Mao's Last Revolution

By Roderick Macfarquhar; Michael Schoenhals | Go to book overview
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Deng Xiaoping Takes Over

If 1972 had been Zhou's year, 1975 was largely Deng's; or, as the radicals later referred to it, the year when "China's Imre Nagy, that arch-unrepentant capitalist roader Deng Xiaoping, attempted the all-round restoration of capitalism";1 or, as it was redesignated after the radicals had been purged, the year that "witnessed an unprecedented awakening among people all over China, and the speeding up of the decline of the 'Gang of Four.'"2 As in 1972, Mao was curiously unresponsive to the alarm of his radical allies. Like Zhou in 1972, Deng in 1975 took advantage of the Chairman's passivity to try to reverse the damage caused by the Cultural Revolution.

In choosing Deng, Mao was in part pursuing his aim of reducing the role of the PLA in civilian affairs. The "Lin Biao incident" had enabled Mao drastically to diminish the role of the military in the central party apparatus. However, PLA officers still ran most of the country outside Beijing. On December 12, 1973, in a series of meetings with a Politburo work conference and the MAC, Mao complained that the "Politburo did not deal with politics" and the "MAC did not deal with military affairs," a broad hint to the PLA to withdraw from politics. He supported what was reportedly Ye Jianying's proposal to order eight of the eleven military region commanders to exchange posts, thus removing them from areas where they were well entrenched and had long-standing ties to both civilian and military cadres. The sweetener was Mao's proposal that Deng Xiaoping should return to the Politburo and the MAC. Since these two démarches were simultaneous, Mao's tactic was plain. In order to persuade the regional commanders to leave their bailiwicks, he was implicitly promising them that, although Zhou Enlai was fading from the scene, they could be confident that his place would be taken by a member of the old guard, a Long March veteran with strong party and military credentials, rather than Wang Hongwen. The importance of this quid pro quo was underlined by Deng Xiaoping after the Cultural


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