A Response to: “I Empathize With Maoists, But Leninism Can Work For People of Color”
My attention was called to an individual on Reddit using the handle u/bayarea415 who recently published a thread in the r/communism group titled: “I Empathize with Maoists, But Leninism Can Work for People Of Color — An ML Critique On Maoist’s Vanguard and Lumpen Theory”. I normally don’t engage with random calls for debate on reddit or other such forums, but I suppose I can make an exception in this case since this particular individual seems to be attempting to open and engage in debate in good faith, which is very heartening in the often vitriolic and bitter US Left milieu. In the interest of clarification and struggle between colonized revolutionaries, I will engage.
u/bayarea415 intends to publish 3–5 articles concerning Maoist topics. The first is titled “What Maoists Get Wrong About China and Socialism With Chinese Characteristics (SWCC) — A Response to Black Red Guard”. I presume that this will be a written response to my video released two years ago on YouTube titled “Is China Socialist? No, No, A Thousand Times No!” Maoists do not believe that China is a socialist country. Many ML-revisionists (who oftentimes call themselves “Leninists”, showing how they pay token homage to Mao but continue to be frozen in the mid-20th Century in theory and practice) engage in very amusing ideological and mental gymnastics to explain away social-imperialist China’s abuses of its own people who struggle under the all seeing eyes and iron fists of the revisionists in the CCP, liquidation of every tenet of proletarian internationalism, particularly in regards to the people of Africa which it is currently colonizing with reckless abandon using debt as a weapon, and direct material support for the enemies of the Communists in the Philippines, India, and Nepal who are waging armed struggle against BJP and Duterte fascists, Prachanda clique revisionists, and Yankee imperialism. Chinese social-imperialism is contesting with rotting Yankee imperialism for control of the Pacific, the Middle East and Third World as a whole. The modern-revisionists who arrogate the term “Leninist” for themselves wilfully ignore the positions of revolutionary parties like the CPI-Maoist which is at the forefront of the struggle against Yankee and Chinese imperialist machinations in the Indian subcontinent. They also wilfully trample on and ignore the analysis put forth by the Philipine revolutionary movement which is currently struggling with arms in hand against Chinese demands on the Philippines. As a pan-Africanist, it is disgusting that those false “Leninists” who claim to be friends of my people on the Continent turn a blind eye to the destruction of Africa’s natural resources and the new colonization and debasement of its people by Chinese corporations who employ managers that routinely abuse my people up and down the continent. To be a real Communist means to side with the most oppressed and exploited, and support revolutionary parties that struggle in their interests, with arms in hand. To be a Communist is not to engage in a reversal of cynical bourgeois geopolitics only on the side of the “Red” superpower.
u/bayarea415 displays confusion on the question of the composition and purpose of a vanguard party. To quote: “Mao was highly critical of the vanguard being made up of the peasantry, especially in China. Mao thought true revolutionary potential was within the peasantry, which made up a large segment of the masses within a fragmented China. Applying this to China was, obviously, the right thing to do.
In particular, Mao included his focus on the lumpen class; the lowest class where drug addicts, dealers, pimps, unemployed, homeless, destitute, gang members/leaders, and other “degenerates” lingered. This is where my sympathies rise because some Leninists cast several of these individuals as “illegal capitalists” who are just as exploitative as the bourgeoisie and completely disregard them. I, however, do not have such inclinations, especially coming from such a background.”
The Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong recruited from various strata of society. Peasants, revolutionary minded intellectuals, petty bourgeoisie, and lumpen. The leading force, however, was the proletariat, keeping in accordance with its role as the last class in history and that with the least to lose. The Communist Party is the party of the most advanced and dedicated revolutionary proletariat. However, Mao engaged in struggle with certain dogmatists, trained in the USSR, who believed that engaging with or relying on the peasantry was an erroneous, petit-bourgeois line. Peasants were the majority of the Chinese population and failure to engage with them would have led to the isolation and eventual destruction of the Party. Mao’s engagement with the lumpen (I recommend Sakai’s The Dangerous Class and Revolutionary Theory and Mao Z’s Revolutionary Laboratory & the Lumpen/Proletariat: Thoughts on the Making of the Lumpen/Proletariat) was out of necessity. Underground revolutionaries who are engaged in things that are illegal (such as…making revolution!) must rely on the skills of those who are already adept at living outside the law. This does not mean that the party can be allowed to have a lumpen/proletarian political character. Kevin Rashid Johnson, Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party — Prison Chapter, writes in “Our Line”:
“The lumpen mentality mirrors — on a smaller scale and with less sophistication — that of the big gangsters (the monopoly capitalists), and amounts to a ruthless drive for immediate self-gratification, power, control and “respect,” (even though their lifestyle is anything but respectable), through deception, corruption, violence and intimidation of others. These tendencies are what lie behind certain lumpen aspiring to be perceived as “crazy” and unpredictably violent. Translated into the revolutionary movement, the lumpen tendency has some thinking that militant swaggering, posturing, and “talking shit,” is acceptable behavior for revolutionaries, which is very wrong and demonstrates political immaturity and lack of a true proletarian outlook. Such posturing leads to actions of a reactionary, adventurist and provocateur nature, that invites enemy attack that the movement is unprepared to deal with and alienates the masses. Comrade Sundiata Acoli, (a member of the old BPP and BLA), observed that just such lumpen tendencies contributed to the downfall of the old BPP and the general Black Liberation Movement in Amerika. (See Sundiata Acoli, ” A Brief History of the Black Panther Party and its place in the Black Liberation Movement,” (1985), which is posted on the internet and was recently reprinted in the Summer Issue of Leviathan, the newsletter of the Black Brigade).
Also, because they are conditioned to seek immediate and short-term benefits in their daily practice, the lumpen generally lack the resolve to pursue and stick with tasks that require hard work and patience. We in the NABPP-PC feel that a major factor that led to the old BPP’s destruction was the failure to raise many of the Party’s members’ world view to that of the revolutionary proletariat and allowing the Party and its leadership to become saturated in lumpen ideology, values and practice. The motives behind revolutionary violence are fundamentally different from the reactionary violence of the lumpen, who model their violence after that of the big gangsters. Revolutionary violence is rooted in the collective resistance of the masses organized against the violence of the big gangster bourgeoisie system of repression and exploitation. History is made by the collective masses, with the genuine revolutionary vanguard serving to raise their consciousness and organize their force into collective revolutionary struggle. Correct thinking is the catalyst, just as intelligence draws order out of chaos — out of the chaos of noise — music, and out of chaos of images and color — art.”
Essentially, the lumpen/proletariat are going to play an ever increasing role, following the predictions laid out in Huey P. Newton’s intercommunalism theory of the 1970s (which I have some misgivings about, particularly regarding nationalism, but that’s for another day). But we have to realize that while they should be recruited and by no circumstances turned away, they have certain characteristics as a non-class that, if allowed to seep into the Party, will derail it down the roads of left-adventurism, commandism, and what Mao would call “roving-rebel thought”. Lumpen/proletarians must be ideologically and practically transformed through struggle, not just allowed to simply be. The defense of illegal capitalists (lumpenbourgeoisie) such as El Chapo, etc. is understandable given the class background of the author. Those of us who were raised in lumpen/proletarian environments, particularly colonized ones, are trained by our environment, family and peers to look up to the big-time dope dealers, con artists, and others. But keep in mind that slinging dope and ripping off our own people for individualist gain (or the gain of a small clique, set, or gang) is anti-revolutionary behavior. The illegal capitalist is just as big an exploiter as Jeff Bezos. Even though they may be worth only a few hundred thousand, the illegal capitalist is still a capitalist who, provided he does not wind up dead or in prison for life after being ratted out, will end up becoming (if he is not already) a slumlord, a crooked politician, or bullshitting preacher. We have to break this cycle and promote revolutionary role models who, if they have lumpen/proletarian survival skills, use them in the service of the people, not themselves. The purpose of the vanguard party is to make revolution, not to help out a small group.
The author speaks positively of Xi Jinping as an example of someone who benefitted from the “merit based” system that “allows leaders to come from any sect of proletariat society”. The current Chinese Communist Party is an old boys’ club of billionaires and red princelings. A real Communist Party is recruited from the lowest and deepest, most advanced revolutionary masses and has cadre that are steeled in class struggle. Xi Jinping’s only experience with class struggle is being struggled against during the Cultural Revolution and ending up being forced to do manual labor in the countryside, work which he undoubtedly found unbecoming for a “red princeling” like himself, with an illustrious father that was a senior cadre. This produced a lifelong sensation of bitterness and hatred in Xi, leading him to despise the Cultural Revolution and the idea that the masses are the makers of history. He rose through the ranks during the revisionist era and now stands at the helm of the revisionist, social-imperialist state and an extraordinarily wealthy family that could only exist because of the theft of the people’s labor and produce. Xi is not and never has been a proletarian. The proletariat is not in power in China, billionaires and crooked cadre who seek to become billionaires are.
The author claims to have difficulty applying Marxist class analysis. As Marxists, we acknowledge that class struggle is the motor that drives history. As colonized people, me New Afrikan and the author Chicano, we see how European Marxists oftentimes engage in dreadful class reductionism that negates all forms of struggle that are not “pure class”. In every situation there is a primary and a secondary contradiction, along with tertiary and various others. In the United States, the contradiction which informs all others, the primary contradiction, is the national one, meaning the struggle between the “mother country” (settler) nation and the various colonized nations. Some claim that the various groups which came to this country’s shores never coalesced into a settler nation. Yet when the lynch mob rolled through our hoods it certainly functioned as a cohesive block with a cohesive interest (taking our shit and burning us out of our homes). It informs the class struggle. It informs the struggle between genders. This contradiction is an antagonistic one, meaning that it can only come about with the destruction of the settler nation’s edifice and country. This is a class struggle along with a national struggle, because even though American fascism is a tricky animal and has allowed for a choice few Black and Brown people to play at the highest levels of power, we are, by and large, forced into the ranks of the proletariat, the semi-proletariat, and the lumpen/proletariat finally. We have no ability to merge en masse with the settler edifice because it is built on our backs and at our expense.
The author laments the lack of Maoist support for revolutions that took place in Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Laos, and Burkina Faso. Our support for these revolutions is not uncritical support. We do not uphold something simply because it has a red flag, or because it is governed by a revolutionary junta or formation calling itself a revolutionary party. As Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, we know that socialism must be characterized by the struggle for communism. If you are not actively moving towards Communism, exercising dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, and waging cultural revolution, your State can not be described as socialist in Marxist terms. We do uphold these experiments for breaking with Yankee/Western European imperialism, and providing material improvements in the quality of life of the population. Cuba in particular has been a sterling example of proletarian internationalism. But there are troubling and negative aspects that have derailed and set back the revolutions in these countries and should be analyzed and criticized. How was Sankara assassinated by his former comrade-in-arms and his revolutionary reforms turned back in the space of a few months? Why did Cuba have to tighten the belt after the fall of the USSR? Why are American and Chinese corporations in Vietnam paying workers pennies? These are questions that every true Marxist should ask themselves and research thoroughly without sentimentality, because the revolution can’t afford it. When a process fails, we need to find out why. This does not mean that we do not uphold the progressive aspects of these movements. This is the meaning of “critical support”.
The Black Panther Party can’t be described as a strictly “Marxist-Leninist” organization, in good faith. It drew upon various revolutionary traditions ranging from Fanon’s work to Malcolm X’s theory to Mao Zedong Thought. There was a Marxist-Leninist thread, but the whole coat wasn’t ML (MZT). It was an eclectic formation that was quite against what party cadre would call “flunkyism” and what I call dogmatism. It fell because of a variety of factors, including a nasty ideological split between the Newton/Cleaver factions, ideological degeneration on the part of Huey P. Newton upon his release from prison and subsequent liquidation of various party branches, failure to correctly grasp and practice democratic centralism, and the previous two making it easy for COINTELPRO to do its stuff. The Panther program was copied/adapted by various formations ranging from I Wor Kuen to the Young Lords to the Young Patriots Organization. This shows the need for a revolutionary MLM Party with cadre that have roots in these various communities. We can’t simply sit and wait for groups to form some sort of loose coalition and “march as one”, as there are still contradictions that if left neglected and unaddressed will play havoc. It is the role of the Party to develop the United Front, and lead it. The vanguard is the recognized leadership of the revolutionary class, the proletariat, and revolutionary strata from other classes.
Socialism is not a matter of “lifting 800 million people out of poverty”. This mirrors the social democratic conception of socialism. Socialism is the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is not a matter of what goodies we have, but who is in power? Without power, everything is illusion, and fleeting. Are the bourgeoisie being suppressed, or are they allowed Party membership? You may have healthcare, but do you have control in the workplace? The revolutionary proletariat must be in power, at all levels, and they must exercise dictatorship as a class. Socialism is a class dictatorship. Class struggle occurs under socialism. If the class struggle is neglected on the part of the proletariat, there will be inevitable restoration of capitalism. This is known from painful experience. This so-called Leninism on the part of our undoubtedly well meaning author is nothing more than recycled modern revisionism. Hopefully this response will help guide them along the right track and clarify just exactly what Maoists believe, and they will join the revolutionary movement instead of engaging in ideological trifles that were stale in the 1960s.