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You are here: Home » Documents » Why the cultural revolution was defeated - a 1979 paper. Nobody can deny that the coup d'etat of October 6, 1976 has resulted in a fundamental change in direction for China, and the dispute was between two fundamentally opposed political lines - whichever side you happen to agree with. Yet it was originally presented as merely the overthrow of four individuals who were described as Kuomintang agents etc., and their defeat was presented as a great victory for Mao Tsetung Thought and the Cultural Revolution. Quite clearly the Cultural Revolution and Mao Tsetung Thought has been defeated in China and this has had enormous repercussions for Marxist-Leninists, or "Maoists" around the world

Why the cultural revolution was defeated - a 1979 paper. Nobody can deny that the coup d'etat of October 6, 1976 has resulted in a fundamental change in direction for China, and the dispute was between two fundamentally opposed political lines - whichever side you happen to agree with. Yet it was originally presented as merely the overthrow of four individuals who were described as Kuomintang agents etc., and their defeat was presented as a great victory for Mao Tsetung Thought and the Cultural Revolution. Quite clearly the Cultural Revolution and Mao Tsetung Thought has been defeated in China and this has had enormous repercussions for Marxist-Leninists, or "Maoists" around the world

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this was presented at a conference in Adelaide, Australia in 1979

Quite clearly the Cultural Revolution and Mao Tsetung Thought has been defeated in China and this has had enormous repercussions for Marxist-Leninists, or  "Maoists" around the world. I won't spell out a proof that it has been defeated as this is pretty obvious. Full documentation is provided in a booklet called "The Capitalist Roaders are Still on the Capitalist Road", even though that was written in March 1977, only 6 months after the coup.


The policies now being implemented in China are precisely those denounced as revisionist during the Cultural Revolution, and the people implementing them include all those previously denounced as capitalist roaders (with the exception of Lin Piao's group whose pro-Soviet position has left them still on the outer, at least at present).


It is now openly stated that the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution was a "Gang of 4" period and a major disaster for China. Mao Tsetung himself has not yet been denounced with the same vitriol as his wife, but it is quite clear that he has been taken down several pegs, and his ideas are no longer the guiding ideology of China. The only argument now concerns whether the revisionist policies are correct, in which case they should not be called revisionist.


Of some importance in deciding about this, is the political record of those supporting these policies. In my opinion the "Gang of 4" line was open and above board. The policies they denounced Teng Hsiao-ping for, in 1975-76,are exactly the policies he did in fact advocate - as is proved conclusively by the fact that he is now busy implementing them. But the opponents of the "Gang of 4" spent years declaring their fervent support for Mao Tsetung Thought and the Cultural Revolution, while really opposing it.


Nobody can deny that the coup d'etat of October 6, 1976 has resulted in  a fundamental change in direction for China, and the dispute was between two fundamentally opposed political lines - whichever side you happen to agree with. Yet it was originally presented as merely the overthrow of four individuals who were described as Kuomintang agents etc., and their defeat was presented as a great victory for Mao Tsetung Thought and the Cultural Revolution.


In my opinion this fundamental dishonesty precludes us from taking seriously the arguments of those responsible for the coup or the arguments of their parrots abroad. People in Australia who denounce "Gang of 4" supporters here as "anti-Mao" and proceed to label them as Soviet  agents etc., will have no right to be heard when they change to denouncing us for continuing to be "pro-Mao". Just as the Albanian liners who claimed that the concept of "three worlds" was obviously an attack on Mao's line have no right to be heard when they now claim that Mao must be a revisionist since he obviously supported this line.


In the international communist movement I don't believe that there have been any great achievements in building genuinely revolutionary parties in advanced capitalist countries. But this was obscured for some time by the comforting feeling that "eight hundred million Chinese can't be wrong". The Albanians have accused the Chinese of never having been enthusiastic about the various ML parties set up in the sixties and the seventies and having regarded them as a bit of a nuisance. I think that does describe Mao's attitude and it has proved to be correct.


The international situation now is not one of "great disorder giving way to great order" as the Convenor of this Conference introduced it, but rather one of "great disorder giving way to even greater disorder" and I think it will go on like this for some considerable time. There is no longer any international centre people can look to for guidance and as a result there is complete chaos. In my opinion most of the groups that claim to be ML around the world are not merely wrong but right off the planet. My own views are widely regarded in a similar light. So there is some room for compromise.


There has been a fairly  complete collapse of Maoism since Mao's death. One section of Mao's former followers continue to believe that "nine hundred million people are even less likely to be wrong". Therefore they are following a line diametrically opposed to Mao's and to their own previous views. Another section has decided there must be a centre somewhere and are comforted by the thought that maybe a couple of million Albanians can't be wrong. After having produced innumerable diatribes to prove that the "theory of the three worlds" was clearly an invention of the revisionists to attack Mao's policies, they are now psyching themselves up to support Albania's thesis that it was Mao's line and that Mao was a revisionist since the 1930's.


Those like the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA) or Charles Betteheim, former president of the France-China Friendship Association, who have not deserted into one or other of the rabidly anti-Mao camps, have nevertheless discovered that Mao was wrong on various key issues.


Bettleheim and others have developed an explanation for the defeat of the "Gang of 4" due to insufficient democracy, excessive centralism, lack of flexibility towards intellectuals etc. Bolshevism is fundamentally rejected and Kautsky's critique of it is accepted in this analysis.



The RCP(USA) fundamentally rejects Mao's united front line and the concept of "three worlds". again breaking with fundamental principles of Leninism.


Almost everyone who supports Mao and his close colleagues in the "Gang of 5", considers the whole basic direction of Chinese foreign policy in the 1970's to have been wrong. They either attribute it to revisionist influences, in which case Mao must have been pretty opportunist to allow himself to be so closely associated with it (even personally inviting Nixon back for a second visit) or they regard it as a mistake in which case it was a pretty big one.



In evaluating the Cultural Revolution and Mao Tsetung Thought one simply cannot ignore the fact that within a very short time after Mao's death, unqualified support for Maoism has been almost completely silenced around the world. The movement which Mao headed has almost completely collapsed.


It seems reasonable to conclude that there must be at least something wrong with Mao Thought for it to have suffered such a crushing defeat. My own opinion is that there is nothing wrong with it  and it  is 100% OK, A1, goodstuff that should be studied and followed. I take comfort in the thought that this is not the first time Marxism has suffered a crushing defeat and it has always managed to bounce back. The best example is the complete collapse of the Second International and the desertion of almost the whole world movement to revisionism and syndicalism, in the first world war. I take great comfort from the thought that this complete collapse of the Second International was followed by the October revolution and the birth of the Third International only 3 or 4 years later (although I don't really expect that it will be that quick this time).


The line I advocate includes a rigid defence of what I understand to be the orthodox Maoist policies of the Chinese leadership before Mao's death. Although I claim to be orthodox I have never been religious, and I hope this orthodoxy will not be mistaken for dogmatism.


Since my views are those of a very small minority, I have no difficulty at all of being tolerant of opposing views, just in order to remain sane. I hope I remember that when, as I fully expect to happen, the views I hold become the dominant or majority views.


I was never a religious supporter of Mao when he was alive, and that was one reason I had no difficulty, and experienced no "crisis", about continuing to uphold exactly the same views after he died. It is very noticeable that it is precisely those whose support for Mao was essentially religious rather than political, who have been the most eager to abandon it in one direction or another.


To understand the Cultural Revolution and its defeat in China, you have to understand the class struggle in a developing third world country. To understand Mao Tsetung Thought in China, you have to understand Marxism. I think the best  background for that is an understanding of the class struggle and an application of Marxism in Australia.


My understanding is that since liberation, China has developed as a class society based on commodity production and wage labour. That means goods are produced to be sold on the market  for money and people work in order to receive wages so they can buy goods. These very fundamental features of the Chinese society are quite similar to the corresponding situation in Australia and other capitalist societies. They give rise to a class struggle between different sections of society, which is the main motive force pushing society forward.


Both China and Australia are class societies in transition from capitalism to communism. When China was socialist this did not mean it had some new kind of "socialist mode of production" different from both the "capitalist mode" involving commodities and wage labour and the "communist mode" based on associated production organised by the associated producers. It simply meant that there was a "socialist system" in China, in which the power of Government, the power to make and enforce laws, to manage enterprises, to dominate culture etc. was in the hands of the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie. The radicals held power and used it to radicalise society and speed up the transition. As opposed to the conservatives holding power and using it to hold society back, as in Australia and China today.


Both in socialist China then, and in capitalist China now, and in capitalist Australia, revolutionaries are in a small minority in society and so are counter-revolutionaries. In China now, as in Australia, the small minority of reactionary bourgeois elements hold political power, and are accepted by the mass of the population. In socialist China the minority of revolutionaries held power, with support from the masses.


The kinds of political and social struggles that went on in a socialist society like China was were not all that fundamentally different from those that go on in a capitalist society like Australia or in China today. This is because the two forces in opposition are similar, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, radicals and conservatives. The basic issue is similar, whether to move forward to communism or backward to capitalism. The basic mode of production is similar too, commodities and wage labour. The big difference is which side is on top.



It is perfectly obvious that the political and social struggles going on in China today since the coup d'etat are basically the same as those going on before it. Theoretical articles in Peking Review have exactly the same themes as before, only the stand is reversed. I would argue that there are close similarities to related struggles in Australia.



To understand Chinese politics try to think about the kind of politics that would exist in Australia after a revolution. Try to envisage the kind of society in which radicals were on top and the businessmen on the bottom. Reading Peking Review today with its talk about the "four modernisations" one gets a clear picture of a society dominated by its businessmen. The appeals to produce more and the appeals for stability and unity reflect the same ideology as Malcom Fraser and Bob Hawke - the ideology of the bourgeoisie. Of course they don't call themselves the bourgeoisie anymore than Malcom Fraser or Bob Hawke does.


In Australia the dominant bourgeois ideology puts struggle in terms of whether to make more cake or to squabble over the distribution of the cake. Communists raise a separate problem. Unlike reformists who argue about the distribution of the cake, communists raise the question of who is to run the kitchen. We call for "all power to the cooks". There are important and fundamental differences, but quite similar issues were being raised by Communists in China - from the much stronger position of being a ruling party - and having nearly 4% of the population as members.


Although it may sound a bit unorthodox, the concept of socialist society that I am elaborating is supported by repeated statements of the Chinese leadership during Mao's lifetime. I think it was never fully appreciated outside China at the time.


Take this statement of Mao's that was essentially written into the Chinese Party Constitution:

"Socialist society covers a considerably long historical period. In the historical period of socialism, there are still classes, class contradiction and class struggle. There is the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and there is the danger of capitalist restoration. We must recognise the protracted and complex nature of this struggle. We must heighten our vigilance. We must conduct socialist education. We must correctly understand and handle class contradictions and class struggle, distinguish the contradictions between ourselves and the enemy from those among the people and handle them correctly. Otherwise a socialist country like ours will turn into its opposite and degenerate, and a capitalist restoration will take place. From now on we must remind ourselves of this every year, every month and every day so that we can retain a relatively sober understanding of this problem and have a Marxist-Leninist line."

(Quoted in "The Capitalist Roaders are still on the Capitalist Road", p.1. Emphasis added)


The usual reaction to that kind of statement is one of complacency. When in 1975-76 the Chinese leadership was saying that the capitalist roaders were still on the capitalist road, that there was a life and death struggle, that China could easily go revisionist etc., the general reaction amongst Maoists in Australia was to assume that things must be terrific because they are being so vigilant! As a result many people were terribly surprised when it actually happened.


As an orthodox Maoist I always took what Mao and the Maoists were saying very seriously and therefore was not in the least surprised when it turned out to be perfectly true. My identification was with the revolutionaries in China, the "Gang of 4" etc.and not with whatever happened to be written in Peking Review. What does surprise me is how on earth Maoists could be surprised, or feel there is some need to revise their estimation of Mao, because of developments since Mao's death that exactly confirm the accuracy of his analysis.


It was Lin Piao who said that the Cultural Revolution had solved the problem of preventing capitalist restoration in a socialist country, and had won final victory. He was promptly purged. Mao's line was always that it hadn't and couldn't. There would need to be 30 or 40 Cultural Revolutions and there could be no "final" victory.


Let us take some of the concrete issues that were fought over in China before, and still are today. The reason that they were and are fought over, is precisely because there were and are two sides. When Teng Hsiao-ping was being vehemently denounced, it was not because he was isolated and had no support. The same is true of the attacks on the "Gang of 4" today. They are not isolated and they do not have no support. Otherwise the revisionists wouldn't be so conserned to attack them.


Leftists in Australia tended to instinctively side with the "Gang of 4" (Maoist) policies, and regarded opposition to them as incomprehensible in a socialist society. When I say Leftists, I mean genuine Leftists. The emergence of a trend in Australia that is wildly enthusiastic about the new policies, indicates to me that their fundamental political outlook just isn't Left wing.


But in fact opposition to Left wing policies in socialist society is perfectly understandable, and it was wrong to regard this opposition as incomprehensible. Just as opposition to the Left in Australia is perfectly understandable.


Take education for example. We would all oppose the exam system and favour giving preference to the children of workers and peasants over the children of intellectuals. But concretely, this means that the children of revolutionary cadres whose academic ability is greater than others, who are patriotic, support socialism and can make major contributions to technical progress in China, must give up their  places to working class or peasant kids who in a fair examination would have scored lower marks.Naturally there will be opposition to this, and it will be strong opposition from the most articulate members of the community - including some cadres whose children will be affected by it. There will also be support for it amongst the large mass of the population. But remember that at present only 1% of the workers and peasants could get higher education anyway so it is not an immediate consern for most, and they are the less articulate section of the population.


We would all support the breaking down of the Confucian authority of the teacher, and favour building comradely relations between students and teachers. But anyone who has ever taught will know just how difficult a campaign against teacher authority would make life for teachers. Naturally there will be opposition from many teachers who will find life being utterly miserable and from conservative students who will want to get on with their studies without being constantly involved in political campaigns. Havn't we seen that kind of opposition in Australia?


We would all support sending educated youth to live in the countryside. But don't forget that the Chinese countryside has a very low standard of living indeed. Many educated youth would much prefer to live in the city. Even in Australia, where the countryside is far less backward, trainee teachers try to break their studentship bonds.


It is obvious that socialist policies in Chinese education must give rise to political and social struggles, just as they do in Australia. The stuff in Peking Review about the destruction of Chinese education and the holding up of modernisation, is not that different from stuff we read here saying we should go back to the "3 R's" of Reading, Riting and Rithmitic and stop all this "progressive nonsense" in the schools, even though nobody is pushing reforms anywhere near as radical as the Cultural Revolution.


Reactionaries in Australia too, paint a similar picture of a devastated education system. It is a fact that mass secondary education in Australia is basically a post-war phenomena. There was only one high school in Melbourne before the second world war. Yet there is a definite widely held belief that educational standards have dramatically declined in this period. Chinese reactionaries paint a far more dreadful picture of what happened to their education system during the Cultural Revolution,precisely because far more good things happened there.


Or take the question of foreign investment. There is mass support for foreign investment in Australia. So why wouldn't there be in China? It provides a quick and easy way to increase the standard of living in a country at the expense of its future. Equally there is mass opposition to foreign investment in Australia, and no doubt there will be in China too.


The focus of struggle in most social institutions in Australia is between the advocates of law and order and the advocates of rebellion. This is even more complex in a socialist country where law and order is supposed to be in the hands of the revolutionaries.


Anyone who has worked in industry will understand how deeply entrenched conservative opposition to the cooks running the kitchen can be - both from management and from backward workers under bourgeois influence.


The Gang of 4 have been accused of urging a recruiting policy for the Chinese Communist Party that would only let people into the Party if they had been gaoled during the Cultural Revolution or sacked from their jobs at least twice. Without taking it literally that seems to me to be a good approach. A Communist Party has to be a Party of rebels, a Party of troublemakers. There is a massive pressure in a socialist country for the ruling party to be filled with goody goodies who say all the right things. Yet how can you exclude from the Party someone who has consistently supported everything the Party leadership says and never put a foot wrong? How can you maintain Party discipline when the Chairperson is constantly saying "it is right to rebel" and calling on people to seize power from the properly elected Party committees? Look at the histories of revolutionary parties in capitalist countries. Is degeneration so unusual?


I think it is obvious that all of Mao's policies must meet opposition in China. If there is some way one can promote revolution without meeting opposition then I would like to know about it. If there is some way revolution can proceed against opposition without  suffering major defeats from time to time, I would be even more interested. This has certainly never been Mao's view, nor Marx's. If reactionaries could never win in a socialist society, they would have given up trying long ago, and Mao's whole line about the central importance of continuing the revolution would have been nonsense.


I would like to quote a statement from Engels' introduction to Marx's "The Class Struggle in France, 1848-1850" because I think it does apply to recent events in China, and confirms that the orthodox Maoist analysis is also an orthodox Marxist analysis:

 "all revolutions up to the present day have resulted in the displacement of one definite class rule by another; but all ruling classes up to now have only been small minorities in relation to the ruled mass of the people...As a rule, after the first great success, the victorious minority divided; one half was satisfied with what had been gained, the other wanted to go still further and put forward new demands, which, partly at least, were also in the real or apparent interest of the great mass of the people. In individual cases these more radical demands were actually forced through, but often only for a moment; the more moderate party would gain the upperhand, and what had last been won would be wholly or partly lost again; the vanquished would then shriek of treachery or ascribe their defeat to accident. In reality, however, the truth of the matter was largely this: the achievements of the first victory were only safeguarded by the second victory of the more radical party; this having been attained, and with it, what was necessary for the moment, the radicals and their achievements vanished once more from the stage."


Incidentally, the revolutionaries in China did not ascribe their defeat to treachery or accident. They put forward a very sober Marxist analysis of the impending defeat, during the campaign against Teng Hsiao-ping.


For example, see the Peking Review article "Proletarians are revolutionary optimists" (September 3, 1976) which significantly explains how the democratic revolutions took many years in different countries and were always full of twists and turns and reverses.Also see the last issue of "Study and Criticism" published in Shanghai, where they quote Lenin saying "We have fought better than our forebears. Our children will fight better than we do. They will surely win."


Engels comment accurately describes the attitude of radicals to their defeat in previous revolutions, where they attributed it to treachery or accident. But since Marx, radicals have had a more sober understanding of their position, or at least Marxists have.


Engels' analysis is particularly applicable in a backward developing country such as China, where the Communists have come to power leading a democratic revolution when the bourgeoisie itself has been too flabby to do so. Engels also expected the Communist Party to come to power in Germany in that situation and outlined a prediction that similar events would occur there. (Of course it didn't happen in Germany because the Communist Party was just as flabby as the bourgeoisie ):



"I have a presentiment that, thanks to the perplexity and flabbiness of all the others, our Party will one fine morning be forced to assume power and finally to carry out the interests that are of no direct interest to us, but are in the general interests of the revolution and the specific interests of the petty-bourgeoisie; on which occasion, driven by the proletarian populace, bound by our own printed declarations and plans - more or less falsely interpreted, more or less passionately thrust to the fore in the Party struggle - we shall be constrained to undertake communist experiments and perform leaps the untimeliness of which we know better than anyone else. In so doing we lose our heads - only physically speaking, let us hope - a reaction sets in, and until the world is able to pass historical judgement on such events, we are considered not only beasts, which wouldn't matter, but also betes (stupid -Ed.), which is much worse. I do not quite see how it can turn out otherwise. In a backward country like Germany, which possesses an advanced party and is involved in an advanced revolution with an advanced country like France, the advanced party must get into power at the first serious conflict and as soon as actual danger is present, and that is, in any event, ahead of its normal time...

(Letter to Weydemeyer, April 12, 1853).


I would like to conclude by saying that I view the events in China as an inevitable defeat for a permanent revolution. I would see the future of China as the future of other countries - the revolution continues. There isn't any theory, and Mao Tsetung's Thought certainly isn't a theory, that allows revolution to progress uninterruptedly without defeat. You merely keep fighting as long and as hard as you can.


In a socialist country you have to be prepared to fight from a position of being Government Ministers and you also have to be prepared to fight from a position of being driven underground. In capitalist society we only get the opportunity of being able to fight from opposition and not from Government.


There is no reason to expect that in a socialist Australia with revolutionaries in power a coup d'etat or peaceful evolution against the revolution won't occur. But one thing is certain. The class struggle would continue in Australia, as it does in China. Whatever defeats occur can't wipe out the fact that there is a proletariat, there is a bourgeoisie and in the long run society keeps on moving forward - as it has since we came down from the trees. The reversals can only move society backwards so far, whereas the factors for moving it forward keep on developing.

"The future is bright. The road is tortuous." Feudalism has not been restored in China, only capitalism!!



Created by keza
Last modified 2006-11-03 10:50 PM

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