The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known simply as the Cultural Revolution (Chinese: 文化大革命), was a social movement that took place in the People’s Republic of China from 1966 through to 1976. Set into motion by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, it was designed to further cement socialism in the country by removing capitalist elements from Chinese society. Taken from Wikipedia, this view is quite prevalent in the western world. This dreadful portion of Chinese history could also be interpreted as a power struggle between Mao and his fraction, the infamous Gang of Four, and more moderate leadership headed by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. But a third way of viewing this event is as the inevitable discharge of the growing dissatisfaction with the authorities because of growing exploitation of the working class. This might sound as a paradox to many - exploitation of the working class in Mao’s Communist China? In reality, even though the workers at that time were more or less privileged, at least in comparison to the peasants, there were enormous inequalities inside the working class itself. Not every worker had the benefits of permanent employment, which actually only existed in high-end manufacturing in bigger cities. In mining, textiles and other low-skill sectors, the Party retained an old and very exploitive contract-labour system using non-permanent workers and saving the state money by underpaying. The usual scenario was that the neighboring communes loaned out their work force to each other on a temporary basis and because this type of work force leaves after having done the work without asking for food or living quarters, it was possible to save the state a considerable amount of money. In Party-speak this was called “a higher type of social organization of labour” or what you in plain english would call exploitation. Every society, even as thoroughly authoritarian as China, the masses need some form of democracy from time to time. With no procedural democracy available, one other option is direct democracy. So that’s what happened! The increasing unease and dissatisfaction towards the authorities and especially the cadres, culminated in Cultural Revolution, where the working class vented all the pent up anger against their superiors (aka the cadres), that were labeled as “capitalist elements”.
An important question arises - if the dissatisfaction was directed towards the authorities - how did Mao manage to escape the wrath of the proletariat? Well, Mao was not stupid. He managed to keep out the cultural revolution elements outside the army and the tax base, a.k.a. villages. By doing this, he managed to contain the revolution and use it for his purposes.