Friday, August 31, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 9]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work and the editor's blog is a good place to discuss it as a preliminary to a review article for PA. 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 10 "In Search of the Grey Dragon: the Long March North"

After the GMD had forced the CPC and the Red Army out of their base area in Jiangxi the nationalists thought that the communist movement was finally overcome.

January 1935 found the communist HQ at Zunyi in Guizhou. Short says it was at this time that Mao first attained "a dominant position in the Party." The loss of the base area and retreat of the Red Army had finally convinced a majority of the top leaders that Mao's ideas had been right all along and it was a mistake to have excluded him from military affairs for so long.

When the Red army halted at Zunyi it was about 30,000 strong-- having lost 50,000 men in the three months since the base area was abandoned. Morale wasn't exactly high.

By Spring of 1935 Short says, the Red Army was once again the "Zhu- Mao Army." Chiang was breathing down the Red Army's neck and by deft strategy Mao was able to extricate the army from certain destruction, escape across the Upper Yangtse, and find a safe haven in the town of Huili in Sichuan (May, 1935).

The army had been reduced to 20,00 men but Mao had saved it and from then on he was never challenged again by the military leaders or the Party leaders with the army.

We have talking about this army unit as if it were the only communist army in the field. That really wasn't the case. This unit was officially called the First Front Army. We have concentrated on it because it was the one associated with Mao. But in the north of Sichuan was the Fourth Front Army led by Zhang Guotao (1897-1979 in Canada, defected to GMD in 1938).

The March to the West now became the Long March as Mao's forces set off from Huili to link up with Zhang Guotao. But Chiang's forces were now in hot pursuit. To escape the Red Army made a forced march to a town called Luding on the Dadu River which was in flood. The only way to cross the river was at this town.

The town was taken by assault and the Red Army crossed over to the east bank of the Dadu River and thus, once again, escaped from Chiang's forces. Short says this battle and crossing became legendary. "Failure would have meant the Red Army's annihilation."

After heroic efforts Mao's troops finally linked up with the Fourth Front Army (June, 1935). Now the problem was, who is going to run the show: Mao or Zhang? Mao wanted to go north to Ganzu, Zhang wanted to go west. The PB worked out compromises that seemed to settle the rivalry in Mao's favor and the combined armies started moving north. But, Short says, "The stage was slowly being set for what Mao would call, years later, 'the darkest moment of my life.'"

The biggest problem in going north was getting thru a large swampy grassland. Mao's group, after much suffering, made it through, but Zhang and his Fourth Front Army turned back and headed south. So the Red Army (First Front Army) was on its own again. It now had only 10,000 troops left.

On September 21, 1935 the army reached Hadapu, in Gansu, and they learned that there was a communist controlled area in nearby Shensi province. The army decided to march east towards Shensi. The Long March finally ended when they reached Wuqi in Shensi (October, 1935). Many had perished, the army was now down to 5000. And, Short writes, in this area "Mao would spend the next twelve years."

Meanwhile, Japan had intensified its conquests in China. Chiang and the GMD did not seem to be doing enough to oppose the Japanese. Mao was also thinking about Japan and the struggle that would have to be waged against it. Short quotes a poem he wrote around this time:

High on the crest of Liupan Mountain,
Our banners flap idly in the western breeze.
Today we hold fast the long cord,
When shall we bind the Grey Dragon [Japan]?

In December 1935 the PB met at Wayaobu in the new base area and devised a new political action plan, abandoning the leftism of the Returned Students for more pragmatic policies. This was in line with the Comintern's new polices of the united front.

The new policies were designed to appeal to a broader mass of the Chinese people. "The 'Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Soviet Republic,'" Short says, "would be renamed 'the Soviet People's Republic', to signify that all citizens had a place in it."

Instead of a "closed door" policy towards other classes, an "open door" policy would be implemented. Mao said "Closed doorism just 'drives the fish into deep waters and the sparrows into the thickets', and it will drive the millions upon millions of the masses ... over to the enemy's side."

Now Mao entered into a semi "United Front" with a nearby GMD army led by Zhang Xueliang (the Young Marshal, he was in his 30s), the North-East Army. This alliance was possible because Mao convinced Zhang that they should be fighting the Japanese invaders not each other. Zhang would not openly defy Chiang but would help the Red Army as best he could.

This allowed Mao to go on a military expedition to recruit more troops. He was able to get his army back up to 20,000 men. But "Zhang Guotao was still in Sichuan, and the bulk of the Red Army was with him."

In the summer of 1936 Zhang's Fourth Front Army was joined by another Red Army unit, the Second Front Army which had formed in 1935 in Hunan. Zhang did not want to unite with Mao's forces. He even set up a rival CPC leadership and expected Mao and the PB that was with him to be subservient to his new leadership.

Unfortunately for Zhang, Chiang's forces caught up with him and he was pulverized. He finally gave in to the legitimate PB and brought what was left of his army North to merge with Mao's First Front Army. (December 1936). But Zhang was finished as a major leader.

While on the one hand, Mao had been dealing with Zhang, on the other he and the CPC had also been trying to get Chiang to agree to an anti- Japanese front. Throughout China, as well as within the GMD, people were objecting to Chiang's policy of "internal pacification first, resistance to Japan second."

Short points out, that by April 1936, Mao was pushing a new line: Japan and Chiang were no longer equal enemies. Mao now maintained, as quoted by Short, "Our stand is to oppose Japan and stop the civil war. Opposing Chiang Kai-shek is secondary."

In June 1936 the Red Army had to give up Wayaobu and retreat to Bao'an, an even more remote area. For the rest of 1936, the CPC agitated for united resistance to Japan. In December Chaing gave his answer. It was to be a Sixth Encirclement effort to wipe out the Red Army.

Zhang Xueliang pleaded with Chiang to allow the North-East Army to fight Japan instead. Chiang, now with his HQ in Xian in Shensi province, said no. Then, the unthinkable happened. Zhang used his men to arrest Chiang and hold him prisoner at the HQ of the North-East Army.

The CPC thought Chiang should be put on trial for starting the civil war and for not fighting the Japanese. But this was not Zhang's plan. He only wanted to get Chiang to drop the civil war and unite all the patriotic forces (including the communists) against Japan.

Meanwhile, in Chiang's capital, Nanjing, the sentiment was for a peaceful solution. Zhou Enlai was sent to Xian to explain the CPC's position to Zhang: a trial and the establishment of a big unified anti-Japanese base in the north east, and a united front government in Nanjing.

Eventually a deal was cut for a united front between the CPC, Chiang, Zhang and the government in Nanjing. But it was illusory. Zhang went back to Nanjing with Chiang (he ended up in prison and then house arrest from which he was only freed in his 90's on Taiwan).

Back in Nanjing, Chiang resumed his plans to wipe out the Red Army. He only abandoned those plans in July 1937 when the Japanese attacked in force taking Beijing, and attacking Shanghai. Events forced Chiang to cooperate with the CPC.

The Red Army got a new name: "Eighth Route Army of the [GMD] National Revolutionary Army." The party "was back on centre stage," legal, and, Short says, "For Mao, the highroad to power was open." Mao was now 43 years old.
from PAEditorsBlog

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Thomas Riggins

There was an interesting review in the Times yesterday [8-29-07], "Dress Like Your Child And the Terrorists Win" by William Grimes. Grimes was reviewing a rather immature book by Diana West named "The Death of the Grown Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization" and published (probably to their embarrassment) by the folks at St. Martin's Press.

There isn't really too much of substance to this book, as Grimes admits. The theory of the book "comes out half-baked" and Ms West doesn't "have the intellectual firepower to make the argument she wants to make." This seems to me to be code for "don't bother to read this book."

What is the argument? Simply put, according to Grimes, the West is "unable and unwilling to confront its enemies" because "Narcissistic baby boomers" have "reversed the maturation process" and act too much like their children. I.e., the spread of "youth culture" and "multiculturalism" is leading us down the path of doom.

The real focus of this jejune rant is Islam. Grimes tells us that Ms West's "grand thesis" is "the West's failure to confront Islam. Not Islamic fundamentalism, not Islamism, but Islam." It is the religion of Islam itself we must confront. Holy Crusaders! What could be more un-grown up and immature than to want to take on a billion people and their faith and blame baggy pants and rock and roll for the failure of "Western Civilization" to do so?

Grimes is right to dismiss the author's "intellectual fire power", but the Times article leaves out some important considerations. Where does the following view come from? I mean, West's view, according to Grimes, that "the threat to the West comes from tenets inherent in Islam, not from extremists or terrorists distorting the message."

In the first place, "the threat to Western Civilization" boils down to resistance in the Islamic world to the dictates of American foreign policy and to being economically exploited by Western capitalist corporations under the guise of "globalization" [AKA Imperialism]. West is right, it isn't just the extremists who oppose exploitation.

But just who is West and what is the background she represents when she speaks of the "West" and the enemies of "our" civilization? Grimes tells us she is a functionary of the Washington Times for which paper she writes columns.

The Washington Times was founded in 1982 by Sung Mymung Moon, who calls himself humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord, and True Parent. It is a moonie publication dedicated, as Moon himself said, to being "the instrument in spreading the truth about God [i.e., himself as Returning Lord] to the world."

The Washington Times hasn't made a dime in profit since its founding and has been subsidized [just as the profitless New York Post has been by Rupert Murdock] to the tune of billions of dollars by moonie organizations and the Unification Church. Sung Mymung Moon keeps this paper in print because he is an extremist ultra-right conservative and represents the interests of right wing extremists, racists and antigay bigots who are proliferating, or at least hoping to, in this country and who use the Washington Times as a venue for moonie sanctioned propaganda.

With billions of his dollars awash in the world of journalism (and politics) it is not surprising that Moon is rarely attacked, has hundreds of writers of the ilk of a Diana West at his disposal, and is even shown respect by the New York Times which, as do many other "main line publications," has former moonie trained staff in its employ.

Grimes knows all this and, had he wanted to (been permitted?), could have pointed out that the true threats to the values of "Western Civilization" and to the positive founding values of the United States itself, are coming, not from people of the Islamic faith, but from our government's own misguided policies aided and abetted by publications, such as the Washington Times, and the self proclaimed Messiahs who use them for their own personal political and religious agendas
from PAEditor's Blog

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Thomas Riggins

The Friday New York Times has a story, "Nuclear Weapons Comment Puts Obama on the Defensive" by Michael Luo (NYT 8/3/07).

It seems Obama is getting flack for saying he doesn't think using nuclear weapons against al-Qaeda is a good idea. "His remarks about removing nuclear weapons as an option in the region drew fresh attacks from Democratic rivals who had already questioned his foreign policy experience."

In reality his critics are the ones whose experience should be questioned. The US and every other country should have a no first use or first strike policy as the use of nuclear weapons would be in itself an unthinkable crime against humanity.

Obama should be congratulated for stating that we would not commit a crime against humanity. His critics, by leaving the use of crimes against humanity as an option, show they are completely unworthy to be leaders representing the American people.

Sen. Clinton, when asked if she agreed with Obama, said, "I'm not going to answer hypotheticals." This is a ridiculous response and a typical dodge for politicians lacking the courage of their convictions. A hypothetical is any question with an "if". Sen. Clinton, "IF the US is attacked would you take appropriate actions?" "I'm not going to answer hypotheticals!"

Sen. Clinton also said, "I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons." We are not talking about pea shooters here. Any person who can't make the blanket statement that they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons is not fit to be president.

Sen. Dodd (yes he's running too, but far back in the pack I think), also criticized Obama for making "unwise categorical statements about military options [i.e., use of nuclear weapons]." He too it seems agrees that presidents should keep open the option of committing crimes against humanity as a tool of US policy.

At least there are two people who shouldn't be running. The article didn't mention what other candidates thought. On this issue, at any rate, Sen. Obama has proven himself to be wiser than his critics.
from PAEditorsBlog

Thursday, August 02, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 8]
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 9 "Chairman of the Republic"

On November 7, 1931 in SE Jiangxi the Chinese Soviet Republic was set up with its capital at Ruijin. Mao was the head of state with the title "Chairman." However, in January 1932 he had a big fight with members of the PB over the significance of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Most of the PB thought it was to facilitate an invasion of the USSR. Mao disagreed. Tempers flared and Mao requested "sick leave" and isolated himself in an old temple on Donghuashan Hill around five miles from Ruijin.

Meanwhile, against Mao's advice, the Party decided to attack and occupy a big city, in this case it was Ganzhou. It was a fiasco and Mao was called back by the leadership to give his advice. Mao basically got his way again. One of the major reasons was the fact Zhou Enlai threw his support to Mao at this time and "personal chemistry" developed between the two men which was to last over the next four decades.

The biggest problem for Mao was the tension between his political vision and that of the Shanghai "Returned Student" PB leadership. By July 1932 the Shanghai PB was really down on Mao for not implementing its decisions regarding the taking of big cities. But Mao and the field commanders knew that the Red Army was not ready to take on the big cities.

This impasse was broken by Zhou Enlai, Short says. Zhou told the PB he would personally go to the field to get an offensive underway against the big cities in northern Jiangxi but Mao should be given back his old title as "General Political Commissar." Short refers to Zhou as "the eternal deal- maker."

The offensive got underway, but Mao and Zhu De, with Zhou's support, called it off in order to retreat and build up the Red Army. This led to a big split in the PB and Mao found himself sidelined (October 12, 1932) from military matters for the next two years. But he was still Chairman of the Republic and had administrative functions to perform.

He also gave advice to Luo Ming, the acting secretary of the Fujian CPC, whom he met by accident. It was military advice. Chiang was getting ready for a Fourth Encirclement Campaign and Mao discussed his old guerrilla tactics. Luo Ming liked what he heard and started using Mao's tactics in Fujian.

This infuriated the leader of the Returned Students, Bo Gu (not be confused with Gu Bo-- Mao's former secretary) who immediately denounced the "Luo Ming line" and began a purge of all Mao supporters he could find. This was not a blood purge, they were just being denounced and isolated. As Chairman, Mao was too high ranking to denounce.

Short points out how ironic it was that the Returned Students were against Mao and thought they were following the Moscow line, while in fact it was Mao that Stalin backed. Since 1928, Short says, "Mao was the only major Chinese leader who was consistently in agreement with Stalin on all three of the key issues in the Chinese revolution: the primary role of the peasantry, of the Red Army and of the rural base areas. In the Kremlin, this did not go unnoticed." [Trivia: Mao's favorite novel was "The Dream of the Red Chamber."]

As head of state of the Chinese Soviet Republic Mao turned his attention to civil affairs and the economy. "The key economic issue," Short writes, "was land reform. In rural China, the possession of land gave life: if you had fields, you could eat; without fields, you would starve. Among a nation of 400 million, 90 per cent of whom were peasants, land redistribution-- taking from the rich and giving to the poor-- was the primary vehicle carrying the communist revolution forward, the fundamental point of divergence between the [CPC] and the Guomindang."

This was seventy years ago, we know the GMD will lose because the peasants didn't support it. Even today we see robust Maoist movements in areas with vast peasant populations. The same problems often elicit the same solutions. There are Maoist movements in Nepal as well as India fueled by the peasants desire for land redistribution. Even the dysfunctional "Shining Path" quasi-Maoist movement in Peru based itself on peasants.

Mao was very radical about land reform, according to Short. Mao favored a system of equal distribution, "an identical share" of land for every mouth. All the land was owned by the state and assigned according to the size of the family. Everyone got something and even the poorest could live.

But Mao's views were considered too moderate by the Returned Student leadership. The peasants were classified as rich, middle, and poor. Mao's plan had provided land for all. But the Returned Students, under the influence of Stalin's "anti-kulak campaign" decided that rich peasants would have all their land taken and be given nothing. This all became moot anyway as the Chinese Soviet was ultimately taken over by the GMD.

But before the Chinese Soviet Republic fell, Mao instituted some practices which became characteristic of Chinese Communism, according to Short. Mao, along with Deng Fa his chief of Political Security, was determined to eliminate all "alien class elements" from the state. Lists of suspects were drawn up, "denunciation boxes" were set up in the villages so anyone could put in the name of a "class enemy."

The names of non existent organizations were made up (by the leadership) and then people were accused of being members. This was an excuse to haul in large groups for questioning. Mao also ordered, that when someone was "obviously guilty," the procedure should be, as Short puts it: "they should be executed first and a report made later."

These terrible behavior patterns were not due to Communism. The GMD did the same, even killing people for "disturbing the peace." This type of "law" was inherited from the Chinese Empire, "from which the social controls of both the communists and the nationalists [GMD] stemmed." The purpose of "law" was for political control, not to protect people as individual's with rights and freedom. The ideals of Marx and Engels were taking root in alien soil.

Elections were required for committees, delegations, congresses, etc. The voting age was 16. Men and women both voted and women were guaranteed 25% of the posts. The Soviet also enacted a law to give women complete equality with men in the rights of marriage and divorce.

"This democratic marriage system." Mao stated, "has burst the feudal shackles that have bound human beings, especially women, for thousands of years, and established a new pattern consistent with human nature." If this was the only thing the CPC ever did, it would deserve the undying gratitude of a freed humanity.

Even though Mao was being kept away from the military struggle, his influence remained. Short reports that in the spring of 1933,Chiang's fourth attempt at encirclement was beaten back by the Red Army led by Zhou Enlai and Zhu De "using tactics broadly similar to those Mao had argued for."

In September 1933, Chiang began encirclement campaign number five. As the fighting intensified, "political paranoia resumed." Execution squads went out to the battles to kill suspected disloyal troops and officers. Personally, I can't understand how an army can operate in this way, but it did.

Short says Mao's "land regulations were abandoned" and the Party carried out a "pogrom" killing off thousands of rich peasants and landlords. The poor and moderate peasants saw their interests being protected and supported the Party.

In May of 1934 the Party leadership (without Mao) realized that Chiang was getting too strong and that the communists might have to abandon their base area and Soviet Republic. Mao was on sick leave, this time for real, in any case. In October the Red Army abandoned the base area to the GMD, crossed the Gan River and withdrew to the west.