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Remembering Zhou

Relevance of a Pragmatist

Harsh Thakor

January 8th, 2016 was the 40th death anniversary of premier Zhou En Lai, one of the greatest pragmatist premiers the world has ever witnessed. Zhou En Lai was an icon amongst world leaders and played a major role in binding the People’s Republic of China for 27 years. He was one of the greatest and most progressive statesman of the 20th century who defended China's Socialist Foreign Policy with an Iron hand whether in 1954 at Bandung, whether with Nehru in 1962, or whether in the 1960's in USSR. Few Communist leaders ever exhibited such humility and no Communist party leader in China stood in support of Mao tse Tung for as long a tenure as Zhou En Lai. Liu Shao-Chi, Deng Xiaoping, Lin Biao, Peng de Huai, Chen Boda etc betrayed Mao but Zhou supported Mao with the strength of steel, traversing the most turbulent of waters. In spite of originating from a mandarin family Zhou lived the simplest of lifestyles and was inspired by anti-imperialist ideals from his school days. He traversed through the most hazardous paths in defending his ideas in pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary China. He never hesitated to self-criticize. Sadly certain sections like RCP, USA categorized the premier as a capitalist-roader.

No doubt although a great Communist, Zhou En Lai made some serious errors during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution both in internal and external policies. He rehabilitated several capitalist roaders like Deng Xiaoping in 1974, and isolated the Maoist gang of four's group. He also promoted Sino-US relations while meeting Richard Nixon during the Vietnam war, placing greater emphasis on combating Soviet Social Imperialism. An important error was his remaining silent on the US coup in Chile over Allende in 1973, and being silent on blood-bath in Sri Lanka. But Mao was equally responsible for these mistakes. In the 1970's to protect the Chinese state he elevated Deng Xiaoping as premier and did not sufficiently support the leaders of the Cultural revolution called the Gang of Four. His centrist deviation internally promoted the rightist forces while externally weakened support to the revolutionary struggles in the third world. Arguably he could not detect the treacherous line of Lin Biao at its formative stages like Mao. Zhou was also not sufficiently supportive of the policies and line of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution like the strengthening of revolutionary committees and weakening the bureaucracy. In fact his group in view of Suniti Kumar Ghosh strengthened the position of the capitalist roaders against Mao's clique. In pre-revolutionary China he underestimated the might of Chiang Kai Shek at crucial stages in 1927 and in the late 1930's.

'Immediately after the Tenth Party Congress in late 1973, Mao, allied closely with the Four, opened up fire directly on the rightist headquarters led by Zhou and most aggressively championed by Teng Hsiaoping. This life-and-death struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie intensified right up to October 1976, when the Right took advantage of Mao's death and mustered their forces to pull off a counterrevolutionary coup d'etat.'

'In each of the campaigns initiated by Mao—from criticizing 'Lin Biao and Confucius in 1973', 'Study the Theory of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat' and 'Combat and Prevent Revisionism' 'Criticize Water Margin', to Criticize Teng and Beat Back the Right Deviationist Wind in 1976—Mao and the Four were in various forms attacking Zhou's counter-revolutionary political line and all but explicitly attacked him in name. This was particularly true of the Lin Biao/Confucius and the Water Margin campaigns, which indirectly targeted Deng, and Zhou behind him, as modern-day Confucianists and renegades who were intent on opposing the revolution, restoring capitalism and capitulating to imperialism. (See The Loss in China and the Revolutionary Legacy of Mao Tsetung, an important speech by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the RCP, pp. 61-93, for a more thorough analysis of this period.)'

'In these final years, Zhou was acting behind the scenes, using his considerable bureaucratic powers to place leading Rightists in important Party and government posts, and unleashing a social base for capitalist restoration under the signboard of ‘‘modernization’’.

But, finally Mao and Zhou En Lai and the proletarian and bourgeois headquarters they represented ended up in fundamental and total opposition to each other. Even two decades earlier, as shown by an analysis of their differing speeches in 1949 and 1956, their world outlooks differed radically. As Mao pointed out in the last years of his life, with the advance and deepening of the socialist revolution, it was an objective law that "ghosts and demons"-especially top Party leaders such as Zhou En Lai and his revisionist predecessors like Liu and Lin would jump out every few years for a trial of strength with the proletariat.

Premier Zhou played an important role in isolating Lin Biao's policies. Chiang Ching was particularly hard on premier Zhou. It is difficult to visualize being in the place of Premier Zhou who had to administer a struggle in a Socialist Society, above everything. The fall of Lin Biao in 1971 had done untold damage and the Chinese state could hardly fill the posts. In spite of all the complications Zhou morally defended Mao till his death bed. It was tragic that at his funeral the Gang prevented the people from actively commemorating it and tried to thwart demonstrations or public. Bob Avakain and the RCP, USA distort history by claiming that Mao never paid a moral tribute to Zhou or did not admire his great contribution. The complexity of the situation prevailing prevented Mao for making a public stand on Zhou En Lai, or openly holding a commemoration meeting. It was Mao who often rebuked the Gang for splitting and left sectarianism. The mass rally at Tianmen square in 1976 is a testimony to the popularity premier Zhou enjoyed. What is remarkable is that Zhou never promoted his personality cult, or  eulogized his personal writings in his time. Zhou also gave important advice to political activists from other countries like to Souren Bose of India in 1970. He never indulged in big-brotherly treatment of communists from other countries. He exhibited utmost humility when redressing contingents of communists from other countries. Internationally in diplomacy it was the premier Zhou who lit China's red torch. What is significant is that Zhou never had a formal clique of his own. Although displaying the utmost loyalty to Mao he never indulged in flattery like Lin Biao. Zhou never hesitated to make constructive self-criticism from the pre-revolution days in the Long March.

The contradictions of Zhou with Mao were not antagonistic in nature and reflect the complexities of a struggle within a Socialist Society itself. Even if Zhou had differences during the Socialist Revolution, Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution period he always came down supporting Mao with whom he established a relationship of a wheel with an axle.

This writer once spoke to people like Vara Vara Rao of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association or Sinha of the Rahul Foundation India who felt it was an aberration to term Zhou as a capitalist roader. Earlier even late Harbhajan Sohi upheld Zhou as a very great revolutionary. Zhou committed centrist deviations or aberrations but could not be termed a capitalist-roader in their view.

In "Learn from Mao Zedong" Zhou briliantly sums up Mao’s contribution and above all recommends readers not to confine themselves to study of Mao Zedong Thought but study various subjects like economics, politics, new democratic revolution politics, culture etc. He explains that learning from Mao was not just a slogan and not regard Mao as a born leader, a demi-god or a leader impossible to emulate. Although Zhou wrote many articles, documents, letters and telegrams, many were lost because of wartime conditions. His writings depict his profound grasp of Chinese Revolution to which he made outstanding contribution towards its development.

It is also worth reading Dick Wilson's book on Zhou En Lai.

Here is a quote from Yongyi Song's essay on 'the role of Zhou En Lai in the Cultural Revolution' :
In analyzing "a long-lasting fight" between Zhou and Jiang Qing's clique, one simple but essential historical fact should not be overlooked: the so-called "Gang of Four" was indeed the "Gang of Five", namely, Mao was the true leader behind the clique. Based on Zhou's servility and subservience to any superiors, one cannot imagine that Zhou could have been in any serious conflicts with Mao. Likewise, Zhou was never in any serious conflicts with Jiang and the Central Cultural Revolution Group in the turbulent decade, especially during the most chaotic period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-71). Only words of boasting and mutual protection could be heard between Zhou and Jiang's clique. Aside from much flattery of the Central Cultural Revolution Group members by Zhou, there was another important illustration of Zhou's performance in the rally at Beijing Workers Stadium on March 27, 1968, that shows how Zhou flattered Jiang and how CCP official historians have today covered up Zhou's dark side.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 29, Jan 24 - 30, 2016