Maoism: A Global History

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Author Julia Lovell provides an overview of Maoism in China and all the countries in which it had or still has influence. The book includes a lot of detail on various Maoist movements around the world but offers only a superficial explanation for Mao Zedong’s rise and the spread of his ideas. It includes many entertaining anecdotes but it does not provide sufficient historical context.

For example, Lovell does not mention the prostrate position of China in the early 20th century dominated by Britain, US and Japan and their client warlords or the repeated famines resulting from the depredations of exploiters both foreign and home-grown. The 1925-27 revolution, in which millions of workers and peasants rose up against their oppressors, only rates a passing mention. Lovell spends as much time describing American Mao acolytes Edgar and Helen Snow’s luxury lifestyle in 1930s Beijing. Chiang Kai Shek’s corrupt, brutal and incompetent nationalist regime only gets the occasional mention. But these factors are essential to understanding the ability of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to recover from its disastrous defeat in 1927 to seize power just 22 years later.

Lovell repeatedly lumps Lenin together with Stalin, claiming that Lenin only saw the peasants as a source of “primitive capitalist accumulation” and appears to think that “Soviets” in 1917 was another word for the Bolsheviks. She does not recognise that social revolutions result from the anger and determination of working people to revolt against exploitation and oppression not the machinations of would-be dictators like Mao. The book seeks to explain Mao’s influence by his flair for self-promotion backed up with a pithy pseudo-revolutionary soundbite.

Maoism was the ideology of a national liberation movement consisting of a peasant army led by urban intellectuals with nothing to do with the classical Marxist tradition. The 1949 revolution was a major blow against US imperialism. What followed, however, was an attempt to follow a state capitalist path of crash industrialisation following the example of Stalinist Russia which disastrously failed at massive human cost. The Cultural Revolution was only the most extreme example of Mao’s willingness to go to any lengths to protect his power from his rivals in the ruling bureaucracy.

Lovell describes how the Communist victory inspired attempts to repeat it in other developing countries with large rural populations. At its most extreme, Mao’s doctrine of peoples’ war in the countryside as opposed to working class struggle in the factories, led to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

To the radical youth of the 1960s and ‘70s, Maoism offered a superficially more militant alternative to orthodox Stalinism discredited by Russia’s crushing of revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But it proved to be a dead end when it came to providing a strategy for revolutionary change in either advanced or developing capitalist societies, as Lovell describes. Mao gave the game away when he said that “Destalinisation is revisionism”.

For China’s rulers today the excesses of Maoism at its height are something they want to forget. But despite this Mao remains the figurehead and source of legitimacy for the CCP’s project of economic growth and imperialist expansion on the back of the working class. Maoism arose from the ashes of the defeated 1925-27 revolution. But it is the lessons of that revolution, in particular the power of the working class and its ability to give a lead to the peasants, that workers in China and across the world need to learn.