home | 1901-WW2 Index


previous | next

Communists Save Themselves with their Long March

Having settled with the Japanese, Chiang planned another campaign against the Communists in Jiangxi province, which began in May 1934. It was another encircling action. Slowly it tightened around the Communist positions. The Communists in Jiangxi had come under the leadership of a Comintern agent, Otto Braun, who had convinced the Communists that the glorious age of guerrilla warfare was over and that it was time to fight regular battles. Mao disagreed and removed himself from military planning meetings, making himself a common soldier. The Communists also tried using block-houses, but their tactics failed, Chiang's forces having airplanes as well as artillery. Communist-held territory shrank, and the turn to zealous class warfare by the Communists, in keeping with their Party line, further diminished their support.

In October, the Communists were forced to flee from Jiangxi. Those who remained were pursued and many rounded up, tortured and sent to a concentration camp. Others began what was to become known as the Long March. They numbered around 87,000, including 50 women, the families of Red Army men and entire peasant households. With them they hauled small printing presses, duplicating machines, sewing machines and other home-industry tools. They stopped in towns and made their own clothing and shoes.

For almost a year the marchers zigzagged across mountains, deserts, rivers and swamplands, from the south of China, westward and then north, chased by Chiang's forces and by warlord armies. Some froze to death. Some starved. Mao's third wife, He Zizhen, was wounded by a dive-bomber attack, including shrapnel lodged in her skull that was too dangerous to remove, and she had to ride in a cart or be strapped to a mule.

After trekking 6,000 miles the marchers had dwindled to about 7,000, less than one-tenth their original size. They arrived at an arid and agriculturally unproductive location in the far north, at Yenan, about 300 miles west of Beijing, a more impoverished area than Jiangxi, more sparsely populated and closer to the Russians and Japanese. There a few Communists had already established themselves, and more were trickling in, running from Chiang's forces. In November 1935 from central China a Red Army titled the Second Front Army was on its way to Yenan and was to arrive with other Red Army units the following year.

At Yenan, Mao had time to relax and think. He stayed in his room for days, meditating. He dreamed of remaking the whole of China and setting the world on the course of new organization. He worked through his Marxist ideology – what he believed to be scientific socialism – and he emerged convinced of the validity of class struggle and Lenin's hypothesis that imperialism was the end part of dying capitalism. The transition from capitalism to socialism was, he believed, inevitable – aside from the struggle and violence needed to bring it about. His knowledge of the world outside of China came mostly from Communist publications, from which he had learned that moderate socialists – the Social Democrats – were opportunists, that in seeking gains for themselves they had forsaken the building of real socialism and that they would always betray real revolutionaries. And he believed that Western democracies were imperialist and in essence bourgeois dictatorships.


Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.