1 October 1949
"The Chinese People Have Stood Up!"
"The Chinese people have stood up!" With these words
Mao Tsetung announced to the world the establishment of the People's
Republic of China on October 1st 1949 from Tienanmen Square in the
heart of Beijing. Fifty years later it is natural and fitting that
proletarian revolutionaries around the world join in celebrating
the triumph of this great epic of history by deepening their grasp
of the lessons learned amidst tremendous sacrifice and ultimate
triumph so as to better apply these lessons today.
Chased from the cities by the counter-revolution in 1927, the communists
of China, their ranks greatly reduced by the massacres unleashed
by the Kuomintang (KMT) reactionaries, took the revolution to China's
vast countryside and began a process of struggle that would span
more than two decades and be made up of three distinct wars (the
Agrarian Revolution, the War Against Japan and finally the Civil
War against the KMT ruling class). In the course of the revolution
Mao and the Communist Party of China astounded the world with the
Long March and other feats of unparalleled heroism. The victory
in 1949 opened a new chapter in the world proletarian revolution
by fanning the struggle of the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa
and Latin America against imperialism and opening the door to a
whole new experience in carrying out socialist revolution.
Mao established what today seems self-evident: in a country like
China the masses of the peasantry, the majority of the population
directly suffering under the semi-feudal system, would be the main
force of the revolution. But at that time Mao's view represented
only a small minority in the ranks of the communists. It was widely
believed that revolution in the oppressed and backward countries
like China would come only with the victory of the proletarian revolution
in the West and that the revolution in these countries would follow
the same path as the Bolshevik revolution, in which the working
class first seized power in the key cities and then took the war
against the exploiters to the countryside.
Mao's ability to understand and chart the way forward was based
mainly on synthesising the experience of the thousands and thousands
of communists and millions among the masses in making revolution.
But this treasure chest of experience of heroism, arduous struggle
and bitter defeats did not by itself produce the answers to the
problems of the revolution. Other leaders drew different conclusions
from the same experience, and very sharply opposed positions, what
Mao came to call "two-line struggle", developed over the
targets, basic class alliance, nature and path of the revolution
Nor, as both bourgeois scholars and revisionists were later to claim,
could Mao be considered a representative of China's peasantry and
its age-old struggle. While Mao had great confidence in the peasantry
and its revolutionary potential and drew lessons from its past struggles,
he was the representative of a different class, the proletariat,
which had only recently emerged in China as a result of the penetration
of imperialism. Mao was armed with the scientific ideology that
corresponds to this class, then known as Marxism-Leninism, which
he used to analyse the contradictions in society and sum up revolutionary
experience. Most importantly, Mao applied Marxism-Leninism to the
concrete problems of the Chinese revolution, part of the process
through which, together with his leadership in socialist revolution
and the struggle against modern revisionism, he developed the proletarian
science to new heights, to what we now call Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Mao understood that in countries like China the need for a democratic
revolution against the old feudal system and against foreign domination
was crying out. Others before him also struggled against these enemies.
China's bourgeoisie, including some progressive representatives
like Sun Yat-sen, had led powerful struggles against imperialism
and the old feudal society and culture. These efforts mobilised
millions of Chinese people from all walks of life, but they were
all ultimately defeated and/or betrayed. (The arch-criminal Chiang
Kai-shek turned the KMT, which Sun Yat-sen had formed and which
was allied with the communists, into a counter-revolutionary machine
of terror and repression.)
Mao pointed out that in China the bourgeoisie was incapable of leading
the democratic revolution to completion. And the whole history of
the 20th century has underscored this truth again and again: in
the oppressed counties this class absolutely cannot carry the democratic
revolution to victory.
The principal section of the bourgeoisie, the bureaucrat capitalist
class, has become the chief vehicle for imperialist penetration
in these countries; its whole existence depends on protecting and
representing imperialism. It compromises with and reinforces all
sorts of backward feudal elements in the economy and culture of
these societies. The bureaucrat capitalist class is one of the main
targets of the revolution, one of the "three great mountains",
as Mao put it, weighing down on the backs of the people, together
with feudalism and imperialism.
Mao analysed that there was another section of the bourgeoisie,
called the "national bourgeoisie", which opposes imperialism
and feudalism and which he considered part of the people's camp.
But he also pointed out that the national bourgeoisie was weak economically
and politically and also had some ties to imperialism and feudalism.
It could only support the revolution "to a certain extent and
a certain degree", and it could even go over to the side of
the enemy under certain circumstances. In no way could this class
be entrusted with the leadership of the revolution. Mao's first
great "two-line struggle" was against the rightists in
the Party who abandoned leadership of the revolution to the bourgeoisie,
which led to the disastrous consequences referred to above when
the KMT lashed out at the communists and the masses.
Thus Mao fought for the understanding that only the proletariat,
through its communist party, could stand at the head of the people
and lead the democratic revolution to victory. Mao also analysed
this phenomenon from a proletarian internationalist point of view.
Mao understood that in the era of imperialism identified by Lenin,
the democratic revolutions in the oppressed countries were part
of the world proletarian revolution. Only the proletariat and its
party could lead such a revolution. Furthermore, this revolution
led not to capitalism, as did the old democratic revolutions of
the pre-imperialist era, but to socialism and communism. While Mao's
thinking was based on the basic analysis Lenin and the Communist
International had made of the contemporary world, he was able to
greatly deepen this initial understanding based on the rich experience
of both the advances and defeats of the Chinese revolution. He used
the term "New Democratic revolution" (NDR) to describe
the bourgeois-democratic revolution led by the proletariat, an understanding
that is basic to Maoists worldwide.
By referring to "new" democratic revolution Mao was calling
attention to the afore-mentioned difference with the old-type of
democratic revolution, that the NDR must be led by the working class.
The revolution was bourgeois democratic in character in that it
was aimed at feudalism, imperialism and bureaucrat capitalism and
did not target the bourgeoisie as a whole as an enemy, nor was its
goal the establishment of socialism. It was feudalism and imperialism
that were putting an immense burden on the people, strangling the
productive forces. The basis and necessity existed to unite the
entire people against these enemies, including those weak and vacillating
allies such as the national bourgeoisie who dreamed of a strong
capitalist China free of foreign domination.
The other and related reason why Mao refe" to a "new"
democratic revolution is precisely because unlike the previous democratic
revolutions in the West, such as the French Revolution, the NDR
does not lead to capitalism but rather to socialism. Why? In violently
sweeping away imperialism and feudalism, the New Democratic revolution
eliminates the main obstacles that have prevented a vigorous independent
capitalist economy from developing. But more importantly the leadership
of the proletariat assures that the NDR will open the way to the
second stage, that of the proletarian socialist revolution, whose
goal is to establish a socialist society and be part of the worldwide
struggle for communism. As Mao put it so brilliantly, the New Democratic
revolution opens the door for capitalism, but it opens the door
to socialism even wider.
PROTRACTED PEOPLE'S WAR
Joseph Stalin had pointed out in 1927 that one of the specific
conditions of the Chinese revolution was that from the beginning
the armed revolution was confronting the armed counter-revolution.
Mao was to develop this point further in establishing that the basic
path of the revolution would be a process of protracted warfare
in which the peasantry, especially the poor peasants, would be the
main force of the revolution but that the working class through
its communist party would be the leading force.
Mao put the problem of seizing political power by force of arms
squarely at the centre of the revolutionary agenda. He summed this
up with his famous statement, "Political power grows out of
the barrel of a gun." His enemies have never forgiven Mao for
having said this and still less for having implemented it in China,
where the guns of the communist-led army crushed the haughty rule
of the imperialists, bureaucrat capitalists and feudal lords. But
Mao's statement was simply the succinct summation of what the exploiting
classes have been practising since time immemorial. Have the reactionaries
ever failed to use violent force to maintain their rule? History
has proven that the ruling class preach "non-violence"
to the oppressed while they themselves torture, imprison and murder
whenever necessary to preserve their rule.
Mao studied both the laws of warfare in general and the particular
characteristics of the revolutionary warfare of the Chinese people.
He understood that because of the nature of Chinese society it was
possible to begin the war even when in an overall and strategic
sense the enemy was stronger than the people, and that by waging
warfare it was possible to gradually transform this situation until
the might of the people's forces overcame that of the enemy and
enabled the revolutionary forces to go over to the strategic offensive.
The path of protracted people's war enables the revolutionary forces
to weather the storms and actively transform weakness into strength.
It focuses the strength of the people's armed forces on the enemy's
weak point-the vast countryside in the oppressed countries where
the peasantry has both a need and desire to fight for liberation.
In this way the revolutionary forces could "surround the cities
from the countryside", establishing red political power bit
by bit in the base areas until the conditions throughout the country,
and in conjunction with international developments, enabled the
people's forces to go on the offensive and achieve nation-wide victory.
When Mao set out on this path it was still uncharted. In the furnace
of revolutionary practice Mao and the Communist Party of China developed
a comprehensive military doctrine of the proletariat. Although the
vast area of Asia, Africa and Latin America contains scores of countries
with very different conditions, each crying out for the creative
application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the particular problems
of the society and revolution, the general features of what has
come to be called the "Chinese path" describe the basic
orientation for making revolution in the oppressed countries. This
is why the Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement
calls Mao's teaching the "basic point of reference" in
these countries. Analysing the significant developments that have
taken place in the world over the past several decades is indeed
a vital task, but this task will only be accomplished by building
upon the Maoist foundation, not by undermining it. Furthermore,
even in the imperialist countries where the socio-economic formation
requires the revolution to follow a different path of insurrection
in the cities followed by civil war, Mao's teachings on people's
war have universal application.
In the fifty years since the victory of the Chinese revolution all
sorts of opposing "models" have been proposed to the oppressed
peoples. The Soviet Union, which was captured by a new capitalist
ruling class in 1956, became the centre of modern revisionism -
those who gave lip service to Marxism but in actual line and practice
repudiated Marx and Lenin. Naturally, these revisionists viewed
Mao, who had led the struggle to expose their bourgeois nature and
oppose them, as their bitter enemy. (Even today the revisionists'
filth and slander against Mao has not been completely swept away,
even if their heirs are sometimes happy to try to claim Mao as well,
even while attacking his teachings.)
The revisionists asserted that there was a "non-capitalist
road to development" in the oppressed countries of Asia, African
and Latin America which was neither the path of people's war and
New Democratic revolution charted by Mao nor the "classical"
capitalism promoted by the Western imperialists. In fact, the "non-capitalist
road" meant continuing the rule of the bureaucrat capitalist
class in league with feudalism. The basic difference was that the
ruling classes of these "non-capitalist" countries would
be connected to the very real capitalist rulers of the Soviet Union,
which had emerged as a major imperialist power challenging the U.S.-led
imperialist bloc for world domination. India, the world's second-largest
country, teeming with hundreds of millions of oppressed people,
was the ultimate example of this counter-revolutionary path. The
reactionary social system remained the same, the revolutionary struggles
led by the communists were viciously suppressed, and the whole country
remained locked into the world imperialist system. It is no wonder
that the call "China's path is our path" had such an electrifying
effect in that country and others, because it stood for rupture
with parliamentarianism, peaceful subservience to the ruling class,
and international alignment with the Soviet betrayers.
Revisionism in other forms has also fought Maoism over the basic
strategy and character of revolution in the oppressed countries.
One brand of revisionism, known as "Guevarism" (after
the Cuban leader Che Guevara), covered its opposition to Maoism
with some left-sounding phrases about "one-stage socialist
revolution". This line denigrated the revolutionary potential
of the peasantry and foreswore the waging of a protracted people's
war. Instead, the armed actions of a small band of "saviours"
would, according to this line, transform the political situation
in the country as a whole and lead to a quick victory through insurrection
in the city and/or a collapse of the existing regime.
But this line, which appears as a "fast track" to revolution,
is in reality a fast track to capitulation, because it abandons
the actual task of mobilising the masses to uproot the old society
and make a fundamental break with the world imperialist system.
Where this line has been put into practice, it has never led to
the establishment of the rule of the proletariat and the people.
Generally speaking, this kind of armed struggle is really seen as
complementary to a strategy of negotiation and alliance with so-called
progressive sections of the ruling classes.
Similarly, after the death of Mao and the seizure of power by the
capitalist-roaders in China, more than a few former friends and
admirers of revolutionary China jumped on the bandwagon of the anti-Mao
forces. Led by Enver Hoxha, then leader of Albania, these forces
centred their attack on Mao's teachings on the nature of the class
struggle under socialism, but they also attacked Mao's line and
practice of waging protracted people's war. Like the Soviet revisionists
before him, Hoxha accused Mao of abandoning the leading role of
the proletariat and of "waging war without perspective".
Actually, Mao insisted on the essential point: that the proletariat
must lead the entire people in making revolution. In this sense
he was applying and developing Lenin's famous point that a communist
"should not be a trade union secretary but a tribune of the
The victory of the New Democratic revolution in 1949 was, as Mao
put it, "only the first step in a march of 10,000 li".
It had laid the basis and cleared the path for the second, higher
and more profound revolution, the socialist revolution. From 1949
onward, the two paths of socialism and capitalism confronted each
other in China in increasingly intense and complicated ways. This
led to struggles no less heroic than the Long March and victories
no less stunning than the defeat of the KMT armies in 1949. The
socialist revolution was ultimately defeated in 1976, but not without
first reaching unprecedented heights during the Great Proletarian
Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, laying the basis for the later advance
of the world proletarian revolution, including in China itself.
As the Chinese revolution blossomed into its socialist stage and
Mao further developed the revolutionary ideology, the full significance
of his earlier teachings on the New Democratic revolution came into
sharper focus. Mao waged the most important struggle for the liberation
of an oppressed nation that the world has ever seen, but he was
not a nationalist. His stand, viewpoint and method were that of
the international proletariat.1
The advance of the revolution to its second and higher stage of
socialism was only possible because the leadership of the working
class had been firmly established throughout the course of the New
Democratic revolution. Above all, this meant the leadership of the
communist party armed with the proletarian revolutionary science,
This leadership of the proletariat is not mere words, it cannot
simply be proclaimed nor does it represent only the subjective desires
of a few leaders. The leadership of the proletariat and its MLM
party in the New Democratic revolution has profound consequences
for the whole course of the revolution. It affects every question
of strategy and tactics, and takes expression in the policies of
the revolutionary forces at every stage of the revolution. In the
long history of the revolution in China, the crucial importance
of base areas became clear not only for their military role in opposing
the enemy but also as a way in which the masses can, under the leadership
of the communist party, begin to carry out social transformation.
New political power based on the masses of the people, new culture
and the beginnings of new economic relations were being forged in
these base areas, which became beacons to the whole country and
created the conditions for the revolution to continue after the
nation-wide seizure of power. Today this experience is being relived
in Peru, Nepal and elsewhere.
For example, whether the revolution is able to unleash women to
strike at centuries-old patriarchal oppression, or whether such
struggle is avoided or even suppressed in the name of "uniting
the people", has everything to do with the class character
of the revolution and whether the goals of the revolution will go
in the direction of a classless society or not. Whether or not there
exists a genuine MLM party that is actively educating and training
the advanced section of the masses in the proletarian world outlook
and organising them into the party and other organisations has everything
to do with whether the struggle will advance to the stage of socialist
revolution. Without such a communist party, good intentions are
Fifty years later the historical magnitude of the victory of the
people's war in China stands out all the more clearly. The example
of what has been already accomplished by our class fills us with
enthusiasm to write new chapters in the proletarian revolutionary
saga. By deepening our grasp of the lessons of the Chinese revolution,
we strengthen our ability today to lead the masses in violently
sweeping away the old world and beginning to construct the new one.
1 A discussion of the experience of socialist revolution in China
is outside the scope of this article. It has been dealt with at
length in previous issues of AWTW - see particularly numbers 7,
14 and 20.