Here is a link to one of Mao’s more difficult essays, “Critique of Stalin’s ‘Economic Problems in the U.S.S.R’.” It’s a tough read, but if you strip away all the flotsam, what stands out is clear. Mao thought that Stalin underestimated the power of the peasantry and its essential role in mass movement politics.
Here are some Mao quotes from the essay:
“Stalin’s point of view in his last letter is almost altogether wrong. The basic error is mistrust of the peasants.”
“Mistrust of the peasants is the basic viewpoint of the third letter.”
“Human knowledge and the capability to transform nature have no limit. Stalin did not consider these matters developmentally. What cannot now be done, may be done in the future.”
Basically Mao saw the Chinese peasantry as as central to his revolution as Lenin and Stalin saw the industrial working class. But Mao knew that peasants were a politically fickle bunch. He feared that he would lose their support if he quickly transitioned from commodity food production (selling farm products on a family or communal basis) to a totally state run system. “If we make mistakes we will lead the peasantry to the enemy side,” Mao warned.
So the tricky question of moving agriculture from “communal” to “public” (state) ownership became central to his thinking. This was, for Mao, both an economic question and a problem of movement leadership. “Communism cannot be reached unless there is a communist movement,” Mao emphasized. But: “what makes government decrees correct is not only that they emerge from the will of the working class but also the fact that they faithfully reflect the imperatives of objective economic laws.”
The bottom line: Mao saw the U.S.S.R. as mired in doctrinaire Marxist ideas about the possibilities for social and economic development in a rural communist country. The peasants could accomplish anything with proper leadership. Mao’s revolution and his ideas now competed with the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of radicals everywhere.