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Quote of the Month: An Antiquote of Mao

 

“Power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” — Mao Tse-Tung 

All of Mao’s success comes from the opposite of this saying. I suspect that he said it to keep the people under him ignorant of what real power was.

Mao’s success came from convincing the peasant class that Mao actually cared about them and would improve their lives. I have nothing but contempt for Mao (It’s actually worse than contempt but I don’t want to violate the Code of Conduct) but I can understand the peasant support for Mao.

You’re poor, working in the sun or the rain every day, and some snooty snob in silk collects the crops of your labor, gives you nothing in return, and is rude to you on top of it. Mao convinced the peasants that he cared about them and he did so very effectively. To this day, 60-year-old and older Chinese have pictures of Mao and Zheng Lai and respect them.

Real power comes from convincing people of a philosophy or a person. You could be Chris Kyle but that isn’t real power compared to a pudgy and middle-aged Harry Truman who couldn’t even serve in the military because of his poor vision.* Strength and vision can’t matter a lot compared to the power to control the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or supporting the invasion of Inchon. Real power is inspiring and leading other people.

*Correction: Harry Truman did serve in WWI as a captain.

It’s a power we have to be very careful about. Because on one side, we have Hitler and Lenin and on the other, we have Wilberforce or Solzhenitsyn. Persuasion is the real power. It always has been.

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There are 17 comments.

  1. Member

    Henry Castaigne: Mao convinced the peasants that he cared about them and he did so very effectively.

    Especially the pretty twelve-year-old girls.


    Henry is doing double duty here with both the Quote of the Day and the Group Writing Series under May’s theme of The Power of Words. And while @vectorman will be along in a moment or six to tell you that there are still eight openings for the Quote of the Day for this month, I’m here to tell you about the Group Writing Series.

    For those new to Ricochet, the Group Writing Series was created to give newer (and older), perhaps shyer, members a chance to write about something less daunting than politics and wonkery. This month’s theme is The Power of Words and focuses on all the way in which words can or have changed our lives. If you have a story to tell about words, we still have four openings this month on our schedule and sign-up sheet. Why not head on over and sign up?

    Edit: Henry fooled me and did two posts, so this is Quote of the Day.

    • #1
    • May 14, 2018 at 11:53 pm
    • 1 like
  2. Thatcher

    Henry Castaigne: Mao convinced the peasants that he cared about them and he did so very effectively. To this day, 60 year old or older Chinese have pictures of Mao and Zheng Lai and respect them.

    It’s not “respect” but the culture the 60+ year olds had as children and young adults. It was a religion to them, and like many of the Churches in Western nations, the old are the majority of worshipers. Remember that 50 – 75 million were killed by Mao, so your whole psyche changes to survive.

    My paternal Grandfather had to eat the cheapest cuts of meat during the Great Depression, and his meat was always “well done.” Even when there was no pink in the roast, he would comment that it needed “20 minutes more” in the oven. When my father took him to nice steak place, he would complain about his well done meat – it was too good for him.


    This conversation is an entry in our Quote of the Day Series. We have many openings on the May Schedule.

    If this reminds you of a quotation that is important to you, why not sign up today?

    • #2
    • May 15, 2018 at 3:37 am
    • 4 likes
  3. Member

    Mao convinced western intellectuals, our state department and the relief agencies that he cared about the peasants, that he was an “agrarian reformer”, and he mobilized rural folks more effectively than the Nationalists could, but his power was built and sustained by the red army.

    • #3
    • May 15, 2018 at 4:01 am
    • 3 likes
  4. Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Mao convinced western intellectuals, our state department and the relief agencies that he cared about the peasants, that he was an “agrarian reformer”, and he mobilized rural folks more effectively than the Nationalists could, but his power was built and sustained by the red army.

    Respectfully, I heard an alternative narrative from multiple sources where Mao motivated the poor peasants. Mao of course, convicted convienent intellectuals in the West. He was relentlessly persuasive.

    • #4
    • May 15, 2018 at 4:28 am
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  5. Member

    Mao was almost correct. All state power ultimately comes out of the barrel of a gun.

    Hannah Arendt was more correct. Power and violence are opposite poles. If you have power, you don’t need to resort to violence. If you resort to violence, it means you didn’t have power and you’re trying to obtain it by force.

    • #5
    • May 15, 2018 at 5:29 am
    • 6 likes
  6. Member

    Henry Castaigne: You could be the Chris Kyle but that isn’t real power compared to a pudgy and middle aged Harry Truman who couldn’t even serve in the military because of his poor vision.

    Huh? Truman was in the Army during WW1 and was discharged as a major.

    • #6
    • May 15, 2018 at 5:54 am
    • 4 likes
  7. Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    Remember that 50 – 75 million were killed by Mao, so your whole psyche changes to survive.

    Truer words were never spoken.

    Mao came to power in the wake of a war. The KMT government was dependent on its power from large landholders so couldn’t undertake land reform without endangering their power. Those peasants you saw no doubt benefited from Mao’s land reforms.

    Mao came to power because he could convince enough people in a fluid situation that they would be better off under him, but there were guns to deal with anyone who opposed him. Power overturning an existing order stems both from a power to convince, an ability to use more guns than the opposition and from a ruthlessness to use the guns. This is what is needed to overturn an existing power and put in place your own power and order. It is true of Lenin, of Mao, and George Washington.

    You also need to be able to convince allies. Germany, Russia and France in the case of the Lenin, Mao and Washington.

    What comes afterwards is entirely a different matter.

     

    • #7
    • May 15, 2018 at 6:10 am
    • 4 likes
  8. Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Mao convinced western intellectuals, our state department and the relief agencies that he cared about the peasants, that he was an “agrarian reformer”, and he mobilized rural folks more effectively than the Nationalists could, but his power was built and sustained by the red army.

    Respectfully, I heard an alternative narrative from multiple sources where Mao motivated the poor peasants. Mao of course, convicted convienent intellectuals in the West. He was relentlessly persuasive.

    It seems to me, (I haven’t read about that period for over 50 years), there were as many versions as there were observers or participants. China had been at civil war and and revolution against the old order and had been disintegrating before they were invaded by the Japanese. One version is that the Nationalist fought the Japanese and the Communists kept their powder dry. Mao’s version was just the opposite. Stillwell, if I remember correctly, didn’t believer either one of them. The Nationalists and Communists fought over the vacuum as the Japanese were pushed out. It was utter chaos and had been for some time, millions were starving to death, especially peasants, Mao brought order and he did so by being better organized more effective and as brutal as the rest and because the red army were disciplined and well led. Peasant revolts are short lived, Pearl Buck captured it in the Good Earth, the reality of starvation drives them to raid and feed themselves. Once fed it’s over for a while. Peasants aren’t revolutionary because they’re tied to the land, that is why communists destroy them after taking power, peasants are inherently capitalist. 

    • #8
    • May 15, 2018 at 6:40 am
    • 1 like
  9. Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Peasants aren’t revolutionary because they’re tied to the land, that is why communists destroy them after taking power, peasants are inherently capitalist.

    Hmm. There are extensive histories of peasant revolts throughout the world. I know England’s and Russia’s best.

    Watt Taylor’s Revolt in 1381 England was revolutionary – the crown certainly thought so. (Summer of Blood by Dan Jones is really good.) England, unlike Russia, did away with serfdom early.

    The Revolution of 1905 in Russia had a huge peasant component. Granted, that revolution was more than just peasants, but peasants were a large part of it. And it was throughout the Empire from Siberia to Ukraine. (Abraham Ascher has the best account of this in English in a two-volume history called the Revolution of 1905.) It came pretty close to bringing down the Tsar – and Russia would probably have probably been much better off if it had succeeded rather than waiting until 1917. (And yes, the tsar needed to be gotten rid of.)

    And there are peasant revolts throughout the 17th and 18th centuries (Stepan Razin, Pugachev, Bolotnikov, e.g.) in Russia. These lasted for years and had to be repressed. They also inspired some great paintings. The best account is Paul Avrich’s Russian Rebels 1600-1800.

    As for capitalist – one of the first things that happens if you distribute land from large land holders (who are capitalists) to the peasantry is that the available agricultural goods available for market goes down. True of Russia, true of China, true of what is happening in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

    Communists are all about the proletariat and industrialization (including Mao, despite what all of his rhetoric and the hagiography) – which cannot occur except on the back of agricultural surplus. Distribution of land to peasants is not how to get there, so they become the enemy.

    • #9
    • May 15, 2018 at 7:25 am
    • 1 like
  10. Member

    Peasant revolts are not revolutions. Revolutions come from rapid change usually rapid economic growth although collapse isn’t propitious for stability, but collapse follows rapid growth and change. I think Mancur Olsen captured it analytically better than 99% of our historians and political science types. The reasons are in the false narratives popular among Neo Marxists. Although in such periods there is so much going on it’s impossible to tease out fundamental movers, marxists like the notion of root causes which are always class exploitation and poverty which is silly on the surface as that describes all of human history yet we don’t get revolutionary movements until the Industrial Age.

    • #10
    • May 15, 2018 at 7:54 am
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  11. Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Peasant revolts are not revolutions.

    I would amend this to “Peasant revolts are not necessarily revolutions” – some are and some aren’t. 1905 was. Watt Taylor’s was.

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Revolutions come from rapid change usually rapid economic growth although collapse isn’t propitious for stability, but collapse follows rapid growth and change.

    The Ottoman Empire had several revolutions in the 19th and early 20th century without rapid economic growth. What they had were continuous losses in war and Empire which led to a questioning of how their society was organized and the Islamic tenets upon which it was based.

    There was no rapid economic growth in China before their revolution. There was even victory in a war against the Japanese. But they still had a revolution. China had been in turmoil for over half a century. The Revolution put an end to it and was undoubtedly part of Mao’s legitimacy to his own people.

    Russia’s revolutions (1905 and 1917) were preceded by relatively rapid economic growth, but what truly characterized their revolutions were losses in wars with the Crimean War being the first in a string of losses. Neither the Crimean War nor the Russo-Japanese War affected large swathes of territory or resulted in economic collapse. World War 1 did result in economic collapse and huge swathes of territory were affected. In addition, a large percentage of the peasant population was mobilized in the war effort. When the land back home started to be redistributed in 1917 [between February and November it was illegal but occurring (though not everywhere) by burning out the landowner; after November it was legal], then all the peasants in the military began flowing back home so they could get their share resulting in initially gradual and finally total collapse of the military at the front. 

    It was war which changed the world view of peasants of a certain generation making it clear that those who ruled over them were not capable of keeping them from defeat. They wouldn’t be the leaders of the revolution, but they would be the foot soldiers on both sides in the civil war that would follow the revolution.

    I Walton (View Comment):
    I think Mancur Olsen captured it analytically better than 99% of our historians and political science types.

    I don’t know what this is and googling it did explain though his explanation of growth and vested interests is already on my future reading list.

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Although in such periods there is so much going on it’s impossible to tease out fundamental movers, marxists like the notion of root causes which are always class exploitation and poverty which is silly on the surface as that describes all of human history yet we don’t get revolutionary movements until the Industrial Age.

    Were the Sons of Liberty a revolutionary movement? They were certainly pre-Industrial Age.

     

    • #11
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:53 am
    • 1 like
  12. Member

    Continued

    What this suggests is there is no unifying theory of revolution.

     

    • #12
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:58 am
    • 2 likes
  13. Coolidge

    It seems wishful thinking that Mao’s power came from words. The peasants didn’t support him more than any other war lord until he amassed power from the guns his army wielded. His terror wasn’t opposed because everyone loved him. Some did. But most who supported him did so because they were in fear of their family being massacred.

     

     

    • #13
    • May 15, 2018 at 3:20 pm
    • 1 like
  14. Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    Here is the link to the my Group Writing post. The subject matter is quite similar.

    • #14
    • May 15, 2018 at 9:49 pm
    • 1 like
  15. Member

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I have to confess my take on these things is unusual, not consistent with most development economists or political science types. The point is that Rapid economic growth, especially in a traditional society pretty much destroys the various glues that hold civilizations together, and is where we see disintegration and real revolutions most clearly. That’s what Marx saw, but anything that dissolves the glue, whether demographics, catastrophes, invasions that renders accumulated mores, habits practices, such as guild rules , traditional religions etc as. no longer relevant sets the stage. Moreover, when civilizations begin to come apart the disintegration tends to be total because these glues evolve in the first place to solve collective goods problems,( i.e. self interest causes collective goods to come apart until we invent rewards and punishments to hold them tougher.)

    After over a century of western humiliation, civil war, modernization, collapse and invasion by the Japanese China was in tatters and the group that could pull it together were Mao and his red Army. Mao could use the peasants because they were among the few traditional cultural facts left standing, but it wasn’t a peasant revolt that turned into a revolution, nor PR by Mao. It was a dedicated and ruthless genius with the best most organized and disciplined army that filled the vacuum left by the total disintegration.

    Marxists understand this process and it is why they could successfully capture violent movements here and there and it is why marxists relentlessly try to destroy traditional values, institutions, mores and practices (and it is how we can recognize our own left as fundamentally Marxist.)

    • #15
    • May 16, 2018 at 10:01 am
    • 1 like
  16. Thatcher

    I Walton (View Comment):
    The point is that Rapid economic growth, especially in a traditional society pretty much destroys the various glues that hold civilizations together, and is where we see disintegration and real revolutions most clearly.

    You are probably correct in many instances, but two counter examples are Singapore and Hong Kong. Of course, these city/states had the British example to follow, but both are mainly Chinese. 

    • #16
    • May 16, 2018 at 10:32 am
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  17. Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    The point is that Rapid economic growth, especially in a traditional society pretty much destroys the various glues that hold civilizations together, and is where we see disintegration and real revolutions most clearly.

    You are probably correct in many instances, but two counter examples are Singapore and Hong Kong. Of course, these city/states had the British example to follow, but both are mainly Chinese.

    Singapore was a city state. It was already urban had no rural or traditional economy other than a few kampongs with Malays. So it’s irrelevant as is Hong Kong. Also both enjoyed, as you say the heritage of British Common law which is bottom up emergent law. In any event I clearly I failed to make my point, and admit it’s abstract and unfamiliar in any literature.

    Modernization and growth cause unraveling and while some cultures have the wherewithal to reravel, not all do. Decentralized market economies that are law based reravel as a matter of course. Centralized economies struggle with any fundamental change. Islamic cultures have failed, Latin America is still struggling. The role of marxist guerrillas and urban organizations is to keep the reraveling from happening, to pick at the destruction part of creative destruction, to add youth to their movement who have no traditional culture into which to assimilate, hoping the correlation of forces will move in their direction. This is what marxists mean by alienation. The reason our foreign aid efforts to deal with “poverty and backwardness” failed was that our aid went to or through central governments. Our development efforts believed the popular Neo marxist take on revolution and political instability that it grew out of poverty, backwardness, oppression and exploitation. I’m saying that’s nonsense. 

    • #17
    • May 16, 2018 at 1:26 pm
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