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The Three-Headed Beast: inter-blog dialogue continued

This is a continuation of a dialogue between BF of Workers Dreadnought and myself about Maoism. Since I am responding to his response to my previous posting, the careful reader should read his entry here.

When I ended my last contribution to the inter-blog dialogue, I thought that BF would begin to excavate the theoretical territory that we can call Maoism. Thankfully, he has provided a much more fruitful response––one that narrows in on the issue of coherency in general. Thus, I think it is important to engage on this level of theory so as to provide a basis for a discussion of what we mean when we say Marxism-Leninism-Maoism: BF’s entry has done a good job of describing the general characteristics of this basis. Here, I hope to show that his analysis coincides completely with what I meant by Maoist coherency.

First of all, I want to agree with his insightful statement: “perhaps an important component of Maoism is the displacement of Mao being our single theoretician and revolutionary China being the single storm-center for revolution, in the way that Stalin attempted to place himself and the USSR at the center of the socialist bloc.” As I indicated in my earlier post, part of the intention of this dialogue is to push for a non-dogmatic understanding of Maoist theory and BF’s notion of “the displacement of Mao,” I think, connects to this idea. The opening of of M-L-M theory so as to engage with events that some dogmatic Maoists would dismiss (such as the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuala noted by BF), is also my concern. This also means engaging with, as BF wrote, the disparate and competing Maoisms expressed by Avakian, Bettleheim, Gonzalo, etc.

Connected to the above insight, BF suggests that “Maoism is a living science and thus cannot remain within confined to a period between 1949-1976 in China.” I agree, but I want to go further in this claim. In my opinion, it is not that Maoism is, by itself, a “living science” but that Marxism, or historical materialism, is a living science––theorists like Samir Amin, for example, have used this description before. Therefore I am of the mind that Leninism was a development of the “living science” of Marxism, and Maoism was yet another development. Furthermore, the insight means that the theoretical development of Marxism is not closed: we can speak of possible developments beyond Maoism––the displacement of Mao.

And yet what does it mean to claim that Leninism and Maoism are developments of this living science? Such a statement, of course, could seem entirely dogmatic. Why not, for example, should the developments of Marxism be annexed by this M-L-M equation? Although I want to suggest that the M-L-M equation is, on one hand, a way to paint a development of theory––and that there are so many interior developments that contribute to what we call M-L-M––I also want to suggest that those of us who call ourselves “Maoist” or “Maoist-influenced” do mean something when we describe ourselves thus. That is why, BF’s important qualifications aside, I think we need to seriously consider the issue of coherency.

To claim a general coherency to Maoism is not, in my opinion, to ignore its heterogeneity. Marxism is not homogenous, but few Marxists would argue that it is not coherent. Yes, there are competing definitions as to what this coherency means, but people do unite around key concepts in Marx. If we look at other types of marxism we can see the same dialectic of coherency-heterogeneity at play. Those who define themselves as Trotskyists, for example, would agree on very general and abstract concepts of “Trotskyism” (ie. the permanent revolution, combined and uneven development) that give their specific school of marxism its coherency. Where they become “incoherent” or, rather, heterogeneous, is when they argue over the particularities of this coherency. Suddenly there are thousands of Trotskyist sects, all claiming they are best pursuing the theory of their prophet. They do not debate, really, over the overall meaning of this theory. What they do debate is the historical details of this theory and how it is best applied. Zooming out from Trotskyism, we can examine how both Trotskyists and Maoists engage with Lenin. There is an agreement between Trotskyists and Maoists (and here I know I am setting myself against dogmatic Maoists but I think I’m right) over the generality of Leninism, but a debate over who developed Marxism further than Lenin: Trotsky or Mao. We can zoom out even further to examine the theoretical debates between Lenin and Luxemburg over specific points in Marx. (All of this, of course, is too large to discuss here.)

What I am trying to indicate is that those who critically refer to themselves as Maoist or Maoist-influenced do mean something coherent when they define themselves in such a way. I may not think that the Avakian-cultists of the RCP are the best examples of Maoists, but I do think they have placed themselves in that tradition for a specific reason that every Maoist, regardless of how they feel about each other, would understand. Whether one is a proper or improper Maoist is, as BF has suggested, “something we must grapple with, and not simply denounce without giving careful and explicit reasons.”

True: but again, what do we mean when we say Maoism? This is not simply some meaningless word; otherwise there would be no reason to call ourselves Maoist. Indeed, we might as well call ourselves Trotskyist, Kautskyist, or any other label that, according to the same logic, we could claim lacks any coherency. Taking such logic further, we could say there is no meaning to the terms “Marxism” or “communism” either.

Obviously this is not what BF meant, and so I do not want to characterize his position in this way. Instead, I want to draw the reader’s attention back to his statement about a living science. It is here that we can speak of a general coherency, an overall shape that sweeps through the myriad forms of Maoism. I want to suggest that we use the equation M-L-M because, after Marx, there have been two world historical revolutions that shaped the grounds of theory: the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution. Here we can speak of universal developments of marxist theory because they have universal applicability. The Russian Revolution demonstrated the theory of revolution until the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Chinese Revolution, realizing the shortcomings of the Russian Revolution, claimed that revolution should continue under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Both of these developments are extremely general, and connected to host of other theoretical concepts (and contested spaces), but they do provide a general coherency in which to examine all the interior debates. Lenin and Mao are named, post-Marx, because as Marx (with all of his mistakes) was the first to provide the “concrete analysis of the concrete situation of capitalism,” Lenin and Mao were the concrete theorists of the concrete situations of their respective and earth-shaking revolutions.

Moreover, Lenin and Mao should both be superseded––displaced––by whatever revolutionary theory that understands their accomplishments but engages with their mistakes to take world revolution a step further. BF writes that “any coherency in Maoism should recognize that Mao himself was not always coherent nor correct,” and I fully agree. To state otherwise would be dogmatic and against the spirit of the Maoist development of a living science that, for all its mistakes, advocated revolution within the dictatorship of the proletariat and, to quote Mao himself, the “bombard[ment] [of] the Party Headquarters.”

Now, back to BF at Workers Dreadnought!