China: the Struggle Within: The Cultural Revolution and the Fall of Lin Piao (Part I)

The Cultural Revolution
and the Fall of Lin Piao (Part I)

August 4, 1972


The public confirmation of the tragic end of Lin Piao and some of his collaborators ends a momentous inner struggle over the future course of the Chinese Revolution and in particular of China's foreign policy. The defeat of Lin Piao, Chen Po-ta, Huang Yung-sheng, Wu Fa-hsien and others means that the Chinese Revolution has, to a considerable degree, run its course. From now on, the word is stability at home at the expense of revolutionary policy abroad.

Lin Piao, it will be remembered, was the author of the theory of encircling the imperialist powers -- the "cities" -- with global guerrilla war. Whether the theory was right or wrong, it had a revolutionary perspective in foreign affairs. As has become evident in the last few years, Chairman Mao and his supporters devised a different foreign policy. Theirs is symbolized by the invitation accorded Nixon to visit Peking and the accommodation which the Chinese leaders have been developing with the U.S.

The Chinese Revolution, however, is by no means finished. It has been the longest, most protracted, and, and in many respects, the profoundest social upheaval in history. It spans well over half a century and is full of the most remarkable revolutionary feats. It is no wonder that so many of its leaders have become genuinely legendary figures.


At each stage of its development the Chinese Revolution was profoundly influenced by the nature of the international situation. The Chinese Revolution caught fire on the basis of the conflagration which commenced with the October Revolution in 1917. The false policies of Stalin inhibited and protracted the character of the Chinese Revolution. The 1927 defeat of the Revolution and Stalin's promotion of the theory of the block of four classes, which meant subordination to the Kuomintang, retarded the development of the Chinese Revolution. It was Mao's resistance to Stalin's policies which, in the long run, enabled him to save and fortify the revolution. But again, the attempt of Japanese militarism to colonize China in turn served as a spur to the revolution. The preoccupation of U.S., British, and French imperialism with the struggle against Hitler for a time had a favorable effect on developments for the Chinese Revolution. Finally, the victory of the Soviet Union in the war and the defeat of the Japanese imperialists helped tremendously to pave the way for the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

Unquestionably China is again being profoundly affected by the international situation. Faced with the threat of U.S. and Japanese imperialism -- a threat which daily demonstrates itself in the genocidal aggression against a socialist ally on its very doorstep -- and the hostility of the Soviet bureaucracy on the other hand, Chairman Mao and his followers have decided to come to terms, in large measure, with the U.S.


The ouster of the Lin-Chen grouping also signifies the end of that phase of the Chinese Revolution which has become known to the world as the Great Cultural Revolution. The lasting significance of the Cultural Revolution is that it reversed a tidal wave of bourgeois reaction and set back a process of development which would have ended up in capitalist restoration.

The Lin-Chen grouping can, with qualification, be called the radical or left faction which was in alliance with Chairman Mao and his supporters during the Cultural Revolution. Together they led the struggle against Liu Shao-chi, who then represented the neo-bourgeois restorationist movement. The defeat of Liu Shao-chi cleared the road for the commencement in earnest of the socialist transformation of China. Naturally, not all the claims made for the Cultural Revolution are valid. Certainly there has been a great deal of exaggeration. But none can deny that in essence the Cultural Revolution marked a turning point in the historical evolution of China.

It prevented, at its barest minimum, capitalist restoration, and ushered in a new stage in the building of a socialist society in China. Of course, no revolution is ever accomplished without a great deal of excess, without serious setbacks and errors. Once the Cultural Revolution was launched, it involved huge masses of people and set forces in motion which could not be controlled, even under the best of circumstances.

To some observers on this continent, the Cultural Revolution reduced itself to a mere factional dispute between Chairman Mao and his supporters, Lin, Chen, and others, against Liu Shao-chi and his formidable right wing forces. In the view of these observers, such a dispute should have been carried out by literary and polemical methods in the classical style in which Lenin polemicized against his opponents in the Bolshevik party. Of course, winning a revolutionary victory with polemics alone is more desirable than a violent struggle.

But what if the character of the adversary and the historical context in which the struggle is opened up, both at home and abroad, makes this impossible What if the struggle for a neo-bourgeois restorationist course has already been started and has already taken on flesh and blood in leading cadres of the party and the mass organizations? What if this grouping has in fact already reached such dimensions that practically all the significant political currents of the imperialist bourgeoisie are already aware of it and are, in fact, applauding and egging it on? What if the weight of the entire Soviet Union, through its leadership, particularly in the case of Kosygin and Brezhnev, are openly supporting the neo-restorationist elements? What, if in the given historical context, there is no other way but to openly appeal to the party and to the masses to commence the struggle against the right wing restorationists?


From the point of view of pure formal procedure, the Cultural Revolution may have been a violation of democratic centralist principles, but only if we forget that the party as a whole was already shattered by the course of events: deep incursions had already been made into the body-politic of Chinese society by the Liu Shao-chi forces. Marxism teaches that where fundamental class interests are involved, class interests must not be subordinated to purely formal or legalistic norms. To make the outcome of the class struggle dependent on formal procedures at the expense of class interests is the height of folly.

Certainly it would have been preferable to have a literary and polemical debate end in a victorious decision by a party congress. But in the case of the Cultural Revolution, the struggle had spilled over from the party ranks and from the bourgeois intelligentsia into the general mass of the population before the discussion could get under way -- assuming it ever could have been done that way in the first place.

At any rate, once the struggle started, the only correct position for progressive and revolutionary workers throughout the world was to support the proponents of the Cultural Revolution. All the more so because in a revolution, just as in a workers' strike, the first and most important element to consider is the determination of which side to support. In the course of a strike there may be any number of formal violations of the democratic rights of those who promote crossing of the picket line, but as long as the strike is on, every worker is duty bound to support it.

It was quite clear during the entire course of the Cultural Revolution that the bourgeoisie and the Soviet bureaucracy were openly supporting Liu Shao-chi and the restorationists. There is no question that the Soviet leadership would prefer a bourgeois restorationist regime over a revolutionary socialist regime, especially if the bourgeois restorationists would be on friendly terms with the Soviet bureaucracy and retain the governmental and party facade of "socialism."


Is the elimination of Lin Piao to be regarded in the same way as the ouster of Liu Shao-chi? By no means.

The neo-restorationist tendency in China has made itself quite evident, so much so that even foreign observers could see its slow but sure development. It was a formidable force. The struggle that was fought by Chairman Mao and his supporters was an open revolutionary struggle. It is an incontestable fact that Chairman Mao openly appealed to the masses to participate in the struggle. Events soon demonstrated that the masses vigorously responded to the call and overwhelmingly supported it. It was particularly evident in the tremendous enthusiasm exhibited by the youth. This had worldwide repercussions in the movement of the youth all over the world.

The recent indictment against Lin Piao charges that he "attempted a coup d'etat and tried to assassinate Mao Tse-tung." After the plot was foiled, it is said, "he fled on September 12 toward the Soviet Union in a plane which crashed over the People's Republic of Mongolia." It is also charged that "he undertook anti-Party activities in a planned, premeditated way with a well-determined program with the aim of taking over power, usurping the leadership of the party, the government and the army." But, "Mao Tse-tung unmasked his plot and blocked his maneuver. Mao Tse-tung made efforts to recover him, but Lin Piao did not change his perverse nature one iota."

So reads the first official confirmation from China of the many rumors which have circulated in the imperialist press for many months, rumors which were based on leaks from Chinese officials to the capitalist world.

The dimensions of the "plot" indicate it could scarcely have taken place in secrecy. The very fact that the Chinese leadership waited so long to divulge it lends itself to extreme incredulity. And the fact that so many rumors could be floating in many capitalist countries while the mass of the people at home were not at all informed about the "plot" completely differentiates this type of struggle from that launched in the Cultural Revolution.

During the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao and the leadership confined themselves to enlisting the revolutionary support of the masses. It was the restorationists who maintained contact with and gave leaks to the imperialist bourgeoisie. But in the present case, the very fact that Chairman Mao himself first gave the news to the world through Ceylonese prime Minister Bandaranaike and French Foreign Minister Schuman, leaders of bourgeois states, speaks volumes in itself.


There is no way to verify any of the allegations concerning the bizarre plot of Lin Piao. Even if we take everything at face value, the allegations in themselves are internally contradictory. The only truth that emerges from the statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Algiers is that Lin opposed "the revolutionary foreign policy worked out by him (Mao Tse-tung)." But the essence of this "revolutionary foreign policy" is pointedly illustrated by the invitation to Nixon and the pursuit of an accommodation with U.S. imperialism.

The indictment against Lin and the others smacks of a police version of a great historical event. If Lin Piao was opposed to "the revolutionary foreign policy" -- that is to an accommodation with the U.S. -- it doesn't necessarily follow that he is a Soviet revisionist and on such friendly terms with the Soviet Union as to be able to flee there. Rather, this opposition appears to verify the existence of a progressive opposition to the new foreign policy followed by the CPC.

If speculation about this opposition is rampant, the CPC leaders have only themselves to blame. It is not likely that the party and the state in China are so weak that they could not possibly bring the nature of this dispute to the attention of the party and the public, that is, to bring the masses into the struggle. Was it not really fear of the masses, or fear of the response the masses would have to the new foreign policy that made the CPC leaders keep everything secret so that only the bourgeoisie in the West and the revisionists in the Soviet Union knew about it?

The ouster of Lin bears a remarkable resemblance to Stalin's purge of the Red Army general, Tukachevsky, et al. They were executed in secret and it was only afterwards that Stalin was able to make a deal with Hitler -- the Stalin-Hitler pact. But even Stalin did not tell the then French Premier Daladier about the executions and ouster of the generals before at least informing the Soviet public.

Lin's ouster also bears a strange resemblance to Khrushchev elimination of the Molotov-Kaganovich group from the Central Committee on grounds which are again similar to the hints that the CPC is making about Lin Piao. Molotov and Kaganovich, two of the oldest members of the Bolshevik party and two of Stalin's closest supporters, were indicted by Khrushchev on grounds that they were opposed to peaceful coexistence with the West.

The Western imperialist press showed unconcealed glee at the expulsion of Molotov and Kaganovich. All those who were following events in the Soviet Union knew that Stalin, as well as Kaganovich and Molotov, who was Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union for a long time, had been preaching and practicing peaceful coexistence for years. The indictment had no basis in fact. The real issue was that Khrushchev was taking a course in foreign affairs which was so far to the right -- so much further than Stalin had gone -- that they, in a measure, opposed it.

The fundamental turn in foreign policy initiated by Mao is the very type of turn which Mao so vehemently and correctly fought against in Khrushchev -- the turn towards peaceful coexistence, a phrase which symbolizes abandonment of the revolutionary struggle abroad, support of the nationalist bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries, and friendship with the imperialist West, particularly with the U.S. Moreover, the turn comes at a time which could scarcely hurt the world struggle more, when the beleaguered Vietnamese people are spilling their blood to get the U.S. imperialists off their backs.


The CPC was duty bound to present its position frankly and publicly to the masses -- not a year after it all happened, and not through the mouths of Bandaranaike and Foreign Minister Schuman, but through party documents and party discussion. Lin, as well as his collaborators and allies, are not just a few accidental individuals. They constituted an entire stratum in the leadership of the party and the Revolution. Lin, as everybody knows, was considered to be the successor to Mao. In fact, his succession was even put into the constitution. To remove a leader who is constitutionally destined to succeed Mao without informing the masses, let alone obtaining their approval, is a sharp break from the earlier revolutionary practice of the CPC.

We draw a sharp line between support for the Cultural Revolution and support for unverified, unfounded, and concocted fabrications against Lin Piao. Even assuming that Chairman Mao and his supporters are correct in their charges, it is also clear by now, according to Chairman Mao's own words, that Lin opposed the turn to peaceful coexistence with the imperialist bourgeoisie.

Any attempt to apologize for the handling of the Lin Piao ouster will not hold water. Even assuming that it was not possible to openly conduct a struggle over foreign policy, it points up a tremendous weakness in the present political structure of People's China. Even if we were to agree that it was not possible to conduct an open struggle, the Chinese Revolution is by now strong enough to call a weakness by its right name, rather than to embellish it by calling it a virtue.

At the present time the U.S. ruling class is most eagerly seeking an accommodation with People's China because it hopes that the CPC leadership will help it out of the abysmal military and diplomatic crisis in which it finds itself. Vietnam is, of course, at the very heart of the U.S. crisis. The capitalist media, too, is taking its cue from the needs of U.S. imperialist strategy. In contrast to the way the media handled the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution -- which they maligned and misrepresented -- they are very discreetly handling the Lin Piao affair.


"All revolutions of modern times," wrote Engels, "beginning with the great English revolution of the seventeenth century, showed (certain) features which appeared inseparable from every revolutionary struggle. They appeared applicable, also, to the struggles of the proletariat for its emancipation."

What are these features?

"As a rule," Engels goes on, "after the first great success, the victorious minority [here Engels speaks of the bourgeoisie which is a minority in their revolution -- S.M.] became divided; one half was pleased with what had been gained, the other wanted to go still further, and put forward new demands, which to a certain extent at least, were also in the real or apparent interests of the great mass of the people.

"In individual cases these more radical demands were realized, but often only for a moment; the more moderate party again gained the upper hand, and what had eventually been won was wholly or partly lost again; the vanquished shrieked of treachery, or ascribed their defeat to accident. But, in truth, the position was mainly this: the achievements of the first victory were only safeguarded by the second victory of the more radical party; this having been attained, and with it, what was necessary for the moment, the radicals and their achievements vanished once more from the stage."

"The achievement of the first victory" in China, the ouster of Chiang Kai-Shek, and the destruction of the bourgeois landlord state machine, "was only safeguarded," according to Engels' analysis, "by the second victory," the Cultural Revolution. "This having been attained, and, with it, what was necessary for the moment, the radicals and their achievements vanished once more from the stage." This is what happened to the left faction in the Cultural Revolution.

One part of the leadership of the Cultural Revolution was, in the words of Engels, "pleased with what had been gained," the other section of the leadership, Lin, Chen Po-ta and others, "wanted to go still further, and put forward new demands, which to a certain extent, at least, were also in the real or apparent interests of the great mass of the people."

Many radical demands were made during the Cultural Revolution, some were wild ones, but on the whole they were healthy. "In individual cases, these more radical demands were realized." But, "the more moderate party again gained the upper hand and what eventually had been won was wholly or partly lost again; the vanquished," whom Mao now calls ultra-lefts, "cry treachery or ascribe their defeat to accident, where in truth their position was mainly this: the achievements of the first victory were only safeguarded by the second victory of the more radical party."

What does this mean? It means that the real lasting achievements of the Cultural Revolution were not the idealistic and occasionally ultra-revolutionary proposals made by the more radical elements in the Cultural Revolution, of whom there were many, especially among the youth. The real achievement was the safeguarding of the new property relations, of blocking the road to capitalist restoration. That could "only have been done with the aid of the more radical party" leaders, as Engels says. This, however, having been attained, and with it what was necessary for the moment," -- the stabilization of the new class relations in China -- " the radicals and their achievements vanished once more from the stage.

This really explains the elimination of the Lin Piao-Chen Po-ta group. "Their real work was done." Their participation and leadership in the Cultural Revolution helped block capitalist restoration and to safeguard the new property relations established by the revolution.

A proletarian revolution, however, differs, among other things, from a bourgeois revolution, in that a proletarian revolution organically tends in the direction of world wide proletarian revolution. It also needs a revolutionary worldwide perspective for its further socialist development. A bourgeois revolution, on the other hand, is nationalistic in character and subordinates everything to the material interests of the national bourgeoisie. Peaceful coexistence and accommodation with the West is what Mao proposed as the new foreign policy. This is what the "radical faction," as Engels would call it, rejected and opposed. They were vanquished as earlier opponents of peaceful accommodation with the West were vanquished in the long period following Lenin's death in the Soviet Union.

But the decay of the worldwide system of imperialism daily brings in its train economic, social, and political catastrophes for the masses as well as genocidal imperialist wars. This makes the worldwide proletarian revolution all the more imperative and inevitable, and peaceful accommodation with the West a reactionary utopia.

Main menu Book menu