In Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-century World, Rebecca E. Karl tells the story of Mao Zedong’s path to the Head of the Chinese Communist Party through the development of the Maoist doctrine and firmly establishing himself as a leader (CCP). Calling his political theory Mao Zedong Thought, Mao firmly established the party’s ideology that guided the party and the country through the very raucous historical period. In contrast to the international Marxism, Mao based China’s revolution on peasantry forces rather than the industrial proletariat and ensured an interaction between theory and practice that allowed him to overcome the Japanese invasion and Nationalist mood within the country.
The tenets of Mao’s political theory upturned Marx’s focus on industrial laborers as the basis for the proletariat movement. China was not so developed industrially to have a large enough number of industrial workers to be able to launch a revolution. Coming from a peasant family and observing the way peasant organizations helped the joint efforts of the GMD and the CCP, Mao realized that in China peasantry could and should be the driving force of the revolution. Seeing the growing differences between China’s experience and theoretical tenets of international Marxism and Soviet Stalinism, Mao separated himself from them and concentrated on the goals inherent to and important for China such as the opposition to the Japanese, transformation of peasant society, and development of the anti-Nationalist direction. Only following these direction, Mao believed, the country could be united under the rule of the CCP with himself at the head.
Mao Zedong Thought promoted changes in social, cultural, economic, and military spheres. Taken from the theory of Socialism, Mao redistributed land leaving as much land as a family could till and taking the rest in communal ownership. Mao Zedong Thought promoted basic literacy so free schools were established in rural areas. Both males and females of any age could attend. Also the CCP established a large number of hospitals in rural areas and began teaching people more advanced hygiene than the one they got used to.
In order to assure good relations to the Army, Mao demanded soldiers to behave respectfully to peasants. There was a set of rules ensuring it, such as fixing all damaged articles, the no stealing policy, being polite and clean, etc.. Additionally, Mao encouraged the dissolution of hierarchy in organizations and the liberation of women. Obviously Mao’s feminism met hindrances in real life because society was not ready to accept liberated women but at least attempts were made. For example, women still had to make a choice between work and family. However, the CCP developed “the most progressive marriage laws in China” and women were able to get a divorce and own land.
Inasmuch as Mao had a tendency to adopt the information and ideology he had to the surrounding conditions, he developed his methods of leading guerilla warfare. Whereas the Communist Party advised by the Soviet model insisted on the tactics of breaking up into small units and dispersing all over the district, Mao believed it can be done only in urban conditions. The realities of peasant forces prompted Mao to develop an opposite strategy. Called “luring the enemy deep” Mao’s strategy was not to break up his forces but keep them together and wait until the enemy comes to their territory. It made the revolutionaries mobile and flexible and they could overcome the enemy easily.
The civil war in China lasted from the late 1920s till 1950. Given a prolonged time and the fact that the civil unrest was aggravated with the war with the Japanese, Mao was aware that the country is too weak to try and solve the problem quickly. He saw the way out in the notion of “protracted war”. It continued the previously used notion of “luring the enemy deep” but also added some adjustments. In order to win both the civil war and the war against the Japanese, Mao’s Communist commanders had to be very flexible. It was impossible for them to follow some rigorous rules and stick to the once and for all strategies. The only tactics that could help them win was called “jigsaw” because judging from the situation they had to decide on their own “whether to go on the offensive, to retreat, to engage in mobile warfare, or to melt into the populace and become invisible”.
Such tactics required flexibility, knowledge, and common sense from commanders but also the awareness and consciousness of common people. The masses should be ready to be mobilized any time. Therefore, Mao ensured a close cooperation between the commanders and the masses. Sometimes the guerilla soldiers dispersed among the masses, and sometimes the masses were mobilized and fought alongside the guerilla commanders. At the same time, guerilla warfare was supported by socioeconomic conditions when the peasantry were aware of the political situation, oppression, and class struggle and therefore their assistance for the guerilla warfare was conscious and helpful. Mao’s idea of combining theory and practice was called “mass line” and it can be formulated in the motto “to the masses-from the masses-to the masses”. It meant that Mao did not believe that the masses could blindly follow the orders but in fact they could suggest and prompt better solutions based on their circumstances. Therefore, Mao advocated the constant changes and calibrations of the policy depending on the current analysis of the situation.
By the end of the 1930s, Mao saw that China could not repeat after the Soviet Union radical collectivization and the confiscation of private property. Mao chose to be more cautious not to lose economic benefits. He realized that if the CCP takes away all property it would interfere with productivity. Therefore, Mao advocated “a mixed economy comprised of small-scale capitalism coexisting with state-ownership of banks and core industries”. Simultaneously Mao acted in all directions and, apart from the social, economic, and military spheres, he took control of culture as well. Mao argued that “literature and art are subordinate to politics”. Thus Mao assured that the party’s ideology covered all spheres of life and truly become the mass ideology, the ideology with which the masses can be guided and controlled.
Drawing upon Marxism derived from the works of Karl Marx and Leninism and Stalinism taken as a guiding ideology in the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong came up with a combination of these theoretical teachings adapted to the realities of the twentieth century China. Mao applied the ideas of Marx and practical know-hows of Stalin and Lenin to the historical experience of Chinese people and thus made Mao Zedong Thought the theoretical groundwork that established the guideline for the major developments in the country such as revolution and guerilla warfare. Mao saw discrepancies between theory and practice and wanted to avoid it by combining book learning and implementation. Thus Mao achieved great results due to his understanding of the right historical moment and a combination of successful strategies.