1 November 2018

The Essential Mao Zedong our Urban Guerillas forget.

Mohan Guruswamy

The outpouring of outrage over the arrest of "Urban Maoists" on patently spurious charges reminds me about what that great darling of the radical chic - Mao Zedong – thought of chattering guerilla. We might be confused, but Mao was clear what he thought of them. He wrote: "A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another." (From Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan).

It was not Mao Zedong who transformed China, but it was Deng Xiaoping. Mao had set back China’s development with costly experiments. It is estimated that the Great Leap Forward alone cost 20-45 million lives and qualifies him to be the greatest mass murderer in history. It was not that like Hitler or Stalin Mao deliberately condemned people to mass slaughter. But it was by harebrained policies that would not have been implemented but for the adulatory and mass worship hysteria he whipped up. The clamor to praise our Modiji by the BJP and RSS spokespersons and top leaders despite of the glaring evidence of the failure of Demonetization is reminiscent of what happened in China during the Great Leap Forward years of 1959-62.

In an effort to win favor with their superiors and avoid being purged, each layer in the party hierarchy exaggerated the amount of grain produced under them. Based upon the fabricated success, party cadres were ordered to requisition a disproportionately high amount of that fictitious harvest for state use, primarily for use in the cities and urban areas but also for export. The result compounded in some areas by drought and in others by floods, was that rural peasants were left with little food for themselves and many millions starved to death in the largest famine known as the Great Chinese Famine.

But history has been relatively kind to Mao Zedong. Possibly because he became America’s ally in a crucial period of the Cold War and almost definitely because his successor Deng Xiaoping preferred to let him be even as he reversed Mao’s disastrous economic policies. Even after he ruthlessly dispensed with Huaa Goofing, Mao’s chosen successor, and the notorious Gang of Four headed by Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing, Deng did not openly denounce Mao. It could be pragmatism for even after death Mao commanded millions of loyalties, but also because Deng preferred to focus on economic policies without changing the nature of the Chinese state.

Mao Zedong had become an Emperor who could even threaten to make war on the Communist Party, as he did in 1962 when the party leadership criticized the disastrous consequences of the so-called Great Leap Forward. In 1959 when the legendary Marshal Peng Dehuai and at that time China’s Defence Minister criticized it in a private letter to Mao, he was ruthlessly purged, and imprisoned till he died in 1974. The former Chairman Liu Shaoqi fared worse. Even as the head of the state he was dragged out of his residence in Zhongnanhai by a mob of Red Guards, beaten and stripped as the PLA garrison troops watched. Liu too died in prison. Like Marshal Peng, he too asked questions about the efficacy of the Great Leap Forward and the extravagant claims of food production being made when millions were dying of starvation. Deng himself similarly suffered and imprisoned only to be released after Lin Biao’s abortive and fatal flight. Mao’s terror was no less arbitrary and capricious than Stalin’s.

Mao was an avid student of Chinese history and would often say: “we have to learn from the past to serve the present.” That morality had no place in Mao’s politics was evident in that the Emperors he admired most were the most ruthless and cruel of the long line of tyrants who ruled China. The ruler who Mao admired most was the Emperor Qin Shihuangdi (221-206 BC) who founded the imperial China that lasted nearly two thousand years. He too vastly expanded China by absorbing smaller nations. He constructed roads, introduced weights and measures, and built the Great Wall that still stands. He also killed and persecuted thousands if not millions. The Chinese people also considered him a cruel tyrant because he killed Confucian scholars and burned classical books. But Mao considered all these minor aberrations and argued that the good outweighed the bad.

This was exactly Mao’s attitude when the CCP told him that at least ten million had died between 1959-61 in the famines that resulted after Peoples Communes were forcibly formed. Just in the manner Bal Thackeray would argue that Hitler had made Germany strong and powerful, built the autobahns and gave the German people Volkswagen cars at affordable prices, and what if he killed a few million Jews and waged war on all of Germany’s neighbors?

But we get an extraordinary glimpse of the kind of person Mao was from “The Private Life of Chairman Mao” by his long time personal physician; Dr.Zhisui Li was in Mao’s inner circle till he died in 1976. Li has written a unique historical and political biography. It is an astonishing story of human weakness and pettiness, as well of great political intrigue in the Chairman’s court. He tells all about Mao’s voracious sexual appetite and Daoist beliefs in the mystical healing power of sex, his life of indolent luxury and the deep paranoia that afflicted him and periodically manifested with devastating consequences, not only to those around him but to the Chinese nation as well. He tells about Mao’s abominable personal habits – like he never brushed his teeth and only rinsed it with tea and that he seldom bathed.

Li also tells of the imperial grandeur and lavish lifestyle of the rulers living in the secure Zhongnanhai compound in Beijing, when the Chinese people were starving and living in the most abject poverty. He tells about how Zhang Yufeng, the last of Mao’s many mistresses acquired so much power that even Premier Zhou Enlai who died in 1976 had to wait outside her room when wanted to see Mao. This book is great relevance to us at a time when a major part of the country is now stricken by Naxalite violence and where the state is under attack by those apparently inspired by Chairman Mao.

There is a relationship between absolute power and the behavior of leaders seeking a part of it. The more centralized a system is, the greater the dictatorial tendencies allowing even small people wield great power. We get to see this even in India. The great lesson of Public Administration is that it is the nature of the regime that determines the outcome. It is possibly because of this that China’s level of income inequality is about the same as India’s, in that the top ten percent account for more than 45% of the national income. Quite clearly it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, if it is fat and lazy it will not catch the mice.

I am not opposed to force when the state’s oppression is unbearable and it remains uncaring. There is little that can be said in justification of a system that persists in keeping at least 300 million people in perpetual starvation, deprivation and ignorance for it is a system that oppresses the very people who sustain it. No nation can wait endlessly while the rulers are making hay when the sons and son-in-laws shine. It must be made to listen to the clamor of the people and meet their minimal expectations. To coerce it to good behavior is an inalienable right. But to do this in the name of Chairman Mao is to demonstrate ignorance of history and barrenness of ideology, and only beget more of the same.

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