When it comes to “maoism” I think a lot of people are unaware that those of us identify as marxist-leninist-maoist are only speaking of a theoretical tradition that crystallized around 1990. To be sure, the term goes back to the 1960s and the Chinese communists’ split from Soviet hegemony, but then it was simply short-hand for a dominant current of anti-revisionist communism.

Before 1990, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, “maoism” simply meant a type of marxism-leninism that identified with the ongoing Chinese Revolution rather than Soviet revisionism. Beyond this, it had no coherent and/or consistent theoretical content. The maoists pre-1990 were generally anti-revisionists, concerned with upholding the revolutionary line of marxism-leninism. The maoist, in this context, was only a maoist insofar as s/he argued that the Chinese Revolution (specifically the Cultural Revolution) was carrying forward world revolution and that Mao Zedong was just the most advanced revolutionary leader. Hence “Mao Zedong Thought”.

This understanding of maoism, which never really conceived of itself as maoism (as a moment of continuity-rupture with the chain of marxism-leninism that produced new universalizable theory), could only find itself in crisis when China also chose the path of revisionism. Like those who were certain that the Soviet Union, regardless of Khrushchev, was still the command centre of world revolution, the maoists of yesteryear were shattered by the crisis of China’s collapse into state capitalism. Tied to a place, to a particular rather than universal moment, the marxist-leninists labelled “maoist” were, by the mid-1980s, incapable of explaining why their “maoism” was any different from the Soviet revisionism that happened earlier.

The claim that the theoretical developments produced by the Chinese Revolution under Mao Zedong represented a development in universal revolutionary theory, a new stage in revolutionary communism, was only articulated by the Peruvian Communist Party [PCP, known as the Sendero Luminoso] at the end of the 1980s. And, following the early assertions of the PCP, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement [RIM] would finally declare “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” in 1993. This is the moment, moving into the 1990s, that maoism crystallized as an actual theoretical current.


Now what is most interesting about the fact that a “new stage” of revolutionary communist theory was declared around 1990 is that it was declared in the very moment we were told that capitalism was victorious and the end of history. The Berlin wall had fallen; the former Soviet Union was being avidly free-marketized; China was descending further into state capitalism; Cuba had retreated into siege stagnation. But here, in the midst of this historic defeat, a new revolutionary stage is proclaimed! This was not supposed to happen: capitalism was triumphant, the imperialists had won the cold war, and communism was passé––”good in theory but bad in practice” was the banal refrain of the liberals, “terrible totalitarianism” was the chorus of the reactionaries.

We must remember, however, that what would eventually be called leninism was also wrested from the jaws of historic defeat. The SPD in Germany––the supposed leader of the international proletariat at that time––had capitulated to imperialism; the Second International imploded; World War One was unleashed amidst the ruin of communist failure. But then, against all odds (and in Russia of all places!) there was the Bolshevik Revolution. Decades later there was the Chinese Revolution. Smaller revolutions and global anti-imperialism were rampant.

None of this is to say that the historic defeat now isn’t much greater than the defeat from which the Bolshevik Revolution emerged; indeed, it is much greater––actually existing socialisms failed, giving capitalism the supposed right to declare itself superior. What I find interesting, though, is that these moments of communism have always emerged when they were not supposed to emerge, when communism was supposedly crushed and capitalism was triumphant.

Go back before the Bolshevik Revolution to the Paris Commune: what would eventually be known as marxism was fully theorized, and emerged as the prime ideology of the international proletariat, only after this historic and tragic defeat. Nearly seventy years later, a longer period of time between now and the last gasp of the Chinese Revolution, the Soviet Union emerges. So is it really that strange that a new stage of revolutionary communist theory crystallizes in 1993 of all times? Only the cynics at the centres of capitalism, or the anti-communist anarchists, would call this emergence anachronistic.

But those who refuse to view history in this manner are often those who will declare, when it comes to maoism, that “the maoist project died in the 1980s.” The thing is, the maoist project didn’t really exist until 1993 and has been slowly developing, sometimes in great upheavals, since that time. Marxism, after all, did not fail because it did not come to fruition in the time of Marx: it was proved through the Bolshevik Revolution through the operationalization of Lenin––this opened the door to theorization of something that would be called leninism, something that emerged through that world historical moment but was not fully theorized, with ups and downs, until later. And so later, in the early days of the Chinese Revolution, marxism-leninism was operationalized by Mao––another door was opened, another theoretical terrain breached. The Chinese Revolution wasn’t maoist anymore than the Russian Revolution was leninist: these were the theoretical crystallizations resulting from judging and assessing what operationalizations succeeded after the fact.

Maoism, then, is just over two decades old, far younger than Marxism was at the time of the Russian Revolution, and already there have been significant attempts to pursue its operationalization: Peru, Nepal, India… There will be more attempts, and the RIM will rear its head again, and the 21st century will not only be a century of great rebellious upheaval––as is every period of crisis––but it will be for anti-capitalists, in many ways and despite banal movementist claims, the maoist century, just as the 20th century, regardless of the tiny counter-currents of anarchism and reformism, the leninist century.