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Was Mao Zedong Correct to Argue “Political Power Grows out of the Barrel of a Gun”? Essay


“Ideology is the most elusive concept in the whole of social science”, this quote captures the difficulty in defining an ideology (McLellan 1995). We can identify ideologies based on the words used to describe them. People subscribed to the capitalism ideology will use words that express freedom of commerce and market price determination among other aspects of the ideology (Sargent 2009).

According to Glebov, Mao Zedong referred to the forceful nature in which leaders have to impose their ideologies on populations when he said, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” (1979). Mao Zedong was the leader of the Chinese Communist Party that assumed power after an arms struggle. According to Mao, the only way to gain power is to prove you are stronger and defeat the opponent in war (Glebov 1979).

Mao Zedong, the Little Red Book and Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong was born in 1893 to peasant parents in China and served in the revolutionary army of china in 1911 (Spartacus Educational n.d.). Mao was a poet and political leader besides being the founder of the People’s republic of China based on his ideologies of flexible pragmatism and visions viewed as utopian.

Mao wrote extensively speeches, essays and poems and published 40 poems (Liukkonen 2008). His sayings and attributions are captured in an anthology called the ‘Little Red Book’ that became the main text of the Cultural Revolution. The Little Red Book is also referred to as the ‘Chinese Bible’ or ‘Mao Bible’ (Sachsenmaier n.d.).

Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in 1996 while serving his last decade as the Chinese People’s Party leader. He wanted to shift the Chinese ideology development to take a more communist approach. His main aim was to make all social systems in China less elitist, an end he pursued through mobilization and staging of revolutions using urban youths (Fortunecity.com n.d.). He also set up a coalition of loyal leaders to work besides him.

The cultural revolution demonstrated the forceful nature needed to change ideological systems in place; however, the cultural revolution brought bureaucratic timidity in the government, as policy makers knew a system change outplaces all previously done work and personnel. During the revolution, in fighting within the Chinese People’s party led by Mao factions and his successor Lin’s factions caused the return of normalcy in the Chinese society to delay further (Fortunecity.com n.d.).

The attempt by Lin to hijack the leadership of the ideological transformation of the Chinese society from Mao was thwarted after Lin died in 1971 he aborted his plot to assassinate Mao. Shortly after Lin’s death, his loyal military command was destroyed. The death of Lin as the front crusader of the Mao ideology left the Chinese people feeling used in the political power game.

Mao was interested in preserving his ideology through a suitably groomed successor to fill the gap left by Lin. During the period after Lin’s death and before Mao’s death, political backing shifted back and forth from Jiang Qing and the Zhou-Deng group.

The two factions had separate ideologies of xenophobia and a pragmatic foreign policy respectively (Fortunecity.com n.d.). During the 2-year period before Mao’s death in 1976, the radicals favoring Jiang Qing staged chaotic campaigns to criticize the ideologies and policies of Zhou and managed to convince Mao that such policies would eventually topple him out of power.

In order to safeguard his political power and ideology embodied in the Cultural Revolution, Mao sanctioned a formal propaganda using posters to discredit the Zhou-Deng group and later succeeded in purging the group in April 1976. The Mao ideologies were defeated after his death in September 1976 when a combination of military leaders, police and political leaders purged Mao’s leading followers (Fortunecity.com n.d.).

How political ideologies work

Political parties form political ideologies; however, they become autonomous after formulation. Once formed, other political groups are free to adopt the political ideologies. While political ideology reflects specific elements in a political party, it also forms a notable variable that adds to the growth and operations of a political system.

Political ideologies allow power to be legit and make it an authority. This happens when a community adopts them. What constitute ideologies are myths and symbols. Therefore, ideologies are modifiable (Cohen 1969).

Today, forceful assumption of power by political group is not common as it was in the 1960s. Most developed and developing countries of the world have adopted a democratic system of government that bases its politics on either democratic capitalism or democratic socialism. The rise of democratic government systems has meant that political groupings have to participate in an election process and win in order to assume power of ruling a country.

This fact might imply to the reader that there is no longer a need for a forceful takeover of political power as was in the case during Mao Zedong’s political party takeover as the new government of China. Although literally the fact is true, there are hidden aspects of forceful realization of political power. It would be an understatement to say that current use of the gun to get political power is not as fierce as it was when Mao Zedong wrote the little red book (Gearon 2006).

It is a mistake to equate democratic elections with a change of ideology. Democratic elections allow participation by parties that subscribe to the democratic ideology; therefore, the elections only serve as rotational changes on the people in power. Different political parties hold different elements of the same democratic ideology. Therefore conflicts or oppositions arise that result to varied opinions and support during elections (Cohen 1969).

The formation of a political system that governs everything in a nation is what Mao Zedong referred to as power. A political system does not change after an election as noted in the previous paragraph. In addition, there are no defined ways of changing a political system. Such a system exists because of political ideologies and followers of a specific ideology feel that there exists no other ideology true as theirs.

One cannot therefore expect to approach an established system and change it without facing resistance. Since political systems allow individuals to rule over others, and that those holding the political ideology in place will not take lightly any thought of replacing their political system. The adversity that arises out of the firmness of the existing political system, to maintain status quo, warrants only one last option of a political system change, violent force (Glebov 1979).

Ideologies are mere belief and powerless unless they are mass accepted. They become respectable and worthy of considering when already there are a number of people subscribed to the ideology. Without political power, ideologies appear to be utopian thoughts. Proponents of political ideologies without political power describe their ideologies in terms of an ideal time when the ideologies will come into place and govern everyone’s way of living.

Before the communist party seized power in China, it embodied ideal communist ideologies. Its leader, Mao Zedong, appeared as an idealist. This was simply because the party envisioned a time when everyone was equal and all resources shared equally for the good of all citizens. Such an ideal environment based on the communist principles has never materialized (Sargent 2009).

In the current world, democratic ideologies are shaping up most political systems. The idea of a rule by the majority has won favor across the world. Previously, purely communist systems are allowing democratic ideas to infiltrate their base ideologies. As a result, former communist systems are now showing characteristics of a social democratic system.

The rule of the majority whether actualized or implied might have won over other ideologies because of the might held in the majority. It is plainly evident in any society that when the majorities are in favor, the minority out of favor have little they can do other than join the majority (Sargent 2009).

How Political Ideologies Retain their Power

The democratic ideology operates as a dictatorship of a few over the majority. Even though democratic system claims to be a rule of the majority, closer look at the system reveals that once elected into power, political parties and politicians run the country in the best way that will ensure they win the next election. The policies and strategies they adopt when running the country ideally should assist to boost the economy in such a way that living standards improve.

Citizens are in favor with the party when the economy is doing well. However, other than the economy, other social welfare factors dictate the favorability of a political party among the citizens of a country. These include other non-political ideologies such as religious ideologies and economic ideologies. In order for a political party to stay in favor with the majority of the citizens, it has to ensure that none of the unfavorable ideologies grows among its citizenry (Miller 1981).

To achieve the ideal setting where there is no ideological opposition, political parties campaign for and come up with laws that ban or restrict the ideologies identified as enemies of maintaining the status quo in the political system. Other than outright bans, and in an effort to remain democratic, such restrictions pass through the provided systems of changing laws.

In most democratic systems, these are parliament, and the state. Judiciary forms a dispute resolution mechanism in the case where citizens feel aggrieved by the actions of the government. However, the extent to which the citizenry can disown laws through the judiciary is limited to confinement with the country’s constitution (Miller 1981).

The countries constitution forms the principle pillar that holds the political system together. The constitution governs all that is lawful and unlawful in the country. Amendment of a constitution only happens when the majority is in favor in democratic systems. In other systems like communism, and monarchies the rulers have the power to change their countries constitutions.

Since monarchies and communist political systems already infer power to their rulers to change constitutions as it suits them, it has never occurred that a ruler has changed the overall political system from one ideology to another. In most cases, rulers only include changes that strengthen their rule as well as expand their territories. On the democratic constitution change issue, prohibition of differing ideologies ensures that amending the constitution to come up with laws biased against the existing political ideology is impossible (Miller 1981).

In all social institutions, the ruling class enjoys better living standards than the non-ruling class. Such a disparity arises out of the human need to satisfy their basic wants before they consider that of others. The satisfaction of needs and wants of the ruling class blinds them to the plight of the poor non-ruling class. This happens because the ruling class does not face the daily challenges that the non-ruling class go through. In most cases, the rulers separate their residents from the rest.

As societies advance, more social class stratification emerges. New social tensions appear out of class differences. The poor view that the rich are wealthy because of exploiting them, while the rich feel that their political power rests on their ability to be rich and therefore see the poor as a threat. When the poor are not the majority in such a system, a status quo may exist for a defined period until the poor become the majority (Gearon 2006).

When the poor are the majority, they possess enough mass will power to inverse the social class setting of resource allocation. In such societies, where the poor majority want the power to have a say in wealth creation while the rich minority do not want to let go their political power that comes with the wealth, tensions erupt in to violent struggles.

The emergence of a leader among the revolvers is a mere consequence of populations to being organized under one leadership and does not infer that the leader is the originator of the new ideology fought for by the population. For example, Mao Zedong led the 1949 war of china that led to the China Communist Party claim to power; however, he was not the originator of the communist ideology. Mao followed the ideas expressed by Lenin who fought a similar war leading the poor majority to capture power in Russia (Glebov 1979).

As previously noted the barrel of the gun in current world political setting is money. Ruling political parties are able to maintain the political system by having a tight control of what their citizenry access to in terms of ideology.

While the majority touts democracy as freedom for all, in actual practice it is a mass obedience of a political ideology that makes any differing belief questionable and in some cases punishable. Democratic systems allow indirect forcing of beliefs upon their electorate. Such forceful ways used by the ruling class ensure that there is little or no opposition to their regime (Miller 1981).


To sum up, political ideologies form the basis of forming political systems. Political systems offer the rulers power over their citizenry. A considerable large population has to subscribe to an ideology for it to have a meaningful influence.

The nature of belief is that its believers view each as the truth; therefore, the only way to replace political ideologies is to overthrow the regimes holding on to that ideology. Such an accomplishment is only possible through use of violent force. Mao Zedong was right arguing, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun” (Glebov 1979).

Reference List

Cohen, A 1969, Custom & politics in urban Africa: a study of Hausa migrants in Yoruba towns, University of California press, Berkeley, LA.

Gearon, L 2006, Freedom of expression and human rights: historical, literal and political contexts, Sussex Academic Press, Portland, OR.

Glebov, V 1979, Maoism, words and deeds, Sterling, New Delhi.

Fortunecity.com, n.d., The Cultural Revolution. Web.

Liukkonen, P 2008, Mao Zedong (1893-1976). Web.

McLellan, D 1995, Ideology, 2nd edn, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. MN.

Miller, A S 1981, Democratic dictatorship: the emergent constitution control, Greenwood Press, Santa Clara, CA.

Sachsenmaier, D n.d., The Little Red Book. Web.

Sargent, L T 2009, Contemporary political ideologies; a comparative analysis, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.

Spartacus Educational, n.d. Mao Zedong. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Was Mao Zedong Correct to Argue “Political Power Grows out of the Barrel of a Gun”?" December 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/was-mao-zedong-correct-to-argue-political-power-grows-out-of-the-barrel-of-a-gun/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Was Mao Zedong Correct to Argue “Political Power Grows out of the Barrel of a Gun”'. 1 December.

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