Wednesday, May 15, 2024

for Bill Hilton 15May 2004/15May2024

William H. Hinton, who illuminated the gigantic strides of Socialist China secured under Chairman Mao, died 20 years ago on May 15th, 2004, at a nursing home in Concord, Mass. He was 85. Katherine survives him, as do Carmelita, and two daughters and one son from his second marriage.

His writings illustrated Mao’s China shaping the most path breaking experiments and how autonomy of workers and peasants surpassed level of any Western Democracy or third world country.

No author better diagnosed and projected the symmetry of historical periods from the land reform movements of the CPC in the pre-revolutionary period of the 1940’s to later stages of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and how revolutionary democracy escalated zones untranscended.

Life History

William Howard Hinton was born Feb. 2, 1919, in Chicago, the second child and only son of Sebastian Hinton, a lawyer, and Carmelita Chase Hinton, an educator who founded The Putney School, in Putney, Vt.

Mr. Hinton was in the first class to attend Putney and graduated in 1936. Accepted at Harvard, he postponed college and instead traveled in the Far East, supporting himself with odd jobs. He attended Harvard from 1937 to 1939, then transferred to Cornell and in 1941 took a Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy and dairy husbandry.

Mr. Hinton returned to China during World War II as a propaganda analyst for the Office of War Information, and then again in 1947 as a tractor technician for the United Nations. When the United Nations program ended he stayed on as an English teacher and land-reform adviser in Fanshen, where he took more than 1,000 pages of notes on what he saw.

Over the course of the next year, he compiled a thousand pages of notes, with pin point detail, on the struggle waged against landlords and between different categories of peasants - in the village of Long Bow. Much later, he would recall "the lice, the fleas and all the hardships, and eating that terrible gruel out of an unwashed bowl while a young girl lay dying of tuberculosis".

Infuriated at the corruption of the Kuomintang nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, Hinton crossed to a zone already liberated by the communists in the civil war. Landing in southern Shanxi province teaching English. When his students marched off to join the land reform movement, he demanded to take part.

When the Kuomintang attacked in 1948, he joined the retreat with the notes in his backpack. A year later, he was able to witness Mao Zedong's triumph.

When his passport expired, he returned to the United States in 1953, but was now hounded by the authorities. After the Eastland Committee tried him and declared the trunk full of papers they had taken from him to be ''the autobiography of a traitor,'' he worked as a truck mechanic in Philadelphia until he was blacklisted, then took up farming in Fleetwood, Pa., on land that his mother owned.

When he returned to the United States in 1953, his notes were confiscated by the senate internal security committee. He retrieved them after 5 years. -Hinton organized Chinese dumpling parties to pay for the legal fees - and then eight years to publish Fanshen.

With high resilience he waged a legal battle to recover his notes and papers. When he finally won, he embarked on writing ''Fanshen.'' In 1971, after the book was translated into Chinese, Zhou Enlai invited him to visit China again, and he resumed his work as an agricultural adviser.

Returning to China in the heat and backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, and to Long Bow, would take another five years, with the support of the country's deputy leader Zhou Enlai,

After the death of Mao and ascendancy of capitalist roaders from 1976.Hinton was bitterly critical of the gang of four and supported their arrest and CPC coup.

In the 1980s, as the post-Mao Zedong regime dismantled the people's communes, Hinton relentlessly backed the cooperative way. He was terrified with the redivision of the land into thin strips calling it "noodle strip farming which in his view violated Marxism.

In the mid 1980’s Hinton drifted from his earlier stand and became critical of the practice of the Cultural revolution, classifying it as a factional struggle, with Mao seeking power.

In 1993, on the 100th anniversary of Mao's birth, in a tea party in Beijing, where retired cadres from the ministry of culture sang nostalgic songs about the revolution.

Writing in the US Marxist journal Monthly Review, Hinton charged the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping of having reverted “from the socialist road to the capitalist road".

Hinton was highly disturbed by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, which he was a first hand witness to, driving through the suburbs of Beijing to monitor the advance of the army. His daughter by his first marriage, Carmelita Hinton, born and educated in China, later co-produced The Gate of Heavenly Peace (1996) - a challenging film about the massacre.

In 1995, Hinton moved to Mongolia with his third wife Katherine Chiu, when she was appointed to the Unicef office in Ulan Bator. He lectured on no-till farming - the technique of leaving the soil untouched from planting to harvest, which he had developed on his own farm in Pennsylvania .In 1995 in an interview he most analytically or logically dissected every element of Mao’s political career, to give a knockout punch to the vilification of Mao Tse Tung as a dictator. Hinton dwelled into why it was imperative for Mao to wage political struggle against the line of Liu Shao Chi and Deng Xiaoping, to defend the political power of the working class. Hinton underlined why the Cultural Revolution as a whole was a great creative departure in history and not a plot, not a purge, but a mass mobilization whereby people were inspired to come to the party and supervise their cadres and form new popular committees to exercise control at the grassroots and higher.

Writing in the US Marxist journal Monthly Review in 1995, Hinton charged the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping of having reverted “from the socialist road to the capitalist road". It seemed idealistic at the time in harmony with Hinton’s endorsement of the cultural revolution in Turning Point In China (1972) .

Hinton toured different parts of the world to express his solidarity with revolutionary movements. During the final years of his life, he felt it was his duty to uphold the Chinese revolution combating the attacks and distortions waged against it. In writings and lectures given around the world, he upheld Mao’s revolutionary approach to land reform and collectivization. He played a major role in countering the bourgeoisie's ideological offensive against communism.

Head on he battled the slanders directed at the Great Leap Forward and Mao's agricultural policies, and relentlessly refuted vilification of the Cultural Revolution. This was an important contribution to the battle to countering the bourgeoisie's ideological offensive against communism.

Fanshen and Other Books

His book ''Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village'' (1966) and ''Shenfan: The Continuing Revolution in a Chinese Village'' (, 1983), about the impact of the 1949 revolution on a village where he worked, were all classics in their own right and imperative reading for generations of university students over the decades.

Fanshen’ offered a most lucid illustration of the patterns of life for the peasants. His writing refuted all the lies propagated by the American media on Communist China t a time when America was die hard anti-Communist, which led to a 14-year delay of the publication of ''Fanshen.'' With clinical precision Hinton untapped how the CPC championed practice of mass democracy.

Mr. Hinton in immaculate detail described how the revolution shaped and transformed the traditional way of life, through the resistance to change in Long Bow, in southeastern Shaanxi Province. He narrated the struggles of elected councils to uproot and replace the old magistrates who ran the village. He described how individual villagers ''hopefully placed'' the family privy ''at the edge of the public road in anticipation of a contribution to the domestic store of fertilizer from any traveler who might be in need of relief.''

This book is based on extensive notes gathered in the village of Long Bow, Lucheng County, Shansi Province, China, during the spring and summer of 1948 The main focus of the book is to illustrate conditions which the members of the work team discovered and the actions which they subsequently led the people of the village to undertake.

Fanshen recreates the path breaking, exercise in mass participation. It ends on a victorious note as China's peasants march down the long road to fanshen (literally, turn over one's body)

Fanshen rendered hopes of possibility of a different future for humanity and enabled us to understand more deeply that revolutions must be revolutions of the masses and manifested the Maoist principle that leaders must both lead and learn from the masses, and that leaders must themselves subject themselves to criticism and revolutionary transformation.

It described how peasants so long under the influence of reactionary and fatalistic philosophies which taught them to bow to feudal oppression (how familiar we are with that phenomenon in India!), for the first time tasted democracy. Where once each peasant family struggled for sheer survival, it now had enough to live on; and second, the surplus of agriculture was no longer siphoned off by a parasitic class of landlords, but remained in the hands of the people for reinvestment. It also abolished the landlord yoke by seizing land, stock, implements and houses, and further, by transforming society and culture.

Hinton recounted not merely the dynamics of revolutionary upheaval, but the deep scars of struggle, the resistance to change, and the ebb and flow , of painful criticism and self-criticism.

What Hinton attempted in the book as a whole was to project through the microcosm of Long Bow Village, element of the essence of the great anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolution which transformed China in the first half of the twentieth century and unleashed political and social forces so tremendous that they continue to shake not only China but the world.

He described how Long Bow made an almost miraculous transformation from a reactionary bastion to revolutionary storm centre in the course of a few days.

Set immediately after Fanshen, William Hinton’s seminal book on land reform in China, “Iron Oxen’ (1971) investigates the early stages of the State’s collectivization of agriculture and its first mechanized crops. This book is an illustrative portrayal of the heady days just before and after Liberation as a teacher in China’s first tractor school, where students sat on bricks in classrooms without roofs and eventually and jubilantly learned how to do emergency field repairs on giant Soviet combines. Hinton also tops the narrative with an epilogue where he summarizes how the various struggles in production he faced were early encounters with the line struggle that came to the fore in later years.

With unprecedented access to firsthand accounts, in Hundred Day War, (1972) William Hinton narrates the story of the intense struggle of Red Guard factions at Qinghua University during the Cultural Revolution, which eventually led to students constructing their own cannons and tanks to engage in armed conflict. These events were a direct product of the line struggle that was being waged at the top levels of the CPC. They reflected the intensity with which the Right and ultra-Left went to manipulate the people and the magnitude of the Left’s determination to resolve the factional divides in order to transform one of China’s most elite universities into a people’s university, with objective of educating and planting seeds for nurturing the next generation of proletarian intellectuals.

In Turning Point, (1972) Hinton projected the contending class forces that sprung up and the synthesis of mass movements with the party line upholding the Cultural Revolution. With incisive analysis he summed up how inspite of aberrations like factional fighting, disruption in production and higher education disrupted, overall, it was a consolidation of working class power. Hinton classically made a synthesis of revolutionary practice with theory.

Hinton here dealt with Class struggle under Socialism, Whose politics takes command, the forms the struggle adopted through attack and counter attack, the consolidating of working class power, the transformation through revolutionary Committees, and finally how a victory was being accomplished for Mao’s road.

Hinton dwelled on the three in one revolutionary committees first tried in Shantung and Heilungokiang.These comprised delegates from mass organisations, old party organisations who were revolutionary in orientation and from local army units.

Hinton vividly described the recurrent factionalism spurred by rebel red guards in fighting loyal red guards. It critically evaluated the red guard movement and it’s integration with student community. and attempt by opposition to subvert mass movements.

Hinton described how the revolutionary headquarters of Mao Tse Tung combated conservative headquarters.

A most descriptive account was given of the functioning of the Tachai Brigade. where collected ownership, production and social services escalated by the overcoming of narrow self interest through study and mutual self criticism Hinton described the method of earning in China’s communes, where work points were allotted for any productive job ,taking into account skills required. Work was now measured by periodically measuring each person as a worker, instead of calculating the actual work done.

In a breathtaking passage in Turning Point, Hinton situated the Cultural Revolution within a protracted, perhaps century’s long, global process of revolutionary struggle and transformation:

In the course of the Cultural Revolution Mao Tse-tung and his supporters, by mobilizing a great mass movement of the people, have confronted one great wave of capitalist restoration. Other waves are sure to follow. It will take decades, perhaps a century or two, before the working class can establish socialism so firmly in any one country that it can no longer be challenged. In fact this can probably only come about when socialism is established on a world scale. One can expect more cultural revolutions in China and many cultural revolutions in other parts of the world wherever working people take power and embark on socialist construction….All this indicates that socialist revolution is much more complex and difficult than most revolutionaries have hitherto supposed, that the seizure of power….is only the first step in a protracted revolutionary process and may well be easier than the steps which follow.”

In Shenfan (1983) Hinton denotes how the Cultural Revolution quickly degenerated into factionalism and unprincipled contests for power at national, provincial, and local levels. Hinton here launches an attack to criticize ultra-leftism; and groupings that split and wrecked mass movements, paving way for rightist forces to usurp power. He also rejected the seizure of power by revolutionary workers in Shanghai in 1967 .Hinton asserts in Shenfan that Mao was responsible for these leftist excesses because he refused to initiate mass campaigns to erase them and was making use of China’s Confucian and feudal culture to elevate a personality cult .

In Dazhai Revisited (1988) Hinton defended the era of collective agriculture in China, and warned of the disastrous implications of the new policies. He noted the sharp decline in capital construction or even maintenance of earlier construction, as well as the grave environmental damage being done in the new system, all of which would have a negative repercussion on agriculture.

The Great Reversal’ (1990) examines the path of agricultural reform over the past decade, and its consequences in different areas of the countryside and its implications for the country as a whole.. He brings to light the escalating landlessness, inequality, and the destruction of the nation’s natural resources and the collectively built infrastructure that was the great achievement of the revolution.


Hinton was unable to make an accurate diagnosis of what were the reasons for the Cultural Revolution failing or specific mistake4s in mass line. .He also did not uphold the so called gang of four as genuine mass revolutionaries LIKE Chang Chun Chiao and Chiang Ching , concluding that the Cultural revolution ended in a stalemate. Hinton diagnosed China to be semi-feudal and possibly failed to perceive the crystallisation of capitalist relations. He also was unable to influence the course of Maoism in USA.


Bill Hinton resurrected spirit of Maoist China till the death end –Harsh Thakor

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist Thanks information from Monthly Review,Essays of William Hinton ,Revolutionary Worker and the Guardian.

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