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Maoism. A Global History. Julia Lovell. A Socialist Review.

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Maoism. A Global History. Julia Lovell. Bodley Head. 2019.

Apart from their other characteristics, the outstanding thing about China’s 600 million people is that they are “poor and blank”. This may seem a bad thing, but in reality it is a good thing. Poverty gives rise to the desire for changes the desire for action and the desire for revolution. On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written; the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong.

“Introducing a Co-operative” (April 15, 1958).

One of the “most significant and complicated political forces of the modern world” for Julia Lovell, Maoism is “A potent mix of party-building discipline, anti-colonial rebellion and ‘continuous revolution”, grafted onto the secular religion of Soviet Marxism”. The legacy of Mao-Zedong “unlocks the contemporary history of China”. It is equally a “key influence on global insurgency, insubordination and intolerance across the last eighty years.” (Page 7) At the conclusion of this wide-ranging synthesis, covering the history of 20th century China, and the “significant afterlife” of Maoist inspired uprisings and groupuscules, “case studies in radicalisation” across the globe, the author asks of the Chairman’s homeland, “How will the PRC weather the contrast between the CCP’s Maoist heritage and the hybrid, globalised nature of contemporary China?” (Page 465)

What is Maoism? A Global History paints a portrait of Mao, of rural origin, who placed his faith in the peasantry and produced the 1927 Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan. Marx, Lovell asserts, had dismissed the mid-19th century French peasants as a “sack of potatoes”, a reference to their wretched conditions in isolated smallholdings. Marx believed that attachment to their post-Revolution property was one of the social bases for Louis Bonaparte’s Second Empire. Mao recognised a revolutionary social force in Chinese rural associations. It might be suggestive that this Emperor began his career by creating a “religion that represents and fights for the toiling farmers” put into practice through “a brief reign of terror in every rural area” (Page 34) (1)

Maoism a system of ideas and practices was, Lovell considers, born out of the brutal repression by the 1927 nationalists of their Communist allies. A hitherto loose organisation, inspired by the Russian Revolution, founded in 1921, it had entered a military based alliance with the Guomindang, on instructions from the Moscow run Third International. The violence unleashed by Chiang Kai-Shek was dramatised in André Malraux’s outstanding la Condition Humaine (1933). The French novelist underlined, like the present pages, the Soviet influence on making the disastrous alliance, and imposing the Leninist line that the peasantry would follow the urban workers (“le paysan suit toujours” dit Vologuine “Ou l‘ouvrier, ou le bourgeois. Mais il suit.”).

In the Countryside. 

In 1927 the nationalists and gangsters tried to exterminate the Communists, beginning by massacring communists and union members in their newly won Shanghai stronghold. The result was not only recriminations against Moscow, but the rise of “men like Mao from outside the first generation of elite intellectual leaders” who began “to assert the primacy of the military and of violence.” (Page 30) A strategy of the countryside following the city was replaced by a struggle in the rural areas. Regrouped the armed party began the Long March to escape the military campaign. Entrenched in remote districts the Chinese Communists (who became the CCP) expanded their territory until they led the national liberation struggle against the Japanese occupation.

In the early 1930s Mao had started his own purges, preceding Stalin’s Great Terror. “The most merciless torture” was ordered to “expose ‘Anti-Bolshevik conspirators”. Tens of thousands were murdered. The “radical sacrifice” (Terry Eagleton) by the Communists themselves was melded into extreme violence against others, including suspect Party members. This is an enduring pattern. A Global History resounds with memorable accounts of the brutality of Maoist uprising and the policies of the CPC, in war, at home and by their allies in North Korea and Kampuchea. They are not diminished by the American interventions in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and vicious efforts of states to exterminate Mao inspired insurgencies.

Many readers will be most affected by some of the opening chapters. Edgar Snow’s 1937 glowing portrait of the Communist North West in Red Star over China made an enduring impression across the world. Yan’an was no only a centre of heroic resistance; it “projected a reverence for culture”. In 1942 – 3 the less celebrated repression of the ‘Rectification Campaign’ indicated how Mao reacted to anybody bringing up the “dark side” of life in the base areas. Known as the Yan’an Literary Opposition (Gregor Benton)  they cast doubt on Communist pretensions to egalitarianism and popular participation. Amongst these dissident voices Lovell focuses on Wang Shiwei, who had studied in Moscow and was a talented translator and writer. In Wild Lily Shiwei launched heartfelt criticisms of Communist dogmatism, lack of human warmth and kindness. Above all he focused on the hierarchy and privileges that marked out life in the redoubt. The Communists allocated, by rank, three classes of clothing and five grades of food. Why was this not allocated “on the basis of need and reason”. Why should healthy “big shots” get more than the sick of lower rank? Subordinates “look upon them as a race apart”. (2)

Mao did not tolerate this. Wang was hauled up to a Show Trial. His fellow critics were humiliated into public self-criticism during “struggle sessions”. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were locked up in the caves. Charged and condemned Wang survived for a while, working in a matchbox factory. He was exhibited to journalists to say, “I am a Trotskyist. I attacked Mao. So I deserve to be executed.” Yet, “Mao is so magnanimous” and that he was “grateful for his mercy.” The Party leader’s forgiveness was short lived. The Communist dissident was hacked to death in 1947, it is said, on Mao’s orders. (3)

The Stalinist Terror Foundation.

This was founding moment in defining Maoism. These “Stalinist terror tactics” meant those under suspicion as “unreliable”, whether educated in the critical spirit of the “cosmopolitan Enlightenment” (Wang had translated Trotsky and Engels), or just grumblers, suffered imprisonment. Many were killed when it was convenient. From the Hundred Flowers Campaign in the 1950s, when criticism was invited, to the Cultural Revolution, when it was called for again, those who opened their hearts and spoke out found themselves subject to “thought reform” in vast gaols, and death.

There was another side to the Maoist template. Those who focus on the CCP’s achievements might draw some comfort in the description of the “co-operative movement” launched at the same time. Land reform and “social levelling” in their territory coincided with the Rectification campaign.

This two-pronged strategy, suppression of dissidents and material improvement, and suppression of exploiting classes, for the masses, was the “process through which Mao created a disciplined party and bureaucracy”. For Lovell it served as a template for ‘high Maoism’ – combining extreme violence against a variety of enemies with servitude to the ‘mass line’. Rebellion co-existed with the cult of Mao and Mao Zedong Thought.

A Global History draws on Frank Dikötter’s landmark studies to trace out the history of the People’s Republic. From the great enthusiasm that followed liberation, accompanied with repression to the mass famines of the Great Leap Forward, a break-neck industrialisation and collectivisation campaign, which in rural areas resembled the tragedy of the Holodomor, right up the Cultural Revolution, one can feel the CCP leadership’s disregard for human life. In the same year, 1958, Mao was prepared to add nuclear war to the human costs of his social gestures. “Maybe we can get the United States to drop an atom bomb on Fijian.” Mao spoke to his doctor, “Maybe ten or twenty million people will be killed.” (Page 133) Mao’s solipsism and egotism extended to his personal life. His ‘feminism’ did not prevent him from amassing  a female seralogio, imposing his personal quirks on others,  and boorish behaviour.  (4)

Cultural Revolutions.

1966 saw the launching of the Cultural Revolution, broadcast worldwide with hopes of global revolution. “Chinese propaganda portrayed Mao as the genius saviour of the world revolution: battling Western imperialists, treacherous Soviet revisionists and capitalist scabs in his own party.”(P 125) Mao had broken with Khrushchev over de-Stalinism and peaceful coexistence with the West. Apart from the formal allegiance of Albania to China’s line, the first small stirrings of a pro-Chinese current in the international Communist movement had begun before the Cultural Revolution. In Australia, and elsewhere, for example, in France, pro-Chinese activists took the label “Marxist-Leninist”. For these and similar groups across the world, Lovell notes, Chinese support was largely an affair of sending glossy magazines, small publication subsidies, and invitations to bathe in the glow of the Mao cult in China itself. (5)

In portraying the ‘Mao mood’ that took hold in small circles of the non-Chinese left Lovell does not distinguish between these early, ‘first wave’ dogmatic and Stalin nostalgic M-L groups from the much more heteroclite surge of ‘soft Maoist’ groupuscules who flourished in the wake of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This proliferation of different factions was possible because, amongst other reasons, there was no centralised Maoist ‘International’ on Comintern lines. 

“Maoist fever”, fashion caught hold in many countries. I was on display in 1967 in Mao-jacket mannequin photo shots in Lui and the pages of the avant-garde literary journal Tel Quel in France, a centre of the craze. May 68 brought this to the fore, with the Gauche Prolétarienne attempting to create a ‘Mao-spontex’ synthesis based on the spontaneity of the masses, in its wake. Bizarrely, as Simon Leys pointed out in his 1970s writings, the Cultural Revolution was pictured as “anti-authoritarian” and its leaders internationalists. In reality the factions battling it out in China constantly used authoritative police and ‘mass’ measures to repress dissent and – in the Party – its supporters were dyed in the wool xenophobes (Les habits neufs du président Mao: chronique de la ” Révolution culturelle . 1971. (5).

A Global History coasts over these movements, such as the German K groups, and the Italian Red Brigades. While alighting on the Black Panthers and the Revolutionary Action Movement, she does not include much on the groups that have been called part of the New Communist Movement, of importance on the US left, which endured till the 1970s. Terrorist violence, associated with but independent of Maoism failed – Action Directe in 1980s France was perhaps the only case of a group with full-blown Maoist origins. Above all, “Dogmatic loyalty to the theory of the Cultural Revolution and to the twists and turns of Chinese domestic foreign policy” took their toll. Mao’s death in 1976 and the fall of the Gang broke whatever remained of the Cultural Revolution. From that wreckage Bob Avikin’s initiative, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement created in 1984, represents a low point. A more lasting influence can be seen in the ‘post-Maoist’ parties, the Belgium Parti du travail / Partij van de Arbeid van België, and the Dutch Socialist Party, Socialistische Partij, which have dropped the Marxist-Leninist heritage and have won Parliamentary and local representation in their countries.

Much of the Post-68 New Left, Trotskyist, anarchist and radical socialist, often strongly influenced by Simon Leys, either made fun of the hard-core Maoists or treated them with contempt. Our humour was misplaced, as Lovell describes, when in 2013 ‘Comrade Bala”, Aravindan Balakrishnan, was found to have kept female members of his cult, the Brixton based Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought was found to have kept women in sexual slavery kept in line by physical assault.

Maoism Across the World.

A Global History spends more time on the weightier political impact of Maoism, in Malaya, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Peru, India, African countries and Nepal. Lovell offers serious insights into the way Maoist intolerant tactics, that is violence, inflected deeply rooted fights for national liberation and social justice. It is hard not to keep in mind the example of Cambodia, “The go-it-alone nationalism of Mao’s revolution combined with the Khmer Rouge’s innate jingoism to produce the murderous self confidence of Pol Pot’s regime, a state unanswerable o any external authority.” (Page 257), Or the impact of China’s backing for the genocidal attack by the Pakistani army and Islamist collaborators against the Bangladeshi national liberation struggle in 1971.

In contrast to the largely for show support given to pro-Chinese groups, military and other aid in many of these cases was real. She offers reservations not just on the intoxicated cult of the Shining Path, which emerged fiercely critical of post-Mao China, but on the strategies carried out in the People’s War, the lead up to the genocidal crushing of Indonesian Communism, contemporary India, and the Nepalese Maoists, now in government. They too have practiced cultural revolutionary purges. Yet, Even passionate critics of the Maoists– of whom there are many in Kathmandu, across the political spectrum – concede that the Maoists accelerated, and placed centre stage, a more inclusive identity politics that sought to given political representation to the people of Nepal in all their diversity’ (Page 410)

Today the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) remains indebted to Mao Zedong and has called for a vote for the Brexit Party. Naxalite guerrillas in the Indian jungle pursue their insurgency, the President of China, Xi Jinping, is said to be reviving Mao’s ‘mass line’. Yet those who would say that Mao had written beautiful characters on the revolutionary history of the 20th century are few in number. In Maoism. A Global History Julia Lovell has accomplished a harder task: writing out in clear deeply thought-through pages one of the most important balance-sheets of Mao’s sombre legacy to have been published in the new millennium. Its measured criticisms of Maoist revolutionary cruelty make it essential reading for all democratic socialists and supporters of human rights.

In August 2018, a UN committee heard that up to one million Uighur Muslims and other Muslim groups could be being detained in the western Xinjiang region, where they’re said to be undergoing “re-education” programmes.

The claims were made by rights groups, but China denies the allegations. At the same time, there’s growing evidence of oppressive surveillance against people living in Xinjiang.

BBC.

 

*******

  1. The idea that Karl Marx dismissed the peasantry rests on a partial reading of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1869) Marx wrote of the majority of smallholding peasants formed “by the simple addition of isomorphous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” But he also asserted that Bonapartism, as the representation of those who wish to “consolidate the condition of his social existence, the small holding. It does not represent the country people who want to overthrow the old order by their own energies, in alliance with the town.” Page 240. Surveys from Exile. Karl Marx. Editor David Fernbach. 1973.
  2. “From the amount of grain, sugar, cooking oil, meat and fruit to the quality of healthcare and access to information, one’s position in the party hierarchy determined everything. Even the quality of tobacco and writing paper varied according to rank.” Page 174. Mao’s Great Famine Frank Dikötter. Bloomsbury 2010. Link.
  3. Link. Lovell says, “Wang was denounced as a Trotskyist (he had translated Engels and Trotsky). His supporters were “investigated in a witch-hunt for spies and undercover agents, they were interrogated in front of large crowds shouting slogans, made to confess in endless indoctrination meetings and forced to denounces each other in a bid to save themselves. Some were locked in caves, others taken to mock executions. For month after month, life in Yan’an was nothing but a relentless succession of interrogations and rallies feeding fear, suspicion and betrayal. “(P 175) Some broke down, lost their minds or committed  suicide. “Mao demanded absolute loyalty from intellectuals, who had to reform themselves ideologically by constantly studying and discussing essays by him, Stalin and others.”(Ibid) The Rectification Campaign was ended in 1945 he apologised for maltreatment and blamed his underlings. Wang Shiwei was killed in 1947, reportedly chopped to pieces and thrown down a well. Translations are contained in the excellent, highly recommended, dossier on Lib Com: Yenan Literary Opposition.
  4. “The one-party state under Mao did not concentrate all its resources on the extermination of specific groups of people – with the exception, of course of counter-revolutionaries, saboteurs, spies and other ‘enemies of the people’, political categories vague enough potentially to include anybody and everybody. But Mao did throw the country in the great leap forward, extended the military structure of the party to all society. ‘Everyone a soldier’, Mao had proclaimed at the height of the campaign, brushing aside such bourgeois niceties as a salary, a day off each week or a prescribed limit on the amount of labour a worker should carry out. A giant people’s army in the command economy would respond to every beck and all of its generals. Every aspect of society was organised on military lines with canteens, boarding kindergartens, collective dormitories, shock troops and villages construed to be foot soldiers. –In a continuous revolution. “(P 298 – 299) Frank Dikötter op cit.

  5. See: Chapters one and Two.  Les maoïstes. La folle histoire des gardes rouges français. Christophe Bourseiller. 2nd Edition. Plon. 2008 This is particularly informative: PEKING REVIEW AND GLOBAL ANTI-IMPERIALIST NETWORKS IN THE 1960S Hatful of History.

  6. See also Chinese Shadows  Simon Leys, 1977. 
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Written by Andrew Coates

August 13, 2019 at 12:23 pm

One Response

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  1. Once wealthy, then infiltrated by Brits bearing poppy sap, prohibition called for a deportation Brexit in December of 1837. this brought solid shot and injections of mystical fanaticism to attack the dynasty from within. Lord Elgin commented on the resulting rubble. Small wonder the pathetic wretches are still so miserable that even the starvation of communism looks good by comparison.

    oiltranslator

    August 13, 2019 at 2:06 pm


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