A Passage From: A Critique of Mao Tse-tung’s Theoretical Conceptions


Marx’s aphorism about “revolutions being locomotives of history” applies equally to society’s material and spiritual life.

Socialist revolution is not only a fundamental and qualitative transformation of the whole system of political and economic relations existing under capitalism, but also a deep-going transformation of society’s spiritual life. That is what Lenin called the cultural revolution.

What did the founders of Marxism-Leninism mean by this concept? Marx wrote that communism is “the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being—a return becoming conscious, and accomplished within the entire wealth of previous development”. [1] It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this idea of Marx, because it gives the very gist of the cultural revolution, which is to eliminate the alienated forms of human activity. Marx gives the main characteristic of the process of communist construction: mankind’s conscious activity, and sets out with exceptional clarity the attitude of the socialist revolution to the culture of the past, “within the entire wealth of previous development”.

Communism is a society consisting of men freely creating their own social relations. This kind of system can be produced only as a result of conscious and purposeful activity by millions of working people based on the knowledge and creative use of the objective laws of social development. This implies above all the need to put the great store of culture created by mankind within the reach of the masses. At the same time, while formulating his plan for the cultural revolution in the USSR Lenin kept stressing that it was not so much a process of enlightenment as creative activity aimed at the transformation of things. Every step in assimilating the spiritual treasures created by mankind, he said, is connected with the tackling of this or that task in socialist construction. That is the basis on which, he insisted, culture will become an inner need for each member of society.

Indeed, the full man is formed in the course of creative construction of the new world, which provides every individual with an opportunity for developing his creative potential, abilities and talents, and that is the main purpose of the cultural revolution. Under communism, the free and harmonious development of every individual will become the condition of the free and harmonious development of society, and of unlimited growth of the people’s creative powers. Consequently, the cultural revolution the people start by building socialism has for its highest aim the allround development of man’s spiritual creative powers, the elimination of the alienated forms of human activity which are characteristic of all antagonistic socio-economic formations, and the conversion of every individual into a conscious maker of history.

Are there any common points between the Marxist-Leninist view of the cultural revolution and the “cultural revolution” in China?

Marxism-Leninism starts from the assumption that no cultural revolution is possible unless men master the store of knowledge and assimilate the material and spiritual values accumulated by mankind before their day, but Mao and his followers started their “great proletarian cultural revolution” in China by proclaiming that the culture of past centuries was alien and hostile to the proletariat, and set the Hungweipings loose in a rampage against the cherished values of world civilisation.

Marxism-Leninism starts from the assumption that the cultural revolution, permeating every aspect of social life, helps to overcome the division of society into makers and consumers of culture, opening the floodgates to mass initiative and social activity, whereas Mao and his followers have been implanting the personality cult, which means turning masses of people into mobs whose duty is blindly to act on the orders of the “leader”.

What is there in common between genuine cultural activity of masses of working people and the “revolutionism” of the Hungweipings and the Tsaofans, who supplant the assimilation of culture by parroting quotations from Mao’s articles? The line of the “great proletarian cultural revolution”, announced by the CPC leadership in late 1965 and early 1966 and subsequently given the official imprimatur by the decisions of the llth Plenary Meeting of the CPC Central Committee in 1966, is a patent “Leftist” revision of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of culture and the cultural revolution. This revision, which affects literally all the basic propositions of the Marxist-Leninist theory on the cultural revolution, was given perhaps the most explicit expression in the CPC leadership’s attitude to such basic problems of the cultural revolution as 1) the cultural legacy of the past; 2) the culture of modern bourgeois society; and 3) the intelligentsia.

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 [1]   K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Moscow, 1959, p. 102.
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