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Delights of counter-revolution - The Indian Express

Swapan Dasgupta ()
22 February 1997

Title : Delights of counter-revolution
Author : Swapan Dasgupta
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 22, 1997

A part from a slightly battered copy of Chairman Mao's infamous Red
Book, my most treasured possession of communist memorabilia is a
transcript of the Moscow trials of the 1930s which resulted in
Stalin eliminating the cream of the Bolshevik leadership. The
three-volume collection was purchased sometime in 1975 from a
Maoist book-shop run by an excitable Indian gentleman in London's
Camden Town. Needless to add, it was published by a government
agency in Beijing, perhaps as an article of faith in a leader who
had been disowned by the "revisionist Brezhnev clique" in the
Soviet Union.

I refer to the Moscow trials, not out of a sense of wistful
nostalgia for the good old days when hysteria and the communist
movement were inseparable. The Moscow trials mark the beginning of
that curious phenomenon called self-criticism. Bukharin, Zinoviev
and other Bolshevik notables distinguished themselves by publicly
admitting their counter-revolutionary crimes and offering
themselves for execution before Stalin's firing squads. Fellow
travellers of the Soviet Union proudly hailed this socialist
contribution to forensic science and, by the time the Great
Helmsman swam the Yangtse and instructed his Red Guards to bombard
the headquarters, self-criticism became an acceptable form of
socialist detoxification.

Perhaps that is why it is extremely instructive to recall Deng
Xiaoping's moment of truth in October 1966 when he temporarily fell
from grace. "Ideologically", Deng admitted before the Red Guards,
"I must confess that not only have I not raised high the [bright
red] banner of Mao Zedong Thought, but I have not even lifted this
banner up... Recent events have revealed me as an unreformed
petit-bourgeois intellectual who has failed to pass the tests posed
by socialism."

In the eventful journey from correctness to correctness, the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution - like the much lauded Great Leap
Forward - has been shown to be a failure and a monumental blunder,
for which we should undoubtedly blame the perfidious Gang of Four.
As such, it is most unlikely that Deng's candid outburst will
survive in Communist China's official chronicles. However, for the
remaining supporters of Lin Piao - I understand that they still
exist in Canada, US, Norway and in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh -
it would be worthwhile to resurrect Deng's 1966 exercise in
self-flagellation, if only to demonstrate his reckless disregard of
the Maoist adage "practise Marxism, not revisionism".

In a sense, Deng's record as a one-man demolition squad against
communism is impressive, perhaps even better than Stalin's. For a
start, he conclusively demonstrated that convivial living - bereft
of famines, food shortages, lack of consumer goods and access to
decent clothes - is inextricably linked to a socialist, planned
economy. In their lavish tributes to him, the western media are
loudly proclaiming that in 20 years Deng did more to raise the
levels of prosperity in China than any other leader in living
memory. The underlying implication is that the previous two
decades of Maoist rule were marked by misery, deprivation, drabness
and mindlessness. In other words, the rule of Mao was an
unmitigated disaster for China, even if it had the effect of
persuading a few members of St Stephen's College to spread
revolution in Begusarai.

Deng's second crime was as heinous. He cynically betrayed an
entire tribe of short-sighted western academics and journalists -
the names of Joan Robinson, Jan Myrdal, Han Suiyn and Neville
Maxwell come readily to mind - who built their reputations on the
thesis that the socialist peasantry of China was selfless, not
hidebound by traditional ties to the land, dedicated to the cause
of collectivisation and, therefore, inherently revolutionary. Deng
assaulted this pillar of Maoist orthodoxy by suggesting that "If
you want to bring the initiatives of the peasants into play, you
should give them the power to make money". Under Zhao Ziyang, his
home province of Sichuan led the way in dissolving the Fanshens so
idolised by the intellectual Pol Pots. And the official media
loudly echoed his dictum: "To get rich is glorious." Mao would
never have tolerated this inspired reassertion of human nature.

Deng's third miscalculation is certain to have profound
implications for the future of the party which he joined as a
starry-eyed idealist. Like General Pinochet and other misguided
anti-communist crusaders, he believed that it was possible to guide
capitalism by remote control and repression. In other words, while
it was possible to have a free market it was not necessary to
extend the scope of freedom into the realm of civil liberties. The
self-confessed petit-bourgeois intellectual was totally taken by
the lollipops offered by overseas investors to realise that the
free market does not merely take over the pocket, it eats into the
mind. Deng never cottoned on to the subversive potential of men
like Bill Gates who use capital and technology to create a
frontierless world where policing becomes virtually impossible, and
where the policemen themselves end up breeding subversion. Deng's
chosen successors will have to cope with the menace of total
freedom, and they have only guns and Confucian values to fall back

Perhaps, after Tiananmen Square Deng realised that it was imprudent
to turn his back on the Great Helmsman so drastically. Therefore,
even while conceding the principle of "one country, two systems"
for Hongkong, he was categorical in his disapproval of Governor
Chris Patten's experiments with democracy. In the process,
however, he did the most monumental disservice to communism: he
actually destroyed the demonology associated with colonialism. It
is no secret that if a referendum was to be conducted in Hongkong
on the question of its future status, the majority verdict would be
in favour of persisting with the Union Jack. It is not that the
residents of Hongkong are unpatriotic - though a surprising number
of them may end up voting with their feet - but that they prefer
full capitalism to almost capitalism.

Maybe Deng would have effected this transition had he managed a few
more years. He instinctively knew that practising
counter-revolution was not going to be a zero-sum game, and he was
prepared for the real gains that would accrue to China. One of his
more milder aphorisms said it all: "If people can't shit, they
shouldn't sit on the privy".

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