Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Murdering Mao by Harry Powell

Here are the opening paragraphs of a recent article in a British national Sunday newspaper:

Chairman Cameron's regime is not a million miles from Mao

Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer, Sunday 19 December 2010“I put it down to Tony Blair. Also to Margaret Thatcher. And to Mao Tse-tung. To understand this government, you need to appreciate the debts that it owes to these three influences: Labour's triple election-winner, the Conservatives' most radical postwar prime minister, and the Chinese dictator responsible for the deaths of more of his own people than any other leader in history.

To be fair to the coalition, it is not their ambition to replicate the body count heaped up by the Communist party of China during Mao's lethal reign. Nor does this government share many of the late tyrant's political ends. Yet in its methods, I am increasingly struck by the strange similarities between the regime of Chairman Mao and that of Chairman Cameron.

Some of the coalition's senior figures are conscious of this; some of them are even proud to draw the parallels between themselves and the author of The Little Red Book. In recent weeks, I have heard one important figure in the government talk of unleashing a "cultural revolution" in the public services and another hailing devolution of power away from the centre using Mao's old slogan: "Let a thousand flowers bloom."”

Further on:
I have actually heard more than one member of the cabinet explicitly refer to the government as "Maoist".”
“They are urged on from within Number 10 by the prime minister's principal strategist, Steve Hilton, who is probably the most Maoist person in the government.”

It is but the latest episode in a never-ending barrage of propaganda to discredit the first wave of socialism in the world and those who led this revolutionary movement. Andrew Rawnsley, a prominent apologist for the New Labour Government that was, now tries to undermine the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government in Britain by likening it to the socialist regime in China during the period when Mao Tse-tung was its leader. Rawnsley is trading on an assumption, probably accurate, that most of his readers believe that Mao and his comrades were mass murderers.

Mao, he tells us, was “responsible for the deaths of more of his own people than any other leader in history”. This is the accolade normally reserved for Stalin but now, it seems, he has been overtaken by Mao. Factual accuracy – like specifying just how many millions Mao was supposed to have killed – is not highly prized in this sort of writing. It was, of course, a hundred and not a “thousand” flowers which Mao called upon to bloom. But the facts don’t matter here. The main point is that Rawnsley thinks that the worst thing he can say about the Cameron/Clegg Government is that it is “Maoist”.

Rawnley’s article is based on what over the last twenty years or so has become a major trait in the dominant bourgeois ideology of Western capitalist societies: the idea that socialism has failed, that attempts to bring about socialist transformation were led by homicidal mass murders and have been complete disasters. Most people in countries such as Britain and America think that they “know” this to be “true”. Rawnsley feels confident that his readers will share this “knowledge” with him.

Recently I was talking with a Trotskyite, a history teacher, who told me that “Mao murdered millions”. I asked him to tell me something about which people were murdered, how, where, when and why. All he could say was that “there is this book which tells you about it” although he could not name the title and author and he had not read it. Further discussion revealed that he knows nothing about the history of modern China and he conceded that this is the case. I quoted Mao to him: “No investigation, no right to speak.” Here we have a person interested in history and socialism but his knowledge of People’s China has no doubt been picked up from exposure to the popular mass media. Like most of us, he assumes that the ideas he absorbs from the general culture in which he lives are true until he comes across contradictory evidence. Given this climate of opinion, communists have an ideological mountain to climb, something I have discussed in my pamphlet Media Representations of the Socialist Period.

There is a linguistic dimension to this reactionary ideological obfuscation. In recent years in Britain I have encountered young people from mainland China, especially students, who think of themselves as “communists” but whose outlook is completely bourgeois. They find it confusing to encounter an English person calling himself a communist but who is highly critical of the present regime in China on the grounds that it is on the capitalist road. One postgraduate journalism student tried to clarify my ideological confusion for me by quoting Teng Hsiao-ping: “For all to become rich, a few must become rich first.” Of course, most people in the West still think of China as “communist” and given the media images of billionaires, corruption and consumerism in China today this simply compounds this linguistic mess.

Is it possible for communists to undermine this sort of reactionary ideology which proclaims that socialism has been a disastrous failure? However hard we may strive to do so, we are only likely to meet with some success if the objective conditions are favourable for us to do so. Now in Western capitalist societies we may be entering a period when it is possible to begin to undermine some of this reactionary nonsense. The imperialist wars on Iraq and Afghanistan followed by the world-wide financial crisis of two years ago have considerably weakened bourgeois ideological hegemony, the dominance of reactionary ideas. The student protests in Britain over raising university fees together with the general movement across Europe against public spending cuts on services and benefits could provide the right climate of opinion for an ideological fightback. But are there any communists left to do it?

Harry Powell

December 2010

1 comment:

Wayne said...

Life expectancy doubled under Mao, and this is the fastest rate of improvement in all of documented history. There is currently an ongoing Stanford Universy study of this phenomenal achievement:

Furthermore a group of Harvard researchers have made a compelling case that the reason for China economically outperforming India over the past three decades is related to the health achievements of modern China. An excerpt from the article:

"However, the authors note, China's economy has exploded, expanding by 8.1 percent per capita per year on average between 1980 and 2000, while in the same time period India saw a sustained growth rate in income per capita of 3.6 percent--a rate that, while rapid by the standards of most developing economies, is modest compared to China's. What accounts for the difference? Part of the answer, the HSPH team suggests, is that dramatic demographic changes in China began decades before those in India. After 1949, China's Maoist government invested heavily in basic health care, creating communal village and township clinics for its huge rural population. That system produced enormous improvements in health: From 1952 to 1982, infant mortality in China dropped from 200 to 34 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy rose from 35 years to 68. And under the government's family planning program, fertility rates dropped by half, from six births per woman in 1970 to three as of 1979."

So Mao actually laid the foundation for China's future growth.

Here is an interesting chart of life expectancy trends between 1960 and today for China, compared to various other developing countries.

Two significant things from the trends. 1. By 1976 Mao had lifted life expectancy in China to greater than what it is in India today. 2. The life expectancy of Chinese in 1960, the year of supposedly the worst famine in all of human history, was about the same as that of many other developiong countries. The bitter years saw a reversal of previous gains, but relative to pre-revolutionary China, and other developing countries of the time, there was not much difference. Climatic conditions, the worst in a century played the major part in causing the raised mortality rates of that year.