Lin Biao, a prominent leftist of the Chinese Revolution, was born on December 5th, 1907. A graduate of Whampoa Military Academy, then headed up by Chiang Kai-shek, Lin defected to the Red Army following the 1927 split between the Communists and Kuomintang and became known as one of the CCP’s most effective and efficient field commanders. At the height of his acclaim during the Cultural Revolution, Lin was the vice-chair of the Communist Party and Mao’s political successor. In 1971, he mysterious died. The ‘official line’ claims Lin’s plane crashed while attempting to flee China following a failed coup against Mao. Since then, revisionists both inside and outside of China have posthumously attacked Lin Biao and his revolutionary line.

Politically, the spirit of Lin Biao’s life was revolutionary. Lin was an early proponent not simply of the Cultural Revolution, but also of the politicization of the military under socialist lines. As the editor of the Little Red Book, Lin sought to make the essential aspects of revolutionary politics accessible to soldiers, peasants, and workers alike, emboldening their political action.

Perhaps Lin Biao’s primary political contribution was laid out in Long Live the Victory of People’s War!. The essay discussed the history, strategies, and tactics of China 22-year-long people’s war, looked at its international applicability for people throughout the Third World, and applied it generally and somewhat allegorically to the world situation. Summarizing China’s foreign policy model, Lin declared, “the socialist countries should regard it as their internationalist duty to support the people’s revolutionary struggle’s in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”

According to Lin, the leadership of the Soviet Union had abandoned this “internationalist duty.” Not only had a new bourgeoisie seized the reigns of power in the Soviet Union, but it was engaged in de facto collusion with US imperialism toward the end of joint domination of the world. The Soviet Union, Lin argued, offered only token aid to revolutionary and national liberation movements worldwide. The CCP had already determined the USSR’s line on the ‘peaceful co-existence’ of capitalism and socialism was untenable and revisionist – a poisonous ideological weed within the international communist movement and among oppressed people. Lin’s solution was for China to embark on a universal foreign policy strategy: broad support by the socialist camp for people’s wars launched against lackeys of US-led imperialism; and the treatment of the Soviet Union as a secondary enemy to US-led imperialism. The massive force of people’s wars and national liberation struggles would, Lin hoped, pressure to leadership of the Soviet Union into a progressive position (at least until its capitalist-roader leadership could be overthrown via cultural revolution). This same foreign policy, which hoped to achieve a global people’s war against US-led imperialism, also sought to hasten the development of revolutionary movements in the imperialist centers themselves.

It is possible the essay was written by someone else (perhaps Chen Boda) and merely attributed to Lin Biao. However, it is unlikely Lin would have agreed to this without supporting (for one reason or other) the promotion of its content.

The fall of Lin Biao would mark a turn for the worse in China’s domestic and foreign policy. Mass spontaneity and the revolutionary politicization of institutions and social life across China would slowly halt. China dropped global people’s war as a leading theoretical benchmark of foreign policy and began to adopt ‘three world’s theory,’ which saw the United States and Soviet Union as equal enemies of the world’s people. In practice, soon after Lin’s death, China began a rapprochement with the United States, and in February 1972 Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit the PRC. The three worlds theory, adopted as a foreign policy model only after Lin’s demise, objectively and practically put China on the side of US-led imperialism, exactly what the CCP (and Lin) had critiqued the CPSU for several years earlier.

In the 42 years since Lin’s death, it has become fashionable among revisionists to pin all the errors of the Chinese left on Lin Biao. Certainly, Lin was guilty of committing the errors of triumphalism, militarism, voluntarism, and promoting the cult of personality around Mao. These were not the errors of Lin alone, however. Instead, these errors were shared by much of the Chinese left during the cultural revolution, including Mao himself.

It is hard (if not impossible) to be certain about the specific causes and events surrounding Lin’s death. Even if he did attempt a coup against Mao, perhaps this would not have been a bad thing. Given Mao’s slide to the right, perhaps sidelining him in some fashion could have further isolated figures like Deng Xiaoping and maintained China’s foreign policy of global support for people’s war against US-led imperialism. Moreover, even if Lin was at fault, so what? This single act does not invalidate the revolutionary line previously associated with his name no more than does the winding down of the cultural revolution and adoption of the ‘three worlds theory’-based foreign policy invalidate Maoism at large.

In 2013, to uphold the revolutionary legacy of Lin Biao is to uphold the importance of people’s war, a proletarian-led global united front, the dictatorship of the proletariat, a revolutionary foreign policy of socialist states, and the necessity of enlisting mass struggle to combat the ‘new bourgeoisie’ which develops under socialism. As capitalist-imperialism is once again exposing itself as the common enemy of the world’s masses, it is this spirit of revolutionary Marxism which will illuminate this century’s struggle for global communism.

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. I remember the news reporting Lin Biao’s death and that he fled China because of an attempted coup that failed. The report said his plane was going to the Soviet Union. I also remember the 1972 sell out to imperialism and China’s corrupt leaders taking the people’s republic to hell.
    I wholeheartedly agree with comrade Brown’s contention that IF Lin Biao had planned a coup and was successful–China and the global anti-imperialist movement would have been much better off.
    May the spirit of Lin Biao resurrect socialism in China and re-vitalize the world ant-imperialist movement to work toward implementing Lin’s theory of global people’s war!
    Aqil Abu Dharr

  2. First of all I want to say that I agree with the content of this article. Although I am one of those maoists who takes the RIM experience (with qualifications) as significant, I have always rejected the dogmatic acceptance of the narrative around Lin and have appreciated those interventions that have attempted to shed some critical light on this problem. So overall, yes, we need to reclaim Lin’s revolutionary legacy and many of his contributions to theory.

    That being said, I have some problem with what appears to be (and perhaps this is a misreading) a conflation of a bad analysis of an event with revisionism writ large. Indeed, this article claims at its outset that “revisionists both inside and outside of China have posthumously attacked Lin Biao and his revolutionary line.” While it is true that there were indeed revisionists who attacked Lin and his line, there were also a lot of anti-revisionists who attacked this line. After all, the so-called “Gang of Four” was extremely anti-Lin and they were the prime anti-revisionist force during the Deng coup: it is quite problematic to dismiss them as revisionist, and it might be worthwhile to do some social investigation as to why they accepted this narrative and yet still, Lin or no Lin, were the primary revolutionary force in China at the time.

    Moreover, anti-revisionists the world over at the time, and some of them quite significant, accepted the “Lin Coup” discourse. While I agree that they should not have, and hindsight is twenty-twenty, I do not believe that such an acceptance predestined them as “revisionist”––if such a position is correct, then the CPI(Maoist) is thoroughly revisionist. As is, to a far lesser extent, originary Third Worldist organizations such as MIM. Here I highly doubt that the question of Lin was an antagonistic contradiction; to suggest otherwise would appear to be a very elitist rejection of international struggle. Because, in this context, even if it was correct (and I disagree that it was) that Lin was involved in a coup attempt, then that would not negate his contributions anymore than Mao’s contributions are negated by the fact that he shook hands with Nixon.

    The question then becomes: are all errors of analysis inevitably “revisionist” or is it possible that some errors, if they are not primary contradictions and in fact might even be secondary issues, are just errors? Sometimes I feel that the labelling of “revisionist” and “counter-revolutionary” tendencies are knee-jerk reactions that are in themselves part of the same dogmatic spirit that labelled Lin a counter-revolutionary in the first place.

  3. Comrade Mahadev Mukherjee of India was the first leader of Indian left CPI (M-L) that after the martyrdom of Comrade Charu Mazumdar criticised the Tenth National Congress for adopting a line that counters Mao Zedong Thought, though the party showed its respect to Mao and Mahadev Mukherjee remained the most prominent supporter of Lin Biao since then until his death in 2009. He was the first to declare that Mao Zedong had been encircled like the days of Eighth Congress of the CPC by the followers of Liu – Deng in the year 1973. Most people in CPI ML could not accept the fact and took a metaphysical stand on Lin Biao and splitted away into thousands of factions. The party CPI ML still follows the course of people’s war as charted by Lin Biao and accepts him as the genuine successor of Chairman Mao Zedong.

  4. […] of interest as internet distribution made available the arguments summarised by N. Brown’s Long Live the Revolutionary Spirit of Lin Biao! posted at in December […]


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Africa, Asia, History, Latin America, Maoism, Middle East, Revolutionary Foreign Policy, Socialism, Theory


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