The old question: Why did Mao start the Cultural Revolution?

Why did Mao Zedong launch the Cultural Revolution? This question actually contains two questions: why did Mao start the Cultural Revolution and why could Mao start the Cultural Revolution. In a sense, these two questions contradict each other: if Mao wanted to launch the Cultural Revolution, it was because he felt that he was losing his power; however, only when Mao was extremely confident in his absolute power did he dare and was able to launch the Cultural Revolution. Aren’t these two opposite?

This article will begin with the answer to this question.

I. Why did Mao start the Cultural Revolution?

On the one hand, Mao Zedong on the eve of the Cultural Revolution had a sense of crisis about his own power and position (in the words of Zhang Xian Yang: “Prevent usurpation of power in life and liquidation in death.”) –This was the reason why he launched the Cultural Revolution; on the other hand, his power reached an unprecedented peak – this was his capital to launch the Cultural Revolution. Today, forty years after the Cultural Revolution, more and more people accept the explanation that the main reason Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution was that Mao’s Great Leap Forward in 1958 and the Three Red Flags led to a three-year famine that killed 30 to 40 million people and caused him to commit a heinous crime. So Mao wants to launch a major purge to maintain his power in life and his position after death.

In fact, this intention of Mao was already revealed in two important texts at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. One was Yao Wenyuan’s critical article “Review of the New Historical Drama ‘Hai Rui Strike Off the Government'” published in Wen Wei Po on November 10, 1965. One is Lin Biao’s speech at the expanded meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on May 18, 1966. Yao Wenyuan criticized Wu Han’s play as a satire of the past and made special reference to the “three consecutive years of natural disasters and the temporary economic difficulties”, the “climax of anti-Chinese activities” by the empire, the revisionists and the rebels, and “the cattle, ghosts and snakes and gods who have scraped through a The ‘single wind’ and the ‘wind of reversal'”. This is a self-confession, pointing out the heart of Mao’s disease, it turns out that is afraid of others to pursue the crime of the three-year famine (Mao suspected that Yao did not hit the nail on the head. Mao pointed out that the key to “Hai Rui dismissal of officials” is “dismissal of officials”, “we were just Peng Dehuai’s officials at the Lushan meeting”. (This not only confirmed Mao’s weakness of heart on the issue of the three red flags, but also showed that Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to target his senior party colleagues. Lin Biao’s 518 speech emphasized “anti-coup”. Lin Biao said: “Domestic and foreign, domestic is the main concern. Inside the Party and outside the Party, the Party is the main focus. The danger lies at the top and the bottom. When Khrushchev came out of the Soviet Union, the whole country changed its color.” “We support Chairman Mao now, and we will support Chairman Mao after his centenary. Mao Zedong Thought should be passed on forever. Chairman Mao will be the supreme leader of our Party until that day when he lives, when he is 90 or 100 years old, and his words will be the guidelines for our actions.” “Behind him, if anyone makes a secret report like Khrushchev’s, he must be an ambitious person, he must be a great villain, and the whole Party will be put to death together, and the whole country will discuss it.” At the 11th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee shortly thereafter, Lin Biao clearly stated that the campaign “is to dismiss a group of people, promote a group of people, and protect a group of people. There should be a comprehensive adjustment in the organization.” This shows that the Cultural Revolution was a major purge aimed at maintaining Mao’s supreme power and position behind him.

Second, was it a power struggle or a line struggle?

The Cultural Revolution was a power struggle, but it was not purely a power struggle. If it were purely a power struggle, that is, if the two sides in the struggle did not have major differences in policy or said line, that would mean that whoever won or lost in the struggle would have no significant impact on the general social landscape and the lives of ordinary people, except for the fate of those involved in the power struggle. This was clearly not the case with the Cultural Revolution. There were indeed differences in line between Mao and Liu. It should be noted, however, that the extent to which the accusation of Liu Shaoqi’s capitalist line is true, and the extent to which it is a “desire to add guilt” or a “false accusation”, needs to be carefully distinguished. Is Liu Shaoqi really going to take the capitalist road? Obviously not yet. This is one of them. Second, what is Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line? It should be seen that many of the ideas or concepts put forward by Mao during the Cultural Revolution were merely wrongdoings to cover up mistakes, and some were merely power schemes or expedient measures. That’s why many of the ideas Mao put forward were either big, lacking in specific provisions; or inconsistent, leaving people at a loss; or tiger’s head, snake’s tail, off the cuff, and unfulfilled.

For example, in terms of economic policy, Mao knew that the set he made during the Great Leap Forward would not work, but he had to prove that what Liu Shaoqi did later was “revisionism” and should be rejected, but he could not come up with a new set to replace it, so he had to be satisfied with slogans and increase the frequency and intensity of political campaigns. On the political front, the Paris Commune principle was repeatedly mentioned at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. When Mao affirmed Nie Yuanzi’s big-character poster, he said that it was “the Beijing Commune Manifesto of the 20th century” and that the 16 articles explicitly provided for a full electoral system like the Paris Commune. However, when the Shanghai rebels seized power in the January storm of 1967 and planned to name it “Shanghai People’s Commune,” Mao disapproved. The full-scale election stipulated in Article 16 was only implemented in some units when they set up Cultural Revolution Committees or Revolutionary Committees (of course, that was not yet a truly democratic election), and none of the regional Revolutionary Committees were elected by universal suffrage (including the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee, which was the model for the seizure of power). As recently as March 1967, the Red Flag magazine published an article on the establishment of the Revolutionary Committee, not talking about the Paris Commune style of full-scale elections, but proposing that the heads of revolutionary mass organizations, the head of the PLA garrison and revolutionary cadres of the Party and government organs “brew consultations. In February 1968, an article in the Red Flag magazine simply said that “superstition in elections is a conservative ideology”. The May 7th Instruction was considered to represent Mao’s idea of “standing”, but it was not seriously implemented. The May 7th Cadre School, named after the Instruction, seemed to be a testing ground for the May 7th Instruction, but in the end it was just a collection and distribution center for cadres who were standing on the sidelines.

Some people have always said that Mao started the Cultural Revolution in order to realize his ideal of equality. This is a very questionable statement. In fact, even the spirit of Yan’an, which Mao praised so much, was far from equality. In Yan’an, the Communist Party practiced “one country, two systems”, and the supply system only benefited the Communist Party group internally, not the ordinary people in the border areas. Besides, the supply system in Yan’an was “five colors of clothes and nine classes of food” (Wang Shimi), and the hierarchy was very clear. The communist ideal is to eliminate the three major differences, but it was only after the Communist Party came to power that the dualistic system of urban and rural households was introduced, expanding and institutionalizing the differences between urban and rural areas, workers and peasants. This cannot but remind one of the slogan in Orville’s Animal Farm – “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Another example is that the Cultural Revolution abolished the college entrance examination system and drove all secondary school students down to the countryside. Among the so-called workers, peasants and soldiers college students, the children of cadres accounted for a very high proportion. In the criticism of Lin and Confucius movement, the general public wanted to oppose the back door, but at this time Mao said that there are good people who go through the back door. This is even more unequal than before the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, we know that there is a famous paradox about egalitarianism: does a large-scale political movement for equality need leaders? Once there is a distinction between leaders and the masses, can they still be equal to each other? Probably no one would deny that one of the most significant features of the Mao era was the great, unchecked power Mao himself enjoyed. The inequality of power in China during the Cultural Revolution era was rare in the world. This end alone is the great irony of the claim that Mao launched the emphasis on the realization of his ideal of equality.

If the above is generally true, then we can understand that Mao launched the Cultural Revolution mainly for the sake of power, and that ideals and ideas were more of an excuse and a means. Mao said, “If you don’t break it, you don’t establish it, and if you break the word, the establishment will be in it.” But the overall impression of the Cultural Revolution was that there was more breakage and less establishment, only breakage but not establishment. In fact, this just shows that Mao did not have his own set of mature and formed things, he was just eager to deny others.