Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s

By Jack Gray | Go to book overview

13
THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY, 1935-1949

The Long March, 1934-1935

Of the 90,000 men who broke out of Jiangxi, only one in ten reached the new base in the north. The Long March is often described as an epic victory. An epic it was, but to call it a victory is only wisdom after the event. In itself it was a disastrous retreat following a devastating defeat. The three main soviets had been rooted out; now nine out of ten of the Red Army were killed or scattered.

The First Front Army from the Jiangxi Soviet was already reduced, almost entirely by desertion, to half its number by the time it had broken free of Chiang's net. The remainder marched north-west in the hope of joining up with He Long's forces in western Hunan, but the Nationalists barred the way. The First Front Army was forced to turn westwards, in the hope of joining the forces of Zhang Guotao who, driven out of the Oyuwan Soviet in the fourth of Chiang Kaishek's campaigns, had established a base in western Sichuan. By the time they crossed the Xiang River in Hunan the First Front Army was down to one-third of its original number. They were driven further west into Guizhou. There, at the town of Zunyi, they halted to consider the future.

Formally Mao's position had been much weakened. His power was derived from his presidency of the Soviet Republic, now destroyed. On the other hand, his moral position had been much strengthened by the defeat which had discredited the Young Bolsheviks. He took full advantage of this, but wisely confined his criticisms to the military policies of his opponents; on the other issues, which were less clear-cut, he could not depend on the same degree of support. Later, Mao accused the Young Bolshevik leadership of leftism, but at Zunyi he made no such charge. On the contrary, he charged them with right opportunism in military affairs. In the end a compromise was reached. The Standing Committee of the Political Bureau was not changed, but Mao Zedong now became its Secretary and replaced Zhou Enlai as Director of the Military Affairs Commission. Thenceforward he was the dominant figure in the Party.

The army moved on, but the direct route to Sichuan was blocked. They marched and counter-marched across Guizhou until forced out of China proper into Xikang. Pushing north, they crossed the Gold Sand River and the Dadu River in two heroic battles. They struggled through the swamps

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