By the Comrade Jacques Roux
« Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence. » – Marx
Communism is the movement of the international proletariat. It carries within itself the long-term interests of the proletariat as a whole. A communist party cannot be content to lead the class struggle within national confines : it must at all times keep in mind the global picture of the class it is supposed to represent. For this reason any communist organization, even if small and embryonic, must concern itself with the international communist movement, participate in it in proportion to its capabilities and be able to position itself within line struggles that traverse it.
This text is a constructive contribution aiming to move forward the debate concerning the international line of the Canadian communist movement. To this end, we will begin with an overview of the existing lines within the international communist movement and situate them within their historical context. Then, we will present our view of the current line struggle and a critique of the “principally Maoist” tendency. Finally, we will conclude by suggesting a few orientations that constitute, in our view, a correct international orientation for our movement. [i]
1. From the Comintern to the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement
Since the dissolution of the Third International, the last genuine communist international, in 1943, the movement remains divided on its international line. To this day no consensus has been reached within the communist movement on a proper evaluation of the Comintern’s role.
The Comintern itself did not deny, during its dissolution, that it played a positive role in the development of international class struggle. However it justified its dissolution by stating that the need for an international center had passed and that its organizational form was obsolete. Mao Zedong himself applauded its dissolution for three main reasons : I. The internal situation within each country and the relationships between countries had become more complex. It was therefore impossible for a unified international center, separated from concrete struggles at the national level, to adapt to the quick conjunctural changes. A correct leadership must emerge from a detailed analysis of the concrete conditions and this task belonged to the communist parties of each country. II. In the context of the second world war, there were anti-fascist states of different kinds. It was therefore apparent that a centralized international organization was not the appropriate means for organizing the anti-fascist forces in all countries. III. The cadres of communist parties in many countries had acquired their own experience and reached a sufficient level of political maturity.
Therefore, it was with the support of the Communist Party of China and without much controversy that the Comintern announced its dissolution. However, after the restoration of capitalism in China the need to rebuild international links was felt once again. In 1980, Marxist-Leninist organizations from different countries met, aiming to recreate an international unity on an anti-revisionist basis. They published a statement titled “To the Marxist-Leninists, the workers and the oppressed of all countries”, in defense of Mao Zedong Thought, of armed struggle and of the cultural revolution.
In 1984, this process brought about the creation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). Among the nineteen founding organizations, there were notably the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCPUSA), the Communist Party of Peru and the Communist Party of Nepal (Masal) that would later merge with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(m)). These three parties would be the main actors that would go on to define the life and the death of this group.
In its founding declaration, RIM offered a new evaluation of the Comintern. It identified deviations thought to have appeared during the 1935 congress of the Internationale. Notably, the RIM criticized the Comintern for having treated the distinction between fascist and anti-fascist countries as an absolute and for having made struggle against fascism a strategic stage. Defining fascism as the regime of the most reactionary faction of the monopolist bourgeoisie was said to have opened the way to a pacifist and reformist tendency that considered part of this parasitic class as being progressive.
Throughout its existence, RIM contributed to the defense and popularization of Maoism. It actively supported the people’s wars in Peru and Nepal and was at the center of the international campaign to defend the life of chairman Gonzalo. From 1984 to 2006, RIM published 34 issues of the magazine A World to Win, a true goldmine of political analysis and content worth seriously studying. The international events of this period, through RIM, contributed in influencing the Canadian group Action Socialiste which was later to become the main Maoist organization in this country, the PCR-RCP.
In 1995, RIM published the declaration “Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!”, inspired by the Communist Party of Peru which defended the use of the term “Maoism” instead of “Mao Zedong Thought”. The meaning of this change in terminology remains a source of debate and confusion up to this day.
From the beginning of the 2000s, RIM began its fall. We can identify two main factors that contributed to this. First, the Committee of RIM (commonly called CoRIM), claiming to be the embryo of a political center for the organization, was dominated by the RCPUSA. But this party had fallen into revisionism and ended up completely abandoning Maoism in the name of a so-called “new synthesis”. To this day, it remains a fairly silly cult whose deviations are unanimously denounced by Maoists. Then, the CPN(m), an important force in RIM which was leading one of the main people’s wars of that period, capitulated to the enemy in 2006 in order to integrate itself to the bourgeois democratic apparatus. As with RCPUSA, the deviations of CPN(m) have been widely denounced as revisionism.
After 2006, RIM as such was no more. The last event organized in its name was an international meeting in 2012 where its dissolution was officially proclaimed and the need for a new international organization was explicitly stated.
2. Three tendencies in the Maoist movement
Today, we can identify three main tendencies within the Maoist movement on the question of the path to follow in the reconstruction of an international organization of Communists.
The first, in the center, regroups those parties and organizations that intend to recreate an international organization in continuity with the RIM experience. While there have been differences among them on the specifics of the future organization or on the evaluation of the former international formations, we can classify them as one tendency through their will to recreate an international organization that would have as its main lines of demarcation adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the denunciation of revisionist deviations of the RCPUSA and the CPN(m).
In this tendency we find the parties grouped around the magazine/blog Maoist Road. Since 2012, they have been publishing joint declarations for the 1st of May, signed by many organizations around the world. In January 2020, some of these parties met and formed an international committee tasked with coordinating efforts for the construction of a new organization. Among these parties we find the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan and the Maoist Communist Party of Italy, two historic forces of the communist movement that have played, in their past forms, minor roles within RIM.
Among the other significant organizations of this tendency, there is the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The CPI(Maoist) was founded in 2004 after the merger of various insurgent groups that had emerged from the Naxalbari rebellion of 1967. It now leads one of the two largest people’s wars in the world. Its central committee published a statement explicitly stating its international orientations that is available in the January 2020 issue of the Maoist Road magazine, which confirms their allegiance to this tendency. There is also the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist), one of the two main Maoist organizations which have retained a revolutionary character after the capitulation of the people’s war in that country. Their position is available in the September 2020 edition of their theoretical journal, Maoist Outlook.
Despite the similar ideological orientations expressed by these parties in publicly available documents, there remains a certain number of contradictions between them. For instance, according to publicly available information, there seems to be no official coordination between the group linked to Maoist Road and the other parties of this tendency.
The second tendency, situated to the right, regroups the parties and organizations that do not wish to form a new communist international. Evoking the negative aspects of the Comintern, they do not see the need for recreating an international center. It instead favours united front tactics against imperialism or practical coordination. These are Maoist and anti-revisionist organizations that have generally not been part of the RIM experience. The objective is to concentrate on tactical alliances that can reinforce movements at the national level without establishing an international structure based on democratic centralism.
The most notable organization of this tendency is without doubt the Communist Party of the Philippines, which participates in it through the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS). The CPPh, like the CPI(Maoist), leads one of the two largest people’s wars in the world today. It also leads a massive national democratic movement which has branches in the Filipino diaspora in many countries. To some extent, we could classify the International coordination of revolutionary parties and organizations (ICOR) as being part of this tendency. ICOR is self-defined as an “association for practical coordination” and functions on a rather eclectic basis of unity. It regroups dozens of organizations, on every continent. Among the big names, we can mention the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD), Indorev in Indonesia, the Communist party of Bangladesh or event the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Turkey/Kurdistan (MLKP), of Hoxhaist persuasion. ICOR has recently gotten closer to ILPS and the two organizations intend to create an “International Anti-Imperialist and Anti-Fascist United Front”.
The third tendency, to the left, regroups the parties and organizations that, similar to the first tendency, intend to create a new communist international, but who wish to build it along much more specific lines of demarcation. This group is built on a specific interpretation of Maoism inspired by the Communist Party of Peru and wants to impose this ideological orientation to the whole movement. The line of demarcation of the new Internationale would be not merely Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, but “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism and contributions of universal validity of Gonzalo Thought”. We will come back to what this means exactly.
This tendency made itself known after a declaration published in September 2018 titled “In defence of the Life of Chairman Gonzalo, Hoist Higher the Flag of Maoism”, in which it affirmed itself as a distinct tendency. The main organization of this tendency is the Communist Party of Brazil (Red Fraction) (CPB(RF)). It can also count on a few organizations, varying in size, throughout Latin America, a number of small groups dispersed throughout Europe and the Americans aligned behind the Struggle Sessions blog. Numerically, this tendency is many times smaller than the two others. However it has managed to demarcate itself through its greater level of unity and its higher degree of activity on the Internet, where it regularly publishes declarations. The organizations of this tendency have held regional conferences in Europe and Latin America and affirmed their intention to advance toward a “unified international conference” of Maoists, without specifying if this conference would include parties of the first tendency. For simplicity’s sake, we will identify the parties of this tendency as “principally Maoists”.
The supporters of this tendency have launched, in the last years, a major line struggle in the International Communist Movement. Recently, they have even acquired a few followers in Canada. Therefore, it has become necessary for us as for all of communists in the world to understand this tendency and to take a position regarding it.
3. What the “principally Maoist” tendency proclaims
As mentioned earlier, the principally Maoists are leading an ideological offensive aiming to impose a new definition of Maoism to the international communist movement. Their interpretation of Maoism is distinguished by the importance given to the contributions of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) and of its incarcerated leader, chairman Gonzalo. We call them “principally Maoists” since according to them, in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, it is Maoism that is the principal aspect and it constitutes the sights through which we may understand the other aspects.
For them, Maoism has not emerged as a coherent theory in the Chinese Revolution through the contributions of Zedong, but was instead “synthesized” by chairman Gonzalo and the Communist Party of Peru. In much the same way that Marxism-Leninism is said not to have been truly understood before its application in China by way of Mao Zedong Thought, Maoism is said to only have been properly understood after it was applied in Peru through Gonzalo Thought. For the principally Maoists, the problem is not that Maoism is not formally accepted, but that there is confusion as to its contents. This confusion, according to them, comes from the fact that the only true Maoism is one that recognizes the contributions of the PCP as the point of origin of MLM. Other parties claiming Maoism are therefore seen not as Maoist (MLM) but as still giving their allegiance to Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought (ML-MZT), since they do not integrate the elements brought forward by the PCP, which constitute the founding pillar of Maoism. For this tendency, such adoption of the term Maoism is merely aesthetic and does not represent a true qualitative leap.
To add to this, principally Maoists hold that there are universally valid contributions of Gonzalo Thought. In other terms, Gonzalo and the PCP did not merely synthesize Maoism but have also, through applying Maoism to the concrete conditions of Peru, provided new contributions that also have universal validity. This is why their ideology is designated as “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism and contributions of universal validity of Gonzalo Thought”.
However, outside of building a very tiresome semantic labyrinth, this debate on the meaning of the word “Maoism” is fundamentally useless. Marxists are principally concerned with the content of science and its application, not its expression in language.
What we must remember is that the principally Maoists believe that a certain number of universal components of communist ideology are being neglected by parties claiming to be Maoist. The true debate therefore has to do with figuring out whether these components are truly valid and universal or if they were instead erroneous or specific applications.
Let’s see which components these are and reflect on their validity. We believe we can summarize most of what they claim into three main elements: 1) militarization of the party and concentric construction, 2) universality of protracted people’s war and 3) guiding thought and great leadership.
3.1 Militarization of the party and concentric construction
Militarization of the party was first defined by the PCP, which defined it as “the set of transformations, changes and readjustments [the party] needs to lead the People’s War as the principal form of struggle that will generate the New State” [ii]. The PCP, at the time, identified three main reasons why parties should militarize:
I. “Because we are in the the strategic offensive of the world revolution. […] since revolution is the principal tendency in the world, the task of the Communist Parties is to uphold revolution expressing the principal form of struggle: People’s War to oppose the world counterrevolutionary war with world revolutionary war.” In short, Communist Parties must militarize to lead people’s war.
II. “Because capitalist restoration must be prevented. […] Communist Parties must militarize themselves and exercise the all-round dictatorship of the three instruments, forging themselves in People’s War and empowering the armed organization of the masses, the people’s militia, so as to engulf the Army. […] every militant is forged in the People’s War and remains alert against any attempt at capitalist restoration.” For the PCP, party militarization is a solution to the failures of the Cultural Revolution in China.
III. “Because we march toward a militarized society. By militarizing the Party, we complete a step toward the militarization of society, which is the strategic prospect to guarantee the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Party militarization is therefore supposed to be a step toward the general arming of the masses.
Developing on the PCP, the CPB(RF) has put forward a detailed conception of party militarization and concentric construction in the article “Lenin and the Militarized Communist Party” published in the El Maoista journal [iii]. This text is, in fact, a rather complete summary of what is claimed by the principally Maoists. In it, the CPB(RF) upholds party militarization as the final result of Lenin’s concept of the vanguard party. He is said to have affirmed the leading role of the party. Afterwards, Mao is said to have put forward the need for the three instruments of the revolution (party, army, united front) and the need for the party’s leadership over the two other instruments. Finally, Gonzalo is said to have put forward the need for party militarization and concentric construction. In this sense, “the Militarized Communist Party represents the reaffirmation of the full validity of the principles of Marxism, through its development.” As for concentric construction, it is “the organizational furnishing of the militarization of the party. […] The Party is the axis of everything, it completely directs all the three instruments, its own construction, absolutely directs the construction of the army and the new state as a joint dictatorship, pointing toward the dictatorship of the proletariat”. The CPB(RF) sums up this conception this schematization:
Militarization is not understood as a principle to be applied at a given stage of development of the Party, for instance to apply at the moment of initiating people’s war, but as a principle of construction to be adopted even during the process of constitution / reconstitution of a communist party. The party militarizes itself trough actions, principally armed actions . Secret and illegal work is not understood as a matter of tactics but of principle. Without reconstituting in this way, communist parties are said to necessarily fall into “peaceful accumulation of forces and revisionist organizations, methods and style.”
Let us try to dissect what is being claimed here.
What is immediately striking is how difficult it is to understand what is meant by “party militarization” in principally Maoist writings. According to the definition given by the PCP, it is all of the dispositions that a communist party must take in order to lead a people’s war. However, that can’t be it, otherwise the concept would not mean anything fundamentally new. This ambiguity was touched upon by Andy Belisario of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in an earlier polemic:
“ What exactly is meant by a “militarized Communist Party”? Does it mean that the principle of democratic centralism, which applies to the essentially civilian and voluntary membership of a CP, will be replaced by a military command structure and its concomitant military law and military discipline? If so, that would be a monstrous distortion of the principles of proletarian Party life and would reflect an extreme case of purely military viewpoint or militarism.
Or does a “militarized Communist Party” simply mean that the Party operates underground outside of base areas, and that Party members are encouraged to learn military work, e.g. be familiar with guns and work in tight teamwork with near-military discipline? But CPs that lead armed struggles are already expected to adopt such methods, yet have no need to enshrine it as a principle on the same level as the name “Communist Party” or “Bolshevized party” and the practice of democratic centralism. “ [iv]
Furthermore, even if we presuppose the correctness of the principle according to which parties must forge themselves, even during constitution / reconstitution, in armed action, nothing forces them to be integrally “militarized” : armed actions can be the province of a given section of the party, without all of it being incorporated in the army.
What emerges from this is that the only thing that clearly demarcates the concept of militarization is its organizational furnishing, concentric construction. What distinguishes militarization from other types of construction is the fact that all party members must simultaneously be soldiers in the army. This seems to be the essence of the concept.
The second striking feature here is the false dilemma expressed in the schematization. The construction on the left, where the three elements are built in parallel without any one of them having precedence over the others, is certainly a deviation that exists, but it is far from being dominant in all parties that oppose concentric construction. The schematization falsely purports that concentric construction is the only form of construction where the Party can play a leading role.
Let us take the Communist Party of the Philippines as an example. This party leads an army, the New People’s Army, whose supreme command is held directly by its chairman. This party is also explicitly the leading force in the National Democratic Front, an entity that it generated and that is under its leadership. Some sections or members of the army and the National Democratic Front may be directly part of the party, whereas others are not. The army is part of the united front. This is therefore a non-concentric form of construction where the party is directly leading both other instruments. This is also, with some differences, the type of construction that was applied in China: the Communist Party of China has never been wholly inside the red army.
Finally, the third striking feature here is the level of abstraction at which are located the three famous reasons stated by the PCP.
I. We are told Communist Parties must militarize because it is necessary to “uphold revolution expressing the principal form of struggle: People’s War to oppose the world counterrevolutionary war with world revolutionary war”. However, history has shown that militarization is not an imperative for leading a people’s war to victory. Did the Chinese and Vietnamese communists not lead successful people’s wars without militarizing their parties?
II. It is said we must militarize “Because capitalist restoration must be prevented. […] Communist Parties must militarize themselves and exercise the all-round dictatorship of the three instruments, forging themselves in People’s War and empowering the armed organization of the masses, the people’s militia, so as to engulf the Army.” The argument here merely states the need for building people’s militias, which can be done, and has historically been done, without the presence of a militarized communist party. Then, it is stated that “every militant is forged in the People’s War and remains alert against any attempt at capitalist restoration.” Were Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping not “forged in People’s War”? Can we really establish a link between having participated in armed struggle and being less able to betray the revolution?
III. The third stated reason is essentially another formulation for reiterating the need for people’s militias: “Because we march toward a militarized society. By militarizing the Party, we complete a step toward the militarization of society, which is the strategic prospect to guarantee the dictatorship of the proletariat.” As we have seen earlier, no historical example so far demonstrates that party militarization allows for better arming of the masses than another method of construction.
In summary, though nothing demonstrates that party militarization and concentric construction should be categorically rejected, none of the arguments presented by the CPB(RF) or the PCP prove that it is a universally valid component of Maoist ideology. The fundamental principle to apply in the construction of the three elements is the leading role of the Party. Beyond this, the method of construction must be determined according to specific national realities and concrete conditions. The example of the militarization and concentric construction of the Communist Party of Peru needs to be studied and its lessons integrated in the Maoist toolbox, but there is no reason to elevate it to the level of a principle.
3.2 The universality of protracted people’s war
The universality of protracted people’s war (PPW) is a concept that has existed for many years in the communist movement. At the time of the 1995 declaration of RIM, there was talk of the “universality of people’s war”, designating the need for armed struggle led by the masses in order to take power. RIM, however, specified that “this must be applied to the concrete conditions in each country and, in particular, take into account the revolutionary paths in the two general types of countries – imperialist countries and oppressed countries – that exist in the world today.” Similarly, the PCP held that “a key and decisive question is the understanding of the universal validity of people’s war and its subsequent application taking into account the different types of revolution and the specific conditions of each revolution.” The possibility of a protracted people’s war in an imperialist country has been defended at the beginning of the millennium, notably by the PCR-RCP [vii]. The banner of universal PPW was recently taken back up by the principally Maoists, who have made it into a central aspect of their doctrine.
For the principally Maoists, the expressions “people’s war” and “protracted people’s war” are interchangeable. PPW does not designate, for them, the specific military strategy used in China which consists in encircling the cities from the countryside, but instead a more general strategy which is universally applicable. The CPB(RF) describes it thus: “the essence of the People’s War is to be a war of the masses lead by the Communist Party, in which the question of power is a central objective, pursued from the outset and conquered bit-by-bit up until its conquest all throughout the country. This means that its objective, always supported by the mobilized, politicized, organized masses who are armed little-by-little, through the armed struggle, destroys the foundations upon which the old State rests, generating a vacuum in which Popular New Power supported by the armed masses can be established.”
The concept of “people’s war” is even elevated above the statute of mere military strategy, since it is purported to be the “fully-developed proletarian conception of how the proletariat conquers and exerts power, leads the class struggle under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist construction and the transition to Communism”. Therefore “People’s War is, in addition to being the integral military theory and doctrine of the proletariat, its conception and politics of power” [viii]. Hence the famous slogan of “People’s War until communism”.
Finally we must note that, for the principally Maoists, the period preceding the start of the PPW must also be characterized by armed struggle: “Without the constitution or reconstitution around the gun, that is, as a militarized party and armed struggle (although as a secondary form of struggle at this stage), communists will inevitably fall into the theory of cold accumulation and into revisionist organizations, method, and style.” This is not merely construction through armed propaganda, but instead the application of “military actions in its four types (armed propaganda, sabotage, selective annihilation and guerrilla warfare)”.[ix]
The debate surrounding the universality of PPW has already generated much discussion[x], so we will put forward only a few comments of our own.
I. People’s war, according to CPB(RF), designates two things. First, we are told it is a military strategy used for taking power, characterized by its step-by-step conquest. Then we are told that it is the way in which the proletariat wages class struggle in socialist society. Must we then understand that, in socialist society, the proletariat will continue to conquer power one part at a time, that is, that the military foe will never be vanquished? Or does the term of “people’s war”, in socialist society, lose its essence and become merely synonymous with armed struggle in the general sense, or even of class struggle?
If “the essence of people’s war” is indeed what is stated in earlier quotes from the CPB(RF), and not merely the fact that the masses must take power through force of arms, then wouldn’t it be more accurate to use the slogan “class struggle until communism” or “armed struggle until communism”? Or does the CPB(RF) imply that the proletariat, once it has taken power, will necessarily lose power in significant parts of the country and will have to reconquer it through gradual conquest of base areas? If that is the case, this is a radical departure from the notion of cultural revolution as developed by Mao, who conceived it as mainly characterized by non-antagonistic contradictions. In any case, the principally Maoists demarcate themselves once more by building inextricable semantic labyrinths.
II. Let us now consider the notion of the universality of PPW as a military strategy. It is absolutely true that we need to learn from and apply the universal teachings of PPW and its theoreticians, such as Mao, Giap, Gonzalo, Sison, etc. However, saying that it is the universal strategy for taking power is inaccurate.
It is a deformation of the dialectical relationship between the universal and the specific. The universal does not exist as a closed system: it only manifests in the specific. What is universal is the entire set of common elements experienced in the specific, elements that can only be determined through real experiences. The universal elements of proletarian military strategy are not determined by searching for a “harmonious system”, that is to say a system that makes sense on the metaphysical plane, among the historical experiences of armed struggle. They are determined by searching for what is common in the entire set of these experiences, without applying a-priory thinking or ideological filters to them. As long a PPW will not have been applied successfully to an imperialist country, its universality will remain a hypothesis.
Furthermore, the concrete application of armed struggle in a given context must not take elements said to be “universal” as imperatives or matters of principle, but rather as guides from which to construct a creative application. Often, it is actually the transgression of these guides that allows for theoretical advances: it is such a transgression that is the origin of PPW, just as such a transgression allowed Gonzalo to develop “unified people’s war”. The transgression of the universal in the specific in turn modifies the universal, making their relationship dialectical [xi]. On this subject, Chairman Mao teaches us:
“All military laws and military theories which are in the nature of principles are the experience of past wars summed up by people in former days or in our own times. We should seriously study these lessons, paid for in blood, which are a heritage of past wars. That is one point. But there is another. We should put these conclusions to the test of our own experience, assimilating what is useful, rejecting what is useless, and adding what is specifically our own. The latter is very important, for otherwise we cannot direct a war.” [xii]
Ideological adherence to protracted people’s war is therefore not, as we are being told by the principally Maoists, a question of principle. The universal principle which demarcates revolutionaries from revisionists in the international arena is the need for the proletariat and exploited classes to take power by force of arms under the leadership of a communist party. Everything else is a matter of specific strategy and tactics.
3.3 Guiding thought and great leadership
Guiding thought and great leadership are probably the most controversial elements of principally Maoist ideology. In 1988, the Communist Party of Peru summarized the concept of “guiding thought” this way: “[…] revolutions give rise to a thought that guides them, which is the result of the application of the universal truth of the ideology of the international proletariat to the concrete conditions of each revolution; a guiding thought indispensable to reach victory and to conquer political power and, moreover, to continue the revolution and to maintain the course always towards the only, great goal: Communism; a guiding thought that, arriving at a qualitative leap of decisive importance for the revolutionary process which it leads, identifies itself with the name of the one who shaped it theoretically and practically.” [xiii] For instance, the Communist Party of China produced a specific thought for its context which, at a certain stage of development, became identified to the person who most contributed to shaping it, producing “Mao Zedong Thought”.
For the PCP, guiding thought is fundamentally linked to another key concept, “great leadership” ( “Jefatura” in Spanish). According to this theory, the main ideologue of guiding thought is not merely an ideological leader, but holds a unique position within the party by being placed above the Central Committee. Gonzalo explains it thus: “[…] it is necessity that generates leaders, and a top leader, but just who that is is determined by chance, by a set of specific conditions that come together at a particular place and time. […] there is no Great Leadership [Jefatura] that does not base itself on a body of thought, no matter what its level of development may be.”[xiv]
Gonzalo defends himself from allegations of having a “personality cult” by mentioning that this concept was used as an insult by Khrushchev to denigrate comrade Stalin and promote revisionism. Great leadership is claimed to be not the elevation of an individual to the status of a metaphysical entity superior to other communists, but merely the natural conclusion of the communist comprehension of leadership and centralism.
In short, principally Maoists hold that by applying the universal ideology of the proletariat (today, MLM) to the concrete conditions of a country, Communist Parties produce a guiding thought. It is constructed in dialectical relationship with great leadership and, at a certain stage of qualitative development, the guiding thought carries the name of the great leader. This principle is said to be universal and applicable everywhere.
As is usual with them, the principally Maoists are bringing us… into a semantic labyrinth! Let’s now try to get out of it.
What we call “ideology” refers to universal principles. When we speak of “communist ideology” or “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”, we are not referring to something that is specific to a given context, but to something which is applicable everywhere. This universality comes from the fact that our ideology, communism, represents the interests of the proletariat, which is an international class. In this sense, communism is the negation of nationalism: the latter puts the emphasis on the interests of a particular nation whereas the former is by nature international. When we speak of ideological contributions, we are talking about contributions that help in advancing the emancipation of the proletariat as an international class. What distinguishes communism from other ideologies, what makes it so totalizing and radical, is exactly this.
Ideology is by essence located at a certain level of abstraction. For it to really influence reality, it must be applied to a concrete situation. This is first done in the development of a political line. For instance, our ideology affirms the omnipotence of revolutionary war, while the political line explains how such a war must be led in a given nation, with which forces, against what enemy, etc. In short, there is ideology, which sets great universal principles, and political line, which is an application of ideology to a given context.
But this isn’t all. Ideology did not fall from the sky. It was born from practice and, continually, it is developed through practice.
We apply ideology to specific contexts through a political line that we concretize in practice. By doing this, we necessarily run into obstacles. These can come from mistakes in the formulation of the political line. In such a case, it is the task of the revolutionaries to rectify the political line to reestablish its continuity with ideology. But obstacles can also come from a lack in the ideology itself. To move beyond such obstacles, revolutionaries will need to correct weaknesses in ideology or apply it to a new type of situation. This way, they will produce universal contributions to proletarian science, contributions at the ideological level.
So, what is the problem with guiding thought?
The problem comes from the fact that each revolution is supposed to produce, through application of ideology to a concrete situation, not only a political line, but also a specific ideology. But what we call ideology designates universal principles, applicable everywhere. Each guiding thought, by its ideological nature, necessarily tends to affirm itself as universal. The development of a guiding thought in each country then becomes absurd: why affirm that it is something specific when we already know that its pretensions of universality will emerge sooner or later?
With a guiding thought in every specific national context, we get needlessly bogged down in semantic head-scratchers: we can wonder, for instance, which contributions of chairman Gonzalo are intrinsic parts of Maoism and which ones are instead part of the universally valid contributions of Gonzalo thought. This kind of reflection is fundamentally idealist, since it is located entirely within the realm of the subjective expression of science and has no link with its content. Iskra, the journal of one of the many small groups emerging from the splits in the PCR-RCP, summarizes it thus:
“The sciences, through practice, produce knowledge. The next step is then to study directly this knowledge and not to use it as a foundation to construct an unnecessary, idealist edifice. Partisans of the idealist tendency are more interested by the interpretation of a theory than by the theory itself: their position consists in constructing an ideological discourse above the sciences instead of looking at the knowledge that they produce through practice”. [xv]
The concept of “guiding thought” is a perfect example of an “unnecessary, idealist edifice”: by itself, it has no content. There is a much simpler way of looking at things: each revolution, by applying the ideology in practice through a political line, in turn enriches the ideology. By looking at the question this way, we remain rooted in the terrain of materialism and we avoid losing ourselves in many levels of abstraction.
The elevation of universal contributions to the level of “thoughts” or “isms” is secondary: it is merely the subjective expression of the phenomenon. The fact that the ideological development of communism has, historically, happened in this way and has come to be summarized by “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” is only a contingency. It has, by itself, no value outside of semantics.
Finally, concerning the concept of “Great Leadership” related to guiding thought, though the PCP claims that it is only an extension of the communist comprehension of leadership, it is difficult to ignore the drift towards quasi-religiosity developed by the PCP around the figure of Gonzalo. For instance, in a 1992 statement, the Central Committee of this party was writing that it “reaffirms itself in its plain, conscious and unconditional subjection to the sole leadership of Chairman Gonzalo”, that “Chairman Gonzalo is the greatest example of what a communist is”, that they reaffirmed themselves in “the unmovable decision to give our lives for Chairman Gonzalo”, that Gonzalo “himself initiated the invincible peoples war”, etc.
MLM indeed teaches us the need to have a strong revolutionary leadership, but nothing forces this leadership to be personified by a single specific individual, nor does such an individual necessarily need to be placed above the party. As Ajith states: “such cults foster a consciousness of infallibility of an individual, a leadership and indirectly of that party; something rejected by the Maoist party concept […]” [xvi]. Of course, the historical cults around Stalin, Mao and Gonzalo are justifiable through the particular circumstances of their emergence, and the appearance of a cult is not in itself a valid reason for discrediting a party of a revolutionary experience. However, affirming that cults are necessary and universal is to take up the reverse of the lesson that should be learned here, which is that communists should struggle against the idealization of their leadership and discourage claims of infallibility.
4. An epistemological inversion of Marxism
Now that we have looked closely at the specific components of principally Maoist ideology, let us try to establish a general portrait of what this tendency represents.
First, we notice that the contributions of the principally Maoists do not tend to expand the ideology but to make it narrower. These are not contributions to the science that allow it to expand its influence on the material world as was the case, for instance, with ideas such as new democracy and protracted people’s war, which served to open the way to the successful application of Marxism-Leninism in semi-feudal countries. On the contrary, the principally Maoists would like to confine Maoist ideology to ever narrowing criteria. These are not ideological contributions but constraints, new lines of demarcation supposed to define what is or is not Maoist.
Indeed, the principally Maoists tend to reduce the act of making revolution to a more and more circumscribed template: reconstitute a militarized communist party by waging armed struggle as a secondary form of struggle, build a party, an army and a united front in a concentric way, initiate a protracted people’s war, gradually liberate base areas, develop a guiding thought and have a great leader, etc. Every one of these things is viewed as a principle. The field of action of communists is thus dramatically reduced and is confined to this pre-constructed template, and everything that doesn’t conform to it is considered revisionist. [xvii]
This is where the epistemological inversion happens: the criterion of truth ceases to be practice, the real progression of revolutionary struggle, and becomes adherence to this pre-constructed template, which is by essence an idea.
For the principally Maoists, the practice of those who follow their template is necessarily correct whereas the practice of those who don’t is necessarily erroneous. This is what has allowed them to build up their international network so fast: no need to investigate in depth in order to see who, among communist and national liberation organizations, is most able to advance class struggle in a given country. It is enough for them to find a handful of individuals willing to embrace their template and proclaim them the vanguard! This is easy, since the criterion to be designated as the vanguard is no longer the fact of being a material force, but simply to adhere to their ideas.
This is not without resemblance to the many trotskyite “internationals” who also substitute complex and ideal revolutionary templates to practice as a criterion of truth. Simply here, rather than rejecting real revolutionary experiences under the pretext that they don’t correspond to “permanent revolution”, they are rejected because they do not correspond to “party militarization and concentric construction”.
Contrary to what their declarations seem to purport, none of the small organizations in Europe and the United States, whatever good intentions they may have, are significant forces in the politics of their countries nor even on the path of becoming such forces. Besides, none of them, despite their verbal radicalism, really applies the notions promoted by the CPB(RF) as to the need to militarize the party during the constitution/reconstitution process by initiating armed action. All, without exception, are engaged in a phase of “peaceful accumulation of forces” (except if we now need to consider graffiti and demonstrations as armed actions). Of course, this is not considered as a major problem for the principally Maoists, since the criterion of truth is no longer located in reality but in the realm of ideas.
5. Some remarks on the notion of “peaceful accumulation of forces”
Among the polemics surrounding the principally Maoists, a particular notion often appears: the opposition to “peaceful accumulation of forces” or, in other words, to the insurrectionist scheme. For the principally Maoists, but also for other organizations self-identified with Maoism, the fact of initiating armed struggle in an early phase of struggle is a way to avoid revisionism: by organizing for actions of this type, parties are implied to be forced to organize clandestinely and to be less likely to dissolve themselves into legal and reformist forms of struggle. In the light of the last few decades of struggle and considering the universal failure of the European experiences in armed propaganda, we think that this thesis, which contains a kernel of truth, demands some nuances since it did not succeed in protecting organizations which upheld it from falling into revisionism or liquidating themselves.
It is true, as the CPB(RF) says, that there is a particularly marked tendency for parties engaged in mainly legal forms of struggle to completely dissolve themselves in these forms of struggle and to fall into “revisionist organizations, methods and style”. However, the fact of initiating armed actions is not by itself sufficient to counter revisionism: we can think for instance of the FMLN, the FARC or even of the majority of the PCP that liquidated itself into MOVADEF. Moreover, organizations that reject peaceful accumulation of forces on the theoretical level often apply it in practice: this is the case of the PCR-RCP, but also as we have seen that of the many small European organizations in the principally Maoist network.
The fact of initiating armed action can certainly influence the internal development of the Party. But it will never suffice to make it fundamentally revolutionary. Chairman Mao teaches us:
“The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes. Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism.” [xviii]
Fundamentally it is not the struggle waged by the Party that protects it from revisionism, but the struggle waged in the Party, the line struggle. It is then the expression of this internal struggle that echos itself in actions that will, or will not, therefore be revolutionary. More often than not, initiating armed actions early is indeed correct for the revolutionary movement. However it is not the armed form of such actions, in itself, that makes them correct but the very fact that they are appropriate actions for advancing in the revolutionary struggle in a given situation. In other words, it is not armed action that produces anti-revisionism but anti-revisionism that produces armed action. War is politics continued by other means: there is a revisionist way of making war, just as there are revisionist ways of implementing any given type of political action.
What is fundamental to preserve the revolutionary character of an organization is not to lead this or that type of action, but to preserve the revolutionary leadership, that is to say the leadership that allows it to advance in any way possible towards communism (in feudal or capitalist society, towards the seizure of power, in socialist society towards the abolition of social classes). The criterion of truth is indeed practice, but the criterion for deciding on the correctness of this practice is its ability to make society move forward towards communism and not its correspondence with forms of action used by the revolutionary movement in the past and which have accomplished this task in their own context.
We believe that the fundamental principle which differentiates the Maoist conception from the insurrectionist conception of “peaceful accumulation of forces” is not that a revolutionary party must necessarily build itself, in the earliest stages of struggle, in armed action: that is merely a particular expression of that principle but it is not the principle itself. The principle is that Maoist parties must not wait for a revolutionary situation to appear spontaneously in their national context, but rather seek to create this revolutionary situation, in other words, that the task of the Maoist party is to transform the objective conditions in which it finds itself. This is what defines a Communist Party as an objective historical force [xix]. To get there, armed struggle is certainly the most plausible way but it is not the only one.
What makes a chess player skilled is not the amount of pieces captured during the game or their capacity to do nice moves, but their capacity to capture the king. In communist action, the only absolute is victory.
6. Line for acting within the International Communist Movement
As a conclusion, we propose four general points of orientation which, in our view, would allow us to develop a correct international line for the Canadian MLM movement:
1. We state without ambiguity that the principally Maoist tendency is a deviation. That being said, at the international level the contradiction remains non-antagonistic. It is thus necessary to lead an explicit line struggle while keeping in mind the objective of working towards unity with the principally Maoists. However, the contradiction can become antagonistic in given national situations. It is necessary to analyze, on a case-by-case basis, the nature of the existing contradictions.
2. The tendency represented by groups such as ILPS or ICOR represents the complete opposite of the principally Maoist tendency: while the latter wants to build a network on a purely ideological basis, to the extent of slipping into idealism, the ILPS / ICOR tendency wishes to build a network almost exclusively on the basis of the material interest of the movement. Seeing the state of weakness of the communist movement, it aims to rapidly straighten it out and reestablish its ability to influence reality. This tendency has the merit of concentrating on the real construction of the movement while avoiding abstract ideological disputes that end up harming rather than helping the struggle. However, it tends at the same time to avoid leading necessary struggles of principle and fails to position itself firmly against opportunism. Losing sight of ideology in order to focus on the immediate progression of the movement is a form of economism in the international line: in the last instance, the contradiction between the correctness of the ideological line and the material progression of the movement tends to resolve itself and gains won by neglecting ideology can be lost. Therefore, it is sometimes possible, indeed necessary, to use tactics such as those of ILPS or ICOR, but this should not be seen as the only nor the principal aspect of our international line.
3. Building international correspondence between the most ideologically advanced forces, those that are firmly anchored in MLM, is therefore entirely correct. This would, in the long run, allow the creation an embryo that might become a true communist international. The problem with the principally Maoists is their over-evaluation of what such a network represents: regrouping organizations with similar views is one step, but it is also necessary that these organizations transform themselves into material forces able to truly bring their weight to bear on world politics. The existing networks, whether that of the principally Maoists or that around Maoist Road, are still very far from having the necessary prerequisites for becoming a new international center, or even an embryo of such a center. However, between the two, it is the Maoist Road network that seems to have the most materialist understanding of itself. A communist organization in Canada should therefore contribute to this initiative to the extent to which it is possible.
4. A central aspect, which should probably be considered as the principal aspect of our international line, is the development of various types of bilateral, multilateral and regional alliances. For the Canadian revolutionaries, this means I. Building the united front with national liberation organizations of the oppressed nations within Canada; II. Developing an ideological, political and organizational collaboration with the other MLM organizations in North America, particularly in the USA and III. Building alliances with national liberation organizations of oppressed nations in North America, particularly in the USA.
[i] This text uses “we” for aesthetic reasons. It is to be understood as an individual contribution, not that of any organization.
[ii] Communist Party of Peru, “The General Political Line”, Fourth Sword Publications, p. 89
[iii]. The english translation quotes are from the English version published on the Dem Volke Dienen site.
[iv] Andy Belisario, “On the so called Universality of Protracted People’s War”
[v] Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, « Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism! »
[vi] Communist Party of Peru, “Fundamental documents”.
[vii] This party and the organization that preceded it, Action Socialiste, have produced three main articles defending this hypothesis: “The Communist Party Must Lead the Revolutionary War in the Imperialist Countries!” (2000), “Protracted people’s war is the only way to make revolution” (2002) and “Les bases urbaines du maoïsme” (2005 – available in french only as far as we know). However the PCR-RCP’s vision of PPW is fundamentally different from the principally Maoist view insofar as it posits PPW only as a military strategy for taking power. When we talk of the universality of PPW in this text, we are referring to the ideas promoted by the principally Maoists, not those defended by the PCR-RCP which merit independent evaluation.
[viii] Communist Party of Brazil (Red Faction), “People’s war and revolution”.
[ix] In “Lenin and the militarized communist party”
[x] We encourage the reader to go back to the article by Andy Belisario of the NDFP, “On the so-called universality of Protracted People’s War”.
[xi] Our friend Joshua Moufawad-Paul might here speak of “Continuity and rupture”. This philosopher has also provided a more nuanced and materialist defense of the universality of PPW in chapter 6 of the book of the same name.
[xii] Mao Zedong, “Problems of strategy in China’s revolutionary war”.
[xiii] Communist Party of Peru, “Fundamental documents”.
[xiv] From “Interview with chairman Gonzalo”, first published in El Diario.
[xv] Iskra, “ Le maoïsme tel qu’en lui-même : contre l’idéalisme du courant « principalement maoïste”, only available in French as far as we know. Extract translated by Ligne de masse.
[xvi] Ajith, “The Maoist Party”.
[xvii] Let us note here that this template is not built on any real experience. The Communist Party of Peru, so praised by the principally Maoists, was itself formed in a peaceful accumulation of forces from 1970 to 1982 and militarized itself only a short while before the start of the people’s war.
[xviii] Mao Zedong, “On contradiction”.
[xix] This idea is strongly inspired by a passage from the article “On infantile internet disorders and real questions of revolutionary strategy: a response to the “debate” over the universality of protracted people’s war”, published by comrades from the journal Kites.