Modern Chinese History: Maoist Chinese Patriotism and Left Wing American Patriotism
by, Jul 23 2012 at 10:17 AM (184 Views)
This is the best documentary I've seen on modern Chinese history (as in covering the last century or so of it). Accordingly, it comes as HIGHLY recommended viewing. It aired in three parts on PBS. Each is roughly two hours and covers a lot of material.
I consider this the best documentary on the subject (that I've yet seen anyway) because its not only the most comprehensive that I've seen (though by no means is it exhaustive), but it also provides the best balance of voices. The views of Kuomintang partisans, Communist partisans, Americans, and non-partisan Chinese are all represented and in a fairly even-handed way, as is appropriate for the material in question. Lots of human stories are presented in addition to the academic facts. Whether or not you find history as fascinating as me, I can assure you you WON'T be bored.
Part one (1911-1949) covers, among other things, the 1911 republican revolution, the May Fourth Movement, the Northern Expedition, the Long March, the Chinese role in World War 2 (known to the communist side as the people's war of resistance), and the people's war of liberation.
Part two (1949-1976) runs through the Mao era. Topics covered include, among others, the Chinese role in the Korean War, the transition to a socialist economy, the Hundred Flowers campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Sino-Soviet Split, the Cultural Revolution, the initial Sino-American rapprochement, and the Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius campaign.
Developments covered in part three (1976-1997)* include, among others, the arrest of the Gang of Four, the rise of Deng Xiaoping to power, the gradual transition to frankly capitalist economics and the initial social impact of that on many different groups, the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations, and the re-acquisition of Hong Kong.
* Astute observers may have noticed the difference between the dates presented in the link to part three and the ones I listed for it. I list the concluding point as 1997 because the documentary does not specifically detail anything that has happened since 1997, despite its claim to run through 2011 in terms of Chinese events. Nonetheless, the detail with which the events of 1976-94 in particular are covered is better than any other documentary on the subject I've yet seen. Definitely worth watching.
So what are my conclusions, you might ask? After all, I'm sure the typical reader of this post knows full well that I consider myself a Marxist and a communist and also specifically have a personal history of working with and within various Maoist (or post-Maoist, as it were) groups. I'm not as naive as I once was concerning Maoism, or any school of Leninist thought for that matter. I do, however, retain a soft spot for Maoism in particular, mainly because I like the ethic of it. Classical Maoism is romantic and idealist, rooted in simple, (basically) pure-hearted, egalitarian patriotism. In America, we would term such a thing Woody Guthrie patriotism, and I think most of us have to admit having a soft spot for that kind of thing. Of course, I also have an Asian fetish, which explains why I tend to like Maoism better than American left wing patriotism.
More seriously though, classical Maoism failed because it was rooted, in part, in naive voluntarism. Mao was smart and pragmatic early on, during the wartime period and throughout much of the 1950s. You'll notice that the documentary even discloses that, during that period, he surrounded himself with pragmatists like Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai, and Deng Xiaoping. Mao's policies during this period got results. Then by the late 1950s he seems to start going into this idealist, ultra-left mode and by the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1969, all of those people save for Zhou Enlai had been replaced and even Zhou was coming under much official criticism from Mao. Mao's policies during this period yielded the worst famine in history, more than one economic recession, and mutual poverty. (Or we could alternately just say that Mao was an excellent military strategist but a terrible economist, but I don't that accounts for the economic successes of the early '50s.) I agree with Mao's doctrine of the mass line, which insists that communists should always unite with the main demands of the masses in any given period and never separate from the masses. I don't think Mao always applied that doctrine though, by any means. During the former period, yes. During the latter period, no.
Let me get broader: Leninism as a theory (functionally a religion) was an outgrowth of uneven development: of Western civilization's impact on largely undeveloped feudal society. In reality, the Mensheviks had the fundamentally correct view. Lenin and many inspired by the Bolshevik revolution attempted essentially to 'skip' the capitalist stage of development, including frankly the development of political democracy, and wound up with mutual poverty to the extent that they did so. You cannot just 'skip' these things. The world needs enough wealth accumulation such that an equal redistribution thereof would result in something other than poverty because nobody is interested in that. And nobody is interested in one-party states either. Marxists, in other words, largely attempted to bring about socialism prematurely and that's why it failed. (I don't believe it was simply a matter of whether or not the socialist camp "hung together". It fell apart FOR A REASON.) We today are in a qualitatively better position for socialism in a lot of countries, but some are still not advanced enough for it. (America has not reached a point where socialism is yet possible, incidentally.) Marx's original theory, I believe, is basically coming true, but simply in a much, much more gradual and uneven way than he anticipated. That's concerning what I believe the transition from capitalism to socialism can and will look like in this century. Now concerning the transition from socialism to communism, I'd describe my personal views on THAT as sort of Maoist Version 1, Lite, i.e. I subscribe to the commune-based, collectivization-of-life approach (as opposed to the state-ification-of-life, Soviet-style approach), but believe it should not be done in a more gradual, realistic, AND AUTHENTICALLY MASS-BASED way than Mao sought. That's right, I actually don't think there was a fundamental problem with the traditional Maoist socio-economic model, which was inspired by the Paris Commune of 1871. There are still a few such communes in China today and they work! In fact, people who live in those communes tend to enjoy somewhat better living standards than the average Chinese person does today. So I don't think the flaw in that developmental model was actually structural, but rather a problem of voluntarism: of highly unrealistic production expectations and overzealous forcing (rather than persuading) of people to use that model.
In summation, I think one must view classical Maoism with nuance. There was good and bad to it. One must also recognize though that many aspects of it do not apply to the contemporary world in any event though. The masses only believe that revolutionary violence is justified when it is the only path to change, i.e. when society is not democratic, for example. We need to move on from that era. At the same time though, I still think there are certain lessons to be learned from it.
P.S. In case anyone is wondering what I mean by "Woody Guthrie patriotism" (American left wing patriotism), Guthrie's classic This Land is Your Land was just one clear example of a nationalistically-inspired populist critique of class privilege. Here's Tom Morello singing the full song, which includes some particularly poignant lyrics that your school conveniently neglected to teach you.
Another example of this type of left wing patriotism was clearly on display in a recent Obama campaign ad called Firms, which Mr. Romney's loyalty to America into question by zeroing in on his record as a pioneer of outsourcing, a tax-evader, and so on. This type of left wing patriotism asserts that a certain collectivist ethic is at the root of patriotic loyalty, without which individuals are loyal only to themselves. I think by this point you're getting what I mean. This type of thing, only applied to instead a Chinese context, was what drove Mao as a person.