I. The great proletarian cultural revolution is the continuation of the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat - 1. Class struggle in socialism

“The mob rampages in China,” “red hooligans gang up” and “pillage,” “the ancient pots of the Ming Dynasty are being shattered” – this and the like could be read in the bourgeois press from 1966 onwards about the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China. We were supposed to believe that the unleashed masses were about to impose a rule of barbarism, destroying all cultural and material values.

With this transparent slander, public opinion was stirred up against the masses of revolutionary workers, peasants and students. The new holders of power in China take the same line today. These days, we can read in almost every issue of the Beijing Review (Peking Review) about a “fascist dictatorship of Lin Biao and the gang of four”. The new editor-in-chief of the Chinese People’s Daily, when visiting the Federal Republic of Germany, even went as far as to give West German journalists the outrageous statement that “Germans and Chinese have something in common: from 1966 on, the Chinese suffered like the Germans under Hitler.” (Der Spiegel, No. 52, 1978, p. 91)

Allegedly, science, art and literature could not develop, there was brutal oppression and persecution of intellectuals and officials for dissenting opinions, the economic development was, as a result, set far back, and China even was on the verge of economic chaos.

What is a Cultural Revolution? Why does a Cultural Revolution take place? Let us have a look at the decision of the Communist Party of China concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, adopted on 8 August 1966. It says:

“Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavour to stage a come-back. The proletariat must do the exact opposite: it must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole society.” (Important Documents on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, p. 130)

Carrying out a revolution is a difficult and long-running struggle. The struggle for political power is a fierce one and costs the masses of the people many sacrifices. But the struggle is not over when the working class gains political power. It is a dangerous illusion to believe that after the victorious armed struggle peace will come. The classes deprived of their power still exist and endeavor, by hook or by crook, to regain their lost rulership. It is therefore vital for the proletariat and its allies to maintain and strengthen their achieved rulership. This is done by advancing uninterruptedly in the building of socialism and by engaging uninterruptedly in class struggle. Class struggle also is the key link to be grasped for the building of socialism.

Why are there still classes and class struggle in socialism? Why had the Cultural Revolution become an absolute necessity in the People’s Republic of China? Why will there still have to be further cultural revolutions in the building of socialism in the future?

In the years 1962 and 1963, Mao Zedong summarized his doctrine of the continuation of class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat – an essential advancement of Marxism-Leninism – as follows:

“Socialist society covers a considerably long historical period. In the historical period of socialism, there are still classes, class contradictions and class struggle, there is the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and there is the danger of capitalist restoration.” (Important Documents, p. XI)

If classes, class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat were forgotten,

“then it would not be long, perhaps only several years or a decade, or several decades at most, before a counter-revolutionary restoration on a national scale would inevitably occur, the Marxist-Leninist party would undoubtedly become a revisionist party, a fascist party, and the whole of China would change its colour.” (ibid., p. 22)

Which classes and strata offered resistance against the socialist transformation in the years after the revolution? The old ruling classes had already been deprived of their economic and political power by 1952. With the expropriation of the big landowners and with the subsequent land reform, the economic base of feudalism in the countryside was smashed. By expropriating 80 percent of private capital and transferring this so-called “bureaucratic capital” into public ownership, the comprador bourgeoisie1 was deprived of its power, thus eliminating an essential factor of Chinese capitalism.

The residuary 20 percent of private capital remained, up to the Cultural Revolution, mostly with the national bourgeoisie. This was composed of small and middle capitalists who, as patriots, had taken part in the resistance against the Japanese occupation and the Kuomintang reactionaries. They appreciated the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and even recognized – at least in words – the leadership by the Communist Party.

Therefore, with regard to them, the policy of purchasing and converting enterprises into hybrid public-private ones was pursued.

In the countryside, also, there were still reactionary strata. Many former rich peasants and upper middle peasants fought for an enlargement of their private parcels of land, for extended free markets, and for the right to acquire additional land and to employ labor.

China has a very large petty-bourgeoisie. Its most influential representative, the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, had occupied numerous key positions in the educational system, in science, technology and administration during the first years, as the new state had to rely on these forces in the first stage. Many of them were reeducated through close ties with the popular masses and became revolutionaries. But part of them did not want to give up their privileged position, and their way of life made them distinct from the masses of the people. They tried to make themselves indispensable in the new proletarian state and cultivated a one-sided specialism as academic “authorities” at the expense of neglecting the real necessities and problems of the people. Their work did not serve the people, but rather their private extravagant lifestyle and personal power. Uncritically they took over foreign, chiefly Soviet, models. They tried to apply them mechanically to the differing Chinese conditions.

The proletariat is the only class that does not have to defend any property of land or any privilege. For this reason, the working class has to take the leadership in everything and engage in the class struggle for the building of socialism. It is the task of the working class to reeducate the other classes and strata, and to change their thinking. Many, however, resist any refashioning of their mode of living and working, resist the loss of their former power and glory and of their hitherto preserved privileges. Over elements absolutely unwilling to reform, the dictatorship of the proletariat must therefore be exercised.