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May 16, 1966 - 50th anniversary of China's Cultural Revolution

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Max O.

China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is regularly portrayed by Western media and the current Chinese revisionist leaders and capitalist restorers as a tactic by Mao Zedong to maintain his megalomaniac hold on power with disastrous results for China.

Two books in particular, "The private life of Chairman Mao" by Zhisui Li and "Mao the unknown story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, are held up in the West as objective indictments against Mao and the Cultural Revolution.

In China, the tone was set by the "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China," adopted by the Central Committee on June 27, 1981. This adopted the view that the GPCR was 100% bad and that it arose from Mao's "erroneous" belief in the persistence of class struggle under socialism and his "mistaken" enlargement of the scope of that struggle.

This generated a plethora of books, written by Chinese who lived through the Cultural Revolution, to refute the claims that this period of Chinese history was catastrophic and Mao was personally to blame. Titles such as: "The battle for China's past" by Mobo Gao, "The Unknown Cultural Revolution" by Dongping Han, "Revolution and Counterrevolution" by Pao-Yu Ching, "The rise of China and the demise of the capitalist world economy" by Minqi Li et al (and many others) received little or no coverage from the Western media and academic world for the simple reason that communism should be demonised, its successes and achievements must be ignored.

Mao launched the Cultural Revolution on May 16, 1966 with the publication, "Circular of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution". It was his last bold attempt to rid China of corruption, bureaucracy and privilege by leading officials who continually undermined the development of the socialist relations of production and attempted to steer the country onto the path of capitalism.

The Cultural Revolution achieved many accomplishments and had a profound, affirmative impact on Chinese society and history. It resulted in the introduction of educational reforms where universal education for all up to university level was achieved and mass democracy was accomplished in all spheres of life - community, workplace, national level etc.

It gave inspiration to a generation of young workers and students throughout the world, who like their counterparts in China, rebelled against the prevailing reactionary order and asserted enormous influence on their societies. The Cultural Revolution was part of the massive 1960's - 70's social challenge that shook up the world and impacted it for the better.

The West and the Chinese capitalist restorers like to focus on the upheaval and violence that occurred during the Cultural Revolution. It ought to be acknowledged that it was not all one way, and those who opposed (Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping factions) the progressive changes brought about by the Cultural Revolution were not frightened to use violent tactics themselves.

Suffering and persecutions occurred on both sides. But this was really a small part of the Cultural Revolution. Of more significance were the enormous changes that occurred in education, democratising society, for women, industry and agriculture.

Impact on Education
There was very little difference between the educational system the Chinese Communist Government ran and the one it took over from the Nationalist Government, for the first 17 years it was in power. Many rural children did not attend primary school and most teenagers were excluded from middle and high school level education. Only the well connected and elite entered universities, with children of workers and peasants largely excluded.

As a result of reforms in education during the Cultural Revolution profound changes happened in the primary, middle, and high schools of China. More emphasis was placed on the expansion of the school system so that all children could now receive an education. 

The past stress on standards and examinations excluded most children, especially those who came from worker and peasant backgrounds. The Cultural Revolution reduced the control over the education system by educational professionals and gave more say to workers and peasants in the education of their children. Peasants were encouraged to start up and operate their own village schools. Villages throughout China built their own primary schools from local materials, employed their own teachers, and achieved free education for all villagers’ children.

Similarly, a number of villages would combine their funds to construct a joint middle school which would allow peasants’ children in these villages to attend middle school free of charge. Two to three high schools would be opened by the people’s commune so that all the peasants’ children would be provided with free access to a high school.

Prior to the Cultural Revolution just a small percentage of students attended universities and most of these came from privileged backgrounds. The Cultural Revolution saw students demand access to universities, resulting in the educational authorities eliminating entrance exams. 

No longer were students selected by entrance exams, instead high school graduates had to work two years in a factory, a farm, or in the army before they were entitled to sit an entrance exam for university. By 1973 students successfully campaigned against entrance exams, and then students were selected to attend university by workers and peasants based on their work performance. 

A further reform took place in 1976 that saw university students return to the community they came from to serve those people that selected them for university.  This approach to education was to encourage altruism in university graduates, committed to serving people of their community as opposed to seeking personal enrichment and recognition.

Democratisation of Chinese society
In the West the concept of democracy is reduced to voting for representatives in parliament. The wealthy one percent use their capital to buy power, influence and control over parliament and government. 

The elites' monopoly of power excludes ordinary people from really participating and influencing decision making in governments; in effect it is a fake democracy and a covert dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Democracy should mean all people participate in the government of society, are involved in decision making, and privileged classes cease to exert their influence. 

The prerequisite of democracy is the right of everybody to be equal politically, socially and economically. In the countryside during the Cultural Revolution peasants elected their village, production team and commune leaders who lived in similar houses, travelled to work on bicycles like everybody else, and whose children went to the same schools as peasant children.

To overcome leadership becoming divorced from the masses production team leaders worked with peasants in the field every day; village leaders who had to attend meetings and plan for the community were required to work with peasants 300 days a year; commune leaders had to work 250 days a year with peasants in the fields and county government leaders were required to work with peasants for 200 days a year.  

The democratisation of the workplace created a strong egalitarian social climate in China that promoted a strong work ethic and led to exceptional economic performance. During the Cultural Revolution years, Chinese workers participated in management decision-making processes and management personnel were required to participate in manual labour. 

Unfair regulations and rules were reformed with workers’ input. This equal environment saw workers, engineers, and management cooperate to solve technical, and managerial problems. This 'workers democracy', where ordinary people were empowered, was one of the most important accomplishments of the Cultural Revolution.

Impact on Industry
The prevailing commentary from the West about productivity in China during the Cultural revolution was one of chaos and heavy losses. In actual fact China’s industrial output increased 38 times and the heavy industrial portion increased  90 times, during the Mao Era. A considerable feat considering its industrial base was smaller than that of Belgium and its per capita industrial output was less than one-fifteenth that of Belgium, when the Communist Party took power in China. The speed of China's industrialisation was faster than any country in a comparable period. 

It's performance surpassed that of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union over comparable periods of their development. China’s industrial output, from 1950 to 1977, increased at an average rate of 13.5 per cent annually.

Investment, during the third and fourth five-year plans, had reached 316,642 billion yuan in infrastructure, and industrial assets were increased by 215,740 billion yuan. 355,000 enterprises had been established by 1979, 2.25 times the number in 1965. 4,500 of these enterprises were medium to big enterprises. 

These state-owned enterprises expanded in size during this period. Economic production and activity did not nose-dive into chaos but increased during the Cultural Revolution period, from 1966-76.

Impact on agriculture
The Green Revolution technology by the West in the 1960s-70s was heralded as the saviour for Third World countries like Brazil, India, Mexico, Philippines etc. However there were some devastating effects on the agriculture of these third world countries that came with the Green Revolution technology.

The capitalist market system played havoc with Third World countries economies and led to a three-fold crisis of agriculture, rural areas, and peasants. Whilst the use of fertilizers, pesticides and large machines increased input of agriculture, the increased yield caused grain prices to decline. As input costs went up most small peasants could not handle the ordeals presented to them by fluctuating markets, causing masses of peasants to become bankrupt and lose their land.

The only country to successfully avoid this three-fold crisis of agriculture, rural areas, and peasants was China, due to its collective agricultural practices. In China the peasants developed and organised their own home-made Green Revolution. 

The benefits of the Green Revolution technology were shared more equally because the peasants owned the land collectively. Consequently they enjoyed the benefits while avoiding the devastating negative effects.

China's unique approach to its own Green Revolution technology lowered the amount of agricultural labour and increased the number of rural enterprises. Chinese peasants' living standards improved significantly during the Cultural Revolution years as a result of their own Green Revolution technology which saw the rise of rural industrial enterprises that manufactured locally-made farm machines.

Impact on women
The Marriage Law was the first law the Government passed once the Communist Party came to power. Enacted on April 13, 1950 it guaranteed that wives and husbands were equal in marriage and stipulated that the State would protect women and children. The freedom of young people to choose their own marriage partners was assured by the state. Divorce was made easier and possible, where the courts made sure that the best interests of women and children were safeguarded. Chinese women’s social and political status in Chinese society rose significantly with the new marriage law.

Once the Chinese government passed this law it instigated an unprecedented social movement to educate the public about the law, and to promote awareness of the law through the news media, print media, and performing arts. Women were provided with three months of maternity leave by State-owned enterprises, which could be extended to half a year. Free childcare services for women employees were provided by factories and government offices. Mothers were also given breaks from work to breastfeed their babies.

The Chinese government set up women’s federation committees throughout China to safeguard women’s rights. During the Cultural Revolution years every Chinese village, factory, school, and government office had to have a women’s federation committee. 

When domestic violence and disputes occurred the women’s federation in the village would organize a group of women to investigate and take action on the matter. Similarly women in urban areas could file a complaint with the women’s federation committee who would take action on their behalf. In addition to the women’s federation committees, every level of government had to have women representatives on the committees.

The Chinese Communist government took the issue of women’s rights sincerely. It eliminated social problems like drug addiction, prostitution, trafficking of women and children, organized crime, and banditry effectively in a short time. This empowered Chinese women to become productive members of Chinese society and helped them to participate equally in Chinese political, social, and economic life.

Deterioration after the Cultural Revolution
In China, as in other places, there was never a smooth process with the expansion of socialism and development of the Cultural Revolution. It was riven with class conflicts and class struggles - the struggle of two lines, the socialist line versus capitalist line.

Mao pointed out that during socialism there is still class conflict and class struggle and the danger of capitalist restoration is ever present. After Mao passed away, on September 9, 1976, Deng Xiaoping returned to power and began to dismantle many of the momentous achievements of the Cultural Revolution.

University entrance examinations were reinstituted and the practice of selecting university students from workers, peasants, and soldiers was discontinued. The people’s communes and collective farming were dismantled. 

The division of the land into small sections for peasants to farm individually replaced collectively-owned farm land. The rural public education and medical care network that was established during the Cultural Revolution collapsed after the land was divided up. 

Because peasants found the costs of sending their children to school too expensive many lost access to education. A new generation of illiterate peasants, particularly women, emerged in the Deng Xiaoping era.

There had been virtually no crime in rural villages for the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution. After the collectives were broken up, massive numbers of peasants were arrested and sentenced to prison for stealing grain and fertilizers which they could not afford to buy for use in their private plots. Execution of criminals for petty theft rarely occurred in China but during the Deng Xiaoping era and after large numbers of peasants and workers were executed for thefts.

Industry in China swung over from enterprises for social production to ones of commodity production for creating profits. Large numbers of enterprises were privatised by corrupt government officials for themselves, to such an extent that capitalist relations of production now prevails in China.

However the rural peasants and workers have fought back and have carried out massive waves of resistance and strikes to fight their exploitation. They know what they have lost with the restoration of capitalism in China.

China's Cultural Revolution broke new boundaries and made significant achievements for the cause of socialism. It had pushed socialism further down the path of human history. Communists are indebted to Mao and his comrades who pursued the cause of communism through the creative application of the Cultural Revolution.

In the future capitalism will be overthrown in China, as else where in the world, by workers and peasants once again. For capitalism and imperialism bring the proletariat to revolution. The proletariat can either eke out a wretched existence and place themselves at the mercy of capital, or adopt the new weapon of socialism for their liberation.


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