The decision to take the Great Leap transformed the nature of Sino-Soviet relations and of Chinese leadership politics. The following six years witnessed a widening of the breach between the two powers and the increasing polarization of Chinese domestic politics. Increasingly, a primary issue which acted as the implicit touchstone for coalescing domestic factions was China’s relationship with the Soviet Union. Indeed, major policy considerations were ultimately reducible to whether the choice involved cooperation or conflict with the Soviet Union—a choice which became painfully explicit in the foreign policy “debate” of 1965.
The growing institutional sophistication of the Chinese People’s Republic had led to the rise of men to positions of decision-making power from which they were able to pursue policies of benefit to themselves and their organizations. The result was the formulation and execution of incompatible and even contradictory policies through separate institutional apparatuses. The Great Leap marked the beginning of what became a continually escalating institutional conflict among leaders of state, military, party, and other ad hoc organizations. The period 1959 to 1965 is therefore one of institutional flux characterized by attempts of various leaders to capture existing organizational apparatuses and to create new ones at both national and sub-national levels.
The Great Leap, in addition to constituting a rupture in economic relations with the Soviet Union, was a first attempt to destroy the very institutional system which Mao Tse-tung had helped to create, but of which he had lost control. The story of Mao’s gradual loss of command of state and military apparatuses—even as they were being built—was discussed in the previous chapter, as was the struggle for control over the party. In the Great Leap, Mao sought to redress the imbalance of political power against him through the mechanism of the institutionally self-contained commune. Through it, he hoped to bypass the existing state, military, and party structures between the party center and the commune—the regional, provincial, and district organizations. The policy struck at the leaders of the institutions which Mao sought to leapfrog and its failure roused them to action. The group most seriously affected by the Great Leap, the military, responded earliest and most vigorously.
The Military Response to the Great Leap
If successful, the Great Leap would have emasculated the military “establishment.” The break with the Soviet Union meant the end of the military modernization program, which depended on Soviet military assistance. In addition, Mao had attempted to create a military force which he could employ for political purposes by greatly expanding the militia in 1958 as part of the commune plan. The issue of party control of the militia was discussed in the December 10, 1958, party resolution, the same meeting at which it was decided that Mao would not stand for reelection to the chairmanship of the state. The connection of these events suggests the possibility that Mao agreed to step down from the state post in return for acceptance of his commune and militia proposals. The militia was to be an independent military organization, the armed instrument of the self-supporting commune, which was directly responsible to the party center, that is, to Mao Tse-tung.1 By January 1959 the militia reportedly included 220 million men and women, or something like one-third of China’s total population! How effective it was as a political instrument was another matter.
The response of the military establishment came directly from its chief, the Minister of Defense, P’eng Teh-huai, who was supported by the heads of all major military departments as well as by other important leaders.2 P’eng had just returned from a trip to eastern Europe, where he had had discussions with Khrushchev in Tirana, Albania. Apparently encouraged by the Soviet leader, P’eng leveled an attack on Mao’s policies at an enlarged Politburo conference at Lushan (July 2 to August 1, 1959). P’eng focused his criticism entirely on the “excessiveness,” “shortcomings,” and “errors” of the Great Leap and the communes, terming them the result of “petty-bourgeois fanaticism” and of being “dizzy with success.” These “leftist mistakes,” he said, derived from a misapplication and exaggeration of the principle of “putting politics in command” and a misunderstanding of the “socialist laws of planned and proportionate development.”3
Mao Tse-tung withheld his rejoinder to P’ng and the military establishment until the Eighth Plenum of the CCP, which he convened immediately afterward (August 2 through 16). Evidently, Mao could not count on a majority at the enlarged Politburo conference, but could in the Central Committee meeting of the Eighth Plenum, at which seventy-five full and seventy-four alternate members of the Central Committee and fourteen non-Central Committee members were present. In a stirring speech, Mao admitted that “we’ve made a mess of things. This is good. The more said about the mess the better.” He noted that “we are said to have departed from the masses, but the masses still support us.” Returning the challenge to the military leadership, Mao asserted that the loyalty of the PLA rank and file was to him personally.
If we deserve to perish, then I will go away, go to the countryside to lead the peasants and overthrow the government. If you the Liberation Army don’t follow me, I’ll go find a Red Army. I think the Liberation Army will follow me.4
After extensive and heated argument, Mao and his supporters emerged victorious in the struggle with the military establishment. The final resolution of the plenum, dated August 16, labeled P’eng and his followers a “right-opportunist anti-party clique” seeking to sabotage the dictatorship of the proletariat. At an enlarged Military Afi’airs Conference in September, P’eng and those who backed him were removed from their positions, although not all at the same time.5 In the shuffle of personnel, Mao obtained a command position in the military apparatus through Lin Piao, who became Minister of Defense in place of P’eng Teh-huai.
Later Red Guard revelations and captured military documents indicate that P’eng Teh-huai had indeed consolidated a firm grip on the military apparatus through the Ministry of Defense. He had weakened party control over the military by reducing the number and role of the party committees in army units, fought the buildup of the militia as an independent military force, and opposed the policy decision to build a modern national defense system independent of the Soviet Union.6 In short, P’eng Teh-huai had repudiated the policy of “going it alone.” The failure of the Great Leap provided the opportunity for him to attempt to reverse that policy; hence his attack on Mao Tse-tung at Lushan. His attack failed and Mao was able to capture the Ministry of Defense, or at least a part of it sufficient to begin his own campaign to build a political position within China’s armed forces.
Breach in Sino-Soviet Relations
Mao Tse-tung’s victory in his confrontation with the military establishment, although not by any means complete, henceforth shaped the nature of the political struggle both inside China and with the Soviet Union. Mao was sufficiently powerful to frustrate all attempts to reestablish closer relations with the Soviet Union; as a result the Russians terminated their nuclear assistance program, pulled out all their technicians in mid-1960, and cut off all further aid. The hardening of positions was further reflected in public commentary. In an article published in Hung Ch’i on April 16 entitled “Long Live Leninism,” the Chinese labeled Russian arguments in favor of peaceful coexistence “absurd,” while Khrushchev, during his speech to the conference of Communist parties in Bucharest on June 21, 1960, replied that the Soviets “do not intend to yield to provocations and to deviate from the general line of our foreign policy . . . laid down by the Twentieth CPSU Congress and approved in the Declaration of the Communist and Workers’ Parties adopted in 1957.”7
Over the next two years Mao intensified the indirect ideological polemics with the Soviet Union. Worsening relations with the Soviets was not only consistent with his policy of independent action, but was also a method of isolating his internal opponents, who favored closer cooperation. This was the dual significance of the many letters, communiques, and statements that passed between the two countries. Peking attacked “revisionist” Yugloslavia (meaning the Soviet Union), while Moscow countered by attacking “doctrinaire” Albania (that is, China). The purpose of the dispute from China’s point of view was to establish an independent Chinese ideological position to parallel China’s evolving political independence. Principal areas of disagreement concerned the character of the present epoch, of war, peace, the transition to socialism, the unity of the international Communist movement, and the rules regulating relations among Communist parties. On each question the Chinese attempted to establish their position as “orthodox” Marxist-Leninists, while labeling the Soviet position as “revisionist.”8 On the basis of such theoretical arguments the Chinese Communists asserted their leadership of the world Communist movement and justified their attempts to establish “Maoist” parties parallel to, or in place of, existing Communist parties around the world.
Khrushchev countered Mao Tse-tung’s ideological gambit at the Twenty-second Party Congress of the Soviet Union, which was convened in October 1961. He set forth a new theoretical conception of the “party of the whole people” and the “state of the whole people.” One of the Chinese Communists’ objectives during the polemical exchange had been to institutionalize the Soviet leadership position, possibly in order to make it vulnerable to attack on doctrinal grounds. The concept of the “party and the state of the whole people” shifted the grounds of the argument from relatively narrow doctrinal ones to a broader plane of societal development. The Soviet claim became that they were farther ahead on the path to communism.9 Since all other Communist regimes, including the Chinese, would have to follow the same path, the Soviet position of leadership was, therefore, historically sanctioned and not subject to attack on doctrinal grounds. The following spring (1962) Soviet and European “Marxists” began to debate the long-buried concept of the “Asiatic mode of production.” The discussions, which continued until Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964, implied that the Chinese were not only not socialist, but were actually heading into a blind alley of societal development. The Soviets were laying the grounds for the contention that Chinese society under Mao’s leadership had regressed into a more primitive stage of development rather than progressing toward socialism.10
Economic Crisis and Organizational Conflict
Domestically, after establishment of the Great Leap, party leaders struggled to determine economic policy and to gain control of the administrative apparatus. Primarily as a result of popular resistance to the Great Leap, unfavorable climatic conditions, and the withdrawal of Soviet assistance, China’s economy moved to the brink of collapse. Adjustments to the commune program were necessary and Liu Shao-ch’i, now chairman of the state apparatus, pushed through major modifications. Between December 1958 and August 1959 the commune organization was virtually dismantled although lip service continued to be given to the commune as a “good thing.” In essence, the commune became a federation of collective farms in which the basic administrative unit was the individual collective instead of the commune.
In April 1959, the Seventh Plenum returned individual garden plots to the peasants and granted them permission to raise livestock. Private production meant private purchase and sale; in other words, it meant the restoration of a rural “free market,” without which the economy could not function. Pre-commune structures reappeared. The household was reinstated as the basic unit of society, personal property was returned to households, free food supplies were curtailed, and families were again permitted to prepare their own food.11
Mao Tse-tung called a halt to the retrenchment program after his victory over the military establishment in August 1959 at the Eighth Plenum. Following the harvest, a drive began to reestablish the commune system. The mess halls were reopened, many private plots were recollectivized and the rural free market was abolished. Mass labor was again mobilized for use in large-scale irrigation and other rural projects, including hog raising, fertilizer collection, and vegetable growing. The results were disappointing. The consequence of diverting large numbers of rural workers away from field and crop work was that there was a severe shortage of labor for the spring harvest. Despite concerted efforts (and partly because of a second consecutive year of unfavorable weather) the later 1960 spring harvest was poorer than that of 1959.12
The prospects for the coming fall were equally grim. Combined with the withdrawal of Soviet aid and technicians in June, China faced an unprecedentedly serious economic crisis. In an effort to retain control in the countryside, a Central Work Conference decided in July-August to reestablish the party’s six regional bureaus, which had been abolished in 1954. To alleviate the growing food shortage, China terminated food exports and began importing grain. Another poor harvest in the fall of 1960 revealed the stark inadequacy of these measures as the winter brought reports of widespread undernourishment, famine, and resultant grumblings against the regime.
Liu Shao-ch’i’s response to the desperate economic situation was to convene the Central Work Conference, an ad hoc organization, by means of which he could communicate policy directly to those who would administer it, primarily the party apparatchiki, or bureaucrats.13 In fact, the Central Work Conference seems to have been the mechanism Liu employed to strengthen his hold on the party organization at all levels. Recall that Liu and Teng Hsiao-p’ing had, since the Eighth Party Congress of 1956, commanded the standing committees and secretariats, respectively, in the party apparatus from the central committee down to the lowest levels.14 The Central Work Conference was a way of assembling some or all of these men and addressing them directly.15 Nineteen such conferences were held between 1960 and 1966. At the start, Liu clearly determined the agenda and probably also the attendance, but by the fall of 1962 Mao asserted his preeminence.
From January 1961 through the first half of 1962 Liu Shao-ch’i initiated the formulation and execution of policy for both agricultural and industrial sectors. In January 1961, for instance, at the Ninth Plenum of the party, Liu pushed through basic changes in economic priorities. Agriculture was given first priority, becoming the “foundation,” while industry was assigned the role of “leading factor,” a reversal of previous priorities. New industrial investment was cut back and reallocated to the agricultural sector, where it was badly needed. Also, the plenum announced the decision to establish the six regional bureaus of the party. In the course of 1961, Liu convened three Central Work Conferences (in March, May, and August) which dealt with problems of the economy, primarily agricultural. The “60 articles” on Communes were adopted, which reversed policy toward the communes once again. In December 1961 a conference of party secretaries in charge of industrial affairs formulated the “70 articles” on industry, which revised downward industrial targets.
The first public clash between Liu Shao-ch’i and Mao Tse-tung occurred in January 1962.16 The occasion was an enlarged Central Work Conference, a “five-level” cadres conference attended by 7,000 representatives from central, regional, provincial, district, and hsien levels. In giving an overall view of the state of the nation, Mao is reported to have said that in general “the situation is very favorable,” but vigilance must be maintained against infiltration by the bourgeoisie, whose actions increase the possibility of a capitalist restoration. He urged the masses to prevent such an eventuality by close supervision of China’s “class enemies.”17
At the meeting, Liu Shao-ch’i spoke out against Mao, attacking as well the policies of the previous few years.18 “In saying that the situation is very favorable, the Chairman refers to the political situation, since the economic situation cannot be described as very favorable but is very unfavorable." In fact, Liu went on, “our economy is on the brink of collapse.” Referring to Mao’s policies of the three red banners, which he saw as “a historical lesson,” implying that it had been dispensed with, Liu explained that the difficulties of the recent past were brought about “30 percent by natural calamities and 70 percent by manmade disasters.” The Great Leap had thrown things “off balance” and the communes had been set up “prematurely.” In a line of argument that sounded like a repetition of P’eng Teh-huai’s criticisms of over three years before, Liu said that it might take eight or ten years to make the necessary “readjustments.” He saw the coming decade as a “transition period” during which “any method” to spur production would be “good enough,” including the resurrection of the rural free market. In fact, strictures against private production and sale were greatly relaxed at this time.
At the same meeting, Liu also put forward the view that “opposition to Chairman Mao is only opposition to an individual; those sharing P’eng Teh-huai’s viewpoint, so long as they are not guilty of treason, may be vindicated; it is not an offense for anybody to speak his mind at Party meetings.”19 Finally, he exhorted the intellectuals to “vent your spleen and air your views.”20 Whether the attribution is correct or apocryphal, literary criticism of Mao Tse-tung and his policies—particularly the Great Leap, communes, and the dismissal of P’eng Teh-huai—reached a crescendo during the spring of 1962.21 Undoubtedly, worsening economic conditions prompted criticism, but Liu’s effort to strengthen his political position was surely a factor.
Mao Tse-tung and the PLA
Mao’s victory over the military establishment gave him an organizational context in which to act. It marked the beginning of his long-range program to build a strong position in the army, which was largely successful. Command of the military apparatus permitted Mao to enter into a protracted contest for control over party and state institutions, particularly at the sub-national levels. From 1954 through 1959 Mao had retained the chairmanship of the party, but had lost control of the military and state institutions in virtually their entirety, and of much of the party apparatus below the national level. The defeat of P’eng Teh-huai in 1959 marked the first step in Mao’s drive to recapture control of these organizations. Before he could move against opponents—united more by common interest than by thought of a grand conspiracy against Mao’s person—it was necessary first to consolidate a firm position in the military—a difficult and extensive undertaking.
Although he won the high command posts of the military establishment in 1959 with Lin Piao’s appointment as Minister of Defense, there is some question of the extent of Mao’s victory inside the Ministry itself. After P’eng’s fall, three vice-ministers were dismissed and the total number of members increased from eight to ten, giving Mao and Lin the opportunity to appoint five men to the Ministry.22 Despite the new appointments, it appears that a stalemate existed in the Ministry. If the captured documents contained in the Bulletin of Activities are representative of the organizational vehicle through which Lin Piao operated after 1959, he transmitted few orders as Defense Minister, instead issuing important policy directives from the office of the party Military Affairs Committee.23 From Mao’s point of view, given the strength of the organization built by P’eng over the previous five years, a stalemate in the Ministry of Defense was not an undersirable situation at this time. The Ministry of Defense had played a prominent role since 1954 in the military modernization effort. It would have been extremely difficult to force desired policy changes through this channel. For the political task of building a loyal pro-Maoist military force, Lin employed other channels, the party Military Affairs Committee and the General Political Department of the Ministry of Defense.
The Military Affairs Committee had acted primarily in a policymaking capacity before 1959; afterward under Lin Piao it broadened the scope of its functions to include the execution as well as the creation of policy. Most important, Mao and Lin held a clear majority in the committee, which they lacked in the Ministry of Defense. At least seven of the ten members of the Military Affairs Committee could be counted on to support their policy initiatives. Mao chaired the Military Affairs Committee; Lin Piao was its senior vice-chairman.24 It was this command position that permitted the “Maoization” of the People’s Liberation Army which followed.
Army Corps, Regional Forces, and Militia
The military was organized into three elements: main force units—the thirty-five army corps; regional forces—the independent divisions and regiments, border defense units, and garrison forces; and the militia. In each of these elements, Mao Tse-tung, through his Defense Minister, Lin Piao, carried out three basic policies: purge of undesirables, recruitment of new party members, and the intensive indoctrination of all in the “Thought of Mao Tse-tung.” While the methods employed varied slightly in each case, the objective was the same: the establishment of a reliable “Maoist” party group within the military at every unit level, which would place overall control of the military apparatus in Mao’s hands.
Dominance of the Military Affairs Committee gave Mao and Lin virtually automatic and immediate command over approximately one half of the army—the army corps, which were controlled directly by Peking. Even though placed in military regions, regional commanders exercised command over main force units only with central permission. They were concentrated in the northeast along the Sino-Soviet and Korean borders, the east coast adjacent to Taiwan, and the central south along the Vietnam border, and considerations of national defense primarily dictated their deployment. Authority to command, however, did not make command a reality. P’eng Teh-huai, during his tenure as Defense Minister, had built a thoroughly professional military establishment at the army corps level which would be transformed with difficulty. Lin Piao made no immediate effort to dislodge army commanders from their positions during the early stages of his program. Instead, he concentrated on building a loyal “Maoist” force among the rank and file, with heavy emphasis on indoctrination in the “Thought of Mao Tse-tung” (TMTT).
Under the cover of an intensive Mao-thought indoctrination campaign, Lin Piao conducted a purge of undesirable elements, focusing his efforts at the company level, the army’s “basic unit.”25 The “four good” and “five good” companies campaigns were part of this program. Simultaneously, he initiated a drive to expand the party’s organization in the army. Where P’eng had reduced the party’s presence in army units to one man per unit, Lin expanded it to several-man party committees. Collective leadership was stressed. The role of the political commissar was restored and increased. A vast party recruitment campaign netted 229,000 new party members among the rank and file and the Communist Youth League conducted a parallel recruitment drive.
The command structure of the regional forces differed considerably from that of the army corps and required a different approach. The military regional commander controlled the forces in his region, except, as noted, the army corps. Therefore, at regional, district, and sub-district levels, it was the regional commander who directed the movements and activities of the independent regiments and divisions, border defense units, and garrison forces.26 In his efforts to secure control over these forces, which constituted the other—less heavily armed—half of the People’s Liberation Army, Lin again sought to secure command authority from above while developing loyalty from below.
His problem was complicated by the fact that the provincial party first secretary, in the majority of cases, held authority over the regional commander. Therefore, the problem for the Mao-Lin group was not simply one of ensuring command of the regional forces, but of gaining control of the provincial party apparatus as well. In addition to establishing the prerogatives of the central authorities to command divisions and regiments of regional forces directly, and conducting an extensive “Thought of Mao Tse-tung” indoctrination campaign among the rank and file, Mao and Lin initiated a major, long-term plan to gain control of the provincial party apparatus.27 It was a plan, however, which had not succeeded by the time that Mao decided to launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Lin Piao’s difficulties were compounded because the party opposition, presumably Liu Shao-ch’i and Teng Hsiao-p’ing, were taking steps of their own.28 While Mao and Lin were attempting to strengthen their control over the regional military apparatus, Liu and Teng were busily securing party control over that apparatus. From 1961 onward party first secretaries were appointed concurrently as first political commissars to military posts at regional, district, and sub-district levels. Such appointments did not prevent Mao from gaining a strong position in the regional forces, but did hinder his employment of them. To a much lesser extent there occurred the appointment of district commanders to provincial party committees, but, in any case, such appointments did not include political authority.
Mao now maneuvered to gain control of the provincial party apparatus by packing the provincial committees, and he used the militia in this effort. During the Great Leap Mao had sought to create a militia which was independent of the military. After gaining control of the military in 1959, however, he reversed that policy, seeking to return the militia once again to its role as a reserve of the regular military establishment. Indeed, he attempted to employ the militia as a Trojan horse for political power. In a campaign to build up the militia, the district military (provincial level) commanders were to direct militia activities, sending “work teams” to assist in the establishment of liaison committees and militia departments in their respective party organizations.29 Militia cadres were instructed to carry out their activities under the leadership of local party committees from provincial levels downward.
All militia activities must be conducted under the united leadership of local Party committees, and the personnel must become excellent staff members for the local Party committees.30
Beginning in the early spring of 1961, when Liu began appointing provincial first party secretaries concurrently as first political commissars to military districts, Mao sought to establish, through the militia, a working link between the military and the party organizations at provincial and sub-provincial levels.31 His next step was the creation of political departments in the party-based militia offices and the assignment of political cadres to militia units. As the largest single, although not well developed, organization in the countryside, the militia was established as a political department in the provincial party headquarters. This department was the wedge by which the regular military would enter into and play an increasingly important role in the provincial party apparatus. The main thrust of this trend would not occur until 1964; in the meantime both groups girded for the next clash, which came in the fall of 1962.
Struggle for the Provincial Apparatus, Phase I
Throughout the early spring and summer of 1962, top-level discussions were under way concerning national budget allocations. Senior economic officials viewed the economy as being in “a time of emergency” and the budget “several hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.” Basic construction investments were slashed and some projects already under way were dismantled. In efforts to foster economic recovery in the countryside, Teng Tzu-hui, director of the party’s rural work department, and others proposed dividing the land according to individual households and fixing state output quotas on that basis.32 Although a practical policy in view of the extreme economic deterioration, it carried deep implications for the entire political system of the regime. If adopted, such a policy would result in not only the final repudiation of Mao’s commune system, but also the formal acceptance of a capitalist system for peasant producers. It would mark the end of the “three red banners” of Mao Tse-tung.
At a central work conference in August Mao reacted, as he had the previous January, by raising the issue once more of a capitalist restoration. Positing the continuation of class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, Mao refused to compromise the essentials of a socialist system as he conceived it and rebuked those willing to contemplate making the state directly dependent upon the individual producers, by implication eliminating the commune system. Ch’en Yiin, Li Fu-ch’un, Li Hsien-nien, Po I-po, and Teng Tzu-hui came under personal criticism. One important decision of the conference was to dismiss Teng Tzu-hui as director of the party’s rural work department.33
Mao moved onto the offensive at the Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee, held from September 24 through 27, 1962. The plenum approved Mao’s policies in three general categories: internal politics, economics, and Sino-Soviet relations.34 At the plenum, Mao continued to emphasize the class struggle between the supporters of capitalism and the supporters of socialism. The plenum communique noted that “this class struggle inevitably finds expression within the Party.”35 Perhaps as one manifestation of that struggle, several new appointments and dismissals were made. Huang K’o-ch’eng and T’an Cheng were dismissed from their posts in the Central Committee Secretariat and Lo Jui-ch’ing, Lu Ting-yi, and K’ang Sheng were appointed to that body.36 In a step possibly related to these personnel changes, Mao abolished formally the “two lines” established at the Eighth Party Congress in 1956 and resumed an active executive role in the policy-processes, a role which became evident in the Socialist Education Movement that followed.37
The plenum decided to launch a Socialist Education Movement in city and countryside, a decision related to the general objective of continuing the policy, first adopted at the Ninth Plenum in January 1961, of developing the economy with “agriculture as the foundation and industry the leading factor.” The core of the program was the further consolidation of the people’s communes, the strengthening of the party control commissions at all levels, and the “planned interchange” of important leading cadres of party and government organizations at various levels.38 The genesis of the Socialist Education Movement was contained in article ten of the “Resolutions on the Further Strengthening of the Collective Economy of the People’s Communes and Expanding Agricultural Production,” which stated:
In order to strengthen the leadership in agricultural work, the collective economy of the people’s communes, and the basic-level party work in villages, the Central Committee and the party conmittees of provinces, cities, and autonomous regions must select cadres . . . to go out to districts, counties, and villages and participate in work for long periods of time. At all organizational levels of the communes, the cadres must be given training and assistance in raising their political level and their competence as workers.39
Throughout the fall and winter of 1962–1963, spot-testing of the new program was carried out in several provinces. In February, at a Central Work Conference, Mao urged the nationwide application of the Socialist Education Movement on the basis of the testing experience. Under his direction, in May, the Central Committee produced a draft resolution “On Some Problems in Current Rural Work,” which became known as the “first ten points.”40 The resolution constituted Mao’s first concerted attempt since the Great Leap to formulate and apply policy in the non-military sector and to carry the struggle to “those in authority who were taking the capitalist road.”
Mao’s objective was to capture the provincial and communal party apparatus. He sought to employ the Socialist Education Movement to shake up, then presumably reestablish, the rural leadership according to his own liking. The cadre structure in the countryside was essentially divided into two categories, higher and lower, each separate but obviously related. The higher cadre organization was the provincial apparatus, which consisted of provincial, district, and hsien organizations. The lower organization was the commune and consisted of the communes, production brigades, and production teams. In the “first ten points,” Mao attempted to establish opening positions in both structures which would later permit him to affect the recomposition of the leadership. Literally applying the slogan “to grasp revolution from both ends,” Mao employed the system of downward transfer, or “hsia fang” from the top and established the “poor and lower-middle peasant committees” at the bottom.
Concerning the application of pressure from above, Mao stated:
We hope to succeed within three years in having all the Party secretaries in the rural Party branches throughout the country devote themselves to participation in production labor. If we succeed in having one-third of all the secretaries in the Party branches join in the production labor during the first year, we will have scored a great victory.41
In the lower organization, the poor and lower-middle peasants, just as in the days of land reform during the early fifties, were “the only ones to rely upon.” They were the “social foundation” on which to build up socialist enterprises in the rural areas. Therefore, poor and lower-middle peasant committees would be set up at levels of the “commune, the brigade, and the production team.” Their function would be to assist and oversee the work of the commune and brigade administrative committees.42
In essence, Mao planned to transfer cadres from the provincial structure into the communal, from the higher to the lower level organizations. He urged that the great masses of cadres, “especially the cadres on the four levels of hsien, commune, brigade, and production team," join in productive labor “on a long-term basis.”43 Such movement of cadres, of course, would result in vacancies in the provincial apparatus, vacancies which Mao could fill with his own men. At the same time, establishing the poor and lower-middle peasant committees created a potential avenue through which Mao’s supporters could rise to positions of authority in the lower, or communal organizations. The initial effect of the “first ten points,” if implemented, would have been to loosen the party apparatus in the countryside, heretofore controlled by Mao’s opponents.
Struggle for the Provincial Apparatus, Phase II
After observing the course of the “first ten points” for a few months, the party apparatchiki quickly reacted, attempting to preserve the integrity of the provincial structure, which was threatened by the “planned interchange of important leading cadres.” In a Central Committee directive of September 1963, drafted under the supervision of Teng Hsiao-p’ing and termed the “later ten points,” the party strove to deflect the thrust of the Socialist Education Movement away from the provincial apparatus and contain it in the communes.44 Where Mao had sought to build positions in both provincial and communal structures, the “later ten points” sought to minimize the impact of the movement on the provincial apparatus and regulate it in the communes.45
The higher level cadres in the provincial, district, and hsien organizations were instructed to lead the movement by organizing and training “work teams,” which they would then send into the lower level organizations—commune, production brigade, and team. The work teams were to serve as “staff” to the lower level cadres (Article 11.4). At the same time, these leading cadres were to conduct a party “rectification campaign,” or purge of dissident elements, to ensure strong leadership (Article VIII). The downward transfer of cadres would occur only in the communes, production brigades, and teams (Article I.10). Once in the lower level organizations, the work teams were also to carry out party reform (Article VIII), the effect of which was to neutralize, if not to disrupt, the activities of the poor and lower-middle class peasant committees.
Mao Tse-tung reacted to the problems in the higher and lower level organizations in turn. His response to the effective insulation of the provincial apparatus was to turn to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In the general context of a nationwide campaign launched February 1, 1964 to emulate the People’s Liberation Army, Mao attempted to establish an organizational framework which would give him political leverage inside the provincial party committees. The “learn from the PLA” campaign saw the creation of new political departments, modeled after the army’s political departments, in industrial and commercial enterprises throughout China. Simultaneously, Mao set up an Industrial Communications Political Department and a Trade and Finance Department in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Shortly thereafter the party’s regional bureaus and provincial party committees were instructed to set up analogous departments inside their own organizations [!] to oversee those already functioning in their provinces.46
The “learn from the PLA” campaign represented an oblique maneuver to penetrate the provincial party apparatus. During the campaign Mao created the rudiments of a new political organization, with financial and communication links from the central committee down through the region and province to individual industrial and commercial enterprises. Moreover, the new organs were staffed primarily with army cadres, who were either previously demobilized or transferred while on active-duty status. Excluded from the provincial apparatus, Mao sought to gain access by creating new organizations based on the PLA. By mid-1964, therefore, the military input to the provincial party committees now included organizations staffed by regular army cadres as well as militia personnel.
At a Central Work Conference and Politburo Standing Committee Conference in June 1964, Mao pushed through the “Organizational Rules of Poor and Lower-Middle Peasant Associations,” which consti-tuted an attempt to expand the role and function of the poor and lower-middle peasant committees.47 It was his response to his party opponents’ attempt to hamstring these committees. Seeking an organization which would “respond actively to the call of the party and Chairman Mao,” the “Rules” established the basis for a nationwide poor and lower-middle peasants’ association. The association was to have organs at national, regional, provincial, hsien, municipal, and basic levels. At each level, peasant congresses would elect representatives. A national standing committee would give “unified leadership to the work of the peasant associations throughout the whole country” (Article V). The “Rules” also contained a provision for the establishment of poor and lower-middle peasant “work committees,” which were a transparent attempt to counter the impact of the “work teams” established in the “later ten points” of the previous September. Mao further called upon the poor and lower-middle peasant organizations to engage in
managing the commune as one of their own regular, important jobs . . . [and to] assist public security departments in strengthening the supervision and reformation of landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries and bad elements. (Articles XIII, XV)
The “learn from the PLA” campaign and the “rules” for poor and lower-middle peasants clearly increased the pressures for conflict in the countryside. The party apparatchiki waited only until September before issuing a counter document. This was the “revised later ten points,” drafted under the supervision of Liu Shao-ch’i himself.48 Liu strove to lodge control of the entire Socialist Education Movement firmly in the hands of the higher or provincial party committees. The instrument of control was the work team, which no longer would act merely as “staff’” of the basic-level cadres as stated in the “later ten points,” but would now thoroughly dominate all action. “The whole movement should be led by the work team” (Article 11.3). In fact, it was stipulated that “to launch the Socialist Education Movement at any point requires the sending of a work team from the higher levels.”49
Both Mao Tse-tung and his opponents had manipulated the rules of the movement and altered the functions of their respective organizations. Each had sought to counter the moves of the other in order to gain advantage. In the “revised later ten points,” Liu had deftly out-maneu-vered Mao. By means of the “work teams,” as stated in the directive, “a new force should be built up during the movement.” Indeed, that is precisely what was happening. The work teams were organs formed and trained by higher level or provincial party leaders, which meant that control over the Socialist Education Movement remained firmly in the hands of the apparatchiki, whose loyalty was to Liu Shao-ch’i and Teng Hsiao-p’ing. Their advantage, however, was short-lived.
At the Central Work Conference convened in December 1964 and continued through the first two weeks of January 1965, Mao Tse-tung managed to reformulate to his advantage the prescriptions for the Socialist Education Movement as they had evolved up to that time. In what must have been a stormy series of meetings, Mao criticized Liu’s administration of the Socialist Education Movement, clearly defining the nature of the movement now as embodying nothing less than the contradictions between socialism and capitalism.50 Lifting a corner of the veil obscuring Mao’s true intentions, article II of the Twenty-Three Articles, the document produced by the conference, stated that the Socialist Education Movement was really a vast class struggle against “those people in positions of authority within the Party who take the capitalist road.” The struggle would be carried on against all who opposed socialism wherever they might be, “even in the work of provincial and Central Committee Departments”!51
The Twenty-Three Articles eliminated the distinction between higher and lower level organizations; the issue was nothing less than the purging and remolding of the party apparatus at all levels. Article XVI, for example, noted that in “speaking of a single hsien, both during and after the Four Cleans Movement the work of training a party leadership nucleus must be gradually done.” Then in language harsh even by Cultural Revolution standards, the question of power was raised:
. . . where leadership authority has been taken over by alien class elements or by degenerate elements who have shed their skin and changed their nature—authority must be seized, first by struggle and then by removing these elements from their positions. In general, the question of their membership in the Party should be resolved later. In cases which are especially serious, these elements can be fired from their posts on the spot, their Party membership cards taken away, and they may even, if need be, be forcibly detained. Counter-revolutionaries, landlords, rich peasants and bad elements who have wormed their way into the Party must all be expelled from the Party.52
Terminological distinctions between city and countryside were also abolished. The Twenty-Three Articles explicitly instructed that the Socialist Education Movement, which had been termed the “Five Anti Movement” in the cities, would henceforth be termed the “Four Cleans Movement” in both city and countryside.53
Article XI dealt with the question of time, and revealed the time period which Mao Tse-tung believed to be available to him in carrying out his plans. It was stipulated that “three years will be needed to complete the movement throughout one-third of our country. Within six or seven years, the movement will be completed throughout the whole country.” However, Mao would not have the luxury of six or seven years, or even three years, for that matter, to rid himself of his opponents. Already events were developing on the political horizon outside of China which would force Mao, once again, to accelerate abruptly the pace of action. To appreciate the nature of the political factors impinging upon Mao at this juncture, it is necessary to discuss the question of the fall of Khrushchev.
The Fall of Khrushchev and Vietnam
The most widely accepted explanation of Khrushchev’s fall is that it was caused by his failures in domestic policy and by differences with colleagues over questions of party power. Khrushchev did suffer several serious policy reversals in both agriculture and industry. His virgin lands program failed dismally and his increased emphasis on chemical and plastic industries at the expense of heavy industry had not met with anticipated results. He had also divided the Communist party into industrial and agricultural hierarchies and this, too, had not worked well. In the months before his ouster, moreover, there were indications that he was preparing new “heresies” in the industrial and agricultural organizations.54
These factors, whether taken separately or together, do not account for the peculiarity of Khrushchev’s ouster. It was a sudden move, done secretly and in his absence. Moreover, few substantive changes were made in Khrushchev’s policies immediately after his dismissal except that the party was structurally reunified. According to party statutes adopted in 1961 (and since revised), Khrushchev could not have sat in the Presidium for more than three terms (twelve years) unless reelected for a fourth term by a three-fourths majority of the Central Committee voting by secret ballot.55 He assumed the position of First Secretary in September 1953; this meant that he could have been ousted by a dissident minority in September 1965, when the time came to vote his fourth term. Instead, Khrushchev was removed one year beforehand, which suggests that something happened that precluded a wait of a year and required immediate action.
That something, it seems, was an unexpected development in the Vietnam War and the need of a major policy change toward the Chinese People’s Republic. Since the Great Leap of 1958, the implications of which the Soviets recognized for Sino-Soviet relations, Khrushchev had sought to bring about a leadership change in China. He evidently felt that the Soviet Union could apply sufficient pressure to effect either the removal of Mao Tse-tung himself or changes in the leadership which would result in a return to cooperation with the Soviet Union. His plan included carefully conceived moves at state, ideological, and party levels, and was to culminate at a conference of the world’s Communist parties in December 1964.
On the state to state level, Khrushchev attempted to isolate the Chinese. The two most obvious events in this connection were the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1959 and the Sino-Indian border war of 1962. In each case Khrushchev declined to support the Chinese, instead adopting what in effect was an anti-Chinese position. The ideological wheels, as previously noted,56 had been set in motion in 1962 when Soviet scholars began to debate the long-buried concept of the “Asiatic Mode of Production.” Finally, on the party to party level, Khrushchev assiduously built support among the world’s Communist parties and implicitly threatened the Chinese with exclusion from the world movement. He may have felt that the threat of exclusion would prompt the pro-Soviet group inside the Chinese Communist Party to act against Mao. (They, in fact, did so but were unsuccessful, as will be shown below.)
The world conference of Communist parties was scheduled to open in December 1964 but developments in Vietnam upset Khrushchev’s timetable. It appears that Tonkin Gulf became his Waterloo, setting in motion a sequence of events that culminated in his ouster. In essence, Khrushchev’s China policy interfered with his attempts to aid Hanoi and, in the face of a mounting international crisis requiring the unity of the Communist world, it led his colleagues to force him from power.
The “Tonkin Gulf incident” occurred on August 2 and 4, 1964, at a time when the Viet Cong were on the verge of victory in South Vietnam. In less than a week a massive deployment of American military power began. On August 6, Secretary of Defense McNamara reported that reinforcements of various kinds were moving into the area.57 Two days later the United States Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution authorizing President Johnson to employ “all necessary measures . . . to prevent further aggression.”58 Khrushchev, too, reacted quickly to the incident. On August 5, the Soviet representative to the United Nations presented a resolution inviting North Vietnam to send an emissary to discuss the issue.59 On the 7th, Hanoi appealed to the signatories of the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Indochina to check “U.S. preparations to invade its territory.”60 And on the following day, the Soviet Union assured Hanoi of full support, demanding that the United States “immediately stop military actions against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”61 Khrushchev apparently hoped that debate on the Tonkin Gulf incident at the United Nations would freeze the deployment of American power long enough to permit the Viet Cong to win. But Hanoi itself rejected the plan to send a representative to the United Nations, maintaining, instead, that only the 1954 Geneva Conference signatories could deal with the question.62
It was at this point that Khrushchev’s China policy began to get in the way. When Hanoi rejected the United Nations filibuster plan, Khrushchev’s only alternative was to neutralize the American deployment with Soviet aid to North Vietnam. In order to do so, however, he needed land access across China. There was no question of attempting to aid Hanoi exclusively by sea. The recent Soviet adventure in Cuba had precipitated a dramatic confrontation with the United States and Soviet leaders were unquestionably reluctant to place themselves in a similarly exposed position again. A safe transportation route across China was necessary to provide effective assistance to Hanoi. But Khrushchev’s refusal to alter his policy toward China, or, perhaps, the Chinese price for land access, or both, persuaded his colleagues to depose him rather than risk an open break with China at a time when unity was necessary. Thus Khrushchev fell from power sometime between October 12 and 14, 1964.
For five weeks after Khrushchev’s fall, an uneasy truce prevailed in Sino-Soviet relations. Chou En-lai led a Chinese delegation to Moscow for the October Revolution celebrations to assess the impact on Soviet policy of Khrushchev’s removal. The new Soviet leaders, Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksei Kosygin, evidently proposed to let the dust of the American elections settle until it became clear what the United States would do. In addition, they suspended their side of the polemics and postponed the December conference of the world’s Communist parties.63 Evidently unwilling to wait and see, the Chinese resumed criticism of Soviet policy, after a brief silence, with an editorial in Red Flag on November 21 entitled “Why Khrushchev Fell” labeling Soviet policy as “Khrushchevism without Khrushchev.”
The Soviets, however, did not reply in kind. Desperately needing transit rights across Chinese soil, they responded with a call for “united action,” a demand which was the central point of Kosygin’s visits to Peking in early February 1965 en route to Hanoi and Pyongyang. Kosygin’s plea was made all the more urgent by the fact that on the very day he arrived in Hanoi, the United States began the bombing of North Vietnam. The new leadership appeared willing to subordinate its quarrels with the Chinese in order to arrive at an agreement on defense of Vietnam. In a televised speech reporting his trip, Kosygin stressed “socialist internationalism” and the duty of all socialist states to unite in the face of the imperialist challenge, and he minimized the differences between socialist states as natural and stemming from historical factors.64
By the end of March the issue of transit rights had been settled. The Chinese granted the Soviet Union minimum transit requirements and by early April Soviet equipment was rolling across Chinese territory.65 The month of April, however, saw the stakes in Vietnam raised higher by both the Soviet Union and the United States. On the 3rd of April the Soviet Union delivered the first of two notes requesting additional rights on Chinese soil (reportedly, in addition to permission to send 4,000 Soviet personnel across China to Vietnam, the Russians called for a meeting with the Chinese and Vietnamese).66 On April 7 the President of the United States made a statement of policy. In a speech at Johns Hopkins University, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that the United States “must be prepared for a long continued conflict” in Vietnam.67 That month the United States augmented its forces in Vietnam by 15,000 men. On the 17th the Soviet Union delivered a second note to the Chinese, this time requesting (as far as can be determined) the use of two airfields in southwest China, the right to station 500 men there, an air corridor and air passage rights.68
Kosygin’s trip to Peking, the American escalation of the conflict, and insistent Soviet demands for closer cooperation created intense political pressures in Peking, which in turn precipitated a lengthy and heated foreign policy “debate” within the Chinese leadership.69 The issue, clearly crystallized by the events of the previous month, was: should China intervene in Vietnam and, if so, on what basis? The Soviet notes implied that transit rights were no longer adequate. Would China consent to act as a base area, perhaps even become directly involved? The ensuing debate over whether or not to intervene in Vietnam revealed the extent to which the polarization process of the previous years had rent the Chinese leadership, particularly over the crucial issue of Sino-Soviet relations. For the pro-Soviet group within the Chinese leadership, however, the crisis over Vietnam presented an unparalleled opportunity to advance arguments for reconciliation, which, if achieved, would greatly strengthen their own positions vis-à-vis the Mao group, and perhaps lead to their permanent ascendancy.
Of the several leaders involved in the debate, the principals were the Chief of Staff, Lo Jui-ch’ing, who put forth the pro-Soviet position, and the Minister of Defense, Lin Piao, who presented the Maoist position. On May 7, the anniversary of the victory over Germany in World War II, Lo Jui-ch’ing gave a speech in which he argued in favor of reconciliation with the Soviet Union as the most effective means to assist a fraternal ally, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.70 Lo envisaged the likelihood of a Sino-American conflict as a consequence of Chinese involvement in Vietnam. To prepare for this, he argued, China needed to adopt a strategy of “active defense,” which required a modern, professional military force-in-being. This in turn implied the need for a closer relationship with the Soviet Union, since it would only be by such means that China could obtain the necessary supplies in a short time.
The Maoist position was stated most forcefully by Lin Piao in a speech given on the anniversary of the surrender of Japan, September 2, 1965.71 In it, Lin took the Maoist line of independent action. He stated that China would assist revolutionaries everywhere to the extent that she could, but they must provide their own solutions by employing Mao Tse-tung’s principles of “people’s war.” Rejecting direct intervention, Lin argued that there was little probability of a Sino-American conflict. In effect, Lin opted for “passive defense.” If China were attacked, he said, the response would be a people’s war. Under such circumstances, there was no need for a rapprochement with the Soviet Union.
The upshot of the debate, which reached its climax in early September, was that China rejected the proposed intervention in Vietnam. Mao Tse-tung and his supporters declined involvement in any direct sense, particularly with Chinese combat forces.72 However, in the course of the debate, the nature of the problem facing the Chinese had altered significantly. When the discussions over China’s role began in the spring of 1965, the United States had just over 30,000 troops in Vietnam, but U.S. forces were restricted to constabulary duties. On June 27 American forces began combat operations for the first time and by the end of November troop strength in Vietnam had surpassed 184,000; American forces had taken the offensive! Mao Tse-tung thus faced still another crisis. He had won a battle with his internal opponents, but he had not won a war. Inevitably, the issue of “united action” would arise again in the course of further increases (clearly implied by the rapid American buildup during 1965), particularly if the war turned against the Communists. In this eventuality, the probability was that Mao and his supporters would be unable to stem the voices urging direct intervention in Vietnam and closer cooperation with the Soviet Union. The implications for his own dominance should this course of events occur were ominous. It was this threat to his own political position which led him to initiate what we have come to know as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.