Daring to Scale the Heights for the Emancipation of Humanity
In Tribute to Zhang Chunqiao: 1917-2005
Revolution #3, May 22, 2005, posted at revcom.us
by Raymond Lotta
On April 21 the international proletariat lost a great leader when Zhang Chunqiao died at the age of 88. Zhang was a close colleague and follower of Mao Tsetung and a prominent leader of the Cultural Revolution. He was arrested when the counter-revolutionary forces in the Chinese Communist Party staged a coup after Mao's death in 1976.
Zhang never wavered from revolution, in its brightest hours and in its darkest moments.
Zhang Chunqiao is not widely known to the fighters and dreamers of today. For decades the regime that imprisoned him hid information about his status from the people in China and the world. And even in his death, Zhang is slandered by reactionary forces and pundits the world over. But he had an immense impact on the course of revolution and the cause of human emancipation. His is a life to celebrate, to learn about and learn from.
Maoist China was a far cry from the corrupt capitalist China of today that is socialist only in name. It was a China of genuine socialism and all-the-way revolution. A revolution that ended exploitation, that was digging up the roots of oppression and class division, breaking tradition's chains and meeting the needs of the masses. It may be hard to imagine in today's world that on this planet there was a liberating society and economy in which the masses were ruling and increasing their collective mastery. That there was an inspiring example to the oppressed of the world and a base for promoting world revolution. But this was the reality of
revolutionary China—beginning with the triumph of the revolution in 1949 and reaching unprecedented heights during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, until
That such a society existed was inseparable from the fact that the proletariat in power had Mao Tsetung as its leader and heroes of its cause like Zhang Chunqiao.
Zhang Chunqiao occupied high positions of authority in the party and state structures—he was a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party, a vice premier, and head of the political department of the People's Liberation Army.And he used these positions to lead the masses to challenge entrenched officialdom, the hierarchy and inequalities of class society, and the ideological deadweight of the past. This is quite remarkable.
Zhang was a communist leader who combined a sweeping grasp of Marxist theory with a living, developing sense of the contours and dynamics of class struggle under socialism. He fought for Mao's line of continuing the revolution until all enslaving relations and ideas are overcome on a world scale. Basing himself on the science of revolution, he dared to lead the masses to seize new ground and break new ground in emancipating themselves.
Zhang was intellectually alive, a rigorous and innovative theorist who had no taste for pale doctrine. He looked to the new and captured the imagination of China's new generation of revolutionaries who came forward during the Cultural Revolution. His revolutionary leadership and writings have influenced revolutionaries around the world.
The bourgeoisie would have us believe that revolutionary leaders invariably succumb to the privileges and corruptions of power. The life of Zhang Chunqiao proves otherwise.
The Cultural Revolution: Leading in the Trenches of Struggle
It was Zhang's role in the Cultural Revolution that marked his emergence as a major leader and standard- bearer of Mao's revolutionary line of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat to achieve classless, communist society.
Mao summed up the experience of the Soviet Union, where a new exploiting class, still calling itself socialist, had come to power. He was struggling against revisionism, the betrayal of revolution under the cover and in the name of Marxism. He analyzed that a neo-capitalist elite was arising within the political and economic structures of China, and headquartered within the Communist Party. A radical solution was required: to mobilize the masses to criticize and challenge bourgeois and reactionary authority, to wage mass political struggle to overthrow the new bourgeois forces in commanding positions of society—the "capitalist roaders"—and to carry forward the process of transforming the economic, political, social, and ideological relations of society. And through all of this to further empower the masses to be the masters of society. This was the Cultural Revolution Mao launched in 1966.
Zhang Chunqiao was drafted by Mao to join the Cultural Revolution Group in Beijing to give guidance and direction to the unprecedented "revolution within the revolution." Zhang was in the thick of some of its most complicated and breakthrough episodes—including the dramatic events that came to be known as the Shanghai January Storm.
In late 1966, rebel students and rebel workers in Shanghai mounted a challenge to the city's entrenched and oppressive ruling apparatus, raised criticisms of the local party leadership, and pressed demands for a new political order. Ferment and struggle intensified. Zhang followed developments in Shanghai with great attention and returned to the city several times, bringing support from the Cultural Revolution Group and assisting and providing leadership to the rebels. The revolutionary movement grew and an alliance of rebel forces took control of the city's vital communications and administrative centers in January 1967. This was the first "seizure of power" by the masses in the Cultural Revolution. It set an example and set the ideological tone for power seizures in other parts of the country during the Cultural Revolution.
Zhang helped systematize and spread the lessons of the Shanghai Storm. And he was deeply involved in summing up the experiences and experimentation of forging new revolutionary administrative and political institutions to replace the old order.
Advancing Socialist Theory
Zhang made an enormous contribution to the international proletariat's understanding of the nature of socialist society and its economics, and the character and goal of proletarian revolution.
Zhang further developed Mao's insight that the mere conversion of the means of production to state property does not guarantee that society is socialist. The true nature of ownership is determined by what political and ideological line is in command: are the economy and society being led and moving in the direction of restricting and eliminating the significant differences and inequalities left over from capitalist society; or is society on a road, and moving in a direction, that would bring back the old order even in the disguise of socialism? Ownership, Zhang emphasized, is a question of power: who is really running society, do the masses have the ability to continue to make revolution and transform society?
Zhang analyzed that there are still capitalist aspects in the production relations of socialism. The relations between people in production are still class relations. Do managers and leading state and party functionaries take part in productive labor with the masses; and more broadly, are the masses taking part in important spheres of administrative tasks and the spheres of education and culture? Or are differences hardening and the gulf between mental and manual labor widening? Zhang explained that the division of labor cannot be overcome all at once—but at every stage in the development of the revolution it must be restricted and transformed to the greatest degree possible.
Zhang's essay "On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie" explains that the proletarian revolution is a thoroughgoing revolution that must persevere in exercising all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie. This means in all spheres and at all stages of development of the revolution. The proletarian revolution aims, with Zhang citing Marx's famous description, to eliminate "the 4 Alls": all classes and class distinctions generally, all the relations of production on which they rest, all thesocial relations corresponding to them, and all the ideas that result from these social relations. This revolution must continue until it banishes these
"4 Alls" from the earth.
These were not theoretical issues for discussion by a small section of party leaders. These were questions put before the masses in China. And revolutionaries throughout the world also took them up.
The Last Great Battle
Zhang Chunqiao was a pivotal figure in the struggle between revolution and counterrevolution between 1973 and 1976. In the early 1970s, Deng Xiaoping and other revisionist forces in the Communist Party began mounting an offensive to overthrow proletarian rule. Mao relied on Zhang and a core of revolutionary leaders (including Jiang Qing, who was Mao's wife) to politically arm and mobilize the masses to wage a life-and-death struggle to preserve and advance proletarian rule. Zhang rose to the challenge with vision, with scientific understanding, and with indomitable courage.
Zhang had strategic confidence in the ability of the masses to grasp their role as the makers of revolution and to grasp the science of Marxism that would enable them to do so. He acted on the understanding that the key to the defense and advance of revolution was to arouse the conscious activism of the masses. And he and the other revolutionary leaders entered the fray and gave direction to sharp and complicated struggles on many different fronts: education, industrial management, economic strategy, science and technology, and other arenas. They were continually summing up
experience, drawing lessons, and applying Marxism to new problems. They were hewing
a path forward and politicaly and ideologically arming the proletariat worldwide. They kept to this orientation and maintained their resolve—even when they made mistakes, even when sections of people were influenced for a time by backward ideas, even as the balance of political and international forces turned more unfavorable for the revolution in China.
And so, when the revisionists in China's Communist Party staged their armed coup after Mao died in 1976, they moved, and had to move, decisively against the revolutionary headquarters within the Communist Party. The defining act of the coup was the arrest of Zhang Chunqiao and Jiang Qing (and the two other members of the so-called "gang of four"). This set China on the course that would turn it into the sweatshop for world capitalism that it is today.
But isolation and threats of death could not break Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao. At the show trial organized by the revisionist regime in 1980-81, Jiang Qing confronted and exposed her inquisitors and Zhang sat in defiant silence. Zhang received a death sentence that was later commuted to life imprisonment; and after more than 25 years in prison, he remained unrepentant.
With the coup of 1976, the revolution in China was defeated, but the
revolutionaries were not defeated politically and ideologically.
The Cultural Revolution was the highest pinnacle reached so far by the proletarian revolution. And Maoism must continue to learn from this experience and from the example of leaders like Zhang Chunqiao. The proletarian revolution must sum up the great strengths as well as the weaknesses and limitations of the Cultural Revolution, in order to go further and do even better, to make and continue the revolution worldwide until the historic mission of the proletariat—a communist world free of exploitation, oppression, and class distinctions altogether—has been achieved.