[Marxism] Maoists for Trump? In China, Fans Admire His Nationalist Views

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 4 08:36:38 MDT 2017

NY Times, Apr. 4 2017
Maoists for Trump? In China, Fans Admire His Nationalist Views

BEIJING — They protest, picket and sing to defend Mao’s memory, yearning 
for the East to be red again. But lately some of China’s Maoists are 
finding inspiration in an unlikely insurgent in the West: Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Trump “has torn up the old rules of the ruling elites, not just of 
the capitalist West,” said Zhang Hongliang, a polemicist who is the 
loudest proponent of what could be loosely called “Maoists for Trump.” 
In a recent essay, Mr. Zhang lauded the American president as being 
alone among national leaders daring “to openly promote the political 
ideas of Chairman Mao.”

President Xi Jinping of China will be sizing up Mr. Trump during a visit 
to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida this week, in the leaders’ first 
summit meeting. Meanwhile, many ordinary Chinese people have also been 
taking the measure of the new American president and have been 
bewildered, incensed and yet, sometimes, inspired.

The global wave of nationalist, anti-establishment sentiment that Mr. 
Trump rode to power has washed ashore in China, encouraging a hard-left 
fringe that is hostile to capitalism and Western influence, and that the 
Communist Party has long sought to cultivate — and contain.

China’s Maoists are a small minority; most Chinese have no desire to 
revive the ruthless, convulsive politics of the Mao era. But the 
Maoists’ growing assertiveness, echoed in their embrace of aspects of 
Mr. Trump’s agenda, could help push the country in a more authoritarian 

They also complicate the efforts of Mr. Xi to play both sides of an 
ideological divide: as a robust defender of Mao’s legacy, but also a 
proponent of market liberalization and even a champion of globalization 
in the Trump age.

It is a paradox that these admirers of Mao Zedong, a Marxist 
revolutionary who railed against Western imperialism, have found things 
to like about this American president, a property tycoon with a cabinet 
crowded with millionaires. But they want Mr. Xi to take a page from Mr. 
Trump’s “America First” script and protect Chinese workers from layoffs, 
privatization and foreign competition.

“Trump opposes globalization, and so should China,” said one article on 
Utopia, a popular Maoist website. “Trump’s ideology has oriented toward 
China, and he is learning from China,” said another hard-left Chinese site.

China’s neo-Maoists, as they are sometimes called, are loosely united by 
demands for stringent economic equality, zealous nationalism and a 
loathing of the capitalist West and liberal democracy.

“Many of the same ideas now animating the global populist movement have 
been the hallmarks of the neo-Maoist movement for over a decade,” said 
Jude Blanchette, a researcher in Beijing who is writing a book about the 

“The neo-Maoists have also clearly benefited from the rise of Xi 
Jinping, as he has blasted a pretty large dog whistle in their 
direction,” Mr. Blanchette added.

Many on China’s far left see Mr. Trump as a dangerous foe who has 
questioned established American policy on Taiwan, vowed to confront 
China’s hold on the disputed South China Sea and threatened to cut 
Chinese exports to America.

But some Maoists say Mr. Trump also offers a model. They think he led a 
populist revolt that humbled a corrupt political establishment not 
unlike what they see in China. They cheer his incendiary tactics, 
sometimes likening them to Mao’s methods. And they hear in his remarks 
an echo of their own disgust with Western democracy, American 
interventionism and liberal political values.

Maoist meetings and websites dwell on a clutch of enemies, including the 
C.I.A. and America in general, genetically modified crops and advocates 
of privatizing state companies. But they reserve a particular venom for 
liberal Chinese intellectuals and celebrities who have condemned Mao.

In the West, Mr. Zhang argued, the nationalists are on the right while 
the left generally supports internationalism. “But China is the 
opposite,” he said. “Chinese rightists are the traitors, while Chinese 
leftists are the patriots.”

The Communist Party never repudiated Mao’s legacy after his death in 
1976, but it condemned his excesses, including the violent Cultural 
Revolution, and for years he was ignored or discredited while Deng 
Xiaoping pursued economic liberalization.

In the 1990s, though, the party refurbished Mao’s image and fostered a 
popular revival to bolster its authority and blunt calls for political 
liberalization. Officials started using Maoists to intimidate liberal 
academics, dissidents and other critics. Before Mr. Xi came to power in 
2012, a political rival, Bo Xilai, openly encouraged “red” nostalgia for 
the Mao era as part of an effort to build a populist power base.

Mr. Bo was purged in a scandal, but the Maoists regrouped as Mr. Xi 
associated himself more closely with Mao’s legacy than his predecessors 
and called for a return to Marxist purity.

Under Mr. Xi, Maoists have become bolder in taking to the streets and 
organizing online campaigns. A court ruling last year and legislation 
adopted last month protecting Communist heroes buoyed them further.

Nobody expects Maoists to seize power in Beijing. They are disdained by 
the middle class and kept on a tether by the party authorities. Across 
China, there are maybe a few thousand active supporters of Maoist groups 
and causes, and their petitions against liberal intellectuals have 
gathered tens of thousands of signatures online, according to Mr. 
Blanchette, the researcher.

But the Chinese left’s broader message of muscular nationalism and its 
criticism of widening inequality have reverberated, especially among 
retirees, hard-up workers and former party officials dismayed by 
extravagant wealth and corruption. Mr. Trump and the global surge of 
nationalism and populism have added to the political tinder.

Dai Jianzhong, a sociologist in Beijing, said Maoists could gain a 
bigger following if an economic slowdown caused mass layoffs, or if 
tensions with the United States escalated into confrontation.

“It was a big shock for China to see American middle-class society 
overwhelmed by this tide of populism,” Mr. Dai said. “China is a 
different society, but if the economy stagnates and workers feel badly 
let down, populism will gain influence. The influence of Maoists and 
ultraleftists would spread.”

In January, about a hundred protesters gathered in Jinan, a provincial 
capital in eastern China, to condemn a professor of communications and 
advertising, Deng Xiangchao, who had dared criticize Mao online. They 
chanted and held banners near Mr. Deng’s home, reviling him as a 
“traitor” and “enemy of the people,” and roughed up a few people who 
came to show their support for him.

“We love Chairman Mao because we’re poor, and the poor all love Chairman 
Mao,” Yang Jianguo, a retired worker who was among the protesters, said 
by telephone after the protest.

The university swiftly dismissed Mr. Deng rather than engage in a 
prolonged battle with the Maoists. Later, left-wing activists also 
successfully demanded the dismissal of a television station worker who 
had voiced support for Mr. Deng.

It would be unthinkable for the party to be so obliging of protesters 
for free speech or other causes the party considers anathema. But while 
Mr. Xi has silenced the party’s liberal critics, the party has 
tolerated, even abetted, its hard-left opponents, giving the Maoist 
populists room to grow stronger.

“Their influence has clearly grown with the leftist turn in ideology, 
especially since 2015,” said Deng Yuwen, a current affairs writer in 
Beijing who has criticized the Maoists.

“It’s not that the top level of the party directly controls them, but 
the Maoists are politically astute, and they have a good sense of what 
they can get away with,” he added. “They know the officials use them, 
but they also use the officials.”

While party leaders may find them useful for intimidating critics, the 
Maoists want to take China in a different direction and reverse market 
policies that have fueled decades of growth, by seizing the assets of 
the rich and strengthening state ownership of industry, for example.

Most phrase their criticism of the party carefully, but some openly 
accuse it of betraying Mao. “China is a capitalist state under socialist 
guise,” said Mr. Yang, the retired worker. “Capitalists dominate the 

Asked about the American president, Mr. Yang was more generous: “Trump 
has socialist tendencies, because the way he won power in a way 
reflected the workers’ demands.”

Many Maoists see Mr. Xi as a fellow traveler who is taking China in the 
right direction by restoring respect for Mao and Marx. But others say 
privately that even Mr. Xi may not be a dependable ally. They point out 
that he has promoted himself abroad as a proponent of expanding global 
trade and a friend of multinational corporations, drawing an implicit 
contrast with Mr. Trump.

He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University who is often reviled by 
China’s far left, said Mr. Xi was playing a dangerous game by allowing 
Maoist populists to silence liberal voices and risked igniting political 
fires that he cannot easily control.

“If political currents in China increasingly converge with populism,” 
Mr. He added, “that would have a powerful effect on China’s future.”

Adam Wu contributed research.

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