By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Alexander V. Patsov, Steven I. Levine
Narration by: George Backman
Mao Zedong is said to have written–one must find truth from facts. The authors of “Deng Xiaoping” infer that Mao’s aphorism is institutionalized by his thrice demoted follower, Deng Xiaoping. Deng becomes the eventual supreme leader of the Chinese communist party. As shown in this biography, Deng’s truth is drawn from Deng’s selected facts. Deng’s pragmatism leads to the meteoric rise of China’s economy after the Cultural Revolution.
Alexander Patsov’s and Steven Levine’s research and writing supports an argument that Deng Xiaoping changes the course of the Chinese revolution by pragmatically applying the aphorism of “truth from facts”. Deng Xiaoping’s leadership quadruples the gross national product of China in a twenty year period from 1980 to 2000.
Though the authors offer great insight to Deng’s role in China, the deaths consequent to Communism’s rise to power, and Deng’s participation in those deaths, are glossed over. With the exception of Tiananmen Square and the brutalization of Deng’s family, the horror of the Communist Revolution is treated clinically rather than literally. Aside from the brutal part of China’s twentieth century history, this biography is a revelation to the uninformed.
Deng is largely educated in Paris at a time when communism is aligned with a utopian belief in collectivism. He joins the European Communist Party Youth League in 1921. In 1924, he joins the Chinese Communist Party. Deng comes from a mid-level bourgeois land owner class but gravitates to a group of friends studying Marxism in Paris. He begins a life-long friendship with Zhou Enlai. Deng is among the youngest of the group.
Deng’s education in France is interrupted by work because of necessity. He needed to make money to live. After exposure to communist philosophy in Paris, Deng returns to China. After joining the Communist Party, he leaves for the Soviet Union to broaden his understanding of Marxist/Leninist communism.
Three factions are fighting to control China’s destiny. The Kuomintang (KMT) supports a form of Nationalist Communism founded by Sun Yat-Sen. Chiang Kai-shek, the pre-communist leader of China, resists the KMT and forcibly removes KMT leadership from their base of operations in Feng Yuxiang. Deng joins a third faction; i.e. Mao’s version of communism. In the course of time, Mao recognizes Deng for his consummate organizational skill; and more importantly, Deng’s flexible and pragmatic approach to gaining control of the Chinese proletariat; e.g. the poor, disenfranchised, and uneducated.
Deng, like Stalin for Lenin, became the “go-to” person for Mao. Patsov and Levine infer that flexible interpretation of communism becomes the guiding non-principled light by which Mao consolidates power. Mao creates an army of misfits (peasants, criminals, and the poor) to fight a guerrilla war that strikes and retreats to weaken the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. One of this armies most competent leaders is Deng Xiaoping.
Deng rises to power and influence as a result of his pragmatic interpretation of communism; ironically, that pragmatism is the cause of Deng’s fall from Mao’s grace. Mao never loses sight of Deng’s value to the revolution but demotes him and indirectly punishes Deng’s children for allowing a form of capitalism to creep into the communist movement.
Chiang Kai-shek is defeated and exiled but the new government-run by Mao is split between left leaning nationalists and right leaning pragmatists. The left leaning nationalists are supported directly by Mao’s third wife and indirectly by Mao’s surreptitious intervention. The Cultural Revolution is, in part, a reaction to Deng’s follower’s effort to liberalize communal ownership of land.
Mao recognizes agricultural and industrial production is not meeting its goals and is in decline because of collectivist failures. With whispered innuendo from aides and Mao’s wife’s direct interference, Mao’s paranoia about challenges to his leadership leads to a movement that compels the educated and wealthy to reverse roles. This is the beginning of the Cultural Revolution that returns the educated and elite to farms and industries as laborers. Mao’s intent is to bolster the economy and re-educate the privileged on the importance of collectivism and the role of the proletariat.
In time, the Cultural Revolution is recognized as a mistake. Mao resurrects Deng’s power and influence as a representative of a faction of the Communist Party; i.e. the faction of pragmatic capitalism. However, the right-wing nationalist remain a strong influence on Mao. As Mao nears death, he chooses a successor, Hua Guofeng, who is meant to bridge the differences of the two factions. Patsov and Levine explain Hua is not a great leader but his low profile makes him acceptable to the dominant factions of the communist party.
The nationalist faction becomes known as “The Gang of Four”. They are vehemently opposed to Deng’s view of communism because it allows self-determination to peasant farmers and industrial co-ops for control of production. Deng argues that China’s per-capita income is too low; starving the proletariat population with excessive collectivization that devalues and de-motivates labor. Mao dies, and “The Gang of Four” is arrested and convicted. Deng’s family is reinstated and Deng eventually becomes the new leader of China.
“Deng Xiaoping” is a worthy listen. It is long but needs length to offer its nuanced view of Deng Xiaoping and where China is heading. In a world of capitalist countries, China’s capitalism is, in some respects, a distinction without a difference. China suffers from the same greed and corruption that all capitalist countries succumb to when freedom of the individual takes precedence over freedom of the public. The fundamental difference among capitalist countries lies in democracy; and the question of who gets to decide on a nation’s direction.