June 16, 2021

Mao Zedong and his infinite revolution

Mao Zedong died in 1976. Soon after, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and the Gang of Four trial led the West to think that the People’s Republic of China was turning the page from Maoism. Today, international openness, capitalist overtones or the intermittent containment of the North Korean ally seem to confirm this transformation.

None of this sounds like the “prolonged war” that the Great Helmsman prescribed to force “mass democracy.” However, the multi-award-winning British sinologist Julia Lovell assures that “Mao, his strategies and his political model continue to be central elements for the legitimacy and functioning of the Chinese communist government.” This, at present: in the “quasi-Maoist China”, as he calls the one that Xi Jinping manages.

From Beijing to the world

The scholar examines, on the one hand, the triumphant revolution in 1949, including antecedents such as the failed one from 1925 to 1927, and important subsequent modulations such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In this, Mao’s life, personality and thought are not left in the pipeline, nor are the fluctuating Beijing-Moscow relations. Equally fascinating, and more unusual, are the chapters devoted to the exterior, the great discovery of the work.

Communist soldiers during the 1949 Revolution near Hong Kong.

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There they see “hippies, civil rights activists, philosophers and even actress Shirley MacLaine ”, when it comes to the West. Also the American Black Panthers, the Italian Red Brigades and the Peruvian Shining Path.

Nor are the sections on the hectic Asia and Africa of decolonization wasted, which yielded decaffeinated (Vietnam) or exacerbated (Cambodia) versions of the original model.

The sun of Mao Zedong's thought illuminates the path of the great proletarian cultural revolution.  1967.

The sun of Mao Zedong’s thought illuminates the path of the great proletarian cultural revolution. 1967.

Getty

All explained with information by cartloads, sharp observations and priceless details (an emissary of Mandela trying to pontificate on the revolution in China in 1953; Mao congratulating Pol Pot for his bloody agrarian extremism next to a luxury swimming pool). The great work by Julia Lovell. Essential.

Maoism. A global story

Julia Lovell

Barcelona: Debate, 2021. 784 pp. 29,90 €

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