Not Really a ‘Cave Marxist’
MAO: The real story
AUTHOR: Alexander V Pantsov and Stephen I Levine
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
PRICE: 899 (Hardcover)
The book reveals the financial dependence of the CPC on Moscow from its beginning in 1921 to the late 1950s which was one of the reasons for the party to remain subordinate to the Kremlin
Akash Bisht Delhi
In July 1936, an American journalist, John Edgar Snow, was given the go-ahead by Mao Zedong for a series of interviews in Baoan in northern Shaanxi province of China. Considered an ‘independent’ mind, unlike other left-minded reporters, Snow was carefully chosen to help the Communist Party of China (CPC) improve its appeal and expand its political influence. The interviews and reportage gave shape to one of the most formidable accounts of the Chinese ‘Maoist’ revolution — Red Star over China. Ever since, hundreds of books have been written by western biographers, mostly sympathetic in their portrayal of Mao.
However, there was one major difference between Snow’s account and others. While Snow viewed Mao as “a faithful follower of Soviet Marxism”, other biographers considered the relation between the CPC and Soviet Union, under the patronage of Stalin, as strained. They believed that Mao had distanced himself from the “dogmatic Chinese Stalinists” who he had repeatedly confronted throughout his initial days of struggle. Also, biographers subsequently wrote how Stalin mistrusted Mao and reports accusing him as “anti-Leninist” and “Trotskyite” reached the Kremlin frequently. Nikita Khrushchev later claimed that Stalin considered Mao a “cave Marxist”. This, then, became the main attraction for American biographers to ‘explain’ the Chinese revolution to their ‘American readers’, often within one-dimensional frameworks.
Recent Soviet and Chinese archives disclose that these ‘theories’ were wrong and that Mao was not an enemy of Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). These new disclosures led Alexander V Pantsov and Steven I Levine to do a thorough reassessment of Mao’s life and politics. In their book, Mao: The Real Story, they disclose startling facts about Mao from the secret archives of the CPC.
The Bolsheviks started to document the developments in China as part of the history of the international labour and communist movements. These documents were classified as secret and access is still restricted. Pantsov managed to access these documents, owing to his proximity to archivists in Russia. These include the personal dossiers of senior CPC members. “We are the first biographers of Mao to make use of all these materials — materials that proved invaluable in reassessing Mao’s private and political life,” the authors claim in the book.
The authors have used this large volume of documents to give an authoritative glimpse into Mao’s childhood, his wives and children, medical records, along with a series of Soviet embassy and KGB’s secret dispatches. The book presents Mao as a multi-faceted figure — revolutionary and tyrant, poet and despot, philosopher and politician, husband and philanderer. The authors say, “We show that Mao was neither a saint nor a demon, but rather a complicated figure who indeed tried his best to bring about prosperity and gain international respect for his country.”
The book is filled with captivating stories about Mao as a son, husband, father, lover, friend, and also as a statesman, politician, dictator, guerrilla strategist, and so on. It documents his struggles, intra-party differences, and how a simple boy from the non descript village of Shaoshanchong went on to acquire an emperor-like status in the Forbidden City.
The book reveals the financial dependence of the CPC on Moscow from its beginning in 1921 to the late 1950s which was one of the reasons for the party to remain subordinate to the Kremlin. However, after Stalin’s death, the enmity between Mao and Khrushchev took its toll and the CPC finally distanced itself from the Soviet Union. “He came to view Khurshchev as an untrustworthy buffoon and deliberately treated him with contempt,” the authors write.
This, they believed, was the main reason for the Sino-Soviet rift. Relations had gone so awry in the 1960s, it is rather exaggeratedly claimed, that the Soviet leadership was mulling the option of using armed intervention and even the atomic bomb against industrial centres and strategic/atomic sites in China.
The book carefully assesses the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s conviction that it was impossible to build communism without destroying old values and ties of Chinese culture led to the Cultural Revolution that failed miserably, terribly damaged the social fabric and party structure, and left thousands dead. The book says that, with the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s idea of a utopian State also unrumbled.
Finally, the authors note that it’s too late for historians to settle any scores with Mao. “He is dead and answerable only, as he himself said, to Karl Marx.”