In one of my recent entries about the Danish Communist Workers’ Group I discussed the similarities in political line between that organization and the Leading Light Communist Organization (the principal Maoist-Third Worldist organization) regarding the ‘leech state theory’. Today I briefly wanted to discuss the GPCR and the so-called ‘ultra-Left’, which has been represented by the LLCO and what I think should be learned from that tendency. I would like to suggest that readers read the very information essay by Prairie Fire entitled “Two Roads Defeated” (part 1, 2 and 3) which was initially published in the Monkey Smashes Heaven collective/blog which is now a constituent part of the LLCO. I do not agree with many parts of this document (as is evident in this blog entry at different points) however, do feel like it is a good starting point for any discussion of the Cultural Revolution ultra-left. The essay speaks about two tendencies of the ultra-Left that are incredibly interesting – the Paris Communards and the Lin Biao faction – but, I am far more interested in a third road that Prairie Fire briefly mention and cite, but do not elaborate upon: the Sheng-wu-lien (one can read their famous document Whither China? here). I am sure some would object and argue that the Sheng-wu-lien could be included within the communard tendency and thus has not been overlooked, however, I think that this misses a pivotal difference between the Sheng-wu-lien and the larger current that was the Paris Commundard model (this is reflected even in the work of Alain Badiou) which I will discuss below i.e. the new class.
My interest in the Sheng-wu-lien speaks to what I consider to be a million dollar of the Cultural Revolution more specifically and communism more generally: how does one do a class analysis of a socialist society? A ‘new class’ analysis. There is some indication that Mao in the immediate post-Hundred Flowers Campaign period and again in the post-Great Leap Forward period was interested in such a ‘new class analysis’. However, by 1964/1965 Mao had largely ceased to develop such an analysis, although he did repeatedly in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution period speak out against the rise of a bureaucracy inside the Party and did call for the work teams (when he supported them in May/June 1966) and Red Guard coalitions (May 1966 – July 1968) to perform such analysis (there is little evidence to show that such an analysis was ever carried out).
A new class analysis was required as the means of production were either owned by the State or were collectively controlled, and thus there was no possibility for the individual accumulation of financial capital. Yet one could clearly see the rise of a new Red ‘capitalist class’ which drew from the ranks of the families from ‘good class’ backgrounds, ‘revolutionary cadre’ families and sections of the professional middle-classes that had been able to win YCL and later party membership. Thus, we must complicate our understanding of a class analysis to looking at the different kinds of capital that circulate: financial, political and cultural capital simultaneously, and how they thus resulted in the production of a new class stratification in China. Indeed, this was the kind of analysis that was needed in the USSR with the rise of the ‘Red Engineer’ class in that country and which lead it down the road of revisionism.
In China by the late 1960’s a new generation who could claim to be the children of ‘revolutionary cadre’ had grown up and enjoyed a form of political capital, especially access to insider information about party policies, political influence etc. Indeed, the early Red Guards were formed by the children of top political leaders like Liu Shaoqi who were less worried about the possible negative effects of their involvement in the Cultural Revolution because of the relatively higher position of their parents than those that they were criticizing. The ‘revolutionary cadre’s’ children were allowed to attend the best middle and high schools and comprised a disproportionally large section of the university population. Furthermore, some of the leaders in the government who were in charge of the economic affairs of the State may not have had direct access to the financial capital, but were de facto in charge of large bodies of financial capital and thus raised the question as how to understand this ownership of financial capital? The urban middle-class largely descended from the families of professionals and intellectuals and possessed cultural capital, but because of their class positions were relatively economically and politically disadvantaged, although some had been able to win party membership. There were three further groupings of young people that further complicated this class analysis: 1) the children of families from ‘good class’ backgrounds like the peasants and the workers and thus had some political capital, but were disadvantaged because they often were the first generation to receive education and thus did not often perform as well as the children with several generations of education and their economic situation had not really improved in the previous years; 2) the children of families from ‘bad class’ backgrounds like former landlords and members of the bourgeoisie that had been economically stripped off their financial capital, political capital and cultural capital, but were unable to find work and were often targeted as part of the ‘remnant class’ analysis (although as some of the house raids organized by the Red Guards revealed the complete appropriation of bourgeois wealth had not been fully accomplished as is evident by the amounts of jewelry, money, valuable etc that were captured by the Red Guards in May/June 1966); and 3) the rusticated youth who were now returning to the urban centers and finding that there were no jobs for them. Although, we can identify the different socioeconomic groups, as I have done above, the synthesis of all of these elements is necessary to produce a new class analysis of socialist society is still necessary and is yet to be done.
The Sheng-wu-lien were one of the few articulate far-Left groups in the GPCR that recognized the need for this kind of class analysis and criticized the Cultural Revolution for not allowing the development of a truly proletarian movement that could build Paris Communes all over China, a new ‘Mao Zedong-ist Party’ (Badiou makes an oddly similar call in Theory of the Subject but does not sustain this inquiry and soon adopts the politics-without-a-party model that he currently advocates) and the complete defeat of the Red ‘Capitalist class”. Mao of course denounced the Sheng-wu-lien as a bunch of Trotskyists when he recognized that many of the sections within the Party that he relied on would effectively be criticized by such an analysis (this is of course emblematic of the contradiction that Mao’s personage embodied: Mao was simultaneously the head of the Rebels and the head of the Red ‘Engineers’). Denouncing the Sheng-wu-lien was made easier when it became clear that several of their leaders came from ‘bad class’ background families. The Sheng-wu-lien correctly recognized that without such an analysis that the thorough reconstruction of a socialist society and Party was bound to fail. They argued that the short-lived Communes demonstrated that it was possible for the people to run their own affairs and did not need to rely on an entrenched bourgeoisie which would be dictated from on-high in the form of the revolutionary committees (this is where I would disagree with the LLCO as it seems contradictory to support the communard model and to simultaneously endorse the Lin Biao-led PLA that constituted the principal body of the three-in-one leaderships of the revolutionary committees, the so-called militarization of society that the LLCO admires in the Lin Biao period, especially as it was the very same PLA that repressed the Left – who at this point had been called ultra-Left by Mao because they did not join the revolutionary committees – Red Guards like the Sheng-wu-lien and the other communards!).
The theoretical problem that troubled the Sheng-wu-lien, how to do a class analysis of a socialist society, is something that continues to trouble some communists today and continues to elude both Maoists and Trotskyists alike. Indeed, one could even say that the contemporary Left has abdicated any responsibility of developing such an analysis and thus makes any further deepening of socialist revolution impossible (as can be seen in Nepal and the signs of degeneration in that party). Furthermore, the case of the Sheng-wu-lien should trouble Maoists who wonder what went wrong in China and the GPCR. Here is a group that was critical of the thoroughness and scientific-basis upon which the GPCR should be carried out and were brutally repressed for the trouble. Until the rise of the LLCO had faded from the popular consciousness of the Maoist Left except as an example of what not to do! And even in the case of the LLCO sits uncomfortably with their support for the Lin Biao faction which led the very PLA that repressed this very tendency!