Some Basic Points on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Posted by Enaemaehkiw Túpac Keshena
This article originally appeared on the home page of the Leading Light Communist Organization (LLCO) with the title Beginning Talking Points on the Cultural Revolution Era. While i have many differences with the LLCO in terms of line and practice, i do feel that they have put forward some of the more interesting work within the Maoist and post-Maoist movement on the period of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The GPCR was a key period and was paradoxically both the highest advance of the revolution in China and the period immediately preceding the restoration of capitalist social relations and the entrance of China into the camp of imperialism.
Unlike many other adherants to ‘Maoism’ or ‘Mao Zedong Thought”, the Leading Light Communists, as well as other Third Worldists, uphold the verdicts of the GPCR-Left. In particular they uphold Lin Biao and the role of the People’s Liberation Army, something which differentiates them from other supporters of the GPCR-Left who tend to focus on mass movements like the Shanghai Commune.
Understanding the GPCR and its outcomes is of key importance if one wants to understand the path China is currently walking today. Also all serious revolutionary communists must consider the great theoretical contributions that Mao Zedong made in that era on the need to revolutionize the super-structure of society and just the economic base.
With that I have re-posted the LLCO’s points on GPCR below.
Communism is the final goal of our revolution. There is an old Maoist saying that you cannot break every chain but one. It does not matter if you are chained to a wall with one or a hundred chains, you are still chained to a wall. We must break all chains. The end of all oppression. The end of exploitation. No rich. No poor. No racism. No national oppression. No sexism. No gender oppression. There is no more oppression of the youth. Communism is total liberation. No groups have power over others. As Marx and Lenin taught, the state is a weapon for one group to oppress another. Since no group has power over another, there is no need for a state in communism. Communism is equality. A society organized around human need. No greed. No individualism. No longer will people see themselves merely as individuals under communism. Communism is collectivism. The common good. Sharing. Private property is eliminated under communism. Communism is altruism. The ethic of “serve the people” will govern all human interactions. The people will be one under communism. No more me, me, me. Communism is sustainability. No longer will people destroy the earth, our common home. We have an obligation to future generations. Antagonistic contradictions no longer exist under communism. Communism is peace. Under communism, the revolution is self-perpetuating. Total communism has never existed, although there have been various indigenous societies that have shared many aspects with communism. Marx and Engels called some tribal societies ‘primitive communism.’
There have been three breakthroughs, three main waves of revolution that have advanced humanity into socialism toward communism. Sometimes people count the Paris Commune as the first wave, but it really was not sustained. It was a city uprising that was quickly defeated. Rather, the next waves of revolution was initiated in 1917, the Bolshevik revolution led by Lenin. Although this revolution was irredeemably reversed and capitalism restored by the 1950s, we learned much from the Soviet experience. We learned much from Lenin and Stalin era, which we uphold in a critical, general, and non-dogmatic way. The third wave of revolutions were the social revolutions that occurred after World War 2 as part of the struggle against imperialism. The best representative and most important of these is the Chinese revolution led by Mao. A quarter of humanity stood up and tried to build a better future. Of all our attempts into socialism and toward communism, the furthest advance was the Cultural Revolution period within the Chinese revolution. There is some debate about the exact date of the Cultural Revolution. For our purposes here, we can say that the Cultural Revolution period began around 1966 and ended in the 1970s, it peaked from 1967 to 1970. The Cultural Revolution is a key part of the Maoist contribution to revolutionary science. Lin Biao stated that the Cultural Revolution was Mao’s most important contribution to theory:
“Comrade Mao Zedong has not only enriched Marxism in the area of the conquest of political power by the proletariat. He has also made a creative contribution to its development, marking a new historical era when he tackled the most important problem of our time: the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the struggle against all danger of restoring capitalism.”
Here are some important things to understand about this general period:
1. The Cultural Revolution period was an attempt to advance further into socialism and toward communism, total liberation. The Maoists understood that if we did not continue to go forward toward communism, the revolution would degenerate. Mao said, “there is nothing worse than a stagnant pond.” Socialism can only be understood as a transition to communism. Maoists called this “continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
2. Maoists identified the problem of counter-revolution as a problem of the rise of a new bourgeoisie within the Party and state. This new reactionary class arises within the organs of power. Inequalities in power, privileges and wealth crystallize. Reactionary ideas spread. Elements within the bureaucracies of society turn into a new reactionary class that seek to advance their own interests instead of the interests of the masses. They gradually reorganize society completely to advance themselves. They seek to advance their own class interests instead of heading for communism, instead of ending class itself. They seek a counter-revolution to restore capitalism.
3. One line that was advanced by the new bourgeoisie was the theory of productive forces. This line was one way that the new bourgeoisie consolidated and advanced its position. This line overemphasizes the role of the productive forces, of technology, in the revolutionary process. This line tends to see communism as mainly a matter of advanced technological development. Socialism, the transition between capitalism and communism, is merely a matter of creating the technology capable of creating a society of plenty, as though advances in technology will serve up communism. This theory discounts the role of power struggle. It discounts revolutionizing social relations. It discounts revolutionizing culture and the super-structure. It discounts the power of the people. The theory of productive forces is also related to First Worldism. It sets the bar for socialism incorrectly. It fails to recognize that wealth in the First World is a result of exploitation of the Third World. Instead, this revisionist theory holds that socialism should compete with the First World, capitalist standard of living. When socialism fails to deliver a consumer society because socialism is not based on imperialist exploitation, the revisionists blame socialism itself. Revisionists begin to say socialism doesn’t work and communism is impossible. The revisionists conclude that capitalism is a better way to advance technology and raise the standard of living. Leading Light communists reject revisionism. Leading Lights say that our goal should not be merely to match the accomplishments of the rich capitalist countries, but to create a better and sustainable way of life that isn’t based on exploitation and inequality. We need a whole new society.
4. Contrary to the revisionists, the Maoists of the time emphasized people power. Maoists unleashed the creativity of the masses to make up for lack of capital and technology. The masses, led by revolutionary science, can overcome these obstacles. This is what Mao meant when he said political line is decisive. People power under the correct leadership can move mountains. This meant using mass mobilizations and campaigns to solve the problems confronting society. This meant class struggle. This meant social experiment. This meant the mass line. This meant incorporating input from the bottom in the leadership of society. This meant a kind of mass democracy. The Cultural Revolution included huge mass movements for actually reaching communism, millions on the streets for communism itself.
5. Maoists held that revolution was a train on two tracks: class struggle and development of the productive forces, i.e. technology. However, class struggle is principal. Revolutionizing the social relations, reorganizing power, is principal. Mao said, “never forget class struggle!” Maoists unleashed spontaneous mass movements by red guard students, rebel workers and even soldiers against the authority of the entrenched new bourgeoisie in the organs of power. A big part of this was allowing the masses the space to voice their grievances. The masses posted essays and posters all over the campuses, streets and workplaces. The Maoists called for “mass democracy” and “big debates.” Mao raised the slogan “it is right to rebel against reactionaries!” Mao called on the masses to “bombard the Party headquarters!”
6. As part of this class struggle, from late 1966 into 1968, a controlled chaos was unleashed. The masses were allowed to overthrow the bureaucrats and other reactionaries. They were allowed to seize power and reorganize society from below. Rebel workers, students, youth, and soldiers rose up. Women were empowered to fight remaining patriarchy. Youth had significant political power for the first time. The masses were allowed to tear down significant parts of the state and build anew. Lin Biao’s People’s Liberation Army held back and created a protective bubble that allowed the chaos to run its course. New organs of power emerged.
7. “Mao Zedong Thought” and Mao were promoted far and wide. The masses used Mao’s words and theories to justify their rebellion against the bureaucracy, the new capitalist class. For a time, the “cult” made it so that individuals (armed with “little red books”) had the ability to challenge bureaucratic rule. In this struggle, Mao’s personal authority became mixed up with the science of Maoism. This mixing was probably unavoidable, especially given the conditions in China. However, it is important to understand the complex nature of the “cult.”
8. The Maoists broke with both the Soviet view of development and counter-revolution. Much of the Soviet outlook was marked by its origin in the industrial revolution. Revolutionaries of the time looked at the world through the lenses of the machine. Many saw socialist development as creating a kind of machine that served up happiness. They saw development as a kind of perfect central plan whose goal was mainly the creation of wealth. When things did not work out, instead of questioning the underlying model, they tended to see the problem as one of wreckers and agents. In other words, when problems arose, they failed to look at the system. Instead, they concluded that the problems were a result of conscious sabotage. Thus the solution was better policing. Leading Lights refer to this flawed outlook as “the police paradigm.” Maoists began to break with this outlook. They did not fully break with it though. They began to see that socialism itself creates problems. Socialism itself generates a new bourgeoisie. Maoists began to understand the problem structurally, scientifically.
9. Maoists identified two general areas of battle in the fight for revolution during socialism. It is necessary to constantly wage war against remaining inequalities of power, wealth and privilege. If inequalities are not continually reduced, they grow. Eventually, a new bourgeoisie emerges and counter-revolution occurs. It is also necessary to constantly wage war in the culture, in the super-structure. Reactionary culture must be replaced. If reactionary culture is not eliminated, it spreads, infects and reverses revolution. It is a cancer on the collective brain of society. Revolution must be continually waged in these two realms.
10. Culture is society’s program. For thousands of years we have been taught that some are better than others: the rich better than the poor, men better than women, whites better than blacks, the old better than the young. It’s going to be hard to change that overnight. Everyone is corrupted by old ways. We have to neutralize reactionary culture. When possible, we must make the old serve the new; old culture must be made to serve our new society. In addition, we must create new, revolutionary culture. Just as the proletariat must take conscious control of the economy, the proletariat must take control of society’s program. It has to be rewritten to serve the people. This emphasis on changing society’s program, on making the revolution self-perpetuating, lays the basis of the end of the state.
11 Altruism and egalitarianism were advanced as part of this process. A new, communist morality of “serve the people” was advanced. Material incentives were reduced and sometimes abolished entirely. Moral incentives were promoted. “Fight self, repudiate revisionism” was raised as a slogan. Life was directed more toward community and less toward the individual. Life was collectivized in a democratic fashion. Outward signs of rank and privilege were abolished. For example, outward signs of rank were eliminated by Lin Biao’s People’s Liberation Army. Maoists aspired to create a society of equals.
12. All of society was thought of as a giant school for the study and advance of revolutionary science. This begins the process of making the people capable of ruling themselves without a hierarchical division of labor. Society became a great experiment. The Maoists tried to overcome the divisions between mental and manual labor, between town and countryside, between practice and theory, and other traditional divisions. Those who had positions of power were also required to spend time on the factory floor and in the field. They even experimented with the free supply system and the elimination of the commodity economy. They sought to make “to each according to his needs” a living principle.
13. The Cultural Revolution experience demonstrated the shortcomings of the metaphysical conception that the official party is always the vanguard. Instead, it showed that the party itself can become corrupt. The vanguard of the revolution can shift from the official party to other structures and forces. It moved from the official party to certain mass organizations and even to parts of the People’s Liberation Army for a time. In other words, there can be a difference between the official party and the vanguard. The vanguard, the true communist party, does not always correspond to the official communist party. Thus the Maoists began to introduce a more fluid concept of revolutionary leadership. This conception is very different than the one inherited from the Soviets.
These points are not exhaustive. These are just some basics. All comrades should familiarize yourselves with these points. However, we should not merely repeat the past. We have to be scientists. We need to learn the lessons of the past. The Maoist revolution was glorious. It inspired the world. However, that wave, like the one before it, is over. Sum up the past. Make the new breakthrough of the Leading Light. We must go beyond what has come before. The revolution of the Leading Light will look very different than what has come before. The future is bright! The future is ours!