Saturday, 13 December 2014

A little lecture on Maoism and Asia

Let me tell you something about Communist rebellions in Asia.

From Nepal to the Philippines, India to Sri Lanka, Indo-China to Myanmar to Malaysia, Asia has seen plenty of Communist insurgencies. Some have been ended, in victory or defeat or a compromise settlement. Some, particularly in India and the Philippines, are still ongoing. Some more will undoubtedly arise in future.

Communist Party of India (Maoist) troops

Obviously, for such a huge and diverse continent, said Communist insurgencies have been varied and heterogeneous, but they have had one salient feature in common.

Almost all of them, and all the successful ones, have been Maoist in their inspiration, not classical Marxist. And by that I mean that the fighters are drawn from the agricultural working class, the peasants, not the “urban proletariat” – the factory workers and unions.

Is this significant? It is. Very.

In fact, without Mao there would never have been a People’s Republic of China, and no Viet Minh revolution in Vietnam. The whole face of Asia would have been significantly different.

So what is it with Asian leftist revolutionaries revere Mao?


In classical Marxist theory, the peasantry is considered far too ignorant and reactionary to rise in revolution. That role is left to the industrial workers, the urban proletariat. Well, that was possibly true enough in the situation prevailing in 19th century Europe, but things are completely different in Asia. (As they were in Russia a hundred years ago, when that country was much more an Asian than a European nation.)

In Asia, the agricultural working class - the farmers and peasants - were, and still are, so exploited, so sunk in poverty, so excluded from the system, that an industrial job, even at slave wages, is the equivalent of paradise to them. They're preyed on by moneylenders, tax collectors, landlords, and suppliers of equipment; they're never out of debt, their land is always on the verge of being seized by rapacious corporations with the backing of the government, and they literally have to survive from day to day. For example, in India, literally every day, today, farmers commit suicide by drinking pesticide, unable to bear the burden of debts. Others have their farms seized by the government for “developmental” projects which usually involve mining concerns or factories. And tribal villagers have it even worse, since they typically have no land records and can’t prove any ownership at all. 

The industrial worker on the other hand has at least an assured salary and enough food and water to get by, and has literally everything to lose by rebelling. It's against his interests to participate even in high risk union activity let alone rebel with force of arms. If the factories close down, what will he eat? And if he’s a contract worker, what does he do if the contract is terminated? The last thing he can afford to do is to rock the boat.  

So in Asia the natural revolutionary class is the peasantry, not the workers. And it took Mao to realise this . Pre-Mao Chinese Communist Party attempts at revolutionary action, using the urban workers, were disastrous. Not that Mao had an easy time getting his “radical” theories accepted by the rest of the party, even so.

Mao on the Long March

(Not that Mao was quite the first to appeal to the peasants. Lenin, too, had based the Russian Revolution on both the workers and the peasants. But the Red Army was in any case largely a peasant force, and unlike Mao, who concentrated exclusively on the peasantry, Lenin tried a dual approach.)

To make it clear: Mao harnessed China's millennia-long history of peasant uprisings to his revision of Marxist theory, and that is the reason he won the civil war. That is why even the defeated Guomindang troops joined the People’s Liberation Army in fully organised units, and that is why the People's Republic of China exists today. 

(This is not the place to argue whether that is a good or bad thing, or whether today's China is at all Maoist. I'm talking about the

And it’s because the People’s Republic exists that other Marxist revolutions in Asia could ever be launched at all.

That's why all Communist uprisings in Asia have been Maoist. Because Mao got it right. 

1 comment:

  1. So clear. I wish you had taught history when I was at University.

    It troubles me so when I see labels on clothes saying "Made in Vietnam". What was their struggle for or perhaps it is an ongoing struggle.


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