Rainer Zitelmann on the fascination that Maoism generated in the 1968 generation and afterwards
The generation that grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s became passionate about not only sex, drugs, and rock music, but often Mao Tse-tung as well. The enthusiasm for his teaching is said to have reached into the German national soccer team. The discussion-loving historian and sociologist Rainer Zitelmann, who was a Maoist at the time and is enthusiastic about capitalism today, tries to explain why that was the case.
Mr. Zitelmann, you saw the light of day in 1957 in Frankfurt am Main. In your youth you were a Maoist, as you frankly confess in your biography When you are no longer burning, start over. Before I go into your personal political socialization, please allow me to ask the following question. Do you have an explanation for why this phenomenon of contemporary history in the Federal Republic of Germany - namely the turning of a considerable part of the academic youth of that time to Maoism - is overshadowed by the 1968 movement, whose rebellion is fifty years old this year?
Rainer Zitelmann: This is indeed in need of explanation. Because there were many more people involved in the Maoist groups of the 1970s than in the 1968 movement. But the 1968 movement is better suited for transfiguration, for mystification. Today it says: "There was the encrusted Adenauer period, the parents who did not want to talk about their guilt during the Nazi era, the Vietnam War, etc. - and there we were, the critical young people who critically questioned everything in 1968 and finally the Federal Republic into a modern and cosmopolitan country. "
This story, which is at best half true, has meanwhile become the official German historiography. And it sounds a lot more likeable than telling people that they admired Stalin in the 1970s or that, for example, the KBW, the leading Maoist group at the time, raised money for the mass murderers of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
"Because China was far away and very foreign, it was particularly well suited to project all utopian longings into it."
At the tender age of 13 you founded a so-called red cell at your school and were the editor of the school newspaper "Rotes Banner". At the age of 14 you joined the youth organization of the Maoist KPD / ML. What fascinated you back then, as a child of the Federal Republic of Germany, growing up in the economic miracle, about this ideology, which not only came from a completely different cultural area, but also developed under completely different political frameworks?
Rainer Zitelmann: I think that precisely because China was far away and very foreign, it was particularly well suited to projecting all utopian longings into it. The GDR was close, we definitely didn't want that. And not capitalism anyway. China and Mao appeared to us as alternatives, as a "third way" so to speak. Basically, none of us knew what was really going on there. We obtained our information from the "Peking Rundschau," which came out every week. Or from the many brochures that were printed by the publishing house for foreign language literature in Beijing.
In his novel "The Chinese", the late Swedish writer Henning Mankell lets his main character - the judge Birgitta Roslin - monologue: "Forty years have passed, she thought. More than two generations. At that time I was attracted to a sect with a revival character like the fly from the sugar. We were not asked to commit collective suicide because Judgment Day was near, but to give up our identities in favor of a collective intoxication where a little red book had replaced all other enlightenment. " Did you also find your political activities at the time to be a collective intoxication?
Rainer Zitelmann: No, and even then I was stubborn. I was someone of whom the party said: "He has enormous theoretical knowledge, but he has no established proletarian class standpoint." It just came about because I questioned and criticized things in the party. That was not wanted. One was easily accused of deviating from the right or left. Or of "petty-bourgeois intellectualism".
Was your turn to Maoism based on that "superstitious force" that emanates from "absolute systems", as Tocqueville once put it?
Rainer Zitelmann: Young people - but also intellectuals in general - tend to imagine an "ideal world". There is no injustice in these head constructions. And what fascinated us about Maoism was that Mao - in this respect not entirely dissimilar to Trotsky - advocated something like a theory of permanent revolution. Revolution as a permanent state because, according to Mao, people would repeatedly seize power who wanted to go the capitalist path and who then had to be overthrown from the throne.
We spoke of "Soviet revisionism" or "social-imperalism"
To what extent was the rejection of the socialism model practiced in the GDR and the Soviet Union decisive for you to turn to the Chinese variant?
Rainer Zitelmann: We had a pretty crazy story: after that, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin had been socialist and exemplary, a dictatorship of the proletariat like Marx wanted it to be as a transition stage to communism. With the de-Stalinization by Khrushchev from the XX. At the CPSU party congress in 1956, the betrayal of socialism began. We spoke of "Soviet revisionism" or "social-imperalism". The only people who would not have betrayed socialism and Marxism-Leninism were therefore the Chinese and the Albanians. I used to listen to Radio Tirana every evening at 11 p.m.
Your personal farewell to Marxism (which had already taken place before Maoism) began when you dealt with Hitler in the context of your dissertation, especially with his ideas about economic policy. Could you be more specific, please?
Rainer Zitelmann: Yes, the departure from Maoism came before the departure from Marxism. After my ML time I began to read Wilhelm Reich and the books of a well-known author in the left movement at the time, Dieter Duhm. It was about a synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis. And, yes, the farewell to Marxism finally came when, while studying National Socialism, I realized that the Marxist theories of fascism are simply wrong.
When I was writing my dissertation on Hitler, I was still more on the left. In it I dealt with Hitler's ideas about social and economic policy and what he meant by "revolution". On the one hand, this enabled me to understand the mass effects and attractiveness of National Socialism for many people. On the other hand, I saw how nonsensical the Marxist view is, which saw "fascism" as the last defensive struggle of the bourgeoisie against socialism. Incidentally, by the way, this left-wing fascism view was in some respects similar to Ernst Nolte's interpretation of National Socialism. My view is the opposite of Nolte's view.
"The Marxist utopia had its chance. It was 'tried out' not just once, but in a wide variety of models. But neither the Soviet way, nor the Yugoslav or the Chinese one. Since the victory of the October Revolution, which according to the belief of the Marxists finally ushered in the phase of the decline of capitalism and the global victory of socialism, humanity has never been so far removed from the goal of world communism as it is today. " You wrote these lines in a newspaper article in 1991. Would you have thought it possible then that "left thinking" in general and Marxism in particular would experience a renaissance just a few decades later?
Rainer Zitelmann: Immediately after the collapse of communism there were books with titles like "The End of History" or "From the End of the Utopian Age". While the left was depressed, there was incredible optimism among conservatives and liberals. I was no longer left-wing by then, but I did not share the optimism of the liberals and conservatives. In any case, I thought the end of the story was a completely absurd idea.
But in the early 1990s I also turned against Joachim Fest's thesis of the alleged end of the utopian age. At that time I wrote a fundamental article about the "dreams of the new man", which ended with a pessimistic outlook: "Whether the painful experiences with the real experiments of the 'new man' will be a lesson to real people is doubtful the conclusion rather that the experiment must be repeated under better conditions and with new objectives. "
I don't know whether Marxism will experience a renaissance. I do not think it is out of the question, but neither is it crucial. Anti-capitalism is constantly taking on new, contemporary forms, whether it was Marxism in the past or ecologism today or the so-called globalization criticism: the enemy, namely the market, always remains the same. And the solutions that see salvation in "more state" are always similar.
Intellectual affinity for anti-capitalism
Today you represent the views of a staunch market economist. Do you have an explanation for why intellectuals struggle with capitalism, or why the ideological foundation of liberalism seems so poor compared to other ideologies?
Rainer Zitelmann: I would not speak of ideologies in connection with liberalism. But there is a "substructure" that is only ignored by many left-wing intellectuals. Who has really read about Hayek, von Mises or Friedman? I think there is much more substance in their works than in the writings of Marx or other left theorists. Not to mention books like Piketty, the new bible for critics of capitalism.
I have devoted an entire chapter in my new book "Capitalism is not the problem, but the solution" to the question of why intellectuals do not like capitalism. Intellectuals themselves do not find this in need of explanation, because for them the majority of criticism of capitalism is, so to speak, the natural, self-evident basic attitude. Anti-capitalism is probably an identity-forming religion for intellectuals, and by no means only for left-wing intellectuals. It is strange that intellectuals apparently do not find it intellectually fascinating to deal critically with their own limitations and distortions of perception.
In my book I attribute the affinity of intellectuals to anti-capitalism to several reasons: Capitalism is a spontaneous order, not a thought construct. It was created like languages, not like the artificial language Esperanto. Intellectuals, however, have an affinity for head constructions. That is why Marxism has had such a tremendous fascination with intellectuals. Especially since a special task was held ready for the intellectuals.
As a teenager, I was fascinated by Lenin's "What to do?", Who quoted Karl Kautsky approvingly: "Modern socialist consciousness can only arise on the basis of deep scientific insight ... But the bearer of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia ... That Socialist consciousness is therefore something that has been brought into the class struggle of the proletariat from outside, not something that has originally arisen from it. "
You mention other reasons for the intellectual affinity for anti-capitalism ...
Yes, that is now a little more complicated: intellectuals absolutize the type of knowledge acquisition specific to them, i.e. explicit, academic learning. They do not understand that there is an entirely different way of knowing and acquiring knowledge - tacit knowledge and tacit learning - which, however, is much more important to the entrepreneur.
At least, intellectuals see this other kind of knowledge, insofar as they even understand that it is knowledge, as inferior to academic knowledge. From their point of view, the entrepreneur is ignorant because he has not read so many books and often does not have any academic degrees. From my point of view, however, the entrepreneur only has a different kind of knowledge. Read what Michael Polanyi writes about tacit knowledge - it's like an enlightenment.
And then, of course, intellectuals don't like capitalism, because the business elite fare much better economically than the intellectual elite. This leads to unconscious feelings of envy, which one does not admit to oneself, of course, because envy is the most repressed and denied emotion. Because the admission of being jealous implies that the other has something that you would like to have yourself. You don't want to admit that.
And for an intellectual it is simply a sign of "market failure" when his former school neighbor, who was always bad at school, now earns ten times as much with his waste disposal company as he does as a witty cultural scientist next torments. From the point of view of the intellectual, the world is turned upside down - and that must of course be urgently corrected by the state restoring justice.
"The Chinese like my books"
The People's Republic of China still seems to fascinate you. In your new book "Capitalism is not the problem, but the solution" you dedicate an entire chapter to the Middle Kingdom. Do you consider Deng Xiaoping to be one of the most underrated historical figures of the 20th century?
The fascination is perhaps a little mutual: the Chinese like my books - a book about "Financial Freedom" is quite successful there and next month my work The Wealth Elite will be published in Mandarin in China. But now to your questions: Deng cannot be reduced to a common denominator. On the one hand, he was the man who suppressed the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. On the other hand, he opened up China and cleared the way for more private property and market.
The fact is that never in human history have so many hundreds of millions of people escaped from abject poverty in such a short time as in China since the capitalist reforms initiated by Deng. Isn't it strange that there were more admirers of Mao among prominent Western intellectuals in the 1970s than there are admirers of Deng today? At the same time, Mao was responsible for the deaths of around 45 million people through his experiment of the "great leap forward" at the end of the 1950s.
Are you personally optimistic about the future with regard to the charisma and persuasiveness of capitalism, even if it were to dominate globally in its sinized variant?
Rainer Zitelmann: First of all, there is no such thing as a specially "Sinised" variant of capitalism, which is a big misunderstanding here in the West. Zhang Weiying, one of the foremost Chinese economists, writes: "Indeed, China's economic development is fundamentally identical to that of some Western countries, such as Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in some Asian countries like Japan and South Korea after World War II.
As soon as market mechanisms are in place and the right incentives are set so that people strive for wealth, sooner or later the miracle of growth will follow. "The successful development of China is simply a result of the fact that the influence of the state on the economy and the market is successively reduced China will only continue to be successful if this process continues, but that is by no means certain.
In the West we are saying goodbye to capitalism more and more - and I see a danger in that. Take a look at the energy industry in Germany, which is increasingly controlled by a planned economy. Look at how Trump is about to replace free trade with protectionism. Above all, look at the central banks, which behave almost like planning authorities once did under socialism. That is what worries me most.
Contrary to what most people believe, the financial and euro crises and their causes are far from over. The symptoms have been and are being tampered with, but the zero interest rate policy and bond purchases have resulted in market laws being overridden. This creates new bubbles and I fear that there will be even more severe crises. I am already predicting that critics of capitalism will then take these crises as confirmation of their theses of "market failure", even though they are the result of exactly the opposite, namely of too many state interventions.
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