Is socialist revolution necessary? Under what conditions? How far should it go? Is more than one revolution needed, even in the same society? What about the issue of revolutionary “excess”? Is there such a problem, and if so, what causes it and does it lead to counterrevolution? If the revolution is “defeated,” was it still worth undertaking? And finally, who gets to decide these questions, and write the history of revolutionary change? For each country or society, these queries must be broken down more specifically. In the case of China, for example, was a revolution in land control needed? Should it have been carried to the point of the collective socialist organization of rural society? Why was the Great Leap Forward undertaken, and the Cultural Revolution? Did they go “too far”? Did their “excesses” lead China back to the “capitalist road” under Deng Xiaoping?
The answers to such questions may seem self-evident to many, especially on the left. But as two recent and highly contrasting books on the revolution in China make clear, such issues were and remain “contested terrain.” Not only were they the basis for enormous struggles in the course of the Chinese revolution itself, but they continue to be fought over today. Both inside and outside China, the question of whether revolutionary socialism is needed, how far it should be carried through, the nature of “lost” revolutions, and the causes and consequences of counterrevolution continue to be hotly debated. The answers to such questions are not academic. They are vital to the course of the current global movement, and to whether it will again take the path to revolutionary socialism, or succumb to the temptation to turn away from that road and accept the “permanence” of the capitalist system. The two works under review here pose a point/counterpoint in their answers to these questions, with import not only for the past, but for the present and future.
I. A Revolutionary Testament
William Hinton, Through a Glass Darkly: U.S. Views of the Chinese Revolution1
This is the final, posthumous work of Bill Hinton, author of the classic study of the Chinese revolution in the countryside, Fanshen, and of numerous other books and articles before his death in 2004. It can stand as his revolutionary testament, a full summing up of the lessons he had learned over six decades as both participant in and observer of the Chinese revolution, and as a rededication at the end of his life to the socialist goals on which it rested and that he shared. This book is, at one and the same time, both the least and the most personal of his works. The least because, despite many references to those with whom he worked or whose activities he observed during his many years in China (and a brief section where he summarizes the lives of several Chinese who most inspired his own revolutionary activities), this book is based less on the rich individual portraits that lie at the heart of others of his books, such as Fanshen and Hundred Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University. Yet in another way, it is his most personal work, for here he lays out more explicitly and fully than anywhere else, his own perspective on the course of the revolutionary struggle in China, providing us with a final summation of the lessons drawn from his long and extraordinary life. In the course of making this last statement, Hinton expounds brilliantly on the nature of classes and the struggles between them, on the complexity of making revolution, on the manner in which material developments drive that process forward, on the stages of revolutionary change and on the role of those who try to stop it at various points along the path, and on the way in which workers and peasants grasp the necessity of overcoming all difficulties, and strive to bring socialism into being in their own lives.
Reviewing this book nevertheless has a certain Hamlet quality to it, a “play within a play,” for Hinton himself is engaged here in an extended review, critique and expansion on a book by Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz and Mark Selden, Chinese Village, Socialist State.2 He uses this work as a kind of foil, moving back and forth between its assertions and his own observations of the same events, with his opposing evaluation of their meaning, including several sections devoted to confronting the anti-revolutionary “spin” that the authors give even to minor facts. At times this approach, especially in the beginning, can seem a bit tedious and even tendentious, in particular when it involves quarrels over small differences in data on village production, and so on.3 As the book builds, however, it reveals a powerful and systematic review of the nature of the Chinese revolution, especially the various stages of land reform in the countryside, and the efforts there to build a new socialist society. In a short Foreword, Hinton lays out his reasons for concentrating on events that were by then several decades in the past:
It’s because of TINA, the “There is No Alternative” syndrome. At the very time when the triumphant capitalist system is heading into severe global crisis its apologists are frantically pushing TINA on us all. The keystone of the TINA theory is that socialism, the only possible alternative to capitalism, has failed miserably. Therefore, like it or not, we all have to go along…
Now while it is true that actually existing socialism has been, in the main, defeated all over the world — at least temporarily — it is not true that in practice it failed to generate anything of value. Certainly, insofar as China is concerned, in spite of severe opposition from a clique of Communist party leaders that resisted, with devastating consequences, every step forward, thirty years of socialist construction achieved remarkable successes. (11)
For Hinton, those same forces were still the dominant ones setting Chinese policies today, forcing the country down the “capitalist road,” and using positions of power to rewrite the history of the era of socialism to obscure its accomplishments. But they were not alone. Their approach is one that Hinton found all too widespread, especially in U.S. academic circles. He chose the Friedman et al. book as his focus because it too tries to deny not only the socialist achievements, but even the need for any radical reform in the countryside, while celebrating “traditional” Chinese village organization and culture, and the “free market” for which, according to the authors, peasants “naturally” yearned – wanting only “to be left alone to pursue a little private profit” rather than being forced, in the words of the authors, into “something called class struggle” and then into collective arrangements (Hinton, 29). That these authors had centered their study on a county in north central China, the very area where Hinton himself had focused his work from the days of Fanshen onward, made it all the more attractive as a target, for he had personal knowledge not only of the general region, but of the very village where they had based their research, and was able to critique in great detail what they claimed to have found there and their interpretation of it.
As his book progresses, however, it becomes clear that Hinton has a deeper purpose. The confrontation with Friedman et al. gives him the opportunity to elaborate his own view not only of the revolutionary struggle in China, but of the most fundamental issues for the working classes in trying to build a socialist society. To begin, after reviewing the conditions of the countryside, Hinton shows that the drive to revolution arose from the objective necessity of overthrowing the feudalistic landlord class -– which brutally exploited the peasants yet failed to productively invest the surplus –- in order to free the material forces of production not only in the rural areas, but for China as a whole. Without the revolutionary breakthrough in land reform, which would end the reactionary class alliance that kept them weak and subservient, the Chinese would also be unable to put an end to the imperial domination that they had suffered for a hundred years.
But the broad goals of this struggle led to further contradictions. First and foremost, it meant that those who joined the revolutionary ranks would be drawn from a wide range of classes, since not only workers and peasants, but urban intellectuals and professionals, other middle strata, and even patriotic bourgeoisie could follow the leadership of the Communists, who proved to be the only ones strong enough to challenge the ruling coalition of forces. Especially during the war with Japan, the movement became a very broad national one. But this in turn meant that the various classes that made up the revolutionary alliance would contend for power after the triumph, each with their own approaches to the struggle and its aims.
From the beginning, therefore, the subjective force of the revolution rested on those who needed it most -– the poorest of the peasants and the most exploited urban proletariat -– but their goals would clash, at every step along the path, with other class elements who wanted to stop the transformation only part way. Contrary to Friedman et al., the revolutionary upsurge was not a voluntaristic and utopian imposition from above by the party, but was initiated at each step by the working classes themselves -– beginning with the peasant uprising which inspired Mao in the mountains of his native Hunan in 1927, and continuing into the later land reform, when those who had already begun combining resources, drove the progression toward ever higher levels. In explaining this process, as throughout the book, Hinton drew on his own experience not only in China, but as a farmer back home in Pennsylvania, which helped him to grasp the material basis for greater collectivization and the mechanization that it would allow.
Once families start working together difficult decisions come thick and fast. It rains, softening the land and making it easy to hoe. Whose land do we tackle first? Drought sears the crops. Whose corn do we water first? Your mule hauls my cart. At what ratio do we swap them? In order to even things up I owe you some grain. But my grain is a little moldy. How much should I discount it? All these decisions require many meetings that in turn require lots of time. We can avoid them by breaking up, or bypass most of them by pooling our land, animals, and big equipment, farming cooperatively and sharing the results.
If we decide to pool our land we solve many of the above problems but a whole new set arises in their place. (97f).
And so on and on, until the maximum level of efficiency is reached, driven not by some arbitrary and utopian scheme of Mao or the party, but by the needs of production itself.
The result is similar, but in reverse, to that described by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett in their book China and Socialism: Market Reforms and Class Struggle, (New York: Monthly Review, 2005), which analyzes the internal logic of the dismantling of the socialist system undertaken by Deng Xiaoping after Mao died. With each step on the “capitalist road,” new contradictions arose that drove it further. Though I believe that these authors placed too much stress on such systemic “determinism,” and not enough on class formation and interests, they nevertheless show quite well how the material forces of a given mode of production exert themselves to push it along in an inherent direction. Hinton, however, never forgets that classes are the engine of such change, and that what seems necessary and valuable to one stratum will appear threatening to others. Thus even within a given class, the choices that are presented are not easily resolved, and mistakes are inevitable, especially in breaking new ground. On the one hand, there were strong forces, among the poor peasants in particular, demanding the absolute equalization of land and all other resources, a legacy of their bitter exploitation during the past, but one impossible to realize in practice. On the other hand, the logic of collectivization drove the level of communal production ever higher, until the system began to break under the weight of too much centralization. Only through sometimes painful experience — the most critical being the losses suffered during the Great Leap Forward –- could the proper form of organization be created, one which, for example, kept the measurement of daily labor contributions with the village based work team, left the organization of sideline industries to the mid-range brigade, and brought the commune into play mainly for major regional projects such as irrigation, as well as for such collective services as education and health care. At every stage and level, therefore, there were not only many tensions and conflicts, but the opportunity for those who wanted to slow or halt the process to manipulate and heighten such divisions, in order to prevent collectivist consolidation.
Among the most powerful passages of Through a Glass Darkly, are those in which Hinton discusses the class interests that opposed the thorough collectivization of agriculture, and used their positions of power in the party and state to try to prevent its realization, in order to promote an alternative “free market” model of rural organization. For the alliance of classes that made the revolution contained petty bourgeois and even more full-blown capitalistic elements4 for whom the main goal was not to raise those at the bottom onto a new plane of collective wellbeing within an egalitarian socialist order, but rather to overthrow the feudal remnants of the ancien regime just enough to allow the emergence of a powerful China organized along the modern lines of individual competition and economic “freedom” -– even if this would mean the continued or even increased polarization of the class structure, and the reemergence, once again, of the ability of a few to exploit the labor of the many.5
In particular, two camps emerged in the land reform movement. One, led by Mao, favored the maximum form of collectivization consistent with the goal of efficient production and increasing provision of social services to the peasantry, and in which all the divisions of classes would be gradually and permanently overcome. The other, in which Liu Shaoqi and later Deng Xiaoping were the leading figures, saw instead the “freeing” of individual peasants, each on an individually owned plot of land, as the means to create a vibrant rural market economy, but one in which class divisions continued and even grew. That, in turn, could form a basis for transforming all sectors of the Chinese economy.6 This conflict underlay each of the major stages and events of the land reform.
Hinton never fails to clearly explain how hard making revolution is in practice. The attempt to mobilize tens of millions of poor and exploited workers and peasants, most of whom initially were illiterate, into organized class movements acting collectively “for themselves,” is an immense undertaking, one without historical precedent, and in which the leaders too must struggle to find the way forward into hitherto unexplored territory. Costly mistakes and false starts cannot be avoided, and Hinton does not shy away from pointing out such errors and those who were responsible for them, up to and including Mao, while showing that such setbacks are part of the revolutionary dialectic. But he also makes abundantly clear that these inevitable detours were exacerbated by those who never shared fully in the goal of the collective organization of Chinese society and the gradual elimination of all class divisions, and especially those within the party and state who enjoyed the new privileges of their official positions and often acted in ways that all too closely resembled their pre-revolution peers.
In a striking exposition, Hinton shows how, when unable to stop the progression toward ever higher levels of collectivization, such forces over and over again blew up a “Communist Wind,” which carried the movement to such extremes that it eventually self-destructed. This process, “left in form, right in essence,” enabled those practicing it to appear to support the struggle for higher communal forms, while undermining them from within. Hinton explains how this worked in the Great Leap Forward and the communes.
The initial push for scale came in Honan when peasants and peasant leaders in certain communities saw the power of massed labor to transform nature… Mao caught their enthusiasm and spread the idea: “Communes [merging several cooperative brigades] are good.” Others blew this up into a wind of gigantism that went all out not only for size but for super deep digging, super close planting, super composting, and other blind directives that added up to absurdity.
The big question is, where did all these winds originate. The answer is pretty clear. They originated from the Liu Shaoqi clique in the party. Liu and his colleagues, who controlled the organization department of the whole party, went through, on the issue of cooperation, much the same process they had previously gone through in regard to land reform –- first right, then left, then right again. First they dragged their feet, dissolved shaky co-ops wholesale instead of helping them consolidate, and then, when the movement could no longer be contained by such tactics, jumped in to push things as far to the left as they could … to the point where, of course, the movement has to collapse by virtue of its excesses and with it goes the prestige of the revolution, the prestige of socialism, because the excesses are all fanned up in the name of revolution, in the name of socialism. Then comes the push for privatization through family contracts. (161)7
This resulted in alternating periods during which Mao and the Liu-Deng faction each in turn gained the upper hand, a cyclical struggle between them that lasted into the 1970s.
Lest this process seem obscure or somehow unique to the Chinese scene, Hinton points out that in the Pennsylvania coal fields near his farm, the mine owners in the 19th century sent a Pinkerton agent provocateur into the ranks of the Molly Maguires, militant Irish immigrant mineworkers, where he reported on their plans and fanned the flames of violence, so that this could be used as an excuse to crush their movement. Closer to our own time, as Hinton further notes, COINTELPRO turned members of the movements of the 1960’s, and especially the Black Panthers, against each other with forged messages and phony threats, causing enormous disruption and even violent clashes, as well as lost faith among the ranks of their supporters. Similarly, he argues, the Liu Shaoqi faction of the Chinese party acted all too commonly as, in effect, a mass organization made up of agents provocateurs, blowing up a Communist Wind against those whom they could not frontally resist, and accusing leaders of the collectivization movement of major errors even for minor flaws, seeking to set them against each other, discredit them before the masses, and drive them from office. Since, “the movements at the grass roots were led by cadres in fundamental opposition to the program they were being asked to carry out,” they used their official power to resist it. Overall, Hinton summarizes in regard to the Liu faction, “during the euphoria of the Great Leap, as mass enthusiasm rose to great heights they pushed all sorts of extremes that disrupted peasant unity, undermined morale, and shattered production.” (272) In some cases, this was intentional policy, meant to disrupt the movement toward collectivization and prevent the forces aligned around Mao from consolidating. But in other instances, it was just a product of bureaucratic opportunism.
One need not assume conscious wrecking to explain this. Unprincipled careerism played a role. Liu’s ideal party member was a docile tool. What counted most was loyalty to the party and to its leaders, not the interests of the people… Loyalty was demonstrated by statistical, not human, results in mass work. Do you want yield records? We’ll report them whether true or false. Who will ever know the difference? Do you want scale? We’ll deliver scale with a vengeance. If a whole village is good as an accounting unit, a whole township is better. Do we lack resources for an iron furnace? We’ll transfer them from some other community. Since appearances and not results are what count most, the objective outcome is disruption, whether or not the cadre in question has any such goal in mind. (272f)
Hinton attributes much of the loss of human life during the Great Leap Forward to just such distortions, as well as to natural phenomena -– widespread flooding in some regions, drought in others – that today are largely ignored by those analyzing this period, in the West especially, in their rush to blame the entire outcome on Mao and his policies.
But at the end of the book, Hinton also challenges the ever more inflated figures given for these losses, and the highly questionable sources and methodologies on which most of them are based –- issues raised by others as well.9 While noting that further research is still needed, Hinton concludes from his conversations with a wide range of people who lived through that period: “there was real hunger and even death by starvation in some localities, but I do not believe that tens of millions of people died prematurely, or that China suffered the biggest famine in recorded history” (250). As in the rest of the book, what Hinton is arguing here is that while the leadership of the party, including Mao, bore responsibility for the losses in this campaign, this issue like all others must be viewed from the standpoint of the class struggle. It is not just that the factual record itself is open to many challenges and interpretations.10 For the peasants, the Great Leap Forward led to significant advances in productive capacity, with the collective construction of reservoirs, irrigation projects and other critical infrastructure, and even –- despite the overall failure of “backyard steel furnaces” –- the beginning of rural industries, as well as the building of schools and health clinics. In heavy industry too, there were major projects, such as the rapid development of the Daqing oilfield under extremely difficult conditions –- a tribute to the spirit of the times. Longer run, these successes offset the losses of the campaign, but that part of the history of this period is commonly ignored or downplayed. Of those who did die, statistically many would not have even been alive without the gains in life expectancy and fall in infant mortality already achieved by the late 1950s. The interpretation of this period, therefore, is just one more area in which the stand taken on both factual data and its historic meaning depends on the class position of the viewer: as one more disaster of the Mao era, or one more hard step on the long road to socialism.
II. Whose Suicides?
Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution11
Turning from the final work of Bill Hinton to this recent study of the Cultural Revolution is both enlightening and distressing, for it exemplifies all too thoroughly the same forms of Western academic scholarship, continuing into the present, that he had so bitterly criticized in Through a Glass Darkly. Roderick MacFarquhar is a professor at Harvard and former British MP, who was editor of The China Quarterly in the 1960s.
MacFarquhar later admitted
that secret moneys from the CIA (from the Farfield Foundation via the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the parent of CQ, Encounter and many other magazines) provided part of the funding for the CQ –- something I did not know until the public revelations of the late 1960s (Letter to the London Review of Books, 1/26/06, 4).
He also stated that the ideological aim of this CIA-funded sponsor “was to provide some kind of organizational counter to Soviet efforts to attract Western intellectuals into various front organizations.”12 Among the China Quarterly pieces promoting this kind of anti-Communist agenda and claiming massive famine deaths was a 1962 article by Joseph Alsop on the Great Leap Forward, which
alleged that Mao was attempting to wipe out a third of his population through starvation to facilitate his economic plans! This article is cited, in all seriousness, to provide contemporary evidence of the ‘massive death toll’ hypothesis in many later works on the subject.13
MacFarquhar in his three-volume The Origins of the Cultural Revolution claims similar losses, and Mao’s Last Revolution begins with the assertion of “widespread famine and tens of millions of deaths” (2) as a result of the Great Leap Forward –- but he fails to provide any citations to back up this claim, not even to his own earlier work! Nothing could exemplify better the thesis of Hinton that not only the interpretation, but the very facts regarding that campaign and all the other events of the Chinese revolution, are “contested terrain” in the class struggle, in which academics, the media, and even governments too intervene to shape our view of this history. The other author of Mao’s Last Revolution, Michael Schoenhals, is a Swedish scholar, known for his expertise on minutiae of the Chinese political scene, the Cultural Revolution in particular. Their book, which they wrote in part because of the growing availability of Chinese archives, reflects this dual background: employing great detail regarding the internecine battles and losses of life in this campaign, to obscure the fundamental class struggle that underlay the conflict.
This is not to say that their book is without interest or value. Even for those already familiar with the Cultural Revolution, its wealth of details provides a kind of “behind the curtain” recounting that offers new insights and brings aspects of the struggle alive.14 On the surface the tone, too, remains more scholarly than Mao: The Unknown Story, the recent attempt to trash the leader of the revolution by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, and lacks the personal viciousness of that work. Nevertheless, MacFarquhar and Schoenhals know how to use more subtle means to achieve much the same result, for example, by citing without qualification the work of Li Zhisui (“Mao’s Doctor”), whose portrait of a dissolute and corrupt Chairman was challenged in an open letter by over 150 of his former colleagues, several of the highest rank.15 Still, unlike in Chang and Halliday, the leading figures here are not one-dimensional, but instead are portrayed as complex figures caught in a set of events increasingly beyond the control of any of them. In particular, though Mao is pictured as the overall initiator of the Cultural Revolution, and the dominant figure throughout, he does not get all of the “blame.” Rather, others are shown to take his policies in directions that he did not always authorize or to extremes that were beyond what he envisioned, leading to much of the factionalism, chaos and brutality. To this degree, MacFarquhar and Schoenhals avoid the cardboard character of many recent attempts to reduce the Cultural Revolution to a simplistic mockery of itself. The problem with their book lies deeper, more in the realm of omission than commission. Over and over again, the “trees” obscure the outline of the “forest.” Thus while virtually every issue, large or small, gets some kind of mention, often this is merely in passing or at scattered points throughout the text, with no attempt to analyze the larger import. The claims that are made, on the other hand, are often sweeping ones that distort the record.
The result is something akin to those Indonesian puppet plays, where only shadow images are cast on a screen. The puppets themselves are only indirectly seen, while the hand behind them is even more obscure. This approach is evident from the first pages of the book, where a brief introduction “seeks to explain the origins of the ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.’” (1). The key here, according to the authors, is “Mao’s Obsession with Revisionism” (7), the turn away from a commitment to global socialist revolution, and the reemergence of class elements laying the basis for a revival of capitalism. In the view of MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, this concern with the path taken by the Soviets under Khrushchev overlay all other issues, including what they call “Domestic Dilemmas”; but they avoid the crucial question: were there such “revisionist” forces in China as well? At most, we are given hints of such a basis for the looming conflict, but never an in-depth analysis of the fundamental issues dividing Mao and Liu. Thus in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward, the key division was over the question of collectivization:
Food was still the major problem. Left in charge, Mao’s colleagues [in opposition to Mao himself –- R.W.] espoused radical policies for the countryside which would have effectively restored family farming. But once it became clear that the economy had turned the corner, Mao reclaimed the agenda and insisted on holding the line on collectivist agriculture.
The Chairman was well aware that his colleagues had been responding to peasant unhappiness with the communes. Maintaining collectivism was not enough; the peasants had to be convinced that it was good for them. Mao called for a Socialist Education Movement (SEM) to restore the faith. But party leaders soon realized that peasants were unresponsive to the arguments of rural cadres who in many places had become as corrupt as the KMT [Kuomintang (pre-revolutionary ruling party)] officials they had replaced. The SEM was transformed into intensive investigations and purging of rural cadres by massive teams of central officials under the aegis of Liu Shaoqi. Supportive, even admiring at first, Mao turned against the policies in late 1964. There appear to have been two main reasons. (8f)
First, when Khrushchev was overturned, according to them, Mao sensed danger also to himself. He had changed from a “unifier” of the party to a leader who, in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward, “disrupted the ongoing national recovery effort by forcing his colleagues to accept renewed class struggle, unquestionably rule by fiat.” As a result,
Whatever camaraderie had been forged among the veterans of the revolution had given way to trepidation in the face of a headstrong Chairman who would brook no opposition. Mao may well have sensed, probably welcomed, his comrades’ fear. But the fall of Khrushchev would have alerted him to the possibility that fear might unite them against him. From this point on, loyalty to his person rather than his policies became the touchstone for the Chairman. (10)
But the Soviet example also threatened the ideology of the revolution.
The second reason for the Chairman’s dissatisfaction with Liu was that Mao had become uninterested in the SEM purge of rural cadres for what he considered petty peculation. It was the ideological backsliding of party members and the consequent danger of capitalist restoration that concerned him more. (12)
Only a broad struggle in the realm of ideology, a Cultural Revolution, would turn it back.
Here clearly were more than enough reasons for a conflict between Mao and Liu: collective organization of agriculture versus family farming, with its potential for a petty capitalistic exploitation of labor and the return of class polarization; corrupt cadres under the centralized party organization, in response to which work teams often used the excuse of minor offenses to hound local leaders, especially those showing too much independent initiative; and the emergence of a “privileged stratum,” particularly in the urban centers.
But MacFarquhar and Schoenhals avoid any thorough analysis of these bases for the conflict, in part by claiming that “personal loyalty,” not “policies,” was the main issue. The effect is similar to a book on the U.S. Civil War that takes as its primary focus the “obsession” of Lincoln with holding the Union together, and then spends close to 500 pages reviewing in great detail his search for “loyal” generals, the major battles, the internecine conflicts among his Cabinet members, and even the mental state of Mary Todd -– all of which are part of the story –- but never gets around to analyzing in any depth why some parts of the country wanted to separate from others in the first place: slavery. The reader might finish such a book feeling “that was all very interesting, but I still do not understand why it was worth killing or wounding up to 10 percent of young U.S. men over it.” The struggle in China, of which the Cultural Revolution was the final climax, is similarly incomprehensible if the underlying class conflict is treated as little more than peripheral, and the threat of “capitalist restoration” is dismissed as essentially just an “obsession.” This failure to address the struggle of classes runs throughout Mao’s Last Revolution, on matters both big and small, despite any number of opportunities to deal with it more thoroughly. Instead, the authors are uninterested in, blind to or intentionally unwilling to follow even those clues in their own work that point to it. Thus in the aftermath of the first set of Cultural Revolution dismissals of Beijing leaders,
Ironically, in view of his later fate, Liu Shaoqi echoed Lin Feng’s argument, portraying the fallen four almost as zombies: “Seen as individuals, they would have been capable of not acting. But from a class struggle point of view, their action appears normal, not strange. Class struggle is independent of man’s will. Why they should act the way they did is because their class made them do it.” How reassuring Liu himself, let alone the intellectuals, found this Marxist-Leninist gobbledygook is unclear, but at least it could be peddled as an ex post facto explanation.” (46f)
It is also not clear if MacFarquhar and Schoenhals themselves mean to dismiss all of Marxism-Leninism. But if they were not so completely tone-deaf to the issues involved, they would recognize here the core of a fundamental debate, rather than “gobbledygook.”
For the attitude that Liu Shaoqi took toward “class” lay at the heart of the conflict. If the members of classes act “almost as zombies,” then their actions are predetermined, and they are incapable of changing their attitudes or of being the subjects of their own history. If this were merely a debate over theory, it might not be worthy of such a major struggle. But Liu’s frozen, mechanistic, metaphysical approach to class carried over to the way he ran the party, best outlined in his book, How To Be a Good Communist. As shown by Hinton, the ideal cadre for Liu was a docile functionary, loyal to the institution and its leaders, who were assumed by definition to be serving the interests of the people. The working classes, in such a worldview, were expected to be equally passive, since all they needed to do was to follow the path laid out for them. This was totally at odds with Mao’s emphasis on a party working with and among the masses. The fundamental division in outlook pervaded every area of the conflict. When Liu sent out work teams, for example, they demanded “loyalty” to the party above all, and treated both local cadres and the working classes as objects, while suppressing the actions of those who promoted spontaneous leadership by the masses. Such an approach was rife with abuses against local activists, and left many complaints of workers and peasants unaddressed by the authorities. But even while the authors tell us that “an explosive mix of repressed anger and violence was brewing under the surface, waiting to explode at the first crack in the veneer of the socialist order” (103), they never explain why, or toward whom the resentment was directed. The more the reaction was suppressed, however, the more it gathered strength.
The explosion that finally occurred was often carried to extremes, but once again this seems meaningless, divorced from the underlying class issues that drove millions to follow Mao and to “rebel.” It was not only the unresolved problems with the communes, as the authors imply. In the schools, the children of the elite were privileged, while those from worker and peasant families were discriminated against, especially at the university level. For those who gained entrance, education was often dominated by paternalistic professors and harshly authoritarian administrators. The medical profession was almost exclusively urban oriented, leaving the vast majority of rural families with little or no health care, while traditional Chinese practices were disparaged and neglected in favor of Western-style methods. In the factories, notably in such major centers as Shanghai, temporary workers, many drawn from the countryside, were poorly paid and lacked the basic rights accorded permanent employees -– harbinger of the tens of millions of peasant migrants who today flood the cities working on construction or in the sweatshops of the coastal export zones. As for culture, literature and art, they either continued the forms inherited from the feudalistic past, or served only the elitist interests of the intelligentsia.
In one area after another, there was pent up frustration and even rage at a party and state that all too often seemed to have carried over the practices of the former regime into the new revolutionary era, and that were unresponsive to any attempt at input from below.
The rebellion that Mao unleashed swept all before it, as tens of millions struggled to lift the revolution to a higher plane, and to carry it forward into the “superstructure” of culture and the educated professions, with few if any guidelines as to how to scale the heights. As usual, MacFarquhar and Schoenhals give us only vague hints of the reasons for the anger that fed the explosion, and cynically disparage the enthusiasm it released -– for them, the mass rallies in Tiananmen Square that brought over a million mainly young people to Beijing were “Nuremberg-style”; students traveling around the country to help spread the movement, and learn from the experience of the working classes and assist them in their struggles, were just “revolutionary tourists”; and the actions of the young Red Guards are compared to “circuses” and the “state of nature” in Lord of the Flies (107, 110, 124, 131). To back up such descriptions, which reflect the more negative and chaotic aspects of the campaign, the authors provide a mass of detail about the violence with which it was carried out. Of this there was more than enough. The authors include examples of the brutality, torture and even murder that at times have an almost bizarre quality to them. They point to the many suicides, which from the beginning was the way out chosen by some, including among the very highest officials, who came under attack. In case after case, MacFarquhar and Schoenhals catalogue these acts of suicide, as well as data on the overall scale that they reached: 704 in Shanghai in September 1966 alone, for example (124). They paint a compelling picture of the disorientation and bewilderment that overcame many seasoned revolutionaries, as well as ordinary citizens in all walks of life, as they faced a situation that shattered the rules that had governed any previous such struggles. The result, as Jonathan Spence points out in his own review of the book, was a kind of Darkness at Noon syndrome. “What was it that these experienced revolutionary professionals saw as so full of menace that they could not bear to confront it?” –- but which yet compelled them in most cases to try to go along with the movement until they lost out.16 It does all seems senseless, abstracted from the larger context in which it was occurring. Once the history that preceded it and the future that it was trying to prevent are restored, however, what seems at first to be unaccountable takes on meanings that these authors ignore. For even the violence of this period had its own historical precedents.
One minor example can help to illustrate this. In the summer of 2006 I traveled briefly in China with Fred Engst, a nephew of Bill Hinton, who grew up in that country. One day I asked him to tell me more about his own background. When he got to the Cultural Revolution, he began relating what had happened on the farm where he lived -– before making his own crosscountry trek as a teenager at the start of that campaign, and spending two months with Red Guards among the “rebellious coal miners in a town a few hundred miles west of Beijing.” Members of a work team had been sent to this state agricultural facility, and were so abusive of two of the local leaders there that they had committed suicide. Well, I thought, I have heard this kind of description more than once, another example of the violence of the Cultural Revolution. But it turned out that Fred had backtracked in his chronology. The incident he related had occurred right before the launching of that campaign. The suicides were the result of the abuses not of the Cultural Revolution, but of the period preceding it –- the work teams under Liu that were part of the Socialist Education Movement. Such incidents, though “no doubt extreme,” extended to peasants who were not in leadership positions, if they were too critical of those who were. “Subjected to official abuse, some villagers even chose suicide as a way out” (Han Dongping,16). By the time the Cultural Revolution was launched, there were no doubt many who were prepared not only to fight back against such abusers, but even, in some cases, to take their own revenge in a similar fashion -– and to join Mao in attempting to assert bottom up control over those in authority, especially as the same pattern of work team repression extended into that campaign as well. Repeated all across the country and in virtually every sector of society, such incidents helped to lay the basis for its violence, and for the demand that the party and state reform themselves, that all institutions be cleansed of those who acted arbitrarily and with impunity, that even the top leaders be held accountable, and that it was correct to “Bombard the Headquarters.”
What was at stake, however, was much more than ending past abuses. Mao knew that if China succumbed to revisionism, and returned to the “capitalist road,” in the short run at least it would look less like the highly industrialized Soviet Union than like its “peers” in the global periphery, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and above all India, where the vast majority of the population struggled to survive in isolated and impoverished villages. What would become of the Chinese peasants if they were forced back under capitalism? Today we know all too well. A comparison with India helps make this clear. Despite its recent rise as an up and coming “superstar,” second only to China, many hundreds of millions of Indian peasants live in increasing desperation, the result of polarization of the economy, competition from foreign producers, and soaring farm costs. As a result, 17,107 farmers across India “committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing” (New York Times, 9/19/06, A1). So common is this phenomenon, that certain areas are officially designated “suicide prone” districts.
It was this kind of fate that Mao was trying to prevent for the peasants of China. But the situation there today may far surpass even that found in India. The overall rate of attempted suicides by Chinese is now running at about 2,000,000 per year, of which approximately 280,000 succeed.17 Suicide is the leading cause of death among the 15-34 age group, and 93% occur in the rural areas.18 Of course, there always were and are many who take their own lives, but just to list all the Chinese who kill themselves each year today would require a massive tome the same length as Mao’s Last Revolution, with 400 names on every page. On average this is more each day, year after year, than in a full month in Shanghai, one of the epicenters of the Cultural Revolution, at its height.
But the peasants who are killing themselves today will never find their way into the history books. They are the laobaixing, the “old hundred names” -– which despite its literal translation, means the “nameless ones,” the masses who are much too numerous and too “common” to have their individual identity recorded. This is the kind of class oppression and prejudice that Mao was trying to put an end to by launching the Cultural Revolution. No doubt many of all strata killed themselves during that campaign too –- reaching a peak in 1968-69 as part of the massive drive to “cleanse the class ranks,” in which the new mix of local and regional powerholders, still often dominated by officials and military officers, used the opportunity to attack opponents and consolidate control (255-58). But the quarter million plus who commit suicide each year in China today exceeds by itself one estimate for “extra” deaths during the Cultural Revolution, which according to this calculation, averaged 170,000 each year, or just under 2 million for the decade -– approximately the same proportion of the total population, given the larger numbers now.19 Suicide too, therefore, is a class question –- not only who is most likely to die, but which system kills the largest number, and whose deaths are even noticed. Most suicides anywhere, presumably, result from many complex personal and social conditions, but those occurring in China today have one striking characteristic: not only are the majority of them in the rural areas, but virtually alone among all the other nations of the world, it is women who predominate. As in India, where men are the ones who kill themselves most, the favored rural method is swallowing easily available and deadly pesticides and rat poisons. But what has happened to the women of China that would drive so many of them to such suicidal desperation? Once again, Bill Hinton anticipates the answer, in Through a Glass Darkly, discussing their participation and advancement under the socialist system, now almost entirely dismantled, with
women’s role in the revolution, women’s passionate involvement, women’s organizing, women’s struggle against male dominance, and the many-faceted gains made by women, starting with basics like the right to a share of land, in the land reform, freedom to break out of the home and work outside as a producer in field or factory, the right to an income of one’s own whether it be cash of work points, the right to free choice in marriage, and the right to divorce. (177)
These were the advances that the Cultural Revolution tried not only to protect but to extend.
But much if not all of this has been lost to hundreds of millions of rural women, many of whom today face the same kind of desperation as those in India and elsewhere.
With the breakup of the collectives and the return to family contracts the traditional patriarchal family system of China has reasserted its dominance, causing serious erosion of women’s rights. Since the accounting unit has returned to the family level women no longer get credit for the work they do. Wives, daughters, and daughters-in-law are at the beck and call of the senior male member of the household and get what he decides to distribute to them… The buying and selling of women has reached epidemic proportions. Every year organized gangs kidnap and sell several hundred thousand women nationwide, many of them into prostitution. Every highway is lined at well-spaced intervals with small restaurants that offer, besides food, the special services of their under-dressed and over-made-up waitresses. Prostitution is now rampant from Heilongjiang to the South China Sea. (195-196)
Rural Chinese women are committing suicide in such unprecedented numbers, because they had gained the most -– though by no means enough -– through socialist revolution, and therefore had the farthest to fall when the “reforms” destroyed all this in a few years. Subject to male domination and abuse, or left alone to struggle on ever less viable farms, facing unwilling marriages or a life as prostitutes, plagued by poor health and rising costs for treatment, and deprived of the collective support that was the crowning achievement of the communes, many simply abandon all hope. Suicide is so common among them that it “now accounts for a third of all deaths among women in the countryside… In some particular villages it almost becomes normalised.”20 According to a Chinese activist I spoke with in 2006, the rate of suicide among peasant women may have eased slightly in the last couple of years, as more of them join the migrant stream –- but where, instead of dying from the effects of poverty, isolation and abuse, they die in ever larger numbers from overwork, injuries, factory fires and pollution.21 This is the “capitalist road” that Mao foresaw, and that drew tens of millions to join him in the Cultural Revolution.
But suicide is only one of the many “new/old” ways that Chinese are dying today, as these dire social conditions contribute, in turn, to a growing overall crisis in public health. Thus “Syphilis has returned to China with a vengeance,” according to a recent study. The contrast with the health care system of the socialist past is especially noted:
[the] co-authors said the rapid rise in syphilis rates is the result of economic reforms and globalization, which have led to income gaps and a cultural climate that encourages prostitution. Other factors include increasing health-care costs and more people experimenting with sex at an earlier age and before marriage.
[Dr. Myron S.] Cohen and his colleagues also noted that the virtual absence of syphilis in China between 1960 and 1980 means that the general population of young, sexually active people has no natural immunity to the disease.
When the Communists took power in 1949, China was in the midst of one of the largest syphilis epidemics in history. The Communists made syphilis treatment and prevention a priority and, by 1964, the disease was rare in China. That began to change when the country started to open its border in 1980, the researchers said. (The Lancet, 1/13/07, reported in HealthDay News, 1/12/07)
Most of the other old plagues have returned too, such as drug use, also all but eliminated, but now helping to create an out of control AIDS epidemic. It is hard, statistically, to make comparisons between the periods, given the lack of adequate data, but clearly the lives lost or damaged through the growing desperation of many in the rural areas, the massive layoffs and cancelled social services among the urban workers, the effects of poor living conditions for migrants, collapse of health care, worsening environmental pollution, and soaring number of industrial accidents are at least on a scale similar to -– if not greater than -– those in the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward.
Those who oppose revolutionary socialism do not need to kill through organized drives to suppress the workers and peasants, though of course they often do that as well, from the thousands of Paris Communards who were slaughtered after its defeat to many other similar such atrocities down to today. All that is needed is for capitalism to be reintroduced, and the working classes start dropping like flies –- to take but one example, the plunge in life expectancy, among men especially, historically unprecedented except under the conditions of war or epidemic, in the aftermath of the “nonviolent” capitalist counterrevolution by Boris Yeltsin in the Soviet Union.22 Yet we do not hear him described as one of the great “mass murderers” of the 20th century. The lack of violence on the surface of such events hides the violent conditions of daily life that billions around the globe experience in the “routine” operation of capitalism, with its exploitation of the working classes and disparagement of their lives and culture.
III. Did the Chinese Revolution “Commit Suicide”?
Against this “road,” Mao and all of those who supported his policies, dared to “storm heaven.” The costs were great, but the gains were remarkable, as their loss since makes only too clear. Such issues are of little interest to MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, however, and where they do address them, it is typically in a distorted and dismissive manner. In the 462 pages of their main text just 4 ½ –- less than 1 percent –- are spent discussing the living conditions of the workers and peasants, and the transformation of these conditions as a result of the Cultural Revolution.23 Even the title of the one paltry section where they examine this in a little more detail, “Meanwhile, Back on the Farm,” reflects this casualness. Not surprisingly, both the tone and the details are overwhelmingly negative.
Had the lives of ordinary Chinese changed for the better as a result of the supposed rollback of revisionism, feudalism, and Confucianism? All available data suggest not; rather, the Cultural Revolution had failed miserably to benefit those for whom it was supposedly launched. As one senior veteran, Chen Yun, put it dryly to the leadership of the People’s Bank of China in 1973, “at this point, a considerable distance still separates us from that era that Lenin described as one when some public toilets will be made out of gold.” Chen went on to conclude that China needed to do more research on how things were done in capitalist countries. (373)
The authors go on to catalogue how in the later years of the Cultural Revolution, even “with a return to an apparent normalcy, life was still tough in rural China,” with per capita grain production having risen only a little over 9% during the decade of the campaign –- a reflection in part of the rapidly growing population, itself a result of the advances in health care, which MacFarquhar and Schoenhals completely ignore. Their one reference to the “barefoot doctors” –- peasant paramedics who were the key to the provision of medical services to the rural population –- is to note that late in the decade “a growing number of miscellaneous fees were being extracted from production brigades” in part to pay the salaries of such providers. Though they concede that “many of these uses benefited the rural population, the same cannot be said about the moneys extracted in the name of agricultural tax by county governments,” which were increasingly being put to “illicit uses… on a scale unheard of before the Cultural Revolution” (373f).
What the authors fail to note is that the “return to an apparent normalcy” in the last years of the campaign also meant the revival of many of the old problems of party and state abuse, sometimes with a vengeance -– both literal and figurative -– a prelude to the Deng Xiaoping “reform” era. But even where this was not the case, as MacFarquhar and Schoenhals show, many of the worst aspects of rural life in China, such as the kidnapping and selling of women as wives, as well as migration from especially impoverished and isolated areas, had never fully ended. In the cities too, according to them, the overall number of industrial accidents had risen -– though they ignore the possible relation of this increase to the rapidly growing number of industrial workers. While there had been “some progress in workers’ conditions,” such as a wage increase in the middle of the decade, consumer goods on which to spend it and housing were in short supply, and may have even decreased (373-77). Certainly, the “mixed” results of this period were a consequence in part of the violence, factionalism, and chaos into which the Cultural Revolution had dissolved, causing widespread direct and indirect disruptions. With their focus almost exclusively on such effects, however, MacFarquhar and Schoenals distort the overall picture. Their claim that “all available data” support their conclusions, most notably, rests on two blatant falsehoods. The first is that they included a full range of materials in their study; the second, that the record as a whole backs up the overwhelmingly negative analysis that they have drawn. Thus despite a bibliography that stretches to almost 50 pages, they leave out several easily available works published before theirs that counter their picture of the countryside. These include Shenfan, by Hinton, a followup study to Fanshen which includes this period, as well as Gao Village by Mobo Gao, and The Unknown Cultural Revolution by Han Dongping, both of which relate their own experiences growing up in rural villages in different parts of the country during these same years. The work of Tian Liwei, one of the leading students of that campaign in China today, offers similar evidence contradicting the analysis given in Mao’s Last Revolution.
Each of these authors provides a critical assessment of the Cultural Revolution, including both negative and positive aspects. But none support the almost entirely one-sided and dismal picture drawn by MacFarquhar and Schoenhals. Another book that the latter two ignore, Red Earth: Revolution in a Sichuan Village, by Stephen Endicott, who grew up in China and made an in-depth study of four decades of one rural community, shows the many gains achieved, despite setbacks and lingering problems. It is worth quoting a lengthy passage to illustrate the range of what was accomplished, and how the concepts of a “new socialist person” were translated into practical mobilizations.
The failure of the Cultural Revolution to solve the problem of work incentives satisfactorily was clearly a major disappointment for the revolutionary committee at Junction People’s Commune. Nevertheless… this lack of permanent success did not prevent the villagers from rallying to chalk up some remarkable achievements in community development and social change that reflected the values of a new proletarian culture as taught by Mao.
Using Mao’s slogan of ‘put public interest first, self-interest second’, which is the reverse of the bourgeois liberal values stressing individualism, these tangible results included the digging of the Red Cliff canal in 1968 and other major water conservancy efforts to create an area of ‘high and stable yields’ for grain; the building of tractor roads to every hamlet, and purchase of machinery to open the door to mechanization; the massive investment of labour in farmland reconstruction to wipe out the dreaded plague of schistosomiasis and to square fields so that chemical fertilizer could be technologically applied; the improvement of the railway to bring lime and phosphorous fertilizer down from the mountains; the introduction of high-yield hybrid rice seeds after careful experimentation; the use of science to tame the tobacco blight and improve cash incomes; the construction of a primary school and a health clinic in every village; the electrification of villages and the founding of several small industrial enterprises; and the shaping of an ‘iron rice bowl’ embodying advanced principles of social security and distributive justice. Such innovations and rapid advances, achieved by the labour of peasant collectives in a self-reliant way, had never appeared in the village in two millennia since the unification of China under the Han dynasty.24
All this in just one small area of Sichuan in the west, around a village chosen at random.
But a thousand miles away in the eastern provinces, Han Dongping and Mobo Gao record almost identical kinds of gains made in the villages where they grew up, while putting special emphasis on the changes in class and familial relationships, as official and paternal authority were challenged. The struggles against the remnants of feudalism and Confucianism, as well as revisionism, that MacFarquhar and Schoenhals so scorn, were in this way brought to the level of daily life in the villages.25 But similar transformations took place in factories too, where, according to workers I have spoken with, the era of the Cultural Revolution –- when many innovations comparable to those described by Endicott were applied to industry -– was the time when they felt that they had the most power in collective governance. The struggles of this period produced enormous advances, often as the “flip side” of disruptions elsewhere: if many schools closed temporarily, especially in the cities, thousands were being built in the countryside; economic production was in some areas set back, in others flourished with new “bottom up” input by workers and creative innovations; basic healthcare was brought for the first time to the rural population (the vast majority); infrastructural projects were undertaken whose benefits in many cases continue down to today; and cultural and artistic activities celebrated the actions of the “common” people and their revolutionary spirit, overturning centuries of neglect. These accomplishments were the results of the mobilization of hundreds of millions during the Cultural Revolution, achieved through the campaigns it unleashed, however costly. Above all, the working classes shared a governing role in virtually all social institutions, often through three-in-one Revolutionary Committees, and were encouraged to engage in political affairs, an unprecedented attempt to implement a bottom-up radical democratization -– though these advances faced their own limitations.26
But the authors of Mao’s Last Revolution have little time to waste on any such positive developments. Their eyes are on a different prize. By all but ignoring the class conflicts that underlay the Cultural Revolution, they can focus instead on “Red Terror,” on the violence and suicides, on the factional struggles and internecine battles, and on the major clashes. In this way they try to show that, in effect, the revolutionary process itself “committed suicide” in China. Specifically, they attribute to Mao and the “excesses” of the Cultural Revolution and of his earlier campaigns the origins of the rapid capitalist counterrevolution led by Deng Xiaoping, that “freed Chinese from the most egregious terrors of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s.” This theme frames the book from start to end.
A common verdict is: no Cultural Revolution, no economic reform. The Cultural Revolution was so great a disaster that it provoked an even more profound cultural revolution, precisely the one that Mao intended to forestall. For it was indeed Mao who was responsible for the Cultural Revolution, as the CCP’s Central Committee (CC) formally admitted in its 1981 Resolution on Party History… Why did China’s supreme leader decide to tear down what he had done so much to create? (3)
As usual the authors do not document this “common verdict,” which they later elaborate.
So accounts were settled and a line was drawn under the Cultural Revolution. In the succeeding quarter-century, Mao’s worst revisionist nightmare has been realized, with only himself to blame. Deng will get historians’ credit for the capitalist-style modernization of China (“reform” – gaige) and its incorporation into the wider world (“opening up” – kaifang), but it was Mao’s disastrous enactment of his utopian fantasies that freed Deng’s mind from Communist orthodoxies. Mao’s greatest post-1949 victory, the collectivization of agriculture, has been set aside. Only his major achievement, the 1949 revolution itself, is still in place, saved by Deng Xiaoping and the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, when the CCP could no longer cope. (459)
Presumably, by such an analysis, without the Cultural Revolution, collectivization of agriculture would have survived, and its dismantlement is due entirely to that campaign.
But even by the evidence that MacFarquhar and Schoenhals themselves have offered, this is nonsense, an example of what Michael Parenti calls “history as mystery.” On page 8 of their text, as already noted, in 1962 “Mao’s colleagues espoused radical policies for the countryside which would have effectively restored family farming.” Once in power, that was the first step they took, gradually extending similar “reforms” throughout every sector of the economy, while throwing the country open to foreign investment. This is exactly what Mao had predicted, and over and over again tried to stop. With or without the Cultural Revolution, if the Liu-Deng forces gained control, they would have taken the “capitalist road.” Yet MacFarquhar and Schoenhals refuse to draw this obvious conclusion, because they will not accept Hinton’s perspective that “Mao’s struggle for a socialist road and Liu’s counter-struggle for a capitalist road are rooted in history, in the class nature of Chinese society, in its current state of social and economic development, and in the class roots and commitments of the two contending wings of the party” (Hinton, 272).
Here is the crux of the matter. Is the pattern of revolution and counterrevolution driven primarily by the specific actions of the contending sides, or by the underlying conditions of material production, class relationships, and the overall level of social development? More specifically, is it the “excesses” of the revolutionaries or the conflict of classes that leads to counterrevolutionary reaction, and why does such violence tend to arise in the first place? To answer such questions, it may help to place the Chinese revolution in a broader global and historical context. For the pattern found in China has been paralleled, in its overall character, and even many of its details, in virtually every major modern revolutionary struggle. Whether it is the English revolution in the 17th century, the French in the 18th, or the Russian in the 20th, we find the same cycle of initial victory, deepening civil conflict, repressive state responses and, in reaction to “excesses” of the revolutionaries, eventual restoration of the ancien regime in more “modern” form. Commonly, though not universally, this cyclical pattern is driven in part by the threat or even active intervention of foreign powers, and it may take more or less time to complete. The first socialist revolutions, like the early bourgeois ones, have largely succumbed to this same cycle, which is only to be expected in the initial stages of such worldhistoric changes of class rule, when the old system is dying and the new, while struggling to emerge, is not yet strong enough to hold on. But just as the capitalists triumphed in the end anyway, and overthrew the feudal system, so too the history of socialism in its struggle with capitalism has only begun to be made.
The American Revolution alone seems to escape this dialectic, but that is because the most critical social conflict –- over slavery -– was “postponed” for almost a century.27 When it finally occurred, it was on a scale only equaled in the 19th century by the Taiping Rebellion in China and, with the period of Reconstruction included, followed the same cycle as the other three revolutions. On the surface, of course, the thesis of MacFarquhar and Schoenhals could be applied to each of these conflicts: without the “excesses” and violence of the Roundheads, no dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell, which ended with the restoration under Charles II; without the French Terror, no Thermidor and Napoleon, and no reclaiming of the throne by Louis XVIII; without Stalin, no Khrushchev, Gorbachev, or Yeltsin. And finally, without the “terror” of the march by Sherman to the sea, and the “democratic dictatorship” of the Reconstruction period, with its “corrupt Black officials and opportunistic carpetbaggers,” no Ku Klux Klan and restoration of white power in the infamous Compromise of 1876. This is the way that U.S. history used to be taught, and probably still is in many quarters. Thus, despite “democratic and humanitarian impulses” on the part of many Northerners, and the election of Blacks to office, we are told that,
This period, called Reconstruction, may be compared to the most advanced phase of the French Revolution, in that “radical republicans” undertook to press liberty and equality upon a recalcitrant country, under conditions of emergency rule, and under the auspices of a highly centralized national government with a mobilized army. The Southern whites strenuously objected, and the Northern radicals discredited themselves and gradually lost their zeal. Reconstruction was abandoned in the 1870’s, and, by what Europeans would call a counter-revolution, the Southern whites gradually regained control.28
The “recalcitrant country” –- a misnomer in and of itself -– does not, apparently, include the Black officials, or their working class white allies, who “reconstructed” the South. The same lessons are driven home in popular media, the most famous of which are the fictional Birth of a Nation and especially Gone With the Wind –- equivalent to the “scar literature” written by Chinese intellectuals who suffered during the Cultural Revolution.
In such ways, the counterrevolution can be blamed on the “utopian” Northerners, their “discredited” radicalism, and the uncontrolled chaos of rule under ex-slaves, rather than, for example, on the retention of ownership of the land by the plantation masters and the growing ranks of Northern capitalists who had no interest in upholding Black power, and sought allies in the former Southern ruling class, as long as they were junior partners. Applied to China, the same alternative interpretations exist. Was it “utopian fantasies” of Mao and the “discredited” events of the Cultural Revolution, or was it the retention of political power by the more bureaucratic elements of the party and state -– giving them control over all aspects of the economy as well -– that allowed Deng Xiaoping to carry out his counterrevolution? In the immediate sense, the former was true. The specific character and speed of every counterrevolution is shaped by the nature of the revolution it overthrows. The Cultural Revolution created a pent-up desire for the return to “normalcy” -– and even Bill Hinton, in his first reaction to the Deng “reforms,” welcomed the restoration of social order and economic stabilization. But in the deeper historical sense, it is foolish to believe that such enormous shifts in the direction of a social order occur because of the short-term effects of the way that the struggle is conducted. No comparable clash marked the end of the Soviet Union, but this did not prevent a Dengist-like Yeltsin counterrevolution. Had Mao not undertaken a final cataclysmic effort to prevent the restoration of capitalism in China, would that country today be a socialist haven, with a flourishing collectivism immune from the ravages of the global “free market”? That is the purest “utopianism.” MacFarquhar and Schoenhals are not willing to go that far, of course. They prefer to leave suspended in the air, as it were, the issue of what China would look like today if there had never been a Cultural Revolution, because they have no defensible answer that would fit the illusionary thesis they advance.
Even the pattern of violence in that campaign had many sources: not only the reaction of those who themselves had for too long been suppressed, sometimes brutally, but also the revolutionary zeal, often carried to extremes, of young and inexperienced Red Guards, or the “ultraleftism” that was practiced by some activists and leaders. There was also the tendency toward dogmatic factionalism so common among intellectuals, the many levels of class division in the ranks of those taking part in the struggle, and the effort to pit these contending forces against each other by officials stirring up a conservative backlash among certain parts of the working classes or fanning the flames of the “rightist-as-leftist” Communist Wind. When the army was called in, it at times added its own acts of excessive repression, and there were even battles between contending factions within the military itself.29
Despite the overall division between the conservatives and radical “rebels” -– which did reflect the underlying class conflict –- both camps had their own internal divisions, which sometimes resulted in major clashes, and increasingly tended to obscure the battle lines.30 All these factors contributed to the chaos and violence, which Mao is depicted both as initially helping to release, but also at times trying to restrain –- though less so than Premier Zhou Enlai. As a “revolution within the revolution,” a unique struggle to defend socialism against the threat of a capitalist restoration from within, the Cultural Revolution broke new ground historically. Mao and all those taking part faced many problems that had not been confronted before, especially in the area of class analysis and in determining which criteria to use in identifying those taking the “capitalist road.” In addition, these issues had to be dealt with in the midst of the campaign itself, without the guidance of prior theoretical development [analysis]. The failure of Mao to make a clear class analysis comparable to what he had drawn up for earlier stages of the revolution, the utilization of such vague terms as “good” and “bad” for cadre, and the lack of a sufficient institutionalization of the new working-class mobilizations, each contributed to the ability of those on all sides of the struggle to label others as “enemies.”
But even the “excesses” are two-sided. For example, the participation of school children in the struggle may at times have exceeded any acceptable roles or limits for those of a very young age. Some professional educators, confronted with the closing of schools, took the attitude,
What could taking part in class struggle possibly mean to a seven-year-old boy or girl? The president of one of Beijing’s finest elementary schools complained bitterly: “Class struggle this and class struggle that; even feathers and garlic skins have become a matter of class struggle!” (60)
To many heads of elite schools, children making revolution must have seemed ridiculous. But even in the United States we knew at the time what this “means.” My older daughter grew up with the wonderful series of books for children put out by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, exemplifying in simple stories the values it promoted, including cooperation above individualism, and opposition to male superiority. My own personal favorite was I Wanted to Go to School, the beautifully illustrated true life story of a leading cadre, who as a poor peasant child struggled to gain access to an education, and which laid out in moving form all the class relations and the brutal exploitation in a typical pre-revolution village. But there were other US parallels during the same time, for example the Freedom Schools that were established during the Mississippi Summer of 1964 to give poor Black children access to an education, including in their own history, denied them by the segregated system, or the Free Breakfast program by Chicago Black Panthers a few years later, which drew inspiration in part from the Cultural Revolution and which offered political as well as physical sustenance to primary school students, and was so threatening to the authorities that they murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their beds in part to stop this example. But the movement could not be stopped. Two decades later, the pre-school that my younger daughter attended converted Thanksgiving into a celebration of Native American culture, while the child care center where she in turn now teaches has changed Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day. In this way, cultural revolution has continued to sweep the globe, and changed life even for children.
But all such complexities and interrelations escape MacFarquhar and Schoenhals. In the end, they cannot even resist adopting the language of Chang and Halliday – albeit tucked away in an appended “Glossary of Names and Identities” of all the main players. There they tell us, “Together with Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, Mao appears destined to go down in history as one of the great tyrants of the twentieth century” (471) – though they don’t go so far as to label him, as some reviewers of the former authors do, the “greatest monster” of them all. As usual, MacFarquhar and Schoenhals do not make clear whether the “tyrant” phrase is their own opinion, or just the “common verdict” of unnamed sources. Certainly, with their own work, they are doing their little bit to make sure that their prediction comes true. Yet only a few pages earlier, they have described another side of Mao’s legacy.
In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, popular liberation finally did begin to flourish. The humiliation of party cadres high and low destroyed the authority of the CCP in the eyes of the Chinese people, who took to heart the Maoist message of daring to think, speak and act. Today, all over China, people protest what they consider to be unjust treatment by corrupt officials. The Cultural Revolution was truly the watershed in the history of the People’s Republic of China (459).
What a strange legacy for one of the “great tyrants” of the modern era -– to have helped hundreds of millions, in the working classes especially, to reclaim their birthright, not as objects, but subjects of their own history, to assert their “right to rebel,” and to resist not only the authority of those above them, but the attempt of those same officials to impose on them a brutal exploitation in the name of opening up China to the global capitalist “free market.” Protests by Chinese workers and peasants now number tens of thousands each year, and they are growing in frequency, scale and coordination across the lines of region and class that were so divisive in the past and so easily manipulated by those in power.31 This is the abiding legacy of the Cultural Revolution, even to those who are today unfamiliar with it or who have succumbed to the efforts to suppress its history.
MacFarquhar and Schoenhals represent that same breed of academics that Hinton so clearly saw through, the “bourgeois opinion makers… expending enormous effort building their case against class struggle, working-class power, and any possible positive achievements in the construction of socialism” -– whether through willful bias or smug intellectual arrogance or just, à la Liu, the “zombie-like” playing out of their class roles. What he says of Friedman et al. can easily stand as a summary for these later authors too.
Machiavelli said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Given the truth of this statement despoilers always have an easier time of it than creators. By choosing to side with the despoilers, Friedman, Pickowitz, and Selden have painted themselves into a corner. The relentless development of burgeoning class struggle in China, undeterred by the fact that they have with scholarly hauteur abolished it, will inevitably expose them. (273)
How easily Hinton too could have sold out, and joined their comfortable ranks. But he chose instead the road less traveled. Not that he was naïve about the costs of the many stages of the revolutions that China had undertaken. “The great destruction wrought by these two wars was tragic, but there was no way forward,” he concluded, except through revolution (272). Hinton never lost his revolutionary optimism or his determination to fight against the numbing TINA ideology, with its “end of history” call to impotence. To his last days, he held firm to the belief that it is better to have made revolution and lost, than never to have made it at all. For he knew, as well as anyone, that such cycles are an inevitable part of the revolutionary dialectic, that despite the costs and temporary setbacks there were great and lasting accomplishments, that humanity never completely “loses” anything that it has already brought into being, that the only way forward is to take risks and to learn from past successes and failures, and, above all, that the legacy of these struggles lives on in the Chinese working classes and people the world over, and that their time will come again.
*I would like to thank Mobo Gao, Carol Hanisch, and Dale Wen for reviewing an earlier draft of this work, and Tom Lutze, Doug Norberg, David Pugh and Yan Hairong for their specific suggestions on the text. I especially appreciate the time and effort of Alex Day in helping to clarify certain questions raised by the article. As always in such cases, any remaining errors or misinterpretations are my own.
1. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006.
2. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
3. There are a few other minor weaknesses, presumably due primarily to posthumous publication after a long gestation period, such as some strangely anachronistic spellings of Chinese words and names. A map of the main geographic area being discussed would have been helpful, as might have been a short preface about the origins of this work, when it was written, and how it came to be published at this time.
4. The complexity of the alliance of classes derived not only from differentiations among those who carried out the revolution -– the “peasantry,” for example, was divided between landless, poor or semi-proletarian, middle and rich categories -– and even those in each of these strata shifted as a result of the land reform. In addition, there were both the remnants of the “old” bourgeoisie and “new” elements that arose from the assumption of positions of power within the party and state, which potentially raised cadre from peasant or worker origins above their initial family status, opening the way to a change in class attitudes, as they put the exploitation and protection of their newfound authority above collective interests. Thus not only petty bourgeois, but even more full blown capitalist orientations could arise from various directions. Analyzing such changes was complicated by the different definitions of class utilized -– family background, former practices, current position, and ideological commitment -– each of which might conflict with or “trump” the others depending on which was emphasized at any given point in the different stages of the revolution.
5. As is increasingly evident, the second of these visions for the future of China has succeeded, perhaps far beyond even the wildest dreams of its adherents. The reemergence of the historic Chinese position as the dominant power in East Asia is well on its way to realization, and the dynamism of its economy is not only reordering global relationships, but has profoundly altered the domestic social order. This includes raising aspects of the standard of living -– notably through access to a wider variety of foodstuffs and of consumer goods -– even for many in the lower socioeconomic ranks, and the creation of a large “new middle class” that numbers in the tens, or by some measures hundreds, of millions. But these changes, wrought by the introduction of capitalistic practices and massive foreign investment, have come at the cost of converting China increasingly into the typical “model” of vast and growing polarization, with billionaires at the top and teenagers working 15 hour days in export factories at the bottom, the loss of education and health care for hundreds of millions, and the seizure of land and factories by officials and their private entrepreneur associates through processes that have made nationwide corruption systemic. In addition, the Chinese economy is becoming integrated into global trade and financial relationships in ways that are endangering the livelihood of tens of millions, especially in the rural areas, and that pose both new opportunities and threats, as exemplified by the role of its stock markets in setting off the sharp global selloff of March 2007, compared to its relative isolation from damage in the Asian crisis a decade earlier.
6. Though statements by Liu in the early 1950s were broadly in line with those of the official policy set forth by Mao at the time, both in tone and emphasis there were differences between the two from the start. These only widened as the collectivization drive deepened. For Liu and his supporters “economistic” methods such as the use of material incentives were central, as was tight managerial control, whether in the party and state themselves or in industrial enterprises, while for Mao putting “politics in command” was fundamental, based on encouragement of the collective mobilization of the working classes. In agricultural policy, it became increasingly clear over time that these differences reflected a growing “two-line struggle” between those who saw individual farming as part of an initial transitional stage and those for whom it was an approach to be reintroduced every time the drive for communal organization weakened or suffered setbacks. The leading role of Deng in this regard emerged somewhat later, notably after the Great Leap Forward, and his relation to Mao remained more ambivalent throughout. But as Hinton notes, Deng in 1961 called for a “temporary” set of measures that were an early example of his “pragmatic” approach, and concluded with his famous declaration: “Insofar as individual enterprises can further this production they are a good thing. It is not important whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” On the farms this meant advocating larger private plots, expanded free markets, more small enterprises responsible for their own profits and losses, and family contracts, while for industrial enterprises, “converting many of them back to private ownership. To many people this did not look like a program for reordering, correcting and consolidating collective agriculture and industry. It looked more like a program for liquidating both” (Shenfan: The Continuing Revolution in a Chinese Village, New York: Vintage Books, 1984, 284f). Deng proved in the long run to be the one who consolidated the “family farms,” and based his entire capitalistic “reform” policy in the post-Mao era on this firm foundation. The underlying danger of the latter was recognized as far back as Lenin -– drawing on Marx and Engels -– who devoted a great deal of effort to exposing the “petty bourgeois capitalist” nature of small private farming and its potential as the firmest basis for introducing higher levels of capitalism throughout the economy. Mao was prescient in recognizing the threat that this would play a similar role in China, and opposing even its earliest manifestations, foreseeing that it would underpin a return to the “capitalist road.”
7. While much more sympathetic toward him than Hinton, and challenging the interpretation of his record put forward especially during the Cultural Revolution, Lowell Dittmer provides evidence for this kind of shift on the part of Liu. Thus in 1955, he approved a “proposal to dissolve 200,000 cooperatives,” on the grounds that they had been set up “without sufficient preparation to stand much chance of survival.” But after “Mao bitterly denounced the ‘“drastic compression” policy’… Liu reportedly made a self-criticism and fell into line. He then shifted to the left, becoming one of the staunchest backers of the Leap” toward which “his subsequent misgivings… were due not to the ambitious scale and speed of the undertaking but to the lack of disciplined organization and leadership in implementation.” (Liu Shao-ch’i and the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Politics of Mass Criticism, Berkeley: University of California, 1974, 255f)
8. Taken as a whole, Hinton saw the distorted reporting -– a problem in the relation of the center to the outlying regions in both pre- and post-revolutionary China –- and other aberrations of the Great Leap Forward resulting from honest enthusiasm and pressure to look successful in the campaign, combined with intentional manipulation and bureaucratic opportunism. The exact “mix” of these elements varied, but their objective impact was to exacerbate the inherent difficulties of implementing such immense transformations.
9. For a detailed discussion, see Joseph Ball, “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?” (Sept 2006), at www.monthlyreview.org/0906ball.htm.
10. Discussions of the toll of the Great Leap Forward as well as its causes and who was responsible tend to have a certain Rashomon quality to them. Not only the viewpoints of the various analysts, but the variables that they choose to utilize or emphasize, the geographic region they focus on, and their use of statistical versus anecdotal evidence all influence the outcome. Those interested in looking at a range of thoughtful materials on this issue from authors who are generally favorable toward Mao and the revolution could refer to the works by Han Dongping, Mobo Gao, and Stephen Endicott cited below, as well as Chris Bramall, In Praise of Maoist Economic Planning: Living Standards and Economic Development in Sichuan since 1931, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, and work by Utsa Patnaik (www.ignca.nic.in/ks_41032.htm). As these and many more mainstream sources show, the issue is still open to debate.
11. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.
12. MacFarquhar, quoted in Ball, “Did Mao Really Kill Millions?” (note 8), 2.
13. Ball, 8.
14. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is usually described as lasting the full decade from 1966 to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. However, there are some -– notably Maurice Meisner (Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic, 3rd edition, New York: Free Press, 1999) -– who argue that the revolutionary period ended after three years, with the suppression of radical elements. This timeframe is in accord with the “official” declaration that the campaign was over at the 1969 9th Party Congress. But this was later qualified by Mao, and both in theory and practice many aspects of the Cultural Revolution, and conflicts to which it gave rise, continued to play out during the ensuing years, until the “reform” era.
15. Among the signatories was Wang Dongxing, who held several high positions, including that of chief of security and head bodyguard for Mao. He arrested the socalled “Gang of Four” after the death of the Chairman, but later broke with Deng Xiaoping and was forced into semi-retirement. For a critique of the Li Zhisui book, and statements by Mao associates refuting claims by Li regarding his degree of access to the Chairman and specifics of his supposed observations there, see Q. M. Borja and Xu L. Dong ed., Manufacturing History: Sex, Lies and Random House’s Memoirs of Mao’s Physician, New York: China Study Group, 1996.
16. “China’s Great Terror,” New York Review of Books, Vol. 53, No. 14, September 21, 2006, 31.
17. Talk by Dale Wen of the International Forum on Globalization (San Francisco on September 7, 2006), can be found at website’s
and at http://health.sohu.com/7/0304/90/column219539065.shtml -– in Chinese –- as her sources.
18. Dale Wen, personal communication.
19. Dale Wen, citing http://www.boxun.com/hero/dings/39_1.shtml -– in Chinese -– as her source. As in the case of the Great Leap Forward, the number of deaths in the Cultural Revolution claimed by different sources ranges considerably. MacFarquhar and Schoenhals do not provide an overall total, but cite numbers for parts of the campaign –- such as 750,000 to 1.5 million during the “Cleansing the Class Ranks” drive in rural China alone (262) -– that suggest the same order of magnitude indicated by Dale Wen. In a review of their book, Judith Shapiro estimates “one million unnatural deaths” (New York Times Book Review, 10/8/06, 28). Others such as Maurice Meisner put the figure lower – around 400,000 –- but may be using a shorter time frame for the length of the campaign. Thus most estimates seem to be in this overall range, leaving aside the inflated claims of those – such as Chang and Halliday -– who seek to make the number of deaths under Mao as extreme as possible.
20. BBC News World Edition, 11/29/02.
21. The urban suicide rate may be lower, but it is just as closely related to changing social conditions, as noted in an article about Chen Si, a man who tries, with only limited success, to prevent suicides from jumping off the bridge over the Yangzi in Nanjing. This span, the first built by Chinese to cross the river, was hailed as one of the outstanding achievements of the socialist revolution. Today, “The Nanjing Bridge over the Yangtze has become a national symbol since its completion in 1968, but it has also become associated with lost hope and despair. Up to 1,000 people are believed to have died by jumping off it… [Chen Si] said he was also very affected when he saw a person who jumped off a tall building. ‘The crowd down below were cheering,’ he stated. ‘I thought, “relations between human beings have become so cold.”’ Despite the country’s economic reforms, there is still widespread poverty in China, and Mr Chen said that he believed the psychological consequences of the growing wealth gap are significant factors in pushing people to a state of despair. ‘If another person has all the fancy food to eat, and you have only vegetables and pickled radishes, then you are psychologically unbalanced,’ he said. ‘That is a very common reason for suicide –- not just in China, but in lots of developing countries. Everything revolves more and more around money.’” (BBC News, 1/6/05. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4149229.stm)
22. “Russia’s transition from a socialist to market-led economy has been accompanied by a severe decline in the health status of the population. Between 1991 and 1994 life expectancy for males has fallen by over 6 years and for females by over 3 years. The dramatic decline is quite unprecedented both in Russia and in other industrialized countries.” The average length of life for men fell from 63.8 to 57.5, and for women from 74.4 to 71.0 years from 1990 to 1995 (David Leon et al., “Adult mortality in Russia,” London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine,
www.lshtm.ac.uk/ecohost/projects/mortality-russia.htm, updated 6/9/04). “The striking rise in Russian mortality is beyond the peacetime experience of industrialized countries, with a 5-year decline in life expectancy in 4 year’s time” (Francis C. Notzon, Ph.D., et al., “Causes of Declining Life Expectancy in Russia,” JAMA, Vol. 279, No. 10, 3/11/98) The poorer and outlying parts of the Soviet Union, after breaking off as separate countries, often suffered even more drastic declines in life expectancy.
23. This is only one of the many areas that the authors fail to delve into in any depth. Among the others are the complex experiences and mutual impact, both positive and negative, of the more than 16 million youth who volunteered or were “sent down” to work in rural communities. Equally neglected are the reordering of cultural activities to reflect the lives and struggles of the working classes; the worldwide impact of the Cultural Revolution, and especially its contribution to social movements, including in the United States; and the theoretical advances which Mao introduced at this time, especially in his analyses of the revolution in the social “superstructure” and the continuation of class struggle in the era of the transition to socialism.
24. Stephen Endicott, Red Earth: Revolution in a Sichuan Village, Toronto: NC Press, 1989, 131.
25. The study of the works of Mao, now so widely dismissed as nothing but rote obedience to a “cult,” had much deeper implications, despite the extremes to which it was at times carried. It introduced the workers and peasants to basic Marxist concepts, and opened the way for them to debate issues of both domestic and foreign policy from which they had previously been excluded. As Han Dongping notes, “What some outside observers don’t realize is Mao’s works had become a de facto Constitution for rural people. More importantly, this de facto constitution became an effective political weapon for ordinary villagers… They used Mao’s words as a weapon in their debates with abusive village leaders, and as a yardstick to measure the behavior of village leaders… In this sense, Mao’s works promoted the idea of equality between leaders and led, and ultimately promoted political empowerment of ordinary villagers.” Those officials who took these new relations to heart changed their attitudes. “Farmers and former rebel leaders said that the leaders of the Cultural Revolution had gone a long way to separate themselves from elitist ideas and style.” There was nothing abstract for these villagers as to what they lost after Deng came back into power. When Han spoke with them during the post-Mao era, “For many farmers I interviewed, ‘capitalist restoration’ referred to the loss of the fruits of land reform, and a return to the ways of the old society, and the term ‘newly arisen bourgeoisie’ referred to party leaders who did not work but bossed people around like the old landlords and capitalists.” (The Unknown Revolution: Educational Reforms and Their Impact on China’s Rural Development, New York, Garland Publishing, 2000, 64-66)
26. In Shanghai, for example, workers shared directly in administering both factories and the municipality. See Elizabeth J. Perry and Li Xun, Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution, Boulder: Westview Press, 1997: “The general establishment of revolutionary committees afforded the rebels an opportunity to enter political leadership ranks at all levels of administration. In sectors where workers were heavily concentrated, such as industry, transportation, basic construction, and the like, worker rebels gained substantial influence. For example, the revolutionary committee of the Shanghai Machine and Electronics Bureau, established in 1967, included forty-six committee members, of who twenty-one were worker rebels. When a new revolutionary committee was formed in November 1968, worker rebels contributed thirty-five of the forty-five members” (151). Nevertheless, “As more and more cadres returned to their former administrative posts, the revolutionary committees began to look like replicas of their predecessor party committees in everything but name” (153). While this led to efforts to put worker representatives in municipal agencies, the gains were often either only partial or short-lived. Over time, and especially outside such rebel strongholds as Shanghai, the Revolutionary Committees tended to reflect a drawnout stalemate between radical and conservative forces. Especially at the provincial level, where the majority were led by army officers, the old guard were often dominant. But in local governments, industrial enterprises, and universities, the balance could remain more favorable to working-class and “rebel” influence, backed up by ongoing support from radicals at the center.
27. Hinton makes his own brief comparisons to the American Revolution and the Civil War -– especially the role and effect of the Emancipation Proclamation -– and the rise and fall of Reconstruction (68-69, 75-76).
28. R.R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961, 544.
29. According to Meisner, “While groups of virtually all political orientations resorted to violence during the Cultural Revolution, most of the lives taken during the upheaval were not the work of ‘radical Maoists,’ as conventionally assumed, but rather the work of the army, with radicals as their usual victims.” (334)
30. Among the most significant such class divisions which emerged over time were those within the ranks of students themselves, exemplified in particular by the United Action Committee of Red Guards in Beijing. “This Red Guard organization was formed exclusively of the sons and daughters of high-level officials who came together when they suddenly realized that the targets of the Cultural Revolution were not the usual suspects but their own parents.” (197) They carried out many of the earliest raids on intellectuals and the destruction of cultural objects, in an effort to focus the campaign away from their office-holding families. After clashing with opposing factions of Red Guards, they were declared “counterrevolutionary,” and some 139 members of this group were arrested and later released. But they had counterparts in other cities as well, such as during the “Wuhan Incident” of 1967, where they supported the conservative side in one of the most serious clashes of the entire campaign, involving military units as well as local workers and officials, who detained and abused representatives of the Central Cultural Revolution Group sent out from Beijing. Such Red Guard elements further exemplify the thesis of Hinton regarding the manner in which leading authorities and their family members and associates found ways to work within the ranks of the movement to protect their own interests, split its ranks and pit factions against each other, discredit the goals of the campaign, and heighten the overall confusion and violence -– all the better to lay the basis for their eventual return to power by offering to “restore social order.” Nevertheless, despite the underlying struggle between conservative and radical camps, the conflicts of the Cultural Revolution did not fall along neat class or ideological lines, and Mao and other leaders were at times on various sides of the increasingly complex divisions that emerged both within and between state and party agencies, including the Peoples Liberation Army, and the popular organizations. With the rapidly changing alignment of forces, each of the contending groupings experienced its own internal contradictions and constant reshuffling.
31. In a dramatic recent example of this ferment and possibly of a new level of cross-class unification, “Thousands of Chinese farmers and laid-off workers rioted in central China, attacking police and smashing squad cars, a local official said Monday, the latest in a string of violent demonstrations… A widening gap between rich and poor, corruption and official abuses of power have fuelled a growing number of demonstrations and riots around China, often sparked by seemingly minor issues.” (Reuters, 3/12/07)
What set off this clash in Zhushan, a village in Hunan Province, was a rise in public transport costs. As a background story explains, “Since 2005, the rights to run these transportation routes are privatized, so that these routes became de facto monopolies with serious problems of arbitrary price hikes. As a result, the masses are reacting strongly.” (XXPI, 2/9/07, in translation) The 20,000 protesters in Zhushan “were very, very angry and were shouting ‘Beat the government dogs to death.’” (AP via CNN.com, 3/12/07) The 1,500 paramilitary and riot police sent in used widespread violence to quell the protest, and sealed off the town, in spite of which, word has leaked out that the increased transport charges were rolled back. It is unclear if this incident represents a substantively higher form of struggle than other such recent rebellions.