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.
The government of India has designated the Naxalites, which follow Maoism, as a terrorist organization.
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.