New Zealand

Peking Review and global anti-imperialist networks in the 1960s

This is a longer version of a conference I recently presented at the Amidst Empires conference at Flinders University last month. It is very much a work in progress, so feedback most welcome!

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There has been a significant amount of scholarship about the dissemination and influence of Maoist ideology (often referred to as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought or just Mao Zedong Thought) across the globe, primarily by looking at the distribution and readership of Mao’s Little Red Book (Quotations of Chairman Mao), as well as other publications by the Foreign Language Press.[1] There is less scholarship on the Chinese publications for foreign consumption, Peking Review, China Pictorial and China Reconstructs. Cagdas Ungor, who has explored these journals in the most depth so far, has described these publications as part of a wider approach by the Chinese to situate themselves as an alternative anti-imperialist power to the Soviet Union between the 1950s and the 1970s. She has written:

Especially after the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, when the country was isolated from the socialist bloc as well as the West, China was left with few other options to exert its influence abroad… Therefore the rise in the foreign propaganda output was very much related to the PRC regime’s desire to compensate for the unavailability of official connections.[2]

 The new communist government in China started publishing foreign language materials in the early 1950s, but a reconstitution of the Foreign Languages Press in 1952 led to a higher degree of specialisation amongst the publications produced by Peking.[3] China Pictorial, which had existed since 1951, was ‘intended as a mass publication aimed at overseas audiences with average education’, offering ‘a lot of colorful pictures’ and ‘very little textual material’.[4] China Reconstructs ‘had a similar focus on society, economy and culture’ as China Pictorial, but ‘only with more articles and fewer pictures’.[5]

However Peking Review was a much more explicitly political journal, ‘aimed at readers who had the highest political awareness and educational level’.[6] Ungar suggests that the journal was ‘readable only by the intellectual elite abroad, among them government officials, journalists, China experts, and college youth’,[7] but it was also diligently read by avowed Maoists in the global West, as well as some within the national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America (although Ungar argues that in the Third World, Peking Radio was much more effective). The journal was published in English, as well as in French, Spanish, German and Japanese.

This paper will explore how Peking Review was used to disseminate anti-imperialist ideology amongst Maoists and people sympathetic to China across the world during the 1960s and early 1970s. Although established in 1958, two years before the formal Sino-Soviet split, in the post-split environment, Peking Review was an important vehicle for publicising the idea of China as the vanguard of the global anti-imperialist movement. To varying degrees, the journal was distributed, read and ingested by Maoists in the Third World and the global West. 

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China and global anti-imperialism in the Cold War era

Alongside a number of Cold War diatribes on China’s influence in Africa and Asia, there has been a significant increase in scholarship on China’s internationalism between the 1950s and 1970s and its support for various anti-imperialist movements and postcolonial movements. Known as the ‘Third World’ during this period, China increasingly promoted itself as the anti-imperialist vanguard, separate from the ‘Second World’ of the Soviet sphere of influence, but appropriating rhetoric from the Soviet Union’s anti-imperial traditions and the postcolonial Non-Aligned Movement. As Arif Dirlik has written, the Sino-Soviet split and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 ‘brought the People’s Republic to the centre of world radicalism and turned the Chinese revolutionary experience, embodied in Mao Zedong Thought, into a paradigm not only in the Third World… but also in the First’.[8] Robeson Taj Frazier has argued an awareness of race and racism became:

a primary lens through which China differentiated its model of global power from that of the United States and the Soviet Union, influenced oppressed populations of color, and increased the aura and power of Chinese communism on Chinese citizens.[9]

There has been debate over whether the Cultural Revolution created a sense of isolationism with China at the same time as pursuing a more internationalist outlook in China’s foreign affairs,[10] and an attempt to argue, as Julia Lovell has characterised, that ‘global Maoism was nothing to do with Chinese Maoism’.[11] However Lovell has suggested that China worked hard to ‘[disseminat[e] its soft power globally between 1949 and 1976’ and that the ‘stereotype of a closed-off, isolated Maoist China, shunned by the international community’ is false.[12] Dirlik has described the reach of Maoism in this era as spanning from ‘the Phillipines to Peru and Mexico, to India, Nepal and Turkey’ and to ‘the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan’[13] – although he does not mention Africa, particularly southern Africa, in places such as Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

In the United States, Maoism also a diverse influence, fostering a plethora of anti-revisionist and Maoist groups amongst the primarily white left, but also inspiring black, Asian and Latino radicalism. Keisha A. Brown has written:

Post 1949, the CCP foreign relations agenda placed American Blacks within the category of an oppressed peoples within the US… During the Cold War, the CCP placed the struggles of non-White people and countries into two main categories. The first is the broader general category aligning non-White continents (Asia, Africa, and Latin America are most often cited) in solidarity movements. The second is the more defined category of supporting specific oppressed countries in their struggles against some biased system or imperialist country…[14]

African-Americans were viewed as part of this second category, with the Chinese seeing them as ‘an entity within the larger international colored solidarity movement engaged in struggle with the common enemy of American imperialism’.[15] A number of scholars have outlined the inspiration that the China and Maoism gave to black radicals in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s,[16] and similar influence can be found other diaspora communities in the US,[17] as well as in Britain.[18]

For the left in the global West, Maoism became one of the entry points for anti-imperialist activism in the Cold War, alongside campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, against the Vietnam War, against US interventions in Latin America and against the oppression faced by indigenous people under settler colonialism. In the Anglophone world (Britain, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) as well as continental Europe (especially West Germany and France), a variety of anti-revisionist and Maoist groups emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike the Communist and Workers Parties that were associated with the Soviet Union, inheriting the relationship from the days of the Communist International and the Communist Information Bureau, the Maoist groups had varying degrees of affinity with the Chinese Communist Party and Peking had little organisational control over these groups, especially in the West. While its political, economic and military assistance to national liberation movements and postcolonial governments ensured a close relationship between China and the Third World, the CCP relied predominantly on ideology and propaganda to influence Western Maoists. The journal, Peking Review, was part of this attempt at gaining ideological influence.

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An advertisement for Peking Review on the back cover of the SACP’s African Communist from 1963

Peking Review in Africa

Over the decade of the 1950s, Chinese publications, via the International Bookstore, slowly made their way into Africa, with a base set up in Nasser’s Egypt in 1957.[19] At this time, Ungor cites Chinese documents stating that book circulation in Africa had reached up to 210,000, before further growth in 1959 in West Africa as China established diplomatic relations in Guinea, Mali and Ghana.[20] Heavily subsidised by the Chinese government and also heavily discounted for readers in developing countries, Peking Review also reached East and Southern Africa, with records of it being sold in Zanzibar in the early 1960s for ‘low prices’, alongside airmail editions of Moscow News and other Chinese literature.[21] References to Peking Review in the South African journal New Age[22] (aligned the now underground South African Communist Party)[23] in the early 1960s reveals that the journal was read by activists in the apartheid regime, as well as by SACP exiles in London, demonstrated by references to (and advertisements for) the journal in African Communist journal.[24]

American journalist John K. Cooley wrote in 1963 that ‘Red China has a well-coordinated publication program aimed at Africa’, adding ‘[i]ts political backbone is the weekly review Peking Review’.[25] Colley described the distribution methods in Africa during the early 1960s:

Peking Review is given away in some areas, and sold at subscription rates ranging from about fifty cents to $1.25 a year in others. Local Chinese emissaries regularly compile address lists of key persons, who then receive free introductory copies. An African publisher who buys an additional subscription for himself or someone else receives a color calendar. A second extra subscription brings a Chinese scroll, and a third, a desk diary.[26]

We only have anecdotal evidence of the actual readership or influence of Peking Review in Africa, but more archival research and oral histories, particularly regarding the postcolonial governments in Tanzania, Angola and Zimbabwe, may shed more light in the future.

Peking Review in the global West

 There is a debate amongst scholars over the relationship between anti-revisionism in the global West and Maoist internationalism. Several scholars have argued that the first wave of Maoism in the West grew organically out of the resistance within the official Communist Parties towards the ‘revisionism’ of the international communist movement in the 1950s. Robin D.G. Kelley and Betsy Esch have written:

Maoism in the United States was exported from China. If anything, for those Maoists schooled in the Old Left, its source can be found in Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party Soviet Union in 1956, which prompted an antirevisionist movement throughout the pro-Stalinist left.[27]

With regards to the early Maoist groups in Britain, Lawrence Parker has argued that those eventually formed the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) were anti-revisionists foremost and eventually became attracted to China because of its opposition to ‘peaceful co-existence’ and the Soviet Union.[28] Parker describes the CPB (M-L)’s leader Reg Birch as ‘a fairly typical CPGB trade unionist with a sprinkling of Maoist politics picked up after China broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s’.[29]

Julia Lovell further cites Richard Wolin on the organic and domestic origins of French Maoism and former Italian Maoist to suggest that the ‘dominant view of… Western Europe’s engagement with Maoism is to see it largely as a home-grown phenomenon’, describing this view of seeing Western Maoism as ‘an eccentric youthful experiment in alternative politics, an intellectual and cultural outburst divorced from China itself’.[30] However, as mentioned above, Lovell argues that China did have a conscious desire to build Maoist movements outside of China,[31] to build alternatives to the Soviet sphere of influence, but also to promote anti-imperialism across the Third World. Parker suggests that China ‘never sought to establish a functioning Maoist international, but rather worked through a set of bilateral links.’[32] Parker explained this process:

The CPC would bring sympathetic groups to China to meet leading figures; give them publicity; and provide such groups with political material for use in their own publications.[33]

This was the purpose of Peking Review in the global West.

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Peking Review and Maoism in the United States

The Maoist movement in the United States was possibly one of the largest in the West and most of the Chinese imported publications were distributed via Henry Noyes’ China Books and Periodicals in San Francisco, which, according to Cagdas Ungor, ‘remained… the only outlet for Chinese foreign language magazines and book in the US throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s’.[34] Via Noyes’ bookstore, Chinese periodicals, including Peking Review, reached most urban places in the United States. The Hammer and Steel group in New England referred to Peking Review in a 1963 discussion of anti-semitism and racism, stating ‘The correct Marxist-Leninist policy of the Chinese Party on formerly oppressed nations and national minorities is implemented in that great nation’ and citing an article in the journal from the previous year.[35] On the other side of the country, the journal of the Communist Party of the USA (Marxist-Leninist), People’s Voice, reprinted articles from Peking Review, such as that included in the journal’s second issue (written after the Watts Rebellion in August 1965) on the ‘negro struggle’ and proclaiming ‘ALL ANTI-IMPERIALIST FORCES SUPPORT THE HEROIC STRUGGLE OF PEOPLE OF LOS ANGELES’.[36]

As mentioned above, there was a great enthusiasm in China for black radicalism in the United States during the mid-to-late 1960s. The August 1966 issue of Peking Review republished a statement from Mao Zedong made three years earlier ‘supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by US imperialism’, which proclaimed:

I call on the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals, enlightened elements of the bourgeoisie and other enlightened persons of all colours in the world, whether white or black, yellow or brown, to unite to oppose the racial discrimination practised by US imperialism and support the American Negroes in their struggle against racial discrimination.[37]

The same issue had a statement made by black power proponent Robert Williams, who was a state visitor of China at the time, which aligned Maoism with black radicalism and thanked Mao for ‘his great and inspiring statement in support of our struggle’.[38] Williams enthused:

to our great Chinese brothers and true revolutionaries throughout the world, we revolutionary Afro-Americans vow that we shall take the torch of freedom and justice into the streets of racist America and we shall set the last great stronghold of Yankee imperialism ablaze with our battle cry of Black Power!…

Long live the militant friendship between the Chinese and revolutionary American people![39]

Peking Review had previously made similar statements and referred to Robert Williams as an authoritative figure on the black struggle in the United States.[40] However some Maoists disagreed with Peking Review’s line on Afro-American liberation, with the Hammer and Steel group criticising the Chinese in 1965 for listening to Robert Williams, rather than black Marxist-Leninists in the United States, such as Harry Haywood (as well as two CPUSA stalwarts, William Z. Foster and James W. Ford, who had promoted the ‘black belt’ thesis in the 1930s).[41] The group complained that ‘[m]ost of the people from the US that Peking Review quotes are middle class professional people who have little knowledge of the working class in our country and its revolutionary efforts in theory and organisation.’[42] The group argued that ‘Peking Review maintains that the Afro-American question is primarily one of “racial discrimination”’, but suggested that, using CPUSA literature from the 1940s, that the problem was not racial discrimination but national oppression.[43] The group also admonished the Chinese journal for describing the black struggle as a question of class, stating, ‘According to this logic the Afro-American must place their destiny in the hands of whites and wait for their inclinations’.[44]

While there were some disagreements between Maoists in the United States and the line advanced through Peking Review and other publications from China, particularly as the Cultural Revolution zigzagged throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Peking Review was still promoted in various Maoist and black radical publications. For example, advertisements for Peking Review were published in The Black Panther and People’s Voice newspapers, while the American Communist Workers Movement (Marxist-Leninist) announced that all members should ‘distribute widely the Red Book, Five Articles by Chairman Mao, and Peking Review’.[45]

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Pic from The MAO Projekt.

Peking Review and Maoism in West Germany

Owing to the fractured nature of communism in West Germany after the Communist Party of Germany was banned in 1956 and the spectre of East Germany looming over the West German left, Maoism in Germany gained a foothold in West Germany as it was able to present itself as a radical socialist alternative to Soviet-styled socialism on the other side of the Berlin Wall.[46] Like in the United States and France, Maoism heavily intersected with the student movement in West Germany, emerging from the Socialist German Student Union/League (SDS) and developing into the Red Guards (the name taken from the similar movement in China), then the Communist Party of Germany (Marxist-Leninist) (KPD (M-L)).

Rudi Dutschke, the student activist leader, enthused about China and the Cultural Revolution, using Peking Review (or Peking Runschau) to justify his arguments at times.[47] As Slobodian has explained, West German leftists took inspiration of the Chinese ideas of encirclement and ‘contradiction’, both promoted in Peking Review.[48] Encirclement developed an idea from Lin Biao (before his fall from his position in 1969)[49] of the ‘encircling the cities from the countryside’ onto the global stage, proposing that ‘the revolutionary struggles of the “world villages” were leading to an encirclement of the “world cities” of North America and Western Europe.’[50] While the idea of contradiction was that there were ‘multiple, fundamental national and international contradictions’, in which the Third World and its allies in China, as well as anti-imperialists in the West, stood in ‘primary contradiction’ to US imperialism.[51]

The Chinese started to publish the German language version of Peking Review in 1964, while the German language version of China Pictorial (China im Bild) had been published since 1956, but with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, it displayed a ‘clear Maoist agenda’ from 1966 onwards.[52] Unlike the United States, where Chinese publications were imported by an American bookseller and then distributed around the country, Chinese publications were initially smuggled into West Germany from the Chinese Embassy in East Berlin.[53] West German students ‘made day trips from West Berlin to the embassy’ to purchase wholesale copies of Peking Review and other Chinese publications, such as the Little Red Book.[54] As Quinn Slobodian has shown, Maoist publications were also popular amongst East German youth who looked to rebel against the state socialism of the GDR. An interest in Chinese literature from both sides of the Wall peaked in 1967, with the Chinese distributing ‘3000 packages monthly with 6000 issues of Peking Review and China im Bild’.[55]

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Peking Review and Maoism in New Zealand

The Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) gained notoriety as the only Western Communist Party to side with China in the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. The CPNZ is an interesting case study in the use of Peking Review in building Maoist solidarity across the world. After Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in 1956, the CPNZ leadership, under the leader V.G. Wilcox, started to move against ‘revisionism’ in the international communist movement. Although its sister party the Communist Party of Australia (which was quite pro-Chinese in the 1950s) eventually returned to the Soviet sphere of influence, the CPNZ deliberately shifted closer to the Chinese and in March 1964, Peking Review published an article by Wilcox proclaiming their support for the Chinese and denouncing the Soviet Union.[56] This article praised Mao Zedong as a ‘great creative Marxist-Leninist leader’ and called the Soviet Union ‘the puny leaders of modern revisionism’.[57] Herbert Roth notes this article also came at a time when the Communist Parties in New Zealand and Australia were entering into joint talks, but this attack on the pro-Soviet communist movement, including the denunciation of the CPA, scuppered these talks.[58] Roth stated, ‘Wilcox in China adopted a hard, unyielding position which made any meaningful talks with the Australians impossible’.[59]

Throughout the 1960s, Peking Review published numerous articles by Wilcox and another CPNZ leading figure, Ray Nunes, dedicated to praising Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. However while the CPNZ’s Communist Review published a ‘high proportion’ of material from Chinese sources, these were more likely to be from domestic Chinese publications, such as the People’s Daily,[60] rather than Peking Review. Thus the articles by Wilcox and Nunes in Peking Review became vehicles for promoting pro-Chinese sentiment to other Maoist groups across the world, most likely in the global West, rather than for internal consumption in New Zealand by CPNZ members. Roth has written:

However negligible its influence within New Zealand, the NZCP is a most valuable asset to the Chinese leaders on the international scene…

The appreciation of New Zealand’s pro-Chinese stand is expressed in many ways: in heroes’ welcomes to New Zealand Communist leaders who visit Peking with increasing frequency, and in worldwide distribution of their writings, giving Latin Americans an opportunity to read La Firme Posicion del Partido Comunista de Nueva Zelandia, a ninety-page pamphlet by camarada V.G. Wilcox, while French readrs are provided with Aller Parmi le Peuple, a l’Assaut du Monopole by the same author.[61]

As the 1960s continued, the relationship between China and the CPNZ became increasingly mutually beneficial. The CPNZ relished the attention lavished upon it by the Chinese, while the Chinese used the CPNZ as an example of its ability to penetrate the international communist movement and attract Marxist-Leninists away from the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the 1970s

 By the mid-1970s, the outlook of the Chinese government had changed. Although the Cultural Revolution still raged on at home, China’s foreign policy shifted towards rapprochement with the United States and the cooling of its promotion of global anti-imperialism. China still maintained connections with some national liberation movements and postcolonial governments, such as the FLNA and UNITA in Angola, ZANU in Zimbabwe and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (amongst a number of others). This was done partly to counter Soviet influence in the Third World and to strengthen its own geopolitical hand.

Peking Review was still published, but became a weapon in the sectarian fights that occurred across most Western Maoist groups in the aftermath of Mao’s death in 1976, the end of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four controversy.

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[1] Alexander C. Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

[2] Cagdas Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade: Chinese Communist Propaganda Abroad (1949-1976), unpublished PhD thesis, Binghamton University/State University of New York (2009) p. 5.

[3] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, pp. 92-93.

[4] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 160.

[5] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 161.

[6] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 162.

[7] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 162.

[8] Arif Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, Interventions, 16/2 (2014) p. 246.

[9] Robeson Taj Frazier, The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) p. 11.

[10] See: Patrick Laboon, ‘Peaceful Co-Existence: Sino-African Relations and the Evolution of Maoist Internationalism’, unpublished MA thesis, University of California Santa Barbara (2016) p. 25; Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, p. 235

[11] Julia Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China: “Techniques of Hospitality” and International Image-Building in the People’s Republic, 1949-1976’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 25 (2015) p. 138.

[12] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, p. 138.

[13] Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, pp. 246-247.

[14] Keisha A. Brown, ‘Blackness in Exile: W.E.B. Du Bois’ Role in the Formation of Representations of Blackness as Conceptualized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’, Phylon, 53/2 (Winter 2016) p. 24.

[15] Brown, ‘Blackness in Exile’, p. 24.

[16] Robin D.G. Kelley & Betsy Esch, ‘Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution’, Souls (Fall 1999) pp. 6-41; Bill V. Mullen, ‘By the Book: Quotations From Chairman Mao and the Making of Afro-Asian Radicalism, 1966-1975’, in Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book, pp. 245-265.

[17] For the effect of Maoism on Asian Americans, see: Daryl J. Maeda, ‘Black Panthers, Red Guards and Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity Through Performing Blackness, 1969-1972’, American Quarterly, 57/4 (2005) pp. 1079-1103; Karen L. Ishizuka, Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties (London/New York: Verso, 2016) p. 43.

For the effect of Maoism on Latino radicals, see: Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, ‘History of the Development of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization’ (August 1974), Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/prrwo-history.htm (accessed 22 January, 2018); Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London/New York: Verso, 2006) pp. 104-110.

[18] For the effect of Maoism on South Asian activists in Britain, see: DeWitt John, Indian Workers Associations in Britain (London: Oxford University Press, 1969) pp. 66-81; Sasha Josephides, ‘Organizational Splits and Political Ideology in the Indian Workers Associations’, in Pnina Werbner & Muhammad Anwar (eds), Black and Ethnic Leaderships in Britain: The Cultural Turn of Political Action (London: Routledge, 1991) pp. 253-276.

For the effect of Maoism on African-Caribbean activists in Britain, see: Rosaline Eleanor Wild, ‘“Black was the Colour of Our Fight”: Black Power in Britain, 1955-1976’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield (2008) pp. 94-95.

[19] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 209.

[20] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 209.

[21] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 211.

[22] ‘Oil for the Lamps of China’, New Age, 15 September, 1960, p. 2; ‘Indian Authorities Must Not Miscalculate’, New Age, 25 October, 1962, p. 7.

[23] Alan Wieder, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid (Auckland Park, SA: Jacana Media, 2013) p. 103.

[24] For example, see advertisement for Peking Review in African Communist (April-June 1963).

[25] John K. Cooley, East Wind Over Africa: Red China’s African Offensive (New York: Walker & Company, 1963) pp. 196-197.

[26] Cooley, East Wind Over Africa, p. 197.

[27] Kelley & Esch, ‘Black Like Mao’, p. 11.

[28] Lawrence Parker, The Kick Inside: Revolutionary Opposition in the CPGB, 1945-1991 (London: November Publications, 2012) p. 69.

[29] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 63.

[30] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, pp. 137-138.

[31] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, p. 138.

[32] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 44.

[33] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 44.

[34] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 241.

[35] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, April 1963, p. 3. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/hammer-and-steel/hs-4-63.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[36] People’s Voice, 30 August, 1965, p. 1. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/peoples-voice/pv-1-2.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[37] Mao Zedong, ‘Statement supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by US imperialism’, Peking Review, 12 August, 1966, pp. 12-13.

[38] Robert Williams, ‘Speech by US Negro Leader Robert Williams’, Peking Review, August 1966, p. 27.

[39] Williams, ‘Speech by US Negro Leader Robert Williams’, p. 27.

[40] For example, see: Mao Zedong, ‘Calling Upon the People of the World to Unite to Oppose Racial Discrimination by U.S. Imperialism and Support the American Negroes in Their Struggle Against Racial Discrimination’, Peking Review, 8 Aug, 1963, https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1963/PR1963-33a.htm (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[41] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, pp. 4-5. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/hammer-and-steel/hs-9-65.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

For further information on Harry Haywood, see: Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978).

[42] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 5.

[43] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 6.

[44] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 7.

[45] American Communist Workers Movement (Marxist-Leninist), ‘Youth and Students Unite!’, The Workers’ Advocat, 3/1 (13 November, 1972) https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/youth-students.htm (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[46] See: Quinn Slobodian, Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Timothy Scott Brown, West Germany and the Global Sixties: The Anti-Authoritarian Revolt, 1962-1978 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[47] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 53.

[48] See: ‘Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in the Hearts of the People of the World’, Peking Review, 22 July, 1966, https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-30e.htm (accessed 28 January, 2018); ‘People’s War is Invincible’, Peking Review, 14 July, 1967, p. 8; ‘Chairman Mao on Continuing the Revolution Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, Peking Review, 26 September, 1969, p. 3-10.

[49] Frank Dikötter, The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976 (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) pp. 242-252.

[50] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 172.

[51] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 172.

[52] Sebastian Gehrig, ‘(Re-)Configuring Mao: Trajectories of a Culturo-Political Trend in West Germany’, Transcultural Studies, 2 (2011) p. 209.

[53] Gehrig, ‘(Re-)Configuring Mao’, p. 211.

[54] Quinn Slobodian, ‘Badge Books and Brand Books: The Mao Bible in East and West Germany’, in Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book, p. 220.

[55] Quinn Slobodian, ‘The Maoist Enemy: China’s Challenge in 1960s East Germany’, Journal of Contemporary History, 51/3 (2016) p. 654.

[56] V.G. Wilcox, ‘V.G. Wilcox’s Speech at Party School in Canton’, Peking Review, 20 March, 1964, pp. 14-21.

[57] Wilcox, ‘V.G. Wilcox’s Speech at Party School in Canton’, p. 21.

[58] Herbert Roth, ‘Moscow, Peking and NZ Communists’, Politics, 4/2 (1969) p. 177.

[59] Roth, ‘Moscow, Peking and NZ Communists’, p. 177.

[60] R.H. Brookes, ‘The CPNZ and the Sino-Soviet Split’, Political Science, 17/2 (1965) p. 6.

[61] Herbert Roth, ‘Fragmentation on the Left’, Comment, 27 (June 1966) p. 16.

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Policing Communism Across the British Empire: A Transnational Study

This is a revised (yet shortened) version of the conference paper I gave last week at the XXIV Biennial Conference of the Australasian Association for European History. I am currently knocking it into shape for submission as a journal article, so any feedback, comments or questions is most welcome. If you’re interested in reading the longer version, do send me an email.

A flyer from the campaign against the dissolution of the Australian Communist Party in 1951.

A flyer from the campaign against the dissolution of the Australian Communist Party in 1951.

The period after the Second World War looked to present the international communist and anti-colonial movements with an ‘interlude of hope’ as the forces of socialism and national liberation seemed to gather pace.[i] Based on the Lenin’s theory of imperialism, communists saw the collapse of the European colonial systems in Africa, Asia and the Americas as the catalyst for worldwide socialist revolution. On the other hand, these colonial powers, primarily Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, also viewed colonial independence as a precursor for a communist takeover and prepared heavily to prevent decolonisation and the spread of communism.

The largest empire belonged to the British and there was an orchestrated effort from late 1946 onwards to allow colonial self-government where necessary, but also intense pressure put on the British armed forces and the security services to, in the words of Calder Walton, ‘to prevent former British colonies being absorbed by the Soviet Union as satellite states.’[ii] In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, this led to counter-insurgency measures being taken in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus (as well as support for the Royalists in the Greek Civil War), as well as ‘anti-communist’ interventions by the security services in other parts of the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia.

While the threat of a communist takeover was more acute within the Commonwealth’s developing nations, the Dominions of Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia were seen as vital allies in the battle against communism inside the Commonwealth and bulwarks of ‘democracy’ on the periphery of the former empire, charged with maintaining order within the ever increasing post-imperial Commonwealth. Although its struggles were not as bloody as those of French, Dutch and Portuguese decolonisation, Britain did not willingly give up its rule in every former colony were part of a wider strategy developed by successive British governments that was ‘carefully calculated to allow decolonization to occur on British terms rather than those of the indigenous people’.[iii] As Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon states:

The British government developed a concerted imperial strategy designed to secure the colonies for the Commonwealth in an orderly transfer of power while maintaining British influence in the region and strengthening overall Western dominance in the Cold War world.[iv]

In a bid to counter these national liberation movements and their links to communists, the British authorities, alongside the United States, the Australian and South African governments (as well as those of Canada and New Zealand), looked to co-ordinate an anti-communist response across the British Empire. While the British authorities were able to ban many communist or workers’ parties in the British colonies, in the Dominions, where there was self-government, the British tried to build an anti-communist consensus. This was achieved through several measures:

  1. By a constant relay of information about ‘communism in the colonies’ via the Foreign Office through the various High Commissions;
  2. by the establishment of security agencies in liaison with the British and the Americans to gather and distribute intelligence on communist activists in each country;
  3. the monitoring of suspected communists inside the trade union movement, the civil/public service and other civil society organisations; and
  4. the introduction of legislation to ban the Communist Party.

Although much of this was driven by the British (as well as by the United States as the new global superpower), in some areas, the authorities in Australia and South Africa went beyond what the British government was inclined to do domestically, resulting in a process where often the periphery that drove the anti-communist policies and strategies of the metropole. Alongside this, there was also the horizontal transmission of anti-communist politics and policy transfer particularly between Australia and South Africa – two countries where anti-communism became intertwined with white supremacy and shared a common outlook as the Cold War began.

This paper proposes that anti-communism in the British Commonwealth as pursued by the ‘white’ Dominions fuelled by two overlapping sets of transnational ties. Firstly, there was a keen sense of imperial responsibility felt by the Dominions (particularly Australia) to maintain the Empire/Commonwealth and assist in the fight against communism, which threatened both domestic politics and the political situation in the colonies (such as Malaya). Secondly, there was the wider concept of the global West under the umbrella of the hegemonic dominance of the United States and an allegiance to the ‘global colour line’ promoted by the USA’s informal empire.[v] To varying degrees, Britain, South Africa and Australia co-operated with each other to combat the communist threat, but also taking inspiration from other Anglophone nations, such as the US, Canada, New Zealand and Rhodesia. This formed the basis for the intelligence network, developed during the Cold War, known as the ‘five eyes’ network between Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.[vi]

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall.

The Foreign Office as co-ordinating centre for information

Beginning in the late 1930s, the Dominion Office, and then the Foreign Office, compiled a weekly report from the various High Commissions across the British Empire/Commonwealth, routinely titled ‘Communism in the Colonies’. These typically took in reports from the Dominions of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, as well as the various countries of the Indian sub-continent, India, Pakistan and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on occasions, Ireland. Correspondence was generally directed towards the Foreign Office in London, but copies of most reports were distributed between the High Commissions in Canberra, Pretoria, Ottawa and Wellington.[vii]

The transmission of anti-communist materials went essentially three ways and this differed with the kind of report produced. Firstly, the Commonwealth Relations Office produced weekly reports on ‘Communism in the Commonwealth [or Colonies]’ that were distributed to the High Commissions in Canberra, Ottawa, Pretoria, Wellington, Dublin, Delhi, Karachi and Colombo. These were, for the most part, summaries of the communist movement in each country and the measures being taken against them. Secondly, there were in depth reports produced by the High Commission in each country, which were fairly constant, but not regular, in their production and these were sent to the Foreign Office in London. Lastly, these in depth reports were also distributed horizontally across the various Dominions, fostering links between the various countries.

The co-ordination of intelligence

Up until the late 1940s, the security and intelligence services of the Dominions were overseen by MI5 and MI6 (also known as the Secret Intelligence Service), with local Special Branches being involved in the policing and monitoring of political dissidents and extremists. Special Branches were established at federal and state/province level within most of the Dominions in the first half of the twentieth century, aided by the British security services. As the Cold War began in the late 1940s, the newly formed CIA (Central Intelligence Agency, taking over from the US Office of Strategic Services) and MI5 formed closer ties and it was felt that a more rigorous security service needed to be established in such places as Australia, Canada and New Zealand after a series of security lapses. Originally perceived as overseas sections of MI5,[viii] each country established a domestic security service modeled on the British agency.

Alongside the establishment of security services in the Dominions and the frequent reports on Communism in the Commonwealth via the Foreign Office, the Attlee government attempted to foster closer ties between the security services and the executive branches of the government with the creation of the Information Research Department (IRD) in 1948. The IRD was an inter-governmental body established to produce ‘covert anti-communist propaganda’ and although originally constituted to counter the Soviet-inspired World Peace Council, it was transformed under the Conservative government, led by Winston Churchill, in 1951 into a strategic counter-subversion body to deal with domestic and transnational communist threats.[ix] Like ASIO under Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, the IRD’s scope for counter-subversion went beyond known Soviet operatives and CPGB members and also targeted ‘fellow travellers’ attached the trade union movement and the British Labour Party.[x] Despite this work on counter-subversion, others in the security services were not convinced of the political threat posed by communism in Britain, and instead focused on the role that communists played within the trade unions.[xi]

Purging the trade unions

After a general freeze on industrial action during the Second World War by many of the Communist Parties in the Western world, strike action involving communists rose sharply in the late 1940s as the Cold War escalated and the international communist movement shifted to the left. These episodes of industrial action in all three countries led the authorities, as well as many others, to worry about communist infiltration in the trade unions. This led to increased monitoring of the trade union leadership in all countries and numerous reports by the security services, the police and various British High Commissions being circulated on the subject. For example, a 1947 report (made public in 1952) by the Investigation Officer of the South African Police declared:

it might be mentioned straight away that they have only one policy, viz. control of all trade unions in this and other countries which must ultimately be used to establish anarchy at a given moment in order to facilitate world domination. Local and present-day strikes are primarily engineered by them in order to practise and perfect the necessary machinery for their ultimate object. In order to accomplish this, demands are invariably made on the employers for increased wages to an extent which can never be met in order that no alternative but a strike may be the issue.[xii]

With their links to the trade union movement, the ruling Labor/Labour governments in Australia and Britain both renewed their rules enforcing the proscription of members of the Communist Party from joining and encouraged those trade unions that also banned Communist Party members. Phillip Deery and Neil Redfern suggest that this revived anti-communism was influenced by Harold Laski’s pamphlet The Secret Battalion: An Examination of the Communist Attitude to the Labour Party, which was distributed widely amongst Australian Labor Party branches and to the anti-communist Industrial Groups formed inside the Australian labour movement.[xiii]

Similar to the Chifley government, Deery and Redfern argue that ‘proscribing the CPGB or banning its publications was not seriously considered’ by the Attlee government. But in all three countries, calls were made on the right wing side of politics for the banning of the Communist Party.

National Party PM of South Africa, who oversaw implementation apartheid, D.F. Malan.

National Party PM of South Africa, who oversaw implementation apartheid, D.F. Malan.

Banning the Communist Party

Of all the anti-communist measures introduced across the three countries (and the wider Anglophone world), the most transnational of these was the banning of the Communist Party (or attempts to ban it), where the governments of South Africa and Australia took inspiration and lessons from each other and other attempts to ban the Party in Canada and the United States. In a 2004 speech, Justice Michael Kirby stated:

In the United States,… the Supreme Court had held up as valid the Smith Act which was in some ways similar to the Australian anti-communist legislation. It, in turn, had borrowed elements from a South African law which subsequently became the model for “suppression of terrorism” laws in a number of British colonies.[xiv]

Shortly before his electoral victory in 1948, Opposition leader D.F. Malan cited the efforts made by Canada and Australia during the Second World War to deal with the ‘threat’ of communism, praising that ‘Canada decided to banish the Communist Party in that country and to take every necessary step to ensure Canada’s safety.’[xv] He further added:

In Australia we have the same phenomenon at the present time. I think it was announced last Saturday that two of the principal parties in Australia had announced that they wanted steps to be taken against Communism in so far as it exercised an influence from outside on Australia but also from within and that they also wanted steps to be taken to ban the Communist Party and its allied organisations. South Africa’s Government is powerless and is doing nothing in the matter…[xvi]

The Malan government and the Menzies opposition (and after December 1949, the Menzies government) did share some thoughts on how to deal with the communist ‘threat’, with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill (Cth) and the Suppression of Communism Bill both being entered into Australian and South African Parliaments respectively within months of each other in 1950. Records from the National Archives of Australia show correspondence between the High Commissions in Cape Town and Canberra in March 1950 that drafts of each country’s anti-communist legislation were confidentially shared prior to the introduction of Menzies’ bill in April 1950. A cablegram from the Australian High Commissioner in Cape Town to the Australian Minister for External Affairs states:

The Union Government has made available for your strictly confidential information, a copy of the draft bill to combat Communism, which I am sending by today’s airbag. It has yet to receive the final approval of Cabinet.

The Union Government state they would seek particulars of any Australian Government measures directed to the same object.[xvii]

In the end, the ban on the CPSA was the only one to survive (and did so until 1990), with the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950 being ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia and a subsequent referendum to change the Australian Constitution to allow such an Act narrowly failed in 1951. In the parliamentary debates on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill in Australia, veteran Labor MP Jack Holloway raised the fact that Australia was, in May 1950, leading the way in its pursuit of anti-communist legislation, stating:

No other country within the British Commonwealth of Nations would dream of passing legislation of this kind. Great Britain and Canada have refused to do so whilst South Africa is watering down its original proposals to deal with the Communist Party.[xviii]

Legislation was not introduced in Southern Rhodesia as the small communist circle inside the country worked clandestinely within the Southern Rhodesian Labour Party and as an extension of the CPSA (and after 1952, the South African Communist Party). Despite calls for the banning of the LPP, Canadian PM Louis St. Laurent rejected these proposals by the Opposition in May 1950 and the Party was allowed to continue legally until it was reconstituted as the new CPC in 1959. As The Guardian commented on during the debates over the Suppression of Communism Bill in South Africa:

Canada has learnt her lesson. Must we learn it too, in this country, only from bitter experience?[xix]

Conclusion

This paper shows that the co-ordination of anti-communism in the British Commonwealth went beyond the sharing of intelligence between the members what would become the ‘five eyes’ network in the Cold War (and post-Cold War) era. Through government agencies, the institutions of the Labor/Labour Parties and the executive branches in all three countries, Britain, Australia and South Africa drew upon each other’s policies and legal frameworks to develop a shared anti-communist response, although adapted to local political and social conditions. Between 1947 and 1951, this co-ordinated response was strongest, before divisions in the international communist movement and in the Anglophone world emerged in the late 1950s. Using the metaphor that Zhdanov promoted at the outset of the Cold War in the late 1940s, by the late 1950s, there no longer just two camps – the democratic/anti-fascist/anti-imperialist and the anti-democratic/fascist/imperialist camps – but a myriad of camps amongst the global West, the global East and the non-aligned, which complicated the Cold War. With these divisions, the anti-communist and imperial unity projected by Britain, Australia and South Africa (alongside the United States and other Anglophone nations) in the early Cold War period became more fractured and these countries were less likely to act in step with each other as they once did.

18-culture

[i] Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism & the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1950 (Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1985) p. 143.

[ii] Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (London: Harper Press, 2013) p xxvi.

[iii] Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon, Imperial Endgame: Britain’s Dirty Wars and the End of Empire (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) p. 2.

[iv] Grob-Fitzgibbon, Imperial Endgame, p. 3.

[v] John Munro, ‘Imperial Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement in the Early Cold War’, History Workshop Journal (2015) doi:10.1093/hwj/dbu040 (accessed 21 July, 2015); Richard Seymour, ‘The Cold War, American Anticommunism and the Global “Colour Line”’, in Alexander Anievas, Nivi Manchanda & Robbie Shilliam (eds), Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line (London: Routledge, 2015) pp. 157-159.

For further discussion of the ‘global colour line’, see: Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008).

Both Lake and Reynolds, and Seymour have taken this notion from W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folks (1903) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm (accessed 20 July, 2015).

[vi] See: Stephen Lander, ‘International Intelligence Co-operation: An Inside Perspective’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 17/3, (2004) pp. 481-493.

[vii] See: Letter from Lord Harlech to Viscount Cranborne, 3 December, 1943, DO 35/1199, NA; Letter from Lord Harlech to Clement Attlee, 16 April, 1943, DO 35/1199, NA.

[viii] Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (London: Allen Lane, 2009) p. 371.

[ix] Thomas J. Maguire, ‘Counter-Subversion in Early Cold War Britain: The Official Committee on Communism (Home), the Information Research Department, and ‘State-Private Networks’, Intelligence and National Security, 2014, DOI: 10.1080/02684527.2014.895570, pp. 2-4.

[x] Maguire, ‘Counter-Subversion in Early Cold War Britain’, p. 12.

[xi] Andrew, The Defence of the Realm, p. 406.

[xii] Cited in, South African House of Assembly Debates, 13 June, 1952, col. 7949.

[xiii] Phillip Deery & Neil Redfern, ‘No Lasting Peace? Labor, Communism and the Cominform: Australia and Great Britain, 1945-50’, Labour History, 88 (May 2005) p. 66.

[xiv] Justice Michael Kirby, ‘Comparative Constitutionalism – An Australian Perspective’, paper presented at the University of Chicago, 23-25 January, 2004, http://ccc.uchicago.edu/docs/kirby.pdf , accessed 13 April, 2014.

[xv] South African House of Assembly Debates, 15 March, 1948, col. 3198.

[xvi] South African House of Assembly Debates, 15 March, 1948, col;.3199.

[xvii] Cablegram from Australian High Commissioner (Cape Town) to Minister for External Affairs, 3-4 March, 1950, A1838 TS201/2/26, NAA.

[xviii] Australian House of Representatives debates, 16 May, 1950, col.

[xix] The Guardian, 11 May, 1950.