STALIN AND MAO: A Comparison of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions.

AuthorHarris, Peter
PositionBook review

STALIN AND MAO: A Comparison of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions

Author. Lucien Bianco

Published by: Chinese University Press, Hong Kong, 2018, 476pp, US$65.

In this quite remarkable book, sweeping, heartfelt and thought-provoking, one of Europe's best known Sinologists draws on a lifetime's study of China to ask a demanding question. How did the Chinese and Russian revolutions compare, and which of their two leaders was worse, Joseph Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, or Mao Zedong, who ruled China from 1949 to his death in 1976?

The edition of Bianco's book being reviewed here is a (very good) translation into English by Krystyna Horko of his original work in French, published in Paris in 2014 under the title La recidive: Revolution russe, revolution chinoise. In the French title the word recidive, or repeat offence, hints at part of the answer Bianco gives to his own question. This is that the Chinese revolution repeated the mistakes of the Soviet one, with Mao following Stalin in more senses than one, and more than is often realised. Let me return to this line of argument shortly.

Bianco begins by taking a broad view of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions, comparing and contrasting them, and noting the very different historical circumstances in which they occurred. He then discusses and compares some, though not all (as he himself acknowledges) of the policies and practices carried out by Stalin and Mao. While recognising their revolutionary achievements --in Mao's case, for example, in the fields of health and education --Bianco's main concern is to discuss the destructive and sometimes devastating effects of the two men's policies in a variety of fields, and to show how similar these policies often were. They included the treatment of the peasantry --one of Bianco's scholarly specialities -who were kept in a state of backwardness and poverty, and the mismanagement of agricultural production, with poorly conceived collectivisation (kolkhoz in the Soviet Union, communes in China) contributing to the great famines of 1931-33 in the Soviet Union and 1958-62 in China. They also included the Party bureaucracies, more restricted, Bianco suggests, under Mao than under Stalin, but in both countries privileged bastions of corrupt and arbitrary rule, as well as the two countries' cultural bureaucracies, with their (sometimes literally) deadening effect. In both cases Chinese structures and practices...

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