Research note ~ Dr Matthew Rothwell

Students of the Chinese Revolution might be interested in the podcasts (and transcripts provided) by the independent academic, Dr Matthew Rothwell, author of Transpacific Revolutionaries: The Chinese Revolution in Latin America (New York: Routledge, 2013).

Now approaching 100 episodes People’s History of Ideas Podcast, ongoing since May 2019, looks at the course of the struggle in 20th century China. It is not a hymn of praise but an endeavour of understanding the difficulties, mistakes, innovations and achievement within the context and environment they actually happened. It is not a narrative of unflinching advance but a far greater appreciation of the actuality of what was one of the defining struggles, the issues and themes it was engaged in and the continuing relevance to the 21st century struggle for a fairer and just global society.

 The appeal of Rothwell’s approach to the subject is in its honest reporting and analysis, evident throughout the series and in this extract from the introduction to podcast 96:

“Last episode, we discussed the first half of the “Draft Resolution of the 2nd Congress of the [County] Party Organizations in the Hunan-Jiangxi Border Area.” That first half of the resolution later became an important document in Mao’s Selected Works, titled “Why Is It that Red Political Power Can Exist in China?” This episode, I want to move on to consider the second half of the resolution. As I mentioned last episode, it had a more concrete and immediate focus, listing recent actions and, in particular, mistakes, committed by the Party and its organizations, and stating actions to be taken to correct these mistakes in the future. It can even be read in some parts as something of a self-criticism on Mao’s part.”

Mao had been active before the Communist Party of China foundation in 1921, and the first volume of his Selected Works that covers the periods of the First Revolutionary Civil War (1924-27) begins, as Rothwell says,

“where he began to lay out his new strategic thinking on how the Chinese Revolution should be based on the peasantry. This was an article titled “Analysis of All the Classes in Chinese Society,” and was published on December 1, 1925 in Revolution, which was the semi-monthly journal of the National Revolutionary Army.”

The Beginning of Maoism: Mao Zedong’s “Analysis of All the Classes in Chinese Society” 20/08/2020

Without undermining the impact or importance of this strategic offering of Mao’s, Rothwell points to considerations of context when approaching the historical record of a text being studied.

“While the idea that Communists should organize and mobilize peasants was not new, what was new in Mao’s “Analysis of All the Classes in Chinese Society” was that Mao was saying that the strategy for revolution should be based on mobilizing the peasantry. Now, Mao implied this strongly but did not say it explicitly in this work….

The article was edited to be more consistent with the terminology which came to predominate later in the revolution. The main reason for this editing was because this article, and some other important early works of Mao’s, were later used primarily for ongoing ideological education…..because we’re studying the historical development of Mao’s thinking in this podcast episode, it makes much more sense for us to use the terms that Mao used at the time, and not those which appear in Mao’s Selected Works. (Listeners who have Mao’s Selected Works at hand may notice that the chart that I am about to read from does not even appear in the version published there, and that a different date of publication is given for the article. It was only in the 1980s that Chinese historians discovered that the article was originally published in December 1925, not in March 1926, as had been thought when the Selected Works were published.)”

Rothwell concludes that particular episode noting that although peasant organizing had been an issue for the young party, the party leadership definitely did not endorse a peasant-based strategy. Any reading on the revolution illustrates that line struggle . The podcast ends with the comment that:

“In fact, Mao’s ideas would run up against deterministic and non-revolutionary articulations of Marxism all the way up until Mao’s death in 1976 and beyond, so it’s fitting that Mao’s first major work on revolutionary strategy, a work which can be considered the beginning of Maoism in a certain sense, was already being criticized in terms which relied on an interpretation of Marxism which removed the revolutionary heart from the theory..”

The exploration of the Chinese revolution has reached 1928 with occasional divergences into the author’s specialism, Maoism in Latin America. Reviewing Transpacific Revolutionaries: The Chinese Revolution in Latin America, it was observed that

“Rothwell amply and clearly demonstrates that Maoist ideas circulated within each of the countries mentioned because of transnational networks that had been established between Latin American activists, communists, politicians, and artists and their Chinese counterparts through a wide variety of forums, including guided trips to China, political and military training courses organized by the Chinese government for Latin American revolutionaries, and the translation and distribution of Chinese materials by Latin American interlocutors. Rothwell convincingly demonstrates that Latin American actors were not passive in relation to Maoist ideas and did the hard work of trying to indigenize these ideas for Latin American conditions.”  Dhruv Jain (2019) Rethinking Marxism, 31:4, 536-540.

Available online are other articles and talks (either in English or Spanish) that looked at the transmission of Maoism across the globe such as the presentation last year to the University of Hamburg on Clandestine Transcripts of Revolutionary Globalization: The Shining Paths of Late Cultural Revolution Maoism; subsequently re-recorded as episode 91 of the People’s History of Ideas Podcast.  Others that can be found include,

  • The Chinese Revolution and Latin America: The Impact of Global Communist Networks on Latin American Social Movements and Guerrilla Groups
  • Gonzalo in the Middle Kingdom: What Abimael Guzmán Tells Us in His Three Discussions of His Two Trips to China” in Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World  9, no. 3, May 2020.  Podcast 27
  • The Road Is Tortuous: The Chinese Revolution and the End of the Global Sixties” in  Revista  Izquierdas  (Santiago, Chile) 49, abril 2020. Podcast 21
  • “Secret Agent for International Maoism: José Venturelli, Chinese Informal Diplomacy and Latin American Maoism” in Radical Americas no. 1, December 2016.  Podcast 69
  • “Transpacific Solidarities: A Mexican Case Study on the Diffusion of Maoism in Latin America” in The Cold War in Asia: The Battle for Hearts and Minds, Zheng Yangwen, Hong Liu and Michael Szonyi, eds., Brill, 2010.

On the International Communist League

The online news site, Communist International carried pictures of graffiti and public displays of banners, flags and posters, all actions carried out worldwide on the occassion of the announcement of the Gonzaloist ICL throughout January 2023.  15 communist parties and organizations from 14 countries had come together under the name International Communist League after the holding of their Unified Maoist International Conference. These were:

Committees for the Foundation of the (Maoist) Communist Party of Austria (KG(m)KPÖ)
Communist Party of Brazil (P.C.B.)

Red Fraction of the Communist Party of Chile (FRPCCh)
 Communist Party of Colombia (Red Fraction) (PCC(FR))
  Poder Proletário – M-L-M Party Organization Colombia (PP-OP-MLM)
  Communist Party of Equator – Red Sun (PCE-SR)
  Maoist Committee in Finland (MKS)
  Maoist Communist Party (PCM) [French State]
  Committee Red Flag (KRF) [Federal Republic of Germany]
  Committee for the Reconstitution of the Communist Party of Mexico (CR-PCM)
  Serve the People – Communist League of Norway
  Communist Party of Peru (PCP)
  Maoist Communist Party (PCM) [Spanish State]
  Communist League of Sweden
  Communist Party of Turkey/ Marxist-Leninist (TKP/ML)

One of the more substantial display of support was from the annual celebration held in Germany, the Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht demonstration.

“This year again the LLL demonstration took place in Berlin in January. While this annual event is primarily a showdown of the various forces of the revolutionist movement in the FRG, this year the Maoists had a different message: the International Communist League – ICL was founded! A manifold international contingent proclaimed this historic message at the demonstration, fulfilling the demand that had been made in the previous years at the same demonstration – also in the struggle: For the new organization of the international proletariat!

This message was not only powerfully spread, but also joyfully accepted by many masses. Several times masses asked for the flags of the ICL, which were carried on the demonstration in four languages – Spanish, English, Turkish and German. Some even wanted to buy them on the spot. An excerpt of the ICL’s Political Declaration and Principles was distributed as a leaflet, and Partizan comrades handed out printed brochures with the Declaration in English and Turkish. Thus, the radiance that the LLL demonstration has in the FRG and parts of Western Europe was used to celebrate and spread this success of the Maoists.”

The participants of the contingent look now full of joy and proletarian optimism into the future to develop under new, better conditions the work for the goal of the communists – the communism – and the unification of the International Communist Movement to push further.

While looking forward to expanding its international relations, establishing more Marxist-Leninist-Maoist and anti-imperialist ties, and forging greater unity and cooperation with communist parties and organizations, including those in the ICL, the Communist Party of the Philippines expressed its different perspective and judgement that it did “not presently see the conditions for establishing an international center that assumes the role of world proletarian vanguard”. It welcomed the undertaking to promote Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and carry out revolutionary struggles across the world, reiterating that “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations are the most competent in determining the revolutionary path in their own countries. It is their responsibility to take initiative in determining the line of struggle based on the application of the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to their particular concrete conditions.”

Setting out its position in a statement, On the announced formation by the International Communist League, the Central Committee Communist Party of the Philippines, released January 18, 2023, in part, expressed its critical assessments of the ICL’s approach commonly voiced by other Maoists.

It is our view that the most urgent task currently facing communist parties and organizations around the world is to apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to conduct class analysis and social investigation into the varied conditions in their countries, in order to determine the particular strategy and tactics to lead the proletariat and all oppressed and exploited classes in waging new democratic and socialist revolutionary struggles.

Arguing that organizations, while benefit in drawing lessons from the history of revolutionary struggles in different parts of the world, and to exchange views and experiences with other communist parties, they must strive to raise their capacity to become independent and self-reliant.

“It will be counterproductive, however, for them to subordinate themselves to a presumptive international center and lose their independence and initiative in carrying out revolutionary work within the scope of their competence and leadership.       …

The CPP encourages parties and organizations towards greater international unity and cooperation, to conduct bilateral meetings and multilateral conferences and consultations where crucial questions of theory and practice can be discussed, threshed out and agreed upon, while setting aside points of disagreement for further study and discussion. It stated “We must always strive to build unity on the basis of upholding Marxism-Leninism, promoting Maoism as the third stage in the development of the proletarian ideology, exposing and fighting revisionism, advancing the struggle against imperialism and all reaction, and carrying forward the new democratic and socialist revolutions.”

Sentiments that may seem familiar with what the ICL expresses in language and terms that differ greatly in actual meaning. The declaration of two barely concealed antagonistic positions remains muted for the time being.

Other organisation that have explicitly expressed their reservations and criticisms include:

The Construction Committee of the Maoist Communist Party of Galicia stated in a post on Maoist Road blogsite January 26, 2023 that “From our point of view, launching a new international organisation with political authority without being able to hold a  unified conference first, is a practice that leads to separating part of the ICM from the rest. It also leads to making the rest do the same and that the confrontation within the ICM becomes not a two-line struggle, but a sum of useless confrontations between various tendencies, as well as creating a dynamic that ‘forces’ each tendency to differentiate itself from the rest.”

It expressed support for the proposal proposal from the Communist Party of India (Maoist) – CPI (Maoist) – to create a world Maoist ‘Forum’, expressed its views on revolutionary violence that defend the universality of the people’s war and specifically noted

“We consider that the CWU (mlm) defends its political line with honesty. We must be critical between all communist detachments, but the treatment that certain parties have given to CWU (mlm) is unfair. If in all the international contacts we have had within the ICM, all the organizations have always treated us with great courtesy and comradeship, the same has not happened to CWU (mlm), being subjected to an unfair treatment for an organization that dedicates efforts to contribute to the strengthening of the ICM.“

The Communist Workers Union (mlm) of Colombia – CWU (mlm) – has been subject to harsh polemical comments by some of the component groups of the ICL. The organisation had quickly offered its own explanation on December 27, 2022 as to “why we decided not to participate in that Conference, which far from being «Unified» as announced, represents the positions of a particular hue within the Marxist-Leninist-Maoists.”

Furthermore questioning the status of its claims, “The non-participation in this event, by the comrades of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the Construction Committee of the Maoist Communist Party of Galicia, the Maoist Communist Party of Italy, the Maoist Communist Party of Afghanistan, among other Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organizations and parties, is evidence that the Conference held was not «unified» as announced; for our part we renew to the comrades participating in that Conference and of the new organization International Communist League, the fraternal call to give primacy to the general needs of the world class struggle, which impose as a necessity the struggle for unity in a truly unified International Conference of all Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, a struggle to which the Union remains fully committed.“

Agreement came in criticisms raised by a Norwegian communist group, Revolutionary Communists, N (RK) in Notes on the Founding Declaration of the International Communist League, their statement of January 6th, 2023  that:

“We uphold the acute necessity of unifying the International Communist Movement (ICM) under Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and welcome any genuine steps in this direction. However, we believe that the level of unity necessary for the founding of an international organization has not yet been reached, nor do we believe the proposal for a General Line has been sufficiently debated on an international level. Therefore we consider the establishment of ICL to be premature, as the international Maoist movement has not reached the ideological unity necessary for organizational unity. We fear that the premature formation of an international Maoist organization will serve as an obstacle to the development of two-line struggle, thus preventing real unity. We hope this fear will be proven wrong, and that the two-line struggle will continue so that a greater unity can be achieved.”

“The founding of the ICL may or may not be a genuine step towards the unity of the international Maoist movement, depending on how the ICL relates to MLM parties and organizations that are outside of it; especially those non-member parties that are actively engaged in People’s Wars (India, Philippines… In spite of our criticisms, and although we consider the founding of an international Maoist organization to be premature at this stage, we welcome the increased collaboration between Maoist forces and hope to continue to engage in comradely criticism and debate.”

Back in 2021, the PCm Italy had made the declaration that it supports and works for an Unified International Conference of all mlm parties and organisations on basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, on the balance of the application of mlm on different parties and organisations in their countries in the years post GRCP in China, on the balance of RIM experience and history – against revisionist line such as Avakian RCP USA/ Prachanda in Nepal/ LOD in Perù and ‘leftism and revolutionarism pretty bourgeois’ for a New international mlm organisation today, as second step towards a new Communist International