The evolution of revolution's Great Leader

Mao's Road to Power
March 31, 2006

Volume One: 640pp, £159.00 and £62.50 ISBN 1 56324 049 1 and 457 8
Volume Two: 523pp, £159.00 ISBN 1 56324 430 6
Volume Three: 732pp, £159.00 ISBN 1 56324 439 X
Volume Four: 960pp, £157.00 ISBN 1 56324 891 3
Volume Five: 714pp, £157.00 ISBN 0 7656 0349 7
Volume Six: 843pp, £159.00 ISBN 0 7656 0793 X
Volume Seven: 900pp, £159.00 ISBN 0 7656 0794 8

Mao is remembered in the West as a ruthless authoritarian leader, the initiator of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, a man who made terrible mistakes that cost of millions of lives, who encouraged a personality cult that made him the centre of hysterical devotion and gave him a power base from which he could, and did, destroy comrades of many years' standing.

Mao was also one of the most important figures of the 20th century. He transformed his vast country and its place in the world. He led a revolution that united China under an effective central government for the first time in half a century. In China, attitudes to him are complex. His image is no longer ubiquitous, but it still dominates many public places including Tiananmen Square. He is admired by many, including some who suffered at his hands, as a strong national leader who made China's development possible. Others argue that he held it back for decades. Like Mao's image, his works have suffered only a partial eclipse. The millions no longer have to study them as scripture, but in China, and ironically in the US, research on Mao's writings remains a substantial field of academic endeavour.

Stuart Schram is a distinguished Mao scholar who began to publish books on Mao's life and thought more than four decades ago when he was at the University of London. Mao's Road to Power is a collection of Mao's writing prior to the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 on which Schram has been working at Harvard University since 1989. It provides English translations for every piece of Mao's writing that can be traced for the period. The seventh volume has recently become available, and three more are in the pipeline. The works allow us to discover Mao before he ascended the national stage and to appreciate his role as a military strategist, a political thinker, a philosopher and a poet as well as a political leader.

The texts are accompanied by introductions, commentaries and footnotes that make them accessible and comprehensible even to the non-China specialist.

Interestingly, the most complete collection of Mao's pre-1949 works is a 20-volume compilation by a Japanese scholar, Takeuchi Minoru, published in Tokyo in the 1970s. Schram and his collaborators draw from this source, but supplement it with collections produced in China since Mao's death and with material from the archives in Taiwan. Consultations with scholars in Beijing, access to newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s and texts published in China have all contributed to the editing.

After 1949, some of Mao's essays were published in various revised versions, notably the canonical Selected Works . The selection and editing, carried out with Mao's own participation, was designed to reflect the prevailing ideological orthodoxy and project a suitable image of the national leader. By contrast, the Schram collection uses the earliest available version of each text so that what we read is what Mao wrote at the time. However, footnotes and typographical devices note all significant changes made in later official versions. This not only provides insights into changes of political line and emphasis, it also indicates what were considered suitable styles of expression for the Great Leader.

The writings in volume one ( The Pre-Marxist Period , 1912-1920 ) begin when Mao was 21 and stretch to the time just before he committed himself to Communism. They include essays, poems, letters, journal entries and his reflections on books. Like others of his generation, he is bitter about the fate of China and the country's oppression by international powers. He is already a radical; many of his concerns - international affairs, the relationship between imperial powers and their colonies, economic and educational systems, social justice and women's rights - were to be themes of his writing for the rest of his life. But his political ideas are still in flux: he leans towards anarchism and, ironically for someone who would become a great national unifier, shows great interest in a movement for self-government for his home province of Hunan.

Volume two ( National Revolution and Social Revolution , December 1920-June 19 ) covers years when Mao was working within both the Communist Party and the Guomindang. It reflects Mao as a Marxist, an organiser, an activist and a political thinker. He is not yet a leader but is learning to assert his views forcefully. It includes two pieces, "Analysis of the classes in Chinese society" and "Report on the peasant movement in Hunan", in which Mao's recognition of the peasantry as China's most significant revolutionary class is becoming clear. In the "Report", Mao insists that each revolutionary will have to decide whether to support, criticise or oppose the peasant movement. He rebukes those who feel that it has already gone too far with his much-quoted aphorism: "A revolution is not a dinner party."

Volumes three and four ( From Jinggangshan to the Establishment of the Jiangxi Soviets, July 19-December 1930 and The Rise and Fall of the Chinese Soviet Republic, 1931-1934 ) cover a period that includes the collapse of the Guomindang/Communist alliance, and the retreat of the Communist Party to remote rural areas where it had to engage in almost constant armed struggle to survive. Military affairs and tactics assume great importance in Mao's writing in these years. In a speech to an emergency party conference, he observed that "political power is obtained from the barrel of a gun" and the understanding of military force as essential to the Communist movement was to inform his activities and writing in the following two decades. However, this was also a period in which Mao was frequently in conflict with the Central Committee, and many documents in these two volumes shed some light on inter-party struggles.

Volumes five and six ( Toward the Second United Front, January 1935-July 1937 and The New Stage, August 1937-1938 ) cover the Long March of 1934-35, the arrival of the Communists in northwest China and their founding of Shaan-Gan-Ning, a large base that by 1941 had a population of many millions. In this period, in a long and fiercely disputed process, Mao gradually emerged as the leader of the Communist Party. The move to the north brought the Communist centre into direct contact with areas occupied by the Japanese and facilitated contact with the Soviet Union. Fighting between the Communist Party and the Guomindang temporarily ended with the establishment of a united front against the Japanese invasion in 1937, and guerrilla war with the Japanese, often behind Japanese lines, allowed the Communists to gain influence and support far beyond the boundaries of their own base areas. Mao was still deeply preoccupied with military matters and many of the documents are assessments of the military situation, discussions of strategy and letters to his field commanders. He also gave attention to the government of the base areas, to attacking party rivals and to relations with the Soviet Union. Conscious of the need to win allies in the outside world, he gave interviews to Edgar Snow and other rare foreign visitors to the base areas.

In the comparatively peaceful conditions of the base area, Mao had the opportunity to read Marxist works in Chinese translation. He then delivered lectures from which his later essays "On practice" and "On contradiction"

were drawn. Texts of these lectures are presented in volume six. The lectures represented something of a departure for Mao, being heavily theoretical, and were probably delivered in part in an attempt to establish his ideological leadership.

The documents in volume seven ( New Democracy, 1939-41 ) show Mao as busy with political, military, social and cultural matters. Many are concerned about the war with Japan. Others reflect the deterioration of the Communist Party's relations with the Guomindang as co-operation turns to conflict. He is also aware of the international situation, looks forward to the entry of the US into the war but worries that if Germany invades England, USattention may be concentrated on Europe rather than Asia. He sees the Soviet-Japanese pact as a severe blow to China and welcomes the alliance with Britain and the US that follows Pearl Harbor.

Mao first asserted the need for the sinification of Marxism in 1938 in the belief that it had to be adapted to Chinese culture and realities. His theoretical writing from 1938 was largely an attempt to achieve this.

Despite his own partial reliance on Soviet theorists, he frequently attacked the "internationalists" in the party whom he saw as too ready to accept templates from the Soviet Union. His essay "Reform our study", published in May 1941, originally took the form of a speech to cadres in which he urged the study of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin while at the same time chiding those who could recite only set phrases from their works.

This essay was the first shot in the Rectification Movement launched in 1942, which Mao used to criticise the internationalists and to exclude them from leadership positions.

A later speech in this campaign, "Rectify the Party's work style", will doubtless follow in an eighth volume. In this speech, he complains that his call for the sinification of Marxism has not yet been heeded and memorably argues that dogma is of less use than shit. Volume seven also contains a couple of letters to his two young sons who were studying in the Soviet Union, giving one of the few personal glimpses we get of Mao in the entire compilation. The boys' mother, Mao's first wife, had been executed in 1930, and their difficult lives had included little contact with their father.

His brief letters display a conventional Confucian interest in the progress of their studies, but are unexpectedly encouraging and even affectionate.

By 1941, when volume seven ends, Mao's claim to the leadership of the Chinese revolution is clear. Later volumes will take us through the steps to the final acknowledgement of his political and ideological supremacy: his election as Chairman of the Politburo and the Central Committee, and the adoption of the 1945 party constitution, which stated that Mao Zedong thought (the Chinese term for Mao's theoretical contribution to Marxism-Leninism) was necessary to guide the work of the whole party. They will conclude with the Communist Party's accession to national power in 1949 after its victory in the civil war.

As Schram has written, these volumes allow readers "to find their own way through Mao's writing of the pre-1949 period". They will interest anyone who wants to understand China's 20th-century history and a revolution whose consequences for the world are far from played out. The compilation is a splendid achievement.

Delia Davin is emeritus professor of Chinese social studies, Leeds University.

Mao's Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949

Editor - Stuart R. Schram
Publisher - M. E. Sharpe

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