Whence Maoism? (Part 2: China’s Revolution, the Three Worlds Theory, and Revisionism)

Inspired by the revolutionary success of Marxism-Leninism in the Russian empire, Chinese comrades formed a CP. Mao made a name for himself throughout the party’s history, rising up through its ranks due to his indisputably masterful strategy and tactics. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: Mao’s leadership toppled the fascist Chiang Kai-shek clique and brought the CPC to power. On this point, the “Maoists” focus on Mao is quite scientific: One should be interested in the ideas which, against all apparent odds, overturn the old order. This is the science of revolution, of which Mao and his experience certainly played a decisive role.

In its early years, the CPC formed the “left wing” of the KMT, the party which, at the time, was at the vanguard of revolutionary activity against the imperialist domination of China, which was aided by what “Maoists” famously call their “running dogs”, the comprador bourgeoisie and their lackeys.

J. Moufawad-Paul, whose blog is certainly one of the more interesting reads on the “Maoist” internet and who himself seems a very intelligent communist, summarises the role of the CPC in the KMT and declares that this teaches us that:

…entryism is not a very good tactic

It may well be that Mao himself agreed, in retrospect, with the idea that the CPC should’ve never “entered” the KMT, that it should have, without delay, launched a “people’s war” to turn China red. In other words, Sun Yat-sen should’ve been actively struggled against in the same way Chiang Kai-shek was. If this is indeed Mao’s view, it is a frightfully undialectical one. If Stalin was indeed mistaken in backing the CPC’s presence within the KMT (and consequently, backing the KMT), then Stalin should have declared Sun Yat-sen a “fascist”, the CPC should’ve waged active struggle against the KMT in spite of their tactical common interests against the imperialist threat, and of course, the civil war should’ve started years earlier, when the CPC was weaker and lacked the credibility it built up after years of honest effort in the struggle for national liberation within the KMT (with Sun Yat-sen’s blessing).

I hope to write an entry at a later time on “entryism” and how it is used and misused as a rhetorical device, but for now, it suffices to say that the CPC was a formidable force within the KMT in the years leading up to the Chinese Civil War. It gained strength through its legal operations which so impressed progressive nationalists like Sun Yat-sen that his wife Soong Ching-ling, sexistly known as Madame Sun Yat-sen, sided with the CPC when Chiang Kai-shek attempted to crush the communists after his fascist clique seized power. The legacy of the KMT for the CPC was certainly not all negative in the eyes of Mao, who continued to praise Sun Yat-sen as a revolutionary hero, and allowed non-fascist KMT elements to continue to operate legally in the PRC after its founding, where they remain to this day.

At this juncture, readers will forgive the implication that they have not read Comrade Stalin, or that they are no better than the anarchists against whom he was struggling:

Today we are demanding a democratic republic. Can we say that a democratic republic is good in all respects, or bad in all respects? No we cannot! Why? Because a democratic republic is good only in one respect: when it destroys the feudal system; but it is bad in another respect: when it strengthens the bourgeois system. Hence we say: in so far as the democratic republic destroys the feudal system it is good — and we fight for it; but in so far as it strengthens the bourgeois system it is bad — and we fight against it.

So the same democratic republic can be “good” and “bad” at the same time — it is “yes” and “no.”

The same thing may be said about the eight-hour day, which is good and bad at the same time: “good” in so far as it strengthens the proletariat, and “bad” in so far as it strengthens the wage system.

It was facts of this kind that Engels had in mind when he characterised the dialectical method in the words we quoted above.

Things being always in motion, the KMT itself did change, and when this happened, Mao did indeed respond excellently, launching immediate guerrilla warfare, taking advantage of the poverty of the peasants, their considerable numbers, and the geographic advantages a peasant-based strategy represented to encircle the fascists. Mao’s actions were ingenious and heroic, and were exactly the response called for at the time.

A few years after the declaration of the People’s Republic, Comrade Stalin died, opening a new chapter in communist history. With Khrushchev’s rise to power, the dictatorship of the proletariat was declared obsolete, and the foundations for a profit-based economy were laid again. These changes were recognised by the Chinese and Albanian parties as “modern revisionism”, and the two countries became firm allies for a long period based on their shared commitment to upholding a strong Marxist-Leninist line.

Best friends forever!

While in Albania, the party continued for decades to develop and put into practice Marxism-Leninism based on the blueprint provided by Comrade Stalin, in China, the path was different, and by design (something Maoists and Hoxhaites can agree on, the disagreement being whether this was a boldly independent and creative Marxist difference or a deviationist difference of some kind).

In private, Enver Hoxha was concerned about the gulf between China and Albania, but in public, he spent years heaping praise on Mao and China, something which has not gone unnoticed by the “Maoists”. But these disagreements were indeed there early. Chairman Mao flirted with Tito whilst condemning Khrushchev, an act which, even if excusable in the mind of the reader, certainly displays a massive gulf between Enver Hoxha and Chairman Mao, as the former bordered on fanaticism in his attacks on “the Titoites” (although it must also be mentioned that Mao publicly compared Tito to Bernstein, it seems that a different stance on who is a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist and who is a revisionist scoundrel depending on time and place was not a monopoly of the Albanian party).

In his fight with modern revisionism, Mao rightly concerned himself with enemies at home as well as abroad. In the process, we begin to see take shape the beginnings of a distinct “Maoist” approach. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which included attacks on the “capitalist roaders” within the party, copies of the so-called “Little Red Book” (properly: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung) were the text consulted by young revolutionaries in China, and Mao was in effect the interpreter of Marxism-Leninism (laying the foundations for the later emergence of an ideology of “Maoism” proper, as distinct from Marxism-Leninism). The text itself was compiled by the People’s Liberation Army, then under the leadership of Lin Biao, prior to his falling out with Mao).

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, for its part, failed, and most self-declared “Maoists” today declare the People’s Republic of China to be “revisionist”. Many “Maoists” blame Deng Xiaoping for the current state of affairs, and view him as something of a Khrushchev to Mao’s Stalin. This may all well be true, but Mao Zedong himself seemed to have accepted this state of affairs by the end in a way that Stalin is not accused of doing, along with the “Three Worlds Theory”, a part of “Maoist” history that is not merely an incident, like so many in the history of Marxism-Leninism that can be brushed aside, but a theoretical point which led to differing interpretations of the core concepts of imperialism and social imperialism among various “Maoist” groups for years to come.

Assuming good faith with regard to Mao but an objective stance not based on attempting to find excuses for his line, I would draw two main conclusions from the internal experience of Mao’s China:

  1. Mao Zedong was a genuine struggler for socialism and against modern revisionism for some period, even if he seems to have surrendered near the end.
  2. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, whatever its merits or shortcomings, had a similar effect to Stalin’s purges: It held back but could not prevent the victory of revisionism. China under Mao was no more successful in establishing an unshakable new socialist society than Albania or the Soviet Union, “losing its way” after “the great leader” passed on.

If true, the former point forces us to look at Mao as slightly less of an exemplary figure than Lenin or Stalin, much to the disappointment of our “Maoist” comrades. However, this would not necessarily make Mao the counter-revolutionary anti-Marxist that Enver Hoxha painted him as after the Sino-Albanian split. After all, we must consider Mao and China not only as internal phenomena to be abstractly held up against the yardstick of Stalin’s Soviet Union or Enver Hoxha’s Albania, but in the correct context of the world revolution.

Whence Maoism? (Part 1: Why China?)

In 1977, the Progressive Labor Party published a piece entitled “Whither Maoism?”, in which they provided a short analysis of various pro-Mao parties’ responses to Deng Xiaoping’s consolidation of power in the PRC. “Maoism”, it seemed, was no longer a revolutionary current in any meaningful sense, but an assortment of punchlines for a dark joke about what had gone wrong in China. The irrelevance of the “Maoists”, it seemed, was now assured.

Decades have since passed, and one must say that whether one considers oneself a “Maoist” or not, whichever definition of “Maoism” one uses, “Maoism” remains one of the most important trends in Marxism. In a series of posts, I will try to explain the longevity of “Maoism”, and in the process, evaluate the positive and negative qualities of “Maoism” in its various forms.

The East Is Red

Even prior to the Sino-Soviet split, two important elements of the later cult of Mao were already recognised in some form: Firstly, China was (and remains) an enormous country of tremendous historical and cultural importance in both “East” and “West”. No matter who had been at the head of the Communist Party of China, the world would have been watching. Secondly, Mao was recognised to have been a brilliant leader whose tactical line was decisive in the victory against the fascist Chiang Kai-Shek clique, humiliating the right wing of the KMT and forcing them to retreat to Taiwan.

In this post, it is the first element I wish to emphasise, as it is often overlooked by “Maoists” themselves. China gained the attention of the international communist movement at a time when there were no “Maoists”, at a time when almost all communists (except the Trotskyites, the Titoites, and some smaller irrelevant trends) were more or less united. Paul Robeson performed his rendition of the new anthem of the People’s Republic of China in celebration:

Why did Robeson not provide us with recordings of the national anthems of Poland, the DPRK, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, or Hungary, from the same period? The victory in China was viewed as greater because the stakes were higher: Bigger country, bigger history, bigger population, bigger influence. Of course, one could argue that the Russian Empire was similarly impossible to ignore for reasons of scale, but there is a key difference: Prior to the October Revolution, there were no successful Marxist revolutions. The October Revolution heralded a new era, of which the 1949 Revolution was a part. One of the biggest parts, but a part. The later revolutionary experience in China may have been significant in its own right, but China was where people, and communists in particular, already wanted to be looking.

It was likely for this reason that the Soviet–Albanian split did not capture the attention of the international communist movement as the Sino-Soviet split did. Both the Chinese and the Albanians were harsh critics of the Khrushchev clique (by many accounts, the Albanians were harsher, for reasons that may have been related to Yugoslavia, a point which I will return to in later parts), but Albania was a small country, and China was a big one. At this point, there was no Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, but huge numbers of anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists threw their lot in with China specifically, not merely against Khrushchevite revisionism. This may have also played a role, perhaps one as great as the actual attachment to Mao that many parties had at the time, in the reluctance to embrace Albania as the new “saviour” of anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism at the time of the Sino-Albanian split.

Accepting that Mao was already in an ideal position to capture the attention of the international communist movement on the grounds that China had the attention of the international communist movement, the next part will focus on the dynamics of the Chinese revolutionary experience itself, its struggle with revisionism, its success, and its failures.