Beyond Eurocentrism: The International Political Economy of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China (1954-1976)

Calvin Yan Lau (Liu Xin) // International Relations // 30th January 2013 // // 1-2pm // Arts C133


China’s revolutionary experience in the twentieth century (1921-1949) was inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution of the Soviet Russia, by has by the end inverted all its terms. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s reversal of the Lenin-Stalinist line of socialist revolution is manifested in its practice of founding a set of socialist property relations in China through the agency of peasant rather than the worker which is conventionally viewed to be more self-conscious of its revolutionary class-identity. With the Chinese ‘peasant socialism’ proved plausible, the dogmatic Marxist notion of social development that socialism could only emerge from a developed capitalist society with large-scale production could be transcended with a refreshing historical experience; and what the experience of the Chinese Revolution will eventually unsettle is the Eurocentric notion of social development that capitalism is the most productive social relations so far in history and will recreate the world only in its own image.

The climax of the Chinese Revolution was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution launched by the communist leader Mao Zedong (1966-1976) during which frenetic mass movements have disrupted the state-bureaucracy and public services, state-held industrial projects were dismantled, intellectual activities were blatantly denounced and China’s socialist alliance with the Soviet Russia was disjointed. Interpreting such a social upheaval in the aftermath of the CCP’s victory is central to assessing the momentum of China’s ‘peasant socialism’. Whereas it is conventionally upheld that the atrocity of the Cultural Revolution has proved the failure of socialist project in China, it has also been noted by historians that sprouts of grass-root democracy, recreation of local education system and reconstruction of rural communities were widely promoted during the Cultural Revolution. With a panorama of the world-historical context in which the CCP strove to preserve its revolutionary legacy as well as the newly founded regime (1954-1976), I will demonstrate in the lecture that the contradictory character of the Cultural Revolution has reflected the way in which the Chinese communists attempted to ‘carry the peasant-based socialist revolution through to the end’ (in Mao Zedong’s words) in order to withstand the various geopolitical pressures of the Cold War. The consequence of this process is that the anti-capitalist elements of the Chinese peasant communities have been retained though large-scale industrialization has been suspended for many times. This anti-capitalist legacy, namely ‘accumulation without dispossession’ has then entered the era of China’s market-oriented economic reform, making the latter a potentially counter-hegemonic force to the European capitalist development based upon dispossessing the labour.

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