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.
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.
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.