Yo dawg, the Maoists have a point ☭
The Painful Essay about Revisionism that Western ‘Marxist-Leninists’ should probably try to read
I became a philosopher long ago, and decided that I wanted to pursue truth, whatever that may turn out to be, and wherever that would lead me, regardless of all else. I realized quickly that would lead me to Marxism, and was content with that. In fact, I had been expecting it long since my first run-ins and brushes with Marx, even independently arriving at many Marxist conclusions prior to reading his work. I was stuck there, in that nebulous space of being a vaguely Marxist ‘socialist’ for years, and slowly wrestled with the fact that it was continuously leading me towards the more dangerous and (for me, at the time) uncomfortable philosophy of Marxism-Leninism. This was especially true when and where Marxism touched into the all-encompassing topic of imperialism, which was required for explanatory power in the modern world. But the Obama Wall Street bailout served as the definitive proof I needed of the Leninist conception of the state, and thus, upon deeper investigation, I was forced to concede the point and became a Marxist-Leninist (slowly and not entirely linearly). But my journey wasn’t over (and still isn’t), but its becoming clear that, in wrestling with revisionism, the other great demon of Marxism and the actual destroyer of the two largest historical Marxist-Leninist projects (alongside Pizza Hut), that the domain of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is where my search for truth must continue.
This one wasn’t easy to write, and might not be easy to read. But you should try. As to why did I put “Marxist-Leninists” in quotes in the header? Well, come on this challenging journey with me, and by the end we might both be on the road to being better Marxists. For the record, I went down the pro-modern-China road myself and produced my own philosophical errors that I would later come to grapple with. I was actually rather cautious at first, but then got swept up in the momentum of the post-Sanders pro-China surge, and brought at least a few people with me. While the consequences haven’t been all bad (in fact, seeing Westerners humanize and defend Asians and their history has been a somewhat wonderful thing), the pro-China position has become increasingly incorrect, sometimes vile and reactionary (“Comrade” Duterte my ass), antithetical to what Mao had advocated, and more and more disassociated from anything resembling Marxism. At first I sort of smiled and nodded and passively went along with this movement, or assumed that I was missing something that I would discover with more investigation, but as that investigation continued more and more things weren’t fitting together. The picture of history was becoming more distorted, not less, and Marxism was becoming increasingly warped (“Huawei is socialism!” was one of my breaking points), so I gradually realized that I, too, was voicing the wrong positions. So I’m going to go through my own thought process as to why I have made this seemingly rather abrupt U-turn (really, this essay had been in the works for months before now) on the pro-China position that you may have seen stated in a handful of my previous essays. What may be disheartening to many is that I’m also going to withdraw on the whole idea of “actually existing socialism,” but I implore you to read through the essay to understand why. I’m still deeply sympathetic to Cuba, Vietnam, DPRK, and Laos but sympathies miss the larger point that needs to be made. And in all fairness, I’ve always been a Maoist apologist, and by this point I’ve finally come to admit they have the stronger philosophical position.
I will add, for whatever mistakes I made, I was at least cautious enough the other way to avoid attacking the actually existing Maoist revolutions and movements in the world, and that should be a good lesson for any Marxist — don’t throw your fellow revolutionaries under the bus, especially those actually engaged in revolution (even if you think they are making an error). Shit like “jungle Trots” was especially wretched and always stuck out to me as problematic. Maoists might come off as too severe, but if you are able to follow the strenuous anti-revisionism demanded by upholding correct and accurate Marxism, you will see that they often have reason to be, and if nothing else comes from this essay I hope that more Marxist-Leninists make the effort to engage Maoists in good faith and sincerity, rather than blocking them out — especially because the Maoist philosophical position is more fundamentally correct, and they are being ignored to the detriment of the worldwide communist movement.
what’s the deal with Revisionism?
An enormous part of Marxist history is, and remains, combatting revisionism. That is, maintaining and upholding the core ideas that Marx and Engels were getting at, rather than falsely manipulating their positions into something softer, less accurate, more compromising, or even antithetical to what they actually were, in the name of political convenience or expediency. Revisionism is what occurs when you revise Marx to fit some current political aim or goal — when you deliberately or even unintentionally distort Marx to uphold something that isn’t advancing socialism scientifically as actually doing that. These revisionist ideas are ultimately breaking away from those very core, fundamental, and foundational ideas that Marx, and the later Marxists, had spent their lives digging towards, establishing, and developing. This leads to policies and programs that come from those ideas leading away from communism, instead of towards it. Bending Marxism into something that it no longer is becomes a very big deal for Marxists, because it provides the avenue upon which bourgeois intruders and bourgeois ideas will sneak in and derail the proletarian movement (something that might not even be done intentionally or knowingly); so having a clear, unambiguous and undistorted position of what is Marxism is, and what is actually advancing socialism and moving it forwards, is a very big deal in the Communist movement.
The anti-revisionists are almost always labelled “dogmatists” by the revisionists. Which, itself, is such a strange criticism. The accusation is that taking the core ideas which Marx et al. were getting as as actually being correct and in correspondence with reality — that said notion is actually wrong in some way, and whatever distortion needs to be applied is actually acceptable. But in rejecting the ‘dogma’ (which are actually the correct ideas of Marx and company) they are necessarily promoting revisionism. The issue of casting someone like Liu Shaoqi, Nikita Khrushchev, or whomever else as being a revisionist is not to cast (inconsequential) moral condemnations on these long dead figures — it’s because this shapes the way in which we, as Marxists, work and organize. It’s not enough to passively say “don’t be revisionist folks,” but to be explicit and concrete — pointing it out and going into detail on how and why it is revisionism so that it is clear to everyone and why it would be incorrect to pursue courses of action stemming from that line of thought. This is the problem with upholding things that aren’t advancing socialism as being socialist, because these become the ‘good examples’ for many in the movement, when the example is actually misguided, off-course, and heading in the wrong direction. This misguided trajectory ultimately undermines socialism and even the party, and destroys it from within.
Marx and Engels frequently and constantly had to defend their scientific socialism from utopians and opportunists, who would regularly attempt to accuse Marx and Engels of stealing their works, when Marx’s work was both different in substance, and better. So Marx and Engels had to engage in lengthy ‘anti-revisionist’ (of sorts) writings of their own to explain and demonstrate clearly and coherently that their attackers were in error and that their work stood correct and as the presiding theory for proletarian emancipation. Lenin and Mao both spent more than half of their political careers fighting against Revisionism (but that’s the centrepiece of this essay, so keep reading). Rosa Luxemburg’s most famous work, Reform or Revolution exists as basically an expose and assault on the revisionism of Bernstein (the original ‘doing capitalism leads to communism’ guy) and LaSalle (the original ‘co-ops are actually communism’ guy) and various others— showing how and why their interpretations of Marx and distortions of the socialist position would not end up producing socialism, as they promised, but rather reproducing capitalism.
In fact, Rosa Luxemburg made another great point here. Marxism should be treated as a living thing, at its best when it is interacting with the world, but all of the meaningful interactions of the past forty years have been Maoist actions. Marxism-Leninism and the respective, remaining ‘Marxist-Leninist’ organizations and parties have been caught-on-the-back foot, or docile, or lacking in direction, with few consequential actions taken, at best, and useless, irrelevant, if not outright misguided or wrong in many parts of the world at worst. And the new ‘Marxist-Leninist’ position, which can be summed up in that all we can do at the moment is watch the leftover ‘socialist’ states do capitalism, and hope somehow socialism comes from that eventually is basically a reduction of Marxism-Leninism to just being Kautskyite ‘ultra-imperialism,’ with extra steps. But anti-Revisionism is the history of 20th century socialism, and its the very meat in which Maoism has sunk its teeth.
The abolition of classes requires a long, difficult and stubborn class struggle, which, after the overthrow of capitalist rule, after the destruction of the bourgeois state, after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, does not disappear (as the vulgar representatives of the old socialism and the old Social-Democracy imagine), but merely changes its forms and in many respects becomes fiercer.
-Lenin, Greetings to the Hungarian Workers, 1919
the renegade Kautsky
A hundred years ago, the premier example of revisionism — the distorting of Marx — was when Karl Kautsky gradually began to alter the substance of the works of Marx and Engels, first by ignoring and omitting relevant material, but later by literally warping it to its opposite intent. This worsened until finally he was leading the Second International straight into World War One at the backs of the imperialist powers. Meanwhile, a previously obscure and seemingly irrelevant figure on the far-left fringe named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (yes, Lenin) rose to prominence by exposing and identifying the distortions of Kautsky and how he was misrepresenting Marx (see State and Revolution, or The Collapse of the Second International for great examples). Lenin was also considered a fringe ‘ultra-leftist’ and ‘dogmatist’ in his own time by the Kautskyites. Remember that Kautsky began as an excellent Marxist, even referred to as the ‘Pope’ of Marxism for years following Engels’ death, became the de facto leader of the Second International, and was widely considered the best Marxist of his time. But as the pressures of World War I and high imperialism encroached, Kautsky increasingly veered away from Marx and Engels, deliberately misrepresenting them, replacing their revolutionary ideas with his own ideas that functioned to support and serve the bourgeoisie, with the most egregious example being the famous “pigeon-holed” works of Marx and Engels which directly contradict Kautsky’s ‘interpretations.’
Opportunism today, as represented by its principal spokesman, the ex-Marxist Karl Kautsky, fits in completely with Marx’s characterization of the bourgeois position.
-Lenin, State and Revolution, 1917
One of the main theses of Lenin is that the proletariat cannot make use of the bourgeois state or bourgeois state instruments for building socialism; the bourgeois state structure is to be smashed and a proletarian state is to be made and used in its place. This, too, is against the thesis that ‘doing some capitalism will help to advance socialism’ — something that is reiterated today in its own format. But it’s been forgotten that this idea was a significant part of the thesis of Kautsky, while Lenin spent his life arguing against this position:
Most characteristically, it is this important correction that has been distorted by the opportunists, and its meaning probably is not known to nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine-hundredths, of the readers of the Communist Manifesto. We shall deal with this distortion more fully farther on, in a chapter devoted specially to distortions. Here it will be sufficient to note that the current, vulgar “interpretation” of Marx’s famous statement just quoted is that Marx here allegedly emphasizes the idea of slow development in contradistinction to the seizure of power, and so on.
As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is the case. Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the “ready-made state machinery”, and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it…
Abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere and completely, is out of the question. It is a utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will make possible the gradual abolition of all bureaucracy — this is not a utopia, it is the experience of the Commune, the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.
-Lenin, State and Revolution, 1917
The fact that Kautsky ultimately proved himself a fraud, while Lenin proved himself correct is really just the icing on the anti-revisionist cake (that is, the best part!). Even people like Trotsky often tried to find a position that was a compromise of sorts between the revisionist line and the correct line (of Lenin), and Lenin called this out as well (as also, functionally, being revisionist and a distortion). The struggle against these distortions doesn’t stop here, of course. Stalin had a viscous split with Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, as the latter wanted to abandon Marxist socialism and internationalism in favour of a market-“socialist” economy and nationalism, which then, over time, produced its own bourgeois interests and capitalist class which all helped to undermine, break up and destroy the state a generation later. Of course, the place where this struggle against revisionism reaches its highest stage of development is under Mao Zedong.
the Sino-Soviet Split — that thing that ruined everything
It’s 1953. The Second World War has been won and Stalin is considered an international hero to people worldwide. Chiang Kai-Shek has retreated to his private island, and China has been unified and liberated under Mao Zedong. A combined population of nearly a billion people, with two of the largest countries in the world, now ready to lead humanity to glorious communist revolution. Everything is coming up Millhouse! If these two powers can co-operate, and work together to overcome the Western imperialists, then just about anything is achievable. What could possibly go wrong? Stalin? Stalin, why aren’t you moving? . . . Stalin? Oh no. . . Oh no no no.
Admittedly, Stalin had his own (less significant) issues with revisionism, and Maoism actually engages in a more thorough and detailed criticism of Stalin (while still, decisively, upholding and supporting him). Most significantly, Stalin did correctly identify that class struggle continues under socialism, but failed to identify how and where. He ultimately overlooked a great many of the bourgeois-sympathizers and their ideas organizing and fermenting within his own party. But I will mostly gloss over a detailed discussion of Stalin’s errors here, because that’s not the focus of this essay. Obviously the worsening part of the problem comes after the death of Stalin, in which Nikita Khrushchev comes to power. What often goes forgotten is that Khrushchev does not simply stroll into power, welcomed with open arms, but engaged in a ruthless power struggle that saw hundreds of the best (and most left wing and pro-Stalin) Marxists in the USSR expelled from the party, or their work, and even thrown in prison, including Stalin’s youngest son Vasily.
By 1956, Khrushchev was able to win over a majority of the Central Committee to his views. At the 20th Party Congress in 1956, he launched his vicious attack on Stalin, calling him ‘’a coward, an idiot, and a dictator.” This was designed to accomplish two things: first and foremost, to sow confusion in the ranks of honest communists by launching what was, in essence, an attack on the dictatorship of the proletariat; and second, to signal to his fellow capitalist roaders and his bourgeois class base that the tide had turned and it was safe to crawl out from the woodwork.
But this attack on Stalin also called forth opposition... ln the spring of 1957, a showdown came. V.M. Molotov and L. Kaganovich were able to assemble a majority in the Politbureau against Khrushchev. ln fact, the majority may have been overwhelming. But Khrushchev, as ever a wily fox, held a hidden card. This was the support of the notoriously self-seeking and individualistic Defense Minister, Marshal Zhukov. When Zhukov apparently indicated that he would oppose the Politbureau majority with armed force, the more vacillating allies began to reach for a compromise. Soon Khrushchev, had the majority. Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov and Shepilov were expelled as the so-called “anti-Party group.” Bulganin and Voroshilov were to follow in the not too distant future. As for Zhukov, Khrushchev, seeing in him a future rival, dumped him too.’:
The members of the “anti-Party group” failed to bring the struggle out of the Politbureau and to the masses. While Stalin was alive, his recognized and well-merited prestige was a strong weapon against-the revisionists; but the failure to develop mass forms was telling indeed. We do not know all the circumstances which prevented the proletarian forces from bringing the struggle into the open, developing mass action. Nor are we clear on exactly who did represent the proletarian line. Nonetheless, it can be stated that this failure was a major factor contributing to the revisionist takeover. Even so, many workers could sense that something was wrong. Several instances of workers spontaneously quitting work and demanding an explanation of the expulsions have been documented, most particularly a stoppage at an electrical appliances plant in Kursk. ln, Georgia, Stalin’s birth place, there were riots. ln other areas workers openly insulted the new leaders…
The seizure bf power in 1956–57 by the bourgeois headquarters led by Khrushchev marks the crucial turning point in the restoration. It was at this juncture that political power passed out of the hands of the proletariat and into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The reestablishment of fully capitalist relations of production was now inevitable, for it is impossible for a bourgeois political line to lead society in any direction but that of capitalism, But first, of course, socialism, built carefully for 40 years, had to be destroyed. Thus began the third stage in the restoration. This was the period of the wrecking of socialism which extended to the fall of Khrushchev in 1964. Of course, the first move in destroying socialism was Khrushchev’s ideological attack on the political basis of proletarian power, Marxism-Leninism.
This attack took three forms. First was his vicious condemnation of Stalin. Basically this was an attack on 30 years of working class rule. Idiots don’t guide the building ,of powerful industry from scratch and cowards don’t lead in defeating Hitler. Nor would a tyrant have lead the poor peasants in collectivizing agriculture. The second attack was the doctrine of the three peacefuls: peaceful coexistence,’ peaceful competition, and peaceful transition to socialism. According to Khrushchev, , the world had now changed. The existence of nuclear, weapons meant that everything had to happen without violence, including and especially people’s revolution. Lenin’s principle of peaceful coexistence between different social systems, adopted as a correct tactic for socialist countries surrounded by a capitalist world, was now interpreted as the key to strategy in foreign policy. Instead of aiding and encouraging the world revolutionary movement, the Soviet Union now asked the revolutionary people of the world to sit back and wait while the Soviet Union peacefully competed with the U.S. ln this competition the obvious economic and political superiority of the Soviet system would somehow mystically ensure that one day other people could also be free. This bankrupt policy meant abandonment of the struggle against imperialism, abandonment of the struggles for national liberation and socialism. It meant that Communist Parties around the world would become reformist parties and that the Soviet Union, formerly the great rear base area of the world revolution, would now be the great collaborator, and world riyal, of world imperialism. But the greatest of Khrushchev’s self ‘styled. “creative developments of Marxism-Leninism” was his theory of “the state of the whole people” and “the Party of the whole people”. Khrushchev asserted that the dictatorship of the proletariat was no longer necessary in the Soviet Union. This goes counter to everything Marxism-Leninism has summed up about the state. As long as society remains divided into classes, the state is an instrument for one class to impose its will on all others and to keep class warfare in hand. Of course, as long as there have been exploiting classes they have tried to cover this up with a lot of junk about divine right of kings or parliamentary democracy. Only the working class, because it represents the majority of the people, can come straight out and call its rule the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. ln fact, the theory oi “the state of the whole people” was a cover and a giveaway for the fact that a bourgeois stratum, a handful of capitalist roaders, had usurped power from the working class.
-The Origins of Capitalist Restoration and the Rise of N.S. Khrushchev
Of course, Khrushchev’s takeover of the communist movement and anti-Stalinism didn’t go unnoticed, nor unopposed by the other significant communist leaders of the world, most notably China’s Mao Zedong and Albania’s Enver Hoxha (though most capitulated and fell in with Khrushchev). Before long, Khrushchev was demanding that Mao, essentially, submit himself before the USSR and take up the same revisionist line that Khrushchev was promoting and upholding. But Mao was a great communist, and not a revisionist, and refused. “China took a belligerent stance towards the Western world, and publicly rejected the Soviet Union’s policy of peaceful coexistence between the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc.” While there were other compounding factors, (for example, Khrushchev famously “wanted ‘Disneyland’”— that is the wealthier USSR to keep more resources for itself for more domestic luxuries, rather than using them to help advance the much poorer China). Mao was uncompromising, and this divide became the Sino-Soviet Split — one of the worst things to ever happen to global communism. The fact that many “Marxist-Leninists” take a ‘both sides did wrong’ approach to this historical event, rather than standing up for Mao’s correct line, (whatever later mistakes he might make as a result of this) — the actual Marxist line — is a major mistake. If you’re going to uphold Stalin, then you need to be upholding Mao when he upholds Stalin against the very heart of anti-Stalinism. This is the very beginning of what becomes the Maoist movement.
Yo dawg, in order to guarantee that our Party and country do not change their color, we must not only have a correct line and correct policies but must train and bring up millions of successors who will carry on the cause of proletarian revolution. In the final analysis, the question of training successors for the revolutionary cause of the proletariat is one of whether or not there will be people who can carry on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary cause started by the older generation of proletarian revolutionaries, whether or not the leadership of our Party and state will remain in the hands of proletarian revolutionaries, whether or not our descendants will continue to march along the correct road laid down by Marxism-Leninism, or, in other words, whether or not we can successfully prevent the emergence of Khrushchev’s revisionism in China. In short, it is an extremely important question, a matter of life and death for our Party and our country. It is a question of fundamental importance to the proletarian revolutionary cause for a hundred, a thousand, nay ten thousand years. Basing themselves on the changes in the Soviet Union, the imperialist prophets are pinning their hopes of “peaceful evolution” on the third or fourth generation of the Chinese Party. We must shatter these imperialist prophecies. From our highest organizations down to the grass-roots, we must everywhere give constant attention to the training and upbringing of successors to the revolutionary cause. What are the requirements for worthy successors to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat? They must be genuine Marxist-Leninists and not revisionists like Khrushchev wearing the cloak of Marxism-Leninism. They must be revolutionaries who wholeheartedly serve the overwhelming majority of the people of China and the whole world, and must not be like Khrushchev who serves both the interests of the handful of members of the privileged bourgeois stratum in his own country and those of foreign imperialism and reaction. They must be proletarian statesmen capable of uniting and working together with the overwhelming majority. Not only must they unite with those who agree with them, they must also be good at uniting with those who disagree and even with those who formerly opposed them and have since been proved wrong in practice. But they must especially watch out for careerists and conspirators like Khrushchev and prevent such bad elements from usurping the leadership of the Party and the state at any level. They must be models in applying the Party’s democratic centralism, must master the method of leadership based on the principle of “from the masses, to the masses”, and must cultivate a democratic style and be good at listening to the masses. They must not be despotic like Khrushchev and violate the Party’s democratic centralism, make surprise attacks on comrades or act arbitrarily and dictatorially.
-Mao Zedong, quoted in “On Khrushchov’s Phony Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World” (1964)
Khrushchev ended up not simply being ‘the bad one’
There was sort of a hope for Mao and the Mao-supporters that Khrushchev would just end up being “that one shitty-ass communist,” who just kinda sucked at the whole communism thing, and that once he was finally out of power, a much better, proper communist would take his place and relations could be restored and a clear, correct path towards communism could be re-established and walked together by the USSR and China. Sadly, that never happened, and we shall see why in a moment. Instead, Khrushchev’s successor, Leonid Brezhnev, proved not to be the refutation of Khrushchev, but rather the unamusing, uninspired sequel — the Hangover 2 of revisionism. Instead of relations normalizing, they worsened. Instead of the Khrushchev’s revisionism being repudiated and rolled back, it was deepened and expanded. There was even armed conflict between China and the USSR, with the USSR being the main instigator and belligerent.
This is where Mao recognized something profound. Mao said to himself, “Yo dawg, what’s up with this revisionism shit? One bad revisionist USSR leader is bad luck, but two is a trend. This isn’t an accident. This is revisionism, and there is a material force of history behind it. The USSR isn’t doing a socialism anymore; these revisionist ideas that have come to dominate the USSR leadership aren’t just blunders or mistakes or typos in the font of Marxism. Yo, dawg, these are the ideas of the bourgeoisie — disguised and draped in communism, perhaps, but fundamentally working against those core ideas of Marx and Marxism, unravelling and undoing the progress toward socialism rather than cementing and developing and advancing that progress...” (not an actual direct quote, but it’s the gist — also Mao actually does say ‘yo dawg’ a lot in his writings, but its all lost in translation). The point is that it’s through this avenue that bourgeois ideas and ultimately bourgeois society is restored to the detriment of proletarian socialism.
How then, do classes exist in socialist countries? Does class struggle exist? We can now affirm that classes do exist in socialist countries and that class struggle undoubtedly exists. Lenin said: After the victory of the revolution, because of the existence of the bourgeoisie internationally, because of the existence of bourgeois remnants internally, because the petit bourgeoisie exists and continually generates a bourgeoisie, therefore the classes which have been overthrown within the country will continue to exist for a long time to come and may even attempt restoration. The bourgeois revolutions in Europe in such countries as England and France had many ups and downs. After the overthrow of feudalism there were several restorations and reversals of fortune. This kind of reversal is also possible in socialist countries. An example of this is Yugoslavia which has changed its nature and become revisionist, changing from a workers’ and peasants’ country to a country ruled by reactionary nationalist elements. In our country we must come to grasp, understand and study this problem really thoroughly. We must acknowledge that classes will continue to exist for a long time. We must also acknowledge the existence of a struggle of class against class, and admit the possibility of the restoration of reactionary classes. We must raise our vigilance and properly educate our youth as well as the cadres, the masses and the middle- and basic-level cadres. Old cadres must also study these problems and be educated. Otherwise a country like ours can still move towards its opposite. Even to move towards its opposite would not matter too much because there would still be the negation of the negation, and afterwards we might move towards our opposite yet again.
-Mao Zedong, Speech At The Tenth Plenum Of The Eighth Central Committee, (1962)
Be careful when you read this quote, because Mao is not saying, “eh, there will be some bourgeoisie left over after the revolution, no big deal.” What Mao is saying is “the bourgeoisie remain, and reform, thus the fight against them rages on! Only the form of that struggle changes.” You win the violent formal armed conflict, sure — that’s phase one — but that doesn’t eradicate all of the bourgeoisie, nor their ideas. You need to keep the struggle going, because they and their ideas infiltrate the socialist project and undo it, just as was done by Khrushchev. What is the weapon to combat this ‘dug in and hidden’ bourgeoisie within the socialist ranks? What is the form of struggle that this new phase of combat takes? This is where Mao makes his big theoretical advancement of socialist theory. Cultural Revolution is the second phase of socialism. It’s the answer to the question of “well, what do we do next?” once you get a socialism up and running.
Bourgeois elements, and their allies, obviously remain after the revolution/civil war/whatever armed, organized, violent conflict was required to defeat them and establish socialism in the first place. But with the violent war lost, and no immediate hope of toppling the victorious socialists with more overt violence, the bourgeois remnants need to adopt a new strategy, and take steps to protect what they still control. The socialists won that material battle with tanks and guns, but not yet the ideological war of ideas and institutional control. Bourgeois owners, the petty bourgeois, leftover labour aristocrats, privileged specialists, and their allies still hold and control much of the material of the society. Even if the Communist Party declares it all to be common property, there are still material practicalities about operation of society that require many of these figures until replacements can be trained. They may have special knowledge or expertise or whatever other ‘keys’ required for their production plants and factories and facilities. Thus, the bourgeoisie and their allies (revanchists, reactionaries, anti-communists, and whatever people might be stuck in the old ways), in realizing they cannot win an overt battle, slip into the ranks of the revolution and infiltrate the now dominant communist movement, and even the party. Many of them had been there even before the conflict began, or joined while it was happening (this can include bourgeois outcasts from the old system, rival bourgeois forces that saw communism as a path to take down their opponents, national-bourgeoisie allying with communists to topple comprador and imperialist bourgeoisie in their homeland, along with whatever other rightists that saw fresh opportunity by latching themselves to the communist movement, etc.). These forces now seek to establish and uphold their old bourgeois (or even feudal) ideas within the communist movement, and present these bourgeois ideas as actually advancing communism. Again, this can happen both with and even without explicit intent or understanding. This is why Corn Man bad. Because this is what Corn Man did.
This is why self-criticism and investigation becomes so important for communists, to understand what our ideas are and from where do they come. Whose ideas are they? Have some of the ideas of the bourgeoisie snuck into our own leftist brains? Have we fallen in behind a phony-communist, whose ideas are leading us away from Marxism? But this poses quite a problem for the communist movement! How can anyone tell the difference, then, between a *real* communist Marxist idea and a phony bourgeois idea sneaking in, wrapped in Marxist labels and colours? To whom do we even make this appeal for distinction and differentiation? If the bourgeoisie are already inside, and already have control of institutions or even armed forces, then how do we attack their base of power and take back those institutions? This is what the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was about, and what it was doing.
the Cultural Revolution wasn’t principally about Culture, it was Civil War Junior
Part of the problem of understanding the Cultural Revolution (usually called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or GPCR by Maoists) is that “Marxist-Leninists” think it was either like Mao trying to do-over China’s culture and art history or whatever (and abolish the old). Or, even worse, that it was some form of 10-year government program (let’s do run a ‘Cultural Revolution for a few years and see what happens’ — this sort of thinking is a consequence of neoliberalism), when all the art and culture stuff pertaining to the Cultural Revolution was really more of a byproduct. This bad understanding leads to all sorts of confused takes from modern “Marxist-Leninists,” including support for the Cultural Revolution (which is odd because modern “MLs” typically also support Deng Xiaoping, who was the number two enemy of the Cultural Revolution — it is a severe contradiction to support both), or the idea that the Cultural Revolution was bad (at least consistent, but that position is more explicitly anti-socialist and very hostile to the workers, as we will see in a moment), or just a vague hand-waving that it was a ‘mixed-bag’ which basically allows you to ignore it and then say you liked this thing or disliked that thing whenever it is brought up, as if it were merely a matter of aesthetics. But it was not about aesthetics, nor art, nor culture; it was a battle over power, and there was even a point where it escalated to a near full-scale military confrontation near Tsinghua University.
That’s because, in a sense, Cultural Revolution is the continuation of Civil War — the fight to the death between the now dominant proletariat and the remnants of the bourgeoisie and their allies. The Cultural Revolution is the process of grinding down the bourgeoisie, taking away everything from them (their expertise, their wealth, their accumulation, their power, their institutions, and all the gates they keep) and distributing it to the masses and crushing all the capitalists and counter-revolutionaries that attempt to stop or impede this process. Power and authority was distributed to the masses, with specific guidance, and the masses take it upon themselves to take control of their institutions and society, with the backing of the communist party. This is what level two socialism looks like; it’s a process that eradicates the bourgeoisie, not protects and empowers and develops them. One that destroys them, not serves their interests.
Unlike Stalin, who didn’t see the bourgeois organizing within his own ranks, Mao realized that they were already deep inside the Communist Party of China, and already had control of important organizations and operations. While Mao was the most powerful figure in China, he wasn’t the ‘all powerful dictator’ liberal ideology paints him as, and not all these factions and institutions were loyal to him and communism (though few would dare oppose him overtly, as his popularity with the masses was extreme). Mao saw all this, and warned that the party was getting co-opted by the bourgeoisie. So where could he and the loyal communists turn to for proletarian support? Where is the proletarian backup to push back the other way against these bourgeois intrusions? Why, it’s the masses themselves, of course. Mao was really fucking brilliant (this often gets lost in the “ML” interpretation where he was just a good military leader and not much more — ‘unifying China’ is an impressive feat, but what theory does that add to Marxism?). This is what the Little Red Book was about and for. The Little Red Book was a plan of action for the masses to guide them and provide them with the theory and guidance they need to understand a situation from a Marxist perspective, and then the authority to use that knowledge to attack the enemy bourgeois elements within the party’s ranks and within Chinese society. This is why you see fucking bourgeois assholes getting yelled at en masse by fifty thousand people waving red books at them in all these photos. They said or did something reactionary and the masses shamed and berated the shit out of them for it. It was fucking awesome.
This is also where you get all the various ideas that come with the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards were organized mass movements looking to uphold and enforce ideas put forward by Mao. Of course, the capitalist roaders (the bourgeois elements) with their own sects of supporters and allies, both within and without, formed their own cadres (these are sometimes dubbed ‘Crimson’ Guards, or ‘Maroon’ Guards, or whatever, to distinguish them), to serve as their own counter-Red-Guards against the Maoists, and to present the will of the bourgeois elements as actually being that of the masses. These faux-Red-Guards also serve as agent provocateurs to attack the reputation and credibility of the authentic Red Guards. This conflict and mass movement was continuously scaled upwards and escalating, with Mao making a “big character poster” (a propaganda piece to be easily read and understood, and reproduced en masse, by the masses, to promote their message and their line) ordering “Bombard the Headquarters!” This wasn’t a vague phrase, this was promoting the masses to target and go after the origin points of the orders of the bourgeois ideas, emanating from those very bourgeois elements themselves leading the undeclared counter-revolution— namely Liu Shaoqi, the number one capitalist roader and enemy of the Cultural Revolution, and his number two, Deng Xiaoping.
This tug of war raged on for nearly a decade within China, ultimately leading to Liu’s expulsion from the party and his death (he was considered a villain during the Cultural Revolution, but has since been “rehabilitated” by modern China to the status of a great “communist”). The politics of this era can be a little tricky, and I’ve skimmed right over the entire Lin Biao Affair and much more, but the complications come from the fact China was facing existential threats from both the revisionist Soviet Union, as well as the West. Deng Xiaoping (who was a capable administrator) was able to use these external conflicts to maneuver himself back into the party and power, even after being expelled from it two times, with help from his friends and allies. While his power and authority had been greatly undermined by the masses, he managed to persist, despite being an explicit enemy and target of the Cultural Revolution. And because of him, the Cultural Revolution wasn’t allowed to continue and thus never got around to finishing him off.
This is why Maoists consider China to have achieved the most advanced form of socialism in history — the Cultural Revolution is Socialism: Stage 2. The USSR was the first to ever beat the level one boss and establish a real socialist state, and credit to Lenin for that achievement, and to Stalin for defending it and upholding it from the counter-attack, but Stalin had tolerated the revisionism already creeping in around him even before his death. Mao said, “Yo dawg, advancing to communism means that the battle against the bourgeoisie rages on in the second level, and that Cultural Revolution was the method to give battle to this more insidious and stealthy level two boss.” This is why other socialist movements in the world are not more advanced than where China got to in the Cultural Revolution —the Cultural Revolution is as far along the road to communism as socialism has ever traversed. And it’s only Mao’s China which has the current high score on the “progress to communism” scoreboard. Everyone else, even if that state has lasted longer or even still exists, has not reached the same socialist heights — the same advancement toward the next level. And unfortunately, Mao ran out of lives before the level two boss was defeated. Now we all have to insert another coin and try again.
the so-called “Gang of Four”
The continuation of the Cultural Revolution was carried on after Mao’s death, lead by the so-called “Gang of Four,” including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and the once-upon-a-time successor to Mao, Zhang Chunqiao. They had wanted the Cultural Revolution to continue and go on. They had wanted to uphold Proletarian Internationalism and continue the plan Mao had set in motion to make Communist China into the “arsenal of the proletariat,” where China would will the void the USSR had left to supply communist movements worldwide with weapons and supplies to carry out revolution. Unfortunately, the four moved too slowly. Deng Xiaoping was still on the back foot in 1976, having been the enemy of the Cultural Revolution, and needed time to reform his power and reorganize his supporters. Neither faction could fully assert control, and thus a centrist compromise candidate (between Deng’s right and the Four’s left) was appointed to replace Mao, much to the liking of Deng and to the chagrin of the Four. This was Hua Guofeng, who was largely incompetent and useless — which was exactly the point — he stalled any remaining momentum the Cultural Revolution had while Deng rallied his base and slowly seized power. The “Gang of Four” were sent to prison and tortured, and phony confessions were extracted (Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao didn’t break, impressively) and they were all subjected to a show trial. After some time in prison, they spent the rest of their lives under, what was basically, house arrest.
Shortly after Deng came to power, women and workers — especially those of the lower classes — were overwhelmingly removed from the People’s Congress. Something like half of the seats disappeared. The poorest areas of China had new schools built and new education opportunities provided during the Cultural Revolution, and Deng Xiaoping’s clique took that away. Once again, the schools became exclusive, for the wealthy upper stratas of Chinese society — the same privileged little shits that got to go to college under Chiang Kai-Shek’s regime. The collective farms were de-collectivized and then privatized. This was especially ironic because the collective farms were far more efficient, yet Deng took away their collective agricultural property and forced them to become property-less labourers (forcing rural workers to move towards the city to become cheap, competing industrial labour for the new capitalist factories). Mao’s policy of “the Iron Rice Bowl” (one of Mao’s crowing achievements: a collection of rights and guarantees for workers, including lifetime employment, guaranteed work, healthcare, access to education, accommodation, and holidays) was terminated immediately. There was a mass privatization of state-owned enterprises, and capitalist policies were introduced everywhere. Revolutionary committees were smashed, the Cultural Revolution was denounced, and whatever gains were made by the workers during it were all rolled back and taken away.
The Chinese working class lost their place and right. The working class has become looked down upon, and the public has once again begun to pursue “getting rich” rather than serving the people or society. Society and schools promote vicious competition and ultimately lead to being educated and studying just to get higher grades to become a member of the bourgeoisie in the future. Nationalism replaced internationalism as the dominant voice in society. There are still people within the CCP who are trying to fight for the rights of the working class, but their efforts are often suppressed by bureaucracy and capitalism. Becoming a party member becomes more of a formality and generally does not prove one’s approval of communism.
-an anonymous Chinese comrade studying abroad, in a discussion with me
It took me too long to realize that all this fighting was really the masses, themselves, fighting to be included against the entrenched privileged bourgeois remnants and their allies, who fighting to keep them locked out. And what’s worse is that the masses ultimately lose this fight. This is what is so reprehensible about the pro-Deng line today, and why it must be repudiated. There’s a narrative that “China had to do all of this in order to participate in the global economy,” but what is especially strange is that this line exists only for Westerners — it is not a position that the CPC itself or China takes or has stated. And Communists don’t keep big secrets from the masses. Moreover, the goal of communists is not to be a good little participant in the global capitalist economy; the goal of communists is to overturn the whole fucking global capitalist economy and replace it with a socialist one. Whatever advances or improvement to conditions of existence you imagine to be possible within capitalism are necessarily surpassed and advanced further and faster with socialism, and transforming your concern from the global proletariat to “I want this nation’s people, specifically, to do well,” is replacing internationalism with nationalism. And in suggesting that their good example will promote global communism, they are reviving and regurgitating Khrushchev's whole line of ‘peaceful coexistence.’
the Frankenstein “Marxism-Leninism”
But this is what’s so weird about the modern “Marxist-Leninists” and why I’m forced to put their title in quotes. Because there already was a Marxist-Leninist movement back in the 60s and 70s, in which lots and lots of new communist parties formed and emerged, in contrast and most often opposition to the old revisionist communist parties that had tailed the Khrushchev/Brezhnev USSR. It was these parties that generally called themselves the ‘Marxist-Leninist Communist Party’ or something along those lines. The whole point of the ‘ML’ was to distinguish that your party was Maoist, and siding with Mao’s line in the Sino-Soviet Split, because most of the official, old, original communist parties (who also claimed to be “Marxist-Leninist,” but of the Khrushchev/Brezhnev variety) were usually just called ‘the Communist Party.’
Ironically, this has become inverted today (sort of; almost no one anywhere is still sincerely trying to uphold Khrushchev or Brezhnev), so a lot of the old communist parties (the ‘Communist Party’ parties) went back to Lenin (many tainted by Eurocommunism and other revisionism, often retaining the notion that Stalin was indefensible), and thus refer to themselves with regard to their synthesized formal ideology, Marxism-Leninism, despite still having much of the content and character of their revisionist history. And this can be even worse or weirder, especially for American parties with the heavy Trotskyist influence. Meanwhile, most of the Marxist-Leninist parties that emerged in the 60s and 70s (the Maoist ones) either evolved to become Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties (once that had been officially synthesized), or basically retreated into a revisionism of their own. The best off-hand example of this strange revisionism here is the Communist Party of Canada — Marxist-Leninist. The CPC-ML technically took the Hoxhaist line, but when Albania fell and China capitulated to Deng, they finally decided to visit Cuba (a ‘socialist’ nation they previously opposed) and basically said “oh, ok, I guess they are socialist,” and now the CPC-ML exists as basically the Shelbyville-version of the old Communist-Party of Canada. Revisionism comes in many forms.
But this is what is so strange about the modern “Marxist-Leninists” — emerging mostly in the past decade or so — that they generally don’t engage with this part of history that explains the history of ‘Marxism-Leninism,’ and, well, like everything happening in the 60’s and 70’s. Instead, it becomes a Frankenstein’s monster of Marxism-Leninism, assembled from bits and pieces of disconnected theory and history, sewed together into a zombie ideological movement. There’s a desire to uphold the USSR from 1956 to 1991, but no concession as to the role revisionism played in defining and determining the international policy of the late USSR. There’s bits of Maoism thrown in there from the 60s and 70s Marxist-Leninists, but the old (revisionist) communist parties never embraced that Marxism-Leninism. Most of the revisionist orgs have just ejected their histories and refuse to connect the historical materialist line of their past to their present existence today. There’s (now) a general denial of some of the revisionists, Khrushchev and Brezhnev especially, as not being genuine communist, yet most of their policies and programs and the general course of the USSR that they plotted is overwhelmingly still upheld (even if no one acknowledges it), despite it now being clear and generally understood that they were key to the downfall of the USSR. Few of these parties have even acknowledged this mistake. It might seem shallow to suggest that ‘socialism is simply ‘over’ as soon as a revisionist comes to power,’ but the issue is just that — power. Whether or not that socialism is still advancing towards communism is the question, and the helmsman plotting the course is whomever holds power. When a revisionist takes power, that progress is halted — even if some of the secondary apparatuses keep going for a time — and a new course away from communism is charted. And thus, there’s a contradiction here that’s not being reckoned with, and it extends to the “still existing socialist” states.
the dark side of “Actually Existing Socialism”
First of all, there’s an assumption that Maoists actually hate or have no sympathy for Cuba or DPRK or Vietnam or Laos, etc. because Maoists will fiercely criticize these states and generally deny that they are still socialist. This is, itself, compounded by the fact this engagement is happening on social media, and that social media is generally awful, and it makes the engagement itself awful and full of hatred and argumentation. This all leads to tension and conflict where “Marxist-Leninists” see themselves as heroically defending poor little Cuba (and thus the oppressed Cuban people) or whatever from the mean old hate-filled Maoists trying to be exclusionary and bitter. And Maoists on the internet can be bitter, that one is undeniable. But understand the argument that the Maoists are trying to actually make here, not just the presentation of it. The whole point of being this antagonistic and confrontational over this issue is to try and actually get you to engage with and understand why Maoists don’t consider these places to be socialist, not an attack on the place itself, and most certainly not on the people there, who have had endure great hardship and suffering that almost any Maoist is sympathetic toward, and whose suffering they want to see ended.
I’m less concerned with the assigning of the label of ‘socialism’ and more concerned with the concrete material question, “is Cuba/Vietnam/etc., in its current configuration, capable of helping to produce or advance socialist revolution in the world?” Again, we all have sympathy for the limitations and conditions that these states exist under, and even understand how and why some of the historical, pragmatic compromises were made, but we must admit to ourselves the truth, that the answer is no. Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea, for whatever resiliency they have shown in the face of imperialism to still exist as they are in the present (an impressive feat of the people!), can do nothing to further socialist revolution, as they exist in the present, nor even bring real conflict against their own bourgeoisie. The governments of these places are not from where socialist revolution, or even revolutionary aid, is going to come.
This is the curse of “Actually Existing Socialism” — it becomes the upper limit to what we think is achievable or even possible. The best that socialism can be is whatever exists, and whatever exists is the extent to what socialism can be. This is an imposed self-limitation to our thinking that we must shake off. We can sit by and cheer on Cuba/Vietnam as they exist as ‘socialism on life support’ but it does nothing to advance socialism in the now, not even for the masses in those countries who are slowly re-absorbed into one form of capitalism or another as the capitalist pressures from all directions mount and compound. Whatever socialism is leftover is slowly chipped away at, and has no momentum of its own to rebuild. It’s a car without an engine. It’s nice that the old socialist healthcare system, or housing program or whatever still exists and is up and running in some of these places, but that offers no one anything useful to topple capitalism in the world today. In relation, since Cuba/Vietnam/etc. are incapable of assisting or advancing revolution, then revolutionaries elsewhere need to take matters into their own hands. There is no revolution possible from waiting on these projects and hoping for the best possible conditions under capitalism from them. They cannot be saved, or even significantly helped, by having a small collection of Western cheerleaders insisting that this is still socialism.
Socialism is a process — a transition towards communism. If that process has been halted, or stopped, or pushed back in retreat and not advancing forwards again, then its no longer functioning as socialism. The engine is broken and removed, and the vehicle slowly rolls to a halt, while the gravity of the global capitalist system starts to push it the other way, back down the mountain, and the progress is slowly rolled back. The way these states exist in the world today is functionally capitalist — moving in the capitalist direction. I understand wanting to defend them because they are small and oppressed and abused by the awful sanctions and actions of the West, and you can still do that. I understand that you are trying to defend and uphold the history and legacy of socialism by defending these states (that was the initial appeal for me as well), but ‘being like Cuba’ (and how Cuba exists now) isn’t how socialism is going to be achieved and advanced forward again.
I cannot take a deep dive into the full history of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism here, as this essay is too long already. But the other side of the “Marxist-Leninist” coin is the opposition to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the very advances of thinking and philosophy brought forward by the Cultural Revolution and the experience with it. Unlike the Frankenstein “Marxism-Leninism,” Maoism is directly connected to its history and past — the continuation and advancement of the Marxist-Leninist movements of the 60s and 70s. And, like it or not, it was Chairman Gonzalo and the Communist Party of Peru who were the main synthesizers of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and made the connections that this essay just established. The “Marxist-Leninist” opposition here generally takes one of two forms (or both): most often as an attack on Chairman Gonzalo, or less often, a vulgar attack on the philosophy and concept of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, which, like liberals attacking communism, never seems to takes the time to explain and understand the thing that it is attacking (other than the accusation of ‘dogmatist,’ which was also once hurled at Lenin for having the audacity to state that Marx was actually correct).
With regard to Gonzalo — the issue for many is the level of violence utilized by the Communist Party of Peru and Gonzalo during their ‘Protracted People’s War’ (the Maoist advancement of class struggle as armed conflict). The problem I have with making whatever argument about “how horrible a thing they did” is that its always taken as a liberal-humanist argument. The same sort that can, and are regularly, brought against Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and literally every other communist ever to exist. Stalin’s purges also killed (at least a few) innocents — it’s a horrible and saddening fact that communists have to reckon with, and “Marxist-Leninists” are fully aware of this and uphold Stalin anyway, as do Maoists. The justification usually comes in that either the purges were necessary, or that it was a structural result of history, or both. But the same benefit of the doubt is never applied to Gonzalo by the “Marxist-Leninists.” It’s always divorced from the larger conflict, ignoring the White Terror being utilized against the Communists and their allies (and even the innocents) in the struggle, and taken to just be several horrible actions in a vacuum, with no deeper examination of what was happening. “Marxist-Leninists” right now are somehow able to lesser-evil Vladimir fucking Putin versus NATO, but cannot even lesser-evil Gonzalo versus fucking Alberto Fujimori?!
The unfortunate actions of the Communist Party of Peru are always used, themselves, to dismiss Gonzalo and explain his failure, with total disregard for how close the Peruvian Communists came to victory. Even the Western liberals living in Peru at the time were stating, “aw, fuck, these guys can win!” This is especially significant because the assumption here is that a “proper” Marxist-Leninist revolution would have done better. Yet there actually exists a direct comparison of a Marxist-Leninist (Castroist/Focoist) revolution that was attempted in Peru the decade prior to Gonzalo, which was mostly put down and defeated within a few weeks. Meanwhile Gonzalo’s war lasted nearly a decade and almost took Lima. Take a closer look, I beg you.
The larger issue with the criticisms of Maoism mostly coming from a perspective of liberal-humanism is the problem that “Marxism-Leninism” has no clear philosophical rebuttal to Maoism. What is the official line of the “Marxist-Leninist” rebuttal? Who wrote it? When? What does it say and what is the Marxist-, and especially the class-, content which argues against it? What party put it forward and whose line is it? If the Cultural Revolution is, correctly, the second stage of socialism, as this essay has argued; if this is the proper path forward for socialism to take, then the general thrust of Gonzalo’s actions and decisions have followed logically and correctly from that — whatever the discomfort and dislike of how some of those actions manifested being unfortunate, but secondary. There will always be things that communists could have done better. There will always be mistakes, and there will always be blood on our hands. “You cannot make revolution in white gloves.”
The entire neoliberal system is built and upheld with immense amounts of violence, and participating in it, even as a pacifist, is its own form of violence. Tens of millions die needlessly every year from deprivation, and billions suffer the physical, mental, and emotional burdens of capitalist exploitation. As a communist, you should already know that whatever violence is required to end capitalism will always result in a net reduction of global violence and death and suffering. And this is the thing about neoliberalism, it is totalizing, encompassing all parts of life. It co-opts and absorbs and buys out everything that it can, infiltrates every part of every aspect of life and turns it into something to be bought and sold and upheld as property. In order to free yourself from neoliberalism, you end up having to break with all those capitalist systems infiltrating your life, and that break functionally requires violent conflict to break yourself free, because the only thing that neoliberalism cannot appropriate is violence against itself. It cannot turn that into a t-shirt and sell it back to you like it can with everything else.
The reason that Maoists burn ballots, for example, is not just naked violence or a show of wonton force. The gun must not command the party, and this action is not done without calculation. Lenin engaged in bourgeois parliamentarism in his day, not because he thought he could win an election and democratically achieve communism, but because it provided a meaningful avenue with which to engage and incite the masses. But the bourgeoisie have learned from this as well, and struck back, and that avenue today has been curtailed today (or turned into a neverending maze with no exit, to be specific).The communist parties engaged in the electoral process, today, have become tied down with the rules and regulations required to be a functioning political party operating within the system. And from this they are co-opted into the system and become a participating part of that system which the masses themselves come to despise, as the participants in the system are playing capitalism by capitalism’s rules. They spend their lives collecting signatures and signing petitions and running meaningless campaigns, and whatever more drastic or meaningful action they could be taking is lost forever to filling out forms. The reason you burn the ballots is to make it clear that you utterly reject this entire system, and to demonstrate that your movement is capable of providing a clear alternative to it. In this way, the path of violence becomes its own path of liberation (echoing Frantz Fanon’s conception of radical freedom).
help is not on the way
This is the meta-argument, here. Why are you upholding Marxism-Leninism instead of Maoism? I’m not asking you to answer me, I’m asking you to ask this question, deeply and sincerely to yourself. Do you actually think that ‘sit back and let China do capitalism more’ is the path forward to revolution; or is this the most convenient and safe path for yourself? Do you mock anarchists for ‘not really wanting a revolution,’ but you yourself have found one last tiny little ledge that you are clinging to in order to avoid the deep dive required?
Remember that one of the fundamental lines that separates Lenin from Kautsky is that: imperialism is not a political phenomenon to Lenin as it was to Kautsky — it is not a matter of ‘resisting the urge’ or having a good heart and good intent and good policy. You cannot keep imperialism under control nor have imperialist conflicts mitigated by the good will and intention of the imperialists. No, for Lenin (and thus authentic Marxists), Imperialism is an economic phenomenon which is an unavoidable and inescapable consequence of the existence of capitalism. The capitalist system, in producing and reproducing itself necessarily takes the advanced form of imperialism, and that imperialist form cannot be appeased or stopped by begging it, or by legislature, or by having nicer imperialists at the helm. It’s a material force of production which continues until something else, equally material, comes up against it and forces it to stop by breaking its capacity to reproduce itself. The only way to stop imperialism is to smash the capitalist system which gives rise to it in the first place.
It’s a lovely fantasy to imagine that China is still, secretly, planning a grand strategy of proletarian internationalism (which they cannot reveal just yet!), where they will undermine the entire global order with the Belt and Road Initiative, break down the old NATO alliance, and serve as the red-shield for a new tidal wave of revolutionary Marxist movements to spring forth. This must also come with a grand conspiracy to explain how class and the class contradiction within China will be reckoned. Perhaps Xi Jinping jump out from the shadows and say “EXECUTE ORDER 66!” and the People’s Liberation Army will start gunning down the bourgeoisie in the streets. If this happens, then I will certainly owe the “Marxist-Leninists” an apology, but I think we both know that no such action is planned nor coming, nor could it even be carried out without the accumulating, growing bourgeois-loyal elements within the society putting a stop to it. Similarly, China is looking out for China’s interests on the global stage, and that is the extent of their support. They are not undermining NATO in the hopes this will cause communist revolutions to spring forth. They want to undermine the NATO empire to get more markets and more market access for themselves.
Does is not bother you that the Communist Party of China denies and refutes their own party’s path to power, and refuse to promote it elsewhere? Does it not bother you that Xi Jinping, a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist, speaks not-at-all of class or class divisions? What the fuck Marxist never mentions class? Xi talks about “common prosperity” and whatnot, but Marxism is not an ideology of harmony and peace and balance and everyone getting along. Marxism is an ideology that has clear and explicit and identifiable enemies — the bourgeoisie! Marxism doesn’t ask for peace and stability, it asks for conflict to be brought against the enemies of communism. I’m not saying this because gosh-darn it, I just love war and can’t wait to do some fighting (in fact, I’m probably not very good at these things and don’t want to do them at all). I’m saying this because capitalism is producing conditions that will destroy all of us if capitalism is not stopped, and we must identify from where does the capitalism come, and who and what is maintaining it.
I’ve always taken issue with the fact that China has billionaires, and unlike other Marxists, I don’t try to forgive or defend it, nor brush it off, and because of that I was forced to reckon with it. Honestly do a class analysis here. If billionaires exist, then which class are they a part of if not the bourgeoisie? If the bourgeoisie exist, do they have their own interests? If they have interests, how are they upheld and protected and enforced? What apparatus gives them their property rights? If that apparatus has the power to take away their property claims, why is it not doing so if it is proletarian? The idea that the ‘socialists’ are holding them in check or whatever doesn’t cut it. As the Cultural Revolution showed, the whole process of socialism is about grinding down the bourgeoisie until they are utterly powerless and irrelevant. We do not need them to build our future. In the current system, in China (and everywhere else) their wealth is compounding and their power is growing. This was what was happening in the Cultural Revolution — the bourgeoisie were seeing their power stripped and taken away — but Deng ended it. And that was one of the worst defeats in communist history.
Anyway, that’s the essay. If you feel like shit and like your hopes of China coming to save the global proletariat have been dashed (haha!) then good, the essay worked. It might take a while to soak in, so let it, and try to reckon with some of the lingering contradictions yourself, or by reading Mao, especially his 1950–1976 stuff. This was his major contribution to communist theory. The meta argument here: I really do wish China was communist and that communism was actually winning and undermining the global order and nearing a worldwide victory. But communists must fight from the position of reality, as unfavourable as it is. We have tough mountain to climb, and hoping that an escalator will be provided for us is a false hope in defiance of reality. It’s a really unsettling thing to deal with, that the global communist position is far worse than we wish it to be, and it weighed on me for months before I finally grappled with the results of that realization. I hope you can do the same. But this doesn’t mean that we are down and out. If there is a single lesson of Dialectical Materialism, its that everything can change, nothing is final. Workers of the world, unite — I swear to you, we’re not finished yet.
Yo dawg, since 1911, when the emperor was overthrown, a reactionary regime has not been able to hold China for long…
It is very possible that they will be able to retain their dominance for a while. If the Right-wing seizes power, it will be able to use my words to retain power for a time. But the Left will use other quotations of mine, and organize themselves, and overthrow the Right-wing.
-Mao, Mao on Revisionism