When Stalinism is a Good Thing

The birth of modern science in the 19th century allowed the emergence of the modern state. Previously, the state could only spend extracted wealth in two ways:

  • Consumption by elites
  • Fighting other states
  • Charity

The evolutionary consequences of these actions have been described by Greg Clark in his history, A Farewell to Alms. In the context of generations, it was not obvious which of these is the best strategy. Pre-scientific production methods meant that the population would equal a land’s carrying capacity, adjusted for hygiene.  Thus, luxuries and wars that reduced the number of people through starvation and death lead to an increase in quality of life, as the society’s essentially fixed resources were shared by fewer people. Conversely, charity lead to an increase in the population, leading to greater misery among more people.

In this pre-scientific, zero-sum world, people still competed for power — two stable solutions seem to have been found. The first involved monopolizing trade routes, allowing a small but technologically advanced population to live in significant comfort. The Mongol, Dutch, English, and Americans were examples of this strategy. The second involved monopolizing access to land, allowing an even smaller but powerful elite to live off the taxes extracted from a larger, and more miserable, population. The Habsburg dynasties of Europe, and the Han of China, tended toward this solution.

The Scientific management of the economy was a breakthrough, new way of organizing a country, in which a rational allocation of resources would lead to economic growth. Public education rapidly spread this method, and by the early twentieth centuries the bureaucratic power needed to fix this solution had become ingrained in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, and (through educated and westernized bureaucratic elites) most countries in the world. New Deal Liberalism, Socialism, Fascism, Aryanism, and Communism were all modern ideologies that assumed a scientific approach toward growth.

The last significant attempt to turn back this tide began in 1966, during Mao’s launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR),  in which he purposefully destroyed the Party and State apparati which gave him scientific control over his country, and tried to turn back the hands of history.

The part of the CR that puzzled me when I called it “insane” was that nearly all obvious political objectives were achieved immediately. The President, the head of the military, the Party Chairman, the Mayor and Vice-Mayor of Beijing — the entire faction that had attempted to minimize Mao’s influence as a result of the Great Leap Forward were kicked out of power within a year.

If Mao had taken notes of Stalin’s purges, if he had instituted a scientific approach to terror, the history of the Cultural Revolution would have been radically better. Stalin went about rationally eliminating political groups he posed a threat to him — the Old Bolsheviks, the Trotskites, the Kulaks, the Generals, etc. By comparison, among Mao’s enemies were medicine, engineering, and Chinese characters.

While in Russian history Soviet Gigantism is a soulless epoch of architecture, in Chinese history it is a rare moment of sane civil planning. Gigantic public works assume that one is able to rationally control forces of nature through the application of mathematics.

The question is not one of power-maximization v. polity service. Indeed, I doubt Mao and Chiang Kaishek (CKS) would disagree with Louis XIV that “l’etat cest moi,” and see the dichotomy as an artificial one. Rather, Mao and CKS rejected rational planning, the strategic offense, the engaged executive, and other universal aspects of western management as foreign.

Mao and CKS only had exposure to Stalin as a source of funding, organizational support, and/or adversary. From 1921 to about 1945, the USSR was consistently more pro-KMT than the United States. It was the next generation of leadership — and in particular the Returned Students such as Deng Xiaoping and Chiang Chingkuo (CCK) — that actually were educated in a Stalinist system. Deng and CCK would exhibit a degree of rational inhumanity that was completely beyond Mao and CKS’s reach. A good example is political prisoners:

  1. Upon his accession to supreme power, Deng began a general amnesty that freed a variety of “class enemies,” including surviving officials of the pro-Japanese Collaborationist Government, KMT officials, East Turkestani officials, and Tibetan franc tirerus, but not supporters of Lin Biao. Thus, actual, unreformed enemies of the state were granted freedom, though heroes of the revolution whose only crime was to stop Mao at a time that Deng himself was in internal exile were kept in prison.
  2. Following (1), CCK denied applications for political asylum but active KMT members who were released from Custody by Deng, and censored an ailing CKS’s mails to prevent him from receiving petitions. However, CCK’s own protege Lee Tenghui had been a member of the Chinese Communist Party and had joined out of a “hatred of the KMT.” Thus, while the KMT hierarchy was composed of former Communist cell members, KMT political prisoners were forced to live either in China or in Hong Kong (if they could evade Crown border security).

I am not aware of CKS or Mao acting in such a Stalinist manner. Both men were stylized as Emperors — both were hailed with “Ten Thousand Years!” a public display of personal immortality that makes Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich seem humble by comparison. Stalin, Hitler, and for that matter Deng and CCK, shared an essentially mechanical and modern view of history. They are recognizably 20th century figures, and would be profoundly out of place in the 12 century. Mao and CKS both would have been happier in that world.

A last comment on purges: Mao’s purges differed greatly from Stalin’s in that (a) they were completed almost immediately, (b) outside the judicial system, (c) without blood. Removing any official was easy — Mao would ‘suggest’ they issue a self-criticism outlining their ‘mistakes’ (not crimes, mistakes), at which time the party would issue a censor, either a temporary reassignment or (at an extreme) stripping of party membership. Stalin’s victims would have greatly preferred this treatment!

The “craziness,” — that is the rational anti-modernism — of the CR was the targeted destruction on modern tools of state power. The Communist Party and People’s Republic were abolished as administrative entities, and the resulting ad hoc Red Guard committees were themselves banished to the countryside. One cannot imagine Hitler simultaneously destroying both the Reich and the Nazi Party, as we would expect him to somehow be acting in a modernist fashion, executing a rational plan with the expectation that his power would be greater at the end. Mao did not believe in western notions of planning or control, and attempted to eradicate the means of doing either. This is not unique to him — the Empress Dowager launched an almost identical campaign against her government that was known to the world as the Boxer Rebellion.

Taiwan, in contrast, benefited from the filial piety of the Chiang family. It was expected that CCK would be loyal to his father, and that CKS would transfer his power to his son as part of his inheritance. Thus, as conditions changed between generations, CCK was able to harness elements of power that CKS would not have had patience for (that is, planning and control).

An almost identical transition occurred between the Kangxi Emperor and his father, the Shunzhi Emperor, in the 17th century. In that case, filial piety allowed the Manchus to transition from a kinship-based tribal kingdom to a national-based Imperial elite. Similarly, the Chiang’s filial piety allowed the KMT to transition from a national-level government of warlords to an island-level Leninist state.

Stalinism killed ten million people in the Soviet Union. It may have been marginally worse than Nazi rule of eastern Europe. However, as a scientific ideology, it was infinitely better than the dead and violent end of Mao Zedong Thought.

The Affordances of Domestic Terror

There never
seems to be a surface equal
to the needs of these people.

Curtis has an excellent post that ruminates on two discussion threads here at tdaxp – -”New York Times: Joe Stack was Right” and “A Question for Joseph Stack.” In general I agree with Curtis’s take.

The situation becomes much more interesting if the next attack against Tim Geithner’s Treasury Department is conducted by a reader of Daily Kos or Fire Dog Lake.

Review of “The Generalissimo’s Son: Chiang Ching-kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan” by Jay Taylor

In The Microsoft Way, historian Randall Stross argues that the market for IBM-compatible PC software in the 1980s and 1990s was contested by two competent companies, Microsoft and Inuit, and a train load of incompetent competitors. While most entrants to that market got lucky once or twice, and rode that cash cow as long as it could, Microsoft and Intuit were able to execute short-term tactics and long-term strategies. If such a view can be transplated to Chinese history, the Chinese Civil War was a multi-way battle with a large number of incompetent, violent and lucky competitors, and three factions actually capable of both winning and ruling

The Returned Students

The Whampoa Clique

The Youth Corps

In this view of history, the fight for China was not between Chiang Kaishek and Mao Zedong, two lucky competitors, but by these three interlocking factions which used allegience to Chiang or Mao as a way of deflecting charges of ambition. The first of these three factions, the Returned Students, were those who had earned a Continental education in the west, either from a study-abroad program in France or from Sun Yatsen University in Moscow. The second of these factions, the Whampoa Clique, where those who were faculty or students at the “West Point of China,” the Whampoa Military Academy in Canton City. The third of these factions, the Youth Corp, established as a cannibalizing agent, “in but not of” the KMT.

These three factions overlapped. Zhou Enlai, Mao’s second-in-command, was a Returned Student who taught at Whampoa. Chiang Chingkuo, Chiang’s second-in-command after the relocation to Taiwan, was a Returned student who was the Vice Chairman of the Youth Corps.  These factions even overlap with my own life — my wife’s grandfather studied at Whampoa.

These three factions, like Microsoft and Intuit, shared a focus on a high-quality work force. The active members of these three organizations during their youth were young men who wanted to make a difference and despised corruption. It is easy to forget that Zhou Enlai was only 30 when he met a much younger Chiang Chingkuo in Moscow, and told him to tone down his criticizing   father, because it was unbecoming of a son. It is easy to forget that Lin Biao was only 27 during the Long March. It is even easier not to know that Ching Chungkuo, as director of Taiwan’s security services, warned Zhou Enlai of an upcoming attempt on his life — and that Zhou Enlai seemingly did not inform Mao of this. While most factions in the civil war — the Kwantung Army, the Left KMT, the Chinese Nationalist Army, and others were to varying extents patriots of their cause, only these three were able to generate the high internal cohesion among young men required to revolutionary China.

My first reaction on reading The Generalissimo’s Son: Chiang Ching-kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan was that the 20th century was simply one long tragedy. So easily, so many things could have gone so much better. What if Chiang had given Zhou Enlai the freedom at Whampoa that he later gave that other Communist, Chiang Ching-kuo? What if General Stillwell, who despised Chiang and helped lead American public opinion against the KMT, and met the up-and-coming Chingkuo (who substantively agreed with him on every important issue)? What if, what if?

But to do so, I think, ignores the utter chaos that befell China twice: after the fall of the Benedict Arnold of China, and after the Japanese Invasion.While a unified front would have been better, the emergence of three competent factions (composing a total of, say 100 able individuals) was a miracle in itself. That the old men of the east were stuck in the poetic worlds of Confucius and the Water Margin, and thus their attempts to modernize China were poisoned by a lethal dose of corruption and internal violence, is perhaps not as notable as the men they had around them.

The difference between Kaishek and Zedong was not their military strategy (both were adherents of the Strategic Retreat), their cosmology (Mao famously scored Zero Points on the mathematics portion of his college entrance exam; Chiang Kaishek famously expressed astonishment that Burma had a rainy season that would interfer with military operations), their management style (“working toward the Chairman,” allowing them to capture all glory and escape all blame), or their willingness to betray their followers. Rather, the difference was this: Chiang was capable of trust, Mao was not. As they reached the age when succession planning became increasingly important: Chiang turned Taiwan over to the men of the Youth Corps.  Mao turned on the Returned Students and the Whampoa Clique in a holocaust of violence.

Sun Yatsen, the (theoretically) Hawaiian-born first President of China, had this has his political motto: That a government of the people, by the people, and for the people should be established in China. Through this Youth Corps, Taiwan finally realized these Three People’s Principles through the integration of the Mainland and Taiwanese political elites, economic development, and last through democracy. A government “by the people” was established on Taiwan in stages, from the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, the legalization of a free press in 1988, the first fair elections to the Legislative Yuan in 1992, the first direct Presidential election in 1996, the first election of an opposition President in 2000, and the democratic return to power of the previously ruling party in 2008. Perhaps China, now firmly ruled by those given positions by the Returned Students and the Whampoa Clique, will soon begin on this last, trickiest path.

Jay Taylor’s The Generalissimo’s Son: Chiang Ching-kuo and the Revolutions in China and Taiwan is an excellent book, and a worthy “prequel” to Taylor’s more recent book, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China. But just as that book does not stand alone, this does not either. Taylor’s biography of Kaishek should be read with Tuchman’s biography of General Stillwell, as otherwise the public declarations of America’s general in China that, if he were a young man, he would grab a gun and fight for Mao is inexplicable. In the same way, Taylor’s biography of Chingkuo must be read with Gao’s Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary to understand that the Youth Corps’ true competitors were not the incompetent and lucky, like the Soong Dynasty and the C-C Clique, but those on the other side of the Straits — the Returned Students and the Whampoa Clique.

The Microsoft-Intuit battle very nearly ended in 1995, after the leadership of the Microsoft and Intuit cliques agreed to a cash-and-stock buyout of Intuit by Microsoft. This was only averted through direct U.S. Government actions. The parallels to the possible near future are striking.

China News

United States Taiwan Defense Command has to be the coolest military-related website, ever.

An unclassified DIA report was released last month on the military of the Republic of China on Taiwan. In related news, the USS Nimitz visited Hong Kong, as the Google-China spat blows over.

The formula “The Republic of China on Taiwan” is back in vogue again, following the KMT’s recent election victory. The previous government preferred The Republic of China (Taiwan). Adoption of this change in formula varies by office. The Information Office is “Government Information Office, Republic of China,” while the Diplomatic Missions is “Portal of Republic of China (Taiwan) Diplomatic Missions

Whatever you call it, Taiwan is now a thriving democracy, which means embarrassing Presidential by-elections, critical election movies, and all the other fun of a modern, democratic society.

Obama’s America, the Good and the Bad

To the extent that the current American economy is in crisis, it is one with the productive forces of the economy (businessmen, scientists, engineers, and so on) have been consistently attacked by the parasitic forces (speculators and politicians). Now, given our Republican form of government, these parasitic forces play a useful role: they prevent the government from adopting the sort of coherent policies that could lead to the elimination of the productive forces. Still, the parasites make us worse off.

Our situation compares unfavorable to the People’s Republic of China, which instead of giving billions to the Oligarchs, is opting out of the worldwide recession through massive investment. This is especially bad, considering all the areas where we could invest (instead of simply spending billions rewarding those who supported Obama). We could develop complex new drugs, investigate subtle genetic associations, expand our knowledge of space, or of race, and supporting nuclear energy.

Indeed, we waste billions on banks, but arrest Americans who refuse to turn their homes over to front companies of the federal government. Obama’s policy of Lemon Socialism is turning homeowners into criminals while giving actual criminals billions.

As Judge Rakoff said, this is all half-baked justice at best.

Fortunately, we are not completely adrift under Obama. Private space exploration continues, high-tech industrial collaboration with China moves ahead . And it must be said that under Obama, Bush’s unprecedented attack on our existing public education system has only gained strength, Brookhaven National Lab is heating atoms to four trillian degrees celsius, video game weapons are in development, Western Digital is conquering quantum space so you will never need to delete an episode of LOST again, Google builds futuristic AI models, and Microsoft expands from just Office and Windows to amazing online services.

In other areas the parasites seem only able to slow down progress, as Google once again tries to digitize our literary past, record companies delete legitimate blogs, lawyers sue companies for not having a politically correct workforce, and the FDA slows down approval of generics.

Academic Badness

Amy Bishop, besides gunning down her fellow faculty, is also accused of killing her brother, not updating her research plan, has an IQ of 180, protected by her sex and class, a geek, and arrogant.

Clearly, killing your co-workers is not a way to win friends!

So far, no one has accused her of being a cheater, a plagiarist, or stupid.

She taught in the best academic environment in the world, one where the form of production is structured conversation.

And she threw that away by murder.