1 Comparing Mao to Stalin Lucien Bianco* ABSTRACT The Greek historian Plutarch famously compared over 40 illustrious Greek and Roman men. This article merely compares two tyrants Stalin and Mao. Whereas Alexander and Caesar, or Demosthenes and Cicero, lived centuries apart, Stalin and Mao were contemporaries. Rather than recalling their uneasy relationship, this study evaluates and compares three aspects of their performance and misdeeds. As Stalin and Mao were responsible for the deaths of more of their own people than the average tyrant, the study first compares their cruelty and argues that Mao was much less cruel and, second, much less efficient and prone to pursue mutually contradictory aims. Third, he proved more faithful to revolutionary ideals. Two periods during their rule, the Great Terror ( ) and the Cultural Revolution, are recalled in order to illustrate the points under discussion. The French Annals historiographical school that trained me as an apprentice in the field a good half a century ago was not keen on narrating the feelings, habits, and deeds of kings and tyrants. As an unfaithful student, I shall attempt to compare the personal characteristics of two renowned men or monsters. The younger man sometimes cooperated with or resisted his would-be master. Mao resented the way Stalin repeatedly made the interests of the Soviet Union prevail over those of the international revolutionary movement. Although Stalin s part in the 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power had been far less decisive in that victory than Mao s role in the 1949 victory of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao remained the junior partner until Stalin s death. My article neither recalls nor analyzes their, at times, uneasy relationship. 1 It skips as well such unimpor- * I would like to thank Kuan Hsin-chi for his very helpful discussant s report, as well as other audience members at the Universities Service Centre for China Studies conference in January 2015 in Hong Kong. I am also grateful to the editors of The China Journal and its two anonymous referees. 1. I drew a brief sketch of these relationships in La récidive: Révolution russe, révolution chinoise (Paris: Gallimard, 2014), Also see, among others, Jian Chen, Mao s China and the Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 21 28, 32, 36, 49 61, 85 90, and China s Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); Lorenz M. Lüthi, Sino-Soviet Relations during the Mao Years, , in China Learns from the Soviet Union, 1949 Present, ed. Thomas P. Bernstein and Hua-Yu Li (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2010), 27 59; Alexander V. Pantsov, with Steven I. Levine, Mao: The Real Story (2007; repr., New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), , , , 426; Alain Roux, Le singe et le tigre: Mao, un destin chinois (Paris: Larousse, 2009), , Electronically published November 23, 2015 The China Journal, no /2016/ Copyright 2015 by The Australian National University. All rights reserved. 83
2 84 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 tant matters as their contrasted appearance or their similar habits except where these affected their traits as leaders. 2 Both were, to say the least, second-rate speakers, disadvantaged by their Georgian or Hunanese accent. Were they second-rate intellectuals as well? Few early Bolshevik leaders would have dissented from Trotsky s blunt dismissal of Stalin as the party s most eminent mediocrity. 3 They ended up learning at the cost of their own deaths how wrong they were. While the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary provided Stalin with a broader knowledge than did the education Mao received at Changsha s First Normal school, both kept reading and learning all their lives. Both pretended to be theoreticians as well, which they were not. They were true believers, led astray by ideology, Mao even more so than Stalin. Both killed many more of their own people than did mere tyrants, convinced as they were that they were fulfilling a great historical mission. We must assess and compare their cruelty, before evaluating the efficiency of their rule and their commitment to revolutionary ideals. MAOWASLESSCRUEL... Stalin is the greatest executioner in human history. Compared to him, Genghis Khan and Hitler are mere altar boys. 4 Following on this judgment by the poet Anna Akhmatova, I will suggest that there was a difference in degree between Stalin s and Mao s cruelty, if only to invalidate the often-heard approximation that Mao p Stalin p Hitler p Pol Pot. Mao s last two decades, which amount to a great part of his 27-year reign, were a disaster for China and the Chinese people. It is possible that two-thirds of the tens of millions of people who died during the Great Leap Famine might have been saved had Mao, in reaction to Peng Dehuai s justified criticisms, not breathed new life into the Great Leap Forward , , 593, 732; Odd Arne Westad, The Chinese Civil War, : Decisive Encounters (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), Appearance: Mao taller and more handsome, Stalin s face pockmarked with the aftereffects of smallpox, his left arm maimed; yet touched up pictures made him look taller than Lenin and radiating the kindness of a benevolent father of the people. Habits: going to bed very late, or early in the morning, traveling southward to Hangzhou or Sochi, and so on. The way they traveled or lived in their various residences divorced them from the everyday life of their people. After 1928 Stalin dispensed with visiting factories or kolkhozes. As for the Chinese leader, the surveys he conducted on the ground are better characterized by a Russian cliché: Potemkin visits. 3. And Mensheviks as well. Idon t know how Stalin succeeded in reaching the higher realms of his party... Whereas the Bolshevik party possesses first-rate leaders, Stalin at the time [March 1917]... impressed others besides me as a grey spot, rarely lit by a rather poor light that left no mark (Nicolas Sukhanov, Zapiski o Revolutsii; French translation, La Révolution russe, 1917 [Paris: Stock, 1965], 115). 4. Anna Akhmatova, quoted by Lydia Tchoukovskaïa, Entretiens avec Anna Akhmatova (Paris: Albin Michel, 1980), Jisheng Yang, Mubei: Zhongguo liushi niandai dajihuang jishi (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu youxian gongsi, 2008), French translation, Stèles: La grande famine en Chine, (Paris: Seuil, 2012), 145. See also Frank Dikötter, Mao s Great Famine: The History of China s Most Devastating Catastrophe, (London, Bloomsbury, 2010), 103.
3 Comparing Mao to Stalin 85 Even before the Cultural Revolution and its attacks on vast numbers of bourgeois intellectuals, Mao was already able to claim with some justification in the spring of 1958: You blame us for acting like Emperor Qin [Qinshi Huangdi], but we did one hundred times more than he did. He buried 460 scholars, we buried 46,000 of them. 6 As examples of Mao s cruelty, let us merely recall two well-known episodes, the first during the early years ( ) of the Jiangxi peasant bases; the second 36 years later (from 1966 to 1969) during the Cultural Revolution. The repression of the December 1930 Futian revolt did not end until the spring of 1932, and as many as one out of every ten Red Army soldiers and officers, and one out of four political commissars, may have been executed. Mao was ultimately responsible for those deaths and for the ways (including torture) by which confessions to imaginary crimes were extracted. 7 The second episode, namely, the treatment of the President of the People s Republic Liu Shaoqi, is even better known. 8 One could mention as well the death of another old companion of Mao, Marshal He Long. Resorting to the same methods that he had used in the wake of the Futian mutiny, Mao let others, namely, the Central Case Examination Groups, do the dirty work for him, hastening He s death in According to the late Lucian Pye, Mao had a borderline personality. 10 Stalin s personality was even less normal. Almost every attribute of Mao s personality underlined by Pye applied at least as well to Stalin, beginning with narcissism, the inability to develop any significant human attachments, a tendency to perceive slights, the feeling that one is a special person, the excessive sensitivity to criticism, yet an inability to see how others are in fact reading one. 11 Stalin was even more mistrustful than Mao was and more sadistic. Stalin read with delectation the NKVD (Narodnii komissariat vnoutrennikh diel; People s commis- 6. See, among many testimonies of Mao s boasting, Yang, Mubei, 61; Stuart R. Schram, Mao Tse-tung s Thought from 1949 to 1976, in Cambridge History of China, vol. 15, The People s Republic, pt. 2, Revolutions within the Chinese Revolution, , ed. Roderick MacFarquhar and John Fairbank (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), Yung-fa Chen, The Futian Incident and the Anti-Bolshevik League: The Terror in the CCP Revolution, Republican China 19, no. 2 (April 1994): 1 51; Stephen C. Averill, The Origins of the Futian Incident, in New Perspectives on the Chinese Communist Revolution, ed. T. Saich and H. van de Ven (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1995), It has been movingly narrated and analyzed by Lowell Dittmer in Liu Shaoqi and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, rev. ed. (1974; Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1998), and Death and Transfiguration: Liu Shaoqi s Rehabilitation and Contemporary Chinese Politics, Journal of Asian Studies 40, no. 3 (1981): Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao s Last Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), Lucian W. Pye, Mao Tse-tung: The Man in the Leader (New York: Basic, 1976), Rethinking the Man in the Leader, China Journal, no. 35 (January 1996): , and The Thin Line between Loyalty and Treachery in Mao s China, China Journal, no. 44 (July 2000): See, among many others, Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). Service concludes chap. 30 of his biography: Stalin was as wicked a man as has ever lived (345).
4 86 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 sariat of internal affairs) reports on the last moments of former allies he had sentenced to death. To sum up, we are dealing with two paranoid personalities, the Kremlin mountain dweller being more intrinsically perverse. 12 Shifting from the personalities of both despots to their deeds, misdeeds, and slaughters, I must concede that the thought reform may have been more painful, more agonizing in China. For such researchers of labor camps as French sinologist Jean-Luc Domenach, the relentless determination to remold consciousness, heal the patient, and purge his reactionary thoughts made laogai ( reform through labor ) or even laojiao ( reeducation through labor ) worse than the Gulag. 13 It may as well have degenerated into a shared cynicism when the patient claimed to have seen the light, and the physician of the soul pretended to believe him. Such cynicism was taken for granted by the NKVD, which aimed not at molding a new man, but at manufacturing an obedient cripple, a limp, frightened dog that cooperated in order to escape punishment. 14 Execution quotas were especially frequent at the time of land reform in China. These bring to mind Lenin s 1918 order to kill one out of 10 hostages, rather than Stalin s 1938 daily signatures on lists of death sentences. In 1918 and in 1950, ruthless leaders deemed pitiless measures necessary to protect their recently acquired, still fragile power. Two decades later in both countries, the goal of the paramount leader was to consolidate his uncontested personal power by preemptively liquidating potential adversaries. Not just leadership purges but also mass slaughters took place in China almost two decades after Especially in Guangxi, but in several other provinces as well, class enemies, including sons of landlords born after Liberation, even infants, were systematically slaughtered in the countryside. Why such shocking large-scale massacres, for which Mao is ultimately responsible? Seeing no end to the chaos brought about by the Cultural Revolution, in other words by him, Mao hoped that as a transitional institution, the so-called Revolutionary Committees, might replace the Communist Party he had knocked down. In provinces such as Guangxi, internecine struggles kept Revolutionary Committees from being established. The central power in Beijing then invented the story of a clandestine counterrevolutionary army aiming at restoring power to Chiang Kai-shek 12. From Ossip Mandelstam s 1933 fateful poem that caused first his arrest and then his death in For the full text of the poem in French translation, see Nadejda Mandelstam, Contre tout espoir: Souvenirs, trans. Maya Minoustchine (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), 1: Jean-Luc Domenach, Chine: L archipel oublié (Paris: Fayard, 1992). 14. Malte Griesse, Journal intime, identité et espaces communicationnels pendant la Terreur, in La Grande Terreur en URSS, ed. Alain Blum and Nicolas Werth, special issue, Vingtième Siècle: Revue d histoire, no. 107 (2010): Yang Su, Collective Killings in Rural China during the Cultural Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), and also Mass Killings in the Cultural Revolution: A Study of Three Provinces, in The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, ed. J. W. Esherick, P. G. Pickowicz, and A. G. Walder (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), The entire paragraph relies on these two studies.
5 Comparing Mao to Stalin 87 (Jiang Jieshi). Such counterrevolutionaries could be none other than class enemies, which local rural militias hastened to exterminate. To prevent revenge, the male offspring were also exterminated. What then distinguishes such horrific murders from Stalin s executions? The chaos whipped up by Mao had created an imminent danger that was somewhat different from the prospect of a future war that incited Stalin to kill with cold meticulousness. We do not even know whether Mao directed Zhou Enlai and Kang Sheng to invent the story of a clandestine counterrevolutionary army. In any case, once that story was served to provincial authorities, neither Mao nor Beijing retained direct control over the slaughters carried out by local militias and activists. By contrast, it is well established that Stalin dictated to Vychinski his prosecution speech at Moscow s trials, personally wrote for Rakosi the accusation implicating Rajk as well as the Pravda article denouncing an invented conspiracy by well-known, mostly Jewish physicians. I agree that it would have been pointless for the victims to differentiate between both kinds of crimes. Yet, we have, on one hand, premeditated killings in the Soviet Union, bureaucratically, meticulously prepared and controlled, and, on the other hand, a power at bay, overwhelmed by the cataclysm it had brought about and various local initiatives for which it was ultimately responsible but that it proved unable to prevent or control. From the 1930s onward, violence was used in the Soviet Union as a matter of social engineering, a vast prophylactic operation of social purification, decided and planned in advance by Stalin himself. 16 Such a program, which was aimed at preventively eliminating all so-called socially harmful or ethnically suspect individuals, found no equivalence in Mao s China. Stalin s preemptive actions included such potential enemies as Polish officers killed in the Katyn forest and, earlier, the brilliant, therefore suspect, schoolboys in occupied Western Ukraine. NKVD agents had checked the pupils examination scores and based on that drew up a list of the best pupils, who were perceived to be potentially hostile to the Soviet Union. 17 A little later, in sparsely populated Carelia, NKVD agents arrested 14,000 inhabitants, of whom 12,500 were killed, in case Finnish spies were hiding among them. 18 One out of six adults in the USSR became zek (detained in a Gulag camp) at one time or another between 1930 and In comparison, the proportion of laogai and laojiao prisoners, although very high in China, was much lower be- 16. Nicolas Werth, Retour sur la violence du stalinisme, Le Débat, no. 162 (2010): (esp. 132, 134, 136), and Les logiques de l ingénierie sociale stalinienne: De l utopie au crime de masse, in Les logiques totalitaires en Europe, ed. Stéphane Courtois (Paris: Editions du Rocher, 2006), Nicolas Werth, Un État contre son peuple, in Le Livre Noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur, répression, by Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, and Jean-Louis Margolin (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1997), Nicolas Werth, L Ivrogne et la Marchande de fleurs: Autopsie d un meurtre de masse, (Paris: Tallandier, 2009), 236.
6 88 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 tween 1950 and Both regimes were responsible for catastrophic famines, in and , and both went on extracting grain from starving villagers. Even after the famines had become obvious, both regimes prevented peasants from fleeing their villages and sent the fugitives back to their death when they were discovered in cities or on the road. But only Stalin is suspected of having used the famine as a way to kill more (Ukrainian) peasants, partly as a means to prevent a suspected Ukrainian separatist nationalist movement from eventually relying on peasant soldiers. 20 The last years of both reigns, sinister under Stalin, appalling under Mao, are emblematic of the characters of both. The opportune death of Stalin in 1953 may well have prevented the eruption of a second Great Terror. Nonetheless, crowds were trampled on when competing to pay homage to their torturer; and Polina Molotov wept in her Siberian Gulag when she heard the news that the Vojd (Chief) had died. After Zhou Enlai s death, the April 5, 1976, mass demonstrations in Beijing could never have occurred in Moscow. These demonstrations were covertly aimed at Mao himself, the contemporary Qinshi Huangdi. He amply deserved to be criticized, but the very possibility of such criticism while he was still alive distinguishes the fear and awe he inspired from the terror and awe felt by millions of Soviet people between 1929 and Almost two decades earlier, during the Hundred Flowers campaign, Mao had praised the discipline of Nanjing students who had demonstrated against his rule: When they entered the door of official buildings, observed Mao, they stood in a row, and shouted: Down with the bureaucracy! If they had done the same thing in front of Stalin, heads would have rolled. Yet not one of them is a counterrevolutionary. They are good students, and there is indeed bureaucracy here. 21 Can we imagine that in similar circumstances under Stalin no heads would have rolled? 19. Concerning the Gulag, see, among others, Oleg Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), , 328; Anne Applebaum, Goulag: Une histoire (2005; repr., Paris: Gallimard, 2008), 928. On Laogai, see Domenach, Chine, 491; James D. Seymour and Richard Anderson, New Ghosts, Old Ghosts: Prisons and Labor Reform Camps in China (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1998), Andrea Graziosi, Les famines soviétiques de et le Holodomor ukrainien: Une nouvelle interprétation est-elle possible et quelles en seraient les conséquences? Cahiers du monde russe 46, no. 3 (2005): 459, 464, and The Uses of Hunger: Stalin s Solution of the Peasant and National Question in Ukraine, , in Famines in European Economic History: The Last Great European Famines Reconsidered, ed. D. Curran, L. Luciuk, and A. Newby (London: Routledge, 2014); Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), For a slightly different interpretation, see D Ann R. Penner, Stalin and the Ital ianka of in the Don Region, Cahiers du monde russe 39, nos. 1 2 (1998): For an opposite view, see Robert W. Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 441; Stephen G. Wheatcroft, Famines in Russia and China in Historical Perspective (contribution to Hunger, Nutrition and Systems of Rationing under State Socialism [ ], a colloquium held at Wien University, 2008), 3, Roux, Le singe et le tigre, 607.
7 Comparing Mao to Stalin 89 Let us finally turn to both dictators lieutenants and underlings. In 1944, Mao apologized for the excesses of the zhengfeng, the rectification campaign in Yan an. He neither imputed such excesses to Kang Sheng nor had him executed. Mao did not consume as many executioners as Stalin did, the most famous being of course Iagoda and Iejov. Nor did he kill as many innocent victims. Stalin used to compare human beings killed or dying to shavings that fell down when one cut down a tree or carved wood. 22 For a Peng Dehuai who died from beatings and ill treatment, or a Liu Shaoqi who died for lack of medical care, how many loyal Stalinists not only the old guard Bolshevik leaders who were potentially his rivals were executed in the 1930s? Some of his faithful lieutenants deemed themselves threatened by a suspended death sentence. Two of Kaganovitch s brothers were executed and a third committed suicide on the day he was to be arrested for espionage. Between 1948 and 1950, Kosygin every morning said his farewells to his wife and reminded her of what she would need to do in case he did not come back at night. President of the Republic Kalinin begged Stalin to liberate his wife, who had spent 10 years in the Gulag. She was eventually liberated after World War II, just in time to see her husband die in Polina Molotov was freed from the Gulag after Stalin s death. Stalin s demise set Polina free, but it might have saved Molotov himself, as well as several others. Although such behavior cannot be attributed to Mao, this does not make Mao a kind-hearted despot. Leaders who had disagreed with Mao s policies were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, but most of them, from Deng Xiaoping to Chen Yun, Peng Zhen, and many others, survived both the Cultural Revolution and Mao. As I shall try to document, Stalin was a much more efficient leader than Mao, but one should not overlook the posthumous legacy of the less cruel. By redirecting Chinese politics onto a very different path than Mao, Deng Xiaoping changed China and therefore the world. Should we say that this occurred in spite of Mao s wishes, or thanks to Mao, who let him live? Could we imagine such a recidivist as Deng, who twice was accused under Mao of attempting to restore capitalism, surviving Stalin? LESS EFFICIENT... When assessing the PRC s accomplishments under Mao s rule, historians and political scientists often cite what the 1949 revolution is supposed to have conferred on China, namely, independence, unity, order, security, an uncontested central power, and so on. This is understandable, as Mao himself played a decisive role in the conquest of power. From the 1920s onward, on several occasions Mao proved to be more clear sighted than most of his fellow Communist Party 22. Graziosi, Les famines soviétiques, 464.
8 90 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 leaders. The 1927 turn to the countryside owed more to Mao than to anybody else other than the pioneer Peng Pai, executed in Other strategic choices generally attributed to Mao include the creation of an army (he advised this as early as 1927), the practice of rural guerrilla warfare, and the building of regional bases. Later, during the Sino-Japanese war, he disapproved of Peng Dehuai s launch of the One Hundred Regiment offensive. As far as the fate of the Communist movement is concerned, we may consider that he had good reason to refrain from exposing the Red Armies and territories to violent Japanese counterattacks. All this suggests that as a commonsense leader Mao deserved the leadership of the Party conferred upon him in Yan an. However, I am not comparing Mao s accomplishments to Lenin s, but to Stalin s. I am comparing the results of their reigns at the helm of the state to evaluate how justifiable were the cruel dictatorships they imposed on their people for a quarter century ( ) or more ( ). Stalin kept Lenin s frail barque afloat, and better yet he made it a powerful boat, eventually able to withstand the Wehrmacht s assault during World War II. Under Mao, China s economy did not stagnate, but the gap with advanced capitalist countries not to mention Taiwan widened, and China remained poor or many of its people destitute. Only his death enabled China to develop and many hundreds of millions of people to benefit from the delayed modernization. A More Serious, Assiduous Stalin When we keep in mind that Russia was less underdeveloped and less overpopulated in 1917 than China in 1949, Stalin s task was less herculean. Both countries had experienced a belated and partial modernization, but Chinese industrialization between 1895 and 1937, including factories erected by Japanese imperialists in the Northeast, remained modest, compared to the more than tenfold increase of Russian industrial production between 1860 and Likewise, Chinese peasants were much poorer in 1949 than Russian peasants had been back in Even so, and even when we note that the agricultural sector stagnated in both countries, Stalin s accomplishments in terms of economic modernization remain impressive compared to those of Mao. Stalin was simply more diligent and efficient in his work. Mao s personal physician s memoirs provide us with a glimpse of the chaotic life he led. 24 Mao disliked routine and conventions, disdained caution and discipline. He rashly improvised and governed less than 23. See more details in Bianco, La récidive, See Zhisui Li, The Private Life of Chairman Mao (New York: Random, 1994), as well as interesting comments by Anne F. Thurston, The Politics of Survival: Li Zhisui and the Inner Court, China Journal, no. 35 (January 1996): 98 99, 104 5: and Pye, Rethinking the Man in the Leader,
9 Comparing Mao to Stalin 91 he ruled from on high. He went to bed when Chinese workers began their work, slept until afternoon, led a secluded life, did not easily share his thoughts and wishes, and made decisions in a casual way. He did not care much about expertise and the advice of experts, preferring to follow either ideological dictates or Confucian maxims. Stalin, too, was prone to be led astray by ideological dictates and overoptimistic hopes. He liked to repeat for Bolsheviks, nothing is impossible, there exists no fortress that Bolsheviks are unable to conquer, and so on. 25 In 1929 as in 1958, economic plans set teleological targets, ignoring any kind of natural or human obstacles. 26 Like Mao, Stalin trusted his own intuition too much, and both men could prove stubborn. On several occasions, Stalin s stubbornness led him to commit catastrophic blunders, as in 1941 on the eve and in the wake of the German invasion. Stalin was even more ignorant of agriculture than Mao was. Yet Stalin was much more self-disciplined in his daily schedule of work, and he followed the evolution of state affairs much more closely than Mao did. Despite a priori ideological interpretations and excessive self-confidence, Stalin rarely departed from a sly cautiousness. Mao s rare, tardy shots of acute consciousness were often blurred by his haunting illusions. Although Stalin was subject (less so than Mao) to being led astray by pride and ideology, Stalin nevertheless remained a pragmatic leader. In Vera Dunham s words, consequences mattered to him. She clarifies her point: Stalin was not interested by the soul of his subjects, by their thoughts (in contrast to Mao), only by what they did. He intended not to reform their thought but to direct their reflexes and their actions. He did not aim at creating a new man ; he was molding, lethally and furiously, the Stalinist social order. 27 And he succeeded, at the expense of discarding revolutionary ideals. By so doing, he foreshadowed contemporary China, made possible by Mao s death and Deng Xiaoping s pragmatism, which exceeded that of Stalin. Deng recalls to us Lenin arguing with his lieutenants in order to make peace at Brest-Litovsk in 1918, or to launch the New Economic Policy (NEP) three years later. Stalin s ambition to establish a new political regime, transforming society, developing the economy, and modernizing the country was immense but not boundless and less out of reach than that of Mao, who intended to forge a new man. It follows that Stalin cared less about reeducation than about bureaucracy and organization. 25. See, among others, Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, (1971; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 260, 263, 266, 314; Alec Nove, An Economic History of the USSR, (New York: Penguin, 1992), Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, Vera S. Dunham, In Stalin s Time: Middleclass Values in Soviet Fiction (1976; repr., Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990), 130, 190, 245.
10 92 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 The Two Fronts The distribution of tasks among China s top leaders contributed to disorganization. Within a political structure that faithfully reproduced the Stalinist model, China added a two-tiered leadership, the so called two fronts. 28 The first front ruled the country on a daily basis; the second front determined long-term orientations. Mao, of course, reserved for himself the latter responsibility of long-term decisions, which did not prevent him from occasionally interfering in the daily tasks of governing. On the other hand, he ostensibly rushed back to the lofty second front every time he did not want to share responsibility for unavoidable political choices he disliked for ideological reasons. He would later make those in charge of the first front responsible for these unavoidable choices and for the consequences of his own policies, even though his lieutenants may have merely endeavored to clean up the mess left by the implementation of his at times erratic directions. 29 To be sure, first-front leaders also occasionally sabotaged Maoist policies they disapproved of. This was especially the case during the post-famine years of the early 1960s, when their pragmatic instincts collided with Mao s radical instructions from on high. By contrast, Stalin closely implicated himself in the minutiae of government routine, as repeatedly illustrated by the numerous questions and instructions found in his often daily letters to Molotov or Kaganovitch during his extremely busy summer holidays at Sochi. 30 When in Moscow, he gave his orders directly and constantly. A further consequence of Stalin s close involvement in daily politics and Mao s distancing himself is the gradual consolidation of Stalin s personal power as opposed to Mao s erosion of his own at least until the Cultural Revolution, which provided him with short-term gains. Mao started from a higher position than Stalin when the latter still needed to consolidate his power, even after the got rid of Bukharin, the other Himalaya. 31 He kept reinforcing his supremacy, which became absolute after the Great Terror. By contrast, Mao s authority kept declining after the 1959 Lushan plenum, so that it would have been difficult for him to discard Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping during the early 1960s. The erosion of Mao s authority, which started supreme in 1949, is symptomatic of a 28. Jing Huang, Factionalism in Chinese Communist Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Also Schram, Mao Tse-tung s Thought from 1949 to 1976, Frederick C. Teiwes, Mao and His Followers, in A Critical Introduction to Mao, ed. Timothy Cheek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), See Lars T. Lih, Oleg V. Naumov, and Oleg Khlevniouk, eds., Stalin s Letters to Molotov, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995); Yves Cohen, Des lettres comme action: Staline au début des années 1930 vu depuis le fonds Kaganovic, Cahiers du monde russe 38, no. 3 (1997): Stalin once told Bukharin that both of them were the Himalayas of a Politburo crowded with dwarfs, which suggests the regard in which he held the Stalinist followers he had himself promoted.
11 Comparing Mao to Stalin 93 more serious failure that relates to the heart of his politics, inspired and undermined by his dreams.... BUT A MORE REVOLUTIONARY MAO Mao s temperament and work arrangements do not alone explain his disappointing performance. His disdain for discipline and regular work and his pride as a self-taught man had persuaded himself he had an uncanny ability to grasp the heart of the matter, which reinforced his ideological beliefs. Some of his favorite aphorisms, such as the more one reads, the more stupid one becomes, not only betrayed his resentment at intellectuals. He was at the same time afraid that the best-educated people would re-create a privileged caste or class. His proclaimed trust in the creativity of the masses, capable of making scientific discoveries out of reach for erudite scholars and scientists, was a corollary of his egalitarianism. Having initially, like most Chinese revolutionaries, been converted to revolutionary ways as a means of solving the nation s problems, Mao later took egalitarian ideals seriously much more seriously than Stalin did and Mao never gave these up. A revolutionary leader dissatisfied with the work of his life, and faithful to the ideal of social equality advocated by Marxism, is not to be derided. One could understand and appreciate a Mao who first looked for ways of saving the country, then armed with Marxist teachings discovered the abyss of peasant misery, a misery worthy of devoting one s life to overcome. Unfortunately, Mao did not consistently pursue these twin goals. Stalin chose the unavoidable preliminary path, meaning developing and modernizing a backward country. Mao could not but try to modernize the country, a project repeatedly hindered by his egalitarian calls, at least during the last two decades of his life. During most of the First Five Year plan, he proved keen on exploiting the peasantry just as Stalin had done, although Mao less ferociously so. The goal was then to build up the nation ( jian guo), and to this end he was willing to squeeze the peasants. Even during that early period, one suspects that the Mao who hastened collectivization in 1953 and 1955 did so as much out of socialist convictions as out of nationalistic motives. While he was not bothered that peasants earned incomes barely a third the incomes of city dwellers, he was eager to prevent the reemergence of economic cleavages among villagers that would enable richer peasants to exploit their poor neighbors. He succeeded: there were no rich peasants under Mao s rule although there were quite a few of them a mere six years after his death. And at the time of his death 150 million villagers remained hungry. Mao lost on both counts: the Chinese people remained poor and the gap between China and the capitalist countries widened under his rule; and China s egalitarian thrust did not outlast him. Stalin s evolution while at the helm is more banal, more normal in its inhumane way. The failure, or absence, of European revolutions following Russia s
12 94 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 was an incitation to industrialize and arm the Soviet Union as quickly as possible in order to resist a potential attack by the capitalist countries. Lenin himself had pointed the way, when he said, socialism means electricity and soviets. 32 Yet ideals remained steadfast during the 1920s, before being progressively discarded during the 1930s. From the First Five Year Plan ( ) on, the preliminary task (economic development and modernization) overrode everything else. In contrast to Mao, Stalin seized and retained the means of achieving his goal. He not only abstained from fighting social disparities, he reinforced them by creating a new intelligentsia, to be sure from worker or peasantry origin, but a privileged one. He relied on another means, a strong state, which he reinforced and made more despotic, with him on top, like a modern Peter the Great. Lenin had once labelled Stalin a Russian brute. 33 The brute worked hard toward accomplishing the secular goals of economic modernization that had begun under the Tsarist Empire, and this involved a change in Soviet ideology. Before the end of the Second Five Year Plan, internationalism had joined egalitarianism in the graveyard of ideals unloaded by Stalin. He replaced them by some of the traditional values that early Bolsheviks had despised and fought, 34 a move famously depicted by Nikolaï Timasheff as the great retreat. 35 Mao was not only more faithful than Stalin to the ideals of Russia s October revolution; he took the whole business of revolution much more seriously and persistently. He fought class differentiation so tenaciously that one needs to consider in a more systematic way his and Stalin s views of both of the classes referred to above, namely, privileged intellectuals and peasant masses. The Peasants Stalin shared the views of most Bolsheviks, who saw the peasantry as the embodiment of backwardness and barbarity and the main obstacle to modernization, which required urbanization and industrialization. That such an obstacle could nevertheless be turned into an unwilling instrument of modernization was claimed in 1925 by Preobrajenski, who argued against Bukharin that revolutionaries ought to mercilessly exploit the peasants, the overwhelming majority of the population, in order to accomplish what Marx had called the primitive accumu- 32. Edward Hallet Carr, L ordre économique, vol. 2 of La révolution bolchevique ( ), trans. A. Jacquenet and M. Pouteau (New York: Macmillan, 1952), Moshe Lewin, Le siècle soviétique (Paris: Fayard, 2003), Moshe Lewin, La formation du système soviétique: Essais sur l histoire sociale de la Russie dans l entre-deux-guerres (Paris: Gallimard, 1987), , 407: Evgeny Dobrenko, Socialist Realism, in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, ed. Evgeny Dobrenko and Marina Balina (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), Nicolas Timasheff, The Great Retreat: The Growth and Decline of Communism (New York: Dutton, 1946).
13 Comparing Mao to Stalin 95 lation of capital. 36 At the time, internecine rivalries within the party dictated Stalin s stand on the matter: Preobrajenski belonged to the Left opposition led by Trotsky, Bukharin was Stalin s ally. Several years later, in 1928, the same considerations dictated otherwise: Stalin had by then crushed Trotsky and his allies, and Bukharin was his only potential rival remaining in the leadership. It would be wrong, however, to conclude that Stalin s desire to discard Bukharin was his only or even his main reason for implementing Preobrajenski s views. As Lenin had done a decade earlier, he spontaneously imputed the unavoidable difficulties encountered in implementing grain collection to the sinister plots of kulaks (rich peasants). Stalin spoke of kulaks, but he ultimately meant peasants: he intended to tame the entire peasantry and wanted to exact a tribute (in his own words) from the peasantry as a whole. To this end his famous January 1928 mission to Siberia, which brought back to Moscow wagonloads of forcibly extracted grain, taught his subordinates the art and manner of Bolshevik policies. 37 From then on, a war was launched on the peasantry. The Great Turning Point of 1929, often dubbed the second revolution, led to the collectivization and the dekulakization ( extinction of the kulaks as a class ) initiated during the following winter and spring. Mao did not refrain from collectivizing land; he even enforced collectivization earlier and at a greater speed than the Soviets had done after gaining power, Yet, Thomas Bernstein s pioneering study comparing the Soviet and Chinese collectivization campaigns of and documents not only the similarity of both campaigns but also the less brutal means Chinese cadres resorted to in order to induce peasants to join newly established collectives. 38 Many cadres were themselves peasants who had been recruited during the Land Reform and were less prone to ill-treat covillagers than Soviet activists sent from the cities. More decisively, rich peasants ( funong) were allowed to join collectives and were neither jailed nor sent to Central Asia or the Gobi desert in order to colonize wasteland, as had the kulaks of the second category, deported to northern Siberia or other wastelands (first category kulaks were more commonly killed or detained in jail or the Gulag). The different ways the two dictators dealt with the rich peasants resulted from the very different perceptions of peasants held by both dictators. The kernel of the matter is not only the greater familiarity of the son of a Hunanese peasant 36. On that famous controversy, see, among others, S. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, chap. 6; and Nove, An Economic History of the USSR, , chap Moshe Lewin, La paysannerie et le pouvoir soviétique, (1966; repr., The Hague: Mouton, 1975), 196; Lynne Viola, V. P. Danilov, N. A. Ivnitskii, and Denis Kozlov, eds., The War against the Peasantry, : The Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), Thomas P. Bernstein, Leadership and Mass Mobilisation in the Soviet and Chinese Collectivisation Campaigns of and : A Comparison, China Quarterly, no. 31 (1967): 1 47.
14 96 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 with the countryside, compared to a cobbler s son raised in a Georgian town. It is rather that Mao was much better disposed toward peasants than Stalin and most other Bolshevik leaders were. To be sure, Mao was subject to sudden changes of mind, from exalted views of peasant revolutionary consciousness to disappointed criticisms of the conservatism that led them to defend their narrow interests. Yet, even during the Great Leap, Mao said he understood those peasants who concealed their crop from his officials in order to escape grain collection. This amounted, he said, to a legitimate self-defense ( they are defending their class interests, he is reported to have said). He meant what he said, in contrast to Stalin, when he wrote the famous article Dizzy with Success in the March 2, 1930, issue of Pravda. Confronted with peasant resistance to collectivization and dekulakization, Stalin had no choice but to retreat, and he hastened to accuse his underlings of misdeeds, shifting the responsibility onto their shoulders and those of local officials, 39 but this was not out sympathy for the farmers. By contrast, Mao was sincere, if neither consistent nor effective, when he lamented the poor quality of rural schools and health-care institutions: in our country, under socialism, he deplored, good hospitals and universities remain the privilege of urban lords. Even though he did not remedy this blatant inequality, he at least reduced the mortality rate and illiteracy rate among village children. He did so with greater fervor and more efficiently than in the Soviet Union. When Mao expelled from the cities millions of teenagers who had been Red Guards, students whom he himself had mobilized against Party headquarters in the early phase of the Cultural Revolution, he no doubt wanted to get rid of them. But he made a point of declaring that these so-called zhiqing, educated youth, were to be reeducated by honest, hardworking, unselfish peasants. I am not claiming here that he was sincere, only that such idea would never have come to Stalin s mind. The Anti-elitist Drive of the Cultural Revolution Besides his concern to restrain the privileges still enjoyed by the old (bourgeois) educated elites and Chinese intellectuals, the leader who launched the Cultural Revolution specifically also targeted the new privileged stratum of Communist bureaucrats. A decade earlier, he had invited non-party intellectuals to criticize Communist officials during the Hundred Flowers movement of Once criticisms went too far, implicating not only individual officials but the Communist regime itself, Mao turned against the intellectual elite, making them the target of the 1957 anti-rightist campaign. During the few weeks of spring when one hundred flowers blossomed, the educated elite criticized the new Communist elite; the latter then suppressed the former during the ensuing summer, fall, and winter. The same antagonistic configuration prevailed again during the initial stage 39. See, among many others, Viola et al., The War against the Peasantry,
15 Comparing Mao to Stalin 97 of the Cultural Revolution, at least in locations where both of the elites or their children were overrepresented, such as the middle school attached to Tsinghua University for as long as disputes revolved around such issues as the bloodline theory. 40 Later on, during most of the Cultural Revolution decade, both elites were recurrently targeted and repressed. Once the Cultural Revolution was officially repudiated, both of these recently victimized elites joined in denouncing violence and egalitarian impulses. Former opponents found common cause against Mao s legacy. By antagonizing both elites, Mao had unwittingly united former adversaries. 41 We can conclude that Mao s enterprise utterly failed (and could only fail) even though he proved a much more persistent revolutionary than Stalin. Let us consider this latter issue first. From the early 1930s on, Stalin privileged efficiency in economic modernization at the expense of egalitarianism. In 1931, he derided and denounced petit-bourgeois egalitarianism and even claimed that the old intelligentsia, which he had recently persecuted, was coming over to the side of the Soviet government. 42 He built a new middle class of engineers and factory directors and cadres, and generously rewarded the docility and zeal of the upper echelons of that composite stratum. Mao was therefore right in asserting that class differentiation was still ongoing in the Soviet Union. The Soviet officialdom had become a new exploiting class, and Mao was eager to prevent a similar evolution in China, which in his eyes would amount to the degeneracy of China s revolution. During the Cultural Revolution he went so far as to mobilize the masses against the officials of his own Party. He thus single-handedly forged an alliance between the top (himself) and those below (the masses) against the middle, namely, the Communist hierarchy. In the short term, he succeeded in his second purpose, elevating his own personal power at the expense of his would-be rivals. In the middle and longer term, he brought about upheaval and chaos. Mao then repressed the masses he had incited to rebel. That he nevertheless did not renounce his quest for equality was amply demonstrated until his death. During the rest of the Cultural Revolution decade, he attempted to simultaneously conjure up the perils posed by an educated elite and the potential dangers of a degenerate power elite, and to pursue his egalitarian goals. He entrusted Zhou Enlai and a core of rehabilitated Party leaders with the task of restoring and maintaining a bureaucratic order. Formerly overthrown officials uneasily cooperated or competed with by now institu- 40. Joel Andreas, Rise of Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China s New Class (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), chap. 4. The bloodline theory raised new elites, which could claim a revolutionary pedigree, against old dispossessed reactionary elites. The distinction between new (communist) elite and old educated elites, the former claiming political capital, the latter cultural capital, is central to Andreas s important study. 41. Ibid., Ibid., 265.
16 98 T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L, No. 75 tionalized rebels, in charge of preventing the reemergence and consolidation of class differentiation. 43 Once Lin Biao s death meant the removal of the third player and competitor (the PLA [People s Liberation Army]), the pitiful last half decade of Mao s life alternated between his swinging to the right (Zhou Enlai, then Deng Xiaoping) or to the left (his own creatures, the Gang of Four, promoted during the Cultural Revolution). As is well known, the latter quickly lost the post-mao power struggle, opening the way for a consolidation of the privileged new class, the emergence of which Mao had persistently sought to prevent. Ever since Mao s death, it has kept reinforcing its privileged position and affluence. The eventual outcome is the exact opposite of Mao s wishes and endeavors. In this and other respects as well, Mao proved both faithful to revolutionary ideals and inconsistent, and failed in his own lifetime. He aimed at simultaneously building a great and egalitarian country. In order to build a powerful, industrialized country he copied Stalin s 1929 Great Turning Point; he even pretended to surpass it by achieving more, at greater cost, in less time. He did not, however, copy mature Stalinism, which he deemed disloyal to egalitarian ideals, and imputed this disloyalty to Khrushchev, who had actually inherited it. The economic gap between China and the Soviet Union widened in Mao s time, no less so than the gap between China and the West. China s more scant economic accomplishments did not entail a much lower cost in human suffering. Mao was personally responsible for the tragedy that befell Chinese peasants. The sad paradox is that while he personally felt much closer to the peasants and much better disposed toward them than Stalin and other Bolsheviks had been, he ended up implementing agrarian and peasant policies similar to those of the Soviet model. THE GREAT TERROR AND THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION The Great Terror and the Cultural Revolution were two of most memorable periods of each dictator s rule, and it is worth examining them further, especially as they illustrate Mao s greater utopianism and inconsistency, as well as Stalin s greater cruelty. In both cases the whole process was set in motion from the very top (Stalin and Mao) and, in Alec Nove s words, the lower ranks were encouraged to open fire on the staffs. 44 Although both movements aimed at reinforcing the power of Number One, this is only part of the picture for the more complex Cultural Revolution. Its goals were so much wider and deeper that it seems odd to compare it with the more elementary, not to say base, Great Terror in the Soviet Union. The Cultural Revolution raised basic issues pertaining to socialist re- 43. Ibid., chap. 6. See esp. 134, 141, Alec Nove, Stalin and Stalinism: Some Introductory Thoughts, in The Stalin Phenomenon, ed. Alec Nove (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993),