Mao Zedong on War and Revolution

A revolution is commonly understood to be an event which seeks to overthrow one political order in society and replace it with another. In China, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) wanted to overthrow the rule of the Guomindang (or KMT) and establish a new communist political order under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

As demonstrated by the following quotations, Mao believed that violence and support from the masses were necessary for the achievement of a peaceful communist order. One of the most critical challenges faced by Mao in this regard was establishing strong military support for the revolution while simultaneously preventing the armed forces from becoming too powerful. Mao's concerns are reflected in the last two quotations; while arguing that political power cannot be achieved without resorting to the use of force, ("Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" — the gun being a metaphor for the military), Mao also believed that the party must always remain in ultimate political control of the nation in order for peace and prosperity to be achieved ("...the gun must never be allowed to command the Party").

Quotations from Mao Zedong on War and Revolution

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.
— From Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan

The revolutionary war is a war of the masses; it can be waged only by mobilizing the masses and relying on them.
— From Be Concerned with the Well-Being of the Masses, Pay Attention to Methods of Work

War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage, between classes, nations, states, or political groups, and it has existed ever since the emergence of private property and of classes.
— From Problems of Strategy in China's Revolutionary War

Every Communist must grasp the truth, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
— From Problems of War and Strategy

Our Principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.
— From Problems of War and Strategy

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Discussion Questions

  1. In "Serve the People," Mao argues that the masses are the leaders of the revolution while the actions of revolutionaries are guided by love for the people. In his quotation on political power, however, he says that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Is this a contradiction? Why or why not?
  2. Do you feel that all revolutions must be violent? Why or why not?
  3. In "In Memory of Norman Bethune," Mao speaks of "utter devotion to others without any thought of self." Do you know of anyone like that? Do you agree with Mao that a person's ability is only as great as his moral integrity?
  4. Compare the Chinese revolution with other modern revolutions and Mao's ideas with those of other revolutionaries.

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