Book Reviews

Book Review – Maoism: A Global History (2019) By Julia Lovell

Maoism:  A Global History (2019) By Julia Lovell

Mao Ze Dong was one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century responsible for the deaths of tens of millions. Maoism: A Global History Book by Julia Lovel looks at the global influence of the man.

She shows that while Mao’s crimes are not often remembered today, his political importance stretches far beyond China and stretches around the globe.

Africa, Asia and Latin America saw many converts to Maoism in the 20th century. But, the Chinese communists’ influence also stretched far beyond — like Berkeley, California in the 1960s and a Maoist cult in London which only unravelled in 2013 after decades of abusing its female members.

At the end of the Korean War, some 23 Americans and one Scotsmen choose to move to Maoist China rather than be repatriated back to their countries of origin (though the majority eventually returned to their home countries in the ensuing decades).

The book shows the surprisingly global reach of the ideas of a revolutionary who rarely travelled outside of China — save two trips to Russia during one of which he brought a personal chamber pot for use in his Moscow suite.

The book lingers on India, Peru, and Nepal providing insight into Maoist insurgencies in those countries. In the former two nations, Maoist insurgents continue to wage war against the state in the name of Maoist revolution. In Nepal, a fragile peace has held that ended a decade of brutal civil war. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is the ruling political party in Nepal and is the largest communist party in South Asia and the largest outside a communist state in Asia. The author doesn’t examine the Philippines where another Maoist insurgency is also ongoing and one which continues to tout its Maoist credentials. 

In focusing on the “Third World,” the book shatters the myth that from 1949 until 1978, China was somehow “isolated” from the rest of the world. This myth has sustained itself due to the fact that in most popular histories, the Cold War is a contest over the fate of Europe (with wars in Vietnam and Korea appearing as mere sideshows). For China, however, Africa and Asia were important potential spheres of influence in their own right.

Indeed during the height of the Cultural Revolution in which thousands were starving to death in China, the country’s Maoist elite still ensured that thousands of tons of food were shipped to North Korea and oversaw the building of a metro system for the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In Africa, Mao influenced revolutionaries from Ghana to Zimbabwe. Indeed Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah would write his own “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare” partially modelled on Mao’s teaching in the 1960s despite never leading a sustained guerrilla movement. Anyone could style themselves after Mao.

Some 6.5 billion copies of Mao’s “Little Red Book” were printed and made available along with other aggressive global outreach efforts such as the hosting of foreign delegations (a process the author describes in some detail). However, in going global Maoism had to become a franchise. The ideology has taken on different forms in different countries. Yet, some similarities exist across all strains such as striving for continual revolution, anti-imperialism, an emphasis on tight party control, volunteerism, self-criticism, and anarchic democracy or “New Democracy” as an ideal. Mao advocated all these ideas during his lifetime but, modern China has largely disowned this heritage – at least its more radical elements. Mao’s most potent thought – a theory of guerrilla warfare as an instrument of revolutionary change continues to have an impact on the thinking of insurgents around the world well into the 21st century. Indeed in the death cult of Da’esh today and their application of guerrilla warfare techniques, there are more than a few Maoist ideas.

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