Today Maoism speaks to the world’s poor more fluently than ever

Pankaj Mishra writes:

In 2008 in Beijing I met the Chinese novelist Yu Hua shortly after he had returned from Nepal, where revolutionaries inspired by Mao Zedong had overthrown a monarchy. A young Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, Yu Hua, like many Chinese of his generation, has extremely complicated views on Mao. Still, he was astonished, he told me, to see Nepalese Maoists singing songs from his Maoist youth – sentiments he never expected to hear again in his lifetime.
otto 20/07 Illustration by Otto

In fact, the success of Nepalese Maoists is only one sign of the “return” of Mao. In central India armed groups proudly calling themselves Maoists control a broad swath of territory, fiercely resisting the Indian government’s attempts to make the region’s resource-rich forests safe for the mining operations that, according to a recent report in Foreign Policy magazine, “major global companies like Toyota and Coca-Cola” now rely on.

And – as though not to be outdone by Mao’s foreign admirers – some Chinese have begun to carefully deploy Mao’s still deeply ambiguous memory in China. Texting Mao’s sayings to mobile phones, broadcasting “Red” songs from state-owned radio and television, and sending college students to the countryside, Bo Xilai, the ambitious communist party chief of the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, is leading an unexpected Mao revival in China.

It was the “return” of Marx, rather than of Mao, that was much heralded in academic and journalistic circles after the financial crisis of 2008. And it is true that Marxist theorists, rather than Marx himself, clearly anticipated the problems of excessive capital accumulation, and saw how eager and opportunistic investors cause wildly uneven development across regions and nations, enriching a few and impoverishing many others. But Mao’s “Sinified” and practical Marxism, which includes a blueprint for armed rebellion, appears to speak more directly to many people in poor countries.

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One thought on “Today Maoism speaks to the world’s poor more fluently than ever

  1. Colm O' Toole

    Of course the person responsible for steering China away from Mao’s ideas was his former comrade during the war, Deng Xiaoping, who ruled China during the 1980’s.

    Deng’s goal was to alter Mao’s Marxist ideas slightly. He developed the plan to reform China to “a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics” which is the words the Chinese government now officially use to define its system. As Deng Xiaoping famously replied once “Socialism does not mean shared poverty”.

    Essentially I think it is Capitalism under the direct supervision of a government which takes a very active role in the private sector (in China there is not only Secretary of Defence or Health and all the normal roles but even things like a Secretary for Electronic Goods.)

    Anyway very good article the other day on whether China will be democratic and on its Economic model.

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