Ignite-MLM will be a mass organization, guided by the proletarian class thought of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, which will seek to bring to the masses the task of building a Maoist Communist Party of the proletariat and the people.
What is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM)?
MLM prescribes an orientation to history in which the universality of the past is not referable to a model to be copied, but rather is formed in the actual conjuncture in which we practice its lessons. Because the universality of the past is formed in the particularity of the present, history is not an undifferentiated totality of unordered elements. Thus, to be a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist is not to ‘add up’ the achievements of Marx, Lenin and Mao. Rather, MLM draws out lessons, in the form of ruptures, from the practical experience of the proletariat and the people, concentrated in the events of the Paris Commune, the October Revolution and the Chinese Revolution, in particular the sequence of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In the uniform cloth of history, these events constitute knots of accumulated and intensified contradictions. As Lenin clearly understood, there is no universal ‘exchange of equivalents’ between such events. The knot is what makes the place that it occupies a genuine place—irreducible to any other place—from which it can exercise its power. Such nodal points actively orient our own practice in the current political conjuncture. MLM is the political synthesis of the revolutionary experiences of the masses, seized in the form of a discontinuous series of historical events with the organizing class knowledge of the proletariat.
What are the universal lessons and breaks of MLM? How is the antagonistic contradiction bourgeoisie / proletariat transformed in each of the historical events to which MLM refers?
In a famous 1852 letter to Weydemeyer, Marx summed up his own contribution to proletarian class thought as the attempt “1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”[i] The triple thesis of Marx is the following: class struggle finds its essence in relations of production; these relations in turn find their essence in the political field they open up, the dictatorship of the proletariat; the dictatorship of the proletariat in turn finds its essence in its own extinction by stages. Through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle is inscribed in the finality of a society without a state—that is, a society without classes. This communist finality constitutes the proletariat as a class in the political sense.
The Leninist rupture begins with a reactivation of a thesis Marx developed through the experience of the Paris Commune. In his April 1871 letter to Kugelmann on the Paris Commune, Marx wrote: “I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting.”[ii] The smashing of the bourgeois state apparatus and its replacement by a proletarian state apparatus was the main positive lesson that Lenin drew from the experience of the Paris Commune. In 1871, the commune state was itself quickly smashed. In What is to Be Done?, Lenin invents the organized and subjective apparatus of the proletarian party in order to master what the Paris Commune could not master: the reproduction of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The party is an organized instrument of professional militants whose object is the seizure and maintenance of state power.
However, the Leninist party poses new problems. Before the revolution, there exists a situation of dual power embodied in the organized party of the proletariat and the bourgeois state. After the victory of the revolution, the party is sutured to the (proletarian) state. How, then, do we proceed to a society without a state?
This question of the splitting of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the problem addressed by the Maoist break: on the one hand, the proletarian dictatorship (= the political class domination of the proletariat), if reinforced by an increasing identification of the party with the proletarian state apparatus, leads us back to the restoration of capitalism through the formation of a bureaucratic bourgeoisie; on the other hand, if it is extinguished in stages, we find ourselves on the road to communism. In the epoch of the Cultural Revolution—and we are still in that epoch, living and practicing the universal lessons of the Cultural Revolution and addressing the contradictions it was itself unable to resolve—the political is exhausted neither by the organized party of the proletariat nor by the state. Maoism represents a return to the mass perspective—a perspective on the present from the standpoint of the future communist society.
What is the content of the relationship between the broad masses (and mass organizations) and the class party of the proletariat in the epoch of Maoism?
This question must be grasped as a problem whose genealogy is a series of divisions: what divides Marxism from utopian socialism is that Marxism is bound up with the question of organized knowledge; what divides Leninism from the Marxism of the nineteenth century is that the Leninist party is conceived as the means of bringing class consciousness to the masses in order to organize the taking of state power through revolution; what divides Maoism from Leninism is that the political organization of the Maoist party must be principally understood as the systematization of the dispersed—but ultimately correct—ideas of the masses from the strategic perspective of communism.
The Marxism of Marx and Engels was historically determined as a scientific corrective to the petty bourgeois dreaming of utopian socialists (Fourier, Owen). Marx and Engels recognized that the proletariat was the first class in history able to lead its own revolution because it could scientifically elaborate the class struggle and establish forms of organization capable of transforming social relations of exploitation and domination in order to master them.
For Lenin, the relationship between the party and the masses principally involves penetration of class elements (organized knowledge and politics) into the real mass movement. This formulation holds to the perspective of the seizure of state power through revolution—that is, it remains within the horizon of the socialist transition and the class perspective of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the political logic of Leninism, the party-state reproduces itself indefinitely as the sole repository of science, and organization becomes primarily identified with the iron discipline and structure needed to prevent infiltration from the outside. Everything happens as if the party-state is the maker of history, rather than the masses.
On the contrary, Maoism holds to the mass perspective, in which knowledge is understood to merge tendentially with the direct practice of the masses as we approach the communist future. However, this in turn requires that knowledge be grasped from the start in its dialectical division between the masses (as its practical source and place of deployment) and the class apparatus of the party (as that which concentrates mass ideas in the form of slogans and political directives). Organization here is no longer to be understood primarily as a disciplined state apparatus, but as the systematization of mass ideas in light of class analysis. The spiraling movement of the class-masses dialectic—what Maoists call the mass line—tends towards its own extinction in stages, as the state-form of science merges with mass knowledge.
The mass line is not an instrument (for carrying out effective work, for popularizing Marxism, for integrating oneself among the masses) but is the Maoist name for dialectical materialism, the Marxist theory of knowledge. We must on no account relegate Maoism to the period following the victory of the revolution, as if the proper names ‘Marx,’ ‘Lenin’ and ‘Mao’ designated a path to be followed sequentially in each revolutionary process. We are not Leninists during the revolutionary process and Maoists after the taking of state power. The Maoist rupture extends to all stages along the road to communism, including the revolutionary stage that culminates in the seizure of state power. At this stage, the Maoist strategy of Protracted People’s War (PPW) breaks with the October Road. This is not to be understood in a narrowly empiricist sense: we do not aim to surround the cities from the countryside, and we do not intend to mobilize a (non-existent) US peasantry to become the principal force of the revolution. Against such an empiricism, we hold that it is indeed only the Cultural Revolution that allows us to conceive the universality of PPW as it was practiced and theorized during the revolutionary process that led to the taking of political power by the proletariat in 1949.
Why is Protracted People’s War a universal strategy?
The October Road, which aims at a quantitative accumulation of forces in view of a sudden inversion of places, circumscribes the dialectic within the material limits of relations of political domination. Lenin was well aware that the price to be paid for such an inversion-conception of revolution was nothing less than the becoming of a new bureaucratic bourgeoisie: “As for those who look at the victory over the capitalists in the way that the petty proprietors look at it—‘they grabbed, let me have a go too’—indeed, every one of them is the source of a new generation of bourgeois.”[iii] The limits of the October Road are clearly visible in its Civil War after-life. From the reliance on former detachments of the Tsarist state to the misfortunes that War Communism inflicted upon the peasantry, these limits can be summed up as a lack of confidence in the masses.
In contrast to the October Road, the Maoist strategy of Protracted People’s War is the joining of the following two principles: (1) The primacy of politics over the military: the quantitative weakness (in arms, resources) of the organized proletariat understood in the materialist sense is the premise from which the qualitative strength (political) of the proletariat understood in the dialectical sense proceeds (2) The thesis that revolutionary war is a war of the masses: the resolution of the antagonistic contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat does not culminate in the simple inversion of that contradiction (in which the proletariat comes to exercise state power through a new proletarian state apparatus) but rather prescribes the practical movement that destroys in stages the reality of political domination as such.
Understanding the conjunction of these two principles depends on correctly grasping the relation between the dynamic or dialectical (primary) aspect and the structural or materialist (secondary) aspect of the antagonistic contradiction. Mao writes: “imperialism and all reactionaries, looked at in essence, from a long-term point of view, must be seen for what they are—paper tigers. On this we should build our strategic thinking. On the other hand, they are also living tigers, iron tigers, real tigers, which can devour people. On this we should build our tactical thinking.”[iv] From the dialectical perspective of their historical becoming, the iron tigers are the masses, whose invincible power lies in their differential nature, a power that can never be defeated by a simple technics of violence. Mao writes: “What is the true bastion of iron? It is the masses, the millions upon millions of people who genuinely and sincerely support the revolution. That is the real iron bastion which it is impossible, and absolutely impossible, for any force on earth to smash.”[v] This dialectical sense of the principal aspect of the contradiction provides us with a key to understanding the two central strategic principles of PPW, primacy of politics over the military and the formula that revolutionary war is a war of the masses. If we confine ourselves to tactical thinking—to the crude materialism that assesses political strength by adding up airplanes and tanks—we have already wandered off the communist path and began building a new form of political domination.
To be a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist is in this way to affirm at every stage the strategic perspective of communism, concentrated in the conception of the party as an apparatus whose role is to organize the correct ideas of the masses. We must never substitute the class thought of the party for the unlimited thought of the masses. This constitutes the essential lesson of the GPCR, valid for all stages of the revolutionary process, and in relation to which the two-line struggle within the party must be understood as secondary. Here we must refer to Point Four of the Sixteen-Point Decision, the point that provides the decision with its principle of unity: “In the great proletarian cultural revolution, the only method is for the masses to liberate themselves, and any method of doing things on their behalf must not be used. Trust the masses, rely on them and respect their initiative.”[vi]
It is from this strategic perspective that the New Communist Party (Organizing Committee) calls upon Ignite-MLM to take in hand the task of building a communist party of the proletariat and the people. The building of a party cannot be a matter of subjectively declaring that such a party exists. It is the masses that make history, and the question of party-building must be brought to the broad masses, discussed, creatively applied and the results continuously assessed with a view to rectification and self-criticism. We call upon Ignite-MLM to take up this document and discuss it with a view to implementing the central task of the current conjuncture, that of building a Maoist Communist Party that can lead the masses in a new revolutionary sequence.
LONG LIVE MARXISM-LENINISM-MAOISM!
NEW YORK CITY BRANCH, NCP(OC)
[i] Karl Marx, “Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer,” March 5, 1852, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1989, Volume 39, pages 62-65.
[ii] Karl Marx, “Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann,” April 12, 1871, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1989, Volume 44, pages 131-132.
[iii] V.I. Lenin, “Session of the All-Russia C.E.C.,” in Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, Volume 27, pages 279-313.
[iv] Mao Tsetung, On People’s War, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1967, page 9.
[v] Ibid., 14.
[vi] “Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” in CCP Documents of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: 1966-1967, Union Research Institute, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 1968, page 45.