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What lay behind collapse of the Maoist dream in China and how it impacted world

By Harsh Thakor* 
No third world leader in the last century can be said to have shaped the history of a nation to the extent of Mao Zedong did in China. One who tried to elevate Marxism-Leninism to a higher stage, taking massline of Leninism to unexplored regions, even today his writings are a guiding force in many third world countries where globalisation is at the helm.
Politically Mao's main contribution is considered to be formulation of a new military theory of protracted people's war. He also floated the theory of new democratic revolution and continuous revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, something he experimented on the ground by ushering in the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and the first half of 1970s.
In his writings, in 1942, Mao came up with a new strategy for people of semi-colonial countries, calling upon the peasants in the countryside to encircle the cities. He said that the peasantry was the main force and the countryside was the main area in revolutions in the third world countries. With the skill of a surgeon he integrated the functioning of the Communist Party of China (CPC) with the Red Army.
Mao’s leadership was instrumental in CPC leading the 1935 Long March from Kiangsi to Yenan, the greatest military achievement till then in history. In the 1940s in Yenan he encouraged criticism from below, which became the basis of his "let hundred flowers bloom" campaign of 1950s, when he invited even rightist intellectuals to assert their voice.
One of Mao's contributions was undertaking thought transformation in order to reform landlords, even rightist intellectuals. However, he would strongly refute feudal ideas or customs, which he thought were very strong in the rural areas, including among the soldiers. Unlike Stalin, Mao did not execute enemies or opposition in purges, but galvanised masses to challenge those whom he identified as "capitalist roaders", especially during the Cultural Revolution.
China under Mao from 1949 to 1976 is well documented in the writings of Edgar Snow, William Hinton, Joan Robinson, Felix Greene, Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, Rewi Alley and Charles Bettelheim who visited China to discover what lay behind the claims of its magical strides. These writings are critical of the manner in which the Western media interpreted China under Mao.
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao not just experimented with building a socialist society by integrating manual and mental labour, but went so far as to send technician to work in factories, intellectuals to toil in fields, and students to "learn" from peasants. Commodities were made affordable, unemployment was eradicated, and price rise was controlled. People's Liberation Army personnel were made to aid workers and peasants in their labour. If workers "controlled" factories, peasants' revolutionary committees exercised rights over rural areas.
Under Mao, between 1949 and 1976, China challenged the hegemony of the two superpowers, America and Russia, though it is blamed for the 1962 war with India and its role during the Vietnamese war against America. It refused to condemn the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile, and placed more emphasis on confronting what it called Soviet social imperialism than US imperialism.
Left sectarian tendencies were predominant during the Cultural Revolution and excessive power was awarded to the military. Excesses were committed on intellectuals, writers and artists. Those who were termed revisionists were meted out with very harsh treatment. Mass organisations were exclusively dependent the CPC, which under Mao exhibited Stalinist tendencies. This could be because the old thinking process of Confucian tradition was strongly embedded in the Chinese culture.
After Mao's death China reverted his policies, and while the country's economy made phenomenal achievement, it also created billionaires. Today many CPC members are millionaires, and corruption has reached a scale on par with countries like India. Workers are subjugated to misery in sweat shops and denied adequate wages. Special economic zones were introduced, healthcare and education were privatised, and at an international level the CPC abandoned all support to national liberation struggles.
Today China has turned into a major imperialist country which is a contender for world hegemony over markets and pursues expansionist military policies. It has exhibited considerable nation chauvinism. A free market economy is in place. CPC cadres are made to study the priority leaders like Liu Shao Chi, Lin Biao and later Deng Xiaoping placed on the development of productive forces. They all advocated ‘It does not matter whether the cat is white or black as long as it catches the mice.’ Deng Xiapong raised the slogan, ‘It is glorious to get rich.’
The CPC has left no stone unturned to suppress any Maoist resurgence in China. It has supressed or censored many a writing of the Cultural Revolution period. It has persecuted the supporters of Mao. Workers' strikes are brutally suppressed. Consumerism has reached a crescendo.
China displayed territorial expansionist policy in Phillipines recently. The only plus point is it confronted the US hegemony and supported Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and condemned Israeli aggression. Its planning and organisation in handling the Covid crisis too deserves praise.
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*Freelance journalist based in Mumbai

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