A Very Very Short History of the CCP (3): The Long March

Part 3 – The Long March

In 1927 the United Front of the Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) broke up. The April 12th incident devastated the CCP. The CCP history books call this incident  “Shanghai massacre” in which suspected Communist party members were arrested and executed.

This marked the beginning of the bitter and on-going wars between the KMT and the CCP.

On August 1st 1927, the CCP,  together with the KMT left wingers launched the first counter attack against the Nationalist Government in Nanchang, a city in Xiangxi province. The CCP calls it the Nanchang Uprising. And the day was declared the birthday of the Red Army, the predecessor of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The date has been celebrated ever since. Meanwhile KMT calls it the Nanchang riot.

Simultaneously, the CCP launched more than 100 uprisings nationwide. One of the most important ones was the Autumn Harvest Uprising. The reason was that this uprising was launched under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party, for the first time. The goal was to take Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province.

Mao was the Party Commissioner of a 5000-man army division for the Autumn Harvest Uprising. He did not believe that the troop had the strength to take over the city. So he made the decision to abandon the original plan. Mao was punished for his decision for disobeying the  CCP’s central plan and for fleeing the battle. He was dismissed as an alternate member for the Central Provisional Political Bureau.

The reality was that all the uprisings failed. KMT was in firm control of most urban areas. In order to preserve the Red Army, Mao managed to convince his division and others to retreat to Jinggang Mountain region, a perfect location for hiding. He believed that from there divisions of the Red Army could regroup and develop Communist bases to prepare for future military combat with the KMT. As Mao’s famously said about the Jinggang Mountain base was “a single spark can start a prairie fire”. As more CCP divisions joined Mao, Jinggang Mountain merged as the center of CCP bases. It is now regard as a sacred site for red pilgrimage.

So far, all the CCP’s strategies were instructed by the Comintern, which copied the Russian experience and focused on attacking cities and urban areas. As all of their uprisings were defeated, the CCP had to come up with a new strategy.

Mao boldly proposed the strategy of “encircling the cities from the countryside”. He believed that in an overwhelmingly agrarian country like China, the CCP should grow itself and build bases in the countryside, and eventually capture the cities.  This was a departure from the Russia model and was proven to be a winning strategy.

Meanwhile, the CCP had made some significant reforms. One of them was to firmly establish the supremacy of the Party leadership. A political commissar would have the last say over a military officer, which became the CCP’s doctrine of “The Party commands the gun”.

For the first time the Party Commission was implanted in the unit of “lian”, which equals to a company with about 80-150 soldiers. Before this, the Party Commission had only existed in much larger companies. Now the Red Army would be under the total control of the Party. In CCP’s words that the Red Army had now acquired a “political soul”.

The CCP eventually was able to stabilize and start to build its base in the Hunan and Jiangxi regions known as Central Soviet Territory.

In addition to expanding its forces and military strength, the CCP built a Communist government in opposition to the Nationalist government. The CCP implemented its socialist programs and agrarian reform or the land revolution. In other words, it was here in the Central Soviet Territory that the CCP experimented all the socialist and Marxist programs which it would apply to entire China after they took power in 1949. The Central Soviet Territory was a forewarning of what would happen to China, such as the Land Reform and the Cultural Revolution.

As an important part of its programs, the CCP central leadership decided in 1930 to launch its own Party Cleansing campaign as the KMT did, called Anti Counterrevolutionary Campaign (肃反). It believed that the CCP was in crisis because it had been infiltrated by landlords and rich peasants who aimed to undermine the Party.

The targets of the campaign were mostly the party members from rich families who went to college where they were influenced by Marxist ideology and then joined the CCP. Now they were singled out as a group and were accused of being so called A B League members. The A B League stands for Anti-Bolshevik League. It was formed during the last stage of the United Front era by the KMT right wingers to identify and expel Communists.

The initial campaign expelled more than 1000 from the among 30,000 CCP members. It was followed by the large scale “Anti-A B League” mass campaign. People were urged to identify and report on suspected A B-League members. Just like today that Xi Jinping urges all Chinese to uncover spies and report them to the authorities.

Many got arrested, tortured, forced to confess and then executed. Terror shrouded the entire territory. Take Red Army 4th Division for example. It had a total of about 7,000 troops. One fifth  of them were deemed as A B-League members and were executed.

The ever spreading of Anti-A B League campaign compelled the 20th Division of the Red Army to rebel. The mutiny was swiftly suppressed. All of its 700 officers were executed. This is called Futian Incident.

The result of Futian Incident was that the Anti-A B League campaign was intensified. For a time, everyone was in danger of being accused, and in many areas 80 to 90 percent of the CCP’s personnel were identified as A B-League members.

This would prove to be the pattern for the CCP. Similar purges would play out again and again.

While the CCP was busy purging itself, it was also facing relentless attacks from the KMT which aimed at wiping out the CCP and its Red Army, and taking back the territories. They were known as the Five Encirclement Campaigns.

The first one was launched in 1930. And the last one in 1934. The fifth campaign succeeded in driving out the Red Army from its bases and forcing it to flee. This was the Great Retreat, which was later mythicized as the epic Long March. The KMT simply calls it Westward Flee.

The retreat started in the southeastern region of China, moving westward, passing through some of the most tough and rough terrains of snow cover mountains and swamps to reach Yan’an, a desolate town in Northwestern Shaanxi province. The retreat would cover the half of China and take more than 370 days. The CCP claims that it travelled a total of 8000 miles.

The Long March became critically important to the CCP because it ensured its survival, though barely.  The Red Army started with about 200,000 troops, but ended up with just over 30,000. Apart from casualties of battles and diseases, desertion accounted for a large proportion for the loss of the troops.

It was during the Long March that Mao secured his supreme leadership by becoming the commander-in-chief of the Red Army.

As Mao put it the Long March secured the survival of the Communist spark, which will eventually burn down the entire China.