by Raymond Lotta
November 30, 2020 | revcom.us
Bob Avakian has recently written:
The “liberal” bourgeois attack on communism is, in its own way, as ludicrous and outrageous—crudely in violation of the scientific method and blatantly in opposition to the actual facts—as the fascist mangling of truth which the “liberals” are forever decrying.
A flagrant case in point is the November 22 online issue of the liberal intellectual journal the Atlantic. It features a lie-filled article arguing that the great revolutionary leader Mao Zedong subscribed to the same kind of lunatic, conspiracy-theory view of the world that guides Donald Trump. The article is disgustingly titled “Mao’s Lessons for Trump’s America.” Its author is Edward Steinfeld, an MIT professor who purports to be a “China expert.”
Like other anticommunist academics bestowed platforms in mainstream print and electronic media, Steinfeld turns history and reality on their head. He recycles the bogus and poisonous narrative that the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was an exercise in mob terror driven by what is alleged to be Mao’s crazed paranoia. Steinfeld asserts that Mao’s followers, with Mao’s urging, had been “circulating outlandish conspiracy theories about counterrevolutionary plotting and anti-Mao cliques in the highest echelons of the Chinese system.”
Steinfeld dismisses out of hand the real danger of counterrevolution in China at the time. He obliterates the real aims and distorts the real practices of the Cultural Revolution. He paints an idiotic portrait of Mao as glutton for violence and “vigilante action.” And he likens Mao to Donald Trump. It all adds up to willful and vicious “mangling of truth” writ large. Let’s set the record straight.
1) The Cultural Revolution that Mao initiated in 1966 was guided not by “outlandish conspiracy theory” but by Mao’s scientific analysis of the complex reality of Chinese society and the concrete dangers facing socialism in China at the time.
Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to deal with a world-historic problem of communist revolution. That problem was how to keep a revolution aimed at putting an end to all exploitation and oppression on the road to achieving that goal. And how to enable the masses in their millions to understand and grapple with this problem, and wage new forms of revolutionary struggle under socialism to prevent the restoration of capitalism—and to further revolutionize the institutions of society… and their own thinking.
You would never know this by reading the Atlantic article. To learn more about the Cultural Revolution in depth, go to You Don’t Know What You Think You “Know” About…The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future. But let’s take in a few essential background facts.
In 1949, the Chinese revolution led by Mao triumphed. This revolution drove out foreign imperialism and shattered the old oppressive economic and social order. As Mao put it, the Chinese people had stood up. The revolution established a new socialist state power and economy to meet the basic needs of the people and set out, under Mao’s leadership, to forge new liberatory social institutions and values.
But by the early 1960s, a new bourgeois-capitalist class that had emerged within the top levels of the Chinese Communist Party and government was maneuvering to gain all-around power.
In the name of achieving more rapid economic growth and higher living standards, they utilized their bases of power to introduce harsh capitalist methods of economic management and discipline… to put education on an elitist and technocratic foundation… to focus resources in the cities at the expense of the countryside where the great majority of the Chinese population lived at the time. They had strength in the military and tremendous influence in key government ministries, like education, culture, and economic planning. These were real and observable phenomena. And by the mid-1960s, these capitalist-roaders, as Mao described them, were moving to seize power.
Oh, but Mao, Steinfeld tells us, was inventing enemies and exaggerating threats. Imagine if a supposed scholar of the U.S. Civil War told you that Lincoln was concocting conspiracies by politicians of the South to justify his own ambition. Well, the evidence speaks otherwise. So too with the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, what more proof of the real danger to the revolution do you need than the fact that these capitalist-roaders did carry out a coup in October 1976 soon after Mao died? And what more evidence do you need that once these capitalist-roaders secured power—led at the time by Deng Xiaoping—they did what Mao said they would?
They systematically restructured China’s socialist economy and turned China into a sweatshop to world capitalism. The profit-based economy they instituted has led to some of the world’s most extreme wealth and income inequalities, including the profusion of billionaires. The rapid and chaotic capitalist development they championed has led to some of the world’s most polluted cities and rivers. The capitalist-roaders in power dismantled the extraordinary social achievements of the Cultural Revolution—including what in the early 1970s was the most universal, egalitarian, needs-based healthcare system in the world.
These are the observable results of the counterrevolution that Mao warned against… but which Steinfeld moronically declares was fabricated by Mao to further his “politics of resentment.”
2) The methods of the Cultural Revolution were liberatory.
Mao called on the masses to rise up, challenge, and overthrow these new capitalist forces. Steinfeld makes much of Mao’s directive-slogan issued in August 1966 to “bombard the headquarters” of the capitalist-roaders. But this “bombardment” was political (see my Note below).
The main forms of struggle of the Cultural Revolution were mass debate (over policy and the direction of society); mass political mobilization—demonstrations, strikes, political uprisings that led to new and more participatory forms of political power; and mass criticism through newspapers, wall-posters, and public gatherings of authorities influenced by and those in power pushing this neo-capitalist program.
These methods of struggle were clearly spelled out in official and widely publicized documents, including the following guidance: “Where there is debate, it should be conducted by reasoning and not by force.”
Now acts of violence and killings did take place during the Cultural Revolution. But here is what the evidence shows.
- First, this was not the main trend of the Cultural Revolution.
- Second, when things went in a violent direction, Mao and the revolutionary forces condemned and criticized such trends: through statements, directives, editorials, and on-the-ground interventions. A well-documented and inspiring example was at a major university in Beijing in 1968 where political debate and struggle turned violent. With Mao’s backing, a contingent of unarmed workers came on to the campus to bring a halt to clashes among armed students.
- Third, much of the violence of the Cultural Revolution was actually instigated by the new capitalist forces, especially for the purpose of discrediting Mao.
Steinfeld levels the ludicrous charge that as a result of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese society descended into a brute “state of nature.” Again, the bullshit keeps piling up. In fact, as a result of the struggles and experimentation and transformations of the Cultural Revolution, the state of society changed. New systems of governance brought workers and peasants into political life in new and expanded ways… “serve the people” became a measure and motivation of social life and progress… “open door” research brought scientists to the countryside to conduct experiments alongside peasants and to share in their lives… revolutionary ballets dealt with themes of women’s emancipation. Is this perhaps the “tragedy” that the professor bemoans?
3) The idiocy of equating Mao and Trump… when in fact they are polar opposites.
Steinfeld thinks he’s clever by half in offering “Mao’s Lessons for Trump’s America.” He’s a fool. Mao Zedong stood for the emancipation of world humanity from all oppression and exploitation. Mao advanced the science of communism, particularly with the theory and practice of continuing and deepening the revolution in socialist society. The notion that Donald Trump… home-grown American fascist who denies reality, attacks science, propounds genocidal racism, and spreads male supremacy and anti-immigrant hatred… the notion that Trump has anything in common with the communist revolutionary Mao Zedong would be laughable to any thinking person with a shred of respect for the scientific method and historical truth. But in the impoverished intellectual climate of today (no small service rendered by the hackery of the likes of Edward Steinfeld), this toxic anticommunist nonsense gets over.
Unpacking the spurious and manipulative “method” involved in equating Mao and Trump.
- First, there is the “trafficking in surface similarities.” Trump speaks of a conspiracy against him rooted in a “deep state”; Mao called out forces entrenched in high positions who were aiming to seize power. So, there you have it, according to Steinfeld… cut from the same cloth. No, you have an utterly baseless and uninformed comparison.
Mao made a pathbreaking, scientific analysis that out of the continuing social inequalities and differences of socialist society (like the fact that some people still work mainly in manual occupations and others in the realm of ideas and administration), and the still-existing bourgeois features of the socialist economy (like the sale and transfer of goods, the use of money)—out of this soil new privileged forces are generated. And in socialist society, these forces had their greatest strength, as a new capitalist class, at the top tiers of the ruling communist party and socialist state. Now what the fuck does this kind of scientific analysis have in common with lunatic theories and ravings of Trump, or of QAnon about pedophiles running amok, or with anti-Semitic theories of secret societies and cabals running the world?
- Second, there is the repeating, the almost ritualistic incantation, of “lurid anticommunist lies.” We hear it all the time: “Mao murdered millions.” We hear it from all quarters in capitalist-imperialist society. And such lies—that’s what they are—become part of the “conventional wisdom” and dominant “intellectual discourse” of society. The reader can go to the Set the Record Straight project at www.thisiscommunism.org for examination and refutation of standard lies, distortions, and misrepresentations about the communist revolution.
- Third, there is “shoddy and dishonest scholarship” that has cachet and that serves the machinery of lies. See my Note below.
Trump and Mao are worlds apart. Think about this. Several months ago we witnessed, and many of us took part in, a beautiful uprising against white supremacy and racist murder by police. Donald Trump denounced this wave of righteous protest, hailed the police, egged on neo-Nazi assassins, extolled monuments to the Confederacy, and dispatched federal police to quash protest. In April 1968, after Martin Luther King’s assassination, Black people rose in mighty rebellions across the U.S. In revolutionary China at that time, Mao Zedong issued a powerful statement of support, declaring that this righteous rising of Black people was “a clarion call to all the exploited and oppressed people in the United States to fight against the barbarous rule of the monopoly capitalist class” and “a tremendous aid and inspiration to the struggle of the people throughout the world against U.S. imperialism and to the struggle of the Vietnamese people against U.S. imperialism.”
For all his facile, bullshit analogizing of Mao and Trump, it is Professor Steinfeld who works from a playbook of Trumpian-like “alternate reality” and the “big lie.”
*NOTE: An example of Steinfeld’s shoddy and dishonest scholarship
To make his case for Mao’s alleged “sanctification of violence,” Steinfeld cites a toast Mao supposedly gave in December 1966: “To the unfolding of nationwide all-round civil war.” (my emphasis) Conveniently, Steinfeld provides no source for this statement. Actually, its origin is Roderick MacFarquhar’s and Michael Schoenhals’ 2006 anticommunist screed, Mao’s Last Revolution (p. 155). But when you go to the back of that book for source documentation, you find fuzzy hearsay and all manner of second and third-hand recollections. The authors do, however, acknowledge that Mao approved an authoritative editorial issued in January 1967 that called for: “a year of nationwide all-round class struggle.” Not violent “civil war” but “all-round class struggle”: to overthrow and defeat the capitalist-roaders through the political methods Mao actually called for (and as I have described).
*Bob Avakian, Fascists and Communists: Completely Opposed and Worlds Apart