American radical economists in the 1960s perceived China under Maoism as an important experiment in creating a new society, aspects of which they hoped could serve as a model for the developing world. But the knowledge of “actually existing Maoism” was very limited due to the mutual isolation between China and the US. This chapter analyses the First Friendship Delegation of American Radical Political Economists (FFDARPE) to the People’s Republic of China in 1972, consisting mainly of Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) members, which was the first visit of a group of American economists to China since 1949. Based on interviews with trip participants as well as archival and published material, this chapter studies what we can learn about the engagement with Maoism by American radical economists from their dialogues with Chinese hosts, from their on-the-ground observations, and their reflection upon return. We show how the visitors’ own ideas conflicted and intersected with their perception of the Maoist practice on gender relations, workers’ management, and life in the communes. We also shed light on the diverging conceptions of the role for economic expertise between URPE and late Maoism. As the first in-depth study on the FFDARPE, we provide rich empirical insights into an ice-breaking event in the larger process of normalization in the Sino-US relations, which ultimately led to the disillusionment of the Left with China.
The authors would like to thank Dwight Perkins, who has brought to our awareness that the First Friendship Delegation of American Radical Political Economists (FFDARPE) was the first delegation of American economists to visit China after the Nixon visit and thus sparked our interest in the subject. We are indebted to Carl Riskin who shared the delegation’s collective notes, introduced us to other delegation members, and provided feedback on a previous draft. We thank the interviewees Victor Garlin, Carl Riskin, Howard Wachtel, Tom Weisskopf, and June Zaccone for their insights, support, and time; Duncan Foley, Peter Nolan, Stephen Perry, Roger Sandilands, Anwar Shaikh and Vela Velupillai for conversations that informed this research; and an anonymous referee and Tiago Mata for helpful comments that improved an earlier version of this text. The usual caveat applies.
Weber, I.M. and Semieniuk, G. (2019), "American Radical Economists in Mao’s China: From Hopes to Disillusionment", Including A Symposium on 50 Years of the Union for Radical Political Economics (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 37A), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 31-63. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0743-41542019000037A005
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