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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 3. March 19 1968

The Cultural Revolution In China

page 7

The Cultural Revolution In China

"Neither proletarian, nor cultural, nor a revolution". In these words Isaac Deutscher, perhaps the foremost modern historian of Stalinist and post-Stulinist Russia summed up his assessment of the Chinese Great Proletarian Revolution shortly before his death last year.

The path of the revolution, from its beginning in Shanghai and Peking to its present slow phasing. out, has confirmed Deutscher's estimate.

For seventeen years, from 1949 until the first rumours of the "cultural revolution" in 1956. the rulers of generation were men of one generation—the Yenan generation.

The leading officials of the Party and the state, the senior civil servants and the most important party cadres were those who had marched with the Communist Eighth Route Army in the arduous Long March to Shensi to escape Kuominang encirclement in the mid-thirties or, if they had not joined the Communist Party during this major test of its ability to survive, had co-operated with the Party during its sojourn in Yenan after the Long March.

This generation had not only ruled China since 1949, but its rule had not been marked by any major break in continuity. The inner-party purges of post-1917 Russia and the power struggles in the Russian Politburo after the death of Stalin, had no equivalents in China Whatever conflicts over policy had occurred among the Chinese Communist Party leadership had been kept close secrets; moveover, with only two important exceptions (Peng Teh-huai and Kao Kang) none of the secret clashes or confrontations had led to the dismissal or porging of a Party leader.

variety of policies

The Yenan generation who ruled China might have seemed, until 1966, a compact homogenous group of dedicated [unclear: Costs] whose main differences had been hammered out during intervals in the bitter gnerilla war before complete control of mainland China was secured. But if anyone was hallucinated by this appearance of monolithic unity, he need not have waited until 1966 to be undeceived. For the Yenan generation, from 1949 on, had presided over a bewildering variety of economic and social polictes, many in diametrical opposition to one another.

The Soviet-style central planning up to 1955, the extreme and disastrons ecnomic decentralisation of the Great Leap Forward period from 1957 to 1960, and the slow pragmatie combination of less rigid planning and less extreme decentralisation which has existed since 1961 mark three wholly distinct economic choices none of them compatible with the other.

It takes little background in political theory to realise how wholly different were the "Let Many Flowers Blossom" campaign of 1956 and the "rectification" campaign which succeeded it. In foreign policy an unquestloning role of junior partner to Stalin's Russia had been displaced by a gradual turning against post-stalinist Russia comptetely.

Only one thing remained coustant between 1949 and 1956: impacable antagonism between the men of Yenan and the men in the White House and the pentagon.

The institutional structure of post-1949 China mirrored the contradietions implicit in its policy zig-zags. whereas in Hussia the state was officially suppsed to be withering away, the withering away of the Communist Party in China was not de jure but de facto. In defiance of the Part's constitution the CCP has held no conference since 1955. The principal legislative body, the National People's Congress, in defiance of the state constitution did not meet at all in 1967. The last Central Committee plenum before the 1966 plenum which launched the Red Guard movement was in 1962.

The cloak of unity, the disguise of impeccable political rectitude meant more than ever by 1966 that the Emperor's successors also had no clothes. This was the more grave in that the life span, not just of Mao, but of his entire generation, was drawing to a close, while the reliability of the younger generation was untested and its orthodoxy unknown.

During the 1956 "Let Many Flowers Blossom" campaign, in fact it had been the younger generation which had most strongly criticised the Party for disloyalty to its own principles. "There is serious bureaucracy ... ." Liu Shao-chii had said at that time. (1) "Mass criticism is spreading to every corner of China, including factories, farms, schools and other organisations. The target of criticism is the leadership."

Slowly the disintegration of the Party as a democratic centralist organisation was isolating the control of the Party in the bands of a few older cadres at the Party centre, whose differences were becoming sharper and were becomming less and less capable of resolution within the Party Structure as that structure atrophied through disuse.

The various mistakes of the various wings of the leadership, the blunders, the fatuities, the follies, the misjudgements, for so long denied to be as much as possible in the Maoist order of things, were becoming more and more obvious.

A situation was building up to where the Party could not avoid coming to terms with its entire past. As Sartre wrote of the Rakost regime in Hungary, a point had to come after all errors had been denied when all the dirty washing would finally be produeed all at one go, and would have to be dealt with in its entirety. This would hapen at a time when china was unprecendentdly isolated, its relations with all states except Pakistan, Burma and Abania having reached an all-time low.

The Yenan generation was facing a crisis.

Its survival was at stake. An economic crisis seemed near when the 1966 harvest was bad; it was inevitable that the power struggle within the Central Committee would have to be resolved, the seventeen years of unity finally sundered, the myth of the infallibility of the leadership abandoned. How could this be done without calling the revolution itself into question?

It was Mao who faced the question of his generation's succession crisis most squarely. The machinery by which power would have been transmitted from one generation to another with Communist legitimacy had broken down with the procedure for convoking annual conferences. New machinery had, therefore, to be improvised. It had to be however, in some sense "revolutionary" machinery.

Mao's solution to this dilemma was brilliant: if the party of the revolution were defunct be would launch a new revolution, "cultural" rather than "newdemocratic", which would purge his enemies in the Party in accordance with unquestionable "revolutionary" morality. The revolution of 1931-1949 would be parodied to serve the aims of Mao and his clique.

only solution

Ingenious though this solution was, it was the only solution possible. So long as all other means of mass participation in decision-making were closed Mao could at once appear to appeal to the masses against "bureaucracy" while safeguarding the almost superstitious rever ence in which the Party centre was held—and to which it owed its power—by simultaneously fostering a Cult of his own personality. No real "Great Debate" would ever be held. The dissident views of Liu Shao-chi, Peng Chen or Lo Jui-chin would never be made public, and inner-Party decision making would never be democratised, while the Red Guards, the more loyal to Mao because he had given them their first taste of power and implicitly promised their generation the succession, ran rampant.

Where, in 1956, Liu might have seemed the white hope of the younger cadres, by 1966 there could be no doubt that their only hope was Mao, whose cult combined uniquely the most rigid doctrinal orthodoxy and loyalty to the leadership with a grotesquely farouche iconoclasm which resembled most a mediaeval heresy hunt.

The focal point of the red Guard attack on the existing power structure—whose only parellel was the activities such right-wing groups as KAMI and KAPI in Indonesia during the post-Gestapu massacres of PKI members—was on the university authorities and especially on the authorities who controlled the selection and recruitment of Communist Party cadres.

The Significance of this needs little stress: basically what the Red Guards were attacking were the old procedures by which students were allotted political power, and of course a place in the Party bureancracy Differences between various Red Guard groups probably corresponded to various kinds of bureaueratie ambition This lead, ultimately, also to conflict with existing municipal and state bureaucracies.

The students, the most privileged group in Chinese Communist society, and the principal beneficiaries of the 1949 revolution—previously children of workers and peasants could not have entered either a "middle school" or a university—wanted to secure their careers, and it was for this reason the April plenum of Party urged them forward, and not the workers, to whome the Cultural Revolution could only offer greater sacrifice and lower wages after initial attacks, even physical one bystudent fanatics.

In Shanghai, the city where Mao, initiated the "cultural revolution", and also, significantly the most prosperous city in modern China, only half of the waterfront workers joined the "Revolutionary' Rebels."

wage dispute

The opposition to the "Rebels" supported higher wages and the correction of wage disparities while the"Rebels" opposed money incentives and urged greater output (2). Part of the student campaign agninst Liu Shao-chi may be due to opposition to the trade union movement of which Liu is head. The call for the "cultural" revolution" included a cell for no interference with production, which meant in practice a ban on all strike action. The view some have have taken (3) that the movement to establish paris Commune organisations in the larger cities would give some power to independent action to wage-earners seems ill-founded. In fact these led to a mifitarisation of labour and the breakdown of the divlsion of labour (4). It is interesting that the longest-lived commune was in Shanghai where we have already noticed its consequences. Workers did during the cultural revolution act independently, as a defensive measure against a movement to limit wage claims and the rights of the trade unions, but these defensive actions, quickly thwarted usually by Peoples Liberation Army units, can hardly be labelled "revolutionary". The first vietim of the Glorious Proletarian Revolution, was the proletariat.

Behind the crisis of Chinese Communism, temporarily resolved in a precarious equilibrium by a Red Guard movement (whose claim to power is a claim on the future rather than on the present and which has now accomplished only a purge of part of the Yenan genera tion to leave power with the unpurged remainder) is problem of Chinese economic backwardness.

The Party's division is, as it always has been, between those of its cadres who are "red" advocating work mobilisation through revolutionary enthusiasm and those who are "expert". urging technological shophisticatiob before ideological parity.

In a still ovrrwhelmingly peasant society, it is not the "expert" but the ideologue who can engineer national unity and while this is so the Red Guards or some equivalent will remain politically necessary to the present regime, though at the cost of a still greater depletion and demoralisation of China's "experts" which will delay the march to an industrially developed society.

The conflict between the "reds" and "experts", between Mao and Liu, is irresoluble within the present framework of Chinese society, except by the common ruination of the contending factions.

The Red Guard movement represents the most extreme form this conflict has taken, the most all-out drive for "red" hegemony China has yet seen and points to an exacerbation of conflict which imperils Chinese Stalinism.

Only a step into an internationally planned community can save China, and the Chinese variant of Stalinism from the schisms that threaten to tear her apart.


(1) People's Daily, 19 May 1957. quoted by peng shutse in "Background of Chinese Events" in George Lavan [ed.] Behind China's Great cultural Revolution (Merit Publishers, New York, 1967.)

(2) Neale Hunter, "Port in a [unclear: sto]" Far Eastern Economic Review, 22 June 1967.

(3) Pierre Frank in Lavan, op. cit.

(4) Aleacandra Close "Tarnished Ideals" Far Eastern Economic Review, 23 February 1967.