NEWS & LETTERS, August-September 2006

Tragedy of China's Cultural Revolution


This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the launching of the "Cultural Revolution" in China-one of the most momentous events in Chinese history. In light of  ongoing discussions on the significance of the Cultural Revolution, we reprint excerpts of Dunayevskaya's "World Significance of China's Self-Created Turmoil," which appeared in N&L, October 1966. It has been edited for republication. The original article is in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 6776-6778.

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"Bombard the headquarters (of the Communist Party locals) and you bombard the handful of people in power who are taking the capitalistic road." So spoke Chairman Mao Zedong's heir apparent, Defense Minister Lin Biao, at a mass rally in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1966. The bombast against a self-created "enemy" fit in well with the audience, the so-called Red Guards who had suddenly sprung up, fully organized, from the plotting of the self-same Defense Minister, chosen by him to administer shock-troop treatment to hitherto orthodox interpreters of "Mao's Thought" by embarking on a three-week rampage of self-perpetuating disorders.

It would have been a tragic enough spectacle had these vigilante teenagers, "armed with Mao's Thought," imprinted on millions of leaflets, pamphlets, posters, been told that their work was finished now that every office, workshop, store, home, railroad coach, bus and taxi had the proper size photo of Chairman Mao; now that the proper "bourgeois individuals" had been sufficiently harassed and humiliated, thus easing the road for the Party to demote the allegedly dissident Communist Party officials; and now that the noisy mass demonstration around the Soviet Embassy which succeeded in renaming the street, "Struggle Against Revisionism," had extended itself into forcing individual Chinese "revisionists" to wear posters reading, "I oppose the Chinese revolution."

Clearly the life span of the Red Guards was not finished and the job of eradicating the influence of "the West" had to go beyond cutting trousers of passers-by, or gaining conformity in haircuts, or ransacking the homes of "bourgeois individuals," including the home of Madame Sun Yat-sen, where not only "bourgeois" furniture was carted off, but historic documents were destroyed, or in the banning of the sales of "foreign books" (except Albanian) as well as the playing of "Western music," since Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich were now declared to be "feudal-bourgeois-revisionist," not to mention the desecration of statues from Pushkin to Confucius.

Indeed, the Red Guards are being canonized as the expression of "a great proletarian cultural revolution unprecedented in history." Unprecedented also was the timing of their appearance, shortly after the conclusion of the meeting of the most powerful ruling body-the plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Called together for the first time in four years, it is supposed to have created a body outside of its own existing youth organization, and obviously not subject to any governmental body, but only to the will of Mao through his "stand-in," Defense Minister Lin. Or is it vice-versa?

Why is this extra-legal organ needed in a land that is legally Communist? Why, with the largest land army in the world, does its commander-in-chief need yet another instrument of teenage supporters? Is an intervention in the Vietnam war planned?....

"In the name of what," asked Pravda, "was it found necessary in China to take over the functions of the legal organs of the people's power, to violate the Constitution, and the elementary principles of law?" After describing the "mass outrages" of the "Red Guards," the Russian Communist official newspaper further hit the nail on the head when it thus questioned the Chinese euphemism, the great proletarian cultural revolution: "Why is the 'proletarian' movement...going on without any participation by the working class?"

For Russian Communism to be able to answer that question, it would have had to admit that its own society, even as the Chinese, is an exploitative one, so that the destiny of the proletariat is not, and cannot be, in its own hands. Indeed, the nearest parallel to the 1966 "proletarian cultural revolution" in China is Stalin's 1943 revisions in the Marxian theory of value, which still dominate both Russia and China.

Then, as now, the students rebelled against the hypocrisy of teaching the Marxian theory of freedom, but practicing state-capitalist tyranny. Then, as now, the answer of the ruling powers was, first, to stop teaching Marxian economics, and then to revise Marxism itself. Where the Russian Communists revised Marxian economics, the Chinese revise Marxian philosophy, rejecting in toto the Humanism of Marxism.

The distinguishing feature of the wholesale revision of Marxism in the two countries does not, however, reside in whether one country centered its perversion of Marxism in the economic or in the philosophic field, for in the Marxian theory of liberation the two are inseparable, but in the fact that, in 1943, Stalin could rely on the Party intelligentsia to do the job, whereas Mao, in addition to preferring the Army as the perpetuating organ of Communist rule, must create an extra-legal instrument to enforce intellectual conformity.


A veritable deification of Mao seemed to be the principal attribute of the CCP plenary statement. The claim is made that "Comrade Mao Zedong is the greatest Marxist-Leninist of our era...Mao Zedong's thought is the Marxism-Leninism of the era in which imperialism is heading for total collapse and socialism is advancing to worldwide victory." Mao's "brilliant policies" during the four-year period between this, the 11th, and the previous, the 10th, plenum are attested to, stress being put on his a) "call for the whole party to grasp military affairs and for everybody to be a soldier," and b) "call for the People's Liberation Army at all factories and villages, schools, commercial departments, service trades and party and government organizations to become great schools of revolution."

Yet a careful reading cannot help but note that, simultaneously with this adulation, what is singled out for emulation is this: "Comrade Lin Biao's call on the People's Liberation Army to launch a mass movement in the army to study Comrade Mao Zedong's Thought has set a brilliant example for the whole party and the whole nation"...

The discerning reader cannot help but wonder whether Mao is being deified-or mummified. Is Lin living in the reflected glory of Mao, as the press holds, or is Mao being allowed to live out his remaining years as a deity only because he transferred total authority to Lin, head of the Army?

Whether, in the turmoil in China, we are witness to a new form of Bonapartism, or allegedly participating in a "school of revolution," the point is that what is immediately involved is the life of the Vietnamese people...

Naturally the bourgeois press is delighted with this development, as it diverts attention from the pressure on them by the anti-Vietnam war fighters. These continuous struggles in the 1960s have been hampered by the developing Sino-Soviet conflict which has made united front action against U.S. imperialism impossible. The Communist world had been further shaken up by the calamitous defeat in October 1965 of the Indonesian Communist Party which had followed a Maoist line....


The Constitution of the People's Republic of China is the only one in the Communist world that lists the Army along with the Party as the two instruments of power. Naturally this is no accident. Long before Mao won state power, as he was escaping Chiang Kai-shek's murderous counter-revolution, Mao developed an original, for Marxists, view of the army-first of a guerrilla army, and then just of the army. This is Mao's one original contribution to "Marxism-Leninism," or more precisely put, to the perversion of Marxism, since his concept was for continuous guerrilla warfare to develop irrespective of any relationship to a mass movement which, to genuine Marxism, would be its only reason for being. If now the army should have slipped away also from Mao's control, it would only show that theory has a logic of its own, irrespective of a relationship to the theoretician.

Once this army has an objective basis for being-state power-nothing can keep it from being the expression of the exploitative ruling class and its global ambitions. It is not that Mao disagrees with these: he is anxious to contend with other great powers for world domination. It is, rather, that he does also have a concept of "the vanguard role of the Party to lead," which now, however, has been absorbed in the stress on "politics must take command."

Far from the activities of the "Red Guards" initiating "a second revolution," China's "proletarian cultural revolution" is so devoid of any proletarian participation, or peasant or student youth for that matter, that 1) all universities were ordered closed for six months, and 2) the Red Guards were ordered "not to go to factories, enterprises and government organizations below the county level, not to rural people's communes." In a word, they must not interfere with production, neither in the factories, nor on the farms.

No doubt, Mao is hoping to use them against the rebellious students in the cities, but success is by no means assured. Quite the contrary. For the truth is that the foremost voices of revolt against Mao's rule during the Hundred Flowers Campaign were those of the youth. And it is they, again, who had brought about a very modified version of it in 1961. The fact that Mao felt compelled to order the closing of the schools bespeaks the restlessness of the Chinese youth. Those confident of the rule of their thinking do not go about shutting down schools of higher learning.

State-capitalism calling itself Communism is as anxious to dull the sense of youth as any ruling class fearing the daring of youth compelled to live in a world they did not make. The Chinese youth will yet teach Mao the lesson begun by the Hungarian Freedom Fighters: that you cannot brainwash a people by totalitarian rule.


Even a cursory look at the actual, instead of the imagined, developments in Mao's China will show that power in the People's Republic does not lie in the hands of the people. It isn't even in the hands of the "vanguard," the Communist Party. It took Mao over a decade AFTER the conquest of power before he bothered to convene a Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Furthermore, all apologists for China as a "land of socialism" notwithstanding, that Congress designated China as STATE-CAPITALIST.

Naturally, Communism held that "State-capitalism under control of a state led by the working class is different in nature from state-capitalism under bourgeois rule." But this does not change the fact that even the Chinese Communists, as late as September 1956, called the country by its right name, state-capitalism.

What happened then to change everything very nearly overnight? Where it took 11 years to convene a Congress, why did it take less than a year for the Politburo to proclaim that not only could China industrialize faster than "the West," but that it was outdistancing "socialist" Russia by going directly (sic!) to "communism"?

THIS WAS NO "SECOND REVOLUTION." IT WAS AN OUTRIGHT COUNTER-REVOLUTION. Unlike the elemental outpouring of the masses against the corrupt Chiang Kai-shek regime, this time "the mass line" meant the mass sweat and blood that would be needed to take the fantastic "Great Leap Forward"-into what they knew not. What shocked Mao's China beyond any rational reaction one short month after the Communist Congress was the first great proletarian revolution for freedom FROM Communism. It happened in Hungary, and it shook the whole Communist world to its foundations.

Mao's COUNTER-revolutionary role was not exhausted in his urging Khrushchev to rush Russian tanks to put down the revolution. No, so afraid was Mao that a genuine proletarian revolution might also occur in China, that, at first, he tried winning over the Chinese intellectuals through a "thaw" called "let a hundred flowers bloom" campaign. Then, when the voices of protest to his rule could be heard from all layers of the population, the youth in particular, he clamped down their protest, and ordered, instead, the so-called Great Leap Forward, which brought the country to near-famine conditions...

The fact remains that China's present concept of "a new era of world revolution" rests wholly on this being led solely and exclusively by Chinese Communism. IT IS NO ACCIDENT THAT MAO'S MAPS OF CHINA, JUST AS CHIANG KAI-SHEK'S, SHOW CHINA NOT AS IT IS, BUT AS IT WAS IN THE DAYS OF GREAT EMPIRE WHEN CHINA WAS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE...


The trouble with Mao's apologists is that they share his concept of the "backwardness" of the masses, hence the need for extra-legal organs to assure allegedly revolutionary succession. Having no confidence that the proletarians could gain freedom by their own mass strength, and holding U.S. imperialism to be very nearly invincible, they prefer to lean on SOME STATE POWER.

It is this which has made them subject to the alchemy with which Mao transforms China AS A NATION into a PROLETARIAN CLASS, and further expands this magic into having China "represent" all exploited minorities. And it is this that has blinded them from seeing the sinister role China is playing in the Vietnam war, and, instead, to present China as "the vanguard of the resistance to the Pax Americana." As Cuba has learned, nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, U.S. imperialism is the main escalator of the Vietnam war. Of course, this is part of its strategy against China itself. Of course, it is out for world domination. But the way to undermine this barbarism is not by siding with China (or Russia) who have their own global aims.

The Negro Revolution has done more to shake up American capitalism than all the thunderous statements of China and its all-too cautious actions. To think otherwise is to play power politics and to block the road to freedom. The only way to achieve freedom is through the release of the elemental creativity of the oppressed masses, Chinese included.

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