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The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung

January 29, 2010

Stuart R. Schram. The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969.

Zhou Guanghui (2000)

First published in 1963, this collection by Stuart Schram consists of some of the most fundamental extracts from Mao Zedong’s works as well as some articles that are completely absent from the well-known Selected Works but represent Mao’s personality and experience. Many of them are original texts that show considerable differences from later official versions, and these differences have been carefully noted in this anthology. Yet the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution made this initial volume seem outdated, for not only a large number of texts attributed to Mao were for the first time published after 1965 and the Cultural Revolution itself shed new light on some important but obscure aspects of Mao’s thought. In this second edition of 1969 a number of texts regarding Mao’s military principles, a subject that was little mentioned in the first edition, were added. And according to Schram, the materials of Mao’s thought relevant to internal developments in China since 1949 were “completely recast and greatly amplified.” (p. 10) Several broad themes can be seen clearly from this new documentation: nationalism, voluntarism and populism. They constitute the corner stone of the edifice of Maoism, a term Schram finds it necessary to adopt in 1969 to convey the uniqueness of Mao’s political thought.

In “Introduction,” Schram examines the origins and development of Mao’s political thought in the context of intellectual currents in the early twentieth century. He finds that Mao is first a radical revolutionary and then a committed Marxist. The nationalist impulse is rooted in his personality. If the concept of classes has a certain priority in Mao’s thinking, Schram believes, on the level of sentiment and instinctive reactions, it is always Mao’s attachment to the nation that predominates. (p. 161) Nationalism led Mao to accept Marxism, to cooperate with the Guomindang, a nationalist party, and to break with Jiang Jieshi when Jiang betrayed revolutionary nationalism. And eventually, in the resistance war against Japan, nationalism, together with agrarian reforms, guided Mao to the road to power. After 1949, Nationalism again found its expressions in Mao’s cultural policies, his relations with Moscow and the underdeveloped countries.

Although in the eyes of Schram, Mao is never a good Marxist theorist, he seems to be a “natural Leninist,” due to the fact that like Lenin, Mao places a great emphasis on imperialism, the role of the party, political consciousness and the “united front.” Yet there also exist fundamental differences between Mao’s thought and orthodox Leninism, which became more and more manifest in Mao’s efforts to transform Chinese society after 1949. While Lenin stressed the importance of “subjectivity” in proletariat revolution, Mao developed it to extreme voluntarism. Lenin never doubted that the party should play a key role in guiding, organizing, and disciplining the masses. However, Mao is seen as a romantic and idealistic populist. He favored the spontaneity and revolutionary zeal of the masses and deeply detested party bureaucratization and routinization, which he believed had alienated the party from the masses. These significant differences provide ample evidence, in Schram’s view, that Mao’s thought is not merely a variant of Leninism in China, but a unique one arising from Chinasp historical contexts and Mao’s personality.

In a time when the “shadow” of Mao’s power was cast over all of Asia and his ideological influence could be felt all over the world, the boldest and most provocative claim made by Schram is perhaps that Mao’s thought was already obsolete. In this sense, he is quite different from Schurmann, who optimistically believes that out of the political development in China during the 1950s and 1960s, a new model of organization will probably emerge that distinguishes itself from the Western one but which is equally suitable to the modern world. Schram is apparently convinced by the fact that the egalitarian and anti-bureaucratic impulse inherent in the Cultural Revolution, a rejection of the “universal and inexorable” trends toward the bureaucratization in the process of industrialization and modernization, doomed Mao’s thought turning into an ideology ill adapted to the problems of building a new society.

Good documentation, carefully editing, and insightful comments make this book a very useful one for students in this field who seek to understand the political thought of Mao Zedong as well as the political and intellectual history of modern China.

© Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.

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