A Comparative Analysis of Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin

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History has always recognized leaders who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of their countries and the people living in the country. Leadership can be concepturized in many different ways. The word can be used to address the one who exerts the influence, the intended purpose of the influence, the manner in which the influence is exerted, or the influence itself. It can therefore, be argued it can be argued that there is no universally agreed definition of leadership. However, leadership is generally considered as a process of organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal. It is a process whereby an individual influences a group or society to achieve a common goal. By their influence over a particular group, leaders play important role of convincing, motivating and helping the members of that group to attain desired goals.

The effectiveness of leadership is dependent on a number of factors which include leadership traits, circumstances and responsibility style. Leadership style is the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. Leadership style is an important element for success in any organization. This would justify the need for military officers and commanders to ably understand the mechanism of leadership so that they can effectively lead their men both during peace time and in combat. It is on this premise that the study of leadership styles for past leaders is imperative in order to ascertain the various qualities they possessed and how the same influenced their societies.

This paper therefore will analyse the leadership styles of Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong (herein referred to as Mao and Lenin respectively). Vladimir Lenin was founder of the Russian Communist Party, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect and first head of the Soviet state. Mao Zedong is well known for liberating the Chinese people from imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism and introduced a new socialist system which led the Chinese people to a brighter future. These leaders played a big role in the transformation of their respective countries. This paper specifically sets out to conduct a comparative analysis of the leadership styles of Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin. It will analyse the early life of the leaders as it affected or shaped their leadership, the leader’s achievements, both civilian and military, their weakness and lapses in their career, their leadership qualities, styles and finally draw lessons out of their life.


The aim of this paper is to analyse the leadership styles of Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin with a view of drawing lessons.

Leadership Styles

Simply put, Leadership style is about how people get work done through others. Win that regard, the relationship between the leader and the subject being led becomes a paramount consideration. There are a number of leadership styles that different leaders adopt in effecting change in a society. Some of the styles are discussed below.

  • a. Autocratic. Under the autocratic leadership style, all decision-making powers are centralized in the leader, as with dictators. Leaders do not entertain any suggestions or initiatives from subordinates. The autocratic management has been successful as it provides strong motivation to the manager.
  • b. Participative or democratic. The democratic leadership style consists of the leader sharing the decision-making abilities with group members by promoting the interests of the group members and by practicing social equality. Democratic leaders encourage people to participate and involve in taking decisions.
  • c. Laissez-faire or free rein style. A person may be in a leadership position without providing leadership, leaving the group to fend for itself. Subordinates are given a free hand in deciding their own policies and methods.
  • d. Bureaucratic leadership. Promotions take place on the basis of employees’ ability to adhere to organizational rules. This leadership style gradually develops over time. This leadership style is more suitable when safe work conditions and quality are required. But this leadership style discourages creativity and does not make employees self-contented.
  • e. Charismatic. Charismatic leaders rely on their personality, inspirational qualities. They are visional leaders oriented on realisation, take risks and are good comunicators. Uncharismatic leaders are mostly basing on their know-how,confidence and analytical approach to solve problems.
  • f. Facilitator-Controller. Facilitators inspire people through their vision of the future and empower them to achieve team goals. Controllers manipulate people in order to achieve their realization.
  • g. Transactional-Transformational. Transactional leaders negotiate basing on money, jobs and security in order to achieve the purpose. Transformational leaders motivate people to strive for a higher.

The Leaders Early Life

Mao Zedong Early Family Life

Mao Zedong was born in a village called Shaoshan, Hunan Province in China on 26 December 1893. After spending 5 years in primary school at the age of 13, he was forced to leave the school by his father in order to return to the farm. At the age of 16 he decided to continue to study and went to complete his elementary school training. As he was growing up, he indulged in swimming, poetry and essays. In one of his earliest essays Mao outlined how the Chinese were regarded as stupid when they feared the 4th century B.C. administrator Shang Yang. Mao attributed this fear and distrust not to Shang Yang’s policies but to the perception of those policies. He said “at the beginning of anything out of the ordinary, the mass of the people always dislike it.”

On the basis of the above elucidation, it can be argued that Mao was a visionary and critical thinker right from a tender age. This is because although his father pulled him out of school to concentrate on farming, he saw the need and benefits of education thereby leaving the farm to complete his elementary school training. He was a critical thinker in that although young, he was able to discern why the early Chinese people feared administrator Shang Yang, he considered perception as a key element in the behavior of people.

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From his early age Mao Zedong was an avid reader, he mostly liked to read popular historical novels concerning especially unconventional military heroes and rebellions. In 1918, Mao started working in Beijing University after graduating as a certified teacher. It was at the University where he read and learned about Marxism which is the political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Here he learned about class struggle and that capitalism which will ultimately be superseded by communism. He also learnt about the Russian Revolution and the communist Soviet Union. As it shall be seen later on, this exposure had a great impact on Maos political life as he applied Marxism to fight for the rights of peasants and revolt against the Bourgeoisie.

Mao got married in 1921 with Yang Kaihui (Yang K'ai-hui) who was later executed by the Kuomintang in 1930. But, in 1928 Mao decided to live with Zizhen (Ho Tsu-chen) a young girl of eighteen years and got five children in the next nine years with her new wife. In 1937he married Jiang Qing (Chiang Ch'ing) after divorcing Zizhen. The early family life had impacted on Mao’s subsequent decisions as chairman of the CCP. Particularly, the execution of Mao’s wife made him develop a vengeful attitude which influenced his execution of the opposition. The life of Mao also shows that he had no stable family life which is a basic and important unit of any society.

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin was born in Ulyanovsk village, Russia in 1870. His parents were intellectuals and highly cultured. He attended the Kazan University where he studied law and finished first his high school class. The life of Lenin and his family was not easy at all. His life was shaped particularly by two situations. The first came when Lenin was a young boy and his father who was an inspector of schools, was threatened with early retirement by a suspicious government nervous about the influence public school had on Russian society. In 1887, Lenin’s older brother, Aleksandr who was a university student at the time, was arrested and executed for being part of a group planning to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. His sister Anna was ordered by the police to exile to his grandfather’s estate in the village of Kokushkino because of her suspicious activities. After a certain time in this straggle of life his father dead and Lenin became the man of the family. It is therefore the early misfortunes in his life gave Lenin a strong personality. Particularly, by becoming the leader of the family at a younger age, Lenin learned some leadership qualities which influenced his leadership style in Russia.

School was a central part of Lenin’s childhood. His parents, both educated and highly cultured, invoked a passion for learning in their children, especially Vladimir. Lenin was educated in his childhood and was a voracious reader and intellectual who liked to read revolutionary politics. Specifically, he liked Karl Marx writings and later declared himself a Marxist. Because of the challenges he and his family went through, including the execution of close relatives, Lenin decided to use his efforts to fight the weak and poor leadership during Czar Nicholas II to try to transform the Russian economy to a socialist model. With his university education background and the Marxist influence, he elected to overthrow the provision government which he was calling the dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie. All of Lenin’s members of family would take part to some degree in revolutionary activities.

From the preceding, we can draw some similarities and differences about the early life of Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin. Both Mao and Lenin were avid leaders from any early age. Both liked reading writings on Marxism as well as revolutions and unconventional heroes. They both faced challenges during the early stages of their lives, including loss of loved family members and friends. The early school life of both leaders was interrupted. Mao was pulled out of school by his parents to go and concentrate on peasantry. On the other hand, Lenin was expelled from school for instigating revolt. In the final analysis, it has been observed that the early life of both leaders influenced them to establish revolutionary movements particularly against the bourgeoisie.

Notable Military And Political Achievements

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong’s victory in the civil war of (1927-1945) against the Nationalist was partly due to the support he got from lower class. The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out between 1931 and 1945 and Mao also became victorious on the bases of support of the lower class. In 1927 he took over the leadership of political party of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The intent of the political leadership was to give him the platform to address the inequalities that existed between the local tyrants and the lower class. He divided the land and gave land to the peasants and exempted from paying any taxes to the government. Though his policy targeted the rich and landlords who the minority in the society it won support from the poor who have been struggling under the frequent and turbulent wars. The approach used by Mao Zedog that focuses on the needs and concern on plight of lower class who toil in farms and industries for a longer period of hours with lower wages. His leadership drew attracted a lot admiration from the large population that made him easy to take leadership easily of CCP.

The ruling party of Chinese Nationalist Party was viewed to favors very few people in the population that also control the economy of the country because of the monopoly they had in virtually all sectors of the county’s economy. The bourgeoisie and the bureaucratic capitalists who held the power and positions in finance, industry, business, and other important arenas of the society, made them very unpopular with the lower class due to the gap that prevail between the rich and the poor. Impunity and corruptions among the Nationalist Government officials resulted in heavy inflation that extremely burdens the ordinary citizens, which caused deep social dissatisfaction and despair. Mao’s task was to ensure integrity in the public service is restored by removing decayed, corrupt, and inefficient China into modernity. Mao adjusted the needs of Chinese “agrarian masses” by returning to the peasants as the motive force for revolution. These factors had contributed to Mao’s success in his earlier undertakings. He exhibited leadership that targeted the need for integrity and transparency that will ensure equal opportunity to all citizens. He stressed the need for efficient civil service that addresses the needs and aspiration of lower working class.

From 1913 to 1918 he was in the First Hunan Normal School. Mao’s military career was brief and uneventful with no noticeable achievement. Being the founder of the CCP, he took lead and played a key role in the formation of the Red Army. In late 1920 and early 1930 he lead the planning and development of a defensible base area in Jiangxi province. As he formally assumed the leadership Party Chairmanship in 1945, he also consolidated his rule over the Party in the years to come after the Long March and directed resources and strategy during the Sino-Japanese War and the civil war. His reliance on the peasantry (a major departure from prevailing Soviet doctrine) and dependence on guerrilla warfare in the revolution were essential to the Communist triumph in China. Due to his small stint in the military and having knowledge on revolutionary tactics combined with the political power base already established, he could easily get the followers to join his revolutionary struggle because his ideas was excepted by many.

Due to his policy that focuses on the lower class, Mao Zedong became increasingly wary of his subordinates approach to development. The fear existed because of him being blamed for fostering deep social and political inequalities. In 1966 Mao exploited the discontent among the students and initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that saw the removal of those who was opposed to his policies but led to serious disorder, forcing Mao to call in the military to restore order in 1967. Liu, Deng, and others ignored his call to ‘never forget class struggle. The Cultural Revolution was successful in removing many who opposed his policies The minority class who opposed his leadership were removed from the leadership in the civil service and that brought discounted, however the population stilled rallied behind and supported him.

As Mao establishes himself firmly as the chairman of the Peoples Republic of China (1931 - 1945) he also became an influential figure in Chinese Politics. He became well known for propagating equality of genders, liberating Chinese women from their usual domestic roles. Among the policies of Mao was the abolishment polygamy in favour of monogamy. The great cultural revolution of 1966 -1976 initiated by Mao demanded the whole country to follow his instructions which brought about a lot of resentments. This made millions of people fight against each other as a result many died during this period. Despite his earlier popularity the idea of trying to impose a cultural change did not work well for Mao and he did not get consensus from the larger population. He exhibited dictatorship policy that backfired.

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