The bourgeois European media present the Cultural Revolution as an massive civil war with millions of dead, the sinister stage of a clash of warlords vying for power. Why then 50 years later has a French Maoist organisation decided to take up the subject once again ?
Taking place between 1966 and 1969, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) was a short-lived yet decisive chapter in the Chinese revolution, raising concrete questions regarding the success and the errors of the Revolution, whereby it is not simply enough to topple the corrupt leaders in order to profoundly transform society. It is not enough to hunt down a tsar, behead a king or lock away dictators in order to overturn the collective existence of the exploiting class.
What was the aim of the Cultural Revolution ? Launched in May 1966 when Mao wrote “Bombard the Headquarters”, it called for “a revolution within the revolution” in order to combat the restoration of Capitalism raging through Chinese society, even to the very core of the Party itself.
Its initial aim eventually failed and China became what it is today : a burgeoning imperialist power led by a clique of bourgeois reactionaries. That being so, the Cultural Revolution still remains a crucial revolutionary experience with wide-ranging political implications :
It is not enough to change the forms of ownership. While expropriating companies is a necessary precondition for transforming society, it is not sufficient in itself, inasmuch as it fails to address the real ownership of the means of production which may remain in the hands of an exploiting class, as happened in the USSR between the 1930s and the 1950s. This separates us from the Trotskyites who still believed up until recently that the USSR was a workers’ state, albeit degenerate, due to state-ownership.
The class struggle continues after the revolution. Socialism involves a society in transition where the move to Socialism is anything but straight-forward and is fraught with set-backs. To that extent, the Maoist view breaks with the idealist visions of the revolutionary process after the seizure of power, which believe either that all problems will be solved though the clear-sightedness of the Party (the Stalinist view), or through a workers’ democracy (the Trotskyite view). Contradictions within Socialism do not arise as a result of deviations or due to a lack of democracy, but from the very nature of such a society where classes continue to exist because the social relations have as yet to be totally transformed.
The Party should not fear the expression of contradictions within it and within society at large. The expression of contradictions within the Party is inevitable, just as it is within society. Chinese Maoists reject the idea of a monolithic Party, whilst at the same time stating that open debate and democracy alone do not suffice to overcome contradictions, which must be founded in reports and studies which are the only way to distinguish between what is true and what is false. Within society, contradiction is the expression of the existence of classes and a State which may serve as the future groundswell of a new system of exploitation. Following on from the Cultural Revolution, Maoists indicated that the workers must defend themselves against their own State, highlighting the need for criticism to be expressed publicly and the need to organise the unions and to defend themselves through strikes, further stating that the workers must equip themselves to become cadres in order to lead society and abolish the division of labour.
Rather than a commemoration, we invite you to lecture debate which provides us with the opportunity not only to present this period in history, but also to draw lessons for today. How could anyone who seeks to make the Revolution ignore this revolutionary event that affected the lives of millions of people ?
Saturday 21 May at 6 p.m.
With Hongsheng Jiang,
professor at Beijing University and author of the book “The Shanghai
Commune and the Paris Commune” published by Editions la Fabrique.
At ACTIT, the Cultural Association of Turkish Immigrant Worker - 54 rue d’Hauteville - Métro Chateau d’eau ou Bonne Nouvelle
"February 1967. The Cultural Revolution is at its peak. Shanghai is in turmoil. A group of rebel students and workers, determined despite their number, sets out to achieve the impossible : to get rid of the old indolent local and municipal Communist Party and seize power in the city. Clearly invoking the Paris Commune, they set up a new structure, the Shanghai Commune and the workers and students become the masters of the biggest industrial city in China.” (From the back cover).
In this book based on his doctoral thesis, Hongsheng Jiang traces the evolution of one of the key chapters of the Cultural Revolution, the Shanghai Commune. The author is too young to have lived through the Cultural Revolution himself and was taught to hate Mao and the Cultural Revolution. The reality of capitalist China today, with its wretched living conditions, led him to this field of research for his thesis, where he had to contend with many obstacles, including the fact that many of the people involved had either been executed or had died in prison, the archives have been destroyed or are kept under lock and key, or that the regime continues to suppress any attempt to research the subject, etc. His purpose is all the more interesting as a Chinese intellectual working directly within the reality of his country. Hongsheng Jiang’s in-depth research has given rise to a book which uncompromisingly reassesses the Cultural Revolution and its relevance today far removed from the usual propaganda.