In the People's Republic of China since 1967, the terms "Ultra-Left" and "left communist (共产主义左翼)" refer to political theory and practice self-defined as further "left" than that of the central Maoist leaders at the height of the GPCR ("Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution"). The terms are also used retro-actively to describe some early 20th century Chinese anarchist orientations. As a slur, the CPC (Communist Party of China) has used the term "ultra-left" more broadly to denounce any orientation it considers further "left" than the Party line. According to the latter usage, in 1978 the CPC Central Committee denounced as "ultra-left" the line of Mao Zedong from 1956 until his death in 1976. This article refers only to 1) the self-defined Ultra-Left of the GPCR, and 2) more recent theoretical trends drawing inspiration from the GPCR Ultra-Left, China's anarchist legacy, and international "left communist" traditions.
"Ultra-Left" refers to those GPCR rebel positions that diverged from the central Maoist line by identifying an antagonistic contradiction between the CPC-PRC party-state itself and the masses of workers and "peasants conceived as a single proletarian class divorced from any meaningful control over production or distribution. Whereas the central Maoist line maintained that the masses controlled the means of production through the Party's mediation, the Ultra-Left argued that the objective interests of bureaucrats were structurally determined by the centralist state-form in direct opposition to the objective interests of the masses, regardless of however "red" a given bureaucrat's "thought" might be. Whereas the central Maoist leaders encouraged the masses to criticize reactionary "ideas" and "habits" among the alleged 5% of bad cadres, giving them a chance to "turn over a new leaf" after they had undergone "thought reform," the Ultra-Left argued that "cultural revolution" had to give way to "political revolution" - "in which one class overthrows another class". The masses could achieve democratic control over production and distribution only through "a new political power of the Paris Commune type." This meant that mass delegates subject to immediate recall and a universal salary would take over all the tasks necessary for organizing production and distribution, and all other bureaucratic posts would be abolished, including the military and police, which would give way to an armed citizenry. This revolution would necessarily involve general strikes, mutinies, weapons seizures, and, ultimately, the merging of the Chinese revolution with a global communist revolution.
When the central Maoist leaders launched the GPCR in the spring of 1966, they launched a campaign for students and academics to criticize "bourgeois" or otherwise "counter-revolutionary" ideas within China's "superstructural" apparatus. As the Central Committee's 16 Points on the GPCR put it in August:
Although the 16 Points called on not only students but also "the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals, and revolutionary cadres" to carry out this struggle, and although it encouraged activists to "institute a system of general elections, like that of the Paris Commune, for electing members to the Cultural Revolutionary groups and committees and delegates to the Cultural Revolutionary congresses," this and other proof of the central Maoist leaders made clear that this was to be "wen (文)" struggle rather than a "wu (武)" struggle. The leaders used these terms to emphasize that "martial" (wu) or physical violence should be avoided in favor of "verbal" (wen) struggle (big-character posters, debates, rallies, etc.), but the distinction also corresponds to one that Ultra-Left rebels would later reject: the "revolution" was to be "cultural" rather than "political" or social. The rationale was that China's economic structure or "base" had already completed its transition to socialist productive relations (Mao had announced this good news in 1956), so now the next logical step before full communization was to complete the superstructural transformation.
When, in late 1966, over a million workers in Shanghai extended their activism into a general strike calling for improved salaries and democratic control over workplace management and city governance, Maoist worker representatives such as Wang Hongwen criticized these demands as "economistic" violation of point 14 of the 16 Points: "embrace the revolution while stimulating production (抓革命，促生产)." With some police assistance, these representatives managed to silence the more radical rank-and-file demands and absorb their energy into the nominal "January Revolutionary Storm," which replaced the city government and Party Committee with a "Shanghai Commune" ruled by Wang and Zhang Chunqiao. Some intransigent rebels called for democratic control over the Commune, and even the abolition of all "heads." When Mao heard of this he told Zhang to transform the Commune into a "Revolutionary Committee" in which mass representatives would share power with Army and Party representatives, and he recommended that this model of "power seizure" be propagated throughout China lest people get the wrong idea from Shanghai's invocation of the Paris Commune. Thus marched the People's Liberation Army onto the stage of GPCR mass politics, and thus began what the Ultra-Left would later call the "February Adverse Current."
It was out of this momentary radicalization of GPCR mass politics and its sudden suppression and redirection that the Ultra-Left currents were born, first independently within rebel groups scattered throughout China, then, by late 1967, in increasing dialogue until their suppression during the following years. The earliest record GPCR scholar Wang Shaoguang has found of something like an Ultra-Left position is an open letter from two high school students to Lin Biao, published under the pseudonym "Yilin-Dixi" in November 1966. Whereas Lin had recently sought to curb Red Guard rebellion by interpreting Mao's "Bombard the Headquarters" to mean "bombard a few capitalist roaders" as opposed to "bombard our proletarian headquarters," Yilin-Dixi argued that it was the so-called "proletarian headquarters" itself that had "become obsolete" and needed to be "reformed": "We must create a whole new state machinery to replace the old one" (3).