The great proletarian cultural revolution was a movement of students, scholars and young workers against the bureaucratised Communist Party of China. The goal of this movement was to make sure that the revolutionary, militant tendency of the revolution would not be erased. Mao realized that since the Communists came to power in the Peoples Republic of China, the revolutionary anti-Statist Party became precisely like the system before after consolidating its power; an institutionalized and bureaucratised State-party (like the Russian CPSU, the Italian PNF and the German NSDAP before).
The "cultural revolution group" (known as the "Gang of Four" by opponents) took the leadership of the revolutionary movement upon itself. The leading figures of this group were Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Mao's wife Jiang Qing. She also had the leadership over the group, although Mao himself ofcourse had the final say.
The "cultural revolution group" conducted the movement and in 1966 the cultural revolution was launched. The purpose of this revolution was to save the pure revolutionary doctrine from demise. According to Mao all Chineze were equal, there could be no difference between poor and rich. In this context the newly formed "upperclass" (caste of new "red" bureaucrats) was sent to re-education camps to study the theories of Marx, Lenin and Mao, as wel as to exercise selfcriticism. This was of importance so nobody would deviate from the original doctrine, so that they would not become an anti-popular and reactionary system. The revolutionary element had to be maintained and leading at all costs. The re-education camps lasted untill after the official completion of the cultural revolutionion in 1969, so all could be reminded about the basics of equality and (national) solidarity.
The old feodal and capitalist society/culture had to be replaced with a new popular revolutionary culture. The new upperclass was sent to farms or industries to participate in fysical labour. The new bosses who normally lived a comfortable life in the city, now had to work on the land or in the fabric where they got the same ammount of food as the workers and farmers. So they would learn to be solidary with the proletariat. This was necessary if one wanted to understand the original doctrine. The Red Guards were indispensible in this revolution, they broke the old capitalist China down to the ground. They had leadership over the re-education camps, where mostly "rightwing elements"* were re-educated (like many teachers, intellectuals and bosses, etc.) so the revolutionary origin would not be forgotten (according to Mao's credo "Never forget the class struggle"). By the re-education of teachers the educational system was cleansed from Western decadent capitalist influences. On a big scale feodal and capitalist art and literature was destroyed, which was seen as harmful and corrupted.
Why is it so important to learn from this? It's because we stand in the same tradition as the cultural revolution. The cultural revolution is in a sense the second revolution, the socialist revolution, that could only start after the completion of the first national revolution (Nationale Erhebung). If one comes to power the real work starts. The second revolution the Sturm Abteilung pursued, had a lot of similarities with the cultural revolution. Chief of Staff from the SA Ernst Röhm also saw that things were going wrong. Within the NSDAP a new upperclass of bosses and bureaucrats was formed and there was a derogation of the original, purely revolutionary line (the 25-point program).
He was right. The new upperclass, the Von-Staufenberg-gang, even attempted a coup d'êtat by trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Other prominent figures like Göring and Himmler betrayed the Reich and tried to putch Hitler during the last hours of the Reich to save their own ass.
We learn from the revolutionary struggle against the degradation of Party and State. Mao shows us how a bureaucratised Stateparty can be transformed in a rigorous-radical way to a revolutionary avant garde party aimed at the interests of the masses of the people. Maoism is not Marxism, but represents a national-communist tendency, a typical Chinese form of national-socialism. We hail Mao for the same reasons we hail the RAF and Ché Geuvara, because of their revolutionary warrior spirit and their consistent loyalty towards the armed struggle.
* With "rightwing elements" they meant the new "red" bureaucrats in the Party and State, those who wanted to enter the bourgeois, pro-capitalist route.
Mao inspired the cultural revolution by the statements he made which are bundled in the "Red Book". Some of his famous quotes:
Rebellion is justified!
Bomb the headquarter!
Dare to fight - dare to conquer - all power to the people!
Source: ANS/NSA Den Haag