Marxism, China and Development: Reflections on Theory and Reality.

Author:Hassner, Ron

James Gregor (New Brunswick:Transaction Publishers, 1995) 283 pp.

The book before us is an introduction into Marxist theory and the failures of the Chinese and Soviet revolutions, listing not only the mistakes made, but also their sources, and making it a point to show how later generations recognized these mistakes and attempted to rectify them. Readers who are unfamiliar with these subjects will find this book an easy and interesting eye-opener, while experts may find the background material, which takes up much of the book, slightly tedious and often repetitious. Issues involving development theory and national or international economics are illuminated, without recourse to intimidating jargon, explaining both the theory, its application and the human costs of poverty and suffering under both regimes.

Something of a surprise is the fact that this book has a hidden agenda. While the book states its purpose in the introduction as giving an account of the transformation of Marxist ideas into those of Mao Zedong and its effects on China, as well as speculation about the political future of China, it is, in fact, an explanation, defense and recommendation of Sun Yat-sen's ideology and theory Expressions such as "Sun Yat-sen's response to imperialism, on the other hand, was clearly more thoughtful, responsible and productive of positive consequences," make it quite clear that the purpose of this book is not so much a criticism of Mao, or his use of Marxist theory, but an acclaim of Sun Yat-sen.

There is no successful link between these two themes. The reader finds himself faced, in fact, with two books: one on Marxism and its misapplication in China, the other on Sun Yat-sen and the successful application of his theories in Taiwan. The chapters attempting to stitch the two halves of the book together bear the strain of this confusion, and are the only vague chapters in the book. Since Gregor claims that Mao's interpretation of communism was based in its entirety on Stalin, and his purpose is to recommend Sun's "developmental nationalism" as a future strategy for China, it should be of little surprise that Marxism, China and Development dedicates almost half of its discussion, not to Marxism or China, but to the USSR, Sun Yat-sen and Taiwan. The book alternates between four main themes -- Marxist theory; Sun Yatsen's ideas; communism in the Soviet Union and China; and development in Taiwan -- rather than delivering a chronological account of events. They run as parallel yet interdependent strands through the book. This serves a clear purpose but can often be confusing. The author swings back and forth between these four to explain both the sources of Mao's ideas and the reasons for consequent failure as result of the misapplication of Marxist ideas.

The first half of the book is a story of failure, the realization of it and attempts at adaption. Mao had a very limited understanding of Marxian ideas, writes Gregor. Unacquainted with the writings of Marx and Engels he claimed that peasants could replace a proletariat. Mao "socialized" the Chinese economy in conformity with the non-market planning of the Stalinist model, with fateful consequences for those compelled to suffer it. His ignorance of general...

To continue reading