Friday, October 21, 2011

Stalin & Mao -- Public Works

The Kingdome of Darknesse…is nothing else but a confederacy of Deceivers, that to obtain dominion over men in this present world, endeavour by dark, and erroneous Doctrines, to extinguish them in the Light, both of Nature, and of the Gospel.
                                                                 Thomas Hobbes
Stalin and Mao during their long dictatorships remained obsessed with massive public works projects that they believed would grandly visualize both the glory and superiority of Communism as well as permanently establish and memorialize their own personal genius. The public works obsessions of both of these men were put into practice and resulted not only in an astonishing and specular squandering of resources and a devastation of the environment, but the senseless death, injury and exhaustion of tens of thousands of people.   When the work was finished and the workers dead or physically wasted and disabled, the projects themselves were resounding failures, glaring monstrosities of stupidity, waste and incompetence.  
Stalin like Lenin and Marx had no practical experience of work in either a factory or a farm.  The Bolsheviks until they came to power had never planned, managed or produced anything.  They were utopian speculators and pontificators with few practical skills or technical knowledge, no managerial or administrative expertise and no governing experience. But above all they were angry and unhappy, animated by an intense loathing for the social structure they aimed to dismantle and were especially hostile to individuals with recognized skills and expertise, those who had made the “corrupt” order work.  Stalin himself had never made or built anything with his hands.  He never established any actual lasting connections with people who did real physical labor, who worked in the factories, who mined, fished, farmed, logged – none of these people did the Champion of the working class come in any significant way to know, esteem or engage.  He was surrounded by people like him, professional revolutionaries who had come to power with neither practical nor administrative experience.  After 1928 writes Martin Malia, “Stalin never visited rural Russia again.  Throughout the whole collectivization drive, in fact to the end of his days, he never inspected a Red kolkhoz.” [Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917-1991, New York, 1994, 194]           
Stalin’s complete lack of engineering, geological or commercial knowledge and experience was never an inhibition to the projects he would plan and order.  He conceived and ordered the construction of the White Sea Canal to connect the cold water of the White Sea to the commercial ports of the Baltic.  The high cost and even the question of the necessity of the entire project (140 miles of digging with five damns and nineteen locks) were dismissed by Stalin as irrelevant.  Paying for it, of course, posed no problem for him. He used slaves, that is, Soviet citizens most of whom were arbitrarily arrested, and forced to do the work with an impossibly accelerated schedule (20 months), minimal surveying and engineering preparation, and primitive tools – hand digging, horses and wheel barrows. [Anne Applebaum, Gulag, a History, New York, 2004, 62-64].  Over 25,000 workers, in this new society planned and governed by ideologues who loudly claimed to rule on behalf of the workers, died through the course of the worthless project.  The White Sea Canal project was not and had never been necessary and, with its too shallow waterways and the rail alternatives, turned out to be almost completely useless as a commercial waterway or for anything else.  There was never any good reason to build it.  It fell eventually into permanent disuse and decay.  These massive projects were always trumpeted with great fanfare by the organs of state propaganda and presented by the party as colossal achievements.  Sycophancy trumped reality and no effort was spared to present these projects as spectacular accomplishments of the new Socialist man. Stalin enlisted the illustrious writer Maxim Gorky to edit the White Sea—Baltic Canal a laudatory compilation of lies of 120 Soviet writers. [Martin, Amis, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, New York, 2003,  227]
 Stalin in the 1930s elevated the ignoramus and quack agronomist, Trofim Lysenko, to a dictatorship over Soviet biological science. With his ideological assault on modern biology and genetics, Lysenko set back Soviet agriculture 30 years. Lysenko’s notions of acquired characteristics as applied to agronomy and horticulture appealed to Stalin because they were more in keeping with his Marxist view that the alteration of environmental conditions could produce rapid positive ameliorations.  Lysenko and his acolytes used their proximity to Stalin and the favor he bestowed upon them to abuse and vilify real scientists and capable technicians. Khrushchev also fell under the spell of Lysenko and let him implement vast experiments that were disastrous for Soviet agriculture and were in part responsible for his own fall from power in 1964.

Mao following, following Stalin’s lead, imported Lysenkoism into China with the same ideological obtuseness and producing the same practical wreckage.   Mao forced science like everything else he attempted to manage into his own crudely fashioned Marxist centerpiece themes.  “Lysenko’s theories meshed perfectly with Mao’s obsession with class struggle.  He readily believed that plants from the same ‘class’ would never compete against each other for good or light. While the Chinese Communists were still in Yanan, the chief Chinese Lysenkoist, Luo Tianyu, propagated the Soviet teachings: and in the 1942 rectification movement, a purge of Party members, Luo enthusiastically persecuted those who believed in genetics.” [Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, New York, 1998, 68]  Genetics in China was banned because it conflicted with Mao’s Marxist-grounded “wisdom.”  Inherited diseases, like sickle cell anemia thus could not exist in the Chinese Communist world. [Jasper, Hungry Ghosts, 69]     
As Mao launched the Great Leap Forward with his customary modesty he thundered that “there is a new war: we should open fire on nature.” [Frank Dikotter, Mao's Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, New York, 2011 174]   Nature, like people, was simply for Mao another temporary obstacle that would bend to his will and yield to the application of massive force so as to become part of the new restructured reality, a monument to his wisdom.  Again, a man with no scientific, engineering or technical knowledge of any kind would plan and dictate the most wide sweeping projects and policies related to agriculture, dams, and other massive public works projects.   Dikotter writes that “throughout the country [China] country dams and canals, built by hundreds of millions of farmers at great human and economic costs, were for the greatest part rendered useless or even dangerous, resulting in landslides, river silting, soil salinisation and devastating inundation.” [Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine, xii]   Mao’s Three Gate Gorge project, like Stalin’s White Sea Canal, was an extravaganza of hubris, folly and destruction, the end result a useless waste of people and a ruined piece of nature.  “The project was officially launched in April 1957, despite the reservation of several hydraulic engineers…. By the end of 1958 the Yellow River was blocked.  Some 6 million square metres of earth had been moved in a pharaonic enterprise involving the labor of tens of thousands of villagers… By 1961 the amount of silt carried by the Yellow River had doubled…. Up to 95 per cent of the Yellow River west of Zhengshou was mud.  A few years later the area was so silted up that foreigners were banned from visiting the dam.” [Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine, 26]  The price for this combination of ignorance and arrogance was paid for not by Mao and his sycophants but by the Chinese people who lived daily with the destruction and had endured the false propaganda of its success. 

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