Mao Zedong Thought or Maoism is the Marxist ideology of Mao Zedong. Maoism differs at the start from standard Marxism-Leninism in that it looked to the masses of rural peasants rather than to the urban industrial proletariat as the driving force (along with the Communist Party) of the revolution. Maoism began as a form of Stalinism, but in the mid-1950s Mao became distrustful of the Soviet-style concentration of power in the hands of the Party bureaucracy and its "managerial and technocratic elites", which led him to promote the continuous revolutionary mobilization of the masses. These divergences from Stalinism were elaborated in Mao's writings on guerrilla warfare and his "Red Book" and carried out through programs such as the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
The Maoist strategy for world revolution is based on the global version of the strategy employed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which led to Mao's victory in 1949. The analogy went like this: through "peoples war" the CCP forces who controlled the countryside of China encircled the cities of China, isolated the foe, and destroyed it piecemeal. The logic followed that the countryside of the world as a reaction to the super-exploitation suffered at the hands of the city of the world would become united and defeat the latter, and in the process establish a world socialist order. This grand design would come about not through the struggles of working classes in revolutionary fervor inside the advanced capitalist countries as prescribed by Marx, but through the vehicle of national liberation struggles of the colonial and former colonial peoples of the Third World.
Maoism greatly opposed Soviet "revisionism", which Mao believed to have destroyed Communism in the Soviet Union. Mao believed that a Soviet style government was doomed to fail and return to capitalism. It was in the 1960s that his ideas truly started to separate from Stalinism and become its own, identifiable form of Communism.
Maoism became a trendy ideology among leftist extremists starting in the 1960s, who saw the poor of the Third World, rather than the white proletariat of the industrialized West, as having the most "revolutionary" potential. Maoism with its origins in China rather than Europe was thus deemed by these radicals to be more credible an ideology than the Soviet-line Old Left. The Maoists fought against the Soviet backed leftists in most countries around the world, with the usual result of two Communist parties that fought each other.
China played down Maoism in the 1980s, adapting it to create their currently successful "socialism with Chinese characteristics", or a socialist market economy. However, Maoism is popular in certain insurgent movements in several countries, and in 2008 the Maoists legally won elections in Nepal.
How Maoism differs from traditional Marxist theory
Maoism introduced an innovation to traditional Marxist and Marxist-Leninist theory. Traditionalist labeled it "Deviationism". However, since 1949 when it was first used to topple the government of Chiang Kai-shek and the Republic of China, Maoist theory has been more successful at seizing power in nation states where other socialist revolutions as Marx envisioned it has never occurred. Even in Soviet Russia, revolution as Marx imagined it would happen, never occurred. Russia was primarily an agricultural state with few factories, and Marx formulated his theories with Germany in mind. The Marxists at that time took advantage of the chaos that emerged out of the February Revolution which toppled the czar, and overthrew a budding democracy with their October Revolution. Hence Marxism-Leninism was formulated to spread the idea of Marxist revolution to a principally agricultural population living in small villages and farming on small plots of land. There were no factory bosses to rise up against.
Marx's original revolutionary theory, formulated in the 1840's, a few decades into the Industrial Revolution during an extended economic downturn (what we would call a recession today; under the Gold standard, an economic downturn could last for years and not just several months as payment in gold was required for foreign trade debts), called for disgruntled factory workers to rise up and seize control of the factory (the "means of production"). From there the rebellion would spread to the state and its officials, the police, administrative departments, and the military. Eventually the whole pyramidal structure would collapse as discontent spreads and more people join the revolution. The key, Marx argued, was organizing the workers. Students also would form an important support group as they would bring the enthusiasm necessary to create a new world.
Mao saw things differently. Mao viewed the regime he was trying to topple as corrupt and without popular support. He called it a "paper tiger." Mao didn't need to "organize" factory workers and students to spread discontent, the Republic of China had been fighting a war with Japan for 15 years already. The people of China had endured many hardships while Chiang Kai-shek fought two wars simultaneously, one against the Empire of Japan and one against the forces of the Far Eastern Comintern headed by Mao. Additionally, the regime under Chaing kai-shek was demoralized and corrupt. Mao hide out in the hills with a band of guerillas. Mao felt he could by-pass his instructions from Moscow to organize the workers for revolution, and swoop down on the cities when the time was right and power would fall into his hands.
Mao's innovation was successful in 1949. The strategy was replicated by Fidel Castro ten years later in Cuba against the "paper tiger" regime of Fulgencio Batista. The Sino-Soviet split of 1962 had ramifications worldwide for communist parties which were taking money and instructions from the Soviet Union to bring about the worldwide workers revolution. The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) was affected, as well. But a historical anomaly occurred which was little understood then outside of communist circles, and remains little understood today even in academia.
The Cuban revolution
The Sino-Soviet split was not understood by the U.S. intelligence community. Indeed, throughout the Vietnam War, the American public were fed a steady diet of propaganda by the mainstream media and CIA that the United States was fighting the "communist bloc" - Russia and China and its allies, North Vietnam, East Germany, North Korea and others in a Cold War. The War in Vietnam was a Hot War in the Cold War. But the worldwide communist revolution was not a monolith, ideological differences between the "correct" interpretation of carrying out a Marxist revolution, between the Moscow directed Marxist-Leninist doctrine, and the Beijing model of Mai Zedong Thought forced many local communist parties to choose which direction to follow. The big kicker was that the Russians supplied money and material support to international communist parties, and the Beijing Marxists only gave ideological direction.
Here the historical facts get really confusing. The Cuban Revolution is a strange anomaly indeed, because while they took their ideological direction from Mao, they took financial support from the Soviet Union. The Cuban Communist Party appears to be the only international communist organization that the Russians allowed this to happen. Largely because Cuba also provided a military base in the Western Hemisphere, 90 miles off the continental United States, in addition to receiving financial support for its ailing economy. But the Cuban communists took their ideological direction from Beijing and Chairman Mao, and taught Maoist doctrine to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Weather Underground (WUO).
SDS and Weather Underground
In the United States, this led to a messy fight within the CPUSA. The League for Industrial Democracy was a Soviet front group receiving money from Moscow which created the Students for a Democratic Society to subvert domestically U.S. war efforts in Vietnam. As the war progressed throughout the 1960s, a band of Maoists within the SDS wanted to abandon traditional Marxist and Soviet organizing efforts of uniting labor unions and students in a revolution to overthrow the United States government. They wished instead to follow the Maoist theory of organizing a band of violent revolutionary guerrillas, which Mao and Che Guevara had done, to directly attack and overthrow the United States government. Departing from the Moscow line of direction however, meant giving up financial support from the Soviet Union. In 1969 these Maoists took over leadership of the SDS, and the connection with the League for Industrial Democracy, the CPUSA, and Kremlin was severed.
These Maoists formed the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), and travelled to Cuba for training in Maoist thought and guerilla tactics.
One thing Maoism shares with traditional Soviet Marxism-Leninism is the idea of a national liberation movement. These national liberation movements are scattered worldwide, and many still exist such as the Sandinistas or Baluch Liberation Front. A former Soviet client, the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Yassir Arafat evolved into the Palestinian Authority when it made a treaty with the United States and Israel and began receiving financial support. Other Marxist "liberation movements" sprung up at this time, such as "Women's Liberation" which became the modern feminist movement and "Gay Liberation" which became LGBT.
The Viet Cong were the South Vietnamese Marxist guerrillas leading a national liberation movement against the United States and the government of South Vietnam. In Cuba, WUO operatives were instructed to formulate a national liberation movement in the United States patterned after the Viet Cong, with a violent separatist group that rejected the assimilation of the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers. Digging up the failed Kremlin scheme outlined in 1927 in a book entitled Toward Soviet America to establish a Negro Soviet Socialist Republic, the WUO organizers supplied the Black Panthers with weapons and carried on their own bombings of government buildings in the name of Marxist Revolution and overthrowing the government of the United States.
Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter
Under Marxist and Maoist theory, the Black Panthers were designated as the spearhead of the revolution struggling for national liberation to establish their own homeland. White students in the breakaway SDS and WUO which were by far more in number, were designated as support groups for the oppressed blacks. This exact same structure was re-constituted between 2016 and 2020 with the larger, white dominated Democratic Socialists of America, and the more violent white dominated Antifa, playing the supporting roles of SDS and WUO with the black liberation separatist group Black Lives Matter as the spearhead of revolution. Oppression, of course, is the main theme and cause to topple the United States Constitution and establish an un-democratic Marxist regime.
As result of Maoism the Peoples Republic of China differs in one huge way from earlier totalitarian threats and regimes. Both the Third Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics faced only one potential armed threat to their power domestically - their respective militaries. The people had no rights, meaning the populace was disarmed. Both the Nazi Party and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union faced a professional military establishment that consisted mostly of patriotic officers and individuals, many whose first allegiance was to their country, and not to a political ideology. For this reason the Soviets formed the KGB and the Nazis formed the SS, primarily for the explicit reason to compel the existing military establishment to do the will of the party. Not so in China.
It was the German military that tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944, and the Red Army always had political commissars attached to each unit to monitor the officers and dissention within the ranks, and insure that party orders were carried out.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) was formed by Mao before the seizure of power, and the PLA to this day is the nuclear equipped army of the Chinese Communist Party. It is not now, nor has it ever been, under control of the government of China, what they call the State Council. From its inception the guerillas of the People's Liberation Army made up the core of the Chinese Communist Party, and remains the center of the CCP's power. Neither Hitler nor Stalin ever enjoyed the undivided loyalty of military officers. A Maoist revolutionary is at heart a guerrilla fighter, not a union agitator or community organizer advocating for the oppressed.
- Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution, Robin D.G. Kelley and Betsy Esche, Souls Volume 1, Number 4 Fall 1999, p. 39 in original (p. 34 pdf).
- Alexander, Robert J. Maoism in the Developed World (2001) online edition
- Alexander, Robert J. International Maoism in the Developing World (1999) online edition
- Indian Christians killed by Maoist Naxalites - Barnabas Fund
- Christian father of five beheaded in Odisha, India by Maoist Naxalites - Barnabas Fund