Wrong Turns on the Revolutionary Road: Ultra-Leftism and the Cultural Revolution
Mao Zedong lead the emancipation of China from her many slavers. Between 1950 and 1970, under his leadership, average life expectancy doubled from 35 to 70 years, illiteracy was eliminated, the rights of women and minorities were enshrined in law, and crucial groundwork for China’s recent advancements were laid. His contribution to the nation, to Chinese people, as well as to global movements toward liberation, was immense, and can not be under stated. Every lover of peace, equality, justice, and freedom should study Mao Zedong thought, and learn from the legacy and process of the Chinese communist revolution.
But Mao ZeDong was not a god.
Mao ZeDong was a man who was both capable of making mistakes and did make mistakes.
Toward the end of his life, his thinking and leadership, as well as those of some party factions, deviated from Marxist Leninism and its materialist basis into the idealistic, adventurist, and dogmatic fundamentalism of “ultra-leftism”, or “left communism”.
This resulted in a series of horrible wrong turns in both foreign and domestic policy.
Internationally, the complete denunciation of the USSR’s economic reforms at least partially caused the Sino-Soviet split, later at least partial reason for the 1962 famine, and later indirectly lead to the collapse of the USSR. As a result of that split, China sided with the US in many arenas of the cold war, leading to a series of horrible foreign policies, such as support of Pol Pot.
Nationally, CPC’s ultra-leftism of the 1960s resulted in the Great Cultural Revolution.
These are major set backs for national and international leftism (and it is precisely these destructively misguided ultra-leftist tendencies of ZeDong’s later period that contemporary “Maoists” champion).
Let us focus here on the national part of these mistakes.
Class struggle does not end after the revolution, because even after the working class takes political power, the ownership class still exists (necessarily during the socialist transition period); regressive feudal attitudes such as sexism and ethnic chauvinism still persist; and bourgeois culture carrying capitalist values from the much richer and much more powerful colonial capitalist empires still exert strong influence on the people.
This is the correct theoretical framework, but the Cultural Revolution incorrectly unfolded, in a brutal manner, without consideration of material reality faced by the country and its dire need of economic and technological development.
The adventurist position of the ultra-leftist factions that engineered the Cultural Revolution was that “communism can be reached through the immediate waging of hardline, dogmatic, and brutal class warfare, and does not require economic development”. The decade+ of calamity, conflict, and chaos was an attempt at total eradication of bourgeois ideas, forms, and values once and for all, without first changing the material conditions which produces and maintains them — a fantasy.
The Cultural Revolution caused terrible suffering for millions, lead to a massive brain drain with scientists, doctors, and other high level professionals escaping to the West and giving the fruits of their socialist education and training to imperialist enemies, and gave the global bourgeois powers precious ammunition to attack and demonise socialism. There is nothing worse than Western LARPers, edge lords, and dogmatists who has never experienced and are not familiar with anything remotely resembling such total calamity fetishising this horrendous episode.
All of a sudden, into the hands of under-educated farmers and immature and passionate students was thrust the power over the life and death of statesmen, professors, scientists, writers, and artists, to wantonly act out, without accountability, the most petty and horrific class and generational revenge fantasies in the flesh. The achievements of the Cultural Revolution are small compared to the price paid during those 10 years of hellish chaos, the pandemic psychological and physical torture of millions, the unjust executions of an untold number, and the wanton destruction of traditional and ancient art objects and cultural legacy.
My own parents were sent to rural areas to work, 5 years each, for infractions such as reading Einstein and listening to Schubert. This experience turned them from passionate young socialists to bitter anti-communists who embraced reactionary ideology, and lead to them, like so many hundreds of thousands of intelligentsia during the 70s and 80s, emigrating to the USA, giving their training and talents to the imperialists. This is a major reason why Chinese expats abroad are overwhelmingly anti-communist.
At the same time, it must be recognised that the Cultural Revolution did also have some positive effects on Chinese society. At a time when the USSR was making mistakes in the opposite direction, depoliticising the proletariate and further bureaucratising politics, creating a rift between the people and a class of party officials, the Cultural Revolution politically empowered the workers and rural peasants to assert their subjectivity and gave them a voice in politics, which has certainly been important in the socialist development of modern China since 1976.
But without this episode, China’s development and success might have come earlier; but dialectically, it was the correcting of this mistake which set the course for reform and opening up.
The response of the Communist Party of China to the Cultural Revolution, after the dust had settled, as represented by official statements quoted in the articles from state publications included below, is very important in many ways.
First, the CPC’s complete rejection of such ultra-leftist adventurism, irresponsible dogmatism, and anti-materialist analysis (socialism is possible without economic development), denouncement and punishment of the instigators as counter-revolutionaries, many sincere, open, and clear apologies to the Chinese people, and total reversal from the attitudes and policies of the Cultural Revolution lead the nation on its path to socialist strength and the dizzying progress.
Second, this response is testament to the CPC ability to self reflect, self criticise, admit wrong doing, and take responsibility. This ability is an important tenant of Mao Zedong thought, and is a central part of the trust that the party has garnered and maintained, and its continuing success in leadership.
Third, while as previously noted, the episode was not entirely without positive results, foreign and domestic contemporary “Maoists” who blindly worship Mao Zedong as some kind of god and ultra-leftists who praise and romanticise the Cultural Revolution as an example of leftist purity, need to shut their ignorant mouths once and for all. Such left fundamentalists are reactionary would-be destroyers of China’s achievements, have no place in modern China, and need to be repressed under Xi JinPing’s administration.
The following are excerpts from Chinese state publications which cite official Communist Party statements:
“the Cultural Revolution, initiated by the national leader and exploited by the reactionaries, is an internal chaos bringing disasters to the party, the country and the people. The history has proved that the Cultural Revolution was totally wrong in its theory and practice.
The CPC has admitted, analyzed and corrected the mistakes made by itself and the leaders of the country, drawing lessons from both failures and successful experiences.
By differentiating the ten-year period of the Cultural Revolution with the incorrect theory and practice of it, the above document also strongly refutes the viewpoint that denies the history and leadership of the CPC, even the socialist system with the excuse of internal chaos.”
“It is not possible for such a revolution to be repeated. The decade of calamity caused severe damage, leaving permanent pain for many Chinese. Entirely denying the values of the Cultural Revolution will help Chinese society remain vigilant against the danger of all kinds of disorder.
China’s development in recent decades started from complete denial of the Cultural Revolution in theory and shifting the focus of the country to economic construction in practice. In the over 30 years, we strived to recover from the losses. The shared goal has provided strong momentum for the country’s progress. It also helped strengthen social solidarity. The principle of not straying onto the wrong path has been widely endorsed by the public.
We have bid farewell to the Cultural Revolution. We can say it once again today that the Cultural Revolution cannot and will not come back. There is no place for it in today’s China.”
“the Party, the country and the people suffered from the most serious setbacks and the biggest loss during the ‘cultural revolution’, which lasted from May 1966 to October 1976, since the founding of the PRC…The history of the ‘cultural revolution’ proved that the main argument for comrade Mao Zedong to start the ‘cultural revolution’ was not in line with Marxism-Leninism nor with the reality of China… It was proved through practice that the ‘cultural revolution’ was not, and could not possibly be, a revolution or social progress in every sense… (It) was a civil turmoil, which was wrongly started by leaders, was exploited by counter-revolutionary groups, and which brought disastrous consequences to the Party, the country and the people.”
– the Sixth Plenum of the 11th CPC Central Committee: the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China
In 2020, steady on the long and winding road toward communism, the Communist Party must stay strong and vigilant, against internal elements of BOTH the neo-liberal right who want more private sector empowerment and liberal “free market” policies, AS WELL AS the ultra-leftists who say “economic development is not important to socialism” and want to instigate Cultural Revolution Part 2.
As much as we communists all would like to see the Ferraris driving douchebags in ShangHai publicly humiliated, and the “liberal democracy” lovers sent to re-education camps, we must remember the cautionary lessons from 4 decades ago, when irrational zealotry and extreme leftist excess nearly destroyed the revolution, the party, and the nation.
During China’s re-emergence as a global economic super power via a hybrid economy, the dangers of rightist neo-liberal turns can not be underestimated. Marxism as part of required curriculum in highschools and universities is great, but not quite enough; and the CPC does have very important ideological work to do. But while the people need to be educated and their alignment with the communist ideology which saved them and gave them a future must be maintained and strengthened, this must be done in a completely new way, and the left fundamentalists must never be allowed a chance to wreak havoc ever again.