Long March: From Mao’s armed struggle to Imran Khan’s peaceful resistance!

Social activist critically analyzes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Long March. He highlights that the nature of both long marches is different; one was armed and thus bloody, and the other is peaceful and democratic in its strategy and tactics. He argues that while CCP’s Long March was to overthrow the system, the goal of the PTI’s is to cleanse the corrupt status quo and polity. He concludes that despite extreme differences, there appear to be few similarities between the two long marches, which he discusses in this article.


Some psychologists argue that values, motivation, and emotions play ‘important triggers’ of political activism, and politicians play a prominent role in the mobilization of emotions, values, opinions, and participation for collective involvement. However, negating socio-political and cultural context may not be helpful in understanding the nature of people’s participation and the outcomes of the movements in which they participate. Therefore, it seems important to examine the origin, growth, and maturation of movements. To examine socio-political movements, academic scholars have developed several theories, including these: ‘deprivation theory, resource mobilization theory, political process theory, structural strain theory, and new social movement theory.’

Which of the above theory could help us the most to define the nature of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its seven-month-long resistance, of which the long march is a major component, requires lots of space and time. So, let’s be brief and simple. In my view, none of the above-stated theories alone is comprehensive enough to explain the origin and rise of PTI. However, a mix of various theories may be helpful in understanding the phenomenon of Imran Khan and PTI. For instance, the capacity of Imran Khan to mobilize human and financial resources and then the honest utilization of those resources for the welfare of the deprived people is unmatched in the political history of the sub-continent. Also, according to a theory, people created gods in their own image; if that is true, they can adopt the same process for creating leaders. In a country where people suffer humiliation and oppression daily at the hands of their immediate superiors, and they can’t pose any resistance, a leader who could do what they couldn’t is most likely to capture their imagination.

Read more: Imran Khan kicks off long march from Lahore’s Liberty Chowk

Despite his old age, Mr. Khan is not in a hurry and established his capacity to wait and endure hardships, which helped him build his charisma and deprived his opponents of their political and social capital. He has also engaged his foes enormously, such as in court cases, dharnas, protest rallies, fundraising for flood affectees, long march, media campaigns, electioneering, etc. That has made him more popular and more powerful than before. The political process theory seems to be, therefore, relevant too. PTI phenomenon can’t be explained in isolation. It is, therefore, imperative to examine the position of other major parties. If the result of recently held by-elections is any indicator, the incumbent ruling parties have lost major political capital since 2018. For instance, their combined strength (vote bank) dropped by 52 percent in recently held by-elections.

That reminds me of a metaphor, the ‘boiling frog syndrome.’ It means the frog fails to notice the looming danger until it reaches a boiling point. And by the time frog realizes the danger, it is too late to react. He is trapped and gone.’ The parties who have been ruling since the 1970s and 1980s had become too confident and failed to realize the looming danger – the rise of PTI. Perhaps they were also trapped by their own propaganda – that PTI didn’t have public support and had won the 2018 election just because of the establishment’s support. Mr. Khan relied more on people’s mobilization and participation than Sharif, Zardari, and Maulana, which radically differentiates the two.

Before examining the PTI’s Long March, it is apt to investigate the Long March of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP’s Long March covered 10,000 km in 12 months (October 1934 – October 1935). They crossed 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers to reach the northwestern province of Shaanxi. Only 8,000 of those 130,000 people who joined the long march reached their destination. The heroic struggle inspired huge numbers of Chinese youth to join the CCP during the late 1930s and early 1940s, which resulted in the revolution’s success.

Read more: PTI long march shows nation has given up on PML-N?

The Nationalists, Kuomintang, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek, banned the CCP in 1928. At the time, Mao was one of the communists who moved to rural areas. In 1931 they established the first Chinese Soviet Republic. It had about 10 million population. The Nationalists attacked the Chinese Soviet Republic, which was successfully repulsed. Despite this, Mao was removed from the leadership position apparently because of his war strategy (guerilla warfare) in 1934. That resulted in the fifth encirclement of the Chinese Soviet Republic by 700,000 Chiang forces. The new CCP leadership abundant the Moa’s guerilla warfare and adopted conventional warfare, which miserably failed. The surviving communists, including 40 women, managed to break the encirclement, which paved the way to continue the long march and to bring back Zhou Enlai and Mao as leaders of the communists. By the end of October 1935, Zhou and Mao’s forces joined other Red Army troops in Shaanxi, where the long march ended, and Mao was elected as the party’s undisputed leader.

The success of the long march helps Mao to consolidate his position not only as a political leader but also as a great military strategist. He also goes on to be entrusted with the leading military campaigns against the invading Japanese beginning in 1937. This led the CCP and communist supporters in China to swell to over 100 million following WWII. Once the civil war continued after the Japanese surrendered, Chiang Kai-shek’s forces were no match for Mao’s influence. Mao would go on to proclaim the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October of 1949, establishing the CCP as the sole ruling party in China.

Let’s now discuss the PTI’s Long March. First, don’t take the long march in isolation. It is a major component of PTI’s resistance movement. Except for the name itself, are there any similarities between the CCP’s and the PTI’s Long March? First, let’s find the obvious variances. The contexts are entirely different both from time and space angles. Therefore, the nature of both the long marches too. One was armed and thus bloody, and the other is peaceful and democratic in its strategy and tactics. Whether it will remain peaceful depends on the behavior of the permanent establishment and its collaborators. So far, despite provocation, i.e., the assassination attempt on Imran Khan, the killing of Arshad Sharif and torturing of PTI Senators/leaders, and the harassment of intellectuals and media persons, PTI has remained peaceful, and it appears it will.

PTI’s resistance strategy seems to be a fine mixture of Jinnah’s constitutionalism and Gandhi’s non-violence resistance. Therefore, most likely, it will remain a non-violent resistance movement. While CCP’s Long March was to overthrow the system, the goal of the PTI’s Long March is to cleanse the corrupt status quo and polity. Despite that extreme difference, there appear to be few similarities between the two long marches.

Read more: Arshad Sharif: A symbol of the long march – Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Khan

PTI’s resistance to the establishment is unique in several ways. Its strategy is more complex and multi-faceted than all the previous political movements. First, since 1977, no major party alone challenged the establishment or the rulers. Pakistan National Alliance – a nine-party coalition, launched the anti-Bhutto movement, and since then, every movement, including PDM, consisted of some form of united front having a very limited agenda – removal of the incumbent. Someone could disagree with my observation by citing PTI’s alliance with Sheikh Rasheed, Ejazul Haq, and Pervez Elahi. But, they are not participating in the long march actively. Second, unlike previous movements, the PTI’s resistance consists of a direct attack on very powerful individuals belonging to very powerful institutions, including military generals, by exposing their wrongdoings, publicly condemning interference of the USA in regime change, adopting unprecedented measures, such as Khan’s contesting of by-elections from seven constituencies simultaneously and resigning collectively from the National Assembly, while continuously running the provincial governments and keeping its President. Third, PTI successfully used social media to consolidate its narrative and public motivation.

Though the long march and Mao’s guerilla warfare have inspired millions of people around the globe, there is no comparable struggle in modern history. Therefore, the PTI’s Long March is not even a miniature of the CCP’s Long March. Similarly, the long marches that had taken place prior to PTI’s Long March were blatant jokes with the concept. Yet we can draw several lessons and parallels. First, it helped Mao and the CCP not only to defeat its enemies but also to abolish the decadent feudal and dynastic system. The PTI’s Long March, though, has not come to an end at the time of writing this essay; like the CCP’s Long March, it has achieved one objective – Imran Khan’s popularity has risen manyfold. He has emerged as the most popular leader who has a following across all provinces. Second, like the CCP’s Long March, the PTI’s Long March too attracted youth as well as rural populations, which was not the case at the time its government was sacked. Third, also, like the CCP’s Long March consolidated leadership of Mao within the party, Imran Khan has established himself as the most enduring leader. Overall, it appears critical admirers have turned into solid supporters since he started the long march. If his long march ends successfully, like the Kuomintang’s escape from China, many corrupt leaders of Pakistan are likely to flee the country.

The PTI successfully exploited every millimeter of space and void to its benefit. It also appears to have cemented the relationship within the PTI hierarchy as it has weakened different factions too. This could be used to democratize the party structure and decision-making processes. The social capital that is visibly active at the grassroots level provides some room to weaken the dynasts not only inside of the PTI but also it can be used for introducing political and electoral reforms in the country. And that could help improve the quality of governance in the country. The ownership of reforms must be inculcated in the hearts and minds of PTI workers, as their participation in the longest-ever resistance movement might have already hardened their loyalty to the leader and party.

Read more: Final stage of PTI long march arrives

At the time of writing this piece, it appears PTI has almost won another major battle through its long march. Like the communist revolution took another 14 years to achieve revolution and real freedom, Mr. Khan may face many more battles to accomplish the Haqeeqi Azadi – to every kissan, to every worker, to every woman, every political party/leader, to civil society and to every citizen from their immediate tyrant. For that, he must offer a detailed program to the public.

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