Mao, Stalin and Communism: a Different Verdict

Articles by Joseph Ball

Visit My New Blog: Joseph Ball on Communism.

The actual record of communism is far more positive than mainstream thinking would suggest. In a time when there seems no alternative to rampant Western imperialism and the poverty and violence it creates, it may be time to give the history of communism a more sympathetic treatment. The material here is meant as a modest contribution to this much needed re- evaluation.

Does socialism really lead to economic failure? The USSR and COMECON Eastern Europe before 1989

New article published in the Journal of Labor and Society. Based on important new figures from the Maddison Project Database, it refutes the claim that the countries of Eastern Europe were economic failures when they were still ruled by (ostensibly) communist regimes. This is important because it shows that state ownership of economies does not have to mean a poor standard of living. It means that those who want the liberation of the working class from capitalism can carry on their fight and give up the search for some mythical ‘third way ‘ between economies under state ownership and the market. Though the article was written last year, its implication is that a world faced with the appalling economic and social costs associated with coronavirus, we do not have to resign ourselves to years of high unemployment and poverty under the market system.

This article is purely about economic performance. It is not a political defence of the Eastern European regimes. I believe that most of these regimes went down the capitalist road after 1953. I believe that Mao Zedong was right to see the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact as an enemy of the genuine socialism that he was trying to promote around the world. It is foolish, however, to pretend that the fate of these regimes has no bearing on the current level of support for socialism.

Mao Did Not Want Half of China to Starve to Death: A Key Document in Dikotter's Book on the Great Leap Forward

An important historical document has emerged which casts serious doubt on allegations that Mao was responsible for mass deaths in China in the Great Leap Forward. This document shows how Mao was actually attempting to promote democracy and restrain excesses during this period. Frank Dikotter's book Mao's Great Famine contains a quotation from this document which he tries to use as evidence that Mao was absolutely indifferent to the fate of the Chinese people and responsible for vast numbers of deaths during the Great Leap Forward. Mao is quoted as saying: 'It is better to let half of the people die so the other half can eat their fill.'

The document that has come to light is a page from an 8 page set of notes of Mao's comments at a private meeting of Communist Party leaders in a hotel in Shanghai in 1959. This page gives us a clear idea of the context of Mao's comments about half of China starving. Once the context is understood, it is clear that Dikotter's interpretation of Mao's comments is absolutely wrong. The document actually shows Mao strenuously advocating mass popular involvement in the policy-making process and trying to prevent the imposition of an excessive workload on the people. Mao's comments about half the people dying appears to be an ironic criticism of the over-ambitious plans of others. By pointing us to a document where Mao is making these comments in private, where he would have had no incentive to mislead his audience, Dikotter has in fact done a great service to the historical image of Mao.

This article provides a translation of this document. It also gives a general evaluation of Dikotter's book and its Great Leap Forward atrocity stories. The article finds that Dikotter does not provide his readers with an adequate assessment of the evidence he uses in his book. It goes onto examine other evidence presented by Dikotter, as well as other sources about the Great Leap Forward. The article provides further evidence for questioning the thesis that tens of millions died at this time. It points out that once the natural disasters and errors of the Great Leap Forward were overcome, the Maoist economic strategy was very successful. It still provides a model for countries that want to break free from globalization and capitalism. It provides a far better model of economic development than those prescribed by the western countries.

Look at the page of the document showing Mao's comments at the meeting in Shanghai in 1959 here . This page is in Chinese, read the article above for a full English translation.

Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward? Monthly Review Version

My article 'Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?' is published on the Monthly Review website.

However, the link below allows access to a version with full page references for all cited work. It also contains corrections to a few typos I made when discussing the discrepancies between the death toll data and infant mortality calculations, which might make these passages a little clearer. Read the article here.

Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?

Allegations about The Great Leap Forward have been used to destroy the reputation of Chariman Mao and and the Maoist movement. Until the early 1980s, even those who were not Maoist were willing to accept that his revolution had achieved huge advances in terms of the health and welfare of the citizens of China. From the early 1980s, articles began appearing in the West accusing Mao Zedong and the political party he led of being responsible for the deaths of millions of his citizens during The Great Leap Forward. These figures have been repeated in virtually all discussions about the Maoist era. This is despite the fact that the evidence for the so-called genocide during The Great Leap Forward is uncertain to say the least.

The allegations against Mao are part of an attempt to argue that communism was as bad or worse than the Nazi regime. Opponents of communist ideology want to close off the only serious alternative to the capitalist system. Despite this, people around the world still follow the thinking of Mao. Maoist thought and anti-revisionism remains a focus for radicalism and those interested in an alternative politics. Maoist ideas are still studied by those involved in national liberation struggle. Even controversies over the Cultural Revolution seem to have re-opened.

This article is an analysis of the evidence that Mao 'killed' 30 million Chinese people in the Great Leap Forward. This evidence is shown to have emerged during a campaign against Maoism and the Maoist legacy by his successor Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s. The demographic evidence is of very questionable origin. Other evidence presented by Western authors about massive deaths in this period, such as Jung Chang and Jasper Becker, lacks sufficient authentication. This article also contains a discussion of the work of Roderick MacFarquhar. Evidence exists of big achievements in economic and social terms during the Maoist era in China.

The Need for Planning: The Restoration of Capitalism in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and the Decline of the Soviet Economy

My article defending the record of Soviet socialist economic planning was published by the online Marxist journal Cultural Logic.

Soviet central planning, up until Stalin's death in 1953, created a robust and technically advanced economy. It was not 'unsustainable' as is usually argued. If the socialist, planning system had continued after Stalin's death, the Soviet Union could have avoided its ultimate economic failure. After 1953, the Soviet Union had a stagnant, state capitalist economy. The primary reason for this stagnation was the way the new structure undermined technical progress. Effective planning in this area had been ended but a fully competitive, free market economy was not introduced. Thus no effective incentives for technological innovation existed. This led to a progressive slow-down in economic growth. Before Stalin's death innovation and technical advance had been successfully introduced into the economy via the central plan. After Stalin's death attempts were made to introduce 'endogenous' incentives for innovation that were intended to copy market mechanisms. This was part of a wider effort to introduce market socialism. This hybrid economic system contained inadequate incentives for innovation.

The article also directly addresses the allegation that the nature of the socialist system itself in the Stalin-era led to mass executions and famine.

Paul Cockshott of Glasgow University, author of 'Towards a New Socialism', raised some questions about whether maintaining the Stalin-era system could have indeed prevented economic slow-down.

Read Paul Cockshott's Comments and My Reply to Them Here

Email Exchange with Steve Heder Regarding Death Toll in Democratic Kampuchea 1975-1979

An email exchange between myself and Steve Heder, a former officer of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), throws doubts on the value of evidence presented against three defendants in the the Khmer Rouge trials. Specifically it undermines the 'Demographic Expert Report' given to the Court. Other evidence of genocide presented in the report also appears to be of little value, although it has been used as a key document in the proceedings.

What exactly happened in Democratic Kampuchea and the ideological motives of the Communist Party of Kampuchea are certainly not clear. However, a thorough examination of the truth would be in everyone's interests. This is not happening in the current trial.

Doubts About Genocide Evidence Presented in Trials of Democratic Kampuchea ('Khmer Rouge') Leaders

Political Statements by Joseph Ball

Long Live Mao Zedong Thought!

My Concerns About the Leadership of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)

The Maoist movement in Nepal inspired many in the belief that a new phase of communist revolution could be starting. However, the leadership of this party have discarded Leninism and the key concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat.


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