Peggy Noonan, in a recent Wall Street Journal column, pointed to disturbing similarities between our times and those of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
Likewise, there are alarming similarities between the goals of Mao’s 1958 Great Leap Forward and those of the proposed Green New Deal, which offer hard-learned lessons from history to any who will notice.
The Great Leap Forward and the Green New Deal share the same simple goal: radically transforming the nation’s industrial and agricultural sectors to meet the most advanced standards of efficiency, while also restructuring society to be in accord with enlightened ideals of justice.
They also share similar means for achieving that goal: marshaling the collective resources of the entire nation as in wartime, and regulating, through centralized planning, the equitable distribution of those resources in order to overcome an existential threat.
Mao’s Great Leap Forward led to the greatest man-made disaster in recorded history. Staggering estimates range from 23 million to 55 million people dying, mostly from starvation because of the unquestioned crackpot policies of Maoist ideology.
Inherent in the logic of the climate-change issue is urgency. Thus, also in the strategy of the Democrats’ push for the Green New Deal is immediacy. What is needed, though, is sober deliberation and, crucially, tolerance for dissent.
The parallels between the rhetoric promoting the Green New Deal and the realities that became the tragedy of the Great Leap Forward are too similar and the risks too high to ignore.
Martial Rhetoric to Marshal Action
Like the proponents of the Great Leap Forward, the advocates of the Green New Deal mix martial rhetoric with claims of universal participation and advantage to describe the scale they believe is necessary to achieve their colossal ends.
“Put organizations on a military footing, put actions on a war footing, put life on a collective footing,” and “Everybody is fully occupied in production, the trade sector is also fully occupied for everybody” read two propaganda posters from 1958 China.
Similarly, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has said, “the Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan.” Likewise, the authors of the Green New Deal boasted (before it was scrubbed from Ocasio-Cortez’s website) that “the Green New Deal resolution a [sic] 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War 2 to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all.”
Maoist ideology required China to match and surpass the development of the West and the Soviet Union. This would be possible, Mao believed, by exponentially increasing China’s steel manufacturing capacity. He believed he could transform China’s massive population into an army of industrial workers. Mao imposed quotas on their labor to achieve his ambition. Kitchen woks and massive amounts of human toil went into the makeshift “backyard furnaces,” but very little useful steel came out.
The American socialists envision a similar goal. Their plans include wanting to “upgrade or replace every building in the U.S. for state-of-the-art energy efficiency,” and to “totally overhaul transportation” so that high-speed rail can replace air travel.
As a sobering example of such an enterprise, Californians’ dream of a high-speed rail crashed into an expensive reality recently. “Let’s be real,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “the current project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long.”
The Roman poet Horace wrote: “Drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she hurries back; And will burst through your foolish contempt, triumphant.”
Another similarity between the designs of the Great Leap Forward and those of the Green New Deal is a dangerous contempt for nature in the name of correcting unjust imperfections in society.
After mobilizing the whole Chinese population and organizing them into classless communes, Mao directed his hubris at nature itself. During what he called “The Four Pests Campaign,” Mao tried to eradicate sparrows, who stole from China by eating seeds meant for human consumption. The Chinese peasants met their quotas and killed about 1 billion sparrows.
Birds also eat insects, though. The next year, a massive population of locusts devoured much of the smaller-than-usual wheat crop.
In another astonishing example of hubris, Communist Party leaders believed that the bends in a certain river were an inefficient waste of land, so they set out to straighten the river. A huge army of peasants was directed to dig a new river bed. When the digging was complete, the water was released, and it immediately disappeared into the ground, since there was no sediment in the new riverbed to hold it.
These are only two of many examples. They display a total disregard for the natural order and practical limitations. As a result, untold millions of people starved to death.
Likewise, the authors of the Green New Deal exhibit a similar ambition for justice, mixed with hubris. They note, “Any large-scale transformation of society can create the risk of some people slipping through the cracks.” Thus, the plan aims to solve the problem of climate change, “while creating a new era of shared prosperity.” As Ocasio-Cortez explains, “the heart of the Green New Deal is about social justice.”
The Green New Deal is still unimplemented and in a vague planning stage. Yet, one can see that in order “to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions and pollution,” the plan requires a disregard for the natural order and practical limitations on the scale of the Great Leap Forward. This disregard is evident in what the Green New Dealers say they hope to achieve.
They aspire “to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes”; to “guarantee a job with family-sustaining wages”; and to “provide high-quality health care, housing, economic security, and clean air, clean water, healthy food, and nature to all.” In short, it aims “to reorient our entire economy … while ensuring every person in the U.S. benefits from this enormous transformation of our society.”
One of the single greatest causes of the disasters of the Great Leap Forward was the climate of hostility toward any criticism of Mao’s ideas. Top-level officials nodded approval in silence. Provincial bureaucrats made false reports about meeting and exceeding grain and rice quotas.
Meanwhile, millions silently starved to death.
With a few notable exceptions, most Democratic lawmakers, including presidential hopefuls, have already pledged support for the Green New Deal. Given the sharp edge of the division in our country right now, a climate of hostility toward criticism of such revolutionary legislation as the Green New Deal could be disastrous.
Thus, cultivating and maintaining clean air for serious debate is climate change that both supporters and opponents of the Green New Deal should get behind.
Clifford Humphrey is originally from Warm Springs, Georgia. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in politics at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @cphumphrey.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.