The Three-Headed Beast: Regional and the Whole

JMP, in his latest response, provides the reader with a good summary of our argument which simply is: 1) the first exchange is about the parameters of MLM; 2) the second set of responses is about MLM as a science and the concept’s relationship to science; and in his last response argues that there are basically four conceptual areas of Mao’s contributions under which we can group his conceptual insights:

1. Analysis of class and nation in peripheral capitalist formations

2. The “sinification” of Marxism

3. Culture and the Cultural Revolution

4. Mass-line rather than commandism

I will only quibble with the last parameters of the last three categories insofar that I think that they can be broadened in a way that allows for different modes of articulation. The attention to articulation arises directly from what JMP calls “peripheral”; the term peripheral here is not derogatory, but rather recognizes complicated relationships between regional and whole and the need for creative development. Indeed, Mao’s major insight, although not singularly unique to Mao, was the need for a proper dialectical understanding between regional (this could be geographical in one instance) articulations to the whole social formation. This effectively displaces our very construction of Marxism from simply a classic European (Germany, France, Britain) articulation, to a peripheral European (Russian, Eastern European) articulation, to a non-European Asian (Chinese in this case) articulation. Thus, we could reformulate his categories as:

2. The regionalization of Marxism

3. Revolution in different levels of social formation (culture is but one level)

4. Relationship between particularity and universal

Each of these categories as JMP points out, within Mao’s articulation, is “sinification”, “cultural revolution” and “mass line”. Mao recognizes that no revolution can be an identical copy of another revolution (I am thinking of in particular the 28 Bolsheviks faction within the CPC that demanded a blind adherence to a particular revolutionary strategy utilized in Russia)  due to the particular regional articulation of the contradictions that it experiences requires a series of concepts. Indeed, Lars Lih argues that Lenin’s rearticulation of the Party-form is a regionalization of the German SPD form (see Lars Lih (2008), Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context, Chicago: Haymarket Books).

I will briefly and quickly run through these four categories using the example of China and articulate how Mao’s develops concepts that are applicable in his regional articulation (yet also because of their scientific nature also have an universal application, although any other region must creatively apply these as well). In the case of JMP’s 1st category requires the concept, “semi-feudal semi-colonial” in which China connects to the larger capitalist social formation through relationships between comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie and imperialist bourgeoisie on the national-international level, and feudal mode of production in the countryside with a capitalist mode of production in the urban structure (effectively a breakdown of the regional articulations within the geographical regional entity that is China). However, we must simultaneously recognize the regional sub-divisions based on nation within what is considered “China” (Tibet for example) which have their own contradictions and must deal with their own contradictions correctly (thus, the need for a national liberation movement on Tibet that does not take recourse to Lhamaist feudal nationalism – so a possible topic of study in the future could be the subsumption of the Tibetan Communist Party under the CPC). The international dimension of this is Mao’s recognition that the Comintern’s practice of developing revolutionary strategy and directives from Moscow was unable to fully grasp the regional complexities experienced by regional Communist parties and any suggestion made were being refracted through the Russian experience solely, which resulted in disaster). This led to Mao not rebuilding a Maoist Comintern and imagining party-to-party, state-to-state relationships in different ways then his Soviet counterparts.

The 2nd category requires Mao to develop a strategy for non-European societies that takes into account the peasantry in China. Thus, there is a need to reconsider a revolutionary strategy that is able to mobilize the peasantry and the working class alike in a class alliance which is under the leadership of the proletariat: “protracted people’s war” (the universal applicability of this concept and revolutionary strategy has been hotly debated and whilst I do believe that it is a universal concept this must be fully articulated elsewhere and with attention paid to regional articulation) i.e. the development of red base areas, which then enables the spread of red power and hegemony through the countryside and preliminary land reform, which leads to encirclement of the cities and the uprising of the proletariat to capture State-power.

The 3rd category of levels of social formation is a little bit more complicated. Economy, State and culture are but levels that comprise the social formation in which we are situated. Lenin was able to effectively intervene in the first two, but was not able to deal with the third. In the context of China, Mao recognized that bureaucratic culture, like that in the USSR, was trying to lead China on a revisionist road and that this bureaucratic culture was mired in Chinese imperial Mandarin culture which led to The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the concept, “cultural revolution”. The GPCR was comprised of different elements of cultural revolutionary activity including the anti-Confucianism campaign, the development of revolutionary culture and arts, and the introduction of free debate like the big poster campaigns (which were in themselves an enriched form of the Hundred Flowers Campaign). But, this is also re-examined the ways in which inner-party culture was being developed in which inner-party debate was being stifled due to commandism and thus required the development of extra-party organizations like the Red Guards and the revolutionary committees. Thus, Mao introduces the important concepts, “two-line struggle” and “self-criticism” (unity-struggle-transformation).

4th category: Mao’s development of the relationship between particularity and universal is of the utmost importance to everyday practice. Mao here introduces the concept of the ‘mass line’. This concept attempts to reconceive the relationship between the Party and the masses in a unique way, which is a shift away from the conventional ‘bring the light’ formulation that characterizes the German SPD and the Russian SDLP (better known as the CPSU(B)). This formulation is simply ‘from the masses, to the masses’ in which the Party learns from and teaches the masses, and is able to deal with the particular contradictions experienced by the masses, whilst consistently pushing them to grasp the universal. Thus, whilst organizing landless peasants into peasant organizations that are capturing and redistributing land, changing their consciousness to become revolutionaries for socialism. However, this also changes the Party as the peasantry and working-class themselves have much to teach the Party in how to behave, how to think and how to deal with contradictions and problems. It is here that we are also provided an insight into Mao’s epistemology which argues that without investigation one cannot speak.

Indeed, it is only once that we have grasped the importance of the overall dialectic between regional and whole can we understand Maoist philosophy and can we enrich our practice. Unfortunately in the years after Mao’s death this profound insight has been lost and there has been a retrenching of Mao’s dynamic concepts into a stagnant static form. I will now turn it over to JMP at M-L-M Mayhem! for his next intervention.

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5 thoughts on “The Three-Headed Beast: Regional and the Whole

  1. You’re clarification on the last one helped immensely, thank you!

    I’m a bit lost at what it means to be a protracted people’s war outside of China and similar geographical regions, if it is indeed universal. I can think of a few oppressed island nations, or island populated by slavery where there isn’t much of a countryside to speak of. Alternatively, I turn my eyes to frostier capitalist settler states. Weird population distrbutions have left a dozen cities or so crammed in between large lakes, and no countryside. Or the areas are vast and barren except for few and far-between small cities.

    I would be just as happy with a referral for this one, rather than a clarification, as I’m not aware of any writing on PPW in particular geographies. Thanks!

    1. The argument that some make (for example the RCP(Canada), the Maoist Party of France, the Maoist Party of Italy, and the (New)Communist Party of Italy) is that PPW is still applicable in the case of largely urbanized countries like those in North America and Europe, however, the method in which that PPW is carried out and organised is going to be different and is regionally localizable. Thus, there will be no encirclement of the cities and the formation of rural red base areas from which to make attacks, indeed those are specific to semi-feudal semi-colonial countries, but rather an emphasis on urban PPW and urban red base areas (what in Italy was called “red power”). This tradition draws inspiration from the fighting communist experience in the 1970’s, whilst making substantial critiques of urban focoism and political-military organisations, especially in regards to the lack of politics in command and the simultaneous practice of mass line.

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