The Russian and Chinese models of revolution offer two different approaches to structuring a revolution. Russia’s model involved a highly centralized, highly hierarchical vanguard party while the Chinese model involved a disciplined, peasant-based guerilla force. Guerilla warfare is widely applicable, and because of this the Chinese model of revolution has become more influential than the Soviet model. Indeed, Mao’s tactics of guerilla warfare have become the typical mode of revolution around the world. The organization and structure of these revolutions’ forces have also had important effects upon what was created following the attainment of power. The Russian model, with its ‘democratic centralist’ formula, led to a state ruled by an elite bureaucracy and enabled the rise of authoritarianism. The Chinese model of an organized guerilla force, buoyed by popular support, led to a state operating under mass-line principles.
The Chinese model was characterized by an organized guerilla force operating with peasant support that engaged in the revolutionary struggle. The model involved hierarchy in command and demanded high discipline of its fighters, who needed to be able to withstand the stresses of guerilla warfare. However, because of China’s territorial size and because of the relatively impromptu nature of guerilla warfare, such a force couldn’t be as centralized as the Soviet model. Mao’s strategy relied closely upon peasant support, and as a result his revolution became structured around the peasantry. A populist, mass-line outlook among the guerilla fighters was the result. The Soviet model involved an elite vanguard party which would spread consciousness to the Soviet people, guide the state to socialism, and which hoped to realize society’s common interest in its policies. Under threat from the civil war and opposing capitalist powers, Lenin created the doctrine of ‘democratic centralism’ to create unity within the party when it was at its weakest. Under this doctrine, Political factions were banned, party democracy and debate stifled, and orders were to be carried out from above without question. This created a highly disciplined, highly hierarchical party, where decision-making power resided at the highest levels of office.
As a strategic model, the Chinese model is more influential than the Soviet model. This is because Mao’s tactics of guerilla warfare and the conditions he deemed necessary for revolution are more widely applicable to other revolutionaries. The Soviet revolution relied upon the industrial proletariat and a vanguard party to lead the revolution whereas the Chinese revolution relied upon the peasantry and a politicized guerilla force. In many places, such as the post-colonial third world, an industrial proletariat or intellectual elite do not exist and revolutionaries must thus rely upon the support of local peasants to wage revolution. They must also rely upon the peasants to become agents of political change as well. In this way, the Chinese model is more applicable than the Soviet model, as it directly lays out the strategy needed to engage in such a revolution. Additionally, creating a highly structured, highly organized vanguard party such as that created by the Bolsheviks is impossible for many revolutionaries who are operating with limited numbers of forces or without good networks of communication. Mao’s model, involving a more decentralized force, can thus be more easily utilized in such a situation. Guerilla warfare is also a better method of fighting for revolutionaries who are numerically or strategically disadvantaged compared to the front-on, full-scale warfare seen during the Soviet revolution. Most revolutionaries around the world are were a disadvantage in forces, and thus made use of the guerilla warfare strategies Mao developed in order to succeed militarily. It is because of these factors that the Chinese revolution has been more influential than the Soviet revolution as a strategic model.
The structure of the Chinese and Russian revolutionary models had important effects upon what political systems were produced following the obtainment of power. In China, the mass-line structure of the guerilla force led to the belief that party policy and policy implementation must come from the people and be based on popular support. Like how his military force had been intimately connected with the peasantry, Mao wanted members of his government to take part in manual labor alongside the peasantry, while also submitting themselves to regular public criticism. Furthermore, as the Chinese guerilla force had relied so heavily upon the peasantry, Mao believed that “all correct leadership comes from the masses, to the masses.” His revolutionary government would thus find out what the peasants wanted and provide it, thereby improving the plight of the peasants while breeding further support for the government. This model of governance continued the strategies which defined his guerilla war and allowed for its success.
This contrasted with the structure of the Soviet model, which produced a centralized, elitist state. The Bolshevik vanguard party, which led the revolution, saw its authority stemming from its ability to manage Soviet society. Flowing the revolution’s success, a party-state apparatus developed where members of the party oversaw the economy, production and distribution, maintenance of order, and education and cultural policies. As a result of this, the state witnessed enormous expansion during the early years of the Soviet Union, as new institutions were created to manage all aspects of society. In order to control such a bureaucracy and create unity among party ranks, discipline was imposed by ‘democratic centralism,’ where orders were carried out from the very top without criticism. This led to an emphasis being placed on putting the “right people in the right place,” as failure was seen as the fault of an individual instead of as a problem with the order. As a result, a system of appointments, which had begun during the civil war, led to the emergence of massive patronage networks. Coupled with a ban on factions within the party, imposed by Lenin as part of the party’s focus on unity, party members increasingly associated and aligned themselves with individuals. It was through the manipulation of these systems that Stalin, the party secretariat with control over appointments and party member’s personal information, was able to amass enough support and backing to rise to power. Once in power, the structure of the Soviet system, which relied upon the unquestioned carrying out of orders from above, enabled him to rule in an authoritarian manner. The structure of the Soviet model, with its all-powerful vanguard party controlling society and disciplined through the doctrine of ‘democratic centralism,’ thus led to the creation of a massive bureaucratic state ruled from the highest offices.
The structure of the two revolutionary models also had important implications for the economic transitions which followed after power was obtained. The Soviet Union’s centralized and hierarchical vanguard party produced a bureaucratized economic system. The Party, organized to guide the Soviet Union into socialism and communism, was to oversee the distribution of society’s needs. As state command of the economy grew, an enormous economic bureaucracy run by a technocratic elite grew along with it. Mirroring the Soviet model’s emphasis on control and centralization, the economy was managed hierarchically, with commands being issued from the center to the producing units. The party-centric structure of the Russian revolution and its need to guide the state into socialism thus led to the creation of a massive, highly-organized, state-run economic bureaucracy.
The Chinese implemented a peasant-based strategy of industrialization, breaking from the Soviet model of development. This involved a decentralization of authority to release the forces of peasant creativity and to provide greater popular participation in policymaking. The peasants would also use and manufacture industry themselves in village foundries and factories. Such policies were further continuations of the populist, peasant-based strategies Mao had formed his guerilla strategy around. In this way, the revolutionary experience and organization of the revolutionary forces continued to influence the way the Chinese governed their state. However, the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ under which these policies were implemented, was a major economic failure. To bring about economy recovery, the Communist government had to increase reliance on centralized economic planning and power began to be concentrated in party bureaucracies. This change in the model of governance was made to bring about economic recovery, however, and not to diminish or change Mao’s model of revolution.
The Russian and Chinese models of revolution offered two different structures and approaches to revolution. As a model, the Chinese revolution is more influential because of the more widespread applicability of guerilla warfare and its reliance on peasants instead of an industrial proletariat. The two models created two different kinds of states following their success. The Chinese guerilla strategy, structured around the peasants, created a mass-line state. The hierarchical Russian ‘vanguard party,’ operating under the doctrine of democratic centralism, produced a bureaucratic, patronage-driven state. The structures of the revolutionary forces in Russia and China thus impacted the way the Russian and Chinese states were structured and operated following the attainment of power. These governments were modeled after, and therefore operated similarly to, the forces which had fought in the revolution.