Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party, USA (Marxist-Leninist)

Initial Views: On the Role of Mao Tsetung... in the Rise of Revisionism in the Communist Party of China

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 5, No. 18, October 15, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Since the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976, revisionism has emerged full-blown within the Communist Party of China. China has emerged internationally as a contender for world power. The alliance with U.S. imperialism has been consolidated and agents of imperialism are welcomed in Peking with open arms. Parading under a socialist cover, Chinese revisionism attacks and subverts the world revolution, giving imperialism a temporary new lease on life.

Internationally a great debate rages on the merit of Mao Tsetung and his role in the development and consolidation of revisionism within the Chinese Party and State. It is the position of the CPUSA/ML that China was set on the revisionist course long before Mao’s death. Chinese revisionism did not mysteriously spring forth one morning in late 1976. There is a close connection between the political line and policies advocated byMao and the CPC prior to his death. and those pursued today the revisionist leadership of the CPC. Recognition of the past revisionist seeds and the present revisionist weeds have led our Party and the entire international communist movement to delve more deeply into the history of China and take up more vigorously the struggle against Chinese revisionism and Mao Tsetung Thought.

The Political Report adopted by the Founding Congress of the CPUSA/ML in December of 1978 concluded that Mao Tsetung Thought, elaborated as a system, was opposed to Leninism. Although the Party was founded on this correct stand, the importance of completing an all-round investigation of Mao Tsetung Thought and advancing a scientific position with all due speed was not well grasped.

The shortcomings in the Party’s work on this question have been pointed out in criticisms. One example is the following letter:

Overall, I think your publication is very good. I have read it fairly consistently for the last three years. Further, I agree with your current position condemning Chinese revisionism.&

...In sum, UNITE! has mistakenly in the past supported China in general and the theory of the “three worlds” in particular (prior to September 1977) and mistakenly elevated Mao Tsetung to a status not warranted. Further, UNITE! has actively praised and promoted Imperialism and the Revolution in which Hoxha states that Mao Tsetung’s revisionism is long-standing, without putting forth its own analysis of Mao Tsetung, or even indicating that it intends to do so.

Such criticisms correctly point out the leading role the vanguard Party must play in the struggle against revisionism. By not carrying out the struggle against Chinese revisionism in the fullest possible way, the Party has not adequately armed the proletariat and revolutionary masses to combat revisionism.

The analysis which will be the basis for a correct and consistent struggle against Mao Tsetung Thought must proceed rapidly, but at the same time with the care needed to develop a sound Marxist-Leninist position. Only in this way will Marxism-Leninism be defended and the ranks of the international communist and workers’ movement be further unified.

In the following article all the manifestations of the revisionist nature of Mao Tsetung Thought are not discussed. Nor are many essential questions such as the revisionist philosophical tenets of Mao Tsetung Thought elaborated. These must be included in an overall assessment of the merits of Mao Tsetung in order to fully explain Mao Tsetung Thought as an eclectic body of thought, which borrowed some aspects of Marxist-Leninist theory, some from Titoite and Khrushchevite revisionism and some from other bourgeois and metaphysical, idealist theories.

The following article takes up several fundamental principles of Leninism and shows how Mao deviated over a number of years on these strategic questions. It is a necessary step in the careful examination and sharpened class struggle against Mao Tsetung Thought, which has sown confusion in the ranks of the revolutionary movements, in order to clear away the confusion and root out its treacherous effects.

* * *

Mao Revised Leninism

On fundamental questions of Leninism, whether the analysis of imperialism or the role and building of the Marxist-Leninist party, Mao Tsetung elaborated revisionist views and led the Communist Party of China to practice revisionist theses. For all genuine Marxist-Leninists a basic starting point for the elaboration of strategy and tactics in the proletarian socialist revolution or the revolutionary national liberation movements is the Leninist analysis of world imperialism. Mao Tsetung’s analysis of imperialism, developed step by step over the years, went against the Leninist stand towards imperialism.

In 1946, Mao advanced the view that between the Soviet Union and the United States there existed a vast zone of countries which prevented the U.S. attacking then-socialist Russia.[1]. This analysis made no distinction between the socialist countries and capitalist countries in this “zone”, nor any distinction between the bourgeoisie and proletariat of those countries. Rather, Mao’s theory promoted the view that geographic divisions safeguard socialist countries, not the revolutionary movements of the world. As in the theory of the “three worlds” which was to follow, Mao in 1946 rejected the class analysis and replaced the struggle against imperialism by the revolutionary national and workers’ movements and the socialist countries with geographical concepts, a geo-political theory of international class struggle.

In 1956 Mao advanced the view that “the whole world, Britain included, dislikes the United States”[2]. In this article in others, Mao’s presentation makes no distinction between the inter-imperialist “dislike” the bourgeoisie of Britain, Japan and elsewhere have for the U.S., and the hatred the working and oppressed people of these countries have for U.S. imperialism. Again Mao rejected the class analysis and denied the collusion which exists between the imperialist bourgeoisie and their common interests in exploiting the working class. He denied the imperialist nature of countries’ such as Japan and Britain, instead placing them in the anti-imperialist camp together with the proletariat of these countries.

There can be little doubt that such views are predecessors to the thesis later developed which called upon the working and oppressed people of the “second” and “third worlds” to unite with their bourgeoisie against the two superpowers.

Following the same line of reasoning, in 1965 the CPC delegation to Africa advocated the theory of a “new economic order” in countries which had recently won their political independence[3]. Because of the worldwide nature of imperialism, Leninism teaches that genuine economic independence from imperialism can only come about through socialism. In contrast, the view of the CPC was that newly independent countries could chart a course of economic independence, tied to neither the capitalist nor the socialist systems. This is the “non-aligned” theory promoted by Tito in an attempt to hide alignment with imperialism.

In 1957 Mao’s view of the forces at work in the world again went against Leninism. Speaking of the situation in the Mid-East, he pointed out two kinds of contradictions – one between the U.S. and other imperialist countries, and the second between the imperialist countries and the oppressed nations. The forces at work, he said were “one, the U.S., the biggest imperialist power, two Britain and France, second rate imperialist powers and three, the oppressed nations”[4]. Nowhere in this presentation did Mao discuss the proletariat as a force in the revolutionary struggle in contradiction with the domestic and international bourgeoisie. Instead, his analysis was a furthering of the developing “three worlds” theory – the first world, represented by the U.S., the second world, represented by Britain and France, and the third world of the oppressed nations.

Finally, in 1974, the pieces of the theory of “three worlds” were put together and elaborated by Teng Hsiao-p’ing in his speech to the United Nations, as the position of the CPC. Mao was, at that time, Chairman of the Party.

Taken together, the examples pointed out do not simply reflect a few mistaken ideas. Mao’s denial of the distinction between socialist and capitalist countries, his obscuring of the common interests of all imperialist countries, his obliteration of the antagonistic contradictions between socialism and capitalism and between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries, emerge as a body hostile to Leninism. They emerge as a body of thought promoting a “third road.” Taken together and viewed in light of recent developments in China, the obvious objectives of Mao Tsetung Thought were to consolidate a “third camp”, a social and political force in opposition to Soviet social-imperialism and U.S. imperialism at the head of which China could place itself, and ride the wave to superpower status.

The promotion of the “road of independent economic development”, not aligned with the socialist camp and the elimination of the distinction between the revolutionary national movements and the bourgeois ambitions of the often-times reactionary bourgeois leaders in the oppressed nations, appealed to the ruling cliques in these nations and colonies. The contradiction between socialism and capitalism and between the proletariat and bourgeoisie of the capitalist countries were denied in order to forge an alliance with the lesser imperialist countries. All were aimed toward creating and stabilizing this new “third world” under China’s hegemony.

These same bourgeois ambitions led the CPC in 1970, under Mao’s leadership, to declare the Soviet Union the main danger to the world’s people. In part such a declaration stemmed from an opportunist stand regarding the direct military threat the Soviet Union presented to China, obviously without regard to the situation in the world as a whole. But it also provided a justification for the rapproachment with U.S. imperialism.

Only one year later, amid the Vietnam War, Mao reached out and clasped the bloody hand of Richard Nixon. The U.S.-China alliance had become a necessary component of the plan to bring China to a position of world power, a bourgeois world power, not a developed, industrial socialist society.

Thus, Mao Tsetung’s vision of a Chinese superpower trampled on the interests of the international proletariat, the revolutionary national movements and the entire socialist camp. To justify such treachery, Mao developed an analysis of imperialism which stood in opposition to the Leninist analysis of imperialism, the national and colonial question and the proletarian revolution. Mao’s views, in fact, provided the basis for the full elaboration of the theory of “three worlds” and the development of the U.S.-China alliance.

The Proletariat, The Leading Class

In the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution, the proletariat plays the leading role in the fight against imperialism and in the construction of socialism. On an international level Mao replaced the Leninist class analysis of the role of the proletariat with a revisionist, geo-political theory.

Within China, the leading role of the proletariat was usurped by a variety of classes and strata at different times. In the struggle for state power, Mao, in theory and practice, advocated that the peasantry take the leading role.

Mao held that in China in the 1930’s, the cities were strongholds of reaction and the proletarian movement had been crushed. He therefore advocated that the Party concentrate upon organizing the peasant uprisings and abandon open and secret work among the proletariat. When the countryside had been organized, it would be the catalyst to activate the proletariat again. This view was a theoretical justification for displacing the leading role of the proletariat. His theory that the countryside should encircle the city has long been incorrectly extolled as an example of his military genius.[5]

It is revealing of Mao’s attitude toward the working class that in all of his writings there is nothing about the significance of the trade unions to the working class, the role of the revolutionary trade union movement or the role of trade unions under socialism. In fact just as during the liberation struggle, the CPC dissolved the trade unions during the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” It was also during the Cultural Revolution that Mao promoted students to the position of the vanguard. Thus, through his political stand and practice, Mao went against the central thesis of Leninism on the leading role of the proletariat in both the national liberation and proletarian socialist revolutions.

Connected to Mao’s views toward the proletariat is his view of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This question has been a fundamental dividing line between Leninism and opportunism. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the political weapon of the proletariat in state power. It is a means of ensuring the complete suppression of the formerly exploiting classes and carrying through the complete construction of socialism.

Mao justified a “Chinese variety” of the dictatorship of the proletariat because of particular conditions in China. In 1937, under his leadership the Soviet form of government was changed to a coalition government in the liberated areas, removing power from the hands of the workers and peasants and creating a shared power with the bourgeoisie.[6]

When the proletariat came to power, and even at the stage where Mao declared socialism existed in China, the bourgeoisie was not suppressed as a class. Mao became an advocate of the rights of the bourgeoisie – politically, economically and ideologically. Interest was paid to the bourgeoisie on their former economic holdings. They were allowed to organize political parties. In fact, in 1957, Mao stated that bourgeois political parties should supervise the activities of the CPC for years to come.

The “one hundred flowers campaign”[7] allowed the bourgeoisie to promote its reactionary ideology. Overall, Mao believed that the bourgeoisie presented no danger to the cause of the proletariat as they were few in number and would eventually cast off their bourgeois ambitions and work for the cause of socialism.

With such conciliation to the bourgeoisie in new China, it is not surprising that the “resurrection” of political associations and resumption of full capitalist control of the factories has met with little opposition these past few years.

The Vanguard Party

Integrally tied to the struggle for liberation and the construction of socialism is the role of the Marxist-Leninist party. Mao’s views on the Party were essentially social-democratic. He advanced the view that there were “three magic weapons” in the class struggle – the united front, the armed struggle and the party.[8] All were equal, in Mao’s estimation, despite the Leninist stand that the united front is a question of tactics, while the leading role of the proletarian party is a strategic question. Mao’s view liquidated building a party of a new type and undercut the leading role of the party in the class struggle. As well, Mao’s formulation of the three magic weapons elevated the Chinese united front with the national bourgeoisie to a strategic concept, which no doubt was a factor in his promotion of “shared power” following liberation.

Mao abandoned the Leninist concept of the party of a new type as a democratic centralist organization typified by unity of will and action. He allowed the CPC to be torn apart by factional infighting. In fact, Mao hailed as an asset the “ten major two line struggles” in the CPC which developed many factions within the party.

Mao advanced leaders of opposing factions to leading positions within the CPC and defended their right to maintain these positions. He declared that representatives of other classes were within the Party and opposed their removal because this would look bad internationally, and cause other classes to “sleep uneasily”.[9]

Eventually, Mao ended up promoting the view that the party was the main enemy of the proletariat. His “lesson” from the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union was that the bourgeoisie existed right inside the Central Committee of the Party. Thus Mao’s tactics in the Cultural Revolution turned all attention away from the bourgeoisie by “going against the tide”, leading the spontaneous Cultural Revolution against the CPC, waging factional warfare.

Again, taken together, the examples cited reflect more than a few mistaken ideas. They reflect an anti-Leninist stand on the leading role of the proletariat and the role and nature of the proletarian party. Mao’s views were those of a social-democrat. Such social-democratic views prevent a party from carrying out its leading role in the revolution and play right into the hands of every Trotskyite, anarchist, wrecker and splitter.

Taken altogether, Mao’s views toward the proletariat, the bourgeoisie and the Marxist-Leninist party stem from his basic stand of building China into a society where all “democratic classes” would mutually coexist. He elevated the tactical alliance with the Chinese national bourgeoisie during the liberation war to a strategic alliance which, in his view, would last through the construction of socialism. Thus, the suppression of the bourgeoisie as a class went against this “democratic” view and the position that the bourgeoisie would somehow reform or “transform” itself and come to support the cause of socialism was promoted. The “long-term mutual supervision” of the CPC and bourgeois political parties was a part of this overall social-democratic stand which conciliated with the bourgeoisie and denied the hegemonic role of the proletariat in the fight for and construction of socialism.


[1] SW-Vol. IV, “Talk with an American Correspondent, Anna Louise Strong” page 99.

[2] SW-Vol. V, “U.S. Imperialism is a Paper Tiger”, page 308.

[3] “Resolutely Struggle Against Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism for Economic Emancipation”(FLP pamphlet).

[4] SW-Vol. V, “Talks at a Conference of Party Committee Secretaries”, page 363.

[5] SW-Vol.II, “Problems of War and Strategy”, page 219-223.

[6] SW-Vol. II, “On Coalition Government”, page 205.

[7] SW-Vol. V, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People”, page 408.

[8] SW-Vol. II, “Introducing the Communists”, page 288. 9

[9] SW-Vol. V, “Party Unity and Party Traditions”, page 322.