Theses on Maoism

By Michael Pröbsting


Note from the Editor: We print here a document written by Michael Pröbsting as a summary of the political and class characteristics of Maoism. It was written as a resolution for a congress of the League of the Fifth International (LFI) in early 2011. It was adopted at this congress with hardly any amendment. But since comrade Pröbsting, together with other comrades, was expelled only a few months later as a result of the centrist degeneration process of this organization, the LFI could not bring itself to publish this document since then. We print it here therefore for the first time. Given the important role Maoist organizations play in various semi-colonial countries, we consider this subject as a very significant question. The document is unchanged except that we replaced “LFI” with “RCIT”.


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1.            Maoism is Stalinism with characteristics which are specific to conditions in the poorer, semi-colonial countries. Historically it developed both programmatically and organisationally as part of the Stalinist III International. Maoism emerged as a specific political current in the Chinese bureaucratic workers state only after the power struggle sharpened between national bureaucracies – the Russian and the Chinese – and led to a break (similarly like the break between Stalin/Moscow and Tito/Yugoslavia in 1948). However these were breaks, which had no fundamental programmatic and class differences as their background but rather the national power interests and questions of applying Stalinist policy under differing specific national conditions.

2.            Trotsky predicted that the sections of the Communist International would, under the influence of Stalin’s “socialism in one country”, degenerate from Marxism along a national path as the CPSU had done. The CPC eventually did so – in particular adapting to the enormous preponderance of the peasantry and the CPC’s near total abandonment of the urban and rural proletariat and severing its ties with the revolutionary and centrist traditions of the CPC from 1921-1927. More living influences on the party were the Third ultra-left Period and the Fourth Popular Front Period, especially because in the latter Mao Zedong became the pre-eminent leader of the party. Long periods of geographical isolation from the supervision of the Comintern and the Soviet party allowed Mao to remodel its ideology and practice. In the five years before and the decade after Stalin’s death the centripetal, disintegrative tendencies in world Stalinism produced Maoism (along with the national roads of Tito, Togliatti, Hoxha, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Abimael Guzmán etc.).

3.            Maoism shares with traditional Moscow-Stalinism the essential elements of a programme and ideology which has its social origin in the material interests of a bureaucracy linked with the workers and oppressed movements. The most important ideological elements which lead us to see Maoism as a specific variant of Stalinism are the following:

i)             Socialism in one country. Maoists share the view that Socialism can and should be built on a national terrain first. This is why various Stalinist states which had sympathy with Mao (like Hoxha in Albania or for some time Kim il-Sung in North Korea) orientated towards autarky. Certainly the most barbarous and bizarre example for the Maoist attempt at an autarkic state was Kampuchea where the Pol Pot regime murdered millions before it collapsed in 1979.

ii)            A mechanistic theory of separate historic stages on the road to working class power. Maoists share the concept that on the road to socialism the working class should first fight for a separate historic stage – called “New Democracy” – in which capitalism is not abolished. According to this New Democracy the Maoist Party leads a coalition of antagonistic classes – the Bloc of Four Classes. This Bloc of Four Classes – similar to the “anti-fascist democracy”, “anti-monopolistic democracy”, “national-democratic revolution” etc. concepts of the pro-Moscow Stalinists – include formally the workers, the peasants, the small business and the “patriotic” capitalists. In fact the new democracy subordinates the working class to the bureaucracies orientation towards a bloc with the patriotic bourgeoisie.

iii)          Rejection in practice of the concept of the hegemony of the working class. While formally defending the leading role of the working class the Maoists in fact substitute for the working class the leading role of the Stalinist party and subordinate the proletariat to the struggles of non-proletarian layers (peasantry guerrilla war, student movementist policy etc.). Therefore the CPC in China focused on building a peasant guerrilla army, similarly the CPN(M) in Nepal till 2006, the CPI(Maoists) in India, Sendero Luminoso in Peru, CPP in Philippines etc.. The Maoists who prefer the strategy of “mass line” to the “protracted people’s war” develop – if they succeed in building some mass influence – into parliamentarist, reformist parties (like the PCR in Argentina, various CPI(ML)’s in India, the Nepalese CPN(M) after 2006).

iv)           National-orientated concept of Party building. Deriving from the theory of Socialism in one country the Maoists have a nationally-based concept of party building. There have been attempts to create international Maoist movements. But they are not real international organisations with an international democratic centralism but rather alliances of national parties. Since there is no party strong enough to materially subordinate and dominate such an international (as the Russian CPSU was in the Stalinist III. International) these Maoist “Internationals” are usually subject to continued fragmentation. Behind the divisions and splits with the “elder brother” party or “great leader” are often the divisions along national party lines (China-USSR; China-Albania; in the RIM between Nepalese UCPN(M), the RCP(USA) and the Peruvian PCP-"Sendero Luminoso" etc.)

v)            Bureaucratic model of the party including the leader cult (Great Helmsman, etc). Maoist parties are dominated by a bureaucratic leadership. They lack internal democracy including the right to form tendencies or factions. Expulsions and splits are often accompanied with physical confrontations including killing (e.g. the various suppression of rival leaders in the “Cultural Revolution in China, the Philippine’s CPP murder of oppositionists, armed confrontations between Indian Maoists). The Maoist version of Criticism and Self-Criticism is usually a masquerade where the leadership publicly punishes oppositionists.

4             Maoism developed in China under different social and historic circumstances than Russian Stalinism.

i)             it emerged in China which was a poor semi-colony colony in the process of being torn apart by rival imperialisms.

ii)            it was formed as a result of a historic defeat for the working class in the Revolution 1925-27 which led to the physical annihilation of the workers vanguard by the Kuomintang.

iii)          it emerged against the background not of workers struggles but of a peasant war waged by largely peasant soldiers amongst a peasant population under the leadership of a largely urban, petty bourgeois dominated leadership

5.            Thus Chinese Maoism – and Maoism as an international movement – is strongly influenced by petty-bourgeois, populist revolutionism. This is the result of the combination of the petty-bourgeois milieu on which Maoism usually is orientating to and the petty bourgeois form of guerrilla struggle. In addition to this Maoism integrates various pre-socialist national traditions into its ideology (like the Sun Yat-sen ideology in China, the Inca tradition in Peru by the PCP, Skanderbeg in Hoxha’s Albanian PLA).

6.            Maoism developed a strongly petty-bourgeois idealist/subjectivist philosophical approach which de facto abandoned dialectical and historical materialism. It replaced an objective class analysis with an idealist view of the party and more particularly its great leader who supposedly embodies the proletarian spirit. It could declare anything proletarian which it approved of, using Mao’s idealist standing of the Marx’s dialectic back on its head (with the principle contradiction being identified by party/leader in terms of the current bloc or turn). This Maoist method was suited to isolated (and self-isolating) political forces drawing on petty bourgeois milieus (intelligentsia/poor peasantry) - ranging from the German and Italian Maoists or their US versions, in the former cases isolated by huge bourgeois workers party from the mass of the working class and the latter by the political backwardness of the American workers. In Asia it was normally a matter of social geographical isolation (in mountains and forests) modelled in some senses on conditions during an immediately after the Long March.

7.            Important elements in the Maoist strategy are the concepts of protracted people’s war” and “mass line”. Where Maoism gains some kind of mass influence these concepts are two variants of a petty-bourgeois, popular-frontist conception. The “people’s war” conception can express the radicalism of the oppressed poor peasants but it subordinates them to the party bureaucracy and their strategic goal of the bloc of the four classes. The “mass line” concept means an orientation towards building of bureaucratically party-led mass organisation. It usually subordinates these mass organisations either to the guerrilla struggle as legal cover organisations where they play purely a role as rallying support for the main form of struggle – the armed struggle. Or they serve as instruments to strengthen the party’s reformist drive for participation in the bourgeois state or – under specific circumstances like in China in the early 1950s – for taking power where the party expropriates the bourgeoisie while politically building a dictatorship against the working class. A classical example of the compatibility of petty-bourgeois armed struggle and reformist parliamentarism is the UCPN(M) in Nepal. Within a few months and without any serious internal struggle the party switched in 2006 from the guerrilla struggle to the coalition government with open bourgeois parties with a concept to establish a bourgeois republic based on a capitalist economy.

8.            Another important innovation of Maoism was the reactionary, idealist theory of denouncing the USSR as “social imperialism”. The theory of characterising the USSR as social imperialism could of course refer to many reactionary features of Moscow’s policy – national oppression in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, subordination of semi-colonial revolutions to Moscow’s foreign policy, subordination of economic development in other bureaucratically degenerated workers states to that of the USSR etc. But it ignored the objective class base of the USSR as a degenerated workers state where capitalism was abolished and a (bureaucratically) planned economy introduced above which a bureaucratic dictatorship ruled on the top of a bourgeoisified state apparatus. To justify a designation made out of a clash of national state interests it declared the USSR to be “state capitalist” without the slightest serious attempt at a socio-economic analysis of how property relations were transformed from “socialism” to “capitalism” or how a political counterrevolution occurred between Stalin’s death and Krushchev’s ascent. The social imperialism theory was a generalised form of Stalin’s “theory” born in the 1930s where inner-party opponents where denounced (and often murdered) as “fascists” or “imperialist agents”. The reactionary consequences of this theory was a failure to defend the USSR and its allies against imperialism but instead Beijing collaborated –after Mao’s famous meeting with Nixon in 1972 – with US imperialism tacitly against Moscow. (see e.g. China’s support for the pro-imperialist UNITA against the MPLA government in Angola or its support for the reactionary Mujahedin in Afghanistan against the PDPA and the Soviet troops after 1979) An ideological reflection of this reactionary policy was Mao’s so called Three Worlds Theory which divided in three parts: the First World (the two superpowers USA and USSR), the Second World (the superpowers' allies) and the Third World. This concept justified the reactionary support of Beijing for right-wing, pro-US dictatorships (like the Shah in Iran, the Marcos-regime in Philippines or Pinochet in Chile) and oppressive regimes like the Bandaranaike’s government in Sri Lanka who slaughtered thousands of youth in the rebellion of 1971. Albeit Albania’s Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha – and with him many Maoists who turned away from China after 1978 – later denounced the Three Worlds Theory they essentially kept the reactionary social-imperialism concept.

9.            Related to this lack of a materialist class analyses is the widespread confusion in Maoist ranks on the Leninist theory of labour aristocracy. While sectors of it denounce the huge majority of the white working class in the imperialist metropolises as “bourgeoisified”, part of the labour aristocracy and even not being workers at all (like the MIM), others virtually deny the existence of a labour aristocracy as a social layer (like the German MLPD). Both ignore Lenin’s correct thesis that the labour aristocracy is the privileged, top strata of the working class which is bribed and paid by the bourgeoisie out of the imperialist super-profits (derived from the semi-colonial world and the super-exploited layers of the working class in the metropolises itself).

10.          After the split between the USSR and China the following situation emerged:

i)             China was the weaker power – therefore Beijing had much less material means to finance a bureaucracy in other Stalinist parties

ii)            Those few pro-Beijing parties which had a mass influence either suffered a historic defeat (PKI in Indonesia 1965, CPT in Thailand in the early 1980s) or drifted away and adapted to their own national bourgeoisie who was in conflict with Peking (the CPI(M) in India). The latter was not really a Maoist party but (initially) a left Stalinist party (Moscow’s alliance with India and China’s invasion of India presented huge difficulties for any party aligned to either. Total Independence was the best solution.) The Maoists in the party split away and launched a guerrilla war against the Indian state (the Naxalite movement). A series of events fragmented Maoist’s trying to remain loyal to the CCP: the fall of Lin Biao (1971), Nixon’s visit to Beijing (1972), fall of the Gang of Four (1976), the rise of Deng (1978).

iii)          Therefore Maoism was a much weaker international movement compared with Moscow-Stalinism.

iv)           However given the discredit character and rottenness of Moscow’s policy of peaceful co-existence with imperialism Maoism became an attractive as a programmatic/ideological model for various petty-bourgeois revolutionist movements (like the 68-movement in the West, the CPP/NPA in the Philippines, Sendero Luminoso in Peru, CPI(Maoists) India etc.)

v)            It had an additional flair because of the semi-civil war in China during the Cultural Revolution which gave Mao – after the liberation war – a second time a “revolutionary”, militant, non-apparatchik flair.

vi)           Various degenerate Trotskyists adapted to Maoism proclaiming Mao’s theory of permanent revolution and the cultural revolution as (yet another) sort of unconscious Trotskyism

11.          These specific historic conditions – more radical ideological appearance, less centralised bureaucratic control from the centre in Peking – help to explain the many different shades of Maoism from left reformism to left-centrism.

12.          Marxists are – in line with the united front tactic – always prepared to collaborate with Maoists in the class struggle against the enemies of the working class and the oppressed. Of course given the repressive and even murderous acts that Maoists like other Stalinists have committed on Trotskyists (and indeed on one another) as partners in such a united front they must be able to defend themselves. At the same time it is necessary to explain to the Maoists – amongst whom are many dedicated fighters against oppression and exploitation – that their theory and practice is alien to Marxism and is an obstacle for the liberation struggle of the working class and the peasantry. The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency appeals to them to rethink and to break with Maoism and join the ranks of authentic Marxism. Forward to the Fifth International!