom of the workers, peasants and soldiers!

(Mao Zedong: Man, Not God, p. 86)

18. Given this isolation, did Mao know of the extent of the “havoc” and “turmoil” occurring throughout the country?

Mao undoubtedly had some idea and was philosophically resigned to at least some of it. He referred on several occasions to a quasi-Christian “rebirth” through a process of great trial and turmoil. He had accepted well before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 that comrades who had survived the harshest trials of the Long March, or who had survived the real bullets of the Japanese and Guomindang, may well succumb to the soft life of the cities and to the “sugar-coated” bullets (high position, influence, gifts etc) of the bourgeoisie. That is, they would lose sight of the goals of the revolution and be so corrupted by becoming rulers of the new society that they would need to be “born-again”, and struggle, criticism and transformation through physical labour alongside the masses was the inescapable route of the birth canal.

Mao personally embraced turbulence and there is more than one account of his plunging into stormy waters at the beach resort of Beidaihe. Li Yinchao recalls one summer when a great storm arose and Mao suddenly jumped up from writing and yelled “To the beach!” His bodyguards had orders to restrain Mao from doing anything dangerous, and joined arms in a human wall to prevent him reaching his objective. But in a second attempt, the next day, Mao charged at them, broke through their ranks and plunged into the sea.

The black expanse of water heaved violently, its huge waves, each several hundred metres across, lashed their way from the horizon to the beach at frightening speed, raising an ear-splitting din like the pounding of guns…

(Mao Zedong: Man, Not God, p 26)

Li describes how Mao taunted his guards, asking if they were afraid, and advising them to go back if they were.

Accompanied by the howling wind, the thundering waves and our loud shouts, the scene was as exciting as two armies locked in life-and-death combat. We kept on advancing like this until we reached the bosom of the sea. Now we tried desperately to stay close to Mao, but each time we were thrown back by the waves….When Mao returned from the swim he looked more satisfied than when he had won the battle at Shajiadian.

(ibid. p. 28)

18. According to many observers at the time, the one significant characteristic of Mao’s approach to building socialism was his belief in the necessity of the remoulding of the individual: the remoulding of a person’s whole value-system or world outlook (ideology). Han Suyin, the noted author and biographer, wrote in China in the Year 2001:

The idea of the remaking of man as well as man’s transformation, on the basis of the material gains achieved, of the earth he lives on, is the essential characteristic of Mao’s approach to the whole problem of achieving socialism. (p. 49)

The incentives to work must be non-material; they must be revolutionary….material betterment is not the main goal of communism, but will be also acquired and ever more swiftly as he learns to be unselfish, dedicated, doing his best for the collective. (p. 66)

As it is with man as an individual, so it is with the collective, and so with a Party, like the Communist Party….If a party becomes complacent, believes itself above the masses and stops studying, analyzing, thinking, dialectically and practicing what it teaches, then even after success, after the takeover of power, that party will become, like the man who stops studying, calcified, arrogant and ignorant. That way lies senescence, corruption and downfall. (p. 149)

(Han Suyin, China in the Year 2001, Penguin Books, 1970)

Thus, despite the bourgeois characterization of the GPCR as a period of madness, as the” ‘ten years of turmoil”, the aim set by Mao was expressed as Struggle, Criticise, Transformation (where “transformation” means the same as “remoulding”) and the two most commonly quoted slogans were almost pacific and boy-scoutish, and focused on personal ethics and morality: Serve the people; and Fight self, repudiate revisionism.

Yet we know that the first couple of years were anything but pacific and boy-scoutish. If we are to understand something of what was behind this we need to go back to Mao’s 1927 Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan. and the two sections in particular that are entitled “’It’s terrible!’ or ‘It’s fine!’” and “The Question of ‘Going Too Far!’”. In these Mao lauded the unruly and tempestuous behaviour of the peasants taking part in a spontaneous uprising against the landlords. The spirit of this document was seized upon by warring factions of Red Guard and rebel organizations to justify their violence and “red terror”. On July 28, 1968, talking to a group of Beijing Red Guard leaders, Mao referred to this Report when blaming himself for their excesses, saying “Now a new kind of punishment called ‘jet plane ride’ is invented. I am the guilty one. In “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan” I talked about ‘parading people on the street in dunce hats,’ but I did not mention ‘jet plane ride’. I am the arch-criminal with inescapable responsibilities!”

This was not the first time that Mao had spoken out about such practices. Mao had held talks with Red Guard and rebel leaders during an inspection of various part of China from July to September 1967. When he was in Zhejiang Mao was told by local rebel leader Nan Ping “We still use kneeling and dunce hat wearing as ways of punishment”, to which he replied, “I have always objected to this kind of practice. You cannot deal with cadres in the same way as you deal with landlords. We have a good tradition; that is, unity-criticism-unity.” Some time later, in Jiangxi, he was told by Cheng Shiching that weapons had been issued to various groups and declared “Killing is always bad. Being killed is bad; killing others is not good, either. Attack, retaliation, kneeling, dunce hat wearing, sign carrying, oh, yes, there is another way of punishment, the ‘jet plane type.’ All these are not good.”

(A stylised image of the "jet plane" position, above, and the real thing, below).

In the July 28, 1968 dialogues Mao told Nie Yuanzi and others that “You people have engaged in the Great Cultural Revolution or struggle-criticise-transformation for two years. Now, in the first place, you are not struggling; in the second place, you are not criticizing; in the third place, you are not transforming. Yes, you are struggling, but it is armed struggle. The people are not happy. The workers are not happy. The peasants are not happy. Beijing residents are not happy. The students in most of the schools are not happy. Most students in your school are also not happy. Even within the faction that supports you there are people who are unhappy. Can you unite the whole country this way?” “First of all, we want cultural struggle, not armed struggle.”

Cultural struggle meant smashing the “four olds” (old ideas, old culture, old habits, old customs) but this was interpreted not as the destruction of feudal thinking but as the smashing of feudal things: books, paintings, furniture, religious artefacts – anything that was a physical product of the past. In a sense, it was a shortcut to self-proclamation as a revolutionary: a book can be burned in minutes and its ashes produced as proof of one’s revolutionary actions. Remoulding thinking takes much longer and cannot be displayed and passed around or wrapped up and taken home as a material trophy might be.
(Red Guards burning books, above, and Buddhas, below).

19. Mao used the personality cult to his advantage when leaders put in charge of the Cultural revolution, including Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, tried to control it through Party work teams. He wanted turmoil to rise up from below, from unfettered expressions of revolutionary condemnation of revisionism and the capitalist road; they wanted an orderly and carefully-scripted debate controlled by bureaucrats and officials at the top. By adopting this approach they failed the tests set for them by Mao to see whether or not they were capable of continuing to make revolution under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as they had once done under the conditions of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the landlords. The personality cult ensured that Mao was always able to dispense with formalities and steer the GPCR in the direction of “great disorder under heaven”, a necessary precursor to a “great order” reestablished in an environment free of revisionist influence.

Although the bodyguard Li Yinqiao observed that Mao began to get used to shouts of “Long live Chairman Mao!” there is other evidence that Mao disliked the cult and hoped that it would be possible for it to eventually disappear.

In a letter to Jiang Qing dated July 8, 1966, Mao complained of the way Lin Biao had praised his writings at a Political Bureau meeting in May, saying “I never believed that the several booklets I wrote would have so much supernatural power”, and added “The press spoke even more so, describing me as a god.” He went on to lament that “Publication of these words cannot be made public at the present time since all the leftists say so now. Publication of these words will mean pouring cold water on them, which helps the rightists….Maybe we should wait until I die when the rightists come to power, and let them do the publication.” (In the event, the letter was leaked to the Taiwanese journal Issues and Studies in the early 1970s.)

In lengthy discussions with veteran US journalist Edgar Snow in 1970, Mao acknowledged the cult, but said it had been “overdone” and that the adulatory references to himself were a “nuisance”:

We discussed my account of our last talk, in January, 1965, in which I had reported his acknowledgement that there was indeed a “cult of personality” in China – and moreover there was a reason for one. Some people had criticized me for writing about that.

So, he said, what if I had written about a “cult of personality” in China? There was such a thing. Why not write about it? It was a fact…those officials who had opposed my return to China in 1967 and 1968 had belonged to an ultraleftist group which had seized the Foreign Ministry for a time, but they were all cleared out long ago. At the time of our 1965 colloquy, Mao continued, a great deal of power – over propaganda work within the provincial and local party committees, and especially within the Peking Municipal Party Committee - had been out of his control. That was why he had then stated that there was need for more personality cult, in order to stimulate the masses to dismantle the anti-Mao Party bureaucracy.

Of course the personality cult had been overdone. Today, things were different. It was hard, the Chairman said, for people to overcome the habits of 3,000 years of emperor-worshipping tradition. The so-called “Four Greats” – those epithets applied to Mao himself: “Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Supreme Commander, Great Helmsman” - what a nuisance. They would all be eliminated sooner or later. Only the word “teacher” would be retained – that is, simply schoolteacher. Mao had always been a schoolteacher and still was one. He was a primary schoolteacher in Changsha even before he was a Communist. All the rest of the titles would be declined.

(Edgar Snow, The Long Revolution, Hutchinson and Co., London, 1973, p. 169)

The worst aspect of the cult was the cover it provided for careerists to advance their own causes and their own status through their association with the Chairman and at the expense of the unity of the leftists: Lin Biao and the Gang of Four, which included Mao’s wife Jiang Qing.

20. There remain two sides to the GPCR. On the one hand, the GPCR was a time of injustice and tragedy, as well as a test and a challenge, for those innocent cadres and ordinary people who became the victims of inexperienced young people – primary and high school students for the most part. These youngsters were desperate to emulate the revolutionary experiences of those they admired, but their spontaneous hatred for class enemies and opponents of Chairman Mao led them to create enemies where they should not have, amongst the masses, and they beat to death and forced into suicide many good people who were not class enemies at all. Many cadres were liberated by Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou in the early 70s with admissions that they had been treated unfairly. In the carrying out of future Cultural Revolutions and in finding a correct path for carrying out the revolution under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat and preventing revisionism, appropriate lessons must be learned from these mistakes.

The main aspect of the GPCR was that it was an unprecedentedly bold and revolutionary attempt to prevent China from following the Soviet Union’s decline into revisionism. It unleashed on a massive scale an enormously high level of enthusiasm for socialism, for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and for the living study and application of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. It brought forward a significant number of new socialist organizational forms, political practices and cultural forms and products. It narrowed the gap between town and country, industry and agriculture and mental and manual labour with tangible improvements in social services and social status for the “poor and blank” masses. Production grew, and the economy developed in an all-round way without evidence of social polarization. The GPCR displayed the confidence of one generation of veteran leaders in an upcoming generation of revolutionary successors and brought both together in the process of continuing the revolution under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is one of the major legacies left to humanity by Chairman Mao, along with his theories of people’s war, his explanations of dialectical materialism, his victories in developing the broadest possible united front against imperialism and his practice of the mass line. It will be revisited and applied according to the circumstances of the time by all genuine proletarian parties holding power for the working class in future socialist societies.

21. The battle for China’s present continues. For the moment, the apparatus of the dictatorship of the proletariat is in the hands of bureaucrats who are pushing an all-round restoration of capitalism. It can no longer be said of China that the working class exercises leadership in everything, or that everything belongs to the people. There are contradictions between national bourgeois and comprador elements, and a growing dissatisfaction on the part of the masses with corruption, abuse of power, and ostentatious displays of wealth and extravagance by the newly wealthy. So-called “mass incidents” are increasing in number and good officials like Guizhou’s Shi Zongyuan are few and far between. The social and political power vested in capital has made the Party largely irrelevant for anything other than controlling the people in the interests of domestic and imperialist finance. The spirit of serving the people has declined as a new middle class is lured by the bling and glitz of commercial materialism. The “hands off” approach adopted by Chairman Mao to the chaos of an absolutely necessary and timely mass movement, and his death towards the end of the movement, enabled the reemergence, with a vengeance, of the materialistic, individualistic, money-oriented and self-centered society that he had been determined to prevent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This review of the role of Mao in the cultural revolution has some good points,however the article concentrates on the surface role of the individuals and explaining the personality cult as the main thing ,not the attempt by Mao and the revolutionary left to encourage the masses to take control of society themselves as classes and to develope a truly revolutionary socialist culture.

True, in the course of struggle in a society emerging from fuedalism ,it became necessary for the left to utilise the advantages of the trust in Mao by the masses as an individual .They had learned in practice that he, as a person had always correctly represented their basic class and national interestsand had encouraged and supported their desire to continue to advance along the socialist road.
Sometimes this was reflected in a fuedalist hero worship of Mao the man by the peasants, as their "saviour' from feudalist propery relations.

The left and Mao himself when excluded from exercising power or influence by the revisionists"Those top party persons in authority "and sought to utilise this mass support for Mao as a means of keeping China on the socialist road and fighting and eradicating the fuedalist attitudes and cultural conditioning of thousand of years still prevelent in society.
For example attitudes to women.
You could say that the left, in struggle utilised these existing backward cultural educational levels of still fuedalist attitudes to leadership still existing in society, in order to to defeat those feudalist attitudes themselves .By
mobilising and relying on the masses.

Mao at all times had faith in the people and attempted to mobilse the masses ,in the confidence that they could learn in practice in struggle actualy how to exercise class power, the powersof the masses themselves, in the cultural political and economic fields of a socialist society.

As the class stuggle GPCR proceeded -NOTE WELL -when
conditions in society had changed as a fruit of the cultural revolution -Mao himself launched
struggles to develop a more marxist scientific understanding of the role of the individual and "genius" in history .
By encouraging practical mass study on this question ,especialy in the workplaces and in a simple mass way for example ,by encouraging study of The Internationale" .
"We need no condescending saviors "etc.

"1. Marxist theory has always warned of the danger of revisionism which, put simply, means the watering down of the revolutionary nature of Marxism. It means that people who say they support revolutionary change have gone soft, and are prepared to make deals with the counter-revolution so that the revolutionary change is frustrated and delayed, or so that the revolution, if it has already been successful, loses sight of its goals and allows the overthrown forces to restore their lost privileges and power."

But,The principal thing really was, despite all the twists and turns of individuals holding leadership and positions of power and any corruption ,personal power
grabbing or going soft etc not the watering down but a life and death struggle over which class would execise leadership in the party , in state power and in ownership of the means of production in the transitional period to communism.

The KEY here,the cental thread running through the whole period of the cultural revolution - was not simply individuals or personal power (even Mao)representing one line or class or the other as the main thing, but whether bourgeious right would be restricted or not in the struggle to build a communist society.
How to get from here to there.
Thus ,it was a two line CLASS struggle ,centred in so far as control over the means of production were concerned around how socialist industrial devopement would proceed the counter evolutionary
"Theory of the productive forces"was the essence at the heart of this class struggle not the struggle against individual"soft revisionists.

Now at what time should that bourgeios right actualy start to be restricted?
That was the central question for building socialism and eventualy communism in China -and indeed the world.

In the end representatives of one class came out on top and exercised its own class dictatorship in the party and state and gained control over the
means of production .
The relations of production were then gradualy changed ,(while waving a socialist banner)begining with their basis ,the control or
ownership of the land and were then followed shortly after ,by privatising much industry. Or by converting state controled industry into an "unprofitable" infrastucture and cheap raw material supplier for the support of the privatised ,even imperialist owned ,capitalist commodity production system for profits .
Whenever putting profits, not proletarian politics is pushed foward we have to remember that the only source of profit /surplus value is the workingpeople.
Money ,employed as Capital , can create no new value without first enslaving working people especialy wage workers.

Above all under the Dengists all bourgeios property right and privelege was expanded and consolidated as a result of their winning and consolidating their
victory in the two line class struggle so as to create a new capitalist class.

The great leader Chairman Mao incisively pointed out: "To overthrow a political power, it is always necessary first of all to create public opinion, to do
work in the ideological sphere. This is true for the revolutionary class as well as for the counter-revolutionary class." Liu Shao-chi and Deng made a great
show in crying out for developing the productive forces while actually trying to restore capitalism. The counter-revolutionary viewthat "production is everything"Well the proof of any theory is practice and we see where the Dengist theory of productive forces went.

The line of the Mao and "gang of four" was defeated by the dengists by deceiving the masses by claiming that they the true socialists and sincere
followers of Mao were percecuted "often to death "
You choose to re- circulate
and emphasise those mostly personal stories of the Dengists on the "gang of four"crimes.

China is a big country of at that time maybe close to a billion people ,yet after years of collecting evidence the dengist state was only able to claim at the trials of deaths of 34,000.that is of course a shockingly large number and deporable.
But,Even if all true, that is a actualy a very small number in such a large populatiion in a complicated "out of control"period of mass class sruggle.
How many leftists died or were percecuted to death in that GPCR period and in the later reaction?

You quote Han Suyin ,actualy slandering Mao as some sort of utopian dreamer ,on behalf of the seemingly more 'practical and reasonable "Dengists,in
order it seems to ilustrate the bad 'dreamer role " Mao and the good realistic role played by Deng in the two line class struggle.

"The idea of the remaking of man as well as man’s transformation, on the basis of the material gains achieved, of the earth he lives on, is the essential characteristic of Mao’s approach to the whole problem of achieving socialism. (p. 49)"

"The incentives to work must be non-material; they must be revolutionary"…."material betterment is not the main goal of communism, but will be also
acquired and ever more swiftly as he learns to be unselfish, dedicated, doing his best for the collective. (p. 66)

"on the basis of the material gains achieved"..and yet a seeming contradiction ..material betterment is not the main goal of communism.

"The incentives to work must be non material" are said to be Mao"s " idea" .

This is not so, or the ideas of Mao as an individual .Mao was a communist and recognised the nead for a socialist transition period and developing the means of production as the material basis for the road to communisim. "From each acording to his work" .

What Mao supported was the collective necessity of gradualy restricting bourgeious right so that the material betterment of all could be acheived enabling from
each acording to need"to become no longer an ideal aim and dream of humanity but a material reality.

In 1969 the peking review no. 38 published an aricle now republished at the wesite ."The Essence of "Theory of Productive Forces" Is to Oppose Proletarian Revolution"

While affirming that the productive forces and the economic base in general play the principal and decisive role in relation to production relations and the
superstructure, our great leader Chairman Mao stresses: "When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of
production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role," and "when the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.)
obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive."
The "theory of productive forces" hawked by Liu Shao-chi one-sidedly describes the progress of society as the natural outcome of the development of the productive forces, chiefly the instruments
of production. It completely denies that, under certain conditions, the superstructure and the relations of production play the principal and decisive role in
relation to the economic base and the productive forces; it also denies that the proletariat's consciously making revolution under the guidance of
revolutionary theory, seizing political power and changing the relations of production play the decisive role in greatly developing the productive forces and pushing social development ahead. It categorically denies that "the people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history" and
that "revolutions are the locomotives of history."
It uses mechanical materialism to replace dialectical materialism, and vulgar evolutionism to oppose
revolutionary dialectics. The "theory of productive forces" is an out-and-out counter-revolutionary fallacy."
To learn the lessons of the cultural revolution and how
capitalist restoration occured
it is necessary to clearly show the difference between the two class lines that the struggles were waged about.
The theory of the productive forces.