Sunday, November 20, 2016

80th anniversary of the Chinese Red Army's Long March

Max O.

October this year marked 80 years since the successful completion of the Chinese Red Army's Long March, an event of huge significance  for the Communist movement and world history.

The Long March was a strategic manoeuvre to break out of the Kuomintang's army (lead by Chiang Kai-Shek) encirclement of the Red Army's bases in Jiangxi province and retreat to a safer position so as to begin operations against Japan's invasion of China. In breaking out of the Kuomintang siege, soldiers of the Red Army had to trek through 11 provinces, cross 24 wild rivers, scale 18 massive snow mountains, pass through hazardous bogs, fight 600 pitiless battles, face dangers from local warlords, deal with constant food shortages and diseases. Starting out from the town of Ruijin in October 1934, the Red Army began the Long March. It advanced north-westward along many diverse routes, in a journey of over 12,500 km. 

Many famous events took place during the Long March which mythologised the Red Army's retreat. Incidents such as:  the crossing of the Chishui River four times to escape the enemy; Zunyi conference where Mao was brought back into the leadership; the heroic fight for the Luding Bridge demonstrated the selfless bravery of the Red Army soldiers who won control of it; the desperate march through the treacherous marshy grasslands of north-eastern Sichuan that took a heavy toll on soldiers; the daring combat at Lazikou Pass (a passage between two cliffs heavily defended by Kuomintang forces) that was captured by a well-planned surprise attack.

The first contingents of soldiers from the First Front Army arrived to the safety of the town Wuqi, where they were united with the Northern Shaanxi Red Army forces in October 1935. All Red Army forces finally combined in Huining, Gansu Province in October 1936, completing the heroic journey that is known as the Long March.

The Red Army soldiers suffered terribly and of the 100,000 who initially started out, only 10 % survived. However it was not a defeat, they survived through a strategic retreat to eventually achieve great successes.

Soon after, December 1936, Yan'an, Shaanxi Province became the base area for the Red Army's Second United Front; and it was from here that the Communist Party of China consolidated its forces, expanded the war against Japan's invasion and eventually defeated both the Japanese Imperial Army and the Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang forces.

Two political lines of conducting revolutionary struggle emerge

The Long March brought about a fundamental shift in the thinking and political line of the China's Communist Party and Red Army. Prior to the Long March two political lines emerged about how to conduct the revolutionary struggle in China. 

Some argued that a solely proletarian revolutionary strategy of city insurrections, as happened in Russia, should be the way to conduct the struggle. Mao argued that this overlooked the peasantry, who were the largest exploited class in China, and that the revolution ought to start in the countryside with the goal of encircling and seizing the cities to eventually win nationwide power.

Workers' insurrections in Chinese cities were defeated by the Kuomintang counter-revolution, who were just too strong in the urban centres. Consequently, Mao called for a worker-peasant alliance, that concentrated on building base areas in the countryside where the new forms of local people’s power could be established to carry out land reform for the impoverished peasantry. He had written this ground breaking approach in the now famous Marxist classic, "Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society" (March 1926).

Similarly, Mao, after analysing military defeats, disputed the approach of building blockhouses and conducting all-out military battles to oppose the Kuomintang's strategy of encirclement through the construction of blockhouses. Chiang Kai-Shek's forces were far larger and stronger than the Red Army's and could easily crush them in conventional battle formation. However, by carrying out mobile guerrilla warfare in China's countryside, Red Army forces could weaken and defeat the much larger enemy in smaller battles. Mao's strategy of a protracted people's war outside the cities and in the rural areas enabled the Red Army to eventually turn around the unfavourable balance of strength.

His famous dictum of conducting guerrilla warfare became legendary:  “When the enemy advances, we retreat; when the enemy halts, we harass; when the enemy tires, we attack; when the enemy retreats, we pursue.” By pursuing the strategy of protracted warfare in the countryside the revolutionary forces were not only able to survive the onslaughts of the far bigger Kuomintang forces, they also gradually built a politically conscious, disciplined army which won the trust and support of the peasants, who then joined the Red Army in droves. 

It was vitally important to Mao that the peasants be won over to support the Red Army whose whole purpose was to liberate workers and peasants from exploitation. To build trust between the Red Army soldiers and the peasants Mao and Zhu De formulated rules of conduct:

Three Rules of Discipline:
•    Obey orders in all your actions.
•    Do not take even a needle or a piece of thread from the people.
•    Turn in everything you capture.

Eight Points of Attention
•    Speak politely
•    Pay fairly for what you buy.
•    Return everything you borrow.
•    Pay for any damage.
•    Do not strike or swear at people.
•    Do not damage crops.
•    Do not take liberties with women.
•    Do not mistreat captives. 

In China people fled from armies due to fear of being looted and raped by soldiers in the armies of the warlords and imperialists. To overcome this experience Mao demanded that Red Army soldiers were never to enter a house uninvited or take anything from peasants. The courteous behaviour of Red Army soldiers was very unusual and a welcomed experience for people. The revolutionary forces carried out the practice of taking money and cloth from landlords, then distributing it amongst the peasants.

Through these actions village residents were curious enough to attend town meetings called by the Communist Party where they explained that the goal of the Red Army was to fight for their interests and liberation.

Whilst the Long March was a retreat from a more powerful enemy it gave the Communist Party and the Red Army the opportunity to present themselves and spread their message to the peasants of China. Through their commendable behaviour and the practice of assisting peasants wherever they could, the revolutionary forces won the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.

What can be learnt from the significance of the Long March

In the following extract from his speech “On tactics against imperialism”, delivered December 27, 1935, Mao succinctly summed up the importance of the Long March: "Speaking of the Long March, one may ask, “What is its significance?” We answer that the Long March is the first of its kind in the annals of history, that it is a manifesto, a propaganda force, a seeding-machine...

"For twelve months we were under daily reconnaissance and bombing from the skies by scores of planes, while on land we were encircled and pursued, obstructed and intercepted by a huge force of several hundred thousand men, and we encountered untold difficulties and dangers on the way; yet by using our two legs we swept across a distance of more than twenty thousand li through the length and breadth of eleven provinces. Let us ask, has history ever known a long march to equal ours? No, never. The Long March is a manifesto. It has proclaimed to the world that the Red Army is an army of heroes, while the imperialists and their running dogs, Chiang Kai-shek and his like, are impotent. It has proclaimed their utter failure to encircle, pursue, obstruct and intercept us.

"The Long March is also a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people in eleven provinces that the road of the Red Army is their only road to liberation. Without the Long March, how could the broad masses have learned so quickly about the existence of the great truth which the Red Army embodies? The Long March is also a seeding-machine. In the eleven provinces it has sown many seeds which will sprout, leaf, blossom, and bear fruit, and will yield a harvest in the future. In a word, the Long March has ended with victory for us and defeat for the enemy. Who brought the Long March to victory? The Communist Party. Without the Communist Party, a long march of this kind would have been inconceivable. The Chinese Communist Party, its leadership, its cadres and its members fear no difficulties or hardships."

After the Long March, Mao and the Communist Party started planning the next stage of the revolutionary struggle in China. In his 1939 paper, "On New Democracy" Mao outlined that China had been dominated by a number of imperialist powers for a century. Its economy became distorted and dependent as a result of imperialist exploitation. Alongside this was the feudal economic relations, where rich landlords who owned most of the land and subjugated the peasantry, also incorporated into the capitalist economic relations.

Japan had invaded China in 1932 and was rapidly expanding its territorial gains. The Communist Party identified Japanese imperialism as the main enemy of the Chinese people. Even though Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang was a reactionary and fascist force, there was the need to call for a united front with them to oppose Japanese aggression.

Despite the fact that the Kuomintang half-heartedly opposed Japanese aggression, they were neutralised through the united front from attacking the Red Army who could then go about mounting the majority of the military actions against the Japanese. This won the admiration and universal support of the Chinese people.

The lesson here for revolutionaries is that when you are weak, you can only oppose one enemy at a time. A united front is a strategy where communists unite with other parties who have different interests, in fact they can be diametrically opposing interests, but have a common purpose of resisting a greater enemy.

Whilst communists cooperate with other parties within the united front, they maintain their independence and are not submerged by it. They carry out their revolutionary tasks in stages.
The Communist Party in China decided on a two stage revolution. The first stage being the liberation of the nation from imperialism and establishment of a new democratic state, followed by a second stage of launching the socialist revolution.

What can be learnt from the Long March and China's two stage revolution is that Marxist analysis needs to be applied through thorough investigation of the material conditions of each country. Past revolutions cannot be rigidly copied into another revolutionary situation, they are only lessons of how past struggles were conducted.

Revolutionary organisations in Australia are weak, as is usually they case with most revolutions in the beginning. They cannot afford to oppose all their opponents at once. The main enemy needs to be identified.

Revolutionaries need to carry out a systematic and comprehensive investigation of the material contradictions in capitalist Australia. The major contradiction needs to be identified and seek unity of all possible forces to initiate campaigns to oppose it.

This is the generalised lesson that we can learn from the history of the Long March and China's implementation of their two stage revolution.

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