Mao was trying to out-Stalin Stalin, and the Soviet dictator’s death gave Mao the chance to try to present himself as Stalin’s real successor, the single leader who would chart the course of the world revolution from Communists the world over. As Tong sarcastically writes, “Mao’s contribution to socialism could be represented as ‘zero,’ if it is possible to dismiss tens of millions of deaths heaped upon hundreds of millions with a single stroke of the pen.”
His real legacy, according to Tong, was the simple one of “whoever opposes Chairman Mao will be brought down.” The problem, of course, was that Mao brought down the people alongside his own opponents. Tens of millions died and starved to death, as China exported grain to pay for making bombs.
Why, then, do China’s current leaders take the time to have spectacles throughout the country honoring the madman who almost destroyed it? The reason is that they would not be in power if not for Mao’s victory in 1949. Hence they want to, Tong writes, “perpetuate the myth of Mao for all eternity,” hoping that future generations will keep the party leader’s children and grandchildren in power generations from now.
It is not only the Chinese who have to honestly face the real meaning of Mao’s legacy. I wait, probably in vain, for all those American New Leftists who sang Mao’s praises during the 1960s and ’70s to make some apologies. I remember the actress Shirley MacLaine’s return from China, when she informed Americans that Mao inspired her to bravely resume her dwindling career and return to dance. I remember as well when a noted American Marxist-feminist returned from a trip to China right after the years of murder and craziness known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and told the New Left that “the Cultural Revolution is all about the freeing of women.” And, of course, there were all those accounts of how the new peasant communes were leading the Chinese peasants to boundless prosperity and real wealth
These American leftists all sang China’s praises. There were three different pro-Mao Marxist-Leninist New Left grouplets created, each claiming to be the real Communists who would build an American movement based on Mao’s theories. Two of them emerged from SDS; the third and most successful was a spin-off of the old American Communist Party — the so-called Progressive Labor Party. Their members are still around; many of them are still activists in organizations such as Occupy Wall Street and other existing left-wing groups. So far, on the eve of Mao’s forthcoming birthday celebrations, I have not seen any of them offer any kind of reconsideration, not to mention an apology to those they tried to mislead.
As David Horowitz has often said, “Being on the Left means never having to say you’re sorry.”