Reading Mao Zedong’s early directives to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), one is struck by the caution that he urged upon his followers, a by-product of the hugely unwieldy nature of the Chinese Revolution.
Consider these three missives.
March 12, 1950: circular to various subdivisions of the CCP regarding how to handle “rich peasants”
At your current meeting of leading provincial comrades please gather opinions on the tactics for dealing with the rich peasants and telegraph these opinions to us. The tactics in question are to leave untouched not only the capitalist rich peasants but also the semi-feudal ones in the agrarian reform scheduled for this winter in southern provinces and some regions in the Northwest and to defer the solution of the problem of the semi-feudal rich peasants for several years. Please consider whether this way is not more advantageous. The reasons for taking this course are: First, the agrarian reform is unprecedented in scale and ultra-Left deviations are likely to occur. If we touch only the landlords and not the rich peasants, we can more effectively isolate the landlords, protect the middle peasants and guard against indiscriminate beating and killing, which would be very hard to prevent otherwise. Second, the agrarian reform in the north was carried out in wartime, with the atmosphere of war prevailing over that of agrarian reform; but now, with the fighting practically over, the agrarian reform stands out in sharp relief, and the shock to society will be particularly great and the landlords’ outcries particularly shrill. If we leave the semi-feudal rich peasants untouched for the time being and deal with them a few years later, we will stand on stronger ground, that is to say, politically we will have more initiative. Third, we have formed a united front with the national bourgeoisie politically, economically and organizationally; and since the national bourgeoisie is closely tied up with the land problem, it seems better not to touch the semi-feudal rich peasants for the time being in order to set the minds of the national bourgeoisie at rest.
June 6, 1950: “don’t hit out in all directions”
Since the Second Plenary Session of the Party’s Seventh Central Committee, nation-wide victory has been won in the new-democratic revolution led by our Party, and the People’s Republic of China has been founded. This is a great victory, a great victory without parallel in the history of China, a great victory of world significance following the October Revolution. Comrade Stalin and many other foreign comrades all consider the victory of the Chinese revolution an extremely great one. And yet many of our comrades don’t realize this because they have become so inured to the struggle. We should widely publicize the tremendous significance of the victory of the Chinese revolution inside the Party and among the masses.
In the midst of this great victory we are confronted with very complex struggles and many difficulties.
We have completed agrarian reform in the northern parts of the country with a population of 160 million, and this must be affirmed as an immense achievement. We won the War of Liberation by relying mainly on these I60 million people. It was the victory of the agrarian reform that made possible our victory in overthrowing Chiang Kai-shek. In the autumn we shall start agrarian reform in vast areas with a population of some 310 million in order to topple the entire landlord class. In the agrarian reform our enemies are as numerous as they are powerful Against us are arrayed, first, the imperialists, second, the reactionaries in Taiwan and Tibet, third, the remnant Kuomintang forces, the secret agents and the bandits, fourth, the landlord class and, fifth, the reactionary forces in the missionary schools established in China by the imperialists and in religious circles and those in the cultural and educational institutions taken over from the Kuomintang. These are our enemies. We have to fight them one and all and accomplish the agrarian reform in an area much larger than before. This is a very acute struggle, unprecedented in history.
In the meantime our victory in the revolution has led to the reorganization of our social economy. While necessary, this reorganization puts heavy burdens on us for the time being. Many people are dissatisfied with us because of this reorganization and because of a certain disruption of industry and commerce wrought by the war. At present our relations with the national bourgeoisie are very strained; they are on tenderhooks and are very disgruntled. Unemployed intellectuals and workers are dissatisfied with us and so are a number of small handicraftsmen. The peasants in most rural areas are complaining too because agrarian reform has not yet been carried out there and besides they have to deliver grain to the state.
What is our general policy at present? It is to eliminate the remnant Kuomintang forces, the secret agents and the bandits, overthrow the landlord class, liberate Taiwan and Tibet and fight imperialism to the end. In order to isolate and attack our immediate enemies, we must convert those among the people who are dissatisfied with us into our supporters. Although this task is fraught with difficulties at present, we must overcome them by every possible means.
We should make proper readjustments in industry and commerce so that factories can resume operation and the problem of unemployment can be solved, and we should provide 2,000 million catties of grain for the jobless workers and gain their support. When we reduce rent and interest, suppress the bandits and local tyrants and carry out agrarian reform, the masses of the peasantry will support us. We should also help the small handicraftsmen find ways to earn a living. We should introduce suitable readjustments in industry and commerce and in taxation to improve our relations with the national bourgeoisie rather than aggravate these relations. We should run training courses of various kinds, military and political colleges and revolutionary institutes for the intellectuals and educate and remould them while availing ourselves of their services. We should have them study the history of social development, historical materialism and other subjects. We can induce even those who are idealists not to oppose us. Let them say that man was created by God, we say man evolved from the ape. Some intellectuals are advanced in age, they are over seventy, and we should provide for them so long as they support the Party and the People’s Government.
The whole Party should try earnestly and painstakingly to make a success of its united front work. We should rally the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie under the leadership of the working class and on the basis of the worker-peasant alliance. The national bourgeoisie will eventually cease to exist, but at this stage we should rally them around us and not push them away. We should struggle against them on the one hand and unite with them on the other. We should make this clear to the cadres and show by facts that it is right and necessary to unite with the national bourgeoisie, the democratic parties, democratic personages and intellectuals. Many of them were our enemies before, but now that they have broken with the enemy camp and come over to our side, we should unite with all these people, who can be more or less united with. It is in the interest of the working people to unite with them. We need to adopt these tactics now.
It is of vital importance to unite with the minority nationalities. There are about thirty million of them in the whole country. Social reforms in their areas are a matter of great importance and must be handled cautiously. On no account must we be impetuous, for impatience will lead to trouble. No reform is to be instituted unless the conditions are ripe. Neither should any major reform be introduced where only one of the conditions is ripe while the others are not. Of course, this is not to say that no reform at all is to be carried out. As stipulated by the Common Programme, customs and folk-ways in the minority nationality areas may be reformed. But the minority nationalities themselves should do the reforming. Without popular support, without the people’s armed forces and without the minority nationalities’ own cadres, no reform of a mass character should be attempted. We must help them train their own cadres and we must unite with the masses of the minority nationalities.
In short, we must not hit out in all directions. It is undesirable to hit out in all directions and cause nation-wide tension. We must definitely not make too many enemies, we must make concessions and relax the tension a little in some quarters and concentrate our attack in one direction. We must do our work well so that all the workers, peasants and small handicraftsmen will support us and the overwhelming majority of the national bourgeoisie and intellectuals will not oppose us. In this way, the remnant Kuomintang forces, the secret agents and the bandits will be isolated, as will the landlord class and the reactionaries in Taiwan and Tibet, and the imperialists will find themselves isolated before the people of our country. This is our policy, our strategy and tactics, and it is the line of the Third Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Party.
March 19, 1953: Solve the problem of the “five excesses”
1. In our work in the rural areas there are problems involving the serious alienation of our Party and government organizations from the peasant masses and violations of the interests of the peasants and peasant activists; these are known as the “five excesses”. The “five excesses” consist of an excess of assignments, an excess of meetings and training courses, an excess of documents, written reports and statistical forms, an excess of organizations, and an excess of side jobs for activists. These problems have existed for a long time; with regard to some of them the Central Committee has issued directives to Party committees at various levels, urging them to give such problems proper attention and kind solutions. But far from being solved, the problems are becoming more and more serious. This is because the issue has never been systematically raised in its totality and, what is more important, no struggle has ever been waged against decentralism and bureaucracy on the part of the leading Party and government organs at the five levels — central, greater administrative area, provincial (municipal), prefectural and county. For, generally speaking, the “five excesses” in the districts and townships are not a local product but stem from above and are the consequences of decentralism and bureaucracy existing to a serious degree in the leading Party and government organs at the county level and above. Some of the “five excesses” are a legacy of the periods of the revolutionary war and agrarian reform and have remained unchanged to this day. Therefore, in carrying out the Central Committee’s directive to combat bureaucracy, commandism and violations of the law and of discipline, we must put stress on overcoming bureaucracy and decentralism in the leading organs during red, and alter those rules and practices which have outlived their usefulness. Only thus can the problems be solved.