Exploring the Concepts of Karl Marx and Mao Tse-Tung

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 24 November 2016

Exploring the Concepts of Karl Marx and Mao Tse-Tung

Karl Marx believed that in an industrialized society, the working class, known as the proletariat would revolt and take over the ruling class, and would in effect, create a classless society. Karl Marx believed this could only happen in an industrialized society. Once it became apparent that the working class would not rise above, Lenin intervened and confirmed Marxism obsolete in Russia. Since the late 1920’s the Chinese Communist Party has altered Marxism in China. It became a peasant party with an anti-Marxist petty-bourgeois viewpoint and through all the fluctuations of the left and right turns of world Stalinism, it kept a utopian and reactionary perspective; in Marxist terminology, reactionary refers to people whose ideas might appear to be socialist, but, in essence, contain elements of feudalism, capitalism, nationalism, fascism or other characteristics of the ruling class. It kept a nationally based and classless socialism, or “peasant socialism,” as worded by Trotsky.

To call Mao Tse-Tung’s communist or Maoist, philosophy socialism is an understatement. Though encompassing many Marxist values, China has done a more effective job of forcing the Maoist agenda through more ruthless violence by utilizing the multitude of peasants residing within its borders as a powerful force, unlike Marxism which calls for a series of revolution by means of class struggle and uprising in the proletariat. Though the Maoist ideology had subsisted in China for some years after his time, today it is an important economic force, but is government-run, leaving it unstable without government regulation as the economy is dominated by large state-owned enterprises, but private enterprises also play a major role in the economy. State-owned enterprises are a major source of profit and power for members of the Communist Party of China and their families and are largely favored by the government.

Karl Marx wove economics and philosophy together to construct a grand theory of human history and social change. His concept of alienation, for example, first expressed in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, plays a key role in his criticism of capitalism. Marx believed that people, by nature, are free, creative beings who have the potential to totally transform the world. But he observed that the modern, technologically developed world is apparently beyond our full control. Marx condemned the free market, for instance, as being “anarchic,” or ungoverned. He maintained that the way the market economy is coordinated—through the spontaneous purchase and sale of private property dictated by the laws of supply and demand—blocks our ability to take control of our individual and collective destinies.

Marx condemned capitalism as a system that alienates the masses. His reasoning was like this: although workers produce things for the market, market forces, not workers, control things. People are required to work for capitalists who have full control over the means of production and maintain power in the workplace. Work, he said, becomes degrading, monotonous, and suitable for machines rather than for free, creative people. In the end, people themselves become objects—robot-like mechanisms that have lost touch with human nature, that make decisions based on cold profit-and-loss considerations, with little concern for human worth and need. Marx concluded that capitalism blocks our capacity to create our own humane society. Marx’s notion of alienation rests on a crucial but shaky assumption. It assumes that people can successfully abolish an advanced, market-based society and replace it with a democratic, comprehensively planned society.

Marx claimed that we are alienated not only because many of us toil in tedious, perhaps even degrading, jobs, or because by competing in the marketplace we tend to place profitability above human need. The issue is not about toil versus happiness. We are alienated, he maintained, because we have not yet designed a society that is fully planned and controlled, a society without competition profits and losses, money, private property, and so on—a society that, Marx predicted, must inevitably appear as the world advances through history. Here is the greatest problem with Marx’s theory of alienation: even with the latest developments in computer technology, we cannot create a comprehensively planned system that puts an end to scarcity and uncertainty.

But for Marxists to speak of alienation under capitalism, they must assume that a successfully planned world is possible. That is, Marx believed that under capitalism we are “alienated” or “separated” from our potential to creatively plan and control our collective fate, but if comprehensive socialist planning fails to work in practice it is an impossibility. In consequence of China’s sizable rural population, the greatest point of conflict between the two lines of thought is Mao’s inclusion of the peasantry in the proletariat differing greatly with the Marxist-Leninist view that the beginning of socialist revolution should come from the urban working class. The Maoist faith in revolutionary enthusiasm and the positive value of the peasants’ lack of sophistication as opposed to technological or intellectual elites fueled the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.

The disastrous consequences of both upheavals led Mao’s successors to abandon Maoism as counterproductive to economic growth and social order. Maoism, since then, has been embraced by insurgent guerrilla groups worldwide. The Communist Party of the Philippines has adopted the ideas and concepts of Maoism which promote the use of revolution to obtain their goals. Professor Jose Maria Sison, the Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines states, “Mao is indubitably correct in identifying the revisionism of degenerates in power in socialist society as the most lethal to socialism, and in offering the solution that succeeded in China for ten years before it was defeated in 1976. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the full restoration of capitalism in revisionist-ruled countries in the period of 1989-91 have vindicated Mao´s position on the crucial importance and necessity of the struggle against revisionism and the theory of continuing revolution under proletarian dictatorship.”

The Philippines today practices modern democracy. This shows the sharp difference of ideology within countries. It is shown by Sison’s diction that he is passionate about Communism to the degree that he strongly adheres to Maoist theory by promoting revolution in the proletariat. In 2008, the New People’s Army in the Philippines managed to make 200 tactical offenses and captured 200 high powered rifles. Ka Oris claimed that the group has managed to return to the level of activity of when it was at its peak in the 1980s. The NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, remains the “biggest threat” to national security according to National Defense Secretary Gilbert C. Teodoro Jr. This shows how Maoism only subsists with sheer violence. They seek to implement their agenda by compromising national security and putting many lives in danger. In order to form a fully Maoist society one needs to realize that the only means of achieving this is by deteriorating the conditions within a county.

“The history of the NPA in Mindanao dates back to 1971 when a handful of inexperienced but determined communists established two cells — one in Iligan and the other in Davao. The years that followed saw it exploit widespread poverty among both indigenous peoples and poor peasants in the countryside, as well as among many Christian settlers.” As one can see, poverty was a result of the attempts made by the NPA to form a communist/Maoist nation; therefore, the effects of revolution in the name of Maoism only worsens the well-being of the people as violence is utilized to oppress the people. Maoism is characterized by an extreme eclecticism and by subjectivism in theory and voluntarism in politics. Many traditional views of ancient Chinese political and philosophical thought have helped nourish Maoist ideology.

From the anarchists Mao Tse-tung borrowed such principles as the absolutization of violence (“Power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and “To rebel is justified”) and reliance on nonproletarian, declassed elements and politically immature layers of young people to “organize” revolutions without regard to whether there is a revolutionary situation. According to Maoist declarations, similar revolutions, which in fact are a form of total purging and suppression of the real and potential enemies of Maoism, should be repeated periodically. If the inherent violence that Maoism encapsulates should be repeated, it would lead to the suffering of many people, which makes it unstable to the degree that the government forces outnumber the Maoists: a force that keeps them at bay.

The Maoists cannot obtain their goal without the use of hostility, making it immoral and unstable. “Since 1978 hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty [in China] – yet hundreds of millions of rural population as well as millions of migrant workers remain unattended: According to China’s official statistics, the poverty rate fell from 53% in 1981to 2.5% in 2005.” However, in 2009, as many as 150 million Chinese were living on less than $1.25 a day. The infant mortality rate fell by 39.5% between 1990 and 2005, and maternal mortality by 41.1%. Access to telephones during the period rose more than 94-fold, to 57.1% as did in many developing countries such as Peru or Nigeria. This shows inconsistency with data to instill communist propaganda. They only show what they want to. They never display the harsh violence committed in order to execute their agenda, which is also in the roots of Marxist theory. In consequence of Mao’s recognition of the peasantry as a powerful source of revolution, his political endeavors were largely aimed at rural China and less on urban industrialization.

There is a strong emphasis in Maoism placed on the capability of conscious human action to overcome a lack of material resources. This is in reference to what Mao saw as great feats of endurance, such as the Long March and the resistance against Japan during the Sino-Japanese War. According to Mao, the success of such campaigns rested upon the commitment of man, without the aid of technology or material involvement. Complementary to such experiences, Mao naturally developed a theory that highlighted success as a product of the mind, not matter. As such, material goods were not constituent of, or significantly important to Maoism. “It should be pointed out that in the present conditions, agriculture occupies first place in our economic construction.” Mao was mainly concerned with agricultural production as a means of survival, and saw no political gain from mass industrialization. In fact Mao believed that industrialization weakened the proletarian movement, by creating further means for factory owners and management teams to exploit workers.

However the Marxist-Leninist approach to socialist reform which contrasted against Mao’s agrarian views, relied heavily upon the encouragement of advanced industrialization in order to strengthen the sense of proletarian repression. In this sense there was a strong point of conflict over industrial and agricultural production values between Mao and the Russians, which was in direct consequence of the peasants over workers dispute. A fundamental facet of classical Marxist ideology is economic determinism; a concept whereby social change is driven by the economy. However Mao placed a much larger emphasis on the shaping of humankind, and the capacity to change human nature through sheer will power. “Mao’s real conflict, of course, was not with Russia nor with revisionism, but with human nature.” He believed that the ordinarily extended process of change could be hastened with appropriate stimulation; a positive political frame of commitment and action.

While Marx also believed in the evolution of human nature, in contrast to Mao he regarded it to be a process beyond the control of man. Marx developed the theory of material determinism, which suggested that the economy is essential to social change and the development of human nature, a relationship almost ignored by Mao. Features of society such as classes, politics and ideologies were seen by Marx to be outgrowths of economic activity, whereas Mao regarded changes to such features as a result of human will. “[Mao’s] process of remolding human beings…[is] almost in defiance of orthodox Marxist historical and material determinism.” However what is generally agreed upon by Marx and Mao, despite the way in which it is done, is that this remolding of humankind could take many revolutions, which led to the development of the ‘continuous revolution’ theory, a concept whereby the proletarian’s struggle against the bourgeoisie is everlasting.

Basically, the goals of Mao, Lenin and Marx were alike in terms of achieving a classless socialist society; there were distinct contrasting elements within the paths chosen to achieve these aspirations. Mao believed in the revolutionary and violent power of the abundant peasantry class, whereas the Marxist-Leninist approach to socialist revolution was to lead from the urban working classes. Resulting from this major disagreement came differing views on industrialization and urbanization, Mao tending to pay closer attention to agricultural development which was a large factor in China, and the Russians to urban development. There was also ignorance on Mao’s behalf of the nature of economics, a subject of which Marx was an expert which is most likely the reason why there is little on economics found on Maoism.

Marx recognized the economy as a major driving force in social development, whereas Mao regarded human nature as something that could be changed by will. However while Mao may not have attempted to achieve socialism as Marx intended, a great difference between Russia and China during the twentieth century made such a turn away from classical Marxism to some extent. One could claim that Marxism has never truly been achieved in any setting, and with both China and Russia now leaning more towards capitalism, it leads one to question whether given the nature of humankind, such change is even possible; however, it can be concluded that both doctrines encapsulate instability and hostility, creating an oppressive environment.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 24 November 2016

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