‘The Strategy of the Eighth Route Army: An Interview with Mao Tse-tung’ by James Bertram from The New Masses. Vol. 26 No. 7. February 8, 1938.

Mao in Yanan, 1937.
‘The Strategy of the Eighth Route Army: An Interview with Mao Tse-tung’ by James Bertram from The New Masses. Vol. 26 No. 7. February 8, 1938.


JAMES BERTRAM. Since the war began, considerable interest has been taken in the former Red Armies, now reorganized as the Eighth Route Army. Can you tell me something about the Eighth Route Army, its present situation, strategy, political work, etc.?

MAO TSE-TUNG. Since the Red Army was reorganized into the Eighth Route Army and left for the front, many people have been eager to know what it is doing. I will tell you something about the general position.

‘Bo Gu, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and Mao Zedong in northern Shanxi after the Long March, 1937.’

Strategically, the Eighth Route Army is fighting with Shansi as its center. As you know, we have already scored a number of successes against the Japanese. There were the battles at Pinghsinkwan. We reoccupied Tsingpin, Pinglu, and Ningwu. We captured Leiyuan and Kwanglin, and occupied Tsechingkwan. We cut the Japanese communications on three main lines between Tatung and Y entnenkwan, between Weihsien and Pinghsinkwan, and between Shihsien and Ningwu. We attacked the Japanese rear south of Yenmenkwan, and twice in succession recaptured Pinghsinkwan and Yenmenkwan. More recently, we may list the capture of Chihyang and Tanghsien in Hopei, and a number of other engagements.

Thus the Japanese troops which invaded Shansi are strategically surrounded on all four sides by the Eighth Route Army and other Chinese forces. It is clear that the Japanese armies in North China must henceforth meet with much stronger resistance.

On the question of strategy and tactics, we may say in general that the Eighth Route Army undertakes actions that cannot be carried out by any other Chinese troops. We fight on the flanks and in the rear of the enemy. Such a style of fighting is altogether different from that of a simple, frontal defense. We do not question the· need for the use of one part of a defending force in such direct frontal fighting; of course this is necessary. But our main forces are used on the enemy’s wings, carrying out flanking and encircling movements, attacking the enemy independently and on our own initiative.

Japanese Imperialist map of conflict, 1937.

Only by such tactics can we preserve our own forces and destroy those of the enemy in detached units. Moreover, forces operating at the rear of the enemy are especially dangerous, because they can destroy enemy bases and lines of communication. Even those armies which meet the enemy in direct frontal warfare should not adopt a strategy of simple defense, but should make the fullest possible use of counter-attack.

One of the chief reasons for the reverses suffered by Chinese troops in recent months has been the use of mistaken strategy and tactics; the style of fighting followed by the Eighth Route Army may be defined as “mobile guerrilla warfare of independent initiative.” Fundamentally, it is similar to our method of fighting in the past civil wars, though there are also a number of differences.

On the general military situation at this stage of the war, we may make one observation. The situation is less favorable than it was for the heavy concentration and centralization of Chinese forces; and more favorable for the division of our forces into mobile units. This is necessary, because now that the war covers so wide a territory, we must make as many sudden attacks as possible on the flank and rear of the extended enemy. The total number of men in all the Chinese armies is very great. Except for the use of one part of these troops to. defend the main fronts, and the scattering of another part of them for guerrilla warfare, the main body should regularly be employed in attacks on the enemy’s flanks.

‘James Bertram (right) and Hsiao, second in command of the 120th Division of the Eighth Route Army, North Shanxi, China, 1938.’

The first principle in any war is to preserve your own forces, and liquidate the forces of the enemy. To achieve this end at the present time, we should make use of a mobile warfare of independent initiative, combined with partisan tactics. Every kind of immobile, passive, mechanical fighting should be abandoned. If a sufficient number of the Chinese armies wage such a war, and the Eighth Route Army helps them with guerrilla fighting, then victory may be in our hands. The Eighth Route Army has one very important and significant feature- its political work.

There are three fundamental principles underlying the political work of the Eighth Route Army.

First, unity of the officers and soldiers. This implies the liquidation of any remaining traces of feudalism, the abolition of the old “flogging and cursing system,” the establishment of conscious discipline, and the realization of a manner of life in the army where by all share together both bitter and sweet. In this way, our army has achieved a unique degree of solidarity.

‘Eighth Route Army cheering at Futuyu Great Wall, Laiyuan, Hebei, 1937.’

Second, unity of the army and the people. This is an unfailing principle with our army. We must keep the closest possible relation with the common people, and never in any way violate their interests. [In one speech at the Military ‘Academy at Yenan, I heard Mao make this point even more vividly: “You must never take so much as one piece of potato from the peasants,” he said to the assembled soldiers, “for if you take one piece, you cannot help taking more.”-J. B.] Then the people will support us, work with us, take messages, keep military secrets. Cooperation with the people is an important factor in our military success. Moreover, we must carry on propaganda work:, organize and arm the people; we must lighten the economic burden of the masses, and suppress severely those traitors who are endangering the armies and the people. Thus the army and the people can work together; and everywhere our army is welcomed by the people as their friend.

The Eighth Route Army gets new recruits, not by compulsory draft, but by agitation among and political organization of the people. This method is much more effective.

Third, propaganda among the enemy armies, and special treatment of prisoners of war. For this work, victory does not depend entirely upon the fighting quality of our armies; it depends also on the deterioration of the armies of the enemy. Though this effect is perhaps not yet significant, in the future it will assume ever greater proportions. The Japanese, we may note, are always especially apprehensive about the Eighth Route Army. Recently the Japanese North China command issued a manifesto, in which the Eighth Route Army was designated a “menace to the imperial armies.” The Japanese claimed that we want to “bolshevize” North China, to unite with Outer Mongolia and the Soviet Union, even to “bolshevize” Japan itself. Hence, they said, special measures would be taken to combat the Eighth Route Army, including the use of heavy artillery, airplanes, and poison gas. All this was necessary to combat the “terrible Eighth Route Army.”

But we are not afraid of the threats of the Japanese army command. Though Hopei, Chahar, Suiyuan, .and part of Shansi have already been lost, we do not despair. We resolutely rally our army for the defense of Shansi and the regaining of lost territories. The Eighth Route Army will act unitedly with the other Chinese armies, and resolutely maintain the resistance in Shansi. This factor is very important for the whole war, especially the war in North China.

Q. Can the style and strategy of the Eighth Route Army be adopted by other Chinese armies?

A. Though the Eighth Route Army has the special features outlined above, which make it particularly dangerous for the Japanese, still it cannot play the decisive role in the anti-Japanese. war. Numerically, it is limited; and at present the Kuomintang armies are still playing the decisive role in the Chinese resistance. But there is no reason why the good points of the Eighth Route Army should not be adopted by the other Chinese group armies. The Kuomintang troops originally had a spirit similar to that of the present Eighth Route Army. That was in 1925-27. At that time, the Communist Party helped the Kuomintang organize the national armies on a new scale. In the beginning, only two regiments were reorganized. But soon many other troops were united around these two regiments, and gained their first victories over Chen Chung-ming.

Later this force was enlarged into an army, and still more troops came under its influence. The northern expedition followed, and at that time there was a new spirit in the troops. A close relationship was established between officers and soldiers, the troops and the people, and the army was filled with a courageous revolutionary spirit. Party representatives and political departments were established among the troops- a system which had never before been realized in the history of the Chinese armies. The Red Army after 1927, and the present Eighth Route Army, have continued this system, and developed it considerably.

‘Eighth Route Army in Shanxi.’

In the period of the Great Revolution the war tactics and strategy of the new troops matched their political spirit. This was not a passive and mechanical strategy, but positive, active, and offensive. Because of this, victories were gained in the northern expedition.

The present anti-Japanese war needs a similar kind of army. It is not necessary to have several million troops such as these; a few hundred thousand could guarantee success against Japanese imperialism.

We have the greatest admiration for the heroism and sacrifice of the Chinese armies since the present war began; but we must learn our lesson from the sanguinary fighting that has already occurred. Especially do we expect the Central Armies, with their heroic war record and glorious history, to now assume a leading role in the reformation of the other troops. The reorganization and reformation of the militia and government forces in Spain can be our example here.

Q. What is the policy of the Eighth-Route Army toward prisoners oi war, and how does it differ from to policy of other Chinese armies?

A. Our policy toward prisoners of war is essentially the same as the one we followed in the Red Armies during the last ten years of fighting. Prisoners are disarmed, but are not insulted or ill-treated in any way. We explain to them the common interests of the peoples of China and Japan, and then release them.

Prisoners of the Eighth Army.

Of course, we make a certain distinction between soldiers and officers, and between officers of lower and higher rank. Common soldiers, those from the oppressed classes, and especially those Mongols and Tungpei (northeastern) peoples who are compelled by Japanese imperialists to fight against us, we greet as friends and comrades. Any who, with us, oppose Japanese imperialism are welcome into our ranks; those who do not want to stay with us are released and permitted to return to their armies. Officers’ are treated in the same way, but those higher officers who have directed the war against us and helped to form the present policy of Japanese militarism, we keep with us in China for a while, so that they may have time to understand and appreciate their errors. Then, if they recognize their own mistakes, we release them, too.

Q. But in view of the discipline and traditions of the Japanese army, is this policy likely to achieve any results? Released prisoners will be killed by their commanders if they return to their regiments, and the Japanese army as a whole will not understand the purpose of your policy.

A. The more released prisoners the Japanese kill, the more the sympathy of the Japanese soldiers toward the Chinese troops is roused. The mass of the rank and file cannot be deceived like this. We have already followed our announced policy with those prisoners captured in the recent fighting in Shansi, and we will continue with it.


The Japanese army command has declared openly that they will use poison gas against the Eighth Route Army. Even if they do so, we shall not change our policy toward prisoners of war. We have already proposed to the Kuomintang that a similar policy be followed by other Chinese armies. It is one way of making clear the real enemy that we are fighting Japanese imperialism, and not the Japanese people.

We have no quarrel with the Japanese people, with members of the oppressed colonial peoples, even though they are sent to fight against us. These people are our friends; and those who do not wish to return to their troops can always join for service with the Eighth Route Army. If in the future an international column should appear on the field of the anti-Japanese war, they can join this column, taking up arms to fight against Japanese imperialism.

Q. Have you any preparation for defense against gas attack?

A. Because of material difficulties, at present we are unprepared against gas. But we are asking for help in this direction from Generalissimo Chiang. Commander-in-Chief Chu Teh has already prepared a declaration in reply to the open statement made by the Japanese headquarters in North China of the Japanese intention of using gas against us. Commander Chu will point out that this cruel action of the Japanese fascists will only hasten their own destruction.

Q. While the war continues unabated, the Japanese have recently put out in Shanghai some talk of peace and settlement. What is the real purpose of all this?


A. After they have achieved a certain part of their program, the Japanese imperialists will once more make use of this “peace” camouflage. There are three main ideas behind it. First, it helps them to consolidate the position they have already gained, so that it can be used as the base and strategical starting point for a second attack. Second, they hope to split the Chinese anti-Japanese front. And third, they hope to disrupt the world front for the support of China against Japanese aggression that has been slowly forming.

The present peace talk is only the beginning of this camouflage. The real danger is that certain wavering elements in China are already prepared to walk into Japan’s trap; and traitors are acting as go-betweens, spreading all kinds of rumors in the hope of subjugating China to the Japanese robbers.

Q. But do you think there is a serious danger of Chinese capitulation?

A. There are the two possibilities, either we shall overcome the capitulationist, and the danger will disappear, or else the capitulationist may gain power and create a state of chaos in China, splitting the anti-Japanese front.

The great majority of the Chinese people want to fight to the end. If part of the upper strata of society takes the road of capitulation, then all the resolute elements in the country will oppose them strenuously, and continue the war of resistance together with the mass of the people. A split of this sort would be most unfortunate for the united front. But I think that the capitulationists will not be able to gain a following, and that they must finally be overcome by the force of the masses. The war of resistance will be insisted on, and the struggle for final victory.

‘Chinese Communist farmers training with spears for the Eighth Route Army in Northwest China.’

It would seem that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has already noticed this point. In his interview of October 9, replying to President Roosevelt’s declaration, he insisted on a policy of continuing the war to the end. “Even if only one man and one rifle remain,” he said, “we will continue the war.” The Communist Party decisively supports this policy of the generalissimo, and will oppose to the last all wavering and capitulationist elements. The slogan of the Communist Party is “To shed the last drop of blood in support of the fatherland!” The spirit of Generalissimo Chiang’s interview is quite in accord with our slogan.

Q. How do you hope to overcome the capitulationiststs?”

A. We must organize public opinion, and point out the real danger of capitulationism. In action, we must organize the masses of the people to check the capitulationist movement. Capitulationism has its origin in national defeatism, or national pessimism, which is the view that after defeat in the war, China will have no force left with which to fight Japan. But, “success is born of failure.” The profound lessons gained from defeat will be the foundation of the victory of the future. The pessimists have seen only the defeats in the war so far, not such successes as have been gained. Above all, the pessimists do not see the elements of victory contained in the defeats, and the elements of defeat contained in the victories of the enemy.

We must point out to the masses of the people the victorious future of the war, and make it clear that defeats and difficulties are only temporary. If only we continue the struggle without relaxing our efforts, the final victory will be ours. And when capitulationism is deprived of its mass foundation, there will be no opportunity for its advocates to play their trick of subjugation; and the anti-Japanese front will be consolidated and strengthened.

October 25, 1937.

‘Soldiers of the Eighth Route Army sing behind their seated captured Japanese POWs. Northeastern Shanxi Province. May 1939.’

The New Masses was the continuation of Workers Monthly which began publishing in 1924 as a merger of the ‘Liberator’, the Trade Union Educational League magazine ‘Labor Herald’, and Friends of Soviet Russia’s monthly ‘Soviet Russia Pictorial’ as an explicitly Communist Party publication, but drawing in a wide range of contributors and sympathizers. In 1927 Workers Monthly ceased and The New Masses began. A major left cultural magazine of the late 1920s and early 1940s, the early editors of The New Masses included Hugo Gellert, John F. Sloan, Max Eastman, Mike Gold, and Joseph Freeman. Writers included William Carlos Williams, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Day, John Breecher, Langston Hughes, Eugene O’Neill, Rex Stout and Ernest Hemingway. Artists included Hugo Gellert, Stuart Davis, Boardman Robinson, Wanda Gag, William Gropper and Otto Soglow. Over time, the New Masses became narrower politically and the articles more commentary than comment. However, particularly in it first years, New Masses was the epitome of the era’s finest revolutionary cultural and artistic traditions.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/new-masses/1938/v26n07-%5Bplus-Lit-Sup%5D-feb-08-1938-NM.pdf

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