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Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought (Simplified Chinese: 毛泽东思想; pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng), is a variant of Marxism-Leninism derived from the teachings of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong (Wade-Giles Romanization: "Mao Tse-tung").
It should be noted that the term Mao Zedong Thought has always been the preferred term by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and that the word Maoism has never been used in its English-language publications except pejoratively. Likewise, Maoist groups outside China have usually called themselves "Marxist-Leninist" rather than Maoist, a reflection of Mao's view that he did not change, but only developed, Marxism-Leninism. However, some Maoist groups, believing Mao's theories to have been sufficiently substantial additions to the basics of the Marxist canon, have since the 1980s called themselves "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" (MLM) or simply "Maoist."
In the People's Republic of China (PRC), Mao Zedong Thought is part of the official doctrine of the CPC, but since the 1978 beginning of Deng Xiaoping's market economy-oriented reforms, the concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has come to the forefront of Chinese politics, Chinese economic reform has taken hold, and the official definition and role of Mao's original ideology in the PRC has been radically altered and reduced (see History of China). 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.
The Communist Party of Peru known as the Shining Path was the first grouping to officially call itself 'Maoist', and has since been followed by other groups advocating the People's War in the Third World, including the contemporary Communist Party of India (Maoist), the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
All those using the self-description 'Maoist' believe that capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union under Nikita Khruschev and in China under Deng Xiaoping. Traditionally most Maoists have deemed Joseph Stalin as the last true socialist leader of the Soviet Union, although Maoist assessments of Stalin vary between the extremely positive and the more ambivalent.
Unlike the earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Mao focused on the peasantry as the main revolutionary force who, he said, could be led by the proletariat and its vanguard, the CCP. The model for this was the Chinese communist rural Protracted People's War of the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually brought the CCP to power. Furthermore, unlike other forms of Marxism-Leninism, in which large-scale industrial development was seen as a positive force, Maoism asserted that in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society, agrarian revolution is the priority. Mao felt that this strategy made sense during the early stages of socialism in a country in which most of the people were peasants. 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, "political power comes from the barrel of the gun" (one of Mao's quotes), and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war" of armed struggle involving guerrilla warfare in three stages.
The first stage involves mobilizing and organizing the peasantry. The second stage involves setting up rural base areas and increasing coordination among the guerrilla organizations. The third stage involves a transition to conventional warfare. Maoist military doctrine likens guerrilla fighters to fish swimming in a sea of peasants, who provide logistical support.
Maoism emphasizes "revolutionary mass mobilization" (physically mobilizing the vast majority of a population in the struggle for socialism), the concept of New Democracy, and the Theory of Productive Forces as applied to village-level industries independent of the outside world (see Great Leap Forward). In Maoism, deliberate organizing of massive military and economic power is necessary to defend the revolutionary area from outside threat, while centralization keeps corruption under supervision, amid strong control, and sometimes alteration, by the revolutionaries of the area's arts and sciences.
A key concept that distinguishes Maoism from most other left-wing ideologies (save for "mainstream" Marxism-Leninism and Trotsky's theories) is the belief that the class struggle continues throughout the entire socialist period, as a result of the fundamental antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and communism. Even when the proletariat has seized state power through a socialist revolution, the potential remains for a bourgeoisie to restore capitalism. Indeed, Mao famously stated that "the bourgeoisie [in a socialist country] is right inside the Communist Party itself," implying that corrupt Party officials would subvert socialism if not prevented. This was officially the main reason for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in which Mao exhorted the public to "Bombard the [Party] headquarters!" and wrest control of the government from bureaucrats (such as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping) perceived to be on the capitalist road.
This is akin to the "Stalinist" theory of the aggravation of class struggle under socialism.
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. This book consists of quotations from the earliest days of the revolution to the mid-1960s, just before the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
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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 nominally 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 pragmatic 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 as having repudiated Maoism and restored capitalism, and there is a wide perception both in and out of China that China has abandoned Maoism. 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 CCP 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 led 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 by the CCP 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 regarded by today's CCP as 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' are 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 twenty-first 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 or those around him were able to use Maoism to create a cult of personality.
Both the official view of the CCP and much public opinion within China regards the latter period of Mao's rule as having been a disaster for their country. The various estimates of the number of deaths attributable to Mao's policies that have been offered remain highly controversial. The incidents of destruction in cultural remains, religion, and art remain a mystery. For more discussion of this period, see the article Cultural Revolution.
Still, many regret the erosion of guaranteed employment, education, health care, and other gains of the revolution that have been largely lost in the new profit-driven economy. This is reflected in a strain of Chinese Neo-Leftism in the country that seeks to return China to the days after Mao but before Deng; for more on that current's beliefs, see its article.
Some Western 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.
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From 1962 onwards the challenge to the Soviet hegemony in the World Communist Movement made by the CCP resulted in various divisions in communist parties around the world. At an early stage, the Albanian Party of Labour sided with the CCP. So did many of the mainstream (non-splinter group) communist parties in South-East Asia, like the Burmese Communist Party, Communist Party of Thailand, and Communist Party of Indonesia. Some Asian parties, like the Workers Party of Vietnam and the Workers Party of Korea attempted to take a middle-ground position.
In the west and south, a plethora of parties and organizations were formed that upheld links to the CCP. Often they took names such as Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) or Revolutionary Communist Party to distinguish themselves from the traditional pro-Soviet communist parties. The pro-CCP movements were, in many cases, based amongst the wave of student radicalism that engulfed the world in the 1960s and 1970s.
Only one Western classic communist party sided with CCP, the Communist Party of New Zealand. Under the leadership of CCP and Mao Zedong, a parallel international communist movement emerged to rival that of the Soviets, although it was never as formalized and homogeneous as the pro-Soviet tendency.
After the death of Mao in 1976 and various power-struggles in China that followed, the international Maoist movement was, in rough terms, divided into three. One section supported—although not necessarily with great enthusiasm—the new Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping. This category was highly heterogeneous. Another section denounced the new leadership as traitors to the cause of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought. A third section sided with the Albanians in denouncing the Three Worlds Theory of the CCP. (See Sino-Albanian Split.)
The pro-Albanian category would effectively start to function as an international tendency of its own, led by Enver Hoxha and the APL. That tendency was able to amalgamate most of the groups in Latin America, such as the Communist Party of Brazil.
The new Chinese leadership had little interest in the various foreign factions supporting Mao's China, and the movement fell into disarray. Many of the parties that had been fraternal parties of the Chinese government before 1975 either disbanded, abandoned the Chinese entirely, or even denounced Marxism-Leninism and developed into non-communist, social democratic parties. What is today sometimes referred to as the "international Maoist movement" evolved out of the second category—the parties that opposed Deng and claimed to uphold the legacy of Mao.
During the 1980s two parallel regroupment efforts emerged, one centered around the Communist Party of the Philippines, which gave birth to the ICMLPO, and one that birthed the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, which the Shining Path communist guerrilla group and the Revolutionary Communist Party USA played a leading role in forming.
Both the International Conference and the RIM tendencies claimed to uphold Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, although RIM was later to substitute that ideology with what they termed 'Marxism-Leninism-Maoism'.
Today the Maoist organizations grouped in RIM have their strongest hold in South Asia, and are at the forefront of the armed struggles throughout the rest of the world, most notably in Bangladesh, and until recently Nepal. There are also smaller insurgencies going on in Peru and Turkey.
In the Philippines, the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is not part of the RIM, leads an armed struggle through its military wing, the New People's Army.
In Peru, several columns of the Communist Party of Peru/SL are fighting a sporadic war. Since the capture of their leadership, Chairman Gonzalo and other members of their central committee in 1992, the PCP/SL no longer has initiative in the fight. Several different political positions are supported by those claiming the mantle of the PCP/SL.
In India, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) have been fighting a protracted war. Formed by the merger of the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Center, they have expanded their range of operations to over half of India and have been listed by the Prime Minister as the "greatest internal security threat" to the Indian republic since it was founded.
In Germany the ICMLPO-affiliated MLPD is the largest unambiguously-Marxist group in the country.
Maoism has also become a significant political ideology in Nepal, where until recently, the Maoist insurgency has been fighting against the Royal Nepalese Army and other supporters of the monarchy. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a RIM member, has declared the armed struggle over and will be joining the interim government, leading to elections for a national constituent assembly.
Mao is widely regarded as a brilliant military strategist even among those who oppose his political or economic ideas. His writings on guerrilla warfare, most notably in his groundbreaking primer On Guerilla Warfare, and the notion of people's war are now generally considered to be essential reading, both for those who wish to conduct guerrilla operations and for those who wish to oppose them.
As with his economic and political ideas, Maoist military ideas seem to have more relevance at the start of the twenty-first century outside of the People's Republic of China than within it. There is a consensus both within and outside the PRC that the military context that the PRC faces in the early twenty-first century are very different from the one faced by China in the 1930s. As a result, 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.
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