My using the term `Heil’ to greet Xi , recalling Hitler, may sound offensive to those who believe that China is a Communist state. But judging by the ominous signs emanating from that country, I fear that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is fast degenerating into a state that resembles the Nazi and Fascist dictatorships of the past.
While examining this history of debasement, I am also trying to probe into a deeper ideological and political dilemma - how could the once youthful morally committed Communist leaders who inspired revolutions in their countries as well as abroad, morph into authoritarian despots once they came to power? Whether a Stalin or a Mao - or a petty ruler like Pol Pot - they all are guilty of betraying generations of Communists by turning their dreams into nightmares.
To come back to Xi Jinping (who has appointed himself as a lifelong President of China), as I was reading his speech delivered at Tienanmen Square on the occasion of the centenary of his ruling party, and watching on TV the cheering crowd of thousands hailing him as their leader. Both his speech and the scene of a choir of some 3000 students singing in praise of him, reminded me of another episode from past history. On February 1, 1933, Adolph Hitler two days after he took over as Chancellor, delivered an address on radio delineating his vision for the future of Germany. Soon after, he mesmerized a generation of Germans who started to greet him with the slogan `Heil Hitler.’ Sorry to say, I somehow cannot escape the uncanny feeling that Xi’s mobilization of the Chinese masses in Tienanmen Square resembled the Nuremberg rallies addressed by Hitler, or the Italian audience on the Piazza Venezia looking up to Mussolini’s promises delivered from his balcony in the 1930s. I hear in Xi’s speech echoes of similar encouragement of hero-worshipping, centralization of power, and expansionist ambitions. He urged his audience to “… uphold the core position of the General Secretary on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and uphold the Central Committee’s authority and its centralized, unified leadership.” The General Secretary is Xi himself.
He recalled China’s past history of “humiliation” after the Opium War of 1840 and the decades of “ravages” that his people suffered following that. He then reminded his audience that the Chinese people now were “not intimidated by threats of force” and had a “strong sense of pride and confidence.” His attempt to remind his people of past defeats and therefore the need for a “strong military to guarantee the security of the nation,” has a striking parallel to the speeches delivered by Hitler in the 1920s. Addressing his German audience, he used to harp on the humiliating defeat that they had suffered due to the Versailles Treaty of 1919, and urge the Germans to militarize themselves.
Xi Jinping in his speech sounded violent, warning that if any foreign force tried to “bully” his country, it would be “crushed to death before the Great Wall”, invoking the image of the famous historical monument of China. This threat is in consonance with his assertion, in the same speech, of China’s need for “accelerating the modernization of national defence and the armed forces.”
Let me express my concerns about the policies that are being adopted and announced by the present Chinese Communist Party and the government that it runs - both in home and its policies abroad. The persecution of Uighur Muslims is reminiscent of the ethnic cleansing of Jews by Hitler’s Germany. China’s territorial interventions in disputed areas like Ladakh in India, and the Pacific where it has provoked disputes with the Philippines, South Korea and other states, again recall the initial expansionist ambitions of Hitler who invaded Czechoslovakia, and Mussolini who occupied Abyssinia. China’s propensity to support autocratic ruling powers (as evident from its latest overtures to the Taliban) is also an echo of the behaviour of the axis powers on the eve of the 2nd World War. It is adopting all their old tricks of waving the flag of national chauvinism and spouting militaristic bravado.
Incidentally, like the present rulers of China who operate in the name of Communist Party, both Hitler and Mussolini started their political careers by adding to their names socialist sounding tags. Hitler named his party - National Socialist Workers’ Party. Mussolini began his career as a member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).
The mixed record of the CPC and Mao’s role
The history of the CPC (Communist Party of China) is marked by episodes of both heroism that inspired generations of revolutionaries on the one hand, and of sad degeneration into a totalitarian system of governance that suppressed human rights on the other. Mao represented both the trends. As a young leader who founded the CPC in 1921, he led a revolution from the grassroots and liberated his country by formulating a twin strategy of fighting both the domestic feudal landlords and the Japanese invaders. After the liberation and founding of the PRC in 1949, Mao shaped the contours of China’s domestic economy and foreign policy, which enabled it to emerge as a model of development for the poor people of the Third World, and as a major partner of the Non-Aligned states’ organization in the 1950s. His main representative in foreign affairs, Chou en Lai (now spelt Zhou …) shook hands with Nehru, and both inaugurated what promised to be the era of `Hindi-Chini Bhai, Bhai.’ Within a few years the euphoria evaporated - thanks to the politically one-upmanship impulses of Chou on the one hand and Nehru on the other, and due to the traditional nationalist chauvinism of both the countries.
To come back to the CPC’s record in its domestic sphere, we need to demystify Mao’s much lauded role. Did Mao, who felt satisfied with his initial success in alleviating the poverty of his people, and gaining reputation as an international figure in the 1950s, begin to nurture further ambitions? Why did he indulge in adventurist experiments like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, that eventually brought havoc in the lives of his people? Did his plans got awry? Did he miscalculate somewhere along the line? Mao during his life time, never acknowledged his responsibility for these disastrous policies of his, nor did he engage in the practice of `self-criticism’ - a practice expected to be followed by members of Communist parties to admit their mistakes.
This raises another question. Did Mao, apprehending explosion of popular discontent against his domestic policies, try to divert the attention of his people to the bogey of the `foreign enemy’ that he created - using the old ploy of raking up territorial disputes to leverage nationalism? Is it a mere coincidence that in the late 1960s, when the failures of his domestic experiments were becoming quite evident, he began to intensify his campaign against the neighbouring states of India, and the Soviet Union with which China had border conflicts? As for India, he was ready to welcome any domestic agitation against the Indian government, as apparent from the commentaries in the Chinese media which was controlled by his government. Let me give an example. On November 7, 1966, in Delhi’s Parliament Street, orthodox Hindu fanatical religious leaders and activists of the Jana Sangh and RSS, took out a demonstration demanding a ban on cow-slaughter. The demonstrators attacked the police which blocked their way to Parliament, and killed a policeman. This act of obscurantist religious revenge was hailed by the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece Jen-min Jinpao (People’s Daily) in its commentary on November 12 a few days later. Entitled ‘Indian People Have Arisen in Resistance,’ it described that agitation in the following words: “A 7,00,000 strong anti-Government demonstration broke out in New Delhi 7 November. This was a violent eruption of the Indian people’s pent up feelings against the Government….and a signal of the sharpening of class contradictions in India.”
It was only seven months later that the Mao-led CPC shifted its support from the Hindutva-led anti-Indian government agitation to the Naxalite-led armed revolution that was launched in 1967 by Indian Communist revolutionaries.
From the 1970s onwards, during the last phase of his life, Mao began to manifest the worst forms of political opportunism and moral debasement in his foreign policy. He welcomed Nixon to Beijing and shook hands with him in 1971 - the same time when Nixon’s air forces were bombarding Vietnam to crush the Communist revolutionaries.
It was again under Mao’s leadership, that China backed the brutal Pakistan dictator Yahya Khan when he unleashed his soldiers on the people of the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) who were fighting for liberation from the Pak military regime in 1971. Mao’s government announced its official position on the conflict by analysing it in the following words: “Indian reactionaries have set their entire propaganda machine in motion to fan anti-Pakistan chauvinistic sentiments.” As for the repression let loose by Yahya Khan’s army in the province of East Pakistan, China gave a clean chit to him by stating: “The relevant measures taken by President Yahya Khan in connection with the present situation in Pakistan are the internal affairs of Pakistan…” (PEOPLE’S DAILY, April 11, 1971).
During the last years of Mao, it was his comrade Chou En-lai, the suave diplomat, who took over the role as an architect and spokesman of China’s foreign policy in the 1970s. He began to withdraw Chinese moral support to radical movements in the Third World. The new policy became evident in the middle of 1971, when the then Sri Lankan government headed by Sirimavo Bandarnaike crushed a wide spread youth rebellion that was inspired by Leftist politics. Chou En-lai sent her a message congratulating her on “putting down the unlawful rebellion…by selfstyled Che Guevarists for creating disorder in Ceylon with the help of a third country…” (INDIAN EXPRESS, 5 June, 1971). In July in the same year again, there was a military coup in Sudan led by some Leftist army personnel. A counter coup was organized by Major General Nimeiry, who followed his success by a massacre of Sudanese Communists.
Mao’s concept of `Soviet Social Imperialism’ and theory of `Three Worlds.’
The beginnings of this new turn in China’s foreign policy can be traced to the late 1960s, when Mao formulated the concept of `Soviet social imperialism.’ According to him, the ‘Soviet revisionists were carrying out all-round restoration of capitalism in the USSR, and of the two super-powers, the Soviet Union was the more dangerous’ (Re: Peking Foreign Language Press. 1968 and 1969). It was not a mere coincidence that Mao’s designation of the Soviet Union as the main enemy came at a time when China had got embroiled in a border conflict with the Soviet Union. For some seven months in 1968-69, the armies of the two countries faced each other in border clashes, the most serious occurring in March 1969, near Manchuria. A cease-fire eventually brought an end to what threatened to break out in a full scale war. But the animosities between the two countries continued to simmer.
With a penchant for theoretical justification of pragmatic necessities and opportunist acts, Mao came up with the theory of `Soviet social imperialism’ to explain the Sino-Soviet split and the border clash between the two Communist ruled states. Was he trying to give an ideological garb to what was purely a territorial conflict between two states over disputed borders?
Over the next decade, Mao remained consistent in his opposition to the Soviet Union. In February 1974, he came up with the theory of `Three Worlds,’ according to which the US and the Soviet Union belonged to the First World. The in-between Japan, Europe and Canada belonged to the Second World. The Third World, in his opinion, consisted of Asia (except Japan), Latin America, and the whole of Africa - the most populous part of the earth. The then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiao Ping, further elaborated on Mao’s theory in his speech at the UN at the end of that year.
The CPC and PRC after Mao
After Mao’s death, the CPC and the government of PRC (People’s Republic of China) expanded the twin strategy of foreign policy that was laid down by Mao - increasing animosity towards the Soviet Union, and growing proximity to the capitalist world powers. China under Deng Xiao Ping, who succeeded Mao, made its position clear on these two issues. It announced: “…of the two imperialist super-powers, the Soviet Union is the more ferocious, the more reckless, the more treacherous and the most dangerous source of world war.” (Jenmin Jinpao. 1 November, 1977). Two years later, Deng Xiao Ping formulated the tactics by stressing the need for “unity between the US, Japan, West Europe and other countries of the world, unity among these countries to deal with Soviet hegemonism.” (Interview in TIME, 5 February, 1979).
In an aggressive manifestation of this tactics, in February, 1979, Deng sent his soldiers to invade Vietnam (an ally of the Soviet Union and enemy of the US). But the battle-hardened Vietnamese fighters gave a bloody nose to the PLA. One of its squadrons surrendered to the Vietnamese (a picture of which is proudly displayed today in the War Museum in Hanoi), and the rest made a hasty retreat in March.
The post-Mao Communist leadership also continued to follow Mao’s later day decision to withdraw support to Left radical movements in other parts of the world. An important statement was made in 1981 by the then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang while visiting the Philippines. During talks with the Filipino dictator President Marcos in Manila on 8 August that year, Zhao Ziyang said that China would cease supporting various Communist underground movements operating in South-east Asia, and added that China had already stopped its previous regular propaganda radio broadcasts for the various local guerrilla organizations. (THE STATESMAN, 10 August, 1981). This was a time when the Philippines Communist party’s armed wing, New People’s Army was fighting Marcos’ dictatorship.
In the domestic sphere also, the Communist Party of China followed Mao’s later day tilt towards the capitalist West, with Deng opening China’s doors to market economy. The 1980s were marked by de-collectivisation of agriculture, setting up of Special Economic Zones, and incentives to private entrepreneurs. To open up the economy, Deng believed, that some people should be allowed to get rich. He famously said, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice,” meaning that it is irrelevant whether the economic policy is socialist or capitalist, as long as it creates wealth.
The effects of this policy were soon evident. The wealth that was sought to be created got concentrated among a minority of party bureaucrats and crony capitalists who were patronized by them. Corruption spread like wildfire. The countryside was impoverished, with the rural poor emigrating to cities in search of jobs. Inflation reached a high point. Unrest among students grew. They gave voice to the popular grievances. On June 4, 1989, they gathered at Tienenman Square in a peaceful demonstration demanding greater accountability from the government, constitutional due process, and freedom of press and speech. The CPC-led government responded by sending its PLA troops to massacre the young demonstrators - at the same historical venue from where some forty years ago Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The killing sparked international outrage and left a permanent scar on the reputation of the CPC and the People’s Liberation Army.
Deng was followed by Jiang Zemin, who as the president ruled China from 1993 till 2003. In continuation of Deng’s domestic economic policies, he invented the term `socialist market economy’ to describe them. The continuity was also reflected in the traditional propensity towards suppression of human rights, as evident from the cracking down on the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement. Hu Jin Tao, who succeeded Jiang as the next president in 2003, carried out the same policy of corporate approach to Western powers in foreign affairs, and crushing protests by ethnic minorities. His rule was marked by the passing of the Anti-Secession Law, which was used to target political dissenters.
CPC (Communist Party of China) as NPC (Nationalist Party of China)
An analysis of the policies and acts followed by the CPC and PRC during the last six decades or so, suggests that it was geopolitical and economic interests that formed the leitmotif of their national strategy, rather than the Marxist ideology of socialism and equitable distribution of resources at home and international solidarity with working class movements abroad. Perhaps it would be appropriate to quote in this connection, the Indian Marxist ideologue, the late M.N. Roy. He spent many years in China watching and participating in the growth and development of the CPC under Mao’s leadership. He summed up the character of the CPC as `nationalism painted Red’!