Madhura (12F) wrote this excellent L7 essay for her Higher Level History class with Mr Budd.
Evaluate the role of Mao Zedong's leadership in the rise of Communism in China to 1935 (15 marks)
Mao Zedong, the first leader of the People’s Republic of China can be seen as one of the most influential figures in Chinese communist history, however, the significance of his role in the rise of communism in China to 1935 can be disputed. To fully understand how Mao’s leadership influenced the rise of communism we must evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of his leadership during the First United Front, his time as leader of the Jiangxi Soviet, and also during the Long March. Through these events, it will become evident that while there were other factors that influenced the rise of communism, Mao’s leadership was certainly one of the main reasons for its growth.
Firstly, Mao’s leadership during the First United Front can be seen as one of the reasons for the rise of communism in China as he helped gain more support from the peasants during this period. Peasants made up 80% of the population in China during that time and their living conditions under imperial and warlord rule were quite terrible. Through Mao’s role as the director of the Peasant Movement Training Institute which was founded in July 1924, he was able to help train young idealists to educate the masses in rural China to incite a revolution. This increased Peasant Associations in southern China and roughly 9 million peasants were involved. Mao’s ideological belief that the revolution should centre around the rural peasantry rather than the urban population – which was what Marxist-Leninist followers believed – also developed during that time, causing him to focus more on winning over the peasants to defeat the warlords in 1927. However, the support from peasants in defeating the warlords can also be seen as a consequence of mistreatment from warlords and foreign involvement rather than because of Mao’s leadership. This can be seen through the May the 30th Incident in 1925 which resulted in the eighteen-month Canton-Hong Kong strike, and thus increased support for more socialist movements, such as the CPC.
While Mao’s involvement in various peasant associations during the First United Front did lead to an increase in communist support, it is also important to discuss Mao’s military and political shortcomings and how instead of increasing support, they resulted in the death of many communists. Firstly, when the GMD betrayed the CPC and initiated the White Terror in 1927, 3,000 suspected communists were killed in a single day, and Mao’s response through the Autumn Harvest Uprising further worsened matters. His poorly planned uprising against Chiang and the GMD’s behaviour towards the CPC led to many communists being killed and Mao having to retreat with only 1,000 Red Army soldiers to the Jinggang mountains. During this period of unrest, CPC membership dropped from 58,000 to 10,000 by December 1927. Additionally, although Mao focused on the rural population, he had almost no political influence in the Central Committee, which meant that many of his proposed rural improvements were ignored by the committee. Instead of following Mao’s different approach on Marxist-Leninist communism, they prefered to take the route carved out for them by Comintern and focus on the proletariat, even though peasant associations consisted of nearly 9 million people.
Due to the White Terror, Mao and his army were forced to relocate to the Jinggang Mountains where he was able to establish the Jiangxi Soviet and develop his own ideas of communism without the influence of the Comintern. Without the presence of the Bolsheviks, Mao was able to experiment with different land reforms and gain political experience leading a state. As the Jiangxi Soviet consisted of 30 counties with over 2 million people, he was truly able to govern the people learn what changes they wanted to see. His land reforms included eliminating warlordism, wiping out debts and replacing taxes with a simpler and fairer system. It is estimated that these reforms benefited 60,000 peasants, and thus evidently impactful through the fact that CPC membership increased to 300,000 by 1934. Along with this, Mao took this time to improve military tactics of the Red Army to ensure that failures such as the Nanchang Uprising would not happen again. He issued a doctrine of military discipline named the Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention, which captured the ideas of obedience, virtue, honesty and other attributes soldiers must exhibit. Mao also used this opportunity to improve guerilla warfare tactics and increase the size of the Red Army, which reached a number of 140,000 soldiers. Thus, through Mao’s work with the peasants and reconstruction of the Red Army, he was able to gain more support for the CPC.
Although Mao did increase CPC membership, it is also important to consider that this was quite a short-term improvement for the CPC, as when the 28 Bolsheviks and Central Committee leadership arrived, Mao’s position was downgraded and he was rendered powerless. During the Ningdu Conference in October 1932, a new collective leadership formed, including Bo Gu and Zhou Enlai. Because of the arrival of the Central Committee, Mao was unable to improve military tactics, which resulted in the Red Army being unprepared during the GMD’s Fifth Encirclement Campaign and losing 50,000 soldiers. While the arrival of the Central Committee may be seen as a limitation to Mao’s role in increasing support for communism, it is also important to understand the significance of these few years. It was because of these years that Mao was able to experience leadership without Bolshevik influence and formulate his own ideas on communism, which ultimately led to Maoism and Mao Zedong Thought. Furthermore, the failures of the CPC during this time cannot be entirely blamed on Mao as it was the decision of Bo Gu, Zhou Enlai and Otto Bruan to change military tactics that eventually failed them during the GMD attacks.
Lastly, the impact of Mao’s leadership on the rise of communism during the Long March must also be evaluated as it was during this time that he was able to consolidate power and gain support through the use of propaganda. During the Long March, roughly 100,000 communists fled from the Jiangxi Soviet in an attempt to escape the encroaching GMD forces. A prominent event during this time was the Zunyi Conference in January 1935, where Politburo members, including Mao and Zhou Enlai, gathered to discuss tactics. During the conference, Mao made a speech attacking Bo Gu and Otto Braun which was surprisingly endorsed by Zhou Enlai – an influential figurehead – and seventeen out of twenty participants. While Mao was not declared as leader after this conference, he was promoted to the Standing Committee of the Politburo and also had the support of Zhou Enlai, which enabled him to consolidate power in the future and gain support for the communist movement. Along with this, Mao used the Long March as a tool of propaganda to promote the heroic ideology of the CPC. However, it is also important to acknowledge that the Long March was ultimately a failure, and without the prejudice of propaganda victories, it was an event that resulted in the death of 70,000 communists and further isolated the communists from the rest of China.
In conclusion, while there were different factors that resulted in the rise of communism, such as the general mistreatment of peasants, it was not the main reason why communism grew. While it was significant, it was because of Mao’s involvement in peasant associations and reforms that the peasants became more involved in parties like the CCP. Additionally, Mao’s leadership resulted in a substantial increase in party membership, firstly during the United Front due to the Peasant Movement Training Institute, and in the Jiangxi Soviet through the land reforms he introduced. Despite the fact that Mao made some mistakes during the years following the United Front, his role was integral as during these years he also established Maoism, which focused on the rural population rather than the proletariat, and improved the Red Army, which became crucial during the Japanese and civil war. Thus it can be said that while there were other factors that contributed to the rise of communism, Mao’s leadership is mostly the main reason for its growth.