Cuba's de-Stalinization vs China's return to Maoist track

December 09, 2016 09:25
Fidel Castro's last wish before his death was to ban all forms of personality cult in his country forever. Photo: Reuters

For 50 years, the late Fidel Castro had remained an absolute and oppressive dictator of Cuba, and served as the country's party secretary, president, premier and commander-in-chief all at the same time.

It wasn't until 2008 that he finally stepped down as the country's paramount leader and handed over his power to his brother Raul Castro.

It was also in that year that Fidel Castro began to reflect on his autocratic rule, particularly on the personality cult he had imposed on his country.

His last wish before his death was to ban all forms of personality cult in Cuba forever.

His wish was granted. Raul Castro, his successor, announced during the state memorial service for his elder brother that the Cuban government wouldn't name any street or public place after him, nor would his administration put up his statue anywhere in the country.

Cuba's progressive move to ditch Stalinist dictatorship and ban personality cult is a milestone not only in the country's history but also in the history of the international communist movement.

And thanks to the Castros' awareness of the scourge of Stalinist dictatorship, Cuba can now move on to become a “normal” state.

Unfortunately, in contrast to Cuba and Vietnam, which is also undergoing liberalization and ambitious political reforms, China, the largest remaining communist country on earth, has witnessed a massive return to the Maoist and Stalinist track under President Xi Jinping since 2012.

For the past four years, Xi has been working aggressively to tighten his absolute control of the Communist Party and society, and to reinforce his personal dictatorship.

His crackdown on civil society of unprecedented scale and his centralization of power indicate that China is undergoing an all-out regression to Maoist fanaticism.

He is apparently very passionate about the apotheosis of his idol Mao Zedong.

Worse still, on Xi's orders, the party's propaganda apparatus and official mouthpieces have resurrected all the old practices adopted during the Cultural Revolution such as the infamous “8 model operas” (八套樣板戲), the only form of performing arts allowed during the Cultural Revolution, as well as the “red songs”, which were sung across the nation during those days to glorify Mao Zedong.

By Xi's order, Mao's statues and gigantic Mao quotation boards are once again put up across China.

Xi's reintroduction of Cultural Revolution-style personality cult and his attempt to elevate himself to a demigod status have raised a lot of eyebrows within the academic sector in Beijing.

Many feel that what Xi has been doing constitutes an outright violation of the monumental resolution passed unanimously by the Central Committee in February 1980, which officially banned all forms of blind worship and glorification of any party leader, and replaced one-man rule with collective leadership within the Communist Party.

For now, it appears Cuba is way ahead of China in terms of de-Stalinization and decentralization of power, and Raul Castro is very likely to stay the course.

Even though Beijing and Havana still refer to each other as “brother countries”, the two are fast drifting apart as far as ideologies and governing approaches are concerned.

Fidel Castro was not the first person to debunk the demigod status of Stalin.

Back in the '50s, when Khrushchev took power, he began to mount a massive top-down campaign to denounce Stalin and the atrocities he committed during his reign.

Khrushchev's ambitious de-Stalinization program had put him at odds with Mao Zedong, a faithful apprentice of Stalin's, and eventually led to the breakup of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Beijing.

It turns out that Mao's letting his success go to his head and his reckless economic policies have brought a great deal of suffering to the Chinese people, and it took China decades to recover from that man-made catastrophe.

It is indeed a painful lesson that every Chinese people cannot afford to forget.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 8.

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist