Deng Xiaoping

The Establishment of Base Areas and the Mass Movement


Published: February 20, 1943
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


1. The Laws Governing the Establishment of Base Areas.

In the course of discussion some comrades raised a question about the laws governing the establishment of base areas. Comrade Peng Dehuai has answered this question in his pamphlet. For establishing a revolutionary base area, besides considering the proper geographical conditions, the enemy’s situation and timing, there must also be the necessary revolutionary armed forces, political power, and mass and Party organizations. Comrade Peng Dehuai said, “Whether a revolutionary base area is consolidated and sound depends on whether there four types of organizations there are consolidated and sound.” None of these four revolutionary forces can be dispensed with if a revolutionary base area is to be established. The four forces are co-ordinated; if one of them is not strong enough, the rest will be affected. Poor co-ordination will also harm the base area.

Some people may ask: In establishing a base area which of the four should be present first, armed forces or Party organizations and mass movements? This represents a mechanical way of thinking. In practice, in some places Party organizations and mass movements appeared first, inciting the peasants to rise in rebellion, form their own armed forces and political power and build base areas, and then use their armed forces and political power to expand the base areas and build new ones. In other places revolutionary armed forces appeared first, opening up opportunities for establishing Party organizations, political power and mass organizations before building the base areas. Both cases go to show that no revolutionary base areas can be established in the absence of these four revolutionary forces.

Others may ask: Which of these four revolutionary forces is the most important, the key link? In my opinion, this, too, represents a mechanical way of thinking. Since none of the four is dispensable, they are equally important. If we must arrange them in order of importance, then the armed forces should come first, as determined by the characteristics of the Chinese revolution and war. However, it must be understood that without the Party, political power and the masses, an armed struggle cannot be sustained and will ultimately fail. This has been demonstrated by past armed struggles in some places that failed because of a purely military viewpoint. Likewise, if we have only mass movements of strong political power but have no sufficient, powerful armed forces, or if we follow an erroneous military line, the base areas will suffer defeat and the work of the Party and government and among the masses will collapse, as was demonstrated by the Red Army’s withdrawal from the Central Soviet Area after failing to break the Kuomintang’s fifth “encirclement and suppression” campaign. If our political power is not strong enough and little is achieved in building financial and economic systems, eliminating traitors and administering justice, then it will be impossible for us to maintain order in the base areas, meet the needs of our troops and people, and consolidate and hold the base areas, as was borne out by the situation in the Taihang area in 1939. Finally, if we have no strong Party leadership and Party organizations and no unified Party leadership, and if the Party does not exercise leadership over the armed forces, political power and mass organizations, or if the Party makes mistakes in leadership, then the establishment, consolidation and maintenance of base areas will be adversely affected. Instances of this are numerous. So, it can be seen that the question of which of he four forces is the most important, the key link, is irrelevant. Does this mean that at all times and under all circumstances we should pay equal attention to these forces? No, we should not. The Party should determine where to focus its attention in the light of the prevailing situation at a given time and place. If the work of the political power is weak, we shall intensify our efforts there, and if work among the masses constitutes a weak link, we shall concentrate our efforts there. Of course, this should be co-ordinated with work in other areas. For instance, our work at the initial state in north China had certain different characteristics compared with what we had done previous to this. We concentrated first on making a breakthrough with the help of the gigantic forces of the Eighth Route Army, then on establishing political power, establishing and expanding Party and mass organizations from the top down, building financial and economic systems and securing public order. Our tremendous achievements show that we understood the laws in this regard. At the consolidation stage we concentrated on executing the land policy to arouse the masses, while trying to build a sound democratic political system. In this regard, however, there was still something to be desired in our effort to carry out the directives of the Central Committee and its Northern Bureau, and in 1940 and 1941 we didn’t pay enough attention to work among the masses. These are historical lessons for us.

Still other may ask: How should the armed forces, political power, mass organizations and the Party be linked so that they are co-ordinated? First comes the question of Party leadership, which is the central factor for everything else. In places where there are no Party organizations it is the duty of the revolutionaries to establish Party organizations and expand them. It is the duty of Party organizations in base areas to ensure a strong link and co-ordination between the four forces, decide on the central task according to specific circumstances and make sure that the central task is co-ordinated with work in other areas. It is the duty of the armed forces to defend the base areas and revolutionary political power, safeguard the people’s interests, establish Party organizations and subordinate themselves to the Party’s political leadership, set up revolutionary governments and obey their revolutionary decrees, take part in work among the masses to arouse them and, at the same time, seek their help and accept their supervision. It is the duty of the government to follow the Party’s leadership by adhering to its political line and policies, support mass movements, take into consideration the interests of the main sections of the masses, consolidate the united front, and take good care of the army and guarantee its supplies and replenishment. It is the duty of the mass organizations independently to arouse, organize and educate the masses under the Party’s political leadership, help the masses to enhance their awareness of the need for a political and armed struggle, so that they become a self-conscious class for themselves, form a united front with landlords and the bourgeoisie and try to consolidate it, persuade the masses to carry out the government’s revolutionary decrees, and call on them to support and join the revolutionary army and organize themselves into a militia. This is what co-ordination and link among these four forces mean. To say that once we have armed forces or the support of the masses we have everything is correct only under certain circumstances; without these circumstances, this observation is faulty.

Here I should like to stress that the consolidation of the anti-Japanese democratic base areas behind enemy lines depends on the consolidation of the united front; this is also a decisive condition, which calls for our attention.

The above are the laws governing the establishment of base areas.

Some people may still ask: Have we applied these laws in establishing base areas? Yes, we have, in general. This explains why we have achieved so much in establishing and maintaining base areas in the past few years. If the opposite were true, then we couldn’t explain why we have persevered in the struggle and why the base areas are becoming increasingly consolidated. Have we experienced any shortcomings or mistakes? The answer is yes. There was a period when some deviations occurred in our policy with regard to the armed struggle and for a fairly long time we neglected work among the masses and did not pay enough attention to linking together and co-ordinating the various forces. If it had not been for these deviations, we could have done our work better and the base areas could have become even more consolidated. Some people say our base areas are not yet consolidated, but of course, this is not true.

The Central Committee and its Northern Bureau have always had a clear policy regarding the establishment of base areas. The very reason for the deviations and mistakes lies in that we didn’t examine their directives carefully enough or execute them satisfactorily. These are historical lessons for us.

In the relentless struggle in the days to come we must correctly apply the laws governing the establishment of base areas, further consolidate these areas and do our utmost to defend them. Without base areas, we shall have nothing to fall back on in continuing the anti-Japanese war, instituting democracy and launching counter-offensives in the future. We don’t want to forge the hard times when we had practically no base areas.

2. The Laws Governing Mass Movements.

Mass movements have their own laws and the Party must guide the movements with these laws firmly in mind. In the past we did not satisfactorily implement the directives issued by the Central Committee and its Northern Bureau in this regard, so we haven’t achieved as much as we should.

What laws should we keep in mind in guiding mass movements in the base areas? First, organize and arm the masses while arousing them. Second, as soon as they have been aroused, make plans for and regularize the activities of mass organizations. Third, in arousing and organizing the masses, pay attention to their political education. When the masses have been sufficiently incited and organized, we should shift the focus of our work to educating them in order to promote their activities in the struggle for democracy and armed struggle, so that they will become a class for themselves, join the united front, take part in mass guerrilla warfare, and consolidate the political and economic rights they have won. Fourth, keep the economic and political struggle of the masses within the scope of the united front. Without a proper understanding of the foregoing laws regarding mass movements and the need to guide the movements gradually from a lower to a higher level, the movements will fall apart and the masses will not become a class for themselves or safeguarding the benefits they have gained.

Some people say we lost ground and it demonstrated our weakness when we failed to fix a specific period of time for arousing the masses. This is quite correct. Others say, however, that failure to do so showed that we have not mastered the laws for establishing base areas and launching mass movements. I cannot agree with this view, I am afraid. To set aside time is a question of method, not of laws. It is inconceivable that a period of time for arousing the masses can be set aside for just any place at any time. For example, the Sixth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party set the goal of consolidating north China, with the focus on intensifying work among the masses, but certainly did not require fixing a period of time to arouse the masses. To give another example, satisfactory work was done among the masses in central China, but as of 1941 no decision was made as to fixing a period of time for arousing the masses. This does not mean that the Central Committee and its Central China Bureau did not fully understand the laws of mass movements. Moreover, knowledge is a process of development. Only now, as we look at the past, do we see that the best way would have been to fix a period of time for arousing the masses in 1940 and 1941 and that not doing so represented a serious shortcoming. It is especially important to point out that this was not our main mistake in guiding the mass movements; instead, it was that, at the consolidation stage, we failed to focus on applying the land policies of reducing rent and interest rates and raising the payments to hired hands when arousing the masses.

Still others say we let go many opportunities for fully arousing the masses, and this is true. However, it cannot be said we did nothing at all to this respect. We not only extensively and thoroughly urged the masses to take part in the war of resistance during its initial stage and launched vigorous mass movements against friction created by anti-Communist diehards, but now we are waging mass movements in southern Hebei for total unity of the Chinese people. The political significance of these developments should in no way be underestimated. We also incited the masses to struggle for rent and interest rate reductions. We should especially make an adequate evaluation of our work done in the second half of last year, when we did well in some places but not as well in others. For instance, results were better in the Taihang area than in he Taiyue area and southern Hebei.

The purpose of learning from the past is to improve future work, not to do mechanically what was possible in the past. As to how we should do things today, this depends on the present specific conditions. It is now possible in the Taihang and Taiyue areas to fix a period of time for arousing the masses, but not in the vast guerrilla base areas in southern Hebei, which have been reduced to guerrilla zones or occupied by the enemy. There the task is to closely co-ordinate the struggle against the enemy with due consideration given to the interests of the main sections of the masses, focusing on fighting the enemy when arousing the masses, rather than on reducing rent and interest rates or demanding a pay rise for hired hands. Even in the Taihang and Taiyue areas we should bear in mind the ruthlessness and complexity of the struggle behind enemy lines and there we cannot rigidly fix a period of time for fighting feudal landlords or for trying to win them over. The correct way is to do both at the same time, keeping the time spent on fighting them to a minimum. This is determined by the new circumstances.

Arousing, organizing and educating the masses is a difficult task and takes time, not to be accomplished in a short period. However, it is wrong to think that “if we can’t get it done this year, we can always do it the next year or the year after.” In the Taiyue and Taihang areas we should solve the problem of uneven development and arouse the masses and get them organized, for the most part, during this year. In southern Hebei we should do this without hesitation in the course of struggling against the enemy, not in the course of implementing the land policy. There the land question is undoubtedly a question of secondary importance. In the Taihang and Taiyue areas the land question should also be placed within the scope of the united front. Therefore, standing by itself, the slogan for weakening the feudal forces introduced in southern Hebei needs reconsideration.

What are the criteria by which to judge whether the masses in the guerrilla base areas in southern Hebei have been aroused? I think they should be: 1) Not only advanced, but also backward, people are taking an active part in the struggle against the enemy. 2) In the struggle most of the masses have joined either open or underground people’s armed forces and control them. 3) They voluntarily participate in the activities of the organs of political power in the villages, where the three-thirds system has been truly instituted. 4) The majority of the masses has benefited from the struggle against the enemy and helped consolidate the united front with the landlords and the bourgeoisie in a common struggle against the enemy. 5) The masses have their own organizations or they hold dominant positions in united-front organizations. 6) They have faith in the Party and the Eighth Route Army, recognizing that they cannot liberate themselves unless they follow our Party and army.

It seems to some people that these requirements have been met in southern Hebei, but this optimistic evaluation of the situation is groundless. In fact, the work done there still falls far short of the requirements, which cannot be fully met without correct political leadership and painstaking and effective organizational and educational work.

3. Arousing the Masses and Consolidating the United Front.

This is a question of how to confine mass struggle to the united front or, to be more specific, a question of how to arouse the masses and, at the same time, cement unity among people of all strata. Here I should like to discuss a few points that should be understood correctly.

1) We should combine the struggle against feudal landlords with the effort to win them over. That is to say, while struggling against them, we should try to draw them nearer to us; and vice versa. We should make sure that we struggle against them to an appropriate extent and that we try to draw them nearer to us at the right moment. Of course, in some counties and districts it is necessary to fix a period of time for each, but the duration of the struggle should not be too long. Even during the course of the struggle, in most cases, we should try to reason things out to win over enlightened landlords, so that they can persuade other landlords to reduce rent and interest rates. Even if landlords are not sincere in reducing the rates, they should be encouraged, because they can be useful to us, too. The struggle shall be waged only against a few obdurate landlords after they have been isolated. When trying to win over feudal landlords, we should guard against their counter-attacks. Special efforts should be made to persuade the masses to take the initiative to unite with the landlords.

2) We should weaken the feudal forces, not destroy them. Our policy is to improve the living standards of the masses and, at the same time, allow landlords to maintain a certain economic position. In some places we went too far in implementing decrees to reduce rent rates and settle old accounts; this should be rectified. Government decrees are only general principles, which should be carried out properly, in accordance with the policy mentioned above. The practice of settling very old accounts with landlords should be ended.

3) We should weaken the feudal forces, not only economically, but also politically and ideologically. Overthrowing the rule of the landlord class and practising democracy based on the “three-thirds system” means no more than weakening the political position of the feudal classes, not depriving them of such a position. Landlords who resist Japan and are not opposed to democracy have the right to participate in the democratic government based on the “three-thirds system”, so we should not only safeguard the masses’ rights of person, property, land ownership and participation in the political power but also the landlords’. In mass movements no practices such as humiliating landlords by beating and spitting on them should be encouraged. Party leaders, in particular, should prevent such practices, because they can cost us the sympathy of society as a whole and present an obstacle to our efforts to unite with the landlords against Japan and to involve backward elements in the struggle. Weakening the political position of the feudal classes is a serious struggle. Experience has shown that it is not hard for landlords, especially big landlords, to accept demands for reduced rent and interest rates. What they value most is their political position as a ruling class, so whenever this is challenged, they will put up stubborn resistance. Therefore, it is impossible to weaken the political position of the feudal classes without the voluntary participation of the masses in political struggles.

4) In our efforts to unite with the landlords against Japan, it is far from enough just to consider the methods to be used; most important is to guarantee that the landlords can make a living and enjoy a certain economic status and that their legitimate right of property is safeguarded. Unless we do this, it will be of no help even if we adopt a very friendly attitude towards them and elect them as representatives or members of consultative councils. This merits our attention when solving specific problems.

5) Are “Left” deviations on the part of the masses something to be feared? They are nothing to be feared as long as our Party can identify them in good time and correct them. However, if we let them spread to the point of splitting the united front, we would have something to fear. We Communists should not only understand the world, but transform it as well, and we should be both the pupils of the masses and their teachers. The Party does not want to let things drift along by themselves in the mass movements, but wants to put its policies into effect through the movements. This explains the guiding role of the Party.

6) Our policy relating to rich peasants is to weaken their feudal aspects and, at the same time, encourage their capitalist aspects. How can this be achieved? Mainly by executing the relevant policies and decrees. At the same time, in carrying out the struggle, we should not put rich peasants on a par with landlords. A large number of rich peasants were made targets of past struggles, which is an irregular phenomenon. Recently, excessive actions have been taken against them in various places; this should be stopped.

7) The mass movement should be intensified, but kept on an appropriate scale. For instance, it is important to consider how one area or one mass organization should support the struggle waged in another area or by another mass organization, and how meetings of the masses and of their cadres and conferences of representatives — all of a specified size — should be held, etc. Our purpose is to spread the experience and lessons of mass struggles for the benefit of less advanced areas and smooth development of the mass movement, raise the class consciousness and self-confidence of the masses and train new leaders from among them.

4. Relationship Between the Party and Mass Organizations.

Organizationally a mass organization is independent; politically it must place itself under Party leadership. The Party, on its part, should strengthen political leadership over the mass organization, but not act in its place. The work of a mass organization should be discussed and performed by the organization itself. The Party exercises political leadership over mass organizations through leading Party members’ groups, not by issuing orders directly to them. In the past there was some misunderstanding in various places as to the functions of mass organizations, which usually resulted in two errors: the first, undertaking work that should have been the responsibility of the mass organizations; and the second, slackening political leadership over them. Both should be corrected. While affirming the organizational independence of mass organizations, we should guard against any tendency on the part of a mass organization to break away from the Party’s political leadership or of a leading Party members’ group to assert its independence.

In future we should see to it that mass movements are directly led by mass organizations, especially peasant associations. Party and military cadres sent to engage in mass movements should carry out activities as members of mass organizations or recommended by them. Only in this way can we help foster the masses’ sense of organization, enhance the prestige of mass organizations and train more leaders from among the masses.

At the same time, the Party should provide more effective guidance to mass movements by sending good cadres, who maintain close ties with the masses, to lead mass organizations, paying special attention to raising the competence of mass organizations at the grass-roots level. Since it is impossible to give equal attention to all mass organizations, for the present, the Party should particularly strengthen its leadership over the work of peasant associations, first of all improving their organization and activities.

There is no need to change the form of national salvation federations at or above the district level, but each village should have its own national salvation organization. The number of members of federations at higher levels should be reduced to a minimum, with the surplus ones sent to strengthen federations at lower levels.

Mass organizations should gradually become financially self-supporting, but the government will provide them with adequate subsidies. From now on, the mass organizations should be responsible for their own budget expenditures; it is not necessary for the government to examine and verify them.

The Party should do its utmost to train junior and senior leaders of the masses. We should be aware that the leaders of the masses are our most valuable assets, without whom we cannot sustain the arduous struggles.

5. The Government’s Position in Mass Movements.

The government should support mass movements, not watch them from the sidelines or ignore them in a bureaucratic manner. Since mass movements should be movements launched by the masses of their own accord, the government should not monopolize or interfere in them.

Since the anti-Japanese democratic government behind enemy lines is the political power of the united front under the political leadership of our Party, its administrative programme and decrees accord with the Party’s policies, giving consideration to the interests of workers and peasants, on the one hand, and those of the landlords and capitalists, on the other, and therefore benefit the majority of the masses. When we are reducing rent and interest rates and reasonably distributing burdens through the mass movements for the benefit of the majority of the masses, we are executing government decrees. After promulgating decrees, the government must ensure their implementation, so it would be wrong to turn the mass movements against the government. In guiding mass movements and supporting them, both the Party and mass organizations and the government are trying to ensure the execution of government decrees, seeing to it that the movements are conducted within the limits of government decrees or, in other words, within the united front. In this sense the positions of the mass organizations and of the government are identical, except that differences may occur in attitude and method.

What is the correct attitude of the government towards mass movements?

1) With regard to rural areas where the decrees for reducing rent and interest rates and reasonably distributing burdens have not yet been implemented, the government should send people there to explain the decrees and urge the masses to follow them, making it definitely clear that it will accept no refusal.

2) When the masses are mobilized in the struggle for reduced rent and interest rates, government personnel should show respect for the mass movements and the class consciousness of the masses, or their awareness and initiative, refraining from interfering in and monopolizing the struggle and from bringing it to an end prematurely by resorting to the power of the government or to administrative means. Through the government’s interfering in and monopolizing of the struggle, the masses may reap some benefits the easy way, but it will prevent them from demonstrating their own initiative, thus from recognizing their own great strength and, moreover, from becoming aware of the need for a political struggle. Therefore, these methods are harmful.

3) In the course of a mass struggle it is the job of government personnel to give thorough explanations of government decrees, which actually is a way of supporting the mass movement.

4) When a dispute arises between the masses and the landlords, the government should solve the dispute impartially in accordance with its decrees, which actually is a way of supporting the majority of the masses, too.

5) When excessive actions are taken in mass movements, government personnel should, first of all, ask the Party and mass organizations to persuade the masses to correct the mistakes or solve the problem through consultation and co-ordinated efforts, being sure to avoid adopting simple administrative methods. Where such excessive actions have exerted enormous impact, however, especially if they have played into the hands of reactionaries and caused public chaos, the government should stop them, explaining the situation fully to the masses afterwards.

6) In mass movements government personnel should work among landlords and the gentry, mainly to explain government decrees to them and urge them to observe those decrees. We cannot criticize or attack mass organizations or their cadres in front of the landlords, lest we inflate their arrogance. If the mass organizations or their cadres have done something unreasonable, we can offer explanations to the landlords and, at the same time, point out the landlords’ unreasonable actions.

7) Government personnel should always show respect for leaders of the masses and help them gain prestige among the masses. At the same time, Party and mass organizations should, through the mass movements, help enhance the prestige of the anti-Japanese democratic government among the masses. It is extremely harmful to taint the good name of the government among the masses.

It is essential for the army to participate in mass movements. In the past, mass movement departments in the army were removed, because the achievements of local authorities were overestimated and army cadres were so rigid in some of their working methods that some local authorities asked the army to keep out of their work in order to avoid disruption. It now seems this decision was inappropriate. In future the army should send cadres to join in local work as members of mass organizations (chiefly peasant associations) or through recommendation by mass organizations. Moreover, the troops should take part in the mass struggle, assisting the mass movements and, more important, receiving education in practical movements. Of course, they do not have to carry their machine guns and cannons along with them. Army cadres sent to rural areas must work under the leadership of the local Party organizations and in conformity with the plans of the mass organizations there.

6. Work at the Village Level.

The village constitutes the basic unit for all our work, so we must exercise sound leadership over it. In his pamphlet, Comrade Peng Dehuai has set out some general principles for work at the village level. Work at this level is very complex; Party organizations at all levels are expected to continue to study and solve the problems regarding village work.

In our effort to simplify administration we have merged smaller villages into larger ones. Though this move has made our work more difficult, it has avoided subjecting the people to many more burdens, so we need not make any changes here. We should now be working out methods of leadership to suit conditions in the larger villages.

(First section of the third part of a summary report made at a meeting of senior cadres of the Taihang Sub-bureau of the CPC Central Committee. It was carried in Combat, No. 19, (supplement) published by the Taihang Sub-bureau on March 25, 1943.)