New Book on China

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sun Oct 6 12:19:26 MDT 1996


Although Mao Zedong was the creator of the Chinese Communist=20
bureaucracy and presided over its extraordinarily rapid growth, he also=20
was its principal critic. Mao viewed the transformation of=20
revolutionaries into bureaucratic rulers with a mixture of pride and=20
disgust. He was proud of his cadres' accomplishments, both as=20
revolutionaries and as putative builders of socialism, and no doubt had=20
some appreciation of their desire to enjoy the fruits of victory. He=20
himself, after all, tasted those fruits in rather abundant measure. But=20
after 1956 he had become more and more critical of their bureaucratic=20
ways, their lust for privileges, and their separation from the masses,=20
complaining (in early 1957) that "some cadres now scramble for fame=20
and fortune and are interested only in personal gain...They vie with=20
each other=85for luxuries, rank and status." In the early 1960s Mao=20
recited a litany of the cadres' bureaucratic sins: "They seek pleasure=20
and fear hardships; they engage in back door deals; one person=20
becomes an official and the entire family benefits; one person reaches=20
nirvana and all his close associates rise up to heaven; there are parties=
=20
and gifts and presents." By the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Mao=20
was entertaining the notion that the new society had produced a=20
"bureaucratic class," although he proved reluctant to pursue that=20
perilous line of thought very far.

The Cultural Revolution ostensibly was undertaken to remedy the=20
bureaucratic evils Mao had so bitterly criticized over the preceding=20
decade. In view of the arbitrary and oppressive political practices of=20
China's officials and the luxuries a good many of them enjoyed amidst=20
conditions of general poverty, it is hardly surprising that the anti-
bureaucratic and egalitarian goals proclaimed in 1966 should have=20
elicited an enthusiastic popular response. But the pursuit of those goals=
=20
was soon distorted, and then betrayed, as we have seen. The Cultural=20
Revolution, far from curing bureaucratic evils, only aggravated the=20
arbitrary and corrupt bureaucratic practices from which the Chinese=20
people suffered. Individual officials were attacked and purged, but the=20
bureaucratic system survived. Even the hierarchical order of cadre=20
ranks, which Mao had been criticizing since the 1950s, remained=20
intact. In large measure, the failure was of Mao's own making, or,=20
more precisely, the result of his ambivalent attitude toward the=20
bureaucracy he had created and upon which his rule depended. He=20
was, as Richard Kraus has so aptly put it, at once both "the chief cadre=20
and the leading rebel." The ambiguity remained until the end of the=20
Mao era.

(From the recently published "The Deng Xiaoping Era: An Inquiry=20
into the Fate of Chinese Socialism 1978-1994" by Maurice Meisner,=20
Hill and Wang. On the back cover, there is a blurb from Marxist=20
historian Marilyn Young who has written the definitive history of the=20
Vietnam War. She says, "'The Deng Xiaoping Era is uniquely=20
valuable, the single most important book on China's post-Mao=20
transformation. Meisner rejectes both triumphalist global capitalist=20
and socialist nostalgia in favor of a sensitive, illuminating,=20
comprehensive, and occasionally ironic analysis of recent Chinese=20
society, economics, and politics.")


Louis



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