For a short period in the late sixties the “Little Red Book” containing the thoughts of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong (or as his name was spelled in English at the time “Mao Tse-Tung”) was one of the most intensively-studied books in the world. Assembled by party editors from old speeches and writings of Mao, it was intended as a guide for those involved in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969. Mao argued that the Chinese Revolution had become rigid and betrayed its basic principles. To reinvigorate it, he invited young people to join the Red Guards and attack “bourgeois” elements in society. Everyone in China was forced to gather in study groups to spend hours discussing every line of the Quotations and applying them to their lives. The book was also studied by Maoists abroad, including in the U.S. The results were disastrous. Millions died, many others were imprisoned for “incorrect” thoughts such as liking Western music or advocating Confucianism, many of China’s brightest and most creative people were forced to abandon their jobs to labor on collective farms, and a whole generation lost its chance at education as it charged around the countryside attacking the previous generation. The translation used here is that issued by the party itself through Foreign Languages Press in Beijing in the second edition of 1966.
“To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing,” (May 26, 1939)
How does Mao turn criticism into an advantage?
I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy. It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work.
Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work (March 12, 1957)
This passage was used to justify the intensive “reeducation” sessions which tried to bring all Chinese people into line. The final qualifying phrases were usually ignored.
In our country bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology, anti-Marxist ideology, will continue to exist for a long time. Basically, the socialist system has been established in our country. We have won the basic victory in transforming the ownership of the means of production, but we have not yet won complete victory on the political and ideological fronts. In the ideological field, the question of who will win in the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie has not been really settled yet. We still have to wage a protracted struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology. It is wrong not to understand this and to give up ideological struggle. All erroneous ideas, all poisonous weeds, all ghosts and monsters, must be subjected to criticism; in no circumstance should they be allowed to spread unchecked. However, the criticism should be fully reasoned, analytical and convincing, and not rough, bureaucratic, metaphysical or dogmatic.
“On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship” (June 30, 1949)
The ultimate goal of Marxists was not unlike that of anarchists: the complete abolition of state power and the establishment of direct democracy among the people. However both Marx and Lenin had argued that a period of transition called “socialism” was necessary, in which the state would organize the conditions necessary for its own abolition. But the only Communist states which abolished themselves, like that of the Soviet Union, did so in order to transform themselves into conventional states.
What reasons does Mao give for not abolishing state power right away? (This speech was given immediately after the triumph of the Communists.)
“Don’t you want to abolish state power?” Yes, we do, but not right now; we cannot do it yet. Why? Because imperialism still exists, because domestic reaction still exists, because classes still exist in our country. Our present task is to strengthen the people’s state apparatus–mainly the people’s army, the people’s police and the people’s courts–in order to consolidate national defense and protect the people’s interests.
“Problems of War and Strategy” (November 6, 1938)
In its original context this saying meant that the Communists would never be allowed to come to power in China without a successful violent revolution. In the context of the Cultural Revolution it meant that the Chinese People’s Army had to play a leading role in sustaining, purifying, and spreading Communism. And abroad it was often used to justify revolutionary terrorism.
Every Communist must grasp the truth, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Speech at the Moscow Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties (November 18, 1957)
Mao was widely ridiculed abroad for stating that the U.S. and its nuclear arsenal were “paper tigers.” Many supposed that Mao would have willingly plunged the world into a nuclear war out of sheer ignorance. But it seems more probable that, lacking such arms himself, he used his most powerful weapon: the bluff. The bomb was not a very effective tool of diplomacy because the threat it posed was only as credible as the willingness of any nation to plunge the world into a holocaust, very probably destroying itself in the process. Mao had every reason to let the world think he was not afraid of the bomb no matter what his private thoughts might have been.
I have said that all the reputedly powerful reactionaries are merely paper tigers. The reason is that they are divorced from the people. Look! Was not Hitler a paper tiger? Was Hitler not overthrown? I also said that the tsar of Russia, the emperor of China and Japanese imperialism were all paper tigers. As we know, they were all overthrown. U.S. imperialism has not yet been overthrown and it has the atom bomb. I believe it also will be overthrown. It, too, is a paper tiger.
“Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership” (June 1, 1943)
This is the core of the ideology that made the Cultural Revolution so appealing to many young idealists; but in the end learning from the people turned out to mean learning only from Chairman Mao and his allies.
In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily “from the masses, to the masses.” This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.
Introductory note to “Women Have Gone to the Labor Front” (1955)
Women had been oppressed in China as much as anywhere on earth, and Mao often spoke of the important role they would play in building Communism. Many concrete advances were made for women; however, except for his wife Jian Qing, who was very influential during the Cultural Revolution, women were generally relegated to subordinate positions in the party leadership.
In order to build a great socialist society, it is of the utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of women to join in productive activity. Men and women must receive equal pay for equal work in production. Genuine equality between the sexes can only be realized in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a whole.
On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (February 27, 1957)
Of all the quotations in the “Little Red Book” none is more inspiring or chilling than this. It comes from a brief period of reform in the fifties known as the “Hundred Flowers Campaign” during which Mao encouraged complete freedom of thought, including criticism of the Party. The result was much more vigorous debate than Mao had expected and the period ended with an abrupt crackdown against those who had raised their voices in opposition. It could stand as a critique of the failures of the Cultural Revolution itself, which tried to settle ideological questions by force under the guise of debate.
Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting the progress of the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. Different forms and styles in art should develop freely and contend freely. We think that it is harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another. Questions of right and wrong in the arts and sciences should be settled through free discussion in artistic and scientific circles and through practical work in these fields. They should not be settled in summary fashion.
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