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perspective

What Is Maoism? resistance to their business plans are not


crippled once-and-for-all.
Righteous indignation against “left wing
extremism” has reached a crescendo, but-
Bernard D’mello tressed as it is by sections of the commer-
cial media, with images and profiles
What is Maoism? What of its … (A) Marxism stripped of its revolutionary (dished out to the fourth estate by anti-
essence is a contradiction in terms with no
origins and development? What terrorist squad officers) of apprehended
reason for being and no power to survive.
revolutionists a source of excitement for TV
went before its advent? What are – Paul M Sweezy (1983: 7)
audiences. A year and a half ago, my son –

A
its flaws? Where is it going? nuradha Ghandy (Anu as we knew lanky, unkempt, his hair dishevelled – came
Where should it be going, given her) was a member of the central home from school one day to tell us that
its legacy? The questions are of committee of the Communist ­Party his teacher called him a Naxalite (what the
of India (Maoist) (CPI (Maoist)). Early on, Maoists are popularly called). I asked him,
great import, for Maoism has
she developed a sense of obligation to the “How did you react?” He queried, “Daddy,
given birth to a movement which poor; she joined them in their struggle for who are these guys, these Naxalites?” I
has taken root in India, survived bread and roses, the fight for a richer and a answered, “Well, they are rebels who resent
for more than four decades in the fuller life for all. Tragically, cerebral malaria the deep injustice meted out to the poor.”
took her away in April last year. What is He responded, “Well then, I feel proud to
country, and the State has now
this spirit that made her selflessly adopt be called a Naxalite”. The boy is still very
unleashed a massive counter- the cause of the damned of the Indian earth young, but he will soon approach that
insurgency operation – the exploited, the oppressed, and the wonderful time of his life when his urge to
to crush it. dominated – as her own? The risks of join- understand what is going on in the country
ing the Maoist long march seem far too and the world will be unquenchable. More
This essay attempts a stepwise
dangerous to most people, but not for her recently, a malicious and vengeful advertise­
approach to finding first answers – bold, courageous and decisive, yet kind, ment by the home ministry in the newspa-
to the questions – What is gentle and considerate. Perhaps her days pers painted the Maoists as “cold-blooded
Marxism? What is Leninism? were numbered, marked as she was on the criminals”. Maybe it is time for me to
dossiers of the Indian state’s repressive ap- consider how I will answer his question:
What is Stalinism? – and thereby
paratus as one of the most wanted “left What is Maoism?
aims to understand what Maoism wing extremists”. That oppressive, brutal An answer to such a query requires a
is all about. structure has been executing a ­barbaric stepwise approach to finding first answers
counter-insurgency strategy – designed to to questions such as: What is Marxism?
The essay is dedicated to the memory of my maintain the status quo – against the Maoist What is Leninism? What is Stalinism?
first editor, the late Samar Sen (Shômor babu, movement in India. What is it that is driv- Only then, can one get to understanding
as we called him), founder-editor of the ing the Indian state, hell-bent as it is to what Maoism is all about. For after all,
Kolkata-based weekly, Frontier. It is also in
cripple and maim the spirit that inspires Mao’s Marxism undoubtedly stemmed
appreciation of Subhas Aikat whose
Kharagpur-based, hand-to-mouth existing persons like Anu? Practically the whole from the Leninist school; he applied Marx-
Cornerstone Publications brings out an Indian ­Indian polity – from the semi-fascist ism, Leninism (the latter, a school of Marx-
edition of the Monthly Review and books that Bharatiya Janata Party to the main affiliate ism in the age of imperialism) and Stalin-
pose the kind of questions generally shunned by of the parliamentary left, the Communist ism (a decomposed form of Leninism
academia. The essay is my small thanksgiving
Party of India (Marxist) – have pitched in which he also struggled to overcome and
to MR, on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.
I thank Paresh Chattopadhyay, John Mage, against the Maoists, backing a massive go beyond), as a method of analysis of the
P A Sebastian and others for their critical but planned escalation of the deployment of social reality of China. But more, he inter-
helpful comments on an earlier draft; the paramilitary-cum-armed-police, this time vened in that reality through conscious
usual disclaimers apply. with logistical support from the military, to social-political action guided by Marxist
This is a shortened version of a longer and more
crush the rebels. It seems that sections of theory and from the late 1920s to the end
comprehensive article that has been posted on
the web at the site of the MR (http:// monopoly capital – including ArcelorMittal, of the 1960s continuously learnt from
monthlyreview.org/091106dmello.php). the Essar Group, Vedanta Resources, Tata events, thus making possible an enrich-
The unabridged version of this article will Steel, POSCO, and the Sajjan Jindal Group ment of the original.
appear in print in a forthcoming book entitled – have given an ultimatum to the state gov- What has come to be known as Maoism
What Is Maoism and Other Essays (Kharagpur:
ernments concerned and the union govern- had its material roots in China’s under­
Cornerstone Publications), 2010.
ment that they will dump their proposed development, the failed practice of the
Email: bernard@epw.in.
mining/industrial/SEZ projects if the local ­Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47 39
perspective

­ rban areas in the 1920s, and its subse-


u the necessary condition for civilisation. have only interpreted the world; the point
quent peasant-cum-guerrilla-based move- Now humanity faced … a prospect without however is to change it.” But integrating
precedent. Would it go forward to a new and
ment in the countryside. Theoretically, and higher, non-exploitative form of civilisation …
theory and practice (developing a strategy
in practice, Mao’s Marxism was enriched or would the exploitation of the many by the and a set of tactics for changing the world
by overcoming and going beyond Stalin’s few continue to be the way of human life? for the better and implementing them) is
mechanical interpretation of Marx’s theory Marx believed that … capitalism … would far more difficult and messy a project.
of history. And, Mao constantly applied never be able to make use of … (society’s Marx and Engels wrote The Communist
productive forces) for the benefit of the
Marx’s “materialist dialectics” in helping to workers who he thought were on their way
Manifesto in December 1847 and January
understand and resolve multiple “contra- to becoming the majority of the population. 1848, but they never even attempted to de-
dictions” – internal conflicts tending to … Sooner or later…the workers would be- fine, let alone provide any blueprint of the
split what is functionally united – with the come conscious of their real class interests, transitional society (their followers called
likely outcome following from the recipro- organise themselves into a powerful revolu- it socialism) which would in time – that
tionary force, seize power from the capital-
cal actions of the opposing tendencies. It is ists, and begin the transition to a communist
was the expectation – evolve asymptoti-
the fusion of all of this with the original society from which exploitation and classes cally towards communism, never really
Marxism and Leninism that constitutes would finally be abolished. reaching it. As Sweezy has it, in Marx and
Maoism. Like Marxism, at its best, it is a It hasn’t worked out that way. Workers in the Engels’ conception, the transitional stage/
comprehensive world view, a method of more developed capitalist countries were society (“socialism”)1 would begin its ex-
able to make enough gains by struggle with-
analysis and a guide to practice, not a set in the system to forestall the emergence of a
istence as “primarily a negation of capital-
of dogmas. What then is meant by the revolutionary consciousness. A significant ism which would develop its own positive
­Maoist dictum “learn truth from practice”? part of these gains came at the expense of identity (communism) through a revolu-
With this preview, we are now in a posi- dependent and exploited countries of the tionary struggle in which the proletariat
tion to move on. At the outset itself, let me third world, which were thereby prevented would remake society and in the process
from using their resources for their own in-
say that while I speak solely for myself, I dependent development. As a result, the
remake itself” (1983: 2-3).
make no claim whatsoever to originality. I centre of revolutionary struggle shifted from But, frankly, the proletariat in the devel-
wrote this piece as a self-clarifying exer- the advanced to the retarded parts of the oped capitalist countries, for reasons al-
cise and submitted it for publication in the capitalist world. ready mentioned, was increasingly losing
hope that it might help others like me, While Marxists share a conception of its quality as the source and carrier of revo-
striving to be educated about matters that reality, they differ in many respects in ex- lutionary practice. The development of the
are not academic. plaining the world and in assessing it. working class, the advance of human capa-
Also, the intellectual structure created by bility – always at the very centre of the
What Is Marxism? the founders of Marxism – Marx and En- forces of production – was not perceived
In searching for an answer to this question, gels – has been significantly modified and by the workers as being hindered by the re-
I can do no better than what the Monthly adapted, as it no doubt should, with ad- lations of production; the latter was not
Review has taught me. In one of the vances in human knowledge and under- discerned as intolerable by the workers as
­founder-editor’s words (Sweezy 1985: 2): standing, and with the development of long as they were able to extract better
Marxism is above all, a comprehensive world capitalism into a global system. But, and terms from capital through their struggles
view, what Germans call a Weltanschauung of course, its scientific validity should be (strikes, etc) within the confines of the sys-
– a body of philosophical, economic, politi- judged in the first instance by its contribu- tem. Why should they then bear the risk of
cal, sociological, scientific … principles, all
tions to the ability to explain reality. losing what they were gaining in the
interrelated and together forming an inde-
pendent and largely self-sufficient intellec- However, there is something even more present when what they could gain by re-
tual structure. … It is a guide to life and so- exacting – in the very long run, Marxism volting against the system was highly un-
cial practice, and in the long run its validity has to be judged by the fruits of its project certain and far away in the future? In other
can only be judged by its fruits.
of taking humanity along the road to- words, Marx and Engels did not blame the
In its view, prior to the development of wards equality, cooperation, community, workers for the lack of a revolutionary con-
capitalism, civilisation had been impossi- and solidarity. We should have done this sciousness; the objective conditions were
ble without exploitation; the social surplus earlier, but it is now apt to bring into focus not there for its germination.
appropriated was (1985: 3-4) the most crucial character of Marxism, What then of early Marxism (it was not
concentrated in the hands of a few, so that something, following Sweezy, we alluded called Marxism in Marx’s time, but for con-
luxury, wealth, civilisation at one pole was to in the beginning of this article. The venience we are designating even that pe-
necessarily matched by poverty, misery, and
whole purpose of constructing and re- riod within its scope) in its mistaken expec-
degradation at the other.
It was into such a world that capitalism was constructing its distinctive intellectual tation, drawn mainly from its analysis of
born …incomparably the most productive structure to understand the world was the living and working conditions of the
and in that sense progressive society the and is so that this exercise may lay the ba- working class (in Engels’ The Condition of
world had ever seen. …indeed, for the first
sis of changing society for the better. This the Working Class in England, written in late
time ever it made possible a society in which
exploitation and the concentration of the is stated most succinctly in Marx’s 1845 1844, early 1845 when he was 24) and the
surplus in the hands of a few was no longer Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers logic of Marx’s the famous 1859 ­Preface to
40 november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly
perspective

A Contribution to the Critique of Political the same, Marx suggested a way of analys- the working class – thereby creating an
Economy that that class in the advanced ing capitalism – how capital got its wealth “aristocracy” of labour – and some leaders
capitalist countries would eventually, soon- from the pillage of the “periphery”, from of the working class movements. Lenin
er or later, revolt and emancipate itself? expropriation through the enclosures, from thus blamed the political leaderships of
The, at first spontaneous, and later on, or- the surplus labour of workers in the past, the social-democratic parties leading the
ganised struggles of the workers, led by the and from the acquisition of smaller and movements of their respective working
parties of the left, were eventually able to weaker units of capital; how the super- classes and their betrayal of the majority
force the ruling class and its political repre- structure (the state, the legal system, the of their respective proletariats. The fact
sentatives to bring in the factory laws and dominant ideology and culture) was adapt- that the objective conditions in Europe
various social legislations, and implement ed and modified to facilitate all of this; and had changed, which thwarted the permea-
them, which convinced the workers that with what potentialities. That method was tion of a revolutionary consciousness in
things could get better even within the con- “materialist dialectics”, which was applied the workers on the continent, eluded him.
fines of capitalism. In this, no doubt the by the best of his followers – two of whom But it may be said – on the whole – of Lenin
surplus from the toilers in the colonies/ were Lenin and Mao – to understand the and the Bolsheviks that in the course of
neo-colonies/semi-colonies/dependent ever-changing world and to intervene to their practice they rescued Marxism from
cou­n­tries (the “periphery”), shared not change it for the better. those of its adherents who mistakenly and
only between the local elites and the ruling Meanwhile, the parties leading the vari- mechanically interpreted Marx as a “his-
classes in the “centre”, but also to an extent, ous working class movements in Europe, torical determinist”.
by the working classes there, helped pro- members of the Second International, But let me explain the Marxist position.
vide part of the cushion. As a result capital continued to pay lip service to the cause of A “determinist” way of thinking argues
at the “centre” got richer and stronger too. proletarian revolution. But, soon they that history and the given conditions ex-
Marx and Engels did not take all of these were exposed for what they really had isting on the ground uniquely determine
developments into account and so proved ­become when in 1914 they supported their what is likely to happen next. In pure con-
wrong in their expectations of a socialist respective governments in the war, an act trast, a “voluntarist” point of view holds
Europe. But, to his great credit, Marx did demonstrating nothing less than the self- that almost anything can happen subject
brilliantly take account of – besides the destruction of internationalism, and the to the will and positive resolve of effective
massive expropriation in Britain through quashing of many a hope of proletarian leaders and the resolute support they get
the enclosures – capitalism’s pillage, in its revolution. from their followers. In my view, Marxism
mercantilist phase, of what later came to is neither “determinist” nor “voluntarist”
be called the “periphery” or the third world, What Is Leninism? What Is Stalinism? – in its conception, at any given moment
in Part VIII of Capital, Volume 1, entitled, It was in these the worst of times that Lenin, there are a range of possible outcomes, de-
“The So-Called Primitive Accumulation”. a thoroughly orthodox Marxist, struck a termined both by history and the existing
He also did not ignore “unequal exchange” momentous chord on the political stage conditions and context. The actual out-
– through siphoning a part of the surplus with his pamphlet, Imperialism: The High­ come from among this set will depend on
created in production via funds used by a est Stage of Capitalism (1916), explaining social action. That is, which particular in-
distinct class for trade in commodities the war then raging in terms of a division termediate goal the leaders choose from
(merchant capital) – with the periphery, in of the world into separate spheres of influ- the range of possibilities (“strategy”) and
the competitive phase of capitalism. Basi- ence and the inter-capitalist struggles for whether they and their supporters go about
cally, merchant capital played a crucial role its redivision. Lenin’s purpose was limited trying to achieve that result with appropri-
in the periphery, albeit as an appendage of mainly to explain the nature of the war ate tactics, and respond “correctly” to the
industrial capital at the centre (Kay 1975). then underway and what should be done course of events that unfold. Clearly, Lenin
Marx had not the opportunity to reorient by socialists leading the working class. – and Stalin, and Trotsky, we might add –
his theory of accumulation to take account Lenin urged that rather than fighting and put great weight on patterns of leadership
of what had begun to happen at the end of killing each other in this imperialist war, – centralised direction by a revolutionary
his life, the emergence of capitalism as a the workers must be convinced to convert elite. Mao did not dis­agree with this, but
global system with the ushering in of mo- the imperialist war into a civil war to over- from experience ­emphasised the necessity
nopoly capitalism. But, we have it from throw their respective bourgeoisies. The of honest and correct feedback from the
Sweezy (1967: 16) that he was fully aware impact of accumulation on a world scale party rank and file and the masses.
of the causal relationship between the in shaping the nature of “underdevelop- Stalin has called Leninism the Marxism
development of capitalism at the “centre”, ment” of the “periphery” and, in turn, on of the era of “imperialism” and “proletarian
in his day, in Europe and the development the accumulation of capital at the ­“centre”– dictatorship”. But he is one who evokes
of underdevelopment in the “periphery”. and the consciousness of the working class deep anguish among many socialists. On
Early Marxism however proved inadequate there – were not the focus. the one hand, he was the only top leader
in elaborating a theory of accumulation on Instead, in Lenin’s view, the super-profits among the Bolsheviks who came from the
a world scale that would explain the func- of monopoly capital were, among other wretched of the earth (his father was a poor
tioning of capitalism as a global system. All things, used to bribe an upper stratum of cobbler and his mother was of poor
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47 41
perspective

­ easant-serf stock), fortunate to have been


p and the other early Bolsheviks’ (before leads one to make a very strong case for
educated at a religious seminary; it was Stalin’s consolidation of power) was com- civil and democratic rights and liberties
under his leadership that the Soviet Union pletely at odds with that of Marx. The sug- (these have been gained through historic
and its Red Army vanquished the might of gestion seems to be that, given this original struggles waged by the underdogs) that
the German armed forces in the second flaw, and economic and social backward- should not be allowed to be abrogated
world war to safeguard humanity from ness, it was only a matter of time before come what may.
fascism. And as long as he lived it was pos- the ruling elite in the Soviet Union meta- For our purpose over here, however, it
sible to believe (mistakenly, in the view of morphosed into a ruling class, legitimising would be pertinent to briefly mention the
some) in the existence of a global coordi- its authoritarian (and, in this view, exploit- way Lenin conceived of the revolution in
nated movement in active revolutionary ative) rule in the name of Marxism. Cer- “backward” capitalist Russia where, in his
conflict with capitalism and imperialism. tainly, as a result, Marxism and Leninism analysis, the bourgeoisie and its political
But, on the other hand, he consigned have been discredited in the eyes of many. representatives were incapable of bringing
Leninism and socialism to the grave – that After all, following the seizure of power in about the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”
which is not democratic can never be October 1917, did not the means begin to – overthrowing czarism and seizing and
socialist. Indeed, as Harry Braverman shape the very ends to eventually over- dismantling the feudal estates – making it
(1969: 54) put it: whelm the socialist aspiration? However, I imperative that the working class in alliance
The destruction of the old Bolshevik Party think one should take account of what has with the peasants take over that task, only
closed innumerable possibilities to the Soviet come to be called “Lenin’s last struggle” – to quickly move on to the next stage, that
Union, and it is hard to envision them all. warning of serious danger from the growth of socialist revolution. In all of this, the
[And, in a footnote, he adds] Stalin did not of a ruling bureaucracy and from the “cru- worker-peasant alliance was to be led by
stop with the annihilation of the left and
dity” of Stalin. Beyond this, it seems to me, the vanguard party. Lenin’s conception of
the right oppositions, led respectively by
Trotsky and Bukharin. He turned on his
and I have come to believe this, that given such a party then becomes germane – its
own faction, and, as Khrushchev told the the existence of class, patriarchy, racism purpose was to politically organise and
Twentieth Congress, executed 98 of 139 (70%) (and caste, one might add) over millennia, bring revolutionary ideas to the working
of the Central Committee selected at the power and compulsion are deeply rooted class, more generally, the masses, and
Seventeenth Congress in 1934. in social reality; indeed, they have almost lead the revolution to establish a “dicta-
Paresh Chattopadhyay (2005) argues become part of the basic inherited (but not torship of the proletariat”. Marx had
that the very notion of socialism in Lenin unchangeable) human condition, which ­conceptualised the latter as a system in

The theory of Communism as enunciated by Marx and Engels in The


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the captialist exploitation. But, the system was creating its own grave- a new series from
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42 november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly
perspective

which, following the seizure of power, this •  the view that class struggle intensifies the perspectives which had inspired State
would be the regime in which the prole- with the advance of socialism; and Revolution”. Can we thus conclude that
tariat would “not only exercise the sort of •  the cult of personality, with an obsessive Lenin wanted “the creation of a society in
hegemony hitherto exercised by the bour- focus on the supreme leader’s will; which the state would be strictly subordi-
geoisie”, but a “form of government, with •  forced collectivisation and rapid indus- nated to the rule and self-government of
the working class actually governing, and trialisation; the people” (Miliband 2000b: 525)? The
fulfilling many of the tasks hitherto per- •  crude suppression of dissent, and of crit- contrast between theory and practice, in
formed by the state”, and Lenin fully en- ical intelligence and free discussion this respect, could not have been starker.
dorsed this view (Miliband 2000: 151). Of within the party; Frankly, one has to clearly distinguish be-
course, in Lenin’s way of thinking, the •  the “political” trials and the purges, and tween what one says and what one does.
dictatorship of the proletariat was to be elimination of most of the major figures After all, what happened to the Congress of
exercised by the workers under the guidance of the Bolshevik Revolution; Soviets – soviets which had the potential to
of the vanguard party. •  the forced labour camps where thou- be self-governing organs of the workers
The latter evolved over time – in the sands of ordinary people suffered com- and the peasants – that had arisen almost
conditions imposed by illegality, inner- plete ruin ­(recalling this makes me cry); spontaneously from the movement of
party organisation was different in 1902 •  opposition to fascism and a decisive con- February 1917? By the summer of 1918 the
from that following 1905, and then Febru- tribution to the Allied victory over it; and, soviets had no more than a mere formal
ary 1917, when a mass-based party adher- •  the discrediting of Marxism-Leninism be- existence. The main institution of the dic-
ing to “democratic centralism” was seen to cause of a mechanical interpretation of it, tatorship of the proletariat, the Soviets of
fit the bill. Democratic centralism was and its stamping as official state ideology Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (independ-
conceived as an inner-party organisational to legitimise elite/ruling class power. ent of any one party), took the back seat,
principle and practice where the various All the same, it seems that Lenin’s aspi- with the party leadership at the steering
factions within the party strictly adhere to ration and vision of the socialist state – as (Miliband 1970). Indeed, the dictatorship
the guideline “freedom of discussion, expressed in State and Revolution, written of the proletariat was deemed impossible
­unity of action” (Johnstone 2000: 135). Of in the summer of 1917 – after the seizure of except through the leadership of the single
course, what happened in practice was the power was inspired by Marx’s lauding of party; socialist pluralism too got precluded
stamping out of the democratic compo- the 1871 Paris Commune and drawing (ibid). But, to be fair, it is important though
nent; in 1921, factions were virtually out- lessons from it about the future socialist to note that Lenin, in his last writings, ex-
lawed, something Stalin is said to have “state”. Marx was emphatic that the working pressed the need to create the basis for
taken advantage of to ultimately ­secure class, after taking power, should not simply popular self-governance, for which, he felt,
his domination of the party (Johnstone take control of the existing structure, in- there must be a genuine revolution, where
2000a: 408-409). In parallel, the dictator- stitutions and machinery of the old state, culture flowers among the people. Was he
ship of the proletariat – conceived as a dic- all of which had to be “smashed” and re- then calling for a “cultural revolution”,
tatorship over the former ruling classes, placed by a state of a radically new type. something that Mao launched in China in
but a democratic role model as far as the As Ralph Miliband (2000b: 524) sets forth 1966 with the aim of “preventing capitalist
masses were concerned – came to be Marx’s depiction of the credo of the Com- restoration” (Thomson 1970: 125)?
“widely associated with the dictatorship mune, which Lenin seems to have
of the party and the state over the whole ­accepted, and the role of the party envis- Maoism: Evolution and
of society, including the proletariat” aged by the latter in his tract, The State Development2
(Miliband 2000: 152), which came to be and Revolution: Millennia are too long: Let us dispute over
mornings and evenings.
associated with Stalinism. [All state officials] would be elected, be sub-
– Mao Zedong (1963)
Stalinism – a decomposed version of ject to recall at any time and their salary
Leninism closely associated with the re- would be fixed at the level of workers’ wages. The conventional wisdom of the day
Representative institutions would be re-
gime in the Soviet Union from the late presents Mao as some kind of a “monster”,
tained, but the representatives would be
1920s to the time of Stalin’s death in 1953 closely and constantly controlled by their for instance, in Jung Chang and Jon
– has to be seen, as Ralph Miliband rightly electors, and also subject to recall. In effect, ­Halliday’s 2005 book, Mao: The Unknown
emphasised, in the context of Russian his- the proletarian majority was intended not Story, which, in its obsessive intent to
tory (2000a: 517). However, given the con- only to rule but actually to govern in a re- denigrate Mao, is least concerned with
gime which amounted to the exercise of
straint of brevity, we can, at most, only list the known facts about the man (Gao
semi-direct popular power.
its principal characteristics, drawing A very remarkable feature of State and Revo­ 2008: chapters 4 and 5). It is evident that
largely – but not uncritically – from Mili- lution, given the importance Lenin always a “battle for ­China’s past” is underway,
band (ibid: 517-19): attributed to the role of the party, is the quite with the elite intelligentsia leading the at-
•  the outlook that it is possible to build subsidiary role it is allotted in this instance. tack. The latter are Chinese, who were
“socialism in one country”; But Lenin’s vision of the socialist state the victims, real or imagined, direct or
•  the opinion that under socialism there “did not survive the Bolshevik seizure of ­indirect, of the Cultural Revolution (CR),
must be a very strong state; power”. Yet, he “never formally renounced and some leading lights in the “China
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47 43
perspective

Studies” field the world over, who have the fight against feudalism/semi-feudalism. upon with their participation. The party
always been prone to somersaults The quality of the leadership was crucially leaders thereby correctly understand the
­depending on the direction of the political important (Sweezy 1976: 10). It adopted opinions of the people, and so fashion the
wind in Washington. the strategy of protracted people’s war required policies in a manner the masses
The credo of objectivity that is repeat- (PPW), which relied on the peasants, built will support and actively implement. Mao
edly claimed is a myth. It is not surprising rural base areas, carried out “land to the summed this up pithily as: “from the
that in a world where “the ideas of the tiller” and other social policies (for in- masses, to the masses”. Indeed, in the
­ruling class are in every epoch the ruling stance, dealing with the gender question process of participating in the “land to the
ideas”, the views of the beneficiaries of the through the mobilisation of women in the tiller”, land investigation, and in the ideo-
cr, the peasants and the workers, who countryside) in these areas (run demo- logical struggles, the people understood
gained in terms of education, healthcare cratically as miniature, self-reliant states) the local class structure and the ideas and
and other aspects of ­social welfare, as thereby building up a political mass base institutions bolstering the status quo
also, in the “voice” they got in the fields in the countryside to finally encircle and ­(Gurley 1976: 71-72).
and the factories, and in the ­political are- “capture” the cities. This brings us to three crucial dimen-
na, are not being heard (Gao 2008). Here it needs to be emphasised that it sions of Maoist theory and practice in
With this necessary communication of was only during the anti-Japanese resist- trying to enrich the democratic process
the side I lean on, let me then get to the ance (1937-45), when the contradiction be- in the Leninist vanguard party, the mass or-
origins of Maoism, which got its lease on tween Japanese imperialism and national ganisations, and the society. In the
life in the immediate aftermath of the independence became the principal one Maoist conception of the vanguard party,
eventual rejection of the disastrous line of (playing the leading role), relegating the just like in Lenin’s, centralised guidance by
“united front from within” (leading to re- fight between feudalism and the masses to a revolutionary elite is at the core, and this
straints on organisational independence), a secondary and subordinate position, that elite leadership is drawn from intellectuals,
which was virtually forced on the CCP by the CCP managed to shift nationalist opin- workers and peasants, with the difference
the Third International (the Comintern) ion progressively in its favour. that workers and peasants are sought to be
in 1923. It was claimed by the latter that At the core of the NDR was opposition to represented, over time, in greater propor-
the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chang the transformation of the society under the tion. What is however distinctive in Mao is
­Kai-shek (after Sun Yat-sen died in March leadership of the bourgeoisie and its political the conscious effort to fuse the inner-party
1925), represented the “revolutionary representatives. The NDR – unambiguously organisational principle of democratic cen-
­national bourgeoisie” of China. This led by the communist party – suppressed tralism (“freedom of discussion, unity of
­alliance was supposed to produce national the big bourgeoisie because, even as it re- action”) with the mass line (“from the
liberation and the bourgeois-democratic tained private capitalist enterprise, it was masses, to the masses”), the mass orga­
revolution (revolution led by the bourgeoi- primarily meant to create the prerequisites nisations under party leadership providing
sie in alliance with the workers and peas- for socialism. the crucial link between the two. However,
ants), but led only to the disastrous defeat At the heart of the course of the NDR, a word over here about the claim of the
of the communists at the hands of Chang’s from 1927 to 1949, was the building of vanguard party being led by the proletariat
counter-revolution in 1927, leading to the base areas, involving the following ­(Gurley might be in order. Here, as Benjamin
civil war (1928-35). 1976: 70-71): Schwartz (1977: 26) explains, in Maoism,
But even in defeat there was a silver lin- (1) Achieving victory in the political strug- the term “proletarian” refers to a set of
ing: no doubt the Chang-led KMT control- gle, thereby establishing the basis for moral qualities – “self-abnegation, limitless
led the bulk of the armed forces; but the ­running a miniature state in the base area; sacrifice to the needs of the collectivity,
Fourth Army deserted in August 1927 to (2) winning the economic struggle – land guerrilla-like self-reliance, unflagging
join the communists, which led to the to the tiller, land investigation, promotion ­energy …iron discipline, etc” – as the norm
founding of the Red Army. A new leader- of mutual aid and cooperation, and achiev- of true collectivist behaviour. Proletarian
ship of the CCP gradually began to coalesce ing the development of the productive leadership then comes to be constituted by
around Mao; however, it was only by forces (the material means of production a set of intellectuals, workers and peasants
around 1932 that this budding “Maoist” and human capabilities) in agriculture and who excel in these moral requirements.
authority gained legitimacy and the CCP small industry; and, (3) carrying off the We are thus beginning to grasp some
could forge, and refine over time, its own cultural and ideo­logical struggle, with a distinctive features of Maoism – the con-
strategy and path to achieve the goals of great deal of overlapping among the three. ception of NDR as opposed to that of
the “new democratic revolution” (NDR). All of this – whether political, economic, ­bourgeois-democratic revolution; PPW;
It was the CCP under Mao that most or cultural and ideological – entailed fol- “base areas” and the way they are estab-
effectively challenged the Comintern line lowing the “mass line”, which is a distinc- lished; the principal contradiction (which
by refusing to surrender control and leader- tive feature of Maoism. This is a method of may change over time) steering the course
ship to those who could not be relied upon involving the masses in how, for instance, of the PPW; and, democratic centralism plus
to carry through to the very end the strug- each of the above is to be done and then the mass line. It is then time to introduce
gle for genuine national independence or implementing what had been decided what may indeed be the differentia specifica
44 november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly
perspective

of Maoism, best done by illustration from Revolution in a Chinese Village (1983), 40:60 to 60:40, for, over time, it was liv-
Maoist practice in China. We have already which together provide a rich documentary ing ­labour that had created the addition to
alluded to the idea that the road to social- account of the land reform in Long Bow ­assets. A time would then come when the
ism was already entered upon and strug- village of Shanxi province during 1946-48, new assets created by labour overwhelm
gles to persist on that road were under­ onward to the formation of mutual aid the original assets pooled at the time of
taken early on in the new democratic stage teams, and from 1953, the merging of the formation of the cooperative, when it
of the revolution itself. We said that the big those teams into “elementary coopera- then became appropriate to abolish the
bourgeoisie is suppressed during the NDR tives”, and from there to advanced coop- capital share of the net output, that is,
itself in order to lay the ground – create the eratives and further on into communes, move to “advanced cooperatives”.
preconditions – for socialism. Why? and tracing developments up to 1971. They The latter entailed a definite socialist
Socialists, more than others, are well tell a whole lot of facts, even those that advance, involving all peasant households
aware that there are definite limits to the contradict what the author is trying to being incorporated in such producer coop-
compatibility of capitalism and demo­ ­argue, but it is difficult to even propose a eratives, with common ownership of all
cracy, that is, if the latter is understood as framework to look at this whole social productive resources. As Hinton (1994:
government in accordance with the will canvas. However, fortunately, subsequently 6-7) puts it:
of the people (Sweezy 1980). But from a Hinton has helped provide such an When the new capital created by living
capitalist point of view, such democracy is ­enabling structure (1994; 2002; 2004), ­labour surpasses and finally overwhelms the
acceptable and considered viable only if though he also revised his assessment of old capital with which the group started out,
then rewarding old shareholders with dis-
the majority continues to believe that the the cr following the publication of S
­ henfan
proportionate payments amounts to exploi-
capitalist system is the best for them, or (Pugh 2005). tation, a transfer of wealth from those who
that there is no alternative but to live with Perhaps it would be best to begin where create it by hard labour to those who own
it. The moment this belief erodes, demo­ Fanshen concludes (Hinton 1966: 603): the original shares and may, currently, not
cracy becomes a potential danger to capi- labour at all.
Land reform, by creating basic equality among
talism, best illustrated in the case of Chile rural producers, only presented the producers Of course, with one more step on the col-
from 1970 following the coming into office with a choice of roads: private enterprise on lective ladder, the advanced cooperatives
the land leading to capitalism, or collective
of a party pledged to beginning the transi- were turned into larger units of collective
enterprise on the land leading to socialism.
tion to socialism, whereupon the big bour- economy and government – the communes.
geoisie collaborated with Washington and In 1948 itself, the peasants had begun The point however is that in each step of
the military took over to save capitalism to form mutual aid teams where a small the ladder leading up to ­collectivisation,
there (Sweezy 1980). To circumvent such number of households pooled resources the preconditions of the next step were in-
a possibility, a new type of democracy other than land (tools, implements, draft troduced, which helped resolve the old
(“new democracy”) has to be created power, occasional labour) but still culti- contradictions and smoothed the transition
which does not preclude the transition to vated the land on an individual basis. to the next step/stage.
socialism if the majority want it, for which, Then in 1953 the formation of elementary But, it is alleged that the strategy of the
the big bourgeoisie has to be suppressed. cooperatives got underway, in which land Great Leap Forward (GLF) (1958-61) and the
In effect, the NDR does not do away with as well as other resources were pooled, organisation of the people’s communes,
capitalism, but it confiscates the property but individual ownership rights were and the left deviations of that period led
of the imperialists and the big bourgeoisie maintained. Incomes were based partly to a massive famine in which up to 30
– those at the apex of wealth, power and on property ownership and partly on million people are said to have died.3
privilege – and hence stymies the anti- ­labour time committed to cooperative pro- Then, there have been the excessive
democratic opposition to socialism from duction in ratios set to garner majority ­v iolence and the personal tragedies of the
their representatives and backers. ­local support. Here dividends had to be CR. For both, the excesses of the GLF and
But let us elaborate upon the Maoist paid on the assets, including land, made the CR, Mao and Maoism have been held
idea of steps within the new democratic available, but the complaint of the middle entirely responsible. Hinton however
stage, steps in the transition to socialism, and rich peasants was that this was not as ­disagrees. To get to the truth, he explains
and steps within the socialist stage itself, much as they would otherwise have got, the context – that of “protracted political
and the thought that the preconditions of that is, if they had cultivated individually warfare” (Hinton 2004: 51). The NDR was
a subsequent step/stage in the process of by hiring in labour. But when crop yields a revolution of a new type, new in that it
progressive change must be created with- began to increase because of more inten- was meant to create the preconditions for
in the step/stage that has to be transited sive use of labour in the cooperative mode, the socialist road, unlike bourgeois-­
from. The land reform programme lead- the conflict regarding how to divide the democratic revolutions that open the
ing on in steps to communes can be used income as between the labour contributed road to capitalism. Following 1949, how-
as an apt illustration. It may be best to and the assets pooled became sharper ever, the resolution of the contradictions
take William Hinton’s books, Fanshen: A (Hinton 1983: 142-43). The resolution with semi-feudalism and imperialism
Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese usually took the form of moving from brought the contradiction between
Village (1966) and Shenfan: The Continuing something like a labour to capital share of ­capitalism and the Chinese working
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47 45
perspective

­ eople to the fore – the latter became the


p ­ eglected the growth of human capability,
n scientific and artistic pursuits’], knowl-
principal contradiction. which should have constituted the core of edge, again practice, and again knowledge.
Right from the time of the launch of the NDR,
the forces of production. Again, Stalin This form repeats itself in endless cycles,
the CCP had been divided into two ­essentially viewed the direction of causa- and with each cycle the content of practice
major factions – a “proletarian” one, headed tion as a one-way route from change in the and knowledge rises to a higher level”.
by Mao, and a “bourgeois” one, headed by Liu forces of production to alteration in the And, in his outstanding August 1937 essay
Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping; pre-liberation,
­relations of production, and thereon to On Contradiction he holds that contradic-
the former was based in the liberated areas,
while the latter was in the KMT-dominated
­revamp of the superstructure (Mao 1977). tions – the struggle between functionally
cities. After liberation in 1949, the two fac- Mao instead argued that elements of united opposites – cause continual
tions “merged as one organisationally, but the superstructure are transformed only change. Development stems from the res-
they never did merge ideologically” (Hinton with a considerable lag; the old culture olution of contradictions and strategy in-
2004: 54). This led to a fundamental split
hangs on long after the material base of volves choice of the form of struggle most
over development strategy and policy ever
since Mao took China decisively on to the so-
the economy is radically altered. But, if a suited to resolve a contradiction. But the
cialist road. It was on the eve of the GLF that conscious effort is made to change the ele- desired qualitative alteration can be
Mao declared on 27 February 1957 (“On the ments of the superstructure, this, in turn, brought only through a series of stages,
Correction Handling of Contradictions among affects the economic base (the productive where the existing stage is impregnated
the People”): “...the question of which will
forces and the relations of production). with the hybrid seeds of the subsequent
win out, socialism or capitalism, is still not
settled”. As Hinton put it: “No policy, from
Hence, Mao was bent on ushering in the one, thereby dissolving the salient con­
­either side, could be applied without contest”, people’s communes even before the mod- tradictions of the former and ushering in
which meant extreme ­friction between the ernisation of agriculture, for the former, the latter. Mao’s Marxism was of the
two factions (ibid: 55, see also 56-59). in his view, by changing the relations of ­Leninist school, albeit tending closer to
Basically, in order to resolve the con- production and elements of the super- its Stalinist version (which, as we have
tradiction between the “proletarian line” structure, the latter with a lag, would, in seen, is a decomposed version of Lenin-
and the “bourgeois line” within the party turn, spur the productive forces. Hence, ism), but struggling to overcome and go
in ­favour of the former, the Maoists, in also the stress upon the stifling economic beyond Stalinism.
the CR, tried to plant the seeds of a later effects of the prevailing class structure of We have traversed a wide canvas with
stage of socialism in the earlier stage it- the factories during the CR, or of the domi- some wild strokes, covering the ground
self, thus ­doing away with a mechanical nation of landlords and “comprador-­ from Marxism to Leninism, and from
separation of the two stages and concen- bureaucrat” capitalists in the pre-liberation there to its Stalinist revision, and then to
trating instead on their interrelations period, or on the liberating effects of Maoism in terms of its evolution and
(Magdoff 1975: 53). The two stages of so- smashing the superstructure (for example, ­development in China from the late 1920s
cialism, supposed to follow chronologi- Confucian culture) (Howe and Walker to the late 1960s, focusing on its dif­
cally, are the phase where distribution of 1977: pp 176-77; Gurley 1976: chapter 2). ferentiae specifica. The latter, we have
the social product is according to the How apparently open-ended the interrela- found, are:
principle “from each according to her/his tions among and between the forces of •  the poor peasantry of the interior of a
abilities, to each according to her/his production, the relations of production, backward capitalist/semi-feudal society
work” followed by the phase where distri- and the superstructure are in Mao’s con- rather than the urban proletariat con­
bution is according to the norm “from ception of Marx’s theory of history? stitute the mass support base of the
each according to her/his abilities, to movement;
each according to her/his needs”. Marrying the Various Strands •  theory of revolution by stages as well as
It is then clear that Maoists reject Stalin’s We have seen in this essay that, at its best, uninterrupted revolution, implying a
mechanical interpretation of Marx’s 1859 Marxism leads one to expect a close inter- close link between successive stages;
Preface to A Contribution to the Critique relationship between theory and practice; •  the stage of NDR, which makes capital-
of Political Economy as a deterministic where either is scarce the other will be ism much more compatible with demo­
theory of history. Mao accused Stalin of acutely disadvantaged. Maoism, by and cracy, thereby aiding the transition to
emphasising only the forces of production large, has privileged practice over theory – socialism;
(the means of production and human ca- it views practice as the foundation of •  the path and strategy of PPW, which re-
pability) to the neglect of the relations of ­theory. But what does the Maoist dictum lies on the peasants, builds rural base
production (relations at work, and owner- “seek truth from practice mean”? At its areas, carries out “land to the tiller” and
ship relations that bestow control over the best, and if one reads Mao’s July 1937 other social policies in these areas (run
forces of production and the product), and ­definitive On Practice: On the Relation be­ democratically as miniature, self-reli-
the superstructure (institutions such as tween Know­ledge and Practice, Between ant states) thereby building up a politi-
the state, the family, religion, education, Knowing and Doing, he takes on both, the cal mass base in the countryside to fi-
and the law, and culture and ideology). dogmatists and the empiricists, the “right nally encircle and capture the cities;
Even among the productive forces, Stalin opportunists” and the “leftists”. As he puts •  the conception of “base areas” and the
– Mao alleges – in a relative sense, it: “Practice [‘class struggle, political life, way to establishing them;
46 november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly
perspective

•  “capturing” (winning mass support in) Even in the mid-1960s the question of the 20th century. What is worse, even as
the cities by demonstrating a brand of whether it will be capitalism or socialism Mao was in his last years, People’s China
nationalism that is genuinely anti-im- in China was still unsettled. At the age of entered into an accommodation with US
perialist, thereby re-orienting an exist- 72, the guerrilla in Mao stirred again – imperialism against the Soviet Union –
ing mass nationalist upsurge (as during better to burn out than to hit the skids. As Mao’s On Contradiction was misapplied to
the anti-Japanese resistance, 1937-45 in Jerome Ch’en (1968: 5), quoting Mao the justify the arrangement. In a blatant viola-
China) in favour of the completion of poet put it: tion of an important Maoist tenet, nation-
the NDR; The Chinese revolution was at a cross-road.
alism got the better of anti-imperialism
•  democratic centralism plus the “mass It could “look down the precipices” and beat when in 1974 Deng Xiaoping used so-
line”, ensuring that “democracy” does a retreat or “reach the ninth heaven high ...” called “three worlds’ theory” to ration­
not take a backseat to “centralism” and and then “return to merriment and triumphant alise the “right-wing” turn in China’s
songs”. The choice, according to the poet, de-
making sure the people are involved in foreign policy. But despite all these short-
pended entirely upon one’s “will to ascend”.
policymaking and its implementation; comings, there can be little doubt that
•  the central idea that contradictions – Four years later, all that remained were over the longer period, from the late 1920s
the struggle between functionally the embers – the time had come to just to the late 1960s, Maoism did something
­united opposites – at each stage drive fade away. Not much later, his closest unprecedented in human history – it
the process of development on the way comrades, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De passed brought about a drastic redistribution of
to socialism, which is sought to be away. The Bard of Avon’s idea that “all the income and wealth in China; it radically
brought about in a series of stages, world’s a stage” has acquired the status of reordered the way Chinese society’s eco-
where the existing stage, at the right a cliché, but it must surely have been one nomic surplus was generated and utilised,
time, is impregnated with the hybrid of the great pleasures of Mao’s life to have all for the better.
seeds of the subsequent one, thereby been on the same stage with the two of
dissolving the salient contradictions of them. The time was now up for one of the Mao’s Legacy and
the former and ushering in the latter; greatest Marxist revolutionaries of all time the Future of Maoism
•  open-ended interrelations among and to ascend to the stars to join them, and It is time then to talk of Mao’s legacy. As
between the forces of production, the Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, the we have seen, Maoism has a definite view
relations of production, and the super- 20 million soldiers of the Red Army who about how to get to socialism, and about
structure; and had died in the war against fascism, the what needs to be done to meet the basic
•  the idea that political, managerial, and many ordinary peasant-guerrillas of the needs of everyone in a poor country.
bureaucratic power-holders entrench PLA who sacrificed their lives in the long ­Development is to be on an egalitarian
themselves as a ruling elite and, over a march to a better world. ­basis – we are all in it together and every-
period of time, assume the position of a Maoism, however, needs to be taken to one rises together. What then of Mao’s
new exploiting class, and that the task; one cannot but ask: Why the peas- legacy, Maoism? Surely, this is open to all
­people have to be constantly mobilised ants and workers did not resist the great who share his Weltanschauung, his meth-
to struggle against this tendency. reversals to capitalism in China and the od of analysis – materialist dialectics – his
“Materialist dialectics” as a way of ­Soviet Union – the counter-revolutions? values, his vision, and choose to embark
thinking and a guide to doing was a Were these regimes, as long as Mao and together on the long march to socialism,
power­f ul tool in Mao’s hands, but its Stalin were around, really socialist, as has knowing before hand, that the journey is
weaknesses were perhaps inherent in its constantly been the claim of latter-day fraught with considerable peril.
very strengths; in the end, the very method Maoists? The truth could only be highly What then of the future of Maoism and
led him to hugely overestimate the pace disappointing, that is, if one were to judge the renewal of socialism that it promises?
of change and vastly underestimate the Maoism, as is only fair, by the fruits of its Frankly, “whatever chance there may
obstacles to change. Marx too fell into the project of taking humanity along the road have been that the revolutions of the 20th
same trap when his very method of analysis towards equality, cooperation, community, century could or would provide successful
led him to believe that revolution was and solidarity. In China itself, Maoism did working models of socialism” have long
around the corner, immensely under­rating not succeed on this score – all the ­united since been extinguished; “socialism, we
the huge barriers to progressive change. actions of the workers and the poor peas- are told, has been tried and failed”
Does the very application of the method ants, all the mass education of the Maoist (Sweezy 1993: 5). But, as Marx was the
of materialist dialectics lead its practi- period did not seem to have brought about first to show, the obstacles to a better
tioners to err on the side of “voluntarism” their intellectual development to a point ­future cannot be meaningfully addressed
in their practice? where, when it came to taking on the within the framework of capitalism. The
If one looks forward from the vantage “capitalist roaders” after 1978 to uphold challenge then is to revive and renew the
point of 1969 – the year marks the beginning the ideas of equality and cooperation as legacy of socialism. In this, can Maoism
of the end of the Maoist era – the great against hierarchy and competition, they illuminate the way?
reversal from “socialism” to capitalism did precious little. Maoism failed to provide Maoism has its roots in Marx who was,
(Sharma [intro] 2007) lay ahead. a successful working model of socialism in above all, a radical democrat – he demanded
Economic & Political Weekly  EPW   november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47 47
perspective

the reincarnation of community and mass Chattopadhyay, Paresh (2005): “Worlds Apart: Today: Eight Essays on the Hundredth Anniversary
­Socialism in Marx and in Early Bolshevism”, of Lenin’s Birth (New York: Monthly Review
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Ch’en, Jerome and Mao Tse-tung (1968): “An Unpub- Bottomore (ed.), pp 151-52.
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pp 408-11. – (1983): “Marxism and Revolution 100 Years after
there also cannot be equality without Kay, Geoffrey (1975): Development and Underdevelop­ Marx”, Monthly Review, Vol 34, No 10, March,
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So far, all revolutions inspired by Marx Economic Strategy: Its Development and Some – (1993): “Socialism: Legacy and Renewal” Month­
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the means then be carefully chosen so
that they never come to overwhelm the
socialist aspiration?

Notes CD-ROM 2006


1 Paresh Chattopadhyay, in personal correspond-
ence, draws my attention to the view that Marx The digital version of Economic and Political Weekly is now available for 2006 on a single disk.
spoke of a “political transition period” (not of con- This electronic edition contains the complete content of all the issues published in 2006. The CD-ROM
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communism under the rule of the proletariat; so- 2006 comes equipped with a powerful search as well as utilities to make your browsing experience
cialism and communism, for him, were simply the productive. The contents are indexed and organised as in the print edition, with articles laid out in
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2 We think it necessary to be more comprehensive
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3 The figures have been disputed though, among
others, by Utsa Patnaik (2004: 10-12) and Joseph
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References To order the CD-ROMs (please specify the year) send a bank draft payable at Mumbai in favour of
Ball, Joseph (2006): “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in Economic and Political Weekly. The CDs can also be purchased on-line using a credit card through a
the Great Leap Forward?”, Monthly Review, secure payment gateway at epw.in.
­September, at http://www.monthlyreview.
org/0906ball.htm. Circulation Manager,
Bottomore, Tom, ed. (2000): A Dictionary of Marxist Economic and Political Weekly
Thought (New Delhi: Maya Blackwell).
320, 321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013, India
Braverman, Harry (1969): “Lenin and Stalin”, Monthly
Review, June, pp 45-55.

48 november 21, 2009  vol xliv no 47  EPW   Economic & Political Weekly