In Defense of Maoism – sort of
Flashback 1966 – I’m in my first class at UCLA – a required English Composition class. I was a good writer already at the age of 19 (I’d gone a year to Michigan State before transferring to UCLA), and I got an easy A along with much good criticism from this young professor, whose name escapes me, and whom I never saw, again.
There was a Chinese-American student in the class (which was small – it was Summer school, with two 6-week sessions, and UCLA had just converted to the quarter system, which most people didn’t like), and during one class discussion I said something about “Communist China.” The Chinese student (who’d probably never been to China) said this was “derogatory”, and I should use either “China” or “People’s Republic of China” as the correct designation. Remember, this was long before “mainland China” (presumably a neutral term) was even recognized by the US or the United Nations, where the Bandit Chiang Kai Chek even had a permanent seat on the Security Council (never mentioned as the obvious cause of the so-called “Korean Conflict” which was under UN auspicies).
While I acknowledged that “Red China” might be a loaded term, I said that “communist China” was certainly accurate. No one denied that “Mainland China” was, indeed, a Communist one-party state. But it was still contentious. Why emphasize differences, and wage this continuing war against our long-time ally and friend, China? After all, the Communists under Mao (‘the Great Helmsman”) had won the last war – without any of the help we gave to Stalin – supposedly the role-model for Mao and his revolution. And when it finally came down to supporting Chiang against the rest of China, hardly anyone outside of his own party and military apparatus wanted to be “Nationalist”. Even Chiang had based his government on Leninism, and the Communists – even now – paid homage to the first Chinese Republic under Sun Yat-Sen.
Much of the New Left, in those days, followed Mao. His was the most successful revolution in history, and the forced egalitarianism was something which didn’t bother working-class Americans, but was a major threat and insult to anyone in the American bureaucracy or Country Club set. All we knew for sure was that Mao would defend the People against the hereditary and financial elites. We liked that.
And so, I became a more or less closet Maoist, and all my “hippy” period in the 1970’s was essentially an attempt to foment a Maoist “cultural revolution” here. Sending the bureaucrats and intellectuals to the communes to do farm work and other labor was a good thing, not the horror which it is still portrayed in most American (even “Leftist”) accounts of the period.
Only recently have I read “The Soong Dynasty”, which charts the course of post-imperial Chinese history to the Soong’s, which included Madame Chiang Kai-Chek as well as a sister who became a top Communist Party official. Another sister had been married to Sun-Yat-Sen, and their father, the original Soong, a Bible salesman educated at what would later be Duke University, became for a time the richest man in the world. Henry Luce was born in China to missionary parents, and in this one paragraph, I’ve said more about the history of China in the 20th century than most people ever knew or learned – including, apparently, most of the American media and “think-tank” pundits.
Now, the situation is even worse. Last night on PBS Newshour, I heard Mr Solmon, a long-time business reporter for them, refer to China as now being totally “capitalistic” – as though they had overthrown and renounced the entire Maoist heritage. The common view is that they now have a “capitalist economy” while maintaining Communist one-party rule. This, in turn, reflects a deeper view that Marx and marxian economics is somehow totally different from “capitalist” economics. And that “war communism” with a vast military and Gulag-KGB apparatus is the “real” communism we are still fighting, today, and thus, apparently, we must counter with our “military Keynesianism” and National Security State with perpetual war (for perpetual peace, in the Orwell interpretation).
It remains to be seen how viable and sustainable the current “mixed” state capitalism/communism system in China will prove to be. I haven’t really seen or heard much about theoretical defenses of China’s current system. They tend to follow our rules and often use them against us, but the economic foundations of their current growth and relative prosperity must be somewhat sounder than ours, which is only resulting in greater poverty, financial crises, and breakdowns in public services. In China, the opposite trends are in evidence….