Commander Prairie Fire’s book “Seas are rising, Clouds and Waters Raging”
Jason Unruhe interview with Leading Light Commander Prairie Fire on Lin Biao and the Cultural Revolution
1. Maoist Rebel New Fans, in continuation of my desire to bring you people who are relevant to the revolutionary movement of today, I bring you Commander Prairie Fire of the Leading Light Communist Organization. I assume Most of my audience already knows who the LLCO are, but if you don’t, it’s the preeminent Third Worldist organization. And they have put forward some of the best works on epistemology, art, science, revolution, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This is a book that Commander Prairie Fire has just put out going through and detailing the Cultural Revolution, its meaning, its history, the relevance to the development of Marxism as a revolutionary science, etc. And this book is available for purchase. So I would like to thank him for giving me this opportunity to interview him and giving me this opportunity to interview him about his new book and Third Worldism in general.
Thanks for giving me this opportunity to be here, Jason.
2. Your are the leader of the Leading Light Communist Organization. Can you tell us a little about the LLCO?
Leading Light is a global organization, we exists all over the world: Bangladesh, Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa, North America. We are leading a global revolution, a Global People’s War, to wipe oppression, exploitation, suffering from the face of the Earth. Like Mao said, we wage war to end war. We pick up the gun to put down the gun.
We fight for a new social order of peace, prosperity, family, justice, equality, fairness, sharing, creativity, philosophy, poetry, science, art, music, dance, joy. We fight for an order where we truly serve the people, a world where your pain is my pain, where all of humanity is one, where we live in harmony with nature, with Mother Earth. We fight for a world where we can all be our best selves. We seek to engineer a new world governed by revolutionary science in order to bring about the best life possible for us all.
Now, we are not the first to try to make revolution. Many have come before us. There were the small attempted revolutions that Karl Marx witnessed in the 1800s, like the Paris Commune. But, the first major sustained wave of revolution was the Bolshevik Revolution and the struggles that flowed from that. The second sustained wave of sustained revolution that followed World War 2, the best representation of that was the Maoist revolution in China. And, the height of that last wave of revolution was the Cultural Revolution, which was a series of Maoist campaigns from 1965 to 1969 or 1971 or even as late as 1976. It really just depends on how you date it.
What we have to realize is that, today, we face an impasse. The revolutionary movement has stagnated and declined. The last waves of revolution were defeated, but there are still fragments of these struggles still around, Marxist-Leninists and Maoists, but they are all stuck in dogma. They are out of answers. All they have is dogma. And they have stagnated. Now, If we really want to go forward we have to really understand the past. What were the failings and successes of the past revolutions? What went wrong? How can we do better? If we are to make revolution again, we have to put real revolutionary science in command. We have to understand the past, but we must go beyond it. We must elevate, advance the science. And this is what Leading Light is about.
3. What began you interest in the Chinese Cultural Revolution?
I have considered myself a communist since I as long as I can remember. I had always recognized the great injustice of the capitalist system, even as a boy. Even as a youth, I began reading about alternative social systems, other societies. I began reading Karl Marx at the age of 14, more or less. What the Maoist experiments, the Cultural Revolution revolution, seemed to offer was a more energetic, revitalized kind of revolutionary project. The Maoist project seemed to offer an explanation and solution to the failings of the Soviet experiment as the Soviet degenerated into bureaucracy and a growing police apparatus. I also admired the extremism of the Maoist idea. It seemed to be fueled, at some level, by a very pure commitment to the idea of total revolution. This was exciting. This combined with the emphasis on people’s war and the anti-imperialist struggle made Maoism an attractive package for those of us who wanted a real, fundamental solutions to the problems of the world, but were intelligent enough to see the rather obvious failings of anarchism and revisionism. Maoism as a whole, including the theories of the Cultural Revolution, offered a very powerful template for explaining the problems confronting the revolutionary movement. The Maoist template seemed so powerful that it took some time before revolutionary science really began to go beyond it in the form of Leading Light Communism. Simply going back to Maoism, or trying to dogmatically recreate the Cultural Revolution, would be a mistake today, but the topic is still an important one and it is still an exciting one.
4. Was the something specific that made you begin to start questioning the narrative of orthodox Maoists. Is there something that stood out and made you say “something here is being a little dogmatic, something here is wrong. We need something newer. Something needs to be questioned”?
Maoists used to say that the Cultural Revolution was the furthest revolutionary advance in all of human history. Now, as I began to learn more, I realize how little dogmatic Maoists actually knew about the Cultural Revolution itself. You would think that if they really believed this period was the peak of revolutionary history, then they would understand it inside and out. Now what I discovered instead that the Maoists, on the whole, understood very little about this period. On the whole, they could not even answer the most straight-forward questions. For example, I could never get a straight answer for why the Cultural Revolution was defeated. The standard answer from the dogmatic Maoists was that there was a coup against the Gang of Four that restored capitalism in 1976. It should be obvious why this is really a non-answer. According to the Maoists, Khrushchev’s coup had restored capitalism in the Soviet Union earlier. If, as the Maoists claim that Maoism is the peak of revolutionary theory, that could not be surpassed in the current era, then isn’t it odd that it proved incapable of preventing the restoration of capitalism in China just as earlier Stalinism had proved incapable of victory in the Soviet Union? Maoism was the final form of revolutionary science, according to the dogmatic Maoists, yet it could not even address the underlying conditions that allowed for a coup to take place? The most Maoism could say is that a coup happened. Not even the Maoist Cultural Revolution could prevent that coup? What the Maoists ended up with was a red version of the great man theory of history. This is a theory where a revolution’s fate is dependent on the fate of its leadership, the fate of great men. Marxists have always criticized the idea that history is a matter of understanding great men. Although the Maoists were quick to parrot the slogan that “the masses are the real heroes who make history,” the reality was that everything about their analysis of the restoration of capitalism spoke only of the fate of great leaders. The masses played a very, very minor part in their analysis. The obvious question is: how is it that these revolutions were so weak that they are unable to anticipate, withstand, and develop methods for avoiding such “coups”? What are the failures that allowed these “coups” to happen in the first place? What does it say about a revolution that it is so tied to the fate of a few individuals? There was a serious lack of materialist depth in the Maoist dogma. To say that the Chinese revolution failed because of a “coup” has about as much depth as saying that the reason a man is balding is that he is losing his hair.
5. You recently wrote a book, which I previously mentioned, Seas are Rising, on this lead up to the Cultural Revolution. What are some of the discoveries in this work?
Seas Are Rising, Clouds and Waters Raging is meant to be the first of a series of books on the Cultural Revolution. The title is taken from one of Mao’s famous poems. Mao was a great poet. Now, the first book covers, roughly the period from after the Great Leap to the May 16th Circular, from around 1960ish to about 1966. The book focuses a lot on the development of the theory of the Cultural Revolution. This is a topic that is not adequately covered by bourgeois historians. It is also a topic not adequately covered by Maoists themselves.
One place where I try to break new ground is the book shows just how accidental much of the Cultural Revolution was. What I mean here is that there was an accidental component to it. In the traditional Maoist and bourgeois narratives, you get a picture that Mao set a trap for the revisionists by letting them originally lead the Cultural Revolution. Then Mao has Yao, later part of the Gang of Four, attack in order to cause a confrontation. Yao Wenyuan essay was the opening salvo of a larger struggle. The masses get involved and so on. In the traditional narratives, you get the sense that it was all very deliberate. Now, it was deliberate in the sense that Mao was seeking a confrontation to catapult him back to power, but there were dozens of struggles going on that could have marked the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Numerous junior Maoists were writing polemics against the revisionists going back to the end of the Great Leap. There were polemics all the time. There were ongoing battles on economic, philosophic, cultural, literary, practical, other questions. Yao Wenyuan’s criticism of Wu Han’s play came to be a focus of struggle above some of the other polemics, but it could have easily developed in another way. Similarly, the Maoists had been trying to get mass movements going against the revisionists in the Party for some time. This goes back to the Socialist Education Movement, the Four Cleanups, but they had been always obstructed. Had they been successful, perhaps Maoists today would talk about how the Socialist Education Movement was the furthest advance for revolution in all of history. The Cultural Revolution could have floundered in a similar way as the Socialist Education Movement did. In fact, almost all the original, revisionists leaders in charge of the Cultural Revolution fell as revisionists in Spring of 1966 when the February Outline was rejected in favor of the May 16th Circular. The original, revisionist Cultural Revolution Group was obstructing the Cultural Revolution just as the revisionists had obstructed earlier Maoist efforts to energize the masses during the Socialist Education Movement earlier. It is possible that things could have turned out very differently here. It is interesting to ask why things turned out as they did.
This is another part of what is revolutionary in the book. One of the main reasons the the Cultural Revolution was able to develop into a mass campaign that favored the Maoists was Lin Biao, the Defense Minister. When the Socialist Education Movement was going on, Lin Biao had not had enough time to impose his Maoist reforms on the military. So, at the time of the Socialist Education Movement, the Maoists were not strong enough in the military. The military could not yet serve as a kind of counterweight and Maoist dual power to the revisionist leadership of the Party. So, the book traces the development of not just the Cultural Revolution ideology of the Maoists, but also the dual institutions that allowed the Maoists to bypass and challenge the traditional, bureaucratic chains of command. Once examined closely, it is hard to imagine how the Cultural Revolution could have happened without Lin Biao. Lin Biao was creating alternative institutions within the military to challenge the revisionist chains of command in the Party and state. Lin Biao’s central military becomes not only an important ideological counterweight to the revisionism inside the Party, but you have military media promoting the Maoist line when the Party was not, military art pushing the Maoist line when the Party was not, the military was promoting leaders like Jiang Qing when the Party was not, and so on. A kind of dual power situation existed, and it was very much tied to Lin Biao’s institutional power. This gave Mao the ability to go around the Party by using military institutions to talk to the masses directly. You have a New Power and you also have a kind of charismatic cult of the individual, cult of personality, challenging Confucian, bureaucratic authority. These of some topics covered in the book that have not received adequate treatment elsewhere. Either by revisionist, bourgeois scholarship or Maoists.
Now the total of my research goes on much beyond this. The research as a whole focuses on everything from these topics I’ve mentioned to Mao’s rightward turn in the 1970s to agricultural policy to aesthetics. Probably the best well known part of our work though is the treatment of the Lin Biao incident.
6. Much of your work focuses on refuting the dogmatic Maoist narrative on the Lin Biao incident. We’re talking about the suspicious circumstances, the very suspicious circumstances, surrounding the death of Lin Biao. You say Lin Biao was a genuine revolutionary. Why the focus on Lin Biao?
For me personally, it was my research into the Lin Biao incident that led me to realize that the entire dogmatic understanding of the Cultural Revolution was flawed in very important ways. What is funny is I began my research as an effort to validate the traditional, dogmatic narrative, but I found the evidence lacking. Early on, I realized that the official statements against Lin Biao in the Chinese media were filled with very obvious falsifications. Official statements in Beijing Review accused Lin Biao of all kinds of Maoist political crimes. He was accused of being a secret Confucian, a secret adherent of the revisionist Theory of the Productive Forces, a Soviet and Guomindang agent, and so on and on. It was really over the top, especially considering that during the Cultural Revolution, he was held up as a symbol of Maoism itself. He had earlier been described in glowing terms, “Mao’s chosen successor,” “Mao’s best student,” “Mao’s closest comrade-in-arms,” “China’s greatest general,” and on and on. People used to say “Long Live Chairman Mao and Good Health to Vice-chairman Lin!” At the height of Maoist power, at the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1969, he was written into the constitution itself to succeed Mao. When important statements were made during the Cultural Revolution, they were often made by Lin Biao. For example, you can find more recordings of Lin Biao giving speeches during the Cultural Revolution than Mao himself. So ask yourself why this is so? Were the Maoists so incompetent that they would elevate such a rotten egg to the heights of political power? If, as was later claimed, that the Maoists always knew Lin Biao was an enemy, why would they connect him so closely to their political project during the Cultural Revolution? Obviously there is a lot of deception going on in the post-Lin Biao Maoist narratives.
These obvious inconsistencies in the Maoist narrative led me to begin investigating the Lin Biao incident. I began to wonder how could someone so closely associated with the Maoist project and the Cultural Revolution be a traitor, a comprador, a spy. How could someone so central to the development of Maoism be such an enemy? Something did not add up. Now, as I continued my research, I learned the Chinese leadership often rewrote the history of individuals and events to match current political winds. This has always been a big problem in the socialist approach to history. History is falsified to suit current agendas. I began to notice that the narrative on Lin Biao evolved and changed over time with the political winds. Lin Biao was seen as an ultra-leftist, then an ultra-rightist, then again an ultra-leftist. I began to see that very little attention to real history existed in the various polemics about Lin Biao. Then, as now, dogmatic Maoists do not understand the difference between assertion and argument. Claiming someone has committed the crimes of x, y, and z is not the same as proving it. Then, as now, dogmatists simply repeat false accusations against Lin Biao as though they are facts. You get a Maoist echo chamber effect. Beijing Review says such and such. Then you get all the little dogmatic sects repeating it, quoting each other. Unfortunately, this kind of police approach has a long history in the revolutionary tradition. It is hard to get them to listen to real science.
What was very astonishing to me is that these dogmatic Maoists who claimed the Cultural Revolution to be the pinnacle of human achievement can say next to nothing about it, can give almost no analysis. At best, all they could do is parrot Beijing Review, official statements, and very slanted accounts by revolutionary tourists. Think about this for a minute. These people claim this to be the most important, most significant, most profound example of revolution to ever happen, one that we must give our lives in able to repeat. Yet they don’t even care enough about it to study it in any kind of real way. What we have to understand is that there are many dogmatists that are not really interested in science, they do not believe in science at all. This should be apparent for their total lack of care about the real Cultural Revolution even though they sing its praises. So, they care nothing of science, but they believe in the necessity of having a dogma that purports to be scientific. They care about the appearence of science, not science itself. The dogmatic Maoists are not much different than the Hoxhaists or Trotskyists in this respect. They advocate for a metaphysics that purports to be science, but they reject the real science. Ideology for them is a kind of con game or glue to unite people only, it is not something that really gives scientific guidance. This is very different from how we, Leading Lights, approach the world. Leading Light Communism really is about the science.
We have come to see one’s attitude about Lin Biao as a kind of barometer. There is something very obviously problematic about the official, dogmatic narratives. The capitalist revisionist narrative is obviously false just as the dogmatic Maoist one is. Yet if a group can’t even acknowledge this much, yet they claim to be Maoist, then it is very hard to take them seriously as a scientific organization. There are good reasons that Marx famously said he was not a Marxist. Really embracing Marx, Lenin, Mao means embracing science, not old, stale, dogmatic metaphysics. Leading Light is about the science, pure and simple. Correcting the verdict on Lin Biao is more than about just cleaning up, clearing up, one person’s name. It is symbolic. By doing so, we are drawing a line in the sand. We are saying that the Leading Light is really about science, that truth matters. We are saying that dogma and metaphysics are not acceptable. Enough is enough. Serve the people truth, not lies.
7. With all that having been said, how important was Lin Biao to the Cultural Revolution?
The Cultural Revolution simply could not have happened without Lin Biao heading up the military. It was for good reason that Lin Biao became a symbol for the Cultural Revolution itself.
Firstly, remember that Marxists have always pointed out that a key part of the state is its monopoly on sanctioned violence. The state is made up of “armed bodies of men.” Thus it is absolutely important to make sure that the military keeps its mass character as a revolutionary institution. The Chinese military had slid into revisionist practices after 1949, since the revolution, since they took state power. It had begun to professionalize in a bad way that separated itself off from the masses. Lin Biao reversed the revisionist trend in the military. He re-established the military as a revolutionary institution. He took the military back to its roots as a people’s army. He put politics, not professionalism, not technology, back in command of the military. He re-established the military’s connection with revolutionary politics and the masses. Outward sign of rank was eliminated. The military began to study politics and involve itself in politics and mass campaigns again. The military involved itself in culture. Officers had to work side-by-side with their men again. They had to do hard labor just as privates did. The military had to engage in economic work, and in work alongside the masses. Thus Lin Biao returned the military to the “spirit of Yanan,” he returned the military to its guerrilla roots. He made the military serve the people again.
Now, secondly, Lin Biao’s military created a Maoist base from which the Cultural Revolution could be launched against the revisionist leadership of the Party. Because of the problems of the Great Leap, the Maoists had their power greatly reduced. The Party’s revisionists attempted to reduce Mao to a mere spiritual figure without any actual influence on the day-to-day policies of the country. This was part of a compromise reached with the revisionists following the Great Leap. The Maoists kept control of ideological matters, but the revisionists and rightists ran the day-to-day operations of the state. This is why Mao would complain he was a mere clay Buddha, to be worshiped, but with no real power. The Maoists tried to change this situation through the early and mid 1960s. There was the Socialist Education Movement, also known as “the Four Cleanups.” There were efforts to kick start a Maoist cultural offensive also. However, the revisionists were able to derail the Maoists efforts because the revisionists controlled the bureaucracy.
Now, one of the most important gains the Maoists made during the political struggles of the Great Leap period was that they got Lin Biao, a die-hard Maoist, promoted to the position of Defense Minister, the head of the military. So, Lin Biao transformed the military into a bastion of Maoist thinking. The Maoist slogan “put politics in command!” comes from Lin Biao’s Four First policy, for example. The “little red book” of quotations from Mao was originally compiled by Lin Biao as part of his effort to return the military to its Maoist roots. Lin Biao turned the central military into an institution that was loyal to the Maoist faction. So, when the Party blocked the Maoist initiatives, the military bureaucracy could now be used as an alternative. The Maoist military served as a kind of dual power from which to launch the Cultural Revolution against the Party. Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing of the Gang of Four, she would play a big role in the later Cultural Revolution. Well, she got her political start as the art and cultural adviser to the military, a position “entrusted” to her by Lin Biao.
Thirdly, Lin Biao’s military served as a kind of praetorian guard for the mass movements that would develop from 1966 through 1968. The military, along with security agencies loyal to the Maoists, created a kind of protective bubble under which the mass movements, the Red Guards and rebel workers, could operate with a level of impunity. Lin Biao, at least at the onset of the Cultural Revolution, kept the guns pointed outward, away from the mass movements. This created a space in which the Jacobin mass movements could run their course. It created the space in which the masses could organize themselves and launch attacks against the revisionists. Now, eventually, the mass movements began attacks on each other became so great that Mao called them off. Mao criticized the mass movements. Mao said he wanted class war, but got civil war. So Mao ended the mass movements from mid 1967 into 1968. However, it is very difficult to imagine that the Cultural Revolution mass movements could have happened without the protection of the military. This is also why, despite rhetoric, there was not a real possibility of another, real Cultural Revolution happening in the Gang of Four period. Not only did the Gang of Four lack standing, they had little mass and institutional support, and they lacked the support of a Maoist-controlled military since Lin Biao died in 1971 and was replaced by the right and revisionists. He was replaced by the Adverse current, arch-enemies of the Cultural Revolution.
Fourthly, Lin Biao’s military was associated with some of the most radical economic policies of the day. After the mass movements, the military led the charge to re-establish the collective economy on a Maoist basis. This was a kind of Maoism 2.0 or Great Leap 2.0 called “the Flying Leap.” It was a more successful version of the earlier Maoist economics. There were some differences, but the Maoist core was the same. But, unfortunately, Mao backed away from it and shifted rightward. Perhaps Mao feared a return to errors of the Great Leap. Perhaps Mao was too old. His line seems to have changed.
Lastly, there was a big push by Lin Biao to support people’s wars around the world. The Lin Biao group advocated a political line that put revolution at the forefront. They elevated the interests of the global proletariat, they elevated people’s wars around the world, over China’s narrow national interests. The Soviets had dropped their internationalism, dropped the emphasis on armed struggle. This was a big part of the Maoist criticism of revisionism initially. By contrast, Lin Biao’s group was pushing a kind of politics that put people’s war around the world at the heart of what it meant to be a communist. They understood that one of the major things demarcating real communists from revisionists is willingness of wage people’s war. Lin Biao said “revolution is the main trend” at the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party in 1969. They thought that the time was right for the entire world to launch people’s wars to topple Empire, both the Western and Russian imperialists would be destroyed. This is not unlike Che’s line of “two, three, many Vietnams.” The idea was that the global countryside of Asia, Africa, and Latin America would rise up against the global city, the imperialists. Thus the most radical politics of the Cultural Revolution domestically became associated with a new, inspiring call for a new internationalism centered around people’s war. But, as the 1970s came, just as Mao had backed away from domestic radicalism, he also backed away from the internationalist foreign policy. Lin Biao was killed in 1971. Mao ended up allying with the old revisionists and rightists, the Adverse Current. Much of the Cultural Revolution was rolled back. And, Lin Biao’s foreign policy of people’s war was ended in favor of a policy of pursuing China’s perceived national interest. This meant China ended up in its own “peaceful coexistence” and alignment with the Western imperialists. There is an irony here because one of the original Maoist criticisms of the Soviet Union was that they took a soft line on imperialism. They were criticized for “peaceful coexistence” with the imperialists. Now we have China taking up a similar line. This line later became called “Mao’s Theory of Three Worlds,” not to be confused with “Third Worldism.”
8. But Lin Biao was accused of having reactionary politics. Can you explain?
Lin Biao was falsely accused of just about every high political crime. What is interesting is that the narrative around Lin Biao changed as political winds shifted. Lin Biao, right when he fell, was originally accused of being a ultra-leftist. He was accused of representing the perceived excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Even before he fell, there was an effort to paint him as an extremist leftist, an anarchist, who sacrificed the standard of living of the masses and China’s development in the name of leftist ideology, in the name of ideological purity. He was accused of sacrificing China’s nationalist interest for the international proletariat and people’s wars. This was the narrative that was being crafted around him originally just after he fell. Even Mao was going along with the narrative until the criticism of Lin Biao began to get too close to condemning the whole of Maoism and the whole of the Cultural Revolution. At that point, Lin Biao was reinvented as an ultra rightist, as “left in form, right in essence.” The leftover left, the Gang of Four, began to attack Lin Biao in the 1970s in an effort to distance themselves from the alleged coup attempt and in an effort to attack the remaining revisionists and rightists. So, the Maoists began inventing all kinds of charges against Lin Biao just as the revisionists had done. So Lin Biao was a target of both right and remaining left to allegorically attack each other in the early 1970s. In 1971, Lin Biao was accused of being an ultra-leftist. By 1973, he was an ultra-rightist. Then in the 1980s, he was again an ultra-leftist. Today, it is generally understood Lin Biao was part of the left, part of the Maoist camp. Even so, there are some dogmatic Maoists who continue to promote false claims about Lin Biao, that he was a rightist. On every point, it is easy to refute the claims of the dogmatic Maoists against Lin Biao.
The dogmatic Maoists, they claim, for example, that Lin Biao was a Confucian. The dogmatic Maoists say that Lin Biao was a secret Confucian because a Confucius quote was allegedly found somewhere in his possessions after he was dead. Out of this, a whole ridiculous narrative gets spun that this quote was the key to understanding his entire politics. It is all very ridiculous. Anyone who is a critical thinker will look at all kinds of materials, even ones they disagree with. I myself have copies of the Bible, the Koran, and Trotsky in my library. It does not mean I am a Christian, Muslim, or secret Trotskyist. Mao himself recommended the youth that they should open their minds to all kinds of ideas, even ones they may not agree with. Mao himself was versed in the Chinese classics. The idea that Lin Biao was a reactionary simply because he had some of Confucius’ work in his possession is absurd. It is contrary to the whole spirit of science.
The dogmatic Maoists will also say Lin Biao opposed the Cultural Revolution. The reality is that Lin Biao’s politics were associated with some of the most radical trends of that period. Lin Biao was associated with the “politics in command.” He was associated with returning the military to its Maoist roots. Lin Biao was associated with mass campaigns in the countryside and the rebuilding of the Maoist collective economy, especially the People’s Communes themselves. He was associated with class struggle and social experiment. Lin Biao was associated with the idea that all of socialist China should function like a guerrilla camp. He was associated with the idea that a guerrilla asceticism, that an ethos of “serve the people” should be the order of the day. Lin Biao pushed the line that all of China should be a giant school of Maoism. He was in favor of eliminating hierarchy, like outward signs of rank. He made officers do hard labor alongside enlisted men and the masses themselves. He promoted a view that everyone should unite and sacrifice together in order to reach communism. He saw the struggle for communism as akin to a people’s war. The slogan “people’s war until communism” is from Lin Biao’s military. He was also associated with promoting people’s wars worldwide. There is very little that is Confucian in Lin Biao’s politics.
Some say that he promoted cultism. This is true. However, this is true of the entire Maoist and anti-Maoist camp. Even though Lin Biao was later accused by the Gang of Four, the Gang of Four was involved in waving red books and dressing up in military outfits, propping up the Mao and Lin Biao cults only a few years earlier. This idea that Lin Biao and Chen Boda were alone in this practice of cultism is absurd. The reality is that the whole Maoist left engaged in cultism and dogmatism as a way to circumvent the normal bureaucracy of the Party authorities. They used the cult of Mao and Lin Biao as a way to jump over the Party bureaucracy to speak directly to the people. With Mao’s, Jiang Qing’s, and Zhang Chunqiao’s approval Lin Biao was made Mao’s official successor. He was actually written into the Constitution itself
Some dogmatic Maoists accuse Lin Biao as nepotism. Some of the Gang of Four supporters will talk about how Lin Biao’s promotion of his son into politics represented a kind of Confucianism, a kind of nepotism. Yet the Maoists say nothing of the rise of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing as nepotistic. Jiang Qing sought to lead China after Mao died. Now isn’t there something a bit monarchistic about power being passing through familial relationships? The Dengist revisionists opportunistically pointed this out, even though they themselves would later embrace Confucius openly. If the Maoists claim Lin Biao was guilty of nepotism, then surely they must be consistent and point out the even more egregious case of Jiang Qing’s relationship to Mao. The reality is that this kind of intertwining of the familial and official power unfortunately marked all of China’s politics. It was not like Lin Biao’s relation to his son was especially problematic in this regard. This is a case of people slinging mud without really thinking about the inconsistencies or implications of what they are saying.
Some also point to Lin Biao’s alleged commandism and dogmatism as part of this criticism. This is a fair criticism to make. But it is a criticism that can be and it was applied to the entire Maoist left. The Gang of Four themselves were accused of placing themselves above the people, of lacking mass line, and so on. No doubt, some of this is true of the Maoists as a whole, even if they were real revolutionaries. The thing is that it is totally deceitful to shift all of these errors and excesses of the Cultural Revolution, of the Maoist left, onto Lin Biao, onto Chen Boda. In fact, revisionists put the Lin Biao’s bloc and the Gang of Four bloc on show trail together. They accused them of shared responsibility for supposed excess.
The dogmatic Maoists, they’ll claim Lin Biao upheld the revisionist Theory of the Productive Forces. This claim is based nothing that can be verified. It is claimed that Chen Boda, and, by implication, Lin Biao, pushed for a political line that focused too much on the economy during the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party in 1969. This is a very odd claim considering everything we know about Lin Biao leading up to then indicates otherwise. It is also odd because there seems to be no record of this at the time. It is only later, after Lin Biao’s death, that this accusation is made. Anyone with any sense knows that the Chinese Communist Party fabricated its history depending on political winds at times. In addition, if Lin Biao and Chen Boda were secret rightists or revisionists, then it seems odd that they continued to be out of favor with the Deng Xiaoping. We have to ask what this says about Mao’s political judgement if his main political assistant and his main general turned out to be big-time traitors and counter-revolutionaries? Mao must have had terrible political judgement if what the dogmatic Maoists say is true. Of course the dogmatic Maoist accusations are nonsense. Both Lin Biao and Chen Boda had been associated with the Maoist trend for literally decades, for most of their lives. If we are to believe they were really revisionists or rightists, we need far more evidence, not mere assertion.
We should also not assume that focusing on the economy is the same as upholding the revisionist Theory of the Productive Forces. During the mass movements, much of the collective economy had broken down to some extent. Mao was associated with a rightward trend to de-emphasize mass movements and politics. Lin Biao was associated with an effort to take the students rebels who had gone down to the countryside into a new campaign. Lin Biao wanted to follow up the Cultural Revolution and the Ninth Congress in 1969 with a new leftist “Flying Leap” to revolutionize the countryside, where the vast majority of China lived. It should be remembered that the Cultural Revolution had not played out the same in the countryside as it had in the political and urban centers. Lin Biao seemed to want to keep the leftist effort going. In those provincial, country areas where Lin Biao loyalists had power, we see the more radical politics play out: politics in command, egalitarianism, re-communalization, etc. Mao, by contrast, shifted rightward by allying with the more conservative provincial army commanders who tended to squash the collective economy, the mass campaigns, and social experiment.
The dogmatic Maoists also claim Lin Biao secretly supported the Soviet revisionists. OK, so this is important now. Their claim is base on next to nothing. A plane carrying the bodies of Lin Biao and his family crashed over Mongolia, not on its way to the Soviet Union, but back to China. The plane crashed under very mysterious circumstances. Some reports suggest there was gunfire on board. In addition, we have to remember that the original report was that Lin Biao was being kidnapped and put on the plane. So, there are a lot of questions here. The reality is that Lin Biao was put in charge of the military, made Defense Minister, because he opposed the pro-Soviet stance of Peng Dehuai, the old Defense Minister. All of Lin Biao’s Maoist reforms in the military aimed to reverse revisionist Soviet influence. Lin Biao’s most famous speech, Long Live the Victory of People’s War!, puts forward a distinct model of revolution as a worldwide people’s war that sets the global countryside against the global city. Lin Biao saw the poor countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America set against both Western imperialism headed by the United States and social-imperialism headed by the Soviets. Thus Lin Biao advocated Third World unity against imperialism as a whole, including Social imperialism. Lin Biao speech was a kind of polemic against general Luo Ruiqing’s position that advocated unity between China and the Soviet Union against Western imperialism. Lin Biao tended to see Western and Soviet imperialism as working hand-in-hand against the Third World. This is not a pro-Soviet line.
It is ridiculous that dogmatic Maoists try to paint Lin Biao as some kind of pro-imperialist, especially when Mao himself ended up aligning with Western imperialism in the 1970s against the Soviet Union. The dogmatic Maoists accuse Lin Biao based on next to nothing, yet Mao’s record in the 1970s is very bad. Mao aligned with some of the worst fascists. Mao aligned with the West and Pakistan as they imposed a genocide against Bangladesh. Mao aligned with the West to support Pinochet’s fascist coup in Chile. Mao praised the Shah in Iran, a bloody CIA puppet. The Chinese ended up supporting numerous pro-Western forces in Africa. This was not merely Mao shaking hands with Nixon, or doing photo-ops with despot after despot. It was a conscious policy to align with the West. Again, this is all the more ironic since Mao had originally criticized the Soviets for their line of “peaceful coexistence” with the Western imperialists in the 1960s. Now, Mao himself was aligning with the West in the 1970s.
9. How did the dogmatic Maoists justify this alignment with the West?
Sometimes this line of thinking eventually gets justified as Mao’s “Theory of Three Worlds” in the 1970s, which wasn’t a real theory so much as window dressing or rhetoric to justify a pre-existing policy. Mao’s “Three Worlds Theory” is not at all the same as Third Worldism. In fact, it is in some ways, it is its opposite. In any case, the pro-West line of thinking goes back all the way to around the Ninth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1969 when Mao first began moving away from Lin Biao’s people’s war line. The dogmatic Maoists justified this by saying that the Soviet imperialists were a more aggressive, rising imperialist power. They compared the Soviet revisionists to Hitler. Thus, some argued, that allying with the West against the Soviet Union was acceptable just as Stalin’s alliance with the liberal imperialists against fascism was acceptable in World War 2. Some dogmatic Maoists went so far as to praise NATO as a positive force in the world.
The dogmatists will say that the main enemy of China in the 1970s was Soviet imperialism. The dogmatists point out that there were border clashes between the Soviets and China in 1969, the Zhenbao Island dispute. A few people died there. They point out that there was the China-India border war in 1962. The dogmatists say that the threat was so great to China to justify its alliance with the West. However, this is complete nonsense. Let’s look at the broader picture. The Western imperialists had waged a genocidal war in Korea, right on China’s border, in 1950 to 1953. Millions of people, including tens of thousands of Chinese, dead. The West had supported a guerrilla war against China in Tibet. The West was bankrolling and arming Guomindang rule in Taiwan. Hong Kong was still run by the British empire. Thus, parts of China were literally still occupied. The streets of Jakarta ran red with blood after the Western-backed coup butchered tens of thousands of people there. The United States had military bases all over Japan and south Korea. And the West was waging a genocidal war against the people of Vietnam. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than in all of World War 2. The West was also fighting in Laos and Kampuchea. Millions were being killed in the genocide in Indochina. Whatever threat China faced from the Soviet imperialists paled in comparison to the very real encirclement by the Western imperialists. When it comes down to it, the dogmatic Maoists are not interested in really examining history scientifically. They are more interested in deflecting criticism from Mao. They are more interested in preserving their dogma. Their approach is not serious politics. It is not science.
10. Why do you claim Lin Biao was innocent of the coup?
Just as the political slanders against Lin Biao are easily refuted, so too is the lie that he was involved in a coup. Anyone who studies the coup story closely will see that it evolved over time, and the narrative changed in important ways to suit political winds. The coup story was a frame-up, and a bad one at that.
Firstly, the witness testimonies show evidence of being contrived to suit the political agenda of those in power. The investigation was carried out by the Central Case Examination Group, which was part of the political police. The testimonies are very far-fetched and outlandish. They are hard to believe on the face of it.
Secondly, the main piece of evidence against Lin Biao was “Outline for Plan 571.” This document was supposedly a coup plan found on a table laying around a barracks or soldiers’ club. This was the key piece of evidence. The plan’s origins are dubious. Reportedly, neither Mao nor Zhou Enlai believed the outline was real when it was presented to them. The plan itself makes little sense. The politics in the plan contradict everything we know about Lin Biao’s public positions. Whoever wrote the plan did a very poor job of linking it to Lin Biao’s politics. Whoever wrote the plan had little knowledge of military affairs or where Lin Biao’s forces were concentrated. Whoever wrote the plan did not have any real knowledge of which provinces had officers loyal to Lin Biao and which did not. The plan makes several basic military mistakes, so it could not have been written by Lin Biao or his son or anyone with deep military knowledge. Furthermore, the plan is an obvious forgery. It literally casts the authors themselves as agents of every one of China’s major enemies. If you were really plotting a coup, you are going to cast one’s actions as patriotic, right? Well, this is probably the first coup in history where the plotters openly described themselves as treasonous agents of Soviet imperialism, the Guomindang, Chinese feudalism. The plan even ends by praising the Japanese Samurai! Think about just how ridiculous this is. Because the document was such an obvious forgery, it did not appear unabridged in the media. In all the many pages of Beijing Review from the time, the document is alluded to and mentioned, but almost never quoted. Had the document been widely read, it surely would have cast doubts on the charges against Lin Biao. So, the Party kept its actual contents under wraps. It is astonishing that dogmatic Maoists today will repeat the wild charges that originate in this document, but I have never met a Maoist who has actually read the original. When I actually tracked down an original copy in the scholarly sources, I was amazed at the obviously forged nature of the content.
Thirdly, there are so many odd things about the event. For example, what tipped off the authorities to the coup was when Lin Biao’s daughter reported that Lin Biao was being kidnapped by armed men and put into a car. Lin Biao’s daughter was held up as a hero later, but she lived out much of her life under house arrest, not being able to tell her story. She always maintained that the Chinese state had lied about the event. Given that we know the coup story is filled with fraud, this leads us to ask perhaps if Lin’s daughter really did see her father kidnapped? Furthermore, the plane carrying Lin Biao was not adequately prepared for flight. This is extremely odd given Lin Biao’s military background. Furthermore, Zhou Enlai reportedly had been suspiciously poking around the scene prior to the event. Also, the plane itself crashed as it headed back to China, not toward the Soviet Union. Shots were fired inside the plane, according to some of those who investigated the wreck. So, you have a lot of strange reports that do not fit with the fraudulent coup story, but begin to fit with some kind of assassination plot against Lin Biao.
Fourthly, the coup story just doesn’t stand up to common sense. It does not fit with what we know about Lin Biao the man. There are different descriptions of Lin Biao’s interactions with Mao. But more and more, it seems like the traditional, dogmatic image of Lin Biao as a power-craving, two-face sycophant is incorrect. It is reported from many sources that he was one of the few who actually was willing to voice disagreement with the Chairman in private. In addition, he reportedly was not very interested in political power himself. He actually protested when the position of successor was thrust onto him. The picture that emerges is not that of a schemer and plotter obsessed with political power who played the sycophant. Rather, the picture that emerges is that of a simpler personality, the picture that emerges is one of a military man who was somewhat ascetic, concerned with his health, not interested in political power. Also, remember he was the official successor, a job he didn’t want. There was no reason for Lin Biao to risk everything against Mao. Lin Biao reportedly was very much in love with his wife. He loved his family. Would he really risk everything for a job he never wanted? It just does not add up on many levels.
Fifthly, this was not the last time those in the Chinese state manufactured a fake coup plot in order to dispose its perceived enemies. The Gang of Four were the rightful successors to Mao in the 1970s, according to the dogmatic Maoists. Yet they too were accused of plotting a treasonous coup just as Lin Biao was. This was a charge they vigorously denied. It is a charge that is somewhat ridiculous considering the Gang of Four did not have much popular support or support within the Chinese state. The history of socialism is filled with police narratives that are falsely passed off as history. Just as Lin Biao was accused of plotting a coup with no real evidence, so too were the Gang of Four. So, there is something very hypocritical going on when dogmatic Maoists accuse Lin Biao of plotting a coup with no real evidence to back it up.
One of the things that drew me to the Maoist tradition was that it seemed critical of the police approach of the Stalinist era. The Cultural Revolution seemed to offer a new mode for dealing with political opponents that did not reduce political struggle to plots to be handled by the police. Political debate mattered. Show trials and police narratives were rightly viewed with skepticism. However, the case of Lin Biao really shows that the Maoists did not completely break with this unfortunate past. This speaks to the method of those dogmatists who criticize Lin Biao. They do not offer any real evidence or argument for their positions. They literally just quote Beijing Review, official statements, travelogues over and over. Their method is that of the apologist, the dogmatist, the metaphysician, not the method of the scientific historian.
When I first began my investigation of the Lin Biao incident, my goal was not to exonerate Lin Biao, but to convict him. I noticed that there was a huge shift to the right in the Cultural Revolution when he died. Dogmatists had always said he was a fake leftist who needed to fall. So, there was a kind of question there for me. I wanted to prove that dogmatic narrative correct. However, the more I looked, I found nothing to support the dogmatic narrative. It was mind blowing to me how the dogmatic narrative was so pervasive among Maoists but was simply a house of cards, based on nothing. It also was shocking to me that nobody had pointed this out. Afterall, Maoists claim the Cultural Revolution is the further advance of humanity yet achieved, so you would think they would know something about it. What I found is that Maoists knew next to nothing about their own revolutionary project. They knew only slogans and what they read in Beijing Review, official statements, and maybe what they read in revolutionary tourist accounts. Maoists had no sense of what real, scientific history is about. They operated the same way the Stalin apologists did. They began with a frozen, dogmatic narrative, then they sought to defend it by cherry picking, omitting contradictory facts, and so on. They had no problem with lying. This was one of the many things that led me to question the claim that Maoism was the highest possible revolutionary science of our era. If they can’t even approach history honestly, if they know nothing about their own revolutionary history, then what other errors are they making? This was one of the many questions that led me from Maoism to the more advanced revolutionary science we have today, Leading Light Communism.
11. Having said all that, would you consider yourself a Lin Biaoist?
I embrace the best in all the Leading Lights of the past. In that sense, I am a Marxist, a Leninist, a Maoist, and a Lin Biaoist. However, that is not all that I am. Not only do I embrace what is the best in the revolutionary tradition, I embrace the most advanced breakthroughs today. I am a Leading Light Communist, a revolutionary scientist. Truth, as best as it can be understood, is my great leader.
There are a couple reasons I have focused on Lin Biao in my work. The first reason is that Lin Biao was a revolutionary. He represented some of the best of the Maoist era. He symbolized the Cultural Revolution and worldwide people’s war. That’s good stuff. Secondly, I view Lin Biao as a kind of barometer. How you view Lin Biao really reflects whether you are stuck in the dogma of police narratives and metaphysics or whether you have genuine scientific potential. If you are afraid to question dogma, then you are not very useful to the proletariat. If you are comfortable with dogma, injustice, police narratives, etc., then, again, you are not really leadership, vanguard, Leading Light material. The revolutionary movement is stuck in an impasse. It will take great leaders, real Leading Lights, to lead humanity out of the darkness. It will take people who know how to really think, who understand that there is a difference between claiming to be scientific and really being scientific.
12. Why do you think Mao began making mistakes in the 1970s?
Mao was human. Mao made mistakes. Humans make mistakes. Mao was growing very old by then. Mao’s physician reported that Mao’s health sharply declined after the split with Lin Biao. When Mao met with Nixon, they had to hide his oxygen tanks. At the Tenth Congress, Mao had to leave after all other delegates because he could no longer walk on his own. Mao was physically deteriorating. Perhaps Mao feared another famine if he continued to push left as Lin Biao had wanted. Mao was reportedly disappointed with how events had unfolded during the Cultural Revolution. Mao had been disappointed in his own Maoists. Perhaps this shook his confidence in revolution? In the 1970s, Mao and the Gang of Four, he leftover left, did not really have any revolutionary vision, so it was somewhat natural for the right to reassert itself with Mao’s blessing. It isn’t so much important why Mao the man began to slide toward revisionism. What is important is that he did so.
13. Why do you think the Cultural Revolution failed to prevent the restoration of capitalism?
There are numerous reasons. Even though the Cultural Revolution was very radical in the 1960s, and Lin Biao wanted to push left in the countryside before his death in 1971, Mao pulled back. This was a big mistake. We can point to Mao’s personal errors. We can point to Lin Biao’s death, the loss of the Maoist leadership in the military. Some might point to the ending of the mass movements, the spontaneous element of student and worker participation. We could say the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976, and on and on. But these answers don’t really get to the underlying issue. This is a question that people need to check out the writings on the website and the books if they want it answered in a deeper way.
The main reason is that I think that the model of socialism that existed in China was somewhat primitive and dogmatic at times. Although the Chinese model was an advance on the Stalinist model in important ways, it was not really adaptive enough, not creative enough, not scientific enough to withstand the onslaught of imperialist encirclement and domestic counter-revolutionaries. The concept of the good life and good society offered by the Chinese revolution was still too tied to economism and the Theory of the Productive Forces. The goals set by socialism were in some ways close to those of capitalism. The whole idea of development as understood by the capitalists is fundamentally flawed. Our goal should not be development so that we can have a prosperous consumer society like the First World. We need to get passed the idea that this is the way to communism. We need to get past the idea that we need to pass through modern capitalism as understood by the imperialists. We have a different goal. Our goal is Leading Light Communism, to end all oppression. We need to think in a totally new way. We need to have a totally new set of values, a new measures to determine the progress of our revolution. Our measures should be the physical health of the people, food, shelter, and so on. Also we need to have a look at the spiritual, ideological health of the people, artistic, literary, cultural creation, willingness to fight, to share, to sacrifice, preservation of the natural world, eliminating all oppression, promoting social experiment, joy itself. Our path is not the capitalist one. The Maoists, like the Soviets before, made great strides in the right direction, but it is on us to go even further as Leading Lights. Armed with the most advanced revolutionary science, as the vanguard, as Leading Lights, we are condemned to lead. We carry the world on our shoulders. We need to understand the past, but if we are to have victory, we must go beyond it. Elevate the science. Advance the science. Science. Science. Science. Leading Light Communism is the key to the future, our great destiny.
14. Before we end this interview. Do you have any final words to day?
Empire is so total today that many people have given up. They do not even know there are other ways to live. They do not dare to dream. Hopefully, we have cast light on the complexity of past revolution, but hopefully we have opened up some eyes to the fact that we can win. We can beat Empire, but we have to all come together and do our part. Each and every one of us has a duty to fight capitalism, to fight Empire, to serve the people. How dare they steal our futures, how dare they steal the futures of our children? Our future is our own. Our destiny is our own.
Thank you for having us on, Jason. You do important work reaching lots of people. You do important work exposing the elites, exposing the First World, exposing Empire.
Those who have eyes, look. Those who have ears, listen. Those who have minds, think. A storm is gathering. Revolution is in the air again. We extend our hand to everyone. We are a movement of all peoples, all colors, all languages, all nations. Leading Light extend our hand to everyone who truly seeks a better world. Thank you, Jason.
Commander Prairie Fire’s book “Seas are rising, Clouds and Waters Raging”
Leading Light Communist Organization Website
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