It was in Jiangxi that Mao had a chance to strengthen his ideology of a peasant-based, rather than worker-based, revolution. He had first introduced this concept in his 1927 work ‘Report on an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan’, which challenged the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy by suggesting a revolution could come from the rural areas. This concept was not immediately embraced by the central leadership in Shanghai, but as Jiangxi’s power base grew, peasant-based revolution took precedent.
During the Yan’an period Mao would clarify his revolutionary ideals and produce a series of writings on politics on the arts that would later be revered by the CCP. His 1940 work ‘On New Democracy’ put forward a policy that embraced all classes in the struggle against Japan, casting the CCP as a nationalist party that would put national interest and unity above everything.
Mao also developed the concept of the ‘mass line’, which he characterised as ‘leadership from the people to the people’. This meant both that the party would be made up of the population it was representing and that party cadres were to ‘go to the people’, living with them and thus assessing their needs and desires – this ensured that the decisions being made by the party centre would be informed by the grassroots. Mao summed up the concept as such ‘It [the Party] should teach every comrade to love the people and listen attentively to the voice of the masses; to identify himself with the masses wherever he goes and, instead of standing above them, to immerse himself among them; and, according to their present level, to awaken them or raise their political consciousness’.
This marked the clarification of what was to become known as Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought. It contrasted with the Marxist-Leninist belief that by itself, the proletariat could only attain ‘trade-union level consciousness’ (meaning they would agitate for reform within the existing system, but not seek to overthrow it), and it is the job of the Party to imbue the people with revolutionary sentiment. Mao’s approach not only focused on the peasantry as the primary revolutionary class, but argued that the revolution should stem from the needs and desires of this class. He also introduced the concept of ‘permanent revolution’, meaning that Communists must never be allowed to become complacent in stable positions of government, for if they do they will be corrupt. If this happens, they must be purged and a new generation roused to revolt.
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