File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 234

Date: Sun, 12 Oct 1997 23:57:29 +0100
Subject: Re: M-I: Mao Tse-Tung on Stalin: 2

Siddarth has returned to a theme that is one of the most important in
summing up the attempts at socialism this century, and involves major
leaders of the largest socialist states.

Some months previously I too attempted to write into the archives the April
1956 article of the CPC, mainly for two reasons.

a) I think the question of summing up "historical experience" in a crucial
standpoint to take, and this is emphasised in the title of the article. 

b) the Chinese position makes it clear it has some differences with what
the Soviet Communist Party did, but from a standpoint that claims also to
wish to maintain "the dictatorship of the proletariat". It is therefore not
necessarily a purely liberal criticism.

The subject is vastly complex and I do not know how Siddarth thinks a
debate can seriously unfold on these lists. At one level a great deal of
solid scholarship needs to be done, even before the politics are thrashed
out. Or to put it another way, a lot of scholarship needs to be done while
the politics are thrashed out. 

I have come to the conclusion that there is no one definitive Chinese or
Mao Zedong view about Stalin. What is written has to be read in the context
and the time it was written.
The April 1956 article appears to be the first formal attempt by the CPC to
react to Khrushchev's secret speech and the 20th Congress of the Soviet
Union. It accepts, as fraternal conventions between communist parties
required at the time, the main premise of the sister party. The passages
Siddarth quotes puts first the question of the cult of the personality. It
is not clear to me however from other Chinese material on Stalin, that they
really considered this his biggest fault. 

A longer article with a similar title, "More on the Historical Experience
of the Dicatorship of the Proletariat" was published in November 1956 and
was later described in the polemic between the Chinese and Soviet Parties,
as directed against the Yugoslav revisionists. 

Thus the Chinese statements are not abstract philosophical comments but
occur in a fluid contradiction in the international communist movement.
Furthermore what is written is also a reflection of the contradictions
within the Chinese Communist Party at the time. The 1956, 8th, Party
Congress is often described as one in which Mao's influence was in abeyance
if not in decline. It is argued that he saw himself and the CPC
increasingly constrained by influences imported from the Soviet Union, and
wished to make a direct appeal to the masses, which he did partly by his
swims. Thus although he had many reasons for personal differences with
Stalin he objected strongly to the character of Khrushchev's attack,
including the attack on the cult of the personality. 

One passage in the April 1956 article  does not appear to be consistent
with Mao's subsequent positions, and may perhaps not have been written by him.

There must also be reasons, why the article restricts itself to the
one-phrase statement that Stalin "broadened the scope of the suppression of

Some of the answer seems to me to be proposed in Mao's article on the
"Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People", which despite being
amended in a second version, argues the existence of contradictions among
the people under socialism and the importance of not treating them in an
antagonistic way.

Even if there was a complex political context to what Mao wrote about
Stalin, and when, the passages Siddarth quotes criticising metaphysical
thinking seem to indicate something much more thoughtful than mere
political manoeuvring. 

In view of how Mao's writings got used in China in the Cultural Revolution
and then imported into the West with very little attempt to adapt their
strong Chinese character to the local culture, it is not surprising if some
subscribers will refer sardonically to the "Great Helmsman". Others no
doubt will hold to a blanket denunciation of "Stalinism". Others will
criticise a record of compromise in international negotiations by both Mao
and Stalin. Others will argue over the record of how many, if not executed,
were specifically imprisoned in camps, or effectively imprisoned in the

In championing the significance of Mao as a 20th century Marxist, it is not
clear to me how much Siddarth would accept that there are also
contradictions within Mao, and within "Mao Zedong Thought".

Chris Burford



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