December 26, 2023 marks the 130th anniversary of the birth of the great leader and teacher of the Chinese revolution, Mao Zedong. This is an excellent occasion to review Mao’s contributions as one of the principal theorists of the science of revolution, Marxism-Leninism.
Mao Zedong always stressed that it is the masses who make history, but like all Marxists he recognized the importance of leadership in revolutionary change. As the leader of the revolution in China, Mao made innumerable practical contributions both to the Chinese Revolution and to the international communist movement as a whole.
Mao led the Chinese Revolution to victory in establishing new democracy and socialism, thus liberating the Chinese people from feudalism and imperialism. Under Mao’s leadership, the Chinese people carried out land reform, industrialized and modernized their productive forces, and went from a backward, semi-colonial and semi-feudal country dominated by domestic warlords and plundered by foreign imperialists, to a powerful, independent country, where the working class wields state power for the betterment of the people.
After the death of Stalin in 1953 and the rise to power of Khrushchev in the Soviet Union in 1956, Mao led the struggle against modern revisionism in the international communist movement, upholding and defending the revolutionary essence of Marxism-Leninism.
“The theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin is universally applicable. We should regard it not as a dogma, but as a guide to action,” wrote Mao. “Studying it is not merely a matter of learning terms and phrases but of learning Marxism-Leninism as the science of revolution.” Indeed, Mao Zedong’s leadership united practical struggle with revolutionary theory, and Mao always emphasized the importance of the dialectical relationship between theory and practice. For Mao, Marxism was always a science, driven by the practical demands of the Chinese revolution, and a weapon of class struggle, to be used to overthrow the old society and build a new world.
The theory of Mao Zedong is likewise universally applicable, and we should study it closely. As Lenin said, Marxism has three main components: philosophy, political economy, and scientific socialism. Mao wrote important texts contributing to our understanding of each of the aspects of Marxism-Leninism, as well as important works on revolutionary strategy.
On philosophy, Mao wrote On Practice and On Contradiction. These works form the firm foundation of Mao’s thought on revolutionary theory, and deserve particular attention. On Practice teaches us that theory must be grounded in practice, in our experience in production, class struggle, and scientific experiment. Here he gives us a clear and concise explanation of the Marxist theory of knowledge, explaining how theory comes from practice, and is then tested by being applied to practice, and then corrected through the summation of that practice. In this way, theory and practice develop together in spiral fashion, each developing and enriching the other. The theory in On Practice immunizes Marxist science against dogmatism, firmly emphasizing that there is no theory for theory’s sake, but rather that the source and aim of Marxism-Leninism is practical work.
In On Contradiction, Mao explains how dialectical materialism, the philosophical heart of Marxism, analyzes social processes according to their internal contradictions. In other words, things change as a result of struggles inherent to those things, such as the struggle between the working class and the capitalists inherent to capitalism. Mao explains how we can analyze which contradictions are driving things forward and determining the overall motion of things, so that we can focus our energy and organization towards those things in the most strategic and effective way. On Contradiction is a manual on the practical application of dialectical materialism.
On political economy, Mao wrote many important works, applying Marxism to the analysis of Chinese conditions such as his Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society. Mao demonstrated with his works on political economy how we can determine who the friends and enemies of the working class are, who we can unite with, and who will oppose us tooth and nail. Marxist political economy lays bare the laws of motion of capitalist society. By aligning our strategic orientation with these laws of motion, and by fusing Marxism with the masses, Mao showed that we can move mountains.
Based on this, Mao also developed theoretical works on revolutionary strategy. On this topic, Mao wrote a number of important articles and pamphlets, such as his important works on the necessity of armed struggle. In Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War and On Protracted War, Mao developed the theory of protracted people’s war, applicable broadly to large, semi-colonial and semi-feudal countries fighting for national liberation and socialism. Mao also developed the theory of the United Front in his essay On the Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party. This essay sums up how we can form a strategic alliance of revolutionary classes in order to unite against a common enemy. Mao also developed the pivotal theory of the mass line in his essay Some Questions on Methods of Leadership, explaining how to lead broad mass movements by uniting with the felt needs and demands of the advanced activists in struggle around immediate demands in order to move the masses towards a class-conscious understanding of the necessity for fighting against capitalism and for socialism. The mass line is the key to the fusion of Marxism with the working class movement.
On scientific socialism, Mao wrote On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, On the Ten Major Relationships, and his important study of Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR. These works and others demonstrate how Mao looked to the experience of socialist construction in the Soviet Union and attempted to apply the lessons of that experience scientifically to the particulars of Chinese conditions. In his important work On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, Mao emphasized the importance of continuing the class struggle under socialism in order to consolidate socialism and combat revisionist trends towards capitalist restoration.
In the mid-1960s and 70s, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, also known as “The Little Red Book,” became a handbook of revolution, taken up by young revolutionaries all over the world, from the Black Panther Party and the New Communist Movement here in the U.S. to national liberation movements from Palestine to the Philippines.
In China, Mao’s contributions to Marxism-Leninism are referred to as “Mao Zedong Thought,” and the writings of many of Mao’s contemporaries are also studied alongside the works of Mao. Indeed, Mao certainly never worked alone. We too have a lot to gain from studying the works of Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Chen Yun, and Deng Xiaoping. Today, Xi Jinping continues to lead the Chinese people in applying Marxism-Leninism to Chinese conditions.
As revolutionaries in the United States, working to advance the peoples struggles, raise the consciousness of the working and oppressed people through struggle, and build a new Communist Party, we should strive to be like Mao.
Like any human being, Mao made his share of mistakes, but, like Mao, we should likewise analyze and sum up those mistakes in a scientific and practical way, rather than dogmatically repeat them. Like Mao, we should unite theory with practice. We should be practically minded, and we should apply dialectical materialism to our practice so as to better orient and guide our work in a strategic and effective way.
Like Mao did with the theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, we should apply Mao’s theory to building revolution and socialism in a creative way, based firmly on the concrete analysis of concrete conditions when and where we find ourselves. We must subject theory to the crucible of practical work. In other words, we should study and apply the science of revolution, Marxism-Leninism, “not as a dogma, but as a guide to action.” If we can do this, then we will surely win.
J. Sykes is the author of the book “The Revolutionary Science of Marxism-Leninism”. The book can be purchased by visiting tinyurl.com/revsciMLbook