Health Care and “Barefoot Doctors”
Prior to the Cultural Revolution, health care resources—doctors, hospital facilities and money—were concentrated in the cities. This system left hundreds of millions of peasants with rudimentary medical care, and it impeded the flow of advanced medical knowledge back to the villages.
One of the most dynamic innovations of the Cultural Revolution was the system of "barefoot doctors" that helped narrow the gap in health services between rural and urban areas. By the mid-1970s, more than a million of these paramedics, four times as many as in 1965, were working in the countryside. Many of them were educated urban youth who were part of the movement “down to the villages.”
The first group of 28 barefoot doctors, trained by Shanghai doctors in 1968 at Chiangchen People's Commune, set a pioneering example for the country. Their guidelines were to serve the countryside, to place prevention of diseases first, and to combine mental and manual labor—"calluses on hands, mud on feet, medicine kit on shoulder, poor and lower-middle peasants in mind."
One of the first steps taken by these new medical workers was to train disease-prevention health workers from the peasants, enabling each production brigade to have its own health center. In one brigade, the barefoot doctors devoted a third to a half of their time to farm work. This not only created a medical corps with strong ties to the peasants, it enabled brigade doctors to help develop a rice strain that had high yields and eliminated disease-bearing mosquitoes. Finally, upon the recommendations of the peasants they worked with, the commune sent five barefoot doctors to medical school to pursue more advanced studies.156
Urban hospitals and medical schools turned their attention to the countryside, establishing medical centers on communes and providing doctors to staff them. A commune hospital or clinic served two purposes: as a treatment center for seriously ill patients, and as a training center for barefoot doctors and midwives. After an initial training course of six months to a year, they would return for follow-up courses during the slack season. They continued to work in the fields and were paid by their communes.
The tasks of these new doctors went far beyond the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. They administered vaccinations, demonstrated the correct use of pesticides, introduced new sanitation methods, and taught mothers about nutrition and child care.
In addition to helping rural women to give birth at home, midwives were trained to diagnose a difficult birth early enough to bring the mother to a commune hospital.
At the rural hospitals and clinics visited by the CCAS delegation, medicine was free.157
During the same years, Red Medical Teams, an urban and industrial version of the barefoot doctors, were established. After a basic course and recurrent follow-up sessions, they staffed factory clinics and cared for the health of their fellow workers.
The training of doctors and medical staff at urban hospitals also went through major changes during the Cultural Revolution. In medical schools, the program of study was shortened from six years to three years, followed by an internship of one and a half years. The curriculum was revised to place more emphasis on preventative medicine. Most graduates were generalists, not specialists. They would spend a good part of their lives in the countryside as part of mobile teams, or they resettled there.158
In addition, many traditional forms of medicine, such as herbal remedies and acupuncture anesthesia, were widely used during the Cultural Revolution. Research institutes studied Chinese medicine to put it on a scientific and standardized basis, while many hospitals began to combine Chinese and Western medicine into an integrated system for the treatment of illness.
The end of the Cultural Revolution led to a rapid and drastic decline in the health care system in the countryside. The barefoot doctor system was abandoned by Deng’s regime in 1981. Doctors set up their own private practices, making medical treatment well beyond the means of most villagers. After the collectives were dissolved in 1983, health care insurance disappeared in the countryside.159
Radical social transformations in education, health care, culture, industry, agriculture, the position of women, and collective, internationalist values were essential to achieving the aims of the Cultural Revolution. Still, the course that the Cultural Revolution took varied tremendously across China’s huge territory. The revolutionary transformations described above were uneven, and were not implemented over a long enough period to take firm root. Particularly as they came under attack by rightist forces, the “socialist new things” did not always survive, even prior to the revisionist coup in 1976 that brought the Cultural Revolution to an end.
G. The Obstacles that the Cultural Revolution Faced, and its Shortcomings
After the passage of 40 years, it is important to avoid an idealized picture of the Cultural Revolution. Such a view does not come to grips with the immense difficulties the Cultural Revolution had to overcome, and it does not lead to a deeper understanding of the factors that led to its eventual defeat. In addition, such a view cannot pass on important lessons that will help future socialist societies deal with new and complex conditions.
In order to understand the inability of the Cultural Revolution to consolidate its achievements, two kinds of questions must be addressed. The first concern the objective factors, internal and external to China, that existed in the 1960s and 1970s. The second set of questions concern shortcomings in how it was conducted and unintended but still negative consequences.
To begin with, the Cultural Revolution was an uphill battle. The Chinese revolution had gone through an extended period of new democratic revolution beginning in the 1920s. Even taking into consideration the social transformations in the liberated areas and after nationwide victory in 1949, it was not possible to completely eradicate feudal and bourgeois ideology in a few years, or even in one or two generations. The deep roots of Confucianism, especially its reverence for established authority, was a major target of the revolutionary forces in both the opening and later stages of the Cultural Revolution. “It is right to rebel against reactionaries!” was not a semi-anarchist slogan but a call to break the stranglehold of thousands of years of ideological indoctrination and to prevent a new class of Confucian sages—dressed up as Marxist-Leninists—from usurping power.
In addition, there was a relatively short period of socialist construction before the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Much of that was conducted on the basis of the experience of building socialism in the Soviet Union, which had many weaknesses even prior to the rise of Khrushchev and state capitalism in the mid-50s.160 As noted earlier, by the early 1960s, much of the top CCP leadership was implementing a pro-Soviet revisionist line with Chinese characteristics, and their network of party and government officials was firmly entrenched at all levels. On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, this was the situation faced by Mao and other revolutionary party leaders--as well as tens of millions of workers and peasants who had been told that their party would always stay red.
International conditions were an important part of the objective situation for the
Cultural Revolution. In 1966, the situation in the world was favorable for such an unprecedented revolution within a socialist society. It was no exaggeration to say that revolution was the main trend in the world and imperialism was on the defensive.
U.S. imperialism—the chief enemy of the proletariat and oppressed peoples of the world—was bogged down in South Vietnam due to the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people, and national liberation struggles were on the rise in Asia, Africa, Latin America and within the imperialist countries. The Chinese Communist Party had launched a bold challenge to the revisionist Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to its undisputed leadership over the international communist movement.
However, just three years into the Cultural Revolution, the military intervention of the Soviet imperialists in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack on China in 1969 produced a radically different international playing field for the People’s Republic. As described in more detail in our paper on Chinese foreign policy during the Maoist era,161 this forced Mao and the party leadership to make an opening to the West in order to avoid fighting on two fronts. This shift also provided a political opening to and strengthened the position of pro-Western sections of the leadership.
When combined with the political defection of Lin Biao and other leaders of the Cultural Revolution such as Chen Boda, these events led to a shift to the right on the part of a large number of party and government officials grouped around Premier Zhou Enlai. With Zhou’s backing, many revisionist leaders who had been knocked down in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution were rehabilitated after making perfunctory “self-criticisms,” including Deng Xiaoping. This set the stage for a full-scale counter-attack on the Cultural Revolution.
Perhaps most importantly, the Cultural Revolution was an uphill battle because of a lack of historical experience. Just as Lenin, Stalin and the Soviet Union had no prior experience to draw on in building a socialist society in the 1920s and 30s, Mao had to develop a new understanding of the persistence of class struggle in socialist society, how capitalism can be restored, and a political line and mechanisms for keeping China on the socialist road. In launching the Cultural Revolution, Mao and the other revolutionaries in the CCP were moving into uncharted political territory.
Below are a number of specific problems faced by the Cultural Revolution, and shortcomings in how it was carried out.162
(1) At times, factionalism—in the sense of groups placing their own narrow interests above political principle-- was a difficult problem to resolve. First, it must be said that what may have appeared to be factional power grabs were often examples of acute class struggle between revisionist party officials who formed conservative factions among the masses to defend their privileged positions on the one hand, and mass organizations of revolutionary workers, peasants and youth on the other.
In the course of the Cultural Revolution, rightist and leftist groupings all claimed to be following “Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line.” In this complex and often confusing situation, party members and the masses of people could only distinguish between correct and incorrect lines—between the socialist road and the road back to capitalism—by engaging in political and ideological study, discussion and struggle. In many cases, disputes between leftist groupings had to be resolved by the intervention of the People’s Liberation Army, which brought new problems. Further advances in the Cultural Revolution and consolidation of its achievements would have required a higher level of political consciousness and willingness to put collective interests first in order to reduce the level of unprincipled factional struggle.
Based on their own experience, many readers of this paper know how hard it can be to figure out how best to struggle for revolution in situations where there isn’t much in the way of historical experience. During the course of the Cultural Revolution, it is understandable that there would be great tumult and uncertainty, and even dedicated revolutionary activists inevitably made mistakes.
The unleashing of millions of Red Guards in the spring of 1966 to criticize
the Four Olds and revisionist party officials brought with it a set of unanticipated problems. Many Red Guard organizations ignored the policy of using reason, not force, in conducting political struggle. Mao rejected the slogan adopted by some of the Red Guard groups, “doubt everything and overthrow everything.” 163 He repeatedly stated that 95% of the people could be united in the course of the Cultural Revolution, and that the method of political education, of “curing the disease to save the patient,” should be applied with people who had made mistakes.
Behind some of these ultra-leftist Red Guard groups were several members of the CCRG led by Wang Li who were calling for the overthrow of the majority of top state personnel. In 1967, the Minister of Coal suffered a fatal heart attack at the hands of these “rebels” and the Minister of Railways disappeared altogether. Their ultimate target was Premier Zhou Enlai, who was playing an important role in support of the Cultural Revolution at that time. Wang Li and his allies were also behind the burning of the British embassy in Beijing in 1967. It turned out that their ultra-leftist activities were being coordinated by the secret “May 16th Group,” which was dissolved, and its leaders were expelled from the party. 164
In addition there were cases when different Red Guard groups were consumed with fighting each other. One famous example of student factionalism and its successful resolution concerns Tsinghua University, China's preeminent school of science and engineering. Two factions of Tsinghua students, each claiming to uphold Mao Zedong Thought, had armed themselves and clashed for months, paralyzing the campus. In July 1968, Mao, the CCRG and the Beijing Municipal Revolutionary Committee decided that the situation had gone too far. They contacted a group of revolutionary workers at the Hsinhua Printing Plant to put out a call for the formation of Workers Propaganda Teams to go to Tsinghua, armed only with Red Books and the slogan, "Use Reason, not Violence."
On July 27, over 30,000 unarmed workers entered the campus, with columns assigned to surround buildings occupied by the armed student factions. As the workers successfully persuaded some students to lay down their arms, the largest armed faction launched an attack on the workers with spears, rifles and grenades. By the following morning, five workers lay dead and more than 700 had serious wounds. Nevertheless, the workers did not retaliate against the students, and in less than 24 hours most of the students surrendered, while a few die-hards fled the campus. 165
Due to the political weaknesses of many Red Guard organizations, Mao and the Central Cultural Revolution Group began to rein them in during late 1966. Over the next few years,17 million educated youth, including many Red Guards, were sent to the countryside to work alongside, learn from and use their skills to serve the peasants. Many had a hard time adjusting to rural life, but significant numbers of urban youth decided to settle down, started families and contributed their skills and education to the socialist development of the countryside.
(3) In spite of the August 1966 directive that the principal target of the Cultural
Revolution was high-ranking party officials taking the capitalist road, intellectuals, especially those trained in the pre-Liberation era, were repeated, high-profile targets.
At some points, nearly all teachers, writers and other intellectuals came under fire from Red Guard groups.166
When the policy on intellectuals was applied in a more focused way, rightist
intellectuals were challenged and criticized in public. Some were sent to work in the countryside, where they did manual work and lived with peasants for the first time in their lives. In the course of political discussion and struggle, many intellectuals were won over to the goals of the Cultural Revolution and returned to their positions with a new outlook.
In addition to remolding and winning over as many of the intellectuals as possible, one of the goals of the Cultural Revolution was to develop working class intellectuals from the workers, peasants and soldiers. The first contingent of 200, 000 proletarian intellectuals were graduated in 1974. 167 However, this success story was halted by the defeat of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. One year later, nationwide admission examinations were reinstituted, with a predictable impact on the numbers of workers and peasants attending universities.
Of course, there is some truth in the dozens of books written by intellectuals and other relatively privileged groups who suffered during the Cultural Revolution—though it is questionable whether being deprived of their normal life style or leaving a comfortable city job to work on a commune qualifies as "suffering." But in evaluating these accounts, it is worth remembering that history gets written by the victors. Many of the accounts of persecution and torture of intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution are as useful and reliable as seeing the pro-slavery movie, “Birth of a Nation,” as a guide to the history of the Civil War and Black Reconstruction in the U.S.
Entirely missing from this one-sided view of the Cultural Revolution are the accounts of barefoot doctors who brought health care to millions in the vast Chinese countryside for the first time, of workers who devised new techniques for raising production on a basis of self-reliance, and of educated youth whose lives were enriched by the years they spent in the countryside.
Some of the rare examples of such counter-narratives about the Cultural Revolution published in the West in recent years include Mobo Gao’s Gao Village, Dongping Han’s The Unknown Cultural Revolution, and Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era. In one account from the latter book, a young woman from Beijing describes the eight years she spent in a remote village in northeastern China:
I learned to do all kinds of farm work and considered myself a good farmer. I planned and arranged farm activities year round (of course, with help from my peasant partner) and took the lead in doing them. I adopted the local dialect and the peasants’ ways of living and chatting to the point that I could pass as a northeasterner…. Yes, I had changed. I discarded the vanity and sense of superiority typical of city folks and became more down to earth. My life in the countryside changed my way of looking at the world and at life. 168
(4) Red Guard groups and workers and peasants organizations, each claiming to be flying the "red flag,” at times resorted to force during political struggle. This violated the explicit instructions of the "16 Point Decision," one of which was that:
The method to be used in debates is to present the facts, reason things out, and persuade through reasoning. Any method of forcing a minority holding different views to submit is impermissible. The minority should be protected, because sometimes the truth is with the minority. Even if the minority is wrong, they should still be allowed to argue their case and reserve their views.
However, these instructions were simply ignored and openly violated by some of
the forces that joined in the at times chaotic mass upsurges of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing, a leading member of the CCRG, did not help matters when she promoted the orientation of “Attack by Reason, Defend by Force” (which she later publicly withdrew).169 The rise in the level of violence in 1967 and 1968, especially in Guangdong, Sichuan, Guanxi and Shanxi170 was serious enough for Mao to call it “all around civil war.” 171 This caused many people to withdraw from political life and made it impossible to undertake social transformations that were underway in other areas.
Another important period is routinely ignored in many accounts of the Cultural Revolution. While focusing on the alleged atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, they ignore the fact that Deng Xiaoping’s coup in 1976 unleashed nationwide arrests and executions of revolutionaries in the CCP and the masses who awakened to political life during the Cultural Revolution and fought to keep China on the socialist road.
According to one account, immediately after the coup, hundreds of leaders who had come forward during the Cultural Revolution in Luoyang, an industrial city in Henan Province, were arrested, paraded in public and then disappeared. In the early 1980s, the new regime launched an even more extensive campaign of retaliation against former rebels. Government departments, factories and schools set up special offices to investigate charges of “crimes” committed during the Cultural Revolution. Tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and housing and many were imprisoned. 172
One of the shortcomings of the Cultural Revolution that was most difficult to
resolve was the inability of Mao and the leftists in the CCP to find the means to subject rightist commanders in the People’s Liberation Army to mass criticism, to ferret out their connections to revisionist forces outside the army, and to remove them from power where necessary.
Mao anticipated this problem, and tried to address it before the Cultural Revolution with a special educational campaign directed within the army. The first publication of the Quotations of Chairman Mao Tsetung was by the PLA, as an instrumental move to raise consciousness and to put revolutionary politics in command of military affairs. However, this was in the main pedagogy, not political struggle, and was not sufficient to inoculate against dangers that emerged in full force later.
During the Cultural Revolution, more than a few generals and ranking officers were tied to Liu, Deng and other rightist party leaders. In spite of instructions from Mao and the CCRG that they support the Left, some regional PLA commanders backed revisionist powerholders, effectively checking the advance and social transformations of the Cultural Revolution in those areas.173
As described earlier, the development of widespread factional and at times armed struggle in 1967 left Mao and the new party leadership with no choice but to call out the PLA. To have called for the Cultural Revolution to be carried out in the military at this point would have risked splintering the PLA and civil war. In addition, the buildup of military forces by the U.S. south and east of China and by the Soviet Union to the north and west required vigilance by the PLA. 174 These threats practically exempted rightist military officers from the scrutiny and challenges and criticism which their counterparts and allies in the party were facing.
By 1969, the growing danger of a Soviet attack on China threw up another serious obstacle to conducting political movements in the PLA. This new situation favored military commanders who thought the Cultural Revolution should come to an end in order to focus on modernizing the armed forces and obtaining advanced weapons and technology from the Western imperialists.
In spite of these obstacles, there was a great need to carry out the Cultural Revolution and make revolutionary transformations in the PLA after the acute danger of civil war had passed. This necessity became apparent in 1976. When the Chief of Staff of the PLA and other top commanders carried out the arrest of the Four, there was opposition to the coup in the militia in some areas, but virtually none in the PLA.
As long as socialist states face imperialist and hostile powers, they will need standing militaries for defensive purposes. But if ongoing political education, revolutionary transformations and mass campaigns against revisionism are not carried out in the armed forces of socialist states, the generals can accomplish from within what the imperialist armies have not yet been able to do from without—overthrow working class rule.
(6) In the course of the Cultural Revolution, the development of new
revolutionary leadership in the top levels of the party was incomplete and it was difficult to consolidate. The downfall of Lin Biao, Mao’s official successor as of 1969, the removal of the majority of the original members of the Central Cultural Revolution Group, and the turn to the right in the early 1970s by many party leaders and officials grouped around Zhou Enlai made it considerably easier for Deng Xiaoping and other leading revisionists overthrown during the earlier stages of the Cultural Revolution to make successful political comebacks.
Other than Mao himself, the Four—Zhang Chunqiao, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan and Jiang Qing—were the most prominent representatives of the leftist forces in the party who opposed Deng and defended the accomplishments of the Cultural Revolution. All of them had played a leading role in the Cultural Revolution’s early upsurges. At the 10th Party Congress in 1973, Mao supported the Four for leading posts in the CCP; Wang became Vice-Chairman of the party, Zhang was on the five member Standing Committee of the Politburo, and Yao and Jiang were members of the Politburo.
According to a number of observers and scholars, the political strength of the Four was concentrated in Shanghai and a number of other cities, among lower and middle level cadre who joined the party during the mass upsurges of the Cultural Revolution, and in the fields of culture and propaganda-media. An indication of their support at higher levels can be found in the following figures: After their arrest in 1976, about one quarter of the Central Committee was purged, including 51 who had been mass leaders of the working class.175
In assessing the role of the Four in the early 1970s, their promotion of leftist campaigns such as “Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius” and “Criticize Deng and Beat Back the Right Deviationist Wind”176 are well known. Less is known about their policies for China’s socialist transformation and how they put them into practice. In making an assessment it is important to remember that the Four’s work was blocked and sabotaged at every turn by Deng and his supporters.
There has been some criticism of the methods of work of the Four even from supporters of the Cultural Revolution, which requires further investigation. For example, it is unclear whether Mao ever told them to stop acting like a “gang of four,” a claim made only after Mao’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the Four.177
The lack of a consolidated revolutionary leadership to succeed Mao that could beat back Deng’s revisionist forces became very apparent as Mao’s health declined sharply after 1972, when he had a stroke. He suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease,178
heart disease and anoxia (shortage of oxygen). Mao was also nearly blind, making it impossible for him to read and write documents without assistance, and he issued few major statements until his death.
The question of bringing forward new revolutionary leadership is part of the larger question of what it would have taken to turn back the rightist offensive in the early 1970s and keep China on the socialist road. This would have required a new revolutionary upsurge among the masses. It may have been impossible to conduct a struggle on the scale and intensity of the early years of the Cultural Revolution, but by the time a campaign to explicitly criticize Deng and his “general program” was launched in 1976, it was too late to turn it into a powerful revolutionary force.
Some have argued that Mao was too lenient with Deng and other revisionist leaders.179 But it wasn’t just Mao—the balance of forces in the leadership of the party had shifted sharply to the right. The fundamental issue, concerning which further investigation and discussion is needed, is how and the extent to which Mao and his leftist supporters waged what--as the rightist offensive got under way in the early 1970s--was a steep uphill battle to mobilize the masses and the revolutionary forces in the party to defend the achievements of the Cultural Revolution. This effort would have required targeting, removing and neutralizing the top party leaders who were taking China off the socialist road.180
(7) Visitors to China during the Cultural Revolution were struck by the presence of portraits of Mao wherever they went. The Chinese used them to decorate their homes, their bicycles and trucks, their workplaces, and placed Mao’s pictures in their fields. Some observers have referred to this as a “personality cult” around Mao.
This view doesn’t do justice to the relationship between Mao and the Chinese people. To them, Mao led the Communist Party of China in over two decades of revolutionary warfare to uproot the power of the landlords and the capitalists who had sold out China to the imperialist powers. He led the struggle to build socialism in China, which radically transformed the lives of 1/4 of humanity, and then called for a Cultural Revolution to keep China on the socialist road. All of this produced deep feelings of respect and even reverence among the Chinese people.
At the same time, visitors heard stories of people being praised for the number of Mao quotes they had memorized rather than for the way they had put them into practice. In a common picture, Mao appeared as a red sun shining his light down on the Chinese people. In contrast to the widespread iconization of Mao, more politically conscious forces stressed the study and application of Mao Zedong Thought to practice.
It was a political necessity for Mao to broadly promote his political views during the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. As discussed earlier, by the mid-1960s China was being pulled off the socialist road, and Mao and his supporters were a minority in the party leadership. Thus, Mao used his revolutionary stature to appeal to the Chinese people above the heads of Liu, Deng and the other entrenched revisionists in the party and government. Study of Mao’s works provided important ammunition for workers, peasants and students to stand up against revisionist party officials,181 and helped promote new economic, political and cultural initiatives. Later in the Cultural Revolution, Mao expressed his disapproval of these practices, which were toned down. Statues of Mao came down, and the ritual appellations of “Great Leader” and “Great Helmsman” which accompanied Mao’s portraits disappeared.182
Individual leaders such as Mao and Lenin have played a decisive role in charting a path to revolution and developing Marxist theory, but they haven’t done this in isolation. Correct ideas are most effectively brought from and to the masses through the democratic centralist channels of a communist party with a tempered collective leadership.183 This process also brings forward new revolutionary leaders. In a 1962 talk “On Democratic Centralism,” Mao explained:
If there is no democracy we cannot possibly summarize experience correctly…Our leading organs merely play the role of a processing plant in the establishment of a good line and good general and specific policies and methods. Everyone knows that if a factory has no raw material it cannot do any processing. If the raw material is not adequate in quantity and quality it cannot produce good finished products. Without democracy, you have no understanding of what is happening down below; the situation will be unclear; you will be unable to collect sufficient opinions from all sides; there can be no communication between top and bottom; top-level organs of leadership will depend on one-sided and incorrect material to decide issues, thus you will find if difficult to avoid being subjectivist; it will be impossible to achieve unity of understanding and unity of action, and impossible to achieve true centralism….Our centralism is built on democratic foundations.”184
(8) In the early 1970s, Mao, Zhou and most of the Chinese leadership advocated
a “three worlds” perspective for Chinese foreign policy185 that was a retreat from the revolutionary internationalist line followed earlier in the Cultural Revolution. According to this perspective, the two superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet Union—“the first world”) were the principal enemies on a world scale; the Western imperialists and Japan (the “second world”) were part of an international united front against the superpowers; and the peoples and countries of the “third world” were the most reliable revolutionary force in opposing the superpowers. The view that the neo-colonial governments of the “third world” could be united with against the superpowers undermined the position (held by the CCP leadership earlier in the Cultural Revolution) that it was essential to provide aid to revolutionary movements in these countries.
As a perspective for the world’s revolutionary movement, the “three worlds” perspective had serious flaws.186 It downplayed the reactionary nature of the other Western imperialist countries, and it created confusion about the nature of bourgeois nationalist regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America.187 Emphasis on economic development in these countries and their disputes with the U.S. obscured the
neo-colonial relations that persisted.
The issues raised by the Three Worlds Theory remain crucial today. Similar sentiments are heard about the central importance of struggles for national sovereignty— referring to Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, Zimbabwe and a number of other countries.
They should be defended against attacks by the U.S. or by other imperialist partners, surrogates, or emerging blocs. However, it is important to understand that these countries---even if led by social-democrats like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales—
are still caught in the web of imperialist economic relations. According to James Petras:
Venezuela, Bolivia and the entire spectrum of social movements, trade union confederations, parties and fractions of parties do not call for the abolition of capitalism, the repudiation of the debt, the complete expropriation of US or EEC banks or multinational corporations, or any rupture in relations with the US. For example, in Venezuela, private national and foreign banks earned over 30% rate of return in 2005-2006, foreign-owned oil companies reaped record profits between 2004-2006 and less than 1% of the biggest landed estates were fully expropriated and titles turned over to landless peasants. Capital-labor relations still operate in a framework heavily weighted on behalf of business and labor contractors who rely on subcontractors who continue to dominate hiring and firing in more than one half of the large enterprises. The Venezuelan military and police continue to arrest suspected Colombian guerrillas and turn them over to the Colombian police. Venezuela and US-client President Uribe of Colombia have signed several high-level security and economic co-operation agreements.188
While these countries may implement progressive reforms--and even some
features of a social welfare state with enough oil revenues-- this is not a substitute for the development of a mass-based revolutionary movement, which as history shows, is the only pathway to socialism.
Putting aside the relative strength and thoroughness of the various bourgeois nationalist opponents of U.S. imperialism today, there is a widely held view that nationalist governments and their leaders, not people’s movements, are the most important challenge to imperialism. This is cause for some forces to deny support for people’s movements within these countries, such as Iran, Zimbabwe and Brasil. With the U.S. imperialists threatening to launch a military attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is essential to extend our solidarity to the Iranian people, not to the reactionary mullahs.
The fixation with great nationalist leaders is, for anti-imperialists, myopic and invites disaster. The way such leaders have been cut down by imperialism in the past is rarely discussed, though such examples are many and the parallels cogent—Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran, Lumumba in the Congo, Sukarno in Indonesia, Nkrumah in Ghana, and Allende in Chile. And turning a blind eye to Maoist-led people’s wars and liberation movements is to deny, or fail to recognize, the very forces that stand the best chance to open a new revolutionary dynamic in the 21st century.
H. Conceptualizing Socialist Society
Continuing study of the Cultural Revolution has produced a number of thought-provoking proposals from Maoist parties and friends of socialist China about how socialist societies should be organized in the future. These proposals focus on the relationship between the party and the masses of people, and on democratic forms of organization.
We welcome efforts to look freshly at a variety of political and organizational mechanisms that may help resolve some of the complex and challenging problems that arise under socialism. However, it is important to understand that there are those who think it is necessary to discard the whole project of advancing along the socialist road to communism because, they say, it isn’t “democratic” enough. In contrast, there are many revolutionary and communist forces around the world that continue to embrace this project and are gathering forces for the next round of revolution and socialism. In the course of this, new understandings of socialism will be forged, making important additions to the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist understanding of how to change the world.