A WORLD TO WIN    #22   (1996)


The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

- Thirty years later

Thirty years ago, in 1966, Mao Tsetung launched the greatest revolutionary movement ever to be seen on the planet: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. From one end of China to the other, tens of millions of people - at first mainly the students and other youth, but quickly spreading to the workers and peasants as well - rose up in a furious assault on those "command posts" of society such as education, culture, and even some organs of state power themselves, which were being used to reinforce chains of tradition which had taken shape in hundreds of years of class society.

What made this revolution so extraordinary is that it took place under conditions of socialism and proletarian dictatorship: It was a revolution aimed at strengthening the rule of the proletariat and people. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) had been unleashed by Mao Tsetung himself, but it was never the orchestrated political demonstrations serving "palace intrigue" that the imperialists and reactionaries try to claim. It was a revolution because it sought to overthrow those sections of the state power that had been usurped by new exploiters and do away with those practices, customs and ideas which stood in the way of the revolution-s further advance to communism.

The GPCR was Mao-s answer to the historic problem posed by the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union which had taken place in 1956. How would it be possible for the revolution to continue to advance toward the classless society of communism? How was it possible to defeat the "new bourgeoisie" that was arising within the Communist Party itself? How was it possible to train successors to the revolutionary cause rather than a pampered new elite?

Of course, prior to the Cultural Revolution there had been many struggles in both China and in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin against different revisionist headquarters in the party and against various bureaucratic and revisionist practices. But Mao summed up that these previous movements and the simple dismissal from office of revisionists and renegades could not, in itself, assure the further advance of the revolution. Mao said in the GPCR they had found a form "to arouse the broad masses to expose our dark aspect openly, in an all-round way and from below."

In this sense, the GPCR was completely unprecedented in the history of the international communist movement. It was the proof that the revolution must continue, that achieving a classless society would be a long bitter battle with many twists and turns, advances and setbacks, along the way. It went against the previous belief widespread in the international communist movement that once the dictatorship of the proletariat had been achieved it would be more or less "smooth sailing".

Mao summed up that, even when the proletariat and the working people had political power, they would have to periodically arise and knock down those forces in the socialist society who wanted to stop the revolution half-way and protect their own privileges. These revolutionary victories would set the stage for further transformation of society and people-s thinking.

In the course of the GPCR, Maoism emerged as the third stage of Marxism-Leninism. Through applying Marxism-Leninism to the revolutionary process in China and especially to the problem of fighting capitalist restoration, Mao had solved key questions confronting the international communist movement. He showed why a new bourgeoisie emerged even under conditions of socialism and why a capitalist restoration was possible. More importantly, he showed how to fight against such a restoration, through mobilizing the masses in revolutionary struggle, helping them temper themselves, training them in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and raising their level of understanding in the midst of battle, defeating the new bourgeoisie and recapturing those parts of the state and society that had been usurped by the capitalist-roaders. Mao showed how making revolution was the key to unleashing the productive forces, especially the most important productive force, the revolutionary class itself, which even under socialism could be stifled and restricted by practices and ideas which stood in the way of further advance.

Through the Cultural Revolution tremendous advances were made not only in destroying remnants of thousands of years of class society but also in constructing new practices which foreshadowed and paved the way for the future communist society. New forms of management were introduced which involved rank-and-file workers and peasants in the leadership of factories and collective farms. The reactionary system of entrance exams for higher education was abolished and instead students were recommended by workers and peasants after having spent some years in productive labour. Workers and peasants together made stunning progress in science and technology. Great works of art were produced in which heroic images of workers and peasants occupied the stage previously dominated by portrayals of the reactionary classes. Important steps were taken to reduce the inequalities in the distribution of goods that still exist under socialism.

The Cultural Revolution had been greeted by tremendous enthusiasm all over the world. It was a flesh-and-blood example of the capacity of the proletariat to make revolution, change the world and transform the relations between people. It inspired a whole generation with confidence in the revolutionary cause and spread Marxism-Leninism-Maoism throughout the globe. The achievements of the GPCR were so profound that a large number of scholars, experts in different fields and personalities from countries all over the world were won to respect and admire the achievements of the Cultural Revolution and spread the news of it.

After ten years, the GPCR was defeated when a reactionary coup d-état was launched shortly after Mao-s death and the main leaders of the revolutionary left (including Mao-s widow, Chiang Ching) were arrested. The masses were suppressed and pushed back into the position of wage-slaves. Foreign imperialists were invited to again suck on the blood of the labouring people. The tremendous achievements of the Cultural Revolution were systematically attacked and reversed. Inequalities grew by leaps and bounds. Economic imbalances, dislocations and crisis took place, such as the massive growth of an unemployed "migrant" population numbering in the tens of millions. In short, capitalism, with all of its horrors, was restored.

Internationally, the imperialists, revisionists and other reactionaries have worked overtime to distort, slander and bury the memory of the GPCR. They have taken advantage of the defeat in China to repeat and even magnify every preposterous lie the new capitalist rulers of that country have spread.

It is not surprising that the reactionaries the world over call the GPCR "terrorist", "a nightmare", "mass hysteria", and so forth. For the reactionaries, there is no thought more nightmarish than that of millions of their former victims daring to rise up and take control of every sphere of society, no idea more "strange" than that ordinary workers and peasants can help run universities or transform the ballet, no vision more "utopian" than moving in the direction of a classless society.

The GPCR is decried as "terror" by the bourgeoisie, in fact the Cultural Revolution was living proof of Lenin-s famous statement that the proletarian dictatorship "is a million times more democratic... than the most democratic bourgeois republic". Indeed, never in world history was such a broad section of the masses drawn into every aspect of political and cultural life. Mass debates, lively struggle and penetrating criticism were features of everyday life among the masses in their millions in China. And the Cultural Revolution showed that the proletarian dictatorship was not an impediment for such democracy, on the contrary it was the condition which made such democracy possible. Similarly, we have seen that it is the bourgeois dictatorship of Deng Xiao-ping and the bourgeoisie in China who gun down protestors at Tienanmen Square and have instituted a climate of terror and fear all across China in order to enforce its rule.

For Maoists the world over, the GPCR will always remain, like the Paris Commune and the October Revolution, a platform of victory in the world revolutionary experience from which the proletariat has drawn its most precious lessons and from which it prepares to leap even higher in the future in its struggle for communism.

How wrong it is to consider the GPCR as something that is of significance only after achieving state power. Certainly, the GPCR does represent the highest experience that the proletariat has yet achieved on the front of carrying forward the socialist revolution under conditions of proletarian rule. But in order to be able to launch the GPCR, and in the course of leading it forward, Mao was forced to develop every aspect of Marxism-Leninism - its philosophy, political economy, revolutionary strategy and tactics, and so forth.

Mao carried forward the whole history of the international communist movement. But we know that no construction is ever made without destruction, and in order to carry forward the revolutionary heritage Mao also was forced to develop a penetrating criticism of those errors that had come to mark the international communist movement under the leadership of Stalin. Today, when some forces are again trying to denigrate Mao-s contributions under the cover of defending Stalin-s mistakes, it is more important than ever to be firm in our grasp of Mao-s qualitative development of all aspects of our ideology.

At a time when the international communist movement is confronting the major two-line struggle which erupted in the Communist Party of Peru, it is particularly necessary to have a firm grasp on Mao-s teachings concerning the two-line struggle in the party. It was in the course of the GPCR that the Maoist understanding and approach to these problems took its full form and Stalin-s erroneous idea of the "monolithic party" was rejected.

When we study the October Revolution it is not simply or mainly to learn from Lenin's masterful tactics or the particular practice of insurrection - although these are indeed very important. In studying October we can see the movement of the class in its millions, the complexity of how the revolution advances amidst turbulence and contradiction, and the relationship between these movements of millions and the "dry theoretical disputes" that Lenin waged against opportunism and revisionism of his day. Studying October is part and parcel of understanding Leninism.

Similarly, when we study the GPCR, it is not out of abstract historical interest, not even mainly as a kind of "preparation" for the different struggles we will be faced with in the future when we have political power once again. We study the GPCR because through it every feature of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is illustrated and takes on new vibrancy and meaning. It is because without the GPCR we would be depriving ourselves and the proletariat of this most important treasure house of revolutionary experience. Without absorbing and building upon the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, we will never obtain political power, let alone defend it and use it to advance toward communism. It would mean depriving ourselves of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism itself.