tisdag 18 januari 2011

Carl Arvid Hessler: De förtrycktas talan ("Speaking for the oppressed")

Finished Carl Arvid Hessler's "De förtrycktas talan. Ett kinesiskt perspektiv" ("Speaking for the oppressed. A Chinese perspective"; Norstedts, 1988), which looks at the precursors to Mao Zedong's revolutionary thinking and the end results, his revolutionary practice.

First, Hessler looks at uprisings in Chinese history. He then looks at revolutionary theory of late 1800s - early 1900s Europe: anarchism and (Leninist and Stalinist) communism, plus some small smidgeon of John Stuart Mill's social liberalism. All of these sources seems to have influenced Mao's early thinking, but gradually, he discarded first the liberal strains, and then the anarchistic thinking in favor of "communistic discipline" (possibly partly as a reaction to having earlier attempts at organizing the countryside proletariat and peasants in order to cast off the yoke of the landowners thwarted by brute force). Having thus discarded what taste for liberty he might have had in his youth, he proceeds to analyze the Chinese situation to conclude that the Leninist view that you need the working class as the revolution's avant-garde and leaders is erroneous – and besides, China only has the peasantry, so if you want a revolution, the peasantry is the class you have to persuade to make that revolution come about and survive.

So far, so good. At times, Hessler almost seems to take Mao's positions on various issues, but I can buy that as part of making the case for what Mao believed in. However, Hessler never really gets into what Mao's ideological turn towards totalitarianism led to, which has to be, IMO, a major failing in any book describing Mao's thinking and revolutionary practice.

This book is worth reading for its insights into how a) Mao's thinking developed away from an if not liberal so at least not outright totalitarian views into "Maoism"; b) how the power struggle of different ideologies within the Chinese revolutionary and communist movements proceeded until Mao stood as the winner. However, I can't help but think that the lack of exposure of Mao's fundamentally anti-democratic ideology and its results is a major failure on Hessler's part.

Not-quite recommended.

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