At 4am, on July 9th 1971, a Boeing 707 took off from Pakistan’s Chaklala Airbase to Beijing. A 48-year-old white American man boarded that plane with his entourage. He was Henry Kissinger, the assistant to the then US president Richard Nixon. Kissinger was on his first and historic secret trip to “Communist China”, as the People’s Republic of China was known in the American lexicon. This secret trip, codenamed “Marco Polo”, following the famous traveller’s 12th-century China adventure, not only became the steppingstone for the US-China diplomatic relationship but also for establishing capitalism in China.
As this year marks the 50th anniversary of Kissinger’s secret visit to China, who has been advocating for a stronger China-US partnership amid the bitterness in their present relationship, it also marks the very suspicious disappearance of Lin Biao, the second-in-command of “Communist China”, the vice-chairman of its ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), and the man declared as the heir-apparent to Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic and the chief architect of the Chinese Revolution. Lin went missing on September 13th 1971.
It took close to a year for the Chinese to declare Lin Biao dead. And after some more time, they officially called him a “counter-revolutionary”, a “traitor” and accused him of plotting a coup to usurp power by assassinating Mao and his close associates. It was alleged that having sensed that his plot was doomed, Lin tried to defect to the Soviet Union, with which China had a severely strained relationship over issues pertaining to Marxist-Leninist principles and national security. However, the famous military strategist, who never lost a battle in his lifetime, boarded a trident aircraft that had no fuel and the plane apparently crashed in Mongolia on September 13th 1971.
Lin’s mysterious disappearance, following the China trips of Kissinger and later his official purging by Chinese premiere Zhou Enlai at the Tenth National Congress of the CPC, triggered several questions. The Chinese state and the CPC still envelope the Lin Biao incident, and its aftermath, in a shroud of mystery. The opening up of China’s economy, restoration of capitalism under the guise of modernisation and tryst with “market socialism”, etc, need Lin to remain buried, deep inside, so that uncomfortable questions aren’t asked.
Lin Biao: The man who rose to fall
Born in 1907 in Huanggang, Hubei, to a prosperous family that saw its fortunes ruin due to unjust taxes imposed by warlords, Lin Biao, joined the famous Whampoa Military Academy after participating in China’s famous May Thirteenth Movement in 1925. In Whampoa, Zhou was Lin’s teacher. Chiang Kai-shek, the notorious Chinese Kuomintang leader who started the massacre of the communists, was the principal of Whampoa.
Lin participated in the Nanchang uprising on August 1st 1927 and later fled to the Jiangxi-Fujian liberated region under Mao. From his first meeting with Mao Zedong until he died in 1971, Lin not only remained the utmost loyal soldier of the renowned Chinese communist leader, which the Ninth National Congress of the CPC stated, he also, at times, acted “more Maoist than Mao himself”, as per the CIA’s declassified files on him.
From the two-line struggle against the ultra-left Otto Braun-led group to the Zunyi Conference in January 1935, Lin fought against the anti-Mao lines in the CPC and helped in establishing Mao as the authority of the Chinese Revolution. Lin’s military campaigns, inspired by Mao, led to greater damages to the forces of Chiang. Though Lin’s line of abandoning the Jiangxi Soviet area was criticised by the CPC leadership in 1934, it won Mao’s support. Like Mao, Lin followed the policy of continuing guerrilla warfare to mobilise the masses rather than positional warfare.
During Mao’s historic Long March to China’s Anti-Japanese War to the Liberation War 1945-49, Lin remained the most successful battlefield commander, who even scored better than the iconic Peng Dehuai on several counts. Though Lin was injured during the battle and due to his bad health was outside the battlefield during the second world war, he returned to the battlefield by 1945 and later led the successful campaigns against the Kuomintang, capturing key cities like Beijing before crossing the Yangtze River and forcing Chiang to flee to Formosa Islands (now Taiwan) with his leftover troops.
In 1955, Lin was named one of the Ten Marshals of the People’s Republic of China known for their exemplary military skills. Lin was the youngest among them. When Mao purged Peng over his revisionist and opportunist political standpoint, Lin became the defence minister in 1959 and remained in the position until his death.
Under Lin, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) got remodelled politically and organisationally. Lin brought the Chinese PLA out of the Soviet Union’s Red Army’s influence. He ended the fascination for technologies, professionalism and insignias that differentiated between the soldiers and the officers. Not only Lin introduced simple uniforms of the revolutionary era, sans any visible insignia, for all soldiers, he also turned the PLA into a bulwark of Mao Zedong’s political line, called “Mao Tse-tung’s Thought” or Mao Zedong’s Thought.
The PLA became a large-scale ideological remoulding project, which also became a role model for society and Mao’s most loyal weapon against the ‘capitalist-roaders’ like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Throughout the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, which Mao led with the support of Lin Biao, the entire PLA under Lin became the most important dual power centre. It would have been impossible for the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” between 1966 and 1969 to win victory at all if the PLA wasn’t on Mao’s side.
Not only the PLA under Lin supported the “Red Guards”—youth, student and worker activists—in carrying out the anti-rightwing struggle and in exposing the traitors within the top ranks of the CPC, it also managed to fill the vacuum wherever the civilian government fell, and the military managed the state affairs at the grassroots. Moreover, the PLA’s political remoulding and turning into a massive “learning centre” of Mao Zedong’s Thoughts became a role model for others in the country to emulate and implement.
Lin played a crucial role in defending Mao when he was isolated during and after the Eighth National Congress of the CPC, in which the right-wing section usurped the power of the Party and the state. The setback suffered by the “Great Leap Forward” movement—Mao’s attempt to industrialise China—in the late 1950s helped Mao’s detractors and opponents, including Liu and Deng, to oppose Mao’s policies strongly and strip the grand maverick of his powers.
After the first phase of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” concluded with the victorious Ninth National Congress of the CPC, held in April 1969, Lin Biao rose to the peak of prominence, seconding only to Mao. As per Mao’s wish, Lin was named his successor in writing in the CPC’s revised Constitution adopted in April 1969. Lin Biao was called “Mao’s best disciple”, “closest comrade-in-arms”, etc. He even prepared and presented the Report to the Ninth National Congress of the CPC in April 1969.
On April 14th 1969, the Press Communique of the Secretariat of the Presidium of the Ninth National Congress of the CPC stated, “…delegates pointed out that the draft Constitution of the Party has clearly reaffirmed that Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought is the theoretical basis guiding the Party’s thinking and clearly stipulated that Comrade Lin Piao is the successor to Chairman Mao”. This was reaffirmed on April 24th. Mao called the Ninth National Congress of the CPC “a congress of unity and a congress of victory”, and Lin’s elevation stunned the world.
It was this elevation that also paved the way to Lin’s downfall. Lin became a thorn in the eyes of several factions of the CPC leadership who were planning to usurp power. Therefore, within two years of Lin’s elevation, he mysteriously disappears and is later blamed for plotting a coup to topple Mao Zedong, the man around whom Lin’s life and ideology revolved, to usurp power. The same power that he was anyways going to get after the old man would die in a few years. Why would Lin, a master strategist and an undefeated general, try something so infantile? Had he killed Mao, the entire nation and the CPC would’ve risen against him. Was that very difficult for Lin Biao to grasp, when he was the first one to say, “whoever will oppose Mao Zedong shall be condemned and punished by the whole Chinese nation”?
Behind Lin’s sudden disappearance and the evolution of the theory of his alleged plot, there remains a set of developments that took place under Zhou Enlai, who was the longest-serving Chinese premiere. Zhou weathered all storms of revolutionary upheavals. Once considered as the closest ally of Liu, Zhou survived the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” by seeking protection from Mao after the rumbustious Red Guards caught him and condemned him for his past collaborations with the Kuomintang and his complicity in helping Liu establish capitalism in China. Zhou knew that if Lin survived and rose to the helm after Mao’s death, his plan to turn China into a capitalist, market-driven economy will be doomed. Lin had to go to turn China into a capitalist country.
Restoring capitalism, changing foreign policy
In his Report to the Ninth National Congress of the CPC, Lin said “…US imperialism and Soviet revisionist social-imperialism are bogged down in political and economic crises and beset with difficulties both at home and abroad and find themselves in an impasse. They collude and at the same time contend with each other in a vain attempt to redivide the world. They act in co-ordination and work hand in glove in opposing China, opposing communism and opposing the people, in suppressing the national liberation movement and in launching wars of aggression. They scheme against each other and get locked in strife for raw materials, markets, dependencies, important strategic points and spheres of influence. They are both stepping up arms expansion and war preparations, each trying to realize its own ambitions.”
Talking about the world situation, Lin said in his report “…there are four major contradictions in the world today: the contradiction between the oppressed nations on the one hand and imperialism and social-imperialism on the other; the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the capitalist and revisionist countries; the contradiction between imperialist and social-imperialist countries and among the imperialist countries; and the contradiction between socialist countries on the one hand and imperialism and social-imperialism on the other. The existence and development of these contradictions are bound to give rise to revolution.”
“US imperialism and Soviet revisionism are always trying to “isolate” China; this is China’s honour. Their rabid opposition to China cannot do us the slightest harm. On the contrary, it serves to further arouse our people’s determination to maintain independence and keep initiative in our own hands, rely on our own efforts and work hard to make our country prosperous and powerful; it serves to prove to the whole world that China has drawn a clear line between herself on the one hand and US imperialism and Soviet revisionism on the other. Today, it is not imperialism, revisionism and reaction but the proletariat and the revolutionary people of all countries that determine the destiny of the world. The genuine Marxist-Leninist Parties and organisations of various countries, which are composed of the advanced elements of the proletariat, are a new rising force with infinitely broad prospects. The Communist Party of China is determined to unite and fight together with them”, Lin wrote in his Report.
He placed both the Americans and the Soviets as equal threats to the Chinese people and their socialist state. Lin, who had earlier written a pamphlet named “Long Live The Victory of People’s War” in 1965, promoted the concept of “people’s war” as a global strategy of liberation for colonial and semi-colonial semi-feudal countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In this pamphlet, Lin urged the communists all over the world to consider the strategy of people’s war, ie, mobilising the masses to wage a war against the ruling classes and encircling cities through the countryside, as the principal strategy for their liberation.
Lin’s pamphlet—based on Mao’s strategy of encircling cities through the countryside and relying on the peasantry in a backward, semi-colonial and semi-feudal country—divided the world into two parts. On one hand, it called the countries of North America and Europe the cities of the world and, on the other hand, it called the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America the countryside of the world. Lin asserted that only by liberating the countryside of the world and then encircling the cities of the world using these countries the communists can finally win the world.
During the period of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” between 1966 to 1969, China adopted the theory of people’s war also as a revolutionary diplomatic policy and supported the communist movements in these countries, especially in Indo-China, that fought against the US and the Soviet Union. China, following Lin’s categorisation of the world, considered both the US and the Soviet Union as its enemies and maintained equidistance from both.
At the same time, at the economic front, under Mao and Lin, it followed the principle of “putting politics in command” and called for “grabbing the revolution; advance the production” to ensure all economic activities are managed under the aegis of the political goal of consolidating the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, ie, the rule of the working class in the socialist political state. For this reason, Lin promoted Mao’s slogan: “Never forget class struggle”.
But at the other end, Zhou and his associates were disturbed by the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” and considered China’s revolutionary foreign policy an impediment in achieving its economic modernisation policy. Though neither Mao nor Lin was hostile to the idea of having peaceful relationships with the US or the Soviet Union, they didn’t endorse Zhou’s idea of prostrating before the West to gain access to technology and capital investments. Zhou, who maintained a “revolutionary” façade after the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, had saved several of the right-wing elements from purges between 1965-69 vis-à-vis Lin, who didn’t even save his protégé whenever they faulted or committed excesses under the garb of controlling violence by the Red Guard. Though a cunning Zhou used Mao’s name in endorsing his own policies, it’s unlikely that the old man didn’t know of his designs.
While the Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev briefly engaged with the Chinese for peace talks in October 1969, after Lin lambasted Moscow accusing it of following the principles of the Czarist Russia, Nixon’s administration was building a connection with China through Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Yahya Khan of Pakistan. The US wanted to poach Zhou in its favour before Moscow could buy peace with Peking. They had their man, Dong Biwu, the vice-chairman of the People’s Republic of China, who, despite being a right-winger, was saved by Zhou during the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” using his clout. Dong was familiar with the US and had great admiration for the Americans since the 1940s.
In his secret note to Nixon, Kissinger wrote: “Talks between the Soviet Union and Communist China begin in Peking on October 20. We do not believe that these will result in a fundamental change in the Sino-Soviet relationship. The roots of the ideological dispute will remain, together with a certain level of tension. Although the Sino-Soviet discussions have apparently not gone well thus far, we cannot exclude the possibility of at least a partial rapprochement between the Soviets and the Chinese, which might take the form of some restoration of normalcy in state-to-state relations.”
Kissinger also formulated the US strategy towards China-Soviet discussions. He stressed on discombobulating the Soviet leadership and forestalling any Sino-Soviet rapprochement. “Our moves may introduce an additional complicating factor into the Soviet leadership’s assessment of our intentions towards China— and towards the USSR, as well. Such an effect would also serve our long-term interest of forestalling an eventual more fundamental rapprochement between the USSR and China,” Kissinger wrote.
However, when Kissinger sent a note through Khan to Zhou in 1970 regarding opening a backchannel dialogue to restore ties between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, Zhou got approval from both Mao and Lin for the same, albeit with riders that established demilitarisation of Taiwan and East Asia as the principal subject of any discussion.
Zhou, in his response to Khan’s verbal communication regarding Nixon’s desire for talks, said “This (meaning the reply) is not from me alone but from Chairman Mao and Vice Chairman Lin Piao (Biao) as well. We thank the President of Pakistan for conveying to us orally a message from President Nixon. China has always been willing and has always tried to negotiate by peaceful means. Taiwan and Straits of Taiwan are an inalienable part (sic) of China which have now been occupied by foreign troops of the United States for the last fifteen years. Negotiations and talks have been going on with no results whatsoever. In order to discuss this subject of the vacation of Chinese territories called Taiwan, a special envoy of President Nixon’s will be most welcome in Peking (Beijing).”
One can see in this reply that Mao and Lin approved of a dialogue with the US on the issue of the vacation of the Chinese territory of Taiwan. This same standpoint was reiterated when the Romanian ambassador to the US, Corneliu Bogdan, delivered Zhou’s message to Kissinger in January 1971. According to Bogdan, quoted by Kissinger in his communication to Nixon, Zhou said: “The communication from the US President is not new. There is only one outstanding issue between us – the US occupation of Taiwan. The PRC has attempted to negotiate on this issue in good faith for 15 years. If the US has a desire to settle the issue and a proposal for its solution, the PRC will be prepared to receive a US special envoy in Peking. This message has been reviewed by Chairman Mao and by Lin Piao (Biao).”
This communication again shows that both Mao and Lin wanted discussions with the US on the issue of an American exit from Taiwan, where Chiang took refuge with his Kuomintang bandits. Earlier, in 1970, the US mentioned that it plans to progressively reduce military presence in Taiwan. “With respect to the US military presence on Taiwan (sic), however, you should know that the policy of the United States Government is to reduce progressively its military presence in the region of East Asia and the Pacific as tensions in this region diminish.” However, until today, the US troops remain stationed in Taiwan and the occupied southern Korean territories, while a new military axis —the Quad— is built against China.
But Zhou wasn’t discussing the removal of troops from Taiwan. It was the last of his concern. Zhou was willing to discuss a new bilateral relationship with the US sans the ideological baggage and he knew neither Mao nor Lin Biao will approve his manoeuvres. Amid his attempts to woo the US and Nixon, Zhou had to suffer ignominy as Mao, on his May 20th 1970 speech, categorised the US as the principal enemy of the people of the world.
In his speech, Mao said, “A new upsurge in the struggle against United States imperialism is now emerging throughout the world. Ever since World War II, United States imperialism and its followers have been continuously launching wars of aggression and the people in various countries have been continuously waging revolutionary wars to defeat the aggressors. The danger of a new world war still exists, and the people of all countries must get prepared. But revolution is the main trend in the world today.”
Stressing the Chinese people’s and CPC’s support for the people’s anti-imperialist struggle against the US imperialism, Mao said: “The revolutionary armed struggles of the people of Korea, Japan and other Asian countries against the revival of Japanese militarism by the United States and Japanese reactionaries, the struggles of the Palestinian and other Arab peoples against the United States‐Israeli aggressors, the national liberation struggles of the Asian, African and Latin‐American peoples, and the revolutionary struggles of the peoples of North America, Europe and Oceania are all developing vigorously.”
“The Chinese people firmly support the people of the three Indochinese countries and of other countries of the world in their revolutionary struggles against United States imperialism and its lackeys.”
Mao ended the speech calling the US a ‘paper tiger’, which he had been saying since the end of the second world war. He also asserted, emphasising on the principles of people’s war that a weak nation, like countries of the Indo-China or Asian-African-Latin American countries, can defeat the US. Mao said, “A weak nation can defeat a strong, a small nation can defeat a big nation. The people of a small country can certainly defeat aggression by a big country, if only they dare to rise in struggle, take up arms and grasp in their own hands the destiny of their country. This is a law of history.
People of the world, unite and defeat the United States aggressors and all their running dogs!”
Mao’s hardened standpoint on the US was a signal to Zhou’s manoeuvres. Zhou was trying to usurp power so that Mao can be isolated and rendered as a showpiece sans any revolutionary zeal. For this reason, Lin, who defended Mao on everything under the sun, had to be removed. Zhou got an opportunity in June 1970, when the Chinese PLA Airforce sent three Mig 19s to shoot down an American C-130 plane collecting intelligence regarding Chinese naval presence in the high seas. Kissinger doubted this as a work of Lin Biao and his radical camp, as the PLA Airforce remained the most militant branch of the forces during the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”. Zhou took the opportunity to isolate the Mao-Lin duo in the Second Plenary Session of the Ninth Central Committee of the CPC at Lushan. After his May 20th speech, Mao was never seen in public rallies ever. By mid-1971, both Mao and Lin were cornered.
At the Lushan Plenary Session, Lin and his protégé Chen Boda proposed that Mao replace Zhou as the state head by becoming the president of the State Council. Zhou and his gang opposed this move as that will belittle their power and influence. Zhou managed to split Lin and other members of the former Shanghai-based Cultural Revolution Group (CRG) like Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. These four, later called the “Gang of Four”, who were also against Zhou’s pro-capitalist policies, were trapped by the cunning premiere and his protégés. The Gang of Four became a pawn for Zhou to create confusion over Mao Zedong’s Thought and to attack Lin.
In April 1971, the American table-tennis team toured Beijing and it was only then that Edgar Snow’s December 18th 1970 interview with Mao, where the latter said, on conditions, he wanted to invite Nixon to China, was published. Unlike his famous book “Red Star Over China”, Snow’s second series of interviews didn’t cover Lin Biao, the second prominent man in China then, after Mao himself, at all. Rather, Snow wrote in galore about Zhou’s management of the state affairs. Snow was photographed with Mao and Lin Biao during the National Day celebrations on October 1st 1970, and the picture was published on the front page of the People’s Daily, surprisingly on December 25 1970.
After June 1971, Lin couldn’t make any public appearance as he was isolated by Zhou and Kang Sheng. In July, Lin’s message to Beqir Balluku, vice-chairman of the council of ministers and Albanian defence minister, was published in Peking Review (now Beijing Review) but Lin was not seen in public when the Albanian People’s Army’s 28th anniversary was celebrated in Beijing. Even during the celebration of Army Day on August 1st 1971, Lin wasn’t present at the venue, though he was the defence minister at that time. Still, Zhou mentioned Lin’s name during Kissinger’s first secret visit to China in July 1971. However, Kissinger noted that Zhou didn’t take Lin’s name from August 1971 onwards. On September 8th, Lin’s name was mentioned with Mao’s on a congratulatory cable to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on its 23rd founding day.
When Kissinger visited China officially in October 1971, a few weeks following the “Lin Biao incident”, he was welcomed with posters that said, “People of the World, Unite! Overthrow the American Imperialists and their Running Dogs!”. A visibly annoyed Kissinger complained about the posters to Zhou, and the latter said in a lighter note that these were “empty words”. This showed the paradigm shift in Chinese policy. Mao, rendered helpless by Lin’s death, was forced to find another way to counter Zhou’s rise, using his name and his legacy to expand a notorious cause.
Soon after Lin resumed office in 1959, he made the PLA undergo rigorous political training. Lin emphasised Mao’s criticisms of the Soviet Union’s deviation from socialism and Marxism-Leninism and his historic ideological polemic against Nikita Khrushchev-led Soviet Communist Party’s leadership. Lin, along with his ally Chen Boda, developed what’s called “Mao Zedong’s Thought” and called it the latest and the highest development of Marxism-Leninism. Lin and his supporters projected Mao as the fifth major communist leader in the pantheon of Marxism-Leninism after Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Ilych Lenin and Joseph Stalin.
In his foreword of the “Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-tung”, popularly known as the “Little Red Book”, Lin called Mao Zedong’s Thought as the highest stage of Marxism-Leninism of the present era in which “imperialism is heading towards total collapse and socialism is marching towards worldwide victory.” This was quoted from Mao’s “Present Situation and Our Tasks” (Selected Works, Vol IV, English ed, Foreign Languages Press, page 173), where he said, “This is the historic epoch in which world capitalism and imperialism are going down to their doom and world socialism and people’s democracy are marching to victory.”
Through this assertion, which was officially endorsed by the CPC in its Ninth National Congress, Lin emphasised that the world has entered a stage of a general offensive against imperialism and its lackeys. This goes against the assertion of Khrushchev and other Chinese leaders who proclaimed that the era belonged to Lenin, ie, the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, which means an era blended with offensive and defensive measures for the world’s working class, which gives validation to communists participating in parliaments.
Following the new line, especially on Mao’s era, which asserted that the present era, starting from 1965, is an era of strategic offence, the communist movement throughout the world saw an ideological split whereby the old guards continued to peddle the obsolete theories borrowed from Khrushchev, while new leaderships emerged that staunchly followed Mao’s model of revolution. People’s war, which Lin highlighted as the general strategy for global revolution, started throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, while China firmly supported the liberation struggle of the people colonised by imperialist forces. Be it the Vietnamese people’s war against the US, the people’s war in Laos, Cambodia, or the Palestinian people’s resistance struggle against Zionist terrorist ‘Israel’, Beijing remained a firm ally of the struggling masses all over the world.
After the first phase of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” won a victory in April 1969, following the conclusion of the Ninth National Congress of the CPC, Mao’s prestige and the credibility of his ‘thoughts’ reached the highest peak. People’s struggles started in new countries, and even in capitalist states like France Mao’s influence brought thousands of students and youth on the streets. The revolutionary upsurge and mass movements scared the US and the Soviets, who were jointly trying to redivide the world by curtailing people’s aspirations for socialism and freedom. For them, it was important to curb Mao’s influence and that could be done by doing away with Lin.
Following Lin’s death, Zhou immediately, along with Kang, took upon the task of de-radicalising Mao Zedong’s Thought and turning the tide against the working class. In his Report to the Tenth National Congress of the CPC, Zhou said, “Chairman Mao has often taught us: We are still in the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution.” By this, he reversed the advances that Mao’s ideology made between 1965 and 1971.
Zhou also brought the term “Third World” in the CPC’s lexicon, which later translated into the Theory of Three Worlds. This theory considered the Soviet Union as the biggest threat to China and paved the way for its strong alliance with the US. The collective work of the tenth central committee brought an end to China’s support of the global people’s war and its position as the bastion of global revolutionary struggle. Therefore, from supporting Augusto Pinochet’s coup in Chile to Pakistan’s atrocities on Bengalis in former East Pakistan, Chinese foreign policy tilted to the right soon after Lin’s death.
Apart from his active allies like Kang, Ye Jianying, Li Xiannian, Zhu De, etc, Zhou had his pro-capitalist protégés, including the notorious Deng Xiaoping, Zhao Ziyang, etc, elevated to the highest seats of power. An ailing Mao, who anticipated a major threat to China from Zhou and his allies, launched another struggle against the restoration of capitalism. Before Zhou’s death, Mao pitted Hua Guofeng on the one hand, Jiang, Zhang, Yao and Wang, on the other hand, against Zhou’s growing clout. However, as both Hua as well as Jiang, Zhang, Yao and Wang collaborated with Zhou during and after Lin’s fall, it was hard for them to unitedly opposed Zhou.
After Zhou died in February 1976, seven months before Mao, Deng was ousted, and the people’s struggle was launched against the restoration of capitalism. Mao didn’t allow any state mourning of Zhou, who was trying to reverse the gains of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”. However, after Mao died in September 1976, Hua, who feared the Gang of Four’s retribution, organised a coup in collaboration with Deng’s protégés and usurped power. After Deng was rehabilitated, Hua was purged.
In the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978, Mao’s policies were officially scrapped by Deng and the policy to pursue a capitalist model of growth, supported by the US and the western powers, was adopted.
Two members of the Gang of Four—put on trial, ironically with Lin Biao, whom they opposed from 1972 to 1976, as counter-revolutionaries—confessed their “crimes” under pressure and two didn’t. Jiang was allegedly murdered in custody in 1991, while Wang died in 1992. Yao and Zhang, both of whom died in 2005, were the last living members of the group contacted by the author in 2003 for their bytes on the Lin Biao incident, but both refused to comment fearing reprisal and further tortures. Moreover, they didn’t want to discuss an issue they claimed was buried deep in history.
Lin’s death: the mysterious case
A lot of research took place on Lin Biao’s tragic flight trajectory. Why the flight, which was supposed to go to the Soviet Union, flew without a full tank? Why didn’t the flight land in Soviet cities where it could reach with its existing fuel? Why the pilot of the Trident, Pan Jingyin, was conferred the title of “Revolutionary Martyr” by Deng’s administration after the so-called ‘paramount’ leader told the Christian Science Monitor during an interview—quoted in the People’s Daily, November 24 1980—that he considers him as a “good person”?
Was Lin plotting against Mao or someone else? Was he trying to oust Zhou, the mediocre-yet-cunning premiere by using the PLA to safeguard Mao? Did Lin realise the plot of Zhou and his gang? Did Lin trust the wrong people in his last struggle against Zhou in frail health?
These are many questions whose answers won’t be available anymore as Hua and his collaborators destroyed all records, desk diaries, reports, minutes of meetings, etc, that could prove what happened in 1971 and what were the findings of the committees that were investigating Lin Biao’s crimes. Chen Boda was the last person, who died in 1989, but was too sick and bed-ridden to leave any detailed note on the trail of events and Lin’s purported plot to oust Zhou and his gang.
Lin Biao, present China and the US
The so-called “capitalist-roader” Lin Biao was never rehabilitated by the real capitalist-roader Deng and his followers. Though Liu and others, including Peng, are rehabilitated in the party, but Lin, the biggest “capitalist-roader” remains banished. At present, using his name or legacy is banned in China. His book “Long Live the Victory of People’s War” remains banned in China, while the “Little Red Book”, without his foreword, is sold as a souvenir to foreign tourists.
However, Zhou and Deng’s tryst with the US didn’t pay a long-term dividend. Under Xi Jinping, though China’s economy has grown at a phenomenal rate, it has earned the US’s wrath, despite prostrating before Washington DC on several occasions. Ironically, it’s in Russia that China has found an ally against the US’s bullying. The CPC has lost its past prestige in the 1980s itself when it redefined Mao Zedong’s Thought as a typical Chinese form of Marxism and obliterated concepts of class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian internationalism from its lexicon.
At present, Lin remains taboo in the world’s so-called “Maoist” movement that has its roots in Peru’s Shinning Path movement started by Abimael Guzmán Reynoso “Gonzalo”. The movement derives its understanding of Mao Zedong’s Thought, now coined as “Maoism”, from Zhou’s and Gang of Four’s ideological standpoints. Due to this ideological standpoint, the movement continues to work as per Lenin’s era and refuse to accept Lin’s assertion that the present era is not of Lenin’s but Mao’s. Most of these movements refuse to critically review Lin Biao’s position, political line and assertions and continue to follow an orthodox understanding following the CPC’s propaganda and slanders peddled by the Tenth National Congress of the CPC.
Lin Biao left a lot of questions behind him. After his death, the general high tide of revolution also died down. Though global monopoly-finance capital is in a quagmire of sheer crisis and no blocs can defend the rule of capital on labour, no working-class alternative is snowballing into a formidable force. Either the revolutionary movements in different countries have gone astray or have entered a stage of stagnation. Even the “Maoist” camp can’t carry forward the revolutionary struggles to any conclusive end anywhere in the world but seeking respite in dialogues, which has become a Gonzaloist trend. The decade-old people’s war in Nepal was submerged in the pool of opportunism through the bait of “dialogue”.
What will be the fate of the working class’s revolutionary struggle around the world and in China depends on how the political forces that advocate such struggles critically analyse the lessons of China’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, the Lin Biao affair, Zhou Enlai’s rise and fall, and Mao’s death and restoration of capitalism. Unless they can get out of the propaganda shell and use Marxism to seek truth from facts, it won’t be possible for them to rectify their actions and boost their movements. As the roots of all such revolutionary movements lie in China which was led by Mao and Lin, it’s in analysing the history and learning from its positives and negatives that the contemporary followers of Mao can rejuvenate themselves and their movements.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker