East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

May 31 Workshop


Workshop on East Asia: Politics, Economy and Society Presents:

Why Could the Communist Revolution Take China in 1942?—Examining Organization, Leadership, Social Basis, and External Pressure

Jin Xu
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 4:30 – 5:50pm
Pick Lounge, 5828 South University Ave.

Workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/
Student coordinator: Jean Lin (jeanlin@uchicago.edu)
Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang and Dingxin Zhao

The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences.

The success of the communist revolution is not that inevitable in its 28 years of history since the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In early stages before the anti-Japanese war, the revolution was on the brink of failure two times under the increasing state power of the GMD forces. However, relying on ideological loyalty and organizational elasticity, the revolutionists who survived from each blunder were forced to adjust their strategies so as to be adaptive towards the changing socio-political environment. When the overall anti-Japanese war broke out in 1937, the revolutionists finally obtained a sustainable opportunity to grow its strength on the right track. Firstly, examined by the cruel reality of the warfare, the revolutionists matured a party-based mobilization system. The unitary leadership enabled the party to achieve a high level of control on its troops, governments and a variety of other organizations. Meanwhile, such a system also magically increased the efficiency of policy implementation in local given a high amount of flexibility. Secondly, the revolutionists established their charismatic leader and a pragmatic communist dialect tailored for its fast development in war time. Thirdly, while the whole party anchored its social basis on the dominating population of the rural poor, it also became much more flexible than its opponents to get support from other social groups. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all the above improvements were amplified because the CCP faced much higher and more frequent survival
pressure than its major opponent, the Chinese Nationalist Party (GMD). The intense pressure forced the CCP continuously adjust its strategy to be more pragmatic and adaptive to the changing environment. Therefore, even though the CCP regime was still far less powerful than the GMD regime in terms of overall population and military strength, it had already become a better war fighting machine than its opponent machine by the end of 1945.

Though the GMD also went through several reforms which increased the despotic power of the regime, it never solved three key internal structural constraints. Firstly, the long history left the GMD a ‘legacy’ of ideological promiscuity. Unlike the CCP’s Yan’an Rectification, the GMD hardly made any successful attempt to establish a dominant ideological dialect. Secondly, the long revolutionary past generated a tradition of factional politics within GMD. Comparing with the CCP revolutionists, it was much more difficult for any GMD leader to completely suppress the internal challenges and integrate the whole party around him as the unchallenged charismatic leader. Thirdly, even though the Anti-Japanese war enlarged
the social basis for GMD, the party still mainly relied on rich peasants and city upper middle class as core supporters. Therefore, even some mild reform was easily impeded by old and conservative thoughts. Moreover, the party was very constrained to effectively mobilize the dominating poor population in war fighting. Last but not the least, the GMD faced much less critical pressure than the CCP in its history. The lack of external pressure increased the level of ideological promiscuity within the party, raised the bar to establish a charismatic leader by completely wiping out factionalism, and retarded any policy to extend the social basis of its rule. Even though the GMD made some changes in the beginning of the anti-Japanese war, the decreasing survival pressure gradually lowered the motivation of GMD’s reform. When the war
approached to its end, except for its increasing state despotism, the GMD hardly broke any of the three structural constraints above.

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