During the campaigns of the Chinese Communist Party prior to the Cultural Revolution, Sidney Rittenberg recommended innocent people be forced into labor camps, unquestionably supporting the Party. During the Cultural Revolution, Rittenberg happily yelled at innocent people and spread propaganda supporting the dictatorship of Mao.
Reading his memoir The Man Who Stayed Behind, it is interesting to see why he supported the violent, conformist, closed-minded movement that was the Cultural Revolution: Because that’s what “democracy” and “freedom” is, according to his understanding of Communism at the time.
In Rittenberg’s view, as described in his memoir, the Cultural Revolution was the masses rebelling against the party. The Red Guards attacked party leaders, shackled them, put them into criticism sessions, and such. Of course, it was all being directed by Mao. Rittenberg supported the dictatorship of one, rather than the dictatorship of the Party:
It was Mao’s guidelines for the Cultural Revolution… This, I thought, was a program for the end of party dictatorship. (315)
Later on page 315, Rittenberg described how, “The party told us what to think,” and what would happen when the party is no longer telling us what to think and chaos ensues? Just follow Mao’s line, which he handily described in his guidelines.
All at once, there was no one to trust, no one to tell us what to do, how to think, whom to like, what to believe. We all had to think for ourselves, to decide was this good, was this right, was this revolutionary. Did it follow Mao’s teachings? (316)
In the space of two sentences, Rittenberg said “We had to think for ourselves,” then that they had to follow Mao’s teachings. Clearly, then, there was someone–just one person–to tell them what to do.
Rittenberg lauded the Cultural Revolution as a means for bringing about a democratic system involving the masses, but on page 317, he describes the story of a girl who was elected leader of her school’s Cultural Revolution Committee and overthrown by Mao’s wife.
But when Jiang Qing [Mao’s wife] declared the rebel radical minority the true revolutionaries, Morning Dove’s Cultural Revolution Committee collapsed.
The Man Who Stayed Behind documents the perplexing logical gymnastics and cognitive dissonance required of the Communists throughout history of China, worst of all during the Cultural Revolution. For page after page, Rittenberg describes how the Cultural Revolution will bring about democracy and civil rights while he is watching innocent people shackled, yelled at, and attacked by mobs. The Cultural Revolution would bring about freedom of expression, all while people who were not capitalists were accused of being capitalist class enemies and not given any right to respond. It would be a non-violent revolution, but the Red Guards would murder and torture people they thought disagreed with Mao. Forget even being theoretically allowed to disagree in such a movement that was about freedom and democracy.
It should serve as a warning, too, to anyone who wants to advance “non-violent” revolution through violent means, and to anyone who draws lines among ideological comrades between the so-called “establishment” and “base.”