An Anarchist Analysis of the Chinese Revolution (pdf)
This is a 1976 pamphlet by Richard Bolstad called An anarchist analysis of the Chinese revolution.(Click on the link for the PDF). It was published by the Christchurch Anarchy Group, an anarchist group influenced heavily by Western European councilist/libertarian socialist groups Solidarity (UK) and Socialisme ou Barbarie. The pamphlet adds to critiques of Maoist China like those of Cajo Brendel Theses on the Chinese Revolution and the detourned satirical documentary film by ex-Situationist Rene Vienet called Chinese! One more effort if you want to be revolutionaries! (a.k.a. Peking Duck Soup) I intended to put the text up on this blog, but it takes far too long to pass it through a text recognition programme (as in it would take several days full-time work because most text was not recognised by the programme, drat it), so a PDF will have to do.
In New Zealand, there was a cult around Mao, and many sincere radicals and revolutionaries who were radicalised during the late 1960s and 1970s were drawn to China. Many made trips to China, nay pilgrimages, and came back with glowing reports of a classless, stateless paradise under genuine self-management and communism. It wasn’t just Maoists who went; many liberals did too, such at Tim Shadbolt. Shadbolt said ‘Chairman Mao led one of the most successful revolutions in history and he knew the only way any project will get anywhere is to win the hearts and minds of the people’ (Mushroom, no. 3, 1975). George Rosenberg (son of economist Wolfgang Rosenberg and brother of current Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg), then a radical involved in the Wellington Progressive Youth Movement, went to China, visited a university, and then ironically claimed that:
If Tsinghua University is at all typical of the post-Cultural Revolution University in China, there is every reason to hope that China has forever abolished the risk of creating a new class of privileged bureaucrats, who by their education reach standards of living, and positions of power unattainable to the ordinary worker or peasant in that society. (Rosenberg, “Chinese Universities”, Salient, Vol. 34, no. 17 (22 Sep. 1971), p. 6, emphasis added).
However, despite this report, Rosenberg did experience many doubts during his trip, and saw through the rosy picture painted for him by the Chinese authorities who strictly controlled what they saw and did, and these doubts soon meant he soon did not support China. Rosenberg, like some fellow travellers to China, discovered during their trip that China was not the utopian society they thought it was, but instead a repressive, dictatorial society. Tim Groser, who accompanied Rosenberg to China, said aftewards his ‘preconceptions were reversed by the trip. I left China with an intuitive understanding that this was a deeply repressive society more in tune with George Orwell’s Animal Farm and fascism than my preconceived idealism.’ (Groser interviewed in Alastair Shaw’s thesis about NZ perceptions of China, p 184). So not all came back with glowing reports. Nevertheless, many did.
Perhaps because of the closeness of NZ to Asia, Maoism was much stronger on the far left political scene than many other ‘first world’ countries. The popularity of Maoism in NZ would require a thesis in itself, so the comments that follow are extraordinarily simplistic. Suffice to say many anarchistic types were attracted to ‘direct action Maoism’ and the anti-bureaucratic, militant image of Maoism. Maoism gained prestige with some young radicals because it represented an apparently authentic, non-white, anti-US, ‘third world’ revolutionary movement that had seemingly successfully adjusted to conditions found in ‘third world’ countries, such as the existence of a large peasantry. What was more, this movement, especially after Vietnam, appeared to be winning. The Communist Party of NZ was one of the few ‘first world’ Stalinist parties to align with Mao rather than Stalinist USSR, and gained some popularity among young radicals (although many were very hostile to it). The CPNZ could paradoxically at times be supportive of militant direct action and oppose the efforts of liberals to stifle direct action, yet at other times, it would attempt to control and stifle the energy of rebellious movements, including the New Left (see the comments from ex-CPNZ member Tama Poata in the documentary Rebels in Retrospect about how they attempting to stifle the energy of the Wellington Progressive Youth Movement). So in practice it can be a complex, contradictory thing Maoism. Maoists did not contribute much theoretically, however. Their theory which largely remained at the level of simplistic dogma and quite religious propaganda. Take their theoretical journal, The New Zealand Communist Review, in 1968:
Chairman Mao is the greatest genius and greatest Marxist-Leninist of the present era. He is the red sun shining brightly in the hearts of the Chinese people and revolutionary people throughout the world. Mao Tse-Tung thought is Marxist-Leninism at its highest in the present era…The Chinese and world revolution has time and again proved that deviation from Mao Tse-Tung thought brings setbacks and defeat to the revolution. (NZCR May 1968, p. 46).
It was in this context, particularly how many of his friends from the Christchurch Progressive Youth Movement moved from anarchism to a sort of non-party Maoism, that Bolstad wrote his pamphlet (Bolstad was in the Chch PYM). Criticism at the time of Maoist China was treated with contempt by fervent Maoists, and they refused to stock his pamphlet in the International Bookshop. Just to give you some idea of the extent of this hostility, I can even remember reading allegations that Wellington Maoists went around to the houses of some leading Trotskyists in the middle of the night in the early 1970s, and woke them up by chanting anti-Trotskyist slogans and threatening to kill them after the revolution! This was after Maoist and Trots clashed anti-Vietnam War protest organising group, which led to splits and separate protests being organised by largely Trot-aligned and largely Maoist-aligned groups on the same day of anti-war mobilisations (To simplify matters, Trots rejected the Maoist support for third-world dictatorships like China and sometimes rejected the third world nationalism of the Maoists, and Maoists saw the Trots as middle-class, bourgeois student youth out to suppress anything radical).
Incredibly, Maoism still survives today, even after information about China became readily available from the 1970s onwards through the efforts of Simon Leys and others. Thankfully, the myth of a classless, stateless China has been stripped away, the personality cult of Mao decimated, and the totalitarian and brutal nature of the Maoist dicatorship confirmed. Ah! It’s all bourgeois history, the Maoists say. Or that the real Maoists opposed the degeneration of the Chinese revolution etc etc. Thus in New Zealand, there are still radicals who support and occasionally make trips to Maoists in the Philippines and in Nepal, countries in which Maoism is still popular. Maybe they have given up on the Nepalese Maoists after they joined the government and banned strikes, perhaps. The Workers Party, perhaps the largest Leninist group in NZ at the moment, was formed by, incredibly, Trotskyists and Maoists – and even now, based on this article, they still can’t make their mind about Stalinism and Maoism (an incredible confusion and contradiction given the anti-Stalinist tradition of Trotskyism). No disrespect to those in the Workers Party, who seem to be sincere revolutionaries and put much effort into organising protests, but if you’re a cynic the Workers Party’s confusion is great proof that there is not much difference between Trotskyism and Maoism after all. I remember someone commenting that they opportunistically joined together because they were so irrelevant (meaning Leninism was in such bad shape, and so isolated and small, that they came together and put old antagonism aside in order to take advantage of the minor upsurge in radicalism following the popularity of the anti-capitalist summit hopping movement). Given the current confusion about Mao, I still think a critique of Maoism is partially relevant, hence this post. (So is a broader critique of Leninism, of course!)
Meanwhile, getting beyond all this ideological stuff and somewhat amusing trainspotting of tiny Leninist groups, and looking at the far more important topic of Chinese society today, China still revolves around class antagonism (and attempts by the state to suppress working-class struggle) . But it has taken a much different form than the ones they took under Maoism in the 1960s and 1970s. There has been some good analysis of the current wave of strikes, class composition, migrant workers’ struggles (including those of women workers) and class conflict in China from Gongchao, but their texts are in German. Some of their articles are up on the prol-position site in English – see this for example. They are worth reading.