What the Wall Street Journal has been hinting at for months, in its coverage of the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption campaign, was made clear by the New York Times on Jan. 4th, in an article entitled “Maoists in China, Given New Life, Attack Dissent.”
The opinionated coverage of events in the US press speaks of a new tone rising within the Chinese Communist Party. Pro-US apologists and pundits fear that the days when Deng Xiaoping wore a cowboy hat, hugged Jimmy Carter, and was on CNN pontificating about how “to get rich is glorious” are long over.
They fear that the ideas on which thousands fought and died to establish the People’s Republic of China are not going to be reserved for routine holiday speeches and patriotic children’s parades.
The reports seem to complement what Fidel Castro, an undisputed “hardliner,” wrote in his Aug. 4th “Reflection”: “Xi Jinping is one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders I have met in my life.”
Why are the primary voices of US capitalist opinion in such an uproar? Why do they so greatly fear that the leader of the People’s Republic of China may revive anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist sentiments that once defined Chinese politics?
The implications of such a reality, if it is indeed true, are huge. China is the center of world industrial production. It has a rapidly growing and globally connected economy, with worldwide relationships that are beyond calculation. If China is indeed having a revival of Marxist-Leninist ideology and Mao Zedong Thought, this is no laughing matter for all who take world events seriously. If China is once again going down the revolutionary road, the centers of finance, the Pentagon, and the very global role of the United States are all now facing a bigger threat than ever.
Just as the halls of power echoed with “Who lost China?” in 1949, the recent declarations of the capitalist press indicate that they are undoubtedly now echoing with “Who lost China, again?” and “Why didn’t we see this coming?”
The Evolution of the People’s Republic
A recent exhibit at New York City’s Grolier Club Museum highlights the famous “Little Red Book” of “Quotations from Chairman Mao.” It seems that the world still cannot ignore the often forgotten man who compiled the quotations and wrote its original introduction.
For the first ten years following China and the Soviet Union’s disagreement, the most important figure in setting government policy after Mao himself was a general named Lin Biao. Lin Biao was an important People’s Liberation Army figure who had survived the famous “Long March” alongside Mao Zedong, Zhou En-Lai, and Deng Xiaoping.
When the Soviet Union and China had their “Sino-Soviet Split” in 1961, the People’s Republic of China, a mere 12 years into its existence, found itself cut off from its primary ally and sponsor. As Soviet architects and engineers left China, they took blueprints and plans with them. They left buildings half-built, power plants nonfunctional, and dams unconstructed. China could no longer depend on this vitally important ally and suffered economically.
What was the disagreement over which the two countries had fallen out? Khruschev had called for “Peaceful Co-Existence” with the United States, which had just slaughtered millions in Korea and was escalating its brutality in Vietnam.
The Soviet Union proclaimed that the danger of an atomic war made any talk of anti-imperialism and new socialist revolutions very dangerous. The Soviet Union said the priority was negotiations between the socialist and capitalist countries of the world, in the hopes of arranging some form of nuclear disarmament. China thundered back at the post-Stalin Soviet leaders with arguments that would eventually be summed up in a short statement from Mao Zedong. The Chinese leaders, who had spent 25 years fighting in the mountains before finally coming to power, proclaimed: “The danger of a new world war still exists, and the people of all countries must be prepared, but revolution is the main trend in the world today.”
Lin Biao’s response to the decline of Chinese-Soviet relations was to push for China to become a beacon of world revolution internationally and egalitarianism domestically. Lin Biao pushed for a domestic campaign to purify Chinese society of corruption and anti-communist ideology. In the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” university students formed “Red Guard” clubs and engaged in a revolt against their professors, the party leaders, and all authorities in Chinese society who were perceived as “taking the capitalist road.”
Industrial workers in Shanghai revolted and created a commune state, directly electing factory managers and subjecting all government officials to immediate recall. Huge efforts were made to reform theater, ballet, and literature so that it put forward an explicitly communist and anti-imperialist message.
Lin Biao’s report to the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was entitled “Long Live the Victory of People’s War!” The report applied Mao’s military strategies from the anti-Japanese war on a global scale. It argued that the formerly colonized and oppressed countries of the world should, one by one, rise in revolt, and surround the western economic centers. The report is similar in its message to Che Guevara’s famous “Two, Three, Many Vietnams” speech. It spoke of the Soviet Union as “betrayers of people’s war” because the country’s leaders sought to “co-exist” with the old global order that left so many in poverty and misery.
A Change of Course
Though Lin Biao was written into the Chinese Constitution as Mao’s official successor, and was beloved by the military after he abolished rank and insignia, he soon was pushed aside. In events that remain mysterious, Lin Biao was accused of attempting a coup and fleeing to the Soviet Union. Exactly what happened and how Lin Biao came to be removed from Chinese leadership remains unknown.
After the “fall of Lin Biao,” Chinese foreign policy rapidly began to change. Richard Nixon was given a hero’s welcome when he visited China in 1972. Crowds of Chinese people cheered for Nixon as bombs were dropping on Vietnam, and Cuba suffered a horrendous economic blockade.
As China shifted, Mao presided over a campaign called “Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius,” and the Chinese government aligned with the United States around the world. Deng Xiaoping, previously declared a “capitalist roader,” was welcomed back into the centers of power within the Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese leaders no longer referred to the Soviet Union as “Betrayers of People’s War” who were “too soft” on the imperialists, but rather as “Social Imperialists” themselves. Not only were the Soviets imperialist, according to Mao, but they were “the main danger.” In the name of opposition to the Soviet Union, China embraced the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile, and US-backed insurgents in Angola.
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, Deng Xiaoping assumed power and launched massive market reforms. A group of Mao’s allies labeled the “Gang of Four” were given a large public trial and sent to prison. China also invaded Vietnam in the name of fighting “Soviet Social Imperialism,” and thousands of Vietnamese and Chinese people died in the fighting.
Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping embraced each other as Deng put forward ideological justifications for allowing varying degrees of free market capitalism. Deng claimed, “Poverty is Anti-Communist” and “To Get Rich is Glorious.”
“To Get Rich is Glorious”
The statement for which Deng Xiaoping became so well known — “To Get Rich is Glorious” — pointed to one of the primary problems facing the Chinese Communist Party following the 1949 revolution. China was, and still to a great extent remains, an impoverished country.
Prior to the 1949 revolution, China had been plagued with illiteracy, starvation, extreme malnutrition and a lack of basic housing and clothing for much of its population. The Chinese Communist Party worked to address these problems with measures such as land redistribution and the creation of a healthcare system, with “barefoot doctors” traveling throughout the countryside. The early years of the revolution involved highly successful campaigns against illiteracy, venereal disease, prostitution, and drug addiction. State-owned centers of industrial production were created. Efforts were made to promote selflessness on the part of huge work teams that were mobilized for the construction of infrastructure throughout the country.
However, all of this could only go so far. The Chinese Communist Party became increasingly aware of an inescapable fact: The creation of an egalitarian socialist society, the proclaimed goal of the Chinese Communist Party, could simply not be done on the basis of extreme scarcity. Without either Soviet aid or foreign investment, China was limited to merely redistributing and rearranging a very small amount of wealth and industry.
The attempt to build up China on the basis of egalitarianism and anti-imperialism, which was the prevailing policy from 1961 to 1970, was simply not successful enough. It had many great achievements, but still did not result in the level of development that millions of Chinese people desired. In the view of China’s leaders and analysts, the tactics utilized for bringing China out of poverty had to be altered in order to achieve success.
China’s lone international ally during the Cultural Revolution decried China’s moves in the late 1970s. Enver Hoxha, who presided over the small and isolated People’s Republic of Albania, thundered that China’s leaders had long concealed “great power aspirations.” In a text called “Imperialism and the Revolution,” widely circulated internationally, Hoxha pointed to the many compromises Mao and Chinese leaders had made since 1949.
In addition to Albania, much of the global movement of “Maoist” China sympathizers turned against the People’s Republic in the late 1970s.
The Ghost of Lin Biao
“Deng Xiaoping Theory,” added to official beliefs of the Chinese Communist Party after Marxist-Leninist ideology and Mao Zedong Thought, became the justification for both free market policies domestically and cooperation with the United States around the world. Any talk of such things would have been treated as heresy in 1966, but by the mid-1980s, they were accepted and seemingly noncontroversial in Chinese government and society.
China’s economy has boomed for several decades. Production has risen. China has more industrial laborers in it than any other country on earth. More production takes place in China than in any other country on earth.
This production takes place, however, not in state-run factories run by the government or the Communist Party, but in private facilities owned by domestic or foreign capitalists.
The Communist Party has allowed capitalism to thrive, but kept it very tightly controlled. Most workers are members of a Communist Party-aligned union. Heavy taxes are imposed on foreign investors, and heavy consequences are imposed on those business owners who evoke the party’s wrath.
Unlike other countries which have made “development” a priority, the standard of living for the average person in China has rapidly increased. While globalization in India, Latin America, and elsewhere has meant displacing peasants, setting up sweatshops, and pounding the population into desperation, in China it has had far more mixed results.
Many within the Chinese Communist Party would probably be content for this state of affairs — of capitalism and rampant corruption alongside the undisputed the hegemony of the Communist Party — to continue indefinitely. However, big players in the United States have other ideas.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement signed by the US and its allies in Asia, is particularly hostile to China and its economic interests. The “Asian Pivot” of US escalation of its military presence in South Korea, the Philippines, and other Asian countries is equally disturbing to Chinese leaders.
It is no secret to anyone that the “Occupy Central” demonstrations in Hong Kong were sponsored and promoted by the United States. Though they may have support behind hired agents of western NGOs, they were absolutely promoted and manipulated in order to harm the Chinese Communist Party.
As China increasingly becomes the victim of US intimidation, subversion, and threat, the ghost of Lin Biao is emerging once again.
So many global analysts, who have long assumed the Chinese Communist Party to be “communist in name only” are suddenly shocked by Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. If the campaign were a mere internal power struggle, it would not create the reaction of terror and rage one finds in the pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese society, like all society, is not permanent in its setup. The world is constantly adapting and changing, and countries, classes, and governments change along with it. Nothing is permanent in the universe.
Chinese society — led by a Communist Party with a huge amount of government control over the economy — has an absolutely central role in the world economy. Based on the projections of observers, from both the anti-China and pro-China camp, the country could soon be facing many dramatic changes.
With China’s new, central role in human affairs, these changes will have implications far greater than in any previous epoch.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.