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Colin Barker

Chinese Puzzles

(Winter 1966/67)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.27, Winter 1966/67, pp.35-36.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Mao Tse-tung
Stuart Schram
Penguin, 7s 6d

A Study of the Chinese Communist Movement 1927-34
Shanti Swarup
Oxford, 35s

Schram’s biography of Mao is an excellent introduction to the study of the Chinese Communists. For a non-Marxist, Schram maintains a remarkable and scholarly balance between admiration of Mao’s achievements and reluctance to hero-worship. The portrait is complete, warts and all. At the same time, of course, since Schram is not a Marxist, his biography never reaches the level of the truly great political biographies. We are given narration without judgement at times, major theoretical questions are described without being evaluated in terms of the professed purposes of the participants, and Mao’s historical significance remains slightly obscure. This is most apparent in the concluding chapters, on post-revolutionary China. The facts of the Peking-Moscow rift are presented in historical sequence, but their structural roots remain unexplored, with the result that the personal power-struggle side of the dispute is over-emphasised. Nevertheless, this is a book which no socialist interested in China – and who is not? – can afford to be without.

In the whole history of the CCP, the period 1927-34 is one of the most complex, and Swamp’s study reflects this complexity. This was the period in which the Chinese Communists, through a series of major theoretical and tactical disputes and devastating defeats, evolved a somewhat uneasy synthesis between the demands of the ‘national’ and the ‘social’ revolutions. The period ends with the start of the Long March and die emergence of Mao as the Party’s leader. Swamp’s book is a most scholarly account of the entire period; his presentation of the data is lucid and finely balanced. At the same time, this is not a book for novices: some knowledge of the background of the period, and of the issues at stake in the Party’s theoretical debates is necessary. If the book has a fault, it is principally that Swarup has not seized the opportunity time has presented him with to judge the events and debates he describes so well in the light of the Party’s final victory after the war. He never really enquires into the nature of the ‘social revolution’ that figures so largely in his pages, nor into the form of society created by Mao’s Party fifteen years later. Thus to a certain extent the history lacks shape and meaning. But the materials for the definitive study of the period are all here, and presented in a way that must put any future historian deeply in Shanti Swarup’s debt.

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