Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s

By Jack Gray | Go to book overview

17
THE GREAT PROLETARIAN CULTURAL REVOLUTION, II

The Paris Communes', January 1967

Once questions of policy were brought into the struggle, virtually the entire membership of Liu Shaoqi's government became vulnerable. Even Zhou Enlai, although perhaps the most widely respected figure in the whole leadership, was not immune. However, his sincere support for the Cultural Revolution and his close identification with its leaders saved him from more than sporadic attacks, and enabled him eventually to save most of his ministers-perhaps even to save the regime -- by keeping government intact and functioning.

Meanwhile the hard-pressed radical students had sought allies among certain groups of workers. While skilled workers in the State-sector establishment, with high wages, pensions, and security for life, opposed the radicals vigorously, by no means all of China's industrial workers did so. Between 30 and 40 per cent of them were virtually casual labourers; they were on short contracts, paid at lower rates, with no security or pensions, and no right to housing, medical attention, or the education of their children. They were the biggest and most natural constituency of the radicals. Besides these contract workers' were several million who worked in pre-modern or semi-modern handicraft co-operatives or in service occupations who were also denied the benefits enjoyed by those on the official State-sector payroll. They too supported the radicals. As the Cultural Revolution went on, many other groups were to express their grievances and to support the Red Guards initiative. They published their own tabloid news-sheets. The proliferation of such publications was extraordinary, and was matched by the millions of hand-written wall newspapers (dazibao) which turned every bare wall in urban China to account. The wall newspapers were strongly encouraged by Mao. They were, he claimed, 'classless' because their production was virtually cost free; anyone with a grievance could find the simple means to express it in this way. They were almost impossible to censor and their authors were anonymous, so that retaliation against them was not possible. There was a good Marxist precedent for praise of wall newspapers as a political weapon; Engels had expressed his admiration for them and stressed their importance when they were used by the German working class during the revolution of 1848.

The alliance between radical students and disaffected workers took the

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