The Three-Headed Beast: Science and the Concept

I would like to thank JMP for his kind words about my initial response (which you can see here The Three-Headed Beast: inter-blog dialogue continued).  I am going to focus on the key problem (I would like to note that much of this argument is an attempt to use Althusser’s understanding of Marxism as a science and the role of the concept in science – I recognize that JMP is not a huge fan of Althusser so I hope that he bears with me) that he raises which is the question of what I will call ‘internal coherency’ to Maoism, which is the internal sedimentation of past experiences and theories that constitute the theory as ‘cohesive’ at any given moment (must be noted though that this internal coherence in of itself is a contested terrain and is not homogeneous), as compared to an ‘external coherency’ in which Maoism relates to objects and subjects not necessarily within this immediate relation i.e. the application of the ‘internal coherency’ to an external subject-object which can then reshape the internal, when it has been properly appropriated, thus the fundamental problem of Maoism in Imperialist Countries today remains one of ‘external coherency’. JMP notes that the multitude of Trotskyist groupsicles, “do not debate, really, over the overall meaning of this theory. What they do debate is the historical details of this theory and how it is best applied”. Indeed, what JMP here is articulating is the fact that Trotskyists have been unable to develop grasp these new concepts which has rendered it an ideology and not a science. They remain Newtonians in a Quantum Physicists world.

Now one may argue that such a division between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ coherency is too sharp a differentiation and cannot be sustained and I will admit to that. However, I am doing so primarily so that we can retain focus, for now, the parameters of what would be called be an internally consistent Maoism. As JMP asks, “Although I want to suggest that the M-L-M equation is, on one hand, a way to paint a development of theory––and that there are so many interior developments that contribute to what we call M-L-M––I also want to suggest that those of us who call ourselves “Maoist” or “Maoist-influenced” do mean something when we describe ourselves thus”.Although, last time I attempted to discern some parameters of Maoism, I indeed, failed to explain the science as it exists and rushed ahead to the future tasks to ensure that it does not remain stagnant. But how can we proceed to a further enriching if we cannot summarize what we have grasped thus far and clarified some basic underlying propositions of the science.  The science cannot be reduced to these propositions, and recognizes that these propositions will indeed become redundant at the point of saturation (a term that I take from Alain Badiou, whilst disagreeing with Badiou’s own assertion that Maoism has been saturated due to the failure of the GPCR), and that new propositions and concepts will arise from new experiences that will reformulate  the very field of inquiry, however, such a point has yet to occur. Indeed, as JMP writes,

I want to suggest that we use the equation M-L-M because, after Marx, there have been two world historical revolutions that shaped the grounds of theory: the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution. Here we can speak of universal developments of marxist theory because they have universal applicability. The Russian Revolution demonstrated the theory of revolution until the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Chinese Revolution, realizing the shortcomings of the Russian Revolution, claimed that revolution should continue under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Both of these developments are extremely general, and connected to host of other theoretical concepts (and contested spaces), but they do provide a general coherency in which to examine all the interior debates. Lenin and Mao are named, post-Marx, because as Marx (with all of his mistakes) was the first to provide the “concrete analysis of the concrete situation of capitalism,” Lenin and Mao were the concrete theorists of the concrete situations of their respective and earth-shaking revolutions.

What JMP is demonstrating that besides being effective organizers, in the case of Lenin and Mao, they were able to provide a concrete analysis of their situations and develop appropriate theoretical tools by which to grapple with those situations. However, most important both Lenin and Mao to this concrete analysis is their articulation of new concepts that reshape the terrain of the science that explain and point to the concrete contradictions within the working class. Lenin, although operating within tradition of the German SPD, successfully analyzes the concept of ‘spontaneism’ and demonstrates that the ‘vanguard party’ that merges socialism with the working class is a model that is truly operational within moments of severe crisis and is universalism, thus asking how should the party be appropriately applied to new situations and conditions. Furthermore, Lenin’s further analysis of the State and the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (first discussed by Marx) was truly an important contribution in which he tried to develop such a State and was thus had to apprehend a series of new questions. The event that is the Russian Revolution cannot be attributed to Lenin, although many like to see him as the singular leader, as it is the working-class and the Party, of which Lenin was one important leader, were able to intervene into the social formation and become a determining factor. But it is Lenin who was able to see a correct way forward because of his concrete analysis of the social formation and the ability to develop appropriate slogans.

Similarly, Mao introduces a series of concepts that re-shape the terrain of the science for example, “two-line struggle” which in the light of revisionism of the USSR due to the development of a bureaucracy is an attempt to ward off such a bureaucracy in the dictatorship of the proletariat and allow for further revolutionary struggles in the consciousness of the working-class, peasantry and all organs of power and attempts to correctly deal with the contradictions within the masses;  or the concept of “semi-feudal semi-colonial conditions” (initially articulated by José Carlos Mariátegui in Peru) which allowed for a correct analysis of the concrete conditions of the Third World; or the concept of the “Cultural Revolution” which seeked to allow for revolutions to occur in different spheres of the social formation and fundamentally asked what are the next steps of the revolution?; or finally, but not last, the concept of the “Protracted People’s War”, which articulated a new strategy of revolutionary capture of the State, thus posing new questions about the appropriate strategies of how to capture State-power (no longer is revolutionary strategy, as some of our friends would argue, simply reducible to insurrectionism) which are appropriate to the situation.

These concepts like Marx’s concept of ‘labor-power’ or ‘mode of production’ (see Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, for an in-depth analysis of this) which allowed Marxists to have the appropriate tools to analyze the concrete conditions through the prodution of the right questions, similarly, Lenin and Mao have developed such concepts. Thus, Leninism, as is Maoism, are internally coherent as the provide concepts that are able to clearly articulate the situation which they face and are able to provide coherent answers for the path forward. It is indeed true that comrades since then like Althusser, Amin, Prachanda etc have contributed new concepts these seem to better address the questions that are necesarily posed by Marx, Lenin and Mao, but they do not fundamentally re-shape the terrain of the debate and thus cannot be raised to the level (although the Nepalese have argued that their concept of ‘merger thesis’ and ‘multi-party democracy’ are such concepts and thus Prachanda’s thought consitutes a new universalism, I would recommend that interested people read the Open Letter to Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which responds to these claims). However, as I said earlier this reading remains extremely hermeneutically sealed for the purpose of this essay, whereas Lenin and Mao where themselves a sedimentation of past experiences and debates and were thus capable of finding answers to problems yet not asked, thus demanding new questions. Indeed, I argue that contend that we remain Maoists as we have yet to encounter an intellectual-activist that is able to provide new answers which reformulates the fundamental terrain. Instead, the theorists I have mentioned thus far have only developed certain concepts or applied Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to their own concrete conditions.

I now turn it over to JMP at M-L-M Mayhem! to respond.


2 thoughts on “The Three-Headed Beast: Science and the Concept

  1. I was reading through the three headed beast and ran into roadblock. I’m a bit fuzzy on this internal external stuff in the first paragraph.


    The key problem that he raises which is the question of what I will call ‘internal coherency’ to Maoism,
    which is the internal sedimentation of past experiences and theories that constitute the theory as ‘cohesive’ at any given moment

    as compared to an ‘external coherency’
    in which Maoism relates to objects and subjects not necessarily within this immediate relation

    i.e. the application of the ‘internal coherency’ to an external subject-object which can then reshape the internal, when it has been properly appropriated, thus the fundamental problem of Maoism in Imperialist Countries today remains one of ‘external coherency’.

    So the key problem is internal coherency rather than external coherency. I think I’m ok on the defintion of internal consistency and external consistency. I’m having trouble with the “problem” part, of “The Problem is one of internal consistency. Are we asking “Is maoism cohesive at this moment?” or “is maoism internally consistent as a result of it’s cohesiveness at this moment?”

    1. Hi Chuck,
      Thanks so much for commenting on the blog and asking the question. I apologise for the high-Althusserian jargon (I had been re-reading a lot of Althusser at the time) which definitely makes the entire post a little bit more confusing than necessary. What I am trying to say here is that the key problem we as Maoists actually face today is, and I admit that this is very schematic, to actually 1) have a Maoist theory that has fully appropriated theoretical insights from the most rigorous and scientific Marxist and non-Marxist theorists (so in my case I would argue that includes the work of people like Bettelheim, Althusser, Pecheux, but also contemporary scientists and insights etc); 2) having incorporated these elements the theory, the theory will need to be made actually theoretical internally coherent because there will be contradictions that need to be resolved; and 3) this making coherent will force a summation of the experiences of the communism thus far (1st international, 2nd international etc), the armed left (60’s, 70’s and 80’s in the USA, Japan, Germany etc) and Maoist movements around the world (Peru, Turkey, India and Nepal for sure, but also some of the stillborn ones is important). Hopefully, whilst doing this we will also uncover forgotten theorists, pamphlets and avenues (which is always exciting).

      However, I would like to note that this is still Maoism, it is only through a resulting rupture in practice (the actual further advancement in the socialist revolution i.e. resolving the problems that were experienced during the GPCR) that can we actually argue that we have passed to a new stage so Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-? (this I feel relates to perhaps the seeming contradiction between what I seem to be demanding here, and the claims of the Avakianists which I am currently dealing with). This notion of practice and its capacity to successfully engage with the world is the idea of external coherency in which we then use this theoretical model to understand and act on the situation, which will inevitably then forces us again to rethink the elements and make different theoretical and hence political choices. I would like to make it clear that I do not think we should simply read theory, construct our theoretical model and then apply it to the world to achieve external coherency, but rather, we should always be studying and doing political practice, and realising that our engagement in political practice is always impacting and impacted by our study (or the lack thereof).

      I apologise if this does not help any.

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