[Book] China: From Permanent Revolution to Counter-Revolution

China under Mao: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

14.1 Introduction

The Stalinist nature of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao was further confirmed by a second major event that sent a shockwave through the political left worldwide, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). This was widely presented as a rebellion of youth against the Party diehards, and if those old diehards were proud to call themselves Stalinist how could the youth (and their Maoist sponsors) who were struggling against them not be a genuine revolutionary force?

However, the GPCR cannot be understood unless it is appreciated that the Red Guards were a top-down phenomenon, launched, supported, guided, and eventually ended by the Maoist faction. This was quite the opposite of the revolutionary upsurge of students who erected barricades in Paris in May-June 1968, who inspired workers across France to strike and very nearly brought down the General de Gaulle government.

The CCP was a Stalinised Party and in the final resort when opposition to Mao’s adventurist policies hardened into a concerted attempt to remove him from power, the democratic façade was dropped and the Mao faction launched the GPCR to physically annihilate the capitalist roaders such as “the renegade, traitor and scab Liu Shaoqi.”[1]

This chapter will show that the GPCR was a demonstration of the lack of proletarian democracy within the CCP; that deep divisions on how to take China forward were settled, as in Russia, by the physical subjugation of the losing faction. However, Mao would be forced to launch his attacks to annihilate his fellow veteran Communists before he had made full preparations. The result was that his opponents were strong enough, at least in some areas, to organise their defence and the struggle sometimes took on the appearance of a civil war. Various estimates exist for the number of people killed during the GPCR; these vary from 750,000 to three million. With Mao’s death in 1976 his opponents staged a semi-military coup to remove his designated heirs, the ‘Gang of Four’, and consign them to lengthy prison terms. When the dust finally settled it would be Mao’s opponents who had won the struggle.

14.2 The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

14.2.1 Mao Prepares the Cultural Revolution

The debacle of the communes and the GLF was such a terrible blow to Mao’s standing within the CC that his opponents considered the time had come to openly criticise his policies. The enlarged CC of 22 February 1962, heard Peng Zhen call for Mao to make a self-criticism, and Liu Shaoqi claimed that the economic difficulties being experienced were 30% due to natural disasters and 70% due to the serious errors and mistakes in Party work. Liu and Peng supported by Deng Xiaoping, were openly attempting to kick Mao upstairs into a symbolic figurehead stripped of all real power.

So severe was his loss of prestige, that Mao was forced to bow to the majority, but he was not ready to retire and immediately began to re-build his base within the Party, preparing his counter-attack to destroy the Liu/Peng grouping. This was possible because although Mao was temporarily removed from frontline politics, he remained the figurehead of the regime with considerable formal authority within the Party and a base within the army. Lin Piao, a Mao loyalist and Defence Minister, would play a central role in Mao’s bid to regain his authority. His response to the disaster of the GLF was the opposite of that taken by Liu and Peng, and he began a campaign intended to turn the army into a Maoist bastion. He had Mao glorified; the first issue of the Little Red Book was published. The battle lines were being drawn for what became within a few years, the GPCR.[2]

Liu Shaoqi and the Politburo introduced a period of economic relaxation: in the communes, private plots were allowed, trade in private services such as mending and repairs was encouraged. However, during this period when Liu and his co-thinkers held supremacy within the Party, their practices remained firmly Stalinist and quite indistinguishable from those of the previous period. Thus, when intellectuals were told they could widen their studies to include even politics and the class struggle – but with the clear proviso that the authority of the Party must not be challenged – they remained too cowed by the experience of the Hundred Flowers Movement to respond. It was intellectuals in the higher echelons of the Party, who, better understanding the intentions and limits of the new policy, took the opportunity to publish between-the-lines criticisms of Mao’s GLF adventure.

A group around Teng T’o (editor People’s Daily, 1952-1957, member of the Beijing Party Committee) which included Wu Han (vice-mayor of Beijing and a leading historian), and Liao Ma-sha (member of the Secretariat of the Beijing Party), supported by Peng Zhen, published a number of articles critical of Mao’s leadership over the period 1961-1965. Criticisms were oblique and hidden in stories and plays concerning historical characters and incidents: one such was the play by Wu Han, Hai Jui Dismissed from Office. The honest official Hai Jui was dismissed from his post by the emperor for criticising bureaucratic misdeeds – a reference to Mao’s dismissal of Peng Dehuai for his criticisms of the GLF made at the Lushan Conference. It was still not possible to openly or directly criticise Mao in the press so, for example, to make an assessment of Mao’s voluntarism, Teng T’o wrote an article analysing the works of Ernst Mach, an influential German physicist and philosopher, an anti-materialist who denounced natural-scientific materialism. Teng would become increasingly bold in his criticisms, culminating in his declaration that Mao’s famous slogan “The East wind will prevail over the West wind” was … “hot air.”[3]

How did such a group arise in Beijing? In May 1961, as a Politburo member, Peng Zhen had initiated a research project to determine what lessons could be learned from the GLF. The emphasis was on what instructions and guidance was given in central directives written by Mao personally. Teng T’o was given responsibility for leading the investigation. His findings placed the blame for the disaster directly on the GLF strategy itself. The centre had accepted unquestioningly too many false reports, had issued too many conflicting directives, and had ignored the few who had attempted to report the reality. The blame for the GLF disaster was laid at the door of the Politburo and Mao.[4] Biting though these criticisms were, they were of Mao and his voluntarist policies not the Stalinist system that gave rise to them.

At the CC meeting of September 1962, it was agreed that a rectification campaign was needed to address the errors and excesses of rank and file cadres committed during the GLF. Such a campaign would have been, and was intended to be, immensely damaging for Mao. However, to maximise the impact of the campaign the leadership needed to make an assessment of the situation at rank and file level within the Party. It was felt that little confidence could be placed in reports received from Party personnel submitted through the usual bureaucratic channels, so trusted individuals were sent to work incognito in the provinces to draw up reports based on their experiences.

During the interim period while the testimonies were being compiled, Mao declared support for the rectification campaign and, in December 1963, launched a pre-emptive broadside saying art and culture was a serious problem, promoting feudal and capitalist aims. Mao picked an issue on which he could appear to agree with the Liu group who also wanted control of intellectual criticism of the regime. However, Mao widened the attack in February 1964 when he disparaged the role of intellectuals in China’s history, emphasising that the only two Ming emperors of any worth were barely literate and that “to read too many books is harmful.”[5]

At the same time Mao also began an attack on Tung Pien, editor of Women in China, and ally of Liu Shaoqi, for being a feminist and for her editorial policies. The specific charges against her were that she emphasised interests such as love, marriage, and the family, while neglecting the class struggle. Mao’s standing in the Party meant she was dismissed from her post. The attack on Tung Pien was the beginning of an open attack on the Party faction that had ordered the retreat from the GLF. This should be seen as significant an event as the later and better known attack on Wu Han in auguring the GPCR.

The reports received from the countryside were deeply worrying; corruption was again widespread involving many lower and middle cadres, and the Party was widely viewed with distrust and even hatred. The CC agreed, in late 1964, to launch a Socialist Education Campaign (to be known as The Four Cleans Movement – to clean the Party economically, organisationally, politically, and ideologically), the emphasis of which would be to combat corruption within the Party and re-impose discipline. However, in January 1965, Mao seized the initiative by unilaterally publishing his own programme for the Socialist Education Campaign that turned it into a general campaign against revisionism within the Party. The chosen target was CC member Yang Hsien-chen (President of the Higher Party School of the Central Committee), who, after a visit to the countryside in 1958, had written an article that claimed the GLF had represented the theory of obedience to the will and abandonment of objective laws. Yang was a carefully chosen target, he was a close associate of Liu Shaoqi, and an attack on Yang for the reasons given, effectively silenced criticism of the communes and the GLF.

However, events at the international level would force Mao to launch his counter-offensive sooner than he had planned. The Indonesian Communist Party was the largest in the capitalist world, with three million members and ten million sympathisers. Mao had invited the leader of the Indonesian Communist Party, D N Aidit, to Beijing many times and had convinced Aidit to adopt a policy of co-operation with the Sukarno government, modelled on CCP-KMT collaboration during the second Chinese Revolution. The result was to disarm the Indonesian CP in the face of a military coup which took place in October 1965, and during which as many as one million Communists and militants were slaughtered, including Aidit. The policies advocated by Mao had produced exactly the same outcome as they had in China during 1925-27.

This horrific tragedy dealt a further heavy blow to Mao’s credibility. Liu and, particularly, Peng Zhen, voiced their dissatisfaction with Mao’s policies at a special meeting of the CCP called to discuss the Indonesian events. At the meeting, Peng Zhen, went so far as to say: “Everyone is equal before the truth”, and if Chairman Mao had made mistakes he should be criticized.[6] Following on from the catastrophe of the GLF, the annihilation of the Indonesian Communist Party, because it had followed advice given by Mao personally, fatally undermined Mao’s standing with many of the intelligentsia. These were the people most vociferous in demanding an honest and open discussion on Party history, so it is no wonder that Mao chose them as his initial target.

Mao left Beijing for Shanghai to regroup his forces, among them Yao Wenyuan, literary critic and editor of the important Chinese newspaper, Literary News published in Shanghai. Under Mao’s guidance, Yao wrote and published a criticism of the play Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, (Jiang Qing appeared as co-author). This article is widely considered the first shot of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

14.2.2 The PLA is Made Ready and the Cultural Revolution Begins

The support of the PLA was crucial to Mao but officers in army units in the different regions often had considerable loyalty to local party cadres because these were the people they had fought beside during the civil war. These officers were usually the senior ranks, and Mao and Lin moved quickly to neutralise their influence.

It was widely reported at the time, May 1965, that the PLA had abolished all military ranks. The abolition of distinctions and symbols of rank was described as a reversion to the army’s revolutionary practice intended to promote closer relations between officers and men, and between soldiers and civilians. Many impressionable people on the left greeted this at face value as a move towards greater democracy and as evidence of the radical nature of the Maoists. In fact the command structure was not abolished but simply re-defined in such a way as to give Lin Piao and Mao greater control of the PLA.

The 8th Route Army, for example, did not have ranks but it had a clearly defined command structure which enforced a strict discipline. Officers were in post and had titles such as Squad Commander or Company Commander, etc. The uniforms of the officers were identical with those of other ranks, but officers could be identified in numerous ways: they carried pistols, they had orderlies, they issued orders and were obeyed, Divisional Commanders rode a horse or a mule, and so on.

The reforms maintained the field command structure more or less intact. The big change was that the number of troops directly commanded now determined status within the military establishment. Top ranking officers, those more likely to ally with Liu Shoaqi and Deng Xioping, tended to have desk jobs, directly commanded few if any soldiers, and so lost rank and the status it conferred. On 5 April 1966, the Liberation Army Daily gave the game away when it warned previously high ranking officers they now had no rank to protect them, they were completely at the mercy of Lin Piao. To safeguard themselves they were urged to

remould their world outlook and completely subordinate themselves to the thinking of Mao Zedong.[7]

Lin Piao stepped up the campaign to propagandise Mao’s thought and the Liberation Army Daily carried slogans such as: “Mao’s thought is the beacon of revolution for the world’s people.”[8] An editorial on 1 January 1966, stated:

“Every word of Chairman Mao is truth …We must firmly support and carry out everything conforming to Mao Zedong’s thought and we must firmly resist and oppose everything which does not conform to Mao’s thought.”

This message was a direct challenge to Liu Shaoqi and the CC.[9]

By April 1966, the ongoing criticisms of Wu Han and his play Hai Jui Dismissed from Office had taken on a very dark tone and moved from Wu being mistaken in his thinking to being anti-Party and possibly a counter-revolutionary. The attacks spread outwards and soon included Peng Zhen. Liu and Deng Xiaoping called an emergency meeting of the CC in an attempt to block Mao. Mao refused to attend. In an open declaration of factional war and a clear indication of how far he would go to preserve his authority, Mao had Piao send troops to occupy the offices of the Beijing local government. In a public display of his approval for this action Mao returned to Beijing and proclaimed the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”. The Beijing municipal government, headed by Peng Zhen, would be formally dismissed in early June along with Lu Ting-i, head of the Party’s propaganda department, Chou Yang, vice-minister of culture, and many other high-ranking cadres in cultural institutions.[10]

Mao launched the Great Leap Forward in the Ideological Field to eliminate all those within the Party who did not toe the Maoist line, with Peng Zhen, Liu Shoaqi, and Deng Xioping at the front. However, Mao had been forced to launch this inter-bureaucratic struggle to regain his authority before he had the chance to fully mobilise his support within the Party. The disaster in Indonesia and the moves by the CC for a rectification campaign that might reveal the truth about his role in the GLF forced his hand. An important consequence of not having a sufficient base within the Party hierarchy, was that Mao was compelled to seek support from outside the Party. In this he took the unprecedented step of by-passing the monopoly of authority of the local Party cadres and mobilising students to act outside the Party structure.[11] Mao chose middle and high school students to be his battering ram and on 16 May 1966, he launched a frontal attack on meritocratic education policies and educators generally.

Education was a natural battlefield between the two factions. Mao’s stress on voluntarism made him over-emphasise the importance of the remnants of bourgeois ideas in education. This led him to favour opening the doors of education preferentially to the children of CCP cadres, while the Liu/Deng group favoured a more meritocratic approach and in this were supported by most of the existing educational establishment.[12]

Liu and Deng responded quickly to head-off Mao’s initiative and on 3 June, directed the Party to send ‘work teams’ of experienced cadres into the universities, major colleges, and schools to ‘guide’ the formation and development of Red Guard groups. The children of higher Party cadres took the leading role in founding the Red Guards under the slogan: “The father’s a revolutionary, the son’s a hero.” In many Beijing schools the first Red Guard organisations were composed almost exclusively of the children of Party cadres.[13] The work teams presented the GPCR as an extension of the Anti-Rightist Campaign and their efforts were concentrated on restraining those students who showed any independent initiative.

Mao’s reaction to this latest attempt to block him was immediate, by mid-June 1966 he had ordered the closure of all schools, from elementary to university level in the name of the GPCR. Next he convened a special, enlarged plenum of the CC, 1-12 August. The character of the plenum can be deduced from it being the first for four years, included a large number of representatives from the Red Guards, and was held in Beijing under the watchful eyes of PLA troops who had just been instrumental in overthrowing the local government. The plenum lasted for twelve days and adopted an official programme for the GPCR, commonly known as the 16-Points Decision.[14]

The 16-Points was a clearly factional document with its major goal: “to struggle against and crush those persons in authority taking the capitalist road.” To this end it sought to re-assure the great bulk of Party members (“95%”) that they had nothing to fear because only a “handful” had taken the capitalist road. This was a deliberate smokescreen to minimise opposition. The army as part of Mao’s power base was, naturally, to be excluded from the factional struggle (Point 15).

Mao fully appreciated that the Party cadres were, in reality largely loyal to the capitalist roaders, and to be successful his scheme required some form of parallel organisation to balance “those in authority” in the Party. The 16-Points contained in Point 9 a call for the establishment of Cultural Revolutionary Groups, the “organs of power” of the Cultural Revolution. These would institute a system of elections, “like that of the Paris Commune” whereby delegates would be elected by the masses and subject to recall.

Immediately following the CC meeting, the Party’s theoretical organ Red Flag published an article entitled “The General Election System of the Paris Commune” which aimed to mobilise the masses in support of Mao. It was very clearly intended that these new organisational forms of would be under the control of the Maoist faction of the CCP. There was no intention that the GPCR would introduce workers’ democracy.

However, there is many a slip between cup and lip, and in Shanghai a “People’s Commune” was set up and existed for 20 days before being put back into the Maoist straightjacket. The so-called Shanghai Commune became a genuine inspiration for large numbers of Chinese students and workers who threatened to break free of Party control. For revolutionaries this can be said to be the highest point of the GPCR.

The 16-Points called on students “to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic ‘authorities’ and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education” opposing “reactionary bourgeois scholar despots”. After 1949, the schools contained an increasing proportion of peasant and working class pupils who often came into conflict with the traditional teaching methods and attitudes of the staff who had been inherited from the KMT regime. Many of these students were alienated by their treatment and hostile to the educational establishment. It was this pent-up animosity that Mao would tap into for his counter-attack. Tutors were an easy first target.

Almost all presidents and principals of universities and middle schools, as well as many teachers and professors were removed from office, publicly humiliated and, sometimes, beaten to death for “intellectual elitism”, having “bourgeois tendencies” and being “counter revolutionaries.”[15] Under the general direction of Ch’en Po-ta, the Red Guard “heroes” were egged on to commit horrible acts – the Beijing News reported a total of 1,772 people killed in Beijing alone during August and September 1966.[16] After this trial run, in the autumn of 1966, Mao instructed the Red Guards to “take Beijing to the rest of the country”.

Andreas claims that about this time there began an increasing differentiation within the Red Guard groups. An opposition to those groups led by the children of higher cadres, which had increasingly become mouthpieces for one or the other Party factions, was starting to form based on the children of workers, peasants, and lower cadres who wanted increased independence and freedom of criticism. This separation was much more clear-cut in the universities where, to gain entry, the children of peasants and workers had scored high marks in tough entrance examinations and so had greater self-confidence.

14.3 The Shanghai People’s Commune

Much of the factual material on the Shanghai Commune comes from a Doctoral thesis entitled The Paris Commune in Shanghai, written by Hongsheng Jiang, in 2010. Readers can access a copy on http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu.

Shanghai was (and is) China’s biggest city, its commercial and industrial centre. A study of how the GPCR came to Shanghai and took hold there showcases the artificiality of the Cultural Revolution, how it was directed from Beijing and controlled by Mao and his faction. But the lessons of Shanghai are important in demonstrating that the Maoist faction and the ‘capitalist roaders’ each saw proletarian democracy as the greatest threat. As soon as the workers and students in Shanghai began to demand some basic democratic rights, the forces driving the cultural revolution and their targets the ‘capitalist roaders’ joined forces to block a development that would have meant the end for both of them. Soon after, the GPCR was brought to a finish.

Wang Hongwen was security chief at Shanghai’s No. 17 Textile Mill, an enterprise employing about 8,400 workers. After meeting with Zhang Chunqiao (a top person in the Shanghai Provincial Committee, a commissar in the Central Group in Beijing assigned overall control of the Cultural Revolution (CCRG), and who would later be one of the Gang of Four), Wang set up a Red Guard cell of about 30 workers and posted a big-character poster criticising the factory authorities on or about 12 June 1966. On 20 June local party leaders sent in a work team led by Shi Huizhen, a female veteran revolutionary and at that time the vice-chairperson of the Shanghai General Workers’ Union, to take control of the situation. The work team formed an official Red Guard group, invited Wang to stand for election to the committee, and then ensured he was not elected. For a time, Wang and the rebels were successfully isolated.


14.3.1 The Red Guards Arrive

With Mao’s public endorsement, large numbers of Red Guard students from Beijing travelled to Shanghai (travel and subsistence paid by the state) intending to launch an all-Shanghai Red Guard organisation. The students toured the Shanghai schools, colleges, universities, and factories encouraging the formation of Red Guard groups, but on 2 September a number were beaten up by factory workers. The next day, groups of students converged on the mayor’s office at city hall to protest and, so it is said, physically threatened top Party officials who responded by calling on Shanghai workers for protection – a fight broke out with the Beijing Red Guards getting the worst of it.

Wang Hongwen now made a trip to Beijing where Zhang ensured he met Mao – which was publicised as an endorsement of Wang’s Red Guard activities – and on his return he was able to attract the support of over 1,000 employees at his own mill. On 6 November with strong student support, Wang convened a meeting of workers from seventeen Shanghai factories which agreed to establish an all-city alliance known as the Workers’ Revolutionary Rebel General Headquarters (WGH).[17] The hostile reaction of the local Party leaders enabled Wang and the WGH to provoke a number of public disturbances including selected strikes. This gave Beijing the excuse to send in Zhang Chunqiao to investigate events for which he had a significant responsibility, and empower him to make suitable recommendations.

In what had all the signs of a pre-arranged deal, Wang got the strikers back to work and Zhang agreed to recognise the Shanghai WGH as a revolutionary and legitimate organisation which would be allowed to criticise the Party tops in Shanghai. In response to this stitch-up, the local Party launched its own ‘Scarlet Guards’, organised through the Shanghai General Workers’ Union. The majority of the Scarlet Guards (notionally over 100,000 strong) were CCP and Communist Youth League members, model workers who occupied most of the management and administrative posts in enterprises and had the support, overtly or covertly, from the local authorities at most levels.

However, the strikes initiated by Wang had an unintended consequence. Workers dissatisfied with pay and conditions began to voice their own demands. The local Party tops may have been concerned at signs of independent activity by the proletariat but at that moment considered they could contain it and, more importantly, could use it as a weapon against the Red Guards. To win the support of these workers they began a programme of improving pay and conditions, enhancing welfare, pensions and health insurance in the factories. To embarrass Zhang they allowed workers time off to travel to Red Guard rallies and justified this as “not standing in the way of the masses”, claiming to follow the guidance laid out in the editorial of the People’s Daily; Welcome the Upsurge of the Great CR in the Factories and Mines.[18] Naturally, there was a snowball effect with more and more workers making demands.

The Maoists shouted loudly that if these moves by established Party cadres continued for any length of time they would bankrupt China’s biggest city and seriously disrupt international trade. Using this as a cover, Beijing encouraged the Shanghai Red Guards to seize power. On 23 December 1966 the WGH called a meeting of worker activists and it was agreed to attempt to replace the local Party tops in Shanghai. In protest, the local Party instigated and promoted a one-day general strike. The Scarlet Guards went on strike and effectively closed down the railway, and the post office, and severely hampered production, bringing many important factories to a standstill. The Shanghai Port, was one example when, at the wharves alone, nearly 6,000 workers went on strike.[19]

The Maoists now threw their forces into ending the strikes.[20] The WGH and a number of student Red Guard organisations operating in Shanghai united to “take firm hold of the revolution and promote production”. For example, the Shanghai Glass Machinery Factory was a joint public-private enterprise that employed over 1,200 workers. Here production was halted when about half the workforce joined the general strike. Pushed by Red Guard students from Shanghai Kongjiang Middle School, about 100 workers who had turned up for work agreed to form a “Workers’ Committee of Production Management” and to take responsibility for running the factory. Ten workers were elected by secret ballot to the Committee; it was agreed these were subject to recall if their work mates were dissatisfied with their performance. Jiang explains that this was considered a revolutionary development because it abolished the practice of having a vertical hierarchy of Party bureaucrats who stood above, and divorced from, the workforce and the production processes.[21] This system was proposed by the Red Guards to win the support of the workers for strikebreaking, but such democracy carried great danger for the CCP. News of events at the Shanghai Glass Factory spread and other factories attempted to follow suit.

On 4 January, Zhang Chunqiao returned to Shanghai to meet with the leaders of the WGH and plan a response to the strike actions. On 6 January 1967, the Red Guards within the offices of the Shanghai Liberation Daily seized the paper and had it distribute the WGH statement; Message to All Shanghai People,[22] which was a call to maintain production and which fiercely attacked the strikes. Because this take-over was backed by the authority of Beijing, it was a crucial step in the Red Guards taking charge in Shanghai.

On 7 January, a number of other Red Guard groups including the WGH visited the Shanghai branch of the People’s Bank of China. Together with Red Guards working within the bank, they persuaded the manager not to provide further funding to anyone without WGH approval, effectively freezing the accounts of local government, factories and other workplaces. This meant that despite deals made with the local Party tops, from now on strikers would receive no pay. On 8 January, the WGH and Red Guard student organisations held a joint emergency meeting and formed the “Frontline Headquarters” composed of seven workers, two cadres, and 35 Red Guards. The initial task of this organisation was to mobilise Red Guards to enter the factories as model workers who would work for no pay and ensure the factories of Shanghai maintained production. Because of their lack of skills the students tended to replace manual labourers who had walked off the job.

On 9 January, the “Message to All Shanghai People” was reprinted in the People’s Daily and broadcast to the whole country, providing a clear demonstration that Beijing approved of the actions of the WGH and its allies. Beijing also approved an Urgent Notice published in Shanghai which, in effort to win support, made it clear to the workers that the new arrangements regarding wage increases, back payment of wages and other material benefits would stand but could, in principle, be re-considered at a later date. As further indication of its support, Beijing sent a Message of Greetings to Revolutionary Rebel Organizations in Shanghai, From the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the State Council, the Military Commission of the Party’s Central Committee and the Cultural Revolution Group under the Party’s Central Committee.[23]

On 9 January, the WGH and students from Shanghai Tongji University seized the general control rooms of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, and between 11-14 January, groups of Red Guards took over district and county level units of the Shanghai government, factories, docks, and other units. In most cases the take-overs were led by the WGH and student Red Guards with the assistance of employees though, naturally, the most publicised incidents were the few cases where the seizure was by employees alone.

Now the Red Guards (invariably students under the guidance of strike-breaking workers), by Stakhanovite efforts got the trains, factories, etc., functioning again, claiming that in many cases the original production figures were exceeded. By this time the Scarlet Guards had more or less totally disintegrated and many joined one or other of the Red Guard groups. This acceptance of Beijing’s authority was greeted with a congratulatory telegram Message of Greetings to Revolutionary Rebel Organizations in Shanghai. On 12 January, in celebration of the telegram, the Shanghai rebels held a mammoth rally at which workers volunteered to take on extra work and overtime without extra pay, as organised by the Committee for Grasping Revolution and Promoting Production. A resolution was agreed to replace the Shanghai Party Committee with a new organisational form, as specified in the 16-Points. As a sign of official approval, the New China’s News Agency released the complete text of this proposal the next day.[24]

14.3.2 The Red Guards Organise to Take Over Shanghai

On 14 January, the People’s Daily published an article applauding the formation of the Committee for Grasping Revolution and Promoting Production in Shanghai. This article was followed by two more that further glorified the Committee, demonstrating that Mao was firmly behind this initiative. Claiming to have Mao’s personal support, the WGH attempted to co-ordinate and organise the numerous Red Guard groups in Shanghai. On or about 16 January 1967, it launched the Shanghai Revolutionary Rebel Workers’ Liaison Department in conjunction with 15 other Red Guard organisations. Attempts were made to include all the Red Guard factions in Shanghai but these had not been successful because some Red Guards were beginning to question whether strike-breaking really was a revolutionary activity.

On 16 January, Red Flag published an assessment of events in Shanghai under the title Proletarian Revolutionaries, Unite!, which many took as the Maoist leadership encouraging the Red Guards, under the guidance of Zhang, to take over local government wholesale. However, this was not entirely correct. Beijing was beginning to have serious reservations about events in Shanghai. Mao’s general strategy was for the Red Guards to remove the “capitalist roaders” but their activities would be kept within safe limits by the presence of PLA units which would be controlled by Lin Piao and the Maoist faction. In Shanghai, PLA units had not so far been included in the process. The dangers were brought into sharp focus when, on 18 January, a group of Fudan University students put up the wall poster: “Carry forward the proletarian spirit of doubting everything.”

Beijing hurried to specify the limits on Red Guard activities: “In the Great Cultural Revolution, it is correct to doubt everyone. But you cannot doubt Chairman Mao…”[25]

In Beijing on 19/20 January, Premier Zhou Enlai chaired a meeting of the Military Commission of the Central Committee. Naturally, Marshall Ye Jianying the principal leader this Commission was present. Later, he would be a key figure in organising the overthrow of the Gang of Four. Ye had the support of the majority of the meeting in successfully rejecting a proposal by Jiang Qing that Red Guard groups be formed within the PLA: instead the meeting determined that “the great CR movement in the military regions … should be postponed.”[26] The meeting did pass a resolution directing the PLA to be more aggressive in its support of Red Guard activities, but its refusal to endorse Jiang Qing’s proposal and the subsequent resignation of the officer in charge of the All-Army Cultural Revolution Group showed that the PLA, despite Lin Piao’s efforts, was not solidly behind the Mao faction.

On 22/23 January, a joint meeting of the WGH and leaders from the major Red Guard organisations in Shanghai was held to discuss the formation of a city-wide liaison centre based on the broadest unity of all so-called proletarian factions. It was unanimously agreed that the time was right for this alliance to take over the administration of Shanghai. The name Shanghai People’s Commune was finally agreed, possibly on the advice of Zhang Chunqiao to suggest continuity with the agricultural communes.

It must be remembered that the Red Guard groups were inexperienced, their political and organisational training had been gained through watching a Stalinised Party at work, in the main they were students not workers, and at the same time they were largely motivated by Maoist politics. But in the circumstances all kinds of ideas were bubbling to the surface and being discussed. Some of the groups were raising criticisms that objectively challenged the Maoist leadership. Fudan University’s Red Guards began to openly criticise Zhang as part of their campaign to dismiss and bring down ‘all cadres’.

Simultaneously, the largest Red Guard group (Red Revolutionaries with about 40,000 members, mostly students) also began voicing criticisms of Zhang, though the basis of these has not been determined. A group of Red Revolutionaries took Zhang hostage and placed him before a tribunal, making him stand for six hours while bombarding him with questions. They decided to parade him through the streets the following day and hold a mass rally for his public humiliation. A major and violent clash with the WGH and its allies was avoided only when Beijing telegrammed on 29 January to demand the Red Revolutionaries release Zhang and apologise to him. Such activities posed a problem for both the Maoists and their opponents in the CCP bureaucracy. Daring to criticise Zhang suggested the Red Revolutionaries were seeking a level of democracy which threatened the existence of all the bureaucracy. The Red Revolutionaries, as an organisation, was excluded from membership of the Shanghai Commune.

On 31 January, the People’s Daily contained an editorial; On the Proletarian Revolutionaries’ Struggle to Seize Power. This had been drafted by the CCRG and revised by Mao himself:

“Proletarian revolutionaries are uniting to seize power from the handful of persons within the Party who are in authority and taking the capitalist road. This is … the decisive battle between the proletariat and the masses of working people on the one hand and the bourgeoisie and its agents in the Party on the other. This mighty revolutionary storm started in Shanghai. The revolutionary masses in Shanghai have called it the great ‘January Revolution’. Our great leader Chairman Mao immediately expressed resolute support for it. He called on the workers, peasants, revolutionary students, revolutionary intellectuals and revolutionary cadres to study the experience of the revolutionary rebels of Shanghai and he called on the People’s Liberation Army to actively support and assist the proletarian revolutionaries in their struggle to seize power.”

The editorial was taken as a signal by the Red Guards nationally to attack the local Party tops everywhere. Only military units and elements of central government in Beijing were exempt. The editorial had been careful to call for the establishment of provisional organs of power of the triple alliance, combining representatives of the Red Guards as the local revolutionary mass organisations, of local People’s Liberation Army units, and of revolutionary leading cadres from the Party and government organisations. The former was to purge Mao’s opponents, the latter two to stop them going too far, either organisationally or politically.

14.3.3 The Shanghai Commune is Proposed

At the end of January a sub-committee of the “Frontline Headquarters” submitted a draft Manifesto of the Shanghai People’s Commune to Zhang. Attempting to emulate the Paris Commune it called for “smashing the old state machinery” stating that “all committee members would be elected as the servants of the people.” Zhang advised delaying the launch of the Commune to allow him to take advice from Beijing. The Red Guards insisted on moving ahead immediately and the inauguration was set for 5 February 1967.

Zhang changed the title of the Manifesto to: Long Live the Victory of the January Revolution! and edited the document so that the final form made every effort to promote the supremacy of Chairman Mao and give precedence to Mao Zedong Thought. The edited document faithfully reflected Mao’s policy of the triple alliance and called for the leadership of the Commune to be composed of revolutionary mass organisations, the responsible officers from the PLA units stationed in Shanghai, and CCP cadres in Shanghai who had faithfully followed Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line. It retained the promises of extensive democracy.

A representative Provisional Committee was agreed: Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan (both representing the CCRG), three responsible persons from the armed forces stationed in Shanghai, three from the WGH, one peasant, one student, one from the Revolutionary Rebel Liaison Centre of Organisations of the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee. The committee also contained those Red Guards appointed to lead the seven departments that would be administering Shanghai, e.g. the Grasping Revolution and Promoting Production Team, in charge of industry. Zhang – whose authority came primarily from his association with Mao – was to be head of the Commune. The Red Guard representatives were mostly chosen by their own mass organisations (and subject to recall) so the Commune as a whole adopted a system that combined delegates and appointees. Accepting assurances that Shanghai was under Zhang’s control, Mao endorsed the arrangement.[27]

However, it proved difficult to form a triple alliance because the Red Guards and rebel workers groups excluded very nearly all the old Party tops from the Commune and were refusing to appoint experienced Party cadres to any responsible post. This not only made it difficult for the CCP to exercise effective leadership but posed a potentially serious problem for the Maoist faction; how could it hope to win Party support if, in practice, its line meant that the very cadres it was appealing to would be thrown out of office?

A further difficulty in imposing the triple alliance on Shanghai was that many local Party tops had close links and friendships with the local army officers that sometimes dated back to the revolutionary war. Chairman Mao was insisting that any new power structure must include the military to act as a stabilising factor and a power base for his faction if needed, but the rank and file founders of the Commune feared that the Shanghai garrison would be loyal to its old friends on the Party committee. As a result, the three persons from the military were able to participate only marginally.[28]

Many Shanghai Red Guard and rebel leaders were not CCP members and it soon became clear that if the presence of Party tops and army officers was restricted it would be quite possible for the Commune to have an administration in which Party members were in the minority. Terrified Maoists raised the objection that in such a situation the masses might not follow the CCP, which could lose its legitimacy and authority in consequence.

The Maoist faction breathed a sigh of relief when, on 31 January 1967 (six days prior to the inauguration of the Shanghai Commune), in the far north east of China, in Heilongjiang Province, the Red Guard successfully formed a triple alliance with leading members of the PLA and the Provincial Party Committee, and set up the Red Rebel Revolutionary Committee of Heilongjiang. The editorial in the People’s Daily of 10 February hailed the Heilongjiang RRRC:

“The revolutionary rebels, … carrying out the Party’s policy in a clear-cut manner, have united with the principal leading members in the Provincial Party Committee who have carried out Chairman Mao’s correct line and with the principal leading members of the People’s Liberation Army units in the area to weld all three into one in the seizure of power.”[29]

Mao had intended the targets of the GPCR should be the Party tops taking the capitalist road, not middle cadres and Party rank and file, but the Shanghai events demonstrated that slogans such as “down with the diehard elements who uphold the bourgeois reactionary line” were interpreted by Red Guards and rebel workers as license to attack bureaucrats, whatever their factional loyalty.

Mao saw the writing on the wall, mass democracy even in the distorted form of the Shanghai People’s Commune threatened bureaucratic control. He pleaded: “If everything were changed into communes, then what about the party? Where would we place the party? Among commune committee members are both party members and non-party members. Where would we place the party committee? There must be a party somehow! There must be a nucleus, no matter what we call it. … can the commune replace the party?.”[30] The Red Flag, the official paper of the Red Guards, waded into the debate backing the triple alliance and proposing that in Shanghai, the Commune be replaced by a Revolutionary Committee.

14.3.4 …and Deposed

It was true that as part of the GPCR, Mao had publicly advocated that “the working class must exercise leadership in everything.” But as can be seen from his reaction to the Shanghai People’s Commune, this was a smokescreen. The congratulations sent to the Heilongjiang RRRC, and the lack of official acknowledgement of what was happening in Shanghai were taken by both the Commune leaders and opponents as a rebuke. The degree of control by the CCP over the Commune was considerable through, e.g. Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen, but the principle of popular elections and the right to recall had been raised and were in limited operation. It was only a matter of time before these would be taken up by other Red Guard groups.

Mao proposed changing the name of the Commune. How unnerved he was at developments can be seen from the farcical reasons he gave: it would mean his title as Chairman would no longer stand, he would have to adopt an alternative title such as ‘director’; the country could no longer be the PRC – it would have to become the Chinese People’s Commune! At a serious level he was terrified that the democratic elements in the Shanghai Commune would be a signal to other cities to follow suit and that would mean the end of his Bonapartist rule. On 19 February, the CC of the CCP, united from Mao to Marshall Ye, agreed to issue a circular to all Party committees: “the name of people’s commune shall, as a rule, not be adopted.”[31]

The emphasis was now placed on the triple alliance of CCP cadres, PLA and domesticated Red Guards, as the model to be followed. These triple alliances would have to be approved by the higher levels of the Party (i.e. CCRG), and army representatives would be appointed by the army subject to the approval of higher commanders. On the 24th February, in a televised speech to the people of Shanghai, Zhang announced the end of the Shanghai People’s Commune and in the following weeks the Revolutionary Committee of the Municipality of Shanghai (Shanghai Municipality RC) was established. The Shanghai People’s Commune had lasted a mere twenty days.

The Commune had had an elected element with some mass participation but the triple alliance in Shanghai was restricted to unelected representatives of the Red Guards, army, and party cadres. If Mao had genuinely wanted to eliminate the “capitalist roaders” then the Commune would have been much more effective than the triple alliance, which opened the door to “rightist, revisionist, bureaucratic, and elitist elements” on condition they pretended that they were in favour of Mao Zedong’s line. Mao’s triple alliance put the elitist managerial and governmental apparatus back in positions of authority.[32]

The Party leadership claimed that the major difference between the Commune and the Shanghai Municipality RC was the inclusion of many old Party cadres who had rectified their errors and returned to Mao’s line.[33] All seven departments of the Commune directly linked to the masses were abolished in a move that was supposed to strengthen the administrative functions of the Shanghai Municipality RC. The mass organisations were dismantled. On 28 August 1969, the armed conflicts between Chinese and Soviet troops in the border areas were used by the CC of the CCP to order all mass organisations to disband and to make it illegal to form any new ones. This left the remaining Red Guard representatives on local RCs isolated and they were gradually replaced by military or Party personnel.

During February 1967, the army took the initiative across China, and Red Guards who challenged Maoist directives were beaten up, arrested, imprisoned and even shot. Jiang[34] reports how Marshall Ye Jianying approved a request from General Gan Weihan in Sichuan province (Chengdu Military District) for permission to arrest and detain over 30,000 rebels. Allegedly, all the prisons in Sichuan province were filled with rebel Red Guards and the authorities had to convert at least one Buddhist temple into a temporary prison. The most shocking slaughter was in Qinghai Province on the Tibetan border on 23 February. Troops dispatched by the vice-commander of the Qinghai Military District, seized several thousand rebel Red Guards staying in the Qinghai Daily building, more than 300 were killed, many more were wounded by gun fire and the rest imprisoned.

The situation was greatly complicated because not only were rebel Red Guards being hounded by the PLA, but there was open warfare between different Red Guard factions; between Maoist Red Guards and Red Guards loyal to established Party tops. The People’s Daily reported that in Yunnan province alone between 80,000 and 160,000 people were killed. In Wuhan the established leadership successfully resisted the (Maoist) Red Guards’ attempt to take power, and with the support of local army units, arrested over 500 and attempted to disband their organisation. During June and July 1967 there was virtual civil war between the two factions and in one encounter 250 were killed and at least 1,500 wounded.[35]

Two envoys from Beijing arrived in Wuhan to adjudicate and, of course, decided in favour of the Red Guards. The local CCP stormed the hotel where the envoys were staying and took one of them hostage. Lin Piao moved an airborne division and a naval squadron to surround Wuhan and the envoy was released. The Wuhan incident was the beginning of the end for the GPCR: the constant changes in instructions from Beijing undermined its authority with the radical elements amongst the Red Guards; the different balance of forces within the triple alliance in different areas meant national, effective leadership was impossible; Mao Zedong Thought was interpreted according to which group or coalition dominated the local triple alliance.

In a last desperate attempt to gain national dominance, the CCRG called for a more radical policy towards the conservative elements in the Party and PLA. Some Red Guard publications were demanding The Proletariat Must Take Hold of the Gun and advocated internal revolt within the PLA. By the spring of 1968, the most extreme of the Red Guard groups (in Kwangsi) had seized weapons from trains bound for Vietnam and were skirmishing with PLA forces and conservatives to take control of the local Revolutionary Committee.[36] Other Red Guard groups having analysed the situation for themselves, began to present an analysis that was not in support of Mao. Students in Hunan issued a proclamation labelling Zhou Enlai and other supporters of Mao the “new bourgeoisie” and calling for “genuine” Communes. By early 1968 radical student elements in Shanghai and Beijing were proposing a national conference in defiance of orders from the CCRG.[37] It was developments such as these which threatened the bureaucracy root and branch, that were important in bringing the GPCR to an end.

The activist phase of the GPCR was formally terminated at the CCP’s 9th National Party Congress in April 1969. As would be expected with the Party still reeling from the GPCR, this Congress was dominated by the Maoist faction: Mao was confirmed as the supreme leader and others who had been active in the GPCR were allocated positions on the Political Bureau. Lin Piao became CPC Vice Chairman and was designated constitutionally as Mao’s successor, and Mao Zedong thought was reinserted into the Party Constitution. Jiang Qing and Yeh Chun, the wives of Mao and Lin Piao respectively, became the first ever female members of the Politburo (they were formally elected to the 170-member CC which lasted until 1973, but which held only two plenary meetings). Due to Lin’s poor health Yeh Chun was already in the habit of attending Party meetings on his behalf![38]

However, these victories were all sound and fury, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping may have been labelled “traitorous scabs and renegades”, but the “capitalist roaders” in the Party had, by and large, retained their positions. In this respect Mao’s weakness was obvious; over 40% of the CC were serving military officers, but in China the PLA was the creature of the Party, not the other way round. Mao’s victory was superficial and temporary. The Red Guards were soon instructed to return to their localities; otherwise they would be expelled from the schools and would not be assigned to work after graduation.[39]

After 1969 the CCP placed its emphasis on reconstruction: rebuilding the party, re-vitalising, and stabilising the economy. The Maoists, led now by Madame Mao (Jiang Qing) attempted to retain their decisive role but they were now swimming against the stream. Factional tensions persisted, so that it was not until the start of 1971 that Party committees were re-established at the provincial level, but practical solutions to current problems was the central theme of the Party, and inexorably the Maoists were increasingly side-lined.

The only institution with a relatively undamaged structure and real power was the PLA, but this was divided in its politics. On one side was the Lin Piao faction, which continued to exhort the need for “politics in command” and for an ongoing struggle against Soviet revisionism. On the other side was a majority of the regional military commanders who looked to Marshall Ye Jianying, and whose views generally were in tune with the “capitalist roaders”. The matter was decided in a most decisive and surprising manner. Lin Piao died in a plane crash on 13 September 1971, the circumstances surrounding his death are still shrouded in mystery but soon after, Lin Piao’s closest supporters were rapidly purged and there was an immediate and precipitate drop in the influence of the Maoist faction. The Party and state now attempted to depoliticise and promote professionalism within the PLA, accompanied by the rehabilitation of many persons who had been persecuted or fallen into disgrace in 1966-68.

The political tide in China swung decisively towards the “capitalist roaders” who spoke for more material incentives for the peasantry, and efficient economic planning. They also advocated improved relations with the West in general and the US in particular. That they held the reins of power was clearly demonstrated in February 1972 when President Richard M. Nixon made a formal state visit. (It should be noted that at these talks the Chinese leadership gave the nod to the US extending its bombing of Vietnam to include important economic targets in the North.)

The most prominent of those rehabilitated was Deng Xiaoping, who was reinstated as a Vice Premier in April 1973 and came to exert a strong influence favouring an approach based on the New Economic Policy used in Russia in the early 1920s. At the 10th National Party Congress in August 1973 Deng Xiaoping was again made a member of the CC (but not the Politburo) with sufficiently seniority to be in charge of the negotiations with the UK government on the return of Hong Kong to China.[40]

In January 1975, at the 4th National People’s Congress, Deng Xiaoping was elected a Vice Chairman of the CCP, a member of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, and installed as China’s first civilian chief of the PLA. At the same Congress the policy of the “Four Modernisations” was agreed for the four sectors of agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology. This would be affirmed as an action programme at the 11th National Party Congress, held in August 1977, after Mao’s death. Deng did suffer one further indignity, however, after Zhou Enlai’s death in January 1976 Madame Mao was able to rally sufficient support to remove Deng from his most important posts. Mao died in September that year and the Gang of Four were arrested in the October. The role played by Deng in their downfall is not known but within weeks he had openly returned to the leadership team.

The CCP was a party deeply rooted in Stalinism. Neither before coming to power, nor in the process of taking power, nor in its turn to the “general line of socialist construction” after it was in power, was there ever any purge of Stalinist ideology. However, significant currents in the Marxist movement took Mao’s verbal statements on the GPCR and the Shanghai Commune as good coin, as representing a genuine attempt to curb the Chinese Party bureaucracy rather than as a factional move by Mao to regain undisputed leadership of the CCP. Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank, one of Trotsky’s secretaries on the island of Prinkipo, took to calling Mao’s policies bureaucratic centrist rather than Stalinist. The use of the term bureaucratic centrist was highly significant since it was a term used by Trotsky to describe the Stalin faction in the USSR before 1933, before it was judged as wholly counter-revolutionary.[41] The lessons of thirty years were thrown out of the window, a movement unleashed by one wing of the Chinese bureaucracy against another was confused with a genuine attempt at workers’ democracy.


14.4 Summary

After 1949, with access to state resources, the tops of the CCP went on a spending spree (see Section 10.2). The Chinese bureaucracy did not view privileges and salary differentials as temporary, imposed by the isolation of the Revolution and the underdeveloped nature of the economy as the Bolsheviks had done, but as their natural reward for running the country. Inherent in such a situation was the possible restoration of capitalism at some stage. Trotsky had warned that if the bureaucracy was not overthrown in a political revolution, the bourgeois norms of distribution would inevitably become a key factor in determining the class nature of the state: “Privileges have only half their worth, if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children … The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive area would mean its conversion into a new possessing class.”[42] As would later be found out in the scandal around the murder of Neil Haywood in a Chongqing hotel in 2011, tops in the CCP were sending their sons to English public schools such as Harrow.[43]

The bureaucracy defended the state’s economic plans in order to defend their own interests, their own privileges. As Trotsky explained in In Defence of Marxism:

“The bureaucracy is first and foremost concerned with its power, its prestige, its revenues. It defends itself much better than it defends the USSR. It defends itself at the expense of the USSR and at the expense of the world proletariat.”

However, Mao failed to identify these material and socio-economic conditions, rooted in the Stalinist nature of the CCP as a chief cause of capitalist restoration. Instead he blamed the strength of bourgeois ideas in art, literature, and science. He maintained his belief that incessant appeals to the spirit of sacrifice and idealism as demonstrated by the CCP cadres during the darkest days of the civil war, were enough to overcome the material backwardness of the productive forces in China. Instead of motivating the Chinese people by moving towards greater workers’ democracy, Mao revived Stalin’s anti-Marxist theory that in the transition from socialism to capitalism the class struggle intensifies, and added the flourish that this could endure for hundreds of years. Just like Stalin, Mao erected and then justified a repressive state apparatus to protect the bureaucracy.

It is true that to an extent, the GPCR was an attack on the excesses of a section of the bureaucracy that was threatening the interests of the entire bureaucratic caste. Mao was following Stalin who had individual, excessively corrupt bureaucrats shot to better preserve the bureaucracy as a whole. Mao combined the attack on the capitalist roaders (to consolidate his own position) with the curbing of the more extreme forms of corruption (to maintain the bureaucracy as a whole). For the privileged bureaucracy, the GPCR was three-years of chaos that had done nothing to halt the growing irreconcilable contradictions between them and the disfranchised and abused worker-peasant masses.

The Cultural Revolution is important in understanding the later progress of the CCP under Deng who inherited the problem of developing the economy. The majority of the bureaucracy breathed a sigh of relief when the Cultural Revolution was brought to an end – they wanted to return to stability and enjoy their privileges within the system. Deng and his supporters drew the conclusion that mass action was a threat to their privileged existence and began their economic and social analyses with the clear condition of involving the Chinese masses as little as possible in decision-making. Introducing genuine workers’ democracy was the last thing these bureaucrats would do.

Despite claims to the contrary, the GPCR was never widely supported by the proletariat because of two key factors: the Red Guard took the voluntarism of the GLF into the factories and other work places and demanded the ending of bonus schemes and pay differentials, and a lowering of safety standards. The workers were to increase production by working harder and undertaking unpaid overtime for no other reason than their love of Chairman Mao. Another important factor was that the GPCR was taken into the factories largely by factory chiefs and party bureaucrats anxious to preserve their privileged positions or by students who, for all their good intentions, knew little or nothing about factory work.

The Cultural Revolution did impact on the factories but not in the way the Maoists had hoped. Factory workers took advantage of the situation to protest at the appalling conditions in which they worked; demanding a safer, healthier environment, higher wages and an end to the privileges of the managers and their replacement by elected persons. As the industrial workers began to voice their own demands and take independent action, Mao drew back and in 1969 put the genie of the GPCR back into the bottle of bureaucratic control. The main slogan, “The masses are right, what the people say is right,” became, “What is right is what is in the mind of Chairman Mao.”

One cannot fight the bureaucracy with bureaucratic means. This explains why both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution failed, ultimately adding to the social and economic disruption caused by the bureaucracy. The Maoist wing of the bureaucracy could not go so far as to give power to the workers because to do so would mean turning their own world upside down. This meant the outcome of the struggle between the Maoists and their opponents would be determined within the Party, but the GPCR had been launched precisely to avoid such an outcome. Party and state officials at all levels had been given an object lesson that to eagerly implement present policies made one a hostage to fortune and future shifts in policy. The result was excessive bureaucratic timidity.

The CCP leadership and the Party itself had suffered a severe loss of legitimacy. Millions of urban Chinese had recognised the GPCR as an obvious power play between competing factions that had taken place in the name of political principle resulting in a steep decline in living standards. The scarcity of goods created by the GPCR meant a leap in corruption within the CCP and the government, as people fell back on personal relationships and bribery to get things done.

Mao’s strategies of the GLF and the GPCR had meant a near collapse of agricultural production, the closure of all the schools and universities and finally, severe disruption of industrial production. The wing of the CCP led by Deng Xiaoping (the majority of middle and higher level cadres) was horrified at what had happened and began drawing its own conclusions from these experiences, a process which was accelerated by the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe.


[1] MacFarquhar, R. The Politics of China, 1997, CUP, p226.

[2] Peng Shuzi An Appraisal of the Political Life of Mao, Monad, 1980, 394-399.

[3] Peng Shuzi, The Chinese Communist Party in Power, Monad Press, 1980, p270-275.

[4] Twitchett, D. and Fairbank, J. (eds) Cambridge History of China, CUP, 1987. Vol 14, p130.

[5] Ibid, p464 and 476.

[6] Peng Shuzi, Two Interviews on the Cultural Revolution, 1967, w.m.org.

[7] Rice, E. Mao’s Way, Univ. of California Press, 1972, p208.

[8] Peng Shuzi, Two Interviews … Op. cit.

[9] Peng Shuzi, The Relationship and Differences Between Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi, 1968, w.m.org.

[10] Peng Shuzi, Two Interviews … Op. cit.

[11] Andreas, J. Battling over Political and Cultural Power during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Theory and Society 31(4)463-519.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Peking Review, Vol 33 No 33, Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, www.massline.org.

[15] Yan Jaiqi and Gao Gao, A Turbulent Decade, 1996, Univ. of Hawaii, pp55 et seq.

[16] www.npr.org.

[17] Guo Jian, Resisting Modernity in Contemporary China, Modern China, 1999 25(3) 343-376.

[18] Hongsheng Jiang, The Paris Commune in Shanghai, PhD Thesis Duke University, 2010, p275. http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu.

[19] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p290.

[20] Peking Review, 13 Jan. 1967, www.massline.org.

[21] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p292)

[22] Peking Review, 13 Jan. 1967, www.massline.org.

[23] Peking Review, 20 Jan. 1967, www.massline.org.

[24] New China’s News Agency, 12 Jan. 1967 A Proposal of Setting up Shanghai Revolutionary Rebel Organizations’ Liaison Post.

[25] Tao Zhu’s Speech at the China Medical University, in Jiang, Op. cit. p361.

[26] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p428.

[27] Ibid. p408.

[28] Guo Jian, Op. cit.

[29] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p417.

[30] Mao Zedong, Talks at Three Meetings With Comrades Chang Ch’un-ch’iao And Yao Wen-yuan, February 1967, w.m.org.

[31] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p478.

[32] Marcy, S. China 1977: End of the Revolutionary Mao Era, www.workers.org.

[33] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p490.

[34] Mobo, Gao. The Battle for China’s Past, 2008. Pluto Press, p62.

[35] Hongsheng Jiang, Op. cit., p442.

[36] Hong Yung Lee, The Politics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1980, Univ of California Press, p244 et seq.

[37] Hai Feng, An Account of the Cultural Revolution in the Canton Area, 1971, Union Research Institute, Hong Kong, p384.

[38] Qui Jin, The Lin Biao Incident in the Cultural Revolution, Stanford, U.P., 1999.

[39] Hong Yung Lee, Op. cit.

[40] Waldergrave, W. Memoirs, Constable, 2015.

[41] Trotsky, L. The Class Nature of the Soviet State, 1933, www.marxist.org.

[42] Trotsky, L. The Revolution Betrayed, w.m.org.

[43] Lafraniere, F., and Burns, J. Washington Post. 11 April 2012.