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Workers Vanguard No. 888

16 March 2007

Mao: The Unknown Story

Reformist Left Buys into Anti-Communist Big Lie

Ten years ago, The Black Book of Communism was published as part of a bourgeois propaganda barrage proclaiming the “death of communism” in the aftermath of the destruction of the Soviet Union. Written mainly by French ex-leftists, the Black Book was a focus internationally for a renewed campaign of hysterical slanders against Communism and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. We denounced this tract at the time as “846 pages of lies and amalgams aimed at justifying repression against organizations and individuals who might still look to communism, and at contributing to counterrevolutionary efforts to destroy the Cuban, Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean deformed workers states” (“Black Book: Anti-Communist Big Lie,” WV No. 692, 5 June 1998).

Now comes a paperback edition of a stepchild of the Black Book titled Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, also former leftists. Chang, author of the best seller Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (a useful book to read), was part of a privileged family of Communist Party (CCP) bureaucrats and served as a Red Guard during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Halliday is a former member of the New Left Review editorial board who once admired “Mao Zedong Thought” and edited an English translation of Albanian Stalinist Enver Hoxha’s works.

Chang and Halliday do their Black Book forebears one better. Where the Black Book conjured up the fantastical figure of “close to 100 million deaths” supposedly caused by Communism, which it lyingly equated with fascist barbarism, Mao: The Unknown Story opens with the statement that Mao was himself “responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.” U.S. imperialist chief George W. Bush has spoken glowingly of the book, which he seems to have actually read.

This crude, 814-page anti-Communist screed is no doubt intended as a contribution to the drive to overthrow the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state. Since translated into Chinese, it has been promoted internationally, including in Taiwan, refuge of the bloodsoaked bourgeoisie that was driven off the mainland by the 1949 Revolution. With all the “accuracy” of supermarket tabloid trash, the book regurgitates hysterical lies long promulgated by the revolution’s losers—Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang—and then some.

What Chang and Halliday present as “basic facts” ranges from the absurd to the outrageous. Millions of peasants who fought desperately against the Japanese imperialist occupiers and Chinese landlords for their liberation are presented as mere violent thugs egged on by power-mad Communists, while “the warlords had always made sure that the social structure was preserved, and life went on as usual for civilians.” They claim that Mao wanted an “Earth Control Committee” (shades of James Bond) and present Generalissimo Chiang—butcher of Communists, workers and peasants—as, if anything, too kindhearted. The book whitewashes the horrendous massacres carried out by Chiang’s forces after the workers in Shanghai insurrected in April 1927; among the tens of thousands killed in 1927 alone were some 25,000 CCP members.

The defeat of Chiang’s corrupt and feeble Nationalist army by Mao’s peasant-guerrilla forces in the civil war following World War II is chalked up to such fantasies as Chiang’s supposed loving nature and the Reds using the Japanese occupiers for their benefit—the same occupation forces that carried out such horrors as the 1937 Nanjing massacre. During World War II, when China’s struggle against the occupation became subordinated to U.S. imperialism, Chiang’s American overlords bitterly complained that he had no appetite to fight the Japanese. Mao’s forces were independent from the imperialists and deserved the military support of proletarian revolutionaries.

A wide range of serious scholars and China specialists has criticized the Chang/Halliday book as bad history and worse methodology. Even a rather favorable review by Columbia University academic Andrew Nathan in the London Review of Books (17 November 2005) states that “many of their discoveries come from sources that cannot be checked, others are openly speculative or are based on circumstantial evidence, and some are untrue.” In one of a series of critical articles in the China Journal (January 2006), leftist historian Gregor Benton and Steve Tsang conclude that the authors “misread sources, use them selectively, use them out of context, or otherwise trim or bend them to cast Mao in an unrelentingly bad light.”

For many of its academic critics, the problem with the book is that it does not serve its counterrevolutionary purpose. Thus Tsang wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (8 October 2005): “Mao was a monster,” but the book’s “distortion of history to make their case will in the end make it more difficult to reveal how horrible Mao and the Chinese Communist Party system were, and how much damage they really did to the Chinese people.”

Revoltingly, ostensible leftists have trumpeted the book with far fewer reservations. An article by Phil Hearse in International Viewpoint online (July-August 2005), publication of the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat (USec), states: “If even 20% of the facts about the modus operandi of the CCP and Mao presented in this book are true (and that’s an absolute minimum) it is going to force many leftists—even those who were always critical of Mao and Maoism—to re-evaluate their views.”

Charlie Hore writes in International Socialism (April 2006), published by the Cliffite Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain, that “this is for the most part a serious and densely-researched book” whose main fault seems to be that it doesn’t recognize that “the Chinese Revolution was in no way a socialist revolution.” Hore’s comrade Chris Harman opines in Socialist Worker online (18 June 2005) that the book’s “weakest point” is its claim that Mao was responsible for more mass death “than either Hitler or Stalin.” Not that Harman disputes the authors’ grotesque equation of Soviet Russia and Red China with the Nazi regime. The problem, according to Harman, is that “all rulers in this barbaric capitalist world are prepared to see people die if it is necessary to achieve their goals of accumulating wealth or armaments.”

Regurgitating anti-Communist lies is nothing new for the USec and Cliffites, who openly championed the forces of capitalist counterrevolution in East Europe and the former Soviet Union. Today they join in the imperialist-sponsored drive for “democratic” counterrevolution in China, the largest and most powerful of the remaining countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown.

“Leftist” Cheerleaders for Counterrevolution

You don’t have to be a Maoist to revile the “history” presented by Chang and Halliday. We Trotskyists of the International Communist League unconditionally defend the Chinese deformed workers state against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, just as we fought to the last in defense of the East European and Soviet deformed and degenerated workers states. The ICL defends as well the other remaining deformed workers states: North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. The 1949 Chinese Revolution ended the rule of the rapacious capitalists and landlords and liberated the most populous nation on earth from imperialist subjugation. Although deformed from its inception by the rule of the parasitic CCP bureaucracy, the workers state accomplished tremendous gains for the workers, peasants and, particularly, women.

At the same time, we fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy, which from Mao’s time on has undermined the gains of the revolution. The repression of capitalist/landlord forces was necessary to carry out and consolidate social revolution. However, the CCP regime also repressed the proletariat, excluding the workers from political power and imprisoning or executing Trotskyists. Our program—for a regime of workers, soldiers and peasants councils committed to defending and extending the gains of 1949 through the struggle for international proletarian revolution—is crucial to defeating the threat of counterrevolution in China. Only through the extension of proletarian revolution to the advanced capitalist countries will the basis be laid for the development of socialist society in China and internationally.

Our revolutionary internationalist perspective, born of the proletarian October Revolution of 1917 led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party, is counterposed to the reactionary Stalinist-Maoist dogma of “socialism in one country” and its corollary, “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. This nationalist schema expressed the material interests of the bureaucratic caste led by J.V. Stalin that usurped political power in the Soviet Union in 1923-24. During the second Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, the degenerating Communist International under Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin ordered the CCP, which had already liquidated into the Guomindang, to utterly prostrate itself before Chiang’s forces, paving the way to the counterrevolutionary bloodbath (see “The Origins of Chinese Trotskyism,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 53, Summer 1997).

Our political opposition to the Chinese Stalinist regime has nothing in common with those who call for fighting Stalinism through the agency of imperialist “democracy,” which pretty much defines the tendency founded by Tony Cliff and led by the British SWP. Cliff cravenly broke from the Trotskyist Fourth International at the onset of the Korean War when he refused to defend the Chinese and North Korean deformed workers states against U.S. and British imperialism. More than three million Koreans were slaughtered by the imperialist forces, who fought under the auspices of the United Nations. Under the pressure of the Cold War, Cliff developed the “theory” that the USSR was a “state capitalist” society, an accommodation to bourgeois anti-Sovietism.

Chang/Halliday decry the Korean War as the product of “the global ambitions of the two Communist tyrants, Stalin and Mao.” They go on to denounce the military buildup of Mao’s China as part of a “secret superpower programme” and grotesquely assert that “Mao’s Bomb caused 100 times as many deaths as both of the Bombs the Americans dropped on Japan.” Whereas the USec’s Hearse finds the dire picture of economic hardships painted by Chang and Halliday “utterly convincing,” the SWP’s Harman chimes in that China’s “capitalist” rulers aimed to “build up modern industries and produce modern armaments, just like their equivalents everywhere else in the world.” Harman continues by pointing to Mao’s successors, who opened China to foreign investment as part of a program of “market reforms”: “The goal of catching up with the West and increasing China’s military power did not die with Mao. But now it was to be done through participation in the world markets.”

These Stalinophobes write not one word about the repeated threats by the U.S. rulers to use their immense nuclear arsenal against China! The U.S. and other imperialist powers pursue both military and economic means in pursuit of capitalist counterrevolution in China. We say it’s a damn good thing that China has been able to defend itself militarily against these forces, starting with the Korean War. Just as the development of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal served to deter the war-crazed imperialists, China’s successful test of a nuclear weapon in 1964 provided Beijing with a deterrent against imperialist attack and bought time for the cause of international proletarian revolution.

In a review of the Chang/Halliday book titled “Mao—The Story Is Known,” Peter Taaffe, leader of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), noted that U.S. president Kennedy “contemplated a pre-emptive nuclear strike” on China’s nuclear weapons sites (The Socialist, 14 July 2005). The article nevertheless lashes out at “Mao’s attempt to establish superpower status through the acquisition of nuclear weapons” for supposedly compounding the disaster wrought by the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s. The article goes on to declare that Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, “initiated the first steps which have resulted in the re-emergence of Chinese capitalism, the dominant trend in China today.”

We have repeatedly refuted the anti-Marxist view that capitalism has returned, or is inevitably returning, to China (see, for example, “China’s ‘Market Reforms’: A Trotskyist Analysis,” WV Nos. 874 and 875, 4 August and 1 September 2006). But whatever the CWI’s theoretical gloss, its position in the fight against capitalist counterrevolution is on the other side of the barricades. Along with the Cliffites and the USec, the Taaffeites, when they were part of the tendency led by the late Ted Grant, avidly supported Vatican-backed, CIA-funded Solidarność. And when Boris Yeltsin staged his August 1991 countercoup with the support of George Bush Sr.’s White House, an event that began the final undoing of the Soviet workers state, the CWI’s Russian affiliate crowed in Rabochaya Demokratiya (October 1991) about sabotaging workers’ efforts to mobilize against Yeltsin’s “democrats.”

The CWI would like nothing better than to help the emergence of a similar “democratic” force for counterrevolution in China. In this they are at one with the USec, which has helped foster such movements through, to give one example, support to pro-capitalist Chinese “dissidents.” The USec’s deceased leader Ernest Mandel sang a different tune in the early 1950s, when he alibied Mao’s persecution of the Chinese Trotskyists. He was then serving as a lieutenant to Michel Pablo at the head of a revisionist current that destroyed the Fourth International from within, ordering the Trotskyist organizations to bury their program on the grounds that the mass Stalinist Communist parties were, in Pablo’s words, capable “in certain circumstances of roughly outlining a revolutionary orientation.” Mandel would three decades later chase a different political fad, leading the USec into embracing “anti-Stalinist” capitalist restorationists. The one consistency in Mandel and the USec’s policies was their abandonment of the Trotskyist program.

The Maoists United Will Never Be Repeated

The Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) have had angry things to say about the Chang/Halliday book, many of them correct. The RCP even conducted a speaking tour to refute its lies. But the RCP condemns the book’s demonizing of Mao only to refurbish the credentials of his nationalist, anti-proletarian regime and to falsely label China today as capitalist.

The RCP points out in Revolution (6 November 2005):

“You would not learn from this book that pre-revolutionary China was a society where arranged marriages and footbinding were widespread social practices. Or that four million people died each year of infectious and parasitic diseases. Or that in a city like Shanghai, young women workers were locked in textile factories at night, and one out of five persons was an opium addict. You wouldn’t know that the revolution in power rapidly transformed these social conditions.”

That’s all true. But you would not know from this article that Mao’s Stalinist regime struck a criminal alliance with the U.S. imperialists against the Soviet Union. Here was one of the genuine crimes committed by Mao, sealed by his 1972 meeting with U.S. war criminal Richard Nixon in Beijing while American warplanes rained death and destruction on Vietnam. The RCP was only too happy to salute the Great Helmsman and to rail against “Soviet social-imperialism” as “the main enemy.” China’s toadying to the U.S. led to the rupturing of the Maoist movement, with the RCP undergoing a deep split in January 1978.

Before and after Mao’s death in 1976, Beijing provided material support for CIA-backed forces in Angola against their Soviet-backed rivals. In February 1979, China invaded Vietnam on behalf of the U.S., which a few years before had suffered a stinging military defeat at the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front. The Spartacist League staged protests against the attack, demanding: “China: Don’t Be a Cat’s Paw of U.S. Imperialism!” In the 1980s, Beijing supported the CIA-funded Afghan mujahedin cutthroats against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. We said: Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend the gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!

Mao and his successors made a major contribution to the destruction of the Soviet Union—a world-historic defeat for the world proletariat that has made the remaining workers states only more vulnerable to the forces of counterrevolution. This amply sums up the anti-revolutionary content of “socialism in one country,” which has always meant opposition to the perspective of workers revolution internationally. As we pointed out in “The Origins of Chinese Trotskyism”: “The Maoist ideology of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state reflected the provincial, anti-internationalist consciousness characteristic of the mass of the peasantry, which was perfectly consonant with the conservative outlook of the Stalin bureaucracy in the Kremlin. The only difference was that the Chinese Stalinists defended ‘socialism’ in a different ‘one country’.”

Mao’s alliance with U.S. imperialism emerged in the midst of the grossly misnamed “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Mao: The Unknown Story spills much ink in depicting this period as one continual horror. But back in the day, a broad section of radical youth embraced this campaign as revolutionary. We took no side in the Cultural Revolution and denounced it for what it was: essentially an intra-bureaucratic power play by Mao designed to regain his authority after the ruinous Great Leap Forward—an insane adventure in economic autarky that ended in total collapse and widespread starvation. We also warned at the time that “the danger of an imperialist alliance with China against the Russians cannot be dismissed” (“Chinese Menshevism,” Spartacist No. 15-16, April-May 1970).

The RCP answers Chang/Halliday by upholding the Cultural Revolution as a “revolution within the revolution”: “It was a broad movement and upheaval aimed at preventing a new privileged class from taking power and turning China into what it has become since Mao died in 1976: a sweatshop paradise riddled with corruption and inequality. China is no longer socialist.” The reality is that the Cultural Revolution wreaked havoc on the Chinese mainland for the better part of a decade. Its anti-proletarian nature was made clear when Mao’s forces smashed a railway workers strike in Shanghai in 1967. Capturing the perverse nature of the “revolutionary” rhetoric of the time, a CCP leader named Lu Dingyi, who would soon be purged as head of the Propaganda Department, quipped, “So you say that it was Mao Zedong Thought that taught you to win at table tennis! How are you going to explain losing?” (Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution [2006]).

With their time-warp double-talk, the RCP obscures the fact that Mao’s anti-Soviet alliance with U.S. imperialism provided the groundwork for the market-oriented reforms carried out by his successors. These measures, which the RCP falsely portrays as a restoration of capitalism, were an attempt to address within the framework of Stalinist bonapartism the inefficiencies of the bureaucratic commandism that defined the management of the planned economy under Mao.

Exposing the reactionary ravings of Chang/Halliday is not difficult. But in the RCP’s hands, this becomes a means to trumpet the Mao regime as a supposedly egalitarian alternative to today’s China. “Market reforms” have sharpened contradictions in China. On the one hand, the country is marked by increasing social inequality, economic penetration by offshore Chinese and imperialist interests and the emergence of a class of bourgeois bloodsuckers on the mainland. On the other hand, with the huge expansion of China’s industrial capacity, half of the population is now employed in manufacturing, construction, transport and the service sector, and 40 percent is urbanized—a historically progressive development from a Marxist standpoint.

The Mao years were simply a different variant of bureaucratic rule, predicated on the notion of building socialism—a society of material abundance—in backward China while the world is dominated by capitalist imperialism. This reactionary-utopian perspective has always been accompanied by a profoundly class-collaborationist program for the imperialist countries. This is exemplified by the RCP, which lauded Al Gore in the pages of Revolution (29 January 2006) and, through its “World Can’t Wait” project, campaigned last fall for the Bush regime to “step down,” thus doing their bit to boost the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism.

We say that defense of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba requires class struggle at home, in the belly of the imperialist beast! As we wrote in “China’s ‘Market Reforms’: A Trotskyist Analysis”:

“A proletarian political revolution in China raising the banner of socialist internationalism would truly shake the world. It would shatter the ‘death of communism’ ideological climate propagated by the imperialist ruling classes since the destruction of the Soviet Union…. Only through the overthrow of capitalist class rule internationally, particularly in the imperialist centers of North America, West Europe and Japan, can the all-round modernization of China be achieved as part of a socialist Asia. It is to provide the necessary leadership for the proletariat in these struggles that the International Communist League seeks to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International—the world party of socialist revolution.”


Workers Vanguard No. 888

WV 888

16 March 2007


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Mao: The Unknown Story

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