Maoism, known in China as Mao Zedong Thought (Chinese: 毛泽东思想; pinyin: Máo Zédōng sīxiǎng), is a political theory derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong, whose followers are known as Maoists. Developed from the 1950s until the Deng Xiaoping reforms in the 1970s, it was widely applied as the guiding political and military ideology of the Communist Party of China and as theory guiding revolutionary movements around the world. The essential difference between Maoism and other forms of Marxism is that Mao said that peasants should be the bulwark of the revolutionary energy, led by the working class in China.
By the turn of the twentieth century, a proportionately small yet socially significant cross-section of China's traditional elite (i.e. landlords and bureaucrats) found themselves increasingly skeptical of the efficacy and even the moral validity of Confucianism. These skeptical iconoclasts formed a new segment of Chinese society, a modern intelligentsia, whose arrival, or as historian of China Maurice Meisner would label it, their defection, heralded the beginning of the destruction of the gentry as a social class in China. The fall of the last imperial Chinese dynasty in 1911 marked the final failure of the Confucian moral order and it did much to make Confucianism synonymous with political and social conservatism in the minds of Chinese intellectuals. It was this association of conservatism and Confucianism which lent to the iconoclastic nature of Chinese intellectual thought during the first decades of the twentieth century.
Chinese iconoclasm was expressed most clearly and vociferously by Chen Duxiu during the New Culture Movement which occurred between 1915 and 1919. Proposing the "total destruction of the traditions and values of the past", the New Culture Movement was spearheaded by the New Youth, a periodical which was published by Chen Duxiu and was profoundly influential on the young Mao Zedong, whose first published work appeared on the magazine's pages.
Along with iconoclasm, radical anti-imperialism dominated the Chinese intellectual tradition and slowly evolved into a fierce nationalist fervor which influenced Mao's philosophy immensely and was crucial in adapting Marxism to the Chinese model. Vital to understanding Chinese nationalist sentiments of the time is the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in 1919. The Treaty aroused a wave of bitter nationalist resentment in Chinese intellectuals as lands formerly ceded to Germany in Shandong were—without consultation with the Chinese—transferred to Japanese control rather than returned to Chinese sovereignty. The negative reaction culminated in the May 4th Incident which occurred on that day in 1919. The protest began with 3,000 students in Beijing displaying their anger at the announcement of the Versailles Treaty's concessions to Japan, yet rapidly took a violent turn as protesters began attacking the homes and offices of ministers who were seen as cooperating with, or in the direct pay of the Japanese. The May 4th Incident and Movement which followed, "catalyzed the political awakening of a society which had long seemed inert and dormant".
Yet another international event would have a large impact not only on Mao, but also on the Chinese intelligentsia: the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Although the revolution did elicit interest among Chinese intellectuals, socialist revolution in China was not considered a viable option until after the May 4 Incident. Afterwards, "[t]o become a Marxist was one way for a Chinese intellectual to reject both the traditions of the Chinese past and Western domination of the Chinese present".
During the period immediately following the Long March, Mao and the Communist Party of China (CPC) were headquartered in Yan'an, which is a prefecture-level city in Shaanxi province. During this period, Mao clearly established himself as a Marxist theoretician and he produced the bulk of the works which would later be canonized into the "thought of Mao Zedong". The rudimentary philosophical base of Chinese Communist ideology is laid down in Mao's numerous dialectical treatises and it was conveyed to newly recruited party members. This period truly established ideological independence from Moscow for Mao and the CPC. Although the Yan'an period did answer some of the questions, both ideological and theoretical, which were raised by the Chinese Communist Revolution, it left many of the crucial questions unresolved; including how the Communist Party of China was supposed to launch a socialist revolution while completely separated from the urban sphere.
Mao's Intellectual Marxist development can be divided into five major periods: (1) The Initial Marxist Period from 1920–1926; (2) the formative Maoist period from 1927–1935; (3) the mature Maoist period from 1935–1940; (4) the civil war period from 1940–1949; and (5) the post-1949 period, following the revolutionary victory.
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The theory of the New Democracy was known to the Chinese revolutionaries from the late 1940s. This thesis held that for the majority of the people of the planet, the long road to socialism could only be opened by a "national, popular, democratic, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution, run by the communists".
Holding that "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun", Maoism emphasizes the "revolutionary struggle of the vast majority of people against the exploiting classes and their state structures", which Mao termed a "people's war". Mobilizing large parts of rural populations to revolt against established institutions by engaging in guerrilla warfare, Maoist Thought focuses on "surrounding the cities from the countryside".
Maoism views the industrial-rural divide as a major division exploited by capitalism, identifying capitalism as involving industrial urban developed First World societies ruling over rural developing Third World societies. Maoism identifies peasant insurgencies in particular national contexts were part of a context of world revolution, in which Maoism views the global countryside would overwhelm the global cities. Due to this imperialism by the capitalist urban First World towards the rural Third World, Maoism has endorsed national liberation movements in the Third World.
Contrary to the Leninist vanguard model employed by the Bolsheviks, the theory of the Mass line holds that party must not be separate from the popular masses, either in policy or in revolutionary struggle. To conduct a successful revolution the needs and demands of the masses must be the most important issues.
The theory of the Cultural Revolution states that the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat does not wipe out bourgeois ideology—the class-struggle continues and even intensifies during socialism, therefore a constant struggle against these ideologies and their social roots must be conducted. Cultural Revolution is directed also against traditionalism.
Mao drew from the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in elaborating his theory. Philosophically, his most important reflections emerge on the concept of "contradiction" (maodun). In two major essays, On Contradiction and On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, he adopts the positivist-empiricist idea (shared by Engels) that contradiction is present in matter itself and thus also in the ideas of the brain. Matter always develops through a dialectical contradiction: "The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist".
Furthermore, each contradiction (including class struggle, the contradiction holding between relations of production and the concrete development of forces of production) expresses itself in a series of other contradictions, some dominant, others not. "There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions".
Thus the principal contradiction should be tackled with priority when trying to make the basic contradiction "solidify". Mao elaborates further on this theme in the essay On Practice, "on the relation between knowledge and practice, between knowing and doing". Here, Practice connects "contradiction" with "class struggle" in the following way: Inside a mode of production, there are three realms where practice functions: economic production, scientific experimentation (which also takes place in economic production and should not be radically disconnected from the former) and finally class struggle. These may be considered the proper objects of economy, scientific knowledge and politics.
These three spheres deal with matter in its various forms, socially mediated. As a result, they are the only realms where knowledge may arise (since truth and knowledge only make sense in relation to matter, according to Marxist epistemology). Mao emphasizes—like Marx in trying to confront the "bourgeois idealism" of his time—that knowledge must be based on empirical evidence.
Knowledge results from hypotheses verified in the contrast with a real object; this real object, despite being mediated by the subject's theoretical frame, retains its materiality and will offer resistance to those ideas that do not conform to its truth. Thus in each of these realms (economic, scientific and political practice), contradictions (principle and secondary) must be identified, explored and put to function to achieve the communist goal. This involves the need to know, "scientifically", how the masses produce (how they live, think and work), to obtain knowledge of how class struggle (the main contradiction that articulates a mode of production, in its various realms) expresses itself.
Mao held that contradictions were the most important feature of society and since society is dominated by a wide range of contradictions, this calls for a wide range of varying strategies. Revolution is necessary to fully resolve antagonistic contradictions such as those between labour and capital. Contradictions arising within the revolutionary movement call for ideological correction to prevent them from becoming antagonistic.
Three Worlds Theory states that during the Cold War two imperialist states formed the "first world"—the United States and the Soviet Union. The second world consisted of the other imperialist states in their spheres of influence. The third world consisted of the non-imperialist countries. Both the first and the second world exploit the third world, but the first world is the most aggressive party. The workers in the first and second world are "bought up" by imperialism, preventing socialist revolution. On the other hand, the people of the third world have not even a short-sighted interest in the prevailing circumstances, hence revolution is most likely to appear in third world countries, which again will weaken imperialism opening up for revolutions in other countries too.
Maoism departs from conventional European-inspired Marxism in that its focus is on the agrarian countryside, rather than the industrial urban forces—this is known as agrarian socialism. Notably, Maoist parties in Peru, Nepal and the Philippines have adopted equal stresses on urban and rural areas, depending on the country's focus of economic activity. Maoism broke with the state capitalist[dubious ] framework of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev, dismissing it as revisionist, a pejorative term among communists referring to those who fight for capitalism in the name of socialism and who depart from historical and dialectical materialism.
Although Maoism is critical of urban industrial capitalist powers, it views urban industrialization as a prerequisite to expand economic development and socialist reorganization to the countryside, with the goal being the achievement of rural industrialization that would abolish the distinction between town and countryside.
In its post-revolutionary period, Mao Zedong Thought is defined in the CPC's Constitution as "Marxism–Leninism applied in a Chinese context", synthesized by Mao and China's "first-generation leaders". It asserts that class struggle continues even if the proletariat has already overthrown the bourgeoisie and there are capitalist restorationist elements within the Communist Party itself. Maoism provided the CPC's first comprehensive theoretical guideline with regards to how to continue socialist revolution, the creation of a socialist society, socialist military construction and highlights various contradictions in society to be addressed by what is termed "socialist construction". While it continues to be lauded to be the major force that defeated "imperialism and feudalism" and created a "New China" by the Communist Party of China, the ideology survives only in name on the Communist Party's Constitution as Deng Xiaoping abolished most Maoist practices in 1978, advancing a guiding ideology called "socialism with Chinese characteristics".
Shortly after Mao's death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping initiated socialist market reforms in 1978, thereby beginning the radical change in Mao's ideology in the People's Republic of China (PRC). 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 in many areas the role of ideology in determining policy has thus been considerably reduced. Deng also separated Mao from Maoism, making it clear that Mao was fallible and hence 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.
Contemporary Maoists in China criticize the social inequalities created by the revisionist Communist Party. Some Maoists say that Deng's Reform and Opening economic policies that introduced market principles spelled the end of Maoism in China, although Deng himself asserted that his reforms were upholding Mao Zedong Thought in accelerating the output of the country's productive forces.
In addition, the party constitution has been rewritten to give the socialist ideas of Deng prominence over 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 restoring capitalism and there is a wide perception both inside and outside China that China has abandoned Maoism. However, while it is now permissible to question particular actions of Mao and talk about excesses taken in the name of Maoism, there is a prohibition in China on either publicly questioning the validity of Maoism or on questioning whether the current actions of the CPC 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 it also says 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. The official proclamation of the new CPC stance came in June 1981, when the Sixth Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee took place. The 35,000-word Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China reads:
Chief responsibility for the grave 'Left' error of the 'cultural revolution,' an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong... [and] far from making a correct analysis of many problems, he confused right and wrong and the people with the enemy... herein lies his tragedy.
Scholars outside China 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, who sought to "eradicate all ideological and physiological obstacles to economic reform". In 1978, this led to the Sino-Albanian split when Albanian leader Enver Hoxha denounced Deng as a revisionist and formed Hoxhaism as an anti-revisionist form of Marxism.
Mao himself is officially regarded by the CPC as a "great revolutionary leader" for his role in fighting against the Japanese fascist invasion during the Second World War and creating the People's Republic of China, but Maoism as implemented between 1959 and 1976 is regarded by today's CPC 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 being attributed to Mao himself. Thousands of Maoists were arrested in the Hua Guofeng period after 1976. The prominent Maoists Zhang Chunqiao and Jiang Qing were sentenced to death with a two-year-reprieve while some others were sentenced to life imprisonment or imprisonment for 15 years.
After the death of Mao in 1976 and the resulting power-struggles in China that followed, the international Maoist movement was divided into three camps. One group, composed of various ideologically nonaligned groups, gave weak support to the new Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping. Another camp denounced the new leadership as traitors to the cause of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. The third camp sided with the Albanians in denouncing the Three Worlds Theory of the CPC (see Sino-Albanian split).
Though initially praising the Soviet Union prior to, during and shortly after the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara later came out in support of Maoism and advocated the adoption of the ideology throughout Latin America. The pro-Albanian camp would start to function as an international group as well (led by Enver Hoxha and the APL) and was also able to amalgamate many of the communist groups in Latin America, including the Communist Party of Brazil and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in Ecuador. Later, Latin American Communists such as Peru's Shining Path also embraced the tenets of Maoism.
The new Chinese leadership showed little interest in the various foreign groups supporting Mao's China. Many of the foreign parties that were fraternal parties aligned with the Chinese government before 1975 either disbanded, abandoned the new Chinese government entirely, or even renounced Marxism–Leninism and developed into non-communist, social democratic parties. What is today called the "international Maoist movement" evolved out of the second camp—the parties that opposed Deng and said they upheld the true legacy of Mao.
From 1962 onwards, the challenge to the Soviet hegemony in the world communist movement made by the CPC resulted in various divisions in communist parties around the world. At an early stage, the Albanian Party of Labour sided with the 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 Workers Party of Vietnam and the Workers Party of Korea attempted to take a middle-ground position.
The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia is said to have been a replica of the Maoist regime. According to the BBC, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) in Cambodia, better known as the Khmer Rouge, identified strongly with Maoism and it is generally labeled a Maoist movement today. Maoists (and Marxists generally) contend that the CPK strongly deviated from Marxist doctrine and the few references to Maoist China in CPK propaganda were critical of the Chinese.
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 among the wave of student radicalism that engulfed the world in the 1960s and 1970s.
Only one Western classic communist party sided with the CPC, the Communist Party of New Zealand. Under the leadership of the 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.
The Progressive Youth Organization was a Maoist organization in Afghanistan. It was founded in 1965 with Akram Yari as its first leader, advocating the overthrow of the then-current order by means of people's war.
The Sino-Soviet split had an important influence on communism in Belgium. The pro-Soviet Communist Party of Belgium experienced a split of a Maoist wing under Jacques Grippa. The latter was a lower-ranking CPB member before the split, but Grippa rose in prominence as he formed a worthy internal Maoist opponent to the CPB leadership. His followers where sometimes referred to as "Grippisten/Grippistes". When it became clear that the differences between the pro-Moscow leadership and the pro-Beijing wing were too great, Grippa and his entourage decided to split from the CPB and formed the Communist Party of Belgium – Marxist–Leninist (PCBML). The PCBML had some influence, mostly in the heavily industrialized Borinage region of Wallonia, but never managed to gather more support than the CPB. The latter held most of its leadership and base within the pro-Soviet camp. However, the PCBML was the first European Maoist party that was officially recognized as a sister-party of the CPC by Beijing.
Though the PCBML never really gained a foothold in Flanders, there was a reasonably successful Maoist movement in this region. Out of the student unions that formed in the wake of the May 1968 protests, Alle Macht Aan De Arbeiders (AMADA) or All Power To The Workers, was formed as a vanguard party-under-construction. This Maoist group originated mostly out of students from the universities of Leuven and Ghent, but did manage to gain some influence among the striking miners during the shut-downs of the Belgian stonecoal mines in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This group became the Workers' Party of Belgium (WPB) in 1979 and still exists today, although its power base has shifted somewhat from Flanders towards Wallonia. The WPB stayed loyal to the teachings of Mao for a long time, but after a general congress held in 2008 the party formally broke with its Maoist/Stalinist past.
Union of Iranian Communists (Sarbedaran) was an Iran Maoist organization. UIC (S) was formed in 1976 after the alliance of a number of Maoist groups carrying out military actions within Iran. In 1982, the UIC (S) mobilized forces in forests around Amol and launched an insurgency against the Islamist Government. The uprising was eventually a failure and many UIC (S) leaders were shot.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a Maoist political and military organization. The DFLP's original political orientation was based on the view that Palestinian national goals could be achieved only through revolution of the masses and people's war.
Maoist movements in Portugal were very active during the 1970s, especially during the Carnation Revolution that led to the fall of the fascist government the Estado Novo in 1974. The largest Maoist movement in Portugal was the Portuguese Workers' Communist Party. The party was among the most active resistance movements before the Portuguese democratic revolution of 1974, especially among students of Lisbon. After the revolution, the MRPP achieved fame for its large and highly artistic mural paintings. It was intensely active during 1974 and 1975. At that time, the party had members that later came to be very important in national politics. For example, a future Prime Minister of Portugal, José Manuel Durão Barroso was active within Maoist movements in Portugal and identified as a Maoist.
In the 1980s, the Forças Populares 25 de Abril was a far-left Maoist armed organization operating in Portugal between 1980 and 1987 with the goal of creating socialism in post-Carnation Revolution Portugal.
In the United States during the late 1960s, parts of the emerging New Left rejected the Marxism espoused by the Soviet Union and instead adopted pro-Chinese communism. The Black Panther Party, especially under the leadership of Huey Newton, was influenced by Mao Zedong's ideas. Into the 1970s, Maoists in the United States formed a large part of the New Communist movement. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA is also a Maoist movement in theory. However, Mao was a nationalist and they are pushing for a global or continent wide communist government.
Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist (TKP/ML) is a Maoist organization in Turkey currently waging a people's war against the Turkish government. It was founded in 1972 with İbrahim Kaypakkaya as its first leader. The armed wing of the party is named the Workers' and Peasants' Liberation Army in Turkey (TIKKO).
Various efforts have sought to regroup the international communist movement under Maoism since the time of Mao's death in 1976.
Another effort at regrouping the international communist movement is the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations (ICMLPO). Three notable parties that participate in the ICMLPO are the Marxist–Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD), the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and Marxist–Leninist Communist Organization – Proletarian Way. The ICMLPO seeks to unity around Marxism-Leninism, not Maoism. However, some of the parties and organizations within the ICMLPO identify as Mao Zedong Thought or Maoist.
Maoism has fallen out of favour within the Communist Party of China, beginning with Deng Xiaoping's reforms in 1978. Deng believed that Maoism showed the dangers of "ultra-leftism", manifested in the harm perpetrated by the various mass movements that characterized the Maoist era. In Chinese communism, the term "left" can be taken as a euphemism for Maoist policies. However, Deng stated that the revolutionary side of Maoism should be considered separate from the governance side, leading to his famous epithet that Mao was "70% right, 30% wrong". Chinese scholars generally agree that Deng's interpretation of Maoism preserves the legitimacy of Communist rule in China, but at the same time criticizes Mao's brand of economic and political governance.
Critic Graham Young says that Maoists see Joseph Stalin as the last true socialist leader of the Soviet Union, but allows that the Maoist assessments of Stalin vary between the extremely positive and the more ambivalent. Some political philosophers, such as Martin Cohen, have seen in Maoism an attempt to combine Confucianism and socialism—what one such called "a third way between communism and capitalism".
Enver Hoxha critiqued Maoism from a Marxist–Leninist perspective, arguing that New Democracy halts class struggle, the theory of the three worlds is "counter-revolutionary" and questioned Mao's guerilla warfare methods.
Some say Mao departed from Leninism not only in his near-total lack of interest in the urban working class, but also in his concept of the nature and role of the party. For Lenin, the party was sacrosanct because it was the incarnation of the "proletarian consciousness" and there was no question about who were the teachers and who were the pupils. On the other hand, for Mao this question would always be virtually impossible to answer.
The implementation of Maoist thought in China was responsible for as many as 70 million deaths during peacetime, with the Cultural Revolution, Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957–1958 and the Great Leap Forward. Because of Mao's land reforms during the Great Leap Forward, which resulted in famines, thirty million perished between 1958 and 1961. By the end of 1961, the birth rate was nearly cut in half because of malnutrition. Active campaigns, including party purges and "reeducation" resulted in imprisonment and/or the execution of those deemed contrary to the implementation of Maoist ideals. The incidents of destruction of cultural heritage, religion and art remain controversial. Some Western scholars saw Maoism specifically engaged in a battle to dominate and subdue nature and was a catastrophe for the environment.
Mao also believed strongly in the concept of a unified people. These notions were what prompted him to investigate the peasant uprisings in Hunan while the rest of China's communists were in the cities and focused on the orthodox Marxist proletariat. Many of the pillars of Maoism such as the distrust of intellectuals and the abhorrence of occupational specialty are typical populist ideas. The concept of "People's War" which is so central to Maoist thought is directly populist in its origins. Mao believed that intellectuals and party cadres had to become first students of the masses to become teachers of the masses later. This concept was vital to the strategy of the "People's War".
Mao's nationalist impulses also played a crucially important role in the adaption of Marxism to the Chinese model and in the formation of Maoism. Mao truly believed that China was to play a crucial preliminary role in the socialist revolution internationally. This belief, or the fervor with which Mao held it, separated Mao from the other Chinese communists and led Mao onto the path of what Leon Trotsky called "Messianic Revolutionary Nationalism" which was central to his personal philosophy. German post-World World II Strasserist Michael Kühnen, himself a former Maoist, once praised Maoism as being a Chinese form of national socialism.
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