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A philosophical examination of the theoretical terrain of contemporary Maoism premised on the counter-intuitive assumption that Maoism did not emerge as a coherent theory until the end of the 1980s.
|Publisher:||Hunt, John Publishing|
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Continuity and Rupture
Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain
By J. Moufawad-Paul
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 J. Moufawad-Paul
All rights reserved.
The Terrain of Maoism-qua-Maoism
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a universally applicable, living and scientific ideology, constantly developing and being further enriched through its application in making revolution as well as through the advance of human knowledge generally.
— Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!
I will begin this chapter by providing a basic definition of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. My aim, here, is to provide the reader with the framework of the book by summarizing some key axioms that might otherwise lurk implicitly in the background. If philosophy is to intervene in a given theoretical terrain in order to clarify conceptual problems and attempt to force meaning, then it is necessary to provide the reader with a rough sketch of the terrain that is being explored. The exploration of this terrain, the focus of the entire book, will mainly concern the axioms summarized below and the philosophical problematics they produce.
Axiom 1: Since the name "Maoism" existed before the concept of "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism", while it is important to recognize that the latter shares some of the DNA of the former, I label contemporary Maoism Maoism-qua-Maoism. Similarly, before Leninism was codified conceptually as a theoretical terrain (that is, where its key theoretical developments were universally applicable in all instances of class struggle), it had already existed as a name: for some it simply meant fidelity to the revolution led by Lenin, and thus fidelity to V.I. Lenin the person and his politics; for others, as Roland Boer has pointed out, "far from being an invention by comrades after the October revolution, 'Leninist' was initially a term of abuse from opponents, an accusation of splitting".
Axiom 2: I historically locate the emergence of Maoism-qua-Maoism, the period of time in which Maoism became a coherent concept, as a process that began in 1988. My argument is that Maoism was properly established as a concept first in 1988 during the people's war led by the Communist Party of Peru [PCP], "the first organization to refer to Maoism as a new stage of Marxism-Leninism". Then, following a process of international debate, Maoism was coherently summarized (that is, conceptually crystallized) by the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement [RIM] in 1993. Obviously there are other interpretations of Maoism that do not declare fidelity to this historical narrative; my contention is that the coherent notion of Maoism as the third stage of revolutionary science produced by this process is the conceptualization of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism shared by the majority of significant contemporary Maoist organizations.
Axiom 3: I presuppose that historical materialism is a science, a notion that has fallen out of favor with some but a claim that is necessary in order to properly understand the meaning of the theory initiated by Marx and Engels. Although I do not adhere to a crude conceptualization of this science (i.e. that materialist dialectics is the "queen of the sciences" that can explain everything and thus speak with authority about the substantial concerns of physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, etc.), I believe that it must be understood as a science according to its own terms in order for it to have any significant meaning. Hence, what makes historical materialism important as a theory is its adherence to the basic notion of science that defined enlightenment thought: its ability to provide an explanation according to its own boundaries, historical/social causes for historical/social phenomena, rather than appealing to supernatural and mystified explanations; its ability to theoretically develop according to its fundamental laws of motion (i.e. that class revolution is the motive force of history) and thus be open to the future rather than a closed circuit in which no new truths/insights can be developed; its ability to produce theoretical moments that are universally applicable in particular instances. Historical materialism might not be the "queen of the sciences" but I presume, as an axiom, that it is the science of history and, based on its fundamental premise, the science of revolution. In the second chapter I will elaborate on this conception of revolutionary science.
Axiom 4: I understand Maoism as a third stage of revolutionary science, scientific because its key theoretical insights are universally applicable in every particular instance. In this way it represents both continuity and rupture with Marxism-Leninism, just as Leninism represented continuity and rupture with Marxism: a paradigm shift in revolutionary science, produced by coherently summarizing the experience of the second world-historical communist revolution (the Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong), that could only implement this shift, and thus the emergence of a new theoretical terrain, by also being a continuation of the universal aspects of the previous stage of revolutionary science. By claiming that Maoism is a third stage of revolutionary science, as the PCP first declared in 1988, I am also claiming, in line with the RIM's statement of 1993, that "without Maoism there can be no Marxism-Leninism. Indeed, to negate Maoism is to negate Marxism-Leninism itself."
Axiom 5: In order to understand the necessity of Maoism as the current stage of revolutionary science, we need to understand the theoretical limits of Marxism-Leninism. The theoretical rupture, which is at the same time a continuity, only makes sense after we examine the limits of the previous scientific paradigm. Even an anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism of the kind that used to be short-handed as "Maoism" is now inadequate for building a revolutionary movement.
The point of a philosophical intervention in the terrain generally defined by the above axioms, however, is not to focus on theorizing Maoism but to clarify and explore the already-existing theoretical terrain of Maoism. As will become clear in this chapter, the basic meaning of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism was clarified between 1988 and 1993. I am more interested, as a philosopher, in intervening upon a terrain that already exists (in this case, the terrain indicated by the above axioms), describing the boundaries of this terrain, and attempting to provide conceptual clarity for further exploration. Contemporary Maoists, unlike the majority of past Maoists, claim that Maoism is a new stage in revolutionary science; the job of a philosophy that places itself in the service of this theory (and philosophies and their philosophers always, even if unconsciously, dedicate themselves to an ideological position) is to explain why this is the case and explore its implications.
Thus, my main reason for outlining these axioms is simply to mark out some fundamental characteristics of the terrain under investigation. In this book I am not primarily interested in justifying the existence and necessity of this terrain, although this is a secondary concern, but am simply indicating the key landmarks of the conceptual geography I hope to illuminate. A navigator who finds himself adrift in a vast river that others have already discovered does not waste too much time wondering whether they should be travelling this river in the first place; rather, they attempt to navigate the currents of this body of water by referring to the pre-given boundaries provided by those who have charted its geography. So while it might be the case (though I do not think so) that I have found myself upon a river that will only lead to a dead-end, my focus is on explaining the pre-given boundaries I plan to navigate. In charting my route, clearing up misconceptions and dealing with various dogmas, my hope is that the resulting cartography will provide clarity for both Maoists and non-Maoists alike.
To reiterate, I am making a distinction between the name and the concept of Maoism; hence my use of the laborious philosophical term "Maoism-qua-Maoism" — meaning, Maoism as being Maoism. More accurately, I mean Maoism as being properly understood as the Maoism of today. That is, the Maoism that is espoused by the most significant organizations, as well as what we can call "the worldwide Maoist movement", that define themselves according to this name — the Maoism understood by almost all of us who identify according to this term — possesses a specific conceptual meaning that differs from the meaning of organizations prior to 1988 that shared the name.
Even within the revolutionary tradition shifts in the meaning of a term are not uncommon: as aforementioned, before the theoretical codification of Leninism that transformed it into what we understand it to mean now, Leninism was used by those who rejected the Bolshevik political line to mean "sectarian": here a name is shared, but there are clearly two different concepts. The conceptual distinction is far more important than the shared name; those of us who declare fidelity to Leninism do not mean the same thing as those who might still maintain the earlier definition of the name.
Similarly, the majority of those of us who now identify as Maoist believe that there is a significant conceptual difference between our Maoism and the Maoism(s) of the past, even if we share the same name. Since this distinction might seem rather vague, it is necessary to examine it in more detail. Hopefully this examination will allow for a philosophical investigation of Maoism-qua-Maoism; in order for there to be such an investigation we must be able to explain the meaning of the concept under examination.
Before 1988 and 1993 there was indeed something called Maoism, but this iteration of Maoism is what today's ascendant world-wide Maoist movement often calls Mao Zedong Thought. In this period, those who called themselves or were called "Maoist" generally took the name to mean anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism. A paradigm example of this definition can be found in the programme of the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist) — the organization that would eventually become one of Canada's most important anti-revisionist communist parties in the 1970s and 1980s, changing its name to the Workers Communist Party [WCP]. In 1975, this nascent party formation began its manifesto by defining its ideology as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and clarified its Maoism, in the manner of most anti-revisionist communist organizations, as meaning nothing more than a reclamation of the Marxism-Leninism abandoned by those parties following the Soviet Union under Khrushchev. Maoism for the WCP primarily meant "struggle against modern revisionism" — fidelity to the revolutionary essence of Marxism-Leninism abandoned by the Marxist-Leninist parties in "most countries" that "degenerated and became revisionist".
Therefore, before the late 1980s Maoism was understood as anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism, and the Maoists of this period were generally antirevisionists who privileged China over the Soviet Union. With few exceptions, Maoism was not grasped as a new stage in revolutionary science but merely a correct way of thinking — a return to a proper and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism that had been undermined by the Soviet Union under Khrushchev. Following the political line of the Chinese communists under Mao, and the polemics exchanged between the Chinese and Soviet parties, Maoism in this context was a name that stood primarily for the adherence to the revolutionary principles of Leninism.
At that time, the emergence of an exciting anti-revisionist revolutionary current made sense. On the one hand there was the bankrupt communism of Khrushchev's Soviet Union that was speaking of a "peaceful co-existence" with capitalism; on the other hand there was the "New Left" that not only denounced the mainstream communist parties following Khrushchev's line but also the history of Leninism. The New Communist Movement, unhappy with either of these choices, declared fidelity to the Chinese Revolution, which had not yet capitulated to the capitalist road, as well as the world-wide anti-imperialist movement. This fidelity was quite often called "Maoist" even if it lacked a clear theoretical line beyond a commitment to anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism and the Chinese Revolution led by Mao.
There were, of course, debates in this period regarding the meaning of this Maoism, and sometimes significant differences emerged between Maoist groups. There were even a few attempts to think through the meaning of a coherent theoretical terrain of Maoism that, in some sense, prefigured today's theoretical terrain of Maoism. None of these conceptualizations, however, were coherent and systematic enough to push past the terrain of an anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism. Most importantly, outside of the North American context, there were theorists such as Jose Maria Sison (Philippines) and Charu Mazumdar (India) who were leading parties engaged in people's wars and developing a more thorough understanding of Maoism's possibilities. Even still, there was no significant attempt to defend the privileging of Maoism over Mao Zedong Thought — those who tried to do so prior to 1988 were unable to produce a concrete and coherent theorization regardless of what they claimed. Indeed, most Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organizations today recognize that "[i]t was the PCP who said that Maoism was a step above Marxism[-Leninism] and that the ideology that should now guide the communist international movement was Marxism-Leninism-Maoism".
Until the late 1970s, when China was still arguably revolutionary, it was difficult to provide a thorough assessment of the experience of the Chinese revolution, and thus understand the meaning of its successes and failures, as had been done by China with respect to the Soviet Union. Hence, this previous Maoism was under-theorized and even if it contained the seeds of what we now call Marxism-Leninism-Maoism it could only be underdeveloped due to the very nature of a science that develops according to the condition of revolutionary praxis. Regardless of how its anti-revisionism was short-handed, this tendency was still Marxism-Leninism, but a tendency that was reaching the limits of the Leninist terrain and that, upon reaching these limits, would be forced to deal with contradictions that were not solved until the New Communist Movement collapsed.
Indeed, the fact that the old "Maoism" could not think beyond its Marxist-Leninist limits was demonstrated in the clichéd formula that Leninism was "the Marxism of the imperialist era". Such a formula, though doubtlessly useful for operationalizing Lenin and demonstrating how it possessed a particular universal importance (i.e. it was a development of Marxism that not only understood the imperialist era of capitalism but possessed the tools to wage class struggle in this epoch), was ultimately unscientific because it could only produce a dogmatic conceptualization of Marxism-Leninism where Leninism became the absolute limit of the theory and Maoism, in this sense, could only ever be the anti-revisionist "thought" dedicated to its appreciation. Since this understanding of both Leninism and Maoism (that is, "Mao Zedong Thought") might still be a roadblock for understanding how and why Leninism can be overstepped, it is worth discussing in some detail.
The first problem with this formulation is that it is an impoverishment of Leninism. By reducing it to a summation of Marxism within a particular era, rather than recognizing one aspect of its universality in its grasp of this era, this formulation cannot explain why Leninism is noteworthy. Leninism thus becomes a phenomenon that is important because of a time — a time, no doubt, that will exist as long as capitalism exists — and not because of the theorizations it has produced regarding this time. The formulation is too large and thus unwieldy; it explains nothing of itself by a reduction to the unscientific notion of a zeitgeist. Here we find an unconscious Hegelianism, the philosophy that Marx and Engels broke from, in that it becomes something of a speculative system: Leninism as the accomplishment of the world spirit of revolution.
The second problem with this conception of Leninism, following the first, is that it fails to recognize that imperialism existed prior to Lenin and that the Marxism of Marx and Engels was also a "Marxism of the imperialist era" but, clearly, a different era of imperialism. It is not as if Marx and Engels did not discuss this imperialism; indeed Marx's discussion of "so-called primitive accumulation" in the first volume of Capital is very aware of the imperialist dimension of capitalism during his time. Of course, Lenin's discussion of imperialism is an examination of an imperialism transformed by capitalism, and is thus a significant and universal development of theory, but the point here is that the "era of imperialism" pre-exists Lenin.
Moreover, since imperialism is, as Lenin put it, the "final stage" of capitalism (more precisely, the consummation of capitalism where the imperialism that pre-dated and developed capitalism is transformed by capitalism and thus part of its moribund period), then to name Leninism the "Marxism of the imperialist era" is to also make the claim that there can be no further development in revolutionary science. Why? Because if Lenin was correct (and those who refuse to recognize a development beyond Leninism presume that this is the case), then the era of imperialism will only end with the termination of capitalism. Thus, according to this definition of Leninism, the science of revolution is completed in Leninism, and every theorist post-Lenin can only be an addition or qualification to these final revelations. There can never be a Marxism that is postimperialist era without a calamity that sets history back several centuries or a revolution that brings about the communist horizon. Lenin, then, becomes the final word on the class struggle of the present since imperialism is the threshold. In this sense, there can be no scientific development: those who argue that Maoism can never be a true ism according to this qualification, then, have rigged the game by making Leninism similar to the Absolute in Hegel's Logic — a final systemization of the science that cannot admit future development, is beyond historicization, and, in a word, is pseudo-science.
Excerpted from Continuity and Rupture by J. Moufawad-Paul. Copyright © 2015 J. Moufawad-Paul. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Prologue: Maoism and Philosophy xii
Chapter 1 The Terrain of Maoism-qua-Maoism 1
Chapter 2 Science's Dogmatic Shadow 53
Chapter 3 The General Limits of Marxism-Leninism 93
Chapter 4 Maoist Openings 136
Chapter 5 A New Anti-Revisionism 164
Chapter 6 Organization and Strategy 188
Epilogue: The Maoist Necessity 222
Appendix: Maoism or Trotskyism 227