[Speech at a seminar on Mao organised by the West Bengal state committee of the Party in Calcutta on December 26, 1993. From Liberation, February 1994.]
On the occasion of Mao Zedong’s birth centenary, throughout the country a lot of discussions are going on, hosts of articles are being written and many functions are being organised. This new-found interest in Mao generates a lot of hope. Even those who till the other day believed that socialism, born out of the womb of capitalism, can never go back to capitalism but can only grow into developed socialism and thereafter into communism and those who ridiculed Mao’s study On Contradiction, are now acclaiming Mao’s Thought on contradictions. These discussions, these debates are indeed of vital importance.
It is true that some people will try to incorporate Mao in their framework of social-democracy whereas some others shall try to adjust Mao and his thought with their idealist-anarchist ideas. Still, this debate, this discussion on Mao will eventually help in a comprehensive and correct understanding of Mao and his thought. This is all the more necessary because in the Indian communist movement the question of Mao and his thought has always been a debatable question and without a correct and unified idea on that, the Indian communist movement cannot be advanced to the next stage. For all these reasons, I welcome the discussion and debates on Mao that has begun on his birth centenary.
In the beginning of the decade of the ’70s Calcutta walls were filled up with a strange slogan; "China’s Chairman is Our Chairman". Young people in their thousands voiced this slogan as the symbol of revolutionary defiance. The slogan was subjected to harsh criticism, as being contrary to the national spirit, to patriotism. Even Mao is supposed to have expressed his disapproval of the slogan. Later on our Party too withdrew the slogan. And yet a crucial question remains unanswered: how come tens of thousands of Indian youth opted to express their revolutionary enthusiasm through such a slogan? They were not less patriotic than any one else, neither were they short of nationalist spirit. In thousands they sacrificed their precious lives with the dream of the liberation of the motherland. Why then did they opt for this slogan? In other words, how did Mao, China’s Chairman, got transformed into a leader of world revolution? How did he become, for the youth of different countries and for revolutionary people everywhere, their very own, their symbol of hope? To find an answer, one has to trace the historical situation of that period.
In the decade of the ’60s, all of a sudden, Soviet leadership began to say that after the emergence of the atom bomb everything has changed; so a new thinking is required in all respects. Imperialists are now armed with powers that can liquidate millions upon millions of people, and even destroy the earth. Therefore, no more class war, no more national liberation war. In short, nothing that would provoke the imperialists. Moreover, they called for a new definition of Marxism in this ‘new age’, the atomic age. This was how modern revisionism emerged from the Soviet Union. Mao took up the cudgels on behalf of revolutionary communists and declared that no weapon, irrespective of its destructive power, can change the fundamentals of human society. People and people alone are the motive force of history and not the atom bomb. When imperialists were raising the bogey of the atom bomb to halt the progress of revolutionary struggles throughout the world, it was Mao who made the famous declaration -- the atom bomb is nothing but a paper tiger. Mao’s bold assertion at that juncture inspired confidence in oppressed people everywhere and provided the necessary impetus for carrying forward their struggle.
Mao had also said that a small force can gradually accumulate strength and defeat a big force. Thus, when under revisionist influence Marxism’s survival was threatened, Mao reassured the people of the world and thus transcending the frontiers of China, he became one with the peoples of Asia, Africa, Latin America and of the whole world for that matter.
The emergence of Mao’s thought has a history behind it. Marx and Engels had dreamt of a proletarian revolution, the revolution which in their view would begin from developed capitalist countries and then the victorious proletariat would liberate the oppressed people of colonies and semi-colonies. In real life, however, revolution did not take the direct route. Proletarian revolution first broke out in Russia. Lenin too had expected the Russian revolution to ignite the flame of revolution in countries of Western Europe. That too did not come about. Lenin, therefore, emphasised the organic linkage between the Russian revolution and the national liberation struggles of colonies and semi-colonies. He grasped the objective shift of the center of world revolution towards Asia. He advised the communists of the East that they could not possibly know their way from Marxist books and must explore it themselves basing on general principles of communism and, of course, the rich experiences of the October revolution.
The emergence of Mao’s thought was thus no accident. As the center of revolution had moved to the East, to Asia, emergence of a revolutionary theory from there was a historical inevitability. It could have been in India as well. Anyway, it emerged from China and Mao was the product of this historical necessity.
Mao explored the revolutionary potential of the peasantry in China, a semi-colonial country, and even organised a red army to accomplish the revolution. This role of peasantry in the history of proletariat was an outstanding contribution to the treasure of Marxism. Building an anti-imperialist front on the basis of national consciousness was another major contribution of Mao.
In the process of establishing his thoughts Mao had to conduct bitter ideological struggles within his party as well as against the Comintern. In a protracted struggle eventually he established his line, ideology and his thought.
Mao had great respect for Stalin. He hailed Stalin as a great revolutionary leader. But at the same time he and only he pointed out the ideological roots of Stalin’s mistakes. When Stalin was being slandered all around, when he was being branded even as a criminal, Mao underlined his contributions to the building of Socialism. While pointing out the ideological roots of Stalin’s mistakes Mao unhesitatingly said that Stalin had a fair amount of metaphysics, or one-sidedness, in him.
While building socialism in China Mao opposed blindly copying the Soviet model. He opposed the imposition of the Soviet Party as a super-party and, most importantly, he opposed the super-power status of the Soviet Union. He had repeatedly emphasised that a socialist country—no matter how strong it became—should never assume the airs of a super power, should never interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and should not occupy other countries by sending armed forces. When the Soviet Army was roaming around from Eastern Europe to Afghanistan under the pretext of defending socialism, Mao resolutely opposed this super-power attitude and said that if a socialist country starts behaving like a superpower its socialism no longer remains genuine socialism.
Mao not only opposed Khruschevite revisionism but also criticised Stalinist metaphysics. In our Party’s opinion, for a comprehensive understanding of Mao’s thought, it is imperative to understand both these aspects.
Mao repeatedly pointed out that the contradiction between capitalism and socialism is far from resolved. This struggle will go on for many years to come, may be a few hundred years, and thus the question who will win is yet to be resolved. Soviet leadership claimed that socialism can only grow into developed socialism and then into communism. Mao said no, this is wrong. This was yet another major contribution of Mao in the field of Marxist philosophy and theory.
He had also pointed out how exactly a socialist country may transform itself back into capitalism. He opined that class struggle exists in socialist society too and there remains a bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie organises itself within the communist party, and capitalist roaders emerge from within the Party headquarters. Later on events in Soviet Union have corroborated his analysis. Socialism’s retreat to capitalism and the capturing of Party headquarters from within by capitalist roaders occurred in Russia in exactly the way Mao had predicted. And this is the basic reason for the growing attraction towards Mao’s thought particularly after Soviet collapse.
Summing up the experiences of various socialist countries Mao tried to resolve this problem of great importance. This led to what is known as the Cultural Revolution in China. The Cultural Revolution ended in a failure and finally some persons, who were in no way communists, seized power in the Party. Eventually in 1976 Mao had to declare the end of the Cultural Revolution and bring back Deng Xiaoping. In the first analysis, the aim and purpose of Cultural Revolution remained unfulfilled and in many a case produced opposite results.
Anyway, the questions which remained unresolved do create conditions for the development of Mao’s thought. In the history of revolution at every phase certain questions remain unresolved and they in turn provide certain conditions for the future development of Marxism-Leninism. Success comes only after repeated failures. The Cultural Revolution failed but this is not the main thing. The important thing is that Mao pinpointed the real questions and made an attempt to resolve them. The danger has been proved real and future attempts by Marxists-Leninists in resolving these questions will bank heavily upon the essence of Mao’s efforts.
So many people nowadays are evaluating Mao. That is definitely needed. But I feel the time has still not come to say anything final on the comprehensive evaluation of Mao. The Soviet communist party had made their own assessment of Stalin but Marxists-Leninists of the world had rejected that. Similarly, I don’t consider CPC’s evaluation of Mao as the last word. Well, CPC’s evaluation is of course a part of any comprehensive evaluation of Mao. But Mao didn’t belong just to China. Marxists-Leninists of the world will evaluate him and for that history has to wait for some more time.
Today’s need is to evaluate the Indian communist movement in the light of Mao’s Thought –- to ponder over the reasons why we failed in advancing the Indian revolution, instead of evaluating Mao on the yardstick of correctness of one’s own Party line, it would be better if one’s own Party line is judged by the yardstick of Mao’s Thought.
It is not that Mao committed no mistakes. Those who dream of revolution and strive for this in revolutionary struggles are liable to commit mistakes. Those who never go in for struggles can of course claim that they never committed mistakes. Marx, Engels, Lenin – everyone of them made mistakes. But their mistakes were the mistakes of great revolutionaries. Even through their mistakes they succeeded in carrying forward the revolutionary consciousness of people. Mao’s mistakes should also be judged from this viewpoint only. History does not remember those who claimed to have always been correct. History remembers Marx, not Lassalle or Bernstein, history remembers Lenin, not Plekhanov and history remembers Mao and not Liu Shao-chi.
In 1968 when we embarked on the path of revolutionary politics in college life, we had used the word Chairman Mao in the editorial of the college magazine. There were only four or five of us in those days. The reactionaries organised many students and burnt our magazine Vanguard. We protested with the slogan "Mao is the great leader of world revolution". Later on, when arrested, we were mercilessly beaten up for possessing Mao’s books. In jail, somehow I managed to smuggle in Mao’s Selected Writings and everyday I would read it myself and translate it for the benefit of other comrades in jail. This was my favourite task in those days.
In 1979 when I reached China across the mountains, the de-Maoisation process had just begun there. We visited all the important places of the Chinese Revolution and had intimate talks with veteran peasants as well as many other people. We had developed the feeling that the Chinese people and the broad Party ranks have great faith in and respect for Mao and Mao can never be erased from China.
Standing before the body of Mao lying in state, I whispered to myself: Chairman Mao, you shall remain our Chairman for ever – though not as China’s Chairman, but as our guide to the path of Indian revolution.