Despite his massive mistakes (all Chinese leaders’ mistakes have massive consequences) and the widespread misery he caused through his revolutionary rashness, Mao Zedong was the greatest political figure of the 20th. century. On balance, his weaknesses were outshone by his strengths:
- A great strategic mind: he was right about the Japanese, the USA, and the Atomic Bomb (“even if we have to go without trousers, we must have the Atomic Bomb“).
- He was a master of both military strategy and
- Tactics, almost unheard-of in a single individual.
- He liberated, re-imagined and re-made China, the oldest and largest culture on earth.
- Though the son of a peasant who maintained his peasant habits to the end (he preferred to defecate in the garden), he was a fine poet and a great statesman.
- Much of his theoretical and pragmatic thought still guides China today.
- The greatest fighter for women’s liberation in history.
GDP in China and India from 1925 to 1985, in thousands of millions of dollars, adjusted for inflation. Note the continuing growth in Mao’s last 10 years. This period is now classed as the ‘Cultural Revolution years’ and widely supposed to have been an economic disaster. That’s not what the raw facts say.
The death rate in China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, based on official UN figures. (Go to http://data.un.org/Default.aspx and enter “Crude Death Rate” or “life expectancy”.) Note how China improves much more rapidly that the others, overtaking the Philippines in health well before it overtook it economically.
The slight rise in the death-rate after Mao is misleading: life expectancy has continued to rise. I think it reflects the fact that people who live longer still do die eventually.
While Mao’s mistakes were monumental, they must be kept in – Chinese – perspective. Here is what Amartya Sen, who received the Nobel Prize for his work on famine, said about the terrible famine for which Mao was responsible (and for which he took responsibility):
India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame. 1958-1961 (Dreze and Sen)
Look at the stunning success that China enjoys today, the unparalleled popularity of its government, and its growing influence on world affairs. Then look at Mao’s thinking. See how much he contributed to today’s China. As Gwydion M. Williams explains, “Deng should also have been aware that Mao’s politics got China working as something like a modern state, when it had bungled various attempts at modernisation over the previous 100 years. Most would-be modernisers in China imitated the externals of Western life without understanding anything significant. This included the adoption of Christianity, which had lost its grip on the minds of most of Britain’s rulers and Britain’s thinkers some time in the 18thcentury. Adam Smith was one of the rejectionists, and went as far as was safe in his era to treat the Christian faith as a load of baloney.” Here is what the Chinese government says about Mao today:
“Comrade Mao Zedong was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist. It is true that he made gross mistakes during the “cultural revolution” but, if we judge his activities as a whole, his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his mistakes. His merits are primary and his errors secondary. He rendered indelible meritorious service in
- founding and building up our Party and
- the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,
- in winning victory for the cause of liberation of the Chinese people,
- in founding the People’s Republic of China and
- in advancing our socialist cause.
- He made major contributions to the liberation of the oppressed nations of the world and
- to the progress of mankind.”
”The Chinese Communists, with Comrade Mao Zedong as their chief representative, made a theoretical synthesis of China’s unique experience in its protracted revolution in accordance with the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism. This synthesis contributed a scientific system of guidelines befitting China’s conditions, and it is this synthesis which is Mao Zedong Thought, the product of the integration of the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution.
“Making revolution in a large Eastern semi-colonial, semi-feudal country is bound to meet with many special, complicated problems which cannot be solved by reciting the general principles of Marxism-Leninism or by copying foreign experience in every detail. The erroneous tendency of making Marxism a dogma and deifying Comintern resolutions and the experience of the Soviet Union prevailed in the international communist movement and in our Party mainly in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and this tendency pushed the Chinese revolution to the brink of total failure. It was in the course of combating this wrong tendency and making a profound summary of our historical experience in this respect that Mao Zedong Thought took shape and developed.
“It was systematized and extended in a variety of fields and reached maturity in the latter part of the Agrarian Revolutionary War and the War of Resistance Against Japan, and it was further developed during the War of Liberation and after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Mao Zedong Thought is Marxism-Leninism applied and developed in China; it constitutes a correct theory, a body of correct principles and a summary of the experiences that have been confirmed in the practice of the Chinese revolution, a crystallization of the collective wisdom of the Chinese Communist Party. Many outstanding leaders of our Party made important contributions to the formation and development of Mao Zedong Thought, and they are synthesized in the scientific works of Comrade Mao Zedong. ”
“Mao Zedong Thought is wide-ranging in content. It is an original theory which has enriched and developed Marxism-Leninism. Proceeding from China’s historical and social conditions, Comrade Mao Zedong made a profound study of the characteristics and laws of the Chinese revolution, applied and developed the Marxist-Leninist thesis of the leadership of the proletariat in the democratic revolution, and established the theory of new-democratic revolution–a revolution against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism waged by the masses of the people on the basis of the worker-peasant alliance under the leadership of the proletariat. His main works on this subject include:
• Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society
• Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan
• A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire
• Introducing “The Communist”
• On New Democracy,
• On Coalition Government, The Present Situation and Our Tasks.
The basic points of this theory are:
1. The peasantry was the most reliable ally of the proletariat. Through its vanguard, it was possible and necessary for the proletariat, with its progressive ideology and its sense of organization and discipline, to raise the political consciousness of the peasant masses, establish rural base areas, wage a protracted revolutionary war and build up and expand the revolutionary forces. Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out that “the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy”. Together with Party building, they constituted the “three magic weapons” of the revolution. They were the essential basis which enabled the Chinese Communist Party to become the core of leadership of the whole nation and to chart the course of encircling the cities from the countryside and finally winning countryside victory.
2. On the socialist revolution and socialist construction. On the basis of the economic and political conditions for the transition to socialism ensuing on victory in the new democratic revolution, Comrade Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party followed the path of effecting socialist industrialization simultaneously with socialist transformation and adopted concrete policies for the gradual transformation of the private ownership of the means of production, thereby providing a theoretical as well as practical solution to the difficult task of building socialism in a large country such as China, a country which was economically and culturally backward, with a population accounting for nearly one-fourth of the world’s total.
3. Under socialism, Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out, the people had the same fundamental interests, but all kinds of contradictions still existed among them, and that contradictions between the enemy and the people and contradictions among the people should be strictly distinguished from each other and correctly handled. He proposed that among the people we should follow a set of correct policies. We should follow the policy of “unity-criticism-unity” in political matters, the policy of “long-term coexistence and mutual supervision” in the Party’s relations with the democratic parties, the policy of “let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend” in science and culture, and, in the economic sphere the policy of over-all arrangement with regard to the different strata in town and country and of consideration for the interests of the state, the collective and the individual, all three.
4. He repeatedly stressed that we should not mechanically transplant the experience of foreign countries, but should find our own way to industrialization, a way suited to China’s conditions, by proceeding from the fact that China is a large agricultural country, taking agriculture as the foundation of the economy, correctly handling the relationship between heavy industry on the one hand and agriculture and light industry on the other, and attaching due importance to the development of the latter.
5. He stressed that in socialist construction we should properly handle the relationships between economic construction and building up defence, between large-scale enterprises and small and medium-scale enterprises, between the Han nationality and the minority nationalities, between the coastal regions and the interior, between the central and the local authorities, and between self-reliance and learning from foreign countries, and that we should properly handle the relationship between accumulation and consumption and pay attention to over-all balance.
6. Moreover, he stressed that the workers were the masters of their enterprises and that cadres must take part in physical labor and workers in management, that irrational rules and regulations must be reformed and that the three-in-one combination of technical personnel, workers and cadres must be effected.
7. He formulated the strategic idea of bringing all positive factors into play and turning negative factors into positive ones so as to unite the whole Chinese people and build a powerful socialist country.
8. The important ideas of Comrade Mao Zedong concerning the socialist revolution and socialist construction are mainly contained in such major works as Report to the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, On the Ten Major Relationships, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People and Talk at an Enlarged Work Conference Convened by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
9. On the building of the revolutionary army and military strategy. Comrade Mao Zedong methodically solved the problem of how to turn a revolutionary army chiefly made up of peasants into a new type of people’s army which is proletarian in character, observes strict discipline and forms close ties with the masses. He laid it down that the sole purpose of the people’s army is to serve the people whole-heartedly, he put forward the principle that the Party commands the gun and not the other way round, he advanced the Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention and stressed the practice of political, economic and military democracy and the principles of the unity of officers and soldiers, the unity of army and people and the disintegration of the enemy forces, thus formulating by way of summation a set of policies and methods concerning political work in the army.
10. In his military writings such as On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party, Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War, Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War Against Japan, On Protracted War and Problems of War and Strategy, Comrade Mao Zedong summed up the experience of China’s protracted revolutionary wars and advanced the comprehensive concept of building a people’s army and of building rural base areas and waging people’s war by employing the people’s army as the main force and relying on the masses.
11. Raising guerrilla war to the strategic plane, he maintained that guerrilla warfare and mobile warfare of a guerrilla character would for a long time be the main forms of operation in China’s revolutionary wars. He explained that it would be necessary to effect an appropriate change in military strategy simultaneously with the changing balance of forces between the enemy and ourselves and with the progress of the war.
12. He worked out a set of strategies and tactics for the revolutionary army to wage people’s war in conditions when the enemy was strong and we were weak. These strategies and tactics include fighting a protracted war strategically and campaigns and battles of quick decision, turning strategic inferiority into superiority in campaigns and battles, and concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one.
13. During the War of Liberation, he formulated the celebrated ten major principles of operation. All these ideas constitute Comrade Mao Zedong’s outstanding contribution to the military theory of Marxism-Leninism. After the founding of the People’s Republic, he put forward the important guideline that we must strengthen our national defence and build modern revolutionary armed forces (including the navy, the air force and technical branches) and develop modern defence technology (including the making of nuclear weapons for self-defence).
14. He penetratingly elucidated the vital importance of policy and tactics in revolutionary struggles. He pointed out that policy and tactics were the life of the Party, that they were both the starting-point and the end-result of all the practical activities of a revolutionary party and that the Party must formulate its policies in the light of the existing political situation, class relations, actual circumstances and the changes in them, combining principle and flexibility. He made many valuable suggestions concerning policy and tactics in the struggle against the enemy, in the united front and other questions.
15. He pointed out among other things: that, under changing subjective and objective conditions: a weak revolutionary force could ultimately defeat a strong reactionary force; that we should despise the enemy strategically and take him seriously tactically; that we should keep our eyes on the main target of struggle and not hit out in all directions; that we should differentiate between and disintegrate our enemies, and adopt the tactic of making use of contradictions, winning over the many, opposing the few and crushing our enemies one by one; that in areas under reactionary rule, we should combine legal and illegal struggle and, organizationally, adopt the policy of assigning picked cadres to work underground; that, as for members of the defeated reactionary classes and reactionary elements, we should give them a chance to earn a living and to become working people living by their own labor, so long as they did not rebel or create trouble; and that the proletariat and its party must fulfil two conditions in order to exercise leadership over their allies: (a) Lead their followers in waging resolute struggles against the common enemy and achieving victories; (b) Bring material benefits to their followers or at least avoid damaging their interests and at the same time give them political education.
16. These ideas of Comrade Mao Zedong’s concerning policy and tactics are embodied in many of his writings, particularly in such works as Current Problems of Tactics in the Anti-Japanese United Front, On Policy, Conclusions on the Repulse of the Second Anti-Communist Onslaught, On Some Important Problems of the Party’s Present Policy, Don’t Hit Out in All Directions and On the Question of Whether Imperialism and All Reactionaries Are Real Tigers.
17. On ideological and political work and cultural work. In his On New Democracy, Comrade Mao Zedong stated: Any given culture ( as an ideological form) is a reflection of the politics and economics of a given society, and the former in turn has a tremendous influence and effect upon the latter; economics is the base and politics the concentrated expression of economics. In accordance with this basic view, he put forward many important ideas of far-reaching and long-term significance. For instance, the theses that ideological and political work is the life-blood of economic and all other work and that it is necessary to unite politics and economics and to unite politics and professional skills, and to be both red and expert; the policy of developing a national, scientific and mass culture and of letting a hundred flowers blossom, weeding through the old to bring forth the new, and making the past serve the present and foreign things serve China; and the thesis that intellectuals have an important role to play in revolution and construction, that intellectuals should identify themselves with the workers and peasants and that they should acquire the proletarian world outlook by studying Marxism-Leninism, by studying society and through practical work.
18. He pointed out that “this question of ‘for whom?’ is fundamental; it is a question of principle” and stressed that we should serve the people whole-heartedly, be highly responsible in revolutionary work, wage arduous struggle and fear no sacrifice.
19. Many notable works written by Comrade Mao Zedong on ideology, politics and culture, such as The Orientation of the Youth Movement, Recruit Large Numbers of Intellectuals, Talks at the Yan’an Forum of Literature and Art, In Memory of Norman Bethune, Serve the People and The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains, are of tremendous significance even today.
20. On Party building. It was a most difficult task to build a Marxist, proletarian Party of a mass character in a country where the peasantry and other sections of the petty bourgeoisie constituted the majority of the population, while the proletariat was small in number yet strong in combat effectiveness. Comrade Mao Zedong’s theory on Party building provided a successful solution to this question.
21. His main works in this area include Combat Liberalism, The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War, Reform Our Study, Rectify the Party’s Style of Work, Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing, Our Study and the Current Situation, On Strengthening the Party Committee System and Methods of Work of Party Committees.
22. He laid particular stress on building the Party ideologically, saying that a Party member should join the Party not only organizationally but also ideologically and should constantly try to reform his non-proletarian ideas and replace them with proletarian ideas. He indicated that the style of work which entailed integrating theory with practice, forging close links with the masses and practicing self-criticism was the hallmark distinguishing the Chinese Communist Party from all other political parties in China.
23. To counter the erroneous “Left” policy of “ruthless struggle and merciless blows” once followed in inner-Party struggle, he proposed the correct policy of “learning from past mistakes to avoid future ones and curing the sickness to save the patient”, emphasizing the need to achieve the objective of clarity in ideology and unity among comrades in inner-Party struggle.
24. He initiated the rectification campaign as a form of ideological education in Marxism-Leninism throughout the Party, which applied the method of criticism and self-criticism. In view of the fact that our Party was about to become and then became a party in power leading the whole country, Comrade Mao Zedong urged time and again, first on the eve of the founding of the People’s Republic and then later, that we should remain modest and prudent, guard against arrogance and rashness and keep to plain living and hard struggle in our style of work, and that we should be on the lookout against the corrosive influence of bourgeois ideology and should oppose bureaucratism which would alienate us from the masses.
25. The living soul of Mao Zedong Thought is the stand, viewpoint and method embodied in its component parts mentioned above. This stand, viewpoint and method boil down to three basic points: to seek truth from facts, the mass line, and independence. Comrade Mao Zedong applied dialectical and historical materialism to the entire work of the proletarian party, giving shape to this stand, viewpoint and method so characteristic of Chinese Communists in the course of the Chinese revolution and its arduous, protracted struggles and thus enriching Marxism-Leninism.
26. They find expression not only in such important works as Oppose Book Worship, On Practice, On Contradiction, Preface and Postscript to “Rural Survey”, Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership and Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? but also in all his scientific writings and in the revolutionary activities of the Chinese Communists.
27. Seeking truth from facts. This means proceeding from reality and combining theory with practice, that is, integrating the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution. Comrade Mao Zedong was always against studying Marxism in isolation from the realities of Chinese society and the Chinese revolution. As early as 1930, he opposed blind book worship by emphasizing that investigation and study is the first step in all work and that one has no right to speak without investigation. On the eve of the rectification movement in Yan’an, he affirmed that subjectivism is a formidable enemy of the Communist Party, a manifestation of impurity in Party spirit.
28. He stressed that the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge is the dynamic, revolutionary theory of reflection and that full scope should be given to man’s conscious dynamic role, when it is based on and is in conformity with objective reality. Basing himself on social practice, he comprehensively and systematically elaborated the dialectical materialist theory on the sources, the process and the purpose of knowledge and on the criterion of truth. He said that as a rule, correct knowledge can be arrived at and developed only after many repetitions of the process leading from matter to consciousness and then back to matter, that is, leading from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. Therefore, dialectics should not be viewed as a formula to be learned by rote and applied mechanically, but should be closely linked with practice and with investigation and study and should be applied flexibly. He forged philosophy into a sharp weapon in the hands of the proletariat and the people for knowing and changing the world. His distinguished works on China’s revolutionary war, in particular, provide outstandingly shining examples of applying and developing the Marxist theory of knowledge and dialectics in practice. Our Party must always adhere to the above ideological line formulated by Comrade Mao Zedong.
29. The mass line means everything for the masses, reliance on the masses in everything, and “from the masses, to the masses”. The Party’s mass line in all its work has come into being through the systematic application in all its activities of the Marxist-Leninist principle that the people are the makers of history. It is a summation of our Party’s invaluable historical experience in conducting revolutionary activities over the years under difficult circumstances in which the enemy’s strength far outstripped ours. This means concentrating the ideas of the masses and turning them into systematic ideas, then going to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through, and testing the correctness of these ideas in the practice of the masses. And this process goes on, over and over again, so that the understanding of the leadership becomes more correct, keener and richer each time.
30. Independence and self-reliance are the inevitable corollary of carrying out the Chinese revolution and construction by proceeding from Chinese reality and relying on the masses. The proletarian revolution is an internationalist cause which calls for the mutual support of the proletariats of different countries. But for the cause to triumph, each proletariat should primarily base itself on its own country’s realities, rely on the efforts of its own masses and revolutionary forces, integrate the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of its own revolution and thus achieve victory. Comrade Mao Zedong always stressed that our policy should rest on our own strength and that we should find our own road of advance in accordance with our own conditions.
31. Mao Zedong Thought is the valuable spiritual asset of our Party. It will be our guide to action for a long time to come. The Party leaders and the large group of cadres nurtured by Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought were the backbone forces in winning great victories for our cause; they are and will remain our treasured mainstay in the cause of socialist modernization. While many of Comrade Mao Zedong’s important works were written during the periods of new-democratic revolution and of socialist transformation, we must still constantly study them. This is not only because one cannot cut the past off from the present and failure to understand the past will hamper our understanding of present-day problems, but also because many of the basic theories, principles and scientific approaches set forth in these works are of universal significance and provide us with invaluable guidance now and will continue to do so in the future.