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Nigel Harris


(Spring 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.24, Spring 1966, p.36.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Workers of China
K.E. Priestley
Ampersand, 3s 6d.

China in Crisis
Sven Lindquist
Faber, 25s.

Twentieth Century China
Edmund Clubb
Columbia, 18s 6d.

Mr Priestley purports, in this addition to the list of Ampersand anti-communist tracts, to describe the condition of modern Chinese workers. In this he fails, largely because he omits any reference to time an4 his sources are in the worst tradition of modern Sinology, all paste and scissors from a pot-pourri of the Chinese press. He consistently distorts what is already known so that he achieves, whatever his own motive, mere Cold War propaganda. Mr Lindquist, a former student at Pekin University for two years, is at the opposite extreme – his anecdotal journalism is occasionally illuminating and entertaining without offering any deep perceptions. But at least his volume is honest, which marks it out from much modern writing on China.

Mr Clubb has written a serious and substantial history of China, a useful compendium of much factual information, strong on the military side even if a little weak on the broad perspective. The viewpoint is conventional by the standards of academic history, but the author is sympathetic to his subject and repudiates the horrors of Kuomintang firmly. However, he lacks any principle of organisation to which he can tie his account. Modern historians, faced with the same dilemma, are fond of locating the a priori source of initiative in the individual psychology of the leader or in some autonomous ideology. Mr Clubb opts for the ‘Chinese tradition’ – his citation of historical precedents for communist action becomes increasingly tiresome, and suggests a narrowness of perspective that prevents him seeing the even more impressive non-Chinese precedents. All this is only to say that Mr Clubb lacks a useful and rigorous concept of class; he further fails to see often what is at stake in political struggle – he convicts America, at most, of muddle and error.

In a factual history, these points detract from the overall sweep, although they leave the compilation of information still a useful service. All three works suffer from the passage of time – Priestley does not mind, but Lindquist’s ‘crisis’ is 1961. Clubb finishes in 1963 declaring the impossibility of a Russo-American alliance. But all this is by the by.

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