July 18, 2012

Although maoism has been the most vital form of revolutionary communism in the world since the 1990s, those of us at the centres of capitalism who adopt the identity of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist occasionally have to deal with some very annoying misconceptions about what we believe. When we tell other leftists that we identify as maoist we are sometimes met with bemused expressions, glazed eyes, and curious suspicion. And despite our best efforts, we generally have to deal with the same bizarre assumptions about what we believe. It doesn’t matter how many times we correct these misconceptions, or how successful we are in organizing outside of the boundaries of the mainstream left, the same assumptions continue to be asserted irregardless––sometimes by the same people who have simply ignored everything that we’ve said to begin with. So, while it probably won’t matter one bit, I’ve taken it upon myself to list and again correct some of these erroneous claims about what we maoists believe.

1. Maoists are only concerned with peasant revolution.

This is probably the most common argument levelled against maoists at the centres of capitalism, a claim that keeps being despite all attempts on the part of maoists to argue otherwise. For when people think of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution, the first thing that pops into their heads––if they aren’t reactionaries [see below] is the large-scale peasant movements, the Long March, and the belief that when some of us talk of a “Peoples’ War” we are interested in mobilizing the peasantry. Clearly this allows our critics to dismiss us out-of-hand because, obviously, there is no peasantry in Canada, or the United States, or Western Europe, or etc. Clearly there is no social class at the centres of capitalism that qualifies as the peasantry and so, if maoism is just a peasant marxism, then it wouldn’t make any sense.

So let me say it again: we maoists are not primarily concerned with a universal peasantry that we believe exists in every country. When some of us speak of the importance of Mao’s theory of protracted peoples war and its applicability to our social contexts we are not imagining a scenario where we will disappear into the hills with some active and over-exploited peasantry similar to the peasantry that exists in China. Nor do we believe migrant workers, rural labourers, let alone farmers at the centres of capitalism count as a peasant class. We generally believe that peasants only exist at the peripheries of global capitalism, in semi-feudal societies, and not at the imperial centres. Good lord, I don’t know how many times I have to say this! Stop telling me that I believe in some non-existent Canadian peasantry––I don’t live in a bubble.

If Mao organized the peasants in China, and if other revolutionary parties organize peasants, it is because these movements happened in societies where pre-capitalist formations were retained and allowed to flourish under comprador capitalism. Thus, in these contexts, peasants were often the most revolutionary social class––mainly because they were far more numerous than a nascent and underdeveloped proletariat. Hence the maoist concept of semi-feudalism that has to do with these social formations. When it comes to capitalist modes of production like Canada and the US, though, we maoists do not believe that there is anything that can be properly called a peasant social class. Stop telling us that we do when we do not because it’s getting annoying.

Also, stop telling those of us who believe in the theory of Peoples War that this theory is dependent on some non-existent peasantry that you think we want to organize. We don’t. I mean, if they did exist I’m sure we would want to organize them, but just like you we’re pretty sure they don’t exist and so we aren’t trying all that hard to find some class simply because it fits into our romantic social categories. We aren’t imagining that the cities will be surrounded by some imaginary peasant hinterland.

We believe in the necessity of what Mao called a concrete analysis of a concrete situation which is why we think social investigation is important––the same sort of social investigation that led Mao to organize amongst the peasants in China rather than the industrial workers. We are certain, because of social investigation, that there is no peasantry at the centres of capitalism. We are not always so certain, however, that what some marxists refer to as the proletariat is necessarily the hard-core of the proletariat; we think this working class, which will form the advanced embryo of a revolutionary movement, cannot be defined by uncritical formulae derived from nineteenth century thinking. Those who control the means of production and have nothing left to lose but their chains, after all, are no more the unionized industrial working class than they are the non-existent first world peasantry.

2. Maoists are vicious murderers.

If anyone reading this blog still thinks this they should stop reading now. Seriously: if you’ve been a reader for this long and still believe this reactionary shit, you probably should find another hobby blog to read. This is what uncritical reactionaries generally think because of the right-wing garbage that has recently been promoted about the Chinese Revolution and its simply regurgitated cold war propaganda.
But seriously… if you think we’re maoists because we want to murder everyone and the whole world [please note that some of this propaganda relies on taking statements like this out of context and I’m sure some reactionary somewhere is going to wrench several words out of there coherent structure and quote me as saying “we want to murder everyone and the whole world”] then just stop identifying as left-wing now. I’m sure you can have a happier and less confused life identifying as a liberal.

3. Maoists are class collaborationists.

This is the best. Do you know how many times I’ve run into some ortho-Trot and been screamed at based on hir half-baked understanding of Mao’s theory of “New Democracy”. The argument goes as follows: in the Chinese Revolution Mao believed in a class alliance with nascent elements of the national bourgeoisie in order to build the context for socialism… ergo maoism is all about class collaboration. The best is when these same ortho-Trots start yelling about the supposed “maoist” failure in countries such as Indonesia where communists who were somewhat influenced by the Chinese Revolution liquidated themselves in Sukarno’s nationalist project and were destroyed. “EXPLAIN YOUR ACTIONS IN INDONESIA!” they shout at panels, thinking they have made some super brilliant point.

Let’s be clear: 1) we maoists do not believe in some homogenous tradition with a great leader (i.e. Mao) who was always right just as the Prophet Trotsky was always right; 2) maoism was first theorized by the Peruvian revolutionaries in 1988 and then by the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement in 1993 and so did not exist as a theory in these random and confused revolutionary moments you mention––so sorry, you’re talking about moments that have nothing to do with us so stop projecting; 3) you don’t even understand the supposed “maoist” theory you’re attacking in the first place.

The theory of New Democracy, which I won’t get into here, is about how to build a socialist movement in peripheral countries. By grasping the fact that revolutionary delinking is necessary, that it is important to build up the forces necessary for socialism (and that don’t exist in semi-feudal, semi-colonial contexts), the theory argued for an alliance with progressive aspects of the national bourgeoisie. It did not argue for the liquidation of communists within these classes (as, for example, the communists did in Indonesia) but that these classes should be liquidated within the growing sphere of the proletariat. The class in command was what was important and so these other situations you speak of, though you might think they have something to do with either maoism or “Mao Zedong Thought”, are utterly alien to the theory of New Democracy––in Indonesia, for example, it was clear that the “class in command” question wasn’t satisfied so to even bring it up as some sort of argument is laughable. Just as your belief that maoism existed as it does today at the point in time is a joke: please stop projecting us back on the past to fit your bizarre and ahistorical arguments about reality.

4. Maoists are third worldist layabouts.

Since we believe, following Lenin, that revolution is more likely to happen at the weakest link of world capitalism, and that a labour aristocracy is predominant at the centres of capitalism, we are often accused of being Third Worldists who are under the impression that revolution is impossible at the centres of capitalism.

Yes, there is something called Maoism Third Worldism, but it is an offshoot of “Mao Zedong Thought” that emerged before Marxism-Leninism-Maoism was theorized. In other words, most of the worldwide maoist movement doesn’t think that Maoism Third Worldism counts as maoism-proper and some of us find it as asinine as the rest of you. Truthfully, we don’t deny some of its claims; we simply feel that they lack nuance, are not the product of proper social investigation, are undialectical, and are generally the product of theoretical confusion. We generally respect, however, the willingness of Maoist Third Worldists to reassert the problem of the “labour aristocracy”; we just think that its belief in a global Peoples War––where there is no point at organizing at the centres of imperialism, where we should leave revolutionary praxis to third world movements, and where we should just provide these movements with our “brilliant” insights––is itself also a product of first world elitism.

(And again, I emphasize, “maoism” did not appear as a theory until after this “Maoist Third Worldist” ideology emerged. And the latter emerged only in first world countries whereas the former was promoted primarily by the third world countries the latter was supposedly theorized to support.)

Nor does the fact that Maoism Third Worldism is the product of our general theoretical tradition fill us with much trepidation. At least it is a theoretical trajectory that cares about world revolution and is less revisionist than the trajectories in other traditions… It is not, regardless of its problems, entryism.

5. Maoists are uber-dogmatists.

Compared to what? Compared to your movementist dogmatism that dogmatically rejects all talk of a revolutionary party? Seriously, I don’t understand why our tradition is treated as “more dogmatic” than the Troskyism and post-Trotskyism that is the normative fact of communist building in the mainstream left in, say, Toronto. Nor do I understand why it is entirely “dogmatic” to challenge a movementist status quo and suggest we should think of what has worked, historically, for revolutionary movements.

Obviously there are maoists who are dogmatists. But then, to be fair, there are dogmatists in every left-wing tradition. Hell, there are even anarchists who like to think they’re all about being non-dogmatic who are the worst kind of dogmatists precisely because they think they are beyond dogma!

6. Isn’t Maoism something that happened in the 1970s and maybe the early 80s?

As indicated in some of the above categories, the general ignorance of what maoism is and when it emerged allows for people to make all sorts of wild assertions about maoism that actually do not apply to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. If you cannot first define what it is you are critiquing, after all, your critiques will be meaningless.

The intrepid critics of maoism who do not want to the work of actually reading modern maoist texts about theory (it’s not so hard to find the RIM statement online, folks, and it’s just a short overview of the theory of MLM!) like to go back to the Chinese Revolution, provide some messy analysis of what they think happened there [often this falls back on an erroneous reading of the theory of New Democracy, see point 3 above], go on about how it failed [but give the wrong reasons for its failure because you haven’t thoroughly studied said revolution], and then apply these failures upon organic and revolutionary maoist movements happening today.

That maoism thing, we’re supposed to believe, kind of died at the end of the 1970s because China went state capitalist. Even worse, sometimes we’re supposed to accept that the capitalist roaders running the Chinese State are somehow “maoist”, or at least the logical result of “maoism”… Everyone has a good chuckle at how antiquated this maoism is!

But aside from being a critique from the right that is ultimately counter-revolutionary, it really doesn’t apply to maoism. Let me again state, as I have stated many times before (and even in this post), maoism wasn’t theorized until 1988 and 1993. Before that, there was no such thing as “maoism” in a coherent manner: maoists were anti-revisionist communists who supported China over the Soviet Union, there was something called Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought where Mao was treated as a better interpreter of Marxism-Leninism than Stalin, and though there was some indication that people were thinking towards the concept of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on the whole there was no such thing as “maoism” proper. This is why we maintain that the Chinese Revolution wasn’t a “maoist” revolution but the revolution that produced the theoretical insights that would allow us to theorize maoism; similarly, the Bolshevik Revolution wasn’t a “leninist” revolution but produced the theoretical insights that would lead to theorization of leninism.

Point being, if you’re going to critique maoism at least demonstrate some understanding of when it emerged as a theory rather than going on and on about your bad understanding of the errors of the Chinese Revolution. Maoists also critique the short-comings of the Chinese Revolution, just as Leninists critique the short-comings of the Russian Revolution, so we really aren’t devastated by the insight that these revolutions failed. Clearly they failed; the point, as I have always maintained, is to understand why they failed and what they taught us. (And these failures, it is worth pointing out, aren’t the fantasy failures indicated by the usually bad, orientalist, and ahistorical analyses trotted out by supposedly “left” critiques of the Chinese Revolution [or Russian Revolution, for that matter].) So critiquing what we critique, and what produced the theory of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in the first place, isn’t really damning… especially if your understanding of history is wonky.

7. Maoists are just anarchists pretending to be communists.

I like this one because it appeals to my anarchist past. Nor can it can be denied that there are a lot of maoists who used to be anarchists… but then again, there are a lot of communists of all marxist stripes who used to be anarchists and vice versa. In any case, this charge is rather amusing because if you ask any dyed-in-the-wool hardcore anarchist if maoists are anarchist they will probably throw a fit of Kronstadt proportions.

Usually this charge is levelled at maoists who are active at the centres of capitalism by marxist groups that are generally suspicious of militancy in their social context, are used to abiding by reformism in practice, and have sometimes gone out of their way to paint anarchist militants as agents provocateurs, adventurists, lumpen who put people in danger, etc. Maoism, being a form of revolutionary communism that disdains reformist practice and thinks communists should not have a gap between theory and practice, believes that the militant practice of anarchists at the centres of capitalism is laudable. The only difference is that we maoists think this practice should be theoretically unified under a militant party organization (but one with a mass-line) so that it can be transformed into revolutionary practice. And this difference, obviously, puts us theoretically at odds with anarchists.

Even still, since anarchists are keeping militancy alive at the centres of capitalism and other communists would prefer to march with labour aristocrats, practice entryism, or have official “parades” where the police are assured they won’t do anything bad, then I’m all for working with anarchists. Maybe it is better to work with honest militants than those whose practice has become either economistic or opportunist.

8. In lieu of peasants, Maoists think the “lumpenproletariat” is the revolutionary subject.

I hear this a lot. It’s like the would-be critics of maoism really have to believe that maoists are opposed to the idea that the proletariat are the grave-diggers of capitalism and so, even in capitalist modes of production where proletarianization is generally complete, we just have to find some other class to be our revolutionary subject. I mean, once we get it into the minds of critics that we do not believe the peasantry is valid social class at the centres of capitalism and we aren’t looking for this non-existent peasantry [see point #1], suddenly we’re being told that we’re focusing on the lumpenproletariat. Similar to hipsters who won’t like a brilliant musician simply because they’re no longer indie, we maoists are trying to be all edgy and different with class: “Hahaha, you’re still into the proletariat––how lame is that?!?!? The lumpen is where it’s at!”

Earlier I posted on the concept of the lumpenproletariat because I was tired of hearing all this garbage about the PCR-RCP being a “lumpen organization”––a charge that, in my opinion, resulted from the following ignorant assumptions: a) the PCR-RCP is maoist and so can’t be into the proletariat; b) it has more worker looking people than my petty bourgeois organization so I’m going to call them lumpen because I don’t want to believe it’s organizing proletarians because only my group can organize proletarians; c) I don’t know what lumpenproletariat means.

As I pointed out in the entry cited above, the “reserve army of labour” and non-unionized workers do not count as “the lumpenproletariat”––but, since I already went into that problem in great detail, I won’t bother repeating myself here. I’ll just content myself with saying that we maoists see the proletariat as the revolutionary subject but that (as asserted in point #1) we think that social investigation is required to locate the most proletarianized part of the working class in any given society.

9. Maoists are macho masculinists because they talk about things like Peoples War.

While it is true that there are maoists who are quite probably macho masculinists, there are macho masculinists in every leftist grouping because, patriarchy being what it is, macho egotism is pretty widespread amongst even the left. But let’s also be clear: the best revolutionary feminist work in the past three decades has been produced by maoists and maoist-influenced thinkers: Hisila Yami’s People’s War and Women’s Liberation, Butch Lee’s Night-Vision, the collected work of Anuradha Ghandy (who was responsible for coining the term “proletarian feminism”), etc.

Unfortunately there is a type of thinking that tries to claim that any talk of violent struggle is somehow “masculine” and thus maoists, who talk about things like “Peoples War”, must also be “masculinist” even if they’re women. This is pretty stupid reformist garbage masquerading as progressive, though, and since we are communists we don’t believe there will be a peaceful revolution; we think, in fact, that it is pretty non-masculinist to have women’s militias (as the People’s War in Nepal, when it was at its height, tried to promote) and we think it might be somewhat offensive to tell these women’s militias that they are “acting like men” when they are fighting to overthrow the terms of their oppression.

10. Maoists are stupid.