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A Comparative Analysis of the Biographies and Policies of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong

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Biting Off Mao Than He Can Chew

In the years during and after the first World War, the dramatic change in the global political atmosphere allowed many radical leaders to rise to power. Numerous Fascist leaders of the far-right wing and Communists of the far-left were able to take advantage of the turmoil of the Great War and took control of their respective countries’ governments. Though each of these leaders has unique aspects of their rise, rule, and fall, it becomes evident that the Fascist regimes often bear striking resemblances to each other, as do the Communist governments. Two of these such Communist governments were the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, otherwise known as the Soviet Union or the USSR, governed by Joseph Stalin’s Bolshevik party, and the People’s Republic of China, governed by Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party. Stalin’s and Mao’s regimes shared many core similarities, such as their use of fear mongering as a tactic to control their people, their harsh industrial policies, and their lack of concern for the famines in their countries.

Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong both came from fairly humble beginnings; Stalin, born in 1878, was the son of a cobbler, while Mao, born in 1893, was the son of a farmer. Mao developed Chinese nationalist and anti-imperialist beliefs early in his life, quickly growing resentful of the discrimination he experienced due to his rural accent and lack of a high-ranking job (Schram 48). His views then became increasingly leftist, eventually joining the Communist Party of China in the early 1920s. After joining fighting off the Japanese with another political party, the Kuomintang, the Communists, now led by Mao, were plunged into civil war. The Communist party emerged victorious after the bloody conflict, with Mao at its head. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when Mao became the leader of the Communist party, but it is evident that his rise to power was slow and steady, likely having been many years in the making before his ultimate plan came into fruition. Similarly, Stalin also became politically charged at an early age; he joined Lenin’s Bolshevik Communist party as a young man and became an active member of the party, even staging a bank robbery (Montefiore). Stalin was a Bolshevik from the party’s humble beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, but, although his intelligence was evident from the start, he remained in the shadows with the rest of the Communists until the Russian Revolution. Soon after the Communists took control of Russia, the original leader of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, dies, leaving a few of his high-ranking officials, including Stalin, in an intense power struggle for control of the party. It is from this point that Stalin begins to execute his strategy for obtaining the then-empty seat of power. Stalin achieves his goal of ruling the USSR through backhanded tactics and cunning manipulation. From the point of Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin’s scheme to take control developed relatively quickly, and he was even able to begin installing his own policies within a couple years; this was very unlike Mao’s gradual rise to power, which took many years to come to fruition.

Stalin and Mao both rose to power through different channels, but both had to utilize underhanded tactics, such as fear mongering, in order to achieve their ultimate goals. A few years after Lenin’s death, Stalin began his purges in order to eliminate anyone who could possibly be a threat to his power. These mass killings were initially focused on Stalin’s fellow Communist party leaders. Out of the 139 Central Committee members, a total of 93 were put to death. Then, it turned to the Communist party members, of which approximately a million died, and then to the general population. By the end of the 1930s, Stalin’s Great Terror had spiraled out of control and had left tens of millions of bodies in its wake. Stalin’s fear of betrayal had spread to the Russian people; citizens began turning one another in to the secret police, who would then arrest the victim and send them to the Gulag, where they would likely perish (“Stalin – Purges”). Though the people lived in a perpetual state of paranoia, their fear allowed Stalin to take complete and absolute control over the country. Mao’s version of this fear mongering was the “Cultural Revolution”, which was considerably less bloody than Stalin’s purges, but caused just as much terror. It was mainly an “effort to eliminate those in the leadership who…had dared to cross him” but it was also a way for him to attempt to try to ‘fix’ his party’s problems (Schram “The Cultural Revolution”). He wanted to achieve this by not only destroying much of China’s cultural heritage, but also in publicly humiliating, torturing, and killing anyone he deemed “impure” (Mao Zedong). The number of deaths is estimated to be anywhere between 800,000 and 3 million people over the course of the course of the year (Johnson 156). He brought many cities to the brink of anarchy, but managed to reel them back in by sending in his army (Mao Zedong). The majority of the people doing the killing were Mao’s Red Guards, which was made up of mostly young men from working-class families. They targeted anyone who was from a “bourgeoisie” background, such as teachers and landlords. Even after the Cultural Revolution was technically over, anyone with an education or from an upper- or middle-class family lived in fear that Mao’s Red Guards would attack at any moment. It was through this fear mongering that Mao managed to maintain control for the next decade, much like Stalin did.

Both Stalin and Mao saw their countries’ lack of strong industry as a humiliation, and wanted to push their countries into the ranks of the European world powers. They saw an improvement in heavy industry as an important factor for achieving this goal (Strayer 1041). Stalin created “Five-Year-Plans” that introduced enormous quotas for factories’ production of industrial materials, such as coal and steel. Though the factories could rarely, if ever, meet these quotas at the end of each five-year segment, and the quality of the materials was much worse than before, the quotas’ presence did, in fact, spur the workers to produce drastically higher amounts of materials. Stalin collected the most talented and ambitious people from the countryside and put them to work in the factories in the city (Strayer 1042). With the other people in the rural areas, Stalin created massive collectivized farms that were designed “primarily to redistribute agricultural produce rather than to increase it” and to feed the workers in the urban factories (“Stalin 1928-2933”). Mao didn’t approve of Stalin’s model, as he saw it as another way to separate society into classes. Thus, Mao decided to instate his own industrial policies. The principal of these was named the “Great Leap Forward”, and was Mao’s attempt at industrializing China without making huge urban areas, as the presence of cities would have created inequality within China. Mao wanted to create small-scale “people’s communes” to produce materials, which proved itself to be a failure without any of the highly trained technical experts to guide the people trying to make the products (Strayer 1043). Mao and Stalin both created harsh new policies in hopes that they would dramatically increase their country’s industrial production.

Mao and Stalin both caused enormous loss of life due to hunger during their regimes. Though Stalin directly caused and perpetuated the Ukrainian famine (“Ukraine Famine”), Mao’s impact on the outbreak of the Chinese famine was not insignificant. In the years before the famine in Ukraine, the people of western Russia were some of the hardest to tame for Stalin. Stalin was feared a rebellion would arise from the area and wanted to eliminate the nationalist pride of the Ukrainian people in order to force them to obey the Communist party and prevent a potential uprising. He planned to essentially starve them into submission by depriving them of everything they needed to provide themselves with food. After imprisoning the upper-class intellectuals of Ukraine, whom Stalin feared would be the leaders of his hypothetical rebellion, he then began to confiscate livestock, wheat crops, valuable possessions, and even their homes, all the while imposing a ridiculously heavy grain tax with the deliberate intention for the Ukrainians to starve. These actions resulted in widespread hunger and death; many people even resorted to cannibalism in their desperation. All in all, an estimated 25,000 Ukrainians died each day due to Stalin’s intentionally created famine, a total of 10 million lives lost (“Ukraine Famine”). Mao’s famine was more national but less intentional; with the Great Leap Forward, Mao was attempting to employ all his citizens in labor-intensive work they knew little about, which may not have had as disastrous of results, had a number of additional factors been brought into play. At the time, birth rates were soaring and rural communities could barely feed themselves, let alone people in urban areas (Johnson 158). This, coupled with a series of droughts, floods, and typhoons, caused China to tumble into a massive and widespread famine (Strayer 1043). Estimates of the lives lost due to Mao’s ironically-named “Great Leap Forward” range anywhere from 20 million to 40 million, even more than Stalin’s famine in the USSR (Strayer 1043, Johnson 159). Mao and Stalin both created severe policies that resulted in a shortage of food within their country and led to extensive suffering and tens of millions of deaths.

Mao’s and Stalin’s regimes in China and the Soviet Union, respectively, bear many striking similarities with each other. Though they do have distinct dissimilarities, their similarities are still considerably more noteworthy. From their employment of fear mongering and intimidation tactics in order to control their people, to their harsh and unreasonable industrial policies, to the deaths of tens of millions of people due to famines during their rule, their similarities propelled them into the spotlight in the early- and mid-1900s and many of the comparable policies Stalin and Mao established allowed them to become major players in the world after the World War II and beyond.

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A Comparative Analysis Of The Biographies And Policies Of Joseph Stalin And Mao Zedong. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comparative-analysis-of-the-biographies-and-policies-of-joseph-stalin-and-mao-zedong/
“A Comparative Analysis Of The Biographies And Policies Of Joseph Stalin And Mao Zedong.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comparative-analysis-of-the-biographies-and-policies-of-joseph-stalin-and-mao-zedong/
A Comparative Analysis Of The Biographies And Policies Of Joseph Stalin And Mao Zedong. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comparative-analysis-of-the-biographies-and-policies-of-joseph-stalin-and-mao-zedong/> [Accessed 28 Nov. 2020].
A Comparative Analysis Of The Biographies And Policies Of Joseph Stalin And Mao Zedong [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2020 Nov 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comparative-analysis-of-the-biographies-and-policies-of-joseph-stalin-and-mao-zedong/
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