Mao Zedong (1893-1976) was one of small group of leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, Mao, along with future Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, were among the party's founders, and both continued to lead the party until their respective deaths, both in 1976.
Mao's ideological precepts were largely in line with Marxist-Leninist dogma but emphasized more than his counterpart in the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, the agrarian nature of Chinese society and of the Chinese economy. While emphasizing the agrarian nature of the country and, by extension, the peasantry, however, Mao did not ignore the ramifications for Chinese society of the industrial revolution (although the state of industrialization in China lagged badly behind that of many other countries). Like Stalin, Mao viewed the survival of the revolution he helped lead and the security of his country as closely tied to industrialization. A lengthy but informative passage from his writings--and Mao's "Little Red Book" of theoretical writings became both a guide to revolution and the "Bible" of the Chinese Communist Party--articulated his vision of the socialist or communist system he dedicated himself to imposing upon China:
"Communism is at once a complete system of proletarian ideology and a new social system. It is different from any other ideological and social system, and is the most complete, progressive, revolutionary and rational system in human history. The ideological and social system of feudalism has a place only in the museum of history. The ideological and social system of capitalism has also become a museum piece in one part of the world (in the Soviet Union), while in other countries it resembles "a dying person who is sinking fast, like the sun setting beyond the western hills", and will soon be relegated to the museum. The communist ideological and social system alone is full of youth and vitality, sweeping the world with the momentum of an avalanche and the force of a thunderbolt." [On New Democracy, January 1940, Selected Works, Vol. II]
This passage recalls Marx's own theory of the evolution of economic systems, in which capitalism represented a necessary phase in the process of fundamentally changing the nature of society. Unfortunately for China, and for Mao, the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria and the subsequent world war involving all of the world's major actors left China physically devastated and emotionally impaired. The Chinese Civil War pitting the Communist Party against the Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, interrupted by the need to focus all military efforts against the Japanese, was resumed with a vengeance, and the communists prevailed in 1949. As head of the Communist Party, together with Zhou (the leader of the newly formed People's Republic of China), Mao was now free to implement his ideas of revolution.
Whereas Russia and the Soviet Union benefited from proximity to "the West," China was far more isolated geographically and culturally. Mao believed that the survival of the revolution, including the road to socialism, required a modernization of the economy. A China hopelessly mired in a rural, quasi-feudal system would be a China condemned to weakness and a state of vulnerability that others could exploit. China had to industrialize, while the process of rural, agrarian collectivization was implemented. As in the Soviet Union, the process of collectivization would prove fatal for tens of millions of Chinese. The process of industrialization, however, was the more essential for the eventual realization of his dream of a communist system. As he stated in a 1956 speech:
"Socialist revolution aims at liberating the productive forces. The changeover from individual to socialist, collective ownership in agriculture and handicrafts and from capitalist to socialist ownership in private industry and commerce is bound to bring about a tremendous liberation of the productive forces. Thus, the social conditions are being created for a tremendous expansion of industrial and agricultural production." [Speech before the Supreme State Conference, January 25, 1956]
The implementation of Mao's vision would take the enormously disastrous form of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), his version of Stalin's policy of forcibly collectivizing the country's vast rural regions while converting China from an agrarian society into an industrial one--the needed measures for the process of socialization. As with Stalin's policies, Mao's led directly to tens of millions of deaths (estimates range from 15 to 45 million, with most credible estimates on the higher end).
Mao's ideological inclinations were more reactive than proactive. He learned as he went and adjusted accordingly, usually with adverse ramifications for China. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 set back his goal of thrusting China into the category of great powers by destabilizing the country's urban centers. Purges of anybody deemed an enemy of the proletariat, which could be anybody unfortunate enough to attract attention, decimated China's intellectual life while adversely affecting economic growth by virtue of the Revolution's practice of banishing intellectuals and white-collar officials to the rural farmland for "reeducation." In short, Mao's revolution ended where it began: in the fields. His death enabled his successor (following the "Gang of Four" episode), Deng Xiaoping, to seriously revolutionize China, but this time through the implementation of capitalist principles that, ironically, succeeded in turning China into the world's second largest economy.