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A Thesis with Many Holes

Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea

By John Bryan Starr
Princeton University Press, 1979, pp. 366, $5.95

VOLUME V NUMBER 1 July/August 1980

Mao Zedong was the most dominant and towering actor in the long drama of the Chinese Revolution. His ability to interface the universals of Marxism­-Leninism with the particularities of China created a profound organic rela­tionship between the man and the event which he himself acknowledged. In March 1964 he remarked: ‘The Selected Works of Mao, how much of it is mine? It is a work of blood ... These things in Selected Works of Mao were taught to us by the masses and paid for with blood sacrifice.'  That Mao was able to move and mobilize the masses and keep them with him, often in defiance of legitimately constituted Party authority, is acknow­ledged. The why of it is more difficult to explain. Writing in 1937, Nym Wales, who followed her husband Edgar Snow to Yenan, surmised that Mao had grasp­ed a large portion of the truth of human, and particularly Chinese, existence. From today's perspective, history has partially borne out her surmise: The Chinese Revolution was a success story. However, Mao and his Thought have now run into grave problems. The post­-Mao leadership is distinctly uncomfor­table with certain aspects of his Thought, particularly those which warned of intense class struggle during the period of socialism. A section of the new leader­ship seems determined to make the Cultural Revolution the cut-off event separating Mao's achievements from Mao's failures. John Bryan Starr makes his own opi­nion quite clear. His study rests, as he states in the Preface, ‘on the assumption of the historical importance of Mao's political career and, without raising new claims for the truth, originality, or appli­cability of the political ideas that grew out of, and in turn shaped, that career, proceeds on the further assumption of the intrinsic, historical importance of those political ideas.’ The central purpose of the book, into which has gone over a decade of careful and dedicated research, is an exploration into the idea of ‘permanent revolution’. The Chinese began, he says, to refer to this idea as ‘Chairman Mao's theory of continuing the revolution under the dic­tatorship of the proletariat’ in the 1960s. In short, Starr, like Stuart Schram before him and others after him, views the later theory of ‘continued’ or ‘uninterrupt­ed’ revolution as being only a restate­ment of the earlier (though non-Trots­kyist) idea of ‘permanent revolution.’ I have grave problems with ...

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