Pankaj Mishra: Today Maoism Speaks to the World's Poor More Fluently than Ever
Pankaj Mishra is an Indian author and writer of literary and political essays. His book The Awakening in Asia and the Remaking of the Modern World will be published later this year.
In 2008 in Beijing I met the Chinese novelist Yu Hua shortly after he had returned from Nepal, where revolutionaries inspired by Mao Zedong had overthrown a monarchy. A young Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, Yu Hua, like many Chinese of his generation, has extremely complicated views on Mao. Still, he was astonished, he told me, to see Nepalese Maoists singing songs from his Maoist youth – sentiments he never expected to hear again in his lifetime.
In fact, the success of Nepalese Maoists is only one sign of the "return" of Mao. In central India armed groups proudly calling themselves Maoists control a broad swath of territory, fiercely resisting the Indian government's attempts to make the region's resource-rich forests safe for the mining operations that, according to a recent report in Foreign Policy magazine, "major global companies like Toyota and Coca-Cola" now rely on.
And – as though not to be outdone by Mao's foreign admirers – some Chinese have begun to carefully deploy Mao's still deeply ambiguous memory in China. Texting Mao's sayings to mobile phones, broadcasting "Red" songs from state-owned radio and television, and sending college students to the countryside, Bo Xilai, the ambitious communist party chief of the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, is leading an unexpected Mao revival in China.
It was the "return" of Marx, rather than of Mao, that was much heralded in academic and journalistic circles after the financial crisis of 2008. And it is true that Marxist theorists, rather than Marx himself, clearly anticipated the problems of excessive capital accumulation, and saw how eager and opportunistic investors cause wildly uneven development across regions and nations, enriching a few and impoverishing many others. But Mao's "Sinified" and practical Marxism, which includes a blueprint for armed rebellion, appears to speak more directly to many people in poor countries...
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