Mao Tse-tung

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Mao Tse-tung

, Mao Ze Dong
1893--1976, Chinese Marxist theoretician and statesman. The son of a peasant farmer, he helped to found the Chinese Communist Party (1921) and established a soviet republic in SE China (1931--34). He led the retreat of Communist forces to NW China known as the Long March (1935--36), emerging as leader of the party. In opposing the Japanese in World War II, he united with the Kuomintang regime, which he then defeated in the ensuing civil war. He founded the People's Republic of China (1949) of which he was chairman until 1959. As party chairman until his death, he instigated the Cultural Revolution in 1966
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005

Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong)

(1893-1976) one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, who, in leading a prolonged rural movement from 1927 to 1949, developed a theory of socialist REVOLUTION based on the leading role of the peasantry Mao argued that, in situations such as China, the CLASS STRUGGLE had reached stalemate with a small PROLETARIAT and a weak and dependent comprador bourgeoisie in towns (see COMPRADOR CAPITALIST), and a strong landed ARISTOCRACY in the countryside. From the Chinese Revolution of 1949 to his death Mao was effectively leader of the Republic of China, and under him various policies were at different times adopted with the aim of promoting socialist development.

Whilst it can be argued that during his leadership, in comparison with other THIRD WORLD countries, China saw increased prosperity of the rural population, in particular through the provision of health and welfare programmes, there were also times of major hardship. In 1959-62, the failure of one of his programmes, the Great Leap Forward, combined with climatic disasters, resulted in widespread famine (and as many as 50 million deaths according to some commentators). The Cultural Revolution from 1965 to 1970, which involved a dislodging of entrenched officials and old ways, was also in part an attempt by Mao to strengthen his position against growing opposition (see also CULT OF PERSONALITY). This resulted in widespread social disruption, with the internal exile or death of many deemed to be against the thought and practice of Mao embodied in the Little Red Book (which comprised quotations from his speeches and writings). During this period harsh censorship was enforced in particular against anything which reflected the influence of the ‘paper tiger’, Western IMPERIALISM.

Mao's relationship with the MARXISM of the Soviet Union was complex and contradictory. On the one hand, during the 1920s and 30s he publicly proclaimed loyalty to STALIN and in the 1950s adopted a five-year plan based on Stalin's centralized COMMAND ECONOMY. On the other hand, whilst leading the revolutionary movement in the countryside, his reliance on the peasantry was in conflict with prevailing Soviet theory. When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, Stalin recognized Mao's opponent, Chiang Kai-shek, and his party the Goumindang (the Nationalist Party), as the government of China, only recognizing Mao after he had come to power without Soviet help. Whether Mao had any allegiance to STALINISM is debatable, but the Sino-Soviet split in 1959 was justified by Mao on the grounds that after the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union was turning down a ‘capitalist road’. In power the Chinese Communist Party adopted a highly centralized party organization along Stalinist lines, but it was probably the case that especially in rural areas there was far less detailed party and state control than in the Soviet Union. There was also what some commentators (see White, 1983) call a ‘radical Maoism’, since at times Mao was willing to encourage mass political participation to maintain the revolutionary process, and during the time of the Cultural Revolution there were limited attempts to achieve more democratic forms of organization and participation in factories and COMMUNES, the major local administrative bodies.

One interpretation of these different aspects of Mao's politics is that above all he was a supremely adaptable, and sometimes unscrupulous, politician. This can be seen in his reconciliation with the West in the early 1970s, seemingly contradicting his fifty-year opposition to all aspects of Western capitalism. This was on the one hand to develop an alliance against the Soviet Union and North Vietnam, and on the other to open the way to the trade and technology which China needed. Other interpretations generally tend to focus on one period of his life, conveniently ignoring contradictions in others. Thus, the political legacy of Maoism, comprising political groups who take their inspiration from Mao's life and work is fragmented, and often virulently so. One manifestation of Maoism is the Khmer Rouge, with its theory of social transformation based on mass terror. In Peru, since 1980, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), have been fighting a guerrilla war in the countryside based on an uncompromising interpretation of Mao's thought and practice in the 1930s. See also COMMUNISM.

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.

Mao Tse-Tung


Born Dec. 26, 1893, in the village of Shaoshan, Hsiang-t’an District, Hunan Province; died Sept. 9, 1976, in Peking. Chinese political and governmental figure. The son of a prosperous peasant.

Mao Tse-tung graduated from a teachers* school in the city of Changsha in 1918 and worked in the library of the University of Peking in 1918-19. At this time, Mao Tse-tung approved of many of the ideas of anarchism. In 1920 he joined Communist circles. In 1921 he took part in the First Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In 1923-25 and from 1928 he was a member of the Central Committee of the party. In 1927, along with Chu Teh and other CPC activists, he established a revolutionary base in the Chingkang mountains, on the border between Hunan and Kiangsi provinces. In 1928 he was appointed political commissar of the IV Corps of the Chinese Red Army. In 1931 at the First All-China Congress of Representatives of Soviet Districts, held in Jui-chin, Kiangsi Province, he was elected chairman of the Central Executive Committee and chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Chinese Soviet Republic. From 1933 he was a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the party. Even in that period, evidence of Mao Tse-tung’s nationalist inclinations could be observed.

In 1934-36, Mao was one of the leaders of the march of the Chinese Red Army to a new base of operations in the northwestern part of the country. In January 1935 he became a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the party. At this time Mao and his supporters gradually took over the leadership of the party. In his struggle for the leading position in the party, Mao spoke out against CPC figures who defended proletarianinternationalist views.

In 1943, Mao Tse-tung became chairman of the Central Committee of the CPC. With the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao was elected chairman of the Central People’s Government Council of the Republic and was named chairman of the People’s Revolutionary Military Council. In 1954 he was elected chairman of the People’s Republic of China and appointed chairman of the State Defense Committee of the republic, remaining in these posts until April 1959.

In the second half of the 1950’s nationalist elements led by Mao intensified their activities within the leading bodies of the CPC. This was not the first time they had acted in opposition to the internationalist forces in the CPC. From 1941 to 1945 in particular, the so-called movement for regularizing the style of work in the party (the Cheng Feng movement) had been introduced in the CPC on Mao’s initiative. During this campaign a blow had been struck at those Communists who upheld proletarian internationalism, supported the Comintern line, and advocated friendship with the USSR. The movement sought to strengthen Mao’s leadership in the party and the predominance of the influence of his ideological and political prescriptions, which were given the name “the ideas of Mao Tse-tung.” It was written into the rules of the CPC, adopted at the Seventh Congress in 1945, that the party “in all its work is guided by the ideas of Mao Tse-tung.” The Eighth Congress of the CPC in 1956 adopted hew party rules, which dropped the clause about the ideas of Mao Tse-tung and proclaimed Marxism-Leninism to be the ideological foundation of the CPC. In 1957, Mao and his supporters fought to have the decisions of the Eighth Congress reviewed and altered. In 1958, Mao put forward his adventurist policy of the “three Red banners” (the new “general line,” the “great leap forward,” and the “people’s communes”), which undermined the planned bases of socialist construction in China and brought the economy into a state of crisis.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Mao proclaimed a special foreign-policy line for the CPC, characterized by a striving for great-power hegemony, by anti-Sovietism, and by a splitting course within the socialist commonwealth and world communist movement. Hiding behind a mask of Marxism, he intensified his work of revising Marxist-Leninist doctrine from the standpoint of petit bourgeois, nationalist, and “left” sectarian conceptions. Maoism has evoked a sharply critical response from the overwhelming majority of Communist and workers’ parties.

In 1966, on Mao’s initiative, the “cultural revolution” was unleashed, representing, in fact, a new stage in the struggle to consolidate the system of one-man rule and to counter the proponents of the proletarian internationalist line. In the rules adopted by the Ninth Congress of the CPC in 1969, the ideas of Mao Tse-tung were once again announced as the theoretical foundation of the party’s work, and Mao himself was proclaimed party leader for life. The Tenth Congress of the CPC (1973) set forth a new set of party rules that confirmed that the basic guiding ideology of the CPC remained the ideas of Mao Tse-tung. The first Central Committee plenum after the Tenth Congress re-elected Mao Tse-tung chairman of the Central Committee of the CPC.


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