In the early 1960s, Mao watched as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping dismantled his cherished Great Leap Forward. In return, Mao launched a blistering attack on “modern revisionism” and set off a series of profound shock waves that would erupt a few years later into China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution.
Actions of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping
To oppose modern revisionism, Mao demanded an intensified class struggle to prevent the restoration of capitalism at home and abroad. Not only did Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping reverse the prevailing leftist tendencies within the people’s communes, they also poured cold water on Mao’s cherished technique of using mass campaigns to generate radical social change.
Favoring careful planning, centralized leadership, and cautious advance over spontaneous mass mobilization and frenetic people’s wars against nature, Liu and Deng restored the Communist Party’s traditional top-down, bureaucratic style of decision-making. They went even further than that. They quietly rehabilitated thousands of party members who had been wrongfully persecuted during Mao’s Anti-Rightist Rectification campaign of 1957–1958.
And finally, reversing Mao’s well-known preference for ideological “redness” over technical “expertise”, they invited China’s much-maligned intellectuals to once again contribute their ideas and talents to China’s economic construction—this time, without fear of reprisal.
This is a transcript from the video series The Fall and Rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Mao at Party Convocation in 1962
In January of 1962, Mao began to fight back. At a work conference attended by 7,000 party cadres—the largest such convocation in party history—he delivered a lengthy speech in which he bemoaned the lack of mass mobilization and the emphasis on bureaucratic procedure that had come to dominate the party’s work style since the Great Leap.
Harping on a theme that he had first raised when he abruptly cancelled the Hundred Flowers Movement in 1957, Mao spoke of the continued existence of class struggle in the ideological field. He said that the reactionary classes which had been overthrown were still planning a comeback. He further added a brand new warning that there were some people who had adopted the guise of Communist Party members, but they in fact represented the bourgeoisie. He said that their party was not pure.
Liu Shaoqi’s Response to Mao
At the conclusion of the working conference, Liu Shaoqi gave his own view of the situation. The remarks he had prepared for the occasion were moderate and conciliatory in tone, and had been circulated in advance to members of the Politburo for comments and suggestions.
However, after hearing Mao’s speech, Liu hastily revised his remarks. And when he delivered his speech, it took Mao—and everyone else at the meeting—by surprise. In it, Liu Shaoqi attacked the policies of the Great Leap Forward and used language even stronger than that used by Peng Dehuai two-and-a-half years earlier.
Rejecting Mao’s explanation that the failures of the Great Leap were mainly due to bad weather and natural calamities and the activities of rich peasants, Liu stated that as far as he was aware, in most rural areas there had been no serious bad weather from 1959 to 1961. And then he went on to assert that the many difficulties encountered during those years were 70 percent due to human error and only 30 percent due to natural causes—a precise reversal of Mao’s own assessment, which was 70 percent due to natural causes and 30 percent to human error.
Learn more about Mao’s Socialist vision.
Speech by General Lin Biao
According to participants at the meeting, Mao had been caught completely off guard by the tone and content of Liu’s remarks. To minimize the damage to his own prestige, Mao immediately ordered his new defense minister, the sycophantic General Lin Biao, to give a speech defending the Great Leap.
He proceeded to fawn obsequiously over Chairman Mao’s wisdom and the brilliance of his leadership. Sitting backstage while Lin delivered his remarks, Mao was pleased. After Lin finished his effusive praise, Mao took the stage once again. Now feeling more relaxed and expansive, he issued an ostensibly contrite self-criticism in which, with evident humility, he asked his comrades to hold him personally responsible for any failings that might have occurred in the Great Leap.
But to many of those in attendance, Mao’s confession did not ring true. It had a staged, theatrical quality to it; and his contrition seemed mainly designed to silence his critics, to pre-empt them, rather than to accept personal blame for the horrific disasters of the previous three years.
Learn more about the key features of Mao’s economic program.
Effects of the Party Convocation
Following the conclusion of this pivotal meeting, Mao viewed Liu Shaoqi, and by extension Deng Xiaoping, with barely disguised contempt.
Previously, he had interpreted their efforts to rescue the Chinese economy from the leftist excesses of the Great Leap mainly as errors of judgment and policy but not as evidence of counter-revolutionary intent. Now, however, his doubts about Liu and Deng began to merge with his growing fears about the effects of Khrushchev’s insidious counter-revolutionary revisionism.
Common Questions about Mao and Counter-revolutionary Revisionism
At the party convocation in 1962, Mao bemoaned the lack of mass mobilization and spoke of the continued existence of class struggle in the ideological field. He also said that the overthrown reactionary classes were still planning a comeback. He further added that there were some people who, under the guise of Communist Party members, in fact represented the bourgeoisie.
Liu Shaoqi said that the many difficulties encountered during between 1959 and 1961 were 70 percent due to human error and only 30 percent due to natural causes—a precise reversal of Mao’s own assessment, which was 70 percent due to natural causes and 30 percent to human error.
To minimize the damage to his prestige, Mao ordered his new defense minister, General Lin Biao, to give a speech defending the Great Leap. General Lin Biao, in his speech, fawned obsequiously over Chairman Mao’s wisdom and the brilliance of his leadership.