On the Shanghai Peoples Commune of 1967

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18/11/2015 by socialistfight

This image does not have Mao as hero

Musings on a Facebook discussion 18-11-15. And some serious comments on this posting below.

Comrade  Ollie JC  has put great emphasis on the The Shanghai Commune of 1967 as the high point of the Cultural Revolution. We might question why the Paris Commune of 1871 was the model taken for revolution and not October 1917 in Russia.

This was in the context of Comrade Martin White questioning the actions of the Bolsheviks, both Lenin and Trotsky in Krondtadt in 1920. Ollie disagreed on this but Martin asserted that the events of Spain for 5 months in 1936 (just after seizure of power from the fascists in June?) was an example of the revolution he sought. I would agree on Spain, the class consciousness of the Spanish working class for revolutionary seizure was more advanced than Russia in October 1917. I concur with Ollie on Krondtadt. I think the elemental anarchist drive to revolution in Spain lacked revolutionary leadership and so this great void cost the revolution.

I confess I had not studied the Cultural Revolution in any detail and so tended to dismiss it all. The long question and answer session below describes a revolutionary situation without a doubt and a revolutionary seizure of power like in Spain 1936.

The reason for its failure is given in the extracted paragraph quoted below. This is wrong IMHO because it avoids the central question of how to bring the revolution forward. China was a third world country, it could not rise itself by pulling on its bootstraps. Its level of economic development could not be overcome on its own; the revolution had to spread to consolidate and develop. It had to have access to advanced technology and capital.

But Mao, and the quoted paragraph below, accepts socialism in a single country as the best that can be achieved, accepts implicitly that peaceful coexistence with imperialism is the revolutionary road and so Mao killed off the Commune and the paragraph justifies this because it lacks a revolutionary internationalist perspective. It was the only way to end “chaos”.

But of course you could argue that  the question of the necessity for the revolutionary party and for a workers’ state informed Mao’s caution but I would argue that the Stalinist version of both was fundamentally flawed and opposed to global revolution and to unleash the revolutionary initiative of the masses that could have that great global reverberation that the Russian Revolution had.

No amount of struggle against bureaucracy in the distorted version of permanent revolution pushed by Mao could overcome the economic constraints of isolation. So the whole piece justifies Mao’s power struggle against other bureaucrats in what are then reduced to clever manoeuvres and not a road forward. But obviously some of the Shangai leaders were far more revolutionary.

Peaceful coexistence soon led to ping pong diplomacy and Nixon’s visit and the Vietnam revolution stabbed in the back. And Mao was so dedicated to socialism in a single country that he secretly and of course illegally mass executed the Trotskyists, stuffing their mouths with cotton wool lest the firing squads would realise they were shooting revolutionary socialists.

This is the crucial paragraph:

“Revolution is not a process of victory after victory, ever increasing the tempo of advance. Revolution is a wave-like process of advance followed by consolidation followed by greater advance. Mao himself said China needed many cultural revolutions to reach communism. The reason that the Cultural Revolution failed to stop the restoration of capitalism was not that the mass movements were ended or that they failed to let the Paris Commune form arise.

The reason it failed was that the reorganization of power was not radical enough, the Party was not purged thoroughly enough nor were the institutions reorganized thoroughly enough. The PLA, which had developed a kind of dual power, was better suited to carry the revolution forward. Furthermore, once the Maoists lost control of the PLA with the purge of Lin Biao, another cultural revolution was off the table. Lin Biao’s PLA was a pretorian guard around the Maoists and their mass movements. They kept the authorities from cracking down until Mao turned on the mass movements.

The PLA created a protective bubble around the mass movements. Once Lin Biao was gone, once Maoists lost control of the gun, another mass movement could not happen. Furthermore, the Maoists still did not recognize the full effects of productionism and the connected problems of the police paradigm and suppression of intellectual discourse. They had a primitive understanding of socialism and human nature. Although their experiments at fighting counter-revolution were an advance over Soviet ones, the Maoist approach to understanding and fighting counter-revolution were still too primitive”

To go on a thousand 'li' march to temper a red heart

The Red Guard were opposed to both the ‘revisionists’, i.e the bureaucracy and the PLA, which they correctly regarded as oppressive forces.

This question is spot on btw:

SEP 20, 2014 BY LEADING LIGHT    4 COMMENTS    POSTED UNDER: ASIA, CHINA, ECONOMY, HISTORY, WORKERS STRUGGLES

A tale of two communes:

A tale of two communes

(llco.org)

The Question

“Dear, Leading Light,

I really appreciate how LLCO is offering a fresh interpretation of the 20th century communist movement. This is exactly what we need for the movement to go forward.

One question, though – given that Mao was so supportive of the spontaneously formed Henan Commune in the Great Leap Forward, why do you think he rejected the spontaneously formed Shanghai Commune in the Cultural Revolution? I always felt that the Shanghai Commune offered a real possibility for the rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution to be materialized, and am not sure why Mao opposed it, other than his vague explanation that the Chinese masses still needed to have the Party in command. But if the Henan Commune was decentralized, wouldn’t that be an example of top-down Party control being lessened? Was Mao in 1967 was less trusting of the masses than he was in 1957?”

Reply:

Thank you for your kind words.

The Shanghai Commune was the beginning of the power seizure phase of the Cultural Revolution. The power seizure phase took off in the beginning of 1967. It spread across China. Prior to that, the focus of the Cultural Revolution was not on physically deposing top revisionists and their institutions of power. Prior to that, the struggles followed the pattern of more traditional Party-led campaigns and also struggles in the cultural realm.

The struggle in Shanghai was of a very different kind where the masses physically deposed the revisionists from their positions in authority through mass actions that were not controlled by the Party nor totally controlled by the Maoists in power. In Shanghai, mass organizations of workers and students wrestled control of power from traditional institutions. They fought the institutional power of the local Party, and they fought each other. This is the “seizure of power by proletarian revolutionaries” mentioned in the famous 16 points in August of 1966.

Powerful mass organizations deposed the revisionist Shanghai Party bosses. They were toppled and a Shanghai People’s Commune was declared in February of 1967. The rhetoric of the mass organizations stated that their commune was to be modeled on that of the Paris Commune. The Shanghai communards aspired to transform their revolt into reaching a qualitatively higher stage of socialism, actually realizing the communist ideal. However, the Shanghai Commune only lasted a month.

Zhang Chunqiao was sent in by Mao to consolidate the Maoist gains, to move power away from spontaneous mass movements to a regular bureaucracy based on power sharing in a Three-in-one committee. Some of the mass organizations had had played main roles in toppling the Old Power opposed what they saw as hijacking their movement by Zhang Chunqiao and the organizations he supported. The Regiments and Third Workers Headquarters being the most significant opposition. These organizations feared that the mass movements would be sidelined, as they later were.

These organizations became the targets of the “Working class in command” campaign, the campaign to purify the class ranks, and the attacks on alleged the May 16th Corps conspiracy. The “ultra-left” line was favored for a time by both Chen Boda and Jiang Qing, the head and deputy head of the Cultural Revolution Small Group. Chen Boda’s “Support the Left but not the Factions,” Jiang Qing’s calls to “Defend With Force,” or calls to extend the power seizures into the PLA, etc. were calls to continue the class struggle as 1967 went on. Mao famously criticized Wang Li, the hero of Wuhan, in connection to this. Mao said he wanted class struggle, not civil war.

As soon as Mao signalled his opposition to the escalation of the mass movement, continuing the chaos, all the top Maoists distanced themselves from their previous rhetoric. Mao thought the power seizures could not go on endlessly, but the gains had to be consolidated. Shanghai was the earliest example of this pattern that would later happen in much of China. Mao favored a consolidation that returned the influence of the Communist Party bureaucracy. Lin Biao, for example, was associated with elevating the New Power of the PLA as the mass movements were ended. Chen Boda and Jiang Qing, along with Wang Li, Qi Benyu, and Guan Feng, were associated with wanting to push the mass movements forward, although they backed away from that as they saw Mao shifting his attitude toward the mass movements.

The early communes of the Great Leap were a bit different. They had high aspirations just as the Shanghai communards did. They both saw the commune form as a bridge to real existing communism. However, the forms were different. The rural communes of the Great Leap were not a result of power struggles to topple revisionists in power. They were more connected to production and economic prosperity, as well as social experiment. They were not seen as smashing the bureaucracy. The rural communes of Great Leap did aim to increase mass participation, but they did not seek to replace the Party bureaucracy even though some of the bureaucracy opposed them.

It is hard to know what kind of form the Shanghai mass movements would have settled on had they been left alone. It is hard to know how they would have organized power and production since the Shanghai Commune did not last long. There were attempts at various times to push for urban people’s communes during both the Great Leap and Cultural Revolution. Zhang Chunqiao and Chen Boda were both associated with this line, which was later seen as an “ultra left,” “left in form, right in essence” kind of line. Interestingly, Zhang Chunqiao later criticized the very “wind of communization” that he himself had participated in originally, but then turned against. This was part of the effort by the leftover Maoist left of the 1970s to distance themselves from their previous lines as they saw the writing on the wall as Mao continued to shift right.

There is not an obvious contradiction in Mao’s support of Great Leap rural communes and his opposition to Cultural Revolution efforts to create permanent, mass movement-based Paris commune-type forms. Around this time, some of the mass movements made calls for a single commune for all of China. Mao was right in recognizing the problematic nature of such calls. It is much easier to make anarchist rhetoric than to make anarchism a reality. Mao had good reason to tone down the mass movements.

The movements were engaged in violent sectarianism against each other. The mass movements sometimes created so much chaos as to hurt China’s ability to defend itself from imperialism. In one incident, the mass movements armed themselves by raiding a train full of internationalist military aid going to Vietnam. University classes were ended. In some provinces, socialist planning had broken down due to the chaos. Free markets and production were returning because of the loss of bureaucratic control. The movements were discrediting the Cultural Revolution among many ordinary people.

Both Mao and Lin Biao favored consolidation. Zhang Chunqiao’s “Working Class in Command” was part of an effort to impose discipline on red guards using work teams. Ironically, the Maoists had earlier denounced Liu Shaoqi for his attempt to control the movement with work teams. “Purify the class ranks” and the campaign against the May 16th Corps conspiracy were also used. Lin Biao used the PLA to impose discipline too. Briefly, there was another line to oppose this consolidation, but it was defeated.

 

The Three-in-one committees effectively ended the revolution, restored ‘stability’ and Mao again became the only god-like figure for the revolution. That mask had slipped badly during the Shanghai events in particular.

The form that was settled on, and supported by Mao, was the Three-in-one committees. These were suppose to represent the Party, army, and mass movements. However, the mass movements tended to get sidelined in the process.  The reality is that consolidation had to happen. Revolution is not a process of victory after victory, ever increasing the tempo of advance. Revolution is a wave-like process of advance followed by consolidation followed by greater advance. Mao himself said China needed many cultural revolutions to reach communism. The reason that the Cultural Revolution failed to stop the restoration of capitalism was not that the mass movements were ended or that they failed to let the Paris Commune form arise. The reason it failed was that the reorganization of power was not radical enough, the Party was not purged thoroughly enough nor were the institutions reorganized thoroughly enough.

The PLA, which had developed a kind of dual power, was better suited to carry the revolution forward. Furthermore, once the Maoists lost control of the PLA with the purge of Lin Biao, another cultural revolution was off the table. Lin Biao’s PLA was a pretorian guard around the Maoists and their mass movements. They kept the authorities from cracking down until Mao turned on the mass movements. The PLA created a protective bubble around the mass movements. Once Lin Biao was gone, once Maoists lost control of the gun, another mass movement could not happen. Furthermore, the Maoists still did not recognize the full effects of productionism and the connected problems of the police paradigm and suppression of intellectual discourse. They had a primitive understanding of socialism and human nature. Although their experiments at fighting counter-revolution were an advance over Soviet ones, the Maoist approach to understanding and fighting counter-revolution were still too primitive.

Today, we are at an impasse. The last great waves have been defeated. Only fragments remain. We must ask Lenin’s question again: what is to be done? We know the endgame of Marxism-Leninism. We know the endgame of Maoism. If we are to win, we have to take revolution forward. We have to advance and elevate the science. This is what Leading Light Communism is. Leading Light Communism is an all-round, all-powerful elevation of revolutionary science in all its aspects. Only the leading light of true science can pierce the midnight of capitalism and all its horrors. There is a way out of the barbarity. We have the science, the organization, the leadership to really win. One Earth. One people. One organization. One leadership. One future. One Leading Light.

EQ September 20, 2014 at 3:13 am:

U know the most so I will ask u. What are good introductory books on the GPCR movements of red guards? I have read your excellent and informative works but would like something from the view on the ground.

Leading Light Commander PF September 20, 2014 at 5:29 am:

It will take time to really understand the twists and turns of the Cultural Revolution decade. It is not a story that is easily told or summed up. I have read all of these books, and many others, dozens of times. After awhile, you will start to see how all the struggles fit together, who the main players are, what the main trends were, etc. All of these books are marked by their time. They will contradict each other on certain points, but if you study this topic seriously, you’ll start to see why a person might make a certain mistake here or there given their position or context. In any case, I really suggest reading the overviews

I have written on this website first. I think it will save you a lot of time and frustration. Don’t always take rhetoric, Maoist or otherwise, at face value. Political rhetoric wasn’t just rhetoric, but was always bound to specific policies. For example, the slogan “Put politics (later Mao Zedong Thought) in command” wasn’t simply an instruction to focus on ideology. On the ground, within a commune, it was tied to the idea of distributing surplus according to correct political line and participation. This was also tied to distributing surpluses based on loyalty to Mao. As I point out in the above article, “Working Class in Command of Everything” is not just some empty phrase, but tied to an effort to discipline red guards, as the Hinton book below describes. Just keep this in mind. Maoist slogans were always tied to specific concrete policies. Anyways, here is the list:

Shanghai Journal by Neale Hunter follows the day-to-day struggles in Shanghai leading up to the Commune and after. It’s a very good eye witness account.

Hundred Day War by Willaim Hinton follows the struggle at Qinghua University, the site of Kuai Dafu’s famous confrontations and one of the strongest headquartes for red guard activism. It suffers from Hinton’s rather uncritical approach. The book was written, in part, shortly after Lin Biao’s fall when there was an attempt by Zhou Enlai and the rightists to paint Lin Biao and Chen Boda as the “black hand” behind all far-left activism. There was an attempt to say Lin Biao was secretly stirring up ultra-left chaos so he could swoop in and seize power in a coup.

This doesn’t really fit with what we know about his politics and practice. There was an attempt to blame Lin Biao for the whole Cultural Revolution. Mao seemed to be going this way, but then moved away from it because it tended to lead to a reversing of the whole Cultural Revolution. Lin Biao’s alleged “errors” were initially said to stem from “ultra-leftism,” but then it hit too close to home for the remaining Maoists, the Gang of Four. So, later, Lin Biao’s alleged “errors” were labeled as “ultra-right.” This is a problem of a lot of Hinton’s work. He tends to not be too critical of the twists and turns of Mao. So, when you read Hinton, be aware he is writing from that period.

The Wind Will Not Subside by David and Nancy Milton is also good first hand account of some of what went on in the Foreign Ministry.
The Man Who Stayed Behind by Sidney Rittenberg and Amanda Bennett is another first-hand account of the Cultural Revolution in the Foreign Ministry.

A good book that is not a first hand account, but is a good chronological acocunt is A History of the Chinese Cultural Revoltion by Jean Daubier.
There are numerous books by one-time red guards about their experiences, but they usually don’t share our concerns. They often look back at the era as a mistake. There are books like Some of Us, but it is not focused specifically on the mass movements, but just the era.
Probably the best overview of the entire Chinese revolution is Maurice Meisner’s Mao’s China and After. The best work on Lin Biao’s politics and the coup is our own. The best summation of the whole revolutionary experience is our own, obviously.
A book that is worth read, but has glaring omissions, is Proletarian Power by Li Xun. It is not a first-hand account, but it covers some of the events in Shanghai.
If you want me to hunt down the titles of red guard memoirs, I can, but this should keep you busy for now. I listed these in the order of importance, considering you were asking about the grass roots point of view. If you know little about the period, read something like the Meisner book or even the Jean Daubier book first.

john September 21, 2014 at 1:58 am:

Thanks for the quick and informative reply. My understanding of the twists and turns of the CR has really benefited from the LLCO’s analysis. I am not aware of any other English-language writing (political or academic) that so clearly reveals the factionalism of that time.
In addition to the lists of books above, I’d recommend Ken Ling’s “The Revenge of Heaven,” about Fujian Red Guards. Ling is by no means a Maoist (he appears skeptical of all ideologies), but his work clearly shows that the Red Guards were acting independently, and were not a bunch of passive sheep controlled by Mao (which is how they are often depicted in popular accounts). He also shows how Maoist political slogans could easily be appropriated by players to further their personal ambitions.

Leading Light Commander PF September 21, 2014 at 9:05 am:

I agree that putting forward the real history is very important. The “communist” movement has had a huge credibility problem. We won’t get very far if we just reproduce old dogma. The masses want real answers as to why we were defeated last time we had power. They want to know what we will do better next time. If we cant answer these simple questions, we should not expect them to support us. Why should they support a revolution that is just repeating a failure. They want to know what we are going to do differently so that we win this time. These are intelligent, fair questions any serious person should ask. The masses deserve the truth. It us our duty to tell it like it is. It is our duty to answer.
What I find mind boggling is that the orthodox Maoists make a very big claim when they declare the Cultural Revolution to be the furthest revolutionary advance toward communism in all of modern history.

They make this claim, yet the Maoists don’t seem to know very much about the Cultural Revolution. Even stranger, they don’t seem that interested in learning about it. If one did indeed think it was the high point in terms of revolution, then it stands to reason one would learn everything there is about it. It stands to reason, you would put it under a microscope to learn as much as possible from it. The lack of serious investigation into the Cultural Revolution leads me to think Maoist parties today, despite their rhetoric, don’t really support the Cultural Revolution.

They aren’t really Maoist in any serious sense in many cases. They borrow the rhetoric and imagery of Maoism, but they don’t really understand it that well. What exist are movements operating with a “cook book” dogma from the past, not living revolutionary science of Leading Light Communism. They have a collection of formulas and slogans and simplistic police narratives. They call this package “Maoism.” For the most part, Mao himself wasn’t operating with the cook book. He was advancing, adapting, the science that existed before him. Just as in Mao’s day, really making revolution means updating and advancing the science. This is what we are doing, not just in history, in all areas.If Marxism does not advance, it will die until the wheel is reinvented.

There are other aspects of the Cultural Revolution that sometimes go unnoticed. For example, the revisionists are often presented as thought they were one, unified trend. The reality seems to be that just as the Maoists had divisions, so did they. This is definitely seen in the cultural realm. Some revisionists were pushing a very liberal, modern attitude in culture, others were pushing a kind of Chinese traditionalism. There seem to have been a division in the Chinese Party capitalists. Perhaps this corresponds to a comprador and patriotic bourgeoisie or something similar. Perhaps it corresponds to the today’s globalist, liberal wing of the Chinese Party versus the nationalist, authoritarian wing. Both wings of the Chinese state bourgeoisie opposed moving forward to communism, both opposed the Cultural Revolution, but they opposed it in different ways.

Although they were allied against the Maoists, they had different aspirations. This can be seen in the struggles in the arts more than anywhere, but it would not surprise me if you could find different economic policies connected to the different revisionists. I have several sources on this, but have not bothered to organize the research or write about it. What we have already produced is way more advanced than anything out there. We might be getting too far ahead of ourselves. Perhaps we should wait for people to play catch up with our current material first. Eventually, we’ll compile all the articles into a single book on the Cultural Revolution.

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