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Maoism (毛澤東思想; pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng, lit. "Mao Ze Dong's thoughts") is a particular brand of Communism developed (though not named) by Mao Zedong, leader of China for much of the country's post-revolution era.
Maoism was firmly based in Marxist theory, and influenced by other communist movements, such as in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. However, its practical implications, which were shaped by the specific economic and social make-up and needs of China in the mid-twentieth century, are much less universalist than Marxist orthodoxy. Marxist theory had envisioned socialist revolutions occurring in highly industrialized societies with a powerful industrial working class, or proletariat. In the actual event, revolutions occurred in less-developed societies where both the proletariat and the state apparatus were weak. The Marxist movement originally conceived of a two stage revolutionary process in agrarian societies. The first phase would be a bourgeois-democratic phase that would overthrow the remaining feudal structures and lay the foundation for the growth of the proletariat until it could seize state power. The Bolsheviks in Russia essentially rolled the two stages into one, forming a revolutionary coalition based on the urban proletariat and the peasant class. The Chinese proletariat was even smaller than in Russia and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) found itself isolated from the proletarian base in China's coastal urban areas. Accordingly, Mao developed the doctrine that a small vanguard party can lead a socialist revolution with armed insurgency based on the peasant class.
Founded in 1921, the CCP initially adopted the two-stage strategy, acting within the Nationalist Kuomintang movement to end feudal land ownership. Chiang Kai-shek, who became the leader of the Kuomintang in 1925, was not interested in land reform; he was mainly interested in eliminating rival warlords and the Kuomintang became increasingly divided over pursuit of land reform and support of peasant rebellions. After a successful expedition of the Kuomintang to eliminate opposing warlords in the north, Chiang expelled the CCP from the Kuomintang and killed many of their cadres in Shanghai and other cities that constituted their base. The CCP, which had up to this point been a mostly urban-centered organization, had to retreat to the countryside in order to escape destruction at the hands of the Kuomintang forces. The CCP responded by supporting peasant uprisings directed at overthrowing Chiang, opening the first phase (1927-1937) of the Chinese Civil War. The rebellions were not successful but left Mao leading the dominant faction of the CCP, which adopted an underground guerrilla strategy. (Mao has been accused of giving up CCP rivals to the Kuomintang, leading to the defeat of the peasant rebellions.) Following the Long March of 1934/35, the CCP and its army had made camp in the remote area of Yan'an in Shaanxi province, which would serve as its redoubt during the second Sino-Japanese war. CCP officials lived in close contact with the local peasants and had to rely on them as their only available source of support, which prompted Mao to devise a new branch of Marxist theory that emphasized this class as the driving force of Communist revolution in China. The CCP proved remarkably adept at mobilizing the rural populace and managed to assemble a large force of soldiers trained in guerrilla tactics, an asset that would turn out to be critical during the second and final stage of the Civil War (1946-49).
The Maoist doctrine of peasant-supported armed insurgency accounted for survival of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during the First Civil War, but not the final overthrow of the Kuomintang. During the First Civil War the Kuomintang was weakened by the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and the expansion of that occupation in 1937, as Mao's PLA was becoming stronger in its western redoubt. The climactic phase of the war with Japan, corruption within the Kuomintang, and dysfunction in the relationship between the Kuomintang and their western supporters, resulted in a state of military and economic crisis by the end of the war. The Kuomintang forces were weakened by combat losses and economically-forced demobilization amounting to about two thirds of their strength, leaving them unable to have much effect expelling the Japanese forces. After the defeat of the Japanese army by the Soviet Red Army in Manchuria, the PLA gained free passage into the formerly Japanese-held areas and a trove of equipment and supplies euphemistically abandoned by the Red Army as it withdrew. As a result, the balance of forces was dramatically shifted in favor of the PLA. The advantages gained from hand-me-down Soviet equipment proved decisive in the final battles of the Civil War, in which armor and artillery played a large role. The Kuomintang's anti-Communist alliances with warlords were disastrous, often leading to defections to the Communist side. The PLA's taxation program with which they financed themselves in newly-gained territory was simple: confiscate the holdings of the wealthy.
Apart from its reliance on the peasantry, the most important part of "Mao Zedong Thought" (as it is officially known) is the idea that even after the creation of the socialist state, there will always be "capitalist restorationist elements" that must be dealt with. This is expressed in the idea of "contradictions," in which every stage of development has internal contradictions that must be overcome for the next stage to come around. Hence, Maoism emphasized the need for constant revolution and regular purges. This thought can be seen as the intellectual precursor of the Great Cultural Revolution (文化大革命; Wénhuà Dàgémìng) of the late 1960s, which attempted to abolish the "feudalist" structures inherent in traditional Chinese culture and quickly turned into a chaotic free-for-all that brought the country to the brink of another civil war.
Internationally, power politics combined with doctrinal differences would prompt the break-up of the alliance between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, which had supported the Communists during the Civil War and formed an alliance with the new regime. The Soviet Union's stance was based on realpolitik, developing arrangements between Communists and non-Communist "progressives." After initially espousing a similar position in his speech, On the People's Democratic Dictatorship in 1949, Mao eschewed all such economic and political engagement between Communists and non-Communists, ultimately denouncing the USSR as just another imperialist power and seeking to promote his own brand of Communist revolution throughout the Third World. Moscow-line and Maoist Communist movements opposed each other bitterly, leading to violent confrontation.
The Sino-Soviet split left China badly isolated, hostile towards both superpowers, and without an industrialized patron to aid its development. In the late 1950s, Mao pursued a massive program of agricultural collectivization and industrial development called the "Great Leap Forward" (大躍進; pinyin: Dà yuè jìn). This project failed to deliver the promised industrialization of China and would ultimately trigger an unprecedented famine that claimed about 45 million victims. Mao's own attitude towards the catastrophe facing China's population was indifference; if the Communist Party cadres had been required to make sacrifices for the revolution during the civil war, so could the peasants make sacrifices for industrialization. Faced with continued isolation and the disastrous results of the Great Leap Forward, Mao quietly retreated from his most rigid purism and adopted the realpolitik practices he had denounced the Soviet Union over, while turning up the rhetorical heat that became his trademark during the Cultural Revolution. China forged relationships with capitalist states aimed at curbing the influence of the Soviet Union. The first such move was with Pakistan against the Soviet-Indian alliance. The second was rapproachment with the United States. China's international realpolitik reached its most cynical depths in the aftermath of the American wars in Indochina, when China used the Pol Pot regime of Cambodia as a proxy force against Soviet-aligned Vietnam, then launched an abortive invasion of Vietnam on behalf of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.
The Cultural Revolution saw Maoism morph from a body of thought that sought to justify itself in terms of dialectical materialism to cultlike "Mao Zedong Thought" that championed "purity of thought," i.e. suspension of individual critical faculties, and "revolutionary spirit," aka fanaticism. The emphasis on "revolutionary spirit" ironically echoed the quasi-mystical Nazi emphasis on "will," but it had a simple-minded appeal for "Marxists" who were more about the radical chic of following the Great Leader than actually understanding what they were doing. Simple-minded sloganeering and cult of personality in place of tempered analysis would become the hallmark of Maoist groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party (US). The chaos within the Chinese power structure during the Cultural Revolution caused doctrinal crises within Maoist movements across the world, especially with the retreat signified by rehabilitation of purged figures whose abilities were needed to keep the Chinese government functioning
However, Maoism did gain supporters among both anti-imperialists in the less-developed nations and radical elements of the New Left. The heyday of Maoism in the West was during the late 1960s, when radical chic led American student radicals to adopt the Maoism promoted by the Black Panther Party and Maoist factions vied for control of Students for a Democratic Society. The Beatles song Revolution was a polemic directed towards Maoist radical chic in Britain. After the Maoism fad that engulfed SDS the ranks of American Maoists were soon winnowed to the true crazies, with myriad Maoist splinter groups spitting sectarian venom at each other and anyone else they saw as a threat to their One True Way. American Maoists developed the doctrine that the lumpenproletariat could become the most revolutionary sector of society and mounted efforts to recruit from prisons. Some splinter groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party (US) came to resemble cults with newspapers. Others such as the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army were violent underground groups. The aftermath of the 1968 upheavals in Europe saw interest in Maoism rise at the expense of the Moscow-line Communist Party, which in the eyes of many leftists was responsible for squandering an opportunity in France. In western Europe and Japan, violent Maoists made the American ones look like amateurs. The German Baader-Meinhof Group and the Japanese Red Army maintained high profile public terror campaigns including bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and (in the case of the JRA) hijackings and one mass shooting.
The doctrine of Third World armed peasant uprising morphed in practice to violent subjugation of peasants by Maoist vanguard movements. The most successful Maoist insurgency since 1949 was mounted by the Khmer Rouge, who capitalized on the collapse of the Cambodian state in the aftermath of the US intervention to seize power in 1975, then ruled with the support of China and the US as a political counterforce to Soviet-aligned Vietnam. The Pol Pot regime ended when, after launching attacks against Vietnam, it was defeated by Vietnam in 1978. The years under Pol Pot were a time of bloody terror, mass enslavement, and deliberate mass starvation under possibly the most brutal regime the world has seen in modern times. The brutality of the Pol Pot regime and of the Great Leap Forward in China are high on the list of things Maoists don't want to talk about. Other Third World Maoist sects have attempted to mount armed insurgencies, none of which have brought an armed peasant revolution to fruition. Some, such as FARC in Colombia transitioned to legal status under negotiated settlements. Most, such as the Shining Path guerrilla movement in Peru were completely defeated. See the Wikipedia article on Internal conflict in Peru.
After Mao's death in 1976 the Chinese government, while maintaining a Leninist party-state apparatus centered on the Chinese Communist Party and keeping Mao as a national icon, has quietly buried Maoism as far as it possibly can, putting the Chinese economy on a capitalist footing. The CCP asserted its position as the sole channel for political organization in suppressing the Tienanmen Square uprising of 1989, while quietly dismantling some social and educational structures and policies held over from the Cultural Revolution that had been sources of grievance. The post-Mao political changes in China can be summarized as 1) greater legal constraints on individual power within the ruling bureaucracy, replacing the "strongman" rule of the Mao era with legally-modulated, more technocratic authority, and 2) retreat regarding the scope of the personal sphere in which bureaucratic authority asserts itself, increasing personal freedom in non-political realms. However, Maoist ideology continues to have some adherents outside of China. During 2008 and 2009, the ruling party in Nepal was Maoist, and there are Maoist rebels in the Philippines, India, and Turkey. Other than for a brief period surrounding the rebellion that toppled the Nepalese monarchy, however, Maoist sects have consistently failed to gain popular support. As late as 2008 a small outfit called the "Maoist Internationalist Movement" put out a really obnoxious newspaper that it would leave around universities. The Revolutionary Communist Party (US) raised its head during protests over the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA. with their white cadres attempting to foment full-blown race riots that they saw as furthering their cause.
Naxalism is the most influential modern militant Maoist movement, one that started in 1967 and continues, though now largely abated, to this day. Naxalism derives its name from Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal, India, where a group of landless and impoverished peasants rebelled against the landlords exploiting them. When the police came to arrest the leaders of the movement, the peasant radicals ambushed them. The movement gained ground, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) supported it. However, when the CPI (M) actually came to power, they softened their stance and refused to confiscate the landowners' property.
Disillusioned, a radical faction of the CPI (M) formed in 1969 a new and dedicatedly militant group, the CPI (ML) (Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)) that was inspired not by the Leftist intellectuals of contemporary India, but by the struggle of Mao Zedong. The movement has since then turned into an all-out war against the Indian state, and has spread out into Nepal as well.
It's an attempt to establish socialism in a single country that skips even more of the most basic precepts of Marxism than Lenin had done previously.
Under Mao, not only was the revolution to be made to take place in an unindustrialised nation (as it had during the Russian revolution), but further, the centrality of the industrial worker was now to be replaced by the centrality of the agriculutral peasant.