Deng Xiaoping

The Task of Consolidating the Army


Spoken: July 14, 1975
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine



We should first of all recognize that the general situation in our army is good and that it has stood the test both before and after the founding of the People’s Republic, right up to the present. Our army is the mainstay of the dictatorship of the proletariat in China. Without pointing to such major campaigns as the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, we need only mention the minor clashes such as our counter-attacks fought in self-defence at Zhenbao Island and the Xisha Islands and along the Sino-Indian borders. On each occasion, every regiment, company and squad fulfilled its task. This shows that our army has a fine tradition and that it is heroic and skilful in battle. Comrades have told me that, with a few individual exceptions, the situation in our army units at regimental level and below is not bad. We are all glad of this.

Today I’m going to talk mainly about the problems remaining in the army. In my opinion, we shouldn’t talk only about the strong points of our army to the neglect of its weaknesses, because it has been praised often enough. Owing to sabotage by Lin Biao and his like, there are quite a few problems besetting our army. Many of the comrades present here feel this. I’ve thought these problems over and would like to sum them up in five words: bloating, laxity, conceit, extravagance and inertia. Of course, I don’t mean that these five words present the general picture of the army. However, some or all of them do apply to a number of units and comrades.

First, there is a certain degree of bloating. The reorganization of our army and the streamlining of its organizational set-up, which we’re going to discuss at this meeting, are aimed at solving precisely this problem. We can’t say that every division is bloated, but it is definitely true to some extent of the army as a whole.

Second, there is a certain degree of laxity. This is chiefly manifested in factionalism and an inadequate sense of organizational discipline. Historically, our army was formed on the basis of a number of “mountain strongholds”, with comrades hailing from all corners of the country. Organizationally, we had three front armies, each of which was established on the basis of many “mountain strongholds”, and this naturally gave rise to a “mountain-stronghold” mentality in varying degrees. During the rectification movement in Yan’an, Comrade Mao Zedong called on us to combat sectarianism and to solve the problem of the “mountain-stronghold” mentality throughout the Party and in different places, especially in the army. This problem was solved with three or four years of effort, starting from the beginning of the rectification movement in 1941. After the movement, cadres in the army and the localities pooled their wisdom and strength, making a single, tremendous force, and that is why we were victorious in our revolutionary wars. Since that time, the question of combating sectarianism in the army has never arisen again until now. Why, then, should we raise it now? Because this problem has reappeared in our army in the course of “supporting the Left”. In doing this, many persons became involved in factional activities, some siding with one faction, some with another. Since the army people had great authority, they became the real power behind the different factions. Later they brought the same attitudes into the army, and in many of its units this led to the rise of two opposing factions. Now, nine years after the outbreak of the “cultural revolution”, a fairly large number of comrades in our army have yet to shake off factionalism. And this has damaged unity within the army. Factionalism in the army is very dangerous — to put it more strongly, it cannot, and should not, be tolerated. Now there are always a few people in the army who like to build strongholds or set up small tight circles of one sort or another; they are partial to persons who flatter and obey them, and they practise favouritism when making appointments to posts. In fact, flatterers are persons of dubious character. Nonetheless, some of our comrades delight in being lavishly praised and flattered. They are unable to work together with people who come from different parts of the country or with people who differ with them. That is how “mountain strongholds” have come into being without these comrades’ being aware of it themselves. In some units here in Beijing we have comrades of that sort, including even some senior leading cadres, who are bent on building their own factions. Through “hard struggle” they engineer the transfer of comrades with differing views, and they organize leading groups that consist of persons obedient to them. Isn’t this erecting “mountain strongholds”? Isn’t this indulging in sectarianism? For several years we’ve been talking about carrying out Party policies. Yet many of those policies remain unimplemented, and one important reason is factionalism. Factionalism in army units in turn exerts a pernicious influence on some civilian units, so that it cannot be eliminated there either. Although the army comrades who were sent to “support the Left” have been withdrawn from the civilian units, their influence persists. Therefore, we say that the problems in civilian units are related to those in the army.

Many comrades feel that organizational discipline is weak in our army today. Subordination of the lower levels to the higher, and of individuals to the organization is being neglected. The army used to have a very strong sense of organizational discipline, and orders were carried out without the slightest hesitation. But things are different now. Sometimes, not only individuals but even whole units act in defiance of orders. The lack of a sense of organizational discipline is related to factionalism. Those who disobey orders have the interests of their own factions in mind instead of the overall interests of the revolution. They place personal and factional interests above everything else. They seek fame, gain and position, and when they fail to secure them, they take offence and even refuse to obey orders of transfer. Just shifting someone to a new post is rather difficult nowadays, because many people prefer to remain in the big cities, especially in Beijing. If you want to transfer them to other places it’s very hard — what with talk of poor health and heart trouble which is certain to recur if they are given jobs elsewhere but will disappear if they remain in Beijing. In a word, the excuses are endless.

It is not only organizational discipline that is weaker than before, so is political discipline. For instance, some people stubbornly refuse to implement Party policies as urged by the Central Committee. What does this signify? It signifies lack of political discipline. Another example is the failure of some comrades in our army to carry out the policy of helping the civilian units to uproot factionalism and so promote unity among the masses. This question involves both political and organizational discipline.

Recently, the Central Committee issued a series of documents, all of which made some mention of the need to solve the problems of the leading bodies. Weakness, laziness and laxity are to be found in the leading military bodies as well as in the civilian units. There are quite a few leading military bodies that are lax or lazy, and probably even more that are weak. Recently the civilian units have been working well and hastening to solve these problems, but the army has been somewhat slower.

Third, there is a certain amount of conceit. This problem is nothing new in our army. In the war years, since the army was making great contributions and enjoyed high prestige, some comrades tended to become conceited. After many years of corrective effort, by and large the problem was solved. It should be pointed out, however, that a new situation developed during the “cultural revolution”. Since the army was given the task of “supporting the Left”, it wielded great power. Together with other factors, this engendered conceit among a number of army comrades, some of whom became arrogant and overbearing. Some persons have abandoned the fine tradition of the mass line and like to throw their weight around. At present there is not sufficient unity inside the army itself, between the army and the government and between the army and the people. In some cases, relations between some army units, between the army and the government and between the army and the people are rather strained. Formerly, when army comrades rode a bus, they would make a point of offering their seats to elderly persons or women carrying babies. But now some of them don’t bother to do that. I have heard of a case where a soldier riding a bus did not offer his seat to a woman with a baby even when it began to cry. Seeing this, an old man commented, “Uncle Lei Feng isn’t around any more.” This example pinpoints the problem. Our army used to have very good traditions in this respect. But now little attention is paid to unity and discipline. The least we can say is that the Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention are not so respected as in the past. Some people, casting aside the tradition of hard work and plain living, pursue a bourgeois way of life. Examples of this abound. It would be dangerous to underestimate the gravity of these things or to lower our guard against them.

Fourth, there is a certain degree of extravagance. As I’ve said, some people pursue a bourgeois way of life. Some seek ease and comfort, higher salaries, more housing space and indeed top conditions in every respect. Some even treat public property as their own, making hardly any distinction between public and private. Some army units entertain guests with lavish dinners and give them generous gifts, or erect building, halls and guesthouses that are not needed. These phenomena are widespread, they are increasing and have so far gone unchecked. In their pursuit of luxuries, the army units concerned contravene policy in many ways. Some people take things from the civilian units at will, or buy them at reduced prices. Some just take things without even going through any formalities. It is commendable that, in compliance with Comrade Mao Zedong’s “May 7th Directive”, our army has set up many farms and enterprises. But we must remind our comrades that they must truly follow the spirit of the “May 7th Directive”. Some army farms and enterprises, having made some money, are now spending it carelessly, and some leading cadres contend for the power to grant requests made by subordinate units. Measures must be taken to change this situation. Army units have taken over too many of the buildings and too much of the land belonging to civilian units, and the civilian authorities have a lot of complaints about this. We should see to it that whatever should be returned is returned. While some of the buildings and land were taken over by the army units because they were not being used by the civilian units, in other cases they have been forcibly occupied. As for extravagance, I am sure every comrade knows of examples in the army, so I need say no more on this point.

Fifth, there is a certain degree of inertia. It is found not only among individuals but also to a varying extent in some organs. Some high-ranking cadres, their revolutionary will failing in their later years, seek their own self-interest instead of maintaining their revolutionary integrity. Some people with only minor illnesses ask for long recuperation leaves as if they were seriously ill, or they moan and groan without being ill at all. And they are bureaucratic; they don’t put any effort or conscientiousness into their work. They don’t go down to the grass-roots units. They don’t lift a finger themselves, nor do they use their minds. They rely on their secretaries to do everything and even ask others to write a five-minute speech for them — and then they sometimes read it wrong. This is mental indolence. Some people are overcautious in everything. They hold back in their work and dare not air their views for fear of being criticized if they say something wrong. Why should Communists be so timid? Why don’t they dare to speak their minds? Why are they afraid of shouldering responsibility? Do they think they will escape blame if they act like this? Do they think they can avoid making mistakes if they merely read prepared speeches? To say the least, I don’t think much of the style of these prepared speeches — they’re just copies of what has been said in the newspapers. Isn’t that stereotyped writing? It is not just the ideology of the individuals concerned that is to blame: part of the problem is that they haven’t received sufficient help and support from the leadership. The help I am referring to here includes criticism, because criticism in itself is a form of help. The Central Committee of the Party has the responsibility of helping the provinces, and its Military Commission has the responsibility of helping the military regions and the various services and arms. We should not be afraid to assume responsibilities. Mistakes are unavoidable. Mistakes should be criticized, but once they are corrected, that’s the end of it.

To sum up, the general situation in our army is good. But bloating, laxity, conceit, extravagance and inertia are to be found in certain degrees. We should not overlook these problems, even though they exist only in certain units.


What are the problems to be solved in consolidating the army? They are the five problems listed above. Our present meeting will decide on a new size and organizational structure for the army, with a view to making them less unwieldy. But this is not our only task. We must also solve the four other problems, all of which have to be handled in connection with the first one. If we can do away with bloating, streamline the army establishment, and restructure it as a whole, we will pave the way for the proper solution of other problems. For instance, the present reorganization involves the restaffing and improvement of the leading bodies at different levels. In the course of deciding how these things should be done, we must find ways to combat laxity and inertia and also to overcome the weakness and laziness which now affect these leading bodies. This time we should fix definite limits to the size and structure of the army and, once fixed, they should be strictly adhered to. We may say that the size and structure of our army should be as rigorously adhered to as state laws are. Anyway, no one should wilfully order soldiers to serve him personally as has happened in the past. If only one secretary is assigned to your office, you should not use more. It is better to have fewer secretaries because this will force you to do more yourself, to be more diligent and to use your mind a bit more. This will be much to your advantage! In strengthening the leading bodies at different levels, we should take care to choose the right persons, and that means we must learn more about them before they are appointed. In the present reorganization, we should do a better job of choosing cadres for leading bodies even at the company level — not to mention those at the battalion and regimental levels and above. Also, in the course of consolidating the army measures should be taken to improve the education of cadres, enhance their Party spirit, oppose factionalism, strengthen the sense of discipline and carry forward the tradition of hard work.


After discussion, comrades of the Standing Committee of the Military Commission have agreed that the work of the Commission consists essentially of the two tasks set forth by Comrade Mao Zedong: first, to consolidate the army, and second, to prepare for the event of war. These are the guidelines for the army’s work. After we have decided on the size and structure of our army, we should turn our attention to its equipment. The government is presently in the midst of considering the next five-year plan and a ten-year plan, and there should be a plan for equipping the army as well. Scientific research should be given priority. We need research on conventional as well as sophisticated weaponry, and even on such questions as how to reduce the load carried by the soldiers. How can a soldier be expected to fight when he is required to carry several dozen kilogrammes? There’s no telling how many non-battle casualties might ensue. This question of a soldier’s equipment is an important one requiring study; standardization is called for here. The General Logistics Department should work out a plan and there should be some persons especially in charge of this matter.

After the size and structure of the army and its equipment, the next question to be tackled is strategy. In conducting military operations, we must consider the terrain and the tactics appropriate to the specific conditions. We must consider all these questions. Strategy involves not only military operations but also training, which should be treated as a significant question. Present-day wars are fought by combined armed units, in the air, on the ground and on and under the seas. They cannot be conducted by following our old formula of “millet plus rifles”. Nowadays a company commander has to perform his duties in a different way than in the past. In the past, a company commander at the front could just hold up a Mauser and cry, “Charge!” Today he must know much more. And this is even more true of officers above the company level. In a battle tanks or artillery may be assigned to him and he may also have to take charge of ground-to-air communications. How is he going to command? What is needed is a higher level of command capability; we must not overestimate our existing level. If we overlook military training, we are likely to pay for our neglect, at least in the early stages of a war. We should also improve our cadres’ administrative skills, because they are not adequate now. The food in the companies, for instance, is generally unsatisfactory. Much money is spent but the meals are poor. This is a matter of administrative competence. Naturally there are many more such problems. To improve the officers’ ability to command and their administrative skills and to increase their scientific knowledge, we must set up schools at different levels, including schools run by the general departments and services and arms, and we must operate them successfully. In peace-time, in addition to holding military manoeuvres, it is useful to set up some schools.

Many comrades have suggested that we hold a conference on political work. I think this is a good suggestion, because we do need to discuss ways to improve Party and political work in our army units. We have to strengthen the collective leadership of the Party committees in the army, strengthen its political departments and raise their prestige. When assigning political cadres, we must ensure their quality, so that they can serve as examples. The choice of officers also deserves serious attention. As it is important to select officers according to specified criteria, in improving the political departments we should make a special effort with departments in charge of officers’ affairs. Cadres of the political departments, and particularly those handling officers’ affairs, should be impartial, honest, opposed to undesirable practices, and unafraid of confronting offenders. At the same time, they should work patiently, get to know the officers well and keep in regular contact with them. We have a long-standing tradition of placing officers’ affairs in the charge of the political departments. The leading comrades should assess and examine officers through the political departments; that is the only procedure consistent with our organizational principles. We should carry on this fine tradition. Special efforts should be made to improve political work at the company level. Company cadres, and political instructors in particular, should know how to work effectively. Perhaps we should assign comrades who are somewhat older to the post of company political instructor, and keep them in that position somewhat longer than is usual now. It is impossible for instructors to accumulate experience and learn how to do ideological work if they are transferred to other posts after only two or three years. In addition to what I’ve just said, we are faced with questions of unity within the army, unity between the army and the civilian units, and relations between the army and the people, all of which merit our study.


There are two problems concerning cadres during the reorganization. One is the assignment of officers who have been released from their current posts to new posts within the army, and the other is the transfer of cadres to civilian units. Several hundred thousand cadres or officers will have to be transferred to civilian units, which will then be responsible for their placement. But this also concerns the army, so it should support and help the civilian units involved. The civilian units already have many cadres of their own so it will not be easy for them to make the necessary arrangements. Thus, some of the cadres or officers transferred may complain to their former army units. Everyone should be aware of this problem, in which the army should take a supportive attitude towards the civilian units. Within the army itself, the question is, who is to be retained and who is to be transferred to the civilian units, that is, who is to remain at his present post and who is to leave? We have to assign jobs to cadres or officers who have returned from the civilian units after the expiry of their task of “supporting the Left” there, and to those who were pushed aside in the early days of the Cultural Revolution. We should take a comprehensive approach to this problem. As regards officers at the divisional level and above who are retained in the army, there are the following questions: Who will occupy a post? Who will not? Who will serve as an adviser? As these questions are not easy to handle well and involve an enormous amount of detail, proper arrangements must be made. The other problems I’ve mentioned — laxity, conceit, extravagance and inertia — all of which should be solved in connection with the problem of bloating, are also related to the cadre problem and therefore should be studied thoroughly. Furthermore, there is the question of the reassignment and interchange of personnel. As Comrade Mao Zedong has said, in addition to the exchange of commanders among the eight greater military regions, there should be an interchange of cadres among the provincial military regions and some departments, because it is not good for cadres to function in one place for too long. Since some cadres have become involved in factionalism in civilian units to the detriment of the work there, it would be best to transfer them elsewhere. Wherever a “mountain stronghold” exists, we must get rid of it — demolish it by transferring the cadres involved so that they don’t gather in one place. It is also desirable to transfer some people to suitable jobs in other places chiefly because this will bring them into contact with more people and enable them to broaden their understanding and learn to conduct themselves more prudently. To sum up, it is not a good thing to have a cadre work in one place for too long. We should educate the cadres concerned and make this clear to them.

As regards practical steps, I suggest that we first readjust the leading bodies starting from the top and working down to the bottom, just as in solving problems in civilian units (enterprises included) we should begin by solving the problems of their leading bodies. The leading bodies should have authority and “put daring first”; they should be able to carry out the Party’s principles and policies correctly and perform their work effectively. How can we accomplish anything if the central authorities, or the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, always have to send people to attend to matters that should have been dealt with at the lower levels? The same holds for the army. In appointing leading cadres, the first thing for us to do is to choose the right persons for the two top positions — persons who display exemplary Party spirit and work style and who know how to unite with their comrades. It is particularly important that they have the habit of working hard, because that can help bring about a change for the better in many things. Therefore, in selecting cadres, particularly of high rank, we should pick those who are at least relatively hard-working.

Now let me speak briefly on the question of advisers. The post of adviser has been newly created in the army — a wise measure in the current circumstances. There are two problems here: which comrades should be appointed as advisers, and how they should act in their new capacity. It is impossible to be perfectly fair in the choice of advisers. Comrade Mao Zedong has said that people who are elected members of the Central Committee of the Party are not necessarily more competent than others who remain outside it. All our comrades, especially those serving as advisers, should keep the overall interests of the country in mind and accept the organizational arrangements. The leadership should be mindful of the material needs of the advisers, and also and particularly of their political and ideological needs. It should arrange for them to read documents, hear reports and be informed of some of the issues handled by Party committees at their corresponding levels. The leader of an advisory group who is not a member of the Party committee at the corresponding level may attend its meetings as a non-voting participant, so that he can brief other members of the advisory group. Apart from diminished access to cars and secretarial services, there will be no change in the treatment to which they were entitled while on regular service. It should be made clear to them that the change in the use of cars and secretaries is dictated by the reduced requirements of their work, not by any lowering of status. For their part, our adviser comrades should be stricter with themselves. They should not, for example, ask to be treated to meals or banquets on their work inspection tours. Some people want to be given a dinner party wherever they go and feel offended if they are not, regarding the omission as a sign of disrespect for them as former superiors. This is most improper. Inspection tours should be well planned, or they will impose undue burdens on comrades at the lower levels. Advisers, too, have their power — the power to make suggestions. They should learn how to advise without becoming too involved personally in work. If they try to concern themselves with everything, they will only make trouble for the Party committee concerned. Problems are bound to crop up with the establishment of advisory posts; we will find out what they are by summing up experience in a year or so.


The responsibility for running the military forces falls, first of all, on comrades attending this meeting or, more broadly, on principal leading comrades at the army level and above. It will be possible to preserve all the fine traditions of our Party and to have a high degree of unity and combat-worthiness in the People’s Liberation Army as long as these comrades do a good job. But if they don’t, the army will be adversely affected and existing problems may worsen. At present, certain phenomena demand attention, and we older comrades are very concerned about them. For several decades our army has been a very good one on the whole. We have exerted some effort to make this so; that is, we have made contributions in this respect. At present, whether the undesirable tendencies in the PLA can be overcome and whether the fine traditions of so many years can be carried forward depend mainly on how much we older comrades can do to help and guide the young and middle-aged cadres and pass on our experience to them. In my view, if we all set an example by following Comrade Mao Zedong’s motto, “unity, alertness, conscientiousness, liveliness”, we will find that the problems in our army are not hard to solve, and that the line, principles and policies of the Party can be implemented effectively.

To summarize, all the ideas I have presented here are only what Comrade Mao Zedong had in mind when he said: “Carry the revolutionary tradition forward; may you gain still greater glory.”

(Speech at an enlarged meeting of the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.)