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In New Interview, Communists Share All

Audie Cornish​: Both Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong were famous communist leaders.

Through political terror and economic troubles, tens of millions died under their separate

reigns. I’m here to speak with both of them post-mortem on their reigns, feelings, and

legacies. It’s Friday, November 17, and this is ​All Things Considered​.

*intro music plays*

AC​: Today we’re welcoming Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, infamous communist

leaders whose legacies still live on today. We’ll talk about their rise to communist fame,

the people’s opinion, their regrets, and their fall. Welcome, gentlemen.

JS​: Thank you for having us.

MZ​: It’s nice to be here.

AC​: I wanted to start off our interview by discussing your separate paths to communism.

How did you discover communism and where did you go from there?

JS​: I started off as a, er, fundraiser, for Lenin’s communist party. Eventually Lenin

named me as General Secretariat of the party, which meant I could appoint officials.

When Lenin died, his position wasn’t yet taken, and it was between me and another

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man, Trotsky. He had also been close with Lenin and had the support of the people, but

I was more likable within the party. After Lenin’s passing, however, he [Lenin] had left

this testament, asking that I be removed. I politely offered to resign my position as

General Secretariat in order to respect Lenin’s wishes. If Trotsky truly wanted to be the

party’s leader, he could have taken the position then. Clearly he wasn’t born a leader,

as he did nothing. Luckily for me, a friend, Gregory Zinoviev, stated that the party

should ignore the testament, and by 1929, I was able to take the leadership position. I

never heard from Trotsky again, I heard he died in a horrible accident involving an

icepick in Mexico City.

AC​: Why do you think Lenin left this testament?

JS​: He thought I didn’t play well with others, although that was proved untrue as I was

then picked over Trotsky as leader of the communist party.

AC​: Interesting. Mao, your starting point?

MZ​: My beginnings were similar, as I was also sparring with someone for power. I

started, however, as a student studying in a Marxist study group run by Li Dazhou. He

co-founded the Chinese Communist Party and was actually greatly influenced by one of

your journals, Stalin - ​The Communist International​. After this, I joined the Guomindang

Party, which was founded by Sun-Yat-Sen. The CCP and the Guomindang Party were

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supposed to be an allies in order to unify China, but really they were pitted against each

other. The Guomindang Party was more nationalist and capitalist, so we [communists]

thought by being inside of it we could take it down from within. This is really where my

adversary comes in. Chiang Kai-Shek, my main rival, was a protege of Sun-Yat-Sen. In

1925, after Sun-Yat-Sen died, the CCP and the Guomindang Party went head to head.

We “joined” together to fight the warlords that were taking over China, but Kai-Shek

promised the warlords safety in exchange for an alliance to him against the

communists. Soon after, he ordered the White Terror - a coup on us communists. It was

a massacre. Those that could fled. We ended up in Yan’an. This was where you [Stalin]

sent over your Bolsheviks. Yet after all this work, I didn’t want to hand over power. The

party needed organization, a leader. From there, I took control. After watching you

[Stalin], I saw things that could be improved.

JS​: Interesting. I suppose looking back, I agree.

AC​: Let’s further talk about your rise to power, Mao. How did you defeat Kai-Shek?

MZ​: Chiang hated us more than I personally hate sparrows. He hunted us down as

much as he could, but come 1937, a second Sino-Japanese War had started. He had to

focus more on the Japanese than us. This essentially forced him into the second

alliance we had in order to help defeat the Japanese. About four years later, the

communists started fighting the nationalists ​and​ the Japanese. At this point, Kai-Shek’s

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nationalists weren’t fighting the Japanese much at all - in fact, they were retreating. I

developed an idea of guerilla fighting to take out the Japanese like fleas on a dog. The

mass of individual, small attacks on the Japanese worked, and we finally beat them.

That was a major step for China and for the CCP. The masses loved us. People began

to talk about the increasing corruption in Chiang’s ranks, and even the US tried to help

his case, but to no avail. Truly, he was doomed from the start. In 1949, he couldn’t take

it anymore and fled to Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China was now communist. It

had been a long fight, but I knew we would succeed. When I was just a student, I lived

in Hunan among the peasants. I believed that they would lead the next revolution - they

were the majority of the country. By working, living, and eating with them, I could grow

closer to them and gain their support. This is where Chiang failed. Stalin, I feel this is

where we differ also. I felt that in order to succeed, we had to have the peasants on our

side. Of course, I say this with no disrespect. China is simply not Russia. Our

communist parties had to function differently.

JS​: Although they may not have helped as much with my rise to power, the peasants in

Russia were of great help to me during the time of rapid industrialization.

AC​: Speaking of, how ​was​ your relationship with the people?

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JS​: Well… I wanted to catch up with the West, as I didn’t want our country to end up at

the mercy of them. Our country had to rapidly industrialize at ​any​ cost, and I think the

peasants didn’t understand that.

AC​: Do you think part of this was due to your use of slave labor, taxation, and exiling?

JS​: Perhaps. But those who suffered from this or complained were clearly enemies of

the state. I do not regret these decisions. They helped Russia become an industrial

power.

AC​: What do you think people who were allies of the state thought of you?

JS​: I was a god. People loved me - they thought what I thought, they read what I read,

they saw what I saw. I rewrote history to keep my political presence clean, as any good

politician would do. Most importantly, I kept the country safe from enemies - there were

many, even within the top ranks of the party and the Red Army.

AC​: And Mao, how did people view you, with your more people-friendly approach?

MZ​: Although I was worshipped for my hard work and good looks, I received criticism as

well. I started off as one of the people and tried my best to meet their needs. If the

people loved me, no enemy could reach me. I thought I was working well, but I wanted

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to hear it from the voices of the people, especially the intellectuals. In 1957, I launched

the Hundred Flowers Campaign, which allowed the masses to leave feedback for me.

Many of them, however, criticized my work. As Stalin mentioned, these people were

dangerous to the state. They were selfish capitalists! In order to protect communism in

China itself, I had to send these people away to be re-educated on the values we held

dear.

AC​: It seems neither of you takes kindly to criticism.

JS​: If I knew this interview was going to be so hostile, I would have stayed six feet

under.

AC​: Uh-huh. Let’s continue on with your roots. Mao, would you care to discuss more of

what you thought could be improved in Stalin’s communist Russia?

MZ​: Of course. Stalin, before I begin, know that the party cannot be educated without

learning from mistakes.1 As I mentioned previously, I focused more on the peasants in

the beginning, as I believed they would lead the next revolution. Once I came to power,

I started by weeding out any corruption and inefficiency left from Chiang’s rule, and I

encouraged the peasants to inform me of them. I followed many of the same steps

Stalin did, but corrected his mistake in moving too quickly. If the people had been

1
Zedong, Mao. ​On Practice​. Vol. 1 (1937): pp. 304.
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exposed to communism all at once, they would have rioted. By implementing things like

communal farms, production goals, and government-owned businesses over a course

of time, people will grow used to communism. I will also note that when I came to

power, I had many advantages that Lenin did not have when enforcing communism in

Russia. We, the CCP, were the majority in China after beating the Japanese. Lenin and

the Bolsheviks were the minority, starting a new government! Russia was also divided

into many fronts at the time. We had finally driven out the West and the Japanese.

China was back on track and I was able to take the wheel.

AC​: It’s interesting that you note the West in this way. I’m assuming they were not on

good terms with the Chinese after the opium crisis and World War Two?

MZ​: Yes, we hated them. They took our land, our resources, and tried to imprint their

Western religion on us. They also mainly spoke English - this was China, they should

have learned ​our​ language.

AC​: Would you say this influenced how you later behaved with the West?

MZ​: Yes. They were always seeking out ways to destroy us. The West, especially the

US, loathed communism. They’re quite selfish, really. When I took power, I vowed that

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our nation would “never again be an insulted nation.”2 I demanded respect from the

world and I didn’t want China to be walked all over.

JS​: I understand. The West was our enemy. If we hadn’t industrialized and adopted

more modern ways, we would have been at their mercy.

AC​: Speaking of how things would’ve gone - looking back, is there anything you would

do differently?

JS​: I think I would have gone to therapy to become less paranoid. It’s the reason some

innocent people were shipped away to gulags. Most of them, however, were still

probably enemies of the state. Yet had I been less paranoid, I could have welcomed the

Jews and others fleeing the Nazis and gained their support. Thousands upon thousands

could have joined us. I would have followed a plan more like Mao’s; focusing on the

people and taking small steps at a time. This way, the people would be more dependent

on me and not a machine I built to run by itself. On top of this, I should have never

trusted Hitler to hold a deal. Only two years after we made the pact not to attack each

other for ten years, he attacked! People say you should never trust a man with a

moustache… I should have had a stronger army. I guess I could’ve kept around a few of

my top officials instead of purging them.

2
Zedong, Mao. "Proclamation of the Central People's Government." Speech, Beijing, China. October 1,
1949.
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MZ​: Let it be known that I am always clean shaven. During my regime, I only had a

handful of regrets. One of my biggest ones is launching the Hundred Flowers

Campaign. The people publicly made a fool out of me and I feel that by handling these

opponents of the state, I lost a bit of the people’s trust. It was humiliating and forced me

to send off many intellectuals, which the country depended on. Then, with the Great

Leap Forward, I tried to rush industrialization using inexperienced workers, as most

skilled workers had been sent away to be reeducated. Productivity went down and so

did the food supply, so I blamed the sparrows for eating all our crop seeds. Perhaps if I

had taken more initiative and not pushed the blame on a small bird species, I could

have gained the people’s trust again. The last thing I would change would be how the

Red Guard was managed. If I had preached less violence, maybe they wouldn’t have

turned on each other. I suppose looking back on a lot of my actions I learned violence

wasn’t ​the answer…

AC​: Do you have any remorse for the millions of lives taken under your regime?

JS​: Like I said before, greatness comes at a cost.

MZ​: I completely agree.

AC​: Are you both happy with the legacies you’ve left behind?

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MZ​: I wanted to go out with more of a bang. I was less in control of the party towards

the end, and the Red Army having to be dismantled by the People’s Liberation Army is

a bit embarrassing. But people still worship me. I heard that just about a year ago, a

golden statue of me was erected in Henan.3 I can’t complain much. People see that

there were different versions of me - an assertive leader, a soft, people’s person, and a

hostile, violent man.4 What is worshipped in China is the people’s person. I am like a

religious figure of sorts.

JS​: People who despised me cried when I died. Decades later, I still haunt people. I

changed the lives of generations after me. People blamed each other for my purges,

gulags, and other sins.5 I untouchable because they still saw me as who I portrayed

myself to be to them. I was godlike, just as I wanted to be when I was living.

AC​: Yes, both of you will certainly be remembered for a very, very long time. Thank you

for making time to speak with me. NPR’s Audie Cornish, this is ​All Things Considered​.

3
Kennedy, Merrit. “In Remote Field In China, There's Now A Giant Golden Statue Of Mao.” NPR. January
5, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/05/462016496/in-remote-field-in-china-theres-now-a-gia
nt-golden-statue-of-mao
4
Cheek, Timothy. ​Mao Zedong and China’s Revolutions: A Brief History with Documents​. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
5
Hochschild, Adam. ​The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin​. New York: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 2003.
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Bibliography

Cheek, Timothy. ​Mao Zedong and China’s Revolutions: A Brief History with Documents​.
Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.

Hochschild, Adam. ​The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin​. New York, New
York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Kennedy, Merrit. “In Remote Field In China, There's Now A Giant Golden Statue Of
Mao.” NPR. January 5, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/05/462016496/in-remote-field-i
n-china-theres-now-a-giant-golden-statue-of-mao

McCauley, Martin. ​Stalin and Stalinism​. New York, New York: Taylor & Francis,
2008. pp. 91-97.

Whalen, Thomas. “Bolshevik Takeover - The Fall and Rise (Again) of Mao.” Lectures,
Boston University, Boston, MA, September 18 - November 14, 2017.

Zedong, Mao. ​On Practice​. Vol. 1 (1937): pp. 304.

Zedong, Mao. "Proclamation of the Central People's Government." Speech, Beijing,


China. October 1, 1949.

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