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Lifton suggests that the Maoists are trying to achieve ""symbolic immortality"" through their identification with an ongoing revolution. He posits anxieties about the death of Mao and the death of the revolution (implying that Russia, the U.S. and ""revisionist"" policy are merely subjective threats). The thesis requires more refinement and reinforcement. Lifton's bold abstractions are sometimes opaque. And he finds evidence for the syndrome in anything related to mortality: evil linked with death in Chinese rhetoric, army leaders' exhortations not to fear the enemy--which seem quite universal. Objective circumstances are neglected, from popular concern with the Vietnam war to basic issues of the Cultural Revolution like anti-elitism; Lifton devotes a mere footnote to the problem of bureaucracy, though he does comment on the new ""collective autonomy"" of workers, students and peasants. One has the impression that he has overextended concepts (like ""survivor paranoia"") which were appropriate in his Hiroshima study of a small group traumatized by a single event (Death In Life, 1968)-- and also overapplied the psychobiographical approach of his mentors Keniston and Erikson. It is true that, as Lifton says, ""a good part of our ignorance is conceptual""; but for lack of awareness of the factual content of local and national struggles, this dashing essay remains an exercise in psychologism.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1968
Publisher: Random House