To see a note from the editor, click here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Looking at the 'Little Red Book': 2

As part of a series of posts on some of the more interesting quotes in the first English language edition of 'Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung', Sino-Gist will this week consider this extract from chapter 2 ('Classes and Class Struggle') of the anthology:

"Revisionism, or Right opportunism, is a bourgeois trend of thought that is even more dangerous than dogmatism. The revisionists, the Right opportunists, pay lip-service to Marxism...After the basic victory of the socialist revolution in our country, there are still a number of people who vainly hope to restore the capitalist system and fight the working class on every front, including the ideological one."1

Made a couple of months before the People's Daily launched the official backlash against critics of the Party who had surfaced in the Hundred Flower's Campaign, Mao's speech demonstrates his concern over individuals who represent a Marxist 'false positive'. References to revisionism and the danger posed by counter-revolutionaries in Chinese society are found throughout the course of the 'Little Red Book', and this frequency reflects the importance these issues were to acquire during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR).

As one of the opening salvoes in the movement, the famous May 16th 'circular'2 denounced Premier Liu Shaoqi as the “Chinese Khrushchev” and called for mass opposition to 'revisionists' who had supposedly infiltrated the Party, People's Liberation Army (PLA) and government from the highest levels downwards. Over the course of the following years, radical student 'Red Guards' took it as their Mao-given duty to root out such hidden 'rightist' elements from all aspects of Chinese political and social life- a task that would take the lives or livelihoods of millions of innocent victims.

However, concealed within the Red Guard movement itself (and the Cultural Revolution as a whole) was the “lip-service” that Mao so vehemently denounced in 1957. As Jung Chang comments when telling of the nationwide mourning for Chairman Mao after he died, 'as so often in China, a bit of ritual did the trick'.3 While some Red Guards were genuinely infused with a desire for revolutionary upheaval, it is more true of most to say that they participated because it was the safest course of action. Those who opposed the violence of the movement were automatically deemed to be opponents of Mao and his Thought, an unenviable position that made one (in the eyes of the radical Red Guards) immediately in league with the 'revisionists'. From a survival point of view, the best thing approach to the GPCR was to do everyone else was doing.

Such a climate of suspicion thus encouraged one of the very problems Mao hoped the Cultural Revolution would eradicate- that of paying lip-service to Marxism. With millions of students (and later workers, peasants and soldiers) reciting Maoist slogans, extolling the virtues of 'Chairman Mao's proletarian revolutionary line' and fuelling the personality cult that would engulf Chinese society by the beginning of the 1970s (described by the noted sinologist Simon Leys as “magical hysteria”4), it became impossible to recognise any kind of ideological sincerity. Mao's witch-hunt only encouraged a culture of opportunism, with people at all levels of Chinese life using the Cultural Revolution to settle scores, enhance their position and the like. When, in the view of some sinologists, Mao himself partly launched the Cultural Revolution as a vehicle to annihilate Liu Shaoqi (who's views on socialist development and construction were at odds with the Maoist interpretation of Marxism), it is hardly surprising that the movement lost all sense of its ideological purpose so quickly.

Even more irony can be found in one of the end results of the Red Guards' activities. By the beginning of 1967, leading Maoists began to reach the conclusion that the usefulness of the Red Guards had been exceeded. The latter's tendency towards total destruction and disorder became a concern for the authorities, who started to look to China's proletarian classes as the future of the Cultural Revolution. However, the Maoists quickly found that it was much harder to reign in student radicals than it had been to unleash them. Despite orders to restrict their activities from the centre, the GPCR between1967 and 1969 was marked across China by violent clashes between Red Guard factions and newly formed groups of revolutionary workers.5 The chaos was further exacerbated by the intervention of the PLA in 1967 to arm the 'revolutionary left'- with weapons introduced into the struggles between rival factions, death tolls spiralled. In reality, Red Guards were committing the Maoist heresy of “fight[ing] the working class on every front, including the ideological one.”

This point serves to further support the notion that the Cultural Revolution lost any sense of direction, and descended into a movement of ironies, hypocrisies and uncertainties. As with so many of the Maoist pearls of wisdom in the 'Little Red Book', the above extract bared little resemblance to how the GPCR played out. Such quotes were baseless, heralded as gospel truth but fundamentally contradictory to the unfolding Maoist plan of how to make 'cultural' revolution. Ultimately, 'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung' became a symbol of Maoist pedigree- an object to be seen with, but little more.

1'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung', 1966, pp. 21-22 ('Speech at the Chinese Communist Party's National Conference on Propaganda Work, 12/3/1957)
2Published on the 16/5/1966, this document (emanating from the Politburo) set out the aims of the Cultural Revolution.
3J. Chang, 'Wild Swans', 1993, p. 658
4S. Leys, 'Chinese Shadows', 1977, p. 10
5For example, in the cities of Shanghai and Wuhan.

The next instalment of this series will be coming soon.  For the first part, click here.

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