Psychohistory, ‘Stalinism’, ‘Maoism,’ ‘State Capitalism’–1

Bernard D’Mello

As I read Dr Murzban Jal’s article, “Marx, Stalin, Mao: Rebellion and Pseudo-Rebellion” (Frontier, February 21-27, 2021), I rubbed my eyes in astonishment. I had written “On Some Peremptory ‘Critiques’ of India’s Maoist Movement” (Frontier, Autumn Number, November 29-December 26, 2020) not long ago, but subsequently had to be hospitalized for COVID-19 pneumonia, and thereafter, after “recovery,” suffered from an unexplained physical and nervous exhaustion, not due to lack of sufficient rest. I had no recollection of having presented in my article what Dr Jal was claiming, namely that I had defended Stalin and Mao against Marx. In better health now, mid-August 2021, I have reread Dr Jal’s article and am wondering what made him make such a claim. Is it really the times we are living through, in the aftermath of the failure of the Marxist socialist project in the twentieth century? I can sense disorientation, but I can also discern budding intellectual ferment.

I recall a letter I once received as a journalist from a reader, when I used to write for MRZine, the then online magazine of the Monthly Review, covering the Maoist movement in India – how it had been combatting Operation Green-Hunt, as the counterrevolutionary warfare by the Indian state came to be called. Upset with what I wrote about India’s Maoists and the tribal people they had organised in their People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, the letter writer, an internationalist comrade from the U.S., disparaged “these Stalinists” based on what Jairus Banaji had written in an essay entitled “The Ironies of Indian Maoism” (2010). Of course, he seemed more upset with Arundhati Roy’s essay “Walking with the Comrades” than with what I had written.

But now I have a Marxist internationalist from India, not merelybrandishing the disparaging word “Stalinist,”and complaining that I have not read Banaji’s article, but claiming that “thinking comrades” call the Maoist phenomenon a “‘disease’” (p. 72), and likening the “mindless violence” (p. 61) of the Maoists to fascist brutality, which he claims to be one of a piece of the “same type of brutality by the Maoists” (p. 73; page numbers from Dr Jal’s essay in Critique, Vol. 48, No. 1, 2020). Fascist brutality! Must I remind Dr Jal of the absolute centrality of race in Nazi fascism, with genocide and war of unparalleled brutality, especially in Eastern Europe, and the “Teutonic fury” unleashed against the Soviet Union in 1941, as its hallmarks. Orfascismo Italiano, developed by Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini, and its barbaric imperialist expansion in Africa.

Anyway, let me move ahead. Why should condescension and arrogance be writ large in Dr Jal’s reaction to my questioning his not-backed-by-evidence, dogmatic assertion about Stalin’s “complicit hand in the mass murder(my emphasis) of Chinese Communist Party workers on 12 April 1927” in Shanghai (Dr Jal on page 56 of Critique)?Why not give up one’s sense of superiority and considerable airs, and prove one’s assertion of Stalin’s complicity in Chiang Kai-shek’s forces’ attack and elimination of severalCommunist-led workers in Shanghai on April 12, 1927?I was only drawing attention to a lack of relevant evidence and trying to make sense of the irrelevant evidence of a Stalin quote (to establish the complicity claim) Dr Jal had provided in his footnote 7 in Critique. Instead, like an authoritarian teacher scolding a student who doubts what his/her teacher is asserting, he derides me for not seeing the “bloody counterrevolution” that the Stalin-Chiang partnership had, according to him, unleashed.

Why has Jr Jal left the question of such evidence aside and gone on to pull me up for refusing to read “the history of revolutionary Marxism”? Why has he repeated familiar Trotskyist polemic on Stalin and “Stalinism,” Mao and “Maoism”, and “fascism”? Of course, Dr Jal also says things in his two Frontier (February 21-27, 2021 and March 7-13, 2021) articles and in his essay in Critique that are interesting and valuable. For instance, when he mentions the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and Marx’s theory of alienation.As a Marxist philosopher, Dr Jal, despite his arrogance, condescension, and intellectual snobbery, brings in a dimension of comprehensiveness and connects philosophy and politics, much needed in these times when radical-left culture is faced with an immense historical challenge.

Dr Jal is an energetic scholar. Among other claims and contentions, he mentions “the infamous Moscow trials of 1936-1937-1938,” which, he claims, “the communist movement in India was, and is yet, totally oblivious of.” He approves of Slavoj Zizek’s 2006 claim that Mao was the “Marxist Lord of Misrule.” Mao, he claims, copied the “idea of the bloc of four classes,” an “invention” of Russia’s Mensheviks, as also “bourgeois revolution.”Further, Mao was an “‘ideological Stalinist’” not an “authentic Marxist,” who adopted the “authoritarian Stalinist ideology of ‘politics in command.’” And India’s Maoists have blindly borrowed from the “vocabulary of Mao which is a complete disjunction from Marx’s original repertoire.” I could go on listing Dr Jal’s mere assertions, but even the recital above is quite a litany. My supposed defence of Stalin and Mao against Marx; my presumed defence of “Stalinism” and “Maoism”; my imagined refusal to read “the history of revolutionary Marxism,” … I have quite a job at hand. Given the constraint of length, I will, however, only deal with the main issues. [Some of the issues have already been dealt with in my essay “Marxism After Marx,” excerpted from this manuscript, and published in the Autumn Number 2021 of Frontier.]

“Alchemists of revolution”!

Obsessed with establishing the “conspiratorial” tendencies of the “alchemists of revolution”, Dr Jal comes back to his conspiracy thesison India’s Maoists, quotingagain from Marx and Lenin plentifully. Buthe does not provide any relevant evidence from the last four decades to establish his case. In at least one respect Dr Jal is wanting compared to India’s Intelligence agencies seeking to establish the charge of conspiracy against the “Maoists” in a series of conspiracy cases over the last five decades. Unlike these agencies, Dr Jal does not even think that having made conspiracy allegations, it is his duty to provide the relevant evidence.

Instead, he tries to fake psychohistory. I wish Dr Jal had read Suniti Kumar Ghosh’s Naxalbari, Before and After: Reminiscences and Appraisal (2009), listed by him in his long inventory of references in his Critique article, for then he would have at least got some idea of the setting, the ambience, and the circumstances in which Charu Mazumdar said what he said. I must, of course, also state that it is ridiculous to explain (the cause or background of) a peasant insurgency as a case of “an infantile rebellion – the rebellion of the child against the trauma-causing father” (emphasis in the original), the father being the “Indian nation state” that has “noted that the infant suffering from infantile disorder needs to be disciplined” (pp. 58 and 68, Dr Jal’s article in Critique). Wonder what Wilhelm Reich would have said about Dr Jal’s psychohistory.

Not that I do not see the value of psychohistory if it is done well, like, for instance, Eric Erikson’s psychological biography of Gandhi. But biographical psychohistory, if it is about the alleged conspiratorial tendencies of Naxalite/Maoist leaders – say Charu Mazumdar, for instance, whom Dr Jal singles out – would call for an exploration into their psychesbased on authentic information. Dr Jal, however,could not care less; all he does is quote from Marx and Lenin,and then with a single quote from the Indian state’s then Most Wanted revolutionary telling peasant cadres that a time will come when bloody violence against class enemies will be the true marker of a communist, establishes Charu Mazumdar as the chief “professional conspirator” among “les conspirateurs,” the “alchemist of the revolution.”

Dr Jal tends to jump to conclusions based on little or no, or irrelevant, evidence. And here, he makes a hash of psychohistory. For a journalist like me, far from conspiratorial, the Charu Mazumdar quote represents Mazumdar’s irrational reaction to the then pernicious Indian social order. Mazumdar’s (untenable)speech to the peasants, in violation of the ethics of revolutionary violence, perhaps stemmed from a then prevailing widespread neurosis, rooted in the impact of deep alienation on the psychic functioning of those who were that social order’s principal opponents or victims,like Mazumdar himself, persons who were,after all, just human.But, of course, this is just my hypothesis based on insufficient relevant information. Also, “revolutionary terrorism” had (and has) been a plebian way of dealing with vicious landlordism.

Shanghai, April 12, 1927

Let me then come to Stalin. Was he “complicit” in “mass murder” on April 12, 1927, in Shanghai?The basic reference Dr Jal relies on is Harold R Isaacs’ The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (1961), which is a political account of the revolutionary upheaval in China during 1925–27. Isaacs was an American journalist who, at the age of 20, went to China in 1930, got involved in communist politics there, became a “Trotskyist,” and from 1934–37 wrote this book, which was first published in 1938. Indeed, Trotsky wrote a forward to this edition (The book can be accessed at Much later, Isaacs became a political science professor at MIT. Stanford University Press published a new and significantly revised edition of the book in 1951, and a second edition in 1961. By 1951 Isaacs had apparently rejected Trotskyist Bolshevism. If I remember well, readers of the 1951 edition (in which he did away with Trotsky’s preface) are informed that he has removed the “polemical excesses,” “subjective comments,” etc of the 1938 edition.

All the same, the 1938 edition, though flawed in some respects, is interesting. Isaacsseverely criticises the Comintern for not adopting the Bolshevik model in China, and not even getting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to educate Chinese communists about that model of revolution. He criticises Stalin for imposing the “Menshevik” model, namely, that the bourgeois stage of the revolution must be led by the bourgeoisie with the workers, peasants, and the “petty bourgeoisie” as followers. Likewise, that the CCP must be a junior partner in the alliance with the Guomindang (GMD), the bourgeois-nationalist party.

Stalin was elevating what (he perceived as) the Russian national interest over the principle of “proletarian internationalism.” Isaacs is scathing in his criticism. Why should the Chinese proletariat be subordinated to the Chinese “national” bourgeoisie, which is more bent on crushing the workers than driving out the imperialists? There was enough advance warning of Chiang Kai-shek’s intentions of crushing the communist-led workers’ struggle, but the Comintern did not instruct the CCP to change track.Isaacs also severely indicts the then leadership of the CCP for failing to act as an independent forcerepresenting the interests of the Chinese proletariat.

Isaacs argues that it was the Comintern and the Russian state under Stalin that arranged the “United Front from within” of the CCP with the GMD. The Comintern under Stalin ensured the CCP’s political and organisational subordination to the GMD. The Russian state had aided the setting up of the Whampoa Military Academy andwas militarily assisting the Canton government in other ways too, ostensibly for the Northern Expedition against the warlords of central and northern China, but when Chiang Kai-shek assumed command of the GMD,he made use of this infrastructure and apparatus to crush the communists.

This damning account from Isaacs’ book should have been a sufficient indictment of Stalin’s “Menshevik” direction of the CCP, via the Comintern, in China’s revolutionary upheaval in 1925–27. What was the need for Dr Jal to insist on Stalin’scomplicity in the mass murder of Communist-led workers in Shanghai on April 12, 1927, by Chiang’s forces, without proper evidence? Let us look at Stalin’s assertion on April 5, 1927,in Moscow that Dr Jal uses as proof of his complicity in that mass murder:

“Chiang Kai-shek is submitting to discipline.… The Kuomintang is a bloc, a sort of revolutionary parliament, with the right, the left, and the Communists. Why make a coup d’état? Why drive away the right when we have the majority and when the right listens to us? The peasant needs an old worn-out jade as long as she is necessary. He does not drive her away. So,it is with us. When the right is of no more use to us, we will drive it away. At present we need the right. It has capable people, who still direct the army and lead it against the imperialists.Chiang Kai-shek has perhaps no sympathy for the revolution, but he is leadingthe army and cannot do otherwise than lead it against the imperialists. Besides this,the people of the right have relations with the generals of Chang Tso-lin [the Manchurian warlord] and understandvery well how to demoralize them and to induce them to pass over to the sideof the revolution, bag and baggage, without striking a blow. Also, they have connectionswith the rich merchants and can raise money from them. So, they have to beutilized to the end, squeezed out like a lemon, and then flung away.”

Nowhere does what Stalin said on April 5, 1927, in this excerpt from a speech before 3000 functionaries in the Hall of Columns in Moscow to dismiss the warnings of Trotsky and other leaders of the United Opposition, indicatehis complicity with Chiang Kai-shek to crush the Chinese workers’ struggle led by the CCP. Instead, Stalin seems to be sure of support for the communists from the left-wing of the GMD. He seems to be counting on the commissions of the GMD’s right-wing leading to increased public support for the communists.And he seems confident of utilising Chiang Kai-shek and the bulk of the right-wing of the GMD to the fullest in the struggle against the imperialists on Chinese soil, and then squeezing the GMD’s right-wing “out like a lemon” and flinging it away!What utter naivety on the part of Stalin! He didnot realize that Chiang, beholden to specific imperialist powers, was fearful of the Communists overrunning those foreign concessions in Shanghai in April 1927. That, I think, was the main reason Chiang ordered his troops to eliminate the workers’ armed pickets on April 12, 1927.

Certainly, following the Joint Manifestoof January 26, 1923,between Sun Yat-sen and Adolf Joffe, later approved in Moscow, and accepted by the CCP in June 1923, and the consequent alliance between the CCP and the GMD taking the form of a “United Front from within,” the GMD was in driver’s seat of the national liberation movement. But the years 1925–26 and 1926–27 witnessed a rapid growth of Communist-led unionism. This was due mainly to the CCP taking up national, not so much industrial or class, issues. Late 1926, however, witnessed the peasant movement in Hunan against landlordism. The “United Front from within” enabled the CCP to increase its influence in the nationalist armies and in the nationalist governments in Wuhan and Nanking, especially the former, which became a GMD left-wing stronghold.

Indeed, Wang Ching-wei, one of the top leaders of the GMD left-wing, participated in the Fifth National Congress of the CCP on April 27, 1927. Stalin was still naively hoping for a left-wing takeover of the GMD and a purging of its right-wing. He did not learn any lessons from the fact that it was the GMD’s right-wing that had utilized the CCP to the full, “squeezed out” that party’s mass base in Shanghai “like a lemon, and then flung [it] away.”

Stalin, however, got aggressive. He sent a telegram of June 1, 1927, to Michael Borodin and M N Roy, both then Comintern representatives in China, and Chen Duxiu, then secretary-general of the CCP, which was an instruction that unreliable generals in the nationalist armies be liquidated, and the Communists organise a Red Army of 50,000 or more men. In effect, Stalin wantedthe CCP and a transformed, left-oriented GMD to soon assume control of the national liberation movement. Roy blundered by showing this telegram to Wang Ching-wei, whom he trusted. But Wang feared that the GMD left-wing might also subsequently be eliminated, and this hastened the end of the first GMD–CCP United Front, which came about de facto on July 15, 1927. Soon after M N Roy showed Wang Ching-wei Stalin’s telegram, a reconciliation of the GMD’s left-wing with Chiang Kai-shek began. But, of course, there was no way by which the CCP could have carried out the instruction in the telegram from Stalin. [For the text of this telegram, see Xenia J. Eudin and Robert C. North, Soviet Russia and the East, 1920- 1927: A Documentary Survey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), pp. 303-304.]

The first positive outcome of the breakup of the GMD–CCP “United Front from within” was the rebellion of units of the Nationalist Fourth Army on August 1, 1927, known in Chinese modern history as the Nanchang Uprising. Indeed, this date is celebrated in China as the anniversary of the foundation of the Red Army, the predecessor of the PLA. Also, in September 1927, a peasant uprising took place in Hunan, what in modern Chinese history is known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, after which Mao withdrew to the hills on the border of Hunan and Jiangxi, and where the revolutionary military strategist Zhu De joined him, and they remained close comrades for the rest of their lives (both Mao and Zhu De passed away in 1976). [See Tien-wei Wu, “A Review of the Wuhan Debacle: The Kuomintang-Communist Split of 1927,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (November 1969), pp. 125-143; Also see Jack Gray, Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to 2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 2002), especially chapter 10, “The Rise of Chiang Kai-shek,” section on “Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists, 1925–27.” Of course, I will be open to further evidence from historians who have delved into the archives that have been opened over the last three decades, as and when I have access to their work.]

[To be continued]

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Vol 54, No. 32, Feb 6 - 12, 2022