Profile of a Revolutionist – Mao Tse-tung on guerrilla warfare

Just2know : There is no knowledge that is not power
Just2know : There is no knowledge that is not power

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Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

-MAo TsE-TUNG, 1938



AO TSE-TUNG, the ma n who was to don the man tle of Lenin, was born in Hu na n

Province, in central China, in 1893. His father, an in­ dustrious farmer, had managed to acq u ire several acres, and with this land, the status of a “middle” peasan t. He was a strict disciplinarian, and Mao’s youth was not a happy one. The boy was in constan t conflict wi th his father but found an ally in his mother, whose “indirect tactics” (as he once described her methods of coping with her h usb;md ) ap­ pealed to him. Bu t the father gave his rebellious son educa tional opportuni ties tha t only a tiny minori ty of Chinese were then able to enjoy. Mao’s prima ry and secondary schooling was thorough. His litera ry taste was catholic; while a pupil a t the provincial norma l school he read omnivorously. His indiscrimina te d iet included Chi­ nese philosophy, poetry, history, and romances as wdl as tra nsla tions of ma ny Vestern historia ns, novelists, and biographers. However, history and political sciences pa r-



ticularly appealed to him; in them, he sought, but without success, the key to the future of China.

His studies had led him to reject both democra tic liberal­ ism and parliamentary socialism as unsuited to his country. Time, he realized, was running out for China. History would not accord her the privilege of gradual political, social, and economic change, of a rela tively painless and orderly evolu tion. To survive in the power ju ngle, China had to change, to change radically, to change fast. But how?

Shortly af ter gradua ting from normal school, in 1917, Mao accepted a posi tion as assistant in the Peking Univer­ sity library. Here he associa ted himself wi th the Marxist study groups set up by Li Ta-chao and Ch’en Tu-hsiu; here he discovered Lenin, read his essays, pored over Trot­ sky’s explosive speeches, and began to study Marx and Engels. By 1920, Mao was a convinced Communist and a man who had discovered his mission : to create a new China according to the doctrine of Marx and Lenin. When the CCP was organized in Shanghai, in 1921, Mao joined.

The China Mao decided to change was not a nation in the accepted sense of the word. Culturally, China was, of course, homogeneous; poli tically and economically, China was chaos. The peasa n ts, 400 million of them, lived from day to day at subsistence level. Tens of millions of peasant families owned no land at all. Other millions cultivated tiny holdings from which they scraped out just enough food to sustain life.

The peasant was fair game for everyone. He was pil­ laged by tax collectors, robbed by landlords and usurers,


M ao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare

at the mercy of rapacious soldiery and bandits, afHicted by bligh ts, drough ts, floods, and epidemics. His single stark problem was simply to survive. The tough ones did. The others slowly starved, died of disease, and in the fierce winters of Nor th China and Manchuria, froze to death.

It is difficult for an American today to conceive tens of thousands of small communities in which no public services existed, in which there were no doctors, no schools, no running water, no electricity, no paved streets, and no sewage disposal. The inhabitants of these communities were with few exceptions illiterate; they lived in constant fear of army press gangs and of provincial officials who called them out summer and win ter alike to work on mili­ tary roads and dikes. The Chinese peasa n t, in his own expressive idiom, “ate bitterness” from the time he could walk until he was laid to rest in the burial plot benea th the cypress trees. This was feudal China. Dorma n t within this society were the ingredients tha t were soon to blow it to pieces.

An external factor had for almost a century contributed to the chaos of China : the unrelenting pressu re and greed of foreign powers. French, British, Germans, and Russians vied with one another in exacting from a succession of corrupt and feeble governments commercial, jmid ical, and financial concessions tha t had, in fact, turne<l China into an in terna tional colony. (The American record in these respects was a reasonably good one.) Mao once described the China he knew in his you th as “semicolonial and feudal.” He was right.


Shortly af ter Chiang Kai-shek took command of the National Revolutionary Army, in 1926, Mao went to Hunan to stir up the peasants. The campaign he waged for land reform in his na tive province can be described as almost a one-man show. The fundahien tal requisite in China was then, as it had long been, to solve the land question. Reduced to elementa ry terms, the problem was how to get rid of the gentry landowners who fastened themselves to the peasants like leeches and whose exactions kept the people constantly impoverished. In the circum­ stances, there was only one way to accomplish this neces­ sary reform: expropriation and redistribution of the land. Na turally, the Nationalists, eager to retain the support of the gentry (historically the stabilizing element in Chi­ nese society), considered such a radical solution social dynamite. But in Mao’s view, there could be no meaningful revolu tion unless and un til the power of this class had been completely elimina ted.

While Mao was making himself extremely unpopular with the landed gentry in Hunan, the revolutionary armies of the Kuomin tang were marching north from Canton to Wuhan, on the Yangtze, where a Na tionalist Government was established in December, 1926. These armies incorpo­ rated a n umber of Communist elements. But by the time the vanguard divisions of Chiang’s army reached the out­ skirts of Shanghai, in March, 1927, the honeymoon was almost over. In April, Chiang’s secret police captured and executed the radical labor leaders in Shanghai and began to purge the army of its Communist elements. In the


M ao Tse-tung on Guerrilla lV arfare

mean time the lef t-wing government in Wuhan had broken up. The Commun ists walked out; the Soviet advisers packed their bags and started for home.

During this period, the Communists were having their own trou bles, and these were serious. The movement was literally on the verge of extinction. Those who ma naged to escape Chiang’s secret police had Oed to the south and assembled at Ching Kang Shan, a rugged area in the Fukien-Kiangsi borderlands. One of the first to reach this haven was the agrarian agitator from Hunan. As various groups drif ted in to the mou ntain stronghold, Mao and Chu Teh (who had arrived in April, 1928) began to mold 5ln army. Several local bandit chief tains were induced to join the Commu nists, whose operations gradually became more extensive. Principally these activities were of a propa­ ganda nature. District soviets were established; landlords were dispossessed; wealthy merchants were “asked” to make pa triotic con tributions. Gradually, the territory under Red control expanded, and from a temporarily secure base area, operations commenced against provincial troops who were supposed to suppress the Reds.

In the early summer of 1930, an ominous directive was

received at Ching Kang Shan from the Cen tral Committee of the Party, then domina ted by Li Li-san. This directive required the Communist armies to take the offensive against cities held by the Nationalists. The campaigns that followed were not entirely successful and culminated in a serious Communist defeat at Changsha in September. On the thirteenth of that month, the single most vital decision

I ntroduction

in the history of the Chinese Communist Party was taken; the ultima te responsibili ty for it rested equally on the shoulders of Mao and Chu Teh. These two agreed tha t the Qnly hope for the movement was to abandon immedia tely the line laid down by Moscow in favor of one of Mao’s own devising. Basically the conflict tha t split the Chinese Com­ munist Party wide open and aliena ted the traditionalists in Moscow revolved about this question : Was the Chinese revol ution to be based on the industrial proletariat- as Marxist dogma prescribed- or was it to be based on the peasan t? Mao, who knew and trusted the peasan ts, and had correctly gauged their revolutionary potential, was con­ vinced t ha t the Chinese urban proleta ria t were too few in nu mber and too apathetic to ma ke a revolution. This deci­ sion, which drastically reorien ted the policy of the Chinese Comm unist Party, was thereaf ter to be carried out with vigorous consistency. History has proved tha t Mao was righ t, Moscow wrong. And it is for this reason that the doctrine of Kremlin infallibility is so frequen tly challenged by Peking.

In October, 1930, the Generalissimo, in the misguided belief tha t he could crush the Communists with no dif­ ficul ty, announced with great fanfare a “Bandit Suppres­ sion Campa ign.” This was launched in December. How weak the Nationalists really were was now to become apparent. The campaign was a complete flop. Govern men t troops ran away or surrendered to the Communists by pla toons, by companies, by ba ttalions. Three more Sup­ pression Campaigns, all failures, followed this fiasco. Fi-

M ao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare

nally, in 1933, the Generalissimo reluctantly decided to adopt the plans of his German advisers and to commit well-equipped, well-trained, and loyal “Central” divisions to a coordinated and methodical compression of the Com­ munist-controlled area. As the Na tionalists inched south­ ward, supported by artillery and aviation, they evacuated peasants from every village and town and constructed hundreds of mutually supporting wired-in blockhouses. The Communists, isolated from the support of the peasants they had laboriously converted, found themselves for the first time almost completely deprived of food and informa­ tion. Chiang’s troops were slowly strangling the Commu­ nists. For the first time, Communist morale sagged. It was in this context tha t the bold decision to shif t the base to Shensi Province was taken, and the now celebrated march of almost 6,000 miles was begun.

This was indeed one of the fateful migra tions of history: i ts purpose, to preserve the milita ry power of the Commu­ nist Party. How man y pitched battles and skirmishes the Reds fough t during this epic trek cannot now be estab­ lished. It is known, however, tha t for days on end their columns were under air attack. They crossed innumera ble moun tains and rivers and endured both tropical and sub­ arctic climates. As they marched toward the borders of Tibet and swung north, they sprinkled the route with cadres and caches of arms and ammunition.

The Reds faced many critical situations, but they were tough and determined. Every natural obstacle, and there were many, was overcome. Chiang’s provincial troops, in­ eff ective as usual, were unable to bar the way, and the


exhausted remnan ts of the Reds eventually found shelter in the loess caves of Pao An.

Later, af ter the base was shif ted to Yenan, Mao had time to reflect on his experiences and to derive from them the theory and doctrine of revolutionary guerrilla war which he embodied in Yu Chi Chan.



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