[Marxism] Good guys and bad guys? (was: Re: Anybody heard Bob Avakian MP3)

Henning Böke Henning.Boeke at t-online.de
Wed Jan 18 04:17:18 MST 2006

Dear comrades, as an inhabitant of Europe I subscribed this mailing 
list because it provides some useful information, in particular on 
what is going on in both Americas. But sometimes there are 
discussions which I do not consider to be helpful.

Recently some rather confused messages of Juan Carlos appeared (a 
peculiar mixture of "scientific socialism" and "spiritual change"), 
which most of you obviously prefer to ignore. Now, Prem K 
Govindaswamy replied to Juan Carlos' inquiry concerning Bob Avakian.

Of course, Prem's warnings are correct. Judging from some writings of 
Avakian which I had the "pleasure" to read, I would call Avakian 
simply a crackpot. A typical guru of a political sect, simply 
decreeing a "truth" which we have to follow, and if we do not, surely 
our destiny under Avakian's rule would not be pleasant. I think most 
of you, whatever your political background might be, will agree to me 
that Avakian represents a kind of politics which in fact is, as Prem 
rightly said, a "dead end", without any real perspective.

But having stated this, Prem adds a comment on Maoism in which he 
himself reveals a style of thinking which, in my humble opinion, is 
not too much more attractive and convincing than Avakian's. Maoism is 
a complex issue which cannot be treated like this. And it is not fair 
to make Mao Zedong responsible for psychopaths and sect preachers 
like Avakian.

>Bob Avakian is a Maoist. Mao was an Agrarian Stalinist, and Avakian refuses
>to recognize the reality of China under Mao.

Mao's agrarian policy failed. It was highly ambiguous - in spite of 
some attempts to avoid the mistakes of the Soviet Union, it shared 
some basic structural problems of Stalinism. But Dazhai, Mao's 
beloved model village, was not Stalinism. It was a heroic - and quite 
successful - effort, guided by a poor rural worker, to overcome the 
poverty of a barren mountainous countryside by collective action and 
self-reliance. - And please do not forget that "primitive socialist 
accumulation" was Preobrazhensky's idea, Stalin just copied it, and 
Mao modified it a bit, but not enough.

>  A. The Maoist concept "revisionism"-believes that everything went wrong w/
>Kruschev, not in 1928, Stalin was overall correct, just made a some errors,
>which Avakian fully  clings to.

The Maoist concept "revisionism" was highly ambiguous. On the one 
side, Maoists defended Stalin ("seventy percent merits, thirty 
percent mistakes"), on the other hand they criticized some of his 
basic ideas. Even more: Paradoxically, Maoists criticized the 
"primacy of the productive forces", i.e. an "orthodox" assumption, as 
"revisionism". You can think of this whatever you want, but it is not 

>B. Refuses to use sci-socialism, sees what he wants to see.

Most of the adherents of "scientific socialism" I know tend to prefer 
to see what they want to see.

>     1.Claims of USSR as "imperialist"
>        a.Ignores the scientific understanding of imperialism-exploits and
>extracts much more from underdeveloped countries than it puts in, obtains
>          -USSR did no such things ex. Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt (Aswan Dam),
>  India, Korea, Ruble dipolomacy, etc.

If we stick to Prem's definition, this might be right, and I do not 
want to defend the theory of "social imperialism" which, in my 
opinion, was rather based on opportunistic manoeuvres. But remember 
that e.g. Albania left the Comecon because Enver Hoxha did not want 
to accept the division of labour within the Comecon planned by the 
USSR, according to which Albania should become the socialist 
countries' lemon garden, whereas Hoxha insisted on an autonomous 

>C. Dumps class struggle by asserting primacy of "Christian-Fascist" mov't,
>not much different that orientalists who say that the struggles in Midle
>east are nothing more than inherent inferioirty of Islam
>D. Cultural revolution- way of purging dissent, was under Mao's absolute
>control, bypassing the party bureaucracy in order to re-establish a party
>absolutely loyal to him w/ no grassroots democracy or dissent.
>      1. purge of Lui Shaqi who advocated primacy of proletariat in struggle

You should read some research on the social history of the Cultural 
Revolution. If you do so, you will find that "Liu Shaoqi advocated 
primacy of proletariat in struggle" is rubbish. It is rubbish because 
the generic use of the notion "proletariat" (as Trotskyists like it) 
does not fit China's reality in the 1960s. It was Mao's great 
illusion that the broad masses of the workers and peasants would 
unanimously stand up against the "capitalist roaders". But the 
Cultural Revolution revealed a quite different reality: The Chinese 
working class was deeply divided into a privileged group - the 
regularly employed workers of the State's enterprises, with high 
wages and all-round social security - and a broad segment which today 
we would call "precarious": mostly younger workers with limited 
contracts and low wages. The first group profited from Liu Shaoqi and 
supported him, the latter suffered from Liu's policy and supported 
the "revolutionary rebel" groups.

>E. Mao as Stalinist
>     1. Mao as Han Chauvanist, Third world National Chauvanist, thus
>abrogates world revolution and solidarity
>     2. Building of Bases for US in Viet Nam (William Blum in Killing Hope,
>Vietnam section)
>     3. Popular Front w/ KMT, who were more interested in Collaborating w/
>Japanese and killing communists.
>     4. Visits w/ Kissinger and Nixon, at the same time that Genocide
>against Southeast Asia takes place
>     5. No democracy in the rank and File
>	    a. opposition factions such as Lui Shaqi, as well as Chinese Left
>oppositionists/Trotskyists were banned.

If I had to write a comment on this, I would have to say: Trotskyist 
rubbish. But I do not want to cultivate such a style, so please 
ignore it.

>Mao superficially co-opted Left oppostion and anarchist platforms in a
>Stalinist Way.

I do not understand what you mean.

>Mao's "differences" w/ Kruschev, Hoxha, Stalin, Tito etc.
>are like the split between the AFL-CIO and the CtW-both of those groups
>pretend to have ideological differences, but the split is bureaucracy
>driven, and they both remain committed to business unionism. In the same
>way, Mao's split w/ Hoxha, Stalin, Tito, were a pretense of theoretical
>difference, bureacractically driven, and committed to a top-down,
>bureaucratic, Stalinism.

There were serious theoretical differences. They were not just 
pretended. Enver Hoxha, for instance, would never have dared to 
mobilize "masses" outside the party without strict control. Mao at 
least tried it. Mao's populist idea of the "mass line", according to 
which the party cadres must be educated by ordinary people, does not 
exist in "Marxism-Leninism". In 1957, Mao held a speech in the 
central committee in which he said: "We must listen to anyone's 
opinions, no matter if he is a street sweeper or a liquid manure 
carrier." I think this was neither Stalin's nor Trotsky's point of 
view. For Mao, a skilled industrial worker (the idol of "scientific 
socialism") was not superior to a poor rural day labourer. And Mao 
did not share the classical Marxist resentment against the 

>  Titoists did the same in Yugoslavia w/ the concept of workers
>self-management as opposed to bureaucracy, but they are routinely derided
>by maoists as "revisionists"
>Contrast to USSR 1917-1928, debate over differences between camps led by
>Trotsky and Bukharin, etc, and the fact that there was a workers democracy.

What did you say above about persons who see what they want to see?

I think the crucial problem of Prem's point of view is the 
simplifying and arbitrary effect of the Trotskyist concept of 
"bureaucracy". Trotsky first used this concept in a strict and 
precise sense, pointing to the character of the Russian "workers 
State" where, according to him, circumstances of backwardness 
favoured the development of a self-acting bureaucracy as an 
"appendix" (I think he said "vermiform appendix") of the proletariat. 
In my opinion, Trotsky's analysis is not really convincing because of 
its dogmatic premises. But at least it is precise. Later, the 
Trotskyists often promoted an abstract use of the term "bureaucracy", 
applying it to any more or less institutional entity which does not 
fit to their taste. For some Trotskyists, Fidel Castro is a 
"Stalinist bureaucrat" who must be overthrown and replaced by a true 
and pure workers democracy (as if the Cuban "opposition" in Miami and 
elsewhere wanted this), others try to explain why Cuba is not or not 
too bureaucratic. This shows how arbitrary the generalized use of the 
notion "bureaucracy" - as the supposed key to everything what went 
wrong - is.

Of course we can call the conflicts between and within communist 
regimes "bureaucracy-driven" - insofar as they were situated within a 
sphere of political institutions. Of course you can call anyone who 
acts within an institutional framework a "bureaucrat". But what does 
this explain? Of course we can call e.g. the Maoist "Gang of Four" a 
"bureaucratic" group. In fact they represented a current which tried 
to oust the old establishment replacing it by a new one. But this 
does not explain the sharp contradictions between the factions. If 
they all were bureaucrats, why did they not arrange with each other? 
In 1975, Deng Xiaoping demanded more prescreptions and severe 
controlling of discipline in the factories in order to increase 
productivity. The "Gang of Four" theorist Yao Wenyuan (who died 
recently) wrote: "How far are we to go in this severity? Are we to 
introduce the capitalist mode of production, which even keeps check 
on the time the workers spend when they go to the toilet?" Deng 
Xiaoping and Yao Wenyuan both acted within the State apparatus and 
used means of repression. Surely the "Gang of Four" was less 
"bureaucratic" than their opponents, they encouraged workers to 
resist the bureaucratic and authoritarian factory management. The 
real problem was: There was no rule of law in China. There were 
democratic rights like the right to write wallpapers, but there were 
no independent institutions which guaranteed the possibility of 
exercising these rights without sanctions. There were fierce 
conflicts within the society and between different segments of the 
working class to which the different party factions referred, but 
there was no "civil society" which allowed to carry out these 
conflicts in a civilized way. I do not see that the Trotskyist 
theoretical framework based on the opposition of "bureaucracy" and an 
abstract, idealistic fiction of a true and pure workers democracy 
would allow to grasp these real problems. By the way, Trotsky always 
spoke of "workers", not of Mao's street sweeper and liquid manure 
carrier, persons who do not enjoy a high prestige in "scientific 

>This isn't to say that Trotskyists, Castroists, DeLeonists, Morenoists,etc.
>always see the world through impeccable scientific understanding, but their
>understandings generally coincide more often w/ scientific view of the
>world hundreds of times more than Maoists, Stalinists, etc, who in turn see
>the world in a much more scientific lens than 98% of capitalists,
>Raygunites, Bushites, Clintonites, untra rightwingers, and liberal

Prem sorts good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are "Stalinists" and 
"Maoists". Among the good guys, besides "Trotskyists" and 
"Castroists" he mentions "DeLeonists" and "Morenoists" - never heard 
of. Why did all these good guys, except the Castroists, never succeed 
in changing reality, in spite of their famous "scientific 
understanding"? Surely my question is a bit "pragmatistic", but it 
was Engels who said: "The proof of the pudding is the eating."

Final remark: Most of you seem to have a more or less "Trotskyist" 
background which I do not share. This should not be a problem - I am 
not a Stalinist, but an advocate of Marxist pluralism. I am rather a 
"French style" Marxist, influenced mainly by Althusser and Bettelheim 
who first tried wo work out a modernized kind of "scientific 
socialism" and then found out that this was impossible. I do not 
adhere to any orthodoxy.

But after Prem has told us what he thinks about Maoism, now I will 
tell you what I think about Trotskyism, at the risk that you will 
stone me to death. I know some Trotskyists, "Mandelist" Fourth 
International militants - sometimes I cooperate whith them, most of 
their political opinions are quite OK, anyway they are trustworthy. 
In general, I would describe their political role in Germany as 
positive. But I find their theory - if they have one, most of them do 
not really care about it - simply weak. They are really good-minded 
people, but also ingenuous idealists. Some Trotskyists are crackpots, 
but I think most of them are good guys who unfortunately stick to a 
wrong theory. In my opinion, Trotskyism surely has some historical 
merits, but nowadays it is a useless attempt to maintain an 
"innocent" orthodoxy. Blaming "Stalinism" for any negative reality 
which appeared in the name of Marxism, Trotskyists try to defend an 
allegedly sane, uncompromised Marx-Lenin orthodoxy. (The Fourth 
Internationalists now try to mix it with some Porto Alegre 
movementism without understanding that this mixture cannot function 
consistently.) I always preferred Bettelheim's analysis of the Soviet 
Union to that given by Trotsky because Bettelheim was aware of some 
ambiguities of "scientific socialism" itself which Trotsky never put 
into question. As a "Bettelheimite", today I believe that most of the 
negative features for which Trotskyists blame Stalinism are rooted in 
Leninism, as Leninism is rooted in classical social-democratic 
Marxism which was rooted in bourgeois "scientific" 19th century 
progressism. By this, I do not mean that Lenin and Stalin were all 
the same, and I do not deny the merits of Lenin. I think the actual 
question is: How could Marx's idea of a social self-emancipation of 
the proletariat (the class of the dispossessed) be transformed into a 
kind of social technology executed by an authoritarian State 
apparatus (whereas Marx and Lenin expected the State to whither 
away)? For Trotskyists, Stalin was a "traitor", his policy a 
deviation from true revolutionary Marxism, possible under particular 
circumstances in Russia. But can we explain the fact that all 
"Leninist"-style revolutions produced similar negative results by 
"treachery" and "deviation"?

Marx' thinking has two main components: 1) a radical criticism of the 
bourgeois society and its "fetishism", the self-mystification of a 
mode of production in which the accumulation of abstract wealth is 
executed as an inevitable "necessity" - the producers are mastered by 
the process of production instead of mastering it; 2) a philosophy of 
history based on a 19th century idea of progress - not a plain, but a 
dialectical progress in which nevertheless the goal of universal 
liberation is alleged to a "necessity" of history itself and 
"science" is the key to liberation. It is the idea that the 
liberation of productive forces would finally be identical with human 
emancipation. In classical social-democratic Marxism, the first 
component was largely ignored (Rosa Luxemburg was closest to it, but 
she was very ambiguous and believed firmly in economic necessities). 
Instead "scientific socialism" was entirely embedded in a eurocentric 
progressism. If you want to experience the authentic spirit of 
"scientific socialism", read Kautsky's comment on the Erfurt 
programme of the SPD, where Kautsky diligently sorts people into a 
hierarchy of politically competent and incompetent groups according 
to their economic identity. Obviously he would not have trusted Mao's 
street sweepers and liquid manure carriers. (And August Bebel 
believed that "negro women" are less intelligent than European women.)

It was Lenin's merit to re-locate class struggle in a broader 
international framework, introducing concepts like "imperialism", 
"labour aristocracy", "national self-determination" - concepts which 
are of course ambiguous and limited in themselves, but the allowed to 
widen the horizon and to correct some errors. On the other hand, 
Lenin (who in Russia was a resolute "westerner" against the 
narodniki) did not question some basic assumptions of 
social-democrate progressism. For instance, there was a shift of 
meaning of the concept of "proletariat" between Marx and Lenin: For 
Marx, the proletariat was the class of those who can only liberate 
themselves by liberating the whole mankind; for Lenin (see his 
article on communist subbotniks) the concept of "proletariat" was 
identical with industrial workers to whom he alleged the task of 
promoting industrial "discipline" against the laziness of peasants 
who only worked for their personal needs - there was a shift from 
"self-emancipation" to "discipline". In 1920, Bukharin advocated 
"proletarian coercion" like executions and forced labour as means of 
creating the "communist mankind" from the "human material" (!!!) of 
the capitalist epoch. Lenin resolutely agreed. I do not intend to 
condemn Lenin, who made considerable corrections in his NEP ideas (he 
and Bukharin were able to learn), I just want to point out how under 
the label of "scientific socialism" concepts like "proletariat" 
changed their meaning.

Maoism was, in spite of its failure, an important experience. As a 
theorist, Mao worked out a concept of "contradiction" which is much 
more complex than the classical economicist reductionism (Althusser 
took note of this in 1963). Maoists came to discover some serious 
questions which classical Marxism had never asked: Does increasing 
productivity automatically mean a step forward to human liberation? 
Are the produtive forces socially neutral? The Maoists noticed 
(differing from Trotsky) that not "backwardness" in itself was the 
main problem, but dangers came from a certain, technocratic way to 
overcome backwardness (because this meant that hierarchical divisions 
of labour replaced ancient forms of domination by new ones) - they 
put into question the one-way road of western modernity. They could 
not resolve this problem - and had to yield up to Deng Xiaoping who 
imposed a solution which was economically efficent, but is 
reproducing the problem with increasing intensity. Of course, Maoism 
was linked to Stalinism and reproduced some of its catastrophic 
effects. Mao had some crazy ideas, e.g. when he called the Chinese 
people an empty sheet of paper on which he could draw his characters. 
In Maoism, a radical idea of self-liberation (the Dazhai model) was 
linked with a utopian voluntarism. Maoism was less bureaucratic than 
Stalinism, but the Maoists completely ignored questions like the rule 
of law (which is at stake in China today). Maoism included some forms 
of workers democracy, for instance the Anshan charter, but if you 
examine the struggles within the Anshan steel plant, you will notice 
that there was a constant tension between democratic participation 
and autogestion (promoted by the "Gang of Four") and productivity 
(promoted by the Deng faction). (In the 70s, the German liberal 
jounalist Gerd Ruge wrote a detailed report from Anshan. His highly 
interesting book "Begegnung mit China", published in 1978, was a 
translation from English, so there must have been an English edition, 
but I do not know the title.) In sum, Maoism asked some questions 
which are crucial for a critical reconstruction of Marxism. I am 
writing a book on Maoism (of course, in German) in which I will 
discuss these questions.

Returning to Trotsky, I see his strengths in understanding capitalism 
as a world system. But his weakness was his schematic approach, 
guided by generic "principles" based on a highly economistic 
understanding of Marx. Obviously you will beat me, but the book "On 
Trotskyism" written by the Greek-French Maoist Kostas Mavrakis in 
1971 revealed, in spite of Mavrakis's die-hard Mao dogmatism, these 
weaknesses. In my opinion, if you allow me the polemic remark, 
"typical" Trotskyists are people who tend to always compare reality 
with ideas, checking any social movement whether it fits to Trotsky's 
programme or not. On this mailing list, someone confirmed that Hugo 
Chavez fits to Trotskyism (which I do not really believe, but 
fortunately it is not my task to decide it). If you like this kind of 
debate, I will not disturb you, but to me, this seems a little 
peculiar - I am not used to compare actual revolutions to predefined 
"isms", "principles" and programmes. Of course, there are reasonable 
Trotskyists, who often find themselves attacked for "betraying" 
Trotskyism by other Trotskyists. I would not like to participate in 
discussions on who is a "true" Trotskyist. I simply think that such 
discussions on "isms" are not useful.

You can criticize Mao and Maoism, but the level of argumentation 
should be a little bit higher than Prem's schematic stuff (which 
could be from a Trotskyist brochure). If someone does not share my 
opinion, I am always ready to listen to the arguments, but I do not 
like this labeling with "isms" (post-modernists call me a "Leninist", 
Leninists call me a "post-modernist", Stalinists say that I am a 
"revisionist", revisionists call me a "Maoist", for lovers of the 
true and pure Marx I am a "structuralist" - what is the use of 
this?). I have some preferences, but I do not sort good and bad guys. 
If someone is a Trotskyist (or calls himself a "revolutionary 
Marxist", using the codename preferred by many Trotskyists), then I 
think that he is likely to tend to idealistic and schematic views and 
might have difficulties in understanding realities which do not fit 
to Trotsky's "principles", but there are Trotskyists who are able to 
avoid these stupidities. I am not a Stalinist and will never condemn 
someone because he is Trotskyist - I really do not believe that 
Trotskyists are "counterrevolutionaries" and "secret agents". (There 
are some cases where some Trotskyists, e.g. those who want to 
overthrow Castro in the name of their true principles, behave as if 
they were a caricature by Stalin, but I do not generalize this.) My 
criticism on Trotskyism is based on an experience which tells me that 
the current which is called "Trotskyism" is not or not sufficiently 
aware of some crucial problems of "orthodox" Marxism (or "scientific 
socialism") itself. For instance, Alex Callinicos, one of the most 
intelligent "Trotskyist" theorists of our time (who does not like to 
be called a "Trotskyist") pleas for returning to "classical Marxism". 
In my opinion, this return is impossible. This is the point.

Concerning Bob Avakian, in my opinion it does not make any sense to 
blame him for "Maoism" and to criticize him in the name of "true" 
scientific socialism, "true" Leninism or whatever "true" tradition 
you like. In my opinion the point is that Avakian represents a style 
of politics which is senseless and completely undemocratic. He is 
someone who decrees the "truth" without any real experience and 
without accepting any open discussion including the actual social 
actors: He will never ask Mao's street sweeper. This is not "Maoist", 
it is, if we can attribute such a bad habit to any "ism", rather a 
"Leninist" temptation. Trotsky was someone who wanted to tell the 
truth about the situation in the suburbs of Shanghai from his exile 
in Mexico. But he also had some better sides which are missing in 

Revolutionary greetings from Old Europe

Henning Boeke
Frankfurt - Germany

More information about the Marxism mailing list