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    Greater China
     Jan 12, 2013


Page 1 of 4
The historical significance of Mao
By Henry C K Liu

The protracted history of the Chinese socialist revolution started 94 years ago in 1919 on May 4, when 5,000 students from Beijing University and 12 other schools held a political demonstration in front of Tiananmen, the focal point of what is today known as Tiananmen Square. The demonstration sparked what came to be known in history as the May Fourth Movement of 1919-21, an

 
anti-imperialism movement rising out of patriotic reactions to dishonorable foreign relations of the government of China's then warlord Yuan Shi-kai that led to unjust treatment of China by Western powers at the Versailles Peace Conference.

May Fourth was a political landmark that consolidated the nation's collective awareness that Western democracy was as imperialistic as the Western monarchy it overthrew. This national collective awareness turned China from Western democracy towards the path of modern socialism through Marxist-Leninist proactive revolution.

Mao Zedong at the time of the May Fourth Movement was 26 years old and a librarian assistant in Beijing University, where he spent time in the stacks reading about heroic nationalist leaders such as George Washington, Napoleon and Otto von Bismark and became inspired by their world-changing patriotic deeds.

As a son of a small farming family that enjoyed comfortable living on three acres (1.21 hectares) of land in rural Shao-shan in Hunan province, Mao in his youth spent his spare time after working in the field reading Chinese history and literature in the newly opened public library in nearby Changsha. He was particularly inspired by the legalist policies of Qin Shi Wang (259 BC-210 BC) and the theme of Water Margin, a 14th-century novel of universal brotherhood and one of the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature.

Before going to Beijing, Mao attended First Normal School of Changsha, coming under the influenced of several progressive teachers there, including a professor of ethics named Yang Changji (1871-1920), who urged Mao and other students to read a radical newspaper, New Youth, founded by Marxist Chen Duxiu (1879-1942), Dean of the Faculty of Letters at Beijing University.

In 1918, after graduating from First Normal School of Chansha, Mao moved to Beijing, to join Yang Changji who had been recently appointed professor at Peking University by Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), the progressive president. Yang recommended Mao to be an assistant to university librarian Li Dazhao (1889-1927), a Marxist intellectual in China who later participated the the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai in 1921.

Li wrote a series of articles in New Youth on the October Revolution, which had just taken place in Russia, during which the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) seized state power. Lenin had put forth the theory of imperialism as the final stage of capitalism based on the writings of John Atkinson Hobson (1858-1940), building on the socio-economic-political theory of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) in the mid-19th century from observation on turbulent European conditions.

Li's articles helped create interest in Marxism in the Chinese revolutionary movement, as an alternative to Western-style democracy that had been subscribed by the 1911 bourgeois Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen, but had proved wanting in the behavior of Western democracies at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. Marxism was then recognized by Chinese revolutionary intellectuals as a more effective ideology in the struggle against Western imperialism even when many of the concepts of Marxism applied only to European situations.

The May Fourth Movement marked a turn by anti-imperialist Chinese intellectuals towards revolutionary Marxism. The success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was a major factor in forming the views of Li Dazhao on the revolutionary role of the state. Li initiated the Peking Socialist Youth Corps in 1920 and in July 1921 co-founded the Communist Party of China (CPC) with Chen Duxiu, who had been exposed to socialist ideas in Japan, as a political institution with the secular program to seize power of the state to carry out socialist revolution in China. A revolutionary state is the rationale for a one-party government, provided that the ruling party represents the interest of the people. Li was a mentor to Mao Zedong, who openly acknowledged having been influenced by Li's ideas.

The first edition of Stalin's Problems of Leninism, which appeared in April 1924, seven years after the October Revolution of 1917, asks: "Is it possible to attain the final victory of socialism in one country, without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries?" The answer was: "No, it is not. The efforts of one country are enough for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie [in one country]. This is what the history of our revolution tells us. For the final victory of socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the efforts of one country, especially a peasant country like ours, are not enough. For this we must have the efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries."

The strategic key words on socialist internationalism are "final victory", which cannot be achieved with just "socialism in one country", and the phrase "the proletariat of several advanced countries". But "final" implies not immediate but in the future, even the distant future. And international communism was focused not on the whole world, but on "the proletariat of several advance countries" where evolutionary conditions were considered as ripe. It was not focused on the peasantry still living under agricultural feudal societies outside of Europe or the oppressed people of imperialist colonies and semi-colonies.

To both Lenin and Stalin, the path to liberation in the colonies of the Western empire was to strengthen the only socialist country in the world, namely the Soviet Union, and to weaken capitalism at the core, namely industrialized economies, to end its final stage of imperialism. In theory, the liberated industrial workers of the Western advanced economies would in turn help liberate the oppressed peasants in the colonies and semi-colonies in the still not industrialized economies.

Unfortunately, actual events failed to support this theory. There was no worker uprising in the advanced economies. In fact, unionism in the advanced economies sided with management and turned anti-communist. These trends support the truth that liberation cannot be delivered by others and must be won by the victims themselves. Each oppressed group must struggle for self-liberation through internal political consciousness.

Both Lenin and Stalin failed to recognize the inherently powerful but latent revolutionary potential of the peasants of the pre-industrial colonies and semi-colonies of the Western Empires, which had to wait until the emergence of Mao Zedong in China to force the world to acknowledge this truth in history. Mao, in placing his faith in the revolutionary potential of the Chinese peasantry, redefined the term "proletariat" to mean those deprived of property, a property-less class, away from the European idea of the proletariat as the class of urban industrial workers.

The October Revolution of 1917 was launched on the slogan "All Power to the Soviets", through which the minority Bolsheviks won political leadership in the Soviets, which were workers councils that constituted the power behind the new socialist state. Bourgeois liberal democracy was not an objective of the October Revolution, but rather a target for elimination in order to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat in the context of socialist revolution through class struggle.

This was because in feudal Russia in 1917 the proletariat as a dominant class was an abstraction yet to be created as a reality by industrialization. The proletariat in its infancy, small in number, could not possibly command a majority under universal suffrage in a feudal agricultural society. Therefore, under similar circumstances, dictatorship of a minority proletariat is the only revolutionary path towards socialism, according to Leninism.

In pre-industrial societies, liberal representative democracy is by definition reactionary in the absence of a dominant working class. Lenin considered the revolution in Russia as a fortuitous beginning of an emerging socialist world order that required and justified a dictatorship of the proletariat to sustain revolutionary progress.

Leninists work for the acceleration of socio-economic dialectics by the violent overthrow of capitalism just as capitalism had been the violent slayer of feudalism. Evolutionary Marxists, such as social democrats, believe in scientific dialectic materialism, which predicts the inevitability of the replacement of capitalism by socialism as a natural outcome of capitalism's internal contradiction.

But the evolutionary process requires the emergence of capitalism as a natural outcome of feudalism's internal contradiction. Marx saw the process of evolution toward socialism as taking place in the most advanced segment of the world, in capitalistic societies of industrialized Western Europe, when the ruling bourgeoisie had replaced the aristocracy as a result of the French Revolution. The Russian Revolution showed that geopolitical conditions had opened up opportunities for revolutions in pre-industrialized nations and it was in these pre-industrial societies that radical revolution was needed to bring about instant socialism by short-circuiting the long evolutionary process from feudalism to capitalism to socialism.

In Germany, the most industrialized country in the second half of the 19th century, Social Democrat icons such as Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein, titans of Marxist exegesis, favored gradual, non-violent and parliamentary processes to effectuate inevitable dialectic evolution towards socialism because of the existence in Germany of a large working class. These Marxists subscribed to the doctrine of evolutionary Marxism, which renders revolution unnecessary as socialism would arrive naturally from capitalism as an evolutionary process of dialectic materialism.

On the other end of the spectrum were radical revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the Spartacists, founded in the summer of 1915 when they withdrew from the German Social-Democrat Party (SDP) because of SDP support for Germany's participation in World War I. The Spartacists staged an abortive coup to overthrow the young social democratic government in Germany. For communists, revolution is necessary in order to short circuit the long stage of capitalism, during which the evolutionary process can be halted by unionism and the introduction of a mixed economy through the injection of a socialist dimension in the capitalist system. This is particularly true for pre-industrial feudal societies, when a capitalist system with socialist dimension can be employed to ward off any revolutionary pressure.

The call by radical Leninists for a worldwide coalition of the browbeaten proletariat majority in the industrial societies in the West, who were still deprived of political power beyond the structural dialectical process, and the agitating proletariat minority in the agricultural societies in whose name radical Leninists had gained state power in Russia, was most threatening to the rulers of the capitalist order in the advanced imperialist countries.

Reaction to this threat gave rise to insidious anti-communism in the imperialist West to prevent the arrival of socialism in the strongholds of industrial capitalism ahead of its evolutionary schedule. In the advanced economies, state-sponsored capitalist propaganda was conditioning workers into an active anti-communist force through industrial unionism and the addictive appeal of individualistic bourgeois freedom to neutralize collective working class solidarity.

Still, all Marxists share the belief that the structural antagonism between a capitalist bourgeoisie class and a proletariat class in advanced economies was a necessary precondition for creating socialism. It required the resolution of the contradiction between the efficient productivity of capitalism and the economic dysfunctionality of the mal-distribution of wealth inherent in capitalism.

The good of capitalism is its efficiency in creating wealth; the bad is that the way wealth is created in capitalism requires wealth to go to the wrong places, to those who need it least, namely the rich rather than the poor who need it most. Also, awareness was increasing that capital in the modern financial system comes increasingly from the pension funds of workers in a capitalist society with socialist dimensions - the welfare state.

Wealth is good
Wealth is good; it is the mal-distribution of it that is bad and creates socio-economic conflicts. And if that mal-distribution is carried out through class lines, then struggle must be part of a socialist revolution.

The internal contradiction of capitalism is that it creates wealth by widening the gap between rich and poor. Wealth disparity is a polluting socio-economic by-product of capitalist wealth creation, like the nuclear waste in nuclear energy.

While capital cannot create wealth without labor, the proletariat in advanced economies, oppressed by a pro-capital legal-political regime, never managed to gain control of ownership of the means of production financed by their own wealth, stored in worker pension funds. Thus oppressed workers remained silently, docile victims of capitalist exploitation by capitalists using workers' own retirement money as capital.

Apologists for capitalism then create the myth of capital being needed to create employment, ignoring the fact that it is the saved income from employed workers that creates capital. In other words, employment creates capital, not the other way around. Chinese reformers have yet to understand this truism when they accept low wages in order to attract capital investment.

The global financial crisis that began in 2007 in New York is a live demonstration of the self-destructive potential of finance capitalism when not supported by full employment with rising wages, which then forces needed consumption to be financed by consumer debt, which inevitably will become unsustainable.

The current financial crisis of unsustainable debt around the world has ignited populist demand for socio-political changes in all countries. These populist changes will transform the existing socio-economic world order, even though it is too early to predict what shape his new world order will take. Suffice to observe that changes in government toward progressive populism are now taking place in every nation, except perhaps China, where a one-party government lead by the communist party still governs. But many Western-trained Chinese neoliberal economists continue to argue for more-free markets that uses market forces to keep wages low.

The agrarian socio-economic conditions in czarist Russia and dynastic China, while not congruent to each other, were fundamentally different from the industrial conditions in Europe, where the Industrial Revolution had taken place to bring into existence a large working class of factory workers that was supposed to be ripe for the revolutionary class struggle as envisioned by Marx at the start of the 1848 Democratic Revolutions.

Tragically, the socialist movements were crushed and their revolutionary leaders murdered by reactionary forces in both Germany and France. The capitalist democratic regimes that followed inherited and embraced with renewed vigor Western imperialism and its colonies around the world.


Continued 1 2 3 4





The Complete Henry C K Liu

China and a new world economic order
Jan 12, '10

Breaking free from dollar hegemony
Jul 30, '08

US dollar hegemony has got to go
Apr 11, '02

 

 
 



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