“Before 1988 Maoism did not exist” is JMP’s opening for his Continuity and Rupture. The bookseller in Waterstone described it as ‘niche reading’ when he failed to locate any copies. But then Foyles underlined its reputation (damm it!) by having two copies of its shelves. Indeed, JMP’s exploration of ‘philosophy in the maoist terrain’ is unfortunately a minority interest, and this post reflects one engagement with a text that implies a challenge to the existing approach to an understanding of what one had been schooled in as Mao Zedong Thought.
The object is not a sematic shift, but emphasis on the significance of the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist politics that arose in opposition to a politics that had reached its limits. JMP may be over generous in his description of the RCLB being “temporarily able to pull the masses into its orbit” as it launch one of the first significant critique in Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement; it certainly did not feel that churning out the duplicated pages of its first edition in the 2nd floor stock room of New Era Books – its improved revised 2nd edition arguing to a newer generation, with a tighter universalist relevance.
There were, of course, references to ‘maoist’ and ‘maoism’ prior to the 1980s – these were “conceptually incoherent” associated with a vague understanding of the Chinese Revolution – a Marxism practiced by the Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong. Portrayed (initially by supporters and opponents alike?) as Stalinism with Chinese characteristic and limited (geographically and) historically to the first half of the 20th Century.
Inside China, Maoism was never a term promoted or sanctioned; at best, the continuity with western Marxism was expressed in the formula of Marxism-Leninism-Mao (TseTung) Zedong Thought. The idea of universalist relevance saw a vogue for the term in the 1960s/70s but many who employed it – self-identification with it – “erupted only to spectacularly disintegrate or slowly degenerate” – 20th Century International Maoism proved to be a term (or aspiration) more than a constructed movement of like-minded activists and organisations.
JMP argues that it was at the end of the 1980s – and outside of China – when Maoism began to merge as Maoism proper. The provocative birthdate is suggested as the ideological moment of rupture is given as 1993. The statements of the Peruvian revolutionaries signposted the acknowledgement and recognition as a “third stage” of revolutionary science.
The Communist Party of Peru (Spanish: Partido Comunista del Perú), commonly referred to as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), produced a theoretical statement that is drawing a line, a boundary, signalling a perception between the previous usages of Maoism and a concept of Maoism that is supposedly new: a theoretical tendency guiding revolution in Peru.
In this account, the onus is on JMP to establish that prior to this “watershed”, those who spoke either of Mao Zedong Thought , or Maoism did not conceptually regard it in terms that had saw it as a higher stage of Marxism. The initial reaction is that it was precisely during the Cultural Revolution that Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong though was promoted, advertised and regarded in that manner.
Having identified key moments in the chrysalis process of the conceptualisation of Maoism as the third and highest stage of Marxism-Leninism, it would need further exploration, certainly as part of a summation, as how far the ideological recasting and categorization of Maoism is an innovation of the theoretical line of the Communist Party of Peru led by former professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzmán, also known by the nom de guerre Chairman Gonzalo.
The conceptualisation of Maoism as the third and highest stage of Marxism-Leninism was evident in the positions of some anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists, and there was the self-identity as a distinct Maoist trend even without, what JMP considers, the theoretical coherence.
“Maoism” was not only identified with the Chinese Revolution but was seen as having a relevance, indeed a model for particular Third World struggles – it was in the “peripheries” that it had its strength. First World adherents and supporters would draw on aspects of their understanding of the struggle in China – key link, criticism-struggle-unity, one divides into two etc. – few adopted “People’s War” perspective – that engagement on a theoretical level was to emerge in the 21st century Maoism.
[Readings: Peking Review]
Clearly Maoism existed as a term prior to 1988, aspects of it were seen as universalist perspective – that engagement on a theoretical level was to emerge in the 21st century Maoism.
Clearly Maoism existed as a term prior to 1988, aspects of it were seen as universalist but JMP contends it did not constitute a “philosophical gaze”.
JMP: “I am interested in examining the general boundaries that have already been established by the most recent conceptual rupture of revolutionary science that labels itself Maoist.”
[Reading: Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, A Response to the RCP,USA’s May 1st 2012 letter.]
The point made is that Maoism is not simply an addition to Marxism-Leninism. Its relationship is both as building upon, and critiquing that results in a development of the science achieved through a theoretical rupture that redraws the paradigm for revolutionary advance in the new century.
“Maoism, as a theoretical terrain, is in continuity with the radical kernel of Marxism by the very fact of its theoretical rupture.”
Diversion to one – not untypical – article illustrates the point JMP is arguing.
“The great thought of Mao Tse-Tung is developed Marxism-Leninism; it is Marxism-Leninism at its highest level. It has solved a series of important problems facing the international communist movement, problems which earlier Marxist-Leninists either never encountered or having encountered left unsolved, or were unable to solve in their time. In particular, Mao Tse=Tung Thought has solved the question of continuing to make revolution and preventing the restoration of capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat. It has ushered in a completely new era in the development of Marxism-Leninism – the era of Mao Tsetung’s thought.”
- Yang Cheng-Wu, Throughly Establish The Absolute Authority of the Great Supreme Commander Chairman Mao And of His Great Thought. Peking Review No.46 November 10th 1967
This article reflects the excessive personal praise of the time describing Mao as “the very red sun that shines most brightly in our hearts” and places him as “the authority of the world proletarian struggle in the present era.”
Furthermore, whilst still written within the boundary of ideological continuity, it says of the individual who was Mao Zedong that:
“He has inherited, defended and developed Marxism-Leninism with genius, creatively and comprehensively and has brought it to a higher and completely new stage….. and has scale new peaks in the history of the development of Marxism.”
Again it is the personal, note the apostrophe;
“Mao Tse-Tung’s thought is precisely the theoretical basis which guides the thinking of our great, glorious and correct party … it is a universal truth that holds true for the whole world.”
Lin Piao is most associated with promoting the notion that “Mao Tse-tung’s thought is Marxism-Leninism of the era in which imperialism is heading for total collapse.”
Such sentiments and formulations were to be found throughout the heights of the Cultural revolution in China, and echoed internationally by anti-revisionists of (what was termed in America as) the new communist movement.
It was a standard view from China, and accepted outside of it by revolutionary practitioners, that
“The struggle of the world’s revolutionary people in the present era also proves that only when tasks are done in accordance with Mao Tse-tung’s thought can victory be won. For China to be prosperous and world’s people liberated, we must rely on the great, invincible thought of Mao Tse-tung.”
It was for a relatively brief period that this judgement was proclaimed in Chinese publications and towards the international communist movement. The ‘red banner of Mao Tse-tung’s thought’ was most prevalent during the ultra-left excess of the Cultural Revolution. While the thought of Mao as the “theoretical authority of the communist movement in the present era” was disseminated, indeed regarded as “our most fundamental and important support” given to the revolutions of the peoples of all countries, the guidance it provided was attributed to the Chairman alone:
“Mao Tse-tung’s thought is one and identical with Marxism-Leninism; it is Marxism-Leninism at a higher level of development. In our era, the study of Mao Tse-tung’s thought is the best way to study Marxism-Leninism.”
It is personal as Lin Piao called upon people to “learn and master Mao Tse-tung’s thought truly without fail, study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings, act according to his instructions and be his good fighters.”
Sentiments repeated by Hua Guofeng seeking to consolidated his position after Mao’s death in 1976. Sentiments that appealed to a personal loyalty rather than a theoretical canon.
The description of the “great thought of Mao Tse-tung” as a spiritual atom bomb reflected the context of the time. It was a call to unleash the political consciousness to transform society, and underpin those who proclaimed support for Mao.
That propaganda onslaught, ritualised and formulaic, ultimately failed to develop creative study and application of Mao Tse-tung’s thought because it was an instrument in the political task of “establishing absolutely authority of the great supreme commander.”
The benefit to closest-comrade-in-arms, Lin Biao, was to inherit that militarist compliance to hierarchical commands. The dissemination of the red banner of Mao Tse-tung’s thought all over China and the world may have introduced the revolutionary experience of China to those outside the country, it may have inspired revolutionary aspirations, and it may have illuminate the danger of revisionist degeneration and initiated new revolutionary upsurges – however at that time it was building through the personality cult of Mao something to overcome in the appraisal of late Mao’s theoretical contributions on classes and class struggle during the period of building socialism.
Hsinhua correspondents would frequently report on Mao Tse-tung’s thought as the “beacon light of the world revolution”. The experiences of the Chinese Revolution as recorded in Mao’s writings provided the grounding theory for the revolutionary wars in progress; indispensable textbooks for revolutionaries, the works of Mao were earnestly studied with priority given to study the thought of Mao Tse-tung’s. It is this background and context which JMP (in his prologue) refers to the underdeveloped nature and understanding of ‘Maoism’ prior to 1988.
In 1976 the memorial messages sent on the passing of Chairman Mao by foreign ML parties commonly described him as “the greatest Marxist of the contemporary era.” He was praised as the “great continuer of the cause of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin”.
- V.G.Wilcox. Peking Review September 30th 1976
The tributes noted “of special significance has been his contribution to the theory of continuing class struggle under socialism in order to bar the door to a revival of capitalism in new forms.” – the struggle against revisionism “to preserve the purity of Marxism-Leninism theory” was equally emphasis. That attribution reflects the understanding that of world historic importance was that he guided the work of building socialism in China by “brilliantly integrating the principles of Marxism-Leninism with the practice of the Chinese revolution.” The Burmese party said of Mao that he “inherited Marxism-Leninism, defended its purity and developed it with Mao Tsetung Thought.” (The lack of apostrophe signifying an upgrade in theoretical status?) (Peking Review September 30th 1976)
Nils Holmberg, veteran communist and translator of the Swedish editions of the Selected Works of Mao TseTung, said that Chairman Mao had made very important contributions in developing Marxism-Leninism. Pal Stegian told a memorial meeting in Norway that Mao’s work “are an eternal contribution to the theory of communism.” (Peking Review 44 October 29th 1976).
The red banner of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought had been raised by the international movement, yet still seen in terms of expressing the revolutionary line of Chairman Mao. That was the Maoist paradigm in 1976.
Elsewhere “Maoism” was a term that had been used by political opponent like Trotskyists and particularly in attacks from Russian publishing houses on Mao and China’s policies such as Y. Semyonov’s The Bitter Fruit of Maoism – Cultural Revolution and Peking’s Policy in International Affairs (September 1975). But as a term, Maoism was not used, or encouraged within China, and uncommon within the international communist movement during Mao’s lifetime.
When Canadian anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist republished the 1952 “Reader’s Guide to the Marxist Classics” they included an additional section dedicated to Mao Zedong.This volume was originally produced in 1952 for the Communist Party of Great Britain.
A new section was added to the 1980 Canadian edition on Mao Zedong Thought and a subject guide to the works of Mao Zedong.
“Today it has become clear that Mao Zedong has made significant contributions to Marxist-Leninist theory and to the practice of socialist revolution and construction… It is recognition of the importance of Mao Zedong’s contributions that the revolutionary theory of the proletariat is today called Marxism-Leninism-=Mao Zedong Thought.”
Likewise with the Study Handbook produced by the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist), consisted of excerpts from the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong.
“Its aim is to bring Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought to all workers who are conscious of the historical mission of their class. This science is the result of 130 years of analysis of the workers’ movement. It sums up the principle lessons and thus serves as a guide for workers in all countries in their struggle for revolution.”
It explained that
“Marxism-Leninism-Mao TseTung Thought has always developed through the struggle against revisionism, which is the attempt made by the bourgeoisie’s agents to pervert communist theory, to deform the basic principles of Marxism and have the workers’ movement follow passively behind the capitalist class.”
Of the Five Heads:
“The principles they formulated are universally applicable to the concrete conditions of the revolution in every country… on the basis of their contributions communist theory is called Marxism-Leninism Mao Tsetung thought.”
In the transitional period that saw Maoism adopted as the preferred term there were the argument over whether to use Mao Zedong Thought or Maoism – particularly engaging were the contending views expressed by Indian communists. However even when adopted, the concept of Maoism was described in the following terms by CPI (ML) (People’s War),
“Marxism, Leninism and Maoism are thus not separate ideologies, but merely represent the constant growth and advancement of an integral ideology. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the universally applicable and scientific ideology of the proletariat.”
- History of Marxism Leninism Maoism (2002) New Delhi : New Vistas Publication : 4
The basic premise remains that Mao Zedong Thought is an extension and development of Marxism-Leninism to the present era. This formulation was kept in the publication, Basic Course in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism republished by the Norwegian Tjen Folket in 2011, and again online in 2014 by the progressive anti-imperialist collective, Massalijn.
In the realm of internet Maoism there were declarations of “the fourth and latest stage of revolutionary science, Maoism ThirdWorldism” that emerged in the blogosphere around 2008. Associated with Monkey Smashes Heaven/ Prairie Fire (again drawing on the rich and variety maoist iconography) it initially build upon Lin Biao’s analogical strategy of the ‘countryside’ surrounding the cities underpinned by a theory of Labour aristocracy applied to the entire Global North. This view metamorphosed into the positions of the Leading Light Communist Organisation that, after advancing the argument that “to be a real Maoist today requires going beyond Mao”, came to renounce Maoism. JMP has come nowhere near spinning out of orbit like these individuals. Instead he has argued a case for a Maoism that is not rooted in a kind of seamless succession but a science that responds to the contradictions within life processes and seeks to address them. Reading Continuity and Rupture will not provide you with exam answer solutions but in its intellectual challenge, it can point you in the right direction.