By Richard Baum, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
After the critical meeting of 7,000 party cadres in 1962, where Liu Shaoqi attacked the policies of the Great Leap Forward, Mao began to believe that Liu and Deng Xiaoping had counter-revolutionary intent. Mingled with these doubts, were his increasing fears about Khrushchev. Why was Mao bothered so much about Khrushchev and why did he launch the Socialist Education Movement?
Mao’s anger at Khrushchev was approaching the boiling point by early 1962. It wasn’t bad enough that Khrushchev had belittled the people’s communes, repudiated Lenin’s doctrine of inevitable war, and proclaimed the existence of a parliamentary road to socialism, but the Soviet leader had also begun to seek détente with the head of the imperialist camp, the United States of America.
Khrushchev’s reasoning in pursuing rapprochement with the United States was that in the age of nuclear weapons, world war would have no winners, only losers, and was thus unthinkable.
This is a transcript from the video series The Fall and Rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Opinions of Mao and Khrushchev on Nuclear Power
In Mao’s view, nuclear war was not only thinkable, but it was also winnable. Referring to nuclear weapons as paper tigers, Mao challenged the Soviet leader to be more, rather than less, confrontational toward U.S. imperialism. Indeed, at the height of his Great Leap euphoria in 1958, Mao had even boasted that in the event of a nuclear war, China could suffer 100 million casualties and still emerge victorious.
Khrushchev, on the other hand, was appalled by the radical excesses of the Great Leap and of Mao’s rhetorical excesses as well. He was afraid that Mao might just be naïve or delusional enough to drag the Soviet Union into a nuclear war with America.
In 1959, he responded to Mao’s reckless adventurism by reneging on his earlier promise to share Soviet nuclear secrets with China and to provide Mao with a sample atomic bomb. A year later, in 1960, he unilaterally withdrew all Soviet technical advisors from China, leaving hundreds of industrial projects half-finished. And for good measure, the Soviet advisors took all their blueprints with them when they left.
Learn more about Mao’s rejection of the Soviet model of Socialism.
Mao’s ‘Open Letters’
Mao’s growing anger at Khrushchev was expressed in a series of nine ‘open letters’ addressed to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. Written intermittently between 1960 and 1964, the nine letters clearly reflected Mao’s view that Khrushchev was restoring capitalism in the Soviet Union. This restoration was, in Mao’s view, marked by the emergence of a new class of bureaucratic elites, made up of party officials, government technocrats, and industrial intellectuals.
Comprising a new bourgeoisie, members of this elite class enjoyed high salaries, special housing and shopping privileges, access to the best schools for their children, and private summer homes, or dachas. Completely “divorced from the [laboring] masses,” they had, in Mao’s view, lost sight of the original goals of the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Socialist Education Movement
In September 1962, Mao launched a counter-offensive against creeping revisionism. At the Central Committee’s tenth plenary session, he unveiled a new rural mass campaign of ideological education and indoctrination, which he called the “Socialist Education Movement”. Its goal was to inoculate China’s peasants against the deadly virus of capitalism.
In the speech launching the new movement, Mao addressed the issue of continuing class struggle in China, making clear its link to Soviet revisionism. He rhetorically asked if classes existed in socialist countries, and then answered that classes did exist, and that class struggle undoubtedly existed as well.
He asked people to admit the possibility of the restoration of the overthrown reactionary classes. He asked everyone to raise their vigilance and properly educate their youth and cadres. He told them that from that moment on, they must talk about class struggle all the time, at conferences, at party congresses, and at each and every meeting.
Learn more about Mao’s uneasy relationship with Stalin.
Goals and Methods of Socialist Education Movement
As Mao envisioned it, the new Socialist Education Movement would be mainly didactic in nature. Party-organized work teams would travel throughout the countryside conducting education in class struggle among the basic-level cadres and peasants, reminding them of the evils of the old landlord-dominated society, warning them against the pernicious machinations of rich peasants, and reinforcing the party’s traditional ethos of serving the people.
The goal was to provide immunization against what Mao called “the sugar- coated bullets” of the bourgeoisie.
However, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping had a very different view of what was wrong with China and what was needed to be done to fix it. In their view, the failures of the Great Leap had created not an urgent need for more class vigilance and struggle, but rather, widespread desperation, demoralization, and an epidemic of petty corruption.
Common Questions about Mao, Khrushchev, and the Socialist Education Movement
While Khrushchev thought that in the age of nuclear weapons, world war was unthinkable, Mao’s view was that nuclear war was not only thinkable, but it was also winnable.
In 1959, Khrushchev went back on his earlier promise to share Soviet nuclear secrets with China and to provide Mao with a sample atomic bomb. A year later, in 1960, he unilaterally withdrew all Soviet technical advisors from China, leaving hundreds of industrial projects half-finished.
The objective of the Socialist Education Movement was to have party-organized work teams travel throughout the countryside conducting education in class struggle among the basic-level cadres and peasants, reminding them of the evils of the old landlord-dominated society, warning them against the pernicious machinations of rich peasants, and reinforcing the party’s traditional ethos of serving the people.