Two great guys, basically

Despite their misdeeds, Mao Tse-tung and Josef Stalin are now being recast as great statesmen in China and Russia.

Mao Tse-tung and Josef Stalin are generally recognized as two of history’s worst monsters. But revisionist forces are now trying to recast them as great statesmen, reports the World Affairs Journal.

Arch Puddington, author of Breaking Down Democracy: The Strategies, Goals and Methods of Modern Authoritarians, recalls an old Soviet joke: “It’s easy predicting the future. What’s difficult is predicting the past.” China, in particular, is putting a lot of effort into predicting its own past.

It took 16 years for China’s Communist party leadership to come up with an updated official version of the party history, including four extensive rewrites. And nowhere in that history do the party leaders recognize the full tragedy of Mao’s most deadly initiatives, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Those events rank among the most lethal politically inspired catastrophes of all time, asserts Puddington. In the Cultural Revolution alone, more than 30 million people died of famine and forced labour. But the party avoids admitting that it and Mao in particular  was responsible.

“Often, they blame the weather,” writes Puddington.

In 2013, the leadership issued a secret directive prohibiting universities from discussing seven themes, including party leadership. This represented a tightening of the prevailing attitude that allowed discussion as long as it did not challenge orthodox lines of interpretation. Now, under party leader Xi Jinping, talking about Mao’s errors in classrooms is forbidden.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin is promoting a revised history in which his country is still a great power that had to recuperate from the chaos of the Boris Yeltsin era and the attacks of determined enemies. In a revised version commissioned by Putin, the darkest deeds of Russia, such as its domination of Eastern Europe and the Stalinist purges, are seen as legitimate responses to enemies encircling the Soviet Union.