Deng Xiaoping

Build a Mature and Combat-Effective Party


Spoken: June 14 and December 27, 1965
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine



I should like to tell you a little about the experience gained by our Party and Comrade Mao Zedong in handling inner-Party issues in the ten years between the Zunyi Meeting, held in 1935, and the Party’s Seventh National Congress, held in 1945.

During the nearly four years between the Fourth Plenary Session of our Party’s Sixth Central Committee convened in January 1931 and the end of 1934, we fell into the trap of “Left” errors in the political line for the third time, ending with a great loss of our revolutionary strength — practically all our forces in areas under Chiang Kai-shek’s rule and ninety per cent in the Red Army’s Soviet areas. When the exponents of the “Left” line held sway, they not only totally rejected Comrade Mao Zedong’s correct line but removed him from leading posts in the Party and army until the Long March. In the early stage of the Long March, mistakes were made owing to the absence of his command. The Red Army’s First Front Army dwindled from 80,000 to 30,000. When we got to Zunyi, the line represented by Wang Ming and Bo Gu could no longer be maintained and we had to ask ourselves what should be done. An enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, i.e., the Zunyi Meeting, was convened, marking the beginning of Comrade Mao Zedong’s leadership. At the meeting he adopted the correct policy of pointing out only errors in the military line and not bringing up those in the political line. Comrade Mao Zedong did not become general secretary at that time. Of course, Bo Gu was no longer eligible for the post of general secretary, but it was nevertheless taken by Luo Fu, once an exponent of Wang Ming’s line. Why did we do this? We did it because we wanted to unite with comrades who had made mistakes, especially when we were then in hard times. Thanks to Comrade Mao Zedong’s policy of correctly handling problems within the Party, we became more united, went through our roughest time and completed the Long March. After the Long March Comrade Mao Zedong had still not been placed in the position of general secretary, though, of course, since the Zunyi Meeting he had actually been the leading core of our Party. During the War of Resistance Against Japan, our Party clarified the past struggle between the two lines by reviewing our experience and rectifying incorrect work styles. However, the final conclusion was not drawn until the Party’s Seventh National Congress held in 1945. At that Congress Comrade Mao Zedong was formally elected Chairman of the Central Committee (a change in form did away with the title of General Secretary). This shows that Comrade Mao Zedong adopted the approach of uniting with comrades who made mistakes. At that time he formed the concept of “starting from the desire for unity and, through criticism or struggle, arriving at a new unity on a new basis”. It took a decade for those comrades to truly become aware of their mistakes. With their enthusiasm aroused, the Party became more united. It was on this basis that we won in the War of Resistance and ushered in nationwide liberation. Thus, there are two ways to deal with inner-Party problems. One is to deal with them promptly and hastily; the other is by exercising patience over a fairly long time. Of course, this does not mean that we have to spend ten years every time to solve any kind of problem. The main thing is to see what results this method will produce. By results we mean that the comrades who made mistakes come to recognize them through education and that all Party members benefit by it, becoming clearer about the distinction between what is right and what is wrong in the Party and between the correct and the erroneous line. Is it reliable to solve problems in a simple way on an organizational basis? It is best to solve them ideologically. Of course, our experience is not necessarily applicable to the struggle in your party, though it may be regarded as a method for reference, for every party is likely to encounter such problems.

We have always explained to fraternal parties that the strategies, tactics, programmes and requirements applicable to the specific circumstances in a country can be drawn up only by the party in that country. In this way, a party acquires experience, benefiting by its correct decisions and suffering from its mistakes, which it can draw on itself. It does not matter if mistakes are made. Provided that we faithfully apply the method of criticism and self-criticism and constantly review our experience, we can make steady progress. Our Party can do no more than relate our experience to fraternal parties. It is entirely up to these parties to determine what experience is relevant and what is irrelevant to their situations. However, we do believe in a fairly important principle, generalized by Comrade Mao Zedong, that is, in order to formulate correct strategies and tactics and achieve victory in revolution, a party must integrate the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the revolutionary practice and actual conditions in its own country.

Our experience consists of formulating and carrying out correct strategies and tactics in the light of our country’s specific conditions and, in particular, on the basis of profound understanding of the conditions of classes and the class struggle. Shortly after its founding, our Party clearly recognized that Chinese society was a semi-colonial and semi-feudal one. With this nature of our society in mind, our Party determined the stages, targets and motive forces of the revolution, and decided that opposing imperialism and feudalism was our revolutionary task in the first stage. But, can we say that by presenting this task we have truly understood the meaning of the struggle against imperialism and feudalism? No! We cannot say this, because it is no easy job to formulate and implement correct strategies and tactics for such a struggle. Over a fairly long period of time in this revolutionary stage our Party was unable to settle or straighten out such questions as how to fight against imperialism and feudalism, what forces we should rely on, what forces we should unite with, and what forces we should attack.

For example, our Party has always been aware of the need to mobilize the peasants, for they constitute the overwhelming majority of China’s population. During the period from the founding of our Party to the Great Revolution (1925-27) the peasant movement grew considerably. But did this growth prove that our Party had come to know the peasants? No, it didn’t. Comrade Mao Zedong said it took him six to seven years, beginning in 1925, before he began to truly understand the peasants. Only afterwards was he able to propose correct programmes and policies relating to the peasants and the worker-peasant alliance and, in the light of China’s actual conditions, to formulate the correct strategic principle of encircling the cities from the countryside. During the Agrarian Revolution we based our correct class policy on the conditions of classes in rural areas. The slogan “land to the peasants” alone was not enough; there still remained the major problem of how to distribute land. Comrade Mao Zedong advocated distributing an equal share of land to everyone in the rural areas, including the landlords. The “Left” opportunists who dominated our Party at the time opposed his proposal, asserting that it was not a correct class line. They advocated distributing poor land to rich peasants and no land to landlords, calling Comrade Mao Zedong an opportunist. In their view, the rich peasants were members of the exploiting class and the bourgeoisie in rural areas, so why should they receive the same share of land as the poor peasants? Since the landlords had oppressed the peasants for so many years, why should they now receive an equal share of land? All this sounded so revolutionary! In fact, they knew nothing about the countryside. With no land or with only poor land how could the landlords and rich peasants feed themselves? The landlords and rich peasants had to eat, but what could they do if they had no land? In actuality, this policy only forced all landlords and rich peasants to join forces with Chiang Kai-shek and stand against the peasants, which was of no benefit to the poor and middle peasants, the worker-peasant regime or production. By distributing land to landlords and rich peasants, they could gradually be transformed from exploiters to labourers and, in the meantime, we could use their manpower. This is just one example; there are a host of similar problems. Without making a full investigation in the countryside and a careful study of class conditions there, it would have been impossible for us to truly understand the demand of all the peasants, including the poor peasants, and what policies would meet their interests. Some “Left” slogans sound very revolutionary but do not serve the interests of the peasants. That is why I said the slogan “land to the peasants” alone could not settle all problems.

The attitude to be adopted towards the national bourgeoisie is another highly important question in the stage of national democratic revolution. Failure to handle it properly could lead to the error of either “Left” or Right opportunism. As a vacillating class, the national bourgeoisie has a thousand and one links with imperialism and feudalism. On this question our Party made both “Left” and Right opportunistic mistakes. The former lingered longer than the latter and inflicted greater damage on us. In the early stage of the Great Revolution our Party handled the question appropriately by working together with the bourgeois revolutionaries represented by Dr. Sun Yat-sen and initiating Kuomintang-Communist co-operation to advance the revolution, and we also co-operated with Chiang Kai-shek. It would have been a mistake if, in the course of this co-operation, we had only maintained relations with the bourgeoisie. When we entered into alliance with the bourgeoisie to lead the democratic revolution, one question of supreme importance was to develop the progressive forces, the forces of workers and peasants, under this alliance. In the later stage of the Great Revolution our Party was misled by Chen Duxiu’s Right opportunistic error, when we were afraid of engaging in a political struggle with the bourgeoisie, afraid of irritating it, and not daring to arouse the masses into action. Consequently, the Great Revolution ended in defeat as soon as Chiang Kai-shek betrayed it. Then the “Left” opportunistic mistakes occurred in our Party three times which were characterized by the practice of overthrowing everything. At that time we were chiefly attacking the bourgeoisie, its intellectuals and the parties of the petty bourgeoisie, which resulted in our self-isolation. Many people in the cities, including the intellectuals and youth, were alienated from us for a long time. It was hard to launch workers’ movements; strikes were held aimlessly and, moreover, the demands were so outrageous that the movements ended in failure. Our strength in the cities kept dwindling until at last it was nearly gone. Correct policies were adopted, however, in the rural areas which were under the leadership of Comrade Mao Zedong. In those days the Red Army protected industry and commerce. Some industrial and commercial capitalists were practising feudalistic exploitation, which was all eradicated. We did not do anything with regard to their shops or factories and we did not confiscate anything from them; instead we provided protection for their property. Benefiting a great deal from policies such as these, we were able to break the economic blockade imposed by the Kuomintang against our base areas. Later, when the leaders of the “Left” opportunist line came to the Central Soviet Area, they opposed Comrade Mao Zedong’s correct policies and attacked national industry and commerce. As a result, under Chiang Kai-shek’s blockade, even salt was unavailable in the base areas. Even when Chen Duxiu’s Right opportunism was prevalent, “Left” mistakes were made in urban work. For example, the government in Wuhan at that time was led by left-wingers of the Kuomintang who were co-operating with our Party in opposition to Chiang Kai-shek. There we organized strikes and set economic demands which were more than the bourgeoisie could bear. Consequently, the market slumped, to the detriment of the economic base of the revolutionary regime. In dealing with the national bourgeoisie, our Party has made both “Left” and Right mistakes. It is essential to adopt correct policies. Without doubt, the national bourgeoisie tends to vacillate, but we should, nevertheless, make use of its positive side, uniting with it as well as struggling against it. We cannot lay down rigid rules as to the circumstances under which mainly to unite with it and circumstances under which mainly to struggle against it. This is a question that requires flexibility and solution based on concrete analysis of the national bourgeoisie in one’s own country.

In giving these two examples, I have been trying to illustrate that in order to formulate correct programmes and policies, it is necessary to obtain a thorough understanding of the actual conditions in one’s own country. This is no easy job, especially when it comes to trying to understand the peasants.

Now I should like to talk about our Party’s experience during the War of Resistance Against Japan. Tactics serve strategies. The years prior to the anti-Japanese war are called the period of the Agrarian Revolution. At that time we pursued a policy of confiscating land from the landlord class. After Japan stepped up its aggression against China, the national problem became the principal concern, and Japanese imperialism became our main target of attack. Under these circumstances, we had to ally ourselves with all our indirect allies in the world, which included contacts with the United States, for example. The comprador-capitalist class, previously our main target of attack, became one whom we both unite with and struggle against. Its representative was Chiang Kai-shek, with whom we co-operated to resist Japan, adopting a policy of both unity and struggle in the course of co-operation. The landlord class, our other main target of attack, also became a class that we both unite with and struggle against. In other words, our policy of confiscating land from the landlord class was replaced by a policy of reducing rent and interest rates in order to appropriately satisfy the peasants’ demands. If we had continued our battles with the Kuomintang, instead of making the Japanese imperialists our main target of attack, the war of resistance would have been out of the question. Likewise, if we had taken both the Japanese imperialists and the Kuomintang as our main targets, the war could not have been waged. If we had continued our attack mainly on the landlord class, following a policy of confiscating land instead of a policy of reducing rent and interest rates, the landlords would have been driven to the side of the Japanese aggressors. Therefore, we must be clear about the main target of attack; otherwise, we would isolate ourselves. During the anti-Japanese war, Chiang Kai-shek was not our main target of attack. However, on the question of both unity and struggle, Right opportunism emerged in our Party in the form of Wang Ming’s Right capitulationist mistakes.


It’s not easy for a party to grow gradually into a mature party maintaining ties with the masses. Judged from the history of our Party, the Seventh National Congress in 1945 marked the maturation of our Party as a whole. Beginning with the Party’s founding in 1921, it took us 24 years to achieve this goal. Of course we are referring to the maturity of the Party as a whole. As far as the central leadership is concerned, we can say it reached maturity at the Zunyi Meeting in January 1935, which established the central leadership with Comrade Mao Zedong as the core. This took us thirteen and a half years.

After the Zunyi Meeting, struggle continued in the Party. In the early days of the anti-Japanese war, our Party was plagued by Wang Ming’s line for a second time as he switched from “Left” to Right opportunism. Party cadres, including some of the principal cadres, lacked a clear understanding of the history of the Party, the struggle between the two lines and such questions as how to build a sound Party that maintains ties with the masses, and with what ideology and work style to arm the Party.

In October 1935 the Red Army’s First Front Army triumphantly completed the Long March and the Central Committee reached northern Shaanxi — not yet Yan’an, but a place north of Yan’an. After the Red Army’s three front armies joined forces, Comrade Mao Zedong found that the Red Army had only 30,000 survivors, including some two to three thousand leading cadres. Studying the history of the Party and analysing our experience and lessons to educate Party members became a vital question. At that time Comrade Mao Zedong concentrated on achieving unified thinking in the Party. Before long the War of Resistance Against Japan broke out. While exercising leadership in this war and ensuring that the Party pursue a correct line of resistance, he reviewed the Party’s experience and lessons and wrote a series of essays covering philosophy, political and military affairs, and so forth. Based on these works, a rectification movement was launched. You could say this began in 1939 and 1940. Over a period of about five years, particularly in the course of the rectification movement throughout the Party, which started in 1942, we thoroughly exposed and criticized “Left” and Right opportunism and unified the thinking of the Party at long last. Those who had made mistakes in the past admitted them. It was on such a basis that our Party worked out the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party”. This resolution dealt with errors in political line, especially the errors of Wang Ming’s “Left” opportunist line. However, Wang Ming has all along clung to his errors. He now lives in Moscow and still attacks us in the articles he writes.

It was at the Seventh National Congress that our entire Party was united by Mao Zedong Thought. It had been 17 years between our Party’s Sixth National Congress in 1928 and its Seventh National Congress in 1945. Discussing questions in a positive manner, this was a congress of unity. Shortly after its close, Japan surrendered. But then the entire Party had been armed with Mao Zedong Thought. Confronted with the civil war launched by Chiang Kai-shek with the support of the United States, this great Party, armed with Mao Zedong Thought, was up to the situation.

By maturity of the Party as a whole we mean, first of all, that it had reached maturity ideologically. Our Party has Mao Zedong Thought that integrates Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution. The broad ranks of cadres and Party members have a good grasp of this thought. Politically, although erroneous lines have emerged occasionally in the Party since the Zunyi Meeting, Comrade Mao Zedong has always redressed them with his correct line. This is why the Party’s principles and policies have been correct ever since that meeting. Having won the support of the masses, the principles and policies that embody the correct line have been translated into action by the masses. After the War of Resistance Against Japan, the number of Party members jumped from 30,000 to over 1.2 million, the army from 30,000 to one million and the population in the liberated areas to over a hundred million. This would never have been possible if the Party’s line, principles and policies had not been correct. Organizationally, we have become a sound Marxist-Leninist Party with a correct work style. At the Party’s Seventh National Congress a correct work style was summarized by Comrade Mao Zedong as having three parts: first, the Party must be a party that integrates theory with practice; second, it must maintain close ties with the masses; and third, it must be based on self-criticism. Without the spirit of criticism and self-criticism it would not be able to review its experience and rectify mistakes in good time, nor would it be able to educate cadres, Party members and the masses by distinguishing between correct and erroneous or positive and negative experience. Comrade Mao Zedong often tells us that there is no party, person or leader that never makes mistakes. The key lies in reviewing experience in a timely manner and checking on the work in the spirit of criticism and self-criticism. In this way minor mistakes will be kept from developing into major ones or into errors in the nature of a political line, Party members and cadres can learn from correct experience, and errors will be turned into fertilizer and bad things into good ones.

Comrade Mao Zedong set forth a series of policies and principles concerning Party organization. Our Party’s organizational principles combine a high degree of democracy with a high degree of centralism, developing the principles of democratic centralism advanced by Lenin. A party cannot do without centralism. It will have no fighting capacity unless its central committee and party committees at various levels exercise centralized leadership. If not based on a high degree of democracy, the centralism will be a sham. By encouraging democracy, criticism and self-criticism, the Party will be able to truly unify the will of all its members, so that they can act with one heart and one mind. Comrade Mao Zedong has also encouraged the army to practise democracy. Our People’s Liberation Army practises democracy in the three major fields, namely, political, economic and military fields. At a company meeting, soldiers can criticize the company commander, but will this democracy not hinder his unified command? No, it will not. If he rectifies his mistakes as soon as he discovers them, he will exercise better command and his soldiers will have greater fighting capacity. It is true not only at the level of a company, but also at the level of a large war zone: a commander will be subject to criticism if he makes mistakes. For instance, a corps or regiment commander will criticize the commander who has lost a battle in a certain war zone. What other choice does he have? If we fail, we must admit our mistakes and there is no other alternative. This way we will be better-equipped to fight the next battle. With the practice of inner-Party democracy and criticism and self-criticism, people will not tend to make irresponsible remarks behind other’s backs, but instead lay the problems out on the table. Comrade Mao Zedong proposed “learning from past mistakes to avoid future ones and curing the sickness to save the patient”. He said we should allow people who have made mistakes to correct them. For example, Wang Ming was again elected to the Central Committee at the Seventh and the Eighth National Congress of our Party. At the Ninth National Congress we will once more consider his re-election in order to give him a chance to correct his mistakes. In short, we should patiently help comrades who have made mistakes through the method known as observance and help. By observance we mean simply observing whether or not they can rectify their mistakes. Regardless of whether or not they are able to do so, we should offer them plenty of help, keeping in mind “learning from past mistakes to avoid future ones and curing the sickness to save the patient”.

As we see it, the whole series of concepts concerning Party building defined by Comrade Mao Zedong has immensely expanded on Lenin’s principles on Party building. The fine work style of the Party should be carried on by our successors. We attach particular importance to spreading Mao Zedong Thought in order that it will take root among the masses. As for what kind of party we should build, this is a question not only for our generation, but also for the next generation and the generation after that. The party is the key element in a country’s revolution. Only a good party can steer revolution towards victory, after which a good party is still essential to the building of socialism if it is to succeed.

The foregoing has all been to give you an introduction to our Party’s history. In brief, a party must be able to unite all its cadres and members through the necessary struggle. A united party will then be strong enough to unite with the masses. Such a party can play a tremendous role even if it does not have many members. A party with a small number of members and combat effectiveness is much better than a party with a large number of members but no combat effectiveness. A party with combat effectiveness will grow.

(Excerpts from two talks with an Asian Communist leader, which took place on June 14 and December 27, 1965, respectively.)