Prof. M.L. Sondhi

Nagpur Times, Oct. 14, The Mail, Oct. 17, Navhind, Oct. 19, 1975

Recent news despatches from Peking pose the question whether, from the standpoint of the main political forces in Communist China, we are already in the post-Mao period.  Although it is difficult to prophesy how long Mr. Mao Tse-tung will continue to be the reference point of Chinese ideological conformity, a tentative analysis can be offered of the disintegrative elements which are leading to the inexorable dismantling of the structure and balance of power which Mao as the idolised leader could reinforce with revolutionary ardour.  The issue may be discussed under five heads:

 Chou’s Absence

  1. Is Mr. Chou En-lai’s absence from the State banquet on the Chinese National Day and his inability to arrange even a brief interview with Mr. Edward Heath an embarrassing reminder that the higher echelons of the Party are in a state of tension?

  2. Will Mr. Teng-Hsiao-ping, who owes his rehabilitation to Mr. Chou En-lai and who “represented” the Chinese Premier at the National Day banquet, succeed in ridding the party apparatus of elements of discord who regard his own views as heretical and will continue to challenge his authority?

  3. In the absence of Mr. Chou En-lai and his skilful political and organisation abilities, will Chairman Mao’s own position remain impregnable in the face of a marked lack of self-restraint on the part of rival forces in the trade unions, the party and the armed forces?

  4. With the impairment of Mr. Mao Tse-tung’s capacity to participate in the glitter of the international spotlight (witness the contrast between the Chairman’s contacts with the outside world executed with great poise and dignity, the Nixon visit, and the pale and unexciting glimpse of the Mao-Heath meting), will the Chairman’s ideological propaganda in the Third World revolution become apathetic and uninspiring?

  5. Will the contradictory requirements of the actional groupings in the Chinese Communist Party lead to a go-slow on the continuing dialogue between Peking and Washington, and at the same time rule out a normalisation of relations with Moscow for which the big initiative can only be taken by another supreme arbiter of ideology and power – another Mao?

Mr. Mao Tse-tung’s leadership role in China was greatly strengthened by his two essays “On Practice” and “On Contradiction”, and many intra-party factions coalesced around his vision of perpetual struggle.  Mao’s anarchistic contribution to imported Marxism has, however, been a major obstacle to the institutionalisation of political behaviour. The Maoist elite does not possess a set of normative rules for the resolution of factional conflicts.

The legitimisation of authority has had as its source the honorific propaganda given to Mao’s theoretical genius.  The ephemeral role of any normative rules in the short shrift received by both Liu-Shao-chi and Lin Piao does not only point to the lack of an essential political skill in Maoist politics; it also shows two significant episodes as parodies reflecting the hierarchical context of China with its lack of meaningful party solidarity.

Mr. Chou En-lai’s characteristic “realism” and his diplomatic qualities of moderation and expediency have helped to solve awkward political problems not only in foreign policy but in the important field of dissent-management and control on the domestic front.  Chou’s emphasis on practical decision-making rather than doctrinal obsessions was pivotal in providing political insurance against the elements of fantasy articulated in the demands of people like Mao’s wife, Chiang Ch’ing or the blandishments of a glorious revolutionary future on the part of Wang Hung-wen.  With the “withering away” of this source of political insurance, the anarchistic propensities of the Maoist regime may spring into action with a grave weakening of the ranks of the party.

In the current atmosphere of ping-pong diplomacy, wishful thinking has replaced analysis on the part of several well-known experts of Chinese political society in western countries.  These writers maintain that there is a solid brickwork of Maoism in the face of mounting evidence that Chinese leadership is facing inexorable disintegration.  By ignoring the tides and currents of disruptive forces in China they have developed an iron framework in which their historical understanding is based on the immortality of Mao.

 Mao’s Failure

The plain fact is that the internecine struggle for power in the Chinese Communist Party will sharpen now that Mr. Chou En-lai can no longer be regarded as the “natural” successor to the octogenarian Mao.  If the supreme arbiter of ideology had stepped down when Chou Teh, Chou En-lai or even Lin Piao had been in a position to remould the structure and balance of power within the party to achieve coherence and rational order, the prospects for institutionalisation of factions in the Chinese Communist Party and for developing a political willingness to resolve conflicts non-violently would have vastly improved.  Teng Hsiao-ping is singularly unqualified to play the leadership role of dissent-management in the party.

Chairman Mao Tse-tung has severely limited opportunities for political manoeuvring against the outflanking devices being used by those who pay verbal tributes to his theoretical innovations but are plotting crude violence as the means to succession in the higher echelons of the party and Government.  Mao’s plans to transform the Chinese Man have failed in their objective because, although he is the symbol of the age for the 800 million Chinese, he has himself sapped the foundations of his country’s political structure.  He has failed to solve the contradiction inherent in his own leadership succession and is now eking out an existence during which his vast moral and political power is not being channelled in any discernible way.

The most significant thing about China’s Third World orientation is that Mao Tse-tung personally carried out with marked intensity his summit diplomacy with Asian, African and Latin American leaders.  His legendary personality has fulfilled the role of a champion of the interests of the Third World mainly because he has the image of a charismatic revolutionary.  By contrast any of his successors in Third World diplomacy would find it difficult to use ritualistic phrases without inducing a somnolent repose in his Third World visitors.

The Big Two

It is difficult to believe that the ensuing factional struggle in China, and the fact that Chau En-lai has to keep completely aloof from the major diplomatic efforts, will not have a negative effect on the much-heralded Sino-American rapprochement.  A climate of uncertainty has been created, and in the difficult times ahead there may be signs of mounting concern in both Washington and Peking. Ambivalence, which was a help with Chou En-lai as the foreign policy helmsman, may turn out to be highly disruptive in the case of unresolved issues with policymakers not inclined to compromise and adjust.

It is hard to see an innovative change in Sino-Soviet relations while the possibility of further exacerbation of polemics between Moscow and Peking appears to be a real one.  Those who will take the place of giantsized leaders like Mao and Chou will hardly have the opportunity to develop a consensus to create opportunities for Chinese diplomacy by giving up anti-Sovietism.  Such moves would make them fearful for their own survival.

Indian decision-makers must set themselves the task of discerning the basic features of the post-Mao era.  There is an important and continuous relationship between domestic and foreign policy.  There is no simple formula for tackling the outstanding issues between New Delhi and Peking.  India must keep in mind the chronology of Peking’s coercive actions against the Tibetans and the infringement of friendly relations with India.  At the same time India must make every effort to discover Chinese motives and intentions to discover the scope for further developments towards peace.

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