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Marxism-Leninism as interpreted by Mao Tse-tung (1893--1976), the Chinese Marxist theoretician and statesman: distinguished by its theory of guerrilla warfare and its emphasis on the revolutionary potential of the peasantry
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a petit bourgeois nationalist tendency in the Communist Party of China (CPC) that is hostile to Marxism-Leninism. Maoism is a conglomeration of subjectivist, voluntarist, and vulgar-materialist ideas, antithetical to Marxist philosophy, political economy, scientific communism, and the proletarian strategy and tactics of the world communist movement. Maoism is an attempt to justify the adventuristic policy of “barracks communism.” Its cornerstone is anti-Sovietism.

Maoism took shape as a separate and distinct platform in the late 1950’s. Its emergence was directly connected with the activity of Mao Tse-tung. At the Ninth Congress of the CPC in 1969, Maoism, which in China is officially called the ideas of Mao Tse-tung, was proclaimed the “theoretical basis determining the ideas of the CPC,” as well as “the Marxism-Leninism of the present day.” These assertions were reaffirmed at the Tenth Congress of the CPC in 1973.

The formation of Maoism was connected with the struggle between the two main tendencies in the CPC—one internationalist and the other petit bourgeois and nationalist. The Maoists advanced the idea of “national Marxism,” a special “Chinese” communism, an idea officially confirmed in the documents of the Seventh Congress of the CPC in 1945. Under the pretext of “combining the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism with the practice of the Chinese revolution” and promoting the “sinicization of Marxism-Leninism,” the petit bourgeois nationalist elements in the CPC attacked the fundamental premises concerning the international character of the revolutionary working-class doctrine.

Maoism is characterized by an extreme eclecticism and by subjectivism in theory and voluntarism in politics. Many traditional views of ancient Chinese political and philosophical thought have helped nourish Maoist ideology. The primitive egalitarian principles of the peasant movements, a whole range of sinocentric ideas from the late 19th-century and early 20th-century reformers T’an Ssu-t’ung, K’ang Yu-wei, and Liang Ch’i-ch’ao, and the Kuomintang conception of nationalism have also contributed to the ideology. Maoism has been greatly influenced by anarchism and by revisionist currents in the communist movement, especially Trotskyism. From the anarchists Mao Tse-tung borrowed such principles as the absolutization of violence (“Power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and “To rebel is justified”) and reliance on nonproletarian, declassed elements and politically immature layers of young people to “organize” revolutions without regard to whether there is a revolutionary situation. From Trotskyism Maoism has actually borrowed the concept of “permanent revolution,” thus building upon the operating premise that the Victory of socialism is impossible without the total annihilation of imperialism. Maoism contends that under socialism, even at its mature stage, there is a continual battle between the socialist and capitalist roads of development, with a constant danger of capitalist restoration; to prevent that danger, constant “revolutions” are necessary. The “cultural revolution,” carried out under Mao’s leadership in the late 1960’s, was proclaimed as a model of such a revolution. According to Maoist declarations, similar revolutions, which in fact are a form of total purging and suppression of the real and potential enemies of Maoism, should be repeated periodically.

In actuality Maoism denies the objective laws of socialist and communist construction and the doctrine of the leading role of the Marxist-Leninist party as the vanguard of the working class; it replaces socialist democracy with the dictatorship of a military-bureaucratic clique, imposes the cult of personality, and depreciates the role of the people. Maoism denies the fundamental principles of socialist humanism.

Instead of a proletarian class line in politics, Maoism resorts to Bonapartist maneuvering between different classes and social strata. While loudly proclaiming that the “working class must lead in all things,” in fact Mao Tse-tung follows the line of minimizing the role of the working class in China.

The Maoists seek in practice to eliminate the methods and forms of organizing and planning the national economy that came into being during the first decade of existence of the People’s Republic of China; these methods had been influenced by the experiences of world socialism, above all, of the USSR. In contrast to Leninism, Maoism views the poverty and backwardness of the country and the downtrodden condition of the masses as inherent features of life under socialism and even as factors allegedly contributing to the construction of the new society. The Maoists denounce concern for raising the standard of living of the people as “revisionism” and “reactionary economism,” which lead to bourgeois “degeneration.” The preservation of poverty and backwardness allows the Maoists to divert maximum resources to building up their military machine.

In the realm of philosophy, Maoism proclaims its adherence to dialectical and historical materialism, but in fact it revises all its principles from the standpoint of subjectivism, vulgar materialism, and a primitive interpretation of dialectics. Maoism transforms philosophy into a utilitarian and pragmatic means for justifying official policies.

While recognizing the universality of contradiction, Maoism converts one aspect, the struggle of opposites, into an absolute, and ignores or minimizes the role of the unity of opposites. At the same time, Maoism greatly exaggerates the extent to which antagonistic contradictions occur, regarding them as universal, and seeing nonantagonistic contradictions merely as particular manifestations of antagonistic ones. The law of the unity and struggle of opposites is reduced to the mechanical juxtaposition of the two (“Without the upper, there is no lower; without the repulsive, there cannot be beauty”) and mechanical alternation between the two (“The bad turns into the good; the proletariat into the bourgeoisie” and “Peace becomes war, and war peace”). In epistemology, Maoism is characterized by empiricism, on which it bases its narrowly utilitarian approach to the understanding of practice as simply the direct physical participation of the individual in production or politics. Maoism oversimplifies the problem of knowledge, minimizing the role of theoretical thought and its potential for providing knowledge, and simultaneously reduces the range of social practice.

In its conception of the criterion for truth, Maoism verges on pragmatism, with its assertion that “generally speaking, that which is done successfully is correct and that which results in failure is wrong” (Mao Tse-tung, Four Essays in Philosophy, Peking, 1968, p. 195).

Abrupt vacillations in both theory and practice, at one moment veering toward “left-wing” extremism and voluntarism and at the next toward right-wing reformism, are typical of Maoism. Its subjectivism is brought into sharp relief by its thesis on the “need to constantly create contradictions,” which in politics leads to the continual maintenance of a state of tension in society and to the inclination to solve all economic, political, and cultural problems by organizing successive mass campaigns aimed at intimidating the population with such things as “threats from abroad” and domestic purges.

In 1958, Mao Tse-tung put forward the policy of the “three Red banners”: the new “general line,” the “great leap forward,” and the “people’s communes.” The implementation of the policy led the country into an economic crisis. More than half a decade was required to restore the economy to the level existing before the great leap forward. In foreign policy, the Maoists began during this period to attack the Soviet Union publicly, seriously undermined Sino-Soviet relations, unleashed a campaign to split the international communist movement, staged military confrontations with neighboring countries, and undertook a whole series of other adventuristic acts in the world arena. At the Ninth and Tenth Congresses of the CPC, anti-Sovietism was raised to the level of party and state doctrine and the USSR was slanderously declared to be China’s main enemy. Maoism tries to substantiate its malicious anti-Sovietism with trumped-up claims that there are “irreconcilable differences of principle” between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. In fact the true sources of anti-Sovietism lie in the ideology of “great Han” chauvinism, which naturally comes into conflict with the principles of proletarian internationalism upheld by the CPSU and the other Marxist-Leninist parties. Anti-Sovietism is also used by the Maoists as a way of justifying their policy of militarization and of distracting the working masses from serious internal difficulties and unsolved problems. The Maoists disseminate the slanderous claim that capitalism has been restored in the socialist countries, and they deny the existence of the world socialist system.

Maoism seeks to preserve the hotbeds of international tension and to disrupt the efforts of the socialist countries and all peace-loving forces to eliminate these sources of tension. It tries to block the struggle of the peoples of the world to widen the scope of detente and extend it to all continents, and it tries to block acceptance of the principles of peaceful coexistence between states with differing social systems.

Maoism opposes its adventurist position to the general line of the international communist movement on fundamental questions of world development. The Maoists proceed from the premise of an inevitable world war and regard it as a means of “revitalizing humanity” and as a source of world revolution.

To reinforce their pretensions to hegemony over the leader-ship of the Third World, the Maoists argue that the center of the revolutionary movement has shifted to the arena of the national-liberation movement, allegedly because the socialist countries have “degenerated” and the working class in the advanced capitalist countries has become “bourgeoisified” and has lost its revolutionary qualities.

Proof of the Maoists’ total departure from the proletarian class approach in the realm of foreign policy and from the principles of socialist internationalism may be seen in the theory they promote about “the struggle against the hegemony of the two superpowers.”

At the international Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties in 1969 the majority of delegations characterized Maoism as a dangerous anti-Marxist tendency, which, with its disruptive activities and anti-Soviet policies, was objectively playing the role of henchman to imperialism and anticommunism.

Maoism creates serious obstacles to the building of socialism and leads to its deformation, endangers the socialist gains of the Chinese workers, hinders the solution of fundamental social and economic problems, gives rise to one crisis situation in China after another, and brings discredit to scientific socialism.

Maoism seeks to split the world communist movement and the anti-imperialist front of the peoples. For these purposes, it makes use of small groups of converts to Maoism that have sprung up in several countries. However, these groups in practice remain isolated from the revolutionary working-class movement and, more often than not, soon fall apart.

As an antiscientific tendency contradicting the laws of social development, Maoism is lacking in any prospects.


Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii. Moscow, 1969.
Vidal, J.-E. Kuda vedet Kitai gruppa Mao Tsze-duna. Moscow, 1967. (Translated from French.)
Vladimirov, O. E., and V. I. Riazantsev. Stranitsy politicheskoi biografii Mao Tsze-duna, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1973.
Opasnyi kurs: Sbornik, issues 1-4. Moscow, 1969-73.
Altaiskii, M., and V. Georgiev. Antimarksistskaia sushchnost’ filosofskikh vzgliadov Mao Tsze-duna. Moscow, 1969.
Maoizm glazami kommunistov. Moscow, 1969. (Collection of articles.)
Maoizm bez maski: Sb. st. Moscow, 1970.
Kritika teoreticheskikh kontseptsii Mao Tsze-duna. Moscow, 1970.
Rumiantsev, A. M. Istoki i evoliutsiia ‘idei Mao Tsze-duna’ (Ob antimarksistskoi sushchnosti maoizma). Moscow, 1972.
Kritika teoreticheskikh osnov maoizma. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.