Lovell’s book contributes to a fuller picture of the Cold War, too often depicted simply as a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. It joins Paul Thomas Chamberlin’s recent The Cold War’s Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace in redirecting our attention to the regions where the great powers actually fought and the conflict was far from cold. The John le Carré-inspired vision of sotto voce struggles between world-weary agents directed by self-serving bureaucrats in Moscow and Washington, with the odd casualty at Checkpoint Charlie or in the KGB’s Lubyanka prison, is still strong in the popular imagination. But as Lovell shows, China enthusiastically joined the United States, the USSR, Cuba and some east European states in the geopolitical competition of the era, contributing to the extraordinary violence perpetrated by all sides, particularly in the global South.
In Maoism, Julia Lovell charts how a humble peasant’s ideas came to govern China while also guiding such distant lands as Albania and Zimbabwe. Militant disciples in India and Peru threatened to topple governments; in Cambodia and Nepal, they succeeded. A fifth of Cambodia’s population was massacred, but in Nepal, Maoists established parliamentary democracy. These diverse phenomena trace their lineage to one man, whom Lovell, like Warhol, struggles to pin down in any one guise... Lovell believes the faces of Maoism are crucial to understanding the recent past. In an age of ideology, it was the pre-eminent form of radicalism. Look beneath the surface of many a 20th-century movement, from the Black Panthers to the PLO, and you’ll find Maoism’s imprimatur. Its slipperiness (Lovell calls it “a tenacious, global talent for latency”) means it endures even today, after its rival — orthodox Leninism — vanished with the Berlin Wall... Histories of Marxism overflow with stodgy debates about the means of production, but Lovell leavens this with colourful vignettes... But while Lovell highlights Maoism’s salvific belief in violence, she too briskly skims over what is today most pertinent about this idea. If it seems familiar, it’s because Islamism was partially spawned by Maoism. Mao invented the Taliban’s guerrilla tactics. Iran had a “Cultural Revolution”, enforced by Revolutionary Guards modelled on Mao’s Red Guards. These are the persistent echoes of Maoism, long after its disavowal in the now-capitalist land that sprouted it. There are echoes even in London, where that plummy face can still be spotted on T-shirts. After reading Lovell’s sobering history, I can only hope these are in homage to Warhol, and not Mao.
Lovell has a gift for compressing long and convoluted histories via just the right stories, characters, moments, and statistics. Having helpfully interwoven the emergence of Maoism with an account of the triumphs of the CCP and its differences with Soviet Communism (most obviously Soviet suspicion of the peasantry versus Maoism's reliance on it), Lovell goes on to arrange her main chapters according to region. This allows readers to dip in and out of particular national contexts, comparing the take-up and impact of Maoism in each place.
As Julia Lovell of Birkbeck, University of London, describes in “Maoism: A Global History”, the abstract chairman inspired revolutionaries around the world, from the highlands of Peru to the jungles of Cambodia, from the cafés of Paris to inner-city America. Mao’s ideology, distilled into a few pithy epigrams (“to rebel is justified”, “serve the people” and “bombard the headquarters” is all you need to know), helped foster suffering and mayhem not only in his own country, but around the world. ... Ms Lovell’s descriptions of these (and other) global strands of Maoism are well-researched and colourful. She concludes her book by examining Mao’s afterlife in China itself. This is where the creed’s importance is most starkly evident.
For a history so deeply sad and so enlightening, it ought to be mentioned that this account is also very well written. Some academic works can be terribly turgid, but this is smooth and cautious, almost wily in how the awful and the unbelievable are counterpointed. In looking at Maoism with wider eyes, the one thing that struck me about the various villains and revolutionaries was that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as plagiarism. The same slogans are repeated with a kind of hypnotic genuflection.
Idealistic young students and hard-headed party apparatchiks in China; power-hungry dreamers and dispossessed insurgents in the developing world; anti-establishment rebels in Paris, Berkeley, Pisa, Delhi – all have felt the unsettling, border-crossing impact of Maoism. We need to bring Mao and his ideas out of the shadows, and recast Maoism as one of the major stories of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The revolution was ended when Guzmán was captured in a suburb of the capital, Lima. Spies had noticed that a woman living in a flat under surveillance was buying underpants for a much larger man than her slim husband. As Lovell shows in this beautifully written and accessible book, atrocity and absurdity were always Maoist bedfellows.