Revolution is Protracted People’s War is Revolution

Communists in Austin and elsewhere are finally taking revolution seriously

One of the most controversial parts of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the claim that Protracted People’s War is a universal development of Marxist theory. In fact, it’s oftentimes the biggest roadblock that keeps would-be Maoists from making the jump. Many people will object to the idea of Protracted People’s War being universal on the basis that it was developed in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial context (China) and it can’t be carried over to the context of an imperialist country. A similar objection is based on a misconception of People’s War being a peasant-based revolution where the cities are “surrounded from the countryside,” which is obviously not something that can be applied universally. Others say that waging People’s War in the imperialist centers is “adventurist” or asking to get us all killed.

The purpose of this article is to provide some explanation of how Maoists come to the conclusion that Protracted People’s War is universal and what we mean by that, and touch on some points that will address these objections. It will also serve as an introduction to Protracted People’s War for anyone unfamiliar with the theory, so even if you don’t accept the Maoist thesis, you can at least come out better informed so your counter-arguments will be that much stronger.

How proletarian theory develops, from particular to general and back again

“Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world.” — Mao Zedong, On Practice

The development of proletarian theory emerges (and can only emerge) from revolutionary struggle. Looking back, we draw general conclusions from various particular instances of class struggle and revolution. Then we take this general knowledge and apply it back to our particular circumstances, which will produce new general conclusions, and so on. This is what the Communist Party of Perú (PCP) did with Mao Zedong’s theory of Protracted People’s War (PPW), developed in the intense struggle of the Chinese Revolution. They took what they understood to be the parts of PPW that were true of capitalism in general and applied them in their own context. Through this process, they concluded in 1988 that Protracted People’s War was indeed a universal theory. More importantly, there was an international body of Communist Parties from all over the world, called the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, that gathered together to assess the lessons learned from the Chinese Revolution and the People’s War in Perú and determine which ones were universal, solidifying PPW as an essential development of proletarian theory.

In his 1988 interview with El Diario, Chairman Gonzalo, the main theorist of the PCP and the People’s War in Perú, said, “… it is with Chairman Mao Tsetung that the international proletariat has attained a fully developed military theory, giving us then the military theory of our class, the proletariat, applicable everywhere.” That is, there’s something particular about the proletariat as a part of capitalism that allows it to use PPW as a general strategy for its own kind of warfare. When we say that Protracted People’s War is universal, we’re making conclusions about how capitalism works in general. This is important.

PPW is an attempt to bring together the military experience of the proletariat in waging revolution and make a general theory out of it. Not just the experience of the Chinese Revolution, but every revolution. Maoists also draw from the military experience of the proletariat that resulted in failure, especially failed attempts at insurrection in Europe, in order to synthesize PPW.

You could draw an analogy here between revolutionary theory and other sciences, like physics for example. When a new physical law is discovered through scientific experimentation, it’s understood to hold true for the past as well, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time. Just because we didn’t understand gravity doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. This is also true for Marxist theory. We discover new general understandings about how capitalism works and how we can fight for socialism through our own kind of experimentation—participation in the class struggle.

If the Maoist thesis is correct and PPW is really universally applicable, then it should be true that every successful socialist revolution must have had at least some aspects of PPW. Otherwise, it couldn’t have worked. This is also true for less-controversial theories like the Mass Line. We can see, looking back, that the Bolsheviks used something similar to the Mass Line, to which Mao provided greater theoretical clarity. So, Maoists who argue that PPW is universal also argue that the Russian Revolution was an untheorized instance of PPW, placing more emphasis on the protracted struggle beginning around 1905 than the insurrection at the very end. As J. Moufawad-Paul points out, “… when some of us argue that there was an untheorized PPW in the October Revolution we are not arguing that Lenin was a theorist of PPW, or that the Russian Revolution was fully an instance of people’s war, only that there was indeed some sort of process that allowed it to avoid the liquidation other attempted insurrections suffered.” As early as 1905, workers were getting into violent clashes with Tsarist forces in the streets and erecting barricades. Peasants rose up against landlords, setting fire to their manors and raiding their estates. Soviets were established as an organ of proletarian political power and counter-hegemony to the bourgeois state. When re-examining the period through the lens of PPW in works like History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), it’s clear that the revolutionary process in Russia was a protracted one.

Furthermore, when Maoists claim that PPW is a universal military theory for revolution, we mean that all revolution is protracted people’s war, past, present, and future. They are the same thing—we’ve just added greater theoretical clarity to the question of how revolution works. For another revolution to occur it must follow the general path outlined by the theory of PPW, whether the revolutionaries spearheading it are aware of it or not. This is why the Revolutionary Communist Party in Canada (PCR-RCP) says “Protracted people’s war is the only way to make revolution.”

Universal aspects of Protracted People’s War

Broadly speaking, Protracted People’s War can be summed up according to three (really four) main phases: accumulation of forces, strategic defensive, strategic equilibrium, and strategic offensive.

In a bit more detail, J. Moufawad-Paul explains:

“In other words a protracted and sustained process that begins with slowly accumulating revolutionary forces to produce a counter-hegemony so as to eventually launch a military operation (in the stage of strategic defensive) that will also work to continue to generate radical forces, further extending a counter-hegemony, to reach dual power (strategic equilibrium) and from this, hopefully, strategic offensive (the point where there can be frontal warfare that can take over the state). Obviously this will take different forms in different social contexts.”

But there’s more that can be said here. RedZeal (/u/kc_socialist on reddit) from Necessity and Freedom outlined the following main universal aspects of PPW:

  1. Recognition of revolution as a protracted process
  2. Three stages of the people’s war: strategic defense, strategic equilibrium, and strategic offensive
  3. Establishment of red base areas
  4. Utilizing the “three magic weapons” to win the struggle (Party, people’s army, and united front)
  5. Combination of illegal and legal actions
  6. Combat training of revolutionaries in preparation for seizing power and to form the nucleus of a people’s army
  7. Construction of dual power so that the working masses learn to rule the new society and organize themselves (revolutionary committees, workers’ councils, peasant associations etc.)

In a string elsewhere on the topic of PPW, RedZeal continued:

If I were to amend my “list” that is cited here, I would also add that PPW isn’t just solely warfare as is typically imagined, i.e. two combat forces engage formally or in guerrilla combat. It also contains the element of warfare being political, and therefore propagandistic. In imperialist countries, assuming a people’s army of some type existed, it wouldn’t necessarily be the goal to annihilate State forces as the only goal, but more so to win public opinion and hegemony through armed actions against said State forces. That is a universal aspect of PPW, that it is not only the things I listed, but political warfare above all else. No revolution will come about solely by force of arms alone, but by armed action in conjuction[sic] with a sympathetic mass movement.

A key point here is that PPW is people-based, not terrain-based. Hence the emphasis on PPW being a political struggle. PPW is not a set of military tactics suited for a particular terrain, like mountains or jungle, that give the bourgeois state forces a hard time and can provide cover for the people’s army. Many objections to the universality of PPW are based on this misconception. Furthermore, there’s a distinction to be made here between tactics and strategy. PPW is a universal strategy, but obviously the tactics will vary widely depending on the application to different contexts.

Something that’s not often added to this discussion is why Protracted People’s War works at all. The idea is basically this:

The bourgeoisie and proletariat are class enemies. The bourgeoisie needs the proletariat to exist by exploiting and living off of its unpaid labor, even though they’re constantly working against each other. The trick is that the bourgeoisie needs the proletariat, but the proletariat doesn’t need the bourgeoisie. If we look at it in terms of warfare, the bourgeoisie can’t possibly defeat the proletariat militarily. Why? Because it needs them.

The best the bourgeoisie can do to combat PPW is to wipe out its leaders, the Communists. The subjective forces (Communists) make the whole show run. So the tricky part here is winning over the masses for the people’s war. Mao wrote, “Many people think it impossible for guerrillas to exist for long in the enemy’s rear. Such a belief reveals lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops. The former may be likened to water the latter to the fish who inhabit it.” This means gaining such complete support of the masses by serving them, devoting ourselves to them and integrating among them that they will mobilize to support the people’s army. This is what happened in Vietnam—it was impossible for the US Army to tell the difference between combatants and civilians! That’s why PPW is political; it never goes past what the people are ready for. Accusations that Maoists who uphold PPW are “adventurist” seem silly in this light.

Now the bourgeoisie is stuck. If the Communists do their work right, the best the bourgeois state can do is massacre entire communities, undermining their own workforce and building even greater support for the People’s War in the process. We can be sure, though, that they’ll do everything in their power to play dirty as hell—among other atrocities, the Peruvian military forces dressed up as PCP militants and massacred people to make the PCP look bad.

Why PPW is necessary over the theory of insurrection


The simple answer to the question “Why Protracted People’s War?” is basically, “Well, what else is there?”

The dominant “theory” of revolution in the imperialist centers is the theory of insurrection, or the “October Road.” The idea is that the revolutionaries avoid engaging in armed struggle, participating in a long and drawn-out legal process to gain support among the proletariat and the people until a crisis breaks out in capitalism and the revolutionaries can lead the masses in taking up arms and overthrowing the bourgeois state. Sounds great right?

Except when the German Communists tried to do this in the Spartacist Uprising they were totally crushed and lost everything they had worked so hard for up to that point. Every single attempt at the insurrectionary strategy since the Russian Revolution has resulted in totally disastrous defeat.

Since the Russian Revolution, the bourgeois state has become even stronger and more consolidated. Weaponry and technology is much more advanced and the bourgeois state is incredibly centralized. Nobody has any illusions that the deeply reactionary US Army will split to side with a Communist Party like the Red Army in Russia, or that it won’t fire on civilians in its own country—they’ve even bombed them in the past. How the hell is the proletariat going to compete with the beast that is the US armed forces, CIA, FBI and so on without getting some military experience first? A protracted struggle has become necessary because the proletarian forces always start off much weaker and less organized than the bourgeois military; an armed struggle has become necessary because the proletariat needs to learn how to fight.

When speaking of what conditions are necessary for a revolution to take place, Lenin outlined the following:

The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way.

In other words, a crisis in capitalism that prevents the ruling class from ruling the same way has to take place for a revolution to be successful. Why, then, would we sit on our hands and wait for it? This attitude puts the question of revolution in the bourgeoisie’s hands. We want the ball in our court. PPW takes this passive strategy and turns it into a proactive one; we need to do everything we possibly can to prepare so we can make the most of a capitalist crisis when it arises, including advancing the armed struggle and gaining military experience. By having an established people’s army and by having built up revolutionary base areas in many cities, the revolutionaries are in a much better position to do heavy damage to the bourgeoisie and take over when a crisis inevitably hits them.

The complete lack of substance behind the theory of insurrection is like a perfect cover for revisionism. Most self-proclaimed “Communist Parties” in the imperialist centers pay so little attention to the question of armed struggle that it’s like they don’t believe it can ever happen. In fact, they probably don’t.

When faced with this stuffy revisionism and legalist reformism, the Maoist theory of PPW feels like a breath of fresh air. We’re back to orienting our work toward the armed struggle, which is the only thing that will ever bring down capitalism. We can finally analyze the process of revolution and armed struggle in a concrete way, which is exactly what the PCR-RCP has done in its work to apply PPW to Canada.

What people’s war could look like in the imperialist countries

The PCR-RCP in Canada upholds Protracted People’s War as their strategy to make revolution

To make the abstract question of making revolution in an imperialist country more concrete, a good place to look is how the PCR-RCP outlines the phases of Protracted People’s War applied to Canada.

The following excerpts are taken from the PCR-RCP’s document, “More on the question of waging revolutionary war in the imperialist countries.”

Accumulation of Forces

The stage where the vanguard fights to create a revolutionary party and a revolutionary army, and to establish new and genuine proletarian organizations (committees, people’s councils, etc., so the broad masses can learn how to organize the future proletarian power) corresponds to a mandatory organizational process which will allow, thereafter, to start the first phase of the PPW (that is strategic defensive). We call this preparatory period the phase of accumulation of forces.

This is needed to challenge the political monopoly of the bourgeoisie and its monopoly on violence. Seen as a unity of opposites, during this phase the party’s actions are principally legal (as opposed to illegal). This will change as the masses move from one pole to the other.

In this first phase of accumulation of forces, the embryonic forces of the Red Army must develop a political activity by starting to wage armed propaganda actions. The goal of armed propaganda is not to make war to capitalism, but to make the revolutionary project to be known while helping the future leaders of the revolutionary army to gain experience.

At this stage the guerrilla, with the armed actions it carries, pursues mainly ideological objectives. The increasing activity of guerrilla makes it possible to better separate the camps which are opposed, to influence the class struggle and to accumulate forces for any revolutionary movement.

The experience of the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse, or BR) in Italy (1971-1976) showed that armed propaganda is an effective method to accumulate forces in an imperialist country. However, the same experience (1976-1982) also showed that this activity must be led by a correct line otherwise it will inevitably sink into militarism, economism, armed trade unionism and/or subjectivism.

Strategic Defensive

The trouble with this phase is grappling with the question of how the revolutionaries can establish counter-hegemony and base areas. The PCR-RCP takes a creative approach:

As it is difficult to hide more important units or to even support them in logistical terms, the following problem will arise: how to sustain, in an imperialist country, the revolutionary fight and to build stable bases to develop the people’s war whereas the enemy controls all the territory?

In China, the revolutionary war benefited from base areas where the reactionaries could not go and where the revolutionary transformation of the old social relations could start. In the imperialist countries, this cannot apply in the same way. At the beginning, the guerilla units will probably act in guerrilla zones. It is only after the capture of some towns that temporary base areas could appear before we could see stable ones.


During the armed propaganda period, the brigades must avoid fixing themselves in a specific place. They must rather cover a vast territory applying the principle of mobility – to bite and run away. The bases are then limited to what is needed for the operations’ success.

But with the beginning of PPW, the guerrilla units can then operate normally in guerrilla zones. The guerrilla zones are formed by underground networks and party-generated organizations or organizations build by the proletarian masses which challenge the monopoly of the bourgeois power. We saw the most obvious example of guerrilla zones in Europe under the Nazi occupation. Hundreds of networks, newspapers and groups were then organized by thousands of people all working underground.


The guerrilla units, while continuing the armed propaganda as in the previous period, will then be able to attack some institutions and people who represent the bourgeois power. The transition from armed propaganda brigades to guerrilla units will require the party to be firmly established among the masses and that they would have recognized its political leadership.

The PCR-RCP also considers what might happen if the United States tried to intervene.

Looking on a more “macro” level:

Because the forces of the revolution will be spread out, the country will probably look like a chess set where the bourgeois forces will occupy specific sectors – residential districts, telecommunication and financial centres, military bases – surrounded by guerrilla zones which will be invisible and hidden, but nevertheless in operation. Here it will probably be possible to combine two strategies applied in Vietnam, that of the “cheetah” – where the territory is spotted by guerilla zones – and that of the “banana peel” – to tackle the periphery of the enemy zones.

Because both the guerilla zones and those controlled by the bourgeoisie will be close from each other, guerrilla will have the opportunity to concentrate and attack strategic objectives, while decreasing the risks of a massive surrounding by the enemy; moreover, this proximity will make a part of the enemy’s military arsenal unusable. At that time, the strategic attacks of the guerrilla combined with an insurrection in a large city should allow the creation of a first stable support base. Then we could be able to achieve a higher level of military actions by combining guerilla and mobile warfare carried out by regular units of the Red Army.

Strategic Equilibrium and Strategic Offensive

With a first stable base, the new revolutionary power should be able to exist openly. This will also correspond to the transition to strategic equilibrium whereas the two powers would clash. A military front would probably take shape opposing the two armies. However, because of the proximity with the enemy, and contrary to what happens in the oppressed countries, the role of stable support bases in capitalist countries would be completely geared towards the war and the destruction of the enemy and later only, towards the building of the new power. The fight could even continue within the base areas.


At this point, some cities will have to serve as temporary bases – a phenomenon that will require great attention. In Canada, on a very vast territory surrounding the four main centers of Canadian capitalism, there are a multitude of communities which are made up in major part of proletarians. Those cities are strategically important for revolution in Canada, both by their proletarian composition and the control they could exert on energy resources and various transportation roads. They will progressively become solid bases for the revolutionary camp and will allow the enemy forces to be isolated.

The capture of a large city should help to constitute and train new units of the Red Army. That will then reinforce the front and allow to combine the mobile with the guerilla warfare. That will also make it possible to transit from a war of attrition to a war of annihilation and fast decisions. Then it will be possible to advance towards the strategic offensive which probably will be a combination of battles and insurrections, until the whole of the territory will be under the control of the revolutionary camp.

Wrap up

What should be immediately clear here is that the PCR-RCP is taking the “Revolutionary” part of their name seriously. They’re studying the question of waging revolutionary war in their country, thanks in part to the more detailed framework that Protracted People’s War provides.

To summarize, Protracted People’s War is a uniquely proletarian and dialectical materialist approach to warfare. Part of the point of declaring PPW as universal is to break away from the failed strategy of insurrection and instead use historical materialism to analyze past experiences and military strategies for revolution so we can draw general understandings about revolutionary war from the particular instances of it.


Further Reading


J. Moufawad-Paul

(New) Communist Party of Italy (nPCI)


Special thanks to Melkor Pradesh and RedZeal for their suggestions and critiques.

RSF-ATX: Announcement of the Revolutionary Mental Health Program

RSF-ATX: Announcement of the Revolutionary Mental Health Program

Comrades in the MLM-guided mass organization from Austin, Revolutionary Student Front, recently announced their new campaign based on their social investigation at the University of Texas.

Some important things to note here about the mass line:

1. Uniting the advanced, raising the intermediate, and isolating/winning over the backward can take many different forms. Consider this program: the advanced in Austin are united around an issue that affects many of them, and they can use this space to bond and struggle collectively. The intermediate, who are not necessarily interested in communism, will be surprised to see revolutionaries being the ones who actually care about their needs and take novel solutions to them which come from the people. It also teaches the intermediate about capitalism by relating it directly back to a problem that is exacerbated by capitalist oppression, leading them to general conclusions from their understandings of particular manifestations of capitalist oppression. It isolates the backward by showing how poorly UT’s mental health services work when compared to a service run by the people and for the people.

2. This shows a new side of communism that the masses have never been exposed to. Mental health is a political issue? And communists care about it? Huh, maybe there’s more here than I originally thought. Militant demonstrations and a hard-line political stance is great most of the time, but people are more interested in the real material struggles that they face under capitalism.

3. The revolution isn’t some quick moment where the masses suddenly rise up to overthrow the state in a moment of insurrection; this strategy has been tried over and over and always been shown to fail. The revolution is right here: it’s the mass line, serving the people, engaging in their concrete material struggles.

Marxism-Leninism-Maoism isn’t dogma. It’s important to seek out novel applications of this science to your concrete conditions. Great stuff from Revolutionary Student Front – Austin, I’m very eager to see more updates from them about this program and learn from their experience.

Revolutionary Student Front - Austin

“Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other.”

– Mao Zedong, “Serve the People”

In an attempt to determine a starting point from which real revolutionary organizing could take place at UT Austin, we spent our first months as an organization investigating and analyzing many of the problems that students faced on our campus. After a number of interactions with fellow students, it became apparent to us that the university’s existing healthcare structures were failing to meet the mental health needs of our fellow students. The personal experiences of a number of our members further affirmed this fact.

As a revolutionary organization, RSF holds that our role is not to simply make demands from the University, an institution that we know cares only about profits and not its students. Rather, we must…

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Being a “Marxist” Isn’t Enough

Some thoughts on the scientific nature of Maoism and what it means to be a Communist

Chinese translation available here

For a long time, leftist academics in bourgeois circles tried to distance themselves from communism of the 20th century as much as possible. It wasn’t until recently that a small minority found the chutzpah to call themselves “communists” again. Lots of these academic radicals call themselves “Marxists” in vague terms, but won’t go near the more “dangerous” names of Lenin and Mao. They declare fidelity only to a critique of capitalism, but offer up lukewarm reformist solutions to its ills that are basically indistinguishable from solutions put forward by liberals. That way they can stay anti-capitalist but still keep their jobs and secure their position in bourgeois society—in effect, they’re radicals in name, but liberals in practice. These people become “pet radicals” for the bourgeoisie and help bring would-be communists back into the system by offering up their reformist alternatives. The most prominent contemporary examples that immediately come to mind are Richard D. Wolff and Noam Chomsky.

Marxism is a hell of a lot more than Marx.

Recently I’ve become very skeptical of academics who call themselves “Marxists” but don’t seem to be engaging in the kind of revolutionary activity that advanced communist formations, like the Revolutionary Collectives and Red Guards in the United States, or the PCR-RCP in Canada, seem to be doing. I’ve also become skeptical of individuals and organizations that seem interested in attacking capitalism, but still only call themselves “Marxists” despite the new knowledge gained by revolutionary struggles over a hundred years after Marx died. What do these people mean by “Marxism”?

Marxism is much more than a critique of capitalism, it’s a science that was initiated by Marx and Engels and is still being developed to this day. Furthermore, it’s a science that can only be advanced through revolutionary practice. If these academic do-nothing “Marxists” are really scientists the same way Marx and Engels were, people who were actively engaged in the revolutionary struggles of their day, then where is their experimentation? How are they actually using this science? After all, chemists and physicists have their laboratories and observatories; they’re constantly learning and putting their science to the test. When you only understand Marxism as a critique of capitalism, you’ve missed the whole point—Marx wanted to develop a scientific method of understanding capitalism and achieving revolution that could be developed well after he died.

I should stop here to explain what I mean by “science.” Like the analogy I gave above might indicate, I mean that it’s a science the same way physics and chemistry are—dialectical and historical materialism seek to systematically uncover new knowledge about the world from scientific experiment and develop testable and falsifiable theories to explain social phenomena and make revolution. The “laboratory” of scientific socialism is the class struggle. If a particular tactic or theory was proven wrong when compared with reality, why the hell would we keep using it?

To further illustrate what I mean, I’ll explain why the vanguard party is a necessary part of scientific socialism. Why do communists today uphold the necessity of the vanguard party? Because Lenin observed that the proletariat was only capable of achieving trade-union consciousness itself, and that revolutionary consciousness had to be implanted in the proletariat from the outside. Marxism at the time was limited, it didn’t have this knowledge and it didn’t have a way to explain how the proletariat should overthrow capitalism. So Lenin developed the theory of the vanguard party. Then (and this is the important part), he proved that his theory was correct when he helped lead a successful socialist revolution in Russia by means of a vanguard party. Now we know to uphold this theory because it’s been proven in practice, and denying the necessity of the vanguard party when we have scientific experiment to back it up is the same as denying the science of revolution itself.*

The science that Marx and Engels initiated has advanced far beyond them. Today, we have the experiences of the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution, and the experiences of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China, the latter of which also gave us the invaluable experience of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. We’ve learned a lot because of these experiments. There have been two ruptures in the science of revolutionary communism since Marx and Engels, those of Lenin and Mao. Today being a “Marxist,” that is, adhering to the science that Marx and Engels developed (and not just their critique of capitalism), means being a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. This is exactly like how physicists recognize that their science has developed a lot since Newton, and today the rupture of Einstein is recognized as a fundamental component of their science. Going back on these developments and only sticking to a fossilized “Marxism” spits on the millions of martyrs who fought for socialism and gave their lives to build the new world.

While Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and physics may both be sciences in the same analogous way, physicists (thankfully) don’t append the names of the main theorists who produced ruptures in their science, probably for good reason. The name “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” may not be ideal, but since the class struggle is a particularly vicious one and capitalist ideology sinks into every aspect of life, the distinction has become necessary. The word “socialism” today means a million different things depending on who you talk to and most of them are a far cry from how the Bolsheviks used it. “Communism” is quickly starting to look that way too. Maybe the name “revolutionary communism” would be better, but I could see revisionist trends twisting it around as Maoism gains hegemony in the communist movement.

Poster For The People's Army
We don’t study communism to get a paper published, we study it to change the world.

Regardless, there’s a point I want to stress here: You can’t just be a “Marxist.” You have to be a Communist. That means you need to be an active participant in the class struggle and you have to uphold the developments it’s made since Marx and Engels. You also have to actually be using your theory, because revolutionary science is useless when it’s not being used to make a revolution. As Stalin said, “theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practice, just as practice gropes in the dark if its path is not illumined by revolutionary theory.” You have to go one step further than recognizing that the proletariat is the grave-digger of capitalism; if you’re a scientist and your science is revolution, you need to be engaged in revolution and struggle alongside the proletariat. Otherwise you’re just another liberal appropriating radicalism you didn’t earn.

*If you want to learn more about what Communists mean when we say Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a science, here are some works that talk about it:
1. “Why MLM is a Science” from
2. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by Friedrich Engels
3. Continuity and Rupture by J. Moufawad-Paul, which outlines the emerging terrain of Maoism as a coherent philosophy.

Chauvinism in the Left and the Maoist Rupture

This post was originally published on my old blog on February 5, 2017.


Continuity and Rupture explores the terrain of how Maoism emerged as a coherent philosophy, not just a guiding “thought”

Chauvinism is a serious problem in the left that’s been plaguing it for decades. There’s a common trend of communism being seen as a “white person” thing, started by the “immortal gods” of revolution, Marx and Engels (i.e., white men). The truth is that these figures weren’t perfect, they were human beings, and because of their identities were sometimes guilty of making rightist eurocentric and masculinist errors. The contributions of non-white revolutionaries like Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Fred Hampton, Gonzalo, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Malcolm X, Leila Khaled, Ajith, Anuradha Ghandy, Jiang Qing, and others are constantly overlooked. There’s a good reason for this sentiment of suspicion, too, it didn’t just come out of nowhere; betrayal after betrayal have led the oppressed masses, especially those of oppressed nationalities, to distrust revolutionaries because of their history of chauvinist behavior.

Hopefully, the communist movement would have realized its chauvinist errors and come up with a solution by now, right? Marxism-Leninism-Maoism gives us a scientific way of handling this contradiction, and there are tests you can apply to Maoist organizations to see if they’re really interested in helping the people and not just phony petty-bourgeois impostors. I also want to point out that identity politics are not completely in contradiction with communism, that instead they should be extended via revolutionary theory and fully incorporated into that theory. Maoism has a method of handling these contradictions that Marxism-Leninism doesn’t, and if Maoists are doing their work right, any chauvinist or rightist petty-bourgeois errors will be corrected if the science of MLM is being followed correctly.

Here’s a quote from J. Moufawad-Paul’s Continuity and Rupture, a philosophical work that outlines the terrain of Maoism (which only crystallized as a coherent ideology between 1988 and 1993) in an attempt to provide clarity to this new theoretical tendency that is often poorly understood:

Mass-line, criticism and self-criticism, cultural revolution: these interlinked aspects of Maoism’s claim to be the next stage of science are necessary for building a movement that is capable of addressing the problems facing any revolutionary organization today. Here are some questions worth asking: is an organization building itself according to the will of the revolutionary masses while, at the same time, organizing this will and providing theoretical guidance; is this organization critical of itself and willing to accept that it is wrong; are the movement’s cadre serving the people and capable of self-criticism in a way that parallels the “checking of privilege” common in identity politics circles but, unlike these circles, tied to a coherent political line; does this movement see itself as capable of transcending the ruling ideas of the ruling class, grasping how certain ideological moments distort and over/under-determine the economic base (as Mao pointed out in On Contradiction), and constantly reforming itself through the long march of cultural revolution? Failure to answer these questions might in fact be a failure to concretely apply those theoretical insights that are supposed to make the name of Maoism into a concept.”

How do we correct rightist errors and prevent chauvinism in a revolutionary collective? By understanding the dialectic between communists and proletarians, submitting ourselves to the people, accepting their unyielding criticism without thinking of ourselves, acting from the needs they express instead of our own subjective desires, and rectifying our errors without bringing our fragile egos into the mix.

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A Few Short Points on Israel and the Political Ideology of Zionism

This post was originally published on my old blog on January 16, 2017.

(CW: Genocide, graphic images)







1. Israel ethnically cleansed Palestinians

How to build a “Jewish state” in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish area

May 14th, 1948: The state of Israel is declared. 700,000 Palestinians are forced to flee their homes

“Usually, the cleansing (“Nikayon,” a word used frequently in Israeli military communications at the time) was initiated by massacres. Plan Dalet was started to conquer the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and it commenced in earnest following the massacre of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. This was followed by several other massacres, which terrorized the Palestinians into leaving. Palestinians were terrorized by 33 massacres in total: Al Abbasiyya (4 May ‘48), Abu Shusha (14 May ‘48), Ayn az Zaytun (2 May ‘48), Balad ash Sheikh (25 April ‘48), Bayt Daras (11 May ‘48), Beer Sheba (21 Oct ‘48), Burayr (12 May ‘48), Al Dawayima (29 Oct ‘48), Deir Yassin (9 April ‘48), Eilaboun (29 Oct ‘48), Haifa (21 April ‘48), Hawsha (15 April ‘48), Husayniyya (21 April ‘48), Ijzim (24 July ‘48), Isdud (28 Oct ‘48), Jish (29 Oct ‘48), Al Kabri (21 May ‘48), Al Khisas (18 Dec ‘48), Khubbayza (12 May ‘48), Lydda (10 July ‘48), Majd al Kurum (29 October ‘48), Mannsurat al Khayt (18 Jan ‘48), Khirbet, Nasir ad Din (12 April ‘48), Qazaza (9 July ‘48), Qisarya (15 Feb ‘48), Sa’sa (30 Oct ‘48), Safsaf (29 Oct ‘48), Saliha (30 Oct ‘48), Arab al Samniyya (30 Oct ‘48), Al Tantoura (21 May ‘48), Al Tira (16 July ‘48), Al Wa’ra al-Sawda (18 April ‘48), Wadi ‘Ara (27 Feb ‘48).”


“Here is a testimony of an Israeli soldier who participated in the massacre at al Duwayima Village, on October 29, 1948:

[They] killed between 80 to 100 Arabs, women and children. To kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one house without corpses. The men and women of the villages were pushed into houses without food or water. Then the saboteurs came to dynamite the houses. One commander ordered a soldier to bring two women into a house he was about to blow up… Another soldier prided himself upon having raped an Arab woman before shooting her to death. Another Arab woman with her newborn baby was made to clean the place for a couple of days, and then they shot her and the baby. Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered ‘good guys’…became base murderers, and this not in the storm of battle, but as a method of expulsion and extermination. The fewer the Arabs who remained, the better.”

2. There is no “left” Zionism. Zionism was always about settling on Palestinian land and expelling the indigenous population; it is a racist, settler-colonial ideology

Palestinians commemorate the 15th of May (date of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948) as the Nakba (Yawm an-Nakba, “Day of the Catastrophe” in Arabic). It’s like their Holocaust.

“The idea of ‘transfer,’ ‘expulsion,’ it was in-built[sic] in the Zionist idea. It wasn’t ‘right-wing Zionist’ vs. ‘labor Zionist’ (…) On the fundamental issue, they didn’t really disagree. You want to create a Jewish state in an area that’s overwhelmingly non-Jewish, the only way you can do it is by getting rid of the native population, that’s, you know, that’s why it was, as Morris said, ‘inevitable and in-built’ in the Zionist idea.”

“Hence he set about seeking assistance from the great imperialists of his day. He wrote to Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) whom he thought of as a “visionary”. Rhodes had become identified with the mass white settlements in central Africa after countless bloody battles with the African population. Herzl wrote to Rhodes:

‘You are being invited to help make history. This cannot frighten you … it does not involve Africa but a piece of Asia Minor, not Englishmen but Jews … I turn to you … because it is something colonial …'”


“From the start, the leaders of the Jewish community set out to exclude Palestinians from as many areas of life as possible. The leaders of “Labour Zionism” founded the exclusively Jewish trade union, the Histadrut, in 1920. It rapidly became the spearhead of anti-Palestinian activity.

The Histadrut called its programme “socialist”. It said that the Jewish state had to be built by the toil of Jewish workers. In lofty statements, the Histadrut insisted that Jews should not exploit native Palestinians by hiring them to work in fields or factories. Histadrut leaders coined three slogans to guide the Jewish colony: “Jewish Land, Jewish Labour, Jewish Produce”. Following these slogans, Zionist agencies leased land only to Jews; Jewish agricultural settlements and industries hired only Jews; and Jews boycotted fruits and vegetables from non-Jewish farms. Thus Palestinians were excluded from the Jewish sector of the economy.”

3. As an officially Jewish state, Israel is an officially racist state

From Standing Rock to Palestine / Occupation is a crime

“There is rarely any doubt about where power resides in a Jewish state. Both the Palestinian marchers and the Jewish nationalists are Israeli citizens, and each ostensibly enjoys the same rights. But the authorities had already favored the Jewish group in the allocation of a rallying point; now they showed even more demonstratively where their sympathies lay. Armed police lined the road separating the two groups, their backs to the Jewish demonstrators as they faced off menacingly with our march.”


“Live among Israel’s Palestinian minority for even a short time and one is forced to abandon the widely accepted notion of Israel as a liberal democracy.

Consider the airport. Israel revels in its image as a state that takes the security of its citizens seriously. But which citizens? The country’s Jews usually pass through the departure and arrival procedures without interference. Foreign visitors, from business people to sports stars, can be seen being politely questioned and their bags searched. Palestinian citizens, however, fare far worse than the foreigners. The Israeli media have barely scratched the surface of the indignities the minority are systematically subjected to when traveling, not only if they catch a plane in Israel but also when they try to return from abroad.”


“As I approach the security officer before the check-in, she (and it is always a she) asks me where I am from. Given Israel’s strict enforcement of communal segregation based on ethnicity, this is a fairly accurate way of determining which side of the ethnic divide I belong to. My reply of “Nazareth”—given its international importance, my “Western-ness” and the fact that there is a Jewish city of almost the same name built on its confiscated land—does not provide the decisive evidence she needs. The questioning therefore intensifies in a coded format that needs deciphering for those untutored in Israel’s version of racial profiling.

Why are you living in Nazareth? I work there. Did you make aliyah? [“Aliyah” literally means “ascension,” the right of all Jews to come to Israel and automatically receive citizenship. It is an indirect way of asking if I am a Jew.] No. I am married to an Israeli. [If I claim a right to live in Israel based on marriage, it means I am not Jewish. My answer, however, leaves open the question of my wife’s ethnicity.] What’s your wife called? [Names invariably give away whether a citizen is Jewish or Palestinian.] Sally Cook. [My mother-in-law was pregnant when she befriended a British couple on holiday and decided to name my wife after their daughter. My answer has not settled the matter of my wife’s ethnicity. Her maiden name, “Azzam,” would be a giveaway but I am not going to be that helpful.] What’s her father’s name? He died many years ago, but was called Edmond. [My wife’s family are Maronite Christians, a group that for historic reasons prefers European names. Still no clue for the security officer, as my wife’s family could have been Jewish immigrants who never Hebraicized their names.] What about her mother? Her name’s Diana? [To test the security officer’s racist intentions, I pronounce the name in as Anglicized form as I can, as in “Princess Diana,” even though in Arabic it is pronounced distinctively “Dee-ana”] Does she have any brothers or sisters? [The official is sounding exasperated at the lengths she must go to extract the information she needs.] Yes, a brother called Ghassan. [Bingo, she knows I am married to a Palestinian citizen.]

Now the questions are over. She is scrawling coded numbers on stickers to be placed on every surface of my bags. I am sent to a separate queue where apparently a stronger X-ray machine will peer deeper into my suitcases. Then my bags are searched by hand for the best part of an hour. Depending on the circumstances, items may be confiscated or I may be told I am not allowed any hand luggage. “I hope you understand that these security precautions are necessary because we are concerned that someone may have placed something in your bags without your knowledge.” I might just believe the “without your knowledge” excuse, except that next they want to take me off to a cubicle for an intimate body search. With practiced indignation, I respond: “So you think that someone hid something in my body without my noticing?””

4. Zionism has a history of collaboration with anti-semitism

Zionism is a political idea. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.

“But others drew very different conclusions. Some – like the principal architect of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl – came to the conclusion that anti-semitism was inevitable and that the Jews should withdraw from Europe altogether and find their “own” homeland.

Herzl was an Austrian Jewish journalist who covered the famous Dreyfus trial in France in 1895. The trial provoked an outburst of anti-semitism in France. Shortly afterwards Herzl began to formulate his theories. His argument seemed to concede the anti-semitic case. In an infamous passage, he wrote:

“In Paris … I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-semitism, which I began to understand historically and pardon. Above all, I recognised the emptiness and futility of trying to combat anti-semitism.” [2]

This bleak and pessimistic perspective would effectively provide a justification for not only “pardoning” anti-semitism but even collaborating with it, since anti-semites would themselves later prove willing cynically to promote the Zionist cause.

Herzl was not particularly religious – in fact he was not particularly concerned at first even to make Palestine the target area for the new Jewish “homeland”. He considered Argentina at one stage. However it soon became obvious that the Jewish Biblical myths were a potent source of inspiration for developing an exclusivist and highly nationalistic Jewish identity.

And again, while Herzl was not the first person in this period to formulate the “Zionist solution” to anti-semitism, he was the first to link it deliberately to European imperialism, of which he was a great admirer, as the only means of withdrawing the Jews from Europe.”

5. What’s the solution?

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Someone more knowledgeable than I would be better suited to give a practical answer to this question. But I think the just solution is clear: a single, socialist state, called Palestine, with a right to return for the millions of displaced Palestinians who have been forced to flee their homeland.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

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On the Necessity for Communists to Seek the Truth

This post was originally published on my old blog on December 27, 2016.


A revolutionary is faced with the most difficult task in the world: the overthrow of capitalism and the abolition of the present state of things. We aren’t interested in wasting our time with untested theories divorced from reality or utopian ideas that have never been tried. We want to start first and foremost with a scientific theory and method, and with a concrete analysis of our concrete conditions.

Part of this requires looking to the past. Socialism has a long history and lots of different strains of thought have been tried. Why should we start from scratch when we have all this experience to go off of? Any serious revolutionary needs to analyze the history of leftist movements to see what worked and what didn’t.

We’re not charlatans who only want to proselytize our particular brand of socialism or speak endlessly about revolution without an understanding of how to actually go about waging revolution in the first place. We want to change the world.

As revolutionaries, there are a few points we need to consider:

Firstly, we should only use ideas that work. We shouldn’t bother wasting our time with anything that’s failed because of the theory itself. We need to analyze the failures of past movements, experiences, leaders, and organizations to understand what led to them so we don’t keep making the same mistakes. We need to synthesize a theory based in historical practice. This requires being completely honest about what happened in leftist history and making sure we don’t spread lies about the history of socialism. We shouldn’t shy away from anything, even if we’ve been conditioned by our upbringings to be wary of it. We need to go into things with an open mind.

Secondly, we need to understand the nature of the society we live in and who controls it. For a society to exist in which a ruling class exploits an oppressed class, there must be a state which lays claim to a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, necessarily wielded by the exploiting class. The state has a class nature as a tool for class oppression, and so long as there are class antagonisms which give rise to the existence of a state, a state must exist. We should ask ourselves, then, what kinds of things the capitalist state is friendly to and what kinds of things it’s hostile to. Understand that the media and education systems are inextricably tied to the state and ultimately serve the interests of the ruling class. What does the bourgeoisie think of revolutionaries and revolutionary movements and how does it want to shape public opinion around them? Be very wary of anything that sounds like something you learned in school, because it’s probably complete bullshit.

Thirdly, we need to understand that opportunism and revisionism are dominant in the imperialist centers. Many people who claim to be leftists will turn around and stab us in the back. Our history and ideas will constantly be attacked by people who say they’re our friends.

Finally, we need to be aware that revisionism and opportunism have a basis in material conditions. When “leftists” in the imperialist countries seem to believe everything the state department tells them and their lines reflect a support of imperialism, this support comes from a material interest in the perpetuation of imperialism. Errors such as these are possible because some leftists in the imperialist countries can get away with a lax attitude toward any capitalist system that benefits them and are liable to be perfectly comfortable believing lies if it suits these interests.

Without even doing investigation, based on past experiences and hir understanding of capitalism, a revolutionary can immediately have an idea about what’s probably true and what’s probably false. If something stated in the media is contradicted by what the masses say, trust the masses. If someone is parroting the line of the US State Department, be wary of them—is this person or organization your comrade making a mistake or a dedicated shill for the capitalists? If hegemonic media outlets are friendly or hostile to something, question the class motivations behind this relationship and investigate those things further.

Even before Martin Luther King’s turn to the left toward the end of his life, he was the subject of hatred and disdain from liberals because of his political activity. He was vilified in the media.


Today he is regarded nearly universally by liberals as a hero, but his more radical past has been virtually erased from the history books. And Martin Luther King, Jr. is a pretty tame example. In the United States today, there is still a bizarre notion floating around that the Black Panther Party was some kind of “black KKK,” though some liberals, somewhat unwittingly, seem to approve of them. This was not at all the case when they were active.

The truth is, this is par for the course. To quote Lenin:

What is now happening to Marx’s theory has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it. Today, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the labor movement concur in this doctoring of Marxism. They omit, obscure, or distort the revolutionary side of this theory, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie. All the social-chauvinists are now “Marxists” (don’t laugh!). And more and more frequently German bourgeois scholars, only yesterday specialists in the annihilation of Marxism, are speaking of the “national-German” Marx, who, they claim, educated the labor unions which are so splendidly organized for the purpose of waging a predatory war! (From The State and Revolution)

But what’s unique about Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, and to a certain extent, Lenin himself (in certain “leftist” circles), among others: they never had a chance to lead a workers’ state following a successful revolution. Of the people listed, Lenin alone can lay claim to this, but it was only for a short period of time and so there is not much “ammunition” that can be thrown in his direction. The bourgeois state may still view these figures unfavorably, but in some instances, the bourgeoisie can tolerate a certain amount of praise for them. But what if any of these people had had a chance to lead? Would they still enjoy the same amount of praise among liberals and so-called “revolutionary” leftists?

I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy. It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work.

Mao Zedong, “To Be Attacked by the Enemy is Not a Bad Thing, But a Good Thing”

I think it follows that the leftists who are painted as evil and “without a single virtue” as Mao puts it are likely those who posed the most threat to capitalism and bourgeois rule. If the masses were permitted to believe that a viable alternative to capitalism not only could exist, but already has, the consequences would be enormous. Any attack on a socialist leader, be it Stalin, Mao, Castro, Hoxha, or Ho Chi Minh, is intended to undermine the legitimacy of socialism. If you’re a socialist, even if you’re highly critical of these figures, you should still take care not to spread any propaganda, unverified information, or outright lies about these figures propagated by the bourgeois media, state, and education system, because doing so serves the interests of capitalism-imperialism.

Bourgeois propaganda is hegemonic under capitalism. If you’re born into an imperialist country, the second you utter your first word, you’re met with an onslaught of liberalism, ideology, and propaganda intended to make you subservient to an oppressive system that seeks to keep you pinned to the ground while it sucks the value out of you and wreaks havoc on much of the world. Historical revisionism is no different in this sense. Given that this is the case, it’s no surprise that people in the imperialist countries tend to drift to ideologies with relatively “clean” hands, such as anarchism or Trotskyism (though reading into the history of anarchist and Trotskyite activity will remove these notions of “cleanliness” in short order). Again, if it sounds like you learned it in school, it’s probably bullshit.

When I was first becoming radicalized, part of what attracted me to communism was the fact that it explained things better than anything else I had come across up to that point. The explanations given to me by liberals always felt lacking. The ones that made the most sense were those that took larger material forces and contradictions into account. I had always sought the truth growing up, and I was always prepared to abandon my ideas at the slightest possibility that they could be wrong. I tried not to assume that any source was infallible.

I’m not married to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. If I thought something else would work better, I would abandon Maoism in a heartbeat. I gravitated to this ideology because in my historical research and my ideological investigation, it became clear to me that Maoism is the best weapon the proletariat has at its disposal, crafted from the real experience of the masses in waging revolution, adapted to account for our successes and rectify our past errors. When I look at revolutionary movements around the world, I see that the Maoists are the most committed revolutionaries, the most devoted to the masses, and that they are the leaders of the most advanced struggles for liberation. I see that Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and its predecessor, Marxism-Leninism, have had the most success worldwide.


To this day I’m convinced that no-one interested in the liberation of humanity can remain a liberal after taking an honest look at the state of the world. Communists are at the forefront of the movement which abolishes the present state of things. We will uphold our leaders, heroes, and martyrs high, in fierce defiance of attacks on them by the bourgeois state and its allies, including the so-called “leftists” who serve them. We seek the truth not only because we need to base our ideas on a correct analysis, but because the truth is itself revolutionary.

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The State and Revolution: An Overview

This post was originally published on my old blog on June 19, 2016.

9780140184358The State and Revolution is the seminal text of Leninism. It was written by V.I. Lenin in 1917 and expands upon the Marxist conception of the State and its role in revolution. Using excerpts from the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Lenin explains the class nature of the State, argues that a “State” as controlled by the working class will “wither away” over time, and ruthlessly criticizes his opponents, frequently referred to as “opportunists.”

One of the most important things necessary for understanding TS&R is the terminology used by Lenin and the concepts of class as understood by Marxists. To make this article as accessible as possible, it’s worth starting at the beginning.

Class Struggle

If you already have a background in Marxism, such as the Manifesto, feel free to skip this section and move on to “What is the State?”

Within capitalist society, everyone needs to sell something in order to buy things, including basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. There are two main classes under capitalism, characterized by their relationship to production: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.


The bourgeoisie is the class which owns and therefore controls the “means of production,” e.g. factories, warehouses, stores, etc. The bourgeois extract profit produced by the sale of commodities created by these means of production.

People who do not possess any means of production or capital have only one thing to sell in order to sustain themselves: themselves, i.e. their labor-power, the commodity which produces value. A person rents herself to a business, giving the business access to her labor-power. She operates its means of production in exchange for a wage. These members of capitalist society constitute the proletariat.

The proletariat and the bourgeoisie have differing, opposing interests. One example is the contradiction between wages for the proletariat and profits for the bourgeoisie. Workers want their wages to be as high as possible so they can have a better quality of life and afford more things, and the bourgeois want to lower costs and make as much profit as possible to undercut their competitors. Because wages are an expense for the bourgeois and cut into their profits, and because profit is a measure of money that the proletarians could be making, this causes conflict and friction between the classes.

What results is a phenomenon referred to by Marxists as class struggle, and this is only one instance of it. The contradictions between the classes, according to Marxists, will eventually lead to their dissolution and the creation of a classless society.

What is the State?

Most people think of the State as a centralized, bureaucratic organization which exists primarily to preserve peace within a geographical region. The Marxist conception of the State is slightly different because it puts class into the equation.

The State, according to Marxist theory, grows out of class antagonisms within society. The contradictions between classes and the conflict between them necessitates the creation of an organization of force used to quell these antagonisms. Lenin, therefore, defines the State as, above all, the special organization of force used for the suppression of one class by another. It grows out of irreconcilable antagonisms between the classes. Lenin holds that the State’s very existence, the necessity for a power to quell class struggle, itself proves that these antagonisms cannot be conciliated. The State, under capitalist society, which protects private property and upholds the capitalist mode of production, is therefore an instrument wielded by the bourgeoisie to suppress the proletariat. So long as there are classes in society, a State must exist.

The State (again, an organization of force used to suppress a class) in capitalist society is wielded by the bourgeoisie to suppress the proletariat. This is called the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The word “dictatorship” in this case does not refer to an oppressive, autocratic institution, but literally means that the bourgeoisie possesses political power and therefore dictates what happens in society.

The structure of society during a socialist revolution is called the dictatorship of the proletariat, wherein the proletariat possesses political power and uses it to suppress the bourgeoisie. This entails wresting the means of production from the bourgeoisie, suppressing counter-revolution, defending the revolution from external forces, etc. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx defines the (proletarian) state as “the state, i.e. the proletariat organized as the ruling class.” All this means is that society is structured such that the proletariat has political power and controls what happens.

Anarchist Militia in Barcelona

Going by the strict definition of the State as defined by Marxists, a proletarian State could look very different from our usual, liberal conception of the State. Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, for instance, could be one example of a dictatorship of the proletariat, even though it might not fit in with preconceived notions of what a socialist “state” might look like. The proletariat, organized as the ruling class, suppressed the bourgeoisie and took control of the means of production.

Lenin points out multiple times in TS&R that the proletariat cannot just take control of the presently existing bourgeois state apparatus and use it for its own purposes. The bourgeois state must be smashed and replaced with a new State constructed on the basis of proletarian power.

The bourgeois state and the proletarian state are distinct in how they structure the use of force. In order to maintain political power, the bourgeois state utilizes “special bodies of armed men,” as described by Engels, rather than “the self-acting armed organization of the population.” This is necessary because the “self-acting armed organization of the population” could not exist since the divide between classes.

“Withering Away” of the Proletarian State

Once the proletarian state possesses political power and controls the means of production, it will “wither away” over time as it suppresses the bourgeoisie and moves toward a classless society. While the state must exist while class distinctions remain, it becomes superfluous in a classless society. The use of force is no longer necessary to suppress class antagonisms, because there are no classes. Lenin includes a long quote from Engels to explain this phenomenon, a portion of which is sampled below:

As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection, as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon the present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from this struggle, are removed, nothing more remains to be held in subjection — nothing necessitating a special coercive force, a state. The first act by which the state really comes forward as the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — is also its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies down of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’. It withers away. This gives the measure of the value of the phrase ‘a free people’s state’, both as to its justifiable use for a long time from an agitational point of view, and as to its ultimate scientific insufficiency; and also of the so-called anarchists’ demand that the state be abolished overnight.” (From Anti-Düring)

If you agree with the premises behind this argument, the conclusion must follow. If the state arises from class antagonisms in society and exists for the purpose of class suppression, it must therefore exist while there are classes (even during a proletarian revolution!) and start to die off once class is abolished. Engels’ description, “the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production,” explains the change in the nature of the State very well. Lenin points out that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the State is no longer “the State” proper, but a different kind of institution altogether.

Paris Commune


Lenin goes further than Marx and Engels by making an attempt to describe a proletarian state and what it might look like by turning to the example of the Paris Commune, using excerpts from Marx’s the Civil War in France to describe the experience of the Commune and how it represented proletarian political power. Marxism emphasizes learning from past experiences and proletarian attempts at revolt, so Lenin uses the Commune as a kind of jumping off point. “Marx did not indulge in utopias,” wrote Lenin, “he expected the experience of the mass movement to provide the reply to the question as to the specific forms this organization of the proletariat as the ruling class would assume and as to the exact manner in which this organization would be combined with the most complete, most consistent ‘winning of the battle of democracy.'”

The Paris Commune implemented several measures to construct a centralized, bureaucratic institution that would remain accountable to the proletariat.

  1. “Suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.”
  2. Delegates were elected from members of the working class (or acknowledged representatives) by universal suffrage.
  3. All members of the State were to be revocable at any time.
  4. The police was stripped of its political attributes and “turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune,” as were all administrative and judicial officials.
  5. Public officials were to be paid “workmen’s wages.”
  6. The Commune “proceeded at once to break the instrument of spiritual suppression, the power of the priests.”
  7. Judicial functionaries were to be elected, responsible and revocable.

Because of these measures, the State becomes much more accountable to the proletariat in a way that was not possible under liberal representative democracy. Lenin immediately points out that “the Commune, therefore, appears to have replaced the smashed state machine ‘only’ by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall. But as a matter of fact this ‘only’ signifies a gigantic replacement of certain institutions of a fundamentally different type.” The dictatorship of the proletariat is the extension of democracy. The “withering away” of the state is also the “withering away” of democracy; it extends democracy further and further until it is no longer “democracy,” which implies a State, but the management of society as a regular part of everyday life.

Leninism vs. Anarchism

The State and Revolution is sometimes considered by anarchists to be a somewhat “libertarian” work. This is not particularly accurate for a couple of reasons.

While it is true that Lenin emphasizes very often the importance of the destruction of the bourgeois state, he takes issue with anarchism and his anarchist contemporaries because he believes it to be “utopian” to want to “abolish the state” all at once.

Abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere and completely, is out of the question. It is a utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will make possible the gradual abolition of all bureaucracy — this is not a utopia, it is the experience of the Commune, the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.


We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and “foremen and accountants”.

Lenin does not advocate the immediate implementation of a non-hierarchical society following the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus. He believes that it’s necessary to have a bureaucratic government and a centralized State, just that the structure of this State must be radically different, formed such that the proletariat retains political power. This is in direct contrast to anarchist values of anti-authoritarianism and decentralized management and structure of society. Ultimately, Marxism and Anarchism have the same goal: the establishment of the communist society, devoid of classes, money, and the State. Where they differ is the means by which they seek to achieve this society: Lenin advocates the construction of a proletarian state which will naturally wither away and Anarchism advocates the abolition of the state and the construction of communism (or a similarly non-hierarchical society) directly.


At this point, the reader may notice that the ideas expressed by Lenin are very different from what most people think of when they hear “Leninism”: a top-down bureaucracy ruled by party officials with little to no democracy present whatsoever. In fact, Lenin advocated the extension of democracy beyond what was possible under liberal, bourgeois democracy.

Lenin is most well-known for his participation in the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union, which has been the subject of countless heated debates and the recipient of propaganda and slander from all sides. It can be difficult to discern fact from fiction and understand the reality of the Soviet experiment. Whatever your interpretation of the Soviet Union may be, it’s important to keep in mind the extreme material conditions under which the creation of the Soviet Union took place and how they may have affected its deviation from the ideas and wishes originally held by Lenin. It’s important to separate the ideas from the person and keep in mind that Lenin’s role changed drastically following the Russian Revolution.

The State and Revolution remains an important work in Marxism, and an indispensable read that any socialist or person interested in socialism/Marxism should look into. Keep in mind, however, that this summary is just one person’s interpretation, and an incomplete one at that. The best way to understand it fully is to read it for yourself.