SWP and China

Richard Fidler rfidler at SPAMcyberus.ca
Thu Oct 19 16:18:40 MDT 2000

My recent posting on Tom Kerry, Les Evans and Mao elicited the following
comments off-list by Evans, which I post below with his consent. Les asked,
however, that I add his comment:

"Tom and I were close in his last years, when we faced together problems much
closer to home than China. While I never shared his tendency to settle for
abstract categories and labels in place of multifaceted realities, I held him in
high regard as a human being and was saddened by his passing."

Les Evans' comments follow:

<<Your summary is not wrong but too abstract. Tom's fatal flaw was that he
insisted that there are no real political differences among Stalinists and that
no Stalinist has any discernible program. For Tom, all fights among Stalinists
were fights over bureaucratic power alone without serious issue content. Even a
cursory study of the history of the CCP shows not only the kinds of differences
Tom dwelled on, but clearly different political currents with different methods
and programs. This should have been an obvious truth. No system is so
totalitarian as to destroy political and cultural differences. Italian, German,
and Spanish fascism each had their national characteristics, distinctive ways of
dealing with issues, different priorities, etc. And closer examination would
show that such differences existed within each of these, not reducible to gross

For some dogmatic reason Tom felt that any discussion of the different political
tendencies among the CCP factions would lead inevitably to giving critical
support to one against the other. That was nonsense, and sticking to it meant
being unable to understand anything of importance about modern Chinese history.
The Deng-Liu faction were closer in spirit and methods to the pragmatic
bureaucrats of Eastern Europe; the Mao group were messianic voluntarists who
staked everything on religious maniacal campaigns to mobilize the masses and
exterminate opposition. Frankly, the Deng group would be easier to live under
and more capable of facing real facts about Chinese economic planning and
development than the Mao fanatics; the history of the last twenty years has
proven that to be true beyond any reasonable doubt (where are the Mao supporters

Whether that merits some kind of support is quite a different question. I felt
even in the mid-1970s that Tom believed that only Trotskyists were noble and
intelligent enough to have genuine differences of opinion over issues. This was
a vulgar reductionism of his political opponents to nothing but thugs and a
simplification of the world to the level of caricature. Nat suffers from much
the same problem. Jack knew better, but chose not to let the issue be heard in
the party for many years for diplomatic reasons. Even at the time of Tiananmen
in 1976, however, Jack refused to believe that there could be any significant
popular opposition within a Stalinist state and he prohibited me from discussing
China with party members (he thought the protests in the streets of Beijing were
nothing but puppet manipulations staged by someone within the top bureaucracy
and that this was all that was possible in a Stalinist state). I said to him in
a meeting with Mike Baumann at that time that he was wrong and that there were
genuine and sizable popular currents in China against the regime--something he
would have known if he read anything about it or permitted anyone in the party
to report in the party press on the readily available material on the question.

I'm afraid that closed circles that set out to revolutionize the world through
big changes become the first to be ossified into ignorant sects when they stop
listening to anyone but themselves. Change then always takes them by surprise.>>

Richard Fidler
rfidler at cyberus.ca

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