Whence Maoism? (Part 3: Marxism, Leninism… Maoism?)

In this, the final part of my initial public meditation on “Maoism”, I wish to discuss “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”. It will be noted that throughout the “Whence Maoism?” pieces thusfar, I have placed “Maoism” and “Maoist” in quotation marks. The reason for this relates to the phenomenon of “MLM”: “Maoist” and “Maoism” are labels that have been used long prior to the emergence of a conscious theoretical effort to grant “Maoism” the status of a third and higher stage of revolutionary science, forged throughout the struggles within the RIM, and surviving after the latter’s effective demise as an evangelical trend within anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism (or, as they would have it, surviving as the only real anti-revisionist communist ideology). A particularly dogmatically anti-Mao Marxist-Leninist may use the term “Maoist” to deride others who are not, in the view of the “MLM” crowd, “proper Maoists”. Similarly, Trotskyites may refer to anti-revisionism as a whole as “Maoism”, just as they may refer to “Maoism” as “Stalinism [with Chinese characteristics]”.


With their document “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” we see the RIM’s official “recognition of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the new, third and higher stage of Marxism”, forcing other Marxist-Leninists, regardless of their views on Mao and the Chinese struggle, to formally declare that we do NOT view “Maoism” as a “third and higher stage”. Consequently, in their eyes, we become “dogmato-revisionists”. Of course, we are not “dogmatically anti-Che” for not holding that “Marxism-Leninism-Guevarism” is a “new, third, and higher stage of Marxism”, even if we do think Che is an inspiring figure and a great Marxist-Leninist. The parallels may seem odd to “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists”, for whom Mao is indeed a second Lenin, but in fact, many “Maoist” comrades (most?) continue to self-identify as “Marxist-Leninist”. We do not see this level of confusion over the division between Marxist-Leninists and so-called “Orthodox Marxists”, with whom we have so little common ground on the question of Lenin as to prevent debate from occurring in the first place. When “Maoists” ask what is really “new” in Bob Avakian’s famous “new synthesis”, we ought to ask what is really “new” in “Maoism”. To outsiders, “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists” appear, more than anything else, to be pointlessly sectarian. While dogmatic Hoxhaites are viewed as very sectarian by “Maoists”, we cannot say that any Hoxhaite organisation has ever defined revisionism negatively in terms of Enver Hoxha the way “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists” do with Mao.

We are told that Mao did indeed have unique theoretical insights which must be grasped in order to be a true communist (to not descend into “dogmato-revisionism”). What are these insights? The document “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” emphasises several ideas which are often repeated by “Marxist-Leninist-Maoists”, the most frequently repeated of which seem to be “cultural revolution”, “the mass line”, and “people’s war”. If I am mistaken that these are the issues which separate “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” from “dogmato-revisionist” Marxism-Leninism, I invite comrades to correct me. However, based on this assumption, I will give my appraisal of these ideas in the order I have given them above.

Cultural Revolution

I have previously commented briefly on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It is a fact that it failed in its mission to defeat the revisionists. I do not mean this in the sense that Stalin’s purges failed to prevent revisionism in the Soviet Union. I mean it failed in the most immediate sense, while Mao was alive, to the point where he was forced to accept Deng as a power player even while Jiang Qing and others continued to insist (rightly) that he was a capitalist roader.

I do not intend to use this space to attack the cultural revolution in the way that Enver Hoxha did, insisting it was un-Marxist and so forth. Nor is there much point in noting that mistakes were made, as almost all “Maoists” would admit that (otherwise they would be hard-pressed to explain the above-noted failure). What is worth discussing, in my view, is why this particular revolutionary moment is not merely upheld, but held up above all others. “Maoists” would respond that it is important because it represented the masses taking power into their own hands.

But as “Maoists” know better than anyone, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was but one of Mao’s many mass campaigns. Mao’s “mass line” meant that such mass campaigns were a tremendous part of his practice, something which they frequently mention as a reason to uphold Mao. Why then the emphasis on the last one? Was it the most successful? One may argue to the contrary, that this was the mass campaign that led to Mao’s surrender, and the military stepping in per the wishes of Mao’s opponents, etc. “The mass line” is no longer practised in China thanks to the new order accepted by Mao as a result of the Cultural Revolution. By contrast, the Great Leap Forward, also much maligned by bourgeois historiography, can in many ways be counted as a success.

In short, was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution the most important moment in Chinese history, or merely the largest (but still ultimately unsuccessful) example of “the mass line”?

The Mass Line

I did not merely redirect the Cultural Revolution to the mass line in order to degrade Mao’s practice in this area. Marxism-Leninism has always been a radically democratic ideology, in spite of anarchists’ wilful misunderstanding of what the vanguard party means. The idea of “the mass line” comes out of a thorough and scientific investigation into the dialectical relationship between the vanguard party and the masses. It is the idea that the party must lead the masses not merely by standing one step ahead of them in the march towards victory, not merely by agitating among the masses to teach them the way forward, but by learning from the masses, so as to better teach them. One of Mao’s many succinct aphorisms explains the concept in terms I have always found sympathetic:

 “Communists should set an example in study; at all times they should be pupils of the masses as well as their teachers.

Of course, the issue is that this dialectical relationship was not first observed by Mao, he simply gave it the name “the mass line”. Stalin is quoted as saying:

Lenin taught us not only to teach the masses, but also to learn from them.

What does this mean?

It means, first, that we leaders must not become conceited; and we must understand that if we are members of the Central Committee or are People’s Commissars, this does not mean that we possess all the knowledge for giving correct leadership. An official position by itself does not provide knowledge and experience. This is still more the case in respect to a title.

This means, second, that our experience alone, the experience of leaders, is insufficient to give correct leadership; that, consequently, it is necessary that one’s experience, the experience of leaders, be supplemented by the experience of the masses, by the experience of the rank-and-file Party members, by the experience of the working class, by the experience of the people.

This means, third, that we must not for one moment weaken, and still less break, our connection with the masses.

This means, fourth, that we must pay careful attention to the voice of the masses, to the voice of the rank-and-file members of the Party, to the voice of the so-called “small men”, to the voice of the people.

And so forth.

Those familiar with the writings of Mao on practical work will note similarities without my having to point them out. This is not to attack Mao as an unoriginal thinker: It was Mao himself who emphasised “the mass line” was “the Marxist theory of knowledge” (and all Marxists ought to agree, if they understand dialectics), and “self-criticism” as a “Marxist-Leninist weapon”. Some “Maoists” take no issue with this, and on the contrary, embrace Stalin’s “mass line” approach. This leads to the question of Chairman Mao’s other commonly cited theoretical breakthrough: “the universality of people’s war”.

People’s War

In the first few paragraphs of the section of “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” entitled “Mao Tsetung”, we are told that among Mao’s key contributions was “people’s war”. Indeed, long prior to the RIM, the popular view among many lay observers was that “people’s war” was the essence of Mao’s practice. Certainly Mao’s military strategy inspired many, and is defended by many non-“Maoists”. “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” declares “the universality of people’s war”.

What does this mean? Does this mean that peasant revolution is to be carried out everywhere? “Maoists” insist that it does not. And yet the truly fascinating and historically noteworthy feature of the Chinese Civil War (from the perspective of proletarian internationalists and bourgeois observers alike) was how the peasantry of a backwards country was mobilised to defeat a professional military backed by the imperialist powers. Otherwise, what is “Maoist” “people’s war”? Let us go to the source, and we will see that Mao does not argue for universalising the lessons of China, rather he views the call for revolutionary violence (when called for by the conditions) as “Marxist-Leninist”:

The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally, for China and for all other countries.

But while the principle remains the same, its application by the party of the proletariat finds expression in varying ways according to the varying conditions. Internally, capitalist countries practice bourgeois democracy (not feudalism) when they are not fascist or not at war; in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations. Because of these characteristics, it is the task of the party of the proletariat in the capitalist countries to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism. In these countries, the question is one of a long legal struggle, of utilizing parliament as a platform, of economic and political strikes, of organizing trade unions and educating the workers. There the form of organization is legal and the form of struggle bloodless (non-military). On the issue of war, the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries oppose the imperialist wars waged by their own countries; if such wars occur, the policy of these Parties is to bring about the defeat of the reactionary governments of their own countries. The one war they want to fight is the civil war for which they are preparing. But this insurrection and war should not be launched until the bourgeoisie becomes really helpless, until the majority of the proletariat are determined to rise in arms and fight, and until the rural masses are giving willing help to the proletariat. And when the time comes to launch such an insurrection and war, the first step will be to seize the cities, and then advance into the countryside’ and not the other way about. All this has been done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries, and it has been proved correct by the October Revolution in Russia.

If “Maoists” are not adventurists, and merely seek to avoid pacifism and eventually overthrow the bourgeois state, and they are not peasant-ists, if they are not, in a word, “Narodniks”, then according to Mao’s description, “people’s war” appears to be yet another case where “Maoist” packaging makes orthodox Marxism-Leninism look brand new, contrasted against the revisionism and opportunism of surrounding non-“Maoist” parties (and, it is worth noting, many such revisionist and opportunist parties themselves “uphold” Mao).

(If “Maoists” doubt that Mao’s military strategy is acceptable to non-“Maoist” Marxist-Leninists, that there is some fanatical commitment to some particular type of military strategy which precludes guerrilla warfare, etc., they should note the reception of Ho Chi Minh in even anti-“Maoist”, dogmatic Hoxhaite circles, and then should explain how Ho Chi Minh was not practising “people’s war”, by any definition.)

There is surely more to say about “Maoism”, and I hope that “Maoist” comrades (both “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist” and self-identified Marxist-Leninists who have great sympathy for Chairman Mao) will, upon finishing reading my disorganised personal musings here, directly engage me in a critical fashion in the comments. Perhaps the result can be a more thorough conversation on elements of Mao’s theory and practice. But my conclusion remains, as it was, that Mao may have been a great revolutionary for a significant period, but specific adherence to his line to the exclusion of, for example, Enver Hoxha’s should not constitute a shibboleth between revolutionaries and revisionists.


6 thoughts on “Whence Maoism? (Part 3: Marxism, Leninism… Maoism?)

  1. Unfortunately I do not have much time available but will just say “Hi” as I would certainly like to engage you in critical discussion in the comments when I do have time.

    Briefly I agree that Mao was primarily a Marxist-Leninist. My background is that I became a Communist in the 1960s when the Soviet Union and revisionist parties were already a reactionary force that nobody progressive could support. The Cultural Revolution provided an alternative path that made it possible for me to support communism.

    I was one of the leaders of “Maoists” in Australia when the CPA(ML) supported Chinese revisionism. We rejected both RIM and Hoxhaism and quickly discovered that “Maoist” groups around the world had nothing in common with revolutionary politics and indeed little to do with planet earth.

    I am still a Maoist (ie a Marxist-Leninist) but have no interest in ICOR or any other such groups. It wasn’t just the Cultural Revolution (or Stalin’s purges) that failed (or rather, were defeated). There can be no question of just continuing or reviving, there is a clear need for renewal of revolutionary communism with further developments in new conditions.


    Came across your blog after responding to a comment you made here:


    (I got there via: https://c21stleft.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/opening-the-borders-is-it-really-unpopular/comment-page-1/#comment-435 )

    Had hoped you would respond but I was subsequently kicked out so any further discussion would need to be here. Please add a note below linking to any reply from you here.

    PS Here is my (deleted) final post there after being told not to bother responding as a “Holodomor denialist” and “liar”. Please feel free to move everything OFF TOPIC in this thread to a separate thread on Ukraine if you do wish to continue that discussion. (Sorry I haven’t had time to look around the rest of your site yet but will return to this thread for any link).

    I won’t bother responding to you further. You even imagine that Ukrainian was not an official state language of the Soviet Ukraine. That demonstrates an incapacity to learn about rather than mere ignorance of the subject you are posting on.

    The article you posted but are not interested in reading or understanding includes:

    ” An early 1926 report to Ukraine’s central committee reported that of all Ukraine’s industrial and white-collar workers 59% and 56%, respectively, did not speak Ukrainian and that 78 % of the former and 33% of the latter were literate only in Russian. Approximately 35%-40% of Ukraine’s government bureaucrats and 25% of its top ministerial personnel were totally ignorant of Ukrainian.”

    Obviously achieving 60-65% knowledge of some Ukrainian among government workers and 75% among top ministerial personnel could only be the result of an extremely successful promotion of Ukrainian as an official state language given that 78% of Ukraine’s industrial workers and 33% of white collar workers were literate only in Russian.

    The fact is that Ukrainian nationalists even now actually enacted removal of Russian as a state language which directly provoked a large Russian minority and was only revoked on European insistance, This was not some sudden aberration but central to the nationalist platform advocated in this post – though usually without such pathetic attempts to dress it up as “leftist” and often explicitly far-right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Comradely greetings, comrade. I look forward to critical engagement with my thoughts on Mao. In the meantime, let’s talk Ukraine, since you brought it up:

    I just read your comments on “People’s War”s blog which you posted prior to your being banned, and I would say that although I am not that informed on the situation on the ground (so I could be wrong here), my point in sharing one of the Russian ICOR members’ posts on the situation in Ukraine was to emphasise that regardless of Putin’s completely reactionary intentions with Ukraine in terms of Russian nationalism (on either side of the internationally recognised border), there is still the question about socio-political divisions within Ukraine today. These are basically along “national” lines (in terms of language and memory and political culture) and Putin’s exploitation or not of them doesn’t change that this division exists.

    “People’s War” tries to claim that such a division was the cause of deep social conflict under Lenin, which is contrary to what we know about the period, wherein the Bolsheviks enjoyed the support of the majority of the Ukrainian people, who (rightly) enjoyed “positive discrimination”. The group of Ukrainian “Marxists” he mentions who (in a completely un-Marxist fashion) opposed Lenin as a “Russian imperialist” were of course, basically a cypher for a fascist trend WITHIN the Ukrainian people against the progressive leadership of the Ukrainian Communist Party. This is not the situation we observe today. We have those in Ukraine who think themselves Russian and those who think themselves Ukrainian, but without an internationalist leadership, the conflict may indeed really be between peoples, in spite of the obvious exploitation of this fact by Putin. It was this which I wished to highlight. This has nothing to do with supporting Putin over the EU (the link I did put even refers to “the consolidation of Ukrainian national state” as “a progressive process in itself”), as indeed, we Marxist-Leninists believe that there are inter-imperialist contradictions which must be navigated between. It just means acknowledging the reality. While I am not very knowledgeable about Ukraine, I can say that among Ukrainian citizens I meet, I very much do so a division between those I meet from the West (who are very much poster children for the Kiev government) and those I meet from the East (who seem to TOLERATE Putin at the very least, if not outright support him).


  3. Looking forward to future engagement!


    1. Re Ukraine I think we are in broad agreement. My objections were to aspects of the ICOR link you posted that appeared supportive of Putin’s stirring up reactionary nationalism. No point in us discussing that as you do not seem to be endorsing any such aspects and we are in broad agreement on the present existence of genuine nationality issues between Ukrainians and Russians in the Ukraine (and neither of us claims detailed knowledge necessary to discuss in greater depth or concerning history).

    2. I hope you will still welcome engagement when you understand that I hold diametrically opposed views to pretty well anyone claiming to be “left”, including “Marxist-Leninists” on many important current issues. It is much easier to welcome engagement when there is broad agreement 😉

    3. Meanwhile here is a link to an old (1977) polemic which although completely out dated now may be of interest to you as showing there was another position on the “Three Worlds” from opponents of both RIM and Hoxha as well as Chinese revisionism – quite different from any of the views you would be familiar with as it got no support internationally:



  4. To finish up with Ukraine, I suppose I would just say that I understood the Russian ICOR affiliate RMP (one of two Russian ICOR affiliates, the other being MLP) as not cheering on Putin’s nationalism, but rather trying to explain that it does have appeal in Ukraine because there is a Russian nation in the East of Ukraine alongside the Ukrainian one in the bulk of the country. In any case where there are multiple nations, and often this means one is an oppressor nation of the other, we have to bear in mind that the nations are not just “made up” by leaders, but rather socially constructed by material conditions, which leaders seek to exploit.

    With regard to your “2”, I really do welcome further engagement and I hope you don’t think any disagreement I express with you reflects disrespect. I believe that everyone who has shown up in the comments section so far intends to debate issues out of a desire for higher unity.

    On a related note, I’m surprised that, since you are in Australia, you didn’t comment on my (very pedestrian) piece on Invasion Day: https://oldrelationscollapse.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/anglo-liberals-and-the-national-question-invasion-day/

    As for your link to “Discussion Bulletin”, I am generally classed as a “Hoxhaite” but I actually have problems with the Albanian line as well as the Chinese one. I keep intending to write more about the relationship between Enver Hoxha and the rest of the self-proclaimed “socialist” world, but never manage to find time to get my thoughts straight on the matter. The spoiler is that I find Enver Hoxha to have been ultra-left in important ways, and I think that many debates of his era are not as settled as most “Hoxhaites” like to think. This includes his (to my mind, excessive) attacks on Chairman Mao. As for “the Theory of Three Worlds”, I would repeat what has been the thrust of my argument about Chairman Mao: The terms in which the Red Eureka Movement defends the Three Worlds Theory mostly seems to reiterate that they understand it as mostly being a reiteration of the problem of imperialism. My view, as I’m sure you can guess, is that indeed there are contradictions between imperialist powers and smaller imperialist powers can indeed play progressive “anti-imperialist” roles in decisive moments. The problem (not for me, but for many people) is that “the Three Worlds Theory” is associated with some of the PRC’s worst foreign policy moments, such as making deals with Latin American fascists who were in open alliance with the US and in open conflict with socialists on the ground under the pretext that this provided some abstract “third world” fraternity which was somehow helpful to the revolution. For this reason, not only the RIM but many pro-Mao ML groups basically try to sweep the term under the rug.


  5. Regarding the Cultural Revolution, It’s my understanding that it’s important because it is an example of the party becoming the breeding ground for capitalist restoration, the need for the masses to “bombard the headquarters”, and a need to continually revolutionize society. Really, we need to figure out what we need to do to prevent revisionism and capitalist restoration.


    • In Albania, China, and the Soviet Union alike the party became a breeding ground for capitalist restoration. This is expected, because the socialist state, being a state, sublates much of the relations of capitalist state society into itself. It cannot help but do this, and the only solution would be a worldwide victory over capitalism, because no matter how long a socialist state holds off, it is besieged from without, in addition to its internal contradictions.

      So the socialist state is a period of transition, and therefore it is still in some sense a class society. Stalin accepted this on and off, Enver Hoxha seemed not to accept it after his split with Mao (he became quite emotional in many points of rejecting Mao), because Mao accepted it quite explicitly.

      But, as I hope is clear, I think Mao’s basis for the Cultural Revolution was a correct one (as did Hoxha at least prior to their split, cf. the Cultural and Ideological Revolution). The issue I have with Mao with regard to the Cultural Revolution is that the chaotic nature of the Cultural Revolution even compared to other Mao-era mass campaigns made it the easiest to hijack (as it was in many areas) and to transform into a claim of the evils of militancy (as Deng Xiaoping easily succeeded in doing, and much of Chinese society who are otherwise nostalgic for the Mao era, would highlight the Cultural Revolution as a point at which “things went wrong”). It also did not help that Mao took very wrong positions after the Cultural Revolution (as “MLM”s and many other “Maoists” accept).

      However, despite Hoxha’s rather positivist take on what socialism “was”, he had a more dialectical take on the Cultural and Ideological Revolution than Mao did on the Cultural Revolution: Mao seemed to believe sufficient chaos and smashing of the “olds” would spontaneously create a totally new society, whereas Hoxha correctly understood that the “old” in society is still there (it is sublated). The less chaotic and destructive nature of the Cultural and Ideological Revolution helped Albanian society transform itself deeper for a longer period, whereas Mao seemed to hope for a “year zero”, much like Pol Pot (who Maoists hate being compared to), who likewise accepted immediate and total reversal after the failure of a chaotic and undialectical campaign.

      Of course, it also helped that Albania was more or less a mono-national unit, and thus it was much easier to try to unify the society around a “new phase” in a “common history” than in China (where the national question, never handled correctly by Mao and rightly the site of tension with Stalin, meant a Cultural Revolution fraught with questions about inter-nationality relations, in addition to everything else).

      Such nuances are hard to discuss in pro-Mao cults like the RIM crowd, or the ortho-“Hoxhaites” of the ICMLPO. This is part of why I have some faith in ICOR as a project, because it lays a basis around Marxism-Leninism against revisionism, and includes both “Hoxhaite” and “Maoist” elements, and has resulted in quite fruitful theoretical discussions in circles I’ve been in. It is never a good thing, frankly, when we get too stuck in our last glorious moment (Albania or China), to the exclusion of all the other historical points worth discussing (Marxist-Leninist and non-Marxist-Leninist) and current dynamics.

      Liked by 1 person

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