Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be a Far Better World

Part 10: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China - Not Fanatical Purge, But the Socialist Road vs. the Capitalist Road

Revolution #035, February 19, 2006, posted at

Because of the food crisis and industrial dislocations that occurred during the difficult years of the Great Leap Forward, a time when the Soviets had also suddenly withdrawn aid and technical assistance, it was necessary to make certain economic and organizational adjustments. But this gave openings to conservative forces in the Communist Party--who in fact had opposed and even tried to undermine the Great Leap.

By the early 1960s, these conservative forces were gaining ground and strength. They wanted to use profit measures to decide investment priorities. They wanted to consolidate an elite-based educational system. Keep in mind that the higher-educational system in post-1949 China was greatly influenced by the Soviet model of hierarchy, specialization, and recruitment of "better-trained" students. The conservative forces were very much entrenched in the cultural realm. The cultural sphere remained a stronghold of tradition. Opera, a highly popular art form, was still dominated by old feudal themes and characters.

These conservative forces pushed to focus health care resources in the cities at the expense of the countryside. They told workers and peasants to forget politics--leave that to "competent" party leaders--and just keep your nose to the grindstone and think about your livelihoods.

These neo-capitalist forces had a coherent program—and by the mid-1960s they were maneuvering to seize power.

Lies About the Cultural Revolution

Now one of the biggest distortions about the Cultural Revolution is that it was Mao Tsetung's fanatical purge of any and all he disliked. The reactionary book Mao: The Unknown Story argues that Mao was taking sadistic revenge on party leaders who dared to cross him…that the Cultural Revolution was a grand scheme of terror and manipulation. These are gross lies.

First of all, Mao was not inventing enemies. Powerful bourgeois forces were in fact organizing to take power and to set up a system of state capitalism. If you think this is far-fetched or that Mao was paranoid--take a look at China today. Look at how China has become a sweatshop paradise for international capitalism.

Second, the Cultural Revolution was the furthest thing from a purge and mass bloodletting. Mao analyzed that Stalin’s purges did not solve the problem of preventing counter-revolution in the Soviet Union. The masses were left passive. They were not for the most part politically and ideologically mobilized. Relying on these kinds of administrative measures does not enable the masses to gain the ability to distinguish between programs and outlooks that would propel society towards communism, and programs and policies that would take society down the road back to capitalism. For Mao the challenge was how to unleash the masses to play their decisive, conscious role in taking society forward.

Mao had been searching for a solution to the problem of the revolution going stale and facing the danger of getting turned back. As he said in 1967, "In the past we waged struggles in rural areas, in factories and the cultural field, and we carried out the socialist education movement. But all this failed to solve the problem because we did not find a form, a method, to arouse the broad masses to expose our dark aspects from below."1 Mao was grappling with a world historic problem of communist revolution. Bob Avakian puts it this way: "How do you deal with the intensification of attempts to overthrow the rule of the proletariat, while at the same time giving expression to the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat must be rule by the masses of the people, and this must take concrete and institutionalized form--and that the more this state is strengthened, the more it has to be qualitatively different than all previous forms of state."2 In other words, how do you prevent counter-revolution in a way that is consistent with the means and goals of communist revolution?

I’ll get to the actual experience of the Cultural Revolution. But first we have to explore some theoretical questions posed by the challenge of continuing the revolution under socialism.

Mao emphasized the importance of theory. He said political and ideological line is decisive. This refers to how we understand the world in order to change it: theoretical understanding of the laws governing the actual motion and development of society and the world, and the policies that reflect that understanding.

Those leaders in the Communist Party who wanted to take China down a capitalist road were developing theory and arguments for their program. Against them stood Mao, who was leading the revolutionary forces and making an historic contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of socialist society. This clash of theoretical perspectives was a crucial part of the class struggle in revolutionary China.


1. Quoted in the "9th National Party Congress Report," from 9th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (Documents), Peking: FLP, p. 27.

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2. From "Part 11: Life and Death Situations...The Exercise of Power and the Rights of the People,"; in the series "On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship: A Radically Different View of Leading Society," available online at

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