Deng Xiaoping - The Maverick Departs

[From Liberation, April 1997.]

‘It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it caught mice.’ About this famous statement of Deng the only official clarification offered so far has been that the cat referred to was yellow not white.

Deng Xiaoping, the last link in the chain of veteran revolutionaries of China, remained a controversial figure all through his political career spanning over 70 years. The debate, whether Deng was building socialism or capitalism in China, remains inconclusive; still, there is no disputing the fact that under his command China indeed emerged as a major world economic power within a period of just 10 to 15 years. The pace of economic development in China has been described as unparalleled in world history — a miracle — and experts believe that within a decade or so China is poised to become an economic superpower, next only to the United States.

In the post-Chinese revolution phase, differences began to crop up between Mao and Deng on the all-important question of socialist construction. Deng believed that in the phase of socialist construction, the contradiction between the backward productive forces and the advanced production relations constituted the principal contradiction of Chinese society. In other words, without the rapid development of productive forces advanced production relations cannot be sustained and thus socialism will remain a utopia. Accordingly, along with Liu Shao Chi, he advocated primary emphasis on the development of productive forces. As for the production relations, they should correspondingly be developed step by step.

Under the leadership of Chairman Mao, new China made rapid progress towards building socialism and by the early sixties a powerful socialist infrastructure did come into being. In the next stage of development, inner-Party debates got intensified and eventually led to the cultural revolution. Deng was branded as the ‘Capitalist-roader No.2’ after Liu Shao Chi and was sent off to a factory far off from Beijing to work as an ordinary worker. Deng is reported to have made self-criticisms at least twice and even confessed that he was indeed a capitalist roader.

Nevertheless, the ideals that had motivated the Cultural Revolution, viz. preventing the dangers of capitalist revival, cultivating the advanced socialist consciousness and the making of a socialist man etc. remained a distant dream and after a prolonged spell of ten years, Cultural Revolution ended in a fiasco. Ironically, the most vocal proponent of the Cultural Revolution, Lin Piao proved to be a conspirator, who plotted a coup d’etat aimed at assassinating Mao and seizing power. The credit for foiling Lin Piao’s gameplan goes to Chou Enlai, considered otherwise a moderate in the parlance of cultural revolutionaries. Deng was recalled by Mao but his return proved to be a short-term affair. After the departure of Chou, the machinations of the notorious gang of four once again led to his ouster. After Mao’s death and the subsequent exposure of the gang of four, Deng made a dramatic comeback and thereafter there was no looking back. Till his end he remained the supreme leader of China.

He advanced the theory of the primary stage of socialism, quite a protracted stage indeed, and drastically restructured production relations and opened China for massive inflow of foreign capital and technology. He created special economic zones based on the premise ‘let some areas develop first’.

The western capitalist world widely acclaimed his policies of economic reforms. The West was euphoric over the prospects of eventual political reforms which would destroy the monopoly of the Communist Party rule in China and usher in multi-party parliamentary system.

Deng, however, proved to be a die-hard in this respect. He did not hesitate to mercilessly crush the clamourings for bourgeois political reforms at Tiananmen Square and for that the bourgeois media dubbed him as the villain of the piece.

Deng has built the super-structure of modern China only over the foundations of a socialist infrastructure built under the charismatic leadership of Chairman Mao. Committed to the rule of the Communist Party and the goals of socialism, both Mao and Deng were outstanding personalities of 20th century and both played their historical roles to the hilt. Yet the million dollar question posed by Mao ‘Which will win, socialism or capitalism?’, could neither be resolved by Mao’s Cultural Revolution nor by Deng’s agenda of socialist modernisation. The quest for its resolution shall continue to haunt China of the 21st century.

Deng Xiaoping performed the unique feat of getting rehabilitated, that too twice, in his lifetime. Like the proverbial cat, no matter white or yellow, he ‘had nine lives’.

Liberation pays tribute to the last great man in the series of historical personalities who shaped the 20th century.