Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung

Talk At The Central
Work Conference

October 25, 1966

[SOURCE: Long Live Mao Tse-tung Thought, a Red Guard Publication.]

I have just a few words to say about two matters.

For the past seventeen years there is one thing which in my opinion we haven’t done well. Out of concern for state security and in view of the lessons of Stalin in the Soviet Union, we set up a first and second line. I have been in the second line, other comrades in the first line. Now we can see that wasn’t so good; as a result our forces were dispersed. When we entered the cities we could not centralize our efforts, and there were quite a few independent kingdoms. Hence the Eleventh Plenum carried out changes. This is one matter. I am in the second line, I do not take charge of day-to-day work. Many things are left to other people so that other people’s prestige is built up, and when I go to see God there won’t be such a big upheaval in the State. Everybody was in agreement with this idea of mine. It seems that there are some things which the comrades in the first line have not managed too well. There are some things I should have kept a grip on which I did not. So I am responsible, we cannot just blame them. Why do I say that I bear some responsibility?

First, it was I who proposed that the Standing Committee be divided into two lines and that a secretariat be set up. Everyone agreed with this. Moreover I put too much trust in others. It was at the time of the Twenty-three Articles that my vigilance was aroused.[1] I could do nothing in Peking; I could do nothing at the Centre. Last September and October I asked, if revisionism appeared at the Centre, what could the localities do?[2] I felt that my ideas couldn’t be carried out in Peking. Why was the criticism of Wu Han initiated not in Peking but in Shanghai? Because there was nobody to do it in Peking. Now the problem of Peking has been solved.

Second, the Great Cultural Revolution wreaked havoc after I approved Nieh Yüan-tzu’s big-character poster in Peking University, and wrote a letter to Tsinghua University Middle School, as well as writing a big-character poster of my own entitled ‘Bombard the Headquarters’.[3] It all happened within a very short period, less than five months in June, July, August, September and October. No wonder the comrades did not understand too much. The time was so short and the events so violent. I myself had not foreseen that as soon as the Peking University poster was broadcast, the whole country would be thrown into turmoil. Even before the letter to the Red Guards had gone out, Red Guards had mobilized throughout the country, and in one rush they swept you off your feet. Since it was I who caused the havoc, it is understandable if you have some bitter words for me. Last time we met I lacked confidence and I said that our decisions would not necessarily be carried out. Indeed all that time quite a few comrades still did not understand things fully, though now after a couple of months we have had some experience, and things are a bit better. This meeting has had two stages. In the first stage the speeches were not quite normal, but during the second stage, after speeches and the exchange of experience by comrades at the Centre, things went more smoothly and the ideas were understood a bit better. It has only been five months. Perhaps the movement may last another five months, or even longer.

Our democratic revolution went on for twenty-eight years, from 1921 to 1949. At first nobody knew how to conduct the revolution or how to carry on the struggle; only later did we acquire some experience. Our path gradually emerged in the course of practice. Did we not carry on for twenty-eight years, summarizing our experience as we went along? Have we not been carrying on the socialist revolution for seventeen years, whereas the Cultural Revolution has been going on for only five months? Hence we cannot ask comrades to understand so well now. Many comrades did not read the articles criticizing Wu Han last year and did not pay much attention to them. The articles criticizing the film The Life of Wu Hsün and studies of the novel Dream of the Red Chamber could not be grasped if taken separately, but only if taken as a whole. For this I am responsible. If you take them separately it is like treating only the head when you have a headache and treating only the feet when they hurt, the problem cannot be solved. During the first several months of this Great Cultural Revolution  —  in January, February, March, April and May articles were written and the Centre issued directives, but they did not arouse all that much attention. It was the big-character posters and onslaughts of the Red Guards which drew your attention, you could not avoid it because the revolution was right on top of you. You must quickly summarize your experience and properly carry out political and ideological work. Why are we meeting again after two months? It is to summarize our experience and carry out political and ideological work. You also have a great deal of political and ideological work to do after you go back. The Political Bureau, the provincial committees, the regional committees and county committees must meet for ten days or more and thrash out the problems. But they mustn’t think that everything can be cleared up. Some people have said, ‘We understand the principles, but whe! n we run up against concrete problems we cannot deal with them properly.’ At first I could not understand why, if the principles were clear, the concrete problems could not be dealt with. I can see some reason for this: it may be that political and ideological work has not been done properly. When you went back after our last meeting some places did not find time to hold proper meetings. In Honan there were ten secretaries. Out of the ten there were seven or eight who were receiving people. The Red Guards rushed in and caused havoc. The students were angry, but they did not realize it and had not prepared themselves to answer questions. They thought that to make a welcoming speech lasting a quarter of an hour or so would do. But the students were thoroughly enraged. The fact that there were a number of questions which they could not immediately answer put the secretaries on the defensive. Yet this defensive attitude can be changed, can be transformed so that they take the initiative.

Hence my confidence in this meeting has increased. I don’t know what you think. If when you go back you do things according to the old system, maintaining the status quo, putting yourself in Opposition to one group of Red Guards and letting another group hold sway, then I think things cannot change, the situation cannot improve. But I think things can change and things can improve. Of course we shouldn’t expect too much. We can’t be certain that the mass of central, provincial, regional, and county cadres should all be so enlightened. There will always be some who fail to understand, and there will be a minority on the opposite side. But I think it will be possible to make the majority understand.

I have talked about two matters. The first concerns history. For seventeen years the two lines have not been united. Others have some responsibility for this, so have I. The second issue is the five months of the Great Cultural Revolution, the fire of which I kindled. It has been going on only five months, not even half a year, a very brief span compared to the twenty-eight years of democratic revolution and the seventeen years of socialist revolution. So one can see why it has not been thoroughly understood and there were obstacles. Why hasn’t it been understood? In the past you have only been in charge of industry, agriculture and communications and you have never carried out a Great Cultural Revolution. You in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Military Affairs Committee are the same. That which you never dreamed of has come to pass. What’s come has come. I think that there are advantages in being assailed. For so many years you had not thought about such things, but as soon as they burst upon you, you began to think. Undoubtedly you have made some mistakes, some mistakes of line, but they can be corrected and that will be that! Whoever wants to overthrow you? I don’t, and I don’t think the Red Guards do either. Two Red Guards said to Li Hsüeh-feng: ‘Can you imagine why our elders are so frightened of the Red Guards?’ Then there were Wu Hsiu-ch’üan’s four children who belonged to four different factions. Some of their school-friends went to his home, several dozen at a time, and this happened quite a few times. I think that there are advantages in making contact in small groups.

Another method is to have big meetings, 1,500,000 meeting for several hours. Both methods serve a purpose.

There have been quite a few brief reports presented at this meeting. I have read nearly all of them. You find it difficult to cross this pass and I don’t find it easy either. You are anxious and so am I. I cannot blame you, comrades, time has been so short. Some comrades say that they did not intentionally make mistakes, but did it because they were confused. This is pardonable. Nor can we put all the blame on Comrade Shao-ch’i and Comrade Hsiao-p’ing. They have some responsibility, but so has the Centre. The Centre has not run things properly. The time was so short. We were not mentally prepared for new problems. Political and ideological work was not carried out properly. I think that after this seventeen-day conference things will be a bit better.

Does anyone else want to speak? I guess that’s all for today. The meeting is adjourned.



[1.] i.e., when Mao put forward his new twenty-three-point directive for the Socialist Education Campaign in January 1965, and Liu Shao-ch’i refused to accept it. (See note 1 on p. 191 of this volume.)

[2.] According to an editorial published in August 1967, on the first anniversary of the Eleventh Plenum, comrade Mao at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo in September 1965 said: ‘What are you going to do if revisionism appears in the Central Committee? This is highly likely. This is the greatest danger.’ [Peking Review, No. 33, 1967, p. 7.]

[3.] On 1 June 1966, comrade Mao ordered that a big-character poster written by Nieh Yuan-tzu, a lecturer at Peking University, be widely published and broadcast on the radio, thus giving the signal for the real beginning of the Cultural Revolution. On 5 August 1966, he wrote a poster of his own, entitled ‘Bombard the Headquarters’, which turned the assault against the Party leadership. (See p. 290 of this volume.)

Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung