The most significant difference between the Communist Revolution and the Cultural Revolution is that the Cultural Revolution occurred in one country over a specific period of time, and the Communist Revolution is a worldwide phenomenon that has manifested itself in a variety of ways over a much longer time period.

Russia's October Revolution

If any one event can be said to be the defining moment of the beginning of the Communist Revolution it would be Russia’s October Revolution of 1917. The revolution was the consequence of a culmination of uprisings and revolts that lead to a coup d’état headed by Bolshevik party leader Vladimir Lenin. At the time Russia was already in a fragmented state, being run by a provisional government that could not control the peasant uprisings in the countryside and the mutiny taking place in the army. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, another Bolshevik party leader, took advantage of the fragmentation to plot the revolution and seize power during the height of the chaos, marking the beginning of Communist rule in Russia and a period of Communist expansion worldwide.

Fulfilling Marxist Goals

Lenin’s Communist philosophy was shaped by the ideologies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the two men most credited for the development and spread of Marxism – Communism’s forerunner. Although most Russian peasants and members of the military had never read Marx’s work and little of Communism or Bolshevism, their demand for a redistribution of the land during the peasant revolts were fulfilling some of the goals of Marxism, which sought to empower the working class and weaken the authority of capitalists and wealthy landowners. Although it was the peasants that elevated Communists to power in both Russia and China, Marx had originally envisioned the urban working class to be at the heart of the revolutionary movement, not the rural farmer or peasant populations.

China’s Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution in 1966.
Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution in 1966.

Communism didn’t take root in China until 1949, after Mao Zedong’s communist fighters defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s ruling Nationalist party in a long and bloody four-year civil war. It wasn’t until 1966 that Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, an event that pitted Red Guards and hardline Communist revolutionaries against so-called bourgeois elements of Chinese society, including other Communist leaders Mao suspected of subversion. The ultimate goals of Mao’s revolution were to oust his successor Liu Shaoqi, to discipline Communist leaders through mass criticism campaigns, to reduce class inequalities and to give China’s youth a revolutionary experience they wouldn’t forget.

Global Revolution

In the past, both Russian and Chinese leaders have supported efforts to carry out a continuous global Communist revolution, however, those efforts have been mostly thwarted by Western powers seeking to install democratic governments and free-market economic policies throughout the world. In many ways Mao’s Cultural Revolution was representative of the idea of continuous revolution, as it helped to re-instill Communist ideologies and ignite a domestic revolutionary movement that empowered the working class while weakening the wealthy and educated elite, essentially carrying on the ideas of revolution long after the original Chinese Communist revolution was over.