The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 50 Years Ago Today: We are currently in January 1966, the Cultural Revolution's groundwork was being laid at this time through struggles at the ideological level, often reflected in the People's Daily articles translated here. The movement often is considered to have launched in the summer of 1966, signified by the launch of the 16 point circular on August 8, 1966. For more background, see the resource section above.
The January 20th ran an article written by Cai Zuquan, a party member and experimental glass worker at Fudan university. The editorial board gave a quick abstract to Cai’s article which is translated below:
“Comrade Cai Zuquan was born in a poverty stricken household. at the age of 14 he moved to Shanghai to be an apprentice at a pharmacy, he worked for nine years before liberation. in 1952 he went to Fudan university to be a glass machinist. For the pasty many years, under the party’s cultivation, he has grown from being a common worker with only three years of primary education into a specialist in electric lighting. Now he is a committee member on Fudan’s Party Committee, the director of lighting laboratory, and the party branch secretary. Under the leadership of the party, comrade Cai Zuquan has followed the path of working class knowledge. The party branch raised him up to a position of leadership, he still maintains natural qualities of the working class, and often participates in manual labor. While he is taking part in campaigns, he combines manual and physical labor, he establishes and dares to struggle, dares to eliminate superstition, dares to bring about innovation, dares to climb to the peaks of scientific learning. On the higher education battlefront he is a soldier in the third revolutionary movement. “
At play at the time:
The question of how to create and maintain a genuinely working class led revolutionary party and movement vexed the Chinese Communist movement. This was especially difficult in scientific, cultural, and engineering fields, where many of the workers and technicians did not come from working class backgrounds, but instead from petit-bourgeois, bourgeois, or landlord class backgrounds. In some cases, such as the case of Cai who was celebrated in the paper, ordinary workers rose to prominent in the party and in work places. However once an ordinary worker rose through the party and gained special privileges would they lose their working class consciousness and become revisionist?
On the morning of January 19, Mayor Peng Zhen attended a meeting of the central party’s public security bureau, and said “while Luo Ruiqing served as minister of the bureau, he was still implementing the policies of the center and of the chairman, and that this was the real source of individual problems. This can serve as the basic estimation. Your public security bureau documents not only were handled by me, many were altered by the chairman’s own pen, and many were seen by the chairman.
Also on January 19, the People’s Daily published two essays criticizing Wu Han, as well as five letters. Of these 7 documents, 4 criticized Wu Han, and 3 supported him. Those 3 which supported him were titled, “Doesn’t ‘Hai Rui Dismissed from Office’ have significant merit,” “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office has a revolutionary character,” and “‘Hai Rui Dismissed from Office’ is not a poisonous weed.” However, the essay that attracted the most attention was “The turning upside-down of history within ‘Hai Rui Dismissed from Office’”
General Luo Ruiqing was part of Peng Zhen’s political circle. His criticism the previous month by Mao was attributed by some as a necessary move to prevent a rush into overt intervention in Vietnam by conservative generals, provoking a war response similar to the Korean War which would have stalled internal debate over the future of Chinese socialism. Peng’s attempt to intervene on his behalf at the time reflects the teetering of the Beijing power elite following increased pressure to expand the criticism of vice-mayor Wu Han.
The January 16 1966 issue of the People’s Daily ran an editorial entitled “Philosophers, take up your backpack, go amongst the worker peasant soldier masses.”
This editorial is an open ended critique of academic philosophers, it does not feature the name of a specific target. It criticizes the tendency of intellectual philosophers to produce philosophical texts that cannot be grasped the by masses of workers peasants and soldiers. In the PRC the working masses, using their experience combining living and learning Mao Zedong Thought, have been able to break the intellectual monopoly on philosophical work and produce Marxist philosophical texts. However, intellectuals are lagging behind. They are writing obscure and empty philosophical works, which are totally unlike those produce by the masses. The reason for this lag is that intellectuals have not been participating fully in political movements and are separated from the masses. The article also recommends studying recommends studying Mao’s tracts On Practice, On Contradiction, on the Correct Handling of Contradictions Amongst the People, and Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? It extols philosophers to action: “Philosophers, get moving, put on your backpack, go to the grass roots, go to the great masses of workers peasants and soldiers, temper yourself into true Marxist philosophers”
At Play at the Time:
This editorial presages many Cultural Revolution critiques of intellectualism, and this sort of criticism would become more frequent and harsher as 1966 proceeded. Interestingly the start of the mass movement phase of the Cultural Revolution can be tied to the posting of Beijing University’ Philosophy Professor Nie Yuanzi’s big character poster in May 1966. It is difficult to tell what political camp this editorial originates in, as mentioned previously, revolutionary cadres as well as workers often resented the position of intellectuals within Chinese society and institutions of higher learning. Intellectuals had been targeted by the 1957 Anti-Righist campaign, which was orchestrated by Deng Xiaoping, and would be targeted again both by the party apparatus run work teams that entered campuses later in the year as well as by Rebel and Conservative Red Guards.
At Play at the Present
The articles that are recommended in this editorial are key to the understanding of Cultural Revolution era Mao Zedong thought and are worth a read for historians, interested parties, and activists.
On January 12th 1966, President Johnson delivered his state of the union address that focused on the need to continue and intensify anti-communist measures in Vietnam. This speech was given in the middle of operation Crimp, which was at the time the largest allied military operation to date undertaken by the US and Australian militaries in South Vietnam.
In his speech, Johnson sought to justify the increase in American ground forces and spending, arguing that the expenditure was necessary to defend the people of Asia from Communist conquest. He argues that his policies were in line with the policies of past presidents, such as Truman’s American intervention in the Korean War, and Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs. He argued that the ultimate goal in Vietnam was to broker a peace deal. In reality this would allow an unpopular military dictatorship to stay in power in South Vietnam.
On same day the People’s Daily published a critique of Johnson’s offer of negotiations. Johnson holds a sparrow bearing an olive branch in one hand, and in his other arm supports an eagle/nuclear missile bearing the inscription “invasion and war.” The offers of peace negotiations were not what they seemed, Johnson was attempting to force the advance of US Imperialism through the threat and use of force.
Additionally, in the same issue of the People’s daily there were another two articles on the struggle of Vietnamese people to resist American aggression.
At Play at the time:
The War in Vietnam was a constant backdrop to the unfolding politics of the Cultural Revolution. The PRC directed material support towards the Vietnamese Communist forces. As resistance to the Vietnam war started to heat up in the second half of the 1960’s, as a result of the anti-bureaucratic thought arising from the Cultural Revolution and the active role of the CCP in supporting the Vietnamese, many leftists in Europe the United States and Japan came to consider China the center of the global revolution, and Mao Zedong thought represented the theoretical summation of the most avant-garde revolutionary politics.
On January 10th 1966 the Central Committee of the Communist party approved and endorsed the Central administrative management office party organizations “Report on the current fight to oppose Capitalist influence and strengthen market management.” The report was widely distributed to party branches across the country. It focused on serious concerns about speculation and black market activities that were occurring during the new five year plan, it addressed the issue of market speculation and profiteering. It expresses concern with theft of resources from state owned enterprises for sale on the black market. The party needed to: “Tightly control the market, make sure that agricultural products that are not allowed to be sold do not enter the market.” The party needed to do more to manage and restrict market activities. It blamed “capitalist influence” for the sneaking corruption and black market activities.
At play at the time:
A central debate within the party was the roll of the market economy under state socialism, between those in favor of a tightly controlled planned economy and a more market oriented economy. Market activity flowed and ebbed during the first 30 years of the PRC, hitting low points during periods of intense political activity, and sneaking back during low periods. in the 1960’s some amount of private market activity had been allowed to return after the disastrous results of the Great leap Forward left many parts of China in famine and destitute. This report was likely an action towards curbing those post GLF market activities. Noticeably the blame is placed upon the vague idea of capitalist influence, it is unclear if this refers to the influence of the old oppressing classes, or the emergence of new class powers within the PRC, specifically from a people within the party taking the capitalist road.
The number one article in January 8th 1966’s People’s Daily boasted of the improvement to production made by peasants in Wenjiang district, a rural district outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. This article furthered the contemporaneously dominant theme “of learning from Dazhai.” The reporter argues that political will can triumph over the material conditions of production. It does not matter if natural conditions of production are good or bad, it does not matter if land is high or low wielding, if Mao Zedong thought is used to improve revolutionary resolve production gains are possible. The peasants of Wenjiang do not rely on greater state investment, or depend upon fertilizer from the state. Instead they rely upon natural fertilizers, and self initiative. It also boasts that Wenjiang made the greatest contribution to srocialist construction of any county in Sichuan.
At play at the time:
The language of this article is similar to the language of the Great Leap Forward, including an encouragement for rural counties and districts to one up one another in terms of production and contributions to the state. However, this article notably does not make use of the term “Put Politics in Command.” The People’s Daily continued to promote model work units, and the idea of learning from Dazhai in agriculture and learning from Daqing in industry. The paper promoted a larger focus of using politics to improve production, and strays away from the critique of culture and societal and party organization that is seen in some other articles editorials and speeches that were increasing in number around this same time, including Mao’s ongoing campaign against Wu Han and the Historical Opera “Hai Rui dismissed from Office.”
January 6th 1966, Zhou Enlai gives an address on maintaining State Secrets, and appoints Peng Zhen as the head of a nationwide meeting on maintaining state secrets.
“In defense work, the party has always been particular about party committee leadership, the mass line, opposing top-down leadership, and mystification; The entire party must take care of public security work, the entire people must take care of public security, develop democracy, and smash minority leadership. The mechanism needs to safeguard secrets and be particular about doctrines. There needs to a system. But maintaining secrecy cannot be a process of mystification…” Zhou then goes on to lay down a list of strict rules for the party bureaucracy to maintain state secrets.
At the end of the address Zhou Enlai appointed Peng Zhen to chair a nationwide meeting on safeguarding state secrets.
The text of this address was originally found at the 50nianqian blog, which is doing a Chinese Language day-by-day recap of 50 years ago in Chinese history http://50nianqian.blogspot.tw/2016/01/196616.html
At play at the time:
This address points to the often contradictory role Zhou Enlai held as the second most powerful person in the PRC and CCP. Zhou often held up and supported Mao Zedong’s initiatives, and worked to oppose soviet style revisionism, but also advocated maintaining an ordered society often opposed to struggle. In one breath Zhou both condemns top down leadership and lays down strict rules for the party bureaucracy to maintain state secrets. he then appointed Peng Zheng, a rival to Mao and one of the more top-down thinking party leader’s (see Peng Zhen Digs in Heels, Promotes Top-Down Model as “Maoist Thought,” December 23, 1965) Zhou’s own words bely the contradiction in his instructions “maintaining secrecy cannot be a process of mystification.”
Mao Zedong Thought Radiates: The Political Path of the PLA
Mao Zedong Thought Radiates: In Order to Present Oil to the Nation, they Dared to Search in the Wastelands
Mao Zedong Thought Radiates: In Dazhai, through the Struggle of All, Rocky Mountains were Transformed into Storehouses of Grain
Ma’An Shan Steel Company in southern Anhui is said to have suffered from poor management practices which focussed on blaming various parties for production problems. Politics were said not to have been put in command, and Mao Zedong Thought was not put into command.
Starting in 1963 however the plant began to learn from the example of Daqing, the region in China where oil was discovered, and which lead to collectivized experiments in economic development and community planning. Ma’an Shan cadres and workers are reported to have used Daqing as a model, and have transformed relations and work procedures in the plant.
In Ma’an Steel in particular, Mao’s essays of on Practice, and on Contradiction, in addition to Serve the People, In Memory of Norman Bethune, the Old Fool Who Moved the Mountain, and Combat Liberalism were studied, and the theory of class struggle were applied to understand problems. These essays are said to constitute the most valuable food for workers and cadres. Rooms were set up in every factory and mine for the study of political works. Large increases in the quality and appearance of the area have been realized since. Problems have been attacked with the concept of one dividing into two.
Another essay in the paper by a Ma’an furnace worker is titled “Dare to Be a Fool in Front of a Master”
He explains many workers are afraid to take the lead in experimenting with new methods, thinking that if even engineers and technicians are afraid to act, how could they possible move forward? He states that to dare to make revolution is to dare to be a fool. With a revolutionary spirit and scientific approach, anything can be accomplished, he says.
At Play at the Time
The images and articles in this issue speak the importance of precedents in defining the emerging political movement. In later years, struggles occurred over the relative importance of models such as Dazhai and Daqing in the aftermath of new political achievements during the Cultural Revolution. To some they represented a more piecemeal attempt at revolutionary advance, while for others they continued to represent a foundational core for the movement. The three images above are representative of the three prototypes of the revolution (workers, peasants, and soldiers) which often appeared in Cultural Revolution posters.
January 4th issue of the People’s Daily featured an editorial titled “For the People,” which emphasized self-reliance and voluntarism. The title of this editorial, and several lines in the editorial reference the CCP’s slogan and Mao’s famous 1944 essay “Serve the People.” An excerpt from the editorial captures the spirit of the editorial:
“We are Marxist-Leninists, we have always though that the masses should rely on themselves and liberate themselves, and have opposed any idea that we should do everything ourselves out of charity for the people. The revolution and construction both must rely on the masses, with self-reliance, everyone must pitch in. We stress that you must emphasize politics, strengthen ideological educational work, exactly in order to raise the masses’ consciousness, to make the masses recognize their own interest, to fight for their own leadership voluntarily and consciously under the leadership of the party.”
At play at the time:
This editorial can be read as an implicit criticism of people within the party who were not working “for the people.” It can be inferred from the editorials language that its intended audience was cadres, and not the entire general readership of the People’s Daily. By holding up the principles of working for the people, and relying upon the masses, the editorials writers were criticizing certain party members for doing exactly the opposite. The editorial’s writers felt that party members were not working “for the people” but instead in their own self interests, or in the interests of the party but without the consideration of the people. The author also implicitly criticizes commandism within the party, forcing the masses to act, instead of leading them to act in their own self-interest.
Policy towards US attacks on Vietnam reveal a struggle between revolutionary forces in China which advocated a militant guerrilla response to US encroachment, and Soviet policy, which saw the incursion in more traditional military realpolitik, and the Chinese military establishment, many of whom lean towards Soviet type thinking. Distinguishing Chinese policy from Soviet policy was complicated at this time by joint Chinese-Soviet action, including the shipment of Soviet arms through China (see second article below, an interview with Vice-Premier Chen Yi reprinted from the previous week published in the same Peking Review article). Adjacent countries in southeast Asia, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand in particular, were key areas to attempt to promote foreign policy more aligned to Chinese revolutionary visions. Cambodian Prince Sihanouk was courted extensively by Chinese leaders, Zhou Enlai in particular, to advocate an anti-imperiliast stance, despite his often conflicted position in the political struggles of the time. At this time, both he and Pol Pot were in China. See: https://cross-currents.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/e-journal/articles/jeldres_1.pdf