The Cultural Revolution could not have been successfully launched without the polemics that Mao initiated against Khrushchev and the revisionist leadership of the CP of the Soviet Union. After Khrushchev’s “secret speech” at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 that attacked Joseph Stalin as a dictator and worse, Mao wrote that Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin was an attack on the whole period of socialism in the Soviet Union. As the polemics developed in the early 1960s with the publication of “Long Live Leninism,” and the nine-part “Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement,” Mao and the CCP launched a withering attack on Khrushchev’s “three peacefuls.”
The Chinese Communist Party stated that the “peaceful transition to socialism” was a poisonous arrow aimed at killing off the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the capitalist state and the necessity for its overthrow by force of arms. In “Apologists for Neo-Colonialism” and other articles written in 1963 and 1964, the CCP argued that Khrushchev’s advocacy of peaceful competition and peaceful coexistence with U.S. imperialism was providing political cover for Soviet collusion with the U.S. and for the Soviet Union’s lack of support for national liberation struggles in Algeria, the Congo and elsewhere.
In fact, Khruschev was not only promoting fear of and collusion with U.S. imperialism, he was leading the reversal from socialism back to capitalism, while still operating under the sign-board of socialism. How did this happen? This restoration of capitalism was not due to old pre-revolutionary remnants of the Russian bourgeoisie hiding and regrouping, biding their time and lying in wait for a good moment, and then making a grab for power. And it had not occurred as the result of an imperialist invasion, nor by external forces sneaking agents into the Soviet Union. No, Khrushchev had organized a coup as the leader of a new capitalist class that had grown up in the conditions of Soviet socialism, based on class privileges that were newly generated in a society focused on the development of productive forces.
Taking a close look at this process, Mao Zedong analyzed Stalin’s conception of socialism as a period when all internal class contradictions had come to an end with the formal socialist ownership of the means of production. Mao looked at the emphasis that Stalin laid on external threats and the absence of attention to internal contradictions. With this as the leading view in the Soviet period, people who had criticisms of the party and its policies were considered enemies of socialism–agents of external imperialism. Honest differences among the people were suppressed and many were unjustly victimized. This caused great damage to the whole historic project of socialism and communism. Mao recognized that these errors in theory and practice left a festering sore which contributed to the formation of revisionist lines and a new capitalist class inside the CPSU, largely unrecognized and unchallenged, growing until it could seize and consolidate its power under Khrushchev’s leadership, in 1956 and 1957.
As early as 1957, Mao asserted in “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People” that classes and class struggle continue to exist in socialist society. Moreover, Mao understood that there were capitalist roaders like Khrushchev at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party as well. These new understandings of the nature of revisionism were essential bricks in the ideological and political foundations of the Cultural Revolution.