By Prof. Pao-yu Ching
Dear comrades and friends:
On May 16, 1966, the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. We are gathering here today to celebrate this historical event. Why are we celebrating the launching of the Cultural Revolution half a century later? The reason is, of course, the Cultural Revolution is as relevant today as it was in 1966.
First of all, if it had not been for the Cultural Revolution, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping would have been able to carry out their capitalist development a decade earlier. The Cultural Revolution blocked the capitalist roaders from carrying out their plan, so it provided ten additional years to develop socialism and demonstrate its superiority. China’s socialist construction from 1956 to 1976, a period of merely 20 years, showed us that socialism was not just an abstract concept, but a shining example of what could be accomplished when the proletarian class was in charge.
Before the Cultural Revolution was launched in 1966, the Revisionists in China were gathering strength to attack socialism on all fronts. They furiously attacked the Great Leap Forward and the formation of the People’s Communes. After the Communes were established in 1958, they employed many different strategies to sabotage China’s collectivized agriculture including initiating schemes like the “Three-self” and “One contract” campaign, designed to use profit motive to encourage peasants to leave the Commune. In the industrial sector after public ownership was established in 1956, the Revisionists worked relentlessly to dissolve the workers’ permanent employment system in industrial enterprises and used various material incentives including the piece wage rates to divide workers. They argued that the permanent employment system prevented industrial enterprises from recruiting workers from the countryside to keep wages low and profits high. The Revisionists also encouraged individual enterprises to impose rigid work rules to increase work intensity in order to raise labor productivity and profits.
In hindsight we can understand more clearly how the Revisionists strategized to subvert socialist construction. The Peoples’ Republic of China won the revolution against feudal landlords, foreign capitalists, and compradors by building a close alliance between workers and peasants. The socialist construction could only succeed by consolidating the worker-peasant alliance on a new material basis. The ownership by the whole people in the industrial sector and the collective ownership of agriculture provided the necessary conditions for this new material basis. However, the Revisionists tried at every turn to prevent this alliance from being consolidated.
Before the Cultural Revolution, there were fierce struggles between the socialist line and the capitalist line within the Communist Party – but most people in China were not aware of it. After Liberation the attitude of workers and peasants toward the Communist Party was generally one of overwhelming gratitude. They were grateful to the Communist Party for leading them to their liberation from oppression, exploitation, and suffering. The peasants were grateful for the significant improvements in their standard of living, including better diet, healthcare, and education. Workers were grateful for the rights and benefits they received including job security, decent housing, healthcare, education, and a secure retirement. However, workers and peasants were not aware that what seemed to be the endowment of the Party could be easily taken away, and that they had to engage in struggle to protect them. Mao Zedong saw that the only way for the revolutionary line to win was to expose the revisionists and to mobilize the masses to struggle against them.
Three breakthroughs of the GPCR
The Cultural Revolution successfully exposed the Revisionists’ plan; the masses learned how Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping attempted to carry out their Revisionist line in all spheres of the society. However, it was not enough for the masses to understand the struggles within the Party – they also had to learn how to engage in struggle to fight against the Revisionists themselves. The Cultural Revolution mobilized the masses, and Mao and those in the Party who supported the revolutionary line gave direction to the struggle. When the Revisionists enticed workers and peasants with material bribes to divide them, the campaigns in the Cultural Revolution broke through their capitalist logic by putting politics in command. Mao understood that the transfer of the ownership of means of production from private to public was not sufficient to transform society; society had to be transformed on all fronts – economically, politically, socially, ideologically and culturally. Launching the Cultural Revolution was an attempt to transform the whole Chinese society, and as a result, it made several unprecedented breakthroughs. Even though these breakthroughs were still in their budding stage when the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, their value is forever impactful because they were proven to be essential in transforming a society during the socialist transition. I would like to explain three of these breakthroughs.
The first breakthrough was major changes in industrial organization. As early as 1958, workers and cadres in the Anshan Iron and Steel Factory took the initiative to innovate new ways of involving workers in decision making in running the factory. By March 1960 Mao Zedong had seen that the changes they made in industrial organization were profound and fundamental, and named their initiatives the Angang Constitution, which included five principles: (1) Put politics in command, (2) Strengthen Party leadership, (3) Launch vigorous mass movements, (4) Systematically promote the participation of cadres in production labor and of workers in management and (5) Reform unreasonable disciplinary rules; ensure close cooperation among workers, cadres, and technicians; and energetically promote technological innovations. Mao urged all factories to put the Angang Constitution principles into practice, but his call did not receive an enthusiastic response until the Cultural Revolution, when workers struggled to change their factories by instituting the Angang Constitution as part of their overall struggle to change society. Changes in the factories inspired by the Angang Constitution blocked the Revisionists’ efforts to turn workers into replaceable wage labor. This new industrial organization was a remarkable breakthrough, a necessary change to establish the new relations of production during socialist transition.
Another significant breakthrough during the Cultural Revolution was Mao’s education reform. This reform fundamentally changed the rules of selecting who could receive higher education. During China’s 3000 years under feudalism, education was reserved for the privileged few. These elites, whose education was supported by the surpluses produced by the working people then used their education to rule the working people. Actually this has always been true in all societies divided by class. Education reform during the Cultural Revolution turned this system upside down for the first time in Chinese history and in the history of the world. The education reform during the Cultural Revolution instituted a new system of selecting workers, peasants and revolutionary soldiers for higher education by their co-workers. The State paid for their education and living expenses and a monthly stipend while they were in school. Upon graduation they went back to work in the same factory or collective. The Reform also revolutionized the content of college courses and with much more emphasis on practice. Students learned science and technology as well as Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought in order to change the material world and to transform themselves with the goal of serving the people. From this new education system sprouted a new generation of integrated working class intellectuals ready to take leadership in running the Worker State. The new education system that emerged from the Cultural Revolution demonstrated concretely how the next generation of proletarian leadership could be trained and cultivated to continue the revolution.
Another breakthrough was the practice of the broadest and most comprehensive democracy. Democracy was something completely alien in China because of its long history of feudalism. The ordinary people had to pledge their absolute loyalty and obedience toward the emperor and to all his officials. During the Revolutionary War, democracy was practiced to a limited extent in the revolutionary bases; people were encouraged to speak their mind and made suggestions and posed criticisms to the revolutionary leaders. Cadres also engaged in the practice of criticism and self-criticism. The revolution succeeded because peasants and workers trusted the Communist Party and recognized that Party leaders were qualitatively different from past rulers. After Liberation all major changes in China were made by first mobilizing the masses: from the mass movement to end the feudal land tenure, to the Anti-graft and Anti-rightist Movements, to the campaign to eliminate pests and diseases, and to the Great Leap Forward, launched to establish the Peoples Communes and industrialize China’s countryside. Then in 1966 the launch of the Cultural Revolution brought mass movement to an even higher level when people freely practiced what was called the “Big Four Freedoms ”: the freedom to a Big Voice, Big Openness, Big Debates, and the freedom to put up Big Character Posters. These freedoms expanded democracy to the broadest scope. The practice of democracy was another breakthrough of the Cultural Revolution. Broad democracy was supported and encouraged, because the Communist Party trusted the masses and believed change was only possible with their participation. The masses returned their trust to the Communist Party and together they fought to build a new society.
We are celebrating the Cultural Revolution today because it gave socialism the chance to develop ten additional years. We are also celebrating the Cultural Revolution, because of the major breakthroughs I just talked about. Through understanding these major breakthroughs we learn not only that class struggle continues during the socialist transition, but they also give us the concrete content of class struggle in all the spheres of the society necessary to move society forward. They provide us with answers about how workers can begin managing their factories so that they eventually can be in charge of the State; how to train new generations of educated proletariat; and how broad democracy can be practiced during the socialist transition. Although these changes were only carried out for one short decade, they became fundamental and deep-rooted in Chinese society. The counterrevolutionaries today regard the Cultural Revolution as their enemy number one by viciously attacking and distorting it. They can hate it as much as they want but they cannot erase the impact of the Cultural Revolution from the Chinese society.
Capitalism restored but Left holds on to Maoist legacy
After Mao Zedong died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping seized political power. In the four decades since then Deng and his followers dissolved the public ownership of the means of production and reversed all the changes made during the Cultural Revolution, drastically changed Chinese society. In 1985 they first moved to dissolve the People’s Communes and divide up collectively owned land. Agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation and drainage systems built during the Commune years, gradually fell apart due to lack of maintenance. Land improvement projects, health and education and other social welfare programs disappeared one by one.
Then the Reformers turned to dissolve public ownership of China’s industrial enterprises. From the mid-1980s to the end of 1990s workers in those enterprises fought courageously against selling industrial assets to those who had political connections. Finally in 2000 the regime gave up on reforming most of those factories built during the socialist period by closing most of them down and laying off 36 million workers. (China Statistical Abstract, 2001, 39) Those workers who had made tremendous contributions building socialist China were literally thrown out onto the streets with barely enough income to survive and without any medical insurance. When I visited the workers districts in a major Northeast city, I saw stores, kindergartens, barbershops, and bathhouses all closed down. Former State factory workers lined the streets and trying to sell their labor to do odd jobs.
Deng’s Reform had two main components: capitalist reform in China and linking China to the world capitalist system. As the new regime dissolved the public ownership of the means of production, it moved to open up China’s economy to foreign capital. It used low taxes, low wages, generous subsidies, and lax labor and environmental laws to attract foreign capital. Foreign capital investing in China has had two goals: the first is to occupy the Chinese market and the second is to take advantage of China’s cheap labor, cheap resources, and the freedom to pollute. American, European and Japanese multinationals first formed joint ventures with Chinese companies but eventually 70% of them became 100% foreign owned. Most of the Fortune 500 companies set up shop in China. According to one report, of the 28 Chinese industries that are open to foreign investment, 21 have fallen under foreign control. This means that foreign capital controls the five largest firms in those industries (Economic News, June 4, 2005). Among the foreign-controlled industries include pharmaceutical, automobile, soft drink, beer, bicycle, elevator, cement, glass, rubber and tire, agricultural machinery, agricultural processing, retail, and delivery service. In the process, many of formerly well-known Chinese brands have disappeared from the market.
Another major way to take advantage of China’s cheap labor has been for the multinationals to hugely expand processing production in China. Capitalists from Taiwan and Hong Kong set up processing firms first in Shenzhen and other Southern coastal cities; later they moved into China’s interior. These firms do processing work for the multinationals and the range of products has expanded from clothing, shoes, toys, furniture, and numerous household items to electronics, such as computers, printers, iPhones and tablets. China’s Capitalist “Opening Up Reform” came at almost exactly the same time as global monopoly capital’s new strategy of imperialist globalization to restructure the world economy. Global monopoly capital expanded its domination over production and distribution by forcibly opening all national borders. International trade and financial organizations, such as GATT (later the WTO), the IMF and the World Bank helped to rewrite and enforce new trading and investment laws. These changes enabled global corporations to use a complex integrated strategy that involves splitting the production process into specific activities or functions by dispersing them to the lowest cost locations. Governments in host countries compete with one another to make their countries more attractive to these giant global corporations. They keep wages low and working conditions poor. In addition to subsidies and tax incentives, they upgrade their infrastructure and allow these corporations the freedom to pollute their environment. Above all they use oppressive and brutal means to suppress workers from organizing. All governmental policies in this new phase of imperialism are justified on the basis of increasing a country’s global competitiveness.
This new strategy of imperialist globalization has been able to shift excess capacity and labor-intensive, high-energy consuming and most polluting production from advanced capitalist countries to developing countries. China has been the number one country on the receiving end. Since joining the WTO, China’s GDP and exports have taken off both reaching double-digit growth. By 2009 China’s exports of manufacturing goods reached 16% of the world total, and in 2011 China became the largest manufacturer in the world. China’s new regime has indeed successfully integrated China into the world capitalist system.
However, if we look beneath the surface, we discover that in the past four decades especially since the 1990s, China as a country (its land, natural resources, and environment) and the Chinese people have paid a horrendous price for this so called development. During the decades of the Reform both foreign and domestic capital have ruthlessly exploited the Chinese people, thoroughly depleted China’s resources and savagely damaged China’s environment. Chinese workers have become wage laborers. The 200 million workers selling their labor in multinational processing factories all came from China’s countryside. They work from 12 to 14 hours a day and often only get one day off every two weeks. The pace of work is oppressive: large numbers of workers suffer from exhaustion and work-related diseases and injuries and some have committed suicide. On the agricultural side, China has only 9% of the world’s arable land but feeds 22% of the world’s population. During the socialist period China was self-sufficient in food but now is increasingly dependent on food imports. The strategy of using exports to spur short-term growth has meant taking more and more land from agriculture for industrial use. Local governments have used brutal force to remove people from their land and their homes. Moreover, China has a very limited fresh water supply: on a per capita basis China’s access to fresh water is merely 25% of the world’s average. Industrial water use has deprived people of adequate water supply. Currently, 400 out of 600 major cities in China do not have adequate water for their residents. China is depleting its underground water so rapidly that it is causing the desertification to advance at the rate of 2,000 square kilometers a year. [Note 1: According to Ji Yongfu, the director of Gansu’s Desert Control Research Institute, overuse of groundwater and overgrazing has caused the desert to advance at a rate of about 2,000 square kilometers a year (Bloomberg.com, February 22, 2006). Desertification has been the main cause of sand storms in China’s northern cities, which have spread all the way to Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.]
On top of rapid depletion of China’s limited resources, China’s environment has been damaged to the point of almost no return; 80% of China’s rivers are severely polluted. In many major Chinese cities where the air is so heavily polluted, particles smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), the most toxic smog, reached 40 times the maximum level allowed by the World Health Organization. The effects of these and other conditions have resulted premature death of cancer and other diseases. [Note 2: China: The Dark of Growth, The Epoch Times, June 27 – July 3, 2013, A7] A large part of China’s resource depletion and pollution can be traced back to its manufacturing for exports, because in 2011 Chinese people only consumed 35% of the GDP. [Note 3: APCO Worldwide, http://www.apcoworldwide.com/content/PDFs/npc_briefing_2011.pdf]
I think it accurate to say that China saved capitalism by providing global capital a golden opportunity to expand and occupy ”new territory”. Moreover, China’s financial support to the United States has helped the largest empire in the world sustain its global hegemony. But while China saved capitalism, capitalism has destroyed China.
The Left in China was defeated 40 years ago when counterrevolutionaries seized political power and began their Capitalist Reform. However, the Left has not faded away. On the contrary, forces on the Left have revived and have been fighting furiously and relentlessly against the Right, who now hold political and economic power. As the contradictions in Chinese society intensify, forces on the Left are further strengthened. They have fought those in power in every way possible – by engaging in ideological, economic, and political struggles. They have published books and articles; held public forums on critical issues; engaged in struggles against environmental pollution and against Genetically Modified foods; formed study groups to discuss Marx, Lenin and Mao; organized students to learn from workers and to investigate and publicize working conditions in factories; conducted mass rallies where they delivered speeches and sang revolutionary songs; and tested all conceivable means to organize workers. Now with the most serious economic crisis impending, and with rising numbers and increasing scale of labor and environmental protests, the Left is ready to battle. These current experiences are a testimony to the enduring legacy of Mao, his teachings, and the Cultural Revolution.
The Chinese revolution and its socialist construction transformed China from a poor underdeveloped country exploited by imperialist powers to become an independent country free from foreign domination and exploitation. During socialism working people in China commanded the highest respect ever in the history of humankind, and they exerted their utmost efforts to build a new society for future generations. It was a country full of hope, pride, and aspiration. The Cultural Revolution’s major breakthroughs clarified and articulated the fundamental differences between socialist development and capitalist development and showed us the concrete path to continuing class struggle during the socialist transition. We can say with confidence, “Socialism has not failed”. The counterrevolutionaries seized power from the proletariat. We just have to take the power back and WE WILL.###