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The Three-Headed Beast: Inter-blog Dialogue Part 5

This is the continuation of the interblog dialogue between myself and BF of Workers Dreadnought. This part of the discussion follows his entry Science and the Concept, which you should read first. Indeed, it is probably best to begin with my first entry, and then work your way forward, back and forth, between our dialogical essay.

At this point in the inter-blog dialogue, I think it is worthwhile to move the discussion towards the meaning of the Maoist theoretical coherency we have been circling around for the last four entries. Originally I indicated that there was something that we could properly call “Maoism”, or something that gave the M-L-M equation a general theoretical meaning. BF noted that, while this may be true, we also have to take into account the heterogeneity marked by competing Maoisms: he drew our attention to the concept of a “living science” and indicated that the Maoist development of marxist theory was connected to what he called the displacement of Mao. I agreed and then attempted to engage with what this meant, moving the discussion towards the concept of general coherency––the dialectic of coherency-heterogeneity––and generalized the meaning of M-L-M as the following: after Marx, the Leninist turn is revolution directed towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the Maoist turn is that revolution continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat (or, more precisely, that class struggle does not end with the vanguard’s seizure of state power). BF’s most recent reply tightened the discussion of coherency, examining what he called internal and external coherency, and clarified that:

“Lenin and Mao… were able to provide a concrete analysis of their situations and develop appropriate theoretical tools by which to grapple with those situations. However, most important [for] both Lenin and Mao to this concrete analysis is their articulation of new concepts that reshape the terrain of the science that explain and point to the concrete contradictions within the working class.”

So what exactly does this mean? What have we been talking about (or around) for four entries? What is the theoretical thrust of this M-L-M equation, this shibboleth of Maoism? Both BF and I could continue talking around the concept, piling entry upon entry, but as BF noted in his most recent essay: “Although, last time I attempted to discern some parameters of Maoism, I indeed, failed to explain the science as it exists and rushed ahead to the future tasks to ensure that it does not remain stagnant.” And thus I am agreement with his following and connected statement, “[b]ut how can we proceed to a further enriching if we cannot summarize what we have grasped thus far and clarified some basic underlying propositions of the science?”

For the moment I want to leave his extremely important discussion of internal/external coherency––I think we should return to this for later entries, but not at this point. As C.S. Lewis wrote in A Preface To Paradise Lost, but for quite different reasons, “[t]he first qualification for judging [anything] from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is.” And though I agree with BF that this “what it is” should not mean the reduction of a living science to simplistic propositions (vulgar Maoism, just like any vulgar version of a theory, would mean this), I do think we should attempt to excavate the basic theoretical propositions of Maoism and then figure/debate them out.

The first and most general proposition, I think, is the one I indicated in the first paragraph of this entry and at the end of my previous entry regarding revolution continuing under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is so general, however, that it could mean so many things. BF writes:

“Mao introduces a series of concepts that re-shape the terrain of the science for example, 'two-line struggle' which in the light of revisionism of the USSR due to the development of a bureaucracy is an attempt to ward off such a bureaucracy in the dictatorship of the proletariat and allow for further revolutionary struggles in the consciousness of the working-class, peasantry and all organs of power and attempts to correctly deal with the contradictions within the masses.”

I believe we need to untangle this statement because, although it expands on my extremely general comment about the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is also filled with several connected concepts. Concepts that, if isolated and focused upon, define that beast called “Maoist philosophy” (if we want to use a loaded term like philosophy). BF may wish to add more points, but I’ve characterized Maoism under four general conceptual areas, all of which are connected to the basic M-L-M equation already mentioned:

1) Analysis of class and nation in peripheral capitalist formations. Maoist theory permitted a theoretical engagement with the role of colonialism or semi-colonialism, in terms of imperial capitalism––the emergence of Frantz Fanon’s important writings, for example, was indebted to Maoism. Furthermore, this area of theorization would allow an understanding of the persistence of pre-capitalist structures in a society that is not a capitalist mode of production but still a capitalist social formation because of imperialism––thus the role of peasants and the first solution to the peasant question which plagued Russia, a key component to the problem of socialist transition. This conceptual area would also produce the necessity to further develop Lenin’s analysis of “the national question” and imperialism.

2) The “sinification” of Marxism: the importance of generating an historical materialist analysis from the actually existing social context rather than importing eurocentric analyses and categories uncritically. This theoretical development was influential in the appearance of numerous anti-eurocentric Marxist theories in Africa and Asia.

3) Culture and the Cultural Revolution: a sophisticated understanding of how the superstructure also dialectically influences the base; how culture (including the arts) should be engaged and revolutionized; how feudal and capitalist ideologies do not disappear during the socialist “dictatorship of the proletariat” but, rather, continue to influence the base––possibly distorting or derailing the revolution. Class struggle within the revolution is thus, according to Maoism, necessary. Moreover, class struggle within the Communist Party itself was conceptualized as a “two-line struggle” where two political lines, one revolutionary and one counter-revolutionary, both compete for the title of “communist.” In order to properly understand this aspect of two-line struggle, then, it is important to examine the fourth and final conceptual point…

4) Mass-line rather than commandism. Those engaged in revolutionary praxis cannot, according to Maoism, isolate themselves from the people but must engage with the people as “fish swimming in an ocean.” Masses and leaders must dialectically direct one another; there is an emphasis on mass education and popularization of the revolution.

While it is true that these four areas have often been theorized and mobilized in different and competing ways, I am of the opinion that, in examining them closely, we will also be able to investigate how the interiority of Maoism has been enriched by other theorists who have engaged with what was opened by the Maoist development of marxism. BF listed Althusser, Amin, and Prachanda as examples of theoriests who have enriched and developed the general concepts listed above. To these we can add Frantz Fanon, Hisala Yami, and even liberation theologians such as Jose Miranda. Furthermore, this opening of the marxist terrain signified by Maoism, is what influenced May 1968 in France and the emergence of the New Left, even if some of those who called themselves “New Left” did not realize it at the time. Thus, by discussing all of these areas, the discussion Maoism will also be the displacement of Mao.

Once again, I pass the discussion over to BF at Workers Dreadnought...