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Maoism
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Maoism

Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought (Chinese: 毛澤東思想, pinyin: Mo Zdōng Sīxiǎng), also called Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), is a variant of communism derived from the teachings of Mao Zedong (1893-1976). In the People's Republic of China (PRC) it is the official doctrine of the Communist Party of China. Since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping started in 1978, however, the definition and role of Mao Zedong's ideology in the PRC has radically changed.

It should be noted that the word "Maoism" has never been used by the PRC in its English-language publications: "Mao Zedong Thought" has always been the preferred term. Likewise, Maoist groups outside China have usually called themselves "Marxist-Leninist" rather than Maoist. This is a reflection of Mao's view that he did not change, but only developed, "Marxism-Leninism". The word "Maoist" has been used either as a pejorative term by other communists, or as a descriptive term by non-communist writers. However, some Maoist groups, believing that Mao's theories were substantial additions to the Marxist canon, call themselves "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" or even "Maoist"; for example, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who distinguish themselves from the much more mainstream Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).

Outside the PRC, the term Maoism was used from the 1960s onwards, usually in a hostile sense, to describe parties or individuals who supported Mao Zedong and his form of Communism, as opposed to the form practised in the Soviet Union, which the parties supporting Mao denounced as "revisionist." These parties usually rejected the term Maoism, preferring to call themselves Marxist-Leninists. Since the death of Mao and the reforms of Deng, most of these parties have disappeared, but various small Communist groups in a number of countries continue to advance Maoist ideas.

Table of contents
1 Maoist theory
2 Political background
3 Maoism after Mao
4 External links

Maoist theory

Unlike earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Maoism focused on the peasantry as a revolutionary force which, he said, could be mobilised by a Communist Party with "correct" ideas and leadership. The model for this was of course the Chinese Communist rural insurgency of the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually brought Mao to power. Furthermore, unlike other forms of Marxism-Leninism in which large scale industrial development was seen as a positive force, Maoism tended to distrust urban industrialisation and mobilization in favor of distributed rural industrialisation (in the case of China) or active deindustrialisation, in the case of the Khmer Rouge regime. This proved impractical and disastrous in the case of the Great Leap Forward and the Khmer Rouge. On the other hand the emphasis on rural development rather than urban development may have positively influenced the early phases of Chinese economic reform under Deng Xiaoping.

Unlike most other political ideologies, including other socialist and Marxist ones, Maoism contains an integral military doctrine and explicitly connects its political ideology with military strategy. In Maoist thought, power comes from the barrel of the gun, and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war." This involves guerilla warfare using three stages. The first stage involves mobilizing the peasantry and setting up organization. The second stage involves setting up base areas and increasing co-ordination between the guerilla organizations. The third stage involves a transition to conventional warfare. Maoist military doctrine likens guerilla fighters to fish swimming in a sea of peasants, who provide logistical support.

Maoism emphasizes revolutionary mass mobilization, village level industries independent of the outside world (the Great Leap Forward urged each and every Chinese to melt down industrial pots and pans to smelt their own iron from scratch), deliberate organizing of mass military and economic power where necessary to defend from outside threat or where centralization keeps corruption under supervision, and strong control of the arts and sciences.

Mao's doctrine is best summarized in the Little Red Book of Mao Zedong, which was distributed to everyone in China as the basis of revolutionary education.

Political background

Despite the role of Maoism in the Communist victory, from the advent of the PRC in 1949 until the late 1950s, the Chinese Communist regime practised the orthodox or Soviet model of Communist development. Mao first broke with Soviet practice during the Great Leap Forward of 1959. When this proved an economic disaster and led to attempts to remove Mao from power, a formal split with the Soviet Union developed, partly over issues of Communist practice but mainly over issues of international relations and power politics. Mao used this split as a means of reinforcing his own power within China, then elaborated a theoretical justification for the split, alleging that capitalism had been restored in the Soviet Union by Nikita Khrushchev's regime.

This split then spread to the international Communist movement, leading to a formal rupture in 1961-63. Only three Communist parties completely supported Mao's position: those in Albania, Indonesia and New Zealand. In most other Communist parties, groups of Mao supporters either resigned or were expelled, and were soon dubbed "Maoists." They formed small "Marxist-Leninist" parties, supported and often funded by China. The Indonesian party was destroyed in the 1965 military coup in Indonesia, and the Albanian party broke off relations with China after Mao's death. None of the other Maoist parties were ever of any political consequence.

In the anti-Vietnam War protest movement of the 1960s, Maoist student groups played a prominent role in several countries, mainly because of their willingness to resort to violence. These groups, despite their overwhelmingly middle-class student composition, were marked by strident rhetoric about the dictatorship of the proletariat, extreme sectarianism towards "revisionist" and Trotskyist Communists, and a cult of Stalin and of Stalin-era slogans (such as "social fascist" and "kulak") and figures such as Lavrenty Beria.

In the developing world (then usually called the Third World), the term Maoist was applied to the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the New People's Army in the Philippines, the Shining Path guerilla organisation in Peru, the Indian Naxalites and various other revolutionary groups and movements. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) described itself as Maoist for many years but is today an orthodox democratic socialist party despite its title. The only substantial organisation currently identifying itself as Maoist is the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which is conducting a rural insurgency against the government. These seem to ignore the degree of respect for traditional Chinese social norms that Mao relied upon during his rise - suggesting that Maoism as such may be a doctrine specific to China and its Confucian ancestor cult.

Maoism after Mao

Since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, and the reforms of Deng Xiaoping starting in 1978, the role of Mao's ideology within the PRC has radically changed. Although Mao Zedong Thought remains the state ideology, Deng's admonition to seek truth from facts means that state policies are judged on their practical consequences and the role of ideology in determining policy has been considerably reduced. Deng also separated Mao from Maoism, making it clear that Mao was fallible and hence that the truth of Maoism comes from observing social consequences rather than by using Mao's quotations as holy writ, as was done in Mao's lifetime.

In addition, the party constitution has been rewritten to give the pragamatic ideas of Deng Xiaoping as much prominence as those of Mao. One consequence of this is that groups outside China which describe themselves as Maoist generally regard China has having repudiated Maoism, and there is a wide perception both in and out of China that Maoism is now irrelevant to China. However, while it is now permissible to question particular actions of Mao and to talk about excesses taken in the name of Maoism, there is a prohibition in China on either publicly questioning the validity of Maoism or questioning whether the current actions of the Communist Party of China are "Maoist."

Although Mao Zedong Thought is still listed as one of the four cardinal principles of the People's Republic of China, its historical role has been re-assessed. The Communist Party now says that Maoism was necessary to break China free from its feudal past, but that the actions of Mao are seen to have lead to excesses during the Cultural Revolution. The official view is that China has now reached an economic and political stage, known as the primary stage of socialism, in which China faces new and different problems completely unforeseen by Mao, and as such the solutions that Mao advocated are no longer relevant to China's current conditions.

Both Maoist critics outside China and most western commentators see this re-working of the definition of Maoism as providing an ideological justification for what they see as the restoration of the essentials of capitalism in China by Deng and his successors.

Mao himself is officially regarded as a great revolutionary leader for his role in fighting the Japanese and creating the People's Republic of China, but Maoism as implemented between 1959 and 1976 is recognised to have been an economic and political disaster. In Deng's day, support of radical Maoism was regarded as a form of "left deviationism" and being based on a cult of personality, although these errors were officially attributed to the Gang of Four rather than to Mao himself.

Although these ideological categories and disputes are less relevant at the start of the 21st century, these distinctions were very important in the early 1980s, when the Chinese government was faced with the dilemma of how to allow economic reform to proceed without destroying its own legitimacy, and many argue that Deng's success in starting Chinese economic reform was in large part due to his being able to justify those reforms within a Maoist framework.

Some historians today regard Maoism as an ideology devised by Mao as a pretext for his own quest for power. The official view of the Chinese government was that Mao did not create Maoism to gain power, but that in his later years, Mao and those around him were able to use Maoism to create a cult of personality.

Both the official view of the Communist Party of China and the vast majority of public opinion within China regards the latter period of Mao's rule as having been a disaster for their country, and estimates of the number of deaths attributable to Mao's policies range into the tens of millions.

At the same time, even this disastrous period is largely seen both in official circles and among the general public as preferable to the chaos and turmoil that existed in China in the first half of the twentieth century, and among some people there is nostalgia for the idealism of revolutionary Maoism in contrast to the corruption and money-centeredness some see in current Chinese society.

In the west, Maoism is remembered as one of the more violent manifestations of the 1960s wave of student-led radicalism, and lingers on in the rhetoric of groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA). In some developing countries Maoist ideas still have some attraction to the more authoritarian wing of the radical movements. In general, Maoist movements outside of China are strongly opposed to the current Chinese government, who they see as having hopelessly strayed from the principles of Maoism.

Mao's military strategy has been extremely influential among groups that are attempting to fight as guerillas. Within the People's Liberation Army there has been extensive debate over whether and how to relate Mao's military doctrines to 21st century military ideas, especially the idea of a revolution in military affairs.

As the only version of communism to have successfully laid the educational and infrastructural foundations of a modern industrial capitalist economy, Maoism is of more current interest than other 20th-century branches of communism. Some scholars argue that China's rapid industrialization and relatively quick recovery from the brutal period of civil wars 1911-1949 was a positive impact of Maoism, and contrast its development specifically to that of Southeast Asia, Russia and India. One argument is that Mao's strong personality and doctrine served the same purpose as American executive and military leadership, and the Marshall Plan, in Europe - an extremely simple theory of the origin of modern continental trading blocs: NAFTA, EU, and China itself.

See also: Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong

External links