China’s Cultural Revolution

Topics: Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping, Marxism Pages: 9 (3355 words) Published: June 12, 2013
It has been argued that most of the crucial political and ideological battles of the Cultural Revolution were fought over the issue of the nature of social class structure in post-revolutionary China. What does the Cultural Revolution teach us about class structure and struggle under socialism? The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution[1] was a political and ideological struggle spanning the decade from 1966-1976. More implicitly, it was a struggle spurned into motion by Mao Zedong to reinstitute his mass line and turn China back to the ‘Socialist Road.’ Mao urged the Chinese to undergo a ‘class struggle’ whereby those truly on the path to Communism would rise against the new bureaucracy who were implementing ideology inconsistent with the main tenets of Maoism. However, what ensued was catastrophic and referred to by Feng Jicai as “Ten Years of Madness.”[2] While the class structure of post-revolutionary Chinese society had effectively eradicated the feudal class structure, a new, elite bureaucratic class had emerged. Indeed, these new elite and the remnants of the old bourgeois class bore the brunt of the violent onslaught of Mao’s Red Guards during the CR. In this essay, I argue that class struggle, and struggle under socialism in the CR was paradoxical as “most radicals in the revolutionary campaign against revisionism were representatives not of the proletariat…but of the bourgeoisie itself.”[3] While many joined Mao in is his crusade for utilitarian reasons, many also joined seeking to revenge ill-treatment and denigration at the hands of the elite due to their ‘bad class backgrounds.’ Furthermore, this period demonstrates through the factional plight of the Red Guards and the persecution of party cadres and intelligentsia, that class struggle is not always initiated from unprivileged or discontented classes, but also from those aspiring to retain their new elitist position in society. Zhou Enlai proclaimed the CR in 1964 to transform “all bourgeois, feudal and other ideology and culture not suited to the socialist economic base and the political system.”[4] After Mao relinquished his position in 1959, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping sought to restore China to economic equilibrium and social order. While Mao’s absence allowed China to obtain a stable economy, Mao was perturbed by his own lack of credibility within the party and dissatisfied with changes contradictory to Marxist ideals such as private farming, education and social welfare.[5] However, Wu Han’s play ‘The Dismissal of Hai Rai from Office’ in November 1965 provoked Mao’s desire to regain influence within the party.[6] As such, Mao sought to negate Chinese society by “restoring to the proletariat the power that had been monopolised by the autocratic bourgeois class.”[7] While the CR was an ideological campaign aimed at combating revisionism and the new elitist bureaucracy, in hindsight China observes the CR as “nothing less than a calamity”[8] estimated to have resulted in 400,000 deaths.[9] The CR was a catastrophe Mao implemented based upon erroneous ideals, which lead to a decade of “chaos and destruction”[10] in which his machinations[11] shattered China’s livelihood and “set back modernisation for at least a decade.”[12] At the Tenth Plenum in September 1962, Mao surreptitiously urged the party to “Never forget the class struggle.”[13] Mao perceived class struggle as the tool to “educate the young, combat revisionism, (create) enthusiasm in production and advance Chinese socialism.”[14] Mao stressed that class struggle should never be abandoned, as the ominous threat of capitalism is ubiquitous unless the proletariat is strengthened via further revolution.[15] In Mao’s On New Democracy, he reiterates ideas he revered in Yan’an, such as the unification of Marx’s concept of ‘class struggle’ with the mass line[16] to rouse the masses into motion. The class struggle was seen in terms of a friend/enemy divide which dichotomised the classes in China. As such,...
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