Category Archives: Mao Zedong

The rhetorical espousal of Mao as tutelary spirit

Dalrymple points out that the soixante-huitards did not have the faintest interest in what Mao Tse-tung was actually like or what he had wrought. Mao was ‘a mythical being onto whom the most beautiful characters could be projected, and never mind if he was a sadistic executioner responsible for the deaths of millions. What are a few million dead Chinese to set against the ideals of the Left Bank?’

Western intellectuals and the Maoist tyranny

Communist dictatorships, Dalrymple points out,

were at their most popular among Western intellectuals while they still had the courage of their brutality. Once they settled down to grey, everyday oppression and relatively minor acts of violent repression (judged by their own former standards), they ceased to attract the extravagant praises of those intellectuals who, in their own countries, regarded as intolerable even the slightest derogation from their absolute freedom of expression.

It is as if, he says,

not dreams but totalitarian famines and massacres acted as the Freudian wish-fulfilment of these Western intellectuals. They spoke of illimitable freedom, but desired unlimited power.

Mao Zedong, Dalrymple notes,

was the blank page or screen upon which they could project the fantasies that they thought beautiful.

China

was a long way off, its hundreds of millions of peasants inscrutable but known to be impoverished and oppressed by history; its culture was impenetrable to Westerners without many years of dedicated and mind-consuming study.

Western sinologists,

almost to a man, upheld the Maoist version of the world, some of them for fear of losing their access to China if they did not, and thereby created the impression that Maoism was intellectually and morally respectable. And so perfect conditions were laid for the most willing and total suspension of disbelief.

Mao’s Thoughts

— that is to say, clichés, platitudes, and lies — were treated by intelligent and educated people as if they were more profound, and contained more mental and spiritual sustenance, than Pascal’s.

As so often before,

mere reality as experienced by scores of millions of people was of little interest to intellectuals by comparison with the schemata in their minds and their own self-conception. ‘Let the heavens fall so long as I feel good about myself’ was their motto.

The need to put Mao Tse-tung Thought before legal niceties

Dalrymple writes that at the height of the Cultural Revolution,

I found it difficult to believe that anyone outside China could take Mao’s Little Red Book seriously. A platitude, after all, does not become an apothegm when a million people wave the volume in which it is contained in menacing synchrony.

Nevertheless, one of Dalrymple’s medical student colleagues

converted to Maoism and threw a brick through a police-station window.

Next morning,

he harangued the magistrate for three-quarters of an hour on the need to put Mao Tse-tung Thought before legal niceties. Eventually, the magistrate leant forward and said, ‘That’s all very interesting, Mr D—, but I’m afraid it’s time for lunch.‘ When the Maoist medical student — now probably an exemplary general practitioner — refused to desist from his harangue, he was carried to the cells below screaming.

Though it operate from a minuscule base, the party can succeed

Coming across the above in Simon Leys’ 1996 essay ‘The Art of Reading Non-Existent Inscriptions Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page’, Dalrymple asks: ‘Does this passage call to mind anything in the current condition of Great Britain? Of course, analogies are never quite exact (which is why they are only analogies). Mr Corbyn is no Mao Tse-tung: he washes more regularly for one thing, and unlike Mao I doubt that he has the courage of his cruelty. It is going too far to call the British authorities brutal. Finally, I do not think that anyone who knew them would call British youth generous or idealistic. The mess left behind by British youth at Glastonbury after the festival should be enough to disillusion anyone on that score. And yet, all the same, the passage has a certain resonance. If we are not careful, we shall soon experience our own Great Leap Forward — into the abyss, of course, though more gently than the Chinese.’

To be right before the time is right to be right — unforgivable!

The well-known (except in Flanders) sinologue Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) was, writes Dalrymple,

proud to be Belgian, though he spent more than half his life in Australia.

French universities

despised Leys because of his consistent, but early, anti-Maoism.

Dalrymple comments:

There is no greater sin in academia than to be right before the time is right to be right.

Grisly heartlessness of Eric Hobsbawm

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Companion of Honour

In his videolettera to Antonio Gramsci, Eric Hobsbawm CH says in part:

Anche se sei morto da più di settant’anni, sei vivo per tutti coloro che vogliono un mondo dove i poveri hanno la possibilità di diventare dei veri esseri umani.

Dalrymple comments:

These words to me are chilling, all the more so when you realise that they were uttered by a man who, towards the end of his very long life, said that if the deaths of the 20m people who died in the Soviet Union (it was probably many more) had brought about true socialism, then they would have been worth it.

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Please address all videoletters to A. Gramsci, c/o The Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Dalrymple has spent much of his life

among the poor or relatively poor. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me for a single moment that any one of them was not a true human being. Indeed, if they were not true human beings, their poverty would be nothing to worry about. I neither romanticised them as the fount of all goodness and wisdom nor saw them as mere objects.

Hobsbawm’s remark,

supposedly so generous but in fact utterly heartless, was of a piece with Mao’s chilling remark about the Chinese people being a blank sheet of paper on which the most beautiful characters (ideographs) could be written. For people like Mao and Hobsbawm, it is for other people not to be truly human, never themselves.

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A colourful character

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The Gramscian Islamists

Allahu akbar!

Allahu akbar!

It would be simplistic, writes Dalrymple, to ascribe the violence of Muslim fundamentalists

to Islam itself, by citing those verses from the Koran that seem to justify or even require it. Selective quotation does not explain why extremism is the province of the young, and why, for example, the first generation of Muslim immigrants to Britain (and elsewhere) were not at all attracted to it.

Even in Islamic countries, fundamentalists

are not mediæval throwbacks, however they may see themselves. They derive their ideas, even if they do not acknowledge it, at least as much from Lenin, Gramsci, and Mao as from Mohammed. They claim to want to return to seventh-century Arabia, but this is no more realistic or sincere than the wish of Victorian admirers of the Gothic to return to the Middle Ages.

Most Muslims in Britain, Dalrymple points out, are of Pakistani origin.

They were encouraged to come to Britain largely as a source of cheap labour, to prop up declining industries that had not adapted to the modern economy. But no labour in Britain could ever be cheap enough, without technological superiority, to compete successfully with labour in much poorer and cheaper countries. Originally, the idea was that the imported labour would be shipped back home if ever it became surplus to requirements. The opposite happened: each immigrant established a beachhead for others.

The immigrants

tended to congregate in certain areas, and they often met with hostility. Their children, growing up in virtual ghettoes, were neither fully of the host country nor fully of their parents’ culture. They were betwixt and between, in effect left to develop their own culture. Insofar as they encountered the hostility of the surrounding society, they developed resentments.

The Muslims were not the only immigrants to Britain.

There were Sikhs and Hindus as well, who fared much better, on the whole: their rates of unemployment are much lower than Muslims’ (indeed, lower than their white contemporaries’); they are underrepresented in prison, unlike Muslims, who are increasingly overrepresented; and they never developed any propensity to violence.

Islamism

provides a utopian and violent ideology of the kind that appeals to disgruntled young men facing all of the existential difficulties of youth. Moreover, Islamic society provides young men with another incentive for Islamism: the maintenance of the domination of women.

The British government

promoted ‘leaders’ of the Muslims, thus giving a golden opportunity to fundamentalists to establish themselves as controllers of government funds and to establish networks of patronage. Not knowing what it was doing, the British government spread Islamic fundamentalism.

Multiculturalism

has been another unwitting ally of Muslim extremism. Multiculturalism has created an informal system, like the late Ottoman empire’s millet system, in which various groups receive their privileges but are expected to live separately and distinctly from everyone else. This serves to prevent the various groups from developing any common identity and stimulates the ascent of political entrepreneurs whose power depends on the maintenance, aggravation, and inflammation of supposed grievances. Islamists are political entrepreneurs with a plausible doctrinal reason for violence. They are now able to extract from society the kind of respect that street muggers demand, and multiculturalism has become the ideological wing of sheer cowardice.

The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 07.47.53Can Africa survive Davidson?

Dalrymple explains that after Basil Davidson, the upper-class British communist fellow-traveller, wrote a book extolling Tito,

the dictator killed half a million people at least.

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 07.50.26Davidson then switched his attention to the East, writing a book extolling Mao called Daybreak in China. A more appropriate title might have been Nightfall in China, for within a short time,

the Great Leap Forward caused about 30m deaths.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 09.31.26Most unfortunately for an already suffering continent, Davidson then turned Africanist, finding in Guinea-Bissau

the hope of the world.

In that country some of the most horrendous mass killings in the history of West Africa followed.

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 07.54.22Casting about, Davidson wrote The Fortunate Isles about Cape Verde under its enlightened communist government. But the isles, Dalrymple points out, had in truth emerged after independence as actually deeply unfortunate, and shortly after publication of Davidson’s book,

half the population emigrated.

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Lucky is the country about which Davidson has written nothing

Can Africa survive Basil Davidson?

The Savonarola of atheism

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 07.15.38Richard Dawkins, the atheist proselytizer, has tweeted that the destruction of the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra by the desert-tribal warriors known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant demonstrates the doleful

power of religion.

Dalrymple points out that it seems to have escaped the notice of Dawkins, whom he describes as a Savonarola of atheism,

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 06.45.12that temples are generally built in the first place from a religious impulse, and that Palmyra had survived for two millennia in a region to which religion was by no means entirely unknown.

Dalrymple notes that

Satellite image confirming the destruction of the Temple of Baal (dedicated 32 A.D.)

Satellite image confirming the destruction of the Temple of Baal (dedicated 32 A.D.)

such destructiveness is not confined to the fanatically religious. The greatest outburst of cultural vandalism in recent history was probably Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which had nothing cultural or revolutionary about it—nor anything religious.

Of course, it is always gratifying for Dawkins

to contemplate the stupidity or barbarism of others.

Actually the destruction of Palmyra ought to warn Dawkins to turn his gaze inward and consider himself. And what he will discover when he does so is less than reassuring.

Revolutionary rehab: the Mao method

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Opium: force-fed by the rapacious, ruthless British maritime superpower: taken away by the merciful, resolute Great Helmsman

Some 20m patients cured

Mao Zedong, says Dalrymple (from 3:10), was

the greatest therapist of drug addiction in world history.

Large numbers of Chinese had become addicted to opium, which had been forced on them, in a vastly lucrative and longstanding racket, by gunboat-backed English traders.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 22.43.47When Mao took power, he did not hesitate to act. He threatened

to execute opium addicts if they did not give up.

Threats to murder

were about the only things Mao said that were believable, and 20m people gave up.