PERSONALITY CULT: IS IT NECESSARY FOR REVOLUTION?*
While referring to the ‘cult of Mao’, Charles Bettelheim (1978) observed that it harmed the
‘Revolutionary Line’ in
This means, while persons like Lin Piao carried on Mao’s Cult for self-consolidation, Mao considered it a revolutionary necessity. This is the reason which every one who defends Cult would say. Mao also said the same thing in his interviews to Edgar Snow: that his cult was necessary. Did he give this reason alone? No. He also gave another reason: that people carried out Personality Cult on a large scale since they were culturally backward.
Before we discuss whether this Personality Cult is necessary for revolution and whether people carried it out or revolutionaries resorted to it, it is necessary to know what sort of activities were undertaken for this Cult.
1. Whenever one talks or writes about Mao, ‘Four Greats’ must be added to Mao’s name. (1) Great Teacher. (2) Great Leader. (3) Great Supreme Commander. (4) Great Helmsmen.
It was Mao himself who told Edgar Snow that
these adjectives were used with reference to him. Mao was eligible to greater
adjectives than these for his contribution to Chinese revolution. But, should
people add all these adjectives to his name? Should they describe him in this
manner? If they want to tell that ‘the Central Committee has passed a
resolution’, they would not tell it so simply. What sort of Central Committee
is it? It is under the auspices of the Party. What sort of Party is it? It is
led by a great Chairman. What sort of Chairman is he? (1) Great Teacher. (2) Great
Leader. (3) Great Supreme Commander. (4) Great Helmsmen. Hence, in order to
tell that the Central Committee has passed a resolution, they would say, ‘The
Central Committee of the Party –led by our Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great
Supreme Commander and Great Helmsmen Chairman Mao – has passed a
resolution.’ Whether they talk of the
Party, the Central Committee or Leadership and whenever they mention Mao’s
name, all these adjectives must be present one after the other like bogies of a
train. After describing like this, if Mao’s name has to be mentioned again, the
whole thing is repeated. We find hundreds and thousands of sentences in books
and newspapers of
2. Apart from adding such adjectives, another aspect of Mao’s Cult was to drown him in eulogies.
“Mao is the sun that illuminates the world, Mao is a great genius without comparison in the history of mankind, the thoughts of Mao are the acme of Marxism, Mao knows everything, Mao has done everything….” (Hoxa, 1979:224)
“[Mao is] a Marxist-Leninist theorist who had discovered a special road providing a short-cut from Socialism to Communism.” (Rice, 1972:164)
“Chairman Mao is like the sun giving light wherever it shines. His ‘thought’ had the miraculous power of creating a spirit of self-sacrifice which in turn generates a ‘great material force’.” (Rice, 1972:164)
“Indeed, today in the era of Mao Tse-tung, heaven is here on earth….Chairman Mao is a great prophet…Each prophecy of Chairman Mao has become a reality. It was so in the past; it is so today…. ” (Rice, 1972:164)
Snow (1972: 21) informs his readers about an item in the Report presented at the Ninth Party Congress as follows: “whoever opposes Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s Thought, at any time or under any circumstances, will be condemned and punished by the whole Party and the whole country.”
In his speech at the Eleventh Plenum of the
Eight Central Committee on
On the question of the cadre policy, Lin (1966-67: 16) proposed, “Our cadre policy from now on should be that whoever opposes Chairman Mao will be discharged.”
In his ‘Instructions on raising the study
of chairman Mao’s writings to a new stage’, Lin
observed, “Chairman Mao stands much
higher than Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Stalin. There is
no one in the world today who has reached the level of Chairman Mao. Some
people say that ‘Capital’ is the basis of al theories. In fact, it only sets
forth the laws and problems of capitalist societies. In our country we have
already overthrown capitalism; we are now setting forth the laws and problems
of a socialist society. To oppose imperialism, modern revisionism, and the
reactionaries in various countries and to build socialism, we must rely upon
the thought of Mao Tse-tung. The thought of Mao Tse-tung
is Marxism-Leninism at its highest level.” (Lin Piao, 1966-67: 31). In the same speech, Lin
declared, “A genius like Chairman Mao
emerges only once in several hundred years in the world and in several thousand
If we begin to cite, there will be no end to such phrases as these. This is not something that praises the contribution, ability and capacity of a person. It crossed all the natural limits. As they presented Mao as a greater person than Marx, here the question is not to decide whether Mao is greater or Marx is. Not allowing discussions in the Party by making Mao’s authority unquestionable and proposing the dismissal of those who oppose Mao; arguing that Marx’s ‘Capital’ is irrelevant to the problems of socialism and describing Mao’s thought as the highest stage of Marxism – all these views are serious blunders theoretically as well as politically. Thus, Cult of Mao, with the consent of Mao, led to political and theoretical blunders.
3. Displaying Mao’s pictures extensively was also part of this Cult. Mao’s pictures, photographs and idols must be displayed in offices, public places and theatres. Mao himself said to Snow, “The Red Guards had insisted that if you didn’t have those things around, you were being anti-Mao.” (Snow, 1971:170) Mao tells this to Snow not by way of criticising Red Guards. As if he was giving a piece of information. Publishing Mao’s photographs daily in newspapers was also a practice.
4. Making kindergarten school children chant, ‘Long Live Mao for Ten Thousand years’! [Would Ten Thousand years be enough? Why not Eleven Thousand years?] Praising Mao after working overtime, ‘I have done this in honour of the wise teacher Mao’. Screaming slogans in Red Guards gatherings: ‘Death to the Revisionists, eternal life to Chairman Mao’. [What is the difference between these slogans and feudal, irrational blessings like ‘Dirghaayushmaanbhava’ and ‘Dirghaayusshu siddhirastu’?]
“One can see, for instance, a formalistic approach, borrowed from tradition to combat tradition, as it were. Quotations from Chairman Mao are read aloud in the morning before work; before any meeting wishes for long life and health are offered him” (Daubier, 1971: 264)
Holding the book of quotations of Mao, reciting them fluently like chants, pinning Mao’s photos to shirts or buttons (Did they have them in their finger rings?) –all these practices were part of worship of Mao.
A still higher form of this worship was workers, peasants and sailors standing in front of Mao’s photograph or picture and report to him about the work that they were going to do!
5. Another act connected with Mao’s Cult was the deletion of one particular line from the ‘Internationale’ which all Communists sing. They deleted that line which says, ‘There is no supreme saviour. Not God, not Caesar, not democratic leader”. This line tells people that they must liberate themselves; should not think some god, king or saviour would save them; they should not expect some leader would do things for them. They removed the line for the sake of worship of Mao and sang the remaining lines whenever ‘Internationale’ was sung. Why did they do so? Because, the Chinese people had a Saviour, a liberator. Since Mao occupied the place of a ‘saviour’, people may raise many doubts if the line that says ‘there is no saviour’ continued. This is why they omitted that line. Since 1970, “the Chinese have been taught to sing the ‘Internationale’ without omitting, as had hitherto been done, the famous words…..” (Daubier, 1971:277)
6. Another change introduced for the sake of worship of Mao was suspending the publication of works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. They did this in order to divert people’s attention from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and focus on Mao only. After some years, the publication of those works reappeared. Van Ginnekan (1976: 228) reported that now the new editions of important works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin began to appear on a large scale. Their publication suffered considerably due to extraordinary growth of publication of Mao’s writings.
There is no adequate data that enable us to know the yet other ways in which Mao’s worship was carried out. This is what is available. It appears that this worship began in 1965. But we also find some instances of praising Mao along the same lines since 1958. But we do not have data as to when exactly it had begun.
Snow (1971) reports that Mao himself told him why that worship had to be initiated. The world has Snow’s book as the only source to understand the need for the worship of Mao. [Snow did not report Mao’s words either in a ‘dialogue’ form or in quotation marks. Many a time he summarised the conversations. At some places he wrote in an indirect speech in his own words. Therefore, it is not possible for us to present these things in quotation marks.]
Snow reports that, in 1965, Mao told him that his Personality Cult became necessary since the authority in local party committees especially in the Peking Municipal Party Committee was not under his control. Snow tells us as if Mao felt that ‘there was need for more personality cult, in order to stimulate the masses to dismantle the anti-Mao Party bureaucracy.” (Snow, 1971:169). This was the reason for Mao’s Personality Cult! Lack of power for Mao means lack of majority to Mao’s line in the party. The theory of Personality Cult tells us that it wants to create devotion and admiration for Mao among the cadres and people and mobilize them around Mao (Mao’s Line). How was this Cult possible in those provinces where Mao’s Line did not have majority in the local party committees? Even if we assume that supporters of Mao’s Line might have initiated it through their individual efforts, how did those committees (in which Mao’s line had no majority) allow the Cult in those areas? Instead of undertaking the Cult campaign in those areas where Mao had no majority, why did they carry out it throughout the country? If revolutionaries said that they were resorting to the Cult for the sake of majority, why did the revisionists allow it? It is futile to expect answers to such questions. We will not get proper answers. There are more important aspects to be discussed.
If the Revolutionary Line had no majority, is Personality Cult a means to achieve it? [This means that Chinese revolutionaries including Mao thought that they could mobilize majority support to the revolutionary line by suspending Marx’s writings and thus draw people’s attention towards him!]
Before discussing whether Personality Cult
is good or bad, we need to examine a strange question raised in
“The question was whether the cult was to become the monopoly of a Party elite manipulated for its own ends, and with Mao reduced to a figurehead on a pedestal, or was to be utilized by Mao Tse-tung and his dedicated true believers to popularize Mao’s teachings as a means to ‘arm people’…….” (Snow, 1971:66)
The question which haunted the Chinese revolutionaries was ‘under whose control Mao’s Cult must be carried out’ and not whether Personality Cult was good or bad. They held a strong view that Personality Cult must be conducted. However they must have control over it and revisionists must not have it. This was the struggle between revisionists and revolutionaries! Would there be a ridiculous class struggle than this? ‘Should Mao be reduced to a figurehead on a pedestal or not?’ – what sort of question is this? Even if they wanted, could they keep Mao as a figurehead? Would Mao be under the control of others? This means the phenomenon of ‘Personality Cult’ inherently has the feature of reducing a person to a figurehead! Hence the question, ‘who should have the control over the Cult campaign?’. It is possible to infer something about this phenomenon from this struggle. The revisionists, who were opposed to Mao’s political line were also in favour of Mao’s Cult. It means they too find some ‘benefit’ from that campaign! Unless there is some benefit, why do they compete to conduct the worship?
If Revolutionaries on the one hand and revisionists on the other try to gain from Mao’s Cult, does it mean that the Personality Cult has the character of being useful to both the classes?
As Mao thought that Personality Cult would achieve majority for the revolutionary line, let us discuss to what extent it is correct.
The aim of this worship was first to create devotion and admiration for Mao among the people and then make the people follow Mao’s politics.
If we ask the ‘Cult-ists’, ‘why don’t you put all those efforts of creating devotion in teaching politics to people from the beginning’, their answer would be ‘people follow a person only if they first develop devotion for the person’. That is, according to this theory of Cult, people must first develop devotion and admiration for a person and only then learn social theories of that person.
Why should people develop devotion for a person? For what reason? What should be the basis for that? According to the theory of Personality Cult, there won’t be any basis. People must develop devotion without any basis.
Do you say, ‘why isn’t there any basis for the devotion for Mao? Mao had already been making revolutionary efforts for the past forty years by then. Is this reason not enough for the devotion? Won’t this history be the basis for the respect for Mao?’ [Then why do you make attempts again to create respect? – Let us keep this question aside.]
If people developed respect for that person, it did not mean that they first developed respect without any reason. They first learnt about Mao’s contribution and the past revolutionary history. Only later, they developed respect for him. This process is contrary to the rule of Personality Cult that ‘people must first develop respect’. People form a good opinion of a leader and follow him only after they learn about the good deeds of that person. If this happened, it means that there was a basis for forming a good opinion and for following him. The rule that people must first have respect is irrational and baseless.
You can’t say, ‘Mao’s Cult implies telling about his contribution to and his role in the revolutionary history. This Cult tries to create respect for Mao by telling about his contribution’. The term ‘Mao’s Cult’ does not mean revolutionary politics. In fact, ‘Mao’s Cult’ was not carried out with such practices. Personality Cult is nothing but creating respect for the person. Mao too talked about ‘Cult’ in terms of admiring him personally! “…there was no ‘worship of the individual’ – Personality Cult – to speak of, as yet, but that there was need for it……Now there was, in 1970, no such need, and the ‘Cult’ would be cooled down, he (Mao) said.” (Snow, 1971: 18-19). If Mao’s Cult meant telling about Mao’s contribution, why should we stop the Cult after some time? We should tell the revolutionary history to every generation, shouldn’t we? While class struggles were necessary for a long time even in the socialist society, should they stop the efforts of teaching revolutionary politics by 1970? When Mao said that there was no need of Cult, he meant Personality Cult which was unconnected with politics. Personality Cult is not connected with not only politics but with any social issue. No social aspect of life can be its basis. Except ‘idealism’, what else this Cult-ism – which expects the formation of respect without any material basis – could be? It follows that people did not learn revolutionary politics from Mao’s Cult; instead the ‘revolutionary’ gain was idealism! [Thus, they tried to secure majority for revolutionary politics by means of Personality Cult that does not teach politics! By dumping praises like ‘Indra! Chandra!’ , the Chinese communists wanted to create an aura around their leader and thereby dazzle the eyes of the people! They followed this path with the confidence that people may not raise the question, ‘why couldn’t the Sun – who gives light wherever he is – illuminate the Party!]
Personality Cult – it may be of a great leader
– has no place in the process of creating revolutionary consciousness among
people. Will the revolution – which happened in the past or which will happen
in future – take place due to a single leader? What about the role of other
leaders? Will they not have any role to play in revolution? What about people
who made extraordinary sacrifices for the sake of revolution? What about the
soldiers? What about ordinary cadres? A revolution will not be successful
unless thousands and lakhs of people make extraordinary
efforts and act courageously and without selfishness! When so much ‘collective
effort’ was needed for revolution, whose Personality Cult would find place in
that revolution? Would a leader singly be responsible for the achievements
which large masses of people accomplished collectively? (This does not mean
ignoring the speciality of a leader. But if we ought to recognize specialities,
each and every person who participates sincerely in a revolution would possess
some speciality or the other.) Is Mao singly eligible for the entire
revolutionary reputation of
No action undertaken in the name of ‘Mao’s Cult’ has the nature of contributing to revolution. Whether or not there was chaos in the party, Personal Cult which involves false practices would not be useful in any context. Except through collective actions undertaken with a class perspective, no one can ever defend revolution by means of shortcuts created by individualism. ‘Serving people’ means going along a right path and making sincere efforts to the best of one’s ability. It does not mean one can follow any shortcut way. [It is a different matter that it would be fruitless even if one follows a shortcut way.] The responsibility of leaders is confined only to raise the consciousness of the people along a right path. It is the responsibility of the people to wake up or not to wake up. It will be ‘revolutionary obsession’, not ‘revolutionary aim’ to leave a right path and trying to defend the revolutionary line by means of shortcut ways. [All the actions undertaken in Mao’s Cult were shortcuts only.]
Depicting ‘Cult’, Snow writes in his book
as follows: “Giant pictures of him now
hung in the streets, busts were in every chamber, his books and photographs
were everywhere on display to the exclusion of others. In the four-hour
revolutionary pageant of dance and song, The East Is Red, Mao was the only
hero. As a climax in that performance…..I saw a portrait copied from a
photograph taken by myself in 1936, blown up to about thirty feet high. It gave me a mixed feeling of pride of
craftsmanship and uneasy recollection of similar extravaganzas of worship of
Joseph Stalin seen during wartime years of
Snow, although not a Marxist, was not
opposed to Socialism and Mao. He was the most important journalist who
published Chinese revolution in the western countries. (He was an American
journalist.) Watching the Personality Cult of Mao in
In 1970, in a dinner with two Chinese vice-foreign ministers, Snow asked, “The extent of these displays is the only thing that makes me wonder whether the Chairman has enemies here. Surely everyone knows that he is the main author of the revolution, surely he does not personally need this form of exaggerated adulation? Is it really necessary?” Laughing at Snow’s question, a woman vice-foreign minister said, “During the early years of the revolution there was a strange thing. When the peasants came to the October anniversary and went past the reviewing stand, many did the Kou-t’ou before Chairman Mao. We had to keep guards posted there to prevent them from prostrating themselves.” (Snow, 1971: 69) [This is to say that people themselves resorted to Cult.]
Snow did not ask her thus, “If people have so much admiration for Mao why is Mao in minority, Baby” At that moment, he kept quiet smiling, ‘Oh, I see!’ But it seems the question of Cult did not stop haunting Snow. In October of the same year, when he met Mao, he again raised some questions. (Snow, 1971: 205)
“Mao thought that perhaps there was some. It was said that Stalin had been the center of a cult of personality, and that Khrushchev had none at all…..Mr. Khrushchev fell because he had had no cult of personality at all….”
“….he [Mao] reminded me that he had told me in 1965 that there was some worship of the individual but that there was need for some more.”
With reference to Cult, Mao made some other observations: “But after all….did not the Americans have their own personality cult? How could the governor of each state, how could each President and each cabinet member, get along without some people to worship them? There was always the desire to be worshiped and the desire to worship…..” (Snow, 1971: 170)
Unless we conclude that Snow was an utter liar,
it is not possible for any human being to save the reputation of Mao who
answered like that! But what Snow wrote were not lies. None of the Chinese
revolutionaries has denied it. Moreover, they published Mao’s answers to Snow
in Chinese newspapers. (People’s Daily
After commenting about the desire to worship and be worshipped, Mao asked Snow as follows: “Could you…be happy if no one read your books and articles?” As if Mao’s Cult meant reading Mao’s works! They should have referred to ‘reading of Mao’s works’ as ‘study of revolutionary writings’ or ‘study of revolutionary politics’. But, why was it called ‘Mao’s Cult?” [It was Mao who used the words ‘cult’ and ‘worship’.] Is it necessary to begin the personality cult in order to make people read the works of a person. Cult of Marx – in order to read Marx, Cult of Engels – in order to read Engels, Cult of Lenin – in order to read Lenin – should revolutionaries first begin movements of Personality Cult? [It is not possible to organise these movements together. They have to carry on them separately. As Cult means attracting people toward a particular individual, they cannot allow Marx etc into Mao’s Cult. They cannot allow Lenin etc into Marx’s Cult, Mao etc into Lenin’s Cult and so on. Thus they cannot combine the Cults. They cannot display books of one person beside those of others. This is how movements of Personality Cult should be carried on!]
Why does/should a revolutionary leader feel happy when people read his writings? It is because people acquire new knowledge from his books and revolt against those who oppress them and change society; not because ‘people read my books and consider me a great person’. It is meaningless if a person who has a collective objective to think thus, ‘People should read my books only. They should not read others’ books at least for sometime.’ It is a matter of great joy if people read such books as much as possible. The reason for the joy is that all such books would enable people achieve the objective more effectively and soon. Mao might feel happy if people read his works. There was nothing wrong in it. Would Mao not feel happy if people read Marx’s writings as well? If the purpose of making Mao’s writings available on a large scale to people is to teach revolutionary politics, would Marx’s writings not serve the same purpose?
Claiming that they were carrying on Mao’s Cult for uniting revolutionary forces and fighting revisionists on the one hand and not making available to people the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin and encouraging them to read – does this not amount to alienating people from revolutionary ideas and hence helping revisionists?
Mao made another observation on Cult: “It was hard….for people to overcome the habits of 3,000 years of emperor-worshiping tradition.” (Snow, 1971: 169). This is to say that people on their own carried on his Cult and they still had the same old habit of worshiping. On the one hand he tells that they [the party men] started Personality Cult for the sake of revolution and “there was need for some more” and on the other hand he tells that people did all this due to backward consciousness!
Lin Piaos and Chen Potas who organised the Cult of Mao on large scale; Maos who wanted ‘some more’ cult; Reports of the Party Congresses and Communist writers who defended the Cult – will all of them come under the category of people who could not “overcome the habits of 3,000 years of emperor-worshiping tradition”? Suspending the publication of writings of Marx etc, omitting important lines in the ‘Internationale’, imposing a new cadre policy – were all these actions undertaken by people? Who did all these things? Ordinary people, ordinary cadres or party officials?
If people had worshipped emperors for three thousand years, they did so out of terrible fear and ignorance; did they do it wholeheartedly and happily? [If people worshipped Mao due to their habit of worshiping emperors, should we not admit that people were worshiping Mao too due to fear and ignorance? It was not out of real love and enlightened thoughts that people respected Mao, was it?] However great respect and fear people might have had for the emperors, did they stop revolting against the emperors? The fact that people revolted against emperors, overthrew them and reached the stage of Socialism indicates that people had gone forward politically and culturally leaving behind respect for the emperors, isn’t it? If people had not changed since 3,000 thousand years and rigidly practiced the convention of Personality Cult, how did revolts against emperors occur? Who revolted? If people remained in certain ‘ignorant’ practices to ‘some extent’, should Communist leaders try to discourage such practices or encourage them? If people had carried on Cult due to 3,000-year old culture, did the party ever pass a resolution that ‘we should not resort to Personality Cult’? Was it necessary for the Socialist politics to retain people under the influence of 3,000 year old ignorance of Personality Cult even under Socialism? Did Socialist politics want to live on the ignorance of people? Would people’s revolution succeed if people were still in ignorance? Would ‘the supporters of the revolutionary politics’ secure majority only if ignorant practices continued? What is the relationship between Personality Cult and revolutionary majority? Is it positive relationship or negative relationship?
[The fact that people did not reject Mao’s Cult indicates that they were still in the ignorance of worshiping. But the important thing is that the people’s leader had the pride of emperors who were worshiped for 3,000 years. It was no wonder that people were at the level of ‘worshiping’. They were not aware of Socialist or Communist practices. The greatest of all the wonders of the world is that the Communist leader was also at the level of receiving ‘worship’ from the people who were at the level of ‘worshiping’! When Mao says, “There was always the desire to be worshiped and the desire to worship”, it does not mean that the same person would have these two desires. Emperors and leaders would like ‘to be worshipped’ and ordinary people would like ‘to worship’ the emperors and leaders. It is unbearable to see Mao in this stage but a truth is a truth, however unbearable it may be. If Cult was true, that Mao – who was mainly responsible for the Cult – was at such a level should also be true. If Mao’s opponents ridiculed Mao as ‘Party emperor’, he deserves that ridicule, doesn’t he?
There have been many questions (very natural questions) around the world with reference to Mao’s Cult. But the so-called revolutionaries recite some incoherent and inconsistent phrases defending the Cult. Communist writers and other writers sympathetic to the cause of Communism as well mention this question, make a mild and negligible criticism and offer lame defence by concluding that ‘it was necessary for Mao’. [Daubier, Han Suyin, Maria Macciocchi etc offer the same defence.]
an Italian, who wrote Daily Life in
Revolutionary China (1972), discussed the question of Cult to some extent
(pp: 479-481). Referring to the comments in the Western countries about Mao’s
Cult (as “constant exaltation of and obsessional recourse to Mao’s thought”), Maria tends to
be fascinated by the arguments of Chinese on this question. When she visited
“Doesn’t this type of ‘cult’ also exist in your own societies toward leaders?”, said the Chinese. (p. 480)
Maria feels very happy as if the Chinese raised a very appropriate question. But she did not ask them thus, ‘Our country is a capitalist country. Can practices of capitalist countries be present in Socialist countries?’ She was not aware of the difference between bourgeois society and a ‘socialist’ society.
The Chinese said to her husband (who was
also a writer and visited
According to the Chinese, readers develop interest in a writer not after reading his articles but they read only after they develop interest for the writer. How does liking for a writer develop? What is that theory which made Chinese stand on their head? It is the same theory that made their leaders stand on their head. [Even if people first read the writings of a person and then develop a liking for that person, we can’t call that liking ‘cult’. Cult means irrationally formed blind devotion. There won’t be real admiration in it. If people read the writings of a person and develop liking, there won’t be blind belief and falsity. If people developed liking for Mao after reading his writings, it would not turn into Mao’s Cult. Even if people developed great love for a person based on a right reason, that love should not degenerate to the level of Cult whereby people give up their right and sense of examining the deeds of that person. If it degenerates it would amount to stupid surrender and not love. One should not have blind devotion to others and should not let others behave blindly towards him.]
The Chinese had also asked, “And what about the ‘cult’ surrounding Churchill, Roosevelt and de Gaulle when they were still alive?” (p. 480) This means the Chinese had equated Mao with bourgeois leaders! It is natural! How could their leader appear differently from those of other countries when their leader too did the same thing as bourgeois leaders did?
Maria, considered comments of the Chinese on the Cult to be correct and arrived at the conclusion that conducting Cult and accepting Cult was something that exists always in human nature. She cites the comments of the ‘Chinese interlocutor’ approvingly, “It’s not a ‘Chinese’ phenomenon….but a universally widespread and sometimes profoundly human factor. The need to unite everyone around Mao, especially during the period of the Cultural Revolution, was a political necessity. Now it no longer seems as urgent.” (p. 480)
Finally, she makes a distinction between Mao’s Cult and Stalin’s Cult. “Such dogmatism was characteristic of Stalin, but it is the antithesis of the spirit of Mao”. (p. 481).
See how other Cult-ists argue.
“During the Cultural Revolution this ‘cult’ allowed Mao to appeal directly to the masses and neutralize the Liu Sho-ch’I and P’ng Chen factions. Now that the party has rediscovered its revolutionary dynamics, this method becomes useless and disappears”. (Daubier, 1974: 278). [So, ‘cult’ is essential to ‘re’-discover the revolutionary dynamics!]
Han Suyin (1976: 340) says that Mao himself started reducing his Personality Cult in 1970. He had utilized his reputation and prestige among people as a means to regain his authority. [For power! Using reputation and prestige! Increasing and reducing one’s own Personality Cult! Not a single writer found anything absurd in this kind of phraseology again and again! It is this kind of stuff which all these Cult-ists speak.]
‘Don’t you have cult in your countries?’, ‘People read your articles only if you have Personality Cult’ – What was the source of these comments of Chinese who spoke to Maria? These were the comments of the leaders who defended Personality Cult. The Chinese repeated like parrot phrases the comments of their leaders as if these were extraordinary reasons for observing ‘Personality Cult’. If people listen certain things in a tom-tom way, there arises a situation whereby the people lose their sense of discrimination. [We should not conclude that the views of those who spoke to Maria really represented the entire Chinese people. There must have been people who hated the Personality Cult.]
They claimed that some attempts were made
to slow down Cult since 1970. If we see couple of examples, we will come to
know to what extent the Cult diminished. By
Another point connected with these celebrations. Snow was accompanying Mao in those celebrations.
The following slogans were raised in those celebrations.
“Chairman Mao, ten thousand times ten thousand times ten thousand years!”
(This is materialism! Logical materialism! Dialectical materialism!)
Immediately after he heard these slogans, Snow asked Mao, “How does it look to you?” (“I could not resist asking”, says Snow!)
“Mao grimaced, shook his head and said that it was better but he was not satisfied.”
This he said with a view that Cult should decrease. (In 1965, Mao told Snow that there was ‘need’ for Cult. Now he says, ‘there should be a cooling down’. How much cooling down should be there? Should it come down from three 10 thousand years (10 thousand, 10 thousand, 10 thousand years) to only one 10 thousand years? If the slogan was ‘Chairman Mao, one thousand years!” – would this mean that cult was justified?
If Personality Cult was useful to revolutionary politics, why should there be cooling down? Any thing that contributes to revolution and unity among people must be carried out as much as possible, isn’t it? Why should it be decreased? It is because there is something negative in it? Why should a negative action be carried out even to some extent?
The greatest wonder in this matter is the practice of Mao’s Cult to such an extent that it caused worry even to Mao. This means, none cared for Mao’s feelings and people were showing superstitious devotion for Mao!
Devotion for Mao was so much that they did not care for Mao’s feelings! Admiration for Mao was so much that they disregarded Mao’s feelings!
Did Mao think that the world would believe that Mao could not resist his Personality Cult? It was futile if he ‘grimfaced’ and ‘shook his head’. What the world would like to know is – what steps did he take to prevent such unpleasant situation? All explanations such as ‘It must decrease’ are mere eyewash!
When a person comes and asks another person, “How do you feel about these slogans’, what would any one say except, ‘I am not happy!’ Even if it were a bourgeois leader, would he say, ‘I like these slogans. It is very gratifying to see people greeting me for ever?’
He would say, ‘My people are doing all these things out of love for me! I don’t understand their superstitious belief. They do not heed even if I say ‘don’t do it’.
For every thing people can be made scapegoats!
Mao’s was wholly feudal-bourgeois-formal reply. He was not opposed to Personality Cult. He had never tried to resist it. Where was the question of resisting it? He himself wanted it. Those who desire cult would feel unhappy if the cult declines and not feel unhappy if it is carried out on a large scale.
Since the publication of Marx’s writings had been resumed, since they restored the previously deleted line in the ‘Internationale’ and decreased the exhibition of Mao’s photos – we can believe that they made some attempts to reduce the Personality Cult. But we don’t know the actual reason – whether the Cult seemed absurd to the leaders themselves, or they found it difficult to face criticism across the world against the cult or there might be some important political reason! Whatever be the reason, they made some trivial modifications. They began to say, ‘Cult is no longer necessary’ – as if they started it for a particular need and now stopped it since the need no longer exists!
What did it mean when they declared that Cult was no longer necessary?
It meant that Mao’s line was able to secure majority in the party, wasn’t it? It meant that party members and cadres were politically consciousness, weren’t they? It meant that everybody had faith in Mao’s leadership, hadn’t they?
Let us put aside the question as to why cult should be abandoned when it yielded good results? Why did revisionism emerge again? What is this calamity that threw away a thousand miles Mao, his political line and the Cultural Revolution led by Mao’s line? Why people supported this calamity (opposition to Mao)? If Khrushchev fell due to the absence of Cult, why did Mao – who received large scale cult so long a time – fall down? Why couldn’t Personality Cult – which is necessary for revolution – defend revolution? All these are questions that must be discussed.
Is Personality Cult good or bad?
Is Personality Cult a socialist practice or feudal (or bourgeois) practice?
Does Personality Cult help revolution or revisionism? To discuss these questions with evidence, the post-1976 October period is the appropriate time. Because, the consequences of Personality Cult became evident by that time. A point became clear by then: does Personality Cult involve dogmatism alone or does it contain features like political knowledge, class consciousness and cherishing the ideals of the leader out of real love?
When they realized in 1970 that it was not necessary to carry on Personality Cult on such a large scale, were the leaders of the revolutionary line not expected to offer an explanation about this question? Were the leaders not expected to explain their views (whatever they formed at that time) to the people on the question of Cult as follows: ‘Personality Cult is good. The revolutionaries could practice it whenever they are not in majority’ or ‘Personality Cult is not good. All these years we practiced it due to false understanding. Revolutionaries should never practice it.’ If the party leaders do not offer such explanation, how would people – who ought to adopt Socialist ideas – receive education with regard to the question whether Personality Cult was good or bad? How would people clear their doubts on this issue? There has been no official document either by the party or Mao on this question except what Mao told Snow in his interview. No revolutionary could raise his head with courage after reading what Mao said in those interviews.
When he informed Snow that people were using ‘Four Greats’ before his name, Mao said, “They would all be dispensed with sooner or later. Only the word ‘teacher’ would be retained”. (p.71) Even the single adjective is also not correct. If it is decided so, every one would be expected to use it as a rule. People should have freedom to talk about their leader as they feel. (Needless to say that one should talk from a materialist stand point).
To decide that people must say, ‘our teacher Mao’ and should not use any other word – this amounts to curtailing the initiatives, emotions and thoughts of people. If some body would like to say, ‘Mao is a great genius’, he must have that liberty to say so. It is a great blunder if others dictate him saying, ‘Use this word! Not that’. It will be greater blunder if the leader himself suggests, ‘Depict me like this’.
Bettelheim, who criticised Personality Cult as a wrong practice, has also observed thus, “….he considered it as a necessity, as a way of assuring the unity of the people in a situation where many disruptive forces were at work.” (Personal communication). Why should he repeat Mao’s view on Cult? Critics ought to discuss whether Mao’s view on Cult was right or wrong. Would it amount to a critical examination if they simply say, ‘Mao thought like that’?
Persons who commit mistakes (knowingly and unknowingly) follow certain practices which they think are necessary. They would say, “I did it because I thought it was necessary”. The duty of critics is not to reproduce the explanation of those who commit mistakes. They must examine whether a given explanation is right or wrong and subscribe to the right one. If it is wrong they must reject it. Bettelheim has not made a mistake in rejecting Personality Cult. He, however, made a mistake in not criticising Mao in this regard.
Enver Hoxa, the then Secretary of the Albanian Communist Party – who made some correct observations that Personality Cult is idealism, non-Marxist and not desirable – compromises with Personality Cult without sticking to his views strongly. He talks as if it was inevitable for Mao to practice cult under those chaotic conditions.
does Mao permit the inflation of this cult? Perhaps the critical moments which
China went through, the fact that the Communist Party of China was not only in
confusion, but also in the hands of revisionist, impelled Mao to permit the
inflation of his name and authority in order to mobilize the sound
revolutionary energies of the masses so that he could hurl them into
In these comments, we do not find any
opposition to the cult. He was opposing only ‘inflation of the cult’. He was
talking as if Cult has positive nature: that cult was necessary since the party
was in the hands of the revisionists, that the cult could mobilize
revolutionary forces and
Just as he raised the question (why did Mao allow so much cult?) with regard to Mao, Hoxa did not raise such a question with regard to Stalin. He did not find fault with Stalin even though he received dozens of titles of ‘Hero’, dozens of medals and numerous eulogies at which our ears feel ashamed to hear! For Hoxa, it was the fault of Stalin’s enemies! It was the fault of revisionists like Khrushchev.
Revisionists “built up the Cult of Stalin to the skies in order to overthrow him more easily in the future”. (Hoxa, 1980: 45)
“The great hullabaloo the Khrushchevites made about the so-called cult of Stalin was really only a bluff. It was not Stalin, who was a modest person, who had built up this cult, but all the revisionist scum accumulated at the head of the party and the state which apart from anything else, exploited the great love of the Soviet peoples for Stalin, especially after the victory over fascism……They fostered the cult of Stalin order to isolate him as much as possible from the masses, and, hiding behind this cult, they prepared the catastrophe”. (Hoxa, 1980: 49-50)
Whenever he mentions any shortcoming of Stalin, he says that Stalin might not have said so. Revisionists hid behind Stalin’s name and did like that!
Why did Stalin allow them to hide behind him? Was he not aware of it? If a leader fails to know where revisionists intrude or hide, is it not his mistake? Why should he follow methods that allow some one to hide behind some other person? Why should he keep quiet when others dump hypocritical praises on him? If he opposed praises one day, nobody would dare to praise again the next day.— Don’t our Communists raise such questions?
[Some parents say, ‘All the friends of our child spoiled him.’ All the comments of Hoxa are similar to those of the parents!]
It was part of Personality Cult of Mao to use expressions, ‘Mao’s line’ and ‘Mao’s thought’ by the Party in which Mao was also a member. How can the line of a member be the line of a Party? Suppose the Party in which Mao was a member declared in writing that ‘Mao’s Line is our Line. Mao’s thought is our outlook’. When a decision has to be taken in that party, every body in the party must follow whatever Mao says since Mao’s thought was their thought. If Mao says, ‘we need to do like this in this matter’, every one has to follow that suggestion. How could there be an opportunity to discuss whether that decision was right or wrong and express a different opinion? Why should there be a difference of opinion at all when a person – whose line the party declared as its own – gives instructions to follow? Whatever Mao tells would be Party’s line. Mao’s thought itself is Party’s thought. If a member in the party rejects what Mao suggests and offers a different suggestion, it would be something that opposes Mao’s line, wouldn’t be? Thus, if the party considers the line of a member as its own, would it not amount to not giving an opportunity for debate to express different opinions. Suppose, the party conducts a debate. (In fact it would be wrong to conduct a debate without hearing what Mao says since the party declared Mao’s line as its line. Let us, however, see what happens if such a debate is conducted). Let us suppose that majority of the members would not accept Mao’s views and arrive at a different decision. Then Mao would be in minority (Mao was in minority many a time). The party would have to implement the majority decision. Would, then, this mean that the party followed Mao’s line or contrary to it? While following anti-Mao’s line, the party would claim that its line was Mao’s line. How could any one resolve this contradiction? There would be only two ways: either Mao should cease to be a member of the party or the party shouldn’t decide a member’s line as its line. It is needless to say which of these two is correct.
When we say that a party should not decide a member’s line as its line, it does not mean that the party should not consider and follow his line. Mao’s writings would be available as writings of a revolutionary and a theoretician. All would read them. Those who were influenced by those writings would try to work in the party with that perspective. They would try to secure majority for that perspective. Mao would become a centre to such a group which holds that perspective. Now, there would be full scope for debates. Even if Mao’s group does not secure majority on some occasion, it would not be party’s fault if it implements the majority decision.
What was the reason for the declaration of “Absolute Authority of Mao” during the period of Personality Cult of Mao? It was so because the party declared Mao’s line as its line. When the party declared Mao’s line as its line, the entire party must follow unquestionably what Mao says. From this basis there arose authoritarian declarations like ‘The absolute authority of Mao’ and ‘those who oppose Mao will be dismissed!’ There was no place for such questions as ‘why shouldn’t we oppose Mao? How can we accept, without discussion, what Mao said?’
If the party line is perceived in the name of a top leader, some members in the party (also outsiders) hesitate to think differently from the line when some problem arises. Others try to follow it without any question assuming that whatever the line says is right and it is not necessary to apply thought. Because of this, there won’t be any attempts to rectify the mistakes and overcome the limitations of the line. That line, instead of being a collective line, turns into an individual line and would survive until the leader is alive. If any one wants to protect it, they must have an opportunity to discuss its merits and demerits.
Due to the lack of Socialist practice of discussing the line and actions of a leader, some mistakes were committed again and again. If we take the practice of Personality Cult, Mao committed the same mistake which Stalin committed. Instead of criticising Stalin and explaining how Personality Cult was wrong, Mao practised the same. Even if he had not criticised Stalin, it would have been a good thing if he did not practise Personality Cult. He ignored those two good ways and committed the same mistake which Stalin did. If there was no critical examination of the actions of the leaders, it is possible that subsequent (future) leaders would commit the same mistake which these two leaders did.
Mao, who occupied the position of the Chairman of the party in 1943, continued as the Chairman untill 1976 when he died. For 33 years! However capable a leader might be, should he cling on to the position until death removed him from that position? Could he properly discharge his duties of that position even in the old age? Would there be no other capable leader in the party? If there was no other capable leader, what sort of party was it which could not prepare a second leader?
Mao, while being the Chairman of the party, assumed the position of the Head of the State for some years. It was the position of Military commander as well. Instead of the same leader occupying two, three and four top positions, can’t that leader discharge those duties without any position ? Even if a person has the talent of studying problems of all spheres of life, would it be possible for a human body to discharge duties of various positions? If discharging duties means signing the papers, then any number of positions would not be a burden for a human body. But if someone has to really examine many problems connected with a responsible position, if he has to acquire proper knowledge, if he has to consider each aspect of a problem and if he has to discharge his duties that lead to establishment of a new society, would it be possible for a body to discharge duties of several higher positions? One should not hold such position even if it is possible.
If several persons have to evolve as capable persons in every aspect, all persons should get an opportunity in holding higher positions. No individual should hold more than one position. If a person has the ability to work in more than one position, can’t he discharge those duties without occupying higher position? Can we say that capabilities of person could become useless if that person has no position? The attitude that the chief leader must hold several top positions is also part of a kind of Personality Cult.
Adding the word ‘Chairman’ before the name every time is also part of Cult. Why should we add the designation of a person before his actual name? None else have their designations before their names, do they?
Bourgeois leaders add their long designations and degrees around their names and exhibit extravagantly before people thus, “Look, how great I am!”
With such extravagant exhibition, leaders can keep people in an awe and respect towards them. We always find the expression “Chairman Mao taught us…..” and we never find the expression, “Party taught us……” In the Chinese Communist Party except Mao we don’t find the Party.
Party is a collective force. The leader, however capable he may be, is part of that collective force.
[Since a leader possesses more ability and capacity compared to others in the party, he becomes the leader. Recognition of the ability of the leader by others and recognition of the collective force by the leader – These two are essential. Whoever refuses these roles, the entire organization becomes ineffective.
The personality Cult of the leader is a set of practices which equate the leader (who is a part of the party) with the party or show him as an alternative to the party.
The most important losses that result from the Personality Cult of a revolutionary leader are:
1) It encourages idealist thought. (Is it necessary to say specifically?)
2) It introduces individualism. (It introduces a belief that any great deed would take place by means of a great individual. It glorifies only one individual; it ignores others who are qualified and thereby destroys collective spirit.)
3) It leads to factionalism. (It creates feelings of jealousy among other leaders, make them start their own cult at some level to the extent possible and thereby destroys team spirit.)
4) It alienates the leader from the masses. (It presents the leader not as someone who studies the life of people and learn from social facts but as a great knowledgeable person. A leader who reaches such a stage would become ineligible to lead people amid social conditions.)
5) It helps revisionists. (It does not help the development of people’s knowledge. Moreover, it weakens revolutionary line by offering ignorance and thereby it strengthens revisionism.)
The following are the reasons for
continuation of Personality Cult of their leader for some years on a large
scale under the auspices of the revolutionary line in a ‘socialist’ country
1) Continuation of bourgeois relations in the economic base of society. (Bourgeois relations give scope for bourgeois-feudal practices.)
long feudal past of
4) The Personal weakness of the individual leader (surrender to worship).
The situation would have been different if the last mentioned reason was absent. It is because: when a leader is inclined to his Cult, the other three reasons encourages him. But when he does not like Personality Cult, those reasons will not stand as hurdles. Those reasons will not compel him thus, ‘You must accept your Personality Cult’. Practising Personality Cult does not lie under the control of the person who would like to have it (since he needs people who carry on it) but rejecting the Personality Cult lies in the hands of the person who does not like to have it. When society really transforms into socialist, the basis that encourages cult also changes (there won’t be people who carry on it) and hence the desire to have cult will also be absent. Even if a person has the desire, it is not possible for him to have it. This means, the main reason for the absence of Personality Cult in a really Socialist society is the ‘economic’ foundations of that society. But, in a society which has not yet transformed into socialist, aversion of an individual to Personality Cult will be the main reason.
The main reason for Stalin’s cult was Stalin’s weakness and the main reason for Mao’s cult was Mao’s weakness. For example, Lenin. Lenin too lived in a society which favoured Personality Cult. Lenin too was in minority in the party on some occasions. Lenin too lived amidst revisionism and terrible civil war. But, he did not imagine Personality Cult as a solution to any problem. Had Stalin or Mao followed such socialist practice, their Personality Cult would not have emerged. If the present day revolutionaries cannot arrive at the conclusion that Stalin and Mao committed mistakes in this regard, the future revolutionaries will surely arrive at the conclusion that the present-day revolutionaries committed mistakes. History does not pardon any mistakes of any person. It rejects mistakes and accepts only right things. Only right things are eligible to walk into the future.
To criticise a leader in one aspect does not mean total rejection of his contributions. It is not a crime to question and criticise a leader.
After the death of a leader his followers will be responsible to the positive and negative aspects of that leader. If we do not own the mistakes and faults of our leader and make a self-criticism, our enemies will expose those mistakes. The purpose of self-criticism is not to admit mistakes ritualistically before the enemy exposed us. We must make self-criticism truthfully and wholeheartedly.
We should never fear that we will appear weak before our enemies because of our criticism of our leaders. Instead of becoming weak we will become strong due to self-criticism. Our line becomes stronger if we realise and rectify our mistakes. If revolutionaries leave the wrong path and enter the right path, it will weaken the enemy. As the consciousness of revolutionaries develops, the strength of revisionists declines. If we prevent theoretical knowledge from reaching the people with a false understanding, it will cause terrible harm to the cause of revolution.
The Chinese revisionists had started a long time ago criticising Mao’s Personality Cult. Their intention was to point out Mao’s Cult as a pretext and attack Mao’s politics. Our intention is not that. Our aim is to avoid repetition of past mistakes and follow Mao’s politics more appropriately. The criticism by revisionists and the criticism by revolutionaries do not have the same objective.
The revolutionaries must attempt to develop the revolutionary line in respect of each and every issue.
It will be very enlightening to see what Marx had said on the question of ‘Personality Cult’, which has become a point of discussion for us.
In his letter to Wilhelm Blos, Marx wrote (on
[Translation from Telugu: B.R.Bapuji]
* This article is based on a long foot-note which the
writer provided to the Telugu version of Charles Bettelheim’s
book ‘China Since Mao’ under the title ‘Chinalo Emjarugutondi?’ (What is
Bettelheim, Charles. 1978.
Daubier, Jean. A History of the Chinese Cultural
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Hoxha, E. Reflections on
––. The Khruchevites. Momoirs. Tirana: The "8 Nentori" Publishing House, 1980.
Lin Piao. Speeches and Instructions of Lin Piao, 1966-1967. Chinese Law and Government. Spring 1973/Vol. VI. No.1.
Maria Antonietta. Daily Life in
Marx & Engels. Selected
Rice, E.E, Mao's Way.
Snow, E. The Long Revolution.
Van Ginnekan, J. The Rise and Fall of Lin Piao. Penguin, 1976.
[FRONTIER, Autumn Number 2006]