[What's going on in the US right now with the rise of the "woke" movement and groups like BLM and ANTIFA is eerily similar to what happened in the early years of the Cultural Revolution in China in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People in the US should be very concerned about the path the country is on from that aspect alone. What's not mentioned in this article is in the end of that period in China it's estimated that up to 20,000,000 people were murdered by the "revolutionaries" . . . SC]
By Charles Hugh-Smith - April 9, 2021
The lesson of China's Cultural Revolution in my view is that once the lid blows off, everything that was linear (predictable) goes non-linear (unpredictable).
There is a whiff of unease in the air as beneath the cheery veneer of free money for almost everyone, inequality and polarization are rapidly consuming what's left of common ground in America.
Though there are many systemic differences between China and the U.S., humans in every nation are all still running Wetware 1.0 and so it is instructive to consider what can be learned from China's Cultural Revolution 1966-1976.
China's Cultural Revolution was remarkably different from the Party's military-political victory of 1949. Where the political revolution was managed by the centralized hierarchy of the Communist Party (CCP), the Cultural Revolution quickly morphed from a movement launched by Mao into a decentralized mass movement against all elites, including Party and state elites which had been sacrosanct and untouchable.
The Cultural Revolution is not an approved topic in China today, and that alerts us to its importance.
Although ostensibly launched by Mao (as part of his 1966 purge of Party rivals), the Cultural Revolution very quickly devolved into a decentralized, semi-chaotic movement of Red Guards, students and other groups who shared ideas and programs but who acted quite independent of the Party's central leadership. (In systems language, semi-chaotic dynamics are emergent properties.)
If you examine Mao's statements that supposedly launched The Cultural Revolution, you'll find they're not much different from his many pronouncements in the 1950s and early 1960s, none of which sparked a violent national upheaval. The Cultural Revolution cannot be traced back to Mao's control or plans; rather, Mao served as the politically untouchable inspiration for whatever measures the local cadres deemed necessary in terms of advancing (or cleansing) the people's revolution.
The important point here is that the Cultural Revolution was not controlled by the political authorities, even as they maintained control of the Party and central government hierarchy in Beijing. But this was nothing more than an illusion of control: the forces of the Cultural Revolution had broken free of central command and control, even as the Red Guards expressed their loyalty to Mao and the principles of the Party as the politically approved cover for their rampage.
That's the irony of Cultural Revolutions: the authorities cannot claim it is a political counter-revolution because the cultural revolutionaries proclaim their loyalty to the ideals and principles the authorities claim to be upholding.
Cultural Revolutions in effect claim the higher ground, eschewing political influence for direct action in the name of furthering the ideals which the authorities have abandoned or betrayed.
Given the fragmentary nature of The Cultural Revolution, the history is equally fragmentary-- especially given the official reticence.
A recent academic book, Agents of Disorder: Inside China's Cultural Revolution, provides granular detail on the fragmented, decentralized, rapidly evolving dynamics of the movement:
"(The author) devoted decades to examining the local records of nearly all of China's 2,000-plus county-level jurisdictions. He found that factions emerged from the splintering, rather than the congealing, of class-based groups. Small clusters of students, workers, and cadres struggling to respond to Mao's shifting directives made split-second decisions about whom to align with. Political identities did not shape the conflict; they emerged from it. To explain this process of identity formation, he offers a theory of 'factions as emergent properties' and suggests that similar dynamics may characterize social movements everywhere."
In other words, groups modified their alliances, identities and definitions of "class enemies" on the fly, entirely free of central authorities. Factions splintered, regrouped and splintered again. In the chaos, no one was safe . . .