Research note ~ Dr Matthew Rothwell

Students of the Chinese Revolution might be interested in the podcasts (and transcripts provided) by the independent academic, Dr Matthew Rothwell, author of Transpacific Revolutionaries: The Chinese Revolution in Latin America (New York: Routledge, 2013).

Now approaching 100 episodes People’s History of Ideas Podcast, ongoing since May 2019, looks at the course of the struggle in 20th century China. It is not a hymn of praise but an endeavour of understanding the difficulties, mistakes, innovations and achievement within the context and environment they actually happened. It is not a narrative of unflinching advance but a far greater appreciation of the actuality of what was one of the defining struggles, the issues and themes it was engaged in and the continuing relevance to the 21st century struggle for a fairer and just global society.

 The appeal of Rothwell’s approach to the subject is in its honest reporting and analysis, evident throughout the series and in this extract from the introduction to podcast 96:

“Last episode, we discussed the first half of the “Draft Resolution of the 2nd Congress of the [County] Party Organizations in the Hunan-Jiangxi Border Area.” That first half of the resolution later became an important document in Mao’s Selected Works, titled “Why Is It that Red Political Power Can Exist in China?” This episode, I want to move on to consider the second half of the resolution. As I mentioned last episode, it had a more concrete and immediate focus, listing recent actions and, in particular, mistakes, committed by the Party and its organizations, and stating actions to be taken to correct these mistakes in the future. It can even be read in some parts as something of a self-criticism on Mao’s part.”

Mao had been active before the Communist Party of China foundation in 1921, and the first volume of his Selected Works that covers the periods of the First Revolutionary Civil War (1924-27) begins, as Rothwell says,

“where he began to lay out his new strategic thinking on how the Chinese Revolution should be based on the peasantry. This was an article titled “Analysis of All the Classes in Chinese Society,” and was published on December 1, 1925 in Revolution, which was the semi-monthly journal of the National Revolutionary Army.”

The Beginning of Maoism: Mao Zedong’s “Analysis of All the Classes in Chinese Society” 20/08/2020

Without undermining the impact or importance of this strategic offering of Mao’s, Rothwell points to considerations of context when approaching the historical record of a text being studied.

“While the idea that Communists should organize and mobilize peasants was not new, what was new in Mao’s “Analysis of All the Classes in Chinese Society” was that Mao was saying that the strategy for revolution should be based on mobilizing the peasantry. Now, Mao implied this strongly but did not say it explicitly in this work….

The article was edited to be more consistent with the terminology which came to predominate later in the revolution. The main reason for this editing was because this article, and some other important early works of Mao’s, were later used primarily for ongoing ideological education…..because we’re studying the historical development of Mao’s thinking in this podcast episode, it makes much more sense for us to use the terms that Mao used at the time, and not those which appear in Mao’s Selected Works. (Listeners who have Mao’s Selected Works at hand may notice that the chart that I am about to read from does not even appear in the version published there, and that a different date of publication is given for the article. It was only in the 1980s that Chinese historians discovered that the article was originally published in December 1925, not in March 1926, as had been thought when the Selected Works were published.)”

Rothwell concludes that particular episode noting that although peasant organizing had been an issue for the young party, the party leadership definitely did not endorse a peasant-based strategy. Any reading on the revolution illustrates that line struggle . The podcast ends with the comment that:

“In fact, Mao’s ideas would run up against deterministic and non-revolutionary articulations of Marxism all the way up until Mao’s death in 1976 and beyond, so it’s fitting that Mao’s first major work on revolutionary strategy, a work which can be considered the beginning of Maoism in a certain sense, was already being criticized in terms which relied on an interpretation of Marxism which removed the revolutionary heart from the theory..”

The exploration of the Chinese revolution has reached 1928 with occasional divergences into the author’s specialism, Maoism in Latin America. Reviewing Transpacific Revolutionaries: The Chinese Revolution in Latin America, it was observed that

“Rothwell amply and clearly demonstrates that Maoist ideas circulated within each of the countries mentioned because of transnational networks that had been established between Latin American activists, communists, politicians, and artists and their Chinese counterparts through a wide variety of forums, including guided trips to China, political and military training courses organized by the Chinese government for Latin American revolutionaries, and the translation and distribution of Chinese materials by Latin American interlocutors. Rothwell convincingly demonstrates that Latin American actors were not passive in relation to Maoist ideas and did the hard work of trying to indigenize these ideas for Latin American conditions.”  Dhruv Jain (2019) Rethinking Marxism, 31:4, 536-540.

Available online are other articles and talks (either in English or Spanish) that looked at the transmission of Maoism across the globe such as the presentation last year to the University of Hamburg on Clandestine Transcripts of Revolutionary Globalization: The Shining Paths of Late Cultural Revolution Maoism; subsequently re-recorded as episode 91 of the People’s History of Ideas Podcast.  Others that can be found include,

  • The Chinese Revolution and Latin America: The Impact of Global Communist Networks on Latin American Social Movements and Guerrilla Groups
  • Gonzalo in the Middle Kingdom: What Abimael Guzmán Tells Us in His Three Discussions of His Two Trips to China” in Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World  9, no. 3, May 2020.  Podcast 27
  • The Road Is Tortuous: The Chinese Revolution and the End of the Global Sixties” in  Revista  Izquierdas  (Santiago, Chile) 49, abril 2020. Podcast 21
  • “Secret Agent for International Maoism: José Venturelli, Chinese Informal Diplomacy and Latin American Maoism” in Radical Americas no. 1, December 2016.  Podcast 69
  • “Transpacific Solidarities: A Mexican Case Study on the Diffusion of Maoism in Latin America” in The Cold War in Asia: The Battle for Hearts and Minds, Zheng Yangwen, Hong Liu and Michael Szonyi, eds., Brill, 2010.

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