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Communist China without Mao?

MAC88

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
#1
I'm reading a biography on Mao Tse-Tung, and currently going through the period just prior to the Long March (early fall 1934). In one passage, it's described how Mao contracted a severe case of malaria that only passed after a long stretch and enough skilled treatment by the CCP's best doctor, Nelson Fu, to make him healthy enough to take part in the March (Fu later became Mao's and the CCP elite's chief health specialist, yet was imprisoned and died during the Cultural Revolution).

Reading this, I'm curious how (or even whether) the Communist revolution in China might have happened if Mao had died from the malaria bout, either from Fu being delayed or otherwise unable to reach him, or the disease progressing faster. The Long March would likely still have happened, but how would it have progressed without Mao essentially forcing his way to the top of its leadership? Even more important, who would've stepped up to lead the CCP and the Chinese Red Army after his death? Would they have still led the Communists to victory in 1949, or would the Revolution have failed, merely been delayed, or isolated to a certain region or regions?
 

Nyvis

Token Marxist
Location
Paris
Pronouns
She/Her
#2
The KMT was a bit of a shambling corpse so I can't see it holding up regardless of who lead the communists. On the other hand, it's possible someone less assertive than Mao would be much more subservient to the soviets. Which isn't an enviable position considering Stalin held to the pro KMT line way past its expiration date.
 

Bonniecanuck

DIEF WILL BE THE CHIEF AGAIN
Location
Hong Kong, now and forever home
Pronouns
she/her + they/them
#3
As late as 1939, Stalin was still trying to put Moscow-schooled Bolsheviks like Wang Ming in charge of the party even after they had been largely discredited due to the Long March. It's arguable the extent to which they could have supplanted Mao, but as Hans Van De Ven noted, this was one of the precipitating factors in Mao launching the Rectification Campaigns in the 1940s.

I'm unsure of the timeline of Mao's illness relative to the Long March, but I'm assuming he dies before the Zunyi Conference in January 1935, the crucial event which saw Mao fully take power. Even so, Mao did have a large number of allies in the Party and its military who did also fall behind the pro-Moscow Bolsheviks' leadership between their takeover and Zunyi. More crucially, however, Zhou Enlai occupied the main position overseeing the CCP's military operations as deputy to Bo Gu and Otto Braun, and it took his support of Mao in preceding years and his admission of military failures at the conference which allowed him to keep his position. I think Zhou's position might be under greater scrutiny without Mao to defend him unless he more firmly swings to the opposition earlier. But this also assumes the opposition would have been similarly vocal and united in their push to be rid of the Bolsheviks, since few figures besides Mao could claim to be completely free of responsibility for the loss through their positions.

I don't think the 28 Bolsheviks' fall from power is inevitable, since some of them - most notably Wang Jiaxiang - were not above criticising their allies and vocalising their lack of confidence in their leadership. Wang in particular was one of the earliest defectors from the Bolsheviks to Mao, and he was one of the main political theorists of Maoist ideology. Some would probably be purged, but a less total reorientation of their power would probably take place, with Wang, Zhou, and other Bolshevik defectors taking positions alongside Zhu and Peng, while the more orthodox Leninists, namely Bo Gu and Otto Braun, being demoted like OTL.

Whoever becomes the main leader, it would at least probably mean Mao's tactics, which were put to use by Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao, would shape the Party's new military doctrine, so it probably stands similar odds to OTL of surviving the Long March. Once they're settled in whichever region serves as their base of power, though, the question of their ties to the USSR would be a lot murkier. Most of these figures weren't nearly as antagonistic to Stalin as Mao was, but Stalin could still choose to send Wang Ming to China, and I'm unsure whether the new Politburo would have sufficient political capital to consolidate and oppose this takeover (even in OTL Mao couldn't fully be rid of the Bolsheviks before the Rectification Campaigns, with Zhang Guotao and Wang Ming's rivalry with each other preventing them from succeeding against Mao). Assuming Peng Dehuai and Zhu De have greater positions in Party policy in addition to the military, the CCP would probably cooperate more with the KMT and fight more on the frontlines rather than letting the NRA bleed like in OTL, but it could be overruled. After that I'm not sure.
 

MAC88

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
#4
As late as 1939, Stalin was still trying to put Moscow-schooled Bolsheviks like Wang Ming in charge of the party even after they had been largely discredited due to the Long March. It's arguable the extent to which they could have supplanted Mao, but as Hans Van De Ven noted, this was one of the precipitating factors in Mao launching the Rectification Campaigns in the 1940s.

I'm unsure of the timeline of Mao's illness relative to the Long March, but I'm assuming he dies before the Zunyi Conference in January 1935, the crucial event which saw Mao fully take power. Even so, Mao did have a large number of allies in the Party and its military who did also fall behind the pro-Moscow Bolsheviks' leadership between their takeover and Zunyi. More crucially, however, Zhou Enlai occupied the main position overseeing the CCP's military operations as deputy to Bo Gu and Otto Braun, and it took his support of Mao in preceding years and his admission of military failures at the conference which allowed him to keep his position. I think Zhou's position might be under greater scrutiny without Mao to defend him unless he more firmly swings to the opposition earlier. But this also assumes the opposition would have been similarly vocal and united in their push to be rid of the Bolsheviks, since few figures besides Mao could claim to be completely free of responsibility for the loss through their positions.

I don't think the 28 Bolsheviks' fall from power is inevitable, since some of them - most notably Wang Jiaxiang - were not above criticising their allies and vocalising their lack of confidence in their leadership. Wang in particular was one of the earliest defectors from the Bolsheviks to Mao, and he was one of the main political theorists of Maoist ideology. Some would probably be purged, but a less total reorientation of their power would probably take place, with Wang, Zhou, and other Bolshevik defectors taking positions alongside Zhu and Peng, while the more orthodox Leninists, namely Bo Gu and Otto Braun, being demoted like OTL.

Whoever becomes the main leader, it would at least probably mean Mao's tactics, which were put to use by Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao, would shape the Party's new military doctrine, so it probably stands similar odds to OTL of surviving the Long March. Once they're settled in whichever region serves as their base of power, though, the question of their ties to the USSR would be a lot murkier. Most of these figures weren't nearly as antagonistic to Stalin as Mao was, but Stalin could still choose to send Wang Ming to China, and I'm unsure whether the new Politburo would have sufficient political capital to consolidate and oppose this takeover (even in OTL Mao couldn't fully be rid of the Bolsheviks before the Rectification Campaigns, with Zhang Guotao and Wang Ming's rivalry with each other preventing them from succeeding against Mao). Assuming Peng Dehuai and Zhu De have greater positions in Party policy in addition to the military, the CCP would probably cooperate more with the KMT and fight more on the frontlines rather than letting the NRA bleed like in OTL, but it could be overruled. After that I'm not sure.

Who would've been likeliest to fill Mao's shoes, first on the Long March, then through WWII? Based on this chat, and what I've read so far, there seem to be four likeliest candidates: Enlai, Biao, Dehuai, and Zhang Guotao (Chang Kuo-tao). If any of these men had taken over, or at least achieved preeminence in the CCP, what are the most plausible outcomes for this party and the Revolution?
 
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Bonniecanuck

DIEF WILL BE THE CHIEF AGAIN
Location
Hong Kong, now and forever home
Pronouns
she/her + they/them
#5
Who would've been likeliest to fill Mao's shoes, first on the Long March, then through WWII? Based on this, and what I've read so far, there seem to be four likeliest candidates: Enlai, Biao, Dehuai, and Zhang Guotao (Chang Kuo-tao). If any of these men had taken over, or at least achieved preeminence in the CCP, what are the most plausible outcomes for this party and the Revolution?
I think Zhang Guotao is by far the least likely to take charge. He was extremely stubborn and conceited to the point where he broke off from the main Long March just to prove to Mao the continued viability of his vision of Communism, only to be nearly eradicated in Gansu, then afterwards continuing to claim he could be a legitimate challenger to Mao in spite of his failure, then refusing to ally with Wang Ming by letting his pride get in the way even though they were both opposed to Mao, and after that defecting to the KMT and emigrating to Canada. Definitely not someone who had enough friends and political capital in the CCP to succeed.

I would definitely hazard Wang Ming's odds to take over the Party being significantly better than Zhang's, if still lower than Zhou's and the Red Army generals'. Between those guys, it's hard to say since Zhou was for the most part the man behind Mao and was rarely in the capacity to make decisions with him unquestionably at the top, while the generals, sans Peng in the 50s and Lin during the Cultural Revolution, were not particularly active in non-military domestic affairs. I think Zhou or maybe Wang Jiaxiang could emerge as a compromise candidate if the pro-Mao faction aren't able to solidify themselves at an alternate Zunyi or similar conference. However, while I think Zhu De or Peng Dehuai have good odds of disavowing the previous leadership and admitting their mistakes, I'm a little doubtful of them being able to make it to the top due to their own prior support for Bo and Braun. In contrast, I think Lin Biao could easily position himself as the successor of Mao's legacy similar to what Chiang did with Sun Yat-sen. Lin was highly critical of the Bolsheviks and was vindicated spectacularly when the Communists were forced to abandon Jiangxi. However, his military acumen notwithstanding, his success in the CCP was strongly tied to Mao's own rise and consolidation of power, so whether he could stake it out on his own without his mentor is a little tricky to say.