For most people, the greatest conflict of the second half of the twentieth century was one that emerged within and then divided peoples of the Western tradition: that is, the rival philosophies of democratic capitalism and communism. Yet one of the most successful practitioners and developers of communist thinking was not western but Asian, the extraordinary Chinese leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976).
Mao’s attempts to establish a pure, yet technologically advanced communist society in China were both transforming and devastating for the Chinese people. Policies such as the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s resulted in the deaths of millions. As a communist, Mao identified the inequities and exploitations of capitalism as the greatest cause of violence in the world; that did not make him any more friendly with the Soviet Union, however, as the two nations jostled for leadership of the communist movement. Mao’s death in 1976 contributed to the country’s abandonment of strict communist economic policies and the beginning of its integration into the international community.
The passage that follows was written shortly after the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. In his essay, Mao showed his discernment in recognizing that World War II had already begun, though Europeans would not realize it until 1939. Aside from the Japanese conquests, Italy had invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia), and Italian and German forces had intervened in the Spanish Civil War (as, indeed, did forces of the Soviet Union). Mao predicted correctly that a war among the Western powers would begin shortly, and that it would be followed by “revolutionary” wars of liberation against the Western colonial powers. When these were successful, he argued, and socialist governments established around the world, an era of “perpetual peace” would be inaugurated for mankind.
Mao Tse-tung [Zedong], “On Protracted War,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. II (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), 148–50.