On 1st October, 1949 Com. Mao Ze Dong proclaimed the creation of People’s Republic of China and declared liberation of one fourth of mankind. Eight months to this great victory in February 1949, Com. Mao had his maiden appearance in ‘Time magazine’ with the headline ‘Communist boss learned tyranny as a boy’. The western world campaigned for Chiang Kai Shek as the representative of Chinese nationalism and Mao was completely ignored. The pioneering writing of Edgar Snow – Red Star over China – in 1937 introduced Mao Ze Dong to a wider circle in the western world. The famous western journalists, authors and economists like Jack Belden, Theodore White, Rewi Alley, Felix Greene, Jan Myrdal, Joan Robinson, John Gurley, William Hinton and Dr Josua Horn have given accounts of the Chinese revolution and its leaders in a positive way.
John Gurley of Stanford was so much influenced by the Chinese revolution that he changed his world outlook. In 1976 Gurley wrote : “The basic overriding economic fact about China is that for twenty years it has fed, clothed and housed everyone, has kept them healthy and has educated most. Millions have not starved, sidewalks and streets have not been covered with multitudes of sleeping, begging, hungry and illiterate human beings; millions are not disease-ridden. To find such deplorable conditions, one does not look into China these days but rather to India, Pakistan, and almost anywhere in the underdeveloped world.”
The first World Bank report on China in 1980-81 states : “Nonetheless, and despite slow growth of the average level of consumption China’s most remarkable achievement during the past three decades has been to make low income groups far better off in terms of basic needs than their counterparts in most of the poor countries. They all have work; their food supply is guaranteed through a mixture of state rationing and collective self insurance; most of their children are not only at school but being comparatively well taught; and the great majority have access to basic health care and family planning services. Life expectancy – whose dependence on other economic & social variables makes it probably the best single indicator of the extent of real poverty in a country – is outstandingly high for a country at China’s per capita income level.”
These achievements of Chinese revolution led Fox Butterfield to write an obituary on Mao in New York Times mentioning ‘Mao TSe-ung, who began as an obscure peasant, died one of history’s great revolutionary figures’.
But after 1980s these assessments from western capitalist world have vanished. It is very interesting to note that from this period capitalist world has organized two pronged attacks against socialist China. One against Great Leap Forward (GLF) and the other against Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). At the same time they are maligning Com. Mao and other great communist leaders of China.
Just take the example of the personal lives of Com. Mao & Com. Zhou En Lai. These two leaders had no personal properties. They paid rent for the government houses they lived in, their furnitures were also rented, their salaries were no higher than a full professor’s salary during that period. Most communist leaders did not accumulate any wealth and all their money if left were given to party. In an article published in People’s net, December 10, 2013 we find that-‘Chairman Mao had only 500 yuan left in his account at the time he died. All his royalties from his writings were converted into membership dues to the party,’ Such a humble life of a revolutionary has been maligned by the outright false memoirs of Chairman Mao’s physician Dr. Li Zhisui in his book ‘The private life of Chairman Mao’. This doctor wants to make us believe that the man who led the liberation struggle of one fourth of mankind was a promiscuous man. We shall deal with the lies of Dr. Li later on in our article.
BBC website on Com. Mao mentions ’Mao was a Chinese communist leader and founder of the People’s Republic of China. He was responsible for the disastrous policies of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’. Readers may be delighted to find the wonderful similarity between BBC’s statement and present CPC leadership’s understanding on the history of China’s socialist transition which states that: “All the successes in these ten years were achieved under the collective leadership of the Central Committee of the Party headed by Comrade Mao Zedong. Likewise, responsibility for the errors committed in the work of this period rested with the same collective leadership. Although Comrade Mao Zedong must be held chiefly responsible, we cannot lay the blame for all those errors on him alone. During this period, his theoretical and practical mistakes concerning class struggle in a socialist society became increasingly serious, his personal arbitrariness gradually undermined democratic centralism in Party life and the personality cult grew graver and graver. The Central Committee of the Party failed to rectify these mistakes in good time. Careerists like Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and Kang Sheng, harbouring ulterior motives, made use of these errors and inflated them. This led to the inauguration of the ‘cultural revolution’.”
When famous economist John Gurley and World Bank in its first report on China were praising the policies pursued by China during Great Leap Forward (GLF) and Cultural Revolution (GPCR) the revisionist Gang leader Deng in 1980 told a World Bank Mission: ‘We are very poor. We have lost touch with the world. We need the World Bank to catch up’. People may compare the attitude of self reliance & self esteem of a proletarian state and statesmanship of Mao era and the slavish attitude of Deng.
In this article I shall try to find the answers to the allegations made by capitalist scholars both outside and inside China who are trying to prove the Great Leap Forward (GLF) and GPCR disasters. These include the question of mass killing due to famine during GLF, the so called disastrous education policies during GLF and GPCR, GPCR as Com. Mao’s power hankering manoeuvre, the so called violence and coercion during GPCR & GLF.
The so called disaster of GLF – The Famine Deaths
The central attack by capitalists in and outside China post 1980s has been concentrated against GLF. The Deng regime published a figure of 16.5 million famine death during GLF. When Deng calculates 16.5 million then why should western scholars be far behind? So their estimates of toll rose higher. Chang & Halliday in their book – Mao: The Unknown Story (2005) calculated the death toll to be 37.67 million. In 1987 Judith Bannister in ’China’s Changing Population’ stated the toll to be 30 million. Frank Dikotter in his book ‘Mao’s Great Famine: The history of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe’ mentions this death toll to be 45 Million; he also mentioned that some authors speculate this to be around 50-60 million. Chang & Halliday”s book reads:”Mao Tse-tung ….was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peace time.’ More than one lakh copies of Frank Dikotter’s books were sold and the book won the Samuel Johnson nonfiction prize in 2011. Anthony Garnaut in 2013 has shown that the book has serious problems with research methodology and Warren Sun alleged Dikotter has deliberately distorted documentary evidence. So much so that this 2 million Dollar scholarship winner Dikotter’s book’s cover page depicting the great famine during GLF was found to be copied from a picture of the famine of 1946 which was printed in ’Life Magazine’. When Dikotter was asked about this he answered that he did not get any picture of the famine during GLF, that’s why he printed that picture. Frank Dikotter claimed that Chairman Mao was willing to starve half of the Chinese people to death. When he was challenged to provide evidence he initially said he had an agreement to not divulge the source but finally under pressure he showed a document which was a speech by Com. Mao about launching an industrial project where Com Mao had said China would cut off half of the projects in 1960 so that the other half is quickly finished. Just imagine the level of distortion!
Joseph Ball and Utsa Patnaik have analytically countered the claims of these scoundrels at length. In her Revisiting Alleged 30 Million Famine Deaths during China’s Great Leap Utsa Patnaik stated:
“Thirty years ago, a highly successful vilification campaign was launched against Mao Zedong, saying that a massive famine in which 27 to 30 million people died in China took place during the Great Leap period, 1958 to 1961, which marked the formation of the people’s communes under his leadership. The main basis of this assertion was, first, the population deficit in China during 1958 to 1961 and, second, the work of two North American demographers, A.J. Coale (Rapid Population Change in China 1952-1982, 1982) and Judith Banister (China’s Changing Population, 1987). No one bothered to look at the highly dubious method through which these demographers had arrived at their apocalyptic figures.” She also said “The ‘estimate’ was later widely publicised by Amartya K. Sen, who built an entire theory saying that democratic freedom, especially press freedom, in India meant that famine was avoided while its absence in China explains why the world did not know that such a massive famine had taken place until as much as a quarter century later when the North American demographers painstakingly uncovered it.”
Utsa Patnaik has shown that the large ‘famine deaths’ concluded by population deficit and imputing births and deaths did not actually take place. From China’s official population data from its 1953 and 1964 censuses, and accepting its rate of population increase up to 1958, the population should have been 27 million higher over the period of 1959-1961 than it actually was. Utsa has shown the fallacy of equating the population deficit with ‘famine deaths.’ Those ’scholars’ have measured decline in the birth rate from 29 in 1958 to 18 in 1961 as famine deaths.
There was a rise in the officially measured death rate from 12 in 1958 to 14.6 in 1959, followed by a sharp rise in 1960 to 25.4 per thousand again falling the next year to 14.2 and further to 10 in 1962. In 1960 there were about 8 million deaths in excess of the 1958 level. But this peak official ‘famine’ death rate of 25.4 per thousand in China was little different from India’s 24.8 death rate in the same year which was considered quite normal and attracted no criticism from these scholars. Considering the low death rate that China had achieved by 1958 as the benchmark, and calculating the deaths in excess of this over the period 1959 to 1961 totals 11.5 million which is the maximal estimate of so called ‘famine deaths.’ Even this figure is puzzling given the egalitarian distribution in China, since its average grain output per head was considerably above India’s level even in the worst year, and India had no generalized famine in the mid-1960s.
These data did not satisfy the aim to oppose socialism. Coale’s and Banister’s estimates gave them the ammunition to attack the communes. The figure was manufactured by using the 1982 census where there was a survey on fertility covering one million persons or a mere 0.1 per cent sample of the population. They concluded from the very high total fertility rate obtained from this 1982 survey that millions more were actually born between the two census years, 1953 and 1964, than were officially recorded. They ignored the birth rate of 37 per thousand derived from a very much larger 1953 sample which had covered five percent of all households and was specially designed to collect the information on births and deaths used in the official estimates. They imputed birth rates of 43 to 44 per thousand to the 1950s, using the 1982 survey with a smaller sample size. The irony is that although all official birth and death rates are rejected by them, the official population of 1964, a total of 694.6 million, are accepted. This opportunistic assumption was clearly necessary for their purpose because it allowed them to assert that the same number of extra people died between 1953 and 1964, as the extra people they claim were born. A serious reader who does not have any conflict of interest unlike ‘Bharatratna’ Amartya Sen will surely understand the emptiness of his remark.
Joseph Ball pointed out that ‘there seems to be no way of independently authenticating these figures due to the great mystery about how they were gathered and preserved twenty years before being released to the general public’.
Mobo Gao & Dongping Han the two famous Chinese scholars have also shown the utter falsity of this claim of famine deaths by their field study.
The Question Of Grain Shortage During GLF
In 1958 foodgrain output was exceptionally good at 200 million tons (mt). After 1958 there was a bad harvest in China – due to drought in some parts, floods in others, and also pest attacks. Foodgrain output fell from 200 mt in 1958 to 170 mt in 1959 and further to 143.5 mt in 1960. In 1961 there was a small recovery to 147 million tons. This was a one-third decline, larger than the one-quarter decline India saw during its mid-1960s. As the Grain output drop coincided in time with the formation of the communes, academics blamed the commune formation for this output decline. The opposite argument that without the egalitarian distribution that the communes practised, the impact on people of the output decline, which occurred for independent reasons would have been far worse, was ignored. It was during this period that 46,000 reservoirs were built with collective labour of the communes which prevented further drought in China. Western scholars are fond of forgetting this piece of information. Recovery to the 200 million ton level took place only by 1965. However, it is worth remembering that the per capita foodgrain output in China even during the worst year, 1960, remained substantially above India and after GLF initiated construction of water reservoirs there was never any significant drought in China.
Tachai question Revisited
During GPCR one of the famous slogans was ‘Learn from Tachai (Dazhai)’. This slogan inspired Chinese people to build socialist agriculture. Now, after the great reversal, Chinese officials are saying that Tachai data were manipulated, manufactured.
Mao Zedong chose Dazhai, a mountain village in Shanxi, as a model of rural development, primarily because it practiced cooperation and self-reliance. William Hinton in Great Reversal mentions : ‘This small community of eighty families turned a barren, gully-scarred mountainside into rich, terraced farmland with irrigated yields……They raised silkworms, honey bees, chickens, and fat pigs, built a brick kiln, a bean noodle plant, a bauxite mine, and used the income from their crops and shops to build solid, stone housing for every family, educate both children and adults, and provide medical care for all’.
Deng Xiaoping and his colleagues repudiated Dazhai, denounced its accomplishments as fraudulent. In 1983, the complete reorganization of the village from above was carried out. Since then, the reformers claim, Dazhai residents have prospered, mightily increasing crop yields, flourishing new sidelines, raised per capita incomes, and raised living standards. Xinhua News (September 17, 1987) talked about the superiority of the “responsibility system” a decollectivisation policy, over the cooperative egalitarianism of the past.
Unfortunately, on-the-spot investigations by William Hinton failed to support the Xinhua news story. Hinton went to Dazhai many times. Five times while the village still served as a collective model and four times after it underwent various stages of reform. His conclusion was that since 1979 the Chinese media has consistently misrepresented Dazhai.
He accused the present Chinese leadership of disparaging collective achievements on the one hand and idolizing reform achievements on the other, with equal disregard for facts in both cases.
Hinton accused CPC’s present leadership of biased comparisons. The sharp rise in post reform gross income was a rise in overall returns of 185,000 yuan in 1978 to 650,000 yuan in 1986. The sharp rise in per capita income per person from 186 yuan in 1978 to 650 yuan in 1985 and the creation of new money-earning enterprises and industries together brought in over 490,000 yuan in 1986. But none of the yuan figures given are corrected for inflation. The Chinese yuan had depreciated greatly since 1978. Taking the official rate of exchange between the yuan and the U.S. dollar, there was a sharp decline in relative value from 1.6 yuan to the dollar in 1978 to 3.7 yuan to the dollar in 1987. These official rates probably do not reflect the real decline of the yuan vis-à-vis the dollar because the black market rate during that period was closer to 6 or 7 than to 3.7. The figures did not take into account the decline of the dollar itself. Comparing the yuan against a representative list of commodities on sale in China, the deterioration was also substantial because the yuan in post reform period would buy less than half the goods it bought in 1978. In Shanxi province a few years ago, corn sold for 9 cents and in post reform period it sold for 24 cents. Hinton has shown that ‘Prereform and postreform figures cannot be directly compared. They describe different things. Whereas in the postreform period money income represents most of the income received, in the prereform period money income (paid out as cash or as grain with a fixed cash value) made up only 60 to 75 percent of total income. Brigade members, as shareholders in the collective, received most or all of their housing, medical care, fuel, electricity, and other goods and services free. ‘The total value of these fringe benefits is hard to estimate, but figured at prereform prices it will be worth at least 50 yuan per capita per annum.
Initially no Dazhai resident agreed to carry out the privatization policy. The government in December 1982, sent a state cadre to implement the decisions of a county reform work team and decollectivization was carried out, it was not spontaneous.
Clearly the gap between 1978 earnings and 1986 earnings is not as great as the highly selective figures and accounting procedures behind current reports suggest. Another big reason why pre and postreform figures cannot be directly compared is that the labour pool tapped in the two periods has not only significantly expanded but also has undergone qualitative change.
Moreover while new enterprises have indeed brought in large amounts of added income, other prereform projects have declined or even collapsed. The truth is, if it were not for the coal mines, Dazhai income, corrected for inflation, could well be below that of 1978. It can be because the village abandoned several profitable collective enterprises after 1983 and at the same time failed to maintain the high standards of field and crop care that made Dazhai famous. The list of abandoned enterprises includes a bean noodle factory that earned 10,000 yuan and supplied by-product feed for a pig-raising project that earned 20,000; a blacksmith and welding shop that earned 7,000; a wine plant that earned 5,000; and a horse-raising project making use of rangeland elsewhere that earned 40,000 to 50,000. Altogether these projects produced 92,000 yuan worth of income that no longer comes in. All these data we are presenting have been presented in greater detail by William Hinton in his ‘Great Reversal’.
Since the official CPC line is that Dazhai in the past paid attention only to grain production, the village today introduces a number of still-functioning enterprises that were built long ago as if they were new, as if they were another result of the reform. These include the brick kiln which previously earned 20,000 yuan (Hinton family members worked there in 1971), the soysauce and vinegar plant which contributed 10,000, and several tractors which contributed 10,000, earned by hauling freight on the road.
The deterioration of agriculture since the reform is found to be serious, crop yields are falling. The new policy required only a challenge of Mao’s model. Reports must show that the “responsibility system” of de-collectivization works better than the collective.
Democracy & Violence During GPCR & GLF
In an article written by Hao Qi, present workers and retired workers of China who have worked during GLF & GPCR claimed that during GPCR workers were the masters of their factory which has been occupied by the managers in present regime. The famous Anshang constitution which was promulgated by Anshang steel factory workers was introduced during GLF and was accepted in many factories during GPCR. The three in one system introduced in GPCR gave the right to direct producers in factories and in communes. The party bureaucrats who enjoyed privileges and hated physical labour were challenged.
Com. Mao, in his speech to the delegates of the Albanian Military Commission, stated that capitalist roaders were very strong inside CPC’s CC. The policy of GPCR was passed by only a few majority votes in CC meeting but was overwhelmingly accepted by the majority in CC plenum. Deng regime’s evaluation of history stating ‘His personal arbitrariness gradually undermined democratic centralism in Party life and the personality cult grew graver and graver. The Central Committee of the Party failed to rectify these mistakes in good time’ does not fit the facts. Only 1% of communist party members were purged during this period. None of the senior leaders who were branded as ‘capitalist roaders ‘ like Liu Shao Qi or Deng Xiao Ping were sentenced or arrested. Liu Shao Qi’s wife said that Com. Mao was very keen to work jointly with Liu Shao Qi even when the conflict of line was very intense. But if we look at post-Mao practice we find that at the earliest opportunity their political opponents were arrested and sentenced by branding them as ‘Gang of Four’. Therefore the outcry of democratic centralism and democracy by these revisionists is a hoax.
William Hinton in ‘Turning point in China’ has given a vivid description of attack and counterattack between revolutionaries and capitalist roaders during GPCR. But nowhere was Army used. PLA participated in political struggle but never in armed conflicts except in Wuhan incident in July 1967 when counterrevolutionaries arrested two delegates and tried to combat Premier Zhou En Lai in Hupei.
It was during Com. Mao’s leadership that the famous socialist constitution accepted the right of workers to strike in a workers’ state. Raymond Lota in his book ‘Mao‘s last battle’ talked about Com. Mao’s intense agony and great initiative during that period to get this clause accepted.
Educational reform and extension of primary, secondary schools in rural areas of China during GLF and GPCR empowered toiling masses. Before GLF, the party elites, intellectuals and representatives of propertied classes used to be admitted in universities. During GLF there was intense struggle by Com. Mao and other comrades to change the scenario which was successful in first phase of GPCR. The elitist admission test was given up and students were admitted according to recommendation of workers and peasants communes and admission was related to serving the people and workers’ state. If this is not democracy what is it then?
Now comes the question of mass killings during GPCR. Even the revisionists in their History Resolution have not mentioned this but there are many articles talking about chronology of mass killings during GPCR, published mostly from western universities or Hong Kong’s open universities. If you check the reference you will find forums like Beijing Spring formed by US backed Chinese democrats who took asylum in US and are infamous for their support to US in Iraq war. All the foreign journalists and delegates in their memoirs, even the CIA secret report on Lin Biao issue, have never mentioned these sort of mass killings. We have already seen the truthfulness of western intellectuals on ‘Great Famine’ issue; here also the authenticity is dubious
On the private life of Com Mao
Dr. Li Zhisui in his book ‘The private life of Chairman Mao’ wanted to make us believe that the man who led the liberation struggle of one fourth of mankind was a promiscuous man. Dong Xulin and Q.M. DeBorja edited Manufacturing History: Sex, Lies and Random House’s Memoirs of Mao’s Physician. The book is a long and searching critique by Dong of Li ‘s claim and of the role of China-experts— like Jonathan Mirsky and Andrew Nathan who did much to get the book published and promoted in the English speaking world. The second part contains translations of various key texts from China that refute Dr Li Zhisui’s memoirs.
It was a counterattack against the media-hype around Li Zhisui’s infamous “tell-all biography” of Mao Zedong. Li was one of Mao’s personal physicians, particularly in the later years of his life. His text has recently been criticised by Gao Mobo in the ‘The Battle for China’s Past.’ This text by Li has also been challenged by Jung Chang in ‘Mao: The Untold Story’ & Kaz Ross’s essays.
In Dong’s book the translations from Chinese of refutations of Li’s memoirs by others who knew both Li and Mao personally has been quoted. They call into question the authenticity of what Li said. This in-depth and scholarly critique of Li’s memoirs are yet to be answered by the so called scholars. Nowadays you often hear references, for example, of Mao’s alleged predilection for having sex with young women! Well, you hear that a lot because it is mentioned in Li’s book — in the English version only —and moreover because it fits the dominant, orientalist discourse around Mao (despotism, perversion, and so on). Similar allegations were earlier made by western manufacturers of truth against Com. Stalin which have been exposed by Grover Furr and many other historians. Dong and DeBorja’s text allows one to at least cite counter-references to such truisms about the biographical manoeuvres.
On the fiftieth anniversary of GPCR we pledge to carry forward the ideals of socialist reconstruction and GPCR led by Com. Mao and the then CPC. We expose the capitalist school of falsification. We challenge the reactionaries and Capitalist roaders all over the world and warn them to stop heinous propaganda against working class, toiling masses and Chinese revolution. Long Live GPCR!