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Our Heritage Journal ISSN 0474-9030 is a multidisciplinary journal for research publication. Urgent Notice to authors: Note: Removed from UGC-CARE List on 27th Feb 2020. Title of the document

POLITICAL STRATEGY OF MAO TSE TUNG


Mao Zedong was a Chinese revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, poet, political theorist and the founding father of the Republic of China. He was born in 1893 in a well to do peasant family. Running away from home was his first departure from convention.  His participation in the 1911 revolution was minor. His conversion to a Marxist began from 1918. In 1918 he worked as a librarian in Beijing University and it was here that he began his career as a labour organizer. Mao in his early years had read few classical Marxist texts, and therefore was at a disadvantage. It was following the Long March that he read Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin extensively. By 1925 Mao started concentrating all his efforts on rural China. This new approach of the “sinification of Marxism” was the key to his success.  Thus it becomes necessary to see how this approach evolved in the larger context of Mao’s political strategy and theory. At the time of the May 4th Movement Mao had spoken about the need for a cultural revolution. During this period, in the Hunanese province he was confronted with the outpour of revolutionary peasant energy. Mao now began to see two kinds of liberation; cultural – from superstition and social – from unjust land revolution. Throughout the 1920s, Mao led several labour struggles based upon his studies of the propagation and organization of the contemporary labour movements. However, these struggles were successfully subdued by the government, and Mao fled from Changsha, Hunan after he was labeled a radical activist. He pondered these failures and finally realized that industrial workers were unable to lead the revolution because they made up only a small portion of China's population, and unarmed labour struggles could not resolve the problems of imperial and feudal suppression.

During the 1920’s Mao also had control of several organs of both the CPC and KTM which enabled him to propagate his line of thought. The Peasant Movement Institute provided Mao a platform to express his ideas on peasants to young revolutionaries. Mao was also the nominal head of the propaganda department of the KMT central executive. Once again he was able to direct attention to the “center of gravity” of the revolution i.e. the peasants. Moreover he was the editor of the KMT journal “political weekly” through which he also expressed his faith in peasants.  

For the most part Mao believed in Sun Yat Sen’s three principles of nationalism, democracy and social equality and livelihood. He also strongly believed in nationalizing all land and distributing it to peasants. In Marxist thought the final struggle is between the worker and the capitalist. Prior to this the landlordism had to be replaced by capitalism. The Bolsheviks continued to believe that a true Communist revolution would originate from and concern the working class. Mao had a different perception. Mao believed that the situation in China needed a different approach and thus sought peasant recruits. This was not merely a practical tool but even Mao’s ideology stated that the peasant must be at the center of the revolution.


“Without the poor peasants, it would never have been possible to bring about in the countryside the present state of the revolution to overthrow local bullies and gentry or to complete the democratic revolution.  Being the most revolutionary, the poor peasants have won the leadership of the peasant association. Their leadership is absolutely necessary. Without the peasant there would be no revolution and to reject them is to reject the revolution”.

He also attacked traditional Chinese culture; Confucianism, monarchism, and the authority of the elders. He saw the Chinese as dominated by three separate institutions – State, Clan and family, gods and spirits. Women were dominated by all three institutions as well as by men. These four authorities – polity, clan, theocratic and the husband all of which had to be disbanded in order for China to become a truly egalitarian state. Mao believed that the peasant by the very nature of their lives were the most free of theocratic and clan associations.
In 1927, Mao conducted the famous Autumn Harvest Uprising in Changsha, as commander-in-chief. Mao led an army, called the "Revolutionary Army of Workers and Peasants", which was defeated and scattered after fierce battles. Afterwards, the exhausted troops were forced to leave Hunan for Sanwan, Jiangxi, where Mao re-organized the scattered soldiers, rearranging the military division into smaller regiments.

Mao now ordered that each company must have a party branch office with a commissar as its leader who would give political instructions based upon superior mandates. This military rearrangement in Sanwan, Jiangxi initiated the CPC's absolute control over its military force and has been considered to have the most fundamental and profound impact upon the Chinese revolution. Later, they moved to the Jinggang Mountains, Jiangxi. In the Jinggang Mountains, Mao persuaded two local insurgent leaders to pledge their allegiance to him. There, Mao joined his army with that of Zhu De, creating the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army of China, Red Army in short. Mao's tactics were strongly based on that of the Spanish Guerillas during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1931 to 1937, Mao emerged slowly as the undisputed leader of the Communist Movement in China. While in Mao’s own account he describes himself a natural leader, there were external factors that aided this rise. This rise can be looked at in two parts; within soviet areas and within the Communist Movement at large. It was alleged that Mao orchestrated the Futian incident which helped him consolidate his hold over the party mechanism. In Jiangxi, Mao's authoritative domination in terms of appointing his own leaders to the Jiangxi Soviet Republic, especially that of the military force, was challenged by the Jiangxi branch of the CPC and military officers. Mao's opponents, among whom the most prominent was Li Wenlin, the founder of the CPC's branch and Red Army in Jiangxi, were against Mao's land policies and proposals to reform the local party branch and army leadership. Mao reacted first by accusing the opponents of opportunism and kulakism and then set off a series of systematic suppressions starting with the arrest of 70 leaders. Benjamin Schwartz believes that it is impossible to deny the gulf between the Mao machine and the Jiangxi soviet leadership. This according to Schwartz is part of Mao’s larger construct of balancing the military and the civil structures. While he believed that there had to be a disciplined subordination of the military to the civil, he also stressed that it was the military wing which essentially protected the civil front and hence there must be mutual respect. Hence by 1931 Mao’s position of leadership was sufficiently strong for him to be elected Chairman of the the Soviet Republic of China which was a small republic in the mountainous areas in Jiangxi under soviet control.

Within the Communist movement at large his view that peasants were an integral part of the communist revolution in China led to frictions with both the Shanghai high command as well as the COMINTERN. However, Mao ensured that he did not flout the directives of the high command openly. Under the direction of Mao, it is reported that horrible methods of torture took place and given names such as 'sitting in a sedan chair', 'airplane ride', 'toad-drinking water', and 'monkey pulling reins. Short (2001) estimates that tens of thousands of suspected enemies, perhaps as many as 186,000, were killed during this purge. Critics accuse Mao's authority in Jiangxi of being secured and reassured through the revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism. With the Nationalist government at this time struggling to build up its military might against Japan, the CCP was struggling to survive in the villages. Although the party had 60,000 members in 1927 the “white terror” unleashed by Chiang decimated it.  Around 1930, there had been more than ten regions, usually entitled "soviet areas", under control of the CPC. The relative prosperity of "soviet areas" startled and worried Chiang Kai-shek, chairman of the Kuomintang government, who waged five waves of besieging campaigns against the "central soviet area." More than one million Kuomintang soldiers were involved in these five campaigns, four of which were defeated by the Red Army led by Mao. By June 1932 (the height of its power), the Red Army had no less than 45,000 soldiers, with a further 200,000 local militia acting as a subsidiary force.  There were now only a dozen or so base areas where leaders were holed up. Moreover Chen tu-hsiu was succeeded by a variety of young leaders who were all handicapped as they lived as underground fugitives. Due to adverse circumstances the base of the CPC had to be shifted from Shanghai to Jiangxi of which Mao was the head.

Mao, with the help of Zhu De, built a modest but effective army, undertook experiments in rural reform and government, and provided refuge for Communists fleeing the rightist purges in the cities. Mao's methods are normally referred to as Guerrilla warfare; but he himself made a distinction between guerrilla warfare (youji zhan) and Mobile Warfare (yundong zhan). Mao’s first principle of guerilla warfare was to draw the enemy in till his supply lines were cut. The second was to attack only when assured of success. However Chiang was effectively able to counter this using a German technique which ensured that supply lines were never cut. This made the third principle, that the peasantry be mobilized to provide intelligence, men and food ineffective. Mao's Guerrilla Warfare and Mobile Warfare was based upon the fact of the poor armament and military training of the Red Army which consisted mainly of impoverished peasants, who, however, were all encouraged by revolutionary passions and aspiring after a communist utopia. In 1933, under increasing pressure from the KMT encirclement campaigns, there was a struggle for power within the Communist leadership. Mao was removed from his important positions and replaced by individuals (including Zhou Enlai) who appeared loyal to the orthodox line advocated by Moscow and represented within the CPC by a group known as the 28 Bolsheviks.

Chiang, who had earlier assumed nominal control of China due in part to the Northern Expedition, was determined to eliminate the Communists. By October 1934, he had them surrounded, prompting them to engage in the "Long March", a retreat from Jiangxi in the southeast to Shaanxi in the northwest of China which was at the periphery on nationalist power. It was during this 9,600 kilometer year-long journey that Mao emerged as the top Communist leader, aided by the Zunyi Conference and the defection of Zhou Enlai to Mao's side. Initially when Zhou en Lai led the march, there were severe losses thus prompting Mao’s unorthodox strategies to gain acceptance. At the Zunyi Conference, Mao entered the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.The march began with 100,000 followers and ended with a few thousand. During the Long March the CPC reexamined its policy and identified its failures and means to rectify the same. With the emergence of Mao, the control of the COMINTERN also declined. Edgar Snow has presented Mao during this period to be the main leader of the Chinese Communist Movement. After the Long March there were a series of conflicts within the CPC over ideology, methodology etc. In spite of such conflicts however, Chinese communism came to be equated to Maoism. Maoist ideas however do not depart seriously from Marxist- Leninist ideas but did have certain digressions. For instance, Mao now openly attacked the concept of a solely urban revolution in the Chinese context and advocated peasant support. His two 1937 essays, 'On Contradiction' and 'On Practice', are concerned with the practical strategies of a revolutionary movement and stress the importance of practical, grass-roots knowledge, obtained through experience. It was during this period that Mao read extensively on Marxism and gave various lectures that demonstrated his capacity for intellectual leadership. Fundamentally Mao identified the bourgeoisie of the imperialist nations and the landlords of feudal society to be the enemies of the state. In the face of such enmity, he argued that the Communist Revolution had to be an armed struggle as people were deprived of all political and democratic rights. However this did not mean abandoning other forms of struggle. Geographically he believed that the struggle would come from the rural areas. Again, this did not equate to abandoning the urban areas as ultimately the goal of the revolution was to capture the metropolis. Thus as per Mao, the main task was to overthrow the imperialists through a National Revolution following which the feudal class had to be dismantled via a democratic revolution.

Mao argued that analysis of classes in the countryside was required and identification with classes to work with and work against needed to be made. Both essays reflect the guerilla roots of Maoism in the need to build up support in the countryside against a Japanese occupying force and emphasize the need to win over hearts and minds through 'education'. Mao believed that the Chinese society was comprised of colonial, semi colonial and semi feudal elements. The various classes which were capable of fighting such a society would constitute the “motive force” of the revolution. Mao made a distinction between the ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ and the ‘nationalist bourgeoisie’- they were the petty bourgeoisie including intellectuals, craftsmen, artisans, and traders etc all of whom were a reliable ally of the proletariat.

The other important class was the peasants. They were primarily of three types; rich (10% of population), middle (20% of population), and poor (70% of population in the rural countryside). Thus he believed that the poor and middle peasants would be the motive force of the revolution. Mao’s view on peasants had by this time matured. The principle was to find out what peasants wanted and give it to them; first of all, local peace and order; second an army of friendly troops who helped in peasant life; harvesting crops when necessary; third a recruitment of local activists who had the potential of becoming peasant leaders; a programme for economic betterment partly through improved crops but mainly through agricultural cooperation in the form of mutual aid, organized transport, and production of consumer goods in cooperatives. He believed that the peasants were oppressed by; heavy rents; high interest rates; heavy local taxes; exploitation of farm labour; collusion of landowners with warlords and corrupt officials. On propagation of communist ideals, Mao believed that the party worker must be a catalyst and guide and not a know it all. In short, the idea of the “mass line” was arrived upon: the party must go among the people to discover their grievances and needs, which could then formulated by the party and explained to the masses as to be their own best interests. In this way, the war of resistance against Japan provided the sanction for the CCP mobilization of the Chinese masses in the countryside. As per the orthodox line, Mao believed that the proletariat were also key to the revolution. Industrial workers in China numbered around 2.5m and shop assistants and handicraft workers around 12m. Mao also included farm labourers as part of the proletariat. They were similarly subject to imperial, bourgeoisie, feudal oppression. Mao argued that the Chinese proletariat was made up of “bankrupted bourgeoisie” which made them a natural ally of the peasants. Mao also spoke of a class of vagrants in China: urban and rural enemployed persons, who usually resorted to illegal activities to make a living. He believed that these people should be remoulded and guarded against the destructive nature of society. According to the standard Chinese Communist Party line, from his base in Yan'an, Mao led the Communist resistance against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).However, Mao further consolidated power over the Communist Party in 1942 by launching the Shu Fan movement, or "Rectification" campaign against rival CPC members such as Wang Ming, Wang Shiwei, and Ding Ling.

During the Sino-Japanese War, Mao Zedong's military strategies, laid out in On Guerrilla Warfare were opposed by both Chiang Kai-shek and the United States. The US regarded Chiang as an important ally, able to help shorten the war by engaging the Japanese occupiers in China. Chiang, in contrast, sought to build the ROC army for the certain conflict with Mao's communist forces after the end of World War II. This fact was not understood well in the US, and precious lend-lease armaments continued to be allocated to the Kuomintang. In turn, Mao spent part of the war (as to whether it was most or only a little is disputed) fighting the Kuomintang for control of certain parts of China. Both the Communists and Nationalists have been criticized for fighting amongst themselves rather than allying against the Japanese Imperial Army. Some argue, however, that the Nationalists were better equipped and predominantly were engaged with the Japanese paving the way for the communists to establish themselves within China.

After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, now openly against the People's Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong in the civil war for control of China. The U.S. support was part of its view to contain and defeat world communism. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-covert support to Mao (acting as a concerned neighbor more than a military ally, to avoid open conflict with the U.S.) and gave large supplies of arms to the Communist Party of China, although newer Chinese records indicate the Soviet "supplies" were not as large as previously believed, and consistently fell short of the promised amount of aid. In 1948, the People’s Liberation Army starved out the Kuomintang forces occupying the city of Changchun. At least 160,000 civilians are believed to have perished during the siege, which lasted from June until October.  On January 21, 1949, Kuomintang forces suffered massive losses against Mao's forces. In the early morning of December 10, 1949, PLA troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT-occupied city in mainland China, and Chiang Kai-shek evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan (Formosa) that same day. If we accept that Mao after his humiliation at the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1932-4, and a long struggle from 1935-43, established his own political and ideological authority, the question of what sort of political and economic system did he want to establish is one that needs answering. The central problem was that of the relations between party, state and army, one that was a controversial issue even post 1949. The term used by Mao was yuan – hua or “integration” of these three forces which would unify the nation. Mao argued that necessary division of labor between various organs can exist without posing a threat to the unity of the movement only on the condition that the whole system be penetrated and controlled by the unifying force of the party. In the early 1940’s when the party bases were often fragmented and isolated this concept of integration was extremely important. The overarching theme of centralized control over a decentralized situation dominated Mao’s theories. Thus central to Mao’s theory of state is a concept known as “new democracy”. This evolved during a graduated series of Congress’. While in the short term he promulgated this doctrine as a United Front effort involving all the people of China, in the long term he built up the party organization and control frantically. The corner stone was centralization and pyramidical, hierarchical structure. He referred to his state as “democratic centralism”. This in essence was a dictatorship of all revolutionary classes under the effective control of the proletarian vanguard, the communist party. Power would be concentrated in the hands of a few to ensure that majoritarianism does not prevail. Economically new democracy involved nationalizing several important economic structures. In 1949 when the communist revolution was successful it came to be called “People’s Democratic Dictatorship”. This was to guarantee legitimacy in order to ensure that counter revolutionary forces did not arise.

As for the class nature of the new state the people who exercised dictatorship would be the workers, peasantry, and urban petty and national bourgeoisie with the working class enjoying hegemony. Thus however unorthodox his means to attain power were, as soon as victory was within his grasp he declared to follow the soviet line. 

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