Did Mao enjoy killing?

Cultural revolution

Felix Wemheuer

To person

Dr. phil., born 1977; Professor for Modern China Studies at the East Asian Seminar of the University of Cologne, Albertus-Magnus-Platz, 50923 Cologne. [email protected]

In the course of the global unrest around 1968, the cultural revolutionary China developed into a reference point for left movements around the world. The influence ranged from the student movement in Western Europe to peasant guerrilla movements in the "third world" and the radical left wing of the Afro-American civil rights movement. [1] What were the reasons why Maoist China was able to serve as an inspiration and projection surface for a wide variety of movements between the mid-1960s and the end of the 1970s? In the following I will examine the influence of the Cultural Revolution on the New Left in Western Europe using the examples of France, Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany. I will also show the parallel developments in China and address the relationship of the New Left to violence.

The related questions are analyzed in terms of global history in connection with the revolutionary cycles that shook the world order between 1945 and the 1970s. The "Chiffre 1968" in particular is a global moment in which revolutionary movements on different continents related to one another and interacted. [2] In the "third world" the cycle was closely related to decolonization, which began in Asia in 1945 and ended in Africa in the late 1970s. In Western Europe, the social peace of the post-war era was terminated from 1967 by student unrest, which in France and Italy were accompanied by large "wild" strike movements in industry. In Poland and Hungary strikes and uprisings had shaken public order as early as 1956. In 1968 the "Prague Spring" followed and protests in Yugoslavia. While the suppression of the uprisings and reform movements in Eastern Europe discredited the Soviet Union, the Vietnam War (1964 to 1975) caused the United States to lose its claim to the moral leadership of the West in the eyes of many people.

The willingness of the West to accept ideas from the Chinese Cultural Revolution can only be understood against the background of the global political constellation of the "Cold War". China's struggle against both superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, broke the logic of a bipolar world. The People's Republic was perceived as a rising country of the "third world" that "relied on its own strength" instead of financing industrialization through foreign loans. China presented itself as the best friend of the liberation struggle of the "colored" peoples [3] and propagated a rural development path in which modernization would not be at the expense of the rural population. The cultural revolution also appeared as an attempt to revive the communist revolution through a youth revolt against the party apparatus. Mao's campaign was perceived as an attempt at a new form of mass democracy, which supposedly brought the ideals of the young Karl Marx back into the present. [4]

France and Italy: Cultural Revolution and Left Dissidents

Maoist China had a particularly great influence on the so-called New Left in the western metropolises. It distinguished itself from the "old left", that is, the traditional trade unions and the social democratic and communist workers' parties. The New Left found its social base mainly among young people who were born in the last years of the war or the first few years after the war. Older left-wing intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre (born 1905) or Herbert Marcuse (born 1898) also took their side.

In the French documentary "Red is the blue air" ("Le fond de l'air est rouge", 1977) by Chris Marker, the thesis was put forward that the idea of ​​the "revolution of the revolution" was the unifying element of the Cuban and Chinese revolutions as well of the New Left in the West. The traditional communist parties by no means automatically assume the role of the avant-garde, rather a new avant-garde can only emerge in the revolutionary struggle, so the tenor. The "primacy of practice" is more important than waiting for supposedly objectively mature conditions for the overthrow. The "revolution of the revolution" also included the vision of a fundamental change in everyday life, education, the relationships between men and women as well as parents and children and the cultural scene. The contents of the various "cultural revolutions" were defined differently: While the "sexual liberation" and Freudo-Marxist theories were firmly anchored in the worldview of the western New Left, the cultural revolution in China is one of the most conservative phases in recent history with regard to sexuality and love Country.

The two largest communist parties in Western Europe, those of France (PCF) and Italy (KPI), had long made their peace with post-war society. At best they waged their struggle for the improvement of working conditions and wage increases, not for a revolutionary overthrow. The PCF received over 22 percent of the vote in the 1967 National Assembly elections. When, during the "Paris May" of 1968, first students and then young workers took to the streets by the thousands, the party leadership quickly declared the revolutionary students to be petty bourgeois nuts and dreamers and tried, together with their union, to channel the nationwide general strike into demands for higher wages . In Italy, the KPI received 30 percent of the vote in the 1968 Senate elections and sought long-term participation in the government. Left communist dissident movements emerged in both countries and also looked for borrowings from the theories of the Cultural Revolution. In this perception, the need for a revolt by the youth against a bureaucratic, ossified and "revisionist party apparatus" was the greatest parallel to China.

Meanwhile in Italy a group called "Il Manifesto" was excluded from the KPI for "deviating to the left". Its members criticized the soothing attitude of the KPI during the "hot autumn" of 1969, the height of the strike and protest movements. Member of Parliament Rossana Rossanda, who played an important role in "Il Manifesto", wrote in 1971: "At the moment when the masses are called not only to judge the party but to fight it, Mao is re-introducing the political subject He turns the party back into an 'instrument' of the proletariat, whereby it is no longer an entity that in some respects exists outside the proletariat. "[5] The group of the excluded also welcomed the fact that Mao and the Red Guards recognized the central importance of the university as a place of social struggle in order to fundamentally question the division of labor between the working population and the intellectuals. [6]

In France, philosophers such as Sartre, Louis Althusser and Alain Badiou, as well as the director Jean-Luc Godard, referred to Mao's theories and the Cultural Revolution to criticize the KPF's Marxism and its reformist self-restraint. Simple workers and students also began to refer to themselves as "Maos" and formed groups that were active in factories, universities, prisons and even among the rural population. Sartre emphasized that he was not a "Mao" himself, but sympathized with the movement, which would stand for revolutionary violence, spontaneity of the masses and anti-authoritarianism: "The Maos (...) with their anti-authoritarian practice appear as the only, still imperfect revolutionary force which is able to adapt to the new forms of class struggle in the stage of organized capitalism. "[7] When the ban on the Maoist newspaper" La Cause du Peuple "(" The People's Cause ") threatened, Sartre expressed his solidarity, by taking over the editorial office and demonstratively distributing editions on the street with his companion Simone de Beauvoir.

The writings of the French economist Charles Bettelheim also had a great influence on the positive perception of the Cultural Revolution in Western Europe. He saw the Chinese experiments with worker participation in factories as an opportunity to undo the capitalist rationality of management. Only permanent political mobilization of the workforce could prevent the same hierarchies and the same exploitation logic from being reproduced under the mantle of state property as in capitalism. In detailed studies, Bettelheim explained that capitalist rationality had prevailed in the Soviet Union because the party had given up the "primacy of politics" and the claim to involve the masses as early as the 1930s. [8] After Mao's death, Bettelheim resigned as chairman of the Society for French-Chinese Friendship in 1977, in protest against a departure from the cultural revolutionary industrial and educational policy under the new party leader Hua Guofeng.

The further development in France and Italy proceeded differently. In France, the heyday of Maoist groups like "Gauche Prolétarienne" ("Proletarian Left") only lasted a few years. The group was banned by the Interior Ministry and many "Maos" turned to other social movements. The philosopher and sociologist Michel Foucault, who at times sympathized with the "proletarian left", was able to win over "Maos" for the anti-prison movement, which made a major contribution to reforming the prison system. In Italy, however, the clashes between the state and armed left-wing organizations such as the "Brigate Rosse" ("Red Brigades"), which carried out numerous attacks, escalated in the 1970s.