This is the second post in a series that will examine and comment on K.N. Ramachandran’s recently published article, “Our Differences with the Maoist Trend: Genesis and Present Contradictions”. Part 1 is available here and discusses the history of the Indian Maoist movement from 1972 till the mid-1990’s. In this post I will deal with the second part of the essay entitled, “Mao Tsetung Thought or Maoism?” This debate of course has been a long-running one with a number of organisations/parties refusing to accept Maoism, and continuing to adhere to Mao Zedong Thought.
Mao Tsetung Thought or Maoism?
BUT its merger with the Maoist Communist Center (MCC) and formation of CPI (Maoist) led to its 2004 Congress adopting more dogmatic positions, including the acceptance of Maoism in place of Mao Tsetung Thought, as its ideological guideline. The differences between these two concepts are basic. According to the understanding upheld by the Marxist-Leninist forces, Mao developed the theory and practice of People’s Democratic Revolution based on the teachings of the Communist International and applied it in the concrete conditions of China successfully. Mao later led the socialist revolution in China in the concrete conditions there. During the course of his long revolutionary practice, he developed the understanding about the dialectical approach towards Contradictions in a given situation. He developed the ideological-political struggle against the capitalist roaders who had usurped power in Soviet Union through the Great Debate documents, and in the course of the struggle against the capitalist roaders within the CPC developed the concept of Cultural Revolution, the theory and practice of developing class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat, based on the Marxist-Leninist teachings. The Cultural Revolution had reached a peak by 1967 with the removal of Liu Shaochi and Deng Tsiaoping from all positions of authority and people’s communes as centers of people’s political power were coming up all over China challenging the authority of the capitalist roaders.
It is by summing up these contributions of Mao, the Marxist-Leninist stream which had emerged at the international level in the course of struggle against the capitalist roaders who had usurped power in socialist Soviet Union and degenerated it to a social imperialist power, colluding and contending with US imperialism for world hegemony, had put forward Mao Tsetung Thought as their guiding ideology.
But with the publication of the book: Long Live the victory of People’s War, by Lin Biao in 1966, a sectarian line started coming to dominance in China, which was ‘waving the red flag to destroy the red flag’. While claiming to uphold Cultural Revolution, it suppressed the mass upsurge developing as a part of it based on Mao’s call, using the military. In the course of the tortuous class struggle developing in this period, the correctness of the Leninist teaching that the right and left deviations are two sides of the same coin and both ultimately serve the imperialists and their lackeys was being proved once again.
K.N. Ramachandran correctly identifies the correct practice of Mao Zedong in China, and the important role that Mao Zedong played in the revolutionary movement. Indeed, few can be dismissive of the role that Mao Zedong played in the revolutionary movement in China, and those who do are either plagued with dogmatism or sectarianism. However, there is something insidious in his statement which is not readily apparent to the reader. It took me a little while to figure out what exactly troubled me about his statement, but reading these paragraphs 2-3 times I think I have identified the problem. K.N. Ramachandran does not fully appreciate the contributions that Mao Zedong made to Marxist-Leninist theory and practice, and in fact minimises them. JMP from M-L-M Mayhem! and I had a long series of posts entitled, “The Three-Headed Beast” (which have now been nicely archived for all to read) that attempts to more fully delineate some of these theoretical contributions (I also recommend people read Bob Avakian’s “The Immortal Contributions of Mao Zedong”, which despite his recent collapse into a morass of idealism was a good book, and the 1993 RIM document entitled, “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”). If one carefully reads K.N. Ramachandran’s statement Mao Zedong simply enriched the theory of people’s democratic revolution as taught by the Comintern, pushed forward the ideological-political struggle against the revisionists in the USSR and China, and the “Cultural Revolution” was the only truly novel concept that Mao had. Nowhere does he mention Mao’s contributions like the concept of ‘protracted people’s war’, the nascent new class analysis of socialist societies which is intrinsically tied to a richer and deeper understanding of revisionism, the notion of ‘mass line’ etc. Mao, for K.N. Ramachandran, is simply standing on the shoulders of giants, but is not a giant himself. Indeed, thus Mao Zedong’s contributions remain that of a ‘Thought’, rather than an ‘-ism’. Mao Zedong’s contributions, whilst important, are not of the same qualitative value as those of Marx or Lenin. I full-heartedly agree with K.N. Ramachandran that the high water mark for the Cultural Revolution was 1967 with the development of the mass movement, the formation of people’s communes (as imperfect as they were) and the formal removal of Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi and other capitalist roaders from their positions in the CPC. And I definitely do agree that the Lin Biao line, which over-emphasised the role of the military and suppressed the mass movement at the orders of Mao Zedong himself was an left deviationist line, and needed to be combatted.
This book characterized the state and society in all Asian, African and Latin American countries as semi-colonial, semi-feudal, similar to pre-revolutionary China. It started advocating that the era of Leninism, the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution which was upheld by the Marxist-Leninist forces until then is over, and a new era of ‘total collapse of imperialism and worldwide victory of socialism’ had emerged, with Mao Tsetung Thought as the Marxism-Leninism of the new era. The Chinese Path of people’s war, which Mao and the CPC leaders had repeatedly explained till then as a practice developed in the unique conditions of China was put forward as the strategic line applicable for all these countries. Following Naxalbari Uprising, the Beijing Daily published the article: Spring Thunder over India advocating this line.
While this article gave tremendous enthusiasm to the Communist Revolutionaries (CRs) in India who were fighting against the neo-revisionist line of the CPI(M) leadership, it contained an approach which negated the concrete conditions developing in the Asian-African-Latin American countries under neo-colonization imposed by the US led imperialist camp after the Second World War. Refusing to make a concrete analysis of Indian situation, it was mechanically followed by all sections of the CRs in India. In the 9th Congress of the CPC in 1969, this sectarian, left adventurist line of Lin Biao came to dominance in China as reflected in the basic documents adopted by the Congress. In the Constitution of the CPC, Lin Biao was upheld as the heir to Mao also. Under the sway of this adventurist line, all sorts of formulations like ‘armed struggle as the only form of struggle’, ‘class/mass organizations are highways to revisionism’, ‘the more you read the more foolish you become’ etc emerged, leading to the set backs and disintegration of the newly emerging ML movement all over the world within a very short time.
The 10th Congress of the CPC in 1973 rejected these formulations. But the centrists led by Chou Enlai who had come to dominance by this time did not put forward any analysis about how such an adventurist line come could to dominance, since they also had played a role in the suppression of the people’s upsurge against the capitalist roaders along with the Lin Biaoists. They soon opened the way for the return of the capitalist roaders to positions of power also. Using these developments as a pretext, a handful of the ‘Lin Biaoists’, who are mainly surviving in Bengal under the leadership of Mahadev Mukherjee and few others had rejected the 10th Congress, and upheld the 9th Congress of the CPC, and advocated the new era theory. But they were also still upholding Mao Thought.
I do not have major objections to K.N. Ramachandran’s grievances with the Lin Biao line. Indeed, I think that the line that Lin Biao advocates in the document is wrong and had disastrous effects on the movement, especially the idea of global people’s war. However, I think one should be clear for clarity’s sake that Lin Biao does not argue in this document that this is an era of the total collapse of imperialism (at least I cannot find such a statement in the version of the pamphlet I consulted). Rather, Lin Biao argues that the October Revolution and the Chinese Revolution marked the beginning of a new era for oppressed countries as the world balance of forces had changed. Lin Biao writes, “The victory of the Chinese people’s revolutionary war breached the imperialist front in the East, wrought a great change in the world balance of forces, and accelerated the revolutionary movement among the people of all countries. From then on, the national liberation movement in Asia, Africa, and Latin America entered a new historical period.” Lin Biao was correct in that the Chinese Revolution did open up a new historical period (note: not era) that changed the balance of forces for oppressed people’s around the world through the provisioning of material and ideological support, especially in light of the USSR’s social imperialism and political-ideological revisionism. Furthermore, Lin Biao ends his pamphlet with a much more provisional statement than what K.N. Ramachandran suggests, Lin Biao writes, “it is possible that the whole structure of imperialism will collapse”. This is a qualitatively different statement than the one that K.N. Ramachandran attributes to Lin Biao in the context of this document. Furthermore, K.N. Ramachandran argues that that Lin Biao argued that the countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia were “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” which negated the particular conditions of their own countries [this all part and parcel of K.N. Ramachandran’s argument that semi-colonialism no longer exists and has been replaced by neo-colonialism, which I will not deal with here as I have not read the new book that his faction has produced on the question, and will thus overlook the accusations that K.N. Ramachandran makes about the applicability of this formulation to Indian conditions and the blind obedience of communist revolutionaries in India to this formulation]. However, Lin Biao in the document does not make such a strong statement and argues, “The basic political and economic conditions in many of these countries have many similarities to those that prevailed in old China. As in China, the peasant question is extremely important in these regions. The peasants constitute the main force of the national-democratic revolution against the imperialists and their lackeys.” Indeed, no where does he say that these conditions exist in all countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, and instead argues that they share similarities especially in regards to the role of the peasantry in the revolutionary struggle. However, it is true that Lin Biao’s line resulted in the development of an erroneous line in the revolutionary movement in India in which comrades eschewed study, or the need for mass organisations etc. I have no issues with the last paragraph quoted above.
Internationally it was Gonzalos, the chairman of the Communist Party of Peru, known as the Shining Light, who had put forward Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and Gonzalos Thought as its guiding ideology in early 1980s. The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), formed in 1984, soon adopted Maoism as its guiding ideology. But in India the ‘credit’ for upholding Maoism for the first time goes to the Maoist Communist Center (MCC), ardent followers of the 1969 CPC line. This sectarian concept was adopted by PWG and PU, it seems, as a sacrifice for their unity with MCC. In Latin America, though some ML organizations uphold the concept ‘Maoism’, their explanations show that they do not accept the RIM’s line of explanation about it.
In short, Maoism, as advocated by the CPI (Maoist), is nothing but an aberration, a deviation from the basic understanding about Marxism-Leninism. Presently, UCPN (Maoist) of Nepal, in spite of still upholding Maoism in name, has basically changed its practice and has criticized the CPI (Maoist) for its sectarian line. Again, it is reported that because of the sectarian approach of the ‘front organizations’ of CPI (Maoist), they are now expelled from the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) led by the Communist Party of Philippines, which is also upholding Maoism, but practicing mass line to a great extent. With the considerable weakening of the RIM and its constituents, presently the CPI (Maoist) has become the main flag bearer of this sectarian concept.
It is indeed true that the formulation of “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” came from the Peruvian Communist Party, under the leadership of Abimael Guzmán, and that it was at the insistence of the PCP that the RIM adopted Maoism as the third stage of Marxism-Leninism. I am not sure which Latin American organisations K.N Ramachandran has in mind, but would be interested in reading their ideological documents. However, K.N. Ramachandran is wrong to suggest that the Maoist Communist Centre’s use of Maoism was that of the 1969 Lin Biaoist variety. Indeed, in 2003 when the Maoist Communist Centre of India merged with the CPI(ML)[2nd CC] [a pro-Lin Biaoist organisation], the CPI(ML)[2nd CC] was required to withdraw their support for Lin Biao as an ideological condition for the merger. If indeed the MCC was an ardent supporter of Lin Biao, and the merger with CPI(ML)[People’s War] was based on the opportunistic appropriation of this Lin Biaoist line, then why did the MCCI make such a demand? Furthermore, K.N. Ramachandran, perhaps opportunistically, assumes that his readers will simply assume that the MCC’s line since 1969 was “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” because of their name and do not have access to documents of this erstwhile organisation. However, if a reader simply looks at the 1996 “Note for the Readers” which was attached to their publication “Red Star” Special Issue 2 in which they republish 2 1969 documents from Dakshin Desh they clearly write that, “Mao-Tse-Tung Thought is the Marxism-Leninism of the present era” and never use the formulation Maoism in the 1969 documents. I would hazard to guess that the MCC only adopted Maoism as their ideological line after they had joined the RIM. Furthermore, in the issue of the internal theoretical magazine of the CPI(Maoist) issued immediately after the merger of the CPI(ML)[PW] and MCCI, the organisation explains that the CPI(ML)[PW] had already basically accepted Maoism in practice and ideological, and that the change in ideological terms reflected this fact. Thus, it was not a case of opportunism but rather, the acknowledgement that the CPI(ML)[PW] had already come to understand, unlike K.N. Ramachandran, the full scope of Mao Zedong’s contributions to theory and practice.
I do not know what criticisms by the UCPN(Maoist) K.N. Ramachandran is referring to, but must note that it is not extraordinary that the relationship between the UCPN(Maoist) and the CPI(Maoist) have become tense in the context of the current developments in Nepal. Furthermore, it seems to me that K.N. Ramachandran here is endorsing the Bhattarai line, which he seems to approve of, which is quite interesting and perhaps should serve as a note of caution to his own supporters. Regarding the case of the ILPS, I do not think one can simply blame the split on the ILPS on the CPI(Maoist) and its “front organisations”, and think that one should take seriously the concerns that G.N. Saibaba and others (most of whom are not Maoist in any case) had regarding the functioning of the ILPS (to read the documents of the split please find them here). It seems that K.N. Ramachandran is opportunistically using the split in the ILPS to decry the CPI(Maoist), once again, for sectarianism, which has become a running canard of his and one that he has used as a narrative device through out this article. Finally it is true that with the demise of the RIM and the troubling developments in Nepal, the CPI(Maoist) has held aloft the banner of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and I think that they should be commended for this. But this of course is a matter of difference between K.N. Ramachandran and I.
In the third part of this series I will briefly deal with the section entitled, “Agrarian program in neo-colonial phase”. However, I will make a few comments about this section because of the emphasis on the problem of neo-colonialism which I have repeatedly stated I will not deal with until I read the CPI(ML)[K.N. Ramachandran’s] new book on the matter. I would be very pleased if he or someone would like to send me a copy of this book to review. I must also note that the final post of this series will deal with two sections of his essay, not one, as I had said earlier. I did not notice that there was a section following this one entitled, “Relation with the state and the ruling class parties”. Readers will have to unfortunately wait till next one for the next two posts because I will be unable to write them in the coming week due to work obligations.