Nepali Times Asian Paints
Review
‘The poorer the people, the more revolutionary they are’


H FORSTER-LATSCH


Mao Zedong held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world's population was also responsible the deaths of well over 70 million deaths. This is more than any other twentieth-century leader.' That is how Jung Chang, author of the best-seller Wild Swans and her husband Jon Halliday, expert of the Kremlin-archives, start their biography of the Great Chairman and Helmsman.

Even after his death in 1976 when all truth about the disastrous Cultural Revolution had become evident, he was still seen as a great revolutionary who with his peasant army defeated the Japanese and chased out the nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek.

Even today, there are movements across the world which claim to be the real heirs and successors of Mao Zedong. There are self-styled Maoists in India and in a vanguard movement in Nepal. Since 1996 Nepali Maoists have been waging a fierce Mao-style 'people's war' to overthrow the monarchy, establish a people?s republic and finish Mao Zedong's 'incomplete' revolution in his homeland where the Chinese communists have in the view of their Nepali comrades have betrayed the Great Helmsman.

This biography unveils the existing myths about Mao and the Chinese revolution. Right from the beginning, the authors say, Mao was not only a cruel and pitiless 'party emperor' but they argue the Chinese revolution never actually took place.

For Henry Kissinger, till as recently as 1997, Mao was a 'philosopher' pursuing a 'quest for egalitarian virtue'. This is a rather macabre and cynical way of describing the man, whose policy- supported by the majority of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership of that time-of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) to a 'brilliant communist future' resulted in the most devastating man-made famine in human history leaving over 30 million people dead.
Mao also played a vital part in installing the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1975 and once told his soulmate Pol Pot: "You have scored a splendid victory. Just a single blow and no more classes."

Born in 1893 into a well-off peasant family Mao stopped at nothing. His main intention was to destroy with force and violence the old system and to create a new huge Chinese Empire, outdoing all the power and the glory of former dynasties.

Before converting to Marxism he said in 1917-1918 that he did not "agree with the view that to be moral, the motive of one's action has to be benefiting others". And how to change China? "The country must be destroyed and then reformed.this applies to the country, to the nation and to mankind..."

Both views fitted very well into his later Marxist-Leninist views of class struggle ('no mercy for class enemies'), protracted revolution even under the proletarian dictatorship and permanent 'ideological remoulding'. Chang and Halliday show very convincingly that Mao used this pitilessness as his 'most formidable weapon' towards peasants and intellectuals, in his civil war against Chiang Kai-shek (as a dictator quite a novice compared to Mao) in his power struggles and in his relationships with other CCP-leaders. Unforgiving and vindictive, Mao had two concerns: himself and his power.
The authors subtitle their biography 'Unknown Story'. This isn't quite true, quite a lot of the facts are already known. But there hasn't yet been such a consistent, well-researched biography which presents a lot of new details and information. The authors spent more than 10 years on the book, poring through Russian archives (the CCP's archives are still top secret) and conducted innumerable interviews with witnesses of the times.

Some of their main theses: the CCP was a product of Soviet communism, through his intimate and intricate links with Stalin, Mao worked his way up to the top of the CCP, denouncing, scheming, blackmailing, looting and poisoning, the legendary Long March in 1934-35 was mainly the result of a power deal between Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek, whose son was held as a de facto hostage in Moscow (to get him free, Chiang gave his consent to the Red Army moving its military bases closer to Soviet Russia).

Mao welcomed the Japanese invasion of China as a chance to seize the power. It was not Mao who wanted a united front against Japan, it was Chiang. To undermine him, Mao even collaborated with the Japanese intelligentsia. Mao did not seize power by revolution, there was no uprising anywhere in favour of the communists. His victory was mainly due to the help of foreign powers, especially Soviet Russia which occupied northeast China with its key industrial bases after 1945 and handed over Japanese arms to the Chinese communists and POW's to fill up the ranks of the Red Army. The Americans underestimated the Communists and provided them with a decisive break by ordering Chiang not to send his troops into action for four months.

Once in control Mao was seized with the ambition of turning China into a superpower. After Korea and Vietnam, Mao was obsessed by the idea that after a nuclear war with the USA only China would survive simply because of its huge population. So he got the Soviets to give him nuclear weapons. Even after Stalin had been replaced by Khruschev, he still held onto Stalinism by promoting armed struggle as the only way to revolution in the Third World and used a lot of money to try to undermine the influence of Soviet 'revisionism'. The money came from the Chinese peasantry through military socialist state slavery, the peoples communes and labour camps.

Mao had a pet theory about poverty: 'People say that poverty is bad, but in fact poverty is good. The poorer the people are, the more revolutionary they are. It is dreadful to imagine a time when everyone will be rich...' Mao's last wife Jiang Qing ("I was Chairman Mao's dog. Whoever Chairman Mao asked me to bite, I bit.") always warned her staff: "To serve me is to serve the people."

The authors rightly claim that Mao's rule was mainly built on terror with the Chinese characteristics of the endless campaigns during the 1950s and 1970s to denounce and destroy all kinds of 'class enemies'. The biggest of these campaigns was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 with the sole aim to purge the party of high-ranking 'capitalist-roaders' like Liu Shaoqi (No 2) and Marshall Peng Dehuai, who had shown human sympathy towards the victims of Mao's policy, especially the impoverished peasants.

This book paints the frightening picture of an emperor, who in his last years, being ill and half blind and in premonition that after his death his achievements would be abolished, showed the only human emotion he was capable of: self pity. One month after his death, on 9 September 1976, the Gang of Four around his wife Jiang Qing was deprived of power and Deng Xiaoping cancelled the people's communes and the collectivisation and began the process of opening China's doors to the outside world.

What is left until today of Mao's totalitarian rule for Chinese society is a deficit of ethics and morals. In the epilogue the authors write: 'Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current communist regime declares itself to be Mao's heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao.' China is no longer a Maoist-style totalitarian state, it resemble a dot.com.capitalist-leninist state, which is no longer interested in world revolution and Maoist movements elsewhere but in money. Lots of it.

China still hasn't made a radical review of the Mao period and the history of the CCP. The Chinese authorities have banned this biography. Maybe Chang and Halliday focus too much on Mao as a lonesome monster, perhaps they really do neglect a deeper social and political context. But this biography was mainly written to deconstruct once and for all the myth of Mao the Great Helmsman- one of the most totalitarian rulers of the 20th century. With this masterly and thrilling book the discussion about Mao Zedong, the history of communism in China in the 20th century and of Maoism enters a new era.

The authors subtitle their biography 'Unknown Story'. This isn't quite true, quite a lot of the facts are already known. But there hasn't yet been such a consistent, well-researched biography that presents a lot of new details and information. The authors spent more than 10 years on the book, poring through Russian archives (the CCP's archives are still top secret) and did innumerable interviews with witnesses of the times.

Some of their main theses: the CCP was a product of Soviet communism- through his intimate and intricate links with Stalin, Mao worked his way up to the top of the CCP, denouncing, scheming, blackmailing, looting and poisoning.

Mao welcomed the Japanese invasion of China as a chance to seize power. It was not Mao who wanted a united front against Japan, it was Chiang. To undermine him, Mao even collaborated with the Japanese intelligentsia. Mao did not seize power by revolution, there was no uprising anywhere in favour of the communists. His victory was mainly due to the help of foreign powers, especially Soviet Russia, which occupied northeast China with its key industrial bases after 1945 and handed over Japanese arms to the Chinese communists and POWs to fill up the ranks of the Red Army.

Once in control Mao was seized with the ambition of turning China into a superpower. He was obsessed by the idea that after a nuclear war with the USA only China would survive simply because of its huge population.
So he got the Soviets to give him nuclear weapons. Even after Stalin had been replaced by Khruschev, Mao still held onto Stalinism by promoting armed struggle as the only way to revolution in the Third World and used a lot of money to try to undermine the influence of Soviet 'revisionism'.

Mao had a pet theory about poverty: 'People say that poverty is bad, but in fact poverty is good. The poorer the people are, the more revolutionary they are. It is dreadful to imagine a time when everyone will be rich...' Mao's last wife Jiang Qing ("I was Chairman Mao's dog. Whoever Chairman Mao asked me to bite, I bit.") always warned her staff: "To serve me is to serve the people."

This book paints the frightening picture of an emperor, who in his last years, being ill and half blind and with a premonition that after his death his achievements would be abolished, showed the only human emotion he was capable of: self pity. One month after his death, on 9 Sept. 1976, the Gang of Four around his wife Jiang Qing was deprived of power and Deng Xiaoping cancelled the people's communes and collectivisation and began the process of opening China's doors to the outside world.

What is left today of Mao's totalitarian rule is a deficit of ethics and morals in Chinese society. In the epilogue, the authors write: 'Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current communist regime declares itself to be Mao's heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao.'

China still hasn't made a radical review of the Mao period and the history of the CCP. The Chinese authorities have banned this biography. Maybe Chang and Halliday focus too much on Mao as a lonesome monster, perhaps they really do neglect a deeper social and political context. But this biography was mainly written to deconstruct once and for all the myth of Mao the Great Helmsman- one of the most totalitarian rulers of the 20th century. With this masterly and thrilling book the discussion about Mao Zedong, the history of communism in China in the 20th century and of Maoism enters a new era.

Helmut Forster-Latsch is a German sinologist, translator and author who spent 1977-81 in Beijing where he studied Maoism and became disillusioned with it.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


ADVERTISEMENT









himalkhabar.com            

NEPALI TIMES IS A PUBLICATION OF HIMALMEDIA PRIVATE LIMITED | ABOUT US | ADVERTISE | SUBSCRIPTION | TERMS OF USE | CONTACT