The Pathos of Politics (55) China


Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy. ~ Mao Zedong

Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong (1893–1976) was born into a peasant family. He took to political philosophy as a youth: devouring translations of Rousseau, Darwin, Smith, Mill, and others at the public library.

As an assistant librarian at Peking University, Mao first read Marx’s Communist Manifesto in 1918. By 1920, Mao thought himself a Marxist.

In 1921 he attended the 1st Congress of Chinese Communists. By 1935 Mao had control of the party, which he maintained until he died.

Without the poor peasants there can be no revolution. ~ Mao Zedong in 1927

Mao recognized early on that the peasantry were the potential Marxist proletariat in pre-communist feudal China. Chinese history was studded with sporadic peasant revolts, most of which had failed for lack of leadership.

Mao’s revolutionary strategy was guerilla warfare from rural bases against the conservative forces entrenched in the cities. Setbacks were met with dogged persistence that finally succeeded in 1949.

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. ~ Mao Zedong

Unlike the French and Russian revolutions, the bourgeoisie were initially brought into the Chinese communist fold. Mao recognized their managerial skill as critical.

To counter imperialist oppression and to raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and the people’s livelihood; and we must unite with the national bourgeoisie in common struggle. ~ Mao Zedong

Mao did an abrupt about-face in 1966, when he launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which was a chaotic purge of supposed bourgeois elements, both within the party and without.

Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is the history of civilization for thousands of years. ~ Mao Zedong

Within a few years, Chinese society had descended to the precipice of anarchy. In 1971, the army belatedly restored order. A decade later, the Chinese Communist Party declared the Cultural Revolution as “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”

With the Cultural Revolution, Mao had sought to preserve his vision of society from being overwhelmed by industrialization and the consequent bureaucratization that had consumed the Soviet Union. Mao’s ultimate aim was heartily Confucian: to further loyalty to the Party. Mao not only failed, he turned into the most destructive force on Chinese society ever internally generated. Untold tens of millions were killed, and the lives of many millions more ruined – for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Mao’s legacy was respected only with lip service. As soon as he died, Party leadership started moving in a direction he would have never countenanced.

Mao was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping, who introduced market-economy reforms which turned China toward the capitalism system that Mao had so disdained.

It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat. ~ Deng Xiaoping in 1961

Into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist Party has managed to retain power while riding the tiger of a hybrid economic system that blends state and private capitalism. The mercantilist mentality that had taken hold millennia ago now reigns supreme. The Chinese have done well to hide this resolute nationalist bent with humbug and the occasional concession to free trade.

There is a serious tendency toward capitalism among the well-to-do peasants. ~ Mao Zedong

The Party’s biggest problem for decades had been internal corruption. The elevation of Xi Jinping in 2013 as party political leader brought an unprecedented campaign against widespread graft by government bureaucrats at all levels. Xi has gone on to become the 21st-century technocratic Mao in making himself leader for life.

As with other authoritarian regimes, the Chinese government has done its damndest to try to control and suppress information flow among the populace, particularly news which points out governmental mismanagement, of which there is a surfeit. With instant electronic communications and the Internet being a worldwide phenomenon, the government has been fighting a losing war.

The Communist Party is now a conservative force in China, doing its best to maintain the status quo. Whereas Mao exhibited a Confucian streak while ostensibly vilifying Confucianism, the Party now openly embraces the hoary Chinese creed. Since coming to power, Xi has sought to elevate Confucius as the grand progenitor of Chinese culture, with Mao’s rule as a historical blip.