Commentary Magazine


Marx & Mao

To the Editor:

In “Losing China Again” [April], Charles Horner cites a New York Times Magazine article reporting that Chinese people have said they “are nostalgic for the Cultural Revolution because it was so Chinese. . . .”

I have heard Chinese people, in China and the United States, saying that the cruelty and disorder brought about by Chairman Mao were typically Chinese. They are wrong. It is not part of Chinese tradition to close schools, beat up teachers, or report one’s parents to the authorities for counterrevolutionary thoughts. What Mao did was not Chinese but Marxist.

Countries as different as Russia, Cuba, and China all developed the same architecture, the same “neighborhood committees,” the same fear of thought. Stalin and Mao both engineered policies that led to catastrophic famine. It is no accident, comrade.

The Chinese honor Marx, even as they abandon socialism. It is easy for them to claim that the Chinese are by nature a cruel people, much easier than the alternative—admitting that it was Marx who led them to heckle and beat their neighbors and friends at “struggle sessions.”

Marxism is not an economic system; it is a religion about an economic system. When the Chinese are able to question the words of Marx, the Communist party will lose its moral authority, and China will be not only free but unified.

Freedom is incompatible with Marxism. Karl Marx assumed that when the final stage of “communism” arrived, we would see the end of disagreement as well as the cessation of conflict of interest. Freedom has no content in a world without differences of opinion. There is, furthermore, an assumption in Marx that science will have been discovered during the capitalist stage of history. When the higher stage of “communism” is reached, says Marx, people will “rear cattle in the evening [and] criticize after dinner.” In other words, there will be no specialization, and therefore no professionals and no need for education. Marx could oppose rights and individuality because he foresaw a society without the need for creativity.

Although Marxism has appealed to humanitarians who wish to see the end of inequality and injustice, every state ruled by the Communist party has been significantly inhumane. The ugliness of these regimes cannot simply be attributed to the philosophy of Lenin, and certainly cannot be explained by discussing such intellectual small fry as Stalin or Mao; it comes from the writings of Marx himself.

George Jochnowitz
College of Staten Island
Staten Island, New York

_____________

 

Charles Horner writes:

A perennial problem in thinking about non-Western societies is how to weigh the persistence of the traditional against the intrusion of the modern. Some Chinese, knowing the history of their country’s experiences with social upheaval and religious millennialism, can indeed see “Chinese” aspects in an event like the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Similarly, those who introduced Western radicalism often tried to make it seem consistent with elements of the Chinese tradition (in the same way, one supposes, that American Communists tried to equate their doctrine with traditional American principles). In China, there is also a long tradition of peasant uprisings and Robin Hood-type outlawry with which contemporary would-be outcasts can identify, especially if they are artists and intellectuals. I suspect that it is this sort of pose which can be observed today. George Jochnowitz is no doubt right to observe that the introduction of Marxism and Leninism made things worse, but China, regrettably, was from time to time a brutally unpleasant place ages before it heard of either Marx or Mao.

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