Lin Biao as barometer
The question of Lin Biao is not simply a question of whether Mao’s appointed successor attempted a coup or not. It is not simply as issue of adding or subtracting another head to the pantheon of revolutionary heroes. Two approaches confront each other in the question of Lin Biao. On the one hand, there is the approach of the orthodox Maoists, a dogmatic, metaphysical approach to history. On the other hand, there is the materialist, scientific, Leading Light Communist approach to history. However, it is a mistake to think the issue is merely one of our attitude toward history. It is not simply a question of historical method because dogmatism in one area is often reflective of a general dogmatism. The rejection of science in one area is usually a symptom of a bigger problem, the rejection of science generally. Those organizations that cling to a dogmatic assessment of Lin Biao as a villain, even when presented with evidence to the contrary, are not scientific organizations. Leading Light Communism is about advancing and elevating science across the board. It is not just Maoism with an updated, more scientific, “Third Worldist” political economy. The errors of First Worldist economics go hand-in-hand with a dogmatic approach to socialism and its history. Dogmatism in theory goes hand-in-hand with dogmatism in practice. The First Worldist errors of the Maoist and Marxist-Leninist movements are merely symptoms of much deeper epistemological errors. How a movement approaches history, how it regards Lin Biao, is one of many barometers by which we can assess its scientific merits as a whole.
The Maoist revolution in China definitively went off course in the 1970s. It was in the 1970s that Chinese domestic policy and foreign policy shifted rightward into revisionism. To understand why this happened, it is necessary to understand the earlier Maoist offensive, the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution arose because Mao had lost power within the official Party. After the problems of the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961, Mao and the Maoists had come under criticism. The Maoists had been removed from their ability to control day-to-day operations of the Party and state. Even so, the Maoists still had solid control of one institution. Mao’s close ally since the Long March, Lin Biao, headed up the People’s Liberation Army. Since the late 1950s, even before the Cultural Revolution officially began, Lin Biao began transforming the army into a “great school of Mao Zedong Thought.” Throughout the 1960s, Lin Biao turned the military into a Maoist base. Since the Maoists had lost power within the Party, the Maoist military under Lin Biao began to function as a kind of Maoist dual power that challenged the revisionist-dominated Party. When the Party would not widely disseminate Mao’s polemics against revisionism, the army press did. When the Party held a conference to reaffirm liberal, traditionalist, and nationalist art and culture, the army held a rival conference to reaffirm its own Maoist line, its own conference to challenge liberalism, traditionalism, and nationalism. The Party had its education and ideological policies, the army asserted its own in contradiction to the Party’s.
Mao also bypassed the Party by making direct appeals to the masses to rise up. Mao used his popularity, his cult of personality, to mobilize students to become activists, to become Red Guards. Rebel workers also heeded Mao’s call to take to the streets against the revisionists who had usurped power within the Party and state. As the masses rose up, Lin Biao’s military functioned as a kind of Maoist praetorian guard. The military, at least the central military under Maoist control, created a protective bubble that allowed the masses to seize power from local and national authorities. The Maoist military pointed its guns away from the masses. It turned its guns toward those who would suppress the Maoist movements, even when this resulted in infighting between different parts of the military as happened in July 1967 when General Chen Zaidao had to be removed by the central military after he suppressed the local Maoists in Wuhan. Even with the infighting, there were many victories. Revisionist Chairman of State Liu Shaoqi, Mao’s main rival, had fallen. Capitalist-roader Deng Xiaoping too was deposed, but Mao intervened to stop him from being purged from the Party. The Adverse Current that had opposed the Cultural Revolution lost power. Even with these victories, more and more, the mass movements devolved into sectarian infighting and chaos. The independent, spontaneous mass movements were ended from mid-1967 into 1968 with Mao’s help. Students went back to school or went to the countryside. Rebel workers went back to work. Many Maoist mass movement leaders were purged for excesses. Many famous mass leaders like Wang Li ended up in prison. Campaigns like “Put the Working Class in Command of Everything,” “Purify the Class Ranks,” and campaign against the alleged May 16th Corps were used to reassert central Maoist control over the mass movements. The reorganization of power using “Three-in-one committees” resulted in the mass movements being sidelined. Even so, the Maoist wing of the official Party, represented by Mao, and the Maoist wing of the military, represented by Lin Biao, emerged more powerful than ever at the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party in April of 1969. Lin Biao, who was described as “Mao’s best student,” “Mao’s closest comrade-in-arms,” “China’s greatest general,” was written into the Party Constitution as Mao’s official successor. China’s masses sung “Long Live Chairman Mao and good health to Vice-chairman Lin!” The Ninth Congress was seen as the culmination and end of the Cultural Revolution. After the peak of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1969, after the purge of the Party, after all this political victory for the Maoists, the question arose: what is to be done? Those around Lin Biao sought to launch another massive leftist offensive. However, Mao pushed a more conservative, rightist line. Eventually, this line struggle resulted in the fall of Lin Biao. To understand the evolution of conflict, it is necessary to look at the evolution of Maoist and revisionist politics.
The Cultural Revolution was a result of a conflict between two factions within the Chinese power structure. These factions consolidated and aligned as factions during and after the Great Leap Forward. The problems that resulted during the Great Leap years were blamed on the Maoists. The failure of the Great Leap Forward was perceived to be the failure of Maoist economics. It was seen as the failure of the Maoist instruction to “put politics in command,” the idea that class struggle and ideology were more important than economic development considered alone, that class struggle and ideology were key to economic development. The revisionists favored a mix of traditional, capitalist liberalization and Soviet-revisionist economic models. After the Great Leap Forward, the Maoists were weakened. Class and ideological struggle were de-emphasized. Eventually, a compromise was reached between the revisionists and the Maoists that took the control of the economy out of the hands of the Maoists. Mao was to be a kind of spiritual leader of the revolution and Liu Shaoqi was to run the bureaucracy of power, the state and economy. Even though Mao was suppose to retain his influence in ideological matters, the reality is that the Maoists began to lose their power in other areas such as media, culture, and propaganda. Since the original struggle between Maoists and revisionists emerged over different views of the economy during the Great Leap Forward, it made since that following the power struggles of the Cultural Revolution, there would be an attempt to re-focus on the economy. In addition, as a result of the chaos of the mass movements during the Cultural Revolution, the collective economy had broken down in some places. Individual and familial production had returned along with free markets in some of the provinces. The effort to turn the Cultural Revolution into a leftist reorganization of the economy was most closely associated with Chen Boda and Lin Biao. The effort for a new collectivization campaign along Maoist lines began to take off in those provinces where Lin Biao’s military was strongest. Just as the Great Leap Forward began outside official Party channels, so too did this new “Flying Leap.”
“The Flying Leap” was an unofficial term that began to be used in the provinces. It aimed to gather steam and eventually become national policy, just as the Great Leap Forward had a decade before. The Flying Leap was a military-led collectivization campaign that existed sporadically from 1968 to 1971. It was an attempt to re-impose Maoist policies on the economy, especially agriculture. Maoist policies, the Red Banners of the Great Leap, regained their importance during the Flying Leap. People’s Communes had gradually lost importance since the Great Leap as revisionists sought to de-collectivize the rural economy to smaller and smaller units as part of the restoration of capitalism. With the Flying Leap, People’s Communes were again rising as important centers of economic life. If the Great Leap Forward can be thought of as the first attempt to put the economy on a firm Maoist basis, the Flying Leap was the second. Differences existed between the Great Leap Forward and the Flying Leap. For example, the Maoists of the Flying Leap seemed to have thought that the People’s Communes, the unit of account of the Great Leap Forward, were too big. The smaller Production Brigade would now take on their role. In addition, the military would take on a bigger role in the economy, providing a greater level of discipline. Production was described in the terms of guerrilla struggle, “a people’s war until communism.” All the traditional elements of Maoism were present in the Flying Leap. Politics was to be in command, meaning more ideological campaigns and more class struggle, more purges of the rightists and revisionists. The Dazhai model in agriculture of sacrifice and self-sufficiency was promoted. Key to the success of the Maoist push in economics would be Maoist ideological and mobilization campaigns. Ideology and people power were too make up for lack of capital. A return to the spirit of the Long March and of Yan’an were promoted: altruism, sacrifice, serving the people. A guerrilla asceticism was to be extended to society as a whole. The cult of Mao and Lin Biao was promoted. All of society was to become of “great school of Mao Zedong Thought.” Again, there were discussions about actually making communism a reality. As it happens, the years of the Flying Leap were the most productive years of the so-called “Cultural Revolution decade,” economically speaking. The Flying Leap finally ended with Lin Biao’s mysterious death in September of 1971.
The Flying Leap ran into opposition from Mao himself, especially after the Ninth Congress in 1969. Mao feared two things. Firstly, Mao feared that the problems of the Great Leap Forward might be repeated, especially the famine and mismanagement. The failures of the Great Leap Forward had severely damaged Mao’s standing. As Mao was approaching the end of his life, he was more and more concerned about his legacy. Secondly, Mao feared that he would be sidelined as Lin Biao’s military gained more and more influence. Lin Biao’s military was already the strongest institution in the country. Instead of transforming the dual power that arose in the army into a new ruling organization to lead a new set of leftist campaigns, the Flying Leap, Mao sought to de-militarize society and power. The Flying Leap would have meant more power, especially economic power, to the Maoist military. When Mao attended Chen Yi’s funeral, it was a big signal that Mao was shifting rightward against Lin Biao. So, Mao began the process of rehabilitating those who had fallen during the Cultural Revolution as part of his rebuilding of the Party. Mao began bringing back old revisionists. He began to bring the Adverse Current back to power. This process eventually culminates in the loss of Maoist control of the military with the death of Lin Biao. Eventually, Deng Xiaoping himself, an unrepentant capitalist roader, is brought back in power by Mao in 1973.
In addition to be being associated with leftist domestic policies, Lin Biao was associated with support for Maoist militancy and people’s war in foreign policy. Lin Biao was behind Long Live the Victory of People’s War!, a short essay from 1965 that looked at global revolution through the lenses of people’s war. People’s wars all over the world were seen as part of a single process whereby the peoples of the poor countries of the global countryside freed themselves of the imperialists, the global city. The global countryside, once freed, would go on to cut off and surround the global city. Revolution in the global city would follow. The global revolution would follow a pattern similar to the Maoist people’s war in China, according to Lin Biao. This foreign policy places emphasis on encouraging and aiding rebellion, especially guerrilla struggles, across the world. Since Lin Biao’s policy was a kind of declaration of proletarian war against almost every regime in the world, it led to the diplomatic and economic isolation of China. This policy is one that places the interests of the international proletariat and its allies over the national interests of China. As a result, China became isolated internationally from existing states. Lin Biao’s policy was also connected to the belief that “revolution is the main trend in the world today,” as the Ninth Congress affirmed. Thus it was a kind of call for the masses everywhere to rise up and land blows to topple imperialism. It was a call on the masses everywhere to militarize their struggles, to launch people’s war. So inspired by Lin Biao’s line that some interpreted his line as implying that the willingness to wage people’s war was one of the main dividing lines between Marxism and revisionism.
Mao seems to have lost his confidence in the international proletariat as the 1970s progressed. He saw Lin Biao’s militant policy as a failure. As early as 1968, Mao had contacted deposed revisionists in order to develop an alternative policy. The new policy would be one that placed China’s nationalist, political interest over the interest of the global proletariat and people’s war. Mao also rejected the assessment of the global balance of forces in Lin Biao’s document. Lin Biao’s document places extreme confidence in the global masses. It identifies both the Western imperialists and the Soviet revisionists as enemies to be combated at once by the global proletariat. By contrast, Mao’s new foreign policy would identify the Soviet revisionists as the main enemy. More and more, China would ally itself with the West against the Soviet Union. This is why Mao did photo ops with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. It is why China was one of the first states to recognize the Pinochet regime diplomatically. It is the reason China allied with imperialists in Angola. It is why China allied with Pakistan and the West against Bangladesh. Over and over, Mao’s policy slid toward the West. In the 1960s Mao had criticized Khrushchev for his “peaceful coexistence” with the West. The Maoists claimed that by doing so, the Soviet revisionists had placed their nationalist, imperialist interest above that of the international proletariat. By the 1970s Mao had himself adopted a similar line. Mao’s international line in the 1970s had a devastating effect on the international communist movement. Maoist movements were discredited in many countries when Mao rejected Lin Biao’s international line.
It is well known that the Chinese Communist Party re-wrote its history depending on the political winds. When Lin Biao was toppled, he was smeared with all kinds of wild accusations. Yesterday’s heroes quickly became today’s villains. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Lin Biao was only second to Mao. Lin Biao was once represented as Mao’s greatest student, closest comrade-in-arms, China’s greatest general, etc. Within a period of weeks, in September of 1971, Lin Biao went from the archetype of the good Maoist to villain par excellence. He was accused with no serious evidence of launching a coup. With no real evidence, he was accused of being a secret Confucian, a reactionary, a Soviet agent, a fascist, a feudalist, etc. Lin Biao was a defendant in a posthumous show trial. The show trial used forged documents and false testimonies. The trail was so obviously bogus that it reportedly did not even convince the Chinese masses even though Lin Biao was afforded no defense. Today, whatever their opinion about Lin Biao the man, many Chinese reportedly view the official verdict against Lin Biao with great skepticism.
The orthodox Maoist narrative around Lin Biao is based on next to nothing. It is based on nothing more than flimsy articles from Beijing Review of the 1970s or books that simply repeat those flimsy articles. The orthodox Maoist approach does not examine any serious scholarly work done in the past decades. The orthodox Maoist approach does not look at any of the numerous first-hand accounts that have come out in the past decades. The Maoist movement seems completely unaware of any of the research that has happened in the quarter century since the supposed coup attempt. The orthodox Maoist narrative does not accurately report the history of the struggle that deposed Lin Biao nor does it accurately report the political lines involved. The orthodox Maoist account is the politics of show trials, not serious two-line struggle. The dogma regarding Lin Biao is literally based on nothing but the word of the Chinese state after 1971. It is nothing but a dogmatic police narrative. It is a narrative that serves a sectarian, police agenda first and foremost, it is not a narrative based on truth. It is a way of telling history that is all too typical in the history of socialism. The Maoist approach begins from the premise that Mao’s political twist and turns are always justified. It begins with the premise that the Tenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is accurate. The orthodox Maoist approach begins from the premise that Lin Biao is guilty, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The orthodox Maoist approach begins with its conclusion. Then, the Maoist approach makes the “evidence” fit its narrative by omitting data, by misrepresentation, by appeals to dogmatic authority. The orthodox Maoist approach “cuts the toes to fit the shoes.” The scientific approach, by contrast, does not begin with a predetermined conclusion. A scientific approach looks at all the available evidence, then arrives at a conclusion. It examines the numerous accounts, official and unofficial. It examines the plausibility of each historical account. A true scientist looks at all the data. A true scientist is not afraid of truth. Their work speaks for itself, and so does ours.
What is ironic is that the orthodox Maoists are not even consistent. The Maoist movement is hypocritical when it condemns Lin Biao as an enemy of the revolution who plotted a coup, yet the same same Maoists reject the exact same claims when they are made of their own heroes, the Gang of Four. When the Gang of Four were deposed in 1976, the police narrative generated around them was almost exactly the same as that generated around Lin Biao. They are accused, with no evidence, of opposing Mao and attempting a coup. Like Lin Biao, the Gang of Four are first accused of ultra-rightism, then ultra-leftism as the political winds change. Similarly, the assessment of Lin Biao changed more than once from ultra-right to ultra-left. If the lie worked once for Lin Biao, why change the script with the Gang of Four?
There are plenty of people who do not care about the truth, who do not care about genuine science. There are plenty of people who will not change their minds no matter how much evidence they are presented with. Dogma is dogma no matter how many times it is repeated. A lie is a lie no matter how many times it is repeated. There are plenty of people who pretend to be Marxist, people who wave the red flag to oppose the red flag. There are plenty of people who choose their beliefs the same way one chooses fashion. These people are not our audience at present. Our audience is the best of the best. We are the real vanguard of true scientists and true warriors. It is no accident that the Leading Light is the only organization to have taken the understanding of revolutionary history to a whole new level. It is no accident that the Leading Light was the first movement to give a serious, scientific account of the history of Lin Biao. Just as one’s approach to history is a kind of barometer, so too is one’s attitude toward the Leading Light. One’s attitude toward the Leading Light is the single most telling barometer for who is and is not a true scientist, a true warrior, a true leader.