ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A History of Social and Political Struggles in Mao’s China

The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisis by Yiching Wu; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014; pp 368, $49.95.

In a 2005 article, Yiching Wu outlines a sharp critique of Maoism and the basic characteristics of its account of the failure of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). Wu is a historian of the GPCR. While commending Maoism for having developed a highly dynamic view of the process of post-revolutionary class formation and bourgeois restoration, integrating the reciprocal interactions among ideological, political, and economic levels in a single analytical framework, he simultaneously argues that Maoism “was seriously flawed, and in the end ineffectual” because it “lacked a clear class focus as defined in structural terms” (Wu 2005). The result of this deficiency was Maoism’s inability to ward off the new forms of class domination that existed in the post-revolutionary state. Wu notes that some young critics however took the most radical implications of Maoism further than the architects of official Maoism, but were suppressed in 1967.

In Wu’s meticulous monograph, The Cultural Revolution at the Margins, he returns to his powerful critique of Chinese Maoism and demonstrates, using archival research, how official Maoism struggled to articulate a class analysis of the historical conditions in which it found itself, the efforts of these young critics to fill in this gap in Maoist doctrine, and how the Deng regime was able to usher in market reforms. Indeed, he provides a compelling counter-narrative that explains the rise of capitalism in China. His account rests on five arguments. One, in post-1949 China the communist party–state constructed a complicated classificatory system of class that was unable to properly grasp social relations; it dovetailed with the bureaucratisation of the party–state and helped give rise to a “red bourgeoisie.” Two, mass movements, especially in Beijing, Shanghai and Hunan, were spontaneous and arose due to social and political-economic grievances that reflected socio-economic hierarchies in post-revolutionary China. Three, the conventional narrative, shared by Maoists and their detractors alike, that Mao and the Central Cultural Revolution Group (CCRG) “led” the mass movements was retroactively applied to the 1966–67 period to justify the repression of those very movements and the restoration of political and economic order. Four, the mass movements sometimes developed more comprehensive materialist analyses of China’s problems than Mao and the CCRG. Five, the origins of Chinese capitalism are grounded in state responses to the GPCR and post-GPCR social movements.

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Updated On : 24th May, 2017

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