Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Berkeley Still Kow-Tows to Mao

Throughout most of the intellectually coherent world, Chinese dictator Mao Zedong is understood to be a mass murder. The only remaining question is the exact scale of his atrocities. But Mao still has his defenders, mostly on American college campuses, and, of course, especially in Berkeley, California, where the publication of a recent book exposing Mao’s murderous reign has stirred the ire of the remaining True Believers of the left.

In "Mao: The Unknown Story," authors Jung Chang and Jon Halliday portray Mao (1893-1976) as a cynical hedonist who rose to absolute power on Soviet strongman Josef Stalin's muscle and his willingness to crush millions of peasants in famine, war and sadistic repression.

The authors, who spent a decade on the project and scoured private and government records in China and Russia, say Mao killed 10 times more innocents than Hitler and was as pitiless as he was incompetent as a revolutionary. The fabled Long March of the 1930s? Bungled. The Cultural Revolution of the '60s and '70s? Nothing more than a murderous fit of pique by a tyrant upset that he'd been crossed by rivals and enamored of public torture.

Mao was, however, a genius of spin. The authors say he sold international leftists a fairy tale of a corrupt state transformed by revolution from the bottom up.

"It was mainly, I think, hot air," Halliday dryly told a large crowd during an appearance at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business earlier this month.

Such heresies cannot be borne in silence, and the leftist diehards, still pining for the glories of communism have taken to the streets to denounce the book.

"It's just outrageous," said Gary Miller, a volunteer at Berkeley's Revolution Books, as he leafleted the authors' event on campus. "A lot of people look with a great deal of affection at the Mao years because China's been turned into one giant sweatshop."

In October, the city of Berkeley celebrated Bob Avakian Day in honor of one of the city's most stalwart revolutionary sons. A few weeks later, Raymond Lotta, a Chicago-based Maoist political economist and author, spoke to students at UCLA and UC Berkeley in what he called a bid to set the record straight.

Bob Avakian – for the overwhelming majority of people who don’t know – is a Berkeley, California, native who spent the late 60’s organizing various communist groups in the US, including comically named Students for a Democratic Society (something no communist country has ever produced). He currently lives abroad, and continues to embrace the Marxist-Leninist philosophy that filled so many mass graves across the world. That Berkeley would name a day after him speaks volumes about the mindset that prevails in that city.

"What sets this apart from other historical studies is that this person Mao, who led an historic revolution and changed the landscape of China and was an inspiration throughout the world -- they're saying this was a scheming, bloodthirsty opportunist who was evil from the day he was born to the day he died and who hijacked a revolution," Lotta said. "I think it's part of a continuing attempt to discredit communism and Maoism and any alternative to the current world order."

Apparently Mr. Lotta believes that the factual events of the last several decades are part of a giant, mystical conspiracy to discredit communism. That’s called "denial." But Mr. Lotta tramps across California, lecturing college students to that effect - and Americans wonder what’s gone wrong at their universities…

Tom Gold, associate dean of international and area studies at UC Berkeley, said he visited China on a guided tour in 1975 and was impressed. "You can't just say it was one evil person," he said in a phone interview. "What Mao did was tap into some sort of psychology. You cannot get away from saying that Mao tapped into something."

Mr. Gold – an associate dean, no less! – inadvertantly makes himself a perfect, almost comic, example of the naïve leftist scholar, who takes a GUIDED tour, which means he saw only what the communist government of China wanted him to see, and then concludes that everything was just peaches and cream in the People’s Republic. Does it not strike Dean Gold as odd that the People's Republic of China (just like the USSR) did not generally permit unguided tours? Does Dean Gold understand the meaning of the phrase "Potemkin Village?"

As for Mao’s "tap[ping] into some sort of psychology," Dean Gold might consider that the exact same thing could be said of Adolph Hitler during the late 1930’s. Of course, that would be too obvious for the good Dean, after all, he works for the University of California. Reality and common sense are not held in high regard there.