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Mao
1893-1976

Works: “On Practice, 1936; “On New Democracy”, 1940; “Reform Our Study”, 1941; “Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing”, 1942; “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership”, 1943; and writings on guerilla warfare. 

1. Theory

One of Mao's principal philosophical works is “On Practice”, 1936. Here, the subject is the relationship between theory and practice, and consecutive stages of knowing the world. The first stage is simple perception of external objects. The second stage is formulation of laws which govern the relationship between the objects. Between the first and second stages there is “a leap” from the external world to the internal one, from empirical observation to understanding the essence of phenomena. The third stage is practice. On the basis of tendencies which we have formulated on the second stage, we attempt to change the world, modify the object of our knowledge. Between the second and third stages of knowledge there is again a qualitative jump. It is necessary to make a transition from theoretical to practical knowledge. An example of this we see in Goethe's “Faust”. As a result of new information obtained at the stage of practice, we return to the first stage of knowledge, the perception of external phenomena, but this time on a higher level. And hence, the whole process of knowledge begins anew, makes another spiral.

In his 1940 work, “On New Democracy”, Mao poses the question of the character of the revolution in China, i.e. what are its goals. A struggle against imperialism can not be called “a democratic-bourgeois revolution”. Yet to talk about a “socialist” revolution in China, which is a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country, one dominated by agricultural production, is impossible. Hence, the new regime – transitional between capitalism and socialism – Mao calls “a new democracy”. What is the economic character of this “new democracy”?

In the countryside, Mao calls on the peasants to expropriate the land of the feudal lords, as was actually done in the course of the guerilla war of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1930’s and 40’s. The land should become the private property of the peasants, while the middle peasant should keep his land. Also, in the form of experiments, Mao foresees cooperative agriculture – large state-owned farms.

In the cities, Mao foresees state ownership of the banks and the large industrial and trading companies. However, as China is a backward country, not all capitalist enterprises will be expropriated, but only those, which dominate the life of the people. Hence, China will be a mixed state and capitalist economy, with the dominance of the state sector.

Next is the question of power, i.e. what will be the social character of society. This power will consist of the elements involved in the anti-imperialist struggle. These are: the peasants, the working class, the intellectuals and some sections of the petty bourgeoisie. Mao supposed that the working class will be the leading, dominant class.

The character of the society can be judged from the culture which is dominant in the society. For example, the philosophy of Confucius is a sign of feudal culture. Mao believes that the culture in the “New Democracy” will have: 1) a nationalist character, as it is opposed to the Japanese aggression, 2) a scientific character, as it is opposed to the feudal regime, 3) a mass character, as it must serve the masses which make up more than 90% of the population.

In an article “Reform Our Study”, 1941, Mao argues that Marxism should not be studied for its own sake, but in application to the problems which stand before the movement. The principle of the unity of theory and practice should be respected. For example, he writes:

“In the schools and in the education of cadres at work, teachers of philosophy do not guide students to study the logic of the Chinese revolution; teachers of economics do not guide them to study the characteristics of the Chinese economy; teachers of political science do not guide them to study the tactics of the Chinese revolution; teachers of military science do not guide them to study the strategy and tactics adapted to China's special features; and so on and so forth… Professors of economics cannot explain the relationship between the Border Region currency and the Kuomintang currency”

In other words, any branch of theory should be studied in relation with the concrete questions facing the movement. The task of the leaders is to formulate these questions, to pose them for the party.

We can look upon Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing, 1942, as a sequel of the above work. The first problem with party writing is that it is empty of content and does not correspond to the real conditions which it must describe and analyze. The second problem is that the party writers adopt the pose of a “teacher”. Instead of scaring people, Mao recommends speaking to them frankly. The third problem is that the writers do not think about who their audience is. Before speaking to someone, the audience must be investigated: its language, ideas, jests, etc. The fourth problem is colorless and boring language. Mao says that the reason for this is that a person has spent half of his life in the schools of old, where they adopt such a language. The fifth problem is the pseudo-scientific character of articles: everything is sorted out, as though in a “Chinese drug store”, but there is no content. The sixth problem is the irresponsibility of the writers. We wash and look at our faces everyday. However, we do not treat our works with the same care, in spite of the fact that it is meant to influence the minds of other people. One of Mao's favorite writers wrote:

1) Don’t force yourself to write about anything when there is nothing to say;

2) Before writing on anything, it is necessary to observe a lot;

3) After writing, it is necessary to proofread what you've written at least twice, crossing out unnecessary words and paragraphs.

Mao thinks that the most important articles and resolutions should be reworked at least 10 times. Our attitude towards our writing is our attitude towards the party life.

In an article Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership, 1943, Mao gives advice on how to be a leader. First, leadership must come from the masses and return to the masses. In other words, the people make suggestions and the leader takes the ideas and makes them a reality.

Second, the leader should offer not only general ideas, but also specific hints on how to realize these ideas.

Third, there cannot be several main priorities of work. A leader should set the priorities, according to the concept of the goal, which s/he has in mind. As an English proverb says, “first things first”. At the same time, it is not a good idea to focus only on the priorities and forget about “secondary” matters. Later these “secondary” matters may turn out to be very important. Dividing up one's attention between various tasks is a kind of art. However, the first step is that one should be aware of the need to set priorities.

2. Practice

To struggle against the internal enemy – the Kuomintang, the Nationalist party of Chang Kai-Shek – and the external enemy – Japanese imperialism – Mao teaches how to create a guerilla army.

Principles of guerilla warfare are:

1. Create a base camp. One example of this we see in the activity of Che Guevara in Bolivia.

2. Teach the future warriors to move constantly. The main activity of guerilla consists not in armed fighting, but in movement on terrain. This is the first thing that Castro did with his warriors, after landing in Cuba and escaping to the mountains.

3. Learn to evaluate your own forces and those of the enemy. What tendencies are typical of your own band and of the enemy?

4. When guerillas are weak, they do not carry out a positional struggle but one of maneuver, aimed at destroying the forces of the enemy and not holding a position. Later, as the guerillas get stronger, they obtain heavy weapons, such as tanks and artillery, and become involved in positional fighting and attack the main cities.

5. One should uphold the principle of equality and democracy in making decisions and distribution of material provisions. Here is what “democracy” meant for the Chinese communists in 1928:

“The officers do not beat the men; officers and men receive equal treatment; soldiers are free to hold meetings and to speak out; trivial formalities have been done away with; and the accounts are open for all to inspect”.

6. The movements of guerillas follow simple rules: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue”.

7. Before making a contact with the enemy, at least two of the following conditions must be realized:

(1) The population actively supports the Red Army.

(2) The terrain is favorable for operations.

(3) All the main forces of the Red Army are concentrated.

(4) The enemy's weak spots have been explored.

(5) The enemy has been reduced to a tired and demoralized state.

(6) The enemy has been induced to make mistakes.

The most important is the first condition. If it is realized, then Mao sees the territory as a guerilla base. Che Guevara, in the course of his struggle in Bolivia, could not realize this condition. The population did not understand the goals of his band, they thought the guerillas were gangsters. Only when the population at large understands the goals of a revolutionary party, is it possible to take up arms.

Convincing the population of the identity of their enemy is principally the task of the counter-revolution. For example, in Afghanistan the American Army and Air Force does a good job of convincing the population to support Taliban.

8. The main characteristic of revolutionary leaders is their ability to act independently, to show initiative, to escape encirclement, or isolation, to provide solutions in difficult circumstances, etc.


9. Management of guerilla forces involves both centralization and decentralization. The problems of strategy should be decided upon in a centralized manner. The problems of tactics should be decided upon in a decentralized manner, act on a local initiative. 

Mao Tse-tung continued

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