Published MIM Notes 40, March 4, 1990
Revised September, 1995 by two RAIL Comrades
Revised and proofread by MC5, August, 1999 & November, 1999
The Great Leap-- "Mao was a butcher"
Western scholars have estimated that between 16.4 million and 29.5 million people died in the Great Leap Forward.(1) It is a common argument that this was due to executions ordered by Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. People who know a little more about the history of China know about the famine, natural disasters and starvation during this period. However, they often attribute these starvation deaths to malicious programs and mismanagement of industrialization and distribution of goods.
The first problem with these myths is that they are based on inaccurate statistics. Such high mortality figures are based on comparing projected population size with actual population size. This method assumes constant population growth, which is far from reality during tumultuous periods in history such as a revolution. The statistics are also based on figures supplied by the bourgeoisie and revisionists, which were enemies of the Great Leap.
In reality, the deaths attributed to the Great Leap (1958-60) are mostly due to starvation, particularly from the Great Leap's aftermath (1960-1), not executions. Flooding and drought seriously affected over half of China's land in that famine. The Soviet Union withdrew its industrial aid in 1960 causing a virtual halt in most of China's industry. The Soviet Union had agreed to provide about 300 modern industrial plants but only 154 were completed by 1960.(2) Thousands of Soviet technicians who were in China to assist with industrial development left within the period of a month, taking with them their blue-prints and stopping supply shipments.(3)
Mao did claim government responsibility for 800,000 executions between 1949 and 1954. These were popularly sanctioned executions done in people's trials against the most hated landlords and pro-Japanese (pro-imperialist) elements who had terrorized the masses during World War II and its aftermath.(4)
Neither Mao, nor the Chinese Communist Party claimed that the Great Leap Forward had been without mistakes. Self-criticism is an important part of Maoism, and Mao himself wrote self-criticisms on some practices of the Great Leap. Unlike the Soviets, the Chinese admitted when the goals they had set for themselves had been too high, and were unreasonable.
It is not surprising that these myths are so actively propagated by capitalist countries, which are far more deserving of the label "butcher." Fourteen million children, mostly from capitalist Asian countries, die each year from starvation.(5) Using the same methods that the bourgeois scholars and media use, in the United States in 1986, 75,980 Blacks died from having inadequate health care.(6) If the United States were the same size as China, that would mean the death of over 300,000 Black people annually! (2.5 million people dead each year if there were as many Blacks as Chinese.)
With a quarter of the world's children, if China hadn't been liberated by Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, that situation would be much worse today. As it was, 22 million Chinese died of starvation during World War II, thanks to Japanese imperialism and the U.S.-backed regime. Under Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, the life expectancy of the Chinese people doubled from 35 under the capitalist Kuomintang to 69.(7) In contrast, the starvation in capitalist countries and the inadequate health care for Blacks in the United $tates is so routine and whitewashed that no capitalist politician bothers to make self-criticism or mention the problems.
Although there were only a handful of Western observers in China during the Cultural Revolution, most Western observers are willing to attribute hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths to the Cultural Revolution. Usually there are no specifics, as there are few first-hand accounts by Westerners. No Westerner can claim a comprehensive study. While it is possible that there were millions of deaths during the Cultural Revolution, they were not ordered by Mao. Mao explicitly ordered that the Cultural Revolution be non-violent. Central Committee directives of the communist party stated that "When there is a debate, it should be conducted by reasoning, not by coercion or force."(8) Furthermore, the violence which occurred during civil war was largely the responsibility of factions opposed to Mao.
Mao's enemies in China were more realistic than the Western propagandists. They directly blamed Mao and his followers, the so-called Gang of Four, for a total of 34,000 executions or deaths caused by other means of repression during the
ten years of the Cultural Revolution. If Mao's enemies are correct, should the 34,000 have been executed? MIM does not know the facts. Nor does anyone except Mao's imprisoned followers, Mao's high-ranking enemies in the party and the masses at large, who have not been asked in any systematic way by outside critics.
Mao, in the form of self-criticism, stated that there had been too many executions during the Cultural Revolution. In this writing, Mao expressed his philosophy, which is also MIM's. According the Mao, it may be justified to execute a murderer or someone who blows up a factory, however, in most cases, including all cases in the schools, government and army, Mao believed:" What harm is there in not executing people? Those amenable to labour reform should go and do labour reform, so that rubbish can be transformed into something useful. Besides, people's heads are not like leeks. When you cut them off, they will not grow again. If you cut off a head wrongly, there is no way of rectifying the mistake even if you want to."(9) If people calling themselves Maoists did not carry this philosophy out, MIM does not defend them. MIM does know for sure, and the statistics are available even in the United States for all to see, that Mao accomplished the most of any political leader this century and probably ever in history in reducing all kinds of violence combined.
Even many of Mao's own enemies who were purged (expelled) from the party survived. Deng Xiaoping, current leader of China [he died in 1997--mc5], survived being purged as the number two ranking revisionist and was sent to re-education camp. On June 3-4, 1989, Deng ordered the army to fire on hundreds of demonstrators in the Beijing rebellion. This violence is of course a small portion of the violence caused by capitalist restoration in China.
Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, with little outside help, brought about major changes in a developing country while carrying out a revolution and civil war. It is a mistake to hold the Chinese Communist Party, or particularly Mao, an individual, responsible for everything that occurred under their leadership. In the United States, a developed country which is not functioning in conditions anywhere near as difficult as those of the People's Republic of China (1949-1976), annually there are 20,000 murders, 75,000 deaths of Blacks because of systematic national oppression, the death of a worker from work-related causes every five minutes, and the death of a child every 50 minutes for lack of food or money.(10) Yet we almost never hear that the victims of capitalist violence were "killed" by presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton etc. as we are apt to hear with regard to famine deaths under Mao.
Westerners define "real" education as that which resembles Western educational topics and agendas; i.e. studying history and literature from the point of view of the oppressors and imperialists, mathematics/science with the goal of research toward technological or medical advances that increase the wealth and power of the ruling classes, and studying to the point of expertise and academic status but without emphasis on practical experience or usefulness for the community.
Westerners perceive Chinese education under Mao as "propaganda," because it encourages values and goals which contradict the goals of capitalism. These values and goals taught in China during the Cultural Revolution were consistent with the building of socialism. Education in Western nations is not perceived as "propaganda" by those who, consciously or not, agree with the goals of capitalism/imperialism and patriarchy. Similarly, advertising for capitalist products, while recognized as very influential on people's opinions and actions, is not perceived as "brain-washing" by those who benefit from capitalism and have therefore decided to tolerate it.
Western perceptions of Maoist attitudes toward education, intellectuals and art were mostly based on information from Chinese who rejected socialism,or from foreigners who examined the events in China from an outsider's viewpoint.You can gain a more realistic picture of the educational revolution in China by reading books by authors who support what's best for the majority of the people, and who were closely involved in the changes going on. For example, William Hinton's Hundred Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University explains how socialism developed and old oppressive educational ideas were dismantled in the context of a famous institute of science and engineering:
"Students now spend as much time in the factories and on the construction sites of greater Peking as they do in classrooms and laboratories, and professors devote as much energy to developing liaison with the scores of factories and enterprises with which the university is allied as they do to lecturing and advising students. No longer will thousands of privileged young men and women withdraw into the leafy wonderland of Tsinghua to crack books until they are too old to laugh. No longer will they stuff their heads with mathematical formulas relating to the outmoded industrial practices of pre-war Europe and America, sweat through 'surprise attack' exams, and then emerge after years of isolation from production and political engagement unable to tell high-carbon steel from ordinary steel or a 'proletarian revolutionary' from a 'revisionist.'
"In primary school dead serious about reading books.
"In middle school read dead books seriously.
"In the university seriously read books to death!" (11)
Before his death, Mao said he wanted to
be remembered only as a "teacher." Mao did not oppose education. He opposed Western-style education because of its use in creating and justifying the existence of self-interested classes that don't necessarily serve the public. Instead, education and intellectuals should only serve the public, and as part of this doctrine, Mao ordered the intellectuals to go live with the peasants to help the peasants, educate the peasants and learn from the peasants.
The majority of China's population was poor and illiterate and had very little access to basic needs, education or medical care. Regarding medical education, Mao said in 1965: "Medical education should be reformed.There's no need to read so many books. ... It will be enough to give three years to graduates from higher primary schools. They would then study and raise their standards mainly through practice. If this kind of doctor is sent down to the countryside, even if they haven't much talent, they would be better than quacks and witch doctors and the villages would be better able to afford to keep them. ... the way doctors are trained is only for the benefit of the cities. And yet in China over 500 million of our population are peasants."(12)
And in fact, one of many socialist programs developed was the barefoot doctors, who were peasants trained for a few months in basic medical care and then worked in their village to prevent disease and injury, improve sanitation,and treat common medical problems. (13)
The following was the order issued by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)Central Committee at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966:
"As regards scientists, technicians and ordinary members of working staffs, as long as they are patriotic, work energetically, are not against the party and socialism, and maintain no illicit relations with any foreign country, we should in the present movement continue to apply the policy of unity-criticism-unity." (14)
Vast improvements were made in the educational system in China. Old capitalist-based textbooks were put aside and new textbooks were used to teach the history and politics from the perspective of the majority of the people. For example, Fundamentals of Political Economy: a Popular Introductory Marxist Economics Text, was published in 1974 (Shanghai People's Press) and studied by schoolchildren. Also, the literacy rate in China increased dramatically.
Despite these major improvements, not all educational reforms were correct.There were people calling themselves "Maoists" who advocated attacking all intellectuals and 95% of the Communist Party members during the Cultural Revolution. Mao called these people "ultra-leftists," because they used socialist language and ideas to justify extreme actions without first trying to discuss and encourage these intellectuals to change their ways.(15)
1. Leading bourgeois China scholar Roderick MacFarquhar says 16.4 million to 29.5 million died. Origins of the Cultural Revolution: Great Leap Forward 1958-60 (NY: Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 330.
2. Wheelwright, E.L. & McFarlane, Bruce. The Chinese Road to Socialism: Economics of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), p. 35.
3. Ibid, p. 53.
4. "Whom have we executed? What sort of people? Elements for whom themasses had great hatred, and whose blood-debt was heavy." (Chairman Mao Talks to the People, NY: Pantheon Books, 1974), p. 77. Mao also said fewer executions would be made in the future. (Ibid., 78)
5. According to Ruth Sivard the figure for the whole world is 14,000,000 annually. The vast majority occur in capitalist Asian countries. World Military and Social Expenditures 1987-8, p. 25.
6. Comparing the Black and white populations of the same age in the United States, the mortality rate for Blacks was 7.8 per 1,000 in 1986 and 5.2 for whites. (Statistical Abstract of the United States 1989, p. 74) There were 29.223 million Blacks in 1986. (Ibid.)
7. Associated Press in Ann Arbor News, 10/1/89, b9.
8. Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, 8/8/66 in People's China: Social Experimentation, Politics, Entry onto the World Scene 1966 through 1972 (NY: Vintage Books, 1974), p. 277.
9. Chairman Mao Talks to the People, p. 78.
10. Vincente Navarro, "Historical Triumph: Capitalism or Socialism?"Monthly Review, November, 1989, pp. 49-50.
11. Hinton, William. Hundred Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University (Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1972) pp. 13-14
12. "Directive on Public Health, June 26, 1965" Chairman Mao Talks to the People: Talks and Letters: 1956-1971, Stuart Schram editor, Pantheon Books, 1974, p. 232.
13. The barefoot doctor program begin in the 1950s and grew into the mid-1970s. They used the official Chinese paramedical manual A Barefoot Doctor's Manual, Running Press, 1977.
14. CCP Central Committee, 8/8/66, in Chairman Mao Talks to the People, p. 281
15. To see examples of essays by ultra-leftists opposed to Maoism, see the 70s, China: The Revolution Is Dead, Long live the Revolution, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1977
[Note: We apologize for numerous typographical and grammatical errors in this article in previous versions. There have been no errors of substance fortunately. Please use this latest version--MC5]