The Shanghai Commune and the Lin Piao affair

Part V: The suppression of the Left in China

January 17, 1977

The suppression of the left in China might never have taken place, certainly not as easily, had it not been for the earlier destruction of Lin Piao and his collaborators. That laid the basis for the ultimate victory of the right.

One of the worst mistakes made by most progressive and leftist forces outside of China who were ardently supporting the Cultural Revolution was to pass over in silence the official Chinese explanation of the so-called Lin Piao plot.

It is hard to know what the left in China could have done under the circumstances in regard to Lin Piao or whether there was any choice in the matter at all.

The collaboration with the right in the State Council and in the Politburo in the years following Lin's death made it quite impossible to distinguish fish from fowl. The obscure character of the campaign to criticize Confucius and Lin made it an extremely in-house struggle which virtually excluded the masses and consequently left them indifferent.

The effort later to oust Teng and set in motion a new Cultural Revolution foundered for the same basic reasons.

Suffice it to say that the destruction of Lin Piao and some of his top collaborators who were also active in the Cultural Revolution was a body blow not only to the left forces but to the course of the Cultural Revolution itself.

What was the basic issue that divided Lin Piao, Chen Po-ta, Chiang Ching, Yao Wen-yuan, and Chang Chun-chiao from the rightists? It was first and foremost the question of what form of state would follow the ouster of the "capitalist readers."

Involved in this was also whether some formula would not be found for the same old "capitalist roaders" to come back in a new governmental combination. Such for instance was the Triple Alliance. (See Part 4 of this series.)


Lin Piao, and the others among the left, strongly favored the Paris Commune-type of state which, as we said earlier, was validated in the Sixteen-Point Decision of the Central Committee and not only endorsed by Mao but in all probability written by him.

As early as Nov. 3, 1966, Lin Piao at a mass rally in Peking stated,

"The broad revolutionary masses of our country have created the new experience of developing extensive democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat. By this extensive democracy, the Party is fearlessly permitting the broad masses to use the media of free airing of views, big-character posters, great debates, and extensive exchange of revolutionary experience to criticize and supervise the Party and government, leading institutions and leaders at all levels. At the same time, the people's democratic rights are being fully realized in accordance with the principles of the Paris Commune. Without such extensive democracy, it would be impossible to initiate a genuine Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution ... eradicate the roots of revisionism, consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat, and guarantee the advance of our country along the road of socialism and communism."

According to Han Suyin, as we stated earlier, Mao became apprehensive of the Commune type of state. According to Han, he called in Yao Wen-yuan and Chang Chun-chiao from Shanghai and persuaded them to abandon the Shanghai Commune in favor of the Triple Alliance. While this might have appeared to be a mere administrative and organizational change, in reality it was of momentous political significance. For under the Triple Alliance a coalition from the top was forged of three component elements: mass organizations, army, and cadres..

This last term, cadres, was a euphemism for the readmission of most of the top bureaucratic party elite back into the governing process.


Fear of the consequences of "ultra-democracy," of "Bonapartism," that a Paris-type Commune "could be manipulated, split into endless squabbling among small groups," and that "power could then fall into the hands of a few determined and unscrupulous careerists" -- a view that Han Suyin and other historians attribute to Mao -- is superficial and cannot be taken seriously.

These very same arguments could apply to any form of organization, to any form of state. Why should they apply more to the particular form of state which offers the broadest proletarian democracy to the workers and peasants?

The real hesitation lay in the fear of a strong and over-powering surge of the rightist forces in light of the fact that the Commune would have been their undoing. It lay in the fear of the specter of civil war and an evaluation that the proletarian and peasant resurgence was still insufficient to overwhelm the rightists and counter-revolutionary forces.

Nevertheless, the abandonment of the Commune did not subdue the forces of the rightists. Rather it emboldened them.


The example of the Soviet Republic under Lenin during the period of Brest-Litovsk offers, or should have offered, the greatest confidence and inspiration that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry need not fear a Soviet Commune-type of state even when the country seems to be on the edge of civil war.

The Brest-Litovsk treaty was fiercely debated because it surrendered so much territory to the imperialist Entente (Germany). The issue literally split the Bolshevik Central Committee in half

The vote to approve Lenin's proposal to accept the Brest-Litovsk treaty was won in the Central Committee by the narrowest of margins. The Left Communists, led by Bukharin, vehemently opposed it.

Nevertheless, when once it carried in the Central Committee, it was submitted to the Soviet for approval, where there was a lot more opposition. But the proposal carried anyway, in spite of the defections of the Left Social Revolutionaries.

Thus we see that a socialist republic led by a Bolshevik party, surrounded by a host of enemies internally and externally, nevertheless could submit a life and death question to the Soviet -- that is, to the Commune -- and still win. There was no need to stifle the lifeblood of the revolutionary masses; their initiative, their energy, and their resourcefulness in defending the revolution were drawn on through this form of proletarian democracy.

Was the People's Republic of China under so much more danger in 1967 than the Soviet Republic had been in 1918 that the first manifestation in many years of a real revival of proletarian participation and the boundless potential for development inherent in the Shanghai Commune had to be stifled?

The proletarian democratic character of the Soviet state under Lenin was strangled not by the need to combat counter-revolution, but by the need of the bureaucracy under the post-Leninist leadership to strangle the revolutionary initiative, the creative resourcefulness and energy of the masses.


The stream of vituperation and vilification that followed upon the heels of the so-called Lin Piao plot can be understood only if one sees it from the vantage point of the struggle over the new form of state which was to follow the elimination of the "capitalist roaders." Lin, of course, was a proponent of the Paris Commune-type of state, as we have seen.

Subsequently, Lin Piao was charged with starting "a counterrevolutionary coup d'etat, which," it is claimed, "was aborted at the Second Plenary Session of the Ninth Central Committee in August 1970." It is important to see how this indictment is formulated against him.

"In March 1971 he drew up the plan for an armed counterrevolutionary coup d'etat entitled 'Outline of Project 571' and on Sept. 8 launched the coup in a wild attempt to assassinate our great leader Chairman Mao and set up a rival central committee. On Sept. 13, after his conspiracy had collapsed, Lin Piao surreptitiously boarded a plane, fled as a defector to the Soviet revisionists in betrayal of the Party and country and died in a crash at Undar Khan in the People's Republic of Mongolia....

"Lin Piao and his handful of sworn followers were a counterrevolutionary conspiratorial clique.... The essence of the counterrevolutionary revisionist line they pursued and the criminal aim of the counter-revolutionary armed coup d'etat they launched was to usurp the supreme power of the Party and the state, thoroughly betray the line of the Ninth Congress, radically change the Party's basic line and policies for the entire historical period of socialism, turn the Marxist-Leninist Chinese Communist Party into a revisionist, fascist party, subvert the dictatorship of the proletariat and restore capitalism.

"Inside China they wanted to reinstate the landlord and bourgeois classes, which our Party, Army and People had overthrown with their own hands under the leadership of Chairman Mao, and to institute a feudal comprador fascist dictatorship.

"Internationally, they wanted to capitulate to Soviet revisionist social-imperialism and ally themselves with imperialism, revisionism, and reaction to oppose China, communism and revolution." (Peking Review, 35 and 36, Sept. 7,1973. Our emphasis.)

It is necessary to strip this indictment, made by Chou En-lai in his report to the Tenth National Congress, of all the abusive epithets and extract from it the only phrase which has any relevance or truth in it. It is the attempt to "set up a rival central committee."

Rather than treating this matter from the point of view of intrigue and conspiracy, double-dealing, and the spurious claims of an attempt to set up a fascist dictatorship, we ought to examine the matter of the rival central committee from the point of view of socio-historical development.


Viewing it as a socio-political phenomenon, we find that it is not at all uncommon in periods of acute social crisis and in revolutionary situations generally for a rival power to arise.

This phenomenon of dual power has manifested itself in practically all the great revolutions of the modern era.

In the great French Revolution it was the forces of the Third Estate against the royal power which contended for a period and later gave way to the National Assembly and the Convention, which was another form of dual power.

In the earlier century during the English Revolution, it was Cromwell and the Long Parliament against the king.

During the Russian Revolution it was the Soviets against the Kerensky Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie.

And in the Chinese Revolution it was the Chinese Red Army against the Kuomintang.

Dual power is an invariable concomitant in every great revolutionary struggle and its emergence must be treated from the point of view of the class forces involved -- from the point of view of those forces contending for power -- not from the point of view of mere conspiracy and intrigue.

The setting up of a rival power or an incipient rival power means the emergence of dual power. It is rarely an artificial phenomenon but emerges organically from the course of the revolution.


The setting up of a rival central committee could not just be passed off as an illegal attempt to usurp the authority of the state and the party. The Cultural Revolution called into question the legality of those in authority. The central committee contained a majority of rightists.

Lin Piao did not set up a rival central committee against Mao. On the contrary, they were in the same bloc. It was, in effect, a challenge to the rightists.

If the Lin Piao rival central committee is taken together with the Shanghai Commune, one can see the beginnings of genuine dual authority against those "capitalist roaders that are in power," mostly in the central committee. His challenge posed the question of which road to choose -- to work within the old system and try to reform it, or to set up a new governmental authority, a new form of state on the model of the Shanghai Commune, which in turn was based on the Paris Commune.

In other words, what was really at issue was how far to carry the revolution -- to crush the old political system which engendered a bureaucracy and a new bourgeoisie, or to base themselves on an emerging new form of state, like the Shanghai Commune, supported by the PLA. That was the issue.

But this whole question has been avoided behind a thick fog of false criminal allegations against Lin which hide the revolutionary class significance of what might have been a very auspicious, revolutionary development.

Chou's accusations against Lin were, of course, grist to the mill of the bourgeoisie, which seeks to portray the entire course of the Chinese Revolution as nothing but a naked power struggle devoid of any progressive social content for the masses.

Lin Piao had been designated as the successor to Mao in no less a document than the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. After a political struggle against the rightists, he was appointed Defense Minister at the suggestion of Mao to replace Peng Te-huai. Peng Te-huai was an ally of Liu Shao-chi, the principal proponent of the rightist forces.

Although deposed as Defense Minister, Peng Teh-huai was not without support in the military, considering his many long years in the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Neither was Liu Shao-chi nor Teng Hsiao-ping.


It was under Lin Piao's leadership of the PLA that rank in the army had been abolished, including his own title of marshal. The significance of this revolutionary reform can scarcely be overestimated. Could this have met with kind approval from all the officers?

In the Soviet Union, as is well-known, rank was restored by Stalin in 1936. In Lenin's time it did not exist any more than it does in China's Red Army, its abolition by Lin was a remarkable development worthy of a great deal of attention.

It was under Lin's leadership that the Cultural Revolution had been begun earlier in the army than in the civilian population. He was a close ally of Mao's and a supporter of the struggle against the revisionists and rightists. No official source in China or outside gave any hint whatever that Lin Piao was in any way moving away from the conceptions promulgated during the Cultural Revolution.

Rather than trying to find some basis for a counter-revolutionary coup d'etat by Lin, historians ought to direct their attention to the possibility of a reactionary coup by the Liu Shao-chi, Teng Hsiao-ping, Peng Te-huai forces in the military and among the bureaucracy, which, according to quotes from Lin, he was expecting.

At any rate, if a coup by Lin and his revolutionary supporters was indeed in the offing (which remains to be proven), it was directed against the rightists, not against Mao, and not against the Cultural Revolution, but for its deepening.


Most importantly from a political point of view vis-a-vis foreign policy, it is now widely known and confirmed by Han Suyin that Lin Piao opposed the development of rapprochement with the U.S. and that it was Chou En-lai and the rightists who were most for it.

In retrospect it can be seen that Chiang Ching, Yao Wen-yuan, Wang Hung-wen, and Chang Chun-chiao are the left-over opposition from the Lin Piao, Chen Po-ta left wing. By all accounts it was not an organized faction but a loose grouping based on a common ideological and political approach, especially with regard to the rightists.

Chang Chun-chiao's essay "On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie" was a final effort to sound the alarm that the rightists were on the verge of completely controlling the state and the party. Written in the familiar and restricted terminology of the day, the essay gives the impression that bourgeois counter-revolution may be in the offing, especially if one reads it in the light of the subsequent suppression of the left, including the author, of course. The essay is overdrawn but it nevertheless points to the rightist danger without naming it as such.

"We must be soberly aware that there is still a danger of China turning revisionist. This is not only because imperialism and social- imperialism will never give up aggression and subversion against us, not only because China's old landlords and capitalists are still around and unreconciled to their defeat, but also because new bourgeois elements are being engendered daily and hourly, as Lenin put it. Some comrades argue that Lenin was referring to the situation before collectivization. This is obviously incorrect. Lenin's remarks are not out of date at all."
Chang Chun-chiao's essay constitutes the most direct attack on the rightists and forecasts the possibility of bourgeois restoration. It is, as we said, overdrawn in this respect, but it nonetheless points up the fundamental issue in the struggle between the Chiang Ching, Wang Hung-wen, Yao Wen-yuan, and Chang Chun-chiao left wing of the party as against the resurgent right.


In an account of the "Rise and Fall of the 'Gang of Four' " written for the January 1977 issue of The Seventies magazine, a Hong Kong publication to which the Chinese CP leaders occasionally leak information, one finds confirmation of the assertions made by Chang Chun-chiao. "The Rise and Fall of the 'Gang of Four' " presents the official viewpoint of the Hua regime on the suppression of the leg. The magazine is a non-party organ, making it easier at a later date to van or modify some of the details, but there is no doubt that on the whole the article presents the current position of the Hua regime.

It is full of slander and vilification against the left and is devoid of any really coherent political explanation for such an immense phenomenon as the suppression of the leadership of the Cultural Revolution.

There is, however, one interesting admission which inadvertently sheds light on the overriding character of the political struggle. On page 31 it states, "Chang Chun-chiao's article 'On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship over the Bourgeoisie' is unrealistic. In China, where socialism is being practiced, one can exercise only an ideological dictatorship over the bourgeois class. The Chinese Constitution states that, besides the landlords, the rich, the reactionaries, the bad elements, and the rightists, dictatorship should be exercised only over the 'reactionary capitalists.'

"As for the national bourgeoisie, it is a matter of reeducation and reform, not an arbitrary exercise of dictatorship over them. Chang's theory is actually divorced from reality, therefore revisionist."

So! The proletarian dictatorship over the bourgeoisie in China, according to the Hua regime, is really only ideological.

What is that supposed to mean? That the bourgeois class gives a promise to "accept" the ideology of the proletariat while retaining its material, social position and privileges?

What does the bourgeoisie care about ideology when it can retain its social position and class privileges?

The dictatorship of the proletariat, according to this Hua version, is supposed to be exercised only over the "reactionary capitalists." And who are the good ones?

Also, it is merely a matter of reeducation and reform for the national bourgeoisie and not of class struggle. Indeed! Indeed!

"Class struggle," it seems, is to be directed only against the revolutionary left wing. That's when all the reactionaries are for class struggle.

There is to be no "arbitrary" dictatorship over the national bourgeoisie but there is to be arbitrary suppression of the revolutionary left.

The chief task for 1977, according to Hua, is to struggle against the left, not against the bourgeoisie. For them, it's "reeducation and reform" -- 27 years after the victory of the Chinese Revolution over the Kuomintang and 10 years after the Cultural Revolution.

This in itself is the most revealing commentary on the course of the Thermidorian reactionary grouping that has gained the ascendency in the struggle with the left.

However, the wider and more intractable problem is the role of the administrative, technical, and managerial elite, as well as the entrenched governmental bureaucracy in the party and the state. Material incentives and bonuses, mostly to the upper echelons, tend to foster inequality; among the workers, it breaks their class solidarity.

All around, this lays the basis for further group and class differentiation in Chinese society. But this opens up two opposing perspectives: either a new revolutionary initiative by and on the party of the proletariat and the peasantry, a new regenerative effort -- in current Chinese CP terminology, a new Cultural Revolution -- or further deterioration.

But a full-scale bourgeois counter-revolution is not at all possible in this period given the conditions of collective ownership of the means of production, the destruction of the old, comprador bourgeoisie, and the basically collectivized peasantry.

Index Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10



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