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What is Maoism?

The ideology of Maoism and its implications.

Maoism, in its simplest sense, is the set of policies and concepts embodied and implemented by the Chinese leader Mao Zedong (also spelt Mao Tse-Tung). Mao was greatly influenced by Marxist-Leninist thought and proclaimed this Communist manifesto and ideology throughout the Chinese Civil War until the victory for the Chinese Communist Party in 1947. However, for practical reasons he had to make changes to the ideology and after his break with the Soviet Union, Mao regularly changed policies to indicate the independence of his thought and of the concept of “Chinese characteristics.”

Marxist analysis of society concludes that capitalism contains within itself sufficient contradictions as to represent the seeds of its own destruction. Marxism foresees the inevitable withering away of the nation-states based on the capitalist system and the subsequent dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin modified this system of thought by reasoning that this revolution was not inevitable but would only come about with the assistance of a revolutionary elite. The revolutionary elite would of course be derived from the ranks of the Communist Party. Since nation-states were to be dissolved during the revolution, there would be no need for national level Communist Parties and all revolutionaries should belong to the International.

Mao, as well as other Asian leaders, found this ideology problematic because there was no conventional proletariat or working class in most Asian countries. Instead, economies depended upon large numbers of subsistence peasant farmers, who operated according to what Marx termed the “Asiatic Mode of Production.” Mao transformed Marxism-Leninism by abandoning the concept of the urban working classes leading the revolution and switched to the countryside. This was partly ideological and partly pragmatic – there have been many debates as to which motive was more important. Mao sought his support from among the rural peoples and dispatched “cadres” – committed Communist Party members educated in ideology – to find and educate potential supporters.

The abandonment of cities and towns made an enormous difference to the military situation and meant a switch to guerrilla tactics. Just as was seen in the Communist revolutions in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and the unsuccessful campaigns in Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere, Communists aimed to control the rural areas, often where terrain was difficult to cover and monitor, and ambush troops moving out from urban areas. Eventually, when the revolutions were successful, victorious Communist troops entered the cities and were, quite often, overwhelmed by entering environments of which they had if any experience and they were often resentful of urban residents and professionals. This was taken to its ultimate expression in the case of the Khmer Rouge.

A second aspect of Maoism takes place after a successful revolution and it dictates a state of permanent revolution – i.e. never ending change. This is designed to help ensure that Communist Party cadres do not become complacent but are constantly challenged to come ever closer to the people and their needs. Alas, in reality, campaigns such as the Cultural Revolution show the widespread misery and suffering that such an approach necessitated.

Maoism is still espoused by rebel groups in Peru, Nepal and elsewhere. There, it is seen as a response to oppression of rural areas by rapacious urbanized governments. The violence continues to flow in any case.

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