The expression 勝利衝昏頭腦 shènglì chōnghūn tóunǎo — ‘dizzy with success’ should be familiar to anyone who knows about the folies de grandeur of the Stalino-Maoist era (c.1927-1977).
As part of the First Five Year Plan of the Soviet Union, from the late 1920s, Stalin supported forced collectivisation in the belief that agriculture production would increase dramatically. Resistance to the policies contributed to a series of man-made famines. Fain to accept responsibility, however, while pressing ahead with the radical remolding of the Soviet economy, Stalin castigated bureaucrats who zealously pursued his policies. In a famous article titled Dizzy with Success published in Pravda in March 1930, Stalin chided his comrades:
Such successes sometimes induce a spirit of vanity and conceit: “We can achieve anything!”, “There is nothing we can’t do!” People not infrequently become intoxicated by such successes; they become dizzy with success, lose all sense of proportion and the capacity to understand realities; they show a tendency to overrate their own strength and to underrate the strength of the enemy; adventurist attempts are made to solve all questions of socialist construction “in a trice.”
Stalin concluded his article with a warning:
The art of leadership is a serious matter. One must not lag behind the movement, because to do so is to lose contact with the masses. But neither must one run too far ahead, because to run too far ahead is to lose the masses and to isolate oneself. He who wants to lead a movement and at the same time keep in touch with the vast masses must wage a fight on two fronts — against those who lag behind and against those who run too far ahead.
Our Party is strong and invincible because, when leading a movement, it is able to preserve and multiply its contacts with the vast masses of the workers and peasants.
— Joseph Stalin, Dizzy with Success: Concerning Questions of the Collective-Farm Movement, Pravda, 2 March 1930
Some two decades later, Mao Zedong was for a time intoxicated by the radical collectivisation of the Great Leap Forward and, like Stalin before him, faced with the scale of death and economic dislocation created by his own policies, Mao too warned his comrades not to be overly zealous or boastful.
In both cases, leaders who were convinced of their unimpeachable historical role engineered mass murder.
In 2022-2023, half a century after the Stalino-Maoist experiment collapsed, the leaders of China and Russia are pursuing policies of self-delusion once more. Just like the first time around, the real-world impact of their purblind bravado is proving to be deadly.
The old expression ‘dizzy with success’ readily came to mind when the Chinese Communist Party announced its formal evaluation of the three-year campaign against the coronavirus during a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Party’s ruling Politburo chaired by Xi Jinping on 16 February 2023. To mark that occasion we add this note to our series Viral Alarm, which we also include as Appendix XXXV, titled 染疫 rǎn yì, ‘infected’, in Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium.
All Hail the Magnificent, Glorious and Infallible Communist Party of China!
Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage,
16 February 2023
- Mendacious, Hyperbolic & Fatuous — an ill wind from People’s Daily, China Heritage, 10 July 2018
- Liu Chan’s Memorial for the Departed, 12 January 2023
- 中共中央政治局常務委員會召開會議 習近平主持會議，新華社，2023年2月16日
Also in Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium
- Xi the Exterminator & the Perfection of Covid Wisdom, 1 September 2022
- When Zig Turns Into Zag the Joke is on Everyone, 12 December 2022
- In My End is My Beginning — Chairman Xi’s New Clothes, 13 December 2022
- Ever More Arrogant & Proud — Xi Jinping’s Rule in the End-time of Covid, 14 December 2022
- Where is China’s Intelligentsia during the Covid Emergency? — re-reading Xu Zhiyong’s Letter to Xi Jinping, 22 December 2022 (see also Less Velvet, More Prison and Elephants & Anacondas)
A Parthian Shot
translated by Geremie R. Barmé
During the Politburo meeting of the Chinese Communist Party held on 16 February 2023, Party Central noted in its trademark wooden language that:
China had experienced an extraordinary three plus years in relation to its Covid response. Under the core leadership of Comrade Xi Jinping, which placed a premium on the welfare and wellbeing of the people, a grand unity of the whole Party and all the Peoples of the Chinese nation was forged to fight the coronavirus epidemic.
Inspired by a profound sense of historical responsibility underpinned by strategic certainty and the ongoing timely response to the changing contours of the epidemic that entailed optimal policy adjustments, measures taken to prevent and contain the virus while maintaining maximum economic activity have meant that China successfully avoided the broader impact of the virus when it was at its dangerous full strength and when the risk of fatalities was at its height.
As a result, the lives, security and health of the broad masses of people have been assured and precious time was gained so that a successful war of resistance could be effectively carried out against the depredations of the disease.
— 中共中央政治局常務委員會召開會議 習近平主持會議，新華社，2023年2月16日
Politburo Takeaways from CCTV
[Note: Watch from minute 1:35 to minute 5:10]
The official account of the 16 February 2023 Politburo meeting went on to boast that:
Since November 2022, in accordance with the policy of ‘maintaining public health while preventing major illness’ we have constantly optimised our approach and within a relatively short time have overseen a process whereby the effects of the coronavirus epidemic have been effectively ameliorated
Over 200 million people have undergone medical treatment and
Some 800,000 seriously affected patients have been successfully cared for
We have maintained the lowest global comparable death rate from Covid-19*
We have achieved an outstanding and decisive victory in containing the epidemic
And created nothing less than a historical miracle for human civilization by ensuring that
A major nation with a huge population has effectively been spared the ravages of this epidemic
[* Although the official count of Covid-related deaths is 83,150, independent estimates put the figure between 1 and 1.5 million.]
Events have conclusively proven that Party Central has been
Absolutely correct in modulating its strategy
Undeniably effective in its policy formulation
A fact positively affirmed by the Masses and
Demonstrated by the remarkable results achieved
Party Central initiated
Major policy responses to the evolving coronavirus situation
Major adjustments enabling the coronavirus to be contained and
Major tactical adjustments to the ongoing Covid response