On 9 September, we remember Mao Zedong on his death anniversary as the great leader of China. He believed in the process of historical development of society but he never disregarded the crucial role of man’s conscious will in reshaping the process. To him, the people as against things, were” the most precious”. This is the key to understanding Mao. Even when he was ruthless and perpetrated organised violence to achieve his revolutionary objectives, concern for man was at the centre of his scheme.
In fighting a war, Mao used men not as tools but as a self-propelling conscious force. That is why he was never reckless with men’s lives. He would abandon territory to save men. “Keep men, lose land; land can be taken again. Keep land, lose men; land and men both lost”, he would repeat time and again. In fact, the Red Army converted this axiom into a marching song. Thus in Mao’s Marxism there was no confrontation between “process”and “will”. They were two sides of the same coin. But most Marxists have converted the process into a rigid dogma. No wonder, post-Mao Marxism appears to have lost its dynamism and direction.
Mao’s “ fish and water “simile becomes meaningful only in this context. “The people are our bastion of bronze,” he was fond of saying. The Communists had the populace with them, while Chiang had territory. The Nationalists commanded buildings, not hearts. It was this distinct duality of the Chinese revolution that endeared it to enlightened men and women all over the world. It aroused hope everywhere for the emancipation of the oppressed and exploited masses.
Mao’s faith in the invincibility of the people never diminished. But not all his colleagues and comrades shared his profound faith. Despite Marxism, they thought more in terms of weapons, resources and efficiency than of men, inspired by a noble ideology .In fact , they hardly expected to win the civil war which Mao tried to avoid though he never doubted the victory of the Communist cause. He spent more than 40 days at Chiang’s headquarters , patiently trying to reach a workable arrangement with him. But Chiang was never interested in sharing power.” The sky can’t have two suns”, he once remarked. At that juncture, he had the advantage of both world powers supporting him. Moscow had signed a treaty with Chiang’s government. Stalin did not expect Mao to win.
Mao’s own general, Peng Tehuai, had said in 1946 that “though he cannot be defeated, it is probably true that we cannot win”. Such doubt and diffidence revealed his lack of understanding of people’s power. When power did come and Peng was appointed Defence Minister, he developed strong bureaucratic traits, leading to bitter clashes with Mao which resulted in his dismissal in 1959.
After the collapse of Chiang in mainland China, Mao tried hard to reach an understanding with the Americans. He had no intention of “leaning to one side”. He was even prepared to go to Washington to meet the President. But America’s diplomacy lacked flexibility and relations between the two countries remained frozen for a quarter of a century.
After Japan’s surrender, the Russian Army moved into Manchuria and dismantled practically all plants and took them to the Soviet Union. After that, the area was handed over to Hong and Mao had to fight to capture it. It is thus obvious that if the Americans had been a little prudent, they could have taken advantage of the situation and altered the history of the region, and of the world considerably.
In the 20 years of Mao Zedong’s leadership from 1936 to 1955, he personified a “valuepack” of talented leaders who willingly surrendered their personal ego to the glorification of Mao.
There was no defection, no open quarrel, no power struggle ~ a phenomenon seldom witnessed anywhere in the world, and certainly unknown in China’s history. Mao had generated a coagulative force to create this pack. He can be called a “value-pack leader”.
Mao has to be recognised as the architect of Communist victory in China. It was his stubbornness and firm resolve that enabled the Communist Party of China to stand up against Stalin’s ruinous interference. The Red Czar could oblige Hitler, Roosevelt and Churchill but never another Communist after Lenin’s death. Mao not only survived Stalin’s displeasure but extricated an apology from him. When Stalin welcomed Mao at the Kremlin in 1949, he came through as a man more sinned against than sinning. Stalin did not take time to understand Mao’s grievance and assured him that “the victor is beyond criticism.”
Mao could hardly tolerate inequality, but he ignored the reality that God has cut out human beings in unequal sizes and capabilities. A contrived egalitarian society mired in poverty underscored his misinterpretation Marx’s concept. Here Mao was misled chiefly by Confucius who said: “Not scarcity but inequality, not poverty but unrest should be our worry”.
Mao was, in fact, a man of peace ,not in the narrow sense but in the widest sweep of the term. Peace is indivisible; it cannot exist in the midst of injustice, exploitation and oppression. Mao had to fight these evils in order to ensure peace. It was bound to be a protracted process. By that token, Mahatma Gandhi was also a great warrior. He only used a different set of weapons which had never been tried before .Both thought in terms of the transformation of villages. Emancipation had to reach the countryside without which no progress would be meaningful.
Indeed, Mao stood for an armed revolution ~ gun and book together ~ that would take originate in the countryside and then spread to cities. He thought in terms of “base areas” in remote villages, where he introduced what has been called “almost complete democracy” in the army. Officers were educated to treat the men they commanded as equals. They could not assault them as was the practice in Chiang’s army or even earlier. Mao also prescribed a new way of life for them. Soldiers helped farmers with sowing , cut firewood for the infirm, returned everything that they borrowed, paid for things they bought, and respected women as equal comrades.
Evidently this does not project the image of a man who was devoted to violence for its own sake. Even his observation that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” does not indicate faith in violence. It only explains a fact of life.
The ultimate sanction behind every state power had always been the gun. Mao deserves a better understanding and appreciation than most people, either out of ignorance of his life and work or because of deliberate distortions, are willing to grant.
(The writer is former Associate Professor, Dept of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata)