Historical Controversies


    Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

    Great Leap Forward

    Stalin’s Historical Role

What was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China really about?

The Cultural Revolution in China, from 1966 to 1976, was the high point of the first stage of communist revolution. It is the third “milestone” of the first stage of the communist revolution...with the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution as the first two milestones.

The Cultural Revolution was eventually defeated, in 1976, and China is not a socialist country today. But the Cultural Revolution still inspires and is incredibly rich in lessons. Anyone who aspires to a just and liberating society and world needs to learn about...and learn from the Cultural Revolution.

Read the excerpt on this from the interview with Raymond Lotta, in the section “The Cultural Revolution: The Furthest Advance of Human Emancipation Yet.”

Read more on the controversies surrounding the Cultural Revolution. Utilize our Resource page. Watch video from the 2009 symposium on the Cultural Revolution of presentations by China scholars and people who lived in China during the Cultural Revolution years. Download the Set the Record Straight Fact Sheet. Listen to, or read, the recent interview with Bob Avakian, “The Cultural Revolution in China . . . Art and Culture . . . Dissent and Ferment . . . and Carrying Forward the Revolution Toward Communism.”

What the Great Leap Forward was about, its successes and
difficulties, and the issue of famine.

The Great Leap Forward of 1958-1960 was the first bold step by Mao to forge a more liberating road of socialist economic and social development. At the heart of the Great Leap Forward in the countryside was the movement to form communes.

The mainstream account of the Great Leap Forward derides it as irrational and utopian . . . leading to history’s worst famine. Learn about the actual aims and achievements of the Great Leap Forward, and the difficulties it encountered. Learn about the actual causes of the food crisis and famine, and how leadership actually responded. Find out why the sensationalistic and statistically-inflated accounts alleging “Mao’s great famine” are not trustworthy. Read more on the Great Leap Forward.

This response to a recent book review in the New York Times is a good example of deconstructing the lies about the Great Leap Forward:



Joseph Stalin: his historical role and contributions, his shortcomings and errors, and how you have been lied to about him.

Joseph Stalin is routinely portrayed as a paranoid, deceitful despot, on par with Hitler. But in fact, Stalin represented a class, the proletariat, and the system of socialism whose goal is to do away with all forms of exploitation and oppression. Stalin played a decisive role in leading in constructing and defending the world’s first socialist society. Stalin’s achievements and shortcomings as a revolutionary leader are all part of the first wave of socialist revolution in the 20th century that opened new historical possibilities for humanity. For an overall analysis of the Bolshevik revolution and Stalin’s role, see the excerpt from the interview with Raymond Lotta: “1917—The Revolution Breaks Through in Russia.”

We are assembling materials that dig out the historical facts, that convey an historically accurate evaluation of Stalin’s role, and that situate Stalin’s methodological shortcomings and errors, some of which had grievous consequences, in larger historical perspective. Works that form the framework of this analysis are cited at Stalin & the Soviet Experience.

Set the Record Straight is posting a series of Research Notes about important historical episodes of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions and the controversies surrounding them. These compact and self-contained summations detail important findings and set forth provisional conclusions. The first is on the famine in 1933 in the Soviet Union: “What Really Happened, Why it was NOT an ‘Intentional Famine.’”

Back to Set the Record Straight Home

New York Times Review Repeats Lies About Mao and the Great Leap Forward: An Answer

(Adapted from an article in Revolution Newspaper, October 28, 2012)

The October 14 issue of the The New York Times Book Review contains a review by Isaac Chotiner of The Graves Are Walking, a new book by John Kelly on the Irish potato famine of 1845-46. The book appears to be a moving and valuable account of this famine. The immediate cause of this famine was a potato blight or disease. But the horrific scale of deaths had everything to do with British colonial domination and control over Ireland. And the reviewer seems to recognize the importance of fact-based analysis, as applied to this historical event.

But Chotiner ends his review with a completely baseless, but pervasively repeated, slander of the experience of socialism in the 20th century. He tells readers that the British took some steps to moderate the famine but also withheld food at crucial times. And thus, “this may not put the Irish famine up there with Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward or some of history's other all-time-worst policies.” The clear implication is that the Great Leap Forward was this awful event and Mao was responsible for the famine deaths that took place in revolutionary China in 1959-60.

Setting the Record Straight

There’s no history, no analysis, here—just unsubstantiated assertion. Let’s make a few salient points to set the record straight:

1) The Chinese revolution in 1949 overthrew a political and economic system dominated by a few imperial powers and in which peasants were subjected to despotic landlord rule and exploitation. Famine and hunger were widespread. The Great Leap Forward of 1958-60 was aimed at creating a sustainable agriculture, bringing masses of peasants into the running of administrative and political affairs, bringing women out of the household and into the swirl of the battle to create a new society, and overcoming unequal development between the cities and countryside. The commune system that created new forms of social cooperation and social support was a great innovation of the Great Leap Forward.

Compare that with the lot of Irish peasants: subjugated by British landowners, forced to scrounge out an existence on small and inferior plots of land, totally reliant on the potato (because it was profitable for the British), and stripped of basic political and social rights.

2) The famine that struck China in 1959-60 was the result of unprecedented droughts and flooding. There was a very difficult and complex situation involving a food crisis, social and political struggle, China’s encirclement by Western imperialism, and the Soviet Union trying to punish China, including by withdrawing aid, for challenging and breaking with the Soviet economic and political model.

The Chinese government and state, upholding and protecting the interests of workers, peasants, and the great majority of society, took measures to cope with the food crisis. These included emergency deliveries of grain and other assistance and changes in the structure of the communes so that they could better deal with economic matters, and scaling back exports to make more grain available.

Compare this with the Irish potato famine. In Ireland, British capital and wealthy absentee landowners set policy and responded savagely to the situation. Tenant-farmers ruined by the potato crisis were evicted from the land, with many of the displaced forced into overcrowded slums and so-called “workhouses” to earn starvation wages. In these conditions, disease rapidly spread. And some two million people were forced to emigrate. One of the chief architects of British emergency measures stated that God “had sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson” and it “must not be too much mitigated.”

3) By 1970, China had overcome its historic food problem. The socialist system was able to provide for the basic nutritional needs of the population. By 1911, the population of Ireland had declined to 4.4 million from 8 million in the early 1840s, the result of the potato famine and mass emigration.