CHAPTER 14 "Musings on Immortality"
Short says it took five years to get more or less back to normal after the failure of the Great Leap Forward [GLF]. Short tends to place most, if not all the blame, on Mao personally. This is too simple. Not only was there a collective leadership, but the ideas that motivated Mao were widely shared by all the cadres in the CPC.
Short indicates that everyone who attacked or criticized Mao was purged or punished but gives examples of leaders who still spoke out. He gives the example of Peng Zhen (1902-1997) who at a1962 discussion of the failures of the GLF in the PB's Standing Committee said the top leaders had to take responsibility. "Mao himself, Peng went on, was not immune from mistakes." It was Mao who thought communism would come about in "three to five years" and "it would be 'odious if he did not make a self-criticism'" [even had he been "only one-thousandth part mistaken"-- a precautionary qualification perhaps.]
If Mao was as big a tyrant as Short implies Peng would never have expressed himself in this manner. That Mao complied shows that his power was based on the principle of being the first among equals, a position he attained by correctly guiding the CPC to power in the dark days of the Civil War and war with Japan.
Mao said: "Any mistakes that the Centre has made ought to be my direct responsibility, and I also have an indirect share of the blame because I am the Chairman of the Central Committee. I don't want other people to shirk their responsibility. There are some other comrades who also bear responsibility, but the person primarily responsible should be me."
Short says there was a sense "that a page had been turned" both in the PB and on down to the regional level that "moderate, pragmatic policies" were now going to be possible.
Mao now "retired" from daily control of affairs, leaving Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) "in sole charge of Party and state matters." Some big pragmatic changes were happening. Some of the restrictions of collectivization were being relaxed. Communal mess halls were a thing of the past, and about 20% of the peasants were back to individual farming [the 'household responsibility system.']. Many peasants preferred the HRS and Liu and Deng thought it might help increase agricultural production. "It doesn't matter," Deng said in the summer of 1962, "if the cat is black or white; so long as it catches the mouse, it is a good cat." [an old Sichuanese proverb Short tells us.]
Liu and Deng also sought to ease the international situation by reducing tension with India [over a border dispute], the USSR, and to a lesser extent with the U.S. [over Taiwan]. Mao did not like these new developments, according to Short. He thought the three top leaders were weak on imperialism (and revisionism) and on maintaining an anti-capitalist stance at home.
He was opposed to the HRS, collectivization was the way to socialism, and he did not want China to emulate Yugoslavia "by abandoning," Short reports, "its socialist economy." The problems nationally and internationally were linked. Class struggle continues under socialism and "the capitalist class can be reborn" as we see from the example of the Soviet Union.
"In our country," Short quotes him from a CC meeting in 1962, " we must ... admit the possibility of the restoration of reactionary classes. We must raise our vigilance and properly educate our youth ... Otherwise, a country like ours may yet move towards its opposite."
In 1963 Mao declared that only class struggle could prevent revisionism. Two new campaigns were launched: in the countryside the "Four Cleanups" (against poor production team accounts, granaries, housing, the allocation of work points), in the cities the "Five Antis" ("against embezzlement, graft, speculation, extravagance and red tape").
Without resolute struggles, Mao said, "the day would not be too far off" when the CPC became revisionist and the "whole of China would then change colour. We must nip [the] counter-revolution in the bud." Liu Shaoqi was put in charge. Mao watched. At first he and Liu thought that 5% of the peasants needed to be corrected but soon they concluded that 33% of the production teams in the countryside were under the influence or control of counter-revolutionary forces.
One of the reasons for this, Short says, was that so many local leaders had been purged in previous campaigns that there were few local cadres left whose loyalty was incorruptible. Too many local officials were "flawed." [ I should point out that today when we read about abuses and corruption in China, especially against the peasants and the rural population, resulting in strikes and demonstrations, the perpetrators are almost always corrupt local cadres of the CPC who fail to carry out the directives of the CPC central authorities.]
To solve this problem, Short says, "Liu Shaoqi unleashed, in September 1964, the most sweeping purge of rural Party organisations ever undertaken in China." Thousands died. It looked like the bad old days were back. It seems to me that Mao and Liu were too eager for a "quick fix" instead of doing the long term and hard work necessary to train and educate the rural cadres and bring them up to acceptable Party levels.
At any rate, Mao approved of Liu's method and "he and Liu," at the end of 1964, "seemed closer in their thinking than at almost any time since the younger man had become Mao's heir apparent." At least that's how it looked on the surface. Lin Biao (1907-1971) was waiting in the background.
One of the reasons Mao was standing back and letting Liu, and others, run the show, was his belief that it was necessary to let the upcoming leaders who would eventually replace him have real time leadership opportunities. In the Soviet Union, he thought, the "inheritance of Marx and Lenin had been squandered," according to Short, "all because of Stalin's failure to groom revolutionary successors to carry on his cause."
Very revealing if true. This implies that it is leaders that are the most important factor, despite all the "learn from the people" rhetoric. No, it was Stalin's failure to allow real inner party democracy to develop and his over reliance on force and violence to achieve his ends that was responsible for the squandered inheritance. Mao would ultimately do the same.
By the summer of 1964 Mao was actually beginning to have doubts about Liu. This was due to an indiscreet remark by Deng Xiaoping to a diplomat from Sri Lanka that somehow got back to Mao. With reference to the Five Antis, also known as the Socialist Education Movement, Deng mentioned "that he hoped Mao would not notice what" he and Liu "were doing because if he did he would surely disapprove."
It seems that Liu was actually doing what I accused him (along with Mao) of not doing--i.e., wanting to substitute education for force in the rural purge than taking place. "Liu wanted to use the movement to make the Party in the rural areas a reliable, disciplined instrument to enforce orthodox Marxist-Leninist economic policies. Mao wanted to combat revisionism by unleashing the energies of the masses."
In October of 1964, Khrushchev (1894-1971) was removed from power in the Soviet Union. The reasons given were that he was "ruling by personal whim and imposing 'hare-brained schemes' on the long-suffering Russian people." In November the Chinese made overtures to the Russians to see if the split could be healed but the Russians rejected the offer. The Communist world, Short says, "shattered into two unequal and irreconcilable halves." This may have doomed the Soviet Union.
Mao now saw himself and China as the true center of the world revolution. And, Short points out, Mao thought "Revolutionary zeal was in inverse proportion to affluence." The U.S. and the West were non-revolutionary because they were so well off. Third world people were more revolutionary and progressive because they were so poor. When in the West, Mao said, "living standards fall, their people will become progressive."
Mao also concluded that "if China became prosperous it would cease to be revolutionary." Mao wanted to keep the revolutionary spirit alive. He began to see Liu and Deng Xiaoping as revisionist technocrats intent at building up the economy at the expense of revolutionary élan.
"In order to make China a realm of 'Red virtue'", Short writes, "in which class struggle would transmute human consciousness, generating a revolutionary continuum that would shine out like a beacon to the peoples of the world, Liu, and those like him, together with the orthodoxy they represented, would have to be swept aside."
Mao had made up his mind to start up a great new revolutionary movement against "revisionism" with the help of his wife Jiang Qing. Liu and other top leaders had no inkling they were about to be washed away in a great new Red tide.
Next Up: CHAPTER 15 "Cataclysm"
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.