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Exploring Chinese History
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Maoism

Contents

Introduction

Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought (Chinese: 毛泽东思想, pinyin: Mo Zdōng Sīxiǎng), is a variant of Marxism-Leninism derived from the teachings of the Chinese communist Mao Zedong.
It should be noted that the word Maoism has never been used by the Communist Party of China in its English-language publications, except pejoratively. The term Mao Tse-tung Thought has always been the preferred term. Likewise, Maoist groups outside China have usually called themselves Marxist-Leninist rather than Maoist, a reflection of Mao's view that he did not change, but only developed, Marxism-Leninism. However, some Maoist groups, believing Mao's theories to have been sufficiently substantial additions to the basics of the Marxist canon, call themselves "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" (MLM) or simply "Maoist." The Maoist Internationalist Movement is an example of this usage.
In the People's Republic of China Mao Tse-Tung Thought is part of the official doctrine of the Communist Party of China, but since the 1978 beginning of Deng Xiaoping's market economy-oriented reforms, the concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has come to the forefront of Chinese politics, Chinese economic reform has taken hold, and the official definition and role of Mao's original ideology in the PRC has been radically altered and reduced (see History of China). Outside the PRC, the term Maoism was used from the 1960s onwards, usually in a hostile sense, to describe parties or individuals who supported Mao Zedong and his form of communism, which was in staunch opposition to the communism practiced in the Soviet Union.
Since the death of Mao and the reforms of Deng, most of the parties explicitly defining themselves as "Maoist" around the world have disappeared, but various communist groups, particularly armed ones like the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the New People's Army of the Philippines, continue to advance Maoist ideas and get press attention for them. These groups generally have the idea that Mao's ideas were betrayed before they could be fully or properly implemented.
Since Mao was an ardent supporter of the brand of socialism advanced in the Soviet Union before the rise of Nikita Khruschev, it is usually accepted that Maoists follow an anti-revisionist rather than a "Reform Communist" political line.

Maoist Theory

Unlike the earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Mao focused on the peasantry as a revolutionary force which, he said, could be mobilized by a Communist Party with their knowledge and leadership. The model for this was of course the Chinese Communist rural insurgency of the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually brought the Communist Party of China to power. Furthermore, unlike other forms of Marxism-Leninism in which large-scale industrial development was seen as a positive force, Maoism made all-round rural development the priority. Mao felt that this strategy made sense during the early stages of socialism in a country in which most of the people were peasants.
Unlike most other political ideologies, including other socialist and Marxist ones, Maoism contains an integral military doctrine and explicitly connects its political ideology with military strategy. In Maoist thought, "political power comes from the barrel of the gun" (one of Mao's quotes), and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war" of armed struggle involving guerrilla warfare in three stages.
The first stage involves mobilizing and organizing the peasantry. The second stage involves setting up rural base areas and increasing coordination among the guerrilla organizations. The third stage involves a transition to conventional warfare. Maoist military doctrine likens guerrilla fighters to fish swimming in a sea of peasants, who provide logistical support.
Maoism emphasizes "revolutionary mass mobilization" (physically mobilizing the vast majority of a population in the struggle for socialism), the concept of New Democracy, and the Theory of Productive Forces as applied to village-level industries independent of the outside world. In Maoism, deliberate organizing of massive military and economic power is necessary to defend the revolutionary area from outside threat, while centralization keeps corruption under supervision, amid strong control, and sometimes alteration, by the revolutionaries of the area's arts and sciences.
A key concept that distinguishes Maoism from other left-wing ideologies is the belief that the class struggle continues throughout the entire socialist period, as a result of the fundamental antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and communism. Even when the proletariat has seized state power through a socialist revolution, the potential remains for a bourgeoisie to restore capitalism. Indeed, Mao famously stated that "the bourgeoisie [in a socialist country] is right inside the Communist Party itself", implying that corrupt Party officials would subvert socialism if not prevented. This was the main reason for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in which Mao exhorted the public to "Bombard the [Party] headquarters!" and wrest control of the government from bureaucrats (such as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiao Ping) perceived to be on the capitalist road.
Mao's doctrine is best summarized in the Little Red Book of Mao Zedong, which was distributed to everyone in China as the basis of revolutionary education. This book consists of quotations from the earliest days of the revolution to the mid-1960s, just before the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

Maoism in China

Since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, and the reforms of Deng Xiaoping starting in 1978, the role of Mao's ideology within the PRC has radically changed. Although Mao Zedong Thought nominally remains the state ideology, Deng's admonition to seek truth from facts means that state policies are judged on their practical consequences and the role of ideology in determining policy has been considerably reduced. Deng also separated Mao from Maoism, making it clear that Mao was fallible and hence that the truth of Maoism comes from observing social consequences rather than by using Mao's quotations as holy writ, as was done in Mao's lifetime.
In addition, the party constitution has been rewritten to give the pragmatic ideas of Deng Xiaoping as much prominence as those of Mao. One consequence of this is that groups outside China which describe themselves as Maoist generally regard China as having repudiated Maoism and restored capitalism, and there is a wide perception both in and out of China that China has abandoned Maoism. However, while it is now permissible to question particular actions of Mao and to talk about excesses taken in the name of Maoism, there is a prohibition in China on either publicly questioning the validity of Maoism or questioning whether the current actions of the Communist Party of China are "Maoist."
Although Mao Zedong Thought is still listed as one of the four cardinal principles of the People's Republic of China, its historical role has been re-assessed. The Communist Party now says that Maoism was necessary to break China free from its feudal past, but that the actions of Mao are seen to have led to excesses during the Cultural Revolution. The official view is that China has now reached an economic and political stage, known as the primary stage of socialism, in which China faces new and different problems completely unforeseen by Mao, and as such the solutions that Mao advocated are no longer relevant to China's current conditions.
Both Maoist critics outside China and most Western commentators see this re-working of the definition of Maoism as providing an ideological justification for what they see as the restoration of the essentials of capitalism in China by Deng and his successors.
Mao himself is officially regarded by the Chinese communist party as a "great revolutionary leader" for his role in fighting the Japanese and creating the People's Republic of China, but Maoism as implemented between 1959 and 1976 is regarded by today's Communist Party of China as an economic and political disaster. In Deng's day, support of radical Maoism was regarded as a form of "left deviationism" and being based on a cult of personality, although these 'errors' are officially attributed to the Gang of Four rather than to Mao himself.
Although these ideological categories and disputes are less relevant at the start of the 21st century, these distinctions were very important in the early 1980s, when the Chinese government was faced with the dilemma of how to allow economic reform to proceed without destroying its own legitimacy, and many argue that Deng's success in starting Chinese economic reform was in large part due to his being able to justify those reforms within a Maoist framework.
Some historians today regard Maoism as an ideology devised by Mao as a pretext for his own quest for power. The official view of the Chinese government was that Mao did not create Maoism to gain power, but that in his later years, Mao or those around him were able to use Maoism to create a cult of personality.
Both the official view of the Communist Party of China and much public opinion within China regards the latter period of Mao's rule as having been a disaster for their country. The various estimates of the number of deaths attributable to Mao's policies that have been offered remain highly controversial. For more discussion of this period, see the article Cultural Revolution.
There is also a strain of Chinese Neo-Leftism in the country that seeks to return China to the days after Mao but before Deng; for more on that current's beliefs, see its article.
Some Western scholars argue that China's rapid industrialization and relatively quick recovery from the brutal period of civil wars 1911-1949 was a positive impact of Maoism, and contrast its development specifically to that of Southeast Asia, Russia and India.

Maoism Internationally

From 1962 onwards the challenge to the Soviet hegemony in the World Communist Movement made by the Chinese Communist Party resulted in various divisions in communist parties around the world. At an early stage, the Albanian Party of Labour sided with CPC. So did many of the mainstream (non-splinter group) communist parties in South-East Asia, like the Burmese Communist Party, Communist Party of Thailand, and Communist Party of Indonesia. Some Asian parties, like the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Workers Party of Korea attempted to take a middle-ground position.
In the west and south, a plethora of parties and organizations were formed that upheld links to the CPC. Often they took names such as Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) or Revolutionary Communist Party to distinguish themselves from the traditional pro-Soviet communist parties. The pro-CPC movements were, in many cases, based amongst the wave of student radicalism that engulfed the world in the 1960s and 1970s.
Only one Western classic communist party sided with CPC, the Communist Party of New Zealand. Under the leadership of CPC and Mao Zedong, a parallel international communist movement emerged to rival that of the Soviets, although it was never as formalized and homogeneous as the pro-Soviet tendency.
After the death of Mao in 1976 and various power-struggles in China that followed, the international Maoist movement was, in rough terms, divided into three. One portion supported although not necessarily with great enthusiasm the new Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping. Another portion denounced the new leadership as traitors to the cause of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought. A third portion sided with the Albanians in denouncing the Three Worlds Theory of the CPC.
The pro-Albanian category would effectively start to function as an international tendency of its own, led by Enver Hoxha and the APL. That tendency was able to amalgate most of the groups in Latin America, such as the Communist Party of Brazil. The first category was extremely heterogenous.
The new Chinese leadership had little interest in the various foreign factions supporting Mao's China, and the movement fell into disarray. Many of the parties that had been fraternal parties of the Chinese government before 1975 either disbanded, abandoned the Chinese entirely, or even denounced Marxism-Leninism and developed into non-communist, social democratic parties. What is today sometimes referred to as the "international Maoist movement" evolved out of the second category- the parties that opposed Deng and claimed to uphold the legacy of Mao.
During the 1980s two parallel regroupment efforts emerged, one centered around the Communist Party of the Philippines, which gave birth to the ICMLPO, and one that birthed the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, which the Shining Path communist guerrilla group and the Revolutionary Communist Party USA played a leading role in forming.
Both the International Conference and the RIM tendencies claimed to uphold Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, although RIM was later to substitute that ideology with what they termed 'Marxism-Leninism-Maoism'.
Today the Maoist organizations grouped in RIM have their strongest hold in South Asia, and are at the forefront of the armed struggles taking place in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. There are also lesser struggles going on in Peru and Turkey.
In the Philippines, the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is not part of the RIM, leads an armed struggle through its military wing, the New People's Army.
The largest Maoist group in the USA is the RIM-affiliated Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. In Germany the ICMLPO-affiliated MLPD is the largest Maoist group in the country.

Military Strategy

The military aspects of Maoist theory have garnered much more universal respect than his political or economic ideas. Mao is widely regarded as a brilliant military strategist even among those who oppose his other ideas. His writings on guerrilla warfare and the notion of people's war are now generally considered to be essential reading, both for those who wish to conduct guerrilla operations and for those who wish to oppose them.
As with his economic and political ideas, Maoist military ideas seem to have more relevance at the start of the 21st century outside of the People's Republic of China than within it. There is a consensus both within and outside the PRC that the military context that the PRC faces in the early 21st century are very different from the one faced by China in the 1930s. As a result, within the People's Liberation Army there has been extensive debate over whether and how to relate Mao's military doctrines to 21st-century military ideas, especially the idea of a revolution in military affairs.

Editor's Note

The inclusion of Maoism in the 'Philosophy' section of this website was not an easy choice. The depth of controversy and political ramifications relating to this issue, past and present, is not without notice.
However, as the whole of present- day China's government utilizes 'Mao Zedong thought' as the central core to its everyday operations, not to mention a rather large group of adherents both within and without the borders of China itself, it would seem incoherent to advance the objective of this website not to include 'Maoism' as a legitimate Chinese philosophy.

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