A WORLD TO WIN    #25   (1999)

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 in China.

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.


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 people".

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, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

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 useless.

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.