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Why China Went Capitalist

Posted by sorev on 30/08/2009

The following was lifted from the Kasama Project‘s webpage (who lifted it from the MLMRSG).  The original article can be found here or here.

Why did the Chinese Communist Party turn into a capitalist party so quickly once Mao died?

Why was it so easy for Deng and supporters to kick out the “Gang of Four”, Mao’s closest supporters and most “left” among the leadership?

Why was there no mass rebellion against this among the members of the Party?

Why did the “cadre” – full-time Party officials – go along with this swift move back to capitalist production, distribution, and property relations?

How was it that Deng himself had so much support among the Party cadre that he was able to control the Party behind the scenes and then, in a couple of years, openly take over? Along with Liu Shaoqi Deng had been one of the main targets of the GPCR.

The proximate roots of the overthrow of Chinese communism lie in the question of “cadres” that arose again and again during the Cultural Revolution.

One side – ultimately, it was Mao’s side – in the GPCR claimed that the vast majority of the Party cadres were either “good” or reformable. Here are some quotations:

The “Sixteen Points” of August 8 1966, one of the basic statements of the GPCR, stated that most cadre were good. Point Eight reads:


The cadres fall roughly into the following four categories:

(1) good;
(2) comparatively good;
(3) those who have made serious mistakes but have not become anti-Party, anti-socialist rightists;
(4) the small number of anti-Party, anti-socialist rightists.

In ordinary situations, the first two categories ( good and comparatively good ) are the great majority.”

Badiou has noted, though superficially, incompletely, the problem with this statement.

“First of all, it is held, as if axiomatically, that in essence the party is good. Point 8 (“The Question of Cadres”) distinguishes four types of cadres, as put to the test of the Cultural Revolution (let us remember that in China, a “cadre” is anyone who dispenses authority, even if minimal): good, comparatively good, those who have made serious mistakes that can be fixed, and lastly “the small number of anti-Party and anti-socialist Rightists.” The thesis is then that “the two first categories (good and comparatively good) are the great majority.” That is, the state apparatus and its internal leadership (the party) are essentially in good hands, which renders paradoxical the recourse to such large-scale revolutionary methods.”

-Alain Badiou, “The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution?” Positions 13:3 (2005), 492.

A common way of stating this in GPCR documents is that only a “handful” of cadres are bad and must be removed.

Lin Biao speech October 1, 1966

“Today, we are celebrating this great festival amid an upsurge of the great proletarian cultural revolution. This is a great revolution, an entirely new and creative revolution carried out after the seizure of political power by the proletariat. Its aim is to overthrow through struggle the small handful of persons within the Party who are in authority who have taken the capitalist road,…” –

“June 1, 1966, Chairman Mao decided to publish in the press the first Marxist-Leninist big-character poster in the country, posted first in Peking University. This kindled the raging flames of the great proletarian cultural revolution and set in motion the mass movement which has as its main target for attack the handful of persons within the Party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road….”

“It is a fact that in our army there are a handful of persons in authority taking the capitalist road and an extremely few diehards clinging to the bourgeois reactionary line …. ” (209)

“This great cultural revolution means precisely the arousing of hundreds of millions of people to liberate themselves and to seize power from the handful of people within the Party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road.” (212)

“The handful of representatives of the bourgeoisie are vicious and dare to bully people to such an extent precisely because they still have power!” (213 – Peking Review, January 27, 1967).

“is entirely wrong to adopt a policy of opposing everything, casting out everything and striking down everything. It should be noted that some of the leading cadres are on the side of Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line and are resolved to wage a struggle against the handful of persons in authority in the Party taking the capitalist road. We must have full confidence in these cadres and fight side by side with them. As for the leading cadres who have swerved or made errors in line, we should also unite with them to fight together, so long as they are willing to mend their errors and return to the Party’s correct line and to Chairman Mao’s line.” – People’s Daily Feb. 2 1967 (216)

“The firm implementation of the great alliance of the proletarian revolutionaries and the solidarity of the broad masses of people are the most important conditions for achieving victory in the struggle to seize power from the handful of persons in power in the Party who are taking the capitalist road. At a time when the great proletarian cultural revolution has entered a stage of launching a struggle to seize all power from the handful of persons in power in the Party who are taking the capitalist road,…” – Red Flag editorial (217)

“Only by doing so will it prove helpful to the greatest extent in isolating and attacking the handful of persons within the Party who are in power and taking the capitalist road,…” — ibid, 218.

“3) Sufficient importance must be attached to the role of revolutionary cadres in the struggle to seize power. The leading cadres who uphold the proletarian revolutionary line are the precious wealth of the Party. They can become the backbone of the struggle to seize power and become the leadership in the struggle to seize power. These leading cadres have, for considerable time in the past, waged a struggle against the handful of persons within the Party who are in authority and taking the capitalist road. They are now appearing before the masses, openly indicating before the masses that they are on the side of the proletarian revolutionaries, integrating with the revolution- ary masses, and fighting together with them. Workers, peasants, revolutionary students and revolutionary intellectuals must believe in them.” ibid, 218

“The overwhelming majority of cadres in general in the Party and government institutions are good and want to make revolution. The proletarian revolutionary rebels among them are the main forces for seizing power within their respective units.” ibid, 219.

“…renegades, special agents, counter-revolutionaries and diehard capitalist-roaders who have managed to sneak into the revolutionary ranks are but a handful. This should be our basic estimate of the cadre ranks.

– People’s Daily May 13, 1967, CQ Jl-Sp ‘68 p. 184.

Many more such quotations about “handfuls” can be found.

Many statement, like some of those quoted above, go far beyond merely stating that most cadre are good or reformable, to insist that cadre must be in the leadership of the GPCR.

“..the revolutionary leading cadres rise together with the masses in the struggle to seize power from the handful of those within the Party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road, the revolutionary mass organisations must support them. They must see that the revolutionary leading cadres have acquired comparatively richer experiences in struggle, are more matured politically and possess greater organisational strength. It is quite advantageous to the struggle for seizing and grasping power to have them participate in the core leadership. As for cadres who have committed errors, we must deal with them correctly and must not knock them down. Regarding those inexcusable anti-Party and anti-socialist elements and those who persistently refused to reform and failed to undergo reform after being educated repeatedly, we must allow them to repent and encourage them to redeem their crimes with meritorious deeds.” – ibid, 218.

If cadre are in the lead, then the masses are not in the lead. The masses are to follow the cadre.

The Left

Why was there so much insistence from the Party leadership that “most cadre are good”, even that “cadres should lead”, and that only a “handful” or an “extremely few diehards” were “persisting in the bourgeois reactionary line?”

The answer is: because there was a mass movement – a number of mass organizations – that were claiming the opposite of this: that most of the Party cadre were reactionary.

The statement “Whither China?” by the Shengwulien organization is the expression of the Left – derided as the “ultra-left” by the Party leadership and cadre and that often described itself as such, as “ultra-left” – is the best known statement that draws this conclusion.

“The rule of the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie must be overthrown by force in order to solve the problem of political power.

“Facts as revealed by the masses and their wrath told people initially that this class of “Red” capitalists had completely become a decaying class that hindered the progress of history, and that the relations between them and the people in general had changed from relations between the leaders and the led to those between the rulers and the ruled, the exploiters and the exploited, from the relations of revolutionaries of equal standing to those between the oppressors and the oppressed. The special privileges and high salaries of the class of “Red” capitalists was built on the basis of the oppression and exploitation of the broad masses of the people. In order to realize the “People’s Commune of China”, it was necessary to overthrow this class …

“We really believe that ninety per cent of the senior cadres should stand aside, that at most they can only be objects to be educated and united. This is because they have already constituted a decaying class with its own particular “interests”. Their relation with the people has changed from the relation between the leaders and the led in the past to that between exploiters and the exploited, the oppressors and the oppressed. Most of them consciously or unconsciously yearn for the capitalist road, and protect and develop capitalist things. The rule of their class has completely blocked the development of history … However they (the bureaucrats) hit back at and carry out counter-reckoning against the revolutionary people with increasing madness, pushing themselves nearer and nearer the guillotine. All this proves that no decaying class in history would voluntarily make an exit from the stage of history.

“In the new society of the Paris Commune type this class will be overthrown.”

We also know of this Left position by the attacks of its enemies.

“Recently, a sort of so-called ‘new trend of thought’ prevails in society. Its principal content is to distort the major contradiction of socialist society into one between the so-called ‘power-holders’, i.e., the ‘privileged persons’ who hold ‘property and power’ and the masses of the people. It demands an incessant ‘redistribution’ of the social property and political power under the proletarian dictatorship. The new trend of thought has equated the current GPCR with a conflict for wealth and power ‘within a reactionary ruling class’. It has equated the headquarters of Mao/Lin with that of Liu/Teng/Tao. It has branded all leading cadres as privileged persons and thrust them all into the position of objects of revolution.” (CNS, No. 188. Quoted at )

Official statements make clear the fact that the official insistence that “most cadres are good” is in direct opposition to the Left position that most cadres needed to be overthrown.

“…[R]enegades, special agents, counter-revolutionaries and diehard capitalist-roaders who have managed to sneak into the revolutionary ranks are but a handful. This should be our basic estimate of the cadre ranks….The outstanding revolutionary cadres who have gone through the trials of the struggle of the classes and lines can then be placed in key positions where they will be able to give full play to their role of backbone in the revolutionary three-way alliance. . . .

Only by setting out from such a basic estimate will it be possible to avoid Right or extreme “Left” errors in handling the cadre question. …It will also prevent us from regarding the cadre ranks as thoroughly rotten — a view which suspects all and overthrows all, and ruthlessly smashes cadres down for any error committed, no matter how minor it may be (FE/2783).”

– People’s Daily May 13, 1967, China Quarterly Jl-Sp ‘68, 184.

Jiang Qing, a member of the Cultural Revolutionary Group around Mao, attacked this “ultra-left” in a speech in Anhui on September 5 1967:

“It looks as if they come out in the guise of either extreme “leftists” or rightists who oppose the Central Committee headed by Chairman Mao. This is quite impermissible and they are doomed to failure. At present if you take Peking as an example you have this kind of thing. I call it a thing because it is a counter-revolutionary organisation. It is really called the “May 16th” group. They don’t have a very large membership. On the surface they are young people and these young people have been misled. They are a minority of bourgeois elements and are filled with hatred against us; but these are only individuals. The vast majority are young people and they are using the instability of young people’s ideology. The real manipulators behind the scenes are very bad people. This “May 16th” group appeared first of all under the guise of extreme “leftists.” They concentrated their aim against the Prime Minister [Zhou Enlai, attacked by the Left as the defender of the reactionary cadre] and in fact they collected material about us to send abroad. Naturally we are not scared. Why should we be frightened by this? You can go and sell it if you like. If you have had a good meal and feel like doing something and don’t want to do revolution, no matter what you do, we are not scared. From the point of view of the rightists, at the end of January and February there was an atmosphere of opposition to the proletarian cultural revolution. At present this atmosphere is one of “leftism.” They are opposing the Central Committee. This is the guise of extreme “leftists ” who are opposing the Prime Minister….

– CQ Oct-Dec 1967, 212.

The Shanghai Commune was perhaps the main high point of Left influence. Mao had praised the Paris Commune. In February 1967 editorials appeared in Red Flag praising it and the efforts to form a Chinese Commune. Like the Paris Commune, its leaders were to be subject to immediate recall. In fact Zhang Chunqiao took control of it with the support of the Beijing-based Cultural Revolution group.

Zhang made the founding speech of the Shanghai Commune on February 5 1967. A week later he and Yao Wen-yuan went to Beijing where Mao explained to them that the Commune was a bad idea. Other cities wanted to form Communes. As in Marx’s day, direct recall of officials proved to be a popular idea! Mao suggested that power be vested instead in “three-in-one” committees, or “three-way alliance” – the Army, Party cadre, and “revolutionary rebels” like Wang Hongwen.

This was spelled out in the pamphlet “On the Revolutionary Three-in-One Combination.” This document repeats over a dozen times the formula that “only a handful” of cadres were reactionary. The “three-in-one” committee idea was specifically intended to counter the Left.

“In some localities, a few persons have proposed that “all persons classified as leading cadres should stand aside”. This view is devoid of class analysis. It counterposes the masses to all cadres. It does not direct its spearhead against the handful of persons in authority taking the capitalist road but against the great number of cadres. It therefore runs counter to the basic spirit of the 16-point decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party concerning the great proletarian cultural revolution, to the general orientation of the struggle and to Mao Tse-tung’s thought. To act in this way is objectively helping the class enemy. Those comrades who committed such mistakes unconsciously should immediately correct them. It is dangerous for them to persist in their own view. All revolutionary cadres should welcome the comrades guilty of such mistakes, as soon as they correct them, and in no circumstances should retaliate against them.” –

Before long the “hunt” was on for Leftists. Yang Xiguang, author of “Whither China?”, was singled out for special attack and went into hiding. According to Yang he was safe as long as he remained in his home province, but was turned into the police when he left it. He spent 10 years in prison. Dongping Han discusses the persecution of former “rebels” under Deng in the late ‘70s and ‘80s (“Negating the Cultural Revolution,” in The Unknown Cultural Revolution. MR Press, 2008).

Who Was Right? Who Was Wrong?

Were Mao and his high-level supporters correct when they insisted that the Party cadre were 90% good, “wanted to make revolution”, and those “on the capitalist road” were “a small handful”?

Or was the “ultra-Left” correct when they wrote, quoting Shengwulien,

“We really believe that ninety per cent of the senior cadres should stand aside, that at most they can only be objects to be educated and united. This is because they have already constituted a decaying class with its own particular “interests”. Their relation with the people has changed from the relation between the leaders and the led in the past to that between exploiters and the exploited, the oppressors and the oppressed. Most of them consciously or unconsciously yearn for the capitalist road, and protect and develop capitalist things. The rule of their class has completely blocked the development of history …”

In historical hindsight it is obvious. The “ultra-Left” were right. Mao was wrong.

The same Party cadre who, with Mao’s support, retained power in the Party supported the overthrow of the “Gang of Four” as soon as Mao died; then supported Deng’s swift reversion to open capitalism.

My point is not to say that the so-called “ultra-left” – really, the Left – were “correct” in all respects. But they were correct about the BIG issues.

A new Communist Party was needed. “Whiter China?” stated:

“The July 1st editorial of 1967 raised the question of Party building. During the violent class struggle in July and August, a very small number of “ultra-Leftists” put forward the demand that the “ultra-Left should have its own political party… To make revolution it is necessary to have a revolutionary party.”

“As a result of the practice of struggle having gained rich experience and entered a higher stage, the maturity of the political thinking of the revolutionary people of China has also entered a higher stage. A new trend of thought (called “ultra-Left trend of thought” by the enemy), including “overthrow of the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie”, “abolition of bureaucratic organs”, “thorough smashing of the state machine”, etc. wanders among the revolutionary people like a “spectre” in the eyes of the enemy.”

Yang Xiguang’s statement saw the future of China very accurately:

“The 9th National Congress of the Party about to be convened is not expected to be able to thoroughly settle the question of where the Chinese Communist Party is going. The political party that is produced in accordance with the provisions promulgated by the Centre for rehabilitation, regulation and rebuilding of the Party (if such a party can be formed) will necessarily be a party of bourgeois reformism that serves the bourgeois usurpers in the revolutionary committees.”

This is, in fact, precisely what happened.

“Whither China?” also pointed to the fact that the roots of this bourgeois restoration went back to the very foundation of the Chinese People’s Republic:

“To really overthrow the rule of the new aristocracy and thoroughly smash the old state machinery, it will be necessary to go into the question of assessment of the past 17 years…. The real revolution, the revolution to negate the past 17 years, has basically not yet begun, and that we should now enter the stage of tackling the fundamental questions of China’s revolution …”

The Cult of Mao Was the Achilles’ Heel of the Left

A glaring contradiction in “Whither China?” is the insistence of its authors that Mao was on their side, the side of the Left.

Yet Mao had come out against the Shanghai Commune. Mao had supported the “three-in-one” committees that the Left recognized as window-dressing, a form of rule in which the revolutionary forces – supposing they actually got representation at all – would be second in every way to the old cadre and the Army. And “political power flows from the barrel of a gun.” Ultimately it was the command of the Army that held state power under this system.

“Why did Comrade Mao Tse-tung, who energetically advocated the “commune”, suddenly oppose the establishment of “Shanghai People’s Commune” in January? That is something which the revolutionary people find it hard to understand.

“Chairman Mao, who foresaw the “commune” as a political structure which must be realised in the first cultural revolution, suddenly put forward “Revolutionary committees are fine!” (“Whither China?”)

In order to “explain” Mao’s actions “Whither China?” has recourse to a strained and very economic-determinist view of Mao’s actions. It suggested that Mao was choosing a “zig-zag path” because history must proceed that way.

“Revolution must progress along a zigzagging way. It must go through a prolonged course of “struggle-failure-struggle again-failure again-struggle again till final victory”.

“… the wise supreme commander Comrade Mao Tse-tung once more made a big retreat after September, in disregard of demands by impatient revolutionaries for victory. A political situation of bourgeois usurpation of power came about with the establishment of revolutionary committees or preparatory groups for revolutionary committees.

“Chairman Mao’s rousing call, “Arm the Left!” was an intensive concentration of the courage of the working class. But the September 5 order completely nullified the call to “arm the Left”. The working class was disarmed. The bureaucrats again came back to power …

Shengwulien suggests that somehow Mao did not openly support the Left because the people were not ready for it:

“Revolutions often take various reformist, unthorough roads. It is only when all panaceas are proved useless that the revolutionary people would resolve to follow the most painful and most destructive, but also the most thorough and revolutionary road. The struggle in the transition period of revolutionary committees will inevitably disillusion the masses about the panacea of bourgeois reformism which they love so much. Chairman Mao says: “Buddhist idols are set up by the peasants. When the time comes the peasants will throw away these idols with their own hands. There is no need for others to do it too soon.” In the not far distant future the revolutionary people will surely smash to pieces with their own iron hands the newborn red political power which they have secured with their own blood and lives …”

In reality Mao never supported the Left. Mao played a centrist role. He opposed the open reversion to capitalism, but never dismissed those who, like Deng, were its main proponents.

Understanding Mao’s centrism is key to understanding why the GPCR was basically decided by 1967. With the left in defeat and centrism, in the form of Mao and the “Gang”, in charge, China’s policies began to move to the right. This is most obviously seen in “ping-pong diplomacy” and then “Nixon in China”. Mao and Zhou warmed up to the USA when the US imperialists were still bombing the hell out of Vietnam and funding the South Vietnamese fascists to the hilt.

This isn’t the place to review all the contradictions in China’s political history between 1968 and Mao’s death. Certainly many left initiatives remained. Mao placated the right and smashed the “ultra-left” but never let the right seize power completely. His leadership, including the “Gang”, was centrist, meaning: right in essence but with a left cover.

During this time the pro-capitalist right was consolidated. There is no way Mao’s policies could have been so quickly reversed, capitalism so swiftly re-established and with so little opposition from within the Party, unless the Right became thoroughly consolidated while he was still alive. These were those Party cadres that Mao had insisted were “mainly good” and that the “ultra-left” had correctly viewed as the enemy.

The “ultra-left” could not see past the “cult of Mao.” They could not see Mao’s centrist role – that he actually opposed them and supported the cadre; that he opposed a Paris Commune kind of state in which Party cadre would have to win election from the working class or be deposed.

Something similar had happened in the USSR during Stalin’s lifetime. Khrushchev would not have been able to take over the Party and country so swiftly, and then Gorbachev able to restore capitalism in the name of “back to Lenin”, “back to ‘real socialism’”, if the roots of this reversal did not reach far back into the Stalin and even the Lenin years.

So the “cult” of Mao helped mislead and defeat the “ultra-left” and reinstall the Right. Maybe that is why Mao’s body still lies in state in Tienanmen Square, as Lenin’s does in Red Square.

Lesson: Criticize the “cult”, criticize Mao’s writings, criticize Maoism.

No truths are true forever. No leader is “always right.” Mao was a great leader. Under his leadership the Chinese Revolution was won and the Chinese People’s Republic established. He also initiated the GPCR, without which the mass “ultra-Left” movement would never have come into being.

At the same time Mao’s failure to support the Left and conciliation of the Right – of which Deng is just the most obvious example – guaranteed China’s reversion to capitalism once he had passed from the scene.

The “cult” of Mao facilitated that. It was a disgusting display of adulation, idolatry, lack of criticism, mass manipulation, cynicism. Even if Mao had represented the Left the “cult” would have been bad, like the “cult” around Stalin had been bad, because it disempowered the masses.

The “cult” of Mao stands in the way of the critical assimilation of the lessons of the Chinese Revolution. As long as Mao and his writings are regarded as “beyond criticism” any attempt to understand why the Chinese Revolution was reversed is condemned to go around in a circle. In that way it serves a similar purpose to the “cult” around Stalin. Khrushchev, who had risen to the leadership of the USSR by participating in this “cult” (along with lots of other Party cadre) then attacked it. Likewise Deng began the criticism of Mao’s legacy.

If “everything had come out all right”, if China had gone on to progress in a communist direction after Mao’s death, then we’d have to conclude that Mao’s judgment that “90% of the cadre being basically good” was basically correct. After all, “90% of the cadre” are more than enough to determine which direction the Party is going to take. Instead, China moved sharply towards capitalism immediately Mao died. This could not have happened without the support of “90% of the cadre”.

So Mao and the others were wrong. The “ultra-left” were correct. A new communist party was necessary. And it was necessary not in 1976, when Mao died, but long before Mao died. It was necessary, at the latest, when the “ultra-left” recognized the need for it.

I don’t fault the “ultra-left” like the Shengwulien, the May 16 group, and others we know little about. They achieved a lot. It would have been very hard to reject Mao during the GPCR, no matter how necessary we can now see that this was. The “ultra-Left” did not have the benefit of hindsight. They could not know what we now know, thanks in part to their experience.

But today, we ourselves have no such excuse.


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The Students, United, Wage Cultural Revolution!

Posted by sorev on 30/08/2009

The following essay focuses on the effect that students had in constructing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Our focus in this section on the GPCR is to draw the attention of comrades towards the concept of Social Revolution; that is to say, a revolution which attacks the very basic social relations of society in order to change them. The Social Revolution Party considers the GPCR to have been such an attempt. Furthermore, comrades should note that the role of students in the mass struggle is important. It is possible to change the world.

I. Introduction

…in the last fifty days or so some leading comrades from the central down to the local levels have acted in a diametrically opposite way [to Marxism-Leninism]. Adopting the reactionary stand of the bourgeoisie, they have enforced a bourgeois dictatorship and struck down the surging movement of the great cultural revolution of the proletariat. … How poisonous! Viewed in connection with the Right deviation in 1962 and the wrong tendency of 1964 which was ‘Left’ in form but Right in essence, shouldn’t this make one wide awake?1

It was with these words, written in early August of 1966, that Mao Zedong officially marked the beginning of the great proletarian Cultural Revolution. After months of unrest in much of China, particularly amoungst students and young workers, Mao latched himself onto a growing movement and in doing so provided the legitimacy required in order for the blossoming revolution to become a truly national phenomena throughout China. One of the most controversial periods in the history of modern China had been born.

rossoquote1The Cultural Revolution is considered by many historians to have begun around August of 1966, however the end point remains more ambiguous.2 Historians are generally divided into two camps in regards to the ending point of the Cultural Revolution; some consider the Cultural Revolution to have ended in December of 1968 with the destruction of the Red Guards and the establishment of the Down To The Countryside campaign,3 whereas others, including the official line of the Communist Party of China, believe the Cultural Revolution envelopes the drama surrounding the Gang of Four and comes to an end with the abolition of the Down To The Countryside campaign in 1977. While not mattering greatly within the scope of this paper, I fall into the former camp.4

It goes without saying that the interpretation of such a controversial event in the history of China is also greatly disputed. Though unfortunately not within the scope of this paper to argue, it is my conviction that the Cultural Revolution was a legitimate and honest struggle for socialism within China4. The Cultural Revolution attacked most of the old state institutions that existed within China, and specifically went after party bureaucrats who had become entrenched within the post-1949 Chinese state. The Cultural Revolution saw attacks on bourgeois forms of education, saw the creation of workers’ and students’ councils, saw the arming of said councils and the formation of the Red Guards, and ultimately saw the establishment of the Shanghai Commune in 1967.5 This is the historical bias from which I will approach the subject matter being discussed. However, the Cultural Revolution provides only the backdrop on which the events discussed in this paper occur. The main intent of this paper is to show how the student movement in China was instrumental in constructing the Cultural Revolution. The power of the student movement in China during the time leading up to and during the Cultural Revolution exists as a shining example to student and worker struggles everywhere, and indeed the Cultural Revolution needs to be re-evaluated within this light if we are to have success within the student movement in Canada. Particular attention will be paid to the experience of students at Peking University, and Tsinghua University. In the end, it will be proven that the student movement in China was instrumental in constructing the great proletarian Cultural Revolution.

II. The Experience of Students at Peking University

The origins of the Cultural Revolution at Peking University can be traced back to the after-effects of the largely failed Great Leap Forward. Despite the fact that one of the main goals of the Great Leap Forward was to extend quality education to the Chinese masses, particularly peasants, by the time 1965 arrived the Chinese education system was still extremely stratified. According to Victor Nee:

At the top were all of the elite schools… Their students were to become China’s future leaders, scientists, and professional men. Below the elite schools were the general full-time schools, which were to train middle level technicians, engineers, and teachers, most of who were destined for positions in the countryside. At the bottom were the part-time schools… which were there to provide a minimal education for China’s future peasant and working classes…6

Such a hierarchy of education ran completely contrary to the ideals of the Chinese Revolution of 1949, and “threatened to perpetuate structures which could only reinforce the social values of traditional China.”7 It was in response to the relative stagnation of progress within China’s education system that Mao initiated the Socialist Education Campaign in 1962. The aims of the Socialist Education Campaign (SEC) were three-fold. First, the SEC wanted to ensure that graduates of China’s best schools would go to the countryside and use their skills there. Second, the SEC encouraged students to go on work-study programs into the countryside in order to counter the spontaneous restoration of capitalism within small villages.8 And third, the SEC hoped to increase the enrolment of working class and peasant students within the elite schools.

Initially the SEC was limited to the countryside, but slowly and surely the SEC made its way into China’s cities. In 1964 the campaign was officially adopted at Peking University and a work-team arrived in rder to expose those within the university administration that were allegedly taking “the capitalist road.”9 The university administration, in particular the chair of Peking University’s Party Committee, Lu P’ing, was quick to criticize the work-team and actively organized for their removal. Working with the Beijing Municipal Committee, a close ally to Lu P’ing, “struggle-meetings” were organized that denounced the SEC work-team and attempted to force the work team to engage in self-criticisms. When the work-team refused to submit to criticism, they were removed from Peking University and 80 members of Peking University’s faculty who had sided with the work-team’s criticisms of the administration were forcibly removed from campus to await trial inside of the International Hotel in Beijing. This group of radical academics was to become known as the International Hotel Group.10

Meanwhile, the play Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, written in 1961 by famed historian Wu Han, was beginning to stir-up new controversy. Despite initial positive reception from Mao, various prominent leftists within China felt that the play was in fact a thinly veiled critique of Mao and his dismissal of old army bureaucrats. Mao, responding to pressure from his base of support within China, brought up the idea of criticizing Wu Han at a Central Committee meeting in October of 1965. Fearing that the renewed criticism of Wu Han would empower opponents of Peking University’s Party Committee,11 Lu P’ing organized for nearly two-thirds of the students at Peking University, particularly those students who were not members of the Communist Party, to be sent to the countryside. Under the guise of fulfilling the goals of the SEC, Lu P’ing had managed to isolate most of Peking University’s students from both the International Hotel Group and the new leftist criticisms of Wu Han.

Attempting to regain popularity amoungst the remaining students remaining at Peking University, Lu P’ing called a meeting of Party members in early May of 1966 where he encouraged the academic criticism of Hai Jui Dismissed from Office. Following this initial meeting, Lu P’ing began to organize public meetings where he echoed his encouragement of academic criticisms of Wu Han’s play. Lu P’ing had however seriously over-estimated his support within the Party at Peking University, and when various revolutionary elements within the Party began calling for a political criticism of Wu Han himself12, a call echoed by those faculty that still remained at the rossoquote2International Hotel, Lu P’ing began to realize that his control over Peking University was slipping.

Finding an opening in which the Party Committee and administration of Peking University could be attacked, the International Hotel Group began preparing a big-character poster criticizing Lu P’ing’s role in suppressing criticisms of Wu Han. The poster, entitled “What Have Sun Shuo, Lu P’ing, and P’en P’ei-yun Done in the Cultural Revolution?”,13 almost immediately began to garner support from the students still left at Peking University and within hours the walls of the school were covered in other posters criticizing the administration.14 The administration’s reaction was fierce, and in mobilizing the Communist Youth League (CYL),15 it was able to effectively shut down any meetings held by leftist dissenters and install a “reign of terror”16 at Peking University.

rossoquote3Lu P’ing’s victory was short-lived. On June 1st, 1966, Mao made a special request that the text of the International Hotel Group’s big-character poster be broadcast across Beijing;17 he would later go on to suggest that the particular poster was “China’s first Marxist-Leninist big-character poster.”18 Following the broadcast, a meeting was held at Peking University in which the leadership of the International Hotel Group was able to make a series of statements. The result was that even those students that had initially supported Lu P’ing and the Party Committee found themselves on the side of the leftists.

Throughout the following day, parades of revolutionaries from around Beijing – university students, high-school students, workers, peasants, Party cadres, etc. — made their way to the gates of Peking university in order to join the student rebels. P’eng P’eiyun, Sung Shuo, and most importantly Lu P’ing were all dismissed from office. The two thirds of Peking University students that had been sent to the countryside under the auspices of the SEC returned to the campus of Peking University filled with revolutionary vigour from their work-study experience, and the International Hotel Group was regraciated into the life of Peking University.

At the same time as celebrations were being carried out over the victory at Peking University, a new Municipal Committee had been formed. Attempting to restore order at Peking University, a work-team was dispatched in order to put down the leftist uprising. The work-team immediately closed the gates of the university and began a series of “struggle-sessions” that sought to denounce the leftists. While this initially worked, on June 7th posters criticizing the work-team appeared on the campus of Peking University. The renewed sense of struggle gradually galvanized the majority of the student population against the Municipal Committee’s work-team, and upon Mao’s recomendation,19 a delegation from Mao’s inner-circle was sent in order to inspect the climate at Peking University. The delegation was quick to issue criticism of the work-team for two main things. First, the delegation criticized the work-team for “not encourag[ing] the active participation of the revolutionary students and teachers of the whole University in carrying out the Cultural Revolution,”20 and second for failing to establish a new representative body at the university. Following an official report the work-team was immediately disbanded on July 26th, , 1966, and those students that had been dismissed for attacking the workteam were reinstated at Peking University. Peking University was renamed New Peking University; an institution which was reorganized and modelled after the Paris Commune of 1871. Attempting to network with others across China who were swept up in the revolutionary overthrow of the old post-revolutionary China, a Cultural Revolution Committee was formed on September 13th with one of the leaders of the International Hotel Group at its head.

The Cultural Revolution was in full swing at Peking University, built almost exclusively by the students.

III. The Experience of Students at Tsinghua University

If the students at Peking University reserved the right to claim the first rumblings of the Cultural Revolution, then the students at Tsinghua Univeristy, also in Beijing, reserved the right to claim the most intense conflicts during the Cultural Revolution. Immediately after Mao requested that the big-character poster of the International Hotel Group be broadcast on June 1st, 1966, students at Tsinghua University wasted no time in laying siege to their own university administration. For ten days, between June 1st, 1966 and June 10th, 1966, the students of Tsinghua University effectively turned their university into one of the key battle-grounds of the Cultural rossoquote4Revolution by launching intense criticisms of not only conservative professors, but also of those in high positions within the Party.21 The reaction of the Party bureaucrats within Tsinghua University’s Party Committee and the Beijing Municipal Committee was incredibly quick and severe. A work-team was formed and arrived on the Tsinghua Campus on June 10th in order to restore a sense of order and to ensure that criticisms of those in high positions in the Party were quickly silenced. Despite being received positively on their arrival,22 it was soon clear that the work-team was not there to aid the rebels. On June 13th, 1966, a mass meeting was held where Yeh Lin, the organizer of the work-team, laid out a twofold plan to restore order at Tsinghua University. Yeh Lin’s program amounted to: all department- and university-level cadres [being] suspended and [being] ordered to report in groups for study. … all students [being] called upon to return to their classrooms for a major campaign of self-and-mutual criticism.23 It became clear to the students that the goal of the work-team was to break up the blossoming student movement in order to prevent them from effectively waging the Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately for the work-team, the students of Tsinghua University were not ready to capitulate and resistance to the “white-terror”, as the period of the work-team was later to be known, began without much delay. On June 23rd a student named Kuai Ta-fu, who was to become one of the main student leaders at Tsinghua University, issued a poster known as “What’s this all about, Comrade Yeh Lin?” which viciously criticized the work-team. The work-team responded by calling a public meeting on June 28th in order to denounce Kuai as a counter-revolutionary.

The meeting resulted in an embarrassing failure for the work-team and posters began to surface that criticized the work-team’s commitment to not only the Cultural Revolution, but socialist revolution and Maoism in general. The work-team, reeling from criticisms, was thrown into disarray24. Rumours had been circulating that Liu Shao-chi’s wife, Wang Kuang-mei, was secretly in charge of the work-team.25 In order to hold the work-team together, Wang Kuang-mei was forced to step into the open at the June 28th mass meeting in order to ensure the work-team and the students of Tsinghua University that the workteam had the full confidence of the Party, particularly Liu Shaochi and Mao. Wang Kuang-mei’s appeal worked in that the workteam began to refocus itself, but the students of Tsinghua University were not convinced. The following day another series of posters criticizing the work-team appeared on campus.

In response to their waning influence, the work-team began a campaign directed entirely at Kuai Ta-fu known as the “Pull Out Kuai” campaign. Once again students did not respond and the resistance against the work-team further intensified. Everything came to a head when on July 22nd, 1966, Mao returned from southern China and wasted no time in questioning the purpose of the work-teams. Indeed, Mao had been a firm supporter of the student rebels and in reply to their queries wrote this: Red Guard comrades of Tsinghua University Middle School:

“I have received both the big-character posters which you sent on 28 July as well as the letter which you sent to me, asking for an answer. The two big-character posters which you wrote on 24 June and 4 July express your anger at, and denunciation of, all landlords, bourgeois, imperialists, revisionists, and their running dogs who exploit and oppress the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals and evolutionary parties and groupings. You say it is right to rebel against reactionaries; I enthusiastically support you. I also give enthusiastic support to the big-character poster of the Red Flag Combat group of Peking University Middle School which said that it is right to rebel against the reactionaries; and to the very good revolutionary speech given by comrade P’eng Hsiao-meng representing their Red Flag Combat Group at the big meeting attended by all the teachers, students, administration and workers of Peking University on 25 July. Here I want to say that I myself as well as my revolutionary comrades-in-arms all take the same attitude. No matter where they are, in rossoquote5Peking or anywhere in China, I will give enthusiastic support to all who take an attitude similar to yours in the Cultural Revolution movement. …” 26

This letter, which was printed on August 1st but would have undoubtedly been received by the students at Tsinghua University beforehand, proved that Mao did not endorse the work-team and on July 29th a mass meeting was held where the work-team was denounced and forced to withdraw from Tsinghua University.27 The question then arose as to how best re-organize Tsinghua University after the fall of work-team’s 50 day reign. Two different lines emerged amoungst the students. The first sought to rehabilitate old and reactionary faculty in order to allow the university to return to normal. The second, headed by Kuai Ta-fu, wanted nothing to do with the old faculty and instead suggested that only revolutionary faculty should be allowed to teach. On August 8th, 1966, the latter organized themselves into a group known as the 8-8s, and the following day, the former organized themselves into a group known as the 8-9s.28 Following two weeks of active campaigning against one another, the 8-9s appealed to the university administration for help. On August 23rd, 1966, they received the support of Chian Nan-hsiang,29 effectively throwing the 8-9s into the ruling circles of Tsinghua University and silencing the 8-8s.30

Despite the fact that the 8-9s had administrative support, the 8-8s continued to campaign and gradually gained more support from the students at Tsinghua University. The 8-8s were effectively waging an up-hill battle until October 6, 1966, when Mao hosted another meeting of the Red Guards in Beijing. At this meeting Mao directly endorsed all those who were struggling against the old, reactionary order which provided a massive boom to the 8-8s and effectively put them on the offensive at Tsinghua University.31 In the days following, the 8-9s found themselves losing support to the 8-8s to the extent that they felt forced to burn their seal and flag, and in early November of 1966 the 8-9s merged with the 8-8s to form the Chingkangshan Regiment headed by Kuai Ta-fu. Kuai, due to his unchanging, and eventually correct stance throughout 1966 and 1967, became a national icon for students everywhere to emulate.

Throughout most of November and December of 1966 the Chingkangshan Regiment began consolidating their power at Tsinghua University and organizing their own cadre. Due to the Chingkangshan Regiment’s prestige throughout China, as early as January of 1967, other universities began appealing to the Chingkangshan Regiment for help in fighting their own manifestations of the Cultural Revolution. The Chingkangshan Regiment sent delegates to various universities around China, particularly in outlying regions. It was through these delegations that the cadre of the Chingkangshan Regiment learned the necessity of seizing power in order to effectively wage Cultural Revolution; indeed, their comrades in China’s outlying regions were not fortunate enough to have sympathetic administrations and had been forced to take over their universities in order to simply publish material. As a result, in mid-January of 1967 the Chingkangshan Regiment seized power at Tsinghua University and deposed the administration.32 The Cultural Revolution had become firmly established at Tsinghua University.

IV. Conclusion

As has been demonstrated, it was the students in China that jump-started the Cultural Revolution. Initially it was student revolt, and student-based challenges to entrenched bureaucrats within the Chinese Communist Party that led to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution at Peking University. Following Mao’s support for the rebels at Peking University, the students at Tsinghua University began struggling, and intensified their struggle to the point that they managed to extend the Cultural Revolution to other institutions around China. In this way, the student movement in China was instrumental in constructing the great proletarian Cultural Revolution.

End Notes
1. Mao Zedong, “Bombard the Headquarters – My First Big-
Character Poster”, Peking Review, August 5, 1966
2. An, MAO TSE-TUNG’S Cultural Revolution , 22.
3. Nee, The Cultural Revolution at Peking University, 74.
4. My conviction rests upon the entire body of work written by the anti-revisionist school of Marxist thought, of which only an infinitely small amount was used in the preparation of this paper. Though this school of thought is certainly open to criticism, focusing too much on Mao`s role within the context of the Cultural Revolution proper detracts from the overall series of events.
5. An, MAO TSE-TUNG’S Cultural Revolution, 28.
6. Nee, The Cultural Revolution at Peking University, 38.
7. Ibid, 39
8. This spontaneous restoration of capitalism included: “increase in private plots, excessive sideline occupations, rural free markets, the tendency amoung better-off peasants to “go it alone”, and the re-emergence of rich peasants.”. Ibid, 42.
9. Ibid, 42.
10. Ibid, 43.
11. Wu Han was also the deputy mayor of Beijing, and therefore sat on the Beijing Municipal Committee. The Municipal Committee had, of course, been a staunch ally of Lu P’ing’s while Lu P’ing sought to sieze control of Peking University from the SEC work-team in early 1965.
12. As opposed to a purely academic criticism of his play. Academic criticisms focused solely on the historical merits of Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, whereas political criticisms of Wu Han sought to uncover the class nature of Wu Han’s deviancy from revolutionary ideals.
13. P’eng P’ei-yun was the Party Committee of Peking University’s vice-secretary, and Sung Shuo was a member of the Municipal Committee’s Universities Department. Ibid, 54.
14. Ibid, 54.
15. The CYL was organizationally conservative, as the leadership
was tied directly to Lu P’ing’s administration.
16. Ibid, 57.
17. The request was made in a document written by Mao that criticized Liu Shao-ch’i, the then-Chairman of the Communist Party of China and one of the main targets of the Cultural Revolution. Ibid, 57.
18. Mao Zedong, “Bombard the Headquarters – My First Big- Character Poster”, Peking Review, August 5, 1966
19. Mao had recently returned from Shanghai only to find the budding Cultural Revolution in disarray due to the intrigues of the work-team. Nee, The Cultural Revolution at Peking University, 61.
20. Ibid, 66.
21. Hinton, 100 Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University, 44.
22. It was believed that the work-team was being sent by Liu Shao-chi in order to aid the rebel students. While, as it was later found out, the work-team was sent by Liu Shao-chi, it was most definitely to put down the Cultural Revolution. Liu was to later become one of the prime targets of the Cultural Revolution.
23. Ibid, 45.
24. Ibid, 51.
25. Indeed, the reason for the poster “What’s this all about, Comrade Yeh Lin?” was that a female member of the work-team pretended to be Wang Kuang-mei in order to gather confessions from students.
26. Mao Zedong, “A Letter To The Red Guards Of Tsinghua University Middle School”, Long Live Mao Tse-tung Thought, August 1, 1966.
27. Hinton, 100 Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University, 68.
28. Ibid, 69.
29. Chian Nan-hsiang was the president of Tsinghua Univerisity.
30. Ibid, 74.
31. Ibid, 96.
32. Ibid, 106.

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