To see a note from the editor, click here.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Looking at the 'Little Red Book': 3

After a small editorial break, Sino-Gist's analysis of 'Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung' continues- this week, consider the following extract from the first quote in chapter 29 ('Cadres'):

In order to guarantee that our Party and country do not change colour, we...must train and bring up millions of successors who will carry on the cause of proletarian revolution.

In the final analysis, the question of training successors for the revolutionary cause of the proletariat is one of whether or not there will be people who can carry on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary cause started by the older generation of proletarian revolutionaries, whether or not the leadership of our Party and state will remain in the hands of proletarian revolutionaries...or, in other words, whether or not we can successfully prevent the emergence of Khrushchov's revisionism in China...Basing themselves on the changes in the Soviet Union, the imperialist prophets are pinning their hopes of "peaceful evolution" on the third or fourth generation of the Chinese Party. We must shatter these imperialist prophecies. From our highest organizations down to the grass-roots, we must everywhere give constant attention to the training and upbringing of successors to the revolutionary cause.

What are the requirements for worthy successors to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat?...

They must be revolutionaries who wholeheartedly serve the overwhelming majority of the people of China and the whole world, and must not be like Khrushchev who serves both the interests of the handful of members of the privileged bourgeois stratum in his own country and those of foreign imperialism and reaction...

Not only must they unite with those who agree with them, they must also be good at uniting with those who disagree and even with those who formerly opposed them and have since been proved wrong in practice. But they must especially watch out for careerists and conspirators like Khrushchev and prevent such bad elements from usurping the leadership of the Party and the state at any level...

Successors to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat come forward in mass struggles and are tempered in the great storms of revolution. It is essential to test and judge cadres and choose and train successors in the long course of mass struggle.1

For Sinologists hoping to explain the background to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and the reasons why Chairman Mao launched it, the above quote is invaluable. Dating from 1964, these statements give a superb reflection of which way the ideological compass in the CCP was pointing in 1964, and what Mao envisioned the GPCR would entail.

One thing is immediately clear- by the mid-1960s, with most of the top leadership into their 70s, Mao was starting to consider the course of the PRC's development in an era when himself (and most of the 1st generation leadership) would no longer be alive. As this quote's emphasis on training “revolutionary successors” illustrates, the Chairman was concerned that the Chinese Revolution would fall by the wayside without his guiding Marxist-Leninist influence to steer it. Thus, it makes sense to conclude that the GPCR was about igniting within China's youth a fire of revolutionary vigour, in the hope that this fire would not be extinguished with the 1st generation's passing. Indeed, as Mao goes on in the extract, his policy of cultural revolution was a defence against the dangerous emergence of revisionist Marxism that he had witnessed happening in the Soviet Union.

As is well known, the objective of the GPCR to train revolutionary successors came in the form of the Red Guard movement. From 1966 until about 1969, these groups of university and middle-school students dedicated their very existence to the study of Mao's teachings and ideology, and took it upon themselves to hunt out China's revisionist and counter-revolutionary elements- a hunt that was as deadly at the top of the Chinese political system as it was at the bottom. What is interesting to consider is whether the Red Guards followed Mao's blueprint for being “worthy successors” to the revolution. As Mao said:

They must be revolutionaries who wholeheartedly serve the overwhelming majority of the people of China”.

While this criteria was theoretically realised (the Red Guards were obedient to Mao, who as a party leader 'served' the people), studies of the reaction of workers and peasants to the Red Guards have unearthed many instances of hostility to the student radicals- a reception which often led to conflicts between the Red Guards and other social groups. For example, as the last post in this series highlighted, students and workers famously came to a head in cities like Shanghai and Wuhan in 1967, with the rival factions competing to fill the power vacuum left by the near destruction of the CCP in 1966. Eventually, Mao himself had to use China's People's Liberation Army to extinguish the Red Guard's revolutionary fire- the radicals were dispatched to the countryside to learn from the peasantry, and took no further real part in the GPCR after about 1970.

As with so many of Mao's instructions, the ambiguity in his order to revolutionaries to unite with those who disagreed with them while at the same time guarding against those who were trying to usurp power is reflective of a contradiction that was at the heart of the movement. Despite orders from the centre that revisionist elements should be exposed and peacefully criticised, the Maoist authorities also encouraged students to use violence in their interrogations and denunciations. Supposedly counter-revolutionary individuals were routinely paraded through the streets of China's cities and made to suffer all kinds of humiliations at the hands of the Red Guards. The area between 'opponents' and 'usurpers' was sufficiently grey to allow either charge to be levelled at almost anyone. In this sense, the GPCR was a dismal failure- with its use so frequent, the label 'counter-revolutionary' lost all real meaning.

The final paragraph serves to show that Mao was planning the GPCR several years before he decided to launch it. That successors could only emerge through mass struggle was not a novel realisation, but a core tenet of Maoist ideology. In that sense, his colleagues in the CCP may have been expecting such a mass movement to be launched when it was. However, few could have imagined the devastation that it would cause to the infrastructure and social position of the Party itself, and nor could they have anticipated that the GPCR would consume the top echelons of Chinese politics, right up to the level of Liu Shaoqi (China's second most senior ranking leader after Mao).

If we use this training of revolutionary successors ideas as the main motive behind the Cultural Revolution, it can be judged as a definite failure. After the radicalism of the 1960s, the early 1970s saw a swing back in favour of the conservative faction in Chinese political life. In addition, the leadership of the Party in the post-Mao years featured few of the individuals who had been “tempered in the great storms of revolution”, but was instead comprised of the Party's 'old guard' and those who had received their political wings before the GPCR. In many ways, Mao's fears over the Party losing its revolutionary vigour have come true- the China of today is built on system with definite capitalist characteristics. Yet, Mao himself is to blame for failing to secure his ideological legacy- arguably, implementing a policy of cultural revolution was the epitome of counter-revolutionary behaviour

1'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung', 1966, pp. 276-279 ('On Khrushchov's Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World' 14/7/1964)

This is the final instalment in this series.  For the first part, click here.  For the second part, click here.

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