The War for Quadrant Two

Quadrant two will prove to be the quadrant of victory for the proletariat

Archive for November, 2012

► The Great Famine in China (1958-62) and the need for democratic rights (“Tombstone”, by Yang Jisheng) – [WQ2.12.11.22]

Posted by Ben Seattle on November 22, 2012

(excerpt from an email to Art)
I have been reading the Yang book, “Tombstone”, about the Great Famine in China 1958-62.  I have found it
hard to put down.  I made up my mind that I was a revolutionary in 1973.  I considered myself a Maoist at that
time.  And I considered myself a Maoist until 1978 when, with others in the predecessor organization that
became the MLP, we studied Enver Hoxha’s “Imperialism and the Revolution”.  But (somewhat like a former
Catholic) the Maoist influence in my early thinking and training as a revolutionary has all sorts of remnants.
As a result, in reading this book, a lot of the pieces of my own life came together.
Here is a short excerpt from the NYT review:
            Originally published in 2008, the Chinese version of Tombstone is a legendary book in China. 
            It is hard to find an intellectual in Beijing who has not read it, even though it remains banned
            and was only published in Hong Kong. Yang’s great success is using the Communist Party’s
            own records to document, as he puts it, “a tragedy unprecedented in world history for tens of
            millions of people to starve to death and to resort to cannibalism during a period of normal
            climate patterns with no wars or epidemics.”
The size of the famine in China (approx 36 million !) is a number that it is quite difficult for me to comprehend.
As (like many of my background) a student of sorts of the cultural revolution, I read the chapter on the 1959
Lushan conference with great interest.  The confrontation there led to a speech by Mao that was widely
studied during the cultural revolution.  Here is one of the most famous passages by Mao:
        There are about 700,000 production brigades; if each brigade makes one error, and you wanted
        to publish all 700,000 errors within a year, how could it be done? Moreover some articles are long
        and some short; it would take at least a year to publish them all. What would the result be? Our state
        would collapse and even if the imperialists didn’t come, the people would rise up and overthrow us.
        If the paper you publish prints bad news every day, people will have no heart for their work. It wouldn’t
        take as long as a year; we would perish within a week.  […]  But if we do ten things and nine are bad,
        and they are all published in the press, then we will certainly perish, and will deserve to perish. In that
        case, I will go to the countryside to lead the peasants to overthrow the government. If those of you in
        the Liberation Army won’t follow me, then I will go and find a Red Army, and organize another
        Liberation Army. But I think the Liberation Army would follow me.
I was familar with this passage in the 1970’s (and considered it a powerful example of a revolutionary
attitude) but I had no idea of the *context* in which this struggle took place.  Many *millions* of people
had starved to death by the time Mao gave his speech–and *tens* more millions would starve to death
in the year that followed.
The Yang book was published in Chinese in 2008 but the English version just came out this month.
This will be an important book, and I intend to write about it.  I am hoping that I can write about it
without the arrogant, know-it-all attitude that we often encounter in the “insurrectionist” section of the
movement.  We don’t know everything, and Yang’s book is flawed in various ways.  There is a need
for perspective and humility in approaching a crime of this magnitude and connecting what happened
in China with the other key events of the 20th century (if these are not understood, it would be difficult
to understand how the Great Famine could have happened).
The most powerful conclusion from this experience may be simple:
The proletariat cannot defend and maintain its rule over society if democratic rights
are not extended to the entire population. 
I have said this many times, but this book, in my opinion, proves it in a way that is just about as vivid
as could be imagined.
And, in relation to our current tasks, this book illustrates another decisive principle:
If the proletariat does not have an organization where different currents have the right
to self-organize and openly oppose one another (ie: mass democracy, as opposed to
supposedly “democratic centralism”) it will end up with nothing.
I have looked at the Kasama site, to see how they will discuss this book (since most of them still
have a reverential attitude toward Mao).  So far, their blog has not said a word.  It occured to me that
Mike Ely and the Kasama crew may choose to simply *ignore* this book.  Here is what Mike said a
few days ago:
        When people ask me for a good beginning history of China’s Maoist revolution I have long suggested
        that they read Han Suyin’s two volume work “Morning Deluge” and “Wind in the Tower”. I still feel
        that way — it is a fine, detailed, partisan, readable overview of that great communist revolution, and of
        the work of Mao Zedong at its helm.  […]  Whatever her own views were (then or later), these books
        represent a communist summation of these events — written for audiences outside China. They had
        a powerful impact when they were published — and they could have an impact now if we choose to
        use them.
So Mike calls Han Suyin’s book a “communist summation” of these events!  This shows how empty and
bankrupt it is for Mike and the Kasama crew to toss around words like “communism” as a *substitute* for
thinking and making an effort to understand the nature of our goal and the democratic principles which
must be the foundation for the organization we need.  I read Han Suyin’s “Wind in the Tower” when it was
published in 1976.  It covers the period 1949-1965 and (of course) makes no mention of the great famine.
I would reply to Mike on his blog–but have had it (for now) with his deletions of my posts and threats to
permanently ban me from his paternalistic community.  I will post this to my upper blog.  We should discuss
this book.  Maybe the news of a crime of this magnitude will help to wake up a few of the people we know.
— Ben

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