Bloom and Contend: A Critique of Maoism

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by Chino

This is the introduction from a longer pamphlet, the full PDF is available for download here: Bloom and Contend_Chino

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Introduction

Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?
This is a question of the first importance for the revolution.

–Mao Tse-tung, Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society, 1926

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The Chinese revolutionary experience comprised one of the great world-historical revolutions of the 20th century. It spanned the overthrow of the dynastic system that had governed China for over 2,000 years; years of rapid modernization that saw the growth anarchist and communist politics in East Asia; two decades of mobile rural warfare, leading to the triumph of a state socialist project; and finally, to a series of internal upheavals and external conflicts that brought the country to the brink of civil war, and culminated in the emergence of the capitalist dreadnought which now stands to shape the course of the 21st century. One fruit of this rich historical experience is Maoism.

The term “Maoism” is used differently by different political tendencies, to describe syntheses of the theories and strategies that Mao Zedong, and his allies in the Chinese Communist Party, developed from the 1920s to the 1970s. In its various iterations, Maoism has made a considerable impact on the U.S. revolutionary left. In the 1960s, a wide range of groups in the black liberation, Chicano, and Puerto Rican movements, and later the New Communist movement, looked to Mao for inspiration and theory. This influence continues today, not only through well-established groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party and the two Freedom Road Socialist Organizations, but also through smaller and younger groupings such as the Kasama network and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party—Prison Chapter. If any wave of social movement is to appear in the U.S. in the coming years, Maoist politics are likely to be a significant element of its revolutionary wing.

If this is the case, then today’s revolutionaries must ask: what is our understanding of Maoist politics, and of the Chinese revolution that produced them? What are the major pillars of “Maoism” in its various forms, and in what historical contexts did these elements emerge? How might these politics be enacted in the present moment, and how do they help or hinder us in developing a revolutionary movement for today? This piece offers a set of preliminary answers to these questions. It is the result of several months of study and discussion, both individually and in groups with Maoist, left communist and anarchist comrades. In the pages below, I provide a brief survey of the 50-year Chinese revolutionary experience for militants who may be unfamiliar with it, and contextualize the main elements of Maoist politics within that history. Along the way, I develop a coherent analysis of the Chinese revolution, and of Maoist politics, from an anarchist communist perspective.

While I disagree with him on particulars, my take on the Chinese revolution is in broad agreement with the central claims of Loren Goldner’s controversial “Notes Toward a Critique of Maoism,” published online in October 2012. The Chinese revolution was a remarkable popular peasant war and led by Marxist-Leninists. Taking the helm of an underdeveloped country in the absence of a global revolution, the Chinese Communist Party dealt with its conditions by acting as a surrogate bourgeoisie, and developing the country along state capitalist lines. The exploitation and accumulation around which Chinese society was subsequently organized transformed the party into a new ruling class, with interests distinct from the Chinese proletariat and peasantry. Believing itself to be revolutionary, the Maoist wing of the party worked to avoid the problems of bureaucratization and authoritarianism, using the Soviet experience as a foil. But even as it called forth popular movements to de-bureaucratize the state, Mao and his allies were continually forced to choose between sanctioning the overthrow the system that guaranteed their continued existence as a class, or repressing the very popular energies they claimed to represent. Mao and his allies repeatedly chose the latter, ultimately weakening the self-activity of the Chinese proletariat, and clearing the way for the triumph of openly capitalist rule after Mao’s death.

My take on the various elements of Maoist politics are varied, depending on the philosophical, theoretical, strategic, or methodological element in question. In general, I consider Maoism to be an internal critique of Stalinism that fails to break with Stalinism itself. Over many years, Mao developed a critical understanding of Soviet society, and of the negative symptoms it displayed. But at the same time, he failed to locate the cause of these symptoms in the capitalist social relations of the USSR, and thus failed to examine and break with many of the assumptions he shared with the Stalinist model. Thus Mao’s politics remained fundamentally Stalinist, critiquing the USSR from a position as untenable in theory as it was eventually proven in practice. This piece makes an initial attempt to interrogate Maoist concepts in this context. Other militants will have to take this task further. Only when Maoism is subjected to an immanent critique and “digested” in this manner will it be possible to effectively re-embed elements of Maoist politics in a new, coherent political approach adequate to our present situation.

Before we start, I should outline my use of the term “state capitalism”, a concept that is central element in my understanding of Mao’s China. The term has been used in many different contexts. In Russia in the 1920s, anarchists such as Alexander Berkman and Voline, and left communist groups such as Gavril Myasnikov’s Worker’s Group, used the term to describe the kind of exploitative political and economic system they saw emerging in the USSR. Lenin used the term positively in the same period, to describe the method the Bolsheviks would use to industrially develop Russia under Bolshevik control, while preventing the return of the overthrown ruling classes to power. Marxists throughout the 20th century—such as Anton Pannekoek, Paul Mattick, C.L.R. James, Tony Cliff, Hillel Ticktin, and the Aufheben group—have worked to develop the term theoretically, in order to grapple with what happened in the USSR, and uncover the implications of the Soviet experience for revolutionary movements yet to come.

I use the term “state capitalist” to refer to any system in which the exploitation and capital accumulation described by Marx occurs in a system in which the vast majority of the means of production have been nationalized, or otherwise placed under the control of a state apparatus. In such a system, the fundamental aspects of capitalist social relations remain. A proletariat, defined by its lack of access to and control over the means of production and subsistence, is forced to alienate its labor to a separate social group and attendant institutions, which to an ever greater degree comes to resemble a distinct ruling class. As ongoing exploitation yields capital accumulation, this becoming-class continually expands its control over wealth and political power through its position in the relations of production, and determines the trajectory of the reproduction of society. The use values produced by the proletariat, and appropriated by the state, are distributed back to society under the direction of a bureaucratic ruling class; some of these are sold as commodities, paid for by the money earned through waged work, while others are sold on the global market.

Because this exploitation takes place under the auspices of a state-run economy, and often in states whose rulers believe themselves to be pursuing communism, state capitalism “looks” very different from other forms of capitalism. Wages, prices, commodities, and forms of ownership may be profoundly shaped by state intervention, and take different forms than in other capitalist societies. The Aufheben group in particular has explored the “deformations of value” that occurred in the USSR, when commodity exchange was greatly restricted, and money could no longer serve its historical role as the primary medium of capital accumulation.[1] Nonetheless, as long as the conditions described above exist, “value” in the capitalist sense continues to exist as well. This “value” in the capitalist sense will provide the metric through which use-values are equated, production is conceptualized and coordinated, and foreign trade is conducted. The resulting “law of value” will tend to impose seemingly objective limits and presuppositions on those living under its auspices, including those in positions of state power—no matter their subjective intentions or political pedigree.

To explore the implications of this concept further, we must examine the broad path of the Chinese revolutionary experience. I begin at the transition from the late 19th to the early 20th century, when modern China was born in toil, fire and bloodshed.

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Again, you can read the full-length pamphlet in PDF form here:  Bloom and Contend_Chino

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5 thoughts on “Bloom and Contend: A Critique of Maoism”

  1. All your theory have be tested by such a trial, that is, whether or not Mao was actually a bloody criminal judged by a fair law system

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