Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Was Mao a Great M-L?

First Published: Discussion Bulletin #3, March 17, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Was Mao Tsetung a great Marxist-Leninist? Is Mao Tsetung Thought the further development of Marxism-Leninism in the changed conditions of the present epoch? These are questions of great importance to all serious revolutionaries striving to work—out a revolutionary strategy to guide their activities. They can be answered only on the basis of an objective scientific analysis of the whole of the activity of Mao Tsetung, including his writings, using the method of dialectical and historical materialism. No clarity can be reached by the eclectic method of selecting such parts of Mao’s works as are suitable to produce slick arguments to substantiate an already formed subjective opinion on the matter, as Albert Langer does in his article, “Where is Maoism After Mao”, Nation Review, Oct 20-26, 1978. To get to the truth one must put subjective feelings aside and submit all the known facts to objective examination.

In the case of Mao, such a scientific analysis has been extremely difficult because of the paucity of real facts. The vastness of the territory of China and the size of its population have made it almost impossible for anyone, apart from those in the central leadership of the country, to gain even a relatively accurate knowledge of what has gone on there, while the Communist Party of China has remained a closed book to anyone from outside. Breaking the tradition established in the international communist movement, since the 8th Congress in 1956, the fraternal parties have not even been invited to send delegations to the congresses of that party, let alone been allowed to gain any real direct knowledge of its structure and methods. Apart from these obstacles, considering that Mao was the leader of a major party and state for many decades, the amount of published material written by him is quite small.

Despite all the difficulties of knowing the reality of China, however, it is abundantly clear that a great people’s revolution took place in China under Mao’s leadership, through which the country was liberated from the feudal-compradore capitalist-foreign imperialist regime, leading to very rapid development of the productive forces of the country and vast improvements in the living conditions of the working masses. This, together with the things Mao wrote and said, couched in Marxist-Leninist terms, about building socialism in China, the carrying out of the land reform, the establishment of state industry, etc., convinced the vast majority of progressive people in the world that Mao was indeed, a Marxist-Leninist. However, for the reasons stated above, this was an opinion based on very limited knowledge and has proved to be an error of subjectivism.

The issue is being further complicated today, when the present bourgeois nationalists who have seized complete power in the Chinese party and state, finding a number of Mao’s well-known writings a hindrance to them on their course of rapidly building up capitalism in China in the hope of turning that country into another social-imperialist superpower, are actively trying to discredit them and turn their author into a harmless icon. For example Hua Kuo Feng and Co. must be sorely embarrassed by the article, “Is Yugoslavia a Socialist Country?”, which was written under Mao’s direct supervision during the polemics between the CPC and the Soviet revisionists.

On the evidence of this article alone, it would appear that Mao had a correct Marxist-Leninist stand towards the revisionist renegade Tito, but now there are other facts which must be taken into consideration. In 1956, when a fraternal delegation from the Party of Labour of Albania attended the 8th Congress of the CPC, the leaders of the Chinese party, beginning with Mao Tsetung, down through Chou En-Lai, Kang Shen etc., one after another tried to convince the Albanians that the line of the international communist movement towards Tito was wrong. Mao said, “Stalin was wrong about Tito, he is a revolutionary.” Perhaps it may be argued that this was simply a misjudgment that was corrected on further consideration. Certainly this seemed to be the case when the article, “Is Yugoslavia a Socialist Country?” was published later. However, in his speech to the electors of zone No. 209, on 8th November, 1978, Comrade Enver Hoxha said: “The Chinese leaders, through Chou En-lai and company, repeatedly tried to blackmail us to impose a military alliance with Yugoslavia and Rumania on us.” If Mao were a Marxist-Leninist, could he have attempted to impose a military alliance with a known enemy of socialism and an agency of imperialism such as Titoite Yugoslavia is, on socialist Albania? Hence, despite the fine words of the article, it is clear the Mao Tsetung did not have a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary stand towards the traitor Tito, and this has been one of the touchstones for distinguishing genuine Marxist -Leninists from revisionists for the past thirty years.

After Mao’s death, the present revisionist leaders of China made a great display of publishing the report, “Ten Major Relationships”, which they claimed was being published for the first time, In fact, this report, which Mao delivered to a plenum of the Central Committee of the CPC on 25th April 1956, or at least large parts of it, had been published many years earlier. For example, the section making a revisionist assessment of Stalin was quoted by the bourgeois-liberal writer, Han Suyin, in the “Morning Deluge”, published in 1971 or 1972. Hence the argument of people like Albert Langer, that the gang of reactionaries in control of China today can publish whatever distortions of Mao’s writings they please, an argument which is undoubtedly true, does not affect the present issue. In his attitude towards Stalin, which has been a touch-stone to distinguish genuine Marxist-Leninists from revisionists, anarchists, trotskyites and renegades of every hue since the early 1920’s, once again Mao was not a Marxist-Leninist.

The report, “Ten Major Relationships” was delivered only weeks after the notorious 20th Congress of the CPSU at which Khrushchev launched the full-scale revisionist offensive against Marxism-Leninism and socialism, and Mao was already fully informed about what had occurred at that Congress. The only possible conclusion that can be drawn from Mao’s report is that he was in complete accord with the revisionist line of Khrushchev of attacking all the achievements of the socialist revolution in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin. How, then can it be claimed that Mao Tsetung was a great Marxist-Leninist?

Let us return to the second of the questions asked at the start of this article. The line that Mao Tsetung Thought is the further development of Marxism-Leninism in the changed conditions of the present epoch has been widely propagated from about 1967 onwards. Hence there is no question here of distortion by the present revisionist leadership of China. Mao, himself, clearly did not dissent from this concept. The present epoch is the epoch of imperialism, of capitalism in decay, described by Lenin as “the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat.” Despite all the developments that have occurred, the fundamental nature of the epoch has not changed. Hence the entire concept that Mao Tsetung Thought is the new development of Marxism-Leninist in the changed conditions is revisionism of precisely the same order as the claim that the Khrushchevite theories of the ’changed nature of imperialism’, ’peaceful co-existence’, ’a world without arms and without wars’, ’the state and the party of the entire people’ etc., are the new development of Marxism-Leninist in the new conditions. And it has led to precisely the same result of building alliances with United States and other imperialisms, which began with Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

From his scientific study of society, and especially of the inherent contradictions of capitalism, Karl Marx showed that the proletariat had been born as the only force capable of resolving these contradictions, which it must do by smashing the state power of the bourgeoisie by revolutionary violence, establishing its own state power, the .dictatorship of the proletariat, and building socialist society. Lenin showed how the proletariat must build its own party “of a new type” as the leadership of the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no other force which can lead the revolution to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and build socialist society.

History has confirmed that the proletariat must exercise the absolute leader ship in the revolution through its Marxist-Leninist party. Of course it must establish alliances with other appressed and exploited strata, but it must not share the leading role with them on pain of having the revolution stop half-way. This is a universal law of revolution in the epoch of imperialism.

How does Mao’s idea that the countryside must liberate the cities fit in with this? If this were just a tactical concept developed in the concrete conditions of China where the vast masses of the population were poor peasants who made up the main fighting forces of the revolution, under the leadership of the proletarian party and the proletarian ideology and with coordination of the struggle in the countryside and in the cities, it would not be incorrect and this is what revolutionaries throughout the world thought Mao meant. However, the history of the revolution in China shows that this was not the case. Mao always, supported pluralism of leadership, pluralism of ideology, pluralism of political parties, even after the seizure of power in the revolution. (Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools contend, the existence of other political parties right up to, communism etc.) hence he was opposed to the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution and the construction of socialism. And when this idea is extended to the international scene, the “third world” countries, (not classes) become the “main motive force of the revolution”. This is flagrant legation of the fundamental Marxist-Leninist principle of the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution. Hence, on this count, too, Mao Tsetung was not a Marxist-Leninist.

In the last years of Mao’s life, and especially after his death, it became abundantly clear that the CPC and its Central Committee were riven by factions. The existence of two lines within the party was raised to a principle, while Mao, himself, spoke of the existence of a “bourgeoisie within the party”. Such a thing is utterly incompatible with the Marxist-Leninist concept of the “party of the new type”. Of course the pressure of old ideas and the existence of capitalism and imperialism in the world environment make it inevitable that fragmented bourgeois concepts exist in and are expressed by individual members of the party, but the party must struggle to correct those concepts and take stern measures to ensure that they do not develop into a second line within the party, violating its monolithic nature and leading directly to factional activity, Meanwhile to talk of a bourgeoisie within the proletarian party is an absurd contradiction in terms. If such a state of affairs exists then we have to do, not with a proletarian party, but with a bourgeois workers’ party, of which history gives us countless examples.

If Mao were a Marxist-Leninist, how could he allow such a situation? More and more evidence is now coming to light to prove that to Mao, the role of the Communist party was relatively unimportant, and that the CPC was never a party of the new type that exercised its leading role over everything and everybody in the revolution and the whole of social life. The party which could be seen, which had basic organisation, which held occasional congresses (astonishingly few and irregular congresses for a party in power) was largely a formality. Real power, the true leading role, was in the hands of a special apparatus, the General Directory of the Central Committee and the military detachment described as Mao’s bodyguard, which functioned directly under Mao Tsetung, quite independently of the formal party. Thus the proletariat of China was never in the position to exert its leading role in all aspects of life, through its revolutionary party. This, more than anything else, proves that Mao was not a Marxist-Leninist.

It is undeniably true that, under Mao’s leadership, a mighty people’s revolution changed the face of China and brought one third of the population of the earth out of the stage of mediaeval backwardness imposed by the feudal-compradore-imperialist regime and led to colossal economic and social development in China. It is also true that the Chinese people’s armies, under the leadership of Mao Tsetung and the CPC, played an important role in the defeat of Japanese and world fascism during world war 2. None of these things, however, prove that Mao Tsetung was a Marxist-Leninist. The liberation of the productive forces strangled by the old feudal and semi-feudal relations, the land reform, the establishing of industry, including state industry, etc., are all issues which can be decided within the confines of the bourgeois- democratic revolution, as history has proved, while even the western imperialist powers played an important role in the defeat of fascism in world war 2.

Whether or not the state-owned industries in China would become socialist or capitalist industries depended on whether the proletariat or the bourgeoisie held state power. For a number of years the issue hung in the balance, with the national bourgeoisie and the proletariat contending for hegemony. Precisely because of Mao’s lack of Marxist-Leninist clarity and proletarian class consciousness, elements of the national bourgeoisie became dominant in the Communist Party of China and Mao realised that his position as leader was threatened by Liu Shao Chi, Peng Chen, Teng Hsiao Ping and Co. Hence he issued the call, “attack the headquarters” i.e., the leading organs of the party, of which had had lost control. But he did not appeal to the proletariat to re-establish their class control of the party, but called on the youth, especially the student youth. Could this be the act of a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary? Only after two years did the working class of Shanghai enter the battle and decide the issue in favour of the proletarian revolution. Liu Shao Chi, Peng Chen, Teng Hsiao Ping, and many others were dis-graced and disappeared from sight, but the victory of the proletariat was only a partial one. The proletarian cultural revolution was never carried out in the armed forces, which remained under the control of the military hierarchy loyal to Mao personally, rather than to the proletariat. Under the slogan of loyalty to Mao first, the rebuilt communist party became even more an appendage of the apparatus built up around Mao. Proven enemies of the proletarian revolution were treated with astonishing leniency, not even expelled from the party in many instances, and after several years, many of them were rehabilitated and returned to their former positions. In this way the proletarian class nature of the Communist Party of China was a fiction and the national bourgeoisie re-established itself in key positions. The defeat of Liu Shao Chi had taught it that Mao’s personal position was unchallengeable, but since Mao had never built the CPC as a genuine proletarian Marxist-Leninist Party, after his death it was a simple matter for the successor Mao had appointed – something utterly inadmissible in Marxist-Leninist parties – to use the apparatus inherited from Mao to eliminate any forces which might challenge the absolute hegemony of the national bourgeoisie in the party and state.

The amazing history of the rise and fall, rise and fall, only to rise again, of Teng Hsiao Ping, in itself, clearly shows that Mao Tsetung lacks the proletarian class stand of a Marxist Leninist revolutionary. Even after Teng’s second disgrace, following the armed insurrection he organised in Peking early in 1976, when the central committee under Mao’s leadership decided, “the contradictions with Teng Hsiao Ping have now become antagonistic,” he was not expelled from the party. Hence, Mao Tsetung along with the other members of the CC of the CPC tolerated the presence of proved class enemies in the party.

People like Albert Langer, who describes himself as an “unreconstructed Maoist”, recognise that the present leaders of China have set a course of capitalist development in China, flagrantly betraying the aims of the Chinese people in their great revolution, but they do not want to see that such a course was the inevitable outcome of the policy of Mao and Mao Tsetung Thought. They base their judgement on certain of Mao’s writings and sayings which are, certainly, completely contrary to what is being done in China today. But to judge the role of Mao correctly, one must consider all his writings and especially his actions. The Chinese attempt to place socialist Albania in a position of neo-colonialist dependence on China, the facts of which are only now being made public, began long ago, when Mao Tsetung was alive and fully in command of the situation in China. The recent clear facts on the Chinese attempts to sabotage the construction of socialism in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, like the theory of three worlds, are the logical outcome of the policies of Mao Tsetung and Mao Tsetung Thought.

To carry out the proletarian socialist revolution and build socialist society requires the consistent application of Marxism-Leninism, the scientific ideology of the proletariat in every aspect of the life and struggle of society. Perhaps it is significant that in his article, “Where Maoism is After Mao”, our unreconstructed Maoist, Albert Langer, does not mention this vital factor. Like his mentor Mao, he is not a Marxist-Leninist, but an eclecticist.