Workers Vanguard No. 1038
24 January 2014
From Maoism to Trotskyism
Recollections of a Participant
(Young Spartacus pages)
In 1968, a massive movement of radical students in the U.S. was attracted to Maoism. By 1972, the movement had already ruptured and was rapidly dissipating. What happened?
We print below an edited presentation by comrade Bruce M., who was a Maoist student activist and member of the Communist Working Collective (CWC) in Los Angeles during this period. The CWC eventually consolidated around a Trotskyist analysis and program, fusing with the Spartacist League in 1971. At a Spartacus Youth Club Forum at City College of New York on November 20, Bruce described his journey from Maoism to Trotskyism.
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I want to touch on three areas. The first is: Why in the late 1960s, during a period of massive youth radicalization, were so many young people attracted to Maoism, a variant of Stalinism? The second is: How U.S. Maoism reached its terminal crisis, based on its own inherent contradictions. The third is: Maoist ideology is every bit Stalinist and proud of it. But Maoism has its own doctrine, which different Maoist groups pick and choose from. So I’ll mention just a few of the central pillars of Maoist doctrines and show that, for all its occasional militancy, Mao-thought is Stalinist class collaborationism, a term that means subordinating the interests of the working class to the capitalist class enemy.
There is a kind of murkiness on what a social class is, particularly when you deal with Maoists. Marxists look at it in terms of not who is richer than who else and who is meaner than who else, but in terms of actual social relations. The capitalists own the means of production (the factories, the banks, the mines, etc.) as their private property. Workers, proletarians, can own their clothes and so on, but they own nothing in terms of productive property. Instead, they have to sell their ability to work every day. They go to work and they get paid wages at the lowest possible level that the capitalists can get away with paying, and that’s where the boss makes his profits.
As for the petty-bourgeois strata—and there are a lot of them—there are peasants in the Third World, there are intellectuals, shopkeepers, managers and so on. The petty-bourgeois strata stand between the capitalists and proletarians, with no independent power. It is not about who is more oppressed or has more reason to hate this horrible, violent, racist capitalist society. It’s about who has the power to lead all the others who have an interest in getting rid of capitalism, to establish a society where there isn’t any exploitation. Only the proletariat has the social power and historic interest to lead this revolutionary struggle.
Student Radicals Look to China
In the mid 1960s, coming out of the failure of the civil rights movement to challenge capitalism (due to its liberalism and orientation to the Democratic Party), followed by the embrace of “black power” by young black militants breaking with liberalism, the provocations against the Cuban Revolution by Democratic Party administrations, the escalation of the imperialist war in Vietnam (also by the Democrats), the draft and the backing of the Vietnam War by the liberal establishment, the growing student protest movement radicalized. In the late 1960s, during the height of student radicalism and black militancy, the bulk of student radicals considered themselves Maoists or were sympathetic to Maoism. The mass radical student organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), came to be dominated by Maoist ideology.
So why were radicals attracted to Stalinism a decade after the Soviet leadership itself had attempted to disassociate from Stalin? Further, the Soviets supplied North Vietnam with the vast bulk of its military hardware. Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader most identified with the Vietnamese anti-imperialist struggle, clearly had a tight relationship with Moscow. Why, then, were those supporting the Vietnamese struggle attracted to Chinese Stalinism?
Well, I think you have to put it in the context of the time. This was the era of détente between the U.S. and the USSR. For example, I was told in junior high school that the danger of nuclear war had receded. For their part, the Soviets proclaimed that détente was the realization of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, the goal of all of their foreign policy.
Behind all this was that the U.S. bourgeoisie temporarily saw the main danger as the spread of revolution in Asia.
The 1917 Russian Revolution had brought the working class to power. But in 1923-24, a bureaucratic layer headed by Stalin usurped political power in a political counterrevolution. The bureaucracy rested on and derived its privileges from the proletarian property forms of the Soviet degenerated workers state; the gains of the revolution had been betrayed but not overthrown. Against V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ program of world socialist revolution, Stalin’s theory of building “socialism in one country” expressed the nationally limited interests of the Kremlin bureaucracy. It would be used time and again to justify their endless search for a treacherous rapprochement with imperialism.
By the mid 1960s, leftward-moving American students saw the Soviet leadership mainly as seeking a partnership with U.S. imperialism. Following a period of upheaval in the colonial world—the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian independence struggle, turmoil in Latin America, now revolution in Vietnam—Soviet espousal of “peaceful coexistence” was rightly condemned as attempting to conciliate American imperialism at the expense of insurgent colonial peoples. The Soviet bureaucracy offered nothing to those attempting to fight racial oppression and injustice in the U.S.
The Soviet Union seemed gray, bureaucratic, antiquated and anti-revolutionary. Inspiration came from the Vietnamese Revolution, a guerrilla struggle deeply popular among the peasants in the countryside, echoing other anti-colonial struggles of the time. Antiwar students saw it as the people taking on the imperialist colossus. And it was led by a hard Stalinist party. Radicals, therefore, drew a false distinction: between Third World Stalinism, which appeared to offer an ideological framework to take on imperialism, and the Stalinism of the Soviet Union. Young radicals thought that Vietnam and China proved that Stalinism provided a revolutionary program.
I’ll show you the first radical newspaper that I got, and this was the one that convinced me to be a radical. It was published by a group in the Bay Area. The headline reads, “Vietnam: The Fight for Freedom.” And you open it up, and on the inside you read, “We Will Win” [see poster, top right on page 7 of print version].
I looked at that and said, “That’s it, I’m with them.”
Now, there’s a bit of irony here. The Soviets were supplying the weapons that the guy’s holding up. But what we saw in it was armed popular struggle, and that was not the doctrine of the USSR. Vietnam appeared to vindicate Maoism and “People’s War,” that is, the idea of a peasant-guerrilla road to power.
Mao’s Brief Period of Radical Rhetoric
Capitalist rule was overthrown in China as the result of the 1949 Revolution, a victory for the world’s working class and oppressed. But the Stalinist-led peasant-based revolution resulted in a workers state that was deformed from its inception, ruled by a nationally self-interested bureaucracy that was fundamentally similar to the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy.
Early in the 1960s was the Sino-Soviet split, the total growing apart and antipathy between China and the USSR. And for each bureaucracy, “socialism in one country” meant the promotion of its national bureaucratic caste at the other’s expense. [For more on the Spartacists’ opposition to both sides in the Sino-Soviet split and our call for workers political revolution to oust the bureaucracies while defending the collectivized economies, see “Bureaucracy and Revolution in Moscow and Peking,” Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965.]
Following Mao Zedong’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward” campaign in 1958-60, in which Mao’s policies brought China to the brink of starvation, China portended to be a drain on Soviet aid. The Soviets in turn saw the U.S.’s fear of revolutions around the world as an opening for an alliance with the U.S. China rightly suspected that the Soviets might sell them out to the imperialists.
And this initiated a period of Chinese propagandistic militancy and attacks on Soviet “revisionist” collaboration with the U.S. Mao announced that the USSR had been “revisionist” and “social imperialist” ever since 1956, although neither he nor anyone else seemed to have noticed in 1956. So the duality of “non-aligned” peoples allied with progressive China against the U.S. and USSR was set up. The Chinese rhetorical left turn in the mid 1960s was brief and transitory. But it coincided with the politicization of radical students.
China was utterly isolated worldwide at the time. With his utopian “self-reliance” variant of socialism in one country, Mao attempted to rhetorically inspire popular nationalist movements in the world to erode the Russian and U.S. power blocs. So I’m going to show you an example of Chinese left rhetoric from that period. This is by Mao in 1970, toward the tail end of their left period, and it’s titled “People of the World, Unite and Defeat the U.S. Aggressors and All Their Running Dogs!” We were inspired by passages such as this:
“A weak nation can defeat a strong, a small nation can defeat a big. The people of a small country can certainly defeat aggression by a big country, if only they dare to rise and struggle, dare to take up arms and grasp in their own hands the destiny of their country. This is a law of history.”
Mao also wrote this:
“While massacring the people in other countries, U.S. imperialism is slaughtering the white and black people in its own country. Nixon’s fascist atrocities have kindled the raging flames of the revolutionary mass movement in the United States. The Chinese people firmly support the revolutionary struggle of the American people. I am convinced that the American people who are fighting valiantly will ultimately win victory and that the fascist rule in the United States will inevitably be defeated.” (ibid.)
There are a couple of little ironies there. The first irony is that less than two years after this pamphlet was written, Mao Zedong would be shaking hands with “fascist” Nixon, sealing an alliance against the Soviet Union. The other irony is that this passage is one of the very few, less than a handful, of things Mao ever wrote about the U.S., attempting to give any direction to revolutionaries in America.
So this left turn, what it meant diplomatically, was China attempting to form a worldwide “anti-imperialist united front” among what was called “non-aligned”—with the U.S. or USSR—“progressive” bourgeoisies. And the argumentation kind of went like this: Mao said that the fundamental contradiction in the world is between U.S. imperialism and the oppressed nations and peoples. So the anti-imperialist united front was sort of modeled on Mao’s portrayal of the Chinese revolution. The idea was that the world “countryside”—the oppressed peoples of the world—would surround and strangle the world “cities,” i.e., the imperialist powers.
And it seemed pretty left, but it denied the primacy of class contradictions. The Maoist goal was not revolutions around the world to overturn class exploitation, but rather an international bloc of “progressive peoples” to thwart imperialist bullying, viewing the world as a giant conflict of small vs. big. “Unite all who can be united”—their terminology—in an alliance that included the capitalist rulers of weak semi-colonial powers who exploit and repress their own peoples. We will see later what this meant when the oppressed in these countries rebelled against their own “progressive” oppressors.
This view was appealing to New Leftists who themselves interpreted blacks and other minorities as constituting internal colonies of the U.S., rather than viewing black oppression as rooted in the system of capitalist class exploitation. These leftists thought the “primary contradiction” between the U.S. and the oppressed peoples held for inside the U.S. too.
Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Neither Proletarian, nor Cultural, nor a Revolution
About the Cultural Revolution in 1966: First I’ll tell you the real story. By 1965, Mao’s “anti-imperialist united front” was failing. A conservative wing of the Chinese bureaucracy, Mao’s opponents, wanted to abandon the failing “world anti-imperialist united front” and pursue more pragmatic policies in response to the consequences of the disastrous Great Leap Forward. Some wanted to patch things up with the Soviets. Mao wanted to avoid conflict with the U.S. For Mao, “self-reliance” meant noninterference with U.S. imperialism and verbal anti-imperialism.
The Spartacist League wrote in The Stalin School of Falsification Revisited (1975): “In brief the Cultural Revolution was an attempt to mobilize the masses to create the material conditions for Chinese great-power politics on the basis of national messianic fervor. To do this, the Maoists had to purge an increasingly conservative and self-interested administrative bureaucracy.” Polarizing Chinese society along the wrong lines, Mao turned the Chinese Army and subjectively revolutionary youth, who believed they were fighting bureaucratism, against workers defending their standard of living and Mao’s bureaucratic opponents. [On the Spartacist League’s opposition to both bureaucratic factions, see “Maoism Run Amok,” Spartacist No. 8, November-December 1966.]
But none of that story got out. The Cultural Revolution had a huge impact on New Leftists in the West. Foreign radicals were impressed with the official Chinese line that the masses of Chinese people, led by Red Guard student radicals not different from themselves, were being mobilized against “capitalist roaders” in order to keep China on the “socialist road” and to keep “the people” in power. This appeared to be the Chinese people taking their destiny into their own hands on a gigantic scale, and it was all being led by Mao, giving a worldwide boost to his authority.
Maoist appeal in the late 1960s was based on a specific time-limited conjuncture. The Vietnamese Revolution appeared to vindicate China’s short period of radical rhetoric, during the spell after China’s break with the Soviet Union, but prior to its alliance with the U.S. Confronted by imminent danger from the U.S., China attempted an “anti-imperialist” alliance with the Third World bourgeoisies.
Mao’s Alliance with U.S. Imperialism
So what brought U.S. Maoism to a crisis? There were basically two factors: The abject failure of attempts to apply Maoist strategy to the U.S., and also the abject failure of Mao’s diplomatically left period, leading to an abrupt right turn. Both demonstrate the complete uselessness of Maoism as a revolutionary doctrine. By 1971, before Nixon’s trip to China, U.S. Maoism was already at a complete dead end, in utter crisis. When Mao’s left period failed, Chinese policy flipped into an overt embrace of U.S. imperialism. But even in its period of isolation and consequent militancy, Mao’s doctrine was always constructed with class collaborationism at its foundation [see “Chinese Menshevism,” Spartacist No. 15-16, April-May 1970].
There were a series of Chinese policy disasters. The biggest disaster was in 1965, in Indonesia. Indonesia’s Communist Party (PKI), a Maoist party, was the biggest Communist party in the world not holding state power. Beijing supported the PKI’s bloc with Indonesian president Sukarno and the allegedly “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie at all costs. With Mao’s direct backing, the PKI saw its task as a “bloc of four classes”—which means unity of the workers, peasants, urban petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie—leading to “New Democracy,” Mao’s term for the coalition regime with the “progressive” capitalists that supposedly represents the first stage in Stalinist two-stage theory (more on that later).
PKI chairman D.N. Aidit wrote in 1964: “The character of the Indonesian revolution at the present time is bourgeois democratic and not proletarian socialist.” With CIA aid, the supposedly “progressive” national bourgeoisie massacred the party, exterminating it. Over one million people were killed. When the “democratic” generals struck, the party was politically disarmed and militarily unprepared. This was two-stage theory at work.
Meanwhile, coups overthrew Chinese “progressive” allies in Africa. Chinese diplomacy could not replace the economic ties that bound the semicolonial bourgeoisies to the U.S.
By 1968, the Cultural Revolution itself was at a stalemate and Mao called a halt. Mao began looking for a different sort of alliance. In the meantime, Mao put China in direct service to bourgeois rule in countries that he sought as allies. Mao directly supported the regime in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a leader in the “non-aligned” Third World, in its bloody suppression of a 1971 rural-based youth uprising inspired, in fact, by ideas akin to Maoist concepts of People’s War. [For more on Mao’s betrayals in Indonesia, Ceylon, and other neocolonial countries, see China’s Alliance with U.S. Imperialism, Spartacus Youth League pamphlet, 1976.]
And after 1971, Chinese propaganda openly supported the imperialist NATO military alliance against so-called “Soviet social imperialism.” None of this was lost on the imperialists. Far-sighted American politicians such as Henry Kissinger already saw that, even though the U.S. was losing in Vietnam, there weren’t going to be “two, three, many Vietnams.” U.S. rulers again viewed the Soviet Union, and not China, as the main threat. Time for a U.S. shift in alliances. In February 1972, as the U.S. was bombing Vietnam, Nixon was welcomed in Beijing. Nixon’s trip hit the U.S. Maoist movement like a hand grenade. But Maoism in the U.S. was already in crisis.
American Maoism at a Dead End
In the second half of the 1960s, simultaneously as Students for a Democratic Society was growing on the campuses, the ghettos seethed with rage and the Black Panther Party was growing. There was a ubiquitous sense on college campuses that, if the struggle was conducted correctly in the U.S., a revolution could happen. Revolution was conceived as a Vietnam-Panthers-students axis with China providing the guidance. By 1969, all major factions of SDS considered themselves Maoist. The Panthers quoted Mao’s Red Book.
But the Panthers, who attracted the best of radicalized black youth, rejected the organized working class as the agent of black freedom and revolution. Instead, they looked to black unemployed ghetto youth to be the vanguard of struggle. However, the lumpen poor, removed from the means of production, have no real social power. When the government launched its campaign of systematic assassinations, police raids, frame-ups and imprisonment of the Panthers, the ghettos did not rise up in their defense. The organized working class, dismissed by the Panthers as “bought off,” remained passive. The Panthers came up against the dead end of their lumpen-vanguard strategy [see “What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism,” Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised), 1994].
SDS came up against the dead end of student vanguardism. In 1968, a nationwide general strike brought France to a standstill, posing a prerevolutionary situation and demonstrating the power of the working class. In 1969 there was a General Electric strike in the U.S., which had wide active appeal among young leftists.
Meanwhile, the very success of the wave of student strikes demonstrated their impotence: They closed down campuses all over the country; the war didn’t end, racism didn’t relent and student militancy remained isolated on the campuses. Young Maoists entered a profound ideological crisis. All wings saw that the revolution required formulating strategy and program. And it was here that Mao’s strategy of the countryside surrounding the cities offered no direction whatsoever. On top of this, Mao wrote almost nothing, as I mentioned, on the U.S. or any advanced capitalist country. An American Maoist could say “People of the world unite against U.S. imperialism,” but what was he supposed to do? The character of the coming American revolution became a central question placed before young radicals.
The vast and utterly heterogeneous Maoist movement became increasingly polarized around the question: “Will the American revolution be a one-stage revolution or a two-stage revolution?” Those with impulses toward revolutionism or opportunism aligned themselves along these poles.
A one-stage revolution can only mean a working-class revolution to end capitalism and move immediately into a collectivized society, which can only mean the class dictatorship of the proletariat. The working class would mobilize all those oppressed and ravaged by vicious, racist, imperialist capitalism to establish a workers government that would transition at the speediest possible pace into a socialist order. Maoist “one-stagers” were moving in the direction of this approach.
Two-stage revolution assumed an intermediate stage, a coalition government of all “revolutionary” forces—that is, a multi-class government that would somehow administer capitalism without imperialism and oppression—preparing for socialism at some future stage. This conception embodied the ideological core of reformism: that the state can serve the interests of more than one social class. It was an application to America of Mao’s “bloc of four classes,” New Democracy (which I’ll discuss later). In practice, it has to mean an incremental approach of attempting to mobilize any and every social layer to pressure the liberals, who in turn look to the capitalist rulers to implement a government that more represents “the people.” To one-stagers, the task of a revolutionary party was to fight to build class consciousness in the working class and lead it to power, not to seek ongoing multi-class blocs.
In this context, older hard Stalin-Stalinist organizations, which cared little for Mao-thought but called themselves Maoist because Mao upheld Stalin, were able to intervene in SDS with huge effect. They had a proletarian orientation, but from a Stalinist reformist framework. The most important of them was Progressive Labor Party (PL). In the 1969 SDS split, which was polarized by PL’s crude orientation to the proletariat, the Spartacist League critically supported PL’s wing. The issue of proletarian centrality was a principled, decisive question. Within the PL wing of SDS, the Spartacists argued that a proletarian revolutionary perspective could only be implemented through a Trotskyist program.
Maoists in Search of a Revolutionary Program
Another old-style Stalin-Stalinist-Maoist organization, the California Communist League, recruited a bunch of SDSers at my school. They initiated a hard-fought split in our high school SDS over the issues of one-stage revolution and proletarian orientation. Soon after that split, these kids broke with the California Communist League. They were criticizing Stalin, but from a Maoist perspective. These pro-working-class, former SDS kids became the younger component of the Communist Working Collective (CWC), which congealed with a perspective of regrouping a Leninist party out of the Maoist milieu, with an orientation toward a one-stage workers revolution. Through intense theoretical examination, the CWC (which I was a member of) would eventually be won to Trotskyism and fused with the Spartacist League in 1971.
The anti-PL wing of SDS called itself the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM). However, after the nationwide SDS split, a student orientation was no longer considered tenable by anyone. If not students, then what force could bring social change? RYM advanced a petty-bourgeois notion of struggle by sectors: the Vietnamese would fight for their liberation, U.S. blacks for theirs, women for theirs, Latinos for theirs, etc. The workers could fight for theirs, too, but they were not seen as the central agency to accomplish social change.
The inclusive amorphous student movement disintegrated. Out of it came mutually competing, organizationally hard Maoist formations with different twists. They would all use Maoist ideology to try to win a “mass” base. There also arose a nationwide array of Maoist collectives and study groups coming up against similar questions on revolutionary strategy—reading Mao’s writings and trying to find what wasn’t there. Those orienting toward opportunism and those seeking a working-class revolutionary orientation all searched Mao’s works looking for ammunition against each other. The right-wing Maoists had more luck finding it.
One of the hard formations that emerged at that time was Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Union (later the Revolutionary Communist Party) which congealed around Mao’s two-stage strategy. They took directly from Mao the strategic united front—“unite the many to defeat the few”—to apply the anti-imperialist coalition to the U.S. What that meant was: Now, “People’s Unity of all those against imperialist policies,” socialism later. Freedom Road Socialist Organization also has its origins in the right-wing, two-stage strategy of late 1960s/early 1970s Maoism.
Thus before Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, U.S. Maoism was in intense ferment and self-evaluation, polarizing on left-right lines. But Nixon’s trip cemented an anti-Soviet alliance between Mao’s China and the butchers of Vietnam. Now Maoists had to defend that.
When Nixon’s trip was announced in the summer of 1971, that is to say, when he accepted China’s invitation to come, the CWC was already Trotskyist and in fusion negotiations with the Spartacist League. We were intervening in the Maoist milieu, predicting a right turn in Chinese policy and arguing that these Maoists could not be revolutionaries unless they examined Trotskyism. After 1972, those who remained Maoists, lining up behind U.S. imperialism against the USSR, underwent a corrosive process that made them different political animals than the subjective anti-imperialists they had been.
In fact, our pamphlet China’s Alliance with U.S. Imperialism opens with this: “There comes a point at which every supporter of a Stalinist organization, if he is to remain organizationally loyal, must abandon the values and attitudes which drew him to revolutionary politics in the first place.” Maoists were now apologists for China’s alliance with U.S. imperialism. In the coming years many simply left politics. Many former Maoists who didn’t want to leave politics were recruited by the SL in the early 1970s.
Beginning in 1974, China militarily aided U.S. and apartheid South African forces in Angola against Cuban- and Soviet-supported forces. This was overt, direct military aid to counterrevolution. It was impossible to defend this while maintaining any revolutionary impulses. Bob Avakian defended it.
After Mao’s death and the triumph of the “market socialist” wing of the bureaucracy, most remaining Maoist groups conveniently broke with Beijing, becoming eclectic reformist “Marxist-Leninists” who declared that China was now capitalist. This was simply evasion. There had been no objective change in the class structure of Chinese society. But calling China capitalist fit well for those not wanting to be held accountable for China. And it smoothed the way for alliances with anti-communist liberals.
The Maoists of today refuse to defend the Chinese deformed workers state, and they support whatever forces in the world they can concoct as battling imperialism at any given moment “to unite the many to defeat the few.” This can only lead to betrayal. It is the task of Trotskyism, and no other tendency, to construct an internationalist Leninist party, part of a revolutionary international world party to lead socialist revolutions around the world.
In the early l970s, Maoists sought to avoid political contradictions facing them by following Mao’s dictum to immerse themselves among the people like a fish in the sea. They went deep into low-level trade-union work. Most were never heard from again. Some became union bureaucrats. Some emerged as Democratic Party politicians.
Mao’s New Democracy vs. Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution
I want to just mention a couple points on Maoist ideology. When we were Maoists, the Avakianites were, in fact, right against us: Two-stage theory is the core of Maoism. It is woven into the very fabric of Mao’s writings. For Maoists, socialist demands are always for later and now is always the “democratic” stage.
When Maoists seek arguments against Trotskyism, they read Stalin, not Mao. So, according to the Stalinist construct, Trotsky was against the peasantry, he wanted to skip stages, etc. That’s what you were told. When we in the CWC read Trotsky’s Results and Prospects  and The Permanent Revolution , it turned our world upside down. As revolutionary-minded Maoists, we had been looking in the wrong place for an alternative to revisionism. Our fellow left-wing Maoists were making the same mistake, because they refused to examine and break with Stalin. But class collaborationism is embedded in Stalinism. Maoism was simply a variant of two-stage Stalinism.
We wrote in “From Maoism to Trotskyism” (Marxist Bulletin No. 10, 1971): “If it could be shown, however, that the ‘two stage’ theory did not apply even to the most backward of countries—countries bound hand and foot to foreign imperialism without even so much as a democratic land reform—then the [Maoist] theory would fall of its own weight for the rest of the world.”
Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution solved the riddle plaguing revolutionary-minded Maoists trying to both forge a strategy in the advanced capitalist countries and support anti-imperialist revolutions in semicolonial countries under imperialist subjugation. Trotsky noted that the weak and dependent bourgeoisies in backward countries are tightly bound with both precapitalist forms of oppression and with imperialist interests. Therefore, they cannot be a force for agrarian revolution and national emancipation. The victory of the revolution is only possible if waged against the national bourgeoisie.
What classes, then, are making this revolution? The peasantry, numerically the largest oppressed class in certain countries, occupies an intermediate social position between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Furthermore, the peasantry is so heterogeneous—divided between rich peasants and poor peasants, propertied peasants and landless peasants—that it is incapable of taking an independent role. To galvanize the power of its numbers in a concerted way, it must follow the lead of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. A victorious revolution is possible only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasantry.
While carrying out democratic tasks and land distribution, the proletarian state must inevitably move against the right to bourgeois property, that is, expropriate the capitalists’ holdings. Thus the revolution directly passes over to socialist tasks, without pausing at any arbitrary “stages.” In the era of imperialism, there aren’t going to be revolutions that stop at bourgeois-democratic tasks; feudalist social relations and other precapitalist holdovers are interpenetrated with and held in place by modern capitalism. They will be overthrown only by socialist revolution.
So let’s talk about Mao’s “New Democracy.” New Democracy is the coalition that is to be brought to power as the outcome of colonial revolution. For Maoists, New Democracy is the unassailable fortress, the goal of revolution in the colonial world and the key to achieving it. Let me give you Mao’s definition—I’ll let the Great Helmsman speak for himself: A socialist republic, Mao wrote in On New Democracy (1940), is “not yet suitable for the revolutions in colonial and semi-colonial countries. Therefore a third form of state must be adopted by revolutions in colonial and semi-colonial countries during a given historical period, namely, the new-democratic republic.” Further, Mao writes:
“The multifarious types of state system in the world can be reduced to three basic kinds according to the class character of their political power: (1) republics under bourgeois dictatorship; (2) republics under the dictatorship of the proletariat; and (3) republics under the joint dictatorship of several revolutionary classes.... The third kind is the transitional form of state to be adopted in revolutions in colonial and semi-colonial countries.”
The New Democratic revolution, “with its central task of combating foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism, is a bourgeois-democratic revolution and not yet a socialist revolution which aims at the overthrow of capitalism.” So this coalition of all progressive classes will be the New Democratic state. What are the criteria for joining the coalition?
“No matter what classes, parties or individuals in the oppressed nations join the revolution, and no matter whether or not they are conscious of this fact and fully understand it, so long as they oppose imperialism, their revolution becomes part of the proletarian-socialist world revolution and they themselves become allies of this revolution.” (ibid.)
Well, that’s broad enough, isn’t it? How convenient; to be “proletarian-socialist” one need be neither proletarian nor socialist!
Only One Class Can Rule
But New Democracy is simply Mao’s version of Stalinist two-stage theory, as applied to the Third World. First a coalition government administering capitalism with (perhaps) some reforms—but not so many reforms as to upset the national bourgeois forces leading the alliance. Second, the workers come to power sometime in the indefinite future. The interests of workers and peasants are to be sacrificed to reassure the local capitalists not to abandon the coalition, that is, in no way must the national bourgeoisie see its interests as better protected by the imperialists. For Stalinists, it’s always “too soon” for socialist demands; we must go through a “democratic stage” before peasants can seize the land and the workers can expropriate the capitalists.
When we in the CWC studied the Chinese Revolution, we found that it did not follow the New Democratic forecast. After Stalin’s “bloc of four classes” strategy led to the massacre of the revolution in 1927, Mao attempted numerous times to cement an alliance with Chiang Kai-shek, to no lasting avail. When Mao’s forces took power, the 1949 Revolution resulted in a workers state, albeit deformed. There was no New Democratic stage! The Revolution happened despite Mao’s prescriptions, not because of them.
The core of Maoism centers on an impossibility: a multi-class state. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the only alternative to the dictatorship of capital. That is why there must be a one-stage revolution.
Two-stage reformism is the inextricable outcome of the ideological centerpiece of Stalinism: the theory that socialism can be built in one country alone if only the imperialists won’t attack it. This is false. Although the dictatorship of the proletariat may be established in an isolated and backward country (as was the case in the Russian Revolution of 1917), achieving socialism—i.e., a classless society of abundance—requires economic aid resulting from the joint achievement of revolutions in at least several advanced countries, thereby both aiding development in the backward countries and removing the imperialist threat. For these reasons, the revolution in a backward country must extend itself or perish.
“Socialism in one country” is directly counterposed to permanent revolution. It is the “theory” with which parasitic bureaucratic cliques in China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos and formerly the USSR have sabotaged the spread of revolution whenever it breaks out elsewhere. Under the guise of this “theory” revolutions have been betrayed around the world time and again in pursuit of illusory peaceful coexistence with imperialism.
We unconditionally defend the bureaucratically deformed workers states against imperialism and the threat of capitalist restoration. As part of that defense, we work for political revolutions to overturn bureaucratic rule and establish internationalist democratic workers rule.
Eliminating Scarcity Requires World Socialist Revolution
Supposedly, Mao’s contribution to Marxism is that the dictatorship of the proletariat is socialism, and that classes and class struggle continue under socialism. This “discovery” was used to explain the Cultural Revolution. Read Lenin’s The State and Revolution (1917) along with Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). They make Mao’s misrepresentation impossible. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a transitional period between capitalism and socialism in which the proletariat wields its state power to suppress counterrevolution while increasing productive output under a planned egalitarian system.
The point is to eliminate scarcity, thereby enabling classes to cease to exist and the state to wither away. That’s socialism, the first phase of communism. That kind of economic development can only build on what capitalism has already put in place: a world economy. Thus, for revolutions in backward countries to survive, they must spread, ultimately to the advanced imperialist countries. And under international workers rule, the advanced countries will provide industrial aid to develop the rest of the world.
Mao’s equation of the dictatorship of the proletariat with socialism was not just wrong; it took socialism out of the context of a world system with higher productive capacity than capitalism [see “‘Radical Egalitarian’ Stalinism: A Post Mortem,” Spartacist No. 25, Summer 1978]. His redefinition of socialism justified Chinese idealist “self-reliance” as sufficient for socialism in China, while supporting bourgeois forces internationally.
Idealism is the false view that ideas exist above and apart from material reality [see Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880)]. And Maoism is permeated with anti-Marxist idealism. In lieu of a revolutionary program, it offers “Dare to struggle, dare to win” exhortations. “Socialism in one country” supposedly works if you believe enough in self-reliance. And the nature of a state is determined by what the leaders are thinking. The USSR became capitalist, according to them, when Khrushchev made a speech in 1956 denouncing some of Stalin’s crimes. And China supposedly became capitalist when the Gang of Four, Mao’s cothinkers, did not prevail in an intra-bureaucratic fight following Mao’s death in 1976.
Worldwide, the economy is already at a point where we can create a society where everyone has enough to eat, a society that is collectively run with nobody exploiting anyone. And that’s what we are about. And we motivate this based on a historical materialist study of the social reality capitalism has already created. So in our conflicts with the Maoists and other left groups, the dispute is about how are we going to win? How are we going to bring this society down and create a society run collectively in a planned way? And what social class can make that happen? That’s where the primacy of the working class comes in. We can make that happen, if we build a leadership that fights to change the consciousness of the working class. We must convince the workers that not only do they need to get rid of capitalism, they can.