Mao Zedong


In a string of pieces from 1919, Mao deals with the questions of sex, love and marriage. These were prompted by the suicide of a Miss Zhao, who killed herself in the marriage sedan that was taking her to a wedding she did not want. One of these articles can be found here, but there are more than a dozen others. In ‘The Question of Love – Young People and Old People: Smash the Policy of Parental Arrangement’ (1919), Mao writes:

We have many different kinds of desires, such as the desire to eat, the desire for sex, the desire to play, the desire for fame, and the desire for power and influence (also called the desire to dominate), and so on. Of these, the desires for sex and food are fundamental, the former to maintain the ‘present’ and the latter to open up the ‘future’. Of these two desires, there is no absolute difference in the desire for food according to age. Sexual desire does, however, differ with age.

The expression of sexual desire, generally speaking, is love. Young people see the question of love as being very important, while old men don’t think it’s worth worrying about … Only in China is this question put to one side. When I was young, I saw many people getting married. I asked them what they were up to. They all replied that a person takes a wife to have someone to make tea, cook, raise pigs, chase away the dogs, spin, and weave. At this time I asked, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to hire a servant? It wasn’t until later that I heard that people got married ‘to carry on the family line.’ This left me still perplexed. … Society does not regard love as being important, and thus, except for the slave’s work of making tea, cooking, and so on, marriage is nothing but that base life of fleshly desire. (What we call sexual desire, or love, involves not only the physiological satisfaction of fleshly desire, but the satisfaction of a higher order of desires – spiritual desires and the desire for social intercourse.) … In short, capitalism and love are in conflict with one another. Old men are in conflict with love. Thus there is a tight bond between old men and capitalism, and the only good friends of love are young people.

Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949, pp. 439-40.

The first of a couple of posts on sex, love and intimate life from a youthful Mao Zedong. Initially, he moves between sex as a necessary instinct and then as an unstoppable wind from a great gorge (so to speak):

Whatever is natural is both true and real. Can something that is true and real fail to contribute to improving my life? Besides, my life and development ultimately depend on just such things. The desire to eat contributes to my life, sexual desire is good for my development, and both of these come from natural instincts … The conscience certainly always sees our appetite for food and sex for what they are. It is only at a particular time and place that the conscience will suggest restraining the impulses, as when the desire for food or sex becomes excessive. And then the conscience acts only to restrain or moderate the excess, certainly not to oppose or deny these desires …

The truly great person develops the original nature with which Nature endowed him, and expands upon the best, the greatest of the capacities of his original nature. Everything that comes from outside his original nature, such as restraints and restrictions, is cast aside by the great motive power that is contained within his original nature. It is this motive power that is the strongest and truest reality, that is the spring that fulfils his character … The great actions of the hero are his own, are the expressions of his motive power, lofty and cleansing, relying on no precedent. His force is like that of a powerful wind arising from a deep gorge, like the irresistible sexual desire for one’s lover, a force that will not stop, that cannot be stopped.

Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, pp. 255-57, 263-64.

In 1920, Mao and his friends established the Cultural Book Society in Hunan. This was to be – through spreading new modes of thought – one part of a larger effort to establish an independent state of Hunan. In each of the books sold, the following notice was placed.

A Respectful Notice from the Cultural Book Society to the Gentleman Who Has Bought This Book

The fact that you, sir, have purchased this book will undoubtedly have a great influence on the progress of your thought, and on that we wish to congratulate you. If, after you have read this book, your unslakeable thirst for knowledge inclines you to buy a few more books to peruse, we invite you, sir, either to come once more to our society to purchase them, or to do so by correspondence. We are prepared to welcome you!

The items which our society has for sale have undergone a rigorous process of selection. They consist exclusively of comparatively valuable new publications (We want nothing to do with stale and outdated thought.) … Our goal is that the thought of everyone in Hunan should progress as yours has done, so as to bring about the emergence of a new culture …

We are profoundly mortified that our abilities are too meagre to shoulder the great responsibility of propagating culture, and we hope that superior men of goodwill from all walks of life will grant us their assistance. If you, sir, can help us by taking the trouble to introduce us by word of mouth, we shall be extremely grateful …

We wish you, sir, continued good health.

Colleagues of the Cultural Book Society

56 Chaozong Streetm Changsha

Among the more than 100 problems to be tackled by the ‘Problem Study Society,’ founded in 1919, is the following:

36. The problem of drilling traffic tunnels under the Bering Sea, the English Channel, and the Straits of Gibraltar.

Faced with issue of exactly how one was to study this problem, Article V of the statutes of the society (authored by Mao) makes this observation:

In studying problems, those that require on-the-spot investigation should be studied on the spot, and those that do not require on-the-spot investigation, or for which on-the-spot investigation is presently impossible, may be studied from books, magazines, and newspapers, as for example the problem of Confucius and that of the three underwater traffic tunnels.

Mao’s Road to Power, vol. 1, pp. 410 and 412.

Some more from the fascinating notes made by a youngish Mao on Friedrich Paulsen’s A System of Ethics. Here he reflects on death.

To accept it and die, what is there to regret?

That the living must die is the law of all natural things, that what comes into being must perish … Our death is not death, but simply a dissolution [jeisan]. All natural things are not destroyed; neither are we human beings destroyed. Not only is death not death, life too is not life, but simply a uniting. Since a human being is formed of the uniting of spirit and matter, what is there to dread when the decline of old age leads to their dispersal? Moreover, dispersal is not a single dispersal that is never united again. This dispersal is followed by that uniting. If the world contained only dispersal without reuniting, how could we see then every day with our own eyes phenomena that represent unitings (I do not mean reincarnation)?

The universe does not contain only the world of human life. There are many other kinds of worlds in addition to that of human life. When we have already had all kinds of experience in this world of human life, we should leave this world to experience other kinds of worlds …

Would we then think that dying was painful? Certainly not. Never having experienced death, what makes us think it is painful? Furthermore, pursuing it logically, it would seem that the event of death is not necessarily painful. Life and death are two great worlds, and the passage between these worlds, from life to death, is naturally very gradual, and the distance is by nature barely perceptible. Elderly people peacefully come to the end of their years and enter a natural state, an event that is necessary and proper…

Human beings are born with a sense of curiosity. How can it be different in this case? Are we not delighted with all kinds of rare things that we seldom encounter? Death too is a rare thing that I have never experienced in my entire life. Why should it alone not delight me? … Some may fear the great change, but I think it is profoundly valuable. When can such a marvellous great change be found in the the world of human life? Will it not be truly valuable to encounter in death what cannot be encountered in the world of human life?

When a storm rolls over the ocean, with waves criss-crossing in all directions, those aboard ship are drawn to marvel at its significance. Why should the great waves of life and death alone not evoke a sense of their magnificence!

(Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, pp. 245-47)

Perhaps one of the most important texts by the young Mao is comprised of the extensive notes to the Chinese translation of Fredrich Paulsen’s A System of Ethics. Obviously, it pays close study, but it is not so easy to find. A few moments from over 100 pages of notes:

Paulsen writes:

A lover goes out on business and quite unconsciously passes by the home of his love, much to his surprise, whereupon he realizes that his reason for going out on business was a means, a deception by which his impulses anticipated the objections of his reason.

To which Mao replies:

This is not a common event (Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, p. 216).

Then in a passage by Paulsen on ideals, Mao writes:

I would say that the human race has only a spiritual life, and not a bodily life. It is clear that though the spirit has changed frequently, the body has remained unchanged for thousands of years (p. 222).

Deng Xiaoping’s well-known slogan from 1982, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, was really a condensation of Mao’s earlier and more elaborate reflections on Western influence:

To nourish her own culture China needs to assimilate a good deal of foreign progressive culture, not enough of which was done in the past. We should assimilate whatever is useful to us today not only from the present-day socialist and new-democratic cultures but also from the earlier cultures of other nations, for example, from the culture of the various capitalist countries in the Age of Enlightenment. However, we should not gulp any of this foreign material down uncritically, but must treat it as we do our food–first chewing it, then submitting it to the working of the stomach and intestines with their juices and secretions, and separating it into nutriment to be absorbed and waste matter to be discarded–before it can nourish us. To advocate “wholesale westernization” is wrong. China has suffered a great deal from the mechanical absorption of foreign material. Similarly, in applying Marxism to China, Chinese communists must fully and properly integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, or in other words, the universal truth of Marxism must be combined with specific national characteristics and acquire a definite national form if it is to be useful, and in no circumstances can it be applied subjectively as a mere formula (On New Democracy, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 380).

They may have differed on its interpretation, but the sentiment is largely the same. However, what is really telling is that Mao also stipulated the same approach to Chinese traditions:

A splendid old culture was created during the long period of Chinese feudal society. To study the development of this old culture, to reject its feudal dross and assimilate its democratic essence is a necessary condition for developing our new national culture and increasing our national self-confidence, but we should never swallow anything and everything uncritically. It s imperative to separate the fine old culture of the people which had a more or less democratic and revolutionary character from all the decadence of the old feudal ruling class. China’s present new politics and new economy have developed out of her old politics and old economy, and her present new culture, too, has developed out of her old culture; therefore, we must respect our own history and must not lop it off. However, respect for history means giving it its proper place as a science, respecting its dialectical development, and not eulogizing the past at the expense of the present or praising every drop of feudal poison (op. cit. p. 381).

One of the most frequent works Mao cites is Stalin’s Short Course, but he also has some rather nice things to say about Saint Iosef.

In a piece from 1939 called ‘Stalin, Friend of the Chinese People’, Mao wrote:

On the Twenty-first of December, Comrade Stalin will be sixty years old. We can be sure that his birthday will evoke warm and affectionate congratulations from the hearts of all revolutionary people throughout the world who know of the occasion.

Congratulating Stalin is not a formality. Congratulating Stalin means supporting him and his cause, supporting the victory of socialism, and the way forward for mankind which he points out, it means supporting a dear friend. For the great majority of mankind today are suffering, and mankind can free itself from suffering only by the road pointed out by Stalin and with his help.

Living in a period of the bitterest suffering in our history, we Chinese people most urgently need help from others. The Book of Odes says, “A bird sings out to draw a friend’s response.” This aptly describes our present situation.

But who are our friends?

There are so-called friends, self-styled friends of the Chinese people, whom even some Chinese unthinkingly accept as friends. But such friends can only be classed with Li Lin-fu, the prime minister in the Tang Dynasty who was notorious as a man with ‘honey on his lips and murder in his heart’. They are indeed ‘friends’ with ‘honey on their lips and murder in their hearts’. Who are these people? They are the imperialists who profess sympathy with China.

However, there are friends of another kind, friends who have real sympathy with us and regard us as brothers. Who are they? They are the Soviet people and Stalin.

No other country has renounced its privileges in China; the Soviet Union alone has done so.

All the imperialists opposed us during our First Great Revolution; the Soviet Union alone helped us.

No government of any imperialist country has given us real help since the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan; the Soviet Union alone has helped China with its aviation and supplies.

Is not the point clear enough?

Only the land of socialism, its leaders and people, and socialist thinkers, statesmen and workers can give real help to the cause of liberation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese people, and without their help our cause cannot win final victory.

Stalin is the true friend of the cause of liberation of the Chinese people. No attempt to sow dissension, no lies and calumnies, can affect the Chinese people’s whole-hearted love and respect for Stalin and our genuine friendship for the Soviet Union.

On Stalin’s 70th birthday, Mao sent this telegram:

Chairman Stalin,

The Council of Ministers,

The Government of the Soviet Union

Your Excellency:

On this happy occasion of Your Excellency’s seventieth birthday, I sincerely extend to you my respect and my best wishes for the daily strengthening of the fortress for world peace and democracy under Your Excellency’s leadership.

In Beijing, they even had a birthday celebration for Stalin, where Mao said:

Dear comrades and friends:

I am genuinely pleased to have the chance to join this distinguished gathering in celebration of the seventieth birthday of Comrade Stalin.

Comrade Stalin is a teacher and friend of the people of the world as well as a teacher and friend of the Chinese people. He has further developed the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism and has made extremely outstanding and extensive contributions to the cause of world Communist movement. In the arduous struggle to resist their oppressors, the Chinese people have become deeply appreciative of the importance of Comrade Stalin’s friendship.

At this distinguished gathering, on behalf of the Chinese people and the Communist Party of China, I congratulate Comrade Stalin on his seventieth birthday and wish him health and longevity. We wish well- being, strength, and prosperity to our great friend, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Comrade Stalin. We hail the great unprecedented solidarity of the working class in the world under the leadership of Comrade Stalin.

Long live the great Stalin, leader of the world’s working class and of the international Communist movement!

Long live the Soviet Union, the stronghold of world peace and democracy!

Alongside his preference for self-sufficiency and the importance of Chinese traditions, Mao was also quite aware of the importance of international conditions for the success of the Chinese Revolution. The Soviet Union was pivotal. To begin with:

The Soviet Union is a defender of world peace and a powerful factor preventing the domination of the world by the U.S. reactionaries Selected Readings, p. 348).

More specifically:

In the epoch in which imperialism exists, it is impossible for a genuine people’s revolution to win victory in any country without various forms of help from the international revolutionary forces, and even if victory were won, it could not be consolidated. This was the case with the victory and consolidation of the great October Revolution, as Lenin and Stalin told us long ago. This was also the case with the overthrow of the three imperialist powers in World War II and the establishment of the People’s Democracies. And this is also the case with the present and the future of People’s China. Just imagine! If the Soviet Union had not existed, if there had been no victory in the anti-fascist Second World War, if Japanese imperialism had not been defeated, if the People’s Democracies had not come into being, if the oppressed nations of the East were not rising in struggle and if there were no struggle of the masses of the people against their reactionary rulers in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and other capitalist countries — if not for all these in combination, the international reactionary forces bearing down upon us would certainly be many times greater than now. In such circumstances, could we have won victory? Obviously not. And even with victory, there could be no consolidation (Selected Readings, pp. 377-78).

As for the end of the Second World War and the surrender of Japan, Mao already saw what recent historians have rediscovered: Japan surrendered because Soviet troops pushed the Japanese out of China and threatened to invade Japan:

The decisive factor for Japan’s surrender is the entry of the Soviet Union into the war. A million Red Army troops are entering China’s Northeast; this force is irresistible. Japanese imperialism can no longer continue the fight … The Soviet Union has sent its troops, the Red Army has come to help the Chinese people drive out the aggressor; such an event has never happened before in Chinese history. Its influence is immeasurable. The propaganda organs of the United States and Chiang Kai-shek hoped to sweep away the Red Army’s political influence with two atom bombs. But it can’t be swept away; that isn’t so easy. Can atom bombs decide wars? No, they can’t. Atom bombs could not make Japan surrender. Without the struggles waged by the people, atom bombs by themselves would be of no avail. If atom bombs could decide the war, then why was it necessary to ask the Soviet Union to send its troops? Why didn’t Japan surrender when the two atom bombs were dropped on her and why did she surrender as soon as the Soviet Union sent troops? (Selected Readings, pp. 324, 337)

I am working on an article called ‘Towards a Materialist Doctrine if Evil’, which may form the basis of a chapter in a book on Stalin. So here are some first and possibly provocative thoughts on the crucial role of the Red Terror in such a doctrine.

One of the most significant steps in the development of a doctrine of evil is the Red Terror. I understand such a Terror as the struggle against the counter-revolution, the success of that struggle being then the success of the revolution itself. Within that struggle, the Terror peaks at certain times, such as that following the assassination attempts on Lenin or Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. Here theory is born of practice and events, a nascent theory of the strength and power of evil. I mean not that the Red Terror is itself an evil, as so much anti-communist propaganda would have it, but that the Terror is a response to evil. In order to lay out that argument, I distinguish once again between external and internal factors. The identification of external evil is the easier option, while the awful awareness of the internal nature of evil is an awareness gained with much pain. The following traces a path from external to internal, from threats outside a new communist state to ones that emerge from its internal workings. Needless to say, I now focus squarely on the far more interesting features of a post-revolutionary situation, where real practical and theoretical innovation may be found.

Little argument is needed for the point that the Red Terror is necessary to deal with external foes, for a communist revolution must counter the international efforts to crush it. Even before the success of the October Revolution (1917) in Russia, the tsar had made an agreement with powers like France and Germany that they would assist the tsar in countering the effects of the 1905 revolutionary upsurge. These international efforts became even more intense after 1917, when the ‘Entente’ – UK, France, Germany, USA, Canada and others – enacted an economic blockade and provided troops, equipment and logistics to the White Armies during what is euphemistically called the ‘civil’ war. Less than two decades later, Nazi Germany would pick up the banner of the international cause that sought to crush communism in the USSR. A similar situation may be found with the long struggle of the Chinese Revolution, during which these powers provided significant assistance to Chang Kai-Shek’s Guomintang in its efforts to wipe out the communists. After 1949, they continued their efforts, whether through the Korean War, through economic blockades, or through diplomatic isolation. In these cases, the Red Terror played a crucial role in defeating the international counter-revolution.[1]

More important is the internal role of the Red Terror. In Russia, the first peak of the Terror followed the assassination attempts on Lenin and others in 1918. After the near fatal shooting of 30 August of that year,[2] the militant Stalin suggested a systematic mass terror against those behind the assassination attempt, but also against opponents of the new government. So the government directed Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, to commence what was officially called a Red Terror.[3]

Of course, reactionary commentators salivate over such a development, seeking to attribute as much to Lenin as possible (Figes 1998, Gellately 2007, Volkogonov 1994, Werth et al. 1999). It matters little for my analysis whether he or others approved the Red Terror, from arrests and imprisonment to the execution of the Romanov family, but what is important is the fact that it happened in response to an act of terror. That is, the Red Terror was not an initiator of violence, but a response to anti-revolutionary violence. It was thereby a response to the concrete reality of evil, a rude awakening to how vicious and desperate the internal forces opposed to the revolution really were. The belief in the inherent goodness of human beings came face to face with the deeply troubling realisation of human evil.

What of the oft-cited ‘excesses’ of the Red Terror, such as the summary executions of suspected saboteurs? One element here is the uncontrolled nature of revolutionary violence. It typically runs its own course, straying here and there in the euphoria of the moment. More significantly, a Red Terror may be seen as the belated outburst of deep patterns of working class and peasant anger at the long and brutal oppression by the former ruling classes, an oppression that makes any Red Terror look tame by comparison. In Russia, the long history of capricious and vicious violence at the hands of the landlords, factory tyrants, Black Hundreds (recall the frequent pogroms), and tsarist troops were remembered. Now at last was an opportunity to settling old scores, since the workers and peasants were finally in control. In this situation, Lenin’s argument in The State and Revolution (1917 [1964]), that the dictatorship of the proletariat must smash the bourgeois dictatorship, found ready acceptance and was enacted through the Red Terror.[4]

Perhaps the greatest peak of the Red Terror as a practical working out of a doctrine of evil is that of the purges and ‘show trials’ under Stalin in the 1930s. Through repeated condemnations of Cold War propaganda, these have become the epitome of Stalin’s ‘paranoia’ and brutal ‘dictatorship’.[5] Their initial cause was the assassination in December 1934 of Sergei Kirov, head of the Leningrad Communist Party. As with the assassination attempt on Lenin in 1918, this was the trigger for seeking out the enemy within, resulting in more than 726,000 executed. The ‘Great Terror’ reached a climax between 1936 and 1938: the trial of the Sixteen, of the anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre, of the generals (most notably Marshall Tukhachevskii), and of the Twenty-One. Eventually, nearly all the Old Bolsheviks were caught up in the purge, including Grigory Zonoviev, Lev Kamenev, Karl Radek, Nikolai Bukharin, and Leon Trotsky. In the purge of the Red Army alone, 34,000 officers were arrested (although 11,500 were reinstated), including 476 senior commanders.[6] However, I am less interested here in the public relations disaster that the trials became, in the widespread debate at the time, with the defenders of the trials outweighed by those who condemned them, even in the fodder they provided for Cold War propaganda.[7] Instead, I wish to focus on the way they reveal a more realistic (and arguably pessimistic) assessment of the propensity to evil.

The key to the trials, as well as the purges, is their over-compensation for the lack of properly robust doctrine of evil, and the way they produced a nascent theory of the internal dialectic of evil. Although they may have weeded out wavering elements in Stalin’s push towards collectivisation, as well as sections of the Red Army that may have been less than resolute during the soon-to-come struggle with Hitler’s massed forces (for by far the main struggle and thereby locus of victory was on the Russian front), the sweeping nature of the trials and purges, along with the relocations of parts of the population who resisted Stalin’s moves, indicates an effort to compensate for an overly benign view of human goodness. It may be relatively easy to identify the enemy without, but the enemy within is a very different matter.

I would like to identify two moments when the new theoretical awareness of the dialectical nature of evil began to work its way to the surface, the one individual and the other collective. Let me begin with the individual confessions given in the trials, for they indicate not so much cowering before the threat of coercion or even the result of such coercion (the common position of those who condemn the trials), but the fact that those charged owned the confessions. That is, even if they had not committed all the acts confessed, they came to believe that they were in fact true. The confession of Bukharin is the paradigm of this process. This central figure in the communist party, with senior roles – among others, member of the Politburo, secretary of the Comintern, chief editor of Pravda and author of major works – and for a while Stalin’s closest ally, fell out due to his opposition to Stalin’s move leftward, especially the push to undertake rapid collectivisation. His initial confession, the spectacular withdrawal, the reinterrogation, admission to the totality of the crimes but denial of knowledge of specific crimes, 34 letters to Stalin (written from prison) with their tearful protestations of loyalty and admission, the four books written, and then his conduct in the trial in which he subtly criticised the very confession he had made, even to the point of questioning the out-dated role of the confession itself – all these illustrate the sheer impossibility of locating the dividing line between good and evil.[8] Above all, Bukharin’s last plea plays out all these contradictions in extraordinary detail. Once again he admits all his guilt in opposing the rapid push towards communism, even in plotting to overthrow the government, but then he turns around to question and deny individual charges, saying at times that he can neither deny nor confirm a charge own admission (Bukharin 1938, 767-79). The most telling section is when he identifies within himself a ‘peculiar duality of mind’, even a ‘dual psychology’ that was caught in the contradiction between a degenerating counter-revolutionary tendency and what he calls a ‘semi-paralysis of the will’, a contradiction that was in turn generated by ‘objective grandeur of socialist construction’. He is nothing less than the Hegelian ‘unhappy consciousness’ (Bukharin 1938, 776-77). I suggest that this extraordinary text reveals a deep awareness of the impossibility of distinguishing between guilt and innocence, for we are all so in any given moment. So he concludes: ‘The monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable especially in the new stage of struggle of the U.S.S.R. May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the U.S.S.R become clear to all’ (Bukharin 1938, 779).

On a collective level, it is telling that the Great Terror was very much a public experience, and not the shady and covert program that it is so often depicted to have been. It involved mass participation, with widespread belief in the guilt of the victims. Everyone was encouraged to inform on and denounce anyone suspected of sabotaging the economy, of acting on behalf of a foreign enemy, or of efforts to undermine the government. Popular enthusiasm for the self-cleansing was almost universal. It is de rigueur to decry such mass brutality, but this reaction misses the collective nature of the old communist process of self-criticism. Here, the self-examination for failings in fostering the cause becomes a collective venture that seeks to strengthen the body through purging what is harmful. But such purging threatens to become a never-ending process, not because one needs to find continual scapegoats for failure to achieve the goals of the cause, but because the closer one draws to the goal, the more frantic become the forces of evil. Perhaps the most astute awareness of the awful nature of evil comes from Stalin himself. At a plenum of the party’s central committee in early 1937, Stalin observed:

We must smash and throw out the rotten theory that with each forward movement we make the class struggle will die down more and more, that in proportion to our success the class enemy will become more and more domesticated … On the contrary, the more we move forward, the more success we have, then the more wrathful become the remnants of the beaten exploiter classes, the more quickly they turn to sharper forms of struggle, the more mischief do they do the Soviet state, the more they grasp at the most desperate means of struggle (Daniels 1993, 261).[9]

The more grace is apparent, the more desperate becomes the devil – or so would the same theory be expressed the traditional theological terms. However, here we need to be careful, for Stalin still tends to externalise the threat, glimpsing its full possibilities only fleetingly. The first half of the text identifies the dialectic of struggle: tensions and conflicts do not cease the closer one nears a desired goal; they become even more exacerbated. The easy option at this point would be to speak of external, international threats, which were real enough. And often he linked the internal struggle with outside forces, seeing the former as a fifth column. However, the real struggle is collectively internal, with the beaten ruling class redoubling its efforts to defeat the communist cause. But here he stops. He does not go the next step and ask from where the threats within the party come, why it is that prevarications, doubts, resistance, seem endemic even to the party faithful. Such a statement reveals a nascent theoretical elaboration of what I am calling a materialist doctrine of evil, but it still stops short.

References 

Boer, Roland. 2013. Lenin, Religion, and Theology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bukharin, Nikolai. 1938. Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’ Heard Before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, Moscow, March 2-14, 1938. Moscow: People’s Commissariat of Justice of the USSR.

Cohen, Stephen. 1980. Bukarin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Daniels, Robert Vincent, ed. 1993. A Documentary History of Communism in Russia: From Lenin to Gorbachev. Burlington: University of Vermont Press.

Figes, Orlando. 1998. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Furr, Grover. 2011. Khrushchev Lied. Kettering: Erythros.

Gellately, Robert. 2007. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Koestler, Arthur. 2006 [1941]. Darkness at Noon. New York: Scribner.

Larina, Anna. 1994 [1988]. This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin’s Widow. Translated by Gary Kern. New York: W. W. Norton.

Lenin, V.I. 1917 [1964]. “The State and Revolution.” In Collected Works, 385-497. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Losurdo, Domenico. 2008. Stalin: Storia e critica di una leggenda nera. Translated by Marie-Ange Patrizio. Rome: Carocci editore.

Resis, Albert, ed. 1993. Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Roberts, Geoffrey. 2006. Stalin’s Wars: From World Qar to Cold War, 1939-1953. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Service, Robert. 2004. Stalin: A Biography. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Tucker, Robert C. 1988. Stalin as Revolutionary: 1879-1929. New York: Norton.

Tucker, Robert C. 1990. Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, New York. Norton.

Volkogonov, Dimitri. 1994. Lenin: A Biography. New York: Free Press.

Werth, Nicolas, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, and Stéphane Courtois. 1999. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


[1] The definition of a successful communist revolution is one that defeats the counter-revolution and then has the peace to begin the process of constructing socialism.

[2] After the bullets missed Lenin on 14 January, two found their mark on 30 August. One hit his arm and the other was embedded in his neck and spilled blood into a lung. They were fired by Fanya Kaplan, the Socialist-Revolutionary, and they left Lenin clinging to life. Even here, external forces seemed to have played a role, with the British agent, Robert Bruce Lockhart, engaged in inciting a plot to overthrow the Soviet government due to its efforts to seek a eace treaty with the Germans (Cohen 1980).

[3] It was officially announced in an article called ‘Appeal to the Working Class’, in the 3 September 1918 issue of Izvestiya. A couple of days later the Cheka published the decree, ‘On Red Terror’.

[4] By comparison, in China one of the most telling instances of counter-revolutionary brutality of the Guomintang before 1949 was the practice of shooting, without question, any woman found with natural feet and short hair. The assumption by the forces of Chang Kai-Shek was that any such woman was obviously a communist.

[5] Roberts tellingly demolishes this psychological argument, developed most fully by Robert Tucker (1988, 1990). For Roberts, it was more of a political paranoia, not entirely unjustified by the forces ranged against the communists (Roberts 2006, 17-18).

[6] For many Western Marxists, these purges have become the litmus test of romantic socialism. In this light, Stalin ceases to be a Marxist at all, betraying the revolution due to chronic paranoia and for the sake of his own aggrandisement. It also enables many Western Marxists to dismiss the Russian Revolution as a successful revolution, leading to the curious position that the true revolution is yet to come. I have argued elsewhere that this is clear manifestation of the bewilderment and resentment by Western Marxists that a successful revolution has not happened in the West (Boer 2013, 207-9).

[7] For instance, even the U.S. Ambassador to the USSR at the time, Joseph E. Davies, found the trials fair (Larina 1994 [1988]). By contrast, at the time the trials marked either the conversion to Trotskyism or the break with communism completely by many Western communists. The debate continues today, with some repeating Cold War denunciations and others tracing the profound effect, on the reception of Stalin, of Krushchev’s ‘secret speech’ at the Twentieth Congress of Communist Party of the USSR in February 1956 (Service 2004, Furr 2011, Losurdo 2008). It is worth noting that the trials fooled the High Command of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, who believed that the Red Army had been weakened by the loss of many of its leading commanders. This faulty assessment led them to believe that they would take Moscow in short order, only to find that the Red Army had been renewed and strengthened (Roberts 2006, 15-19).

[8] The trial and Bukharin’s behaviour has perplexed observers ever since. Apart from the dismissal of the confessions as coerced, some have suggested it was the last service of a true believer in the cause, that he used Aesopian language to turn the trial into a one of Stalin himself, indeed that he subtly pointed to his innocence while ostensibly admitting guilt. These interpretations not so much misread the material, but they manifest at a formal level precisely the tension at the heart of a materialist doctrine of evil (Cohen 1980, Larina 1994 [1988], Service 2004, Koestler 2006 [1941]).

[9] Stalin repeated this observation often at the time, as Molotov recalls (Resis 1993, 254, Roberts 2006, 18).

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