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Marxism and the Making of China

Also by A. James Gregor

A Place in the Sun: Marxism and Fascism in China’s Long Revolution
Ideology and Development: Sun Yat-sen and the Economic History of Taiwan
Marxism, China, and Development: Reflections on Theory and Reality
The China Connection: U.S. Policy and the People’s Republic of China
Arming the Dragon: U.S. Security Ties with the People’s Republic of China
Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism
The Ideology of Fascism: The Rationale of Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History
The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics
The Faces of Janus: Marxism and Fascism in the Twentieth Century
Marxism and the Making of China
A Doctrinal History

A. James Gregor
ISBN 978-1-349-47884-2 ISBN 978-1-137-37949-8 (eBook)
DOI 10.1057/9781137379498


Copyright © A. James Gregor 2014

Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2014 978-1-137-37948-1

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This book is dedicated to Drs. Brian F. O’Kelly, Jacob Mishell, and
Robert Richter, whose consummate skill, together with that of the TAVR
cardiac unit at Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco, helped afford me enough
time for its completion.
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Preface ix
Acknowledgments xi
A Note on Transliteration xiii

1 China, Marxism, and the Background in Time 1

2 Marxism, Revolution, and Development 25
3 Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations 45
4 China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution 71
5 Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China 97
6 The Making of Maoism 119
7 “Mao Zedong Thought” 141
8 The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System 167
9 Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” 187
10 The Ideology of Post-Maoist China 211
11 New China in Comparative Perspective 237

Select Bibliography 265

Index 273
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The publication of this work brings to a close half a century of study, teaching, traveling,
conferring, and publishing that began with a book-length academic study of Marxism,
included delivering communications on the politics and security of East Asia before both
houses of the United States Congress, and concluded with the summary discussion now
before the reader. The motives sustaining so arduous a program are very personal. In my
youth, I witnessed families driven apart by political differences. That was followed by a
loss of friends and relatives swept up in a conflict none seemed to have understood. Boys,
but a few years older than I, died on distant beaches and in unknown jungles, in nameless
places, in wars now almost entirely forgotten by most Americans. They deserve better.
We deserve better.
This book is an effort to make more comprehensible parts of the history of China in
the twentieth century—both to those who lived it in part, as well as those who will only
know it through books and mechanical recall.
We are heirs of an enterprise, both technological as well as ideological, that has pack-
aged the history of the twentieth century in singular fashion. We have all been schooled to
believe that the major events of the century, in East Asia as well as Europe, were the prod-
ucts of a vast doctrinal conflict between the forces of the Left and the Right—with the
former somehow democratic in intent, and the latter, pathologically undemocratic. That
difference presumably defined the conflict. Whatever might have been true elsewhere,
that notion was imposed on the political history and life circumstances of the Chinese.
Collective behaviors were ascribed to doctrinal sentiments that were either progressive or
reactionary. At the center of that conception of modern East Asian history was a general,
and sometimes inflexible, judgment concerning the role played in it by the system of
beliefs bequeathed the Chinese by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
By my middle years, I had become convinced that there was something fundamentally
wrong with such a construction. The millions of Chinese, who had fallen in battle and
in the fields, had sacrificed for something other than Marxist ideals. The course of their
history was something more than the working out of Marxist enjoinments. It is now
arguable that their leaders called the Chinese people to struggle for ends that had precious
little to do with Marxism as a reasonably well-articulated system of beliefs.
It is important to understand why people sacrifice and why they give the last full mea-
sure of themselves, willingly or unwillingly, to political purpose. Resolving that issue is
not only important to those who have sacrificed but it is also important to those alive, in
the present, trying to anticipate what the future might hold.
Whatever the future, China’s place in it will be prominent. It is hoped that this work
might make some small contribution to understanding what that prominence might
mean to all of us, Chinese and non-Chinese alike.
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Every work of scholarship owes a debt of gratitude to numberless others who made their
contributions through their own publications, their participation in conferences, and
their personal exchanges in the ordinary course of academic life. I have been particu-
larly fortunate in having had many occasions to profit from the insights of others more
learned and more experienced than I. For over half a century, in my study of revolution-
ary thought, many academicians contributed to my education. Professors Gottfried-Karl
Kindermann, long-time director of the Center for International Politics, at the University
of Munich, and Jürgen Domes of the Research Unit on Chinese and East Asian Politics at
the Saar University, Saarbrücken, were supportive and influential. Professors Jan Prybyla,
John Franklin Copper, and Anthony James Joes all contributed in significant fashion.
Dr. Chang King-yuh, of the National Chengchi University, who went on to serve as
the director general of the Government Information Office of Taiwan, shared with me his
broad knowledge of the doctrines of Sun Yat-sen. Professor Parris Chang, of Pennsylvania
State University, who went on to serve as deputy secretary general of the National Secu-
rity Council of Taiwan, was particularly helpful.
Dr. Raul P. De Guzman, dean of the College of Public Administration of the Univer-
sity of the Philippines, together with Adrian E. Cristobal, regent of the university, both
provided insights useful to the preparation of the work before the reader. Together with
other scholars from the Republic of the Philippines, they aided me in understanding the
prevailing circumstances in the region.
The academicians and military officers of the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s
Republic of China, at the Beijing Institute of International Studies, afforded the occasion
for the exchanges that proved enormously helpful. Brigadier General Jose P. Magno of the
Republic of the Philippines and Rear Admiral Tadashi Tajiri, former head of the Japan
Marine Self-Defense Force, assisted me in understanding the security circumstances of
the region that was the object of my study. Together with the professionals of the United
States Armed Services—Admirals Elmo Zumwalt, who served as chief of naval oper-
ations, Admirals Edwin Snyder and James Linder, who served as commanders of the
U.S. Taiwan Defense Force—I managed to acquire some understanding of the regional
dynamics governing the security of the area.
While occupied with my studies, I had the good fortune to interact with Dr. Ma
Ying-jeou, who, besides being knowledgeable about the belief systems that animated the
peoples of East Asia, went on to serve as president of the Republic of China on Taiwan.
In effect, my work would have been impossible without the assistance of the scholars
of mainland and island China, as well as that of the political and military leaders of the
general region—all of whom gave generously of their time.
xii ● Acknowledgments

Closer to home, the University of California, Berkeley, provided the institutional and
material support that allowed my work to prosper. The university afforded me access to
its bibliographic reserves, to knowledgeable colleagues, as well as to enthusiastic students.
Finally, to my wife—Maria Hsia Chang—I owe a debt beyond repayment for the sup-
port and assistance without which my work would not have been possible. I owe her for
little Gaby, without whom I would not have been able to deal with the grimness of the
modern world. In substance, whatever is found worthy in this work is due to all these
people—and many, many more who have not been named. The shortcomings are entirely
my responsibility.
A. James Gregor
Berkeley, 2014
A Note on Transliteration

Writing anything about China is beset by difficulties. One difficulty involves deciding
how Chinese names are to be transliterated into English. I have chosen a course that I
hope readers will not find too discomfiting.
In the People’s Republic of China, Chinese is transliterated using the pinyin system—
so that what once appeared as Mao Tse-tung, now consistently appears as Mao Zedong.
It will so appear in the present text. For many Chinese outside of the People’s Republic,
familiar names continue to appear in the version bequeathed by the Wade-Giles system,
so that Chiang Kai-shek, for instance, continues to appear in just that fashion. Since
most non-Chinese are familiar with the Generalissimo as Chiang Kai-shek, I have elected
to retain the more familiar usage. Similarly, the political party led by Chiang appears as
“Kuomintang.” The preferences of those Chinese who continue to transcribe according to
the Wade-Giles system will be respected. Where it will not confuse, I have used the pinyin
form preferred by the continental Chinese.
A problem arises with the names of some cities. The former capital of republican (or
Kuomintang) China, Nanking, for example, appears as “Nanjing” in the pinyin trans-
literation. Most mentions of the present discussion, in which references are made to
Nanking, are made to Nanking as the capital of China during the republican period—a
time in which the city was identified universally as Nanking—I have therefore elected to
employ Nanking rather than the pinyin Nanjing in the text. Hopefully none of this will
prove too disturbing to readers.

China, Marxism, and the

Background in Time

The [Chinese] government is based on the paternal management of the Emperor, who keeps
all departments of the state in order. . . . Despotism is necessarily the mode of government. . . .
On both rivers, the Huanghe and the Yangzi, dwell many millions of human beings. . . . The
population and the thoroughly organized state arrangements, descending even to the minutest
details, have astonished Europeans.
—G. W. F. Hegel1

he makers of Marxism, Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–
1895), came to their interest in China through the scholarship of G. W. F. Hegel
and those Europeans who began to write extensively about the Central Kingdom
at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. While historians
had written accounts of the ancient kingdoms of the East, China, as a reasonably well-
defined cultural entity, still remained largely unknown to Europeans. When the overseas
expansion of Europeans brought China more insistently to their attention, Hegel was
sufficiently impressed to suggest that human history seemed to have begun with the Chi-
nese. He identified China as the oldest of the Asiatic riverine civilizations with which he
was to concern himself in his universal history.2
Hegel was correct in so far as it is generally accepted that China probably has existed as
a political and cultural continuity longer than any other on the planet. As early as the Neo-
lithic era, first evidence of what was to be China was left behind by millet farmers in the
Yellow River basin. That basin was soon provisioned with some of the cultural and political
features with which China was to remain identified through the nineteenth century.
Hegel described a land of lofty mountains, terraced plateaus, extensive plains, and
large and small basins, traversed by some of the world’s longest river systems. He told of
northwest China suffering the lowest rainfall in the entire region, with no rainfall at all in
its desert areas. The first settlements of those who were to become Chinese were threaded

1G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1956), section
1, “China.”
2Ibid., part 1, “Introduction,” 112, 116.
2 ● Marxism and the Making of China

along the rivers, with irrigation providing the fresh water for the increasingly vast and
intricate hydro-agricultural arrangements that typified even the first communities.
In fact, records indicate that China’s legendary first dynasty, more than fifteen hun-
dred years before the Common Era, had assumed responsibility for the governance of
the hydraulic system. Thereafter, political unity was organized around the presence of a
ruling dynast and an attendant hierarchy—whose authority to rule was based on the sup-
posed possession of demonstrable virtue. The rationale of governance was given doctrinal
formulation and made public, and adherence was made obligatory. By the third century
before the Common Era, Confucius (551–479 BCE) and Mencius (372–289 BCE) had
codified the essentials of that public ethic—to inextricably link the ruled and the rulers
together in doctrine until the advent of modern times.
Confucius conceived himself as a vehicle for the transmission of the culture of earlier
times. His doctrines rested on the authority of the sage-kings of Chinese antiquity and
reflected the concepts of the period that subordinated subjects to rulers, women to men,
and children to parents. What emerged from his efforts was the rationale for an autocratic
paternalism that, over time, might either take on the properties of a stilted and structured
humanism or an inflexible authoritarianism. Political constraints on personal liberty were
the price exacted from subjects for the creation of monuments of historic dimension, an
increasingly sophisticated culture, an effective communications infrastructure, a unified
currency, and victories in the field.
The Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE)—one of the dynasties that followed on the
establishment of the imperial system—tempered the unrelieved oppressiveness of politi-
cal rule with Confucian proprieties and humane sentiments. There was an effort to infuse
religious faith into public creed—and, in fact, in the latter part of the Han dynasty, Dao-
ism and Buddhism made their appearance. For all intents and purposes, the public phi-
losophies that were to govern the behavior of the peoples of millennial China had made
their appearance. The rule that resulted settled about sixty million persons, sustained by
an agricultural economy, on an area about two-thirds the geographic size of the contem-
porary United States.
By the end of the Han dynasty, Chinese civilization had taken on those features that
were to characterize it for almost two millennia. Whatever the alternating periods of inter-
nal political strife and disunity, those traits reemerged that thereafter would be forever
identified as those of a timeless China. After civil strife, peasant rebellion, or warring
states, dynasty would follow dynasty, each successive dynasty always possessed of common
properties. It was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of the Common Era that
European seafarers and merchants began to systematically explore China and to reflect on
those features that were to occupy their intellectual and political interests until our time.
China was informed by a set of institutional features nowhere to be found in the
history of Europe. The Celestial Kingdom exhibited economic and political properties
known neither to classical antiquity nor medieval or modern Europe. By the beginning
of the nineteenth century, European impressions of China had become increasingly stan-
dardized, and in the third decade of that century, Hegel delivered a simple, plausible, and
eminently memorable rendering of that prevailing academic fancy.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

In his lectures on the philosophy of history, Hegel spoke of China as a historic constant—
a political community that emerged at the very commencement of human evolution, to
endure, thenceforward, as a “fixed and stationary” phenomenon. It was a concept that
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 3

was to have enduring influence on the young Karl Marx—and through him, on the his-
tory of Asia throughout the twentieth century.
For Hegel, “the empire of the two rivers,” whatever the alternating interludes, would
serve history as the “most durable kingdom in the world.”3 Its ruler would be uniquely
sovereign—around whom all things would gravitate. The emperor would be both heir
and conduit for institutions, laws, norms, and customs that traced their origins back to
the very dawn of human history. Without him, the “thoroughly organized” infrastruc-
ture of the state would not function. It was he who chose the members of the functional
hierarchy that staffed the unchanging unity of China. It was he who served as the soul of
a system that reconstituted itself after every dislocation. However fractured by war and
revolution, however overwhelmed by invasion, flood, or famine, China forever remained
herself. It was an image that helped shape the interpretations that were to follow.
For Hegel, China, as that “durable kingdom,” was a community that, by virtue of its
very durability, existed in space, but not in time. Its history was “unhistoric.” Dynasty
followed upon dynasty, and emperor upon emperor, but China remained, knit together
by regulations governing every aspect of behavior—regulations that could be traced to
its very childhood in political history.4 In that China, without “will or insight,” sub-
jects obeyed their ruler, “as children their parents.” The “ahistoric State,” fashioned and
informed by the “one all-absorbing personality” of the emperor, was paternal, holding
together its constituent members by its provident care, by admonitions, and by retribu-
tive inflictions.
For Hegel, that was the empire with which world history began. The historic Chinese
state was “thoroughly organized” along China’s two major rivers, and the state, however
frequently “broken up into many provinces, which carried on long wars with each other,”
nonetheless remained that enduring phenomenon that so fascinated Europeans. It was
there that the “One Being,” the “Oriental despot,” who made the state “supremely domi-
nant,” was to be found. Unlike those systems familiar to European history, Oriental des-
potism recognized neither individual nor corporate rights independent of the state—so
that the state was not required to enter into negotiated compromise with, nor coerce sub-
mission from, its subjects. Rather, the Chinese government proceeded exclusively “from
the Emperor alone, who sets it in movement as a hierarchy of officials or Mandarins,”
who themselves unilaterally are “appointed to superintend the roads, the rivers, and the
coasts. Everything is arranged with the greatest minuteness. In particular, great attention
is paid to the rivers.” Hegel went on to add that among the traditional edicts of imperial
China one typically found those designed to govern the flow, and the efficient distribu-
tion, of water. The implications were that the peculiarities of the Central Kingdom were
derivative of the peculiar economic needs of the empire. Political rule was an instrumen-
tality for assuring the necessary functionality of a hydraulic agricultural system.
So integrated was the entire arrangement that should the Emperor prove inadequate
to his tasks, “the government is paralyzed from head to foot, and given over to careless-
ness and caprice—for there is no other legal power or institution extant, but this super-
intendence and oversight of the Emperor.” On those occasions when the state proves

3The account that follows in the next few paragraphs summarizes Hegel’s lectures on “the Orien-

tal World,” as that summary appears in his lectures on history. All quotes are from this source: Ibid.,
part 1, section 1, pp. 111–38.
4For Hegel, true history commenced only when human life transcended that of the simple fam-

ily, when rule governed associations were formed, and governance, language, and art afforded the
occasion for expression.
4 ● Marxism and the Making of China

insufficient, unrest invariably results. Resistance emanates from within the palaces, and
disquiet mounts in the countryside. At those times, it is said that “Heaven has withdrawn
its mandate,” and a dynasty falls and another assumes its obligations—beginning another
dynastic cycle.
That was the characterization of China that was common among European scholars
by the mid-nineteenth century. Thus, Karl Marx was to speak of an “Oriental despotism”
in which an “Asiatic fundamental form” of property would lend shape and substance to
collective life, where individuals, and the proprietors of small acreage, conceived them-
selves not as owners, but rather as profiting from grants from “a higher or more inclusive
proprietor”—a despot who “as real owner . . . appeared as the father of all.”5
By the time Marx ventured on his account, there was an effort among European think-
ers to understand Asian despotism in some comprehensive sense. Europeans felt that they
were dealing with a unique social form, both mysterious and portentous in its implica-
tions. How were they to understand a society that possessed a highly developed economic
infrastructure as early as the Song dynasty (960–1229 CE), traded at distances as far away
as East Africa during the Ming dynasty(1368–1644 CE), invented gunpowder, navigated
the vast oceans guided by magnetic compass, produced the finest porcelain in the world,
and yet failed to create a machine economy capable of producing weapons to protect
itself, even as Europeans were battering down the country’s defenses with rifled cannon
and breech loading rifles.
The search for a plausible explanation of the peculiar properties of China continued
throughout the nineteenth century. By the turn of the twentieth century, Marxists had fab-
ricated something of an account that remains worthy of reflection to the present day. It was
an account of Oriental despotism that tended to render Asian cultures as somehow unique,
destined to follow a historic trajectory forever different from that of the cultures of Europe.

History and Economic Variables

The commencement of the nineteenth century brought with it the first full impact of the
Industrial Revolution. Ahead was the mechanization and systematic expansion of machine
industry. Behind was a period of social transformation—a time of remarkable ferment
in England following the Glorious Revolution (1688)—as Britons began to absorb the
consequences that two centuries of exploration, discovery, and technological innovation
set in train.6 By that time, information about China and India had become increasingly
available—and economists had begun comparative analyses. Attempts at drawing out the
European implications of trade with the less-developed parts of the world—the North
American colonies, South Asia, and China’s Celestial Kingdom—became increasingly
common. What such trade might mean for China and the less-developed nations of Asia
were conversely accorded remarkably little thought.

5Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen ökonomie (Rohentwurf ) 1857–1858 (Berlin:

Dietz Verlag, 1953), 376–77.

6Karl Marx referred to the period of the Glorious Revolution as the time of the union of the

reformed monarchy and the “monopolizing moneyed interests” that marked the rapid consolidation
of merchant and industrial capital in England. Marx, “The East India Company—Its History and
Results,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On Colonialism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publish-
ing House, n.d.), 42. This collection contains those articles published in English in the New-York
Daily Tribune, for whom Marx served as a correspondent from August 1851 through March 1862.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 5

By the eighteenth century, theoreticians, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, rec-
ognized that Britain was on the eve of a technological and productive transformation.
They clearly appreciated the fact that England had completed, by that time, the pre-
paratory phase of what has been called “economic takeoff ”—that period of sustained
economic growth funded, in the British case, by capital accumulated from two centuries
of trade expansion. The available evidence suggests that, between the beginning of the
seventeenth and the middle of the eighteenth centuries, Great Britain’s foreign trade had
increased seven fold, bringing the mother country a windfall accumulation of disposable
capital. The very expansiveness of economic life was self-affirming. Given available capi-
tal, Britain’s cottage industries had given way to a system of manufactories that increas-
ingly siphoned labor out of the countryside to urban sites to produce commodities in
greater and greater abundance, and these products, in turn, were to be transported in
growing measure to the farthest corners of the world.
Academicians became more and more intrigued by the processes and places involved—
and a corresponding effort to understand it all was undertaken. Quickly abandoned was
the notion that a community’s true wealth could only be forthcoming from agrarian
pursuits. Many were prepared to contend that wealth and well-being were assured only
by a favorable balance of trade—which, in turn, would directly affect the development
of additional productive capacity, domestic employment, and output. By the end of
the eighteenth century, classical economic theory had rationalized the central processes
involved. Various authors articulated, with differing degrees of plausibility, the concept
of self-regulating market mechanisms governing the production and distribution of com-
modities. The conception of a global market made its appearance. With it came the
conviction that the wealth of nations was a function of the expansion and sophistication
of trade and industry. All that notwithstanding, there was little that could pass as an ana-
lytic study of comparative industrial development. Nonetheless, it was apparent that vast
regions of the economically less-developed world were profitable markets for the export
trade of the developing European economies.
Among those who attempted to understand something of what was transpiring,
there were those who focused their attention on the costs, to the general population, of
the high profits derived from technological innovation and the exploitation of increas-
ing domestic demand, as well as from those sales that arose from the emerging for-
eign commodity markets. Social critics in abundance made their appearance—most
notably in England, France, and Germany. Small peasant proprietors, independent
artisans, members of guilds, and the owners of cottage industries and small manufac-
tories lamented the ruin of their endeavors and the threat of a loss of station. They gave
varied voice to criticism that turned on the deleterious consequences of the transfer
of capital from land to factory. They independently and collectively supported the
growing tribe of iconoclastic intellectuals that grew up around burgeoning urban
developments. Critics proceeded to speak of the anarchy of production, crises of over-
production, and the growing impoverishment of large segments of the population that
seemed to accompany the evolving commodity system. Critics also spoke of the exploi-
tation of factory hands, of workers denied any prospect of a meaningful existence, and
of the loss of a sense of community—in effect, a decline in the overall quality of life.
In response, there was talk of a generous Socialism that would abolish the outrages of
the modern system of production and distribution. More and more books appeared
that addressed the complex issues involved. They spoke to the infamies of the evolving
system and of the merits of proposed alternatives—of which there proved to be no
6 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were among the system critical intellectuals who arose
during the first half of the nineteenth century. They were to contribute to the flow of
literature that informed political thought throughout the period. Their point of depar-
ture was the conviction that the machine production of modern industry generated an
irrepressible “need of a constantly expanding market for its products”—that compelled
machine production to “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections
everywhere,” concluding that “the cheap prices of its commodities [were] the heavy artil-
lery with which it batters down all Chinese walls.”7 The young intellectuals who were to
be the architects of proletarian revolution in the industrially developed economies began
their criticism of contemporary society by castigating commodity production—only to
move beyond this criticism to focus attention on the dynamics governing the interaction
of advanced capitalism and the less-developed economies on the periphery.
In their first major effort to engage the forces shaping their world, Marx and Engels
recognized the role played by the availability of market supplements to the economies
of scale developing in Europe. They alluded to the lure of unlimited markets that made
China and India so attractive to the merchants of Great Britain. Peripheral to their main
concerns, neither Marx nor Engels was prepared to anticipate what the relationship
between the advanced and the less-advanced economies might mean for those commu-
nities living in essentially agrarian circumstances. They understood that the merchants
of Britain—to protect their faraway markets—had conjured up, and called to service,
foot soldiers and ships of the line, in order to assure themselves market supplements and
investment opportunities. They rejected the notion that the attendant aggression was
a defense of civilization against the semi-barbarian resistance of less-evolved economic
systems. They delivered an image of entire populations, on diverse continents, exposed to
power projected from industrialized northern Europe.
In the course of those developments, scholars were entrained to follow that power. In
the effort to understand something of the new markets, the peoples, and the distant com-
munities European producers intended to secure, British, French, German, and Dutch
scholars wrote treatises devoted to the life circumstances, the history, and the culture, for
example, of the indigenous peoples of the East. By the time Marx and Engels wrote The
Communist Manifesto in 1848, both were already familiar with the major communities of
that portion of the globe. Within the next decade, they were to attain a level of compre-
hension that qualified them to speak of China and India with increased confidence. For
the purposes of the present account, it is that constituent element of their treatment of
history that is the focus of our attention.

Asia and “The Materialist Conception of History”

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels sought to provide a theoretical rationale
for the revolution they anticipated. It was an attempt that was singularly Eurocentric.
Equally evident was the fact that, at the same time, the two youthful authors were con-
scious of the global expansion of trade and aware of the existence, as well as something
of the nature, of the less-developed nations of Asia. They were also familiar with Hegel’s
seminal philosophy of history and the distinction he urged between the ahistorical char-
acter of China’s past compared to the dramatic developments of classical antiquity and
then contemporary Europe. In fact, in The Communist Manifesto both Marx and Engels

7Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, section 1.

China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 7

were so accommodating of the Hegelian account that they parsed world history into but
three periods—identified as ancient, feudal, and bourgeois—dismissing, apparently, the
“unhistoric history” of the “durable and stable empires of the East.”8
The three periods identified in The Communist Manifesto are epochs immediately
associated with traditional European history. In the assessment of Marx and Engels, the
ancient world of the Mediterranean somehow came to spawn feudalism, and feudalism
dialectically was to evolve into modern industrial capitalism. Out of capitalism, Social-
ism, one day, was to emerge. The text conveys the clear suggestion that the processes
involved were essentially unilinear—and inextricably European. That may have been, in
fact, more apparent than real—but, whatever the case—as the two authors matured in
chronological age and scholarship, their schematization of history underwent alteration.
Marx’s first major work on the analysis of capitalist production appeared about ten
years after the publication of the Manifesto. In that later work, Marx advanced a major
reform in the periodization of what he took to be human history. In his preface to A
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx spoke of history as involving “the
Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal, and the modern bourgeois methods of production.”9
A decade after his first assay into world history, Marx was prepared to amend his pro-
posed account of human history by adding a fourth to the three stages previously cata-
loged in the Manifesto. In fact, as circumstances would have it, by the early 1850s, both
Marx and Engels were addressing the economies of Asia.10 As a result, they had begun
to conceptualize a mode of production antecedent to, and apparently independent of,
the familiar ancient stage of history manifestly familiar to Europeans. The first Marxists
had begun to speak of an “Asiatic mode of production”—apparently unrelated to those
“modes of production” endemic to Europe.
As the notion of an Asiatic mode of production took shape, there was no clear sugges-
tion that history’s ancient stage had grown organically out of one identified as Asiatic—or
that the Asiatic mode bore some intrinsic relationship to Europe’s antiquity.11 Still less
was there any suggestion that there had been development in the Orient that might cor-
respond to that found in the West. Asia was described in singular fashion, not only did
it lack an intrinsic dynamism, but it also did not seem to bear any relationship to the
modes of production that emerged in Europe. It had not passed through a feudal period
or one that Marx and Engels denominated bourgeois. All that notwithstanding, it was
evident that by the middle years of the 1850s, Marx had decided that any serious account
of economic, social, and political history required the inclusion of some treatment of a
specific, and apparently independent, Asiatic mode of production. However lacking in
dynamism, Marx was prepared to include other than European modes of production in

8Hegel, The Philosophy of History, 105.

9Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr &
Company, 1904), 13.
10Marx served as the London correspondent of the New-York Daily Tribune at the time, and he

found himself dealing with developments in Asia as the British parliament debated the renewal of
the Far East charter of the East India Company, in the early 1850s. His treatment of the issues com-
pelled Marx to an extensive study of hither Asia, particularly China and India. Engels collaborated
in the effort and became similarly informed.
11For Marx and Engels, ancient characteristically meant the classic civilizations of Greece and

Rome. Only later did their discussion include the early history of the Germanic tribes. Later still, as
they began to divide history into stages of savagery, barbarism, and civilization, all the early distinc-
tions began to blur.
8 ● Marxism and the Making of China

his account of economic history. He seems to have decided that whatever else it was, his-
tory’s progression was something more than linear.
In the years between the appearance of the Manifesto in 1848 and A Contribution
to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859, both Marx and Engels sought a scientific
explanation for what they perceived as Asian passivity and unresponsiveness in the face
of harrowing historical change. In their correspondence, and in articles written for the
New-York Daily Tribune, they concluded that the peculiar features of the Asiatic mode of
production were to be explained by the absence of private property among Asians—as
private property was conceived by Europeans. Marx and Engels explained that the lack of
private property, in villages that were largely self-contained and self-sufficient, left indi-
vidual Chinese and Indians devoid of both incentive and the capacity for organization,
rendering them, in general, indifferent and impassive to events outside their immediate
purview. In an echo of Hegelian notions, Marx and Engels argued that indifference,
together with a systemic need for extensive and functional irrigation systems, made the
denizens of the Asiatic mode of production submissive to a centrally located political
management. Farming communities, critically dependent on the regular availability of
water, were abjectly dependent upon a controlling bureaucracy in order to assure survival.
All of which, in spite of episodic insurrectionary violence, no matter the measure and
extent, left the Orient stagnant in the current of history.12 As early as the mid-1850s, both
Marx and Engels spoke of such conditions, prevailing in Asia since “time immemorial,”
as the material foundation of despotism in government and stagnation in the productive
The founders of Marxism unpacked that despotism into departments of government
that essentially controlled three community functions: war, finances, and public works.
Of public works, both Marx and Engels, like Hegel, identified the management of the irri-
gation infrastructure as the most important and the indispensible basis of Oriental agri-
culture. Where Europeans, through time, had organized themselves on a voluntary basis
to maintain predictable water availability, in Asia, because of the vast spaces and dense
populations involved, the central government was compelled to assume the demanding
responsibility of sustaining the hydraulic system.13 In those circumstances, political lead-
ers were obliged to take on grave responsibilities—and subjects to discharge compulsory
labor. Leaders were infused with exalted powers, to appear in history as either fathers or
despots. The responsibility of providing, over vast distances, the functional, predictable,
economical, and common availability of water, devolved upon a central government that,
in China, assumed the properties of an imperial despotism. Whatever the disturbances

12In a letter to Marx, Engels maintained, “The absence of property in land is indeed the key to the

whole of the East. . . . But how does it come about that Orientals did not arrive at landed property,
even in its feudal form? I think it is mainly due to the climate, taken in connection with the nature
of the soil. . . . Artificial irrigation is here the first condition of agriculture and this is a matter . .
. of the central government.” To which Marx replied that British parliamentary reports described
the whole of “Asiatic empires” as divided into self-sufficient villages dependent on the public works
managed by the central government for the timely and competent delivery of water. “I do not
think,” Marx concluded, “anyone could imagine a more solid foundation for stagnant Asiatic des-
potism.” See the exchange provided in the Marx and Engels correspondence of June 6 and 14, 1853,
in Marx and Engels, Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1963), vol. 28, 254, 259, 267–68. The relevant
parts of this correspondence are made available in Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, ed.
Shlomo Avineri (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1968), 278–81.
13Marx, “The British Rule in India,” in On Colonialism, 33.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 9

generated by local interests, regional conflict, or intra-bureaucratic or court strife, there

remained a persistent need for management of the hydraulic system. Whatever the epi-
sodic dislocation, the command system invariably restored itself. As a necessary result, the
defining political properties of Oriental despotism remained constant in time. The result
was a social system destined to remain indifferent to history.14
Toward the end of the 1850s, Marx sought to incorporate a more coherent account of
the Asiatic mode of production into his general theory of history. He read extensively in
the available literature and left the resultant notes that have come down to us as “Rohent-
wurf ”—preliminary drafts—of what he was to publish in 1859 as A Contribution to the
Critique of Political Economy.15
In the preparation of his notes, through the years 1857 and 1858, together with the
articulation of concepts that were to serve in his general analysis of capitalist production,
Marx ventured on some general characterizations of what human life was like at the time
of its separation from its animal origins. He spoke of the first human beings as living in
herds, settling into relatively stable communities, and sharing common ties of blood,
language, and custom. He proceeded to affirm that “depending on the objective condi-
tions of life,” such communities, once settled, work to produce, in isolation, essential
sustenance and meet critical physical needs. In those circumstances, each community
“produces and reproduces itself through living labor.”16
Marx was to argue (on the basis of whatever evidence was then available) that in the first
stages of settled life, such communities hold land in common, and the leader of the group
appears as the father of all, charged with all the fiduciary responsibilities associated with
group life. In the Rohentwurf, Marx argued that the absence of individual ownership of
land, and the existence of self-sustaining communities separated by substantial distances,
contributed to the increased dependence of all on a centralizing political management for
the conduct of war, the discharge of religious responsibilities, and the accomplishment of
public tasks, including, where required, support systems essential to agricultural pursuits.
A central authority that might assure the success of just such undertakings would inevi-
tably take on awesome properties. This would be particularly true in those autarkic com-
munities that characterized the early social life of humankind. In retrospect, it appears
that Marx conceived Asian despotism as emerging out of that background.
Marx wove all of this into his attempt to explain the somnolence that typified the Asia
to which he had been introduced by Hegel and the research literature of the period. In
the vast regions of East and South Asia, those communities growing along the rivers had

14Marx, “Chinese Affairs,” Die Presse, July 7, 1862, translated in Avineri, Karl Marx on Colonial-

ism and Modernization, 420.

15The unabridged draft materials were published for the first time in 1939 as Grundrisse der

Kritik der politischen ökonomie. Selections from the Rohentwurf have been translated as Karl Marx,
Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations (New York: International Publishers, 1965), with an introduc-
tion by Eric J. Hobsbawm; see also Karl Marx, The Grundrisse, ed. and trans. David McLellan (New
York: Harper & Row, 1961).
16In Das Kapital 1, chap. 13, in the English translation Capital (Moscow: Foreign Languages

Publishing House, 1954), 334. Marx spoke of communities “at the dawn of human development”
in which “the means of production” were owned in common, and cooperation resembled that of
“bees in a hive.” Elsewhere (ibid., chap. 14, section 4, 357), he speaks of “small and extremely
ancient Indian communities, some of which have continued down to this day . . . based on pos-
session in common of land . . . each forming a compact whole producing all it requires.” Among
the principal officials of such isolated and self-sufficient communities is “the water overseer, who
distributes the water from common tanks for irrigation.”
10 ● Marxism and the Making of China

become repositories for the collected wealth necessary to defray the costs of maintain-
ing not only the hydraulic infrastructure but also all the other public responsibilities of
political leadership—wars, religious rites, the construction of major landmarks and infra-
structure, as well as directing the common organization of labor. Reflecting the thoughts
incorporated in the first essays produced in the early 1850s, the Rohentwurf contained an
explanation sketch intended not only as an account of the archaic social life of human
beings but also as insight into what was to shape the economic, social, and political life
of Asia.
While it is clear that Marx held it probable that all peoples emerging from primal sav-
agery passed through some such phase of communal life—what Engels later was to call
“village communism”17—it was evident that Asian peoples distinguished themselves by
their special dependence on complex irrigation systems for the maintenance and expan-
sion of their agriculture. It was a system that became so complex, and so interwoven,
that it was structurally resistant to change. Agriculture dominated life. Whatever the
other economic activities, they were subordinate to agriculture. Clothing was fashioned
at home, as were farm implements and utensils. It was agriculture that was the arbiter
of social and individual well-being: agriculture was inextricably dependent on irrigation,
and irrigation required the existence of a dominant, managerial, ruling authority.
Among the villagers of Asian antiquity, that enduring dependence on agriculture, and
agriculture’s dependence on the supply of water, created the ready disposition to conceive
their government, to which they owed special deference, as “poised above them.” That
contributed to the stability of the political and social arrangements that seemed to forever
characterize the history of Asia—an essentially unchanging superstructural political rule
erected on an economically static, agricultural base.18 Marx had explained, to his own
satisfaction, Asia’s political passivity, as well as its total lack of economic development
over time.
It was clear that other peoples, commencing their course of growth in different circum-
stances—geologic, demographic, and historical—would participate in a more dynamic
progression.19 Some were to participate in the employment of slave labor, in feudalism,
and in the gradual urbanization of agricultural labor; they were to experience a reawaken-
ing of inquiry, innovative change, exploration, and small- and then increasingly large-
scale manufacturing, until the more dynamic among them attained what Marx did not
hesitate to call civilization—the machine production of commodities. Asia, according
to Marx, knew none of that. It would appear that there were at least two historic cat-
egories of people—those destined to develop and those, at least initially, condemned
to stagnate. It is not at all evident that Marx ever fully abandoned the conviction that
the hydro-agricultural communities of Asia could never escape stasis, to embark on the
developments that produced modern industry in Europe. He seems to have entertained

17See Engels’ correspondence to August Bebel and Karl Kautsky, letters of January 18, 1884, and

February 16, 1884, in Werke, vol. 36, 88, 108.

18After reciting these common properties of primordial “village communism,” Marx affirmed,

“I believe that one cannot imagine a more solid foundation than these for Asiatic despotism and
stagnation.” Marx’s letter to Engels, June 14, 1853, Werke, vol. 28, 268.
19It is in this context that Marx speaks of the early history of the Aztecs and the Incas, as well

as the ancient Celts, as sharing some of these properties with the Asiatic peoples. For all that, it is
clear that he considered the case of the Asian peoples as unique. See Marx, Grundrisse, 377. An
English translation of this section of the Rohentwurf is available in Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic
Formations, 68–71.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 11

a bifurcated view of the world—with the undeveloped economies of Asia destined for a
fate different than those of Europe.
For Marx, Asia remained largely inert in history. Like an insect trapped in amber,
Asia lived a steady, unchanging life under impassive despotic rule. Antecedent to, and
independent of, the ancient stage of history, made familiar to Marx’s readers in The Com-
munist Manifesto, there was the Asiatic mode of production. In the Rohentwurf, there
was a perhaps hesitant suggestion that history’s ancient mode of production—that of
classical Greece and Rome—was somehow distantly related to that of Asia. No real effort,
however, was made to explicate the relationship. Precisely what affinity the ancient mode
of production might have to that identified as Asiatic remained unexplored. It would
appear, from everything they wrote, that Marx and Engels believed that all primitive
communities held land in common and survived in relatively autarkic villages. Many, if
not all, had tribal leaders or shamans or monarchs, who ruled as either fathers or despots.
Only Asiatic societies, however, had ossified in history. There had been no development
in the Orient that might correspond to that found in the West. By the time Marx had
completed the preparatory researches for his historical treatise on modern economics, he
had decided that any serious account of economic, social, and political history required
consideration of a specific, independent, and uniquely enduring Asiatic mode of produc-
tion. Regardless of the shared commonalities of all primitive communities in the begin-
nings of history, Marx seemed to argue that Europe had somehow escaped into more
dynamic form, with Asia to remain inert as a complex of economic, social, and political
arrangements asleep in time. The Asiatic mode of production was to remain a stagnant
form, significantly short of the level of modern civilization.20 There could be little transfer
of insights developed from observing proceedings in the West; Asians were understood
to people a different world. Those were judgments that would have significant impact on
Marxism’s expectations for the future—in Europe and in Asia. Marx’s speculation on the
future of Asia under the impact of foreign modes of production always remained taunt-
ingly evanescent.
By the time he embarked on the publication of A Contribution to the Critique of Politi-
cal Economy, Marx had settled on an account of the general processes involved in social
change. He spoke unself-consciously of the formation of the social relations of produc-
tion of any given epoch as corresponding to a definite stage of development of the mate-
rial forces of production. For Marx, it was “the mode of production in material life [that]
determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life.” As
the material forces of production undergo change, tension develops between those forces
and the relations within which they had hitherto been accommodated. An epoch of social
revolution follows the change in the material forces of production—as the social super-
structure makes adaptations required by those changes.21 By virtue of just such a process,
the ancient societies of Greece and Rome had transformed themselves into feudalism, and
feudalism had evolved into the modern mode of machine production. None of that had
transpired in the East. And it is not clear that Marx expected that the Asiatic mode would

20Marx and Engels regularly spoke of the Asiatic countries with which they dealt as barbarous.

See, for example, Engels, “Persia and China,” in On Colonialism, 111.

21Marx speaks of the “Asiatic form of property,” and everything associated with it, as “stubbornly”

existing, while Western forms evolve. He recounts that as the Roman and medieval forms of prop-
erty change and give rise to new forms, the Asiatic forms remain inert. See the entire discussion in
Grundrisse, 386, 392–96.
12 ● Marxism and the Making of China

follow a course anything like that pursued in Europe. The Asiatic mode of production
had somehow escaped that dialectical sequence. As Hegel had insisted, the Orient had
remained extrinsic to world history.

The Asiatic Mode of Production in Marxism

In 1878, two decades after the appearance of Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of
Political Economy, Engels undertook the effort to fabricate an exposition that might more
adequately accommodate the special elements that had rendered their categorization of
social and economic history increasingly complex. Engels used the occasion of a polemi-
cal response to the theoretically suspect work of Eugen Dühring to make his case. In that
response, the assimilation of a distinct Asiatic mode of production, into the materialist
conception of history, occupied considerable space.
By the time Anti-Dühring appeared, both Marx and Engels had made the Asiatic mode
of production a distinct period in the history of humankind. It had become part of a
larger picture of socioeconomic evolution that began with the emergence of humankind
from the animal world, to make first entry into history. With the crossing of that thresh-
old, their account continued, human beings entered into a world of tools and organized
labor. Group life then gradually matured into primitive agricultural communities, and
common concerns made their influence felt. There were conflicts of interest that neces-
sitated adjudication, criminal acts that required suppression, and religious functions over
which selected individuals were to officiate, and there was the urgent necessity of some-
one to control the supply of water.
As Marx had earlier, in Anti-Dühring Engels argued that such responsibilities were to
be found in all primitive communities. Individually and collectively, those officiating
in such offices inevitably were endowed with measures of authority that prefigured the
beginnings of state power. Representatives of such offices were conceived embodiments
of authority, and as communities became increasingly complex, such offices became more
important. At a given stage, the offices became hereditary, and the office holders gradually
acceded to dominion over society—and “depending on the conditions . . . an Oriental
despot or satrap” emerged. The “exercise of a social function” had become the “basis
of political supremacy.” That was particularly true of those “responsible for the collec-
tive maintenance of irrigation throughout the river valleys, without which no agriculture
was possible.”22 The material base of society had generated an appropriate superstruc-
ture of political office and an attendant consciousness. Engels made explicit what he
thought were the mechanisms that produced the surface features of the Asiatic mode of
In effect, in the Anti-Dühring, Engels expanded upon, but did not materially alter,
the essentials of the account suggested by Marx a quarter of a century earlier. Like Marx,
he explained Asian despotism by referring to the complex community functions made
necessary in Asia primarily by the maintenance, expansion, and organization of public
works, particularly the hydraulic infrastructure. Those were the circumstances to which
Marx had himself alluded when he addressed the nature of Oriental despotism as early as
1853.23 By 1858, Marx was prepared to argue the thesis that the responsibilities assumed
by the central government in the Orient were an inescapable consequence of that society’s

22Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), 247–48.

23Marx, “The British Rule in India,” in On Colonialism, 33.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 13

material mode of production. (Engels would make the same argument two decades later.)
By 1862, given his interpretation, Marx could speak confidently of China as a “living
fossil”—a society so locked into its despotism because of its prevailing mode of produc-
tion that it was totally incapable of meaningful social and political change—given only to
a repetitive change of dynasty.24
By the time Engels had written Anti-Dühring, all of this had been inextricably incor-
porated into Marxist theory. After the death of Marx, Engels attempted to put all the
elements together to provide a still more persuasive rendering of the prehistory of
humanity—a time before the manifestation of either the Asiatic, or the ancient, modes
of production—publishing a work in which he attempted to assimilate the more recent
findings concerning the prehistoric social life of humans into the materialist conception
of history. Engel’s work commenced with an account of an imagined life of savagery,
originally lived in hordes, and largely spent in trees. From there, through the various
stages of barbarism, human life proceeded to the onset of civilization. Engels’ ambi-
tious attempt appeared as The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State in
1884. Engels characterized human prehistory as being divided into “three main epochs,
savagery, barbarism, and civilization.”25
Engels spent little time dealing with the period of human savagery. There was very little
credible information available that might detail the social life of the first savages. His first
extensive discussion turns on the period of middle barbarism—by which time human
beings had domesticated animals and had begun to produce, rather than simply gather,
their own food. By that time they had also begun to work some metals and fashion cloth-
ing. Land was still collectively owned. It was left to the upper stages of barbarism for iron
working and special handicrafts to appear together with the private ownership of land. By
that time, communal villages grew into fortified towns, and for the first time, the division
between town and country became of historic significance.
It was during this latter period that Engels imagined humankind as having embarked
upon civilization. It was a time defined by the production of commodities for sale, and
a time when merchants first appeared. It was a time of “commercial expansion, money,
usury, landed property, and mortgage.” It was a time of class differentiation and a time of
“rapid concentration and centralization of wealth in the hands of a small class, on the one
hand, and by the increasing impoverishment of . . . a growing mass of paupers, on the
other.” With that, society entered into the period in which the “peculiar and innate laws”
of historic progression would assert themselves with “inherent necessity and regularity.”26
It is clear that for Engels, civilization emerged from history pregnant with social revo-
lution. The seeds were apparent in the time of ancient Greece and Rome—to be found
even among the ancient Germans. This first beginning is the epoch of the “ancient
mode of production” spoken of in The Communist Manifesto and A Contribution to
the Critique of Political Economy. What is missing in The Origins of the Family, Private
Property, and the State is any separate account of the Asiatic mode of production. Some-
where between upper barbarism and civilization, the stage of Asiatic production had
apparently been lost.

24Marx, “Chinese Affairs,” Die Presse, in Karl Marx on Colonialism & Modernization, 418.
25Engels, Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staats, Werke, vol. 21, 25–174;
an English translation is available as Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State in Marx
and Engels, Selected Works in Two Volumes (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955),
vol. 2, 185.
26Ibid., 313–15, 322.
14 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Although absent, Engels does make a few tentative allusions to pastoral highland
Asians in his panoramic history of 1884, but there is literally nothing said of the ancient
civilization of China. The Asiatic mode of production is not abjured; it simply is not
discussed. Engels leads his readers from upper barbarism, and the heroic ages of Greece
and Rome, into the commodity production and merchant trafficking of the golden ages
of antiquity.
It seems clear that while space might be made for a discussion of the origins of the
Asiatic mode of production between upper barbarism and the threshold of civilization,
Engels does not make the effort.27 We are left with what is essentially a unilinear progres-
sion from upper barbarism, through civilization, into feudalism and modern industrial
production. Left adrift is the Asiatic mode of production, to remain changeless in time
until the merchant capitalists of the West provoke its animation.
Convinced of the reality of an Asiatic mode of production, it would seem that Engels
either chose not to, or could not, fully integrate the conception into the materialist con-
ception of history. It might have been neglected simply because it would have inordi-
nately complicated his account. Whatever the case, it was perfectly clear that both Marx
and he had agreed on the nature and significance of the Asiatic mode of production, and
yet, for one or another reason, Engels appears to have decided not to attempt to integrate
“ahistoric Asia” into his treatment of the origins of the family, private property and the
state. Given the subsequent history of the issue, it was not a choice that recommended
itself. The choice not to fully discuss the conception was to produce considerable confu-
sion among scholars of Marxism—as well as among those charged with the responsibility
of making sense of the revolutionary future of Asia. It was not clear how the founders of
Marxism conceived the future of China.

Oriental Despotism, Revolution, and Industrial Development

Within the complexity of their works, Marx and Engels clearly intimated that the original
concept of an Asiatic mode of production—and the notion of an Oriental despotism
with which it was associated—applied largely, but certainly not exclusively, to hither
Asia. Almost immediately upon the introduction of the concept in the early 1850s, they
extended its employment beyond Asia. It was suggested that both the notion of an Asiatic
mode of production, and the despotism with which it was associated, might be applied
to some purpose in understanding the histories of the Middle East and North Africa. The
suggestion was made that the formulations might well apply to any attempted treatment
of the history of Persia and Egypt. It was then maintained that the same concepts might
be of service further afield—to understand, for example, the history of Peru.28 Nor was
the application to end there. In the years that were to follow, there were to be employ-
ments in a variety of non-Asiatic settings.
As has been indicated, in order to explain the unchanging somnolence and despotic
character of rule in India and China, Marx and Engels made appeal to several necessary,
if not sufficient, contributing factors: (1) the existence of a loosely articulated geographic
distribution of relatively isolated communitarian village associations, lacking any firm
conception of individual private property; (2) a basically hydro-agricultural economy

27In the text, Engels suggests that he did not discuss the Asiatic mode of production simply for

lack of space. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, section 7, 282.
28Marx, “The British Rule in India,” in On Colonialism, 31–37.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 15

predicated on an intricate system of irrigation; and (3) rule by a centralizing administra-

tive hierarchy usually dominated by an autocrat of one or another sort. The entire com-
plex of arrangements was made to appear enormously resistant to change.
Nonetheless, by the end of the 1850s, it had become very clear that, for both Marx and
Engels, the existence of an Asiatic mode of production, and the despotism that attended
it, did not stand alone. They were part of a broader schematization. The account rested on
a largely speculative conviction that, at the commencement of history, in some discern-
ible sense, all human societies were communitarian, sharing property, labor, and product.
Out of that form of primitive Communism,29 at some point in time, and under some
historical circumstances, a specifically Asiatic expression was to emerge. Never convinc-
ingly explicated, both Marx and Engels seemed to hold that, in some general sense, all
human communities in prehistoric antiquity—through periods of savagery and early
barbarism—lived in consanguineous association, sharing property, labor, and productive
yield. Both argued that traces of just such an archaic form of collective life could be found
almost everywhere in the modern world—in every clime and time.30 The Asiatic mode of
production was simply a peculiar survival, a fossil form, intrinsically resistant to change,
of that once universal form of economic and social life.
Originally, the emphasis seemed to be on that residual mode of production as singu-
larly typical of the millennial economies of China and India—apparently because of its
prominence in then contemporary Asia. Traces of that mode of production to be found
among Aztecs, Incas, Slavs, and the earliest Indo-Germanic were simply not sufficiently
prominent to merit more than indifferent attention. Because he was convinced of the
earlier universality of some of the constituent properties, Engels felt licensed to speak of
the communal ownership of property, in independent and self-sufficient villages, as the
predominant form of social life among all the earliest Indo-Germanic peoples—in both
Asia and Europe. Elsewhere, Marx refers to similar archaic forms of communal property
in economically autonomous villages as typical not only of early Germanic communi-
ties but also those of prehistoric China.31 Given the logic of the account, it would seem
that a mode of production assumed specific Asiatic expression when some of the original
properties of the universal primordial form ossified into that special configuration that
resulted in the enduring authoritarian rule of a centralizing, administrative hierarchy—
that both Marx and Engels characteristically called Oriental despotism.
In effect, the account of the Asiatic mode of production that survives in the works of
Marx and Engels is both complicated and fragmentary—as well as tentative in its impli-
cations. There is a suggestion of an early universal form of the Asiatic mode that, at least
in some regions, evolved into more progressive articulation. By the late 1860s, it became
more complicated still as it began to figure prominently in the Marxist interpretation of
social and political developments in czarist Russia. By 1875, Engels was deeply involved
in analyses of developments in Russia. He spoke of peasant communities from Ireland
to Russia sharing all the archaic properties of primitive Communism—and it was in
that context that he invoked some of the familiar turns of phrase that both he and Marx
had employed in speaking of the Asiatic mode of production. He spoke, for example, of

29Engels letter to August Bebel, January 18, 1884, in Werke, vol. 36, 88.
30“Tribal or village community with common ownership of land—with which, or with the eas-
ily recognizable survivals of which, all civilized peoples enter history—a fairly equal distribution of
products is a matter of course.” Engels, Anti-Dühring, 204.
31See Engels’ 1894 introduction to The Communist Manifesto.
16 ● Marxism and the Making of China

peasantry in Russia as having lived “mutely for centuries . . . in a kind of timeless stupor.”
Like the Chinese and Indians, they had lived outside of history.32 These were locutions
made familiar by both Marx and Engels when they had spoken earlier of the Asiatic mode
of production.
It is clear that for Marx and Engels, Russian peasant communities shared the traits of
the Asiatic mode of production. They were singularly resistant to change. The Russian
peasant village remained at a “very low state of development.”33 This was attributed to
the fact that the Russian peasant communities, like those of India and China, were in
essential isolation, confined in archaic arrangements, each with its sense of collective,
rather than personal, property that “provided the natural foundation of Oriental despo-
tism.” Engels argued that, understood in its complex entirety, that form of associated,
archaic life was intrinsically incapable of development, destined to remain the captive of
Romanov despotism.34
While both Marx and Engels wrote of the control of irrigation as one of the critical
components of the material foundations of Oriental despotism, Engels does make clear
that special circumstances, other than hydro-agriculture, might serve as well. Complex
public works, war, and social mobilization, might make it essential that those in authority
assume complete “dominion over society.” Thus, he refers not only to “Oriental despots
or satraps” discharging such responsibility but he also mentions the “dynast of a Greek
tribe” and the “chieftain of a Celtic tribe” as the corresponding figures in the earlier his-
tory of the West.35 Oriental despots, it would appear, could and did appear early in the
history of the West as dynasts or tribal chiefs—or, it would seem, as monarchs or tyrants
in more modern periods. In effect, neither Marx nor Engels consistently or coherently
restricted their notion of despotism exclusively to the Orient, nor did they conceive the
responsibilities of such a despot as exclusively those required by the governance of com-
plex irrigation systems. In effect, there was an overlap between Eastern and Western—
Oriental and ancient—historic modes of production. How those modes of production
were related, and what that relationship implied for productive systems entering into
dynamic destabilization, remained uncertain.
Both Marx and Engels saw Oriental despotism in the nineteenth century rulers of
“semi-barbarous” Russia. What they implied for Russia’s transition into civilization was
not immediately evident. A scant two years before his death, with considerable patience
and specificity, Marx, in response to a query from the Russian revolutionary, Vera Zasu-
lich (1851–1919), made an issue of whether “the Czar of All the Russians” truly might be
considered just such a despot—for that had implications for Russia. Marx felt the issue to
be so important that he devoted a considerable amount of his limited time to a response.
In formulating that response, he produced three separate preliminary drafts—none of
which he ultimately found satisfactory.36

32Engels speaks of the “Geschichtslosigkeit” of the Russian people. Engels, “Vorbemerkung zu der

Broschüre ‘Soziales aus Russland,’” Marx and Engels, Werke, vol. 18, 586.
33Engels, “Fluchtlingsliteratur: Soziales aus Russland,” Werke, vol. 18, 563.
34Ibid., 563, 567.
35Engels, Anti-Dühring, 247–48.
36The three drafts are available as Marx, “Entwürfe einer Antwort auf den Brief von V. I. Sas-

sulitsch,” Marx and Engels, Werke, vol. 19, 384–406. An abbreviated English account of the drafts
is available as Marx, “Letter on the Russian Village Community (1881),” in Marx and Engels, The
Russian Menace to Europe, eds. Paul W. Blackstock and Bert F. Hoselitz (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press,
1952, 218–26. Marx never sent any of the drafts to Zasulich.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 17

In his notes, Marx makes a clear distinction between socioeconomic developments in

the West and those elsewhere. He insists that his rendering of economic history in Das
Kapital applied only to the West—not to the socioeconomic and political circumstances
in Russia, as representative of the East. He then proceeded to elaborate on many of the
arguments made familiar in his earlier writings. He referred to the conditions in then
contemporary Russia as resting on a type of property and corresponding social orga-
nization that were residual of more archaic forms. Marx argued that the arrangements
found in the Russia of the czars were but the most recent expression of an archetypical
productive mode that had its origin in the earliest history of humankind. He alludes to
a series of forms—all originating in one, aboriginal, and apparently, universal—out of
which the most recent is that scattered throughout Romanov Russia. Clearly alluding to
the formulations found in his Rohentwurf and Engels’ Anti-Dühring, Marx tells Zasulich
that the Russian peasant communities, which are the focus of her attention, are but a
contemporary form of primordial and universal communities (Urgemeinschaften), traces
of which were still to be found throughout Western Europe. The productive forms found
in the East were different but somehow the same.
Marx speaks of those aboriginal communities, of which the Russian peasant village is
a surviving contemporary form, as having been subject, over time, to historic influences
that resulted in their gradual transformation. The modern variations, in Asia and Russia,
are distinctive in that they retain features derivative of the archaic prototype now absent
in the more civilized parts of the globe. In his exposition, Marx proceeds to rehearse all
the properties he conceived the forms found in Russia share with those most primor-
dial. He writes of the scattered isolation, which typifies Russian village communities,
and the binding necessity of authoritarian rule to assure their common effort in major
undertakings—all of which, in appropriate circumstances, fosters the rise and perpetuity
of a form of political and social despotism—centralized and centralizing. It was a render-
ing that Engels had made a case for in 1875 and Marx had anticipated in the early 1850s.
Both Marx and Engels had early spoken of both the Asiatic mode of production and
Oriental despotism rooted in precisely some such conditions. Both referred to an inher-
ently static social and political arrangement whose origins could be traced into prehistory,
to which they related the then contemporary Russian agricultural communities—“the
last word in the archaic organization of society”—one of the last surviving expressions
of a universal archetype.37 In effect, Zasulich, together with all those Russians who were
speaking of social revolution, compelled the founders of Marxism to address the issue of
how revolution was to be understood in the singularly retrograde economic environment
of Asiatic despotism. They sought an answer to a hypothetical question that was to have
implications for revolutionaries throughout the twentieth century.
What emerges from a quarter century of reflection and publication on the part of Marx
and Engels is a speculative theory of how human history proceeds. It gives expression to a
notion that has human development following at least two distinct trajectories. Out of an
obscure primordial form of social life, primitive Communism matures to a point at which
a more dynamic form branches from the main stem, passes through the upper stages of
barbarism, and traverses the heroic ages of Greece and Rome, to evolve into feudalism,
and then the “bourgeois mode of production”—to “accomplish wonders far surpassing
Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals . . . [and ] by the rapid
improvement of all instruments of production . . . draws all, even the most barbarian,

37Marx, “Brief an V. I. Zasulich. Dritter Entwurf,” Werke, vol. 19, 403.

18 ● Marxism and the Making of China

nations into civilization.”38 The machine industry of the West was to serve as an extrane-
ous source of stimulus for the retrograde economies of the world.
For Marx and Engels, much of the world of the nineteenth century was trapped in
static forms. They were forms that survived outside of time as isolated, autarkic farming
villages that, although slowly evolving, never transcend the upper stages of barbarism.
Both Marx and Engels spoke of the peasant communities of Asia and India not only as
barbarous—as affording only a life “undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative”—but also as
lacking the intrinsic potential to evolve into higher forms.39 Both insisted that the peas-
ant villages of Russia, however admirable their collectivism, were similarly inert. Engels,
in speaking of the variants of this barbaric form of social life, maintained that “one could
hardly expect that a community at a lower stage of economic development would be able
to solve the problems and difficulties that have arisen and can only arise on a much higher
stage of development.”40
As will be argued, this was to become a critical concern for revolutionaries, in general,
and Marxists, in particular, throughout the turbulence of the twentieth century. Quite
independent of their reflections on the Asiatic mode of production, Marx and Engels had
put together an interpretation of Europe’s past and an argued anticipation of its immedi-
ate future. It seemed an interpretation predicated on a distinction between economic and
political development in the West, as opposed to any similar developments in the East.
In effect, for the founders of Marxism, “less developed” seemed to mean something vastly
different for European economies that it was to mean for the laggard economies of Asia.
Among the central claims of the materialist conception of history were those that
affirm that the “mode of production in material life determines the general character of
the social, political, and spiritual process of life” in every society.41 In that sense a Euro-
pean mode of production distinguished itself from Asiatic forms. At the core of the mode
of production are the “material productive forces,” among which tools, the “instruments
of production” and the associated technology constitute the critical components.42 The
European bourgeoisie, we are told, “after a long course of development, of a series of
revolutions in the modes of production,” finds it “cannot exist without constantly revo-
lutionizing the instruments of production,” and thereby constantly revolutionizing social
relations, drawing laborers from “the idiocy of country life,” to concentrate them, as wage
workers, proletarians, in cities where they are educated to the tasks of modern machine
industry. For the first time in history, masses of human beings are educated to complex
intellectual tasks. Modern industry requires competence and cognitive understanding to
a degree unknown in any other age or social system. In Asia, the less-developed commu-
nities languished in stagnation.
In Europe, the very dynamic of modern machine production drives the system to
overproduce, to generate more commodities than can be profitably distributed. The con-
sequence is that the system becomes increasingly dysfunctional. Major producers displace

38Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, section 1.

39“The Russian village commune has existed for centuries without being able to give rise to a
higher form of collective property. . . . From this it follows that any transformation of the Russian
village community must come from without.” Engels, “Nachwort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russ-
land’],” Werke, vol. 22, 426–27; see also Marx, “The British Rule in India,” in On Colonialism, 36.
40Engels, “Nachwort zu ‘Soziales aus Russland,’” Werke, vol. 22, 428.
41Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 11.
42Cf. A. James Gregor, A Survey of Marxism: Problems in Philosophy and the Theory of History (New

York: Random House, 1965), part 2, “Marxism as a Theory of History.”

China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 19

those less proficient. More and more members of the middle classes descend into poverty.
Wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands, as effective demand diminishes among
potential consumers. The system, however productive, staggers from one crisis to another,
until finally, the vast majority of workers rise up as one to assume control. The revolu-
tionaries proceed to institute planned production and rational distribution. All of which
results in the abolition of inequality, of economic classes, and of property. Communal
property, which was an indelible feature of the most primitive village communities at
the time history began, reappears in a more advanced form in modern Socialism.43 That
would signal humanity’s transition from necessity to freedom.
From everything they wrote, it appeared that such a future would be the result of
the final outcome of the implications of the mode of production that arose among the
peoples of Europe. What remained stubbornly uncertain was what all that would have to
do with those communities in Asia cultivating their own mode of production in the face
of vast historic changes.
In all of this, Engels sought some sort of resolution. Neither Russian peasants, nor the
communities to which they had been inured, in and of themselves, could carry humanity
to a higher stage of social and economic development. That would be the responsibility
of the industrial proletariat of the West, not only educated to modern tasks, but also
equipped with the modern instruments of production, to provision the anticipated soci-
ety with incalculable yield.44 “The Russian village,” Engels argued, exemplified the Asiatic
mode of production and “has existed for centuries without having produced any stimulus
to develop out of itself a higher form of communal property.” The leap to freedom, with
its abolition of private property, and the introduction of the collective ownership of a
sophisticated means of production, would have to await the industrialization of Rus-
sia and the advent of the urban proletariat. It was an admonition that applied, Engels
insisted, “to all countries in a precapitalist stage of development, not merely Russia.”45
What was required was the developmental impulse. Somehow or other, the Asiatic mode
of production was to be overcome. The paths of development would somehow converge.
Engels thereby prescribed the revolutionary responsibilities of those who sought to
create Socialism in the less-developed countries of the twentieth century. He spoke to all
who would make revolution in retrograde economic environments. The liberation sought
through revolution required the attainment of specific material preconditions. Socialist
revolution could not transpire in peasant environments. He reminded revolutionaries
that neither the existence of Russia’s village communes, nor the insurgencies they bred,
could, in and of themselves, assure anything like a Socialist outcome. How, he asked,
might a postrevolutionary Russia—in which the bulk of the population remained rural

43The most convenient rendering of this entire thesis is found in Engels, Anti-Dühring, part 3,

44“The revolution sought by modern socialism is, briefly, the victory of the proletariat over the

bourgeoisie and the reorganization of society by abolishing all class distinctions. In order to accom-
plish that, we need not only the proletariat, which carries out the revolution, but also a bourgeoisie
in whose hands the productive forces of society have developed to such a stage that they permit the
final elimination of all class distinctions. . . . Only during a . . . very high stage of the development of
the productive forces of society does it become possible to increase production to such an extent that
the abolition of classes becomes a truly progressive move.” Engels, “Flüchtlingsliteratur: Soziales aus
Russland,” Werke, vol. 18, 556.
45Engels, “Nachwort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russland’]” Werke, vol. 22, 426, 428–29.
20 ● Marxism and the Making of China

and peasant—acquire “the gigantic productive forces” of an advanced industrial society,

the absolute prerequisite of genuine liberation?46
Engels was fully prepared to admit that there were perhaps many thousands in Russia
who fully understood the dynamics of machine industry. They appreciated the inhuman-
ity of the system that attended it—while, at the same time, acknowledging its liberating
potential. Whatever their number, they alone could hardly make Socialism possible. Any
revolution in the Russia of the Romanovs would capture an economy that rested on a
peasant base. For Marx and Engels, the absolutely critical precondition for the advent of
modern Socialism in backward Russia was the established availability of advanced indus-
try. What was to remain unclear was how such availability was to be attained.
In 1894, Engels considered Russia a community undergoing “transformation, at ever
increasing pace, into a capitalistic-industrial nation, with the proletarianization of a large
part of the peasantry, and the disintegration of the old communistic village communi-
ties.” The irrepressible realities history had imposed on Russia following the Crimean
War, Engels insisted, left only one possible path for the Romanov autocracy: “the most
rapid possible transition to capitalistic industry. . . . The defeats suffered in the war made
clear the necessity of rapid industrial development in Russia.” Development, for Engels,
meant capitalist development.
In such circumstances, if Socialists made revolution in Russia, a remnant of those peas-
ant communities so cherished by radicals might be salvaged—to serve as collectives in
agricultural production—with their inhabitants lifted out of that perennial isolation that
had served as the ground for political despotism. In turn, those developments in Russia
might provide impetus to the working class movement in the West by eliminating one of
the world’s most reactionary political systems. Such a revolution in Russia would hasten
the victory of the industrial proletariat in the West—a victory that, in turn, would supply,
through transfer, the material foundation for a universal, liberating Socialist revolution.
The historic trajectories of European and Asiatic modes of production would intersect.
It was clear that by the end of his life, Engels anticipated only an ancillary role for
the peasant communities of Russia in the imminent worldwide Socialist revolution. In
and of themselves, they inevitably would be consumed in the ongoing industrialization
of the nation—an irresistible process already begun in the years following the war in the
Crimea, during which “all the foundations of the capitalistic mode of production were
laid in Russia.” With that, the future was cast. Any hope that the peasant communities
might serve in any direct fashion in such a process, in Engels’ judgment, was illusory.47
These were admonitions that were to have resonance beyond Russia—and were to shape
the thought of revolutionaries of the twentieth century in the peripheral economies both
inside and outside of Asia.
Engels argued that the denizens of the peasant communities of Russia might provide
some small service in the coming revolution—by communicating something of their
collectivistic psychology to offset the individualistic biases of those socialized in prerevo-
lutionary capitalist environs. More important for the founders of Marxism was the con-
viction that revolution in Russia, under whatever circumstances, would remove, or at least
temporarily neutralize, Russia, “the last great reserve of all European reaction.” Revolution
in Russia would enhance the possibilities of revolutionary success in the West. Success in
the West, in turn, would deliver to the revolutionaries of Russia the material prerequisites
necessary for an effective Socialist transformation of their nation—something the Asiatic

46Ibid., 429.
47Ibid., 433–35.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 21

mode of production had denied them. Marx, himself, in the last years of his life, had
so characterized developments in Russia, and what might be expected on the occasion
of revolution. Both Marx and Engels insisted that only if the Russian revolution were
“a signal for a proletarian revolution in the West so that both complement each other,”
might the Russian peasant communities serve “as the starting point for a communist
development.”48 Engels was to further insist that all of this bore significant implications
for revolution in all underdeveloped countries in the twentieth century.49

Some Entailments
In his discussion of economic development, Marx made it very clear that he could speak
with confidence only about Western societies. There he felt he could predict processes
and outcomes with assurance. In Das Kapital, he felt secure in invoking “the natural
laws of capitalist production” in order to predict “tendencies working with iron neces-
sity toward inevitable results.”50 Similarly, Engels felt no less prepared to predict with
“the certainty of a mathematical demonstration,” the complex social changes that would
follow upon economic development in industrial Britain.51 For both Marx and Engels,
historical materialism was so certain a science that nations, in observing others, could
anticipate futures. It was a science equipped with a confirmed roster of “the natural laws
of development,” as well as the “general laws of economic life,” that allowed Marxists to
predict the future course of each of the advanced industrial economies.52 While both
Marx and Engels, and Marxists after them, were confidant in dealing with the economies
of advanced industrial countries, there never was to be that same assurance in dealing
with nonindustrial societies.
Marx had been categorical. He insisted, with some regularity, that his science and the
“historical inevitabilities” his dialectical method revealed applied only to the economies
of the “countries of Western Europe.”53 His life had been dedicated to the detailed and
systematic analysis of industrial society. His studied judgments applied only to those
communities that had followed a particular pattern of growth. He made it abundantly
clear that he was far less certain in dealing with the dynamics of those economies that
were preindustrial. He seems to have suggested that such communities might follow any
number of alternative historic patterns. Those societies he identified as ahistoric, those
primitive forms he identified with the Asiatic mode of production, could conceivably
evolve in alternative, and perhaps entirely unanticipated, fashion. It was a suggestion that
clouded the pretended clarity of vision of revolutionaries everywhere in the world for
at least a hundred years—not only among Asians but also among revolutionaries in the
peripheral economies of less-developed Europe.
Of those societies that had never fully transcended the most primeval forms of
production—and remained emphatically preindustrial—both Marx and Engels first

48Marx’s Preface to the 1883 German edition of the Communist Manifesto.

49“All of this applies to all countries at the pre-capitalistic stage of development.” Engels, “Nach-
wort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russland’],” Werke, vol. 22, 428–29.
50Marx, Capital (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954), vol. 1, 8–9.
51“The middle class dwells upon a soil that is honeycombed, and may any day collapse, the speedy

collapse of which is as certain as a mathematical or mechanical demonstration.” Engels, The Condi-

tion of the Working Class in England in 1844 (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1950), 18.
52See the entire Afterword to the Second German Edition, in Marx, Capital, 12–20.
53Marx to Vera Zasulich in Geneva, letter of March 8, 1881. Werke, vol. 35, 166.
22 ● Marxism and the Making of China

identified China and India, and then Russia, as exemplifying what they consistently
spoke of as the Asiatic mode. More than that, there was intimation that all less-developed
economies shared some unspecified properties. What that implied for economic develop-
ment in less-developed communities was not at all clear. In fact, the analysis of noncapi-
talist development occupied little space in the body of classical Marxist thought. It was
a historic prospect that remained of secondary concern to both Marx and Engels—and
yet, it was marginally developed Russia and China that were to loom large in the thought
of revolutionaries throughout the twentieth century. More than that, it was uncertain
how the less-developed communities of Europe, itself, might be incorporated, without
residue, into the materialist conception of history.
While Marx and Engels left an unmanageably large and varied intellectual legacy to
their followers, surprisingly little of it was devoted to China54—or to the less-developed
economies of peripheral Europe. As a consequence, few parts of the Marxist intellectual
legacy were to escape interpretive dispute. How revolutionaries were to deal with China
was left to the ruminations of uncertain scholars, the doubtful conduct of sometimes
opportunists, and the ill-conceived behaviors of unlearned activists. The revolutions of
backward European communities were either ignored or scorned. The modern history of
Marxism’s role in just such environments is testimony to all of that.
Marxists never received clear instruction on how revolutionaries should proceed in
dealing with less-developed nations, in general, or China, in particular. The founders of
Marxism had provided an exhaustive treatment of the past, the present, and the antici-
pated future of the economies of the industrialized nations. They insisted that they had
so clearly discerned the laws of economic development that they could predict countries’
futures with absolute assurance. So certain were they about those laws, they could affirm
that should any economically retarded community choose to industrialize employing
capitalist modalities, they could predict its future course. A society less developed, choos-
ing to industrialize employing those modalities, would have to “submit to the implacable
laws of such a system”—to suffer all its entailed brutalities, the traumatic urbanization of
peasants, the immiseration of the vast majority, and the stultification of everyone. There
could be no other course. The critical question of what such a course of industrialization
and modernization might include in a less-developed economy should the process be
undertaken by revolutionaries committed to a noncapitalist alternative was actually left
unresolved. That was to prove a particularly difficult question for Marxists to answer.
In their discussions concerning revolution in less-developed communities, Marx and
Engels did not detail how it might be possible for such communities to make the transi-
tion to Socialism, without traversing those stages of primitive accumulation, exploitation
and proletarianization, and the concentration and centralization of capital, with all the
associated crises of underconsumption and mass unemployment that typified the law-
governed economic progression of Western Europe. What Marx proposed in those cir-
cumstances was “a different path of development” that would foster and sustain industrial
maturation without the consequences dictated by “the laws of capitalism.”55 Unhappily,
neither Marx nor Engels ever made explicit how any of all that might be accomplished.

54The collected works run into more than forty, Germanic-length volumes. Many were unavail-

able, or inaccessible to some of the major Marxist revolutionaries of the last century. As will be
indicated, it is not at all clear that revolutionaries like Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, were
familiar with anything other than a few of the most common texts.
55See the entire discussion, predicated on Marx’s own views, that Engels provides in Engels,

“Nachwort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russland’],” Werke, vol. 22, 431–35.
China, Marxism, and the Background in Time ● 23

In dealing with some retrograde economies, particularly those in Asia, the founders
of Marxism spoke of development proceeding from nonindigenous stimuli, originating
with the advanced industrial nations. In the early 1850s, Marx specifically identified Eng-
land as the agent of change in retrograde Asia, in which “social conditions had remained
unaltered since its remotest antiquity.” It was, according to Marx, English trade and com-
merce that launched “the only social revolution ever heard of in Asia.” It was England
that, in its implacable pursuit of profit, destroyed the economic foundations of what had
been Asia’s millennial Oriental despotism56—precipitating modern development. Marx
maintained it was England—however much actuated by the vilest interests—that caused
fundamental economic revolution in retrograde Asian societies that had remained forever
vegetative and unresponsive to industrial possibilities. England, Marx contended, “was
the unconscious tool of history” in sponsoring material transformation in Asia.57
Marx argued that history had charged the British with an awesome responsibility: “the
annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western
society in Asia.” They were to accomplish that by destroying the local home industry
and agriculture that made those communities self-sufficient. By introducing a network
of rail, road, and communication lines into a retrograde system, the British forced local
communities to abandon traditional modes of survival. In primitive peasant economies,
the availability of cheaper goods, supplied by advanced industrial suppliers, made village
manufacture and agriculture no longer viable. Villagers were compelled to abandon home
industry, seek monetary wages, and serve as consumers and workers for an alternative
system. In the irresistible process, England would make of a backward nation, “with no
known history,” an active participant in the modern world.
Thus, for almost half a century, Marx and Engels alluded to economic development in
less-developed countries. They loosely spoke of varying possibilities in Russia, India, and
China. Never the critical center of their concerns, they nonetheless wrote of industrial-
izing and modernizing processes of economic, social, and political maturation in semi-
barbarous communities vegetating on the periphery of the advanced industrial nations.
Much of what they wrote was devoted to developments in Russia and India. Less was
addressed to China—that “rotting semi-civilization” festering in remotest Asia.58 None-
theless, what they did write exercised indelible impression on the future of China.
Given the impressive bulk of their work, the amount devoted to productive develop-
ment in retarded economic environments was miniscule. Of the little left us, that devoted
to the future development of revolutionary Russia was perhaps the most ample and that
assigned revolutionary China among the least. The thought of Marx and Engels was largely
given over to developments in the advanced industrial nations. It was there they predicted
the advent of their saving revolution. What transpired in the less-developed world really
was of remarkably little interest to them. As history would have it, in the twentieth cen-
tury, those economies, the most retrograde, to which Marx and Engels devoted the least
analysis, were to prove the most important. And China was to be prominent among them.

56Marx applied his analysis to both India and China. See the account in Marx, “The British Rule

in India” and “The Future Results of the British Rule in India,” in On Colonialism, 36–37, 76–82;
Marx, Capital (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), vol. 3, chap. 20, 328–31.
See Engels’ discussion concerning the results of British railway construction in China. It echoes that
of Marx concerning India. Engels letter to Nikolai Danielson, September 22, 1892, Werke, vol. 38,
470. A partial translation of the letter is found in On Colonialism, 311.
57Marx, “The British Rule in India,” On Colonialism, 34–37.
58Engels, “Persia and China,” ibid., 111.
24 ● Marxism and the Making of China

All of this was to influence revolutionary thought throughout the twentieth century.
The refracted thought of Marx and Engels would influence events and impact the lives of
millions of people in Europe, Russia, and China. From the very commencement of the
century, a host of revolutionary thinkers would seek to ferret out the principles governing
the emergent, revolutionary new order. From the most retrograde places on the periphery
of industrial Europe, and from the Asiatic despotisms of Russia and Asia, they depended
on the profoundly Germanic thought of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Marxism, Revolution,
and Development

In China, the rotting semi-civilization of the oldest State in the world meets the Europeans
with its own resources. . . . The mass of the people take an active, nay, a fanatical part in the
struggle against the foreigners. . . . [There is] a universal outbreak of all Chinese against all
foreigners . . . a popular war for the maintenance of Chinese nationality.
—Friedrich Engels1

he nineteenth century had brought with it changes that were not always immedi-
ately apparent to those intellectuals charged with the responsibility of making it
all comprehensible. It is not difficult to appreciate why understanding the evolv-
ing revolutionary circumstances proved so difficult—particularly for Marxists. Collec-
tively, they were heir to an extraordinary abundance of theoretical material, penned by
the founders of their doctrine over half a century in time and in correspondingly different
political environments. Never immediately transparent, by the beginning of the twen-
tieth century, the nineteenth century texts left them by Marx and Engels were subject
to variable interpretation. That followed from the fact that by the end of the nineteenth
century, both of the founders were dead. The thinkers of the twentieth century were heirs
of the thought of the nineteenth, but there was no authoritative voice that might inter-
pret events in terms of doctrine or judge the merits of contending strategies in circum-
stances never envisioned by the founders. By the end of the century, there already were a
variety of candidate interpretations of what the complexities in Asia or the less-developed
nations of the time might mean for Marxists, or what a proper revolutionary response to
those exigencies might be.2

1Friedrich Engels, “Persia and China,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On Colonialism (Mos-

cow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 114–15.

2See the discussion in A. James Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the

Intellectual History of Radicalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), for a perspective on the
different interpretations of Marxism that began to emerge with the turn of the century.
26 ● Marxism and the Making of China

In retrospect, it seems clear that, in terms of the theory of the nineteenth century,
both Marx and Engels were prepared to acknowledge their doctrinal shortcomings
to each other. It is not clear that their candor extended to others, or that they always
were prepared to make theoretical revisions to accommodate whatever their research
may have missed.3 Whatever the acknowledgments of error, to themselves and each
other, it remains evident that they never had occasion to change the critical core of
doctrine. From the appearance of the Manifesto until the death of Engels in 1895,
the contentions that made their doctrine what it was remained, for all intents and
purposes, constant. Both Marx and Engels expected Socialist revolution to come to
those parts of Europe and North America that were fully, or on the way to becom-
ing, industrialized—because it was there that the necessary and sufficient conditions
for liberating Socialist revolution obtained. In their apparently unalterable judgment,
Marxist revolution required circumstances that made available a society in which the
“vast majority” of the population had been rendered “proletarian,” in the process of
which commodity production had fully matured, generating the material wherewithal
to fully liberate humanity from the curse of poverty and compulsory labor. Among
some of the very last things he was to write, Engels reminded revolutionaries once
again that the only truly Marxist revolution was one undertaken by a population that
was essentially urban and proletarian, that would seize the “gigantic productive forces”
provided by mature machine capitalism, so that they might be marshaled to “planned
In his correspondence with Russian revolutionaries in 1894, Engels took the occasion
to remind them that the revolution promised by Marxism required just those precondi-
tions to become a reality. As circumstances would have it, it was an admonition particu-
larly relevant to those nations that remained at pre-, or partially, industrialized levels. The
liberating revolution that Marxism anticipated would come only at the conclusion of a
necessary developmental sequence. It was an admonition concerning necessary condi-
tions that applied, he reminded his audience, not only to Russian circumstances but also
“to all countries” that similarly found themselves at less-than-advanced industrial levels
of economic productivity. He argued, as had Marx, that should revolution transpire in
an environment innocent of the required preconditions, only the intervention of the
revolutionary Western proletariat could salvage the outcome. Any revolution undertaken
in economically backward portions of the globe—from peripheral Europe to Asia—
required such intervention, not only to obtain the finances to underwrite the transition
from an agrarian to an industrial system, but also to profit from the requisite guidance
and to attain the technological and managerial skills that collectively planned production
would require.5

3A few scant years after the publication of the Manifesto, Engels could report that unanticipated

events had significantly changed the pattern of global trade. At the same time, he once again pre-
dicted revolution in Europe in the very near future. It was a prediction he was to advance with some
regularity for the next half century. See Engels to Marx, August 24, 1852, Werke (Berlin: Dietz
Verlag, 1963), vol. 28, 118.
4Engels, “Nachwort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russland’],” Werke, vol. 22, 426–28. In the text,

Engels affirmed that “socialist society was the uttermost, final product of capitalism.” Ibid., 428.
5Ibid., 429. In 1882, in a letter to Karl Kautsky, September 12, 1882, Engels anticipated that

any revolution undertaken in a backward economy “would have to be taken over by the proletariat”
from the advanced countries. The proletarian revolution in the West would supply the requisite
industrial capabilities to the less-developed community. Werke, vol. 35, 357–58.
Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 27

Revolution and Retrograde Economies

By the end of the nineteenth century, classical Marxism, the Marxism of Marx and Engels,
in effect, had parsed the world into realms industrially developed and those that remained
retrograde. Both founders of Marxism easily spoke of “backward peoples,” “without his-
tory,” unable to produce civilization where none existed before. In such circumstances
the intervention of “progressive peoples” could only be welcome. They went on to argue
that, in the course of that intervention, one could hardly lament the destruction of a “few
delicate little national flowers” when the future of world civilization hung in the balance.6
In any contest between those retrograde peoples “without history” and those who were to
serve history as the bearers of civilization, it was clear where the preference lay.
In the late 1840s, Marx and Engels suggested that those backward peoples were some-
how “expected to disappear.” Those scheduled for extinction included Slavs, Dalmatians,
Croats, Czechs, Moravians, North Africans, and Mexicans—together with a roster of oth-
ers. The “developmental bourgeoisie,” laboring in the vineyard of civilization, bringing
machine industry to nonindustrial agrarians, were spoken of as chosen agents of history,
“the carriers of progress.”7 It was they who were harbingers of civilization. As late as 1848,
Engels still could argue that in the contest between those economically retrograde and
the “modern bourgeoisie, with civilization, industry, order, and at least relative enlighten-
ment,” the latter clearly should prevail.8
Such sentiments were to prove transient. There had been very little sympathy in the
late 1840s for those peoples destined to be trampled underfoot by forces progressive—by
the 1850s, all that had changed. By that time, for whatever reason, the backward deni-
zens of “Asiatic societies,” facing asymmetrical conflict with their industrially advanced
oppressors, were treated with regard. In 1849, Marx and Engels maintained that the
“historic mission” of those peoples apparently not capable of economic progress simply
was to “perish in revolutionary holocaust,” so that the “carriers of progress” might proceed
to their task of establishing universal civilization.9 By the 1850s, in contrast, both Marx
and Engels gave full voice to a sense of unrelieved moral outrage at the treatment of the
“semi-barbarians” of India and China by the “bearers of progress” in the course of accom-
plishing their “civilizing” purpose.10 No longer did they contend that “the chief mission”
of those peoples that were not “carriers of progress” was to simply perish.11 By that time,
they anticipated an altered sequence of events.

6“Der demokratischer Panslawismus,” Werke, vol. 6, 273–74.

7See, for example, “Der magyarische Kampf,” Werke, vol. 6, 165–76.
8Engels, “French Rule in Algeria,” in Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, ed. Shlomo

Avineri (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1968), 43.
9Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” Werke, vol. 6, 168.
10In 1853, in speaking of British rule in India, Marx lamented that the introduction of machine

industry into India “imparted a peculiar kind of melancholy to the . . . misery of the Hindu.”
stripped of familiar culture and the entirety of their history. He spoke without hesitation of “British
crimes” in doing the “work of history.” Both Marx and Engels spoke of the “wrongs” inflicted on the
Chinese in the course of destroying the material foundations of Asiatic despotism. They rehearsed
every villainy committed by the British in their aggressions against India and China—from slavery
to exploitation and physical torture. Marx, “The British Rule in India,” “The British Quarrel with
China,” and “British Ferocity in China,” in On Colonialism, 33, 37, 86, 103–17.
11Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” Werke, vol. 6, 168. An English translation is available as

“Hungary and Panslavism,” in The Russian Menace to Europe, eds. Paul W. Blackstock and Bert
F. Hoselitz (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1952), 56–67; the cited quotation is found on page 59.
28 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Whatever the changed assessment, it remained the case that history had assigned the
burden of civilizing the backward economies to the advanced industrial nations. Several
things, of course, had changed. By the first years of the 1850s, the founders of Marxism
were fully prepared to acknowledge that the behavior of the “civilizers” had aroused a resis-
tance among those populations languishing in underdevelopment—and that the resul-
tant reactive nationalism might be of significance for the makers of revolution. Certainly,
by the late 1850s and early 1860s, the political and ideological restiveness of retrograde
nations and backward nationalities was treated with far more sympathy and reflection by
Marx and Engels than it had been but a few years earlier. By the 1860s and 1870s, Rus-
sia was prominently represented among those retrograde nationalities and peoples—and
its potential role in the revolution they anticipated began to occupy more and more of
the analytic attention of both Marx and Engels. The Crimean War and the reforms that
followed had wrought vast changes for Russians of all classes and stations—changes that
precipitated opposition among peasants and intellectuals.
Defeat in the Crimean War had provoked antiestablishment and antiforeign resent-
ment among Russians. As a necessary consequence, both Marx and Engels became
involved in the revolutionary reflections of those trying to formulate suitable strategies for
mobilizing and directing revolutionary energies in just such a conflicted environment. It
was clear that those who found themselves in economically less-developed circumstances
faced very special revolutionary challenges. Theirs was a task very different from that
which faced a mature, urban proletariat in a corresponding advanced industrial setting.
The enemy of the proletariat in an industrial environment was its domestic bourgeoisie—
while the agents of those nations already industrially advanced made up the enemy of the
less-developed nation.
By the mid-1850s, Marx and Engels were devoting considerable intellectual energy
to developments in a czarist Russia that found itself in just the latter circumstances.
The founders of Marxism both advanced analyses they felt appropriate for a restive, eco-
nomically less-developed historical community, sharing the generic features of an Asiatic
society and oppressed by political despotism. Commencing with their treatment of the
circumstances surrounding the Crimean War, by the 1860s and 1870s, the implications
of revolution in Russia, as a less-developed community, became an object of their theo-
retical attention.
As events evolved, both Marx and Engels recognized the free-floating revolutionary
potential as it manifested itself in the Russia, and in similarly less-developed nations, of
the period.12 As revolutionary intellectuals of high visibility, both were peppered with
questions from revolutionary adepts who had somehow come to consider themselves
Marxists. The response of Marx and Engels to such inquiries is important not only
because of its significance for Russia and the Russian Revolution of 1917 but also because
of its relevance for revolution in less-developed nations everywhere. In that sense, their
treatment of the possibility of revolution in Russia becomes of generic interest.
Both Marx and Engels consistently maintained that there was absolutely no prospect
that revolution in retrograde economic circumstances could immediately produce the
Socialism they sought. That is very clear from everything they wrote, to each other or for
publication. The best advice they could tender to populations so circumstanced was that
extended to the then contemporary Russian revolutionaries. They explicitly recommended

12During this period, both Marx and Engels occupied themselves with nationalist sentiment in

economically backward countries like Ireland and Poland.

Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 29

that revolution in less-developed nations be synchronized with those undertaken by the

industrial proletariat of the industrialized West. Both Marx and Engels held such revolu-
tions to be imminent. However general, such advice was directly derivative of doctrine
and was insistently advocated by both Marx and Engels.
On its face, such a recommendation was hardly satisfying. Marx and Engels sought to
hedge it around with what must have seemed more practical immediate strategies. There
were half-formulated suggestions and partially articulated recommendations scattered
among their analyses that seemed to offer some alternatives. Thus, in 1875, Engels reiter-
ated the fundamental premises of Marxian revolution for those Russian intellectuals bent
on the enterprise. He reminded them that the productive forces of Russia remained at a
“very low level of development,” and that Socialist revolution required material precondi-
tions that did not then exist in Russia’s backward economy. Anyone, he went on, who did
not know that, had “still to learn the ABC of socialism.”13
He went on to rehearse all the primitive features to be found in such abundance in
Russia’s national economy and how the peasant “communal communism”—the pride of
Russia’s intellectuals—was little more than evidence of backwardness and of minor sig-
nificance to Socialist revolution. He did predict revolution as the inevitable consequence
of the anguish felt by the vast majority of exploited peasants—but he reminded his cor-
respondent that even under the repressive ministrations of a political despotism, “a large
bourgeoisie class” had emerged in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Odessa, and this, together
with the “large army of bureaucrats” concurrently available, created every possibility that
the proposed peasant revolution might be compelled to serve developmental purposes of
a class other than its own.14
What a potentially revolutionary Russia lacked was the requisite proletariat, the
byproduct of industrial maturation. The peasants of the countryside could hardly serve as
substitutes. The Manifesto had identified the peasantry as inherently reactionary, driven to
possess land and preserve its status. The only feature that distinguished the peasantry of the
Russian village communes was their sometimes and somewhat collectivistic psychology—
which could hardly be expected to compensate for the missing urban proletariat.
Buried in those suggestions were implications. Engels insisted that those revolutionar-
ies who tried to make Socialist revolution in venues lacking the full maturation of the
means of production were condemned to fail. He further insisted that “the worst thing”
that could befall the leader of a revolutionary party was to attempt to foster a revolu-
tion of a kind for which the appropriate productive base was unavailable. For example,
in his judgment, to speak of material and political equality in circumstances lacking an
economy of abundance—where the available means of production remained underdevel-
oped—was delusional.15 The very presence of a burgeoning bourgeoisie in the Russia of
the time, suggested an obvious growth potential of the material productive forces. At the
same time, the availability of bureaucrats prepared to serve in a centralized, developmen-
tal, authoritarian system did not augur well for Socialist liberation.
About the same time, between the years 1877 and 1882, Marx addressed the same
issues with an intensity and application that served as evidence of his conviction in their

13The quotations that follow are drawn from Engels’ “Flüchtlingslitertur—V. Soziales aus

Russland,” Werke, vol. 18, 556–67.

14Ibid., 559; see also 565. The entire text has been translated as “Russia and the Social Revolu-

tion,” The Russian Menace to Europe, 203–15.

15Engels had fully developed his argument as early as 1850 in his Der deutsche Bauernkrieg, in

Werke, vol. 7, 400–2.

30 ● Marxism and the Making of China

importance. In a letter of response to a critic,16 Marx specifically considered the possibil-

ity of “a different path of development” for those peasant communities so much a pivotal
concern for Russia’s revolutionary intelligentsia. It was a suggestion apparently offered in
an effort to engage those who were alienated by the insistence that revolution in czarist
Russia could be successful only if attended by a concurrent accession to power by the
Western proletariat.
Recognizing the predilections of the Russian intelligentsia, Marx did try to provide
a revolutionary role for peasant Communism. He did attempt to reserve a place for the
village communes—to provide a plausible rationale for their survival and revolutionary
influence. For all of that, it appears that he was uncomfortable with his efforts. They
appeared forced, as though he had not convinced himself of the possibility of revolution-
ary Russia’s “different path of development.” As a consequence, he neither forwarded his
response to his critic in 1877 nor did he ever finish those draft replies intended for fol-
lowers in Russia. The only judgment he was comfortable leaving his heirs was that found
in the introduction of the 1882 edition of the Manifesto.
In his drafts to Vera Zasulich,17 the Russian correspondent who prompted his foray
into the dynamics of village Communism, Marx had continued to maintain that there
was no inevitable course of development governing the fate of the agrarian village collec-
tives of Russia. He recognized them as survival forms of primeval Communism—combi-
nations of free men living in free association. As such and in his judgment, they occupied
“a unique place in the history of Russia.” Russia was “the only European country in which
communal property [had] been preserved in a vast nationwide scale.” The availability of
that vast reserve of communal property might serve the nation as a “regenerating element,”
providing the germ of a system superior to that of the machine industry of capitalism.18
In his drafts, Marx neither suggested how any of that might be accomplished nor what its
consequences might be. Among the less-developed nations, Russia’s pattern of develop-
ment might remain idiosyncratic. Alternatively, its pattern might lapse into more com-
mon form. These were those same alternatives Marx had advanced for a quarter century.
Marx consistently warned Russian revolutionaries that the rulers of Russia had
launched the nation on a trajectory of industrial development after the Crimean War—
in the course of which existing village communities inevitably would perish. In his final
statement concerning revolution in Russia, Engels reiterated the same warning and deliv-
ered the same prognostication. It was evident that neither of the two expected the village
communities to long survive. Instead, Marx and Engels expected Russia to follow the
more generic pattern—to traverse the distance between lesser to more mature industrial
circumstances as preamble to Socialist revolution. As they understood the world, both
Marx and Engels anticipated that Russia, in all probability, would follow the standard
pattern of capitalist evolution detailed in Das Kapital.19

16The entire letter is available as Marx, “Brief an die Redaktion der ‘Otetschestwennyje Sapiski’,”
Werke, vol. 19, 107–12. An English translation is available in Blackstock and Hoselitz, The Russian
Menace to Europe, 216–18.
17As has been indicated, Marx’s efforts resulted in three drafts, none of which he ever considered

sufficiently responsive to mail to Zasulich. All three drafts are available in Marx, “Entwürfe einer
Antwort aus den Brief von V. I. Sassulitsch,” Werke, vol. 19, 384–406.
18Ibid., 395.
19In 1894, Engels told the enthusiasts of the village communes that there was little prospect

that they would survive into the future. He argued that the future would be determined by the
proletarians of the advanced industrial nations. Only they could assure a Socialist outcome for the
forthcoming world revolution. See Engels, “Nachwort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russland’],” Werke,
vol. 22, particularly 434–35.
Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 31

In fact, the first Marxists imagined that, in the final analysis, there were pressures in the
modern world that less-developed economies could hardly resist. The advanced industrial
powers not only intruded into the life circumstances of those nations less developed, they
also threatened their very survival. While the responses of those threatened communities
varied, both Marx and Engels discerned in them something of a recurring pattern that
had implications not only for distant China but also for all less-developed nations on the
periphery of advanced industrial capitalism.

Revolution in Less-Developed Countries

While Russia specifically occupied a great deal of the attention of the founders of Marx-
ism, they apparently considered their analyses applicable to all those industrially retro-
grade communities that made up the bulk of the world’s then extant communities. Engels
had specifically affirmed that whatever might be said about preindustrial Russia applied
in equal measure to “all countries in a pre-capitalistic stage of development.”20 What
could be said seemed reasonably clear.
By the time the Marxism of the founders had reached full maturity, the form and con-
tent of its specifically economic analysis, in large part, had been fixed. In the advanced
industrial communities, its fundamental economic thesis was underconsumptionist. That
circumstance set the agenda for the subsequent history of industrial capitalism. Accord-
ing to classical Marxism, industrial capitalism was ultimately incapable of generating
sufficient effective demand to sustain itself. For both Marx and Engels, that conviction
remained constant throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. According to
the doctrine, industrial capitalism was driven to expand by its inherent inability to clear
its shelves at a profit or to find investment prospects in a capital saturated environment.
Entrepreneurs were compelled to forever seek external market supplements and capital
investment opportunities in the farthest reaches of the globe. Unable to assure themselves
effective demand and investment occasions at home, capitalists were moved to secure
sales and investment returns further and further afield—in those precapitalist economies
where untapped effective demand and investment outlets might be found. Those irre-
pressible needs brought industrial capitalism to the doors of the less-developed communi-
ties of the world. Those same needs brought the advanced industrial powers to Asia—to
China and to India—and to laggard Russia, as well as to all the backward economies
languishing along the periphery of civilization.
Marxists understood all that as part of the “logic of history.” Intrinsically part of the
capitalist system, the drive for markets and investment opportunities only temporar-
ily slaked its appetites. Whatever capitalism’s immediate satisfactions, they could only
be transient. Given its system properties, industrial capitalism was destined to quickly
exhaust its adjunct markets and its opportunities for profitable investment.21 In the final
analysis, all efforts to extend the life of the system were destined to come to naught.
The system would lapse back into that inexorable sequence of growth and inevitable
recession—which, governed by the “inflexible laws of capitalist production,” inevitably
would reduce the vast majority of its subject population to penury. Competition would

20Ibid., 429.
21Thus, in discussing the recently opened “China market,” it was said that “the extension of the
markets is unable to keep pace with the extension of British manufactures, and this disproportion
must bring about a new crisis with the same certainty it has done in the past.” Marx, “Revolution in
China and Europe,” On Colonialism, 15, 18.
32 ● Marxism and the Making of China

force more and more members of the middle classes into the proletariat, and fewer and
fewer of those who survived would enjoy the benefits of concentrated and centralized
wealth. Finally, the entire frenetic enterprise must rattle to a halt—to fall into the receiv-
ership of the trained and motivated revolutionary proletariat.
In providing that account, Marx and Engels outlined the revolutionary strategy for
those captive in the moribund system. For those agents of revolutionary change—the
urban proletariat of the advanced industrial nations—Marx and Engels left an abundance
of admonitory and directive enjoinments.22 By the end of the nineteenth century, in each
of the industrial nations, there was a Marxist party responsible for carrying them out.
More interesting, for current purposes, are the strategies, implied or expressed, that Marx
and Engels prescribed the denizens of less-developed economies, suffering on the outer
confines of the developed industrial system.
In the first years of the 1850s, there were few in the colonies of the advanced indus-
trial nations who might have listened to Marx or Engels. Resident in locales far dis-
tant, unable to read texts written in a language unknown, the inhabitants of the colonies
simply had no opportunity to learn from the opinions provided in the works of Marx
and Engels. Nonetheless, the ideas of the founders of Marxism are interesting in and of
themselves—and, in some significant sense, they managed to influence the thought of
the entire century.
One of the first things that the makers of Marxism discovered was the fact that the
incursions of the advanced industrial powers into less-developed regions of the globe gen-
erated a powerful response on the part of those indigenous peoples. As early as the first
months of 1850, for example, Marx and Engels wrote of the impositions of the British
upon China. Driven by the imperatives of their economic system, the British proceeded
to disturb the balance of the then prevailing economy of the Celestial Kingdom. Marx
and Engels told of the collapse of Chinese artisan manufacturing when its operators found
themselves in competition with the imported machine products of industrialized Britain.
The purchase of foreign products by the locals bankrupted domestic craftsmen and pre-
cipitated the consequent drain of silver from the “imperturbable Celestial Empire.” The
resultant collapse of local handicraft industries contributed to the pauperization of mil-
lions and to the subsequent humiliation of the Chinese, which in turn finally inspired the
popular uprisings that followed.23
The founders of Marxism maintained that the colonial history of India and Ireland
revealed a similar pattern, the consequence of calculated abuse at the hands of the finan-
cial and industrial capitalists of Britain.24 Out of all that, Marx and Engels identified
expressions of what is now recognized as reactive nationalism not only in Asia but also
in less-developed Europe. Those who found their lives impoverished, their cultures

22Marx, for example, had left a detailed critique of the 1875 “Gotha Program” of the German

Socialist Party, which provided the ideological foundation for the “Erfurt Program” of 1891; the
latter was to govern the political activities of the German Social Democratic Party thereafter. Karl
Kautsky, under the tutelage of Engels, produced the text. See Marx, “Kritik des Gothaer Pro-
gramms,” Werke, vol. 19, 11–32; and Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle (Erfurt Program) (New York:
W. W. Norton & Co., 1971).
23Marx and Engels, “Revue,” Werke, vol. 7, 221–22; an English language excerpt is available as

“First International Review,” in On Colonialism, 13–14.

24In chapter 25 of the first volume of Capital, Marx speaks of the British occupation of Ireland

and the role it played in the rise and maturation of industrial capitalism. In chapter 20 of the third
volume, he speaks of a similar process following the British incursions into China and India.
Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 33

demeaned, their wealth plundered, and their nations humiliated, were moved to embark
on social and national revolution. Nations, like China and India, that long had been
asleep in history, were awakened to the demands of the modern world.25 The makers of
Marxism identified the ardor behind the resistance to the foreigners by the indigenous
population as originating not only in a defense of self, but of nationality as well.26 A few
years after Marx and Engels had insisted that modern industry had divested workers of
their nationality, erasing every trace of national character, they discovered an urgent sense
of nationality and an associated nationalism among the inhabitants of those economically
backward communities suffering the impostures of those industrially advanced. Reac-
tive nationalism was to be found not only in retrograde Asia but also in those backward
nations in Europe. It was clear, from everything they wrote, that Marx and Engels rec-
ognized the awakened nationalism as a function of the intrusion of foreigners into the
homeland—and the humiliations that followed as a consequence.
Protracted contact with foreigners from advanced industrial nations invoked a deep
sense of inadequacy among the inhabitants of less-developed economies. Marx wrote that
the foreign intruders succeeded in destroying “national power and extinguished national
spirit, and with that the mainspring of whatever is laudable both in public and private
life.” In accomplishing that, the colonizers reduced those colonized to the level of “an
inferior race of beings”27—and provoked a reactive nationalism, hitherto unknown. It
was a pattern of abuse and a predictable response that Marx and Engels were to frequently
identify wherever the advanced industrial powers violated the space and circumstances of
those industrially laggard. They recorded much the same sequence in the contact between
the established powers and the Chinese, Indians, Irish, Poles, and Russians. Each instance
recorded the results of the impact of the industrially mature nation on a less industrially
advanced, essentially agrarian, community.
Thus, although Russia was an established power in Europe, the British found occasion
to compel its submission on matters of trade and trade routes. The Crimean War was the
consequence of just such concerns. British merchant and commercial capital saw Russia
attempting to thwart its profitable trade with the East by threatening the freedom of
passage through the available sea and land lines of communication.28 The conflict that
resulted saw the humiliating defeat of Russia. The circumstances surrounding that defeat
are important because the experience illustrates the nature of response by less-developed
communities when confronted by industrially advanced opponents.
In the course of the Crimean War, Marx and Engels made it a point to report that Great
Britain, rather than have sail powered ships enter into conflict, could deploy “large screw

25See Marx, “The British Rule in India” and “The Future Results of the British Rule in India,” in

On Colonialism, 36–37, 80.

26The struggle against British impostures produced “a popular war for the maintenance of Chi-

nese nationality.” Engels, “Persia and China,” ibid., 115. Marx acknowledged the intensity of the
struggles generated by the incursions of the advanced industrial powers into the economically back-
ward regions. He spoke of “wars of insurrection, of nationalities, of races, and above all, religion.”
Marx, “The Indian Revolt,” ibid., 130. He maintained that the British policy of attempting to
“destroy nationality” provoked a predictable nationalism. Marx, “The Indian Question,” ibid., 127.
27Marx, “Parliamentary Debate on India,” in Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, 80.

In chapter 25 of the first volume of Capital, Marx reported that the British made the Irish feel that
they were a “proscribed race.”
28Marx, “The Background of the Dispute (1853–1854),” April 12, 1853, New-York Daily

Tribune, in Blackstock and Hoselitz, The Russian Menace to Europe, 129–33.

34 ● Marxism and the Making of China

steamers,” each equipped with a full complement of technologically advanced “Paixhan

guns,” whose rifling and firepower were capable of pulverizing the masonry of the most for-
midable Russian battlements. They reported that British industry could supply the nation’s
armed forces, on the other side of the continent, with an abundance of technologically
sophisticated materiel (however maladministered the distribution).29 The Russian defeat
that followed, according to Marx and Engels, was testimony to the backwardness of its
economy, as well as the execrable quality of its untutored political and military leadership.
Following the humiliating defeat, Russia attempted to close the gap between itself
and those powers more socially and industrially advanced. Engels insisted that it was
“defeat in the Crimean war that made obvious the necessity of an accelerated indus-
trial development” of the nation. The process was undertaken with the state supervised
creation of a capital and labor intensive network of rails tying the nation together. The
construction of a transportation and communications infrastructure provided the liga-
ments for an extensive and intensive development—involving the creation of an array of
collateral industries, both heavy and skill proficient—required to supply support, sustain,
and foster operations.30 Both Marx and Engels described the entire process of the desired
rapid industrial development as one managed by the bureaucratic state at the cost of the
nation’s peasant population. The manumission of the serfs was an intrinsic part of the
necessary process of capital accumulation, extracting revenue from the agrarian sector.31
The concern with developments in Russia, for a period of over four decades, provided
the occasion for Marx and Engels to advance a reasonably well-articulated notion of what
to expect of those less-developed nations that found themselves impacted by contact with
those more advanced. The first Marxists suggested the same pattern of behavior for other
less-developed communities extending at least from Asia to Ireland.
In 1853, at about the same time they were formulating their thoughts about czarist
Russia, Marx and Engels spoke of the political consolidation of India, imposed by British
power, as a step toward the regeneration of a nation that had been, for millennia, without
a history. The fact that a people with so magnificent a cultural past should have submitted
to conquest by so small a force was humiliating. It generated a reactive response from a
population that, for so long, had been singularly passive and unresponsive. The British
marshaled that new energy and channeled it into the construction of means of com-
munication and transportation—primarily the expansion of steam railways—something
the founders of Marxism characterized as laying the “material foundations of Western
society in Asia.” Around the fabrication of railways, there was mass instruction in West-
ern science and technology—to accustom the local population “to entirely new labor,
and acquiring the requisite knowledge of machinery.” In substance and effect, the British
were not only laying the material foundation but also creating the human capital essential
to the industrial growth and sophistication of the retrograde Indian economy.32 It was
a formula that Marx and Engels were to trace over economic events in Russia and other
less-developed nations through the remainder of the nineteenth century. It was its instan-
tiation in the case of China that is particularly instructive for present purposes.

29Marx, “Military Stalemate and the Home Front (1854–1855),” February 2, 1854, New-York

Daily Tribune, ibid., 181; see also “Strategic Analyses of the War (1855),” January 22, 1855, New-
York Daily Tribune, ibid., 199–202.
30Engels, “Nachwort (1894) [zu ‘Soziales aus Russland’],” Werke, vol. 22, 429, 432.
31Marx, “Entwürfe einer Antwort auf den Brief von V. I. Sassulitsch,” Werke, vol. 19, 392–93.
32Marx, “The Future Results of the British Rule in India,” July 22, 1853, New-York Daily Tribune,

in On Colonialism, 76–82.
Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 35

Revolutionary Theory and the Celestial Kingdom

All of this had come together early in the Marxist analysis of developments in China.
Other than the economic depredations, the British humiliated the Chinese with their
flagrant legal, moral, and cultural infractions. The British thoughtlessly violated the laws
of the country that was their host. They threatened its security and compromised its offi-
cials. They made mock of its religious practices and physically tortured its citizens. They
made war against the emperor in order to sell opium to his subject—and at the conclu-
sion of those aggressions, they demanded reparations and special privilege. As residents
in China, they insisted on being insulated from Chinese law; they were to live in enclaves
of their own, at the cost of Chinese sovereignty. Finally, they were to seize territories they
would occupy “in perpetuity”—bases for military and economic operations that only
could be conducted at China’s expense.33 Those familiar with the then Marxist assess-
ment of the relationship between the advanced and the less-developed economies might
well anticipate what would follow. The asymmetrical relations would result in China
being swept up into the flow of history. The Celestials no longer would be left to dream
outside of time. The British affronts were preamble to China’s total transformation. Social
revolution, and rapid industrial and economic development, would be the ultimate and
inevitable consequence of British and Western intrusion. Such was the “cunning of his-
tory.” It resulted in a fundamentally different pattern of growth than that with which the
first Marxists had become familiar.
The insinuation of British manufactured commodities into China’s domestic markets
contributed to the undoing of the imperturbability of the Celestial Kingdom. The millen-
nial self-sufficiency of Chinese villages, based on autarkic agricultural and craft productiv-
ity, was undermined. Chinese peasants, in increasing numbers, fled their villages. With
that, one of the major supports of imperial rule was compromised.
As has been indicated, Marx and Engels held that Asiatic despotism rested on a founda-
tion of widely scattered, self-sufficient villages that depended on a centralized bureaucracy
for the management of the hydraulic system and the maintenance of effective commu-
nication. Once the handicraft function of the local craftsmen was impaired, and money
supplanted barter, millions of rural inhabitants were released into the intricately balanced
system. No longer dependent upon the central authorities for order in their rural town-
ships, governed by their search for money, they became agents of destabilization. Many
simply became bandits. “Symbol manipulators”—teachers without students, scholars
without official position, clerks without posts, and intellectuals without an audience—
had a growing number of malcontents as recruitment resources.34 The Taiping Revolu-
tion was the outcome—a violent, disorderly rebellion that afflicted China for more than
a decade between 1850 and 1864.
It was during this tumultuous time that Marx saw the possible emergence of a Chinese
entrepreneurial bourgeoisie—those characteristically identified by classical Marxism as

33As early as January 31, 1850, Marx had published a revealing assessment of developments in
China, citing all the variables suggested above. See Marx, “Revue,” Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Werke,
vol. 7, 221–22. The series of articles that began with “Revolution in China and Europe,” published
June 14, 1853, in the New-York Daily Tribune, that at least continued through “English Politics,”
dealing with economic and military affairs with China, published February 14, 1860, in the same
journal, outlined all the features discussed. All can be found in On Colonialism and in Karl Marx,
Marx on China (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1968).
34In 1853, Marx described essentially the same process in India. See Marx, “The British Rule in

India,” June 10, 1853, New-York Daily Tribune, in On Colonialism, particularly 33–37.
36 ● Marxism and the Making of China

the first makers of machine industry. As early as the 1850s, Marx anticipated that the
destabilization that followed Western penetration would result in bourgeois accession to
rule in China. Over the “rotting corpse” of Asiatic despotism, an emergent bourgeoisie
would assume power. History had charged the bourgeoisie with the responsibility of cre-
ating the material foundations for the liberating Socialism heralded by the first Marxists.
How they would proceed was forecast in the history of European capitalism. The found-
ers of Marxism rehearsed the task requirements of that emergent bourgeoisie in a program
they obliquely called Chinese Socialism.
Marx told his readers that the Chinese Socialism they expected would be as different
from anything spoken of in Europe as Socialism—different as Chinese philosophy was
from Hegelianism. It would be a Socialism that would lead China out of agrarianism into
the machine economy of the modern world. The coming Chinese Revolution would be
a developmental revolution that would commence by posting over its gates what could
only be a testament to its bourgeois essence: “The Republic of China: Liberty, Equality,
Like most of the prognostications concerning revolution, Marx’s prediction of an
imminent Socialist revolution in China was singularly premature. Of course, there was
urgency in the bourgeois tasks—but the fossilized despotism of the imperial system
resisted change. The empire was to survive more than half a century of domestic strife and
foreign aggression. In Engels’ judgment, it was only the war with the Japanese, at the close
of the nineteenth century that finally “signified the end of old China.”36 For Engels, the
defeat at the hands of the Japanese had delivered “the death blow” to the imperturbables.
The gradual process of economic and political dissolution of the imperial system, begun
decades before, would finally conclude. “The introduction of railways, steam engines,
electricity, and modern large scale industry” would overwhelm the China that had veg-
etated outside of history. In the years after the intrusion of the advanced industrial pow-
ers into its space and substance, “the abolition of the old bonds between agriculture and
crafts industry in the countryside by big industry, railways and all their appurtenances,”
finally had destroyed the material bases of the moribund system. The humiliating defeat
in the war with Japan was simply the concluding episode. War had made large scale
defense industries an absolute necessity if China was to survive into the next century.37
With that, it became clear that a New China was soon to emerge.
Marx and Engels were to see all this as part of the pattern of historical progression.
China, with predictable variation, was simply repeating a process to be observed through-
out the world of less-developed nations. Both Marx and Engels had made the point with-
out equivocation. Communities stretching from India through Russia to Ireland38—all
displaying traces of primitive agrarian communism—were destined to traverse the dis-
tance from communal agrarianism to sophisticated machine production. How they were
to cover the distance was determined by historic, demographic, resource, political, and
cultural factors. There would be a merger of sorts as the two types of communities: those
developed and those less so took on common properties.

35Marx, “Revue,” Neue Rheinisiche Zeitung, Werke, vol. 7, 222.

36Engels, letter of Karl Kautsky, September 23, 1894, Werke, vol. 39, 301.
37See the entire discussion between Engels and Friedrich Adolph Sorge, letter of November 10,

1894, Werke, vol. 39, 310.

38In a letter to Eduard Bernstein, August 9, 1882, Engels repeated what he had said on numer-

ous occasions: “peasant countries . . . from Ireland to Russia, and from Asia Minor to Egypt, were
destined to share a common fate in exploitation.” Werke, vol. 35, 349.
Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 37

In the fragments left us, it seems reasonably clear that both Marx and Engels antici-
pated the industrialization and economic development of all those communities on the
periphery of the industrialized world system. In retrospect, it is difficult to determine
just how long they imagined such a process might take. They indicated that Russia, at
the conclusion of its defeat in the Crimean War, and China, with its defeat by the Japa-
nese, were compelled to industrialize. In both cases they argued that the process would
be rapid. In other cases development might be more irregular and protracted.39 In the
case of Russia, both Marx and Engels conceived the state as force drafting the reason-
ably well-understood process.40 With respect to China, Marx’s suggestion, as early as the
first years of the 1850s, that the bourgeoisie would soon be in ascendency in the Middle
Kingdom, argues that he expected a developmental Chinese Socialism to emerge in the
short term. Marx and Engels made much the same suggestions concerning the economic
development of India. In none of the cases did either of the founders of Marxism venture
a guess as to the time or the political form that might be required for any of the systems
to complete the transition.
It seems evident that in the case of those communities of late development, both Marx
and Engels, in general, expected the political state to serve as a bureaucratic manager of
the entire growth process. They alluded to a state Socialism that was predicated on the
residues of an archaic collectivistic sentiment that survived in time—which might be put
to use in organizing production. They told of such Socialism in Java, where production
was organized by the state, based on the sentiments common to “the old community
communism” typical of all less-developed economies. Such state Socialism would “orga-
nize all production” and control all sales so that the subject population might be assured
“a quite comfortable existence” throughout the process. That Socialism was the prod-
uct of Dutch colonizers—foreign bourgeois Socialists doing what history requires of the
developmental bourgeoisie.41 It clearly was not the liberating Socialism Marx and Engels
had anticipated for an industrially mature Europe.
In the case of Russia and China, the political leadership of the developmental state was
to be, in large part, indigenous—although the role of foreign capital and management
would be critical. The state Socialism they spoke of in Java was almost entirely a product
of foreign origin, with both capital and the managing bureaucracy of alien provenience.
Whatever the case, Marx and Engels understood all bourgeois governments charged with
many of the same historic functions. They were functions instrumental in creating a
modern industrial economy. The differences turned on the origin and nature of political
control, as well as circumstances surrounding that control. In Russia and China influence
and control arose from within, as well as from without. In both cases, the construction of
a communications and delivery infrastructure was critical to the launching of the process
of comprehensive development. Engels was particularly emphatic. It was the state in

39For example, Engels held that the British invasion had retarded Irish development. See Engels’

letter to Marx, January 19, 1870, Werke, vol. 32, 427.

40In Russia, after the Crimean War, Marx maintained that “the state aided in a hothouse growth”

of machine industry. Marx, “Entwürfe einer Antwort auf den Brief von V. I. Sassulitsch,” Werke,
vol. 19, 393.
41See the account in Engels’ letters to Karl Kautsky and August Bebel, February 16, 1884, and

January 18, 1884, Werke, vol. 36, 88, 109. In the Communist Manifesto, it is affirmed that the
bourgeoisie “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production;
it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois
themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”
38 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Russia and British capital in China and India that were instrumental in creating the vast
network of railways that initiated the process of broad and deep industrialization—with
all its attendant dislocation, alienation, and impoverishment of populations.42
The image that emerges is one to which both Marx and Engels adhered throughout
their lives. Whether they spoke of Russia or China, India or Ireland, the same elements
resurfaced. They spoke of the imposition of British rule in Ireland, resulting in the depop-
ulation of the agrarian regions and the destruction of the last remnants of the original
peasant communities. They painted doleful pictures of the vast reserve army of displaced
Irish peasants that was to serve British industry.43 They spoke of the national prejudices
and the fanatical Irish nationalism that was the inevitable consequence of it all.44 Like the
Chinese, the Russians, and the Indians, the Irish were to become part of the vast armies
of reactive nationalists that were to roil the twentieth century.
When Marx and Engels spoke of the potential “national liberation” of the Irish, they
catalogued the optimum conditions that would sustain it after liberation. They spoke of
a despoiled Ireland once again in control of its own future. They nowhere suggested that
such a liberated Ireland would or should return to its primeval communal peasant roots.
Although both theoreticians had identified traces of primitive Communism among the
Celts, neither advocated attempting a restoration. Agrarian economies were economies
to be transcended. Both Marx and Engels spoke of an independent Ireland as an indus-
trializing nation. With freedom, they anticipated an agrarian revolution that would see
private ownership in land and the erection of protective tariffs by virtue of which “every
branch of Irish industry” might flourish. They argued that grasping British rulers, to ben-
efit themselves, had forced the Irish to abandon protective tariffs at the beginning of the
nineteenth century—to destroy the nation’s infant industrial life.45
In effect, Marx had made it his task to study the final stages in the history of advanced
industrial systems. The less-developed nations would follow in tandem. Unfortunately,
for our purposes, they were only of episodic interest to the founders of Marxism. Marx-
ism’s critical preoccupation was with the fully industrialized West, the source of mate-
rial and human revolutionary potential. Postindustrial Socialism would arise out of the
union of productive abundance and proletarian masses. In all of that, both Marx and
Engels were supremely confident. They had an ancillary problem: they were compelled
to address the questions that turned on the present nature and future development of the
world’s less-developed economies. Although far less confident in their judgments, the first
Marxists conceived that they were able to anticipate something of the parallel develop-
ment of the economically retrograde economies. Both Marx and Engels anticipated that
less-developed communities, in a variety of conceivable circumstances, would aspire to
rapid industrial growth. The reasons were transparent. Both insisted that a developing
nation that sought to sustain its manner of life, and preserve its physical survival, required
heavy industry, to supply the nation with the power to defend itself, and a communica-
tion and transportation system that would support the movement of troops and matériel.
The entire process would be animated by a sacrificial disposition on the part of those

42See Engels’ letter to Nikolai Danielson, September 22, 1892, Werke, vol. 38, 467–70.
43See Engels’ account in The Conditions of the Working-Class in England in 1844 (London: George

Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1950), chap. 4.

44Engels’ letter to Marx, May 23, 1856, Werke, vol. 29, 57.
45Marx’s letter to Engels, November 30, 1867, Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence (Mos-

cow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 236–37.

Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 39

forced to assume the burdens that rapid development would require. Both Marx and
Engels referred to that disposition as nationalist in inspiration.
The projected developmental stages that the less-developed economies would be com-
pelled to traverse would include capital accumulation, a period of preparation that would
involve the production and protection of human capital (trained personnel and their
requisite education), necessary to support industrialization, together with an increasing
and selective investment of both financial and human capital in heavy industry. All this
was implied in everything both Marx and Engels wrote concerning the predictable conse-
quences of the protracted impact of the advanced on the less-advanced countries during
the interim period before the saving worldwide proletarian revolution. All of this was
part of the historic process that would conclude with the advent of a universal working-
class Socialism. In the last analysis, all the developments in the less-developed economies
were dependent, in a very significant sense, on proletarian revolution in the advanced
industrial countries. A successful proletarian revolution in the West certified that the
advanced industrial countries had attained maturity. Maturity implied a concentration
and centralization of capital, a high organic composition of capital (technology dense
industrialization), and masses of sophisticated workers. Workers would have been system-
atically educated for decades in order to effectively discharge their planning, engineering,
and manual tasks. They would make up the vast majority of the population. Ideologi-
cally committed to universal revolution, proletarians would support national liberation
movements in the less-developed communities. That support would include the transfer
of advanced technology, financial institutions, as well as advanced training.46 Since the
founders of Marxism had early argued that the workers in the advanced industrial nations
had lost every trace of nationalist sentiment, they did not countenance the possibility that
revolutionaries in the advanced nations would hesitate to transfer capital, technology, or
personnel to assist the emerging economies. They believed the conclusion of the entire
complex process would deliver the universal Socialism that would provide the material
and ideological foundation for the final liberation of humankind. History would have
concluded its passage—just as Hegel predicted during the first decades of the nineteenth
century. It was a vision in which the young Marx and the young Engels had invested much
enthusiasm. On the margin of that vision was the transformation of what the founders of
Marxism had originally perceived as the “imperturbable Celestial Kingdom”—China. It
was a vision that was to significantly influence the history of the twentieth century.

A Theory for the Twentieth Century

By the close of the nineteenth century, both Marx and Engels were dead. In passing,
they left an intricate theoretical legacy that was to confound thinkers and inspire masses
through the better part of the twentieth century. Masses were to find inspiration in a
message having both apocalyptic and apodictic qualities. The confusion among thinkers
was the consequence of a variety of factors. For one thing, some of the writings that made
up the Marxist theoretical corpus did not surface for decades. There were substantive
early works that were unavailable, not reemerging until both authors were long dead.
The absence of some major writings does much to explain why Marxists during the first
years of the twentieth century were uncertain in interpreting features of “the materialist
conception of history.”

46See Engels’ correspondence with Karl Kautsky, September 12, 1882, Werke, vol. 35, 357–58.
40 ● Marxism and the Making of China

More than that, there seems to have been genuine confusion within the Marxist liter-
ary heritage. There were component parts that were not exhaustively, nor coherently,
discussed. One of the subjects that remained forever in dispute was the role national sen-
timent (i.e., political nationalism) was expected to play in the unfolding universal revolu-
tion. At the turn of the century, there were Marxists prepared to argue that nationalism,
in any form and at best, could only be incidental to proletarian revolution. At worse,
nationalism would serve reactionary purpose. In at least one place, Engels had argued
that it was the peasantry that was “everywhere the bearers of national and parochial nar-
row mindedness”—and, therefore, the ally of reaction.47 Workingmen, the Manifesto had
maintained, had no fatherland. They could only be revolutionary internationalists.
And yet, with very little diligence, one could find both Marx and Engels applaud-
ing Irish, Polish,48 Chinese, and Indian nationalism. In those instances, they conceived
nationalism enlisted in the service of “the cunning of history”—contributing to the
process that must necessarily conclude with the saving proletarian revolution. What is
difficult to accomplish, given such circumstances, is to render coherent all the views con-
cerning nationalism expressed by the founders of Marxism.
There are places in the Marxist texts where nationalist aspirations are deplored and
sometimes ridiculed. Engels speaks, for example, of the Jews of Transylvania as advo-
cates of an “absurd nationality” and of Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, and Bulgarians
as possessed of “petty, national narrow mindedness”—all representing a kind of fraudu-
lent nationalism—the nationalism of aspirant nations without a viable future or a cred-
ible history, which as a result, was potentially, or in fact, counterrevolutionary. Engels
decried “the lazy Mexicans” who, with nationalist resolve, sought to resist the seizure
of their lands by the “energetic Yankees”—thereby attempting to impede the passage
of civilization. He mocked all those who spoke of the “universal rights” of nations. He
denied that “nonviable,” “small,” or “ruined,” nations had any claim to resist the “advance
of civilization”—or those who were its agents. At best, the rights of nations having no
history were contingent. In the final analysis, the fate of a few such nationalities was of no
consequence when the issues involved advancing historical development.49
It is difficult to determine the intrinsic logic governing the various judgments of the
first Marxists. What seems evident is their disposition to support one or another nation-
alism if they expected that nationalism to contribute to “historical development”—the
enhancement of civilization. Engels spoke with complete candor about Marxism’s con-
cern with civilization, and how the treatment of contending nationalisms was to be a
function of an assessment of “the completely different levels of civilization” represented
by “the various peoples.” Those people who could not be expected to contribute to the
enhancement of civilization were judged to be “ethnic trash,” or “degenerate nations,”
having “long since lost all historical driving power.”50

47Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” Werke, vol. 6, 167. In the Communist Manifesto, we are told
that the peasantry is inherently counterrevolutionary.
48In a letter to Karl Kautsky on February 7, 1882, Werke, vol. 35, 271, Engels held “In my

opinion there are two nations in Europe that not only have the right, but the duty, to be national-
ists before they are internationalists: the Irish and the Poles.” A text of the entire letter in English is
available in Blackstock and Hoselitz, The Russian Menace to Europe, 116–20.
49See the entire discussion in Engels, “Der demokratische Panslawismus,” Werke, vol. 6, particu-

larly the quotations on page 273; and Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” ibid., 170 passim.
50Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” ibid., vol. 6, 174.
Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 41

Civilization and development apparently referred to the potential for economic and
industrial growth to be found in an ethnic group or people. Thus, in Slavonic eastern
and southeastern Europe, Engels insisted that the Germans, Poles, and Magyars, were
the carriers of development and the harbingers of civilization. Among them, it was the
bourgeoisie, as a class, that was charged with the accomplishment. In Marxist theory,
it was the bourgeoisie that history had made primarily responsible for commercial and
industrial growth.51 It would seem that Marx and Engels were prepared to argue that
only those active communities possessed of the requisite industrializing and modernizing
bourgeoisie had a future.
Those were not the only elements that entered into the judgment of the founders of
Marxism. Together with a people’s potential for industrial maturation, their conceived
role in the grand scheme of universal revolution was of equal weight. In establishing their
rationale for underwriting one rather than another nationalism, Marx and Engels argued
that their support reflected the importance of a select nationalism to the impending pro-
letarian revolution. Thus, the fact that the resistance of Polish nationalism might under-
mine czarist Russia’s readiness to aid European reaction, recommended it to the founders
of Marxism. That Irish nationalism threatened the rule of the British aristocracy, and,
in turn, encouraged the proletarian revolutionaries in England, made its cause that of
international Marxism. The Irish question was a national, and a nationalist, issue that was
essential, in Marx’s judgment, to an ultimately successful proletarian revolution in Great
Britain.52 That warranted Marxist support. Given those considerations, some national-
isms were to be favored and other nationalisms abjured. Much of the subsequent discus-
sion, among both Marxists and non-Marxists alike, turned on the criteria to be employed
that allowed an effective and convincing distinction to be made between candidates.
One of the major difficulties with the early Marxist treatment of political nationalism
turned on the uncertainties that collected around it over time. While at one time the
“energetic Yankees” or the “industrious Germans” were to be preferred to “lazy Mexi-
cans” or “passive Slavs,” one could expect that time might very well alter the basis of the
invidious judgment. In effect, the early Marxist treatment of nationalism left a great deal
to be desired. Among the many perceived deficiencies in “Marxist theory,” the failure to
offer a persuasive analysis of political nationalism has been recognized as one of the most
All of this was made more difficult still as a consequence of the fact that, during the life-
time of its founders, Marxism was compelled to assimilate the new findings of both social
and biological science that collected around Darwinism. Marx, himself, appreciated the
importance of Darwinism—and proposed to dedicate his major work, Das Kapital, to the
great evolutionary theorist. Darwin declined the honor, but there is no doubt that Marx
imagined Darwinism to be Marxism in biological guise.53 But for all the compatibilities
both Marx and Engels divined between historical materialism and Darwinism, evolution-
ary theory was to engender unanticipated cognitive stress in Marxism—particularly with
respect to its understanding of the nature of group life and of nationalism. By the end of
the nineteenth century, any number of Marxist and non-Marxist scholars had attempted

51“Everywhere the progressive class, the bearer of development, is the German or Magyar bour-

geoisie.” Engels, ibid., 170.

52See the entire discussion in Marx’s latter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, April 9, 1870, ibid.,

vol. 32, 667–70.

53Engels was insistent on the relationship between Marxism and Darwinism. See the discussions

in Engels, Dialectics of Nature (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1964).

42 ● Marxism and the Making of China

treatments of the relationship between associated life in evolutionary biology and politi-
cal nationalism—and what implications all that carried in train.54 However detailed the
analysis, and however well formulated the conceived relationships, none were to prove
particularly successful.
What such efforts revealed was the unpersuasive character of the Marxist discussion of
national identity and political nationalism. For example, the attempt to dismiss national
sentiment as a simple product of bourgeois influence was hardly credible. Evolution-
ary history had made evident that individuals were disposed to identify themselves with
communities of limited compass that were rarely, if ever, identical with their evident
economic, or class, interests. Engels, himself, in his discussions concerning the origins
of the family and the state had made clear that long before economic classes existed,
human beings identified themselves with affinity groups based on blood relationships
and/or locale. Human beings had been members of hordes, tribes, gens, clans, extended
families, and nations, long before they were members of economic classes. They had
struggled, fought, and died for their horde, tribe, gens, clan, family, or nation, long before
Marxism called upon them to struggle, fight, and die for the greater glory of their class.
It seemed evident that human beings might be misled into identifying with a national
community by the bourgeoisie, but the very fact of their susceptibility to such suasion
implied a native predisposition to identify with one or another association. Evolutionary
theory taught nineteenth century scholars that human beings, in some significant sense,
were group animals. As such, they were naturally given to bonding with a community of
restricted size. It was also the case that the communities, with which they variously iden-
tified, until very recently, were not economic. More often than not, affinity groups were
based on consanguinity, geographic propinquity, linguistic usage, religious commitment,
political ties, or common history. Rarely might their collective identities be reduced solely
to economic interests or an anticipated role in some sort of historical progression.
Engels, himself, had suggested much of this in his discussion on the origins of the fam-
ily. It was transparent to him that human history could not be reduced to class struggle.
The evidence of human evolution suggested that human history was far more complicated
and involved much more than class and class conflict.55 By the beginning of the twenti-
eth century some of the most learned and dedicated Marxists had become accustomed
to speaking of the nation, not as an artificiality fabricated by bourgeois propaganda,
but as a fraternity of human beings “organized . . . by natural relations of consanguin-
ity . . . by permanent proximity,” and by productive relations determined by existing
levels of technological development. The result was that there were Marxists speaking
of nations as natural communities shaped not by economic interests but “by habit of
mutual accommodation, or by explicit conventions, or by acts of violence suffered and
endured.”56 Nationalism was a far more complicated phenomenon than the first Marxists

54For present purposes, the work of Ludwig Woltmann, Die Darwinsche Theorie und der Sozial-

ismus: Ein Beitrag zur Naturgeschichte der menschlichen Gesellschaft (Düsseldorf: Hermann Michels
Verlag, 1899) is among the most important.
55Engels, in his discussion of the origins of the family and the state, clearly identified “class

conflict” as being associated with relatively modern human history. In a footnote to the Manifesto,
it was affirmed that the generalization that all history is the history of “class struggle” was restricted
to recorded history. See the discussion in Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism, chaps. 3
and 7.
56Antonio Labriola, Essays on the Materialistic Conception of History (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr &

Company, 1904, originally published in 1896), 103.

Marxism, Revolution, and Development ● 43

had imagined. By the end of the nineteenth century, nationalism was an issue that occu-
pied many thinking Marxists. It was to be an issue that would complicate Marxist politics
throughout the twentieth century.
Before the advent of the First World War, Marxists found that nonelite populations
tended to respond to nationalist appeal—and that in multiethnic and multinational com-
munities political activities tended to gravitate around ethnic or national identification.
It became increasingly ineffective for Marxist organizers to appeal to the “international
obligations” of urban or rural workers who insistently identified with their nationalist
identity or with a particular, local cultural identity—a language, a church affiliation, or
a shared history. In multiethnic political arrangements like Austria-Hungary, voluntary
associations, whether revolutionary or not, frequently coalesced around cultural affinities
rather than class interests. Austrian Marxists early made an issue of the national identities
of potential members—and by the turn of the twentieth century, one of the theoreti-
cal leaders of the Austrian social democrats, Otto Bauer, made the question a matter of
emphatic theoretic concern.57
Bauer was convinced that national sentiment was not a simple artifact of bourgeois
influence, but a natural consequence of early bonding among creatures social by nature.
He identified a catalog of properties that made a people disposed to be a nation. They
included all the cultural traits to which allusion has been made. Groups that were to
mature into real or potential nations often shared consanguinity, memories in time, his-
toric slights, common victories, and religious faith, all memorialized in a shared language.
The sense of extended ties of blood infused the association with all the emotion of family
life. Bauer spoke of these associations as “communities of destiny,” in and through which
individuals shaped and lived out their lives. He held that an awareness of all these ties was
important in attempting to mobilize masses in a political environment characterized by
ethnic diversity.
Throughout the twentieth century, at least some features of Bauer’s analysis were to
surface and resurface in Marxist texts devoted to nationalist issues. Nationalist senti-
ment was to provide much of the political energy throughout the period—and its proper
appreciation was to prove of critical tactical and strategic importance for revolutionaries.
Throughout the revolutionary twentieth century, nationalism was to loom large—not
only throughout Europe, but everywhere in the world.
Together with the issue of the nature of nationalism, and its potential role in the
realization of revolutionary purpose, another insistent problem attended Marxist efforts.
As has been indicated, very early in the history of Marxist theory, both Marx and Engels
acknowledged the reality of the existence of economically backward communities. At the
same time, they recognized that those economies were the most common circumstances
in which human life was conducted. Most human beings lived in less-developed coun-
tries, in economically straitened circumstances, without creature comforts, and often
without the satisfaction of even basic needs. Even those rich in culture, like India and
China, were notably retrograde in terms of their material productive systems.
The founders of Marxism early appreciated the fact that such backward economies
suffered more than material privation. Backward economies were the natural prey of
advanced industrial powers. Long established cultures, and states hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of years old, fell before the machined weaponry of the technologically advan-
taged nations. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the material power of the

57See Otto Bauer, Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemocratie (Vienna: Marx-Studien,

44 ● Marxism and the Making of China

advanced machine industries of the West, had transformed the world. Entire nations felt
the sting of humiliation at the hands of the civilizers of northern Europe.
In Europe there was talk of backward peoples, primitives living on the margins of
civilization. There was talk of inferiors, hewers of wood and drawers of water, destined by
time, circumstances, and endowment, to serve those who promised progress and civiliza-
tion. The distinction was redolent with moral implications. History required distinction
and assigned leadership to those peoples gifted with superior attributes.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, reaction was evident everywhere among
the backward, the “ethnic trash without a future.” The entire less-developed world was
astir. Largely dismissed by the major European powers, the economically retrograde and
politically ineffectual communities in Asia, South America, and southern Europe were
alive with resentment and had already begun to marshal resources for response. Very early
in their careers as revolutionary intellectuals, the founders of Marxism briefly reflected
on the developmental prospects of countries like India and China. They alluded to a
pattern of technological and skill articulation that would commence with infrastructural
construction and collateral industries. The clear implication was that both ancient com-
munities were destined to become industrial nations. What was not clear was whether
the anticipated economic growth and maturation would be indigenous or the result of
capital and skill transfers—whether domestic classes would be instrumental, or whether
foreign-based agents and agencies would be essential constituents. Certainly, in the case
of an independent Ireland, both Marx and Engels alluded to the founding, maintain-
ing, and growth of its economy through a process involving rapid capital accumulation,
protective tariffs, and the fostering of local consumer and export industries. What was
beyond dispute was the fact that both Marx and Engels expected the less economically
advanced communities to develop.
There is very little in the original writings of the founders of Marxism that provides
fulsome insight into their views. In full maturity, Engels was prepared to outline his own
views on what he expected the future to bring to less-developed countries. In commu-
nication with Karl Kautsky, Engels outlined what he considered to be the future of less-
developed nations. After the revolution—which would occur in the advanced industrial
nations in accordance with Marxist theory—the victorious proletariat would undertake
to develop those communities that remained retrograde.58 The economic development of
those communities would somehow become the responsibility of the advanced European
nations. The development of the backward economies would become the task of Europe-
ans. It would become something akin to “the white man’s burden.”
By the end of his life, a dozen years after the passing of Marx, Engels was aware of the
restiveness of the populations in India and China. There, insurrection followed unrest,
and revolution followed reactive response. Throughout less-developed Europe, eastern
and southern, the stirrings of assertive nationalism made its presence manifest. In Latin
America, restive revolutionaries appealed to inarticulate masses to collect around national
standards—to renew dignity, commit to purpose, and defeat foreign oppressors. In all
that, the history of revolutionary China was to be prototypic.

58See the entire discussion in Engels’ letter to Karl Kautsky, September 12, 1882, Werke, vol. 35,


Marxism, Revolution, and the

Making of New Nations

In 1862 nationalism was well on its way toward becoming one of the most powerful moti-
vating forces in world affairs.
—Peter Mentzel1
Nationalism is a political movement which seeks to attain and defend an objective we may
call national integrity. It seeks “freedom,” but freedom can mean many things. The demand
for freedom already carries with it the suggestion that nationalists feel themselves oppressed.
Out of this freedom-oppression complex of ideas we may extract a general description of
nationalism: It is a political movement depending on a feeling of collective grievance against
—K. R. Minogue2

t was the political activity of Europeans in the nineteenth century that was to occupy
the intellectual energy of the founders of Marxism. This was because both Marx and
Engels fully expected Socialist revolution in the industrial centers of their time—rich
as those centers were in proletarian masses and centralized, cartelized industries. Marxist
theory concerned itself with that “imminent” revolution, leaving talk of the uprisings in
the less-developed regions for another day. That was to make Marxism far less relevant for
our time than it might otherwise have been.
The fact is that the founders of Marxism addressed problems that they conceived as
central to their enterprise. The principal locus of modern revolution, in their judgment,
was in the advanced industrial nations. Their revolutionary conceptions were designed to
serve the sophisticates of the urban working class, not the denizens of backward econo-
mies locked in a primitive cultural environment. To acknowledge that is not to suggest
that the entire discussion initiated by the founders of classical Marxism has no interest
for our own time.
In Europe, 1848 ushered in a storm of revolutionary activity. For Marx and Engels
the remainder of the century, in significant measure, was dedicated to the analysis of that

1Peter Mentzel, “Nationalism,” Humane Studies Review, 8, 11 (Fall 1992), 8.

2K. R. Minogue, Nationalism (New York: Basic Books, 1967), 25.
46 ● Marxism and the Making of China

activity, as well as the elaboration of a suitable rationale accounting for its failure.3 Among
those attempting to understand what had transpired, Marx was to play a particularly
important role. Interpretations of his work were to focus narrowly on what was to be
expected in Europe—and yet, there was much more implicit in the Marxist legacy.
In 1845, Marx had been expelled from France, as a result of representations of the
Prussian government charging him with having contributed to offenses against Prus-
sia's reigning monarch. Marx repaired to Belgium, where he immediately proceeded to
engage himself in the labors of the Communist League; the League commissioned him
to deliver a “catechism” of “proletarian beliefs” that might provide a general guide for
Socialist revolutionaries. The result was the making of The Communist Manifesto. It was a
rendering largely devoted to the revolution expected to invest the economically developed
communities of Europe.
The Manifesto appeared at about the same time that Europe dissolved into revolu-
tion. Civil unrest became popular rebellion in Paris. A radical member of the emerging
revolutionary government invited Marx, as an acknowledged revolutionary theoretician,
back to Paris. There, Marx was swept up in the contagious enthusiasm of change—soon
to be enhanced by the reports of armed rebellion in Naples, Rome, Venice—and then
Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest. There was talk of a new moral order emerging out of the
disorder—an order led by charismatics,4 such as Giuseppe Mazzini, Lajos Kossuth, and
Ferdinand Lassalle.
Infused by passion that was almost religious, groups gave themselves over to all but
total disregard for their own personal well-being in the service of an uncertain cause. For
all that, at most sites, within weeks, the passion for revolution spent itself. Armies and
constabularies suppressed the revolutionaries. The janissaries of the old order returned.
Radicals abandoned their posts and fled into exile or obscurity. The revolution was over.
Amidst the confusion and despair, Marx did the best he could. He reflected, analyzed,
opined, and published. After a swirl of activity, he found himself in London, away from
the failed revolution. He was to remain in England for the remainder of his life. There he
made his task the systematic analysis of what had transpired in Europe and what was to
be expected there in the immediate future. His focus, at that time, was quintessentially
His first effort at analysis appeared as a report for the Central Committee of the Com-
munist League, to be followed by a more extensive treatment that was to appear in suc-
cessive issues of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1850. Together with the report to the
Communist League, it was intended to provide an interpretation that might serve as
guide for the renewal of revolution, which both he and Engels imagined imminent.5
For our purposes, these treatments are instructive. They reveal the degree to which clas-
sical Marxism was confined by self-imposed constraints at its very inception. Revolution

3An effort to provide a summary account of the complex process can be found in A. James

Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History (Stanford, CA: Stanford Uni-
versity Press, 2012).
4In general, the term “charismatic” will be used throughout to refer to spokespersons conceived

capable of delivering themselves of impeccable truths, of irrefutable doctrine—the foundation of a

sustaining “political religion.”
5The full text is available in English as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Address of the Central

Committee to the Communist League,” and Marx, The Class Struggles in France 1848–1850, in
Marx and Engels, Selected Works in Two Volumes (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House,
1955), vol. 1, 106–17, 139–42.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 47

in Europe had afforded Marx the occasion to memorialize his understanding in the Mani-
festo. By 1850, all the constituent elements of Marxism as an economic and social theory
had been cast. Scrutinizing the prose generated by the founders of Marxism, one finds,
immediately beneath the surface, a clutch of theses that were to remain largely invariant
throughout its history.
One of Marxism’s central claims was that history is fashioned by the clash of classes—
with revolutionary energy supplied by economic interests. In all of that, there is but
one progressive class in the modern world: the proletariat. Other classes, and fragments
of classes, might serve the working class as ancillaries, but the weight of history rests
exclusively on the shoulders of the urban proletariat. Only an urban and class conscious
proletariat, because of its long schooling on the factory floor, in an environment of special
demands made by capital saturation and concentration, would be suitably equipped to
deliver redemption to a humanity cursed by exploitation and alienation.
So stark were the lines drawn that neither Marx nor Engels found place for any other
variables that might significantly alter outcomes. In their original argument, there was
little place for the enduring impact of nationalist sentiment. Similarly, there was scant
place for personal convictions or philosophical loyalties. Whenever they did appear, they
were understood to represent a projection of underlying economic factors. In the last
analysis, revolutions are ignited by economic crises, and they abate with the prosperity of
industry and trade. As a case in point, in his assessment of the political violence of 1848,
Marx attributed it to the “commercial crisis in England in 1847.” Conversely, he argued
that it was the growth of economic well-being in “the course of 1848 . . . increasing still
further in 1849 [that] paralyzed the revolutionary upsurge and made possible the . . .
victories of the reaction.”6 Marx was prepared to reduce the entire complex sequence, of
mass violence, death, and ultimate betrayal, to a primitive causal connection between life
and the metric measure of economic factors.
Whatever the nuances found in the prose of the founders of Marxism over the next
decades, their abiding convictions remained remarkably constant. History was deter-
mined by economic variables and human associations were each governed by their role
in prevailing productive processes. Throughout the remainder of the century, Marxism
was to remain true to those explanatory generalizations and empirical premises found in
the “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League.”7 For the most part,
anything other than identification with one’s economic class was counted as a distraction,
and anything other than economic incentive, a revolutionary delusion. In general, for the
first Marxists, love of self, family, or country—binding religious or extra-economic moral
commitments—were deficiencies of both character and intellect, and they were irrelevant
to historic outcome. Such convictions were to color the interpretation of events, and
anticipations of the future not only in Europe but also everywhere revolution was con-
ceived as a prospect.
In his first fully articulated formulations, Marx saw the revolutions of 1848 as the
initial overt and palpable manifestation of the ultimate, world historical contest between
protagonists of the end days: the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the prole-
tariat. The proletariat, those who alone are responsible for the production of material

6Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 228.

7The clarity of such judgments is clouded by Marx’s readiness to introduce arbitrary variations.
In the case of The Class Struggles in France 1848–1850, Marx admitted that under certain circum-
stances “the petty bourgeoisie does what normally the industrial bourgeois would have to do; the
worker does what normally would be the task of the petty bourgeoisie.”
48 ● Marxism and the Making of China

value in the real world, were, and would always remain, subject to exploitation by those
who own and control property—the means of material production. Those who possess
only their own ability to labor—that is, generate value—were forever destined to be the
enemy of those armed with the means to effect their exploitation. Only the proletarian
seizure of the means of production could foreclose any further exploitation of man by
man. Marx and Engels saw the revolutions of 1848 as the first skirmishes in what was
to be the apocalyptic close of human history. They were to summarily dismiss any other
understanding of the revolutions of their time.8 That conception of how the world really
operated was to cloud their analyses of the complex events with which they had to deal
throughout the remaining decades of their revolutionary advocacy.
This was to prove particularly true in the years that were to follow. The introduction of
Marx and Engels to the growing restiveness in Asia exposed them to a series of events tak-
ing place “outside of history.” There were oppressors and the oppressed in Asia, but there
were none that rose either to the fullness of European classes, neither to the stature of the
entrepreneurial bourgeoisie nor the European urban proletariat. Yet there was broad-based
violence in China and India—sometimes on a scale unknown in Europe. By the mid-
1850s, both of the founders of Marxism acknowledged that revolutionary violence there
was fueled by offended nationalism—a nationalism that took on the urgency of religious
conviction. In Asia there was a violence that had its source in outraged nationalism and
inspired faith—and it impacted the advanced industrial nations in ominous fashion. Half
a world away, in distant Asia, nationalism had manifested itself as a significant causal vari-
able not easily accommodated in the collection of notions that made up the immediate
substance of classical Marxism. One could not clearly identify nationalism with any specific
class, rather it seemed an all-consuming sentiment that infected all classes. The revolution-
ary influence of nationalist sentiment in China and India—of indeterminate class origin—
could hardly be denied. As a consequence, allowance of the reality of the influence of
nationalism began to appear in some of the forthcoming Marxist analyses. What was absent
was a systematic assessment of what that might mean for revolutionary theory in general.
The result was a curious inconsistency. Marxist theory allowed nationalism to influence
the course of events in Asia, and subsequently in Poland and Ireland—but elsewhere its
effects were somehow disallowed. It was to remain a problem for Marxism and Marxists
throughout the history of the twentieth century.
As it turned out, Marxist revolution, in the form most consistently anticipated by
its founders, was never to become a reality in the industrial democracies of Europe
and North America. There were revolutions, and there were Marxist parties in those
environs—but wherever a Marxist threat matured in Western industrial countries, politi-
cal power tended to fall to anti- or non-Marxist parties, inspired not by class warfare
and economic interests, but by nationalism and faith. In those countries that were eco-
nomically retrograde, in which some variant of Marxism was to succeed to power, the
form assumed would hardly have been recognized by the founders. In the economically
less-developed circumstances in which revolutions manifested themselves, most of the
theoretical formulations of classical Marxism seemed intuitively inapplicable.

8The youthful founders of the first Marxism were dismissive of alternative interpretations of the

revolutionary thought of their time. See Marx and Engels, The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical
Criticism, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publish-
ers, 1975), vol. 4, 5–211; and Marx and Engels, The German Ideology: Critique of Modern German
Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism
According to Its Various Prophets, in ibid., vol. 5, 19–581.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 49

It seems clear that in the years that followed the revolutions of 1848, Marx and
Engels were compelled to grudgingly recognize a role for political nationalism and
revolutionary religious faith in Europe. At the same time, they both acknowledged
early the revolutionary defense of nationality in China and India. Subsequently, a simi-
lar role for Polish and Irish nationalism, sustained by a common faith, was equally
appreciated. And yet, within the fabric of all that, Slav nationalism and the Orthodox
faith were summarily dismissed as the spoiled product of a calculated deception on the
part of the despots of Eastern Europe and their class collaborators. The straightforward
lines of revolution, as they found expression in the Manifesto, had become increas-
ingly complicated. National sentiment, and political nationalism, somehow intruded
themselves into the course of revolution. With the passage of time, and the increas-
ingly confused intricacy of events, it became more and more difficult to distinguish the
revolutionary nationalism, and the investments in faith, that meaningfully contributed
to humankind’s historic fulfillment, from their supposedly counterfeit variants. Thus,
through much of the end of the nineteenth century, the founders of Marxism deemed
Italian nationalism bourgeois and entirely lacking in historic significance—while Irish
nationalism was understood to be critical to the victory of the proletarian revolution
in England. Although merit could be found in Chinese and Indian nationalism, there
was absolutely none to be found in the nationalism of “lazy Mexicans.” It was as a con-
sequence of the latter judgments that Marx and Engels were prepared to deny people
even of the stature of Giuseppe Mazzini, a revolutionary role in the history of modern
Europe. The suggestion that nationalism and fideism might have historic consequence
in Europe was dismissed.
In retrospect, it is clear that the founders of Marxism had misjudged the historic role
of nationalism in Europe. Its impact throughout the last half of the nineteenth century,
as well as the major part of the twentieth, is clear. How Marx and his followers were
to attempt to deal with nationalism and faith as causal factors remains contested, but
critical, to an appreciation of our time. Of the nationalisms that grew up around them,
during the time of their increasing doctrinal concern, the revolutionary nationalism of
Mazzini was archetypical. It articulated a catalog of themes that were to recur among
revolutionary nationalists everywhere for more than half a century thereafter—and spoke
to the role of nationalism in the political unrest of the twentieth century.
Nationalism was to remain a critical variable in the political history of our time—and
Mazzini was one of the major figures to provide it expression, the elements of which
would surface and resurface wherever there was revolutionary turmoil—in Europe or
elsewhere. An understanding of the non-Marxist, prototypical reactive, developmental
nationalism that was to be a recurrent feature of the twentieth century begins with an
appreciation of the thought of Mazzini. Many of the features that defined his political
vision were to reappear in the European revolutions of the first half of the twentieth cen-
tury—to appear, once again, in recognizable form, in the political history of revolutions
far afield, in both space and time.

Giuseppe Mazzini
Among those European nationalist revolutionaries of the mid-nineteenth century, Giuseppe
Mazzini was to be, and remain, archetypical. Born on June 22, 1805, by the time of his
first maturity he made a point of recording how much he suffered to see his demeaned
fatherland “decked out in the livery of wretchedness,” groaning under the “yoke of for-
eign oppression,” its historic unity “morselled out in fragments,” its citizens mocked, its
50 ● Marxism and the Making of China

territories occupied, and the history of its grandeur forgotten.9 At sixteen years of age he
determined to forever dress in black, as a sign of mourning for his nation. He had become
the embodiment of the political nationalist. Thereafter, he committed himself to the libera-
tion and uplift of his humiliated fatherland, first as a member of the subversive Carbonari,
and then as founder of his own revolutionary society, Young Italy. By 1833, the Austrian
government—traditional enemy of a dismembered Italy—found the society led by Mazzini
to be so threatening that it declared simple membership in its ranks a capital offense. By
that time, Mazzini had himself already paid the first costs of being a revolutionary.
By 1835, years before Marx had put pen to paper as a revolutionary, Mazzini had put
together a creed for his movement. He spoke of providing both thought and substance
for the “National Italian Revolution.”10 In an article that appeared in that year, entitled
“Faith and the Future,”11 his revolutionary beliefs were given full expression. Mazzini was
to make faith central to his doctrinal system—faith in a future that was to host a regener-
ate nation, freed of the impostures of foreigners,12 rehabilitated and restored to its ancient
grandeur by a modernizing revolution.13 It was a creed to which he remained faithful
until his death in 1872. Thus, before the founders of the first Marxism had fabricated
their conception of revolution, Mazzini had already mobilized the youth of Italy to his
cause—a cause classical Marxism was never to fully understand.
The founders of classical Marxism found all this to be indefensible mystic-mongering.
The insistence was that true revolution necessarily would be class-based—proletarian.
There could be no talk of an inclusive nationalism—accommodating all patriots in a
single, unifying faith.
For his part, Mazzini predicated that all-inclusive faith on a collection of general con-
victions structured around several fundamental metaphysical notions about human his-
tory that distinguished themselves from those of the founders of the original Marxism.
Like the first Marxists, for example, Mazzini believed that history occupied itself with the
progressive unfolding of human personality. According to his thesis, a created human-
ity emerged from an ill-defined primitive state, through evolving individuation, to an
incipient stage of association in which people finally would attain, in communion, the
moral fullness of self. In a reasonably comprehensible sense, Mazzini conceived God, in
Hegelian fashion, as incarnating himself in history. Each stage in the unfolding process
brought the potential for increasing moral perfection to each individual. In the course
of time, the self became more expansive. For its part, according to Mazzini, Christianity,

9See A. James Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History (Stanford:

Stanford University, 2012), 120–141.

10All the references here provided will be to the easily available English translation of Mazzini’s

selected works as Mazzini, The Duties of Man and Other Essays (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co.,
1912). See Mazzini, “To the Italians,” ibid., 238.
11Mazzini, “Faith and the Future,” ibid., 141–94.
12Mazzini regularly enjoined Italians to “free the country from the foreigners.” “The Duties of

Man,” ibid., 12, 20. In “Faith and the Future,” he told his readers that Italy “suffered terribly” from
“foreign oppression.” ibid., 147. He made constant reference to “foreign oppression” throughout
the years. See, for example, “To the Italians,” ibid., 228, where Mazzini refers to the “tyranny” of
13Mazzini regularly spoke of Italy as a “people that once was great . . . fated to be great once

again.” “French Revolution of 1789,” ibid., 253. He spoke of then contemporary Italy as a nation
“enslaved,” living in a “material wretchedness” that accompanied its moral decay. “Duties of Man,”
ibid., 36.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 51

from its first beginnings, shaped the individual to an increased sensitivity. He argued
that for almost two thousand years Christianity had uniquely adapted humanity to the
requirements of personal salvation. He held that for that time the Catholic Church had
made its task the schooling of people, to make each the agent of his own self-interest, in
order that he prepare himself for the life hereafter. Under the aegis of the church, the life
of the individual was consumed in devoted service to personal salvation. For two millen-
nia, the process continued, reaching a culmination in the Great French Revolution of
1789, in which the individual and his personal happiness were celebrated as the meaning
of life.
Mazzini reminded his readers that the French Revolution was undertaken primar-
ily, if not exclusively, to assure the rights and satisfactions of individuals—and for little
else. As a consequence of its impact, corporations, guilds, estates, and hereditary castes
dissolved—and the individual, shorn of community, was left to organize as circumstances
allowed. As a consequence, society disintegrated into voluntary interest groups. Human
beings were no longer conceived as social creatures but as calculating egos who came
together essentially to enhance selfish interests.
In effect, Mazzini interpreted the French Revolution not in terms of class conflict but
as a revolution essentially committed to the fulfillment, to the satisfactions, and to the
transcendent rights of the individual. The revolutionary thinkers of France conveyed the
impression that they imagined that only individual human beings were real in some onto-
logical sense—with society no more than an artifice. Mazzini’s response was to argue that
it was a palpably false conception of what true humanity entailed. The reality was that
human beings were essentially social creatures, given substance and meaning only in asso-
ciation with similar people. The French Revolution signaled the conclusion of the Chris-
tian Age—and heralded the coming of the nationalist New Age of Association. It was to
signal the next stage in human evolution—that of nationalism, community, unity, and
inclusiveness. The French Revolution, heir of Christian impulse, closed the epoch of the
individual and signaled the coming of the time of the national community. The emerg-
ing New Age would not be an affirmation of individuality or class selfishness. It would
be a time of impassioned togetherness, a time of union, communion, and solidarity,
wherein individuals would find their true selves in the nation. In their association with
others, community would supplant self among individuals, love of self would dissolve in
mutual regard, and selfishness would be recognized an inexcusable moral affront.14 In all
those senses, Mazzini foresaw the coming of a generic, revolutionary, communitarian,
and nationalistic Socialism in which class differences would dissolve. In all those senses,
Mazzini was a non-, if not an anti-, Marxist. As Marxists would speak to classes, Mazzini
spoke to nations.
Predictably, Marx and Engels found all of that innocent of serious “class analysis”—
ill-prepared to acknowledge “the material interests of the bourgeoisie and the liberal
nobility, who form the great Mazzinian phalanx.” Mazzini’s ideas were seen as simply
part of the demagoguery of the “visionary old school”—“rich with phrases,” but suffer-
ing from a singular “poverty of ideas.”15 The founders of Marxism refused to accept the
very possibility that individuals might allow their identification with the motherland to

14See the entire discussion in Mazzini, “Thoughts on the French Revolution of 1789,” ibid.,

15Marx to Engels, and Engels to Marx, September 13 and 23, 1851, in Karl Marx and Friedrich

Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 70–71.
52 ● Marxism and the Making of China

take precedence over their class membership or their immediate material interests. That,
together with the conviction that Italy had already entered well into the stage of evolving
capitalism, precluded the prospect that such an identification of individual and nation
might be, or become, a reality.
Mazzini simply dismissed such skepticism. He advocated a national Socialism in which
humanity, as a totality, would constitute the final, ultimate, and all-inclusive human asso-
ciation. Humanity would provide the final Hegelian perfection of self. For Mazzini, iden-
tification with the nation was a necessary stage in a historic process. In the prevailing
circumstances, the nation constituted the community of immediate concern. The final
political consolidation of all humanity awaits the attainment of full equality by each of
the nations that would be constituents.16 Until each nation becomes the equal of every
other, there could be no final, all-encompassing human association. For Mazzini, the
present task for each historic community was to uplift itself in order to achieve its proper
station in the existing family of nations—in anticipation of its effortless inclusion into
that final unity. To accomplish its regeneration, the nation requires an abiding sense of
community—without faction or class distinction. Members of the nation must be as
siblings, each prepared to sacrifice for the other, to discharge obligations, to labor with-
out complaint, to rejoice in service. Each must resist the “idea of improving one’s own
material conditions without solving the national question.” There must be an unquali-
fied commitment to a seamless national brotherhood, a commitment to the definitive
resolution of the problems of the collectivity—in which economic class constituted but a
contributing material component.
Among the problems to be addressed, Mazzini identified the nation’s backwardness as
most disabling. Italy could not be the equal of other nations as long as it suffered from
“poverty, from domestic and foreign oppression, from constant violation of the national
principle, and the absence of all intellectual and industrial development.”17 To unite and
uplift the nation required solution of its economic problems—among which was the
prevalence of poverty. That necessitated, “first and foremost, an increase in capital and
Those enjoinments were embedded in a general strategy of economic and industrial
development. Mazzini was prepared to recognize increments in production as a func-
tion of liberal market modalities. He was prepared to recognize the general “liberty of
industry” as conducive to the generation of wealth and industrial development. He duly
acknowledged the role of the entrepreneur, capital accumulation, and the necessity of a
suitable communications and collateral infrastructure, together with increasing techno-
logical and machine sophistication, in order to offset the primitive economic conditions
on the peninsula. His complaint was that the prevailing processes, fully capable of dou-
bling productivity in the course of less than half a century, were incapable of providing
and sustaining equitable distribution.19 Mazzini insisted that the development of the

16“Before associating ourselves with the nations which compose Humanity we must exist as a
Nation. There can be no association except among equals. . . . In laboring according to true prin-
ciples for our Country, we are laboring for Humanity.” Mazzini, “Duties of Man,” The Duties of
Man and Other Essays, 55.
17Mazzini, “Faith and the Future,” ibid., 147.
18Mazzini, “Duties of Man,” ibid., 54. He identified “the increase of wealth and production” as

central to the nation’s problem. Ibid., 98.

19See Mazzini’s comments in the first pages of “The Duties of Man,” ibid., 9–10, and the subse-

quent discussion on 98–99.

Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 53

nation must proceed without creating social tension through an unequal distribution of
In that regard, Mazzini was prepared to argue that the right to property was an inher-
ent right, implicit in human labor, and ownership did provide incentive to entrepreneurs
and workers. While committed to the defense of private property, however, he was no less
emphatic in insisting on the need to avoid class, regional, and/or sectional inequalities in
the distribution of benefits. He was convinced that internecine social conflict would be
fatal to any program of national rebirth. He told Italians they had “sacred duties” toward
their co-nationals in “peacefully accomplishing the greatest and most beautiful revolu-
tion that can be conceived—a revolution which should make labor the economic basis
of human fellowship, the fruits of labor the basis of property, and should thus gather
together under one single law of equilibrium between production and consumption,
without distinction of classes, and without the tyrannical predominance of one of the
elements of labor over another, all the children of our common Mother, our Country.”20
Such a strategy, he continued, would “give new life to production, to the advantage of
all classes.”21
Workers were to be organized in voluntary associations in order that the nation achieve
economic development and industrialization with equity. Workers were to be housed in
self-directed organizations in which capital and labor might be united. Each free and
voluntary association would select its leaders through popular election. The associations
would marshal workers, of whatever diverse responsibilities, to the remediation of the
nation’s “irregularity and inferiority of production.”22
Mazzini anticipated activating his program of national development through a system
of workers’ voluntary associations that shared properties with producers’ cooperatives and
employee’s guilds that were already familiar in the Europe of the period. To proceed with
production, he imagined that workers might supply some measure of their own capital,
and that the profitability of the cooperative industries would be sufficiently appealing
to attract investor capital. Ultimately the store of capital would be supplemented by
the financial resources of the state. He fully recognized that the accumulation of capital
would be critical to developmental enterprise and the expansion of the nation’s industrial
base. He spoke of the state collecting the vast wealth of the nation, to channel it into the
developmental program for the realization of its sacred mission—to attain, assure, and
enhance “collective progress.”23
In fact, Mazzini foresaw the state playing a pivotal role in the revolution of national
liberation. The entire program was to be initiated and sustained by a government that was
to be distinctive in a number of ways. It was to be a form of government, neither liberal,
in the nineteenth century sense of the term, nor autocratic, as were so many of the then
prevailing monarchies.
Mazzini held that Italy had twice brought a vast and progressive culture to the world—
only to find itself, in the nineteenth century, reduced to a simple aggregate of people that
counted for little in the modern world. Autocratic rule had left Italy a fractured nation in
an advanced state of disintegration, subject to exploitation, and the sad object of derision
by its “betters.”

20See the entire discussion in subsection l, of section XI of “The Duties of Man,” ibid., 96–101.
21Ibid., 110.
22Ibid., 111.
23See the rather extensive discussion in section 4 of chapter 11 of “The Duties of Man,” ibid.,

108–14; see chapter 12, ibid., 115–16.

54 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Out of that lamentable present, Mazzini envisioned the rise of a New Italy. It would
be a rebirth of that which had grown old. It would be refashioned by Italians who had
become ennobled “in the magnanimous intoxication of fraternity.” It would also be
refashioned by new Italians animated by a new faith. Constructed with insights provided
by the old, the new faith of the revolutionary collective would satisfy the innate religious
longing of the new community. Such a faith would satisfy the natural desires, as well as
sustain the sacrificial effort required to create the emergent New Italy.
Mazzini conceived his movement as a “brotherhood in one faith”—a “holy alliance”
that was an essentially religious “apostolate of duties,” committed to labor and self-
sacrifice—devoted to the making of a people, “one Family, with one Faith, one Tradition
and one Thought.” In effect, the movement would fashion itself a living church, led by
apostles of “genius and virtue,” inspired by “active belief in one God, in one Law, in
one End.”24 With “great men” as charismatics, the movement would create a national
government that would represent the “soul, the consciousness of the ideal to which the
millions . . . who are grouped within its natural boundaries strive instinctively. The func-
tion of government,” in such circumstances, “is to purify that thought from every foreign
element. . . . The government will be the mind of a nation, the people its arm. . . . The
first will point out the path that leads to the ideal. . . . The second will direct the forces
of the country towards it.”25
It is clear that Mazzini considered the making of an effective, revolutionary national
government to be difficult at best. Initially, there would be a capricious diversity of opin-
ion that would confuse the spontaneous impulses of a healthy unanimity. Any political
arrangement, however democratically fashioned, would not be functionally satisfactory
until all members of the community are “educated to uniformity and brotherhood.” The
revolution would be compelled to provide “a common education” that would assure “a
country dominated by one faith,” having a “common purpose,” and subject to a “com-
mon duty.”26 Although instinctively suffused with the sense of brotherhood and self-
sacrifice, people in the emergent community must be “educated to virtue.”27 Popular
sovereignty would find expression through an “interpretation of a supreme moral law,”
articulated in a “declaration of principles,” and “diffused by a uniform National Educa-
tion.”28 All of this could be undertaken only by an essentially “religious party,” inspired
by a “doctrine inviolable,” and governed by “authority infallible.”29
The system rested on authority. Mazzini candidly affirmed that “authority is the end
and aim of all our efforts.” Mazzini was convinced that some persons, gifted and vir-
tuous, in some profound sense, could perceive truths common to tradition and intuit
those intrinsic to conscience. Harmonized and measured against a pragmatic yardstick,
the makers of revolution thus could arm themselves with inviolable doctrine, assured
practice, and ultimate success. The apostles of a new faith could venture forth, bringing

24See the entire discussion in “Faith and the Future,” ibid., subsection 9, 174–81.
25Mazzini, “To the Italians,” ibid., 23l.
26Mazzini, “The Duties of Man,” ibid., 25.
27“The principle of moral unity, without which association is impossible, implies the duty of

a general elementary education to expound the programme of such association to all who will be
partners in it.” Mazzini, “Faith and the Future,” ibid., 193.
28Mazzini, “Thoughts on the French Revolution of 1789,” ibid., 254. Mazzini argued that a

nation could not allow the interpretation of the “Supreme Moral Law,” that was its guide, to the
“caprice of uneducated majorities.” ibid., 273.
29Mazzini, “Faith and the Future,” ibid., 150.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 55

with them those whose moral conscience they had awakened, to fashion a nobler people,
denizens of a New Nation, all participants in a “holy Crusade . . . governed by One Law,
general and immutable.”30
These were the elements of the revolutionary process Mazzini anticipated in order to
shepherd Italy from backwardness to industrialization and economic maturity—to a level
that would allow the nation an effective parity with those already developed. It was to be
a form of national Socialism that would surface and resurface throughout the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries as competitors to the Marxism of Marx and Engels. It would be
representative of a form of Socialism that would become more and more attractive to the
Marxists who would arise, not in the industrialized nations of the world, but in the back-
ward economies of those communities characteristically on the periphery. By the middle
of the twentieth century, it would become clear that Mazzinism had more revolutionary
relevance to developing nations than classical Marxism ever had.
While classical Marxism had flirted with liberal democratic forms, Mazzini was con-
vinced that liberal democracy could not serve as the most effective instrument for such a
revolution. Like many who were to arise in less-developed communities, he argued that
liberal democratic political arrangements did not allow for the measure of unity required
for rapid modernization and development. He complained that the term democracy
implied a “measure of strife,” an intimation of discord, a “conception . . . imperfect and
inferior to the idea of Unity which will be the doctrine of the future.” Rather than democ-
racy, Mazzini recommended the terms “social government” and “social institutions” as
more descriptive of the new, communitarian, revolutionary state he anticipated.31 The
new social government would be an arrangement that would operate with a definition of
liberty that resulted in singular consequences. As a social government, the revolutionary
regime would allow “unlimited liberty for all associations . . . not in conflict with moral
law.” Similarly, it would allow citizens the unqualified liberty “to do what one ought”32—
all of which was more redolent of religion than politics. In fact, as has been indicated,
Mazzini unself-consciously identified his political creed as essentially religious in charac-
ter. His revolutionary regime would be animated by religious convictions, tapping a deep
reservoir of religious sentiment he understood fundamental to the psychology of human
association. The principal advocates of the system, in fact, would serve as the political
equivalent of priests.33
These were elements that were to appear and reappear throughout the decades of revo-
lution that were to follow—in Europe and throughout the world. They were not to be
found in the political conceptions of classical Marxism. They signaled a more profound
difference. Opposed to the traditional Marxist suggestion that revolution would bring
material satisfaction to the vast majority of society’s members, Mazzini argued that revo-
lution would demand active involvement and self-sacrifice by all—with scant promise of
material reward.34 Sacrifice would be the creed of the New Age. It would be a creed that
“elevates and purifies the individual; dries up the springs of egotism. . . . It creates for man
that theory of duty which is the mother of self sacrifice, which ever was and ever will be,

30Mazzini, “Faith and the Future,” ibid., 174–75.

31Ibid., 192. Throughout his writings, Mazzini invokes the term democracy with regularity.
What is evident is the fact that the term has a special meaning for him.
32Ibid., and “Thoughts on the French Revolution of 1789,” ibid., 269. Emphasis supplied.
33See the discussion in “Faith and the Future,” ibid., 180.
34For Mazzini, in his time it was “the question of nationality” that was “dominant over all others.”

“To the Italians,” ibid., 226.

56 ● Marxism and the Making of China

the inspirer of great and noble things; a sublime theory, that draws man nearer to God,
borrows from the divine nature a spark of omnipotence, crosses at one leap all obstacles,
makes the martyr’s scaffold a ladder to victory, and is as superior to the narrow, imperfect
theory of rights as the law is superior to one of its corollaries.”35
Mazzini’s creed for the New Age thus radically distinguished itself from the orthodox
Marxism of the nineteenth century. His Socialism was alive with moral purpose, rather
than class identity, infused with exalted intent and specifically inspired by a sense of
national, rather than class, mission. It saw itself, unabashedly, as a new religion, a “climb
through philosophy to faith.” It was a religion predicated on a “living faith” in “one God,
one Law, general and immutable . . . and one End.”36
With “one only God in the heavens, one only truth, one only faith, one only rule of
political life upon earth,” revolutionaries would take up a mission as a “nation armed”—
an irredentist community—restoring, once again, the physical unity of the nation with
the “reconquest of lost lands” that were too long alienated by foreign occupation.37
Mazzini made clear, in that very context, that the emerging nation, rising once again
“great and honored,” would require increments in productivity through “an economic
system based on the saving of all useless expenditure and on the progressive increase of
production.”38 It would be a system of inspired frugality and devotion to accelerated
technological development. Unlike classical Marxism that anticipated the revolution’s
inheritance of the productive capacity of advanced capitalism, Mazzini’s Socialism sought
to prepare his followers for the capture of an economically primitive productive system.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the very first Marxism found itself opposed by a
revolutionary creed of developmental nationalism, elements of which would surface and
resurface throughout the end of that century and into the next.
All of this led Mazzini to emphatically reject the classical Marxism he knew. He
rejected its materialistic determinism, its atheism, its remarkably unspecific international-
ism, its tendential democracy, its appeal to class warfare, its economism, and its amorality.
Mazzini found Marxism objectionable for all those reasons—but for the purposes of the
present discussion, he found it objectionable primarily because the attempt at its imple-
mentation would compromise any promise of economic growth.39 For Mazzini, Marxism
was morally bankrupt, intellectually remiss, strategically confused, and entirely bereft of
real prospect—but more than anything else, it was economically dysfunctional. Only
history could begin to answer some of the questions raised by the competition between
classical Marxism and the nationalistic, developmental doctrine of Mazzini.
For their part, the founders of Marxism simply dismissed the revolutionary lucubra-
tion of the “Apostle of the Italian National Revolution.” Toward the end of 1850, they
identified his notions as “pompous nonsense” and “sentimental drivel,” hardly worthy

35Mazzini, “Faith in the Future,” ibid., 168–69.

36Ibid., 171, 175–76.
37Mazzini, “To the Italians,” ibid., 245.
38Ibid., 246; see Mazzini, “The Duties of Man,” ibid., 30. Mazzini spoke of creating the political

circumstances that would allow “industries and manufactures . . . continuous development.” Ibid.,
39Mazzini insisted that the abolition of private property would be a major disincentive to produc-

tion. Furthermore, he argued that not only would “communism . . . not produce equality among the
men of labor; it would not increase production. . . . Production would not be improved; there would
be no incitement to progress in invention; nor could progress ever be assisted.” Mazzini, “Duties of
Man,” ibid., 107; see also 105–8.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 57

of serious consideration—a haphazard collection of thoughtless clichés having no revo-

lutionary import whatever.40 And yet, in retrospect, history suggests that, in addressing
less-developed communities, Mazzini may have made the more persuasive argument.
Over the years he identified, and addressed, a catalog of concerns that individually and/
or collectively resurfaced in the revolutionary conceptions of developmental national-
ists over the subsequent decades. Familiar with his advocacies or not, the less-developed
communities of the nineteenth century increasingly gravitated toward his developmen-
tal nationalism. Mazzini addressed himself not to mature industrial economies—as did
Marxism—but to those laggard nations that found themselves subject to the impostures
of the more advanced. He had made himself spokesman for those less-developed com-
munities that only then were emerging from “a sleep outside of history.”
While Marx devoted himself to economic reflections on the nature of value, the fixing
of price and profit, the systemic incentives for concentration and centralization of capi-
tal enterprise, the denizens of the less-developed nations sought industrial development
and its associated power through faith in a collective mission. About the time that Marx
and Engels were prepared to dismiss Mazzini as of little account, they both discovered
those less-developed economies in Asia that exemplified much of that to which Mazzini
addressed himself. In fact, it was those very communities, beset as they were by retrograde
productivity, that were to prompt a subset of economic and political reflections by the
founders of Marxism that were never to be fully integrated into that body of thought
identified as Marxism.
The mature and fully crafted doctrines of Marxism addressed themselves most particu-
larly to countries characterized by a mature class structure—with a well-defined bour-
geoisie and an urban proletariat that made up the vast majority of the population. The
discussion devoted to those nations that were less developed was scattered and often
expressed as afterthoughts in relatively obscure Marxist texts, and it became, over time,
increasingly complex and unpersuasive. Nonetheless, even in its fragmentary form, the
theory of revolutionary development in less-developed communities, which gradually
emerged in the publications of the founders of Marxism, shared features with the political
nationalism of Giuseppe Mazzini. In the final analysis of a world divided between those
nations that were economically developed and those not, the Marxist treatment of what
was later to be seen as developmental, reactive nationalist revolution, left a great deal to
be desired. A “suitable” Marxist theory of revolution in less-developed nations would
proceed only through “creative developments” undertaken by revolutionary “heretics.”41

Marxism, Revolution, and Less-Developed Countries

By the early 1850s, both Marx and Engels were compelled, by events, to consider the
social unrest in the Far East—in India and China. They were made to contemplate the
consequences of the incursions of the advanced industrial nations into the peripheral, less-
developed economies. As an immediate effect, both Marx and Engels, without hesitation,
spoke of imminent political and social revolution. They found themselves required to
examine social revolution in primitive economic conditions. In the course of their discus-
sion, they acknowledged that there had been revolutions in China and India throughout

40Marx and Engels, “Revue,” Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1963), vol. 7, 460–61.
41See the discussion in A. James Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the
Intellectual History of Radicalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
58 ● Marxism and the Making of China

their respective histories, but in their studied judgment, those revolutions had been any-
thing other than revolutions of historic consequence. They had been peasant uprisings
outside of history. They changed nothing other than the particular personnel that staffed
the prevailing institutions of oppression. As has been indicated, the founders of Marxism
identified the peculiar persistence of institutional exploitation in dynastic China with the
special requirements of its productive base. China was sustained by hydraulic agriculture,
which required centralized bureaucratic control of water irrigation to assure maintenance
and continuity. Oppression and incompetence within the system might provoke periodic
popular uprisings, and successful uprisings might succeed in the overthrow of a dynasty,
but the requirements of the productive base would ensure the survival of the peculiar
control mechanisms required by the economic system. Rebellions might be regular and
predictable; dynasties might change, but the system would survive because of the intrinsic
requirements of the hydro-agricultural processes. This was the assessment applied by the
founders of Marxism to all the prior peasant revolutions in Asia. It was advanced as an
interpretation of Oriental despotism and its changeless longevity—traversing millennia
of Asian history. And yet, by the middle years of the nineteenth century, amid all they
were to write, both Marx and Engels suggested something more that was to be of par-
ticular consequence. They began to speak of “reactive revolutions”: revolutions in China
and India provoked not only by peasant unrest, or precipitated by corruption and oppres-
sion, but also by the consequence of a deep sense of collective humiliation provoked by
sustained exposure to foreign imposture—something destined to change the character of
Both Marx and Engels recognized the expression of reactive nationalism that resulted
as peculiar to the peripheral economies—those less-developed communities on the fringes
of the advanced industrial nations. In the mature industrial states, the founders of Marx-
ism saw nothing of that sense of humiliation that precipitated a unifying national resent-
ment marshaled to the service of collective defense. Only gradually did they begin to
limn its features in the revolutionary ideologies of European revolutionaries like Mazzini.
As correspondents for the New-York Daily Tribune, both Marx and Engels were com-
pelled to consider revolutions in Asia—in industrially backward communities that, for
millennia, had vegetated outside of history. The mid-nineteenth century revolutions
they observed in Asia were initiated and sustained by an irrepressible defensive sense of
nationality—and were a response to enjoinments and invocations broadcast by political
nationalists who, in fact, shared much with those nationalist revolutionaries in Europe,
half a world away.
While never fully acknowledged by the founders of Marxism, it is clear, in retrospect,
that the phenomena with which they were confronted, in China and India, shared a
common source and found expression in common sentiment with the reactive national-
isms of the less-developed nations on the periphery of industrialized Europe—Mazzini’s
Italy among them. Among the class of economically less-developed communities, critical
distinctions revealed themselves. However reluctant the founders of Marxism were to
acknowledge the fact, the responses of the peoples of the less-developed nations of Asia
shared important features with those of peoples in the less-developed nations of southern
and southeastern Europe.
Both Marx and Engels identified, for example, a growing revolutionary awareness
of the necessity of rapid economic development and industrialization among the less-
developed nations of Asia—if they were to survive in equality in the immediate future. In
the case of China, the founders of Marxism spoke of the rise of something like a revolu-
tionary bourgeoisie, which would initiate the development of the nation’s economy. Marx
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 59

and Engels anticipated that they would perform the same task as had the revolutionary
bourgeoisie that arose in France at the end of the eighteenth century.
In India, they seemed to imagine that the British colonial bureaucracy, rather than a
nascent bourgeoisie, would supply the institutional infrastructure for the requisite rapid
development. They would facilitate the establishment and expansion of a necessary rail-
way and transport network and a suitable educational and financial system, together
with the appropriate legal framework for it all. While specifically addressing the future in
distant Asia, it was clear that some of the same elements were to be found in the political
demands tendered by European revolutionaries in similarly retrograde economic circum-
stances. The founders of Marxism seemed either insensitive, or reluctant, to recognize the
It seems clear that Marxist doctrine had not initially anticipated such sustained simi-
larities in environments so distant and diverse. Certainly neither Marx nor Engels ever
made a concerted effort to explain their commonalities—or what their near simultaneous
manifestation might imply for revolutionary conduct either in Asia or Europe. Only later,
in the late 1860s and thereafter, did both Marx and Engels attempt to apply to Rus-
sia their speculations concerning revolution in the backward economies of Asia. Russia
was a less-developed country on the margins of developed or developing Europe—and
Marx and Engels both seemed prepared to explore a connection between it and Asia by
speaking of czarist Russia as an Oriental despotism. As such, it was expected to share
substantial properties with the despotisms of Asia. Thus, in 1875, when Engels delivered
Marxism’s assessment of “Social Revolution in Russia,”42 it became clear that he imag-
ined that developments in Russia shared features with those of revolutionary Asia—and,
by implication, that both might be informative in attempting to understand something
about revolution in less-developed nations in general.
The exposition concerning social revolution in Imperial Russia is important because
it represents an effort, on the part of the founders of Marxism, to transfer to European
circumstances, insights derived from what they anticipated as economic, social, and
political change in Asia. With a confidence but little qualified, Engels spoke of important
economic properties shared by India and China—to be found in retrograde Russia. He
spoke of the “primitive communistic features” that typified the “Russian village com-
munity”—so much prized by Russian agrarian populists—the Narodniks. Engels insisted
that a similar “village communism” was to be found in agricultural India. In fact, Engels
was to go on to argue that such “primitive communism” was to be found not only in Asia
or in “semi-Asiatic” Russia, but among all peoples, in all places, at an initial stage of their
socioeconomic evolution. A residue of agrarian communism, he maintained, even could
be found in many, if not all, developing and developed nations. It was just such notions
that supplied the basis for the claim that law-like processes govern economic, social, and
political change—however much individual cases might be separated in time and place.43

42Engels, “Soziales aus Russland,” and “Nachwort (1894) zu ‘Soziales aus Russland,’” Werke,
vol. 18, 556–67, and ibid., vol. 22, 421–35. English translations are available in Blackstock and
Hoselitz, op. cit., 203–15, and 229–41. The supplement to the original essay, the “Nachwort,” was
produced in 1894, around the time of Engels’ death.
43“Intrinsically, it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social

antagonism that results from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of those laws
themselves, of those tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country
that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.”
Marx, Capital, Preface to the First German Edition.
60 ● Marxism and the Making of China

In the ensuing discussion, Engels argued that the Russian village communities, in
which so many Russian revolutionaries invested so much hope, were simply a transient
residue of earlier communal modes of production, and they did not augur, and would
not facilitate, the advent of a truly Marxist Socialism. Engels repeated, once more, the
necessary preconditions for a truly Marxist revolution: “The revolution sought by modern
Socialism is, briefly, the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and the reorganiza-
tion of society by the abolition of all class distinctions. To accomplish this, we need not
only the proletariat, which carries out the revolution, but also a bourgeoisie in whose
hands the productive forces of society have developed to such a stage that they permit the
final elimination of all class distinctions.”44 As has been indicated, those were the invari-
ant prerequisites of Marxist Socialism. They were the preconditions for what the founders
of Marxism consistently identified as “true revolutions.”
Both Engels and Marx argued that economies that featured notable elements of primi-
tive communalism were economies at a “pre-capitalist stage of development”—far from
being possessed of the prerequisites for true Socialism. As such, they could not be can-
didates for true revolutionary activity. Economies stalled at the precapitalist stage, under
normal conditions, would have to traverse successive stages of development before they
could satisfy the most elementary antecedent conditions of Socialist revolution. Thus the
founders of Marxism addressed the issue of the future of the Russian village communi-
ties by asserting that such communities could survive (in whatever form) into a Socialist
future only if a Russian revolution was complemented by a revolution in the advanced
industrial West.45 In his preface to the second Russian edition of the Communist Mani-
festo published in 1882, Marx maintained that “if the Russian revolution sounds the
signal for a proletarian revolution in the West . . . so that each complements the other,
the prevailing form of communal ownership of land in Russia may form a starting point
for a communist course of development.” In his Afterword of 1894 to “Social Revolution
in Russia,” Engels simply repeated the same judgment. The circumstances surrounding
revolution in less-developed countries apparently were fixed. For all the seeming clarity,
however, a great deal remained obscure.
Marx and Engels made these judgments about an economically backward Russia, char-
acterized by traits that both acknowledged were precapitalist. However underdeveloped,
they suggested that economically laggard Russia somehow would mobilize itself around
restive non-proletarian masses, and undertake, with the assistance of more advanced eco-
nomic systems, rapid modernization and industrial development. Again, how all that was
to transpire was not made immediately evident.
However obscure the discussion might be, Engels imagined that all of it had some-
thing to do with the revolutionary future of countries languishing at the precapitalist,
or peri-capitalist, stage of economic development. He suggested that whatever might
be said of revolution in economically retarded, “semi-Asiatic and barbaric” Russia was
applicable everywhere such conditions prevailed.46 However emphatic his judgment, it
was not at all evident what the conjectured implications might be. It was uncertain what
such contentions might imply for all those communities that remained at levels that were
economically backward, only partially modernized, or already embarked on the process
of industrialization and economic development.

44Engels, “Soziales aus Russland,” and “Nachwort (1894),” Werke, vol. 18, 557; see also ibid.,

22, 429.
45“Soziales aus Russland,” ibid., 18, 565.
46“Nachwort (1894),” ibid., 426–27.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 61

Both Engels and Marx were driven by circumstances to outline, in considerable detail,
what they thought revolution might mean for czarist Russia at the close of the nineteenth
century. They acknowledged that imperial Russia was in the process of transition, from
a basically traditional agrarian economy to the first stages of industrial development and
economic modernization. They argued that the manumission of the serfs in the 1860s
had been a major step in the direction of creating a mobile population that would be
available as wage labor to meet the needs in any emerging native industries. Moreover,
the authorities subsequently transferred tax, maintenance, and growth liabilities to the
liberated agrarian population. That freed capital to migrate elsewhere—to the coffers of
potential investors, which in turn, made disposable funds available to the nascent modern
The czarist leadership had recognized that Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War had
been, in large part, the consequence of economic backwardness—manifest in serious
shortcomings in terms of deployable military hardware, its technical inferiority, and insuf-
ficient support equipment—all compounded by logistical inadequacies. That prompted
the extant political regime to underwrite rapid industrial development.47 All of those
elements, taken together, anticipated the accelerated growth of the modern sector of Rus-
sia’s economy.
What that might mean for other communities in retrograde economic and indus-
trial development was not immediately evident. It was unclear what it might mean for
precapitalist Imperial China, beginning its trajectory of national bourgeois industrial
development. It was similarly uncertain how Engels’ general account of development
in economies lodged at precapitalist, or peri-capitalist, stages might apply to colonial
India, only then advancing beyond a village commune agricultural base—inspired to
rapid development by nationalist resistance to foreign pretense. How any of that might
apply to the peri-capitalist economies of Europe remained conjectural. Mazzinism was
simply dismissed as lacking revolutionary relevance.
In effect and in general, Marxist doctrine left vast portions of the less-developed world
outside its theoretical purview. At best, it suggested developments uncertain in their
course, and obscure in outcome. Worse still, where it did seem to apply, its application
appeared to require a collateral social revolution in the industrialized West in order to
achieve Socialist purpose.
To complicate matters further, both Marx and Engels argued that on the near periph-
ery of central Europe, in regions occupied by Slavic peoples, nothing could be expected
of those industrially retrograde nations—peopled by “barbarians” and “ethnic trash
(Vőlkerabfall).” Having divided the world into developed and less-developed nations, they
further divided the less-developed nations into those expected to enjoy economic growth
and industrial development—and those that were not. Whatever Marx and Engels said of
the future of the precapitalist economies of Asia and of semi-Asiatic Russia did not seem
to apply to those communities they characterized as composed of “the ruin of peoples . . .
remnants of those mercilessly trampled down by the passage of history.” There was appar-
ently a subset of communities at the precapitalist, or peri-capitalist, stage of development
that were not only underdeveloped, but “degenerate”—shaped by circumstances to be

47“The defeats suffered in the Crimean war made clear the necessity of rapid industrial develop-

ment in Russia. Railroads were needed above all, and these are not possible on a large scale without
domestic heavy industry. The prerequisite for these things was the nominal ‘liberation’ of the serfs,
which marked the commencement of the capitalist era in Russia.” ibid., vol. 22, 429.
62 ● Marxism and the Making of China

intrinsically counterrevolutionary—and destined to be so thoroughly destroyed by more

progressive peoples that “nothing will be left of them but their names.”48
Unlike China, India, or czarist Russia, Engels imagined such peoples, lodged at pre-
liminary stages of development, as being devoid of a future. Among nations at that stage
of development, both Marx and Engels distinguished a subset judged to be forever reac-
tionary and retrograde. They were expected to ultimately disappear into the abyss of time.
Engels made very clear that his projections concerning the prospects for economic
development and industrialization for any nation were governed by his special assess-
ment of their individual qualities. He very clearly dismissed what he referred to as “the
sentimental fantasies of a universal brotherhood of peoples” that anticipated an equiva-
lent future for all. They were fantasies expressed by the entire coterie of revolutionary
democratic Pan-Slavists inspired by Michail Bakunin. Engels held that all such judg-
ments would have to be qualified by a measure “of the completely different levels of
civilization,” together with their “social development,” attained by various peoples. He
argued that one could find among human beings “residual peoples,” ruins of once historic
nations, as well as those who never had, and never would have, a history. In his judg-
ment, all Slavic peoples—the Czechs, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Slovaks—were just
such peoples. Among Slavs, he made an exception for Russians and Poles—for reasons he
never fully made clear.
For Engels, Slavic barbarians constituted “ethnic trash.” Opposed to such human
debris, there were “the great European nations . . . of undoubted vitality,” responsible
for the “social regeneration” of humankind. What intrinsic properties distinguished the
two classes of nations remained unspecific. Engels never made the distinctions any more
determinate than that.
Moreover, it was not the case that only Slavic peoples supplied the “ethnic trash” of his-
tory. It was with some such distinction in mind that Engels dismissed the “sentimental”
concern for those “lazy Mexicans” who objected to the “energetic” North Americans who
had “wrested from them the splendid land of California,” there to “concentrate . . . a sub-
stantial population and an extensive trade . . . opening the Pacific Ocean to civilization
for the first time.” It was clear that Engels had little sympathy for those “few Spanish Cali-
fornians” who were understood to have suffered in terms of some “moralistic principles,”
such as “justice,” “humanity,” and “freedom” because of having been overwhelmed by the
advance guard of a growing economy of “undoubted vitality.” He held that the “moralistic
concepts” that lay behind such group sentiments hardly figured in the calculus of events
when the issues were of “world historical” significance.49
For the founders of Marxism, prepared to underwrite political nationalism in China,
India, Poland, and Ireland, the same sentiment was apparently anathema when found
among Jews or advocates in Croatia, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Mexico. For Marx
and Engels, the national sentiment of the Chinese and Indians was a commendable
defense of their nationality, that of the Poles, the legitimate expression of their “neces-
sity” as a people. The national sentiment of the Irish provided a defense of the economic
integrity of Ireland and collateral support for the revolution of the British proletariat.
The nationalisms of the “Slavic barbarians,” and “lazy Mexicans,” on the other hand,
seems to have been seen as the product of “degraded and broken” people—nationalisms
composed of nothing but “petty aspirations,” conjured up by feckless intellectuals content

48Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” ibid., vol. 6, 166, 172–74, 176.

49Engels, “Der demokratische Panslawismus,” ibid., 273–74.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 63

to “wallow only in elegiac moods.”50 Whatever else they thought of the reactive, develop-
mental nationalism of Mazzini, they seemed to have identified it as member of the class.51
It was not only that some nations were great and vital, charged with civilizing respon-
sibilities. It was not enough that they were progressive in a generic sense. They must
make manifest and significant contribution to the regenerative proletarian revolution
anticipated by the founders of Marxism. They anticipated that unrest and rebellion in
China and India would compromise the ability of Western capitalism to profitably clear
its shelves of commodities through export to China. Foreclosing capitalist access to mar-
kets and resources, antiforeign unrest in India and China would accelerate the system’s
inevitable collapse. Any revolutionary nationalism that could not be so identified must
necessarily be adjudged reactionary and an encumbrance to Socialist liberation.
Thus, the nationalisms of a class of retrograde peoples—Slavic nations, and the nation-
alism of peripheral peoples like the Mexicans—were essentially reactionary in effect. The
denizens of “crippled, powerless, little nations,” having none of “the most basic historic,
geographic, political, and industrial prerequisites for independence and vitality,” were
destined to obstruct the progress of “great empires” that might otherwise bind them
together to enable them to participate in “historical development.”52
None of this, of course, offers clear criteria that would allow one to distinguish reac-
tionary national sentiment from national sentiment that contributed to revolutionary
purpose. Neither Marx nor Engels provided clear criteria by which a rigorous distinction
might be made. However elaborate Marxist economic theory may have been, it did little
to assist in the discrimination required to render its “theory of political nationalism”
intellectually viable. In fact, the problem of wayward nationalism was to dog Marxists
throughout much of the twentieth century. The issue of how Mazzini’s reactive devel-
opmental nationalism might be assessed was one problem among many equally vexing.
Marxism’s discussions devoted to reactive nationalism never really provided a practi-
cal guide as to when it might be legitimate to support any popular nationalism. Some
nationalisms would forever remain reactionary. Others might serve as inspiration for
movements of national liberation. Some such movements—but by no means all—would
receive the doctrinal imprimatur of the self-selected leaders of revolutionary Marxism.
The treatment of nationalism in the context of communities at precapitalist, or mar-
ginally industrialized, stages of economic growth and development, remained forever
a theoretical, and practical, problem for Marxism. It was never a problem for reactive
nationalists themselves. They, like Mazzini, recognized the problems facing the economi-
cally laggard communities in a world of industrialized powers. They all tended to put
together revolutionary doctrines sharing a clutch of policy imperatives. Classical Marxism
refused to acknowledge that reality.
Marxism left its followers a collection of notions about economic development. What
it was prepared to commit itself to in terms of the economic development of capitalist
systems, whether true or not, was reasonably clear in outline. The same cannot be said of
Marxism’s notions concerning the political role of nationalism and national sentiment in

50Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” ibid., vol. 6, 166, 173; “Der demokratische Panslawismus,”

ibid., 284; “Deutschland und der Panslawismus,” ibid., vol. 11, 195–96.
51The founders of Marxism clearly identified Italy among the great nations. What they deplored

was Mazzini’s developmental nationalism. They refused to conceive of Mazzinism as a revolutionary

program for a community of destiny other than the proletarian class.
52See the entire discussion in Engels, “Was hat die Arbeiterklasse mit Polen zu tun?” Werke, vol.

16, 153–63.
64 ● Marxism and the Making of China

the collateral process of economic development in less-developed circumstances. While

the early treatment by Marx and Engels of economic development in retrograde pro-
ductive circumstances is interesting, it leaves unclear and uncertain some very critical
concepts. Other than bringing together a given geographic area to serve as a suitable
market, we remain unable to specify what the role of political nationalism in the develop-
mental history of nations might be. The problems left to those who were to lead Marxist
revolutionary movements at the close of the nineteenth, and into the beginning of the
twentieth, century, were to prove particularly onerous. In retrospect, it cannot be said
that Socialist revolution was well served in receiving the budget of problems concerning
developmental nationalism left it by the founders of Marxism.
One of the major problems that accompanied every effort to apply Marxist theory
to the revolutions of the twentieth century turned on Marxism’s lack of a coherent and
comprehensive theory of political nationalism. It was never clear when nationalism was
to be embraced by revolutionaries and when it was to be shunned.
The nineteenth century was the seedbed of political nationalism. The founders of
Marxism applauded some nationalisms. Others they deplored. It was never clear what
criteria governed the distinction. This was particularly true of those nationalisms that
inspired populations in communities at pre-, or marginally, industrialized levels of devel-
opment. It was never clear at which stage of economic maturation one might expect a
truly revolutionary nationalism to make its appearance. The treatment accorded Mazzini’s
political nationalism by the founders of classical Marxism was testimony to that. But
there was more to the issue of the relationship between doctrinal Marxism and the devel-
opmental nationalism of less-developed nations.

Developmental Nationalisms
By the time classical Marxism, the Marxism of the founders, came to a close, with the
passing of Marx in 1883 and Engels in 1895, those notable revolutionary nationalists we
acknowledge to this day had already made their appearance. In the Philippines, in 1887
and 1891, José Rizal published his first and second political novels, Noli Me Tangere and
El Filibusterismo.53 They precipitated a wave of national sentiment among Filipinos—a
fact that earned their author a sentence of death for sponsoring subversion and conspiring
to overthrow the Spanish colonial authorities. Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896,
becoming the martyred hero of Philippine national independence.54
Dead at 35, Rizal still managed to leave behind an impressive literary legacy, including
poetry and essays, as well as an epistolary of hundreds of letters. His political novels were
supplemented by a learned social science discussion undertaken to rebut the thesis that
native Filipinos—“Indios”—lacked the capacity for self governance or to master a pro-
gram of economic growth and industrial development. The discussion appeared as a long

53Rizal’s two political volumes are available in English as Noli Me Tangere (New York: Penguin

Books, 2006) and El Filibusterismo (London: Longman, 1965).

54Rizal was explicitly charged with having conspired with revolutionaries to overthrow, with

violence, the Spanish colonial government. Rizal’s complicity in any such plot has never been estab-
lished beyond reasonable doubt. While allowing some of the protagonists in his novels to call for
violence, Rizal, himself, seems to have had reservations about its employ. How much Rizal was
influenced by European political thought is difficult to establish. He began his political novels while
in Europe and in all probability knew something of then contemporary political literature.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 65

essay entitled “La indolencia de los Filipinos,” appearing in five parts between July 15 and
September 15, 1890, in the fortnightly review, La Solidaridad, published in Madrid.55
Of all his publications, perhaps Rizal’s “La Indolencia” is the most representative of his
political thought. The essay, like all his political writings, was precipitated by a sense of
offended national sensibility. Rizal considered himself a spokesman for a humiliated Phil-
ippines,56 and his extended essay was an attempt to explain the singular lack of enterprise,
as well as the all but total absence of any dedication to personal labor among the Indios,
that critics argued was evidence of the intrinsic inferiority of the ordinary Filipino. In his
prose there were echoes of the lamentations of Mazzini—of offended national sensibilities
and the denial of future potential.
In response to those who would defame his conationals, Rizal first established, by
reviewing the surviving reports of those who initially made contact with the indigenous
population, that the natives of the archipelago had not always been observed as passive
or indolent. On the occasion of their first contacts with Europeans in the sixteenth
century, the Filipinos were judged to be industrious, responsible, honest, and charitable.
Rizal cited existing records dating back to the thirteenth century, reporting that the
natives of the islands were competent and responsible farmers—producing cloves, cin-
namon, pepper, betel nuts, mace, poultry, and fibers for trade, as well as domestic use.
The Filipinos of that time were artisans in wax, tortoise shell, cotton fabrics, silver, and
gold. They were industrial fishermen—as well as miners, manufacturers of implements
of war, weavers of silk and cotton, and organized collectors of pearls. They traded as far
afield as China, Indonesia, and Siam. There was little of the “inferior Filipino” in their
collective conduct. They possessed a history of achievement. Typical of such literature,
Rizal’s essay referred to a subject people’s achievement in time as evidence of the merits
of their present claims.
Rizal reported that by the end of the seventeenth century, Filipino enterprise had all
but disappeared, together with about one-third the population of the archipelago. The
Spanish had either enticed or dragooned the youth of the islands into service in their
wars against the Dutch and pirates from Sulu and Borneo—from which but few island-
ers returned. When not pressed into military service, many Filipinos were forced to
harvest wood for the construction of naval vessels—a hazardous undertaking that took
the lives of unnumbered thousands. In the general economy, the imposed encomienda
agricultural system made labor onerous and but little profitable—circumstances that led
to an abandonment of fields and flight to the mountains. In the course of such exactions,
entire regions were depopulated, and fertile fields were left fallow to return to the jungle.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the islands were devoid of industry, and the
flourishing agriculture of the past had given way to subsistence farming, while trade was
largely reduced to barter among few participants. By that time, the population of the
Philippines lacked initiative and morale. The governors supplied by Spain had little, if
any, incentive to initiate, foster, or sustain their replenishment . Like Mazzini’s rehearsal
of the decline of Rome and the faith in a rebirth, Rizal’s treatment of the history of the
Philippines was an effort to rekindle the memories of past accomplishments as a promise
for the future.
In formulations that reactive nationalists were to make familiar during the final years
of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth, Rizal carefully recounted the

55Availablein English as The Indolence of the Filipino (Memphis, TN: General Books, 2010).
56Rizalregularly referred to the humiliations suffered by the Filipinos. See El Filibusterismo, 54,
103, 125–26, 223.
66 ● Marxism and the Making of China

entire doleful tale concerning the oppression of his suffering people. In the Philippines,
local governance was surrendered to foreigners—friars from Spain—whose primary
interests were control of the population, the suppression of independent thought, and
the frustration of domestic productivity. Their subjects were not encouraged to show
resourcefulness in either thought or deed. There was official resistance to instruction in
Spanish, for example, because of the fear that skill in a universal language would afford
the native population too much access to information, and this might produce seculariza-
tion and a corresponding religious skepticism with which the church had become all too
familiar in Europe. Secularization would render rule by the clergy increasingly difficult.
Rizal sought revolutionary reform of the entire colonial relationship. He wished to
alter the role of Madrid’s political appointees in the islands—allowing the local popula-
tion to meaningfully contribute to governance. He objected to the oppressive presence
of church personnel, more occupied with a defense of their privilege than the fostering
of agriculture or industry.57 He was prepared to accept Spanish as the language of the
archipelago—with a view to uniting all the indigenous language communities that had
already absorbed thousands of Spanish words into their respective regional dialects over
more than three centuries. Like most developmental nationalists, he saw a common lan-
guage as essential to the development of a sense of nationality.
Rizal’s intent, like that of Mazzini, was that of all developmental nationalists: the mod-
ernization of the nation, to restore to it a sense of dignity and purpose and to secure
for it the recognition of other nations. To achieve those ends, he sought to establish,
foster, and enhance an enduring sense of unity. His purpose was the redemption of the
Philippines—the creation of a New Society, produced by virtue and sacrifice.58 It would
be the consequence of associated effort—itself the product of an awakened sense of
wounded nationality. Rizal sought to effectively usher the Philippines into the modern
age. With respect to that, he was convinced that the Spanish leadership had failed in every
fashion available to them. They had depleted the original population, destroyed the indig-
enous productive system, and rendered Filipinos passive and indolent through a system
of feudal exploitation, which had, itself, destroyed the sense of unity required for national
development. They had disrupted the enduring patterns of trade that had supported the
domestic productive system, undermined property rights, imposed an educational system
that did nothing to provide the young with skills essential to a modern society, and then
proceeded to craft a bureaucracy that obstructed every effort to create and foster domestic
industry and increase agricultural yield. Told they were inherently inferior,59 the local
population lacked the very self-confidence required to pursue the arduous efforts involved
in achieving economic modernization and industrialization.
Rizal argued that all that had produced human beings without a proud sense of com-
mon identity. “A man in the Philippines,” Rizal maintained, “is only an individual; he
is not a member of a nation. He is forbidden and denied the right of association, and is
therefore weak and sluggish.” In an echo of the thought of Mazzini, Rizal maintained that
fundamental to the failure of the Philippine nation to rise to its full stature was the lack of
a sustaining and psychologically enhancing national sentiment—a critical disability Rizal

57See Rizal’s specific reference in The Indolence of the Filipino, 15–17.

58See the discussion in Il Filibusterismo, 152–53, 295.
59Rizal regularly alluded to the Spanish disposition to identify the “Indios,” the indigenous popu-

lation, as inferior, intellectually lazy, indolent, submissive, obsequious, and backward. See Noli Me
Tangere, 9, 10, 11, 39, 229, 381. Their rulers saw the Indios as intrinsically “flawed,” inferiors in a
world of inferior and superior races. See El Filibusterismo, 94, 159, 164, 166.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 67

specifically attributed to the interactive effects of colonial policies of imperial Spain and
those of the Roman Catholic Church.60
The policies of the British in India had undertaken a different course. In Rizal’s judg-
ment, the British, unlike the Spanish, had allowed the native peoples to meaningfully
influence the government; and again, the British, unlike the Spanish, had “built roads,
laid out highways, and fostered the freedom of trade.” They commissioned the gov-
ernment “to heed material interests . . . let it send out intelligent employees to foster
industry . . . and lay aside all religious prejudice.”61
It was clear what Rizal expected from an enlightened government. He regularly had his
protagonists speak of the economic development and modernization of the islands. One
of them expected that “soon all the islands will be criss-crossed by iron tracks on which,
as someone has said, ‘Locomotives will fly to the far and the nigh!’. . . I can see life stir-
ring in this land so long lethargic, dead. I see towns springing to life along the railways,
everywhere factories and buildings. I can hear the steam whistles, the clatter of trains, the
thunder of the machines; [and there is everywhere] the products of human industry. . . .
Then commerce, industry, agriculture, science will be free to develop. . . .” Given those
advances, the nation could then underwrite a military not only capable of mounting a
defense against aggressors, but serving as a guarantor of peace.62 Again, themes found in
the seminal writings of Mazzini.
Rizal conceived this all as the consequence of a collective commitment to a national
faith, a common pursuit of a redemptive new life, animated by a sacrificial love of coun-
try, with an immanent God, the defender of a people’s liberty and progress.63 Like the
developmental nationalism of Mazzini, the imperatives of Rizal’s reactive nationalist
creed would include a self-effacing sense of duty and personal sacrifice.64
These, of course, were recurrent themes not only in the writings of Mazzini but also
among European developmental nationalists in general. Developmental nationalists in
both Europe and Asia shared them. They were themes that were to be dismissed as poetic
sentiment by the followers of traditional Marxism. It is easy to understand why. There was
sympathy, among reactive, developmental nationalists—whether in Europe or Asia—for
the least of their brethren, and there was little, if anything, that could pass as advocacy of
class warfare among them. The clear and consistent emphasis was on the nation—rather
than class—as the primary association defining the humanity of persons. The nation
would serve as the vehicle of redemption, a vessel for the renewal of a people. Almost
invariably, the sacrificial ideology that sustained the entire undertaking assumed the fea-
tures of a secular faith.
Substantially all such properties were to be found in the belief systems of Mazzini
and Rizal—and in the doctrines advanced by many of the nationalist intellectuals of the
period who gave voice to the aspirations of Eastern European peoples and the populations

60Ibid., 22–23.
61Ibid., 24.
62Ibid., 200–201. Rizal has one of his protagonists reflect on the “strange fate of some peoples!

Because a passing traveler came to their shores, they lost their freedom and became the subjects and
slaves not only of the traveler or of his heirs but even of his countrymen, and not for one generation
alone but for ever more!” It is in this context that he speaks of defense of the homeland against for-
eign oppressors—and the necessary role of heavy industry in providing the weapons. See ibid., 195.
63Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, 167–68, 247–48, 327, 333, 399–02; El Filibusterismo, 152–53, 258,

260, 295.
64Ibid., 121; see Rizal’s comments on selfishness, in Noli Me Tangere, 234.
68 ● Marxism and the Making of China

of the economically less-developed countries throughout Latin America, as well as South

and East Asia. One, José Martí, became a further illustrative representative of the entire
class. He became the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.” Like Rizal, a revolutionary oppo-
nent of imperial Spain, Martí gave fulsome expression to the entire syndrome of ideo-
logical properties found in the invocations of revolutionary, developmental nationalists
throughout the final years of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.65
There was very little of this that found its origin in the writings of the founders of
Marxism. Nor is there evidence that the various ideologues of developmental nationalism
were familiar with the work of others. Nationalist revolutionaries seem to have spontane-
ously responded to imperatives of their time. They invariably sought the seamless union
of their peoples around the concept of the nation—as a community of destiny. None
advocated a class struggle that would compromise the fraternal unity central to their
purpose. None imagined that their revolution required the antecedent industrialization
of their respective nations—or that national redemption would be compelled to wait
until a specific class, the proletariat, constituted the vast majority of their populations.
Rather, they characteristically sought the creation of New Men—specific to no social or
economic class—to be charged with the arduous responsibility of developing and mod-
ernizing a retrograde economy. Almost all anticipated the forced draft industrialization of
their nation—to create a New Nation calculated to take its place as an equal in the circle
of nations. The enterprise was calculated to offset the abiding sense of inefficacy and col-
lective humiliation common to those peoples of precapitalist economies that had suffered
demeaning contact with aggressive nations industrially more advanced.
Such revolutions, precipitated by that abiding sense of national humiliation, required
collective self-sacrifice, an insistence on enterprise, unremitting labor, and total dedica-
tion, in an atmosphere of committed unanimity. The goal sought was a New Society, in a
New Nation, inhabited by New Men—all animated by a common purpose. Infused with
a singular intensity, the movements they inspired had many of the properties of religion.
Their leaders uniformly pretended to a moral authority that could lay claim to individual
and collective obedience. Developmental, reactive nationalism became a creed in the
twentieth century, to infuse masses with an imperative sense of purpose. It was a belief
system the enjoinments of which were to animate revolutionary movements in eastern
and southern Europe, as well as many in eastern and southern Asia.
By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become evident, to any who chose to
reflect on those revolutionary movements that were emerging, that Marxism was a poor
guide to evolving political reality. Revolution was not destined to come to the advanced
industrial states—but to their lesser counterparts—those communities the first Marxists
had identified as less developed.
That was the doctrinal context in which the first Marxism matured. By the end of the
nineteenth century, revolutionary movements in those less-developed countries on the
periphery of the industrialized world mostly were moved, not by classical Marxism, but
by one or another form of revolutionary, developmental nationalism. Where something
of Marxism was invoked, it was a creatively developed Marxism that took on many of the

65I have provided a general account of the ideology of Martí in A. James Gregor, The Fascist

Persuasion in Radical Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 274–84. See Martí’s
identification as the “Apostle” and Rizal as the “Guiding Saint” of nationalist revolutions in Cuba
and the Philippines, respectively. See Deborah Shnookal’s Preface to Deborah Shnookal and Mirta
Muňiz (ed.), José Martí Reader: Writings on the Americas (New York: Ocean Press, 2007), 3; Harold
Augenbraum (translator), “Introduction,” Noli Me Tangere, xxii.
Marxism, Revolution, and the Making of New Nations ● 69

traits of developmental nationalism—and lost much of the theoretical substance of clas-

sical Marxism. With the passage of time, the recognition that revolution in the twentieth
century was destined to invest less-developed, rather than fully developed, economies
became increasingly evident. The traits of reactive nationalist, developmental revolution
became more and more emphatic, and more clearly defined. The twentieth century was to
become a century of redemptive, developmental nationalism. Such revolutionary nation-
alism was to appear all along the periphery of Europe and in the heart of Asia. Its traces
are to be found in an unsettled China in the mid-nineteenth century—to resurface at
the beginning of the twentieth as the revolutionary nationalism of Sun Yat-sen—to over-
whelm the Qing dynasty in China. It was at that point that China entered a definitive
period of protracted change that has not yet concluded. It was that revolution—China’s
long preoccupation with developmental nationalism—that was to shape its history in the
twentieth century.

China, Developmental Nationalism,

and Revolution

The [Bolshevik Revolution is] . . . a nationalistic struggle. At the time we were not aware
that Russia was fighting for nationalism. . . . Moreover, the communism of her initial stage
has . . . been modified to such an extent that it accords with our Principle of the People’s
—Sun Yat-sen1
The new-democratic revolution . . . differs from a socialist revolution in that it overthrows
the rule of imperialists, traitors and reactionaries in China but does not destroy any section
of capitalism which is capable of contributing to the anti-imperialist struggle. The new-
democratic revolution is basically in line with the revolution envisaged in the Three People’s
Principles as advanced by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1924.
—Mao Zedong2

he founders of classical Marxism made reference to the first shoots of revolution-
ary, developmental nationalism in Asia as early as the middle years of the 1800s.
They were less well disposed to acknowledge similar happenings, at approxi-
mately the same time, in the economically less-developed regions of Europe. It was dif-
ferent when the founders of Marxism considered the reactive, nationalist responses they
observed among East and South Asians. Both Marx and Engels saw the developmental
nationalists of India and China as defenders of national integrity. In Europe, the advo-
cates of a similar cause were more frequently deemed thoughtless agitators, uninformed
concerning the inevitable course of history, and devoid of class consciousness—stoking
the ashes of an extinguished enthusiasm.
In Asia, the founders of Marxism recorded virtually all the features of the reactive
nationalism that found expression in the political philosophy of those in Europe, like
Mazzini, yet they made little effort to associate or distinguish the two. The phenomenon,

1 Sun Yat-sen, “A Statement on the Formation of National Government,” Fundamentals of

National Reconstruction (Taipei: China Cultural Service, 1953), 162.
2Mao, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party,” Selected Works of Mao

Tse-tung (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1965. Hereafter SWM), vol. 2, 327–28.
72 ● Marxism and the Making of China

as it manifested itself in the political restiveness of the reactive, developmental national-

ism of India and China, was somehow treated as though it were sui generis. Surely, the
histories were different. In China, the phenomenon was the product of a unique series
of events: cultural turmoil, foreign military aggression, economic dislocation, peasant
unrest, and political revolution. The Opium wars, with which Marx and Engels had
occupied themselves, found Europeans embedded deep in Imperial China, as invaders,
traders, and Christian missionaries. In the course of the armed conflict between the Euro-
peans and Chinese, precipitated by trade and diplomatic disputes, the armed forces of
the advanced industrial powers demonstrated their material and technological superiority
by deploying troops, armed with rapid-firing long guns, supported by artillery capable of
devastating accuracy. Like all history, the sequence was peculiar to China, but the revolu-
tionary doctrines spawned bore a family resemblance to those found not only elsewhere
in Asia but also in Europe.
China’s reactive nationalism arose out of the defeat of Chinese arms. Beaten by the
maritime nations of Europe and North America, China was compelled to grant them
special trading privileges, control of China’s tariff arrangements, and insulation from
Chinese domestic law—mortifications never before suffered by the Central Kingdom.
The Opium wars produced results that gave substance to the first half century of China’s
“hundred years of humiliation.”
In the cities, the result was unrest, particularly by those directly affected by foreign
intrusion. Many of those who were literate became special agents of reactive change,
mobilizing the rural masses sorely burdened by higher rates of taxation that followed
changed patterns of trade and international payments. One of the political consequences
of all this was the Taiping rebellion of 1850—led by failed candidates of the Chinese
examination system—inculcating their followers with an ideological variant of Christian-
ity that they imagined would inspire transformative success.
By that time it was clear to the Chinese, themselves, that the Europeans possessed
unique advantages. Many imagined the advantage to be associated with their peculiar
religious beliefs. Others conceived that superiority to be a function of technological
sophistication—including the fact that foreign naval vessels, powered by steam, could
move against the tide to deliver artillery platforms where required—and that their guns
were rapid fire and accurate. Some of those convictions were to be found among the
Taiping who, in the course of their rebellion, proceeded to occupy large tracts within the
empire, ruling in some regions for more than a dozen years.
There were elements among them that subscribed to the thesis that a fundamental
change in religious beliefs would be sufficient to save China from humiliation at the
hands of foreigners, but there were others, who, rather than the introduction of their
own variant of Christianity, were erratic sponsors of educational practices they imagined
might close the competence gap between China and the West. Beyond that, some Taip-
ing made modest efforts to introduce elements of a modern communications and trans-
portation infrastructure into the vastnesses of China—together with some modernized,
bureaucratized institutions. All of which came to very little when the authorities of the
ruling dynasty enlisted foreign arms to defeat insurrection. By the time of the birth of
the nationalist revolutionary Sun Yat-sen in 1866, the Taiping had already become but a
memory—however vivid.
After the suppression of the Taiping, China was to endure a further half century of
humiliation at the hands of foreigners, until some relief was to be obtained by the revolu-
tion of 1911–1912. It was that revolution that made very clear the nationalist and devel-
opmental intention of China’s revolutionaries. It was that revolution that signaled China’s
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 73

unsteady determination to achieve economic and political modernity—and international

equality. The ideas of Sun Yat-sen, together with his tireless enterprise, would give special
cast to that revolution. Others—whose names we now no longer remember3—may have
been politically more astute, enjoying temporary, local success, but it is the ideological
legacy of Sun that has endured. It was a political belief system that shared family resem-
blances with similar doctrines that surfaced throughout Asia, Latin America, and Europe.
It was the doctrine of a reactive nationalist, developmental, revolutionary movement.

Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925)

Born the child of a poor peasant family in Guangdong, by dint of effort and circum-
stances, Sun nonetheless managed to acquire experience and an international education
shared by few in the China of his time.4 As a youth, he followed his brother, Sun Mei,
to Hawaii, where he was exposed to Western patterns of behavior and a political culture
of representative governance. He was schooled in Anglo-American thought—developing
special proficiency in English.
In his biographical recollections, we have accounts of the impact of Western material
civilization on a boy who previously had known only the rice fields of southern China.
We know that during his sojourn in Hawaii, Sun was affected by Christianity to a degree
that prompted his brother’s misgivings. Sun’s elder brother feared that Yat-sen would be
lost to the traditional religious culture of the homeland. We know that, at the same time,
exposure to Anglo-American political circumstances led the young Sun to envy the secu-
rity of self and property enjoyed by the residents of Hawaii. In China, he had known only
the rapacity of the official representatives of government—and the price exacted from the
nation’s peasants. His experience in Hawaii led Sun to appreciate the security of property
and personal safety available to simple citizens in Western political environments.
By the time Sun reached early maturity, he thus was among the most thoroughly West-
ernized intellectuals in all of China—and already a potential revolutionary.5 In 1894, he
organized a political association he called “The Society to Revive China”—and, in 1895,
from a base in Hong Kong, he attempted to mount a revolution against the imperial
government. The plot failed, and Sun was condemned as a revolutionary by the Chinese
authorities. The British authorities in Hong Kong followed suit and banished him as well.
As a consequence, Sun began peregrinations that were to take him to Japan, Southeast
Asia, the United States, and Europe—during which time he was exposed to the rich
literature of political thought then available. He read widely in the revolutionary and
reformist literature of Europe and America, and he became familiar with the writings of
Marx and Engels and the classical literature of Marxism. Other than Marxist materials,
he read Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, and there is some evidence he read Edward
Bellamy’s Looking Backward as well. Together with extensive reading in relevant Japanese
literature, he made himself familiar with the history and political thought of the American
Revolution, developing a special regard for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

3See the discussion of the varied reactions to foreign impostures by the Chinese, in Maria Hsia

Chang, Return of the Dragon: China’s Wounded Nationalism (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001),
chaps. 4–5.
4See, for example, Sun Yat-sen, Kidnapped in London (London: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1897), chap. 1.
5See Sun’s comments in Sun, “A History of the Chinese Revolution,” in Prescription for Saving

China: Selected Writings of Sun Yat-sen, ed. Julie Lee Wei, Ramon H. Myers, and Donald G. Gillin
(Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1994), 252.
74 ● Marxism and the Making of China

By the end of the century, he had begun to organize his ideas around three central themes:
political nationalism, popular representative government, and the rapid economic devel-
opment of China—a trinity he would identify as Sanminchui—“the Three Principles of
the People”—an interrelated set of ideas that he would continue to advocate throughout
the remainder of his life—also inspiring his followers after him.6
Sun’s central convictions were evident as early as 1894.7 Like Mazzini, and others simi-
larly circumstanced, Sun had suffered his nation’s humiliation early in life. The oppressive
effects of foreign imposture produced in him a sense of personal grievance—as well as
a profound sadness for his nation. In a plea for reform, addressed to Li Hongzhang, an
imperial official of the period, Sun spoke of the “intimidations” suffered by the subjects
of the emperor at the hands of nations possessed of “swift battleships” and those power-
ful munitions capable of immediate, targeted delivery. He urged a course of reform that
would provide China defense by arming it with comparable “ships and powerful guns . . .
and formidable troops.” He went on to counsel that to “merely concentrate on build-
ing strong ships and powerful guns,” however, would be to seek desirable ends without
providing adequate means. Providing the arms alone would be inadequate to the sought
salvation of economically retrograde China.
As a true solution to China’s impairments, rather than the simple purchase of arms,
Sun advocated a revised system of popular education that would produce an “abundance
of talented people”—a necessary foundation for a program of accelerated economic
growth and industrial development, which was the only real promise of an assured secu-
rity. The system of instruction he proposed would include both the material “sciences
of heaven,” as well as those social sciences occupied with the law-governed behavior of
human beings living in association. So educated, he continued, citizens would be afforded
opportunities that would “fully employ their talents”—in circumstances in which land
and resources were fully exploited, and in which “goods might flow freely” over extended
distances, unhindered by artificial barriers. For its part, agriculture would be protected
and enhanced by water conservancy through the rehabilitation of the nation’s hydraulic
system, with yield increased through modern agronomic techniques—the “soil science
and chemistry of agriculture” and the practical application of the findings of modern
“botany and zoology.” With the employment of science, agricultural yield would be dra-
matically increased by the studied use of fertilizer and “sophisticated machinery.” The
consequence would be a modern foundation that could support the industry necessary
for an efficient and sustainable armed defense of the nation.
It is clear from Sun’s account that he considered the enhancement of agriculture as the
foundation of an anticipated industrialization of the general economy. The rehabilitation
and control of the hydraulic system would not only provide predictable irrigation but
also allow the generation of electrical power for the extensive use of machinery—use that
would contribute to the expansion and deepening of industry. Factory production would
augment the availability of product and foster trade and commerce. Sun went on to argue
that “the interests of the state and those of commerce [would] flourish together, military
expenditures and commercial wealth [being] interdependent.”
By the end of the nineteenth century, Sun argued that it was because of their industrial
productivity, and the military capabilities that wealth assured them, that the maritime
nations were capable of conquering, dominating, and exploiting vast territories in Asia.

6See Sun, “An Autobiography,” ibid., 18–21.

7What follows is a summary account of the petition, made available in English translation in Sun,

“A Plea to Li Hung-chang,” ibid., particularly 3–10.

China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 75

“National defense,” he went on to argue, “cannot function without money, and money
for the military will not accumulate without commerce.” Sun understood commerce to
be a function of a flourishing industrial base, and military capability forthcoming as a
result of economic modernization.
In his reform petition to Li Hongzhang, Sun made it abundantly clear that his advo-
cacy of the reform of education, the rationalization of agriculture, commercial expan-
sion, capital accumulation, infrastructural development, and the rapid industrialization
of China, was not an appeal to industrialization for its own sake. For Sun, even as early
as his reform petition of 1894, industrialization was conceived the material prerequi-
site for China’s military defense against those advanced industrial powers prepared and
equipped “to pounce like tigers on the rest of the world and bully China.” In substance,
Sun’s revolutionary program echoed the concerns and incorporated much of the solution
advanced in the nationalist and developmental ideologies of economically less-developed
and marginalized nations.
By the time Sun undertook to organize his association for the salvation of China in
1896, he was already convinced that the imperial government would not heed citizen
pleas for systemic reform. For almost half a century, many had struggled to have the
country’s leaders strengthen the nation’s ability to resist the industrialized powers. The
leaders of China were either ill-disposed or incapable of refurbishing the extant system
to meet contemporary challenges. By 1896, Sun no longer invested confidence in reform
of the imperial system; he had become a conscious and overt revolutionary, seeking the
overthrow of a sclerotic system that threatened the survival of a community and a culture
more ancient than the lifetimes of all the advanced industrial nations.
Sun had become convinced that the imperial system lacked both the disposition and
the skills necessary to defend the nation against its tormentors. As early as 1842, Wei
Yuan, a committed Confucian scholar, having witnessed the consequences of the first
Opium war, urged the imperial rulers—to no avail—to “learn the superior skills of the
barbarians in order to control them.” Unhappily, incapable or unwilling to undertake
such a course, imperial China was to proceed to suffer a series of devastating defeats at the
hands of those same barbarians. Whatever countermeasures were taken at the time were
either ill-advised or poorly executed. By the time Sun wrote his reform petition in 1894,
it seemed clear that little could be expected from the established authorities.
By the closing years of the nineteenth century, Sun had shared all of China’s sorrows.
The major European powers, alone or in concert, had defeated the Central Kingdom in
armed conflict and in diplomatic contest. Even Japan, until recently itself a less-developed
nation, had defeated imperial forces and imposed its will and its territorial demands on
China’s Manchu rulers. Sun clearly despaired of the nation’s reform, as long as China
was ruled by the Qing. He did precisely what Marx and Engels had expected of those
revolutionaries in the less-developed nations in Asia—responding to the humiliations of
foreign oppression. The revolutionaries of less-developed communities felt, in their very
lives, the consequences of protracted contact with those nations already industrialized. As
Marx and Engels anticipated, Sun, as a reactive nationalist, appealed to offended national
sentiment to save the nation and preserve its cultural heritage. Sun became an ardent
advocate of economic development and rapid industrialization, and he began the hazard-
ous journey that would lead him to the anti-dynastic revolution of 1911.
In the years between 1895 and 1911, Sun travelled throughout much of Asia, North
America, and Europe, soliciting funds, aligning himself with China’s outlaw societies,
mobilizing the overseas community, and importuning foreign governments to support
his program for the rebirth of his nation. By 1905, the Boxer Rebellion represented the
76 ● Marxism and the Making of China

last, pathetic effort by the archaists of China to turn back the clock, to return to a better
time before the coming of foreigners. The effort failed, and China sank into a trough of
debt and uncertainty, facing the real possibility of dismemberment.
In 1897,8 in an appeal made to the British, before the tragedy of the Boxer Rebellion,
Sun had already advanced all the elements of his program for the salvation of China that
he had envisioned a few years before. He spoke of the regime corruption that thwarted
the attraction of talent and blunted the general disposition to invest. The lack of a trans-
portation and communications infrastructure, he argued, made investment in industry
still less attractive. The failure to maintain the irrigation system and control the major
river systems frustrated efforts to generate hydroelectric power and impaired every effort
to increase the measure of cultivated lands. Together with the arbitrary quality of law, all
that further dissuaded private enterprise and public effort.
Sun rehearsed all that as preamble to a proposed undertaking that would marshal
a concerted effort to undertake the comprehensive development for China, employing
the talent and investment capital that would make themselves readily available with the
fundamental reform of the entire system of governance. He had no confidence that the
existing government had the capacity or the disposition to meaningfully address any of
the nation’s disabilities. By that time, he conceived a fundamental, comprehensive, and
developmental revolution as the only real solution to China’s problems.
In the same context, Sun spoke of systemic reform of the military, itself rendered cor-
rupt by the intrinsic venality of the imperial system. The pursuit of private gain afflicted
the entire system of tenure and promotion, until the armed services proved unable to
protect the nation, reducing China to conditions that rendered it a ready prey for any
Sun argued that his revolutionary proposals offered an alternative system to that which
made China the helpless victim of foreign aggression. He held that the alternative that
he proposed had a real prospect of success, because the advanced industrial and trading
nations might well profit from its implementation. The systemic reform he proposed
would redound to their immediate and long-term benefit. The development of the natu-
ral potential of China, he argued, would serve the interests of the entire world. A modern-
izing China would provide a market supplement and investment opportunities for the
most advanced of the foreign powers. A modern army would be a disincentive to foreign
attack, make investments secure, and remove the temptation for foreigners to intervene
in China’s internal affairs in order to protect their interests. Furthermore, it would make
aggression against China less attractive and remove the occasion for foreigners to struggle
among themselves for the booty anticipated. With all that, stability and prosperity would
settle down over half the civilized world.
A few years later, in 1904,9 in an article specifically addressed to Americans, he reiterated
the same themes with special emphasis on the anticipated political arrangements of the rev-
olutionary government that would succeed the deposed Qing. He characterized the revolu-
tionary government he proposed as being possessed of representative institutions modeled
on those of the United States. He spoke, without hesitation, of that government extending

8What follows is a summary of an article published by Sun “China’s Present and Future: The

Reform Party’s Plea for British Benevolent Neutrality,” The Fortnightly Review N.S. 61 (March
1897), 424–40.
9What follows in a summary of the article by Sun, “The True Solution of the Chinese Question,”

in Sun Chung-san Ch’üan-chi (Complete Works of Sun Yat-sen) (Taipei: Chinese Cultural Society,
n.d.), vol. 5, 111–21.
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 77

“inalienable rights of life, liberty and property”10 to its citizens. That was the democratic
promise of the revolutionary government inspired by his Three Principles of the People. In
effect, by that time, the substance of his political beliefs had been fixed: he anticipated the
mobilization of the people of China with an appeal to national sentiment, made attractive
by a promise of a representative, republican government. All of that was calculated to direct
collective energies to the rapid economic modernization and industrial development of
China, culminating in an independent and self-reliant nation that would contribute to the
economic and political well-being and stability of the international community.
In contemplating the future, Sun had no illusions concerning the general behavior
of the industrial maritime powers. He was fully aware that they could well be rapacious
and exploitative. What he proposed was a general program calculated to make aggressive
acts on their part either unnecessary or unprofitable. Granted that all the disincentives
to aggression he had advocated for were in place, he felt confident that China might
participate as an equal in the international arena. He certainly harbored no notions of the
intrinsic benignity of the advanced industrial powers. In fact, by the time he wrote “The
True Solution of the Chinese Question” in 1904, he was prepared to confirm his identi-
fication with reactive, developmental nationalism by assisting the nationalist followers of
José Rizal in the Philippines to resist the efforts of the United States to occupy the islands
at the close of the Spanish-American war.
Sun clearly recognized the disabilities shared by all less-developed nations when facing
those more advanced. He fully understood that the powerless could hardly expect benev-
olence from any of those powers. His strategy was to attempt to carve out a space for
China (or similarly vulnerable communities) in which they might pursue development
in relative security by deflecting the aggressiveness of the colonizing powers, appealing
to both the material and the moral interests of those powers—satisfying their desire for
access to new markets and new investment opportunities. He advocated making aggres-
sion increasingly costly, by not only reminding them of their collective commitment to
human rights but also by providing a defense capability to developing nations.
Given the proper conditions, Sun argued that the most advanced nations could benefit
themselves and, at the same time, help supply the people of China (or, for that matter,
those of any less-developed community) the promised benefits of the Enlightenment.
At the same time, foreign powers could expect to profit from the expansion of China’s
economy. The result would be a protracted period of harmony in the western Pacific, as
an independent and defensible China occupied itself with the enduring and multifaceted
process of modernization.
Sun, by that time, had experienced some success in establishing branches of his orga-
nization on the mainland of China. He had founded some among the overseas Chi-
nese, both students and businessmen. Some were particularly important, being organized
among students who were expected to serve in the new army of an imperial China
belatedly attempting to create some sort of defense against the foreign tide. Within that
dynamic complex of factors, Sun had convinced himself that every rational calculation
counseled London and Washington to directly or indirectly assist the dissident Chinese
in their anti-dynastic revolution—particularly if such a revolution would prove beneficial
to Anglo-American interests.
In 1906, in Japan, Sun undertook to fully articulate the political strategy for the salva-
tion of China that he had identified as embodied in the Three Principles of the People.

10Sun chose to substitute “property” for “happiness,” in an obvious effort to make his intentions

clear. Emphasis supplied; see ibid., 116.

78 ● Marxism and the Making of China

He began to formulate his revolutionary ideology with a coherence calculated to appeal

to both his audience as potential revolutionaries, as well as to foreign powers that had a
material interest in the future of China.11 Once again, he spoke of an awakened national
sentiment and of a developing economic system designed to mitigate inequalities, as
well as political arrangements that would assure popular sovereignty. At that juncture, he
proceeded to articulate his program in more detail. He told of his plans to assure popu-
lar sovereignty through a “five power constitution” that would incorporate the familiar
three powers of the United States constitution, as well as the powers of examination
and impeachment—improving on the civil service tests and congressional recourse to
impeachment available to Americans.12
It was with that revolutionary program that Sun and his followers proceeded to the
uprisings that brought down the Qing government in 1911–1912. The success of those
uprisings resulted, not in the implementation of the Three Principles of the People, but
in wide-ranging disorder and instability, the emergence of local warlords in the various
provinces who seized regional power, and the appearance of power brokers little disposed
to allow Sun and his followers to control the flow of events.
Although Sun was selected provisional president of China immediately after the suc-
cessful 1911 uprising, Yuan Shikai, prominent military leader of the imperial armed
forces, managed to impose himself upon the prevailing disorganization. With his assump-
tion of power, Yuan assigned Sun the task of supervising the maintenance and develop-
ment of the nation’s railroads—an assignment clearly intended to remove Sun from the
nation’s political centers.
Sun, clearly dismayed by the unfortunate turn of events, sought to reorganize his fol-
lowers in a more effective political party. Initially, they competed with others to position
themselves for political advantage, until it became obvious that Yuan controlled all the
levers of power. In 1912, Sun launched the Kuomintang (KMT), the Nationalist Party, as
the chosen vehicle to regain control of the revolution. In 1913, the Nationalists secured a
majority in the National Assembly—only to see the party suppressed by Yuan—who, in
1915, chose to proclaim himself emperor.
Major resistance mounted against Yuan, and his enterprise was thwarted. He died in
1916, and in 1917, revolutionary forces established an ephemeral military government
in southern China with Sun selected generalissimo—a role he discharged for only a few
months. In 1918, following a betrayal by his warlord ally, Sun repaired to the French
concession in Shanghai in order to influence events by unveiling a detailed program that
would maximize the possibility of ultimate success. In the meantime, the First World
War had ended, and the “Great Powers” were attempting to reorder the arrangement of
international control.
In what he saw as rare opportunity, Sun reiterated that developmental program for
China that he was convinced would engage domestic forces, as well as attract the external
support of those nations that had been victorious in the recent conflict. The consequence
was Sun’s New York and London publication, in 1922, of The International Development
of China, copies of which he made every effort to widely distribute.
The volume contained a detailed plan for the overall economic development of China,
beginning with the articulation of its commercial, distribution, and communication

11Sun, “The Three People’s Principles and the Future of the Chinese People,” Saving China,

12In 1921, Sun provided a relatively detailed treatment of the Five Power Constitution; see Sun,

“Five Power Constitution,” in Sun, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, 19–54.

China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 79

infrastructure, to be supplemented by a specific program for the international economic

and industrial development that would allow “the vast resources of China [to be] devel-
oped internationally under a socialistic scheme, for the good of the world in general
and the Chinese people in particular.”13 Sun conceived his program for the collaborative
development of China as an effective way of reducing the occasion of any potentially
violent competition for advantage among the industrial powers in Asia—that could only
be of disservice to everyone. Collaboration, a sharing of what was anticipated to be enor-
mous profit, would preclude a conflict between the several colonial powers and allow
China to commence its systematic developmental program.
Sun was convinced that, in the past, international conflict had been fueled by the
need, on the part of the commercial nations, to secure a “‘dumping ground’ for their
overproduction.” Given its enormous population, China was clearly conceived a target.
The same colonial powers sought to stake out fertile ground for the investment of their
surplus capital.14 Sun, once again, reiterated his argument that China provided just such
opportunities. Those convictions had been central to his view of the world for some time,
and they had been given public expression in the discussion surrounding the prospect of
China’s entry as a participant in the First World War.15
Given the interests involved, together with the power projection capabilities available,
Sun argued that, without control, the commercial powers would act like brigands16 in
their relations with less-developed nations. Published in 1919, his proposal for the inter-
national development of China was a calculated restatement of his plan to reduce the occa-
sions for the advanced nations to engage in universally destructive contest. Once again, he
characterized his proposals as intended to provide China a survival strategy that would (1)
blunt the aggressiveness of the advanced commercial states; (2) immediately render China
more defensible; and (3) mobilize both domestic and international developmental forces
around a long-term program that would forever secure the nation’s future. The prospect
that China would supply a market supplement for the commodity and capital surpluses
of the industrialized nations was the lure for accomplishing the first task; the mobilization
of a disciplined nation behind the Nationalist Party elite17 at least partially addressed the
second; and, finally, Sun’s “People’s Livelihood”—his economic plan—was the program of
accelerated development intended to satisfy the third strategic requirement.
In 1919, Sun had thus restated his position. It was his Three Principles delivered in
a more coherent and detailed program for the salvation of China. He outlined a plan
in three stages for a China liberated from the Qing. Sun had reorganized his political
party and disciplined its membership with the requirement of a binding oath on all. He
emerged as the charismatic Tsungli, anticipating that China could enter the first stage of
the successful revolution under rigorous paramilitary supervision.18 Once control was

13Sun, The International Development of China (Taipei: China Cultural Service, 1953), v.
14Ibid., 2–3.
15See Sun, “The Question of China’s Survival,” Saving China, 131–99; see particularly page 179,

together with 151 and 163.

16Ibid., 135.
17Sun had generalized concerning the role of elites in politics. He contended that “within any

group, there are always a few who, possessing an enlightened outlook, spur on the rest, applying the
most appropriate principles of government to our people and then applying those principles that
have advanced our people to the rest of the world.” Sun, “Editorial Introducing the First Issue of
Min Pao,” Saving China, 40.
18Sun, “The Doctrine of Sun Yat-sen: To Act Is Easy, to Know Is Difficult,” ibid., 200, 211; see

Sun, “Farewell Speech to the Whampoa Military Academy,” ibid., 279.

80 ● Marxism and the Making of China

assured, the nation would pass under the tutelary control of the party. Under unitary
party control, the population would be afforded ideological instruction in the effort to
produce among them a uniform conviction, “one heart,” and “one spirit”—to become, as
a consequence, a “solid and invincible” association.19 The Chinese political environment
would be one in which “simple truths” would be conveyed as a reflection of “objective
reality,” by a government against which citizens could have no objections—because, in
the final analysis, they would be its sovereign.20 The clear implication was that during
both the military and tutelary postrevolutionary stages, governance would be either that
of a single political party or of single party dominance. Like the leaders of many revolu-
tionary reactive nationalists at the time, Sun conceived the unitary, dominant party the
source and voice of the ideological convictions of a united, and developing, nation.
Sun had put together a systematic plan of economic development and accelerated
industrialization that would invoke an open-door policy with respect to foreign invest-
ment, foreign loans, and the transfer of applied skill and managerial talent from advanced
industrial countries.21 The inflow of capital from the advanced industrial nations would
offset China’s capital shortfall, and the invitation to foreign talent would supply requisite
expertise. Together with such an invitation, China would immediately commence the
training of its own personnel in domestic institutions, as well as having them trained
in suitable institutions overseas. The combination of capital and talent, together with
China’s abundantly available low-cost labor—facilitated by tax incentives in specially
favored industrial zones—would stimulate and sustain industrial growth.22 All the oppor-
tunities made available in the subsequent rapid growth environment would temper any
class conflict—so that the nation might face the future united and disciplined.
Sun identified his proposals as a program for a “New China.” He spoke of it as a form
of national Socialism, expected to foster and sustain a trajectory of growth that would
produce a modernized, economically sophisticated, and market-based industrial nation.
It was a program that Sun expected would deliver modernity by “great leaps.”23 It was a
plan intended to “make capitalism create socialism in China,”24 a singular Socialism that
would see foreign skills and foreign capital unite with China’s resource and labor abun-
dance to generate a productive and equitable system without precedent.

Sun Yat-sen, Marxism, and Socialism

That Sun identified his program as Socialist in any sense has been the subject of contro-
versy ever since. Not long after the preparation of his volume on the international eco-
nomic development and industrialization of China, Sun entered into diplomatic alliance
with Lenin’s Soviet Union. It was that connection that led many of his dissident followers,

19See the discussion in Sun, “Statement of Proposals by the T’ung-meng-hui,” “Speech to a

Kuomintang Electoral Meeting,” and “A History of the Chinese Revolution,” ibid., 57, 100, 255.
20See Sun, “The Popular Mind Depends on the Power of the Press” and “The Press Should Be

United,” ibid., 71, 73–75.

21Sun, “An Open-Door Policy Is the Only Way to Resolve the Diplomatic Question,” ibid., 91.
22See Sun, “How China’s Industry Should Be Developed,” ibid., 237–40; The International Devel-

opment of China, 9, 33, 51, 55, 57, 71, 113, 171, 174, 177, 182–84, 195.
23Sun, “A Joint Discussion of the Question of China’s Preservation or Its Partition,” “The Prin-

ciple of the People’s Livelihood and Social Revolution,” and “The Doctrine of Sun Yat-sen: To Act
Is Easy, to Know Is Difficult,” Saving China, 29, 69, 217.
24The International Development of China, 208.
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 81

and some of his opponents, to argue that his ideology was a variant of Marxism and an
explicit anticipation of an emergent Communist China fashioned in the image of the
thought of Karl Marx.
By the autumn of 1920, and again in the spring of 1921, Sun entered into contact
with representatives of the Soviet Union and Lenin’s Third International. By that time,
Russia’s Bolsheviks were eager to obtain whatever positive international recognition they
could. They made desultory contact with Sun, who himself, sought whatever foreign sup-
port might make itself available. Ignored by the advanced industrial powers for whatever
reason, Sun made affirmative response to Soviet overtures. By 1923, the political situation
in China had stabilized sufficiently to convey the impression of some security of tenure
for Sun’s government. The Soviets offered an alliance and Sun accepted. At the same time,
Moscow recommended that the fledgling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) undertake
a political alliance with Sun’s Nationalist Party. In fact, as early as the summer of 1922,
when the intentions of the Communist International (the Comintern) were already
apparent, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party—then a very small
organization of about 300 members, composed largely of students and minor bureaucrats
under the direct influence of Moscow—extended an offer to Sun’s Nationalist Party to
form, with it, a united front of revolutionary forces. Sun, jealous of the independence and
integrity of his party, insisted that he would welcome the Communists to join, but only as
individuals, rather than as representatives of an alternative party. Sun refused to consider
any attempt at merger of the two parties. The Chinese Communists, ever responsive to
the wishes of Moscow, complied with Sun’s proposal—and what they chose to call their
first united front with the Nationalist Party was consummated. As part of the entire
arrangement, Sun’s government entered into diplomatic alliance with Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
In entering into that relationship, Sun made it eminently clear that the political rela-
tionship entirely excluded the possibility that any effort be made to introduce the “com-
munistic order” into China.25 It was not immediately clear what that might mean. Sun,
himself, added to the uncertainty. With some frequency, for example, Sun identified the
economic portion of his doctrine, minsheng, the “People’s Livelihood,” as Socialist and
Communist26—leaving a legacy of some confusion that troubled everyone for decades
after his passing. That notwithstanding, the record is sufficiently unambiguous to clarify
the essentials.
For Sun, both terms, Socialism and Communism, made possible reference to any
number of socially responsive systems ranging from that of Henry George to that of
Edward Bellamy. He never used the terms to refer exclusively to the systems generated by
Marx and Engels. That was evident in his generic use of both expressions.
Thus, in January 1924, about a year before his death, in the large auditorium of the
University of Canton, Sun began a series of lectures that were to become the final formu-
lation of his Sanminchui—the doctrine he would leave as ideological legacy to the KMT.
The lectures were attended by visitors recently arrived from the Soviet Union, with whom

25See the text of the note of January 23, 1923, in Shao Chuan Leng and Norman D. Palmer, Sun

Yat-sen and Communism (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1960), 63.

26Thus in his lectures on the Three Principles, Sun affirmed that “minsheng is communism; it

is socialism.” For the purposes of citation, I have employed the text of the English translation of
the Sanminchui as it appeared in the Wuchang edition of 1931. It is a translation more true to the
original than many others that are readily available. It appears as The Triple Demism of Sun Yat-sen,
translated by Paschal D’Elia, and made available in reproduction by AMS Press of New York in
1974; see page 461 of the text.
82 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Sun’s Republic of China had just entered into entente. That did not in the least inhibit
Sun from voicing what were, in fact, his non-Marxist, and often anti-Marxist, opinions
concerning traditional Marxist theory, Lenin’s Bolshevism, the Soviet experiment, or the
nature and future of private property. He made explicit the role he expected both pri-
vate property and associated market-based strategies would play in China’s forthcoming
On the occasion of one of his lectures on the People’s Livelihood, Sun asked his audi-
ence why they imagined that, in specifically addressing China’s “social question,” he had
not made immediate appeal to Socialism as its solution. He went on to point out that his
program was not ideological, but a functional response to China’s specific problems—
unlike the complex and factitious Socialism and Communism that had engaged Euro-
pean thinkers for so long, which had also generated so much heated controversy.27
Sun proceeded to argue that for over 50 years European Socialism, having become
more specifically Marxist over time, had failed to convincingly address the socioeconomic
problems that afflicted the industrialized nations. If European Socialism, over that span
of time, proved incapable of addressing, much less resolving, the prevailing social and
economic difficulties of established machine economies, Sun entertained little confidence
that it might more effectively serve the economic and social problems of preindustrial
Sun went on to analyze why European Socialism had proved so ineffectual. For one
thing, he held Marxian economics—to which European Socialism made appeal—
intrinsically flawed. He argued that Marx contended that labor was the sole source of
value—a notion that Sun held implausible on its face. Sun maintained that no amount
of argument could explain the increased value conveyed to commodities by technological
innovation—or the increased profit that accrues to the makers of commodities by mar-
keting skills—by simply alluding to the fact that labor was involved in the entire process.
He insisted that innovation and management skills imparted value to commodities quite
independently of applied labor. He held all that to be important because if labor was
the sole source of value, and the employer inevitably exploited the worker at the point
of production by returning to him less than the value he produced, then any profit that
accrued to anyone other than a worker could only be theft. If all profit were theft, then
the conflict between capital and labor would be irrepressible and perpetual—and class
warfare would forever stalk society until the advent of a time when there was no value dif-
ferential between simple labor and inventiveness, simple labor and skill, or simple labor
and any other productive factor.28
For Sun, as a developmental nationalist, it was clear that any belief system that con-
demned a society to perpetual class conflict could not serve as a guide to economic expan-
sion and technological maturation. Marxism, as he and his followers understood the
classical system, could not serve his revolutionary purposes. Sun explicitly rejected the
labor theory of value—the cornerstone of Marxist economic theory—as a notion that
could only impair his program of national development.
Sun insisted that a community undertaking the rigorous program of economic growth
and industrial development required unanimity of effort, a fulsome expression of a har-
mony of interests. In a less-developed economy, the arduous program of accelerated
growth required a uniformity of commitment that left no occasion for class struggle.
In a developing economy, everyone must be animated by the conviction that service to

27Ibid., 411–13.
28See ibid., 430–33.
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 83

the national community was in the ultimate service of all. The traditional Marxist labor
theory of value, with its implication of irrepressible class warfare, militated against just
such conditions.
The national Socialism of which Sun spoke was not a Socialism informed by Marxist
economics; for Marxist Socialism was calculated to generate invidious distinctions between
members of the same developing community. It was Socialist in the sense that Sun antici-
pated broadly conceived state intervention in the economic and political life of the nation—
designed to accelerate and sustain material and industrial growth, as well as to inspire the
population with an appropriate sense of discipline, commitment, and sacrifice. While the
state would advance liberal laws to foster private initiative, it would be the source of edu-
cation, information, encouragement, and financial assistance for the entire nation with-
out distinction. Where necessary, the state would subsidize and protect infant industries,29
while assuring suitable working conditions for the nation’s labor force. Thus, the industrial
development of China would be conducted “along two lines: (1) by private enterprise, and
(2) by national undertaking. All matters that [could] be and are better carried out by private
enterprise [would] be left to private hands . . . and encouraged and fully protected by liberal
laws.”30 Government subsidies, taxes, currency regulations, and the entire transportation,
communication, and information infrastructure would be designed to cultivate private eco-
nomic, specifically industrial, development. At the same time, the state would “undertake
and manage . . . enterprises which are monopolistic in nature and the development of which
lies beyond private means,”31 in order to protect the general interests.
That was the essence of the economic growth and industrial developmental program
for China recommended by Sun’s Sanminchui. Together with the program predicated
on the availability of abundant cheap labor, Sun typically committed his undertaking
to the provision of a decent standard of living for the workers of developing China. In
that regard, he spoke of a graduated income tax that would reduce, if not eliminate,
in the course of rapid economic development, offensive disparities of income—and of
state control of the prices of life’s essentials: food, shelter, energy, and health.32 He spoke
of legislation that would assist in the maintenance of full employment, together with
the establishment of workers’ and consumers’ cooperatives as part of the entire process
intended to ensure not class warfare, but a cooperative harmony, which would foster and
sustain his program of national development.33 That was the Socialism of which Sun
spoke: it was state-centered, party-dominant, nationalistic, ideologically inspired, and
developmental in intent.
Sun spoke of his revolutionary program as national Socialist because its reflective
intention was the rapid economic development, under state auspices, of his retrograde
nation. It was Socialist in the sense that it was designed to defend the livelihood and well-
being of workers of both field and factory in the course of that development. Sun insisted
that its Socialism was an expression of the central conviction of the Sanminchui that
history was written, not in terms of class warfare, but in terms of the struggle to improve
the conditions of social life. He conceived the struggle of human beings to ensure pros-
perity and security for themselves and their community as providing life’s vital energy.

29“We must immediately promote industries by means of national subsidies . . . and see that all

workingmen of the country are employed. ibid., 469.

30The International Development of China, 9, 201.
31Sun, “Kuomintang’s Political Program,” Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, 60.
32See The Triple Demism of Sun Yat-sen, 505–7.
33See ibid., 427–29.
84 ● Marxism and the Making of China

All members of a community, characterized by shared sentiment, born of a common his-

tory, faith, biological continuity, territory, and language, have a united interest in survival
and well-being.34 In their entirety, modern communities—composed, as they are, of fam-
ily units, farmers, factory workers, enterprise owners, production managers, merchants,
public servants, soldiers, teachers, scientists, doctors, priests, and politicians—share abid-
ing interests in common.35
Sun’s ideology was not Marxist in any traditional sense for at least all those reasons—but
more than that, Sun himself argued that it was not Marxist because the founders of Marx-
ism had, themselves, insisted that Marxist revolution applied exclusively to economic and
political environments that were mature.36 Sun correctly held the specifically Marxist sense
of maturity to mean advanced machine sophistication of the productive process, attended
by the massive concentration and centralization of capital in very few hands—circumstances
that would make of the urban proletariat the “vast majority of the population.”37
Sun made his convictions clear in addressing the immediate history of the revolution
in Russia. He dutifully catalogued all the failures of Lenin’s revolution when the attempt
was made to apply Marxist solutions to the nation’s economy.38 Marxism proved totally
unsuited to Russia’s circumstances—Lenin’s Russia lacked the requisite industry and the
required proletarian population base necessary to the making of successful Marxist revo-
lution. If, as it had become clear to Sun, Marxism was inappropriate to the conditions
surrounding revolution in economically backward Russia, how much less would it be
suitable to a China measurably more retrograde?
By the time he composed—shortly before his death—the summary lectures devoted
to the Three Principles of the People, Sun had already delivered, for public reflection,
the substance of his political and developmental thought. Even before Sun engaged the
first representatives of V. I. Lenin’s Communist International in tentative meetings at the
end of 1921, he had already put together virtually all the elements of his ideology of late
development. When he met with Moscow’s official representative in early 1923, he made
it very clear that whatever relations he was prepared to establish with the Soviet Union,
there was no place in revolutionary China for “the communistic order or even the Soviet
system.”39 There clearly was no ideological confusion in Sun’s rapprochement with Lenin’s
government—nor was the rapprochement evidence of Sun’s concealed Marxist proclivities.
Sun admired Lenin’s success in making revolution, and he was prepared to enter into
mutually beneficial fraternal relations with the Bolsheviks of the period.40 He went further

34See ibid., 63–64, 68–69.

35It is clear that at the point of preparing his final lectures on the Sanminchui, Sun used some of
the language, and some of the concepts, of the American, Maurice Williams, who, in 1921, pub-
lished his The Social Interpretation of History: A Refutation of the Marxian Economic Interpretation
of History. See the comparisons in Maurice Zolotow, Maurice William and Sun Yat-sen (London:
Robert Hale, Ltd., 1948), particularly pages 98–99. What is not true, although occasionally sug-
gested, is that Sun’s views on Marxism can be traced exclusively to the influence of Williams. Sun
had settled on his criticism of Marxism earlier than his first exposure to Williams’ work.
36See the discussion in The Triple Demism of Sun Yat-sen, 448.
37See Sun’s comments in ibid., 422.
38See the comments in ibid., 434–36, 447–48.
39See the translation of the joint statement in Shao and Palmer, Sun Yat-sen and Communism, 63;

see the entire discussion in chapter 4.

40See Sun’s laudatory references to Bolshevik Russia’s public policies concerning its proposed

international relations. Sun, The Triple Demism, 75–77.

China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 85

and was prepared to suggest that China might learn how to make political revolution
from the Russia of October 1917. He praised the revolutionary methods of the Russian
revolutionaries and was prepared to name Lenin as “the saint and model of revolution.”41
He made equally clear he was not interested in any Leninist economic nostrums.
He was, of course, in search of foreign assistance—and the Anglo-Saxon nations had
proven indifferent to his direct appeal. Lenin’s Russia had not. Allowing for all that, Sun
did not permit whatever arrangement followed from his diplomatic rapprochement with
Bolshevik Russia to alter the substance of his belief system.
What did result from the contacts with the Third International was a restructuring of
his political party to better serve revolution. Mikhail Borodin, representing Moscow, rec-
ommended the reorganization of the Nationalist Party along the centralized and hierar-
chical power arrangement favored by Lenin. Sun, who was struggling against entrenched
opponents, was prepared to learn tactical and strategic moves from the Bolsheviks, who
had just defeated similar opponents in their homeland. Following their advice, the party
of Sun took on some of the major institutional properties of the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union—not unlike the properties shared by many revolutionary parties, on both
the Right and Left, that were to arise in the developmental dictatorships increasingly
common during the years between the First and Second World Wars. What Sun was not
prepared to do was alter his belief system to incorporate traditional Marxist or Leninist
Communist economic or antinationalist elements.
Sun admired the effectiveness of Lenin’s Bolsheviks—their political unity and disci-
pline. He admired Lenin’s singleness of purpose.42 He, nonetheless, remained steadfast
in his conviction that the developmental ideology of the Nationalist Party was the prod-
uct of the confluence of European revolutionary thought, particularly the French and
American Revolutions, together with components found in traditional Chinese political
philosophy. There was no space, in the ideology of Sun’s party, for any of the theoretical
elements of classical Marxism in whatever form. In fact, by the time of his death, Sun
was prepared to make positive reference to the Leninism he had come to know, largely
because he was convinced that Leninism had been transformed, by the realities of a back-
ward Russia, into a revolution that made ultimate appeal to some recognizable variant of
the Three Principles of the People.
By the time he delivered his public lectures on the Three Principles of the People, Sun
had convinced himself that Lenin’s Russia had been forced to abandon much of tradi-
tional Marxism and taken on the substance of nationalism—the defense of the nation
against foreign imposture. Moreover, Sun argued that, in 1921, in an effort to reduce
the resistance to Bolshevik rule, Lenin had abandoned the egregiously flawed system
identified as “war communism” for a “New Economic Policy” that “accorded well with
[the Nationalist Party] “Principle of the People’s Livelihood [minsheng]”43—the devel-
opmental program for China.
Whatever affinities Sun found, between his revolution and that of Lenin’s revolution-
aries, was not to be found in the Marxism of Marx and Engels or the Communism
it inspired but rather in the transmogrified Bolshevism that, during the time of the
NEP, allowed for the existence of private property, the accrual of private profit, and the
appeal to foreign loans and foreign talent, coupled with foreign concessions and foreign

41Sun, as cited in Shao and Palmer, Sun Yat-sen and Communism, 75.
42Sun, “Farewell Speech to the Whampoa Military Academy,” Saving China, 278–80.
43See the entire discussion in Sun, “Statement on the Formation of National Government,” Fun-

damentals of National Reconstruction, 161–63.

86 ● Marxism and the Making of China

investment, together with collaborative management in the development of basic indus-

tries and agricultural growth. All that, under the overarching supervision of the state,
what Lenin, himself, identified as “state capitalism,” constituted a form of national Social-
ism that Sun conceived was required by less-developed countries in their contest with
history—a form with which he was entirely comfortable. In effect, as Sun interpreted
events, it was not he that was accommodating the Chinese Revolution to Marxism or
Marxism’s Communism, but Marxism and Marxism’s Communism that had accommo-
dated itself to the Three Principles of the People.
Sun proceeded to explain why that had become the case. He argued that Marx had
misinterpreted history and its development. Marx had imagined that the means of mate-
rial production were the motor of history. Instead, for Sun, it was the defense, survival,
and enhancement of the community that moved human beings to labor, sacrifice, cour-
age, and commitment. In the twentieth century, human beings did not suffer and die for
their class, or for their “material productive forces,” but for their nation, its survival, its
honor, and its perpetuity.
In March 1925, while attempting to negotiate with opponents for the unification of
postrevolutionary China, Sun suddenly died of inoperable cancer—leaving the future of
his republic in the hands of others. After a brief political struggle, Sun’s mantle passed to
Chiang Kai-shek, a notable leader of men, inflexibly devoted to the belief system embod-
ied in the Sanminchui.

Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) and Mao Zedong (1893–1976)

The accession of Chiang Kai-shek to the leadership of the Nationalist Party initiated
an effort to unite China by negotiation where possible, bribery where opportune, and
military means where necessary. Weeks after the loss of Sun, the Nationalist Party under-
took to reorganize the national government in Canton, securing undisputed control of
the province of Guangdong, to employ it as a base from which to oppose the ineffectual
government in Peking. In January 1926, during its second national congress, the KMT
proposed to undertake a northern expedition in the effort to satisfy Sun’s directive to
unify what remained a divided nation. In May, the central executive committee of the
party announced a decision to launch the expedition as planned; in July, a mobilization
order was issued announcing that the purpose of the northern expedition was to build an
independent China on the basis of Sun’s Three Principles of the People. By November,
Wuchang and Nanchang had been taken, and Nationalist columns proceeded against
Shanghai and Peking. By December 1928, the Republic of China was declared sovereign
and united—with Nanking as its capital.
As reality would have it, China was united largely in name only. Serious armed con-
flicts arose between the central government and the presumably pacified warlords of the
various provinces. Armed punitive expeditions were required for their resolution. Amid
all of this, in May 1929, Chinese police uncovered evidence that Russian officials and
employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway (the administration of which, by agreement,
was shared by China and the Soviet Union) were conspiring to foment and underwrite
antigovernment subversion by domestic Communists. As a consequence, in June of that
year, the Chinese arrested, as complicit, the Soviet consul general in Harbin, together
with a number of other Soviet officials. The Russian manager of the railway, together with
members of his staff, were dismissed and replaced by Chinese counterparts. Moscow’s
immediate response was to issue an ominous ultimatum to Nanking. With Nanking’s
unsatisfactory response, the Soviet government mobilized five heavy infantry divisions,
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 87

supported by armor and airpower, along the border with Manchuria. With China still
unresponsive, Russian troops swept past Chinese defenses. Soviet aircraft rained high
explosives on Manchurian cities. A smaller Russian force invaded Manchuria from the
west, in the course of which almost the entire personnel of China’s crack Seventeenth
Brigade was either killed or captured. The conflict was ended by agreement in December
1929, restoring, as Moscow had demanded, the status quo ante. In effect, the Soviets were
allowed to return to those activities that had precipitated the conflict.
In 1930, the Central Plains War, launched against dissident warlord factions unpre-
pared to recognize the sovereign authority of the Nanking government, consumed a vast
measure of lives, treasure, and political capital before being resolved. At almost the same
time, the government found itself embroiled with the Japanese, who, in the summer of
1931, undertook incursions against Manchuria, and in 1932, were involved in military
probes against Shanghai.
While attempting to systematize the nation’s political unity and enmeshed in armed
struggles against warlords, the Soviets, and the Japanese, the Nationalists also found
themselves confronted by irregular domestic opponents of consequence. As indicated,
Sun Yat-sen had affiliated his party with Lenin’s International, the Comintern, during
the early 1920s. Moscow had convinced itself that China could be a major theater in the
international unrest that revolutionary Marxism anticipated. As a consequence, there was
an effort on Moscow’s part to insinuate the Comintern into China’s domestic political
To accomplish that, the leadership of the Communist International supplemented its
immediate agreements with Sun with the collateral founding, and funding, of a CCP
composed of local members under the tutelage of Bolshevik representatives. In August
1920,44 Comintern representatives provided the general program and almost all the
finances for the founding of what was to be an armed, revolutionary Marxist party in
The party, initially numbering very few members, was advised to merge with Sun’s
KMT in order to exercise some influence on events. The conviction in Moscow was that
retrograde China, innocent of industry, was undergoing not a proletarian, but a bourgeois
democratic, revolution, for which the Nationalist Party was the theoretically appropriate
vehicle. For Moscow, that did not mean that international Communism should not have
some influence on the course of events. That was to be accomplished by having Com-
munists, as members in leadership positions, shape Nationalist Party political behavior.
In his time, Sun had resisted a merger of the two parties precisely to forego such a pos-
sibility, allowing, instead, the newly minted members of the CCP to join the Nationalist
Party only as individuals. Those were the agents that the Comintern expected to insinuate
themselves into leadership roles in the KMT. It was as one of those individuals that Mao
Zedong entered China’s revolutionary history—as a member of the Nationalist Party.
Mao Zedong joined the Nationalist Party, not as a Communist Party member but as
an individual revolutionary. That apparently diminished neither his Marxist enthusiasm

44Later the Chinese Communist authorities were to postpone the official date of the founding

of the party to 1921, in order to allow for the presence and participation of Mao Zedong. Actually
Mao was not present at the founding of the party he was to lead. See the account in Jung Chang and
Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (London: Vintage Books, 2006), 22–24.
45Other Marxist groups, spontaneously organized, that did not enjoy the largesse of the Comin-

tern, very quickly disappeared.

88 ● Marxism and the Making of China

nor his application. In retrospect, however, it is clear that for all his enthusiasm at the
time, Mao—like most Chinese Communists—could hardly qualify as a Marxist theo-
retician. Chinese students had very little idea of the complexity of classical Marxism. It
was not at all transparent what being a Marxist implied at that juncture. What was clear
was that a revolutionary party, composed of students and peasants, had succeeded in
overthrowing an imperial government—going on to defeat the forces of international
imperialism, which seems to have been the inspiration that led Chinese students and
intellectuals to join the Communist Party.
It was as just such an individual member that Mao Zedong joined both the Chinese
Communist and the Nationalist parties. It was that Mao who wrote his first essay on
the class politics of China, an essay that found little favor among his Bolshevik mentors.
They dismissed his work as lacking theoretical sophistication, and its content as lacking
discrimination. The evident fact was that, whatever his ardor may have been, the young
Mao knew very little of the intricacies of Leninism and still less of the theoretical particu-
lars of traditional Marxism. At best, his entire treatment of classes in his essay of 1926,
“Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society,” was uninformed and superficial. In the text
that has survived, among the classes to be found in China, there was talk of “five catego-
ries” of what Mao, at that time, apparently chose to call semi-proletarians. The categories
included poor peasants, shop assistants, small handicraftsmen, and peddlers46—a clas-
sification system that accorded itself poorly with any class analysis typical of traditional
Marxism.47 Anyone familiar with the most basic Marxist texts would have difficulty with
Mao’s analysis that, at its best, appeared grievously uninformed.48
In the spring of 1927, Mao published a “Report on an Investigation of the Peas-
ant Movement in Hunan” in which he spoke of “several hundred million peasants” ris-
ing “like a mighty storm”—who, creating “terror,” would bring revolution to China. It
would be a storm “that no power, however great,” would be able to resist. Since he had
already convinced himself that poor peasants were semi-proletarians, it apparently took
very little word magic to conceive such a revolution as proletarian and somehow Marxist
as well.49

46Mao Zedong, “Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society,” SMW, vol. 1, 16.

47However common it was to become, the notion of a rural proletariat, much less a rural semi-
proletariat, confounds the historic role of the proletariat as Marx and Engels understood that role.
Marx’s notion of proletarian involved all the properties that were the consequence of the discipline
that results from years of labor on the factory floor, where workers learn the mechanics of factory
administration, and collective productive organization. The urban proletariat, according to Marx,
understood the pernicious effects of private property. None of that could be said of workers in the
agrarian sector.
48The answer to all this is relatively simple. At that time, Mao could read only Chinese, and the

only Marxist material available to him did not even include the full text of the Communist Manifesto.
Scrutiny of his published works strongly suggests that Mao never familiarized himself with some
of the most fundamental of the basic traditional Marxist works until well into the 1930s. With
increasing maturity, the Marxist literature with which he was supplied was provided by his Soviet
mentors, and it is not clear that they would introduce any texts that might complicate any prevailing
Stalinist interpretations.
49Mao was fully prepared to recognize that Marxism conceived the “industrial proletariat” as the

“leading force” in the anticipated revolution—yet he was to make revolution with peasant masses
led by a party composed of petty bourgeoisie elements and virtually no proletarian members. See
Mao, “Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society,” SWM, vol. 1, 19.
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 89

For all that—to further compound the confusion—Mao maintained that the peasant
“vanguards of revolution,” were inspired, not by Marxist theory, but by the nationalist
Three Principles of the People. In rising up against their tormentors, the revolution-
ary peasants had found a weapon, which Mao identified, without equivocation, as the
Three Principles of the People of Sun Yat-sen.50 Mao was not in the least hesitant in
acknowledging that Sun’s Three Principles served as the inspiration animating the rising
tide of China’s peasantry. In fact, Mao insisted that China’s revolution would be Sunist
in inspiration—while, at the same time, being fully compatible with a “Marxist view-
point.”51 That Sun’s revolution was somehow Marxist was a confusion among China’s
student revolutionaries. Unhappily, it was a muddle that would cloud the Chinese Revo-
lution throughout its history.52
What does seem clear is that Mao’s proposed revolution, unlike that proposed by
those who were advocates of traditional Marxism, would be nationalist in sentiment—
devoted to the uplift of China—and developmental in intent. He identified China’s land-
lords and compradors as enemies of the revolution because he expected them to always
align themselves with foreign imperialists—upon whom they depended for survival—
and whose activities drained the nation’s capital and hindered “the development of her
productive forces.”53 There was little of the anticapitalist sentiment common to Marxist
For classical Marxism, development of the productive forces was hardly a revolutionary
imperative. For the Marxism of Marx and Engels, the proletarian revolution was sched-
uled to follow the full development of the productive forces—and would take place in
situ. Lenin had altered the expectations. He had introduced an interim sequence of devel-
opments. He expected revolution in the less-developed periphery bordering the advanced
industrial economies—as a consequence of imperialist exploitation. Only in such cir-
cumstances might economic and industrial development become a concern for Marxist
revolutionaries. How much of a concern the development of the productive forces was
to become was totally unanticipated because Lenin was convinced that the Bolshevik
Revolution would signal the immediate commencement of the worldwide proletarian
Mao did not concern himself with any of this. He was not unlike most of the leading
members of the CCP. Other than a few select members, most were unlettered in the lit-
erature of classical Marxism, the Marxism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, or the full
range of doctrinal modifications introduced by Lenin.54 In itself, the CCP was the crea-
ture of the Comintern. Its initiatives and virtually all its funding originated in Moscow.
Its strategic guidance was Bolshevik, as were, in large part, its tactics. As a consequence, it

50Mao, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” SWM, vol. 1, 48.
51Ibid., 23, 28–31, 39, 48–49, 54.
52One can trace this confusion in Mao’s essays of the period. Mao undertook a variety of field

investigations of the “rural problem.” They display a degree of sophistication that is admirable for
someone little trained in such inquiry. See the discussion in Roger R. Thompson’s “Introduction” to
Mao Zedong, Report from Xunwu (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), 3–41.
53Mao, “Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society,” SWM, vol. 1, 13.
54There is good reason to believe that Mao had read little more than the first part of the Commu-

nist Manifesto, which had been translated into Chinese by that time. There was little more available
in Chinese. Most of the literature Mao became familiar with was from the Soviet Union. Finally,
at that time some of the more important primary literature would not become available, even to
scholars, for many years.
90 ● Marxism and the Making of China

was hardly necessary for CCP members to appreciate the complexities of their presumed
doctrinal beliefs. All they were required to do was follow Moscow’s directives—as well as
its general, and increasingly variable, interpretation of Marxist-Leninist theory.
Other than that, since the party was small at the time of its founding, it was little more
than an irritant to the Nationalists. Sun had entered into a pragmatic arrangement with
the Soviet Union and had tolerated individual Communists to enroll as members of the
Nationalist Party. For history, that would mark the commencement of what has been
identified as the first united front of Nationalists and Communists in republican China.
Only time would reveal all the implications of that original association. Although the
junior partner in that first united front, it was clear that the CCP would not always be
content to so remain. In the years immediately following Sun’s death, the activities of the
CCP seemed to make that clear to at least some of the leadership of the Nationalist Party.
By the time Mao wrote his piece on the peasant movement in Hunan, Chiang Kai-
shek had decided to neutralize any threat to his rule emanating from the CCP. By 1927,
the decision was made to suppress the CCP. At that time, and as a consequence, virtu-
ally the entire urban membership of the CCP was swept away by the Nationalists in a
paroxysm of violence. If revolutionary Marxism were to survive in China, it would have
to make recourse to the countryside, entirely abandoning the urban industrial proletariat
and marshaling to revolution Mao’s semi-proletarians of the agrarian countryside. In less
than a year, Mao could only speak of “Red political power” as existing in “independent
base areas” in the largely inaccessible hinterland of “backward China.”55 From that point
on, Mao was to lead guerrilla forces in the countryside, harassing the Nationalists in their
efforts to firmly establish the republic. In so doing, Mao had fundamentally transformed
what one might reasonably expect from Marxist revolution.

The Nanking Decade (1927–1937)

As a consequence of all that, together with the aggressions of the Russians and Japanese,
the entire decade following the death of Sun was characterized by continuous domestic
upheaval. It was during this time that the Japanese became increasingly demanding. In
September 1931, the Mukden incident provided Tokyo the pretext for seizing control of
Manchuria. In January the following year, Japanese armed forces became involved in an
assault on Shanghai at incalculable human cost.
Chiang Kai-shek, in the process of attempting to secure his leadership of the republic,
found himself pressured by public sentiment to make a military response to Japanese
affronts. The pressure, however, was not sufficient to override his prudence—borne of
a recognition that China, in the condition it found itself, was incapable of making a
response that held any prospect of success against the modern armed forces of then con-
temporary Japan.
During those unhappy years, not only was republican China sundered by sectional and
political disunity, threatened by foreign invasion, but there was also no genuine national
economic unity to speak of. The nation lacked a uniform currency, and the sources of
revenue were irregular at best. Whatever evidence is available indicates that the govern-
ment, in order to conduct its business, collected but a scant 2 percent of the nation’s gross
domestic product in taxation—and of that, about 40 percent was immediately consumed
by military expenditures—a sum that proved totally inadequate for the purpose. The

55See Mao, “Why Is It That Red Political Power Can Exist in China?” and “The Struggle in the

Chingkang Mountains,” SWM, vol. 1, 63–104.

China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 91

Nanking government was forced to secure foreign loans, which, in turn, required servic-
ing, so that the funds remaining for general administration and possible economic devel-
opment were woefully insufficient. That China’s “Nanking decade”—the years between
the nominal reunification of the nation and the coming of the war with Japan—included
the worldwide depression only compounded its problems. The worldwide economic dis-
location virtually halted the international movement of capital. Foreign investment in
China declined appreciably—while the cost of loans correspondingly increased. There was
a radical deceleration in China’s commodity exports, declining by almost half in the years
between 1929 and 1932—further reducing Nanking’s domestic and foreign reserves.
Despite the unfavorable economic environment, the Nanking government persisted in
a series of economic reforms calculated to facilitate Sun Yat-sen’s industrial developmental
program. Tariff protection was introduced for particularly sensitive domestic industries,
as well as to insulate vulnerable infant businesses. Monetary reform followed, together
with the introduction of standardization of national banking practices. In 1928, the Cen-
tral Bank of China was established and given the exclusive right to issue notes, to mint
coins, to administer foreign exchange, and to supervise the issuance and service of public
loans, as well as to assume responsibility as the government’s fiscal agent.
With the limited resources at its disposal, the Nanking government sought the mod-
ernization and sophistication of industry and economic activity. From 1927 through
1936, for example, national electric output grew at an average annual rate of 9.4 percent;
railway ton-kilometers at 9.0 percent; the extension of motor roadways at 10.5 percent;
air-kilometers flown at 37 percent; gross tonnage of Chinese shipping at 12.8 percent; and
bank deposits at 15.9 percent—all at a time when republican China was involved in con-
tinuous armed combat with both domestic and foreign foes.56
Within what was nothing less than a veritable storm of disadvantage for the new
republic, efforts were made to undertake elements of the developmental, minsheng, pro-
gram of Sun Yat-sen. The Nanking government made an apparent effort to begin a pro-
gram of development for a China caught up in a desperate struggle for survival. All of that
was attempted in an environment in which the lack of funds for development left China
without an adequate road and communication system. The lack of a transportation and
communications infrastructure further impaired China’s ability to resist both domestic
and foreign enemies. It denied the Nanking government the possibility of an efficient
logistical system to deploy troops in response to military challenges that were emerg-
ing virtually everywhere. That disability contributed to the disposition of dissidents to
challenge the government with violence and increased the number of threats to the new
political arrangements. None of that was to change in the years that led to the Japanese
invasion in 1937 and the advent of the Second World War. The Republic of China faced
Communist insurrection, Japanese invasion, and economic stress through the desperate
years until the final victory of the Allied powers.

56For a more detailed discussion of the economics of the “Nanking decade,” see Arthur
N. Young, China’s Nation Building Effort, 1927–1937: The Financial and Economic Record (Stanford,
CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1971); Paul K. T. Sih ed., The Strenuous Decade: China’s Nation Build-
ing Efforts, 1927–1937 (New York: St. Johns University Press, 1970); and Hou Chi-ming and Yin
Nai-ping, “Economic Duality, War Finance, and Economic Development in China, 1927–1945,”
Proceedings of Conference on Chiang Kai-shek and Modern China (Taipei: China Cultural Service,
1987), 636–58. Chiang Kai-shek reported the economic developmental achievements of the Nan-
king government in his China’s Destiny and Chinese Economic Theory (New York: Roy Publishers,
1947), 128–29. Both Chiang Kai-shek documents were originally published in 1943.
92 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution

By the time of the Japanese invasion in 1937, Mao Zedong had achieved acknowledged
preeminence among the leaders of the CCP. He was in command of forces that defended
those “secure areas,” those “armed independent regimes,” in the rural vastness of China’s
hinterland, in which Communism awaited its time. Not only had he defeated political
competitors within the Communist Party, he had survived “encirclement and suppres-
sion” campaigns conducted by Nationalist forces vastly superior to his own. In defeat, he
had led his forces to more secure sanctuary in a strategic retreat that, in time, assumed
mythic quality as “The Long March.”
During a time he identified as involving a “bourgeois democratic revolution,” in a
predominantly agricultural and lamentably backward China, Mao spoke of himself as
leader of a “revolutionary movement of the proletariat,” composed almost exclusively of
destitute peasants and “other petty bourgeois elements.”57 However strange such claims
may seem in the context of traditional Marxist theory, Mao insisted that they were impec-
cably Marxist-Leninist.
Because history would have him make revolution in the epoch of imperialism, Mao
was convinced that his options were few. He contended that because its material inter-
ests drew it to identify with the international oppressor, the “big bourgeoisie” of China
could not serve in the bourgeois democratic revolution that traditional Marxist theory
deemed to be the next stage in the law-like sequence of stages in the world revolution.
Because the wealthy bourgeoisie, as a class, would forever be prepared to sacrifice the
nation for transient class advantage, the class could not serve as leader in the nation’s
anti-imperialist struggle.58 In such circumstances, it was the party of the proletariat that
would be required to assume responsibility for saving the nation in the course of a bour-
geois democratic revolution. Mao’s class analysis resolved itself into a conviction that,
in the age of imperialism, not only would the proletariat be required to make bourgeois
democratic revolution, but also only the proletariat would be sufficiently nationalistic to
be successful.
At best, it was a curious ragbag of arguments. In the first decades of the twentieth
century, China’s urban proletariat made up so miniscule a part of the working class that
it would be implausible to imagine them leading a Marxist revolution. In fact, the pro-
letariat was to have a very peculiar role in Mao’s revolution. It was evident very early on
that what it meant to make proletarian revolution in economically backward China did
not directly involve the participation or leadership of the urban industrial working class.
For Mao, to make proletarian revolution was to assign complete responsibility for making
revolution to the leadership of the CCP—the vanguard of the proletariat. This was the
case because only the leadership of the party was in full possession of all the theoretical
intricacies of Marxism-Leninism, the ideology of the proletarian class—“the compass
which can guide the Chinese Revolution to victory.”59

57See the discussions in Mao, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,”

“Why Is It That Red Political Power Can Exist in China,” and “The Struggle in the Chingkang
Mountains,” SWM, vol. l, 27–28, 32, 64–65, 97, 99.
58See the account in Mao, “On Tactics against Japanese Imperialism,” SWM, vol. 1, 155–57.
59Mao, “The Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party in the Period of Resistance to Japan,” SWM,

vol. 1, 273–75. See the account provided in Mao, “A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire,” “Our
Economic Policy” and “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War,” SWM, vol. 1, 122–23,
141, 191–92, 198.
China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 93

It was some form of that argument that legitimized Mao’s contention that the leader-
ship of the CCP, itself composed of members of the non-proletarian rural elite, would
lead a combination of peasants and members of the national bourgeoisie to proletar-
ian victory. By the time that Mao aspired to full leadership of the Chinese Revolution,
Marxist theory had been so “creatively developed” that revolution by the proletariat bore
little resemblance to anything anticipated by the principal leaders of what had been
orthodoxy.60 Thus, the party of the proletariat was understood to be first in the patriotic
defense of the nation. In a complete reversal of roles, the bourgeoisie became internation-
alist and the working class became nationalist—all in the context of bourgeois democratic
revolution. It was that kind of doctrinal legerdemain that allowed Mao to associate his
Marxist and proletarian revolution with Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People—
and enlist proletarianism in the ranks of the reactive nationalist and developmental insur-
gencies that typified the economically less-developed communities on the margins of the
industrialized powers.
As has been indicated, as early as 1927, Mao insisted that the revolutionary peasants,
and their vanguard associations, led by the proletarian CCP, were inspired by Sun’s Three
Principles—and that the peasants brandished the Three Principles as weapons against
their landlord antagonists.61 By the fall and winter of 1936, Mao was further prepared
to formalize the role of the Three Principles of the People as central in the revolutionary
enjoinments of the CCP. It was his view that the national united front of the CCP and
Nationalists against the Japanese invaders should be committed to “work persistently,
body and soul,” for the realization of Sun’s bourgeois, but revolutionary, developmental,
and nationalist Three Principles of the People.62
Very early in his career, it was evident that Mao was a superlative tactician. More
interesting perhaps was his ability to tailor his political beliefs to suit his tactics. It was
that latter ability that conveyed the impression that he was not a particularly profound
or consistent thinker. He was perfectly prepared to alter his position to accord with
circumstances—and then contrive a suitable rationale in support. Thus, in his writings
he had no difficulty speaking of his performance as that of a leader of a proletarian63
revolution that was to be accomplished by a spontaneous peasant movement inspired by
a bourgeois nationalist and developmental rationale. Mao stated his case without hesita-
tion, however much at variance with traditional Marxist notions it was in substance.
Mao argued that however incongruous it appeared, peasants, somehow or other, were
animated by Marxist insight. His insistence notwithstanding, traditional Marxists could
not fail to observe that the revolution Mao proposed would involve the wrong class, in
the wrong economic environment, inspired by what could only be identified as a bour-
geois democratic and nationalist ideology.

60For a more ample discussion of the various Marxist heterodoxies of the period prior to the First

World War, see A. James Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual
History of Radicalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).
61Mao, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” SWM, vol. 1, 30–31, 48.
62See the statement of CCP policy as a note to Mao, “A Statement on Chiang Kai-shek’s State-

ment,” SWM, vol. 1, 261, n. 7

63For all their leadership of a proletarian movement, very few, if any, of the leaders of the

CCP could claim proletarian provenance. Mao, himself, was the child of a moderately well-to-do
peasant family. Most of the remaining members of the leadership of the CCP were similarly
94 ● Marxism and the Making of China

The incongruity of all this was only mitigated by the claim made by the theoreticians
of the CCP that the Three Principles of the People, which they were prepared to respect,
had been significantly qualified by Sun himself with his own Three Great Policies: the
alliance with the Soviet Union, pursuance of a united front with the CCP, and the readi-
ness to labor in the interests of the nation’s workers and peasants.64 So qualified, the CCP
was prepared to argue that Sun’s nationalist Three Principles had been so modified as to
distinguish them from what might be seen as ordinary “national bourgeois” principles.
More interesting for the purposes of discussion was the fact that Mao, himself, undertook
to deal with the issue of theoretical consistency in a more comprehensive fashion, in what
was to become one of his more celebrated works: “On Contradiction.”65
In that work, Mao announced, in accordance with inherited Marxism, that the “indus-
trial proletariat” was “the greatest motive force in historical development.”66 That was
the case, he continued, because the “proletariat and the bourgeoisie form the principal
contradiction” within capitalist society—and “contradictoriness within a thing is the fun-
damental cause of its development.”67 He proceeded to articulate his account in fairly
standard Marxist fashion. He spoke of the development of the productive forces creating
those circumstances in which the bourgeoisie, representing the prevailing relations of
production, is no longer progressive, but becomes a constraint on further growth. By
that time, the proletariat, “much more numerous,” representing the burgeoning material
productive forces, is transformed into the revolutionary representative of society’s future.
All of that was standard Marxist fare. Somehow, Mao seemed to see it reflected in his
political reality.
Within that context, Mao spoke in traditional Marxist fashion of the relation-
ship between the “material productive forces” and their corresponding “relations of
production”—the former giving rise to the latter, and both together forming the basis of
the “superstructure of society”—consciousness and its products.68 As long as these ele-
ments remained in some sort of equilibrium, society remained in steady state. All of that
is recognized as a bowdlerized rendering of a traditional Marxist account of social dynam-
ics. What was implied was that over the course of time, growing productive forces enter
into conflict with existing relations of production. In capitalist production, a time arises
when commodities cannot be profitably distributed because workers, paid subsistence
wages, cannot generate adequate effective demand.69 With the expansion of machine pro-
duction, the urban proletariat, suffering predictable immiseration, becomes the majority
of the population. The contradiction between expanding production, and increasingly
restricted profitability because of insufficient effective demand, could only result in social
revolution. It constituted a social contradiction that could only result in systemic revolu-
tion. The most unsophisticated Marxist could comprehend all of that. The problem was
applying any of it to the China of the 1930s.

64See Mao’s comments on “The Three Great Policies” in “On Contradiction,” SWM, vol. 1, 326.
65I have used the text available in the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung as the most easily available. It
is known that “On Contradiction” was modified many times since the original text was transcribed
in 1937. It would be interesting to pursue those changes, but it cannot be the present task. For pres-
ent purposes the above indicated text serves exposition perfectly well.
66Mao, “On Contradiction,” SWM, vol. 1, 312.
67Ibid., 313, 331.
68Ibid., 328, 335.
69Mao had read the first part of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, which contained the relevant

China, Developmental Nationalism, and Revolution ● 95

Traditional Marxism had argued that the urban proletariat would understand the irra-
tionality of a system of unlimited commodity production that left millions in poverty.
The consequence could only be violent overthrow of the system—and the creation of
a Socialism in which the forces of production and the relations of production were no
longer incompatible. With Socialism, distribution would be determined by need, not
profit—and the social contradiction resolved. The urban proletariat, by then the major-
ity of the population, would have given voice to the revolutionary consciousness of a
society in transformation. Implicit in Mao’s discussion of contradiction, was the shadow
of an account that had been made familiar by the founders of classical Marxism 50 years
before70—but which was all but totally irrelevant to the Chinese peasants who were called
upon to make revolution.
Whatever else his essay “On Contradiction” might have been, it was Mao’s only con-
cession to traditional Marxist orthodoxy. Thereafter, he explicitly undertook to warn his
readers that, however true the Marxist account, revolutionaries must be neither dogma-
tists nor empiricists—given to looking “at things one-sidedly or superficially.”71 Mao was
clearly prepared to practice what he preached. His interpretation of social and political
dynamics thereafter was to prove itself nothing if not empirical or multifaceted. The issue
was whether all that was Marxist.
Mao urged theoreticians to think dialectically. That would include recognizing that
inherited revolutionary theory might not be functionally appropriate to a China that
found itself the victim of foreign oppression—caught up in a contradiction between itself
and imperialist powers. According to Mao, it was not Marx or Engels, but Lenin and
Stalin, who had “correctly . . . formulated . . . theory and tactics” for “proletarian revo-
lution” in the new circumstances.72 With the advent of the “imperialist epoch,” what
had been “the principal contradiction” in the past—that between the proletariat and the
bourgeoisie—was transformed. Mao tells his audience that “the principal and the non-
principal aspects of a contradiction transform themselves into each other and the nature
of the thing changes accordingly.” What that seems to mean for revolutionary purpose
is that at the new stage in which China found itself, it is no longer the contradiction
between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie—the forces and relations of production—
that is determinant in historic change; rather, it is “the contradiction between imperialism
and the country concerned [that] becomes the principal contradiction” (something that
had escaped both Marx and Engels). Thus, revolution is no longer defined by the conflict
between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but by the reactive, nationalist resistance
of everyone in the colonized country to the impostures of imperialism. Revolutionary
resistance would include every class in the colonized country except those elements of
the bourgeoisie that found profit in alliance with the imperialists. By suborning mem-
bers of the ruling class in colonial and semi-colonial countries, imperialism forms an
alliance against which the remaining classes must unite in revolutionary indignation.
With circumstances so transformed, proletarian revolution in colonial countries takes on
the properties of a mass, peasant-based, nationalist, and developmental revolution—it
becomes one of a class of such revolutions that surface in the course of the twentieth

70These notions represent the standard interpretation of Marx’s “historical materialism” before

Lenin’s “creative developments.” See Karl Kautsky, Die materialistische Geschichtsauffassung (Berlin:
Verlag J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., 1929), 2 vols.
71Mao, “On Contradiction,” SWM, vol. 1, 311–12, 324.
72Ibid., 325.
96 ● Marxism and the Making of China

century. It bears scant connection to anything said in traditional Marxist theory about the
origins and nature of contemporary social revolution.
Mao fully appreciated the counterintuitive character of his account. He granted that,
while Lenin and Stalin understood its merits, there remain “thousands of scholars and
men of action who do not understand it.”73 Nonetheless, that was, and remained, his
rationale for a proletarian revolution in the imperialist epoch. For a time, at least, such a
revolution would be required to assume bourgeois democratic responsibilities, in a retro-
grade agrarian economic environment, leading impoverished peasant masses. In its own
time, history would reveal what all that would mean for China and its people.

73Ibid., 332.

Mao Zedong and the

Conquest of China

In spite of certain unavoidable weaknesses, for instance, its smallness (as compared with the
peasantry), its youth (as compared with the proletariat in the capitalist countries) and its low
educational level (as compared with the bourgeoisie), the Chinese proletariat is nonetheless
the basic motive force of the Chinese Revolution. Unless it is led by the proletariat, the
Chinese Revolution cannot possibly succeed.
—Mao Zedong1

y the summer of 1937, the situation in republican China had taken on porten-
tous properties. Insistence that the government mobilize resistance to Japanese
aggressions had matured to the point that nominal allies of the Nationalist Party
leadership chose to force Chiang Kai-shek to modify his policies. There was a constant
drumbeat for a fully committed patriotic War of Resistance against Japan—and it is clear
that Chiang’s decision, in that summer, to move against Japan was not entirely of his own
choosing. Nonetheless, the very fact that Chiang was prepared to modify the temperate
policies that he had pursued for seven years with respect to Japan reflected his convic-
tion that he had completed at least the minimum preparations for mounting a plausible
defense against the modern armies of the Empire of Japan.2
For years prior to the incident that brought the republic to the declaration of war
against Japan, Chiang had engaged German officers in the training and arming of his
troops. By the summer of 1937, his advisers were convinced that the Chinese armed
forces—with at least ten German trained divisions and eighty thousand troops carrying
German weapons—could effectively resist the armed forces of Japan.

1Mao Zedong, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party,” Selected Works of

Mao Tse-tung (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1965), vol. 2, 325. Hereafter SWM.
2By the summer of 1937, Chiang had succeeded in partially modernizing the Nationalist forces.

A number of divisions had been trained and equipped with the assistance of German officers and
with German arms. However, modernized, the Nationalist forces lacked command and control
capabilities, effective air cover, artillery, and armor support for infantry. During the defense of
Shanghai, in August 1937, the Nationalists suffered a quarter million casualties, a substantial part
of their partially modernized forces.
98 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Those were the immediate political and material circumstances surrounding a rela-
tively minor incident at the Marco Polo Bridge outside of Peking, on July 7, 1937, when
a small party of Japanese soldiers engaged their Chinese counterparts in a brief skirmish.
Having suffered a century of humiliation at the hands of foreigners, the exchange pro-
voked outrage throughout China. The situation could not be contained. As early as the
twelfth of the month, Chiang signaled his determination to declare war against Japan.
With the consequent formal declaration of war, the situation was transformed. In
effect, the Japanese were compelled to embark on a full joint-force invasion of the con-
tinent. Whatever their superiority, it was clear that Japanese forces were not sufficient in
number to securely occupy all of China. China was simply too vast to imagine that all
of it could be held with assurance by any expeditionary force. At best, Japanese forces
could occupy the major urban centers, the ports, the resource junctures, and some of the
main lines of communication and transportation. Tokyo understood that Chinese forces,
locally based, could tax Japanese resources and harass their troops so that maintenance
and resupply costs would be debilitating—and any and all attempts to maintain logistical
integrity would be extremely expensive. Most analysts, both Japanese and Chinese, antici-
pated an indecisive and protracted war of attrition—unless Chinese resistance could be
compromised by local and regional accommodation through concessions, bribery, politi-
cal betrayal, and/or systematic brutality. The Japanese attempted all of that, and, at least,
were partially successful. In some instances, local warlords, together with political and
military leaders of the Nationalist Party, collaborated with the Japanese and put together
compliant regimes in some of the occupied territories. In large measure, the peasant
population was prepared to suffer the Japanese presence as long as rural life could con-
tinue with minimal disruption.
It became evident, almost immediately, that Nationalist forces, without artillery and
armor support and further impaired by a lack of adequate air cover, could not hope to
contain the better equipped and trained imperial Japanese troops. The mobile Japanese
rapidly occupied the coastal cities in which they could maintain easy access by sea. Almost
all the heavy industry in China, necessary to sustain Nationalist forces in the field, was
located in those same cities. At best, the Nationalist government could undertake to
evacuate the industrial assets from the coast to the interior, where defense might enjoy a
greater prospect of success. Whatever could be done was done in an effort to maintain
production of military equipment and resupply.
By the spring of 1938, the Sino-Japanese War had settled into the configuration that
was to define it until the Japanese were distracted by the larger war in the Pacific. It was
within that configuration that the strategies governing China’s resistance to the Japanese
took shape among the Nationalist and Communist forces in the field. Their respective
strategies were largely determined by the interaction of their material circumstances with
their governing political intentions.

Mao’s Strategy in the Anti-Japanese United Front

One of the necessary conditions governing Nanking’s declaration of war on the offending
Japanese was the effort to unite all Chinese behind the national defense. To that purpose,
the Nationalist government was reluctantly prepared to enter into yet another united
front with the CCP. Nanking would recognize the legality of the CCP and allow the
Red Amy, duly transformed into the Eighth Route and New Fourth armies, to become
autonomous elements of the national armed forces. The Communists found the circum-
stances propitious. As has been suggested, prior to the formal advent of the Sino-Japanese
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 99

War, they had already abandoned a Leninist urban-based revolutionary strategy—and

had repaired to rural-based guerrilla operations. With the united front arrangement,
Communist forces were no longer threatened by the Nationalists. Situated in the rural
vastnesses of China, they could undertake opposition to the Japanese invaders from bas-
tions outside the range of major enemy operations—whether Japanese or Nationalist.
By the late 1920s, Mao had already fallen back to what was almost entirely a rural-
based revolutionary alternative to what had been traditional, urban proletarian, Commu-
nist revolution. By the mid-1930s, Communist Chinese forces were already disciplined
to operating from established rural base camps that were intrinsically defensible and, if
subject to pressure, transferable with relative ease. With the coming of the formal war
with Japan, and the invaders largely confined to urban centers and along rail and road
lines throughout agrarian China, the recourse to relatively remote rural base camps, from
which episodic attacks might be launched against the Japanese, was the recommended
strategy for the Communist armed forces.
In relative safety from both the Nationalists and the Japanese, whatever Commu-
nist armed forces, numbering perhaps less than fifty thousand troops at that time,
could remain secure in rural bastions, undertaking, at their discretion and only in the
most favorable circumstances—a tactical advantage denied the forces of the National-
ist command—guerrilla forays against scattered enemy troops, accompanied by acts of
sabotage against exposed lines of communication.3 As a direct result, throughout the
subsequent fighting, the armed forces of Nanking were to suffer massive losses engaged,
as they were, in positional defense against the invader, while the CCP were to remain
relatively unscathed.
Mao, forever the gifted tactician, immediately appreciated the advantages he, and his
forces, enjoyed under the prevailing circumstances. Comparatively secure in his base
camps, he could hope to progressively consolidate and expand the area controlled by the
CCP. While the national forces were engaged in their debilitating engagements with the
armies of Japan, Mao could expect Communist forces to benefit from the influx of refu-
gees fleeing the brutality of the invaders. He communicated to Moscow that he expected
the CCP to prosper in the existing state of affairs. So secure was he in his assessment and
in the constancy of those advantages, he could make public the substance of his strategic
and tactical thinking.4
At the same time, in the international arena, developments in China encouraged
the defense establishment of the Soviet Union. With the declaration of war between
China and the Empire of Japan, Moscow anticipated that the Japanese military would
be inextricably involved in a war of attrition on the Chinese mainland for the foresee-
able future—relieving pressure on Russian troops along the Sino-Soviet borders. At a
time when Stalin feared the possibility of German aggression, such developments were
welcomed. It would serve the most fundamental interests of the Soviet Union to have
Japanese forces tied down in China so that Japan, as a potential ally of Hitler’s Germany,
could not seriously consider engaging in an armed attack against Russia. Japan would be

3Mao’s writings on military tactics are conveniently available as Mao, Selected Military Writings

(Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1967).

4In the fall of 1937, Mao outlined the first elements of the strategy that would govern his defense

against the Japanese. See Mao, “The Situation and Tasks in the Anti-Japanese War after the Fall of
Shanghai and Taiyuan,” SWM, vol. 2, 61–74. Within a year, Mao had formulated the essentials
of the strategy he would continue to pursue until the end of World War II. See Mao, “Problems of
Strategy in the War against Japan,” and “On Protracted War,” SWM, vol. 2, 79–112, 113–94.
100 ● Marxism and the Making of China

exposed to immediate jeopardy by attempting to conduct war in China while simultane-

ously engaging Soviet forces in the Russian Far East.
Stalin’s predictable response to the unfolding of events in China was to communicate
his support of Chiang’s War of Resistance against Japan, by offering Nanking a line of
credit that would allow the purchase of Russian military aircraft, armor, and field artil-
lery to enhance the combat effectiveness of Nationalist forces. Transferred Soviet aircraft
would be accompanied by a contingent of Soviet pilots who, in fact, flying combat craft
bearing the insignia of Nationalist China, would destroy about a thousand opposing
Japanese aircraft in the next two years. Stalin sought the assurance that with the war in
China, Tokyo would not be able to provide collateral support for any German initiatives
against the Soviet Union.
As part of his general strategy, Stalin directed Mao to support Nanking’s military
efforts against the Japanese. Since Mao was dependent on the Russians for funding and
possible military hardware, self-interest counseled compliance. For all that, the evidence
that survives suggests that Mao had his own reasons for complying with Stalin’s strategic
injunctions. Moreover, his compliance did not foreclose on his own strategy. He sought
the ultimate undoing of the Nationalists—while at the same time committing himself to
the immediate collaboration with Nanking in its War of Resistance. He imagined that
the CCP, and its armed forces, would survive, and probably prosper, as rural guerrillas, in
China’s protracted war against the Japanese. In the course of that war, both the imperial
Japanese and Nationalist forces would be degraded, affording Mao and his following the
ultimate prospect of prevailing. As history would have it, events contributed to just such
an outcome. So confidant was Mao of his strategy and its eventual outcome that, by the
end of the 1930s, he had made public a general outline of the theoretical grounds on
which he based those anticipations.5

Maoism, Leninism, and Marxism

Despite his readiness to publicly communicate his thought, Mao was not a particularly
well-informed, or articulate, theoretician. His principal concern was the making of revo-
lution. As a necessary consequence, he spent little time in reflecting on the intricacies of
Marxism as a theory of revolution. That was a task preferably left to others. Nonetheless,
a due regard for those he led recommended that he seek to provide a persuasive rationale
for decisions that inevitably would bring violence, sacrifice, death, and destruction in
their wake.
In the effort to discharge his responsibility to provide a persuasive rationale for his
overall political behavior, Mao chose to identify his general strategy as an immediate, and
orthodox, variant of that advanced by Josef Stalin.6 As such, it bore only a distant, gossa-
mer, ancestral connection to the classical Marxism of Marx and Engels. It was a Marxism
that history had already made subject to creative development by V. I. Lenin.
By the time Lenin matured to party responsibilities during the first years of the twenti-
eth century, he was wrestling with the doctrinal truth of some of the elements of Marxism.
Committed as he was to the system, and as well read as he was in the intellectual legacy of
its founders, Lenin faced the daunting task of making inherited Marxism relevant to the

5See Mao, “The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War,” “The Question of

Independence and Initiative within the United Front,” “Problems of War and Strategy,” “The May
4th Movement,” and “Orientation of the Youth Movement,” SWM, vol. 2, 195–249.
6Mao, “On New Democracy,” SWM, vol. 2, 345–46.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 101

existing challenges of economically backward Russia. It was a responsibility that would

have taxed the abilities of any single intellectual—no matter how well informed and no
matter how earnestly committed to the enterprise. By the first decade of the new century,
Marxists faced problems unanticipated by the founders. As a result, theoretical Marxism
had parsed itself into a variety of plausible heterodoxies, ranging from those most radical
to those most accommodating to prevailing political and social realities.7
Lenin’s interpretation of Marxism was one among many—and only its success as the
doctrinal rationale for the Bolshevik Revolution rendered it a candidate more true than
heretical for some Marxists. It was the product of an interpretation of Marxism that many
Marxists opposed not only as heterodox but anti-Marxist as well. By the coming of the
First World War, Lenin advanced an interpretation of Marxist revolution that conceived
it involving the delivery of revolutionary “proletarian consciousness” to the working class
through the agency of a special vanguard of declassed bourgeois intellectuals.8 Rather
than making recourse to the traditional Marxist conviction that life would make the
proletariat revolutionaries, Lenin insisted that, left to their own devices, workers would
not become revolutionaries but would succeed to only “trade union consciousness.” True
“proletarian revolutionary consciousness” would have to be introduced “from without.”
He held that only the intervention of highly trained and motivated elite professional rev-
olutionaries might succeed in elevating the working class to full awareness of its historic
responsibilities. That a rigorously selective, minoritarian, and tightly organized Social-
ist Party was essential to the success of social revolution became a defining property of
Leninism—distinguishing it from inherited tradition.
A decade later, when Europe dissolved into conflict following the assassination of the
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Lenin was distraught by Socialism’s failure to make—what
he held to be—appropriate response. He fully expected Europe’s Socialist parties to call a
general strike to avert the coming of international war. When virtually all Europe’s Social-
ists each opted instead to support their own nation in the course of the maturing crisis,
Lenin devised what he considered a convincing explanation of their failure.
Lenin argued that world events had overtaken traditional Marxism—the Marxism
with which the intellectuals of the nineteen century had become familiar. In his judg-
ment the international community had entered a new and distinctive revolutionary
epoch that he identified as “imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.”9 It was an
epoch shaped by a peculiar social dynamic—exhibiting its own properties. His account
of the new epoch turned on a number of relatively simple claims. He maintained that
capitalism had transformed itself and outgrown its system boundaries. He argued that
by the end of the nineteenth century, those economies predicated on the machine
production of consumer goods—because of their intrinsic inability to distribute suf-
ficient effective demand to clear inventories at a profit or invest capital at an adequate
return—were driven to desperate measures. Lenin had accepted the fundamentally

7For a more extensive discussion of the evolution of classical Marxism into its variants, see
A. James Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radi-
calism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), chaps. 1, 2, and 5, particularly pages 118–26.
8Lenin identified Marxist “theory” as the product of “bourgeois intellectuals” and its transfer to

working class consciousness as the consequence of a similarly “declassed” bourgeois elite interven-
tion. See V. I. Lenin, “What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement,” Collected Works
(Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961) vol. 5, 370, 375, 383–84. Hereafter LCW.
9V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. A Popular Outline, LCW, vol. 22,

102 ● Marxism and the Making of China

underconsumptionist thesis of traditional Marxism. He held that the economies of the

West were intrinsically incapable of achieving a level of activity capable of generating
adequate system sustaining profit. It was a system destined to collapse under its own
weight. The consequence was a frenetic search by its masters for supplementary markets
and foreign investment opportunities—both to be found, most conveniently, in the vast
underdeveloped regions of the world. In Lenin’s judgment, that was the consequence
of the economic dynamic of the system—and the taproot of imperialism. Monopo-
lized, cartelized capitalism had institutionalized itself as finance capitalism10 and, under
its direction, imposed itself on those preindustrial agrarian societies that vegetated on
the periphery of modern industrial capitalism. Imperialism was an organized attempt
to produce profit for a moribund capitalism. Lenin had taken the theoretical notions
central to Marxist economics and joined them to intimations found scattered in the
writings of Marx and Engels—and produced thereby a variant theory of revolution
applicable to the world of less-developed communities.
The expansion of commodity capitalism into those less-developed regions of the world
produced the great extortionate empires of the late nineteenth century and the first decades
of the twentieth. They were creations in which whole populations, through force of arms,
were made to serve the interests of finance capitalism. What that achieved for industrial
capitalism was to prolong its life by infusing it with system sustaining returns. Part of those
“super profit” returns could be employed to suborn the leaders of the domestic working
class within the capitalist system itself—rendering them means for the transmission of a
“bourgeois consciousness” to members of the working class.11 It was the suborned leaders
of the working class who led the urban proletariat to support their respective countries in
the war that threatened to ravage civilization.
For Lenin, the reason Socialism failed to resist the siren call to war by the bourgeoisie
in 1914 was to be found in imperialism. It was the exploitation of less-developed coun-
tries that provided an extension to the life of capitalism, and it was the associated super
profits that made subornation of the working class possible.
In such fashion, Lenin explained the “opportunistic” and “antisocialist” behavior of the
entire membership of the Second International. With the coming of the First World War,
its leadership had been bribed by “crumbs” from the table of Europe’s imperialists. It was
a betrayal funded by the “super profits” that resulted from finance capitalism’s exploita-
tion of peripheral peoples.
More important for present purposes is Lenin’s notion that the populations of the less-
developed periphery, finding themselves subject to such brigandage, reacted with anti-
imperialist resolve, organizing “national liberation movements” with which the twentieth
century was to become familiar.12 It was also a notion that Marx and Engels had made
familiar in the nineteenth century. Lenin was to weave that insight into a new variant of
revolutionary theory. Nationalist sentiment was to be enlisted for world revolution.
For Lenin, and subsequently Stalin, the nationalistic, revolutionary, anti-imperialist
movements that imperialism would generate constituted a mortal threat to international
capitalism. Their success would mean denial of capitalism’s life sustaining market and
investment supplements. The anti-imperialist national liberation movements would com-
promise the system, because more than denying capitalism its market and investment

LCW, 190, 218–21, 224–26, 233–35, 254, 266, 268, 299–300.
LCW, 193–94.
12LCW, 310–12.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 103

supplements, they would precipitate resistance in the peripheral countries. The result
would be to mobilize masses against finance capitalism—the international enemy of the
equally international proletariat.
Stalin drew out some of the implications of such a creative theoretical development of
traditional Marxism. He argued that one of the implications was that “formerly, it was
the accepted thing to speak of the existence or absence of objective conditions for the
proletarian revolution.” Marxists spoke of societies as “ripe” for revolution only “where
industry is more developed [and] where the proletariat constitutes the majority.” But,
Stalin proceeded, Lenin’s revision modified all that and, as a consequence, made Marxism
a truly revolutionary creed—applicable in virtually all and any circumstances. Given Len-
in’s interpretation, Stalin insisted, revolution need not become manifest “where industry
is more developed,” but “where the chain of imperialism is weakest,” and “in a country
that is less-developed in a capitalist sense.”13 What that implied for the responsibilities of
revolutionaries in less-developed economic environments remained unexplored.
An economically backward community, suffering the effects of imperialism, would
characteristically respond with a movement of national liberation.14 In such circum-
stances, the peasantry may constitute the majority of the working population—and the
bulk of the revolutionary force. If countries, such as China and India, are to host a pro-
letarian revolution employing peasant masses, they would have to feature certain proper-
ties. They must be in possession of revolutionary vanguards committed to the pursuit of
proletarian interests—whatever the class origin of the revolutionary participants. Such a
vanguard would have to be animated by a suitable proletarian consciousness in order to
transfer it to the available peasant masses. It would bring to those masses the appropriate
consciousness from without.
To be successful, the proletarian vanguard must somehow enjoy “hegemonic” control
of the process; it must “elevate” the “submissive masses” to an adequate understanding of
the entire conjectured historic sequence.15 “The Party cannot be a real party if it limits
itself to registering what the masses . . . feel and think.” It will fail “if it is unable to elevate
the masses to the understanding of the class interests of the proletariat.”16
Perfectly clear in Stalin’s account is the recognition that national liberation move-
ments in the peripheral countries may be composed entirely of non-proletarian, peasant
elements—while serving as the revolutionary armed forces of the proletariat. In such
circumstances, it is the obligation of the Leninist party to elevate such petty bourgeois
masses to the level of proletarian comprehension of their true historic responsibilities.
Those responsibilities would turn on the furtherance of the “imminent” world Socialist
revolution. In fact, it is the readiness of such movements of national liberation to so serve
that identifies them as “proletarian progressives,” and worthy of Communist support—
whether or not they satisfy some preferred “formal demographic” or theoretical class
requirement.17 The appeal to nationalist sentiment thus was rendered a perfectly accept-
able Marxist and revolutionary enjoinment.

13Josef Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1953),

14See Lenin, Imperialism, “The Junius Pamphlet,” 297, 309–10, 312; cf. the discussion in Stalin,

Problems of Leninism, 39, 70–73. This had been suggested by Marx and Engels in their newspaper
accounts of events in India and China in the middle years of the nineteenth century.
15Ibid., 58, 61.
16Ibid., 61, 63, 98–99.
17Ibid., 74–75, 106.
104 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Stalin was perfectly candid concerning revolution in less-developed, peripheral coun-

tries. They would be national revolutions, animated by a collective sentiment of national
identity. Their immediate purpose would be to free their respective nations from the
imperialist yoke. For Leninists, it would be the seamless control of “the vanguard party
of the proletariat” that would render such national movements allies in the ranks of the
proletarian opponents of international anti-imperialist and anticapitalist forces. What
was not spoken of with equal transparency was the supposed composition of the van-
guard party itself.
In the Communist Manifesto, the founders of Marxism spoke of the leadership of
the Communist Party as being composed of declassed bourgeois elements. In his writ-
ings, Lenin reiterated that the leadership of the Communist movement was composed
of “bourgeois intellectuals”—like the founders themselves—but the followers would be
proletarian. The entire patrimony of Socialist theory that guided the proletarian world
revolutionary movement was a product of the efforts of “the educated representatives of
the propertied classes . . . the bourgeois intellectuals.”18 The difference in the Leninist
version—because of his anticipation that revolution would be forthcoming in backward
economies—was that the followers of the vanguard leadership would be largely, if not
exclusively, non-proletarian peasants, rather than proletarians.
Lenin argued that the working classes, under whatever circumstances, left to their
own experience, would assume an accommodating “trade union consciousness”—at the
cost of revolutionary relevance. Only the Communist Party could bring revolutionary
class consciousness to the workers—proletarian or peasant—from without. Without the
intervention of the vanguard party, workers in both the industrially advanced and less-
developed countries would simply succumb to the antirevolutionary blandishments of
the propertied classes.19 Theory, thus, became the critical essential in the revolutionary
process. Its appearance and dominance in any particular set of circumstances was neither
automatic nor deterministic.
Lenin’s variant of Marxist revolution includes the notion that the theory that animates
the vanguard party is a product of the ruminations of declassed bourgeois representatives.
The questions that arise turn on the class provenance not only of the leadership of the
revolution but followers as well. Marx and Engels had allowed that, in some sense, the
revolutionary consciousness of the vanguard was the product of non-proletarian lucu-
bration. For them, the membership of that vanguard seems to have been considered
equally non-proletarian. In the traditional version, however, the masses mobilized by the
vanguard were necessarily proletarian; in that of Lenin, they were largely, if not entirely,
By the time Mao made his appearance, the mobilized masses were all but entirely non-
proletarian, and the revolutionary consciousness that animated them, was the product of
non-proletarian intervention. The proletarian presence was supplied exclusively by the
special theoretic insights provided by the declassed bourgeois leadership of the CCP. By
that time, proletarian referred to nothing other than the rationale employed by the self-
selected leadership of the Communist Party.
What emerges from such considerations is the recognition that, particularly in periph-
eral countries, proletarian and progressive revolutions can be undertaken by non-prole-
tarian masses and elevated to the task by a vanguard party itself led by non-proletarians,

18Lenin, “What Is to Be Done?” LCW, vol. 5, 375.

19Ibid., 422.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 105

as long as all are infused with appropriate theory—itself the product of non-proletarian
intellectuals.20 The only way one can determine if such a revolutionary movement is truly
Marxist and Socialist is if it contributes, somehow, and in someone’s judgment, to the
anti-imperialist, anticapitalist, and proletarian world revolution.
It is not at all clear who was expected to make that critical determination of a revolu-
tionary movement’s progressive credentials. That it would not be easy was indicated by
Stalin’s frank recognition that such movements might well be led by unrepentant mem-
bers of the bourgeoisie, the nobility, or intransigent monarchists.21 For Stalin, the entire
issue did not constitute a problem. As leader of the first Socialist society, and head of the
Leninist Third International, capable of dispensing financial, military, and diplomatic
largesse, he would make the requisite decisions. For others, the issue was not so simply
As circumstances would have it, none of this created any problem for Mao. However
Stalin chose to assess the forces active in China, Mao retained ample room to maneuver.
By the time China was overtaken by the Japanese invasion, for instance, Mao could col-
laborate with the bourgeois leadership of the Nationalist Party in an anti-Japanese united
front—while pursuing a general strategy calculated to redound to his benefit—and vio-
late neither Stalin’s injunctions nor the principles of Leninism.
Mao was dependent on the real and potential support of Stalin and the Third Inter-
national. He made every effort to be seen as contributing to the ultimate success of the
proletarian world Socialist revolution—as that revolution was conceived by Stalin22—
fully qualifying him for Stalin’s continued largesse. The rationale for Mao’s revolutionary
strategy and tactics was derivative. It reflected the selective and refashioned Marxism of
Lenin, as selectively applied by Stalin. Mao felt perfectly at ease making Marxist revolu-
tion with peasants23—elevating their consciousness by disciplining them to the require-
ments of a proletarian awareness as he interpreted that awareness. He felt comfortable
leading a vanguard hierarchy, composed of members of the petty bourgeoisie, charged
with the proletarian uplift of peasant masses.24 He was totally indifferent to the fact
that all the subtleties of traditional Marxism had fallen away. To achieve the liberation
of humankind no longer required a mature industrial base, serviced by a sophisticated
proletariat, inured to planning and administration. For Mao, revolution could be made

20Mao speaks of “intellectuals and students” as “quite revolutionary.” “They are more or less

equipped with bourgeois scientific knowledge, have a keen political sense and often play a vanguard
role or serve as a link with the masses. . . . [It] was among the intellectuals and young students that
Marxism-Leninist ideology was first widely disseminated and accepted.” Mao, “The Chinese Revo-
lution and the Chinese Communist Party,” SWM, vol. 2, 322.
21“The struggle the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objec-

tively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates for it
weakens, disintegrates, and undermines imperialism.” Stalin, Problems of Leninism, 75.
22Even the strategy of Mao’s guerrilla tactics, celebrated as evidence of his creativity, reflected

those embodied in the one Stalinist work we know the Chairman read. See, for example, ibid.,
section 7.
23That was the entire rationale behind Mao’s argument that revolution, in China, would be made

by “several hundred million peasants.” Mao, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement
in Hunan,” SWM, vol. 1, 23.
24“The struggle of the peasants who are the main force in the revolution is led by the Communist

Party, the party of the proletariat.” Mao, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist
Party,” SWM, vol. 2, 317.
106 ● Marxism and the Making of China

with the “power [that] grows out of the barrel of a gun”25 in the hands of artless peasants,
submissive and disciplined by a party leadership composed of alienated bourgeois intel-
lectuals and activists.26 It would be a most singular Marxist revolution—that was to make
the Bolshevik Revolution appear almost traditional. If there ever was to be a revolution
like that anticipated by the founders of Marxism, it would have to await the coming of a
worldwide Socialist revolution involving all the advanced industrial countries. Until that
time, history would have to content itself with peasant revolutions led by petty bourgeois
intellectuals that were nationalist and developmental in character.
Mao would take the Stalinism, of which he was heir, and wed it to what he called
the “concrete conditions of China.” Out of that union Mao was to fashion a case that
conceived economically retrograde China as an instance of a “bourgeois nationalist
revolution”—“a new democratic revolution”—that was a variant of the revolution Mao
had discovered in the doctrinal writings of Stalin.27 What that meant for Mao was to
influence the complex sequence of events that were to follow in the next decade.
Classical Marxism had isolated that period marked by the commencement and pro-
gressive maturation of an industrial economy and identified it as a bourgeois stage in the
evolution of society. It would be a period committed to the advocacy of democratic politi-
cal arrangements, calculated to displace those that were feudal, in order to introduce the
nominal provision of citizen rights and property protection. Because the bourgeois stage
was a period of domestic capital accumulation, and a sustained drive to establish machine
industry, the dominant political elites sought sovereign control of a defined territorial
space in order to secure assets, while affording a protected market for commodities—
thereby supplying the rationale for the nation-state and the appropriate occasion for
national sentiment. It was a period commencing with the French and American Revolu-
tions in Western Europe and North America that would last until proletarian revolution
came as a consequence of their respective economic maturity.
Marx and Engels had spoken of that entire intervening period precedent to the coming
of international Socialism as bourgeois or bourgeois democratic—defined by the domi-
nance of the propertied class and its industrial interests. With Lenin, the schematization
became less defined. With Stalin, it became still more uncertain. Mao was to use the
vagueness and ambiguity entirely to suit his own purposes.

Mao and the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution in China

Mao was prepared to accept the notion of a bourgeois democratic revolution in China as
involving a period in which, in the traditional Marxist sense, the nation sought to liberate
itself both from the vestiges of feudal anachronisms, as well as the oppression and exploi-
tation imposed by foreigners. However much his account departed from the original,
it was evident that Mao accepted the classical Marxist contention that the revolution

25Mao, “Problems of War and Strategy,” SWM, 224. Mao insisted that “All things grow out of
the barrel of a gun.” SWM, 225. Mao dismissed those Marxists who objected to his “doctrine of the
gun” as “ultra Leftists.” Mao, “Appendix: Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our
Party,” SWM, vol. 2, 199.
26Mao spoke of “bourgeois intellectuals and students” as playing “a vanguard role” linking the

CCP to the “masses” who, in Mao’s judgment, were essentially peasants. Mao, “The Chinese Revo-
lution and the Chinese Communist Party,” SWM, vol. 2, 322–23.
27Mao described his account as a “correct thesis . . . based on Stalin’s theory.” Mao, “On New

Democracy,” SWM, vol. 2, 345.

Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 107

identified as bourgeois involved characteristic bourgeois economic interests, as well as

some form of political democracy. In that sense, a case might still be made that his views
remained Marxist. Where Mao introduced his creative development was in his interpreta-
tion of the specifics of what bourgeois democratic might mean for China.
Mao’s argument was, no matter what bourgeois revolution meant in terms of classical
Marxism, sufficient changes had accumulated with the Bolshevik Revolution, and the
subsequent maturation of the forces of the proletariat, that everything had been trans-
formed. With the success of the Russian Revolution, and the impact of the domestic Chi-
nese May Fourth Movement, somehow a proletarian consciousness had spontaneously
matured in China.28 The bourgeois period would not only involve bourgeois leadership
in the pursuit of bourgeois interests. While bourgeois elements might initiate and influ-
ence social revolution in China, it was the presence of the class-conscious, proletarian,
Communist Party, dominating what “in essence was a peasant revolution,”29 that trans-
formed the entire period.
The CCP, with the guidance of Leninist-Stalinist theory and mentored by Stalin’s
Third International, was charged with ensuring that China’s revolution would contribute
to the defeat of international imperialism and the enhancement of the external forces of
the “imminent world wide proletarian revolution.” In effect, Chinese Communism could
ally itself with bourgeois nationalist elements in the effort to defeat Japanese imperialism.
Its activities would remain progressive in terms of Stalinist theory by contributing to
proletarian revolution by weakening the advanced industrial nations by denying finance
capitalism the market supplements and investment opportunities it required.
Revolution in the retrograde economies of the periphery would be predicated
on a peasant and petty bourgeois demographic base, activated by reactive nationalist
sentiment—and could still be considered progressive—serving the ultimate interests of
the diaphanous domestic proletariat, as well as the proletariat of the world. One could
find traces of such notions in the abundance of inherited Marxism. Lenin’s creative devel-
opment of Marxism had added dimension and unanticipated features to a rationale for
revolutionary leadership that had become increasingly convoluted. The final form it
assumed was that provided by Josef Stalin.
Mao never attempted to conceal the sources of his revolutionary inspiration. Clearly,
Leninism provided the first major installment in the revised doctrine. Lenin had argued
that Marx had not anticipated that the ruling classes in the advanced industrial nations
would use the super profits collected in the peripheral less-developed nations to suborn
the leadership of the proletariat. For Lenin, that had derailed the entire revolutionary
agenda. The super profits forthcoming from the peripheral economies not only sustained
the viability of the established system but also compromised, through corruption, the
leadership of the working class. The integrity of the entire constellation of factors upon
which traditional Marxism depended could be restored only if the connections between
the industrial metropoles and the periphery were severed. That could be accomplished by
peasant revolutions, led by proletarianized bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped regions of
imperialism’s colonies.
Lenin could employ what was a minor and extraneous theme in the fabric of tradi-
tional Marxism to make his case. He spoke of anti-imperialist peasant uprisings in periph-
eral countries that found themselves oppressed and exploited by the advanced industrial

28See the discussion in Mao, “On New Democracy,” SWM, vol. 2, 342–47.
29Mao, “Appendix: Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party,” SWM, vol.
2, 199.
108 ● Marxism and the Making of China

powers. Those uprisings, denying imperialism its critical profits, became essential to the
Leninist notion of world revolution.
For Lenin, peasant revolution in the peripheral economies would precipitate the final
collapse of finance capitalism in the industrial centers. That would initiate the worldwide
proletarian revolution and the advent of the liberation anticipated by Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels. The peasant uprisings in the backward economies served to restore all
the elements found in traditional Marxist revolutionary theory. Equally clear was the
expectation that those peasant uprisings could not, themselves, result in the promised
liberation of Socialism. They were part of the complex causal sequence that only ulti-
mately would result in the advent of social freedom. Lenin, until his death, anticipated
revolutions in the advanced industrial nations that he was convinced would restore the
necessary conditions for the Socialist liberation of humankind. He fully appreciated
the traditional Marxist persuasion that without the availability of a mature industrial
base and a sophisticated proletariat to staff its operation, Socialist freedom would be
impossible. Lenin went to his death convinced of his analysis—but with his expectations
After Lenin’s death, Stalin was to continue to argue Lenin’s case. With his accession
to rule, Stalin insisted that his audience recognize that the “overthrow of the power of
the bourgeoisie” in a single country could not ensure “the complete victory of socialism.”
Influenced not only by Lenin, but also by inherited traditional notions, Stalin insisted
that the reality of a liberating Socialism required “the development and support of revolu-
tion in . . . at least several countries.”30
Pressed by developments, however, it was not long after that Stalin discovered other
laws—unknown to Marx, Engels, or Lenin—governing revolution in less-developed
areas. He pretended to discover that revolution in a backward country, in an economy
that “is less developed in the capitalist sense,” might lead, “quite possibly and probably”
to “a complete socialist society,” if guided by the efforts of “class conscious” leadership.31
In effect, transition could be made directly from primitive economic circumstances to a
suitable Socialist industrial maturity without an intervening specifically bourgeois devel-
opmental phase. That conviction was to have woeful consequences for the inhabitants of
the peripheral, less-developed nations.
With Stalin’s modification of both traditional, and Lenin’s variation, of Marxism, its
informal logic was entirely undone. All the preconditions that classical Marxism had held
essential for a redeeming social revolution were abandoned. Neither a fully industrialized
base nor sophisticated proletarians for its maintenance were necessary to relieve humanity
from oppression and exploitation. Socialism could be constructed on an essentially agrar-
ian economic foundation, in an environment peopled by unlettered peasants. All that was
required was a vanguard leadership animated by an appropriate proletarian ideology. Life
would no longer be determined by economics but by the theoretical consciousness of a
self-selected revolutionary leadership. What that implied for traditional Marxist theory
was evident. It abandoned the thesis that “objective conditions” determined the course
of events. Instead, the party became the functional equivalent of the material factors that
had hitherto dominated history. As an immediate consequence, Stalin could license the
forced draft construction of a “complete socialist economy” by non-proletarian elements

“The Foundations of Leninism,” Problems of Leninism, 45.
the account as it evolved in Stalin, “The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian
Communists” and “On the Problems of Leninism,” Ibid., 123, 147, 189.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 109

out of economic backwardness.32 The proletarian revolution in economically backward

countries would be both nationalistic and developmental.
To construct “socialism in one country” would require the fabrication of the missing
advanced industrial base required by Marxism, together with the comprehensive school-
ing of a primitive work force to sustain it. What Stalin proposed was not the liberation
of humankind from the burdens of exploitation but a vast system devoted to the extrac-
tion of labor and capital from an inert population. The “primitive capital accumulation”
that would result was to be used in accelerated economic development. What Stalin was
proposing was the rapid industrialization of a backward economy out of a single nation’s
human and capital resources—a program so demanding that one could only expect it to
require unwavering obedience, selfless sacrifice, total commitment, and iron discipline
from a subject population. Gone was any talk of “liberation from necessity” into a “realm
of freedom.” Under the revolutionary circumstances described by Stalinism, only the elite
“dictatorship of the proletariat” could shoulder the burden of ensuring the continuity and
integrity of effort that such a program required33—the nonelite would have to serve as
obedient and selfless workers.
Stalin did not conceal the implications. In such a system, a dictatorship was neces-
sary. A unitary party, ruled by a dedicated leadership, provided guidance to a work force
organized in state administered associations that served as “transmission belts” for orders
coined by an infallible leadership.34 Those orders, predicated on privileged insight into the
“science of society,” were to be obeyed once duly received. Any conscious or unconscious
departure from such guidance would be evidence of counterrevolutionary disposition
that required punishment, or reeducation, or both. The “dictatorship of the proletariat”
became the totalitarian agency of autonomous, state-directed, rapid industrial develop-
ment of an essentially agrarian economy. Thus, what traditional Marxism had under-
stood as a bourgeois epoch, characterized as the exploitative rapid industrialization of
an agrarian economy, was transformed by Stalin and Mao into a revolutionary sequence
that commenced with a brief period of uncertain bourgeois rule and concluded with the
dominance of a proletarian dictatorship that would create, out of an essentially peasant
society, an industrially developed Socialism.35 In time, both Stalinism and Maoism were
to communicate to world history what all that entailed.
In the interim, what Mao identified as the “China of New Democracy,” the China of
the bourgeois interregnum, the “China of the revolutionary Three People’s Principles” of
Sun Yat-sen, took on its own defining properties.36 It was a time when the external threats

32“The Party is the main guiding force in the system of the dictatorship of the proletariat. . . . The

Party is the main directive force in the system.” Stalin, ibid., 166–67.
33“Not a single important political or organizational question is decided . . . without guiding

directions from the Party. In this sense it could be said that the dictatorship of the proletariat is in
essence the ‘dictatorship’ of the vanguard, the ‘dictatorship’ of the Party.” Stalin, ibid., 168.
34“The Party exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, it exercises it not directly,

but with the help of trade unions, and through the Soviets and their ramifications. Without these
‘transmission belts,’ a dictatorship to any extent durable would be impossible.” Ibid.
35Stalin spoke of “building a complete socialist society by the efforts of one country, without help

from outside.” Stalin, ibid., 189.

36See the entire discussion in Mao, “Speech at the Assembly of Representatives of the Shensi-

Kansu-Ningsia Border Region,” SWM, vol. 3, 31–34, from which all the subsequent quotes as
110 ● Marxism and the Making of China

to the nation’s survival required applied cooperation between the Nationalist and the
Communist parties and of “all classes, parties and nationalities . . . of everyone, excepting
traitors,” all united “in common struggle.” Together with that purposeful union, Mao
called upon all Chinese “to fight on and ensure that the revolutionary Three People’s
Principles are put into effect.”
Mao’s explanation of why that should be the case was circuitous, but reasonably clear.
He told his audience—composed of representatives of a secure Communist region—
that the China of 1941 was not a time to pretend that Socialism was on the immediate
agenda. Like an informed Marxist, he reminded them that “the conditions for it are still
lacking.” It was time, instead, for Sun’s Three Principles.37 It was a time for nationalist
resistance to the Japanese; it was a time for bourgeois democracy; and it was a time for
rapid industrial development—all of which entailed a commitment that required the
unconstrained cooperation of all classes. The first efforts involved pursuit of arrangements
that provided for “freedom of the person, the right to take part in political activity, and
the right to protection of property”—all clearly bourgeois rights—all clearly advocated in
Sun’s Three Principles of the People.
Such a revolution would seek efforts that would ensure workers adequate sustenance
and housing, while fostering “a policy of developing industry so that the capitalists may
obtain some profit.”38 It would invoke bourgeois rights to assure bourgeois purpose and
ensure continued bourgeois involvement.
Mao’s theoretical posture was eminently clear. Revolutionary China was struggling
through the transitional period between traditional feudal arrangements and the thresh-
old of Socialism. That period was bourgeois democratic and embodied itself in Sun Yat-
sen’s Three Principles of the People.
There is no direct evidence that Mao was familiar with Lenin’s essay on Sun,39 but there
is every reason to believe that Lenin’s opinions survived in the notions relayed by Stalin—
and which colored the recommendations Mao received from the Comintern. The results
were that Mao’s policy advocacy embodied those received opinions: Sun was “petty bour-
geois” and the sponsor of a consistent bourgeois program. Sun was “anti-feudal,” the advo-
cate of rapid development of both agriculture and industry. Lenin, as a consistent Marxist,
insisted that the conviction that “capitalism can be ‘prevented’ in China” was delusional.
Post-dynastic China would “inevitably” make transit through capitalism to ultimately cross
the threshold to Socialism. It would be a time in which the bourgeois revolutionaries
would “express warm sympathy for the toiling and exploited people, faith in their strength
and in the justice of their cause”—but the period would remain bourgeois in content and
direction. In China, it would be the time of Sun’s Three Principles of the People.
In 1945, Mao anticipated imminent victory over the Japanese. He advanced a pro-
gram for a victorious postwar China. He repeated once again his advocacy of what he
anticipated would be a “coalition government” that would rule the nation. The general
program for the emerging “New China” would be essentially that advanced by Sun Yat-
sen in 1924.40 It would be the program of a “united front democratic alliance based on

37See Mao’s regular reassertion, Mao, “A Comment on the Sessions of the Kuomintang Central

Executive Committee and of the People’s Political Council,” SWM, vol. 3, 147.
38Mao, “Speech at the Assembly of Representatives of the Shensi-Kansu-Ningsia Border Region,”

SWM, vol. 3, 32.

39Lenin, “Democracy and Narodism in China,” LCW, vol. 18, 163–69.
40What follows (to the section break) is taken from Mao, “On Coalition Government,” SWM,

vol. 3, 279, 280–81, 283–85, 287.

Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 111

the overwhelming majority of the people, under the leadership of the working class.”
It could not be Socialist because marginally industrialized China lacked the principal
economic properties required. Under the leadership of the proletariat, as China emerged
from its victorious war against Japan, it would seek to realize what Mao identified as the
“minimum program” of the Communist Party—that of Sun Yat-sen.
At that stage—identified by Mao as “bourgeois democratic”—the Communist Party
would inaugurate a system that would protect and sustain property rights. There would
be systematic efforts made to increase productivity and profit among rural capitalists in
order that they might transfer capital from the farm communities to the modern (i.e.,
industrial) sector. Again, as Sun advocated, the state would superintend the entire process
of what was essentially a “private capitalist economy,” “abolishing exorbitant taxes,” assist-
ing “private industry and provide it with facilities for obtaining loans, purchasing raw
materials and marketing its products,” intervening, where necessary, to control banking
and finances, together with the transportation infrastructure and communications media.
Mao affirmed that “there are some people who doubt whether we Communists are
sincere when we declare that ‘the Three People’s Principles being what China needs today,
our Party is ready to fight for their complete realization.’” In fact, he continued “the Chi-
nese Communists will prove to be the most sincere and thoroughgoing executors of the
revolutionary Three People’s Principles in the future as well.”
Mao went on to assure his Chinese audiences that “once in power,” the Communist
Party would not “follow Russia’s example and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat
and a one-party system.” What victory would bring, instead, would be a “New Democ-
racy,” based on cooperation of “all political parties, social groups, and individuals.” He
went on to assure the nation, that the “general program of New Democracy [would]
remain unchanged throughout the stage of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, that is,
for several decades.” The qualification was that the entire process would “be built under
the leadership of the proletariat and of the Communist Party”—and all parties would be
required to display an “attitude to the Communist Party [that] is cooperative and not
To that, Mao added, “We Communists do not conceal our political views. Definitely
and beyond all doubt, our future or maximum program is to carry China forward to
Socialism and communism.” But, he insisted, for the foreseeable future, the program of
the New China would be that of Sun Yat-sen. History was to provide the evidence that
would either confirm or disconfirm such intention.

The Civil War and “Proletarianism”

By the close of the summer of 1945, there was no longer any question that Japan was
headed toward catastrophic defeat. Germany had surrendered in May and the allied mili-
tary had forged a ring of steel around the Japanese home islands. The Soviet Union had
signaled its readiness to descend upon Japanese forces in Manchuria, Korea, and northern
China—to further convince Tokyo that there remained no option but total surrender.
Mao Zedong took the occasion to announce his sure judgment that civil war would be
the inevitable consequence of the departure of the Japanese from China.41 Thereafter,
Mao no longer even made the pretense of following Nanking’s directives. The armed

41See Mao, “The Situation and Our Policy after the Victory in the War of Resistance against

Japan” and “Chiang Kai-shek Is Provoking Civil War,” SWM, vol. 4, 11–31.
112 ● Marxism and the Making of China

forces of the CCP, for all intents and purposes acted autonomously, pursuing tactical and
strategic ends assigned by party leadership.
At that time, Mao ordered all Communist guerrilla units to regroup into organized
military formations, to prepare for the impending conventional war against the National-
ist government.42 Under central directives, whenever and wherever conditions permitted,
the forces of the CCP were to expand their control over territory, cities, and transporta-
tion infrastructure.43 Before the official Japanese surrender in mid-August, Communist
military units were ordered into Manchuria to rendezvous and coordinate with invading
Soviet forces. Mao had finally succeeded in fulfilling a critical strategic goal—linking his
forces with those of Josef Stalin.
With the surrender of Japan on the fifteenth of August, General Douglas MacArthur
specified that Japanese forces in China surrender only to the official representatives of
the Nationalist government—with the exception of the Japanese units in Manchu-
ria, which fell within the purview of the Soviet military. Elsewhere, Japanese garrisons
were to surrender to the forces of the Nanking government. Because Nationalist forces
lacked essential logistical capabilities, it often took weeks before government troops
could reach the major Japanese garrisons, allowing Mao’s forces occasion to exploit
circumstances. As events unfolded, Communist units occupied vast territories outside
the immediate reach of the Nationalist military. Mao rapidly extended his effective
control from 57 to 310 counties.44 In Manchuria, the Soviet Union assured Chinese
Communist forces every advantage, whatever Moscow’s nominal treaty arrangements
with Nanking.
In the prevailing circumstances, the American diplomatic and military advisory per-
sonnel were operating under cross pressures. Washington sought to avoid any conflict
with the Soviet Union in China. Moreover, many in the highest echelons of the United
States government were doubtful of the effectiveness of the Nanking government. There
were increasing signs of the fragility in the Nationalist hold over events.
In the grueling War of Resistance, the central government had conscripted vast num-
bers of peasants from the rural areas—often under draconian conditions. The agrarian
economy, as an immediate consequence, suffered grievously. Those aggrieved by the cen-
tral government’s actions were further alienated by ruinous taxation imposed to pay for
the maintenance of the wartime military. Everywhere, the flood of capital that resulted
from the costs of maintenance and expansion of the military fueled escalating inflation.
In the massive confusion that resulted—in the avalanche of currency that swept away
savings and all efforts at meaningful investment—many made recourse to corruption.
Corruption reached into the highest echelons of government and involved the closest
associates of Chiang Kai-shek himself. All of this worked to the political, and ultimately,
military advantage of Mao’s forces.

42The summary account below follows those provided by contemporary sources. The following

have been found most helpful: Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (London:
Vintage Books, 2006), chaps. 27–30; Jay Taylor, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle
for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), chaps. 7–9.
43Mao, “On Peace Negotiations with the Kuomintang—Circular of the Central Committee of

the Communist Party of China,” SWM, vol. 4, 47–51.

44Immediately after the Japanese surrender, Mao ordered his forces “to fight with all our might

to take all we can. . . . We should gain control of whatever we can, even though temporarily.” Mao,
“On Peace Negotiations with the Kuomintang—Circular of the Central Committee of the Com-
munist Party of China,” SWM, vol. 4, 47.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 113

Many of the observers Washington depended upon for counsel were bereft of confi-
dence in the ability of the Nanking government to compensate for its growing inability to
control events. Prudence recommended a strategy calculated to save China from simply
disintegrating into chaos. Many knowledgeable persons sought to lay the foundation for
appropriate responses to the political difficulties that were immediately anticipated in
postwar China. There was a subset of American journalists, academicians, and govern-
ment officials who saw in Chinese Communism a democratic offset to an ineffectual
Nationalist dictatorship—or at least a positive influence in the looming crisis.45 Some-
times, the followers of Mao were conceived to be little other than “agrarian reformers”
searching for “progressive solutions” to China’s complex problems46—while the Nation-
alist government was seen as both profoundly corrupt and irretrievably incompetent.
What was sought by all—those who were convinced anticommunists—as well as those
who were indifferent or fellow travelers—was strict avoidance of conflict with the Soviet
Union. What was intended by many, if not most, was the fabrication of a postwar coali-
tion government in China that would redress the shortcomings of the Nationalist govern-
ment with the restorative vigor of Mao’s incorruptible agrarian reformers.
While many in the postwar Truman administration entertained grave misgivings
about the intentions of the CCP, they had little influence over events on the ground
in Manchuria and continental China. In Manchuria, with Moscow’s declaration of war
against Japan, the Soviet Union moved very rapidly to occupy critical regions in the
industrialized territory, to confiscate machinery, control the area’s extensive resources,
and to seize the most advanced Japanese weaponry for transportation to European Rus-
sia. They also left considerable stores of artillery, armor, automatic weapons, and infantry
rifles in depots to be taken up by Chinese Communist forces. Over time, and covertly,
the Russians undertook to retrain CCP infantry forces in the use of modern weapons,
as well as the employ of modern military tactics. Outside of Manchuria, it was Chiang’s
forces that inherited abandoned Japanese stores, and immediately after the Japanese sur-
render, Nanking enjoyed clear equipment and force advantages over its Communist
antagonists. What Chiang did not have was the confidence of his American allies. The
fact that many Americans—as media reporters or government officials—entertained
grave misgivings about the personal competence, institutional integrity, and effective-
ness of the Nationalists, created very special policy problems that were to negatively
impact the outcome of the evolving civil war. Because of the often contradictory or
confused counsel, Washington’s directives, on many occasions, were themselves hesitant,
sometimes conflicting, and, on occasion, contradictory. At times, Nationalist forces were
denied arms or logistic support because of confusion or indecision in Washington. Mao,
on the other hand, continued to receive steady Soviet financial and military support in
violation of the Yalta agreements and the treaty arrangements Stalin had signed with

45See Mao, “On the Chungking Negotiations,” SWM, vol. 4, 55.

46Molotov informed Washington’s special envoy to China that there were “some people in China
who called themselves ‘communists,’ but they had no relation whatever to communism. They were
merely expressing their dissatisfaction at their economic condition.” Chou Enlai told General
George Marshall that the CCP “desired a democracy based . . . on the American style.” Chang and
Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, 358–59. Mao said that during his negotiations with the KMT,
he “met many foreigners, including Americans, who sympathize with us.” Mao, “On the Chungk-
ing Negotiations,” SWM, vol. 4, 55.
114 ● Marxism and the Making of China

By 1945, all of China was racked by uncontrolled inflation; government and mili-
tary corruption was evident everywhere; popular alienation and distrust resulted in
pandemic defections that Chiang, himself, often chose to overlook. In retrospect, it is
clear that Communist agents and sympathizers exaggerated and fabricated many of the
accounts of Nationalist corruption and malfeasance in the postwar period. Nonethe-
less, there was, in fact, a lamentable measure of corruption and incompetence in the
ranks. More than that, both the Nationalist government and the Nationalist military
were riddled with Communist sympathizers, many of whom were prepared to traffic
in state and military secrets with the CCP. In the course of time, some of the clos-
est, and most trusted, colleagues of Chiang betrayed both his trust and their sworn
Almost immediately after the formal surrender of the Japanese government in Septem-
ber, the Nanking government undertook to occupy Manchuria in the name of the central
authorities. At once, it became clear that neither the Soviet authorities nor Mao’s forces
were prepared to transfer control. Elements of the Chinese Communist armed services
occupied critical tracts of the subject territory. The Nationalists, fearing the displeasure
of the Americans who sought to avoid any conflict with Moscow, accommodated the
demands of both the Russians and the Chinese Communists to the extent that the situa-
tion rapidly became irretrievable. While the United States continued to rearm Nationalist
forces, American representatives warned Chiang to avoid any actions that might be seen
as provocations by the Soviets—and many in the United States military were convinced
that Washington could not and would not provide the support for the Nationalist forces
necessary to secure Manchuria.
With direct Soviet material assistance, the supply of critical intelligence, and the inde-
cisiveness of the Americans, Manchuria was soon lost, to become a secure staging area for
Chinese Communist operations. The armed forces of the CCP (by the summer of 1946
identified as the “People’s Liberation Army”) could act with almost complete impunity in
their forays into Nationalist territory. Throughout the period, Mao’s most trusted agents
continued to assure Washington’s representatives that the CCP had neither ideological
nor alliance interests that conflicted with those of the United States. As a result, some of
the most highly placed of the American diplomatic and military team in China became
duly convinced of the benignity of the CCP. Some were not disturbed at the prospect of
Communist victory, convinced that the connection of the Chinese Communists with
Moscow was, at best, tenuous and insignificant. Whatever the case, there was soon a con-
viction among some important Americans that no matter what Washington was prepared
to do, Mao and his forces would inevitably prevail.
In fact, whatever Mao’s representatives told the Americans, CCP contacts with the
Soviet Union were, and remained, substantial throughout the entire civil war. As far as
Mao’s perception of the United States was concerned, he was consistently candid with
his followers. The United States was the enemy who had supported, and continued to
support, the “fascist dictatorship” of Chiang Kai-shek.48 The final defeat of Chiang, and

47Chang and Halliday, in Mao: The Unknown Story, provide a harrowing tale of betrayal and

subversion. See ibid., chap. 29, 367–80.

48See Mao, “The Situation and Our Policy after the Victory in the War of Resistance against

Japan,” “Chiang Kai-shek Is Provoking Civil War,” “Rent Reduction and Production Are Two
Important Matters for the Defence of the Liberated Areas,” and “Greet the New High Tide of the
Chinese Revolution,” SWM, vol. 4, 20, 27, 71, 120.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 115

the rehabilitation of the nation, required the irreversible defeat of the United States in
By the fall of 1948, the military situation in Manchuria was no longer salvageable.
With comprehensive Soviet military and financial help, Mao’s troops were primed for
victory. By that time, the ultimate defeat of the Nationalist forces was anticipated. Cog-
nizant of all that, in a moment of painful candor, Chiang explained to an American
correspondent that the Chinese Communists would probably succeed in their conquest
of China—rendering it a threat to the entire Western world. By November, 750,000
well-armed and trained People’s Liberation Army combatants crossed into China south
of the Great Wall. By December, the American military mission in Nanking reported
to Washington that the military position of the Nationalist government had declined
beyond possible recoupment. While General MacArthur was convinced that Moscow
was directing its attention away from Europe to the Far East, and consequently posed a
potential threat to vital American regional interests, he was not prepared to suggest direct
American military intervention on the continent.
By the close of 1948, the Nationalists were shipping China’s most precious artifacts and
bullion to the island of Taiwan—already conceived as a defensible redoubt. In January
1949, the Executive Yuan of the Nationalist government recommended that Chiang call
for a cease fire and prepare the nation for peace negotiations with the CCP. On January
21, Chiang absented himself from his responsibilities as president and commander-in-
chief of the armed forces of the Republic of China. The next morning, he acknowledged
his failures, as well as the failures of his undisciplined and fractious party, and visited, for
the final time, the tomb of Sun Yat-sen. He was prepared to abandon the mainland of
China to Mao Zedong and his followers. He thereafter left for the island of Taiwan—
never to see his homeland again. In Peking, a large portrait of Mao was affixed over the
gate to the Forbidden City—in the same place the portrait of Chiang had hung but a
short time before.
In the turmoil, the United States had its diplomatic representatives remain in place,
indicating a readiness to seek some kind of accommodation with the forces of Mao
Zedong. To forestall any last minute decision on the part of the United States to inter-
vene in the closing phases of the Nationalist collapse, Mao and his entourage continued
to pretend a readiness to seek a relationship with Washington. Throughout the closing
phase of the civil war, Mao feigned a willingness to maintain productive relations with
all the “imperialist powers.” In his intraparty communications with his closest associates,
however, Mao simply revealed his convictions without qualifications. He admonished his
followers to abandon any “illusions” they might entertain concerning the United States
and its future relationship with China.50 They were to appreciate the intrinsic enmity of

49Throughout the period of the civil war, Mao was frank with his audiences. He insisted that

“U.S. imperialism and its running dog, Chiang Kai-shek have taken the place of Japanese imperial-
ism” and together they have launched a civil war to “strengthen the fascist dictatorship.” They had
“declared themselves to be enemies of the entire Chinese people.” He announced that the “struggle”
that animated the “Chinese revolution” was directed “against the Chiang Kai-shek bandit gang and
its master, U.S. imperialism”—“against the hated United States and Chiang Kai-shek.” Mao, “The
Chiang Kai-shek Government Is Besieged by the Whole People,” “On the Question of the National
Bourgeoisie and the Enlightened Gentry,” and “On the Great Victory in the Northwest and on the
New Type of Ideological Education Movement in the Liberation Army,” SWM, vol. 4, 136, 207,
209, 215.
50Mao, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle,” SWM, vol. 4, 429–30.
116 ● Marxism and the Making of China

the United States toward the world proletarian revolution—and the historic importance
of fostering and sustaining “unity with the Communist Party and the Soviet Union.”51
By the end of 1948 and the beginning of 1949, Mao had fashioned the postures that
would characterize his domestic, developmental program for a redeemed China and his
diplomatic, political, economic, and military relationship with the United States. For
almost three decades thereafter, his vision was to shape the lives of perhaps a quarter of
For Mao, the United States had been the power behind the “reactionary” Nationalists.
In fact, he had always understood that Washington had been the “master” of Chiang
Kai-shek.52 Commanding the forces of “international finance capital,” Washington had
pillaged China, tormented its people, corrupted its culture, and foreclosed its future. Mao
had divined that it was the United States that was the secret power behind “international
fascism.”53 The war against the Axis powers had been a dispute within the imperialist
family—a fraternal feud over markets, investments, and access to resources. Mao main-
tained that with the defeat of the Axis powers, the United States would assume command
of international Fascism. Only the united forces of the “proletarian international,” led by
the Soviet Union, in league with a renewed China, could prevail against that immediate
For Mao, world history followed a predetermined course55—revealed in the “science
of Marxism-Leninism”56—left as a living legacy by Lenin and Stalin to the “revolution-
ary proletariat” of the world.57 The close of the Second World War was the time for
proletarian world victory—prefigured in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In the course
of that “inevitable” victory, China would emerge, initially, as a “people’s democratic dic-
tatorship, led by the proletariat, and based on the worker-peasant alliance.”58 It would
rapidly industrialize, to soon surpass the material productivity of the advanced capitalist
nations.59 History had decreed that the time of industrial capitalism had passed. The signs
of its senescence were everywhere. The future, Mao was convinced, belonged to proletar-
ian Socialism and Communism. In its proper time, his rule would make plain, in fact,
what that would mean.
51Mao, “A Circular on the Situation,” SWM, vol. 4, 220.
52See Mao, “Whither the Nanking Government?” and “Order to the Army for the Country-wide
Advance,” SWM, vol. 4, 383, 387.
53“Since the victory of World War II, U.S. Imperialism and its running dogs in various countries

have taken the place of Fascist Germany, Italy and Japan and are frantically preparing a new world
war and menacing the whole world,” Mao, “Revolutionary Forces of the World Unite, Fight against
Imperialist Aggression,” SWM, vol. 4, 284–85.
54Mao insisted that “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is our best teacher and we must

learn from it.” Mao, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship,” SWM, vol. 4, 423.
55“History has developed in the direction pointed out by Stalin.” Mao, “Revolutionary Forces of

the World Unite, Fight against Imperialist Aggression,” SWM, vol. 4, 283.
56Mao, “The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History,” SWM, vol. 4, 457.
57See Mao, Ibid., 411–13.
58Mao, “Report to the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Com-

munist Party of China,” SWM, vol. 4, 372,

59Mao regularly emphasized the restoration and enhancement of industrial production and col-

lateral skills. See the discussion in SWM, 364–68. He spoke of the Socialist countries “living a better
life than that in the imperialist countries.” SWM, 374. He spoke of “the people’s democratic dicta-
torship” systematically solving “the problems of industrialization.” Mao, “On the People’s Demo-
cratic Dictatorship,” SWM, vol. 4, 419; see Mao, “The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of
History,” SWM, vol. 4, 454.
Mao Zedong and the Conquest of China ● 117

In the interim, Mao made his revolution with a doctrine that displayed the principal
traits of the reactive, developmental nationalism common to the revolutionaries in the
less-developed periphery of the industrialized world. His ideological formulations were
those of Sun Yat-sen, who shared the views of Mazzini and Rizal and Martí and all the
developmental nationalists of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.
He appealed to the reactive nationalism of those long suffering denizens of a less-devel-
oped community—imposed upon and exploited by those developed industrial nations
armed with the machinery of war. He called for class unity, committed dedication, and
collective sacrifice, in the service of a community of destiny bound together by a historical
patrimony, a common culture, in a given geographic space. He called for rapid agricul-
tural and industrial development, the expansion of infrastructure, and the accumulation
and harnessing of financial and human capital in the service of the nation. They were
all themes more common to the developmental ideologies of a nascent, revolutionary
bourgeoisie than those found in the traditional conceptual claims of traditional Marxism.
It was Sun Yat-sen’s doctrine of the Three Principles of the People that the victorious
forces of Mao Zedong carried on their standards when they accepted the surrender of the
forces of Chiang Kai-shek. But it was not so much that Mao had won with Sun’s doctrine
of developmental nationalism—it was what Mao would make of that doctrine, and what
he was to make of his New China.

The Making of Maoism

Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. We have stood up. . . .
We are already confronted with the task of nationwide economic construction. . . . Our
national defense will be consolidated and no imperialists will ever again be allowed to invade
our land.
—Mao Zedong1
In the construction of irrigation works . . . we moved, nationwide, over 50 billion cubic
meters of earth and stone, but from the winter to next spring we want to move 190 billion
cubic meters nationwide, an increase of well over three times. Then we have to deal with
all sorts of tasks: steel, copper, aluminum, coal, transport, the processing industries, the
chemical industry—[they all] need hordes of people. . . . I think if we do [all these things
simultaneously] half of China’s population unquestionably will die; and if it’s not a half, it’ll
be a third or ten percent, a death toll of 50 million people.
—Mao Zedong2

y the beginning of October 1949, Mao Zedong felt sufficiently secure to officially
proclaim the founding of the “People’s Republic of China,” a “new democracy”
that would occupy the place of the recently defeated “one party dictatorship”
of Chiang Kai-shek’s “Republic of China.” It would be a unique form of democracy, a
“people’s democratic dictatorship,” under “the leadership of the proletariat and the Com-
munist Party,” that would “work with one mind,” together with “the Soviet Union and
the New Democracies” to surmount all difficulties, domestic and international, in order
to construct a “New China” as part of the welcomed and imminent universal “proletarian
revolution.”3 Mao thus signaled his readiness to leave behind that much of the bourgeois
convictions of Sun Yat-sen.

1Mao Zedong, “The Chinese People Have Stood Up!” Selected Works (Beijing: Foreign Languages

Press, 1977), vol. 5, 17–18. Hereafter SWM.

2Mao, “Talks at the Wuchang Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” in The Secret Speeches of

Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward, eds. Roderick MacFarquhar,
Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 494.
3See, for example, the discussion of June 1950 in Mao, “A True Revolutionary,” SWM, vol. 5,

120 ● Marxism and the Making of China

While it is clear that Mao was preparing for a period between the founding of the
People’s Republic and what he anticipated would be the “basic completion” of the “social-
ist transformation” of industry and agriculture, it would be a time in which the traces
of “bourgeois rights” would remain. It would be a period he identified as “the transi-
tion period.” To so identify the period was everything other than casual. It would be a
transitional period in which tactical efforts were dictated by the necessity to stabilize the
revolutionary, developmental state. Within a general tactical strategy, efforts would be
undertaken to satisfy the basic material interests of “rich peasants,”4 as well as those of the
various subsets of the “national bourgeoisie”5—in order that “not . . . too many enemies”
be made before the regime had fully grounded itself.6 At the same time, the transition
would involve the complete destruction of the “landlord class,” as a class, together with
a robust “rectification” campaign that would ensure that any “antiparty,” or antigovern-
ment, activity by “bandits, tyrants, secret agents and counterrevolutionaries” would be
unmercifully and systematically suppressed.7
At its very commencement, Mao’s complex and evolving program contained an unsta-
ble combination of elements of Sun’s Sanminchui and Leninism. It had familiar proper-
ties. It had been seen before—in another period of transition. It had been jerry-built
during another period following the “victory of the proletariat . . . in one country”8—in
postrevolutionary Russia. At the time, Lenin insisted that it was a transitional program
that involved tactical adjustments that could not have been foreseen by Marx. Not only
had Leninism captured one, rather than the universe of countries predicted by classical
Marxism, but it was a country that was economically backward. The period of transition
of which Lenin spoke had been forced on the Bolsheviks as a result of making revolution
in a retrograde economy, employing peasant masses in circumstances featuring a minority
of urban proletarians. It was a revolutionary environment with which Mao could relate.

4Mao spoke of these concessions as including the expansion of private plots and permission for

individual peasants to raise livestock. See Mao, “Talks at the Beidaihe Conference (Draft Transcript)
(August 17–30, 1958),”The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao, 429.
5The interests of the “national bourgeoisie” were apparently embodied in Mao’s regular appeal

to the developmental program of Sun Yat-sen, which rejected the principle of class warfare and
defended the institution of private property, the existence of commodity markets, and the pursuit
of profit.
6See Mao, “Request for Opinions on the Tactics for Dealing with Rich Peasants,” “Don’t Hit Out

in All Directions,” and “The Party’s General Line for the Transition Period,” SWM, vol. 5, 24–25,
33–36, 102.
7The official CCP estimates of the number of “counterrevolutionaries” and “bandits” “extermi-

nated” by the government in the period between 1949 and 1954 ranged from four million to five
million. See Mao’s comments, in Mao, “The Party’s Mass Line Must Be Followed in Suppressing
Counterrevolutionaries” and “Strike Surely, Accurately, and Relentlessly in Suppressing Counter-
revolutionaries,” SWM, vol. 5, 50–56. See the numbers provided by Mao in Mao, “On the Correct
Handling of Contradictions among the People (Speaking Notes),” The Secret Speeches of Chairman
Mao, 141–42. The estimates tendered by foreign observers vary widely, but generally fall between
eight million and 8.5 million. See R. J. Rummel, China’s Bloody Century: Genocide and Murder
since 1900 (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press, 2007), chap. 9, and the account in Jean-Louis
Margolin, “China: A Long March into Night,” in Stephanie Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis
Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, and Jean-Louis Margolin, The Black Book of Commu-
nism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 476–87.
8V. I. Lenin, “Seventh Moscow Gubernia Conference of the Russian Communist Party,” Collected

Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1966), vol. 33, 115. Hereafter LCW.
The Making of Maoism ● 121

Years later, Mao was to acknowledge the influence of the Soviet Union on the poli-
cies of the People’s Republic at its founding.9 In June 1949, months before the official
founding of the People’s Republic, he had already duly commissioned Liu Shaoqi, a major
figure in the CCP, to undertake an extended visit to the Soviet Union in order to famil-
iarize himself fully with its prevailing system. Mao confirmed that in the “early stages of
Liberation,” the CCP, in order to govern, depended almost entirely on mimicking the
government and policies of the Soviet Union.10 It was a time in which Mao told Anastas
Mikoyan that both he and the Chinese people were grateful students of Josef Stalin. The
consequence was that the Soviet model was to serve as model for China’s political and
economic governance for the first years of the People’s Republic. Whatever bourgeois
rights survived were residues of those found in Sun’s program of national Socialism.
The general structure of the economy was corporative—that is to say, the various
sectors of agriculture and industry were grouped in categories, controlled by managers,
under the political direction of representatives of the “perennially ruling Party.” Similarly
the work force was organized under labor organizers, again directed by political represen-
tatives of the center. It was a structure of control and direction that had become familiar
to Europeans.
Whatever the particulars, it is clear that at the time of its founding, the People’s Repub-
lic was unequivocally under the influence of the Soviet revolutionary experience. In the
years that were to follow, Soviet influence became increasingly determinative.

China’s Stalinist “Transition to Socialism”

Through the early 1950s, Mao allowed his revolutionary governance of China to increas-
ingly fall under the guidance of the historical experience of the Soviet Union.11 The
consequences for China might well have been readily anticipated but for the wishful
thinking that, at the time, apparently influenced much of professional political analysis
in the West.
For many in the West, the connection between the Chinese Revolution, led by Mao,
and the system under the rule of Stalin, was seen as tenuous—and more imaginary than
real. For a variety of reasons, Mao, rather than an ideologue, was conceived an inde-
pendent actor, a nationalist and agrarian reformer, moved primarily by pragmatic and
broadly egalitarian concerns. It was argued that Mao would have little incentive to seek,
and little occasion to learn, from the revolution that invested Russia at the close of the
First World War. With some plausibility, Mao’s Marxism was seen as more Sun Yat-sen
than Karl Marx, more democracy than dictatorship, and more nationalist than proletar-
ian. Whatever his Marxism, it was largely dismissed as an idiosyncrasy rather than a
determinant of his political behavior. In retrospect, and in fact, it is evident that Mao was
firmly convinced that he was a Marxist revolutionary circumstanced much as Lenin had
been at the conclusion of Russia’s civil war.

9As will be indicated, Mao came to deplore Communist China’s abject dependence on the Soviet

model in the years immediately following the victory of the CCP at the end of the civil war in 1949.
See Mao, “Talks at the Chengtu Conference (March 1958),” in Chairman Mao Talks to the People.
Talks and Letters: 1956–1971, ed. Stuart Schram (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 98–99.
10Mao, “Talks at the Beidaihe Conference (Draft Transcript) (August 17–30, 1958),” The Secret

Speeches of Chairman Mao, 428.

11See Mao’s comments in Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics (New York: Monthly Review Press,

1977), 34–38, 122.

122 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Like Mao, but in his time, Lenin was compelled to attempt the restoration of a
devastated and primitive economy at the end of a tortured period of international and
civil conflict. During the struggle that followed the end of the international conflict
of 1914–1918, Lenin sought to sustain the efforts of his revolutionary forces through
confiscatory extraction of revenue from the peasantry. At the conclusion of the civil
conflict against his domestic opponents in the early 1920s, Lenin undertook to modify
his policies for others better calculated to rehabilitate the agriculture and industry of
war torn Russia. He chose to abandon the rigors of “war communism” and employ
instrumentalities he identified with a more functional “state capitalism”—policies he
counted a “temporary deviation” from the Marxism to which he was wedded. He spoke
of his new policies as a transitional New Economic Policy (NEP)12 for a Russia only
recently pacified. Within the confines of that tactical effort at economic reconstruction,
the emphasis was on dissipating resistance and increasing production—both industrial
and agricultural.13 In a sense, the transitional NEP had some of the non-Marxist, and
market governed features with which Sun Yat-sen was later to identify as derivative of
his Sanminchui.
To foster production, for example, Lenin’s NEP would allow rich peasants to continue
their exploitation of the poor, and, in the desperate effort to sponsor, sustain, and enhance
productive growth, concessions were made to the capitalists of the national bourgeoisie.
It was a period that tested the convictions and discipline of all Bolsheviks. The NEP was
seen by some as a signal that the revolution had collapsed into a Thermidorian retrench-
ment, an abandonment of the Marxism that was understood to have been its critical
inspiration. Among some Bolsheviks there was fear of a “restoration of capitalism” as a
consequence of Lenin’s recommended policies. Lenin, himself, spoke of, and dismissed,
the criticism as either a reactionary hope or the product of a kind of “left wing infantil-
ism” that imagined that the path to Communism would be direct and unencumbered.
Lenin admonished his critics to acknowledge that the achievement of revolutionary goals
could only be difficult, requiring taxing tactical adjustments along the way, involving
seeming defeats and, at times, only hesitant advances.
Bolshevik intellectuals of the time attempted to make Marxist sense of all that. They
sought to generate some sort of Marxist rationale for the behavior of Bolshevik authorities
not only during the time of the civil war but also that of the transitional period between
revolutionary victory and the expected establishment of the material conditions required
by Socialism. There was little in the then available traditional literature that might be of
immediate assistance. Little that was helpful was offered by the heritage left by the found-
ers of traditional Marxism. That provided by the revolutionaries of the final decades of
the nineteenth century offered little more.
Before the First World War, when the acknowledged masters of Marxism spoke of the
“day after the social revolution,” they basically confined their discussion to the problems
that would attend the proletarian assumption of control over the vast system of fully

12Lenin, “Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution,” “The New Economic Policy and the

Tasks of the Political Education Department,” and “Ninth All-Russia Congress of Soviets,” LCW,
vol. 33, 51–79, 155–77. See the discussion in Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime (New
York: Vintage Books, 1995), chap. 8. Sun Yat-sen saw the NEP as an abandonment of Marxism—as
did other commentators on the Russian Revolution.
13“Our last . . . and most difficult task . . . is economic development. . . . We must increase pro-

duction first and foremost and at all costs.” Lenin, “Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution,”
LCW, vol. 33, 57, 59.
The Making of Maoism ● 123

articulated cartels and monopolies that typified “late capitalism.”14 For them, Socialism
meant the abolition of private ownership and the management of the complex system
of advanced commodity production by associations of “class conscious” workers. The
expected effect would be continued productive abundance attended by massive redistri-
bution of yield.15
By the end of the nineteenth century, traditional Marxist doctrine had unequivocally
established that the only proper soil for true proletarian liberation was “mature capital-
ism.” The talk was of how the proletariat would organize and control the “late capital-
ism” of “high organic composition,” capital saturation, concentration, and ownership
centralization.16 The legacy of the Marxism of Karl Kautsky and the Second International
was predicated on an anticipation of revolution in a political and economic environ-
ment ripe for revolution—in which industry produced in such abundance that it became
increasingly difficult to clear inventories at a profit. Ready for revolution, it would be an
economic system so mature that not only could it produce in unlimited abundance, but
it also would be one in which the vast majority of the population would be composed of
urban proletarians, inured to the discipline and tempo of factory labor, and fully prepared
for managerial responsibilities.
As has been suggested, it was Lenin who transposed the site of Socialism’s revolu-
tion from the advanced industrial centers that suffered from “crises of plethora,”17 to the
economically impoverished periphery. And it was Lenin who found himself obliged to
provide a rationale for revolution in retrograde economic circumstances—for revolution
that would exact unreflecting commitment and sacrificial labor on the part of unlettered
peasants. One of the first major efforts at providing a suitable rationale for Socialist revo-
lution in such circumstances was that of Nikolai Bukharin—The Economics of the Period of
Transition.18 It was an attempt to outline what would be required by a proletarian revolu-
tion, successful in a primitive economic setting, and peopled, in large part, by peasants.

14In these circumstances Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, written toward the end of the

1870s, was a standard reference. There Engels spoke of the preconditions of Socialist revolution as
“the enormous expansion of modern industry,” in which “markets are glutted, products accumu-
late,” and society lapses into crises of overproduction, a “crisis of plethora.” In such a productive
environment, “the great majority of men” are reduced to wage earning “urban proletarians.” Only
then would the social revolution “become possible, could become an historical necessity, only when
the actual conditions for its realization were there.” See Engels, Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring’s
Revolution in Science (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), 375, 377–78, 384–85.
It was from this volume that the popular pamphlet was taken.
15“In general people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink,

housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity.” Liberation “is a historical and not a mental
act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the [level] of industry, com[merce], [agri]
culture, [intercourse].” Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,
Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975), vol. 5, 38. Hereafter MECW.
16Typical of those accounts is Karl Kautsky, Die soziale Revolution: Am Tage nach der sozialen

Revolution (Berlin: Vorwärts, 1904).

17Engels, Anti-Dühring, 378.
18Bukharin began his account in November 1919, to conclude in May 1920, immediately prec-

edent to the commencement of the NEP. His account became part of the debate on economic policy
that followed. Critical to Bukharin’s discussion was his dismissal of some of the central traditional
Marxist notions concerning the proletarian seizure of the means of production following the social
revolution. See the editor’s preface to N. Bukharin, Economia del periodo di trasformazione (Milan:
Jaca Book, 1971), and also chap. 4.
124 ● Marxism and the Making of China

At the end of the civil war in Russia, the war communism that Bukharin addressed was
transformed into the state capitalism of the NEP. Evgeny Preobrazhensky undertook to
supply an appropriate theoretical account of the novelty in the form of a work entitled:
The New Economics: An Experiment in Theoretical Analysis of the Soviet Economy.19
For present purposes, neither a full account nor a detailed analysis of either treatise is
required. Neither the work of Preobrazhensky nor that of Bukharin was devoted to plans
for the control and management of the massive industrial manufactories classical Marx-
ism expected successful social revolution would inherit. Neither were they devoted to a
discussion of the effective or equitable distribution of their expected abundance. Both
were works occupied with the maintenance and furtherance of an extremely primitive,
essentially agrarian, economic system—in the hope of ultimately constructing, through
collective sacrifice and submissive obedience, the missing material base the founders of
Marxism had declared essential for the advent of Socialism.
At the center of both works were reflections on the transfer of capital from the tra-
ditional to the modern sectors of the economy—something Marx had expected to have
been fully accomplished by the merciless exploitation of the working classes by capital-
ists during the first phase of bourgeois development. Absent that, both Bukharin and
Preobrazhensky spoke of a process of “primitive socialist accumulation” of capital assets
under the revolutionary auspices of the “organized proletariat” immediately following
what could only be seen, by traditional Marxists, as a premature seizure of power.20 Primi-
tive Socialist accumulation, the extraction and transfer of capital from the peasant, to
the industrial, economy, would clearly occupy an arduous period of collective sacrifice—
nowhere suggested in the work of the founders of the classical system.
Such a doleful prospect was the necessary consequence of revolutionaries having made
revolution at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong body of adherents.
The function of such a projected transitional period involved a massive transfer of capital
from the agrarian to the manufacturing economy—in order to underwrite the restoration
and expanded reproduction of the backward productive system captured by a revolution
undertaken out of place and at the wrong time. In effect, the transition would be required
in order to satisfy the most elementary preconditions for the Socialism classical Marxism
These were issues that occupied the attention of Bolshevik theoreticians throughout
the early Soviet debates on accelerated industrialization—debates, which in their course,
occupied all the major ideologues of Lenin’s entourage. The general discussion involved
issues that created controversies that were to prove costly for many. The consequence was
that Bukharin, and Preobrazhensky, as well as Trotsky and other major Bolshevik lead-
ers, were to be consumed in the arabesque of Stalinist politics and its subsequent purges.
Whatever influenced the infighting, and whatever his pretended judgment of opponents,
Stalin appreciated that economically retrograde postrevolutionary Russia required the
capital assets that could only be amassed in the agrarian economy. He proceeded with
his own draconian primitive Socialist accumulation of investment capital. In the course
of that program, the imposition of mandated deliveries of farm product to the state at
artificially low prices, while providing assets for industrial development, depleted peasant
reserves and resulted in widespread starvation in the countryside. In the effort to avert

19Evgeny Preobrazhensky, The New Economics: An Experiment in Theoretical Analysis of the Soviet

Economy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965).

20All of the anti-Bolshevik works of Karl Kautsky serve as testimony. See Karl Kautsky, The Dic-

tatorship of the Proletariat (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1964).

The Making of Maoism ● 125

catastrophe, by the winter of 1929, peasants were herded into collective farms, not only
because it was assumed that production thereby might be significantly increased, but
also because control over capital extraction and transfer might be more expeditiously
It is not necessary that Mao understood all the details of these events in order to initi-
ate policies essentially similar to those of Lenin during a time of transition. The initiatives
identified with the NEP were inextricably part of the history of the Soviet Union—and
were known to Mao. That Mao chose to implement them in China after the defeat of
the Nationalists was as much due to his familiarity with that history as to the realization
that the circumstances in China in 1949 were analogous to those of revolutionary Russia
in the early 1920s. Like the Bolsheviks, Mao characterized the “transition period” as that
time that begins with the establishment of “proletarian political power” and concludes
only with “founding of socialism.”21
To accomplish that, the primary purpose of the period of transition could only be the
development of the nation’s forces of production. That purpose in both the period of
transition in Bolshevik Russia and Mao’s China required massive infusions of capital—
and both countries were capital poor at the commencement of the process. Denied
direct foreign investment because of Mao’s anti-imperialist principles, China found itself
dependent on Soviet generosity—together with massive mandatory capital transfers from
the agrarian sector.22 That meant “eternal friendship” with Stalin’s Russia and material
sacrifice and rigorous discipline for China’s inhabitants—particularly those in the rural
economy. It was not necessary that Mao be familiar with the more arcane rationale for
Lenin’s period of transition—supplied by compliant Bolshevik theoreticians. Marxist
commitments, and realities on the ground, compelled him to undertake similar transi-
tional policies—with all the attendant implications.
All of that was not as obvious then as now. That the connection with Lenin’s policy for
the transition to Socialism was not immediately obvious was a consequence, at least in
part, of Mao’s repeated allusions to the developmental program of Sun Yat-sen through
the long years of the War of Resistance against Japan, as well as during the civil war that
followed. Throughout that extended period, Mao made no mention of the Bolshevik
policies of a time of transition. Instead, he insisted that his commitment was to the
economic policies of Sun. The Socialism to which he alluded was something remote, an
issue to be engaged only years or decades in the future.23 At the time of the founding of
the republic, Mao conveyed the clear impression that his program was essentially that of
Sun’s Sanminchui.

21“The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 marked the basic conclusion of the

democratic revolution and the beginning of the transition to socialism.” Mao, A Critique of Soviet
Economics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 40; see also page 34.
22See the discussion in Mao, “On the Ten Great Relationships (April 25, 1956),” Chairman Mao

Talks to the People, 62–65.

23Immediately after the victory of the CCP on the mainland of China, Mao spoke of the seizure

of the property of the “bureaucrat-capitalists,” but he insisted that “for a fairly long period after
the victory of the revolution,” it would be necessary “to make use of the positive qualities of urban
and rural private capitalism as far as possible, in the interest of developing the national economy.”
In 1950, Mao spoke of “nationalizing private industry and socializing agriculture” as something
“which is still quite far off.” Mao, “Report to the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central
Committee of the Communist Party of China,” SWM, vol. 4, 367; Mao, “Be a True Revolutionary,”
SWM, vol. 5, 39.
126 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Sun’s program for the industrialization of China projected a rapid expansion of agricul-
tural production and a subsequent intersectoral transfer of capital to the modern sector.
The difference was that to achieve those purposes, Sun’s program recommended relief
for the peasant masses of China, by reducing land rents, redistribution of land to assure
full utilization, water conservancy, and technological innovation through agrobiological
extension services provided by the government. He expected peasants to immediately
profit through a government supported program that would open both domestic and for-
eign markets to them. In the controlled capitalism Sun anticipated, the resultant peasant
profits would assist in underwriting development in the modern sector via tax revenues,
personal savings, direct investment, and the purchase of manufactured farm equipment.24
Sun expected those Mao identified as members of the national bourgeoisie to profit
from his program as well. In Sun’s conception of development, market incentives, accu-
mulated profits, foreign loans, and foreign technology would result in rapid and sustained
increments in both industrial and agricultural productivity. Throughout the civil war,
Mao—in what seemed an application of Sunist policies—advocated protection for the
national bourgeoisie.25 He insisted that any threats to the national bourgeoisie by his
followers would constitute a “leftist deviation” in national policy.26 In general, as was the
case with Sun’s policies, Mao ordered the CCP to “protect the lives and property of all the
people . . . irrespective of class.”27
The surface features of the developmental program proposed by Sun were sufficiently
akin to those professed by Mao28 at the time, stretching from the late 1920s through the
founding of the People’s Republic, to allay, at least temporarily, any concerns entertained
by the non-Marxist population of China.29 As has been suggested, Mao’s policies were
clearly tactical.30 In fact, Mao conceived that initial period of his rule as nothing other
than preparatory to the full advent of “anti-bourgeois, proletarian” Socialism.31 While
he continued to allude to Sun with some frequency during the first years of the People’s

24Sun expected direct foreign investment and international loans to provide the bulk of invest-

ment in the modern sector. See the summary of Sun’s developmental program in The International
Developmental of China (Taipei: China Cultural Service, 1953), 1–8. Some of these elements were
already apparent in Sun, “China’s Present and Future: The Reform Party’s Plea for British Benevo-
lent Neutrality,” The Complete Works of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (Taipei: China Cultural Service, n.d.), vol.
5, 81–109.
25During the years of the Civil war, Mao admonished his followers not to damage the property

or the profit potential of the “middle peasants” or “private industrial and commercial enterprises.”
Mao, “On the September Meeting—Circular of the Central Committee of the Communist Party
of China,” SWM, vol. 4, 270–71.
26Mao, “A Circular on the Situation,” SWM, vol. 4, 219.
27Mao, “Proclamation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” SWM, vol. 4, 397.
28Like Sun, Mao argued that it was the help of the agrarian sector “that will make the industrial-

ization of the country possible.” Mao, “Be a True Revolutionary,” SWM, vol. 5, 38.
29Mao seemed committed to reassuring those with property. He asserted with some emphasis

that “the aim of the Chinese revolution . . . its aim is not to abolish capitalism in general.” Mao,
“On the Question of the National Bourgeoisie and the Enlightened Gentry,” SWM, vol. 4, 207.
30The tactical character of Mao’s policies was emphasized by Liu Shaoqi, “Guiding Principles for

New China‘s Economic Development,” Selected Works of Liu Shaoqi (Beijing: Foreign Languages
Press, 1984), vol. 1, 424–28.
31“During the democratic revolution we used to say that the revolution had two stages, and that

the first stage was a preparation for the second.” Mao, “Talks at the Chengtu Conference (March
1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 117.
The Making of Maoism ● 127

Republic, Mao was sufficiently candid with the party faithful to identify only Josef Stalin
and Marxism-Leninism as his guide.32 With the establishment of his rule, Mao assumed
the anti-imperialist responsibilities of the “proletarian world revolution,” which was to
radically, rapidly, and unalterably, alter the domestic and international political environ-
ment for China.
In February 1950, Stalin, himself, assigned Mao the obligation of providing material
assistance to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, as well as some of the other maturing proletarian
forces in the agrarian East. Among those restive forces were those on the Korean pen-
insula. As early as March 1949, Kim Il Sung, leader of Communist forces north of the
thirty-eighth parallel on the peninsula, sought to elicit Stalin’s assistance in a proposed
invasion of South Korea.
The end of World War II had left the Korean peninsula divided at the thirty-eighth
parallel, with the North occupied by the Soviet military and the South by the West-
ern allies. As part of his obligations as an “international proletarian revolutionary,” Mao
encouraged Kim in his projected invasion of the South—and volunteered Chinese man-
power in defense of the North should that be required. Once Soviet troops had formally
abandoned their occupation of the North, Kim proceeded with plans for an invasion of
the South. By January 1950, preparations were being made for an armed assault, and
on June 25, North Korean troops commenced a full-scale, armed incursion into South
Korea. Two days later, the United States responded by calling for United Nations assis-
tance to counter the aggression. The “police action” in Korea had begun.
North Korean troops moved rapidly down the peninsula. On September 15, the
United States, supported by the United Nations, landed troops at Inchon, just below the
thirty-eighth parallel, not only threatening the supply lines but also the potential escape
routes of the invading North Korean forces. Not long after, Mao—against the advice
of his senior military leaders—committed Chinese troops to the defense of the North
Koreans. On October 19, China—war weary and impoverished, caught up in an exact-
ing program of economic development—was cast into a conflict with the United States
and its United Nations’ allies—ultimately deploying about three million troops in the
endeavor, and suffering almost a million casualties, half of which were fatalities. Mao had
paid that exorbitant price to assure the survival of a fellow proletarian regime. One could
hardly require more evidence of his seriousness of Marxist purpose.
The Soviet Union used the occasion to field-test some of its equipment and have its
pilots exposed to countless hours of combat training against potential foes. The inter-
national revolutionary movement reinforced its conviction that the advanced industrial
nations could not effectively resist the forces of anti-imperialism. For its part in the enter-
prise, North Korea paid an especially heavy price. Almost all the cities of North Korea
were reduced to rubble, and almost one-third of North Korean males of military age
perished in the fighting.
As compensation for China’s sacrifices, Mao benefitted, in that Beijing received an
assurance from Moscow that arms plants, technological assistance, and blueprints for
aircraft, armor, artillery, and shipborne weapons platforms would be forthcoming.

32“Marx, Engels, Lenin or Stalin: Our relationship to them is one of pupils to teachers and that

is how it should be”—and further, “History has developed in the direction pointed out by Stalin,”
Mao, “Combat Bourgeois Ideas in the Party,” SWM, vol. 5, 112; Mao, “Revolutionary Forces of the
World Unite, Fight against Imperialist Aggression,” SWM, vol. 4, 283. See also Mao, “Two Talks
on Mutual Aid and Cooperation in Agriculture” and “Speeches at the National Conference of the
Communist Party of China,” SWM, vol. 5, 139, 158–59.
128 ● Marxism and the Making of China

By the end of the Korean War in 1953, the People’s Republic of China, one of the poorest
countries in the world, not only deployed one of the globe’s largest land armies but also
the third largest air force—and it was soliciting nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union.
Mao’s discharge of his international proletarian obligations imposed an exorbitant
cost on the people of China. Mao expected to pay for the military operations involved
through the export of grain—which was to be supplied by China’s peasants. By the end
of the Korean War, strict quotas were imposed on China’s agrarians. More and more were
driven into cooperatives—“under the leadership of the Party”—where they were expected
to increase agricultural per unit yields without any particular assistance from the state.33
Mandatory quotas were imposed, reducing individual and family rations to the point that
malnutrition became pandemic.
It was at that approximate time, that the decision was made in Moscow to allow
Mao to assume full responsibilities as mentor to the revolutionaries of the East: the
Japanese and Indonesian Communist parties, as well as the armed rebels in the Philip-
pines, Malaya, and Burma. All that apparently contributed to Mao’s decision that China
had “transcended the bourgeois democratic phase” of the proletarian revolution—and
that, by 1953, the “contradiction” between the nation’s bourgeoisie and proletariat had
become increasingly “antagonistic.”34 Mao had determined that the transitional period of
class collaboration had concluded, and the systematic suppression of the Chinese bour-
geoisie, together with the nationalization of its assets, should begin in earnest. Maoist
China pretended to have passed the bourgeois democratic threshold—transcending Sun’s
program—to make entry into Socialism.
The death of Stalin on March 9, 1953, closed a reasonably well-defined period in
the history of the Chinese Revolution. The uprisings and unrest against Communist
Party control in Eastern Europe that followed—in the German Democratic Repub-
lic, in Poland, and in Hungary—augured the close of the Stalinist epoch. In February
1956, at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita
Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his tyrannical rule, his terroristic policies, and the
forced draft program of industrialization that had imposed so much suffering on the
Russian people.
Coming at a time when Mao sought to implement his own domestic plans for the
forced pace of industrialization, de-Stalinization created something of a problem among
the highest ranking leaders of the CCP. Whatever the resistance, Mao managed to main-
tain control over what was essentially Stalinist economic policy. He was prepared to grant
that Stalin had made “errors” in developmental planning and had committed “excesses”
in both the murder of innocents in his suppression campaigns and in his extortionate
demands on the peasantry.35 Nonetheless, Mao continued to insist on the essential func-
tionality of Stalin’s elite-planned and bureaucratically administered programs for the eco-
nomic development of China. Like Stalinist Russia, Maoist China’s first Five Year Plan
emphasized the enhancement of heavy industry with but little effective—as distinct from
rhetorical—concern for consumer production.

33See the discussions in Mao, “Two Talks on Mutual Aid and Cooperation in Agriculture” and

“On the Cooperative Transformation of Agriculture,” SWM, vol. 5, 131–40, 184–207.

34See Mao’s discussion in Mao, “Combat Bourgeois Ideas in the Party,” SWM, vol. 5, 103–11,

particularly 106–7.
35See Mao’s statements in “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People

(Speaking Notes)” and “Talks at the First Zhengzhou Conference,” The Secret Speeches of Chairman
Mao, 136–38, 141, 162–64, 178, 462, 464, 479, 491, 493–94.
The Making of Maoism ● 129

By the fall of 1957, the post-Stalinist leadership of the Soviet Union—as part of its
effort to maintain the integrity of the anti-Western proletarian assemblage—agreed to
supply Mao with the technology and the skilled agents to construct both atomic weapons
and the missile platforms for their delivery. By the end of the year, to the dismay of his
Russian hosts, Mao was prepared to publicly speculate on the possibility of a nuclear
conflict between the forces of imperialism and those of the international proletariat.
Khrushchev was later to speak of Mao’s delivery at the Moscow summit of Communist
leaders concerning possible war against the imperialists as megalomaniacal. It signaled the
emergence of serious and abiding tension between Moscow and Beijing.
Given the uncertainty of assured and continuous Soviet support, Mao was convinced
that China must rapidly create an autarkic industrial base to meet its increasingly ambi-
tious international responsibilities—and he had convinced himself equally that the full
measure of industrialization, within an increasingly abbreviated period, could not be
accomplished with narrowly Stalinist policies.36 By 1957–58, given the general acknowl-
edgment of Stalin’s failures, Mao found himself with the latitude to embark on a specifi-
cally Maoist program of economic expansion and industrial production.37 It was about
that time that he fully abandoned all pretense of conforming to any of Sun Yat-sen’s
developmental recommendations—to put together the plans for what he imagined would
be the nation’s “Great Leap Forward”—supplying China with those products essential to
the fabrication of an abundance of weapons platforms, both simple and sophisticated.

Post-Stalinism and Peasant Revolution

Mao’s decision to drive the Chinese economy forward by “great leaps” marked the com-
mencement of a singular period in a century of singular developments in China. For
Mao, the occasion of formulating an autonomous developmental program, a “Chinese
road to socialism,” created the necessity of providing its rationale—a unique, if loosely
framed collection of beliefs, conjectures, pretenses, aspirations, and imperatives that
might legitimately be spoken of as his own. Whether it might also be identified as Marx-
ist or Marxist-Leninist is an issue not easily resolved. Rendering such a determination
necessarily involves contested judgments by responsible observers.
To attempt to establish how much Marxism there might be in Maoism, requires, mini-
mally, some determination of what the central claims of Marxism, in fact, might be.
Putting together such a catalog is by no means easily accomplished. At its best, the Marx-
ism of Marx and Engels involved a complex, ordinary language, conceptual framework
that left critical concepts ill defined—either vague or ambiguous, or both.38 What that
means is that no one—however conscientious—can ever be fully confident that a critical
Marxist term is being used responsibly. The consequence has been that throughout its
history, there have been competing, and sometimes mutually exclusive, interpretations of
what Marxism might mean—both theoretically and practically—the result of assigning

36See Mao’s statements during his “Speech at the Group Leaders’ Forum of the Enlarged Meeting

of the Military Affairs Committee (Excerpts, June 28, 1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People,
37“When Stalin was criticized in 1956, we were . . . happy . . . It was completely necessary to

remove the lid, to break down blind faith, to release the pressure, and to emancipate thought.” Mao,
“Talks at the Chengtu Conference (March 1958),” ibid., 101–2.
38See the discussion in A. James Gregor, Metascience and Politics: An Inquiry into the Conceptual

Language of Political Science (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003), chaps. 5 and 6.
130 ● Marxism and the Making of China

different meanings to critical concepts. Maoism is but one of those alternative and con-
tested interpretations.
Traditional Marxism has been parent to an untold number of variants—each of which
considers itself orthodox and its competitors heterodox.39 The distinction has been as
invidious as it has been mercurial—often the source of sectarian violence. Stalinists have
denounced Trotskyite “traitors” and Bukharinite “opportunists,” as well as the “pseudo-
Marxist” followers of Zinoviev and Kaminev. Leninists have reviled the intellectuals
of the Second International—all those who succumbed to the “counterrevolutionary”
blandishments of Karl Kautsky. Mao denigrated those who followed the guidance of Li
Dazhao and Wang Ming. Each and every one was not only in error—but was either a
venal “deceiver,” a “class enemy,” or simply evil. To this day, given the intrinsically inde-
terminate character of the Marxist legacy, there is no reasonably objective evidence that
any of those judgments was at all credible.
Irrespective of the general inability to identify orthodoxy to everyone’s satisfaction,
some scholars have been satisfied to refer to Mao as a Marxist without hesitation or apol-
ogy. At times, the identification is qualified by speaking of Maoism as a form of Marxism-
Leninism—which, at least, attempts to accommodate the changes wrought in the original
system by V. I. Lenin. Mao, himself, moved artlessly from referring to his belief system
as Marxist to Marxist-Leninist, without any attempt at further specificity.40 What that
accomplishes is to obscure the meaning and implications that distinguish manifestly dif-
ferent belief systems.
In fact, the intellectual leadership of China’s Communist Party refers to the body of
political reflections identified with Chairman Mao as “Mao Zedong Thought”—suggest-
ing some meaningful distinction between that “Thought” and Marxism—which, in turn
and in some unspecified fashion, is somehow related to a conceptual framework called
“Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism.” The relationship of Mao’s Thought to traditional Marxism,
to Marxism-Leninism, or Stalinism, was never assessed with any analytic care. Nonethe-
less, by the time Mao put together his own peculiar developmental plans for revolutionary
China, the overt outlines of a distinctive Mao Zedong Thought had made its appearance.
By the last years of the 1950s, Mao had convinced himself that Stalin had lapsed
into grievous error concerning many things. One such error turned on the fact that,
in Mao’s judgment, Stalin had never had a winning developmental plan for the Soviet
Union. More significant still, Mao lamented that Stalin, in the course of his rule, had
never engaged the “latent power” of the people—who, once inspired, demonstrate their
ability to work with fanatical devotion for the cause.41 Mao had convinced himself that
the people, animated by a consciousness both revolutionary and selfless, would work tire-
lessly, and without material incentive, to satisfy Communist Party injunctions.42 Inspired

39See the discussion in A. James Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the

Intellectual History of Radicalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.

40See, for example, Mao, “On the Ten Great Relationships (April 25, 1956)” and “Chairman

Mao’s Talk to Music Makers (August 24, 1956),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 82, 86.
41See Mao’s discussion in Mao, “Speech at the Lushan Conference (July 23, 1959),” ibid., 134.
42Mao regularly speaks of arousing “fanatical” “enthusiasm” in order to fulfill assigned economic

quotas. See Mao, “On the Ten Great Relationships,” “Speech at the Supreme State Conference
(Excerpts, January 28, 1958),” and “Speech at the Lushan Conference (July 20, 1958),” ibid., 72,
91–92, 133–34. He insisted that once sufficiently aroused, the “people” needed no material incen-
tive to “strive in the common cause.” Mao, “Speech at the Enlarged Session of the Military Affairs
Committee and the External Affairs Conference (September 11, 1959),” ibid., 146.
The Making of Maoism ● 131

by the party, people, individually and collectively, would “overfill” quotas, to achieve
economic results in “Great Leaps”—“greater, faster, and better” in accomplishment than
under any alternative circumstances.43
Mao’s notion of great leaps in material production was predicated on a loosely related
set of convictions, essentially empirical in origin—immediate products of his own revo-
lutionary experience. Within that collection were propositions that were singular—that
could be distinguished from anything found in the body of traditional Marxism. They
were, in fact, propositions that rendered most of Marx’s economic theory largely, if not
entirely, irrelevant to those making revolution in peripheral economies.
As a case in point, it is clear that both Marx and Engels, as founders of Marxism, had
specific, systemic reservations concerning the role of the peasantry in modern revolution.
As has been indicated, they spoke of the entire class as the product of the “idiocy of rural
life”—and its representatives as intrinsically conservative and inevitably counterrevolu-
tionary—the predictable consequence of their governing life circumstances.44
In transferring the site of revolution to the industrially backward periphery of the con-
temporary world, it was Lenin who was prepared to identify the peasantry as important, if
transient, allies of the revolutionary proletariat. It was Mao who went further, conceiving
the poorest peasantry as absolutely critical to the revolutionary process, to the period of
transition, and to the accomplishment of great leaps in economic development. He spoke
of them as irreplaceable agents of revolution. It was he who insisted that, in China, “several
hundred million peasants will rise like a mighty storm . . . that no power, however great,”
would be able to resist. He went on to insist that revolutionaries had but three options in
dealing with an aroused peasantry: “to march at their head and lead them; to trail behind
them, gesticulating and criticizing”; or “to stand in their way and oppose them.”45 Mao’s
recommendation was clear. Whatever traditional Marxism may have counseled, history
required that the CCP lead the peasants where the peasants intended to go. The most
destitute of peasants, having nothing to lose, would insist upon revolution. They would
make revolution because they were desperately poor. More than that, they were “blank”
as well—entirely devoid of an appropriate “consciousness.” The fact that they were des-
perately poor made them disposed to violent revolution; their blankness rendered them
ready recipients for the supply of “truths” furnished by party leadership.46 At best, all this,
unique to Mao Zedong Thought, was related to the transmogrified Marxism of Lenin,
but unknown in the theoretical literature of traditional Marxism.
Marx and Engels had both argued that the development of “class consciousness” on
the part of the proletariat was an intrinsic and non-substitutable factor in revolutionary
progression and the redemptive process of restoring integrity to humankind. A radical

43Mao, “Talks at the Chengtu Conference (March 1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People,

44See Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 488, 494.
45Mao, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” SWM, vol. 1, 23–24.
46“Our country is both poor and blank. Those who are poor have nothing to call their own.

Those who are blank are like a sheet of white paper. To be poor is fine because it makes you inclined
to be revolutionary. With blank paper things can be done. You can write on it or draw designs.
Blank paper is best for writing.” Mao, “Speech at the Supreme State Conference (Excerpts, Janu-
ary 28, 1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 92. Mao continued with these characterizations
throughout the years, beginning with his first foray into the countryside, through the War of Resis-
tance against Japan and the civil war, until and through the time he formulated his own “Chinese
road” to Socialism. See Mao, “Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society” and “Report on an Investiga-
tion of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” SWM, vol. 1, 17, 27, 32–33.
132 ● Marxism and the Making of China

humanism, a full sense of personal worth, and the achievement of liberated selfhood were
at the core of classical Marxism.47 The argument made by the founders of Marxism was
that only the proletariat—because of its life circumstances—could serve as liberators of
oppressed and alienated human beings. No other class—neither peasant nor bourgeois—
could serve in that capacity.48 Only the urban, industrial proletariat, the “self-conscious,
independent movement of the immense majority,” could create, as a necessary conse-
quence of its very life circumstances, “an association in which the free development of
each is the condition for the free development of all.”49
The revolution anticipated by Marx and Engels required that the modern industrial
proletariat develop the critical intelligence that was an essential component of ultimate
human liberation. The development of that intelligence was inextricably associated with
urbanization and machine industry—as well as with the standard science that sustained
it all. Thus, as early as 1844, Engels confidently could maintain that “the degree of intel-
ligence of the various workers is in direct proportion to their relation to manufacture; and
that the factory hands are most enlightened as to their own interests, the miners some-
what less so, the agricultural laborers scarcely at all”50—hence, the “idiocy of rural life.”
Engels spoke of the British working class, residents of the burgeoning industrial cities
of Manchester and Lancashire, establishing, on their own initiative, “schools and reading
rooms for the advancement of education”—to make the urban proletariat the true revo-
lutionary leaders in England.51 They, in their “fustian jackets scarcely held together, speak
upon geological, astronomical, and other subjects, with more knowledge than most ‘cul-
tivated’ . . . bourgeoisie possess. . . . They have translated the French materialists . . . and
disseminated them,” in order to develop among themselves, as an attendant consequence
of the systematic expansion of manufacture, a clear “proletarian consciousness.”52 Those
notions were given derivative expression in The Communist Manifesto as the conviction

47While the founders of classical Marxism were hesitant to wax eloquent concerning the values

that inspired their activities, one only need read their early works, such as the essays contained
in Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in MECW, vol. 3, 231–346, to identify
their moral incentives. At about the same time, Engels argued that only a “proletarian” revolution
could “hold out the prospect of an all-sided development. A happy existence for all members of
society.” He went on to anticipate that the “communist organization of society will give its members
the change of an all-round exercise of abilities that have received all-round development.” Engels,
“Principles of Communism,” MECW, vol. 6, 353. He specifically identified humankind’s redeemer
as urban “proletarians,” those workers produced by the “factory system.” Engels, “Draft of a Com-
munist Confession of Faith,” MECW, vol. 6, 101. See Engels’ comments in “Principles of Com-
munism,” MECW, vol. 6, 341–42, 346–47. An account of the moral, quasi-religious, sentiments
that animated the founders of Marxism is provided in A. James Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political
Religion: An Intellectual History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), chaps. 2 and 3.
48All the other classes, whatever their episodic behavior, were destined to betray the revolution.

“The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these
fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class.
They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary.” See Marx
and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 494.
49Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 495, 506.
50Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England: From Personal Observation and

Authentic Sources, MECW, vol. 4, 324.

51In the first edition of his work, Engels identified the proletariat as the “intellectual leadership”

of the anticipated revolution.

52Ibid., 527–29.
The Making of Maoism ● 133

that the “ideas” and “will” of humankind are a function of the “economic conditions” of
one’s class—that “intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material
production is changed.”53
Thus, in full maturity, Marx could make celebratory reference to the “special capacity
for theory,” and the “clear class consciousness,” that had emerged among the industrial-
ized, urban proletariat54—proof, once again that intellectual life moved in measure to
changes in material production. Engels went so far as to insist that “to crude condi-
tions . . . of production and the crude class conditions correspond . . . crude theories.”
Only when “the new productive forces have already outgrown the capitalistic mode of
using them,” transforming “the great majority of the population into proletarians,” do
they give rise to “theoretical expression—as scientific socialism”—an “ideal reflection in
the minds” of the urban working class.55 “All thought,” he contended, depends “upon the
material conditions obtaining at that particular time.”56
These convictions became integral parts of traditional Marxist theory. In 1892, in
conjunction with the preparation of the Erfurt Program of the German Social Demo-
cratic Party—under the critical mentorship of Friedrich Engels—Karl Kautsky wrote a
general account of orthodox Marxist beliefs, which was published as The Class Struggle.
In its pages, he argued that “the modern method of production reacts on the intellectual
life of the proletariat, [awakening] in them a thirst for knowledge and [giving] them an
understanding of great social problems. . . . One of the most remarkable phenomena
in modern society is the thirst for knowledge displayed by the proletariat. . . . And this
thirst for knowledge is entirely disinterested. . . . The proletariat seeks truth for its own
sake. . . . Accordingly, he does not limit himself to any one domain of knowledge; he tries
to embrace the whole; he seeks to understand the whole of society, the whole world. . . .
It is among the despised and ignorant proletariat that the philosophical spirit of the
brilliant members of the Athenian aristocracy is revived. . . . The militant, politically self-
conscious divisions of the industrial proletariat furnish the power which is behind the
Socialist movement.”57
Kautsky went on to contrast that to the crabbed and circumscribed intellectual life of
the peasantry. He informed his audience that “from the standpoint of . . . farmers the
capitalist system of production is unintelligible; modern socialism, naturally, they .  .  .
understand still less. . . . Lack of information and narrowness of view, both of which are
natural results of their condition, [make] them easy prey of any demagogue who was suf-
ficiently self-assertive.”58
In effect, for the spokesmen of traditional Marxism, only the urban proletariat pos-
sessed the gifts capable of delivering on the promise of redemption that was the moral
imperative sustaining classical Marxism. Without that sustaining promise, it is difficult
to anticipate the ends to be served.
Such was the body of theoretical convictions left as heritage to their followers by Marx
and Engels. With the death of Engels in 1895, Marxism, as a theory of revolution, was

53Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 501, 503.
54Marx, Capital, 13, 15.
55Engels, Anti-Dühring, 351, 384, 391.
56Ibid., 462.
57Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle (Erfurt Program) (New York: W. W. Norton & Company,

1971), 156–57, 187, 191.

58Ibid., 162–63.
134 ● Marxism and the Making of China

left without an authoritative spokesman. Its interpretation was left to the good graces of
followers, variously endowed, throughout the world.
One of those followers was V. I. Lenin, who first accepted, with few reservations, the
“orthodoxies” of Karl Kautsky. In 1899, he published a volume devoted to The Devel-
opment of Capitalism in Russia, the essence of which was that the economic develop-
ment of Russia was destined to follow the historic pattern anticipated by the founders of
Marxism—with industrial maturity bringing with it the vast number of class conscious
proletarians critically essential for a Socialist revolution. A few years before, he had argued
that Marx had established that “the development of the social-economic formations is a
process of natural history,” and that “the course of ideas depends on the course of things.”
The “consciousness” of revolutionaries, therefore, was to be understood as a determinate
function of existing “productive relations.”59
In our time, virtually everyone familiar with the course of Lenin’s revolutionary ideas
knows that by 1900, Lenin felt compelled to modify his account. He was no longer con-
vinced that ideas simply reflected life circumstances. For a variety of reasons, he became
persuaded that the ideas of proletarians and peasants were more than simple reflections
of their life circumstances. By that time, Lenin was prepared to argue that recent his-
tory had demonstrated that isolated from Marxist leadership, “the working class move-
ment becomes petty and inevitably becomes bourgeois.”60 No longer did he contend that
the urban working class spontaneously aspired to the cognitive heights of the Athenian
philosophers. No longer were urban workers seen as the embodiments of an intellectual
aristocracy. The process was no longer seen as spontaneous, as a simple reflection of life
circumstances. “Revolutionary consciousness,” instead, was seen as demanding the inter-
cession of a highly organized and theoretically schooled leadership capable of directing any
spontaneous behavior on the part of working masses.61 Without that intervention, work-
ers would achieve nothing other than “a trade union consciousness,” a preoccupation with
immediate material concerns, wages and security of employment. Gone was any notion of
the special scientific intuition of the urban proletariat. Instead, Lenin saw the proletariat of
his time as callow and venal—without class identity, or a mature consciousness. To awaken
them to their historic responsibilities, a leadership schooled in Marxism was required,
prepared to infuse proletarians in particular, and working people in general, with proper
convictions—all of which implied a great many things about individual and group psy-
chology that had presumably escaped the perspicacity of the founders of classical Marxism.
In trying to assess the Marxist quality of Lenin’s notions, some found the occasion
to loosely hang Lenin’s notions on allusions made by Marx and Engels that a Com-
munist Party, “the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of
every country,” might somehow be conceived the repository of theoretical advantage,
“understanding the line of march,” and capable of “pushing forward all others.” Whether
that would be enough to warrant Lenin’s claim that only the party could bring revolution-
ary consciousness to the hapless proletariat “from without,” would be difficult to affirm
without reservation.62 Marx and Engels insisted that “the proletarian movement” was

59Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are,” LCW, vol. 1, 137–41.
60Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement,” LCW, vol. 4, 368.
61Lenin, “A Talk with Defenders of Economism,” LCW, vol. 5, 316, 318.
62Engels insisted that “revolutions are not made deliberately and arbitrarily, but that everywhere

and at all times they have been the necessary outcome of circumstances entirely independent of
the will and leadership of particular parties and entire classes.” Engels, Principles of Communism,
MECW, vol. 6, 349.
The Making of Maoism ● 135

“the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority”—hardly a body, it

would seem, whose consciousness would require the special intercession of a self-selected
All of this, of course, was compounded by the coming of the Great War. In that time of
great troubles, Lenin saw the decision of the various social democratic parties of Europe
to support their respective governments in the burgeoning conflict as a betrayal of Marx-
ism. Even the most Marxists of Marxists, the Social Democrats of Germany, voted war
credits for the Kaiser.
All of this left Lenin confounded. After first refusing to accept the reality of what
was transpiring, he soon sought to account for its occurrence. As has been suggested,
what emerged from the attempt was a further creative development of the Marxism he
had inherited: his notion of imperialism as a hitherto unacknowledged stage of capitalist
development. That, in turn, placed further emphasis on the need for firm, consistent, and
hierarchically structured revolutionary leadership if the working class movement was not
to succumb to the opportunistic blandishments of the bourgeoisie.
Leninist doctrine saw imperialism providing the advanced industrial nations with the
“super profits” with which to suborn the leadership of the working class—who proceeded
to betray the interests of their class for personal advantage. Since Lenin was already pre-
pared to argue that “consciousness” came to the rank-and-file proletarian from “with-
out”—the suborned agents of finance capitalism succeeded in leading the working class
to support simple trade unionism, domestic chauvinism, and the criminal exploitation of
international imperialism. A “decaying capitalism” had become “parasitic”—to produce
what could only be an “inevitable” reaction—“national wars of liberation waged by colo-
nies and semi-colonies” against their tormentors. The super profits used by moribund
capitalism to suborn its proletariat were wrung from the wretched peoples on the periph-
ery of industrialized society. The reactive response of those peoples was predictable—in
“wars of liberation” that would be “progressive and revolutionary,” requiring the partici-
pation of “hundreds of millions” in exploited countries like China.64
Lenin had taken a thin thread of argument he had found in The Communist Mani-
festo, and perhaps in scattered essays written by Marx and Engels, and put together his
convictions concerning imperialism.65 The result was a related series of notions nowhere
found in the body of traditional Marxism—with implications that would transform half
a world.
In Lenin’s reformulation of traditional Marxism, revolution was to initially take place
in peripheral, underdeveloped environs—the weakest links of mature capitalism—rather
than in the advanced industrial nations. The anticipated wars of liberation, made by
peasants rather than proletarians, would deny finance capitalism essential investment
opportunities, as well as necessary market supplements. The catastrophic collapse of the
system—predicted by Marx and Engels—would finally transpire. Only then would the
final, universal revolution, begun on its periphery, overwhelm the system. Humankind
would make the long awaited transition from necessity to freedom.

63See the discussion in Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 495, 497.
64Ibid., 310, 312.
65It is not clear how much of the material that Marx and Engels left as part of their heritage that

originally appeared in the pages of the New-York Daily Tribune. Whatever the case, Lenin certainly
moved far beyond the suggestions about “colonialism” and “national liberation” that were part of
the classical Marxist heritage.
136 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Critical to these notions was proletarian revolution made by peasants in the peripheral
regions. Such a revolution would be forthcoming only if an appropriate consciousness
could be infused into the millions of peasants made available by exactions of imperialism.
Unhappily, the millions of peasants on the periphery made their revolution, but the
advanced economies did not dissolve into catastrophic failure and proletarian revolution-
ary resolve. Lenin died waiting for proletarian revolution in Germany, France, Great
Britain, and the United States—revolution that would save the denizens of the retrograde
economies on the periphery and restore doctrinal integrity to Marxism as a revolutionary
It was left to Stalin to restore some kind of coherence to Leninism following the failure
of prophecy. Traditional Marxism had argued that the liberation of humankind required
that revolution invest all the major industrial countries at one time. At first, Stalin
appeared to accept the condition that “true socialist revolution” could not mature within
the confines of a single country.66 He soon divined, however, that Marxism-Leninism pro-
vided for just that possibility. Revolution, he affirmed—echoing Lenin—could come to
laggard, individual nations on the periphery of capitalism. More than that, Stalin argued
that he had discovered something more. He announced that the Russia that Lenin had
found so backward and unschooled could create Socialism out of its very retardation.67
Revolution could make of a primitive economy one that could support the requirements
of liberating Socialism. Socialism, Stalin’s followers were told, would be created out of the
largely uncompensated labor of Russian masses—of whatever class.68 There was no talk
of leaping from necessity to freedom. There was a call for iron discipline,69 arduous labor,
self-sacrifice, and devotion to organizational responsibilities. The Communist Party was
to exercise hegemonic mastery over the “submissive” masses found in economically back-
ward environments, in order to provide for their “elevation” to “proletarian conscious-
ness,”70 and the achievement of the Socialism anticipated by the founders of classical
Marxism. In the course of such developments—in which “the part played by objective
conditions” on the processes of productive growth were “reduced to a minimum,” and the
part played by the self-selected leaders of the party “become decisive, exceptional”71—the
leaders of masses, housed in a hierarchical elite party, disciplined by regular purges cal-
culated to eliminate any “unreliable, unstable, and demoralized elements” among them,

66“The final victory of Socialism in the first country to emancipate itself is impossible without the

combined efforts of the proletarians of several countries.” Stalin, “The October Revolution and the
Tactics of the Russian Communists,” Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing
House, 1953), 147.
67“The building of Socialism by the efforts of our country is possible and necessary.” Stalin, “On

the Problems of Leninism,” Problems of Leninism, 189–90.

68Stalin’s rationale is conveniently available in his “The Foundations of Leninism,” “The October

Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists,” and “On the Problems of Leninism,” in
Stalin, Problems of Leninism, particularly pages 37, 123, 147, 189, where he moves from revolution
in advanced industrial countries to revolutions on the periphery. The dynamic is no longer governed
by economic maturity but by the reactive nationalist sentiment in less-developed environs. Finally,
Stalin abandons any notion that Socialism requires preexisting industrial maturity. The revolution-
ary leaders in environments that are economically retrograde can marshal masses to the creation of
a suitable Socialist base.
69See, for example, Stalin, “The Foundations of Leninism,” Problems of Leninism, 105–7.
70Ibid., 58, 61, 63, 98.
71See the discussion in J. Stalin, “Report to the Seventeenth Congress of the C. P. S. U. (B.) on

the Work of the Central Committee (January 26, 1934),” ibid., 644.
The Making of Maoism ● 137

would “further develop the Marxist theory,” beyond that provided by Marx and Engels.
“What Lenin did not manage to do should be done by his disciples.”72
Leninism had become Stalinism—to become the inspiration for Mao Zedong.

The Making of “Mao Zedong Thought”

By the time Mao acceded to the leadership of the revolution in China, Stalinism supplied
its major doctrinal components. Stalin fully appreciated the reactive nationalist basis of
the “liberation movements” in the peripheral countries. He also acknowledged that the
intention of such movements was to wrest defensible independence from the colonial
embrace of the industrially developed West. That meant that such revolutions sought a
“building of socialism” that, in substance, was indistinguishable from a developmental
program of agricultural modernization and rapid industrialization—the material founda-
tion of a sustainable national defense.
For all its Marxist vocabulary, and its regular catechetical recourse to the works of its
founders, Stalinism, at its core, was a rationale for a reactive, developmental national-
ism. Shorn of its international proletarian rhetoric and its hyperbolic claims, Stalinism
shared its principal features with the developmental nationalisms of Giuseppe Mazzini,
José Rizal, and all those revolutionary denizens of the colonized, partially colonized, and
less-developed peripheral countries on the fringes of the industrialized world.
Like virtually all the doctrines of reactive, developmental nationalism, Stalinism was
a form of political voluntarism, with the elitist political party and its leadership sup-
plying the goal culture, as well as the directive will, of the revolution.73 In the primi-
tive economic environment that is the natural seedbed of reactive nationalism, only
few possess the skill set required of revolutionary leadership. Revolutions in such cir-
cumstances are led by exiguous minorities leading inarticulate masses. While Stalinism
shared the general configuration of the class of reactive, developmental nationalism, its
unique properties were to prove equally important, for they were to shape the future
of both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in ways that were totally
In the reactive nationalist revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
Socialism was no longer a function of the abundance provided by advanced industry. It is
pursued in the most parlous circumstances. In preindustrial environs, national liberation
does not require the availability of a schooled and responsible urban working class to dem-
ocratically manage a complex productive system. People would be liberated by informed
elites who would introduce the requisite revolutionary consciousness from without. The
appropriate consciousness becomes the exclusive concern of the hegemonic, unitary party
and its leadership. The political party emerges as the demiurge of world history—and
its leadership assumes the burden of mastery—with the providential leader at the helm.
The “cult of personality” becomes its predictable byproduct, with political religion its

72Stalin is here referring specifically to the Marxism “theory of the political state”—but it clearly

applies to all of “historical and dialectical materialism” to which modern Socialist revolutionary
theory had become heir. See “Report to the Eighteenth Congress of the C. P. S. U. (B.) on the Work
of the Central Committee (March 10, 1939),” ibid., 792, 794–95.
73Stalin typically spoke of the party as “the main directing force in the system of the dictator-

ship of the proletariat,” and, in essence, it is “the ‘mechanism,’” of the system. “On the Problems of
Leninism,” ibid., 167.
138 ● Marxism and the Making of China

inspiration.74 Out of just those constituents, Maoism made its fulsome appearance. The
Great Leap Forward was to be its signature performance.
By the last years of the 1950s, Mao decided on an accelerated program of economic,
and particularly industrial, development in order to support its pretentions. If China was
to no longer fear the imperialist powers, it would have to deploy sophisticated instru-
ments of war.75 And that would require not only massive inputs of raw materials and
steel, but a level of industrial competence unknown in economically primitive China.76
Mao was prepared to embark on a developmental program that would test the endurance,
compliance, and faith of the Chinese people.
At approximately the same time, Mao decided that the People’s Republic of China had
crossed the threshold into Socialism, which meant that private property had been nation-
alized and had become assets of the state. The CCP considered that which had been
privately owned thereby to have been transformed into the “property of the whole peo-
ple.”77 With China having thus become Socialist, Mao undertook to assure the nation’s
security and restore its lost stature. He proceeded to announce his decision to commit
the community to great leaps in economic progression. That made the entrance into
Socialism not a celebration of freedom but the consignment of the nation to an arduous
and protracted program of individual and collective sacrifice that would be exacted in
totally unanticipated measure—with “rectification” and “great coercive power” available
for employment by the party when and where necessary.78 Peasants were to be organized
into collectives that would serve as convenient units of control and production—devices
for the rapid accumulation of capital to underwrite the purposes of the state.79 The prin-
cipal purpose, of course, was Mao’s demanding Great Leap Forward. In the course of that
program’s implementation, Mao was fully cognizant of the possibility that so grueling a
process might involve the sacrifice of as many as fifty million lives.80
Having captained his forces through the challenges of the War of Resistance and the
civil war, Mao was convinced he could marshal the energy and the substance to force
draft China through the first stages of capital accumulation to, and through, essentially
autonomous economic growth. At almost every meeting of Communist Party leaders, he
urged—at times, arbitrarily and on impulse81—the accelerated production of iron and

74See the account in Gregor, Totalitarianism and Political Religion.

75See the discussion in Mao, “Talks at the Beidaihe Conference (Draft Transcript) (August
17–30, 1958),” The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao, 401–3.
76The consequence was the developmental emphasis on heavy industry. See Mao, “On the Ten

Great Relationships (April 25, 1956),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 62–63.
77Mao, “Transcript of a Talk to a Gathering of Responsible Persons from Various Democratic

Parties and Non-party Democratic Personages (April 30, 1957)” and “Talks at the Wuchang
Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao, 368, 488; cf.
489, n. 10.
78“In order to carry out these tasks, the proletarian dictatorship needs to have great coercive

power.” Mao, “On the Ten Great Relationships,” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 75. See Mao,
“Talk at the Party Meeting in Shanghai (March 20, 1957)” and “Talks at the Wuchang Conference
(November 21–23, 1958),” The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao, 360–68, 505, 515.
79Mao, “On the Ten Great Relationships,” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 70–71.
80See Mao, “Talks at the Wuchang Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” The Secret Speeches of

Chairman Mao, 494–95.

81“On an impulse, I thought of a figure and came out with it. Can we make 30 tons of steel next

year?” Ibid., 485.

The Making of Maoism ● 139

steel, funded by the almost limitless expansion and export sale of grain.82 How all that
might be accomplished was as interesting as the plan itself.
Mao argued that the Soviet Union had never really understood the true psychology
of the masses. Stalin never appreciated the potential inherent in the enthusiasm, fervor,
and sentiment of those collected together under party leadership.83 National sentiment,
directed by the class consciousness supplied by the party, could marshal human energy
that would achieve wonders. With the “enthusiasm” supplied by the party “Center,” the
people of China would labor timelessly, with scant compensation, to fulfill quotas that
expanded arithmetically with every meeting of the leadership.84 In the newly formed
communes, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of peasants would labor under the
close supervision of leaders directly responsible to the Center in Beijing. Mao likened the
entire undertaking to demands required of a war that might “last ten thousand years.”85
The peasants were instructed to expand grain production. That, together with the fact
that hundreds of thousands had been drawn together in a single commune, was calcu-
lated to generate harvests that would be multiples of those delivered in the most generous
prewar years. At the same time, it was recognized that the established steel production
facilities were inadequate to produce the quantities required by the party program. Local
leaders were challenged to innovate, mobilizing simple peasants to the task of iron and
steel production. Throughout the nation, in a frenzy of activity, hundreds of thousands
of “backyard furnaces” were cobbled together to produce the steel required. In order to
fuel the primitive furnaces, the landscape was denuded of fire wood. To generate the
temperatures required, the furnaces demanded the continuous attention of peasants who
were, at the same time, enjoined to “plough deep” and “close crop” in order to meet the
party’s grain quotas.86
Mao was convinced that all this was possible because he had persuaded himself that the
blank masses of China could be moved by invocations to superhuman accomplishment.
He had discovered that the historical materialism of Marx and Stalin required revision.
The masters of Marxism and Marxism-Leninism had misunderstood the role of super-
structural convictions in social dynamics. Somehow or other, Marxists of the recent past
had convinced themselves that ideas, beliefs, convictions, ideology, and moral incentives,
were mere reflections of material conditions—when, in fact, the superstructural constitu-
ents of consciousness were not reflections of life conditions, but rather themselves created
material conditions. Mao, compelled by his program of economic acceleration, embarked
on his own creative development of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. The exaggerated vol-
untarism of his rationale for the Great Leap Forward was to transform the entire political
and economic circumstances of revolutionary China—at incredible cost to the Chinese
people. It is a story of revolutionary hubris that deserves the telling.

82See the discussion in ibid., 501–9.

83Mao, “On Ideological Work (Talk at a Conference Attended by Party Cadres from People’s Lib-

eration Army Units under the Nanjing Command and from Jiangsu and Anhui Provinces) (March
19, 1957),” ibid., 345.
84See, for example, “Talks at the Wuchang Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” ibid., 512–13.
85“This war [rapid economic development] may be at least ten thousand years long. To construct

faster and better, we must continuously adhere to the work style of hard struggle . . . and oppose
such bad practices as extravagance and waste.” Mao, “Talk at the Meeting of Party Cadres in Shang-
hai,” ibid. 361.
86Mao, “Talks at the Beidaihe Conference (Draft Transcript) (August 17–30, 1958),” ibid., 402–3;

see “Talks at the Wuchang Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” ibid., 512.

“Mao Zedong Thought”

I have a presentment that thanks to the perplexity and flabbiness of all the others, our Party
will one fine morning be forced to assume power and finally to carry out measures that are of
no direct interest to us. . . . [We] shall be constrained to undertake communist experiments
and perform leaps the untimeliness of which we know better than anyone else.
—Friedrich Engels1
Socialist emulation means that the backward overtakes the advanced. This is possible only
through crash programs. . . . If one wants to overtake the advanced, one cannot help having
crash programs. We did not carry through the Great Leap on the basis of the demands of the
law of value but on the basis of the fundamental economic laws of Socialism and the need to
expand production. If things are narrowly regarded from the point of view of the law of value
the Great Leap would have to be judged not worth the losses and last year’s all-out effort to
produce steel and iron as wasted labor.
—Mao Zedong2

n May 1958, Mao Zedong officially launched what history records as China’s “Great
Leap Forward”—the principal motive of which was to create a material foundation
upon which the nation’s defense and power projection capabilities might confidently
rest.3 While the provision of a productive base for the Socialist state of the future remained
part of the rationale for the Great Leap, the projected defense and status needs of the New
China supplied its immediate impetus.4
By the time of the implementation of the second five year plan of Mao’s general pro-
gram of economic development, the decision had been made to accelerate the rate of
industrial and agricultural development by arbitrarily selected measures. Mao called for a

1Friedrich Engels, “Letter to J. Weydemeyer, April 12, 1853,” in Marx and Engels, Selected Cor-

respondence (Moscow: Foreign Languages Press, n.d.), 94.

2Mao Zedong, “Reading Notes on the Soviet Text Political Economy (1961–1962),” in A Critique

of Soviet Economics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 87–88.

3“The purpose of our revolution is to develop the society’s forces of production.” Ibid., 41.
4“If we have steel and modernized industry, then we can easily develop a modernized defence

industry.” Mao, “Speech at the Group Leaders Forum of the Enlarged Meeting of the Military
Affairs Committee (Excerpts, June 28, 1958),” in Chairman Mao Talks to the People: Talks and Let-
ters: 1956–1971, ed. Stuart Schram (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 130.
142 ● Marxism and the Making of China

“new high tide of production” that was expected to yield results whose pace and produc-
tivity would exceed those of the advanced industrial nations. Without adequate capital,
resource availability, transport infrastructure, and trained manpower, China was enjoined
to “storm” productive goals, to perform prodigious feats, and sacrifice every personal
interest in the service of Maoist Socialism. “Masses” were to be aroused by “ideological
and political” inspiration “in an entirely uninhibited manner”—in order to successfully
meet the challenges of accelerated development.5
Mao had discovered the elements of this kind of program in that of Josef Stalin’s
making of Socialism in a single economically retrograde country. In order to survive and
prevail, Russia under Stalin had essentially abandoned all the expectations, prescriptions,
and proscriptions that had been central to classical Marxism. Postrevolutionary Russia
was not heir to the abundance of late capitalism—and, as a consequence, could not
aspire to liberate humanity from the curse of poverty and exploitation. Bolshevik Rus-
sia had not inherited the unlimited economic abundance that traditional Marxism had
promised its proletarian revolutionaries. Instead, Bolshevik Russia had been compelled to
construct basic industries out of prevailing economic backwardness—by mobilizing the
ill-compensated revolutionary labor of impoverished peasants and unschooled workers to
arduous purpose. Implicit and explicit in the “Stakhanovite accomplishments” of Soviet
workers—who labored to exceed production quotas for little material reward—was the
expectation that party elites were fully capable of inspiring in them the enthusiasm that
would fuel their boundless efforts and assure unprecedented success. With primitive
tools, the impoverished and unschooled were expected to scratch resources from the soil,
produce crop yields in unprecedented measure, fabricate canals and roads in stretches of
wilderness, and create the basic industrial facilities necessary for the defense plants of pro-
letarian Russia—all undertaken and sustained largely by marginally compensated labor.6
The most immediate and overt distinction between Stalin’s accelerated development
of the Soviet Union and Mao’s projected Great Leap was in terms of scale, tempo, and
the degree of relative backwardness that marked the commencement of the undertaking.
In Mao’s China, the numbers mobilized and the results expected were multiples of those
of Stalin. In circumstances more primitive and demanding, the processes invoked by
Mao were demonstrably more erratic and idiosyncratic. In 12 months’ time, for example,
Mao changed the administratively established five year goal for steel production in China
from 10.5 million tons per annum to 20 million tons7—without corresponding provi-
sion made for increases in the availability of labor, funding, resources, training, or suitable
expansion of transport infrastructure. All that notwithstanding, and almost immediately
thereafter, Mao personally decided to yet further increase the goal of steel production to
40 million tons per annum.8

5See Mao, “Sixty Points on Working Methods,” in Mao Papers: Anthology and Bibliography, ed.

Jerome Ch’en (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 57, 61, 64.
6See the discussion in A. James Gregor, Marxism, China, and Development: Reflections on Theory

and Reality (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2000), chap. 4.

7After the debacle of the Great Leap, Mao reflected on the lack of rational planning involved in

projected steel production. He reported “errors” of arresting magnitude. He told his audience that
“steel production for 1959 was set at 30 million tons at Peitaiho. The Wuchang meeting lowered
this to 20 million. The Shanghai meeting lowered it to 16.5 million tons. Sometime in June 1959 it
was cut again to 13 million.” Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics, 123.
8See Mao, “Speech at the Lushan Conference,” in The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung, ed. Stuart

Schram (New York: Praeger, 1963), 143–45; Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics, 123–25.
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 143

At the same time, the agricultural sector was expected to expand production to levels
never before attained—so that Beijing could cover the rapidly increasing cost necessitated
by the complex developmental enterprise.9 Local officials were urged to inspire enthusi-
asm in the fulfillment of production quotas among peasants thrown together into com-
munes numbering hundreds of thousands of members. Almost immediately, the subject
communes began to report extraordinary crop production. Especially proficient com-
munes were identified as “sputnik” associations—peopled by China’s version of Stalin’s
Stakhanovites. One such commune claimed to have produced an annual yield of 70 tons
of rice on one-fifth an acre of soil! Not to be outdone, other rural communes were driven
to register similar prodigies.
In the effort to assure adequate water supply for such demanding programs, China’s
peasants, employing the most primitive tools, were driven to build an elaborate irrigation
infrastructure of dams, canals, waterways, conduits, and catchments, requiring the move-
ment of enormous quantities of soil—equivalent in measure to the earth displacement
that would be involved in the construction of 950 Suez canals. At the same time, peasants
were expected to construct roughly six thousand furnaces a day for the production of pig
iron and steel—maintain them in operation, as well as supply the fuel necessary for their
continuous operation.10
Mao counted all this part of the Socialist “adventure” required by the “universal laws”
of Marxism. Almost immediately, evidence began to accumulate that there was massive
and cumulative failure throughout the entire enterprise. It was clear that many reports of
accomplishment were fabricated.11 There were test results that established that the prod-
ucts of the “backyard furnaces” were so contaminated that little could be put to produc-
tive purpose. The Chinese peasantry had ransacked hovels to collect metal objects—pots,
pans, and utensils of all sorts—to melt down to make pig iron. The result was that the
peasants were left bereft of their household wares—and the products of the furnaces were
so thoroughly contaminated by alien materials that the resultant product, in large part,
proved entirely useless.12
Almost immediately after their construction, silt began to collect in the canals and
waterways of the hastily constructed irrigation systems. Design flaws created problems for
many of the dams and catchments constructed during the first frenzy of the Great Leap.
Many dams, rapidly assembled, collapsed—and flooded the surrounding arable regions.
In many instances, the associated transport system proved insufficiently robust to carry
needed inputs from source to sink—and even the most functional of existing steel plants
were negatively impacted.
Together with all that, the state confiscated agricultural produce in such quantities
that famine settled upon entire provinces of China. The Center, at least pretending
to give credence to the fantastic reports of agricultural success, required requisition
of corresponding quantities of grain as revenue—to be used as export to underwrite
the costs of rapid development in the industrial sector. Thousands upon thousands of

9See Mao’s frank discussion in ibid., 88–89.

10See Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (London: Vintage Books, 2006),
chap. 40.
11See Mao’s comments in “Talks at the Wuchang Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” in The

Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao: From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward, eds. Roderick
MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989),
12See Mao, “Talks at the Wuchang Conference (November 21–23, 1958),” ibid., 495.
144 ● Marxism and the Making of China

overworked peasants, suffering gross malnutrition, died in the fields. Sickness claimed
thousands like amount—with children and the elderly perishing in lamentable num-
bers. Crops were inadequately seeded as peasants, in order to simply survive, consumed
whatever little grain remained after confiscation by the state. The result was one of the
worse famines in modern Chinese history—in which, it is estimated, about 30 million
persons died.13
The political consequences of the disaster included active resistance among the leaders
of the CCP and serious uprisings in the provinces. The first precipitated massive purges
of the party faithful that swept away almost the entire leadership immediately below Mao.
The armed uprisings in the countryside took years to quell and fully resolved themselves
only with the abandonment of the demands that attended the Great Leap.
For the purposes of the present account, it is the rationale that subtended the Great
Leap that will occupy attention. It is that which most directly speaks to the issue of the
Marxist quality of “Mao Zedong Thought.”

V. I. Lenin and the Rationale of the Great Leap Forward

Because of the intrinsic character of the political system that bore him,14 Mao felt
compelled to deliver a justificatory rationale for major political and/or economic
undertakings. In retrospect, it appears evident that Mao had begun to formulate a
specific rationale for the Great Leap during the time immediately preceding the actual
call for the commencement of the enterprise. He had convinced himself early on that
the survival of the revolution—the very survival of China itself—necessitated rapid
and comprehensive economic, specifically industrial, development. Built upon some
general notions of the nature of revolution that he had made his own during the first
years of Communist insurrection, Mao proceeded to put together a specific rationale
for a forced developmental program, which by the late 1950s, involved a substan-
tive reformulation of some critical portions of the doctrine he spoke of as Marxist or
Given that, it becomes reasonably clear that attempting to understand Maoism recom-
mends a brief review of some of the relatively familiar doctrinal history of Marxism. The
specifically Maoist variant of Marxism was put together out of revisions initially intro-
duced by Lenin and then expanded upon, over time, by Stalin. That the principal leaders
of Bolshevism had taken liberties with inherited doctrine provided Mao and his followers
a design and an appropriate rationale of revolutionary governance distinctive in itself. In
fact, Maoism very quickly developed features that distinguished it from the Leninism and
Stalinism that had been its original source.
As suggested, Leninism distinguished itself from traditional Marxism early on, as well.
Because of prevailing political realities, Lenin found it necessary to modify some of the
central propositions of the original doctrine. Revolutionary consciousness was no longer
expected among the urban proletariat—the class conscious and informed demographic
that was a function of industrial capitalism. Imperialism, that peculiar form of inter-
national exploitation of peripheral regions, transposed the site of revolution from the

13See the estimates in Ansley J. Coale, Rapid Population Change in China, 1952–1982, Report

no. 27 (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1984), 70.

14For a discussion of the character of these systems, see A. James Gregor, Totalitarianism and

Political Religion: An Intellectual History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).

“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 145

industrial metropole to the agrarian backwaters—where its foot-soldiers were character-

ized by “semi-Asiatic ignorance” and pandemic illiteracy.15
The logic of what followed is transparent. Since the masses available were not expected to
have cognitive insight into what was transpiring, responsibility for failure or success in devel-
oping the appropriate consciousness among those to be mobilized, rested with the elite lead-
ership of the revolutionary party. It was an onerous responsibility. Competing alternative
worldviews could only dissipate collective energies required for the revolutionary enterprise.
The consequence was that the self-selected leadership of the party charged with mass
mobilization treated its political intuition as though incorrigible. While such a disposi-
tion became increasingly emphatic in its later variants, all the major intellectual leaders
of revolutionary Marxism, since its founding, treated doctrine as though it had been
divinely inspired. Party leaders tended to behave as though they were evangelicals charged
with bringing revealed Truth to the intrinsically benighted.
Historically, it had been the case that the founders of Marxism had always been less
than forbearing of their intellectual opponents. The adherents of historical and dialecti-
cal materialism never seemed to consider their belief system the product of standard
science—which, in principle, was forever subject to interpretive criticism and empirical
disconfirmation. Instead, the theoreticians of Marxism treated their belief system in a
very singular fashion. It was a science that, as a whole, was insulated from disconfirma-
tion once articulated by its founders—who were its sole, certain interpreters. Those who
questioned any part of the specific or general substance of the intellectual production of
Marx and Engels were cruelly rejected—and generally dismissed as incompetents at best,
and agents of oppression, at worst.
Each successive party theoretician who rose to prominence assumed the same guise and
entertained the same judgment of opponents. By the time Lenin dealt with the issues, the
policy implications had become portentous. However impeccable they conceived their
doctrine to be, the founders of Marxism expected the proletarian base of their move-
ment to be sufficiently sage, in both wisdom and discretion, to be convinced of the truth
of doctrine to their own satisfaction. Lenin, on the other hand, had created a Marxist
variant that anticipated the population base of the movement to be composed of largely
uninformed illiterates. Whereas it could be argued that the founders of Marxism imag-
ined its urban followers to be sophisticates comparable to Athenian thinkers—capable of
making their own judgments concerning truth claims—Lenin specifically argued that the
mass base of Bolshevism would be composed of the forsaken human debris of the agrar-
ian countryside and its recent migrants to the cities. The result was that if the revolution
required doctrinal conformity, the entire issue of how the subjects of the “dictatorship of
the proletariat” were delivered appropriate beliefs became critical to the success of revolu-
tion and the fulfillment of its intentions.
The result was that Lenin always dealt with doctrinal disputes as though they were
absolutely critical to making revolution. While contending for party leadership, and orga-
nizing for revolution, Lenin was intolerant of alternative points of view. With revolution-
ary success, his intolerance was reinforced with power. It was simply given that anyone
outside the party was an enemy who was to be denied the opportunity of expressing
views. More significantly, Lenin was perhaps even more intolerant of any opposition by
fellow believers. Those who claimed to be Marxists, the Mensheviks, for example, drew his
sharpest criticism. Fellow revolutionaries, like the Social Revolutionaries, fared no better.

15See Lenin’s typical judgments in “Pages from a Diary,” in V. I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow:

Progress Publishers, 1966), vol. 33, 463. Hereafter LCW.

146 ● Marxism and the Making of China

It could well be expected that during the strife of revolution, and the civil conflict that
followed, Lenin would oppose those who were his political and military enemies. It was
when Russia was pacified, after the civil war had ended, that the most arresting features of
intellectual and political intolerance manifested themselves in the nascent Soviet Union.
After the successful revolution and the suppression of his armed opponents, Lenin found
himself facing management and organizational problems unimagined by the founders of
classical Marxism.
Lenin did not inherit a thriving industrial establishment. He had become ruler of a
devastated and primitive economy. In order to simply survive in such an environment,
all the cruelties of war communism, the armed confiscation of farm produce, and the
militarization of industrial labor, were imposed on an exhausted population. The demand
for ordered compliance was foremost among the survival requirements of the system.
In those circumstances the imposition of unwavering obedience to policy imperatives
was essential. That, in turn, required a disciplined conformity to a single perspective on
the world—a party doctrine broadcast by a unitary party cadre. The general disposition
among Marxists to consider their belief system impeccably true was reinforced by the
circumstances that demanded absolute obedience from the millions they ruled—no res-
ervations to the rule of the party were to be tolerated.
It was under just those conditions that Lenin reinforced his convictions concerning
the mobilization and control of labor in the new “proletarian dictatorship.” By 1923,
during the last year of his life, his clear intention was to institutionalize political intoler-
ance in the Soviet Union. It was after the pacification of the country, for example, that
Lenin called for systematic and continuous purging not only of the nation itself but of
the Communist Party as well. He insisted that in his judgment, and given the survival
requirements dictated by the prevailing circumstances, “the purging of the party,” was a
“serious and vastly important affair.”16
Constant review of the belief system of party members had not diminished with peace.
Because proletarian Russia found itself facing completely unanticipated tasks—the rapid
economic development of the entire backward nation—the responsibilities of the party’s
cadre were correspondingly of increased importance. Discipline was expected to render
labor more productive. The workers who made up the productive base of the proletar-
ian dictatorship were possessed of “sentiments” that were “in no way advanced”—and
required continual and careful correction.
What that meant was absolute assurance that the leadership of the revolution, together
with those charged with affecting its purposes, shared a coherent and invariant set of
convictions—designed to ensure conformity through discipline.17 Lenin reiterated, with
metronomic regularity, that “large-scale machine industry and the extension to agricul-
ture [was] the only possible economic base for socialism” in “semi-Asiatic” Russia.18 The
creation of the requisite material base for Socialism necessitated the elevation of the revo-
lutionary consciousness of all the workers—industrial as well as agrarian—to the level
that was expected to instill obedience, selfless labor, and a total commitment among them
in order to generate increases in productivity.19 It had become a matter not only of the
survival of the revolution but also of Russia itself.

16Lenin, “Purging the Party,” LCW, 39.

17Seethe entire discussion in LCW, 39–41.
18Lenin, “To the Presidium of the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Electrical Engineers,” LCW, 49.
19Lenin, “The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions under the New Economic Policy,”

LCW, 191.
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 147

All of that followed from the conviction that a suitable consciousness was to be brought
to the revolutionary masses “from without”—through the agency of a party leadership
endowed with the incorrigible truths of “revolutionary science.” Unlike standard sci-
ence, Marxism, and ultimately Marxism-Leninism, comported itself more like a religious
faith20 than a collection of confirmable and/or unprovable empirical propositions con-
cerning the extant world. Lenin, no less than his predecessors, refused to acknowledge
that there could be any differences of opinion concerning the meaning, or policy entail-
ments, of Marxism as a system of beliefs. The allowance of any significant variability in
the interpretation of doctrine would impair the success potential of the revolution. It
would dissipate energy and deflect the principal thrust of revolutionary intent. Lenin
disallowed any difference of theoretical opinion through the organizational phase of Bol-
shevism, during its struggle for survival, and with victory, he insisted that ideological
uniformity was necessary to discharge the party’s developmental responsibilities.
Purging had always been implicit in Marxist organizational and revolutionary policy.
With the party assuming the obligation of Bolshevism’s most difficult and immediate
task—the rapid and comprehensive economic development of a “semi-savage” and “semi-
barbarian” community—an imposed doctrinal conformity became a functional necessity.
Lenin saw it as imperative, given the revolution’s obligation to discharge tasks “much more
difficult [than] the tasks on the war front”—tasks totally unforeseen by “Marx himself.”21
To ensure the requisite behaviors, Lenin acknowledged that the proletarian dictator-
ship required an elaborate system of political education, charged with inculcating an
appropriate consciousness among the workers—an enterprise that would involve a veri-
table “cultural revolution.”22 Where such a revolution proved impossible or ineffectual,
coercion was to be invoked—in which both state and workers’ organizations would par-
ticipate.23 Only in some such fashion might the reactionary culture of the oppressive
classes be transformed into one progressive and modern.
That was the image of a developmental revolution in what Lenin called one of the least
developed of the economies bordering on the advanced industrial nations. He spoke of
an entire class of less-developed, oppressed nations destined to proceed in similar fashion
from economic backwardness to industrial maturity. He spoke of the class as one com-
posed of backward, and noncompetitive, productive systems—with labor intensive agri-
culture satisfying the most simple survival needs, and commodity machine production,
artisan and non-technological in character. Of the class of such nations, Lenin identified
China as one among many. He expected such developmental movements to emerge as a
reaction of those less-developed communities to protracted contact with the imperialist

20Lenin, by way of illustration, regularly spoke of “devotion to the Party” as a necessary condition

for admission into the party. “Letter to P. A. Zalutsky, A. A. Solts, and All Members of the Political
Bureau re the Party Purge and the Conditions of Admission into the Party,” LCW, vol. 33, 128.
21These themes find expression across Lenin’s writings and speeches throughout his last years.

See, for example, “Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution,” “The New Economic Policy
and the Tasks of the Political Education Department,” “Seventh Moscow Gubernia Conference of
the Russian Communist Party,” “The Importance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of
Socialism,” “Speech at the First Moscow Gubernia Agricultural Conference (November 29, 1921),”
and “Our Revolution,” LCW, 62, 74, 77, 95, 101, 112, 115, 127–28, 476–79.
22Among his last publications, Lenin spoke specifically of a “cultural revolution” as critical to the

furtherance of accelerated economic development. See “On Cooperation,” LCW, 474–75.

23See Lenin’s entire discussion in “The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions under the New

Economic Policy,” LCW, 188–93, particularly page 193.

148 ● Marxism and the Making of China

nations. The reactive movements that would result would initiate the program of rapid
economic, specifically industrial, growth, the outlines of which Lenin provided in his
final essays and public speeches.
Lenin fully appreciated the fact that the forced draft developmental movements of
which he spoke were singular, both in form and in sequence, in the history of economic
development—given “to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different
way from that of the West European countries.”24 The developmental programs of the
revolutionary movements on the periphery of industrial capitalism would be fundamen-
tally different, in their patterns of growth and technological sophistication, than that
which Marx had so carefully outlined in Das Kapital.
In effect, by the time of his death in 1924, Lenin had put together a justificatory argu-
ment in support of the strategy and tactics of a revolutionary, reactive, and developmental
regime that he was convinced would satisfy the survival needs of a class of less-developed
economic systems awakening on the margins of industrial capitalism. They were the revo-
lutionary developmental regimes that together were destined to undermine the integrity
and viability of the prevailing capitalist system and restore the full integrity of the original
Marxist vision of the future. All that would provide the doctrinal foundation of the ratio-
nale for the belief system of Mao Zedong.

Lenin, Stalin, and Mao

Stalin inherited both Lenin’s system and its justificatory rationale. More relentless and
driven, Stalin institutionalized Lenin’s developmental program, as well as the political
features that attended it. The informal terror of the Cheka became the institutionalized
brutality of the Unified State Political Directorate (OGPU). Lenin’s political detention
camps became Stalin’s gulag. Out of the militarized work gangs and the kontslager for
isolating the class enemies of Lenin’s time, came the institutionalized organization of
labor dispatched by Stalin to virtually hand carve the White Sea–Baltic canal and the
infrastructure of Soviet roads, railways, mines and factories out of pristine territories. The
demands made on incarcerated, conscript, and voluntary labor were sacrificial. Rail lines
were cut through forests and hills, across deserts and tundra—and waterways were dug
through remote stretches of land—at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives—only to
see abandonment and ill-use conclude the effort. Under Stalin, labor camps metastasized,
to recede entirely only with the passing of the system. In the course of time, the total casu-
alties attributed to Stalin’s program of rapid economic development have been estimated
to have been between 15 and 20 million lives.25
Maoism acceded to power while Stalinism was in its ascendency—and Mao was
entirely under its influence. Although Mao spoke of Sun’s Three Principles of the People
as the inspiration of the People’s Republic, it was clear, at its very commencement, that
Stalin provided the New China its institutional guidance.
For a time, Mao’s insistent invocation of the ideology of Sun Yat-sen may have led
Stalin to question his Marxist-Leninist credentials. During the late 1940s, it was only
Mao’s successes in the field that convinced Stalin that Chinese Communism was to be
supported by the Soviet Union—and that it was Marxist in any doctrinal sense.

24SeeLenin’s comments in “Our Revolution,” LCW, 477–78.

25Seethe estimates in Geoffrey Hoaking, The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union
from Within (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), chap. 7, particularly page 203;
Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003).
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 149

There was reason for Stalin’s reluctance to identify Maoism as Marxist in any doctrinal
sense. At its very appearance, Maoism displayed traits singularly its own. For one thing,
it seems to have entered history lacking any serious concern for doctrinal consistency or
an abiding regard for the theoretical formulations of the founders of Marxism. Reflecting
the doctrinal changes already introduced into the classical legacy by Bolshevism, Mao-
ism could speak—without the circumlocutions common to Soviet Marxists—of peas-
ant revolution as the essential core of the proletarian revolution. Unlike either Lenin or
Stalin, Mao never tendered his own theoretical justification for understanding revolution
in so un-Marxist a fashion—or for directly committing that revolution to the equally un-
Marxist task of constructing “socialism in one country.” Since Bolshevism had laboriously
legitimated such departures, by the time he acceded to power in China, Mao could simply
announce that the principal purpose of Socialist revolution in economically retrograde
China was to be the rapid and comprehensive “development of the nation’s material pro-
ductive forces”26—a goal entirely absent from the roster of responsibilities Socialist revo-
lution would be expected to assume in the original formulations of traditional Marxism.
It followed that once the revolution was charged with such undertakings, onerous
entailments followed in train. Mao never apologized for any of it. Whatever may have
been the case with Lenin, “human liberation” and overcoming alienation were simply not
among the purposes of Maoist revolution. Given the necessity of rapid capital accumula-
tion, of collective sacrifice, and of mass compliance to work directives from the Center—all
expressions of individualism, together with any interest in material compensation, personal
or collective, were deplored—to be systematically suppressed. It was self-evident to the
leadership of the New China that rapid and comprehensive development of the material
forces of production required that “individual interests should be subordinated [to] collec-
tive interest.”27 For Mao, there was an urgent, common interest in the rapid and extensive
economic development of the nation.28 Individuals would be required to forswear their
individual “material interests”—to make mass response to nonmaterial incentives—to ful-
fill the demands of what was considered “revolutionary spirit.”29 In all these latter senses,
rather than an extension of Marxism, Maoism appeared to be an exaggerated form of
Stalinism—the rationale for forced industrialization in a single backward economy.
All of that was predicated on the conviction that the party could bring suitable “con-
sciousness” to the masses. “Poor peasants” sought revolution. They were the “blank slates”
upon which the “most beautiful characters” could be inscribed.30 It was the party Center
that was charged with the responsibility of providing the appropriate characters—all to
be found in its political “mass line.” The successful transfer of appropriate consciousness
to recipient peasant masses would provide the party Center with “350 million fanatics”31
for the program of forced industrialization.32

26“The purpose of our revolution is to develop society’s forces of production.” Mao, A Critique

of Soviet Economics, 41.

27Ibid., 84, 95.
28See the discussion on “enthusiasm,” “great drive,” and the necessity for “quick results” to

enhance steel and grain production in retrograde China. See Mao, “Speech at the Supreme State
Conference (Excerpts, January 28, 1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 92–94.
29Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics, 85.
30Mao, “Speech at the Supreme State Conference (Excerpts, January 28, 1958),” Chairman Mao

Talks to the People, 92.

31See the discussion in Mao, “Speech at the Lushan Conference (July 23, 1959),” ibid., 133–34.
32See Mao’s commitment to “great leaps” to accelerate industrial development in Mao, “‘Criti-

cism of People’s Daily.’ Which Should Not ‘Oppose Adventurism’ (Draft Transcript), (January
1958),” The Secret Speeches of Chairman Mao, 394–96.
150 ● Marxism and the Making of China

That line of argument exploited elements already available in the Leninist and Stalinist
variants of Marxism. The most immediate suggestive support for the emerging Maoist
doctrine could be found in Stalinism. In the final years of the 1920s and the first years
of the 1930s, with the Soviet Union overwhelmed by the task of creating “socialism in
one separate country,” Stalin found it increasingly necessary to put together some sort of
theoretical justification for the mass mobilization and dictatorial control of the “collective
work of scores of millions of people.”
The doctrine that resulted included Stalin’s rationale that reduced “the part played by
so-called objective conditions” in the entire process—to emphasize, as “exceptional,” the
“part played by organizations and their leaders.” He went on to emphasize that what that
meant was that “nine tenths of the responsibility for the failures and defects of our work
rest not on ‘objective’ conditions, but on ourselves, and on ourselves alone.”33 It was the
will, determination, and skill of human beings, considered individually and collectively,
that was charged with responsibilities that traditional Marxism had seemed to assign to
the “objective forces” of history. It was a reformulation of classical Marxist tenets that
increased the role of behavior modification and the urgency of mass compliance in the
What Stalin implied was that the success or failure of a proposed program rested on
the enthusiastic compliance of subjects to the party line, as it was formulated by politi-
cal elites. That, in turn, was held to be immediately associated with the organizational
integrity of the agencies charged with transmitting instructions from the Center—the
assurance of the “organizational guarantees” facilitating “the practical realization of
the political slogans and decisions of the Party.” That implied that development required
the formulation of a “mass line” by the party leadership, as well as its consistent imple-
mentation by party organizations. Those requirements, Stalin argued, prescribed regular
“purge of the Party and the economic organizations of unreliable, unstable, and demoral-
ized elements.” Only purging could afford doctrinal consistency and applied success.34
Stalin made explicit all the institutional implications of Leninism—and each and every
one of those portentous notions was to be exploited in Maoism.
Stalin had identified his entire political strategy with Leninism—an eminently plausi-
ble, if debatable, contention. As has been indicated, it was Lenin who insisted that politi-
cal consciousness would be brought to revolutionary actors not by objective conditions,
but by the revolutionary party and its leadership. It was he, as a consequence and with
persuasive logic, who insisted upon doctrinal conformity on the part of that leadership—
and, as it turned out, by the party leader. Given these properties, periodic purging could
be seen as intrinsic to Leninism—in order to ensure fidelity to doctrinal truth on the part
of the lesser hierarchy, as well as responsive implementation at the level of mass organiza-
tion. Features of all of that might be found in both Stalinism and Maoism. Its continuity
throughout can be traced with considerable confidence. While Maoism ultimately was to
emerge as a most singular belief system, what initially distinguished it from Stalinism was
its exaggerated expression.
As has been argued, Leninism had convinced some Marxists that “objective condi-
tions”—so much at the center of classical Marxist concerns—were no longer determina-
tive either in the articulation of political ideology or in governing the behavior of political

33Stalin, “Report to the Seventeenth Congress of the C. P. S. U. (B.) on the Work of the Central

Committee (January 26, 1934),” Problems of Leninism, 597, 629, 644.

34Ibid., 645. Stalin considered regular purges of party personnel and organizational membership

to be essential to “state and Party discipline.” See ibid., 647–48.

“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 151

actors. The change reflected the emergence of a “new phase” in world history—a peculiar
phase that had commenced about the time of the “turn of the twentieth century.”35
Lenin had imagined the dynamics of the epoch of imperialism to be singular, mani-
festly distinct. The doctrinal imperatives that traditional Marxism identified as inspir-
ing revolutionaries were no longer conceived as binding. Doctrine had fallen behind
reality. It no longer reflected prevailing material circumstances. Because of changes in
the real world that neither Marx nor Engels could have been expected to anticipate,
doctrine in the age of imperialism would be the product of the willed choice and
determination by a select group of intellectuals. They would restore the relevance of
doctrine. Where Engels could early and regularly argue that social revolutions were
not “made deliberately and arbitrarily but that everywhere and at all times they are the
necessary consequence of circumstances which are not in any way whatever dependent
either on the will or on the leadership of individual parties or of whole classes,”36 Lenin,
we have seen, would insist that during the “epoch of imperialism,” revolutions would
be stillborn without the clear theoretical guidance of an intellectual elite, leading an
exclusivist party, inspiring the political behavior of proletarian masses. Without such
direction and inspiration, the working class would be reduced to accommodative trade
union agitation.37
Like Lenin, Engels insisted that Marxist theory served critical purpose in the course
of Socialist revolution, but he was equally prepared to contend that the availability of
appropriate revolutionary theory and organizational direction necessarily would be forth-
coming on the occasion of revolutionary circumstances. Revolutions, and the ideas that
served as inspiration, were “the necessary consequence” of prevailing material reality. It
has been argued that Marx, himself, had insisted that ideology was a necessary function of
material life conditions. He contended that men, “developing their material production
and their material intercourse alter . . . their thinking. . . . The phantoms formed in the
brains of men are . . . necessarily sublimates of their material life process. . . . Morality,
religion, metaphysics, and all the rest of ideology, as well as the forms of consciousness
corresponding to these, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence.” They were
understood to be a reflection of material life conditions. Marx consistently maintained
that “revolutionary consciousness” was an “efflux,” a “reflex” of life circumstances.38
Engels was so convinced of the truth of such claims, he was prepared to maintain that
when the material conditions for revolution matured, an appropriate proletarian revo-
lutionary consciousness necessarily would make its appearance. If Marxist theory were
unavailable, another, equally serviceable body of revolutionary convictions, would be.
Had Marx not formulated his revolutionary notions, they would nonetheless be forth-
coming to serve the needs of social change; someone else would necessarily provide them.

35Lenin was reasonably specific. He understood “imperialism” the outward form of the “epoch

of finance capital,” which constituted “a historically concrete epoch which began at the turn of the
twentieth century.” Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, LCW, vol. 22, 271–72.
36Engels, “Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Col-

lected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1976), vol. 6, 101–2. Hereafter MECW.
37“Isolated from Social Democracy, the working-class movement becomes petty and inevitably

becomes bourgeois. . . . The Russian Social Democracy is called upon to . . . imbue the masses of
the proletariat with the ideas of socialism and political consciousness.” Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of
Our Movement,” LCW, vol. 4, 368–69.
38See the entire discussion in Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, MECW, vol. 5, 36–37.
152 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Their formulation was inevitable.39 History—through the agency of the development of

modern industry—would assure the availability of theoretical guidance for the “sponta-
neous class organization of the proletariat” in its law-like trajectory.40 Engels consistently
spoke of Socialist theory as a simple superstructural reflex, in thought, of tensions that
arose between the productive forces and the productive relations in the economic base of
a particular set of circumstances.41
By the time of his first maturity, Mao had fashioned a conception of social, or revolu-
tionary, consciousness that transcended all of that. He had accepted a form of Leninism
that saw revolutionary consciousness as a function of its introduction by political elites.
He offered no sophisticated argument in support of such a contention, but it is clear
that the notion was at the center of his arguments on population dynamics. Whatever
evidence survives indicates that Mao knew very little of the theoretical assessments that
distinguished Leninism from traditional Marxism—or what Stalin’s innovations in inher-
ited doctrine implied for China’s future.42 And yet, all these theoretical developments
made up the fabric of what was to become Maoism. And it was Maoism that was to carry
forward what had been Marxism to a very different place.

Mao Zedong and Political Consciousness

In the course of providing a theoretical justification for his plans for the forced draft
industrialization of agrarian China, Mao proceeded, in fact, beyond Lenin and the Bol-
sheviks. He took those theoretical departures we identify with Lenin and Stalin to an
entirely new level—from a variation of the traditional Marxist belief system to its revi-
sion. Where Lenin’s modifications of the traditional system could be accounted for by
arguing that they had been a time-specific alteration necessitated by measureable changes
in the economic circumstances created by imperialism, the same could not, as readily, be
said of Mao’s reformulations. In the last analysis, Mao, unlike Lenin, did not pretend that
his theoretical revisions were occasioned by changes in the unique and immediate eco-
nomic and political environment of his time. Mao’s revisions were neither time-specific
nor transient. They were to modify classical Marxism in fundamental fashion.
Mao’s conception of revolution, and the nature of the appropriate consciousness that
sustained it, was largely sui generis—fundamentally different from those of Lenin. They
contradicted some of the central tenets of classical Marxism—and significantly modified
those of Leninism. Mao entertained a profoundly dissimilar conception of revolution and
the consciousness that was its necessary support. He basically rejected the Marxist premise
that consciousness was a simple efflux, or dynamic reflection, of existing economic vari-
ables. Mao rebuffed the traditional Marxist understanding that conceived society’s super-
structure—its law, morality, philosophy, and political ideology—as a reflexive product of

39“While Marx discovered the materialist conception of history, Thierry, Mignet, Guizot, and all

the English historians up to 1850 are the proof that it was being striven for, and the discovery of
the same conception by Morgan proves that the time for it and that it simply had to be discovered.”
Engels, “Letter to H. Starkenburg (January 25, 1894),” in Marx and Engels, Selected Works in Two
Volumes, vol. 2, 505. None of this is to suggest that Engels, in any fashion, minimized the impor-
tance of Marx’s work. See Engels, “Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx,” ibid., 167–69.
40Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 515.
41Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), 367.
42There is some awareness of this in Mao’s A Critique of Soviet Economics, but it is never developed

to any level of sophistication.

“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 153

its economic base.43 He explicitly rejected, for example, the traditional Marxist claim that
the consciousness that precipitated and sustained social revolution was an “inevitable”
product of tensions between its “material productive forces” and its “material productive
relations.”44 He insisted, rather, that changes in superstructural elements—in ideas and
consciousness—characteristically preceded the historic changes in productive forces and
productive relations.45 For him, it was not the economic base of society—productive
forces and productive relations—that generated revolutionary consciousness; it was revo-
lutionary consciousness that produced society’s economic substructure.46 Mao conceived
that to be true for all times and places. For a leader who chose to make revolution in an
economically backward environment, such a posture is perfectly comprehensible.
In making his case, Mao argued that the modern bourgeoisie rose to political ascen-
dancy, animated by bourgeois consciousness, and then transformed the economic
base—reversing what had been the causal sequence between thought and material life
circumstances advanced by traditional Marxist theory. Mao clearly assigned priority to
individual and collective human consciousness as energizing factors in historical progres-
sion. History simply did not follow a predetermined course dictated by material cir-
cumstances—as classical Marxism suggested. The stream of history was a function of
human appreciation and correct assessment of any given state of affairs, and the human
determination to pursue appropriate strategies in response. Those convictions fundamen-
tally transformed Marxism as a theory of history. Marxism was no longer an “economic
interpretation of history.”47 It became a voluntaristic doctrine that understood politics,
human will, and determination, rather than economics, to be at the center of the human

43Engels spoke of “the dependence of all thought upon the historical material conditions obtain-

ing at the particular time.” Engels, Anti-Dühring, 462.

44In his Preface to The Critique of Political Economy, Marx argued: “In the social production of

their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will,
relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material pro-
ductive forces . . . the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to
which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life
conditions the social, political, and intellectual life process in general. . . . Just as our opinion of an
individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of trans-
formation by its own consciousness, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather
from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive
forces and the relations of production.”
45Thus Mao maintained that “from the standpoint of world history, the bourgeois revolutions and

the establishment of the bourgeois nations came before, not after, the Industrial Revolution. The
bourgeoisie first changed the superstructure and took possession of the machinery of the state. . . .
Only then did they push forward great changes in the production relations. When the productive
relations had been taken care of and they were on the right track they then opened the way for the
development of the productive forces.” Mao made it plain that his assessment of the process was
generic. He went on to affirm that “in England the Industrial Revolution . . . was carried through
only after the bourgeois revolution. . . . Germany, France, America, and Japan underwent change
in superstructure and production relations before the vast development of capitalist industry.” Mao,
“Reading Notes on the Soviet Text,” A Critique of Soviet Economics, 66.
46Among the principal advocates of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, there was an insis-

tence that “primary emphasis should be placed on . . . consciousness” in order to distinguish true rev-
olutionaries from revisionists. See Wang Hongwen, “Report at the Central Study Class,” in And Mao
Makes 5: Mao Tsetung’s Last Great Battle, ed. Raymond Lotta (Chicago: Banner Press, 1978), 65.
47See E. R. A. Seligman, The Economic Interpretation of History (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1961).
154 ● Marxism and the Making of China

drama—a contention that had been consistently rejected by Engels—but perfectly com-
prehensible to revolutionaries in primitive economic communities.
In full maturity, in a book reviewed by Marx, Engels insisted that “the notion that the
ideas and conceptions of people create their conditions of life and not the other way round is
contradicted by all past history.”48 He argued that ideas reflected life—so much so, that
wherever there were “crude conditions of production,” they would find their reflection in
correspondingly “crude theories.”49 Social and political theories, he was prepared to main-
tain, invariably and inevitably reflected life conditions. It was the latter that conditioned,
determined,50 the former. He held that “the solution of . . . social problems” was not the
result of cognitive reflection, but lay “hidden in undeveloped economic conditions.”51
Socialism was the theoretical reflection of mature economic conditions—not just ideas
or conceptions entertained by human beings. In primitive economic circumstances, one
inevitably would find the prevalence of something other than scientific Socialist theory—
however clever human beings might be.52
In spite of the reasonably clear position of the founders of the system, Mao proceeded
to create his own theory of social dynamics. He unself-consciously, and with complete
confidence, created his own variant of revolutionary theory. Whether it might still be
identified as Marxist, remains a matter of dispute to this day.
What seems beyond question is the fact that Mao’s notion of how political conscious-
ness is generated and transmitted necessarily inspired specific control behavior on the
part of the system he created, and imposed major responsibilities on the functionaries he
commanded. That was to cost the Chinese dearly.
Throughout his tenure, Mao was to insist on “correct politics,” to be obediently obeyed
by all, in order to assure the outcomes he had chosen. What that meant was that the
Communist Party leadership was charged with the responsibility of “instilling” in the
population a consciousness “true” to the demands of the situation53—that is, as Mao
framed demands and understood the situation. What resulted was the hierarchical, com-
mand structure of political control that typified Mao’s China. Power emanated from the
apex of the system, radiating downward through selected party cadre, illuminating the

48Engels, Anti-Dühring, 473. Emphasis supplied.

49The founders of Marxism had said as much in The Communist Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 510–
17, in dealing with “German, or ‘True,’ Socialism,” and “Critical-Utopian Socialism and Commu-
nism.” Engels was particularly emphatic on the point in his discussion of peasant revolution. See
Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, in ibid., vol. 10, particularly pages 469–71.
50Both the founders of Marxism and their followers used both terms largely without discrimina-

tion. Most of their formulations were in ordinary language—so they could move artlessly between
the two very different conceptions without any particular concern.
51Ibid., 351. The founders of Marxism were very clear that meaningful Socialist theory was a

product of mature (i.e., industrially developed) circumstances. See the discussion in The Communist
Manifesto, MECW, vol. 6, 510, 514–15.
52Engels undertook an extensive discussion of the relationship between society’s economic base

and its belief systems in his The Peasant War in Germany (an English version of which is found in
volume 10 of the MECW). A brief discussion concerning Engels’ views can be found in A. James
Gregor, Marxism, China, and Development (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995), chap.
2, particularly pages 22, 34–35.
53Mao insisted that the Chinese Revolution was a function of “Marxist-Leninist propaganda,”

which “served to create new public opinion in favor of the revolution.” “Reading Notes to the Soviet
Text,” A Critique of Soviet Economics, 51. For Mao, ideas served as the necessary conditions for social
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 155

blank minds of millions of largely peasant subjects, and informing their behavior. It was
an arrangement prefigured as early as 1945, when Mao Zedong Thought was given spe-
cial emphasis in the system and accorded appropriate institutional expression in a cult of
personality—a cult that was to assume increasingly bizarre features during the last decade
of the Maoist period.
Mao, himself, had outlined the logic of such a cult. He spoke of the proper reverence
with which Marx and Engels were held. He urged that Lenin and Stalin be accorded
similar regard—then and forever more. He held such deference to be fully appropriate;
such leaders were in possession of the Truth. He insisted that “it would not do not to
revere them. . . . They held truth in their hands. . . . The question,” he went on, “at issue
is not whether or not there should be a cult of the individual, but rather whether or not
the individual concerned represents the truth. If he does, than he should be revered.”54
Some of the implications that follow from such convictions include a readiness to
see error or malevolence in the dispositions of those who do not revere the leader—the
bearer of Truth. Those in express, and/or in stubborn, error require reeducation. Those
who refuse, or are immune to, reeducation, become the proper objects of abuse. All the
ritual machinery of public confession and self-criticism follows. Public recantations and
recrimination become part of individual and collective reconciliation with the regime.
Reeducation camps, reformation through labor, and infliction of pain, become instru-
ments of political therapy. All of that, beginning with the effective transfer of the appro-
priate consciousness, from the leader, to the party, to the masses, was what it meant to
Mao to “put politics in command”—to “champion spiritual inspiration”—to create an
environment of “spiritual excitement.”55 To assure proper implementation, “great coer-
cive power”56 was to be made available to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and pressed
into service whenever necessary in the judgment of party leadership.
Throughout the long months of the Great Leap Forward, Mao behaved in a manner
perfectly consistent with his revised Marxism. He conceived himself possessed of the
Truth—a truth purchased through revisions of inherited doctrine. The Truth, in fact, was
his Truth because, in the final analysis, he held that Karl Marx had “made many mistakes.”
He proceeded to insist that Marx’s doctrines, when found not to be “in accord with rea-
son,” required suitable revision57—which his Maoism dutifully supplied. By the time the
Great Leap Forward had run its course, Mao had drawn together the critical components
of what was to be Mao Zedong Thought. It was that Thought that found public expres-
sion in Mao’s cult of personality.
At about the same time, the Chinese economy had foundered on failed efforts and
mistaken policies—at the cost of the wholesale waste of labor and resources. The fright-
ful toll in terms of human deaths alone made the Great Leap Forward one of the most
tragic periods in the tragic history of China. Maoism, as a bowdlerized and radically
transformed Marxism, shaped the period. Mao believed that his conception of politics
grasped the very essence of popular revolution. It was a notion that had necessary impact

54Mao, “Talks at the Chengtu Conference (March 1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 99.
55See the discussion in Mao, “Reading Notes on the Soviet Text,” A Critique of Soviet Economics,
86–87, 94–98, 107, 112.
56Mao, “On the Ten Great Relationships,” Chairman Mao Talks to the People, 75, and its para-

phrase in “On the Ten Major Relationships,” Selected Works of Mao Zedong (Beijing: Foreign Lan-
guages Press, 1977), vol. 5, 297. Hereafter SWM.
57Mao, “Talks at the Chengtu Conference (Talk of March 22, 1958),” Chairman Mao Talks to the

People, 115; Mao, “Speech at the Lushan Conference (July 23, 1959),” ibid., 146.
156 ● Marxism and the Making of China

on the course of revolution—and on the nature of governance—once the CCP acceded

to complete political dominance.
By the time of the Great Leap Forward, Mao possessed sufficient confidence to charac-
terize his theoretical innovations as part of a sustained critique of Soviet postures. By that
time Stalin had died, and Mao enjoyed considerable room to maneuver. He had begun to
distance himself from the Soviet Union—for a variety of theoretical, tactical, and strate-
gic reasons. It was within that constellation of determinants, that Mao further honed the
distinctive features that would make Maoism a unique political system.
Sometime during the period leading to, and during, the Great Leap Forward, in the
late 1950s and early 1960s, Mao devoted some of the little time he had at his disposal
to an extended critique of “Soviet economics.”58 In the course of that wide-ranging cri-
tique, Mao made eminently clear his notions concerning the relationship between human
consciousness and the material circumstances governing society. Together, they make up
what might credibly be identified as “the Maoist conception of politics” the inspiration
for what was to follow on the heels of the Great Leap Forward.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

In the years between 1966 and 1976, China endured one of the most self-destructive
intervals in its modern history. Beginning with Mao’s response to the half-articulated
objections to the destructive futilities of the Great Leap Forward, and the implications of
that resistance for control of both the party and the nation, the excesses of the Great Pro-
letarian Cultural Revolution were exacerbated by deteriorating relations with the Soviet
Union, as well as critical foreign policy demands. In itself, the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution did not definitively conclude until Mao’s death in 1976.
By the time of the Lushan conference in July 1959, some of the dimensions of the
unfolding catastrophe that was the Great Leap Forward had become evident to party cadre
in the field, as well as those shouldering central leadership responsibilities. Marshal Peng
Dehuai—combat veteran of the long struggles of the revolutionary Communist Party dur-
ing the War of Resistance against the Japanese, combatant in the Chinese Civil War, as well
as the war in Korea—had observed the devastation in the countryside. He was driven to
attempt a defense of the rural population against the demands made by Mao’s developmen-
tal imperatives—arguing for a moderation in the prescribed productive quotas and associ-
ated government requisitions. He argued that the amounts of required food transfers to
state agencies were artificially inflated by accepting as true the fraudulent claims of miracu-
lous agricultural production tendered by obsequious rural cadre during the first years of the
Great Leap. He understood that the forced levies were collected in order to provide prod-
uct for export. He also knew that such requisitions left entire provinces without seed for
planting and, as a consequence, without any immediate hope of food security. He spoke of
a pandemic of sickness and death that had been the consequence of such policies, and he
pleaded for moderation in the future demands to be imposed on the peasant population.
In pursuit of having Mao modify the requirements imposed by party policy, Peng
made tentative overtures to some of the other ranking leaders of the party—to receive
little in the way of positive response. Whatever the misgivings about the Great Leap har-
bored by others—and there were many such misgivings—none were prepared to openly
oppose Mao’s program.

58Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics; see note 2.

“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 157

In the course of the Lushan conference, Mao made it very clear that he was aware of a
half-articulated opposition to the consequences of his plans for the forced draft develop-
ment of China’s economy. He spoke of being under “combined attack from within and
outside the Party.” He mocked those whose “backbones” were not sufficiently sturdy to
carry the weight of responsibility. But more ominously, he made allusion to those right-
ists who identified his regime with that of the tyrant emperor, Chin Shih Huang, who is
credited with having built the Great Wall of China at enormous cost in lives and treasure.
Mao drew what he considered to be the appropriate instruction from that particular
episode of China’s ancient history. He argued that the correct lesson to be learned from
experience was that the readiness of Chin Shih Huang to persist in the face of substan-
tial opposition provided China one of the most impressive and durable architectural
achievements in human history. For Mao, the enterprise, whatever the cost, was worth
the candle.59
Mao insisted that like the construction of the Great Wall, the Great Leap Forward
was a test of determination and endurance, a “protracted war.” Like the great historic
challenges of antiquity, or the struggle against reaction, imperialism, and invasion, the
economic development of China made life-altering demands on its population. Mao
insisted that China’s future would be determined by its response to his political and
developmental programs.
Parallel to that argument, Mao proceeded to attempt to assuage concern. He held that,
in fact, the demands made on peasants in the course of the Great Leap Forward really
were not that onerous. Just because peasants suffered, he went on, from a “little scarcity”
of vegetables, “too few hair grips, [and] no soap . . . everyone became tense.” Other
than being fundamentally incorrect, the opposition to his program, in his judgment,
was contrived—opportunistic—using exaggeration to mobilize resistance to the party
program for the rapid industrialization of the nation.
To those who knew what was happening to China, Mao’s arguments were totally uncon-
vincing but, given his power, disarming. He went on to accept the fact that whatever dif-
ficulties there were in the implementation of the general program were his responsibility.
He was, he admitted, “a complete outsider when it comes to economic construction and
I understood nothing about industrial planning.” And yet, he was the advocate of “the
mass smelting of steel” by the unskilled peasant masses. It was he who directed that “small
native type blast furnaces” be jerry-built, to be serviced by 90 million people ignorant of
any and all applicable procedures. It was he who had read reports that maintained that
accelerated steel production could be accomplished under such conditions, and it was
he who believed “provided that we came to grips with the problem [and] worked really
hard,” success would be achieved. That the effort had failed indicated that somehow his
will had been thwarted. China had been somehow “rushed into a great catastrophe.”
Whatever the case, it was clear to Mao that the general population remained “enthu-
siastic,” prepared “to do a bit more, a bit faster.” He spoke of “350 million fanatics” that
had mobilized themselves in service to the mass line. He intimated that failure had been
the consequence neither of flawed plans, improper implementation, nor peasant incom-
petence. He suggested that “a proportion of comrades [were] wavering.” Failure was the
consequence of the fact that some party members had flinched in the face of adversity.
More than that, somehow or other, some had become rightists. Mao went on to intone

59Mao, “Speech at the Lushan Conference (July 23, 1959), Chairman Mao Talks to the People,

158 ● Marxism and the Making of China

that the revolution had encountered such difficulties before and had faced, and defeated,
both slack performance and “rightist opposition.”
Those opposition elements he identified as rightist were influenced by bourgeois and/
or petit bourgeois impulse. Under the least “pressure of the imperialists and the bour-
geoisie,” he contended, uncertain party members had moved into opposition. They saw
confusion and potential failure everywhere. They then proceeded to “print bad news
every day”—to burden the working population with ill-defined concerns. The inevitable
consequence was that “people [had] no heart for their work.” Failure was the inescapable
result. The masses had been infected with “false consciousness.” Ultimately, not only was
the party’s program jeopardized but the party’s survival was threatened as well.
Animated by those reflections, Lin Biao—increasingly drawn to Mao—spoke of Mar-
shal Peng as a member of an “antiparty clique,” with all its ominous implications. The
existence of such a conspiratorial opposition threatened party projects, as well as the very
stability of the system. It was with just such considerations in mind that Mao intimated
that, should his policies be obstructed, he might once again return to the countryside as
a revolutionary. There, he warned, he would “lead the peasants to overthrow the govern-
ment.”60 It was a threat Mao was to invoke on more than one occasion.
Coupled with threats, Mao’s considered reaction was to marginalize Peng,61 ultimately
to subject him to house arrest—and make Marshal Lin Biao Minister of Defense. That,
together with his determination to undertake future Great Leaps, left his simmering
opposition with but few alternatives. Only if the party could effectively resist its chair-
man might China be spared a catastrophic repetition of the events that had just recently
transpired. In Mao’s judgment, in pursuit of their ends, that opposition sought to deliver
a false revolutionary consciousness to the masses from without. Mao clearly had plans to
forestall any such result.
In the beginning of 1962, Mao repeated his contentions before a party conference that
included approximately seven thousand working cadre from every part of the People’s
Republic. He spoke of the difficulties encountered in the preceding years, and he spoke of
unnamed opponents in the party ranks. He spoke of a disposition to ideological revision-
ism among party members, aided by foreign revisionists. He saw evidences of a betrayal of
Marxism-Leninism everywhere—not only within the party, but from without. Together
with those of his own party, he spoke of “the state leadership of the Soviet Union having
been . . . usurped by revisionists.”62 The implications were clear. There were revisionists
within the party, and there were revisionists in control of the Soviet Union—all infusing
the masses with a reactionary consciousness. Mao saw the struggle—ultimately—as a
contest of ideas.
In those circumstances, the Soviet Union became a mortal threat to the future of
China. Mao had convinced himself that Soviet revisionists, allied with those within
China, might undermine his Socialism and alter the prospects for the anticipated world
Mao went on to argue that only with the successful conclusion of his plan for “socialist
construction” might the nation avoid a revisionist counterrevolution. Emanating from

60Ibid., 138–39, 142–43.

61See Mao’s attack on Peng in “Speech at the Enlarged Session of the Military Affairs Commit-
tee and the External Affairs Conference (September 11, 1959),” Chairman Mao Talks to the People,
147, 149, 151.
62See Mao, “Talk at an Enlarged Central Work Conference (January 30, 1962),” ibid., 170,

“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 159

the Soviet Union, and aided and abetted by domestic rightists, such a counterrevolution
would have China “change its color,” to become a bourgeois or Fascist dictatorship. He
insisted that only an economically developed and autarkic China could counter such a
threat—a China that was the beneficiary of agricultural and industrial development that
could insulate it from the machinations of domestic and foreign revisionists, as well as
imperialists and reactionaries of every stripe.63
The success of Socialist construction would require eternal vigilance on the part of
true, and pure, Marxists of the party. The impure, who may have insinuated themselves
in the party in the years after the establishment of the People’s Republic, would have to
be rooted out by rectification campaigns. Suspected revisionists were to be made subject
to public criticism and self-criticism sessions, in order to reaffirm or certify their purity.64
By that time, it was transparent that Mao intended both renewed great leaps in Social-
ist construction, as well as a program of intense rectification, employing his convictions
concerning the nature of political consciousness, directed against revisionists within the
party. At that point, whatever reservations might have inhibited an earlier response, a
poorly organized resistance to Mao and his plans organized itself around Liu Shaoqi and
Deng Xiaoping—who, at the very least, sought to moderate the program of forced indus-
trialization. By the beginning of 1962, there were members of the upper echelons of the
party bureaucracy who loosely organized themselves to resist Mao—to reduce both the
pace of his “socialist construction,” as well as the intensity of any intended rectification.
Perhaps because of growing tension with the Soviet Union, with Nikita Khrushchev
persisting in a program of de-Stalinization and revisionist reform, Mao’s resistance to his
domestic critics weakened. He temporized and sought an accommodation that resulted
in a significant amelioration in the demands made on the population. Living conditions
in the countryside improved almost immediately. Famine subsided and both rural and
urban-based production began to stabilize at approximately normal levels. The search for
revisionists, and the impure, was temporarily halted.
It appears evident that events in the Soviet Union had caused Mao to hesitate in pur-
suing his domestic programs. Already, in April 1960, Mao had his information agencies
publish a long pamphlet entitled, Long Live Leninism, a budget of objections to the revi-
sionisms of the Soviet Union—and the threats that revisionism created for China and the
world revolution of the proletariat. While not a direct attack on Khrushchev, its intent
was apparent. For Mao, the leadership in the Soviet Union no longer sought the uncon-
ditional victory of Socialism. They were prepared to accommodate imperialists. Having,
in his judgment abandoned both Marx and Lenin, as well as Stalin, the revisionists in
Moscow were progenitors of an ideological corruption that poisoned the very essence of
Marxism-Leninism. It was a judgment that would lead to the Sino-Soviet rift, which in
turn, would preoccupy the world community for years.
Moscow’s behavior in the international arena was to continue to trouble Mao. He
objected to Khrushchev’s decision in 1962 to compromise with the United States over the
issue of the emplacement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. At almost the same time, an increas-
ingly bellicose Mao was contemplating war with India over long simmering border dis-
putes. While all that was transpiring, it became clear that Moscow was not well disposed
toward Mao’s military adventure. At the same time, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao’s long-time
rival, threatened invasion of the mainland from the Nationalist redoubt on Taiwan.

63Ibid., 167, 173–75.

64See ibid., 163, 170–71, 179–80.
160 ● Marxism and the Making of China

The Soviet Union continued to vacillate concerning China’s potential conflict with
India, but ultimately they extended tentative support. The Chinese invasion of India was
rapid and decisive. After demonstrating its matériel superiority, the People's Liberation
Army (PLA) withdrew, to leave the borders of the region still in dispute. The United
States, in turn, sought to constrain Chiang and his forces on Taiwan—fearing the uncon-
trolled contagion of conflict throughout the region.
In 1963, the Soviets signed the Test Ban Treaty with the United States and Great Brit-
ain. Mao interpreted that not only as a departure from the principles of a united front
in the service of worldwide proletarian revolution, but as further evidence of Moscow’s
hostility toward China. Mao interpreted Moscow’s latest treaty with the West as an effort
to foreclose China’s membership in the nuclear weapons club. The baleful effects of revi-
sionism had matured.
Mao further suspected that the leadership in the Kremlin was prepared to lend substan-
tial support to the revisionists in the CCP. That led him to be cautious in planning to root
them out. He apparently feared that any program that put them in peril might precipitate
intervention by the Soviets. All of that clearly rendered Mao increasingly circumspect.
In the spring of 1964, Mao was informed that the nation’s scientific community was
prepared to detonate an atomic weapon. Irrespective of the impediments interposed by
the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China found itself in the possession of the
most lethal weapon available to humanity. In the fall of that year, a Chinese atomic bomb
became a reality. At the same time, Mao ordered a geographic dispersal of the nation’s
basic industries. A substantial part of China’s heavy industry was to be transferred to the
farther reaches of the countryside—as a defense in depth against surprise attack. The
costs incurred were astronomical and much of the readily available infrastructure proved
inadequate. Nonetheless, the effort was continued. Although it was to ultimately prove
of little real consequence for the nation’s security, it did render Mao more confidently
disposed to directly confront domestic issues as he saw them.
In the summer of 1964, Mao had begun to speak of a “Chinese Khrushchev”—a
highly placed official in the CCP—who might threaten both the party and the nation
with rightist and revisionist reform. It was a signal that he was finally prepared to address
the issue of political opposition within the highest reaches of the party. He knew that the
Soviets had sought to importune some of China’s Communist leadership in what he took
to be their effort to make of the nation a revisionist ally, but he felt certain that he had
created conditions that insulated him from any such initiatives. In speaking of a Chinese
Khrushchev, it became clear to cognoscenti that the Chairman was alluding to the state
president, Liu Shaoqi—who was well aware of the unenviable position in which he found
himself. By the end of 1964, it was apparent that Mao sought the resolution, within
China, of political circumstances he could no longer tolerate.
In February, 1965, Mao sent Jiang Qing, his wife, as his personal emissary, to engage
party leadership in Shanghai, in order to organize resistance against the revisionists
within Communist ranks. Implementation of his program was temporarily delayed by
his involvement in foreign affairs. He became embroiled in the politics of Indonesia,
counseling the leaders of the Indonesian Communist Party to seize revolutionary control
of the government. The venture proved to be an unmitigated disaster, with the Indone-
sian armed forces cutting down both the leadership and a substantial part of the party,
destroying the largest Communist Party in Southeast Asia. The fact was that through
much of the year, international affairs continued to distract Mao.
Nonetheless, toward the end of 1965, confident that the nation’s defense was secured,
it became clear that Mao felt he could no longer delay in seeking to marginalize his
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 161

domestic enemies. Together with Jiang Qing, Mao prepared to launch a campaign against
real and fancied opponents in the party. It was to be a campaign singularly Maoist in con-
tent, inspiration, and direction. It was to be predicated on Mao’s theory of revolutionary
consciousness as the product of a unique political intelligence engaging the energies of a
pliable and susceptible mass.
A pretext for initiating Mao’s program was sought and found—in the appearance
of a drama entitled Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. Mao maintained that the play’s tale
of an honest minister who resisted the corrupt policies of his superior was nothing less
than a counterrevolutionary allusion to his treatment of Peng Dehuai at the time of the
dispute concerning the Great Leap Forward. The mayor of Beijing became involved
as party overseer of popular culture. Aware of what might be impending, he sought to
deflect the suggestion that the play was anything other than an entertaining tale about
a historic figure. He insisted that it was entirely without political implications for the
then present.
At that point, the first analyses of the play, and the dispute surrounding it, appeared in
the party press. Aided by the direct participation of Mao, himself, the play was described
as a transparent deception and revisionist ruse. Disguised as popular entertainment, it
was seen as an effort to exploit popular sentiment against the CCP—advancing a defense
of the anti-Marxist revisionist Peng Dehuai in his resistance to Mao’s developmental
policies. At that point, Mao marshaled his forces: first to defeat the representatives of
the party propaganda organization in Beijing that had hesitated and second to formally
organize an apparatus to initiate and foster what history was to come to know as The
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—a systematic and comprehensive purge of China’s
Communist Party, and an enjoinment of the masses to defend Mao as the preternatural
“never setting red sun in their hearts.” By that time, all the elements of Mao’s “last revolu-
tion”65 were in place—and by the spring of 1966, the purge, “personally initiated and
led by Chairman Mao,”66 officially commenced. The targeted enemies of the movement
were identified as those who “express revisionist opinions and views,” as well as anyone
“deeply influenced by bourgeois thinking.” Mao, in accordance with his views on the
dynamics of belief, conceived the struggle as essentially ideological. It was expected that
the exponents of false consciousness would be found at every organizational and member-
ship level of party—for many “representatives of the bourgeoisie” had “sneaked into the
party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture.”67 It was expected that
rooting them out would require “great disorder under heaven”—an expectation fully met
in the years to follow.
Mao drew around himself those in whom he had the greatest confidence—among
them, Jiang Qing, Lin Biao, Chen Boda, and Kang Sheng. A Central Cultural Revolution
Group was organized. They drew upon Mao’s notion of politics—which conceived Truth
emanating from inspired leadership—a leadership that would inscribe those truths on
the “blank tablets” represented by the mind of China’s masses. The Truth was to radiate
outward, investing the military and the young, who were to serve as its bearers.

65There are many accounts of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. I have found Roderick

MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2006), to be most helpful.
66Zhou Enlai, “Report to the Tenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China,” in

And Mao Makes 5, 79.

67As quoted in ibid., 41, 47.
162 ● Marxism and the Making of China

The character of all this was captured in the publication of millions of copies of a
brief catechism of Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, The Little Red Book, which
was to serve as a vade mecum for all his followers, a formal liturgy for the faithful. First
published for members of the military in 1964, it was held to be the “only correct line,”
the “powerful ideological weapon” capable of defeating “revisionism.” It contained the
essence of Mao’s “creatively developed . . . universal truths of Marxism-Leninism.” Sol-
diers, and then masses, were counseled to “memorize” its Truths, “study and apply them
repeatedly.”68 Everything was calculated to provide that a suitable consciousness would
be delivered to the masses.
By 1966, The Little Red Book was made available to millions of students, charged
with special responsibilities as the “Red Guards” of Mao’s revolution—agents of Mao’s
Thought. The Red Guards were told that “Comrade Mao” had succeeded in bringing
“Marxism-Leninism . . . to a higher and completely new stage,” serving “as the guiding
principle for all the work of the party, the army, and the country.” Everyone was advised
to “master Mao Zedong Thought,” to memorize its important components so that it
might become “an inexhaustible source of strength and a spiritual atom bomb of infinite
In the fall of 1966, Mao’s agents inspired, promoted, directed, and facilitated a stu-
dent rebellion in China involving millions of high school and university students. Mas-
sive public meetings were orchestrated, marshaling students into the ranks of the Red
Guards—defenders and propagators of Mao Zedong Thought. Using “Mao Zedong
Thought to direct the battle,”70 guided by its “light,” Maoist fanatics fanned out into the
public—to impose, on a subject population, what they understood to be Mao’s vision of
an emerging New China. At about that time, the first members of the leadership cadre
of the party were identified as revisionists. Many were publicly humiliated in specially
choreographed mass meetings. A few were killed; many more driven to suicide. Whole
families became embroiled in the political violence.
Guided by the vaguest of criteria—capable of discerning revisionists only through
the “microscope and telescope of Mao Zedong Thought,” Red Guards indiscriminately
assaulted teachers, researchers, and public officials. Thousands of “bad elements,” parents
and children, were literally beaten to death. All those imagined to be opposed to Mao’s
line, were subject to abuse, public humiliation, physical injury, and, in many instances,
to death. In the course of all that, instruction in the universities and public schools was
halted. Mass rallies consumed the aimless energy of numberless students subsequently
charged with the responsibility to destroy the “four olds”—“old ideas, culture, customs
and habits”—anything that might confound “the guiding thought of the Party” and
attempt to lower “the great red banner of Mao Zedong Thought.” Mao’s notion of what
politics was understood to entail proceeded to take its toll.
In the process, many of the cultural treasures of the past were destroyed. Homes were
looted, and people were indiscriminately beaten—often to death—on the pretext of their
being rightists or revisionists. Temples were razed and monuments reduced to rubble.

68Foreword to Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (New York: Bantam Books, 1967),

69“Foreword to the Second Edition,” ibid., xxix–xxx.
70A sampling of the hysterical appeals of the Red Guards to the “power of Mao Zedong Thought”

is conveniently collected in The “Miracles” of Chairman Mao, ed. George Urban (Los Angeles: Nash
Publishing, 1971).
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 163

While there is no generally accepted measure of the losses incurred, they were cata-
strophic. Estimates of those killed in the process range from the hundreds of thousands
to millions.71 In the great confusion that reigned, pitched battles were fought between
and among various Red Guard factions—for uncertain reasons—to unclear purpose.
Often the military became involved—and the conflict drew automatic fire, artillery, and
tanks into the exchanges. It was reported that in Guangdong province alone, during the
biennial 1966–1967, forty thousand died and more than a million were imprisoned for
extended periods.
In the course of all this Mao Zedong Thought took on the properties of the reforming
fanaticism of a church militant. It gave expression to the attitudes and language of devo-
tional literature—to parable, proverb, and cautionary admonition.
It spoke of demons and monsters, of evil unrestrained. It spoke of the “miracles” of
Mao’s inspiration: the defeat of powerful enemies, the shaping of recalcitrant nature, the
cure of unknown ailments and personal shortcomings. It was Mao, through the agency
of his Thought, who divined the class origins of opposition. It was Mao Zedong Thought
that could cut through the traditions of feudalism and bourgeois pretension, through per-
sonal selfishness, to cleanse the masses of all corrupting influences. Only through public
acts of contrition, self-criticism, and penance, might persons be redeemed for Maoism
and its projected Socialist community.
Initially, most of those who suffered were simply chosen arbitrarily by young adoles-
cents who had little comprehension of the unfolding tragedy. Gradually, more and more
of those who were identified as rightists or revisionists were members, at various levels, of
the Communist Party. By 1969, seven of 17 members of the Politburo had been purged
and declared enemies of Mao Zedong Thought. Fifty-three of the 97 members of the
Central Committee of the party, four of six regional first party secretaries, and 23 of 29
provincial first secretaries of the party were similarly purged. Years later, Chinese officials
estimated that as many as four hundred thousand party cadres had been liquidated in
the violence. The emblematic instance was that of Liu Shaoqi, Mao’s declared heir. Liu
was publicly humiliated by Mao’s agents and ultimately allowed to die alone—without
medical aid or family comfort. In such fashion, Mao rid himself of his real or fancied
opponents in the party.
The disorder resulted in such rapid decline in agricultural and industrial production,
that by the end of 1967, Mao felt compelled to order the PLA to attempt a restoration
of order. This was attempted by bringing together governing revolutionary committees
composed of the military, elements of the chastened party, and representatives of the revo-
lutionary masses. In the course of the effort, the military became increasingly prominent
in the control structure. The CCP had been preempted.
None of this was achieved without protracted infighting among all the elements of
the body politic—and, in fact, excesses continued for almost three years. The spring of
1969 saw major violence continue in Szechwan, Kweichow, Shansi, Sinkiang, and Tibet.
As a consequence of the unpredictable range and ferocity of the violence, and the feckless
behavior of the masses, production remained erratic in almost all the parts of China. It
was soon decided that the organized disorder could not be allowed to continue unabated.
Action by the Red Guards was to be terminated. Students were ordered back to the
classrooms. To assure order and central control, schools were instructed to “firmly estab-
lish the absolute authority of Mao Zedong Thought” over all public behavior. A system

71See the estimates in R. J. Rummel, China’s Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder since

1900 (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007), chap. 12.

164 ● Marxism and the Making of China

of ritual affirmation was instituted in the effort to inculcate obedience. Students were
instructed in adherence to a canon that involved allegiance to “three loyalties and four
boundless loves.” They were required to pledge loyalty to “Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
Thought, and Chairman Mao’s proletarian revolutionary line”—as well as to invoke
and sustain a “boundless love for Chairman Mao, the Communist Party, Mao Zedong
Thought, and Chairman Mao’s proletarian revolutionary line.”72
Some of this had been initiated as early as 1968. Students were called to assembly,
to stand at attention before the portrait of the “Great Leader” to await “instructions”—
derivative of Mao’s public injunctions, written parables, and published enjoinments. To
serve the purpose, the Center provided 350 million copies of The Little Red Book, together
with about 50 million copies of Mao’s highly edited Selected Works.
Public life was increasingly dominated by the hastily contrived revolutionary com-
mittees. Red Guard organizations were absorbed into the preexisting Communist Youth
Leagues and Young Pioneers. Millions of students were sent into the countryside, to
“learn from the peasants”—discharging their energies where they would do least harm.
By the beginnings of the 1970s, almost ten percent of the urban population had been
“ruralized”—and much of the nation pacified. The domesticated Communist Party was
charged with the follow-on responsibility of “cleansing the class ranks”—to ensure that
the cowed party remained pure, and the sure and certain embodiment of Mao’s Thought.
In the interim, China and its erstwhile Soviet allies across the border had become
involved in a series of firefights—precipitated by the Chinese. Soviet border guards recip-
rocated in kind, inflicting heavy casualties on the PLA. As a consequence, Moscow and
Beijing settled down into a surly cease fire.
Mao sought to institutionalize the changes he had wrought with the Great Proletar-
ian Cultural Revolution. Liu Shaoqi was formally drummed out of the party—and a
new constitution was fabricated. The new constitution did several things: not only did it
officially celebrate the special qualities of Mao Zedong Thought, but Lin Biao was also
specifically identified as Mao’s successor. In the course of all that Mao conveyed the clear
impression that his future plans for China included further “movements” that would
“cleanse the class ranks” and reenergize his program for “great leaps.” Great leaps and
great proletarian cultural revolutions were to be recurrent, predictable features of the
Maoist political landscape for the conceivable future.73
All of this apparently proved too much for Lin Biao. In the fall of 1971, with immedi-
ate members of his family, Lin chose to conspire against his “never setting red sun.” As
a plot, Lin’s conspiracy was poorly contrived, ineffectually led, and defeated by circum-
stances beyond his control. With the failure of his coup—together with his wife and adult
son—Lin was killed in the crash of the jet in which he was attempting to escape to the
Soviet Union. Mao’s chosen successor had revealed himself as a rightist and a revisionist.
Mao’s ever miraculous Thought had failed to warn the Chairman of that fact.
At the same time, China found itself embroiled in difficulties almost everywhere along
its long periphery. There was growing tension in the Southeast. The Soviet Union was in
the process of making diplomatic and military inroads into the region. Domestically, the
economy had made fitful improvements in the years after 1969. By 1971–1972, Mao’s
most trusted counselors recommended overtures to the United States. In 1972, Mao

72MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution, 247, 262–63.

73See the comments of Wang Hongwen, “Report at the Central Study Class,” in And Mao Makes
5, 57–58.
“Mao Zedong Thought” ● 165

Zedong invited Richard Milhous Nixon, president of the imperialist United States, to
visit China. China had begun its uncertain courtship of imperialism.
By 1972, Mao found himself heir to the full fruits of his revolution. Over a generation,
China had consumed blood and treasure in profligate measure in order to achieve what
were modest results. Mao’s personally chosen successor, Lin Biao, had defected. Immedi-
ately prior to the defection, Mao’s previously chosen successor, Liu Shaoqi, had revealed
himself a rightist. Mao’s personally selected political agents—the unspoiled children of
the revolution—had shown themselves fanatic in destruction and masters of disorder.
They had killed and maimed persons without restraint—and looted and defiled things
without compunction. They derailed the economy and deranged the nation’s culture—all
without any apparent purpose.
By the mid-1970s, Mao called upon Deng Xiaoping—long absent from the center of
power—to return to a management role in order to restore some balance and direction
to a system that was seriously adrift. While he still sought to provide his own ideological
direction to developments, Mao no longer had confidence in some of his closest col-
laborators in consolidating the effects of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. He
counseled his wife, Jiang Qing, to moderate her posturing. Kang Sheng was dead. He
dismissed Chen Boda, who had served him as his intellectual amanuensis for decades
and had directed much of the polemical exchanges that gave ideological substance to the
Cultural Revolution.
It was clear that by that time, Mao was no longer confident in his commitment to the
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—or his own notions of political dynamics. He
began to make tentative allusion to the restoration of the doctrinal integrity of Marxism-
Leninism—and of responsibility to its historic, intellectual legacy. There were fewer and
fewer references to the transcendent Thought of Chairman Mao. There was almost some-
thing of an air of resignation in all of it—as though the enfeebled and almost sightless
Mao Zedong expected history to write something of a different ending to his story of
Marxist revolution in China. If that were the case, it would have been one of the most
perceptive insights of his life.

The Passing of Maoism as a

Developmental System

After the disruption of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution . . . leaders
enthusiasm for modernizing the country by relying heavily on willpower, as they had during
the Great Leap Forward, had virtually disappeared.
—Ezra F. Vogel1

he last year of Mao Zedong’s life was marred by the unraveling of Maoism as
a political and economic system. Haphazardly constructed in an effort to sat-
isfy Mao’s conception of a true Socialism, the revolutionary society of the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution was being undone by stresses it was unable to contain.2
Mao, himself, was conflicted. He seemed uncertain as to precisely how his vision of a new
society might be fostered and sustained. On the one hand, he sought to employ what
remained of the Central Cultural Revolution Group, enlisting their continued efforts in
support of his vision. In a collateral effort to avoid what threatened to be major disloca-
tions, he solicited managerial and organizational assistance from members of the party
that Jiang Qing and her radicals had denounced regularly as “capitalist roaders.”
There had been beneficiaries of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Jiang Qing
and the others of the “Gang of Four”—Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang
Hongwen3—who had assiduously followed Mao’s directives as they understood them,
and sought to anticipate his doctrinal intent. And there were those who had trailed in
tandem—and profited as well. Conversely, there had been those who had suffered in the
course of developments. In general and indiscriminately, all China had suffered serious

1Ezra F. Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 2011), 126.
2For a more extensive discussion of the economic system of Mao’s China as it transitioned to that

of Deng Xiaoping, see A. James Gregor, The China Connection: U.S. Policy and the People’s Republic
of China (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1986), chap. 7.
3Zhang Chunqiao was a “Marxist theoretician” and leader of the radical Shanghai People’s Com-

mune in 1967; Yao Wenyuan was a Shanghai publicist, whose articles signaled the commencement
of the Cultural Revolution; and Wang Hongwen was a revolutionary worker whom Jiang Qing
sponsored for high position in the party.
168 ● Marxism and the Making of China

hardship. There had been a critical erosion of the general quality of life as a consequence
of Mao’s effort to continue revolution and pursue class warfare in order to assure the sup-
pression of revisionists and rightists.
By the time 1975 had reached its first fullness, it was evident that Mao was not con-
fident that Jiang Qing and her entourage were capable of shepherding and securing the
nation in that pure Communism he envisioned. As a consequence, he made recourse to
Deng Xiaoping, a “capitalist roader” whom Mao considered politically manageable, and
sufficiently capable, to provide the practical guidance for a system that had become both
unsteady and unsure.
In 1969, at the insistence of the enthusiasts of the Cultural Revolution, Deng had been
exiled from the center of power in Beijing. Only in 1973, when the full magnitude of the
potential social and economic disaster was evident, did Mao recall Deng to the capital.
Upon his return, Mao sought to protect Deng from the political and personal intrigues
launched against him by the enduring protagonists of the Cultural Revolution. By the
first months of 1975,4 the tensions between the parties had matured into public postures.
The advocates of the Cultural Revolution outlined a position in opposition to Deng that
they would continue to affirm until defeated.
The selected theoreticians of the Cultural Revolution insisted on the intrinsic merits
of the Great Leap Forward, maintaining that whatever the failures suffered, they had
been the result of sabotage by Soviet and domestic revisionists. They proceeded to argue,
consistent with the Maoist Thought, which animated their beliefs, that the Cultural Rev-
olution represented a “political and ideological struggle” within the very “social super-
structure” of Chinese society. They argued that the struggle had been made necessary
because the true lines of proletarian consciousness had been confounded by bourgeois
appeals to personal material advantage recommended by those self-same revisionists in an
attempt to “restore capitalism.”5
In the course of their arguments, those who supported the values of the Cultural Revo-
lution rejected any recourse to special expertise, or performance qualifications, as instru-
mental in achieving Mao’s economic goals. They anticipated that wage differentials might
follow such distinctions and undermine the equality that was critical to their Commu-
nism. Instead, they emphasized “red,” rather than “expert.” The appeal was to put “politics
in command” and allow the “proletarian enthusiasm” of unlettered workers to assure the
requisite increments in productivity required by their notions of a Chinese developmental
Socialism in an atmosphere of “pure communism.” In the judgment of those who defended
the strategy and tactics of the Cultural Revolution, the emphasis was to remain on mass
mobilization, political education, and the marshaling of commitment to, and unqualified
belief in, Mao Zedong Thought. In effect, it was a reaffirmation of Maoist voluntarism.

Deng Xiaoping and the Rise of Hua Guofeng

By the end of 1975, the die had been cast. In the course of the year, Deng—summoned
back to the center of power by Mao himself—had intervened in China’s transportation
system to solve serious disputes among radical advocacy groups that had impeded the

4The position assumed by the advocates of the Cultural Revolution is conveniently represented

in an essay that appeared in December 1975, in the Beijing Review, “Fighting with Pen and Steel
Rod,” translated in And Mao Makes 5: Mao Tsetung’s Last Great Battle, ed. Raymond Lotta (Chicago:
Banner Press, 1978), 221–28.
5Ibid., 223.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 169

adequate and timely distribution of agricultural and industrial inputs throughout the
system. The logistical impairments that resulted from the interference of Cultural Revo-
lution radicals, and the factions they sponsored, seriously compromised the growth of
production. Without hesitation, Deng had factitious rebel leaders arrested and system
integrity restored.
After the railways, Deng proceeded with consolidation in the steel and mining indus-
tries against the same rebel resistance—all with an eye to rapid increments in production.
He made production the priority, marginalizing any emphasis on “class warfare,” “oppos-
ing revisionism,” or defeating the advocates of a “capitalist restoration.”
Between June and August of that year—given his new responsibilities—Deng con-
vened a forum, including specialists from the State Council, devoted to the nation’s long
term strategy for economic growth. All the participants were aware of the rapid, sus-
tained growth that had come to typify the non-Marxist economies of the Asian “little
dragons”—Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore—and realized that some-
thing similar was expected from Socialist China if it were to retain any credibility as a
revolutionary model of national development.
The communications delivered at the meetings organized by Deng were reduced to
summaries that appeared in various forms in September.6 In them, after the required
declamations against rightists and bourgeois agents in the party, there was talk of the
priority to be extended to increases in yield, of accelerating the development of the agri-
cultural and industrial forces of production, and an insistence that Marxism emphasized
the “principal and decisive role” of precisely those forces in the evolution of society. The
task of revolution—it was affirmed—was the “liberation of the productive forces” to serve
as the dynamic foundation of the nation’s Socialism. To serve that fundamental purpose,
hierarchical, centralized, and rigorously responsible discipline would have to dominate
the work force, which was to be compensated for labor accomplished under the close
supervision of the central planning agencies of the state.7 There was an insistence on the
improvement of enterprise management, on work and motion studies to improve labor
efficiency, quality control, and the scientific cultivation of technology. There was talk of
opening domestic markets to foreign investment and technology imports—the purchase
of turnkey industries—and of export-sustained growth to pay for it all.8 All was to be
fostered by carefully crafted improvements in education and the systematic preparation of
human capital essential to development of the productive forces—against the obstruction
of those, unskilled and unschooled, pretending to revolutionary zeal, who were deemed
entirely ignorant of the real needs of production.9
Those who would continue the Cultural Revolution, and secure its gains, objected to
such policy proposals as “poisonous weeds.” They commenced a campaign against the
authors. They sought traditional literary figures whose stories they imagined could be

6Those documents were to be referred to as “poisonous weeds” by the advocates of the Cul-

tural Revolution. There are English translations of the three principal documents available in ibid.,
7See “On the General Program of Work for the Whole Party and the Whole Nation,” ibid., 439,

441, 443, 445.

8See Deng’s comment in August 1975, the substance of which appeared later in the summaries.

Deng, “Some Comments on Industrial Development,” Selected Works (1975–1982), (Beijing: For-
eign Languages Press, 1984), vol. 2, 43–48.
9See “Some Problems in Accelerating Industrial Development,” And Mao Makes 5, 452, 456,

170 ● Marxism and the Making of China

employed to make a case against “capitalist roaders” and the “bourgeoisie in the Party”
who sought to obstruct any continuation of the Cultural Revolution. The characters in
the historical novel, Water Margin, were marshaled to that end, and the figure of Song
Jiang, a leader of peasant revolutionaries of the period, was used as an illustrative example
of “capitulationism” in the face of the class enemy, and “revisionism” with regard to social
change—all transparent allusions to the then current policies of Deng Xiaoping.10
In October, Mao, increasingly impaired by his poor health, chose his nephew, Mao
Yuanxin, to engage Deng in a discussion concerning the nation’s political and economic
policy. Mao had become increasingly concerned about the direction taken by Deng’s
interventions. Deng was directly asked to reconfirm his commitment to the presumptive
values of the Cultural Revolution—a request with which he chose not to comply. By the
end of the month, Mao made clear his disappointment. Whatever transpired in the next
few weeks, it became evident to Deng that he could no longer count, with assurance, on
Mao to protect either his person or his policies of intervention into the economy.
Those who advocated a continuation of the factional disputes generated by the Cul-
tural Revolution complained that Deng’s emphasis on the development of the productive
forces diminished the emphasis on the class struggle, which Mao had identified as the
critical component of his conception of the “continuing revolution.”11 For Mao, it was
only the continuing revolution that would assure that Socialist China would not “change
its color.” Abandonment of the struggle between the ensconced elements of the bourgeoi-
sie in the party bureaucracy and the proletariat of the dictatorship, threatened the advent
of Fascism, and an eclipse of Chinese Socialism.12
Given Mao’s continued enfeeblement, all parties in the factional fighting sought
advantage. It had become manifestly clear that Mao did not have full confidence in either
faction in the dispute. He maintained a discrete distance from both Jiang Qing and Deng
Xiaoping. Recognizing that the Chairman’s death was imminent, both factions assidu-
ously began to collect any evidence that might signal Mao’s approval of their position. In
this, Jiang Qing had advantage over Deng, for by that time Deng had been banished from
the inner circle around the Chairman.
During Mao’s final days, Deng had been removed from the center of power and had
scant access to the Chairman. As Mao drew closer to death, the factional strife increased.
In the summer of 1976, the partisans of the Cultural Revolution appeared formidable.
They had representatives in the highest reaches of the party. They and their allies consti-
tuted a majority of the Politburo, and they occupied two of the four seats on the standing
committee. The minister of culture was one of their supporters. Hua Guofeng, who gave
the appearance of a supporter, was made vice premier of the state council and minister
of public security to replace Kang Sheng—allied to the Gang of Four—who had died at
the end of 1975.

10See “Unfold Criticism of ‘Water Margin’” and “Criticism of ‘Water Margin,’” ibid., 241–43,
11Deng consistently opposed factionalism in political and economic activities. See, for example,

Deng, “The Army Needs to Be Consolidated,” “Some Problems Outstanding in the Iron and Steel
Industry,” and “Strengthen Party Leadership and Rectify the Party’s Style of Work,” Selected Works
(l975–1982) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1984), vol. 2, 11–13, 18–22, 25.
12For an insightful discussion of this period, see Maurice Meisner, The Deng Xiaoping Era: An

Inquiry into the Fate of Chinese Socialism 1978–1994 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1996), see all of
chap. 3 (particularly page 50); Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, chaps. 4 and 5.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 171

Hua had clearly profited through the activities of those around Jiang Qing. He had
long been a docile, and undistinguished, Maoist. He supported the initiatives of the
Chairman without qualification, and he crafted a reputation as an agrarian collectivist.
During the last months of Mao’s life, Hua—like the others—collected everything that
might serve as evidence of Mao’s approval. Although linked to the advocates of the Cul-
tural Revolution, Hua had nonetheless been subjected to personal criticism for not being
arduous enough in his commitment to Mao’s Thought.
With the death of Mao, it became apparent to everyone that a struggle for political
power would ensue. Both Jiang and Hua produced their carefully preserved instructions
from the moribund Chairman. Each had quotes that appeared to single out the possessor
for special favor. Of the rather inchoate ramblings of the senescent Mao, Hua preserved
a handwritten note that read “With you in charge, I am at ease.” In the course of events,
Hua was to use that affirmation to secure the chairmanship of the CCP.
With the passing of Mao in September, the leaders of the Cultural Revolution fully
expected to accede to the leadership of the party. The fact that it was Hua who succeeded
in the effort, created very special circumstances. Jiang had little confidence in Hua—so
the immediate consequence was that Jiang and her entourage sought to organize a politi-
cal and, if necessary, armed resistance to the succession. Hua’s response was a preemptive
move. With his control of security, Hua quickly deployed troops throughout the capital.
They immediately proceeded to arrest the principal leaders of the Gang of Four. During
the first week of October, those leaders were charged with plotting against the govern-
ment. The fact that the vast majority of those in positions of authority opposed them-
selves to the radicals of the Cultural Revolution faction made Hua’s initiative successful.
There was an evident sigh of relief throughout the nation. In a move calculated to
block any further political moves by the Gang of Four, a handful of functionaries, in ad
hoc sessions, elevated Hua—who was serving as acting chairman—to the formal chair-
manship of the party.
Tentatively opposed, in principle, by surviving radicals in the party and the bureau-
cracy, Hua sought to mollify them by immediately cultivating an emphatic Maoist pos-
ture. In the course of establishing himself, he quickly announced that he was prepared
to “support” and “unswervingly follow whatever instructions” Mao had conveyed to his
followers. Through much of 1977, together with his “whateverism,” he continued to
deplore the political and economic strategies recommended, and the behaviors pursued,
by Deng Xiaoping and his followers. They were castigated as those of unrepentant capital-
ist roaders and revisionists.
Hua insisted his opposition to the Gang of Four did not represent a departure from
Maoism. He argued, in fact, that his actions were dictated by his obligations to the Chair-
man. He went so far as to make the counterintuitive argument that he suppressed the
Gang of Four because they actually were rightists—whose behaviors were intentionally
and intrinsically anti-Maoist—camouflaged in the easy rhetoric of the Left. Whether
convincing or not, it immediately became evident that his objections were not limited
to the actual members of the Gang. He was soon organizing efforts to identify and iso-
late those remaining enthusiasts for the political and economic policies of the Cultural
Revolution still active in the party and the bureaucracy. Gradually, many thousands of
known advocates of the Cultural Revolution and defenders of the Gang of Four were iso-
lated, neutralized, and/or arrested. It became manifest that Hua, however uninspiring as
a political leader, was preparing major changes in the policies and governance of the party.
It became evident, almost immediately, that he was not fully committed to making “class
struggle the major link” in the party’s political line. He made fewer and fewer references
172 ● Marxism and the Making of China

to distributive equality and more to the “Four Modernizations”—the rapid moderniza-

tions of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. In fact, in
stabilizing his position, Hua began to sound more like Deng than Mao. It becomes clear,
in retrospect, that his behavior was dictated by his recognition of the major problem that
actually threatened the very survival of China.
Beneath the political moves and countermoves that roiled the surface of public life in
Communist China, there was the persistent, urgent problem of the nation’s economy. For
years, at least since the Great Leap Forward, China’s agricultural and industrial develop-
ment presented a confused and confusing picture. What that held for the future of China
was uncertain. Out of that uncertainty the motive force arose that would transform the

The Maoist Economy in 1977

At the time of Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese economy was in parlous condition. It
shared the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet economy,13 while uniquely distinguish-
ing itself by virtue of the peculiarities of Maoism. Built on the foundation of a modified
Stalinist program, the Maoist personality cult—uniquely voluntaristic—imparted a sin-
gular cast to an intrinsically flawed economic system.
The Maoist productive system, whatever its peculiar idiosyncrasies, was a member of a
class of developmental systems that shared a defining set of properties. They were econo-
mies governed by politically administered plans for overall production—clearly inspired
by suggestions proffered by the founders of Marxism, who spoke of a “general plan”
that would manage the mature economy they expected to be inherited by successful
Socialist revolutionaries. The first Marxists expected that the revolution they predicted
would be heir to an economy that was already profligate, centralized, managed, and car-
telized. It would be staffed by trained and efficient sophisticates. According to the Marx-
ist theoreticians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the proletariat, having
inherited, through revolution, a fully developed economy, generating more than enough
to satisfy all collective growth and sustenance requirements, would no longer require a
price-driven market to efficiently distribute product, allocate resources, establish rational
pricing, supply incentives, maintain quality controls, or innovate. The revolution would
have delivered a robust productive system the yield of which could be organized to serve
social purpose through a “definite plan” rather than respond to profit motives or market
imperatives. Private production and exchange would be transformed into the “dovetail-
ing” of all productive efforts “on the basis of one single vast plan”14—in order to serve col-
lective ends. For the founders of Marxism, the postrevolutionary economy would largely
take care of itself.
Both Marx and Engels were convinced that such a plan was eminently simple, finance
capitalism having generated all its particulars. The economy of mature capitalism would
be, in their judgment, already planned. Even in the final days of capitalism, the market
served little systemic purpose. Moreover, the founders of Marxism had abiding reasons for

13For a summary discussion of the shared virtues of Soviet and Chinese economic development,

see Meisner, The Deng Xiaoping Era, 187–205.

14Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected

Works (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955), vol. 2, 22–24; Friedrich Engels,
Anti-Dühring: Herr Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House,
1962), 423–24.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 173

decrying the existence, in and of itself, of a commodities market. The intricacies of their
economic theory entailed the conviction that the very existence of commodity markets
signaled the presence of systemic exploitation—with workers compelled to the production
of “surplus value” for the profits of enterprise. In a market system, according to the “labor
theory of value,” workers were paid what were essentially subsistence wages to allow for
the provision of capitalist profit. For traditional Marxists, that very exploitation of labor
resulted in system-wide inadequacy of effective demand—inadequate to provide the pur-
chasing power for the profitable clearing of inventory. In the course of time, capitalist social
relations would become a fetter on the prevailing means of production. While poverty
increased, regular crises of overproduction would become recurrent evidence of system
malfunction. Inventories would go unsold, profits would decline, unemployment would
escalate, and pauperism would be pandemic. The inevitable result would be the system-
wide threat to the survival of the entire class of wage workers. Revolution would become
the sole option. The resulting Socialist system would be driven to abolish the offending rela-
tions of production in order to foster and sustain the growth of the forces of production.15
In effect, the founders of classical Marxism set themselves inexorably against price- and
profit-driven commodity exchange—the surface feature of the social relations in which
the system malfunctions found their origin. They insisted that the very dynamics of com-
modity exchange and profit seeking produced antisocial consequences. Where there were
markets, there inevitably would be the exploitation of labor in general (women and chil-
dren in particular), the production of debased products, incitement to national hatred,
and the corruption of public service personnel. Conversely, a Socialist economy was one
in which workers and producers would no longer exchange their services and goods for
wages and profit—a distributive plan, instead, would rationally allocate the products of
labor in order to satisfy collective needs and wants.
Lenin’s capture of an economically retrograde system left Stalin to create the unique
party dominant economic arrangement that was to become identified as the Socialist
productive system. All the subsequent Socialist systems—identifying themselves as
Marxist—were understood to constitute more liberal, more conservative, or more radical
variations of the original Stalinist archetype. They ranged from the “neomarket Yugoplan”
of Tito Broz, to the radical “Maoplan” of voluntarism, mass mobilizations, great leaps,
and cultural revolutions imposed on China (and subsequently on Pol Pot’s “Democratic
By the time of Mao’s passing, all the intrinsic malfunctions of the Stalinist program
of productive development and product distribution had collected around each variant
of the original. The effort to impose a single, centralized nonmarket plan on a retro-
grade, minimally productive, but growing and increasingly complex economy involved
the imposition of a forced saving rate on a basically poor population, a transfer of accrued
capital from the agrarian to the industrial sector, and an attempt to rationally allocate, by
means of a regimen of administratively generated prices, human and material resources
across all the sectors of the economy. Because of the absence of a functioning market,
prices had to be arbitrarily set by government agencies—and allocations made by means

15See the schematics of this in Marx, Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (Moscow:

Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954), vol. 1, chap. 32.

16For a more extensive account of the material in the following section, see Jan Prybyla, Market

and Plan under Socialism. The Bird in the Cage (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, 1987); A. James
Gregor, Marxism, China, and Development: Reflections on Theory and Reality (New Brunswick, NJ:
Transactions Publishers, 1995), chap. 1.
174 ● Marxism and the Making of China

of elaborate guesswork. Whatever the gross material yield (which might be relatively
abundant), the unhappy results included massive shortages on the one hand and overpro-
duction on the other—with disabling sectoral and intersectoral imbalances—rendering
any assessment of the real costs of production impossible and prompting producers to
hoard assets in order to offset unanticipated input shortfalls in the course of attempting
to meet government’s mandated production quotas. In their turn, the static and dynamic
inefficiencies necessarily influenced administrative behavior—that became increasingly
dysfunctional. In every instance of such a developmental system, it became progressively
more arbitrary and authoritarian. To avoid censure, productive units tendered false data
on resources and yield so that accounting within each such system became fundamentally
compromised. Real growth and development suffered, and alienation grew within a stag-
nant and/or declining collective enterprise.
In the Soviet Union and its satellites, by the time of Stalin’s death, there was already
pervasive, substantial, and persistent discontent with the prevailing command economy.
There were episodic and irregular efforts at systemic reform that surfaced with metro-
nomic regularity. There were attempts to introduce quasi-market components to the pre-
vailing nonmarket system—conjoined with efforts to determine the real cost of inputs
and the real price of production of products. In some cases profits were reintroduced as a
proposed measure of efficiency. Individual contract commitments and market exchanges
were sometimes allowed in order to facilitate the free and equitable sectoral and intersec-
toral flow of labor and materiel.
As all of this was transpiring, China’s Maoists interpreted the behavior, not as evidence
that the command economy of the Soviet Union was reflecting the intrinsic disabilities
of a nonmarket economic system, but as preparation to make damaging concessions to
world capitalism and imperialism. In Beijing, the attempted reforms were understood to
be the direct result of Moscow’s revisionism and capitulationism—calculated to lead Rus-
sia down a “capitalist road which runs completely counter to socialism.”17
In fact, the reforms were attempts to address the intrinsic shortcomings of the system.
The appeal to “profit motive” and “capitalist managerial techniques,” coupled with an
invitation to foreigners to undertake direct investment in, and the sale of technology to,
the Soviet Union, were efforts at remedial reforms that surfaced throughout the universe
of Stalinist and quasi-Stalinist economic systems by the mid-1960s. They were acknowl-
edgments of the existence of massive dysfunctions in the nonmarket environment and
were attempts to supply the system-relevant information, the innovation, and the quality
controls, while rationally allocating resources generally supplied by commodity markets.18
At about the same time as the efforts at system reform in the Soviet Union and some
of the satellite Socialist states were undertaken, there was muted, if heated, discussion
in China about the failures of the national economy. One of the most prominent of the
discussants, Sun Yefang, argued that Chinese economic realities demanded significant
modification of the Stalinist conception of economic organization and developmental
strategy. Sun sought to have market prices, or their equivalent, serve as the rational basis
for administrative decisions concerning prices and wage policy, efficiency, investment
choices, resource allocation, and developmental priorities.

17In Refutation of Modern Revisionism (Enlarged Edition) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Publishing

House, 1963), 81, 124.

18See the insightful discussion in Kate Hannan, “Economic Reform: Legitimacy, Efficiency, and

Rationality,” in Chinese Marxism in Flux, 1978–1984: Essays on Epistemology, Ideology and Political
Economy, ed. Bill Brugger (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1985), 119–41.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 175

Sun Yefang invoked Marx’s notion of the “labor theory of value” in an effort to intro-
duce a functional equivalent of the market into China’s rachitic Socialist economy. Marx
had argued that the value of a commodity was uniquely determined by the “concretized
labor power” it incorporated. “Concretized labor power,” in turn, was translated into the
amount of “socially necessary” time required by labor for the production of an item—
with price gravitating around the “real exchange value” precisely in terms of that labor
time. Through a variety of interactions in the system, the socially necessary labor time
required to produce a commodity for exchange appears in the market as price.19
Sun was prepared to accept the Marxist labor theory of value, and employ the labor
time involved in production as an approximation of the cost of production—and/or
price. In that fashion, it was argued that goods might exchange at something like their
real value—that is to say, the necessary labor time they incorporated. Exchanges might
then proceed on a rational and predictable basis.20 It was this discussion about the “law of
value” that involved Chinese economists in the most contentious theoretical discussions
in the decade before the death of Mao.
Long before these concerns became a theoretical problem, members of the elite of the
CCP were troubled by the course and tempo of their nation’s economic development. As
early as the time of the Great Leap Forward, Liu Shaoqi, Chen Yun, and Deng Xiaoping
had all advocated a regulative role for local commodity markets in the agrarian sector,
where the associated profits, earned in substantially free exchanges, might reflect rational
prices, fuel higher savings rates, and provide non-state funding for the development of
secondary light industries.
These first efforts at reform of the command economy precipitated an avalanche of
objections from those prepared to defend the antimarket inspiration of Mao’s develop-
mental program. At about the time of the Great Leap Forward, Mao had maintained
that while the “law of value” might somehow serve the purposes of rapid economic
development—he had also insisted that “commodity exchange laws governing value play
no regulating role in our production. This role is played by planning.”21 It was a convic-
tion that remained unchanged among the followers of the Gang of Four.
As resistance began to coalesce against Mao in response to the transparent failures of
the Great Leap Forward, his supporters identified those who advanced any reform propos-
als as revisionists—intent on restoring capitalism. The inherent difficulties associated with
the attempt to solve the problems associated with the growth and development deficien-
cies of China’s backward economy ultimately caused stress fractures throughout the entire
infrastructure of control. Most of the systems upon which remedies were imposed passed
through a series of crises. In China, the efforts to effectively address the system’s malfunc-
tions generated the venomous objections that were to cost the reform protagonists so dearly.
The reason that the discussion concerning the function of the market in Socialist econ-
omies generated such intensity turned on implications that threatened party control.

19All of this was standard fare in traditional Marxism; see Karl Kautsky, The Economic Doctrines
of Karl Marx (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936), particularly part 1, chap. 1, and part 2,
chaps. 3 and 4.
20While Mao was prepared to admit that “commodity exchange and the law of value” were

“tools” in facilitating production, he dismissed any role for them in planning. Mao, A Critique of
Soviet Economics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 130–31. Sun Yefang was “rehabilitated”
shortly after the death of Mao. See Kalpana Misra, From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion
of Official Ideology in Deng’s China (New York: Routledge, 1998), 65.
21Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics, 130.
176 ● Marxism and the Making of China

That was particularly true in Maoist China. The reform appeals of Chen Yun and Sun
Yefang carried consequences in train that jeopardized the interests of entrenched elites.
If the market was to become a relatively independent part of the developing economy of
China, much of Chinese life would escape direct central control. Major constituent parts
of the system would respond, not to the commands of the party, but to the “objective
laws” of commodity exchange.
These tensions had manifested themselves during the first years of Stalin’s developmen-
tal program for the economically retrograde Soviet Union. In a manner that anticipated
that of Mao, Stalin had early begun to speak of discipline and Marxist commitments as
determinants of successful development—at the cost of the influence of “objective eco-
nomic laws.”
For classical Marxism, the basis of human consciousness and the source of societal
dynamics were to be found in society’s economic base—in changes in the material forces
of production and corresponding alterations in the relations of production—not in sub-
jective factors, such as personal discipline and moral commitments.22 For Marx, con-
sciousness, in all its forms, was determined by dynamic elements at the economic base of
society.23 The real processes involved in economic development were eminently “objec-
tive,” having no history independent of material production and material intercourse.24
Karl Kautsky had made the classical theoretical position eminently clear to all the follow-
ers of Marx. “The history of mankind is determined,” he recounted, “not by ideas, but by
an economic development which progresses irresistibly, obedient to certain underlying
laws, and not to anyone’s wishes or whims. . . . What thinkers can do is to discover, to
recognize, the trend . . . but they can never themselves determine the course.”25

22“What we understand by the economic relations, which we regard as the determining basis of the

history of society, is the manner and method by which men in a given society produce their means of
subsistence and exchange the products among themselves.” Engels to H. Starkenburg, in Marx and
Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 548.
23See Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr &

Company, 1918), 11–12. In Das Kapital, Marx speaks of the “material productive forces” as being
composed of “instruments of labor,” as well as “workshops, canals, roads, and so forth.” He tells us
that the material productive forces provide for “material production,” which is the “basis of all social
life, and therefore of all real history.” Marx, Capital (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House,
1954), vol. 1, 180, and n. 1. In his Anti-Dühring, 365, Engels states: “The materialist conception
of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and,
next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure.”
24In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing

House, 1961), 102, Marx maintains that “the entire revolutionary movement necessarily finds both
its empirical and its theoretical basis . . . in that of the economy.” In The German Ideology (Moscow:
Progress Publishers, 1964), 37–38, Marx affirms “We set out from real, active men, and on the basis
of their real life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of
this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their
real life process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion,
metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer
retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing
their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence,
their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but
consciousness by life.”
25Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1971), 119–20. Like

almost all the theoretical propositions of classical Marxism, those that turned on the causal relation-
ship between the economic base and its reflexes in consciousness were qualified in a number of
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 177

When the talk among ruling Marxists began to invoke enjoinments to obedience and
commitment, the notion that all the processes involved were objective and law-governed
became increasingly unconvincing. The appeal was to subjective factors—to will, deter-
mination, and discipline. Lenin had opened a possible role for such factors in revolution
when he spoke of party elites introducing from without, a suitable consciousness among
generic workers—who otherwise would remain intellectually innocent and politically
passive. Stalin went still further when, in the course of forcing the pace of development
in Russia’s backward economy, he insisted that “the part played by so-called objective
conditions has been reduced to a minimum,” and those of leadership, commitment, and
responsibility, had become “decisive, exceptional.”26
There were obvious implications in Stalin’s pronouncements—which he clearly refused
to acknowledge. As a minoritarian, elitist, authoritarian, and unelected form of rule,
Stalinism sought its legitimating rationale in the unproblematic warrant of its impeccably
true theoretic rationale. Any reflection on the truth of its doctrines could pose questions
about the entire justification of minority rule. It was clear that whatever Stalin was pre-
pared to say about the conditions producing, fostering, and sustaining economic growth,
he was not prepared to allow the casting of doubt on any aspect of theoretical Marxism
that supplied the moral grounds for either revolution or elite party rule.
Stalin clearly was not prepared to countenance any fundamental change in settled
Marxist theory. A few years after his pronouncements concerning the diminished role
of objective conditions in the making of political consciousness and its corresponding
behavior, Stalin reaffirmed the classical materialist thesis that spoke of historical material-
ism as having established that “ideas and consciousness” were necessarily “secondary” and
“derivative” of just those objective conditions. He maintained that “the material life of
society is an objective reality existing independently of the will of man, while the spiritual
life of society is a reflection of this objective reality.”27
It was manifest that Stalin was not prepared to modify the theory that, in principal,
provided a justificatory rationale for minority dictatorship. Like all such systems, the
grounds of such rule rested on a theory possessed of the properties of revelation, a set of
notions that promised unqualified redemption to a cursed humanity. Any change in such
a rationale threatened the entire effectiveness of the system as a justification for violent
revolution and subsequent rule by a self-selected minority. While, in fact, such established
systems were typified by the presence of a providential leader, their moral basis remained
a set of texts that had been elevated to the exalted level of revealed Truth.28 Revolutionary
Marxists have consistently maintained that there is one true science of society—that both

vague and unspecific fashions. In a letter to J. Block in 1890, for example, Engels maintained that
“according to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is
the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted.
Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he
transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. . . . [H]istory is made in
such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which
each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. . . . [W]hat emerges
is something that no one willed.” Engels, in Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, 498–99.
26Stalin, “Report to the Seventeenth Congress of the C. P. S. U. (B.),” Problems of Leninism (Mos-

cow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1953), 596.

27Stalin, “Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” ibid., 721, 724–25.
28For a more extensive discussion of these systems, see A. James Gregor, Totalitarianism and

Political Religion: An Intellectual History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).

178 ● Marxism and the Making of China

makes revolution imperative and supplies the warrant for minority rule. Any substantive
theoretical modification of such a rationale would be apprized heretical—and its protago-
nists, antinomians, and apostates—worthy of exile, punishment, and/or death.
It is clear in retrospect that Stalin—however extensively he reinterpreted the Marxism
he inherited—was not prepared to alter the manifest features of the belief system that
supplied the moral foundation of his rule. Even with his sometimes concessions to sub-
jectivism in the political behavior of revolutionaries, and the role the cult of personality
played in the system he dominated, he continued to defend the objectivity and law-like
determinism of the original system.
That was apparently not the case with Mao Zedong. As has been indicated, Mao
insisted that human will and commitment were primary causal agents in human his-
tory.29 Moreover, he argued that the carriers of those determinants—those who transmit-
ted them to the “poor and blank” masses, making revolutionaries of the inert victims of
oppression—had every moral right to the popular worship they received. He was fully
prepared to conceive the cult of personality both as the energy source of the salvific revo-
lution and as the lynch-pin of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Voluntarism and the
cult of personality became intrinsic components of the Maoist version of Marxist revolu-
tionary theory. Mao was prepared to argue that society’s superstructure—its “economics,
politics, ideology, and culture, etc.”—was primary in determining the course and pace of
historical development, while productive forces and relations remained secondary in the
process.30 As has been indicated, he did not restrict his analysis to the China of his time.
Mao was prepared to project that conjectured relationship backward into history—to
compromise historical materialism in its entirety.
Rather than changes in the forces of production, creating the necessary conditions for
changes in productive relations—then to be reflected in the immaterial superstructure of
ideas—Mao insisted that changes in the ideological superstructure of society precipitated
changes in property relations and then, and only then, were “major developments of the
productive forces” forthcoming.31 In effect, Maoism argued that ideas and consciousness
are the determinants of human history—reversing the causal order of the traditional
Marxist sequence. The change reflected Mao’s emphasis on the role of political leadership
in both revolution and governance. Maoism was a fundamental revision of traditional
Marxism, insisting that instead of objective material conditions, it was “the correctness or
incorrectness of the ideological and political line” that “decides everything.”32

29Like most Marxist revolutionaries, Mao was not entirely consistent in terms of ideology or
tactical doctrine. In his “Reading Notes on the Soviet Text,” A Critique of Soviet Economics, 113,
114 (probably written in 1959–1960), Mao spoke of “thought and understanding,” in orthodox
Marxist fashion, as “reflections of material movements,” with “thought [as] the reflex of objective
existence.” Nonetheless, he could, at the same time, hold that “consciousness” and “ideas,” served as
prime movers in historical development.
30Ibid., 34.
31“From the standpoint of world history, the bourgeois revolutions and the establishment of the

bourgeois nations came before, not after, the Industrial Revolution. The bourgeoisie first changed
the superstructure and took possession of the machinery of state before carrying on propaganda to
gather real strength. Only then did they push forward great changes in the production relations.
When the production relations had been taken care of and they were on the right track they then
opened the way for the development of the productive forces. . . . [M]ajor development of the pro-
ductive forces always comes after changes in the production relations.” Ibid., 66.
32The members of the Gang of Four and their followers regularly repeated that specific quote

from the Chairman; see Zhou Enlai, “Report to the Tenth National Congress of the Communist
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 179

Citing Mao, the advocates of the primacy of consciousness and ideas in historical
development, insisted that the Chinese must “put politics in command,” in order to
undertake a “revolution in the superstructure.” Only then would there be a transforma-
tion in the consciousness of the masses—and then, and only then, changes in the means
of production. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution sought to transform the con-
sciousness of the mass—“relying entirely on Chairman Mao’s thought.”33 They dismissed
the contention that increments in production required material antecedents and incen-
tives—or that the system required the intervention of the market for its overall rationality. All
of that cast itself athwart Mao’s notion of the primacy of politics, shaping the future of
China by political resolution of “the issue of ideology and line.”34
The advocates of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution gave support to Mao’s fun-
damentally transformed Marxism. While retaining some of its vocabulary and rhetoric,
Maoism had transformed Marxism into a variant, articulating the rationale for an entirely
different social and political arrangement than that anticipated by the founders of the
classical system.
It was primarily for that reason that the defenders of Maoism found Deng’s “theory of
the productive forces” so offensive and threatening. Deng was arguing for the primacy of
the productive forces in social change. For him, political consciousness was secondary and
derivative, a function of the changes in the forces of production. From the time of the
Great Leap Forward, he had argued that carefully calculated changes in the material forces
of production would ultimately create the consciousness appropriate for a truly Socialist
society. To attempt forced development through frenetic activity, the product of enflamed
rhetoric and political threat, was not only non-Marxist—it was to court disaster.
Deng held his position with profound conviction. He was the inflexible advocate of
what the radical Maoists castigated as “the revisionist theory of the productive forces”35—
and, in a clear and certain sense, they were correct.36 Deng made the development of
the productive forces his primary obligation. Whatever furthered his purpose, he was
prepared to support. He extended that support to market forces because he was convinced
that they contributed to the functionality of the system and the growth of the forces of

The Thought of Deng Xiaoping

It seems reasonably clear that Deng’s resistance to Mao’s rule arose primarily as a reac-
tion to the catastrophic results of the Great Leap Forward. Whatever precipitated his
reaction, his fundamental conviction was that the aberrancy of policy was a function of

Party of China” (August 28, 1973), And Mao Makes 5, 85; Hung Yu, “History Develops in Spirals”
(October 25, 1974), ibid., 167.
33See Wang Hungwen, “Report at the Central Study Class” (January 14, 1974), ibid., 57, 69.
34Kung Hsiaowen, “To Develop Industry We Must Initiate Technical Innovation” (November 1,

1974), ibid., 134.

35Chang Yueh, “A General Program for Capitalist Restoration: An Analysis of ‘On the General

Program for All Work of the Whole Party and the Whole Nation,’” ibid., 281, 283.
36Through 1978, there were those who insisted that the primacy of the productive forces in social

change was doctrinally correct, and that Maoist voluntarism sacrificed the truth of Marxism. See the
discussion in Zheng Yefang, “A Critique of Lenin’s So-Called Criticism of the Theory of the Produc-
tive Forces,” Renmin Ribao, July 19, 1978; Hu Qiaomu, “Act According to Economic Laws: Speed
Up the Realization of the Four Modernizations”.
180 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Mao’s failure to remain true to the Marxism that served as guide throughout the course
of revolution.
It is manifestly clear that Deng’s writings and speeches indicate that he knew more of
the intellectual substance of traditional Marxism than Mao.37 A revolutionary agitator
in France, and a student in the Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow, Deng had the oppor-
tunity, denied Mao, to study the primary literature of Marxism—and the classical com-
mentaries that had gathered around it. There is evidence that Deng was a gifted student,
understanding, to a commendable degree, the system to which he had given allegiance,
and for which he was prepared to dedicate his life.
With the passing of Mao, Deng was given to act on his studied convictions. He
believed that Mao, in significant measure, had failed Marxism. As a consequence, he,
together with those he influenced, was ready to stand fast against the Maoist “whatev-
erism” of Hua Guofeng. However influenced by personality clashes, policy preferences,
and shifting political alliances, Deng’s objections to Maoism—and, by implication, the
position of the “whateverists”—were rooted in complex theoretical assessments. For his
part, Hua chose a tortuous strategy, attempting to negotiate a course between Maoist
loyalists and Deng’s reformers.
Whatever the prevailing circumstances, Hua did attempt some substantial reforms. He
spoke of the necessity of the Four Modernizations,38 for example, and he sought to culti-
vate the human capital necessary to accomplish such ends by liberalizing the constraints
on individual creative expression and informal political activity. Fully cognizant of the
basic problems that afflicted the nation, he continued to emphasize developmental imper-
atives that were to enjoy precedence over any other concern. That gave the advantage to
Deng who, even before Mao’s passing, had already devised a coherent program of rapid
industrial and agricultural development—and served as its constant public advocate.
In the course of developments following Mao’s death, Hua found himself compelled
to concede more and more ideological ground to Deng and his followers. By the end of
1977, Hua had been forced to acknowledge the failures of collectivism in agricultural
development. He proposed the encouragement of larger private family plots for sub-
sidiary farm production, and he increased the allowance for rural markets for the more
efficient distribution of produce. The appeal to market forces alone signaled that he was
prepared to abandon a strictly Maoist developmental strategy.
In the course of all that, there was an unmistakable de-emphasis on class-struggle.
There was a rejection of the policy that would orchestrate masses through exhortation in
the effort to increase productivity. Hua advocated, instead, for the use of material incen-
tives to achieve the same ends. All of that made Hua’s program look more and more like
that of Deng—and Deng was to reap every advantage from the fact. By the middle of
1977, Deng was once again a member of the standing committee of the Politburo, a vice
premier of the state council, and chief of the general staff of the PLA. He collected around
himself more and more of the functionaries of the system.

37It is hard to affirm the distinction with conviction because all the leaders of the CCP had

those who edited and modified their speeches and writings. Nonetheless, Deng made references
to relatively obscure theoretical distinctions in the writings of Marx. Deng, for example, refers to
Marx’s assignment of “science” to the “productive forces” in his schema of historical development.
That seems to be a reference to Marx’s preparatory writings for his Critique of Political Economy;
see Marx, Grundrisse der Kriltik der politischen Òkonomie (Rohentwurf ) 1857–1858 (Berlin: Dietz
Verlag, 1953), 585–88.
38The “Four Modernizations” are agricultural, industrial, scientific, and military modernization.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 181

By 1978, a systematic effort to eliminate those remaining Maoists who had supported
the Cultural Revolution was undertaken. At the same time, Deng allied himself, at least
temporarily, with the burgeoning “democracy movement” that imagined that a more
liberal political arrangement would accompany the “demaoifiction” of the Chinese polity.
Articles appeared in major party outlets suggesting that ideological dogmatism should be
eschewed and practice be made the exclusive test of truth—a clear challenge to those who
pretended that the nation should continue to follow whatever instructions Mao had left
as political imperatives.39
However appealing to many, there was considerable resistance to the new pragmatic
perspective. It was seen as a challenge to the continuity of doctrine upon which minority
rule rested. In fact, the Dengist reformers argued that unchanging doctrine was not nec-
essary as warrant for the proletarian dictatorship. They argued that Marxism-Leninism-
Mao Zedong Thought, as a living creed, adapting itself to altered circumstances, flexible
in meeting new challenges, was more than sufficient to serve as legitimation for minority
rule. Success, itself, was an adequate justification of minority rule. The reformers argued that
the conception of Marxism-Leninism-Maoist Thought as an evolving, responsive creed,
rather than an “ossified dogmatism,” could only render the party more successful in its
programs, more effective in governance, and more attractive to the general population.40
Toward the end of 1978, the Party Central Committee proclaimed that the nation
had achieved collective discipline and political stability after the “great disorder” of the
Cultural Revolution. Hua had begun to recede further and further into the political
background—at the same time that preparations were being made for the Eleventh Party
Congress. In order to organize the event, a working committee—the Third Plenum—was
scheduled to meet in December. It was at that meeting that an agenda was prepared
that transferred the principal foci of party activity from those of the Cultural Revolu-
tion to those of the Four Modernizations. In order to assure the position of the party in
the course of transformation, it was insisted that the program of rapid economic devel-
opment and industrial growth required the inviolability of Communist Party rule and
a strict adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought—as that thought was
understood by Deng and his followers. However variable party policy might be, whatever
its pronouncements were to be, it was always to be understood, thereafter, an embodi-
ment of Mao Zedong Thought. Whatever changes were to be introduced into national
policy, doctrinal continuity and the legitimacy of Communist Party dominance were
assumed, never to be questioned. The party was to be seen as a unique purveyor of truth;
and the measure of that was to be its success.
The deliberations of the Third Plenum provided the first sure outline of what China
was to look like in the post-Maoist future. It was there that it was affirmed that “the
central task for the Party and the country” was “defined,” not as class warfare or continu-
ous revolution, but “as development of the productive forces.”41 Communist China had
defined itself as a one party, developmental dictatorship.

39See the discussion in Michael Schenhals, “The 1978 Truth Criterion Controversy,” The China

Quarterly, 126 (June 1991): 243–68.

40See Deng’s discussion concerning the theoretical and tactical errors committed by Mao—as

well as those of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Deng contended that Mao Zedong Thought could
not be “mechanically” applied to all questions. Truth was to be derived from facts. Deng, “The ‘Two
Whatevers’ do not Accord with Marxism,” Selected Works (1982–1992), 51–52.
41Deng Xiaoping, “We Are Undertaking an Entirely New Endeavor,” Selected Works (1982–1992)

(Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994), 251.

182 ● Marxism and the Making of China

Already in the spring of the year, officials from the State Planning Commission of the
Ministry of Foreign Trade had undertaken official visits to the British colony of Hong
Kong to observe developments in trade, management, and finance. Within a few months,
a special trading zone at Shenzhen was approved, where materials could be imported,
enhanced, and assembled by Chinese labor for export sale. Ultimately, the arrangement
was to prove to be the first of many subsequent special zones that would serve as conduits
for capital and technology transfers to the Chinese continent.
At about the same time, Vice Premier Gu Mu brought a large delegation of high-
ranking officials to visit the major industrial nations of Europe. Long isolated from the
outside world by Maoist anti-imperialist policies, the visitors found themselves singularly
impressed by the technological, managerial, and material superiority of capitalist enter-
prise when compared to the backwardness of China. Almost immediately there was a
committed effort to make direct foreign investment, technology transfers, joint produc-
tion, and training in global economic development available to China. To support the
burgeoning enterprise, the State Council convened a forum to deliver principles that
might guide the Four Modernizations.
In response to its first suggestions, factories for the production of synthetic goods
for export—employing unskilled domestic labor—were proposed. Textile and apparel
industries were anticipated—together with the expectation that they might provide the
impetus for the establishment and expansion of light industries. To accommodate the
innovations, central economic controls were relaxed, some decision-making power was
returned to enterprises, and the first intimations of a free market made their appearance.42
Tax incentives were extended to foreigners to attract their participation. The post-Maoist
economic reforms began to take on discernible shape. Maoism was to be dismantled.
Deng interpreted the anticipated changes as “reform of those aspects of the relations
of production and of the superstructure” not in correspondence “with the . . . develop-
ment of our productive forces”43—a perfectly accurate characterization of the problem
left to his heirs by the willful politics of Mao. Mao had sought to construct Socialism on
a primitive economic base—resulting in the incompatibility of productive relations with
respect to the available productive forces. As a consequence, not only was Maoism, as the
directive ideology governing the nation, distorted and unsuitable, but the entire system
of distribution was impaired. To restore synchronicity, the relations of production and of
the superstructure must conform to the development of the productive forces. Mao had
sought to compel primitive productive forces to conform to the advanced ideology and
the Socialist relations of production he had imposed on the system. All of that excluded
a role for the market in the development of the system. Although the bourgeois devel-
opment of past systems all required an allocative and distributive role for the market,44
Maoism had attempted development through the kind of planning Marx and Engels had
conceived available only at the conclusion of development. Mao’s voluntarism consti-
tuted a major revision in Marx’s projected causal relationship between society’s economic
base and its immaterial superstructure.45

42See Deng’s discussion in early 1980, “The Present Situation and the Tasks before Us,” Selected

Works (1975–1982), 230–32.

43Deng, “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the

Future,” ibid., 152.

44Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 11.
45See Engels’ letter to H. Starkenburg, January 25, 1894, in Marx and Engels, Selected Corre-

spondence, 548.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 183

Given the political forces in act, Deng could not emphasize the non-Marxist features
of Maoism. That might diminish the reverence with which Mao was remembered. The
adulation of Mao remained critical to the continuity of the system. Moreover, Deng
could not be expected to threaten the integrity of the coalition he had fashioned to defeat
his enemies. Mao was the embodiment of the legitimacy of Communist rule in China.
To have suggested criticism that would have identified Maoism as non-Marxist would
have alienated his allies and cast a shadow across the history of the Chinese Revolution.
Deng was fully aware that his program would require unity and stability in its pur-
suit—something he assiduously sought. It was to that purpose that, in March of 1979,
he affirmed that the nation, throughout the course of reform, would be bound by the
“Four Cardinal Principles” with Mao Zedong Thought inextricably linked with Marxism-
Leninism and the dominance of the Communist Party.46 In death, the spirit of Mao
would continue to provide legitimacy for the minority rule of the non-Maoist party of
Deng Xiaoping.
In the effort to establish the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist credentials of his reforms,
Deng insisted that Mao’s allies, during the course of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revo-
lution, in fact, were not themselves Maoists, but ultra-leftists. No longer was the Gang
of Four castigated as of rightist disposition. It had been of leftist persuasion. Deng had
made a considered decision to abandon the effort undertaken by Hua to indict the Gang
of Four as rightists. Jiang Qing and her cohorts were to be subsequently condemned as
leftists and ultra-leftists. Deng chose to characterize himself and his reformers as neither
of the Left or the Right. They were simply Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedongists, correct in
judgment and in policy.47
To help assure the stability and unity sought, Deng dismantled the “democracy move-
ment,” allies that had assisted him in his defeat of both the Gang of Four and Hua
Guofeng. Out of the political struggle, he emerged as the nation’s “paramount” leader
and undisputed guide in its industrial and economic development. There was no longer
any question about the course to be followed. All the bitter denunciations of the Gang
of Four evaporated in a flurry of frenetic activity. Deng began a systematic reorganization
of the party, emphasizing its “democratic centralism,” and hierarchical discipline.48 By
the middle of 1981, he was prepared for a settling of accounts. There no longer was any
possible confusion. Deng had acceded to the “paramountcy”—to become the advocate of
a new economy and the leader of an emerging New China.
After extended deliberations and his own personal intervention, he had the Sixth Ple-
num of the Eleventh Central Committee Meeting of the Chinese Communist Party issue
an official Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding
of the People’s Republic of China49—to lay to rest any questions that still lingered over the
tragic history of the two decades that covered the Great Leap Forward and its sequel in
the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The Resolution was to serve as the party’s official verdict on the final 20 years of Mao’s
rule. It was also to define what Marxism was to mean for the nation. Beyond that, it

46Deng, “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles,” ibid., 166–91.

47Ibid., 173.
48Calls for discipline are found throughout Deng’s speeches during this period. See, for example,

Deng, “Speech at a Forum of the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the CPC,”
Selected Works (1982–1992), 386–87.
49Deng, Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s

Republic of China (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981).

184 ● Marxism and the Making of China

was to provide a succinct statement of the political philosophy and the developmental
program of Deng Xiaoping.
For the authors of the Resolution, the first challenge that faced imperial China at the
turn of the twentieth century was the defeat of imperialism. In order to accomplish that,
the nation was required to liberate itself from the trammels of feudalism. That required
systemic revolution. Imperialism’s defeat necessitated the rapid expansion and sophistica-
tion of the nation’s economy—and that entailed the overthrow of the retrograde gentry
system in the countryside. Economic development and modernization was the precondi-
tion for the establishment, growth, and sustenance of a national defense industry—and
a robust defense industry was the necessary condition for the nation’s survival in a preda-
tory world.50
The entire proposed developmental sequence was predicated on massive transfers of
capital from the traditional, to the modern, sector of the productive system—without
which there could be no adequate defense against foreign aggression. The required trans-
fer could only occur if the rural gentry were displaced, no longer to obstruct the free flow
of capital, no longer to consume it in conspicuous display and frivolous employment. To
accomplish such a redirection of the flow of capital required social revolution, and that
was the task of the revolutionaries of the Communist Party.
The Resolution granted that the CCP was successful in its revolution because it was led
by Mao Zedong and his mass mobilization of peasants. In his leadership, Mao rejected
the revolutionary strategy of the Third International and undertook revolution in the
countryside rather than the cities. The revolution he would lead would be rural based
with ranks filled with peasants rather than proletarians. The proletariat, required by
Marxist orthodoxy, would appear only in proxy representation in the leadership of the
party. Only in that sense would the revolution be proletarian, to be led by the proletariat.
In any other sense, the proletariat, as a class, would be totally absent.51 The Resolution was
prepared to allow for the success of these Maoist innovations.
With the success of Mao’s peasant, rural-based revolution, a “people’s democratic dic-
tatorship, led by the working class and based on the worker-peasant alliance” would abol-
ish private property and private control of production, in order to establish “a new type
of state power . . . the dictatorship of the proletariat”—that would recognize “socialist
industrialization” as the “indispensable prerequisite to the country’s independence and
prosperity.” All “patriots,” those who “love the motherland,” would be called to discipline
and sacrifice in the service of “developing the productive forces [and] industrializing the
The Resolution argued that during the first decade of the dictatorship, economic devel-
opment and industrialization would proceed apace, a form of Socialism established, and
class struggle essentially resolved with the abolition and/or control of private property.
Only the insinuation of Left errors into the process managed to derail it. The Great Leap
Forward was the result. However resisted by Zhou Enlai, Chen Yun, Liu Shaoqi, and

50Engels had made the connection as early as 1894. He stated that China was forced to industri-

alize “if only for reasons of national defense.” Engels, “Letter of F. A. Sorge,” in Marx and Engels,
Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1974), vol. 39, 310.
51What “being led by the proletariat” meant was that the Party’s doctrine was “Marxist-Leninist,”

a “proletarian” belief system. Very few, if any, of the leaders of the CCP, in fact, were of proletarian
origin. Mao came from peasant stock, as did the vast majority of the Party’s leaders. Not a single
prominent leader of the Party came from urban, proletarian background.
52Resolution, 12–13, 19, 23.
The Passing of Maoism as a Developmental System ● 185

Deng Xiaoping, the Left managed to confound the judgment of Mao, leading him to
overestimate the “role of man’s subjective will” in the process—prompting him to impose
on the working population “excessive targets,” issuing “arbitrary, and dysfunctional direc-
tives.” Efforts were further impaired by inciting the population with talk of a “continuing
revolution,” and invoking a form of class warfare that saw major party leaders discredited
as “capitalist roaders,” and patriotic party members punished.53
Disorder and the enormous waste of human and capital resources were the inescapable
consequences. It produced the dislocations that cost the nation more than a decade of
lost opportunities. When responsible Marxists and true patriots resisted the failed poli-
cies, the internecine struggle that followed produced the counterproductive factionalism
of the Cultural Revolution. “Ultra-left errors” had produced tragedy on a historic scale.
The Resolution tells us that it had been “initiated by a leader laboring under a misap-
prehension.” Struggling to find his way in a maelstrom of his own making, Mao under-
mined “the democratic centralism of party life” and allowed his own “personality cult”
to confound the politics of the nation. Capitalized on by malefactors on the Left, Mao’s
mistakes “led to domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe to the Party, the state, and
the whole people.”54
The Resolution proceeds to inform its audience that all that constituted the tragedy
of Mao’s final decades. Given the very principles of historical materialism, it was to be
expected that existing historical conditions, the very backwardness of the nation’s eco-
nomic foundation and the surviving elements of feudalism, could only result in Mao and
the party not being “fully prepared, either ideologically or in terms of scientific study,
for the swift advent of the new-born Socialist society and for Socialist construction on a
national scale.” Thinking became “subjective” and “practice divorced from reality.” The
arguments set forth in the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin were “misunder-
stood or dogmatically interpreted.”
Operating in such an environment, Mao had deluded himself into believing that “his
theory and practice were Marxist.” He had convinced himself that his errors really rep-
resented a true Marxist interpretation of events—rather than a “grave ‘left’ error . . .
comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration.”55
According to the Resolution, with the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central
Committee meeting of the party in the final months of 1978, China entered into a “new
phase” in its history. On that occasion, “the erroneous theories, policies and slogans of
the ‘cultural revolution’” were definitively renounced, and a new course of development
for the nation prescribed. That made the Third Plenum “a crucial turning point of far-
reaching significance in the history of [the] Party”—reestablishing “the correct line of
Marxism ideologically, politically and organizationally.” That initiated the major reforms
that were to be forthcoming throughout the system. Thereafter, active efforts were under-
taken to promote international economic and technological exchanges. Major changes
were introduced in the financial and enterprise management of the economy. Rural pro-
duction returned to family plots facilitated by market exchanges—and the first initiatives
in urban responsibility systems were introduced. The rehabilitation of many who suffered
as “capitalist roaders” and “revisionists” was undertaken in earnest—with Liu Shaoqi fore-
most among them.56

53Ibid., 28–30.
54Ibid., 32, 36.
55Ibid., 41, 46–47.
56Ibid., 49, 52–53.
186 ● Marxism and the Making of China

While Mao’s place as a “great Marxist” was reaffirmed, it was granted that he was guilty
of “gross mistakes”—particularly during the final decades of his life. Maoism, itself, in
the form of Mao Zedong Thought—an “original theory” understood to have “enriched
and developed Marxism-Leninism”—was no longer identified as the ingenious product
of a single person, but the “crystallization of the collective wisdom of the Chinese Com-
munist Party.” If the certain, if fallible and self-correcting, wisdom of the party licenses
its unitary, minoritarian rule, its warrant was to be found in Mao Zedong Thought,
understood to be the aggregate, and evolving, wisdom of all Communists in China. The
primary revolutionary purpose of Mao Zedong Thought was taken to be the creation
of a “powerful socialist country” out of what had been a nation both “economically and
culturally backward.”57 To accomplish that, all elements of the population would have
to be afforded the opportunity of rehabilitation, the bourgeoisie should no longer be set
apart—the intellectuals must identify themselves with the workers and peasants—and
everyone was to be educated to patriotism and love of the motherland.58
The obligation of the CCP was to carry a China, threatened by predatory opponents,
through the “early stages of socialism,” undertaking “reform and improvement of the
socialist relations of production . . . in conformity and the level of the productive forces.”
For a true Socialism to mature in China, the productive forces would have to expand—
surpassing those of the advanced capitalist states. The revolutionary obligations of the
party required the creation of “specific forms of the relations of production that corre-
spond to the needs of the growing productive forces”—with the entire process animated
by the “spirit of patriotism” and “selfless devotion . . . which puts the interests of the
motherland above everything.”59
Deng characterized the Chinese Revolution as burdened with the responsibilities that
inevitably follow a revolution that succeeds to power in an environment languishing
with “inadequate development of [its] productive forces.” That revolution, given those
responsibilities, is faced with “profound and arduous” tasks that involve “generations of
unswerving and disciplined hard work and heroic sacrifice” for their discharge.60 It was a
vision of a reactive, nationalist, developmental, and single party dictatorship.
In such fashion, Deng Xiaoping outlined the broad features of a “new era” in Chinese
history. It was a dictatorship committed to the creation of a New China—inspired by a
political philosophy we have not yet given a name. It was a political program devoted to
largely market-governed economic, particularly industrial, development. It was a doctrine
that also carried with it a set of variable injunctions devoted to international relations.

57Ibid., 56–58.
58See Ibid., 20, 43, 65.
59Ibid., 78, 80–81; cf. 76–79.
60Ibid., 84–85.

Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and

“Proletarian Internationalism”

In the initial years of the post-Mao era, interpretations of the change of course favored by
the successor leadership centered on the question of whether China was going revisionist. As
the magnitude of the transformation became more apparent, the focus shifted to the People’s
Republic’s abandonment of Marxism.
—Kalpana Misra1

y the close of 1978—having been successful in shaping the resolutions of the Third
Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee Congress of the Party—Deng Xiaop-
ing proceeded to revise the economic policies of post-Maoist China by rejecting
the prevailing collectivistic model of agricultural development in favor of decollectiv-
ization. There was a return to a “family responsibility system,” once again making the
family farm the nation’s primary rural productive unit. Together with a return to a more
traditional agriculture, there was a restoration of rural markets that increased the profits
of individual enterprise. The profits and efficiencies that resulted provided the funding,
and freed rural labor, for small scale sideline enterprises. In a short space of time, gross
agricultural production doubled, and an increased measure of industrial activity, which
served local consumer needs, manifested itself in the rural areas.
The apparent success of the rural reforms prompted the rulers of China to attempt
equally extensive reform of the urban economy. There was an effort to allow previously
banned “market adjustments” to influence what was seen as an unresponsive system.
A considerable degree of enterprise autonomy was allowed in the marketing of above-
plan production—with profits selectively used for capital investments or disbursements.
Alternative forms of collective and individual ownership emerged. Businesses began to
hire workers on a contractual basis, so that an open market for labor began to establish
itself. Industrial management practices were introduced—learned from representatives
from the more advanced capitalist countries. There was an effort to modify the lifetime

1Kalpana Misra, From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion of Official Ideology in Deng’s

China (New York: Routledge, 1998), 2–3.

188 ● Marxism and the Making of China

employment tenure of workers by making continued employment conditional on effi-

ciency and responsiveness.
In order to more rapidly increase the number of new plants, there were major initia-
tives undertaken to attract foreign investments. For the first time since the official found-
ing of the People’s Republic, China was prepared to solicit nonsocialist direct foreign
investment, largely without restriction, to expand its industrial base. Slow at first, the flow
of direct foreign investment soon increased to unprecedented measures.
China had been free of debt since 1965, when Beijing had finally discharged its debts
to the Soviet Union. With the new reforms, there was a surprising readiness to enter,
once again, into indebtedness—searching out foreign loans from whatever source. Since
the most abundant resources were to be found in the advanced capitalist countries, it was
there that Beijing made its most emphatic appeal.
In 1980, and again in 1984, at least in part to make China more attractive to for-
eign investors, major reforms were introduced into the industrial economy, the prin-
cipal thrust of which was to reduce direct state control over most economic activities.
This allowed market forces to direct the flow and direction of investment, the kind and
quantity of production, as well as the price at which product was sold—all of which was
expected to make China a more investment friendly environment. Commodities, whose
production and pricing had been essentially established by central planners in the past,
were deregulated. Wider latitude was afforded state enterprises in order to allow them to
respond to profitability criteria. In an attempt to encourage enterprises to utilize scarce
and expensive capital more efficiently, direct state allocations of credit were materially
reduced, to be replaced by bank loans that were to be repaid at prevailing market rates.
During the same period, there was the organization of new administrative structures,
as well as heavy investment in infrastructure, including housing, education, and health
management, in the increasing number of special economic zones allowed—all intended
to improve the amenities designed to attract foreign capital, foreign technology, and for-
eigners. Coupled with the material amenities, there was the proffering of an abundance
of cheap labor, together with preferential tax and fiscal arrangements. The zones were
expected to serve as training grounds for the new technologies made available—a training
transferable to areas outside the new economic zones.
By the mid-1980s, 14 coastal cities and five territorial regions were opened for preferen-
tial foreign investment and trade. The People’s Republic had embarked, in earnest, on its
“open door policy.” There was a rapid expansion of road and rail connections, a dredging of
harbors, and an improvement of riverine communication. The per capita output of work-
ers in the growth regions increased by multiples of that of standard Chinese workmen—
and personal income rose almost five times that of the average urban worker2—all fueled,
in substantial part, by capital flows from the advanced capitalist countries. By that time,
fully owned and fully operated foreign plants were permitted in the major coastal cities, as
well as in the special economic zones. Together with joint venture operations, such foreign
firms were permitted to hire and fire Chinese workers at will—and permitted ready access
to foreign exchange. By the end of the decade, the reforms had transformed China from a
debt-free, to a debtor, nation—a reality mitigated by the fact that enterprises financed by
direct foreign investment were growing at a much more substantial rate than those that

2See Yu Dixin, “China’s Special Economic Zones,” Beijing Review, December 14, 1981, 14–17;

Suzanne Pepper, “China’s Special Economic Zones: The Current Rescue Bid for a Faltering Experi-
ment,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, vol. 20, no. 3 (1988); see Harry Harding, China’s Second
Revolution: Reform After Mao (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1987).
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 189

were state owned. Whatever the difficulties associated with its return to the international
trading system, China’s post-Maoist reformers were prepared to pay the price for China’s
rapid industrialization by adapting to the market requirements of the standard financial
arrangements of the nonsocialist world. How proletarian China arrived at such an accom-
modation with the advanced capitalist countries provides an instructive insight into the
role of ideology in doctrine dominant systems—systems that require an ideological ratio-
nale for public behaviors and private sentiments.

Class Warfare and International Relations

In an unsystematic fashion, the entire issue of the relationship between less-developed
economies and those of mature capitalism had always occupied Marxist theoreticians.
One can find relevant discussions in the very earliest writings of the founders of Marx-
ism, in the publications of major Marxist theoreticians throughout the remainder of the
nineteenth century, and in those of the foremost revolutionary figures of the first decades
of the twentieth century. On this, and related issues, the leaders of the Chinese Revolu-
tion were heir to a complex, frequently confusing, and, at times, seemingly contradictory,
theoretical legacy.
Deng Xiaoping’s developmental policies, as they articulated themselves during the
1980s and 1990s, engaged Marxist theory at a fundamental level. Although author of a
systematic theory devoted to commodity production in an advanced machine environ-
ment, Marx early became involved in nonsystematic speculation concerning economic
growth and industrialization in the less-developed periphery of the major powers. While a
relatively minor theme within the vast corpus of their publications, both Marx and Engels
ventured on judgments concerning the conceived relationship.
It was clear that the founders of Marxism had convinced themselves that mature capi-
talism had proven unable to generate effective demand because of the payment of sub-
sistence wages within the system. As a consequence, the advanced industrial economies
would be driven to seek market supplements and investment opportunities in external
communities where untapped demand might be found. In their earliest writings, Marx
and Engels argued that the increasing trade and capital transfers initiated by the advanced
economies ultimately stimulated a self-sustaining rate of growth in the less-developed
regions. Marx was prepared to insist that “in one word,” the industrially advanced econo-
mies were compelled, by the laws of commodity production, to “create a world [in their]
own image.”3 He was prepared to argue that colonialism was the inevitable byproduct of
capitalism’s very dynamism—securing, through force or chicanery, regions that offered
the system its necessary adjuncts. The unintended consequence was to introduce modern
industry into a region of the world “asleep in history.” To move their products, secure their
investments, and extract raw materials, colonizers were compelled to build infrastructure

3Marx generally spoke of the asymmetrical relationship between the advanced industrial, and

less-developed, regions as “colonial.” The term “imperialism” was introduced later. The definitions
of the terms varied—and there is no universally accepted definition for either. For the purposes of
the present discussion, both will be understood to refer to an asymmetrical relationship between two
political entities that have entered into international connection where one party, employing mili-
tary and/or economic advantage, profits at the others expense. See Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,
Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works (New York: International
Publishers, 1976), vol. 6, 488.
190 ● Marxism and the Making of China

in, and transfer technology to, the backward economies of the less-developed portions of
the globe. That, in turn, required the development of railway technology—the construc-
tion of networks of tracks, the training of maintenance personnel, and the extraction of
raw materials to be used in forging and sustaining the system. Around such beginnings,
modern industry made its first appearance. England, in effect, had become charged with
the historic responsibility of providing the first impetus to laying the material founda-
tions of Western society in Asia.4 For the first Marxists, the universal spread of material
civilization was an intrinsic part of a world process that would result in the construc-
tion of an industrial base for the coming epoch of universal abundance and social well-
being—humanity’s “leap from necessity to freedom.”
During his final years, Engels returned to the theme and argued that industrial society
was compelled to develop the infrastructure of China, for example, in order to support
capitalism’s market and investment requirements—an organic compulsion that would
ultimately “conquer China for capitalist production.” That process, in turn, would under-
cut the ability of the advanced capitalist economies to indefinitely continue to profit as
the “workhouse of the world.” They were destined to create their own competition by
industrializing the less-developed economies. The economically developed and industri-
ally advanced China that would result from colonialism’s interventions—would foreclose
on capitalism’s ability to continue to profitably market its wares and invest its gains in
areas that were economically backward. The consequence would be to make capitalism’s
continued existence “impossible.”5 Ultimately, it would not be possible to sustain a sys-
tem that could no longer profitably distribute its products or reap rewards in making
investments. The result would be an inevitable, catastrophic, worldwide collapse of the
entire socioeconomic and political arrangement. The urban, industrial proletariat would
be compelled to assume leadership of a bankrupt international system. The “cunning of
history” would have created the preconditions for the ineluctable rise of the proletariat
in world revolution.
By the turn of the twentieth century, some of these notions became increasingly popu-
lar among political radicals. In 1902, J. A. Hobson wrote his influential Imperialism: A
Study.6 As has been suggested, it was to become one of the most popular treatments of
imperialism among Marxists during the first decades of the new century.7 In his work,
Hobson reviewed all the components of the argument found in the work of Marx and
Engels half a century earlier. He argued that a failure of effective demand in the advanced
industrial economies created both a glut of commodities at one end of the chain of pro-
duction together with excessive rates of profit at the other. There was an insufficiency
of markets in the home country, as well as a surfeit of investment capital among the
possessing class—both of which drove capitalism into a fevered search for supplemen-
tary markets and new investment opportunities in the less-developed portions of the
globe. Together with a long list of abuses, both material and moral, industrial capitalism
expanded outward to conquer the new markets and investment occasions available in
economically less-developed territories.

4Marx, “The Future Results of the British Rule in India,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On

Colonialism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 77, 81.

5See Engels’ correspondence with Karl Kautsky and F. A. Sorge, on September 23 and November

10, 1894, in Marx and Engels, Werke (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1967), vol. 39, 301, 310.
6J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967).
7By the turn of the century, the term preferred to describe the outward political and military

expansion of the industrially advanced societies was imperialism rather than colonialism.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 191

The rub, Hobson argued, was that the trade stimulus and capital investments that
attended imperialist conquest resulted in the founding, stimulation, and fostering of
industry in the subject regions. That industry would soon compete with the mother
country—just as the United States and Germany, initially less developed, began to com-
pete with Great Britain for market share and investment opportunity. Hobson argued
that the contemporary industrial powers, exploiting the China market, as well as its
investment prospects, would soon find themselves facing a community empowered
with all the necessary productive capabilities to defeat them in competition. Given their
untapped natural resources, and the abundance of cheap labor, the newly industrializing
nations would drive the imperialist aggressors into increasing inefficacy and ultimate
eclipse.8 The clear message was that there was little the advanced industrial powers could
do to avoid such a denouement; the result was a function of the “inherent organic laws
of political economy.” All of which was to become standard fare in the Marxist texts of
the period.9
Hobson’s arguments were taken up by Lenin,10 who argued that the success of the
export and investment strategies of the advanced industrial powers explained the failure
of international Socialism to effectively oppose the growing threat of war in 1914. Lenin,
as we have reviewed, argued that it was that success that supplied the super profits that
the bourgeoisie employed to suborn some venal leaders of the proletariat. That thin stra-
tum of bribed leaders led the working class to support the war mongers of the imperialist
powers—to undermine the antiwar convictions of international Socialism.11
Attending all that was a collateral process. Lenin called his readers’ attention to the
analysis, provided by Hilferding years before, that spoke of the fact that the interventions
of the advanced countries into those less-developed economies had precipitated reactive
“antagonisms” there—and had excited in those regions “a constantly growing resistance
by peoples awakening to national consciousness.”12 He went on to speak of the increas-
ing resistance among those denizens of economically less-developed regions, speaking of
such resistance as instances of movements for “national liberation.” He spoke of those
nations, long characterized as “without history” as being drawn into “the capitalist whirl-
wind”—to receive there the motivation to seek, and the necessary resources for, their own

8Hobson, Imperialism, 49; see also pages 80–81.

9See, for example, summary renderings in Rudolf Hilferding, Das Finanzkapital: Eine Studie über
die jüngste Entwicklung des Kapitalismus (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1955, originally published in 1909),
section 5; Karl Kautsky, Die materialistische Geschichtsauffassung (Berlin: Verlag J. H. W. Dietz,
1929), vol. 2, 143–46.
10V. I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, in V. I. Lenin, Collected Works (Mos-

cow: Progress Publishers, 1964), vol. 22, 185–304. Hereafter LCW.

11Lenin provided a summary statement of his argument in the Preface to the French and Ger-

man editions of 1920; LCW, vol. 22, 189–94; see Lenin’s comments on the surplus of capital in
the advanced industrial countries and its export to those less developed. He speaks of the advanced
countries increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In those less-
developed countries, he continues, “profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is
relatively low, wages are low, raw materials are cheap.” LCW, vol. 22, 241–42.
12See LCW, vol. 22, 297; Hilferding, Das Finanzkapital, 480.
13In Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, in Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Languages

Publishing House, 1953), 42–46, there is a reasonably comprehensive discussion of what Stalin
refers to as “Lenin’s theory of revolution.” See, in particular, the account in Stalin, “The October
Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists,” in ibid., 122–31.
192 ● Marxism and the Making of China

For present purposes, it is important to note that nowhere in his discussion of imperial-
ism did Lenin persuasively discuss the qualifications and emendations found in the work
of Marx and Engels—in which the advanced industrial nations were accorded preference
in their contacts with those less developed. He made only theoretically casual reference
to those discussions in which the founders of Marxism had spoken of the disappear-
ance of the retrograde “ethnic trash”—the Slavs, Dalmatians, Croats, Czechs, Moravians,
North Africans, and Mexicans—in contests with the “civilized powers,” the “carriers of
In 1849, both Marx and Engels were aware of the fact that the dominance of foreigners
generated popular resistance among less-developed peoples. They also recognized that in
the oppressed economically retrograde regions, such resistance, in the absence of urban
proletarians, would engage peasants, whom they acknowledged were “everywhere the
bearers of national and local narrow-mindedness.” Their reactive nationalism made peas-
ants opponents of the progressive “passage of history.” As has been discussed, the found-
ers of Marxism argued, at that time, that while peasants might well take up arms against
colonialists, it was their lot to fall under the dominance of those powers that were “carri-
ers of historical development.”15 The first analysis advanced by the founders of Marxism
dismissed the peasant revolutions against the imperialist powers as abortive and poten-
tially reactionary. They saw progress exclusively in the activities of the advanced industrial
economies—destined to create the material foundations of Socialism everywhere in the
less-developed world.16
As has been indicated, by the mid-1850s, the founders of Marxism had tempered their
judgments concerning revolution in economically retrograde environments. By that time
they were prepared to argue that their general theoretical objections to peasant revolu-
tions required modification. They were prepared to grant that the peasant revolutions in
China and India, undertaken against their foreign tormentors, were no longer seen as
irretrievably counterrevolutionary. Events had convinced the founders of Marxism that
the reactive nationalism that Western penetration had provoked in East and South Asia
was potentially revolutionary. Not only would the less-developed economies of China
and India ultimately compete, and undermine, those more advanced, but the asymmet-
rical military struggle that would accompany the efforts at national liberation would
weaken the colonizers—affording still further advantage to the revolutionary proletariat
in the home countries.
In his discussion of imperialism, Lenin chose not to enter into the niceties of the
distinctions to be found in the texts of the founders. He based his treatment exclusively
on their later reflections. His account was predicated on at least two constants of clas-
sical Marxist theory. Primarily, he was convinced that by the beginning of the twenti-
eth century industrial capitalism had run its course and was in a penultimate stage of
decay—a predictable point on the trajectory of its inevitable collapse. Moreover, like the

14Engels, “Der magyarische Kampf,” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke (Berlin: Dietz
Verlag, 1959), vol. 6, 172, 174, 176.
15See ibid., 167, 172.
16Stalin reinterprets their position differently. The fact that the founders of Marxism did not sup-

port the national liberation movements among the Czechs and South Slavs means, for Stalin, that
they made a distinction between revolutionary and reactionary national movements. They favored
the Chinese and Indian national liberation movements and not those of the others because of that
distinction. He goes on to offer criteria by virtue of which one is expected to draw the distinctions
required. Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, in Problems of Leninism, 73–75.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 193

first Marxists, Lenin made it clear that capitalism’s catastrophic collapse was imminent.17
Reactive nationalist, peasant-based revolution in the less-developed regions was simply a
constituent of the collapse—and contributed to the process. For Lenin, and most of the
serious theoreticians of revolutionary Marxism, it was emphasized that the collateral or
immediately successive proletarian revolution in the advanced industrial nations would
restore all the features of the anticipated Marxist social transformation.18
In all of this, it was equally clear that Lenin, like Hobson, Marx, and Engels before him,
was convinced that in their compulsory search for new fields of investment, the advanced
industrial countries would transfer capital, technology, and ultimately industry, to the
backward economies. He was to argue, in fact, that the export of capital distinguished
imperialism, and he went on to indicate that “the export of capital influences and greatly
accelerates the development of capitalism in those countries to which it is exported.”19
Those developments would not only undermine the competitive survivability of capital-
ism in the West, it would also supply the revolutionaries in the colonial periphery with
the human and material resources to mount effective revolution.
Like Marx and Engels, Lenin parsed the globe into those few nations that had achieved
mature industrial development and the vast majority that remained less developed.20
He was particularly emphatic in his references to China, India, and Southeast Asia, but
he did allude to the regions of Africa, as well as the lesser developed nations of Eastern
Europe and Latin America. While his theoretical and explanatory focus was on the impe-
rialist powers and their domestic politics, he did make allusions to the colonial, and less-
developed, economies that remain of interest to proletarian revolutionaries.
Lenin carefully distinguished between “national wars waged by colonies and semi-
colonies in the imperialist era,” pursued for “national liberation”—which he deemed
not only “inevitable” but also just—and the immoral “imperialist wars” pursued by the
advanced capitalist powers in the exclusive quest of their own material interests.21 The
former were progressive because they were conducive to the ultimate success of the world

17See Lenin, Imperialism, in Collected Works, vol. 22, 300.

18Engels, in a letter to Kautsky, September 12, 1882, argues that after the anticipated general
revolution, the proletariat of the advanced countries would simply take over the less-developed
countries “for a time” in order to assure a Socialist future. He spoke of revolutionary violence in
those regions occupied by native populations in the less-developed countries in the course of the
world wide transformation, but clearly was uncertain what the entire process would entail. Clear in
everything the founders of Marxism wrote was that Socialist revolution required the “hegemony” of
the proletariat and their control of the international forces of production. Marx and Engels, Werke,
vol. 35, 357–58. In his The Foundations of Leninism, in Problems of Leninism, 43, Stalin quotes Marx
as saying “until the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of proletarians, not
only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far . . . that
at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletariat,” a Socialist
society would be impossible. On pages 44 and 45, Stalin insists that revolution might be successful
in one country, but he goes on to maintain that “the complete victory of socialism” requires that a
“socialist society” be constructed, and for that “the victory of the revolution in at least several coun-
tries is needed.” Leon Trotsky wrote: “The completion of the socialist revolution within national
limits is unthinkable . . . the socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the
international arena, and is completed on the world arena.” The Permanent Revolution and Results and
Prospects (New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1970), 279.
19Lenin, Imperialism, in LCW, vol. 22, 243, 266–67.
20See Stalin’s comments, in The Foundations of Leninism, in Problems of Leninism, 35.
21See Lenin, Imperialism in LCW, vol. 22, 309–11.
194 ● Marxism and the Making of China

proletarian revolution.22 The latter were reactionary because they sought to sustain and
foster the existing class relationships and the politics those relationships supported. Impe-
rialist wars, as distinct from those undertaken for national liberation, were to be deplored.
Not only were they massively destructive, but they were also fundamentally immoral—
exploiting the venality and acquisitiveness of their working classes—reducing them to
pawns of their suborned labor leaders.
More interesting for the present account is the fact that Lenin made passing acknowl-
edgment of a suggestion advanced by Hobson that was to have impact in the reflections
of revolutionary thinkers later in the twentieth century. Lenin makes casual mention
of the suggestion offered by Hobson that the industrial powers, in introducing their
trade and investment in less-developed regions, might foster among them a “gigantic
peril of Western parasitism.” Rather than fostering industrialization, Western funding,
Western technology, and Western political influence might reduce the peoples in the
less-developed regions to a level of personal service and extractive employment, in order
to satisfy the decadent demands of their masters in the “financial aristocracy” of imperi-
alism. In such circumstances, the less-developed regions would languish in dependency
without the growth of “the staple industries of agriculture and manufacture.”23
Lenin did not dwell on such an eventuality. Everything he wrote suggests he was con-
vinced that—together with the first Marxists—the transfer of capital from the advanced
to the less-developed communities would result in rapid industrial development among
the recipients. There were, in Lenin’s judgment, forces that neutralized those alluded to
by Hobson. Those countervailing forces would open passage, in the backward economies,
for economic growth and industrial development. Lenin could thus maintain that while
stagnation and decay might afflict the over-ripe industrial economies of his time, the
growth of capitalism in the less-developed regions would accelerate.
The most important feature of these speculations turned on the conviction that all
this would transpire on a world stage. Imperialism, its immediate and secondary effects,
would be part of a universal, rather than a regional or national, drama. The future was
determined by the intrinsic, and organic, regularities of an integral chain of events. Most
Marxists of the period pretended to understand the consequences of imperialism as part
of a “scientifically determinate” development that would conclude with universal Social-
ism.24 The successful reactive nationalist revolutions in the oppressed, less-developed
nations, cutting the support of industrial capitalism at its weakest link, could bring the
masses of the urban proletarians into the mix, restoring all the particulars of the original
revolutionary expectations advanced by the founders of Marxism.
Unhappily, history failed to follow the course expected. Revolution did come, but only
in an economically backward Russia—there to languish. The expected universal proletar-
ian revolution was notable in its absence. Lenin’s revolution captured a community that

22For Lenin “progress . . . can be made only in the direction of socialist society, only in the direc-

tion of the socialist revolution.” “The Junius Pamphlet,” LCW, vol. 22, 316.
23LCW, vol. 22, 280.
24“Strategy must base itself entirely on the data provided by the theory and programme of Marx-

ism. The theory of Marxism arrives at the conclusion that the fall of the bourgeoisie and the seizure
of power by the proletariat are inevitable, that capitalism must inevitably give way to socialism.”
All this, we are told, had been “scientifically formulated.” Stalin, “Concerning the Question of the
Strategy and Tactics of the Russian Communists,” J. V. Stalin, Works (Moscow: Foreign Languages
Publishing House, 1952), vol. 5, 165. See Stalin’s comments in The Foundations of Leninism in
Problems of Leninism, 36–39.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 195

was not only economically less developed—it had also been devastated by one of the
most destructive wars in history. Lenin was compelled to contend with the reality of mass
starvation, as well as the inability to defend his newly established Socialist confederation.
In those circumstances, he entertained no revolutionary objection to accepting any aid,
funding, or investment that might originate in the advanced industrial countries. He
had no theoretical objection to accepting investment or technology transfers from the
imperialist powers—and, in fact, his New Economic Policy solicited such transfers from
just those sources. He extended attractive concessions to foreign capitalists in his efforts
to entice them.
After Lenin’s death, Stalin pursued policies that were uncertain and erratic, but the
Soviet government remained open to contact, trade, technology transfers, and direct for-
eign investment from capitalist countries. During the early interwar years, for example,
the Soviet Union interacted on various levels, including military cooperation, with the
Weimar Republic. Relief from the United States was accepted without demur. There
were also extensive capital and technology transfers during the early years between the
wars. In fact, Stalin was proud that the Soviet Union had entered into perfectly proper
international relations with various capitalist, anticommunist countries—including Fas-
cist Italy—in that same period.25
With the advent of the Second World War, Russia, allied with the anti-Axis powers,
became more intensively involved in trade and cooperation with capitalist states. There
was no hesitation in accepting very large loans and direct military aid from advanced
capitalist countries. Technology accompanied all the transfers. The fact that both loans
and technology originated among imperialists did not in any way effect the readiness with
which they were accepted by Moscow. In his struggle against Fascism, Stalin was prepared
to ally himself with some who would otherwise be imperialist enemies. For Mao, coming
to power after victory in the war against Fascism, the situation was very different.
From the very first commencement of his revolutionary struggles, Mao’s enemies were
either imperialists or their domestic Chinese lackeys. Subsequently, the Japanese invad-
ers were imperialists, with the anticommunist Kuomintang seen as their allies. After the
successful War of Resistance against the Japanese, and throughout the ensuing civil war,
Mao saw the United States both as an imperialist enemy and the master of the Kuomin-
tang.26 For Mao, imperialism had been, and always was, the mortal enemy of China. Mao
had never had the occasion to find himself associated with imperialists in any alliance of
convenience. China’s relationship with imperialism, in his judgment, was unambiguous.
It was always adversarial.
With the conclusion of the war with Japan, and his subsequent defeat of his domestic
enemies in 1949, Mao Zedong found himself in a position in which he would have to
make decisions concerning diplomatic, political, cultural, trade, and investment relation-
ships with the capitalist powers. The immediate circumstances allowed him to render
those decisions without difficulty.
Mao conceived the Second World War as the result of a falling out among imperial-
ists. When the Allies triumphed in 1945, the United States acceded to leadership among
them. With the end of the Second World War, Mao saw the United States assuming

25See Stalin, “Report to the Seventeenth Congress of the C. P. S. U. (B.) on the Work of the

Central Committee (January 26, 1934),” Problems of Leninism, 590–95.

26See Mao’s discussion in Mao, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle,” “On the War Crimi-

nal’s Suing for Peace,” and “Whither the Nanking Government?” Selected Works of Mao Zedong
(Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), vol. 4, 309, 383, 425–26. Hereafter SWM.
196 ● Marxism and the Making of China

the role of National Socialist Germany and Japan in the systematic pillage of the lesser
industrialized and economically underdeveloped portions of the world.27 The United
States would assume the role of the principal imperialist power. Through direct aggres-
sion and economic extortion it would seek “to enslave the whole world.”28 For Mao, the
only way for an awakened China to resist further depredation and humiliation was to
recognize the United States as its foremost antagonist.29 As a consequence, he argued
that China must “lean to one side” in its international relations, to ally with the Soviet
Union in the bipolar world that had emerged from the Second World War.30 The Socialist
countries and the “People’s Democracies” were the friends and allies of the New China.
Imperialism, in general, and the United States, in particular, were its mortal enemy. In
the prevailing circumstances, Mao expected the Soviet Union to serve as China’s principal
ally and support, providing much of its defense and underwriting its anticipated indus-
trial development. Almost immediately China entered into a treaty of friendship with
the Soviet Union that was quickly followed by economic and military aid involving the
transfer of turnkey industries and the granting of long-term credits, as well as other forms
of developmental assistance.
In effect, Mao assumed the leadership of a less-developed China with views that were
no longer those of the founders of Marxism. Whatever else relations with the imperialist
powers would produce, the founders of Marxism expected those relations to assist in the
economic development of less-developed nations. For Mao, that simply was not the case.
The imperialist powers were enemies.
Mao did not explicitly reject diplomatic or trade relations with the imperialist powers,
but he made it very clear that Beijing would set the conditions for such relations—should
such relations develop—and those conditions would be crafted to contribute to impe-
rialism’s ultimate defeat.31 He argued that since the time of the anti-dynastic revolution
of 1911, it was apparent that, if it were to survive, China would have to wage “a life
and death struggle against imperialism,” as well as against its domestic “running dogs.”32
As distinct from loans and assistance from Socialist states, he made painfully clear that
he was aware that loans and financial entanglements with imperialists might easily cost
China not only its independence but its economic prospects as well.33

27See the discussion in Mao, “Revolutionary Forces of the World Unite, Fight against Imperialist

Aggression,” SWM, vol. 4, 204–5.

28Mao, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship,” SWM, vol. 4, 414.
29Mao maintained that it would be impossible for imperialists to “lay down their butcher knives,

they will never become Buddhas, till their doom. . . . It is impossible to persuade the imperialists
and the Chinese reactionaries to . . . turn from their evil ways.” “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for
Struggle,” SWM, vol. 4, 428–29.
30Mao, “Revolutionary Forces of the World Unite, Fight against Imperialist Aggression,” SWM,

vol. 4, 283–86.
31Mao was clear that trade relations with imperialists might be necessary in order that China

industrialize; but it was equally clear that those relations would not deter China from seeking to
destroy the “imperialist system.” See Mao, “Address to the Preparatory Committee of the New
Political Consultative Conference,” SWM, vol. 4, 405–8.
32Mao, “The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History,” SWM, vol. 4, 456–57. See Mao’s

clear commitment to the Soviet Union and his declaration against the Kuomintang and the United
States, in “A Circular on the Situation,” SWM, vol. 4, 220.
33See Mao’s discussion of China’s entanglements with the “imperialist” United States. Mao,

“Statement on the Present Situation by Mao Tse-tung, Chairman of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of China,” SWM, vol. 4, 315.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 197

With that, Mao consciously chose to accept the elements of a relatively minor theme
that Hobson had suggested during the first years of the century. It was a theme that
was subsequently reiterated among anti-imperialists, who argued that the colonial pow-
ers, possessed of every advantage, would impair the developmental efforts of the less-
developed regions. With the passage of time, the claim became more and more insistent.
Development could only proceed if the less-developed economy managed to avoid any
entanglement with the imperialist powers. It was evident that by the time of the found-
ing of the People’s Republic, Mao had accepted the substance of the claim and chose to
restrict China’s economic and military collaborations exclusively to Socialist, or Socialist-
friendly, nations.
Given Mao’s decisions, the record of China’s development immediately after the Sec-
ond World War reveals its consistency. Even after the death of Stalin in March of 1953,
China depended, almost exclusively, on the Soviet Union for systematic economic and
technical aid. In its transfer and construction of about 100 industrial enterprises, the
Soviet Union generously underwrote China’s first developmental efforts.
The Soviet Union also assumed a considerable part of China’s costs throughout the
Korean conflict. In the years that followed, until the time of the Great Leap Forward,
Moscow continued with its assistance. In May 1955, the Soviet Union announced that
it would assist the Chinese in the development of nuclear energy. It would supply fissile
materials and accelerators, together with a free supply of scientific and technical infor-
mation. It would provide the specialists necessary for effective implementation and the
training of Chinese personnel.
Thereafter, the history of Sino-Soviet relations becomes subject to perceptible drift. In
his report to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita
Khrushchev announced principles of foreign policy that were to alienate the leadership in
Beijing. He rejected the notion that war was inevitable between countries having different
political and social systems—and he maintained that prevailing realities demanded that
a means of peaceful coexistence between such systems be sought. Mainly as a result of
these changes in Soviet foreign policy, tension began to develop between the two fraternal
parties. Crises in the Middle East and the Taiwan Straits, and the differences in policy
between Beijing and Moscow, led to further tension. The issue of Chinese dependency
on the Soviet Union, not only for economic, military, and political assistance but also in
terms of foreign policy, became a disturbing doctrinal concern.
With the Great Leap Forward, the issue was very close to the surface. It became clear
that Mao was no longer content to depend on Moscow to achieve his ends. The very
decision to produce iron and steel in rudimentary furnaces jerry-built by peasants, rather
than in the plants constructed with Soviet aid, clearly provoked the Soviet leadership. In
late 1958, it was reported that Khrushchev spoke of the Chinese effort as “inappropri-
ate” and “reactionary.”34 While the differences between the two Marxist-Leninist regimes
gradually assumed ideological expression, it was accelerated by the Soviet repudiation in
mid-1959 of its nuclear cooperation agreement with the People’s Republic of China, its
withdrawal of technical aid in the fall of 1960, and disagreements over China’s border
conflict with India. Although Moscow continued to extend economic assistance to Mao’s
China, it was clear that the relationship between the two Marxist powers was gradu-
ally becoming undone. By 1960, the differences became public with the publication in
Beijing of a series of articles entitled Long Live Leninism—about the time that Moscow

34As reported in the Washington Post, December 17, 1958, issue.

198 ● Marxism and the Making of China

announced that the Soviet party conceived itself, and itself alone, the “universally recog-
nized vanguard of the world Communist movement.”
Difficulties continued both privately and publicly between Moscow and Beijing. By
1963, differences between the antagonists had produced public criticism and recrimi-
nations. In June of that year, in a public communication to “certain persons” in the
leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Beijing charged that,
on the pretense of having made “creative contributions to revolutionary theory,” the fol-
lowers of Stalin had betrayed both the revolution and Marxism-Leninism. As revision-
ists, they sought accommodation with imperialism at the expense of revolution—and
refused to acknowledge the “fundamental contradictions in the contemporary world”:
those between the Socialist and imperialist camps; those between the proletariat and the
bourgeoisie, in the capitalist countries; those between the oppressed nations and imperi-
alism; as well as the contradictions among the imperialist countries themselves.35 Accord-
ing to Maoist theoreticians, failing to understand the “dialectics” of the contemporary
world, Soviet Marxists had betrayed “the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism” and given
themselves over to “revisionism.”
The public exchange of communications between the two major Communist parties
provided the occasion for the airing of grievances. The Soviets, in their response to the
Chinese communication, reminded them that the Soviet Union had undertaken to con-
struct about 200 industrial plants in China and helped to establish automobile, tractor,
and aircraft manufacturing capabilities, supplying enterprise blueprints and thousands of
trained specialists to provide technical assistance in their construction. In response, the
Central Committee of the CCP, in a communiqué at the end of February 1964, objected
to the Soviet claims of having selflessly assisted China in its economic development.36
The Chinese reminded Moscow that the aid supplied was far from free. Beijing insisted
that the grants, credits, or aid extended was fully repaid, often supplemented by rates of
interest higher than those prevailing in world markets. The Chinese went on to claim
that not only had the Soviets been fully compensated for whatever aid they had extended,
but that, in general, along with its provision of aid Moscow had bullied recipients in
fraternal countries in an effort to limit their economies to agricultural pursuits, opposing
their efforts at industrialization. Moscow systematically pursued a policy in which the
less-developed countries would become external supports for the industry of the Soviet
Union. In effect, by the beginning of 1964, the Chinese identified the revisionist Soviet
Union—just as they had the imperialist United States—as an oppressor nation, exploit-
ing the less-developed nations in order to more effectively profit.37
With the turmoil of the Great Leap and the subsequent Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution, developments increased apace. China’s foreign policy was no longer deter-
mined by a clear distinction between Socialist and imperialist powers. In the fall of 1965,
Marshal Lin Biao, hero of the Chinese Revolution, and Mao’s chosen successor, delivered
a major address on the ideology then governing his nation’s foreign policy.38

35See the full account of the communication in Alan J. Day, ed., China and the Soviet Union

1949–84 (New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985), 32–33.

36The letter is reproduced in ibid., 50–51.
37No systematic effort was made to explain how a Socialist economy might require the same

adjuncts as one that was capitalist. That such a proletarian economy might pay workers only sub-
sistence wages, making it necessary to seek demand supplements outside the system, would seem to
generate confusion throughout Marxism as a theoretical construct.
38Lin Biao, Long Live the Victory of People’s War! (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1965).
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 199

The Devolution of Maoism

That Lin’s article was a responsible formulation of Maoist doctrine, shared by principal
leaders of the CCP of the period, is supported by available evidence. Lin broadcast his
statement about the time that Mao personally selected him to be his successor—as a
“faultless revolutionary comrade.” The statement was published in the official journals of
the regime, translated and distributed to those, Communists and noncommunists alike,
who were interested in Maoism and Marxism. Lin’s statement, Long Live the Victory of
People’s War!, represented Maoist political thinking at the commencement of the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Mao had selected Lin, among others, to initiate the
Cultural Revolution—first among the military, and subsequently among students. Lin
was instrumental in the inspiration, the organization, and guidance of the mass move-
ment that resulted. He put together The Little Red Book, Quotations from Chairman Mao
Zedong, to serve as a repository of incantations and moral enjoinments, first for the mili-
tary under his command and then to serve as a breviary for the students who were to
supply the population base for the Cultural Revolution. The Quotations were calculated
to fix, in the minds of the masses, a special reverence for the leader of the party.
In its very first pages, Lin spoke of Mao Zedong as “the greatest Marxist-Leninist of
our era,” as having “creatively developed” Marxist revolutionary doctrine “to a higher
and completely new stage.”39 It was said to be a doctrine that solved problems that had
confounded the first Marxists, as well as their most notable adherents. Lin’s formulation
of Mao’s creative development of Marxism-Leninism received its public debut around the
time that the Cultural Revolution was gaining maximum momentum. It was to serve as
At the very beginning of his account, Lin made clear that Maoism, as a creatively
developed Marxism, understood that an explanation of the modern world reduced itself
to an appreciation of the fact that all its complexities were governed by a prevailing con-
tradiction—that between oppressed and oppressor nations. For Mao, understanding the
present required that one discerned, amid all the confusion, “the contradiction between
the revolutionary peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America and the imperialists headed
by the United States”—for that was “the principal contradiction in the contemporary
The struggle was conceived as Marxist because it was argued that each of the protago-
nists was led by a specific class—the imperialists by the bourgeoisie and the oppressed
peoples by the proletariat. Among the oppressed nations on the periphery of the imperi-
alist powers, the revolutionary struggle would be undertaken by the masses—composed
largely of peasants—“under the leadership of the proletariat.” The “leadership of the pro-
letariat” would transform peasant masses and make the conflict with imperialism one
of class struggle.41 Beneath the surface features of his theses, there are several concep-
tual notions that, while critical to the meaningfulness of the delivery, remained totally

39Lin, “Foreword” and “Foreword to the Second Edition,” Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-

tung (New York: Bantam Books, 1967), xxvii, xxix.

40The earth was seen as a “vast battlefield of the fierce struggle between the people of the world

on one side and U.S imperialism and its lackeys on the other.” See section “Defeat U.S. Imperialism
and Its Lackeys by People’s War,” in the text of Long Live the Victory of People’s War!
41See the section “The International Significance of Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s Theory of People’s

War” in ibid.
200 ● Marxism and the Making of China

In the course of his presentation, Lin makes explicit the fact that while the foot sol-
diers of the revolution in the less-developed countries are peasants, they are in union
with “workers, urban petty bourgeoisie, the national bourgeoisie and other patriotic and
anti-imperialist democrats.” In effect, the masses that make revolution are multi-class in
origin. They are united in the service of the nation. Only the lackeys of imperialism are
excluded from the ranks of the revolutionary people. Again, what makes their nationalist
revolution a class struggle is that the anti-imperialist coalition is led by the proletariat.
Traditional Marxism, at its very origin, had prescribed that true revolution in the
modern era would have to be led by the proletariat. It was a notion that was recurrent
throughout Marxist revolutionary literature, becoming commonplace by the time of the
Bolshevik Revolution. With the Bolshevik Revolution, it was reformulated to appear
as a worker-peasant alliance, led by the proletariat, or alternatively, by the party of the
proletariat. What that meant neither Lenin nor the theoreticians of Leninism ever made
quite clear.
In normal discourse, the term proletariat is understood to refer to an identifiable body
of people—a class defined by its functional place in the economy. For the founders of
Marxism, those people initially were identified as urban, industrial workers, having dis-
cernible cultural properties. Both Marx and Engels were very explicit. Modern proletar-
ians were those urban workers who had achieved a certain skill level that allowed them,
after successful revolution, to assume managerial and performance control—in free asso-
ciation—over modern industry. Throughout their writings, the founders of Marxism cel-
ebrated the competence and general humanity of just such proletarians. Because Lenin
was forced to make revolution in an economically backward setting, where one found a
dearth of proletarians, the term no longer served to identify actual members of an objec-
tively observable class. It came to refer to a state of mind, to those possessed of a prole-
tarian consciousness. Once it became a matter of mind, any member of any empirical
economic class who chose to be a Marxist, could gain entry into the then subjective class
of proletarians.42 Thus Lenin, objectively a member of the Russian petty nobility, could
become a proletarian simply by choosing to be a Marxist. Similarly, he could organize
people of exclusively petty bourgeois background into a proletarian party. Mao Zedong,
in turn, objectively a member of the petty bourgeoisie, son of a relatively wealthy agrar-
ian, could just as easily become a proletarian—and similarly transform the mass of peas-
ants. Any select collection of such proletarians could make of themselves a party of the
proletariat—to lead an economically less-developed nation into a class struggle against a
bourgeois nation that was industrially more mature.
Having thus met what appeared to be the minimal requirements for making national
conflict one of class—through a singular kind of word magic—Lin then proceeded to
make a revolution by peasants into a proletarian revolution and the nation so animated
into a proletarian nation. Exploiting the implicit logic of such notions, the fact that the
leaders of the Soviet Union objected to the Maoist interpretation of events would cer-
tify the absence of proletarian consciousness among them—rendering them, once again,
bourgeois—the proper objects of scorn. They were revisionists, architects of a revision-
ist state, and “objectively,” oppressors of the economically less-developed nations of the
world. Having thus defined the Soviet Union and its leadership in terms of the new,

42The founders of Marxism had allowed that some representatives of the bourgeoisie might well

break away from their class and come to theoretically represent the working class. They nowhere
suggested that an entire class (i.e., the peasantry) might be similarly transformed. In fact, everything
implied in their theory would reject such a notion.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 201

creatively developed, Maoist theory of revolution, the Chinese entered into the turmoil
of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
With the emergence of the Soviet Union as a threatening social imperialism, China’s
relationship with the imperialist powers became increasingly complicated. The nation’s
foreign relations required massive reform. The dichotomous world of Socialist and non-
socialist states dissolved into a world in which the proletarian world revolution was led
by an invincible Maoist China—pursuing a course that no force could alter because of
its inevitability.
Lin informed his audience that “Comrade Mao Zedong’s theory of people’s war”
would mobilize the economically less-developed nations of the world against “U.S. impe-
rialism and its lackeys.” As his own revolutionary experience had established to his own
satisfaction, Mao argued that the economically less-developed nations would serve as
the world’s countryside—with the industrialized metropolitan areas as the world’s cities.
The new theory insisted that the masses of the countryside would surround the cities
to thereby achieve total victory—just as Mao’s forces had done within China in China’s
recent past. In the new peoples’ war, Mao’s strategy for victory would involve the creation
and fostering of “revolutionary base areas” in the economically retrograde rural regions
of the world, from which “encirclement of the cities” would proceed. Lin insisted that
“the countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the broad areas in which the
revolutionaries can maneuver freely. The countryside, and the countryside alone, can
provide the revolutionary bases from which the revolutionaries can go forward to final
victory.” North America and Western Europe as “the cities of the world,” would be sur-
rounded by “Asia, Africa, and Latin America,” its “rural areas”—its “countryside.” Out of
those regions, peopled by peasants outraged by their mistreatment, would flow the masses
whose consciousness would be raised by “proletarian leaders”—to transform their original
“national-democratic” revolution into part of the “protracted warfare” of the “new world
revolution, the proletariat-socialist world revolution.” On the margins of this revolution-
ary vision was the revisionist Soviet Union, prepared to obstruct the process by aiding and
abetting the imperialist United States.
This was the new Marxism-Leninism that excited revolutionaries everywhere. It was a
revolutionary notion that was to inspire revolutionaries in India, the Philippines, Nica-
ragua, and Peru—and some as far away as Northern Ireland—all concluding in varying
degrees of failure. All throughout, the less-developed countries were advised to pursue
revolution out of their own resources—to “adhere to the policy of self-reliance.”43 The
less-developed countries were to serve as “base areas” in a “protracted war” against the
advanced industrial countries. They were to “surround” North America and Europe.44 It
was not made clear how that, even if successful, was to defeat the major industrial powers.
The entire program of the new theory was complicated by the fact that the Soviet
Union, China’s “eternal ally,” had revealed itself to be a social imperialism, itself an oppres-
sor nation. It was not immediately clear whether Russia was a city to be surrounded by
the countryside. What was clear was the fact that it was no longer a member of the
Socialist camp—and no longer a selfless helpmate to developing nations. Together with
the familiar capitalist imperialism, the Soviet Union had become an equally ominous
social imperialism.

43See the section of the Victory of People’s War so entitled.

44In 1967, Che Guevara had bruited the same themes. See “Message to the Tricontinental: ‘Cre-
ate two, three . . . many Vietnams,’” Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara (New
York: The Macmillan Company, 1968), 413–24.
202 ● Marxism and the Making of China

All these developments were to be reflected in the difficulties Maoism was to suffer as
a pretended representative of a coherent Marxism-Leninism.45 Marxism-Leninism was
no longer what it had been at the time of the termination of the Second World War. At
that time, China’s Communists simply chose to follow the example and guidance of the
proletarian Soviet Union.46
Almost from the moment that it became evident that the Second World War was
drawing to a close, Mao signaled that “leaning to one side,” in terms of international rela-
tions, meant strained relations with the imperialist democracies.47 He was convinced, for
example, that the international behavior of the United States had been, and would likely
continue to be, dictated by “a ruling clique” that was in “the grip of the capitalists,” or
alternatively, of “Wall Street.”48
Mao seemed to take the conception of a bourgeois dictatorship controlled from Wall
Street quite literally. He also seemed to entertain a correspondingly simple notion of
international dynamics. Everything was eminently simple. The world was composed of
the oppressed and their oppressors—and to distinguish the two was not difficult. He was
satisfied that the “universal science” of Marxism-Leninism certified the truth that the
entire world found itself oppressed by the United States. As a consequence, he was con-
vinced that the “whole world,” including its allies, “disliked the United States” and sought
escape from its tyrannical embrace.49 All that recommended minimal contact with impe-
rialism and its allies. Any suggestion of capital transfer, loans, grants, or technological
assistance was to be deplored as a threat to the development, independence, and survival
of any economically less-developed community.
In the years following the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing’s foreign
policy followed an unsteady course—from the Korean war and the Bandung conference in
1955, through the Vietnam war, until the definitive rupture of relations with the revision-
ist Soviet Union during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. With Lin’s Long Live
the Victory of People’s War!, Mao’s new theory recommended a reduction of international
trade and financial arrangements between less-developed economies and those industri-
ally mature, whether capitalist or Socialist. The less-developed, but developing, countries
were counseled to depend upon self-reliance for economic growth and industrialization.
Economic development among the less-developed communities was to be largely autarkic.

Marxist Theory, Dependency, and International Relations

Once it was given that proletarian revolutions were to be expected not in, but on the
economically retrograde periphery of, the developed core countries, several consider-
ations followed almost immediately. How the proletarian victors in such an economically

45Mao regularly spoke of his doctrine, “the scientific world outlook and the theory of social

revolution” of Marxism-Leninism, allowing him to understand “the road all mankind must take,” as
well as to “understand the laws governing the existence and development of things.” See Mao, “The
People’s Democratic Dictatorship” and “The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History,”
SWM, vol. 4, 411, 456.
46Later, Mao was to argue that Moscow’s guidance proved to be wrong at least 30 percent of the

time. See Mao’s comments in “On the Ten Major Relationships,” SWM, vol. 5, 304.
47See, for example, Mao’s comments in “The Truth about U.S. ‘Mediation’ and the Future of the

Civil War in China,” SWM, vol. 4, 109–10.

48See Mao, “Farewell, Leighton Stuart!” SWM, vol. 4, 434–35, 437.
49Mao, “U.S. Imperialism Is a Paper Tiger,” SWM, vol. 5, 308.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 203

primitive environment might not only sustain themselves in the short term, but prevail
against more productive economies in the long term, became a major preoccupation. If
the revolution captured an underdeveloped industrial base, a decision on how develop-
ment might proceed forced itself upon the leadership of the victorious proletariat. Tradi-
tional Marxism had left very few sure guides to policy.
In the course of their many discussions, dealing with other issues, Marx and Engels had
intimated that the British, in making Ireland a colony, had thwarted its indigenous effort
at industrialization. Industrial capitalists apparently did not want competition on their
flank. Both Marx and Engels spoke of the destruction of Ireland’s infant industries by
arrangements, fashioned in London, that allowed imported goods from the United King-
dom to overwhelm local products.50 It seemed evident that the British had decided that
Ireland was to serve them as an agricultural appendage.51 Engels saw such an outcome as
part of the general policy of those powers that were great manufacturing centers. He saw
it as a “great humiliation”—“degrading” the less-developed communities involved in a
complex and protracted relationship with their industrial metropole.52
Implicit in the discussion was the notion that, after a proletarian revolution, the for-
mer colony would embark on an indigenous program of economic development, free
of the disabling restrictions imposed on it by the metropolitan power. That would be
consonant with Hobson’s conviction, expressed at the turn of the twentieth century, that
any relationship between those communities economically less-developed and the major
industrial powers might well result in economic stagnation and continued industrial
backwardness for the former. Only escape from such a relationship would allow a depen-
dent colony to flourish. While a relatively minor theme in the earlier Marxist texts, it was
a suggestion that was to appear and reappear in iconoclastic literature thereafter—finally
dominating Maoist thought. That the advanced industrial nations, in their trade and
financial exchanges with those economically less mature, would use their productive,
financial, political, and military power to their advantage—to leave the less-developed
nation unable to develop—became a relatively common theme in revolutionary litera-
ture. After the conclusion of the Second World War, some Marxists pursued the theme
aggressively.53 First among Marxists in the West, and then among Marxists throughout
the economically less-developed periphery, the literature that is now identified as devoted
to underdevelopment and dependency theory was the result.
The principal claim that informed the advocates of dependency theory was that “under-
development is in large part the historical product of past and continuing economic and
other relations between the satellite underdeveloped and the now-developed metropoli-
tan countries.”54 The corollary was that success in economic development and indus-
trialization in less-developed communities would be in inverse relation to the degree of

50See Engels’ discussion with Marx in a letter dated May 23, 1856, in Marx and Engels, Werke

(Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1962), vol. 29, 56–58.

51See Marx’s discussion in Capital (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954), vol.

1, 697–712.
52Engels, “Protection and Free Trade,” Neue Zeit, July 1988, reprinted in Marx and Engels, On

Colonialism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 233–36.

53The essay by Paul Baran, “On the Political Economy of Backwardness,” that appeared in Janu-

ary 1952 in The Manchester School of Economics and Social Studies, reprinted in Robert I. Rhodes, ed.,
Imperialism and Underdevelopment: A Reader (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 285–301.
54Andre Gunder Frank, “The Development of Underdevelopment,” in ibid., 4.
204 ● Marxism and the Making of China

their involvement in “international capitalist relations.”55 Protracted and intense relations

with the advanced industrial countries could only work to their significant disadvantage.
What had been a suggestion in most of the earlier literature became something of an
imperative. The world encompassing metropolis-satellite structure imposed by industrial
capitalism on the less-developed portions of the globe was conceived as “decapitalizing”
the backward satellites through a variety of extractive techniques involving profit repatria-
tion, funding conditions, loan repayment, and assistance charges. The result was to have
traditional backwardness lapse into underdevelopment. Economic development, particu-
larly systematic industrialization, for less-developed countries was seen as obtaining only
independent of relations with the more mature economic systems. Desirous of industrial
growth and maturation, the less-developed communities were urged to cut all ties, politi-
cal and economic, with the industrially advanced powers. By the late 1950s, the sugges-
tions took on the air of apodictic urgency.56
In the curious intellectual environment that resulted largely as a consequence of
Khrushchev’s anti-Stalinist revelations, non-regime Marxists—throughout the West and
the less-developed countries of Africa and Latin America—more and more frequently
turned to the Chinese Revolution for inspiration. Maoism was seen as a purer, and truer,
Marxism. So much of Marxism was rooted in moral sensibility that its adherents had
to assure themselves of its continued normative impeccability. Stalinism, and whatever
theoretical notions were associated with it, could no longer offer that assurance. By the
end of the 1950s, Stalinism was so compromised that it was no longer possible to be a
Marxist-Leninist if that involved any special theoretical convictions that might be traced
to the thought and/or policies of Josef Stalin.
What emerged from all that was a neo-Marxist, “New Left.”57 It was composed of
sentiments, reflections, and enjoinments that traced their source to de-Stalinized Lenin-
ism and some form of creative Maoism. For a time, intellectuals, academics, and students
discovered a new enthusiasm for anticapitalist revolution and an uncritical admiration of
Third World communities and their charismatic leaders. It was an enthusiasm under new
auspices, and it would inspire student riots across North America and Western Europe. It
generated an avalanche of publications—among which the issue of the economic devel-
opment of backward nations was to assume a prominent place.
Maoist experience counseled all less-developed communities to exercise caution in
entering into dependency relations with industrialized counterparts—of whatever politi-
cal persuasion. Self-reliance became a recurrent enjoinment. It was a slogan associated

55See the discussion in Paul Baran, The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review

Press, 1957), 149.

56Over the next two decades, all this was to be standardized among “dependency theorists”; see,

for example, Samir Amin, Unequal Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979); Samir
Amini, Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1974); Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange: A Study of the Imperialism of
Trade (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972).
57Typical of this kind of association was James O’Connor, an editor of Studies on the Left, who

became a major dependency theorist. See his essay, “The Meaning of Economic Imperialism,”
reprinted in Rhodes, Imperialism and Underdevelopment, 101–50. A significant number of other
authors collected around Monthly Review, which published a considerable amount of literature
devoted to the thesis. Paul Baran, who was notable in this connection, was coauthor with Paul
Sweezy on Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966). Baran’s essay, “On the Polit-
ical Economy of Backwardness,” reprinted in Rhodes, Imperialism and Underdevelopment, 285–301,
was considered seminal in dependency theory literature.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 205

with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing was one of its most vocifer-
ous advocates.58 But whatever self-reliance was taken to mean among Maoists during the
Cultural Revolution, its meaning changed with the changed international environment
within which Beijing was forced to operate.
As suggested, about the time that Mao attempted to defuse the disorder precipitated
by his call for Chinese students to “attack the headquarters,” tensions between the Soviet
Union and the People’s Republic began to mount. Negotiations that centered on border
issues had been conducted throughout the early 1960s—only to become exacerbated in
the years that immediately followed. During the height of the Cultural Revolution, Mos-
cow reported that as many as two million Red Guards had conducted demonstrations
along the Sino-Soviet border in support of China’s territorial claims. In the course of those
disturbances, it was reported that as many as 40 Soviet divisions had been deployed along
the border, facing about 60 PLA divisions. By the end of the 1960s, violence erupted on
Damansky (Chenpao) Island, and engaged both countries in a renewed dispute centering
on the Ussuri River border between the two Socialist states. Soviet and Chinese border
guards exchanged fire, and at one point Moscow deployed armor and artillery against its
antagonists. Among Western observers, there was talk of the high probability of a major
ground war between the two Marxist giants.59
At the end of the decade, difficulties began to accumulate in the relationship between
Lin Biao and Mao.60 What the difficulties were remains uncertain to this day, but by that
time Mao had made very clear that he intended to approach the United States and enter
into some kind of accommodation that might secure China’s flank in the event of a con-
flict with the Soviet Union. It was a foreign policy decision that contradicted the central
tenets of the world revolutionary theory that Lin had made the centerpiece of Maoism.
It is not known if it was that major foreign policy shift that precipitated the break
between Marshal Lin and the Chairman. In any event—about the time of Mao’s decision
to approach the United States—Lin made the desperate decision to attempt a coup to
depose Mao. The coup was to prove abortive. With its failure, Lin, his wife, and his son
were killed on September 12, 1971, trying to flee into self-imposed exile in the Soviet
Union. Thereafter, Mao undertook to reformulate the doctrine governing his foreign
policy behaviors.
In February 1974, after the rapprochement with the United States had become history,
Mao put together some ideas on foreign policy that he left to Deng Xiaoping to fully for-
mulate in a speech to be delivered in April before a special session of the United Nations
General Assembly.61 It was a statement that was to reiterate already familiar themes. There
was the discernible influence of the theses that had found expression in the notion of a
protracted people’s war that Lin Biao had sought to further. What had changed was the
identity and the nature of the enemy.

58It was a theme Mao had made familiar. He regularly insisted that the New China would not

be a dependent of any power—certainly not the United States. See Mao’s discussion in Mao, “The
Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History,” SWM, vol. 4, 452–58.
59See Harrison Salisbury, The Coming War between Russia and China (New York: Pan Books,

60It is believed that Lin was opposed to détente with the United States. In the middle of July, a

formal invitation was extended to President Richard Nixon that is thought to have precipitated his
subsequent actions.
61Deng Xiaoping, Speech by Chairman of the Delegation of the People’s Republic of China at the Spe-

cial Session of the U.N. General Assembly (April 10, 1974) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1974).
206 ● Marxism and the Making of China

In what was later to be called Mao’s “Theory of the Differentiation of the Three
Worlds,”62 Deng repeated elements that had become substantive parts of dependency
theory as it found expression among Marxists in North America, Europe, Africa, and
Latin America. In his delivery before the United Nations, Deng reaffirmed what had
by that time become a familiar claim—that “in the last few centuries colonialism and
imperialism unscrupulously enslaved and plundered the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin
America. Exploiting the cheap labor power of the local people and their rich natural
resources and imposing a lopsided and single-product economy, they extorted super prof-
its by grabbing low-priced farm and mineral products, dumping their industrial goods,
strangling national industries and carrying on an exchange of unequal values. The rich-
ness of the developed countries and the poverty of the developing countries are the result
of the colonialist and imperialist policy of plunder.”63
In the same speech, Deng spoke of the “neo-colonialist methods” employed by the
imperialists in order to “further intensify the plunder” of those colonies that had won
their nominal independence after the Second World War. He spoke of the malevolence of
“transnational corporations,” whose exclusive purpose was to exploit the less-developed.
He spoke of “unequal trade relations” that afforded the advanced industrial nations every
advantage—and the continued “pillage” of resources. In substance, he reiterated all those
themes that neo-Marxism had made central to dependency theory.
What was notable in Deng’s first rendering of Mao’s Theory of Three Worlds was its
emphasis on the rise of Soviet hegemonism. By 1974, Maoists were prepared to argue
that in terms of the exploitation of other countries, “the superpower which flaunts the
label of socialism is especially vicious.” The consequence was that—because of Moscow’s
behavior—the Socialist camp, which existed for a time after the Second World War, no
longer prevailed. No longer were there two camps dividing the world. The world, accord-
ing to the last Mao, was not bipolar, divided between powers that were Socialist and those
that were not. Nor was it divided into those powers that were exploited and those which
exploited. It was seen as divided into three parts: the first world, which was composed of
the superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union; the second world, which was
part of the economically developed world that found itself lodged between the first and
third worlds; and the third world—the less-developed regions, containing the bulk of the
world’s population—which was oppressed primarily by the first world.
In his delivery, Deng identified China with the third world. At the same time, he made
it clear that while China would politically support the actions of third world nations, it
did not intend to directly involve itself in confrontations with the first world. The third
world was advised to seek redress through self-reliance and autonomous development.
While Deng underscored independent economic development, he recommended that the
United Nations seek to recast international economic relations so that they no longer
favored the advanced nations. He advocated the participation of all the less-developed
nations in the formulation of rules that would govern the financial and trade regulations
throughout the international economic community. Deng advocated changes that would
result in the application of “principles of equality, mutual benefit, and fair trade.” Loans
to the less-developed communities should be interest free, with reduction and cancella-
tion provided on the occasion of necessity. He went on to advocate rules that would make

62“Chairman Mao’s Theory of the Differentiation of the Three Worlds Is a Major Contribution to

Marxism-Leninism,” Renmin Ribao, no. 45, November 4, 1977. The essay had been reproduced in
various places and can be obtained on the Internet, “Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line.”
63Deng, Speech by Chairman of the Delegation, 5.
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 207

technology transfers “practical, efficient, economical, and convenient for use”—in the
course of which, the grantors should make no “special demands, or ask for special ameni-
ties.” The Theory of Three Worlds sought to ameliorate the plight of the less-developed
countries without committing China to a direct confrontation with either of the first
world powers.
What Deng delivered on that occasion was a summary statement of Maoism at its
close—in that moment in historic time immediately before the death of the Chairman,
the “never setting red sun.” It had been reviewed by the political committees of the CCP
and read by Mao before its delivery. It was so true to the thought of the moribund Mao
that it attributed, at its conclusion, a positive judgment concerning the Great Prole-
tarian Cultural Revolution. There, Deng maintained that the Cultural Revolution had
succeeded in preventing a “capitalist restoration,” and ensured “that socialist China will
never change her color.” Only after the Chairman’s death in September 1976 was there
appreciable change in the content and emphasis in the Theory of Three Worlds—Mao’s
major contribution to Marxism-Leninism. In 1977, a year after Mao’s demise, Renmin
Ribao published a restatement of what Mao’s contribution to Marxism-Leninism was
taken to mean by those who followed him.
Most of the same elements were there. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the
later rendering was the disappearance of much of what passed as dependency theory. Its
emphasis was on the role of the revisionist Soviet Union in the unfolding international
drama. Hegemonism was identified as the most serious threat to the world. The Soviet
Union was recognized as the most rapacious exploiter of less-developed countries—as
well as the principal threat to peace. “Mao’s Theory of the Differentiation of the Three
Worlds” was made to convey a distinctive set of convictions that set it apart from any of
the earlier doctrinal statements advanced by Chinese Marxism.
In the version of the Theory of Three Worlds that appeared after Mao’s death, the
argument is advanced that the United States, one of the offending superpowers of the
first world, was in evident decline. Having established its empire in the lesser-developed
reaches of the globe by its victory in the Second World War, the United States was both
sated and exhausted by the effort. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, recently restored
to the ranks of capitalism by its revisionists, sought a redivision of the world. The Chinese
authors reminded their readers that Lenin had spoken of just such eventualities in a world
of savage imperialisms. There would be wars of redivision.
The post-Maoist formulation went on to suggest that in the anticipated savage com-
petition, the newest entries would be the most aggressive and dangerous. Confined by
the claims of those who had preceded them, the revisionist leaders in the Kremlin would
inevitably seek redress. Disguised as Socialist, the Soviet Union had entered the lists
as the most recent entry into the world of imperialist competition. Lenin had taught
Marxists that such behavior was the predictable consequence of the intrinsic nature of
imperialism—capitalism at its highest stage.
The examples used to confirm their claim were supplied by the recent history of war—
in which the newer imperialist powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy, sought access to the
markets and resources the older imperialists—Great Britain, the United States, and their
confreres—had preemptively seized. The Axis powers, coming late to the competition,
were the more dangerous, belligerent, and aggressive. In the conflict that followed, the
Socialist Soviet Union allied itself with the less threatening of the imperialist powers—the
British and the Americans. Given the realities, no Marxist could have objected. What
followed was the transfer of capital, technology, and skilled personnel between the impe-
rialists and the Socialist Soviet Union. In those circumstances any preoccupation with
208 ● Marxism and the Making of China

dependency was misplaced. The relationship between the imperialist powers and the
Socialist state proceeded without reservations—in order that the most dangerous and
bellicose of the imperialist powers be defeated. In that defeat, the international proletariat
was the ultimate victor. Victory by the allies in the Second World War worked to the
advantage of the anticipated world revolution of workers.
Victory in the Second World War had consolidated the forces of Socialism, first in
the Soviet Union and its immediate allies—and then in the less-developed regions of
the world. Only the defection from the ranks of Socialism by the revisionists in Moscow
thwarted what would have been an uncomplicated and timely predictable outcome.
In reformulating Mao’s Theory of the Three Worlds, Deng Xiaoping’s theoreticians
supplied doctrinal warrant for an alliance of convenience between Marxist China and
the least threatening of the oppressor capitalist nations. In order to defeat the more
aggressive imperialist power—the revisionist Soviet Union—Beijing was licensed to con-
duct itself with the United States and its allies, as had Stalin’s Soviet Union in the Second
World War.
Given that rationale, Beijing’s consequent behavior, in lending support to Washing-
ton’s policies in the Middle East and in Africa, was predictable—just as Moscow’s support
of the Kuomintang, at Mao’s expense during the Second World War, was an obligation
of the alliance of convenience of the Soviet Union with the less dangerous and aggressive
imperialists. Stalin supported Chiang Kai-shek, and the “running dogs” of imperialism,
because it was necessary for the defeat of the imperialist Axis, the greater evil. Its defeat
was understood to contribute to the ultimate victory of the international proletarian
revolution. That provided Marxist cachet for what might otherwise be seen as reaction-
ary conduct. The temporary theoretical discomfort was the price paid for the positive
response to the demands of Realpolitik. All the successes of Socialism after the Second
World War were the result of the temporary misalliance between the Socialist Soviet
Union and the imperialist Allies.
The implications of the post-Maoist Theory of Three Worlds were clearly stated: Bei-
jing had resolved to its own satisfaction that of the two hegemonist powers, the Soviet
Union was deemed the most dangerous. As was the case in the Second World War, the
nature of the threat made it essential that the revolutionaries seek to put together a united
front in opposition. Even if the alliance would be temporary, its members vacillating,
unstable, and unreliable, it nonetheless would recommend itself.
Such a qualified and conditional alliance would involve China in a number of behav-
iors that otherwise would have been considered reactionary. In the years immediately fol-
lowing its policy statement, post-Maoist China lent support to the Shah of Iran, General
Pinochet of Chile, and the French and Belgians in Zaire, in what were behaviors that
appeared to strengthen world imperialism. They were simply part of the responsibili-
ties required to defeat the more dangerous of the imperialist powers—the Soviet Union.
China’s first post-Maoists had formulated a doctrinal rationale for the most self-serving
international behavior.
The post-Maoist rationale no longer emphasized the prescriptions of dependency the-
ory. It was made evident, by the very logic of the new doctrine, that Beijing anticipated
capital and technology exchanges between itself and the United States—much as the
Stalinist Soviet Union had in its united front during the Second World War. The pos-
sibility of some sort of strategic alliance between Communist China and the imperialist
United States clearly was not ruled out.
All of this broke like a clap of thunder over Marxists everywhere. Enver Hoxha, leader
of Communist Albania, one of Maoist China’s most stalwart allies in their conflict with
Maoism, Deng Xiaoping, and “Proletarian Internationalism” ● 209

the revisionist Soviet Union, almost immediately denounced the new international policy
as a “major nationalist deviation” from Marxism.64 As the implications further revealed
themselves, the foreign enthusiasts of Maoism lamented the passing of the “self-reliant,
anti-imperialist” system and the emergence of one that could only be seen as a “total
rejection of Marxism.”65
It was with the revised formulation of Mao’s Theory of Three Worlds that a China
in transition made its appearance. It would no longer be the China of Mao Zedong. It
would be the China of Deng Xiaoping, the political pragmatist. What that would mean
for China and the Chinese would slowly manifest itself. What it would mean for history
in the long term remains unclear.

64See the entire discussion in Enver Hoxha, Imperialism and the Revolution (Tirana: “8 Nenton”

Publishing House, 1979), 208–79.

65See, as an illustrative case, the discussion in Michel Chossudovsky, Towards Capitalist Restora-

tion? Chinese Socialism after Mao (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986).

The Ideology of Post-Maoist China

When you visited China in 1973, there was great unrest because of the “cultural revolution,”
which was still going on. At that time the leftist ideology was predominant in our society.
As a consequence social and economic development was very slow. . . . The fundamental
principle of Marxism is that the productive forces must be developed. The ultimate goal
for Marxists is to realize communism, which must be built on the basis of highly developed
productive forces.
—Deng Xiaoping1
How should we hold high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought? . . . The fundamental point
of Mao Zedong Thought is seeking truth from facts. . . . These four words are the quintes-
sence of Mao Zedong Thought. . . . Today . . . we work to achieve China’s four moderniza-
tions. . . . When we say that theory must be tested in practice, this is what we are talking
about. . . . [C]orrect political leadership should result in the growth of the productive forces.
—Deng Xiaoping2

or the People’s Republic of China, the decade of the 1980s was determinative. In
those years post-Maoist China assumed some clearly discernible and distinctive
features—not lost to this day. Beginning in the final years of the 1970s, and con-
cluding in the first years of the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping recreated the China left by Mao
Zedong, producing the remarkable nation that thereafter was to fascinate the world. At
the end of the 1970s, Deng called for China’s revolutionaries to abandon leftist dogma-
tism, “emancipate the mind,” “seek truth from facts,”3 and understand that measurable

1Deng Xiaoping, “We Shall Expand Political Democracy and Carry Out Economic Reform,”

Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (1982–1992) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994), 121–22.
2Deng, “Hold High the Banner of Mao Zedong Thought and Adhere to the Principle of Seeking

Truth from Facts,” Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (1975–1982) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press,
1984), 141–43.
3Deng, “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts, and Unite as One in Looking to the

Future,” ibid., 151–165.

212 ● Marxism and the Making of China

results constituted the “sole test of truth.”4 In effect, by the 1980s Deng advanced suc-
cessful performance not only as the sole criterion of truth but also as the basis of political
legitimacy. The rule of a single party was no longer to be legitimized by a cathecetic appeal
to the sacred texts of the founders, or by dicta emanating from an individual, all-knowing
political luminary, but by its successful public performance—and for Deng, that perfor-
mance turned on the rapid development of the material productive forces.5
What Deng seemed prepared to argue was that his Marxism was not a repository of
impeccable truths or a catalog of dogmas, to be prescriptively affirmed and reaffirmed,
but a method for discovering effective solutions to current problems. He spoke candidly
of creatively developing the Marxism he had inherited—just as Lenin and Mao had done
before him.6 He insisted that such creativity was necessary for the very survival of Marx-
ism as a guide to conduct in altered historic circumstances, as well as to provide for the
viability of the society it sought to create. Deng held that such necessary, creative reinter-
pretations could be achieved only when the mind was liberated from dogmatism.
Over the next decade, the issue of the nature of Marxism and Marxism-Leninism took
on special significance. Deng was to couch all of his initiatives in the language of a realis-
tic and pragmatic social and political philosophy—which he continued to insist was not
only Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, but Maoist, as well.7 Such affirmations recommended
themselves to a political leader who sought to protect the integrity and continuity of the
revolution to which he had devoted himself and on whose orthodoxy he based his right
to rule. How one is to understand all that in terms of the transformed substance of revo-
lutionary doctrine is another matter.
While a case can be made that in party-dominant systems ideological and doctrinal
language is often used exclusively as a cloak in power struggles, an equally persuasive case
can be made that political actors, in the course of factional conflict, just as frequently act
out their beliefs and convictions—and those beliefs and convictions influence the course
of events. There are very few contemporary sinologists, for example, who are prepared
to argue that Mao’s policies were the simple products of a monumental cynicism that
employed meaningless doctrinal language to disguise one man’s attainment and exercise
of personal power.
No one seriously doubts that Mao’s political convictions influenced the development
of China’s revolution—whatever the conjectures concerning the origin, quality, or nature,
of those convictions. What will be argued here is that the doctrine entertained by Deng
Xiaoping was equally influential in the serried developments that shaped the history of

4Deng quoted Mao to the effect that “Marxists hold that man’s social practice alone is the cri-

terion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world . . . the dialectical materialist theory of
knowledge places practice in the primary position.” See Deng, “Speech at the All-Army Conference
on Political Work,” ibid., 129.
5See, for example, Deng, “We Shall Concentrate on Economic Development,” Selected Works of

Deng Xiaoping (1982–1992), 20–22.

6Deng spoke of the positive significance of Lenin’s “creative development” of Marxism by antici-

pating revolution, not in the advanced industrial countries, but in the less developed periphery.
Deng also cited Mao’s insistence on making revolution in the agrarian countryside and not in the
industrialized urban settings as an instance of such development. See Deng, “Hold High the Banner
of Mao Zedong Thought and Adhere to the Principle of Seeking Truth from Facts,” Selected Works
of Deng Xiaoping (1975–1982), 142–43.
7See, for example, Deng, “Mao Zedong Thought Must Be Correctly Understood as an Integral

Whole,” ibid., 55–60.

The Ideology of Post-Maoist China ● 213

modern China, particularly in terms of its economic growth. That Deng’s beliefs rested
on more than a Machiavellian concern with attaining and maintaining power seems more
than likely. But whatever the truth of the conjecture, it is of little consequence in trying
to understand the developments in China following the death of Mao.
For about a decade before the passing of Mao, Deng suffered for his convictions. His
differences with Mao were not without consequence. For a time, because of them, he
found himself banished from the centers of power. He was recalled only when his talents
were seen as necessary for the very survival of a malfunctioning system. With Mao’s death,
Deng’s convictions engaged the support of others—as concerned as he about the future
of the nation. In the ensuing struggle for dominance in the political system, there was
never an assurance of victory for his faction—even after the death of Mao—and defeat
threatened dire consequences.
Nonetheless, Deng persisted in advocating for policies he was convinced were essen-
tial to the nation’s well-being. Those policies were predicated on methodological and
epistemological precepts that Deng did not hesitate to identify or invoke as the situation
allowed or made necessary. In effect, he was prepared to creatively develop the doctrine of
Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, in order to address critical contemporary issues.8
It was not long before he insisted that “We will not . . . allow Marxism to remain arrested
at the level of the particular theses arrived at as long as a century ago.” His explicit inten-
tion was to create “a Chinese type of modernization,” animated by a “Chinese socialism,”
employing a suitably transmogrified Marxism.9
Even before the passing of Mao, Deng had made his convictions known. As has been
indicated, in 1975 he sponsored a conference devoted to strategies for the rapid devel-
opment of the nation’s material forces of production, which was inspired by a desire
for practical consequences and measurable success. Performance provided the facts that
would not only prescribe the substance of policy but also serve as the foundation of
doctrinal truths.
Almost immediately following Mao’s death, while Hua Guofeng remained titular head
of the party and presumptive ruler of the nation, the Central Party Work Conference,
inspired by Deng, pursued inquiries into the failure of the rural economy to produce
in sufficient quantity to provide food security for even the peasantry—much less for
the nation. In the rural areas, tentative negotiations began that would allow contractual
responsibility for the production of foodstuffs to devolve from the level of the commune
to that of the household. Hu Yaobang, no mean authority, even suggested that the union
of political and economic activities in a single complex entity, the commune—that Mao
favored—was intrinsically flawed. Mao’s enthusiasm for the communes notwithstanding,
many judged them singularly dysfunctional. It was urged that the true test of their merit

8See, for example, the entire discussion in 1978, as “Speech at the All-Army Conference on Politi-

cal Work,” ibid., 127–40.

9Deng, “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles,” ibid., 187. Further: “We have to develop Marx-

ism and also Mao Zedong Thought. Otherwise, they will become ossified”; “Mao Zedong Thought
is still in the process of development. We should restore and adhere to Mao Zedong Thought and
go on developing it further. . . . Of course we have developed Mao Zedong Thought and will go on
developing it.” Deng, “Hold High the Banner of Mao Zedong Thought and Adhere to the Principle
of Seeking Truth from Facts” and “Remarks on Successive Drafts of the ‘Resolution on Certain
Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China,’”
ibid., 143, 282, 285.
214 ● Marxism and the Making of China

could not be conformity to some doctrinal formula, or some leadership preference, but
successful performance.10
By the end of 1978, productive responsibilities in the rural areas were assigned to
households and the communes rapidly dismantled. Success, measured in terms of per
capita productivity, was almost immediate. Peasant households very quickly profited.11
As early as the beginning of 1979, requests were tendered by enterprising peasants for
permission to sell their produce in minimally regulated markets and across national bor-
ders. Hong Kong provided an immediate market opportunity. Soon there were requests
for export processing zones where Chinese product might be sold abroad,12 foreign goods
purchased, and local labor employed to add value to imported commodities that might,
in turn, be exported for foreign sale. Township and village enterprises were begun, sus-
tained by newly acquired profits. By the beginning of that same year, Guangdong officials
were requesting official permission to accept direct foreign investment. Artisan workshops
were to be transformed into manufactories providing mass produced goods for export.
Soon there were requests for establishing enterprises funded directly by foreigners. Ship-
breaking was among the first domestic Chinese industries established with foreign capital.
Hong Kong transshipped abandoned vessels to a yard near Shenzhen to be dismantled for
scrap. Shekou, on the southwest tip of Shenzhen, became the initial site in China to allow
direct foreign investment and the use of market forces to determine wages and prices.
Areas in Guangdong near Hong Kong became processing zones and demonstrated their
profitability. By the middle of the 1980s, it was clear that Deng conceived the emerg-
ing chain of processing zones as something more than a temporary solution to a specific
problem.13 He proposed the construction of centers whose infrastructure would include
roads, utilities, and rail facilities. There would be provision for residential housing, sup-
port for industry and commerce, as well as collateral assistance for agriculture and animal
husbandry. Customer service and tourist industries were established to exploit the flow of
foreigners into the entire Pearl River region—stretching from the border to Guangzhou.
It was about this time that Deng could publicly announce that “reviewing our his-
tory, we have concluded that one of the most important reasons for China’s long years
of stagnation and backwardness was its policy of closing the country to outside con-
tact. Our experience shows that China cannot rebuild itself behind closed doors.”14 His
rejection of leftist and ultra-leftist policies included a total abandonment of any attempt

10Maurice Meisner makes the best case possible for Chinese collectivized agriculture. See Maurice

Meisner, The Deng Xiaoping Era: An Inquiry into the Fate of Chinese Socialism 1978–1994 (New
York: Hill & Wang, 1996), chaps. 8 and 9. The fact remains that the per capita production of grain,
China’s principal food crop, was approximately the same in 1975 as it had been in 1957 when Mao
celebrated the “high tide of collectivization”—which, in the final analysis, meant not only that pro-
ductivity was stagnant but also that the rural standard of living had not improved in two decades.
11Soon Deng felt it necessary to explicitly reject Lenin’s warning that “small household produc-

tion” would “engender capitalism.” See Deng, “Speech during the Preparatory Meeting for the
Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, June 22, 1981,” Selected Works of Deng
Xiaoping (1975–1982), 296.
12By the mid-1980s, Deng was prepared to publicly acknowledge the role of export-driven

growth in China’s developmental policies. See Deng, “Special Economic Zones Should Shift Their
Economy from a Domestic Orientation to an External Orientation,” Selected Works of Deng Xiaop-
ing (1982–1992), 137.
13See Deng, “Make a Success of Special Economic Zones and Open More Cities to the Outside

World,” ibid., 61–62.

14Deng, “Our Magnificent Goal and Basic Policies,” ibid., 86.
The Ideology of Post-Maoist China ● 215

at autonomous economic development as envisioned by those dependency theorists so

popular among Maoists and neo-Marxists everywhere.15 Deng had left much of the most
radical of Marxist theorizing behind.
In the years that immediately followed, all of that became manifestly clear in Deng’s
treatment of those enclaves that allowed foreign economic penetration. In those territo-
ries, the Deng administration permitted foreign companies to create, in large measure,
their own labor and management culture. Experiments were encouraged involving mar-
kets,16 industrial practice, construction, finance, and technological innovation—to result
in what was called a “planned market economy.”17 Markets were allowed to function in
the systematic effort to “raise labor productivity and rates of profit to much higher lev-
els,”18 in what was understood to be a uniquely “Chinese socialist system.”19
Opposition arose from those who saw Deng’s policies as undermining the Marxist
integrity of China’s revolution. Deng’s first response was that there was nothing in Marx-
ism that required that a Socialist nation, like China, be or remain impoverished. China’s
continued poverty was not an affirmation of its commitment to Marxism. It was rather
the opposite. Backwardness and poverty were not evidence of a dedication to Marxist
orthodoxy. Other than evidence of Marxism, poverty was probative of a manifest fail-
ure of policy.20 Deng argued that any policies that left China poor had failed the test
of practice and could not be Marxist in either inspiration or intent. By the middle of
the 1980s—however much it may have struck Maoists as counterrevolutionary—he was
prepared to argue that by 1957, China, under Mao, had adopted mistaken leftist poli-
cies. They were policies that resulted in those monumentally flawed efforts that cast the
entire nation into the disastrous Great Leap Forward—a catastrophe that culminated in
a further decade of turmoil and economic stagnation—the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution.21 The leftism that had imagined itself uniquely Marxist had cost China two
decades of failed development.22

15“We wanted to develop economic and trade relations with certain capitalist countries and even

to absorb capital and undertake joint ventures.” Deng, “Hold High the Banner of Mao Zedong
Thought and Adhere to the Principle of Seeking Truth from Facts,” Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping
(1975–1982), 142.
16Deng spoke early of “market regulation” in his discussion of economic policy. See, for example,

Deng, “The Present Situation and the Tasks before Us,” ibid., 232.
17“We are experimenting with such things as expanding democratic management and the deci-

sion making power of enterprises, increasing specialization and cooperation, utilizing the supple-
mentary role of market regulation under the guidance of the planned economy.” Deng, “The Present
Situation and the Tasks before Us,” ibid., 231–32. In 1982, Deng said, “A shortcoming of socialism
is that the market is not put to best use and the economy is too rigid. How should we handle the
relation between planning and the market?” “In the First Decade, Prepare for the Second,” Selected
Works of Deng Xiaoping (1982–1992), 26.
18Deng, “The Working Class Should Make Outstanding Contributions to the Four Moderniza-

tions,” Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (1975–1982), 147.

19Deng made a point to blaze “a path of our own and build a socialism with Chinese characteris-

tics.” “Open