Sunday, January 31, 2016

Whence Maoism? (Part 3: Marxism, Leninism… Maoism?) by Muhsin Y.


In this, the final part of my initial public meditation on “Maoism”, I wish to discuss “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”. It will be noted that throughout the “Whence Maoism?” pieces thusfar, I have placed “Maoism” and “Maoist” in quotation marks. The reason for this relates to the phenomenon of “MLM”: “Maoist” and “Maoism” are labels that have been used long prior to the emergence of a conscious theoretical effort to grant “Maoism” the status of a third and higher stage of revolutionary science, forged throughout the struggles within the RIM, and surviving after the latter’s effective demise as an evangelical trend within anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism (or, as they would have it, surviving as the only real anti-revisionist communist ideology). A particularly dogmatically anti-Mao Marxist-Leninist may use the term “Maoist” to deride others who are not, in the view of the “MLM” crowd, “proper Maoists”. Similarly, Trotskyites may refer to anti-revisionism as a whole as “Maoism”, just as they may refer to “Maoism” as “Stalinism [with Chinese characteristics]”.

With their document “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” we see the RIM’s official “recognition of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the new, third and higher stage of Marxism”, forcing other Marxist-Leninists, regardless of their views on Mao and the Chinese struggle, to formally declare that we do NOT view “Maoism” as a “third and higher stage”. Consequently, in their eyes, we become “dogmato-revisionists”. Of course, we are not “dogmatically anti-Che” for not holding that “Marxism-Leninism-Guevarism” is a “new, third, and higher stage of Marxism”, even if we do think Che is an inspiring figure and a great Marxist-Leninist. The parallels may seem odd to “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists”, for whom Mao is indeed a second Lenin, but in fact, many “Maoist” comrades (most?) continue to self-identify as “Marxist-Leninist”. We do not see this level of confusion over the division between Marxist-Leninists and so-called “Orthodox Marxists”, with whom we have so little common ground on the question of Lenin as to prevent debate from occurring in the first place. When “Maoists” ask what is really “new” in Bob Avakian’s famous “new synthesis”, we ought to ask what is really “new” in “Maoism”. To outsiders, “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists” appear, more than anything else, to be pointlessly sectarian. While dogmatic Hoxhaites are viewed as very sectarian by “Maoists”, we cannot say that any Hoxhaite organisation has ever defined revisionism negatively in terms of Enver Hoxha the way “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists” do with Mao.

We are told that Mao did indeed have unique theoretical insights which must be grasped in order to be a true communist (to not descend into “dogmato-revisionism”). What are these insights? The document “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” emphasises several ideas which are often repeated by “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists”, the most frequently repeated of which seem to be “cultural revolution”, “the mass line”, and “people’s war”. If I am mistaken that these are the issues which separate “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” from “dogmato-revisionist” Marxism-Leninism, I invite comrades to correct me. However, based on this assumption, I will give my appraisal of these ideas in the order I have given them above.

Cultural Revolution

I have previously commented briefly on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It is a fact that it failed in its mission to defeat the revisionists. I do not mean this in the sense that Stalin’s purges failed to prevent revisionism in the Soviet Union. I mean it failed in the most immediate sense, while Mao was alive, to the point where he was forced to accept Deng as a power player even while Jiang Qing and others continued to insist (rightly) that he was a capitalist roader.

I do not intend to use this space to attack the cultural revolution in the way that Enver Hoxha did, insisting it was un-Marxist and so forth. Nor is there much point in noting that mistakes were made, as almost all “Maoists” would admit that (otherwise they would be hard-pressed to explain the above-noted failure). What is worth discussing, in my view, is why this particular revolutionary moment is not merely upheld, but held up above all others. “Maoists” would respond that it is important because it represented the masses taking power into their own hands.

But as “Maoists” know better than anyone, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was but one of Mao’s many mass campaigns. Mao’s “mass line” meant that such mass campaigns were a tremendous part of his practice, something which they frequently mention as a reason to uphold Mao. Why then the emphasis on the last one? Was it the most successful? One may argue to the contrary, that this was the mass campaign that led to Mao’s surrender, and the military stepping in per the wishes of Mao’s opponents, etc. “The mass line” is no longer practised in China thanks to the new order accepted by Mao as a result of the Cultural Revolution. By contrast, the Great Leap Forward, also much maligned by bourgeois historiography, can in many ways be counted as a success.

In short, was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution the most important moment in Chinese history, or merely the largest (but still ultimately unsuccessful) example of “the mass line”?

The Mass Line

I did not merely redirect the Cultural Revolution to the mass line in order to degrade Mao’s practice in this area. Marxism-Leninism has always been a radically democratic ideology, in spite of anarchists’ willful misunderstanding of what the vanguard party means. The idea of “the mass line” comes out of a thorough and scientific investigation into the dialectical relationship between the vanguard party and the masses. It is the idea that the party must lead the masses not merely by standing one step ahead of them in the march towards victory, not merely by agitating among the masses to teach them the way forward, but by learning from the masses, so as to better teach them. One of Mao’s many succinct aphorisms explains the concept in terms I have always found sympathetic:
 “Communists should set an example in study; at all times they should be pupils of the masses as well as their teachers.
Of course, the issue is that this dialectical relationship was not first observed by Mao, he simply gave it the name “the mass line”. Stalin is quoted as saying:
Lenin taught us not only to teach the masses, but also to learn from them.
What does this mean?

It means, first, that we leaders must not become conceited; and we must understand that if we are members of the Central Committee or are People’s Commissars, this does not mean that we possess all the knowledge for giving correct leadership. An official position by itself does not provide knowledge and experience. This is still more the case in respect to a title.

This means, second, that our experience alone, the experience of leaders, is insufficient to give correct leadership; that, consequently, it is necessary that one’s experience, the experience of leaders, be supplemented by the experience of the masses, by the experience of the rank-and-file Party members, by the experience of the working class, by the experience of the people.

This means, third, that we must not for one moment weaken, and still less break, our connection with the masses.
This means, fourth, that we must pay careful attention to the voice of the masses, to the voice of the rank-and-file members of the Party, to the voice of the so-called “small men”, to the voice of the people.
And so forth.

Those familiar with the writings of Mao on practical work will note similarities without my having to point them out. This is not to attack Mao as an unoriginal thinker: It was Mao himself who emphasised “the mass line” was “the Marxist theory of knowledge” (and all Marxists ought to agree, if they understand dialectics), and “self-criticism” as a “Marxist-Leninist weapon”. Some “Maoists” take no issue with this, and on the contrary, embrace Stalin’s “mass line” approach. This leads to the question of Chairman Mao’s other commonly cited theoretical breakthrough: “the universality of people’s war”.

People’s War

In the first few paragraphs of the section of “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” entitled “Mao Tsetung”, we are told that among Mao’s key contributions was “people’s war”. Indeed, long prior to the RIM, the popular view among many lay observers was that “people’s war” was the essence of Mao’s practice. Certainly Mao’s military strategy inspired many, and is defended by many non-“Maoists”. “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” declares “the universality of people’s war”.

What does this mean? Does this mean that peasant revolution is to be carried out everywhere? “Maoists” insist that it does not. And yet the truly fascinating and historically noteworthy feature of the Chinese Civil War (from the perspective of proletarian internationalists and bourgeois observers alike) was how the peasantry of a backwards country was mobilised to defeat a professional military backed by the imperialist powers. Otherwise, what is “Maoist” “people’s war”? Let us go to the source, and we will that Mao does not argue for universalising the lessons of China, that he views the call for revolutionary violence (when called for by the conditions) as “Marxist-Leninist”:
The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally, for China and for all other countries.
But while the principle remains the same, its application by the party of the proletariat finds expression in varying ways according to the varying conditions. Internally, capitalist countries practice bourgeois democracy (not feudalism) when they are not fascist or not at war; in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations. Because of these characteristics, it is the task of the party of the proletariat in the capitalist countries to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism. In these countries, the question is one of a long legal struggle, of utilizing parliament as a platform, of economic and political strikes, of organizing trade unions and educating the workers. There the form of organization is legal and the form of struggle bloodless (non-military). On the issue of war, the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries oppose the imperialist wars waged by their own countries; if such wars occur, the policy of these Parties is to bring about the defeat of the reactionary governments of their own countries. The one war they want to fight is the civil war for which they are preparing. But this insurrection and war should not be launched until the bourgeoisie becomes really helpless, until the majority of the proletariat are determined to rise in arms and fight, and until the rural masses are giving willing help to the proletariat. And when the time comes to launch such an insurrection and war, the first step will be to seize the cities, and then advance into the countryside’ and not the other way about. All this has been done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries, and it has been proved correct by the October Revolution in Russia.
If “Maoists” are not adventurists, and merely seek to avoid pacifism and eventually overthrow the bourgeois state, and they are not peasant-ists, if they are not, in a word, “Narodniks”, then according to Mao’s description, “people’s war” appears to be yet another case where “Maoist” packaging makes orthodox Marxism-Leninism look brand new, contrasted against the revisionism and opportunism of surrounding non-“Maoist” parties (and, it is worth noting, many such revisionist and opportunist parties themselves “uphold” Mao).

(If “Maoists” doubt that Mao’s military strategy is acceptable to non-“Maoist” Marxist-Leninists, that there is some fanatical commitment to some particular type of military strategy which precludes guerrilla warfare, etc., they should note the reception of Ho Chi Minh in even anti-“Maoist”, dogmatic Hoxhaite circles, and then should explain how Ho Chi Minh was not practising “people’s war”, by any definition.)

There is surely more to say about “Maoism”, and I hope that “Maoist” comrades (both “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist” and self-identified Marxist-Leninists who have great sympathy for Chairman Mao) will, upon finishing reading my disorganised personal musings here, directly engage me in a critical fashion in the comments. Perhaps the result can be a more thorough conversation on elements of Mao’s theory and practice. But my conclusion remains, as it was, that Mao may have been a great revolutionary for a significant period, but specific adherence to his line to the exclusion of, for example, Enver Hoxha’s should not constitute a shibboleth between revolutionaries and revisionists.


  1. So, Cindy, does your publishing this screed mean you are in favor of armed insurrection to install a socialist junta in this country? I mean, aside from the obvious sedition and treason involved, it seems that revolution would kill unknown millions of innocents. Probably a lot of mother's sons would die, regardless of their political bent.
    You would have war to insure peace? Sounds a lot like Hitler, Pol Pot and all the other peaceful socialists.

    1. In summary, this was a good short third brief on Maoist-Lenisnism-Revisionism...Socialism is an american 1835-40's political mannerism of american plains. Lenin was into anarchism for communist takeover of Monarchist Russia, and Stalin saw fit to ameliorate Lenin's leadership thru "autocratic method" because that much would not evolve into plutocracy, which the u.s.a. but not americans had become!


    2. Another question...are you for "armed insurrection" to install Capitalist governments? AKA the USA? I guess what some people call "screeds" other people call "history."


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