An account and critique of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which portrays the "revolution" as a factional squabble within the Communist Party bureaucracy which enabled the working class to begin to assert themselves as an independent force for a time before being crushed by the state.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is claimed by many Maoists as the highest point of communism in the history of mankind. Maoists such as the RCP and Kasama and even more anarchist leftists like Michael Albert see the event as evidence of the liberatory potential of Maoist thought. The New Left in general was enamored by the events in China and radical newspapers from the era are full of Mao portraits and quotes from the Little Red Book. “It is right to rebel” being taken up as a slogan made the Maoists seem like they were more anarchist than the anarchists, the “hardest” of the revolutionaries.
If anything, the Cultural Revolution exposes the poverty of Maoist politics. Maoism only promised “the right to rebel” to the extent that rebellion stayed within the confines of Maoism.
To call what happened during the years considered the height of the GPCR (66-69) a revolution, nonetheless a proletarian one, is certainly a misnomer. A more apt description would be that it was a bureaucratic power struggle that in many cases got out of hand. Gaps in authority were certainly created by Mao’s chaotic tactics of consolidating power and workers certainly took advantage of these gaps in authority. But in the end Mao’s Cultural Revolution wasn’t much different from Stalin’s – an attempt to solve the problems of socialism-in-one-country through purging the state leadership of corrupt “capitalist roaders” rather than changing the social relations that led these corrupt positions to develop.
The very concept of Cultural Revolution is foreign to Marx’s conception of revolution. Marx viewed proletarian revolution as a process that is not merely political but social. There is no separate category of Cultural Revolution differentiated from the revolution which transforms the totality of social relations.
Marxist-Leninist dogmatism claims that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, nationalization of property and establishment of central planning under the rule of party eliminates the basis of class antagonisms. Yet it was clear that China in 1966 was no workers utopia that had ridden itself of all social contradiction. In Mao’s eyes the remaining contradictions of society were contained strictly within the political/cultural superstructure, for the economic base no longer contained class antagonism. Maoist theory claimed that the superstructure was “relatively autonomous” from the base and hence a “cultural revolution” was needed to purge the revisionist leadership within the CCP. This was not a Marxist theory of revolution, but rather a populist theory that was not dissimilar from Bismark’s Kulturkamf. READ MORE