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What is Maoism

What is Maoism

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Published by tahreeq
The Maoist movement in India is a direct consequence of the tragedy of India ruled by her big bourgeoisie and governed by parties co-opted by that class-fraction. The movement now threatens the accumulation of capital in its areas of influence, prompting the Indian state to intensify its barbaric counter-insurgency strategy to throttle it. In trying to understand what is going on, and, in turn, to re-imagine what the practice of radical democratic politics could be, it might help if, for a moment, we step aside and reflect over the questions: What is Maoism? What of its origins and development? What went before its advent? What are its flaws? Where is it going? Where should it be going, given its legacy? As I write at this lovely time of the festival of lights -- Diwali -- in India, I hope to bring back into the glow this body of thought and practice that the stenographers of power have consciously, deliberately distorted. I am fully aware that those whose job it is to transcribe the opinion of the dominant classes will -- having already presupposed what Maoism is all about -- accuse me of pushing an ideological agenda, and will dismiss what I have to say as illegitimate. Nevertheless, let me persist.
The Maoist movement in India is a direct consequence of the tragedy of India ruled by her big bourgeoisie and governed by parties co-opted by that class-fraction. The movement now threatens the accumulation of capital in its areas of influence, prompting the Indian state to intensify its barbaric counter-insurgency strategy to throttle it. In trying to understand what is going on, and, in turn, to re-imagine what the practice of radical democratic politics could be, it might help if, for a moment, we step aside and reflect over the questions: What is Maoism? What of its origins and development? What went before its advent? What are its flaws? Where is it going? Where should it be going, given its legacy? As I write at this lovely time of the festival of lights -- Diwali -- in India, I hope to bring back into the glow this body of thought and practice that the stenographers of power have consciously, deliberately distorted. I am fully aware that those whose job it is to transcribe the opinion of the dominant classes will -- having already presupposed what Maoism is all about -- accuse me of pushing an ideological agenda, and will dismiss what I have to say as illegitimate. Nevertheless, let me persist.

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Published by: tahreeq on Jun 01, 2010
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perspective
Economic & Political
Weekly
 
EPW
november 21, 2009 vol xliv no 47
39
The essay is dedicated to the memory o my rst editor, the late Samar Sen (Shômor babu,as we called him), ounder-editor o theKolkata-based weekly,
 Frontier
. It is also inappreciation o Subhas Aikat whoseKharagpur-based, hand-to-mouth existingCornerstone Publications brings out an Indianedition o the
 Monthly Review
and books thatpose the kind o questions generally shunned by academia. The essay is my small thanksgivingto
 MR
, on the occasion o its 60th anniversary.I thank Paresh Chattopadhyay, John Mage,P A Sebastian and others or their critical buthelpul comments on an earlier drat; theusual disclaimers apply.This is a shortened version o a longer and morecomprehensive article that has been posted onthe web at the site o the
 MR
(http://monthlyreview.org/091106dmello.php).The unabridged version o this article willappear in print in a orthcoming book entitled
What Is Maoism and Other Essays
(Kharagpur:Cornerstone Publications), 2010.
 Email:
 
bernard@epw.in
.
Wha i Maom?
Bernard D’mello
What is Maoism? What o itsorigins and development? What went beore its advent? What areits faws? Where is it going?Where should it be going, givenits legacy? The questions are o great import, or Maoism hasgiven birth to a movement whichhas taken root in India, survivedor more than our decades in thecountry, and the State has nowunleashed a massive counter-insurgency operationto crush it.This essay attempts a stepwiseapproach to nding rst answersto the questions – What isMarxism? What is Leninism?What is Stalinism? – and thereby aims to understand what Maoismis all about.
… (A) Marxism stripped o its revolutionary essence is a contradiction in terms with noreason or being and no power to survive.– Paul M Sweezy (1983: 7)
 A 
nuradha Ghandy (Anu as we knewher) was a member o the centralcommittee o the Communist Party o India (Maoist) (
CPI
(Maoist)). Early on,she developed a sense o obligation to thepoor; she joined them in their struggle orbread and roses, the ght or a richer and auller lie or all. Tragically, cerebral malariatook her away in April last year. What isthis spirit that made her selfessly adoptthe cause o the damned o the Indian earth– the exploited, the oppressed, and thedominated – as her own? The risks o join-ing the Maoist long march seem ar toodangerous to most people, but not or her– bold, courageous and decisive, yet kind,gentle and considerate. Perhaps her days were numbered, marked as she was on thedossiers o the Indian state’s repressive ap-paratus as one o the most wanted “let wing extremists”. That oppressive, brutalstructure has been executing a barbariccounter-insurgency strategy – designed tomaintain the status quo – against the Maoistmovement in India. What is it that is driv-ing the Indian state, hell-bent as it is tocripple and maim the spirit that inspirespersons like Anu? Practically the wholeIndian polity – rom the semi-ascistBharatiya Janata Party to the main aliateo the parliamentary let, the CommunistParty o India (Marxist) – have pitched inagainst the Maoists, backing a massiveplanned escalation o the deployment o paramilitary-cum-armed-police, this time with logistical support rom the military, tocrush the rebels. It seems that sections o monopoly capital – including ArcelorMittal,the Essar Group, Vedanta Resources, TataSteel,
POSCO
, and the Sajjan Jindal Group– have given an ultimatum to the state gov-ernments concerned and the union govern-ment that they will dump their proposedmining/industrial/
SEZ
projects i the localresistance to their business plans are notcrippled once-and-or-all.Righteous indignation against “let wingextremism” has reached a crescendo, but-tressed as it is by sections o the commer-cial media, with images and proles(dished out to the ourth estate by anti-terrorist squad ocers) o apprehendedrevolutionists a source o excitement or
TV
 audiences. A year and a hal ago, my son –lanky, unkempt, his hair dishevelled – camehome rom school one day to tell us thathis teacher called him a Naxalite (what theMaoists are popularly called). I asked him,“How did you react?” He queried, “Daddy, who are these guys, these Naxalites?” Ianswered, “Well, they are rebels who resentthe deep injustice meted out to the poor.”He responded, “Well then, I eel proud tobe called a Naxalite”. The boy is still very  young, but he will soon approach that wonderul time o his lie when his urge tounderstand what is going on in the country and the world will be unquenchable. Morerecently, a malicious and vengeul advertise-ment by the home ministry in the newspa-pers painted the Maoists as “cold-bloodedcriminals”. Maybe it is time or me toconsider how I will answer his question:What is Maoism? An answer to such a query requires astepwise approach to nding rst answersto questions such as: What is Marxism?What is Leninism? What is Stalinism?Only then, can one get to understanding what Maoism is all about. For ater all,Mao’s Marxism undoubtedly stemmedrom the Leninist school; he applied Marx-ism, Leninism (the latter, a school o Marx-ism in the age o imperialism) and Stalin-ism (a decomposed orm o Leninism which he also struggled to overcome andgo beyond), as a method o analysis o thesocial reality o China. But more, he inter- vened in that reality through conscioussocial-political action guided by Marxisttheory and rom the late 1920s to the endo the 1960s continuously learnt romevents, thus making possible an enrich-ment o the original.What has come to be known as Maoismhad its material roots in China’s under-development, the ailed practice o theChinese Communist Party (
CCP
) in the
 
perspective
november 21, 2009 vol xliv no 47
EPW
 
Economic & Political
Weekly
40
 urban areas in the 1920s, and its subse-quent peasant-cum-guerrilla-based move-ment in the countryside. Theoretically, andin practice, Mao’s Marxism was enrichedby overcoming and going beyond Stalin’smechanical interpretation o Marx’s theory o history. And, Mao constantly appliedMarx’s “materialist dialectics” in helping tounderstand and resolve multiple “contra-dictions” – internal conficts tending tosplit what is unctionally united – with thelikely outcome ollowing rom the recipro-cal actions o the opposing tendencies. It isthe usion o all o this with the originalMarxism and Leninism that constitutesMaoism. Like Marxism, at its best, it is acomprehensive world view, a method o analysis and a guide to practice, not a seto dogmas. What then is meant by theMaoist dictum “learn truth rom practice”?With this preview, we are now in a posi-tion to move on. At the outset itsel, let mesay that while I speak solely or mysel, Imake no claim whatsoever to originality. I wrote this piece as a sel-clariying exer-cise and submitted it or publication in thehope that it might help others like me,striving to be educated about matters thatare not academic.
Wha i Maxm?
In searching or an answer to this question,I can do no better than what the
 Monthly Review
has taught me. In one o theounder-editor’s words (Sweezy 1985: 2):
Marxism is above all, a comprehensive world view, what Germans call a Weltanschauung– a body o philosophical, economic, politi-cal, sociological, scientic … principles, allinterrelated and together orming an inde-pendent and largely sel-sucient intellec-tual structure. … It is a guide to lie and so-cial practice, and in the long run its validity can only be judged by its ruits.
In its view, prior to the development o capitalism, civilisation had been impossi-ble without exploitation; the social surplusappropriated was (1985: 3-4)
concentrated in the hands o a ew, so thatluxury, wealth, civilisation at one pole wasnecessarily matched by poverty, misery, anddegradation at the other.It was into such a world that capitalism wasborn …incomparably the most productiveand in that sense progressive society the world had ever seen. …indeed, or the rsttime ever it made possible a society in whichexploitation and the concentration o thesurplus in the hands o a ew was no longerthe
necessary
condition or civilisation.Now humanity aced … a prospect withoutprecedent. Would it go orward to a new andhigher, non-exploitative orm o civilisation …or would the exploitation o the many by theew continue to be the way o human lie?Marx believed that … capitalism … wouldnever be able to make use o … (society’sproductive orces) or the benet o the workers who he thought were on their way to becoming the majority o the population.… Sooner or later…the workers would be-come conscious o their real class interests,organise themselves into a powerul revolu-tionary orce, seize power rom the capital-ists, and begin the transition to a communistsociety rom which exploitation and classes would nally be abolished.It hasn’t worked out that way. Workers in themore developed capitalist countries wereable to make enough gains by struggle with-in the system to orestall the emergence o arevolutionary consciousness. A signicantpart o these gains came at the expense o dependent and exploited countries o thethird world, which were thereby preventedrom using their resources or their own in-dependent development. As a result, thecentre o revolutionary struggle shited romthe advanced to the retarded parts o thecapitalist world.
While Marxists share a conception o reality, they dier in many respects in ex-plaining the world and in assessing it. Also, the intellectual structure created by the ounders o Marxism – Marx and En-gels – has been signicantly modied andadapted, as it no doubt should, with ad- vances in human knowledge and under-standing, and with the development o capitalism into a global system. But, ando course, its scientic validity should be judged in the rst instance by its contribu-tions to the ability to explain reality.However, there is something even moreexacting – in the very long run, Marxismhas to be judged by the ruits o its projecto taking humanity along the road to- wards equality, cooperation, community,and solidarity. We should have done thisearlier, but it is now apt to bring into ocusthe most crucial character o Marxism,something, ollowing Sweezy, we alludedto in the beginning o this article. The whole purpose o constructing and re-constructing its distinctive intellectualstructure to understand the world wasand is so that this exercise may lay the ba-sis o changing society or the better. Thisis stated most succinctly in Marx’s 1845
Theses on Feuerbach
: “The philosophershave only 
interpreted
the world; the pointhowever is to
change
it.” But integratingtheory and practice (developing a strategy and a set o tactics or changing the worldor the better and implementing them) isar more dicult and messy a project.Marx and Engels wrote
The Communist Maniesto
in December 1847 and January 1848, but they never even attempted to de-ne, let alone provide any blueprint o thetransitional society (their ollowers calledit socialism) which would in time – that was the expectation – evolve asymptoti-cally towards communism, never really reaching it. As Sweezy has it, in Marx andEngels’ conception, the transitional stage/society (“socialism”)
1
would begin its ex-istence as “primarily a negation o capital-ism which would develop its own positiveidentity (communism) through a revolu-tionary struggle in which the proletariat would remake society and in the processremake itsel” (1983: 2-3).But, rankly, the proletariat in the devel-oped capitalist countries, or reasons al-ready mentioned, was increasingly losingits quality as the source and carrier o revo-lutionary practice. The development o the working class, the advance o human capa-bility – always at the very centre o theorces o production – was not perceivedby the workers as being hindered by the re-lations o production; the latter was notdiscerned as intolerable by the workers aslong as they were able to extract betterterms rom capital through their struggles(strikes, etc) within the connes o the sys-tem. Why should they then bear the risk o losing what they were gaining in thepresent when what they could gain by re- volting against the system was highly un-certain and ar away in the uture? In other words, Marx and Engels did not blame the workers or the lack o a revolutionary con-sciousness; the objective conditions werenot there or its germination.What then o early Marxism (it was notcalled Marxism in Marx’s time, but or con- venience we are designating even that pe-riod within its scope) in its mistaken expec-tation, drawn mainly rom its analysis o the living and working conditions o the working class (in Engels’
The Condition o the Working Class in England
, written in late1844, early 1845 when he was 24) and thelogic o Marx’s the amous 1859 Preace to
 
perspective
Economic & Political
Weekly
 
EPW
november 21, 2009 vol xliv no 47
41
 A Contribution to the Critique o Political Economy
that that class in the advancedcapitalist countries would eventually, soon-er or later, revolt and emancipate itsel?The, at rst spontaneous, and later on, or-ganised struggles o the workers, led by theparties o the let, were eventually able toorce the ruling class and its political repre-sentatives to bring in the actory laws and various social legislations, and implementthem, which convinced the workers thatthings could get better even within the con-nes o capitalism. In this, no doubt thesurplus rom the toilers in the colonies/neo-colonies/semi-colonies/dependentcountries (the “periphery”), shared notonly between the local elites and the rulingclasses in the “centre”, but also to an extent,by the working classes there, helped pro- vide part o the cushion. As a result capitalat the “centre” got richer and stronger too.Marx and Engels did not take all o thesedevelopments into account and so proved wrong in their expectations o a socialistEurope. But, to his great credit, Marx didbrilliantly take account o – besides themassive expropriation in Britain throughthe enclosures – capitalism’s pillage, in itsmercantilist phase, o what later came tobe called the “periphery” or the third world,in Part
 VIII
o 
Capital
, Volume 1, entitled,“The So-Called Primitive Accumulation”.He also did not ignore “unequal exchange”– through siphoning a part o the surpluscreated in production via unds used by adistinct class or trade in commodities(merchant capital) – with the periphery, inthe competitive phase o capitalism. Basi-cally, merchant capital played a crucial rolein the periphery, albeit as an appendage o industrial capital at the centre (Kay 1975).Marx had not the opportunity to reorienthis theory o accumulation to take accounto what had begun to happen at the end o his lie, the emergence o capitalism as aglobal system with the ushering in o mo-nopoly capitalism. But, we have it romSweezy (1967: 16) that he was ully awareo the causal relationship between thedevelopment o capitalism at the “centre”,in his day, in Europe and the developmento underdevelopment in the “periphery”.Early Marxism however proved inadequatein elaborating a theory o accumulation ona world scale that would explain the unc-tioning o capitalism as a global system. Allthe same, Marx suggested a way o analys-ing capitalism – how capital got its wealthrom the pillage o the “periphery”, romexpropriation through the enclosures, romthe surplus labour o workers in the past,and rom the acquisition o smaller and weaker units o capital; how the super-structure (the state, the legal system, thedominant ideology and culture) was adapt-ed and modied to acilitate all o this; and with what potentialities. That method was“materialist dialectics”, which was appliedby the best o his ollowers – two o whom were Lenin and Mao – to understand theever-changing world and to intervene tochange it or the better.Meanwhile, the parties leading the vari-ous working class movements in Europe,members o the Second International,continued to pay lip service to the cause o proletarian revolution. But, soon they  were exposed or what they really hadbecome when in 1914 they supported theirrespective governments in the war, an actdemonstrating nothing less than the sel-destruction o internationalism, and thequashing o many a hope o proletarianrevolution.
What i Lennm? What i stalnm?
It was in these the worst o times that Lenin,a thoroughly orthodox Marxist, struck amomentous chord on the political stage with his pamphlet,
 Imperialism: The High-est Stage o Capitalism
(1916), explainingthe war then raging in terms o a divisiono the world into separate spheres o infu-ence and the inter-capitalist struggles orits redivision. Lenin’s purpose was limitedmainly to explain the nature o the warthen underway and what should be doneby socialists leading the working class.Lenin urged that rather than ghting andkilling each other in this imperialist war,the workers must be convinced to convertthe imperialist war into a civil war to over-throw their respective bourgeoisies. Theimpact o accumulation on a world scalein shaping the nature o “underdevelop-ment” o the “periphery” and, in turn, onthe accumulation o capital at the “centre”–and the consciousness o the working classthere – were not the ocus.Instead, in Lenin’s view, the super-protso monopoly capital were, among otherthings, used to bribe an upper stratum o the working class – thereby creating an“aristocracy” o labour – and some leaderso the working class movements. Leninthus blamed the political leaderships o the social-democratic parties leading themovements o their respective workingclasses and their betrayal o the majority o their respective proletariats. The actthat the objective conditions in Europehad changed, which thwarted the permea-tion o a revolutionary consciousness inthe workers on the continent, eluded him.But it may be said – on the whole – o Leninand the Bolsheviks that in the course o their practice they rescued Marxism romthose o its adherents who mistakenly andmechanically interpreted Marx as a “his-torical determinist”.But let me explain the Marxist position. A “determinist” way o thinking arguesthat history and the given conditions ex-isting on the ground uniquely determine what is likely to happen next. In pure con-trast, a “voluntarist” point o view holdsthat almost anything can happen subjectto the will and positive resolve o eectiveleaders and the resolute support they getrom their ollowers. In my view, Marxismis neither “determinist” nor “voluntarist”– in its conception, at any given momentthere are a range o possible outcomes, de-termined both by history and the existingconditions and context. The actual out-come rom among this set will depend onsocial action. That is, which particular in-termediate goal the leaders choose romthe range o possibilities (“strategy”) and whether they and their supporters go abouttrying to achieve that result with appropri-ate tactics, and respond “correctly” to thecourse o events that unold. Clearly, Lenin– and Stalin, and Trotsky, we might add –put great weight on patterns o leadership– centralised direction by a revolutionary elite. Mao did not disagree with this, butrom experience emphasised the necessity o honest and correct eedback rom theparty rank and le and the masses.Stalin has called Leninism the Marxismo the era o “imperialism” and “proletariandictatorship”. But he is one who evokesdeep anguish among many socialists. Onthe one hand, he was the only top leaderamong the Bolsheviks who came rom the wretched o the earth (his ather was a poorcobbler and his mother was o poor

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