Saturday, July 28, 2007


by Thomas Riggins

One of the chapters (incomplete) in Engels' "Dialectics of Nature" is entitled: "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man". Although this was written in the 1870s it compares well, I think, with scientific ideas that are considered new today. I propose to compare Engels' views with those reported by Ann Gibbons in an article in the June 15, 2007 issue of Science ("Food for Thought: Did the first cooked meals help fuel the dramatic evolutionary expansion of the human brain?").

This article is primarily about Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham's theory that cooking led to the expansion of the human brain, that is, the Homo erectus brain, and resulted in the intellectual development of Homo sapiens.

Wrangham, Gibbons says, "presents cooking as one of the answers to a long standing riddle in human evolution: Where did humans get the extra energy to support their large brains?" That is, how do we explain that while we use about the same metabolic energy (calorie burning) as apes of comparable size, 25% of our energy is used by our brain, the apes only use 8% for theirs.

Gibbons reports that a classical explanation is that by eating meat we shrank our gastrointestinal system (we need more guts to digest plants than meat, and it takes longer) and the saved energy was devoted to the brain. "That theory," she says, "is now gathering additional support."

I don't know why she calls it "classical" because she dates it to 1995. She writes, "Called the expensive tissue hypothesis, this theory was proposed back in 1995...." Here is Engels (who is really "classical") in the 1870s writing about the effects of a meat diet "shortening the time required for digestion." Engels said, "The meat diet, however, had its greatest effect on the brain, which now received a far richer flow of the materials necessary for its nourishment and development, and which, therefore, could develop more rapidly and perfectly from generation to generation." In this respect, modern science has not improved on Engels!

Wrangham, Gibbons reports, "thinks that in addition, our ancestors got cooking, giving them the same number of calories for less effort." Wrangham first "floated this hypothesis" way back in 1999 (Science, 26 March 1999, p. 2004). There is nothing new under the Sun. Here, again, is Engels: "The meat diet led to ... the harnessing of fire [which] ... still further shortened the digestive process, as it provided the mouth with food already, as it were, half-digested...." Modern science is repeating the views of Engels, and the science of his day, a hundred and thirty years on.

Engels talks about the role of labor in the transition from ape to man, and we shall see that it is labor that is the basis, in humans, for meat eating and cooking. But first, some more of Gibbons.

If cooking led to the expansion of the brain (the modern way of talking about the transition from ape to man), when was the First Supper? Wrangham thinks it was about 1.6 to 1.9 million years ago [mya] and the diner as well as the chef were Homo erecti. Of course, Engels knew nothing of modern primate evolution or what a Homo erectus was, but he did think meat eating and cooking were gradually developed from ape like ancestors (along with speech and more complex thinking), so he would not have been surprised by modern theories.

The article points out that early humans (e..g., australopithecines, 4 to 1.2 mya) had chimpanzee sized brains, while H. erectus (AKA H. ergaster) had a brain twice that size (c. 1000 cc). We evolved, along with our cousins the Neandertals, around 500,000 to 200,000 years ago, with brain sizes of about 1300 cc and 1500 cc, respectively. It was meat that allowed the skull to expand for brain growth "according to a long-standing body of evidence." A very long standing body of evidence since it is found in Engel's article.

We are told the first stone tools, used to butcher animals, date from 2.7 mya in Ethiopia (at Gona). The cut marks on bones, adjacent fossils, etc., suggest that australopithecines were making these tools and eating meat.
Wrangham thinks that H. erectus replaced raw meat with cooked meat (1.9 mya) and this accounts for the big increase in its brain size.

The problem with this theory is that evidence of human use of fire only dates from about 790,000 years ago in what is now Israel. However, this is not fatal to Wrangham's position. Evidence of human controlled fire is very hard to come by and it is quite possible that earlier evidence of fire use will be found.

Some other scientists think Wrangham is right in principle, cooking led to brain increase (as Engels said), but his timeline is off. It didn't happen by H erectus, but by H sapiens and Neandertals. The jury is out.

While the jury may be out on Wrangham, it is not out on Engels. While this article discusses meat and cooking and the theory that "cooking paved the way for brain expansion", it mentions nary a word about the role of labor in expansion of the human brain. The real point of Engel's article should be reaffirmed.

Meat eating and cooking are secondary developments derivative of what Engels called "the decisive step in the transition from ape to man." This was the development of the human hand as a result of the evolution of erect posture in our ancestors. Once the hand was no longer used in locomotion, it was free to develop greater dexterity which "increased from generation to generation"-- i.e., was selected for. "Thus," "Engels writes, "the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour."

As the first hominids developed more dexterity they began to make tools and to live under more complex social arrangements, necessitating better communication skills. Thus Engels writes, "First labour, after it and then with it speech--- these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man, which for all its similarity is far larger and more perfect."

I have already mentioned above how Engels saw the adoption of meat eating and fire (cooking) as outgrowths of the labour of primitive humans in tool making (which led to hunting and fishing) which derived from the adoption of upright posture. The Australopithecines of Goma represent the
earliest tool makers (hominid, that is) and if meat eating led them to develop into H. erecti, and Wrangham proves right and H. erectus was the first cook, and the H. erecti, through the use of fire and cooking, then developed into us, then modern science has validated the argument presented by Engels in his essay of the 1870s.

The prescience of Engels demands that we in the 21st Century continue to profit and learn from his writings. He closes his essay with words that are even more relevant to us today than they were two centuries ago.

After tracing the development of civilization from the time of the transition to modern humans, Engels writes about how our species thinks that it is the master of nature and that we can remake the natural world to our own specifications. But we have to be "reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people ... all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly."

But will we apply them correctly? For that we must rely upon science and it doesn't look like our political and economic leaders are willing to do that, nor do the masses of people seem properly educated as to this necessity.

Engels says that while we have built up a modern civilization (industrial capitalism) by subjecting nature to our immediate interests, we have not calculated the remote long term effects of our actions. "In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominately concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result...."

As long as the corporations are making their profits, as long as they sell their commodities, they do not care "with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers. The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions."

So, here we are 130 years down the line with global warming, polluted air, mass extinctions in the plant and animal worlds facing us, and the oceans slowly dying. Engels had hoped that we would by now have had a world socialist community and these problems would not be facing us.
But we don't and they are.

There is only one way to solve them, according to Engels, and it "requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order." We had better get to work. Time is running out!

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Sunday, July 15, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 7]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work. Over the next few weeks I will be making entries one chapter at a time (there are sixteen). Comments are invited, especially from anyone who has read the book and wants to critique my take on a chapter, but anyone is welcome to comment.

Chapter 8 "Futian: Loss of Innocence"

In this chapter Short begins by trying to explain the brutality of the CPC at this time (late 1920, early 30s). One can understand, if not condone, the behavior involved. Short says the "model of intra-party strife" was based on the struggle in the Soviet party between Stalin and Trotsky, and later between Stalin and Bukharin. [But this actually preceded such violence in the USSR].

Also, the outrageous violence that the GMD unleashed against the communists and radical peasants influenced the CPC. The communists faced, "White terror in the cities (where, from mid- 1927 on, communists were mercilessly hunted down and killed); White terror in the countryside (where warlord soldiers and landlord militias routinely torched villages suspected of harbouring communist sympathisers); and the constant threat, in the Red areas, of nationalist encirclement and destruction."

The White Terror spawned the Red Terror. The nicey-nicey rules of engagement originally drawn up by Mao were being more and more ignored. Worse still, revolutionary violence (another term for the Red Terror) began to be directed inwards as well.

In his 1926 Hunan report, according to Short, Mao had said, terror "was indispensable to the communist cause, and Red execution squads must be formed 'to massacre the landlords and the despotic gentry as well as their running dogs without the slightest compunction.' But the use of terror should be directed exclusively against class enemies." Our existential conditions in 21st Century industrialized countries makes it almost impossible to comprehend the situation in China at this time which led to these kind of tactics. Are there places in the world today, however, where they would still apply?

In 1930, according to Short, the "flash point" came whereby these tactics, applied externally against the "White Terror" were to be used within the CPC against "anti-party elements." Mao gave a speech in which he said local branches of the party in the rural areas had been infiltrated with landlords and rich peasants, some of whom were in leadership positions.

The real problem, according to Short, was that many local communists did not like outside communists arriving in their areas and telling them what to do. Also they did not like harsh tactics because, due to the large extended families of those times, they had relatives on both sides.

Mao called them "mountaintop-ists"-- i.e., people who put local interests above the national interests of the party, and "they had to be brought into line." So at a meeting of the Jiangxi Front Committee, the local south-west Jiangxi party was put under new leadership. A young man from Hunan was put in charge, Liu Shiqi.

Now a terrible step was taken. Party leaders out of favor were demoted or expelled, but there was an "unwritten rule against killing Party comrades." But by a "secret directive" Mao ordered the execution of the top four local party leaders he had deposed ("as an example to others.") This should never have happened, I think, because secret activities not approved by the Front Committee violates inter party democracy. [Also killing people, for political reasons, is not a good way to build a new world of justice and equality.]

Why did Mao do it? Because he thought "that communists who obstructed the policies that the Party laid down, whatever their reason for doing so, had become part of 'the enemy' ['objectively counter-revolutionary' whatever their subjective intentions] and should be treated as such."

To students of Kant [ the only thing that counts is the good will ], among others, to kill people this way is monstrous. But Mao wasn't a Kantian. Short points out that the courts and trials are beside the point. "Since their guilt was political, the judicial process was irrelevant except as theatre, to educate the masses."

As Mao put it, "they should be openly tried and sentenced to death by execution." This is what is meant by a "show trial." This is one of the worse developments of classical 20th Century underdeveloped world communism and should never be practiced again. China was, however, lacking in any strong tradition of judicial independence. Modern China is still struggling with this problem but at least the leadership is aware of it.

Liu Shiqi went about carrying out purges of the local party's other leaders and many members. Also in 1930 the mysterious AB-tuan shows up. This was a "right-wing clique within the Guomindang." AB-tuaner began "showing up" everywhere. By October 1930, 1000 members of the 30,000 members in the south-west Jiangxi local had been executed for being part of the AB-tuan. While the scale is not Pol Potish, it certainly looks like fear and paranoia were gripping the Party leadership. Li Lisan was the party leader at this time and, ironically, the greatest purges will be against his followers when he falls from Grace. Outside of the executions of the original "Four Great [local] Party Officials", Short says Mao's role in this Pol Potish extension of inter-party violence "is uncertain." While he was actually present in the area with the Red Army few people were killed as AB-tuan. Other leaders seem to have been the primary agents of the "blood-purge"-- (mid-summer 1930).

But by October Mao had joined the purge whole heartedly. Liu Shiqi had been replaced by Li Wenlin and the new leadership in Jiangxi, according to Short, "ordered 'the most merciless torture' to ferret out AB-tuan members, warning that even 'those people who seem very positive and loyal, very left-wing and straightforward in what they say' must be doubted and questioned."

Since people will say anything under torture, it is no surprise to find out that the number of people being killed as "enemy agents" began to climb. It was a miniature Pol Pot witch hunt. Mao bought into it and said it was necessary to "intensify the purge still further."

All this was going on at the same time the GMD armies were trying to wipe out the Red Army (as described in the last chapter). Mao's plan, you may remember, was to "lure the enemy in deep." Naturally, all of the villages and peasants in the way objected to this plan as the GMD would wipe them out. These were the people who became "objective counter-revolutionaries" for contesting Mao's plan. Thousands were killed, including 2000 officers and men in the army itself-- many for questioning the need to to kill so many people. Those chosen by history are first made mad!

"The purge grew into a bloodbath," Short writes, "in which [Mao's] opponents perished. The stage was set for 'the Futian events." What were these events? Short tells the following story.

In early December 1930 the small village of Futian was being used as the HQ of the Jiangxi Provincial Action Committee. On December 7th Li Shaojiu (a "murderous thug"), "a member of Mao's political staff" arrived in town with a band of troops and names of three members of the provincial committee said to be members of the AB-tuan.

All the names were gotten under extreme forms of torture. All three members (plus five additional members found with them) were tortured and made to confess that they were AB-tuan members. They were not immediately put to death but kept alive on the basis of an order approved by Mao which read, "Do not kill the important leaders too quickly, but squeeze out of them [the maximum] information ... [Then], from the clues they give, you can go on to unearth other leaders." Sounds like a memo from Donald Rumsfeld!

I will note here the CPC did some self correcting as it stated a year later, after an internal investigation, that, "All the AB-tuan cases were uncovered on the basis of confessions. Little patience was shown in ascertaining facts and verifying charges... Torture was the only method of dealing with suspects who resisted. Torture ceased only after confession." And the CPC investigators knew how to get the job done. The report states that, "The worst method was to nail a person's palms to a table and then to insert bamboo splints under the fingernails." I imagine a lot of people confessed to being AB-tuan.

However, what the soldiers did to the wives of some of the suspects was just as bad: "they cut open their breasts and burnt their genitals." The Red Army had come a long way from the "humanistic" rules I mentioned,in an earlier entry, that Mao promulgated at its founding.

After Li Shaojiu moved on to hunt for victims at a new location, friends and soldiers of the imprisoned Front Committee members attacked their guards and freed them. They sent an appeal to the Party leadership to get rid of Mao and clear their names. The Party stood by Mao.

Meanwhile, Mao defeated Chiang Kai-shek's first encirclement attack. Mao's stock went up. The "suspects" held out until March 1931, then turned themselves in, "having been assured, or so they believed, that they would be treated with clemency."

Many were then killed. (one of them, a young man in his early 20s was beheaded). Short suggests they were innocent, their real crime being they were associated politically with the Li Lisan line (Li had been removed by this time) and that a bloody factional purge was carried out under the guise of fighting the class enemy (i.e., GMD agents). The revolution eats its own.

Short says the Returned Students leadership in Shanghai lumped "together all forms of opposition under a generic AB-tuan label." It seems there was no loyal opposition, just traitors. As a result, Short writes, "the purge resumed more ferociously than ever." This was, however, a "China thing," not a "CPC thing" since the GMD and the warlords carried on their own purges and blood baths. This was a reflection of the existential conditions in China and the level of social development of the combatants.

At this time, according to a later CPC investigation, the Jiangxi Political Security department acted on the premise "that it was better to kill a hundred innocent people than to leave a truly guilty one at large." Hardly a policy to win friends and influence people.

In the third encirclement campaign the remnants of the troops that had rescued the "suspects" (it was the 20th Army) was called to come back and help fight off Chiang's attack. They did so, but Mao had most of the officers executed and dispersed the regular soldiers into other units. There was no more 20th Army.

By the end of the year, after the death of tens of thousands of people, the purge, and Mao's part in it, slackened off. It didn't end, however. From 1932 through 1934, 80 to 100 people a month were being shot for being AB- tuan, Social Democrats, or "reformists." This was a new moderate policy! The Party was against "unorganized" killing. Executions now had to be approved by higher Party bodies, they could not just take place on the spot.

I read Short's book on Pol Pot and this "Futian" purge sounds just like the kinds of thing the Khmer Rouge did. Here is a quote from the head of East Futian security on how to deal with a suspect: "You force him to confess, then he confesses, you believe him and you kill him: or, he does not confess and you kill him." These alternatives don't look very good. If this is going on in the "liberated zones", which the peasants are flocking to, what could Chiang have been doing? We shall soon see.

The reasons for the purges were, Short says, always the same. "They were always about power-- the power of individual leaders to enforce their will, and to ensure that followers followed."

This horrible chapter is drawing to an end. Short ends it by trying to explain what was the cause of this inhuman barbaric slaughter of men, women and some children as well. "Inhuman" seems not to be the right word as we humans have been acting this way since the git-go.

Short says, "The way in which the [CPC] leadership was transformed from an idealistic, ineffectual coterie of well meaning intellectuals" who "in exceptional times" carried out "an exceptional slaughter of men and women [tens of thousands!] who later proved to be perfectly loyal" was largely due to "the situation within China itself."

Short says that the main reason was the civil war between the CPC and GMD in which "no rules were honored." In 1931 the head of the PB Security Service defected to the GMD and turned over lists of names resulting in the capture and killing of thousands of communists, including Xiang Zhongfa [1880-1931] the head of the Party since 1928.

Zhou Enlai ordered the turncoat's entire family exterminated. Only a small boy was saved because the man assigned to do the killing couldn't bring himself to kill a small child. In order to enforce discipline Zhou also ordered the killing of dozens of CPC members whom he thought lacked discipline.

O tempora, O mores, we are not hearten to read that, "The Guomindang was just as barbarous." The GMD went to areas where the CPC was located and killed all the able bodied men in a program known as "draining the pond to catch the fish."

While the CPC was killing its own, the GMD was just killing anyone who later might be a potential recruit to the CPC-- i.e., poor peasants in the country side. They killed 100,000 villagers in Hubei and 80,000 in Henan. On the Hunan-Hubei border, the GMD killed so many villagers that only 10,000 remained from a population of one million. "Twenty years later, ruined villages and human bones were still scattered through the mountains."

This was the environment the CPC lived in, and the young idealists of a few years before, including Mao, either adapted or perished. It was, in fact, typical of Chinese history. "The vortex of blood and fear," Short writes, "in which the communist struggle was played out was the fruit of this legacy."

Mao was conflicted. He still held to the ideals, discussed in a previous chapter, about how the Red Army should act, yet realized "iron discipline" was needed. He saw communism as a "moral force" not just a way to attain power. There was a contradiction between torture and murder of innocent people, including some children, to make others obey and the concept that your philosophy is a "moral force for China's renewal."

Mao turned to dialectics, especially "the unity of opposites" to try and understand [justify?] the Party's actions. What could you do against an enemy such as the GMD? He concluded the purges were necessary, but regrettable, due to the circumstances, and, Short says, "in future better avoided." Amen to that!

from PAEditorsBlog

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 6]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work and the editor's blog is a good place to discuss it as a preliminary to a review article for PA. Over the next few weeks I will be making entries one chapter at a time (there are sixteen). Comments are invited, especially from anyone who has read the book and wants to critique my take on a chapter, but anyone is welcome to comment.

Chapter Seven "Out of the Barrel of a Gun"

This chapter begins with the July 15, 1927 rupture between the CPC and the GMD. The new party leaders are tasked to construct a peasant army by orders that have come from Moscow. A new Comintern agent was on the scene to advise the Chinese comrades [Besso Lominadze].

The party began to build its own military force and to plan for a big insurrection of the peasants in Hunan for the Autumn of 1927. There was a new de facto party leader, Qu Qiubai (1899-1935), Chen Duxiu was definitely out as leader, having been accused of "Menshevism" [ a term used, as Short notes, 'to denote any form of right-wing opposition or advocacy of class reconciliation." It is now arguably an outmoded term, as are "Trotskyism" and "Stalinism". All three terms now function as substitutes for having to think about complex political problems].

A major problem for the party was what the relationship should be between the newly established military force and the mass movement of workers and peasants. In August Mao put forth the following thesis. He noted that Sun Yat-sen relied on the military for his rise to power, while the CPC relied only on the mass movement of the people. Chiang Kai-shek "rose by grasping the gun." The CPC still had no real understanding of the importance of a military force although it was beginning to dawn on the leadership. Mao concluded, "From now on we should pay the greatest attention to military affairs. We must know that political power is obtained out of the barrel of a gun."

The Politburo [as the Central Bureau now called itself] thought that "gun-barrelism" "did not quite accord" with its views. "The masses," Short writes,"were the core of the revolution; the armed forces, at most, auxiliary." This doesn't really conflict with Mao's views. Without mass popular support guns are ultimately useless, as the US found out in Vietnam and is learning all over again in Iraq.

Over the next few months the CPC planned an uprising of the peasants in south China. Mao was supposed to draw up plans for taking over Hunan and helping the revolt spread to other provinces. A rag tag army was put together around a nucleus of seasoned GMD troops who defected to the communists. Mao realized, however, that the forces were insufficient for such a large undertaking. He went against party discipline and focused on just taking Changsha, the capital of Hunan.

To make a long story short, all the attempts at insurrection, not only in Hunan under Mao, but in all the other south China locations, ended in fiascos. Mao led his forces further south to find a safe refuge. Other leaders in the field hightailed it to other locations (Zhou Enlai ended up in Hong Kong).

The Politburo met in Shanghai in November and purged itself. Mao was left on the CC but kicked out of the Politburo. Meanwhile the right GMD forces and hostile warlords (not all were hostile) killed thousands of party members. Short says so many were being killed that to "save bullets, groups of them were roped together, taken out to sea on barges and thrown overboard."

Nevertheless, the CPC became more and more sure that its theories regarding mass uprising were correct. Why did they become more radical and not more defeatist? Short says, "the underlying reason was frustration with the failed alliance with the Guomindang, which caught up the Party's leaders and rank and file alike in a furious spiral of ever-increasing radicalization."

The party that in May 1927 boasted 57,000 members now ended the year with about 10,000 left. It was a bad year for the communists. Four different power centers were now developing, each with its own concerns and agenda, yet all working for the same objectives. Short calls it "a quadrilateral struggle" between the Comintern and Stalin, the provincial party leaders, the Shanghai Politburo, and the communist military leaders out in the country side. They conflicted "over two key issues: the relationship between rural and urban revolution; and between insurrection and armed struggle."

On September 25, 1927 Mao's ragtag army was attacked, the divisional commander was killed, and Mao found himself actually in charge. After the attack, what remained of the "army" met up at Sanwan, a village near the Jinggangshan mountains.

From what had been a division, Mao was able to salvage a single active regiment. Mao laid down two basic rules for his army which made it unique in the China of his day. First, it was to be a volunteer army solely (no impressment) and second, all civilians were to be treated with respect and humanity. The soldiers, Short writes, were ordered to "speak politely; pay a fair price for what they bought; and never take so much as 'a solitary sweet potato' belonging to the masses." No looting, raping, marauding, burning, killing, etc. This is how Mao thought an army should behave. Short remarks that, "this was a genuinely revolutionary concept." Who can doubt that Mao expressed real humanistic values (in so far as one can talk about such values respecting any military) at this time.

By early 1928 Mao had made contact with other bands of fighting men, mostly peasant militias, and increased his army to two regiments, and won a significant victory over a GMD battalion sent to take over Xincheng a town about eight miles north of Mao's base, at this time Maoping, in Jiangxi Province. After the battle Mao astonished the GMD prisoners by giving them a choice: money to go home on or joining his army. Many, Short says, stayed. Once news of the battle, and the aftermath, got out the GMD decided Mao definitely had to go. Greater forces began to be collected to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, back in Shanghai, the party leader Qu Qiubai was supportive of Mao's activities, but Zhou Enlai, in charge of military affairs, was not. He thought Mao too independent and that he relied on military actions more than mass mobilization. Zhou Lu, from the Hunan provincial leadership, was sent to tell Mao he was being removed as the leader in his area. Short points out, by the way, that the repression of the CPC was so intense, and so many senior experienced cadres had been wiped out, that leaders in the field, like Mao, often found themselves officially subordinate to inexperienced younger men who had no idea what was going on.

Zhou Lu arrived at Mao's base in March of 1928 and told him he had been removed from the Politburo, the Hunan Provincial Committee, and expelled from the party [this last was not true]. Mao remained as divisional commander of his forces but Lu now represented the party. To say that Mao was upset is to put it mildly.

While this was going on at Mao's base, another armed force, under the command of Zhu De [1886-1976], had relocated to SE Hunan. Zhu was attacked by GMD forces and Mao's troops came to the rescue. Zhou Lu was captured and executed by the enemy. The albatross around Mao's neck was gone.

By April Zhu and Mao were working together at their base area in Jinggangshan. By summer they controlled an area with a population of a half million people. The Zhu-Mao army was now 8000 strong. Zhu was commander of the army, Mao was the party rep. It began to be referred to as the "Red Army."

Mao had always advocated moderate military policies. The Shanghai leadership had removed him and sent out the ill fated Zhou Lu because they thought, following the views of Zhou Enlai, that Mao was not fighting enough. They thought "his work was 'too right-wing', he had been told. He was 'not killing and burning enough, [and] not carrying out the policy of '"

Mao didn't agree at all with these kinds of policies. At a local congress which was called for the area where the Zhu-Mao army was in charge, he gave a speech in which he said: "in order to kill people and burn houses there must be a mass basis ... [not just] burning and killing by the army on its own." This seems like such common sense one wonders how Mao could ever have been condemned for such views. Unbeknownst to Mao, back in Shanghai, the Politburo had changed its mind and was now having similar thoughts. By June 1928 the party had accepted Mao's theories.

The Sixth Party Congress was held in Russia. The Congress decided that China was not experiencing a "revolutionary high tide." A war of attrition was what was needed, and in this period, it was the peasantry, not the workers, which was leading the revolution. Mao, who remained in his base area, thought this was the "correct theoretical basis" upon which to build the Red Army.

In October there was a local Congress in the base area. One of its statements was, "In the past the Party organs were all individual dictatorships, autocracies of the Party secretary; there was no collective leadership or democratic spirit whatsoever." I must say, this was not a problem confined to to the CPC, nor has it been completely overcome in some parties even today. The Congress said that Mao was "among the main offenders." Nevertheless he kept his position as chief political officer to the Red Army.

The military situation perked up towards the end of 1928 and the army was on the move. "A new kind of warfare began," Short says, "no longer the defense of fixed positions, but flexible guerrilla war."

For the first three months of 1929 Zhu and Mao were without any contacts with the rest of the party. Short says this allowed them to devise their own plans. Back in Shanghai after the Sixth Congress, the new General Secretary was a non entity Xiang Zhongfa. The real de facto power lay with Zhou Enlai and Li Lisan.

The Shanghai leadership received negative reports about the conditions facing the Red Army and sent out orders that it should disperse into small units and hide out in villages in the countryside until better times. Mao and Zhu were told to come to Shanghai. But, by the time the orders arrived there had been a reversal of fortune and after some victories the Red Army was riding high. Mao and Zhu remained in the field. The sub text was more about the CC's desire to concentrate on the urban proletariat.

Things had looked bad for the Red Army ever since it had to leave its base in Jinggangshan and adopt guerilla techniques, but by mid 1929 things were looking up. Mao thought the GMD was about to be on the ropes in his area [Jiangxi and parts of Fujian and Zhejiang]. At this time Mao told the CC "the revolution in semi-colonial China will fail only if the peasant struggle is deprived of the leadership of the workers; it will never suffer just because the peasant struggle develops in such a way as to become more powerful than the workers."

The worse the better? I ask this because of Short''s following sentence. "Mao's personal belief in dialectics as the motive force of history, in which the blackest part of the night always comes just before dawn, had been strengthened in the traumatic months following the abandonment of Jinggangshan, when the Red Army has appeared on the verge of collapse, only to pull itself together and emerge from the ordeal stronger, and in a more favorable position, than before."

This will be a theme in Mao's life and in the struggle with comrades who will differ with his views in the future. It can, I think, be understood as the difference between a dialectical view of struggle, where reverses are natural, and a pragmatic outlook that aims towards incremental advancement of the struggle and fears set backs (a mechanical outlook).

Now the Red Army was split into two groups. Mao thought it time to set up another base, Zhu wanted to continue guerilla tactics. A vote was taken and Mao won. However, more of his comrades began to think of him as an "autocrat" "Now", Short says, " as on Jinggangshan the previous autumn, complaints were heard about his 'patriarchal style of rule', "the dictatorship of the Secretary' and 'excessive centralization of power'."

In June of 1929 the Red Army had a Congress to try and work out the differences between Mao's way and Zhu's way. Most of delegates were upset with both of them and Chen Yi [1901-1972] was elected to chair. The result was that the Front Committee (the body responsible for the running of the Red Army and areas it controlled) was reorganized. Zhu stayed as commander of the army, Mao as Party Representative, but Chen Yi became the Secretary. Mao was again, as Short puts it in "eclipse."

Mao basically retired to the sidelines after this, but by November, after much back and forth between the Politburo [hereafter PB, but Short causes confusion by still using the old term "Central Bureau" and PB interchangeably], the Front Committee, and a military fiasco that cost the Red Army a third of its forces, the Party decided they needed Mao back. Mao played hard to get because this time around he wanted his political authority to be more firmly based. Finally, after several entreaties, he returned as Front Committee Secretary.

Mao now proceeded to make the Front Committee over in his own image. A Conference took place on 29 December 1929. It began the first of what would later be called "rectification campaigns." The purpose was "to dig out the roots of different mistaken ideas, discuss the harm they had caused and decide how to correct them." Mao, Short writes, "had the main role in deciding which ideas were 'mistaken', and which 'correct'.

The main theme was directed against Zhu and his supporters. It was an important moment. What was at issue was the relation between the military power and the political power of the party. Mao thought the military had to be subordinate to the political leadership. Short quotes a slogan Mao came up with in 1938 but which aptly describes what this Conference was all about: "the Party commands the gun: the gun shall never be allowed to command the Party."

At this time, it seems to me, Mao was completely in the right. Zhu's army was positively feudal in some respects. Here is how Short describes Mao's complaints. There was "rampant" corporal punishment and brutality, men were beaten to death, three soldiers killed themselves due to the horrible conditions, prisoners were abused, deserters shot, and the Red Army abandoned its sick and wounded soldiers to die. All of this was totally against Part policy as Mao had outlined it when the army was first being set up. It is pretty obvious that Mao had every right to try and rectify this situation, one that Zhu De (a former warlord himself) had let get out of hand.

On the political front, Mao thought that the signs of revolution were everywhere in the air. The view was not shared (yet) by the PB back in Shanghai. Mao disagreed with them. He thought that the "contradictions in Chinese society in general, and between the warlords in particular, were growing so acute that 'a single spark can start a prairie fire' -- and this would happen 'very soon.'"

This was something the leadership didn't see. It would be like saying a Third Party under Bloomberg would win the '08 election and change forever the two party control of US politics, or that Dennis Kucinich would be the next president because the American people are so alienated from the mainstream Republicans and Democrats over the war and domestic policies of the status quo. Still, as Short says, the PB was about to change its mind.

At about this time, the Russians had declared they thought there was "a rising red tide" in China. This allowed Li Lisan [1899-1967], who at this time agreed with Mao's ideas, to get the PB to reverse itself and call for the kind of revolutionary actions sought for by Mao. Mao was very pleased when he got the news early in 1930.

There was a big problem, however, about all this. Li interpreted the "rising red tide" to mean revolution by the proletariat in the cities and Mao by the peasants in the countryside. The PB kept urging Mao and Zhu to draw up plans to attack and hold big cities. Mao and Zhu ignored the orders and continued to slowly build up their base area on the Jiangxi-Guangdong border.

Zhou Enlai went of to Moscow for several months leaving Li in charge in Shanghai. Here the "Li Lisan line" developed. Li proclaimed that, Short is quoting Li, the flexible tactics of guerilla war were "no longer suited to modern requirements ... now that we need to take key cities... [Zhu and Mao] must change their ways... using the countryside to encircle the city... [was] highly erroneous [and the idea that] rural work comes first, and urban work second" was wrong.

In sum, Li thought in terms of a national uprising to take over the whole country, Mao thought in terms of starting out with a few provinces and building from there. Li must have been smoking something for he sent off a CC missive stating that China "is the place where the volcano of the world revolution is most likely to erupt [and maybe] set off the world revolution and the final decisive class war worldwide....".

Li then ordered Zhu and Mao to take the capital of Jiangxi province [Nanchang] and march on to take Wuhan [ the capital of Hubei ]. They had to obey and march north. They knew this was a fool's errand. Short quotes a poem Mao wrote at the time:

A million workers and peasants rise eagerly together,
Rolling up Jiangxi like a mat, striking straight at Hunan and Hubei,
Yet the "Internationale" sounds a melancholy note,
A raging tempest falls upon us from the heavens.

They dilly dallied in the field and made symbolic gestures against Nanchang, knowing full well the GMD was still to strong to take on frontally.

Meanwhile Stalin had flipped out when he got wind of Li's plans and the Comintern sent Li a letter stating that "no nationwide revolutionary high tide had yet appeared [the CPC is not able] to overthrow the rule of the GMD and the imperialists... [But while] it cannot dominate China, it can take control of a number of major provinces." Mao 1, Li 0.

In late summer and early autumn the Zhu-Mao forces were joined by other units of the Red Army and had some major battles and successes in the field. They even managed to hold on to a mid sized city for six weeks. They were becoming a bigger and better force.

Zhou Enlai and Qu Qiubai were back in Shanghai and Li was in deep trouble. Stalin found out in October that Li had thought about starting an insurrection in Manchuria to provoke a war between Russia and Japan, to hasten the world revolution no doubt. This was the last straw.

The Comintern said the Li Lisan line was "anti-Marxist, anti-Comintern, un-Bolshevik, [and] un-Leninist..." Time for Li to get a new job. He went to Moscow, repented his sins, and disappeared from the scene until 1945.

Now Chiang Kai-shek decided to wipe out the Red Army bases in Jiangxi by encircling them with the largest force of GMD troops ever used, up to that time, against the Red Army, 100,000.

On October 30, 1930 Mao explained his response to Chiang's threat at a Front Committee meeting. He "outlined for the first time the principle of 'luring the enemy in deep.'" This was protracted war. Mao said, "Lure the enemy deep into the Red Area, wait until they are exhausted and annihilate them."

By late December the Red Army had retreated deep into Jiangxi pursued by Chiang's forces. Chiang was in the capital Nanchang when suddenly the Red Army attacked and annihilated his 18th Division under Zhang Huizan, capturing Zhang in the process. Chiang's 50th Division saw what happened and tried to flee but was caught and trounced as well (January 3, 1931). As a present to Chiang, Zhang's head was floated on a board down the Gan River to Nanchang [I'm not too sure this was kosher.]

Mao was riding high, but Short says, "It was too good to last." The PB sent Xiang Ying out to Mao's base to take charge. The CC wanted to be in control. The Front Committee was abolished and Xiang took over all Mao's posts. But Mao had the army behind him, so he retained most of his de facto power while Xiang "assumed the appearance of power." [Hmmm, what happened to the party will control the Army not the other way around? What did Zhu think?]

Meanwhile back in Shanghai Pavel Mif (Stalin's "China specialist") had arrived to "to expose and denounce the disgraced Li Lisan." [Being a party General Secretary has its risks.]. By the time Mif was through the Party leadership was reorganized. Short tells us the Gen Sec, Xiang Zhongfa, stayed put, as did Zhou Enlai ("not for the last time, by deftly switching sides-"- actually Zhou rides the tiger to the end. Qu Qiubai was out and Xiang Ying stayed in the PB but lost his big post on the Standing Committee which he had when he went out to Mao's base.

But "the key appointment" was a new actor on the stage-- 26 year old Wang Ming [1906-74] "who was catapulted to full Politburo membership without having previously been even a member of the Central Committee." He was the leader of a band of returned Chinese graduates from Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow. Mif had been the Rector. Other of these students were put in charge of various CC departments. They were known as "the '28 Bolsheviks', 'Stalin's China Section'., or simply the 'Returned Students'," they would be running the show for the next four years.

The news of all this reached Mao's base area in March of 1931. Mao was put back in control as Secretary of the new General Front Committee and as Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee. Zhu was still commander in chief. Short says all this happened not for love of Mao but for distrust of Xiang Ying because of his association with Li Lisan.

And now, Chiang Kai-shek was back. This time he had 200,000 troops and was still intent on encircling the Reds and wiping them out. But Mao and Zhu were on a roll. By the end of May 1931 Chiang's forces were in full retreat with 30,000 of his troops "put out of action." From now on the party gave Mao and Zhu "a free hand" with respect to military tactics.

Chiang was like Freddy Krueger-- he keeps coming back. By the end of June he was ready again, this time with 300,000 troops! Chiang was personally in command this time and, Short says: "In the next two months, the Red Army came close to total destruction."

One must note that Chiang had 300,000 troops against a Red Army numbering around 20,000. By a daring escape from encirclement the Red Army avoided destruction. Chiang was prevented from going after them again because rivals in the GMD had made an alliance with northern warlords and set up a government in Canton to rival his own in Nanjing.
He had to pull his troops back and go after them, thus the Red Army would live to fight another day.

Japan then invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931 further diverting Chiang's attention. "But," Short writes, "he had unfinished business in Jiangxi . He and the communists both knew that in due course he would return." Mao was now 38 years old.

from PAEditorsBlog

Monday, July 09, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 5]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work and the editor's blog is a good place to discuss it as a preliminary to a review article for PA. Over the next few weeks I will be making entries one chapter at a time (there are sixteen). Comments are invited, especially from anyone who has read the book and wants to critique my take on a chapter, but anyone is welcome to comment.

Chapter Six "Events Leading to the Horse Day Incident and its Bloody Aftermath"

On April 12, 1927 GMD [Guomindang] forces allied with the Shanghai underworld unleashed a major attack on the CPC [Communist Party of China] and affiliated organizations in Shanghai. About 400 people were killed and more hundreds wounded and imprisoned. The next day, after a general strike failed and protesters were shot down in the street (including many women and children from the textile factories), Chiang Kai-shek was in complete control of the city.

The CPC was taken by surprise by this attack, although evidence that Chiang was planning it was not that hidden had anyone been looking for it. Why hadn't the CPC leadership seen it coming? Short's answer is, "that, in 1927, the CPC was so wedded to the alliance with the bourgeoisie that it could not conceive of a revolution without it."

On April 12 Mao and Wang Jingwei were in Hankou on GMD business. Wang, an old ally of Sun Yat-sen, was the top civilian leader of the GMD and a rival of Chiang, he was also a friend of Mao. Mao was working with the GMD Land Committee and getting ready for the Fifth Congress of the CPC (Short barely mentions the Fourth Congress which took place in early 1926). Short also says a new Comintern rep was also on the scene [M.N.Roy], one "more sympathetic to the agrarian revolution" than previous reps, especially Borodin. The CPC leader, Chen Duxiu was soon to arrive in Hankou as well.

On the afternoon of the 12th the news from Shanghai arrived causing an existential crisis. The party's Central Bureau was in session for the next six days trying to figure out what to do. Borodin and Roy "gave radically differing advice."

According to Short, Borodin and Chen Duxiu wanted to put the struggle against Chiang on hold, make a "strategic retreat" and start up the Northern Expedition again (the military attacks on the non-GMD warlords) by joining with GMD forces that were getting a lot of Soviet aid. After getting rid of the warlords and with a beefed up allied GMD military command Chiang could then be reckoned with.

Roy rejected his fellow Comintern rep's plan. Short quotes him as saying it was "a betrayal of the peasantry, of the proletariat... and the masses." The Revolution "will either win as an agrarian revolution or it will not win at all." Borodin's plan was equivalent to "collaborating with the very forces of reaction that are betraying the revolution at every step."

How could two reps of the Communist International take such contrary positions? Short says it was because Stalin's program for China had been contradictory. Borodin represented the view that the communists had to be allied with the "progressive" bourgeoisie [always an elusive beast] and Roy, newly arrived, supported the new emphasis on the agrarian revolution.

Zhou Enlai and others had different plans. Some felt they should attack Chiang with help from sympathetic "left" GMD forces. The meetings were going nowhere. The Bureau finally sided with Roy, but Borodin then went to the GMD leader Wang Jingwei and Wang proclaimed that the Northern Expedition would start up again.

Meanwhile Mao, who supported Roy, wasn't even at these meetings. Chen Duxiu had broken relations over the Hunan peasants reports and Mao was no longer on the CC. He tried to pass a resolution when the Fifth Congress met, in favor of his agrarian revolution theories, but it was defeated. He was also replaced as Secretary of the CC Peasant Committee but allowed to stay as a member.

Meanwhile the right-wing GMD forces were gaining in strength and consolidating their power. This provoked countermeasures and fighting and riots were breaking out all over the place between the right and left.

Short says that on May 21, 1927 ("The Day of the Horse" on the traditional calendar) the military commander in Changsha took action. Reaction had come to Hunan. By the end of May and the beginning of June over 10,000 people had been killed. The violence spread to neighboring provinces. The White terror was rampant throughout China. Over 300,000 died by the time the violence ended. Peasants were beheaded, disemboweled, had their eyes and tongues ripped out, women were wired together through pierced breasts and hacked to bits. This was all done by the landlords and gentry to the peasants in the villages. This may explain the excesses later on when the peasants finally got the landlords in their power.

The "Horse Day Incident" and its aftermath was, Short remarks, "a turning point" for the CPC. A lesson was learned and never forgotten. It boiled down to violence must be met with violence.

Now two major new events happened. Stalin sent orders to the CPC telling it to step up the agrarian revolution, to raise an independent army, and to restructure the GMD Central Executive Committee. In the new situation in China none of these proposals could be carried out. As Short says, Stalin's orders "might as well have come from another planet."

Both Borodin and Roy, as well as a third Comintern agent (Voitinsky, ostensibly a news reporter) all concluded that Stalin's ideas would be impossible to carry out.

Roy then made a big mistake. He showed Stalin's missive to the left wing GMD leader Wang Jungwei, perhaps hoping it would make him more radical in order to secure Soviet aid and more CPC support. It had the opposite effect. It drove him back into the arms of Chiang Kai-shek.

Yet, Stalin's telegram to the CPC had one lasting effect. The leadership realized that an independent military force was necessary. GMD generals couldn't be trusted. Stalin had "sowed the seed from which, in the months that followed, the Chinese Red Army would grow." That army is arguably still today the largest military force in the world that is independent of the control of international monopoly capitalism.

By July 1927 the CPC leadership was at its wit's end. It felt the GMD-CPC "united front" was about to end, yet it could not think of what to do about it. It passed resolutions affirming the leading role of the GMD and offering to serve under GMD supervision. Short calls this a "craven resolution." Two lines emerged: one, the communists would join the GMD army to show they were not a threat to the unity policy [this was just asking for it] and two, go hide up in the mountains and build an independent military force.

Meanwhile, Stalin was upset that Chen Duxiu had rejected his orders as "impractical" and Chen was forced out of the leadership. By the end of the summer, however, the CPC-GMD united front was at an end, the Russian advisors to the GMD had been sent packing, Mao and the other leaders were underground, the Comintern agents were gone. By the end of 1927 the left-GMD was also kaput and Wang Jingwei was an exile in Europe. Things were looking pretty good for Chiang Kai-shek and the rightists. By year's end Mao turned 34 years old.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


by Thomas Riggins

Jonathan Haidt, of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, has an important article in the May 18, 2007 issue of Science ("The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology." Since we live in a time of rampant amorality (to say nothing of immorality) in government and civil society, I think a review of this article for Political Affairs will further advance a study of the role of Marxist thinking in our times.

Haidt tells us that, contrary to the view that human social behavior is basically the result of self interested motives, recent scientific research reveals this is not the case and that we have "social motivations beyond direct self-interest."

Thirty years ago the two dominant psychological paradigms were ethical behaviorism and cognitive-developmental theory [CDT]. In other words, ethical systems arrived at by reward and punishment or by learning and understanding. E.O. Wilson, the article says, thought these two paradigms would conflate and be subsumed under sociobiology.

It didn't quite work out that way as behaviorism faded away and CDT turned towards philosophy and education rather than sociobiology. However, Wilson is given credit for getting the "big picture right." This is because at the present time, for the last fifteen years or so, scientists have been combining CDT with research on the emotions and developing a new synthesis based on evolution, CDT and neuroscience.

Three main principles are being put forth, Haidt will recommend a fourth, which constitute this new synthesis. I intend to go into each of these principles, following Haidt's exposition, to determine what may be relevant as regards contemporary Marxism.

The First Principle Haidt labels "Intuitive Primacy (but Not Dictatorship)."
What this entails is the view that the human brain has, underlying its cognitive. system an ancient "affective system" that was formed throughout the eons of our evolutionary development.

So when faced with a situation calling for action, the brain is first set in motion by the affective system and this system pushes us into action, the cognitive system kicks in later to justify and carry out the behavior stimulated by the affective system. Freud would say the id stimulates the ego.

The reason this is not a dictatorship is because of the super ego, or in modern terms, the cognitive system can have a feed back influence on the affective system. This means humans are not simply machines carrying out automatically genetically instinctive behavior.

Evolutionary psychology mostly holds, according to the author, that human morality rests on an inherited emotional foundation (empathy, resentment at "non reciprocators", attachment to relatives and allies, among others). This foundation was laid down in the common ancestor from whom we and the chimp split to go our separate ways around six million years ago.

On top of this affective system, about 100,000 years ago, when modern humans developed, our species evolved the ability to use language and, as a result, to develop conscious moral reasoning abilities. It is, Haidt says, implausible that the neural mechanisms that control human judgment and behavior were suddenly rewired to hand control of the organism over to this new deliberative faculty." But if one believes in "punctuated evolution"-- i.e., rapid adaptation and change, it may not be so implausible as Haidt maintains.

In any case, Haidt bases his thought on the "Social Intuitions Model." Simply put, this divides a moral judgment into two parts. When Mencius sees a child about to fall into a well, he automatically reaches out to catch him (part one-- the affective reaction, the moral intuition, mother chimp grabs baby about to fall). Then Mencius writes a book about the innate goodness of humans and how this ethical truth can be used to elaborate the philosophy of Confucius (part two-- moral reasoning "conscious mental activity... to reach a moral judgment or decision", mother chimp and baby go back to eating bananas).

These affective responses push us towards an action "but do not absolutely force." Haidt says there are three ways to foil the immediate affective response, or at least retrospectively condemn or aprobate it. First, reasoning; second, reframe the situation from "a new angle"; three, talk to people and get their take on the action and reformulate your opinion.

This section is not too bad, as long as it is confined to thinking that the preconditions for human morality have evolutionary roots in our primate past.

At the present time there is no data (outside the lab) as to which of these three methods is the most used, if any. But we can ask; "What role is reasoning fit to play."

This leads us to Principle Two: (Moral) Thinking is for (Social) Doing. Unfortunately, this second principle of the "new moral synthesis" runs off the track of science and becomes a mere ideological prop for monopoly capitalism. Reason seems only fit to play the role assigned to it by the Bush White House.

Haidt says psychologists used to view people as "intuitive scientists" trying to find out what reality is like. But, it seems, in "the past 15 years" we find that "many researchers" have turned to William James and his pragmatic view that "thinking is for doing." For James, thinking was not for finding the "truth" but for attaining your "goal." This view, Haidt says, is that "moral reasoning is like that of a lawyer or politician seeking whatever is useful, whether or not it is true."

But, evolution allows us to adapt to a real environment, I think, not an imagined one that would be more useful than what is actually out there. Any species evolving along the lines of James theory of "thinking is for doing" would soon have become extinct. (Although with global warming and the way we make our own reality, this might very well be the case with us in the not too distant future-- extinction, I mean.)

Haidt tells us its always useful to justify your actions and since all societies gossip there are three life rules we have to learn: 1) "be careful what you do" [this seems a bit trite]; 2) since what people think you did is more important than what you did "you'd better be able to frame your actions in a positive light."

This is not how moral "reasoning" operates. This is how people who have no strong moral education and are morally defective operate. The evidence Haidt gives is garnered from people "when brain damage or surgery creates bizarre behaviors or beliefs." Hardly the norm.

He concludes: "Moral reasoning is often like the press secretary for a secretive administration-- constantly generating the most persuasive arguments it can muster for policies whose true origins and goals are unknown." The trouble is that sooner or later the truth does come out and you pay the price, James and his pragmatist views notwithstanding. It should be noted as well, that the "true origins and goals" of the policies are known to the press secretary as by most of the press to whom he is lying.

True moral reasoning, in the sense discussed under Principle One, which has as its goal modifying behavior, has to be conducted along the lines of the scientist trying to discover the real state of affairs, not just what may be useful in the short run. Eventually reality will out.

The third life rule in the gossip society (which all societies are said to be) is: "Be prepared for other people's attempts to deceive and manipulate you." This may be good advice for people living under capitalism but it is hardly true for "all societies." There are many cooperative and trusting societies, especially in the world of what are now called "indigenous peoples" or in preliterate cultures.

I just don't think it is warranted to conclude, as Haidt does, the "new cognitive machinery" of our species was shaped by a "reputation-obsessed community." In fact it developed in small bands of people who lived in simple cooperative communities until the time of the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic. Only with the evolution of complex class societies did the gossipy reputation obsessed world that we are now familiar with begin to develop. By then our cognitive gear was fairly well developed, including our moral sense and reasoning.

Morality based on empathy, rejection of unfairness (exploitation), and human solidarity (at least on the level of kith and kin) has been characteristic of our species when not overlaid by class struggle and class interest. Marxism is, as a matter of fact, a philosophy seeking to institute the original universal human solidarity of pre-class times, but on a more productive industrial level. I conclude that Principle Two needs revamping.

Lets look at Principle Three: "Morality Binds and Builds." This is a very speculative section concerning hypothetical "altruism" genes which may or may not have evolved as a result of kin selection or actions towards non kin which help kin to survive.

The problem is to explain what appears to be cooperative behavior with strangers that won't be met again and "sacrifice" for "large groups of nonkin". I'm thinking, perhaps, of young soldiers who sacrifice themselves in Iraq for the shareholders of large American oil companies or for the careers of generals and politicians they will never meet or know.

Haidt says people writing on evolutionary morality can't explain this "extraordinary" behavior by the processes of kin selection and reciprocal atruism mentioned above. Therefore, I'm afraid, ad hoc hypothesis have to be resorted to and one such is called "indirect reciprocity" whereby your reputation is bettered by cooperation and sacrifice for strangers [especially if you tell everyone how great you are for doing so in case there are no witnesses.]

This section is not very well scientifically grounded. It is full of speculations about genes "that may have evolved" and with analogies between the behavior of humans and ants. I think the problem here is too much of a commitment on the part of people involved with evolutionary morality to find a genetic explanation for all the higher based behavior of humans and their moral and cultural behavior. With a prior commitment to a biological explanation, one is tempted to force the empirical evidence into the Procrustean bed of theory or fudge the empirical evidence altogether. This third principle is as problematic as the second.

Let us look now at Haidt's Principle Four. "Morality is About More Than Harm and Fairness." Haidt tells us that almost every "research program in moral psychology" selects out two topics- harm and fairness. He thinks this is a particularly Western concern with other cultures expressing other concerns, of which there are basically five that all cultures deal with. They are 1) fairness, 2) harm, 3) loyalty, 4) respect and obedience, and 5)
bodily and spiritual purity. Heidt says these are "five psychological foundations, each with a separate evolutionary origin" on which moral communities are built. He implies that these five areas have biological, ie., genetic, roots. This all very like Mencius and his four shoots, the Four Beginnings, that prove the innate nature of humanity is good.

Since the genetic origin of these five "shoots" is highly dubious and rests on insufficient data, when compared to historical and cultural explanations, it does not seem to me that the "new synthesis in moral psychology" will withstand a rigorous scientific testing procedure. Haidt himself admits that "morality may be as much a product of cultural evolution as genetic evolution," and I suspect, from evidence already on hand from Marxist social analysis and well as non-Marxist philosophical and anthropological investigations, that cultural evolution will be found to explain the lion's share of the origin and development of human morality.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, July 02, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 4]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work. Over the next few weeks I will be making entries one chapter at a time (there are sixteen). Comments are invited, especially from anyone who has read the book and wants to critique my take on a chapter, but anyone is welcome to comment.

Chapter Five "The Comintern Takes Charge"

In July 1921 Mao attended the founding congress of CPC. There were three big problems to solve: what type of party, how to relate to the bourgeoisie and the two governments ruling from Beijing and Canton, how to relate to the Communist International (Comintern).

Despite the objections of Li Hanjun that the Chinese masses were too backward to understand Marxism and a long period of educational work would be necessary before they could be properly organized, the CPC, under the prodding of a representative of the Comintern [Hendricus Sneevliet], adopted a Bolshevik program calling for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the establishment of soviets.

Two other points upset the Comintern representative. They were one, the Congress decided to oppose both existing governments: Beijing as well as Canton. But Sun Yat-sen was running the Guomindang government in Canton which the Comintern considered "revolutionary". Lenin had said that CPs in "backward countries" should, as Short writes, "work closely with national-revolutionary bourgeois democratic movements." Worse was two, "the delegates refused to acknowledge Moscow's supremacy." The new party wanted to be treated as an equal.

The Comintern rep did not make a good impression. Chen Duxiu was elected leader and found that he was told to give weekly reports to the rep who was also giving directions to party members on his own. Chen put up with some of this because Moscow was providing seed money to the new party to help it grow.

Mao did not play a major part at this Congress. The CPC had at this time 53 members, only 10 of whom came from Hunan. In September 1921 the Hunan branch, with Mao in charge, was officially set up.

Mao was 29 years old in December of 1922 and his role as a party leader in Hunan (and labor union organizer) had been outstanding over the last year and three months. But what was true in Hunan was not true elsewhere. In other parts of China the warlords were becoming fed up with communist and union activity. On February 7, 1923 the warlords struck perpetrating a massacre on communist led workers who were about to establish the General Rail Union.

"The February Seventh Massacre" took place in Beijing, Zhengzhou and Hankou. Short reports about forty people were killed and Mao's counterpart, the communist leader in Hankou, was publicly beheaded before the workers. Hunan fell to martial law a few months later, but Mao had already been called to Shanghai to serve on the Central Committee [CC] of the party.

Meanwhile the problem of the party's view of the Guomindang [GMD] was still brewing. The Comintern wanted the CPC to work with the GMD as allies. Far from seeing that organization as "progressive", the CPC viewed it as a reactionary throw back to patriarchal feudalism. Anyway, Sun Yat-sen was not all that impressed with the Marxists. He is quoted by Short has having said there is "nothing new in Marxism. It had all been said 2000 years ago in the Chinese Classics."

However, he changed his mind in the summer of 1922 when his allies turned on him and he was kicked out of Canton "in a palace coup." The CPC was also feeling more pressure to modify its views as well. So in July 1922 at the Second Congress of the CPC the party agreed to, Short quotes the document, "a temporary alliance with the democratic elements to overthrow... our common enemies." Le plus ca change le plus ca le meme chose.

So now, with Soviet help, the GMD inched to the left and reorganized on what ended up being a Leninist model. However, many CPC members did not like this new arrangement with the GMD. Anyway, demoralization had set in after the February Seventh Massacre and the subsequent destruction of the union movements the CPC had built. To top it off, it looked like Li Hanjan had been right all along as the Comintern agents in China themselves said that the CPC had been "fabricated" and "the Soviet system cannot actually be introduced into China, because there do not exist here the conditions for the successful establishment of communism." Well, that turned out to be the case for the Soviet Union as well and we should bear it in mind as we progress through this book and the next 50 years of Chinese history.

At the Third Party Congress the Comintern demanded that all CPC members should also join the GMD. Mao and the Hunan delegates all voted against this but it passed by a slim margin. Mao said that while the GMD was the leading bourgeois "revolutionary democratic faction" the bourgeoisie could not lead the revolution. Nevertheless, the CPC could join it because as time went by the CPC forces would gain in strength. In the end the Congress stated that the GMD was the leading force in the revolution but the CPC should recruit its Left wing members into itself and push the GMD toward the USSR. At this Congress Mao was elected to the nine member CC.

The Third Congress was an educational experience. "Being forced," as Short says, "to accept Comintern instructions and to submit to the will of the majority had confronted [the members] for the first time with the principles of democratic centralism on which all Bolshevik parties had to operate." Following the "united front" line, Mao now joined the GMD.

By the middle of 1924 the CPC saw the GMD as existing in two wings, a right and a left. They would work with the left wing but struggle whole heartily against the right wing. This is not unlike the tactics practiced by many Marxist parties today.

By 1925 the CPC had 994 members. Short tells us up until this time the CPC did not pay much attention to the peasants. Lenin, in 1920, had said it was impossible for poor third world areas to have a workers revolution without an alliance of the peasants. The Second CPC Congress had even declared that they made up "the most important factor in the revolutionary movement" yet the CPC had no interest in leading the peasants. The job of the CPC was to lead the workers.

This is not good thinking! The workers were a speck compared to the mass of peasants, and leaving the peasants thrashing about without CPC leadership meant they were liable to be led by other forces-- not necessarily progressive.

By the Third Congress, under Russian pressure, the CPC had seen the light and now referred to the workers and peasants as the two classes the CPC represented.

Then, Short writes, on May 30, 1925 another country wide outbreak, similar to the May Fourth Movement of 1919, erupted. Japanese guards had shot and killed some strikers at a private plant and people all over the country protested. A British officer in the British Concession panicked and ordered his troops to shoot into a crowd, later in Canton 50 protesters were machine gunned: the fat was in the fire. The country was seething for months.

Mao went underground and did party building, including establishing night schools for peasants. Sun Yat-sen had died in March and out of the leadership struggle Chiang Kai-shek emerged eventually as top dog in Canton-- with a left outlook (at this time), a powerful army, and Russian financing.

At this period, the CPC did not amount to much compared to the power of the GMD, so Mao did not push Marxism in his night schools. Instead, Short points out, "they taught Sun Yat-sen's 'Three Principles of the People'-- nationalism, democracy and socialism."

At this time Mao had no office in the CPC but was an alternate on the CC of the GMD. He went to Canton and became chief of the GMD Propaganda Department. "As a senior official," Short says, " Mao was a man of substance." For the next year and a half, according to the book, Mao worked on two big issues: solidifying the GMD left wing and "mobilization of the peasantry."

At this time he wrote an article advocating a real social revolution led by the GMD left as opposed to, in his words, a "Western-style, middle class revolution" favored by the GMD right wing. He thought all the objective conditions were in place for a revolution of the left except one: "a way to mobilise the masses." He also studied the composition of the population and decided 1% of the people were total enemies, 4% were enemies that could be converted, and 95% of the population were either neutral or pro revolution. The 95% represented the peasants. Where were the workers? This is just great: a proletarian party for a country without a proletariat! Short says that Mao "never wavered" from this analysis.

The middle class "revolution" seems to be the one that Chiang Kai-shek had in mind. The GMD got a lot of support, Short points out, from the landowning families and "violent overthrow of the existing rural order was not part of their agenda."

In March 1926 Chiang staged a "coup", arresting all CPC officers in the army in Canton and getting rid of the major left GMD leadership. Mao thought the CPC was strong enough to thwart Chiang's gambit, but the Comintern rep [Kuibyshev] rejected any such move. He thought Chiang too strong.

Back in October 1925 Mao seemed to be out of the loop. He still held his GMD post and had been out of touch with the CPC leadership (located in Shanghai) for almost a year and he was developing his own ideas about how the CPC should move forward, ideas out of sync with the leaders and the the Comintern line. His idea, for example, of Marxism based "on Chinese conditions" that would rally the rural masses clashed with the official dogma that the "urban proletariat" should be the basis of the revolution.

By the first half of 1926 the CPC was trying to disengage from the GMD and function independently. Stalin, now running the China show from Moscow, had other ideas. He insisted, and the CPC complied, that the Russian-GMD cooperation be strengthened and the the GMD still be seen as the leading "revolutionary" force. The Comintern rep assigned to the GMD as an advisor [Mikhail Borodin 1884-1951] is quoted by Short as having said it was the fate of the CPC "to play the role of coolie in the Chinese revolution." Short says that until March 1926 the Russian advice to the CPC was "well-intentioned, well informed, and frequently more realistic than the views of the inexperienced [CPC] leaders in Shanghai. "But then the CPC became a pawn in the game being played in the CPSU between Stalin, Trotsky, and the moderate Bukharin"

Meanwhile, Mao toiled away at his GMD job. In the summer of 1926 the GMD sent off a big expedition from Canton to go north and overthrow the warlords and unite all of China under the GMD. Mao published an article in a GMD journal in which he maintained that "the peasants had to be liberated and the power of the landlords smashed." He said the peasant struggle was the real revolutionary struggle while the class struggle of the urban proletariat was only centered on building trade unions. This opinion was so unorthodox, Short points out, that the article was left out of the Collected Works when they started coming out in the 40s and 50s.

As 1926 moved along the party was more and more conflicted about the 'United Front" with the GMD. The Russians insisted on it while the CPC thought it should be looking out for its own interests. But as the GMD armies started to achieve more and victories in their drive to unify China, victories fueled by the peasantry, the CPC leadership began to see the importance of the peasants for the future revolutionary transformation of China. Mao was called to Shanghai in November and made Secretary of the CC's Peasant Movement Committee.

In early 1927 Mao toured many rural areas studying the conditions of the peasantry, he then wrote one of his most famous articles: "Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan." It was, Short says, "a brilliant intellectual tour de force.... based on meticulous field research."

Mao defended the peasants, who were revolting against the feudal system, from criticism by the left GMD and some elements within the CPC who thought they were getting too violent. For those of us who go to bed every night with full tummies, Mao's report reminds us what is at stake in a revolution. "A revolution is not like inviting people to dinner... [it is] an act of violence whereby one class overthrows the power of another... If the peasants do not use extremely great force, they cannot possibly overthrow the deeply rooted power of the landlords, which has lasted for thousands of years... To put it bluntly, it is necessary to bring about a brief reign of terror in every rural area... the wrong [of feudalism] cannot be righted without doing so." Mao was about to begin riding the tiger.

Short writes that the lessons learned by Mao put forth in this report stayed with him all his life. "Revolution, he now understood, could not be micromanaged. In any revolutionary venture, there would always be excesses, just as there would always be those who lagged behind."

Short''s bourgeois background begins to intrude in this section of his book and prevents him from grasping what is at issue. He says this analysis reflects "class hatred" that is "aimed at men who were enemies not because of what they did, but because of who they were." This is of course completely wrong. It is precisely because of their actions, brutalizing the peasants, overtaxing them, taking their crops and food to support themselves in luxury, it a word exploiting them beyond all tolerable limits, that provokes class hatred and drives men and women to the extreme that leads to revolutionary violence that, unfortunately, once unleashed, is hard to control.

Meanwhile, Stalin had changed his mind about the peasant struggle. In December the Seventh Plenum of the Comintern declared, "The fear that the aggravation of the class struggle in the countryside will weaken the antI-imperialist front is baseless...." It also described the past policy as "a profound mistake." [Too bad Chiang Kai-shek wouldn't agree.] The stage was set for a change of policy by the CPC. Mao's article appeared soon after. It was now early 1927 and Mao was 33 years old.

from PAEditorsBlog