How could I and many like me have been so foolish? Yes, there was plenty evidence, from the Great Leap Forward on about the tyranny of Maoism. So why didn't we see it?
One way of putting it is to say we were too proud of ourselves for putting Stalinism, and the Old Left, behind us. We were done with all that shit. We were in a new, uncorrupted space. And we styled ourselves not merely as anti-war but pro-Ho, pro-Mao, pro-Fidel. We were revolutionaries. Revolution was possible. And Bolshevism wasn't the model. It was people's war that moved us.
Of course Vietnam was key. Not only because the war was so manifestly horrible/genocidal. I've said before that for me, quasi-consciously, and hardly for me alone, we, that is the United States, were the Germans, the Vietnamese were the Jews, but this time the Jews were fucking going to win.
I remember Tet, and cheering for the NLF. Then there was Paris '68, Columbia (yes, Columbia, '68), a dream of insurrection come true...
I've tried to tell you that though there was nothing like a Comintern for Maoism its impact was huge. And because there was nothing like a Comintern its more diffuse influence took longer to dissipate.
Also, we weren't illiterate, far from. We were the vanguard, we read. (As Chairman Mao instructed: "No study, no right to speak.") And there was a lot of reportage, from Edgar Snow on, praising the Chinese revolution.
(My mother thought Mao pretty cool, since everyone had medical care. And trust me, she was no Red, at most at times a Norman Thomas pink).
Warhol liked Mao too. What was there not to like? Mao backed the Vietnamese. He had fought Japan (we thought Chiang basically hadn't). And he didn't crumble in the face of American threats. . .
What was there not to like about Mao circa 1968?
Or 1972, when Nixon and Kissinger made their visit. Nixon and Kissinger were my enemies. They wanted to draft me and bomb Vietnam back to the stone age.
Mao and Chou En-Lai seemed sophisticated, temperate, seasoned as compared to Nixon and Kissinger. They had earned a place in history, Nixon and Kissinger only a place in infamy.
What was the Great Leap Forward to me as compared to My Lai, the bombing of Cambodia?
(In a lovely piece for the NY Times — http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/opinion/will-the-vietnam-war-ever-go-away.html?ref=opinion — Dick Cavett recalls:
In one of my old shows, the very personable Barry Goldwater is asked by me if he is pleased by the current heavy bombing raids.
“No, I’m not,” the affable gent replies. “They’re not bombing enough.”)
Those are some of the reasons I didn't see through Mao.