by Parson Young

English /// 中文
Photo Credit: Parson Young

In conjunction with the Taipei Philosophy Book Club, New Bloom presents a new column, ‘Keywords’. ‘Keywords’ will review key terms from critical theory and philosophy as they are relevant to Taiwanese politics.

Mao as a Proletarian Bonapartist

CHINA’S EXTREME economic backwardness on the eve of Chiang Kai-Shek’s defeat, as well as Mao’s personal reverence of Stalin, led to a Chinese proletarian state that emulated Stalinism from the start—rather than learning from the healthy worker state of the USSR in the first years after the Russian Revolution. Therefore, the People’s Republic of China under Mao was always a deformed worker’s state, a typical example of proletarian Bonapartism.

Starting from the late 1920s, the Chinese Communist Party ceased to be a proletarian party. It was made up of mostly radical intelligentsia, peasants, and declassed-workers, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was a peasant army. The CCP did not give the economic planning power to the working class, but rather monopolized it and placed it under the control of a minority of bureaucrats headed by Mao. A real socialist economy is planned by all workers through democratic means, rather than by a few people within the state. 


We should note that the nationalized planned economy under Mao took a backward poverty-stricken country where hunger was widespread, and built a more industrialized country, mostly along military lines. Workers received retirement pensions, improved healthcare, and the chance to receive an education. The people were no longer at the mercy of the erratic labor market for jobs, but instead were guaranteed paid employment via planning and assignment. However, the gains of the nationalized planned economy came at a huge cost since there was no workers’ democracy but the rule of the bureaucracy.  The spectacular failure of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” is a tragic example of how a planned economy can go wrong if it is only planned by a few bureaucrats. If the Chinese workers and peasants had been allowed to plan the economy themselves, no one would have ever proposed the ridiculous nationwide home-smelting of iron productive tools, and the huge famine that followed could have been prevented. The failure of the planned economy in at the hands of proletarian Bonapartist states around the world was the direct result of the planning being done by a few bureaucrats, rather than a bottom-up process. The huge economic failure under Mao later gave way for Deng Xiaoping to restore capitalism in China. Any kinds of “socialism” with a problematic theoretical foundation and a backwards economic starting point are destined to be defeated by capitalism.

Maoism’s Direct Betrayal of Marxism

MAO NOT ONLY betrays correct Marxism on a practical level, he also invented a number of “theories” which is now known as Marxism and considered by some to be a legitimate “branch” of Marxism. Today, we can find traces of obsessive followers of Maoism from within China to around the world, from academics, students, and even terrorist organizations. The readers of Taiwan usually are familiar with the horrors happening in China under Mao, but there is seldom an exploration of how Mao’s betrayal of Marxism resulted in these horrors. 

Neglecting the Workers

IN ORDER TO understand Mao one must understand the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its role in the 1925–1927 Revolution. The CCP before Mao’s leadership was young and looked to the Communist International (or Comintern) for guidance. Around 1924, the bureaucracy in the USSR, led by Stalin, took over the Communist International (Comintern) and gave much bad advice to the Communist parties around the world. The CCP could have led the workers to power in China, in alliance with the poor peasants and the USSR.  This would have helped the workers in the USSR in their fight with the bureaucracy and would have help to spread the revolution throughout the world, particularly in colonial countries. However, Stalin and the Comintern’s leadership formed an alliance with the KMT, attempting to help the “progressive national bourgeois” into power. This created illusions in the KMT. Chang Kai-Shek saw the growth of the CCP and the Chinese working class as a threat. He then turned on the CCP and the labor movement, slaughtering tens of thousands of workers.

The CCP, which was told by the Comintern that the Comintern was not in error, was disoriented. At this point, one faction of the party led by Mao broke away and retreated to the countryside. Since they did not examine the Comintern’s errors and correct them, revisionism set in (those who did try to understand and learn from the mistakes were expelled and some became followers of Trotsky). Mao came to power in the CCP as part of the struggle among these revisionists in the 1930s. From a Marxist analysis, any successful socialist revolution must be led by a force primarily based on workers who are exploited through wage-labor. However, the vastly backward economy of China was mostly agrarian and semi-feudal. Most industries were located in metropolitan areas under the firm control of the KMT, and the workers were demoralized and disoriented by the defeats of the past. Because of this, Mao made a strategic decision to orient towards the peasant majority of China, in order to “surround the cities from the countryside” in his war against the KMT. In the end, Mao had little contact and concern for the workers in the cities.


At first glance, Mao’s strategy appears to be the correct one in order to win against the KMT. Nevertheless, the economic/demographic structure of Russia in 1917 was similar to that of China, with a large peasant population and a numerically small but economically and politically decisive number of workers concentrated in cities. Why then, did Lenin choose to orient to the workers in the cities? This is because unlike Mao, Lenin did not forget Marx’s important analysis on the different economic roles peasants and workers play in society.

In Wage Labor and Capital, Marx points out that an industrialized society is formed from the strengthening of capital, as well as a higher degree of exploitation the capitalists put on workers via wage labor, in order to allow capitalists to amass large sums of wealth. The workers’ survival entirely depends on their wages controlled and given by the capitalists, and do not have ownership of the products they produce. The workers are forced to accept in wages only a microscopic fraction of the wealth they’ve created for the capitalists. This is different from the oppression that peasants suffer, who despite owing much of their crops to their brutal landlords, can still own some of the crops they’ve grown for sale, consumption, or replanting. This is vastly different from accepting money, which can inflate and deflate at anytime. Obviously, we are not trivializing the exploitation and oppression that peasants are subjected to, but economically speaking, only through wage labor can capitalists amass wealth from the increased productive power.

At the same time, while the workers are being exploited, they are also given the real control over capital. They understand how to operate the machineries and properties titularly owned by the capitalists. Because of this, workers are much more efficient at controlling and expropriating capital than the peasants when a socialist revolution begins. This is the reason why Lenin and Trotsky insisted on an orientation to the workers. Even if the workers were only 3% of the population of China at the time, it is this class which controls the key levers of society: manufacturing, transportation, construction and essential services.

Let us then examine the consequences of Mao’s tactic to orient to the peasants: while China at the time did have wealthy landlords and local gentries, but their wealth is far exceeded by the urban elites who controlled industries and banks, such as the Kong and the Song families. Mao’s lack of connection to the urban workers provided a chance for corrupt KMT bureaucrats to flee to Taiwan with large sums of wealth, which could have been expropriated and used to build society in the future. Therefore, Mao’s orientation to the peasants was shortsighted, and its ultimate failure was replicated by Maoists around the world who tried to imitate Mao.

“Political Power Grows Out of the Barrel of a Gun”

THIS PHRASE OF Mao’s is perhaps one of his most popularly quoted ideas, and is celebrated by those who uncritically view violence as the only means to change today. It is true that Marx defines the state as “an armed body of people monopolizing violence.” However, Marx did explain that you do not always need to use violence to achieve revolution. Marx argued that the working class organized as a class for itself would have the power to rally the majority of the nation to take political and economic power out of the hands of the capitalist class and replace it with a democratic workers state. Engels also explained that if the working class was well organized and prepared to defend itself against violence, this revolution could be relatively peaceful. He also argued that bourgeois elections and parliaments could be used to further the revolution. [1] Only when the reactionary forces use violence to defend their own interests, which they often do, then the revolutionaries would have a need to complete the revolution through violent means. Further, Marx unequivocally criticized methods such as terrorism or any other kind of armed activities detached from the working masses. [2] In today’s world, we’ve also witnessed the success of non-violent revolutions such as in Venezuela and Egypt. Despite the fact that these revolutions are not socialist, but we can see how socialist revolutions can be achieved in the same way.

The result of Mao’s infamous phrase was the source of bloodlust among Red Guards, as well as Maoists around the world believing that violence is the only way to inspire revolutions, which led to the formation of terrorist groups such as the Japanese Red Army, West Germany’s Red Army Faction, and the Khmer Rouge, as well as the rebels of Southern Philippines and the murderous Peruvian “Shining Path” militia. These groups primarily emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s after witnessing the defeat of revolutions and mass movements, and resorted to ultra-leftist means and attempted to justify it via Marxism.

The Cultural Revolution

EVEN THE CHINESE “Communist” Party who still shameless denies the Tiananmen Square Incident couldn’t mask the tragic decade for the Chinese people that was the Cultural Revolution. The horror and poisonous legacy of the Cultural Revolution doesn’t need to be repeated here, but we do need to clearly understand why as a concept, the Cultural Revolution was entirely against Marxism.

Mao claimed that the stagnating Chinese Revolution was not due to his own corrupt Bonapartism, but because of the “reactionary ideological and cultural tendencies” within the Chinese “academics, educators, journalists, artists, and publishers.” Privately, Mao schemed to destroy his bureaucratic rivals, such as his former comrades Zhu De, Peng Huai-de, and the Taiwanese native Xie Xue-hong. Thus Mao, in a top down fashion, began a cultural revolution, encouraging fanatic Red Guards everywhere to violently disrupt and destroy society.


Aside from Mao’s selfish bureaucratic concerns, the theory of Cultural Revolution is absolutely ridiculous from a Marxist perspective. Even though Marx never discounted the importance and influence of culture on society, he nevertheless showed that cultures can be rapidly changed by material conditions. Thus, a revolution must first alter the material condition in order to change the culture. A revolution that concerns itself more with cultures than material conditions, would ultimately result in endless and meaningless debates on definitions (What is a Chinese culture? What is a Chinese person?) , and also provide an open ended excuse for opportunists to ostracize others. The Red Guards’ mass destruction of “feudal” facilities and infrastructures is also a waste of opportunities to use them for better economic purposes.

 Mao’s forbidding of real debates and criticisms within the party also laid an anti-intellectual foundation of the Cultural Revolution. A true, democratically centralist society should be the most reliant on rational discussions and debates for policy-making, yet Mao went ahead and declared, in the infamous “May 16th notification”, that Maoism is the “overwhelming truth,” and therefore cannot be debated. This kind of logic carries to Lin Biao’s public declaration that “Lenin and Mao are geniuses of the twentieth century. Do not question it. Do not rebel against this fact. If we don’t admit it, then we will make grave mistakes.” The insane cult of personality around Mao came from Maoism’s fundamental anti-intellectual foundation.

 Mao’s imitators around the world also use the logic of Cultural Revolution as defense for their own crimes. For example, the leader of the Peruvian terrorist group “The Shining Path,” Abimael “President Gonzalo” Guzman, claimed that his guerrillas bombed factories around the country in order to start a Cultural Revolution on their own. A real Marxist would have encouraged workers to take over the factories and jointly control, plan their operations. Mao’s theory of Cultural Revolution not only destroyed the lives of countless Chinese people, but also led socialists around the world on the wrong path.


The so-called “Cultural Revolution” was really just an attempt by Mao to curb bureaucratic excesses to his own advantage. Under Proletarian Bonapartism, the bureaucracy takes much of the surplus for itself and this can get to an extent where it threatens the functioning of the economy as a whole.  Nevertheless, this should not be construed as evidence of Mao or similar Proletarian Bonapartists’ attempt to reduce the bureaucracy to allow for genuine worker’s democracy. Mao in no way would have wanted real workers’ democracy, he wanted the opposite: absolute power. He mobilized a section of the population to lash out at a section of the bureaucracy to keep it in line, which is inevitable under Proletarian Bonapartism as the bureaucracy’s expansion would mean the appearance of factions that opposes the dictators.  All of his rhetoric were just “slogans” to cover up what was really happening. If Mao was genuine about creating a true socialist society, he would have relinquished the CCP’s monopoly over all state power and handed it to the working class, rather than instigating Red Guards to crucify their parents in the streets.

We Must Remember the Lessons from History for a Successful Revolution

THE MISTAKES of Proletarian Bonapartists like Stalin and Mao not only sealed their ultimate demise, and unnecessarily imprisoned a whole generation of people in terror and poverty. We all know that today’s crisis-ridden world of capitalism needs to be overthrown by socialist revolutions, but we are also responsible for not repeating the mistakes of Stalin and Mao. A socialist society belongs to everyone.

[1] Friedrich Engels. “The Principles of Communism.” The Principles of Communism., n.d. Web. 12 July 2015. <>.

[2] Karl Marx. Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 42: Letters 1864-68. Vol. 42. P. 501. S.l.: Lawrence & Wishart with Electric Book, 1986. Web. 6 July 2015.<>.

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