Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chinese Communism

If Soviet Roulette had any readers, I imagine they'd be asking why we don't place the Russian revolutionary experience within the context of global history more frequently. Why, for instance, don't we talk more about 1789 or 1848? Why don't we talk about the impact of 1917 on the developing world? While the Bolsheviks may not have ignited successful revolutions in Western Europe, they did inspire successful imitators in China, Vietnam, Cuba, and countless other newly independent nations. But of course China remains the most significant communist victory. Its size, strength, and longevity make China worthy of comment.

So too does the fact that the Bolsheviks were involved in China's internal struggles before and after China's communist party defeated its Old Regime, Japanese, and nationalist rivals. But how does a non-expert approach the history of China in the twentieth century? I began with UCLA Professor Richard Baum's Great Courses lecture series, The Fall and Rise of China. In these lectures Baum notes Mao's political intelligence, charisma, and military prowess, but Baum emphasizes that Mao led his party into a long series of economic and political disasters. Under Maoism, the Chinese people suffered mightily, although they almost always attributed their suffering to internal or external enemies. While Mao successfully confronted American military might during the Korean War, and eventually established political and economic autonomy from the Soviet Union, his large-scale cooperatives and frenetic efforts to industrialize the country, led to massive starvation in the countryside and many, many engineering and economic disasters.

The Cultural Revolution, when launched, destroyed any semblance of political or economic order in the country, and only Deng's masterful political comeback and his slow reputation of Maoist economic principles (if not Mao himself) eventually set China on the path to relative stability and economic progress that we see today. When viewed in the light of the Soviet Union's experience, one can't help but think that Lenin and Stalin's worst crime was to inspire the Chinese Communist Party. For the Chinese Communists, for all their military courage and prewar respect for the peasantry, killed many millions as they did away with any semblance of democracy, political dissent, or economic decentralization.

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