A space for open discussion and blogging among communists and radicals.
Maoism? Rupture and continuity!
"Marx was supposed to have created his synthesis from German philosophy, British political economy and french socialism.
"Why can't we learn from cutting edge investigations and theorizing going on around us (including by non-communists)? Why can't we encourage the cross-fertilization among revolutionaries (of many different beliefs)? Haven't others been hard at work (including Badiou, and one-world theorists, and students of network theory, and social media innovators, neuro-sciencists, creative graphics, and more) while too many communists have been grinding at their cuds? Don't we communists have a lot to learn?
I often think to myself 'I spent far too much time in rooms with poeple who all claimed to have the same beliefs.'
"I am now (by contrast) much more interested in sitting down with people who have different beliefs -- who have been thinking about similar problems, but in parallel, along different tracks."
IN our thread on The Value and Problems of Maoism, Andrei wrote:
"Let me ask y'all (in particular, Mike) this: Do you think that Maoism is the only revolutionary form that Marxism can take in this era?
I remember when I was in the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, a Party member said to me: "There is no Marx without Mao." And in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement's document "Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!", the RIM declared that "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism must be the commander and guide of the world revolution" and "Revolutionary communists must wield our universal ideology."
Personally, I think it is important to maintain the theories that Mao devised as lines of demarcations. I don't believe in agnosticism. Maoism should be our ideology. However, how do we make sure that we stop that from being static? I think it'd be nice to have Marxism be a bush in an ecosystem, but I personally think we should make sure that it is a Maoist bush, otherwise it could be victim to, ahem, "poisonous weeds" (to quote the man himself).
What do you comrades think? Do we stay Maoist and say "Maoism or nothing", or is this too static?"
This is not a simple question or answer. But no, I don't agree with your lean here.
First, I am a Maoist -- meaning I take the advances embedded in Maoism as the floor and platform from which I am attempting to apply and develop communism. I think it would be a big problem to "go back" -- as if we had not experienced the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (or the conceptual insights of that experience). It would be wrong to return to a "goulash socialism" after we have glimpsed this approach of continuous revolution and the communist road.
So in my opinion, there are crucial, precious insights embodied in the work of Mao and many Maoists that we should treasure, apply and develop. And many people don't know about all that -- so I volunteer to be a conduit. And that too is why I describe myself as a Maoist.
One divides into two
Second, our project requires serious leaps of development -- meaning ruptures beyond (and that involves "away from") previously existing Maoism.
Maoism (as a synthesis pulled together in the mid-70s) is exhausted -- not disproven or discredited... but its age, seams and accumulated problems are showing. Communism needs to take a major leap.
There is a self-critical aspect to this. It is not just a "natural aging process" -- there has also been a stubborn backward and conservative pull among most (perhaps not all) pre-existing Maoist currents.
In the 9 Letters, we wrote (see above):
"...since Mao died in 1976, this Maoist movement has not been a fertile nursery of daring analyses and concepts. A mud streak has run through it. Even its best forces often cling to legitimizing orthodoxies, icons, and formulations. The popularization of largely-correct verdicts often replaces the high road of scientific theory — allowing Marxism itself to appear pat, simple and complete. Dogmatic thinking nurtures both self-delusion and triumphalism. In the name of taking established truths to the people, revolutionary communists have often cut themselves off from the new facts and creative thinking of our times. We need to break with that fiercely, and seek out the others who agree."
In other words, the Maoist movement (after Mao) has not done particularly well. (that is: on the theoretical project. There have been leaps of practice in several countries... but they have suffered because of these problems of theory, and the conservatism of orthodoxy as well as, obviously, the sugar-coated bullets of capitulation.)
Post-Mao Maoism has sought to codify and defend the existing Maoist synthesis... but its attempts to develop, refresh, extend, etc. have not gone well. And multiple syntheses have emerged -- which are imho all deeply flawed... and all shy from opening the doors and minds, and cleaning house.
The demand for making a previously codified Maoism into "the commander guide of the world revolution" today is precisely the idea of treating communism as a closed system of settled verdicts. Given the profound lagging of that previous Maoist movement, it is terrible advice given the urgent problems we are tackling.
In the 9 Letters (included in the excerpt above) we talked about:
"communist theory needs to clean its Augean stables— uprooting this legacy of dogmatism, deepening its struggle against various forms of capitulation, and tackling long-standing philosophical and strategic problems that stand as real obstacles to communist revolution."
Cleaning out all the shit accumulated in a vast stable -- that is a pretty pungent metaphor, and consciously chosen. The stables of King Augeas had not been cleaned in thirty years....hmmmm.
That doesn't mean throwing everything out, obviously. But it does imply some serious housecleaning, a carting away of mounds of crap, and a parting of ways.
(And perhaps you deserve some examples? Here: Mao said, at the height of stormy 1968 that "revolution is the main trend in the world today." And, arguably, it was - a quarter of the world's people were going through socialist revolution, the world was speckled with serious revolutionary movements, and more.. But some people, who say we should take Mao as our "starting point," claim in 2013 that "revolution is the main trend in the world today" -- in the brazen absence of both evidence and of serious argument on their part (!). We should hoist such mindless cowpies into large plastic garbage bags, and set them on the curb. Or Avakian claims the world communist revolution hangs by a thread, and his appreciation by communists will decide its fate. Or some people claim that the road to revolution is known and literally universal -- and it lies in embracing the methods of protracted peoples war developed by Mao in China. There are lots of other claims of "universal" form: universal forms of communist organization, universal forms of decision-making among communists, universal forms of working class consciousness, etc. I could give dozens of example -- lazy, thoughtless, backward looking, uninformed, militantly dogmatic.)
Third: Creative rupture and development don't happen by turning inward. The regeneration of living communist theory will not happen by entrenching around previous verdicts (however true they were in their time).
We need to live in these times, and absorb fresh insights and criticism and more from outside any particular communist current.
This means a communist project that is not limited to its "Maoist" current. Most demands for "It must be based on Maoism" are (in reality) a rejection of very idea of ruptures and reconceptions.
And this is not unusual to look outward, not back to an inherited doctrine: Marx was supposed to have created his synthesis from "German philosophy, British political economy and french socialism."
Lenin integrated many of the practices of Russian revolutionary experience (including in the organizational form and practices of underground) and absorbed the thinking abroad in economics and elsewhere (Hilferding etc.) Lars Lih may claim that Lenin was an orthodox Erfurtian, but I believe that is a complete misreading of reality. (And once again: a break-off is portrayed as a subset.)
Mao brought a fresh rupture from codified Soviet diamat, by reinjecting a non-mechanical dialectics from classical Chinese philosophy (and his whole movement studied American pragmatists to combat chinese scholasticism). He completely ruptured with a movement's declaration of "universal principles" (of Soviets and the October road), and dared to climb the unexplored mountain. We should learn from that.
All of them (and others we need to mention, like Mariatigui...) brought a great deal (creatively) from the world and ideas around them. Why can't we too range freely today, while also adopting Marx's work and Maoist insights are part of what we create our synthesis from?
Why can't we learn from cutting edge investigations and theorizing going on around us (including by non-communists)? Why can't we encourage the cross-fertilization among revolutionaries (of many different beliefs)? Haven't others been hard at work (including Badiou, and one-world theorists, and students of network theory, and social media innovators, neuro-science, creative graphics, and more) while too many communists have been grinding at their cuds? Don't we communists have a lot to learn?
And lets be clear: Communist ideas are objectively "like a bush in an ecosystem." This is true, independent of our desires -- because that's how human thinking develops. The myth that "Communist ideas are like a layer cake" (first Marx, then Lenin, then Stalin, then Mao, then...) is a self-delusion maintained by wearing blinders... that's now how it happened, and its not how it happens now.
And: Isn't this catch-up time for us? Who is going to forbid us? Some nagging schoolmarm of doctrine in our heads?
I am not calling for abandoning the communist road (obviously) -- On the contrary, I'm saying if we don't break with "closed systems" we will never find that communist in real life -- on the living canvas of real politics. Communism is not mainly a doctrine, it is a real, historic movement of society.
I often think to myself "I spent far too much time in rooms with people who all claimed to have the same beliefs." I am now (by contrast) much more interested in sitting down with people who have different beliefs -- who have been thinking about similar problems, but in parallel, along different tracks.
And if you raise that od slogan "Maoism or nothing" you will discover it has two problems:
One, you won't be able to identify what to keep and what to discard within Maoism (and that is one of our tasks).
And second, the people seeing you raise this odd slogan will respond, and after they respond, you will sadly face that "or nothing" part.
Assertion reveals the question
In fact, under our conditions, (and this is an expression of a moment needing rupture!) any assertion of old phrases is (in fact, objectively) a question.
You can say "Maoism or nothing" -- but then the question comes back "uh, which Maoism are you asserting? And what within Maoism are you upholding?"
We can assert "the dictatorship of the proletariat" (and do) -- but then the question comes back "What does that mean to you? does dictatorship require a one-party state? Or even a police state? And what should 'of the proletariat' mean to us after a century of very diverse and complex experience?"
We can assert all the precious lessons and concepts of the past (and we do often) -- but really they come to us as urgent questions, because their meaning and summation is inherently unstable, precisely because (see above!) the post-Mao movement has not done its homework well, and because no one else stepped up to do these projects politically.
(Others are always doing valuable work, i'm not denying that, but there is a specific project of regroupment and reconception that only communist revolutionaries can do.)
Here is what I wrote above:
" We need to discard ruthlessly, but cunningly, in order to fight under difficult conditions. We will be traveling light, without baggage and clutter from earlier modes of existence. We need to preserve precisely those implements that serve the advance, against fierce opposition, toward our end goal. We need to integrate them into a vibrant new communist coherency — as we thrive on the run."