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.
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.
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
Today December 24, 1965: Peng Zhen, fresh from his meeting with Mao Zedong tells Wu Han, “Regarding your errors, you should self-criticize, carry forward with what is right, carry forward the truth, correct the mistakes.” This carries forward his previous “even-handed” approach to the Wu Han question, having stated to Mao in Hangzhou that there is no organizational relationship between Wu Han and Peng Dehuai, and in late November reassured Wu Han that “in front of the truth, all are equal.” Source, Mao Zedong zhuan 1949-1976, Zhonggongyang Wenxianjiushii， 1789.
Also Today: People’s Daily Editorial:
No Aggression Should be Permitted Against the Sacred Territory of Cambodia
According to American reports, America has authorized its war headquarters in Vietnam to cross the border into Vietnam and “ pursue the Vietnamese Congressional Army.”
American imperialism is increasing its military provocation of the Cambodia Kingdom. It is using the Thai military and the Vietnamese puppet army to continuously invade and harass the Cambodian border, and has dispatched its air force to bomb Cambodia’s peaceful villages, killing the Cambodian people.
America’s henchmen still issue all sorts of rumors, saying something of “Cambodia is an important supply base for the Vietnamese Congressionals” or “Many troops from the Vietnamese Congressionals and Northern Vietnam are located in Cambodia,” etc. This is completely used as an excuse by American imperialism and its running dogs to embark on a large scale invasion of Cambodia. The American government now announces that the American invading army has the right to “pursue and attack” in Cambodia. This proves that American imperialism not only wants to expand its invasive flames of war into Laos, but also brazenly plans to expand the flames of war into Cambodia.
The American government’s so called proclaimed right to “pursue and attack” is precisely the same act used at the time by the Nazi Hitler during the launching of invasion and war in Europe. Cambodia is a peace loving country…America and its running dogs have no rights to invade one inch of Cambodian land. No matter what excuse they use, as long as they cross the border, this counts as an invasion, and the Cambodian people have the sacred right to carry out resistance. All peace loving, justice-protecting countries, have the right to support the Cambodian people’s resistance struggle…
You boys in Washington, in the era of the people, you still dream that “all earth under the heavens belongs to the king.” Such is arrogant and stupid to the extreme. Honestly we tell you, in today’s world, no matter where you storm into, the people there certainly will struggle and resist, and you certainly will face misfortune.
The Cambodian people are a brave people. Prince Sihanouk has again announced that the Cambodian people will resist against the military provocation from U.S. Imperialism, and that Cambodia has already completed preparation. Prince Sihanouk states that if the U.S. expands the war… it will find itself surrounded by the Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian peoples, who “will see this as a long-waited opportunity to smash their sworn enemy, and American imperialism will in the end be buried in the earth of Indochina and Asia.”….
The Chinese peoples completely support this firm standpoint of resistance which Prince Sihanouk represents…If American imperialism dares to invade Cambodia, 650 million Chinese people will support the Cambodian people, and completely defeat the American invaders.
At Play at the Time:
Peng Zhen has been in charge of the five-person Cultural Revolution Group since early in 1965, tasked with exploring the possibility for a Cultural Revolution in China. At the present, he is also in charge of editorials at the People’s Daily. Editorials at the paper are the most significant place from which to disseminate party views. The frequency of editorials per month from the paper can loosely be read as a bell-weather of party stability. Well before the November 11 Shanghai polemic, from September to October of 1965, Mao gave instructions to criticize Wu Han, the vice-mayor Of Beijing and major intellectual figure in establishment. Peng Zhen however was weary to carry this through. In addition, as a result of this friction, in October, editorials in the People’s Daily dropped from 25 in September, to 12 in October. From Chang Man, The People’s Daily and the Red Flag Magazine During the Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong: Union Research Institute, 1969 (more clear image coming).
Peng Zhen, an ally of Liu Shaoqi, is generally viewed to have a conciliatory approach to the technocratic view of socialist development promoted by the Soviet Union at the time.
In the meantime, the conflict in South Asia following American involvement has escalated. The guerilla forces fighting against the U.S. are generally seen to be an outgrowth of the strategy of “people’s war” honed during the Chinese revolution. As a CIA report released in May 5, 1965 states, “If a Communist victory could be brought off in South Vietnam in the face of US military power, Peiping would have made a major advance in world affairs. The Chinese line in the Communist dispute would be vindicated, Soviet pretentions to leadership of the world movement would be discredited, US capability to counter local guerilla insurrections would be placed in doubt throughout the world, and US prestige seriously damaged,” (Robert Hutchings, ed., “Communist China’s Foreign Policy, Submitted to the Director of Central Intelligence, 5 May 1965, from Tracking the Dragon, National Intelligence Estimates on China During the Era of Mao, 1949-1976). Hence we can begin to grasp the immensity of internal and external opposition to the revolutionary left at this moment in history. The bombardment of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 resulted outcry in the U.S. several years later. However it was only in 2000 when air force documents were released that Americans “discovered” bombardment had occurred in Cambodia during the Johnson administration (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Menu). The People’s Daily editorial from 1965 however reported this news 45 years earlier.
At Play at the Present
The thrust of the Cultural Revolution centered on the idea that the dominant threat to a revolutionary movement was internal and not external. Even in the face of external encirclement, Cultural Revolution rebels risked dismantling the existing state apparatus to expose and oppose “capitalist roaders” within the government and party. When establishing vehicles for political opposition at present, a related focus on the basis for internal unity will likely be essential to promote forward motion.
Chen Yi, Zhou Enlai, and over 2,300 guests from 40 countries around the world held a conference today to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the creation of the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of Southern Vietnam and warmly hail the victory of the Southern Vietnamese People’s War.
In addition, the Chinese embassy in the city of Medan in North Dumatra, Indonesia has issued a notice to the Indonesian ambassador to China strongly condemning the rightist violence fomented against overseas Chinese, resulting in people being massacred and rapes, as well as large-scale looting of Chinese property. The military leadership is implicated, recent news has been hard to secure as a result of the suspension of normal communication with the Chinese consulate in North Sumatra.