The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 21 of the Common Program

Mao Zedong declares in his often-quoted statement clearly who is in charge of the army. "Communists do not fight for personal military power (they must in no circumstances do that,…), but they must fight for military power for the Party, for military power for the people…. Every Communist must grasp the truth, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.
Fig. 21.1 People’s Liberation Army Public Security Forces
Source: Guo (2012). Page 191

October 1949, Zhou Enlai stresses the importance of the army "the army and public security units are the main pillars of political power. You are the nation’s institutions for providing safety and preventing danger – each one half. National safety and danger, you shoulder half of the responsibility, and the army is something that is ready in case of danger, but you are needed every day."
In 1951, Zhu De emphasizes that building a modern army cannot be at the expense of the political consciousness of the troops. "The Chinese People's Liberation Army must build up its various arms, strengthen itself in modern technical equipment, strengthen its combat training and its fighting power so as to undertake the historical task of defending the motherland and opposing imperialist aggression …This requires of the whole army that it continue to conduct profound political training of officers and men, and ceaselessly raise the level of political consciousness of the whole army. The high morale and excellent political quality of the People's Liberation Army are always a basic factor in defeating any enemy.”
Modernization of the People's Liberation Army

The political commissars are responsible for the political consciousness of the soldiers. The basis of this system is laid in the decision of the 6th Party congress of the CCP (June 18-July 11 1928) to establish, above the level of regiments, a system of political commissars. Their status, composition and influence change throughout the years. The main characteristics of the system remain the same: to political control the PLA, to ensure the loyalty to the party, to empower the moral, to enlarge the political consciousness, and to enlarge the unity between the soldiers and officers. The division between commanders and political commissar is not always clear; sometimes persons change their roles. Kondapalli (2005) describes the function of political commissar:
a) Overseeing a military unit
b) Ensuring the loyalty of troops to the CCP’s rule
c) Carrying forward CCP’s current political line, policies and principles 7
d) Overseeing civilian matters, personnel affairs, education
e) Enhancing the morale and entertainment of troops8
f) Studying closely the military personnel’s thinking processes and conduct towards rules and regulations and enhancing their political consciousness (sixiang juewu) and comprehension9
g) Reporting, conducting cadre meetings, investigation, study sessions, observing the three democracies [in the spheres of politics, military and economic affairs], and personnel responsibility system [gangwei zerenzhidu] Amidst the Korean War, the emergence of heightened professionalism within the PLA significantly eroded the authority of the commissar, particularly at the unit level. Their traditional prerogative of countersigning all orders was often disregarded, particularly within company-level operations where the pressures of battle were most intense. By 1954, following the formal reorganization of the PLA modeled after Russian lines, the commissar found their role markedly constrained.
Speaking bitterness is a way to improve the political consciousness of the soldiers. "Unlike speaking bitterness in rural areas, which had face-to-face confrontations and accusations, the PLA campaigns were carried out without the presence of the accused. PLA soldiers were also not directly involved in economic struggles with landlords concerning land and property. However, the initial motivation to launch speaking bitterness in the army was similar to that in villages, which was to address the issues of morale and political enlightenment by appealing to bitter memories and a sense of injustice. Finally, the individual, traumatic experience of soldiers was directed towards larger targets: the Nationalist Army and Chiang Kaishek."
This method is specially used for defected GMD soldiers, in 1947 75.000 soldiers defected and in 1948 50.000. These new recruits had various political backgrounds and often confused about the need to fight a civil war. Soldiers from “rich” families did not accept the notion that landlords ex-ploited tenants rather they provided work. "While class consciousness was the first step in the scheme of politicizing the soldiers, the second step was to guide the soldiers to comprehend the socioeconomic relationship between those who exploit and those who were exploited."

People's Liberation Army

Mao Zedong developed the People’s war strategy during the 30’s and 40’s and uses it also during the Korean War. The People’s War is based on the principle that people are more important than weaponry. A shortage of weapons can be compensated with high levels of moral and motivation of the soldiers. Food and wages are important elements to accomplish these high levels, also the relation between soldiers and officers is of importance. The officers have to set a good example. Political indoctrination is another weighty part of the strategy. The prospect of land reform reinforces the loyalty of the locals, which is also important. The quantity of combatants plays a pivotal role in People’s War strategies. A numerical advantage can be achieved either on a local or theater-wide scale by mobilizing not only regular troops but also the entire civilian population. In a People's War scenario, civilians assume various roles such as medics, intelligence operatives, security personnel, supply and engineering labourers, or guerrilla fighters. This type of warfare necessitates a comprehensive commitment from the civilian population, akin to a total war effort. The strategy of People’s War follows a straightforward approach. Initially, during the strategic defensive stage, the enemy is enticed into overextending and isolating themselves. Subsequently, in the strategic stalemate phase, the combined strength of Chinese morale and numerical superiority is leveraged in a guerrilla war aimed at attrition. Finally, during the strategic offensive phase, the enemy's strength is gradually diminished until they reach parity and then inferiority, leading to a transition to conventional warfare and eventual defeat of the enemy. It's important to recognize that guerrilla warfare is just one component of the broader concept of People's War. Guerrilla tactics is just a part of People’s war and not a goal on its own. Mao Zedong warns "As the Red Army reaches a higher stage, we must gradually and consciously eliminate [guerrilla features] so as to make the Red Army more centralized, more unified, more disciplined and more thorough in its work--in short, more regular in character. . . . We are now on the eve of a new stage with respect to the Red Army's technical equipment and organization. We must be prepared to go over to the new stage."
The strategies of People’s War are a success during the war with Japan and during the Civil War. In both wars, the party with the most firepower and technology did not win the war. In first instance, the People’s war strategy is also a success in Korea, but during the war this strategy seems to have lost his momentum. One reason for its failure is the lack of support of the local Korean people. Some maritime experts argued, "that “people’s war” theory was irrelevant at sea against technologically sophisticated enemies such as the United States and Japan. Another view, while agreeing that the Chinese navy should no longer serve exclusively as the guardian of the army’s coastal flank, 2 insisted that people’s war at sea simply needed to be adapted to “new historical” conditions.3"
The support of the Chinese people for the Korean War is achieved by much propaganda work under the title "Resist America Aid Korea" in which elements such as patriotism and nationalism are applauded and pro-US sentiments are rejected. See Article 42.

In 1952, the PLA makes a shift from emphasis on political awareness towards professionalism. One of the main reasons for abandoning the People's War tactics is the course of the Korean War. Mao Zedong expresses this change as follows: "The kind of situation that in the past placed emphasis exclusively on political work and neglected staff work must be resolutely changed around (it is correct to emphasize political work, and there should still continue to be this emphasis from now on). In the past some weaker people, people who lacked organizational ability, or even people who had committed some mistakes and did not have a high level of activism, were chosen to work in the commanding organs, and this caused some commanding officers to be reluctant to serve as staff officers or chiefs of staff. This situation must be radically turned around. From now on we must select quality commanders who are rich in organizational and commanding abilities to serve in the commanding organs at all levels, and thus create a new work-style and a new atmosphere in the commanding organs."
The influence of SU advisors and methods of training have strongly promoted this change. Their aim is "…transforming itself from the past, purely land force, depending in the main on infantry for fighting, to land, naval, and air forces with various kinds of modern technical equipment and capable of waging coordinated warfare between various arms in resisting invasion." At military academies non-military teachers are allowed to give lessons in mathematics and physics. They are recruited from several universities, companies, and governmental departments to enhance the level of the military academies. In addition, the SU sends experts necessary to supplement the shortage of capable Chinese teachers.
In order to elevate the proficiency of the PLA, an initiative was launched targeting educated young individuals to become prospective officers. They were encouraged to fervently answer the nation's call and fill the esteemed "posts of glory" that awaited them. This call resonated strongly, as evidenced by the report on February 1, 1951, which indicated that approximately 250,000 individuals had applied for enrollment in officer schools. More than fifty percent of these applicants were members of the Communist Party or the Youth League. This initial cohort of candidates formed the foundation of the officer corps in the subsequent years. Before receiving their commissions, these cadets underwent an approximately eighteen-month training program with a significant emphasis on political education. Following the completion of this training, the cadets served six months in the ranks before being officially commissioned.
To increase the attractiveness of the army for married officers, the RMC decided in July 1953, to allow military officers who have served in the military for more than five years to have their families live together with them and receive limited benefits. In 1952, the RMC has decided that only division-grade and above military officers, aviation crew, and college instructors are allowed to take an annual leave once a year. In 1954, all unmarried officers who live separately from their parents and married officers who live separately from their spouses, are included.
In later years Mao Zedong will revoke this opinion and will favor political consciousness above professionalism.
The People's Liberation Army Forces

Cited in Zhong (2015). Page 24 [↩] [Cite]
Kondapalli (2005). Page 4 [↩] [Cite]
Kondapalli (2005). Page 4 [↩] [Cite]
Chang (1995). Pages 115-116 [↩] [Cite]
Wu (2014). Page 14 [↩] [Cite]
Wu (2014). Page 17 [↩] [Cite]
See Opper (2020). [↩] [Cite]
Waller (1984). Page 58 [↩] [Cite]
Waller (1984). Page 58 [↩] [Cite]
"the PLA could win individual battles by attacking what were perceived as weak points that American forces could not address. These included the limited utility of airpower at night and a desire by American forces to maintain physical contact with rear areas, which led the PLA to conduct operations at night, engage in close-quarters combat, and seek to separate smaller units from larger ones. 25 Second, following the shift to negotiations and to defending the territory under its control, the PLA reduced to some degree its vulnerability to airpower and artillery through the use of extensive tunnels and defensive fortifications on the rough and hilly terrain around the thirty-eighth parallel." Fravel (2019). Page 62.[Cite]
Stalin warns Mao "In my view, the plan you outlined in your cable is risky and can only be successfully employed once or twice. . . . The British and Americans will easily guess at such a plan, and will therefore change their tactics; you will not be able every time to draw their main force north without suffering losses. . . . Besides this, you need to consider that when the British and the Americans push north, they will establish new defense lines, one by one. Therefore, whenever you need to go on the offensive, it will be hard to break through the British and American defense lines without incurring massive losses, which, of course, is not desirable. . . . It is not convincing to argue by analogy to Chiang Kai- shek’s army. First, you are now facing a different army, and, second, there is no basis to believe that the British and American armies are as foolish as Chiang Kai- shek, and that they will allow you your choice of annihilating their whole army one battalion at a time." Cited in Shen (2012b). Page 183 [↩] [Cite]
Murphy (2015). Pages 2-3 [↩] [Cite]
“In the course of the various movements the whole nation has gradually enhanced its political consciousness and, particularly in the course of the Resist America, Aid Korea Campaign, has greatly elevated its patriotism and internationalism. The whole nation has basically cleared away the worship U.S., fear U.S., and pro-U.S. ideas and established national self-respect” Current Affairs Handbook, No. 17, Sept 1952. cited in Walker (1955). Page 93 [↩] [Cite]
Zhao (2011). Page 25 [↩] [Cite]
Luca (1964). Page 85 [↩] [Cite]
Clay (no year). Page 41 [↩] [Cite]

Chapter 3 of Common Program