The Cultural Revolution

Within the last month events within China have taken a dramatic turn. Reports of fierce clashes between forces for and against Mao Zedong, strikes, allegations of ‘sabotage’ etc., have been splashed across the pages of the capitalist press. While most reports have exaggerated the picture, what is certain is that the current purge in China is spreading its tentacles to ever more layers of the ruling stratum and indeed is reverberating throughout the whole of Chinese society.

These upheavals are but the latest culmination of the so-called Cultural Revolution. For almost a year now a ceaseless campaign has been conducted by Mao Zedong against the opponents of his ‘thought’. In the process numerous ‘heroes’ of yesterday have been demoted to ‘capitalist agents’ today. Thus Peng Chen former boss of Peking, along with a host of other luminaries has been cast out of the charmed circles of the ruling elite. Even the President Lie Shaoqi is currently under attack, while those who compromised his top core of 22 Politburo members, only a handful have maintained their positions.

Alongside of this has gone the attempt to deify Mao Zedong to the level of god. Bent on stamping his imprint on all things, the 22 million strong ‘Red Guards’ have run amok within Chinese cities denouncing anything and everything remotely connected with ‘western culture’ or that which faintly conflicts with the omniscience of the ‘leader’. Thus we have seen the ‘Red Guards’ in the most hooligan fashion and in direct opposition to the Marxist attitude towards culture, destroy priceless books and paintings. Shakespeare, Pushkin, Bizet and Beethoven have all been condemned as ‘ideologues of the exploiting classes’ while the Russian writer Tolstoy had been condemned as a ‘revisionist’ for his book Anna Karenina, which unfortunately, as The Times remarked ‘was written before there was any (Russian) Marxism to revise.’ Similarly Mao Zedong is placed on a level with Marx, Engels and Lenin and has been elevated even higher by his current ally Lin Biao (higher than Stalin also!)

Social Crisis

How to explain these upheavals within China? This cannot be done by mere reference to the personal quirks of one man, Mao Zedong (irrespective of how all-powerful he may appear) as is the fashion with the capitalist press. On the contrary these events indicate a profound social crisis which affects the very vitals of Chinese society. In fact the present regime in China right from the outset has been a regime of crisis, a regime of Bonapartism. This is reflected in the periodic eruptions in the state, the bureaucracy, agriculture, industry and all aspects of life. It has been characterized above all by a constant policy of zigzags, a violent veering from one expedient to another. Given the march to power, and the birth and evolution of the present regime, this could not fail to be so.

Unlike the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution of 1944-49 saw not the working class but the predominantly peasant Red Army, headed by Mao Zedong, Chou En-lai and their entourage, play the dominant role. In the main, in the big cities, ‘Political apathy and inertia were stronger than even universal dissatisfaction … the revolution finally engulfed Peking, but it was full-grown and did not grow gradually within the City itself’ (Communist China on the Eve of Takeover, A. Doad Bennet p. 235).

Furthermore the Chinese Stalinists displayed the fear of the ‘full grown bureaucracy towards any independent movement by the working class. In their eight-point peach program presented as a maneuver before they occupied Peking, they unashamedly warned the working class: ‘Those who strike or destroy will be punished … those working in these organizations should work peacefully and wait for the takeover.’ And true to their word, any independent action by the working class was met with the most ruthless repression. Contrast this attitude with that shown by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks looked towards the working class as the main agent of change and urged ‘the land to the tillers and the factories to the producers.

Mao Zedong and the Chinese Stalinists trimmed their ‘Marxism’ to fit the needs of a Bonapartist clique at the head of the peasant armies. They only came to power because of the peculiar combination of forces which came together at that time. On the one side Chinese capitalism in two decades of untrammeled domination had failed to solve even one of the basic tasks confronting the economy and society i.e. land reform, unification of the country and freedom from imperialism. Under Chiang Kai-shek the country had been dismembered into fields of warlords and spheres of imperialist interests. On the other the balance of world forces prevented US imperialism from intervening decisively on the side of Chiang Kai-shek in the Civil War (due mainly to the demonstrations amongst the troops and the war weariness of the American and European peoples). Thus in the vacuum that was created the Stalinists were allowed to come to power. Having learnt his lessons well as the school of Stalin, Mao Zedong, in the fashion of Bonapartism – and using its traditional weapon in the form of the peasant army – maneuvered between the classes and from the beginning constructed a state based in fundamentals on the totalitarian system in Russia.

Nevertheless the destruction of landlordism and capitalism ensured that the Chinese economy could develop with seven league boots. A tremendous impetus was given to the building of roads, industry, chemicals and all sections of the economy. Steel production, to give but one example, has zoomed from less than one million tons in 1949 to an estimated 12 million tons last year (1966).

In the language of steel, concrete and cement and to a certain extent the living standards of the people, nationalization and a plan demonstrates its superiority of the outmoded system of capitalism. This despite the existence of a parasitic bureaucracy from the beginning. One has only to compare China with India where the straight jacket of private ownership has brought millions to the brink of starvation.

Economic Contradictions

Given its isolation, the triumph of the revolution was bound to lead to contradictions on a higher plane. The Chinese Stalinists based themselves on Stalin’s conception of ‘Socialism in one country.’ As in Russia, this was the ‘theoretical’ smokescreen to express the interests of an emerging privileged layer of officials entrenched in the state, army and at all levels of the administrative apparatus.

But from the time of Marx onwards genuine socialists have always viewed socialism as realizable only n a world scale. It is international or it is nothing, and moreover must be based on a technique and production higher than that of the highest capitalism. Marx himself pointed out ‘where want is generalized … all the old crap must revive.’ First and foremost amongst this crap is the state itself. How completely this is borne out is demonstrated by the example of Russia.

Whereas Lenin conceived that the very first day of socialism would see the process of the withering away of the state, in Russia the repressive apparatus has been grown by monstrous proportions with the population excluded from effective management and control of the government. Similarly in China where it has been estimated that the income per head of the population will not reach the level of even 1930 in Russia until 1980! ‘Want is generalized’ to an even greater extent in China – and with it the unrestricted growth of the bureaucracy. With the masses denied the right to discuss the aims, methods and details of the Chinese economy all the mistakes of Stalinist Russia have been committed on a monumental scale. This accounts for the ceaseless convolutions of which the Cultural Revolution is but the latest.

A number of factors have come together to provoke the present crisis. The severe dislocation resulting from the so-called ‘Great Leap Forward’ caused conflict within the top echelons of the ‘Communist Party.’ Ordained from the top by Mao Zedong, the Chinese nation was dragooned into the lunacy of ‘back-yard steel production,’ when workers and peasants were instructed to set up their own furnaces. The result: virtual stagnation in the economy for years (it is no accident that figures of the development of the economy over the past number of years, including the details of the present five-year plan, have not been issued).

Such was the case also in the field of agriculture. With the forced march towards complete collectivizing of agriculture they have succeeded in aiming crippling blows at production. Unheeding the lessons of Stalin’s debacle in collectivizing Russian agriculture (from which the USSR suffers to this day) the bureaucracy brought about a standstill here as well.

The ‘communalization’ was carried through with the primitive tools on small plots of land for centuries and without large scale machines and technique necessary for the working of large units. The peasants here also reacted to the move with hostility, the consequence being a loss of self-interest and a plummeting of output. The result of all this has been that grain production is still at the level of 1956(!) and the bureaucracy has been forced to make a partial retreat in allowing the cultivation of ‘small plots’ to the extent that ’80 percent of pigs and 90 percent of poultry are raised’, in this way and ‘account for more than half of peasant incomes.’ (The Economist).

Only a real plan of production drawn up by the masses themselves would be able to develop the economy in harmony, bring about the necessary balance between agriculture and industry and demonstrate in practice the superiority of large scale organization of agriculture.

Added to this has been the collapse of the ‘international’ policy of the Chinese Stalinists. Despite the demagoguery of Mao Zedong, their policy has been based on furthering the ‘national’ interests of the bureaucracy and not the interests of world socialism and the working class. As with the Russian Stalinists they have attempted to court the support of the national capitalists throughout the underdeveloped world.

Thus they were silent at the time of the East African mutinies, which were put down by their ‘friends’ Nyerere, Kenyetta and Co. Similarly they extended aid to the Sultan of Zanzibar before he was overthrown, and to the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan. They rushed to ‘recognize’ the Bommedienne regime in Algeria within hours of its installation and worst of all, were primarily responsible for the decimation of the Indonesian Communist Party. This debacle which resulted in the slaughter of upwards of half a million members of the PKI (the Indonesian CP) is one of the bloodiest chapters in the annals of world history. In a situation that was rotten ripe for the overthrow of capitalism the Chinese bureaucracy instructed the PKI to tail-end Sukharno, the representative of the national bourgeoisie. The biggest Communist Party in the world outside of Russia and Chian was sacrificed on the alter of the diplomatic interests of the Chinese Stalinists.

Power Struggle

These factors amongst others (particularly the Sino-Soviet dispute) have provoked the present crisis and reflected this within the Chinese state, amongst the bureaucracy and in sections of the people themselves. Meeting opposition from a layer of the bureaucracy, Mao Zedong brought into being the ‘Red Guards’ as a club by means of which to beat down and destroy the opposition. Thrown into a national shell and as the supreme arbiter, he has leaned upon a more backward and younger section of the bureaucracy as The Times put it, ‘the conflict … lies between an elite newly established to run the cultural revolution, and the “old guard” bureaucrats’, against the ‘restriction of democracy’ etc., all the better to preserve the position of the bureaucracy as a whole.

In turn Liu Shaoqi leaned on a section of the workers, utilizing their discontent and demands for better conditions which provoked the formation by Mao Zedong of the ‘Red Rebels’ (the ‘Red Guard’s’ adult counterparts) and vicious denunciations of the ‘outrage’, ‘economism’. In this is revealed the substance of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. With sugar-coated words Mao Zedong and the bureaucracy are willing to use the working class and the peasantry in the intra-bureaucratic struggle, but let them once advance even their own limited economic demands and this is ‘sabotage’ and is attacked as the ‘vile road of economic struggle’. (The Times January 19 1967).

Similarly with the question of democracy. While Mao Zedong conjures up the vision of the Paris Commune and tells the workers that the ‘state is now their own’, it is conveniently forgotten that even the organization of the bureaucracy itself, the ‘Communist’ Party, has held only two Central Committee meetings in four years while the Congresses have been convened only twice also since 1949! What hope then is there for the masses to have a say in deciding their own fate under the present regime?

Stalinist Purge

The Only Reason why the present purge has not resulted in the bloodbath of the Stalin era, is precisely because Stalin was forced to decimate the section of the bureaucracy who still had links with the October Revolution, e.g. Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. who despite their desertion of Marxism and Bolshevism, on the first day of revolt against the stranglehold of the bureaucracy, would nevertheless become a catalyst for any opposition.

In China there has been no ‘October’ in the sense of the working class holding direct political power. Another factor is the balance of world forces which is decisively in favor of the working class unlike in the period pre-war.

Socialist Democracy

The present massive rallies in Peking and elsewhere are not socialist democracy. On the contrary, as Leon Trotsky pointed out some thirty years ago, ‘the democratic ritual of Bonapartism is the plebiscite. From time to time the question is presented to the citizens: for or against the leader.’

Genuine socialist democracy means the democratic control and management of the economy and the state by the working class and the people themselves. It means elected delegates subject to recall and with a clearly defined maximum wage, an armed people instead of the standing army, the right of all working class tendencies which accept the nationalized property to be represented in the workers councils, and all the factors which make for real soviet power.

None of these exist in China at present time. Hence the convulsions, contradictions and mismanagement of the economy by the bureaucracy. Just as much as worker’s political parties need oxygen in the form of democracy, so too, does a nationalized and planned economy. Without it the body ceases to function properly. With the cancer of a bloated and privileged elite battening itself on the necks of the Chinese people the upheavals involved in the Cultural Revolution will be perpetrated and even increased. The current campaign can only lead to another adventure in agriculture and the economy in the futile attempt to solve problems. There is no final solution so long as the bureaucracy maintains its stranglehold. For while it is possible for the Chinese economy to develop despite the blight of the bureaucracy, far from the social antagonisms disappearing they will grow apace with the growth of the economy itself, so long as the present regime exists.

Peter Taaffe

Militant, February 1967