Tuesday, November 02, 2010

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-The Rise and Fall of Chiang Ching- A Guest Book Review

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The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Summer 1977, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
The Rise and Fall of Chiang Ching
by Joseph Seymour
Witke, Roxane.
Comrade Chiang Ch'ing.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Few recent books are at once so objectively significant and so utterly intrinsically trivial as Comrade Chiang Ch'ing. In the summer of 1972, American feminist academic Roxane Witke was given 60 hours of exclusive interviews with Chiang Ching; this was by far the longest that any leading Chinese Communist had spoken to a Western writer since the 1930's. This in itself should have made Comrade Chiang Ch'ing a historical¬ly important document.

Almost immediately after the interviews were given, they became a major focus of Peking's venomous cliquism. It was widely reported that Mao was furious at his wife for revealing closely guarded party and state secrets to an outsider. Witke partially corroborates these reports. She recounts that the Chinese govern¬ment, through its UN mission, pressured her to abandon her projected biography of Chiang Ching, even offering her money not to publish it!

Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, published just after the purge of the "gang of four," now takes on even more political significance. This book is Chiang's last chance to defend her political honor before those foreign radicals who may be sympathetic to her cause.

What a prosecutor wouldn't give for such a defense brief as this! In one sense, the new Hua Kuo-feng regime should be grateful that Witke carried through her project, because Witke, despite her sympathy toward her subject, reveals Chiang Ching as a politically shallow, grossly self-indulgent, paranoid and vindictive woman. In another sense, however, there is good reason why the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy wanted this book suppressed. It unwittingly shows the hypocri¬sy, luxury-loving and viciously clique-ridden nature of Mao's court.

Many foreign radicals were taken in by the Mao/Chiang claim that the so-called Cultural Revolu¬tion was an attack on bureaucratic corruption and privilege. At the time, the Spartacist tendency asserted that the events in China represented an intra-bureaucratic fight, with a large cliquist dimension. Comrade Chiang Ch'ing reveals the petty, sordid, back-stabbing motives of the main inspirers of the Cultural Revolution to a far greater degree than we had envisioned. Key to Chiang's activities during the Cultural Revolution was settling decades-old personal scores. Anyone who, after reading Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, still believes that communist morality and rectitude were on the side of the Mao group is hopelessly politically naive, or worse.

When Chiang was purged, the Hua regime claimed she had been leading a double life, preaching revolutionary austerity and puritanism to the masses, while living like a decadent empress-dowager. At first, one was inclined to dismiss these accusations as typical Stalinist slanders and character assassination. However, after reading Witke's book, it is clear that Hua's charges are not slanders; at most they are exaggerations.

To entertain Witke, Chiang screened her private collection of Greta Garbo films! When Witke asked her why Garbo films were banned as "bourgeois decadence":

'"Those bourgeois democratic films are to be reserved for private showing,' she flatly declared. 'If the people could view them they would criticize them bitterly on political grounds. Such public exposure and attack would be most unfair to Garbo because she is not Chinese'."

Chiang Ching was hardly the only one in Mao's court to indulge in cultural activities forbidden to the people. The "Great Helmsman," himself, and also his old comrade-in-arms Chu Teh wrote poetry in the classical style, which is barred to lesser mortals as a "decadent" art form.

Hua and Teng are no better from the standpoint of communist morality than the "gang of four," but Chiang Ching's crimes are not limited to hypocrisy and self-indulgence. During the Cultural Revolution she and her clique committed unforgivable atrocities, such as starving to death the old guerrilla chief Ho Lung. We no more defend Chiang Ching against Hua than we would defend Beria against Molotov or Molotov against Khrushchev.

From Shanghai With Venom

Before the Cultural Revolution catapulted her to prominence, Mao's wife was virtually unknown, far less a political personage than the wives of other Chinese Communist leaders. Therefore, Chiang Ching is understandably preoccupied with establishing her independent revolutionary credentials and dispelling her image as a beautiful concubine-turned-empress-dowager, who exploited an old man's weak¬ness in order to gain power.

Much of the new material she provides for Witke is an attempt to establish her credentials as a Communist militant years before she went to Yenan and met Mao. She claims to have joined the Communist Party (CP) in early 1933 at age 18 in Tsingtao in her native province of Shantung. Almost immediately thereafter she moved to Shanghai and joined the League of Left-Wing Dramatists, a CP front group.

By her own account, she was a marginal member of the CP in Shanghai. In fact, much of her political effort was directed toward locating the party's underground network, although this fact does not necessarily reflect badly on her subjective revolutionary commit¬ment. The CP was severely repressed by the Kuomintang, and its underground apparatus may well have been as anarchic and inefficient as Chiang Ching makes out. None the less, the fact remains that Chiang Ching was politically insignificant until she moved in with Mao.

Chiang does not attribute her political marginality to objective circumstances, including her own juniority? In truly paranoid fashion she blames the ill-will of the Shanghai leadership. Virtually every male CP cadre she deals with is presented as a male chauvinist pig who tried (unsuccessfully) to seduce her. This section of the book does not read like the biography of a political activist but rather like one of Freud's case studies in paranoia.

Needless to say, the surviving CP cadres who knew Chiang Ching in the early days were almost all victims in the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards persecuted Li Ta-chang, who was head of the Tsingtao party at the time that Chiang Ching joined, and Tien Han, who was head of the League of Left-Wing Dramatists when she was a member.

Chiang's career as a film actress in her Shanghai days is an acute political embarrassment to her. She finds it difficult to square that career with her claim to have been a revolutionary militant. So she asserts that the CP leadership, in cahoots with the Kuomintang (KMT) forced her to act in films against her will:

"She did not seek fame in films But after she established a reputation as an actress [on stage], several film companies sought her out and tried to force her to sign contracts. Lu Hsun [famous left-wing writer] came to her defense— The great film impresarios (who served the KMT directly or indirectly, e.g., through Chou Yang and his [Communist] Party associates in cultural operations) counterattacked by vilifying him and threatening to kill her" [emphasis in original].

Who could possibly believe this? Who is gullible enough to believe that Chinese film moguls, the underground CP and ruling Kuomintang would conspire to force a young actress to enter films against her will?

As a contribution to the history of the Chinese revolution, Chiang's account of the left in Shanghai in the 1930's is worthless. We learn nothing about the overall goals and activities of the underground CP. We learn little of the major factional struggle between Wang Ming's urban-centered adventurism and Mao's cautious rural-guerrillaist strategy, or of the transition from Third Period adventurism to the Popular Frontist collaboration with the Kuomintang. All we really learn is why Chiang Ching hated almost every CP cadre she encountered.

Mao/Lan Ping Scandalize Yenan

It was quite a bedroom scandal when in 1938 Mao divorced his wife to marry the beautiful, young film actress then called Lan Ping. In a way, Chiang Ching has never lived down the obloquy of that event. To Witke, she was defensive and self-justifying about the begin¬nings of her relationship with Mao.

Mao's first wife, a Communist militant, was captured by the Kuomintang in 1930 and beheaded in revenge for her husband's activities. Shortly thereafter, Mao married another Communist cadre, Ho Tzu-chen, who bore five children by him. She was one of the few women to undertake the Long March in 1935, during which she was wounded.

Although accounts differ, it appears that Mao and Ho had separated, though not yet definitively, when Lan Ping (soon to be Chiang Ching) arrived at Yenan in the summer of 1937. Ho had suffered a psychological breakdown. It was also rumored that Mao's philander¬ing was a cause of the marital break-up. Predictably Chiang Ching describes Ho Tzu-chen as a shrewish wife,'who, driven insane by the horrors of the L'ong March, beat her (and Mao's) children.

When Chiang moved in with Mao, Ho was in a sanitarium in Moscow. The Red Army's "old guard" accepted Mao's love life without much tongue-wagging moralism. But the idealistic youth, who poured into Yenan in this period, were shocked that the great Communist leader would abandon his faithful companion and comrade-in-arms for a Shanghai glamor girl.

Cultural Nihilism and Stalinist Bureaucracy

Comrade Chiang Ch'ing tells us little about the Cultural Revolution and fall of Lin Piao that cannot be found elsewhere in far more intelligible form. Oh yes, we are informed that Lin Piao tried to poison Mao and Chiang gradually; he obviously failed, though she suffered an illness which took her out of action for most of 1969.

For those who still harbor illusions about Chiang Ching as the radical protector of the Red Guards, this book confirms her active role in suppressing the "revolutionary rebels." A turning point in the Cultural Revolution came in September 1967 when under the guise of combatting "ultra-leftism" the Red Guards were disarmed. At the same time, the slogan, "seize a small handful in the army," was withdrawn, and the PLA officer corps—the heart of the Maoist bureaucracy— was declared off-limits for the Cultural Revolution.

In an important speech on 5 September 1967, Chiang Ching attacked the so-called "May 16th" group for criticizing Mao's regime from the "left":

"The 'May 16' is a very typical counter-revolutionary organization, and we must raise our vigilance against it— This is to say that we oppose people who oppose the leadership group of the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Mao either from the Left, the extreme Left or from the right side."

She goes on to declare that the Cultural Revolution must not touch the army, i.e., the repressive apparatus upon which the bureaucratic regime rests:

"Now we come to the second question—the army. Sometime earlier, there was a wrong slogan: Seize a 'small handful in the army.'Asa result,'asmall handful in the army'was seized everywhere and even the weapons of our regular troops were seized.

"Comrades, come to think of it: Without the People's Liberation Army, is it possible for us to sit in the People's Great Hall holding a conference? If our field army were thrown into confusion and if trouble occurred, could we tolerate such a situation? Let us not fall into the trap. The slogan is wrong. Because the Party, the government and the army are all under the leadership of the Party." —reproduced in Chung Hua-min and Arthur C. Miller, Madame Mao: A Profile of Chiang Ch'ing

Chiang Ching's main impact upon the Great Proletar¬ian Cultural Revolution concerned culture. And the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution bore the same relation to culture as it did to the proletariat—a hostile one. Under Chiang's'direction all Western, Soviet and traditional Chinese art was banned; so was most art produced in the People's Republic before 1966. In 1967 all films were withdrawn from public circulation; few have been reintroduced to date. When Witke asked Chiang if foreign dramas would be reintroduced in China, she replied, "There seemed to be no point in it." She went on, "Original pieces of literature and music should be altered and transformed to revolutionary theater only under the authorization of the leaders, and then with utmost care."

Chiang's activities as cultural tsar were governed by a petty, vindictive subjectivity. She first came to promi¬nence, through her "socialist realist" reform of tradi¬tional opera in 1964. She recounts that the salty-tongued Peng Chen referred to her operas as "still at the stage of wearing trousers with a slit at the seat and sucking the fingers." No doubt this insulting remark was at least as much a factor in Peng Chen's downfall during the Cultural Revolution as any matter of great political import.

Not only in Maoist China but in all Stalinist-ruled societies, art is an important locus of political conflict. There is good reason for this. With open political controversy suppressed, art necessarily becomes a cover and vehicle for polemics. Dramas and operas in Mao's China are replete with obvious historical allegories and symbols related to current political controversy. Wu Han's play, Hai Jui Dismissed from Office, was the main public attack on Mao's sponsor¬ship of the economically disastrous Great Leap Forward of 1958-61. Therefore the Mao group had to make the play a major focus of political attack. The Stalinist suppression of workers democracy necessarily leads to the totalitarian control of art.

There is another important aspect of art under Stalinism which is more central to Chiang's concerns. Her operas are typical examples of "socialist realism," the falsification of reality so as to make China conform to Stalinist ideals. In Stalinist countries, "socialist' realism" is not an arbitrary and dispensable esthetic doctrine but is closely bound up with the false con¬sciousness of the bureaucracies in the degenerat¬ed/deformed workers states. The formal ideological expression of this false consciousness is the doctrine of "socialism in one [backward] country." Poverty, ignorance, greed, careerism, male chauvinism and bureaucratic coercion expose the hollowness of China's "socialist" claims. Like the Christian heaven, Maoist "socialism" can exist only in the imagination— in art.

Stalinist ideology maintains that popular conscious¬ness expresses socialist values and attitudes. Thus, if Chinese workers and peasants appreciate Western bourgeois or traditional art more than local Maoist creations, this gives the lie to the cultural pretensions of "socialism in one country." The Stalinist bureaucrats must consider art produced in contemporary bour¬geois societies not only inferior to their own creations and subversive, but irrelevant. What's the point of reintroducing foreign dramas into China, asks Chiang Ching.

Chiang's attitude toward culture was summarized in a 1966 speech:

"Imperialism is moribund capitalism, parasitic and rotten. Modern revisionism is a product of imperialist policies and a variety of capitalism. They cannot produce any works that are good. Capitalism has a history of several centuries; nevertheless, it has only a pitiful number of 'classics'. They have created some works modelled after the 'classics/ but these are stereotyped and no longer appeal to the people, and are therefore completely on the decline. On the other hand, there are some things that really flood the market, such as rock-and-roll, jazz, strip tease, impressionism, symbolism, abstractionism, fauvism, modernism...all of which are intended to poison and paralyse the minds of the people. In a word, there is decadence and obscenity to poison and paralyse the minds of the people."

—Chung Hua-min and Arthur C. Miller,pp. c/'t. -This kind of cultural nihilism is profoundly anti-Marxist. The Marxist attitude toward culture in a workers state was well expressed by Lenin in his famous attack on the Proletkult school, a forerunner of "socialist realism/' in 1920:

"Marxism has won its historic significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because, far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bour¬geois epoch, it has, on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two

thousand years of the development of human thought and culture. Only further work on this basis and in this direction, inspired by the practical experience of the proletarian dictatorship as the final stage in the struggle against every form of exploita¬tion, can be recognised as the development ' of a genuine proletarian culture."

—V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31

Hsinhua Weekly

A socialist culture can arise only when the cultural heritage of mankind is accessi¬ble to all members of society. This requires that all members of society possess the available time and resources now enjoyed only by a thin stratum of intellectuals. Such a condition obviously entails a far-higher material level than that of the 'most advanced capitalist society, not to mention the Chinese deformed workers state. The cultural creations of today's advanced bourgeois societies are comparatively richer than those of Maoist China (or Brezhnev's Russia) because they arise from a material base which provides at least some of its members with a greater degree of literacy, of education and of access to culture. It will require several generations for global socialist society to develop a new culture so rich and comprehe'nsive that the art of the past class societies will seem impoverished and antique by comparison.

Official Stalinist art is so boring and sterile that it fails to satisfy the intellectual appetites of the bureaucrats themselves— whence Mao's recourse to classic-style poetry and Chiang Ching's infatuation with Greta Garbo films. But the Maoist bureauc¬racy insists that for the masses only art produced in China since 1949 is permitted, as expressing the veritable nature of reality.

Renmin Hua Bao

Maoist leaders come and go: Top picture published in Hsinhua Weekly (20 September 1976) and in Comrade Chiang Ch'ing, shows Chiang on horseback behind Mao in 1947. After her removal from office she was removed from the picture, which was reprinted in Renmin Hua Bao (November 1976).

intended to poison and paralyse the minds of the people. In a word, there is decadence and obscenity to poison and paralyse the minds of the people."

—Chung Hua-min and Arthur C. Miller,pp. c/'t. -This kind of cultural nihilism is profoundly anti-Marxist. The Marxist attitude toward culture in a workers state was well expressed by Lenin in his famous attack on the Proletkult school, a forerunner of "socialist realism/' in 1920:

"Marxism has won its historic significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because, far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bour¬geois epoch, it has, on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two

Chiang Ching's vicious, paranoid subjectivity, hypocritical self-indulgence and utter philistinism reflect, in the last analysis, her role as representative of the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy. But this social role does not negate the impact of personality in political life. Che Guevara also was a leading figure in a bureaucratically governed workers state—Cuba. How¬ever, his moral and intellectual integrity, however wrong and misguided his program, enabled him to partially transcend bureaucratic careerism, privilege and hypocrisy. Che Guevara was an admira¬ble figure and his death a defeat for the communist cause.

We adamantly oppose the universal Stalinist practice of murdering political opponents, even when they, like Chiang Ching, have themselves committed heinous crimes (no more so, however, than her potential executioners). As for the purge of Chiang Ching: in the name of communist morality, in the name of intelligence and culture—good riddance! •

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