How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
If such a debased capitalist phenomenon as a list of literary best-sellers were to be published in the press of the People's Republic of China, "The Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung" would perennially appear at the top, for it is a conservative conjecture that since 1959 some 40,000,000 copies of the Chairman's martial essays have been circulated on the Mainland. This unparalleled popularity cannot be ascribed to such literary qualities as simplicity of expression or felicity of style. Frequently Mao's essays reveal the professional pedagogue at his worst: dogmatic, conceited and repetitious. Nevertheless, his military writings are basic study material in all ranks of the Peoples' Liberation Army (P.L.A.), the "hard core" Basic Militia and the Youth League.
It must have been something of a blow to the author's amour-propre to learn that, as of 1961, many of his soldiers were not sufficiently literate to read the essays, that some who could read them did not comprehend them, and that of those who comprehended them a large proportion promptly forgot what was in them.[i] However, these unpalatable revelations did not influence the members of the Party's Military Affairs Commission, or of the General Political Department of the P.L.A., to withdraw the Chairman's inspirational works from required reading lists. In fact, the Mainland press reveals that a nation-wide campaign to promote further intensive study of the martial canon according to Mao Tse-tung continues without respite.
It must be admitted that the Niagara of exhortations which flows through the Party organs is not entirely lacking in metaphorical originality. In one lengthy exposition, the Chairman's words are said to be as refreshing as "morning dew"; in another, as "brilliant as rays of sunshine" (Mao is frequently compared to the sun). Elsewhere they are more conservatively described as "glorious beacons" (illuminating the path for those straying in ideological darkness); "arrows" (which, one infers, speed unerringly to the target, Truth); "compasses" (to guide those whose courses tend to deviate from that set by the helmsman). They remind Marshal Lin Piao, Minister of Defense and pro tem Chief of the Military Affairs Commission, of a "great Red Banner." And the Marshal is well aware, as are his nearly 3,000,000 subordinate officers and men in the P.L.A., that the characters emblazoned on the banner read: "Politics Is In Command."
In 1929, Mao Tse-tung, then Political Commissar of the Fourth Red Army, prepared some observations "on manifestations of various non-proletarian ideas in the Party organization in the Fourth Army." The document in which these appeared, one of Mao's early theoretical papers, was entitled, "On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party,"[ii] and its first major section dealt with "the purely military viewpoint."
In the first four paragraphs of this section, Mao expressed for the first time his views on the proper relationship of politics to military affairs. These concepts, which have not altered in the slightest degree since they were formulated, have been enshrined as theocratic dogma. Essentially they set forth, and in unequivocal language, what is today described as "The Glorious Military Thought of Comrade Mao Tse-tung."
ON THE PURELY MILITARY VIEWPOINT
The purely military viewpoint is very highly developed among a number of comrades in the Red Army. It manifests itself as follows:
1. These comrades regard military affairs and politics as opposed to each other and refuse to recognize that military affairs are only one means of accomplishing political tasks. Some even say, "If you are good militarily, naturally you are good politically; if you are not good militarily, you cannot be any good politically"-this is to go a step further and give military affairs a leading position over politics.
2. They think that the task of the Red Army, like that of the White Army, is merely to fight. They do not understand that the Chinese Red Army is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution. Especially at present, the Red Army should certainly not confine itself to fighting; besides fighting to destroy the enemy's military strength, it should shoulder such important tasks as doing propaganda among the masses, organizing the masses, arming them, helping them to establish revolutionary political power and setting up Party organizations. The Red Army fights not merely for the sake of fighting but in order to conduct propaganda among the masses, arm them, and help them to establish revolutionary political power. Without these objectives, fighting loses its meaning and the Red Army loses the reason for its existence.
3. Hence, organizationally, these comrades subordinate the departments of the Red Army doing political work to those doing military work, and put forward the slogan, "Let Army Headquarters handle outside matters." If allowed to develop, this idea would involve the danger of estrangement from the masses, control of the government by the army and departure from proletarian leadership-it would be to take the path of warlordism like the Kuomintang army.
4. At the same time, in propaganda work they overlook the importance of propaganda teams. On the question of mass organization, they neglect the organizing of soldiers' committees in the army and the organizing of the local workers and peasants. As a result, both propaganda and organizational work are abandoned.
Whereas we do everything possible to take politics out of soldiers, the Chinese Communist Party does everything possible to put politics into them, and no member of the P.L.A. is ever allowed to forget that "the Party commands the gun." This concept is succinctly expressed in the slogan: "Be Red and Expert." For a soldier it is essential to be "Red," desirable to be "Expert."
Lin Piao's predecessor, Marshal P'eng Teh-huai, and his colleague, Senior General and P.L.A. Chief of Staff, Huang K'o-ch'eng, were accused of a number of serious ideological mistakes. Apparently the most egregious of these was to persist in the conviction that to create a modern army it was essential first to be expert. To use an American G.I. expression, they were not "with it." They were dismissed from office.
At the time the Party launched the militia movement ("Every Man a Soldier")- an operation to which the former Minister of Defense took exception-the P.L.A. was called upon to "shoulder such important tasks" as going to the masses to conduct propaganda, organizing them, recruiting a militia and training it. The primary object of this movement was, of course, not (as the Party asserted) to prepare to defend the homeland against "imperialist aggressors," but to broaden and deepen Party control over the masses. The movement served the useful purpose, too, of averting "the danger of estrangement from the masses" with the possible result that the P.L.A. might "depart" from the Party's dictatorial "proletarian leadership."
Even before the militia movement reached a crescendo, the Party had started a campaign to send civil functionaries "down" to lower levels. Shortly after P'eng Teh-huai and those identified with his policies were summarily dismissed, the campaign was extended to the P.L.A. under the slogan Hsia Lien Tang Ping-"Go Down to the Companies and Soldier." With this, politics went to the mess halls and comrade generals vied with one another in a spontaneous stampede to the kitchens.
Only relatively recently has Lin Piao been able to persuade the Party autarchs that generals might be more gainfully employed than by "encouraging" them periodically to perform such tasks as washing vegetables, picking chickens or cleaning latrines. This form of identification with the masses did, however, suggest to professionally oriented senior officers who imagined they had "iron rice bowls" that their bowls were still friable, and could be shattered by the Party at the least indication of militaristic intransigence.
While the Hsia Lien movement thus served a minatory purpose, it was also seen as a means of solving the "contradictions" which the Party believed would inevitably develop within the armed forces as a result of professionalization. We may infer from references to incipient "commandism" and to the "arrogant" behavior of unspecified senior officers (and their wives) that the Party had some reason to worry.
Still another, and more obscure, purpose may have been to remind "Russified" members of the officer corps in the army, air force and navy of the harsh realities of life in a P.L.A. which could not, without massive assistance, reasonably hope to attain great-power standards of weaponry or technical equipment for many years.
Unity within the army, and unity of the P.L.A. and the people, are two of Chairman Mao's "compasses." And so, pursuit of this elusive quality-which was, indeed, such a remarkable characteristic of the Eighth Route Army during the anti-Japanese war-persists. The revolutionary élan of 20 years ago must not only be recaptured, but raised to ever higher levels. If "contradictions" do not in fact exist, they will inevitably be manufactured. New slogans will be devised; new rectification campaigns launched. The revolutionary ferment must not be allowed to subside, for if this should occur it is remotely possible that some members of the armed forces would have time to think for themselves. This could lead to a very serious situation indeed.
Mao Tse-tung's strategic theories and tactical doctrines, as these are related to "National Revolutionary Wars," "Peoples' Wars" or "Insurgent Wars," are well known, but the elementary philosophical foundations on which they were erected are perhaps less familiar.[iii]
Mao's first law of war is disarmingly simple: to preserve one's self and annihilate the enemy. Every action must be carefully designed to contribute directly to this end; one fights only when victory is certain.
Victory can be assured only if one has correctly solved the contradictions which exist between the objective (enemy, terrain, weather) situation, and the subjective (own) situation. A perfect solution will result in total victory.
How, then, does one select from a number of possible courses of action that which is most appropriate to existing objective conditions, and hence most economical and effective? Mao answers: By the process of knowing the enemy ("process" in this context suggests a continual refinement of knowledge). But the course of action which theoretically fits objective conditions perfectly may not be feasible, for the subjective situation may preclude its adoption. Therefore the process of knowing one's self is quite as important as that of knowing the enemy. Thus, Mao says, one "must always remember the words of Sun Wu Tzu"-Chih Pi, Chik Chi; Pai Chan, Pai Sheng- "Know the enemy, know yourself; one hundred battles, one hundred victories."
By his "conscious activity" man can manipulate both the objective and subjective situations. For example, under conditions as they exist in South Viet Nam, incumbent forces can be deprived of information while insurgent forces receive all the information they need. But it is not sufficient to deprive the enemy of information. He must also be deceived. These are preconditions which guarantee free exercise of the initiative, which in turn confers the advantage of strategic and tactical flexibility.
The side to which this flexibility has accrued is able to create dynamic patterns to which the opponent must conform. Thus his antagonist is unable to act, and can only react. He has no control over the processes which generate a victorious situation.
It has been said that Chinese strategy is characterized by "caution." Mao does not use this word; he prefers "prudence," a term without connotations of hesitancy or vacillation.
These, very briefly, are some of the salient points Mao has consistently emphasized. They suggest a pattern more subtle, more refined and more indirect than that to which we are accustomed.
The Chairman has improved on Lenin's plagiarization of Clausewitz to the effect that war is simply politics in a violent form. Mao once stated the relationship this way: Politics is war without bloodshed; war is politics with bloodshed. He would agree that the two arts are opposite sides of a coin, or, in the more arresting metaphor of Tokugawa Ieyasu, "the two wheels, or wings, of statecraft." To carry this thought one step further: the Chairman sees armed combat as only one-and not necessarily the most important-segment of war.
Mao would no doubt modify General MacArthur's view that the object of war is victory. One need only ask if victory was the object of the Chinese aggression against India in the fall of 1962. In the Northeast Frontier Area the Chinese unilaterally liquidated the gains achieved by military success. The long-term results anticipated by Peking remain to manifest themselves.
The keystone of Mao's military thinking is that in war man is decisive. Says Liu Shao-ch'i, Chairman of the People's Republic: "We have the spiritual atomic bomb." This conviction is not entirely unfounded. The historical experience of the Chinese leadership has confirmed them in the belief that man's dedication, imagination, courage and perseverance-under the infallible guidance of the Communist Party-can prevail against material and technical superiority. They saw this belief justified in Cuba, North Viet Nam and Algeria. They expect to see it justified elsewhere.
[i] As reported in the Work Bulletin edited by the Liberation Army's General Political Department, 1961.
[ii] "Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-tung." Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963, p. 51-52.
[iii] The principal essays have been collected under the tide: "Selected Military Works of Mao Tse-tung," published by The Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1963. The most important of these are: 1. Problems of Strategy in China's Revolutionary War. December 1936 2. Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War Against Japan. May 1938 3. On Protracted War. May 1938 4. Problems of War and Strategy. November 1938 Foreign language versions have been separately published in pamphlet form.