A modicum of civility. More on PKI

Rahul Mahajan rahul at peaches.ph.utexas.edu
Wed Apr 3 12:15:51 MST 1996

Thanks for the reply, Carrol. I was beginning to think you had washed your
hands of the whole affair.

Yes, class collaboration and its cretinous stagist justification is one the
proudest legacies of the great revolutionary, Stalin. One million in Spain,
one million in Indonesia, who knows how many in China. And, of course, the
Stalinist leadership in these countries is now burning in hell for it.
Louis insinuated that Mao was a partisan of this view in his own
revolution. Whatever I know, from admittedly hagiographic sources, suggests
that he was the one person to rehabilitate the party after the catastrophe
of the White Terror. He emerges as a figure of power in his own right only
afterwards, of course. His later collaboration with the KMT against the
Japanese seems simply to be a mistaken strategy based, however, on the very
obvious fact that the Japanese were the greater evil. Before 1949, there is
little bad that can be said about him, after 1955, little good, or so it
seems to me.

>    The re-organized PKI then adopted the People's War strategy of the
>CPC (with, I think,   equally futile results, but that is another story).
>In any case, whatever one thinks of the Chinese Revolution, the export (or
>voluntary import) of its principles to other countries contradicted the
>*declared* principles of that Revolution itself, the whole (?) point of
>"Mao Zedong Thought" being that "Thought" is not "Theory" (not an "ism"--
>hence the oxymoronic character of "Maoism"), and while (within a given
>historical epoch) Theory is universal and (if correct) holds its validity
>over "cultural" and "national" lines (hence retaining the "ism" after the
>names of Marx and Lenin). "Rahul thought," then, if you became the leader
>of a U.S. communist party would apply *only* to the U.S., and would be
>subject to constant correction, since it would be rooted in changing
>contingencies, not, directly, in the essential features of the capitalist
>order as (within this frameword) the theory (not just thought) of Marx
>and Lenin would be viewed as being.

Isn't this a bit sophistic? Of course, there is always a necessity to apply
principles to the specific situations at hand and to revise constantly. I
don't see how this applies less to the structure Marx and especially Lenin
built than to that of Mao. People in China who tried to follow only the
theory of Marx ran again and again into the fact that the proletariat was
minuscule and insignificant. I don't see why the idea of people's war is
any less a component of theory than that of the increasing immiseration of
the proletariat or of the need for a vanguard party. All of these are
contingent and don't apply well to every possible situation.

>    Now I don't have any strong opinions as to the extent to which this
>position was actually manifested in the policy of the CPC--my feeling is
>that up to 1949 it *was* followed fairly closely, that "Mao thought"
>did *not* become a *theory* religiously interpreted, but that it began to
>not long afterwards. A generous reading of "On the Correct Handling of
>Contradictions among the People" would see that as an effort to maintain
>the earlier flexibility, and an equally generous interpretation of the
>Cultural Revolution would see it as (a probably seriously misguided)
>attempt to return to that earlier (assumed) flexibility. These are
>contingent questions of historical analysis (depending on more empirical
>information than I for one have), and they cannot be resolved by hurling
>either anti-Mao or "pro-Maoism" slogans.

The GPCR can also, with some justification, be viewed simply as an
unprincipled political power play by Mao, who saw himself being
increasingly sidelined and made irrelevant.

>1   Incidentally, Samir Amin, who knows more about almost everything than
>I do, chooses to retain the term Maoism for himself, but seems to use
>it in a fairly limited sense, See his Re-Reading the Postwar Period:
>An Intellectual Itinerary.
>    Incidentally, when in a post a few months ago Louis suggested that
>theory was essentially complete, he was in that position in agreement
>with Mao: I assume Louis meant that, essentially, the Capitalist System
>does not change its spots, and that the theoretical analysis offered of
>capitalism by Marx and Engels was essentially correct, thus applying as
>strongly today as in 1870. "Revisionists" (I am using this term now from
>the dictionary, not from Marxist vocabulary) need to argue one of two
>    (1) Capitalism has *really* changed, and basic Marxist premises no
>longer apply, as Marx himself would see were he still alive.
>    (2) Marx's analysis was flawed from the beginning, not just in the
>way that Newton needed to be completed by Einstein,etc, but in the way
>in which the upholders of phlogiston had to be rejected before chemistry
>could be established on a firm basis.
>    I myself would tend to reject both of these propositions.

This is a real can of worms. Briefly:

1. Of course capitalism has *really* changed. The most obvious example,
perhaps, is that Marx only lived to see the beginning of what is usually
called the second Industrial Revolution, an event far more powerful and
all-encompassing than the first. Bourgeois social scientists, as Marxists
often point out, tend to exaggerate the significance of technological
fixes, but Marxists often tend to underestimate it. Marx himself did not
make this mistake. Some basic premises therefore no longer apply in certain
places, some now apply in spades. This is irrelevant to the fact that we
understand, as Marx did and largely because Marx did, how capitalism is
screwing the world. Some say Marx was wrong then, but is more right than
ever now. This of course is fetishization, but has a kernel of truth;
capitalism, which is what Marx studied, has penetrated the entire world for
the first time.

2. Those who simply uphold that Marx was the Newton of social sciences do
so in the absence of concrete evidence. Of course, his system-building
stands up better than anyone else's, but most of his predictions were
wrong. I was struck by a phrase (from Schumpeter?) about how "Marx and
Engels mistook the rise of capitalism for its fall." Lenin similarly
mistook imperialism for the decadence of capital, when it was rather an
excellent defense mechanism to short-circuit the problems of growing class
struggle and class consciousness in the metropolis. One of the great flaws
of especially Marx and Engels was a failure to take into account the
efficacy with which capitalism could fight back.

At best, one can say that the question of whether Marx was Newton is an
open one. To say it is settled is the same kind of mindless dogmatism that
led some Maoists to analyze modern US society be composition of "poor
peasants" and "middle peasants."

I don't know if you're included in my target here, Carrol. Decide for yourself.

I don't know exactly what Louis meant by saying Marxist theory is complete,
but I think I can identify the context in which he is interested. It is not
complete in the scientific sense; in fact, it's scarcely begun. But that is
not a particularly relevant fact. Ask Jesus if you need to understand the
world in order to change it. However, on the question of the political
program of Marxists it's a different story. We don't need to understand any
more about how capitalism works in order to make our very effective case to
the people that it must be overthrown. This is what people like Karl
Carlile with his small group of Marxist intellectuals studying the
Communist Manifesto in order to change the world don't seem to grasp. In
this sense, I agree with Louis that the theory is complete. The other half
of the question of praxis, how to raise and organize a mass movement, is
unfortunately poorly understood. How do we structure a movement so that it
won't inevitably recreate the kinds of hierarchies it is sworn to destroy?
Not an easy question, but also one that cannot be answered in the absence
of struggle. We need some firm guiding principles, on which there is very
poor agreement so far, but we will undoubtedly learn far more in the course
of the movement than we can sitting around right now. Another question,
barely touched by Marxism, is how to create, structure, and run a socialist
society. I would like to have a better idea of this than I do, though once
again this must be informed by real praxis.


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