The failure of the “Great Leap Forward” weakened Mao’s grip on power. He therefore launched a campaign to destroy his political rivals and create full loyalty within the party.
Without warning, Mao claimed that groups opposed to Communist ideology had infiltrated the party and needed to be cleaned up.
His calls to eliminate “counter-revolutionaries” and “right-wingers” quickly got out of hand. Crowds of students, now known as the Red Guards, attacked anyone suspected of harboring bourgeois ideals or imperialist habits.
Students across the country turned on their teachers, whom they accused of being capitalists or traitors. Anyone who fell victim to crowds was tortured and mistreated, forced to confess publicly. Others were locked up in makeshift camps.
Some died as a result of torture, others committed suicide. As the situation worsened, different groups of Red Guards began to fight, using weapons from the People’s Liberation Army.
The chaos finally ended with the death of Mao in 1976. The Cultural Revolution is widely recognized as a catastrophe that could have claimed millions of lives, according to some estimates.
In 1981, the Communist Party adopted a resolution saying that the Cultural Revolution “was responsible for the most serious setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the party, the state and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic”.