Chinese Revolution


Chinese Revolution
(1949)
   Following civil and world war, in 1949 Chairman Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) swept into power and proclaimed the beginning of the People’s Republic of China. The route from rule by dynasty to rule by Maoism began long before 1949, chiefly with the instability caused by the Opium Wars (1839–1842) that had coerced China into opening its ports to Western merchants. Toward the conclusion of the 19th century and into the 20th, China’s attempts to rapidly modernize had been accompanied by turmoil, as witnessed in the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Uprising and most prevalently the Chinese Republican Revolution of 1911. Here, economic stasis, a demographic imbalance between rural and urban, and increased militancy from a number of independent social forces proved enough to bring an end to dynastic rule in China. Nonetheless, the change this brought about was merely superficial, transforming political rule from imperial to republican and doing little to quash simmering tensions within a China still split by intense fighting between warlords and their factions. Intellectuals in the country demanded that the political revolution be accompanied by a cultural one that sought to rid China of its entrenched, seemingly backward values symbolized by Confucianism. This demand for change found voice in 1919 in the guise of the May Fourth Movement, named after a mass student rally against imperialism that broke out on that date following the end of World War I. The May Fourth Movement became a vehicle for the expression of radical ideas, and together with the 1917 Russian Revolution, contributed to a rising climate of radicalism in China that eventually led to the formation of the CCP in 1921.
   At its second party congress in 1922, the CCP voted to join the Comintern, and at its third a year later to obey an order from the Soviet Union to merge with the nationalist party, the Kuomintang (KMT) under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yatsen, in order to bring about a national revolution. Though this inflated the CCP from being a fringe movement to performing a role in a mass incendiary association, its subordination to the KMT within the alliance diluted its ability to bring about communism. This subordination was brutally highlighted from 1925 following the death of Sun and his replacement with the right-wing anti-communist Chiang Kai-shek.
   The KMT-CCP had fought together to defeat the warlords and reunify Southern China as part of Chiang’s “Northern Expedition,” but with that objective achieved, the KMT leader ordered the mass slaughter of CCP members, and was able to establish dictatorial nationalist rule over China by 1929. The diminished and beleaguered CCP fled to the countryside and took the decision to pursue the support of the rural masses rather than that of the relatively small number of urban dwellers as it had previously. This strategy proved to be successful from an early stage, enabling CCP groups to build strongholds in a number of areas including the southeast where Mao came into prominence. This was enough to stir the KMT into action, and in 1934 with the nationalist army encircling their base at the Jiangxi Soviet, 100,000 communists embarked on the legendary Long March, in essence a retreat to avoid horrendous reprisals and annihilation at the hands of vast opposition forces. A year later just 50,000 of them arrived in Shanxi to find haven and set up a new base, and with the KMT distracted by the need to repel Japanese expansionism, the CCP were able to regroup and build.
   Japan’s occupation of Manchuria and the subsequent Sino–Japanese War (1937–1945) was a deep distraction for the KMT, which was intent on quelling the communist threat and preserving its own rule. Chiang was forced to devote most of his resources to fighting the Japanese, and the CCP did much to exploit this state of affairs, creating what it termed “liberated areas” in northern China and taking control. In order to do this it had garnered heavy support among the peasantry by protecting them from Japanese invasion, and waging a war on the rural elite that included a redistribution of landlord wealth to the destitute. Once Japan had become embroiled in battle with the United States in World War II, the CCP was again quick to manipulate its opponents’ diverted attention and consolidate its rule in northern China, laying in wait for the recommencement of civil war with the KMT. As World War II drew to a close, the communist grip on large areas of the country tightened in the face of an ever-weakening KMT government, and the stock of Mao, now the main leader of the movement, rose accordingly. Between 1946 and 1949, the CCP was able to increase its influence yet further, and again by mobilizing the local rural peasantry, it captured the hugely significant area of Manchuria. With KMT forces demoralized, depleted and crippled by hyperinflation, the CCP finally emerged victorious when the nationalist government fled to Taiwan, and on 1 October 1949 Chairman Mao’s communist People’s Republic of China was proclaimed. Chairman Mao and his Prime Minister Zhou Enlai set about transforming China through their own interpretation of Marxism, Maoism. Beijing was designated capital and a “Common Program” was formulated to decree how widespread change would be accomplished. Toleration of noncommunist political parties and private enterprise was declared, and an alliance with the Soviet Union that guaranteed economic aid for China was announced following a visit by Mao to Moscow. Also, the new regime intervened in the Korean War to protect its communist comrades in North Korea, and instigated in 1953 the first five-year plan to nationalize and collectivize rural land. In 1958 the “Great Leap Forward” was initiated. This was a program aimed at bringing about rapid urban industrialization and local authority for rural communities. However, the primary consequence of the Great Leap was famine and an enormous number of fatalities, and the chaotic and disastrous Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 was also in part a consequence. In between the end of the Great Leap and the commencement of the Cultural Revolution, the People’s Republic completely broke off relations with the Soviet Union and continued to designate its own path to communism.
   The 1949 revolution in China was to some extent a cousin of that in Russia 32 years previously, in that 1917 had provided a framework to follow for bringing about Marxism and it too had originated from a ruling power’s failure in war. However, the CCP’s insurrection sprang more from a conjuncture of internal factors running back over the previous 100 years of Chinese history. While employing a vanguard party of “professional revolutionaries” as MarxismLeninism decreed, Mao deviated from that orthodox path by substituting the peasantry for an industrialized working class. While Marx had argued, for example in his analysis of the 1848 revolutions, that socialist upheaval was impossible without a strong urban proletariat, Mao attempted to prove otherwise by adopting his theory of revolution according to conditions in contemporary China.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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