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Thursday, July 23, 2009

China’s Cultural Revolution

In the last 20 years there has been a trend for Chinese authors to write books that trash the Cultural Revolution. Examples include The Red Guards' Path to Violence: Political, Educational, and Psychological Factors, by Jing Lin; Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now, by Jan Wong; and Blood Red Sunset: A Memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, by Ma Bo.
While these books are filled with plenty of horror stories of gruesome excesses and mal treatment, they do little to explain the motivations or purpose of the Cultural Revolution. At best, these people misunderstood their role in this historical campaign. At worst they are simply cashing in on a bourgeoisie trend to demonize a campaign to fight against class-ism.
Not all the criticism is on the right. There are plenty of leftist that are willing to bash and criticize both Maoism and the Cultural Revolution.
Take for example this critical piece by Mike Ely of the Kasama Project blog:

“I recently studied “Red Color News Soldier.” It is a book by Li Zhensheng, who was a Chinese news photographer during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution — recording key events in Heilongjiang, an industrial province in the far northeast of China. His photos here include the official ones that appeared in the press at the time, but also a whole secret stash of pictures he took of mass meetings and denunciations. It is very revealing and gives a sense of these movements that is freed from the official veil of romantization. You see the power of this revolutionary movement — but you also see it in ways that are very real and gritty.

And that is a sobering way to view any revolution. And while it should not cause us to pull back and oppose sharp class struggle — it does help us identify (as Mao did) forms of struggle that are not appropriate for our cause, our values and goals.”

Ely is a Maoist. It’s not a major crime to criticize a campaign that clearly had some problems and mistakes in implementation. But with so much criticism from the right, how valuable is this criticism without taking the time to explain the positive goals of the Cultural Revolution or its importance to history.
Of the blog comments receive on the piece some were outright reactionary. For example, John B. said:

“I too was intrigued by the GPCR when I was in high school (I’m a few years younger than you), but came to the conclusion rather quickly that it was a tremendous disaster for the Chinese people, that cost them dearly in wealth and culture. I frankly am a little dismayed to read some of the praises to the Cultural Revolution on this blog, but I suppose people will just have to figure it out for themselves. Have they ever considered that perhaps it was a reaction to the excesses of the GPCR that paved the way for Deng Xiaoping’s restoration of capitalism in China?”

This statement is one of the most anti-Maoist, pro-right wing statements I have ever seen on a left-wing blog. With opinions such as this, who (bourgeoisie) needs the right-wing press?
One of the few organizations to explain and defend the Cultural Revolution has been the Revolutionary Communist Party and its newspaper Revolution:

“The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 was a mass revolutionary upsurge involving hundreds of millions of people. It was a kind of "revolution within the revolution."
In 1949, China's worker-peasant revolution overthrew the old order. The revolution established a socialist political and economic system that empowered the masses and brought great benefits to people. But significant economic differences and social inequalities still existed in the new socialist society. Most dangerously, a new privileged elite had emerged. Its political-organizational center was right within the Chinese Communist Party, and its political and ideological influence was growing.
By the mid-1960s, the top capitalist-roaders (so called because they were high-ranking Party leaders who used a watered-down Marxism to justify taking China down a political-economic road that would lead to the restoration of capitalism) were maneuvering to seize power. Their goal was to re-institute systems of exploitation and to open China back up to foreign domination—in short, to turn China into the "sweatshop paradise" that it is today!
Far from being a "palace power struggle," the Cultural Revolution was a profound and intense struggle over the direction of society and over who would rule society: the working people or a new bourgeois class.
Mao and the revolutionary forces in the Communist Party mobilized people to rise up to prevent capitalist takeover and to shake up the higher levels of the Party that had become increasingly cast in a bourgeois-bureaucratic mold. But the Cultural Revolution was much more than that. The masses were carrying forward the revolutionary transformation of the economy, social institutions, culture, and values and were revolutionizing the Communist Party itself. This is what Mao called continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Cultural Revolution was not about "round-ups," people being sent to "forced-labor camps," or "totalitarian group-think." The methods of the Cultural Revolution were quite different. Workers, peasants, and people from all walks of life engaged in mass criticism of corrupt officialdom. They engaged in great debates about economic policy, the educational system, culture, and the relation between the Communist Party and the masses of people. Mao wasn't interested in "purges." He was calling for mass action from below to defeat the enemies of the revolution.”

For the rest click here.

For the record, despite the goals listed above, much of the Cultural Revolution didn’t work. It may have been too unorganized or not well understood by some of the classes that found themselves dealing with unwanted change. Some intellectuals didn’t want to share with manual labor, which was done to try and bridge the gap between the intellectual classes and the poor common workers. Leader Jiang Qing tried to get writers to make heroes of common people and the common soldier instead of princes, princesses and generals. Writers are always hard to work with then they are told what they should write.
But one fact remains. This was an attempt to fix problems that China had and it would have been worse not to at least try and change these problems. The right-wing wants us to believe that the Cultural Revolution was just a Stalinist purge carried out by Mao. That is one myth we must bust for sure.

1 comment:

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