The Jiangxi Soviet, later called the Chinese Soviet Republic, was a self-governing region under Chinese Community Party (CCP) control during the early 1930s. Established by Mao Zedong (Wade-Giles: Mao Tse-tung) and the Red Army in 1930, the Jiangxi Soviet was significant for a number of reasons. It provided the CCP with a regional stronghold where it could consolidate and strengthen the Red Army. The Jiangxi Soviet also served as a social and economic laboratory for the trialling of peasant-based socialism. The Jiangxi period also thrust Mao Zedong into prominence as a significant CCP leader, as well as providing insight into both his military tactics and political ideology. Mao’s cunning and brutality was also exposed in Jiangxi: his control was secured and maintained through violent purges of local communists. The flourishing Jiangxi Soviet also caused concerns for Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and his right-wing nationalist government in Nanjing. Fearful that the CCP might use Jiangxi as a revolutionary base, Jiang launched several offensives against the region – however the first four of these were blocked by the renewed Red Army, employing guerrilla strategies developed by Mao and his lieutenants, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De. Guomindang forces eventually surrounded Jiangxi in 1934, forcing the Red Army and CCP cadres to break out of the province and begin their famous Long March to the safety of northern China.
The Jiangxi Soviet was formed by CCP leaders who viewed the peasantry, China’s largest and most impoverished class, as natural harbingers of revolution. The main proponent of this idea was Mao Zedong, the Hunan-born teacher, himself of peasant stock. Mao was a founding member of the CCP and a supporter of Marxist theory, however his own political views were eclectic and not rigidly Marxist. In September 1927 Mao, ignoring directives from the CCP’s central committee, initiated a peasant uprising in his home province of Hunan. The Autumn Harvest Uprising, as it was called, was a short-lived attempt to overthrow Hunan’s provincial government and create a communist soviet there. The uprising failed to attract sufficient support and Guomindang regiments forced Mao’s peasant militia into hiding in Jinggangshan, a remote mountain range between eastern Hunan and western Jiangxi. There they met other CCP armies commanded by Zhou Enlai and Zhu De, who had retreated to Jinggangshan after the failed Nanchang Uprising in northern Jiangxi. Together these communist forces comprised the nucleus of the CCP’s Red Army – though at this stage they were little more than a disorganised collection of rebellious peasants, communists, bandits and deserters from warlord armies and the Guomindang.
In 1929 Guomindang offensives forced most of the communists out of Jinggangshan. Led by Mao and Zhu De they moved into southern Jiangxi and based themselves around the city of Ruijin. With further nationalist attacks imminent, Mao’s first priority was to regroup, consolidate and strengthen the fledgling Red Army. Assisted by Zhu De, Mao devised plans for reorganising, training and preparing communist troops in Jiangxi. A voracious reader in his youth, Mao had studied the lives and victories of many great commanders, from Alexander the Great to George Washington – however it was the teachings of ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu that impressed him most. In his famous The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasised the military value of speed, deception, concealment and morale; his credo “avoid what is strong, attack what is weak” formed the basis of what we know today as guerrilla warfare. Mao embraced these tactics and worked to incorporate them into the Red Army. Large divisions were organised into smaller guerrilla-style regiments, capable of operating more autonomously. Mao also implemented a Leninist command structure and placed political commissars in army units to report on discipline, political attitudes and morale. A Red Army school was established in Jiangxi where CCP instructors, many of them veterans of the Whampoa Military Academy, drilled officers on tactics, leadership and modern warfare techniques, such as communications and code-breaking. In just a few years the Red Army hardened from a rag-tag peasant militia into a well trained and competent military force.
The Jiangxi Soviet became a political entity as well as a military base. The formation of this ‘state within a state’ provided the CCP with valuable experience in running a government. The Soviet was officially formed in November 1931 when 15 CCP-controlled settlements around Ruijin were amalgamated into a new independent state called Zhonghua Suwei-ai Gongheguo, or the Chinese Soviet Republic. The government of this newborn republic was modelled on the soviet government formed in Russia after the October 1917 revolution. An executive committee was elected to oversee policy and appointments, while a smaller commissariat oversaw day-to-day government. Mao Zedong was elected chairman of both bodies, in addition to his duties as Jiangxi’s military commander. Later, Mao would be sidelined from power after the CCP hierarchy relocated from Shanghai to Jiangxi. The Chinese Soviet Republic also adopted its own flag, the Soviet Union hammer and sickle on a red background, and drafted its own constitution, which read in part:
“The Chinese soviet regime is a state based on the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. All the power of the soviet shall belong to the workers, peasants and Red Army soldiers and the entire labouring population. Under the soviet regime the workers, peasants, Red Army soldiers and entire labouring population shall have the right to elect their own deputies to give effect to their power. Only militarists, bureaucrats, landlords, the despotic gentry, capitalists, rich peasants, monks and all exploiting and counter-revolutionary elements shall be deprived of the right to elect deputies to participate in government and to enjoy political freedom…”
In keeping with this vision, Mao and his supporters initiated ambitious economic reforms in Jiangxi. In 1930 the soviet government ordered that surplus land be confiscated from landlords and affluent peasants, then handed to villages for redistribution. The process did not punish landlords or rich peasants, who like all others were entitled to ownership of land. Mao’s view was that declaring war on landlords ‘wasted’ revolutionary energy; he preferred a more inclusive approach that encouraged co-operation and production, rather than generating internal disruption. Land policies in the Chinese Soviet Republic shifted radically in 1933, when Mao’s leadership was overtaken by the Comintern-backed ’28 Bolsheviks’. From 1933 land policies in Jiangxi began to resemble those employed in Stalinist Russia. Land redistribution was controlled by the party centre, more closely monitored and conducted more ruthlessly. Landlords and wealthy peasants were excluded or given poor quality land; hundreds were persecuted, driven into exile or murdered. The CCP central executive condemned Mao’s land policies as too moderate and bourgeois – yet under Mao’s leadership agrarian production in Jiangxi had steadily increased. At its peak in around 1932 the Jiangxi region was outdoing most other Chinese provinces in terms of food production.
Shiping Zheng, historian
But Mao’s leadership also had its dark side. Jiangxi had its own indigenous CCP framework before Mao’s arrival in 1929; the Jiangxi branch had followed the party line articulated by the CCP leadership in Shanghai. Mao’s takeover of the Ruijin area and his formation of a peasant-based soviet triggered political disagreements and tensions between the Jiangxi CCP and Mao’s followers. This came to a head during the so-called Futian incident. In December 1930 Mao ordered the arrest of around 4,000 Red Army personnel, claiming some regiments had been infiltrated by Guomindang agents. These arrests triggered the mutiny of a Red Army battalion in Qingyuan, central Jiangxi; Mao’s lieutenants Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao marched Red Army units into Futian and crushed the mutiny. Approximately 700 communist soldiers were rounded up, interrogated and executed. Mao and his supporters continued the purge into 1931, citing the ongoing threat of Guomindang spies and informers. The historians Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim this political violence was designed not to root out spies but to consolidate Mao’s power by exterminating and dispersing local Jiangxi communists. According to Chang and Halliday, Mao’s henchmen employed quite horrific methods of torture, both against political opponents and their wives and families.
Unsurprisingly, the nationalist-militarist leader Jiang Jieshi viewed the Jiangxi Soviet as a threat to his own government. Between 1930 and 1933 Jiang ordered four offensives, dubbed ‘Encirclement Campaigns’, against the communists in Jiangxi. At first these campaigns were unsuccessful: they moved Guomindang forces long distances from their bases and into the interior of China, stretching their command and supply lines. Red Army divisions, growing in both skill and confidence, were able to isolate and engage Guomindang forces using Mao’s guerrilla strategies. In the first offensive (1930-31) several nationalist divisions were surrounded by the more mobile Red Army and around 12,000 Guomindang soldiers were taken prisoner. Jiang’s second and third anti-communist campaigns, both launched in 1931, employed much larger troop numbers (around 100,000 Guomindang soldiers and 200,000 warlord soldiers) but both also failed to drive the CCP from Jiangxi. In the autumn of 1933 the Guomindang began its fifth and final Encirclement Campaign. This time Jiang was much better prepared, both in terms of resources and strategy. The nationalist armies boasted around 800,000 men, dozens of heavy artillery pieces and 200 airplanes. Guomindang generals were armed with battle strategies for countering Red Army mobility, drawn up with the assistance of German military advisors. These advantages, coupled with a shift in CCP military tactics, gave the Guomindang the means to finally drive the communists from their stronghold in Jiangxi.
1. The Jiangxi Soviet was a self-governing region formed around Ruijin by Mao Zedong and the Red Army in 1930.
2. In late 1931 it became the Chinese Soviet Republic and adopted its own constitution, government and flag.
3. In this soviet the Red Army was restructured, renewed and trained in guerrilla strategies devised by Mao Zedong.
4. Jiangxi also served as a laboratory for trailing socialist policies, particularly land reform and redistribution.
5. Between 1930 and 1934 the Jiangxi Soviet was constantly attacked by the forces of Jiang Jieshi during five different Encirclement Campaigns. These early offensives proved unsuccessful, however by late 1933 the Red Army was heavily outnumbered, outgunned and undermined by a flawed change in tactics.
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