During the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, the Kuomintang suffered major military defeats and lost control of eastern China. It was saved from total defeat by Japan’s decision to attack the United States and invade Southeast Asia.
However, military rescue from Japan did not bring significant improvement in the Kuomintang’s domestic performance in the political and economic fields, which only seemed to worsen. The pre-Communist history of Modern China has been essentially one of weakness, humiliation, and failure. This atmosphere is where the CPC developed its leadership and growth. The result has been a strong determination on the part of that leadership to eliminate foreign influence within China, modernize their country, and eliminate Western influence from eastern Asia, including the Soviet Union. China was changing and developing, but its overwhelming marks were still poverty and weakness.
During their rise to power, the Chinese Communists, like most politically conscious Chinese, were aware of these conditions and anxious to eliminate them. Mao Tse-tung envisioned a mixed economy under Communist control, similar to what had existed in the Soviet Union during the period of the New Economic Policy. The emphasis was on social justice and public ownership of the commanding heights” of the economy, rather than development. In 1945, Mao spoke more candidly about development, still within the framework of a mixed economy under Communist control, and stressed the need for more heavy industry. This was likely because he had been impressed by the role of heavy industry in determining the outcome of World War II. In his selected works, he said that “the necessary capital would mainly come from the accumulated wealth of the Chinese people,” but later added that “China would appreciate foreign aid and even private foreign investment under non-exploitative conditions.”
After Chiang Kai-shek broke away from the CPC, they found themselves in a condition that they were not accustomed to. They had no armed forces or territorial bases of their own and no program of strategy other than the one compromised by Stalin. From the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern in 1928 to the Seventh in 1935, Stalin insisted that Communist Parties everywhere must promote world revolution in a time of depression, largely because of the disaster he had suffered in China. The CPC was ridden with factionalism, but Mao Tse-tung ultimately made a successful effort to replace this situation with one of relative bolshevization,” or imposed unity, not by Stalin. Parallel with the Comintern-dominated central apparatus of the CPC in Shanghai, there arose a half dozen Communist-led base areas, each with a guerrilla army, in Central and South China. These bases existed mainly by virtue of the efforts of the local Communist leadership to satisfy the serious economic and social grievances of the local civilians, often violently, through such means as redistribution of land at the expense of landlords and the reduction of interest rates at the expense of moneylenders. Of these base areas, or soviets, the most important was the one led by Mao Tse-tung and centered in the southeastern city of Kiangsi.
Correspondingly, Mao was elected chairman of a Central Soviet Government in return for such service. This government supposedly controlled all the Communist base areas in 1931. Before I tell you about Mao Tse-tung, I will explain Maoism. Maoism, or the thought of Mao Tse-tung,” is the evolving complex of patterns of official thought and behavior that the CPC developed under Mao’s leadership. It is challenging to distinguish Mao’s individual contribution from other thinkers of this time period, as many have done and continue to do.
It is difficult to separate the pre-1949 and post-1949 aspects, as well as the domestic and international aspects. The first basic and most important characteristic is a deep and sincere nationalism that has been merged with strictly Communist elements. Closely resembling nationalism is the populist approach, which is so full of strain that the CPC sees itself not merely as the vanguard of the common people, but also as the progressive side of the middle class, and representative of the people. This is important as it plays the opposite position of the three big mountains” (imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism), while still accepting the leadership of the CPC passively.
Maoism still possesses two other significant points for understanding this ideology. Firstly, it recognizes the decisive importance of conscious, voluntary activity and subjective forces in history, in more detail than the sometimes compared Leninism, which was opposed to deterministic, objective forces. Secondly, Maoism stresses contradictions and struggle, or what might be called the power of negative thinking, to the point where it invents enemies of all types and comments on their size, calling them paper tigers,” as Mao did in a speech in 1950.