Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Book Review: Rescuing Canada`s Right and Mao the Unknown Story

Rescuing Canada's Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution

by Tasha Kheiriddin and Adam Daifallah

There is a lot to like about this aptly titled work. It is short, direct and it is a blueprint. The authors are two young and articulate stars of the Canadian conservative movement. Tasha Kheiriddin, a Queen's Park lobby regular, is a member of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Adam Daifallah is a former president of the Ontario PC Campus Association and now a law student at Laval University.

Their book is valuable and timely. It talks about Liberals and the left having seized control of many of the key intellectual institutions in Canada, including the media, our universities, and the civil service. It states in a manifesto that if conservatism is to become a driving force in Canadian politics, then at the very least conservatives must develop and foster their own leading institutions in these areas, and carve out public space in Canada where conservative ideas are neither ignored nor treated with disdain. The book outlines how this can be done, and what conservatives must do to unite and drive their agenda.

Much of the inspiration for this work comes directly from the success conservatives have had in the United States, where conservative forces are ascendant, and have a place in many key American institutions.

This book does not, however, speak to non-conservatives to sell the merits of Canadian conservatism. So if you are looking for a précis of why to choose conservatism, you will not find it here. This work speaks to the converted. It is an action plan, not a polemic.

In places, the book appears to suffer from 'writing by committee', meaning sharp edges have been rubbed down so much that little is actually said. Too often, the advice includes an urge to 'get organized.' The need for conservatives to do that is real, but the sloganeering is underwhelming. Yet these weaknesses are overshadowed by the value the authors deliver in compiling solid arguments, analyses and source material all in one tight paperback volume.

This is a must-read for any conservative organizer, for its structure and core arguments. It is also worth a look for non-conservatives. A simple and compelling work, it displays the intellectual vibrancy which continues to infuse Canadian politics.

Highly Recommended

Mao: The Unknown Story

by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

I remember being surprised one evening, talking with some respected veteran NDP organizers some fifteen years my senior, when they described themselves as having been "Maoists" long ago. It was startling. Here in Canada, Mao was once very popular in certain circles, despite being an anti-democrat, a dictator and a murderer. The man we all read about as Mao Tse-Tung (current spelling fashion: Mao Zedong) has remained popular in some circles even after his death, somehow insulated from the disdain that seems his due from a long record of odious acts. That's why this book is important.

Certainly, there remains enough political respectability attached to Mao that some people will still admit to having been a Maoist, or having found him inspirational. It is not unusual in certain counter-culture circles to find Maoist iconography, such as the Mao portrait done by Andy Warhol. It is tough to imagine another 20th century dictator retaining such cachet.

Why can people today hang a portrait of Mao where one of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Khomeini, Hussein or Kim Jong-Il would earn them trouble? Part of this is due to the successful efforts of Mao supporters, with the vast resources of the Chinese State at their disposal, to propagandize and promote their idol systematically. Through their efforts, Mao became celebrated as "The Great Helmsman," a figure who was nearly deified in his wisdom and grace. His past was sanitized -little was ever publicized about his ruthless rise to power, and the humanitarian fallout of his pitilessness.

Perhaps this erstwhile popularity explains why authors Chang and Halliday chose a dour and factual style for their work, as they set out to thoroughly debunk the counter-culture Maoist myth and replace it with a portrait of Mao as an amoral schemer and plotter, who thought nothing of murdering and starving millions of his countrymen. Dealing with a subject ensconced in manufactured propaganda and deliberate ignorance, Mao: The Unknown Story has a clear agenda: to deconstruct and demystify Mao, and reveal him in all his humanity, and lack of it.

The book begins with Mao's humble beginnings in a small village in Hunan province, and does a good job establishing the context of Mao's life. It captures Mao's rapid rise to influence in the embryonic Chinese Communist Party: the financing provided to that Party by Moscow; Mao's role in accepting Russian money and doing Russia's bidding within the Chinese Communist Party. It describes how Russia supported Mao precisely because he was so ruthless and so much in the model of Stalin, with his mass purges and liquidations.

The revelations in the book are stunning. For example, Mao and his generals did not march "The Long March," according to interviews with veterans of the event. Instead, Mao was carried in a litter. Through these interviews, the authors expose a highly iconographic aspect of the beatification of Mao as propaganda. The book maintains this level of detail right up to Mao's death on September 9, 1976.

Mao: The Unknown Story is a big book, weighing in at 814 pages, nearly 200 of which are notes, biographies and lists of interviews to substantiate the authors' claims. It is a highly partisan book, the authors of which believe and take great care to substantiate, that Mao was one of the most sinisterly accomplished mass murderers of all time. One possible criticism is that, despite their extensive interviews and research notes, the authors find it necessary to assert crudely this glum evaluation of Mao in many parts of their book, and that interferes with the narrative.

I can recommend this book, but not highly. It is a bit of a Long March in itself, partly because of its focus on the many victims of Mao and his regime. Valuable it is, but as a reading experience it takes a committed and motivated reader to get through it. For Sinophiles, however, this is clearly one of the most important English language works on China in recent memory. Its many allegations, despite the supporting annotations, footnotes and research, will doubtless be debated with vigour by many of those who have shamelessly called themselves Maoists.