Cultural Revolution


Cultural Revolution
(1966–1976)
   A violent campaign of epic proportions demanded by Mao Zedong in China to renew the atmosphere and ideals of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the Cultural Revolution was a campaign against privilege, party bureaucracy and revisionism. Following the failure of the ruinous “Great Leap Forward,” Mao faced clandestine criticism from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members over his ideology-led actions. Mao’s critics wished to see China adopt a more pragmatic, bureaucratic stance similar to that espoused in the Soviet Union. The Chinese leader’s reaction was to invoke a campaign to reassert his grip on party and state by reinvigorating the revolution and defeating revisionism. His tool for doing so would be the “masses” who would aid him in ridding the country of figures deemed to be pillars of the party old guard, and replacing them with a fresh cohort of fanatical revolutionaries. Ideologically, the purpose of the campaign would be to implement a “permanent revolution” aimed at repelling the threat of a capitalist resurgence. To this end, in 1966 Mao ordered an assault on “capitalist roaders” within the CCP that would in turn become an attack on groups such as intellectuals reckoned to be opponents of the revolution by virtue of their possession of foreign literature, or even their fashion sense.
   In May 1966 Mao certified his grip as director of the Cultural Revolution in a politburo circular, and close behind him as figureheads of the action were his wife Chiang Ch’ing and Defense Minister Lin Biao. With party opposition to Mao rife, he turned to the outside population and in particular the disgruntled young for assistance in carrying out the renewal of the revolution. They were loosely organized into the “Red Guards,” a group supported logistically with the aid of Lin Biao’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Red Guards set about removing principal local and national CCP dignitaries and replacing them with ardent Maoists. Targeted too were the managerial and educational elite, and with the acquiescence of the PLA the Guards were able to paralyze most universities and other institutions. Mao was intent on purging China of the privileged bureaucratic class that had emerged out of the 1949 revolution, and for a sustained period in 1966 11 million Red Guard “foot soldiers” were dispersed throughout the country to brutally carry this out.
   The Guards’ action sent China into a state of frenzied hysteria as people frantically pledged allegiance to Mao, with 350 million copies of Quotations From Chairman Mao (Or, The Little Red Book) distributed and enormous wall posters adorned with revolutionary messages erected. The immediate goal of the Cultural Revolution had been to remove leading party figures from office, and this was accomplished by 1968, for example with the high-profile sidelining of Deng Xiaoping and State Chairman Liu Shaoqi. Beyond that, the movement was without a structure or a set of aims, and predictably chaos reigned. Maoists battled both each other and those identified as enemies of the revolution, and with anarchic mob rule taking hold, Mao called on the PLA to stabilize China in 1968, and at the Ninth Party Congress a year later the violent phase of the revolution was formally halted. However, normality did not return to China until 1976 with the death of Chairman Mao and the removal from power of Jiang Qing’s “Gang of Four.”
   The decade of turmoil wrought by the Cultural Revolution resulted in the death and torture of hundreds of thousands of Chinese, and by its conclusion the cult of Mao had been destroyed as a myth. The CCP was thoroughly purged and its established order transformed beyond recognition. The education system was crippled, as were numerous communities, and the country’s industry came to a grinding halt with the transportation of urban workers to the countryside for party reeducation. This practical manifestation of Mao’s Marxism stunted and reversed China’s political, social, cultural and industrial progress immeasurably.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.