Sunday, July 15, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 7]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work. Over the next few weeks I will be making entries one chapter at a time (there are sixteen). Comments are invited, especially from anyone who has read the book and wants to critique my take on a chapter, but anyone is welcome to comment.

Chapter 8 "Futian: Loss of Innocence"

In this chapter Short begins by trying to explain the brutality of the CPC at this time (late 1920, early 30s). One can understand, if not condone, the behavior involved. Short says the "model of intra-party strife" was based on the struggle in the Soviet party between Stalin and Trotsky, and later between Stalin and Bukharin. [But this actually preceded such violence in the USSR].

Also, the outrageous violence that the GMD unleashed against the communists and radical peasants influenced the CPC. The communists faced, "White terror in the cities (where, from mid- 1927 on, communists were mercilessly hunted down and killed); White terror in the countryside (where warlord soldiers and landlord militias routinely torched villages suspected of harbouring communist sympathisers); and the constant threat, in the Red areas, of nationalist encirclement and destruction."

The White Terror spawned the Red Terror. The nicey-nicey rules of engagement originally drawn up by Mao were being more and more ignored. Worse still, revolutionary violence (another term for the Red Terror) began to be directed inwards as well.

In his 1926 Hunan report, according to Short, Mao had said, terror "was indispensable to the communist cause, and Red execution squads must be formed 'to massacre the landlords and the despotic gentry as well as their running dogs without the slightest compunction.' But the use of terror should be directed exclusively against class enemies." Our existential conditions in 21st Century industrialized countries makes it almost impossible to comprehend the situation in China at this time which led to these kind of tactics. Are there places in the world today, however, where they would still apply?

In 1930, according to Short, the "flash point" came whereby these tactics, applied externally against the "White Terror" were to be used within the CPC against "anti-party elements." Mao gave a speech in which he said local branches of the party in the rural areas had been infiltrated with landlords and rich peasants, some of whom were in leadership positions.

The real problem, according to Short, was that many local communists did not like outside communists arriving in their areas and telling them what to do. Also they did not like harsh tactics because, due to the large extended families of those times, they had relatives on both sides.

Mao called them "mountaintop-ists"-- i.e., people who put local interests above the national interests of the party, and "they had to be brought into line." So at a meeting of the Jiangxi Front Committee, the local south-west Jiangxi party was put under new leadership. A young man from Hunan was put in charge, Liu Shiqi.

Now a terrible step was taken. Party leaders out of favor were demoted or expelled, but there was an "unwritten rule against killing Party comrades." But by a "secret directive" Mao ordered the execution of the top four local party leaders he had deposed ("as an example to others.") This should never have happened, I think, because secret activities not approved by the Front Committee violates inter party democracy. [Also killing people, for political reasons, is not a good way to build a new world of justice and equality.]

Why did Mao do it? Because he thought "that communists who obstructed the policies that the Party laid down, whatever their reason for doing so, had become part of 'the enemy' ['objectively counter-revolutionary' whatever their subjective intentions] and should be treated as such."

To students of Kant [ the only thing that counts is the good will ], among others, to kill people this way is monstrous. But Mao wasn't a Kantian. Short points out that the courts and trials are beside the point. "Since their guilt was political, the judicial process was irrelevant except as theatre, to educate the masses."

As Mao put it, "they should be openly tried and sentenced to death by execution." This is what is meant by a "show trial." This is one of the worse developments of classical 20th Century underdeveloped world communism and should never be practiced again. China was, however, lacking in any strong tradition of judicial independence. Modern China is still struggling with this problem but at least the leadership is aware of it.

Liu Shiqi went about carrying out purges of the local party's other leaders and many members. Also in 1930 the mysterious AB-tuan shows up. This was a "right-wing clique within the Guomindang." AB-tuaner began "showing up" everywhere. By October 1930, 1000 members of the 30,000 members in the south-west Jiangxi local had been executed for being part of the AB-tuan. While the scale is not Pol Potish, it certainly looks like fear and paranoia were gripping the Party leadership. Li Lisan was the party leader at this time and, ironically, the greatest purges will be against his followers when he falls from Grace. Outside of the executions of the original "Four Great [local] Party Officials", Short says Mao's role in this Pol Potish extension of inter-party violence "is uncertain." While he was actually present in the area with the Red Army few people were killed as AB-tuan. Other leaders seem to have been the primary agents of the "blood-purge"-- (mid-summer 1930).

But by October Mao had joined the purge whole heartedly. Liu Shiqi had been replaced by Li Wenlin and the new leadership in Jiangxi, according to Short, "ordered 'the most merciless torture' to ferret out AB-tuan members, warning that even 'those people who seem very positive and loyal, very left-wing and straightforward in what they say' must be doubted and questioned."

Since people will say anything under torture, it is no surprise to find out that the number of people being killed as "enemy agents" began to climb. It was a miniature Pol Pot witch hunt. Mao bought into it and said it was necessary to "intensify the purge still further."

All this was going on at the same time the GMD armies were trying to wipe out the Red Army (as described in the last chapter). Mao's plan, you may remember, was to "lure the enemy in deep." Naturally, all of the villages and peasants in the way objected to this plan as the GMD would wipe them out. These were the people who became "objective counter-revolutionaries" for contesting Mao's plan. Thousands were killed, including 2000 officers and men in the army itself-- many for questioning the need to to kill so many people. Those chosen by history are first made mad!

"The purge grew into a bloodbath," Short writes, "in which [Mao's] opponents perished. The stage was set for 'the Futian events." What were these events? Short tells the following story.

In early December 1930 the small village of Futian was being used as the HQ of the Jiangxi Provincial Action Committee. On December 7th Li Shaojiu (a "murderous thug"), "a member of Mao's political staff" arrived in town with a band of troops and names of three members of the provincial committee said to be members of the AB-tuan.

All the names were gotten under extreme forms of torture. All three members (plus five additional members found with them) were tortured and made to confess that they were AB-tuan members. They were not immediately put to death but kept alive on the basis of an order approved by Mao which read, "Do not kill the important leaders too quickly, but squeeze out of them [the maximum] information ... [Then], from the clues they give, you can go on to unearth other leaders." Sounds like a memo from Donald Rumsfeld!

I will note here the CPC did some self correcting as it stated a year later, after an internal investigation, that, "All the AB-tuan cases were uncovered on the basis of confessions. Little patience was shown in ascertaining facts and verifying charges... Torture was the only method of dealing with suspects who resisted. Torture ceased only after confession." And the CPC investigators knew how to get the job done. The report states that, "The worst method was to nail a person's palms to a table and then to insert bamboo splints under the fingernails." I imagine a lot of people confessed to being AB-tuan.

However, what the soldiers did to the wives of some of the suspects was just as bad: "they cut open their breasts and burnt their genitals." The Red Army had come a long way from the "humanistic" rules I mentioned,in an earlier entry, that Mao promulgated at its founding.

After Li Shaojiu moved on to hunt for victims at a new location, friends and soldiers of the imprisoned Front Committee members attacked their guards and freed them. They sent an appeal to the Party leadership to get rid of Mao and clear their names. The Party stood by Mao.

Meanwhile, Mao defeated Chiang Kai-shek's first encirclement attack. Mao's stock went up. The "suspects" held out until March 1931, then turned themselves in, "having been assured, or so they believed, that they would be treated with clemency."

Many were then killed. (one of them, a young man in his early 20s was beheaded). Short suggests they were innocent, their real crime being they were associated politically with the Li Lisan line (Li had been removed by this time) and that a bloody factional purge was carried out under the guise of fighting the class enemy (i.e., GMD agents). The revolution eats its own.

Short says the Returned Students leadership in Shanghai lumped "together all forms of opposition under a generic AB-tuan label." It seems there was no loyal opposition, just traitors. As a result, Short writes, "the purge resumed more ferociously than ever." This was, however, a "China thing," not a "CPC thing" since the GMD and the warlords carried on their own purges and blood baths. This was a reflection of the existential conditions in China and the level of social development of the combatants.

At this time, according to a later CPC investigation, the Jiangxi Political Security department acted on the premise "that it was better to kill a hundred innocent people than to leave a truly guilty one at large." Hardly a policy to win friends and influence people.

In the third encirclement campaign the remnants of the troops that had rescued the "suspects" (it was the 20th Army) was called to come back and help fight off Chiang's attack. They did so, but Mao had most of the officers executed and dispersed the regular soldiers into other units. There was no more 20th Army.

By the end of the year, after the death of tens of thousands of people, the purge, and Mao's part in it, slackened off. It didn't end, however. From 1932 through 1934, 80 to 100 people a month were being shot for being AB- tuan, Social Democrats, or "reformists." This was a new moderate policy! The Party was against "unorganized" killing. Executions now had to be approved by higher Party bodies, they could not just take place on the spot.

I read Short's book on Pol Pot and this "Futian" purge sounds just like the kinds of thing the Khmer Rouge did. Here is a quote from the head of East Futian security on how to deal with a suspect: "You force him to confess, then he confesses, you believe him and you kill him: or, he does not confess and you kill him." These alternatives don't look very good. If this is going on in the "liberated zones", which the peasants are flocking to, what could Chiang have been doing? We shall soon see.

The reasons for the purges were, Short says, always the same. "They were always about power-- the power of individual leaders to enforce their will, and to ensure that followers followed."

This horrible chapter is drawing to an end. Short ends it by trying to explain what was the cause of this inhuman barbaric slaughter of men, women and some children as well. "Inhuman" seems not to be the right word as we humans have been acting this way since the git-go.

Short says, "The way in which the [CPC] leadership was transformed from an idealistic, ineffectual coterie of well meaning intellectuals" who "in exceptional times" carried out "an exceptional slaughter of men and women [tens of thousands!] who later proved to be perfectly loyal" was largely due to "the situation within China itself."

Short says that the main reason was the civil war between the CPC and GMD in which "no rules were honored." In 1931 the head of the PB Security Service defected to the GMD and turned over lists of names resulting in the capture and killing of thousands of communists, including Xiang Zhongfa [1880-1931] the head of the Party since 1928.

Zhou Enlai ordered the turncoat's entire family exterminated. Only a small boy was saved because the man assigned to do the killing couldn't bring himself to kill a small child. In order to enforce discipline Zhou also ordered the killing of dozens of CPC members whom he thought lacked discipline.

O tempora, O mores, we are not hearten to read that, "The Guomindang was just as barbarous." The GMD went to areas where the CPC was located and killed all the able bodied men in a program known as "draining the pond to catch the fish."

While the CPC was killing its own, the GMD was just killing anyone who later might be a potential recruit to the CPC-- i.e., poor peasants in the country side. They killed 100,000 villagers in Hubei and 80,000 in Henan. On the Hunan-Hubei border, the GMD killed so many villagers that only 10,000 remained from a population of one million. "Twenty years later, ruined villages and human bones were still scattered through the mountains."

This was the environment the CPC lived in, and the young idealists of a few years before, including Mao, either adapted or perished. It was, in fact, typical of Chinese history. "The vortex of blood and fear," Short writes, "in which the communist struggle was played out was the fruit of this legacy."

Mao was conflicted. He still held to the ideals, discussed in a previous chapter, about how the Red Army should act, yet realized "iron discipline" was needed. He saw communism as a "moral force" not just a way to attain power. There was a contradiction between torture and murder of innocent people, including some children, to make others obey and the concept that your philosophy is a "moral force for China's renewal."

Mao turned to dialectics, especially "the unity of opposites" to try and understand [justify?] the Party's actions. What could you do against an enemy such as the GMD? He concluded the purges were necessary, but regrettable, due to the circumstances, and, Short says, "in future better avoided." Amen to that!

from PAEditorsBlog

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